Not many people are aware that art is still considered as one of the best investments you can make. While some works of art can depreciate as trends change, many will increase in value over time. Unfortunately, the most valuable pieces of artwork are only available to the super wealthy. That's because art is expensive… really expensive.
Here are the 25 most expensive pieces of art ever sold, and how much they sold for.
1. Salvator Mundi (1500) – $450.3 million
One of the 20 paintings of Leonardi da Vinci existing until this day, Salvator Mundi is a painting depicting Jesus holding an orb in one hand and raising his other in benediction. The piece was thought to have been a copy and was sold in 1958 for a mere $60 but 59 years later in November of 2017, it was sold for $450.3 million. The painting was sold by its previous owner, the Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, in Christie's auction house to the Saudi prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud.
2. Interchange (1955) – Sold for approximately $300 million
The most expensive abstract painting and the priciest painting ever sold whose artist is still alive, Interchange is a piece of art by the Dutch-American artist Willem de Kooning which he drew when living in New York. The painting was privately sold for approximately $300 million by the David Geffen Foundation to Kenneth C. Griffin who has also bought Jackson Pollock's “Number 17A”, the painting number 5 on this list. Griffin purchased both paintings for $500 million.
3. The Card Players (1892/93) – Sold for more than $250 million
Three years before getting their hands on “Nafea Faa Ipoipo”, the state of Qatar purchased Paul Cézanne’s painting “The Card Players” for more than $250 million from George Embiricos in a private sale in 2014. The art piece is a post-modernism masterpiece and is one of five in the Card Players series, four of which are in museums and foundations collections.
4. Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?) (1892) – Sold for $210 million
In an attempt to capture the purity of a society not tainted by modern technology, the father of Primitivism Paul Gauguin has painted “When Will You Marry?” on his trip to Tahiti in 1891. The oil painting has been in the Kunstmuseum in Switzerland for a long while before it was privately sold in 2014 to the state of Qatar by the Rudolf Staechelin family for $210 million.
5. Number 17A (1948) – Sold for approximately $200 million
Bought by Kenneth C. Griffin in 2015 from the David Geffen Foundation, the painting by the American abstract expressionist artist Jackson Pollock was sold for approximately $200 million. The piece was created in 1948. It highlights Pollock’s drip painting technique which he introduced to the world of art.
6. Wasserschlangen II (1904-07) – Sold for $183.8 million
Wasserschlangen II, also known as Water Serpents II is the most expensive piece created by the renowned Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt to ever sell. As the hallmark of Klimt’sart is the female body, this painting is a typical Klimt painting. With an interesting history of being seized by Nazis during World War II and given to the Nazi filmmaker Gustav Ucicky, the painting ended up at the possession of Dmitry Rybolovlev in 2013. The oil painting was sold for $183.8 million to Rybolovlev privately by Yves Bouvier after buying it from the widow of Gustav Ucicky.
7. No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) (1951) – Sold for $183.8 million
Sold at auction for the highest bidder, “No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red)” is an abstract oil painting by the Latvian-American artist Mark Rothko. The painting was sold to the infamous Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier by Christian Moueix for $80 million yet sold it to his client the Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev for $140 million! This incident is known as ‘The Bouvier Affair’.
8. Pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit (1634) – Sold for $180 million
This masterpiece consists of two wedding portraits painted by Rembrandt in 1634. Previously owned by Éric de Rothschild who kept them at his home, to be particular, on both sides of his bed., when the pair of paintings were put out for sale, both the Louvre Museum and the Rijksmuseum jointly bought them for $180 million. The museums take turns to host the pair of paintings together. At the moment, they are displayed in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
9. Les Femmes d'Alger (“Version O”) (1955) – Sold for $179.4 million
On May 11, 2015, “Verison O” of the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso’s series “Les Femmes d'Alger” was sold to the highest bidder in an auction held in Christie’s auction house in New York. The painting was painted in 1955 as the last part of a series of artworks inspired by Eugène Delacroix’s “Women of Algiers.” The painting ended up in the possession of the Qatari Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber bin Mohammed bin Thani Al Thani for $179.4 million.
10. Nu couché (1917/18) – Sold for $170.4 million
A prominent piece in the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani’s career is Nu couché, also known as “Red Nude” as it is said that it was part of his first and only art exhibition held in 1917. The Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian has obtained the painting during an auction held in Christie’s auction house in New York in November 2015. Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei are notable art collectors who have two private museums to host the “Nu couché” which cost them $170.4 million.
11. No. 5 (1948) – Sold for $140 million
Although originally painted in 1948, “No. 5” was damaged and had to be restored by Jackson Pollock, the artist himself, in 1949. The restoration was not just a couple of strokes, it was like painting the art piece all over again. The reparation added a new dimension to the painting making it as if two artworks in one. The abstract work was sold for $140 million by David Geffen to the Mexican investor David Martínez Guzmán in 2006.
12. Woman III (1953) – Sold for $137.5 million
Not the only abstract expressionist painting on the list by Willem de Kooning, the huge painting (1.73×1.23 m) was no longer appropriate to be displayed in its long-time host, the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, after the Islamic revolution. The oil painting was privately sold for $137.5 million by David Geffen to Larry Gagosian.
13. Masterpiece (1962) – $165 million
The 1962 Roy Lichtenstein art piece “Masterpiece” was one of the pieces in Lichtenstein's first exhibition held in the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles back in 1963. The painting is a pop art piece that was made using Ben-Day dots in the form of a comic-like style where the narrative is in a speech balloon. At the beginning of 2017, the hedge-fund billionaire Steve Cohen purchased the piece for $165 million. Cohen has an art collection that is estimated to be worth over $1 billion and “Masterpiece” is probably the most expensive in that collection.
14. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) – Sold for $135 million
Spending most of its time in the Austrian Gallery in the Belvedere Palace, the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I is a portrait of the spouse of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a sugar industrialist who commissioned Klimt to draw his wife. Being a prominent Art Nouveau figure, Klimt has painted this portrait in his famous gold-flecked style. Since Adele and Ferinand Bloch-Bauer were Jewish, they had left behind the paintings in Nazi-occupied Austria where the portrait was placed in the Austrian Gallery. Before the death of Mr. Bloch-Bauer, he wrote in his will that the paintings he owned were to go to the offspring of his brother, one of which is Maria Altmann who in 2006 sold the painting for $135 million to the Neue Galerie making this painting one of the two most expensive Klimt paintings on this list.
15. Le Rêve (1932) – $155 million
“The Dream”, better known in its French title “Le Rêve”, is a 1932 Pablo Picasso oil painting depicting his lover at the time Marie-Thérèse Walter while sleeping in an armchair. The painting is similar to early cubism artwork and is said to have erotic symbolism. In 2013, The billionaire trader and art collector Steven A. Cohen purchased the painting for $155 million from Stephen A. Wynn. It is worth noting that this is the worth of the painting even after the restoration it went through because of the damage that was caused to it when Mr. Wynn accidentally put his elbow through the painting.
16. Portrait of Dr. Gachet (1890) – Sold for $82.5 million
Although its whereabouts are unknown to the public, the portrait of Dr. Gachet is the most expensive Vincent van Gogh painting so far. The artwork shows the dutch artist’s friend who is a homeopathic doctor and has resided with him in an asylum in Van Goghs final months. There are two versions of this painting, both of which are authentic. Nonetheless, the first version is the one that was sold in 1990 for the hefty sum of $82.5 million in an auction held in Christie's, New York.
17. Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) (1917) – Sold for $157.2 million
The largest and one of the most notable paintings by the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani is Nu couché. It is painted in 1917 as a part of a series consisting of 22 nude paintings which were quite controversial in the early 20th century; his exhibition was even closed down by the police. Nu couché is an example of Modigliani’s depiction of women which is extremely sensual. Nu couché was sold in 2018 for $157.2 million to an unknown buyer during an auction held in Sotheby's in New York.
18. Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912) – Sold for $150 million
Having the same history as the first version, the second portrait of Mrs. Adele Bloch-Bauer was finished in 1912. Similar to the previous painting on the list, the painting is a portrait of the Viennese art patron. The Gustav Klimt artwork was purchased by the famous host Oprah Winfrey in 2006 for $87.9 million. Winfrey then sold the painting for $150 million to a Chinese art collector.
19. Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) – Sold for $142.4 million
This oil on canvas 1969 painting of the artist Lucian Freud was carefully done by the British painter Francis Bacon. In 2013, an auction was held where the painting was sold to an unidentified person for $142.4 million after a competition between seven bidders.
20. Bal du moulin de la Galette (1876) – Sold for $78.1 million
Capturing a typical Parisian afternoon in the district of Montmartre, Bal du moulin de la Galette is a hallmark of impressionism finished in 1876 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The artwork has been at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris for the majority of its existence. The painting depicts working-class Parisians spending their time dancing and drinking. The painting was sold by Sotheby's auction house in 1990 for $78.1 million in a private transaction.
21. Twelve Landscape Screens (1925) – Sold for $140.8 million
Painted in 1925 by Qi Baishi, Twelve Landscape Screens is the most expensive Chinese painting to ever be sold. The artwork was purchased for $140.8 million by an unknown art collector during an auction. Consisting of a set of twelve paintings, the artwork shows of Baishi’s exceptional brushwork. Twelve Landscape Screens made Qi Baishi break a record as the first Chinese artist to sell a painting for more than $100 million.
22. Garçon à la pipe – Sold for $104.2 million
Not the only Pablo Picasso painting on this list, Garçon à la Pipe is another renowned painting by the Spanish master. Created in 1905 when the artist was just 24 years old, the high-end illustration depicts portrays a young Parisian boy holding a pipe in a hand while wearing a wreath of flowers on his head. In 2004, an auction where bidders competed for the painting was held in Sotheby's where it was finally sold for $104 million by an unidentified buyer.
23. The Scream – Sold for $119.9 million
The Scream does not need an introduction as it is a widespread art piece known to the majority of the modern audience as it symbolizes the human condition and the modern world’s anxieties. The Norwegian Expressionist Edvard Munch created the painting in 1893 and named it the Scream of Nature. Munch’s piece created more than one version of The Scream, one of which is a pastel version that was sold for $119.9 million in 2012 to the financier Leon Black in a Sotheby's auction in New York.
24. Otahi – Sold for $120 million
The leading Post-Impressionist painter Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin finished his vibrant piece “Otahi” in 1893. The artist is famous for his experimentation with coloring which is visible in this art piece. Gauguin’s oil painting follows the school of primitivism. The illustration was sold in 2013 in a private sale to Dmitry Rybolovlev the millionaire art collector for $120 million.
25. Reclining Nude With Blue Cushion – Sold for $118 million
Another painting bagged by Dmitry Rybolovlev is Amedeo Modigliani’s “Reclining Nude With Blue Cushion”. Through a private sale in 2012, the expressionist nude piece was sold for $118 million. On its first exhibit in Paris, it was considered to be scandalous yet today, it is one of the most valuable art pieces in the world.
It's true that these pricey works of art have given their owners a clear return on their long-term investment. But, in all honesty, the beauty and craftsmanship of these incredible pieces of art history make them truly priceless.