But when he stood in front of the painting, he found it difficult to assess his rivals. Were they planning to buy it as an investment or were they compelled to buy because they could not resist its powerful message? Charles did not think of himself as an art man. He knew his furniture, could spot a George III piece easily enough, but paintings, well they were background. Patina, dovetail joints, original handles, they were all tangible and down to earth and could be learnt. But with paintings, you really had to know your stuff. Or did you just ask yourself how it made you feel inside, in your guts?
He looked at the portrait and absorbed it with his eyes and his skin. Every stroke, every line told him how this almost skeletal man, holding his crust of bread, felt. There was pain and desperation, but there was also beauty. And he could feel the artist speaking to him of compassion for his subject and for the whole of humanity. It was something he could not recall ever having felt before. And as he looked, his desire to possess this painting grew intense. He did not want it for Alex, it definitely was not her kind of thing. He wanted it for himself. He wanted to look at it every day until he understood exactly what it had to tell him.
All thoughts of whether it was a good investment were disappearing from his mind. It was estimated at £12,000 to £15,000, with a reserve of £11,500, but he knew it might go for three or four times as much. However that seemed irrelevant when he thought how he might feel if he never saw it again. Got to get it. Bloody well got to make sure. He felt that if it disappeared into the hands of another buyer he would think about it for the rest of his life.
He dragged himself away reluctantly, looking back once more as he left the room. The pink cheeked agent was still on duty in the hall. “Good night, sir,” he said jovially. “Shall we be seeing you tomorrow?”
Charles hesitated. “I left a bid yesterday, but I think I’d rather be here in person if possible. Do you think you might be able to give me some idea when my particular lot might come up?”
“Depends what it is. But I should be able to make an educated guess.”
As it happened, the paintings were all due to be tackled first thing. Charles left feeling very satisfied. Another good day’s work. He would be there tomorrow and he felt sure he would soon be the new owner of the Grozny portrait.
to be continued April 28