Royal Flush: At $250 Million, Cézanne’s “Card Players” Becomes Most Expensive Artwork Ever Sold

02/03/2012 2:10 PM |

Ill see your $200 million, and raise you $50 million.

  • “I’ll see your $200 million, and raise you $50 million.”

Back in 2010 we thought that the $106.5 million dropped at auction on Pablo Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” (1932) was impressive, but we see now that those were small potatoes. Yesterday news broke that the royal family of Qatar paid a mind-boggling $250 million for Paul Cézanne’s “The Card Players” (1892-93, detail above), making it the most expensive artwork ever sold.

The painting in question is the largest and earliest of three featuring the same two card players facing each other across a small table with a wine bottle beside them—the other two are in the permanent collections of the Courtauld Institute of Art in London and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Two earlier Cézanne paintings titled “The Card Players” date from 1890-92 and feature four men crowded around a small table in a much brighter room. Those two paintings belong to the Metropolitan Museum and Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation.

The purchase actually took place last year, Vanity Fair reports, but news of the record-setting sale is only emerging now as Qatar seeks to foster a reputation as a significant cultural center. The tiny nation on the Arabian Peninsula recently unveiled a major new public artwork by Richard Serra, his tallest piece to date at 80 feet, in a waterfront park near the Museum of Islamic Art.

Next week the small oil rich country will open its presentation of the Takashi Murakami exhibition that riled cultural conservatives in France when it was shown at Versailles last year.

The Cézanne is just the latest addition to Qatar’s national collection, and could end up at the Qatar National Museum when it reopens following renovations in 2014. The Qatari royal family purchased the work from the estate of recently deceased Greek shipping magnate George Embiricos, who began negotiations to sell it shortly before his death.

The record-setting Cézanne is in good company in the Qatari collection, whose recent additions also include works by Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol and, ahem, Damien Hirst.


Follow Benjamin Sutton on Twitter @LMagArt