The Disappearing Masterpiece

David Galenson

Published: December 2002

A quantitative analysis of the illustrations in art history textbooks reveals that the most important modern American painters—including Pollock, de Kooning, and Warhol—failed to produce individual paintings as famous as the masterpieces of some major French modern artists, such as Manet, Gauguin, and Seurat. Yet art historians do not consider the American artists to be less important and less innovative than their French predecessors. The absence of American masterpieces instead appears to be a consequence of market conditions, as changes over time in the primary methods of showing and selling fine art effectively eliminated the incentive for artists to produce important individual works. The study of markets is essential to a full understanding of the development of modern art.

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