The World’s Most Expensive Chop Suey

On Tuesday, Edward Hopper’s painting Chop Suey sold at auction for $91.9 million. As with most things in the art world, there’s more to the story than just money.

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ABOVE: Edward Hopper, Chop Suey, 1929, oil on canvas, 32 x 38 inches

First, here is a quick timeline of the painting:

  • Edward Hopper paints Chop Suey in 1929
  • Businessman Barney Ebsworth purchases it for $180,000 in 1973
  • Ebsworth promises it to the Seattle Art Museum in 2007
  • He passes away in April, 2018
  • The painting, along with 65 other promised works, goes up for sale at Christie’s
  • Chop Suey sells for $91.9 million on November 13, 2018

To date, no one has gone on record to state why things went down the way they did. Did Ebsworth have a falling out with the museum before he died? Does his family need the money? We may never know. Sadly, the painting (and others from the collection) may now disappear into a private collection.

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Money & Art

With every passing year, the prices paid for arts biggest names rise and rise. Just this week, another record was broken. How long before it’s broken again?

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ABOVE: Pablo Picasso, Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) / Women of Algiers, 1955, oil on canvas, 44.9 x 57.6 inches, private collection

On Monday night, Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) broke the record for most expensive artwork sold at auction when it went for $179.4 million at Christie’s in New York City. All told, the 35 pieces in Monday’s sale went for a total of $705,858,000. To put this in perspective, the Kingdom of Tonga has a GDP of $466.3 million.

Shockingly, Les Femmes d’Alger is nowhere near the most expensive painting ever sold. That distinction goes to Paul Gauguin’s Nafea Faa Ipoipo which changed hands privately for $300 million in February of this year. It seems that in the art world, private sales trump auction houses.

Every once in a while, buyers want their names attached to their acquisitions, but most often, and in the case of the above paintings, they do not. While this desire for anonymity is understandable, it is also worrisome as it likely means that these two masterpieces will never be seen (in public) again.

All of this begs the question: why do private individuals spend so much on art? From a hedge against inflation to the building of an art foundation, there are many possible reasons, but the cynic within me has to ask: Is the ‘love of art’ one of them?