Dr. Elin Lake-Ewald, PhD: A Quick History of Modern Art Appraising – 50 Years Before

O'Toole Ewald

O’Toole-Ewald Art Associates,Inc. (OTE), aside from standard appraisal valuations, focuses on the creation of innovative programs in the field of fine art appraising. For a considerable period in its 85-year-old history OTE has been known for its specialization in damage/loss appraisals and appraisals of artists’ estates. In recent years it has also become known for the creation of fair rental appraisals of art for collections held in trust, collateral loan appraisals, complex fractional loan appraisals, and bulk art appraisals in transfer between corporate entities. OTE is a partnership of in-house permanent specialist appraisers in the US, with associates in London, Geneva, Paris, Berlin, Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, Athens and Tel Aviv.

It was in the 1960s that art really became a business, although valuing works of art for estate purpose, resale, matrimonial divisions, and so on has been around since recorded history. After all, some official in 6,000 B.C. had to put a price on the oversize amphora in dad’s estate so that Agathocles wouldn’t feel cheated if Pytheas picked the krater with the dancing red figures first.

Things went on in this field in much the same way until the Pop artists came along, and culture became overtly commercialized. Aesthetics took secondary place to price and those who were depended upon to set values on art mobilized in order to codify rules for the process.

National and local appraisal organizations for art specialists were created and/or expanded, rules promulgated, educational conferences held, and appropriate level designations set. University programs in appraising were instituted so that those interested or involved in art could be taught to formalize statements of value in either the primary or secondary markets, to add conservators’ reports, and to replace subjective valuations with documented research.

Not that the valuation of art hadn’t been an active occupation for thousands of years prior to the 1960s, but now it had become a validated profession. Serious art appraisers took examinations in art history, ethics and formal appraisal practice. Of course IRS stepped in to set its own rules regarding appraisals for charitable contribution and estate purpose. Appraisals over $50,000 are currently subject to review by the IRS Art Advisory Panel, a group of volunteer experts from the gallery and museum worlds, and art collectors and their appraisers could possibly end in US Tax Court to resolve disputes.

As the art market heated up over the decades since the 1960s, the position of art appraiser transmigrated from a slightly sideline business into a fully formal profession that grew more glamorous with each multi-million dollar record auction sale thronged by the growing wealthy of the world. Newspapers posted articles about those recorded sales on a regularly expected basis – who bid, who won, what celebrities attended – and international journalists eagerly wrote reports of even higher prices paid privately – or prices reported by “reliable sources.”

At the beginning of the 1960s it would have been close to impossible to find a formally trained art appraiser; currently it is a vastly popular profession populated by practitioners of varied qualifications. Most of them will claim to be able to appraise art for purposes of:

  • Insurance
  • Charitable Contribution
  • Equitable Distribution
  • Fair Market Value for Resale
  • Damaged Art and Restitution

More experienced and closely vetted art appraisers may also be called upon by major banks to provide collateral loan appraisals based on high value art collections. Some art appraisers have testified in Civil, Criminal, Bankruptcy, and Tax courts on a regular basis, others only once and decline thereafter. Not everyone finds it fun.

A major movement within the field that turned it into a profession occurred in 1998 when The Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice, a set of ethical and procedural rule and regulations, was formulated cooperatively among various official appraisal groups and government agency under a subcommittee of Congress.

For 50 years art appraising has gradually developed into an internationally accepted profession, utilized regularly by both the public and private sectors. Now it is time to turn its focus on creating a body of literature that is equivalent to that in the legal and financial fields, and to up the ante on creating innovative programs that align with the work of related professions.

As the art market grows and its significance within the business world grows with it, so should there be growth in the art appraisal profession. If there were a gauntlet to throw out to my fellow appraisers I would do so right now, but I believe the implied challenge is understood.

– Elin Lake-Ewald, PhD, ASA, FRICS
O’Toole-Ewald Art Associates, Inc. (OTE)

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