A stunning top 10 in the first half of 2018


Artprice’s fortnightly series of Fine Art auction rankings gives you a theme-based TOP article every other Friday. Today’s TOP article looks back at the best auction results during the first five months of the year.

The top 10 best results in the first half of 2018 generated a total of $816 million. Of course, this total relies heavily on the New York sales in May which hammered 8 of the year’s 10 best results (so far). The last two months have added a whole new dimension to Q1’s Top 10: Picasso’s Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée was the year’s best result at end-March; by end-May… it was in 7th place.

The Picasso result was down-ranked by a series of other major Western works of Modern art by Kazimir MALEVICH, Claude MONET, Henri MATISSE, Constantin BRANCUSI, Amedeo MODIGLIANI and another earlier work by Picasso, Fillette à la corbeille fleurie (1905). The latter, on a life-like scale (155 cm), had plenty of arguments to generate one of the best results of all time. Painted when Picasso was 24, the work illustrates the transition between his blue and pink periods, both extremely rare on the market. Initially owned by writer Gertrude Stein before joining the Rockefeller collection (where it remained for 50 years), the perfect-condition painting fetched $115 million, a few million above the famous Garçon à la pipe, a masterpiece from the same period that fetched $104 million in 2004 (Sotheby’s, New York). Garçon à la pipe was the first artwork ever to cross the $100 million threshold in auction history. Fillette à la corbeille fleurie did not set a new record for Picasso; but it did generate the second best result for the most sought-after artist in the world. However, the major Spring sales also proved that demand for the world’s most popular artist has not become ‘unconditional’: no less than 12 works by the Spanish master were bought in during the sales.

Rank Artist Hammer Price ($) Artwork Sale
1 Amedeo MODIGLIANI (1884-1920) 157 159 000 Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) 14/05/2018 Sotheby’s New York
2 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) 115 000 000 Fillette à la corbeille fleurie 08/05/2018 Christie’s New York
3 Kasimir Sevrinovitch MALEVICH (1878-1935) 85 812 500 Suprematist Composition 15/05/2018 Christie’s New York
4 Claude MONET (1840-1926) 84 687 500 Nymphéas en fleur 08/05/2018 Christie’s New York
5 Henri MATISSE (1869-1954) 80 750 000 Odalisque couchée aux magnolias 08/05/2018 Christie’s New York
6 Constantin BRANCUSI (1876-1957) 71 000 000 La jeune fille sophistiquée (Portrait de Nancy Cunard) 15/05/2018 Christie’s New York
7 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) 68 702 214 Femme au bére et à la robe quadrillée (Marie-Thérese Walter) 28/02/2018 Sotheby’s Londres
8 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) 57 829 046 La Dormeuse 08/03/2018 Phillips Londres
9 Francis BACON (1909-1992) 49 812 500 Study for Portrait 17/05/2018 Christie’s New York
10 Jean-Michel BASQUIAT (1960-1988) 45 315 000 Flexible 17/05/2018 Phillips New York
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High-end inflation…

Like most of the major works in this ranking, Fillette à la corbeille fleurie had never been to auction before the Rockefeller collection sale. However, two works in this ranking were not auction debutants and their results illustrate the tremendous surge in prices for works considered as seminal to Western Modern Art.

The first was Malevich’s Suprematist Composition which added $25.8 million in 10 years after fetching $85.8 million on 15 May (versus $60 million on 3 November 2008 at Sotheby’s New York). True… this 1916 composition is considered one of Malevich’s most important paintings, and his market is normally very scarce indeed… but 2018 is actually a good year for the Malevich market with Christie’s offering another work by the artist next June 20 in London. The work in question is a drawing from 1911 with interesting dimensions (106 x 106 cm) justifying an estimated price range of $9 – 13 million.

The other resale in this ranking is Modigliani’s Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) (1917), a work that fetched $26.8 million at Christie’s November 2003 Impressionist & Modern Art sale in New York, followed by $157.1 million on 14 May last at Sotheby’s. Although this did not break the artist’s November 2015 auction record of $170 million for another Nu couché (at Christie’s), it represents the artist’s fourth best-ever result and materialised a stunning gain of $130.3 million in just 15 years.

The high-end art market is clearly committed to raising the ante for works that are considered landmarks in the history of 20th century art. Four new major world records bear witness to this trend: nearly $32 million has just been added to Henri Matisse’s previous auction record and $25.8 million to Kazimir Malevich’s. Meanwhile… Constantin Brancusi and Claude Monet have new records respectively $13.7 million and $4 million higher than their previous auction summits.