Picasso Painting Valued at €35 Million

No logic to art prices

A Picasso painting from his blue period is on sale for €35 million.  Or maybe even €40 million.  Or €50 million.

Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto (The Absinthe Drinker) , will go on sale shortly at Christies, who confidently expect to pocket commission on gigantic amounts of  dosh, and all because the painter’s name is Pablo Picasso.

Will the picture fetch €50 million becuse of its exquisite, painterly execution? Well, perhaps, but there are a thousand painters who could do it just as well.

Do you remember the old John Sebastian song, Nashville Cats?

Well, there’s thirteen hundred and fifty two guitar pickers in Nashville
And they can pick more notes than the number of ants  on a Tennessee anthill
Yeah, there’s thirteen hundred and fifty two guitar cases in Nashville
And any one that unpacks his guitar could play twice as better than I will

Twice as better than I will.

That’s art for you, with a penniless twice-as-better painter standing behind every established name ready to jump  in.

So what’s going on with sales of Picasso or Van Gogh or Caravaggio, or Pollock?  Are they 30 million times as better than the penniless painter?

Don’t be ridiculous.

What’s a hollowed-out sheep worth, apart from the price to the butcher?  Nothing.

What’s a pile of bricks worth?  Well, it’s worth whatever you’d pay for a pile of bricks, or alternatively, £25,000 if you happen to be the Tate.

What exactly is the money value of a picture, or a sculpture or some other nebulous art-form?  Does it have anything to do with art, or the quality of the artist, or is it more connected with what somebody thinks they can get for it if they sell it again?

What, for that matter, is the money value of anything?

I suppose some people would point out that the value of something is whatever a buyer is prepared to pay for it, and to that I would reply, horseshit!

Such thinking is what gave us a property bubble.

I think it was George Soros who said, price is what you pay, value is what you get.

It seems to me that I have no right to criticise anything a person produces in the name of Art, until they slap a price tag on it, and then I’m entirely at liberty to call it a heap of shite if I wish.  And that’s when I’d happily call Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin chancers, while at the same time admiring them for getting away with it, by riding on the reality-distortion wave generated by spectacular bullshitters like Charles Saatchi.

That’s why I’d call the likes of Carl Andre a fraud for describing himself as a minimalist instead of admitting that he simply had no talent, while at the same time applauding him for getting money from a gallery like the Tate, which sees its role as chronicling contemporary art, no matter how shallow or debased.

Sometimes a great artist and a charlatan can produce apparently similar work on the face of it, but context and intent are everything.

I read a charming story on Ian Poulton’s website recently, about Moishe the Atheist, and I think it sums up pefectly for me the difference between great artists and charlatans.  This is what Ian quoted:

“In the little Eastern European village of Chelm lived a young man, who considered himself an atheist. Chaim, the Chelmite had heard that the very famous “Moishe the Atheist” lived in the neighbouring village. Eager to find a like-minded soul to learn from, Chaim packed a bit of food in his kerchief, hung it on a stick, and made his way through the woods to find Moishe the Atheist and to study with him.

After a few days journey, and directions from a few helpful strangers, the young man found Moishe’s little cottage. He knocked on the door and received permission to enter. There was an old, bespectacled man hunched over the table, half-hidden behind a pile of books.

“Yes,” said the older man.

“I am looking for Moishe the Atheist,” said Chaim.

“I am Moishe,” said Moishe.

“Sir, I am an atheist too, and I would like to be your apprentice,” said the younger man.

Moishe slowly removed his glasses and peered at the stranger. “You are an atheist?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” replied Chaim.

“Have you read the Torah?” Moishe asked.

“No, sir,” said Chaim.

“Have you studied the Talmud?”

“No, sir,” said Chaim.

“Are you familiar with all our prayers and philosophies?” asked Moishe.

“No, sir!” said Chaim adamantly. “I am an atheist.”

“Ach,” said Moishe, waving the young man away dismissively. “You are not an atheist. You are only an ignoramus”

That, to me, says everything about art, and music and writing and philosophy and just about aany other creative pursuit you can think of.

It’s why Picasso and Van Gogh weren’t frauds, but it doesn’t explain why their work fetches such outlandish prices.

I think that can be explained by the greed of art dealers and critics, who most certainly are frauds.  There’s little difference between the art market and the housing bubble, and sooner or later both are found out.

14 thoughts on “Picasso Painting Valued at €35 Million

  1. I’m so happy that before I sleep to-night you have made me feel less of a Philistine.
    The kids and I took a ” cultural ” break in Paris a few years back, On visiting the Pompidou, Our laughter met with vicious glares from other visitors.
    A 2ft sq canvas painted Blue, titled Blue, 10 k!

    The most memorable though, A glass coffee table, underneath a bunch of old coats and a boiling electric kettle in the middle, 20k !
    I definitly saw that coffee table exhibit before in a very grotty London ” crash pad ” back in the day.

  2. The meaning and merit of contemporary visual art – what a deep theme for pondering. I was brought up on the assumption that visual art was important for civilizations on account of its spiritual dimension, its ability to celebrate beauty and be beautiful, and because the artist has insights into humanity that can inspire a society to reflect, sympathise and act for an improved uplifting world.

    But that doesn’t seem to be what many contemporary artists and their promoters are about. Yet the state hands out grants to build more arts centers and galleries, and provides funds to support the incomes of struggling talented artists.

    Where does the potential art appreciating public come into the picture (pun, ha ha) and what benefit does the grant-giving state see when it funds so much contemporary art that has so little apparent aesthetic and hermeneutic dimension? I think it’s time for the general public to demand a debate involving artists, their promoters, the decision-making politicians, and the general public, some sections of which might be attracted to art if the cultural conditions were different.

    Van Gogh only sold two paintings during his lifetime: his prim and proper banker brother bailed him out many times. Good for him: he performed a service for European humanity.

    Today there are rich, and sometimes thick, capitalists who can be induced into buying works by contemporary visual artists (I include sculptors in the term) on the expectation that their market value may go up and they (the rich and thick) will make a killing by selling at auction. So these individuals are investing in art ‘names’; they are not supporting Art.

    It’s a funny shallow world and many artists and their agents are colluding in it.

  3. Ugh; what a horrid blue period effort from Pablo.

    Try this one for comparison, by the far more human Chaim Soutine (a much better work, though unlikely to fetch 50 million, due to a failure of “brand recognition”):


    Soutine was a friend of Modigliani, was one of the gang at Montmartre. An East European Jew, he was cut from very rough cloth. Modigliani had to teach him how to use a knife and fork, apparently. His lack of social sophistication didn’t prevent him from being a remarkable artist.

    Soutine paid his wretched landlord with his canvases; the oaf had no idea of their future worth, so he hammered them together into a chicken coup. After Soutine’s death (of course), his painting began to sell for hundreds of thousands of Francs. The landlord ran to the chicken coup to recover the paintings, but by then they were in pieces.

    Today, the chicken-shit corroded canvases could be works of “art” if Hirsch or Emins signed their names on them, of course…

    Another story:

    To make pocket money, Modigliani used to draw portraits on the streets of Paris. One day, an American woman had her portrait drawn.

    “Can you sign it? I hear they’re worth more that way.” she asked.

    Modigliani looked her in the eye, then signed his name, across her face.

  4. Máiréaid, I well remember that blue canvas. Another exhibit was a pile of sweets in the corner of the room. You were encouraged to take a sweet, thereby changing forever the texture and appearance of the exhibit.. A visit to the Picasso Museum in Paris will show you the genius of the man. From cubism, abstract, blue and sculpture the mans output was amazing. Picasso and probably Dhali realised that there are fools out there willing to be parted from their money. They were probably the only two wealthy living artists. Well done lads, ye played the game and won.

  5. I’ve always viewed the Art world as just a money laundering racket…….Only way to explain the prices…..

  6. Short-attention-span market-saturated celebrity culture makes for bad art, bad science, bad policy etc. etc.

    Just ignore it and it might go away.

  7. Limerick Artists are not allowed exhibit in the Limerick Gallary of Art (pery Square) unless they are well known contemporary Artist. The likes of Mary Hennessy would never get her paintings displayed there.

  8. The ‘art world’ resides nowhere near where true artists do.
    VanGough sold just a single painting apparently in his entire lifetime.
    In the village of Coulliour in the south of France is the restaurant/bar where the impressionists, including Picasso traded paintings for a simple meal and a drink. The original paintings are no longer on display, the restaurant had to replace them with copies for obvious reasons.
    Your reading of the dealers and critics is spot on as far as I’m concerned.

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