If you have ever wondered why some of these record breaking sales at auction far exceed expectations and estimates, you are not alone. The Art Auction market, especially for Modern and Contemporary Art has been a mystery and a leader in the Art Business, as well as one being watched closely by market analysts, dealers and appraisers.
This charming little portrait by Lucian Freud sold at Sotheby’s in March for over $7.2 million.
The artist name is the most important factor in determining the value of the art, yet the importance of the art and provenance is paramount to why some art can fetch such high values while other seemingly beautiful and important works fail to even reach modest estimates at auctions. If this same portrait were discovered to be done by an unknown artist who never exhibited or sold his work, the value would be taken down to less than $200. The story about the iconic faux pearls owned by Jackie Kennedy which sold for over $211,000 illustrates this point. The pearl necklace was iconic - owned and worn by Jackie Kennedy, and featured is some of the most famous portraits and photographs of the popular former first lady. These same pearls had an auction estimate of $500 - $700, even higher than the retail replacement cost of $200. The provenance was the main factor in the perceived value of this faux pearl necklace. When people ask me “What is it worth?” the simple answer is always, “It is worth what someone is willing to pay for it.”
Lucian Freud died in 2011 and since then, the momentum and interest in his work has garnered scholarly interest as well as museum and collector interest within the art market. When something has a perception of being the rarest and most interesting idea or commodity, the price goes up. When art dealers start marketing this artist to museums, and museums launch major and important exhibitions of the artists work, the prices inevitably go up. One traveling exhibition of Lucian Freud travelled the world and it included exactly one painting. The triptych self portrait is one of the most iconic and recognizable self portraits ever exhibited and people flocked to museums to get the chance to see this one work in person.
As an Art Appraiser, when I am looking into the market value of a particular artist’s work, I look at the amount of Art Dealers, Art Galleries and Museums that are showing the work as well as the Art Auction Market. Are works selling for more or less than the estimates? Is there a large enough body of work to support the current collector market? When collectors want a piece to complete their collection, money is often less of a concern than the importance of obtaining this particular work. As simple as it may be, the old adage, “Supply and Demand” is the perfect summary of the art auction market.
Currently, the market for victorian antiques and collectibles has lost steam and these items are difficult to sell to say the least. The market for china, silver tea sets, large carved wooden china cabinets and dining tables have also lost value ion recent years and collectibility in the market. Trends come and go and most museums are looking to increase their big ticket items and produce blockbuster shows, the ones that bring in millions of new patrons and hopefully keep the museum sustainable.