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'Death of Artist' Cover - How Does it Work?

16 January 2018

Survey Manager Andrew Davies of AXA ART Insurance explains AXA ART’s commitment to not let private clients be ‘left short’ in the event of a loss.

The purpose of insurance is to settle claims. Insurance companies want to settle claims both quickly and amicably.  On this basis, we recommend that art, antiques and collectibles are insured on an ‘agreed value’ basis (usually based on a professional third party valuation for insurance purposes), so that both the client and insured know what the basis of settlement shall be prior to any loss and can plan accordingly. Art is not a homogenised product like soap powder and the art market is full of subtle complexities, where two works by the same artist can vary enormously. Each piece of work should be valued on its own merits against the current art market. This is the main reason why art values should never be automatically indexed.

It is a commonly held belief that the death of an artist triggers an increase in the value of that artist’s lifetime’s artistic output. Perhaps the logic behind this notion is that once the artist dies no more works are produced and with a finite supply and presumed increase in demand, prices shall rise.

Today insurers such as AXA ART aim to offer their clients the most comprehensive policy cover so if a loss should occur, they will not lose out. Therefore we are introducing three new extensions in cover for private collectors:

  1. Death or permanent disability of the artist during the period of insurance; providing that the client has an independent professional valuation or purchase receipt which forms the ‘agreed value’ and this is not more than three years old, we will pay up to 200% of the ‘agreed value’ if the client can prove the increase in market value of that item.
  2. We shall also reimburse all irrecoverable costs or expenses paid on works of art commissioned by the client but not completed due to the death or permanent disability of the artist, within prescribed limits.
  3. If an item has been professionally valued within the last three years and we insure the item for that amount as an ‘agreed value’ we shall pay up to an additional 25% if the market value is proven to have increased, (with a limit up to the total sum insured for the collection).

So without being too simplistic, here are some factors that might cause values to change. For virtually all artists it is their ‘key’, seminal, classic or most typical works that are generally the most desirable, produced when they are at the ‘height of their powers’. Damian Hirst’s spins, spots or skulls for example are typical of his output. Only a few highly important artists such as Picasso have perceived ‘brands’ so strong that virtually everything that they produced is now considered valuable.

Simply put, the commercial value of an artist’s work is linked solely to demand. Demand is largely controlled by dealers, auctioneers and collectors together with the media promoting and generating interest in a particular artist. This interest may be by way of exhibitions, TV programmes and books. If the artist is in demand and fashionable at the time of their death, e.g. Lucian Freud, then it is true that retrospectives and publications shall continue to fuel interest and therefore the prices for that artist’s work.  Films such as Titanic sent related memorabilia spiralling and the recent Star Wars film did the same for that franchise’s merchandise. An exceptional auction result, for whatever reason, can recalibrate an entire market. Today an artist’s brand or reputation is a fickle thing.

The market for the best pieces by selected artists continues to rise and ultimately the onus is upon every client to seek regular revaluations in order that the ‘agreed value’ insured maintains its relevance to the current market.


Alexandra Richards, Private Clients Development Executive at Bruce Stevenson Insurance Brokers

Alexandra Richards

Private Clients Development Executive



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