How to bid at an art auction: our expert guide to getting ahead

If you’ve never been to an art auction, you may wonder what it’s all about… and how to win that painting you’ve got your eye on!

First-time auction goers can find bidding daunting – the fear that prices may spiral beyond your control is common to those just starting to build an art collection.

But auctions don’t have to be intimidating. They can be an exhilarating experience, as long as you’re bidding on art you love, and you know your limits.

The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists believes art is for everyone. And that’s why the Society is holding a charity auction on November 20.

We need to raise funds in an increasingly challenging climate. More than that, we want to introduce our artists to would-be collectors, people who may not feel like they know everything about art, but who at least know what they like.

John Scott Martin built a career in auction houses; as director of catalogue production for a famous auctioneers he dealt with every department in offices around the globe, and so he knows a thing or two about how an art auction works.

‘There is an excitement to auctions, and it’s why there’s currently such a trend for antiques shows set in salesrooms; they capture the attention of viewers and generate speculation about how much a lot is going to go for.

‘It’s actually very close to a race meeting in terms of the atmosphere, in that there’s the excitement of the unknown, and that moment when you know the artwork you want, the one you’ve backed, if you like, is within your reach.’

John is also a Past President of the RBSA and a respected and sought-after artist.  His seascapes are extremely popular, and he has kindly donated two works to our auction, along with many other acclaimed artists with art in collections around the world.


Sailing After Sunrise

He adds:  ‘Naturally, you choose to bid on something you are particularly drawn to, whether it be a painting, say a figurative work, or a 3D piece.

‘It’s all about thinking, ‘Yes, that’s what I like… that’s what I can imagine in my house.’ You can see the right space for it at home, and you’ve worked out you can afford to bid a certain amount.’

Isle of Lewis

Jo Ashby, ‘Heavy Snow Clouds Marching on, Isle of Lewis’

John is keen to point out that the RBSA auction is not one where bids are likely to spiral, as works are at the more affordable end of the market. Starting out as an art collector can be done with a budget of less than £500.

In fact, most collectors start their collections in a conservative way. It’s new territory, something to be learned, and more importantly enjoyed.

‘We’re not in the high value bracket where people are buying for investment purposes only. That’s a completely different market. This auction is about buying the art you love.

‘With that in mind, it’s important if you’re new to bidding that you don’t go on what everyone else in the room is bidding on. You’ve got to like it first. Cost becomes a pure matter of economising.

‘Initially it has got to be your choice because that’s the excitement of bidding.’

Jasmina Ajzenkol, ‘Marine Collection 54’

John believes there’s huge joy to be had in owning an original work of art, and is keen to point out that every work at the RBSA auction is just that.

‘Again, this is different to bidding for investment purposes. These are original pieces of work and your judgement is very important because this will be art owned by you alone. Nobody else will have one. It’s yours.’

Of course, what’s yours is relative to what you can afford, but John has some sound advice for those new to bidding.

‘It may be that you’ll go one bid higher because you sense you are getting close and a work is within your grasp. If you like it enough, and you know your limit, you can judge what to do.

‘Equally, at the start of bidding, the auctioneer will be experienced enough to know how to get things going. Nobody needs to worry about being the first to bid. Those who run auctions know how to get things started.

‘It can be a bit nerve-racking if you haven’t been before, but if you like art and are interested in owning it, an auction is the perfect opportunity to get started.’

Galleries need collectors. Artists need people to buy their work, and they understand that people often don’t want to take a giant leap when they are buying art for the first time.

That’s why the estimates at our charity auction have been kept very reasonable. The RBSA believes in affordable art, and art for everyone. Every collector starts somewhere, and buying art should be about falling in love.

The RBSA Charity Auction takes place on November 20, 5.30pm at Deutsche Bank, 5 Brindleyplace, Birmingham B1 2BL.

Money from ticket sales and selected donated works goes to one of Deutsche Bank’s Charities of the Year, Cure Leukaemia, with money from other lots going to the RBSA. You can purchase your ticket for £10 by:

  1. Paying by cash in person at the Gallery

  2. Calling the Gallery on 0121 236 4353 to pay by card over the phone

  3. By paying via our website

To keep up with all the latest news from the RBSA, join our mailing list.

#artcollectors #arteventinBirmingham #artforsale #charityfundraiser

3 views0 comments