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.
Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
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.
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.
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.
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