James Stunt shares his experiences in the art world; he reveals what inspired him to get involved in it and his views on what is wrong about it
When I first met my now ex-wife Petra Ecclestone in 2006, I was at a dinner where art was discussed. I was with her, her sister Tamara and her then boyfriend Gavin Dein, and I did not know anything about the subject. I literally had zero knowledge of art. I recall being very embarrassed about that.
On that night I decided to rectify this and in the coming months, I learnt much. I was lucky to find the expert Philip Mould and he effectively took me under his wing. After being introduced to him and realising I’d been buying art at top price before, Philip put me on a better path. He may be an academic but he is also an art dealer and it was extremely kind of him and Dr. Bendor Grosvenor to teach me that you must pay top price at auction and from dealers predominantly in the old master area for works that are in the catalogue raisonné or have been universally accepted on whichever particular artist.
However, why Philip Mould was so important to my success was that he taught me about misattributed works of art colloquially known as ‘Sleepers’ in the tight-knit art world. Philip, Dr. Bendor Grosvenor and Fergus Hall are definitely the world’s greatest at locating ‘sleeper pictures’ and to not be coarse, exploit their true value both academically and financially. Philip Mould is so exceptional at this that he once purchased a work on eBay by Thomas Gainsborough for less than £1,000 and had it proven by Hugh Belsey, the living authority on the artist. He and Dr. Bendor Grosvenor discovered not one but two self-portraits, which is the most valuable oeuvre of any artist by the great artist Sir Anthony van Dyck. I attempted to buy one for £12.5 million but a nation spoke and I withdrew my bid.
Fergus Hall, another mentor of mine, has made numerous discoveries and one of these which I purchased, as it was the last ever female double by Sir Anthony van Dyck called ‘The Cheeke Sisters,’ bar the ones at Sudeley Castle, Chatsworth and Blenheim Palace, whose strict trust status precludes there sale from ever taking place. I can proudly say mine is the only one left in private hands.
I love art and am passionate about all things that go with it. The industry, however, has left a bad taste in my mouth. Sadly it is controlled by a small cabal who undeservedly resent people like mine’s success. I am not academically trained and they see me as a champagne Charlie and a spiv with a lucky eye. Even though I’ve made several discoveries myself, such as Paulus Pontious by van Dyck, a self portrait of Sir Peter Lely and many more too long to list, to the undeserving few that control this industry, I represent everything they fear and resent. This was just the case also with how Philip Mould was so badly wronged by a smear campaign and his works were boycotted at auction, like mine have been, by utter jealously. I will not name the person who did this to my dear friend though this is widely known.
The Daily Telegraph, whom I have normally nothing but the upmost respect for, recently however wrote an inappropriate article whereby they implied I was selling off the family silver. That nonsense did not bother me personally but what did was that they named the five pieces of art in auction, which in turn meant that they were “bought-in” unsold. That meant “burnt inventory” within the trade and it was an utter disgrace.
For every person who is interested in discovering ‘sleepers’ and selling for large profits, I recommend you read Philip Mould’s Sleuth and watching Fake or Fortune. I would not have succeeded if it wasn’t for the help of Philip Mould and Dr. Bendor Grosvenor. Both of them have helped me so much and I hope you all get involved in this wonderful world.