and we've got some numbers to prove it. Art sales The two most expensive paintings sold at auction have both been Impressionist works &...

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Impressionism is big business — and we’ve got some numbers to prove it.

Art sales

The two most expensive paintings sold at auction have both been Impressionist works — that is, if you count Vincent van Gogh as an Impressionist, which does happen. (He is more often categorized as Post-Impressionist.)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s 1876 “Bal au moulin de la Galette, Montmartre” sold for $78.1 million on May 17, 1990. Van Gogh’s 1890 “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” sold for $82.5 million just two days earlier. Paintings have sold at auction for more since then, but adjusted for inflation, those two still rule.

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Some of the best-attended exhibitions in U.S. museums have been of Impressionism:

Seattle Art Museum’s biggest hit to date was the 1999 show “Impressionism: Paintings Collected by European Museums,” which brought in 315,943 people. The show also broke attendance records at the Denver Art Museum and the High Art Museum in Atlanta.

The same year, “Van Gogh’s Van Goghs: Masterpieces From the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam,” drew 821,000 visitors to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

In 1995, 964,895 people attended “Claude Monet: 1840-1926,” at the Art Institute of Chicago, and the following year, 550,000 attended “Cezanne” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. That’s not bad. But the city of Philadelphia figures that exhibit-related tourism brought in an additional $60 million in revenue.

Gift-shop sales

If Impressionist paintings are out of your price range, there are plenty of other options available: Monet cellphone skins, Renoir umbrellas and totes, Cezanne tile coaster sets, Degas switchplate covers, Renoir handbags and Manet mousepads are among the many items you can find in museum gift shops. (One of us has a pair of pointy Monet slingbacks in the closet.) Of course, there are also exhibition catalogs and prints.

How much do museums care about gift-store sales? A lot.

When “Impressionism: Paintings Collected by European Museums” showed at the High Museum, the gift shop alone brought in $2.7 million! (Seattle Art Museum would not divulge its gift-shop sales numbers.)

Impressionism may be on the wane as the biggest art fad, however. Consider this: When Christo’s rambling outdoor art installation “The Gates” was on view in New York’s Central Park, it’s estimated that 4 million people viewed it and the resulting tourism brought the city some $250 million. Now that’s big business.