Monday, 30 August 2010

The Italian Woman

The above picture is The Absinthe Drinkers an oil painting by Degas. In 1998 I decided to become a painter. This new hobby, or was it therapy, didn't last very long. But in any case I painted a fair copy of the above picture on paper using a mixture of egg tempera and water colour, and signed it with my own name. I displayed it in my local pub. After 2 or 3 of weeks one of the regulars came to me and said he liked it. He offered me a few pounds for it. That, more or less, is and was my career in art.

Vincent van Gogh is, and always has been, by favourite painter. There are many reasons for this, not least being the fact that I have great respect for the man as a person.

There's a Vincent van Gogh painting of The Italian Woman hanging in the Musee D'Orsay in Paris. It was painted in 1887. It is done in oil on canvas. It is obviously worth millions.

The painting of The Italian Woman hanging on my wall was painted by me in 1998. It is the same size as van Gogh's original. I used egg tempera (poster paints) on paper and signed it with black ink. It is obviously completely worthless.

And yet at a distance, unless you'd seen the original, you'd probably struggle to see any difference between the two paintings. Clue: Mine's the one now rapidly fading!

Today, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of artists painting away in large well-illuminated 'art factories' in China. They are extremely talented and can make you a cheap copy of any painting you want so long as they have a photograph to copy from.

So what makes a painting valuable? That's one of the questions that blogger Jim Murdoch at The Truth About Lies (see my LINKS>>>) will be addressing in a forthcoming post. If Jim's other posts are anything to go by the subject will be researched meticulously and discussed in great depth. I'm looking forward to reading it.



  1. It is a question that has puzzled me for a long time Gwilym. VG is also one of my favourite painters - I am shortly going to Amsterdam for a few days and my number one priority is the vanGogh museum. I love his colour but above all his fluidity of line.
    Degas was my late husband's favourite. We searched out and found the Pushkin gallery in Moscow some years ago and went to see their collect of the works of Degas. One picture in particular reduced my then husband to tears and when I asked why he said it was the depth of colour in Degas's purple.
    If I see a picture I like then if I can afford it I will buy it. Big names demand millions mainly because they are big names and have therefore been inflated. I can get as much pleasure from an unknown painter if I like what he does.

  2. The only true worth of any painting is in the heart of the person who enjoys studying it. The mercenary world,sadly, works by a different reckoning.

  3. This is a fascinating subject. What I’ve never been able to understand is when something is worth more because it has a flaw in it or why a reprint is worth less than the original. I remember being at a comic convention once and seeing what I knew to be a pricey comic going cheap. I was going to snap it up until the vendor very honestly told me it was a 3rd reprint. The thing is, it’s a comic. The reprint will be identical in every way to the first edition (which had only come out a few months earlier), probably printed on the same presses so just why would the first edition be worth more? I can understand that a copy of a painting would be worth less because a painting is a one-off but a comic where thousands were printed? Don’t get it. I also take issue with how much extra people charge for old toys simply because they still have the packaging. I mean, who’d going argue that they should knock down the price on that Degas because someone’s tossed the shipping container?

  4. Thanks jinksy and Weaver for the comments and also for the interesting anecdote about Moscow.

    Jim's comment reminded me of Richard Wilbur's amusing off-the-wall poem 'Museum Piece' and the last verse as follows:

    Edgar Degas purchased once
    A fine El Greco which he kept
    Against the wall beside his bed
    To hang his pants on while he slept.

    An interesting point is that Vincent van Gogh only managed to sell two of his paintings in his lifetime. He wasn't fashionable.
    Less than 50 people turned up to see Beethoven conducting a symphony in Vienna. Nobody knows where Vivaldi is today, or where Mozart's grave is for that matter. A cross marks the wrong spot in St. Marx. And so it goes on.
    Fashion seems to be the main player. What is fashionable is where the money is. If say the Queen started collecting paintings by X, soon everybody else would be collecting paintings by X and the price would sky-rocket. So it is, as one of Kurt Vonnegut's characters is fond of saying.

  5. one painting. one sale. that's a pretty good record. in baseball parlance we call that batting a thousand.

  6. Thanks Clowncar and happy birthday to your big sister :)

  7. it is truly interesting to see this side of you, Gwilym...van Gogh is my favourite painter too,

    You might have heard this?


  8. Devika,
    Thanks for the link, it's a most wonderful video with the music and all those pictures. I shall return to it often.
    It's very moving, especially the line: I could have told you Vincent this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.

    best wishes,

  9. yes, Gwilym...thanks for letting me know :)



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