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21 Most Expensive Paintings Ever Sold

posted by William DeMassi

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Being an artist is not easy. Equipment are expensive, plus you have to deal with the societal view of artists being unaccomplished regarding finances. Unless, of course, if you can create an art piece worth millions of dollars.

most expensive paintingsVincent van Gogh’s Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers was sold in 1987 and was paid for more than triple the previous Most Expensive Painting record. Mind blowing expensive painting purchases are bought in a rapid pace.

More people see the value of art as an investment. Wealthy families have place their bets on both famous painters – whether dead or alive – and independent artists. To give a view of how expensive some paintings may get, here are the 20 most expensive paintings ever sold.


21. “Irises” by Vincent van Gogh for $112,300,000

most expensive paintings list

“Irises” was created by world-famous artist, Vincent van Gogh. It was created when Vincent van Gogh was in an asylum just a year before he died at 1890.

The painting was created before the first of his attacks at the asylum. This particular picture was what he called “the lightning conductor for my illness” because it was what kept him from going insane.

There are no drawings created to guide Vincent van Gogh in creating “Irises”. His brother submitted the painting to the Société des Artistes Indépendants in September 1889 with “Starry Night Over the Rhone.”

“ A beautiful study full of air and life ”

His brother described the painting “a beautiful study full of air and life”. The first person to own the painting was an art critic and anarchist who was one of Van Gogh’s first supporters – Octave Mirbeau. He bought the painting for 300 francs.

In 1987, it set the record for the most expensive painting ever sold, a record that lasted for 2 and half years. It was sold to Alan Bond for US$53,900,000, but Bond apparently did not have the money to pay for it.

The painting was then re-sold to J. Paul Getty Museum in Long Angeles in 1990. Inflation-adjusted lists of most expensive paintings will place this picture at #10.


20. “Portrait of Joseph Roulin” by Vincent van Gogh for $114,500,000

most expensive paintings ever

Vincent van Gogh had a close friend named Joseph Roulin. Roulin worked as a mail employee in Arles, France, a 15-hour train ride from Paris. Van Gogh moved to Arles in 1988 to create artists cooperative.

The plan never happened, and he felt isolated and lonely. However, he found comfort in the presence of the Roulin family, whom he made subjects in his many paintings.

In “Portrait of Joseph Roulin”, Roulin is shown in his uniform that he proudly wore. The background of swirling flowers was created by Van Gogh’s imagination.

Van Gogh once sent a letter to his brother Theo, saying that his favorite genre in the painting is the modern portrait. In the letter, he stated that “I want to paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize, and which we try to convey by the actual radiance and vibration of our coloring.


19. “Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust” by Pablo Picasso for $115,000,000

most expensive paintings list

“Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust” is one of Picasso’s paintings which portrayed his muse and his mistress in one setting. The canvas stands 5 feet tall.

Jewish art dealer, Paul Rosenberg, bought the painting in 1932. When rumors of war were spreading, Rosenberg started to distribute his art collection amassing to more than 2,000 paintings. He used the 1939 New York World’s Fair as an excuse to ship Picasso’s painting out of France.

Rosenberg reached New York after the 1940 Nazi invasion of France and created his new art gallery located at East 57th Street. There, he put the painting back on display.

The Brodys bought the painting in 1951. It was then publicly exhibited in 1961 to pay tribute to Picasso’s 80th birthday.

When the owner died in November 2009, the painting was open again for auction. It was eventually sold on May 4, 2010. The painting was expected to profit $80 million. Eight bidders were at the auction house, but the painting was won by a bid taken through the telephone for $95 million. With the bidder’s premium, it reached $106,500,000.


18. “Flag” by Jasper Johns for $119,400,000

most expensive paintings list

“Flag” by Jasper Johns measures 42.2 inches by 60.6 inches. It is an encaustic painting – made of encaustic, newsprint collage, oil paint on separate canvases.

Each canvas shows the three colors of the US flag with the 48 white stars as it was depicted in 1912 to 1959 when Alaska and Hawaii were not yet included as states.

Newsprints are visible under the flag’s stripes and it was clearly not selected randomly. The texts used were all for advertisements. Also, the stars were not identical in shape.

Johns selects two-dimensional objects which are already familiar with the mind. He does this to free himself from having to create something new. What he wants to focus on is his creative execution of something familiar. He made over 40 paintings based on the US flag alone.

In November 2014, the flag was auctioned for $36,000,000 in New York.

The director of the Museum of Modern Art, Alfred Bar, wanted to buy the artwork. However, he was concerned that it may be unpatriotic. Instead, he asked his friend, Philip Johnson, to buy it.

After the purchase, Johnson donated the painting to the museum as a token for Alfred Barr when Barr retired in 1968.


expensive paintings list17. “Reclining Nude With Blue Cushion” by Amedeo Modigliani for $122,000,000

This painting was purchased in 1917 by Paul Guillaume. It was then sold in April 1928 to Chester Dale.

NGA curatorial files confirmed that Guillaume bought it straight from Modigliani.


16. “The Scream” by Edvard Munch for $123,600,000

most expensive paintings

There are four versions of “The Scream” and they are all named alike. They were created by Edvard Munch between 1893 and 1910. “The Scream” was described as “an icon of modern art, a Mona Lisa for our time.”

The fourth version was passed to a financier named Leon Black for $119,922,600. The painting was stolen by high-profile art thefts in 1994 and 2004. It was recovered after seven months and two years respectively.


15.  “Salvator Mundi” by Leonardo da Vinci for $129,500,000

expenive paintings toplist

“Salvator Mundi” was once owned by Louis XII of France. According to Charles I of England, it was also passed to him, and it became part of his collection in 1649.

The son of the Duke of Buckingham auctioned the painting in 1763. In the 1900s, it was bought by Francis Cook, a British collector.

The painting was ruined by bad restoration attempts. After years of being passed, its authorship became unclear until Cook’s descendants – without a clue – sold the painting for £45 in 1958.

Robert Simon is a specialist in Old Masters who acquired the painting in 2005. He had the painting restored and authenticated. In 2013, it was sold to Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian collector for $127,500,000.


14. “Garçon à la Pipe” by Pablo Picasso for $130,500,000

most expensive paintings

“Garçon à la Pipe” was painted by Pablo Picasso when he was just 24 years old. It shows a Parisian boy with a pipe in his hand and a garland of flowers around his head.

The painting was first owned by John Hay Whitney for $30,000 in 1950.

The painting was sold for $104,168,000 on May 5, 2004. The name of the buyer is not known, but rumors say it was the owner of the Barilla Group – Guido Barilla.


13. “Bal du Moulin de la Galette” for $141,000,000

expenive paintings

“Bal du Moulin de la Galette” was known as “Dance at Le Moulin de la Gallette.” It was created in 1876 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. It portrays the common Sunday afternoon in a district found in Paris, Moulin de la Gallete. Back then, working class, Parisians would drink, dance, and eat galletes every Sunday.

The painting was housed by Gustave Caillebotte from 1870 to 1894. It was then owned by the French Republic as payment for death duties when Caillebotte died. The French Republic displayed it in the Musee du Luxembourg in Paris.

It was then owned by John Hay Whitney. When he passed away, his widow sold it for $78,000,000 to Daishowa Paper Manufacturing Company’s honorary chairperson, Ryoei Saito. Saito also owned “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” by Vincent van Gogh.


12. “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” by Francis Bacon for $144,700,000

most expensive paintings ever

“The Three Studies” was an oil painting triptych by Francis Bacon. It is a painting of Lucian Freud in three different angles.

The set was sold for $142,400,000 in 2013.

Bacon was Freud’s artistic rival though they are excellent friends. They painted each other in 1951. Their friendship ended in the 1970’s after an argument.


most expensive paintings ever11. “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” by Vincent Van Gogh for $149,000,000

Dr. Paul Gachet was the doctor who took care of Van Gogh during his final months.

In 1990, the painting was sold for $82,500,000. The painting was sold within three minutes while at auction on May 15, 1990.

The plant held by Dr. Gachet is foxglove which can make into drug digitalis. Some say that the placement of the plant is a symbolism for Dr. Gachet’s profession while some say that Van Gogh was being treated with digitalis under Dr. Gachet’s supervision.


10. “Le Rêve” by Pablo Picasso for $157,500,000

most expensive paintings toplist

In English, “Le Rêve” is called “The Dream.” It was created in 1932 by Pablo Picasso. It is a painting of his 22-year old mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter.

Victor and Sally Ganz bought the painting in 1941 for $7,000. This was the first of their collection composed of only five artists: Jasper Johns, Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Eva Hesse, and Frank Stella.

In 1997, Austrian-born investment fund manager, Wolfgang Flottl, bought the portrait. He sold it to casino magnate, Steve Wynn.

Steven A. Cohen of SAC Capital purchased the painting from on March 26, 2013, from Wynn for $155,000,000.


9. “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” by Gustav Klimt for $158,500,000

expensive paintings toplist

Gustav Klimt finished the painting “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” in three years. The painting is made of oil and gold on canvas, and it portrays very intricate and elaborate ornamentation.

This painting style was a clear evidence of Vienna Succession’s influence on Klimt. Vienna Succession is a group of artists who do not paint the traditional way. The painting was commissioned by Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, Adele’s husband.

Adele Bloch-Bauer died in 1925. Her will stated that she wanted the Klimt paintings to be donated to the Austrian State Gallery. When Nazi Germany annexed Austria, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer flew to Prague.

“ Sold for $135,000,000 ”

Their properties in Austria were looted and were assigned to be disposed of by the German state. It was eventually acquired by the Austrian state gallery.

When Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer passed away in 1945, he gave his assets to his nephew and nieces, including Maria Altmann.

Altmann sued Austria and demanded the ownership of the paintings. Altman won as the rightful owner of all five paintings by Klimt.

The golden painting was sold for $135,000,000 to Ronald Lauder. It is currently housed in Neue Galaerie.


8. “Woman III” by Willem de Kooning for $161,400,000

expensive paintings toplist

Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art housed the painting from the late 1970’s to 1994.

After the revolution, the painting could not be exhibited because of the strict laws of the government with regards to visual arts. In 1994, it was traded underground by Thomas Ammann to David Geffen.

The painting was sold to Steven A. Cohen in November 2006 for $137,000,000.


7. “No. 5, 1948” by Jackson Pollock for $164,400,000

most expensive paintings ever

The sale of the painting was quite straightforward. From Pollock, it was sold to Alfonso Ossorio in January 1949.

It was then bought by Samuel Irving Newhouse, Jr. In 2006, David Geffen made another painting investment and bought “No.5, 1948”.

The latest buyer is unknown, but it is rumored to be David Martinez, managing partner of Fenech Advisory.


most expensive paintings list6. “Nu Couché” by Amedeo Modigliani for $170,405,000

This painting is also called “Red Nude” in English. It was sold for $170,405,000 in New York on November 9, 2015 – a record for a Modigliani painting.

Modigliani created a series of nudes, and this one was his most famous piece.


5. “Les Femmes d’Alger” (“Version O”) by Pablo Picasso for $179,400,000

painting by Pablo Picasso

“Version O” is the final painting in a series Pablo Picasso created. It sold for $31,900,000 in 1997 to the Ganz family. It was then bought by art dealer Libby Howie for a private Saudi Arabian collector.

“Version O” was auctioned again on May 2015. The pre-sale valuation was $140,000,000. An undisclosed price was paid to reserve the painting even before it was sold.

It was then sold for $179,400,000. Qatari prime minister, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani currently owns the painting.


most expensive paintings list4. “Pendant Portraits of Maerten Sollmans and Oopjen Coppit” by Rembrandt for $180,000,000

Rembrandt created the paintings on the wedding of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit in 1634.

Though painted individually, they come as a package and are always kept together since their creation.


3. “No. 6 (Violet, Green, and Red)” by Mark Rothko for $186,000,000

“Violet, Green, and Red” was created by Mark Rothko. He created the piece when he was depressed, devoid of conveying anything intimate, and only generates a message through painting.

He often gave his pieces brute-forced names to allow the viewers to interpret the paintings on their own.


2. “The Card Players” by Paul Cézanne for more than $272,000,000

most expensive paintings

“The Card Players” is a series by Paul Cézanne. It was painted in the 1890’s, and there are five paintings in the collection.

The different versions differ regarding size and the number of card players shown.

One of the versions was sold to the Qatar Royal Family in 2011 and was estimated to be between $250,000,000 and $300,000,000.

But this paintings is just 2nd on our most expensive painting toplist. Let’s move to the winner…


most expensive paintings toplist winner1. “Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?)” by Paul Gauguin for around $300,000,000

“When Will You Marry?” was created in 1892 by Paul Gauguin. It was sold on loan to Switzerland for almost a half-century.

It was then sold in private terms by Rudolf Staechelin to Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad Al-Thani in February 2015. The selling price was around $300,000,000.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

William DeMassi (see all articles)

Born in Italy, raised in USA - knowledgeable in various topics. Out of all of my passions, writing is the biggest one and the one I dedicate most of my time to. Other interests include: movies, singing and dressing with elegance.

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