Tales of the Greatest Investors: Vincent van GoghVW Staff
Everyone has heard of Vincent van Gogh, the artist whose work eventually dazzled the world with his original use of brush strokes and color, but who died impecunious and minus one ear. His uncle, who was also named Vincent van Gogh, is not remembered. This uncle was a very wealthy person, and was a partner in an art dealership known as Goupil & Cie, which existed in 19th century Paris and was located at Rue Chaptal. The firm was large enough to have other branches, including one at 19 Boulevard Montmartre, which was managed by Theo van Gogh, the artist’s brother. Mention of this situation can be found in Van Gogh’s letters to Theo. Interestingly, the brothers, Vincent and Theo, referred to their uncle as “Uncle Cent,” cent being the French word for 100, a possible reference to his wealth. Goupil & Cie not only had other branches in Paris, but in many other countries as well. For example, another Paris branch was located at 2 Place de L’Opéra, and there was one at 289 Broadway in New York City. It was an international firm that was enormous for the time.
Similarly, everyone has heard of the painter Henri Matisse, who is considered the second most important 20th century artist, after Picasso. In 2009, Christie’s auctioned off a Matisse entitled Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose from the Yves Saint Laurent collection for 32 million euros. However, Matisse the artist was not nearly as financially successful as the other Matisse. Pierre Matisse operated the Pierre Matisse Gallery for 65 years at 41 East 57th Street in New York City.
It will be obvious in a moment why I’m discussing art, how the study of art can have incredible bearing on portfolio structure. Before delving deeper into that connection, some general remarks are needed. The great art dealers of the 19th and 20th centuries amassed enormous fortunes. At first glance, you might have thought that such a feat was impossible, because the great art dealers didn’t handle the bulk of the art volume. In other words, they didn’t make the money through their business. The great auction houses to this very day facilitate by far the bulk of the art sales. Those auction houses include Sothebys (NYSE:BID), Christie’s, Phillips de Pury, Tattersalls, Lyon & Turnbull, Hôtel Drouot, (owned by BNP Paribas SA (ADR) (OTCMKTS:BNPQY) (EPA:BNP)) and Bonham’s, which was established in 1793. The oldest auction house in the world is Stockholm’s Auktionsverk, established 1674. Other auction houses are the Swedish company called Bukowskis, established in 1870, and the famous Dorotheum in Vienna, established in 1707.
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