Top 10 impressionist and modern paintings sold at auction

London will play host to major impressionist and modern art auctions this February, with Picasso and Monet among the star players.

Each year, millions of dollars changes hands in the market for impressionist and modern art, which is one of the most popular collecting areas.

With few major works remaining in private hands, big-budget collectors will fork out huge sums to own pieces from top artists, who stand as some of the most important in the entire art world.

In anticipation of thel buying frenzy, Paul Fraser Collectibles takes a look at the top 10 impressionist and modern art pieces ever sold at auction.

10. Pablo Picasso - Yo, Picasso
Sotheby's New York, May 1989


This self-portrait of the artist sold for $47.8m back in 1989 - the second highest sum ever paid for an artwork at the time.

It captures a transitional moment in the artist's career. Painted in 1901, it was completed just before the artist moved from Barcelona to Paris for his first major exhibition.

The work shows him brimming with confidence, his excitement expounded by the loose, rapid brushstrokes. Even its title - Yo, Picasso (I, Picasso) - is a statement of self-assurance.

Picasso's works are renowned for their distinct personality, and this is the first great piece to demonstrate his charisma.

9. Vincent van Gogh - Irises
Sotheby's New York, November 1987

Image: Wikipedia


In the year before his death, Van Gogh finally committed himself to an asylum, unable to bear the strain of his mental torture.

Irises is one of the first of many paintings of the flower that he completed while in the asylum. He called it "the lightning conductor for my illness" and believed he could hold his demons at bay by continuing to paint irises.

Influenced by Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, with which van Gogh had something of an obsession, he considered it just a study for a major work that he had planned.

However, his brother and benefactor Theo recognised its appeal and submitted it to the Societe des Artistes Independants' annual exhibition, where it was displayed along with Starry Night Over the Rhone. Writing to Vincent, Theo commented: "[It] strikes the eye from afar. The Irises are a beautiful study full of air and life."

Like his sunflowers piece (above), Irises became the most valuable piece of art ever sold at auction when financier Alan Bond bid $53.9m at Sotheby's in 1987.

However, Bond failed to come up with the money, so it was then re-sold to the J Paul Getty Museum, where it remains on display.

8. Vincent van Gogh - Vase aux Marguerites aux Coquelicots
Sotheby's New York, November 2014

Van Gogh still
Image: Sotheby's

Executed in the home of Van Gogh's famous physician Dr Gachet, this wonderful still life represents Van Gogh at his very best. As Sotheby's said at the time, the work "radiates the exuberance and passion found in Van Gogh's greatest and most coveted works."

Created just before Van Gogh died in 1890, "the vibrant composition captures in sharp relief the intensity of the artist at the height of his mania, only weeks before his tragic end."

The painting had been part of the same collection for more than two decades, resulting in more than a few hungry collectors at the Sotheby's sale.

7. Edouard Manet - Le Printemps
Christie's New York, November 2014

Edouard Manet Le Printemps
Image: Christie's

Le Printemps shows Parisian actress Jeanne Demarsy as an allegory of spring. Painted in 1882, it is a defining work of the impressionist genre, displaying the characteristic rapid brushstrokes and intense colours for which the movement became known.  

"This painting is by the first artist of the modern era, encapsulating all major themes of the early modern period, from nature and femininity to society and fashion," explained Christie's head of impressionist art, Brooke Lampley.

"One of his best known and most widely reproduced works, Le Printemps exemplifies the revolutionary style that Manet embraced."

The piece was unveiled at the 1882 Paris Salon and was well received by critics, spurring Manet to plan a series of such works, one for each season. However, he died just two years later, shortly before the completion of "Autumn".

6. Vincent van Gogh - Portrait de l'artiste sans barbe
Christie's New York, November 1998

Image: Wikipedia

Picasso and Van Gogh appear to be duelling it out in this top 10, but Picasso would have been proud to see his name alongside Van Gogh, who he prized above many other influencial artists.

In a rather grim move, Picasso even went out of his way to obtain a newspaper report of Van Gogh's famous ear-slicing escapades, and had it framed on his wall.

This work was painted after Van Gogh lost his ear (probably the reason why he's facing left in the portrait). It was his last self portrait, completed in the year before he died (1889) as a gift to his mother.

It's quite an endearing piece, with Van Gogh presumably shaving his beard to impress his beloved mummy.

5. Pierre-August Renoir - Bal de Moulin de la Galette
Sotheby's New York, May 1990

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