At a recent painting auction at Artmark, among the works was also the One-Eyed Turk by Camil Ressu, at a price estimated between 12,500 and 18,000 euros, sold to the first bidder for 12,500 euros. On the other hand, another work, Country Road, by the same painter, was sold for 1,000 euros over the maximum price estimate.
Without claiming to be a connoisseur, I can only say that, in my opinion, the One-Eyed Turk is by far underestimated (kudos to its happy owner) and the Country Road just barely justifies the price for which it was acquired, and this only because it is a work of Camil Ressu. The discussion I want to start here is whether indeed the bid at the minimum price, of 12,500 euros, was randomly made by someone, or was it a knowledgeable move? Why sold to the first bidder? Why was there not more bidding?
If we study the painting closely, it makes a shocking impression. With an eye closed, sick, blind, in the other the Turkish man focuses his entire personality. The shabby caftan, brown and cold like the coffee grounds heated on the sand in traditional Turkish fashion, the subject’s folded hands and crossed legs, the empty table at which he sits, but especially, I return to the stern look with which the Turk welcomes you, all these have nothing beautiful, nothing attractive. And yet you want to talk to him, to be seated by him at the table, on the unoccupied chair. The open terrace in front of which you will sit gets lost in the undulating landscape of hills, with the mosque, the olive trees and the houses of the village.
Could such a work be purchased by chance? The answer is certainly not; such a painting can only have its place in the collection of a connoisseur.
The collector born into wealth will choose simple works, visually harmonious, banal, "easy." He bid for the Country Road because: 1) it is Ressu; 2) it is classic and chromatically correct – a road with a vanishing point, lights and shadows applied “by the book”; 3) it has majestic trees and a familiar landscape, with red-tiled roofs. Easy thus from an aesthetic point of view, such a work does not pose existential questions.
Where a collector born into wealth goes wrong (since she does not have the flair of a traditional collector, which would allow her to see the cycle of a minimum of 50-60 years of an object) is first of all the choice of objects for which she bids – she enters the painting market without understanding its subtleties; then she allows herself to be carried away by the adrenalin-pumped competition of “bidding” – in other words, she does not know when to stop; anyway, she has a minimal understanding of the investment itself – she wishes security for her capital, but she obtains the opposite effect and will slowly and surely waste her wealth in at most 10 years (after that, she begins to understand).
How much need, however, does the market have of such collectors? They are, without doubt, a reality and are among the most courted individuals. The art seller desires new treasures in her investment portfolio, betting on the fact that these future collectors, although initially totally uninstructed, buying on inspiration or with poor advice, will manage in a reasonable time interval (10, 15 years) to enter the market as buyers who are, if not professional, at least more careful about transactions. And more careful about transactions means choosing works that are atypical, uncomfortable, that make you turn again and again your eyes towards them to discover another nuance. These will attract large capital investments.
Here are the answers to the questions above. The connoisseurs are few, reason for which the painting by Ressu, titled by the auction house “The Faithful Client” (“The One-Eyed Turk” or even his proper name I believe are more likely titles that the painter would have chosen) was sold practically without bidding.
And you and I, when we meet the Turk, will have a long discussion (until then, possibly, we can look deeply into the landscape beyond our own window).
In the second episode of this story (2), I will choose an unsold painting, found still in the portfolio of the Grimberg Auction House, a work listed at an extremely reasonable price. A painting for smaller budgets, through the analysis of which I want to demonstrate the same thesis: the lack of instruction of those individuals new to the art market, the collectors born into wealth. And possibly, to influence some of their choices.
Until next time,
T.C. & E.