Diego Velázquez

Diego Velázquez: "Prince Baltasar Carlos on horseback", 1636

Collection of Duke of Westminster





Wassily Kandisnky

Wassily Kandisnky: "Composition V", 1911

Ronald Lauder collection



Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh : "Portrait of Dr. Gachet", 1890

Private collection




Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso: "Les noces de Pierrette", 1904

Private collection, Japan




Paul Gauguin


Paul Gauguin: "Riders on the beach", 1902

Niarchos collection

The most important paintings in private hands

by G. Fernández - theartwolf.com
Which privately owned paintings are the most desired by the art market? The question is very simple. However, the answer -or answers- are not so.

The art critics say A. The dealers say B. The art market, a sometimes undecipherable X. For example, you probably know all this stuff about that twenty years ago you could still acquire an impressionistic masterpiece for a few million dollars, while today any media magnate or casino mogul is willing to spent $50, 60, 70 million for a medium-quality van Gogh, and blah, blah, blah. That is, the old story about art market fluctuation that the Art Wolf will not analyze here.

But beyond all trends and fluctuations, the Wolf has showcased a few works that every museum or collector would kill to own.

Let's take a look on the "oldies": for example, Diego Velázquez´s "Prince Baltasar Carlos on horseback" has all the magnificence you can expect in a great baroque painting. The young Prince seems arrogant, proud and self-confident while riding the small horse en levade with the gracefulness of the nobleman he is expected to be. It seems that he doesn't really need any lesson from the three men behind him. The proud fathers contemplate the scene from the balcony in the foreground, in a way that will make any wise observer to remember Las Meninas . It is a supreme Velázquez, and could be the centerpiece of any major museum able to persuade the Duke of Westminster to sell it. It seems very, very difficult, almost impossible, that this escena could leave England, at least in a permanent way. The same can be said about three major works from the collection of the Duke of Sutherland: Rembrandt's masterful Self-portrait is arguably the most important old master painting still in private hands, while Titian's Diana and Callisto and Diana and Actaeon (both paintings have the same size, conceived as authentic pendants ) have all the splendour and glory -and, ahem, twee- of the best of Titian's poetries. One thing in common about all these works is that their possibilities of going to the unrestricted art market are below zero.

While almost all the supreme works by the old masters are in public museums, there are still quite a lot of "modern" masterpieces in private collections.

For example, Wassily Kandinsky's 1911 Composition V was bought by Ronald Lauder in 1998 for $50 million, and in the Wolf's opinion, the price paid was a bargain for the monumental, dynamic, masterful Kandinsky, whose highly important works rarely appears on the art market. The painting is a quintessence of the early abstraction.

Talking about Wassily, the Russian master says one time that "there is not a MUST in art, because art is free". Well, the art is free, but the art market is not, and there is one name that MUST be in this list: Vincent van Gogh. So the Dutchman superstar is represented here with two works: the famous, much-hyped Portrait of the Doctor Gachet and the stunning Self-portrait with bandaged ear . The story about the first of the paintings resumes by itself the "Japanese buyer boom" on the late 80s and early 90s: great painting, sold for an astronomic amount of money to a Japanese buyer (Ryoei Saito), who was later ruined, and the whereabouts of the painting are now unknown. The second was once in the collection of Leigh B. Block in Chicago, and then was quietly purchased by the Niarchos family. Both are masterworks of the post-impressionism and two of the most popular portraits in the history of art. Which one is the most desirable? Well, choose by yourself, but forget them if you don't have a minimum of around $80 million or so... Really big buckets for two sad, tormented, masterful faces.

Another victim of the Japanese "buy it and forget it" boom was Renoir's Le Moulin de la Galette , bought by Ryoei Saito (remember this name...?) for $78.1 million at Sotheby's, 1990, and sold in 1997 to a "European private collector" for $50 million (?) Although it is only the smaller version of the picture you can see in the Orsay, a lot of collectors would kill to be the owner of "the most beautiful painting of the XIX", in the words of some art critics (forgive them, Mr. Monet...) Some sources says that we will see this picture in the market very soon. Well, speculate is an inoffensive sport.

Last of the "Japanese" paintings on this list is Picasso's wonderful Les noces de Pierrette , a 1904 blue period masterpiece. It is the "Sleeping Beauty" of the art market, said to have been stored like a fine wine in a bank's vault since the early 90s. The painting is masterful in all senses, and concentrates all the magic, mystery and melancholy of the Blue period. How much is it worth? Nine digits? Well, it can sound a bit ambitious, but if there is someone ready to pay $104 million for an arrogant, ugly, and non-style smoker garçon , then the sky is the limit here.

Nothing better than relaxing yourself in a tropical island's beach, uh? Or do you prefer a day on the racetrack? Whatever you want, Gauguin's 1902 riders on the beach have it. In this kind of tribute to Degas racetrack pictures, Gauguin has represented the riders in an apparently endless beach. The whole picture is filled with the melancholic taste of a farewell, predicting the artist's own death a few months later: the riders are quietly approaching to the seaside, where a breaker wave marks the limit between the land and the sea -or between life and death- from where two mysterious, colour-dressed spirits have appeared, perhaps to accompany the alive in their last trip. The fancy coloured work is Gauguin's pictorial testament and an eloquent ode to the Polynesian way of life.

And the last of all them is the Wolf's favourite. Call it "sympathy for the devil", if you want, but Jackson Pollock's Lucifer have the magnificence of the Titians, the psychological effort of the Rembrandt and the dynamism, abstract glory of the Kandinsky. It would be the proud of any major museum, even more; it is arguably one of the top 10 paintings of the XX century. Some sources say that their owners have rejected $50 million for it, which is very understandable, because Pollock in full bloom is exceptional.

Okay, you can add quite more works, if you want. George Embiricos has one example of Paul Cézanne's Card players . The last episode of Botticelli's Nastagio degli Onesti is still in a Florentine private collection. The ferocious Rousseau's Repas du lion is also in private hands, while the Wildenstein are said to own a highly important Madonna by Giotto. And if you ask for contemporary works, you will find highly important examples of Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning or Jean Michel Basquiat.

And, unfortunately for the New Yorkers, the Warner family are now the owners of two much loved kindred spirits. But that is a different and sad story I will not discuss here

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