Why do we buy and collect art?

Remember the otherwise miserly american oil billionaire J Paul Getty? I said otherwise because he spent millions of dollars on art! Think about the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. What motivated him?

There are several theories regarding this phenomena. It dates back at least to the first century CE. The Roman rhetorician, Quintilian, thought that those who professed to admire what he considered to be the primitive works of the painter Polygnotus were motivated by ‘an ostentatious desire to seem persons of superior taste’. This theory still finds many supporters.

Many consider financial gain, one can sell art, sometimes reaping huge profits. You can get large tax deductions for donating art to museums. Some collectors have figured out how to keep their artworks close at hand while still getting a tax deduction by donating them to private museums that they’ve set up on their own properties. More nefariously, some ‘collectors’ buy art as a form of money laundering, since it is far easier to move art than cash between countries.

But most collectors have little regard for profit. For them, art is important for other reasons. The best way to understand the underlying drive of art collecting is as a means to create and strengthen social bonds, and as a way for collectors to communicate information about themselves and the world within these new networks. 

Collectors are not only interested in creating social links; they are also motivated by the messages they can send once these social networks are created. We all know that art is a powerful way for the artist to express thoughts and feelings – but collectors know that art can serve as an expressive vehicle for collectors too. Many thus carefully curate their collections, purchasing only artworks whose display backs up a claim that the collector wishes to make.

Almost always, this claim is about the identity of the collector.  From the beginning of art-making, we have believed that artworks capture and preserve the essence of their makers and even their owners. As identity can derive from lineage, owning artworks is therefore also a way for an owner to communicate with the past.

Great art needs to have something to offer to the audience. Great art seems to have always a quality that allows it to transcend the artistic tradition in which it is based. It is almost like even if you don’t fully understand it; you know that it has a lot to say.

Robert McIntosh

Most Expensive Paintings - when it comes to selling works of seemingly immeasurable value, some can garner staggering amounts!

Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi, circa 1490–1500

Sold for: $450.3 million (R6856,72 million) at Christie’s (November 15, 2017)

Most Expensive

Pablo Picasso, Les Femmes d’Alger (“Version O”), 1955

Sold for: R2731,72 million at Christie’s (May 11, 2015)

Most Expensive

Amedeo Modigliani, Nu couché, 1917–18

Sold for: R2594,68 million at Christie’s (November 9, 2015)

Most Expensive

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893

Sold for: R1825,72 million at Sotheby’s (May 2, 2012)

Most Expensive

Pablo Picasso, Young Girl with a Flower Basket, 1905

Sold for: R1751,10 million at Christie’s (May 8, 2018)

Most Expensive

Edward Hopper, Chop Suey, 1929

Sold for: R1399,36 million at Christie’s (November 13, 2018)

Most Expensive

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Au Moulin de la Galette, 1876

Sold for: R1189,23 million at Sotheby’s (May 17, 1990)

Most Expensive Art in South Africa

Irma Stern’s Arab Priest fetched R52 303 600 in 2018. This painting was unexpectedly found in a London apartment, all but forgotten. It had been donated to a charity auction by Stern in order to help finance Nelson Mandela’s legal defence in the 1950s.

Most Expensive Art in South Africa

In second place is Stern again, with Bahora Girl which sold for R40 756 944 and is still framed in the original Zanzibar frame.

Most Expensive Art in South Africa

In third place, you guessed it – Irma Stern’s painting entitled Seated nude with oranges which sold for R29 210 000 and was painted in 1934.

Most Expensive Art in South Africa

Two Arabs by Irma Stern sold for R21 166 000 in South Africa, making it the highest price ever paid for any work of art at auction in South Africa. It was sold by Strauss & Co. in September 2011.

Most Expensive Art in South Africa

Two Arabs by Irma Stern sold for R21 166 000 in South Africa, making it the highest price ever paid for any work of art at auction in South Africa. It was sold by Strauss & Co. in September 2011.

Most Expensive Art in South Africa

Following closely behind Stern’s Two Arabs is Farm Jonkershoek with Twin Peaks Beyond, Stellenbosch by J.H. Pierneef which sold for R20 462 400 in 2017.

Most Expensive Art in South Africa

Vladimir Tretchikoff’s Chinese Girl brought in R17 267 000. Tretchikoff’s paintings have achieved great international acknowledgement and have been featured in a Bowie music video, a Paterson poem, The White Stripes music video and a Hitchcock film.

The value of Art

What can art do when civilization itself is lost?

Consider this

In December 1942, an art teacher was deported to Theresienstadt. Friedl Dicker-Brandeis trained at the Bauhaus. She filled her luggage allowance (only 50 kilos) not with clothes, but with art materials. Her choice to give of herself to others – to donate her time, her talents and her indomitable spirit – is rare quality, one that still has the power to captivate and inspire us 70 years later. Childless herself, she would become an art mother to the children of Theresienstadt, fierce and inspiring. 

Conditions in Theresienstadt were appalling, and even more so for children who had to first cope with the enormous trauma and life-changing upheaval that deportation wreaked upon their young lives. Realizing that art could be a therapeutic tool to help children to deal with their feelings of loss, sorrow, fear, and uncertainty, Friedl set about teaching over 600 children with enormous enthusiasm and energy. Her art classes gave the children a momentary escape if only  in their imaginations. She had her students explore various mediums such as collage, watercolour painting, paper weaving, and drawing. But her lessons were not designed merely to teach her students technique. Rather, these different techniques became the means through which she taught her young students to dig below the facile to the deep well-spring of their feelings and emotions, and from that intimate place, to create. 

In a lecture she gave in the ghetto in 1943 to explain her teaching methods, she declared that her purpose was not to train the children as artists, but rather to “unlock and preserve for all the creative spirit as a source of energy to stimulate fantasy and imagination and strengthen children’s ability to judge, appreciate, observe, [and] endure” by helping children choose and elaborate their own forms.”

After the war, two suitcases Friedl had hidden, were found in the camp. They contained 4,500 pieces of art made by the children. They survived thanks to Dicker-Brandeis, who hid them in two pieces of baggage in Theresienstadt before her deportation to a death camp.One of Friedl’s few students who survived the Holocaust, Helga Kinsky (nee Pollak), recalls how under Friedl’s tutelage, they did not depict the misery and horror that surrounded them, but rather that Friedl “transported us to a different world…she painted flowers in windows, a view out of a window. She had a totally different approach…. She didn’t make us draw Terezin.” Another surviving student, Eva Dorian said of her beloved teacher: “I believe that what she wanted from us was not directly linked to drawing, but rather to the expression of different feelings, to the liberation from our fears…these were not normal lessons, but lessons in emancipated meditation”

By September 1942, the ghetto reached its peak of 53,004 prisoners, with Jews continuing to arrive until the war’s end. 

These pictures are full of flights of fancy.They belong to Prague’s Jewish Museum and are on display in the Pinkas Synagogue.

Drawings created by children during the drawing classes in the Terezín Ghetto organized between 1943 and 1944 by the painter and teacher Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (Jewish Museum in Prague).

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