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Art as a Wartime Investment: Conspicuous Consumption and Discretion


  • Kim Oosterlinck

    Corresponding author
    1. Université libre de Bruxelles (Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management, Centre Emile Bernheim) and CEPR
    • Corresponding author: Kim Oosterlinck, Université Libre de Bruxelles, 50 av. Roosevelt, CP 114/03, 1050 Brussels, Belgium. Email:

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  • The author thanks Virginie Müller and Désirée Neuman for their outstanding research assistance as well as the editor, Rachel Griffith, three anonymous referees, Fabian Bocart, Michaël Bordo, Géraldine David, Jeroen Euwe, Georges Gallais-Hamonno, Noémie Goldman, William Goetzmann, John Landon-Lane, Elisabetta Lazzaro, David Le Bris, Benjamin Mandel, Sébastien Pouget, Luc Renneboog, Hugh Rockoff, Christophe Spaenjers, Ariane Szafarz, Filip Vermeylen, Eugene White and the participants of the art market workshop (ULB, 2011 and 2015), the Seminar on Modern and Comparative Economic History (London School of Economics) the Departmental Seminar of Ben-Gurion University, the Market and Might seminar (Getty Research Institute), the ACEI (2010) and EHES (2009) conferences for useful suggestions and comments. The author acknowledges the financial support of the National Bank of Belgium. Last but certainly not least, the author is grateful to the Economics Department of Rutgers University for providing a stimulating research environment. The first version of this article was indeed finalised while the author was Sidney I. Simon Visiting Scholar at Rutgers University.


During World War II, artworks significantly outperformed all alternative investments in Occupied France. With the surge in demand for portable and easy-to-hide (discreet) assets such as artworks and collectible stamps, prices boomed. This suggests that discreet assets may be viewed as crypto-currencies, demand for which varies depending on the environment and the need to hide value. Regarding art market valuation, this article argues that while some economic actors derive significant utility from conspicuous consumption, others value the discretion offered by artworks. Motives for purchasing art may thus vary over time.