Grieving Artists’ Work Sells for Less, Says Study

The term “tortured artists” has been used to describe some of history’s greatest painters, from Van Gogh and Henri Tolousse Lautrec to Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock. They are credited with creating some of the world’s most recognized works of art, despite lives that were famously characterized by great emotional unrest and personal unhappiness. But does misery really beget valuable works of art? According to a new study in the INFORMS journal Management Science, an artist’s personal unhappiness, particularly if it’s experienced in times of mourning or bereavement, can actually cause a significant decrease in the value his or her work.

The study, “Death, Bereavement, and Creativity,” was conducted by researchers from Brandeis University and Princeton University. They studied the prices of more than 10,000 paintings produced by 33 French impressionist artists, along with more than 2,000 paintings by 15 American artists born between 1900 and 1920 – and their relation to the dates of deaths of the artists’ friends and family members.

By looking at the sale and auction price of these artists’ works from 1972 to 2014, the researchers found that paintings created in the year following the death of a friend or relative ended up lower in value – about 35 percent lower – compared to the rest of the artist’s catalog. There was no significant statistical difference based on the artists’ relationship with the deceased, i.e. parent, sibling or friend, say the researchers.

The value decrease typically did not extend beyond a one-year timeframe.

In addition to examining the impact of bereavement on the cost of the paintings, researchers also reviewed the impact of bereavement on the likelihood that a painting would be included in a museum collection. To figure that out, researchers gathered information on all the paintings created by the study’s artists that are in the collections of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Musée d’Orsay. Artwork painted in the first year following the death of a spouse, child, or sibling, was much less likely to be included in a museum collection, they found.

“Our analysis reflects that artists, in the year following the death of a friend or relative, are on average less creative than at other times in their lives,” said the authors. “Paintings that were created in the year following a death fetch significantly less at auction than those created at other times in an artist’s life, and are significantly less likely to be included in a major museum’s collection.”

INFORMS is the leading international association for operations research and analytics professionals. Management Science, one of 16 journals published by INFORMS, is a premier academic journal that covers groundbreaking research on all aspects of the practice of management. More information is available at or @informs.


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