2017 Top – The best sales of 2017


Discover the best sales every Friday! Every other Friday, Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. The latest results for May have turned the ranking on its head, as evidenced by this overview of the 10 most expensive works sold since January 2017.

Two months after our Quarterly Top 10, the world’s best auction rankings have been changed immeasurably by Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips’ New York sales, which generated more than $1.4 billion in one week. With entry to the top 10 ranked at $17 million last March, the figure climbed to $28.8 million this time, thanks to the new world record reached by Peter Doig, at Phillips. Phillips were delighted with the results, even though the $110.3 million generated by its major contemporary sale on May 18th would not be enough to equal the price of one painting by Basquiat, who comes first in our ranking. With a new record set at almost $110.5 million, Basquiat far outstripped the flowery landscape by Gustav Klimt (Bauerngarten), the best sale in the first quarter of 2017.

Top 10 for the best sales in 2017
© Artprice.com
Artist Artwok Price Date Sale
1 Jean-Michel BASQUIAT (1960-1988) Untitled (1982) $110 487 500 18-mai-17 Sotheby’s New York
2 Gustav KLIMT (1862-1918) Bauerngarten (1907) $59 004 638 01-mars-17 Sotheby’s London
3 Constantin BRANCUSI (1876-1957) La muse endormie (1913) $57 367 500 15-mai-17 Christie’s New York
4 Cy TWOMBLY (1928-2011) Leda and the Swan (1962) $52 887 500 17-mai-17 Christie’s New York
5 Francis BACON (1909-1992) Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer (1963) $51 767 500 17-mai-17 Christie’s New York
6 CHEN Rong (1189-1258) Six Dragons $48 967 500 15-mars-17 Christie’s New York
7 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) Femme assise, robe bleue (1939) $45 047 500 15-mai-17 Christie’s New York
8 Jean-Michel BASQUIAT (1960-1988) La Hara (1981) $34 967 500 17-mai-17 Christie’s New York
9 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) Femme assise dans un fauteuil (1917-1920) $30 487 500 15-mai-17 Christie’s New York
10 Peter DOIG (1959-) Rosedale (1991) $28 810 000 18-mai-17 Phillips New York

If Christie’s was happy to take seven places in the top ten this year, Sotheby’s can also hold their head high as they now hold the new historical record for an American artist after selling Basquiat’s Untitled(1982, 183 x 173cm), whose price has multiplied by 5,800 in 33 years and is now owned by Japanese collector Yusaku Maezawa. The businessman created Basquiat’s previous record by paying $57.2 million for a large work (238 x 500cm) at Christie’s on May 10th, 2016. Last year, Basquiat was ranked 7th in the world’s top 500, one of the most spectacular rises of our time: a work bought for $100 in 2000 is now worth $1,098 on average, an increase of 998%.

Star artists and emblematic works far exceed the objective criteria used to assess value. Prices depends on the interest of the most powerful buyers on the planet and, of course, on their colossal means. The worldwide enthusiasm for European and American masterpieces has deeply transformed the art market, making it difficult to predict the high prices that the best pieces can attain. One of the finest acquisitions and most unpredictable results of the season was Constantin Brancusi’s Sleeping muse, a work valued at $6.6m in 1997, estimated at between $25 and $35m 20 years later and finally reaching $57.3m (the new record for a Brancusi) after an endless bidding battle of nearly ten minutes, which is rare in a public sale. Unique in its aesthetic purity, the Sleeping Muse was sculpted in 1909 in marble from which Brancusi created a plaster cast and then a limited edition of six bronzes. The work presented at auction on May 15th was precisely the sixth and last known bronze of this small series.

Christie’s best sale at their contemporary art auction on May 17th was for a Twombly, who was 19th in the world’s most successful artists list in 2016 and was recently honoured with a major retrospective at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. His painting Leda and the Swanhad the double privilege of being “only” $5m behind one of the most emblematic works of art of the 20th century (the Sleeping Muse) and ahead of two major Picasso works… In just few years, the prices of Twombly’s paintings have reached and sometimes exceeded major works by Picasso, Warhol, Monet, Modigliani, Bacon and Giacometti.

But American artists do not have the monopoly of spectacular price surges, especially since Chinese art has been included in the big US sales in New York… Christie’s has just set an exceptional record, which was almost overshadowed by the Basquiat and Brancusi sales: the work Six Dragons by Chen Rong , an absolute rarity, went through the roof at nearly $49 million, against a high estimate of $1.8 million. During this first quarter, Chen Rong has outsold Picasso… The integration of Chinese cultural heritage masterpieces into Western sales marks an essential step in the development of large auction houses, as few works indeed sell for a price that is 25 times higher than the initial estimate.