How much would a median piece at a top art museum be worth?

I was recently in NY & DC which meant we hit up a ton of art museums. While each museum had a couple of pieces by what would be considered household names, there were also a ton of paintings by artists that only art historians would really know about.

Most of the art being sold that the general public hears about tends to be the extremely famous pieces that set some kind of record. But if you picked a work that was typical for a top art museum and sold it on the private market, what sort of price would you expect? Obviously, coming up with an exact figure is impossible but I’m more interested in a broad range. Would it be closer to $10K? $100K? $1M? $10M?

Hard to say. The most expensive paintings are appraised in the $130-140 million range (over twice that according to Wikipedia), but the museums and previous owners never pay anything close to that. Washington’s National Gallery has two buildings, the West (which handles antiquities) and the East (which handles the pieces from the last 100 years). While the West gallery has a Leonardo, a Titian, a few Picassos and quite a few Impressionists (though those are touring at the moment), I’d guess the median of their displayed items is closer to $15 million. East Gallery has fewer big names and competes with the vastly superior Hirshhorn across the National Mall from it, and has median values closer to $80 thousand. Probably less now, since I think they’re currently displaying the Bill Cosby private collection. These are prestigious venues, but prices for modern art are rigged beyond measurability.

New York’s Metropolitan Gallery of Art, likely the nation’s finest art museum, has a few dozen pieces appraised at over $100 million, but displays gobs and gobs of less-valuable pieces; I was unable to see the entire collection in one day. I’d guess the median for the entire permanent collection to be $40-50 thousand.

Dump any of these collections on the open market and the prices would fall precipitously.

More accurate to say a few dozen over 10 million; there are only ten paintings in the world appraised at over $100 million, sorry.

And even if one museum owned them all, that would have virtually no bearing on the median value of pieces in the collection.

The Louvre has the likes of the Mona Lisa, of course, but ~35,000(!) other works on display!

Median (which discounts the outliers) painting value? My WAG would be closer to $10K.

Is it possible that Musee d’Orsay has a higher median value collection? No antiquities and a smaller collection with more artists I like a lot.

Maybe?? I think they have roughly 1/10 as many works on display as the Louvre, and the Impressionist sort of stuff they specialize in is certainly very popular.

Years ago, I remember a couple grabbed a vase out of one of DC museums and ran off. It turned out that the piece wasn’t terribly valuable, maybe $5,000 range.

This probably was accurate when posted (13 years ago). Since then prices have skyrocketed. Here’s an article featuring ten paintings that have sold for more than $145 million.

And there is nothing terribly impressive about these (some are decidedly ordinary on the scale of fine art). It would be easy to name dozens (hundreds?) of paintings that would fetch far more.