Top 10 Most Expensive Items Sold At Auction In 2017

Art

Top 10 Most Expensive Items Sold At Auction In 2017

With numerous record-breaking sales, 2017 was a banner year for the global auction industry. Here we take a look back at this year’s biggest auction sales.

Published on 28 December 2017

This has been a year to remember in the global auction world.

Christie’s and Sotheby’s ruled the roost in 2017 with strong, record-breaking showings on the auction block, but there was one enormous surprise from Poly Auctions Beijing.

Here we take a look back at the top 10 most expensive items sold at auction in 2017:

#1 “Salvator Mundi” by Leonardo da Vinci

Auctions, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Poly Auctions Beijing, Salvator Mundi

US$450.3 million – Auctioned at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 November in New York

Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi tops this year’s list after it smashed the record for the most expensive painting ever sold at auction, and with good reason. As one of fewer than 20 paintings in existence to be generally accepted as being from the hand of one of history’s greatest and most renowned artists, the rarity of this depiction of Christ as “Saviour of the World” cannot be exaggerated. Dating from around 1500, the painting was thought to have been destroyed but was discovered about six years ago in a small regional auction in the US, heavily veiled with overpaints. As the first discovery of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci since the Benois Madonna came to light in 1909, Salvator Mundi is undoubtedly one of the most unexpected and significant artistic rediscoveries of the twenty-first century.

#2 “Twelve Landscape Screens” by Qi Baishi

Auctions, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Poly Auctions Beijing, Salvator Mundi

US$141 million – Auctioned at Beijing Poly International Auctions’ “More Sublime When Looking Up” – Chinese Classical Paintings and Calligraphy Evening Sale on 17 December in Beijing

Fetching a price that made Qi Baishi the first Chinese artist to join the US$100 million club, the sale of Twelve Landscape Screens has broken the record for the highest price ever paid for a work of Chinese art at auction. The group of 12 ink-brush painting panels, created in 1925, depicts mountains, villages and trees in gentle blue, grey, brown and pink tones. A frenetic sale, during which bids were placed only by telephone, quickly cemented Qi’s position as the most influential of all Chinese artists in the twentieth century and one of the world’s most highly valued artists.

#3 “Untitled” by Jean-Michel Basquiat

Auctions, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Poly Auctions Beijing, Salvator Mundi

US$110 million – Auctioned at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 18 May in New York

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s raw, uncensored, and fiercely magnificent 1982 masterpiece made headlines earlier this year when it was purchased by Japanese art collector, Yusaku Maezawa, for a whopping US$110 million. An explosive display of spray paint, oilstick, and violent brushstrokes make up this depiction of an anatomically rendered skull-like head, which comes surrounded by a flurry of typography and a barrage of arresting iconography, such as a three-pointed crown. Untitled is not only representative of Basquiat’s revolutionary vernacular, but also symbolises the resurgence of figurative painting through New York in the 1980s, which emerged to enormous acclaim from within the city’s gritty downtown art scene.

#4 “Laboureur dans un champ” by Vincent van Gogh

Auctions, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Poly Auctions Beijing, Salvator Mundi

US$81.3 million – Auctioned at Christie’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 13 November in New York

A never-ending demand for works by Vincent van Gogh no doubt contributed to the sale of his 1889 oil on canvas work, Laboureur dans un champ. He began this painting of a ploughman tilling the soil of a plot of land in Saint Rémy during the final days of August 1889, six weeks after a devastating epileptic episode. The creation of this painting, and its eventual completion at the beginning of September, marked a momentous development for the artist, given that he had not picked up his brushes for a month and a half. At this critical stage in the evolution of his work, van Gogh himself has taken the role of the ploughman within the painting, turning over the upper layer of soil, bringing fresh nutrients to the surface, and preparing the ground for the sower of seeds – an attempt to demonstrate a successful recovery from his ordeal.

#5 “The CTF Pink Star”

Auctions, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Poly Auctions Beijing, Salvator Mundi

US$71.2 million – Auctioned at Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite Sale on 4 April in Hong Kong

Hailed as one of the world’s great natural treasures, the sale of this 59.60-carat oval, mixed-cut Fancy Vivid Pink Internally Flawless diamond set a new world auction record for any diamond or jewel after it was purchased by the renowned Hong Kong jeweller, Chow Tai Fook. Mined by De Beers in Africa in 1999, it is the largest Internally Flawless Fancy Vivid Pink diamond that the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has ever graded. Formerly known as The Pink Star, the jewel was renamed the CTF Pink Star in memory of the late Dr. Cheng Yu-Tung, the father of the current chairman and the founder of Chow Tai Fook, to commemorate the brand’s 88th anniversary.

#6 “Contraste de Formes” by Fernand Léger

Auctions, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Poly Auctions Beijing, Salvator Mundi

US$70 million – Auctioned at Christie’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 13 November in New York

Pure, abstract shapes and colours, hinged on a network of forceful lines, distinguish this groundbreaking painting that led Fernand Léger (and the art world) in the direction of abstract art for the very first time. A jolting, rhythmic composition demonstrates the artist’s advancement beyond Cubism and his quest for true pictorial dynamism. The 1913 work belongs to a series of paintings that, in effect, altered the way we perceive art, going on to become cornerstones of important collections of modern art. Originally acquired from Léger by his dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, this painting was purchased over sixty years ago from Galerie Rosengart in Lucerne and, before this sale, had never been offered at auction.

#7 "Bauerngarten (Blumengarten)" by Gustav Klimt

Auctions, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Poly Auctions Beijing, Salvator Mundi

US$64 million – Auctioned at Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 1 March in London

As beloved for its square canvas as it is for its profession of poppies, daisies, zinnia and roses, transformed into shimmering array of colour, Bauerngarten stands as one of the Gustav Klimt’s finest landscapes and a masterpiece of Viennese fin-de-siècle art. It was painted during the golden period of the artist’s career in 1907, when he frequently travelled out of Vienna to Litzlberg on the Attersee during the summer months, and found inspiration in the rustic garden of the Mayr-Hof Klimt. Although it is rooted in the natural world, it alludes to a symbolic, decorative avant-garde that endows the work with an almost mystical quality.

#8 “Sixty Last Suppers” by Andy Warhol

Auctions, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Poly Auctions Beijing, Salvator Mundi

US$63.3 million – Auctioned at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 November in New York

Offered alongside Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi as an intriguing visual counterpoint, Andy Warhol’s Sixty Last Suppers demonstrates the perennial power of religious iconography through its celebration of Christianity and injection of new life into religious art, charging it with contemporary energy. Using a photostat of the original oil painting as the source image for a silkscreen, Warhol deftly incorporated themes of religion and loss by putting his own stamp on one of the most famous images in the world. The largest painting by the American Pop artist ever to come to auction – which was executed towards the end of Warhol’s life – toys with the appropriation of advertising and pop culture iconography, hinting wryly at the substitution of religion with capitalism in the modern age.

#9 “La Muse Endormie” by Constantin Brancusi

Auctions, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Poly Auctions Beijing, Salvator Mundi

US$57.4 million – Auctioned at Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale on 15 May in New York

Cast in bronze in 1913 from the original marble version, which was carved between 1909 to 1910, La muse endormie is an exploration of Constantin Brancusi’s intensely personal modernist path, highlighting his return to the elemental form of the primal egg as his initial inspiration and master key. It was the first in Brancusi’s series of egg-shaped sculptures, with the form of a sleeping woman’s head being distilled into an almost perfect oval. Over the course of 1910, he created three plasters and six bronze versions of the abstracted head, and considered each of these bronzes a unique work of art, rather than part of a uniform edition. This particular sculpture, it should be noted, is one of only two bronzes from this sequence to remain in private hands.

#10 “Leda and the Swan” by Cy Twombly

Auctions, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Poly Auctions Beijing, Salvator Mundi

US$52.9 million – Auctioned at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 17 May in New York

A heady mix of sex and violence suffuses Cy Twombly’s large, human-scaled and epically-themed painting, which remained unseen in public for 25 years until this year. As a painterly re-enactment of the myth of Leda and the Swan, it evokes both sensual and aggressive passions, becoming a performative work of this story of metamorphosis, seduction, and the birth of a new era. It was one of the most frequent themes of Twombly’s work of the early 1960s, but this painting from 1962 retains its extraordinarily intense visual power: a flurry of scrawls, scribbles, smears, splashes, and scratches executed on the canvas directly with the artist’s hands.

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