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19th June 2024 4:47 pm

“A difference of opinion is what makes horse racing and missionaries."

Everything has a value to someone

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I have the unfortunate trait of saying out loud what is on my mind, which you will have gathered over time from these scribblings. The sort of situation where X says Willie Mullins should only have three runners at Cheltenham, and I tell X that not only is he wrong, but that he is an eejit and that nothing changes by banning them. I have it under control most of the time, as you probably did not gather over time.

Please don’t get me wrong; I am not seeking medical guidance for some Tourettes-style condition, nor am I preparing the supporting evidence for my court case in which I claim compensation from Lidl because their broken trolley gave me acid reflux and mental anguish.

No, I suppose this note is an apology for my appalling behaviour towards a dear friend at a recent, perfectly nice, very slightly breezy – brisk would be the word – day in the foothills of the White Horse. Gathered together for birthday “drinks with substantial nibbles”, a jolly crowd ran through all the usual Hail-Fellow-Well-Mets and discussed City of Troy and the ludicrous price of Royal Enclosure badges. However, amidst all that was the disturbing tale of trouble, only the night before, at the talented artist’s house. The Talented Artist used to be enormous in The City, but after retiring, he discovered he had other talents, which he has fully exploited.

Ancestors and House all in one! Always remember to say how she/he definitely has the family chin.

I am not the best person to discuss art with, not so much because I am a Philistine – I am, with a small p – but because there was a brief time when I made a living as a runner in London’s antique galleries. Thus, for a rather strange part of my life, Art was, sadly, just a commodity. Essentially, though not necessarily morally, the aim was to take a painting “on the arm” from Dealer A, with whom it had been languishing, giving the back a clean and removing all the auction marks. You would then give it another rub down with some hoover-bag material and a new provenance; perhaps it had been a gift from Great Aunt Ida with some reminiscence of Christmas in the big house (I always had Ashridge in my mind) recently taken down from the wall of the big house (forgive me it is a bit dusty isn’t it) and present this never-before-seen piece to Dealer B and ask him whether he thought it might be worth anything. Of course, you had to research which galleries did what, what might be coming up and the planned exhibitions that would develop a market, but the biggest shifter of decorative paintings was their freshness. In those days, “clean” stock, as opposed to “trade” pieces, was hard to find, especially in the Instant Ancestor and Old Family Home markets of the burgeoning world of interior decorators.

David Moss

So Dealer A would give it to you on the arm for £500 to dig him out, so you ask Dealer B for £1100 because Ida’s solicitor had told you that was what it was insured for. Once you’re asked what you would do with the money, you know you are only £300 shy of the asking price—but you now have the wherewithal for dinner with chums at San Lorenzo, where Mara always looked after her boys – even when we were a bit skint. After a few months of starvation, one honed one’s skills; a little card from the artist’s daughter to Aunt Ida, lost just behind the back of the stretchers, was one of my favourites. Sadly, I had to clean my act up, as I became [a] known to be reliable, which is the antique word for honest, and was [b] a face, an antique word for too well-known to spin provenance tosh. I became so legit that I wrote a column and became the letters editor for Art and Antiques Monitor, a magazine edited by the late great David Moss, who was singly responsible for 100% of all my court appearances. His nooky radar was always full-on, and as he had Louche in spades, Charm in huge abundance and a staggering Fleet Street capacity for hooch, his track record with girls was also off-the-scale. He had raised the money for the magazine from the Post Office Pension Fund or similar – allegedly, the decision-maker was someone who had fallen for his bedroom charm.

Anyway, I digress. Back at the Sunday drinks with substantial nibbles, the Talented Artist tells me that life is treating him pretty well, that his paintings are selling well, that galleries are abusing their position by taking 50%, and that he thus makes considerably more by selling privately. Since I knew he was already in the five-figure market, I asked whether he had moved from the twenties to the thirties. He looked charmingly embarrassed by my impudence and then, to take the conversation elsewhere, said: “…and we got burgled last night!” Crikey. I exclaimed because I care when my friends are threatened abed. So how did they get in; how did they leave; what time of night; had they robbed anyone else; had the police been out; and then…

“…And did they take anything of value?”

“No,” he said. Which was when Mea Culpa Mea Maxima Culpa, the brain malfunctioned.

“So they left all the paintings behind?”

Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, forgive our foolish ways, and I am very sorry.

Talking of foolish ways, I have started the Royal Ascot notes, and the first update will be on Wednesday. I will doubtless have a few thoughts at that time on some ante-post bets.

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