A still-life of roses by Sir Winston Churchill, given to screen-legend Vivien Leigh, will be unveiled for the first time at Sotheby’s in London tomorrow. Never seen in public before, the painting reveals the little-known story of the deep and long-lasting friendship between the Prime Minister and the legendary star of Gone with the Wind. Depicting flowers picked from Churchill’s beloved garden at Chartwell, his country home in Kent, Roses in a Glass Vase was gifted to Vivien in 1951, during a midnight supper hosted by Churchill on the birthday of Leigh’s husband, Sir Laurence Olivier. Churchill’s flower paintings were given only to those dearest to him. Leigh treasured the present so greatly that the work hung on the wall opposite her bed. Fittingly, on Churchill’s 90th birthday she sent him a bouquet as a gift. #VivienAtSothebys #WinstonChurchill #Roses #VivienLeigh
In the first “Sex and the City” movie, the girls accompany Samantha to an auction at Christie’s, where she has her heart set on a sparkly diamond cocktail ring. The room is full with what we assume to be an elite set, directed by an auctioneer with a British accent. Very fancy.
The ring starts at $10,000, and Samantha is in competition with a bidder on the phone (who happens to be her model boyfriend, but that’s beside the point). In a matter of seconds, the price soars to $50,000, Samantha’s final bid, and she ends up losing to the other bidder.
Sure, she ends up being gifted the ring in the end, but real-life bidding isn’t always so seamless. Before you get wrapped up in thinking that auctions are only for the richest of the rich, however, know this: there truly is a place in the bidding war for everyone.
“There is such a long history of auction houses being what you see in the movies,” says Lindsay Griffith, specialist for Prints & Multiples at Christie’s, and Head of Sale for their current auction Contemporary Edition. “While there is this tradition of excellence that comes with auction houses, and we certainly do have high-level property in our marquis, there is quite a variety of property that is on offer.”
In other words, there’s something at auction for everyone, you just have to know where to begin. Keep these tips from Griffith and Rob Weisberg, CEO of Invaluable, an online marketplace for fine art, antiques and collectibles, in mind and it should be smooth sailing.
1. It’s not like the movies.
Most of what you see in the movies is something posh and high-end, Weisberg notes, and while he admits there is some truth to that, the vast majority of the auction market is accessible, and where you go if you want one-of-a-kind pieces being sold at a discount. According to Weisberg, you can buy items for as little as $500.
2. It’s not just for old people.
If you think of old money and old people when it comes to auctions, think again. There are increasingly more opportunities for young people to get involved and certain markets are ideal for people who are just starting their collection. One-third of Christie’s online bidders are under 45, according to Griffith. She recommends wine, jewelry prints and photographs as good entry markets.
3. Watch the market.
Not only can you check out a database, to see what items like the one you may be eyeing have gone for in the past, you can watch real-time auctions on standby just to get familiar with the scene.
“We are running about 17,000 auctions a year,” Weisberg says. “You can watch a live auction on Invaluable without a bid and see what it’s like.”
4. Move quickly.
If one movie stereotype is true, it’s that you have to act fast. Weisberg says that while an entire auction can last hours, individual pieces can go in under 30 seconds.
5. Pick something you are drawn to and learn about the piece.
“Art is — even if you think of it as an investment — it is something that you are going to live with,” Griffith says. You can check out a catalogue before the auction even begins, so you never have to go in blind. You can even reach out to the auction house, who will have agents specializing in your piece, for additional information.
Griffith recommends visiting galleries at Christie’s. They are free, open to the public, and a great way to educate yourself and get acclimated with their inventory so you can prepare for the big live-auction day.
6. Bid online.
If you aren’t quite ready for a live auction, the online world is a growing sector for the art market. Invaluable, the amazon of the auction world, according to the CEO, connects thousands of buyers to the sales and auction houses they are seeking. You can access thousands of auctions from your computer or even your mobile phone.
7. Set a budget beforehand.
Don’t let the excitement of an auction go to your head. It can be easy to get caught up in the moment and end up having to spend more than what you intended. Weisberg suggests setting a budget (auction houses will give a range of what each piece will sell for) and sticking to it to avoid going broke at auction.
8. Sales are pretty much final.
There’s no such thing as a buy and try policy when it comes to auctions. You can only return your purchase in extreme cases. Most items come with rescission rights, which mean you have the opportunity to return within 48 hours of receipt, but only if the piece is damaged or differs from the way it was described. Other than that, it is a binding contract.
9. Learn the lingo.
Griffith points out there is pretty specific language in the auction world. Here are a few terms that will make you sound like an old pro:
Buyer’s Premium: The percentage paid by the successful bidder to the auction house in addition to the hammer price.
Hammer price: The final bid price, whether property is sold or unsold, announced by the auctioneer when the gavel falls, not including the buyer’s premium.
Lot: An object or group of objects offered for sale as one unit.
Price realized: The final selling price + the buyer’s premium + the hammer price.
Provenance: Information concerning a lot’s current or prior ownership that may affect value.