What Does a Billion Dollars of Art Look Like?

What Does a Billion Dollars of Art Look Like?

Sotheby’s New York Sales achieved $1.2 billion in the third-highest marquee week of the auction house’s history.
Sotheby’s New York Sales achieved $1.2 billion in the third-highest marquee week of the auction house’s history.

T here’s the $139 million portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter that Pablo Picasso painted in 1932, his single most pivotal year. There’s the $42 million self-portrait by Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of only a few paintings in which the artist identified the subject as himself. There’s Claude Monet’s luminous, $30.8 million landscape of the river Epte that prefaces his defining Nymphéas series. And there’s Jenny Saville’s seminal portrait of six nude women that hailed a new generation of figurative painters when it was first exhibited in 1997 and commanded $10.9 million when it was sold at auction earlier this week.

Those are just four of the 729 objects sold at Sotheby’s this week. With six items selling over $30 million, twelve over $20 million and twenty-seven over $10 million, the average lot price reached $7.6 million, up 21% over this May. All told, eight auctions realized a combined total of $1.2 billion – a 34% increase over last November’s sales. It was the first billion-dollar week since May 2022 and the third-highest marquee week total in the auction house’s 279-year history.


The New York Sales at a Glance

The marquee series began with two auctions dedicated to the storied collector Emily Fisher Landau, which saw 111 works sell; the average lot value in the Evening Auction was $13 million. With a total of $424.7 million, The Emily Fisher Landau Collection became the most valuable auction devoted to a woman collector and one of the most valuable single-owner collections ever offered. The leading painting was Picasso’s Femme à la montre, which, at $139.4 million, became the artist’s second-highest work at auction and the most valuable work of art sold at auction this year.

The next week saw five various-owner auctions, beginning with The Modern Evening Auction on Monday, led by Monet’s riverscape and Le Moulin de Limetz ($25.6 million). One of two Monets to top $25 million, the painting made its auction debut after spending 131 years in the collection of Bertha and Potter Palmer, who helped establish the Art Institute of Chicago as one of the greatest collections of Impressionist art in America.

Thirty additional lots brought the evening’s total to $223.4 million, with highlights including an auction record for a work-on-paper by Mark Rothko (Untitled, $23.9 million) and for any work by Hedda Sterne (Road #7, $818,000). Additional auction records were set in the 259-lot, $62.5 million Modern Day Auction for a Latin American print (Frida Kahlo’s The Miscarriage, $508,000) and Chico da Silva (Serpente da Serra luminous, $330,200).

Wednesday night’s double feature kicked off with the highly anticipated Now Evening Auction. Saville’s painting was one of three works to top $10 million, along with Julie Mehretu’s ode to resiliency, Walkers with the Dawn and Morning ($10.8 million), and Kerry James Marshall’s incisive critique of suburbia and art history, Plunge ($10.3 million). Emerging auctioneer Phyllis Kao received thunderous applause as she was handed a pair of white gloves at the end of the thrilling hour, marking the impressive achievement for her first evening sale.

Head auctioneer Oliver Barker then took the rostrum for The Contemporary Evening Auction, which saw 43 lots sell for a combined $250.5 million. Basquiat’s self-portrait was followed by Gerhard Richter’s monumental Abstraktes Bild ($31.9 million), then by Joan Mitchell’s Sunflowers ($27.9 million) from the collection of gallerist John Cheim.

Across the two-auction evening, nine works sold for over $10 million and 50% of the lots sold above their high estimates. Work by women artists accounted for a quarter of the evening’s total sale value and 45% of The Now Evening Auction’s. Numerous auction records were set across the two sales, including Mehretu’s painting for both an African-born artist and a Black woman artist, as well as new artist benchmarks for Barkley L. Hendricks ($8.4 million), Ad Reinhardt ($3.6 million), Robert Gober & Sherri Levine ($990,600), Amy Sillman ($984,250), Mohammed Sami ($952,500), Barbara Chase-Riboud ($647,700), Marina Perez Simão ($422,000) and Oscar yi Hou ($95,250).

By the evening’s end, Sotheby’s established over 35 auction records and sold over a billion dollars of art – but the week wasn’t over yet. The 266-lot Contemporary Day Auction achieved $83 million on Thursday. An eighth auction earlier this week saw a 1962 Ferrari 330 LM / 250 GTO by Scaglietti sell for $51.7 million – an auction record for Ferrari and the second-highest price for any car at auction.

Top 10 Lots from The New York Sales

The Emily Fisher Landau Collection: An Era Defined Auction Results

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