The 2023 art world was saddled with record breaking sales with some notable moments across auction houses. This article highlights 5 noteworthy sales that made headlines in the global art market. While they may not collectively be the most expensive pieces sold, they left audiences with important points to note in the coming future.
Gustav Klimt, Dame mit Fächer, 1917-1918 - $106.8 million
At Sotheby’s London modern and contemporary evening auction in summer 2023, Gustav Klimt's mesmerizing masterpiece, Dame mit Fächer (Lady with a Fan) painted shortly before his passing in 1918, sold for £85 million ($106.8 million). This is a monumental growth in value since its previous auction sale price of $11.6 million in 1994.
The elegant portrayal of a woman adorned in intricate patterns and delicate hues captivated bidders, culminating in this historic sale. Klimt’s painting auction garnered widespread attention, not merely for its monetary value but for the allure and enigmatic beauty that characterizes his artworks. Notably, another piece by Gustav Klimt titled Insel im Attersee (Island in the Attersee), 1901 sold at the Sotheby’s modern evening auction in New York earlier in the year for $53.2 million.
Gustav Klimt, Dame mit Fächer (Lady with a Fan), 1917/1918 © Sotheby’s
The sale of Dame mit Fächer marks a pivotal moment in the art world, reaffirming Gustav Klimt's strong influence and the timeless charm of his creations. This acquisition echoes the continued appreciation for Klimt's distinctive blend of symbolism and artistic prowess, solidifying the painting's status as an emblem of artistic excellence and cultural significance in the 21st century. The piece was tagged “the star of the summer auction season in London” as it is the most expensive artwork ever sold in a European auction house.
Louise Bourgeois, Spider, 1994 - $32.8 million
At Sotheby’s contemporary art sale in May 2023, Louise Bourgeois's iconic Spider sculpture, sold for $32.8 million. The monumental arachnid, a symbol of maternal strength and complex emotions, commanded considerable attention and achieved an impressive record as the most expensive sculpture by a female artist. The auction of this powerful and evocative sculpture sparked widespread interest, underscoring the lasting impact of Bourgeois's work and the profound resonance it holds within the contemporary art sphere.
Louise Bourgeois, Spider, 1994 © Sotheby’s/Getty Images
The sale of "Spider" marks a pivotal moment, highlighting Louise Bourgeois's timeless influence and the continued reverence for her exploration of psychological themes through art.
Rembrandt Van Rijn, Portraits, 1635 - $14.2 million
In a momentous Christie’s auction in June 2023, Rembrandt Van Rijn's masterful portraits, Portraits of Jan Willemsz van der Pluym and Jaapgen Carels, painted in 1635, sold for more than $14.2 million, exceeding their auction estimates by 40%. Adding to their allure, the small portraits were lost for almost two centuries–a rarity for pieces painted by a renowned master. After being sold at Christie’s auction house in 1824, the pieces seemingly disappeared until they were recently unearthed from a British family’s collection.
The captivating depth and lifelike portrayal of the subjects, emblematic of the Dutch painter's unparalleled skill, attracted avid interest from collectors, culminating in a significant sale. The auction of these remarkable portraits sparked considerable excitement among art market professionals and enthusiasts, reflecting both the appeal of Rembrandt's work and the immense value placed on historically significant pieces.
Rembrandt, Portraits of Jan Willemsz van der Pluym and Jaapgen Carels, 1635 © Rijksmuseum
The sale of the Portraits of Jan Willemsz van der Pluym and Jaapgen Carels underscores Rembrandt's long lasting legacy and artistic mastery. Beyond its artistic merit, the acquisition of these portraits reaffirms the continued reverence for Rembrandt's contributions to the art world and the timeless appeal of his profound ability to capture the human essence with unparalleled depth and emotion.
Julie Mehretu, Walkers with the Dawn and Morning, 2008 - $10.7million
A painting by the Ethiopian-American artist, Julie Mehretu, became the most expensive artwork sold by a female African artist at the Sotheby’s New York auction in November 2023. Mehretu's compelling diptych, Walkers with the Dawn and Morning, sold at the highly anticipated auction for $10.7 million. The dynamic artwork, marked by Mehretu's intricate layers and vibrant compositions, captivated collectors, leading to a significant sale. The diptych's auction generated substantial buzz within the art world, not solely for its visual depth and complexity but also for the substantial value it commanded in the market.
Julie Mehretu, Walkers with the Dawn and Morning, 2008 © Sotheby’s
The sale of Walkers with the Dawn and Morning highlights Julie Mehretu's continued prominence and the growing appreciation for her abstract and multilayered works. The painting's acquisition not only signifies the interest in contemporary African art but also underscores the lasting appeal and investment value of Mehretu's distinctive artistic vision in the contemporary art landscape.
Pablo Picasso, Femme à la montre, 1932 - $139 million
In Sotheby’s $400 million sale of works from the late philanthropist Emily Fisher Landau’s collection, Pablo Picasso's captivating masterpiece Femme à la montre, 1932 made waves within the art market, becoming the most expensive artwork sold in 2023 for $139 million. The painting's significance is a prime example of Picasso's iconic style and the esteemed period of his career in the early 1930s, which contributed significantly to its value.
This sale serves as a testament to the persisting market demand for exceptional works by established masters, emphasizing the importance of honing individual artistic voices while recognizing the potential for long-term appreciation in the art market. Gallerists, observing the fervor surrounding this sale, may find it advantageous to curate exhibitions or represent artists exploring styles resonant with esteemed historical periods, tapping into the market's appreciation for iconic art movements.
Pablo Picasso, Femme à la montre, 1932 © Sotheby’s
The sale of Femme à la montre by Pablo Picasso underscores the enduring appeal of blue-chip artworks within the art market, presenting a valuable learning opportunity for emerging artists seeking to navigate their careers. Understanding the evolving preferences and trends within the market while staying true to unique artistic expressions is crucial, as it allows for the cultivation of works that resonate both artistically and commercially. This will serve as a reminder that artists can achieve a great deal of success by developing their unique styles as well as a good reputation across the global art scene. Art market professionals can draw insights from this sale, recognizing the significance of showcasing works that encapsulate distinct periods of an artist's oeuvre, as it can drive interest and value in their represented artists, enhancing the gallery's reputation and market positioning.
Crucial lessons from 2023
Despite the economic uncertainties experienced around the world such as threats of recession and high interest rates, these sales by auction houses displayed their remarkable Savoir-faire in staying successful by spotting and curating unforgettable pieces for their scheduled events. Auction houses masterfully retained demand for some of the most sought-out pieces in history and ensured that the economic situation had little effect on the value of artworks.
Regardless of this dynamic economic climate, 2023 was a memorable year with established names like Gustav Klimt breaking records and reintroducing the art world to forgotten portraits. Artists like Julie Mehretu further shine a spotlight on African art, its persistent interest by art enthusiasts and its limitless potential for the future. Female contemporary artists are experiencing parity in the art market proven by the momentum in sales and popularity around the world. We look forward to documenting the changes and new records in the coming years.