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This Month: The UK and Euro columns from the Autumn 2020 issue of Antiques and Collectables for Pleasure & Profit.

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Ivor Hughes

The UK Column
Ivor Hughes reports significant news in the UK trade


The latest advice, confirmed after the UK's departure on January 31, is that everything will remain pretty much the same until December 31. The rest of 2020 is to be the transition period unless an extension is agreed.

The advice I gave in the last issue of ACPP, how cross-channel dealers would be affected from January 31 2020, is no longer correct. No changes are due before January 1 2021, or even later if an extension to the transition period is agreed. Or not at all if reciprocal GST rules are retained. The absolute deadline for agreement is December 31 2021.

Although it remains just as important to identify any changes well in advance, the accompanying guessing game has now been suspended until the final terms of our departure are imminent.

eBay sale with all the ingredients

A second hand $70 dress, bought from the cut-price clothing and cosmetics website ASOS, was recently bid up to $40,000 on eBay UK. It had everything going for it.

Notoriety. The off-the-shoulder dress in question had been worn in Parliament by Tracy Brabin, the opposition MP responsible for Culture. While addressing Parliament on February 4, her dress slipped a little further down her right shoulder than she might have intended - she was standing and had a leg in plaster. Nothing risqué, only a couple of inches beneath her armpit. But the TV coverage sparked a landslide of insults on social media and criticism on morning TV the following day and the personal nature of those insults generated far more media debate than the dress itself.

Celebrity. Prior to her election in 2016, Brabin had for 25 years been a successful TV actress in numerous soaps and other dramas. She is best remembered for appearing in Coronation Street for three years, portraying a vulnerable single parent.

Provenance. This wasn't some dress that might have belonged to someone famous. It clearly was the one worn in Parliament by a celebrity MP with significant political responsibilities.

Publicity. The furore received saturation media coverage. And even more when Brabin confronted her detractors by auctioning the 'shouldergate' dress on eBay as a fundraiser for Girlguiding UK. ASOS added interest by reporting that they had sold out.

The down side

It wasn't all positive. The winning bid on February 13 was $40,000. But the winner immediately left negative feedback, promptly removed, and their eBay account was closed. The bidding history, viewable online, showed that all sixteen bids made during the closing eight minutes had been made by the winning bidder and one other.

The following morning, and in an exclusive interview with ACPP (I was on deadline) Tracy Brabin's agent told me that she was aware of the irregularities but had nonetheless been advised by eBay that she would receive the full $40,000 or an amount very close.

Perhaps eBay had decided to make good any shortfall. The last thing they would want with such a high profile sale would be to draw attention to non-payers or any suggestion of malicious bids made for the purpose of leaving negative feedback.

The dress was Tracy Brabin's first venture on eBay. She joined on February 6 and listed the dress immediately. The support and publicity she received, and with Girlguiding UK being some $40,000 better off, everyone was a winner. Not in the same league as Shane Warne's baggy green cap (raising $1m for bushfire relief), but how many other beleaguered politicians might decide to use similar tactics to turn the table on their detractors?

Auctions - live or timed, or a little of both?

The internet facilitated a phenomenal increase in the number and frequency of timed auctions, where bidding on each lot is scheduled to close at an exact time. eBay auctions are the best examples, though some salerooms, or websites such as Catawiki, extend the deadline by a few minutes if there is a flurry of last minute bidding. The disadvantages of timed auctions have always been that goods are rarely available to view and shipping costs can be disproportionate.

Enter Fellows of Birmingham

Fellows, a UK market leader in the field of online auction technology, has recently introduced its own version of timed auctions. Although used only in a small proportion of their sales, it is a useful combination of both timed and live. Take, for example, their jewellery sale of February 21. Online bidding started up to a week in advance, with the high bids being displayed immediately. Viewing was possible for three days before and on the morning of the sale. The 330 lots were timed to end at thirty seconds intervals from 1pm onward, retaining the ability to extend individual deadlines in the event of late interest.

The attraction for Fellows is that they can now conduct sales at a steady 120 lots per hour, with physical bids starting much higher than usual. The attractions for remote bidders are that they can view the item in question and can see well in advance if other bids have taken it above their budget. If Fellows finds this new style of timed auctions worthy of wider in-house application, then others will be bound to follow.

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine
Judith Dunn

The Euro Column
Judith Dunn looks at events in Europe

Recent weeks have seen trade figures published for the art and antiques scene in Europe in 2019. Paris led the field - and Sotheby's led the Paris field with a 41% increase in sales over 2018. This was largely attributable to single collection sales, which continue to be the benchmark. Notable here was the Lalanne sale, alone making well over €90 million. Aguttes increased sales by 30%, Tajan by 10% and Christie's by just under 10%. Drouot's umbrella operation was marginally down but still very healthy at €372 million. Artcurial's major coup was a Gauguin Tahitian period painting, Te Bourao, knocked down at €7.8 million. When you consider that it eventually cost the buyer €9.5 million including premium, it's no surprise that top auction houses are doing very nicely.

Photographs and ephemera often tell poignant stories and some such did very well in Germany. Berlin auction house Grisebach almost doubled mid-estimate with a collection of silver-gelatin prints taken by August Sander from his extensive People of the 20th Century study. Documenting German society and professions, they made €700,000 on the hammer. And doubling low estimate at a staggering €630,000 was a single postcard painted in 1913 by Franz Marc, a German Expressionist. It depicted the world as seen through the gaze of a green and white horse, in line with his preoccupation with the sensitivity of animals. Marc sent it two years later to the widow of a friend killed at the front, before dying himself at Verdun the next year.

There is obviously a lot of uncertainty at the moment in Europe in the wake of Brexit, but all negotiating parties seem to have a constructive approach with none of the bluster and buffoonery that characterised the campaign. European art and antiques market actors recognise the freedoms that the UK might enjoy in the future, when released from the more arcane EU diktats, and are busy lobbying for a relaxation of their own rules. In France a bill seeking auction reform has already passed through the Senate and will be debated soon in the National Assembly. A considerable amount of goodwill is also being generated by various attempts at restitution of artworks, not only those looted by the Nazis. A report commissioned by President Macron has urged that many African items be returned from museums to their country of origin, so we await developments on that front. A tighter approach to fraud is evident too, with goods removed from stands at BRAFA and a display item from the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris over doubts as to provenance.

A fair amount of moving and shaking is going on in France in the coming months, not only in Paris. That's where we start, though, with Drawing Now, the contemporary art fair which is part of Le Mois du Dessin, a works on paper festival in March. Drawing Now runs from 26-29 March at Le Carreau du Temple. There are some 19 galleries taking part and the fair includes an Insight section, dedicated to emerging talent from other countries, mostly European, deserving of international exposure. Talks and performance art are also programmed and there is a prize, in its tenth year now, to be awarded to one of five shortlisted artists.

Celebrating 40 years of the Claude Monet Foundation, the artist's home and garden at Giverny will be reopening on April 1. Henri Matisse is forever linked with the light of the Mediterranean, but was born in the north, at Le Cateau-Cambrésis. The museum there is taking a novel look at the work of Matisse in April. Eight contemporary artists have been invited to respond to the master, both inside the building and in its grounds. They include established figures such as Ben, Marco del Re and Patrick Montagneux. A less well-known birthplace is in Lille, where Charles de Gaulle was born in 1890. His house is being given a major makeover, lasting until November. Then it will reopen as a recreation of an 1890 bourgeois home, the only one in Lille.

In nearby Roubaix, the magnificent Art Déco swimming pool, La Piscine, was revamped into an industrial museum, arts and culture centre in 2004, when Lille was European City of Culture. From March to May 2020 it hosts intriguing exhibitions on ceramics and textile art. In Calais, port of entry from the UK, there will be a Jeanne Thil exhibition from April to November. A hitherto little-known artist on the international scene, she was born in Calais and painted historical aspects of the town. But she was a consummate painter of more exotic scenes - the Med, Spain, Portugal, Tunisia - and these works, never shown before, come from a legacy gifted in 2016. Back to Paris and an exhibition at the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres and the secrets of fine ceramics. If you are in the south between April and September and missed or shunned the crowds at the various Tutankhamen shows, head to the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence for the Pharaoh, Osiris and the Mummy exhibition. It brings together the art of ancient Egypt via artefacts from the Louvre as well as local and wider European museum collections.

That's if you are travelling at all. As we go to press, the coronavirus epidemic in China shows no signs of abating, although measures in place in European countries do seem to be highly effective in containing its reach. However, the absence of Chinese visitors to Europe is inevitably going to have an effect on the art and antiques market, regardless of its global nature. At this stage, we can only hope for better news anon.

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine