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Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Price of Art these Days

Cezanne's Card Players, 1888, currently holds the price record as of 2011, $267 million
Garcon a' la Pipe, 1905, Pablo Picasso,
nice work but, $127 million?
It seems like every time you turn around prices have gone up. Just try buying a pair of shoes your teenager will actually wear for less than a hundred bucks! And blue jeans! How about eleven bucks for a movie ticket and that much more for popcorn and a soft drink. And don't even think about a dinner for two at a fine restaurant for less than forty or fifty bucks plus tip. Okay, so everything hasn't gone up. Gas prices have held relatively steady or even gone down a little, but that's small consolation when you see the price they're getting for Picasso's nowadays--$127 million, for a portrait of a Persian boy smoking (left). And if you think that's bad, just try laying your hands on a Van Gogh portraait for less than the $82.5 million big ones paid for Portrait of Dr. Gachet back in 1990. It's getting harder and harder now days to afford good art work.

Portrait of the Artist without Beard,
late September, 1889,
Vincent van Gogh
The van Gogh is his Portrait of the Artist Without Beard (right) and it was actually $71 million plus a hefty commission for Christie's. It was painted in 1889 and may well have been his last self-portrait, maybe even one of his last paintings ever. He sent it to his mother on the occasion of her 70th birthday, along with a note telling her how upset he was that he couldn't be with her. The bidding began at $14 million and there were cheers and gasps when the gavel finally fell 71 million dollars later. And it's not just the big stars of the art world that are bringing astounding prices. The relatively unknown Jean-Michel Basquiat, who started out as a graffiti artist, had a portrait of himself holding a spear, which was expected to bring about $500,000, go for $3.5 million. His previous record was a mere $596,000.

Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne,
1917, Amadeo Modigliani
It's gotten so bad that whole art collections are going on the auction block. Lila Acheson Wallace would be rolling over in her grave if she knew what her Readers' Digest Corporation was doing with her collection, which she tenderly fawned over during much of her lifetime. They let go of Claude Monet's Water Lily Pond for $9.9 million, and Cezanne's L'Estaque View Through the Pine Trees for $11 million, although Renoir's Head of a Young Girl went for a mere $5.3 million and his Portrait of Cezanne" got them only $2.7 million. (Apparently paintings by Cezanne are worth more than paintings of Cezanne.) Add to that a 1919 Modigiliani, Portrait of Jeanne Hebuteme (left), which sold for $15.1 million plus a few other minor pieces, and the Digest walked off with a cool $86 million to take back to Pleasantville to pay for their next sweepstakes. Who knows, maybe I might "already be a winner." I might just win enough to bid on at least a drawing by Van Gogh. They only cost $4.4 million.

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