Buy the best you can and enjoy it

John Hassall, c. 1900

With an important antiques fair opening at Olympia, Clare Stewart looks at art as an investment

Anyone who has unwittingly bought a work of art from the conman John Drewe, this week sentenced to six years in prison for art fraud, is at some point due for a disappointment when they find that their purchase is not all that it seems. In fact even if you buy the genuine article with the expectation that its value must increase, you may be disappointed. Prices in the art market are unpredictable and respond to changes in taste and fashion. The received wisdom is that the best items in any area of the market will always command a premium. However, not all buyers can afford such items. More useful perhaps is the frequently quoted advice to buyers to buy according to taste and enjoyment, and to buy the best affordable rather than because a particular item is thought to be a good investment… Paul Liss, an Oxfordshire dealer who specializes in design drawings and other works on paper, will be exhibiting a series of six panels featuring children at play and designed as a frieze for children’s nurseries, to be sold by Liberty. The set of original designs is priced at £18,000. In a year, said Mr. Liss, demand for Hassall’s work has driven prices noticeably higher, though it is still possible to buy examples of his work for several hundred pounds. While issues of taste and fashion influence demand for certain types of painting and certain artists, another unpredictable influence on prices is that of consumer confidence. Ahead of the Olympia Fair, one of the most important of the spring season, dealers are in a fairly optimistic mood. Although still some way behind the buoyant market in the United States, “the nervousness at the end of the year has gone and people are feeling quite confident,” Mr. Liss added.