One highly recycled debate amongst art enthusiasts revolves around whether or not art is a luxury. Some believe in l’art pour l’art (art for the sake of art), and some do not. Art is so controversial that it even divides artists themselves and leaves them wondering if their creations are a commodity and are worth being bought and sold.

Where on one side, art in its intrinsic state is priceless, on the other, historians, collectors and other industry specialists have come up with a framework of reasons which helps in estimating the materialistic value of an artwork:


Leonardo Da Vinci, Salvator Mundi, Oil Paint, 45.4×65.6 cm, 1500, Italy (

Think of it this way, you can build another mansion, or yacht, but you cannot get another original Manet, Cézanne, Picasso, or Pollock made just for you. For one, their art pieces are all different and each tells a unique jaw-dropping story. Secondly, these artists’ deaths have been romanticised to a degree where whatever is left of their original work, is made even more valuable.

The portrait of Salvator Mundi by Leonardo Da Vinci was sold for $450 million dollars in 2017. This is one of only 15 known paintings by Da Vinci, making any work by this artist extremely exclusive.

Popularity and Reputation:

Jenny Saville, Propped, Oil on Canvas, 213.4×183.9cm, 1992 (

This falls on both artist and collector. The reputation of the artist plays a role in determining the price tag of the artwork itself, as well as the demand for it. The more popular the artist is, the higher the demand. Collectors tend to follow trends; the ‘Me Too’ movement across the world helped female artists gain more popularity in the past two years and collectors have kept an open eye on that. In October 2018, Jenny Saville became the most expensive living female artist when her 1992 painting Proppoped was sold for $12.4 million at a Sotheby’s auction.

Psychic Benefits:

Alexander Calder, Pittsburgh, Aluminum and Iron, 1958, United States ( )

Some benefits gained with purchasing an artwork are intangible, these are referred to as Psychic benefits. Of these include, the satisfaction of supporting an artist (emerging or established) and then for example, donating and loaning the purchased works to museums and galleries to exhibit.

In addition to this, there is the functional benefit of owning a work. This comes in how the work itself adds value to the function of a given space. If the given space is an airport, for example, a kinetic hanging sculpture by artist Alexander Calder would be a perfect addition. As in the case of the Pittsburgh International Airport, seen above is Pittsburgh, a kinetic sculpture by Calder that refers to travel and movement. It hangs at the airport as a big tourist attraction, and it also adds artistic value to the space while reflecting the purpose of the venue.


Titian, Diana and Actaeon, Oil on canvas, 185x202cm, 1556-59, Italy ( )

The list of previous owners of an artwork is called provenance. Provenance is arguably the most valuable aspect of a work of art. It helps historians and specialists trace back the origins of the artwork in question and helps determine its authenticity. Having important previous owners helps auction house publicists build a poetic story of the artwork’s history, hence, pushing its estimated sales value.  

Diana and Actaeon by Titian is the best example for a story of provenance. Previous owners include King Philip II of Spain, Duke of Orleans in France, King Philip V in Spain in the 1700’s, and lastly owned by the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater before having it on public display between the National Galleries of London and Scotland.

In 2008 the National Gallery of Scotland and the National Gallery – London joined forces and collected a sum of $50 million to co-purchase the work from the Bridgewater Collection. The painting goes on a 5-year rotational display between the two galleries and is currently showcased in Scotland.


Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes, Oil on canvas, 145x195cm, 1599, Italy ( and Caravaggio (attributed), Judith Beheading Holofernes, Oil on canvas, 144×173.5cm, 1606-1607, Private Collection, Toulouse ( )

Authenticity or originality is what makes the piece special and unique. It increases the value of the art piece. The proof is always in the provenance. This confirms date, artist and subject. Basically, it confirms and puts all your doubt of forgery to bed.

An example is the painting Judith Beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio who painted two versions of the same work with the second version having been missing since the 17th century. In 2014, the second version was found in France by accident in the attic of a family that wished to fix a leak in their ceiling. If authenticated, the painting is estimated to be worth more than $120 million. The French government has since posted a ban of travel on the painting until all investigations of authenticity have been established.


Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night, Oil on canvas, 74x92cm, 1889, France ( )

The story behind where or how the painting was created, and what happened to it adds a lot of important details that help in increasing market value.

Starry Night by Van Gogh, is the artist’s most famous creation. When reading about the painting, the first fact that is always presented to the reader is that Van Gogh completed this work while inducted in a mental asylum. The landscape depicted portrays the view outside his bedroom window, giving the painting a humanitarian aspect and creating a sense of empathy in the viewers, thus increasing its value.

Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Oil, silver and gold on canvas, 138x138cm, 1907, Austria ( )

Other examples of such  stories come from the Nazi-looted works of WWII. The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt was stolen during the Nazi Plunder, and returned 7 decades later to the descendants of the original owners, and was later sold for $135 million!


Edouard Manet, Olympia, Oil on canvas, 130.5x190cm, 1863, France ( )

This painting created a bit of outrage due to its subject matter when it was first released. A nude reclining woman, a maid of colour, a black cat, and every other element in the work seemed to scream shock in the eyes of a 19th-Century audience.

Other factors that go into artwork market value include the work’s importance in its maker’s career, condition and even investment value. Thinking of starting your own small private art collection? Now you know what you should look into before making a final purchase!

All images courtesy indicated in captions.