Under The Hammer: Top Prices Paid For Harland Miller At Auction

Written by - MyArtbroker
If The Phone Don't Ring Its Me by Harland MillerIf The Phone Don't Ring Its Me © Harland Miller 2008

When under the hammer, Harland Miller’s art has never commanded the record high prices of his Young British Artist contemporaries, such as Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin - at least not until now.

In 2019, Miller’s ‘Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore (2007) realised £237,500, becoming his most expensive work ever sold. With Miller prints growing ever-popular on the secondary market, we look here at record-prices realised by Harland Miller.

£325,000 for Murder - We've All Done It

In keeping with Miller’s Penguin Classics dust jacket series, Murder - We’ve All Done it incorporates the artist’s typical inspiration in a special edition marble-effect format. Naturally, the witty text draws us in, with this title being used multiple times across the artist’s oeuvre, and this specific work sold for £325,000 at Christie’s London on October 16th 2021.

Murder - We've All Done it by Harland Miller Image © Christie's / Murder - We've All Done it © Harland Miller 2011

£277,200 for Too Cool To Die

A perfect example of Miller’s irreverent parodies of the Penguin Classic book covers, Too Cool To Die recently sold for £277,200 at Sotheby’s London on the 3rd March 2022. More than just witty wordplay, this large-scale piece demonstrates the depth of personal connection Miller has to the vintage Penguin jackets that have shaped his career - we see the green tinted edges of the painting suggesting the novel’s wear and age. The level of depth and painterly attention given to the rich orange background here is also indicative of the influence that artists such as Mark Rothko have had on his work.

Too Cool to Die by Harland Miller Image © Sotheby's / Too Cool to die © Harland Miller 2004

£237,500 for Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore

One for those looking for fast love – Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore, from the personal collection of singer George Michael, set a new auction record for Miller when it was auctioned at Christie’s in London on 14 March 2019. Selling for £237,500, it more than tripled the previous record of £75,000 set by Sotheby’s in 2015. The painting sold after just two minutes of intense bidding in the saleroom and over the telephones, eventually achieving almost eight times its low estimate.

Incurable Romantic is quickly becoming one of Miller’s most popular artworks with collectors. Inspired by the lonely hearts adverts in newspapers, the artist has made many versions of this piece over the years, reworking the title onto different styles of Penguin covers. The record-breaking painting from George Michael’s collection was created in 2007 – the singer bought it in the same year and kept it in his collection for the rest of his life.

Incurable Romantic by Harland MillerIncurable Romantic © Harland Miller 2007

£214,200 for Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore

Another version of Incurable Romantic sold at Phillips in London on 21 October 2020 – it achieved £214,200, becoming the second most expensive work by Miller at auction.

Incurable Romantic by Harland MillerIncurable Romantic © Harland Miller 2007

£212,500 for Death - What's In It For Me?

Displaying Miller’s mischievous wit and love of turning well-known phrases on their heads, this 2007 painting of Death, What’s in it for Me? was offered in the online part of Christie’s The George Michael Collection auctions in March 2019. After a week of bidding, Death rocketed past its low estimate of £30,000 and became the star lot of the online sale – beating works offered Hirst, Michael Craig-Martin and other contemporaries by tens of thousands of pounds.

“I’ve always liked to play with big themes, the commonplace and the everyday. Death is a big theme, but ‘what’s in it for me’ is very throwaway. I’ve always liked these juxtapositions,” Miller has said about this title, which he has also recreated in many variations.

Death, What’s in it for Me? by Harland MillerDeath, What’s In It For Me? © Harland Miller 2007

£206,250 for International Lonely Guy

Pop icon Elton John claimed that the words ‘International Lonely Guy’ are the first thing he sees in his head when waking up in the morning in a new city. Now that they have been immortalised by Harland Miller’s subsequently named collection of paintings, Elton is probably not the only one. Part of a collection of works with this title, International Lonely Guy sold for £206,250 at Christie’s London on 23rd October 2020. ‘International Lonely Guy’ also doubles as the name of the protagonist in the work’s imagined accompanying novel, a common feature behind Miller’s novel-inspired paintings.

International Lonely Guy by Harland MillerImage © Christie's / International Lonely Guy © Harland Miller 2007

£175,000 for Plan-B My Story

In addition to referencing vintage Penguin book covers, Miller also creates works inspired by Pelican, Penguin’s non-fiction imprint that originally ran from 1937–1984. Plan-B My Story – a work that wittily presents memoir as authoritative non-fiction – made its auction debut in Phillips’s 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale in London on 14 February 2020. Kept in the same private collection since 2003 – the year it was created – the fresh-to-market painting sold for over three times its low estimate. It is currently the most expensive work by Miller sold at Phillips.

Plan-B My Story by Harland MillerPlan-B My Story © Harland Miller 2003

£162,500 for Who Cares Wins

Typical of Miller’s Penguin jacket paintings, Who Cares Wins uses the vintage book cover format to explore the relationship between text and image, narrative and painting. This particular edition, painted in 2011 sold for £162,500 at Christie’s London on the 4th June 2021, adopts the classic two-tone composition complete with ironic title that has become synonymous with Miller’s oeuvre. The phrase ‘Who Cares Wins’ in this instance, was actually inspired by caring for his father, who was suffering from dementia at the time. Miller later released 25 new editions of Who Cares Wins in 2020 in order to raise money for key workers during the covid pandemic.

Who Cares Wins by Harland MillerImage © Christie's / Who Cares Wins © Harland Miller 2004

£149,032 for Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore

One of Miller’s more biting, humorous titles, Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore sold for £149,032 at Sotheby’s on March 6th 2020. Part of a series of paintings with the same title and book cover composition, this particular work, with its diagonal text and darker colouring is demonstrative of Miller’s tendency to vary the format of his Penguin jacket works. The suggestion of age and wear here is also typical of the tenderness with which Miller recalls the original novels that inspired his work.

Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore by Harland Millerimage © Sotheby's / Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore © Harland Miller 2011

£101,713 for Grimsby

When Grimsby was first offered for auction at Phillips in London on 28 June 2016, the work sold for £36,250. Just three years later, Christie’s valued it at the US$60,000–80,000, nearly double its previous selling price. The painting eventually sold for US$125,000 in Christie’s New York Post-War to Present auction on 27 September 2019 — over double its expect low estimate.

Grimsby is part of Miller’s Pelican Bad Weather Paintings series, inspired by the non-fiction Pelican books and the artist’s memories of bleak days growing up in North England. Born and raised in York, Miller spent many childhood holidays in the surrounding seaside towns. These memories also inspired works like Whitby: The Self Catering Years, which recalls budget family holidays, and Scarborough: Have Faith in Cod, a nod to the seaside town where the artist and his sister spent their summers. The works formed the theme of Miller’s 2020 solo exhibition, York, So Good They Named It Once — the artist’s largest show yet.

“I think the majority of people have a love-hate relationship with their hometown… and I think I do too, but just without the hate,” Miller mused ahead of the exhibition.

Grimsby: Ten Years in Open Crotch Knickers by Harland MillerGrimsby: Ten Years In Open Crotch Knickers © Harland Miller 2002

£80,690 for One Way Donkey Ride to Hell

One Way Donkey Ride To Hell, created in 2007, is one of Miller’s rare paintings to include someone else as the imaginary book’s author. When Miller first started painting book covers in the early 1990s, many of his works referred to existing authors – such as Ernest Hemingway: I’m So Fucking Hard, alluding to the writer’s macho personality, and Edgar Allen Poe: From Bad to Shit, a joke on Poe’s grisly stories. Gradually, however, Miller realised “the part of the process I enjoyed the most was just making my own texts, creating these fictitious books. I was trying to start writing at the time as well. It gave me a lot of pleasure to imagine a book I had already written and then painting it.”

John Holmes is one of Miller’s more obscure authors, possibly referring to the sci-fi author, the poet, or the published adult film actor of the same name – all of whom give One Way Donkey Ride To Hell very different interpretations. The work sold at Sotheby’s in New York on 30 June 2020, where it soared past its high estimate.

John Holmes, One Way Donkey Ride To Hell by Harland MillerJohn Holmes, One Way Donkey Ride To Hell © Harland Miller 2007
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