The Top Ten in Europe. Chapter 7: the UK



Friday is Top day! Every other Friday, Artprice publishes a theme-based auction ranking. This week, we reveal the ten highest bids ever registered in the UK, i.e. London, the heart of the European market and the third biggest marketplace in the world.

The Top Ten in Europe. Chapter 7: the UK
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Alberto GIACOMETTI $92,521,600 L’homme qui marche I (1960) 2010-02-03 Sotheby’s LONDON
2 Claude MONET $71,846,600 Le bassin aux nymphéas (1919) 2008-06-24 Christie’s LONDON
3 Peter Paul RUBENS $69,714,000 The Massacre of the Innocents (c.1608-1609) 2002-07-10 Sotheby’s LONDON
4 Francis BACON $62,043,759 Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966) 2014-02-13 Christie’s LONDON
5 Juan GRIS $50,778,000 Nature morte à la nappe à carreaux (1915) 2014-02-04 Christie’s LONDON
6 Claude MONET $48,073,025 Nymphéas (1906) 2014-06-23 Sotheby’s LONDON
7 Francis BACON $46,297,350 Untitled (1974/77) 2008-02-06 Christie’s LONDON
8 Pablo PICASSO $45,814,900 Portrait d’Angel Fernandez de Soto (1903) 2010-06-23 Christie’s LONDON
9 RAPHAEL $42,723,200 Head of a muse 2009-12-08 Christie’s LONDON
10 RAPHAEL $42,675,600 Head of a Young Apostle 2012-12-05 Sotheby’s LONDON
copyright © 2014

All achieved during the 2000s, always at Christie’s or Sotheby’s, with hammer prices ranging from $42.6 million to $92.5 million, the Top Ten bids in the history of the British market largely outpace the other European marketplaces, because the UK Top Ten totals $572 million in sales results: $300 million more than the Top Ten in France, and $540 million more than Spain.

In the light of this ranking, the London marketplace appears to be the focal point for the great “classics”. Here we meet Peter Paul Rubens, Raphael, Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet and Francis Bacon – the elite of one of the world’s most glittering Top Tens. It has to be said that London’s reputation for quality is as historic as the birth of the auction company Christie’s, founded there in 1766.


The finest Monets all go to London

Monet is one of the world’s most sought-after artists. He embodies the Impressionist revolution: a late 19th century upheaval in the way the world was perceived and painted. This absolute prestige is matched by the master’s popularity, witness his retrospectives, which attract record world audiences time and time again. Witness, too, a vibrant price index: one of the highest in the global market.
Rare and sought-after, the Impressionist leader achieves his highest prices with the Nymphéas, a famous series of around 250 paintings produced at Giverny, in which water lilies border on abstraction. This is his most highly-rated subject at auction. His peak stands at $71.8 million ($80.5 million including the buyer’s premium), achieved in 2008 by Le bassin aux nymphéas, a huge painting of 1919 (of which there exist precisely four comparable versions), and a work considered one of the most important in the artist’s late output.
Despite Christie’s and Sotheby’s battles to ensure that New York remains the leading Western marketplace for the high-end market, London still posts the two best bids for Monet. Maintaining a qualitative continuum for the top Impressionist and modern names is a major issue, and a challenge London met yet again in 2014, thanks to the sale of a version of Nymphéas on 23 June at Sotheby’s London. Knocked down for the equivalent of $47.3 million ($53.1 million including the buyer’s premium) these water lilies cost $28.3 million more than in 2000 (see the Christie’s New York sale on 8 May 2000, lot 21).


2014: an exceptional vintage

2014 was an exceptional year for London. Apart from the winning bid of $47.3 million for the last NymphéasNature morte à la nappe à carreaux (1915), the other for Francis Bacon ‘s Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966) With the former, Nature morte à la nappe à carreaux, the $50 million ($57 million including the buyer’s premium) it fetched set a new record for Juan Gris, all the more impressive in that it beat the artist’s previous New York record by $25 million (this previous record was achieved in 2010 with Violon et Guitare, sold for $25.5 million at Christie’s). According to Olivier Camu, Vice-Chairman of the Impressionist and Modern Art department at Christie’s, this new high is “a record for any Cubist work which, at nearly $60 million (including the buyer’s premium), puts him on a level with Warhol, de Kooning and other American stars.” Meanwhile, Portrait of George Dyer Talking is now the most expensive Francis Bacon painting ever sold in London, lying behind three New York results ranging from $72 million to $127 million.

The remarkable vintage of 2014 is not due to these three dazzling results alone. The overall performances of the two major auction houses have never been so impressive. In February, thanks to its Impressionist, Modern and Surrealist sales, Christie’s generated the best result ever posted in London (£179 million including the buyer’s premium, i.e. $292 million), when no fewer than 43 works topped the million-dollar mark. Jay Vincze, International Director for Impressionist and modern art at Christie’s, is delighted with these “historic results: the best ever for a London sale, irrespective of category.” At the same time, Sotheby’s also registered its finest London performance with its own Impressionist, Modern and Surrealist sales.

Although contemporary creation is not present in this Top Ten, it is worth noting that in the strictly contemporary sector (that of artists born after 1945), London represents 70% of the entire European market – ten times more than the French market. And London remains the focal point of the European market for the very best Old Masters and modern/contemporary art.