5 Of 2023's Most Expensive Paintings Sold At Auction

This 2023, the five most expensive paintings at auction totaled more than $440 million, with four being works from masters like Klimt, Picasso, and Monet. 

2022 was a fruitful year when it came to the art market, which experienced an auction boom after the COVID pandemic. Last year’s total sales of fine art reached $15.9 billion, the second highest total since 2018. Meanwhile, 2023 paints a different picture of the market, one slightly less victorious than that of 2022, even with its roster of expensive paintings in the auction block.

READ ALSO: Unforgettable Pieces: Looking Back At 2022’s Most Valuable Artworks With Some Worth Over $100 Million

Scott Reyburn of The Art Newspaper reported that the market is “on a bumpy ride,” with declining sales compared to the previous year. Data from Artsy revealed that this year’s top 100 lots at auction totaled $2.4 billion—a considerable decrease from last year’s $4.1 billion. That said, 2023 still saw its share of spectacular wins and auction records. Before the year ends, it’s time to look back at the top five piece that made headlines for their record-breaking prices: 

Femme à la montre/Woman with a Watch (1932) by Pablo Picasso

One of the most recent auction wins also happened to be this year’s highest. Picasso’s “Femme à la montre” fetched an impressive $130 million at Sotheby’s New York Evening auction on November 9. 

Picasso's "Femme à la montre"
Picasso’s “Femme à la montre”/Photo from the Sotheby’s website

The oil on canvas piece is a portrait of the artist’s muse and lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter.  Ben Kellerman of Reuters reports that Picasso had painted the portrait “at a pivotal year in his career.” At the time, the artist wanted to disprove critics who doubted his relevance in the contemporary art world, which makes the piece all the more significant. 

The piece made headlines for not only being the most expensive auction lot of the year, but also Picasso’s second most expensive painting sold at auction. The most expensive piece is still his ““Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’),” which fetched $179.3 million in a 2015 Christie’s auction

Dame mit Fächer/Lady with a Fan (1917) by Gustav Klimt 

The sale of Gustav Klimt’s “Dame mit Fächer” [“Lady with a Fan”] also gained plenty of attention, surpassing its presale expectation of $80 million. The piece, which experts believe to be Klimt’s final work before his passing, fetched $108.4 million at Sotheby’s London Modern and Contemporary Evening Auction on June 28. 

Klimt's "Dame mit Fächer"
Klimt’s “Dame mit Fächer”/Photo from the Sotheby’s website

The model of the piece is an unknown woman who may have been a friend of Klimt’s. It marks a departure from the Austrian artist’s gold-leaf works, making it a unique piece in his oeuvre that many collectors sought to add to their collections. It also depicted the artist’s fascination with Asian culture, showcasing a variety of visual motifs common in Chinese and Japanese culture, such as phoenixes and lotus flowers. 

Le bassin aux nymphéas (1919) by Claude Monet 

Next in the list is Claude Monet’s “Le bassin aux nymphéas (1919),” which fetched $74 million during Christie’s 20th Century Evening sale on November 9. Besides being the most valuable lot in the particular auction, it also happens to be 2023’s third most expensive painting.

Monet's “Le bassin aux nymphéas"
Monet’s “Le bassin aux nymphéas”/Photo from the Christie’s website

Unlike other Monet works, the water lily painting is only one of fourteen paintings from the artist that are in a large, mural format. The artist had painted it in the later years of his career, when his eyesight was already deteriorating due to cataracts, making “Le bassin aux nymphéas” a visual feat. The public had never before seen the piece as well, which made its debut at Christie’s sale all the more special. 

El Gran Espectaculo/The Nile (1983) by Jean-Michel Basquiat 

Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of the most influential contemporary artists to this day. One can expect his pieces to fetch for incredibly high prices comparable to many of the old masters. An example of this is his 1983 piece “El Gran Espectaculo,” which fetched $67.1 million at Christie’s 21st-century evening sale on May 15. It easily surpassed its $45 million presale estimate, climbing to the top five of 2023’s most expensive paintings.

Basquiat's "El Gran Espectaculo"
Basquiat’s “El Gran Espectaculo”/Photo from the Christie’s website

Basquiat had painted the truly spectacular painting when he was only 22 years old, as per Christie’s. Like many of the Neo-expressionist artist’s works, the piece deals with concepts about race and culture, incorporating distinctly African motifs and narratives in its three panels to capture the Black experience. “El Gran Espectaculo” is the artist’s fourth most expensive work sold at auction, according to Artsy. The first is 1982’s “Untitled,” which Sotheby’s sold for $110.5 million. 

Insel im Attersee/Island in the Attersee (1901) by Gustav Klimt 

It was a good year for Klimt’s pieces, as yet another painting from the artist made it to this year’s top five. “Insel im Attersee” [“Island in the Attersee”] fetched $53.2 million at Sotheby’s Modern Evening Auction on May 16. In an official press feature, the auction house called it one of Klimt’s “most evocative landscapes,” a painting which “epitomizes a new and radical approach to landscape, a genre which allowed Klimt greater artistic freedom than ever before.” 

Klimt's "Insel Im Attersee"
Klimt’s “Insel Im Attersee”/Photo from the Sotheby’s website

The painter created the piece from 1901 to 1902 while spending peaceful summers at the pastoral village of Attersee am Attersee in Austria. Here, Klimt depicted the blue waters of Attersee lake in a way that’s “profoundly modern in sensibility,” as per Sotheby’s. Experts recognize the piece for its unusual cropping and composition, which lends to its appeal. Though “Dame mit Fächer” fetched for a higher price, Klimt’s charming waterscape remains a noteworthy addition to the year’s finest pieces sold at auction. 

Banner photo from the Sotheby’s website.

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