To Dream, to Collect

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And the trophy for the most expensive art piece goes to: The Mona Lisa.

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Have you ever wondered how much is the most famous painting by Leonardo Da Vinci, The Mona Lisa, worth today? Being the most expensive painting in the world with the highest ever insurance and considered “priceless”, The Mona Lisa is believed to be worth more than $850 million, taking into account the inflation. But while this Da Vinci’s Old Master is on permanent display at the Louvre Museum in Paris, there is another Da Vinci’s master, Salvator Mundi, which has been sold, in 2017, to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed Bin Salman, for $450 million. A world record price at Christie’s, in New York, for an artwork which now might be “locked up” in a secret storage in Switzerland.

In addition to these cases, there are also “private sales” (these are not always reported and the purchase price is not disclosed) between “mystery buyers” and other parties. See the case of 2017, when the American hedge fund manager J. Tomilson Hill bought - ahead of auction in France - a recently rediscovered Judith Beheading Holofernes (1607), attributed to Caravaggio, for around $170 million. Caravaggio’s Baroque masterworks are not often available for sale, particularly on the public market. As a matter of fact, The Caravaggio’s Nativity with St. Francis and Saint Lawrence - stolen from the Oratory of Saint Lawrence in Palermo in 1969, probably by members of Italian Mafia - has never been found. 

There are many compelling stories about the most expensive artworks of the “Impressionist and Modern”, “Post-war and Contemporary”, “American”, and "Old Masters” art market segments.

Van Gogh- who is known to have sold only one painting in his lifetime, The Red Vineyard, for 400 francs (approximately $2,000 dollars), was the center of a private deal in 1989 and of a Christie’s auction in 1990. His Portrait of Dr. Gachet(1890) went for $161.4 million (adjusted price in 2019). Poor Van Gogh, a master painter who died penniless!

The Mona Lisa’s unique smile - rendered through perspective and sfumato technique - is perhaps laughing at this contemporary art market’s speculative bubbles.


Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Doctor Gachet, 1890, Oil on canvas, Private Collection.


Since then and in particularly recent years (all the paintings on this list have been sold since 2010), art market prices have risen exponentially. Some would say the prices have inflated beyond what is appropriate for particular artworks, but with the number of High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) rising across the globe, more of them turn to art as a means to spend their outrageous fortunes.

In a sale that marked the first major auction of the year 2021, Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli’sYoung Man Holding a Roundel sold, at Sotheby’s New York, for a record $92.2 million. Since the pandemic crisis, live global auction event achieved great results; For example, On June 29th, 2020, after an intricate online “bidding battle”, Sotheby’s marked a new world auction record ($15.2 million) for a work on paper, Untitled (Head), by Jean-Michel Basquiat’s. As Basquiat’s masterwork concretizes Sotheby’s highest-ever price for a work sold to an online bidder, the price achieved by Young Man Holding a Roundel makes it not only one of the most valuable portraits of any era ever sold, but also the second most valuable Old Master painting to ever sell at auction, second to Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi.


Sandro Botticelli, Young Man Holding a Roundel,1480, tempera on poplar panel, 23 by 15 ½ in.; 58.4 by 39.4 cm, Courtesy Sotheby’s. 


If you are curious about the Art market's latest trends don't miss our article "2018's Artistic Highlights".

This list deals specifically with paintings sold at auction. Many other artworks have been sold privately for more than some of the prices listed here, and several of the more notable private sales will be mentioned. The most expensive sculpture ever sold at auction is Alberto Giacometti’s “L’homme au Doigt”, which in May 2015 was sold for an unprecedented $141.3 million at Christie’s New York, comparatively placing about 6th on our list. All but one painting on this list was sold at either Christie’s or Sotheby’s New York. No prices are adjusted for inflation, but all include the buyer’s premium.


Picasso, "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust" 1932. Courtesy 


10. Pablo Picasso “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust”: $106.5 million

Christie’s New York, May 4th 2010

When “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” sold in 2010 it set the new record for most expensive painting ever auctioned. Having been in private ownership for the best part of 40 years and only exhibited once in all that time (to commemorate Picasso’s birthday), this painting was recently on public display in the Tate exhibition “Picasso 1932 – Love Fame and Tragedy.”


Jean Michel-Basquiat, "Untitled" 1982. Courtesy The Guardian


9. Jean-Michel Basquiat “Untitled”: $110.5 million

Sotheby’s New York, May 18th 2017

This was bought by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, smashing the  previous record for Basquiat ($57.3 million) which had also been set by Maezawa two years previously at Christie’s. The work will soon go on view in the show “One Basquiat” at the Brooklyn Museum.


Picasso, "Young Girl with a Flower Basket" 1905. Courtesy Artnet


8. Pablo Picasso “Young Girl with a Flower Basket”: $115 million

Christie’s New York, May 8th 2018

This Picasso masterpiece formed one of the leading lots in Christie’s The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller sale, having been purchased by the Rockefeller’s in 1968.


Edvard Munch, “The Scream” 1893. Courtesy Daily Art Magazine


7. Edvard Munch “The Scream”: $119.9 million

Sotheby’s New York, May 2nd 2012

Munch’s most famous creation, “The Scream” set a new world record when it sold in 2012, knocking Picasso off the top spot. It is currently being prepared to go on show at the British Museum in April, with many other of Munch’s works and preliminary drawings on paper.


Qi Baishi “Twelve Landscape Screens” 1925. Courtesy China Daily


6. Qi Baishi “Twelve Landscape Screens”: $140.8 million

Beijing Poly Auction, December 17th 2017

This painting is unique on our list, being the only painting not sold by either Christie’s or Sotheby’s, as well as not in New York. Instead, “Twelve Landscape Screens”, a collection of ink landscapes, set a new record for the most expensive piece of Chinese art sold at auction worldwide. This is further proof of the growing wealth and influence of the Asian market. Read more about Chinese and Japanese landscape painting.



Francis Bacon “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” 1969. Courtesy The Telegraph


5. Francis Bacon “Three Studies of Lucian Freud”: $142.4 million

Christie’s New York, November 12th 2013

“Three Studies of Lucian Freud” is another artwork that recently soared straight to the top of the most expensive list, relegating “The Scream” into second place. The extraordinary value of this piece comes not only from Francis Bacon’s own great reputation, but also in its demonstrating the relationship he had with the subject of the work, his great friend Lucian Freud, of equal fame and repute.


Amedeo Modigliani “Nude lying on her left side” 1917. Courtesy CNN


4. Amedeo Modigliani “Nude lying on her left side”: $157.2 million

Sotheby’s New York, May 15th 2018

The most recent addition to this list, “Nude lying on her left side” holds a couple of its own interesting records, in that it is Modigliani’s largest painting, and also the highest estimated piece of art ever, at $150 million. Even though it achieved this price, it still failed to set Modigliani’s personal record due to No. 3 on our list!


Amedeo Modigliani “Nu Couché” 1917. Courtesy Wikidata


3. Amedeo Modigliani "Nu Couché": $170.4 million

Christie’s New York, November 9th 2015

Another Modigliani nude, this one was bought by a Chinese couple, Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei, for the Long Museum in Shanghai. In a record breaking evening, this painting realised over $100 million more than previously paid for a Modigliani, and only just missed out on becoming No. 2 on our list!


Pablo Picasso "Les Femmes d'Alger (Version O)" 1955. Courtesy Artnews


2. Pablo Picasso "Les Femmes d'Alger (Version O)": $179.4 million

Christies New York, May 11th 2015

As might have been expected, the title of most expensive painting was once again returned to Picasso in May 2015 through his “Les Femmes d’Alger”.  Throughout his life, Picasso would always compare himself to the other European greats, such as Delacroix, on whose own “Les Femmes d’Alger” this work is based. 

As previously stated, there have been many paintings sold privately for higher prices than some of those on our list, so here is briefly listed the few works from some of the biggest names in art history that would lie between our Nos. 2 and 1.

Rembrandt's "Pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit" — $180 million

Mark Rothko's "No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red)" — $186 million

Jackson Pollock's "Number 17A" — $200 million

Paul Gauguin's "Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?)" — $210 million

Paul Cézanne's "The Card Players" — $250 million

Willem de Kooning's "Interchange" — $300 million


Leonardo da Vinci "Salvator Mundi" c.1500, Courtesy


1. Leonardo da Vinci "Salvator Mundi": $450.3 million

Christie’s New York, November 15th 2017

Steeped in controversy, this sale set the art world alight at the end of 2017, with “Salvator Mundi” not only breaking all records but also genuinely shocking people, so unprecedented was its vast price tag. Due to go on display at the new Abu Dhabi Louvre last year, people are beginning to question its whereabouts as its display has been prolonged “indefinitely”.


Cover image: Pablo Picasso "Les Femmes d'Alger (Version O)" 1955. Courtesy Artnews

Written by Marcus Howard-Vyse and Petra Chiodi

Stay Tuned on Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world. 

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