Top ten prints in 2013

[06 Dec 2013]


Friday is Top day! Every other Friday, Artprice publishes a theme-based auction ranking. This week: the Top Ten prints sold in 2013.

Top ten prints in 2013
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Pablo PICASSO $3,603,410 La Suite Vollard (1930/37) 19/06/2013 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
2 Edvard MUNCH $2,794,610 Young Woman on the Beach (1896) 20/03/2013 (Christie’s LONDON)
3 Pablo PICASSO $2,200,000 La femme qui pleure I (1937) 05/11/2013 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
4 Andy WARHOL $2,050,000 Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) (1967) 13/11/2013 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
5 Pablo PICASSO $1,700,000 La Minotauromachie (1935) 04/11/2013 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
6 Andy WARHOL $1,700,000 Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) (1967) 16/05/2013 (Phillips NEW YORK NY)
7 Edvard MUNCH $1,412,040 Madonna (1895-1902) 05/06/2013 (Grev Wedels Plass Auksjoner OSLO)
8 Edvard MUNCH $1,274,960 Evening, Melancholy I (1896) 17/09/2013 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
9 Edvard MUNCH $1,239,020 Two Human Beings. the Lonely Ones (1899) 19/03/2013 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
10 Odilon REDON $1,200,000 Tentation de Saint Antoine – Texte de Gustave Flaubert (1888) 29/10/2013 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)

First point to note: for the same artist, the price of prints rises when the prices of unique works rise. The star names in major prestige sales thus stand apart in the multiples sector as well. Second point, resulting directly from the first: given the recent explosion in art prices, the great majority of bids of over a million for prints were recorded between 2008 and 2013.
Matisse, Rembrandt, Redon, Lautrec, Hokusai and Kirchner are some of the most coveted names in the field, but the winning quartet, accounting for all Top Ten prints sold in 2013, were Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Edvard Munch and Odilon Redon.

Rarity is a crucial criterion where multiples are concerned, whether it involves a series of prints produced as such by the artist, or a solitary print, which often presents a unique character at these million-plus price levels.

The law of series
In terms of engravings, the Suite Vollard is Pablo Picasso’s most famous tour de force. It consists of a set of 100 etchings executed by the painter during the Thirties in a neoclassical style. The Suite Vollard was created as part of an exchange between Picasso and his dealer, Ambroise Vollard. Some 310 complete sets were produced at the time, but most were broken up and dispersed after Vollard’s death in 1939. Complete sets are thus rare, and are the pride and joy of a few institutions: the British Museum in London, the National Gallery in Washington, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Musée Picasso in Paris. In first place in the Top Ten, the Suite Vollard achieved a new record this year at $3.6 million (making an average price of $36,000 per piece): $2.5 million more than another complete Suite Vollard sold in 2006 (£580,000, the equivalent of $1,088 million, at Sotheby’s London on 3 October 2006).

When considered in terms of price per piece, the Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) screen prints by Andy Warhol, with an average price of $205,000 each, turn out to be far more expensive than the prints in Picasso’s Suite Vollard. Warhol posted a new record bid in 2013 with his legendary Marilyns of 1967, when a lot of 10 coloured screen prints in an edition of 250 caused a fierce bidding battle up to $2,050,000 on 13 November at Christie’s New York. Marilyn Monroe garnered Warhol two places in the ranking.

Another highlight of 2013 was the new record posted by Odilon Redon with a portfolio of 10 lithographs illustrating the Tentation de Saint Antoine – Texte de Gustave Flaubert (1888), with all the Surrealist dimension of the artist. The lot sold for $1.2 million, i.e. 100 times more than its high estimate, on 29 October ($1,445,000 including the buyer’s premium on 29 October 2013 at Christie’s)! All in all, Redon achieved an exceptional year with 11 new records at auction for his prints. The artist’s price index started to rise again after five moribund years for lack of sufficient top quality lots – in contrast to the ones offered by Christie’s on 29 October, where several other Redon lots multiplied their estimates by a factor of four, ten and forty.

The uniqueness of the print
Between May 2012 and November 2013, Edvard Munch established himself as the world’s highest-rated artist at auction with the sale of The Scream, which went for $107 million on 2 May 2012 at Sotheby’s New York (The Scream, 1895, pastel, sold for $119,922, 500 including the buyer’s premium). Then it was dethroned on 12 November this year by Francis Bacon’s Triptych, which sold for $127 million at Christie’s (Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969: $142,405,000 including the buyer’s premium).

While Munch is not the author of the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction, he is when it comes to prints, with an iconic aquatint, Young Woman on the Beach, estimated at £500,000 and finally knocked down for £1,850,000 – more than $2.7 million – on 20 March 2013 at Christie’s London (1896, 29 cm x 22 cm). This subject is almost as famous in Munch’s output as The Scream, and shows a lonely female figure on a shore. This theme can be traced back to a passage in one of the artist’s journals from the early 1890s, when he wrote of a woman in a white dress standing « against the blue of the rising sea – with the sinuous snake-like curves of the shoreline. » Several factors account for the high price fetched by this print. First of all, Munch considered the work of printmaking as important as the action of painting, hence the rare prices achieved – the same order as Picasso’s. Furthermore, Young Woman on the Beach evinces innovation in the treatment of the plate and the colours. Munch created modulations between one print and another, giving a unique aura to each aquatint. Only 11 impressions of Young Woman on the Beach are listed, and there are seven colour variants according to Gerd Woll, who compiled the artist’s catalogue raisonné.

Its iconic subject, innovative technique, uniqueness and rarity (no aquatint of this Young Woman on the Beach had ever gone to auction till then) were one thing; another was the print’s historical importance. It was confiscated under the Nazis before being restored to the heirs of Curt Glaser, director of the Kupferstichkabinett (the prints department of the Berlin State Museums in the Twenties). So the historical significance of the work also contributed to its soaring price.

Munch is the clear winner in the print category in 2013, holding four places in the Top Ten, while Pablo Picasso has three works in the ranking, including Femme qui pleure I, sold at $2.2 m this year at Christie’s. This dry point aquatint etching of 1937 is considered one of his finest. There are only 15 copies, and it had already achieved a considerably higher figure: $4.5 million at a Christie’s New York sale on 1 November 2011.