The Rise and Fall of Prices
In the first issue of the Hoogsteder Journal we announced our intention to keep you informed on
the subject of values of Old Master Paintings. In fact, there’s nothing new about this – 250 years
ago a colleague of ours was doing exactly the same thing. In 1752 art dealer Gerard Hoet
gathered an enormous collection of auction catalogues with prices into two substantial volumes.
Taking his Catalogus of Naamlyst van Schilderyen, met derselver Pryzen, we have looked at what
some of the paintings from our own Spring exhibition were worth in Hoet’s day. This research
also enabled us to form a general picture of the influences affecting prices of Old Masters in the
late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
The many auction catalogues that Gerard Hoet incorporated in his Catalogus of Naamlyst van Schilderyen, met derselver Pryzen (Catalogue or List of Paintings and their Prices), all date from the years 1684 to 1752. Later Pieter Terwesten produced a sequel. This third volume covers the years 1752 to 1768 and ironically includes the sale of the paintings owned by the famous art fancier himself, Gerard Hoet, who had died in 1760. These three massive tomes contain no less than 328 catalogues.
Diversity of prices
In his introduction Hoet stated that he wished to enable art lovers to see in an instant the fluctuations regarding the rise and fall of prices of Dutch paintings. And indeed the diversity of prices in Hoet’s catalogue are immediately obvious. There are paintings worth hundreds of guilders, followed by works priced at just a couple of guilders. At an auction in 1713 a History Painting by Willem van Mieris raised 680 guilders, while a portrait of an Old Prince in Oval by Michiel van Mierevelt sold for just two guilders at the same sale. Closer examination reveals that the bulk of the paintings went for less than a hundred guilders, while only a few passed the thousand guilder mark. Indeed, must have been a sensation when a painting by Gerard Dou being the Young Lady in a Room, with a Baby on her Lap and a Barber Shop sold for 6,000 guilders at an auction in 1719.
Hoet and Terwesten offer no explanation for these differences in price. But obviously the big money usually went to the famous masters of the day. Paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Dou and Van Mieris regularly fetched hundreds of guilders. An Adoration of the Magi by Rembrandt reached a top price of 2,010 guilders in 1715. Anthony van Dijck was even more expensive: his Achilles with the Daughters of Lycomedes, sold at the sale of Stadholder-King William III’s estate in 1713 for 3,100 guilders. In comparison: in that same year a painting with the same subject changed hands for a mere 25 guilders. It was a work by an obscure master, Nicolaes Willing.
This price difference was not just due to a painter’s fame; it also reflected artistic skill. The few paintings by Willing still known, painfully reveal his lack of talent and competence. The genius of Van Dijck totally outclasses this unknown painter.
Price and quality
The relation between price and quality is also evident in two peasant interiors by Adriaen van Ostade. The first is described as the very best known to art lovers and was one of the top items at an auction in 1713 where it sold for 350 guilders. The other Peasants in an Interior made only 90 guilders five years before.
Time is money
The amount of time a master dedicated to a work probably influenced the price too. Gerard Dou was noted by artist biographer Arnold Houbraken as a painter who worked with utmost patience and precision from life. In Hoet and Terwesten’s catalogues, prices of 500 guilders or more for Dou’s paintings are the rule rather than the exception. In 1705 the painting Woman in a Kitchen, Scraping Carrots, Beside a Boy Holding a Mousetrap, passed the thousand guilder mark, reaching 1,100 guilders. Jan van Goyen on the other hand, was renowned for his brisk work and copious production. He could finish a painting in a day if he had to. His quickly-painted landscapes, sketch-like in style and with monochrome colours, never reached high prices. In 1708 a Thunderstorm raised five guilders; a Moonshine by the artist sold for eight guilders in 1695 and in 1717 a Calm Water with Boats by Jan van Goyen was bought for seven guilders. His Land and Water View, with Several Ships on the River and Several Fishermen reached the relatively high sum of sixteen guilders in 1766.
Painting and size
It seems that the longer an artist took to make a painting, the more it would fetch. Creating large works was also time-consuming and was therefore reflected in the price. Some excellent examples of this principle are found in Hoet. In 1715 a Capital Piece, representing an approaching Yacht by Hendrik Rietschoof, a marine painter from Hoorn, sold for 26 guilders, while two smaller sea views – also by Rietschoof – changed hands for around 18 guilders for the pair. Even for Anthony van Dijck, the size of the work was significant. One of the highest prices Hoet recorded was the 12,050 paid for the Rest on the Flight to Israel by the famous Flemish master. The gigantic size of the work (216 x 287) must have helped raise the price, in addition to quality and provenance of this superb work. It was placed for sale by the heirs of Stadholder-King William III in 1713 and sold for four times as much as the smaller Achilles by Van Dijck at the same auction.
Hoet and Terwesten’s catalogues also reflect changes in taste between 1684 and 1768. So it is only natural that the Italianate landscapes fetched high prices. Paintings by the famous Nicolaes Berchem raised between 100 and 200 guilders, making them just more expensive than the landscapes by Karel Dujardin. Nevertheless, the 67 guilders paid for Dujardin’s Italian Resort in 1703 was a sizeable sum. Classicist painting also did well on the market, reflecting contemporary tastes. A Gerard de Lairesse might sell for 200 guilders or more, while the work of Adriaen van der Werff could vary in price from hundreds to thousands of guilders. A Flight of Joseph and Mary with the Baby Jesus to Egypt, considered his best work, reached a top price of 2,500 guilders in 1735.
Naturally, the actual subject of a picture was a crucial factor in the price. History paintings or other works with historical elements were a favourite. That is clearly demonstrated by examples of expensive paintings Hoet mentions: most are histories. But genre paintings were not cheap either, especially those made by artists of the painstaking fijnschilder school. A capital Cabinet Piece by Gabriel Metsu depicting a woman washing her hands, for instance, raised 460 guilders in 1735. Gerard Dou’s paintings fetched thousands of guilders in some cases, among which the aforementioned Young Lady with the Baby on her Lap of 6,000. Portraits were a different matter. If the artist had a major reputation, a portrait commission could prove quite costly. But when families sold their portraits they hardly ever made money. Still lifes, landscapes, architectural pieces and marines raised equally little interest in Hoet’s day. More on that, however, in the discussion of the paintings in our Spring exhibition.
Hoet and Terwesten’s catalogues raise interesting questions. Later in the eighteenth century, for example, prices of certain masters fell. Is this due to changes in taste among collectors, or to fluctuating economic circumstances? When examining Hoet and Terwesten’s volumes, we did not have the opportunity to analyze these more general tendencies. Perhaps a broader research into derselver Pryzen in the Catalogus of Naamlyst van Schilderyen will provide more answers.
Jacob Adriaensz. Bellevois
Rotterdam 1620/21 - 1676 Rotterdam
Ships on a Stormy Sea
Panel, 100 x 149 cm
Inscribed: S. de Vlieger; WvdV
Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder, The Hague
Jacob van Ruisdael
Scandinavian Landscape with a Cottage near a Cataract
canvas, 63 x 53.5 cm.
Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder.
Floral Decorations around a Niche with St Joseph and the Christ Child
The sculpture by an anonymous master
Canvas, 155 x 114 cm
Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder, The Hague