Once again, we look out our window to see what is going on. What we see from our office window is the Waterloo Bridge. And what we see in the news is that a painting of said bridge, done by Claude Monet, just sold at auction for an extraordinary amount (reported as 17.9 million pounds by one source and 18.5 million by another). Either way, we are talking serious money – about $36 million, which is twice what experts had expected…and a lot of money for a picture of a bridge.
Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph came to succor the poor, offering to give its readers a glossy reproduction of said painting for free. This gave rise to a question. We didn’t know whether it was an existential question…an aesthetic question…or a financial one…but it haunted our sleep: What is the difference between a genuine Monet and copy of it?
The answer, of course, was established to the penny…at auction – the aforementioned $36 million. Mr. Market expressed himself in no uncertain terms. Still, we question his judgment. From a distance, you can barely tell the difference between a print and the painting. You have to get up close. The closer you get, the more apparent the difference is. As you approach the painting you see the texture…brush strokes…and subtle colors.
Paintings are visual things. Poke your eyes out and you will get no pleasure from a Monet at all, except perhaps a vicarious pleasure from letting your seeing-eye dog look at it. Even if you have eyes, the benefit you get diminishes with distance. Logically, at a certain range, the real thing must be equal in value to the print, which we now know, thanks to the Telegraph, has a value of zero. At what range, then, is the view of Waterloo Bridge worth $36 million? We, who see the bridge everyday, want to know.
Unlike so many contemporary “artists” Monet could turn out something that was not unpleasant to look at. As a painter, we have no quarrel with him. We are just wondering.
Markets and Money