The art market, its intermediaries and the components of value of art works in an historical perspective

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The dissertation begins with an historical overview of aspects of the Western art market, and continues with a discussion of financial and economic aspects of the art market. Throughout the factors and intermediaries that come into play in the determination of economic value and the price of exchange are considered. There are two common threads to the dissertation in relation to both art history and financial theory: firstly, the analysis of the role of intermediaries and institutions; and secondly, the valuation of art works in relation to the Components of Value of art works. In the Introduction the concept of intermediation in the context of the art market is discussed, as is the financial and economic definition of an art work. The historical overview that follows is a descriptive analysis of the various support systems and intermediaries in the Western art market from the Renaissance through to the late twentieth century, the guilds, patrons, academies, and dealers, that have and still do function as intermediaries to expedite the transfer of works of art in primary and secondary markets. Five art markets have been selected to provide an historical overview of the structure and functioning of the Western art market. These are Italy in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries [Chapter One]; the Low Countries in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries [Chapter Two]; England from the seventeenth through to the late nineteenth centuries [Chapter Three]; France from the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries [Chapter Four]; and the U.S.A. in the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries [Chapter Five]. These periods and geographical locations have been chosen to draw attention to the historical shifts in the structure and functioning in the art market. In Chapter Six the Components of Value of art works through history and in the art market of recent years are analysed. The Components of Value are those factors, aesthetic, historical, economic, and otherwise that, depending on the art work and period in which it is exchanged, influence the economic value of art works. This chapter then considers in detail the range of Components of Value that each contribute in a different manner to the price of exchange. The concluding chapter provides an analysis of the 'supply' of art works in. terms of the suppliers, the artists; and the demand, the consumers; and the linking of the supply and demand by art market intermediaries in terms of the Components of Value.

Bibliography: pages 247-263.