Otis Kaye, Heart of the Matter (1963). Oil on canvas 127 x 108 cm (50 x 42 1/2 in).                        © The Art Institute of Chicago

Otis Kaye, Heart of the Matter (1963)

This painting by Otis Kaye (1885–1974), a German-American trompe-l'œil painter, reflects a long-standing engagement with Rembrandt's Aristotle with a Bust of Homer (1653), which the New York Metropolitan Museum acquired in 1961 for the then record-breaking sum of $2.3 million (the equivalent of around $19 million today, adjusted for inflation). I particularly love the way Kaye comments on money's intrinsic deceptiveness, while placing it in multiple simultaneous temporalities: from Aristotle to the Dutch Golden Age to postwar America. 

Since trompe-l'œil paintings of currency had been made illegal in the US in 1909, Kaye largely painted for himself. During his lifetime, he never exhibited or sold his paintings. Instead he gave them to friends and family as gifts. It was only in the 1980s, alongside the financialization of the world economy after the end of Bretton Woods, that Kaye's paintings started to sell posthumously at auctions, some for several million dollars.

Kaye gave Heart of the Matter originally to friends as a wedding gift. The Art Institute of Chicago received it as an anonymous gift in 2015.

For more information, see Otis Kaye: Money, Mystery, and Mastery, ed. James M. Bradburne and Geraldine Banks ,‎ with an essay by Mark D. Mitchell (New Britain CT: New Britain Museum of American Art, 2014).