Highlights from the May Art Auctions: A Closer Look at the Masterpieces

Posted on: June, 1, 2023
4 min hours

The month of May is a highly anticipated period for art enthusiasts and collectors around the world as it marks the time when prestigious auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York present their finest selection of 20th and 21st-century artworks. This year’s auctions proved to be no exception, as the two renowned auction houses generated over $1.7 billion in sales over just a few days.

While this figure is indeed significant, it represents a decrease compared to previous years. This decline in total sales is explained considering uncertainties stemming from the current economic climate.

However, despite the challenges, the auctions still managed to achieve remarkable results.

Auctions’ highlights

Among the standout auctions was the Modern Evening Auction held on May 16, 2023, at Sotheby’s. This event showcased artworks that captured the essence of artists working during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Notably, Gustav Klimt‘s “Insel im Attersee (Island in the Attersee)” fetched an impressive $53,188,500, demonstrating the enduring appeal and value of works by this iconic artist.

The Contemporary Evening Auction, also at Sotheby’s on May 18, 2023, featured 27 lots that represented the cutting edge of contemporary art. David Hockney‘s “Drawing of a Pool and Towel” sold for $3,085,000, exceeding its estimated value, while Louise Bourgeois’ “Spider” achieved a sale price of $32,804,500. The monumental bronze sculpture achieved the highest auction price for a sculpture by a female artist, also setting a new record for Bourgeois.

In addition to these auctions, Sotheby’s hosted The Now Evening Auction and The Mo Ostin Collection Evening Auction, respectively held on May 18 and 16, 2023. These sales included notable works such as Nicole Eisenman‘s “Night Studio,” which sold for $2,430,000, and René Magritte‘s “L’Empire des lumières,” which fetched an impressive $42,273,000.

Christie’s also contributed to the vibrant May auction season with its 20th Century Evening Sale on May 11, 2023. With 54 lots in total, this sale achieved a total of $328,779,600. Noteworthy sales included Henri Rousseau‘s “Les Flaman” for $43,535,000 and Francisco de Goya‘s intriguing piece titled “A horse covering a she-donkey, while straddling a monk riding it,” which realized $3,196,000, more than twice the estimated price.

The Impressionist and Modern Works on Paper Sale, held at Christie’s on May 13, 2023, offered 108 lots, with notable sales including Joan Miró‘s “Les Revenants” for $52,920 and Salvador Dalí‘s “Orlando” for $81,900.

Rounding out the auctions at Christie’s was the 21st Century Evening Sale on May 15, 2023. This sale featured 26 lots and achieved a total of $98,802,500. Highlights included Yayoi Kusama‘s iconic “Pumpkin” sculpture, which fetched $4,890,000, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye‘s “Highriser,” which sold for $1,008,000, and Louis Fratino’s “Night Train” that totalized $252,000. These results confirm the current market trends that see female artists, ethnic minority artists and ultra-contemporary artists as protagonists.

Our selection of artworks 

Salvador Dalì, The Alchemist (L'Alchimiste)

The artwork L’Alchimiste” by Dalì is an etching and aquatint with drypoint. According to Michler-Lopsinger, it was published under two contracts: one in 1973 and one in 1975. The 1975 edition contained hand coloring, while the edition from 1973 did not. This etching is signed by Salvador Dalì, a pencil marking can be found on the left-hand corner of the work.


Gustav Klimt, Nude of Woman Reclyned On the Back of a Chair on the Right

Nude of Woman Reclyned On the Back of a Chair on the Right is an original artwork realized by Gustav Klimt between 1904 and 1906. On the left corner, the number 33 appears in handwritten blue pastel. This does not indicate the serial number since it is a drawing.


Francisco Josè de Goya y Lucientes, ¿De qué mal morirá?

¿De qué mal morirá?” is an exclusive first edition original etching and aquatint on paper realized by the artist Francisco Goya and published in 1799. 

The artwork is part of the First Edition of “Los Caprichos” published in 1799 by the Calcografia Nacional for the Real Academia of Madrid. The edition is composed of a total of 80 original plates, this is the exemplar plate n. 40 numbered on the upper right corner. The artwork is titled on the lower central margin “¿De qué mal morirá?” (What will he die for?).


René Magritte, La Lecon de Musique - Son de Cloche

La Lecon de Musique – Son de Cloche”  is an original etching realized by René Magritte in 1968. This is an edition of 150 prints on Velin de Rives paper.  This surrealist etching is plate III of the volume “Signes de survie au temps d’amour” by Guy Rosey.


Despite the challenges and uncertainties faced by the art market, the May art auctions of 2023 demonstrated the resilience and enduring appeal of art. While the total sales figures may have been lower than in previous years, the auction results indicate that collectors are still willing to invest in exceptional artworks, whether from renowned artists of the past or contemporary creators pushing the boundaries of artistic expression.


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