The New York Times chose a strange way to publish a correction to its reporting two years ago that a Gauguin painting had been sold privately for $300m. A court case in London has shown that the painting was sold for $210m, a substantially lower but still phenomenal price.
Private sale prices are difficult to ascertain, with good reason. The parties who know the true price are very limited. But those who claim to know the price have several motivations that are not constrained by the truth.
Indeed, there is a perverse incentive upon all parties to inflate the value of a private sale: Seller gets bragging rights, buyer sets value for resale higher than price paid, and the person relating this information to the press gets to show they’re ‘informed’ on the biggest deals.
With all of that in mind, it is surprising to see the New York Times correct its initial report on the Gauguin by re-affirming the prices of other similar reports without an explanation of why those reports should be taken any more seriously than the now-refuted Gauguin report:
At the very least, however, the suit has rearranged the top rankings for high art prices: Willem de Kooning’s 1955 painting “Interchanged” stands alone with a reported sale price of $300 million in 2016. Cézanne’s “Card Players” brought $250 million in a sale to the Qatari government in 2011.