Art is a subjective form. Often, the same piece of art means something different to different people. For that uniqueness, many are willing to pay an exorbitant price for the art that connects with their soul. This phenomenon extends to all forms of art, including paintings. When it comes to paintings, other than their subjective value, their value also rests in their history as well as the name behind the art. A combination of these three factors has created a market for some of the most valuable paintings in the world, trading ownership at expensive prices.
In this article, we took a look at the most expensive paintings in the world, with a focus on the pieces that have traded hands rather the priceless pieces permanently hung in museums like the Mona Lisa, which currently has a value of $830 million.
Most Expensive Paintings in the World
1. Salvator Mundi – $450.3 million
Art fanatics and Curators might not consider this painting to be the greatest work of art in the world. Still, it did not stop it from fetching the highest of prices when it was put on auction in November 2017 at Christie’s in New York.
This piece of art depicts Jesus in a renaissance dress holding a crystal orb in his left hand. It is the work of the renowned Italian painter, Leonardo Da Vinci.
Salvator Mundi, which means Savior of the World, was painted to represent Jesus’ mission on earth and is believed to have been completed sometime in the 1500s.
It is one of twenty paintings known to be the work of the famous Italian painter, and this one was bought by Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Culture, Badr Bin Abdullah Al Saud.
2. Interchange – $300 million
The name, Willem de Kooning, might not be the most popular when it comes to mainstream artistes. Still, it did not stop his artwork, the Interchange from fetching $300 million in a private sale by the David Geffen Foundation to the billionaire hedge fund manager, Kenneth C. Griffin, in September 2015.
Interchange, which is also known as Interchanged, is an oil on canvas painting that came alive in 1955. It was painted by Willem de Kooning, who is one of the most renowned abstract expressionist painters in art history.
The original sale of the painting fetched $4,000 when Edgar Kaufmann Jr bought it. The value of the painting has risen since then, reaching $300 million in 2015. Although Kenneth C. Griffin owns it, it is currently on loan to the Art Institute of Chicago.
3. The Card Players – $250 million
One of the remarkable things about art, especially paintings is how they might be worth very little after their completion but a few decades later, become one of the most expensive things in the world.
The Card Players painting by Paul Cezanne, a post-impressionist art, was not the most celebrated painting when he completed it in the early 1890s. Still, time and the unfurling of the genius behind the work has raised not only the quality perception of this painting but also the profile of Paul Cezanne, who went on to paint some of the most brilliant works of art later in his career.
There are three versions of this painting, all with different sizes and varying compositions. The particular one that made this list, however, consists of two men playing cards and was sold in April 2011 by George Embiricos to the State of Qatar for $250 million.
4. Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?) – $210 million
The Arab nation, Qatar, might not be on the up and up when it comes to human rights. Still, it sure does appreciate art, both as a symbol of wealth and as a symptom of the higher level of human creativity. It is why it was willing to part with over $400 million to own two of the top five most expensive paintings in the world.
The second painting owned by the State of Qatar, Nafea Faa Ipoipo, was painted by Paul Gaugin, a post-impressionist painter of French nationality. He painted the piece in 1892 after a visit to Tahiti. When he returned to France to show off the piece, it was unadmired and fetched only 1,500 francs during an exhibition.
Today, the same painting was sold by heirs of Rudolf Staechelin to the State of Qatar for $210 million in September 2014.
5. Number 17A – $200 million
Rounding up the top five most expensive paintings in the world is a painting by a man whose name comes up in almost every film with celebrated gore – Jackson Pollock.
His piece, Number 17A, which he painted in 1948, was sold in September 2015 to Kenneth C. Griffin by the David Geffen Foundation, the second high-value painting involving both parties.
Number 17A is an abstract expressionist painting that was made with oil on fiberboard. It was one of the American painter’s contributions to the abstract expressionism movement, and one of his later works before he died in 1956.
6. Wasserschlangen II – $183.8 million
The Wasserschlangen II was sold for $183.8 million in 2013, giving it an adjusted inflation value of $197.7 million today, placing sixth among the costliest paintings ever sold in the world.
It is one of the many works of European artists that are placed in high esteemed, both in the quality of the piece and the reputation of the painter. The Wasserschlangen II is the work of an Austrian painter, Gustav Klimt.
Wasserschlangen II, which means Water Snakes I in English, was painted sometime between 1904 and 1907, making it one of the oldest paintings to make this list. It was painted with gold plating on parchment, and it is an image of two naked women in front of an ornamented background.
The painting is currently owned by Dmitry Rybolovlev.
7. Pendants portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit – $177 million
It is difficult to say if any of the wedding portraits taken today with digital cameras and run through multiple photography software will ever enough carry artistic value to fetch $177 million, we will have to wait and see.
In the meantime, the competition is a hand painting by Rembrandt, the Dutch draughtsman, and painter, a man, considered one of the greatest visual artists in history. It is a painting of the couple, Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit, in celebration of their wedding.
The painting, which is a pair of each personality, was completed in 1634 and was formally owned by the infamous family, the Rothschild family before it became the property of the Louvre Museum and the Rijksmuseum in September 2015. Both museums paid a cool price of €140 million ($177 million) for it, placing it at seventh among the most expensive paintings in the world.
8. Les Femmes d’Alger (“Version O”) – $179.4 million
Les Femmes d’Alger is another painting by a famous painter to make this list. It was painted by Pablo Picasso, the Spanish artist between 1954 and 1955, as part of a series of paintings. At least ten of the paintings in the series have been sold, with the entire series fetching an equivalent of $2 million in today’s money in 1956.
One of them, Version O, was sold in a Christie’s auction on the 11th of May, 2015 to Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, a former Prime Minister of Qatar.
The oil on canvas painting was the final painting in the series and was initially owned by Victor and Sally Ganz, who bought the entire set in 1956.
9. Nu couche – $170.4 million
Crashing the top ten list of the most expensive paintings in the world is the Nu Couche painting by Amedeo Modigliani, an Italian Jewish painter who worked out of France.
The painting, which was bought by Liu Yiqian, a Chinese businessman in a Christie’s auction in November 2015 for $170.4 million, is an oil on canvas painting of a nude woman.
It is one of several paintings in the famous series by the painter in 1971 and a part of the only exhibit he had in his lifetime at the Galerie Berthe Weill. Leopold Zborowski initially owned the painting. It was passed down to a series of owners before it became the property of the Chinese businessman.
10. No. 6 (Violet, Green, and Red) – $155 million
As we alluded earlier in the introduction, art, particularly paintings, are subjective and mean different things to different observers. While we see nothing when we look at this piece, Dmitry Rybolovlev, the Russian businessman and investor, thinks it means something, enough to shell out €140 million ($155 million) for it in August 2014.
The No. 6 was painted by Mark Rothko, a Latvian-American abstract expressionist who completed this work in 1951. As for the painting itself, it consists of vast expanses of color, separated by uneven and hazy shades.
Aside from its high price, this painting is part of an ongoing fraud case called The Bouvier Affair. It is considered one of the paintings fraudulently sold by the Swiss art transporter, Yves Bouvier.
11. No. 5, 1948 – $140 million
With inflation, Jackson Pollock’s second work, among the top twelve priciest paintings in the world, would have been closer to the first piece at $174. Still, for $140 million, it has to settle for the 11th position on this list.
It was sold on the 2nd of November, 2006 by David Geffen to David Martinez, a Mexican investor. The painting, as its name suggests, was completed in 1948. Like the first, it is one of the painter’s series of contributions to abstract expressionism.
At the time of its sale, it was top of the list but had since slid to 11th.
12. Woman III – $137.5 million
With Woman III, Willem de Kooning joins Jackson Pollock as the only artist to have two of their works in the top twelve of this list. De Kooning’s second entry is an abstract expressionist painting he completed between 1951 and 1953 as part of a series.
The painting consists of a woman and went on sale in 1994 after it had spent time at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art since the 1970s. It is currently owned by Steven A. Cohen, a billionaire who bought it for a price of $137.5 million.