What makes a certain piece of art invaluable?

Before joining Christie’s auction house in 1984, my 20-year career as an art merchant has taught me a lot about pricing, but 16 years in the auction house have opened my eyes to knowing that many factors that determine the price are unknowable. It is far from being explained by common sense.

In 1997, an overseas client who was collecting impressionist works and 20th-century paintings asked me to bid for a small gouache by Picasso in an auction at Christie’s, which painted a pigeon (Figure 10). When the auction started, I couldn’t reach this customer, but to him it was just a gadget, estimated at between 180,000 and 220,000 US dollars. He told me before that his wife likes this work very much, so I must buy it. I told him that he must give me an upper limit. He was very unhappy and kept saying “just buy it”. I insisted that he quote a ceiling, and said that I think this painting should not exceed $250,000. “Okay,” he said, “then set the upper limit of 300,000, but remember, I want you to buy it!” I was very confident at the time, until the asking price soared past 200,000 US dollars, and there were a few more. Two bidders remain in the field. When the price was approaching 300,000, I was really in a dilemma, biting my head and bidding for 350,000 US dollars. Finally, at the time of 360,000 U.S. dollars, the final word was settled and the money went to another family (plus commissions, the total price reached 398,500 U.S. dollars). The customer called the next day. “I asked my wife to tell you,” he said coldly, “you can explain why she didn’t get Picasso!” If he was there, who knew how high the price would go? He will definitely become a buyer. Is this work worth the price? If it is your wife’s wish and you love your wife deeply, and your funds are almost unlimited, it’s worth it; if you want to sell it in the near future, it’s not worth it.

Although the auction house will say that the auction price reflects how much buyers are willing to pay to the seller, the auction result is actually the result of various environmental conditions at a specific point in time, and does not always represent the true market price. A missed flight, a child’s cold, or a business change may cause a certain work to hit a new high price, or make a “masterpiece” with a lot of advertisements pass. Auction houses call unsold items “bought in”, or “returned to owner”, and are reluctant to say “unsold” because of the latter It’s more ugly. The auction house hopes to have frequent bids to inject adrenaline into the auction, which causes “buyer regret” (why did I get such a high price?), and the opposite situation, “low bidder relief” ( Thank goodness I didn’t continue to bid!), and “low bidder regret” (so cheap, why didn’t I follow?). For the same reason, many of the items in the auction (including those that are heavily advertised) were bought by dealers who were known to be underpriced.

Auction results can be found online, but there are all kinds of unreliable information. One of the most commonly used websites is Artnet.com. Inexperienced revenue collectors and a growing number of art consultant, will only be used to judge the statistical results of the online commercial value of similar works. However, unless the facts directly related to the work and the sales environment can be understood, the original data is useless. To accurately estimate the market price of a work of art, you must be familiar with and weigh the following five attributes:







Once an artwork enters the secondary market, it has a historical record of ownership. Where this is done, this word from French means the history of the ownership of valuables. Works sold by private dealers, galleries or auction houses will be recorded, briefly listing the previous owner’s information. Sometimes, works can be identified by name or simple location (such as “Private Collection, Paris”), and the names of dealers, galleries, and auction houses that are handled are also useful. The specific date of the auction and the number of years held by the collector usually also appear. In addition to the source, the recorded information should also indicate the exhibition history of the work. If a work has appeared in one or more museum exhibitions, adding this information will increase fame. In the same way, if it is mentioned in some books and magazines, especially if it has been published, it can also add a lot of color. The most important thing is to publish a complete collection of appreciation of this work.

For some buyers, certain aspects of the previous owner of the work may be additional points. When John Bryan became CEO of Sara Lee Corporation, he inherited the collection initiated by founder Nathan Cummings for the company. Cummings was originally a well-known personal collector. When he died, many of his collections were sold. Bryan regards the acquisition of Cummings’ past collections as a top priority for the company . To him and the company’s reputation, provenance has additional value, but this particular type of value may not necessarily be transferable.

Participating in a big exhibition and being included in books, these things by themselves cannot add much commercial value. However, if there is a particularly famous person in the source, it does have a positive or negative effect on the bid. An oil painting that was once collected by a well-known museum is considered more valuable than the same work held by an unknown person. This leads to a question that is not often asked: If a work is so important, why has it not been collected by a museum? Louisine Havemeyer (Louisine Havemeyer) is a collector with both taste and discernment. Her collection is a core part of the Impressionist exhibition hall in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Collectors like her may have an appreciation for the price of the works. Have a positive impact. In the same way, those other aspects are exactly the same, but the works collected by the notorious Nazi war criminal Hermann Goering and others may rarely be interested in. In reality, notorious collectors often do not appear in the source, unless there is evidence well-known to the public. No matter when, provenance records require professional analysis. For example, to some extent, you can find famous works by Van Gogh or Cézanne if you find Paul Gachet, because Dr. Gachet is a close friend and patron of the two. However, Jiaxie himself is also an artist, and often copy his own collection of works, sometimes even the signature is not let go, so you still have to be careful before there is no other proof of authenticity. It’s actually hard to judge how much attractive provenance will add value to the artwork. From my personal experience, if the former owner is a well-known receiver, regardless of whether he is alive or not, he will add value to works of ordinary quality, but for masterpieces that are of great value, this kind of value contribution will be less. Much. This added value will not exceed 15%, but there are exceptions. In Sotheby’s May 2007 auction, there was an Untitled (Yellow, Pink, and Lavender on Rose) by Roscoe [Untitled (Yellow, Pink, and Lavender on Rose)], which belonged to the Rockefellers .

Because the auction proceeds were used for charity, David Rockefeller took a photo with this work (Figure 11), and Sotheby’s made a big fuss about Rockefeller’s collection of the work. The painting finally sold for 72.84 million US dollars. The next night, Christie’s auctioned a Roscoe work of similar size and date. The color may be slightly plain, and the source is indeed much more ordinary. The result was only 29.92 million US dollars.


Professionals make physical inspections of artworks and write the results into documents, which is the condition report. The professionals here are usually those who are proficient in a field, mainly engaged in the protection and restoration of works of art, and have been exposed to works of art with similar materials, ages, and styles. The more authoritative the person is, the more weight the status report is given. Art dealers and auction houses like one-sentence brief reports, for example, “Compared to works of the same age, the overall condition is good.” Art conservationists who only work for or cooperate with museums tend to issue long-form status reports, which are enough to scare off newcomers. Art protectors who work with private clients, galleries, and museums use less terminology. Most importantly, they will use their extensive experience to determine the condition of the items in their hands and the general status of items of the same age, author, and type. Compare the status. Impressionist works of more than a hundred years old have a certain degree of damage, aging and restoration that are within the expected range. If the minimalist oil paintings of the 1960s had similar conditions, they might not be sold.

The impact of conditions on value is usually part of the change in culture and taste. Fifty years ago, American buyers of Impressionist oil paintings liked bright and glamorous works, which resulted in some works being over-cleaned and polished. Many galleries, and even major museums, will mount a new canvas (reline), that is, put another layer on the back of the original canvas, during which it will be heated and waxed. Buyers of impressionist works today are willing to pay higher prices for works that have not been mounted on a new canvas but have only undergone minor restorations.

In the condition rating, the price difference between “good” and “excellent” works is about 15% to 20%. Works in poor condition may have a discount of more than 40%. For works More than half of the repaired or repainted part may not be sold. Certain collections of appreciation will mark those works that may be severely damaged and repaired. Once this information is made public, it will accompany the work for life. Improper maintenance caused by fire, flooding, and theft are the main causes of serious problems in oil paintings. Reputable dealers will not represent such works.

Now more and more works use new materials, but the preservation time of different materials is different, some are long and some are short, such as the fluorescent tubes used in Dan Flavin’s sculpture works, or Damian He Damien Hirst’s animal mummy. The ideological origin of fugitive art may be found in the 25-foot* high, sounding mechanical assembly of Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely, which was released in 1960. In the garden of the Museum of Modern Art. Janine Antoni (Janine Antoni) of the “bite” (Gnaw, 1992) in 1993 at the Whitney Mei Art and exhibited art museum, this piece of lard * 600 lbs and 600 lbs chocolate composition. For a work that is easy to catch fire or may rot after changing hands less than once, how much should the dealer charge? Sometimes the artist guarantees (in Flavin’s case, with his mansion guarantee) that the parts that have fallen into disrepair can be replaced. But what about 50 or 100 years from now? For heavy investment in non-permanent works of art (in accounting jargon, these are non-durable consumer goods), sincere sponsors (or short-term speculators) are needed.


Owners of works often come to me and say that they have works of such and such art that have not been exhibited or included. “My great-grandfather met Picasso in Barcelona in 1898. This painting was given to him by Picasso.” I have heard such funny words more than once. Usually people would say that so-and-so’s work is “family handed down and has never been made public.” Sometimes people will come up with a thick stack of faded documents, saying that so-and-so’s work has been verified by a Swiss lawyer or an Italian art historian (I’m sorry to mention these two professions here), and it is 100% authentic. . This type of work usually doesn’t match the author’s previous style at all. If you ask carefully, the owner of the work will reveal that he is not without doubts, but the seller persuaded him, or he was too greedy and “has done a little research” and felt that he could resell for several million. As far as Chinese ink paintings are concerned, even copied works are valuable. The specific value depends on how much the original charm is retained. Unfortunately, for Western works in the past two hundred years, there is no such thing. Condition. 19 Works on the market are either true or false, and are either valuable or worthless. The work in question may be a copy of the genuine product, an out-and-out imitation, or the wrong author. Responsible art dealers and big auction houses will guarantee that everything they sell is authentic, but sometimes you need to carefully check the “Terms of Sale” section in the auction catalog to find out something like “Thinking to be the work of XX” What does it mean in the end.

Whether the things bought by the ancestors are true or not, not everyone wants to figure it out. Years of London auction house Christie’s work of David Carritt (David Carritt) is the identification of Old Master paintings of the legendary figure . This person is famous for his ability to find dusty paintings from ancient families and assign them to people such as Giorgione, Tintoretto, or Titian, which doubles their value. One might imagine that when Carriet’s footsteps sounded on the private driveway of the manor, the celebrities would be overjoyed, open their doors, and prepare to welcome him with fine wines. However, this is not always the case. Carriet occasionally catches up with the front door locked and the red carpet not showing. Why? Because some painting owners only want to appreciate their paintings as they usually do, even if these collections have not been appraised, the author has not been confirmed, and they are dusty, and they don’t want to deal with high insurance premiums, greedy heirs, and the British National Trust looking for gifts.


Often private collectors who collect masterpieces of art say “I am just a temporary steward of my collection”. Indeed, works of art will eventually have other owners. In fact, everything is like this.

However, even temporary butlers have the right to show their treasures to the public. Many collectors of different categories continue to receive requests from museums around the world, hoping that they will lend their artworks to exhibitions that are advertised as vital. In general, American collectors are very generous when faced with such loans. In addition to altruism, there is another reason that the rich in this country will pay taxes, and there is no reason to hide what they have. In some other countries, collectors are reluctant to admit that they own valuable artworks in order to prevent it from being scrutinized by tax authorities, or causing public envy and condemnation, or both. It is true that anonymous lending is also popular among American collectors. Even so, there is at least a small group of other collectors, distributors and curators who know the origins of most of the collections.

When artworks are loaned, social value and commercial value are usually synchronized. If your collection of Matisse’s masterpiece “Nice Interior” is included in the exhibition plan of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and sent to the same famous museums in New York, London and Berlin, this painting will become a valuable society Part of the experience, because thousands of people around the world will have the opportunity to see it, not only that, its exposure is likely to increase its commercial appeal. If you do have the idea of ​​selling this work, when would it be more appropriate than when it returned from a highly acclaimed museum trip? In addition, if the curator of the exhibition is eager to borrow your collection, he or she may agree to your reasonable request, such as displaying it in a full-page color page in the catalog, or even your unreasonable request, such as putting it Put it on the cover!

In all fairness, many collectors do like to appreciate the art in their collection. It is a social pain to not be able to see Matisse’s paintings on the fireplace for 18 months. But when you and your spouse enjoy compliments at public receptions and private dinners in the four major cities, this pain can easily be alleviated.

When an artist gains recognition, when his or her main works are exhibited, discussed, written, and purchased, some of these works will become more popular than others. It may be the artist’s earliest mature attempt to gain fame—for Picasso, his works from the blue and rose periods—guaranteeing the exhibition and the sale of large-format albums; or it may be an unfortunate young man. Later works by artists who died, such as Van Gogh and Mortigliani.

Because popularity depends on the public—those who visit exhibitions and buy books, calendars, and handbags—only those artists and works of art who have spread widely have the chance to become popular. Museums possessing these works use these images for commercial and educational purposes, so the same works become more and more famous around the world. This has been the case for a hundred years. In the end, certain works became synonymous with artists: Van Gogh’s self-portraits, Gauguin’s Tahitian women, Monet’s water lilies, Picasso’s Dora Mare portraits, Pollock’s drip paintings, Jones’s American flags, Warhol’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe.

It is said that such works have achieved iconic status, and in the art trade, “iconic” is a very expensive word. Today’s collectors may have received art education from the first grade of elementary school, visiting local museums or reading books about famous painters. They never thought that they would one day be able to collect art. Now, they are scrambling to own works that impressed them when they were young, and many people would pay for this opportunity.

When it comes to Western art in the 20th century, we think that those popular works that we know well, are stored in important museums, and are often published are the best. This is not always true. Sometimes a work that has been in a private collection for a long time is exposed to the public, and we will discover a new masterpiece. In 1995, when the collections of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg began to be loaned out to museums in the United States and Europe, people were surprised by the number of real masterpieces “hidden” in the news, which resembled the classic headline of a British newspaper-“Europe” Blocked by dense fog”. Matisse’s panoramic painting “Dance (I)” [The Dance (I), Fig. 12] exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art is very popular, and it is also a work I like very much. When “The Dance” (Figure 13) is viewed together , the former may not be so powerful-thanks to Gorbachev, it is no longer hidden.

Whether it is widely known or rediscovered, the works of the artist’s most popular periods and themes can get a premium.

Regardless of quality, there are always collectors who want to obtain works that are called “masterpieces” of artists. This usually refers to works that are sufficiently similar to the artist’s most popular work that they can be recognized by the collector’s friends and neighbors . Every dealer has the experience that when they show a painting to a new collector in the future, the latter said: “But it doesn’t look like Picasso!” This artist has limited knowledge of his work and wants a painting that can be recognized by their poor relatives and wide neighbors 15 steps away.


Obviously, so far, there are many factors that create the commercial value of artworks, but few of them are actual factors, and most of them are relative factors. Quality is the top priority.

No two people have the same experience when viewing the same work of art (image, sculpture or painting). Their eyes may receive the same information, but the way their brain processes the information is completely different. When to see a piece of art of the moment , if we recognize the artist’s approach, part of the activities carried out head is consciously or subconsciously think we know about him. If you and I see a red puppy painted by Picasso at the same time, I might be attracted by it and think it is a high-quality work because it is painted by my favorite artist in my favorite color. And you might say it’s really bad, because you think of the artist’s treatment of women, because you were bitten by a similar dog when you were a kid, because red is your least favorite color. You and I may not judge the quality of the work in any commercial sense. We will bring our own experience into it. This is inevitable and part of the process of experiencing art.

Many people who spend a lot of time appreciating art will agree that there is a difference between a successful artwork and an artwork that may only be interesting or typical. Regardless of style or subject matter, control of the media, clear and authoritative expression of executive power is applied to the arts have an important standard surgical products. Artists themselves are not always the best judges of their works. Economic needs or pure egoism may prompt them to sell works of inferior quality. Not every object touched by a famous artist is a masterpiece, and some scraps are less valuable than a signature. Van Gogh plagued with each painting he created, destroyed or obliterated announced the completion of the works than his more; and Renault Argentina, longer life his painting every day, seemed happy to let his The dealer sold his most primitive and unsuccessful graffiti, just as he sold many of his recognized masterpieces.

The works of popular artists may be of first-rate quality, but the quality of most artists’ works fluctuates within a certain range. Picasso mastered many different expression methods, and the quality of his works varied from extraordinary to mediocre in almost every style period. This is a common occurrence.

As long as you see as many works of an artist and artists of the same genre with your own eyes as possible, it is easy to cultivate appreciation. Joseph Hirshhorn is self-taught, but he has seen many works of art. I took him to the studios of many artists. It was the first time he saw the works of these artists, and they didn’t have any previous works. score. Every time, he was able to quickly pick out the best four or five works in the studio. The art market recognizes quality. Ultimately, price and quality have a strong correlation at all levels. In order to buy the best works, the extra money is always worth it.

Posted by:CoinYuppie,Reprinted with attribution to:https://coinyuppie.com/what-makes-a-certain-piece-of-art-invaluable/
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