Review of Q1 art market through the prism of three rankings

[18 Apr 2023]

In the first three months of 2023, more than 147,000 artworks changed hands at auctions around the world, but only 13 generated results above the $10 million threshold. If we lower the bar to 7-digit results (<10 million, but > 1 million), there were just under 300 results in this price range, representing less than 0.2% of total Q1 transactions. With New York’s major sales not held until May, Q1’s high-end results were dominated by results hammered in the UK. As usual, London hosted its prestige Modern art sales at the start of the year and they generated half of the quarter’s top results, all above the $10 million threshold.


The quarter’s best result (at $44.7 million) was hammered in London for Wassily KANDINSKY’s Murnau with Church II painted in 1910 at a turning point in the Russian painter’s artistic development. Acquired by the Berliners Johanna Margarethe and Siegbert Stern, the painting was one of the belongings stolen from them by the Nazis. Returned to the Stern family heirs in 2022, the 13 survivors will share the fruit of this “historic” sale, which set a new Wassily Kandinsky auction record.

Gerhard RICHTER’s Abstract image ($29 million)

Gerhard Richter is the top-selling living German artist at auction, but was also – in 2022 – the top-selling living artist in the world with an annual auction turnover exceeding $225 million. In the first three months of 2023, he was still near the very top of our global ranking – in 5th place – with a turnover already exceeding 37 million dollars, including $29 million for one of his largest abstract works, sold on 1 March at Sotheby’s.

Pablo PICASSO’s Fillette au bateau, Maya ($21.7 million)

It is now 50 years since the death of the 20th century’s most cherished artist, and anniversary auction houses are wasting no time to remind us of… just in case we need to rekindle a flame that has, in reality, never been extinguished. One of the auction highlights of Q1 2023 was a painting by Picasso which originally belonged to his daughter Maya, a provenance that added considerable appeal to the work.

Maya, named María de la Conceptión in honor of Picasso’s late beloved sister, was the fruit of the passionate love between the artist and Marie-Thérèse Walter. She was born in secret in 1935 while Picasso was still married to his first wife, former ballerina Olga Khokhlova. The lively and joyful portrait of Maya offered by Sotheby’s on March 1 dates from a period of personal crisis for Picasso, against the backdrop of European political instability and the intensifying imminence of war. But the tenderness of childhood healed Picasso’s wounds so well that he painted his little Maya obsessively between January 1938 and November 1939 (about fourteen portraits). The painting first appeared at auction in 1999 when Sotheby’s sold 25 works by Picasso that had been collected by Gianni Versace. It fetched $6 million back then (Fillette au bateau, Maya), compared to $21.7 million last March.


Peter Paul RUBENSSalome presented with the head of Saint John the Baptist ($26.9 million)

The most exceptional work sold in New York over the quarter was undoubtedly Rubens’ Salome presented with the head of Saint John the Baptist, the highlight of the spectacular baroque ensemble from the Fisch Davidson Collection dispersed by Sotheby’s on January 26. The colorful story of this canvas ended with a revaluation at almost $27 million. Sold in Paris in 1768, then considered lost or misattributed for two centuries, it was subsequently included in Michael Jaffé’s catalog raisonné published in 1989 and then sold for the first time at auction in 1998 at Sotheby’s New York for nearly $5.5 million. In 25 years, the value of the canvas has multiplied by five.

GOYA Y LUCIENTES’s  Portrait of Doña María Vicenta Barruso Valdés ($16. 4 million)

Major works by Old Masters being highly sought-after nowadays, several of art history’s most important artists have revised their auction records recently, including Francisco Goya, with two portraits of women – Doña María Vicenta Barruso Valdés and her mother Doña Leonora Antonia Valdés de Barruso – fetching $16.4 million on 25 January at Christie’s. Goya only painted a handful of portrait pairs and this one is the only known female pair. This extremely rare acquisition opportunity doubled Goya’s previous auction record set 30 years ago at just over $7 million for a bullfighting scene. The two portraits together attracted the second best bid at New York’s Old Masters sales after the sublime Rubens.

BRONZINO’s Portrait of a young man ($10.6 million)

Sometimes years go by before a work by Agnolo di Cosimo (aka Bronzino) – one of the late Renaissance’s most important Italian artists – appears on the market. The one offered by Sotheby’s at the end of January had a number of major attractions: possibly a self-portrait, it was painted in 1527, has a certified provenance and has been exquisitely conserved. The masterpiece blithely doubled its high estimate, taking Bronzino’s auction record to $10.6 million from a previous high of $9 million in 2015.


Nearly 23,000 works of art changed hands in French auctions during the first quarter of 2023. About fifteen exceeded the million-dollar threshold, mostly works by the great Surrealist artists Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy and of course, René MAGRITTE, to whom the French market owes two of its best results of the quarter, with Les grains de beauté ($3.7 million) and La leçon de musique ($3.1 million). But France’s top result was in fact generated by Henri Matisse’s Reclining Nude II, a bronze sculpture about thirty centimeters tall, which fetched almost $5 million.

These 7-digit results were hammered by Christie’s and Sotheby’s, which together managed to sell 77% of the lots they offered in France during the quarter compared with 68% at Artcurial and only 56% at Millon & Associés, currently the two most successful French auction companies.