I do not think that people use the term craftsmanship to describe the work carried out by some artists. To accurately portray the physical attributes and the personality of the sitter is, in my opinion, a craft that requires skill, training and a healthy dose of talent. When one adds the historical value and importance of portraiture, the appeal of a famous (or not so famous) face from history to an investor becomes even more apparent.
I have spoken about the concept of fine art as a form of currency in previous posts. If ever there was a type of art that was more suited to being used as a form of currency, it would have to be portraiture. The number of common features that most portraits share, combined with the ease with which one can judge and value a portrait based on intrinsic and extrinsic characteristics, makes the portrait a prime candidate for an art world currency. As I have said before, scholarship is the key to successful art investment, and successful wealth preservation using art for that matter. Portraits are usually afforded the honour of in depth scrutiny and attention by scholars and academics because of the information that portraits can provide about various branches of history. For this reason, among others, portraits are given the sort of long term continued attention that constantly adds value.
The second trend that I have alluded to is a greater interest in works on paper – in particular original drawings and watercolours. I personally of the opinion that the increased popularity of watercolour paintings, particularly those by British artists, is due to the greater interest in the art of the Victorian era which was the golden age of British watercolour painting. Although original works on paper, such as drawings and watercolours, are often looked upon as the less valuable mediums in the scheme of things, the tide can change very quickly as it has recently. As well as the revival of interest in Victorian art, a shortage of major works by the Old Masters and the Impressionists has driven buyers to seek the qualities that they are looking for in other mediums and periods. An article titled ‘Young masters in an old game’ from The Guardian newspaper written by John Windsor in November 2009 sums up the situation surrounding works on paper perfectly with the following statement: “Taste is shifting from new, ill-conceived conceptual art of the Brit-pack variety – costing thousands but faltering at auction, towards old, traditional skill-based art……. but you do need to develop an eye for quality – the easy, confident line of a master draughtsman, the luminosity of a watercolourist’s washes.” It is a shame that the watercolour painting is considered the poorer cousin of the oil painting because there are so many amazing watercolours by some of the world’s greatest artists that do not receive the exposure that they deserve.
**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia.