Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings Sold at Auction
The World's Most Valuable Fine Art Pictures.

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Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci
Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.
Reputedly the most valuable
painting in the world.

The World's 10 Most Expensive Paintings

Contents

The 10 Most Expensive Paintings Sold at AUCTION

Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings Sold PRIVATELY

Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings Adjusted for Inflation

For Paintings numbered 11-20:
See: Top 20 Most Expensive Paintings Sold at Auction


BEST PAINTINGS
In general, most of the world's best art resides in famous churches, museums, or galleries. This certainly applies to works by Old Masters like Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo, Rembrandt and Vermeer, few of which are in private hands, and most of which are priceless. Estimates of the value of the Mona Lisa, vary from $700 million to $1 billion.

HOW TO READ a PAINTING
For the meaning of important
pictures by Old Masters, see:
Famous Paintings Analyzed

10 Most Expensive Paintings Sold at Auction
For details and photographs, see below

(1) Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) - Francis Bacon ($142m) (2013)
(2) The Scream (1895) - Edvard Munch ($119.9 million) (2012)
(3) Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932) - Pablo Picasso ($106.5m) (2010)
(4) Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) (1963) - Andy Warhol. ($105m) (2013)
(5) Garcon a la Pipe (1905) - Pablo Picasso. ($104.2m) (2004)
(6) Dora Maar with Cat (1941) - Pablo Picasso. ($95.2m) (2006)
(7) Adele Bloch-bauer II (1912) - Gustav Klimt. ($87.9m) (2006)
(8) Orange, Red, Yellow (1961) - Mark Rothko ($86.9 million) (2012)
(9) Triptych (1976) Francis Bacon. ($86.3m) (2008)
(10) Black Fire I (1961) Barnett Newman. ($84.2m) (2014)

What Makes a Great Painting?
See our educational articles:
Art Evaluation: How to Appreciate Art
How to Appreciate Paintings



1. Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969)
By Francis Bacon
$142.4 million (2013)
Christie's, New York

1. Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969)
• Painted by Francis Bacon (1909-92).
• Sold at auction in 2013, for $142.4 million.
• Seller: Unknown. Buyer: Unknown.

One of the first works painted during the era of "contemporary art", this life-size triptych shows Bacon's friend - the portraitist Lucian Freud (1922-2011) - seated on a wooden chair against an orange background. The remarkable power of the three canvases comes from the juxtaposition of light, airy sunshine with the brutal physicality of both the content and the brushstrokes used to create it. The record-breaking price (under the circumstances, remarkably close to its pre-sale estimate of $135 million) was the result of a bidding contest between seven interested buyers. A challenging, complex combination of expressionism and surrealism, this work establishes Bacon as one of the greatest modern artists of the mid-20th century.


2. The Scream (1895)
By Edvard Munch
$119.9 million (2012)
Sotheby's, New York

BEST MODERN ART
For a list of the top paintings,
Greatest Modern Paintings.

2. The Scream (1895)
• Painted by Edvard Munch (1863-1944).
• Sold at auction in 2012, for $119.9 million.
• Seller: Petter Olsen. Buyer: unknown.

One of the greatest expressionist paintings ever, this Munch masterpiece holds a number of records. The most expensive painting ever sold at auction, it is also the highest priced work of modern art as well as the costliest of all pastel drawings. The work is seen as an expression of personal suffering. Munch's mother passed away when he was 5; his sister Sophie died when he was 14; his father died when Munch was 25, followed by his sister Laura who developed schizophrenia and was incarcerated in an asylum in Ekeberg. From Ekeberg Hill, the location depicted in the artwork, passers-by could hear screams from the asylum as well as the animals from a slaughterhouse nearby. It was also a scene of suicides. There are three other versions of this picture: the Munch Museum in Oslo owns two of them - a pastel as well as an oil - while the National Gallery of Norway holds the earliest version, an oil painting, dated 1893.


3. Nude, Green Leaves & Bust (1932)
By Pablo Picasso.
$106.5 million (2010)
Christie's, New York

3. Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932)
• Painted by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).
• Sold at auction in 2010, for $106.5 million.
• Seller: Estate of US philanthropist Frances Brody. Buyer: unknown.

Known as the "lost Picasso" because it had not appeared in public for almost 60 years this masterpiece - the world's most expensive work of abstract art ever sold at auction - last changed hands in 1951 for $18,000.

To illustrate the huge commissions earned by top auction houses, the sale of this work netted Christie's a cool $13 million.

The sale means that Picasso - with 3 out of the top 10 - is now firmly established as the most valuable of all twentieth century painters.


4. Silver Car Crash (1963)
By Andy Warhol.
$105.4 million (2004)
Sotheby's, New York

4. Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) (1963)
• Painted by Andy Warhol (1928-87).
• Sold at auction in 2013, for $105.4 million.
• Seller: Unknown. Buyer: Unknown.

A classic example of Andy Warhol's Pop Art, this 8-foot by 13-foot painting - the last in a series of four pictures depicting car crashes - consists of two panels: on the left, a set of fifteen images of a car accident, including the image of a body sprawled across the vehicle's mangled interior, and on the right, a large silvery rectangle. Estimated to sell for in excess of $60 million, this figure was in fact the opening bid, and after a three-way bidding contest the work smashed the previous auction record for Pop Art by Warhol by more than $30 million. (Green Car Crash, 1963; sold in 2007 at Christie's New York for $71.7 million.) The painting has been seen only once in public since 1987.


5. Garcon a la Pipe (1905)
By Pablo Picasso.
$104.2 million (2004)
Sotheby's, New York

5. Garcon a la Pipe (1905)
• Painted by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).
• Sold at auction in 2004, for $104.2 million.
• Seller: Greentree foundation (Whitney family). Buyer: unknown.

The most expensive work of figure painting, this Picasso masterpiece took a mere 7 minutes of bidding to reach the hammered price, which far exceeded the previous record of $82.5 million set by Van Gogh's Portrait of Dr Gachet in 1990, breaking the $100 million barrier in the process.

Painted by the 24-year old Pablo Picasso during his more cheerful Rose Period, (following his mournful Blue Period), it is surely his most lyrical example of representational art, as well as one of the most iconic works of the early 20th century and the finest still in private hands.


6. Dora Maar with Cat (1941) Detail
By Pablo Picasso.
$95.2 million (2006)
Sotheby's, New York

WORLD'S BEST PAINTING
For a list of the finest paintings,
see: Greatest Paintings Ever.

6. Dora Maar au Chat (1941)
• Painted by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).
• Sold at auction in 2006, for $95.2 million.
• Seller: Gidwitz family. Buyer: unknown.

Dora Maar with Cat is a large, luminous, portrait of Picasso's mistress, seated on a chair with a small cat perched on her shoulders. Executed in the idiom of Cubism, the artist is trying to present several simultaneous views of Maar's face. When the work went on sale in 2006, it far exceeded its $50 million estimate, and became the second most expensive painting sold by an auctioneer in the history of art. An inspiration as well as a mistress, Dora Maar (1907-1997) was one of Picasso's favourite models and the subject of countless interpretations (eg. Weeping Woman) during the course of their dynamic relationship which endured for 11 years from 1935 to 1946. In this portrait of Maar, Picasso has added numerous deliberate narrative or symbolic elements, including: a hat, symbolizing a crown; a cat, alluding to feminine guile and sensual activity; long sharp fingernails (not visible in the picture) to reinforce the idea of feline aggression; a vibrant colour scheme picking out various details of Maar's dress (not visible). Whether these elements were intended to compliment or demonize Maar remains unclear.


7. Adele Bloch-bauer II (1912) (detail)
By Gustav Klimt. $87.9 million
(Christie's New York, November 2006)

TOP PAINTERS
See: Best Artists of All Time.

7. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912)
• Painted by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918).
• Sold at auction in 2006, for $87.9 million.
• Seller: Maria Altmann. Buyer: unknown.

In this second portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, which was painted five years after his first version, the earlier gold backdrop has been replaced by a quieter, more detached background. Even so, the halo-like hat and the focus on Adele's face points to Klimt's continuing regard for her. The painting also demonstrates the artist'snew attitude to colour (shorn of its use of gold), as well as his technique of combining elements of reality and unreality. Art critics typically swoon over this latter attribute. One has stated that in this composition: Klimt "demonstrated the liberation of visualization by effortlessly assimilating a whole series of influences and reworking them into a peculiarly inspired personal vision." Quite so. Personally, I think Klimt creates beautifully decorative art, with a few echoes of German Expressionism without justifying the artistic genius suggested by the record price of this canvas. However, he remains the driving force behind the historically important Vienna Secession, and can claim to be one of the best portrait artists of pre-war Europe.


8. Orange, Red, Yellow (1961)
By Mark Rothko.
$86.9 million (2012)
Christie's New York

8. Orange, Red, Yellow (1961)
• Painted by Mark Rothko (1903-70).
• Sold at auction in 2012, for $86.9 million.
• Seller: The David Pincus Estate. Buyer: unknown.
See also: Mark Rothko's Paintings (c.1938-70).

The most expensive of all abstract paintings by a 20th century painter, and the highest price yet paid for a Rothko (the next highest is $72.8 million for his 1950 painting White Center: Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose bought at Sotheby's by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani in 2007), the work - one of Rothko's masterpieces of Colour Field Painting - comprises blocks of orange and yellow paint on a red background. Not seen for the past 45 years, it was secured by an anonymous buyer after one of the longest bidding matches seen in a contemporary art sale, with bids leaping in increments of a million or sometimes two million dollars.


9. Triptych (1976) Detail
By Francis Bacon.
$86.3 million (2008)
Sotheby's New York

9. Triptych (1976)
• Painted by Francis Bacon (1909-92).
• Sold at auction in 2008, for $86.3 million.
• Seller: European art collection. Buyer: Roman Abramovich.
See also: Most Expensive Irish Paintings.

A masterpiece of post-war contemporary art by one of the most famous painters of the modern era, Francis Bacon’s Triptych, is regarded as the most important painting by the artist in private hands. It was the focal work of Bacon's most significant exhibition of new work of the 1970s - one of the most sustained and productive periods in his career - which was staged at the Galerie Claude Bernard in Paris in 1977. In this triptych, Bacon utilizes Greek Mythology to depict his personal fate, disclosing in a single work his full range of imagery and iconography. It is one of his most complex and imaginative works and bristles with classical narrative, much too complex to explain in a couple of sentences. Not surprisingly, given the quality of the work and the fact that Sotheby's had previously achieved five world record prices for works by Francis Bacon, Triptych smashed its pre-sale estimate of $70 million. See also, the list of Top Contemporary Artists and Irish Art Market.


10. Black Fire I (1961)
By Barnett Newman
$84.2 million (2014)
Christie's, New York.

10. Black Fire I (1961)
• Painted by Barnett Newman (1905-70).
• Sold at auction in 2014, for $142.4 million.
• Seller: Unknown. Buyer: Unknown.
See also: Abstract Expressionist Painting.

A 9½-foot-high painting consisting of black pigment on canvas, Black Fire I doubled the artist's previous auction record of $43.8 million - for Onement VI (1953) - achieved at Sotheby's New York in May 2013. On loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for almost 30 years, it was bought by an anonymous phone bidder after a five-minute bidding contest. In this work, Newman used the same raw canvas and black palette that he employed for his series of 14 paintings, entitled The Stations of the Cross (1958-66). His aim was to render the raw canvas, relative to the black pigment, in such a way that it would "become colour" and possess its own characteristic of light. One of the key exponents of American abstract expressionism, Barnett Newman was associated with Colour Field Painting, along with Rothko and Clyfford Still (1904-80).

 

 

Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings Sold Privately

1. The Card Players (1892-93)
• Painted by Paul Cezanne (1839-1906).
• Sold privately in 2011, for $250 million.
• Seller: George Embiricos. Buyer: Royal Family of Qatar.

One of several versions of the same picture - there are others in the Musee d'Orsay, Paris, and the Courtauld Institute Galleries, London - the painting is one of the most sought-after works still in private hands.

2. No 5 (1948)
• Painted by Jackson Pollock (1912-56).
• Sold privately in 2006, for $140 million.
• Seller: David Geffen. Buyer David Martinez.
• See also: Jackson Pollock's paintings (1940-56).

If unconfirmed reports are correct, Mexican financier David Martinez paid $140 million for this signature work by Jackson Pollock, making it the world's most expensive painting ever. Demonstrates the growing appetite for concrete art, but other factors may be involved: notably the relative rarity of Pollock's works, his unique drip/ splash style of 'action painting', and his American nationality. The 4' x 8' composition, comprising oil, enamel and aluminum paint on fiberboard, is a nest-like tangle of browns, yellows and greys. It exemplifies Pollock's all-over approach to fine art painting, which treats all areas of the canvas equally, rejecting all conventional points of reference or focus.

 

3. Woman III (1953)
• Painted by Willem de Kooning (1904-97).
• Sold privately in 2006, for $137 million.
• Seller: David Geffen. Buyer: Steven A. Cohen

One of the great exponents of the New York School of gestural painting, Dutch-born Willem de Kooning was noted for his biomorphic synthesis of figurative and abstract styles, often using the female form. Woman III is one of a series of six numbered 'Woman' paintings and the only one still in a private collection. The work's exploration of Freudian themes is visible in its staring eyes, huge breasts and distorted torso, as well as its aggressive brushwork and absence of 'human' colour.

4. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907)
• Painted by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918).
• Sold privately in 2006, for $135 million.
• Seller: Maria Altmann. Buyer: Ronald Lauder.

This work changed hands when a court order by the Austrian government returned it to the Artist's rightful heir after its wartime confiscation by the Nazis. Despite its inflated price-tag, it remains one of the artist's great masterpieces and exemplifies his fascination with the flat decorative features of Egyptian art, the gold and mosaic elements of Byzantine works, Freudian and other symbolism. A romantic workaholic, Klimt's contribution to the Vienna Sezession and Germanic Jugendstil art movement included numerous portraits of Vienna’s leading ladies, of which this portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer - the wife of Jewish entrepreneur Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer - is considered a leading example. Klimt completed a second portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer in 1912 (see No 5 in the Top 10 Auction Records, above).

5. Eight Elvises (1963)
• Screenprint by Andy Warhol (1928-87).
• Sold by private sale 2009, for $100 million.
• Seller: Annibale Berlingieri. Buyer: unknown.

Eight Elvises by Andy Warhol was sold by private treaty in 2009 to an anonymous buyer for $100 million, according to a report in the London Economist. The 12-ft high picture has not been seen in public since it was shown in Los Angeles in 1963.

6. False Start (1959)
• Painted by Jasper Johns (b.1930).
• Sold privately in 2006, for $80 million.
• Seller: David Geffen: Buyer: Kenneth C. Griffin.

A founding father of Pop-Art, Johns is noted for his innovative use of mixed-media such as oils, waxed-based encaustic painting, plaster and collage (including flags, maps, stenciled words, numbers, newspapers and other 'found materials' or objets trouves). In this work, the most expensive painting by a living artist, Johns uses stenciled words on a brightly colored background which provide a literal allusion to the title False Start. This is because the words - which express colours, red, white and so on - are painted in (and are positioned on) contradictory colours to those described. The use of words exemplifies Johns' utilization of everyday images to stimulate the spectator. See also: Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008).

 

7. Police Gazette (1955)
• Painted by Willem de Kooning (1904-97).
• Sold privately in 2006, via Richard Gray Gallery, for $63.5 million.
• Seller: David Geffen. Buyer: Steven A. Cohen.

Another fantastically high-priced work of non-objective art by the Dutch/ American Expressionist de Kooning. Executed in oils, enamel, and charcoal on canvas, it is considered by critics to be one of his most complex landscapes. It was purchased from the artist Sidney Janis and eventually found its way to auction in 1973 where it attracted a record bid of $180,000 from the European dealer Ernst Beyeler. Given its present reported price of $63.5 million, it has appreciated in value 352 times, over 35 years. Not bad for a painting which (I suspect) few people would claim to understand, far less appreciate. I certainly don't.

8. A Wheatfield, with Cypresses (1889)
• Painted by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890).
• Sold privately in 1993, for $57 million.
• Seller: Son of Emil Georg Buhrle. Buyer: Walter H. Annenberg.

Purchased mid-recession by the philanthropist Walter Annenberg, this outstanding landscape painting now hangs in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is one of three versions of the same scene, completed by Van Gogh while resident at the Saint-Remy-de-Provence mental institution, near Arles. A slightly later version, also painted in oils, resides in the National Gallery London, and a reed-pen drawing of the same view is in the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam. The artist himself considered A Wheatfield With Cypresses to be one of his best summer landscapes, perhaps due to his improved mood which is evident from the sunny colours, non-aggressive brushwork and overall warmth of the work.

9. Turquoise Marilyn (1964)
• Painted by Andy Warhol (1928-87).
• Sold privately, via Larry Gagosian, in May 2007, for $80.0 million.
• Seller: Stefan Edlis. Buyer: Steven A. Cohen. See: Pop Art Portraits.

Another huge price for a celebrity portrait by the High Priest of Pop Art, negotiated near the top of the market.

10. Portrait of Alfonso d'Avalos (1533)
• Painted by Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (1487-76).
• Sold privately, via Herve Aaron, in November 2003, for £50.0 ($70.6m).
• Seller: AXA Insurance Co. Buyer: J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

A figure of $70 million was allegedly paid in 2003-4 for this outstanding piece of portrait art by Titian, the greatest figure in Venetian Painting.

 

10 Most Expensive Paintings Adjusted for Inflation

When auction prices are compared by adjusting for inflation (2013), Vincent Van Gogh's Portrait of Doctor Gachet emerges as the world's most valuable painting.

1. Portrait of Dr Gachet (1890) - Vincent Van Gogh
• Sold at auction in 1990, for $82.5 million.
• Today's equivalent after adjusting for inflation = $146.5m

2. Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) - Francis Bacon
• Sold at auction in 2013, for $142 million.
• Today's equivalent after adjusting for inflation = $142m

3. Bal au Moulin de la Galette (1876) - Auguste Renoir
• Sold at auction in 1990, for $78.1 million.
• Today's equivalent after adjusting for inflation = $138.7m

4. Garcon a la Pipe (1905) - Pablo Picasso
• Sold at auction in 2004, for $104.2 million.
• Today's equivalent after adjusting for inflation = $126.4m

5. The Scream (1895) - Edvard Munch
• Sold at auction in 2012, for $119.9 million.
• Today's equivalent after adjusting for inflation = $119.9m

6. Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932) - Pablo Picasso
• Sold at auction in 2010, for $106.5 million.
• Today's equivalent after adjusting for inflation = $112.0m

7. Dora Maar au Chat (1941) - Pablo Picasso
• Sold at auction in 2006, for $95.2 million.
• Today's equivalent after adjusting for inflation = $107.9m

8. Irises (1889) - Vincent Van Gogh
• Sold at auction in 1987, for $53.9 million.
• Today's equivalent after adjusting for inflation = $107.2m

9. Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) (1963) - Any Warhol
• Sold at auction in 2013, for $105.4 million.
• Today's equivalent after adjusting for inflation = $105.4m

10. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912) - Gustav Klimt
• Sold at auction in 2006, for $87.9 million.
• Today's equivalent after adjusting for inflation = $100.1m

• For more about the world's most valuable paintings, see: Encyclopedia of Visual Arts.



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