Published: 17/11/2023

🔨 2023 autumn auctions defy market fears

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There are headlines an investor can’t miss when gavels are banged at auctions. As demonstrated by the most expensive piece auctioned so far in 2023, it’s clear that art — in addition to being magnificently beautiful — can be very profitable if the stars align. 

Amidst inflation and dipping traditional markets, Monet and Twombly lead the 20th/21st Century sales in New York, surpassing $864,049,952 . Christie’s 20th/21st Century sale week commenced with the 21st Century Evening Sale on the 7th of November in New YorkAnchored by monumental works by Twombly, Basquiat and Marden, the auction totaled $107,451,800. The 20th Century Evening Sale followed on 9 November. The sale marked Jussi Pylkkänen's penultimate appearance at the rostrum after 38 years of dedicated service as Christie’s Global President. The auction totaled $640,846,000. It represented important collections including Ivan & Genevieve Reitman: A Life in Pictures, The Collection of Jerry Moss, Heirs of Fritz Grünbaum and Museum Langmatt. 

 After the sale, Pylkkänen reflected, ‘It’s really become a global market, which I never imagined would be the case when I stood in the sale room in 1987, and we sold the [Van Gogh] Sunflowers to a Japanese buyer. The Western world sort of shook...We work in a very different environment now. It’s a wonderful, multicultural environment.’ Pylkkänen will make his final appearance at the rostrum on 7 December for the Old Masters Evening Sale in London.

The highest-selling item in the 20th century auction was Cy Twombly's Untitled (Bacchus 1st Version II), which sold for $19,960,000. Created in 2004 as part of Twombly's later Bacchus series, this piece marks the apex of the artist's over four-decade-long career. The monumental artwork showcases striking vermillion loops and swirls against an ivory backdrop, standing at a height of over eight feet. 


As for the 21st century sale, Monet's Le bassin aux nymphéas , made the highest rank fetching a staggering $74,010,000. Created around 1917-1919, this painting holds significant importance as it is part of Monet's renowned series depicting his extensive gardens at Giverny. Spanning over two meters in width, the artwork beautifully captures the distinct ambiance of the artist's cherished countryside retreat. As Pylkkänen concluded the evening's auction with this remarkable Monet piece, he received a standing ovation after the hammer came down at $74 million.

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And on the 10th of November, the Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale hammered a Keith Haring subway drawing $352,800. Splint Invest is home to 2 other subway drawings of the collection.

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In another room in the city another record was broken. Sotheby’s hammered Pablo Picasso’s Femme à la montre (1932) at $139.4 million, making it the second most expensive work by the artist sold at auction, and the most expensive work to sell at auction in 2023 so far. The white glove evening sale, which brought in a total of $406.4 million, also marked the most valuable sale dedicated to a woman collector in auction history. 

The 1932 painting of Picasso’s secret lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, was created during the artist’s explosive “year of wonders” as he prepared for his first large-scale retrospective in Paris at the age of 50 and is highly sought after by collectors. 

“Picasso is all about passion, but this specific passion [for watches] is one that is not generally known about,” said Simon Shaw, Sotheby’s vice-chair for global fine arts. “He was an incredibly stylish man, very interested in his sartorial identity, and a great connoisseur of watches. Even photos of him wearing his watches are prized by watch collectors.” 

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The portrait was purchased in 1968 by Emily Fisher Landau, one of the greatest art collectors of the 20th century. She hung it above the mantelpiece in the living room of her New York apartment and has not moved it until this Sotheby’s sale; preserving its provenance. The collector passed away earlier this year at 102 years old.  

What can we learn about the art market from an investment outlook? 

According to Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report, “the median expenditure on art and antiques by high-net-worth (HNW) collectors surveyed across 11 markets worldwide reached $65,000 in 2022, up by 19% in 2021. The median level in the first half of 2023 was reported at $65,000, indicating a potentially substantial rise for the year if spending continues. The majority of spending in 2023 was on paintings (58%), with works on paper the second-largest component (13%). The resurgence of in-person buying continued in 2023.”  

Works of art don’t tend to correlate with other asset classes; their returns have a limited link with stock and bond returns. When art is included in an investment portfolio, the lack of connection minimizes risk and volatility. Because art is a sanctuary during times of high inflation, there is an increase in value preservation. Art preserves its value even as the purchasing power of currency deteriorates. 

Art can be an investment that’s not only reserved for the wealthy. At Splint Invest, it’s for everyone.  

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