Art and Money – Price Madness in 2012

The Great Game and the Scream of Nature

World records for the prices of art sold privately and at auction are being shattered in quick succession.

In February 2012, Cezanne’s “Card Players” was sold privately for a reported USD 250 million, making it the most expensive painting ever sold…

The world's new most expensive painting

According to Art History News (3rd Feb 2012) “The state of Qatar has paid a reported $250m for a version of Cezanne’s Card Players. Cezanne painted five similar images, and this was the only one remaining in private hands. The others are in the Met, d’Orsay, and Courtauld museums, as well as the Barnes Foundation. Alexandra Peers of Vanity Fair has the story:

How did Qatar get the Cézanne? For years, Greek shipping magnate George Embiricos had owned and treasured the painting, rarely lending it. He was “entertained” but unmoved, according to one art dealer, by occasional offers for it that climbed ever higher alongside the art market in past decades. A few years ago, the painting was listed by artnews magazine as one of the world’s top artworks still in private hands.

Shortly before his death in the winter of 2011, Embiricos began discussions about its sale, which was handled by his estate. Two art dealers—William Acquavella and another, rumored to be Larry Gagosian—offered upward of $220 million for the painting, people close to the matter said. But the royal family of Qatar, without quibbling on price, outbid them, at $250 million”.

Then there was “The Scream” by Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch. It sold for USD 120 million at Sotheby’s in New York on the evening of Wednesday 2nd May 2012, a new world record (auction) price.

Here it is… and brace yourself.

The Scream – Edvard Munch 1895

I suppose it is all about what Mr Will Gompertz, Arts Editor of BBC News, says:

“The reason for the record-breaking auction price achieved by The Scream is a simple case of market economics in an age of global capitalism: demand for Grade A art far outstrips supply. In a world of jittery stock markets and double-dip recessions, top-end artworks have become a reliable and highly desirable investment for the world’s super-rich. There are five factors at play in dictating an artwork’s value: rarity, reputation of the artist, confidence in the market, condition of the artwork, and competition for the piece. It is this last factor that has powered the continued rise in prices. A few years ago Sotheby’s would have had bidders from three or four countries, now it’s 20 or 30: that’s globalisation for you.”

Personally, I cannot understand why anyone would want to hang this image on their wall, let alone pay money for it. This has got to be one of the most hideous images I have ever seen. I have read all about what it represents, and how Mr Munch was feeling at the time, and what a famous painting it is and why… but with all due respect, I cannot seem to find a way to like it, or to be glad I ever saw it. I certainly hope I don’t ever have to suffer in the way Mr Munch apparently did, and my views about this particular work are merely my own opinion. Is this the point then? To be ‘engaged’ by the work? To be assaulted by the painting? Why is this so awesome? Would a piece of music containing recorded sounds of an animal in pain and distress be great too then? Not to me. At the same time, I don’t want to be saying too much about things I don’t know much about, and am sure that if Edvard Munch is held in such high esteem, there will be good reason.

If you like, here is what persons less ignorant than I have to say:

Painted in 1893, The Scream is Munch’s most famous work and one of the most recognizable paintings in all art. It has been widely interpreted as representing the universal anxiety of modern man. Painted with broad bands of garish color and highly simplified forms, and employing a high viewpoint, the agonized figure is reduced to a garbed skull in the throes of an emotional crisis. With this painting, Munch met his stated goal of “the study of the soul, that is to say the study of my own self”. Munch wrote of how the painting came to be: “I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature.”  He later described the personal anguish behind the painting, “for several years I was almost mad… You know my picture, ‘The Scream?’ I was stretched to the limit—nature was screaming in my blood… After that I gave up hope ever of being able to love again.”

In summing up the painting’s impact, author Martha Tedeschi has stated: “Whistler’s Mother, Wood’s American Gothic, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Edvard Munch’s The Scream have all achieved something that most paintings—regardless of their art historical importance, beauty, or monetary value—have not: they communicate a specific meaning almost immediately to almost every viewer. These few works have successfully made the transition from the elite realm of the museum visitor to the enormous venue of popular culture.” Source: Wikipedia

And this is What Edvard Munch said:

“We want more than a mere photograph of nature. We do not want to paint pretty pictures to be hung on drawing-room walls. We want to create, or at least lay the foundations of, an art that gives something to humanity. An art that arrests and engages. An art created of one’s innermost heart.”

That is all very well, but I find “The Scream” a bit hectic. Are there not some nicer things, or more palatable things, in one’s innermost heart too? Perhaps the great artist did indeed give to humanity some other engaging masterpieces, or at least some works which are more to my taste, but “The Scream” doesn’t exactly motivate me to go scrambling to find out.

The previous record for an artwork sold at auction was Pablo Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust”, which sold for USD 106.5 million in 2010, and I find it infinitely more comfortable to look at…

At least it has some appeal, and doesn’t attack the viewer like Munch’s apocalyptic ghoul. I suppose, to be fair, it is completely different on a variety of levels, and the two paintings cannot be compared in the way I have. But at least this one doesn’t make me want to run to the pharmacy for help.


Here is an article about Picasso’s painting which I found interesting to read…

Mail Online (
6 May 2010

Dashed off in a single day in 1932, Picasso painted Nude, Green Leaves at the highpoint of his astonishingly productive career.

By then, the artist had been through his Blue period, his Cubist period, his Classical and Surrealist periods and was embarking on a rich phase notable for its symbolism as well as his skill.

The painting depicts Marie-Therese Walter, one of a series of mistresses and muses who inspired Picasso.

Picasso's 'Nude, Green Leaves and Bust' sold for $106.5million (£70.2million) at auction on Tuesday night, a new world record
Picasso’s ‘Nude, Green Leaves and Bust’ sold for $106.5million (£70.2million) at auction on Tuesday night, a new world record

1. Look carefully, and here you can just see the black outline of Picasso’s own nose and lips, partly hiding behind a blue veil. This signifies the secrecy of his illicit relationship with his muse.

2. Above the reclining figure of Marie-Therese is a depiction of her own bust on a classical pedestal, a sign of Picasso’s high esteem for her.

He had made a sculpture bust of her the previous year, and according to Conor Jordan, the head of Modern Art in Christie’s, New York, there is an element of self-congratulation in its inclusion in the painting – as if Picasso were pointing out his own virtuosity.

The paint on the bust in the picture is ladled on with a palette knife, making it seem like a three-dimensional statue, in contrast to the smoothness of Marie-Therese’s body.

3. These large green leaves depict a philodendron, a common creeping houseplant whose name means ‘love tree’.

Picasso owned his own philodendron which he kept in the bathroom and grew so astonishingly quickly that he once said that it almost took over his life.

By including it here, he is perhaps making a reference to his all-consuming obsession with Marie-Therese.

4. The two shadows cast over Marie-Therese’s naked body are a mystery even to art experts. Some believe they may indicate the erotic submission of Picasso’s mistress – but others believe that the one around her throat could be a reference to a celebrated Matisse picture, which Picasso owned and depicted a young girl wearing a black choker.

5. By his mistress’s elbow, Picasso has painted a plate of apples, a symbol since Biblical times of sexual temptation.

(Image courtesy
Marie-Therese Walter: Nude muse

An illegitimate child with a pushy mother who had encouraged her to form relationships with older, richer men, Marie-Therese was just 17 when she met the 45-year- old Spanish painter in Paris in 1927.

For years, they managed to keep the relationship secret from Picasso’s wife, Olga Khoklova, a Russian ballerina with whom he had a young son, Paulo. But when Marie-Therese fell pregnant in 1935, the pretence was over.

But a year after she gave birth to Picasso’s daughther, Maya, the artist met a new mistress, Dora Maar.

Insanely jealous of her love rival, Marie-Therese later encountered Dora unexpectedly in Picasso’s studio and the two women started a physical fight, which Picasso subsequently called one of his choicest memories.

Marie-Therese committed suicide in 1977, four years after Picasso’s death at the age of 91.

The large canvas depicts an almost life-size Marie-Therese in lilac, a colour favoured by Picasso to depict his lover’s pale flesh. The voluptuous girl is asleep, a pose he favoured for his women, reflecting his own obsession with submission and possession.

A prospective buyer admires Matisse's 'Nu au coussin bleu' as Picasso's piece hangs alongside it prior to the auction
A prospective buyer admires Matisse’s ‘Nu au coussin bleu’ as Picasso’s piece hangs alongside it prior to the auction

The sellers

The painting had belonged to the estate of Los Angeles philanthropists Sydney and Frances Brody, whose art collection included celebrated works by Giacometti, Matisse and Braque.

The Brodys, whose money came from property, lived in a modernist house designed to show off their collection – Matisse created a mural for their courtyard. This Picasso, the pride of their collection, was bought in 1952 for $17,000 from a New York art dealer, who had acquired it from the painter in 1936.

All 27 lots from the Brody estate that were included in this week’s sale found buyers, and the total proceeds of £148million will go towards the upkeep of the magnificent grounds of California’s Huntingdon library, which the couple adored.

The buyer

The successful bid was made by a telephone buyer who wants to remain anonymous. Some believe he must be a Russian oligarch.

But among art insiders, speculation is rife that he may be Californian hedge fund manager Steve Cohen – who owns an art collection worth around £400 million. Cohen has always

wanted a Picasso painting of Marie-Therese and four years ago agreed to buy one owned by Las Vegas casino boss Steve Wynn, entitled The Dream.

The agreed price of $139 million would have made it the most expensive private sale ever, but the sale fell through when Wynn accidentally put his elbow through the painting.

The price

When the hammer finally came down at $106.5 million (£70 million), the painting beat the previous record of $104.2 million for an auctioned artwork set in 2004 for another Picasso painting, Boy With A Pipe. It also trumped the $103.4 million achieved in London last February for Giacometti’s Walking Man sculpture.

The value of Tuesday’s sale was augmented by the fact that, having been in a private collection for 50 years, the painting had been shown in public only once – to celebrate Picasso’s 80th birthday.

A Record Price for Contemporary Art


May 9, 2012

One week after Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” shattered art auction records (USD 120 million), Mark Rothko’s “Orange, Red, Yellow” has broken the price ceiling for a work of contemporary art.

The 1961 painting, described by auction house Christie’s as arguably the most important work by the Russian-Amerian artist to ever appear at auction, sold for almost $87 million Tuesday. The previous record was held by Francis Bacon’s Triptych at $86.2 million.

“This was an historic event in the auction world, with three major records set in the space of a few short hours,” said Brett Gorvy, Chairman and International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art in a press statement.

The entire auction raised a record $388.5 million, surpassing the previous record set in May 2007, also at Christie’s, by some four million dollars.

Feverish bidding also produced the highest price for a collection sold at auction, for 13 works from the Pincus Collection, described by Christie’s as the “most important and comprehensive ensemble of Abstract Expressionism ever to come to auction.”

The Pincus lots were part of an impressive catalog of post-war art collected over 50 years by former clothing manufacturing boss David Pincus and his wife Gerry before his death last December.

The collection included the record-breaking Rothko, bought by Pincus in 1967, which was sold to an anonymous phone-bidder after a seven-minute volley of more than 50 bids, Christie’s said.

“The art market is ignoring European woes,” Randy Slifka, a New York collector and money manager told Bloomberg. “People feel comfortable buying prime works by world-class artists.”

Of the top 10 works sold, eight buyers were listed as “anonymous,” while two were attributed to private buyers from Europe and the U.S.

Jon Reade, the managing director of Art Futures Group in Hong Kong, says there’s a good chance the money flowing into the Christie’s New York auction room Tuesday came from Asian investors looking to diversify their portfolios.

“A lot of it’s from China, new wealth from China. They’re buying property, they’re buying cars and they’re looking for new asset classes to get involved with,” he said.

“Of course it’s like a knock-on effect, one Chinese billionaire buys an artwork and makes money from it, tells his friend, and it’s just reverberating around the whole world art market at the moment.”

Reade said the Chinese started emerging as major buyers in the art market in 2009 and 2010, coinciding with strong growth in the Chinese economy.

A 2011 report by auction sales analysts Artprice said that sales that year “confirmed China’s domination of the art market, with the economic health of Asian collectors generating higher price levels than anywhere else in the world.”

Reade said: “The Chinese art market has been strong for the last two years and is getting stronger and now some of the big global players are coming on board as well.”

Of the 59 works offered by Christie’s at the New York auction, 56 were sold including more than a dozen for record prices for their respective artists.

Jackson Pollock’s Number 28, 1951, a riot of black enamel and silver-grey paint, sold for just over $23 million, a new world auction record for the artist, Christie’s said. And at $36 million, Yves Klein’s FC 1 (Fire-Color 1) set a new record for the French artist who created the work just weeks before his death in 1962.

Reade, whose firm encourages investment in art, said that he expects demand to continue to rise as investors look for returns beyond traditional and poorly performing markets.

“At the moment property in Asia, not just in Hong Kong, has just topped out in a way. Stocks have obviously been very volatile over the last few years to say the least so people are looking to put their money in new asset classes,” he said.


2 thoughts on “Art and Money – Price Madness in 2012

    • Many thanks. Yes, I agree, it is tragic. And the root of the problem starts with some Gallery owners, who begin to twist a painting from what it essentially is, into a commodity. They are only interested in what they can make money on. Even to the point of trying to tell the artist what to paint, and in which colours. It is ridiculous.

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