The Irony of Art Prices

June 6, 2015 at 7:51 pm / by
Mastercopy of Van Gogh's Self-Portrait (private collection)
Mastercopy of Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait (private collection)

Recently I copied the Van Gogh Self-Portrait at the National Gallery. I went for a “dynamic equivalence” rather than literal accuracy of details. The reason is simple. The power of Van Gogh’s work is in its vibrancy and vitality. The almost hypnotic vibrancy is achieved through his use of color. He not only put one color adjacent to its complementary color to produce an optically vibrant effect as Turner and the Impressionists did. He painted one color over another wet into wet and achieved a unique shimmering, luminosity. The vitality comes from the speed at which he painted it, likely in one sitting. So I painted this much faster than I normally work.

The irony here is that Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime. He sold Red Vineyard at Arles for a mere 400 francs to a friend of his brother, Anna Boch. He couldn’t give his paintings away. In sharp contrast, the last auction price for another self-portrait (Portrait de l’artiste Sans Barbe, 1889) was $71.5 million in 1998 dollars. His paintings are so popular that on the day I finished this mastercopy, three different people who wanted to buy it approached me. Such is the irony of art pricing and the power of art.


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