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  • by William Pinney

A Personal Analysis About the Valuation of Fine Art: Part 2

Part 1, was a commentary on “Laguna Rocks, Low Tide” by Guy Rose (c 1916).

Auctioneers will tell you that art valuations are based on sales of comparable items. In other words it’s a market driven by supply, demand (and trading volume or liquidity) just like stocks and bonds.

Part 2 discusses of the Supply component.

Visual art is generally made (or supplied) by passionate individuals who apply their creative skill and imagination, to describe or interpret the world for the pleasure, education and enjoyment of others. Wayne Thiebaud, (1920- present), a prolific and widely appreciated American artist noted for painting ice cream cones and cakes, has a favorite quote. “Art is not delivered like the morning paper, it must be stolen from Mount Olympus”. Observers of the art world could fairly say that much art is delivered daily but few artists get past the foothills, let alone return with any booty. Furthermore, the selection of great art is not made by artists but by their audiences over time.

Collectively we vote with money, mindshare and museum space to sift out that is worthy of distinction, long term preservation and ultimately lasting fame and value. Obviously this sifting continues long after an artist is deceased, and so the amount and quality of work an artist has created in their career must be sufficient to provide “liquidity” for their work and allow critical opinion to identify, analyze, compare and ultimately come to a consensus that their vision can be defined as great art. Thus, given that each artist has a unique vision, their work must be advocated by the artist during their lifetime so that their output can be measured.

For example E. Charlton Fortune (1855-1969) was a brilliant European trained American Impressionist who even had to conceal her gender to gain any recognition. She would arguably be far better known had she not abandoned her impressionist career in mid-life to pursue liturgical art. Without a larger body of work and little promotion for the second half of her life, she has only recently become recognized as one of the greats and the value of her paintings are now increasing. In early January, JAF “Circles” members came to a private showing of her work at the Pasadena Museum of California Art in Pasadena. Please contact Jennifer Gunlock, JAF Collections Manager ( to become a Circles member and enjoy forthcoming curated art experiences.

Finally a fascinating example of the intersection of value and the circumstance of supply is the career of Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988). He started as a graffiti artist living on the streets of New York. With the emergence of this new “art form”, aggressive promotion, personal charisma and ground breaking art, his oeuvre’s trajectory to fame was only enhanced by his untimely death at the age of 27. This dramatic story and his now finite body of work have led to world record auction prices in excess of $100 million. (See NYT article 02/10/1985 by Cathleen McGuigan.) Whether these valuations will stand the test of time remains to be seen, but clearly early buyers of his work have done extremely well.

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