The Surrealists



Every fortnight Artprice provides you with a new or updated ranking in its Alternate-Friday Top Series. This week, we focus on the Surrealists.

Since 2001, the price index for surrealist artworks has risen by close to 123%! The top four auction stars of the movement are Dali, Miro, Magritte and de Chirico.

Top 10 : best auction results generated by Surrealit artists

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Salvador DALI $19292400 Portrait de Paul Eluard (1929) 02/10/2011 (Sotheby’s London)
2 Joan MIRO $15200000 La caresse des étoiles (1938) 05/06/2008 (Christie’s NY)
3 Joan MIRO $13427540 Blue Star (1927) 12/21/2007 (Aguttes Neuilly-sur-Seine)
4 Giorgio DE CHIRICO $12570460 Il Ritornante (1918) 02/23/2009 (Christie’s Paris & Pierre Bergé)
5 Joan MIRO $11662530 Le coq (1940) 06/18/2007 (Christie’s London)
6 René MAGRITTE $11500000 L’empire des lumières (1952) 05/07/2002 (Christie’s NY)
7 Joan MIRO $11500000 Portrait de Mme K. (1924) 11/06/2001 (Christie’s NY)
8 Joan MIRO $10500000 La caresse des étoiles (1938) 11/03/2004 (Christie’s NY)
9 Joan MIRO $10000000 Paysage sur les bords du fleuve… 11/06/2001 (Christie’s NY)
10 René MAGRITTE $9222810 Le prêtre marié (1961) 02/06/2007 (Christie’s London)

Salvador Dali
Salvador DALI, the most surreal of surrealists inspired passionate bidding at the London sales in February of this year 2011. Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s offered Dali masterpieces and each piece set a new world record for the artist!
On 9 February, Christie’s went first with a small painting (37.7 x 46.1 cm) entitled Etude pour Le miel est plus doux que le sang considered a turning point in the artist’s career (employing some of the key themes in Dali’s later “paranoid-critique” method). The work fetched £3.6m ($5.8m). With one record very often leading to another, the following day at its sale entitled Looking Closely: A Private Collection, Sotheby’s managed to raise the bidding for Portrait de Paul Eluard (1929, 33 x 25 cm) to £12m versus an estimate of £3.5 – £5m! The work came from a prestigious Geneva collection, that of George Kostalitz, who died in 2010.
In 2009, Dali generated an auction total of $11.4m. Last February it took just two days for Dali to double his 2009 total (to $25m) and erase the lag behind the other top-selling surrealists. He is now ahead of Joan Miro!

Joan Miro
Joan MIRO, the most expensive surrealist artist (32nd in the 2010 Artprice ranking of artists by auction revenue), has no less than six positions in this Top 10 starting with his current auction record of $15.2m for La caresse des étoiles on 6 May 2008 at Christie’s New York. The same painting La caresse des étoiles (dated 1938) fetched $10.5m in November 2004. It therefore accreted in value by 45% in just four years.
On 6 November 2001, Joan Miro signed two 8-figure auctions results at Christie’s New York, crossing the $10m threshold for the first time on the secondary market. Paysage sur les bords du fleuve Amour fetched $10m, i.e. $4m above its high estimate and Portrait de Madame K. fetched double its estimate at $11.5m and became the artist’s best result until 2007. In 2007, under the hammer of Aguttes in Paris, his oil on canvas Blue Star (1927) which had not been to auction since 1965, fetched €9.3m ($13.4m) i.e. €2m above its high estimate. The same year (18 June 2007), a very bright water-colour by the Catalan artist entitled Le Coq fetched £5.9m ($11m) at Christie’s in London. Four years earlier, on 24 June 2003, the same work fetched $2.6m (£1.6m), also at Christie’s in London.

Réné Magritte
René MAGRITTE was, since 2002, the most expensive surrealist artist on the market after a superb record on 7 May of that year for his L’empire des lumières which fetched $11.5m against an estimated pre-sale range of $5m – $7m. At the time, no surrealist works had ever generated such a high price and it remained at the top of the Surrealist price ranking until 2007. The same year (6 February 2007), another Magritte work, Le prêtre marié, fetched the artist’s second best auction result, equivalent to $7.1m, at Christie’s in London.
Encouraged by the success of the surrealists, Sotheby’s and Christie’s will be offering 8 paintings by the most famous Belgian surrealist at their forthcoming Impressionist & Modern sales in New York (3 at Sotheby’s and 5 at Christie’s) on 1 and 2 November 2011, with estimates ranging between $700,000 and $12m. So there will be more Magritte’s offered in 2 days than throughout 2010.

Giorgio de Chirico
On 23 February 2009, at the historical sale of the Pierre Bergé / Yves Saint Laurent collection organised by Christie’s in Paris, the French State (via the Centre Georges Pompidou Museum) acquired Giorgio DE CHIRICO’s Il Ritornante for €9.8m ($12.5m). That sum was nearly twice the value of de Chirico’s previous record (Il grande metafisico, $6.4m at Christie’s New York on 4 May 2004). On the back of that sale, de Chirico’s 2009 auction revenue rose +125% to $35m, giving him 16th place in Artprice’s 2009 global ranking of artists by auction revenue).
The artist is mainly sold through Italian auction houses which generate 44% of his auction revenue and 60% of his auction transactions. The UK, the USA and France, generate 24%, 18% and 10% of his auction revenue respectively.