It makes perfect sense that Nick Cox, the dashing art dealer behind Instagram account Period Portraits, is a former fashion editor. As an alumnus of both Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, it was the ornate clothes that initially drew Cox to the 17th- and 18th-century portraits he collects. Three years ago he started to sell these portraits too, mostly via London auction houses, before deciding to set up online. One of Cox’s biggest selling points is just how good his paintings look in the Instagram shots taken in his maximalist apartment, where ornate frames sit against tapestry-covered walls and colourful soft furnishings. His website also offers a simplicity and openness often missing in the art world, with prices clearly listed and three button links on each entry allowing you to “Enquire” or “Reserve” with a simple form, or go straight to “Purchase” via PayPal.
Recent sales include an elegant portrait (£6,000) of an 18th-century gentleman attributed to William Hoare, sold to a collector in Miami and an early-19th-century, cherubic painting (£4,250) of a young boy attributed to Martin Archer Shee. Cox believes there’s a renewed interest in portraiture and especially the rich, flat canvases of 17th and 18th centuries which, he says, “work so well in modern interiors”.
Cox travels globally to find unusual pieces, often those with an interesting provenance. His clients are all over the world too, with around 75 per cent of them buying directly from Instagram without seeing a picture in person. (Those who wish to try before they buy may visit him in Notting Hill or North Yorkshire.)
Perhaps what’s most surprising is that these paintings are provoking a wave of interest among a younger demographic. “Paintings sell to such a diverse mix of buyers, and they are often young – I recently sold a Thomas Hudson painting toa German couple for their first home in Westminster,” adds Cox. Current works include an elegant riding portrait of the Squire of Eastry by James Barenger (£5,650), a stylish portrait of an 18th-century gentleman by David Martin (£7,250) and a luscious historical canvas featuring Diana and Acteon by Huguenot artist Pierre Berchet (£18,250).
By Clare Coulson