This look into the Pablo Picasso market over the last 11 years was prepared with data and charts from our friends at Athena Art Finance. It is available to AMMpro subscribers. Monthly subscriptions begin with the first month free. Feel free to subscribe and cancel before you are billed.
The auction year is still quite young and yet the perennial market leader, Pablo Picasso, is looking like the next big artist. Already in 2018, works by Picasso sold for prices over $1m have totaled almost $236m. More than half of that total came from two works sold in London. The family’s small 1937 portrait of Marie-Thérèse made nearly $70m at Sotheby’s; and, Phillips was able to get about $58m for its less colorful 1932 work.
That only sets up the Picasso market for what is looking like a spectacular May. The Rockefeller rose-period painting of a young girl already estimated at $90-120m, up from the announced estimate, with plenty of market players talking about the work reaching some more more like $150m or close to the record price for a Picasso of $179m.
Sotheby’s has its own small 1932 work Le Repos estimated at $25m or more. Surely there will be more Picasso works included in the sales which means the mid-year total for the artist will be in excess of $400m.
How does that compare to previous years? Remember, Picasso is the overall driver of the art market as the top artist by volume (with the occasional demotion to number 2)
Here’s a chart of the top ten artists by dollar volume over the last 11 years at the three major auction houses:
If that chart is too confusing, we’ve isolated Picasso (it wasn’t very hard) on the chart below:
Now, let’s put that $400+m in context over the last 11 years. You can see from the chart below that $300m is pretty solid floor for Picasso market volume going back to the financial crisis in 2008-9. Since then only 2016 has presented market volume that seemed an aberration from the trend. Averaging 2015 and 2016 together puts the overall market volume at a level slightly above the preceding and following years; and, the coincident drop in average price in 2016 suggests the top of the market was blown up by the record price paid for Femmes d’Algiers (Version ‘O’). A record price can cause a pause in a market as both buyers and sellers re-assess the paradigm rather than provoking works to market quickly in the wake of the sale. We’ve seen something similar in the Basquiat market in the months since last May’s $110m record for that artist.
That Basquiat record may have also contributed to this surge in Picasso prices by providing buyers and sellers with a reference point for an artist without Picasso’s long-standing position in the art market.
There’s one other thing to point out about the Picasso market. The two works sold in London earlier this month entered the top ten auction prices achieved for a work by the artist. The small portrait became the fifth highest price paid at auction at $68m; the 1932 work at Phillips becomes the ninth highest price paid. The prices for positions six through nine were all achieved in 2015 or 2016. The top lot price came in 2015 but the works in positions two, three and four are all more than eight years old. The implication from these prices is that there is room at the top of the Picasso market to get nine-figure results.