Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings Ever Sold

11 Nov 2021 | 0 Comments

If you had the chance, how much would you spend on art? 

That question becomes a reality for some, with many art buyers going to new financial lengths to acquire rare and highly sought after artworks. Although some of these artworks have since changed in value, this list will rank them by the highest price they have ever sold for at auction. 

So, in an ever-changing world, here are the most expensive paintings ever sold!

10: Nu Couché by Amedeo Modigliani ($170.4M)

A staple of Modigliani's iconic modern nude series, Nu Couché is not only Modigliani's greatest nude painting but also his largest work! It makes sense then that such a grand painting would fetch such a grand price as in 2015, Nu Couché sold for a record $170.4M at Christie's. 

However, just three years later, it's price dropped to $157.2M at a Sotheby's auction. Although it failed to garner its original $170.4M price, the new 2018 sale still sets a record for Sotheby's, making it the most valuable artwork ever sold at the auction house! 

9:Les Femmes D'Alger (Version O) by Pablo Picasso ($179.4M)

The final oil painting of a 15-piece collection, Les Femmes D'Alger (Version O) was painted by Picasso in 1955. Inspired by Eugène Delacroix's painting The Women of Algiers in their Apartment, the series is famed as Picasso's own cubist tribute to Delacroix and was originally sold to Victor and Sally Ganz in 1956.

Since then, many pieces in the collection have been auctioned off, including Version O. As the masterpiece of the collection, it is unsurprising that Version O held the highest value, selling for a major $179.4M at a 2015 Christie's auction to a former Prime Minister of Qatar . Not so bad for a painted tribute!

8:Pendant Portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit by Rembrandt ($180M)

Regarded as one of the greatest paintings in history, it's expected that a Rembrandt work would make this list, or two! Pendant Portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit are two full length wedding portraits, painted by Rembradt for the wedding of both Soolmans and Coppit in 1634.

Having always been kept together as a married pair since their creation, it's natural that both portraits would sell for one price. Originally owned by the illustrious Rothschild family, the portraits have since been sold to the Louvre and Rijksmuseum in 2016 for a joint price of €160M ($180m), meaning you can now go and enjoy these pieces in person!

7:Wasserschlangen II by Gustav Klimt ($180.3M)

No stranger to famed works, Klimt's signature painting 'The Kiss' is often regarded as his most esteemed piece, but it is not his most expensive work sold. That title is held by Wasserschlangen II, otherwise known as Water Serpents II, which was painted by Klimt in 1907. An oil painting on canvas, the piece depicts Klimt's reoccurring theme of sensual women and features his trademark use of gold paint weaved throughout. 

However, the painting is not without it’s controversy. In WW1, it was stolen by the Nazi's and more recently in 2013, its $180.3M sale to Russian Billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev was the product of deceit, with the whole ordeal being dubbed 'The Bouvier Affair'

The previous owner, Yves Bouvier, originally bought the piece for $112M and convinced Rybolovlev that it was instead worth $183M, by posing as a representative for a third party owner. Although the case is still ongoing today, it cannot be disputed that whatever the true price, this is one valuable piece!

6:No. 6 - Violet Green and Red by Mark Rothko ($186M)

As a scandal that implicated over 38 artworks in its $2M worth in sales, it's not unusual that another painting sold to Dmitry Rybolovlev as part of the 'Bouvier Affair' would make this list. In this case, it is Mark Rothko's 1951 oil painting No.6 (Violet, Green and Red). The piece features three distinct but softened stripes of purple, green and red and is very typical of Rothko's abstract expressionist art style. 

Sold in 2014 to Rybolovlev for €140M ($180M), it was soon discovered that Bouvier had originally bought it for €80M and fraudulently sold it for profit to Rybolovlev. Despite its murky sale, the piece still remains as the most valuable work from Rothko's portfolio and as a stunning example of the value of abstract art in modern society.

5:Number 17A by Jackson Pollock ($200M)

Keeping within the theme of abstract art, Number 17A comes in as the 4th most expensive painting ever sold. A large scale oil painting by abstract icon Jackson Pollock, the piece was only painted a year after Pollock introduced his signature drip technique.

Despite initial low value due to the use of this new technique (which was not initially well received) the painting has now gained immense value on the art market. In 2015, Number 17A sold for a staggering $200M to Kenneth Griffin, an American billionaire and hedge fund manager, at the time. It just goes to show that time was defiantly on Pollock's side when it came to Number 17A.

4:Nefea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry) by Paul Gauguin ($210M)

A prominent Post-Impressionist artist, Paul Gauguin works were typically undervalued during his lifetime. It was only posthumously that he gained recognition for his Synthetism style. In 2015, his 1892 piece Nefea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry) was put up for sale by Rudolf Staechelin, a major Swiss art collector. 

The piece depicts two Tahitian women dressed in both traditional and western clothing and was inspired by Gauguin's own time in Tahiti. Staechelin sold the painting as part of a private auction to the state of Qatar for $210M, proving the true worth of Gauguin's efforts many years ago. 

3:The Card Players by Paul Cézanne (Est $250+M)

Now to the big three! The works that follow have racked up unbelievable prices at auction, with all three displaying different styles and ranging over different centuries. At number three, the state of Qatar once again places high value on a Post-Impressionist work. 

The sold painting in question is Paul Cézanne's 1892/3 piece The Card Players, which the state of Qatar purchased in 2011 for an estimated $250M.

The painting, which depicts two men playing (you guessed it) a game of cards, is one of five in a series and was painted during Cézanne's final period in the 1890s. As the other four paintings reside in world class art galleries, the acquisition of this last painting brings instant credit and value to an already immensely rich royal family!

2:Interchange by Willem de Kooning ($300M)

In a modern world, it is natural that modern art would find a significant space within the high art market, and Willem de Kooning certainly has! An abstract expressionist painter, Kooning's work in the 1950s moved away from figurative work to more abstract paintings. It was in this period that Kooning painted Interchange in 1955, a colourful abstract depiction of an urban landscape. 

In 2015, Interchange was sold by the David Geffen Foundation to Kenneth Griffin (Who also purchased Number 17A) for $300M, $100M more then what he paid for Pollocks piece in the same sale. 

Compared to its original price of $4000 in 1955, Interchange has become a modern maverick of abstract art and despite being sold to Griffin's private collection, the painting has since been on loan at the Art Institute of Chicago for all to enjoy.

1:Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci ($450.3M)

It is not often that an auction house facilitates the sale of a $150 million (+) artwork, especially as most of the sales on this list were privately facilitated, but in 2017 Christie's exceeded its expectations. We're of course talking about the sale of da Vinci's Salvator Mundi, which sold for an astonishing $450.3M to Badr bin Abdullah Al Saud, a Saudi Arabian businessman, and government official.

Originally thought to a copy, it came to be asserted in recent years that Salvator Mundi had been authenticated and was in fact the original painting. 

Such a phenomenal discovery only skyrocketed its value due to its status as the first da Vinci discovered since 1909 and one of only 20 authenticated da Vinci's in existence. As the greatest artistic discovery in decades, it certainly deserves its place as the most expensive painting ever sold!

However... in recent months a shadow has been cast over the value of the artwork, after the Prado museum down-graded it to simply being 'attributed to Leonardo. 

Although the paintings on this list are all exceptional in their own right, it is interesting to note that none were produced by women. In fact, the most expensive painting ever sold by a woman is Georgia O'Keeffe's Jimson Weed/White Flower no.1, selling for $44M in 2014. 

Although $44M is still an eye-watering price for a painting, it highlights the gap between how female and male artists are viewed in comparison and valued on the art market. So, there's still a long way to go before we see anything like equality when it comes to the value of famous art!