News and Trends

Q&A: Ann Palmer


There are few better equipped to advise on buying art at auction than Ann Palmer, a Cape Town-based director at Strauss & Co fine art auctioneers and consultants, who has worked in the industry for over two decades.

What’s next on the Strauss & Co auction calendar for 2014?

Following our recent Strauss & Co auction at Cape Town’s Vineyard Hotel, we’re having an online auction from 7 to 23 April 2014, which should prove very popular. After that, 23 June, in our Johannesburg salerooms at the Wanderers Club.

Three important things to know before buying art at auction?

1. The artist. It is important to know who the artist is and to have some idea of their career and oeuvre. This will be useful in helping establish the value.

2. The provenance, or history, where possible. For example, if a painting is fresh to the market it will be far more desirable than one that has been seen repeatedly in the salerooms. Best of all, if it has only belonged to one owner who acquired it directly from the artist and has remained in the family ever since.

3. The condition. If a work is damaged it is important to know the extent of the damage and what it will cost to have it restored.

How do you know when to stop bidding?

You know when to stop bidding when the price exceeds your budget. It is wise to establish your limit before you get involved in the bidding so that you do not get carried away. Remember, too, that there will be a buyer’s premium plus VAT in addition to the hammer price.

Do paintings always sell at a profit?

Not necessarily. It depends on the market and how long you have owned the work. The rule of thumb is not to return a painting to the market for at least five years if you are expecting to make a profit and even then there is no guarantee.

What is the biggest auction faux pas?

To discover that you are bidding against your partner on the same lot. Believe it or not, this can happen.

Who are your own favourite artists?

I am supposed to be dispassionate so I try not to have favourites. However, I have developed a strong liking for Stanley Pinker. I feel his works are representative of my era and I enjoy his use of colour and composition.  I love some of Maud Sumner’s paintings, particularly of Paris and London, and I am also drawn to paintings by Enslin du Plessis. I seem to favour works by artists that I have known personally, for example, Andrew Verster and Aiden Walsh, both of whom were friends when I lived in Durban in the 1970s.

A prized work you yourself have bought at auction?

Well, I have a truly marvellous diptych by Andrew, which gives me constant pleasure and reminds me of his wonderful tropical garden hidden away on the Berea. I was really lucky to pick this up at auction ages ago when I could afford it.

An artwork you would love to own?

I have been very tempted by some of Terence McCaw’s paintings over the years. He did some lovely paintings of Simon’s Town, where I live, and there is one coming up on the March sale, which I would love to own.

An excerpt from this interview appears in News & Views in the April 2014 issue of House and Leisure.