The New York Times declared “Christie’s Has Art World’s First $1 Billion Week,” which isn’t exactly true. The newspaper complained that such staggering sums spent on art were a “symptom” of widening income equality.

“L’homme au doigt”, Alberto Giacometti  1947.   “No. 36 (Black Stripe)”,  Mark Rothko 1958 (photo by Quartz).

“L’homme au doigt”, Alberto Giacometti 1947. “No. 36 (Black Stripe)”, Mark Rothko 1958 (photo by Quartz).

I thought we’d been through all this before. Back in November Christie’s and Sotheby’s together sold $1.78 billion in one week.

At the time, Augustino Fontevecchi of Forbes explained that the art market has effectively become “financialized,” turning works into assets that can be traded like equities and commodities. 


So at Christie’s “Looking forward to the Past” auction on May 11th, the big news was Pablo Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O).”  It sold for $179.4 million – the highest price ever paid for a piece of art and about $30 million over its pre-sale estimate. 

There was no mention of Alberto Giacometti’s “L’homme au doigt” in the Times article, but it realized $141.3 million that same evening. It’s shown here on display at Christie’s with “Mark Rothko’s No. 36 (Black Stripe)” in the background. It fetched $40.5 million.

And now I have auction fatigue.

Picasso began the series of Les Femmes d’Alger paintings (versions A -O) in 1954, shortly after the Nationalist uprising in Algeria led to its independence from French rule. The series is based on Eugène Delacroix’s almost-the- same-named 1834 masterpiece.   

Not quite as famous and not for sale any time soon, is Delacroix’s “The Fanatics of Tangier,” which he painted a few years after “The Women of Algiers (in Their Apartment)”. He had been in North Africa since 1832 as part of a diplomatic mission to Morocco shortly after the French conquered Algeria.

The Fanatics of Tangier, Eugene Delacroix, 1838

The Fanatics of Tangier, Eugene Delacroix, 1838

Fanatics has been in my media files since February 2011. Last week’s auction frenzy reminded of it.


NOTE:  Delacriox’s Les Femmes d’Alger marked the beginning of French colonization in Algeria, while Picasso’s variations symbolize the end of the country’s foreign rule. 

Another day another Delacroix.