Peter Bruegel the Elder's "The Wedding Dance" (c. 1566)

Peter Bruegel the Elder’s “The Wedding Dance” (c. 1566)

The indefatigable Detroit Free Press once again has the scoop on the latest developments at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), and this time it’s the release of Christie’s appraisal of the museum’s collection. The report, commissioned last July by Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr, contains 2,773 individual pieces with a total value ranging from $454,277,995 to 866,997,240 — all of them works acquired with funds from the City of Detroit over the course of the museum’s history. In their summary letter accompanying the full report to the city, Christie’s notes that this constitutes less than 5 percent of the DIA’s 66,000 objects. It’s worth noting that Orr’s office has previously stated it expects to tap the DIA for $500 million; the value of these artworks as collateral is likely not enough to secure that kind of money on debt alone.

Though the full repercussions of the report as far as satisfying the demands of the city’s creditors remain to be seen, one thing that stands out is the extremely top-heavy distribution of value within this slice of the collection. Eleven individual works constitute 75 percent of the DIA collection’s total appraised value. These are listed below, along with their FMV (Fair Market Value) ranges:

  • Pieter Bruegel the Elder,  “The Wedding Dance” ($100–200 million)
  • Vincent van Gogh, “Self Portrait with Straw Hat” ($80–150 million)
  • Rembrandt, “The Visitation” ($50–90 million)
  • Henri Matisse, “Le guéridon” ($40–80 million)
  • Edgar Degas, “Danseuses au foyer (La Contrebasse)” ($20–40 million)
  • Claude Monet, “Gladioli” ($12–20 million)
  • Michelangelo, “Scheme for the decoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel” ($12–20 million)
  • Neri Di Bicci, “The Palla Altarpiece: Tobias and Three Archangels” ($8–15 million)
  • Giovanni Bellini and Workshop, “Madonna and Child” ($4–10 million)
  • Frans Hals, “Portrait of Hendrick Swalmius” ($6–10 million)
  • Michiel Sweerts, “In the Studio” ($5–10 million)

At the bottom end of the scale, a “Villanovan Bronze Pin” (c. 750–700 B.C.) was appraised at $200–800. What’s notable about these estimates is how widely the high and low estimates diverge as compared to Christie’s own pre-sale catalogues. Perhaps this is an idiosyncrasy of this specific advisory service, which is not meant to be as precise as the appraisal process that precedes the auction house’s own sales (indeed, the report concedes that many works were appraised by photograph). The estimate ranges are much tighter, for instance, in Christie’s record-setting November evening sale of postwar and contemporary art, largely keeping the variability between the high and low estimate within the 25–35 percent range, in contrast with the 50–100+ percent variance in the DIA appraisal.

Another, less surprising result: the bulk of the collection’s value lies in Old Masters and 18th- and 19th-century art. The only postwar and contemporary collection pieces appraised in this report are Beauford Delaney, “Self Portrait” (1962), and Robert Moskowitz, “Hard Ball III” (1993), which were valued at $25,000–35,000 and $8,000–10,000, respectively. This confirms that the bulk of the DIA’s contemporary collection comes from outside donors.

Mostafa Heddaya

Mostafa Heddaya is the former managing editor of Hyperallergic.

3 replies on “Christie’s Detroit Institute of Arts Appraisal Released”

  1. Having witnessed the appraisal of a major private collection, the processes is horribly biased & flawed!

  2. “purchased by the city itself” not true. the city of Detroit DID have line items for the purchase of some work, but museum directors would also raise part of the funds from private collections. So they are owned by the city, but not necessarily /bought/ entirely by the city. source: just had DIA director Graham Beal in town last week for lecture (very enlightening!)

    i think this is an important distinction to make when discussing the potential ruin of an amazing public collection.

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