There is only one Monet, Picasso, and Leonardo da Vinci, and the same applies to all of history’s greatest masters of art. Hence, the supply side of the equation for famous paintings is already extremely limited.
With these maestros having only a few surviving art pieces to their name, and with every art aficionado (and billionaire) wanting one either for the art, current and future value, or bragging rights, it is not hard to see how these specimens reach multi-million dollar price tags.
Anytime the sale of another high-profile artwork hits the news—like the 2017 record-breaking sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which sold for $450 million—the viewers are immediately segmented into various camps.
There are those who understand the massive role iconic art plays in representing and shaping culture and how priceless art can be in this capacity, those who can’t seem to grasp why one would pay millions for a piece of drawing. At the same time, there is another group in the back vehemently complaining about the super-rich and how they allegedly use the art world as a vehicle for avoiding tax.
However, whichever group you belong to, the one thing we can all agree on is the economics of expensive art.
Furthermore, with a near-zero chance of the supply of these old valuable pieces increasing, they will only get more expensive in the future. Are you ready to delve into this world of big-budget art? The perfect place to start is with the most precious art pieces in existence.
What, then, is the most valuable painting in the world?
Picking the most expensive painting in the world is not a straightforward thing. If you are considering the highest finalized price, Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi ranks number one with its $450 million sale in 2017.
However, another painting by Leonardo da Vinci, the Mona Lisa is arguably a better pick for the title as its current estimated value sits at around a billion dollars (its last sale was in the 16th century), and it is plausibly the best-known, most popular, and most visited painting in the world.
For this article, we will stick with the Mona Lisa as our selection for the most valuable painting.
With its unmatched prestige, there is zero doubt that if this revered art piece were to go on sale—which is extremely unlikely— it will easily eclipse the price of any other artwork ever sold, including the current record held by Salvator Mundi.
The Most Valuable Painting in the World: The Mona Lisa
- Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
- Produced: Early 16th Century
- Estimated Value: $1 Billion
The Mona Lisa is arguably the most popular piece of art ever created and it is not hard to see why.
This widely-admired specimen is the Magnum Opus of Leonardo da Vinci, arguably one of the prolific polymaths in history and certainly one of the greatest artists to ever live.
Of all of da Vinci’s works, the Mona Lisa is the only human portrait whose authenticity is largely accepted by the art world to be definite, as its genuineness has never been questioned. This fact is due in part to the clear evidence of its link to the artist as contained in a verified note written by Agostino Vespucci, one of Leonardo’s direct contemporaries.
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci is a legendary figure from the 14th-16th European Renaissance that is considered by many to be the founder of the High Renaissance and the epitome of the true Renaissance man.
A true polymath, Leonardo was at the bleeding edge of several fields during his time, working actively as an engineer, scientist, painter, theorist, architect, sculptor, and draftsman. Leonardo also dabbled in a broad range of subjects, contributing knowledge to fields like paleontology, anatomy, botany, hydrodynamics, geology, cartography, optics, tribology, and astronomy.
However, what Leonardo da Vinci is best known for in popular culture is his unrivaled achievements as a painter. Here, he is recognized as one of the greatest ever to do it.
While most of his finished works have been lost to history—with less than 25 remaining today,—all of those that do remain attract prestige due to their creator and are consequently extremely sought-after, high-priced items.
His best-known pieces include the Mona Lisa, his magnum opus, The Last Supper, which is the most reproduced religious painting of all time, Salvator Mundi, which holds the record for the most expensive painting ever sold at auction, and his Vitruvian Man drawing, which is one of the most recognizable and widely used cultural icons inherited from the world of art.
Born out of wedlock to a successful notary (and a lower class woman) in, or near, Vinci, Leonardo da Vinci was educated in Florence by the Italian painter and sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio. He began his career there in the city of Florence before branching out to become one of the most famous artists in the world, even during his lifetime.
On intense observation, almost everyone can attest to the uncanny feeling that the Mona Lisa evokes, and this feel is key to its mystique.
Unlike most other portrait paintings from the time, with this one, the subject seems to have her gaze firmly fixed on you, the observer. This piercing look in her eyes combines with her slight approving smile and the soft tones on the entire canvas to create an image that almost comes alive when she looks at you.
Furthermore, compounding this mystique is that the general sense of the painting draws from the ethereal by mirroring the mannerism and positioning the most common depictions of the Virgin Mary (who was then considered the female ideal) at the time.
Plus, behind the seated figure, Leonardo depicts a dreamy imaginary landscape, complete with a distant bridge, winding paths, and icy mountains, creating one of the first portraits to feature such an imagined scene and also one of the first to use an aerial view.
The Mona Lisa masterpiece is believed by experts to be the depiction of either Italian noblewoman Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo or Isabella d’Este, the Margravine of Mantua (and the most famous female patron of the arts of her time) either of whom would have commissioned Leonardo to complete the portrait in their honor.
However, the artist never gave the painting to its originally intended recipient, opting instead to bequeath it to his most favored apprentice Salaì.
For a painting of such repute and arguably one of the most recognizable ones in the world, it is no surprise that the Mona Lisa is worth many times a king’s ransom. However, this treasured masterpiece has not been sold in a long time.
The last sale of the Mona Lisa occurred in 1517 when it was purchased by King Francis I of France, who hung it in his bedroom. The French king paid 4000 gold florins (37.35 troy pounds of gold) for the painting, which would be worth almost $750,000 in 2023.
The painting naturally progressed from King Francis’s ownership to become a property of the French Republic. It has been on display at the Louvre museum in Paris since 1797.
That price, adjusted to today’s pricing, already makes the Mona Lisa officially more valuable than every other existing painting.
However, things get even more intense when you consider that the Mona Lisa currently holds the Guinness World Record for the highest known insurance valuation for a painting, which was set at $100 million in 1962 when the painting was moved to the United States for a 4-month long special exhibition.
Adjusted for inflation to 2022, that insurance bond is now worth over $980 million.
There is a near zero chance the Mona Lisa will be going on sale any time in this century, and the French Republic intends to own it permanently. However, if it ever goes to auction, its finalized price will easily surpass a billion U.S. dollars.
The Problem With Ranking the World’s Most Valuable Paintings
One of the biggest obstacles to creating an accurate list of the top most valuable paintings in the world is the fact that most of the masterpieces that would be on that list never go on sale.
The majority of the most valuable pieces of art that exist today are those created by the old masters between the 14th and 18th centuries. The overwhelming percentage of these specimens are held today in major museums and the largest private collections without any intention of selling (not any time soon, at least.)
These pieces are considered to be parts of priceless cultural heritage and, as such, are not for sale. One of the most glaring examples of this is the Mona Lisa, which has been owned by the French Kingdom (and then the French Republic) for over 500 years.
Consequently, it becomes almost impossible to place an accurate recent price on any of these items as the last time they exchanged hands could be as much as 50 – 500 years ago.
Furthermore, when you consider inflation and adjust their fees to constant dollars, the last prices these paintings sold for could be worth multiples of that of pieces that have the most expensive finalized prices in recent times.
Another equally relevant problem is that in the top echelons of the art world, the most sought-after paintings often get sold between private parties at undisclosed prices.
Sometimes, everything about the sale is kept private, including the parties involved, the finalized price, and even the date of sale.
In these situations, it is impossible to tell if the sale was for a high enough figure to register the painting in the list of the most valuable ones sold. From the outside, all we can do is speculate on the exact prices involved.
For example, according to one source, a painting by Vincent van Gogh, The Seated Zouave, was sold in private for $300 million by Veteran Argentinian art collector Nelly Arrieta de Blaquier in 2019. However, none of the parties involved in this alleged sale has confirmed this speculated price.
Further compounding the problem of ranking the prices of art pieces is rare cases where a painting is exchanged for valuables that are not cash.
A recent example of this is that of graffiti artist David Choe who received payment in Facebook stock for creating graffiti art in their headquarters building. The shares he received for the job were worth almost $200 million at the time of Facebook’s IPO and around $780 million in 2023 if he held on to them.
These scenarios create a situation where no ranking of the most valuable painting in the world can reach pinpoint accuracy. However, we can get you as close as possible.
Top Most Valuable Paintings in the World
The issues we mentioned above mean that there are many possible ways to assess the most valuable pieces of art ever sold, with each method producing different results.
Hence, for this article, we will focus on ordering the tentative items based on their last sold price, as adjusted for inflation to 2021 dollars. By this metric, here are the most expensive paintings in the world today.
- Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
- Produced: Early 16th Century
- Last Finalized Price (adjusted to 2021 dollars): $497.8 million
This Salvator Mundi painting has been one of the biggest sources of speculation (and controversy) in the art world in recent years.
The painting, which was previously considered a copy of some lost original, became a major subject of attention when experts restored it, reconsidered it as an original work of Leonardo da Vinci, and displayed it as one of the entries in an exhibition of Leonardo’s masterpieces at the National Gallery in London in 2011.
After this rediscovery, art specialists have continued to speculate on how much Leonardo contributed to this piece. While many concur with the now mainstream narrative that it is an original from the master painter, some suggest that he only contributed a few elements to the piece.
Salvator Mundi was originally thought to be created by one of Leonardo’s devotees that worked with him, with the most likely suspect being Bernardino Luini.
Furthermore, the painting disappeared from public records for over 100 years, with its exact location concealed from 1763 to 1900. By the time it reappears, subsequent artists had already applied several layers of overpainting to the piece.
However, a full restoration of the painting in 2006 brought it closer to its original state, revealing some of the techniques used in its creation. This unearthing of the painting’s base led to it being rediscovered and reattributed to Leonardo da Vinci.
However, since then, the Salvator Mundi has gone on the centerstage of the world of expensive art, selling for an (unadjusted) auction price of $450.3 million in 2017, setting a new record for the most expensive public auction price ever paid for a painting.
This purchase, which was completed by Abu Dhabi’s royal, Prince Badr bin Abdullah, has been the source of even further speculation.
According to the original sources, Prince Badr bin Abdullah was making the purchase on behalf of his country’s Department of Culture and Tourism. However, more recent stories speculate that he may have purchased it instead for Prince Mohammed bin Salman the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
Furthermore, the painting’s current location remains undisclosed, and it has not gone on display since its 2017 purchase.
The Salvator Mundi is named after a common motif (that it follows) that appears in iconography depicting Christ that became popular during the renaissance period.
This way of drawing Christ typically represents him with his right hand raised, as if to carry out the sign of the cross, while his left-hand holds a crystal orb that symbolizes the earth. The end result of this image often creates the sense of Christ judging the world as is expected at the end of time.
The Salvator Mundi mirrors this motif, depicting a fairly young Christ in a blue dress that is true to the renaissance period.
- Artist: Willem de Kooning
- Produced: 1955
- Last Finalized Price (adjusted to 2021 dollars): $343 million
The 1940s signaled a major shift in world geopolitics, as the United States rose to prominence on the world stage in the wake of World War II.
This revival of the U.S. was not limited to economics and finance alone, as the art world was not left behind either. That decade also saw the birth of the first truly American art movement to make it to the global art scene known as Abstract expressionism.
Abstract expressionism is a style of abstract art characterized by the impression of spontaneity, thanks to the use of mark-making or gestural brush strokes.
The techniques involved in abstract expressionism created paintings that mirrored the spontaneous nature of works of surrealism (a style that precedes it) despite featuring a significantly more methodical and carefully planned out painting process.
The style was developed and promoted by the foremost American painters of the time, including Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock, drawing major inspiration from early 20th-century Russian artists like Wassily Kandinsky and imbibing a hint of the surrealist aesthetic.
Abstract expressionist art represented everything from the mundane to the spiritual and subconscious.
Abstract expressionism was key to establishing the reputation of many major American artists on the world stage and played an important role in shifting the cultural center of the Western art world from Paris to New York.
Today, this famous painting by Dutch-American painter and abstract expressionism pioneer Willem de Kooning is regarded as one of the statement pieces from that era.
Willem de Kooning created this major piece in the heat of his switch from more surrealist style painting to the new expressionist style, switching from violent spontaneous brush strokes to more gestural movements. It also shows a transition from the artist’s painting subjects, moving from women to abstract urban landscapes, as this one features a woman, but in the style one would paint an abstract landmass.
Interchange features large swathes of varied color, with the centerpiece being a bulky pink area that represents a seated woman.
While Willem de Kooning originally sold Interchange for $4,000 in the same year he produced it, the landmark painting was resold by the David Geffen Foundation in a private sale to American hedge fund manager Kenneth Cordele Griffin for $300 million in September 2015, setting the then world record for the most expensive painting ever sold. Interchange held this record for two years until it was surpassed by the sale of Salvator Mundi in 2017.
The Card Players
- Artist: Paul Cézanne
- Produced: 1892 – 93
- Last Finalized Price (adjusted to 2021 dollars): $301 million
No list containing important historical paintings can be complete without representing items from the Post-Impressionist period. No group of works captures this fact better than the series of works by Paul Cézanne called The Card Players.
Post-impressionism was a predominantly French art movement that set the tone for most of what we regard as modern art today. The new style of art emerged as a response to impressionism, which was the reigning school of thought at the time.
Impressionist art was overly concerned with the correct natural representation of color and light in paintings above all else.
However, post-impressionist painters believed that this extreme focus on making the color tones in images appear true to life led to a loss of other rich details that could be represented as part of each painting.
Consequently, the new artists of the post-impressionist era fashioned their paintings with far more liberty rather than on being true to life.
Since there was no general consensus on how to achieve this aim of adding details that are larger than life, post-impressionism is a broad term for all of the new methods that evolved, including Symbolism, Neo-Impressionism, Synthetism, and Cloisonnism.
This new art style all featured varying levels of abstraction that eventually led to the culture of unhinged abstraction that characterizes modern art.
Some of the most notable artists from this era include Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat, Paul Gauguin, and Paul Cézanne.
Paul Cézanne is widely regarded by many to be the father of Post-Impressionism. A good reason for this momentous title is that Paul Cézanne’s works, The Card Players, were some of the most prominent pieces that represented the shift from Impressionism to Post-impressionism, drawing heavily from both eras.
The Card Players is a series of five oil paintings created by the French artist near the end of the 19th century and in the last phase of his career. These five paintings form the cornerstone of an elaborate body of work that also includes an abundance of sketch drawings and study notes created during the making of these series.
All five paintings in The Card Players series are unique pieces in their own right as they all vary in size, setting, and the number of players depicted in the scene.
For each painting, Paul Cézanne drew inspiration from his environment, representing everyday peasants from his hometown of Provence, as they immersed themselves in a game of cards while smoking their pipes.
He displayed all of the subjects, who were all male, in a state of intense focus on their playing cards, with their eyes affixed downwards and with the rest of the environment being relatively mundane and sinking into the background.
This specific unit is one of the paintings from the series with only two players. It depicts two farmhands intensely focusing on their game while an unopened bottle sits on the table.
The painting was sold in 2011 for at least $250 million ($301 million in today’s dollars) to the Royal Family of Qatar, setting the record at the time for the highest price paid for a painting.
When Will You Marry?
- Artist: Paul Gauguin
- Produced: 1892
- Last Finalized Price (adjusted to 2021 dollars): $240 million
Paul Gauguin is another French pioneer who helped shape the artistic style of Post-impressionism. However, Paul Gauguin’s works are often recognized more for their extensive use of primitivism, as this concept forms the basis of all of his most prominent paintings.
Primitivism is a form of idealization in art, architecture, or behavior that aspires to recreate or emulate experiences that it considers “primitive.”
This form of behavioral or aesthetic idealization stems from the belief that the culture and peoples of more primitive societies are nobler and closer to our correct nature than those of large, civilized societies.
This utopian ideology has always existed in some form since the history of civilization and represents a strong nostalgia for prehistoric living conditions that plague us all.
However, this primitivist idealism gained a renewed fever in the 19th and 20th centuries with the dawn of industrialization (and its many perceived ills) and the discovery of new lands (especially islands) by the Europeans that were populated with native peoples that were previously unknown to them.
The seemingly natural condition of these peoples, free from the pressures of European civilization, imperialism, and technology, had an allure that was hard for many to resist.
Post-impressionist trailblazer Paul Gauguin caught the primitivist fever at the tail end of the 20th century. He sought to become closer to these more primitive ways, escaping European hi-tech civilization.
To achieve this goal, the painter relocated temporarily to the French colony of Tahiti, embracing a more barebones lifestyle that was significantly more natural than what was accessible in his home state of France.
However, while due to French colonization, the lifestyle on Tahiti was not as primitive as he might have expected, Paul Gauguin was definitely caught up in the allure of this new land, as evidenced by the paintings he produced there.
Gauguin created an assortment of paintings depicting native Tahitian women, including those clothed in Tahitian attire and others wearing more western-styled clothing. He also painted several pieces showing native women in the nude.
This painting—titled “Nafea faa ipoipo?” (When Will You Marry?) in Tahitian—shows two native women, one in traditional attire and the other in a western-styled dress.
True to the post-impressionist style of larger-than-life elements, the paint features dreamlike swathes of areas with bright blue, yellow, and green tones.
The younger woman sitting in front dorns a traditional attire and wears a white tiare flower behind one of her ears, which may represent the fact that she is seeking a husband. Behind her, a second woman sits adorned in a western-style high-necked dress while bearing a stern, possibly disapproving countenance.
Paul Gauguin’s “When Will You Marry?” last sold in 2015, when its long-term owners, the Staechelin Family, sold the piece to Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad Al-Thani (the sister of Qatar’s ruling Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and daughter of the country’s Father Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani) for close to $210 million at the time.
- Artist: Jackson Pollock
- Produced: 1948
- Last Finalized Price (adjusted to 2021 dollars): $229 million
Few painters get to become global celebrities during their lifetime, and fewer still personify this rare feat better than Jackson Pollock.
Pollock was a prominent figure in the abstract expressionist art movement that took the United States and then the world by storm in the wake of World War II. However, much of Pollock’s recognition came from the peculiar methods with which he approached his art creation.
During his time, the painter was the face of a relatively obscure form of painting known as the drip technique.
Pollock painted by splashing or pouring liquid paint onto the canvas, which was laid horizontally on the floor of his studio. With the canvas in this position, the artist was able to approach the painting of the canvas from all angles.
However, Pollock took things a step further. The painter often painted with his entire body, attacking the canvas irregularly and at a frantic pace from different angles while enveloped in a trance-like dance.
There is no recognizable subject in all of Pollock’s most notable works. These large canvasses were completely covered in a random-looking assortment of different paint layers. This seeming lack of pattern or principle of organization in the paintings was a major divisive topic amongst critics of Pollock’s paintings.
While many hailed him for the unmatched spontaneity found in his work, others dismissed the claims of genius, citing the perceived randomness of his work.
This unique painting system further accentuated the mysticism of the painter and played a crucial role in winning him favor with the populace.
Item Number 17A, which is arguably Pollock’s most prominent piece, was featured in the August 1949 edition of Life magazine, catapulting the painter to the international stage and making him a national celebrity.
The oil paint on a fiberboard piece changed ownership in September 2015 when it was sold by the foundation of American business magnate David Geffen to Kenneth C. Griffin, the Chief Executive Officer of American hedge fund Citadel LLC for $229 million in 2021 dollars.
Water Serpents II
- Artist: Gustav Klimt
- Produced: 1904–07
- Highest Finalized Price (adjusted to 2021 dollars): $213.8 million
None of the paintings on this list has a past that is as checkered as Wasserschlangen II by Gustav Klimt, and even its highest finalized price is surrounded by controversy.
Wasserschlangen II (translates to Water Serpents II) was created by prominent Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt as part of a set of five paintings (the four others include Goldfish, Medicine, Moving Water, and Water Serpent I), all of which featured water nymphs. He painted all five pieces for Jenny Steiner, the daughter of a Viennese industrialist, who commissioned him for the job.
Like the other paintings in the series, Wasserschlangen II featured water nymphs, in this case, four of them.
True to Gustav’s style (Gustav’s main subject for his paintings was the female body,) the nymphs all strike a highly sensual figure, with the two in the foreground appearing fully nude and showing hints of their pubes.
While the painting can be viewed as an innocent depiction of mythical figures, many speculate that Gustav’s painted them with an underlying association with (then) taboo subjects like same-sex relationships.
Unfortunately, since Jenny Steiner, who owned the paintings, was Jewish, she had to flee Vienna, leaving her belongings behind due to the threat from the Nazis that was imminent in the face of World War II.
This meant that her art collection, including Wasserschlangen II, was confiscated by the Nazi army, who gave this specific piece to a Gustav Ucicky, a Nazi filmmaker.
On his death, Ucicky left the painting to his wife Ursula, who retained ownership until she put it up for sale in 2012. Since the painting was considered stolen, Ursula had to reach an agreement with the family of Jenny Steiner to split the proceeds of the sale 50-50. They completed the sale the same year to art broker Yves Bouvier for an impressive $112 million.
However, only a year later, Yves Bouvier sold the painting to Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian billionaire businessman and one of the world’s most prominent private art collectors, for $183.3 million.
This sale and a host of others by the art broker are now part of a scandal called The Bouvier Affair, with several suits (which are still ongoing) brought against him for falsely representing the details of the sale and deceiving the buyers into paying more than was necessary.
No. 6 (Violet, Green, and Red)
- Artist: Mark Rothko
- Produced: 1951
- Last Finalized Price (adjusted to 2021 dollars): $213 million
For those who are not well versed with art styles and art history, it is easy to take one look at this painting and wonder why it is worth anything tangible. Well, if you are in this camp, you will be more shocked when you discover it is worth a couple of million dollars.
However, when you look into the artist and his history, everything begins to make sense.
Mark Rotho, the painter who created this piece, was an American abstract painter who pushed abstraction in art to its limit. Rotho did not personally identify with any school of art as he preferred to live outside systematized roles and designation.
While Rotho did not personally identify with any art school, art historians associate him with the American abstract expressionism movement of the 40s.
For most of his life, Rothko lived quite modestly, which is surprising considering the fact that the painter attracted significant acclaim and proportional financial compensation.
Best capturing Rothko’s disdain for the regular is his execution of the Seagram mural, one of the projects he created late in his career. These paintings were commissioned as design pieces for the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building. However, while painting them, Rothko became disenfranchised with the idea that the paintings were to become ornamental objects enjoyed exclusively by wealthy diners. Instead, he refunded the substantial commission and donated the finished works to a group of museums.
During his life, Rothko also gifted out several completed series, including the Harvard Mural series which he donated to Harvard’s Smith Campus Center, and a group of 14 canvases he installed in Rothko Chapel, a Houston non-denominational chapel named after him.
Mark Rothko’s beginnings as a painter had him heavily focussed on painting urban scenery, a basis that would help influence his color field paintings from his golden age in the latter stages of his career.
No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) is a quintessential piece from Mark Rothko in his heyday. The painting shows a canvas divided into irregularly-sized rectangles of painterly colors, with uneven, hazy shades populating the landscape.
This painting was another piece involved in the infamous Bouvier Affair. Art dealer Yves Bouvier sold the painting to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev for $186 million dollars in 2014 in a shady deal. While Bouvier pretended to act as a broker for the sale, he actually was the painting’s owner, having purchased it secretly earlier that year for significantly cheaper.
Portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit
- Artist: Rembrandt
- Produced: 1634
- Last Finalized Price (adjusted to 2021 dollars): $206 million
No list that contains the highest profile of artists to ever life can be complete without mentioning Rembrandt.
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was one of the major highlights of the Dutch Golden Age, working as a painter, printmaker, and draftsman. He was an accomplished trailblazer in all three realms but is most fondly remembered as one of the most notable visual artists of all time, especially in Dutch art history.
Unlike most other 17th-century artists—who often picked a lane, style, or subject type and specialized—Rembrandt worked on everything. He painted everything from landscapes to historical scenes, mythological motifs, biblical images, animal studies, portraits, and self-portraits. He also dabbled in a variety of painting styles.
Like most other important Dutch painters of that era, Rembrandt wasn’t just an artist that required patrons, he was also an art collector and businessman. Plus, the artist’s prolific works saw him become a famous celebrity in his lifetime and garner significant wealth.
However, he, unfortunately, experienced a series of personal and financial struggles around the tail end of his life.
However, Rembrandt is most famed for his self-portraits and portraits of others. He first gained success as a youthful portrait painter, worked on perfecting the craft during his active years, and ended up as one of the greatest to ever do it in that genre. Hence, it is no surprise that it is one of those pieces that got him on this list.
Rembrandt’s Portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit (Pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit) are a pair of full-length portraits by the artist during the wedding of the couple. Both partners are fully clad and upscale white and black attire that is consistent with what you would expect from wealthy Amsterdam residents.
The main feature that makes this pair special from the rest of Rembrandt’s work are their unusually large size—they show the subjects in full length. Furthermore, the fact that they are two massively-sized portraits that have been kept together as a unit further bolsters their value.
The painting is one of the few expensive pairs that have managed to be kept together throughout their entire provenance.
The heir of the paintings’ subjects managed to keep the paintings in the family for over 130 years before selling them to French banker Gustave Samuel de Rothschild in 1877.
However, it was the most recent sale of the pair, which was a joint purchase by the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum for 160 million euros, that solidified this pair’s place as the most expensive Rembrandt ever sold.
Women of Algiers “Version O”
- Artist: Pablo Picasso
- Produced: 1954–1955
- Last Finalized Price (adjusted to 2021 dollars): $206 million
Picasso is one of the handfuls of names from the art world that is easily recognizable by the general public, and for good reason. Pablo Ruiz is certainly one of the more notable names in art history, and he is up there in contention for the most influential artist of the last century.
Known for dabbling in a broad range of art styles, Picasso helped lay the groundwork for several art schools that became prominent styles later in the 20th century. He is also noted for helping co-founded the Cubist movement and the use of collage.
Working as both a painter, sculptor, theater designer, ceramicist, and printmaker, the Spanish was always at the bleeding edge of art in all its forms. This meant that the style of his artwork was always changed.
Consequently, art historians often categorize Picasso’s work into different periods, typically beginning with the neoclassical style that characterized his early paintings and ending with a deep leaning into Cubism at the latter stages of his career.
At the tail end of his most active years, Picasso began creating works combining bits from his earlier styles, producing fluid pieces of art that could not be tied to only one school. His most valuable work today, the Women of Algiers (Les Femmes d’Alger) series, is the quintessential unit that best represents this period.
The set was a series of 15 major paintings and several more drawings created by Picasso between 1954 and 1955. The series was created by the painter after being inspired by Eugène Delacroix’s 1834 painting The Women of Algiers in their Apartment.
Ferdinand Eugène Delacroix was the prime leading painter of the French Romantic period. His use of color to add hyper-realistic details to his art was key in furthering the Romantic school and influencing the development of both the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist styles.
Since Picasso spent most of his life in France and was deeply entrenched in the increase of abstraction in art, it is no surprise that Delacroix was one of his major influences.
“Version O,” the most expensive painting in the lot, was the last in this series and was painted by Picasso in 1955.
This piece was last auctioned in May 2015 at Christie’s New York for $179.4 million, a record price at the time for paintings sold at auction. The unit was sold by its former owner, an undisclosed Saudi Arabian collector, to Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, the former Qatari prime minister.