The Inside Man: Buying art in London needn’t be scary – here’s where to go and how to do it

·3-min read
The Inside Man: Buying art in London needn’t be scary – here’s where to go and how to do it

Buying art can feel daunting. After all, like the books on our shelves, the art we display offers an undeniable window into our tastes (although I haven’t yet stooped to hanging a portrait of Miss Marple above my mantelpiece).

For years I was an art commitment-phobe, afraid to take a punt on a painting for fear of being judged clueless by my artist friends. And then one day something switched. I marched into a gallery brazenly declaring, “I want to buy some art”, and I haven’t stopped snapping up artworks since.

You don’t have to come over all Eddie in Ab Fab — at least not on the first attempt. The least intimidating place to buy your first painting is an antiques market.

Spitalfields is one of London’s best markets. Look out for Lawrence Prentice, who has an eye for the weird and wonderful: the last thing I bought from him was a green and yellow glass etching of dancing figures.

For me, it’s the energy of a subject that gets my attention. But if you’re concerned about provenance, then Lawrence is your man. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions and look out for signatures or past gallery labels on artworks.

I once bought a painting from a charity shop that turned out to be worth a few quid. I thought it might be after recognising the old Mayfair Gallery label.

Once you’ve honed your tastes on the cheap, it might be time to expand your horizons and your budget at a real gallery. Aside from the once-in-a-blue-moon charity shop masterpiece, buying ‘serious’ modern art is not a cheap thrill, so I think The Sunday Painter’s new scheme, Gertrude, is ingenious.

Named after Gertrude Stein, arguably the most influential figure of the early 20th-century European art scene, the south London gallery’s platform offers subscribers the chance to borrow serious artworks for £50 a month.

Artists range from the up-and-coming Jill Tate to the legendary Paula Rego. So hanging one of these on your wall would offer some serious bragging rights.

If you want to start your own art collection on a smaller budget then get in early and buy up a future star now before they hit the big time. Predicting who’ll make it big can never be an exact science but my money goes on Ben Burgis, a prolific painter now based in north Wales.

I held an exhibition of his works in my showroom in 2020 and he’s shown in several group shows in London and internationally. I especially love his paintings of his pet pig, Marcel.

Artist’s prints and editions are another worthy way into the world of contemporary art if the budget won’t stretch to a ‘proper’ painting. Kate Boxer’s charming drawings are sold in signed limited editions and are hand coloured, differentiating an artist print from your tatty student posters.

Even better, my penchant for Agatha Christie is provided for by her natty Hercule Poirot portrait.