The best sales in Germany


Long live Friday! Every other Friday, Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. This week, Artprice analyses the best results recorded in Germany.

The highest German auction results are far behind those of the United States, China and the United Kingdom, where some works sell for more than ten million dollars. However, Germany remains a stronghold of the European art market, ranked just behind France, accounting for 2% of the world market in 2016, despite annual revenues down by 7%. German auctions offer important works by widely collected foreign artists such as ZAO Wou-Ki, Andy WARHOL, Camille PISSARRO and Paul CÉZANNE, but the success of its market is primarily due to German artists who left their mark on 20th century art and whose works are in high demand abroad.

Rank Artist Hammer Price ($) Artwork Sale
1 Max BECKMANN (1884-1950) 1 684 800 Tiergarten im Winter 01/06/2017 Grisebach Berlin
2 Max BECKMANN (1884-1950) 1 548 989 Château d’If 10/06/2017 Ketterer Kunst GmbH Munich
3 Heinrich CAMPENDONK (1889-1957) 901 366 Mädchen mit Katze 31/05/2017 Karl & Faber Munich
4 Georg BASELITZ (1938) 815 022 Zwei halbe Kühe 10/06/2017 Ketterer Kunst GmbH Munich
5 ZAO Wou-Ki (1921-2013) 740 784 Deux cimes 30/03/2017 Nagel Stuttgart
6 Gerhard RICHTER (1932) 675 272 Rot-Blau-Gelb 10/06/2017 Ketterer Kunst GmbH Munich
7 Josef ALBERS (1888-1976) 561 600 Homage to the Square 01/06/2017 Lempertz Cologne
8 August MACKE (1887-1914) 538 464 Kaffeetafel im Grünen 31/05/2017 Lempertz Cologne
9 Andy WARHOL (1928-1987) 505 035 Kaffeetafel im Grünen 02/06/2017 Grisebach Berlin
10 Gabriele MÜNTER (1877-1962) 503 100 Berglandschaft mit Haus 10/06/2017 Ketterer Kunst GmbH Munich
copyright © 2017

Max BECKMANN. An emblematic artist

Max Beckmann, who was classified as a “degenerate artist” and exiled to Amsterdam in 1933 before going to the United States in 1947, is the only German artist to record two million-dollar sales in his own country this year. The two works exceeded their high estimates, because the buyers’ interest was raised at the beginning of June as they sensed a new record would be reached in London. They were not mistaken.

Beckmann’s works sell better in London than anywhere else. This is where 58% of his sales have taken place over the past 10 years, compared to 27% in Germany. It is also here that his painting Bird’s Hell established a new absolute record at $45.8 million on 27 June 2017, beating a previous record set at $22.5 million in 2001. Doubling his record at such a price level can only be explained by the fact that Bird’s Hell is a unique work in the history of art, a true monument of remembrance. This masterpiece begun in Amsterdam and completed in Paris is a real descent into hell where monstrous birds of ill-omen torture and lacerate human flesh. Beckmann embarked on this anti-Nazi fresco in 1938, a pictorial narrative against oppression and terror. For many historians, this painting is to Beckmann what Guernica is to Picasso.

The battle of the market places

The same goes for all major German Expressionists. The best works make their highest prices in London rather than in Germany, which nevertheless sells the most works. Like Beckmann, Heinrich CAMPENDONK has so far created his auction records in London, but German auction houses do better than with Beckmann, Campendonck being less sought after. The million dollars (including costs) obtained last May in Munich for his painting Mädchen mit Katze (1918) is the second best performance by the artist on German soil and this price level is close to the best auction results in London.

An important artist of the 20th century, Campendonck is not very popular at auction because his works are rare. Nevertheless, his price index is constantly progressing: +434% since 2000, versus +109% for Georg BASELITZ, +105% for Gabriele MÜNTER and only +8% for August MACKE over the same period.

Besides the exceptional results of Beckmann this year, the highest price rise is undoubtedly for works by Josef ALBERS. His best (and largest) canvases from the Homage to the Square series, which were selling for over $200,000 in 2001, are now fetching between $1 million and $2 million on average. His overall price index has risen by +1,004% since 2000, making him one of the most sought-after German artists on the market, especially in the United States, where his artistic impact is colossal. After leading the Bauhaus’s famous “preliminary course” in Weimar, Josef Albers left Germany in 1933 for the United States. He then taught for fifteen years at Black Mountain College and then became director of the Design Department at Yale University in New Haven from 1950 to 1959. The contribution of the fundamental experimentation led by Albers anticipated Minimalism and Optical art, which accounted for a large proportion of painting created in the second half of the 20th century. New York and London fight over his works, which guarantee the success for their large Post-war auctions. During the last week of September, no fewer than five works by Albers have been put up for auction in New York, where 49% of his sales have been made over the last 10 years, versus 5% in Germany.