10 of the Most Expensive Paintings in the World

Written by Arpan Ghosh

A masterpiece comes together as a result of a singular vision by an artist, combined by painstaking effort that can take the span of several years. Art, at its very core, is priceless, but the works it produces have tremendous monetary value among collectors. These are ten of the most expensive paintings ever sold.

Three Studies of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon - $142.4 million

Irish-born painter Francis Bacon created this delightful triptych to honor fellow artist Lucian Freud, who was a friend and also a professional rival. Freud, the grandson of the famous neurologist and psychoanalyst, met Bacon in 1945 and the two of them painted each other quite a few times. Bacon actually produces two triptychs of Freud, but the first has not been seen since 1992. The second, shown above, became the most expensive painting sold in 2013.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II by Gustav Klimt - $150 million

Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt was a prominent figure in Vienna’s art world in the early 20th century, and drew much of his influence from the style and methods of Japanese art. That influence is reflected in paintings such as the one above, which is the second of two portraits that he painted for his close friend and patron of the arts, Adele Bloch-Bauer. Both paintings were among the artworks stolen during World War II, but were thankfully recovered. In 2006, the painting was bought for $88 million by Oprah Winfrey, who sold it to an unnamed buyer ten years later for a cool $150 million.

The Masterpiece by Roy Lichtenstein - $165 million

Self-fulfilling prophecy or self-promotion? The aptly titled ‘The Masterpiece’ is one of several works by pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, who was part of an art movement that began in the 1950’s and was characterised by vivid uses of colour and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. The Masterpiece, like several of his works, takes stylistic elements from comic books and strips, including Ben-Day dots and speech bubbles. In more recent years, this kind of art has been called into question, with the suggestion that it is all gloss and no substance, though many believe that there are several layers of meaning behind the work.

Pendant Portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit by Rembrandt - $180 million

In 1634, the Dutch master was commissioned to paint a portrait of a young couple on the occasion of their wedding. Both were part of the Amsterdam elite, and Oopjen Coppit’s hand in marriage was much sought-after by many suitors in the city. These twin paintings are exceptional in that they are the only two examples of full-length portraits done by Rembrandt. While the state of the couple’s marriage wasn’t written about in the history books, their images have been inseparable since the day they were painted. They were bought as a joint project by the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum, and remain together to this day.

No.6 (Violet, Green and Red) by Mark Rothko - $186 million

Certainly one of the more unusual paintings on this list, No.6 was painted by Latvian-American artist Mark Rothko in 1951 and is composed entirely of large splashes of colour - specifically violet, green and red. That is typical of his oeuvre, however, who worked in the realm of abstract expressionism. The most notable aspect of this painting, however, is that it is one of the 36 artworks named in the Bouvier Affair, an infamous and ongoing legal battle between Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev and Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier, who is alleged to have defrauded his clients by overcharging them for the pieces they bought.

Number 17A by Jackson Pollock - $200 million

Painted by noted American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock in 1948, Number 17A is one of the earlier works in his ‘drip painting’ series. Like much of Pollock’s work, the painting appears to be a haphazard series of squiggles and splashes on canvas, and garnered mixed reviews at the time. A more careful examination of the piece reveals exactly how each colour was applied and the high level of precision that went into it. If ever there were a visual representation to the method behind someone’s madness, this would be it.

Nafea Faa Ipoipo by by Paul Gauguin - $210 million

An influential figure in post-impressionism, French artist Paul Gauguin went largely unnoticed in his time, with his works only becoming popular after his death. In 1892, he went to Tahiti, one of many trips that he took to the island to get away from Europe and what he considered to be a life of artifice. Much of his work during that time depicted native women and landscaped, and while some consider these pieces to be not as impressive as his previous works, they represent a simpler and more authentic way of life.

The Card Players by Paul Cezanne - $250 million

Paul Cezanne laid the foundations for the shift from late 19th century Impressionism to newer and more experimental movements in the early 20th century, such as Cubism. One of his most famous series of works is The Card Players, consisting of five oil paintings done between 1890 and 1895. As the name suggests, the paintings depict groups of card players, with each painting altering the setting and other details  - the first image, for example, has five players, but the number drops down to just two by the third painting. In 2011, the Royal Family of Qatar purchased one of the paintings for a price that broke the records of any previous artwork sold at auction.

Interchange by Willem de Kooning - $300 million

A Dutch immigrant who moved to the United States in his early 20’s but didn’t gain American citizenship until much later, Willem de Kooning was no stranger to the idea of transitions. He is considered to be one of the leading artistic figures in the 20th century, alongside fellow abstract expressionists such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. In 1955, when his life and his career were undergoing a transition, he painted Interchange. The piece is inspired by his surroundings in New York City and is one of his first landscape paintings. While it  might seem like random splotches of colour, like any good abstract piece it requires a closer look to reveal the details within.

Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci - $450.3 million

This is perhaps one of the most famous paintings in the world, in no small part because of its purchase by Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman in 2017. It is one of the last works by Leonardo da Vinci and seamlessly ties together the physical world with the realms of religion and spirituality. It is believed that there are 20 copies of the painting in existence, with the original thought to have been lost sometime in the 17th century. One of the copies, purchased by a group of British art dealers for a mere $10,000, was painstakingly restored and discovered to be the original. Originally meant to be unveiled as part of the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s collection in 2018, the piece is currently being held in storage until an unspecified date, which only adds to its intrigue.

Francis Bacon, Gusav Klimt, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cezanne, Leonardo da Vinci paintings courtesy of Wikipedia. Roy Lichtenstein painting courtesy of Blue Horizon Prints. Rembrandt, Jackson Pollock paintings courtesy of Pinterest. Mark Rothko painting courtesy of ArtsCash. Willem de Kooning painting courtesy Sotheby's New York.