Have you seen the television programme "Fake or Fortune"? It was a BBC production hosted by Fiona Bruce and starring Philip Mould, both of Antiques Roadshow fame. Philip Mould is an Art Dealer in London, and the premise of the programme was to follow one of his very educated hunches that an average painting being sold at Auction somewhere in the world was hiding the work of a Master underneath. The process of restoration of the canvas was then followed, and the subsequent authentication process revealed a painting worth millions of dollars.



Recently, I picked up a copy of the book "The Art Detective - Fakes, Frauds and Finds and the Search for Lost Treasures" by Philip Mould on the bargain table outside Dillon's bookstore on The Parade at Norwood for $6.99. It's a reasonably slim hardcover book packed full of his best stories of discovering Rembrandts, Gainsboroughs and Hogarths in places as diverse as provincial Auction rooms, on eBay (a $70 Gainsborough), and hidden behind panelling in a barn. The process of restoration he detailed was absolutely fascinating to me. I definitely recommend the book if you're at all interested in Art and history and antiques... it was full of good stories.




Now, I hide a little bit of an addiction... I love an Auction house. I was brought up trailing around after my Mother to Church Fete's, Antique fairs, and Antique stores, bric a brac shops and Op (thrift) shops, as well as Auction Houses. It's a bit of a family passion - one of my sisters finds the lure of the Auction rooms hard to resist too.

Recently, I was thinking that I should use my natural talent for always gravitating toward the most expensive item in any shop (what I like to think is caused by my ability to hone in on good design...maybe?) and apply that to the local Auction houses. There are two in Adelaide - Small and Whitfield in Unley, and Scammel's in Kent Town. So when scanning through the lots one Saturday, two children guaranteed to distract by my side, I noticed a sweet little watercolour painting, barely larger than a postcard. It was framed in a hideously cheap frame that you'd buy at any photographic supply shop - you know the type with the little turn things on the back for putting a photo into the mount. Distractingly it had a burgundy/ brownish mount, but the little painting had been stuck to it, rather than being framed by it. On the back in spidery handwriting was A.J. Hewins 1940.





In the auction catalogue, it was written as being circa 1984. Thanks to the Internet, a quick google of the Artists name revealed that it was by a water colourist that was quite well known - it's an English painting, and painted by the man who produced many of the railway posters in the 1920's and 1930's (such as those below).

via 

I was the successful bidder for $30, and took it to a local framer, who did a superb job in framing it up. Naturally the frame was the expensive part of the equation, but it really makes all the difference.





So as for whether this qualifies as a Fortune... well, I don't think so. But I think it's worth more than the $30 I paid for it, and proves that you can find interesting and unique pieces at a local auction rooms without spending a fortune. Buoyed by this success, I'll now be keeping my eyes peeled for a Gainsborough... I'm sure there must be one lurking somewhere in Adelaide?

22 comments:

  1. Hehe, it just might be you who discovers an ancient Ming vase someone used as a door stopper! I also have read his books but the last one was Sleuth. Quite good! I love his gallery as well, he had a superb portrait of Charles II that I still think about and wished I bought. Am also an auction junkie but have had to stop because one can get rather carried away. although once I got a bargain but that just fueled my passion!xx

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    1. I'll have to look out for Sleuth on the bargain table then! I remember walking past his gallery when I was in London last year... some lovely things in the window. The siren call of the Auction house is hard to resist. Most of it is terrible tat in Australia (aside from the proper monthly antique auctions), but I do find interesting things every now and again. And miss out on things every now and again and kick myself for leaving too low a bid (I always do absentee bids).xx

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    2. PS I forgot to say how lovely your reframing looks and it sure as heck doesn't look like it was $30 ( although I bet you paid more than that in framing it)!? Have you seen how much Ikea charges for a few pictures lately???

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    3. Thanks N, yes, framing was much more than $30, but I thought it came up really well. It's definitely worth bearing in mind when bidding how much a reframe will cost to the overall purchase price. The one it was in was awful - much worse in person than in the photos! x

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  2. I love it! I also found a beautiful framed watercolour of a Sydney terrace house in a second hand store. I feel like I have stood in front of the acutally building, hopefully I will see it again in real life. I will be re-framing it for my hallway. Can't wait to pull it out of the frame and I hope to find some details when I do so. How exciting.
    The magic a re-framing can do.
    I also have the talent to gravitate towards the most expensive item in ANY store. Hmm. How about that?
    It's a darling piece of art, now where are you going to hang it?

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    1. Sounds lovely Laura... can't wait to see it on your blog! It's always annoyed me that when looking at one of those magazine spreads featuring the high and low cost items, I always hone in on the shoes (or whatever) that are the $2000 designer ones, not the $69 Wittner ones featured next to them!! I think the little painting will go in the study when it is shuffled around after the reno's are finished. At the moment I've propped it up on the fireplace to ensure it doesn't get damaged. xx

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  3. Heidi... your scanning ability is a talent... cleverly absorbing all the details of refinement when accompanying your mother to various antique outlets. You probably have the ability of scanning a room really quickly, your eye settling upon something which others might view as trivia or worthless but turns out to be anything but!... I like to think that I can sometimes be a 'scanner'.... There is always the excitement of entering an auction house, a high-end antique store and especially a junk shop ... I totally relate!!! I absolutely adore your little painting... it is adorable and so beautifully framed... exactly right!! Jenny xx

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    1. I'm glad someone thinks its a talent! Mr AV tends to think it's just an expense...! I'm sure you've got a great eye when assessing a room full of someone else's bits and pieces. My Aunt in particular has a real talent for it - she finds the most amazing things that we all overlook xx

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    2. Dear Heidi
      Queen Mary was supposed to have had a very good eye. She'd enter a house and immediately spot the loveliest and finest thing and then admire it so profusely that the poor people always felt compelled to give it to her. Understand people took to hiding their favourite pieces when they knew she was coming to visit. Best wishes from London, Pamela

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    3. I do remember hearing that Pamela! I somehow don't think that anyone is going to feel compelled to give me anything of theirs that I admire however...! Hope you have a wonderful time on the Garden Tour -I'm very envious.... I'm sure Janelle will do a fabulous job. xx

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  4. I too am addicted to the lure of the auction room.....here in France we have already been to one in a village just down the road where we picked up Christofle cutlery for next to nothing. I had to sit on my hands as the most beautiful French antique furniture was knocked down at amazingly low prices....coerced my husband to email his friend who works in shipping to investigate costs and he emailed back to tell him to hold onto his wallet and his sanity so am thinking I might not get my container load....his time! I wonder what you'll find next week?! Fingers crossed for a Constable! Rx

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    1. Christofle?? How lovely - my parent's have Christofle for their silver..... please post pics on your blog! The auction rooms in Europe are so much better than here.... I used to work in London across the road from the Lots Road Auction rooms in Chelsea, and I'd watch all the stuff being dropped off and picked up, and wander through on my lunch breaks to have a look at what was on offer. Some seriously lovely things, but the shipping was the tricky part, and it ended up in the too hard basket (plus I was poor, so it just was a case of looking and not buying). It mustn't be that difficult to bring in a whole container load of furniture.... all the Antique stores here still do it. The guy from Antiques Avignon in Adelaide (where I bought my fireplace for the extension) used to do it once a year, and obviously made some money from it... if you do decide to go ahead, can you keep an eye out for a chandelier for my study?? Merci! x

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  5. Lovely choice with the new frame, it really brings the painting to life more than the old frame did ;)

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    1. Thanks N, I thought the gold complimented the colours in the painting well too x

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  6. Just left you a long comment which blogger promptly ate! I love the picture - my mother-in-law is Very English and collects old railway posters.

    I love the whole second hand market be it auctions/garage sales/secondhand shops etc. I love a good clearing sale too when a farm is sold but the quality ones are getting fewer and further between alas.

    Just bought a second hand side board my Mum found for me when she bought some bedside tables on Gumtree. It wasn't technically for sale yet but Mum managed to persuade the lady it was and then rang me! Made from wood from Lords cricket ground stands. Quite rustic - I will definitely find a spot somewhere for it on The Farm.

    Best city I ever found for antiques was Buenos Aires. Whole shops devoted to chandeliers and bits thereof, or in one case stone angels and gargoyles (The Farmer did think they had been nicked from graveyards - anything's possible in Argentina!) Apparently it is a really common market for Europeans, particularly people who are furnishing old castles etc as hotels. Much cheaper to go to BA and fill a container than buy in Europe. Alas I only had a suitcase and was on a farm tour. No room for stone angels.

    Glad you are ok - was about to email as you are such a regular blogger I was worried something had happened with radio-silence for a week or so! (As opposed to slack me who is very sporadic at best.)

    Take care Heidi. Hope all is well in your world.

    T

    xx

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    1. Thanks for your concern T! Nothing sinister... just that I bought a new laptop, which has turned into a saga and is now being fixed by Apple... so boring technology problems basically. The other laptop we have wouldn't let me do anything that required a password (like blog, or shop for that matter), or respond to email. It was a little frustrating!! Finally worked out it was the parental locks so I managed to finally put up this blog post. New computer supposed to arrive today all fixed and working.

      Love the sound of your sideboard - can't wait to see it insitu. That's very interesting about Buenos Aires.... I suppose with all their economic problems there would have been some great stuff in their Auctions.... I am now thinking a trip to Argentina might be on the cards - I need some way of filling up the new extension with stuff (cottage to house transition means very little furniture I'm afraid!!). xx

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  7. I have never been to an Auction House but my interest has been piqued over the years. My mother used to go, not on a regular basis, just when she needed something. On my bucket list now that I am not working.

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    1. They're quite accessible now Linda - I browse the catalogues on line first, then sometimes go and view (not always due to family commitments), and I never actually attend the auction due to having kids with me who wouldn't sit through an hours auction - I do an absentee bid. Would love to attend in person, you can get some serious bargains ... one day! x

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  8. Heidi, I LOVE that show with Fiona Bruce. I recently watched a documentary she hosted about the life and work of Leonardo Da Vinci. During the interviews she spoke French and Italian fluently - amazing. I love watching Antiques Roadshow, mostly for the reactions of people, especially when they underestimate how much an item they own is worth. The BBC have so many fabulous shows on television xxx

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    1. I think I saw that one Fifi - she's like a female Kevin McCloud with her language expertise! How I wish I had the ability to speak foreign languages fluently.... having tried many times, and failed, I think I can say that I have absolutely no ear for another language at all. I always love watching antique roadshow too... I love the amazing stories of provenance that come with the items (found it at a jumble sale for 20 pence etc). xx

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  9. Grrr, all the comments I made today were eaten by blogger!
    Anyway, that water colour is beautiful - how fabulous to get it for so little!

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    1. Ha! Know the problem too well Ruth after the past week of computer frustrations. I really couldn't believe that everyone else had overlooked it - most pictures at the sales are completely awful (local 'artists' oil paintings of local scenery in general.... or prints of old masters etc). It really stood out to me. xx

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