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Why Dead Artist’s Work Is Worth More

 Why Dead Artist’s Work Is Worth More

Have you ever wondered why dead artist’s work is worth more than living artists? We try to understand this phenomenon.

It is rare in modern times for artists to be completely unappreciated during their lifetime and suddenly find fame (and fortune) after death, which was often the case in the past. 

Vincent van Gogh, for instance, received little recognition during his lifetime, with his paintings described as being too dark and lacking life. He produced 900 paintings in all but only ever sold one.  Yet long after his death, his Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for a record $82.5 million in 1990. 

 According to the prevailing notion in many parts of art land is that art prices automatically go up when an artist dies as if death trips some kind of magical instant inflation switch. Plenty of art buyers, as well as artists, believe in this posthumous profit scenario.

In reality, the value of art after death depends on a wide range of factors, from the level of fame of the artist to the quality of the art and current market preferences. These factors can be affected by the death of an artist, under specific circumstances.  

Such as when the artist is particularly famous, their artwork is in demand or they die prematurely, catching the market off guard. 

Cy Twombly – Untitled

Reasons a painting may gain in value after the death of an artist:

  • Increased publicity creates a buying frenzy. 
  • A public perception that the value will rise creates a spike. 
  • Demand rises because collectors know the production line has finished. 
  • The artist gains new appreciation in the market after his or her death (the record sale for American painter Cy Twombly before he died in 2011 was $8.7 million – it rose to $70.5 million after.) 

Why a painting may drop in value after the death of an artist: 

  • Living artists have the potential to improve and produce works in future which increase their reputation, together with the value of all their work. Once they have died this is no longer true and they become less collectible. 
  • Living artists are often their best salesperson, promoting their art. In some cases when they are no longer alive the art disappears from public view. 
  • Often collectors rush to sell art when the artist dies, flooding the market. This can result in lower prices at auction. 

While many art collectors believe the phenomena to be real, ArtBusiness is skeptical 

It claims that for the “majority of artists, death has little, if any, impact on the trajectory of selling prices, market desirability or “investment potential.” 

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Ray Maota