Top 10 works of sculpture by famous painters

[04 Dec 2015]

Another Friday Top. Every other Friday, Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. This week, the ten most expensive sculptures of 2015, created by famous painters, come under close scrutiny.

Numerous renowned painters have tried their hands at sculpture, but without always reaching conclusive results. More of a hobby for many of them, sculpture has nevertheless provided some artists with an interesting new perspective. Increasingly, therefore, the market has been succumbing to the charm of these experiments. In 2015, auction houses have repeatedly been filled with enthusiasm for works in three dimensions signed by the hand of great masters of painting.

Top 10 works of sculpture by famous painters
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Paul GAUGUIN $27,500,000 Thérèse (c.1902-1903) 2015-11-09 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
2 Edgar DEGAS $22,083,600 Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans (c.1879/81) 2015-06-24 Sotheby’s LONDRES
3 Pablo PICASSO $11,742,900 Tête (1962/64) 2015-02-03 Sotheby’s LONDRES
4 Yves KLEIN $7,800,000 Accord Bleu (RE 52) (1958) 2015-05-12 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
5 Ernst Ludwig KIRCHNER $7,000,000 Tnzerin mit gehobenem Bein (1913) 2015-11-09 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
6 Joan MIRO $6,200,000 Personnage (1970) 2015-11-12 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
7 Joan MIRO $4,650,000 Jeune fille s’évadant (1967) 2015-11-09 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
8 Yves KLEIN $4,000,000 Untitled blue sponge sculpture (SE 181) (1960-1961) 2015-05-11 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
9 Roy LICHTENSTEIN $2,400,000 Glass V (1977) 2015-11-10 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
10 Henri MATISSE $2,500,000 Nu couch II (1927) 2015-11-12 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
copyright © 2015


Among these is the French artist Paul Gauguin, now widely recognised as one of the great forerunners of modern painting. Since the (private) sale in February 2015 of Nafea faa ipoipo (1882), for the sum of USD 300m, Gauguin’s paintings have been considered among the most expensive on the market. His sculpted work on the other hand is much less well-known. However, this autumn, one of the small statues he carved in wood during his retirement in Polynesia and directly inspired by native art, Thérèse, was sold for USD 27.5m (USD 31m including fees) at Christie’s New York. This auction, in all likelihood influenced by the previous record, amounted to the second best result of the year at auction for a sculpture, albeit far behind the historic sum recorded for L’homme au doigtt by Alberto Giacometti (USD 126m). With this sale, the market gives legitimacy to another aspect of Paul Gauguin’s work and recognises him as a complete artist.

The Petite danseuse de quatorze ans signed by Edgar Degas is another outstanding example of a sculpture that caused bids to soar without the artist being especially known in this field. Acquired in June 2000 for USD 10.5m at Sotheby’s in London, the Petite danseuse de quatorze ans was sold for USD 22.1m on June 24, 2015. So in the space of 15 years the price of this work has more than doubled. Like Gauguin, Degas drew inspiration for his sculpted work from the same source as for his paintings. Thus, the young dancers, soft and graceful, who inhabit his paintings took on a new dimension in the production of several series of bronzes, mostly created by the painter between 1879 and 1881.

While the market seems to be discovering the quality of the three-dimensional works of Gauguin and Degas, the sculpted work of other great geniuses of painting also continues to be appreciated. Thus, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Yves Klein all achieve high bids every year for their sculpted works. Nonetheless, these remain an altogether marginal segment and the proceeds from auction for these artists remain in large part due to buying and selling of their paintings (> 75%).

Similarly, while Joan Miro’s sculptural works are not entirely unknown to the public, it cannot be denied that the Catalan artist remains famous primarily for his skills with the brush. Although his paintings use a powerful palette (with a highly recognisable bright blue and red), Miro’s sculptures for the most part keep the rough aspect of bronze. Thus, the two sides of his works differ quite considerably. The number of his paintings reaching the millions in auction is now beyond counting, but this year like last year, four of his sculptures also exceeded the symbolic threshold, with a peak of USD 7.1m for one of the four best examples his famous Personnage (1970).

Probably partly because their masterpieces are increasingly rare on the market, the great painters of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are attracting new attention for the sculptural work they carried out in parallel to their painting. Thus, the auction record for a work by the painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner is still USD 34m, achieved on 8 November 2006 at Christie’s New York for the canvas Berline Strassenszene (1913-1914). This year, however, a bid of USD 7m set a new record for his sculpture with the sale of Tänzerin mit gehobenem Bein (1913), recorded by the same auction house on November 9 of last year.

The name of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, or even more that of Roy Lichtenstein, inevitably evokes an iconic painting style. Yet their sculptural works now enjoy a strong market, a naturally secondary market but one that is experiencing remarkable growth. The great western masters are gradually achieving full recognition. They are now admired as much for their sculptures as they are for their paintings and drawings. This is what we learn from the prestigious New York sale, The artist’s muse, organised by Christie’s during this winter of 2015, and in which Gauguin, Kirchner and even Alberto Giacometti all had both a painting and a sculpture auctioned among the 24 lots, without any difference in quality being discernible between the two mediums.