Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication
I make a difference between pieces that had a role in the story of the owner (Jimi Hendrix' burned guitar, Elvis Presley's stage suit, Einstein's wristwatch) and other artefacts that were only owned by some famous people. The former are discussed in my group Memorabilia, I deliberately ignore the latter because they are only auctioned for advertising the owner at low cost for him (including the very high result recently obtained on a painting by Vladimir Putin in a charity auction).
However it is true that there is a provenance effect. The buyer always feels comfortable if the artwork went through a prestigious collection, because it lowers the risk that the purchased lot is a fake. This certainly had a role in the high results of the Saint-Laurent sale, but in this case Saint-Laurent is viewed by the buyer as a reliable connoisseur, not as a prestigious people. In January at Christie's, the art collection of the late Julius Held went much higher than its estimates. It did not contain major works because Held was an art historian, not a rich collector, but the market was totally confident in the selection of works that he made for his collection.
In the case of the Saint-Laurent armchair by Eileen Gray, I feel that both effects had a role : Saint-Laurent viewed as one of the best experts of Art Déco style, and the armchair once photographed in the middle of Saint-Laurent's living room.
But in the case of the Picasso of Saint-Laurent which was once photographed in the best place of the Saint-Laurent flat, it did not work because it is not a piece of furniture and it belongs to one of the very few Picasso periods that are outmoded. It had been presented as the top lot of the sale but went unsold. Before the sale I considered that it was not worth its price. I said : "The expected price, if obtained, will include this painting among the ten most expensive Picasso's sold at auction ... and the only of them to match this style of transition."
I feel that there is always a logic behind the price of art at auction. Often this logic is uneasy to find, but characterizing it through many examples is my little and unacademic contribution to art (and culture) research.