The Belgian Top 10


Fridays are great! Every other Friday, Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. This week, Artprice analyses the best auction results of the year recorded in Belgium.

Rank Artist Hammer Price ($) Artwork Sale
1 James ENSOR (1860-1949) 845 972 Les ballerines 03/11/2017 De Vuyst, Lokeren
2 René DANIELS (1950) 598 688 La maison 03/11/2017 De Vuyst, Lokeren
3 Emile CLAUS (1849-1924) 321 348 La Tamise et Waterloo Bridge à Londres 05/20/2017 De Vuyst, Lokeren
4 René DANIELS (1950) 286 329 Une salle au-dessus du Pacifique 03/11/2017 De Vuyst, Lokeren
5 Fernando BOTERO (1932) 260 299 La nonne 03/11/2017 De Vuyst, Lokeren
6 Pietro FABRIS (act.1756-1792) 219 483 Fête de village près de Naples 05/23/2017 Campo & Campo, Anvers
7 Willem Bastiaan THOLEN (1860-1931) 200 843 Après l’averse 05/20/2017 De Vuyst, Lokeren
8 James ENSOR (1860-1949) 182 209 Fleurs et fruits 03/11/2017 De Vuyst, Lokeren
9 LE DOUANIER ROUSSEAU (1844-1910) 177 200 Baron Daumenil 06/28/2017 The Bru Sale, Brussels
10 Pol BURY (1922-2005) 160 674 Fontaine 05/20/2017 De Vuyst, Lokeren
copyright © 2017

Belgium ranks as the world’s 13th largest art auction market ($44.4 million in 2016, with more than 15,000 works sold). Thanks to a domestic market driven by the dynamism of auction houses such as De Vuyst, Campo & Campo, The Bru Sale and Horta, as well as the French Cornette de Saint Cyr and Pierre Bergé, international collectors have access to major European artists. The best sales usually are for Belgian and Dutch artists, such as James Ensor, Emile Claus, Willem Bastiaan Tholen, René Daniëls and Pol Bury.

De Vuyst clearly stands out, as it appears in half of the results of this ranking, thanks to a particularly successful auction organised on March 11th, in which René Daniëls reached his absolute record.

Strongly influenced by René Magritte, Marcel Broodthaers and Marcel Duchamp, as well as punk music, René Daniëls developed his artistic career in the manner of a pop star. Famous in the 1980s, the beginning of his career was marred by a stroke in 1987. It took Daniëls 20 years to return to creating art. In 2007, his comeback to the artistic scene was immediately welcomed by Belgian collectors, reviving the interest of the auction market. Today, Daniëls’ performances at auction have never been so robust: the $831,000 worth of works sold in the first half of 2017 set an absolute record, doubling the sales posted last year.

This remarkable performance is due to two paintings, which sold well beyond their estimates at De Vuyst on March 11th: The House (1986) estimated at around $100,000 finally sold for close to $600,000 including fees, the highest figure for this artist in a public sale, and A Room above the Pacific (1984) estimated at less than $100,000, sold for $286,000.

At the same sale, there was also great enthusiasm for an oil on canvas by James Ensor, The Ballerinas (1908), which sold for $845,000 including fees, against a high estimate of $490,000. No fewer than 17 works by James Ensor were sold at this sale: engravings as well as drawings, watercolours and paintings.

Two other Avant-garde artists stand out: Emile Claus, whose work has an Impressionist influence and Pol Bury, a Kinetic abstract artist.

Emile Claus is an essential figure in modern Belgian painting. After questioning the techniques of Sidaner and Monet, he combined photographic realism with Impressionism to create Luminism. In 1904, he founded the group Vie et Lumière with Ensor and Georges Lemmen. Well-known during his lifetime, he participated in major international exhibitions in Paris, Venice and Barcelona, where his work was enthusiastically received. Emile Claus embodies the new Flemish Impressionism and museums are keen to acquire his works (notably museums in Tournai, Liège and Brussels). Third highest in the auction ranking, The Thames and Waterloo Bridge, London (1918) became Claus’s 9th highest sale at auction. Some minor paintings are regularly offered for sale between $5,000 and $15,000 in Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, where the artist took refuge for a few years during the war.

Pol Bury’s work is rooted in another era, the second half of the 20th century. A Kinetic artist of great inventiveness, close to Magritte and the COBRA group at its outset, Bury created his own niche: art in motion. Particularly well-known in the 1960s, he represented Belgium at the Venice Biennale in 1964 and exhibited in New York where he settled and met his future wife Velma. At the time, he was also creating the first fountains operated by hydraulic motors. A champion of abstraction in motion, Pol Bury is particularly in demand among Belgian and French collectors. In this dynamic market, his price index has risen 445% since 2000 but some of his sculptures can be bought for less than $30,000. Pol Bury is still an affordable artist although his best works are often in demand. Last May, he attained his seventh best auction sale with a sculptural fountain selling at more than $131,000, more than $40,000 above the high estimate provided by De Vuyst.