Harry Turner's Episodes of Personal History
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Do they ever get that much?


Picked up an entry form for the Stockport Open Show for local artists while in the library building paying the rates. It's on around June-July and I had vague thoughts I might get round to putting in something until I realised there were vast entry fees and talk of 25% surcharge on sales, etc. You have to be serious about entering these days, obviously, no casual piling up of available canvases like what we used to. And I'm out of touch with prices: I am always aghast at the prices thrown about at current art shows - can't take them seriously.

I'd dearly love to know if they do sell anything at the prices demanded. Take the Art for Sale supplement that's reappeared (sponsored by Winsor & Newton, natch) in the weekend Guardian. All the paintings shown have "been chosen by a distinguished panel of artists and critics" it ses, adding that the painters all use W&N materials. And then open up to see an uninspired daub "oil on paper, 25ins x 33ins" priced at £630. I make that around £105 per sq.ft. Cheeky!

Or a picture of the Palace Theatre, size 35.6 cms x 25.4 cms (14" x 10") at £1020: which is over £1000 per sq.ft. - mind you, it is "oil on canvas board". Must be devilish expensive board is all I can say. All these Sotheby and Christies sales must be giving folk ideas. I can see I'll have to buck up my ideas on charges to compete with the younger generation...

I have several 60" x 40" canvases, adorned with impossible object constructions (but not, alas, painted in W&N pigments - mainly Rowneys, I think). Working on the basis of the last item I should be asking around £15,000 - £16,000, yes? Plus a premium for my advancing years and reputation, say £20,000 as a conservative estimate. Hmmm.

I have amassed a hefty file of cuttings on the modern art market, trying to make sense of some of the pricing. Recently acquired Peter Watson's From Manet to Manhattan: the rise of the modern art market, which I look forward to reading when I've got Powell out of the way. A few preliminary dips confirm that it's the agents and dealers that get the fat profits rather than the artists, alas, whose death seems an essential preliminary to the steep rise in value of their works. It's a hard life.

Then I read in the Guardian of all these top businessmen awarding themselves inflated salaries and bloated pensions, which doesn't cheer me up. Nor does the report in today's Observer revealing that the Stockport district radon gas pollution level is around 100-200 bequerels per cubic metre, only equalled by Plymouth & Torquay, and exceeded by Truro. How come Stockport is in splendid isolation as a danger area all of a sudden? (Dudley is in a low-level area, so don't move).

Where did I put my RAF gasmask? ■

Letter to the Varleys, 23/05/1993


I didn't say that I can get £20,000 for my canvases - only that's the logical asking price updated from yesteryear... So don't go increasing your insurance premium on your Turner yet. There was another 'Art for Sale' in the Weekend Guardian which provoked howls of disbelief at the breakfast table when prices were read out, and hoots of derision at the text accompanying the two 'Artist in Focus'.

And that was before we got to the political pages... ■

Letter to the Varleys, 24/06/1993

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