The top Surrealist sales


Discover the best sales every Friday! Every other Friday, Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. This week’s ranking reveals the 10 most expensive Surrealist works in auction history.

Salvador Dali, René Magritte, Paul Delvaux, Max Ernst, André Masson, Man Ray, Joan Miro, Giorgio De Chirico, Jean Arp, Yves Tanguy, Victor Brauner, Oscar Dominguez, Wifredo Lam, Leonora Carrington, Joseph Cornell, Leonor Fini, Paul Klee… All major Surrealist artists and the most prominent artists in the greatest collections of 20th century art.

Rank Artist Hammer Price ($) Artwork Sale
1 Joan MIRO (1893-1983) 36 955 820 Peinture (Etoile Bleue) 19/06/2012 Sotheby’s Londres
2 Joan MIRO (1893-1983) 26 590 649 Painting Poem (Le corps de ma brune puisque je l’aime comme ma chatte habillée en vert salade comme de la grêle c’est pareil) 07/02/2012 Christie’s Londres
3 Joan MIRO (1893-1983) 23 413 411 Painting (Women, Moon, Birds) 04/02/2015 Christie’s Londres
4 Salvador DALI (1904-1989) 21 673 805 Portrait de Paul Eluard 10/02/2011 Sotheby’s Londres
5 René MAGRITTE (1898-1967) 17 926 044 « La corde sensible » 28/02/2017 Christie’s Londres
6 Joan MIRO (1893-1983) 17 065 000 La caresse des étoiles 06/05/2008 Christie’s New York
7 Salvador DALI (1904-1989) 16 322 500 Printemps nécrophilique 02/05/2012 Sotheby’s New York
8 Max ERNST (1891-1976) 16 322 500 The Stolen Mirror 01/11/2011 Christie’s New York
9 Giorgio DE CHIRICO (1888-1978) 14 162 290 Il Ritornante 23/02/2009 Christie’s Paris & Pierre Bergé Paris
10 Joan MIRO (1893-1983) 13 794 000 « L’Oiseau au plumage déployé vole vers l’arbre argenté » 04/02/2015 Christie’s Londres
copyright © 2017

Artprice compiled a ranking on the Surrealist movement in 2011. At the time, Salvador DALI, the self-proclaimed « most Surrealist of all Surrealists », held the top spot in the Top 10 with a Portrait of Paul Eluard, which sold for $21.6m compared to an estimate of $5-8 million (Sotheby’s London, February 10th, 2011). This small portrait turned the world rankings on their head by eclipsing a Joan MIRO by a few million… If the absolute record for a Dali has not been surpassed, Miro has largely overtaken him since, with three masterpieces sold for over $20 million each, between 2012 and 2015. The absolute record for a Surrealist painting is now once again held by Miro, with $36.9 million forBlue Star sold in June 2012 at Sotheby’s in London. This work had already reached a record in 2007 at Claude Aguttes in Paris, with a price of $13.4m. In five years, the price of Blue star has been multiplied by 2.7, stimulated by the intense interest of buyers for ‘safe’ works of art.

Miro would have held, not five, but six places in the ranking if it had not been for Christie’s Surrealist sale on 28th February, in London. A painting by René MAGRITTE, La corde sensible, was on the cover of the catalogue, and for good reason: this work from 1960, measuring 114x146cm was a poetic artwork never previously auctioned. A museum piece whose subject, a delicate long stemmed glass above which a fluffy cloud is floating, forming a tree in the landscape, won over art lovers and reached the final price of $17,9m, a new record for the artist. An edition of 300 colour lithographs has been produced of this painting. These sell for between $200 and $300 on average at auction.

Winners and Losers

The fifth artist in the Top 10, Max ERNST, illustrates how Surrealist masterpieces can encourage great collectors to pay well beyond the « market » price. In 2011, a new record was set at $16.3 million for Ernst’s Stolen Mirror, a painting from 1941, estimated at 10 million below its final sale. This record stunned the audience during the New York sales as it virtually quadrupled the previous highest sale for the artist. Unfortunately, the new owner had to quickly sell the masterpiece, which went on sale in London in February 2016, then accruing a $5.3 million loss…

Losses such as this are rare for this very coveted art movement. The market is more likely to record significant gains, such as the recent world record for Hans ARP, which was established on March 1st, 2017 at Sotheby’s, to the tune of $4m for a Torso in white marble from 1931, bought for less than $1 million in 2011 ($986,500 from the sale at Christie’s in New York on May 4th, 2011).

The quality of the works on offer could create new records, such as that of Yves TANGUY whose work had not been on the market for 12 years. ($7.5m for Les derniers jours, at Christie’s London, February 7th, 2005). Yet Tanguy’s popularity is undeniably increasing, every $100 invested in 2000 in one of his works would now be worth $446 (+346%) on average today! Tanguy, whose work inspired Dali, was the first Surrealist to make a real impression in New York and was firmly supported in London, notably by the Guggenheim-Jeune Gallery, which organised his first solo show in Bond Street in 1938. Today, his works are still sought after in London and New York. The same goes for all the Surrealists, whose work major auction houses are keen to add to their catalogues, especially in New York and London. Italy (with Giorgio de Chirico) and France remain well positioned in this segment, offering works that are often more affordable than they are in the two major capitals of the art market.