You must have cookies enabled to use this website.

The best auctions throughout the world in 2016

[09 Dec 2016]

Discover the best sales every Friday! Every other Friday Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. Let’s have a look at the 10 best auction sales in the world during an eventful 2016.


Year 2016: World auctions top 10 most expensive
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Claude MONET (1840-1926) $81 447 500 Meule 2016-11-16 Christie’s New York NY
2 Willem DE KOONING (1904-1997) $66 327 500 Untitled XXV 2016-11-15 Christie’s New York NY
3 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) $63 220 336 Femme assise 2016-06-21 Sotheby’s London
4 Peter Paul RUBENS (1577-1640) $58 077 955 Lot and his Daughters 2016-07-07 Christie’s London
5 Jean-Michel BASQUIAT (1960-1988) $57 285 000 Untitled 2016-05-10 Christie’s New York NY
6 Amedeo MODIGLIANI (1884-1920) $56 265 500 Jeanne Hébuterne (au foulard) 2016-06-21 Sotheby’s London
7 Edvard MUNCH (1863-1944) $54 487 500 Pikene på broen (girls on the bridge) 2016-11-14 Sotheby’s New York NY
8 CUI Ruzhuo (1944) $39 577 200 The Grand Snowing Mountains (飛雪伴春) 2016-04-04 Poly Auction Hong Kong Hong Kong
9 Cy TWOMBLY (1928-2011) $36 650 000 Untitled (New York City) 2016-05-11 Sotheby’s New York NY
10 Francis BACON (1909-1992) $34 970 000 « Two Studies For A Self-Portrait » 2016-05-11 Sotheby’s New York NY
copyright © 2016

2016 has been more diverse than the previous two years as New York left a little more room for manoeuvre to other major auction centres. Although the best sales in 2015 were 100% American, this year, three auction sales recorded in London (Picasso, Rubens, Modigliani) and one in Hong Kong (Cui Ruzhuo) are among the best sales in 2016. This geographical expansion is due to the considerable drop in top auctions after a historic 2015 in terms of sales. Thus, the best annual result, with the sale of Haystack by Monet for $81.4 million would have been ranked only sixth in the best sales of 2015, after The Women of Algiers (Version ‘O’) (1955) by Picasso ($179.3 million), Reclining nude by Modigliani ($170 million), Man pointing by Giacometti ($141.2 million), Lichtenstein’s Nurse ($95.3 million) and No. 10 by Rothko ($81.9 million). The race for records slowed considerably, with entry into the annual Top 10 falling from $56m to $34.9m and, most importantly, with total sales falling by almost half ($548m) compared to the billion dollars reached last year.

The annual ranking reflects the slowdown, certainly inevitable after the euphoric year of 2015. It nevertheless testifies to the strength and resilience of the high-end market in spite of political and economic upheavals, as outstanding works of art are still highly sought after. One of the highlights of the year, Haystack(1890-91) by Claude Monet, was sold for the record price of $81.4m after 15 minutes of auction time at Christie’s, flying above the estimate of $45m. The estimates thus remain far from actual sale prices when the work turns out to be an absolute masterpiece, a rarity of museum quality. It is precisely a masterpiece that recorded the highest sale at auction in the world in 2016, faced with exceptional competition from Picasso, Basquiat and Modigliani.

Traditionally, the best annual auction sales are for the major artists active between the end of the 19th century and the 1980s, unless a exceptionally rare work by an old master appears at auction. That happened this year when Lot and his daughters (190cm x 225cm) by Antwerp artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) went on sale at Christie’s at the beginning of last summer. When finally sold for $58.1 million, it became the artist’s second most expensive work after The Massacre of the Innocents, a record for an old master with $76.6 million recorded at Sotheby’s, London, in 2002. Although exceptional works by old masters are extremely rare and highly sought after, can one consider them to be fairly priced when Lot and her daughters was sold for $8 million less than the abstract painting byDe Kooning, Untitled XXV (1977), which set a new record at over $66m?

The current market rejects the linear appraisal and valuation of works based on art history. On the other hand, the financial wealth of certain countries has more clout when determining value, hence the arrival of a Chinese artist in 8th position of the annual ranking. Born in 1944, Cui Ruzhuo is one of the most highly regarded living artists in the world thanks to the strong support of the Chinese market, the only one to promote his work. This great draughtsman, whom wealthy Chinese collectors are queuing up to buy, keeps creating new records with a $39.5m sale recorded this year at Poly Auction in Hong Kong for a work completed in 2013 ( The Grand Snowing Mountains). For the major Chinese buyers, contemporary ink drawing is the essential link between traditional art and modernity, a strong reference that they highly value. Today, Cui Ruzhuo is indeed even more highly rated, as far as drawings are concerned, than Pablo Picasso.

While the art market retains undeniable resilience despite a slowdown in major multi-million dollar sales (in 2015 three sales reached over $100m each), this year, it also sees a revival of the competition between China and the United States. Besides boosting the value of their compatriots, the Chinese are also still particularly keen on acquiring great Western art. Their economic muscle remains of paramount importance for the high performance of the Western market.

By using this website, you accept the use of cookies for better analysis and relevance. For more information, Confidentiality and personal data protection charter OK