World Art Market

October 17, 1973

Report Outline
Rush Into Art as Inflationary Hedge
Changing Fashions in Art Collecting
Controversial Aspects of Art Dealing
Special Focus

Rush Into Art as Inflationary Hedge

Spectacular Rise in Auction Prices for Art

The global art boom continues to gather momentum. World record prices—$1.5 million for an early Dutch landscape by Albert Cuyp, $675,000 for Picasso's 1901 work Le Mort, $550,000 for a 14th-century Chinese porcelain wine jar, $287,500 for a pair of silver Queen Anne chandeliers, $2 million for a 1953 Jackson Pollock abstract—have tended to dramatize the universal character of the rush into art. Almost no collecting field is being ignored. Oak furniture, art nouveau lamps, gold medallions, old ceramics, Victorian landscapes, American primitives—all are being bid up with such a lack of discrimination that part of the phenomenal increase in values clearly must be attributed to inflation. The flight from money into tangibles and the loss of confidence in the stock market have made great works of art resemble blue-chip stocks.

The two principal art sales organizations in the world, the London-based auctioneers Sotheby's and Christie's, each reported in August that the turnover of their sales in the 1972–73 season was up 70 per cent over the previous year. Although both of these competitors have been expanding their operations abroad, by far the greatest contributor to their sales turnover was the increase in prices. In his Art Investment Report, Richard H. Rush claims that prices overall are more than 25 per cent above those of last season, while 17th century Dutch art has gone up as much as 50 per cent and prices of some early Victorian pieces have jumped by 75 per cent. Part of this remarkable spiral in values can be attributed to the rising eminence of Japanese buyers on the market. Since the devaluation of the dollar and upward revaluation of the yen, the Japanese have been able to buy on American and British markets at what is, in effect, a 20 per cent discount.

Three major auction sales this October exemplify the wide range of the current rage for art. Sotheby Parke Bernet of New York, which formerly was Parke-Bernet Galleries but was purchased in 1964 by Sotheby's of London, was the site for all three. On Oct. 17, the firm offered 17 paintings and drawings by Picasso from the collection of Bernice Mcllhenny Wintersteen, all of which no doubt had increased in value since the artist's death on April 8, 1973. The same night the collection of the late Edwin C. Vogel was to be sold, including works by Corot, Degas, Delacroix, Ingres, Manet, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec. On Oct. 18, Sotheby Parke Bernet had for sale 50 contemporary American paintings and sculptures now owned by collector Robert C. Scull, mostly Pop Art from the 1960s by such artists as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. And on Oct. 25, the firm will offer engraver Eastman Johnson's copy of Emanuel Leutze's historic Washington Crossing the Delaware along with a dozen other 19th century American paintings from the collection of J. William Middendorf II, which are drawing increasing interest as the 1976 American bicentennial approaches.

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