Selling Art: The Most Expensive Paintings Ever

Posted by: Lyra Pappin

Can you put a price on art?  Some of the wealthiest people in the world can.  Art lovers pay staggering amounts to build their collections.  Although you may not be in the market for a hundred million dollar painting, simply viewing these pieces can be an inspirational experience.


It is hard to determine a set value for art, as for many pieces, the price is determined by what the buyer is willing to pay.  Auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s control over 95% of worldwide fine auction sales.  What drives people to spend such quantities on pieces of art?


There are varied and endless motivations behind one's personal taste in art.  It is also impossible to gauge exactly when or why someone knows when enough is enough, in terms of the millions of dollars that one will personally spend on art.  Collectors view art as an investment in some cases, but also as a source of inspiration, awe, and comfort.  Collectors build their homes around pieces of art, seeing the art as an extension of themselves and a reflection of their personalities.  Art can reveal how a person views the world and their values from love and family to politics and sex.


So what are some of the most expensive pieces of art in the world? 

In November 2006, music and film producer David Geffen sold American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock’s No.5, 1948 for $140 million, making it the most expensive painting in the world.  The buyer was rumoured to be Mexican financier David Martinez, though conflicting reports have yet to confirm this purchase with any confidence.  Pollock’s “drip style” paintings have always been popular, and it is estimated that their value will rise as few of his original paintings are left.


Geffen was reportedly liquidating some of his art collection in an attempt to bid on the Los Angeles Times newspaper, as the second most expensive sale was also made by him in the same year.  This time it was abstract impressionist Willem de Kooning’s Woman III, which was sold to hedge fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen for $137.5 million.


Last year proved to be an expensive one for art adorers, as Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I was sold for $135 million from Maria Altmann to American billionaire businessman Ronald Lauder for New York City’s Neue Galerie.  Ms. Altmann is a descendent of Adele Bloch-Bauer and had to sue the Austrian government for ownership of this and other Klimt paintings.  Her uncle had owned a small collection of Klimt’s work that was looted by the Nazis in 1938.  After much confusion and disorder, the Austrian government ended up in possession of the paintings and weren’t eager to give them up.  Altmann began her claims in 1999 and it wasn’t until January 2006 that the paintings were returned to her.  Her decision to sell to Lauder is not too surprising however, as the Neue Galerie is dedicated to showing early 20th century German and Austrian painters.


Other painters whose work is most coveted include Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso.  Two of the most celebrated and famous painters in art history, both men regularly have their work bought and sold for millions of dollars. 


Van Gogh’s post-impressionist paintings and drawings attract art lovers from across a wide spectrum of amateurs to professionals.  The first edition of his Portrait of Dr. Gachet was privately bought for 82.5 million in 1990, while the second version is on display in Paris’s Musee d’Orsay. 


Van Gogh’s simple and moving Irises was sold for more than $50 million in 1987 (closer to $97 adjusted for inflation) and his emotional and introspective self-portrait Portrait de l’artiste sans barbe was sold for $71.5 million dollars in 1998.


Picasso’s Cubist works draw not just millions of lovers and viewers of his art, but millions of dollars for the original paintings as well.  Among his most famous are the “double sided woman” piece, Dora Maar au Chat, which went for $90.2 million in 2006, and Garçon à la pipe, which sold for $104.1 million in 2004, putting them both in the top 10 most expensive paintings in the world. 


Although monetary amounts can be placed on art in the elite circles of the world’s most wealthy citizens, its true value can never be determined or estimated.  What we consider valuable and emotionally significant can change from day to day, and certainly on a global scale, from country to country or era to era.  The shifting and capricious views of art lovers and artists themselves will always leave us wondering what else is around the corner, as the last thing any artist or collector wants is boredom. 


For more information on the most expensive paintings in the world, you can visit:






Page Views: 2055


  Notify me of New Comments

Submitted by:

Lyra Pappin
Toronto, ON, Canada

Search Blog Central