The Most Expensive Artworks Sold at Auction

Art Market

The 10 Most Expensive Artworks Sold in 2022

Justin Kamp
Dec 15, 2022 4:17PM

The art world’s trajectory for much of 2022 may be described as a return to routine. After 2020’s minor lockdown-era auction depression—if it can be called that—when there were no lots that broke the $100 million mark, the secondary market has since regained its pre-pandemic luster, and in many ways, rocketed into an entirely new stratum of opulence. There were six lots this year that fetched prices in excess of $100 million, exceeding even the heights achieved by the 2017 selling bonanza that brought us the $450 million Salvator Mundi (ca. 1499–1510) by Leonardo da Vinci and a $110 million painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, among others.

While the second half of the year saw a softening of the secondary market, exceptional auction results occurred in November, largely buoyed by the sale of the collection of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Six of the top 10 auction results this year came from the Allen sale at Christie’s New York, which totaled more than $1.5 billion, becoming the most expensive single-owner sale to ever happen at auction. The upper end of the auction market this year was not so exceptional, though, in its representation of the usual art market suspects: The top 50 auction results were all achieved by a selection of 30 male artists, 28 of whom were American or European. (Prices include fees.)

This article is part of The Art Market Recap 2022—a look at the major sales, trends, and artists that made an impact this year. Download the full report here.

1. Andy Warhol, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, 1964


Andy Warhol, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, 1964. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.

Andy Warhol reclaimed the title of American artist with the most expensive lot at auction with this staggering $195 million result, achieved at a Christie’s New York sale this past May. The 1964 silkscreen painting Shot Sage Blue Marilyn unseated Jean-Michel Basquiat’s iconic skull painting Untitled (1982), and became the second-most expensive work ever to sell at auction.

Part of the sale of the collection of Swiss art dealers Thomas and Doris Ammann, the work was sold to Larry Gagosian. The mega-gallery owner had actually brokered the sale of the work to Thomas Ammann in 1986, with its previous owner S.I. Newhouse. In addition to its serious provenance, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn serves as a candy-colored encapsulation of some of Warhol’s most defining artistic motifs, including his embrace of industrial screenprinting aesthetics and his fascination with the iconography of celebrity.

2. Georges Seurat, Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version), 1888


Georges Seurat, Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version), 1888. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.


This remarkable, reflexive masterpiece by the Post-Impressionist maestro Georges Seurat was the high-water mark of Christie’s presentation of the Paul Allen collection when it hammered for $149.24 million to a buyer in Asia, blowing past Seurat’s previous record of $34 million, achieved at Christie’s in 2018. The last time Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version) appeared at auction in 1970 it sold for just over $1 million.

The piece makes reference to Seurat’s most famous artwork, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (Un dimanche d’été à l’Île de La Grande Jatte) (1884), which is pictured in the composition hanging behind the titular ensemble of posing women. Seurat’s versatility with the pointillist style and the painting’s connection to famous Seurat works held by museums—including not just A Sunday Afternoon but also a larger version of Models (Poseuses) (1886–88),which hangs in Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation—likely fueled its meteoric result.

3. Paul Cézanne, La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, 1888–90


Paul Cézanne, La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, 1888–90. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.

This powerful landscape by Paul Cézanne continued the Allen collection’s record-setting streak, hammering in at more than double the French painter’s previous record of $59 million, which was achieved by the still life Bouilloire et fruits (1888–90) at Christie’s in May 2019.

La Montagne Sainte-Victoire (1888–90) is a seminal work of Post-Impressionist style—one of a series of works the artist painted of the Provençal peak of Sainte-Victoire and its surrounding terrain over the course of the 1880s. The series, and this work in particular, showcases Cézanne’s masterful brushstrokes, which, in their blocky form and saturated color, serve as a preamble to Cubism’s emergence in the following decades.

La Montagne Sainte-Victoire has a storied provenance, passing between the hands of such famed dealers as Ambroise Vollard, Auguste Pellerin, and Heinz Berggruen on its way to Allen’s collection. Berggruen brought the work to auction in May 2001, when Allen acquired it for $38.5 million. Over the intervening decades, La Montagne Sainte-Victoire appreciated in value by more than 250 percent.

4. Vincent van Gogh, Verger avec cyprès, 1888


Vincent van Gogh, Verger avec cyprès, 1888. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.

Another Post-Impressionist work from the Allen collection, this tender Vincent van Gogh painting of a pastel-flecked spring garden sprouting with the artist’s favored cypress trees fetched $117.1 million at Christie’s, shattering the artist’s record that had stood for more than three decades. Van Gogh’s auction record was previously held by Portrait of Dr. Gachet (1890), which sold for $83 million at Christie’s in 1990 and became the most expensive artwork ever sold at the time.

The secondary market may have ballooned past that price point in the intervening years, but Van Gogh’s market surprisingly never did. The next closest result was achieved when Laboureur dans un champ (1889) sold for $81 million at Christie’s in 2017; another cypress landscape, Cabanes de bois parmi les oliviers et cyprès (1889), fetched $71 million just last year. Verger avec cyprès is a somewhat unique work by the Dutch painter, much more sparse and pointillist than the signature curling brushstrokes of his most famous paintings, but the market proved to be ravenous all the same.

5. Paul Gauguin, Maternité II, 1899


Paul Gaugin, Maternité II, 1899. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.

This Paul Gauguin masterwork from the Allen collection sold for $105.7 million, becoming the most expensive work by the French artist ever sold at auction. His previous auction record was set back in 2006, when L’Homme à la hache (1891) sold at a Christie’s sale in New York for $40.3 million.

The exorbitant result achieved by Maternité II (1899) represents a growth in parity between Gauguin’s public and private sales figures. In 2015, it was reported that a work from the artist’s Tahitian period, Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?) (1892), sold for $300 million in a private sale to the emir of Qatar; that figure was later revealed to have been inflated from the actual sale price of $210 million. Now, the auction-going crowd’s interest in Gauguin appears to be approaching those heights.

6. Gustav Klimt, Birch Forest, 1903


Gustav Klimt, Birch Forest, 1903. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.

This illusory forest landscape by icon of the Viennese fin-de-siècle Gustav Klimt hammered for $104.5 million during the Allen sale, and rounds out the list of $100 million–plus sale results from that auction. Birch Forest (1903) beat out Klimt’s existing auction record by more than $15 million. That previous record was achieved by Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912), which sold for $87.9 million at a Christie’s New York sale in 2006. That same auction saw Birch Forest sell for $40.3 million to Allen himself: This most recent result represents an increase in value of nearly 160 percent.

Many of the artist’s significant auction results achieved in the interim were landscape paintings that hovered around a similar price point, with the most recent noteworthy result achieved in 2017 when Bauerngarten (Blumengarten) (1907) sold for $59 million at Sotheby’s. Birch Forest is Klimt’s first auction result in excess of $100 million.

7. Lucian Freud, Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau), 1981–83


Lucian Freud, Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau), 1981–83. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.

This wonderful group portrait by Lucian Freud represents one of the more contemporary offerings from the Allen collection, but that relative newness did not at all hamper its result. Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau) (1981–83) sold for $86.2 million, setting a new record for the British painter.

The painting previously set a record when it sold at auction for $5.8 million in 1998, although the top spot would eventually lie with the artist’s 1994 painting Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, which sold for $56.1 million at Christie’s in 2015. This latest result represents a significant increase in secondary market demand for the late artist, who is currently the subject of a wide-ranging retrospective at London’s National Gallery in honor of the centenary of his birth.

8. Andy Warhol, White Disaster [White Car Crash 19 Times], 1963


Andy Warhol, White Disaster [White Car Crash 19 Times], 1963. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Andy Warhol’s banner market year continued in November: At a Sotheby’s evening sale in New York, White Disaster [White Car Crash 19 Times] (1963) achieved an $85.3 million result. The painting hails from Warhol’s “Death and Disaster” series, which saw the Pop artist repurpose his pastel-tinged serial reproduction methods to focus on a darker, more violent subject matter.

The last time a work from this series appeared at auction was in 2013, when Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) sold for $104.5 million at Sotheby’s, a record at the time. With this latest result, car crash paintings are now the second- and third-most expensive Warhol works ever sold at auction.

9. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982


Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982. Courtesy of Phillips.

This wonderful example of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s iconic “skull painting” stylings achieved $85 million at a Phillips sale of works from the collection of the billionaire entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa this past May. The work, which had previously been sold at Christie’s in 2016 for $57.2 million, beat that number to become the third highest price ever achieved by a work from the legendary Neo-Expressionist artist.

Maezawa was the collector who, in 2017, purchased another untitled 1982 skull painting by the artist for $110.4 million at a Sotheby’s sale, which, at that point, made it the most expensive piece of art by an American artist ever sold at auction. That work was only unseated this year, by Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn.

Basquiat’s heads have been the subject of increased secondary-market attention over the past few years: In This Case (1983) sold for $93.1 million at Christie’s in 2021; and in 2020, an untitled work on paper from 1982 sold for $13.1 million at a Sotheby’s online auction, making it the most expensive work by the artist ever sold online.

10. René Magritte, Empire of Light (L’empire des lumières), 1961


René Magritte, Empire of Light (L’empire des lumières), 1961. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

This dreamy painting from Surrealist master René Magritte’s iconic “Empire of Lights” series sold for $79.2 million at Sotheby’s this past March. The result is more than triple the artist’s previous auction record of $26.8 million, set in 2018 by Le Principe du Plaisir (The Pleasure Principle) (1937).

This was the first time that Empire of Light (L’empire des lumières) (1961) has appeared at auction. It was painted for and had been in the collection of Magritte’s longtime patron and friend Anne-Marie Gillion Crowet. The work was exhibited extensively during the time that Gillion Crowet owned it, showing at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Seoul Museum of Art, and the Musée Magritte, among others.

Justin Kamp