In Depth

What to buy at the Art & Antiques Fair Olympia

After 25 years in the trade, Mary Claire Boyd knows a thing or two about building a collection and scouting for top investment pieces

One rule of thumb to bear in mind when investing in art or antiques is that a collection of works can be worth more than the sums for the individual pieces. If you create a relationship with a dealer, they will help you to build a collection. Face-to-face relationships are that much more important via galleries or fairs and this will benefit you. 

The advantages of strict vetting at a top fair – where every piece is checked by experts before the fair opens – are crucial and will ensure that the art or antique that you invest in is genuine. But make sure when you buy that you're not just doing it for investment. Remember, you have to live with the piece in your home, so it's best if you love it. 

Do your research before you set out to buy. Build your knowledge around an artist and their provenance. Take advantage of talks and tours at fairs, ask dealers why a work is that price and what is so special about it. Some periods of an artist's work will be more valuable than others and therefore a better investment, so it's very important to know what you're buying. Seek help and guidance as much as possible.

The return on art is quite hard to quantify, as every piece is unique. However, we find that more traditional art tends to be a good medium to long-term investment – meaning at least ten years. For example, the works of painter Edward Seago have increased steadily over the past decade, as have those of Mary Fedden and Welsh artist Kyffin Williams. At this upcoming fair, one of our dealers has a selling exhibition of works on paper by Sir George Clausen. Oils by him can sell for up to £50,000, but his works on paper are relatively undervalued – in the £2,000–£10,000 range.

Brexit has certainly had an impact on current trends, with the cheap pound attracting international buyers. Similarly, we have received lots of anecdotal evidence from our dealers that people are buying for investment and this increased after the financial downturn with the lack of confidence in other assets or accounts that people would have put money into.

As a trend, Art Deco is hugely popular at the moment, so our art deco exhibitors always do well. Modern British paintings are selling well and we have an increase in the number of dealers exhibiting from this genre at our upcoming fair.

Artists with recognised provenance will always prove very popular. For example, those who have works in public collections or one-man shows with good galleries and museums will forever be in good stead – as will members of the RA. A major exhibition of an artist will generally push prices up. For example, Paul Nash recently sold very well – both in price and in the number of pieces – at the Winter Art & Antiques Fair Olympia because of the recent exhibition at the Tate.

While every sector is subject to fashion, the best examples of their kind tend to hold their value, partly due to their rarity. Top-end antique furniture has held up well in the past few years and mid-range 19th-century furniture is very competitively priced at the moment, so I'd say it was an excellent time to buy – it's soundly made and will stand the test of time in a way that mass-produced furniture will not.

There has also been a development in the way that people are investing. Due to the high rent that many galleries have to pay, they put a lot of work into their online presence. However, the key thing with art is that you need to see it in the flesh before you make a big investment. This is where the fairs that take place in the UK prove so successful, as they gives dealers who may not have a shop or gallery the opportunity to meet new buyers and show their art face to face rather than just over the internet. Similarly, buyers enjoy the opportunity to meet dealers who specialise in their favourite styles, as it gives them the chance to develop relationships with them and start building a worthwhile collection.

MARY CLAIRE BOYD has worked for the bi-annual Art & Antiques Fair Olympia for 25 years, becoming director in 2012. The fair runs from 26 June to 2 July. Tickets from £15; olympia-art-antiques.com

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