Auction houses had a busy year in 2022, with the world’s financial difficulties not yet showing up in art sales, and record sales in the region and around the world.
Although the global economy took a big hit last year, this was not reflected in art sales: a growing market and record prices marked 2022. This is well illustrated by the fact that while only two items on the list of most expensive works sold worldwide exceeded $50 million in 2020, the entire top 10 sold for more than that price in 2021, and the price of the top 10 climbed to more than $80 million in 2022. These ten artworks sold for a total of $1.1 billion. A new record was also set: Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, which was auctioned last spring, set the highest preliminary estimate ever, as Christie’s in New York was set to sell it for $200 million. Although legendary art collector Larry Gagosian ended up paying a little less, $195 million, it still became the most expensive painting sold that year.
Top 10 most expensive artworks sold worldwide in 2022:
1. Andy Warhol: Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964)—$195 million
2. Georges Seurat: Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version) (1888)—$149,2 million (Photo: Christie’s)
3. Paul Cézanne: La Montagne Sainte-Victoire (1888–90)—$137,8 million (Photo: Christie’s)
4. Vincent van Gogh: Verger avec cypres (1888)—$117,2 million (Photo: Christie’s)
5. Paul Gauguin: Maternité II (1889)—$105,7 million (Photo: Christie’s)
6. Gustav Klimt: Birch Forest (1903)—$104,6 million (Photo: Christie’s)
7. Lucian Freud: Large Interior, W11 (After Watteau) (1981–83)—$86,3 million (Photo: Christie’s)
8. Jean-Michel Basquiat: Untitled (1982)—$85 million (Photo: Phillips New York)
9. Andy Warhol: White Disaster (White Car Crash 19 Times) (1963)—$84,5 million (Photo: Sotheby’s)
10. René Magritte: L’empire des Lumières (1961)—$79,8 million (Photo: Sotheby’s)
Tops in Hungary
The list of the most expensive paintings by Hungarian artists sold in Hungary is quite competitive: as in the past, the great artists of the 20th century lead the field. While there are 20-30 names that alternate among the best sellers, there is only one name making a comeback from last year: János Vaszary is the only artist to have appeared in the top 10 in each of the last three years, this year setting a lifetime sales record with a sale of HUF 165 million. The real jump in price happened in 2021, while 2022 saw a more modest increase: Rippl-Rónai’s first-place painting was worth 300 million forints, and Ilona Keserü’s tenth-place painting was worth 110 million forints. In the past, Judit Reigl was the only living artist to make the top 10, with not one but two works, making Keserü’s lifetime record sale an extraordinary achievement. The crème de la crème included Károly Patkó, Ödön Márffy, Vilmos Aba-Novák, Béla Kondor, and Csaba Perlrott last year.
There were also big changes in the sales of living contemporary artists: less so in terms of names, but in terms of sales prices. The list of the most popular painters in Hungary has roughly stayed the same for a number of years noew, and this year was not too different in this respect: Ilona Keserü with five paintings, Dóra Maurer with two, Imre Bak with one, and István Nádler with two were among the most expensive sellers. The most expensive painting (Tombstones 2 by Ilona Keserü) sold for HUF 110 million, while István Nádler’s Grief IV, in tenth place, was sold for HUF 20 million.
Polish record with criminal connotations
Last December, the Polish market saw its highest ever price at auction: Reality (Rzeczywistość) by symbolist Jacek Malczewski, active at the turn of the century, sold for PLN 17 million. However, the unnamed bidder cannot yet take possession of the painting due to legal problems. The painting was last exhibited in Lviv in 1926, and for nearly a hundred years it remained under the radar. According to the hosting auction house, the painting was in the possession of a Polish-German family of art collectors for decades. Shortly before the auction, however, the police arrived at the auction house, as Polish prosecutors claim that the painting had probably been illegally taken out of the country in the 1950s. Although the original owner had accurate records of the painting’s history, the prosecution seized it, and it is now on public display at the DESA Unicum auction house.
If the sale does go through, it will break a 2021 record, when Magdalena Abakanowicz’s installation titled Bambini was bought for PLN 13.6 million. Last year’s other big seller was Portrait of a Lady by Rubens, also put up at auction by DESA Unicum, which sold for PLN 14.4 million. Tamara Lempicka’s Portrait de Marjorie Ferry holds the record for the most expensive work by a Polish artist sold (abroad), at $21 million 150,000.
Better-than-expected figures in Czechia
The Czech market also set a record last May, with Bohumil Kubišta’s Old Prague Motif (Staropražský motiv) selling for CZK 123.6 million. Interestingly, the starting price was “only” CZK 25 million, which in itself would have been a lifetime record for the artist, who worked in the Expressionist and Cubist styles. The previous Czech record was set by František Kupka’s painting in 2020 at CZK 90.4 million, but another of Kupka’s paintings has already sold for £7,551,600 in London, the highest price ever paid for a work by a Czech artist.
The top ten most expensive Czech paintings in 2022 were worth a total of CZK 392 million, a figure that has increased year-on-year after a significant drop in 2018. Kubišta’s painting therefore accounted for a third of this amount, with Toyen also making the list with four works, as well as František Kupka, another piece by Kubišta, and those by Emil Filla, Josef Čapek, and Mikuláš Medek. In Czechia, the online art market also performed well last year: although mainly cheaper works are sold online, the segment generated a turnover of around €118 million. The highest online price was paid for Josef Čapek’s newly discovered Still Life with Flowers, worth CZK 9.12 million. On the other hand, the 17th-century copper engraver Václav Hollar sold the most number of works online, with 56 of his pieces being sold.
Source: Artnet, Artportal, Notes from Poland, Artplus here and here