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The art world has 35 paintings which have become the first international masterpieces to join the “million club”: from 60 to 450 millions of US dollars (accounting for inflation). Among these paintings - listed from the lowest price sold at auction - 33 are expensive pieces of Western Modern and Contemporary art, acquired for monumental prices. Only 2 are paintings by non-Western artists. They are traditional Chinese paintings by Wang Meng and Qi Baishi. 

Related articles: A new era for auction houses - Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings Ever Sold At Auction - Is art a good investment?

Here's the first international masterpieces to join the “million club”. Enjoy it!

 

 

35 - $62.1 million: Zhichuan Resettlement (1350), Wang Meng - June 4, 2011

One of the Four Masters of the Yuan Dynasty, the Chinese painter Wang Meng worked on paper instead of silk in order to improve his calligraphic touch, and he exclusively painted landscapes. As a visible key to the invisible reality, the Zhichuan Resettlement - which portrays a medical scientist moving his home to the Luofu Mountain for alchemy - set an auction record in the 2011 Asian market. 

Zhichuan Resettlement (1350), Wang Meng. Hanging scroll, color on paper, Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

34 - $63.4 million: Men in Her Life (1962), Andy Warhol - November 8, 2010

A surprise even for the organizers of Phillips de Pury & Co., this large-scale black and white painting - by the king of the Pop Art Andy Warhol - was sold to an anonymous buyer for twenty million dollars more than the initial price. Picturing the most important men in the life of Elizabeth Taylor, Men in Her Life is one of Warhol’s earliest silkscreen paintings. A work of great significance.

 

Men in Her Life (1962), Andy Warhol, Silkscreen and pencil on primed canvas, 84 1/2 x 83 1/4 in. (214.6 x 211.5 cm), Courtesy Phillips.

 

33 - $65.1 million: Spring (1881), Edouard Manet - November 5, 2014

The beautiful Parisian actress Jeanne DeMarsy - in a floral dress with parasol and a chic bonnet, as the embodiment of Spring - is considered the greatest and final public success of Manet's Salon career. The J. Paul Getty Museum acquired this allegorical work of extraordinary quality and beauty for a record price.

 

Spring (1881), Edouard Manet, Oil on canvas, 29 1/8 x 20¼ in. (74 x 51.5 cm.) Courtesy of J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

 

32 - $66.3 million: L’Allée des Alyscamps (1888), Vincent van Gogh - May 5, 2015

L’Allée des Alyscamps depicts a splendid autumnal scene in an ancient Roman necropolis in Arles. Considering the apotheosis of Van Gogh's career, this legendary expression of great beauty and exuberance achieved a record for a landscape by the artist, and is the highest price achieved for any work by Van Gogh at auction since 1998.

 

L’Allée des Alyscamps (1888), Vincent van Gogh, Oil on canvas, 36 1/8 by 28 7/8 in, 91.7 by 73.5 cm, Courtesy Sotheby’s.

 

31 - $67.45 million: La Gommeuse (1901), Pablo Picasso - November 5, 2015

La Gommeuse - a gorgeous, melancholic and sexually charged cabaret performer - is among the rare and coveted pictures created during the artist's Blue Period. The work was offered from the remarkable collection of William I. Koch - American entrepreneur and collector. The painting, with a hidden caricature on the riverse, achieved a price which was a record for a Blue Period work.

 

La Gommeuse (1901), Pablo Picasso, Oil on canvas, 31 7/8 by 21 1/4 in, 81.3 by 54 cm, Courtesy Sotheby’s. 

 

30 - $68 million: The Gross Clinic (1875), Thomas Eakins - April 12, 2007

Admired for its uncompromising realism, The Gross Clinic has an important place documenting the history of medicine and it’s also a celebration of American physical body and spirit. “One of the most powerful, horrible, yet fascinating pictures that has been painted anywhere in this century” was sold from the trustees of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia to the National Gallery of Art.

 

The Gross Clinic (1875), Thomas Eakins, Courtesy Philadelphia Museum of art.

 

29 - $69.35 million: Everydays: the first 5000 days (2021), Mike Winkelmann (Beeple)  - March 11, 2021

This JPEG is a collage of 5000 images - from pop culture, including Jeff Bezos and Donald Trump - created by Winkelmann for his "Everydays" series. A non-fungible token (NFT'S in the Art Market) representing Everydays was sold at Christie’s for $69.3 million - the highest price paid for a crypto artwork and the third-most expensive work by a living artist.  

 

Everydays: the first 5000 days (2021), Mike Winkelmann (Beeple), Courtesy Christie’s and Beeple.

 

Read more about Everydays: the first 5000 days (2021), Mike Winkelmann (Beeple)

 

28 - $70.5 million: Untitled (New York City) (1968), Cy Twombly - November 11, 2015

With the obsessively systematic repetition of his Blackboard paintings, Cy Twombly wanted to articulate the inexplicable. This particularly rare and monumental testament to the artist’s iconic artistry has remained in the same private collection for the past quarter-century until it was sold to benefit the Audrey Irmas Foundation for social justice.  

 

Untitled (New York City) (1968), Cy Twombly, Oil based house paint and wax crayon on canvas, 68 x 90 in. 172.7 x 228.6 cm, Courtesy Sotheby’s.

 

Discover more works by Cy Twombly on Kooness.

 

27 - $71.7 million: Diana and Callisto (1556–1559), Titian - March 2, 2012

Diana and Callisto - by the Italian late Renaissance artist Titian - is part of a series of seven famous canvasses, the “Poesies”, depicting mythological scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphosis painted for Philip II of Spain. The painting was jointly purchased by the National Gallery in London and the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh.

 

Diana and Callisto (1556–1559), Titian, Oil on canvas, 187 cm × 204.5 cm (74 in × 80.5 in), Courtesy the National Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery.

 

26 - $75 million: Darmstadt Madonna(1526), Hans Holbein - July 12, 2011

According to the director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Max Hollein, this was the most important painting - influenced by Italian Renaissance religious canvases - by Hans Holbein the Younger in private hands, the Hesse family. The market was limited for the Holbein Madonna, listed as national patrimony. A foreign private collector. The industrialist billionaire Reinhold Würth. 

 

Darmstadt Madonna(1526), Hans Holbein. oil on wood, 146.5 cm × 102 cm (57.7 in × 40 in), Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

25 - $81.4 million: Meule (1891), Claude Monet - November 16, 2016

Meule (1891) is among the most formally adventurous of all Monet’s Grainstacks series - the most challenging and revolutionary endeavour the artist had ever undertaken. A single vibrantly colorful landscape, subject under different lighting and weather conditions, which is considered a theater for the planet's consciousness.

 

Meule (1891), Claude Monet, Oil on canvas, 28 5/8 x 36 ¼ in. (72.7 x 92.1 cm.), Courtesy Christie’s.

 

24 - $85.8 million: Suprematist Composition (1916), Kazimir Malevich - May 15, 2018

This abstract constellation of geometry and color in space, designed with remarkable austerity and supreme consciousness, was sold for the highest price paid for a work in the history of Russian art.

Suprematist Composition is one of the finest and most complex of Malevich’s first revolutionary pictures.

 

Suprematist Composition (1916), Kazimir Malevich, Oil on canvas. 34⅞ x 28 in (88.7 x 71.1 cm). Courtesy Christie’s. 

 

23 - $84.55 million: Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (1981), Francis Bacon - June 30, 2020 

The painting - the most ambitious, enigmatic and important works of Bacon’s oeuvre - was eventually sold in an online auction held by Sotheby's in New York in 2020. The price was the third highest paid for a Bacon work at auction, after Three Studies of Lucien Freud in 2013 and Triptych, 1976 in 2008.

 

Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (1981), Francis Bacon, Oil on canvas, Triptych: Each panel: 78 x 58 in. (198 x 147.5 cm), © The Estate of Francis Bacon / DACS London 2020. All rights reserved.

 

Read more about Top 10 most expensive artworks sold in 2020.

 

22 - $90.3 million: Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972), David Hockney - November 15, 2018

In 2018, this pop art painting was sold for the highest price ever paid at auction for a painting by a living artist. Hockney painted the first of his pool paintings, California Art Collector in 1964, and the swimming pool became a recurring theme in his paintings, such as the most notably A Bigger Splash (1967, Tate Gallery).

 

Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972), David Hockney, Acrylic on canvas, 84 x 120 in (213.5 x 305 cm), Courtesy Christie’s, New York.

 

21 - $92.2 million: Portrait of a Young Man holding a Roundel (c. 1480), Sandro Botticelli - January 21, 2021

This painting of fine quality is believed to represent the beauty ideals of the Florentine Medici Family during the Renaissance. The attribution of the portrait to Sandro Botticelli has been disputed by various analysts in the past, but currently this attribution is generally accepted. In 2021, It is the most valuable Old Masters painting sold at the auction house.

 

Portrait of a Young Man holding a Roundel (c. 1480), Sandro Botticelli, Tempera on poplar panel, 23 by 15 ½ in.; 58.4 by 39.4 cm, Courtesy Sotheby’s.

 

20 - $106.5 million: Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932), Pablo Picasso - May 4, 2010

Before being purchased from an unknown buyer over a telephone in 2010, the masterpiece belonged to the estate of Frances Brody - a Los Angeles-based collector who bought the painting in 1951 and only exhibited it once to commemorate the artist's 80th birthday. Nude, Green Leaves and Bust is one of a series of portraits that Picasso painted of his mistress and muse.

 

Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932), Pablo Picasso, Oil paint on canvas, 63 4/5 × 51 1/5 in, 162 × 130 cm, Courtesy Tate, London (on loan)

 

19 - $110 million: Flag (1958), Jasper Johns - March 2010

Inspired by a dream of the U.S. flag in 1954, Flag is arguably the encaustic painting - a rough, thick method made over found materials such as newspaper - for which Johns is best known. With 48 white stars on a blue canton, Flag was purchased by hedge fund manager Steven A. Cohen.

 

Flag (1958), Jasper Johns, Encaustic, oil, and collage on fabric mounted on plywood, three panels, 42 1/4 x 60 5/8" (107.3 x 153.8 cm), © 2021 Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

 

18 - $110.5 million: Untitled (1982), Jean Michel-Basquiat - May 18, 2017

Executed in 1982 - Basquiat’s most valuable year - this skull, composed of black, red, yellow and white brushstrokes with rivulets, is among the most expensive paintings ever purchased, sold for millions more than its earlier value.

 

Acrylic, spray paint and oilstick on canvas, 72 1/8 by 68 1/8 in. 183.2 by 173 cm, Courtesy Sotheby’s.   


 

17 - $115 million: Young Girl With a Flower Basket (1905), Pablo Picasso - May 8, 2018

From Picasso’s optimistic Rose Period, the painting depicts a Parisian flower seller or child prostitute, named “Linda”. It is currently the third highest selling painting by Picasso, now part of the Rockefeller family’s record-setting estate sale.

 

Young Girl With a Flower Basket (1905), Pablo Picasso, Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd.

 

16 - $119.9 million: The Scream (1895), Edvard Munch - May 2, 2012

The most iconic Expressionist “scream of nature”, or agonized face at sunset, has been the target of a number of thefts over the years. Eventually, this colorful pastel-on-board version of the work "worth every penny” of the nearly US$120 million at Sotheby’s auction.

 

The Scream (1895), Edvard Munch, Oil, tempera & pastel on cardboard. Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

 

Read more about Munch here - The exhibitions everyone is awaiting in 2021.

 

15 - $140.8 million: Twelve Landscape Screens, Qi Baishi (1925) - December 17, 2017

The most expensive Chinese artwork ever sold at auction, “can be regarded as the most expressive style from Qi Baishi’s stylistic transformations but is also the largest in dimension of the twelve landscape screens format,” the auction house Poly Beijing writes on his website.

 

Twelve Landscape Screens, Qi Baishi (1925), Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

14 - $142.4 million: Three Studies of Lucien Freud (1969), Francis Bacon - November 12, 2013

The Irish-born British painter Bacon painted his friend and artistic rival Lucien Freud in his abstract, distorted, isolated style. This true masterpiece triptych and "an undeniable icon of 20th Century art” sold for a 2013 record price to an American billionaire businesswoman.

 

Three Studies of Lucien Freud (1969), Francis Bacon, Oil on canvas, in 3 parts, each: 78 x 58 in. (198 x 147.5 cm.), Courtesy Christie’s. 

 

13 - $150 million: Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912), Gustav Klimt -  2016 

During the summer of 2016, Oprah Winfrey - who bought, in 2006, the fourth-highest priced piece of art at auction at the time - sold this refined portrait of the Viennese philanthropist Adele Bloch-Bauer to an unidentified Chinese buyer for $150 million.

 

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912), Gustav Klimt, Oil on canvas, 190 cm × 120 cm (75 in × 47 in), Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

 

Discover more works by Gustav Klimt on Kooness.

 

12 - $157.2 million: Nu Couché (sur le côté gauche) (1917), Amedeo Modigliani - May 15, 2018

Compared by British art Journalist Jonathan Jones to Ingres’ 1814 work Grande Odalisque, this trite pastiche by Italian Jewish painter and sculptor Modigliani set, in 2018, Sotheby’s record.

 

Nu Couché (sur le côté gauche) (1917), Amedeo Modigliani, Oil on canvas, 84 by 146 centimeters (33 in × 57 in), Courtesy Sotheby’s. 

 

11 - $165 million: Masterpiece (1962), Roy Lichtenstein - January 2017

“Brad darling, this painting is a masterpiece”, as the blonde female's speech bubble says in Lichtenstein’s witty and ironic pop painting. As a result, Masterpiece was sold for $165 million to, again, Steven A. Cohen, to start the Criminal Justice Fund. 

 

Masterpiece (1962), Roy Lichtenstein, 137 cm × 137 cm (54 in × 54 in), Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

 

Discover more works by Roy Lichtenstein on Kooness.

 

10 - $170.4 million: Nu Couché, Amedeo Modigliani (1917/18) - November 9, 2015

This modernist masterpiece - part of a series of great female nudes made for Léopold Zborowski that famously caused a scandal nearly a century ago - eclipsed the previous auction record for the artist by almost $100 million. It became the second highest price ever paid at auction for a work of art.

 

Nu Couché, Amedeo Modigliani (1917/18), Oil on canvas, Courtesy Christie’s.

 

9 - $179.4 million: Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O) (1955), Pablo Picasso - May 11, 2015

The series of 15 paintings and numerous drawings Les Femmes d’Alger is a tribute to French Romantic painter Eugene Delacroix, who Picasso admired. "Version O", the final painting in the series and the most expensive Picasso ever auctioned, was sold to the former Qatari prime minister.

 

Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O) (1955), Pablo Picasso, Oil on canvas, 114 cm × 146.4 cm (45 in × 57.6 in), Courtesy Christie’s.

 

8 - $180 million: Pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit (1634), Rembrandt - February 1, 2016 

This pair of full-length wedding portraits by Rembrandt became jointly owned by the Louvre Museum and the Rijksmuseum after an intergovernmental agreement in which both museums managed to contribute half of the purchase price of $180 million, a record for works by Rembrandt. 

 

Pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit (1634), Rembrandt, Oil on canvas, 208 × 132 cm (81.8 × 51.9 in), Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

 

7 - $183.8 million: Wasserschlangen II (1904-1907), Gustav Klimt - 2013

Like the first painting by Klimt, Water Serpents II - stolen by the Nazis and the center of a controversy surrounding its record 2013 sale - deals with the sensuality of water nymphs’ bodies. The most expensive work by Klimt to sell is rumored to be in the private collection of an unnamed Qatari Princess.

 

Wasserschlangen II (1904-1907), Gustav Klimt, Oil on canvas, 80 cm × 145 cm (31 in × 57 in), Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

 

6 - $186 million: No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) (1951), Mark Rothko - August 2014 

In 2014, it became one of the most expensive paintings sold at auction. With its large expanses of colour delineated by hazy shades, No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) was implicated in the international art scandal, the Bouvier Affair. 

 

No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) (1951), Mark Rothko. Oil on canvas, Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

5 - $200 million: Number 17A (1948), Jackson Pollock - September 2015

Billionaire Kenneth G. Griffin paid $200 million for this abstract expressionist vortex piece painted a year after Jackson Pollock introduced his famous drip technique. The price sets the world record for the most expensive painting ever sold until 2015.

 

Number 17A (1948), Jackson Pollock. Oil on fiberboard, Courtesy of www.Jackson-Pollock.org

 

4 - $210 million: Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?) (1892), Paul Gauguin - September 2014

Gauguin’s Tahitian “primitive” painting broke the sale record at nearly $300m. It was sold privately by the family of Rudolf Staechelin - one of the major Swiss collectors of the 20th Century - to Al-Mayassa Sheikha of Qatar, the most influential person in art today.


 

 Oil on canvas, 101 by 77 centimetres (40 in × 30 in), Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

 

3 - $250 million: The Card Players (1892/93) Paul Cézanne - April 2011

One version of The Card Players - painted by Cézanne’s in his final period, in the early 1890s - was sold in 2011 to the Royal Family of Qatar and, subsequently, to the son of the billionaire Mike Davis for $300 million. This painting marks the birth of Modernism.

 

The Card Players (1892/93) Paul Cézanne, Oil on canvas, 97 × 130 cm, Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

 

2 - $300 million: Interchange (1955) Willem de Kooning - September 2015

Interchange was one of the Dutch-American painter de Kooning's first abstract Expressionist landscapes, and marked a change in his style under the influence of fellow artist Franz Kline. The fund billionaire Ken Griffin paid $500 million for two artworks, the other being Pollock’s Number 17A.

 

Interchange (1955) Willem de Kooning, Oil on canvas, 200.7 cm × 175.3 cm (79.0 in × 69.0 in), via Pinterest.

 

1 - $450.3 million: Salvator Mundi (c. 1500), Leonardo da Vinci - November 15, 2017

In 2017, Leonardo Da Vinci's Salvator Mundi surpassed de Kooning’s highest ever price for a painting. The portrait of Jesus Christ in Renaissance dress was rediscovered, restored, and included in a major Leonardo exhibition at the National Gallery London in 2011-2012. It is currently owned by Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman and, probably, kept on his private yacht. 

 

Oil on walnut panel, 45.4 cm × 65.6 cm (25.8 in × 19.2 in), Photo: Wikimedia Commons.


 

Cover image: Salvator Mundi (c. 1500), Leonardo da Vinci, Oil on walnut panel, 45.4 cm × 65.6 cm (25.8 in × 19.2 in), Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Written by Petra Chiodi

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