The top-selling American artists in 2021


As the year draws to a close, we can calculate provisional conclusions about the most in-demand artists on the global auction market in 2021. After a review of the most successful French artists (French artists on top of the market!), Artprice looks at which American signatures attracted the highest bids during 2021.

Four Basquiats in the US Top 10 results

No surprise… Jean-Michel BASQUIAT clearly dominates America’s high-end results with no less than four of the Top 10 auction results for American artists to his name.

Once again, his signature generated the highest art auction result of the year when his In This Case (1983) fetched $93.1 million at Christie’s New York last May. An exceptional canvas, it generated the artist’s second best-ever auction result. Twenty years earlier (2002) In This Case was offered for sale at Sotheby’s, where it fetched $999,500, slightly below the auctioneer’s low estimate of 1 million dollars. So the painting has gone up in value by a staggering 92 million dollars!

In This Case is the last in a series of large skull paintings made between 1981 and 1983, Basquiat’s best period. Aged just 22 when he completed this painting, Basquiat was already a veritable star of American and indeed global painting. A work from the same series holds his current auction record at over $110 million (May 2017 at Sotheby’s New York).


Chronological progression for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s turnover at auctions: 2021 is an historic year! (Copyright


For the year as a whole (so far), Basquiat’s works have generated more than $373 million. This is a record performance for the most iconic American artist of the 20th century along with Andy Warhol. Artprice’s annual auction turnover ranking has Basquiat provisionally in second place for 2021 (all eras and nationalities combined), just behind Pablo Picasso.


Miracles at Sotheby’s November 15 sale

Pollock, Rothko, Twombly and Warhol – Basquiat’s top performing compatriots – all scored their best results of the year during Sotheby’s Macklowe Collection sale on 15 November.

A 1951 painting by Mark ROTHKO titled No. 7 reached $82.4 million, the year’s second best result for an American artist after Basquiat’s In this Case. In third place, another pillar of American Abstract Expressionism, Jackson Pollock, whose record was revised to $61.1 million (Number 17, 1951) versus a previous high of $58.4 million eight years ago. That might seem a long time for an artist in such high demand, but ‘prestige’ works by Pollock are very rare: only two or three are offered at auction every year.


Chronological evolution of records for Jackson Pollock: record renewed in 2021. (Copyright


Cy TWOMBLY also exceeded the $50 million threshold at the sale with a monumental canvas (252.1 x 552.5 cm) that fetched $58.8 million, the abstract painter’s third best-ever result. Twombly’s prices began to surge about 20 years ago and they have accelerated considerably over the past decade or so. Between 2011 and 2021, his annual auction turnover has risen around 390%, with a total of more than $156 million in 2021. This performance makes Twombly one of the top 10 signatures in the global art market. He is currently in eighth position in Artprice’s annual auction turnover ranking…