Artwork: Revisor, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
They say art is priceless—but they were wrong as the private sale of paintings breaks records across the art world. With personal wealth reaching stratospheric heights, collectors reap the rewards, selling masterpieces of Western art to those eager to invest. Crave showcases the 7 most expensive paintings in the world, which span the gamut from Old Masters to Abstract Expressionists.
Mona Lisa – Leonoard da Vinci
She, the subject of sonnet and song, has become emblematic of the power of art to command an audience. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, painted between 1503 and 1506 and now hanging at the Louvre Museum, was insured for $100M in 1962—the equivalent to $700M today. That puts it at the top of the list, where it always sits, quietly following us with her eyes and deftly changing her expression to reflect our mood. If ever a painting was empathetic to its audience, it is this one.
Interchange – Willem de Kooning
Number 17A – Jackson Pollock
In September 2015, an American investor and hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin had the art world gasping for breath when he laid out a cool half a billion dollars on the purchase of two Abstract Expressionist paintings. In a move that set the record for the most expensive private sale of art, Griffin purchased Willem de Kooning‘s Interchange (1955) for $300M, making it the most expensive painting in the world, and Jackson Pollock’s Number 17A (1948) for $200M, now the fourth most expensive painting, from Hollywood magnate David Geffen’s foundation.
Back in 1989, the de Kooning sold for $20.7M, which was an auction record for the artist at the time, though it seems woefully pale by way of comparison. But Griffin’s net worth of some $6.6B enables him to do as he’d like, building an art collection valued by $2.3B by Bloomberg prior to the purchase of these two works.
When Will You Marry? (French: Quand te maries-tu?, Tahitian: Nafea faa ipoipo) – Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin’s beautiful depiction of the tiresome question, When Will You Marry?, ties with de Kooning as the most expensive painting in the world, as Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad Al-Thani purchased for $300M in a private sale from the family of Rudolf Staechelin in February 2015.
The painting was made in 1892, a year after Gauguin left France and landed in Tahiti, in search of “an edenic paradise where he could create pure, ‘primitive’ art,” according to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s no small irony that Gauguin abandoned his wife and family, yet failed to discover what he was looking for…
Card Players – Paul Cézanne
In 2011, the Royal Family of Qatar spent somewhere between $250 and $300M on the fifth version of Paul Cézanne’s Card Players, an oil painting dated 1894-1895, making it the third most expensive painting in the world. Critics consider this series of work to be a prelude to the artist’s final years, when he created some of his most important works that helped usher in the advent of modern art.
By creating a typical genre painting that showcases Provençal peasants enjoying a good game of cards, Cézanne liberated himself from the styles of the times and began to embrace the break up of the picture plane that would help to liberate artists from the literal expression of the visible world, and examine the more abstract aspects of sight that would come to dominate the art world just a couple of decades later.
No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) — Mark Rothko
By the time Mark Rothko painted No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) in 1951, abstraction had been wholly embraced by the art world. Rothko’s genius has been widely recognized and celebrated, attracting the attention of collectors around the globe. In August 2014, Russian businessman and investor Dmitry Yevgenevich Rybolovev, whose net worth is valued at $7.4B, purchased the painting for $186M in a private sale, and establishing it as the fifth most expensive painting in the world.
Pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit – Rembrandt van Rijn
Back in the days before wedding photographers were de rigeur, the wealthy bourgeois used to mark the occasion by commissioning a painter to create portraits of the bridge and groom. The great portraitist Rembrandt van Rijn rendered portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit, which have hung side by side since 1634. In September 2015, the Louvre Museum and the Rijksmuseum came together to purchase the works from the Rothschild family for $182M, setting a record for works by Rembrandt.
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Aperture Online, and Feature Shoot. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.