The 10 Most Expensive Auction Trophies of 2014
From Georgia O'Keeffe's Jimson Weed to the "chicken cup" bought with an Am Ex.
It’s no secret that the the fine art market is as strong as it’s ever been with dozens of new records and $20-million plus prices achieved in 2014. But the hunger for the best of the best by the world’s so-called trophy hunters extends to a wide range of categories including wine, watches, photography, and older historic works such as antiquities and Old Master paintings. Here are the top-selling objects—and the often intriguing stories that accompany them—in each of these categories.
1. Impressionist Art: Édouard Manet, Le Printemps (1881)
Édouard Manet’s quintessential Impressionist painting Le Printemps (1881), estimated at $25–35 million, soared to a price of $65.1 million with premium. Bidding opened at $18 million and was chased by at least five bidders, most of whom were on the phone with Christie’s specialists. The buyer in the room who won the work for a hammer price of $58 million, was reportedly dealer Otto Naumann, who acquired the work on behalf of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles (See “$65 Million Manet Leads at Christie’s Sale“).
2. Modern Art: Alberto Giacometti, Chariot (1950, cast ca. 1951)
Alberto Giacometti’s Chariot, sold for just over $100 million ($100,965,000) at Sotheby’s November Impressionist and Modern sale though the fact that it elicited just one bid before being hammered down felt anti-climactic. Despite there not being any palpable feeling of excitement in the room, the final price is the second-highest auction result for a work by Giacometti and the second-highest price for any sculpture at auction. (See “$101 Million Giacometti Leads Sotheby’s $400 Million Impressionist and Modern Sale.”)
3. Postwar and Contemporary Art: Andy Warhol, Triple Elvis [Ferus Type] (1963)
Andy Warhol’s Triple Elvis–showing the star as a cowboy and pointing a gun was estimated in the region of $70 million at Christie’s record-smashing November sale of Postwar and contemporary art. Bidding opened at a whopping $48 million and it was immediately chased up by numerous bidders before selling to a phone buyer, through a Christie’s specialist, for a hammer price of $73 million, or $81.9 million with premium. (See “Epic Christie’s $852.9 Million Blockbuster Contemporary Art Sale Is Highest Ever.”)
4. American Art: Georgia O’Keeffe, Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 (1932)
Sotheby’s smashed expectations at its American art sale this past November when it sold Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 for $44.4 million, roughly tripling the high estimate of $15 million and becoming the most expensive painting by a female artist ever sold. The previous auction record for any work by a female artist was $11.9 million, set by Joan Mitchell’s Untitled at Christie’s New York in May 2014. The sale amount also exceeded O’Keeffe’s previous auction record of $6.2 million. The high end of the house’s overall sale was $46 million, but thanks to the surge of O’Keeffe’s flower, the overall sale total bloomed to $75.4 million. The artist’s works, there were three in all that were sold to benefit the acquisitions fund for the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, together accounted for $50.4 million, or more than half that sale total. (See “O’Keeffe Painting Sells for $44 Million at Sotheby’s, Sets Record For a Work By Any Female Artist.”)
5. Jewels: Bunny Mellon’s Blue Diamond
The collection of Rachel Lambert Mellon, better known as “Bunny,” was the source of a wildly successful series of auctions at Sotheby’s, bringing in a grand total of $228 million and more than doubling the presale estimate of $100 million. Mellon, a Listerine heiress who married Paul Mellon, son of banking tycoon Andrew W. Mellon, died in March at the age of 103. This included a record hammer price of $32.6 million on a 9.75 carat blue diamond, shattering the old mark of $24.3 million. More than doubling the pre-sale estimate of $15 million, Mellon’s diamond, dubbed the Zoe Diamond by its anonymous Hong Kong buyer, also set a price-per-carat record of $3.3 million. (See “Bunny Mellon Collection More Than Doubles Expectations at Sotheby’s.”)
6. Wine: the Superlot of Romanée-Conti (1992-2010)
Sotheby’s broke the world auction record for the most expensive wine lot when it sold the Romanée-Conti Superlot for $1.6 million. The price achieved per bottle of the 114-bottle Superlot was $14,121, which equals $1,700 per glass for 912 glasses.
7. Watches: Patek Philippe, Henry Graves Supercomplication (ca. 1932)
The watch of Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Al-Thani, the man once considered the world’s biggest art collector and who died at his London home on November 9 (see: “World’s Biggest Art Collector Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Al-Thani Dies at Age 48“), sold just a day later at Sotheby’s Geneva for $24 million (See “Sheikh Al-Thani’s Watch Sells for $24 Million After His Mysterious Death“). The estimate on the watch, the Henry Graves Supercomplication by Patek Philippe, was reported to be $15.6 million (by Bloomberg last year), but before the sale the estimate had only been given upon request. According to a press release, there were five bidders for the watch, which finally went to an anonymous bidder “after 15 minutes of suspense.”
8. Chinese Porcelain: The Meiyintang Chicken Cup (Ming Dynasty)
Chinese collector Liu Yiqian, who successfully bid $36 million for a rare porcelain “chicken cup” from the Chengua period this past April at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, paid for and picked it up by using his American Express Centurion Card, racking up nearly 422 million reward points as a result. Then he coolly sipped tea out of the of the pricey little pot. The stunt, which Liu invited the media to document, was done in part to prove that Chinese collectors make good on the sky-high bids they place at auction, in hopes of quelling some fears about buyer default. Nicolas Chow, Sotheby’s Asia deputy chairman, said: “There have been lots of transactions in China for large amounts that never come into fruition. With that knowledge he wanted to show it’s a real transaction and he’s paying.” (See Chinese Collector Uses Amex to Buy $36 Million Chicken Cup.)
9. Photography: Alvin Langdon Coburn, Shadows and Reflections, Venice (1905)
Alvin Langdon Coburn’s mesmerizing Shadows and Reflections, Venice (1905) was among the most expensive photographs auctioned this year and also set a new record for the artist. It realized $965,000 at Sotheby’s in December, compared with an estimate of $350–500,000.
10. Old Masters: Francesco Guardi, Venice, the Bacino di San Marco with the Piazzetta and the Doge’s Palace (ca. early 1780s)
A long-unseen masterpiece by Francesco Guardi titled Venice, the Bacino di San Marco with the Piazzetta and the Doge’s Palace was the most expensive Old Master painting of the year. It was sold at Christie’s London on July 8 for $16.9 million. The painting, depicting an iconic view of the northern Italian city, had last been publicly displayed in 1954, at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Originally owned by the Earls of Shaftesbury, it was purchased in the mid-19th century by Baron James-Edouard de Rothschild and had been owned by his descendants since his death in 1881.
*Bonus trophy: J.M.W. Turner Rome, from Mount Aventine (1835)
While many academics do not technically consider him an Old Master, J.M.W. Turner’s view of Rome certainly turned out to be a trophy—with a price to match—at Sotheby’s London sale of Old Master and British paintings this past December. Rome, from Mount Aventine (1835) described by Sotheby’s as “one of the last great Turner masterpieces remaining in private hands,” set an auction record for the artist when it sold for $47.4 million (£30.3 million). It also marked a record for the highest price at auction for any pre-20th-century British artist and the highest price for any work ever sold in the Old Master and British painting category. Four bidders chased the work and drove the price far above its presale estimate of $24.1-32.1 millon.
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