Thursday, January 21, 2010

I Blame it on Bonhams

My name is Lisa and I think I'm an auctionaholic.

Stage One: Exposure
It began last October when I met my friends Sherri and Kathy at Bonhams and Butterfields auction house for a preview sale. Walking into the venerated Sunset Boulevard building was exciting, but being surrounded by such gorgeous paintings, rugs, furniture and decorative arts sent my heartrate into overdrive. My whole life I had assumed I shouldn't ever set foot in those places because the prices would be ruinous, but I was dead wrong.

I became so alarmed by my unmufflered giddiness that I consciously refrained from placing any bids. There will be other auctions, I told myself. This is just a "research trip." (What, what, what was I thinking?)

This lovely Old Master-ish portrait called "Lady in Blue" would have looked wonderful in my foyer. Her serene gaze would have calmed me on crazy carpool mornings, I just know it.
(English school, 18th century, oil on canvas.
Sold for $610 inclusive of buyer's premium, 10/25/09.)

This full-lipped fellow would have added some fiery intensity to the upstairs hall. I'm a sucker for disheveled glamour, especially at that price.
(English school, 19th century, oil on canvas.
Sold for $366 inclusive of buyer's premium, 10/25/09.)

On my way out, I spotted this Napoleonic chaise from Hollywood at Home. I had been salivating over it for months in the shop. Why I didn't bid on it will haunt me to my dying day, considering it sold for a fraction of the retail cost.
(French campaign folding chaise lounge.
Sold for $793 inclusive of buyer's premium, 10/25/09)

Stage Two: Intoxication
This past weekend, there was another sale. This time, I went to the auction determined not to repeat my previous mistakes.

After receiving my paddle, I took a seat in the main gallery. The auctioneer took charge like a nobleman in combat, controlling the audience with a fierce elegance. Some items provoked intense paddle battles and sold for large sums, but other hammer prices were insanely -- and reassuringly -- low.

My friend Sherri had fallen in love with this Kathryn Ireland-ish set of antique chairs for her "imaginary house in Santa Barbara." I should have bought them for her as the price was imaginary as well.
(Four painted wood and rush armchairs.
Sold for $122 inclusive of buyer's premium, 1/17/10.)

This stunning 19th century trunk went for a steal...
(English mahogany brass bound campaign trunk.
Sold for $122 inclusive of buyers premium, 1/17/10.) did this tole chandelier with a fabled Hollywood history -- it used to hang at Falconcrest, home of Rudolph Valentino.

(Large Rococo style painted tole chandelier.
Sold for $122 inclusive of buyer's premium, 1/17/10.)

These incredible bargains were killing me, but I whispered to myself, "Save your money for what you're here for."

At long last, my tall, curvy George IV style wingback chair on wheels came up for bid.
With a pre-sale estimate of $250-$350, I hoped it wouldn't go for too much more.

We've received a few telephone bids on this item, so we're starting the bidding at $350. Do I have $350?

Up went my lone paddle.

Auctioneer (glancing at me):
I have $350.

My Inner Voice:
This chair is so mine.

Do I have $400?

There was a pause and then -- I swear to you -- every paddle in the room shot up. Within moments, the bids were flying north of $600, $700, $800 and climbing. It was bedlam. I think my mouth must have fallen open. The hammer finally slammed down at $1600 ($1952 with the buyer's premium).

So here's why I think I'm addicted...

Because not winning the chair didn't even matter.

Just sitting there in the midst of all that auction action was crazy exciting. I loved knowing that at any moment I could thrust my paddle into the air and "be in the game." I knew there would be another chaise, another Old Master painting, another campaign chest. And I knew that victory would be all the sweeter if the price was right for my budget. So I would do my research, I would keep coming back and one day, I would win.

Stage Three: Obsession
There's an auction in San Francisco this weekend and I've done a little poring through the online catalog...

And so it grows....


Chemin des Muguets said...

Yes, auctions are so addicting, and soooooo much fun. We used to live near Skinner's on the Eastcoast. Trouble for me. But I loved every minute of it.

Have fun, and find some sleepers,

Marjorie in Carmel

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

Yes, my heart started racing as I read this-it is exhilarating to get into the bidding, over time-sticking to the price you've decided on in advance is best-but oh so hard, so hard. That you did not succumb with that chair is a good sign.

Style Court said...

Lisa, outstanding post. Art, antiques and auctions don't have to be intimidating. As always, you make the point in the most entertaining way.

I'm pining for that wing chair though and I wasn't even there!

Jane said...

You know that looks Just Like George IV.

One thing I cannot have in my home is portraits of mostly grumpy men from previous centuries. And that includes ones I may be related to!

You evoked the palpitating chest feeling of an auction very well and I just cannot believe that Valentino chandelier.

Never fear there are many more wing chairs out there. xo

Joanna said...

I want to bid on that dashing gentleman by Henry Harlow. He looks exactly how I imagine Mr. Darcy would look like.

Jessica Thor-Miller said...

I have yet to attend an auction but after seeing some of those prices, I'm kicking myself. I, too, had always assumed that I could never afford anything auction worthy but you have proven that theory to be erroneous.

balsamfir said...

Dangerous, but right now auction values ARE at a once in a lifetime low. Won't last forever. Fortunately I live far from any decent one.

columnist said...

You have to be very disciplined, (which you appear to have been so far). Set your limit at the beginning. And stick to it!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Well, this is a great new direction.
You will continue to learn--and you will get very good at it.
A confession: I once wanted a painting at an auction so much I hid it under a pillow on a sofa so that no-one else would see it in previews. When it came up for auction, I was the only bidder! Sold? I love it.
I confessed this to the owner of the auction house--who said he'd heard much worse and smiled at me very indulgently.
Auctions are so worthwhile. They are educating, and enriching. In Paris I always go to the Drouot auctions. I don't bid--but every item that comes up for sale, or is in preview, I learn from.
Looking forward to reading more auction adventures.
very best, DIANE

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Holy mackerel that was exciting! I hate it when someone bids against me in an auction. It just seems so wrong somehow!

I hate it you missed the first painting of the handsomely disheveled gentleman. He reminded me of Heathcliff.

The George IV however, looks too much like Quentin Crisp. Not that that's a bad thing exactly.

A Super Dilettante said...

I love your choices. I love Lady in Blue (her pose and intelligent eyes remind me of women from the Blue Stockings Society in the mid-18th century). I love going to auction but I can get carried away once I find something my heart is set. I go blinking, winking, waving, shaking my heads like a maniac until I get it. SO, it's very dangerous.

I'm so glad that you are visiting Scotland this year!! I'm so excited and it would be lovely if you could visit to a heavenly place called "Little Sparta" - Ian Hamilton Finlay, the conceptual artist have created his home and beauitful garden with his art works and concrete poetry. It's right up to your street, my dear. When I visited this place, I thought I died and went up to the heaven. The place is set in the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh. Here is the website:

Tricia said...

You must possess George...!

Hels said...

Lisa Lisa Lisa,
the prices that you quoted are sooooo cheap, it would be a crime not to buy now. In two years time, when the prices have returned to normal, you will be kicking yourself.

And I have never heard of a person hanging their auction house treasure up on their lounge room wall and saying "god, I wish I had bought more piping and guttering for the house, instead".

little augury, my heart also started pounding when I read this post. There is a piece of Wagner porcelain I would give up food for!

W. Adair said...

The adrenaline rush is intense! I love auctions and wish there was a better auction house here in Seattle because shipping things across country is a killer. My heart would have been beating at the sight of that wing chair and the Peter Dunham one as well!
Congratulations on the gig at W! Your piece was charming and I think I need to do some shopping now...

Kitty said...

the recession has forced me to become more creative in my procurement of fabulous things. I got quite wrapped up in Ebay over the holidays, and I'm afraid I will bankrupt myself if I go to live auctions!

annie said...

I was there too! I got a wonderful chrome/glass dining table and a chrome/glass trolley at West Elm prices for our new offices. I have furnished 3 places of my own from Butterfields, although for clients it isn't so great as they have no return policy(!)
I also love portraits, it is like adding new friends to the walls, however these you must preview in person.In photographs they often look quite different.
Sadly many people have great taste so I am prepared to lose on occasion- I loved the wing chair you missed!

Susan's Snippets said...

Lisa -

My very first and ONLY auction I ever attended I got so wrapped up in the frenzy I ended up bidding AGAINST myself!!

the vase now sits on my shelf

Reggie Darling said...

Hello Lisa,
What fun I have had reading this, a marvelous post. Incredible deals, indeed. Once bitten by the auction bug ut's hard to pay retail...

LUCY said...

Hi Lisa-
I am a reader of yours and work at Bonhams in LA. I'm so glad you enjoyed your experience! We have Sunset Estate sales again on the 7th and 28th of February. I hope to see you there.
All the best, Lucy

Town and Country House said...

Oh, there is nothing like an auction! I highly recommend finding one of a country estate that has hired an auctioneer to liquidate the loot. It is a not-to-be-missed experience!

Sildenafil said...

auctionaholic? really and I'm Sildenafil and I think I am shopaholic...are you thinking about the same I am? I think that we could make a great couple, you auction and I buy!

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