DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – The fair market values of some of the most popular pieces in the Detroit Institute of Arts – including Bruegel the Elder’s “The Wedding Dance” and a Van Gogh self-portrait – have been released.

Christie’s auction house appraised about 2,800 paintings, sculptures, pottery and other city-owned artwork at the city’s request. The list of the items and how much each would fetch at sale were released Thursday by the city.

“The Wedding Dance” is valued at $100 million to $200 million, while Van Gogh’s “Self Portrait with Straw Hat” was given a price tag of between $80 million and $150 million.

The high values of some of Detroit’s pieces are not surprising, said Charles Guerin, director of the Hyde Collection in Glen Falls, New York.

“The art market has become a place to invest large sums of money,” Guerin said. “Art is a commodity, especially when you get into those numbers. It’s amazing somebody would even have $150 million to spend. There are a lot of wealthy people in the world who can look at $150 million as if it’s chump change.”

According to the appraisal by New York-based Christie’s, the city-owned pieces at the Detroit Institute of Arts are collectively worth between $454 million to $867 million. They represent about five percent of the museum’s estimated 66,000-work collection. Christie’s said 11 works of art account for 75 percent of their total estimate:

  • “The Wedding Dance,” Pieter Bruegel I — $100 million-$200 million
  • “Self Portrait with Straw Hat,” Vincent Van Gogh — $80 million-$150 million
  • “The Visitation,” Rembrandt Harmensz. Van Rijn — $50 million-$90 million
  • “Le guéridon,” Henri Matisse — $40 million-$80 million
  • “Danseuses au foyer (La Contrebasse),” Edgar Degas — $20 million-$40 million
  • “Gladioli,” Claude Monet — $12 million-$20 million
  • “Scheme for the decoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel,” Michelangelo — $12 million-$20 million
  • “The Palla Altarpiece: Tobias and Three Archangels,” Neri Di Bicci — $8 million-$15 million
  • “Portrait of Hendrik Swalmius,” Frans Hals — $6 million-$10 million
  • “Madonna and Child,” Giovanni Bellini and Workshop — $4 million-$10 million
  • “In the Studio,” Michiel Sweerts — $5 million-$10 million

Click here to read Christie’s complete appraisal report (.pdf format)

State-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr hired Christie’s to appraise city-owned art in the museum, which can be considered an asset during a bankruptcy. He filed for bankruptcy in July, and federal Judge Steven Rhodes approved the petition Dec. 3.

Orr has said the city’s debt is at least $18 billion, which includes $5.7 billion in unfunded health care obligations and $3.5 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. Orr is expected to present a plan of adjustment for fiscal restructuring to the bankruptcy court in early January that will include his recommendations for the art.

Guerin cautioned against selling any of the art, saying it would be “short-sighted.”

“Detroit is a great city. One of the things that make it a great city is that it has an absolutely great museum,” he said.

Christie’s also submitted five alternatives to selling the artwork along with their appraisal report. Their suggestions to use the city-owned works to raise money while allowing the collection to remain in tact include:

  • Use city-owned works as collateral for loan or a line of credit
  • Identify a partner museum for long-term lease of city-owned works of art
  • Create a “masterpiece trust” to be accessed by members of a museum consortium
  • Sale and permanent loan or deposit back to the museum
  • Traveling exhibition of select works


Gov. Rick Snyder told reporters the state could help broker a deal by supporting a fund to protect the museum’s collection. The museum released a statement Friday saying it’s “pleased that the negotiations around the thoughtful and creative plan … continue to progress.”

Donors have pledged $5 million to help prevent the sale of the artwork. A mediator asked foundations to raise $500 million to keep the artwork from being sold.

The DIA is considered one of the top art museums in the country. The city purchased many of the pieces in the collection years ago during more prosperous times, which are considered as assets. Estimates of the DIA’s complete collection come in around $4 billion.

Continuing Coverage: Detroit Bankruptcy

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