Everyone knows that art can sometimes come with a big price tag. The greatest masterpieces all cost something and it’s never cheap. Here’s a list of the most expensive pieces of art in history and who were the big spenders that made the transaction. 

1. Salvator Munti By Leonardo da Vinci (c.1500)

‘Salvator Munti’ By Leonardo da Vinci (c.1500)
Image Source: Wikipedia

The most expensive painting in the world comes in at $450.3 million. It was sold in auction back in 2017 to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture & Tourism.

Known as the Lost Leonardo, Salvator Munti (Savior of the World) has a unique history:

Da Vinci’s portrayal of Jesus Christ holding a crystal orb in his left hand was commissioned by King Louis XII of France in 1605. This was during the same period when the artist painted the Mona Lisa. However, the painting disappeared from all records somewhere between 1763 and 1900. It wasn’t until 2005 when a group of British art dealers rediscovered the masterpiece and purchased it for $10,000. They then spent six years restoring the painting and investigating its provenance and authenticity. The painting was exhibited by the National Gallery of London in 2011 after it was agreed that the painting was an original Da Vinci. It was the first discovery of a Da Vinci since 1909.

2. Interchange by Willem de Kooning (1955)

‘Interchange’ by Willem de Kooning (1955)
Image Source: Wikipedia

The abstract expressionist oil painting was sold to hedge fund billionaire, Kenneth C. Griffin in 2015 for a cool $300 million. He also dropped $200 million for Jackson Pollock’s Number 17A on the same day.

Willem de Kooning’s Interchange was inspired by his time living in New York City. The title of the painting was reflective of his neighbourhood he was living in at the time.

3. The Card Players by Paul Cézanna (1892-1893)

‘The Card Players’ by Paul Cézanna (1892-1893)
Image Source: Wikipedia

In 2011, the Royal Family of Qatar acquired Cézanna’s The Card Players for $250 million – reportedly paying double the existing record for any piece of art sold at auction. At the time of sale, it was the most expensive painting ever sold. 

The painting is one of five included in the French artist’s 1890’s series with the same title. The series is considered to be the prelude to his final years when he painted some of his most recognised work.

4. Nafea Faa Ipoipo by Paul Gauguin (1892)

‘Nafea Faa Ipoipo’ by Paul Gauguin (1892)
Image Source: Wikipedia

Meaning ‘When Will You Marry?’, the fourth most expensive painting sold to Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani of the Royal Family of Qatar for $300 million in 2015.

The painting portrays two Tahitien women and was painted a year after Gauguin arrived in Tahiti. When the painting was exhibited in Paris the following year, it was met with a silent audience. It went unsold. 

Fast forward to 2015 and the new owner of the painting is not only the sister of Emir of Qatar but is also the chairwoman of the Qatar Museums Authority. She’s also regularly featured on Forbes’ list, ‘The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.’

5. Number 17A by Jackson Pollock (1948)

‘Number 17A’ by Jackson Pollock (1948)
Image Source: Wikipedia

The painting was bought in a $500 million deal alongside Interchange by Willem de Kooning. The deal was made by hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin back in 2015.

Number 17A was created a year after Jackson Pollock began practising his drip technique.

6. Wasserschlangen II by Gustav Klimt (1904-1907)

‘Wasserschlangen II’ by Gustav Klimt (1904-1907)
Image Source: Wikipedia

Translated as ‘Water Serpents II’, Gustav Klimt’s Wasserschlangen II was acquired by Russian cardiologist turned Oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev in 2013 for $183.8 million. 

The painting, which depicts a group of water nymphs in lustful bliss, wasn’t void of controversy in its sale from Yves Bouvier to Dmitry Rybolovlev. Bouvier lied to Rybololev, telling him that the painting was owned by a third party, when in fact it was a part of Bouvier’s own collection, which he had paid $112 million for. Bouvier convinced Rybolovlev that the painting was worth a lot more and finally, Rybolovlev acquired the painting for $183.8 million, plus an additional $3.7 million administrative fee. Bouvier ended up making a profit of $75 million through fraudulently inflating invoices for his services. When the con was discovered, Rybolovlev took Bouvier to court for fraud, along with a number of other victims who were swindled. The Bouvier Affair blew the lid off the world of private art dealing.

7. No. 6 (Violet, Red and Green) by Mark Rothko (1951)

‘No. 6 (Violet, Red and Green)’ by Mark Rothko (1951)
Image Source: Wikipedia

Another pricey masterpiece acquired by Dmitry Rybolovlev, this time he paid only $186 million for it back in 2014.

The market for a Rothko has skyrocketed in recent years – hence the hefty price tag. But the Rothko is another painting the Oligarch purchased from Bouvier for an inflated price. 

8. Pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit by Rembrandt (1634)

‘Pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit’ by Rembrandt (1634)
Image Source: Culture Trip

The pendant paintings were sold off in 2015 for $180 million. They were acquired by the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre as a joint venture, each paying 50%.

The pair of full-length wedding portraits were painted to celebrate the marriage of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit in 1634.

The paintings have never been separated and art historians and experts agree that they should always be displayed together.

9. Les Femmes d’Alger (“Version O”) by Pablo Picasso (1954-1955)

‘Les Femmes d’Alger (“Version O”)’ by Pablo Picasso (1954-1955)
Image Source: pablo-ruiz-picasso.net

The painting was acquired by Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, the former prime minister of Qatar in 2015 for $197.4 million. Prior to the sale of Salvator Mundi, Les Femmes d’ Alger (“Version O”) held the record for the most expensive painting to be sold at auction for two years.

Part of a series called Les Femmes d’ Alger or Women of Algiers, ‘Version O’ was the last of a series of 15 versions and is considered to be a tribute to his friend and fellow artist, Henri Matisse.

10. Nu Couché by Amedeo Modigliani (1917/1918)

‘Nu Couché’ by Amedeo Modigliani (1917/1918)
Image Source: Wikipedia

In 2015, Nu Couché was sold in auction for $170.4 to Chinese Billionaire businessman Liu Yiqian. The story goes that Yiqian purchased the painting in one single transaction using his American Express card.

Modigliani’s most famous nude, Nu Couché was one of a series of nudes. The series was first exhibited in his one and only solo show at the Galerie Berthe Weill gallery in Paris. The exhibition was shut down by the police.

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