The best sales of the first quarter

[07 Apr 2017]

Discover the best sales every Friday! Every other Friday, Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. Our weekly ranking unveils the world’s 10 best auction sales in the first quarter of 2017.

In the Top 10 of the first quarter, two auction houses obtain results ranging between $17 and $59m: Christie’s and Sotheby’s, for sales in February and March in London and New York. Although excluded from the sales ranking geographically, China, a major player in the market, is very active regarding sales…

Rank Artist Hammer Price ($) Artwork Sale
1 Gustav KLIMT (1862-1918) $59 004 638 Bauerngarten 2017-03-01 – Sotheby’s Londres
2 CHEN Rong (1189-1258) $48 967 500 Six Dragons 2017-03-15 – Christie’s New York
3 ZHAO Lingrang (XI) $27 127 500 Willows and Geese 2017-03-15 – Christie’s New York
4 Paul GAUGUIN (1848-1903) $25 229 423 Te Fare (La maison) 2017-02-28 – Christie’s Londres
5 Gerhard RICHTER (1932) $21 608 217 « Eisberg » 2017-03-08 – Sotheby’s Londres
6 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) $20 951 513 Plant de tomates 2017-03-01 – Sotheby’s Londres
7 Amedeo MODIGLIANI (1884-1920) $19 706 138 Portrait de Baranowski 2017-03-01 – Sotheby’s Londres
8 René MAGRITTE (1898-1967) $17 926 045 « La corde sensible » 2017-02-28 – Christie’s Londres
9 LI Gonglin (1049-1106) $17 607 500 Treaty of Bianqiao 2017-03-15 – Christie’s New York
10 HAN Gan (706-783) $17 047 500 Horse 2017-03-15 – Christie’s New York
copyright © 2017

The best sale of this first quarter is held by a beautiful flowered landscape by Gustav Klimt, Bauerngarten, sold by David Graham at Sotheby’s on 1 March 2017. This masterpiece rose to $59m, ten times more than it cost in November 1994 ($5.3m, at Christie’s in London). Bauerngarten is the second most expensive work by Klimt sold at auction, the absolute record for the artist is still held by the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II sold for $88m in November 2006 at Christie’s New York. On the other hand, the ranking reveals five new world records, firstly, La corde sensible (Heartstring) by the surrealist René Magritte having gone through the roof at a final price of $17.9m last February at Christie’s London) and four Chinese Old Masters, sold in New York for the very first time.

Chinese Old Masters take New York by storm

In the first three months of the year, four Chinese Old Masters, Chen Rong (1189-1258), Zhao Lingrang, Li Gonglin (1049-1106) and Han Gan (706-783) create a stir at Christie’s New York sale on 15 March 2017, each artist reaching over $10 million. 15 March is a landmark in the history of Christie’s Asian sales, as a work by Chen Rong, an artist active in the 13th century sold for $49m last month, which was initially estimated at between $1.2 and $1.8m… At the beginning of the year, this exceptional sale brings the value of the artist above Gauguin, Richter and Picasso. The Six Dragons set not only the absolute record for the artist, but also became the most expensive Chinese work sold outside the country. This extraordinary record testifies to the excesses of buyers who are more inclined to raise prices than to follow « official » valuations when very rare Old Master works are concerned. This is the case here, as a dozen dragon works are clearly authenticated as originals by Chen Rong. The Six Dragons was the highlight of the « Asian Week », an annual event attracting bidders from six continents, culminating in record sales for Christie’s ($332.8m).

Present in China for many years, Christie’s has gained the trust of major Chinese buyers. The four Chinese artists in the ranking, whose works are all sold in New York, prove a better circulation in the market with these four artists selling outside China for the very first time last March… New York sales catalogues are being transformed and expanded with artists once reserved for Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, as the market becomes more fluid and accelerates between China and the United States. Nevertheless, there is a « mirror effect » on sales organised in China, where Western works are constantly being bought by new collectors. The first « significant » sale of a Western artwork in Hong Kong came a few days ago, on 2 April 2017, with a portrait of Mao, a screen-print by Andy Warhol, which sold for $12.7m at Sotheby’s. Although we don’t know the identity or the nationality of the buyer, it seems clear that Chinese collectors have actively participated in the success of this sale and that the market is widening and reaching new records.