Want to make art that sells? Here’s a run down of what kinds of paintings sell the best from The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson:
With the work of western artists, what kind of painting will appreciate most? There are general rules. A portrait of an attractive woman or a child will do better than that of an older woman or an unattractive man. An Andy Warhol Orange Marilyn brings twenty times the price of an equal-sized Richard Nixon.
Colors matter. Brett Gorvy, co-head of contemporary art at Christie’s International, claims the grading from most saleable to least is red, white, blue, yellow, green, and black. When it comes to Andy Warhol, green moves up. Green is the color of money.
Bright colors do better than pale colors. Horizontal canvases do better than vertical ones. Nudity sells for more than modesty, and female nudes for much more than male. A Boucher female nude sells for ten times the price of a male nude. Figurative works do better than landscapes. A still life with flowers is worth more than one with fruit, and roses are worth more than chrysanthemums. Calm water adds value (think of Monet’s Water Lilies); rough water brings lower prices (think of maritime pictures). Shipwrecks bring even less.
Purebred dogs are worth more than mongrels, and racehorses more than cart horses. For paintings that include game birds, the more expensive it is to hunt the bird, the more the bird adds to the value of the painting; a grouse is worth three times as much as a mallard. There is an even more specific rule, offered by New York private dealer David Nash: paintings with cows never do well. Never.
A final rule was contributed by Sotheby’s auctioneer Tobias Meyer. Meter was auctioning a 1972 Bruce Nauman neon work, Run from Fear/Fun from Rear, which referred to an erotic act. When the work was brought in, a voice from the back of the room complained, “Obscenity.” Meyer, not known for his use of humor on the rostrum, responded, “Obscenity sells.”
Alternatively, be Paul Cezanne.