The Top10 of Surrealism

[30 Nov 2018]

Every other Friday Artprice posts an auction ranking to help you apprehend the Art Market’s leading trends. This week, Artprice takes a look at the 10 most expensive Surrealist artworks ever sold at auction… A ranking very clearly dominated by Miro.

The Catalan Surrealist artist Joan Miro, currently the subject of a major retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris (until 4 February 2019), is also very clearly the leading Surrealist artist on the auction market with seven out of the Top-10 results. The other three places are currently occupied by René Magritte and Salvador Dali.

Rank Artist Hammer Price ($) Artwork Sale
1 Joan MIRO (1893-1983) 36 955 821 Peinture (Etoile Bleue) 19/06/2012 Sotheby’s Londres
2 Joan MIRO (1893-1983) 31 461 029 Femme et oiseaux 21/06/2017 Sotheby’s Londres
3 René MAGRITTE (1898-1967) 26 830 500 Le principe du plaisir 12/11/2018 Sotheby’s New York
4 Joan MIRO (1893-1983) 26 590 650 Painting Poem
07/02/2012 Christie’s Londres
5 Joan MIRO (1893-1983) 23 413 412 Painting (Women, Moon, Birds) 04/02/2015 Christie’s Londres
6 Joan MIRO (1893-1983) 23 375 000 Peinture 13/11/2017 Christie’s New York
7 Joan MIRO (1893-1983) 22 590 000 Femme dans la nuit 15/11/2018 Phillips New York
8 Joan MIRO (1893-1983) 21 687 500 Femme entendant de la musique 15/05/2018 Christie’s New York
9 Salvador DALI (1904-1989) 21 673 806 Portrait de Paul Eluard 10/02/2011 Sotheby’s Londres
10 René MAGRITTE (1898-1967) 20 562 500 L’empire des lumières 13/11/2017 Christie’s New York
copyright © 2018

Miro, the most sought-after Surrealist

Miro is undoubtedly one of the leading artists on the Western Art Market, first because his unbridled imagination made him one of the most interesting artists of the Surrealist scene, “the most Surreal of us all » according to André Breton, and secondly, because he was particularly prolific: among the approximately one thousand Miro works that change hands at auction each year, there are always a couple of treasures that deserve a place in the world’s top museums. In concrete terms , Joan Miro is known to have produced at least 2,000 paintings, 5,000 drawings, 500 sculptures, a few hundred ceramics and a large quantity of prints which represent 91% of his lots sold at auction every year. The prices of his canvases are extremely variable, depending on the historical and artistic importance of the work. Among the 17 Miro paintings sold so far this year, some smaller works (roughly 30 cm) have fetched around $250,000 whereas others with similar dimensions have fetched well over a million dollars. A good quality work by Miro will fetch a high price… but when quality combines with size… the prices rocket. His best works sell for over $20 million, a threshold crossed eight times so far with a notable acceleration in the last 12 months. Indeed four of those results above the $20 million line have been hammered in the last year for Peinture (1933), Femme dans la nuit (1945) and Femme entendant de la musique (1945), all three in this Top 10, as well as for Mural I / Mural II / Mural III (1933) which fetched $ 20 million last May at Christie’s in New York. His turnover total for the year 2018 is therefore outstanding (so far $ 107.6 million since January) placing him among the world’s most successful artists. In our provisional ranking for 2018 Miro currently occupies 13th place. Considered universal, his work has appealed to Western and Japanese collectors, but it has not yet penetrated the world’s largest marketplace… China.

Magritte, two new records in 12 months

Magritte’s double appearance in this ranking is all the more remarkable because his two latest records were hammered in the past 12 months. The first in November 2017, for a painting from his emblematic series L’Empire des Lumières. It’s interesting to trace the series’ price history: in 1996, a major canvas from this famous series reached $3.5 million in London. In 2002, another, dated 1952, fetched $12.6 million in New York. That was a new peak for a Surrealist artist at the time. In 2017, that peak was almost doubled when The empire of lights (1949) sold for $20.5 million in New York. That record, coming just after two other new records during the same year 2017, marked the most successful year in the Belgian Surrealist’s auction history, with an annual turnover of $77.8 million. The strong demand was almost certainly fanned by ‘cultural news’, particularly by the exhibition La trahison des images at the Pompidou Center in Paris and the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (2016-2017).

The effervescence has continued this year. In February, Magritte elicited the highest bid during London’s Surrealist sales (Christie’s and Sotheby’s) ahead of Miro, with a pioneering 1926 work Le groupe silencieux that fetched $10 million. Then, on 12 November, Sotheby’s set a superb new record for the artist at $26.8 million. The most expensive Magritte ever sold, the work bears the poetic and enigmatic title Le principe du plaisir and is a portrait of Edward James, an English heir to an American railroad fortune turned eccentric poet and influential patron of Surrealist art who invited Magritte to reside and paint in his London residence for two years. Le principe du plaisir exceeded its low estimate by more than $10 million. The painting was acquired by the seller 40 years earlier for just $74,000.

Surrealist love…

The third Surrealist in this ranking is none other than the great Salvador Dali with a work whose price might seem excessive compared to its modest size: 33 x 25 centimeters. The Portrait of Paul Eluard is a small oil-on-cardboard whose price went from $2 million in 1989 (Christie’s New York) to $21 million in 2011 at Sotheby’s (against an estimate of just $5-8 million!). The price of this work therefore multiplied by 10 in twenty years, setting Dali’s all-time auction… and it still stands . Painted at the same time as the Great Masturbateur, Portrait of Paul Eluard condenses the Dalinian iconography of the time, especially with the roaring lion’s head symbolizing desire. It was 1929 when Dali painted this delirious portrait of the poet who came to visit him in Cadaquès with his wife at that time.. a certain Gala. Dali immediately fell in love with Gala, who become his principal inspiration. The work is not only the portrait of Paul Eluard, it also marks the beginning of the most famous couple in Surrealism. Faced with such a powerful love story, the bidding escaped from the limitations of the work’s format…