11 Most Expensive American Art Auction Results in the last 10 Years

This article reveals the most expensive auction results of American art sold over the past 10 years. Read on to discover which masterpieces they were.

Nov 29, 2020By Mia Forbes
american art auction
The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room) by Norman Rockwell, 1957; with Triple Elvis [Ferus Type] by Andy Warhol, 1963; and Untitled by Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1982

The 2010s proved an exceptional decade for the art industry, with the world’s most expensive painting sold at auction, ever-increasing interest in native and minority art, and the growing influence of social media on our aesthetic perspective. American art has been no exception, with some of the most valuable masterpieces from the States changing hands, often with mind-boggling auction results.


What Is American Art?

American art is just that: art from America! Whether needlework or furniture, painting or print, if it is the work of an American artist, it can be considered American art. This broad category, therefore, spans a huge range of years, media, genres, styles and locations, but the most expensive auction results are almost always yielded by paintings. The twentieth century saw an explosion of creativity and innovation in American art, reflected in the eleven items listed here. Although some of them were placed in the Modern Art departments at the major auction houses, they have each contributed to the reputation and success of American art as a whole.


Read on to learn more about these eleven masterpieces and their makers.


11. Norman Rockwell, The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room), 1957

Realized Price: USD 2,098,500

norman rockwell the rookie
Norman Rockwell’s most expensive painting, The Rookie


Realized Price: USD 22,565,000

Estimate: USD 20,000,000 – USD 30,000,000

Venue & Date: Christie’s, New York, 22 May 2014, Lot 30

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Known Seller: Southwest American private collector

About The Artwork

Originally created as the cover art for an edition of The Saturday Evening Post, Norman Rockwell’s locker room scene soon became an iconic image. Throughout the mid-20th century, Rockwell’s prolific illustrations helped forge a national identity, and as one of the country’s oldest and most beloved Major League Baseball teams, the Boston Red Sox were a sure way of touching the hearts of even the most old-school Americans.

Featuring recognizable ballplayers and published at the time of baseball legend Ted Williams’ retirement, the painting is topical but also timeless. The image of the underdog, nervous and out-of-place, is one that almost anyone can relate to in some way. The Rookie thus evokes two conflicting emotions, as the Red Sox paraphernalia immediately conjures up feelings of triumph and glory, while the awkward newcomer cannot help but create a sense of anxiety and even embarrassment. The deep emotional response provoked by an apparently simple image is undoubtedly the reason that this painting was realized the staggering sum of $22m when it appeared at auction in 2014.



10. Edward Hopper, East Wind Over Weehawken, 1934

Realized Price: USD 40,485,000

edward hopper east wind weehawken
Despite selling for over $40m, Edward Hopper’s East Wind Over Weehawken is not his most expensive painting to appear at auction in the past decade


Realized Price: USD 40,485,000

Estimate: USD 22,000,000 – USD 28,000,000

Venue & Date: Christie’s, New York, 05 December 2013, Lot 17

Known Seller: Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

About The Artwork

One of the most important and influential artists of the twentieth century, Edward Hopper distinguished himself from his contemporaries by capturing scenes of everyday American life with an emotive but unembellished honesty. This is embodied by East Wind Over Weehawken, which shows Hopper’s own ordinary, even mundane, neighborhood in New Jersey. Despite its lack of drama or obvious beauty, the painting is charged with tension and emotion, particularly as the result of the ‘For Sale’ sign which could imply movement onwards and progression, but equally suggests difficulty and struggle.


The many questions asked by this unromantic portrayal of American life have entranced its audience ever since it was painting in the 1930s. Its appeal has clearly not worn off since, as in 2013 it was sold at Christie’s for just under double its estimate, at $40.4m.



9. Georgia O’Keeffe, Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, 1932

Realized Price: USD 44,405,000

jimson weed white flower georgia o keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe’s Jimson Weed/White Flower No.1 holds the record for the most expensive piece of art by a female artist sold at auction


Realized Price: USD 44,405,000

Estimate: USD 10,000,000 — 15,000,000

Venue & Date: Sotheby’s, New York, 20 November 2014, Lot 11

Known Seller: The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

About The Artwork

Constantly taking inspiration from the vegetable world, Georgia O’Keeffe captured American nature on a whole new scale. Instead of vast landscapes and sweeping vistas, she chose small buds or individual leaves as the subject of her paintings, hoping that “even busy New Yorkers” would get the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the natural world.


One flower that features in a number of O’Keeffe’s paintings is the Jimson weed, a poisonous plant that she discovered near her home in New Mexico. Her close-up paintings of the delicate yet toxic flower transform the dangerous into the beautiful and freeze the ephemeral, making it immortal.


Despite the sexual undertones that have often been attributed to her flower paintings, O’Keeffe insisted that they were an homage to the beauty of nature and that such interpretations are the result of the critic’s own projections rather than her intentions.


However it is interpreted, Jimson Weed/White Flower No.1 has always been appreciated as a fine piece of art. When it appeared at Sotheby’s in 2014, however, it caused amazement when it sold at triple its estimate for an almighty $44.4m, which made it the most expensive work by a female artist.


8. Mark Rothko, No. 10, 1958

Realized Price: USD 81,925,000

mark rothko number 10
Rothko’s simple canvas, titled only with a number, fetched over $80m at auction in 2015


Realized Price:     USD 81,925,000

Venue & Date:     Christie’s, New York, 13 May 2015, Lot 35B

Known Seller:     Anonymous American collector

About The Artwork

Although at first glance it seems so simple that anyone with a paintbrush and canvas could compose it, Mark Rothko’s No. 10 in fact represents the artist’s mastery of both tools and techniques. The oils appear to shine with a supernatural radiance that gives the painting energy and movement. The color palette evokes immediate associations with heat, fire and passion, and the areas in which yellow meets orange, and red fades to black are imbued with a haunting sense of the unknown.


The huge piece, which stands at almost eight feet in height, has been said to evoke near-religious experiences in those who stand before it. Perhaps it was under the influence of such an awakening that one anonymous bidder at Christie’s parted with nearly $82m to call the canvas their own.



7. Andy Warhol, Triple Elvis [Ferus Type], 1963

Realized Price: USD 81,925,000

elvis presley andy warhol triple

Warhol’s triple painting of the King of Rock captures everything about contemporary American culture that fascinated the artist


Realized Price:     USD 81,925,000

Venue & Date:     Christie’s, New York, 12 November 2014, Lot 9

About The Artwork

After portraying the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando, it was almost inevitable that the master of Pop art would turn to the King of Rock to complete his pantheon of American icons. Warhol’s fascination with popular culture made Elvis Presley the perfect subject for one of his characteristic silkscreen prints. The overlapping monochrome images, reminiscent of a film reel, and the idea of the silver screen reflected in the burnished background transports the viewer to the world of 1950s Hollywood.


The immersive, even enveloping, effect of these larger-than-life Elvises creates an unforgettable impression. So powerful is the image that it was purchased for the princely sum of almost $82m when it appeared at Christie’s in 2014.



6. Barnett Newman, Black Fire I, 1961

Realized Price: USD 84,165,000

barnett newman black fire painting
Black Fire I embodies the defiant reductivism that made Newman a master of Abstract Expressionism


Realized Price: USD 84,165,000

Venue & Date: Christie’s, New York, 13 May 2014, Lot 34


About The Artwork

Between 1958 and 1966, Barnett Newman created a series of works in black pigment on exposed canvases. Their Zen-like simplicity and the symbolic interplay between light and darkness embodies a sense of solemnity and immensity borne out of the artist’s loss of his brother. Newman’s translated his grief and concerns about mortality into pieces of art that are raw and tense but at the same time refined and harmonious.


The reference to fire in the title invites the viewer to see movement and passion in even the linear ‘zip’ and monochrome palette. The piece certainly lit a fire in the heart of one anonymous bidder, who bought the canvas at Christie’s in 2014 for a huge $84m.


5. Mark Rothko, Orange, Red, Yellow, 1961

Realized Price: USD 86,882,500

mark rothko orange red yellow
Rothko’s most expensive canvas bought at auction has the power to evoke an array of different emotional responses


Realized Price: USD 86,882,500

Estimate: USD 35,000,000 – USD 45,000,000

Venue & Date: Christie’s, New York, 08 May 2012, Lot 20

Known Seller: The Estate of David Pincus, humanist, philanthropist and patron of the arts

About The Artwork

Mark Rothko’s Orange, Red, Yellow appeals to the eye and the emotions for many of the same reasons No.10 does. Its warm color palette seems to emanate light from the oil, and the liminal areas at which one hue becomes another demand particular contemplation. Unlike No.10, however, this piece radiates vitality and bears no hint of the darkness that seems to signify an ending.


A myriad of light brushstrokes build up a variety of textures, from the near transparency to rich opalescence, which gives the painting a striking sense of depth. Combined with the huge scale of the canvas, which is almost 8 feet in height, this has the effect of enveloping the viewer in an intimate bubble of warmth. For this reason, it is Rothko’s most valuable work, selling at Christie’s in 2012 for $86.8m.



4. Edward Hopper, Chop Suey, 1929

Realized Price: USD 91,875,000

chop suey edward hopper
Edward Hopper’s Chop Suey has become an iconic piece of American art


Realized Price: USD 91,875,000

Estimate: USD 70,000,000 – USD 100,000,000

Venue & Date: Christie’s, New York, 13 November 2018, Lot 12B

Known Seller: The collection of Barney A. Ebsworth

About The Artwork

Chop Suey is often considered Edward Hopper’s most accomplished painting because of the way it appeals to every sense and invites the viewer to create a story in their mind. Like East Wind Over Weehawken, Chop Suey focuses on the quieter moments of American life, presenting an everyday scene in broad brushstrokes and muted tones.


Instead of the photographic realism pursued by many of his peers, this style evokes the effect of a memory or dream. The enchanting and mysterious scene set a record as Hopper’s most expensive work when it was sold at Christie’s in 2018 for just under $92 million.



3. Roy Lichtenstein, Nurse, 1964

Realized Price: USD 95,365,000

roy lichtenstein nurse pop art

Nurse epitomizes the bold style of Pop Art


Realized Price:     USD 95,365,000

Venue & Date:     Christie’s, New York, 09 November 2015, Lot 13A

About The Artwork

Long before it sold at Christie’s for $95m in 2015, Roy Lichtenstein‘s Nurse had become an iconic piece of American art, embodying Pop art’s challenge to the traditional understanding of fine art. Taking its cue from contemporary advertising campaigns, comic books and commercialism, Pop art gave its audience a new lens through which to interpret the world around them and the messages they were being fed.


Although it reflects the two-dimensionality of the comic strips that inspired it, Nurse nonetheless preserves a sense of depth and energy, generated by the vast field of hand-stenciled (rather than machine printed) dots that make up the woman’s face, sleeves and background. Combined with the bold lines and colors that compose the rest of the image, the painting hangs somewhere in between parody and pastiche, sincerity and irony.



2. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982

Realized Price: USD 110,487,500

jean michel basquiat
The scribbled outline of the skull against the vivid background reflects Basquiat’s interest in anatomy


Realized Price: USD 110,487,500

Venue & Date: Sotheby’s, New York, 18 May 2017, Lot 24

Known Seller:   Spiegel Family

Known Buyer: Japanese art collector, Yusaku Maezawa


About The Artwork

After receiving a copy of Gray’s Anatomy while recovering from a car crash as a boy, Jean-Michel Basquiat became fascinated with the human body, as is evident in the paintings he went on to produce as an adult. The skull is one of the most recognizable images that appears again and again in Basquiat’s oeuvre, a symbol that bridges the gap between life and death.


This is exemplified by Untitled, in which vibrant colors and wild brushstrokes contrast against the sunken, subdued image of the skull. Combining a scientific basis with an urban style, the painting embodies Basquiat’s novel approach to art. This was demonstrated by a Basquiat exhibition that featured Untitled as the only piece on display, and also at Sotheby’s, where it sold in 2017 for an unbelievable $110 million.



1. Andy Warhol, Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), 1963

Realized Price: USD 105,445,000

andy warhol silver car crash
Warhol’s Silver Car Crash broke the previous record of $100m paid for a serigraph by the artist


Realized Price:     USD 105,445,000

Venue & Date:     Sotheby’s, New York, 13 November 2013, Lot 16

About The Artwork

Like Triple Elvis, Andy Warhol’s Silver Car Crash uses a combination of silkscreen print and silver paint, but the effect is quite different. The zenith of his Death and Disaster corpus, the huge double-canvas piece was created in 1963, after a huge surge in car ownership following the Second World War. Silver Car Crash highlights that while the automobile may be a quintessential symbol of freedom, industry and the American Dream, it also has the capacity to bring about death, destruction and disaster.


The enticingly gruesome image of the wrecked vehicle, repeated over and over, and the hauntingly blank canvas that stands beside it attracted the interests of three hugely prominent art collectors: Gian Enzo Sperone, Charles Saatchi and Thomas Ammann. An anonymous bidder at Sotheby’s bought the piece in 2013 for over $105m, the highest price ever paid for a Warhol.


More On American Art And Auction Results


These eleven masterpieces represent some of the most valuable American art in existence and provide an impressive reminder of the wealth of creative genius that emerged from just one country in a single century. For more outstanding recent auction results, click here: Modern Art, Old Master Paintings and Fine Art Photography.

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By Mia ForbesMia is a contributing writer from London, with a passion for literature and history. She holds a BA in Classics from the University of Cambridge. Both at work and at home, Mia is surrounded by books, and enjoys writing about great works of fiction and poetry. Her first translation is due to be published next year.