(Roughly) Daily

“Damien Hirst should run Lehmann Brothers”*…

 

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Peter Wilson presiding over the Goldschmidt sale at Sotheby’s, October 15, 1958. For maximum drama, Wilson limited the sale to seven star lots. Guests included Kirk Douglas, Somerset Maugham, and Lady Churchill. The rising prices paid for Impressionist paintings during the 1950s caught the attention of the press and attracted a surge of new buyers

 

“Works of art have proved to be the best investment, better than the majority of stocks and shares in the last thirty years.”

This was the confident declaration of Peter Wilson, the then chairman of Sotheby’s, during his 1966 appearance on the BBC’s Money Programme. Though he was only eight years into his chairmanship, Wilson had already overhauled the fusty image of the art trade. His ingenious pre-sale marketing efforts, celebrity invitations, and black-tie sales had transformed Sotheby’s auctions into major news affairs, and deepened the perception of Christie’s as an antiquated rival.

Reacting shrewdly to the post-war wave of prosperity, Wilson was determined to bring newly moneyed buyers into the fold. He sought to convince businessmen and bankers that collecting was no longer the exclusive preserve of cultured, old-money dynasties such as the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, or Mellons. Crucially, Wilson wanted to instill the notion that art can be an investment. The sudden and precipitous rise of the Impressionist art market during the 1950s may be cited as proof of this. If you inherited an Impressionist painting, you could now sell it for vastly more than your family paid to acquire it. Wilson’s idea just needed to be packaged in an immediate and compelling fashion.

A year after Wilson’s television appearance, twenty-seven-year-old Geraldine Keen — now Geraldine Norman — received a letter in Rome. A graduate of Oxford University and UCLA, Norman had left her job as an editorial statistician for the Times newspaper in London to work for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. The letter was a job offer from the paper’s City editor, George Pulay, asking Norman whether she would consider returning to London. He wanted her to spearhead a new editorial collaboration between the Times and Sotheby’s.

Few people active in the art world today have heard of the Times-Sotheby Index. Those who have are most likely veteran art dealers or retired auction staff…

But it had a lasting effect: the project galvanized the concept of art as an investment asset.  Find out how at “‘Your Money Is Safe in Art’: How the Times-Sotheby Index Transformed the Art Market.”

* Alberto Mugrabi

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As we diversify our holdings, we might spare a thought for Berthe Marie Pauline Morisot; she died on this date in 1895.  A pioneering painter, she was one of “les trois grandes dames” of Impressionism (with Marie Bracquemond and Mary Cassatt).

In February 2013, Morisot became the highest priced female artist, when After Lunch (1881), a portrait of a young redhead in a straw hat and purple dress, sold for $10.9 million at a Christie’s auction (exceeding the $10.7 million paid for a sculpture by Louise Bourgeois in 2012).

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Berthe Morisot

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