Top 20 Most Expensive Paintings Sold at Auction
Record Prices For Fine Art Pictures.

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Girl With a Red Hat (c.1666)
By Jan Vermeer.

Angels from The Sistine Madonna
(1512) Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister,
Dresden. By Raphael.

See: Greatest Paintings Ever.

The World's Most Expensive Paintings (11-20)



Most Expensive Paintings Sold at Auction (Numbers 11-20)

The Entire Top 20

For Paintings numbered 1-10:
See: Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings.


Whether or not a painter or sculptor achieves fame, depends entirely upon issues of fashion and taste. Mathias Grunewald (1475-1528) was forgotten for 400 years until 20th century expressionists bestowed iconic status on his intense compositions. Jan Vermeer (1632-75), now regarded as the finest Dutch genre-painter of all time, fell into obscurity for 200 years until the art critic Thore Burger published an essay in 1866 describing him as one of the greatest Old Masters of the Dutch Golden Age. Rembrandt (1606-1669) fell out of fashion in the 1640s, died in poverty, and only recovered his reputation during the highpoint of 19th century Romanticism. The fact is, paintings represent values - aesthetic, optical, moral and social - all which can change rapidly, with a huge effect on the financial value of the work and the popularity of its creator.

11. Bal Au Moulin de la Galette (1876)
By Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
$78.1 million (1990)
Sotheby's, New York

11. Bal au Moulin de la Galette (1876)
• Painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919).
• Sold at auction in 1990, for $78.1 million.
• Seller: Betsey Whitney. Buyer: Ryoei Saito.

This Renoir masterpiece, the most expensive example of Impressionism ever sold, portrays a Sunday afternoon dance in a Montmartre dance garden. It is one of the best-known Impressionist paintings, and highlights the artist's unique skill in reproducing dappled light, which infuses the whole work with a soft-focus quality. Also visible in this genre painting are several of Renoir's artist friends. Curiously, the painting has two things in common with Van Gogh's Portrait of Dr Gachet. First, it too was purchased by Ryoei Saito and subsequently resold at a loss to a European art collector. Second, it too has a 'sister' version - a larger canvas which (again like the other Gachet) hangs in the Musee d’Orsay. It ranks alongside The Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881, Phillips Collection) - also by Renoir - as one of the greatest genre paintings in the pantheon of Impressionist art.

12. Massacre of the Innocents (1611)
By Peter Paul Rubens.
$76.7 million (£49.5m) (2002)
Sotheby's, London

12. Massacre of the Innocents (1611)
• Painted by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640).
• Sold at auction in 2002, for $76.7 million.
• Seller: Austrian art collector. Buyer: Kenneth Thomson.

Smashing its pre-sale estimate of £5 million, this Flemish painting is the most expensive work by an Old Master. It was purchased by Lord Thomson who later donated it to the Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada. A superb example of history painting, it depicts one of the most savage events in all Biblical art - the massacre of all new-born boys, ordered by Herod to prevent the emergence of a Messiah - and shows why Rubens is regarded as one of the best history painters of the 17th century. The composition contains all Rubens' usual themes: movement, muscle, flesh and above all, emotion. Look at his use of diagonals, colour contrasts and relationships between subjects - all of which help to involve the spectator. Compare this Flemish Baroque version of the story with the earlier Massacre of the Innocents by Pieter Bruegel.

13. White Center (Yellow, Pink and
Lavender on Rose) (1950)
By Mark Rothko.
$72.8 million (2007)
Sotheby's, New York

13. White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) (1950)
• Painted by Mark Rothko (1903-70).
• Sold at auction in 2007, for $72.8 million.
• Seller: David Rockefeller. Buyer: Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.

The most expensive piece of American art sold at auction, this signature work by one of the great expressionist painters of the mid-20th century, and a pioneer of Colour Field Painting, is the second most expensive post-war painting sold at auction, after Francis Bacon's Triptych. Art critics consider it to be the first major example of Rothko's famous 'multiform' style. It was in the winter of 1948-9 that Rothko stumbled across his multiform concept, in which blocks of contrasting but complementary colour pigments are arranged vertically on huge canvases, in order to overwhelm or envelop the spectator. After applying a thin mixture of binder and pigment onto an untreated canvas, he would add layer after layer of thinned oils to produce a dense bed of overlapping colour and shape. Although he began with rich vibrant colour schemes, he later turned to more muted colours - a sign, according to some, of his growing depression. A heavy drinker, smoker and bad-eater, Rothko committed suicide at the age of 66 by taking an overdose of anti-depressants and slashing his wrists with a razor.

14. Le Bassin aux Nympheas (1919)
By Claude Monet.
£40.9 million ($80.5m) (2008)
Christie's, London

14. Le Bassin aux Nympheas (1919)
• Painted by Claude Monet (1840-1926).
• Sold at auction in 2008, for £49.9 million ($80.5 million).
• Seller: unknown. Buyer: unknown.

One of the great Impressionist landscape paintings by one of the world's best landscape artists, this work is an outstanding large-scale example of Claude Monet's Waterlilies series. Influenced by Japonism, it features the famous Japanese bridge in Monet's water garden at Giverny, demonstrating his fascination with plein-air painting and his pursuit of pure Impressionism.

Le Bassin aux Nympheas is the most expensive painting by Monet and the second most expensive work of Impressionism after Bal au Moulin de la Galette by Renoir. It exemplifies the artist's lifelong attempt to master the replication of light: a task he continued to pursue until the very end.

15. Green Car Crash (1963)
By Andy Warhol.
$71.7 million (2007)
Christie's, New York

Auction Houses Christie's and
Sotheby's control 95 percent of
global fine art auction sales.
See also Irish Art Market.

15. Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I) (1963)
• Painted by Andy Warhol (1928-87).
• Sold at auction in 2007, for $71.7 million.
• Seller: David Rockefeller. Buyer: unknown.

Arguably the first example of postmodernist art, and the second most expensive piece of contemporary art (after Bacon's Triptych), this composition (employing synthetic polymer, silkscreen ink and acrylic on linen) was hammered down two days after Rothko's White Centre work, during Christie's 2007 record-breaking sale of contemporary art. The high price-tag was due in part to a heated bidding war between two buyers. It is the most expensive work by Andy Warhol, the leader of the Pop-Art movement. It belongs to the artist's famous 'Death and Disaster' series of works (1962-4), based on gruesome tabloid images of fatal accidents, suicides, and race riots, as well as such morbid iconography as electric chairs and atomic explosions. One sub-set of the series features car crashes, of which this work is a prize exhibit. It was based on an image, published in Newsweek magazine, which captured the aftermath of a fatal crash during which the driver was hurled from the vehicle and impaled on a spike.

16. Portrait de l'Artiste Sans Barbe (1889)
By Vincent van Gogh.
$71.5 million (1998)
Christie's, New York

16. Portrait de l'artiste sans barbe (1889)
• Painted by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890).
• Sold at auction in 1998, for $71.5 million.
• Seller: Family of Jacques Koerfer. Buyer: unknown.

This work by the short-lived Dutch pioneer of Expressionism became the third most expensive painting ever sold at auction, when it was bought by an anonymous buyer in 1998, effectively reigniting the art market after the doldrums of the mid-1990s. Although not considered a masterpiece of Van Gogh's oeuvre, it is a unique self-portrait - since in all other self-portraits he is bearded - which gives us an unusually frank glimpse of the artist.

Painted in Saint-Remy-de-Provence, in Autumn 1889, Portrait of the Artist Without a Beard is one of three works by Van Gogh which appear in the World's Top 20 Most Expensive Paintings. Not bad for an artist who sold almost nothing during his lifetime.

17. Nude Sitting on a Divan
("La Belle Romaine") (1917)
By Amedeo Modigliani.
$68.9 million (2010)
Sotheby's, New York

17. Nude Sitting on a Divan (1917)
• Painted by Modigliani (1884-1920).
• Sold at Sotheby's auction in November 2010, for $68.9 million.
• Seller: Halit Cingillioglu. Buyer: unknown.

Modigliani's Nu Assis sur un Divan (La Belle Romaine), portraying a partially draped woman sitting with crossed legs against a warm red background, was painted as part of a series of female nudes - the highpoint of the artist's career as one of Paris's greatest expressionist painters. During its sale, five telephone buyers competed to produce a record price, which was four times higher than when it was previously auctioned at Sotheby's in 1999. Later, Modigliani's Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne with a Hat sold for $19.1 million, confirming his reputation as one of the best portrait artists in the history of modern art. Less than three years after finishing this painting, Modigliani died from tuberculosis. On the following day, his heavily pregnant girlfriend Jeanne Hebuterne threw herself out of a 5th-floor window.

18. Men in Her Life (1962)
By Andy Warhol.
$63.4 million (2010)
Phillips de Pury & Co, New York

18. Men in Her Life (1962)
• Painted by Andy Warhol (1928-87).
• Sold at auction in November 2010, for $63.4 million.
• Seller: Jose Mugrabi. Buyer: unknown.

Hammered down at Phillips de Pury & Company's 2010 Carte Blanche auction in Manhattan, New York, this work - a blotchy 7-feet tall 1962 monochrome painting based on a photo from Life magazine, showing a demure Taylor with third husband Mike Todd and future husband Eddie Fisher - is the second most expensive Warhol picture to be sold at auction (see above, No 12). Two telephone bidders pushed the price for the Pop art image way beyond its pre-sale estimate of $40 million.

19. 1949-A-No.1 (1949)
By Clyfford Still.
$61.7 million (2011)
Sotheby's, New York

19. 1949-A-No.1 (1949)
• Painted by Clyfford Still (1904-80).
• Sold at auction in November 2011, for $61.7 million.
• Seller: City & County of Denver. Buyer: unknown.

Collectors were out in force to buy a rare oil painting by Clyfford Still - one of the most innovative of mid-century abstract painters - as only 11 canvases by the artist have appeared at auction over the past decade, which makes his art far rarer than, that of Mark Rothko, whose abstract paintings have come up for sale more than 100 times over the same period. Four bidders chased the artist's rust, black and butter-colored abstract "1949-A-No. 1" smashing its $35 million pre-sale estimate in the process, before a telephone bidder eventually secured it for $61.6 million. The final price for this masterpiece of abstract expressionism nearly tripled the artist's previous auction record of $21.2 million.

20. Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier (1894)
By Paul Cezanne.
$60.5 million (1999)
Sotheby's, New York.

For details of the top-priced works
by artists from Ireland, see:
Most Expensive Irish Paintings.

20. Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier (1894)
• Painted by Paul Cezanne (1839-1906).
• Sold at auction in 1999, for $60.5 million.
• Seller: Whitney Family. Buyer: unknown.

Considered by critics to be one of the greatest examples of still life painting by one of the best still life painters since the 18th century, this work by the French Post-Impressionist Paul Cezanne is the most expensive still life in the history of art. One of more than 200 such works completed by the artist, Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier is an early example of his structured block-like style, which anticipated the Cubism of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. As in most of Cezanne's still lifes, the composition makes no attempt to capture the naturalistic reality of the fruit. There is no sensation of smell, taste or 'fruitiness'. Ironically, Cezanne usually worked at such a snail's pace that most of the fruit in his composition went rotten long before it was finished!

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

To understand some of the
world's top pictures, see:
Arnolfini Portrait (1434)
Descent From the Cross (1435)
La Primavera (1482-3)
Birth of Venus (1484-6)
Garden of Earthly Delights
Virgin of the Rocks (1483-5)
The Last Supper (1495–98)
Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)
School of Athens (1509-11)
Sistine Madonna (1513-14)
Venus of Urbino (1538)
Hunters in the Snow (1565)
The Night Watch (1642)
The Milkmaid (c.1658-1660)
Woman Holding a Balance
Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665)

For the meaning of important
pictures by Old Masters, see:
Famous Paintings Analyzed.

See: Best Art Museums.

See: Art Museums in America.

See: Art Museums in Europe.

The Entire Top 20

(1) Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) Francis Bacon ($142m) (2013)
(2) The Scream (1895) Munch ($119.9 million) (2012)
(3) Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932) Picasso ($106.5m) (2010)
(4) Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) (1963) Andy Warhol. ($105m) (2013)
(5) Garcon a la Pipe (1905) Picasso. ($104.2m) (2004)
(6) Dora Maar with Cat (1941) Picasso. ($95.2m) (2006)
(7) Adele Bloch-bauer II (1912) Klimt. ($87.9m) (2006)
(8) Orange, Red, Yellow (1961) Mark Rothko ($86.9 million) (2012)
(9) Triptych (1976) Francis Bacon. ($86.3m) (2008)
(10) Portrait of Dr. Gachet (1890) Van Gogh. ($82.5m) (1990)
(11) Bal au Moulin de la Galette (1876) Renoir. ($78.1m) (1990)
(12) Massacre of the Innocents (1611) Rubens. ($76.7 million) (2002)
(13) White Center (Yellow/Pink/Lavender) (1950) Rothko. ($72.8m) (2007)
(14) Le Bassin aux Nympheas (1919) Monet £49.9 million ($80.5m (2008)
(15) Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I) (1963) Warhol ($71.7m) (2007)
(16) Portrait of the Artist Without a Beard (1889) Van Gogh ($71.5m) (1998)
(17) Nude Sitting on a Divan (1917) Modigliani ($68.9m) (2010)
(18) Men in Her Life (1962) Warhol ($63.4m) (2010)
(19) 1949-A-No.1 (1949) Clyfford Still ($61.7m) (2011)
(20) Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier (1894) Cezanne ($60.5m) (1999)

• For more about top-priced pictures, see: Homepage.

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