Read about the most expensive paintings ever sold & the interesting stories behind them:
1. Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci (US$ 450.3 million)
This piece by Leonardo da Vinci painted in the 1500’s was often put under the radar for its authenticity. The art world is still divided whether it’s da Vinci’s real work or the work of one of his skilled students. Regardless, it fetched a hefty $450 million at a Christie’s auction in 2017. The piece was bought by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud through his Minister of Culture. The painting was due to be displayed at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, however, it was later cancelled. It’s rumoured to have been held up on a Saudi prince’s yacht and reserved for display at Saudi’s very own future cultural centre in Al Ula, according to the Wall Street Journal.
2. Interchange by Willem de Kooning (US$300 million)
Painted by Dutch American abstract painter, Willem de Kooning, ‘Interchange’ was one of his first abstract landscape works. In September 2015, it was sold to Kenneth Griffin, CEO of hedge fund Citadel for US$300 million. It currently is on loan at the Art Institute of Chicago. Griffin is also reported to have bought a Jackson Pollock art piece in addition to this one.
3. The Card Players by Paul Cezanne (estimated between US$250 and $300 million)
Paul Cezanne painted the Card Players during the point where he was the most acclaimed. The buyers of the piece were the Royal Family of Qatar in 2011. There are 4 other pieces titled the same, but they are placed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Musée d’Orsay, the Courtauld, and the Barnes Foundation.
4. Nafea Faa Ipoipo by Paul Gaugain (Almost US$300 million)
Translating to ‘when will you marry’, this interesting painting was completed by Paul Gaugain in post-impressionist 1892. It features two women from Tahiti, where Gaugain spent some time. It was reportedly sold to Qatar's royal family in 2014.
5. 'Number 17a' by Jackson Pollock (US$200 million)
Jackson Pollock is one of the most famous abstract expressionist painters of all time. His painting ‘Number 17a’ was bought as part of a deal with the David Geffen Foundation and Kenneth Griffin, who also bought Interchange. The total deal cost him US$500 million.
6. 'No 6 - Violet Green and Red' by Mark Rothko (US$186 million)
You don’t really need a picture to envision this painting as the title is self-explanatory. However, it was painted in 1951 by famous Russian-American abstract expressionist Mark Rothko. It was bought by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev from Yves Bouvier, who later reportedly fell into trouble in a string of international lawsuits due to misrepresenting the works and subsequently overcharging them. This painting sold to Rybolev was originally bought for roughly half the price, with Bouvier pocketing the difference.
7. 'Wasserschlangen II' by Gustav Klimt (US$170 million)
Wasserschlangen translates to ‘water serpents’. Painted by Gustav Klimt, a popular Austrian painter, it features some gold leaf elements. This painting was also sold to Dmitry Rybolovlev by Yves Bouvier. Rybolev also reportedly owned the most expensive painting in the world – the Salvator Mundi. This painting originally belonged to a Viennese silk factory owner, but was later seized by the Nazis and then finally to Gustav’s alleged illegitimate child, Gustav Ucicky before it was sold.
8. Pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit - Rembrandt van Rijn (US$180 million)
The couple portrait of Soolmans & Coppit were painted by Rembrandt in 1634 during their wedding. These paintings were his first full length portraiture works. The painting is currently hung at the Rijksmuseum and is co-owned by it and the Louvre. It used to belong to the Rothschild family. They are always displayed together and have never been separated, even though they shuttle between both museums.
9. Les femmes d'Alger (Version O) by Pablo Picasso (US$179.4 million)
This unique painting by Pablo Picasso was bought by the Qatari royal family in 2015. This version is one in a 15-piece collection owned by the Ganz family. The picture is representative of Algerian concubines in their harem with a hookah used to smoke hashish or opium. This particular painting is considered the masterpiece in the series. Christie’s calls this painting a phenomenon, with its references to Cubism, a response to the artist Delacroix’s work as well as an echo of Matisse’s work. It’s almost considered a new style of painting.
10. Nu Couche by Amedeo Modigliani (US$170 million)
Sold in 2015, this particular nude painting was first shown to the public in 1917. After a few hours of its debut, the French police had to intervene as it was termed as obscene by many visitors. It is just one of a collection of popular nude paintings by Modigliani. It was sold to the Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian for $170.4 million in 2015.
Editor's Note: Some of the images of paintings have been excluded as they do not align with the UAE's National Media Council rules & regulations.