The most expensive works sold at auction in 2023

The year 2023 witnessed a fascinating evolution in the high-stakes world of art auctions, marked by discerning collectors, diverse masterpieces and shifting market dynamics. While the bar had been set extraordinarily high in the previous year, the marquee auctions this time revealed a telling trend—surpassing the nine-figure mark was a rarity, signalling a notable change at the zenith of the art market.

Of the top lots, eight found new homes in New York, emphasising the city’s continued dominance in the art auction scene. Picasso emerged as the highest seller, with his iconic portrait “Femme à la montre” fetching a staggering $139.4 million at Sotheby’s New York in November. This masterpiece, depicting Picasso’s lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, was the crown jewel of the late Emily Fisher Landau’s collection, contributing a significant 34 percent to the auction’s total sales.

Gustav Klimt also made waves, claiming two spots in the top lots. His final portrait, “Dame mit fächer (Lady with a Fan),” set a European auction record at Sotheby’s London, selling for £85.3 million ($108.4 million). Another Klimt, “Insel im Attersee,” a rare seascape, enchanted bidders at Sotheby’s New York, fetching $53.2 million.

Claude Monet’s mesmerising canvas, “Le bassin aux Nymphéas,” took centre stage at Christie’s New York, selling for $74 million. Meanwhile, the early work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, “El Gran Spectaculo (The Nile),” became the fourth-most expensive Basquiat painting at $67 million in Christie’s New York.

Francis Bacon’s poignant masterpiece, “Figure In Movement,” painted as a cathartic response to the death of his lover George Dyer, sold for $52 million at Christie’s New York. Mark Rothko’s towering canvas, “Untitled (Yellow Orange Yellow),” enveloped buyers in a dramatic golden glow, achieving $46.4 million.

A groundbreaking painting by Richard Diebenkorn, “Recollections of a Visit to Leningrad,” paid homage to Henri Matisse, selling for $46.4 million at Christie’s New York. Wassily Kandinsky’s “Murnau mit Kirche II” marked a pivotal moment in art history, fetching £37.2 million ($47.2 million) at Sotheby’s London.

The star lot of the year was undoubtedly Henri Rousseau’s “Les Flamants,” a French Post-Impressionist masterpiece that set an auction record for the artist at $43.5 million in Christie’s New York. This achievement highlighted the scarcity of Rousseau’s works in the market, with the second-highest auction price a fraction of this record at $2.9 million in 2009.

In summary, 2023 was a year of nuanced shifts in the art auction landscape, with collectors displaying a preference for quality over quantity amid global economic uncertainties. The diverse array of masterpieces showcased the enduring allure of art, making each auction a captivating chapter in the ever-evolving narrative of the art market.

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