The largest paintings (January 2011 – May 2012)



Friday is Top! Every alternate Friday Artprice also posts a theme-based auction ranking. This week we focus on the Top 10 largest paintings sold at auction between January 2011 and May 2012 (ranked by size).

During the Classical era, the Academy reserved the so-called ‘Grand genre’ (read BIG) style of painting for historical paintings. These “oversize” formats, often representing impressively staged glorious battles, were primarily concerned with propaganda and the spectacular representation of history, acting as records for the present and for posterity. However, while Classicism traditionally reserved large-format paintings for history, The Modern era, by abandoning “genre painting” has overturned the conventional use of monumentality. Currently, the only obstacles to the temptation of the size and are physical limitations, and these are continually being pushed back. But, what about the market? Does largeness guarantee record sales?
To see more clearly, we present the largest works sold between January 2011 and May 2012.Interestingly, this Top does not reveal any single specialist of enormity: it is composed of 10 artists born between 1921 and 1981. Large works, which usually fetch higher prices, are therefore often not only the largest works by a given artist but also the most expensive. Concerning the actual dimensions, suffice to say for the time being that the smallest in our rankings measures 2m x 10m!

Top 10 : Top 10 largest paintings sold at auction (January 2011 – May 2012)

Rank Artist Surface Area Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Alexandru BUNESCU 969 sq ft $50561 Princess / 32 panels 04/13/2011 (Artmark SRL BUCHAREST)
2 SU Xinping 517 sq ft $2926000 Landscape (2007) 05/24/2011 (China Guardian Auctions Co., Ltd.)
3 Sue WILLIAMS 485 sq ft $60000 Orange and blue sentinel frocks (1998) 05/13/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Company NY)
4 FANG Lijun 381 sq ft $257000 1999.6.1 (1999) 05/29/2011 (Christie’s HONG KONG)
5 Andy WARHOL 322 sq ft $2200000 Camouflage (1986) 05/10/2011 (Sotheby’s NY)
6 Jean DEWASNE 310 sq ft $46605 Muralenkit (c.1990) 10/04/2011 (Sotheby’s AMSTERDAM)
7 Barnaby FURNAS 271 sq ft $218778 Flood (Red Sea) (2006) 10/12/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Company LONDON)
8 Eugenio DITTBORN 222 sq ft $16125 One, airmail Painting no.157 (2003/04) 02/18/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Company LONDON)
9 Mark BRADFORD 220 sq ft $450000 The Devil Is Beating His Wife (2003) 05/11/2011 (Christie’s NY)
10 Yayoi KUSAMA 215 sq ft $1367300 INFINITY-NETS WHXOTLO (2006) 02/25/2012 (SBI Art Auction Co, Ltd TOKYO)

With the work Princess / 32 panels , the young Roumanian artist, Alexandru BUNESCU (born 1988) created by far the largest work that sold at auction during our reference period. Consisting of 32 panels Princess/32 panels is no less than 20 meters long! The auction house Artmark, which supports the artist, was not oblivious to the commercial and publicity interest that this record format represented and it promoted the canvas as the star of its sale with a very optimistic estimate of USD 70,000 – 85,000. This huge pastel representing a life-size train nevertheless sold (but well below the estimation) for $50,000! The event did not live up the expectations. However, with only 5 awards to his credit and results of between $580 and $2000, only made in Hungary, Alexandru Brunescu scored a personal record that will be difficult to beat in the near future … unless he makes a work 40 metres long!

SU Xinping is in second place in this ranking with a 3 x 16 metres painting entitled Landscape (2007). The dimensions of this work are not common for this artist, but the work proves his capacity to experiment with this type of format. Very attached to his homeland, the temptation of monumentality was inevitable to render the vastness of the Mongolian landscape. As with Princess/32 panels by Alexandru Bunescu, Landscape is not only the largest work by the artist sold at auction to date, but also represents his best auction result to date at no less than $2.92m (May 2011 at China Guardian)! It is his only work to have fetched a seven-figure USD result and his other auction results are far behind; his second best is $445,000 for Sea of Desire in 2008.

Mainly recognized in the UK and the U.S. (her homeland), Sue WILLIAMS has been passionately developing a number of themes for several years, particularly concerned with the body and sexuality. Marked by violence she experienced in her teens, she addresses sexuality as a brutal means of communication between two people. The body is often represented in a fragmentary way and is often only vaguely suggested in her abstract works. Accustomed to working in large sizes, she is in 3rd place in this Top with a work entitled Orange and blue sentinel frocks that measures over 5 x 8 metres. The large colourful abstract painting found a buyer for $60,000 on 13 May2011 at Phillips de Pury & Company in New York. Despite this good result, Orange and blue sentinel frocks represents our first counter-example since it did not generate the artist’s best result. Collectors have paid larger sums for more evocative works like New Flooby Yellow ($70,000 at Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, 16 November 2007) and Dripping with Love (1999), which generated her best result since 2007 ($80,000 at Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, 18 May 2012).

Belonging to the younger generation of Chinese avant-garde artists, Lijun Fang is one of the main protagonists of Cynical Realism. This major movement of Contemporary Chinese art emerged after two significant events in 1989: the Tiananmen massacre and the closure by the authorities of the exhibition “China Avant Garde” (China National Gallery, Beijing). A frequent figure in his works is a bald character with a down-trodden demeanour symbolizing disillusion, mockery and rebellion against Chinese society. Like other artists of his generation, Lijun’s work has regularly generated million-dollar results since 2007. The work that gives him 4th place in this ranking measures 5 x 7 metres and is entitled 1999 6.1. From a famous series of prints made using an ancestral Asian technique, it was acquired for $250,000 in May 2011(Christie’s Hong Kong). This was nevertheless a very modest figure compared with his auction record of $3.6m for Série 2, No 6 (Sotheby’s, New York, 14 November 2007).

In the fifth place we have Andy WARHOL’s Camouflage, and undoubtedly the most singular work in this ranking. Only the second largest work from this series (dating from 1986 to 1987) to have been auctioned, it nonetheless measures 3 x 10 metres! Acquired for $2.2m, it generated far less than the record from this series held by Self-portrait Green Camouflage at $11m (Sotheby’s New York, 14 November 2007). Camouflage was one of Warhol’s recurring themes during 86/87. Beyond its abstraction, it also offered an instantly recognizable and highly evocative motif for the artist. As was his wont, Warhol’s use of the camouflage symbol was simple and effective! Associated with his self-portrait, it perfectly represented Warhol’s desire to maintain his private life away from prying eyes, despite his reputation as an artist.

Grand master of constructive abstraction, the French artist Jean DEWASNE is less popular and yet was from the same generation as Hans HARTUNG, Nicolas DE STAËL, Serge POLIAKOFF and Hans ARP with whom he also lobbied fiercely in favour of abstract art. A frequent producer of monumental works, he confronted large scale works throughout his career and executed numerous orders in situ around the world. His imposing Muralentkit is one of his Maxi-paintings whose structure consists of 3 x 4 metre murals that can be completely dismantled. Jean Dewasne is one of those major artists who has been substantially ignored by the market. As a result, 90% of his works are available at less than $15,000, and his Muralentkit fetched $47,000, his second best-ever auction result. His record of $93,000, also signed in 2011 (La Jeune Garde, Artcurial, 30 May), reflects a recent and well-deserved surge of interest in his work.

When viewers encounter the work of Barnaby FURNAS, the image appears out of control. Spontaneity and experimentation are integral parts of his work that invariably deals with chaotic and violent scenes. Nevertheless, he plans his compositions so that the surface of the canvas, acts like a screen or a camera lense to record his blood splatters. Recognisable thanks to the ubiquity of blood, Barnaby Furnas’s works tend to flirt with abstraction … or even marry it. His Flood (Red Sea) which takes 7th place in this Top, is an enormous abstract work over 7 metres long. Depicting a huge wave of engulfing red swipes that obliterate the serene blue sky, this evocative work with its biblical title sold for nearly $219,000 (Phillips de Pury, London, 10 October 2011). Without competing with his personal record of 2006 ($450,000, Heartbreak Ridge (2002), Sotheby’s, New York 14 November), his paintings sold well at auctions during 2011, changing hands for between 177,000 and $236,000.

Since 1984, the Chilean artist Eugenio DITTBORN has been creating airmail paintings. The genesis of his art comes from the dictatorial political context of the time. He considered his creation of transportable artworks as an act of resistance. The principle is simple: by choosing to create works on large sheets of brown paper, the artist can easily fold his works and send or carry them around the world. The works make even more sense after the wear and tear of their voyages. Once unfolded, the accumulated experience strengthens their spectacular nature. Between fragmented stories, real or invented, the works communicate a story to their audience. Despite numerous exhibitions in prestigious institutions (Tate Britain, Saatchi Gallery, etc.), Eugenio Dittborn is little present on the secondary market. Only 7 of his works have been offered since 1999 including One, airmail Painting no.157 which earned him his presence in this Top. Measuring 2 x 10 metres, it also generated Dittborn’s best auction result at $16,000.

The abstract works combining painting and collage by Mark BRADFORD generally incorporate historical references, allusions to relations between cultures and classes in the United States. As an “environmental anthropologist”, Mark Bradford has a special interest in these phenomena in the city where he was born and lives, Los Angeles. Incorporating elements of his daily life – remnants of posters, stencils, logos – the textures of his abstract works exude an unambiguous sensuality and beauty. At 3 x 6 metres, his The Devil is Beating His Wife in coloured pixels fetched $450,000 and with a new record recently signed at $720,000 (Sotheby’s, New York, 9 May 2012), Mark Bradford’s market is growing rapidly.

At the 141st place in our 2011ranking of artists by auction revenue, the inevitable Yayoi KUSAMA is also the author, since 2008, of a record at $5.1 m (No.2, Christie’s New York, 12 November), the best-ever auction result for a work by a living female artist. Yayoi Kusama joins this Top with a work entitled INFINITY-NETS WHXOTLO which generated her best result in 2012 at $1.4m (SBI Art Auction, Tokyo, 25 February 2012). Even if it is an immense work of 2 x 10 metres and even if Kusama had not signed any 7-figure USD auction results since 2010, she is currently enjoying great success on the auction market.

Although monumentality does not necessarily mean record prices, the spectacular nature of large works nevertheless tends to push their auction results up. While it might just be a splendid publicity stunt à la “Guinness Book of Records” as in the case of Alexandru Bunescu, not all artists are capable of producing successful works of art from large dimension surfaces.