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The ingenious marketing of modern paintings

Thomas M. Bayer (Department of Art History, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA)
John Page (A. B. Freeman School of Business, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA)

Journal of Historical Research in Marketing

ISSN: 1755-750X

Article publication date: 13 May 2014




This paper aims to analyze the evolution of the marketing of paintings and related visual products from its nascent stages in England around 1700 to the development of the modern art market by 1900, with a brief discussion connecting to the present.


Sources consist of a mixture of primary and secondary sources as well as a series of econometric and statistical analyses of specifically constructed and unique data sets that list nearly more than 50,000 different sales of paintings during this period. One set records sales of paintings at various English auction houses during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; the second set consists of all purchases and sales of paintings recorded in the stock books of the late nineteenth-century London art dealer, Arthur Tooth, during the years of 1870/1871. The authors interpret the data under a commoditization model first introduced by Igor Kopytoff in 1986 that posits that markets and their participants evolve toward maximizing the efficiency of their exchange process within the prevailing exchange technology.


We found that artists were largely responsible for a series of innovations in the art market that replaced the prevailing direct relationship between artists and patron with a modern market for which painters produced works on speculation to be sold by enterprising middlemen to an anonymous public. In this process, artists displayed a remarkable creativity and a seemingly instinctive understanding of the principles of competitive marketing that should dispel the erroneous but persistent notion that artistic genius and business savvy are incompatible.

Research limitations/implications

A similar marketing analysis could be done of the development of the art markets of other leading countries, such as France, Italy and Holland, as well as the current developments of the art market.

Practical implications

The same process of the development of the art market in England is now occurring in Latin America and China. Also, the commoditization process continues in the present, now using the Internet and worldwide art dealers.


This is the first article to trace the historical development of the marketing of art in all of its components: artists, dealers, artist organizations, museums, curators, art critics, the media and art historians.



The authors acknowledge James Clifton, Marilyn Brown, Christopher Wood, Jeremy Maas, Rupert Maas and Walter Liedtke.


M. Bayer, T. and Page, J. (2014), "The ingenious marketing of modern paintings", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 6 No. 2, pp. 211-233.



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