I mpressionist and Modern covers art of the 19th and 20th centuries made by artists born between 1820 and 1909. We have put them into two categories: Impressionists are artists born between 1820 and 1879; Modern artists are those born between 1880 and 1909. The data in this section also includes Chinese modern artists. Our results cover three major international auction houses: Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips.
Impressionism developed in France in the 1860s. It is characterised by the use of loose brushstrokes to capture impressions of forms. Artists involved in the movement include Claude Monet and Edgar Degas, as well as Post- Impressionists such as Vincent van Gogh and Georges Seurat. Like their Impressionist forerunners, Modern artists experimented with new styles in an attempt to represent the modern age. “Modern” encompasses many avant-garde movements such as Cubism and Surrealism, and leading artists include Pablo Picasso and René Magritte.
Impressionist and Modern art sold at higher values than other categories during the period. While Impressionist and Modern art represented 46.6% of the entire market for works sold at auction, works over $1m made up more than half (53.3%) of the $1m+ market in 2022.
Modern art accounted for the majority of sales by value in this category – nearly 64% ($9.67bn) – between 2018 and 2022. Among them was Magritte’s L’empire des lumières, 1961, which was the top Modern lot sold in 2022.
It was collections built by notable art patrons such as Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen that helped make 2022 a record year for the $1m+ Impressionist and Modern market. They accounted for 43.2% of all art sold at auction. The $1.1bn Paul G Allen sales set auction records for several artists, including Modern art duo Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, whose Typewriter Eraser, Scale X, 1998–99, sold for $8.4m. Overall, 504 lots sold for $4.25bn in 2022, which was 44% more than in 2021.
Impressionist and Modern sales grew by 5.7% over the five-year period, from $4.02bn in 2018 to $4.25bn in 2022. While this may seem small, the increase reflects an incredible recovery after the 38.9% drop in sales that took place in 2019, the year preceding the pandemic. Sales in the first half of 2022 totalled $2.15bn. The second half of 2022 remained stable, with sales of $2.01bn.
The average price for Impressionist and Modern works in the $1m+ range also rose from $6.5m in 2018 to $8.4m in 2022. This roughly equates to what was paid for Shéhérazade, 1950, an homage to The Arabian Nights heroine by the Belgian Surrealist Magritte. The painting sold in 2022 for $8.4m.
“Trophy pieces” – works in the $20m and over range – made up nearly half (46.5%) of Impressionist and Modern art sold between 2018 and 2022. Examples include the top Impressionist and Modern lot of 2022, Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version), 1888, by French Pointillist Georges Seurat, which sold for $149.2m in 2022, and the top lot for 2018, Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu couché (sur le côté gauche), 1917.
Although trophy pieces represented just 7.4% of the total work sold at auction over the past five years, they accounted for $7.03bn of the $1m+ sales.
The majority of Impressionist and Modern works in the $1m+ range offered at auction found buyers. Around 9.2% (51 lots) failed to sell in 2022. This compares favourably to the overall Impressionist and Modern market, where 18.2% (1,586 lots) failed to sell in 2022.
The data shows that, from 2018–2022, Europeans (41%) and North Americans (36%) made up the largest group of bidders for Impressionist and Modern works with low estimates of $1m or more. The number of European and North American bidders also remained relatively stable over this period. Asians accounted for 17% of bids placed and they make up 20% of the overall amount bid on art in this category. There was a notable spike in their activity at Impressionist and Modern art auctions in 2021, when their numbers almost tripled, and they accounted for $633m in total bids made – narrowly ahead of Europeans ($630m) but behind North Americans ($719m).
Painting’s popularity continues
Painting was by far the most plentiful medium at art auctions. Of the 2,286 Impressionist and Modern works sold for $1m or more between 2018 and 2022, 1,639 were paintings (71.5%). The medium’s combined value was $12.16bn, or 80.4% of total sales.
The highest price paid for an Impressionist and Modern painting during this period was $157.2m for Modigliani’s Modern take on the nude – Nu couché (sur le côté gauche), 1917, in 2018.
Sculpture was the second most popular medium, with 301 pieces selling for $1.64bn over the period, accounting for 10.8% of the total. Sculpture was particularly popular with Modern artists, who were interested in movement, abstraction and form, and appreciated the medium’s versatility.
The three top-selling sculptures were by titans of Modern art: Alberto Giacometti’s Le Nez, conceived 1949, cast in 1965, made $78.4m in 2021 as part of the record-breaking Macklowe Collection; Constantin Brancusi’s La jeune fille sophistiquée [Portrait de Nancy Cunard], cast in 1932, fetched $71.2m in 2018, and Picasso’s Tête de femme (Fernande), conceived in 1909, sold for $48.5m last year.
TOP 10 $1M+ IMPRESSIONIST AND MODERN ARTISTS 2018–2022
|RANK||ARTIST||VALUE 2018–2022||LOTS SOLD 2018–2022|
|1||PABLO PICASSO (1881–1973)||$2.21bn||245|
|2||CLAUDE MONET (1840–1926)||$1.48bn||89|
|3||FRANCIS BACON (1909–92)||$645.5m||31|
|4||RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898–1967)||$588.8m||97|
|5||MARK ROTHKO (1903–70)||$569.6m||24|
|6||VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853–90)||$552.8m||26|
|7||WILLEM DE KOONING (1904–97)||$543.2m||49|
|8||ALBERTO GIACOMETTI (1901–66)||$457.5m||56|
|9||PAUL CÉZANNE (1839–1906)||$415.6m||17|
|10||ALEXANDER CALDER (1898–1976)||$332.7m||77|
For a complete five-year listing of the top 10 artists within this category, please download the Appendix.
Monet and Picasso
Monet, a founding member of the Impressionist movement, and the painter most often associated with the group, tops the list of the most valuable artists in this category. From 2018–2022, 89 works by Monet sold for over $1m, for a total of $1.48bn – accounting for 27.1% of the $1m+ Impressionist market.
The highest price paid for a Monet at auction was set in 2019, when Meules, 1890, from his famed Haystacks series, sold for $110.7m. Haystacks were a favourite subject for the Frenchman, who is also renowned for series such as Water Lilies and Rouen Cathedral.
Picasso, one of the most influential 20th-century artists, is the most valuable artist in the Modern art category. The Spaniard’s sales from 2018–2022 totalled $2.21bn, accounting for 22.8% of all Modern art sold. With 245 works sold at auction, the prolific painter, sculptor, ceramicist and lithographer accounted for 15.3% of Modern art sales by lot and 10.7% of the $1m+ Impressionist and Modern market.
Sales for the artist peaked in 2018 ($717.9m), dropping 37.9% in 2022. Several key Picasso works were sold in 2018, including the stunning Rose Period Fillette à la corbeille fleurie, 1905, from the celebrated Peggy and David Rockefeller Collection, for $115.2m.
The Rise of Surrealism
In 1924, the French artist and writer André Breton published the first Manifesto of Surrealism. It championed dreams and the unconscious mind as key sources of artistic creativity, leading to works such as Meret Oppenheim’s fur-covered teacup and Salvador Dalí’s lobster telephone. A century later, as society again faces uncertain times, Surrealism is experiencing a renaissance.
It has been the focus of recent publications and exhibitions, including the 2021 show Surrealism Beyond Borders, jointly organised by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Tate Modern in London. Director Cecilia Alemani’s 2022 Venice Biennale exhibition took its title, The Milk of Dreams, from a book by British–Mexican Surrealist Leonora Carrington.
Interest in Carrington and other female Surrealists, such as Leonor Fini and Oppenheim, is growing as museums and collectors look to diversify their collections. And a younger generation of Contemporary artists known as Neo- Surrealists, including Nicolas Party and Julie Curtiss, are shaking up the art world.
This interest is translating into growing sales in the Surrealist market. Works in the $1m+ range made $1.12bn between 2018 and 2022, about 7.4% of the Impressionist and Modern market. The category rebounded strongly from the first year of the pandemic in 2020, with sales values in 2022 rising to a five-year high of $340.6m, up 86.3% from 2020 and 69.8% from 2021.
René Magritte tops the list, with $588.8m in sales, aided by a record $79.4m paid for L’empire des lumières, 1961 (pictured above), in 2022. The other top-selling Surrealists are Spain’s Joan Miró ($310.1m) and the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo ($56.1m), whose inclusion was aided by a record $34.9m achieved for Diego y yo, 1949, in 2021.