Thursday, June 25, 2009

The 2nd Most Expensive Painting in the World

Here we see the first painting by an American artist on our list of the Ten Most Expensive Paintings in the World. And once again, the combined forces of the artist’s name, subject matter and provenance have boosted the selling price to orbital heights.

2. “Women III” by Willem de Kooning, sold in 2006 for $137.5 million. Inflation-adjusted price $147 million.

Willem De Kooning was a Dutch-born American Abstract Expressionist painter. Woman III is one of a six numbered paintings in which his central theme was a woman. It measures 68 by 48 inches (170 x 120 cm) and was completed in 1953.

De Kooning had eight years of formal art training in Rotterdam before smuggling himself into the US at age 22. Unlike other Abstract Expressionists, de Kooning’s work is figurative, and built with a sure understand of human form. He blended expressionist deconstruction with recognizable, ferocious imagery.

With their aggressive brushwork and high-key colors, de Kooning’s“Women” paintings are fearsome, an unsettling mix of lust, satire, idolatry and dazzle. These paintings caused a sensation in the 50s, much as they do today.

Almost as startling is this painting’s ownership history. From the 70s to 1994 Woman III was in Iran’s Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art collection. But it had not been shown since the 1979 Iranian Revolution when the Shah and his Monarchy were replaced by the current Islamic Republic of Iran. Under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini, “Woman III” was rejected as being unsuitable for public display. Unsuitable or not, her keepers were aware that paintings by de Kooning were then selling in the $20-million range, and so “Woman III” was carefully maintained.

Finally, after 15 years in the closet, the de Kooning was quietly traded for remnants of a precious 16th-century Persian manuscript known as the Tahmasbi Shahnameh. This book, which originally contained 258 brilliantly painted miniatures, had been dissected into separate sheets by its thoughtless owner and more than half were sold off.

Nonetheless, in 1994, in return for the de Kooning painting through a British art dealer, Iran obtained the remaining 118 plates that survived in the Persian manuscript. Joy all around.

In an eye-blink, “Woman III” was acquired for an undisclosed amount by American David Geffen, a Brooklyn-born film/entertainment maven, recently of Dream/Works fame. In November 2006, he sold it for $137.5 million to Stephen Cohen, age 50, a billionaire hedge-fund manager and prominent art collector.

In a second opinion, a British Museum book expert said that the Tahmasbi Shahnameh was worth at least 20 paintings from de Kooning.

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1 comment:

  1. Love this series on top-selling paintings. The articles contain lots of great history, as well as inside looks at the art world. Keep such well-written, entertaining fare coming -- please! Thanks, P. Mitchell