The price of the self



Every fortnight Artprice provides you with a new or updated ranking in its Alternate-Friday Top Series. Today’s TOP article looks at the ten best auction results for self-portraits.

Nearly all artists – at one time or another – take themselves as the subject of their work. In painting a self-portrait, an artist has to interpret what he sees in the mirror, either as he sees himself or as he would like to be seen by others… Some self-portraits painted by major artists sell at auction for several tens of millions of dollars, probably inspired by some kind of idolatry since artists still enjoy a semi-godlike status in the eyes of many collectors. Buying a self-portrait is like buying a condensed biography, written by the artist himself, and allowing the spectator keyhole access to a painter’s intimacy.

Top 10 : best auction results for self-portraits

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Vincent VAN GOGH $65 000 000 Portrait de l’artiste sans barbe (1889) 11/19/1998 (Christie’s NY)
2 Francis BACON $38 319 050 «Self Portrait» (1978) 06/21/2007 (Sotheby’s London)
3 Andy WARHOL $34 250 000 Self-Portrait (1963-1964) 05/11/2011 (Christie’s NY)
4 Francis BACON $30 729 160 Studies for Self-Portrait (1975) 06/30/2008 (Christie’s London)
5 Édouard MANET $29 674 000 Portrait de Manet par lui-même, en buste 06/22/2010 (Sotheby’s London)
6 Francis BACON $29 500 000 Self Portrait (1969) 11/14/2007 (Sotheby’s NY)
7 Andy WARHOL $29 000 000 Self Portrait (1986) 05/12/2010 (Sotheby’s NY)
8 Francis BACON $25 000 000 Three Studies for Self-Portrait (1976) 05/13/2008 (Christie’s NY)
9 Andy WARHOL $24 500 000 Self-Portrait (1986) 05/11/2011 (Christie’s NY)
10 Vincent VAN GOGH $24 000 000 Autoportrait (1888) 05/15/1990 (Christie’s NY)

Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent VAN GOGH, whose works are today rare at auction (only ten were sold in 2010), leads this ranking with Portrait de l’artiste sans barbe (the artist’s last self-portrait) that fetched $65m in November 1998. It was also Van Gogh’s second best-ever auction result, just behind the $75m paid for his Portrait du Docteur Gachet at Christie’s New York on 15 May 1990.
At the same sale Christie’s sold his Self-Portrait (1888) for $24m. This work, dedicated to his friend Laval, was painted when Van Gogh was in Arles discovering the colours of Provence and actively producing his most colourful works.
Although Vincent Van Gogh painted around forty self-portraits, these two are the only ones to have been sold at auction.

Francis Bacon
Between 2007 and 2008, four self-portraits by Francis BACON fetched sums above $25m each.
The most expensive of these was Self-portrait painted in 1978 that was acquired for £19.25m ($38.3m) at Sotheby’s London on 21 June 2007. It is the only full-length portrait of the artist to have appeared at auction and it generated his fifth best-ever result.
Five months later, another Bacon Self-Portrait fetched $29.5m at Sotheby’s New York. It was the first ever auction appearance of this small format painting (35.5 x 40.5 cm) executed in 1969.
On the back of the market’s strong appetite for the work of the artist (who was of Irish origin), two triptychs fetched very large sums in June 2008: on 13 May, Three Studies for Self-Portrait (1976) fetched $25m at Christie’s New York (8th in this ranking). That was more than 5x its 2005 price ($4.6m on 9 November 2005, Sotheby’s New York) and $22.3m better than its 1999 value (the same work sold for $2.6m on 30 June of that year at Christie’s London).
A month later, Bacon’s Studies for Self-Portrait (1975) fetched $30.7m at Christie’s in London.
Since 1990, only 16 oil paintings representing the artist have changed hands in auction rooms.

Andy Warhol
The only Post-War artist in this ranking, Andy WARHOL takes the 3rd, 7th and 9th places in this TOP, with three self-portraits. Of these, the highest-priced generated $34.25m on 11 May 2011 and the Pop artist’s fourth best-ever result. Christie’s was expecting between $20m and $30m for this Warhol autoportrait consisting of 4 panels and with Barron family provenance.
The second, a self-portrait from the 80s belonging to the American fashion designer Tom Ford, was acquired for $29m at Sotheby’s New York on 12 May 2010 at more than double its estimate. This work, dated 1986, is the highest-priced Warhol from that period. There are only four other self-portraits from this series, each with different colours and belonging to museums or private collections.
The third Warhol work in this TOP was a gigantic red and black Self-Portrait that fetched $24.5m on 11 May 2011 at Christie’s New York. The auctioneer was hoping to generate between $30m and $40m from this portrait from a series of six in different colours, all of which belong to museums.

Edouard Manet
An extremely rare Édouard MANET self-portrait, Portrait de Manet par lui-même, en buste (only 2 self-portraits by the artist are known to exist) fetched its low estimate of £20m ($29.6m) at Sotheby’s in London on 22 June 2010. Although the hammer price for this masterpiece was a new auction record for Manet and represented 20% of the sale’s total revenue on that day (£98.87m), Sotheby’s had hoped to fetch as much as £30m.