Joe Syer, Head of Urban & Contemporary Art
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Yoshitomo Nara’s beloved, cartoon-style artwork has reached new levels of popularity and success on the market following the artist’s recent return to Japan. While the cheapest of his works can be acquired for under US$100, larger Yoshitomo Nara prints and paintings over the past 3 years have realised six figure sums - in fact, 79 of his artworks have sold for over US$1 million.
Here we list Nara's record prices so far:
Setting a record for the most expensive work by Japanese Pop Artist Yoshitomo Nara, in October 2019 Knife Behind Back (2000) sold for an astounding HK$195,696,000 (roughly equivalent to £20,229,095) at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong.
A standout example of Nara’s work, the large-scale piece depicts one of the artist’s signature, cartoon-like figures – a small girl with intense, piercing eyes – as she stares back towards the viewer. With an unmistakable expression of anger on her face, the young girl is rendered in a muted colour palette of red, brown, green, and cream tones.
Establishing Nara as the most expensive Japanese artist of all time, the sale saw Knife Behind Back smash its sale record by almost 5 times.
Significantly outperforming its pre-sale estimate of US$8,000,000-$12,000,000, Nice To See You Again realised an eye-watering US$15,430,800 at auction at Sotheby’s New York in November 2021. Executed in 1996 by Japanese Pop Art icon Yoshitomo Nara, the painting, which measures 180 by 150 cm, depicts one of the artist’s signature motifs: a young girl with short brown hair and glaring, elliptical green eyes. The second most expensive work by the artist, Nice To See You Again serves as visual and material evidence of Nara’s status as the highest-value Japanese artist of all time.
Measuring 6 feet in length, this painting masterfully evokes the calm and tranquility that it is named for. Yoshitomo Nara's 2013 Oddly Cozy both mesmerises and pacifies the viewer, depicting a little girl wearing a placid expression, her intergalactic golden eyes sparkling luminously. The 2011 Japanese earthquake marked a significant transformation in Nara's artistic process, and it shows in Oddly Cozy.
Oddly Cozy sold for £11.4million at Sotheby's Contemporary Evening Auction in Hong Kong, surpassing its lowest estimate of £8 million.
June of 2021 saw the sale of Missing In Action, a 2000 painting and standout example of Japanese artist and contemporary Pop Art icon Yoshitomo Nara’s signature subject: the lonesome child. Realising a strong HK$123,725,000 at Hong Kong’s Phillips & Poly auction house, the work is a particularly rare component of Nara’s œuvre; standing barefoot and defiant, its subject matter – a young girl with short brown hair - shows signs of confidence and self-reliance, her trademark facial expression traced with a single line of red paint.
In April of 2021, a 2007 work by major proponent of the Japanese Pop Art movement Yoshitomo Nara sold for an outstanding HK$120,000,000 (£11,091,240).
Setting a record for the fourth most expensive work of art by the artist, the installation piece, entitled Berlin Barack, Room 1, comprises a wooden shack complete with a functioning door. Measuring 2.6 metres in height, Berlin Barack, Room 1 is accompanied by a wood panel painting entitled Three Sister (Berlin Version) – a work which plays with Nara’s signature motif of a young girl with large eyes. As the recent sale of this piece shows, the market for the Japanese artist’s work has burgeoned in recent years; in 2012, the same work sold for only HK$11,300,000 – a figure around ten times less than its 2021 sale price.
In December of 2020, Hothouse Doll (in the white room III) realised a staggering HK$103,115,000 at auction at Phillips Hong Kong. Smashing its pre-sale estimate of HK$50,000,000-70,000,000 the acrylic on canvas painting features one of Japanese Pop Art icon Yoshitomo Nara’s most-repeated subjects: the young child. Complete with an over-proportioned head, piercing elliptical eyes, and a green dress – signatures of Nara’s cartoon-inspired, doll-like work – the young girl depicted stares back at the viewer in an expression of defiance.
First executed in 2014 and subsequently exhibited in London's Dairy Art Centre from October till December of that same year, Wish World Peace exemplifies Nara's oeuvre. For Nara, the child continues to take centre stage, set against a pastel pink backdrop. This painting depicts a young girl, her eyes narrowed with a determination that molds perfectly with the innocence she still exudes.
Wish World Peace realised £9.8 million at auction on 26 May 2022 at the 20th/21st Century Art Evening Sale at Christie's, Hong Kong. The painting exceeded its lowest presale estimate of £8.9 million.
An iconic work by pioneer of the Japanese Pop Art scene, Yoshitomo Nara, Can’t Wait ‘Til The Night Comes (2012) was snapped up for HK$92,875,000 at Chrisie’s Hong Kong in November 2019. Drawing on Nara’s own experiences as a lonesome child in the Japanese town of Hirosaki, the work depicts one of the artist’s signature motifs: a young child. Appearing this time as an almost vampiric character, complete with a sharp tooth jutting out of their mouth, this youthful figure has been likened to Nara himself; often working late into the night, his nocturnal habits are reflected in the materiality of the painting. Comprising several meticulously applied layers of paint, this work bears similarity to the œuvre of Willem de Kooning.
(HK$ 96,284,000 )
The work of influential Japanese artist and foremost proponent of the country’s 1990s Pop Art scene, Yoshitomo Nara, Frog Girl was painted in 1998. In April 2021, the work exceeded its pre-sale estimate of HK$40,000,000 - HK$80,000,000, realising HK$ 96,284,000 at Sotheby’s auction house in Hong Kong.
Like other major works by Nara, such as Hothouse Doll (in the white room III) (1995), Can’t Wait ‘Til The Night Comes (2012), and Missing In Action (2000), the painting depicts a young girl. A recurring motif in the scheme of Nara’s wider œuvre, this hard-faced character bears an expression that tells of irritation and defiance.
(HK$ 68,708,000 )
Realising HK$68,708,000 in October 2021 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, Under The Hazy Sky (2012) is a painting from Japan’s Pop Art king, Yoshitomo Nara.
A portrayal of a recurring motif of Nara’s work – a young child – the painting combines a muted, beige background with warm orange, brown, and fleshy hues. With arms outstretched, the cartoon-like character holds two small plants; much like Nara’s other works, such as Knife Behind Back (2000) — the most expensive Nara work to-date — it evokes youthful defiance, and draws heavily from Nara’s own childhood. A particularly formative period in the artist’s life, Nara’s early years saw him turn to art as a means to stave off boredom.
In December of 2020, Agent Orange (In The Milky Lake) realised HK$65,975,000 at Christie’s auction house in Hong Kong. The calming and therapeutic painting, by Japanese Pop Art legend Yoshitomo Nara, was completed in 2009 and measures over 2 metres in height.
Imbued with a certain playfulness, the work’s muted and minimal aesthetics directly reflect its subject matter: a young girl with her eyes closed and tongue outstretched. Partially submerged in a ‘milky lake’, the figure in Nara’s painting serves as an almost allegorical figuration of his own imagination; the ‘little reservoir’ in his heart serving, by his own admission, as the most important source of inspiration for his large-scale œuvre.
Nara's 1995 Be Happy places the artist's hallmark subject to the forefront once more. Wielding a small knife, the little girl clearly displays anger and irritability, her lips set in a defined, red line. This 76 by 76 cm painting was sold for £5.2million during Christie's 21st Century Art Evening Sale on 10 May 2022 in New York, surpassing its lowest estimate of £4.5 million.
On 24 May 2021, Nara's 2007 Untitled fetched £4.9 million during the 20th and 21st Century Art Evening Sale at Christie's, Hong Kong. The painting measures 162 by 145.5cm, having surpassed its lowest presale estimate of £4 million.
Unlike the expressions of mischief and anger usually evident in his prior work, here, innocence and melancholy exude from the painting. With her hands resting atop a table, the young girl's lone, starry eye beads with pearly tears. Nara has certainly succeeded in "expressing complex feelings" he aims for, and Untitled is a testament to this.
Yoshitomo Nara's, Girl With A Knife from 1999, more than doubled it's pre-sale high estimate of £350,000, selling for £882,000. The work came from a private Belgian collection ‘Le Jeune: A Collecting Legacy’ a multi-generational family collection. Another of Nara’s Girl With A Knife (1998) sold at Christie’s New York March 2020 for a realised price of £475,219 (US$615,000).