Anonymous Art at Auction

The Reception of Early Flemish Paintings in the Western Art Market (1946–2015)


Working with a data set accounting for 13,000 auction sales results, Anne-Sophie V. Radermecker explores what contemporary buyers value when purchasing paintings of unknown or uncertain authorship, and which variables influence price formation mechanisms in this market segment. The principle finding of this book is not only that historical names matter in the art market, but so do all other alternative identification strategies that art market players use to label anonymous paintings. Indirect names, provisional names, and spatiotemporal designations function as substitutes for real names that simulate identities, create ex-post stories around the artworks offered for sale, and, consequently, reduce information asymmetry about an artist’s identity, with, at time, quite unexpected effects on price.

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Anne-Sophie V. Radermecker, Ph.D. (2019) is a research associate at the Université libre de Bruxelles. She has published papers operating at the intersection of art history and cultural economics, including contributions to Arts and the market, JCEC, JEBO, and NKJ.
List of Figures, Tables, and Graphs


1 The Power of the Artist’s Name
 1.1 The Artist’s Name and Its Attributes
 1.2 Attributionism or a “History of the Art of Names”
 1.3 The Relationship between the Artist’s Name and the Work’s Cultural and Economic Value
 1.4 The Cognitive Impact of the Artist’s Name
 1.5 The Artist’s Name as Brand Name
 1.6 The Monetary Weight of the Artist’s Name

2 Anonymity and Flemish Painting
 2.1 The Painting of the Southern Low Countries in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries
 2.2 Pictures by and for the Market
 2.3 Between Identity and Anonymity: The Duality of Flemish Painting
 2.4 A School and Artists Subject to Changing Preferences
 2.5 A Complex Authentication Process
 2.6 The Advent of Technical Art History and the Relativity of Authorship
 2.7 Perception of the Anonymity of Flemish Paintings
 2.8 Identification Strategies in Use in the Market for Flemish Paintings

3 Methodological Considerations
 3.1 Chronological and Geographical Framework
 3.2 Sources and Data
 3.3 Hedonic Regression
 3.4 Research Limits
 3.5 Description of the Database

4 Empirical Analysis of the Market for Flemish Paintings
 4.1 Price Index (1946–2015)
 4.2 The Main Price Determinants of the Market for Flemish Paintings
 4.3 Price Indices by Identification Strategy

5 A Name, Indirectly. The Authentication Scale and the Economy of Attribution Qualifiers
 5.1 Introduction
 5.2 A Revised Authentication System: Christie’s and Sotheby’s Repositioning on Attribution
 5.3 The Impact of the Authentication Scale on Buyers’ Willingness to Pay
 5.4 Management and Promotion of Indirect Names
 5.5 Lexicometric Analysis of Auction Houses’ Discourse
 5.6 Qualitative Analysis of Auction Houses’ Discourse
 5.7 The Reception of New Attribution Practices in the Market for Flemish Paintings
 5.8 The Attitude to Non-autograph Works: Prospects for Change
 5.9 Partial Conclusions

6 A Fictitious Identity. The Market for Masters with Provisional Names
 6.1 Introduction
 6.2 The Provisional Name: Historiography of a Practice Inherited from a Traditional Connoisseurship
 6.3 The Market for Masters with Provisional Names: Analysis and Discussion
 6.4 Partial Conclusions

7 Paintings without Names. The Market Reception of Spatiotemporal Designations
 7.1 Introduction
 7.2 The Critical Reception of Antwerp Mannerism or the “Ungrateful Task of Bringing Order into the Chaos”
 7.3 Managing Anonymity: A Nomenclature of Spatiotemporal Designations
 7.4 The Market for Anonymous Flemish Paintings: Analysis and Discussion
 7.5 Sales Strategies: Indirect or Spatiotemporal Designations?
 7.6 Thoughts on an Authentication System Reducing the Impact of Anonymity on the Cultural and Economic Value of Old Master Paintings
 7.7 Partial Conclusions
Academics and art markets practitioners interested in the trade of old master paintings, and anyone seeking to better understand the economics behind indeterminate works of art.