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Portrait of a young man. Oil on panel. Attributed to John Hey 1480-1500, French school.


Oil on canvas. Portrait of child with spaniel. C.1842. Signed Richard Bruckner

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Tips for Collecting Old Master Paintings, Drawings

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, October 2008

If you keep up with the art auction market you've probably noticed "old master" paintings and drawings sell for millions of dollars. We're talking artists working from the 14th century to the 16th, and early 19th centuries. Since you figure you can't afford anything in that rarified category you are probably wondering why I am even writing a column offering tips.


Meet Lawrence Steigrad, New York art dealer who says you to can begin a modest collection. Maybe not Michelangelo, but lesser known second and third tier masters. "There are wonderful opportunities to start a collection with drawings priced in the $1,000 range and oil paintings beginning at $7,500." Steigrad believes portraits, especially of children with animals are currently under priced.


Do you know you can buy your art with "time payments"? "This helps many beginning collectors buy fine art they might not otherwise consider buying," Stiegrad says.


He advises buying what you like, not what you think will necessarily go up in price. He cites himself as an example. "When I first began collecting I bought a pair of Francesco Bartolozzi (1727-1815) drawings at a Christie's auction for $2,000. I sold them fifteen years ago for $10,000. Today they would sell for $59,000 to $75,000. But, originally I bought them because I liked them."


These days he and wife Peggy Stone (former specialist in the Ole Master department of Christie's, New York), share their common interest in their New York Gallery.


As Steigrad explained, "Though the master drawings appear fragile they were made on durable rag paper which is strong enough to survive not only over centuries but exposure to light and the elements." He also noted, as with other art, these come to market when estates are liquidated or collectors decide to sell and collect something else.


There are many different types of master drawings. Some, done in a red chalk called sanguine, could be applied to a plaster ground on a wall as preparation for a painted fresco. "Presentation" drawings were meant for a patron or given to a friend were usually on highly finished sheets, and for practicing techniques involving light and shadow modeling. Pen and ink drawings, the oldest form, sometimes included chalk, gouache, watercolor, wash, pastel or oil.


CLUES: Fakes and forged oils and drawings still turn up, even at fancy auctions. Steigrad advises getting advice from knowledgeable dealers. "In the 18th and 19th centuries, for example, Raphael was admired and many copies of his work were made after original sketches. Consider the materials used. Graphite wasn't known before the second half of the 16th century. So, a pencil drawing supposedly by Durer, would have to have been done after."


In the 1960s there was a revival of interest in old master drawings. Framed prints were everywhere. A good jeweler's loup would show up the flatness of a print.


Photos Courtesy of Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts. 23 East 69th Street. New York, NY, (212) 517-3643.  


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