£20m for a T-Rex? Why dinosaurs are eating up the art market
King of the Tyrant Lizards: this is the translation of the Greek and Latin name attributed, in 1905, to a species of dinosaur newly discovered by the president of the American Museum of Natural History, the paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn.
Its coinage was an inspirational marketing coin: The first thing many think of when they hear the word “dinosaur” is the creepy figure (flapping tail, powerful hind legs, bone-crunching mandible) of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which lived in what is now the American West around the end of the Cretaceous period, about 66–68 million years ago. In a new TV documentary, Into Dinosaur Valley, airing tonight, historian Dan Snow tells the story of his discovery, along with that of various other dinosaurs.
Today, in addition to being scary, the remains of a T-Rex can be incredibly expensive: later this month, a 40-foot-long T-Rex skeleton nicknamed Shen (a Chinese word for ” Godlike”) was due to be listed for sale by Christie’s in Hong Kong, with a top estimate of $25m (£21.2m) – until news broke earlier this week that the lot had been took of. Supposedly, the sender, following a change of heart, decided to loan Shen to a museum instead – although according to reports in America there was controversy over how much of the skeleton was fake.
Next month, however, at a single lot sale in New York, Sotheby’s still expects to sell a T-Rex skull (which it calls Maximus) for up to $20 million. It follows another sale held this summer by the auction house, also in New York, of a 22-foot-long Gorgosaurus (a predatory relative of the T-Rex that lived around 80 million years ago). years), which cost $6.1 million.
But perhaps more surprising than these outrageous prices is that in Hong Kong, Shen would have been the star of a 20th and 21st century art auction, rather than a natural history sale. Apparently the latest fad among the super-rich is to display fossilized skeletons alongside paintings and sculptures. The dinosaurs, it seems, now roam in a new environment – the fine art habitat.