Art Riche

Pricy Art – Pre-1940s

Renaissance artists are widely credited for bringing about a movement where art was more widely prioritized. The art scene since then has led to quite a few breakthrough artists.

So what do Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Gustav Klimt, van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir, and Andy Warhol have in common?

Yes, they have all been artists. The value of their art has been gauged by (who else) the beholders – each to the tune of $100 million or over (corrected for present-day U.S. dollars, painting depictions and related information referenced is from www.wikipedia.org).

In the art world, old vs. new is relative. For the purposes of the painters discussed here, we consider among the 100-million-+ category value paintings, those created before 1945 (i.e. in the last sixty years) as “historical” and those after that year as more “modern.”

First, we consider Pierre Renoir’s 1876 painting Bal du moulin de la Galette. In the context of an artist who was inspired by the Louvre (apparently open since 1793) paintings of masters whose works he saw himself join by 1910, Renoir’s work sold for $136 million in 1990 via Sotheby’s (www.sothebys.com) at present value). It depicts life in a natural everyday sense, with proportionate figures.

Unlike Renoir was the famous work of Picasso, which although started off more proportionate in the early 1900’s, had become quite disproportionately modern by the 1932, as witnessed by Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust. Selling in 2010 for a cool $110 million via Christie’s, it followed the fitting and rare theme for Picasso, who as an artist was able to become rich off his own work (despite impoverished adolescence and a middle-class upbringing).

Pricy Art – 1940s to today

One of the recent leaders of all artwork fetching the highest price, to date, was Jackson Pollock’s No. 5, 1948, sold by David Geffen via Sotheby’s private auction for over $156 million in 2006. Pollock was a painter who studied art in New York City, and introduced a new technique, whereupon the canvas was laid flat on the floor and the paint “dripped on.” Pollock’s presumed manic-depression may have contributed to his style, and his alcoholism appears to have contributed to his death at age 44 in a single-car accident. His work shows the elaborate focus.

A more recent artist, painting in a different medium, is Andy Warhol. Although known for his films and dark style, Warhol makes it to our list here for having the $100+ million sale price of the 1963 painting “Eight Elvises” which sold in 2008. Warhol’s interesting life included development of chorea at a young age, living a somewhat ostracized life, then surviving being shot by a disgruntled employee, to found Interview magazine and meet numerous notables including President Jimmy Carter.

Art Valuation is in the Eye of the Beholder

Re-evaluation of an existing piece of art, after previously being bought and sold, relies upon an understanding of the market. Yet, the true value (especially if the value of art is in the “eye of the beholder”) can be difficult to assess. Perhaps that’s why auctions do so well.

There are two principal concepts involved in judging the importance of art (or for that matter, anything) – price and value. The two may not always mean the same. For example, for a daughter of a World War II veteran, her greatest cherished picture will be that of her father before his death; far out-valuing any other painting out there.

Yet, price is just one measure – to the masses in the “market” who are able to afford such items. Theoretically, as an investment, the paintings depicted on this website, in this and related sections, have been valued at a certain price – over $100 million. Why?

Common themes among the artists considered include dealing with abject poverty, alcoholism, mania, and others. Some would argue that such disturbances created outstanding works – or stand-out works at least. What exactly does a person who is willing to pay $100 million see in this work… does s/he as a buyer identify or seek some piece of a troubled artist’s life with which to compare or complement their own? After all, do we really look in art and life for something which is similar to us or which completes us?

That is the limited emotional discussion. From a business standpoint, the artists have a relative first-mover advantage (in terms of Picasso, Pollock, or Warhol’s style, for example); the buyers have an appraised value which has shown appreciation over time (hence having the capacity to sell art as an investment); the auctioneer sees the same (and probably sole, in addition to the prestige factor) advantage of investment.

Meanwhile, some of us wonder – what would we do with an extra $100 million… buy a yacht, give some to charity, or buy a painting? If we are not to critically judge, all were apparently frankly acceptable answers to those who made them, and in America (where people particularly don’t want to be told what to do with their money), all decisions about spending on artwork are much like the artists who paint them – worthwhile in the eye of the beholder.

But if anyone’s surprised now, just wait till tomorrow… as already between the original creation of this article to now, Cezane’s “The Card Player” sold for an estimated $254 million, and Paul Gauguin’s “When Will You Marry?” allegedly sold for around $300 million (with likelihood of even that being surpassed in the future being high).

Ravish Patwardhan, MD