The Top 10 Still Lifes



Fridays are the Best! Every other Friday, Artprice offers you a themed auction ranking. This week the ranking reveals the world’s 10 most popular Still Lifes and recognizes Western modern art as the most valued period.

The Still Life, a poetic English term, is the art of depicting inanimate things, essentially fruits, flowers and objects. It distinguished itself as an independent genre in 17th century Europe, especially in France. At the time, it ranked last in the genre hierarchy, as painters of living subjects were much more highly regarded.

The Top 10 Still Lifes
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Vincent VAN GOGH $55,000,000 Nature morte, vase aux marguerites et coquelicots (1890) 2014-11-04 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
2 Paul CÉZANNE $55,000,000 Rideau, cruchon et compotier (c.1893-1894) 1999-05-10 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
3 Juan GRIS $50,778,000 Nature morte à la nappe à carreaux (1915) 2014-02-04 Christie’s LONDRES
4 Henri MATISSE $41,046,400 Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose (1911) 2009-02-23 Christie’s Paris & Pierre Bergé PARIS
5 Pablo PICASSO $37,000,000 Nature Morte Aux Tulipes (1932) 2012-11-08 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
6 Paul CÉZANNE $37,000,000 Les Pommes (1889/90) 2013-05-07 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
7 Paul CÉZANNE $33,000,000 Nature morte aux fruits et pot de gingembre (c.1895) 2006-11-07 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
8 SAN Yu $30,077,283 Flower (1940) 2013-10-28 Shandong Chunqiu International SHANDONG
9 Jeff KOONS $30,000,000 Tulips (1995-2004) 2012-11-14 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
10 Pablo PICASSO $26,000,000 Nature morte aux tulipes (1932) 2000-05-09 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
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A strong revival occurred between the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, when the still life became a first-rate subject for avant-garde painters conducting moulding research on forms and space. The subject becomes a space of freedom allowing expression of new modes of perceiving reality: fragmentation of colours and forms, experimentation with colour, skewed perspective, etc. Thus the artists multiply their studies of the same subjects: apples for Cézanne, flowers for Van Gogh, musical instruments from the Cubism period of Gris and Picasso, etc. This intense period of modernity is the most popular in the Still Life market: Pablo Picasso holds two places in the ranking along with his friends Henri Matisse and Juan Gris. Paul Cézanne, the father of modernity, is ranked four times higher, on equal footing with Vincent Van Gogh, for a top bid of USD 55m.


Van Gogh and Cézanne at the top

Both Cézanne and Van Gogh are tied for the world’s most expensive still lifes and the most recent summit goes to the “star-crossed artist”. A Nature morte, vase aux marguerites et coquelicots (Still life, vase with daisies and poppies) by Van Gogh was sold in November in New York, for USD 61.7m including fees (4 November 2014). Sold for USD 5m more than its upper estimate, this masterpiece is now the fourth most popular work from Van Gogh at auction. Sotheby’s selected it for the cover of its catalogue, and not without reason: this explosion of colour dates back to 1890, the period where the artist was at the height of his craft. It was the year where he completed the famous Portrait du Docteur Gachet, an emblematic work which had its best auction 25 years ago, being sold for USD 82.5m including fees (15 May 1990 at Christie’s New York).

The USD 55m carried away by Rideau, cruchon et compotier (Curtain, little jug and compote dish) stands as the highest record for Cézanne, USD 20 million more than his most popular Montagne Sainte Victoire. This old bid (from 1999) was truly exceptional at the time, exceeding the optimistic estimate of USD 20m! A major work from the Whitney collection, Rideau, cruchon et compotier testifies to the new system of representation ushered in by Cézanne who paved the way for Cubism.

From the end of the 19th century, the Still Life was no longer a second-rate subject, and on the contrary, it distilled the greatest pictorial revolutions of the 20th century. For these emblematic works, the estimates are only starting points for impassioned bids climbing by the millions. Take, for example, Nature Morte Aux Tulipes (Still Life with Tulips) by Pablo Picasso (1932), depicting a sculpture of Marie-Thérèze Walter as a bonus alongside the aforementioned bouquet: the price for this canvas increased by USD 11m between 2000 and 2012!
One of the most recent detonators on the market has come from the recognition of another modernity, that of Franco-Chinese, who benefits from the enormous capital coming from Asia. San Yu embodies this expansion of the market. This Franco-Chinese artist born in 1901 in Sichuan, living in Montparnasse in the 1920s, ardent defender of Picasso and friend of Henri Matisse, is an essential bridge between Western and Chinese modernity. Indeed, his prices have exploded by nearly 200% in a decade, resulting from a strong demand in China, which holds an all-time high of USD 33.6m including fees for Flower, estimated to be 30 times less expensive (sold 28 October 2013 at Shandong Chunqiu International)…