One of my house call guys (an employee who has a degree in fine art and goes on home visits) called me at 10:30 pm one night a year or so ago.
“Sorry to call so late, but I hit the mother lode; I have to come over.” He arrived with a 5 foot tall red and white unsigned painting. He had visited the house of a well-known retired businessman in town, and bought several nice paintings in the $500 to $1,500 range, including this one – unsigned but attributed to Frank Stella. It came with a signed affidavit from the owner as to how he had acquired it. A long detailed story about his relationship with Frank Stella’s girlfriend in New York City in 1966. How they hung out together, how Frank gave the piece to his girlfriend and how the girlfriend, upset over their breakup, gave it to him. It was a well-executed letter, very specific as to times and dates.
I researched this, and found that the piece was exactly the sort of work Stella was doing in the 1960s. I found several of that size and style, many unsigned, that went for over $1 million at auction. But none in the past five years.
Why would the owner sell it so cheaply, we wondered. I sent pics to Sotheby’s along with the signed letterhead indicating the businessman’s provenance. Sotheby’s usually plays it cool, but they were very excited and asked that we get it there quickly, as they had a sale within 90 days.
We trucked it up to NYC the next day, arriving late at night, and asked a friend and fellow art dealer to secretly store it in his garage until the next morning, when Sotheby’s would pick it up.
Sotheby’s called us the next day, after a thorough inspection, and said it was an extraordinary piece. Same paint (Stella used a specific kind of commercial house paint), same Pantone, same canvas. They were wowed. Auction estimate: $2 to $3 million! (They confided to us that the estimate was very conservative.)
We swept into action. For the following week, we had meetings with accountants and attorneys and arrived at a plan to give the seller more money ... a sliding scale, from $500,000 to $1 million, depending on how well it did. (For those of you who think it’s OK to make this much profit in spite of both parties agreeing to a price, it’s not.) We drew up the papers and I rehearsed how I would approach him so as to recompense him without blowing the deal.
Meanwhile, Katrina warned me not to count our chickens before they hatched. But secretly, dreams of a second home on the Riviera and maybe a private jet kept creeping into my head.
Sotheby’s called and said more good news, they’d gotten hold of Frank Stella (he was still living and active in New York City) and he was coming to view it the next day! If you have an expensive painting – contemporary or antique – that you would like us to sell, let us bid on it. (To be continued next Sunday ... when things get really interesting.) If you have an expensive painting – contemporary or antique – that you would like us to sell, let us bid on it.
(To be continued next Sunday... when things get really interesting.)
If you have an expensive painting –contemporary or antique – that you would like us to sell, let us bid on it.
Stop in or call 727.896.0622 for an appointment.
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Hess Fine Art - Fine Art, Auction, Watch and Antique Experts Since 1984