Most Expensive Paintings Ever Sold


There are a lot of websites displaying “the 10 most expensive paintings ever sold” or similar lists. But unfortunately, most of these lists are incorrect, often being obsoletes, often ignoring the private sales and showing only those pictures sold at auction. This list showcases paintings sold at either public auctions or private sales, and it is frequently updated. In addition to ‘confirmed’ sales, at the end of the list you can find a few works whose price has not being confirmed despite the rumors about exorbitant sums

1. PAUL GAUGUIN – “Nafea faa ipoipo? (When will you marry?)”, 1892 – $300 million

Private sale, early 2015. Seller: Rudolf Staechelin Family Trust. Buyer: Qatar Museums?.

The painting -one of Gauguin’s most famous and reproduced images- depicts a couple of Tahitian native women, one of them dressed in a traditional Tahitian dress, while the other one, showing a serious expression on her face, is wearing a mission dress.

2. PAUL CÉZANNE – “The Card Players”, 1892/93 – $250 million

Private sale, 2011. Seller: George Embiricos. Buyer: Royal Family of Qatar.

This is the last version of this famous composition by Paul Cézanne still in private hands. The fabulous psychological intensity in the faces of the players make this painting a masterpiece of post-impressionist art.

3. PABLO PICASSO – “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version “O”)”, 1955 – $179.4 million

Christie’s New York, May 2015. Seller: Private collection, Saudi Arabia. Buyer: Anonymous

“Les Femmes d’Alger (Version “O”)” is one of Picasso’s most famous late works, but not one of his most important works. The absurd sum of $179,4 million paid for the work represent the highest price ever paid for a painting at auction. The painting had been sold for $31.9 million in 1997, in an auction where Picasso’s “La Rêve (The Dream)” (see following work) achieved $48 million.

Les Femmes d’Alger
4. PABLO PICASSO – “La Rêve (The Dream)”, 1932 – $155 million

Private sale, 2013. Seller: Steve Wynn. Buyer: Steven A. Cohen

“La Rêve (The Dream)” is one of Picasso’s most sensual and famous paintings, depicting her lover Marie-Therese Walter sitting on a red armchair with her eyes closed. In 2006, Steve Wynn agreed to sell the painting to Steven Cohen for $139 million, but the sale was cancelled when Mr. Wynn accidentally damaged the work.

La Rêve
5. FRANCIS BACON – “Three Studies of Lucian Freud”, 1969 – $142.4 million

Christie’s New York, 2013. Seller: Francesco De Simone Niquesa(?). Buyer: Unknown

Untile the sale of Picasso’s “Femmes” (see above), this Bacon was not only the most expensive painting ever auctioned, but also a record for a contemporary work of art. Christie’s explained that when this work was painted, “the relationship between Freud and Bacon was at its apex”.

Three Studies of Lucian Freud
6. JACKSON POLLOCK – “Number 5, 1948”, 1948 – $140 million

Private sale, 2006. Seller: David Geffen. Buyer: Unknown (rumoured to be Mexican businessman David Martinez)

This stunning “drip” by Jackson Pollock was at the time the most expensive contemporary painting ever sold, though the exact price was never confirmed (but the price displayed here is generally accepted to be true). The exorbitant sum demonstrated not only the strenght of the Art market, but also an increasing interest for the contemporary works of Art.

Number 5 1948
7. WILLEM DE KOONING – “Woman III”, 1952-53 – $137.5 million

Private sale, 2006. Seller: David Geffen. Buyer: Steven Cohen

This painting is the only “Woman” by Willem de Kooning still in private hands. One of this women -described by T. Hess as “black goddesses”- has been chosen by as one of the 50 masterworks of the history of painting.

Woman III
8. GUSTAV KLIMT – “Adele Bloch-bauer I”, 1907 – $135 million

Private sale, 2006. Buyer: Ronald Lauder.

The acquisition of this iconic work by cosmetic magnate Ronald Lauder caused a shock in the Art world, not only for the spectacular sum paid for it, but also for the way it was sold, far away from the noisy auction houses. The painting was part of a group of five canvases which had been recently returned to the heirs of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. The Nazis confiscated his paintings during the World War II, and after the war, the canvases were placed at the National Gallery of Austria in 1948.

Adele Bloch-bauer I
9. EDVARD MUNCH – “The Scream”, 1895 – $119.9 million

Sotheby’s New York , May 2012. Buyer: anonymous

This iconic work was the most expensive painting ever sold at auction until it was surpassed by Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucian Freud”. The work is the most colorful of the four versions of Edvard Munch’s masterpiece ‘The Scream’, and the only one still in private hands

The Scream
10. JASPER JOHNS – “Flag”, 1958 – $110 million

Private sale: 2010. Buyer: Steven Cohen

“Flags” are Jasper Johns most famous works. The artist painted his first American flag in 1954–55, a work now at the MoMA.

Jasper Johns-1Jasper Johns