Editor's note: The following article was rekeyed and reprinted on January 31, 1998 in Resource Library with permission of the author. Prepared for the column Dunbier on Fine Art Valuation, Dr. Dunbier writes on issues regarding the valuation of fine art. If you have questions or comments regarding the article, please contact Lonnie Pierson Dunbier in Scottsdale, AZ, at ldunbier@mac.com.


The Tides of Critical Opinion

By Roger Dunbier, PhD


In the previous communication, attention was paid to the part "gravity" plays in the present day art market. So it should not come as a surprise that an examination of the rising and falling tides of artistic opinion should follow.

As gravity and consequent tides are forces of nature, the former determining the latter, a parallel circumstance exists in the world of fine art values. American painting prices conform to and follow the critical literature to a degree barely exceeded by the ebb and flow of the tides.

Now this observation is admittedly anything but original. What we offer that is original is solid statistical evidence supporting the fact that as art writers and museum directors shape catalogues, they either include the work of individual artists or exclude them. Subsequently, prices conform. They move upward with increasing inclusion and downward with waning inclusion. It should not be inferred that this literary aspect works independently or rapidly. Other factors such as general price inflation or belonging to a "school" which is in overall favor or disfavor find their way into the equation. Actual dollar values are also affected in the art market as they compete for money in the general economy.

Nevertheless inclusion in publications particularly illustrated books underpins the demand for works by that artist.

One need not look further than the example of the California plein air painters who worked in the main prior to 1940. By 1975, their painting languished in the deepest obscurity even among California collectors and curators. Then two or three books, such as those by Nancy Moure and Ruth Westphal, were published followed by many more. Prices doubled and then doubled again. For those painters most mentioned and most pictured, one can include another one or two doublings. Some painters whose pictures were purchased for $3000. in 1975 bring $50,000 or much more at auction today.

A good example of contemporaneous artists whose increasing price strength corresponds with growing literature references is the following list of California painters. The information is a slice from our total database of over 20,000 names linked to more than 5000 reference books, biographies and exhibition catalogues.


NAME / SIGNIFICANT MENTION IN BOOKS 1930-1979 /1980 forward


Franz Bischoff 2 22

Carl Oscar Borg 14 31

Maurice Braun 6 28

Alson Skinner Clark 7 27

E Charlton Fortune 2 28

John Gamble 5 18

Selden Gile 3 18

Armin Hansen 5 22

Joseph Kleitsch 2 19

Alfred Mitchell 3 17

Hanson Puthuff 3 22

Edgar Payne 9 34

Joseph Raphael 2 19

Granville Redmond 3 28

Charles Reiffel 3 21

Donna Schuster 3 20

Jack Wilkinson Smith 3 16

Guy Rose 4 28

Marion Wachtel 3 21

William Wendt 9 32


The other side of the coin is represented by painters who were included over and over again in books published between 1940 and 1960 but about which much less is written at present. Very few of their works show up today in museum catalogues, textbooks or on coffee tables. What could be called positive publishing momentum for the above list turns to negative for the list below. Prices for these artists are in the main stagnant or declining:




NAME / SIGNIFICANT MENTION IN BOOKS 1930-1979 /1980 forward


Alexander Brook 58 22

Arnold Blanch 34 17

Aaron Bohrod 45 23

John W Carroll 33 15

Jon Corbino 33 14

Russell Cowles 26 9

Adolph Dehn 44 20

Ernest Fiene 32 22

Morris Kantor 51 19

Bernard Karfiol 53 14

Julian Levi 23 9

Pepino Mangravite 24 13

Robert Philipp 24 11

Abraham Rattner 44 29

Mitchell Siporin 24 15

Eugene Speicher 59 23

Maurice Sterne 77 29

Frederick Taubes 20 9

Karl Zerbe 30 9


Once again, this observation is not original. A hundred art dealers could easily relate this information if asked. What is original is how we at ENCompass Fine Art created these lists and how easily you can obtain this information without having to ask any "savant."

Furthermore, we offer this kind of information for several thousand artists whose names these same one-hundred art insiders know little or nothing about--painters who may just be starting a move up from obscurity in the same way as the California artists mentioned already.

The painters listed above are grouped according to numbers produced from our data-set of the 10,000 most collectible American painters and illustrators. These numbers, we are confident, are more scientific and less opinionated than anything yet accomplished in this country.

The numbers which underpin our selection of names for inclusion in the lists are derived wholly from their works being pictured or significantly mentioned in just over five-thousand art books and museum catalogues maintained and updated in our database. An analysis of publication dates is used to divide the 10,000 into two groups of 5000. One group shows increasing recent dates of publication while the second demonstrates decreasing inclusion. Hard numbers within the sub-groups show exaggerated results for some as interest in them appears to be vaulting them forward while at the other extreme, a few seem to be falling off a cliff. Most importantly as mentioned above, these results are mirrored in auction prices realized.

It is a temptation to substitute "causes" for "mirrored," but this would be a mistake as there are word-of-mouth currents of opinion working on the art writers and publishers which also flow directly to the buying public gathered in the auction houses.It cannot be denied, however, that significant periods of omission from art publications also negatively influence demand. The same only more so can be said for reproductions of the artist's work.

Even if all this were not true in every single case, there is such a strong correlation between the direction of "literature momentum" and the direction of price that the side by side comparison of (1) early and (2) recent merits the most serious consideration.

© 1998 Roger Dunbier



About the Author:

From 1982, Dr. Roger Dunbier (1934-1998) combined his professional economics training, research skills, and love of art to develop an easily accessed, 'all-in-one-place' repository of factual information so that buyers and sellers of American art could make decisions based on hard-core data rather than just marketing hype.  With ever-more sophisticated computers, programmed by Charles Lefebvre, his long-time associate, Dunbier built an artist record database, which by the time he died 16 years later, had 17,000 names linked to their respective auction prices, literature and biographies.  Today the result of his dedication lives on as the foundation of AskART.com, an internet site since 2000.  

Dunbier's innovation of computer systems began in 1963, when he pioneered computer mapping on what were then relatively primitive computers.  In 1967, he utilized concepts of 'arbitrage' and 'comparables' in designing the first real estate Multiple Listing System.  Its direct descendent remains in use by realtors across the United States, and he later applied the same underlying principles in building his artist database.  (right: Roger Dunbier, photo courtesy Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, derived from a larger image at http://tfaoi.org/am/16am/16am17.jpg)

Dunbier was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska.  His interest in American art was natural because his father, Augustus Dunbier, (1888-1977) was a prominent landscape, still life and portrait painter and art teacher, whose studio and classroom were in the family home.   Although Roger showed few 'right brained' skills, he did have other talents.  He graduated first in his class and Summa Cum Laude from the University of Omaha in 1955 with majors in economics and history.   He then received a Marshall Scholarship, which led to enrollment at Oxford University in England from 1955 to 1959.  During that time, he was on the Oxford University basketball and track teams, and was a member of the British National Basketball Team.  In 1961, he received a Doctorate of Philosophy, Economic Geography from Oxford.  His dissertation, The Sonoran Desert, Its Geography, Economy, and People, was published by the University of Arizona Press in 1960, and subsequently used as a text book for college geography courses.

After formal education, Dunbier held full-time professorial positions for several years at the University of Omaha and the University of California-Irvine.  He lived most of the remainder of his life in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, and had economic-geography related jobs including CEO of his management consulting firm that prepared demographic and locational studies; and President of Metro Press, Inc., publisher of over 100 computer generated area directories for Metro Phoenix.  In 1991, he married Lonnie Pierson of Lincoln, Nebraska.

-- By Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, 2008

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