Monday, February 11, 2008


Who are the painters who generated the biggest volume of sales in auction in 2007 ? The top 10 have generated a total volume of sales of $ 1.840 billion, an incredible sum when one thinks that the global art market was 55 billion.

Top of the list is the American Andy Warhol (1928-1987) whose works generated a volume of sales of $ 420 million (1), a considerable progression of 450% over the last 10 years. In May 2007, his Green cars crash (pic at left) went under the hammer for $64 million
at Christie's NYC . The progression of his index is remarkable as indicated the sale of his Liz Taylor's painting by actor Hugh Grant for $21 million which the later paid only 3.25 million in 2001.

Number 2 in terms of generated volume is Spanish Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) with a very impressive $ 319 million, but a noticeable slowdown of 20 million dollars over 2006.
The biggest number generated by the Spaniard in 2007 was $ 27.5 million for Femme accroupie au costume turc however a Bronze statue Tête de femme Dora Maar sold for $ 26 million at Sotheby's NYC indicating the still very strong demand for the artist's work and acquiring the status of the most expensive sculpture on the global art market.

Those statistics do not mean that Picasso is going out of fashion on the market but simply that his annual revenue is being limited by the increasing rarity of the major works of the artist on the market.

In third position the now unavoidable English Francis Bacon (1909-1992) whose works generated a ballooning $245 million, indicating that his index more than tripled over 10 years. Seven of his paintings sold for more than 10 million dollars while Sotheby's NYC was able to sold his famous Innocent X (picture below) for the astronomical sum of $ 47 million. His Second Version of Study for Bullfight #1 (1969) sold some months later for the figure of $ 41 million. Bacon's tormented bodies are not scaring art collectors and investors away. All the contrary.

The Polish born American painter Mark Rothkowitz
(1903–1970), alias Rothko, stands in fourth place for the volume of works generated with a staggering
$ 207 million. His White center fetched $ 65 million in May at Sotheby's overtaking Andy Warhol's price by 1 million. Six of his works fetched more than 10 million each in less than a period of 12 months.

French Impressionist Claude Monet (1840-1926) gets the fifth place with $ 165 million
although the man from Giverny ranked #2 in 2004. His Waterloo Bridge par temps couvert (1904) sold for $ 31.7 million ten times the price fetched 17 years earlier. Twenty seven of his works' sales passed the million mark in 2007.

Another powerful Frenchman made it on the 10 top list in 2007 with a very respectable $ 114 million : it is Picasso's arch rival Henri Matisse (1869 -1954) whose Odalisque harmonie blue (right) climbed to $ 30 million, 10 million dollars over the estimate and helped him to secure an honorable 6th place.

It was purchased by an unidentified buyer who relayed his bids by telephone to Guy Bennett, the head of the Impressionist and modern art department at Christie’s. The bidding had narrowed to Mr. Bennett and the New York dealer Franck Giraud before the hammer went down.

The previous auction record for a Matisse was $21.7 million.

The seventh place went in 2007 to the New Yorker from Haitian origin, the redoutable and henceforth unavoidable Jean Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) who collected a volume of sales of $ 102 million, a fantastic figure for a guy who passed away only 20 years ago. Although I personally appreciate Basquiat very moderately and consider he will never be anything else than an inspired graffitist, his work goes now to the highest level : in 2007 his price index climbed 660% over 10 years. His quite sordid and uninspiring Electric Chair went under the hammer for $ 10.5 million.

Another Frenchman held the eighth place in 2007 with $ 92 million of sales, it is the excellent Fernand Léger (1881-1955 ) who initially was trained as an architect which can be seen in his Les Usines (1918) that fetched $ 12.7 million and
was sought-after by as many as six different bidders beating the estimate by 7 million. Léger renounced abstraction during the First World War, when he claims to have discovered the beauty of common objects, which he described as 'everyday poetic images'.

This turn of mind is not yet perceptible in Les Usines although it was painted at the end of the war. Léger met Le Corbusier in 1920 and then the influence of the great Swiss architect became more visible.

The Russian March Chagall (1887-1985 ) occuped the ninth place with a volume of $ 89 million
while his monumental Circus Scene, 3 meters wide, sold for $12.25 million at Sotheby's NYC.

Finally the last of the top 10 is another Frenchman, the Provençal Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) with an increased volume by 50% over 2006 to the amount of 87 million.
His lovely Compotier et assiette de biscuits sold for $ 11,25 million. Cézanne can be said to form the bridge between late 19th century Impressionism and the early 20th century's new line of artistic enquiry, Cubism. The line attributed to both Matisse and Picasso that Cézanne "is the father of us all" cannot be easily dismissed.

(1) all figures are in US dollars and exclude buyer's premium

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