Over the weekend I happened to finish reading a book about the Amber Room in St Petersburg. This priceless 'lost' treasure has been re-created at a cost of millions of dollars. And it set me thinking about the annual turnover of works of art and the millions and millions of dollars, pound, yen, euros etc invested. And yet these works of man (and woman) in many cases are not even unique. Rodin produced multiple copies, there are dozens of 'original' Audubon illustrations of birds, and even more by Gould and Lear. I know, because I own a few of the latter.
Among all the great works of art there are also many that are of contentious attribution. Their value may plummet if they are shown to be copies or fakes. The famous example of art being worth more than nature is the painting of a cheetah by George Stubbs. But there are thousands of other examples.
When I was in Dresden a couple of years ago, I remember marvelling at the reconstruction of the cathedral. To me a monument to man's folly of irrational belief, but nonetheless a remarkable construction. It cost millions to rebuild, but it was also possible to rebuild it so convincingly that almost no one in the future will know that it is not original. Unfortunately we cannot do this with rainforest, or almost any other natural habitat. Once the habitat is destroyed, and some of the species go extinct that's it. It would be rather like trying to rebuild Dresden cathedral without being able to have any gold leaf.
The budgets of nature conservation organisations pale into insignificance when compared with those of the arts, and yet what we are trying to preserve is truly irreplaceable.
Perhaps there should be a natural world tax on every work of art that is sold for more than $1 million?