Abstract: The "Business" of Art: The Painter's Wife

Christiane Diehl Taylor


Although fine art has been bought and sold for centuries, business historians have paid little attention to the commercial aspects of the art world. To demonstrate the insight that they could provide, this presentation employs the construct of social capital and examines the lives of painters Theodore Clement Steele and Jackson Pollock and their wives Mary Lakin Steele, Selma Neubacher Steele, and Lee Krasner Pollock through their biographies, memoirs, personal correspondence, published interviews, and the materials issued in conjunction with exhibits of their work. It argues that although wives marginally participated in the actual production of their husbands' paintings, they often took active roles in the promotion and sales of their husbands' output. Wives' greatest contributions, however, came upon the deaths of their spouses. Widowhood empowered them. They molded their spouses' images and reputations, even to the point of making them romantic or legendary, mythical figures. Moreover, because they often inherited many, if not all of the artists' unsold output, they gained inventory control and thereby could limit public access to the viewing and purchasing of the works—further enhancing their value.