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  • Harry Fane

Thoughts as we end the summer holidays:




Vintage Cartier Design 1963


The true state of the world today, whilst in the grip of “The Great Pandemic”, may only become apparent after some years. Where we perceive we are, is nothing short of speculation and hope mixed with relentless, contradictory news. So much uncertainty, so much confusion, so much death, disease and fear and heartbreak. Now the fallout from the nuclear explosion which has blown out the heart of what was our ‘normality’. What will happen next? When will it happen? Who knows? All of us who are driven by order and control will be going nuts!

Of course, this is hard for us to comprehend as the epidemiology is wildly confusing. As for the economics of recovery, this is just scary. Read page one of the newspapers “Doom, doom, doom”. By page ten, “V shape recovery” is declared…” stock market boom”…So is it ‘Doom or Boom’?

How is all this affecting our small and precious art world? It’s impossible to judge with any certainty but there are a few things worth exploring. For sure there have been some great successes. Just see my entries to follow the high prices being achieved for vintage Cartier. However, to get a true reading of what is going on in the art industry is always difficult. Everyone is always spinning stories to promote themselves, their artists, their works of art and, heaven forbid, should anyone ever admit there is a problem. But there clearly is a problem. The way the artworld works basically precludes the isolation we are all being forced to endure. The artworld is a gregarious environment. All art dealers love to congregate with their colleagues and clients and look at beautiful things and then bore the hind legs off cows with their opinions! I only jest but meeting and greeting and carefully inspecting works of art is at the very core of art dealing. The same applies to the Auction Houses. They are all crowing about how well ‘online’ is doing, but is it? The ATG just published an article saying the half-year results are 50% down. Would you be a seller of an important work of art when no-one can properly see it or, for example, jewellery which no-one can pick up or try on? …. Just a photo or two and a brief description in an ‘online’ catalogue is supposed to suffice? For the Auction Houses, interaction with the ‘Trade’ and collectors also polices the whole game. Fakes, inconsistencies, incorrect cataloguing are all picked up by dealers as they view the sales. This serves a vital function. Without these engagements, how safe is buying ‘online’? Already, one of the Auction Houses had to remove an important bracelet with a spurious signature from their Spring sale.

Whilst by nature I tend to be a ‘glass half empty’ fellow, I find myself resolute and positive about the future. Of course, all will not be as it was a year ago. There are dramatic changes we have to get used to. I feel sorry that so much of our time is now being spent in front of a computer screen. How tempting it is to enter what one is looking for in the search bar and sit back. Yes, these searches throw up all manner of opportunities but what about those ‘mis-catalogued’ lots, the sleepers the Auction Houses have missed? These are our very rare ‘lottery wins’ but with the vast expansion of ‘online’, there is now simply too much to view. We would never leave our houses for ploughing through yet another auction catalogue or virtual Art Fair or digital trip through one gallery or another. This will have to mutate in due course to make the amount of information slightly less overwhelming.

But for the few who do want to venture out, how glorious is it to sit with someone once again and look at something beautiful? To look through books and compare opinions and discover information. To hold in your hand or see on a wall something rare, something with history or provenance. To find something which delights the soul. Some missing piece of a collector’s jigsaw, an unknown discovery….and ancient bronze, a 16th Century piece of Chinese pottery. A Cartier necklace worn by The Duchess of Windsor or Coco Chanel.

Never before has this ‘journey’ taken on more significance. Pursuing works of art was easy before our ‘normality’ was destroyed. Fairs were held, Museums and galleries were open as were the auction houses. Now it is all so much harder with the travel restrictions and lockdowns and quarantines. But whilst less easy, I believe it is now a definitely and infinitely sweeter ‘journey’. With a whole new world surrounding us, I remain positive about the future. After a lifetime pursuing beautiful jewels and precious objects, I know how exciting and meaningful this can be. No virus, however infectious, will change that nor alter people’s need to explore and experience the beautiful works of art our forebearers and ancestors left us and which are a testament to the brilliance of the human mind and imagination.


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