13 Most Expensive Auctioned Artworks from Poland
small, Tamara de Lempicka's paintings at Sotheby's, London, photo: Alessandro Di Marco / ANSA / Forum, Tamara de Lempicka's paintings at Sotheby's, London; Photo: Alessandro Di Marco / ANSA / Forum
Ever wondered who the most sought-after Polish artists are? Curious about the value of their most highly prized works? Here's Culture.pl's list of the most expensive auctioned artworks from Poland.
Such a list may be controversial for a number of reasons – between the unclear issues of Polish nationality, the methodology of establishing a ranking and last, but not least, the prices themselves. We used data from official auctions as our source – which means we're only talking here about paintings which were sold in that context (not private or institutional purchases). Without further ado, here's what we found out.
1. 'La Musicienne' by Tamara de Lempicka (1929)
- Sold at Christie's, London, on 11th November 2018 for $9,087,500
'La Musicienne' by Tamara de Lempicka, 1929, photo: Christies.com
You may not have even known that she was Polish in the first place. Tamara Łempicka (yes, this is how we spell her name in Poland), the ultimate Art Deco master, is generally considered a French artist, which is not surprising considering that she spent almost all of her career in the West – most importantly, in Paris and the US. But she was born in Warsaw, Poland, to a Russian Jewish father and a Polish mother, and her first husband (Tadeusz Łempicki) was also Polish.
Tamara Łempicka’s Art Deco Legacy
Lempicka is no doubt the most Polish artist and one of the most expensive woman painters in the world. Considering that 24 of her paintings have sold for over $1 million, her work would fill up most of this list – so we chose just one painting.
2. 'Dance Among Swords' by Henryk Siemiradzki (1887)
- Sold at Sotheby's, New York, on 12th April 2011 for $1,800,000
Another version of the painting 'Dance Among Swords' by Henryk Siemiradzki, 1881, 120 × 225 cm, oil on canvas, photo source: National Museum in Warsaw
In a way, Siemiradzki is a similar case to Łempicka, as most of the art world considers him to be a Russian painter – and that's also how he is presented at auctions (as Genrykh Ippolitovich Semiradskii). He was born in eastern Ukraine, not far from Kharkiv, to a very patriotic Polish family. Educated in St. Petersburg, he spent most of his life in Rome, which became his life-long fascination. Apart from the Dance, four other paintings by Siemiradzki have sold for over $1 million, among them Un Naufragé Mendiant (1878) (See the Polish list below) and The Girl or the Vase (1887).
Siemiradzki Skyrockets in London
3. '1-∞ detail-4875812-4894230' by Roman Opałka (1965)
- Sold at Christie's, London, on 14th October 2010 for $1,078,412
Often called 'the painter of infinity', Roman Opałka is most famous for his lifelong project in which he painted minuscule white numbers on black canvas. With time, the colour of the initially black canvas gradually became brighter and the numbers harder to discern. Opałka painted his 'counting paintings' from the year 1965 until his death in 2011.
Roman Opałka Through the Lens of Czesław Czapliński – Image Gallery
4. 'Nazis' by Piotr Uklański (1998)
- Sold at Phillips de Pury, London, on 14th October 2006 for $929,700
'Nazis' by Piotr Uklański, 1999, fragment of the exhibition 'Czterdziesci i Cztery' (Forty and Four), Zachęta National Gallery of Art , 2012, photo: Marek Krzyzanek / Medium
One of the most renowned Polish contemporary artists, Piotr Uklański also remains one of the most controversial. The exhibition of his Nazis photographs at Warsaw's Zachęta Gallery shown in 2000 ended in a scandal, when a Polish actor featured in one of the photos entered the gallery with a sword, slashing several of the pictures in protest against the artist having used his image. Nazis remains the most expensive Polish work of art by a living artist.
Piotr Uklański's Works - Image Gallery
5. 'Lampe Bouche' by Alina Szapocznikow (ca. 1969)
- Sold at Pierre Bergé & Associés, Brussels on 4th December 2011 for $643,152
'Lampe Bouche I' by Alina Szapocznikow; from 1966; 28 x 52 cm; courtesy of Piotr Stanisławski and Galerie Gisela Capitain GmbH, Kolonia; photo: WIELS
alina szapocznikow prace 9_4921423.jpg
6. 'Girls Smoking' by Wilhelm Sasnal (2001)
- Sold at Phillips de Pury, London on 29th June 2008 for $457,676
Here, we have a series comprising three paintings of women smoking – the most famous and valued being the portrait of the artist's wife, Anka (the other two feature Dominika and Peaches). The series was sold in London in 2008. A year earlier, another painting by Wilhem Sasnal, Airplanes (1999) sold for $396,000.
7. 'Crowd' by Magdalena Abakanowicz (1986-87)
- Sold at Sotheby's, New York on 11th May 2006 for $380,000
For several decades, Magdalena Abakanowicz has been one of the most solidly established Polish artists in the art world. Most art aficionados would instantly associate her with the human-shaped figures made from dyed sisal fibre and called Abakany.
Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Most Famous Sculptures
While these may be the most expensive Polish paintings sold at auctions abroad, all of them lag far behind the most expensive painting sold in the world to date which, as of July 2019, is Leonardo da Vinci's Salvador Mundi, which sold for $450 million.
Meanwhile, in Poland...
What about the auctions within Poland, however? Do domestic tastes differ from those abroad? Here are the priciest works of art sold in Poland:
1. 'M 39' by Wojciech Fangor (1969)
- Sold at DESA Unicum on 29th November 2018 for 4,720,000 zł (ca. $1,250,000)
This work of Polish modern art surpassed all estimates when it was auctioned off in 2018, shattering the record for most the expensive piece of art sold at an auction in Poland.
2. 'Motherhood' by Stanisław Wyspiański (1904)
- Sold at DESA Unicum on 14th December 2017 for 4,366,000zł (ca. $1,134,330)
This portrait by Stanisław Wyspiański, the most representative artist of the Young Poland movement, features his wife, Teofila Pytko and one of their children.
3. 'Killing of Wapowski During the Coronation of Henry of Valois' by Jan Matejko
- Sold at DESA Unicum on 13th December 2007 for 3,683,000 zł [ca. $956,769]
'Killing of Wapowski during the coronation of Henry of Valois' by Jan Matejko, 1861, oil on canvas, 132 x 101 cm, photo: Wacław Klag / REPORTER / East News
matejko zabicie wapowskiego.jpg
This painting, by the renowned historical painter Jan Matejko, went missing in the 1930s and was recovered in 2012.
4. 'Polish Hector' by Jacek Malczewski (1913)
- Sold at Polswiss Art, Warsaw, on 4th December 2013 for 2,600,000 zł (ca. $702,000)
Polish Hector by Jacek Malczewski, a leading Polish Symbolist artist of the turn of the century, remains the most expensive Polish painting sold in Poland. The allegorical portrait features the artist himself, dressed as knight.
5. 'Un Naufragé Mendiant' by Henryk Siemiradzki (1878)
- Sold at Polswiss Art on 10th December 2000 for 2,130,000 zł (ca. $575,000)
6. 'Detail 2890944-2910059' by Roman Opałka (1965)
- Sold at DESA Unicum on 11th December 2014 for 2,015,500 zł (ca. $545,000)
As of December 2014, this painting by Opałka was the most expensive work of contemporary Polish art sold in Poland.
7. 'Próba Czwórki' (Fourth Attempt) by Józef Chełmoński (1878)
- Sold at DESA Unicum on 13th December 2007 for 1,580,0000 zł (ca. $427,000)
'Próba Czwórki' (Fourth Attempt) by Józef Chełmoński, 1878, oil on canvas, 71 x 175.5 cm, private collection, photo: GMP
Horses are one of the favorite motifs of Polish art collectors. Here, they are painted by Józef Chełmoński, Poland's most accomplished realist painter.
Written by Mikołaj Gliński, 23 October, 2015; updated by MN & LD, Jun 2019
tamara de lempicka
most expensive polish paintings
Source: www.artinfo.pl, www.artprice.com, www.cultura.onet.pl, DESA Unicum