Top Modern art


Every other Friday, Artprice compiles a “Top” ranking providing insight into the Art market’s major trends. This week we look back at the 10 most highly valued Modern works in 2018.

Generally speaking, the Modern segment generates the Art Market’s most spectacular auction results, including two results above the $100 million threshold last year. In 2018, no other creative period reached such price levels and the Modern art segment was once again the best performing segment of global Fine Art auction market, producing the largest proportion of the market’s turnover. With an annual total of $5.2 billion – 10 times higher than the total for Old Masters (see Top Old Masters) – it generated almost half of Western Fine Art auction turnover (47%). It was also the densest segment in terms of volume with approximately 183,000 Modern works sold in the West (40% of total Fine Art lots sold), of which 37% were painted works, 24% were drawings, another 24% were prints, 6% were sculptures and 3% were rare photographs.

Rank Artist  Price Artwork Sale
$157,159,000 Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) 14 May 2018
Sotheby’s New York
2 Pablo PICASSO $115,000,000 Fillette à la corbeille fleurie 08 May 2018
Christie’s New York
3 Edward HOPPER $91,875,000 Chop Suey 13 Nov. 2018
Christie’s New York
4 Kasimir MALEVICH $85,812,500 Suprematist Composition
15 May 2018
Christie’s New York
$80,750,000 Odalisque couchée aux magnolias
08 May 2018
Christie’s New York
6 Constantin BRANCUSI
$71,000,000 La jeune fille sophistiquée
15 May 2018
Christie’s New York
$68,937,500 Woman as Landscape
13 Nov. 2018
Christie’s New York
$68,702,214 Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée
28 Feb. 2018
Sotheby’s London
$57,829,046 La Dormeuse 08 Mar. 2018
Phillips London
10 Jackson POLLOCK
$55,437,500 Composition with Red Strokes 13 Nov. 2018
Christie’s New York
copyright © 2019

Two results above $100 million

The most dearly sold painting in 2018 was a work by Amedeo Modigliani. The artist’s largest known canvas (89.5 x 146.7 cm), Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) was painted in 1917 and was presented for sale by Sotheby’s on 14 May 2018 with the highest upper estimate ever recorded: $150 million. In the end, the masterpiece exceeded the estimate, fetching $157.3 million (including fees). An auction record for Sotheby’s… but not for Modigliani, whose peak stands at $170.4 million for another Nu Couché from the same period, sold by Christie’s in November 2015. Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) was not at its first visit to auction. In 2003 the canvas was acquired by John Magnier for $26.9 million at Christie’s. The painting therefore generated a return on investment of 485% for Mr Magnier and become the fourth most expensive painting in Fine Art auction history after Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi ($450.3 million), Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) and Modigliani’s other Nu couché that sold in 2015.


Amedeo Modigliani – Nu Couché (sur le côté gauche) – 1917

With a personal auction turnover of $162.8 million in 2018, Amedeo Modigliani was the year’s eighth most powerful artist on the secondary market, but remained far behind Pablo Picasso whose works generated $744.4 million over the year. Picasso is also the best-represented artist in our Modern art Top 10 with three major results. His best in 2018 was for Fillette à la corbeille fleurie, a 1905 masterpiece that fetched $115 million at Christie’s Rockefeller Collection sale in May and which earned second place on Picasso’s personal auction podium, behind Les femmes d’Alger ($179.3 million in May 2015 at Christie’s) and 11 million dollars above the $106 million hammered for his Nude, Green Leaves and Bust in May 2010 at Christie’s. The historical threshold of $100 million was first crossed by Picasso in 2004 when his Garçon à la pipe (a work from the same period as Fillette à la corbeille fleurie) fetched $104 million at Sotheby’s in New York. Today, Picasso is the only artist in the world with four auction results above $100 million.

In 2018, the number of Picasso works that have sold above the $50 million threshold climbed to eleven after his Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter) and La Dormeuse, two portraits of Marie-Thérèse Walter painted in the 1930s, were sold in London during a high-profile exhibition at the Tate Modern (Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy). Indeed, demand for Picasso’s work remains inexhaustible. Last year, the market turned over 3,391 of his works… a quantity that is hard to imagine… corresponding, theoretically, to nine Picasso’s sold per day!

New auction records

Hopper > Last year saw a number of new records for lots of leading Modern artists including Edward Hopper, Kasimir Malevich, Constantin Brancusi and Henri Matisse. Edward Hopper’s new record is quite exceptional: fetching nearly $92 million, his canvas Chop Suey (1929) not only generated the third best Modern art result of the year, but also the third best result the year… all periods combined! Purchased for $180,000 by BA Ebsworth in 1973, the work more than doubled the artist’s previous peak of $40.5 million for East Wind Over Weehawken in 2013.

Malevich > At $85.8 million, Malevich’s suprematist composition set a new record for Russian abstraction as a whole, adding €25.8 million to its previous value 10 years ago ($ 60 million in 2008 at Sotheby’s). Malevich is one of the world’s rarest Modern artists on the secondary market, a rarity partly resulting from the ban on Abstract art in the Soviet Union. Suprematist compositions are almost exceptionally rare and those that have emerged in auction rooms in recent years have been the subject of recent restitutions to the artist’s heirs, often after long legal battles.

Matisse > The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection sale also generated a new summit for a work by Matisse when his Odalisque couchée aux magnolias fetched $80.75 million. The artist’s previous record was $46 million for a painting from the Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Bergé Collection, dispersed by Christie’s in 2009 (Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose).

Willem de Kooning also set a new record when his Woman as Landscape fetched €69 million at Christie’s on 13 November 2018, adding three million to his 2016 record. The result also largely contributed to his best-ever annual performance giving him tenth position in our 2018 global ranking of artists by annual auction turnover (10 places ahead of Jackson Pollock…).

Brancusi > Finally, a work by Constantin Brancusi introduces a single sculpture to this ranking after his La jeune fille sophistiquée (Portrait de Nancy Cunard) in gilded bronze on a white marble base sold for $71 million last May… the best result for a sculpture in 2018.