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"Les Femmes d'Algers (Version "O", 1955) by Pablo Picasso - The Highest Price Paid For A Painting In Auction History


DonRocks
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There was a lot of news recently about "Three Studies of Lucian Freud," the triptych by Francis Bacon (1909-1992) that recently fetched a world record $142.4 million at auction.

(Lucian Freud)

Nobody knew who the mystery buyer was, however, until recently. It turns out the buyer was none other than Qatar which, in terms of money spent on art, has recently become an electric Qatar - they're hosting the World Cup in 2022, and they're not messing around, spending $1 billion a year on art.

Edit: It turns out the New York Post was incorrect in reporting that Qatar purchased the painting:

"Did Sheika Al-Mayassa Buy The Bacon? Update: No" by Rozalia Jovanovich on blogs.artinfo.com

"Francis Bacon Triptych To Go On View In Oregon; Buyer Remains Unknown" by David Ng on lattimes.com

"The Reason Why Francis Bacon's "˜Lucian Freud' Is Worth $142 Million" by Agustino Fontevecchia on forbes.com

The record price for "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" ($142.4 million) was broken today: "Les Femmes d'Algers (Version "O") by Picasso has set the all-time record, going for $179.4 million.

"Two Artworks Top $100 Million Each At Christie's Sale" by Scott Reyburn on artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com

picasso-femmes-d-alger.jpg

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Why do you suppose the art fetching the most astronomical sums are 20th-century works? Are they really the most desired by collectors or whoever has all this money to spend? Or is it that no real blockbuster works by van Gogh or Rembrandt or what have you have come on the market in the last few years? Surely a major Leonardo (if there are any not in museums) would fetch more than this Picasso. Or would it?

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If it's similar to other hobbies, collectibles, etc., rarity and age do not equate to market value. For example, almost *nothing* from antiquity would go for over $150 million - probably not even the Venus de Milo. Hell, the *Roman Colosseum* might not even go for $150 million.

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If it's similar to other hobbies, collectibles, etc., rarity and age do not equate to market value. For example, almost *nothing* from antiquity would go for over $150 million - probably not even the Venus de Milo. Hell, the *Roman Colosseum* might not even go for $150 million.

I'm sure you're quite right about that. But the intense interest in artwork from the Renaissance to the 19th Century surely outstrips any interest in antiquities. In the few collectible markets that I know anything about, age almost never counts for much, but rarity often does. Vermeer paintings are older than Picassos, obviously, but they're also orders of magnitude rarer, and they're also the object of intense interest. Surely a previously unknown Vermeer, fully authenticated, would fetch more than this Picasso, wouldn't it?

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Surely a previously unknown Vermeer, fully authenticated, would fetch more than this Picasso, wouldn't it?

In the long term, the markets seem to ferret out rarity (this has recently happened in the wine market, as Burgundy (2 orders of magnitude rarer than Bordeaux) has finally surpassed it by a fair margin - this is as it should be).

The thing is - there's only so much money in the world, and people have to *want* to pay $175 million for a single canvas - even a billionaire is pushing it buying such a thing. That's not rational; it's almost like there's a gentlemen's agreement among the super-rich that art will be an acceptable place to hold their money, with an agreed-upon inflation rate in the long term. We're getting to the point where the uber-rich need to decide, "Do I want to buy this painting, or do I want to buy The Washington Post? (*)" There is no logical reasoning behind this, but damn, they *are* nice pieces of art.

BTW, there's only one Leonardo da' Vinci in the Western Hemisphere, and it's right here in DC.

(*) I'm referring to the company, of course, not a single copy. They've gone up in price, but not *that* much.

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I well remember when the reigning prince of Liechtenstein sold the Ginevra de' Benci to the National Gallery. I was in high school, and went to see it not long after it went on display. Five million bucks. Even adjusting for inflation, chump change compared to today's auctions. Also, in spite of its rarity, not really among the works at the NGA that I find most compelling, although its beauty is undeniable.

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