9 Record-Breaking Artworks and Their Stories

Zeng Fanzhi (曾梵志), “The Last Supper,”

Each artwork on this list fetched the highest price for an artwork by the artist at auction. Learn more about the stories behind these art world sensations, record-breaking prices, and history-making artworks, which are all recorded in Artory’s free price database.

Artory’s price database, which contains millions of transaction records from auction houses across the globe, was central to the research conducted in the Art Basel and UBS 2020 Art Market Report. From classic masterpieces to innovative digital artworks, Artory contains a diverse array of data points, provenance records, and price histories that are invaluable to collectors and art historians alike.

Norman Rockwell, “Saying Grace,” 1951

Norman Rockwell, "Saying Grace," 1951

Illustration is one of the hottest auction areas in recent years. This Norman Rockwell painting, Saying Grace, 1951, was painted for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post‘s November 24, 1951, the Thanksgiving issue. It was sold by Sotheby’s on December 4, 2013, at the American Art sale with a premium price USD $46,085,000, more than double its estimate of USD $15-20 million.

KAWS, “The KAWS Album,” 2005

KAWS, "The KAWS Album," 2005

This “family portrait” of the Kimpsons was commissioned by NIGO, the Japanese DJ and fashion designer, who established the urban clothing line A Bathing Ape. This painting, The KAWS Album, 2005, was sold by Sotheby’s on April 1, 2019 at the Nigoldeneye® Vol. 1 auction in Hong Kong. The estimate was HKD 6 – 8 million, but the premium price, HKD 115,966,000 (USD $14.7 million) soared past its estimate HKD 6-8 million (USD $760,000–$1 million).

Yoshitomo Nara, “Knife Behind Back,” 2000

Yoshitomo Nara, "Knife Behind Back," 2000

This monumental painting, Knife Behind Back, 2000, created by Yoshitomo Nara, holds the artist’s auction record. The piece measures in at almost 7 x 8 feet. It was sold by Sotheby’s on October 6, 2019 at the Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Hong Kong, when the city’s protests cast particular uncertainty over the Hong Kong art market. This painting, however, sold for HKD 195,696,000 (USD $24.9 million) with premium, smashing the artist’s previous record (USD $4.45 million) by a factor of five.

Liu Ye, “Smoke,” 2001

Liu Ye, "Smoke," 2001

At the same sale in Hong Kong, another artist’s record was broken. Smoke, 2001, created by the Chinese artist Liu Ye (刘野) was sold for HKD 52,182,000 (USD $6.65 million) on the same night. Due to the similar artistic style and career path, Liu is often considered “the next Yoshitomo Nara,” so it may not be a coincidence that they both achieved new auction records on the same night!

Brice Marden, “Complements,” 2004

Brice Marden, "Complements," 2004

The art market has demonstrated strong resilience to various crises, and the recent Christie’s online auction ONE: A Global Sale of the 20th Century, having taken place on July 10, 2020, is a testament to that resilience. This Brice Marden canvas, Complements, 2004, was sold for USD $30,920,000, breaking the artist’s auction record.

Wayne Thiebaud, “Four Pinball Machines,” 1962

Wayne Thiebaud, “Four Pinball Machines,” 1962

Another record achieved at ONE: A Global Sale of the 20th Century belongs to Wayne Thiebaud. His Four Pinball Machines, created in 1962, was sold for USD 19,135,000 at the auction.

Louise Bourgeois, “Spider,” 1996

Louise Bourgeois, "Spider," 1996

The monumental sculpture created by Louise Bourgeois, Spider, 1996, was sold for USD $32,055,000 by Christie’s on May 15, 2019 at the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale. It is also the most expensive sculpture created by a female artist.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled (L.A.),” 1991

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled (L.A.)," 1991

These are perhaps the most expensive candies: Untitled (L.A.), 1991, created by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. It was sold by Christie’s on Nov 10, 2015, at the Post-War And Contemporary Evening Sale for USD $7,669,000.

Zeng Fanzhi (曾梵志), “The Last Supper,” 2001

Zeng Fanzhi (曾梵志), "The Last Supper," 2001

The Last Supper, 2001, measuring in at over 13 feet long, was sold by Sotheby’s on October 5, 2013 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong 40th Anniversary Evening Sale for HKD 180.44 million (USD $23.3 million), breaking several auction records. The price was well above the estimate, which was around USD $10 million, and it became Zeng Fanzhi‘s highest priced artwork. It was also the most expensive painting created by an Asian contemporary artist at the time. The previous record (HKD 79 million, USD $10.2 million) was set by Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang (张晓刚).

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