It can be hard to put a price tag on a work of art—that is, until an art auction is held.
That’s when the bidding begins and we find out just how much money someone is willing to pay to own a da Vinci, Cézanne, Gauguin, or Pollock. Out of the top 10 most valuable works of art in the world, six are held in private collections. (Paintings such as the “Mona Lisa” are obviously extremely valuable, but don’t make the list because they haven’t changed hands in recent history).
The Top 10 Most Valuable Paintings on Earth
Judging by the prices they sold for, these are some of the rarest paintings in the world. We’ll start at the bottom, and work our way towards the most expensive painting ever sold.
10. “No. 5, 1948” by Jackson Pollock sold in 2006 for an adjusted value of $164.5 million. Its new owner is Mexican investor David Martinez. This work of abstract expressionism measures 8 feet by 4 feet and features drizzled oil paints that have been described as a “dense bird’s nest”.
9. “Nu couché” by Italian painter Amedeo Clemente Modigliani is translated as “reclining nude” and caused a bit of a scandal when it was shown in Paris in 1917 as a result of the nude model’s seductive pose. It was bought in 2015 by billionaire Chinese investor Liu Yiqian for an adjusted price of $172.6 million.
8. “Les Femmes d'Alger (version O)” by Pablo Picasso sold in 2015 to Qatari politician Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber bin Mohammed bin Thani Al Than for an adjusted value of $179.4 million.
7. “Pendant portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit” by Rembrandt. This pair of full-length wedding portraits remained in the possession of their subjects’ heirs until 1877. They were sold most recently in 2015 for an adjusted value of $182 million, and are now jointly owned by the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Each museum owns 50 percent of both paintings, ensuring that the pair will not be separated.
6. “No. 6” by Russian abstract expressionist Mark Rothko is one of those paintings that your child would boast they could do in five minutes. But The Guardian described the painting as a “febrile uneasy poem of pure colour” and “a cloud of haunted unknowing.” Russian investor Dmitry Rybolovlev obviously agreed, shelling out an adjusted $190 million for the masterpiece in 2014.
5. “Number 17A” by Jackson Pollock earns the American abstract expressionist his second spot on this list. It’s also the second spot on the list for American investor Kenneth C. Griffin (more on that in a minute) who bought the painting in 2015 for an adjusted $203 million.
4.” Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?)” didn’t generate a lot of interest when Paul Gauguin returned from Tahiti and placed it on consignment in France. That was obviously not the case in 2014 when the painting was sold to the state of Qatar for an adjusted value of $213 million.
3. “The Card Players” by Paul Cézanne was also picked up by the state of Qatar—for an estimated adjusted value of $270 million in 2011. The painting was important because, at a time when everyone else was painting landscapes and the wealthy, Cézanne depicted peasants.
2. “Interchange” is a fascinating work by Dutch abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning, who was known for violently attacking his canvases. This painting was bought by Kenneth C. Griffin in 2015 for an adjusted value of $304 million.
1. The most money ever paid for a work of art was $450.3 million for “Salvator Mundi” a portrait of Jesus generally attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. It was bought by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture & Tourism in November 2017 and is on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
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