The 10 Most Expensive Works of Art of all Time

· Art Market

The art market has always been subject to rumor and fabrications, a phenomenon largely fostered by the media’s reporting of eye-watering art sales figures. It’s no secret that masterpieces by iconic artists regularly fetch sky high prices at auction houses such as Sotheby's or Christie's. Here’s a look back at the 10 most spectacular sales of the last decade. 

1. Salvator Mundi, Leonardo da Vinci, c.1500, in 2017, $450m

If you’re a follower of the news, it’s impossible to have missed the sale of Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi. The oil on wood painting has been appraised and attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, although it may have been done by one of his students, Bernardino Luini or Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio. It was restored in 2011, then purchased in 2013 by Dmitry Rybolovlev for $127.5 million via the intermediary of Yves Bouvier, who actually bought the painting for $83 million, pocketing $44 million right under Rybolovlev's nose. In 2017, the Russian tycoon sold it at Christie's for $475.4 million to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salmane.

Salvator Mundi, Leonardo da Vinci, c.1500

2. Interchange, Willem de Kooning, 1955, in 2015, $300m

This painting by the American-Dutch painter reached $300 million in a private sale between the David Geffen Foundation and Hedge Funds owner Kenneth C. Griffin in 2015. This work was created in 1955, after de Kooning moved away from depicting the female figure to focus on abstract art. If you think this is a colossal sale, just wait until you see the fifth piece on this list... 

Interchange, Willem de Kooning, 1955

3. The Card Players, Paul Cézanne 1893, 2011, $210m

Is it really surprising to find Post-Impressionist master Paul Cézanne among the record sales? Given his career, his fame, the sale price of his other works and his presence in museums across the world, it’s clear why The Card Players achieved such a high sale price. This $210 million price was paid by the royal family of Qatar in 2011, to acquire this oil on canvas from one of the French painter's most famous series.

The Card Players, Paul Cézanne 1893

4. When are you getting married?, Paul Gauguin 1892, in 2015, $210m

It's hard to believe that this oil painting by the leader of the Pont-Aven school in 1892, sold for 7 just francs when the artist died. Yet in 2015, 112 years later, the same work was bought for 210 million dollars by the Emir of Qatar. Paul Gauguin arrived in 1891 in Tahiti hoping to find a garden of Eden, but was disappointed when he noticed that the French colonizers who had arrived two centuries earlier had brought diseases that decimated half of the native Tahitians, and changed their way of life. He still managed to paint many portraits of the local inhabitants, including When are you getting married? 

When are you getting married?, Paul Gauguin 1892

5. Number 17 A, Jackson Pollock 1948, 2015, $200m

Number 17 A, is one of Jackson Pollock's major works. This piece is made with the famous dripping technique on a wooden fiberboard. The price of this work was already astounding, but made all the more fascinating because two of the top 5 most expensive artworks on this list were sold during the same sale! Kenneth C. Griffin bought Number 17 A at 200 million euros in 2015 at the same time as Willem de Kooning’s Interchange, spending 500 million euros in one go!

Number 17 A, Jackson Pollock 1948

6. Wasserschlangen II, Gustav Klimt 1907, 2014 $183.3m

Wasserschlangen II or Water Snakes II is an oil on canvas painting created in 1907 by Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt which depicts two nude women. The work was confiscated by the Nazis during World War II and given to a Nazi director named Ucickiy. After his death, his wife kept the painting and auctioned it at Sotheby's in 2012. Being considered a stolen painting, the sum fetched was divided between the true heirs of the painting and Ursula Ucickiy. The painting was then bought for 112 million dollars by a certain Yves Bouvier... He then sold it to Dmitry Rybolovlev for 183.3 million dollars, convincing him that he was not the owner of the painting and that it was worth much more than 112 million!

Wasserschlangen II, Gustav Klimt 1907

7. N.06 (Violet, Green and Red), Mark Rothko 1951, 2014, $186m

N.06 (Violet, Green and Red) is an oil on canvas by American-Latvian painter Mark Rothko in 1951. It is from the period during which Rothko mostly painted large areas of color on huge canvases. This work was sold in 2014 to Dmitry Rybolovlev for $186 million (140 million euros). As with the Klimt painting, Bouvier had bought the N.06 painting for 80 million euros beforehand and posed as the middleman, in order to make a 60 million euro capital gain. 

N.06 (Violet, Green and Red), Mark Rothko 1951

8. Pendants of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit, Rembrandt 1634, 2016, $180m

This diptych of portraits done in oil on canvas by Rembrandt, created for the wedding of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit in 1634, was formerly owned by the Rothschild family. In 2016, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Louvre Museum jointly raised $180 million (€160 million) to share possession. The diptych will never be divided and the piece will be exhibited in the museums in rotation over 8-year periods, once its restoration is complete. 

Pendants of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit, Rembrandt 1634

9. Women of Algiers, Pablo Picasso 1955, 2015, $179.4m

The Women of Algiers series consists of fifteen paintings and numerous drawings created by Pablo Picasso between 1954 and 1955. These works were inspired by Eugène Delacroix's painting Women of Algiers in their Apartment. The entire series was purchased by Victor and Sally Ganz of the Louise Leiris Gallery in 1956 for $212,500, or about $2 million today, who then resold the series, keeping the C, H, K, M and O versions. The O version, the last of the series, was auctioned twice at Christie's in New York. In 2015, the Qatari Prime Minister purchased it for $179.4 million.

Women of Algiers, Pablo Picasso 1955

10. Reclining Nude, Amedeo Modigliani 1918, 2015, $170.4m

One of Amedeo Modigliani's most exhibited oil paintings, Reclining Nude, was created in 1917. This was part of a series by the Italian painter shown in Modigliani's one and only exhibition, at the Berthe Weil Gallery in 1917. It was the only one because the gallery was closed by the police a few days after its opening. The last sale of this Reclining Nude, which places this painting in 10th position on this list, was in Shanghai where it was sold for 170.4 million dollars to Liu Yiqian, a major Chinese investor. 

Reclining Nude, Amedeo Modigliani 1918

Between astronomical sums, questionable practices and lost and found masterpieces, the art world will never cease to turn heads. Nevertheless, the pieces of the greatest artists are not exclusively reserved for billionaires, you too can acquire these iconic artist’s pieces on Artsper! 

All Posts

Almost done…

We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!