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Art has been highly valued by human societies for thousands of years.
Throughout history, people have created art as a way to express themselves, communicate ideas and emotions, and record events and stories. In many ancient cultures, art was also used for religious and ceremonial purposes. Needless to say, art is held in high regard.
In fact, the most expensive piece ever sold was “Salvator Mundi” by Leonardo da Vinci for a staggering $450.3 million!
There are many factors that can affect the price of a piece of artwork, including the artist’s reputation, the medium used, the size and complexity of the piece, and the demand for the artist’s work.
In general, artwork by well-known artists or those who have a strong reputation in the art world will be more expensive than the work of lesser-known artists.
Additionally, certain mediums, such as oil on canvas, are typically more expensive than others, and larger or more complex works will also tend to be more expensive.
Ultimately, the price of a piece of artwork is determined by the market and what people are willing to pay for it.
And people have been willing to pay a lot! In this article, we review the 20 most expensive paintings ever sold, according to available information. The values in this list are from the most recent sales and do not necessarily line up with current market prices.
1. “Salvator Mundi” by Leonardo da Vinci – $450.3 million
“Salvator Mundi” is a painting by Leonardo da Vinci that depicts Jesus Christ holding an orb and raising his right hand in a blessing. It is believed to be the only surviving Leonardo da Vinci painting in private hands.
The painting was originally believed to have been lost or destroyed, but it was rediscovered in 2005 and subsequently authenticated as a Leonardo da Vinci work. The “Salvator Mundi” is famous both for its artistic merit and historical significance.
This piece sold at auction in 2017 for a record-breaking price of $450.3 million.
2. “Interchange” by Willem de Kooning – $300 million
This painting is a large abstract work that features bold, gestural brushstrokes and vibrant colors.
The piece is seen as a key work in the development of Abstract Expressionism. Interchange was created in 1955, and it is currently owned by the billionaire hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin.
“Interchange” sold at auction in 2015 for $300 million, making it one of the most expensive paintings ever sold.
3. “The Card Players” by Paul Cézanne – $250 million
“The Card Players” is a series of five paintings by Paul Cézanne that depict peasants playing cards.
This series was created between 1890 and 1895. The series are now housed in various museums around the world, including the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and the Courtauld Gallery in London.
In 2011, one of the paintings from the series sold at auction for a record-breaking price of $250 million, making it one of the most expensive paintings ever sold.
4. “Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?)” by Paul Gauguin – $210 million
“Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?)” is a painting by Paul Gauguin that shows two Tahitian women sitting in a lush, tropical landscape.
Nafea Faa Ipoipo was created in 1892. It’s currently housed at the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland.
In 2015, the painting was sold at auction for a record-breaking price of $210 million bringing it to number 4 on this list.
5. “Number 17A” by Jackson Pollock- $200 million
“Number 17A” is a painting by Jackson Pollock that is a part of his famous drip painting series.
The painting is an abstract work that features Pollock’s signature drip and pour technique, in which he dripped and poured paint onto the canvas to create a complex network of lines and shapes.
“Number 17A” was created in 1948 and is considered as a key work in the development of Abstract Expressionism. The painting is currently housed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
The piece is also currently owned by hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin. He purchased the painting in September 2015 from David Geffen for $200 million.
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6. “No. 20 (Yellow Expanse)” by Mark Rothko – $200 million
Mark Rothko was an American abstract expressionist painter.
“No. 20 (Yellow Expanse)” is a painting by Rothko that is part of his signature style of large, colorful rectangles. The Yellow Expanse painting features several large, overlapping rectangles in shades of yellow, with the middle rectangle being the lightest in color.
The yellow color is believed to represent the sun, and the painting is thought to convey a sense of warmth and serenity. Rothko’s paintings are highly regarded for their emotional impact and ability to engage the viewer’s senses.
7. “Orange Marilyn” by Andy Warhol – $200 million
Warhol’s portraits of Marilyn Monroe are some of the most iconic and recognizable artworks ever done.
“Orange Marilyn” is actually one in a series of 5 silkscreen paintings. Warhol completed the set in 1967, just five years after the famous actress committed suicide.
This piece reportedly commanded $200 million in a private sale in 2018.
8. “Standard Bearer” by Rembrandt – $198 million
“Standard Bearer” is a painting by the Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn. It is an oil painting on canvas that was completed in the mid-1650s.
The painting depicts a military figure holding a banner or standard, with a group of soldiers in the background. The figure is shown in dramatic light, with strong contrasts between light and shadow.
The painting is considered to be one of Rembrandt’s finest works and is known for its emotional intensity and powerful use of light and shadow.
9. “Sage Blue Marilyn” by Andy Warhol – $195 million
“Sage Blue Marilyn” is another silkscreen print in the Monroe series by the American artist Andy Warhol.
Like the “Orange Marilyn,” this print is based on a photograph of the actress Marilyn Monroe. The “Sage Blue Marilyn” print features a blue-tinted portrait of Monroe against a plain background.
Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe series is considered to be one of his most iconic and enduring works, and it helped to establish him as a leading figure in the pop art movement.
10. “No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red)” by Mark Rothko – $186 million
“No. 6 (Violet, Green, and Red)” is another painting by Mark Rothko that is a part of his Color Field series.
Like the “Yellow Expanse,” this piece is an abstract work that features large, rectangular blocks of color arranged in horizontal bands. Rothko created “No. 6” in 1951. The painting is currently housed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
This painting sold in 2014 for roughly 140 million Euros.
11. “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” by Pablo Picasso – $179.4 million
“Les Femmes d’Alger (Women of Algiers)” is a series of 15 paintings by Pablo Picasso that depict scenes from the daily lives of Algerian women. The paintings are a continuation of his earlier Blue and Rose periods.
Les Femmes d’Alger was created between 1954 and 1955 and is currently housed at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris, France.
In May 2015, the painting Version ‘O’ from the series was sold at auction for a record-breaking price of $179.4 million bringing it to number 11 on this list.
12. “Nu Couche” by Amedeo Modigliani – $170.4 million
“Nu Couché” is a painting by the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani.
The painting, also known as “Reclining Nude,” is an oil on canvas work that was completed in 1917. It depicts a nude woman lying on a couch, with her body turned towards the viewer. The woman’s face is turned away from the viewer, giving the impression that she is lost in thought or contemplation.
Christie’s sold the ‘Reclining Nude’ in Manhattan for a whopping $170.4 million in 2015.
13. “Masterpiece” by Roy Lichtenstein – $165 million
“Masterpiece” is a 1962 painting by Roy Lichtenstein, one of the leading figures of the Pop Art movement.
The work is typical of Lichtenstein’s style. He often used bold, graphic lines and Ben-Day dots, which is a printing technique that simulates the effect of using multiple colors in a single image.
In “Masterpiece,” Lichtenstein has depicted a woman, who appears to be looking at a painting, with the words “I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S A MASTERPIECE!” written across the bottom of the canvas. The painting is a commentary on the idea of what constitutes a “masterpiece” and the role of the viewer in determining its value.
14. “Nu Couche (sur le cote gauche)” by Amedeo Modigliani – $157.2 million
“Nu Couche (sur le cote gauche)” is a 1917 painting by Amedeo Modigliani, an Italian artist known for his elongated figures and distinctive portrait style.
The painting is part of a series of nudes that Modigliani created during his time in Paris. It’s notable for its sensual depiction of the female form. The title of the painting, which translates to “Reclining Nude (on the left side),” refers to the pose of the model, who is shown lying on her side with her head resting on her arm.
The work is characteristic of Modigliani’s style, with its elongated lines and muted color palette. It is currently in the collection of the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.
15. “Le Reve” by Pablo Picasso – $155 million
“Le Reve” is a 1932 painting by Pablo Picasso, one of the most famous artists of the 20th century.
The painting depicts Picasso’s mistress, Marie-Therese Walter, reclining on a couch in a dream-like state. The work is notable for its use of vibrant colors and fluid, curving forms, which give the painting a surreal quality.
In 2013, the painting was the subject of controversy when Steve Wynn, the owner of the painting, accidentally put his elbow through the canvas while showing it to friends. It was subsequently restored and sold at auction for over $155 million.
Today, most art experts consider “Le Reve” as one of Picasso’s most famous works.
16. “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” by Francis Bacon – $142.4 million
“Three Studies of Lucian Freud” is a 1969 triptych painting by Francis Bacon, a British artist known for his emotionally charged, abstracted figures.
The painting depicts the artist Lucian Freud, who was a close friend of Bacon’s. The work is typical of Bacon’s style, which features bold brushstrokes and a distorted, fragmented composition. This work was actually the result of a collaborative process between the two artists. Bacon created the piece from a series of photographs that Freud had taken of himself.
Today, “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” is in the collection of the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin.
17. “Number 5, 1948” by Jackson Pollock – $140 million
“Number 5, 1948” is a painting by the American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock.
Like his other piece, “Number 17a,” this is one of Pollock’s most famous and iconic works and is considered a masterpiece of abstract art. The painting is composed of drips and splatters of paint that Pollock poured or flung onto the canvas from above, creating a chaotic and dynamic composition.
The painting is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
18. “Willem de Kooning’s Woman III” by Willem de Kooning – $137.5 million
“Woman III” is a painting by Willem de Kooning that is a part of his famous Woman series.
The painting is an abstract work that features bold, gestural brushstrokes and vibrant colors. The painting was created in 1953 and is currently owned by the billionaire hedge fund manager Steven A. Cohen.
In 2006, the painting was sold at auction for a record-breaking price of $137.5 million, making it one of the most expensive paintings ever sold at the time.
19. “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” by Gustav Klimt – $135 million
“Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” is a painting by Gustav Klimt that depicts Adele Bloch-Bauer, a wealthy socialite and art patron from Vienna, Austria.
The painting is a key work in the development of the Art Nouveau movement. Klimt created “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” in 1907. The painting is currently in Neue Galerie in New York City.
In 2006, the painting was sold at auction for $135 million!
20. “The Scream” by Edward Munch – $119.9 million
“The Scream” is a series of four paintings by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.
The paintings depict a figure standing on a bridge, holding their head and screaming. The piece is considered to be a masterpiece of Expressionism.
It is actually one of the most famous and iconic images in all of art history.
The paintings were created between 1893 and 1910, and they are currently housed at various museums around the world, including the National Gallery in Oslo, Norway, and the Munch Museum in Oslo.
“The Scream” has been the subject of much analysis and interpretation, and it continues to be a popular and enduring image.
Conclusion: Most Expensive Paintings Ever Sold
Art has certainty forged its place in history and continues to make its mark on society and culture.
These 20 famous pieces of art each represent unique styles that continually evolve over time.
While some may look at these paintings and think the price is not justified, it is important to remember that the market sets the price. Various factors go into determining a particular piece’s value, but largely, it’s up to demand.
It should be noted that these figures are subject to change, as art prices can fluctuate over time. Additionally, this is not an exhaustive list, and there may be other art pieces that have sold for higher prices than those listed here.
If you are interested in learning more, be sure to check out our beginner’s guide to investing in artwork here!