France’s Top-3 auction results in 2022

[13 Dec 2022]

Despite an ultra-competitive global context, France’s art auction market appears to be thriving and has even shown new impetus since last year’s first total above the billion dollar threshold. Indeed, with 2022 shaping up to be the second best year in its history, it could be argued that the French market is at an important turning point. Looking at the three best art auction results hammered in France this year, we see that the 20 million dollars threshold has been crossed three times, but also that the French market is able to set new global auction records for artists as important as Jean-Siméon Chardin and Michelangelo.


Femme qui marche [I], Bronze with dark brown patina. H.: 150.5 cm

Sold $28.4 million. Christie’s Paris, June 14, 2022

Created in 1932-36, this statue was cast in 1955 by the Fiorini and Carney foundries in an edition of 4 plus 1 artist’s proof. Two other pieces and two nominative casts were created later. An artist’s proof from the same mold is kept by the Fondation Giacometti.

Its virtues

Excellent provenance for this life-sized statue (150 cm), first acquired by the Belgian collector and philanthropist, Joseph-Berthold Urvater, before entering Bunny Mellon’s legendary collection in Virginia (1971) and then joining, seven years later, the Hubert de Givenchy collection. Christie’s offered this sculpture in a sale entirely devoted to the Givenchy collection.

Dating from the early 1930s, this work, whose forms evoke the pure aesthetics of Egyptian or Cycladic statuary, was created at a pivotal moment in Giacometti’s career, marking the beginning of a motif that defined all of his future œuvre.

Resonance on the French market

In 1994, Christie’s sold another cast of the same quality in London for just under a million dollars. Alberto GIACOMETTI’s prices have therefore substantially inflated over the last three decades. The prestigious Givenchy provenance clearly attracted the interest of bidders.

Femme qui marche [I] (1932/36) fetched Giacometti’s second-best result for a sculpture on the French auction market after Grande femme II (1960) – a work more typical of his style and larger in size – sold for $29.5 million in 2017, also at Christie’s Paris. It also fetched the sixth highest price in French art auction history.


2. JEAN-SIMÉON CHARDIN (1699-1779)

Le panier de fraises des bois (Basket of wild strawberries). Oil on canvas. 38 x 46 cm

Sold: €24.38 million ($26.8 million). Artcurial Paris, March 23, 2022

Its virtues

Le Panier de fraises des bois is considered CHARDIN’s best still-life and is highly emblematic of French 18th century art. According to Artcurial’s catalog description, it is above all recognized as “an icon of universal painting”. Highly publicized over the years, the work remained in the family of Eudoxe Marcille until it was put up for sale.

In 1767, after seeing Chardin’s work at the Salon de Paris, the French philosopher, art critic, and writer wrote “We stop in front of a Chardin as if by instinct, like a tired traveler naturally chooses a spot that offers greenery, silence, water, shade and coolness to rest.

Resonance on the French market

Fetching over 24 million euros ($26.8 million), this nugget of art history set three new records: one for the artist (who had never crossed the $10 million threshold), another for an 18th century French painting at auction, and another for Artcurial’s “Old Masters & 19th Century” department. It also fetched the third highest auction result for a painting sold in France (after two exceptional canvases from the Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent collection fetched $46 million and $27.6 million in 2009: Matisse’s Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose (1911) and Piet Mondrian’s Composition avec bleu, rouge, jaune et noir (1922).


3. MICHELANGELO (1475-1564)

A nude man (after Masaccio) and two figures behind. Drawing. Pen and brown ink. 33 x 20 cm

Sold for $24.3 million. Christie’s Paris, May 14, 2022

Its virtues

The chance to buy anything from MICHELANGELO’s hand is of course already an event in itself. The drawing presented last May at Christie’s Paris is of decent size (33 x 20 cm), well worked (being composed of three figures), and in good condition. Stijn Alsteens, director of the old drawings department at Christie’s, pointed out that of the “five other drawings in private collections, this is the largest and the best preserved.

Representing a veritable journey into the Italian Renaissance, this drawing was created when Michelangelo was around 20 years old, taking inspiration from Masaccio’s frescoes in Florence.

Above all, it is the artist’s first known academic nude.

Resonance on the French market

In 1907 the drawing was presented for sale at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris. At that time it was thought to be the work of a member of Michelangelo’s entourage. It was not until 2019 that the work was recognised as a genuine Michelangelo, after which it was temporarily classified as a national treasure by the French government. Once liberated from this constraint, the family called upon Christie’s to put it up for auction. The work therefore had an exceptional character that Christie’s clearly highlighted by hosting a dedicated single-lot sale.

The work attracted bidding from only one bidder, but it nevertheless set Michelangelo’s new global auction record at $24.3 million, double the artist’s previous record generated by a Study for the Risen Christ in 2000 at Christie’s in London.