Revealed: the most expensive paintings in the world


Jean‐Michel Basquiat - Untitled painting of skull

Image source: Flickr, Jeremy Thompson

There are heaps of beautiful paintings out there, from contemporary artwork styles to bright and detailed portrait art pieces. And with various, famous illustrations dotted across the globe, it makes you think, “what is the most expensive painting in the world?” And believe us, you’re not alone in pondering over this…

There are so many masterpieces out there, yet a lot of us don’t know a design’s true worth – even for our favourite paintings! Well, read on, because this article uncovers everything you need to know about the most expensive pieces of art out there, why each one’s dripping with gold and where you can go and see them for yourself!

Salvator Mundi – Leonardo da Vinci 

So, what is the most expensive painting in the world? That would be Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi’ painting – which is a design of Jesus Christ crossing his fingers on one hand and holding a crystal ball in the other. This masterpiece was sold to the Saudi culture minister, Prince Badr bin Abdullah in 2017 for a whopping $450.3 million.

Before this huge purchase, a collection of British art dealers clubbed together in 2005 to buy ‘Salvator Mundi’ for $10,000. And this painting actually went missing from around 1763 to 1900 before they rediscovered it. The owners of this piece spent six years restoring the painting and uncovering who created it, only to find out that it was an original Da Vinci!

In 2011, before it was purchased by Prince Badr bin Abdullah, this painting was exhibited in the National Gallery of London, coined the “Lost Leonardo” because it had been missing since 1909!

Interchange – Willem de Kooning 

Dutch expressionist painter, Willem de Kooning created the bright, abstract art piece: ‘Interchange’ in 1995 while living in NYC. Kooning based the piece on his surroundings and everything he soaked up during his time there.

It was bought for a staggering $300 million in 2015, and the proud buyer was Kenneth C. Griffin. Griffin managed to strike a deal and purchase another art piece at the same time – ‘Number 17A’ by Jackson Pollock, for a grand total of $500 million. So if you’re travelling to America sometime soon, make sure to visit the Art Institute of Chicago where this breath-taking piece is currently displayed.

The Card Players – Paul Cézanne

Paul Cézanne was a French post-impressionist and his intricate painting, ‘The Card Players’ (1892-93) is one piece in a series of five oil paintings. It shows exactly what it says on the tin – two men playing cards at a table… This painting was sold privately to the Royal Family of Qatar in 2011 for an astonishing $250 million! During that time, Cézanne’s piece was the most expensive art that ever sold until another painting exceeded this amount in 2017 (‘Salvator Mundi’).

Nafea Faa Ipoipo – Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin’s colourful painting ‘Nafea Faa Ipoipo’ (translated as ‘When Will You Marry’) was once named the most expensive painting ever sold when it was bought for $210 million in 2015. Gauguin created this piece on his first ever visit to Tahiti, where he clearly took his inspiration from for the piece, as the painting’s focused on two native women living on the island. It’s a real marvel to look at, showing Gaugin’s experience and all that influenced him while he was travelling.

Number 17A Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock’s painting, ‘Number 17A’ is a fascinating, oil drip painting that he created in 1948, and went on to be sold for $200 million! This was record-breaking at the time – being the highest price ever known for a private sale. As we mentioned earlier on, it was bought by hedge fund manager, Kenneth C. Griffin, who bought two pieces of art at once!

No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) — Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko’s famous painting, No.6 (Violet, Green and Red) was sold privately back in 2014, for a tidy sum of $186 million! The painting is quite a modern piece, considering it was painted by Russian-American Rothko in 1951. This abstract artwork features both bold and pale colours (that its name denotes), showing a series of rectangular shapes. So, who is the lucky owner? That would be Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian billionaire!

Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) – Amedeo Modigliani

Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani produced quite a piece of art from 1917-1918. His masterpiece, ‘Nu couché’ (translated as ‘Reclining Nude’) is one of the most expensive paintings around, which was sold for $157.2 million at Sotheby’s New York in November 2017. This piece, featuring a nude female, became one of the most expensive paintings in auction history. To say this is a painting worth knowing about is an understatement!

It's said that the owner of this piece (Lui Yiqian) paid for the painting using his American Express card, making it seem like just an everyday purchase!

Woman III – Willem de Kooning

The unusual but wonderful painting, ‘Woman III’ by Willem de Kooning is also one of the most expensive paintings. This illustration art piece sold for $137.5 million in 2006 by Steven A. Cohen, housing it in his private collection. Before this purchase, Kooning’s piece could be seen in Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art in Iran. But, because of its unusuality, people considered it too offensive to look at, unfortunately, so it was removed! Crazy, right? 

The Scream – Edvard Munch

One of the most expensive paintings by Edvard Munch - The Scream

Image source: WikimediaCommons

Next up is Edvard Munch’s painting ‘The Scream’ that sold for an astonishing $119.9 million back in 2012 by billionaire financier, Leon Black. There’s more than one version of ‘The Scream’ by Munch, with this one being worth less than the 1893 oil painting piece, which you can find on the walls of Norway’s National Gallery in Oslo. But, that’s not to say this expensive masterpiece isn’t fantastic!

Untitled – Jean-Michel Basquiat

Untitled painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, by Jeremy Thompson

Image source: Flickr, Jeremy Thompson

The brilliant, modern art painting ‘Untitled’ by Jean-Michel Basquiat might technically be unnamed, but its worth is enormous. This iconic, x-ray-like skull design by this NYC graffiti artist is super colourful and modern, and its price is fascinating, to say the least! In 2017, it sold for more than $110.5 million, making history since it was the highest price ever paid for artwork produced after 1980.

Being one of the most expensive paintings ever sold, ‘Untitled’ is now displayed in The Broad Museum, Los Angeles. So, you can see it in all its brilliance if you’re heading across the pond.

And there’s more where this came from…

Now you can safely say you know the most expensive pieces of art around and where to find them – and this isn’t our only area of expertise. We have a breadth of knowledge on everything art-related. Simply discover more interesting facts and info about artists and their masterpieces over on our blog.