Top Tens in Europe. Chapter 3: Germany

[13 Oct 2014]


Friday is Top day! Every other Friday, Artprice publishes a theme-based auction ranking. This week, we look at the artists who have achieved the most outstanding sales on the German market.

Top Tens in Europe. Chapter 3: Germany
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Max BECKMANN $4,174,520 Anni (Mädchen mit Fächer) (1942) 2005-06-03 Villa Grisebach BERLIN
2 Gerrit DOW $4,012,152 Old man in his studio (1649) 2012-05-12 Lempertz COLOGNE
3 Hermann Max PECHSTEIN $3,881,360 Weib mit Inder auf Teppich (Vorderseite), Früchte II (Rückseite) (1910) 2011-12-10 Ketterer Kunst GmbH MUNICH
4 Max BECKMANN $3,299,780 Blick Auf Vorstädte am Meer Bei Marseille (1937) 2009-11-27 Villa Grisebach BERLIN
5 Karl SCHMIDT-ROTTLUFF $3,123,630 Watt bei Ebbe (1912) 2013-11-28 Villa Grisebach BERLIN
6 August MACKE $2,958,200 Frau mit Papagei in einer Landschaft (1914) 2007-11-30 Villa Grisebach BERLIN
7 Emil NOLDE $2,876,270 Nadja (1919) 2007-06-12 Ketterer Kunst GmbH MUNICH
8 August MACKE $2,727,725 Kinder Am Hafen I (6 A) (1914) 2008-05-30 Villa Grisebach BERLIN
9 Ernst Ludwig KIRCHNER $2,696,600 Landschaft am Ufer (1913) 2007-06-08 Villa Grisebach BERLIN
10 Emil NOLDE $2,561,770 Kleine Sonnenblumen (1946) 2007-06-08 Villa Grisebach BERLIN

Germany, Europe’s third stronghold for the sale of art works at auction after the UK and France (in terms of annual turnover) achieved the best bid on its soil in 2005 – so nine years ago, while the New York market is constantly setting new records. This German record, $4.17 million, is held by Max Beckmann (1884-1950). Bidding levels certainly lag far behind the US, China and the UK – all capable of selling works for several tens of millions – but Germany is nonetheless a stronghold of the European art market. It sold nearly 4,200 works at auction in the past year (between 1 September 2013 and 1 September 2014), for a total of $219 million: a higher result than those of Italy and Austria put together.

Which names spur buyers up to the highest price levels? Mainly modern and post-war artists, particularly key figures in German Expressionism, highly sought-after by Western collectors and major museums alike. Max Beckmann, Max Pechstein, Karl Schmidt Rottluff, August Macke, Emil Nolde and Ludwig Kirchner are all Expressionists who very largely account for these top bids – nine out of the ten.

The most expensive is Max Beckmann, who appears twice in the ranking, and holds the top German bid. Born on 12 February 1884, he died in New York in 1950, the year of his first prize for painting at the Venice Biennial. Beckman was classified by the Nazis as a “degenerate painter,” and chose exile in Amsterdam in 1933 before leaving for the United States in 1947. He is highly sought after in London (34% of his turnover) where, at recent sales in June 2014, he garnered over $7.1 million under Sotheby’s hammer (Stilleben Mit Grammophon Und Schwertlilien (Still-Life with Gramophone and Irises)). He established his absolute record of $20.5 million in 2011 in New York, when a self-portrait of 1938 fetched double the Sotheby’s estimate (Selbstbildnis mit Horn (Self-Portrait with Horn), notching up over $22.5 million including the buyer’s premium on 10 May 2001). His record in Germany comes a long way behind, with the $4.1 million ($4.8 million including the buyer’s premium), obtained at the 2009 sale of “Anni (Mädchen mit Fächer)” (3 June 2005, Villa Grisebach, Berlin).

Max Pechstein‘s record is not far behind Beckmann’s, but he does not cut such a swathe across the Atlantic. For Pechstein, Germany is still the best marketplace for selling his works (49% of his turnover). This is where he achieved his auction record, $3.8 million, in 2011 with the 1910 oil on canvas Weib mit Inder auf Teppich (Vorderseite), Früchte II (Rückseite) at the sale on 10 December 2011 at Ketterer in Munich. Pechstein was part of the group of artists known as Die Brücke (The Bridge, founded in 1905), and thus rubbed shoulders with Karl Schmidt Rottluff, one of the movement’s founders. Rottluff, a hyperactive avant-garde artist, suffered heavy losses during the Nazi period between the 608 works classified as “degenerate art” and withdrawn from German museums in 1938, the bombing of his studio in 1941 and the works destroyed in 1945 when he believed them safe in Silesia. 52% of his market is German, but he achieved his absolute record in London with the 1913 painting Akte im Freien, Drei babende Frauen (sold for $5.3 million; $5.98 million including the buyer’s premium, at Christie’s on 4 February 2008).
London is decidedly a stronghold for German Expressionists. This is where the best works by Karl Schmidt Rottluff, August Macke, Emil Nolde and Ludwig Kirchner are sold, and the city is also where record bids are often posted. Although the German market awards its highest prices to its historic artists of the 20th century, it struggles to keep the best works in its own territory when faced with the irresistible might of the London and New York markets.

The only “intruder”, without whom the Top Ten would have been an all-Expressionist ranking, is the 17th century Dutch artist Gerrit Dow, who holds the second best bid in Germany – a little behind Beckmann. This master of trompe-l’oeil and detail was a pupil of Rembrandt. Although more of a regular in the salerooms of New York, Gerrit Dow posted his most recent bid of over a million in Cologne, when the Lempertz auction house offered Old Man in his Studio, an oil on panel of 1649, at a sale of Old Masters. The Old Man was snapped up for over $4 million: the artist’s third highest bid ahead of two New York records. Even when starting in Germany, all roads lead to New York in the highest echelons of the market…