Record Prices for Paintings or Not

The ArtNewspaper has an interesting article up about the reality of the prices paid for some of the record breaking paintings that are being sold at auctions and privately. With so much secrecy and denial around the multi-million dollar sales, most of the prices are just guesses, with many of them being wrong.

Why you cannot trust dealers’ prices’ or auction results either
“So in this murky world of rumor, affirmation, denial and reaffirmation, are auction prices the only reliable ones? After all these prices are made publicly, published by the auction houses, listed on art data sites such as or But even with auctions there’s often more than meets the eye. For example, Cezanne’s Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier, 1894, was sold at auction for $60.5m (Sotheby’s New York 1999), but the deal was never completed, and the still-life was later resold for “significantly less” to Steve Wynn. Most lists of the most expensive paintings sold at auction still cite, somewhere in their nether regions, Van Gogh’s Irises, 1889, which sold for $53.9m in 1997. In fact the work didn’t sell Sotheby’s lent half of the price to the Australian tycoon Alan Bond to buy it. He never paid up and the painting ended up in the Getty, for “you’ve guessed it” an ‘undisclosed price’. Art Newspaper

While on the topic of auction prices and the money that people pay for paintings, I thought I would add a few quotes by the art critic Robert Hughes.

  • The auction room, as anyone knows, is an excellent medium for sustaining fictional price levels, because the public imagines that auction prices are necessarily real prices.
    Robert Hughes Quote
  • Art prices are determined by the meeting of real or induced scarcity with pure, irrational desire, and nothing is more manipulable than desire.
    Robert Hughes Quote
  • On the whole, money does artists much more good than harm. The idea that one benefits from cold water, crusts and debt collectors is now almost extinct, like belief in the reformatory power of flogging.
    Robert Hughes Quote
  • A fair price is the highest one a collector can be induced to pay.
    Robert Hughes Quotes
About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. It’s like magic.

    As the articles implies there is very little transparency and a lot of backroom deals. It’s an art.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It’s all about brands and marketing. Create the image of success and success will come by the truck load.

    Having the most expensive painting gives you bragging rights at parties too.

  3. I have heard a rumor that the prices are being driven up primarily by Alice Walton. She is opening up a museum here in the Ozarks of Northern Arkansas. I don’t know how much truth there is to this, but I suppose a single buyer willing to pay just about anything should drive up the price of other buyers.

  4. I read once that each year the auction houses and dealers can count on at least five buyers to spend 100 million or more buying art (what that would be worth today after several inflationary years I have no idea).
    It is true that collectors like the Steins, Barnes, the Cone Sisters, the Havemeyers and others made a tremendous difference when they were buying in a restricted segment of a rather small art market. Given the broad diversity of styles today, the international market with considerable new wealth from some other country each decade, and it would seem that one like Alice
    Walton would influence some segments but not the entire market.However,given the murkiness of this marketplace, as has been pointed out, we will probably never know just what impact any given pot of money means these days.

  5. Anonymous says:

    It’s a good thing that no single powerful art collector has too much influence on the art market. They corrupt the marketplace if they become too powerful.

    Art galleries can also have too much influence over the art market, encouraging artists to work in the manner of their current stable of artists.

    With so many possible outlets to sell art today, there is no single party that an artist has to be subservient to. With the internet and a little marketing savvy an artist does not even need a gallery to make a living now.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Does anyone have any idea how much any of Leo Sarkadi (also called Schuller) paintings have sold for at auction?? He was from Hungary, lived in NY and died in 1947. I can’t find out on any web site without paying!! Thanks, Tacenda

Speak Your Mind