Do you know that classic scene in every heist movie? A group of criminals – sometimes they’re the good guys, but often they’re not – walks into a fancy museum or gallery and robs the place blind. Statues are lifted off their pedestals, priceless jewels are pocketed like dollar bills, and paintings (usually by Van Gogh or Monet) are cut out of their frames. The thieves race off to safety as the cops arrive moments too late to stop them.
It’s a well-worn storyline, but it brings up an interesting question: how much do these famous paintings really cost? We’ve all heard about the high-profile auctions where Picasso pieces go for tens of millions of dollars; we also know that those expensive purchases only happen once every few years. But what about those works that don’t sell very often? How high can prices for certain artists go these days? So here are the 13 most expensive paintings listed here.
1. The Scream
The Scream, painted by Edvard Munch in 1893, is one of the most expensive paintings in history. At $119.9 million, it was sold at Sotheby’s London to an anonymous buyer in 2012—and it still belongs to that private collector today.
A self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh titled Self-Portrait Dedicated to Paul Gauguin (1888) was purchased for $142.4 million at Christie’s New York by Qatar Museums Council in 2015 to kick off a new museum that will house both modern and Islamic art within one space. The painting was sold with an additional $50 million donation from the Government of Qatar as part of its commitment to building a tremendous arts institution dedicated not just to preserve these remarkable works but also to share them with the world at large—and we’re all extremely grateful for this gift!
2. Portrait of Dr. Gachet
Artwork: Portrait of Dr. Gachet
Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
Year Created: 1890-91
Medium: Oil on canvas
Value: $300 million (2015)
Considered by many to be one of the most famous paintings in the world, this portrait was sold at auction for $300 million in 2015. The descendants of artist Vincent van Gogh lent it to Paris’s Musée d’Orsay for 8 years before putting it up for sale. Before then, no other work by Van Gogh had fetched more than $80 million—but the museum declined to buy back its own painting.
3. No. 5, 1948
Number five on our list of the most expensive paintings in the world is Jackson Pollock’s No. 5, 1948. It was sold in 2006 to a private collector for $140 million, making it by far the most expensive painting ever sold at auction.
The painting was originally purchased by David Geffen (founder of Geffen Records) for $1 million in 1973—which would be worth $5 million today—but he donated it to an auction house after his death in 2014. The sale set a record for any work by an American artist, and its price per square inch ($636) was higher than any other work on the planet. The abstract expressionist movement is known for its sweeping gestures and expressive splashes of color; this piece was no exception, with Pollock’s trademark style evident throughout its vibrant reds, blues, and yellows.
4. Bal du Moulin de la Galette
The painting is a depiction of the dance at a popular Parisian mill in Montmartre. The work is oil on canvas and measures 77.5 x 114.5 cm (30 1/4 x 45 5/8 in). It was sold for $91,928,500 in 1990 at Sotheby’s New York auction but then resold to an anonymous buyer in 1994 for over $100 million.
5. Woman III
The second-most expensive painting ever sold at auction is Willem de Kooning’s Woman III (1953), which went for $137.5 million at Christie’s in 2006.
While this number may seem like a lot of money, it’s actually very reasonable when you consider that the most expensive painting ever sold privately was Paul Gauguin’s Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?), which fetched an astonishing $300 million in 2015. What do these paintings have in common? They were both painted by masters of their craft who are no longer alive today!
6. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I
This painting is significant because it was the first work looted by Nazis during World War II. It was stolen from its owner, Maria Altmann’s family, and sold to the Austrian government in 1937. After Maria successfully sued Austria for ownership of the painting in 2006, she sold it to Steven Spielberg for $135 million. The price paid was a record at that time and continues to be one of the most expensive pieces of art ever sold.
7. Portrait of Joseph Roulin
In case you’re not in the know, Vincent van Gogh was one of the most famous artists of all time. He painted this portrait of his friend Joseph Roulin and his son Eugene in 1888—and it’s been valued at $82.5 million since then!
The painting was sold in 1990 for $53 million—a world record at the time. It was purchased by private collectors at Sotheby’s auction house in New York City on November 27, 2017. This is also why we say that any art with “record sale” or “world record sale” attached to its title is probably worth your money if it’s a modern-day piece (or even older).
8. Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?)
Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?) is a painting by Paul Gauguin from 1892, and its current value is $300 million. The work features two Tahitian girls, one of whom is holding up a flower and looking at the other with what appears to be a questioning expression on her face. The title translates as “When Will You Marry?”
The piece was originally owned by French banker and art collector Albert C. Barnes, who commissioned it as a wedding gift for his wife Claribel Cone. It has since been displayed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC along with many other pieces from both artists’ collections there—but not for long! In 2017, Nafea Faa Ipoipo sold at auction for $300 million dollars—the highest known price ever paid for any artwork sold at auction until then (though sales have rapidly increased since).
9. L’homme Qui Marche I
It’s hard to believe that this piece by one of the most famous post-war artists is so small: L’homme Qui Marche I is just 11″ x 6.1″. However, its size doesn’t make it any less valuable than other works by Giacometti. In 2010, this work sold for $104 million (USD) at Christie’s Auction House in New York City, setting a record price for any postwar European artist in an auction at that time.
10. Les Femmes d’Alger (Version “O”)
The iconic painting by Pablo Picasso, Les Femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) was created in 1955. The oil on canvas piece has sold for $179.4 million in May 2015 to an anonymous buyer. The title translates to “Women of Algiers,” and the painting is part of a series of 15 pictures featuring different women from a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds. It was sold at auction at Christie’s in New York City on May 14th, 2015
11. Nu couché (Reclining Nude)
Picasso’s “Nu couché (Reclining Nude)” is a painting from 1932 and the second most expensive painting ever sold. It was sold for $106.5 million in May 2015 to an anonymous bidder, making it one of the most expensive paintings ever sold.
The painting was originally owned by the Gidwitz family who deaccessioned it when they donated their collection to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
- Artist: Jasper Johns
- Painting: American flag, from a series of flags created by Johns between 1954 and 1958. This particular painting is a red-and-white rendition of the American flag (the colors are reversed in the other works).
This 1968 work was sold at Christie’s auction house in New York City on May 20, 2006, for $80 million to Sheika al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of the Qatari Royal Family. It was purchased as part of her personal collection called “The Art of Living,” which includes other notable pieces such as Andy Warhol’s Mao and Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’). The price paid for this piece broke records at auction; it remains the most expensive painting ever sold at auction.
13. Flag (1955) by Jasper Johns
Flag (1955) by Jasper Johns is a painting of the American flag on a white background. It was created in 1954 and 1955. The work is an example of Neo-Dadaism, which was popularized in the 1950s and 1960s. This particular piece sold for $28 million at Sotheby’s New York auction house on February 3, 2014.
So there you have it! The top 13 most expensive paintings in the world. There’s a lot of variety here, with works by artists from all around the globe and different schools of thought. This list proves that no matter what style or subject matter you prefer, there is definitely something for everyone on this list of incredibly expensive artwork. I hope you enjoyed learning about these works. It’s always amazing to see what kind of lengths people will go to for their art!
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