The Top Ten hammer prices of 2014



Friday is Top day! Every other Friday, Artprice publishes a theme-based auction ranking. 2014 was a year positively bursting with records. And yet the highest bid was still far below the peak achieved in 2013 – and naturally, we wonder why. This week, to shed more light on the situation, Artprice looks back at the Top Ten hammer prices of 2014.

The Top Ten hammer prices of 2014
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Alberto GIACOMETTI $90,000,000 Chariot (1950) 2014-11-04 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
2 Barnett NEWMAN $75,000,000 Black Fire I (1961) 2014-05-13 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
3 Andy WARHOL $73,000,000 Triple Elvis [Ferus Type] (1963) 2014-11-12 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
4 Francis BACON $72,000,000 Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards (1984) 2014-05-13 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
5 Amedeo MODIGLIANI $63,000,000 Tête (1911/12) 2014-11-04 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
6 Francis BACON $62,043,759 Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966) 2014-02-13 Christie’s LONDON
7 Cy TWOMBLY $62,000,000 Untitled (1970) 2014-11-12 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
8 Andy WARHOL $62,000,000 Four Marlons (1966) 2014-11-12 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
9 Mark ROTHKO $59,000,000 Untitled (1952) 2014-05-13 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
10 Édouard MANET $58,000,000 Le Printemps (1881) 2014-11-05 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
copyright © 2014


A sculpture at the top

The highest bid of the year went to the sculptor Alberto Giacometti. The 1950 sculpture entitled Chariot, a tiny woman on one foot supported by two large wheels, snatched the record from the painters, long used to garnering the top prices. It was a remarkable record, given that painting largely dominates public sales – although there was an exception to the rule two years ago, when a drawing (one of Edvard Munch’s Screams) took the market by surprise in crossing the million-dollar threshold for the first time.
The bid that secured the work, $90 million, was not particularly surprising in itself. It followed on naturally from the one in 2010 that carried off one of the six proofs of Walking Man I (the last one still on the market), sold by Sotheby’s London for the equivalent of $92.5 million. But the really astonishing fact was that this record for 2014 only came seventh in the pantheon of hammer prices, when we might have expected a new record, given that there has been a positive string of them in the last few months.


Two Bacons and two Warhols in the Top Ten

Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol are the princes of the art market, sending the auction room into ecstasies. Bacon holds the title for the highest bid of all time with his Three Studies of Lucian Freud (sold for $127 million at Christie’s New York in 2013), while Warhol, with 60 hammer prices of over a million dollars this year alone, has consolidated his predominance still further.

Each of them has two works in the Top Ten this year: that comes as no surprise. They have replaced Picasso, Van Gogh and Renoir, and their names are now almost certain to turn up regularly in the top ranking markets. The reason for this is not that collectors have finally tired of Impressionist and modern masters, but that their works (the finest, at least) are increasingly scarce in the market – which has naturally adopted new favourites.


Safe bets

First of all, there are the giants, who are never very far away.

With the sale of Tête (1911/12), Amedeo Modigliani’s personal auction record has risen a little more, confirming that his sculptures are just as popular as his portraits. A new hammer price of over $50 million for Mark Rothko (the fifth), reminds us how important this artist’s work is in the output of the 20th century. Lastly, the tenth best bid of the year set a new record for the “father” of Impressionism himself: Édouard Manet.


The most impressive climbers

However, the second-best hammer price went to a work by Barnett Newman: Black Fire I, a painting more than 2 by 3 metres, dating from 1961. This American painter certainly needs no introduction, but his record at auction has now shot up from $39 million to $75 million with this result. And suddenly he has become one of the most expensive artists in the world.

Cy Twombly was, without any doubt, the other great surprise in this ranking. An unexpected appearance with an even more impressive leap forward: his record has now soared from $19.2 million to $62 million!

Yet neither of these artists has been awarded a retrospective in recent times. The last one for Cy Twombly goes back to 2008/2009, when he was exhibited in turn at the Tate Modern, the Guggenheim Bilbao and the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome.


New York’s hegemony

Only one of the top ten bids of the year was achieved outside Manhattan. This is certainly proof that Francis Bacon is equally appreciated on both sides of the Atlantic, but above all, it emphasises central New York’s predominance in the art market. Well, America loves America, and we should not be surprised that half the artists in this list (the best-performing at auction) are American.


“A museum-quality collection”?

The fact that works of which there are several original examples can achieve prices higher than unique pieces might seem, in principle, to go against nature. And yet the presence among the top bids of sculptures and paintings produced with screen printing techniques shows that a work’s multiplicity is not (or no longer) a barrier to collectors’ enthusiasm. And for good reason: there can surely be no greater pleasure than sharing part of one’s collection with a museum. In the end, isn’t that perhaps what collectors dream of, when they battle it out for works by Giacometti, Warhol, Rothko and Manet?