Top 10 list: the most expensive paintings of all times

By Sergio González | 11:07

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustave Klimt, 1907

Money and art have always had a stormy relationship and the real value of the art we pay for is often questioned, in many artistic ways such as this amateur Polish painter who displayed one of his works in an art museum or online quizzes daring you to tell actual abstract art from toddlers’ doodles.

What would you say makes a $100M painting? A unique masterpiece shown in a just one brushstroke? The patina of time? Maybe just fashion?

Warhol, Dalí and other masters from the 20th century are pretty popular nowadays but a lot of people pay fortunes for antiquities, so a 200-year-old Van Gogh picture may as well be the most expensive painting ever. What is more, the greatest majority of pre-1800 paintings are proudly exhibited in museums all around the world for everyone to see but a few to enjoy at home; the few pieces that rarely see the market can double and even triple their price in just a couple of years.

Surely if the painting was sold in an open auction the price increases significantly, doesn’t it? Then again it’s the law of supply & demand at work. Why don’t you check it out for yourself?

Any of your wonders on the most expensive paintings are right and wrong at the same time because nobody can really tell for sure. Just imagine how many millionaires want everybody to know how much they paid and that they own a Dalí, take into account inflation and fluctuations of foreign currency over time and you’ll soon realize that top 10 lists can aspire to no more than entertaining us.

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1895

So here we go with the top ten list of the most expensive paintings ever bought by somebody, sorted by their updated price in US dollars, which doesn’t matter that much because the art market is hot: eight of them traded owners in the past few years!

10. The Scream by Munch. The most personal of the four versions made by Munch hit $122M in a phone auction in 2012. Enjoy the rest of the series in Oslo and London.

9. Boy with a Pipe was painted by Picasso in 1905 and first sold in 1950 for $30,000. Barilla group is said to have been behind the last purchase: $130M, in 2004.

8. Mr. Saito, CEO of a big Japanese corporation, bought Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette by Renoir for $141M in 1990, only to sell it 7 years later, according to gossip, for barely $90M.

7. In 1969 Francis Bacon painted the seventh piece on our list which is also the most expensive painting ever sold in an open auction. Among every one of Bacon’s work, The Three Studies of Lucian Freud set the record price at $142M in 2013.

6. The only other painter on this list not from the 20th century is Van Gogh, who charmed Mr. Saito enough to pay $149M for Portrait of Dr. Gatchet. 

5. Klimt went into fashion some years ago, and college walls were covered with printed version of The Kiss. However, his best seller is Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. The heir of Estée Lauder Co. bought it for $155M in 2006.

4. Picasso is the only master with two paintings among the top 10 list. La Rêve was sold to an American fund advisor in 2013 for $156M.

The Card Players by Paul Cézanne, 1893

3. When you have a thing for abstract art you have to go for it and deal with temptation as Oscar Wilde taught us. The same guy who acquired La Rêve, Steve Cohen, had bought the third most expensive painting, Woman III by decomposition master Willem de Kooning in 2006. 

2. No 5, 1948 by Pollock was sold by the same guy who sold Women III to a debt advisor. In this A-league everybody knows each other. $167M where in order for David Geffen to say goodbye to this icon of 20th century American art.

1. As you see we’ve moved till number one on the list yet $122M were paid for Munch’s piece and $167M for Pollock’s, not that big difference -until now. The State of Qatar spared no expense to get The Card Players by Paul Cézanne. $270M was employed to bring post-impressionism light to the Persian Gulf in 2011.

How much would you be willing to pay for a work of art? 

Photo credit: Real Distan

Photo Source: public domain, via wikipedia

  • posted by Elisa | 10 February 2014, 18:55,

    Great job! Well, I don’t know how much i will pay for a paint or a work of art….i think it depends of the picture and if it’s important for me.

  • posted by Ana Escurín | 14 February 2014, 13:05,

    Thanks so much for your commment! Yes, we guess that’s what makes art “priceless”! 😉


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