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The death of an artist and the value of a collection

What happens to the value of a collection in the event of an artist's death?

Whether it’s a single painting or a collection of work, the possibility of a spike in value means that an artist’s passing should not be ignored, as you may need to re-evaluate the work and your insurance cover. 

Does an artist’s death make their work more valuable? 

In some cases, death can cause an artist’s work to rise in value, but in truth it’s a rarity unless they are already a celebrated figure in living times – in the case of most artists it is likely that their death will have little impact on selling prices or value. Even in the case of Vincent Van Gogh, he died a penniless artist and it was only years after his death that his work became truly valuable.

Often as artists grow old their production levels tend to taper off, if not cease altogether. However, while they are still alive, they can still be considered to have the potential to produce something great. As a collector, this means you can see the value of their existing work hold steady, if not increase if their output is small. When an artist dies they can only be judged on the work they’ve left behind, and in light of art history their star may or may not continue to shine brightly and their prices rise or fall accordingly.

Be wary of a surge in demand following an artist’s death

The value of your collection will naturally increase if the artist is already in demand and their pieces are limited. And if they’ve died suddenly or prematurely then you will also likely see a quick spike in value. But don’t be fooled. Spikes can be based on profiteering, greed, panic, ignorance and impulse, and may not reflect where the true value finally settles. 

Also be mindful of an artist’s work flooding the market after death. If you’re lucky enough to own art by a famous artist and can see the potential to make money on your investment, you could find yourself as one of many collectors looking to turn a profit. But if everyone wants to sell and nobody wants to buy then the market can bottom out rapidly. 

Take your time

Ultimately, it all depends on the type of collector you are – one who collects to enjoy the work privately or one who invests with the view to making a long-term profit. Wherever you sit in the spectrum, enjoy the works you have for as long as they bring you pleasure. And, in the wake of an artist’s death, take your time to see how the art world and auction houses react. While prices might spike in the short term, seeing a slow, sensible rise in value is always the safest bet. 

Make sure you have suitable fine art insurance

If you do see the value of your collection rise, make sure you increase the value of your contents insurance cover to match it.

NFU Mutual Bespoke Home Insurance is designed to cover valuable items and more complex insurance needs, including fine art and collections. If you are unsure of the true worth of your collection, we can help there too. We offer access to a panel of expert valuers who can, for a fee, provide guidance and valuations.