THE LAY FIGURE: ON THE he know anything about art; if he possessed
PRICES OF PICTURES. artistic tastes naturally, he could never become a
millionaire—the two things are not compatible."
"What is the reason, do you think, for " Why should you be sorry for him ?" asked the
the extraordinary increase in the prices paid for old Visitor innocently. " Surely such men must do a
works of art which has taken place during the last great deal of harm to art."
few years ?" asked the Visitor from the Country. " I will tell you why," replied the Critic.
" I was looking not long ago at a book which " Because, in spite of what our friend says about a
records the art sales of the last century, and I competition of purses, I feel that the very rich
found that things which go now for thousands man does not have quite a fair chance. He does,
could be bought then for a ten-pound note." I admit, a great deal of harm, but he does it
" The chief reason," answered the Man with the because he cannot help it. If he had been able to
Red Tie, "is. the insane competition between the devote himself entirely, like the Marquis of Hertford,
various members of the capitalist class. The world or Sir Richard Wallace, to study of connoisseur-
is overrun with millionaires, who wish to advertise ship, he would know pretty well when a long price
the fact that they have more money than they can was justifiable and when he was being offered things
spend sensibly. Each one is seeking to outbid the at much more than their market value. But so
others, and to prove that he is the most lavish of narrow has been his mental training, and so un-
them all in his expenditure. Life with them is a developed are his powers of discrimination, that
struggle to be extravagant, and unfortunately they the money standard is the only one he can use for
have fastened upon art as a means which will help testing artistic worth. He reasons, if you can call
them to their sordid end." it reasoning, that if a thing is priced very high it
" But don't you believe that they really want the must be because everyone wants to possess it, and
works of art for which they pay these long prices ? " therefore it must be of peculiar artistic excellence,
broke in the Art Critic. " You must remember As he happens to have plenty of money to spare,
that things of the type that they collect are com- he writes a cheque for the amount that is asked
paratively rare, and that as millionaires become and thinks he has done something rather smart,
more numerous the demand increases, while the What he does not realise for an instant is that
supply tends, if anything, to diminish. According these spectacular prices have been engineered
to all the laws of political economy, a rise in prices specially for his benefit by astute business men.
is inevitable under such conditions." He may, in his innocent search after knowledge,
"Of course they want them," replied the Man have been noting what the biddings have been
with the Red Tie ; " I do not suppose that even a recently in the sale-rooms for the works of a
millionaire would throw away thousands on things particular master, and if an example of this master
he did not want. But what I complain about is is offered him for a sum not too much above the
that they want them, not because they are works of sale-room price, he concludes that he is paying
art, but simply because they are expensive. If you about what more expert people than himself
offered to a collector of this sort the finest old consider to be a fair amount. The possibility that
master that was ever painted at the price it would the very price which he takes as a standard may
have fetched fifty years ago, he would not look at have been artificially created by a group of specu-
it. He is not seeking for bargains ; he only wishes lators who do not mind sharing in a loss of a few
for opportunities to prove the length of his purse, thousands, if by so doing they enhance the value
Why, I know for a fact that a picture by a famous of all the other pictures they have in stock, does
master was hawked all over Europe for years for not occur to him. He is a mere child in the hands
,£6,000, and no one would even make a bid for it. of a number of men who are very much cleverer
It was offered at last to a millionaire for ^100,000, than himself. I blame him for his conceit, but
and he absolutely jumped at it." yet I pity-him."
"Simply because it was the most expensive piece "Don't waste your pity on an unworthy object,"
of canvas he had ever heard of," commented the sneered the Man with the Red Tie; "the millionaire
Critic. " Well, perhaps you are right; but still I deserves all he gets when he comes blundering into
cannot help feeling sorry for the unprotected the art market. Personally, I believe in spoiling
millionaire. You see, he has had to waste so much the Egyptians."
of his life in making money that he has never had " But he is not an Egyptian," said the Critic,
time to learn how to spend it. Least of all does The Lay Figure.