How do you start collecting motoring art?
Possibly like I did, many years ago by collecting clippings and freebee prints from motoring publications. Also there are many prints of motoring art that are available cheaply at the many motoring events or on the Internet. I would avoid the high priced limited edition prints that in most cases do not represent good value. You have to decide if you are collecting the print for the quality of the art or the investment. If is for the art then a simple unsigned print will be sufficient! Investment is covered in a section below but my personal viewpoint is forget investment! The other advice is to read about the subject plus visit dealers and auction houses, initially not as a purchaser. Study the market before spending good money. Your initial purchases will probably be the least satisfactory from a longer term view.
Buying Original Art
Original art need not be expensive and good examples are readily available through motoring events and auctions etc. There is a lot more satisfaction knowing that the piece of art is the original and unique. Personally I would much prefer to have a simple original pencil sketch by a good artist rather than a print from an edition of 1000.
Another good source is buying or commissioning art directly from artists. I would recommend the members of The Guild of Motoring Artists and they can be contacted via their website http://www.motorart.co.uk . The quality of the art is variable and ranges from good amateur to professional artists, which is of course reflected in the prices.
Commissioning artists to produce a piece of art is a very satisfactory way of getting a favourite car or motor racing scene portrayed. However this is fraught with difficulties and sometimes leads to disappointment. Make sure the brief is clear with reference photographs and back-up information. Also know the artist and their work plus how much artistic licence they will take. Always ensure that you have the option of not paying for the work if it does not reach expectations. This is the very difficult part of the deal as the art may fit 90% of your brief yet the artist considers that it is 100%!
Auction purchase is an excellent way of purchasing art, particularly from reputable auctioneers that accurately describe their sales. The advantage is that you are buying a completed work (probably framed) and that you can see exactly what you are buying. Sometimes the work is unframed so it is worth considering what the art will look like when properly mounted. Ensure you view the art before bidding and if you get the chance talk to the auctioneers staff to enquire about any background or provenance. In many cases of recent art it may be found that the work has been directly consigned to the saleroom for sale by the artist as a way of raising money. Be careful buying pre-1930 art as there are quite a few forgeries around of old motor racing scenes by unknown artists. These are modern works that have been aged. (See the section on forgeries below). Always beware of the auctioneers percentage and VAT which can come as a nasty surprise at the foot of your bill! Check beforehand the auction charges and keep these figures in mind when bidding.
Buying from dealers is another option but there are few dealers specialising in motoring art, particularly early material. However, several of the better automobilia dealers have motoring art as part of their general stock.
I often have surplus art from my collection so please enquire if I have material that fits your requirements.
Beware of forgeries
The potential collector should be aware of a few forgeries. As mentioned above there are several early art paintings particularly of racing scenes that are modern and have been artificially aged to look old. These are normally signed with a name of an unknown artist, often a European name. Paintings, mainly on paper are often aged with colour washes (cold tea?) and sometimes creasing and other dirt. The one thing that it is difficult to do is to simulate the foxing of iron stains that sometimes affects early paintings. The paintings are often painted to size for old frames that are sealed with older type paper tape and aged. This ageing often involves the use of spray glue and the contents of a vacuum cleaner! If purchasing early paintings and there is any doubt, ask to open the frame and look at the reverse of the painting. The forger rarely ages the back of the work. Any respectable auction house or dealer should immediately refund your money on a forgery where it has been described as a genuine old work.
There have been several attempts at forging the art of the top artist, Gordon Crosby, about 30 years ago an artist was successfully prosecuted. Many artists have copied his work or used a similar style but unless it is deliberately falsely sold it is not an offence.
Recently we have seen some forgeries of Gordon Horners work for the Castrol publications. (When shown a copy of the forgeries, Gordon Horner was surprisingly not angry he said It is fame for an artist to be forged in his lifetime).
The area where a large number of forgeries exist is metalwork. Here we are talking about mascots, sculptures and badges, which are all forms of motoring art. Mascots have been forged and copied in large quantities and are better left to the specialists. Motoring sculptures have been copied and reproduced sometimes in cold cast materials with added ballast, to give a similar heavy weight to the original. Badges have also been reproduced or damaged badges have been re-enamelled and are sold as complete originals.
The other slightly dangerous area is reproductions of early motoring prints and posters either by copying the original printing process such as lithography or modern copying techniques. Also there are excellent photographic copies of some early works such as the French Montaut prints that can deceive at first glance. Again these are an area for a specialist but the use of a magnifying glass can considerably assist. When enlarged many reproductions using modern copying show a dot pattern from the screening process.
As said earlier forget investment! Motoring art prices have increased slowly over time but it is not a collecting growth area, - possibly is contracting? Buy motoring art because you like it and want it on display!
I said that the investment potential of modern prints is low because my experience over time has seen quantities of prints coming onto the market in auctions selling for very low prices. The investment in motoring art is best made by buying works of good quality at a below a market price, for example, from a dealer or auction house.
What makes good quality is difficult to define but it is a complex of artist, subject, medium, size.
The artist is the major factor. Art by deceased recognised artists for example Gordon Crosby, Terence Cuneo, Frank Wootton will always sell well. Artists who are still active are a more difficult question and since I am friends with several well known artists it is impossible for me to air an opinion.
The subject is the second most important factor. Motor racing subjects sell considerably higher than motoring. The marque of the car is also very important as for example Bentley, MG, Jaguar art will always sell better than Standard or Austin.
If we are talking about paintings the most valuable medium is oil paint because of the long life qualities plus it takes a longer time for an artist to produce an oil painting because of the drying times. Modern acrylics can produce a very similar effect to oils. Gouache and watercolours are often used but there are long term worries about their fade and durability of the paper or card on which they are painted. Pencil and pastel studies tend to be the least valuable medium.
Size is important, but it is the least important factor! Soon after I started collecting motoring art I was told Never buy anything that will not fit in your car! Too large or too heavy a piece of art can reduce the price. Similarly if a work is too small it can be felt to be insignificant, hence the price is affected.
When considering the investment potential, value and price I can but repeat the advice Buy motoring art because you like it and want it on display.
Looking after your artwork
Once you have acquired your art it should be safeguarded by ensuring an inert, safe environment. I guess most damage to art is by breakage either by dropping or being knocked off walls, so ensure the work is secure.
The other big sources of danger are fading and chemical attack. If we are talking about paintings the most likely to fade are gouache or watercolours. Fortunately the cost of museum type glass has come down over the years and using glass that cuts out 95% of UV light should be less than £10 extra. The important advice about any form of art is to keep it away from bright light particularly direct sunlight.
Chemical attack is accelerated by changing conditions, particularly damp and heat. Keep art away from damp places or from above radiators etc. Most paper or board is inherently unstable from the papermaking process which leaves an excess of acid or alkali in the paper structure. With moisture this chemical imbalance can start to attack the paper fibres which results in a breakdown of the structure leading to the paper crumbling away. Recent art should be painted on ph neutral paper/board and should be relatively safe but the same criterion needs to be applied to the mount and backboards. Older art should also have ph neutral mounts and backboards; this may mean the work has to be re-mounted. The actual paper/board of the painting can be treated to neutralise any potential chemical attack but this is something for a specialist restorer and will only be worth doing on valuable works.
It is important to keep a photographic record of your art collection. This is useful for your own reference and insurance purposes.
Selling your motoring art
How do you dispose of your art when it comes to selling your acquisitions? Probably the best way is to sell to other motoring art enthusiasts. This is relatively easy when both have a good idea of a market price. For example I will personally be interested in buying any significant motoring art pre-1970 by recognised artists for my collection.
Auctions in theory generate a market price but it is definitely important to use reputable outlets. For example there is no point selling cheap material in a large auction house with minimum charges, far better to list on eBay. Whereas quality material should go to a specialist auction house! Beware of your local auction house claiming to have expertise in selling motoring art. Reputable outlets will be able to give you suitable advice about reserves to ensure that your art is not given-away if nobody bids. Remember to study the auctioneers commissions as they can be expensive, plus sometimes there are minimum selling or unsold charges, catalogue photography fees, internet photo fees, insurances etc, etc.
Taking space at motoring events/autojumbles is another good way of selling art but watch the weather; sun and rain are equally dangerous elements! Direct selling is an excellent method of meeting fellow enthusiasts.