The best art auction results during lockdown


Like a lot of sectors, the global art market has been seriously impacted by the Covid 19 crisis, forcing auction companies to cancel or postpone sales. However, thanks to online sales, its activity did not grind to a complete halt. In this article Artprice focuses on the best results hammered during the lockdown, when a number of works actually sold above the million-dollars line.

Unexpected results

Looking at the final tally, we see the locked-down Art Market managed to generate a number of impressive results. Collectors working from behind their screens bid certain lots substantially beyond their anticipated price ranges. This was the case for the most expensive work sold in the lockdown period – a work not signed by a great French Modern artist or a Contemporary American artist, but by a 19th century Russian artist, Ivan Constantinovich Aivazovsky. As opportunities to buy a canvas by this artist of this dimension (> 2 metres) are rare, informed collectors pushed the bidding $1.3 million beyond the high estimate on Sotheby’s website. In the end, Aivazovsky’s view of the great bay of Naples reached just under three million dollars.

In fact, given that collectors were bidding online and that the market has experienced a period of intense uncertainty, we believe the fact that a number of targeted artworks fetched more than expected is a very positive sign indeed. The results we are referring to here do not include those from charity sales, which were numerous during the lockdown and which often generate above-market prices for ‘a good cause’. So… aside from these charitable sales, there have been several remarkable results, sometimes unexpected, in a couple of relatively niche markets. For example, a masterpiece of Polish symbolism, An artist and a chimera (1906) by Jacek Malczewski, fetched three times its high estimate at Agra-Art, in Poland. We have even seen a couple of auction records broken: 19th century French painter Henriette Browne’s harem scene elicited enthusiastic bidding during Sotheby’s online Oriental sale. A Visit: a Harem Interior now holds Browne’s new auction record at just under a million dollars… for a work estimated less than $100,000.



Eight 7-digit results… seven at Sotheby’s

Between 15 March and 3 June 2020, eight artworks sold online above the million-dollar threshold. In normal times, that’s not a lot in two and a half months of sales, but it nevertheless marks a new stage in the evolution of the Art Market. The simple fact of generating 7-digit results online (results above a million dollars were a distant dream for most artists five or six years ago) represents a significant milestone in the history of online sales. Seeing the work “physically” is no longer an absolute imperative of the high-end market, especially since new communication tools offer a high degree of precision that enable potential buyers to discover works remotely.

Sothebys has steamed ahead of the competition by putting online sales at the heart of its development strategy. The company’s takeover by media and telecommunications mogul Patrick Drahi (2019) seems to have encouraged this development. Particularly active during the lockdown, with a sustained number of online sales, Sothebys hammered seven of the eight million-plus auction results during the period. A George Condo painting generated the best result for a living artist in Sotheby’s catchily titled “I have to stay at home” sale (22-28 May). Digitally advanced and possessing a powerful network, Sotheby’s continued to make news during the lockdown, which is far from being the case for all of the market’s players…


Rank Artist Hammer Price ($) Artwork Sale
1 Ivan Constantinovich AIVAZOVSKY 2 880 452 The Bay of Naples 06/02/2020, Sotheby’s, London
2 Vasudeo S. GAITONDE 1 820 000 Untitled 03/16/2020, Sotheby’s, New York
3 Giorgio MORANDI 1 580 000 Natura morta 05/18/2020, Sotheby’s, New York
4 George CONDO 1 573 510 Woman With Golden Hair 05/28/2020, Sotheby’s, London
5 Yayoi KUSAMA 1 290 355 Infinity-Nets (OWTTY) 03/24/2020, Seoul Auction, Seoul
6 George CONDO 1 269 868 Antipodal Reunion 04/21/2020, Sotheby’s, London
7 Christopher WOOL 1 220 000 Untitled 05/14/2020, Sotheby’s, New York
8 Brice MARDEN 1 100 000 Window Study No.4 05/14/2020, Sotheby’s, New York
9 Henriette BROWNE 980 736 A Visit: a Harem Interior 04/07/2020, Sotheby’s, London
10 ZAO Wou-Ki 907 082 28.5.65 05/28/2020, Sotheby’s, London
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