Pretty pictures, princely sums

Those who can afford to, buy art. But you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy great painting, writes Jeremy Thornton. He advises on what makes a sensible investment

As an auctioneer I am always asked: ‘what should I be looking to buy?’ When the questioner is thinking about art, the answer is easy – buy what you like and enjoy it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so buy the picture you want to see every day.

However, more specifically you should buy the best quality painting your budget will allow. I look for artists with a good track record of sales, both through galleries and auctions, over a number of years. Then I try and assess the picture for brush strokes and small details which ensure your eye picks out something new each time you see it.


There are many art societies at which an artist can be exhibited, such as The Royal Academy, The Royal Scottish Academy, The Royal Watercolour Society and, of course, in the Midlands, the highly respected Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA). The RBSA is in a great location, in the city centre, just off St Paul’s Square. I would definitely recommend seeking out one or two of the thousands of artists who have exhibited at one of these art societies, as this is a sign of quality.


Prints and lithographs are popular with art lovers, and there are a large variety of styles available for as little as £100. The advantage of the lithograph or print is that they have certain wonderful attributes and are often signed in pencil by the artist themselves. These vary from the modern, such as Sir Terry Frost and David Shepherd through to classics such as LS Lowry and the ever popular Sir Russell Flint. Many Midlands-based artists are also popular, such as James Priddey, Owen Bowen and Laura Knight.


Of course, if you are looking to make a statement, the traditional large oil on canvas still has the power of impact. The work can fit with your own style or with what the room demands. Again, the choices are extensive, but at the moment good Victorian oils, especially landscape scenes, are a safe bet. Genre scenes, such as the work of Harry Brooker, are exceptional value, but even with just two or three thousand you can purchase an impressive statement for the entrance hall or dining room. By paying £5,000 to £10,000 you should get a picture that will grace your house forever, such as a classic Antoine Bouvard.

Jeremy Thornton is an auctioneer at Biddle & Webb, which has been trading in Birmingham for over 50 years