As we approach the end of 2018, we’re excited to look back and reflect on another year of auction highlights and pull together the 10 most expensive paintings sold this year (so far!).
Although we’re a mile short of setting a new record for the most expensive painting sold in all time, thanks to last year’s Salvator Mundi phenomenon, the art world can still celebrate some artist-level records for both the fine art masters and contemporary painters.
So, starting with the 10th most expensive, let’s see who, and what, made the cut!
(Feature Photo Credit: Sotheby's)
$65 million, sold via Sotheby’s Hong Kong on September 30th, 2018
The largest ever painting by French-Chinese artist Zao Wou-Ki achieved an equally impressive price tag, selling for the equivalent of $65million, the most expensive painting to ever go under the hammer in Hong Kong. The oil painting also sold for more than double that previously paid for an artwork by Zao, who died in 2013.
Leading one of Asia’s largest ever art auctions, Zao's "Juin-Octobre 1985," named for its completion date, is a triptych that measures a whopping 10 meters (33 feet) in length, and was originally painted for the grand lobby of Singapore’s Raffle City and became one of the paintings in Singapore’s most important public contemporary art collection.
Born in Beijing before moving to Paris after World War II, Zao is known for combining classical Chinese painting techniques with the abstract influences of Western modernism. This year’s auction result "crowns (him as the) king of Asian oil painters," according to the chair of Sotheby's Asia, Patti Wong.
$68.7 million, sold via Sotheby’s London on February 28th, 2018
Painted in the height of his career, Picasso’s Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée is a vivid, intense and poignant depiction of what we know as his ‘Golden Muse’ - Thérèse Walter. This year is the first time the piece has ever been listed at auction.
The beginning of the decade marked a period of sublime happiness for Picasso, as witnessed in the extraordinarily sensual and lyrical paintings of Marie-Thérèse in 1932. However, five years on, the work's sharp cubistic edges, thickly impastoed paint, and black outlines give it an immediate visual impact – the emphatic execution and bold palette packed with emotional charge.
The depiction of Marie-Thérèse has matured from the voluptuous curves and sleepy, passive suggestiveness to the woman who gave birth to Picasso's child. The portrait brings to a climax a turbulent and highly charged year, suggesting that she continued to be of central importance to the artist.
$68.9 million, sold via Christie’s New York on November 13th 2018
Auctioned in the same sale as Hopper’s Chop Suey, Willem de Kooning’s Woman as Landscape painting sold for $68.9 million, setting a new auction record for the Dutch-born abstract expressionist, surpassing his 1977 Untitled XXV which sold for $66.3m in 2016.
Woman as Landscape is today celebrated as a heroic painting that encompasses the painterly bravado and radical use of color that singled out Willem de Kooning as a leader of the Abstract Expressionist movement.
Executed at the height of the artist’s career, this dramatic canvas belongs to a series of works that radically changed the depiction of the female body. When first exhibited in the 1950s, this controversial style both energized and scandalized the art world, later to be referred to as a piece that took abstract depictions of the female form one step further than the likes of Picasso and Duchamp – both of whom were deemed equally controversial in their time.
$80.8 million, sold via Christie’s New York, Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller Sale on May 8th 2018
Just two lots before the triumphant Monet sale, the Rockefeller’s Matisse masterpiece went under the hammer and again exceeded auction expectations, by over $10million, also setting a new record for the artist.
Painted in Nice, in 1923, Matisse was at the height of his powers and Odalisque couchée aux magnolias features his favourite model, Henriette Darricarrère, basking in bright sunlight, looking blissful and radiant with the bright décor surrounding her. It is thought Matisse was also at his happiest, working so freely and passionately, which translated into many paintings from this period in his life.
A picture that is commonly recognized from art history textbooks, it’s deemed as a perfect representation of Matisse’s work, so perhaps it’s no surprise a record was set for this piece!
$84.7 million, sold via Christie’s New York, Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller Sale on May 8th 2018
Back in 2016 Claude Monet was the chart-topper for the year, with a piece from his haystacks series selling for $81.4million. Setting a new record for Monet, but coming in as low as 6th for 2018 sales, was one of Monet’s world-admired water lily paintings. Nymphéas en fleur is also the second top 10 painting from the Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller.
With a close eye being kept on Asian buyers, Christie's published a fascinating article that explains how Monet, perhaps unintentionally, created a painting with very good ‘feng shui’. In this particular painting, Monet painted all water lilies in full bloom, a state which represents good fortune, along with the Chinese word for lily suggesting peace or harmonious union, as well as water, which combined has very positive associations for Asian viewers.
It is also said that Peggy and David’s long and full life was the ‘cherry on top’ when it comes to Asian appeal, as potential buyers would deem this as good luck and fortune for a long and prosperous life themselves. And so, it’s no surprise that the Monet record-breaking price was offered by an Asian buyer.
Christie’s describes this Malevich piece as a heavyweight, noting it’s historical presence in every major survey of Suprematist works of Malevich’s lifetime, and as the series which revolutionized modern art.
Just over a century ago, this series of geometric, completely abstracted works were unlike anything any modern painter had shown before. A shock to everyone, they were so radically different that some people announced the end of painting, and even art itself!
Hidden in Germany throughout much of the 1930s, Suprematist Composition and the other works from a Berlin exhibition would subsequently become part of the highly influential holdings of Malevich’s work in the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
Until 2008, when it was restituted to the heirs of Malevich’s family in agreement with the Stedelijk Museum, Suprematist Composition was placed on view in Amsterdam. Suprematist Composition later established the world auction record for the artist when it sold in November of 2008 for $60million.
$90.3 million, sold via Christie’s New York, on November 15th 2018
On the tails of a record-breaking exhibition, which toured Tate Britain, London, the Centre Pompidou, Paris and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, between February 2017 and February 2018, selling for $90.3million David Hockey’s “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” set a record for the most expensive painting ever sold by a living artist!
Deemed one of his most iconic pieces, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) has an equally fascinating backstory. Starting in 171, Hockney was so inspired by “painting two figures in different styles” started painting right away, after serendipitously spotting two juxtaposing photographs on his studio floor. Amazingly, the first painting was destroyed after working and reworking the piece, until Hockney revisited the idea almost a year later, for an upcoming exhibition.
Famously, before starting his second attempt, Hockney traveled to a villa near Saint-Tropes to stage a number of photographs with friends and assistants until he created the perfect composition. Working 18 hours a day for two weeks solid, he worked with such urgency and intensity to finish the painting for an exhibition at New York’s André Emmerich Gallery.
Find out more about this fascinating story on Christie’s website.
$91.9 million, sold via Christie’s New York, on November 13th 2018
In a similar style to Hopper’s world-famous Nighthawks, Chop Suey is the most iconic painting of Edward Hopper’s left in private hands, so it’s no surprise the piece became the most expensive work of pre-war American Art to be sold!
In a stunning video by on Christie’s website, Chop Suey is briefly described as being loaded with meaning and representation, of not only art but the era of the late 1920s in New York. Art Historian Robert Hobb famously explains that Hopper “used art as a way to frame the forces at work in the modern world”, capturing a freezeframe of an everyday scene from an America that was changing rapidly.
Never focusing on the food, Hopper is renowned for capturing the place and the stories that unfold within them. In Chop Suey, dramatic lighting is used to amplify the conventions of American life being challenged – from the Asian influence on food to young women being seen dining together, on public display, a sign of independence and a shifting role for women in the workplace and not just at home.
$115 million, sold by Christies New York, Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller Sale on May 8 2018
Another controversial nude for the era, Picasso’s "Young Girl with a Basket of Flowers” was auctioned in one of 2018’s most anticipated and unique sales – the Collection of the late David and Peggy Rockefeller.
Four paintings by Picasso have now been sold for over $100million, making the artist the only painter yet to see more than one piece of art sell for more than 8 digits.
Fascinatingly, one of the painting’s former owners, Gertrude Stein, was initially not a fan of the work when her brother Leo acquired it. At the time of her death in 1946, it passed as part of her collection to her partner, Alice B. Toklas. When the latter died in 1967, Rockefeller created a consortium of friends to buy the paintings. Having put in a million dollars each, they drew lots from a felt hat to determine who had first pick. David Rockefeller drew number one, and chose the girl with her basket of flowers.
It’s said that ‘Young Girl’ took pride of place in the Rockefeller’s collection before he passed away last year, and this piece hasn’t gone unnoticed by the great museums of the world. Already, the painting is on loan at Musee-D’Orsay for a Picasso exhibition until January 2019, and will potentially move with the exhibition in February to the Beyeler Foundation near Basel, Switzerland.
$157.2 million, sold by Sotheby’s on May 14 2018
This year’s most expensive painting sold was Modigliani’s Nu couché (sur le côté gauche), which went sold $157.2, with a hammer price of $139million. This is also a triumph for Sotheby’s as it’s the most valuable piece of art to be sold through their auction house.
This sultry and enticing portrait is the largest of a prized series of nude masterpieces by Modigliani. Produced just over 100 years ago, they were shockingly bold for their era and caused a scandal when first shown in Paris. In what was Modigliani's only solo exhibition during his lifetime, unprecedented popularity and a large crowd caused the Police to catch wind of the show before shutting it down just days after it opened.
Despite being a chart-topper for the year, the estimated auction price was actually $150million at the hammer, which is still less than the Modigliani record set in 2015, when Nu couché sold for $170.4million.
As we draw our top 10 list to a close, it’s worth acknowledging that despite 2017 smashing the overall record for a single painting, at $450million for Salvator Mundi, 2018’s 10th most expensive painting is almost 70% more expensive than last year’s 10th painting. Plus, 6 of this year’s paintings sold for more than 2016’s Monet chart topper!
With art auctions growing in Asia, and a number of Asian collectors now owning some of this year’s top 10 paintings, it’s clear that a shift in the global marketplace has spurred a jump in high-end art sales. After last year’s speculation of a Billion dollar painting being on the horizon, we think this year’s list is an equally positive sign for extraordinary auctions to come.