The art of investment

Art is becoming an increasingly popular form of investment, writes Martin Regan FRSA, director of Macclesfield’s Gateway Gallery.

Ben Kelly’s Picnic-Gawsworth

The low returns from Building Society savings since the banking crises has led many to consider investing in  other assets and, in this respect, art is becoming an increasingly popular option. It is not that the growth in value  of an art work can be little short of spectacular – a Lowry bought for a few hundred pounds in the 1950s can now be worth a million – it is that the art work itself can give the buyer untold hours of pleasure, whatever the investment return.

Geoffrey Key’s White Pillow

It used to be that Northern artists were looked down upon by serious collectors and the great auction houses, but over the past two  decades, thanks to the “Lowry effect ” , this has dramatically changed.

There is now a national recognition that artists of the so-called “NorthernSchool” were not only painting a disappearing world, but doing so with consummate skill.

This belated recognition means that works by northern artists of the Lowry generation such as Harry Rutherford (who was Walter Sickert’s favourite pupil), Theodore Major, William Ralph Turner , Alan Lowndes and  Roger Hampson are now in great demand nationally.

The robust market for works of  theNorthernSchool  is not confined to the Lowry generation.  Newer artists have emerged. Salford-based  Geoffrey Key, a pupil ofRutherford, is in worldwide demand . His prices have risen from  £700 in 1990 to over £7,000 today. These are likely to rise even further, not least because he is now represented by one ofLondon’s major galleries. Then, there are younger artists of great promise such as Liam Spencer and Macclesfield’s own Ben Kelly .

Yet buying art with one eye on investment can be fraught with pitfalls. There are for example many, fakes on the market, so a provenance from an established gallery is increasingly important.

It is also important to know what to avoid. The modern signed prints – as opposed to original prints – that are now sold by numerous galleries throughout theUKhave no investment value whatsoever .  The same is true of paintings that are damaged, or have been damaged and badly repaired.

The trick is to get good advice, find a painter you like, find a picture that represents a typical example of his  work and to buy it at the right price. This last point is the hardest of all to follow, as people tend to fall in love with an art work on the spot. But it is crucial. A quick look at available Geoffrey Key works in theNorth Westshows prices between £6,000 and £9,000 for comparable works. I know what price, I’d rather pay.

Above all recognise that buying art for investment is a long term game. It is unlikely that you will be able to buy a picture and sell it within three years for a large profit. Patience is the greatest ally of any art collector.

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