There were still thirty minutes to go before the auction was due to begin, but the buzz in the room spoke volumes. Everyone was moving around, greeting a long lost friend, who for some thirty minutes would become a bitter enemy. To a newcomer all this activity was surprising, but the experienced collector knew full well, this was a part of the obligatory build-up. The moment the auctioneer pronounced his first words, everything would come to a standstill and the strain of concentration would be visible in everyone's eyes.
It was David's first and last auction. His father had been a collector but he had never attempted to buy anything before. Indeed, he would not be doing so now, were it not for his father. He prefered the easel to the collector's room. Nonetheless, he was here now to fulfil his father's dream. The one item missing from his father's collection was an impressionist masterpiece. Not that he could ever have afforded to buy one of the greats. Indeed, Van Gogh would probably return from the grave for a second chance at life, were he to realise the prices being paid for his paintings; he who only ever sold but one meagre painting and that for a pittance. But he had always hoped for one of the lesser works, dying before he could accomplish his dream.
David felt decidedly ill-at-east in these surroundings. It took a supreme effort of the will to stay. He would have preferred to send one of the agents. But they were too well known. That would only have driven the price up further. And David was unsure whether the sum his father had set aside would be enough. The one thing that kept him there was his love affair with this work which had begun the moment he had set his eyes on it. Until then, he had only wanted to contemplate the beauty of a canvas, never desiring to own it. But Sisley's "Early Snow at Louveciennes" had changed him. It was the one thing in life he wanted.
The auctioneer mounted the podium and looked into the hall. At a glance he knew who were the serious bidders, and who was only there for the thrill of the event. Some of the collectors he knew personally. Others, he knew were hiding behind unfamiliar faces. One young man didn't seem to fit in the crowd. A newcomer, or a joker? Well, if he was a newcomer, he wouldn't have a chance in this crowd of cutthroats.
He opened the proceedings and introduced the first lot. It took just two minutes for it to be sold. David was overwhelmed. Try as he might, he didnt see a single person make a bid. But the auctioneers price just kept rising and rising until the final bid was made. What on earth was he to do? He didn't stand a chance.
It took well over two hours for the final lot - the Sisley - to come up. True, David had begun to recognise some of the tricks others were using to make their bids, but he seemed so self-conscious when he tried the same. The auctioneer thought the same and soon wrote him off as a serious contender. But the moment the Sisley came up, things changed. No David didn't become the super-hero of the auction houses. On the contrary his first bid had been so obvious and so high, everyone knew what he was after and he became easy prey. Just let him bid away and in the very last split of a second outbid him. He would soon give up. But what the auctioneer recognised in his eyes was passion. No, not passion, something far greater - love. Here was someone who loved art and who loved this painting.
Bidding was brisk and as the price rose the serious contenders gradually showed their hand. As the auctioneer had predicted, they had given David free hand, only intervening when absolutely necessary. As the price rose, David's gestures became less convincing. The auctioneer knew he couldn't go much further.
David made his last bid. And disaster struck. The auctioneer bent double and reached to the floor. He straightened up again. Fifty-two thousand five hundred once... Fifty-two thousand five hundred twice... and sold for Fifty-two thousand five hundred to the gentleman in the dark tweed suit. A howl of protest went up as the auctioneer called across to the clerc for help. I've lost my contact lense he whispered desperately; it has to be here somewhere.
That at least, was the excuse he gave his directors that evening when questioned about his failure to recognise several bids for the Sisley. His loyalty to the firm and his previous exemplary conduct counted in his favour and he was cleared of all misconduct. He could not however fool his wife. That tell-tale as they sipped their sherry together more than convinced her that for the first time in his life he had committed professional misconduct. And she would never have forgiven him, had he not done so.
Labels: Sunday Scribblings