Nudes between January 2011 and April 2012



Another Friday Top in Artprice’s alternate Friday series of auction rankings. This week, the top 10 auction results for Nudes between January 2011 and May 2012.

Since prehistoric times, the representation of the naked body has been a major theme in the history of art. The Nude in art is a world unto itself; its first appearances coincided with those of the first human representations. The history of the Nude reveals the changing standards of beauty and of society’s morals. It was during the Renaissance that the limits set by propriety began to be transgressed, with eroticism sometimes taking precedence over the ideal of beauty. Defying prevailing morality, certain famous works have marked the history of art such as Gustave COURBET’s cult Origin of the World whose main subject is, for the first time in the history of art, the female genital.
Naturally the status of the Nude in the art market is equally important; it is a very popular category and is indeed the most sought-after on the market. For proof of collectors’ appetite for this genre, one need look no further than the most expensive artwork in the world (previous to Edvard MUNCH‘s version of Cri on 2 May 2012 at Sotheby’s New York), Pablo PICASSO’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, which fetched $95m on 4 May 2010 at Christie’s New York.
After this record in 2010, we look at the Nudes that have made the largest impact on the market since then.This ranking shows the logical domination of Pablo Picasso with four works in the Top 10, including one in first place. There is also Francis BACON with three works, respectively in 2nd, 7th and 8th place. We note that the majority of the Nudes in this Top 10 date from the 20th century, generally from the 50s and the 60s, and that the ranking covers a price range of between $8m and $36m. As we find in all rankings of this type, the prices of works by Contemporaries are far behind those of the Moderns.

Top 10 : Nudes between January 2011 and April 2012

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Pablo PICASSO $36274500 La lecture (1932) 02/08/2011 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
2 Francis BACON $29999100 “Portrait of Henrietta Moraes” (1963) 02/14/2012 (Christie’s LONDON)
3 Henry MOORE $26841300 Reclining Figure : Festival (1951) 02/07/2012 (Christie’s LONDON)
4 Pablo PICASSO $20500000 L’aubade (1967) 11/02/2011 (Sotheby’s NY)
5 Pablo PICASSO $19000000 Les femmes d’Alger, version L (1955) 05/04/2011 (Christie’s NY)
6 SAN Yu $14726560 Five Nudes (1950′) 05/30/2011 (Ravenel Art Group HONG KONG)
7 Francis BACON $11825940 Crouching Nude (1961) 06/29/2011 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
8 Francis BACON $8500000 Untitled (Crouching Nude on Rail) (1952) 05/11/2011 (Christie’s NY)
9 Pablo PICASSO $8500000 Couple à la guitare (1970) 05/03/2011 (Sotheby’s NY)
10 Nicolas DE STAËL $8171320 Nu couché, (Nu) (1953/54) 12/06/2011 (Artcurial (S.V.V.) PARIS)

Even if Pablo Picasso is present on numerous auction podiums, the Nude is a type of work to which he made a very substantial contribution. His Demoiselles d’Avignon is the most famous example of cubist distortions applied to nudity. His La lecture is in 1st place in this Top and it is also the oldest in the ranking. Completed in 1932, it corresponds to a turning point in the artist’s career when he revealed his new way of painting. The model, his mistress Marie-Therese Walter, who became his partner a few years later, is the same model that inspired a series of portraits to which also belongs his record Nude, Green Leaves and Bust. Acquired for $36m at Sotheby’s London 8 February 2011, La lecture is also, to date, the 10th best result for any Picasso work.

In 5th position, Les femmes d’Alger, version L, dated 1955, is from a series of 15 variations on the work Femmes d’Alger by Eugène DELACROIX. This series is very popular with Picasso collectors because it was the first series he created around a masterpiece of art history, introducing many other series based on great masters like Diego VELASQUEZ (Las Meninas) and Édouard MANET (Déjeuner sur l’Herbe). 10 versions went to auction between 1988 and 2011. By finding a buyer at $19m (4 May 2011, Christie’s New York), Les femmes d’Alger, version L fetched the best result recorded for this series to date.
A point of significant interest concerning the other two Picasso works in this Top is that they depict couples. Sold for $8.5m (3 May 2012, Sotheby’s New York) Couple à la guitare is a fine example of the female Nude that allows us to highlight a singular peculiarity of the Nude category in general, i.e. that the Nude is essentially – if not almost exclusively – female, which is quite logical given the extremely limited number of women artists before the 1970s, Fetching $20.5m, L’aubade is especially interesting in that the nudity is applied to both protagonists in the painting. This work brought Picasso into contact with a historical theme that became dear to him in the 1960s, that of eroticism and music for which he found inspiration in Jean Auguste Dominique INGRES, TIZIANO VECELLIO and Michelangelo Merisi CARAVAGGIO IL.

A Top focused on Nudes would not be complete without Francis BACON. A master in representations of the flesh, Bacon is in 2nd place in this ranking after the sale of his Portrait of Henrietta Moraes by Christie’s in London on 14 February 2011 for $30m. Between the sensuality and the suffering of the flesh, this work is far from being the artist’s most violent work. Iconic, the portrait brings together themes dear to the artist: confinement, sex, human flesh … Paradoxically, as always with the artist, the work is both sensual and repulsive. The sexual, tortured and deformed body is a way of capturing individuals’ existential pain and energy. Way below the $77m paid for his Triptych, Bacon’s Portrait of Henrietta Moraes nevertheless generated his 8th best auction result. With flesh as his favorite subject, Bacon makes another appearance in this ranking with Crouching nude and Untitled (Crouching Nude on Rail): less sensual, it still found a buyer at $8.5m.
The only sculpture in this Top is Henry MOORE’s Reclining Figure : Festival. This magnificent bronze of extraordinary sensuality also generated the artist’s auction record at $26.84 m (on 7 February 2012 at Christie’s London), well ahead of his 2004 record for Three-piece reclining Figure: draped (sold by Sotheby’s New York for $7.5m). The theme of the reclining figure is one of Moore’s favourite subjects, which he revisited over a hundred times throughout his career. Emblematic of this series, Reclining Figure: Festival is considered his first sculpture where form and space are one, dependent upon each other.

Five Nudes by the Franco-Chinese artist SAN Yu generated another artist’s record when it fetched $14.72 in May 2011 (Ravenel Art Group, Hong Kong) more than doubling the artists’ previous record since 27 November 2010 for Potted chrysanthemum in a blue and white jardinière ($6m at Christie’s Hong Kong). With a predominantly Asian market, San Yu’s presence on the US/UK market is still very marginal (6 sales). Despite many unsold results, France (14% of transactions) is his most dynamic market after Asia (82%).

In the winter of 2011, the announcement of the sale of Nicolas DE STAËL’s Nu couché, (nu) by Artcurial caused a certain amount of market excitement. From a collection it had not quit since its purchase in 1954, the work is of exceptional quality and its record result of $8.17m confirmed its masterpiece status. Several reasons for this record: on the one hand it is a late work, in the last two years of his life when his style is at its peak: profile view, bold contrast between strong and soft colours, palette knife work, simplified contours … In addition to the formal aspects of the work there is appeal of the subject, because unlike most painters of the 20th century, the painting of De Stael evolved from abstraction towards figuration. It was only during the last 3 years of his life that the artist painted nudes, after meeting Jeanne Mathieu who became his mistress and with whom he remained deeply in love until his suicide in March 1955. Thus, only twenty or so Nudes are listed in his catalogue raisonné and only three have gone on sale since 1989. The work’s rarity therefore did not escape the attention of avid De Stael collectors. Yet another example in this Top of an artist’s record held by a Nude, Nu couché (nu) almost doubled its high estimate of $3.6m on 6 December 2011.

In last place in this Top, Paul DELVAUX’s Les cariatides fetched $8m in May 2011 a record for the Belgian artist, nearly doubling his previous record of $4.72m in 1999 for Le miroir (8 December, Christie’s London). Painted in 1946, this work corresponds to the period considered the artist’s most innovative. Highly sought-after, his paintings from this period generally sell for record amounts. This particular masterpiece contains all the elements that made Delvaux’s reputation: female nude placed in a dreamlike context with fixed, enigmatic and impassive expressions. Delvaux’s paintings celebrate strangeness and recall the metaphysical surrealist works of his principal inspiration, Giorgio DE CHIRICO.

Since time immemorial, the Nude has inspired and encouraged artistic creativity. Often linked to the intimate, it opens the door to the most powerful and the most beautiful expressions in art. Fascination, attraction, indiscretion, excitement, passion … the enthusiasm of collectors never wanes. Our Top this week shows that the Nude substantially lifts artist’s prices and it often elicits auction records. A fresh example of its power of attraction: Yves KLEIN’s FC 1 (Fire Color 1), a superb fire painting with two impressions of the female body in YKB, fetched $32.5m at Christie’s recent 2012 May sales.