Last month one of our readers, Carolyn, asked the following question: Does the value of a painting 'increase' if it is included 'in a collection' at some point? I did touch on this question back in Volume 15, but it is probably time to revisit the idea of provenance and value.
As I have mentioned in the past, provenance can be a vital tool when trying to determine a work’s authenticity. The more complete the provenance, the easier it is to track the work’s movements throughout history with the ultimate goal of finding the first buyer ... who, most likely, would have received it directly from the artist. When experts have questions about a work’s authenticity, they will want to see its provenance. If no provenance can be found then the work may languish in the “I am not sure” or “Who knows?” realm of the art world … leaving these questions unanswered will negatively affect the work’s value … often making it impossible to sell. However, if a real and verifiable chain of ownership can be uncovered, helping authenticate the work, then the provenance has helped establish its true value.
While a complete provenance can help solidify a work’s authenticity … please remember that just because a work comes with a provenance does not mean that the chain of ownership is real or accurate. There have been instances when unscrupulous dealers/sellers have created a fairly impressive provenance for a dubious work to give it an air of authenticity. And, more importantly, just because a work does not have a complete provenance does not mean that there is a problem with its authenticity. Generally, major works of art have comprehensive provenances … as the buyers and sellers are usually fairly prominent individuals and like to have all the proper paperwork. However, we have all heard stories of major works of art being ‘discovered’ … sometimes unearthed in a yard sale or flea market; and their historical ownership records can be sketchy at best.
For the majority of works bought and sold in the art market, a complete provenance is often almost impossible to obtain, especially when a certain style of art, or even a specific artist, may have gone out of favor for long periods of time. This is also true with lower priced works that were originally bought for their ‘decorative’ appeal. It is only years, or decades, later, when those ‘decorative’ works becomes valuable, that people want to know about provenance. Then it can become a serious research project. Take my advice … regardless of what you originally pay for a work of art, keep the bill of sale in a safe place; you, or your heirs, may find it useful in the future.
Now I will touch on Carolyn’s question: Does the value of a painting 'increase' if it is included 'in a collection' at some point? I am going to assume that she is asking if a work has been owned by a famous individual or important institution, will that help increase its value?
In a perfect world I would say that each and every work offered on the market should be judged against all the other works a specific artist created. Those that are great examples should bring more than those that are good examples; and those good examples should command higher prices than bad examples. Nevertheless, today the celebrity factor does play a role in the price of a work of art. We saw this in the series of Kennedy family auctions that took place a number of years ago. Poor quality works of art were selling for far more than a really good quality work by the same artist … just because it was owned by a Kennedy. This normally happens during auction sales because people get caught-up in the auction room hype / sales pitch and want to own a piece of someone else’s life. The real test will be 100 years from now … will that sketch that brought the price of a finished painting still command such a premium? My guess is that it will not. The sketch may make a little more than a similar work without the glorified provenance, but it will not be to the extremes that we see during the initial offering.
It is also worth noting that just because a famous institution once owned a work, does not mean that you should pay a premium. There are many times when major museums deaccession works from their collection. Sometimes these works have little meaning to the museum’s main focus and could be fine quality works, or, to be blunt, they are just poor quality works and the museum does not want them taking up space in their storage rooms. If they are selling because the work is of inferior quality, would you want to own it? I hope not. And, would you really want to pay a premium because of its provenance? I doubt it.
As we always preach … the most important factors to be concerned with are the quality, subject matter and condition of any work you are considering. Strive to buy really good/representative examples from the artists whose works you enjoy and if a partial or complete provenance is available great, but do not make that a major factor when deciding to acquire a work of art … especially those that are more modern or from periods that went out of fashion for a protracted period of time.
This, of course, brings me back to my mantra: “It is important when traveling down the art market road, to have a knowledgeable (and hopefully friendly) guide.” Today, the market is hot and there are many people who are only in the business to make money … or more precisely, to take your money. You want to align yourself with those individuals who have a long track record of dealing in the right painting … paintings that are not only good examples of an artist’s work, but are in good condition. And more importantly, will stand behind the work for as long as you own it. While art is a very personal experience and what one person loves, another may hate, you want to be sure that in the area/period you enjoy, the dealer, or dealers, you are buying from are considered among the top in their field. If you can find the right people, you have a great chance of not only buying the right works, but reaping big rewards in the future.
Dallas Museum of Art Presents Van Gogh’s Sheaves of Wheat
Rehs Galleries is pleased to announce that two important paintings by Julien Dupré – Glaneuses (Salon, 1880) and Returning from the Fields (c.1885) will be featured in the Dallas Museum of Art’s upcoming Van Gogh’s Sheaves of Wheat exhibition - October 22, 2006 - January 7, 2007.
This in-depth study of a theme that both delighted and obsessed this great artist and influenced countless contemporaries and future artists has been organized by the Dallas Museum of Art and featuring Vincent van Gogh’s masterwork Sheaves of Wheat (1890) from the Museum’s own collection. This exhibition explores the artist’s fascination with the motif in his paintings, drawings, and personal letters, as well as the iconographic significance of wheat and agricultural labor in the work of other late 19th-century artists, including Julien Dupré, Paul Gauguin, Jean-François Millet, and Camille Pissarro, among others. The exhibition will have the largest collection of Van Gogh works ever displayed in the Southwest.
“This exhibition brings together several of the most important paintings by master artists,” said John R. Lane, The Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art. Sheaves of Wheat was completed weeks before the artist’s death in July 1890. With animistic intensity, van Gogh depicts a field of golden wheat, gathered together in freshly stacked sheaves. Other works by Van Gogh, such as Wheat Field with a Reaper (5 -6 September 1889) and Corn Harvest in Provence (17-23 June 1888) help to elucidate the artist’s vision and the aesthetic evolution of the theme.
“Van Gogh’s Sheaves of Wheat illuminates a common motif that has universal significance as a symbol of biblical and mythical abundance,” said Dorothy Kosinski, Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture and the Barbara Thomas Lemmon Curator of European Art at the DMA. “This exhibition examines Van Gogh’s personal obsession with the theme, which became a metaphor for the creative process and the cycle of life in the artist’s work, and contextualizes Van Gogh’s interpretations with those of other artists of the time.”
The exhibition includes works by artists who Van Gogh admired and emulated, as well as artists of his generation who shared his enthusiasm and fascination with the theme. Works by Émile Bernard, Jules Breton, Charles-François Daubigny, Julien Dupré, Paul Gauguin, Léon Augustin L’Hermitte, Jean-François Millet, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Félix Edouard Vallotton illustrate a range of different approaches and reveal the larger social and political issues of the time.
Van Gogh’s Sheaves of Wheat will be accompanied by a fully illustrated, 119-page catalogue, with a forward by Dr. Lane, essays by Dr. Kosinski and Dr. Bradley Fratello, and individual biographies by Laura Bruck.
Books For Sale
This month we have added a new feature to the navigation bar – Books. The gallery offers a small selection of art books … most relate to the period of art we deal in and many are ‘hard to find’ editions. Among the current offerings are a few copies of the Klein Cortes book; the Eugene Galien Laloue Catalogue Raisonné; and a number of signed copies of Collecting in the Gilded Age. Please visit our Book section from time to time to see the new offerings.
Howard L. Rehs
© Rehs Galleries, Inc., New York – September 2006
Gallery Updates: I will give a complete update next month.
Web Site Updates: A nice exhibition featuring the Impressionist paintings of Eugene L. Boudin is now available. We also added updated bios for Frederick Morgan and Charles Leickert.
Next Month: I am open to suggestions.