Masterprice: The top ten recession-defying artworks


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That Britain's art world is bouncing back following the world record-breaking £65 million sale of an Alberto Giacometti sculpture is great news for the financiers.

But most people don’t tend to think of art as a financial asset class, seeing it instead as something striking, attractive or shocking, which they should like to see more of but which seems ephemerally removed.

In monetary terms, however, art is a very real and extremely valuable commodity with estimated values spiralling to dizzy heights at auctions as personal taste, and an “I’ve just got to have it” desirability, stretches buyer’s pockets to maximum capacity.

There’s no denying that the art world has been hard hit by the recession. Sotheby’s reported a 53 per cent decline in sales for last year, finding itself unable to shift works by Francis Bacon and Rothko worth millions, while rival Christie’s International saw its sales down 45.6 per cent in 2008.

But since the onset of the global downturn (signified for my purposes by the collapse of Lehman Brother’s in September 2008) pockets of the art world have remained bullish at auction, commanding mind-boggling prices that leave auctioneers rubbing their hands together.

While critics call art auctions a means for the industry to inflate prices artificially, the actual events are arguably among the few public arenas for financial transactions that have a visceral, and visual, impact on the public.

Readers may goggle over breakfast at the vast sums paid for a painting or sculpture with real understanding, and perhaps outrage, at the notions of such worth in a way which cannot be true for most of us about stocks, bonds, private equity or the like in a world of financial language and closed doors.

But while most people can’t even afford to buy the auction catalogues, some truly staggering prices have been achieved at auction since the onset of the recession, for what are (thankfully) some truly impressive pieces of art.

From modern offerings by Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Piet Mondrian to Old Masters like Rembrandt and Raphael, we take a look at the top ten recession-busting artworks which precluded today's Giacometti flag of art-world recovery.