What makes the most expensive paintings in the world so valuable? This article lets you discover some of the world's most expensive paintings, their beauty, significance, and inspiring stories.
In the world of art, the value of a painting has always been a fascination, and it has continued to captivate the imaginations of collectors and lovers of art around the globe. Art has evolved from the earliest days when our ancestors used to do art by etching shapes on cave walls with berries and ash to the modern era, where art has become worthwhile to artists. In this article, we dive into the art world, unfold the stories behind these expensive artworks, and give you complete insights into how the masterpieces significantly impact art history and the art market. In the ever-evolving market, we will understand the most extraordinary masterpiece that will claim the title of the most expensive paintings in the world.
Since you are now aware of the factors behind the sky-high prices of these priceless artworks, let's look at the most expensive painting in the world. We will dive into these remarkable creations gifted to us by these renowned artists and also unravel the stories behind these extravagant masterpieces.
1. Mona Lisa-Leonardo da Vinci
- Year: 1503-1519
- Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
- Owner: France, Louver Museum in Paris
- Worth: Approximate $870 Million
The Mona Lisa artwork is a half-length portrait of a woman with an enigmatic smile sitting in a chair against a landscape backdrop. The picture was painted by Leonardo da Vinci between 1503 and 1519 and is considered among the most iconic valuable paintings in the world. The Mona Lisa is seated in a chair, with her hands folded in her lap. She is wearing a dark dress with a veil draped over her shoulders. Her gaze is directed at the viewer, but her expression is ambiguous. The portrait's background is a landscape of rolling hills and a winding river. This landscape is thought to be a depiction of the Val d'Arno. The picture is famous for its enigmatic smile, interpreted in many different ways over the centuries. It is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance portraiture due to its realistic depiction of the sitter and its use of light and shadow.
The Mona Lisa portrait has never been sold in the traditional sense. It is housed in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, where it has been displayed since the 19th century. It belongs to the French people legally, making its sale highly improbable, and thus, its exact value is challenging to determine. In 1962, it was insured for $100 million; with inflation, its value today exceeds $840 million. In 2020, there was a suggestion to sell it for up to $50 billion to aid France's pandemic recovery, but art experts dismissed this idea as the price was too high.
2. Salvador Mundi-Leornado da Vinci
- Year: Around 1500
- Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
- Owner: Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salah
- Price Sold: $450.3 Million
This painting depicts Jesus Christ holding a crystal orb in his left hand, symbolizing the earth, and raising his right hand in a gesture of blessing. The image is known for its remarkable attention to detail, including the intricate curls of Jesus' hair and the translucent quality of the orb. The painting is one of the few surviving works by Leonardo da Vinci and is considered to be one of the greatest masterpieces of Western art. The Salvator Mundi painting was believed to have been lost for years until it resurfaced in 2005. After careful restoration, it gained significant attention in the art world. In 2017, Salvador Mundi was sold at $450.3 million, making it the most expensive sold painting ever. It was unclear who the buyer was, but it was later confirmed that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown piece of Saudi Arabia, bought it. Despite its glory, the Salvator Mundi has never been displayed in any art museum. Leonardo da Vinci's ‘Salvator Mundi' has not always been acknowledged as a work by the master, and there has been some disagreement about its attribution among art historians. However, its sale and historical importance have strengthened its status in the history of arts.
3. Interchange-Willem de Kooning
- Year: 1955
- Artist: Willem de Kooning
- Owner: Kenneth Griffin
- Price Sold: $300 Million
Interchange is an abstract painting that showcases Willem's signature style, characterized by bold, gestural brushwork and a dynamic composition. Interchange painting features a complex interplay of colors and shapes with brilliant hues and energetic lines. Some viewers have spotted figuration and landscape details inside the abstract forms, giving the picture the appearance of being a combination and representation. The image is one of Willem's most significant pieces representing the abstract expressionist movement, often called the New York School. This post-World War II American creative style focused on expressing emotion and creativity through abstract forms.
Interchange was sold privately to a billionaire collector, Kenneth C. Griffin, for $300 million. The painting is part of the billionaire's collection but has sometimes been loaned to institutions for public display.
4. The Card Players-Paul Cezanne
- Year: 1894-1895
- Artist: Paul Cezanne
- Owner: Qatar Royal Family
- Price Sold: $250 Million
The Card Players consists of five French Post-Impressionist Paul Cezanne oil paintings. This painting has five series, varying in size, number of players, and the setting where the games occur. The remaining Card Players painting features Provencal peasants playing cards, a popular pastime in the region. Cezanne's approach uses geometric forms, a dark color theme, and a focus on capturing the vital part of this moment rather than emphasizing the person's appearance. The Cards Player is among Cezanne's most recognizable and influential works. His passion for the study of form, light, and space, which were essential topics in his art, is reflected in the painting. These art pieces are also regarded as pioneers of the Cubist movement because they anticipated the statistical approach of splitting the form into geometric shapes that would later define Cubism.
The Card Players painting was sold to the Royal Family of Qatar for a price estimated at $250 million, today being estimated at $325.2 million.
5. Nafea Faa Ipoipo-Paul Gauguin
- Year: 1892
- Artist: Paul Gauguin
- Owner: Qatari buyer
- Price sold: $210 million.
Nafea Faa Ipopipo, [When Will You Marry?], is a painting that depicts two Tahitian women in a lush tropical setting. The two women in the image are wearing traditional Tahitian clothing, which includes colorful dresses and flower gardens on their hair. The painting shows a mother protectively sitting behind her daughter, the flower in the daughter's hair indicating readiness for marriage. The background includes a dense jungle with vibrant green foliage and tropical flowers, adding to the toxic and beautiful atmosphere of the painting. Paul Gaugin was fascinated by Tahitian culture and painted this work to capture the island's exotic beauty. This painting reflects Gaugin's desire to escape Western society and immerse himself in the culture of Tahiti. There were rumors that the painting was sold at $300 million, but in 2017, a lawsuit revealed that the painting was sold to a Qatari buyer for $210 million.
6. Number 17A-Jackson Pollock
- Year: 1948
- Artist: Jackson Pollock
- Owner: Kenneth C. Griffin
- Price Sold: $200 Million
Number 17A is an oil on fiberboard painting by Jackson Pollock and is among his most famous works. The painting is characterized by its extensive use of Pollock's signature drip technique. He created the artwork by pouring and dripping paint onto a canvas that was lying flat on the floor. This technique allowed him to create a complex and dynamic composition, both beautiful and chaotic. Pollock used various colors in the painting, including black, white, red, yellow, and blue. The colors are applied randomly, creating a sense of harmony and balance. The painting is considered an essential piece in the development of abstract expressionism. It represents Pollock's belief in the power of spontaneous and gestural mark-making to express emotions and ideas through art. Hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin bought the Number 17A painting in 2015 for $200 million. The painting is currently on loan to the Art Institute of Chicago, where it is displayed for the public to enjoy.
7. The Standard Bearer-Rembrandt
- Year: 1636
- Artist: Rembrandt
- Owner: Amsterdam Museum
- Price Sold: $198 Million
The Standard Bearer is a painting by Dutch Golden Age artist Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, popularly known as Rembrandt. The painting portrays a young man in a military uniform carrying a flag. The man in the picture is standing in a three-quarter pose, looking directly at the viewer. He is wearing a black hat with a feather and a sword at his side. Rembrandt's use of light and shadow creates a sense of depth and realism. The man in the painting is portrayed as a strong and confident leader. The Standard Bearer painting is powerful and dynamic, symbolizing Dutch freedom and independence. Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam owns the Standard Bearer painting, having purchased it at $198 million.
8. Shot Sage Blue Marilyn-Andy Warhol
- Year: 1962
- Artist: Andy Warhol
- Owner: Lary Gagosian
- Price Sold: $195 Million
Shot Sage Blue Marilyn is a 1962 painting by Andy Warhol. It demonstrates Marilyn Monroe, an iconic actress of the 20th century. Marilyn is shown in a close-up portrait, her head slightly to the side. Her eyes are open, and her lips slightly parted. Her hair is styled in a platinum blonde bob, and she is wearing blue eyeshadow. The background is painted in solid blue, also known as Shot Sage Blue, among Andy's favorite colors. The blue background helps to make Marilyn's face stand out and creates a sense of mystery and intrigue.
The painting reflects Marilyn's beauty and status as a cultural icon, Andy's fascination with celebrity, and his ability to transform popular culture into high art. Shot Sage Blue Marilyn is owned by Larry Gagosian, who bought it in 2022 for $195 million.
9. No.6 Violet, Green, and Red-Mark Rothko
- Year: 1951
- Artist: Mark Rothko
- Owner: Private
- Price Sold: $186 Million.
Just like its title, No.6 Violet, Green, and Red is a painting by American abstract expressionist Mark Rothko that uses three colors to explain something. It is characterized by its large size and use of colors: violet, green, and red. The colors are applied soft and hazy, creating a sense of depth and movement. The painting is notable for its lack of symbolic imagery, as no recognizable objects or figures exist. It is a pure abstract expression of Mark's emotions and feelings to search for meaning in the world. The colors in the painting reflect different aspects of the human experience, which include joy, sorrow, anger, and love. No.6 Violet, Green, and Red painting is celebrated due to its creative process and the power of the artist's imagination. It is owned by a private collector, who bought it at $186 million when it was auctioned in 2014.
10. Portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit-Rembrandt
- Year: 1634
- Artist: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
- Owner: Jointly owned by Louver Museum in Paris and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
- Price Sold: $180 Million
Portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit is a pair of full-length wedding portraits created by Rembrandt van Rijin in 1634. The paintings portray the couple donned in richly detailed clothing typical of the 17th-century Dutch upper class. Maerten is dressed in a sumptuous black velvet suit, while Oopjen is donned in an extravagant black silk gown. The background on Maerten's is neutral grey, and the light comes from the left, creating a sense of depth and volume. Oopjen's background is neutral beige, with light coming from the right to develop an understanding of softness and feminity. These paintings portray Rembrandt's masterful handling of light and shadow. The French and Dutch governments acquired the portraits, splitting the $180 million bill. They are displayed at the Louver Museum in Paris and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The paintings have never been separated since their creation, so the museum takes turns to display them.
11. Water Serpents II-John Gustav
- Year: 1904-1917
- Artist: John Gustav Klimt
- Owner: Private Collector
- Price Sold: $180 Million
Water Serpents II by Gustav Klimt is a follow-up painting to the earlier Water Serpents I painting. It deals with the sensuality of women's bodies and same-sex relationships. The painting demonstrates two women intertwined in a sensual embrace. They are both nude, suggesting intimacy and passion, and surrounded by water snakes, symbolizing sexuality and fertility. The painting uses rich colors and intricate patterns, with the women's skin shimmering gold. The water snakes range from red, blue, and green. The painting portrays Klimt's interest in love themes, desire, and the mythical connection between humans and nature. In 2015, Water Serpents II was auctioned to a private collector for $180 million.
12. Les Femmes D’alger Version O-Pablo Picasso
- Year: 1955
- Artist: Pablo Picasso
- Owner: Hamman bin Jasmin
- Price Sold: $179 Million
Les Femmes d’Alger Version O is a 1955 oil painting by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. It is one of the 15 paintings and numerous drawings in a series inspired by Eugene Delacroix's 1834 painting ‘Les Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement.' The painting is a large, square canvas with a complex composition; the figures are arranged in a group, with the central figure facing the viewer. The images are dressed in traditional Algerian clothing and surrounded by objects, including carpets. The painting is characterized by its bold use of colors like red, blue, yellow, and green and expressive brushwork from thick and impasto to thin and delicate. The painting is seen as a celebration of female beauty and sexuality. It is also seen as a work of self-portraiture, a meditation on death, and a representation of Pablo's creative process.
The portrait was sold at auction in 2015 for $179 million to Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, former Qatar prime minister.
13. Nu couche-Amedeo Modigliani
- Year: 1917-1918
- Artist: Amedeo Modigliani
- Owner: Liu Yiqia
- Price Sold: $170 Million
Nu couche, meaning reclining nude, is an oil canvas painting by Amedeo Modigliani. The artwork shows a naked woman lying on her right side, with her head resting on her other hand. She is portrayed in a very stylized way, with a long neck and almond-shaped eyes, and her body is elongated and slender. The Nu couche is painted in a palette of warm colors, with shades of orange, red, and yellow. The colors are applied sensually, creating an effect of softness, sensuality, and intimacy. The painting exemplifies the painter's unique and recognizable style and his exploration of the female form as a central theme in his art. Nu couche has been part of various private collections and sold at auction for different prices. Billionaire Liu Yiqian, an art collector who owns the artwork, bought the painting at Christie's New York for $170.4 million.
14. Masterpiece-Roy Lichtenstein
- Year: 1962
- Artist: Roy Lichtenstein
- Owner: Steven A. Cohen
- Price Sold: $165 Million
Masterpiece artwork is a large oil canvas painting by Roy Lichtenstein created in 1962. It depicts a woman and a man standing next to each other, the woman saying some word to the man. The painting is based on a panel from a romance comic book. The woman is a stereotypical funny book beauty with long blonde hair, blue eyes, and a slender figure, whereas the man has dark hair and a muscular build. Roy's painting is characterized by bold colors, simple lines, and Ben-Day dots. These dots are a printing process that uses small colored dots to create images, and Roy uses the dots to create the illusion of a comic book print in his painting. The painting speaks more about the nature of art, the role of media in our society, and the popularity of comic books.
Masterpiece was bought by an American billionaire hedge fund manager and art collector, Steven A. Cohen, for a whopping price of $165 million. A philanthropist and former Museum of Moder Art president, Agnes Gund, sold it to him.
15. Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer II-Gustav Klimt
- Year: 1912
- Artist: Gustav Klimt
- Owner: Unidentified Chinese Collector
- Price Sold: $150 Million
This painting is a portrait of a wealthy Viennese socialite and patron, Adele Bouch Bauer II, who was also a close friend to Gustav Klimt. It is a full-length painting of Adele standing before a gold-leaf background. Adele is wearing a lavish dress made from silver and gold, while her hair and neck are adorned with jewels. The artwork is characterized by its bold colors, intricate patterns, and geometric shapes. It also reflects the luxury and opulence of Vienna in the 20th century. The portrait is among Klimt's most famous paintings and is an iconic image of Austrian art. The Nazis seized it during World War II but returned it to Adele's niece. In 2016, Ophrah Winfrey sold the portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer II for $150 million to a Chinese collector.
Q. Who buys expensive paintings?
Ans. Expensive paintings are bought by wealthy personalities or big institutions such as museums and art collectors. The United States is the leading country globally regarding the art market's value, with over 45%.
Q. How are paintings valued?
Ans. Paintings are valued based on factors like the artist's reputation, the rarity, quality, historical significance of the painting, and its demand.
Q. Who has the most extensive art collection?
Ans. King Charles III, head of state of the United Kindom and Commonwealth countries, owns the largest art collection with over 7,000 paintings and 450,000 photographs.
Q. What is the most expensive painting by a living artist?
Ans. Jasper John's 1958 Painting Flag, sold at $110 million in 2010, is the most expensive painting by a living artist.
Some paintings are precious, costing millions of dollars. These paintings are famous and admirable worldwide not because of their monetary worth but because of the stories, emotions, and talents behind them. Paintings reflect how much people from all over the world appreciate and admire these works. Art transcends boundaries, cultures, and languages and unites people in the world of creativity. Whether these paintings are housed in a museum, private collection, or public space, they enrich souls in countless ways. These expensive paintings show us that art not only lies in its price but also inspires people.