The Top Ten of Nouveau Réalisme: Yves Klein



Friday is Top day! Every other Friday, Artprice publishes a theme-based auction ranking. This week we look at the top ten of Nouveau Réalisme, which is dominated by just one name: Yves Klein.

The Top Ten of Nouveau Réalisme: Yves Klein
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Yves KLEIN $32,699,100 « Le Rose du bleu (RE 22) » (1960) 27/6/2012 (Christie’s Londres)
2 Yves KLEIN $32,500,000 FC1 (Fire Color 1) 8/5/2012 (Christie’s , New York)
3 Yves KLEIN $21,000,000 MG 9 14/5/2008 (Sotheby’s, New York)
4 Yves KLEIN $19,500,000 Sculpture Éponge Bleue Sans Titre, Se 168 14/5/2013 (Sotheby’s, New York)
5 Yves KLEIN $19,000,000 Archisponge (RE 11) (1960) 11/11/2008 (Sotheby’s, New York)
6 Yves KLEIN $15,500,000 IKB 1 (1960) 14/5/2008 (Sotheby’s, New York)
7 Yves KLEIN $11,000,000 Anthropométrie Le Buffle (ANT 93) (1960-1961) 11/5/2010 (Christie’s , New York)
8 Yves KLEIN $10,588,280 Rélief éponge bleu (RE 51) (1959) 27/6/2012 (Christie’s , Londres)
9 Yves KLEIN $8,286,300 RE 49 (1961) 28/6/2010 (Sotheby’s , Londres)
10 Yves KLEIN $8,143,720 Relief éponge or (RE 47 II) (1961) 11/2/2010 (Christie’s , Londres)

Yves KLEIN is so far ahead of other Nouveau Réaliste artists that this Nouveau Réalisme top ten should perhaps be called the Yves Klein top ten. Indeed, he has attained the kind of mythical status enjoyed by other twentieth-century artists such as Marcel DUCHAMP and Andy WARHOL. He is the only artist from this movement who is capable of breaking the $10 million barrier… and in fact he has done this eight times. Today, no other Nouveau Réaliste artist even comes close to scaling such dizzy heights. Other than Klein, the only artists who have broken through the million-dollar mark are Martial RAYSSE (with five sales in excess of one million dollars, including a record equivalent to $5.79 million with L’année dernière à Capri (titre exotique) (Last Year in Capri (Exotic Title), recorded on 16 February 2011 at Sotheby’s London); Jean TINGUELY (Métamatic No.7 (1959), sold for the equivalent of $1.8 million on 1st July 2008 at Sotheby’s London); and CÉSAR (who set a new record with his monumental bronze sculpture Pouce, sold for the equivalent of $1.5 million on 20 October 2007 by Cornette de Saint Cyr, Paris).

Yves Klein dominates the TOP rankings
Klein is not just one of the most sought-after Nouveaux Réaliste artists but also one of the top French artists of all time. His top auction prices have come close to those attained by Claude Monet’s best-selling Nymphéas and some of Pablo Picasso’s top works. He set a new record in June 2012 with $32.6 million for Le Rose du bleu (RE 22), sold at Christie’s London. This placed him at number 17 in the world rankings for 2012 and compared well with some of the year’s other top sales, including $33 million for Andy WARHOL‘s Double Elvis [Ferus Type], sold at Sotheby’s New York on 9 May 2012, and Roy LICHTENSTEIN‘s record $40 million for Sleeping Girl (9 May 2012 at Sotheby’s, a record that was subsequently shattered last May when Woman with Flowered Hat went under the hammer for $50 million at Christie’s).

Yves Klein experts have listed some 200 monochromes painted in the course of his seven-year career (he died young at the age of just 34). These comprise canvases in a single colour (blue or pink) without nuances, tones or enhancements – they simply permeate the atmosphere. For Klein, colour plays a central role. It is colour that imbues the physical and mental space and travels through time. His monochromes are rare pieces and are certainly expensive, but every one of Klein’s artistic explorations is capable of attracting the very highest prices. His top ten sales include reliefs using sponges (a mixed technique where sponges soaked in coloured pigment are stuck to a similarly impregnated canvas); anthropometric works (where he used female models covered in blue paint to create the image); canvases created by scorching; monochromes and, later on, sculpture.

His most recent record was set in May 2013, when one of his sculptures sold for over $10 million for the very first time. This was a piece filled with the famous IKB blue pigment that was exhibited at the Galerie Iris Clert in the year of its creation (1959). At Sotheby’s, it went under the hammer for $19.5 million or $22 million including buyer’s premium on 14 May 2013, making it the artist’s fourth-highest sale price (Sculpture Éponge Bleue Sans Titre, Se 168).

Klein is the only French artist from this period to sell so well on a global scale. His market is concentrated in London (48% of receipts) and New York (45%). France accounts for less than 5% of sales revenues, but it is a country that is brimming with well-informed collectors. His value has increased by 208% over the last decade, making it more and more difficult to find affordable pieces under $5,000. Last April, the Brussels branch of Cornette de Saint Cyr even sold a postage stamp impregnated with blue pigment (2.5 x 2 cm) for the equivalent of $2,611. For more-or-less the same price, in 1999 it was possible to buy five of these stamps in one lot (five Timbres Bleus sold for the equivalent of $2,833 on 17 June 1999 at Cornette de Saint Cyr Paris). These tiny but significant works went on to exceed the $4,000 mark at auction (sale at Versailles Enchères on 1st July 2012).