The Old Master market is not dead (ctd.)

September 8 2016

Image of The Old Master market is not dead (ctd.)

Picture: The Economist

Regular readers will know that I've been fighting a running battle with some art market writers, mainly from the New York Times, over the state of the Old Master market. The most recent salvo from the NYT came in a piece that used an inaccurate statistic to try and say that Old Master 'values' were down by a third. As Disraeli allegedly said, 'There are three kinds of lies; lies, damned lies, and statistics'. 

But wait, here (in The Economist magazine) is another set of statistics that appears to prove what I've been saying all along about the Old Master market - that there are parts of it that are doing well, and parts that aren't (and that overall it's doing better than many believe). This is, fairly obviously, because the Old Master category covers such a broad range of art and tastes, from 18th Century Italian religious pictures to 17th Dutch lanscapes. Therefore, drawing a comparison between five centuries of art and post-war modern art, as many market commentators like to do, is hardly fair.

The graph above shows that some sectors of the Old Master market are doing really quite well. Happily, it fits in with my experience of watching the market. For example, Flemish Old Masters are apparently out-performing strongly, and are some way ahead of the relative benchmark of the S&P500. It seems to me that there's something of a buzz around interesting and rare works by the likes of Rubens, Jordaens and Van Dyck.

By contrast, Italian Old Masters are not doing so well - too 'Catholic', perhaps - and neither is British painting 17th-19thCentury. That said, I believe that within those categories there are other more subtle changes. British 16th and early 17thC pictures are doing quite well at the moment. But for much of the 19thCentury British market, it appears to be game over - at least for now. As ever, tastes change, and values ebb and flow accordingly.

I haven't had time to go into the analysis in some detail, so we must treat all this with some caution. But I think we can already guess what are the chances of it being picked up by the New York Times...

Update - a dealing reader writes:

Thank you for putting up a fight against the negativity of many around the Old Master market. 

What you say about the picture market is echoed in the Old Master Sculpture market. Some aspects of the market, such as early religious wood sculpture and Rococo art, are doing worse than previously, but other areas, such as the top end of the market for Renaissance bronzes are flying, and medieval sculpture has been doing increasingly well for a while. The last two years have seen the two highest prices ever made in the market, the Adriaen De Vries bronze sold to the Rijksmuseum at Christie's and Bernini's marble bust of Pope Paul V privately sold to the Getty. Tastes have changed quite radically, but there are artworks out there that cater to these changes in taste. 

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