Would You Like to Buy a Painting?
By “Awake!” correspondent in Italy
THE demand for paintings in Italy has really grown in recent years, and with this growth, the press from time to time carries stories of spectacular thefts—well-known paintings being carried away from Roman Catholic churches and art galleries. It is supposed that more often than not the stolen paintings are sold abroad to adorn walls of some art patron. One might say that buying paintings of all sorts is in vogue today, not only in Italy, but also in many other countries.
What about you? Have you rented a new apartment and does some wall seem too bare? Do you desire to dress up your living room and make it more attractive? Or are you thinking about investing part of your capital in art? In any case, some persons view a good painting as just the thing to satisfy their needs.
But not everyone knows how to go about making a choice. If you would welcome some good advice, we know an artist that for thirty years has devoted his time to painting. Some of his works are in the art museums of the world. If you would like to join us, we will pay him a visit.
We are fortunate to find him in his studio and not busy at the moment. After the usual introductions, we explain that our intentions are to buy some paintings and that we would like his advice on the matter.
“How much do you want to spend?” he asks. “Paintings on the market carry all sorts of prices.”
Picking up an attractive scene along the Seine, he places it at a proper angle for the lighting in the studio. Then, with a smile, he continues: “This is an easy way that many have followed. Obtain a printed catalog, usually accompanied by a pleasing presentation with testimonials of merit and various other information, and there you find photographs of the paintings with relative data as to size, price and the author. In this case it is just a pure and simple commercial deal.”
Is it possible that the price is higher than the real value of the painting one intends to buy?
“Oh, yes. The price can be exorbitant. One pays for the publicity.” Then, gesturing with his arms and head, he continues: “Unfortunately, it is very easy to be deceived.”
Is there some rule for establishing the proper price based on the size of the painting or according to some other standard?
“Well,” he says with a calm and measured tone, “it is not at all possible to establish the true value of exchange simply according to size. A small painting might in fact be worth a billion lire, whereas a large painting only 100,000 lire.”*
We look at him dismayed while he moves toward a large painting of a young woman that attracts our attention. We look at it from a side angle. The play of light and shadow creates a very pleasant harmony. Stupendous! But how do we know whether it is an original or just a copy?
“You probably think that there must be some persons who are competent to judge whether it is a genuine original,” he says, as if knowing the question we are about to ask. “Yes, there are the academy professors, the great teachers, writers and art experts. But consider the facts. Recently a famous painting attributed to an Italian artist was put on display, ‘La Gioconda’ or ‘Mona Lisa.’ Some say it was done by Leonardo da Vinci. But not all experts are sure. If it’s not possible to recognize the technique of such a great and famous artist, how can one distinguish the work of a less-known painter?”
“And you must remember,” our artist friend continues, “the painter’s name on the picture sets the price to a large extent. To illustrate: A great artist may go unrecognized and hence have no success. As a result, his paintings are valued less on the market. On the other hand, the artists who have been given much publicity have their work priced much higher.”
This was all very interesting. Our next question was more specific. How can we decide whether to buy a certain painting or not?
“For one thing,” we are told, “you can look at the amount of detail in the painting, which gives an idea of the amount of work that went into completing it. You should also consider whether it is the kind of art that honors the great Creator. And, finally, there is the subject matter itself, that is, do you like what you see and does it stir your feelings? Will it fit in the surroundings in which you intend to hang it? If you decide to buy, the price might vary from 50,000 to 500,000 lire. Can you afford it?”
There were great artists in the Renaissance. This we know. And today certain artists follow in some way that form of painting, which raises in our minds other questions. What consideration should we give to the various modern tendencies so often found on the market? Why are these so often spoken of with contempt?
“I am glad that you asked me this question,” the artist answers with a rise of emotion in his voice. “At times exaggerated prices are placed on what are truly just daubs of paint that offend the eyes. How is this done? Well, there are speculators that create a host of art patrons. These dealers are ready to stoop to anything for money. They thus popularize pseudo-artists that invade the painting market with monstrous presentations that deform reality and insult the observers.”
But we cannot help but observe that if their paintings are sold in such large quantities, someone must like them. So we ask our friend about the modern schools of painting. Are they recognized to have any real merit? Have they contributed anything to the art of painting?
“To make a rapid examination,” responds our artist, “let me mention the French Impressionists and also the Tuscan Impressionists (1800-1900). These were groups desirous of breaking with the schematic and manneristic traditions of the classical period of the 1700’s and which extended into the succeeding century. Then there are more modern forms of impressionism as well as the futurists, the abstractionists, the cubists, the surrealists and the essentialists. Each has its disciples and salesmen who, to say the least, have very strong views as to what is good art and what is bad.”
Our friend now very nicely summed up the discussion, saying: “When you go shopping for a painting, have well in mind your goal. Are you out to buy a painting simply as an investment? Then buy one, no matter how ugly it may be, that has the credentials of a famous artist. But if your goal is to decorate your home, then take into consideration the rest of the decor of the room. Purchase one you like, one you can live with day in and day out. It is not the publicity or the signature that makes such a painting important to you. The work should have significance. It should cause you to think about some aspect of Jehovah’s creation, filling your mind and heart with appreciation for his love and goodness. You should be moved in an emotional and spiritual way to feel it. You, of course, must remember that God’s law forbids the use of idols or images as aids to worship, as it is written in the Bible book of First John, chapter 5, verse 21. Rather, the desire should be to have something that is a pleasing ornament.”
It is now time for us to leave our artist friend. As we thank him for his kindness in giving us this information, we cannot help but think of artistic ability as a gift of our Maker. We are therefore determined that the picture we buy will be a beautiful work of art and one that will honor and praise our grand Creator. Under inspiration, the psalmist must have had some similar thought in mind when he wrote: “Bless Jehovah, all you his works, in all places of his domination. Bless Jehovah, O my soul.”—Ps. 103:22.
The Italian lira today is worth about 1.6 U.S. cents.