Provenance, Power and the Art of Self-Invention by Pamela Beck

While there are many collectors who passionately love their collections and derive great pleasure from living with them, there are some who buy and sell art to help support/create their public image.

Pamela Beck

Pamela Beck

There are as many ways to think about art as there are to create it. Join Pamela Beck in her column, ARTdart, as she explores and considers the different perspectives that define the art world.

“Now that you mention it, I do see the resemblance between you and that 19th century portrait of the French aristocrat hanging over your sofa…it’s something around the eyes, right?”

Has this ever been the response from someone looking at your art collection? No? Then perhaps you’re not a member of the French aristocracy or haven’t felt the need to use your art to support your fictional ties to it. (Although if the portrait were switched to an Impressionist painting- nothing says entitlement like the throwaway chic of a Claude Monet hand-me-down from Granny.)

While there are many collectors who passionately love their collections and derive great pleasure from living with them, there are some who buy and sell art to help cultivate/maintain their public image. They might resort to the “creative” solution mentioned earlier for instant pedigree, but most keep their eye on the market’s status radar and adjust their art purchases accordingly.

Francis Hayman, Dancing Milkmaids, 1735

The more expensive and sought after the artist, the more attention, power and notoriety the work brings the owner. And it’s a reciprocal relationship. The collectors themselves can be of considerable influence to an artist’s career and the market itself. For example, art that comes with an impressive provenance is more likely to sell and at higher prices. People enjoy the implication that they share the same exalted taste, status and/or cachet as the previous illustrious owners.

Good provenance also dispels doubts about a work’s worth, thereby increasing it. When the provenance includes well-known individuals, a buyer often feels reassured. The new owner is likely to think that the influential former owners had access to experts, advisors and insider knowledge far greater than the average buyer has, to select an important work of art, support its authenticity and predict its future value as an investment.

It doesn’t matter whether these collectors feel the need to descend from privileged lineage, are focused on achieving status by staying in the limelight as power players, are concerned with influencing the careers of particular artists to retain the value of their own collections, or are obsessed with getting first dibs on new-to-the-market art; using art as a strategic social and financial chess piece can be tricky, unpredictable and frustrating.

As a woman traveling in these art circles once told me in earnest despair, “It’s hard work staying at the top of the A-list year after year. I’m exhausted.”

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3 thoughts on “Provenance, Power and the Art of Self-Invention by Pamela Beck”

  1. iT JUST GOES TO SHOW THAT ART RETAIL IS AN INSIDE JOB!!!! Maybe just having a nice painting created by your mother is good enough: real sentimental value and something to pass on and keep in the family. Thanks for the insider look , Ms. Beck.

  2. I found a protrait of my Great Grandfather in my Dad’s garage and hung it up above my wife’s Grandmother’s sofa in our living room. It serves as a real connection to my ancestral heritage and do feel the presence of my Grandfather who died over 80 years ago.

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