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Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings in the World as of 2021


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article on the most expensive painting in the world 2021, and most expensive abstract art Every year or so, the art world explodes into the mainstream headlines due to an astonishingly expensive sale, with the most expensive paintings and abstract art in the world arousing the imagination of collectors worldwide. In 2016, the most expensive painting in the world was Gustav Klimt’s Adele Bloch-Cauer II. Earlier this year, it was a painting of a reclining nude woman by Italian artist Amedo Modigliani that had eyebrows raising (and not in the way it did back when it was painted in 1917).

Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) is Modigliani’s masterpiece. Measuring 58 inches across, it was originally exhibited in a show that would come to be known as the starting point for redefining the fine art nude. In art history terms, its influence is huge: but a price tag of $157.2 million will always have tongues wagging. To contextualize this, a Picasso masterpiece at the same auction went for a comparatively thrifty $36.9 million. Modigliani gave Sotheby’s New York its most expensive sale to date, and implicitly the most expensive painting in the world as of 2021. Today, we’re looking at the most expensive paintings and abstract art in the world sold either via auction, or by private sale…in recent times, and throughout time.

As far as quality investments are concerned, quality art has always been an investment worth making, particularly if you have knowledge of the field and have a certain eye for picking out talent. Selling art at auction has always been a particularly popular thing to do both for artists and collectors alike: for starters, serious art collectors are given the opportunity to buy sought-after pieces at competitive prices. Auction sales also give established, consistent artists the opportunity to establish themselves beyond the realms of gallery sales and appeal to a whole new genre of buyers. With certain galleries renowned for being the places to sell art, understanding the market and how to benefit from it has likely never been easier.

It goes without saying that the best paintings and art sells for prices beyond your wildest imagination – and quite rightly so. Art is considered a luxury worth investing in and auction house sales are heavily researched by specialists who know everything there is to know about the paintings that they are valuing. As interest in purchasing some of the most expensive pieces of art increases, the price paid for them correlates accordingly – meaning that the most expensive known paintings and pieces of art sold at auction have ranged between a lower limit of 118 million dollars and 450 million dollars. Hence our team at New Bond Street Pawnbrokers has put together a list of the top 10 most expensive paintings and art ever sold on auction as of 2021, (and some special mentions).

And the top 10 most expensive paintings and art ever sold as of 2021 are…

10. No. 5, 1948 | Jackson Pollock | (1948) | sold for $140m (€118.8m)

Whilst the vast majority of art that has sold for hundreds of million dollars are antique pieces, there are a large quantity of modern and contemporary pieces being sold at auction that are reaching the same realms. Jackson Pollock is an example of an abstract expressionist artist who exceeded expectations at auction recently. His painting ‘No. 5’ sold in May 2006 for $140 million – at the time, this was a record sale for a painting and the most expensive painting in the world at the time, not surpassed until 2011. Whilst response to the painting initially was underwhelming, it has since achieved critical acclaim and stands as the tenth most expensive painting to have been sold at auction. The demand for Pollock’s art is high and auction houses are crying out for sellers of Pollock’s work.

9. Nu Couché | Amedeo Modigliani | (1917/18) | sold for $170.4m (€144.6m)

Arguably much more traditional than Jackson Pollock’s artwork, Nu Couché, an 1917 oil on canvas by Amedeo Modigliani, sold for auction in New York for $170 millon in 2018. Nu Couché is one of Modigliani’s most widely reproduced and exhibited paintings and is one of a series of controversial nudes painted by Modigliani whilst under the guidance of Polish dealer Léopold Zborowski. It sold for almost six times the amount it had previously made at auction – highlighting just how much influence auction sales can have on the value of a painting, and making this painting the most expensive piece of art of its year.

8. Les Femmes d’Alger (“Version O”) | Pablo Picasso | (1955) | sold for $179.4m (€152.3m)

A name that doesn’t particularly need introducing, Picasso and his artwork has been in the public eye for generations now and quite rightly so. Les Femmes d’Alger took on Picasso’s distinct style and was a cubist reimagining of Eugène Delacroix’s 1834 painting The Women of Algiers in their Apartment. Part of a series of paintings and drawings, ‘Version O’ sold in 2013 for a record $179.4m at auction to the former Qatari prime minister, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani.
worlds most expensive works of art

With bright hues, Cubist perfection and the age-old muse, the female nude, this painting broke records at the time of its sale, making it the most expensive painting in the world that year . It’s a firm favorite and has appeared in many of the artist’s major retrospectives. The painting was part of a 15-work series Picasso created in 1954-55, all marked with the letters A to O.

Date of sale: May 11, 2015

Final price: $179.4 million

Details of sale: Auction [Christie’s, New York]

7. Portraits of Maerten Soolmans/Oopjen Coppit | Rembrandt | (1634) | sold for $180m (€152.8m)

A pair of portraits by Rembrandt in 1634 were jointly bought by the Louvre Museum and Rijksmuseum in 2015 – for an artist record purchase price of $180m. The paintings were produced for the occasion of the pair’s wedding in 1634. Produced and painted on seperate occasions, the portraits have been kept and displayed together since they were created and have always hung side by side in gallery showings and collections. The portraits are particularly impressive because they are full-sized and show a full-body image – very atypical of Rembrandt’s usual painting style and as a result a particularly valuable pair of portraits to be in possession of.
worlds most expensive works of art

In preparation for a potential bidding war, the Netherlands and France bought these two rare Rembrandts together. The 17th-century paintings had rarely been seen in public, and now alternate between Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and Paris’ Louvre.

The two portraits represent a young couple. Rembrandt was commissioned to paint them to mark their wedding in 1634.

• Date of sale: Around September 2015
Final price: Around $180 million
Details of sale: Unknown – private sale

6. No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) | Mark Rothko | (1951) | sold for $186m (€157.9m)

One of the works implicated in the 2016 Bouvier Affair, No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) by Mark Rothko sold at auction for $186 in 2014. Currently contained within a private collection, the oil on canvas appears unimpressive, a simple distribution of large colour expanses, delineated by unevan shades of smudged colour. With abstract impressionism on the rise, the painting was sought after and invited a lot of interest but the question remains about the legitimacy of its value because of its links to the Bouvier Affair, a scandal in which pieces of artwork were given ‘fake’ values by critics as a way of ensuring that they sold for high prices.
worlds most expensive works of art

A leader of the Abstract Expressionism movement, Rothko’s paintings are characterized by harmonized blocks of colour that celebrate simplicity. It was sold in 2014 to a Russian billionaire, Dmitry Rybolovlev, who was assisted by Singapore-based Swiss art broker Yves Bouvier, and became the top expensive painting in the world that year.

• Date of sale: August 2014
• Final price: $186 million
• Details of sale: Private sale to Dmitry Rybolovlev via Yves Bouvier

5. Number 17A | Jackson Pollock | (1948) | sold for c$200m (€169.8m)

Pollock’s paintings seemingly have become incredibly sought after, with a second painting from his collection considered to be one of the top expensive paintings in the world ever sold at auction. Differing from No. 5 in way of its colour, No. 17a exhibits a radical example of drip painting. Drip painting pieces are interesting in the sense that they appear randomly distributed but it is clear that as far as Pollock is concerned at the very least, this is definitely not the case. Distribution lines throughout the painting clearly show his precise movements, giving definite justification for the $200m price tag the painting went for when sold in 2016.

Image credit: en.wikipedia.org

Another major player in the Abstract Expressionist movement, Jackson Pollock was an American painter with a notoriously volatile personality. During the late 40s and 50s, he became something of a celebrity for his artwork; although this only served to intensify his existing alcoholism. Like so many of his most recognizable works, Number 17A was painted during Pollock’s ‘drip period’.

One of the most expensive abstract art of its year,  the piece was purchased in conjunction with another painting on this list. Keep reading to find out which one.

• Date of sale: Around September 2015
• Final price: ~$200 million
• Details of sale: Unknown – private sale

4. Nafea Faa Ipoipo | Paul Gauguin | (1892) | sold for $210m (€178.3m)

Post-impressionism is a popular style for collectors and Paul Gauguin’s 1892 painting ‘Nafea Faa Ipoipo’ (When Will You Marry?) was absolutely no exception to this rule when it sold at auction for $210m in 2015. An oil on canvas painting, Nafea Faa Ipoipo was painted with the intention of showing Tahiti as an edenic paradise, contrasting with the primitivist representations previously exhibited by French artists. Gauguin was clearly successful in his aims, depicting a contrast between western and ‘orientale’ style on a background of the spectacular landscape. Gauguin was fascinated by the Tahitian language, choosing to name his paintings using their tongue rather than his native French.

worlds most expensive works of art

Rumors of the sale price for this artwork fluctuate, with some estimates stretching to $300 million which makes this piece the most expensive art piece sold that year. The buyer is suspected to be Qatar Museums, who would have purchased it off Rudolf Staechelin, a retired Sotheby’s executive.

• Date of sale: Around September 2014
• Final price: Around $210 million
• Details of sale: Unknown – private sale

3. The Card Players | Paul Cézanne | (1892/93) | sold for c.$250m (€212m)

Painted during Cézanne’s final period in the early 1890s, The Card Players is a series of oil paintings produced – varying in size, settings and the number of players included within the painting, the series is composed of five paintings and a number of drawings and studies carried out in preperation for the full scale series. One version of this expensive piece of art, The Card Players, sold on auction for around $250m to the Royal Family of Qatar, making it the 3rd most expensive painting ever sold at auction. As a post-impressionist, Cezanne and his paintings were particularly sought after so the selling price really goes as no surprise- the purchase was carried out as part of Qatar’s effort to establish itself as part as the international intellectual hub, something that the purchase of quality pieces of art would allow it to do.
worlds most expensive works of art

Another private sale made to a seller in Qatar, Paul Cezanne’s The Card Players was purchased by its Royal family, who are known to be prolific fine art investors and collectors of the most expensive pieces of abstract art as well.

Date of sale: Around April 2011
• Final price: Around $250 million
Details of sale: Unknown – private sale

2. Interchange | Willem de Kooning | (1955) | sold for c.$300m (€254m)

One of de Kooning’s first and the most expensive abstract artworks, Interchange (also known as Interchanged) was sold by the David Geffen foundation at auction to philanthropist Kenneth C. Griffin in 2015 for around $300m, along with Jackson Pollock’s 17a. The painting was particularly profound because of de Kooning’s clear change in style after being inspired and influenced by fellow artist Franz Kline, adding to its value. Part of the abstract impressionist movement, the painting is a study of the female figure as an internally primitive concept and incorporates yellows, oranges, and blue colours. The value of this painting comes partially from the fact that nothing like this painting will ever be produced again and its value aligns with this idea. The painting is said to be the best representative of de Kooning’s style, his representation of expressionism at its finest.
worlds most expensive works of art

Billionaire Ken Griffin, the founder of Citadel, had a bumper art day when he purchased this painting alongside Jackson Pollock’s Number 17A. Together, they totaled $300 million; making it one of the biggest ever days for private art deals.

• Date of sale: Around September 2015
• Final price: Around $300 million
Details of sale: Unknown – private sale

1. Salvator Mundi | Leonardo da Vinci | (1490-1519) | sold for $450.3m (€382m)

Unsurprisingly, the most expensive painting in the world ever sold at auction was created by Leonardo da Vinci. In 2017, for an enormous $450.3m, Salvator Mundi was sold. The picture depicts Jesus in Renaissance dress, making the sign of the cross with one hand and holding a clear, crystal ball with the other. Arguably an attempt at the collaboration of science and faith, the painting is known to represent the celestial spheres of the universe and the heavens. One of fewer than 20 known paintings attributed to da Vinci, its value is exponential and the sale price is clearly representative of that. Strangely enough, the painting’s current location is unknown and its history is intriguing. Found at auction in 2005, the painting was heavily overpainted and looked nothing like the original painting – although art historians hoped that it was the long-missing da Vinci painting that it replicated. The painting was carefully restored by Dianne Dwyer Modestini, using acetone to remove the overpainting. Its accreditation to da Vinci came from Dwyer Modestini’s assertion that the lips were so ‘perfect’ that no other painter could have produced it, although some critics claim that it should only be attributed to the workshop, not to da Vinci himself.
worlds most expensive works of art

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the most expensive painting ever sold. Until 1763, it bounced from Royal to Royal before going missing. It resurfaced in the late 19th Century, and wasn’t seen again until it was mislabelled in a Sotheby’s exhibition in 1958. It was sold for just £45.

47 years later, it sells for $10,000 to New York art dealer Alexander Parish.

In 2013, 8 years after Alexander Parish bought it, it was identified as a Leonardo Da Vinci. The price tag rocketed to $75 million, then to $127.5 million, and finally, in 2017, to $450.3 million.

Date of sale: November 15th 2017
• Final price: $450.3 million
• Details of sale: Auction [Christie’s, New York]

 

Special mentions…

We previously wrote about the art collection of David Bowie, which went on show around the world before being sold at Sotheby’s in London. The collection raised millions of pounds for Bowie’s estate, with buyers from around the world tabling bids for individual pieces of the collection. It’s a shame to split up such a beautiful collection from a master curator, but the power of Bowie’s provenance was understandably too much for fans and collectors to resist.

 

Damien Hirst painting art

 

Another interesting piece sold for $21.5m (all prices in this blog are shown in US dollar). Auction house Phillips pulled off a marketing masterstroke after the piece was slashed by a visitor to Austria’s Kunsthaus Bregenz, where it was being shown. The unfortunate incident was used as a value-adding backstory, leading to the sale of the piece for a cool amount.

 

 

Fine Art Scandal Auctioned for €91,800

Fine art collectors flocked to attend one of the regular art auctions held by  Sotheby’s, Paris. Simply titled, ‘R. & B. L. library’, it featured few paintings but was one of the most talked-about fine art events in decades and the final sale figure of €5.8 million was almost €1 million over the catalogue estimate. What was the secret? It was a rare opportunity to glimpse the intertwined lives of the early 20th century’s renowned Dadaists and Surrealists.

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The entire 500 lot collection included postcards drawn by Picasso, illustrated letters from Max Ernst and Joan Miró, poems by André Breton and Paul Éluard’s celebrated sketches of his wife Gala, who famously left him for Salvador DalÍ. This scandalous liaison also produced the highlight of the recent Paris auction; DalÍ’s illustrated diary at the time. Sold for €91,800 – almost double the catalogue estimate – this small, fat notebook is far from the only example of our fascination with artists far beyond their art.

Bill Gates and the da Vinci Codex

The most expensive manuscript bought at auction is the Codex Hammer. This loose-bound volume contains 72-pages of drawings and scientific studies compiled by Leonardo da Vinci between 1506 and 1510. The artist’s only notebook in private ownership, it was sold in 1994 to Bill Gates for $30.8 million. Not as scandalous as DalÍ’s musings but, questions like ‘why is the sky blue?’ are clearly riveting when asked by Leonardo da Vinci.

Art or Ephemera?

So what is the difference between art and ephemera and does it matter?

“There’s a long history of successful art ephemera and studio auctions. Collectors are fascinated by the influence of artist’s lives on their work. In many cases they’re both hugely valuable, as the DalÍ diary recently proved.” David Sonnethal, New Bond Street Pawnbrokers.

Fine assets are always in big demand as prices at auctions around the world continue to grow every year. You may also want to read our comprehensive articles on the most expensive items ever sold on auction for assets like fine wine collections, expensive jewellery, (including an article on the most expensive Cartier jewelry) luxury handbagsclassic carsdiamonds . If you like watches, then we wrote articles on the Top 10 most expensive Rolexes ever sold , Top 10 Most Expensive Watches ever sold, and Top 10 Brands of Fine Watches you Should Invest in

 

INFOGRAPHIC

We offer instant credit with minimal paperwork, plus specialist advice throughout. Some of the many artists we loan against include Andy WarholBernard BuffetDamien HirstDavid HockneyMarc ChagallRaoul DuffySean ScullyTom WesselmannTracey EminBanksy, and Roy Lichtenstein to name just a few. If you are looking for a quick overview on our various loans please visit our dedicated fine art loans webpage.



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