Museums Controversies USA

Price placed on Detroit’s art

Christie’s releases its itemised appraisal of the 1,741 city-owned works in the Detroit Institute of Arts’s collection

Christie's estimates Rembrandt's, The Visitation, 1640, could fetch $50m to $90m for the broke City of Detroit. The artist may have sold the work in 1656 to help pay off his own bankruptcy

The most vulnerable works in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) now have price tags attached. Today, Detroit’s emergency manager released Christie’s itemised appraisal of the 1,741 works in the collection that were acquired by the city of Detroit. The city manager has said these works could be sold to help alleviate the city’s estimated $18b debt, though Michigan’s attorney general disagrees.

Christie’s estimates the collection’s fair market value is between $454.3m and $867m. Some expected it would be higher. Over the summer, the Detroit Free Press estimated the collection could be worth as much as $2.5bn. The city paid the auction house $200,000 for its appraisal services, according to the Free Press.

Eleven works account for around two-thirds of the total valuation, according to Christie’s report. They include Michelangelo’s preparatory sketches for the Sistine Chapel ceiling and a painting of the visitation by Rembrandt that the artist may have sold in 1656 to help pay off his own bankruptcy.

Christie’s used the “market data approach” to appraise the collection, it explained in its report. The appraisers compared the DIA’s works to similar pieces sold to determine the most likely price at which each object “would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller in the relevant marketplace”. But some of the estimates underscore the unprecedented nature of such a sale. The Wedding Dance, around 1566, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, is estimated between $100m and $200m, as much as 40 times the artist’s previous record, set at Christie’s in 2004.

The museum declined to comment directly on Christie’s report, but a spokeswoman said yesterday in a statement: “The Detroit Institute of Arts maintains its position that the City of Detroit and the museum hold the art collection in trust for the citizens of Detroit and Michigan.”

Christie’s may not have the last word on the collection’s value. A group of creditors asked the bankruptcy court on 26 November to appoint a committee to appraise the DIA’s collection independently of the auction house, which it claimed might offer an “inappropriately low assessment”.

The 11 works with the highest estimates from the DIA’s collection

1. Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Wedding Dance, around 1566, $100m-$200m

2. Vincent van Gogh, Self Portrait with Straw Hat, 1887, $80m-$150m

3. Rembrandt van Rijn, The Visitation, 1640, $50m-$90m

4. Henri Matisse, Le Gueridon, 1916, $40m-$80m

5. Edgar Degas, Danseuses au foyer (La Contrebasse) , around 1879, $20m-$40m

6. Claude Monet, Gladioli, 1876, $12m-$20m

7. Michelangelo Buonarroti, Scheme for the decoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (recto and verso) , around 1508, $12m-$20m

8. Neri di Bicci, The Palla Altarpiece: Tobias and Three Archangels, 1471, $8m-$15m

9. Frans Hals, Portrait of Hendrik Swalmius, 1639, $6m-$10m

10. Michiel Sweerts, In the Studio, 1652, $5m-$10m

11. Giovanni Bellini and Workshop, Madonna and Child, 1509, $4m-$10m

More from The Art Newspaper


Submit a comment

All comments are moderated. If you would like your comment to be approved, please use your real name, not a pseudonym. We ask for your email address in case we wish to contact you - it will not be made public and we do not use it for any other purpose.


Want to write a longer comment to this article? Email


Share this