Rare painting by Piet Mondrian could sell for more than $50 million

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A painting from one of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian’s most celebrated periods is set to sell for more than $50 million at Sotheby’s in November, the auction house says, more than 20 times the price of the last auction nearly 40 years ago.

Important facts

Mondrian painted “Composition No. II” in 1930 while living in Paris and honing his grid-based abstract art with black lines and primary colors for which he is perhaps best remembered.

The painting is from a well-known series of square canvases that Mondrian completed during this period, most of which are kept in museum collections and rarely make it onto the private market.

Composition II has a chance to break the artist’s auction record as currently the most expensive Mondrian painting ever sold is Composition No III, with Red, Blue, Yellow and Black, which won the bid $50.6 million in 2015.

The painting last appeared at auction in 1983 when it was sold for $2.1 million to a private Japanese collector in what was then the sale most valuable Mondrian artwork and the most expensive abstract artwork ever sold at auction (after accounting for inflation, the $2.1 million would be worth about $6.4 million in 2022).

tangent

Julian Dawes, Head of Impressionist & Modern Art at Sotheby’s in New York, narrated forbes When Composition II was last auctioned, the art market as a whole was “quite different and far less global and competitive” than it is today. Along with the increase in size and value of the overall market since 1983, Mondrian’s work in particular has also experienced a “huge” increase in value, Dawes said. Since the auction nearly 40 years ago, Dawes said, Mondrian’s reputation as one of the cornerstones of European modernism has been further cemented to be known as an artist “who fundamentally changed and forever expanded our perception of art.”

Big number

$65.1 billion. That is the total turnover of the art market in 2021, according to an estimate by Art Basel and UBS. That figure marks a 29% jump from last year, when the Covid-19 pandemic caused a market slump. Last year’s total sales even surpassed 2019’s estimated $64.1 billion in sales, marking a post-pandemic recovery.

key background

The potentially record-breaking Mondrian auction comes as art continues to fetch skyrocketing prices at auction. High-end art prices have risen sharply over the last few decades, partly due to inflation and because wealthy buyers view artworks that way an investment which can hold their value more consistently than other assets as their returns are largely independent of other market conditions or major asset classes. Over the past year, art auctions have continued to break records, as the collection of artworks amassed by real estate magnate Harry Macklowe and his ex-wife Linda sold at Sotheby’s for a total of $922.2 million, the most valuable collection ever at a… auction was sold. The record could be broken again this year when the collection of the late billionaire and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is auctioned at Christie’s, where it will fetch over $1 billion.

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