What Does a Billion Dollars of Art Look Like?

There’s the $139 million portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter that Pablo Picasso painted in 1932, his single most pivotal year. There’s the $42 million self-portrait by Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of only a few paintings in which the artist identified the subject as himself. There’s Claude Monet’s luminous, $30.8 million landscape of the river Epte that prefaces his defining Nymphéas series. And there’s Jenny Saville’s seminal portrait of six nude women that hailed a new generation of figurative painters when it was first exhibited in 1997 and commanded $10.9 million when it was sold at auction earlier this week.

Those are just four of the 729 objects sold at Sotheby’s this week. With six items selling over $30 million, twelve over $20 million and twenty-seven over $10 million, the average lot price reached $7.6 million, up 21% over this May. All told, eight auctions realized a combined total of $1.2 billion – a 34% increase over last November’s sales. It was the first billion-dollar week since May 2022 and the third-highest marquee week total in the auction house’s 279-year history.

The New York Sales at a Glance


The sale of The Emily Fisher Landau Collection was historic in more ways than one. On its first evening, it became the most valuable collection devoted to a woman collector when all 31 lots of the evening auction sold for a combined $406.4 million. The following afternoon, an additional 80 lots sold for $18.3 million during the day auction, bringing the collection’s total to $424.7 million.

The works on offer at Sotheby’s comprised only a part of Landau’s full collection, hundreds of works from which now reside in The Whitney Museum of American Art, where she served as a trustee for decades. Laudau’s legacy ranks among that of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Peggy Guggenheim, Gertrude Stein and other great women collectors of the 20th century. A testament to the depths of her collection and her prowess as a patron, the auctions were led by Pablo Picasso’s Femme à la montre, a portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter from his magisterial year of 1932, which, at $139.4 million, became the second highest price ever achieved for the artist at auction and the most valuable work of art sold at auction this year.

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Numerous records were set thereafter, including with the collection’s next-highest lot, Jasper Johns’ Flags from 1986, which established a new high for a painting from his landmark series at $41 million. Rounding out the collection’s top three lots was Securing the Last Letter (Boss) by Ed Ruscha, an artist with whom Landau had a deep and lasting friendship. The painting sold for $39.4 million, the artist’s second-highest price at auction. All top five lots tipped the scales over $20 million, with nine works all selling for more than $10 million; the average lot value was an impressive $13 million, one of the highest ever established at auction.

Throughout the night, additional benchmarks were set for Agnes Martin, whose Grey Stone II(1961) realized $18.7 million after eight bidders brought it to more than double its high estimate, and Mark Tansey, whose Triumph Over Mastery II (1987) achieved $11.8 million after a four-way bidding battle – both auction records for their artists. Additionally, when Robert Rauschenberg’s Vitamin (1960-68) sold for $3.5 million, it established a new record for the artist’s works on paper.

Works by Cy Twombly ($26.8 million), Mark Rothko ($22.2 million), Robert Indiana ($825,500), Andy Warhol and Georiga O’Keeffe sold to collectors in Asia during the evening sale, which also saw high institutional activity.

“Emily Fisher Landau’s prescient and unerring eye allowed us to shine a spotlight tonight onto the great artists who now form the bedrock of 20th century art history,” said Brooke Lampley, Sotheby’s Chairman and Head of Global Fine Art, after the evening auction. “As every single lot found a new home, we saw the enduring appeal of these masters affirmed once again.”

Further works of art and design objects from Landau’s collection will be offered at Sotheby’s next year.

Top 10 Lots from The Emily Fisher Landau Collection

Pablo Picasso
Femme à la montre
Ed Ruscha
Securing the Last Letter (Boss)
Jasper Johns

Cy Twombly

Across the two-auction evening, nine works sold for over $10 million and 50% of the lots sold above their high estimates. Work by women artists accounted for a quarter of the evening’s total sale value and 45% of The Now Evening Auction’s. Numerous auction records were set across the two sales, including Mehretu’s painting for both an African-born artist and a Black woman artist, as well as new artist benchmarks for Barkley L. Hendricks ($8.4 million), Ad Reinhardt ($3.6 million), Robert Gober & Sherri Levine ($990,600), Amy Sillman ($984,250), Mohammed Sami ($952,500), Barbara Chase-Riboud ($647,700), Marina Perez Simão ($422,000) and Oscar yi Hou ($95,250).

By the evening’s end, Sotheby’s established over 35 auction records and sold over a billion dollars of art – but the week wasn’t over yet. The 266-lot Contemporary Day Auction achieved $83 million on Thursday. An eighth auction earlier this week saw a 1962 Ferrari 330 LM / 250 GTO by Scaglietti sell for $51.7 million – an auction record for Ferrari and the second-highest price for any car at auction.

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