Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait sets new Latin American art record with US$34.8 million sale

Sotheby's New York delivered stellar results during their Modern Art Evening Sale on 16 November – the second of its four Marquee Sales this week.  

Mexican painter Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait, Diego y yo, was sold at US$34.8 million dollars and shattered two auction records.

The first overtook Kahlo’s personal record for one of her paintings, while the second surpassed a record for the most expensive Latin American artwork previously set by her husband, Diego Rivera. His painting, The Rivals, was sold for US$9.7 million dollars at Christie’s New York in 2018. The buyer of Kahlo’s painting was later revealed as Argentine real estate tycoon, Eduardo Costantini.

46 out of the 47 artworks offered were sold, which achieved a sale total of US$282.8 million dollars. 

Lot 12 | Frida Kahlo | Diego y yo, Oil on masonite

Created in 1949
30 x 22.4 cm

  • Sam Williams & Florence Arquin, Chicago (acquired directly from the artist)
  • Sotheby’s, New York, 2 May 1990, lot 18 (consigned by the above)
  • Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art, New York (acquired from the above)
  • Private Collection, Texas (acquired from the above)
  • Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above circa 1995)
  • Acquired by descent to the present owner

Estimate: US$30,000,000 – 50,000,000

Hammer Price: US$31,000,000

Sold: US$34,883,000

The previous auction records were:

  • Frida Kahlo Personal Auction Record|Two Nudes in a Forest, Christie's New York, May 2016, US$8,005,000
  • Latin American Art Auction Record|The Rival, Diego Rivera, Christie's New York, May 2018, US$9,762,500

Kahlo's Diego y yo (Diego and I) painting was the sale's most expensive lot, but it became the most expensive Latin American artwork. 

The bidding started at US$26 million dollars. After six bids, the hammer was dropped at US$31 million dollars – slightly over its low estimate. The winning bid was by Director of Latin American Art Department, Anna Di Stasi, for her client with paddle number 1.  

This painting was sold at US$34.8 million dollars, which broke the two records above. It was also the first time that Latin American art broke the US$10 million dollars mark at an auction.

Following the sale, Sotheby's revealed that the buyer was Eduardo Costantini.

The Argentine is a descendant of Italian immigrants. He first started his career in the financial industry and then became a wealthy real estate businessman. He is 75 years old and has an estimated net worth of about US$1.2 billion dollars. He started collecting when he was around 20 years old, especially by Latin American artists such as Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Remedios Varo. In 2001, he founded the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires (MALBA).

Eduardo Constantini 

Kahlo's Two Nudes in a Forest, 25 x 30.2 cm, Christie's New York, May 2016, US$8,005,000

Rivera's The Rival, 152.4 x 127 cm, Christie's New York, May 2018, US$9,762,500

Self-portraiture was the most recurrent genre in Kahlo's short, but intense pictorial production. Under her father's tutelage, Frida studied the history of Western Art and self-portraiture of Old Masters such as Da Vinci, Rembrandt, van Rijn and Albrecht Durer. She went onto paint 48 self-portraits from the 1920s to the years before her death in 1954. 

In Diego y yo, Kahlo’s depicts her second marriage to Mexican painter, Diego Rivera. Created in 1949, this painting was Kahlo’s final self-portrait before she died in 1954 at the age of 47.

The work alludes to Rivera’s affair with the Mexican actress Maria Felix, a close friend of Kahlo’s. At the time, the affair was the subject of numerous rumours and Kahlo joked about it publicly.

Kahlo and her husband, Rivera 

Kahlo's Diego y yo painting became the most expensive Latin American artwork

Lot 26 | Claude Monet | Coin du bassin aux nympheas, Oil on canvas

Created in 1918
131 x 88.8 cm

  • Durand-Ruel & Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (acquired jointly directly from the artist on 23 January 1919)
  • Durand-Ruel, New York (acquired from the above in 1919 and until at least 28 June 1922)
  • Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris
  • Henri Canonne, Paris (acquired from the above in 1923)
  • Private Collection, Switzerland
  • Christie's New York, May 14, 1997, lot 23
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate upon request (Auction house expected to fetch more than US$40 million)

Hammer Price: US$44,000,000

Sold: US$50,820,000

The sale's most expensive lot was Monet's Coin du bassin aux nympheas. 

The bidding started at US$30 million dollars, which aroused the interest of Asian collectors. There were bids from Sotheby's Head of Modern Art, Asia Department, Felix Kwok; and Chairman of Asia, Patti Wong. 

After 10 bids, the group of Asian bidders were eventually outbid by Chairman of Latin America, Lulu Creel. The hammer was dropped at US$44 million dollars, and the painting was sold at US$50.8 million dollars with buyer's premium.

Lulu Creel's client beat Asian bidders 

The famed lily pond at Monet’s garden at Giverny, northern France, provided the subject matter for his most celebrated later canvases. 

The theme of waterlilies  which became not only Monet’s most celebrated series of paintings, but one of the most iconic images of the Impressionist movement – dominated the artist’s work over several decades, recording the changes in his style and his constant pictorial innovations. The present large-scale oil, created in 1918, is a powerful testament to Monet’s enduring vision and creativity in his mature years. 

In the painting, Monet juxtaposes the waterlilies floating on the lilypond’s surface with the reflections of the trees above. Together with the long fronds of the water grasses, tendrils of the willow tree and rambling roses to create a dynamic sense of motion.

Three other canvases join the present work in this series featuring this specific corner of the artist’s water garden, opposite the Japanese bridge. The present work is one of two works from this series in private hands, with Coin de l'Etang a Giverny (1918-1919) and Coin du bassin aux nympheas (1918) belonging to the collections of the Musee de Grenoble and Geneva’s Musee d'Art et d'Histoire (Museum of Art and History). 

Monet's Coin du bassin aux nympheas (1918) | Museum of Art and History, Geneva 

Monet's Coin de l'Etang a Giverny (1918-1919) | Musee de Grenoble 

Monet's Coin du bassin aux nympheas (1918-1919) | Christie's New York, Sold at US$21.8 million dollars, 2019 

Lot 10 | Pierre Soulages | Peinture 195 x 130 cm, 4 aout 1961, Oil on canvas

Created in 1961
195.6 x 129.5 cm

  • Kootz Gallery, New York
  • Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1961)
  • Christie's London, 3 July 1987, lot 1048
  • Drouot-Montaigne, Paris, 16 April 1989
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: US$8,000,000 – 12,000,000

Hammer Price: US$17,300,000

Sold: US$20,141,700

The sale's third most expensive lot was Soulages' Peinture (Painting) 195 x 130 cm, 4 aout 1961

The bidding started at US$6 million dollars. After more than 50 bids, the hammer was dropped at US$17.3 million dollars more than double its low estimate. The winning bid was by Chairman of Europe, Helena Newman, for her client with paddle number 46. It was sold at US$20.1 million dollars, which set a new auction record for the French artist. 

Soulages’ previous auction record was set by Painting 200 x 162 cm, March 14 1960. It was sold at €9.6 million euros (US$10.8 million dollars) in France's Tajan auction house in 2019. 

Soulages' Painting 200 x 162 cm, March 14 1960 | Tajan auction house, France, Sold at €9.6 million euros in 2019

Drawing his brushstrokes dramatically across the surface, the artist dynamically fuses the luminosity of the pigment with the texture of the medium, to create an impression of aesthetic structural unity that directly brings to mind the cohesive and monumental planes of American Abstract Expressionist artists.

By varying the thickness of the black paint and the length and width of the strokes over the crimson base, Soulages builds up a rhythmic composition that both contracts and expands across the canvas  energising the interplay between red and black as the two colours compete for prominence.

The present work was included in several exhibitions, including his first retrospective at Paris' Musee National d'Art Moderne in 1967, as well as the retrospective organised by renowned American curator, James Johnson Sweeney, at Houston's Museum of Fine Arts in 1966. 

Other highlight lots: 

Lot 9 | Alexander Calder | Untitled, Painted sheet metal and wire

Created in 1949
325 x 426.7 cm

  • The artist
  • George Hime, Rio de Janeiro (acquired from the above in 1949)
  • Galeria Jean Boghici, Rio de Janeiro
  • Nahmad Collection, Geneva (acquired from the above)
  • Private Collection, Tokyo (acquired from the above)
  • Christie’s New York, 15 November 2000, lot 34 (consigned by the above)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: US$10,000,000 – 15,000,000

Hammer Price: US$16,900,000

Sold: US$19,682,100

Lot 32 | Claude Monet | Antibes vue de la Salis, Oil on canvas

Created in 1888
65.7 x 92.8 cm

  • (Possibly) Boussod, Valadon et Cie., Paris (acquired from the artist in June 1889)
  • (Possibly) Madame d’Arc, France (acquired in 1891)
  • Henry M. Johnston, Brooklyn (acquired circa 1905)
  • Durand-Ruel Gallery, New York (acquired from the above on 2 June 1910)
  • Arthur B. Emmons, Newport (acquired from the above on 2 June 1910)
  • Mrs. Emmons, Newport (acquired by descent from the above)
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (acquired as a gift of the above in 1956 and until at least 1960)
  • Sam Salz, New York (acquired in 1964)
  • Ronne & Joseph Wohl, New York (acquired circa 1974)
  • Sotheby’s New York, 9 November 2000, lot 10 (consigned by the above)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: US$10,000,000 – 15,000,000

Hammer Price: US$11,600,000

Sold: US$13,342,400

Lot 33 | Pierre-Auguste Renoir | Jeune fille a la corbeille de fleurs, Oil on canvas

Created in circa 1980
81 x 65 cm

  • Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired directly from the artist 25 November 1890)
  • Charles Whelan, New York (acquired from the above in 1928)
  • Etienne Bignou, New York
  • Dr. Albert C. Barnes, Merion (acquired from the above in December 1934)
  • Durand-Ruel, New York (acquired from the above 31 January 1942)
  • By descent from the above to the present owner

Estimate: US$6,000,000 – 8,000,000

Hammer Price: US$11,000,000

Sold: US$12,903,000

Lot 36 | Claude Monet | Saules au soleil couchant, Oil on canvas 

Created in 1889 
73.5 x 92.6 cm

  • M. Knoedler & Co., Paris (acquired directly from the artist)
  • Kojiro Matsukata, Paris & Kobe (acquired from the above 12 December 1921)
  • French State (sequestered from the above as “enemy property” 16 December 1944)
  • Me Etienne Ader, Hotel Drouot Paris, 21 November 1947, lot 15 (consigned by the above)
  • Palais Galleria, Paris, 19 March 1973, lot 45
  • Galerie Tamenaga, Paris (acquired circa 1982)
  • Private Collection, Japan (acquired from the above circa 1982)
  • Private Collection, Europe
  • Sotheby’s London, 5 February 2002, Lot 9 (consigned by the above)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: US$5,000,000 - 7,000,000

Hammer Price: US$7,600,000

Sold: US$8,996,400

Lot 5 | Rene Magritte | Le Droit chemin, Oil on canvas

Created in 1966
60 x 50 cm

  • The Israel Museum Jerusalem (acquired as a gift from the artist in 1966)
  • Sotheby’s, New York, 2 November 2011, lot 39 (consigned by the above)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: US$7,000,000 – 9,000,000

Hammer Price: US$6,300,000

Sold: US$7,502,700

Auction Summary

Auction House: Sotheby’s New York

Sale: Modern Art Evening Sale

Number of lots: 47

Sold: 46

Unsold: 1

Sale Rate: 97.8%

Sale Total: US$282,850,600