The World’s Most Expensive Art
Below are ten of the most expensive pieces of art ever sold to people and organisations.
1. Salvator Mundi by Leonardo Da Vinci
In 2017, a newly found Da Vinci piece sold for $450.3 million, shocking the art world and creating a heated debate among art historians and experts. Given the esteem and value placed on other Da Vinci pieces, the fact that this sale caused such a stir may be surprising. After all, how could a piece by the artist who painted the Mona Lisa and Last Supper not be valuable?
But when the Salvator Mundi painting was first found and bought by art dealers in 2005, it was in rough shape — it had been poorly restored and overpainted, the wood supports had been infested with worms, but most notably, it wasn’t known if this piece was actually created by Da Vinci or by one his students. And it’s this uncertainty that caused shock and a heated debate when it sold for a record-breaking price in 2017.
2. Interchange by Willem de Kooning
In 2015, Interchange sold for $300 million, putting it in second place for the world’s most valuable painting. The piece was one in a series of abstract figure paintings de Kooning developed between 1948 and 1955. It’s hard to believe that when Willem de Kooning first sold the piece, he only made $4000. Like many now-famous artists, de Kooning was criticised for his style and technique when it first debuted.
3. The Card Players by Paul Cézanne
After being sold for $250 million in 2011, The Card Players joined the ranks of the world’s most expensive paintings. Paul Cézanne, famous for his impressionist and post-impressionist works, created this painting as a part of a series of paintings focused on labourers and their card games in the early 1890s — though this one is the only one to have fetched such a high price.
4. Nafea Faa Ipoipo by Paul Gauguin
Nafea Faa Ipoipo (which translates to “When Will You Marry?”) is another painting created in the 1890s that has sold for millions, or more accurately, for $210 million in 2014. The sale of this painting, like the Salvator Mundi, also created controversy in the art world, but not to the same extent. It was initially said to have been bought for $300 million, which would have made it the most expensive painting in the world at the time. However, three years later, it was revealed this was untrue, taking away the painting’s status as the most expensive in the world.
5. Number 17A by Jackson Pollock
In 2015, Jackson Pollock’s piece Number 17A sold for $200 million. Pollock is famous for his abstract expressionist style, the “drip technique,” and Number 17A is one of his earliest pieces using the technique. Because his style was so unique, it brought him a great deal of attention, both good and bad. Today, the American painter is celebrated for being a leader in the abstract expressionist style and for having painted one of the world’s most expensive art pieces.
6. The Standard-Bearer by Rembrandt van Rijn
The Standard-Bearer by Rembrandt joined the ranks of expensive paintings when it sold for $198 million in 2022. It was bought by the Dutch government to be displayed at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. The Standard-Bearer is a self-portrait of the famous and respected Dutch artist and was created during a turning point for the artist who was moving away from portraits to depict scenes and moments of action.
7. Shot Sage Blue Marilyn by Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol’s piece Shot Sage Blue Marilyn is not only one of the most expensive paintings in the world but is also the most expensive 20th-century painting. The painting perfectly represents Warhol’s distinctive style and frequent references to pop culture. It was sold in 2022 for $195 million.
8. No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) by Mark Rothko
This abstract expressionist painting was sold in 2014 for $186 million, earning it recognition as one of the most expensive paintings in the world. The piece was completed by Mark Rothko in the early 1950s in his signature style of simple shapes and vibrant colours arranged in rectangular bands. His seemingly simple work has become highly valuable, with many of his pieces selling in the $60-80 million range.
9. Portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit by Rembrandt van Rijn
This set of portraits by Rembrandt was sold in 2016 to two buyers, the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum, for $180 million. The price can be attributed to Rembrandt’s prestige and skill and to the fact that a set of portraits that have stayed together since the early 1600s is incredibly rare.
10. Les Femmes d’Alger (“Version O”) by Pablo Picasso
Les Femmes d’Alger, or in English, “The Women of Algiers,” was sold for $179 million in 2015. The painting is done in the recognisable cubism style of Pablo Picasso. Picasso produced multiple paintings within the same theme, but this one stole the show by becoming one of the most expensive pieces of art in the world.
It isn’t the only Picasso painting to sell for an astonishing amount: his piece Le Rêve sold for $150 million. Le Rêve sold even though the piece needed to be restored after Steven Wynn, an art collector and owner of multiple casinos, managed to put his elbow through the canvas.
Beauty May Be in the Eye of the Beholder, But the Price Is Not
While the enjoyment of art is subjective, the same cannot be said when putting a price on original paintings from master artists who have come and gone.