Art is an immensely fascinating subject that has captured the interest of everyone because of its intrinsic beauty. Artists have created masterpieces throughout the ages, each somewhat unique and different from the other in terms of size, price, and popularity.
There is a tremendous monetary value that a piece of art is worth to its collectors. However, some of the artworks’ value goes beyond what any ordinary person can even imagine. To help you explore the world of fine art, we have compiled the ten most expensive paintings ever sold. Check them out below!
Salvator Mundi by Leonardo Da Vinci – $450.3 Million
One of the most expensive and most famous paintings in the world is “The Savior of the World,” otherwise known as “Salvator Mundi” by Leonardo Da Vinci. Painted by the Renaissance man himself in 1500, it was auctioned off in 2016, selling for $450 million dollars at Christie’s New York—making it the most expensive painting in the world.
Salvator Mundi was created during the same period as the Mona Lisa, under the commission of King Louis XII of France. The painting features Jesus Christ holding a crystal orb as it seamlessly ties together the physical world with the realms of legion and spirituality.
The art world still debates whether Da Vinci created the painting. However, despite the conflict, the painting managed to fetch $450 million from the pockets of Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud on behalf of his Minister of Culture.
Interchange by Willem De Kooning – $300 Million
Next, we have Dutch abstract Expressionist Willem De Kooning’s Interchange, which went for $300 million to Kenneth C. Griffin, a billionaire hedge fund investor. But that’s not all. The billionaire also got his hands on the Number 17A by Jackson Pollock (which we will discuss later) in a $500 million deal.
Interchange is an abstract painting that shows the artist’s personal connection to the environment of New York City, where he lived as a child and an adult. In this masterpiece, de Kooning uses blues and browns to represent his inspiration from water and black and white lines in the background to represent interchanges in highways or parking lots.
Moreover, Interchange is one of Kooning’s first landscape paintings, marking his transition from painting women to creating abstract landscapes. Currently, the painting can be viewed at the Art Institute of Chicago, whose board of trustees includes hedge fund manager Ken Griffin.
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The Card Players by Paul Cezanne – $250 Million
The third most expensive painting sold at auction is “The Card Players” by Paul Cezanne. Known for shifting the art world from 19th-century Impressionism to the newer form of art, namely Cubism, Cezanne also created four other versions of the painting.
That being said, the fifth version of the painting is currently held by the Royal Family of Qatar, which bought the piece for $250 million from Greek shipping magnate George Embiricos. The other four versions of the painting are placed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Courtauld, the Musée D’Orsay, and the Barnes Foundation.
The Card Players is one of the most recognizable images in the world, and it was created by Cezzane when he was at the height of his acclaim. It is also worth noting that, at the time of its auction, the price of the painting broke all the records of artworks previously sold at any auction.
Nafea Faa Ipoipo by Paul Gaughin – $210 Million
Before other paintings on the list replaced it, “Nafea Faa Ipoipo” by Paul Gaughin was once the most expensive painting in the world. The painting smashed records in 2015 when it was sold for a whopping $210 million by a private Swiss collector Rudolf Staechelin after two long years of negotiations.
The painting’s title, “Nafea Faa Ipoipo,” is a phrase in the Tahitian language that means “When Will You Marry?” and it depicts two Tahitian women. According to legend, this masterpiece was painted by Paul Gauguin after he fell in love with Tahiti and its women.
The buyer of the painting has never been revealed, but the art world believes it is under the possession of the Royal Family of Qatar. It looks like the Qatar Royal Family is fond of owning some amazing masterpieces, with bids that have set records in numerous auctions.
Number 17A by Jackson Pollock – $200 Million
It also looks like Kenneth Griffin is a huge fan of abstract painting, because the American billionaire bought two amazing abstract paintings for a total of $500 million. As mentioned above, Number 17A by Jackson Pollock was the second painting that Kenneth Griffin purchased alongside Willem De Kooning’s Interchange.
Jackson Pollock, one of the most famous abstract painters of all time, created this absolute masterpiece in 1948 from his ‘drip painting series.’ At first glance, viewers might see this iconic piece as a haphazard series of splashes on a canvas. However, a careful examination reveals Pollock’s high precision while creating the masterpiece.
Anything but ordinary, Jackson’s Number 17A got a mixed reaction from viewers and critics. Moreover, after meeting great public scrutiny, the painting was not valued much until the billionaire art collector bid $200 million for the masterpiece. Like Willem De Kooning’s Interchange, Number 17 is also displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago.
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6 (Violet, Green, and Red) by Mark Rothko – $186 Million
One of the unusual paintings in the list, No. 6 (Violet, Green, and Red), was painted by Latvian-American abstract painter Mark Rothko in 1951. This composition features large splashes of color—violet, green, and red specifically.
The painting was sold to Russian business tycoon Dmitry Rybolovlev by Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier for $186 million in a private sale. The whopping amount was double the previous record high price for any of Mark Rothko’s works, establishing a new record for the artist himself.
Contrary to being one of the most expensive paintings, a notable aspect of this artwork is the infamous Bouvier Affair. This means it is one of the 36 paintings named under the Bouvier Affair—the legal battle still being fought between the billionaire and art dealer, who is alleged to have defrauded his clients by overcharging for the paintings.
Pendant Portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit by Rembrandt – $180 million
Pendant Portraits of Maerten Soolman and Oopjen Coppit were painted by Rembrandt in 1634. The set became one of the renowned Dutch artist’s most prized works. The portraits were commissioned for the wedding of Soolmans and Coppit, a wealthy and well-known couple at the time.
This set was formally owned by the tremendously wealthy Rothschild family. Art historians vehemently asserted that the painting set should never be seperated. Therefore when the family decided to sell the full-length portrait, they were bought jointly by Paris’s Louvre and Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, for a total of $180 million.
The twin paintings are also popular because they are the only examples of full-length portraiture crafted by Rembrandt. Since the paintings have never been separated before, they are exhibited together even today, and both museums do so by taking turns.
Les Femmes D’Alger (Version O) by Pablo Picasso – $179.4 Million
Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes D’Alger (Version O) is the final version of a 15-painting series, which the artist completed in 1955. Previously under the possession of the Ganz Family, the painting was sold to an anonymous buyer in a 2015 New York auction for $179.4 million.
At the time of its sale, the painting was the most expensive art piece to be sold at an auction, the position which it held for another two years. However, upon revealing the anonymous buyer’s identity, it was found that the painting was sold to the former Prime Minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabar Al Thani, for his private art collection.
The painting presents Algerian concubines in their harem smoking opium. But, all in all, this masterpiece is a colorful display of geometric shapes and angles crafted by the Cubism mastermind.
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Nu Couché by Amedeo Modigiani – $170.4 Million
The nude painting titled Nu Couché by Amedeo Modigliani was sold for $170.4 million to Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian. According to reports, the billionaire paid the amount in a single transaction using his American Express card.
Often considered Modigliani’s magnum opus, the painting features a naked woman lying sensually on a sofa. It would not be wrong to say that the Nu Couché is a flawless fusion of classic idealism and modern-day sensuality.
However, unlike the classical representation, nudity in this painting is not used as a metaphor or a symbol to denote the purity of a woman. First displayed to the public in 1917, the French Police had to intervene in the exhibition hall, for visitors deemed the painting obscene.
Masterpiece by Roy Lichtenstein – $165 Million
Roy Lichtenstein’s “Masterpiece” (1962) is his most famous work, and it’s the most valuable piece of pop art in the world. It was created using a photo-based technique depicting comic book illustrations, and Roy made it while developing his pop art style.
Masterpiece features a man and a blonde woman looking at a canvas. The speech bubble from the lady’s mouth explains that she is praising the painting and even calling it something that would excite the entirety of New York. The painting got its tag as one of the most expensive paintings in the world in 2017 when the piece was bought for almost $165 million.
It was purchased by Steve A. Cohen, an American hedge fund investor and avid art collector. The amount generated from the sales was said to have been invested in funding a criminal justice reform called the Art for Justice fund.
The Bottom Line
The world of art is filled with masterpieces and expensive collectibles that have been produced throughout the centuries. While not all paintings are worth millions, the ten most expensive paintings in the world have either broken records or come close to doing so. But whatever the price tags are, one thing is for sure—all these paintings are incredible pieces of art.