Here are the 10 most expensive works of art sold at auction in 2021 – and why they got the prices they did

In the midst of all the logistical upheavals of the past year, the old sayings about what creates value at the top of the art market have proven to be more true than ever.

Rarity, condition and origin remain the main drivers of the market’s top level. Sotheby’s unprecedented November auction of works from the collection of the divorced Harry and Linda Macklowe hit the mark on all three points, yielding some of the rarest (and most expensive) treasures the market had seen in years. Perhaps not surprisingly, works from Trove drew attention to four of the 10 most expensive reasons in 2021.

The incredible amount of wealth that has been created over the last two years was on full display in auction halls. In 2020, only two of the top 10 parties achieved awards of over $ 50 million each. This year, all ten for the best reasons sold for well over $ 50 million. Together, they delivered a total of 1.2 billion. The lowest price on the list is $ 61.6 million.

Read on for details, not just on what scored big, but why. Data on best-selling lots is provided by Artnet’s price database.

10. Jackson Pollock, Number 17, 1951 (1951)

Jackson Pollock, No. 17, 1951 (1951).  Lent by Sotheby's.

Lent by Sotheby’s.

Price: $ 61.6 million

When: November 15

Where: Sotheby’s New York

Why: The success of this painting – part of the Macklowe Collection – was something of a surprise. It comes from one group of 33 canvases known as “Black Pourings” or “Black Paintings”, unveiled in 1951, immediately after Pollock had debuted the all-over multicolored compositions for which he is best known. The unfounded linen canvas shattered its high estimate of $ 35 million, surpassing the artist’s previous record of $ 58.3 million, set at a more distinctive drip composition in 2013. Its origins are unsurpassed: Before t.he Macklowes acquired it in 1999, it was owned by the famous collector SI Newhouse, and before that part of the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who acquired it in 1952 from the legendary Sidney Janis Gallery.

9. Xu Yang, Emperor Qianlong’s conquest of Xiyu (18th century)

Xu Yan, <i>Emperor Qianlong’s Conquest of Xiyu (“Pingding Western Conquest of Prisoners”), </i> Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).  Image courtesy of Poly International, Beijing. “Width =” 652 “height =” 1024 “srcset =” 652×1024.jpg 652w,×300.jpg 191w, news-upload / 2021/12 / Xu-Yang-Poly-TT-32×50.jpg 32w, 1000w “sizes =” (max-width: 652px) 100vw, 652px “/></p>
<p class=Image courtesy of Poly International, Beijing.

Price: CNY 414 million ($ 65 million)

When: June 6

Where: Poly International, Beijing

Why: This carefully painted rare roll became one of the most expensive Chinese works of art ever to sell at auction. Creproduced by Xu Yang, who was recruited as a court painter by the Qianlong emperor in the 1750s, shows hand-scrolling scenes in Beijing during the wake of military campaigns to consolidate the emperor’s power in western China.

The detailed artwork begins at Beijing’s Zhengyangmen Gate and passes through Tiananmen Square before ends at the entrance to the Forbidden City, where the artwork was once mounted, according to the auction house. It last changed hands publicly in 2009 when Chinese billionaire and Long Museum founder Liu Yiquan bought it for RMB 134 million ($ 19.7 million).

8. Beeple, WEEKDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS (minted February 16, 2021)

Beeple, Everydays - The first 5000 days.  Lent by the artist and Christie's.

Lent by the artist and Christie’s.

Price: $ 69.3 million

When: March 11

Where: Christie’s New York

Why: Christie’s had no idea what to expect when in March it sold a high-resolution composite of digital images that Beeple (real name: Mike Winkelmann) had been creating every day since May 2007 with the work’s NFT. In the final minutes of the two-week online sale, bidders chased Weekdays-which had a starting price of $ 100 – to $ 69.3 million. The buyer was the Singapore-based NFT production studio and crypto fund Metapurse, which used the purchase to promote its own token, representing fractions of its digital art holdings (which included a number of other Beeples).

Of course, $ 69.3 million is a lot of money. But instantly becoming famous in the crypto art sphere, putting NFTs at the center of the global conversation and potentially increasing the value of the many other Beeple works in your portfolio? It’s not invaluable – but it is could be worth more than $ 69.3 million.

7. Claude Monet, Åkandedam, (1917-19)

Claude Monet, Le Bassin aux nymphéas (1917-19_. Picture lent by Sotheby's.

Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Price: $ 71.35 million

When: May 12

Where: Sotheby’s New York

Why: Monet’s “haystacks” may be his most expensive and rare series (the 1891 painting Grinding wheels sold for a record $ 110.7 million in 2019), but the artist’s “Water Lilies” remain his most famous. Monet’s rich use of colors does Åkandedam a prominent piece. It has been shown all over the United States, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and was last seen at auction at Sotheby’s in 2004, bringing in $ 16.8 million.

Vincent van Gogh, Wooden huts among olive trees and cypresses (1889)

Vincent van Gogh, Tree Huts Among Olive Trees and Cypresses (1889).  Lent by Christie's Images, Ltd.

Lent by Christie’s Images, Ltd.

Price: $ 71.35 million

When: 11 November

Where: Christie’s New York

Why: Despite all the talk of changing tastes (and believe us, we’ve led the charge), the performance of the collection, collected by the late Texas oil magnate Edwin Lochridge Cox, showed that there is still ample appetite for Impressionist masterpieces, provided that they are of high quality and by brand names. This idyllic Van Gogh from the Cox collection is now among the five most expensive works sold by the Dutch Impressionist master ever sold at auction. Van Gogh discarded the work while in an asylum outside Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. It went through the hands of his brother’s widow, the famous Mexican art collector and trader Marius de Zayas, and Cox, who bought it in 1982. At auction, it was snapped up by Hugo Nathan, a founding partner of London consultancy firm Beaumont Nathan.

5. Alberto Giacometti, The nose (1947)

Alberto Giacometti, Le Nez conceived in 1947;  this version was conceived in 1949 and cast in 1965. The picture is lent by Sotheby's.

Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Price: $ 78.4 million

When: November 15

Where: Sotheby’s New York

Why: The sale of this essential Giacometti sculpture from the Macklowe collection surprised many, not necessarily because of the price (it was the second most expensive work from trove), but because of who bought it: the crypto-billionaire Justin Sun. Sun praised it as one of Giacometti’s “most essential and far-reaching sculptures,” noting in a tweet that the haunting post-World War II sculpture of a bronze head with an extremely long, pointed nose was the front page of Sotheby’s catalog for Macklowe. sales. Another version appeared on the front page of the catalog for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s 2018 Giacometti retrospective, “which proves the importance of this sculpture in Giacometti’s creative career and the influence of art history,” he said. Sun, who is only 31 years old and the founder of the cryptocurrency platform TRON, bought the work through its APENFT Foundation. It is now being digitally assimilated to go “on display” at the APENFT Virtual Museum on Cryptovoxels in the meta verse. Imagine that you are trying to explain to to Giacometti.

4. Mark Rothko, No. 7 (1951)

Mark Rothko, No. 7 (1951).  Photo courtesy of Sotheby's.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Price: $ 82.5 million

When: November 15

Where: Sotheby’s New York

Why: Rothko’s market has deflated in recent years with few fantastic examples from the abstract expressionist coming up for auction, and new money has become more engaged with young artists and new media. But No. 7 had a lot to do with it – the palette, scale and year are all considered among the artist’s best. The work had long been a prize for Harry and Linda Macklowe and would probably never have hit the block if not for their divorce case. It was bought by an Asian customer at Sotheby’s for $ 82.5 million, just shy of the artist’s record of $ 86.9 million that has been in place since 2012.

Sandro Botticelli, Portrait of a young man holding a round section (ca. 1480)

Sandro Botticelli, young man with a round part.  Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Price: $ 92.1 million

When: January 28th

Where: Sotheby’s New York

Why: Botticellis does not show up at auction every year, which is why this exquisite and mysterious portrait was a major market event. Anonymously submitted by real estate billionaire Sheldon Solow shortly before his death in November 2020, the work had been on loan for decades at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Solow acquired it for about $ 1 million in 1982 when it was attributed to Botticelli, but its authorship had not yet been confirmed. The new price was the highest result for an old master painting since Salvator Mundi ‘s $ 450 million auction in 2017. It also reset the market for Botticelli, whose previous auction record was $ 10.4 million. Although the identity of the sitter is unknown, some say it may be Giovanni di Pierfrancesco de ‘Medici, whose brother was the world-famous patron Lorenzo the Magnificent.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, In this case (1983)

Jean-Michel Basquiat, In This Case (1983) Image courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.

Image courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

Price: $ 93.1 million

When: May 11

Where: Christie’s New York

Why: 2021 was the year of Basquiat, whose name is recognized worldwide and whose works totaled $ 414.5 million at auction in the first 11 months of the year, only next to Pablo Picasso. In this case was the most expensive of 118 Basquiat plots hitting the block. It was sold by Giancarlo Giammetti, the Italian businessman and co-founder of the fashion house Valentino. Paintings with skull pictures are among Basquiat’s most coveted works, and this was among three major versions shown together at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in 2018 (the others are owned by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and Los Angeles’ Broad Museum). That’s a lot memento mori, a death icon; share self-portrait; and partly memorable logos that return to Basquiat’s origins as a street artist.

Pablo Picasso, Woman sitting near a window (Marie-Thérèse)(1932)

Pablo Picasso, Woman at a Window (Marie-Thérèse) (1932).  Lent by Christie's Images, Ltd.

Lent by Christie’s Images, Ltd.

Price: $ 103.4 million

When: May 13

Where: Christie’s New York

Why: Pablo Picasso did it again. The Spanish artist led the auction sales in 2021 both in terms of total volume ($ 657.7 million sold in the first 11 months of the year) and the most expensive lot. Picasso’s young lover Marie-Therese, who is a perennial audience pleaser, was the subject of this large color-saturated canvas, painted in 1932, perhaps the most coveted year in the artist’s history. The result surprised auctioneers who did not expect fireworks based on the work’s previous (abundant) auction history. The final price almost doubled the pre-sale estimate of $ 55 million.

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