Hook (The Ultimate Trophy: How the Impressionist Painting Conquered the World, 2009, etc.) uses his years of experience to explain why paintings succeed or fail.
The author’s tenure as former director of Christie’s and his current role as director and senior paintings specialist at Sotheby’s make his book a great reference, but his delightful British irreverence makes it fun to read. When considering works of art, the subject matter is paramount. Paintings of sport include images of stags, partridges, grouse, etc.—a kind of trophy art, literally painting what you kill. Certainly, depictions of pretty women are popular and are among the best sellers, though horizontal women are better than vertical, assuming she’s pretty and not dead. On the other hand, a picture might not sell for any number of reasons—e.g., poor branding, bad provenance, adverse emotion or simply because there’s no red in it. In an A-to-Z format, Hook discusses the effect of subjects as diverse as rain, interiors, nudes and railways, and his expertise extends from the impressionists forward, with insightful explanations of such 20th-century movements as surrealism and expressionism. The author really hits his stride when he shows how life events affect sales, especially if an artist suffered some horrendous loss or died early—sure selling points. He also lists a number of World War I artists whose work declined precipitously after the war, including Giacomo Balla, Juan Gris and Eric Heckel. Great for those who are spending millions to invest in art, this book will certainly help readers who keep hoping for a magical garage sale find. Hook surely saw a few of those in his 25 years on the original British Antiques Roadshow.
A winner. Readers will learn more about the modern art market in this simple book than in any college course.