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  • Tishya Doraiswamy

The 7 Most Expensive Paintings in the World

“A picture is worth a thousand words” - you’ve probably heard this phrase before. But is a painting worth a million dollars? So seems to be the case! While we may be able to buy a postcard of Da Vinci or Rembrandt’s works for a few hundred rupees (if not less), the real works are slightly more expensive… than your house - or three houses (actually 300 houses). Today, we take a closer look at the most expensive paintings in the world. 

Salvator Mundi

Created: 1490-1500 AD

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci 

Price: $450.3 Million USD

Salvatore Mundi - Leonardo da Vinci

Depicting Jesus in Renaissance attire, the painting shows him making the sign of the cross with one hand while holding a transparent crystal orb in the other. The orb is a symbol of his role as the saviour of the world or ‘Salvatore Mundi’. It is speculated that the artwork was painted for Louis XII of France, commissioned in the early 16th century. Several versions of the painting exist, made largely by his followers, with many bringing in their own interpretations and styles. It is one of his most copied paintings, and for several years, the original was thought to have been lost, until it was rediscovered in the late 20th century. Nonetheless, da Vinci’s work remains, of course, unparalleled. 

Funnily enough, when included in an inventory of the Royal Collection of the British royal family in the 1650s, it was valued at a mere 30 pounds. in 2005, it was acquired at an auction for just $10,000. For a long time, it was believed to be a copy itself, until it was restored. In 2017, the painting was sold for a whopping $450.3 million, creating a new record.


Created: 1955

Artist: Willem de Kooning

Price: $300 Million USD

 Interchange - Willem de Kooning

Completed in 1955, this painting was one of Kooning’s first abstract, and clearly, one of the most famous. It represents a technical change in his painting style. During this time, he worked closely with artist Franz Kline, and the two influenced each other and evolved their styles by taking inspiration from one another. The piece, inspired by his surroundings during his time in New York, was a record-breaker for the price at which a painting was sold at the time. The work is an oil canvas painting painted on a 200.7 by 175.3-centimetre canvas. Initially, the painting was sold within a year of being completed for just $4000. after passing hands several times, it was sold in 2015 for $300 million, then representing a new record for the most expensive painting. 

The Card Players

Created: 1892-1893

Artist: Paul Cézanne

Price: $250 Million USD

A part of a series of 5 oil paintings known as The Card Players, these were painted by Paul Cézanne during the final years of his life, in the 1890s. The 5 paintings vary in size, settings, number of people. However, each painting portrays peasants of Provence, France, immersed in a game of cards. In fact, many of the characters painted were people employed on his own estate. 

While similar settings in the 17th century were generally characterised by drama, drunkenness, and brawls, Cézanne’s style is different - quiet, muted, and calm.

In 2011, one of the 5 was sold in a private selling to the Royal Family of Qatar for approximately $250 million.

Nafea Faa Ipoipo

Created: 1892

Artist: Paul Gauguin

Price: $210 Million USD

Nafea Faa Ipoipo - Paul Gauguin

In 1891, Paul Gauguin traveled to Tahiti for the first time, hoping to find “an Edenic paradise where he could create pure, primitive art”. Upon his arrival, however, his image of the place was shattered as he realised that the colonised country had experienced massive population loss due to diseases brought onto the island by Europeans. the primitive culture he wished to document existed no more, but nevertheless, he painted several pictures of women dressed in traditional Tahitian clothes as well as more Western styles. 

The painting, which translates to ‘When Will You Marry?’ was met with little success when he returned to France. However, over a century later, it was sold for $210 million in 2015. 

Number 17A

Created: 1948

Artist: Jackson Pollock

Price: $200 Million USD

It’s one of those paintings that makes you think “Well I could have made that!”. Unfortunately for you, you didn’t, and as a result, missed out on a few million dollars. Jackson Pollock, however, an avid contributor to the abstract expressionist movement, had no shortage of these paintings - splashes of colours all over a canvas. Today, his legacy is known all around the world as a pioneer of the abstract art movement. 

In 2016, his painting Number 17A was sold for $200 million to billionaire Kenneth C. Griffin. 

No. 6 (Violet, Green, and Red)

Created: 1951

Artist: Mark Rothko

Price: $186 Million USD

It may not be for everyone, but whether you like it or not, it’s had a profound impact on contemporary art.

The painting, created by Mark Rothko in 1951, features several uneven, hazy shades of colours.

It’s known for being involved in the Bouvier Affair, a series of international lawsuits against art dealer Yves Bouvier, who was accused of defrauding his clients, by overcharging them for the art they purchased!

Wasserschlangen II

Created: 1907

Artist: Gustav Klimt

Price: $170 Million USD

Wasserschlangen II - Gustav Klimt

Translating into Water Serpents II, this painting by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt deals with themes like sexuality and relationships. It is painted using oil paints on canvas and took Klimt 2 to 3 years to complete. It portrays several water nymphs, and while it can be seen as a non-controversial image of mythical creatures, several speculate that it represents same-sex relationships, which were then considered unacceptable. 

Wasserschlangen II has a rich history - during World War 2, its owner, Jenny Steiner (a Jewish) was forced to flee, and it was confiscated by the Nazis. It was given to a Nazi filmmaker, upon who’s death, was left to his wife. However, this remained unknown to the world, which considered the artwork lost. In 2012, his wife, Ursula Ucicky put the painting up for sale. It was eventually sold to Yves Bouvier - if that name sounds familiar, scroll up! Yes, this painting too, was involved in the Bouvier Affair. In 2015, however, the painting was sold once more, this time for the heavy price of $170 million, making it one of the most expensive paintings in the world.

We hope you enjoyed this article! Let us know who your favourite artist is in the comments below, and share this article with your friends!

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Tishya Doraiswamy, Content Writer @ Skyshot Media


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