What do a bunny, Elvis and haystacks have in common?
Why, they all feature in the top ten auction results of 2019, revealed below.
Leading the pack is Claude Monet's glowing scene of haystacks, Meules (1890), which sold for $110.7m (all prices quoted include fees) at Sotheby’s in New York in May, an auction record for a work of Impressionist art.
That one painting constitutes a fair chunk of Sotheby’s auction turnover for the whole year—released yesterday—which totalled $4.8bn worldwide. These, the first cherry-picked figures that have been announced since Sotheby’s went private (the auction house no longer has to reveal more granular detail on revenue) show that the company also had a record year in France in terms of auction sales, which totalled $395m.
Jeff Koons’s Rabbit hopped to second place in 2019, selling for $91m at Christie’s in New York in May, setting a new record for any living artist.
While only concentrating on the highest echelons of auction sales, the top ten results reveal several telling trends.
First, the dominance of New York over London for high value sales—the top nine works were all sold in New York with just one London result in tenth place, that of David Hockney's portrait of Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott (1969) which sold at Christie’s in March for $37.6m.
Second, the drop off in big ticket lots in the New York sales between May and November—eight of the works here were sold in May with the one exception of Ed Ruscha’s Hurting the Word Radio #2 (1964) which sold for an artist record $52.4m at Christie’s New York in November.
Third, they show the continued concentration of value upon the male household names of the 20th century, from Cézanne, Picasso and Monet through Rauschenberg, Rothko and Ruscha to Warhol, Bacon, Koons and Hockney. Not a single female artist features—the top work by a woman in 2019 was Louise Bourgeois’s Spider (1997), sitting in 15th place, which sold for $32m at Christie’s New York in May.
Fourth, the Christie’s and Sotheby’s duopoly still rules—all of the top ten were sold at Christie’s (six) or Sotheby’s (four). But a mention in dispatches to Phillips, whose top lot of the year was Gerhard Richter’s Düsenjäger (1963) which sold for £15.5m in London in March, and Bonhams’s surprising sale of Osman Hamdi Bey’s 19th century Orientalist work, Young Woman Reading, in September for £5.7m, an artist record.
And the wildcard result of the year? Undoubtedly Cimabue’s Mocking of Christ, a 13th-century gold ground painting found in an elderly woman’s kitchen in France, which sold at the small French auction house Actéon in October for €24.1m.