The Artworks that Soared — And Why

Sold for $40.7 million

Back in 1989, at an upstart Swiss auction house named Hapsburg Feldman, this Picasso of his curvy mistress Marie Therese-Walter had a hard time seling for $6 million. About a decade later, it failed to sell at all when it hit the auction block again at the same estimate, and was sold privately. In the years since it was first offered, buyers like Steve Wynn and The Limited's Leslie Wexner have bought other images from the series, boosting its value. So, he who laughs at auction lasts best as the seller of it this time got $40 million.




Sold for $4.7 million

Cute, or creepy? Koons’ polychromed wood sculpture is part of his acclaimed Banality series. Meant to be both a celebration of childhood and a travesty of Adam and Eve, the child-sized work examines conservative values and sexual cliche.  Christie's had given this work the hard sell to a wide and moneyed client group, exhibiting it prominently at its Rockefeller Center headquarters during pricey sales of Asian and Old Master art.




Sold for: $580,168

L'âge d'airain is widely considered Rodin's first great masterpiece, although it was received with enormous trepidation when exhibited in 1877. The artist’s scrutiny of the body was so exact that he was accused of casting (and entombing) a live person. It was rendered in this reduced size in 1903-1904, and sold at Christie's for well over its estimated price February 9. Key to its appeal was that, unlike some other Rodins offered at auction, it was produced during his lifetime.




Sold for $21.7 million

Dali's painting of the Parisian poet set a record for both the artist, and for surrealist painting. Prices for the artist's works have been soaring since a blockbuster show of his late art appeared at the High Museum of Atlanta. There are also rumors that mega-collector Peter Brant, a savvy market-timer, is buying Dali.



Estimate: £400,000 - 600,000

Are the big-money Russians buying? We'll know when this installation goes on the block Thursday night, Feb. 17 at Phillips de Pury. It highlights a “joke” about traditional artistic practices by two Russian art stars. Viewers are supposed to experience the tension between the idyllic subject and its uncomfortable harness suspended from the ceiling.



Estimate: £150,000 - 200,000

Selling the night of Feb. 17, this is by perhaps India's most famous and best-selling contemporary artist, Subodh Gupta. He incorporates items like steel lunchboxes, bicycles and milk pans into his work to depict India’s economic transformation. “No. 1”, at Phillips de Pury, takes a billboard-style, “hyperrealist” look at kitchen pots that are both ordinary and gleaming.




Sold for: $1.4 million

The artist once explained "I believe painting and all art should be ultimately uplifting for a viewer. I love colour. I feel it inside me. It gives me a buzz." But there's more to this artwork than just polka-dots: Collectors have recently turned on Hirst for over-producing. So, this artwork was something of a test of whether there's still demand for his trademark works. Apparently so. Dealers have a motive to support  his prices, of course: Hirst is in so many inventories and collections that some argue he's become 'too big to fail.' Here, using household gloss paint (hence, the name), the artist brought both scientific rationale and joyous color to this canvas.



Sold for: $2.6 million

At Sotheby's London sale Feb. 10, every last lot from an "anonymous" private collection was sold. The works offered had been off the market for years and the overwhelming number of bids caused it to take almost an hour for the first 23 works to sell. Miró's whimsical 1924 pastel painting characterizes the most influential period of the artist's career, as abstracted figures began to take the place of naturalism and landscape. The piece sold to Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, the widow of art dealer Jan Krugier.



Sold for: $6.6 million

Christie's Art of the Surreal sale gave a showcase to one specific art movement, with some success. To some degree, the auction house is prepping for the future: artworks traditionally reach their priciest point about 100 years after they've been painted, and the Surrealist movement began right after World War I.



Sold for $11.5 million

Going global?  Richter’s 1990 multi-layered monumental oil painting explored the margins of abstraction. A German superstar with an increasingly international collecting base, this work was won by a telephone bidder who was on the phone with a  Sotheby's liaison to China.



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