When I was a senior at Georgetown, I took a class called something like “Washington Art Collections”. We went to several private homes, the Kreeger Museum, several Smithsonians and Weschler’s auction house.
Not only did we learn quite a lot about art collections here in DC, we also learned a lot about buying art, selling art, displaying art, storing art, caring for art and pretty much any and everything else to do with art except making it. Apparently I retained quite a bit because when I discovered that these paintings I found might actually be something rather good, Weschler’s was the first place I thought of to take them.
The auction house is located right downtown at 905 E Street, NW. Every first Thursday from 9 am to 4 pm, they have open evaluation days. Now, normally in order to get an art expert to look at a painting, you need to make an appointment and pay a few hundred dollars. The cool thing about open evaluation day is that you get to bring whatever you’d like looked at and an appraiser will give you a verbal estimate of the value free of charge. This doesn’t help if you are liquidating an estate, getting a divorce or need paperwork for insurance purposes, but it does help if you have an idle curiosity (like me) or if you’re considering selling something through the auction house.
So this morning, I took the Van Oorschot twins downtown to Weschler’s.
Here’s how I thought it would work:
1) There would be a big line of people at the front door.
2) I would stand in that line.
3) When I got up to the front of the line, a slightly snooty someone sitting behind a table would look at my things, tell me what they were worth and then send me on my way.
Here’s how it actually worked:
1) I went in the side door and took the elevator to the third floor Weschler’s offices as directed.
2) I told a friendly, welcoming woman behind a big desk what sort of object I had.
3) I waited in a comfy chair while she paged someone qualified to look at paintings.
4) The someone was super nice and not at all snooty. She told me it was okay to take pictures for the blog. She looked at my paintings, agreed that they are original oil on canvas, saw the artist’s name and went away to look up auction records for him.
5) She came back and told me that she had found 20 records of paintings sold and gave me the artist’s full name and dates (which of course I actually already had). She told me they are not as dirty as I’d feared and that a restorer would probably tell me not even to bother with a surface cleaning.
6) Then she gave me the auction estimates.
Overall, I was impressed at how friendly and accessible and easy the whole process was. It was also fast. It only took about ten minutes. Honestly, if I ever run across anything very interesting again, I will most definitely repeat this process. In fact, it was fun! I’m looking forward to it.
|Is that a Pollock? I was distracted by the bright shiny Saarinen.|
That said, I did learn a few things while waiting. Or, in some cases, I was reminded of a few things that your average person might not be aware of.
1) Hold paintings up to the light. If there isn’t uneven light behind then, they aren’t original. If they aren’t original (i.e. they are prints), it’s going to be very rare that they’re going to be worth much at all.
2) Signed things are best. At least, they are much easier to evaluate than unsigned things.
3) Almost anything in bad condition will not be worth what you hope. There are few exceptions to this rule.
4) Check with the auction house to see if there are categories they do not cover. Weschler’s apparently does not have a sports memorabilia person. They also do not evaluate antiquities, books, foreign coins, stamps or firearms.
So that was my field trip to Weschler’s. Count me a new fan.
Oh! I almost forgot. You probably want to know the value of the paintings! (Okay, I didn’t really forget.)
So the bad news is that I’m not suddenly a millionaire (which of course I already knew). The good news is that the auction estimate was $100-150 for the small painting and around $300 for the big one or about $400-450 total. In a gallery or for insurance purposes, you could just about double that. Score!
Well, I don’t know about you, but I thought that was pretty neat. And not bad at all for an $18 thrift store find.
|The acquisitions team says we’ll keep ’em.|