Yves Tanguy’s dream landscapes…

[25 Jul 2017]

There has been substantial growth in demand for Yves Tanguy’s work in recent years and his price index is up +346% since 2000. The rarity of his paintings on the secondary market has no doubt contributed to a revaluation that still has upside potential.

Born in Paris to Breton parents, Yves TANGUY (1900-1955) met Jacques Prévert during his military service in Luneville in 1920. It was this decisive encounter that diverted Tanguy away from a career in the Navy (like his father). Together, Prevert and Tanguy scoured bookstores where they discovered magazines like La Revolution surréaliste. In 1923, Tanguy decided to become a painter after discovering Giorgio DE CHIRICO’s painting, Le Cerveau de l’enfant. In the following years he met lots of artists and poets and began creating illustrations for written works by the likes of Louis Aragon, Benjamin Peret, Tristan Tzara, Jean Arp, Paul Eluard and André Breton.

Twenty-five years after the initial inspiration from de Chirico’s work, another artist had a second decisive impact on his career. In 1938 Yves Tanguy discovered the American painter Kay SAGE (1898-1963) at a Paris exhibition. The two fell in love and when Sage was back in the United States at the beginning of World War II, she made arrangements for her French friends to come to the United States. Exempted from military service, Tanguy joined her in New York and they married in 1940. Eight years later, he became an American citizen. His years of American creativity were intense, but far removed from the constant intellectual exchanges that animated his Parisian lifestyle. In New York, Tanguy worked on his own, entrusting his creations to his friend and agent Pierre Matisse, who regularly exhibited his works in his New York gallery. In the 1940s, Tanguy’s work became emblematic of Surrealism for New Yorkers. When he died suddenly in 1955, the Museum of Modern Art in New York organised a retrospective long before his work was honoured by major institutions in France. In 1982 the Musée National d’Art moderne was the first major French institution to organise a retrospective (Centre Georges Pompidou, Yves Tanguy. Rétrospective, 1925-1955).

Yves Tanguy was famous in the United States during his lifetime and, even today, is still more appreciated in America than in France. Over the last ten years, 21% of his auction turnover has come from the US compared with 13.7% from France. However, the bulk of his works find buyers in the UK (accounting for more than 63% of his auction turnover over the same period) since Tanguy received strong support in London during his lifetime, including from the Guggenheim Jeune Gallery which organised his first solo exhibition on Bond Street in 1938. In addition, the Tate Gallery was quick to recognise the French artist by acquiring an important work entitled Les Transparents (1951) in 1964.

Today, Yves Tanguy’s market is booming with prices up +346% since 2000 and his works becoming increasingly rare on the secondary market: so far this year, only one painting has sold (La lumière, la solitude, $1.9 million at Christie’s in London on 28 February 2017). Two sold in 2016, six in 2015, and seven in 2014 … However, despite the rarity, his best works still fetch much less than the best works by other Surrealist artists like Joan Miro, Salvador Dali, René Magritte, Giorgio de Chirico and Max Ernst, who all have auction records between $13 million and $37 million. Tanguy’s auction record has not changed in 12 years since Christie’s sold his large format painting Les derniers jours (1944) for $7.5 million in London (7 February 2005). If the same work were auctioned today, it would probably fetch around $15 million, projecting Tanguy into the small circle of the world’s most popular Surrealist artists. The presentation of a major Tanguy work at auction would almost certainly generate a very positive result, which would, in turn, correct his current undervaluation and put Tanguy on the same market footing as Max Ernst, at least…