August 7, 2013

Amazon Art v. Sears Roebuck's Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art

Popular -- not fine -- art
Amazon now peddles fine art by name brand artists online.

That reminds me that from 1962-1971, Sears sold art (typically prints) by famous artists, including Rembrandt, under the aegis of the cultured horror movie legend Vincent Price.

The retired Sears executive who taught my Marketing 101 course at UCLA's MBA school in 1980, George Struthers, was the man who signed the horror movie star to the deal. 
Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art 
Sears label
In 1962, ...Sears set out to end this isolation by merchandising art throughout the country, in a presentation from which pictures could be readily purchased to enrich American homes. Vincent Price was approached to take charge of this program. Price, although well-known by the public as an actor, was also known in the international art world as a collector, lecturer, former gallery-owner and connoisseur who spent a dozen years studying art at Yale, the University of London and other art centers abroad. 
Price was given complete authority to acquire any works he considered worthy of selection. He searched throughout the world for fine art to offer through Sears. He bought whole collections and even commissioned artists, including Salvador Dali, to do works specifically for this program. 
At first, the idea of a large merchandising organization, such as Sears, maintaining a serious, top-quality art collection met with skepticism. But the public - and the artists themselves - soon learned that Sears would not compromise with good taste or artistic quality. 
On October 6, 1962, the first exhibit and sale of "The Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art" took place in a Sears store in Denver, Colo. Original works of the great masters - Rembrandt, Chagall, Picasso, Whistler and more - as well as those of the best contemporary artists at the time were offered for sale in this first exhibit and throughout the program's existence. 
Items ranged in selling price from $10 to $3,000. Sears customers could also purchase items on an installment plan for as little as $5 down and $5 a month. 
Each work in the program was guaranteed as an original work of quality, just as Sears offered quality guarantees on its lawnmowers and TVs. The program was an instant success. So many pictures were snatched up the first day that an emergency shipment had to be flown in lest the walls be bare the next day. 
P. 370 of Sears Catalog
The program expanded in the weeks that followed, adding exhibits in 10 additional Sears stores including Hartford, Conn., Harrisburg, Penn., San Diego, Calif., Evansville, Ind., Madison, Wis., and Oklahoma City, Okla. After the successful exhibition and sale of these first 1,500 pieces, the program was expanded nationwide to all of Sears stores throughout the country, bringing original works of fine art to the American public in unprecedented quantity and quality. 
Works from the collection were also offered for sale through a special catalog in 1963 and 1964. In 1966, the Sears Vincent Price Gallery of Fine Art was opened in Chicago, Ill., providing a mass audience for talented, but less well-known, young artists. The collection also held temporary exhibits in several hundred communities throughout the country and permanent galleries operated in several cities. 
By 1971, when the program ended, more than 50,000 pieces of fine art passed through a constantly changing collection into American homes and offices.

Professor Struthers said Sears had a good run with it, but eventually had to call it off because by the 1970s, the price of the quality of art that Vincent Price was willing to put his name behind had inflated to way out of the range of Sears shoppers.

How authentic were these pieces? In the page from the Sears catalog above, the signed and numbered Picasso lithograph of a bull for $560 seems plausible, but the $800 Picasso oil painting of 12 square feet in a gold leaf frame sounds a little too good to be true if you are expecting Pablo to have personally put every daub of paint on a canvas coming out of his atelier.

Here's Price's daughter's* description of her father's business partnership with Sears. Price said this was his chance to democratize art collecting for the American public by putting to use all the tricks he'd learned over the years to scrimp when buying decent quality art. That attitude seems incredibly foreign to art collecting today, which is dominated by the conspicuous consumption of the ultra-rich with almost everybody else having lost interest in the subject.

Here's the training film Vincent did for Sears salesmen:
----
Yeah, I know what you are wondering, but Price had a child by each of his first two wives, and a third wife (no children).

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

brings to mind that old joke: "he's not gay, he's British..."

Anonymous said...

She never came out and said it outright, but his daughter's biography made it plain Price was bisexual. (There was a choice quote from Roddy McDowell in there.)

His last wife was, too. When she died, someone asked Price if she had any favorite hymns, and Price said "yes, and a few hers."

Anonymous said...

What In The World 4 (ca. 1952)

PANELISTS:
-Jacques Lipchitz - sculptor
-Vincent Price - actor; collector of art objects
-Dr. Carleton Coon - expert on the Middle East; anthropologist; winner of Viking Medal for psychical anthropology

Anonymous said...

What In The World 4 (ca. 1952)

PANELISTS:
-Jacques Lipchitz - sculptor
-Vincent Price - actor; collector of art objects
-Dr. Carleton Coon - expert on the Middle East; anthropologist; winner of Viking Medal for psychical anthropology


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmUnEeJiW04

Anonymous said...

Here's Price's daughter's* description of her father's business partnership with Sears. Price said this was his chance to democratize art collecting for the American public by putting to use all the tricks he'd learned over the years to scrimp when buying decent quality art. That attitude seems incredibly foreign to art collecting today, which is dominated by the ultra-rich with almost everybody else having lost interest in the subject.



Why are some here falling into the propaganda that since he liked fine art he must obviously be a swishy switch hitter. Can't straight guys like and appreciate good art? John Carradine was a sculptor and studied it at university, does that make him gay too?
Come on. Roddy MacDowell, a very unbiased source.


I think its interesting that he truly wanted the public at the time to gain an appreciation of fine art. Can we see anyone on todays A or Blist hollywood doing that? George Clooney? Pitt? Damon? Don't think so


Just finished hearing an old time radio program Price was on called the Saint Simon Templar. One episode he has to help a museum work out a crooked art scheme to smuggle in priceless paintings. So a little irony in the mix of art imitating real life in more ways than one.

JerseyGuy said...

Steve,

Very interesting article linked at Drudge Report regarding High IQ women having less children, citing a study by Kanazawa:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/07/smart-women-not-having-kids?

As expected from the Guardian, she dismisses the study as returning to a patriarchal society. However, I think deep down inside, many liberals know that childlessness is just pure selfishness and unsatisfying when it becomes pervasive throughout. I was happy to see Mike Huckabee and Tucker Carlson comment on a recent Time Magazine cover story discussing child-free couples and their expressing disdain for childlessness.

As you would expect, Walshe states that women can only have children under a regime full of flexible work schedules, universal health care and subsidized day care. Fine. In fact, I strongly support flexible work schedules (especially tele-commuting and some form of universal health care as well). But I think its quite clear from looking at Europe that these policies are not even close to being adequate in a society devoid of a sense of duty or some sort of spiritual understanding of the one's place in the world. Would love to hear your thoughts on the article.



Anonymous said...

So many people think Price was British. He was from St. Louis-but he did spend a lot of time working in the UK with people who had a background in theater. His daughter thought that was what made him willing to be in so much schlock-the British theater folks had a tradition that they had to keep working all the time, and he picked it up.

For other things, I think when someone's daughter does everything short of saying "yes, my dad was bisexual," it's pretty strong evidence he was.

He was, however, a good actor, a genuine intellectual, and a man who tried very hard to put some of the finer things in life within the reach of the general public. It wasn't just painting-he did some neat things with cooking, too. I can't find the video of him steaming fish in a dishwasher on Youtube, but it was incredible to see, and it actually produced a pretty good meal.

Whiskey said...

JerseyGuy: High IQ women had a lot more barriers to having kids in the past before the welfare state ... and Birth Control!

Rather, High IQ women find few guys around who are sexy enough to have kids by and who will stick around. Since their higher IQs lead them away from the wishful thinking that the Welfare State will continue forever or that having a kid as a single Mom will not have a big probability of poverty for kids.

So absent a ton of high IQ guys who look like Brad Pitt and stick around like a beta male and have a lot status/dominance/sexiness; high IQ (White) women don't have kids ... but plenty of sex. Because, condoms.

As for art, yes it is gay now! Gay, gay, gay now! Not always. But like singing, dancing, music, a lot of books, etc. it is fabulously, fabulously gay. Gays (and women) tend to crowd straight guys in any field.

Much of male White guy culture is oriented around proving non-gayness, witness tats, slovenly dress, bro-ness, copying Black thug rappers, etc.

Anonymous said...

Vincent Price didn't tripped my gaydar. Paul Lynde did. Hayden Rorke didn't, but I suppose he should have. Andy Griffith tripped by sanctimonus-douchedar.

X said...

I've seen a fair number of original works or prints sell in actions for $300-$5000 that were sold through Sears in the 1960's.

Despite the propaganda, art is a poor investment. Like the lottery, it is easier for us to identify with the one lucky guy who purchased a Warhol for $300 in 1970 that is now worth $2 million than the corresponding thousands of people who purchased art for the same price from artists who are now completely forgotten.

Chris Anderson said...

This starts out seeming like a joke or parody. Vincent Price and Sears? Peddling art? Come on...

But like the very best of isteve articles, I learned something today.

Bisexual or not, Mr. Price never set off my gaydar. My brother and I were big fans of his horror stuff from the 60's, re-run on channel 43 I. The 1970's.

He seemed cultured, not necessarily gay. I suppose now we must conflate the two. Pffft.

Matthew said...

News flash: culture - appreciating it, or creating it - isn't just for gays, women, and liberals, though Price may have been one-and-a-half of the three. Time to remember that.

Chris Anderson said...

If Vincent Price had lived longer (granted he'd be 102 this year) he would have been the male equivalent of Betty White.

Anonymous said...

Vincent Prices was awesome in that Alice Cooper video.

a woman said...

Chris,

Price "never set off [your] gaydar"? Time to accept you may not Have gaydar!

Anonymous said...

That attitude seems incredibly foreign to art collecting today, which is dominated by the conspicuous consumption of the ultra-rich with almost everybody else having lost interest in the subject.

Steve, please check your financial envy.
Serviceable art is available at all price ranges . More than ever in history , art is one of the most democratic, widely available choices we add to our lives.

ectomorph said...

My father bought a fine "Vincent Price Collection" Whistler etching for $29 at the Canadian counterpart of Sears, then known as Simpsons-Sears, around 1970. It might be worth a couple of thousand today. Although it is not hugely valuable or important, I think its very dignified presence in our living room served its purpose in making me feel less distant from the world of fine art and good taste (despite being far from rich).

Thanks for filling me in on the background of the Collection.

Anonymous said...

Price was almost certainly gay, <a href="http://www.vincentprice.org/bios/article.html> his gay daughter suspected it</a>.

His daughter's lesbianism provides a little support for genetic gayness.

"Price "never set off [your] gaydar"? Time to accept you may not Have gaydar!"
If Price isn't showing up as a blip on your gaydar screen, don't waste your time having it recalibrated-get yourself tested for Aspergers.

Anonymous said...

his gay daughter suspected it.

Oops.

Anonymous said...

"Yeah, I know what you are wondering, but Price had a child by each of his first two wives, and a third wife (no children)."

Which proves? With eyes squeezed shut, a little imagination and a little friction, man can accomplish anything. Ask any inmate.

Anonymous said...

He was, however, a good actor, a genuine intellectual, and a man who tried very hard to put some of the finer things in life within the reach of the general public

He also converted to Catholicism in his later years.

Chubby Ape said...

Nerds and women like to giggle about "naughty" things like gayness, and engineering types are too square-headed to imagine anyone having an interest in art who was some sort of pervert, so it's no big surprise that almost all the comments are about Vincent Price's sexual preferences. We live in such shabby and shallow times.

Drawbacks said...

I read an obituary of Price that said his camp voice dated from the time he spent as a young man, imitating Oscar Wilde every night in a one-man show that he toured extensively around the US.

Anonymous said...

From Wikipedia:

"In the summer of 1977, (Price) began performing as Oscar Wilde in the one-man stage play Diversions and Delights written by John Gay and directed by Joe Hardy. The play is set in a Parisian theatre on a night about one year before Wilde's death. The original tour of the play was a success in every city it played except for New York City. In the summer of 1979, Price performed the role of Wilde at the Tabor Opera House in Leadville, Colorado, on the same stage from which Wilde had spoken to miners about art some 96 years before. Price would eventually perform the play worldwide. In her biography of her father, Victoria Price stated that several members of Price's family and friends thought that this was the best acting that he ever performed."

Mr. Anon said...

I saw an interview with Vincent Price sometime in the seventies or eighties (I think it was Carson). He was talking about his (then) latest gig - a one-man stage show (which I believe he may have helped write) about Oscar Wilde. So, yeah, the signs were clear to see that he was not entirely straight.

He made a lot of pretty good schlock in his time: "The Fly", "The Abominable Dr. Phibes", "The Witchfinder General", "Theatre of Blood". They don't make schlock like that any more.

I recently saw a water-color exhibit; the price of the paintings ranged from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars - within the range of a serious collector of modest means. Some of these paintings were quite good - quite different from the self-consciously transgressive crap that passes for art nowadays. While ambling through that gallery, it dawned on me that there was more actual artistic talent on display there than there has been in every Turner Prize exhibit since it's inception in 1984. We live in an age of trash.

Just Another Guy With a 1911 said...

I really wanted to talk about Art in the Demotic Age, but I feel compelled to make an observation re: the theory that the decline of the U.S. is inexorably linked to female preference for Alpha males.

I was at Boston ComicCon last weekend. There were tons of guys (teens to early 20's) dressed as the current incarnation of Doctor Who. Many of them were also there with, gasp, girls. I mean, clearly dressing up as Dr. Who has a certain utility in attracting at least one cohort of females, many of them conventionally attractive to downright cute. (It is, admittedly, a pretty easy costume to throw together). I find this is *stark* contrast to world I grew up in where, yes, I watched Dr. Who; used to be broadcast Sundays on PBS. Now, I certainly did not talk about it. "The first rule of Dr. Who Club was NOT to talk about Dr. Who Club."

On the other hand, one friend of mine disregard this most cardinal tenant of survival in the dangerous high school hallways of mid-80's America. He was Jewish and one of the most gifted guys that I know. (And I was in a town that had an ABUNDANCE of high achieving Ashkenazim, so this is not just the impression of a somewhat dimwitted America Irish-Catholic). Anyway - he had a Tom Baker scarf, his sonic screwdriver and wore and carried them proudly. He was a mathematics prodigy and, perhaps, thought that one day he would travel through space and time - a profoundly Western/Faustian concept and not one common to the Magian outlook one would suspect of his background. He was also staunch Anglophile - at least England as conceived of through Masterpiece Theater, History Books, and Dr. Who. (I think he might have started affecting an English accent at one point or at least using words like "Torch" and "Bonnet"). As you can imagine - this kid's life was a living HELL. Now - not in get his ass beat way, the world did not work that way where I was from, most of the time at least. He was excluded from a lot of stuff and even all the other AP kids did not embrace him. He was a good guy. At the end of the day, he was who he was.

But the point being - there has been a HUGE shift. Now, it may be a result of the feminizing of the culture and girls like to see guys play dress up. So I am NOT saying it is a positive good, just observing a change in our civilization that seems to be a data point that militates against the theory that girls don't make passes at guys who wear glasses.

As for the art in the DEMOTIC age. Clearly - we have reached a point where original art that reflects our core Culture is impossible. (All we get now, for the most part, is denigration of traditional forms as part of the war against Western Civilization, or mass produced stuff). I think Barzun got it right when he said we have exhausted our possibilities. While comic books are a continuation, perfection almost, of the Western artistic technique, one should not confuse common technique with common culture.

But it is telling that withing recent memory, a large retailer thought that enough people *cared* enough about Western Culture to learn about it or, at the very least, signal to others that they were interested. Of course, with the lack of elite that actively identifies with that tradition, there is much less interest or social utility in pursuing those interests, although, I have found, they convey a great deal of benefit on their own. (A similar concept was the Everyman's Library books that used to be found on the bookshelves of modest middle class homes, and can still be found occasionally in the used book stores that dot coastal Maine).

As for declining birth rates: Spengler, the actual Spengler, not the one on the internet, actually identified declining birth rates as a common trait of late (The Winter Stage) of a Culture were you have a civilization but its mojo is gone and people are not invested in it, sort of like a patient on life support, and popular culture becomes nothing more than panem et circenses.

IA said...

Steve, that's really interesting about Sears and Vincent Price. According to Blouin Art Sales Index Picasso value has gone from a base of $100 in 1973 to $6000 or so today. $800 adjusted for inflation is about $4,200. $4,200 x 6000 = $25,200,000 which is about right for a Picasso. Not bad return on investment! You might want to change the dimensions though. Its not 12 square feet, its 3 x 4 feet.

If you're interested in art and forgeries these days see Orson Welles' F for Fake. Its got Welles, Picasso's mistress, an interesting forger, the 70s jet set in Majorca or Ibiza (can't remember which), and unbelievably, Clifford Irving, the man who wrote the fake Howard Hughes stuff. Quite a cast of characters. And quite a look at art and forgery by the former painting student and, pre-theatrical, artist.

Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Price was almost certainly gay, <a href="http://www.vincentprice.org/bios/article.html> his gay daughter suspected it</a>.
________

That was an interesting read.
Thanks for the link. Price was an aesthetic, and in reading his daughter's comments about his friendships and "passions" for both men and, it would appear,at least some women, I am reminded of two gay men I know who are similar to Price in intellect and in their interests and in their use of the word "passion" regarding "friendships." I can't quite do into it, but I am thinking that one day down the road, we'll discover gay men are a neurotransmitter away from straight men, as gayness in so many men seems biologically connected to passions stirred by shape, texture, and color (thus, their interest in art), and by sound (thus, their interest in music), and by the dramatic or hyperbolic (opera, camp, the stage).

Anonymous said...

A woman said:

"Price "never set off [your] gaydar"? Time to accept you may not Have gaydar!"

This brings to mind an interesting question: Do women have finely tuned gaydars, (vis a vis men, that is.)? My intuition is that women are prone to false positives, as are straight men. Gay men seem to recognise the 'no way, Jose' vibe in an instant.

Gilbert P.

David said...

>Orson Welles' F for Fake<

Welles discovered Price.

Anonymous said...

"Unaware of what year it was, Joe wandered the streets desperate for help. But the English language had deteriorated into a hybrid of hillbilly, valleygirl, inner-city slang and various grunts. Joe was able to understand them, but when he spoke in an ordinary voice he sounded pompous and faggy to them."

Anonymous said...

Very interesting.

Anonymous said...

I'll take your comment as one who knows from experience

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with you. seems to me that everybody's on this gay kik.maybe they are the gay ones seeing how they continue to overlook everything is done he is one of the greatest pioneers of horror flicks.and I suppose Sean Connery to Nicolas Cage and many many more are gay because they appreciate fine art.

Anonymous said...

the one thing I haven't understood reading through all this is if he was gay what does it matter do you have any pictures hanging in your house because if you do does that make you gay just because you hung pictures in your house