Over the years, a select few painting around the world, from venerable Old Masters to groundbreaking modern works, make headlines by garnering for astronomical prices in private sales or attracting astronomical bids at auction. Below, we look at 35 of the most expensive paintings ever sold starting with a chart of the top 10.
|1.||Salvator Mundi||Leonardo da Vinci||$450.3 million|
|2.||Interchange||Willem de Kooning||$300 million|
|3.||The Card Players||Paul Cézanne||$250 million|
|4.||Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?)||Paul Gauguin||$210 million|
|5.||Number 17A||Jackson Pollock||$200 million|
|6.||Pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit||Rembrandt van Rijn||$195 million|
|7.||No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red)||Mark Rothko||$186 million|
|8.||Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”)||Pablo Picasso||$179.4 million|
|9.||Nu couché (Reclining Nude)||Amedeo Modigliani||$170.4 million|
|10.||Three Studies of Lucian Freud||Francis Bacon||$142.4 million|
1. Salvator Mundi, 1490–1500, by Leonardo da Vinci
Sold for: $450.3 million
This painting by Leonardo da Vinci depicts Christ, wearing blue Renaissance-era robes and making the sign of the cross with one hand. In the other, he holds a crystal orb symbolizing the heavens, a reference to his role as Salvator Mundi, or “Savior of the World.”
Over the years, the painting had been lost, rediscovered and restored multiple times. As a result, its attribution as an original work entirely by Leonardo has been debated, but today it is accepted as authentic by most scholars. Most recently, the long-lost piece was purchased at a 2005 New Orleans auction for $1,150 by art dealers Robert Simon and Alexander Parish, who thought they were buying an overpainted copy. After eight years of research and conservation, it turned out to be the real thing!
In November 2017, Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan bought it at auction at Christie’s in New York for $450.3 million, making it the most expensive painting ever sold.
2. Interchange, 1955, by Willem de Kooning
Sold for: $300 million
De Kooning originally sold Interchange, also referred to as Interchanged, for $4,000 in 1955. In September 2015, the David Geffen Foundation sold it to Citadel CEO Kenneth Griffin for a then-record $300 million. The painting is now on loan at the Art Institute of Chicago.
3. “The Card Players,” 1892–96, by Paul Cézanne
Sold for: $250 million
This series of five paintings, depicting men playing cards at a table in different arrangements, belongs to Paul Cézanne’s final period, spanning the 1890s and early 1900s. Based on figural studies of local farmhands, “The Card Players” are among the Postimpressionist’s best-known works.
In 2011, art collector George Embiricos sold one painting in the series to the royal family of Qatar for an estimated $250 million, at the time a record price for a painting.
4. Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?), 1892, by Paul Gauguin
Sold for: $210 million
Inspired by a trip the artist took to Tahiti in the 1890s, this Postimpressionist work by Paul Gauguin depicts two Tahitian women, one in traditional and the other in European-style dress, the first partially obscuring the second. Its flat figures and bright, expressive colors are Gauguin signatures.
After loaning the painting to the Kunstmuseum Basel, in Switzerland, for nearly 50 years, the Rudolf Staechelin Family Trust sold it in 2015 to Qatar’s Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani for a lofty $210 million.
5. Number 17A, 1948, by Jackson Pollock
Sold for: $200 million
Colorful and chaotic, this oil-on-fiberboard work exemplifies Jackson Pollock’s style. The influential Abstract Expressionist created it using his signature drip technique, which he had developed just a year earlier. an
Businessman and film executive David Geffen sold Number 17A in 2015 to Kenneth Griffin for $200 million, a huge price, if not as high as the $300 million Griffin paid him on the same day for Kooning’s Interchange.
6. Pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit, 1634, by Rembrandt van Rijn
Sold for: $195 million
Rembrandt created these depictions of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit a year after the couple was married. The oil paintings exhibit the meticulous rendering of details emblematic of the Old Master’s portraits.
Christie’s in New York oversaw the private sale of the two portraits in February 2016 to the French and Dutch states. French acquisition laws required that the paintings be owned separately, but the countries agreed that the works would always be exhibited together, at either the Louvre or the Rijksmuseum. The sale, the first ever to involve a joint acquisition, totaled $195 million.
7. No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red), 1951, by Mark Rothko
Sold for: $186 million
In its expressive use of color — here large areas of violet and red separated by a band of green — Mark Rothko’s No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) displays the characteristics of the Color Field movement within Abstract Expressionism that Rothko pioneered.
In 2014, Russian businessman Dmitry Rybolovlev bought the painting for $186 million, among the highest prices ever paid for a Rothko painting.
8. Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”), 1955, by Pablo Picasso
Sold for: $179.4 million
A Cubist work that plays with fractured perspectives and vibrant colors, Version O is the final piece in Pablos Picasso’s 15-painting “Les femmes d’Alger” series. Picasso created the series — inspired by Eugène Delacroix’s 1834 Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement depicting Algerian concubines — in honor of his friend and artistic rival Henri Matisse, who had recently died. impressive.
Featured in many Picasso retrospectives over the years, Version “O” sold at auction for $179.4 million at Christie’s New York.
9. Nu couché (Reclining Nude), 1917–18, by Amedeo Modigliani
Sold for: $170.4 million
This is one of a series of female nudes that Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani painted for Léopold Zborowski. The pictures famously caused a scandal when exhibited in Modigliani’s 1917 solo show at Berthe Weill’s gallery in Paris, which the police ended up closing because of its “pornographic” subject matter.
In November 2015, Chinese collector Liu Yiqian bought Nu couché at a Christie’s auction for $170.4 million.
10. Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969, by Francis Bacon
Sold for: $142.4 million
Three Studies of Lucian Freud is one of several works Francis Bacon created depicting his friend and artistic rival Lucian Freud, who often returned the favor. The three panels of the triptych painted in Bacon’s abstract, contorted style — show Freud sitting on a wooden chair, surrounded by a cage..
The work sold at auction at Christie’s in November 2013 for $142.4 million.
11. Twelve Landscape Screens, 1925, by Qi Baishi
Sold for: $140.8 million
Depicting colorful landscapes, such as mountains and trees, alongside masterful calligraphy, this set of 12 ink-brush panels showcases the whimsical style that typifies the work of Qi Baishi, a Chinese artist well-known for his playful brushwork.
In December 2017, the painting sold at the Beijing Poly Auction for $140.8 million, the highest price ever paid at auction for a Chinese artwork.
12. The Scream, 1893, by Edvard Munch
Sold for: $119.9 million
Undoubtedly one of the most iconic images in modern art, Edvard Munch’s The Scream is belongs to his “The Frieze of Life” series, and appears in several versions, rendered in oil, tempera and pastel. Munch painted the haunting figure — its mouth open and hands on ears, set against a swirling red sky — after experiencing an intense “gust of melancholy.” The artist conveys emotional turmoil through his depiction of environmental elements, such as the threatening sky.
In May 2012, an anonymous bidder purchased this pastel rendition of the work for $119.9 million at Sotheby’s in New York.
13. Young Girl with a Flower Basket, 1905, by Pablo Picasso
Sold for: $115 million
Young Girl with a Flower Basket is from Picasso’s Rose Period, in which he shifted away from the palette of his Blue Period to warmer tones that often included pink. The painting depicts a young Parisian street girl, naked and holding a basket of flowers.
The famous poet Gertrude Stein and her brother, Leo, who were friends of Picasso’s, were the first owners of the painting, which was later acquired by David Rockefeller. It remained in his collection for many years before being auctioned off as part of the blockbuster Rockefeller estate sale in May 2018 at Christie’s. It went for $115 million to the family of art dealer David Nahmad.
14. Meules (Haystacks), 1890, by Claude Monet
Sold for: $110.7 million
This picture is part of Claude Monet’s well-known “Haystacks” series of Impressionist oil paintings. The artist depicted stacks of harvested wheat in a field at different times of the day and year, using variety of expressive colors to capture the changing light and atmosphere. Meules is especially vibrant, showing the sun setting behind haystacks bathed in light.
The painting’s initial purchaser was art collector Bertha Honoré Palmer. It remained in her family for several generations until its sale, in a May 2019 auction at Sotheby’s for $110.7, an auction record for an Impressionist works.
15. Untitled, 1982, by Jean-Michel Basquiat
Sold for: $110.5 million
Composed of black brushstrokes and harshly vibrant yellows, reds and blues, this work is one of many skull paintings that American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat created over his lifetime, most of them highly valued today.
In May 2017, Japanese entrepreneur and art collector Yusaku Maezawa bought Untitled at auction at Sotheby’s. The price, $110.5 million, set several records and made the late Basquiat — who painted the work at age 21 and died of a drug overdose six years later — the youngest artist to have his work bring more than $100 million at auction. The sale also marked the first time a painting created after 1980 earned $100 million or more.
16. Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, 1932, by Pablo Picasso
Sold for: $106.5 million
This work is part of a series of sensuous paintings Picasso created depicting his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, who appears here as an abstracted figure, in the artist’s Cubist style.
The painting belonged to Los Angeles art collectors Sidney and Frances Brody for almost 60 years, during which time it was exhibited only once. After Frances died, it was put on the block in 2010 at Christie’s, where it fetched $106.5 million, the then-record for a painting sold at auction.
17. Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), 1963, by Andy Warhol
Sold for: $105.4 million
Part of the “Death and Disaster” series that Andy Warhol created at age 35, this large, 8-by-13 foot, 1963 serigraph depicts the crushed interior of a car after a crash.
A European collector owned the work for around 20 years before selling it at auction in November 2013 at Sotheby’s, where it was bought by an anonymous bidder for $105.4 million.
18. Garçon à la pipe (Boy with a Pipe), 1905, by Pablo Picasso
Sold for: $104.2 million
Picasso created this oil the same year as Young Girl with a Flower Basket, when he was just 24 years old and living in Paris. Belonging to his Rose Period, it depicts a young boy wearing a wreath of flowers and holding a pipe.
In a May 2004 auction at Sotheby’s, Garçon à la pipe sold for $104.2 million.
19. Nurse, 1964, by Roy Lichtenstein
Sold for: $95.4 million
Nurse sold at auction in 1995 at Sotheby’s for $1.7 million and again, in 2015 at Christie’s, for a staggering $95.4 million.
20. Dora Maar au chat (Dora Maar with a Cat), 1941, by Pablo Picasso
Sold for: $95.2 million
In this 1941 Cubist work, Picasso portrays his lover French photographer, painter and poet Dora Maar sitting in a chair with a cat balanced on one of her shoulders.
The painting sold for $95.2 million at auction at Sotheby’s in May 2006.
21. Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel, 1480, by Sandro Botticelli
Sold for: $92.2 million
This Renaissance portrait depicts an unidentified nobleman holding a roundel that contains a small painting of a saint attributed to Italian painter Bartolomeo Bulgarini. Only around 50 Botticelli paintings still exist, making them very highly valued.
In January 2021, the portrait sold at Sotheby’s for a record $92.2 million, the second-highest price ever paid for an Old Master painting, after Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi.
22. Chop Suey, 1929, by Edward Hopper
Sold for: $91.9 million
This 1929 painting by American artist Edward Hopper depicts two women at a restaurant table, seemingly in conversation, with two other figures visible in the background. As is typical of Hopper’s work, the scene evokes isolation and loneliness, suggesting poetic narrative interpretations.
Chop Suey sold at auction at Christie’s in November 2018 for $91.9 million, setting a record for prewar American art.
23. Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972, by David Hockney
Sold for: $90.3 million
With this painting, David Hockney revisited a composition he had begun and abandoned earlier. Inspired by the chance juxtaposition of two photographs on his studio floor — one of a swimming figure and one of a boy looking down — Hockney worked on the initial picture for months before finally destroying it in 1971. The next year, however, he returned to the idea, creating Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures).
The painting realized $90.3 million at Christie’s in 2018, becoming the most expensive painting by a living artist sold at auction.
24. Orange, Red, Yellow, 1961, by Mark Rothko
Sold for: $86.9 million
Segmented into areas distinguished by different tones of orange, red and yellow, this Color Field painting is considered one of Mark Rothko’s most powerful works, inviting viewers’ contemplation and reverie.
In May 2012, Orange, Red, Yellow sold for $86.9 million, at the time an auction record for a postwar artwork.
25. Triptych, 1976, by Francis Bacon
Sold for: $86.3 million
The three large canvases composing Triptych feature abstract shapes executed in oil and pastel in Bacon’s twisting style. The imagery is drawn from classical mythology, with one of the figures modeled on Bacon’s friend, noted photographer Peter Beard.
In May 2008, Russian businessman Roman Abramovich bought Triptych at a Sotheby’s auction for $86.3 million, making it the second-most-expensive Bacon painting, after Three Studies of Lucian Freud.
26. Suprematist Composition, 1916, by Kazimir Malevich
Sold for: $85.8 million
With its bright geometric shapes, this 1916 work exemplifies the suprematist style pioneered by Russian painter Kazimir Malevich. Malevich pushed the boundaries of abstraction with his insistence on the supremacy of shape and color over narrative and subject.
In 2018, art dealer Brett Gorvy bought the painting for $85.8 million at a Christie’s auction.
27. Nymphéas en fleur (Waterlilies in Bloom), 1914–17, by Claude Monet
Sold for: $84.7 million
Nymphéas en fleur belongs to Claude Monet’s famous water lily paintings. Created over the last few decades of his artistic career, the works capture the color variations displayed by the lily pond in the Japanese garden at his home in Giverny, France.
This painting was part of the collection of David and Peggy Rockefeller for years before going on the block in the May 2018 Rockefeller estate sale at Christie’s, where it fetched $84.7 million.
28. Black Fire I, 1961, by Barnett Newman
Sold for: $84.2 million
Abstract Expressionist Barnett Newman painted the grand Black Fire I, which stands at nine-and-a-half feet tall and seven feel wide, as part of a series he worked on from 1958 to 1966.
In May 2014, a private collector bought the picture at auction for $84.2 million.
29. Portrait of Dr. Gachet, 1890, by Vincent van Gogh
Sold for: $82.5 million
Portrait of Dr. Gachet is one of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous paintings. Created during the last few months of the artist’s life, it depicts the homeopathic doctor in whose care Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, placed him after his release from the Saint-Rémy-de-Provence mental hospital, where he painted The Starry Night.
This painting, one of two extant versions of the portrait, sold at a Christie’s auction in May 1990 for $82.5 million to Japanese businessman and art collector Ryoei Saito.
30. Triple Elvis, 1963, by Andy Warhol
Sold for: $81.9 million
Andy Warhol repeated a film still of Elvis Presley from the movie Flaming Star to form the three images that compose this painting. One of the artist’s best-known pieces, it showcases his characteristic use of celebrity and pop-culture images.
In November 2014, Triple Elvis was auctioned off for $81.9 million at Christie’s.
31. No. 10, 1958, by Mark Rothko
Sold for: $81.9 million
Like the other Rothkos on this list, No. 10 is a Color Field work, composed of large red, yellow and pink bands.
In May 2015, No. 10 sold for $81.9 million in a Christie’s contemporary-art auction.
32. Laboureur dans un champ (Worker in a Field), 1889–90, by Vincent van Gogh
Sold for: $81.3 million
Van Gogh painted Laboureur dans un champ while in a mental hospital the year before his death. Completed after his masterpiece The Starry Night, it depicts the wheat field visible outside his window. Those around him reported that the painter found its creation cathartic, distracting him from his inner struggles.
In November 2017, the painting sold for $81.3 million at auction.
33. Odalisque couchée aux magnolias (Odalisque reclining with Magnolias, 1923, by Henri Matisse
Sold for: $80.8 million
With its expressive colors and sculptural modeling of the figure, Odalisque couchée aux magnolias is among Henri Matisse’s most famous works, depicting Henriette Darricarrère, his muse and favorite model for around seven years, lounging luxuriously in his Nice studio.
The $80.8 million the painting fetched in the 2015 Christie’s auction of the Rockefeller collection made it the most expensive Matisse ever sold.
34. Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards, 1980, by Francis Bacon
Sold for: $80.8 million
This triptych by Francis Bacon comprises three portraits of John Edwards, a bar manager from the East End of London and close companion and confidant of Bacon’s. Like the best of the artist’s work, it has a dreamlike quality and gives insight into his psyche.
In May 2014, the painting sold at auction for $80.8 million to an anonymous buyer.
35. Le Bassin aux nymphéas (Water Lily Pond), 1919, by Claude Monet
Sold for: $80.5 million
Le Bassin aux nymphéas is another painting in Monet’s water lily series. Created in 1919, when the artist was nearly 80 years old, the work marks the point at which he began using larger, horizontal canvases for his water lily compositions.
In June 2008, Le Bassin aux nymphéas sold at auction for $80.5 million at Christie’s.
These paintings are just the top tier of works that have changed hands for astounding prices. For more inspiring art by iconic artists, from Old Masters to contemporary innovators, see our wide selection of art on 1stDibs.