Still achieving record prices today, Tracey Emin was one of the stars of the Young British Artists movement in the 1990s. Her artwork can sell for millions when it goes under the hammer, with even smaller-scale Emin prints having realised up to US$46,000 at auction.
With an artistic practice spanning installations, paintings, textiles, neon and drawings, we look here at the most expensive Emin artworks of all time:
The most expensive artwork by Emin at auction, My Bed bares the artist’s soul and grief after a breakup. In 1998, “I had a kind of mini nervous breakdown in my very small flat and didn’t get out of bed for four days,” Emin recalled. Looking at the chaos around her, she had an epiphany that her bedroom could be an installation piece and “it looked fucking brilliant” she realised.
My Bed was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1999 to much controversy and was purchased by art collector and patron Charles Saatchi a year later. Saatchi put the work up for auction at Christie’s in London on 1 July 2014, where it achieved £2.5 million – more than twice its high estimate and set an auction record for Emin.
“I have always treated my blanket-making more like a painting in terms of building up layers and textures,” Emin said of her textile artworks. “I have never called them quilts. I have always called them blankets. They were most definitely blankets at the beginning because they were made with the intention of going on a bed.” When she sold her first blanket artwork Hotel International in 1994, Emin went to bed and “cried at the idea of [the work] going away”.
Mad Tracey From Margate. Everyone’s Been There, created in 1997, stitches together memories of the artist’s childhood growing up in the coastal town of Margate (which she writes more about in her memoir, Strangeland, published in 2005). The heartfelt early work was offered at Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in London on 16 October 2014, where it sold for £722,500.
A ground-breaking conceptual piece, Exorcism Of The Last Painting I Ever Made was the result of a three-week performance at Stockholm’s Galleri Andreas Brändström in 1996. Working nude under the observation of gallery visitors, Emin completed 12 canvases, seven body paintings and 79 works on paper. She thought she would burn the lot in a ceremonial pyre at the end of the show but ultimately changed her mind.
Exorcism of the Last Painting – which included everything in the exhibition, from Emin’s art to the music CDs she worked to – was offered at Christie’s in London on 11 February 2005, where it sold for £722,500.
Authenticity and raw emotion are the hallmarks of Tracey Emin's works, and these are clearly evoked in her 2017 You Are There Now. This painting runs the gamut of themes ranging from love and affection to anguish and sorrow. "That thing that's lost, where has it gone?" Emin asks, as she explains her creative process behind painting, "I'm looking for it in the pictures; I'm looking for it in the paintbrush."
You Are There Now realised £655,203 at The Now Evening Auction in Sotheby's, New York, far outperforming its presale estimates of $240,001-320,001.
Created four years after My Bed (no. 1 on this list), To Meet My Past was Emin’s attempt to reconcile with some embarrassing, personal moments – such as “I cannot believe I was afraid of ghosts, Tracey Emin 1969-1974”, stitched onto the flat sheet or “Weird sex”, appliquéd onto the headboard. The installation was quickly snapped up after it was created in 2002. Over a decade later, it was offered at Christie’s in London on 17 October 2013, where it achieved £481,875.
Emin and singer George Michael first met at the Ivy restaurant in London in the mid-1990s, although they were already admirers of each other’s work. The pair later formed an “outrageous relationship” where they would tease each other mercilessly, recalled Michael’s former partner, Kenny Goss.
Michael and Goss owned many pieces of art by Emin, of which the painting Hurricane was one of Michael’s favourites. When Michael’s art collection was offered at Christie’s in London on 14 March 2019, Hurricane sold for £431,250 – over double its high estimate of £180,000. All the money raised from the auction was used to continue Michael’s philanthropic legacy.
“Quilt-making has always been considered a craft. It’s never been held up in the realms of high art… [It] involves a lot of thought and love. Just the time involved in the process means many things are discussed and considered concerning life,” Emin said of her artistic process.
I Think It’s In My Head is a confessional piece fuelled by intense emotions, “sometimes fear sometimes love – lust – jealousy – hate”, as the artist ponders through her embroidered texts. The work sold for £405,000 at Sotheby’s in London on 5 March 2019.
Emin has been producing neon artworks since 1995, turning snippets of her handwritten notes into illuminated installations. Growing up in the seaside town of Margate, Emin was surrounded by neon signs advertising fairground rides and shop fronts – now, she uses the same techniques to bring her thoughts and feelings to light.
I Listen To The Ocean And All I Hear Is You, created in 2018, sold for US$495,000 (£378,675) at Phillips in New York on 21 September 2018 – more than double its US$150,000-200,000 estimate.
“You ruined everything”, “Is that why you have no friends”, “Get her out” are some of the many phrases sewn onto Emin’s Super Drunk Bitch blanket, these memories of intoxicated moments held in stark contrast with the floral embroidery beneath.
“For me, being an artist isn’t just about making nice things or people patting you on the back,” Emin has said. Through her work, she wants to express “very, very simple things that can be really hard. People do get really lonely, people do get really frightened, people do fall in love, people do die, people do fuck.”
When Super Drunk Bitch came up for auction at Christie’s in London on 13 February 2014, it achieved £362,500 against an estimate of £200,000-£300,000.
Estimated at £40,00-60,000, Emin’s romantic George Loves Kenny – inspired by her friends George Michael and his then-partner Kenny Goss – was another highlight of The George Michael Collection Evening Auction at Christie’s in London, held on 14 March 2019. Bidding started at £20,000 and the unique neon artwork was fought over by interested buyers both in the room and over the telephone.
Applause broke out multiple times as the price climbed higher and higher, and after an intense bidding battle lasting almost nine minutes, the work sold for £347,250 with fees, to cheers across the King Street saleroom.
“What a blanket this is,” exclaimed the Christie’s auctioneer when Drunk To The Bottom Of My Soul was offered in The George Michael Collection Evening Auction on 14 March 2019, “I’ll open the bidding here at £130,000.” The price quickly flew and the blanket sold in under two minutes – achieving £275,000 with fees. Singer George Michael had purchased the painting in 2006 and treasured it in his collection until his death in 2016.