Buying old masters might be a good investment, what to analyse.
The signature of the old master is the departure point of your research. Is it an important master, is it attribute to a master, circle of a master or school of a master or simply a follower of master.
You have to establish the artwork in the complete oeuvre of the artist, is it a major work, a study, a work from his youth, etc.
Is the work included in an exhibition catalog, a catalogue raisonne, a comment in an art magazine?
It is better to buy a good work by a minor artist than to buy a mediocre work by an important master.
Provenance adds interest and value
The provenance of an artwork is a major element in the attribution of a value for an artwork. The provenance is important not only for the value, but also for the history that will confirm the authenticity. The notoriety of the owner who sells the artwork is a major element in the estimate of a value. The sale of Yves Saint-Laurent collection with results some times 10 times higher than the estimates.
Restoration of an artwork
Often old masters artworks are in a bad state of conservation.
Some artworks have been restored multiple times.
Restorations are very expensive when experimented experts in restoration do them.
Some restorations are easy to do, like erasing a varnish.
Some restoration may look very surprising like this story that happened to a client.
A painting attributed to Jan Bril was sold by a major British auction house in NY. It was only “attributed to”. When the customer brought it to the restorer, he did find that the image of a horse was added to the painting. The horse was not as well painted as the rest of the painting. The restorer did some test and they discovered that under the image of the horse was a couple laying down against the bottom of a tree. It was the original subject of the painting made by Bril but since they were naked religious policies imposed that the naked people in front of the tree will be covered. The value of the painting increased a 1000% overnight … thank you British auction house!
I advise to invest in an old master painting that needs a easy to make restoration and not in a painting that received lots of restoration.
Also it is advised to make a research online and see if the artist was prolific or if his works are rarely offered for auction.
The subject of the painting itself
Also consider the visual impact the artwork will have on your interior, is the subject pleasing you or your family because many old masters painting have very cruel subjects.
A city description by example, the Coliseum in Rome, or views of London Bridge Towers may have an important sentimental importance to you.
Portraits of ancestors you may be related to or that people you know are related to may have a sentimental value.
Prices starting very low
In important auction houses, usually in day sales, you can find some very interesting works, city views, bible scenes, still lives etc.
These works are usually circle of an artist, or follower of, or school of.
Nonetheless some works so as the example mentioned earlier, the Paul Bril, could reserve very nice surprises.
In major auction houses, they don’t have the time to spend on artworks with poor provenance, or that are obviously not by the hand of a master.
Clearly they overlook a lot of artworks they offer in their auctions because they just don’t have the time to investigate.