The Top Three... Biggest selling artists at auction

3. Qi Baishi

Unknown to many Western art aficionados, yet a household name in his native China, Picasso once described Qi Baishi as the "the greatest oriental painter".

Qi Baishi is a household name in China

Very high praise indeed - which has been consolidated by Baishi's works, as he becomes synonymous with the growing presence of Asia in the art market.

Today, many economists suggest that it was China which took the art market's initial steps out of the recession.

The markets - and Baishi sales - have since been bolstered by Asia's influential financial elite.

Sales of Baishi's work directly correspond with China's growing share of the overall market - 17% up from 4% in 2005.

Total auction sales in 2009: $70m

2. Andy Warhol

Warhol's total sales on the auction block meant that an unsold rate of 33% did nothing to prevent his status as the second most lucrative artist, last year.

Even at the worse times of the economic slump, art collectors had reason to bask in Warhol's glow as he enjoyed 13 auction sales in excess of $1m - the best for a post-war artist last year.

Tete de Femme (Jacqueline) �8.1m
Picasso's Tete de Femme (Jacqueline)

His apex was reached with 200 Dollar Bills.

The eponymous black and white "bills" realised a final hammer price of $43.8m - the second best Warhol auction result, ever.

Total auction sales in 2009: $106m

1. Pablo Picasso

With a $90m sale lined up in our Top Stories of this week, Picasso continues his dominance of the art markets, having returned to the #1 spot in 2009.

Thanks to various big sales, including Mousquetaire a la pipe in May, 2009, for $13m, the Spanish wonder continues to loom large over the auction block.

During the first quarter of 2010, the $8.1m sale of his portrait of Jacqueline - Picasso's muse in the final years of his life - could herald his ongoing dominance.

Total auction sales in 2009: $121m


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