So, which is the world’s most expensive painting?

Since the world’s most famous paintings are held privately or by museums and very rarely go on sale, its difficult to put a price on many of them. Given this fact, which is the world's most expensive painting?

Since the world’s most famous paintings are held privately or by museums and very rarely go on sale, its difficult to put a price on many of them.

The Highest Known Insurance Valuation for a Painting: Mona Lisa

As per the Guinness World Records, the highest known insurance valuation for a painting is $100 million – assessed for the move of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Mona Lisa’ from the Louvre in Paris to Washington DC and then New York City for a special exhibition in 1962-63. However, insurance was not concluded because the cost of the highest security precautions was less than that of the premiums.

Taking inflation into account, the 1962 value of US$ 100 million for The Mona Lisa would be around US$ 774 million (as of Sep 2013).

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci – Is this the most expensive painting in the world today? Perhaps, not!

Interestingly, King Francis I of France bought the Mona Lisa painting for his bathroom in 1517 for 4000 gold florins, or 13.94kg of gold. The equivalent today would be $654,369.


Would The Mona Lisa still be the world’s highest valued painting? Perhaps, not.

Till the 1980s, the art auction market was dominated by European paintings that were created by artists belonging to the 19th century or earlier – especially the Renaissance style. In fact, when The National Gallery of Art, in February 1967, acquired Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Ginevra de’ Benci‘ (1474) for around $5 million from the Princely Family of Liechtenstein, it was the most expensive art purchase known to the world.

Ginevra de’ Benci by Leonardo da Vinci

In absolute dollars (not adjusted for inflation), this record was broken when the J. Paul Getty Museum paid $10.5 million for Andrea Mantegna’s ‘Adoration of the Magi‘ (1462) at Christie’s in London in 1985. Both Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) were Italian Renaissance painters

Adoration of the Magi by Andrea Mantegna

Since then, all paintings that have held the distinction of the ‘most expensive painting’ belong to the “modern” genre i.e. post-1850 paintings. So whether ‘The Mona Lisa’ (1503-17) would still hold the highest valuation of all paintings is a matter that can’t be settled given the changed tastes of our times.


The Record Holders

Here’s a list of all paintings that have held the record since the 1985 sale of Mantegna’s ‘Adoration of the Magi’:

Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh – triple the previous record and ushered a new era in top art sales


Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers (1888)

Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh. You can purchase a canvas print of Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers here.

Sale date: March 30, 1987
Artist: Vincent van Gogh
Sold for: US$ 39.7 million
Adjusted price (as of Sep 2013): US$ 82.9 million
Seller: Daughter-in-law of Chester Beatty (an Irish-American mining magnate and millionaire, often called the “King of Copper”)
Buyer: Yasuo Goto, Yasuda Comp. (one of the oldest and largest insurers in Japan)


Irises (1889)

Irises by Vincent van Gogh. You can purchase a canvas print of Irises here.

Sale date: November 11, 1987
Artist: Vincent van Gogh
Sold for: US$ 53.9 million
Adjusted price (as of Sep 2013): US$ 109.4 million
Seller: Son of Joan Whitney Payson (the first woman to own a major-league team, Major League Baseball’s New York Mets, in North America without inheriting it)
Buyer: Alan Bond (a British-born Australian businessman)


Portrait of Joseph Roulin (1889)

Portrait of Joseph Roulin by Vincent van Gogh

Sale date: August 1, 1989
Artist: Vincent van Gogh
Sold for: US$ 58+ million
Adjusted price (as of Sep 2013): US$ 111+ million
Seller: Private collection, Zürich
Buyer: Museum of Modern Art, New York


Portrait of Dr. Gachet (1890)

Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Vincent van Gogh – sold exactly 100 years after van Gogh painted it

Sale date: May 15, 1990
Artist: Vincent van Gogh
Sold for: US$ 82.5 million
Adjusted price (as of Sep 2013): US$ 149.5 million
Seller: Siegfried Kramarsky family (a Jewish financier who fled to New York to escape the Holocaust)
Buyer: Ryoei Saito (a Japanese paper magnate – honorary chairman of Daishowa Paper Manufacturing)

Vincent van Gogh is by far the best represented artist in the list. However, it is interesting to note that during his lifetime Van Gogh was never famous as a painter and struggled to make a living as an artist. Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime.


Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907)

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt

Sale date: June 18, 2006
Artist: Gustav Klimt
Sold for: US$ 135 million
Adjusted price (as of Sep 2013): US$ 155.8 million
Seller: Maria Altmann (a niece of Adele Bloch-Bauer, a wealthy Jewish patron of the arts who served as the model for some of Klimt’s best-known paintings)
Buyer: Ronald Lauder, Neue Galerie


No. 5, 1948 (1948)

No. 5, 1948 by Jackson Pollock

Sale date: November 2, 2006
Artist: Jackson Pollock
Sold for: US$ 140 million
Adjusted price (as of Sep 2013): US$ 162.7 million
Seller: David Geffen (an American business magnate noted for creating Asylum Records, Geffen Records, DGC Records; was also one of the three founders of DreamWorks SKG)
Buyer: David Martinez (managing partner of Fintech Advisory, a firm that specializes in corporate and sovereign debt)


The Card Players

The Card Players by Paul Cézanne – the most expensive painting ever sold. You can purchase a canvas print of The Card Players here.

Sale date: April 2011
Artist: Paul Cézanne
Sold for: US$ 259+ million
Adjusted price (as of Sep 2013): US$ 269.4 million
Seller: George Embiricos
Buyer: Royal Family of Qatar


Others in the 100 Million Club

There are 10 paintings in all that have sold for a US$ 100+ million price tag – 3 of which are included in the above list. The other 7 paintings are listed below:


Eight Elvises (1963)

Eight Elvises by Andy Warhol

Sale date: October 2008
Artist: Andy Warhol
Sold for: US$ 100 million
Adjusted price (as of Sep 2013): US$ 108.1 million
Seller: Annibale Berlingieri
Buyer: Unknown


Garçon à la pipe / Boy with a Pipe (1905)

Garçon à la pipe by Pablo Picasso

Sale date: May 4, 2004
Artist: Pablo Picasso
Sold for: US$ 104.2 million
Adjusted price (as of Sep 2013): US$ 129 million
Seller: Greentree foundation (Whitney family)
Buyer: Barilla Group (Yep, the Italian company that makes great pastas!)


Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932)

Nude, Green Leaves and Bust by Pablo Picasso – Wonder why Picasso’s seem to sell on May 4!

Sale date: May 4, 2010
Artist: Pablo Picasso
Sold for: US$ 106.5 million
Adjusted price (as of Sep 2013): US$ 114.3 million
Seller: Frances Lasker Brody estate
Buyer: Unknown


Flag (1954)

Flag by Jasper Johns

Sale date: March 2010
Artist: Jasper Johns
Sold for: US$ 110 million
Adjusted price (as of Sep 2013): US$ 118.3 million
Seller: Jean-Christophe Castelli (an Italian-American art dealer)
Buyer: Steven A. Cohen (an American hedge fund manager; founder of SAC Capital Advisors)


The Scream (1895)

The Scream by Edvard Munch – Sold in 12 minutes flat. You can purchase a canvas print of The Scream here.

Sale date: March 2010
Artist: Edvard Munch
Sold for: US$ 119.9 million
Adjusted price (as of Sep 2013): US$ 122.2 million
Seller: Petter Olsen (a Norwegian businessman, billionaire and member of the Olsen shipping family, who own Fred. Olsen & Co.)
Buyer: Leon Black (an American businessman; founder of the private equity firm Apollo Global Management)

The Scream has been the target of several high-profile art thefts. In 1994, the version in the National Gallery was stolen. It was recovered several months later. In 2004, The Scream was stolen from the Munch Museum, and recovered two years later.


Woman III (1953)

Woman III by Willem de Kooning

Sale date: November 18, 2006
Artist: Willem de Kooning
Sold for: US$ 137.5 million
Adjusted price (as of Sep 2013): US$ 159.8 million
Seller: David Geffen (an American business magnate noted for creating Asylum Records, Geffen Records, DGC Records; was also one of the three founders of DreamWorks SKG)
Buyer: Steven A. Cohen (an American hedge fund manager; founder of SAC Capital Advisors)


Le Rêve / The Dream (1932)

Le Rêve by Pablo Picasso

Sale date: March 26, 2013
Artist: Pablo Picasso
Sold for: US$ 155 million
Adjusted price (as of Sep 2013): US$ 155.9 million
Seller: Steve Wynn (an American business magnate; played a pivotal role in the 1990s resurgence and expansion of the Las Vegas Strip)
Buyer: Steven A. Cohen (an American hedge fund manager; founder of SAC Capital Advisors)


Paintings that can stake a claim to the record

While future records will be decided by choices of the rich and famous, if we had to pick 3 works that we think would get on the ‘most expensive’ list, they’d be:


Las Meninas / The Maids of Honour (1656) by Diego Velázquez

The work’s complex and enigmatic composition raises questions about reality and illusion, and creates an uncertain relationship between the viewer and the figures depicted. Because of these complexities, Las Meninas has been one of the most widely analyzed works in Western painting.


The Starry Night (1889) by Vincent van Gogh

You can purchase a canvas print of The Starry Night here.

Van Gogh’s genius hauntingly shines in the vivid colours and swirling clouds of “Starry Night,” perhaps his most popular painting. The painting depicts the view outside his sanatorium room window at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence at night, although it was painted from memory during the day. The original now hangs in the permanent collection in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.


Guernica (1937) by Pablo Picasso

You can purchase a canvas print of Guernica here.

Picasso painted Guernica in response to the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country village in northern Spain by German and Italian warplanes, on 26 April 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Republican government commissioned Picasso to create a large mural for the Spanish display at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris.

Guernica shows the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians. This work has gained a monumental status, becoming a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace.

Nimish Adani

I am the founder & CEO of Engrave. I started off in 2011 with a workshop that engraved photos for customers on to wooden plaques. Soon, we were making plaques, nameplates, canvas prints, decals and dozens of other products for thousands of customers. To help us make these items, we engaged a group of dedicated craftsmen. By 2015, 3 of our dedicated craftsmen had built their own workshops, employing between 6-10 people. By showcasing their skills on a digital platform, these craftsmen had turned into successful entrepreneurs. This success motivated me to transform Engrave in to a platform which could help thousands of Indian artisans and craftspersons - and this lead to the launch of the maker's market in 2015.

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