Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings Sold In 2016


The art world has seen a resurgence of interest in buying and selling. The renaissance has been happening for the past few years, and 2016 saw billions of dollars exchanged for art work. There are many reasons for this new interest in the art market, but much of it has to do with younger collectors who are happy to sell and buy. Collectors like Yusaku Maezawa, a 40-year-old tycoon, are eager to buy works of art and appreciate the value that different art periods are worth now.

The resurgence of art sales can be traced to the Bay Area of California. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is expanding and the interest of contemporary and modern paintings is growing. San Francisco has become more international in recent years, and collectors are coming in from Europe and Asia. It also helps that the Bay Area is highly populated by billionaires of the tech world, venture capitalists and other wealthy entrepreneurs interested in art collections.

The world is seeing a revived interest in certain types of art. Contemporary art is appreciated more than other. Female artists popular in the 1980s and 1990s are seeing renewed interest. Non-western art is popular with collectors. This includes Iranian and Nigerian artists. Modern British art work is held in high regard. An interest in 19th century art is also popular.

Following are 10 of the most expensive paintings sold in 2016.

10. Kerry James Marshall- Plunge (1992) – $2.1 million (Christie’s)


“Plunge” was estimated to sell for $1 to 1.5 million, so it was a welcome surprise to see it go for more than $2 million. The Chicago artist is considered a visionary. He used black to paint African American subjects. “Plunge” is an acrylic and paper collage on canvas. It features water, a common theme in Marshall’s paintings. “Plunge” is symbolic of the slave trade. The pool features the word “Atlantic” and a toy tugboat floats in the pool.

9. Frida Kahlo – Two Nudes In A Forest (1939) – $8 million

Frida Kahlo

The painting was originally titled “The Earth Itself”. Twentieth century female artists became popular in the 1980s and 1990s. It sold for $150,000 in 1989. The high price for it in 2016 proves the value of female artists in this century. The painting reflects Kahlo’s bisexuality. Some art critics point out the painting reflects Kahlo’s duality with the subjects being European and Mexican Indian.

8. Richard Prince – Runaway Nurse (2006) – $9.7 million (Christie’s)

Richard Prince - Runaway Nurse (2006)

Richard Prince’s sexy contemporary painting “Runaway Nurse” was purchased by 40 year old Yusaku Maezawa. The piece last sold in 2011 for $6.8 million, so it seams Prince’s value is going up. “Runaway Nurse” is one in a series of Prince’s entitled “Nurse”. Prince’s artwork has been controversial since the 1970s. He has taken iconic images and makes them kitschy and sometimes what some would call sexist. His most recent works have grabbed the attention of those outside of the art world, and obviously his work is valuable.

7. Sam Francis – Summer #1 (1957) – $10.4 million (Sotheby’s)

Sam Francis -Summer #1 (1957)

Another postwar/contemporary artist that sold well this in 2016 was Sam Francis. The California artist’s paintings have become increasingly valuable over the last few years. Like that of Jackson
Pollock and Franz Kline, Francis’ work is abstract impressionist. Vibrant colors of splashes of paint are the theme of much of Francis’ work. Abstract impressionism was important in the mid-20th century that defined the period of contemporary art.

6. Agnes Martin – Orange Grove (1965) – $10.7 million (Christie’s)

Orange Grove

The sale of Agnes Martin’s “Orange Grove” is relevant because it is a postwar/contemporary piece and because it marks a renewed interest in female artists of the 20th century. This piece was expected to sell for $6.5 to $8.5 million. The abstract painting shows pale orange lines surrounding 4 stacked sells with seemingly limitless horizontal and vertical orange lines through the width and length of the painting.

5. Claude Monet – Le bassin aux nympheas (1919) – $27 million (Christie’s)


Claude Monet was one of the most popular impressionist painters early 20th century. With muted colors and natural scenes, Monet was the master of impressionism. Most of his pieces are in museums throughout the world. It is rare to see a Monet for sale. The sale of this masterpiece is reflective of the modern appreciation for dynamic art styles that led the way through the 20th century.

4. Mark Rothko – No. 17 (1957) – $32.6 million (Christie’s)

Mark Rothko - No. 17

The blue and green oil painting is from Rothko’s blue period and is symbolic of postwar and contemporary art. After this “mature” period in Rothko’s art, he went on to paint the “Seagram Murals” which can be seen in the Tate Gallery in London. The painting is an example of Rothko’s experimental work.

3. Jean-Michel Basquiat – Untitled (1982) – $57.2 million (Christie’s)

Jean-Michel Basquiat - Untitled (1982)

The sale of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s piece “Untitled” for over $57 million demonstrates the current interest in neo-expressionist art. Basquiat’s paintings have been selling since 2012. This year saw a dramatic increase in value. The same painting was last sold in 2004 for just $4.5 million. Basquiat has achieved post-humus success. The piece was purchased by 40 year old tycoon, Yusaku Maezawa.

2. Peter Paul Rubens – Lot and His Daughters (1613-14) – $58 million (Christie’s)


The sale of Peter Paul Rubens’ “Lot and His Daughters” proves that the Old Masters are still valued. Only one other Rubens was sold for more: “The Master of the Innocents” for $76.5 million in 2002. “Lot and His Daughters” has been in private collections for centuries. It was once owned by the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I and by the First Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill.

1. Pablo Picasso – Femme Assise (1909) – $63.4 million (Sotheby’s)

Paoblo Picasso - Femme Assise

The sale of Pablo Picasso’s “Femme Assise” was the most expensive in 2016. It marks the highest price of a cubist painting. Most of Picasso’s cubist works are in museums. The main reason for the value of this painting is that cubism defines an important development in art and paved the way for early 20th century modern art. Picasso developed cubism as an abstract art form. Subjects are given geometric shapes. “Femme Assise” is thought to be an artistic rendering of Picasso’s lover, Fernande Olivier. As with all of Picasso’s groundbreaking master works, this painting is valued for introducing a new form of art.

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