The painting hammered for $20.7 million on Thursday at Berlin’s Grisebach auction house. The previous record was for a 15th-century bronze sculpture of a Buddhist deity from China, which sold last year for about $10 million.
The painting, titled Selbstbildnis gelb-rosa (Self-Portrait Yellow-Pink), was made in 1943 during the artist’s exile in Amsterdam, where he fled after his work was classified as “degenerate art” by the Nazi regime. Hundreds of his works were confiscated from German museums.
Beckmann gave the painting his wife, Mathilde Kaulbach, who kept it until her death in 1986. The painting’s buyer remains unidentified. With the buyer’s premium, the total price for the work came to about $24.4 million, according to the auction house.
Artnet News reported that the painting sold to an unidentified Swiss buyer over the phone. The sale marks only the second time the painting has changed hands since it was executed.
While Beckmann’s most recognized works are self-portraits, this one was unique in its rarity. Only five remain in private hands, according to Artnet. His self-portraits especially the ones painted while the artist was in exile, rarely come up for sale.
The previous record for a Beckmann self-portrait was minted at Sotheby’s in New York, where, in 2001, Selbstbildnis mit Horn (1938) sold for $22.5 million with fees, according to the Artnet Price Database. Birds Hell (1938–39) holds the record for the most expensive work by Beckmann, selling in 2017 for $44 million with fees at Christie’s London.
Before selling at auction, Selbstbildnis gelb-rosa was on view in New York.