Book Series Collectors and Dealers, vol. 3

Auction Prices and the Evolution of Taste in Dutch and Flemish Golden Age Painting (1642–2011)

The Value of Taste

Peter Carpreau

  • Pages: 295 p.
  • Size:220 x 280 mm
  • Illustrations:82 tables b/w.
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2017

  • ISBN: 978-1-909400-48-1
  • Hardback
  • Available


“In conclusion, I believe this book should be of interest for scholars working on art market or focusing on seventeenth-century Netherlandish paintings. The book provides also information on the market of specific artists which is bound to be useful for scholars working on these artists. Furthermore, by its broad scope the book is also likely to appeal to scholars interested in data collection, treatment and interpretation.”(Kim Oosterlinck, in Journal of Cultural Economics, 28/03/2019)

“Overall, Carpreau has produced a study that will be useful to scholars considering seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish art from a broad perspective as well as to those with more focused interests, who will find handy reference material. Scholars interested in art and value in any time or place will appreciate his clear methodological model for quantitative study. Of the 174 artists included, some are nearly unknown, and Carpreau has provided foundational data for future work (perhaps graduate research) and new questions in Netherlandish art history.” (Marsely Kehoe, in Historians of Netherlandish Art Reveiws, December 2019)


Peter Carpreau studied Art History at the University of Leuven and the Sorbonne Paris IV. Today he is Head of the Old Masters Departement of the M Museum in Leuven.


Taste is a well known but largely underestimated phenomenon. Yet it is one of the factors that has shaped our knowledge and view of art. Why is Rembrandt van Rijn today considered to be one of the greatest painters in European art while Gerard de Lairesse, Rembrandt’s younger contemporary and one of the best-selling painters of his day, is now forgotten?

This book is a systematic and quantitative study of taste. More specifically it focuses on the painters of the seventeenth-century Low Countries and follows the changes in consumer evaluation of them from the seventeenth century up to 2008. Proceeding from the same starting point as Gerald Reitlinger in his monumental The Economics of Taste, it uses the prices paintings have fetched at auction as a basis for tracing trends in the taste of the art-buying public.

Whereas Reitlinger’s approach was rather intuitive, this study develops a sound methodological basis for researching taste and auction prices. It is not only quantitative methods and properties of auction prices that require a specific approach: in historical research quantitative data and analyses are only reliable when they can also be tested against qualitative or historical sources. Based on a statistical analysis, various ‘universal’ painters, such as Rubens and Rembrandt, are defined. In addition, however, specific genres such as landscape, portrait, history painting, and so on are analysed. In the case of eighty-three painters there is sufficient information to allow the profiling of individual price trends. But other quantitative data drawn from the examination of collections or catalogues raisonnés prove an additional source of information when compared with auction prices. This book shows what big data and statistics can mean to our understanding of art.