The Most Expensive Yves Klein Paintings Sold at Auction

July 9, 2019

Yves Klein paintings are still perceived as revolutionary in the history of the post-war European art. His famous monochrome paintings, in particular, have been praised for the use of one single, primary color alone: blue. This particular nuance was patented by Yves Klein himself and it became famous as the International Klein Blue (IKB). Klein began painting monochrome paintings early in a career (in 1949, when he had 21). The first public showing of Yves Klein’s monochrome paintings appeared in the publication of the Artist's book Yves Peintures in November 1954. One of the most important exhibitions of Klein’s work took place in 1956, at Gallery Colette Allendy. The exhibition featured orange, yellow, red, pink and blue monochromes. However, Klein was disappointed, as the public linked the artworks to mosaics. Klein’s frustration led him to research and finally discover the famous IKB. He used to hang the blue monochrome paintings by attaching them to poles placed 20 cm away from the walls to increase their spatial ambiguities. And indeed, these works are almost intangible, ethereal and completely illusive, making the observer question space and the material nature of the world.

The Importance of Yves Klein on the French Art Scene

Yves Klein was the leading member of the French artistic movement of Nouveau réalisme founded in 1960 by the renowned art critic Pierre Restany. The movement could be understood as a “French reaction” to Pop-Art that became popular in the United States. This group, together with other ones such as Fluxus, were one of the numerous tendencies of the avant-garde in the 1960s.

It's important to emphasize that Yves Klein is also known as one of the pioneers of performance art not only in France but worldwide. His performative painting sessions and monochromes were used to experiment with colors in a more physical way(apart from monochrome paintings). This experimentalism includes works where Klein used naked female models as vessels, covering them in blue paint and dragging them across canvases to make an image, using the models as "living brushes". This type of work the artist called Anthropometry. Finally, Klein’s work largely influenced the latter practice of artists associated with Minimal Art and Pop Art.

Also, be sure to check out works by Yves Klein on our marketplace!

Editors’ Tip: Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers

One of the main goals of Yves Klein was to capture the immaterial. Born in Nice, France, in 1928, Yves Klein created what he considered his first artwork when he signed the sky above Nice in 1947. Certainly one of the last century's most influential artists, Yves Klein (1928–1962) took the European art scene by storm in a prolific career that lasted only from 1954 to 1962, when he suffered a heart attack at the age of 34. The artist carved out new aesthetic and theoretical territory based on his study of the mystical sect Rosicrucianism, philosophical and poetic investigations of space and science, and the practice of Judo, which he described as “the discovery of the human body in a spiritual space.”

IKB 92

This is a typical example of International Klein Blue (IKB) painting. IKB's visual impact comes from its heavy reliance on Ultramarine, as well as Klein's often thick and textured application of paint to canvas. During his career, Yves Klein created dozens of these paintings, and they have been exhibited worldwide. IKB 92 was sold for $9,264,400 at Sotheby’s London in 2015.

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Relief eponge or (RE 47 II)

Relief eponge or (RE 47 II) was created in 1961. Those were the years when gold, in particular, challenged Yves Klein to new heights of technical mastery. He was studying the technique of gilding in London and had always been aware of the potentials of this costly and difficult material. This work was created when Yves Klein work became very popular in the US. Relief eponge or (RE 47 II) was sold for $9,169,100 at Christie’s London in 2010.

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Peinture de feu couleur sans titre, (FC 27)

Peinture de feu couleur sans titre, (FC 27) was made in the final year of the artist’s life. This stunning Yves Klein painting, together with others that comprise the series of similar works, was described as baroque “fire color painting” by the critic Pierre Restany. The painting was originally part of the collection of François de Menil, the son of legendary collectors Dominique and Jean de Menil. It was sold at Christie’s London in 2015, for $9,289,700.

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Anthropometrie Le Buffle (ANT 93)

Executed in 1960 and 1961, Anthropom/aetrie "Le Buffle" (ANT 93) presents the viewer with an absorbing, immersive picture surface in which Yves Klein's patented IKB, or International Klein Blue, has been vigorously smeared across naked models. The bodies' imprints merging together create a colossal, abstract entity that conveys some notion of orgiastic energy. This type of paintings Yves Klein called Anthropometry. This painting was sold for $12,402,500 at Christie’s New York in 2010.

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Relief eponge bleu (RE 51)

Relief eponge bleu (RE 51) is an artwork in which Yves Klein perfectly merges painting with conceptual art. As the artist himself describes: When working on my pictures in the studio, I sometimes used sponges. Naturally they turned blue very rapidly! [and] one day I noticed how beautiful the blue in the sponge was, and the tool immediately became a raw material. The extraordinary capacity of sponges to absorb everything fluid fascinated me. Thanks to the sponges I was going to be able to make portraits of the observers (lecteurs) of my monochromes, who, after having seen, after having voyaged in the blue of my pictures, return totally impregnated in sensibility, as are the sponges. This artwork was sold for $16,965,000 at Sotheby’s London in 2014.

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IKB 1 is one of nearly two hundred blue monochrome paintings Yves Klein created. By using this radical technique and style, the artist rejected the notion of representation in art, and by doing so (as the artist believed), a complete creative freedom could be achieved. IKB 1 was sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2008, for amazing $17,400,000.

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Archisponge (RE 11)

Archisponge (RE 11), from 1960, is largely praised as one of the most evocative and potent representations of the artist’s unique and uncompromising art and, as reflected in its title, a summation of the artist's Sponge Relief series. Yves Klein grew up on the Mediterranean coast and he was affected by the void of sea and sky as uninterrupted spatial fields. This is important to mention due to Klein’s extensive use of the blue color as well. This amazing artwork was sold for $21,400,500 at Sotheby’s New York in 2008.

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Sculpture Eponge Bleue Sans Titre, Se 168, 1959

Drenched in Klein’s unmistakable International Klein Blue pigment, SE 168 is the definitive archetype of the legendary Sculptures éponges. Discussing this series, the artist explained that he often used sponges in his studio that would quickly turn blue. Realizing the beauty of the blue in the sponge, he decided to use it as a raw material.

It is that extraordinary faculty of the sponge to become impregnated with whatever may be fluid that seduced me. Thanks to the sponges – raw living matter – I was going to be able to make portraits of the observers of my monochromes, who, after having seen, after having voyaged in the blue of my pictures, return totally impregnated in sensibility, as are the sponges.

The present work is truly spectacular due to its scale and the intricacy of its sponge composition.

The work was sold on May 14th, 2013 at Sotheby's New York for $19,500,000.

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MG9 is one of the most important pieces of Klein’s conceptual art. Klein described his ritualistic instructions for selling “Zones of Pictorial Immaterial Sensibility” which subverted capitalist trading strategies. With help from the dealer Iris Clert, Klein noted that he: "had made 'receipts,' which look like bank checks. Klein actually wanted to give buyers opportunity to choose between two options: the first one is that buyer pays the agreed upon amount of gold in exchange for a receipt. The second one is to buy an immaterial zone for gold and then to burn the receipt. This is a perfect example of Klein’s exploration of “immaterialization”. This piece was eventually sold for “real money” at Sotheby’s New York in 2008 for $23,561,000.

More information about the artwork you can find here.

FC1 (Fire Color 1)

This painting is regarded as a masterpiece of Modern European art. FC1 (Fire Color 1) is part of the artist's celebrated Fire-Color paintings series. As Klein explained: My aim is twofold; first of all to register the trace of human sentimentality in present-day civilization: secondly, to register the trace of fire which has engendered this very same civilization. And this because the void has always been my constant preoccupation and I hold that in the heart of the void as well as in the heart of man, fires are burning. This stunning piece of art was sold for $36,482,500 at Christie’s New York in 2012.

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Le Rose du bleu (RE 22)

The most expensive Yves Klein painting ever sold is Le Rose du bleu (RE 22). With its poetic and mysterious title of Le Rose du bleu (RE 22) which means “The Rose of Blue”, this work is also a perfect example not only of the series to which it belongs but also of the unique color theory that came to dominate and distinguish so much of the work that Klein made during the last years of his life. This masterpiece was sold for $36,753,200 at Christie’s London in 2012.

More information about the work you can find here.

All Images used for illustrative purposes only.

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