Quantifying Artistic Success: Ranking French Painters - and Paintings - from Impressionism to Cubism

David W. Galenson

NBER Working Paper No. 7407
Issued in October 1999
NBER Program(s):   LS

For 35 leading painters who lived in France during the first century of modern art, this paper uses textbook illustrations as the basis for measuring the importance of both painters and individual paintings. The rankings pose an interesting puzzle: why do some of the greatest artists not produce famous paintings, and why do some relatively minor artists produce some of the most famous individual paintings? The answer may lie in an important difference in approach between experimental and conceptual painters. Experimental artists work incrementally, their innovations appear gradually, and they generally do their best work late in their careers; conceptual artists innovate more suddenly, produce individual breakthrough works, and usually do their best work early in their careers. This paper demonstrates that artistic success can usefully be quantified, and that doing so increases our understanding of the working methods of modern painters.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w7407

Published: Galenson, David W. and Bruce A. Weinberg. "Creating Modern Art: The Changing Careers Of Painters In France From Impressionism To Cubism," American Economic Review, 2001, v91(4,Sep), 1063-1071.

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