Atlas Obscura | Natasha Frost

After Pablo Picasso’s friend Carlos Casagemas committed suicide in a Paris cafe, for three years the artist painted only in shades of blue and blue-green. Amid deafness, isolation, and intense anxiety at the end of his life, Francisco Goya covered the walls of his home with harrowing images of death, dogs, and devastation. Before his suicide, Mark Rothko abandoned bright colors for blacks, burgundy, deep green, and other melancholy shades. And in 1888, the year Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear, he produced dozens of extraordinary paintings, including his famous Arles work. Sometimes, it seems, despair nourishes art. But a new study released this week in the journal Management Science begs to differ.

Researchers Kathryn Graddy and Carl Lieberman compared the sale prices of some 15,000 paintings, using the Blouin Art Sales Index and the online collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Musée d’Orsay. Some of the works coincided with happy periods in artists’ lives, and others with times of misery or grief, such as following the death of a friend, lover, or relative. A hue of angst and despair might make work more interesting—the jury’s out on that—but it doesn’t make it more valuable. In fact, work created during what the researchers call “a period of bereavement” was up to 35 percent less valuable than a given artist’s other pieces. …read more

Image: Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889. Public Domain