Top 10 German artists



Another Friday Top! Every other Friday Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. This week, we focus on the 10 German artists who performed best at auction in 2015, not according to best hammer price, but this time on the basis of annual revenue.

Highly present on the international scene, German artists are measuring up to some American luminaries in terms of auction performance. The ‘historical’ artists of the twentieth century, such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Ernst, Emil Nolde and Josef Albers naturally come high in the ranking. Otherwise, it is clear that many post-war and contemporary artists are listed among the 500 most successful artists in the world on the auction market, including Neo Rauch (born in 1960), Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997) Albert Oehlen (born 1954), Thomas Struth (born 1954), Thomas Schütte (born 1954), Jörg Immendorff (1945-2007), Sterling Ruby (born in 1972) and of course Gerhard Richter (born 1932) , one of the most highly rated artists in the world.

Top 10 German artists
Rank Artist Auction revenue (including buyer’s fees) Sold lots Record price
1 Gerhard RICHTER $205 303 872 374 $46 306 758
2 Lucian FREUD $101 788 409 73 $56 165 000
3 Martin KIPPENBERGER $62 429 463 156 $27 130 000
4 Sigmar POLKE $40 002 119 35 $16 405 000
5 Ernst Ludwig KIRCHNER $31 416 678 91 $13 605 000
6 Max ERNST $24 361 665 243 $9 125 000
7 Anselm KIEFER $20 647 302 42 $1 665 584
8 Günther UECKER $16 069 522 369 $2 035 283
9 Lucas I CRANACH $14 924 606 22 $14 483 883
10 Emil NOLDE $13 041 820 132 $2 170 000
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From Cologne, where he lives and works, Gerhard Richter has witnessed the spectacular rise in price of his works over recent years, brought about through the auction market. On 10 February 2015 at Sotheby’s in London, a new world record was set at USD 46.3m including fees for a 1986 large abstract painting (Abstraktes bild, 300.5 cm x 250.5 cm). This painting, which was worth USD 607,500 including fees in 1999 (Sotheby’s, 18 May 1999) had therefore increased in value by USD 45.6m just fifteen years later. The artist spearheading contemporary German art could not get over it himself. He finds such price levels to be disconnected from reality, but the market has decided otherwise. The European market in the first place, but also the US market, sensitive to his meditative patches of colour, which in the eyes of collectors certainly evoke filiations with their own first great historical movement, that of American abstract expressionism (Pollock, Rothko, etc.). In 2015, Gerhard Richter was ranked 11th in the world among artists achieving the best annual revenue at auction. Sales of his works generated over USD 205m including fees (or USD 178m excluding fees) for the sale of 371 lots. Like Richter, Sigmar Polke, Anselm Kiefer and Gunther Uecker are among currently active artists who have witnessed the evolution of price levels beyond their control. The rise of Polke (who is not in this Top because he was born in Poland and took German citizenship afterwards) has proven phenomenal, amounting to USD 62.4m of annual sales, putting him in 40th place in the world ranking. Kiefer is ranked 103rd, with annual revenue of USD 20m including fees for the sale of 42 works. Uecker comes not far behind, in 125th position with annual revenue of USD 16m for a considerable number of lots sold: 365 in all.

The rocketing price levels of works by leading German artists are still to be measured up against those of Lucian Freud, who was born in 1922 in Berlin and died in 2011 in London, and Martin Kippenberger, who was born in 1953 in Dortmund and died in 1997 in Vienna. Lucian Freud comes in 22nd place worldwide for sales of his works in 2015. A total of 73 of these works were sold last year, generating more than USD 101m. Lucian Freud is the only German artist for whom a single work crossed the threshold of USD 50m in 2015, alongside the great American artists Roy Lichtenstein, Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol, all ranked among the worldwide Top 10 for sales revenue. The work in question is Benefits Supervisor Resting, knocked down at Christie’s for more than USD 56m on 13 May 2015. The artist again attracted keenly contested bidding recently, during the sale in February 2016 at Sotheby’s of Pregnant Girl, an intimate canvas estimated at USD 15m, and finally sold for USD 23.2 m. During his lifetime, Martin Kippenberger never witnessed the flurry sparked by his works in major contemporary art sales. Market recognition came posthumously, catalysed by exhibition of his works at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003 and his first major retrospective in Britain, at the Tate Modern in 2006. In the period between these two consecrating events, one of the artist’s canvases passed the million dollar mark for the first time in New York (Untitled, 1991 USD 1m, against a high estimate of USD 600,000, Phillips de Pury & Company, 12 May 2005). Currently, his absolute record stands at USD 22.5m for an untitled 1988 painting sold in November 2014 at Christie’s New York. In 2015, 35 of his works changed hands at auction, for a total amount of around USD 40m, which places him at 57th in the world ranking of artists.

Lucas Cranach (1472-1553) is the only Old Master in the ranking. It is also to him that we owe the only Western work sold for more than USD 10m in 2015. The German artist reached a new record of USD 14.4 m with The Bocca della Verita (Sotheby’s London, 8 July 2015). Such masterpieces are jewels of heritage that remain in the same families for generations. However, these historical treasures seem underpriced compared with other sectors of the market, as illustrated by this five-century old work by the powerful Cranach, coming far behind the year’s world record prices for contemporary work.

In fifth place on the world market, Germany is also characterised by the vitality of its emerging scene. The homeland of Joseph Beuys, the father of conceptualism, continues to attract an influx of artists from all over the world. Berlin, emblematic city of this phenomenon, particularly appeals for its easy availability of accommodation, major German cities being more advantageous in this respect than London or Paris. For the moment, the German market accounts for only 2% of revenue from worldwide art sales. However, with so many great artists of international renown, the country’s auction houses are exceptionally well-placed to do better.