When Jack Vettriano's famous painting The Singing Butler fetched £750,000 eight years ago, the owners of his other works rushed to get them revalued. Just 12 years earlier Vettriano's classic had been rejected by the Royal Academy for inclusion in its summer show
When Jack Vettriano's famous painting The Singing Butler fetched £750,000 eight years ago, the owners of his other works rushed to get them revalued. "I think that got everyone flustered," says Helene Brown of central Bespoke, the private client arm of Central Insurance.
Just 12 years earlier Vettriano's classic had been rejected by the Royal academy for inclusion in its summer show. It is a perfect illustration of the unpredictability of the art world but also shows just how much a work can appreciate in value if everything falls in place.
Scottish artists - past and present - have had a good run in recent years.
Samuel John Peploe's Still Life with Coffee Pot broke records for Scottish paintings when it was sold for nearly £1m last year at Christies in London. It was the highest price paid for a Scottish artist's painting.
Last year nineteenth century Scottish artist archibald Thorburn's Peacock and Peacock Butterfly fetched £252,000 at Bonhams in Edinburgh, surpassing the previous record of £217,250 for his work.
Of course that is peanuts compared to the £74m recently paid at an auction for a pastel version of Edvard Munch's haunting painting The Scream.
But even that didn't surpass the world record of £158.4m which Cezanne's painting The Card Players fetched when it was bought by the Qatari royal family earlier this year.
It is logical to ask why, at a time when much of the world is in the economic doldrums, people are willing to spend so much on art. Is it because it is a better way of investing money given the continued volatility of the markets and still painful memories of the credit crunch?
You might think Miranda Grant, who is managing director of Bonhams in Scotland, would say definitely yes. But she doesn't. "The best thing I can say to you is that I, as an individual, and Bonhams as a company or anyone out there with any sense would never recommend art as investment," she says."art as an investment to me is a bit of an oxymoron.
"Art is a beautiful thing one ought to buy because one loves it and wants to enjoy it. If it then turns out, whether through a piece of luck or clever buying - but more than likely luck - to have been a fantastic investment that ought to really be the icing on the cake.
"In my 22 years in the auction world I have never dealt with one client whose primary reason for buying an object - whether it be jewellery, Asian art or a painting - was the investment factor in it.
"People say I absolutely love this diamond ring, it's gorgeous. and then they might ask as an afterthought whether it would be a good investment. Or they might want to have some sort of security in knowing their purchase is unlikely to plummet in value. at which point I will say in my view whether or not I think it is likely to hold steady. That is easy enough to predict in certain areas but not in others.
"My advice to people is if you love it or want to look at it hanging on your wall or if you want to wear it then fantastic. And it would be great if it was also an investment."
Nevertheless, Grant concedes her business is doing very well despite the downturn. "Last year was extraordinary," she says. "We had the most fantastic year in a climate a lot of people might have wondered why people would be buying art when the financial markets are rather down.
"I think people do feel there is no point in money sitting in the bank when it is earning such an incredibly low rate of interest or, in a worst case scenario, it might not even be secure and so they may as well put it in something they are going to get some enjoyment and pleasure from. I think there is a huge element of that.
Chris Donald, managing director of Innovate Financial Services, agrees with Grant's view on investment. "Investing in art is great in theory but in reality it is very difficult to achieve," he says.
"Art has been an enormous success over the past couple of decades but for most people art of real value is almost completely out of reach. Due diligence, tax considerations, insurance and maintenance are just some of the factors anybody thinking about investing in art must consider before taking the plunge. Investors must check its history, its seller and its value have all been verified and auction houses or dealers should not be relied upon for this information.
"Even if all of this is verified it can be extremely costly to keep a good piece of art as insurers are continually increasing their valuations for 'tangible assets'. There are so many factors to consider and it can be a very risky and potentially expensive investment.
"Whether you have bought art for an investment or not one key thing is to make sure you have it properly insured and regularly get it valued for that purpose."
Brown says her firm would normally expect customers to get their items revalued every three to five years. But it could become more urgent when an artist dies as the value of his or her work may well go up. She says the frequency of valuation does depend on the artist and the work.
"What we try to encourage is for people to have the right cover in place, particularly when they have high-value contents," she says. "When they do a general valuation of their contents they can find themselves quite surprised at the figures put against their artwork.
"I think quite a lot of people find themselves with inherited pieces and have these sitting at home not realising there is an intrinsic value in them. We recommend people go to a professional valuer and there are plenty of people out there who won't only give you advice on the value of your artwork, they will also give you advice on how to look after it which I think is quite important too."
She also advises owners to keep their records straight. "Where did you purchase the item? What provenance do you have? It is very important to keep those pieces of paper."
There are some specialist insurance products which cover the reduction in value if an item gets damaged. "I did have a client whose painting was water damaged," says Brown. "It was not enormously damaged and the painting was repaired and then he was paid diminution of value. Standard products won't cover that."
Brown says her firm has been seeing more clients buying modern art in recent times and getting it insured. There is a big market for modern art in Scotland and one of the biggest players is Glasgow-based Scotlandart.com.
Cathy Ogg, who manages its Glasgow gallery, says its customers buy for a mixture of reasons but in these times there is more of a nod towards investment and where people are putting their money.
She concedes there is no certainty the value of a piece of art will go up. "I think that can change with the ebb and flow of things in the art world," she says. "But obviously when somebody has started to make a name for themselves and is quite well established their work is only going in one direction in terms of investment."
Scotlandart.com represents some 120, mostly Scottish artists including Jack Frame, who held his first solo exhibition in the Glasgow gallery last year. "Jack is a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art and does inimitable tree and sky stuff and usually oil paintings on board. Since graduating in 2007 he has been doing increasingly well," says Ogg. "He is somebody who would be earmarked for the future and people are looking to his paintings in terms of investment."
Other ones to watch include Patsy McArthur, Cherylene Dyer, David Smith and Sam Carter.
Ogg says her gallery is very busy with a lot of clients throughout the UK and overseas as well. "Increasingly the first contact might be through our website and we do ship all over the world. I would say perhaps the most difficult times have thawed in the last year or so. I am sure there have been other galleries and organisations in the art world that have really struggled and haven't made it through. Fortunately we were very well established before that crisis hit and we have weathered that."
Ogg believes modern Scottish art is valued quite highly and its art schools are well respected. "I don't think it is regarded in any way as parochial because it is outwith the main hub of London. In that sense Scottish art has an excellent lineage and is still held in high regard."