In the world of collectables, art and antiques, provenance refers to an object’s history. This can include its exhibition in leading museums and galleries, as well as who owned the object, when and where. Today we are taking a look at the effect of the latter.
Having an interesting previous owner can increase interest in a piece in a number of ways. The artwork may appeal to those who admire the previous owner, yet have no particular appreciation for that type of art. When there are several similar pieces by the same artist, having an interesting provenance can set a piece apart from the rest. Also, the proven provenance of a piece can in some cases help substantiate its authenticity.
The effect of provenance on the value of antiques
Provenance can increase the value of an item when it comes from the private collection of a well-known figure. This is most noticeable when an item has a ‘Royal’ connection and is also true when the collector is or was a famous celebrity.
In some cases, the only reason there is any interest in a piece is the provenance of its previous owner or owners. Such is the case with Andy Warhol’s cookie jars. The infamous pop artist collected hundreds of cookie jars over the course of his lifetime. These otherwise mundane pieces of pottery created a bidding frenzy when they went up for auction at Sotheby’s in 1988. The auction house expected that the entire sale would fetch around $7000, but Warhol’s collection of 175 cookie jars (including mice, pigs, pandas, goats and Humpty Dumpty) went for a whopping $247,830!
This was pretty exceptional, as most collections that are auctioned have value in and of themselves, and their provenance merely adds to this.
For example, the 2009 Paris sale of the collection of Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé included an extraordinary array of antiquities, silver, Old Master paintings, Art Deco furniture and modern art, 60 modern paintings and sculptures. The sale was estimated to earn roughly €274 million, but over the three days ultimately reached €374 million, with some items fetching nearly five times their appraised figures.
Provenance and “Contagion”
The Warhol and St. Laurent phenomenon is not unique. In fact, the Journal of Advanced Appraisal Studies published research that shows that unusual provenance often merits an average of a 15% increase in the value of an object. A piece of art (or even just a quotidian object) owned by a celebrity, royal or otherwise notable individual can become very desirable. That said, the opposite effect can occur for auctions of items associated with criminals or unpopular figures.
Some appraisers refer to this as ‘contagion’ – the belief that the celebrity owner imbued the item with their essence. George Newman and Paul Bloom, two researchers at Yale University, found that people were willing to pay a lot more for an object owned by a celebrity. Interestingly, this is still the case even if they were not the biggest fan of the star.
Our experience of the effect of provenance
At Hickmet Fine Arts, we have been lucky enough to acquire some stunning pieces with really special provenance. Notably, in the 1988 sale of items from Elton John’s personal collection.
Back then we were just beginning to specialise in the Art Deco period, and Elton John’s fine examples of Art Deco sculpture were exactly what our clients were hungry for. In particular, we had an excellent experience with a Chiparus figure of Toujours les Amis. It quickly sold for a value over 100% higher than its appraisal, all due to its famous provenance.
The Jackie Collins Collection
We are currently delighted to have acquired ten Lorenzl figures from the Jackie Collins Collection – A Life in Chapters. These pieces were acquired for her personal collection in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, and they are absolutely magnificent with a penchant for the visually striking and charismatic subjects.
How can you authenticate the provenance of a piece?
When buying a piece with important provenance from an auction, the seller will often be the famous owner or a representative of their estate, leaving no room for concern. If you are not buying the piece directly from the interesting owner or their representative, you can expect to see verifying documents such as records from; auction houses, art dealers, private collections, art galleries, museums and the media.
At Hickmet Fine Arts, we ensure our clients can buy with confidence by issuing a certificate of authenticity for every antique we sell. This then becomes part of the provenance and is useful for both personal interest or if you should want to sell it in the future.
What is your experience of the effect of provenance?
We are interested to hear about your experience of pieces with exciting provenance. Do let us know about any interesting stories of your own related to a truly special piece in the comments on this post.