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25 jaw-droppingly expensive works of art

  • 25 jaw-droppingly expensive works of art

    The $63.7 billion international fine art trade is so enormous that the New York Times recently showcased a burgeoning industry: storing and securing the world’s most valuable artistic treasures. From individual investors to organizations to entire national governments, buyers are now routinely shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars for the world’s most coveted paintings, with sculptures and even photographs sometimes commanding seven and eight figures. 

    Names like Pollock, da Vinci, Picasso, and Rembrandt are synonymous with works deemed “priceless.” But as auction house records and confirmed reports of private transactions prove, the works these artists produced clearly have prices—staggering ones. Works that shattered records just 30 years ago wouldn’t even be in contention on a list of today's most expensive pieces. Here’s a look at 25 of the world’s choicest works of art, and the astronomical price tags attached to them.

  • Salvator Mundi

    Artist: Leonardo da Vinci

    Cost: $450,312,500

    Dated around 1500, Leonardo da Vinci's “Salvator Mundi“ painting depicts Jesus Christ as the "savior of the world" and is one of fewer than 20 paintings by the famed artist still in existence. It sold for $450.3 million at Christie's auction house in November 2017 to an anonymous buyer, later revealed to be a Saudi prince, making it the world's most expensive painting.

  • No. 5, 1948

    Artist: Jackson Pollock

    Cost: $140 million

    Before there was “Salvator Mundi,“ there was "No. 5, 1948," the Jackson Pollock masterpiece that became the most expensive painting in the world when it sold in a private transaction for around $140 million in 2006, according to a New York Times report. According to the Times, the painting was purchased by an “obsessively private“ buyer and Mexican financier named David Martinez. A Sotheby's agent reportedly brokered the private deal.

  • Adele Bloch-Bauer II

    Artist: Gustav Klimt

    Cost: $150 million

    Media mogul Oprah Winfrey was the seller behind 2016's priciest art transaction. That year, Winfrey sold Gustav Klimt's "Adele Bloch-Bauer II" for about 71% more than the $87.9 million she paid for it in 2006. The work, which was at one point looted by the Nazis, is now the property of an unidentified Chinese buyer.

  • Masterpiece

    Artist: Roy Lichtenstein

    Cost: $165 million

    In 2017, The New York Times confirmed rumors that art collector and activist Agnes Gund sold Roy Lichtenstein's comic book-inspired “Masterpiece“ for $165 million to billionaire hedge fund investor Steven Cohen. Gund reportedly used the windfall to start a criminal justice reform fund.

  • 'No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red)'

    Artist: Mark Rothko

    Cost: $186 million

    The world got a glimpse into the high-stakes, high-pressure, and often shady world of the international fine art trade when Bloomberg reported on the $186 million private sale of Mark Rothko's “No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red)." The transaction followed a clandestine meeting between a Swiss art dealer and a Russian billionaire. It was just one meeting of many in “a freewheeling market in private sales where collectors trade masterpieces like chips in a casino.“

  • Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?)

    Artist: Paul Gauguin

    Cost: $300 million

    In 2015, The New York Times broke the story of a highly secretive, $300 million private sale. The work in question: an 1892 oil painting by Paul Gauguin of two Tahitian girls entitled “Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?)" The painting was likely purchased by a well-heeled buyer from the small, oil-rich emirate of Qatar from a retired Sotheby's executive living in Switzerland.

  • Woman III

    Artist: Willem de Kooning

    Cost: $137.5 million

    Long before he scooped up "Masterpiece," hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen established himself as one of the world's premier contemporary art collectors with his 2006 purchase of Willem de Kooning's "Woman III." The New York Times first broke the story of the $137.5 million private transaction between Cohen and David Geffen, an entertainment mogul and renowned art collector.

  • L'Homme Qui Marche I

    Artist: Alberto Giacometti

    Cost: $104.3 million

    In 2010, Alberto Giacometti's famed sculpture “Walking Man“ broke what was then the record for a sculpture—or any work of art—sold at auction. It fetched more than $104 million from an anonymous buyer after just eight minutes of intense bidding.

  • Grand Tête Mince

    Artist: Alberto Giacometti

    Cost: $50,005,000

    Another famed Alberto Giacometti sculpture is “Grand Tête Mince," which sold for more than $50 million at Sotheby's New York in 2013. The bronze bust was reportedly purchased by New York art dealer Bill Acquavella.

  • Rhein II

    Artist: Andreas Gursky

    Cost: $4,338,500

    Seven-figure price tags are almost unheard of for photographs, unless they're taken by the famed photographer Andreas Gursky. Gursky's “Rhein II“ shattered records in 2011 when it fetched more than $4.3 million at auction at Christie's in New York.

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