What started out as an art collecting hobby turned into a profession for notable art historian and appraiser Arthur T. Garrity. A longtime Hingham resident, Garrity takes part in charitable art appraisal events at South Street Gallery in Hingham every couple of months. We asked him to share some of his tricks of the trade in determining what a piece of art is worth.By Maria Allen
What does an art appraiser do?
I help build and develop collections for individuals and corporations. I recommend, evaluate and handle painting conservation and proper framing of artworks. I also work with a broad base of attorneys from several major law firms providing services like estate appraisals, mediation and liquidation, if needed. Estate appraisals can include artwork, furniture, coins, lamps, jewelry, books and more. I specialize in American and European paintings from the mid-19th century through the mid-20th century. I have been doing this for more than 25 years.
What inspired you to get into this line of work?
Back in the 60s I went into an antique shop in Salem and saw a painting of a town wharf with boats and glistening water. It was done by Salem artist Phillip Little. The painting had a small tear and was filthy; the price was $175. I bought the painting and looked for a conservator to clean and repair the tear. It was going to cost $225 to restore. Two weeks later the owner called me and said that a fellow came in and asked if my painting was for sale. His offer was $950. It made me wonder what I might be able to make if I was armed with more information and knowledge. Twenty years later—here we are.
How do you go about appraising artwork?
The first thing you do is identify the artist, hopefully by a legible signature. Then you look him or her up in biographical reference dictionary or other books that the artist is mentioned in. You look at the style and determine when the artist might have painted the picture. Was it done during the artist’s most desirable period? Was it ever exhibited at a museum or gallery? Is it what the artist is noted for as far as subject matter?
Tell me about the art appraisal events you do at South Street Gallery?
Every couple of months I offer my services at an event held at South Street Gallery in Hingham. We work strictly with artwork and provide verbal appraisals for up to three items per person on an appointment basis. Limiting the number of people allows us to control the time and not have people waiting an hour or more. By doing just art, the event moves quicker and allows us the ability to raise more money for the selected nonprofits we are giving the proceeds to.
What kind of items do people bring in?
Some people bring in old family heirlooms they have long been curious about. Sometimes it’s an attic find, a yard sale purchase, or something found at the swap shop, at the dump.
One particular artist that I specialize in is Walter Gay. He was born in 1856 in Hingham and died in France. He left Hingham in the early 1870s and never really came back except for doing shows. I started collecting his work and doing research on his life. I contributed to a book on Walter Gay called “Impressions of Interiors, Gilded Age Paintings by Walter Gay.” I also worked on to the book “A Charmed Couple. The Art and Life of Walter and Matilda Gay.” I provided over 30 photographs, medals, paintings, letters and over 3,000 pages of Walter’s wife’s diary.
Is art a good investment?
It depends on what you’re collecting. I would never say to go buy abstract paintings if you don’t like abstract. But abstract has really gone up in value, as well as French impressionist works. I love the fact that a lot of my clients enjoy having tangible assets.
Do you have any tips for art collectors?
What I recommend foremost to people is to buy what you like. You don’t want to live with something that you bought purely as an investment that may not go up in value.
I tell my clients not to go out and get inexpensive paintings by named artists. It’s better to save your money and buy one good painting, and eventually it will go up in value.
Does the condition matter?
It’s always better to have things in original condition. The frame may be chipped but that can be corrected with a good conservator.
Contact South Street Gallery for more information about upcoming art appraisal events. 149 South St., Hingham, 781-749-0430