Ask the Expert: Clifford Lansberry

Clifford Lansberry is a partner at Lewes auction house Gorringe’s, who has worked in Sussex salerooms for 30 years. His particular interest is in fine art and he oversees the Picture Department.

Why should I buy art at an auction rather than a gallery?

Auction can present an opportunity to acquire a work of art at a significantly reduced price from a retail purchase through a gallery. That said, there are pitfalls and usually you will have far less advice and guidance than buying through a gallery.

Should I buy what I like or buy for investment?

Buy what you like. Yes, it would be lovely to pick up a bargain that rapidly leaps up in value. However, a little like the stock market, prices can go down as well as up. If you like the piece, however its value fluctuates, you’ll enjoy it in its own right, rather than be staring at an expensive mistake.

How do I know if a work is real or fake?

Check the cataloguing terms. Auctioneers use differing descriptions to indicate whether a work is by an artist or some form of later copy. Do some research. Try to find out where the work that interests you fits into the artist’s oeuvre. Talk to the specialist in charge.

Is it better to attend a sale in person or is online just fine?

Try to attend the sale. Most sales have online bidding but being in the room gives a clearer idea of what is happening and where the bidding is coming from. If you cannot bid in person, then a telephone bid is your next best option, followed by online and commission bidding. Even if you cannot attend the sale do try to view the item you’re interested in beforehand. The camera often lies and what looks good on screen can be very different in reality.

How much money do you need in order to start investing in art at auction?

See the estimates as they are indicative of a starting price. But set your limit and don’t get too carried away.

What do you recommend that I buy right now?

If I’d had a crystal ball, I would have bought Banksy and Stik when they were going for a few hundred pounds. At the moment early-to-mid 20th-century art is still on the rise. But be careful with what is in fashion now, as demand for much of it will fade away. My tip is Victorian art, as much of it is currently undervalued.

What are your four top tips for buying a painting at auction?

1: Buy oils over watercolours. 2: Only buy items that are in good condition. 3: It is far better to buy a good work by a lesser artist than a lesser work by a more popular hand. 4: Highly acclaimed artists are likely to stay that way, from the Pre-Raphaelites to Picasso and Hockney to Emin (but remember point 3).