Crowded art market is running out of big names

Analysis Rachel Campbell Johnston

If you've got a bruiser of a Francis Bacon on your drawing-room wall then you have probably grown used to its visual punch. You may not want an Impressionist next. However lovely a painting by Alfred Sisley may be, with its pointillist dots scattered daintily across the canvas, it will look like a wimp in a competitive arena.
This may be one of the reasons why Sotheby's salesmen are so hopeful about the Expressionist canvases. A painting by one of the Fauves, for example - the short-lived, turn-of-the-century art group that took its name from the French word for “wild beasts” - will hardly fade into the wallpaper. The strident colours, the glaring designs, the dramatic brush work of André Derain or Maurice de Vlaminck can hold their own against even the brashest taste in interior decor. These are pieces with “wallpower”, as the art traders put it.
The market may be small but it is growing crowded. Chinese industrialists, Middle Eastern sheikhs and Indian entrepreneurs are battling against American tycoons and hedge fund investors. Then there are the Russian oligarchs. There are simply not enough great works to go round. We are running out of big names. Picasso may have been prolific, but he couldn't supply today's global market.
Yet the newcomers still want their showy brand labels. Forget musty Old Masters, lost in the yellowing mists of their chiaroscuro. Art is about prestige as much as paint. And many want a painting to have the same effect as a Porsche.
The contemporary, of course, can cater for that, but perhaps collectors are battening down the hatches. They want blue-chip stock. That may be why they are looking back to the classics. The Fauves may have been short lived, but at least they caused a commotion - and briefly included such A-listers as Matisse.
Of course, the great Modernist classics - Monet's Waterlilies, for example - will always be coveted, but, rather than going for some third-rate work by this master of shimmering tranquillity, perhaps today's collectors prefer the loud splash.
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