Gallery told: Some of your art is worthless

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SOME of the works of art in the Courtauld Institute Galleries, one of Britain's premier collections, are worth little or nothing, according to a valuation by the auctioneers Sotheby's.

The Courtauld contains a renowned collection of impressionist, post- impressionist and British works from various eras.

As part of an exercise to interest visitors and provoke discussion about the economic and aesthetic value of art, the London gallery invited Sotheby's to price some of its works.

The auctioneers gave some paintings the expected high valuations, with Degas's Two Dancers On Stage receiving a price tag of pounds 20m to pounds 30m. But other works at the core of the Courtauld collection failed to impress Sotheby's. A print by one of the greatest names in British art, the 18th century artist and engraver William Hogarth, was valued at only pounds 200. To add insult to injury, Sotheby's experts told the Courtauld that they would not even bother to offer the work at auction if it became available.

Even the pounds 200 price tag was an improvement on that placed on the same subject executed by the Hogarth imitator Thomas Cook. That was valued at precisely nothing.

Sarah Hyde, the Courtauld curator who organised the valuations for an exhibition opening at the galleries today, said: "I think Hogarth prints generally are incredibly undervalued. It's simply because he produced his prints in quite large editions. But that doesn't affect the quality of the work or the quality of the imagination.

"The pounds 20-pounds 30m valuation for the Degas was a surprise. I wasn't expecting it to be as high. One of the purposes of this exhibition is to explore the relationship between aesthetic value and financial value.

"I do disagree with people who say that galleries should not acknowledge the price. There is a relationship there and we should look at it. In the case of the Hogarth, obviously visitors may have a different response to it when they see it valued so low."

The exhibition, sponsored by Schroder Investment Management, aims to explore the relationship between the value of a work of art and people's appreciation of it, and the way that museums and galleries have traditionally distanced themselves from questions of art and money.

Visitors are confronted by 15 pairs of unlabelled works from the Courtauld collection - including impressionist works, Old Master paintings, drawings, prints and decorative arts - each of which will be accompanied only by the question: "Which is more valuable?"

The answer to the question about each pair is concealed from view in order to let visitors make their own assessments.

From A Sublime Price To The Ridiculously Cheap

Degas: Two Dancers On Stage (1877); pounds 20-30m

This high price contrasts with the pounds 3m valuation for another Degas in the exhibition (After The Bath, Woman Drying Herself). The reason is that the Two Dancers painting was executed in oil colours, and the other in pastels. It is also significant that Two Dancers was signed and sold by the artist within months of its completion, whereas the pastel was not signed, or sold, indicating that it might be unfinished. The method of application and the lustrous sheen and depth of the oil - add to the value.

Hogarth: The Bruiser (1763); pounds 100-pounds 200.

The value placed on this is too low for it to be accepted by a big auction house. The satirical print portrays a rival of Hogarth's, Charles Churchill,as a dancing bear. As Hogarth printed different versions he increased the price from one shilling to one shilling and sixpence, still selling the earlier version at a shilling. He felt this would help sell more copies.

Saint Francis Kneeling, Receiving the Infant Christ (1617); pounds 100,000- pounds 150,000

This drawing illustrates some of the difficulties in estimating the financial value of Old Master drawings. Circumstantial evidence, such as the fact that it shows the main figure in an altarpiece produced in Rubens' workshop for a church in Antwerp, is not sufficient to establish that Rubens himself produced the drawing.