Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings In The World
Art is a priceless entity. Though it's hard to put a price on an artist’s imagination, creativity and effort, paintings are sold for millions all across the world. Some of these paintings catapulted their makers into the limelight while others became popular after the artists’ death, bringing them posthumous fame. These top 10 paintings in the world are some of the most expensive pieces of art.
Today, we’re listing down the top 10 most expensive paintings that you should know about.
(Psst: There’s a bonus at the end!)
Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings In The World
- Salvator Mundi by Leonardi da Vinci
Painted by Da Vinci in 1500, ‘Salvator Mundi’ is Latin for ‘Saviour the World’—an epithet used for Jesus in this painting. Its authenticity is one of the most debatable issues with many claiming that the original painting is lost and this one is a copy by some other artist. Currently, there are about 20 known versions of the painting. Some have even dubbed it as the male Mona Lisa!
It was auctioned in 2017 for 450 million dollars and bought by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman. It was scheduled to be displayed at Louvre Abu Dhabi but the event was cancelled in 2018. In June 2019, it was reported to be stored on bin Salman’s yacht and in October 2019, there were resorts of it being stored in Switzerland. Whatever the location may be, this painting has always been shrouded in mystery.
It is perhaps the most popular painting in the world when it comes to Da Vinci’s oeuvre. Though he was a Roman Catholic, using a crystal ball instead of a crucifix seems like a conscious attempt to merge the physical and spiritual realms together.
- Interchange by Willem de Kooning
This oil canvas painting was one of de Kooning’s first few abstract landscapes. The painting was bought by Kenneth C.Griffin for $300 million dollars in September 2015 and is currently on loan at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was the most expensive painting in the world until 2017 when it was surpassed by Salvatore Mundi.
He was influenced greatly by the works of his fellow artist, Franz Kline which made him shift from abstract female figures to abstract landscapes. By 1955, he had started working on abstract depictions of his surroundings and New York city. Though he never proclaimed himself as a master of abstract art, he gradually became one over the years.
- Nafea Faa Ipoipo by Paul Gauguin
The title translates to “when will you marry” and is also inscribed at the bottom right of the painting. It was created in 1892, on Gauguin’s first visit to Tahiti when he was 43-years-old. In February 2015, it was sold for a whopping $210 million by Rudolf Staechelin to Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad Al-Thani.
A traditionally dressed young woman sits in front and the flower behind her ear suggests that she’s looking for a suitable match for marriage. The woman at the back sits erect, dressed in western style. Gauguin traveled to Tahiti in search of a place where he could create ‘pure’ and ‘primitive’ art untouched by the European culture. However, upon reaching there, he realized that he place had already fallen prey to western colonization. Hence, his work on Tahiti includes a blend of local and European influences.
- The Card Players by Paul Cézanne
Though it is one of the top 10 paintings in the world, The Card Players actually emerged from a series of oil paintings by Cézanne. It’s so popular that you may have seen it in a magazine or any art course material. There are five paintings in the series, each varying in the number of players and the setting. One of these versions was sold to the Royal Family of Qatar for an astounding 250 million dollars.
Cézanne borrowed a popular 17th-century motif of portraying taverns as the site of rowdy men getting drunk and gambling. However, his rendition shows two men playing cards in a less dramatic setting. It’s a rather bland version of the loud tavern scenes that were quite well known via several paintings. Critics have suggested that the players’ ardent interest in the game mirrors the artist’s focus on his art.
- Number 17A by Jackson Pollock
Remember Kenneth C.Griffin, the guy who bought Interchange by Willem de Kooning in 2015? Along with that, he also bought this masterpiece by Jackson Pollock, famous for its drip technique for 200 million dollars. Hence, Griffin is the proud owner of two artworks listed as the top 10 most expensive paintings in the world!
The seemingly simple title: Number 17A was perhaps a conscious move to shun superficial names and reserve all attention for his painting. This oil painting was completed in 1948 on fibreboard and featured in 1949 on the cover of Life magazine which catapulted it to fame.
- 6 (Violet, Green and Red) by Mark Rothko
Rothko’s works are characterized by wide bands of bright colours which is something you see in No.6 as well. In 2014, the painting was sold in a private auction by a swiss dealer, Yves Bouvier to Dmitry Rybolovlev for 186 million dollars. The deal became a major legal dispute when Rybolovlev learnt that the painting was acquired for nearly half the price by Bouvier, keeping the rest of the money for himself.
The American painter of Latvian Jewish descent is often associated with the American abstract Expressionist Movement. He often felt that people didn’t understand him or his motivations as an artist and bought his paintings only as a part of a trend. He wasn’t too pleased with being labelled as an abstract artist and wished to express human emotions through his work.
- Portrait of Marten Soolmans and Portrait of Oopjen Coppit by Rembrandt
In 1634, Rembrandt painted full portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit to commemorate their wedding. Both portaits were in possession of the couple’s heirs until 1877, when they were sold to Gustave Samuel de Rothschild, a French banker. Today, they are the joint property of Rijksmuseum and Louvre, bought for 180 million dollars in 2016.
These two portraits are always placed together and never separated. They are displayed together at Rijksmuseum and Louvre alternately, both having a 50% share in each painting. This marked Rembrandt’s entry into full portraiture and it depicts a typical aristocratic couple from Amsterdam.
- Les Femmes D’Alger (Version ‘O’) by Pablo Picasso
Les Femmes D’Alger is actually a series of 15 paintings by Pablo Picasso, inspired by Eugène Delacroix's 1934 painting, The Women of Algiers in their Apartment. In 2015, Christie’s, New York, put Version O up for auction and it was bought by Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, Qatar’s former prime minister for 179.4 million dollars.
Picasso began painting the series a few weeks after his friend and rival, Henri Matisse’ death. Many see this series as an elegy to his friend and his artistic oeuvre. Matisse was known for his depictions of odalisques: women in a harem. Picasso often joked that Matisse left his odalisques to him as a legacy and hence, it became a huge influence for this series along with Delacroix.
- Nu couché by Amedeo Modigliani
Currently owned by a Chinese businessman, Liu Yiqian, it was auctioned off by Christie’s in 2015 for 170.4 million dollars. First shown to the public in 1917, within a few hours of its display, the French police was summoned as many viewers deemed it obscene and inappropriate for public viewing.
Modigliani painted several dozens of nudes and several of his students believed that’s where his expertise lay. The woman’s glowing skin in contrast to the maroon couch only highlights her nakedness which she doesn’t seem to shy away from. A blend of classical idealism and modern sensuality, it shows the woman fully aware of her physical desires and not afraid of expressing herself.
- 5, 1948 by Jackson Pollock
In 2006, No.5 was sold for 140 million dollars to David Martinez by David Geffen. Created in 1948, it was another fine example of Pollock’s expertise in the drip technique and abstract expressionism. Until 2011, it held the crown for the most expensive painting in the world. It was created on an eight by five feet fibreboard.
Interestingly, the moniker ‘Jack the Dripper’ is often used for Pollock as an ode to his unique technique. As you can see, it's not a conventional brush and canvas artwork. Instead, Pollock used fluid dynamics to create his paintings. He would make the paint drip from sticks, syringes, turkey basters and hardened brushes to achieve the desired effect.
Bonus: Mona Lisa
Any list of top 10 world famous paintings is incomplete without mentioning Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Acquired by King Francis I in 1797, it is now the property of the French Republic andon permanent display at the Louvre. As per Guinness World Records, it has the highest insurance value, assessed for 850 million dollars in 2019.