Collecting art is a very popular hobby among the richest people in the world. One of these is expensive paintings. There’re several reasons why people buy expensive paintings that I’ll discuss later in this article. In recent years, we’re seeing governments, rulers as well as museums across the world.
While a lot of buyers prefer anonymity for obvious reasons, some of them disclose their identities.
In this article, I’ll also be listing the top 10 most expensive paintings in the world that were sold at various auctions around the world.
Therefore, let’s begin by understanding the reasons why people buy expensive paintings.
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Reasons for Buying Expensive Paintings
Obviously, people, museums, and governments don’t buy expensive paintings without reason. So why spend millions of Dollars on something that serves no greater purpose? Here’s why.
Expensive Paintings are Excellent Investments
Over the last decade, collecting art has become an acceptable form of alternative investment. This means people buy things whose value will rise with time. Paintings are one of these, alongside rare wines, among others.
That’s because conventional investments such as stocks, currencies, commodities, jewelry, Exchange Traded Funds, Mutual Funds, and others suffer whenever there’s an economic downturn for any reason.
The prestige of Owning Expensive Paintings
Secondly, there’s a lot of prestige in owning expensive paintings. Countries such as the State of Qatar in the Middle East have bought several expensive paintings for prestige and as a form of investment too. In such cases, the government holds the paintings and has the choice of displaying them at the museum or keeping it safe.
Attracting Art Lovers & More Visitors
Museums and art galleries around the world invest heavily in buying expensive paintings because they attract thousands of art lovers and curious visitors. For example, The Louvre could attract more than 10.2 million visitors in 2018 and 9.6 million in 2019 because they display the world’s most famous expensive painting- Mona Lisa- by Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci. For your information, the number of visitors to The Louvre in 2019 was lower due to riots that affected the French capital during the peak travel months that year.
Now that you know that people don’t buy expensive paintings merely to display and gaze at them in their bedrooms or living rooms, let’s see which are the top 10 priciest paintings in the world.
Also Read: How to Sell Your Art Online
10 Most Expensive Paintings in the World
This list of the top 10 most expensive paintings in the world have been taken from various news reports and details available from various reputable auction houses around the world, including Christie’s and Sotheby’s, among others.
The prices of these paintings are based on how much they were sold for at the last auction. Meaning the owners of these paintings haven’t sold them publicly through auctions and may still be the rightful owners.
1. Salvator Mundi (1490-1500)- by Leonardo da Vinci
Sold at a whopping $450.3 million at Christie’s on November 15, 2017, the Salvator Mundi is the most expensive painting in the world. This painting has a very interesting history and was first sold for a mere $65 to a private collector because nobody knew it was painted by the famous Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci. Salvator Mundi remained hidden for several years before resurfacing in the collection of a millionaire.
Salvator Mundi was bought at $450.3 million by the Department of Tourism & Culture of the Abu Dhabi government. It is now owned by Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the Heir Apparent of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and currently de-facto ruler.
2. Les Femmes d’Alger Version ‘O’ (1955)- by Pablo Piscasso
Les Femmes d’Alger Version ‘O’ ranked as the most expensive painting in the world after it was bought for $179.4 million by an anonymous buyer bidding on the phone during a Christie’s auction on May 11, 2015. The bid was so high that Christie’s International Head of Contemporary Art, Brett Gorvy, himself had to speak with the phone bidder, whose identity remains a secret.
There’re no further records of the owner putting Les Femmes d’Alger by Italian artist Pablo Picasso for sale at any auction house later. Its previous owners include royal families from the Middle East and assorted millionaires.
3. nu Couche (1917)- by Amado Modigliani
A private collector from China, Li Yiqian, paid a fabulous $170.4 million for this masterpiece at an auction on November 9, 2015, by Christie’s in London. This was the first time that any painting by Italian artist Amado Modigliani fetched such a high price.
The title of this most expensive painting in the world translates as “Nude on the Couch.” Till date, it remains the single most expensive painting from the nu Couche series by Amado Modigliani, who has several other paintings of nudes.
4. nu Couche -sur la couche gote (1917) – by Armando Modigliani
Nu Couche- Sur la Couche gote by Italian impressionist Armando Modigliani holds the record as the fourth most expensive painting in the world. It sold for $157.2 million at Sotheby’s auction in New York on May 14, 2018.
An anonymous buyer bid the amount on the phone to Simon Shaw, Co-Head, of Impressionist & Modern Art at Sotheby’s New York. This is the second most valuable painting in the nu Couche series.
5. Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) – by Francis Bacon
Ireland-born British painter Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud currently holds the fifth place as the most expensive painting in the world. At an auction on 12, 2013, at Christie’s, this painting went for $142.4 million.
In fact, bidders fiercely contested the Three Studies of Lucian Freud due to the uniqueness of this tryptic painting, one of the rare ones in the world. This painting propelled Francis Bacon among the most popular contemporary painters of the world.
6. Twelve Landscape Screens (1925)- by Qi Baishi
Twelve Landscape Screens by Chinese painter Qi Baishi set a record of sorts when it fetched $140.8 million at the Beijing Poly Auction on December 17, 2017. This was the first time that works from any painter from China had sold for over $100 million. These are a collection of 12 assorted paintings made using Chinese calligraphy and brush, among other materials.
7. The Scream (1893)- by Edvard Munch
Once considered the most expensive painting in the world, The Scream by Edvard Munch fetched $119.9 million when it last went under the auctioneer’s hammer at Sotheby’s on May 2, 2012.
The painting is reportedly owned by Leon Black, a New York-based financer who bid at this auction anonymously. The Scream is a depiction of the artist’s own experience of screaming while terrified on a lonely walk in the woods.
8. Young Girl With The Flower Basket (1905)- by Pablo Picasso
Another painting by Italian artist Pablo Picasso that ranks among the most expensive in the world and crosses the $100 million mark is Young Girl With The Flower Basket. This is a nude impressionist painting of a girl and was part of the collection of David and Peggy Rockefeller.
At a Christie’s auction on May 8, 2018, this painting sold for $115 million to an unknown bidder. The painting was on loan to Musee-D’Orsay, a museum, till January 2019.
9. Meules (1890)- by Claude Monet
Meules by impressionist artist Claude Monet is the first of his landscape series to cross the $100 million mark. The French painter is known for his most expensive paintings in the world, but none have crossed the $100 million mark, except the Meules.
This painting, sold by private collectors from Chicago, was acquired by an unknown bidder for $110.7 million at a Sotheby’s auction on May 14, 2019.
10. Untitled (1982)- by Jean-Michel Basquiat
Sold last for $110.5 million at a Sotheby’s auction on May 18, 2017, the ‘Untitled’ by French painter Jean-Michel Basquiat was bought by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa.
This auction was also very fierce since Untitled is one of the rare paintings by famous French artists. This expensive painting of the world hasn’t been seen much in public since it’s always been with private collectors.
The Single Most Expensive Painting in the World
While the above ten paintings are indeed expensive, when one sees the prices, there’s one painting that’ll most likely never go for auction. It’s also the most famous painting in the world, and you’ll see copies everywhere.
Yes, it’s the Mona Lisa by Italian artist Leonardo Da Vinci. There’s a lot of mystery that surrounds the Mona Lisa. Nobody knows whether Mona Lisa really existed or was it just a painting made from mere imagination. There’re also conspiracy theories that Leonardo Da Vinci hid some secret under the layers of paint that make the Mona Lisa, or there’s some message in her enigmatic smile.
Actually, Mona Lisa isn’t a large painting as you might imagine. It’s a rather small one. The size is 77cm x 53cm only. As you might know, Mona Lisa is on display at The Louvre in Paris and attracts millions of visitors every year.
Mona Lisa was bought for 4,000 crowns by King Francis-I of France from Leonardo Da Vinci. Since then, Mona Lisa has lived in the palaces of various French kings and emperors, including Napoleon Bonaparte.
Valued currently at more than $800 million, it is the single most expensive painting in the world. It is also the most copied painting, with fake Mona Lisa images adorning walls of homes and offices around the world.
The original Mona Lisa is owned by the Government of France.
There’re several other paintings that fetched more than $100 million at various auctions around the world. This list of 10 paintings tops the charts with their prices. Interestingly, these paintings can be sold by their owners or loaned for public display in museums. Only the Mona Lisa can’t be sold since it’s a state property.
What's the world's most expensive painting?
According to the Guinness World Records, the most expensive painting ever sold is Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi, which was purchased for $450.3 million in November 2017.
What are the top 5 most expensive paintings in the world?
The top 5 most expensive paintings are Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci, Les Femmes d’Alger Version ‘O’ by Pablo Picasso, nu Couche by Amado Modigliani, nu Couche -Sur la couche gote by Armando Modigliani, Three Studies of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon, etc.