In light of Stair Sainty Gallery’s current exhibition FEDERICO BELTRAN MASSES: UNDER THE STARS, we spoke to founder and renowned dealer Guy Stair Sainty about the gallery and the current state of the market.
Guy opened his first public gallery in New York in 1982 and quickly made his name as a specialist in 18th and 19th century French painting, before gradually expanding into Spanish and Italian painting of the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. Guy served for seven years as a member of the Art Advisory Panel of the Commissioner of the US Internal Revenue Service, and is a former Vice-President of the Private Art Dealer’s Association.
What motivated you to open your own gallery and have you always been interested in art?
I was interested in the art dealing world and paintings from my teens, when a schoolboy at Westminster school and bought my first works of art at 16.
This is the gallery’s second survey of oil paintings by Federico Beltran Masses; when did you first start acquiring his work?
I first knew of the artist many years ago but never saw any works of the quality that I expected for sale until late 2011 when the Paris dealer Alain Blondel put on a small exhibition of the artist in his Paris gallery, without a catalogue. I purchased four works in that show and we agreed to do a much larger exhibition together in London that would follow the then planned exhibition at the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Madrid, in the summer of 2012. I met with the family and bought several works and obtained loans of some others. Alain, who also rediscovered Tamara de Lempicka, has now retired.
What do you look for in potential artworks for the gallery?
Quality, originality, an interesting artist, and value (I am not interested in pursuing the most fashionable works). I want to find artists who combine these virtues before the market fully embraces them. I am interested in very particular periods and consider the late 19th and first 50+ years of the 20th century a period when there are numerous opportunities. So much was happening in this time with the invention of the telephone, electricity in every home, the first flight all the way to the jet engine, the radio, and television, as well as major political upheavals and two great wars, that art was transformed and the fragmentation of ideas led to widely different types of art. This has resulted in really interesting artists appearing who, for one reason or another, have been ignored by the market.
To take one example, there is a major exhibition in the US of Caillebotte who is now highly desirable – 30 years ago no-one was really interested. 40 -50 years ago Victorian art could be bought for nothing; I was buying works by Tissot, now a desirable and sought after painter, for very modest prices in the late 1970s when I started. Likewise symbolist artists such as Lucien Levy-Dhurmer – there is a small gallery of his works in the Musée d’Orsay and a room in the Metropolitan museum of art that the artist designed in 1911 was recently reinstalled – yet when I was first buying the artist in the early 1980s I acquired at auction what was probably his greatest painting for $6000 – I later bought it back for $150,000 and sold it again; it is now worth over $500,000. I have now sold many of his extraordinary symbolist pastels and the prices keep rising – it is not hard to find good examples.
How much of a role do Art Fairs play in today’s market?
They are very important venues, but it is essential that they maintain an overall high quality and diversity within the different disciplines and are not dominated by one period. When dealers in contemporary art or the late 20th century predominate, dealers in earlier art tend to be ignored. Many art fairs fail to promote earlier art sufficiently, nor do they inform visitors and collectors of the extraordinary opportunities to acquire works by highly significant artists for relatively modest sums. TEFAF is one of the few fairs that does succeed in this and we have high hopes for the reorganised Paris Biennale, but both need to get the message out to collectors of contemporary art about the opportunities they are missing by ignoring art before World War II.
When did your interest in the study of the history of Orders of Chivalry begin?
When I was in my late teens and became involved with the British Order of St John (that runs the St John Ambulance Brigade), and then the Order of Malta – the original knights hospitaller. I discovered there were a lot of fake Orders distributing worthless honours in the name of bogus princes, etc, and resolved to expose them.
What would be your advice for someone looking to make their first serious art purchase / start a new collection?
Build a relationship with a dealer, visit museums and museum exhibitions so one can train one’s eye. Better to buy the best of a less well known artist than a bad work by a big, fashionable name. Explore a particular school or period of art, or even artist so that one then becomes an expert oneself by becoming thoroughly familiar with the school or artist. But then do the same with another period – allow one’s taste to change and develop (my taste has certainly changed considerably over the 40 years I have been an art dealer).
I would say do not pursue the fashionable – fashion changes and those artists whose names are on every lip today will certainly be less well sought after and, in many cases, their names will become as obscure as Beltran Masses did. But in many cases they will have their time again as history is a much better adjudicator of merit.
– Harry Dougall
Federico Beltran Masses: Under the Stars is on view at Stair Sainty Gallery, 38 Dover Street, London, W1S 4NL; from 10th February – 24th March, 2016; Admission: FREE. Open Monday – Friday 10am to 6pm