What Art Advisers Do at Auction

Patrick LegantKelly Crow and Mary Lane have a very well-thought feature in the Wall Street Journal capturing what the London fortnight of February art sales means for five different participants, including a painter, collector, auctioneer and gallerist. One of the best mini-profiles they provide is a look at the life of Patrick Legant, who advises clients on their collections and does a lot of leg work:

AT STAKE: Mr. Legant’s job—to scout and shop for modern art on behalf of a handful of collectors—ultimately boils down to “quality control,” he said. Rather than turn up and bid themselves, Mr. Legant’s clients enlisted him to cherry-pick the best pieces in the London catalogs and then go see if the artworks’ conditions and asking prices made them appear more tempting or just overpriced. […]

GAME PLAN: […] In mid-January, he began checking the houses’ websites daily because he knew they usually post their catalog items there long before the printed versions hit the mail. Once up, he scoured the offerings and mailed dossiers on a dozen or so pieces to his collectors. He arrived in London a couple of days before the sales to view these art contenders and, as a result, whittled the list to five because the rest seemed less exciting when viewed up close. He eventually got marching orders to bid—up to a predetermined price—on a couple of pieces in the Impressionist and modern art sales, including a work by Paul Klee.

EXPECTATIONS: Mr. Legant said last fall’s strong auction performance convinced him that he might face tough competition in London—but in the end he didn’t even get to raise a paddle. During Sotheby’s Feb. 5 sale, three bidders vied for the Klee watercolor he wanted, 1920s “Poisonous Berries.” […] Mr. Legant was impressed by this example’s fresh condition and “beautiful” composition. Sotheby’s offered it for between $645,000 and $965,000, but the adviser figured it would top its high estimate, and it wound up selling for $1.3 million—more than his client wanted to pay.

Five Scenes from a Hot Market (Wall Street Journal)