Reducing the risk of auctions


Image courtesy of Boians Cho Joo Young/

Most investors, when selling art, will consign directly to a particular auction house. But this is not the only option, says Les Fox, co-owner of New Jersey based auction house West Highland Art Auctions.

West Highland Art Auctions, founded by Les Fox and his wife Sue, is a multi-auction auction house which represents all of the major auction houses. The couple buy 19th and 20th century paintings for a competitive price which is based on the likely selling price of a painting with reference to recent comparables. This means that if the painting doesn’t sell, they own it.

The main benefit of doing business with us is having “insurance” on the sale of your painting.  Which means the painting is sold no matter what happens at auction,” says Fox. “You might make more money if you consign directly to one of the auction houses we represent and the painting sells for a good price.  However, when you take into consideration payment up front (at no interest charge), and all of the cost savings (shipping, sales commission, etc.) there is usually no major difference in how much someone nets.

“We currently represent 50 to 100 paintings a year in the $25,000 to $100,000 price range.  While this is only a small percentage of the overall art auction market (200,000+ paintings priced from a few thousand dollars into the millions) it is a nice niche market for us, and it is growing every year.”

He adds that compared to current prices, the art market hit a peak around 2004-2006 where art collectors exhibited “irrational exuberance”. Fox advices that now is a good time to buy a long term investment of 10 to 15 years but questions the benefits of short-term investment, which he believes contributed to the inflated market.

“The only significant trend I have observed is that top quality art and well established artists like Fern Coppedge and the New Hope School, Edouard Cortes, Emile Gruppe, Guy Wiggins and Birger Sandzen continue to enjoy a strong and steady market. We do not recommend ‘taking a shot’ on artists with questionable credentials and a weak track record at auction.  The odds are not in your favor, although occasionally people make a windfall gambling on an emerging artist, but it’s just like Penny Stocks vs. Blue Chips,” he says.