What makes art so valuable?

From Munch to Picasso, paintings by famed artists sell for hundreds of millions of pounds. So, who’s buying the world’s most expensive art, and why is the art so expensive in the first place?  

17 Dec 2018

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When the hammer went down at Christie’s in New York on November 15th, 2018, David Hockney’s vivid, striking rendition of a pool in the Californian sunshine had been sold for £70.2 million. No painting by a living artist has ever been sold for more.

It begs the question: what makes select works of art so expensive to buy?

To take the Hockney case as an example, it doesn’t hurt that the British-born artist is seen by critics as a master of his craft, with a singularly original eye. Plus, a retrospective of his work at Tate Britain in 2017 put Hockney firmly into the contemporary consciousness again. “Works are sometimes sold for high prices soon after big retrospectives of an artist's work,” notes art historian Anna Tietze.

But who parted with the requisite money? That’s often the bigger mystery. Private collectors are notoriously secretive. After all, why would anyone let the world know a priceless painting is hanging on their living room wall? Even museums replete with security checkpoints have famously fallen prey to opportunistic thieves.

The World’s Chief Art Collectors

To showcase the types of people who might spend £70 million on a Hockney, or hundreds of millions on a Munch, we’ve teamed up with Samsung, makers of The Frame TV, to highlight the world’s Chief Art Collectors.

Chief Art Collectors

We’ve looked at the ten people who have paid more at auction or in a private sale for a painting than anyone else. Conglomerates, tourism boards and galleries have been excluded as we’re focusing on the individual: both on how they’ve acquired their fortune and on the artworks they’re buying with that fortune.

How did we compile our list?

Our list ranks the ten people who have spent the most amount of money on a single piece of art. Number 1 has spent the most, number 10 the least (but don’t expect small denominations!).

In some cases, individuals who would have ordinarily qualified have been omitted, either because they deny owning the painting, or because they later sold it.

For instance, David Martinez is believed to have paid $140 million in 2006 for Jackson Pollock’s No.5 (1948). That would put Martinez fifth on our list. But Martinez denies owning the work and has been excluded from this list as a result.

Then there’s Alan Bond who paid $53.9 million for van Gogh’s Irises (1889) back in 1987. Adjusted for inflation, Bond would be behind Martinez and within our top 10, but the painting is no longer in his collection and Bond died in 2015.

One collector on the list is remembered posthumously. Ryoei Saito passed away in 1996 but is believed to have held on to the most expensive painting in his collection. In fact, Saito might have been cremated alongside it. Read all about the incredible story of the missing van Gogh painting – the Portrait of Dr. Gachet - in our piece profiling the world's chief art collectors and their respective paintings.

What influences the valuation of works of art?  

Picasso, van Gogh, Munch – we know the names, but do we know what makes their art so valuable?

artwork hanging in gallery

Well, according to art historian Anna Tietze, an artist’s life and personal reputation can enhance the value of the work. Picasso, Tietze notes, was a colourful character who found a great deal of fame in his lifetime a reputation that has only been enhanced since his death.

Cultivating a reputation in one’s lifetime isn’t entirely necessary, of course. Vincent van Gogh was so hard up during his career he had to rely on his brother Theo to stay afloat. After his death, the tragic story of the man driven to cut off his own ear by inner demons shocked and fascinated the art-buying world. His work became popular and valuable as a result.

There’s also another consideration to keep in mind. Once a painting gains momentum and passes through the market, the likelihood of it being owned by someone notorious, famous or glamorous becomes ever greater – and the valuation of the work inevitably increases.

It also helps that many of the artists in our Chief Art Collectors list were genuine masters of their craft and have all been retrospectively honoured in museums and galleries.

Finally, an obvious consideration: do lots of people want the piece? Is the art verifiably original? Did the artist inspire new artistic trends? Has the artist been commemorated in film? Is the artist’s work exceptionally beautiful?

Small-scale art collecting

The art collecting world can seem a tad daunting, especially when you consider the eye-watering sums of money changing hands. But Tietze says there’s nothing to stop you buying works within your means that “make an impression on you.”

“It’s also a good idea,” she adds, “to buy works from areas of the world that haven’t been a major player on the world stage – yet.” And, of course, building an art collection needn’t mean you have to limit yourself to paintings. As Tietze notes, “drawings, prints, photos or ceramics might be less expensive.”  

Bringing art into the home

The Samsung Frame TV is the world’s first television to double as a work of art. It resembles an easel when mounted on its stand, or a framed painting when placed flush against a wall.

Samsung Frame TV living room design

When in standby and set to "Art Mode", a screensaver switches between artworks from around the world. A built-in brightness sensor adjusts the picture to show you the art as it was intended. What’s more, messy cables are kept to a minimum thanks to the “One Connect” box. This media receiver lets you keep cables out of sight, so that you can enjoy a clutter-free “art zone.” 

But what’s The Frame TV like when it’s on?

Content is displayed in 4K Ultra-High-Definition, bringing games, films and TV shows to life in stunning clarity. The Frame TV is backed by the latest in HDR technology (high dynamic range), giving you deep blacks and stark whites. Available in three sizes - 43”, 55” and 65” – you’ve got a unit suitable for rooms big and small.

A marvel of television design with a stunning screen, The Frame TV can act as the centrepiece of any home. Alongside The Frame TV, explore the incredible Samsung TV range available at Currys PC World.

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