Who Are the Most Expensive British Artists at Auction?

You may be surprised at who made the list—and who didn't.

A Christie’s staffer with Henry Moore's sculpture Reclining Figure No. 2 (conceived in 1952) at Christie's King Street, London, in 2015. Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images.
A Christie’s staffer with Henry Moore's sculpture Reclining Figure No. 2 (conceived in 1952) at Christie's King Street, London, in 2015. Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images.

The United Kingdom has long been a cultural powerhouse, producing some of the world’s most famous writers, artists, and musicians, from Shakespeare to Joseph Mallord William Turner and the Beatles. So who are its most expensive visual artists at auction?

We analyzed the artnet Price Database going back to 1985—when artnet started gathering auction data—and it reveals some surprises. Only three contemporary artists (Lucian Freud, Damien Hirst, and Peter Doigwho was in the news lately when he denied painting a work claimed to be his), and one modern artist (Henry Moore) made the cut. The remaining places are occupied by Old Masters. It’s an unexpected result, considering the hype surrounding contemporary art in recent years.

One thing that quickly becomes apparent on surveying the list is a distinct lack of diversity. Every artist is a white male, with no minority or female artists. (On a brighter note, that may change with time; auction results from 2015 reveal that Tracey Emin, Bridget Riley, Anish Kapoor and Chris Ofili top the lists.)

The list is also heavily skewed toward painting; eight out of 10 works on the list are in this medium. There is only one sculptor (Moore) and one installation/wall work (by Hirst). Additionally, collectors at auction clearly prefer English figurative art.

See the complete list of the 10 most expensive British artists at auction and their record works below:

Lucian Freud Benefits Supervisor Resting (1994) Photo: Christie's

Lucian Freud, Benefits Supervisor Resting (1994). Photo: Christie’s.

1. Lucian Freud
Benefits Supervisor Resting (1994) sold on May 13, 2015, at Christie’s New York, for $56.2 million.

J.M.W. Turner Rome, View from Mount Aventine (1835) Photo: Sotheby's

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Rome (from Mount Aventine) (1835). Photo: Sotheby’s.

2. Joseph Mallord William Turner
Rome (from Mount Aventine) (1835) sold on March 12, 2014 at Sotheby’s London for $47.6 million.

George Stubbs Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a trainer, a jockey and a stable lad (1765). Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

George Stubbs, Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a Trainer, a Jockey and a Stable Lad (1765). Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

3. George Stubbs
Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a Trainer, a Jockey and a Stable Lad (ca. 1765) sold on July 5, 2011 at Christie’s London for $36 million.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema The Finding of Moses. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, The Finding of Moses (1904). Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

4. Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema 
The Finding of Moses (1904) sold on November 4, 2010, at Sotheby’s New York for $35.9 million.

John Constable, The Lock (1824). Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.

John Constable, The Lock (1824). Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

5. John Constable
The Lock (1824) sold on July 3, 2012 at Christie’s London for $35.2 million.

Henry Moore, Reclining Figure: Festival, 1951. Courtesy Christie’s.

Henry Moore, Reclining Figure: Festival, 1951. Courtesy Christie’s.

6. Henry Moore
Reclining Figure: Festival (1951) sold on June 30, 2016 at Christie’s London for $32.7 million.

Peter Doig Swamped (1990) Photo: Christie's

Peter Doig Swamped (1990). Photo: Christie’s.

7. Peter Doig
Swamped (1990) sold on May 11, 2015 at Christie’s New York for $25.9 million.

Edward Burne-Jones Love Among the Ruins (1894). Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Edward Burne-Jones, Love Among the Ruins (1894). Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

8. Edward Burne-Jones
Love among the Ruins (1894) sold on July 11, 2013 at Christie’s London for $22.4 million.

Damien Hirst, Lullaby Winter (2002). Christie's Images Ltd. 2015.

Damien Hirst, Lullaby Winter (2002). Photo courtesy Christie’s Images Ltd. 2015.

9. Damien Hirst
Lullaby Spring (2002) sold on June 21, 2007, at Sotheby’s London for $19.2 million.

Joshua Reynolds Portrait of Omai (ca. 1776). Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Omai, Standing in a Landscape, Wearing Robes and a Headdress (ca. 1776). Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

10. Joshua Reynolds
Portrait of Omai Standing in a Landscape, Wearing Robes and a Headdress (ca. 1776) sold on November 29, 2001 at Sotheby’s London, for $14.6 million.


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