The Top Ten of the 1930s



Friday is Top day! Every other Friday, Artprice publishes a theme-based auction ranking. This week: the top ten sales of works from the 1930s.

Top 10 : the top ten sales of works from the 1930s

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Pablo PICASSO $95000000 Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932) 05/04/2010 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
2 Pablo PICASSO $45000000 Femme assise dans un jardin (1938) 11/10/1999 (Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY)
3 Pablo PICASSO $44000000 Le Rêve (1932) 11/10/1997 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
4 Pablo PICASSO $41000000 Nu au fauteuil noir (1932) 11/09/1999 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
5 Pablo PICASSO $40088550 Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (1932) 02/05/2013 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
6 Pablo PICASSO $37000000 Nature Morte Aux Tulipes (1932) 11/08/2012 (Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY)
7 Pablo PICASSO $36274500 La lecture (1932) 02/08/2011 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
8 Edward HOPPER $36000000 East Wind Over Weehawken (1934) 12/05/2013 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
9 Pablo PICASSO $35500000 Tête de femme (1935) 11/06/2013 (Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY)
10 Pablo PICASSO $31000000 Le repos (1932) 05/02/2006 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)


Ninety percent of this 1930s Top Ten is dominated by Pablo PICASSO, with just one place left over for the recent record set by Edward HOPPER. This Picasso period really dominates the global art market, in contrast to our rankings for the 1940s, which still left room for American and Chinese artists.
So what can we learn from this top ten whose prices range from $31 million to $95 million? First of all, it tells us that the price of a major dated work by Picasso may have increased by many millions of dollars since the late 1990s. This list includes two works that are very similar (same subject, same year of 1932, same size), namely Nu au fauteuil noir, sold for $41 million in 1999, and Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, sold for $95 million in 2010. This was a new record for the artist and represents an increase of $54 million in just 10 years.
It also reveals that Picasso’s neo-classical period generates the highest prices, particularly when the subject is his muse Marie-Thérèse Walter. He painted her many times in intimate poses, using curved lines to convey a genuine sensuality in a celebration of the romantic and erotic. The case of the two works mentioned above is repeated with Le Rêve, La Lecture and Femme assise près d’une fenêtre. The latter painting was sold for the equivalent of $40 million on 5 February 2013 at Sotheby’s in London, compared to $6.8 million in 1997. The value of the gentle Femme assise increased by $33.2 million between 1997 and 2013, a leap of 488% in 16 years.
It also tells us that the year 1932 was a major milestone in Picasso’s production and career. It was the year when he held his first retrospective, which opened in June at the galerie Georges Petit and then moved to the Kunsthaus in Zurich. Among the nine Picassos on this list, seven are from 1932, and some of them were produced within a few days of each other in a single burst of creative energy.
The other two Picasso paintings are also portraits of women: Tête de femme (1935), sold for $35.5 million in November 2013, once again depicts Marie-Thérèse, while Femme assise dans un jardin (1938) is a portrait of Dora Maar. This was painted by Picasso in the course of a single day, on 10 December 1938.

Edward Hopper: East Wind Over Weehawken (1934) sold for $36 million on 5 December 2013 at Christie’s New York

Despite its blue sky, East Wind Over Weehawken is an austere work. Hopper paints a gently climbing road lined with a handful of houses. Various elements reveal a critical situation: rickety telegraph poles, gardens overrun with weeds, a deserted road, and a For Sale sign looming in the foreground. The main subject is the desolation of Weehawken during the ravages of the Depression, and the meltdown in the property market is a part of this. This depiction of an economic crisis gained Hopper his auction record of $36 million, well above its estimate range of $22-$28 million and shattering his previous 2006 record by $12 million (Hotel Window, 1955, sold for $24 million at Sotheby’s New York on 29 November 2006).
A few months before his record sale, Hopper had already garnered significant press attention with his retrospective at the Grand Palais de Paris, which attracted over 600,000 visitors (10 October to 3 February 2013). This is a sign of how Edward Hopper’s work continues to be a source of inspiration. His canvases are also extremely rare on the secondary market. Only 19 have appeared in the salerooms over the last 20 years.

If we had created a Top 15 of the 1930s rather than a Top 10, Picasso would have earned another two places, but three other artists would also have joined the ranks: the two major Chinese modern artists QI Baishi and XU Beihong, and Picasso’s friend and rival, Henri MATISSE.