Mrs Fox recently purchased a remarkable and monumental portrait of an extremely famous and iconic music artist. A man of how shall we say, advanced years; he will remain nameless for reasons that will become clear.
She purchased it because of its wow factor. The image, which depicts just the head and shoulders, forces its way out of the canvas and straight at you. Its lifelike, rough, full of character and you can see the life that has been lead through the lines and wrinkles in the skin and the aged but sparkly twinkle in his eye. Aside from its visual impact however there is another element of this purchase that could be considered rather morbid.
What happens to the value of this portrait when the sitter dies?
This is often referred to as the ‘Death Effect’ and more usually relates to the death of the artist. However at the time of writing this piece it could also be said that it relates to the death of the collector – case in question the sale of the collection of David Bowie 10/11 November at Sotheby’s.
We thought we would take a quick look through the evidence….
Our automatic assumption is that death equals an automatic surge in prices as collectors vie for work when there is a certainty of no more original output or to be the first to touch pieces after an iconic collector. There is nothing quite like the smugness of revealing a David Bowie owned piece of artwork at your next dinner party! Incidentally Bowie’s sale was 100% sold. 55,000 people visited the pre-sale exhibition that was toured around the world. 1000 on line bidders helped generate 59 new artist records and nearly £33m hammer total. Anyway, back to the question in hand.
There are other affecting factors:
Age at time of death – prices escalate more quickly the younger the artist, sitter or collector. For example the prices of work by Jean-Michel Basquiat rose by over 350% during the 5 years after his death at age 27. This ties in with unexpected death like that of Andy Warhol who died after routine gallbladder surgery aged 58. Fans of Bowie were surprised by his death after he kept his cancer a secret. These unforeseen departures cause temporary surprise and panic buying.
How prolific was the artist, sitter or collector? – a huge body of work already in the marketplace is not going to make any more, necessarily appealing.
Administration of the deceased’s estate – a decision by an estate to dump the lot could cause a situation where supply outstrips demand and depresses prices.
Market conditions and the economy – not even the death of a truly great artist is going to buck economic trend!
Where the artist, sitter or collector’s character and reputation is what people are buying rather than the art. Therefore when they die there is actually nothing much left to collect.
The nature of the buyer – are potential buyers affluent? Are they heady and giddy die hard fans? Is the potential investment thesis important to them?
In summary then…..
Generally it seems yes, there is a spike in prices as part of the ‘Death Effect’ but this usually leads to a settling off in prices once sanity and rational returns.
As for Mrs Fox? She actually quite likes the portrait. She is not a profit vulture looking to sell whilst the body is still warm. It looks good on her wall on the stairs and makes her smile every morning – although it does frighten the children somewhat……
Until next time….