Art as Investment - Is now a good time to invest in Art?

PUBLISHED: 14:08 18 August 2010 | UPDATED: 15:32 20 February 2013

'Self-portrait' by Robert Lenkiewicz

'Self-portrait' by Robert Lenkiewicz

Is now a good time to invest in art? In our November issue, we speak to a gallery owner about how best to do this by seeking out local galleries, getting to know local artists and buying art we love.

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Art as Investment

Is now a good time to invest in art? Paul Somerville suggests we seek out local galleries, get to know the artists, and buy art we love

Robert Lenkiewicz died in 2002. If you had invested 6,000 in a self-portrait then, it would be valued at 60,000 today. How? That's the question I am most often asked. Simply put, when an artist dies, there is no more work, there is only a finite number of paintings and there will be no more. In essence, it is the law of supply and demand, though there is so much more to it than that.

Personality, skill and luck are major contributors to an artist's success and the obsession that drives him to work every day of his life. My experience has shown me that these are not ordinary people; they bring a little something into your life that is magical. Because of this, investors will buy a painting for tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds and beyond. It is why someone with very little money will try to set up a deal to pay some money every week over years to own a piece of an artist's work.

With the banking system currently in turmoil and property prices tumbling, is art a good place to put your money? For many years now the answer has been, and still is, yes. The art market has ridden out the storms of financial failure. Hard-headed bullion dealers and property magnates diversify their investments to include art, and I have clients who fall into both categories. Not only are they making money, they are getting the pleasure of a piece of art on their walls. Often I have called a client and asked if they would be interested in selling me back a painting, for many times its original price, only to be told, "No chance, I love it and I'll never sell it", hence one less piece on the market. The fewer pieces on the market, the higher the prices go - it's back to supply and demand.

An artist can still be prolific; this is a good thing, and doesn't, as some believe, devalue the work. If there are not a lot of pieces available, the market can be more difficult. Picasso was hugely prolific, but how many people do you know who own an original Picasso?

Not all paintings an artist does are great but if there are no more, they all have a value. The best works by painters can fetch huge amounts if several collectors want them. Damien Hirst's 'The Golden Calf' sold for 10,345,250 (with commission) on 15 September this year. What's that you say? You think it's rubbish? Well, at least two people didn't. Art is worth what someone is prepared to pay for it.

So, how do you get involved? In Cornwall there are a lot of very good artists. This area attracts creative people; the light and space and (in the past!) cheaper cost of living. Robert Lenkiewicz set up home in Cornwall when he first moved down from London.

Inspiration from artists like Ben Nicholson and Sir Terry Frost have drawn current painters like Henrietta Dubrey to Cornwall and kept others in the county such as Terry Frost's own grandson, Luke Frost, who is artist in residence at Tate St Ives. Another is Anthony Frost who has a studio in Penzance and has achieved international fame.

Keep your purchasing local; use Westcountry galleries because you will pay a heftier premium to buy the same artist in London, where galleries have to pay higher rents, business rates, insurance and wages. Also the artist often gets a smaller return, so go organic and buy close to where you are. Involve yourself with the gallery and get to know as much as you can about the artists you like.

Beware of paintings that you think are cheaper than they should be. If a forger can come up with a picture that looks like a respected artist's work and sign it in their name, they are committing a fraud. The rewards are high living off someone else's name, as are the costs if found out. If it looks too good to be true, it invariably is.

So who do you buy? Buy paintings or art that talks to you and that you love. Become familiar with the artists in your area, painters that others in the business rate and that you hear and read about. Stop and look at the work, form your own opinions and educate yourself. Take advice from experienced dealers.

We have lost a lot of great Westcountry artists recently: Robert Lenkiewicz, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Sir Terry Frost, Bryan Pearce, Ben Hartley and Fred Yates among others. Fred Yates has just achieved a world record price for 'Butterfly Lane, St Just'. Names familiar to many of you, but do you know their work? Do you like all of them, some of them, or none of them? All of these artists' work have become sought after and will go up in value. Some will go up substantially. Part of the obsession and passion is finding and buying, then watching to see if you have been right. Then ask the big question: would you sell it or do you love it too much?

I have several painters working in my gallery who were taught by Robert Lenkiewicz, including Diane Nevitt, Lisa Stokes and Yana Trevail. This is often a good place to start looking for up-and-coming painters. It also shows you do not need to be dead to succeed. Diane Nevitt has just had a book published on her paintings, Lisa Stokes recently had a successful solo show in a Mayfair gallery, and Yana Trevail has been showing her new paintings in the Roland Levinsky Gallery at the University of Plymouth.

Meanwhile, the interest in Lenkiewicz continues, with the 'Robert Lenkiewicz: Self-Portraits 1956-2002' exhibition running until December at the Ben Uri Gallery, London Jewish Museum of Art.

Paul Somerville owns Somerville Gallery, Plymouth 01752 221600,

in art? Paul Somerville suggests we seek out local galleries, get to know the artists, and buy art we love

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