Ian Jack in the Guardian measures the health of the Contemporary art market by the Hirst sale. It’s the usual stuff about overproduction vs. global buyers. But he adds this useful fillip on the last boom in British art:
The closest parallel to the boom in young British artists came in the last half of the 19th century with painters such as WP Frith, John Millais, Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Edward Burne-Jones (I owe this thought to another writer on The Art Newspaper, Melanie Gerlis). They were massively popular – fences sometimes had to be built around their pictures to hold back the crowds – and they sold for large sums, often larger than many of France’s Impressionists made in their lifetimes. What happened next is starkly illustrated in the tables of Gerald Reitlinger’s classic work, The Economics of Taste. Take Alma-Tadema’s The Finding of Moses: sold for £5,250 in 1904; for £861 in 1935; for £252 in 1960. Or Burne-Jones’s Chant d’amour: sold for £3,307 10s in 1886 and £620 in 1930.
Most of these artists were spared the hurt by being dead by the time their reputations and prices collapsed, but the same wasn’t true of the etching bubble of the 1920s, which impoverished etchers and collectors alike. The price of etchings soared before the first world war and went crazy after it. Critics marvelled that a picture reproduced in editions of 50 or 60, and therefore not a unique object, could cost so much – echoes here in Hirst’s production line. Then Wall Street crashed. Etchings sold for £600 could be had for a tenner. Only today, and only sometimes, have they recovered their price.
The First Post cites Hirst on the cover of London’s edition of Time magazine. And points out he was lucky Robert Hughes had moved on from his position as Time’s art critic.
Damien Hirst’s ‘middling merchandise’ (First Post)
Damien Hirst’s Brush with Democracy (First Post)