The Top Ten Nudes



Friday is Top day! Every other Friday, Artprice publishes a theme-based auction ranking. This week: the top ten bids for nudes.

The Top Ten Nudes
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Pablo PICASSO $95,000,000 Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932) 04/05/2010 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
2 Alberto GIACOMETTI $92,521,600 L’homme qui marche I (1960) 03/02/2010 Sotheby’s LONDRES
3 Francis BACON $77,000,000 Triptych (1976) 14/05/2008 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
4 Peter Paul RUBENS $69,714,000 The Massacre of the Innocents (c.1608-1609) 10/07/2002 Sotheby’s LONDRES
5 Francis BACON $62,043,759 Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966) 13/02/2014 Christie’s LONDRES
6 Amedeo MODIGLIANI $61,500,000 Nu assis sur un divan (la belle romaine) (1917) 02/11/2010 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
7 Francis BACON $46,297,350 Untitled (1974/77) 06/02/2008 Christie’s LONDRES
8 Pablo PICASSO $44,000,000 Le Rêve (1932) 10/11/1997 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
9 Henri MATISSE $43,500,000 Nu de dos, 4 état (Back IV) (c.1930) 03/11/2010 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
10 Pablo PICASSO $41,000,000 Nu au fauteuil noir (1932) 09/11/1999 Christie’s NEW YORK NY

The nude, a subject in itself in the history of Western art and the theme of numerous major cross-disciplinary exhibitions, is not treated here as a particular “genre”. has sought out works featuring one or more naked bodies, irrespective of the period of creation, to determine the ten works with the highest price indexes in the auction market. What emerges is the supremacy of modern and post-war art, with Peter Paul Rubens providing the only Old Master. This Top Ten, which includes two sculptures (by Matisse and Giacometti) in comparison with eight paintings, takes us on a short journey through a history of art where the nude recounts a great deal more than mere nudity.

The nude as a pretext for form in two sculptures

Alberto Giacometti‘s Walking Man I: a life-sized bronze (183 cm), cast in an edition of six, sold for $92.5 million, or $103.6 million including the buyer’s premium, in 2010. If not an artist of the nude, Giacometti treated his walking men and women with extreme simplicity, reducing their presence to the state of silhouettes at once dynamic and trapped in a horrifying suspension. Here the subject is not so much nudity as the state of cutting straight to the essential. Giacometti’s nude is, in a sense, “devoid of flesh”: a rough, unfinished body on which the artist’s fingerprints sometimes emphasise the simultaneous fragility and force of the substance.

Giacometti is thus the creator of the most expensive nude in three dimensions, beating Henri Matisse, whose treatment of the body is light years away. His Nu de dos, 4 état (Back IV) is the second highest-scoring sculpture of the nude body after Giacometti’s, and his own highest-priced work. The artist, better known for his paintings and cut-outs, always had an immense love for sculpture and the nude. He was a contemporary of Rodin (there were 30 years between them), and shared the same taste for non-academic poses and modelling. He thus chose plaster and bronze to create 69 pieces, mostly produced between 1900 and 1913, then between 1923 and 1930. But unlike Rodin, Matisse did not fragment his works: he created architecture, established order, synthetised. Le Nu de dos, 4 état is one of a series of four reliefs created between 1909 and 1930, which were cast in bronze and exhibited as a series in 1956, two years after the artist’s death, in a retrospective at the Musée National d’ Art Moderne in Paris. The work in the ranking here was cast as one of ten later still, in 1978. This nude seen from the back, framed by a rectangle, evokes Gauguin’s spirit of synthesis more than the influence of Rodin. Solid, massive and towering (it is 189 cm high), it was sold in 2010 for $43.5 million, or $48.8 million including the buyer’s premium.

Model or subject?

In Francis Bacon‘s Triptych 1974-77, the nudity of George Dyer is placed at the centre of the composition on three panels. It consists of a male nude seen, as always with Bacon, from the back – in short, a “view of the buttocks” surrounded by two faces. In a subject featuring paintings within paintings, the “decapitated” back-view nude is framed by two large portraits. This majestic triptych is Bacon’s tribute to his lover George Dyer, a subject he repeats five times in the three canvases. Dyer committed suicide shortly before the work was painted. The world’s third most expensive “Nude”, bringing Bacon his second-highest record at auction, the triptych was sold for $77 million in May 2008 – an average price of $25.6 million per panel. Six years after this bid, another nude version of his lover came to light, entitled Portrait of George Dyer Talking. The work, the same size as one panel of Triptych 1974-77, fetched $62 million at the time: a price up by 142% compared with the year when Triptych 1974-77 was sold at auction. The presence of George Dyer, an expression of Bacon’s passion and personal mythology, certainly had a positive effect on the price. Autobiographical connections and the love lives of great artists always add an extra dimension, often reflected in the final price. This is also the case with works by Pablo Picasso.

Unlike Modigliani, Pablo Picasso painted the women he loved and possessed. The Western modern artist with the highest price index appears three times in this Top Ten, with three works painted in 1932: the year when his neo-classical period encountered the calm passion of Marie-Thérèse Walter, his companion between 1927 and 1935. The sweet face of Marie-Thérèse first appeared in sculptures (in 1931) before moving into painted works. As from 1932, Picasso painted her several times in intimate scenes whose curving lines resonate like a romantic, erotic celebration. When they met in 1927, Marie-Thérèse was 17 and Picasso 45. At the time, the artist was married to the dancer Olga Khokhlova; his new liaison with Marie-Thérèse became public during an exhibition staged in Paris in 1932. With Picasso, private passions were an endless source of inspiration, and the works fetching the highest prices are generally those that were stimulated by his love affairs.

Unlike Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani did not express amorous feelings or seek individualisation with his Nude Sitting on a Sofa (The Beautiful Roman Woman). An icon of modern art, Modigliani produced most of his nudes in 1917 and 1918 – women’s bodies reflecting his search for the universal female body. The Beautiful Roman Woman was not a close friend of the painter: in that case, she would have been the subject of a portrait, and would not have revealed her breast or thighs. This painting was sold in 2010 for $61.5 million, or nearly $69 million including the buyer’s premium, garnering the artist’s record bid. In 1999, it had already been knocked down at auction for $15.25 million ($16.7 million including the buyer’s premium, Sotheby’s New York, on 11 November 1999). Here Modigliani portrays a delicate, sensitive, dreamy nudity.

The only Old Master in the ranking, and the only painting that contains several figures, the Massacre of the Innocents (c. 1608-1609) by Peter Paul Rubens is a positive whirlwind of flesh depicting the massacre of the Jewish boy children in Bethlehem (Gospel according to Saint Matthew) in a grand dynamic sweep: a crime scene where the nudity of the mothers, fathers and children juxtaposes that of the assassins, and where the bodies of the dead juxtapose those of the living. Rubens, described as a “painter of naked flesh”, liked his nudes generous, with glowing skin. In 2002, when it fetched $69.7 million, or $76.6 million including the buyer’s premium, the painting became the most expensive Old Master ever sold at auction.