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As always, the new year brings with it the opportunity to look back on the past year. So what was 2022 like? Looking at the events around the world – the war, successive waves of epidemics, raging inflation – one would like to slam that door, lock it up, and throw the key to the bottom of the ocean.

And yet global crises don’t seem to affect the art market. In 2022, some true gems surfaced at auctions, having reached exorbitant sums. After all, collecting art has always been a luxurious pastime for people with a lot of money, nerves of steel and (usually) good taste. To say that a fortune was spent at art auctions in 2022 would be nothing short of an understatement

The question, then, is: what and for how much? Below we will look at five artworks that captivated auctioneers around the world and ended up selling for the highest sums, reflecting the currently prevailing trends in art collection. The hallmark names are on that list, and as you are about to find out, it is post-impressionism that leads the prime.

Our roundup starts with Paul Gaugin’s Maternite II from 1899. The scene, striking with its color palette, depicts three young Tahitian women in everyday situations. The island, which for many years was the home of the French painter, was also one of his biggest sources of inspiration. Exotic subject matter and characteristically flat paint make Gaugin an artist particularly esteemed in the art market. The painting sold at Christie’s Auction House for $105.7 million.

Next comes the 1888 painting Orchard with Cypresses by Vincent van Gogh. This artwork is not among the most recognizable in the artist’s output, but its spot paint technique and delicate shades make it stand out from others to reveal strong inspirations with the art of the older generation of impressionists. The piece also sold at Christie’s for $117.2 million.

The third prize goes to Paul Cezanne’s Mount SainteVictorie painted between 1888 and 1890, another post-impressionist entry on our list. Cezanne was an autodidact, not touted by either academics or other artists-masters. As in the case of van Gogh’s, the painting displays pastel colors, but the way the paint is applied expresses much more dynamics. It sold at Christie’s for $137.8 million.

Number two on our list is a subtle representation of an artist’s studio. Models by Georg Seurat, from 1888, shows three women posing for the painter for a nude, while in the background we can see Seurat’s most famous work A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. In a way the lucky buyer got a get-two-pay-for-one deal on that one! The painting is maintained in a technique called pointillism, in which the image is constructed by applying single points of paint to the canvas. It sold at Christie’s for $149.2 million.

And now for the icing on the cake, an artwork that everyone is likely to be familiar with, whether they are art aficionados or not. It’s none other than Andy Warhol’s 1964 Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, the quintessence of pop art. The colorful depiction of Marilyn Monroe sold at Christie’s for $195 million, placing the piece among the trop three most expensive artworks of 2022 but also the most expensive one of the twentieth century. Interestingly, all proceeds from the auction  were donated to charity.

Even though breathtaking sums were raised at art auctions this past year, the buyers’ choices were anything but out of the ordinary. Gauguin, van Gogh and Warhol are names that have been cropping up at art auctions for years.

We are certainly looking forward to what 2023 has in store!

transl. Jakub Majchrzak

  • Paul Gauguin, Women on the Seashore (Motherhood), 1899