Top 10: French Artists


Top 10: French Artists

Once a fortnight Artprice draws up a ranking of theme-based auction results. This week our focus is on the ten best results over the past eight months for French artists of all generations.

The market importance of French Modern artists is hardly surprising considering their impact on the history of art at a global level and the status of their works as absolute references in the field of art. Modern art, often seen as the most creative period in French art, is nowadays a benchmark value for the market. Works by Modern artists are historical reassuring landmarks and they account for the bulk of the French auction market (about $130m in auction revenue in H1 2012 versus $32m from the Old Masters segment for example). It is therefore not surprising that this ranking contains three works by Claude MONET, the champion of Impressionism, one each by Paul CÉZANNE and Henri MATISSE and two by Paul SIGNAC.
It is however more surprising to find the overwhelming presence of Yves KLEIN, who was this year’s most successful French artist in addition to being the youngest in this ranking. Especially as, four years earlier, with an auction record of less than $8m, the “master of blue” could not even claim a ticket into such a solid Top 10.

Top 10 : French Artists

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Yves KLEIN $32699100 “Le Rose du bleu (RE 22)” (1960) 06/27/2012 (Christie’s LONDON)
2 Yves KLEIN $32500000 FC1 (Fire Color 1) (1962) 05/08/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
3 Paul CÉZANNE $17000000 Joueur de cartes (1892/96) 05/01/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
4 Henri MATISSE $17000000 Les pivoines (1907) 05/01/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
5 Paul SIGNAC $12315420 La Corne d’Or, Constantinople (1907) 02/07/2012 (Christie’s LONDON)
6 Claude MONET $11557360 L’Entrée de Giverny en Hiver (1885) 02/08/2012 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
7 Yves KLEIN $10588280 Rélief éponge bleu (RE 51) (1959) 06/27/2012 (Christie’s LONDON)
8 Paul SIGNAC $8631700 “La Corne d’Or, les minarets” (1907) 06/20/2012 (Christie’s LONDON)
9 Claude MONET $8500000 Les demoiselles de Giverny (1894) 05/01/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
10 Claude MONET $8012000 Voilier sur le petit bras de la Seine, Argenteuil (1872) 04/26/2012 (FAAM-Fine Art Auctions Miami MIAMI FL)

Yves Klein – the painter of immaterial sensibility and New Realist whose fast artistic career was cut short far too early (he died at the age of 34) – is one of the most popular French artists in the world. This year, he is even the most popular French artist, all creative disciplines and periods combined. Since May 2012, his auction record is above $30m, far ahead of the annual bests for Paul Cézanne ($17m for Joueur de cartes), Henri Matisse (same score for Les pivoines), Paul Signac ($12.3m for La Corne d’Or, Constantinople) and Claude Monet ($11.5m for L’Entrée de Giverny en Hiver).

Klein at the price of Joan Miro
Yves Klein is clearly very much in fashion. His price index has posted an impressive increase of approximately 100% over the last decade and his total auction revenue this year accounts for nearly half (47.7%) of the revenue from the top 10 French results… with only three hammer prices.
His latest record will be hard to beat because, having fetched £21m ($32.7m) on 27 June 2012 at Christie’s London, his “Le Rose du bleu (RE 22) ” has reached the same level as the record of one of the biggest Modern names on the art market, namely Joan MIRO, who also clinched a new record at £21m with Peinture (Etoile Bleue) eight days earlier at Sotheby’s in London (19 June 2012).
The second work in this ranking is Klein’s FC1 (meaning Fire-Color 1) that was presented with an estimate of $30m to $40m on 8 May 2012 at Christie’s. This 3-metre fresco not only combines all of Klein’s major techniques and colours –anthropometry [female body prints], International Klein Blue, pink and fire-painting – but also had impeccable provenance as it came directly from the artist’s own collection.
This year, the French artist Yves Klein also signed his best result ever recorded in France with a canvas from the collection of the industrialist Philippe Dotremont, part of which was sold on 4 April 2012 at Millon & Associés, Paris. The proposed monochrome reached €1.8m ($2.4m)… a record in France certainly… but a far cry from the figures generated in London and New York. Indeed, one might expect a more efficient market in France which accounts for 33% of the artist’s transactions. But the French Marketplace lacks prestige and power and only manages to generate 5% of the artist’s auction revenue. His best works migrate to London and New York auction rooms – the two Western capitals of the art market – where they produce 91% of Klein’s global auction revenue.

Klein’s record is even more important now that it competes with some of the top American results: Andy WARHOL’s top price so far this year is $33m for Double Elvis [Ferus Type] that sold at Sotheby’s New York on 9 May, and Roy LICHTENSTEIN’s new record, signed during the same session, is not so far ahead at $40m ( Sleeping Girl)). A sign perhaps that Post-War French artists are catching up with their English and American counterparts.