Most Expensive Paintings – Top 10

When Will You Marry

Most Expensive Paintings – Top 10

1

Irises

Painted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1889, sold for $53.9 million (equivalent to $112 million in 2015) on November 11 1987, at the time the most expensive painting ever sold.

The painting, influenced by the Japanese woodblock prints that were popular in Europe at the time, was painted when Van Gogh was living in the asylum. Painting was one way he felt he could prevent himself from going insane, and although this piece was intended just as a study for future works his brother Theo entered it into an exhibition.

The original sale price to an art critic? Just 300 francs.

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2

Portrait of Joseph Roulin

Painted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1889 (he was on a roll!), it sold for $58 million on August 1, 1989 as part of a deal including several other paintings.

The subject of the painting, Joseph Roulin, was Vincent Van Gogh’s postman and friend. He would feature in many portraits by the great artist. In fact, Van Gogh regarded the postman as a “good soul, so wise, and full of feeling and so trustful”. He admired the man’s strong political feelings (he was an ardent socialist) and the fact that, unlike the lonely artist, he was the devoted head of a large family. The postman’s fine uniform, facial features, fine beard and crooked, alcoholic’s nose made for a good subject.
Portrait of Joseph Roulin

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3
Reclining nude with blue cushion

Reclining Nude With Blue Cushion

Painted by Amedeo Modigliani in 1917, it was sold in 2012 for $121 million. Billionaire Steve Cohen sold it to fellow billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev. Perhaps highlighting the fact these two men are billionaires is somewhat redundant given the incredibly high price!

Modigliani had a unique, very noticeable style. He also happened to paint a lot of nudes that have gone on to fetch enormous prices at auction, but he was more than just a producer of erotica. He had a talent for life studies (nude drawings) and his enthusiasm was not entirely innocent – as a teenage art student he had seduced the household maid as well.

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4

The Scream

Painted by Edvard Munch in 1895, this iconic and much parodied painting sold for $119.9 million May 2 2012, the highest price ever for a painting at auction at the time, to financier Leon Black.

The artist actually called these works “The Scream of Nature” and the series has been described as a Mona Lisa for our time. It’s certainly proved popular with thieves as well as financiers (I know, I know) and the National Gallery version was stolen in 1994 (recovered a few months later) and then the Munch Museum had its version stolen in 2004, to be recovered later. I like to think that Leon Black finally said, oh, fine, I’ll buy it then, this stealing lark is too much trouble.

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5

Salvator Mundi

Painted by Leonardo da Vinci sometime between 1490 and 1519, this sold for $127.5 million to our favorite Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, a man with a taste for fine art (and a very deep pocket, apparently).

Once owned by King Charles I (recorded in his collection in 1649), this piece was auctioned off in 1763, lost, and didn’t reappear till 1900 when it was bought by Francis Cook. Badly damaged by restoration attempts it wasn’t clear who the original artist had been. Cook’s descendants sold it for just 45 pounds in 1958.

I’ll write that again. It sold for 58 pounds.

When it was purchased by a consortium of art dealers in 2005 it was so badly damaged and overpainted it looked like a copy. The art dealers knew what they were doing, though, and as the group included Robert Simon, a specialist in Old Masters, one imagines they could see they had a gem in the rough. They were right - after restoration and authentication it became very important as a rare Leonardo. And valuable, too, hence the $127.5 million price!

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6

Bal du moulin de la Galette

Also known as “Dance at Le moulin de la Galette”, painted by the great Pierre-Auguste Renoir in 1876, and sold for $78.1 million May 17, 1990. It was the second highest price in history at the time, edged out only by the Portrait of Dr Gachet sold just two days earlier – to the same buyer!

Now, in Paris at the Musée d'Orsay, the painting shows a Sunday afternoon gathering of working class people dressed up and partying in the 19th century style. The light, richness, and typically Impressionist snapshot of real life portrayed in the painting makes it one of Renoir – and Impressionism’s – most celebrated masterpieces.
Dance at the Moulin de la Galette 1876

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7

Portrait of Dr. Gachet

Painted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1890, sold for $82.5 million May 15, 1990. This was the highest price paid for a painting in history at the time. The adjusted value would be $148.9 million in 2015.  

Two versions of this painting are known, and this, the first one, was sold in New York to the Japanese industrialist Ryoei Saito. Saito went on to say that the painting would be cremated with him upon his death, horrifying the art world. He later claimed he was exaggerating to merely show his love for the painting, but since his death in 1996 the painting has not been seen. Rumors suggest it was resold. 

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8

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

Painted by Gustav Klimt in 1907, sold for $135 million June 18, 2007, the highest price in history at the time. The painting has a highly unusual history, and was the focus of the 2015 movie “Woman in Gold”.

The artist was sponsored by the wealthy Austrian industrialist Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a sugar tycoon who supported the arts. His wife, Vienna high-society member and Klimt’s patron Adele Bloch-Bauer, is the model in the painting and the only model to be painted twice by Gustav Klimt.

The short version of the story is that it was lost to the Nazis and only returned to the heirs of the family in 2006, but more details can be seen at the link below.
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

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9
Card Players

The Card Players

Painted by Paul Cézanne in 1892/93, and sold for $259-300 million June 18, 2006.

Who has that sort of money, you wonder? The Qatar royal family for one, the buyers of the painting.

The piece is actually one of a series considered to be a key part of Cezanne’s work, and artistically important. The scene itself is an interesting one, showing the intense concentration of two men, communicating through a game of cards in what one commentator called a “human still life”.

It could be a snapshot of somewhere today, yet was actually painted in the late 19th century. Like a lot of popular art, it is thought provoking; does the players’ concentration mirror that of the viewer or the artist? 

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10

When Will You Marry? (Nafea faa ipoipo)

Painted by Paul Gauguin in 1892, sold for $300 million February 2015.

The most expensive painting ever sold, auctioned for a staggering 300 million dollars, yet the artist couldn’t sell it in his lifetime. Even 14 years after his death it fetched just $40 when sold to a gallery in Geneva. So what’s the story?

“When Will You Marry” (also known as “Nafea faa ipoipo”) was painted by Gauguin after he had visited Tahiti. He had traveled there in an effort to create pure, primitive art (the idea of the “Noble Savage” was popular at the time), but was disappointed to find that Tahiti had already been heavily influenced by the western colonists (note the clothing of the woman in the background). Despite this, his art portrayed the Tahitians in a romantic, idealized way.

However, it was still met with relative indifference at his 1893 exhibition, and “When Will You Marry” did not sell, and would remain unsold for the rest of the artist’s life.

Today, however, the painting is regarded as being important and rich with symbolism, and a key work of Gauguin’s.
When Will You Marry

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