A high price for connoisseurship?

Isaac Mostovicz writes...


Is it connoisseurship when people overpay? Shouldn’t they know better? Or are they just putting their appreciation of the object they’re buying above all else?

I pose these questions after Sotheby’s and Christie’s held fine art auctions this week. Souren Melikian posits in yesterday’s IHT that the link between the price paid for items and the artistic achievement displayed was tenuous at best. Sure, these were one of a kind pieces from some of the masters—but if nothing else bidders were inconsistent. At Sotheby’s, a Cezanne watercolor went for an “unthinkable” $25.5 million, but was quickly followed by sketches that went for a “modest” $2.28 million and an “absurdly low” 1.27 million.

Melikian acknowledges that it is difficult to tell what the price of a very rare work of art should be, but two paintings that were certainly worthy, a “breathtaking masterpiece” by Maurice de Vlaminck and a “beautiful” painting by early Impressionist Eva Gonzales, found zero bids.

Of course the bidders were paying what they thought was a fair price for the art—but if the art lacked the quality and aesthetics expected for how much was paid (at least in the opinion of the IHT reporter)—can we consider the buyers to be connoisseurs? Maybe. Beauty remains in the eye of the beholder / holder of wealth.

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