Buoyant Czech antiques market takes new directions

Antique market, photo: CTK

The Autumn edition of Prague’s flagship antique market has just finished with exhibitors of high priced paintings, glassware, militaria, and furniture in buoyant spirits on the hopes of high spending Czechs and foreigners coming through the doors. The optimism is fuelled by the fact that many Czechs apparently feel that they have a bit of cash to spare on an antique purchase as leaving the cash in the bank gives a poor return. And foreign buyers too seem to believe that there are bargains and investments to be found.

Simona Šustková,  photo: Eva Dvořáková
One of the people that has perhaps one of the best handles on the state of the current Czech antiques market is the vice president of the Czech Association of Antique Dealers, Simona Šustková. I spoke to her as the 36th antique fair started to swing into action.

“The interest of Czech buyers is growing in the area of paintings because it is also a very good investment. People know that and they are trying to look for some very interesting paintings, very interesting names and they invest their money in these paintings. It is very typical for the Czech market and they are buying mostly Czech authors [artists]. As regards the market for other objects, not paintings, the buyers are both Czech people and foreigners as well.“

The Czech Republic is not a major player in the European or world antiques market, but its artistic and industrial take-off in the late 19th century and its sporadic place in the spotlight of European culture and art during earlier centuries, does mean that it still has something to offer to specific collectors and investors alike. Simona Šustková says those seeking to buy from abroad are also taking advantage of the relatively low level of the crown against the euro and other world currencies:

“Yes, it’s just now better than in the past years. And there are a lot of interesting objects which aren’t abroad. Every market, in France and Great Britain, these are the biggest markets, and Germany, they have a little bit different offer of objects than in our country. We have very special Czech glass, we have very special Czech porcelain, we have very special Czech artists who create statues. I am sure that there are a lot of objects which it is possible to buy only in the Czech Republic and there is a great shortage of these objects abroad. For foreigners that is really interesting.“

“I am sure that there are a lot of objects which it is possible to buy only in the Czech Republic and there is a great shortage of these objects abroad.”

And Šustková says buyers are evolving in new directions and that should have a particular impact in the relatively high priced market for paintings.

“There is a big difference between authors and styles but at this moment there is a growing interest in classical painters from the end of the 19th century. Three, four, five years ago, there were rising prices for authors [artists] from the 1930s and 1940s. Now there are very good results from artists from the end of the 19th, so the classical painters. It’s good, they were not sold very well in the past and now it’s a lot better.”

Others are also looking to take advantage of the broader interest in paintings and antiques. Carmen Andre was one of the exhibitors at last week’s antiques showcase event and was showing off a series of high priced paintings by pre-19th century masters and furniture. The items are normally on show at the antiques shop in one of Prague’s most chic central districts. She says the challenge is getting Czechs interest in items and types of art which they are not now familiar with on home ground.

“We came a year ago from Vienna. We are from Austria. We started to bring here really old antiques that the people here in the Czech Republic know, but really don’t know. After Communism they just started to sell everything. We are trying again to make it known for the public here. So we are selling things like old master paintings or really old furniture between the 15th and 19th century.”

Antique market,  photo: CTK
For her, the Prague location is still very much a showcase for foreign residents or visitors. But she has not given up hope of tapping into an evolving Czech market as well.

“We have the gallery in the centre and most of our visitors or clients until now are foreign people although there are some Czech people also. There are a lot of Russians living in that area also, so we have many Russian visitors coming in. If we sold something to someone from Prague it could be some Czech art because we buy Czech art like 19th and 20th century painters if we get the chance to buy them. We are trying to expand with everything. We will not start now to do modern art it is not our thing and it does not fit together with old master paintings, but we are trying to extend also for the public from here.”

The overall Czech antique market is dominated by auctions and the highest prices are traditionally made by a handful of painters, mostly the modernists from the late 19th century or early 20th century, such as Emil Filla, František Kupka, and Josef Čapek. The market for smaller objets d’ art and furniture has taken a different direction. Simona Šustková again:

“After Communism they just started to sell everything.”

“The biggest part of the market is of course auctions because they sell, as I said before, paintings. So the biggest amounts [of turnover] are in auctions if you look at the numbers. But they don’t sell that many items. If you look at the market for artistic objects, these are mostly selling in the shops. So if you count the number of sales, it is bigger in the shops because these are small objects and they are selling a lot every day. If you work with numbers, with money, the biggest amounts are in auctions and auctions are really popular in the Czech Republic. People like them. Every auction has really good results and there are a lot of people attending and buying.”

So-called e-auctions have developed in the Czech Republic, but Šustková is rather dismissive of the impact they have made so far and is keen to point out the drawbacks of such purchases.

“I do not think they are selling very important things on the Internet because they are selling small objects for lower prices. And if you cannot look at it, if you do not have any guarantee, if there is no expert that can sign off on it, then it’s not easy to buy something that is expensive, which is for example 20,000 crowns or more. So the sales are mostly under 5,000 crowns let’s say.”

Perhaps the most optimistic message from Šustková and other dealers is that there are still many Czech antiques and treasures that have been guarded as family heirlooms and are only gradually making their way onto the market.

“I see that there is a lot of stuff in these apartments, very good antique objects, and that we are still very rich, very rich.”

“I am sure there are a lot of objects in houses, in families, in the countryside around Prague and also in Prague and Prague apartments because these objects are family property. These people bought the items in the 19th century and they kept it at the beginning of the 20th century, they kept it during the war. So they have it till now,. At some times they decide, when they are moving for example, that they need to sell something. But if I go to some houses and visit some people who are going to sell some things, I see that there is a lot of stuff in these apartments, very good antique objects, and that we are still very rich, very rich.”