Obviously, who paints the picture is important. Artists are brands that can go in and out of fashion. As recently as 10 years ago, the highest auction price for Francis Bacon stood at $8.5m. The record $143m that was paid last week is a measure of a shift in taste: whereas 40 years ago the highest prices were achieved by old masters, now huge glamour and demand is focused on modern and contemporary art. It also reflects the greater availability of top-quality modern works than of top-quality old masters, which are increasingly rare.
There are certain eternals who will always be valuable. It is hard to imagine art history ever downgrading the importance of Rembrandt or Rubens, Leonardo or Raphael, Picasso or Matisse. But in recent years artists such as the surrealists and the German expressionists have grown more expensive as their importance in the history of art has been reassessed. Similarly, if an artist has just featured in a major exhibition at the Tate, for example, then that kind of high-profile exposure can also create a spike in their prices