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Article: What Is the Most Expensive Painting in the World?

What Is the Most Expensive Painting in the World?

 You must have heard that some of the paintings made by the world’s most renowned artists are often sold for millions, tens of millions, and even hundreds of millions of dollars. At that point, you must have wondered and asked yourself: “What is the most expensive painting in the world?”

So, we’ll leave the most expensive one for the last. In the meantime, here’s our list containing every contender for the most expensive painting ever sold and the actual most expensive painting in the end. 

Also, while paintings like “Mona Lisa” are sometimes estimated at about $970 million, the painting has never been sold, which is why it won’t make the list. 

The Shot Marilyns ($195 million)

This is a masterpiece made in 1964 by Andy Warhol, depicting four silkscreen paintings of Marilyn Monroe in a slightly different color palette. The basis for the artwork was the publicity photo from her iconic picture “Niagara,” and the still’s recognition further fueled the rising popularity of the art.

Now, one interesting thing about this painting is that, unlike most other pieces on this list, it was, at a time, a piece of contemporary art when it was sold for the first time. In 1967 it was bought by Peter Brandt for $5,000, which was a decent sum for a painting barely three years old. In 1989, after Marilyn was long gone and Warhol reached the peak of his cult status, the painting was sold for $4.1 million.

By the year 1998, the painting was sold again for roughly $200 million, making it one of the most expensive paintings ever sold at the time. The painting was sold again in 2022 for $195 million, which makes it as close as you can get to its current price.

The Standard Bearer ($197.9 million)

The Standard Bearer is a painting by Rembrandt van Rijn, an autoportrait, in fact, which would, on its own, be enough to make it invaluable. After all, what price tag can you put on one of the most famous pieces by one of the most famous artists (that’s right, artist, not just painter) in the history of the world? 

For the longest time, the painting belonged to the Rothschild family, which sold it to the Netherlands for a whopping $197.9 million back in 2022. The Dutch government covered the majority of the cost, while the Rembrandt Association and Rijksmuseum covered the rest.

The painting itself is a full-length portrait of a man holding a flag. Like the majority of his paintings, The Standard Bearer depicted a person from the period of the Dutch Golden Age. It may not have been as popular as Rembrandt’s Anatomy Class, but it’s not any less iconic.

Number 17A ($200 million)

While a lot of people want to know about Jackson Pollock's painting worth 140 million, the truth is that this popular painter has another piece that’s even more expensive. We’re, of course, talking about the Number 17A, an incredible abstract piece and one of the most expensive paintings ever sold.  

The style is classic Pollock, with intricate layers of dripped and splattered paint. In fact, this is arguably the best showcase of Pollock’s dynamic style and technique. If you wanted to show someone what his style is like, you couldn’t do any better than just show them Number 17A. This particular piece was displayed everywhere, from The Simpsons all the way to Ex Machina, and you must have seen it on many occasions. 

The painting was sold in September 2015 for $200 million, making it the most expensive painting ever sold at the time. Today, it occupies the fifth spot on this list.

Nafea Faa Ipoipo ($210 million)

This post-impressionist painting was sold in 2015 for a whopping $210 million (the original price was actually in GBP, and it went for £155 million). The painting was created in 1892 by the famous painter Paul Gauguin.

This painting represents two native Tahitian women, one sitting and one standing. The vibrant colors fit the theme and the location of the scene depicted in the painting. 

This may not be one of the most famous paintings in the world, but its beauty, uniqueness, and vibrant use of color in depicting a real-life scene combines cloisonne style with pastoral. This is a unique and daring combination, uncharacteristic for the period which the painting was created in.

The Card Players ($250 million)

This is a famous post-impressionist painting, made in the same year as our previous masterpiece. In other words, the list of expensive paintings has two pieces made in the same year, making it arguably the most expensive (if not the best) year in the history of this art form.

Also, keep in mind that when this painting was sold to the royal family of Qatar, the inflation still wasn’t as high. According to some estimates, the cost with adjusted inflation would value the image at $338.6 million in today’s currency. At the time, it was roughly $250 million.

The most important thing to understand here is that these things are always a matter of prestige. Sure, you could buy a replica, print it out, or even make it yourself with a custom paint-by-numbers method, however, owning an original is a worthwhile investment to some of the world’s richest individuals, organizations, and families.

The painting depicts Provencal peasants deeply immersed in playing cards. There are several different variations (five paintings in the series), each with a different set of players. 

This painting is so popular in modern media that you even have it featured in one of the episodes of “The Simpsons,” where Mr. Burns owns one. Now, a nuclear power plant owner probably could have owned one, especially one as affluent as Mr. Burns.

Interchange ($300 million)

We’re now getting dangerously close to the most expensive painting ever sold, and the discrepancy in price is getting higher and higher. This brings us to the 1955 masterpiece by Willem de Kooning, which can only be described as an abstract landscape.

The interesting thing was that this painting was first sold (shortly after completed) for just $4,000. This is nothing unusual, especially considering that Van Gogh sold only one of his pieces in his lifetime.

One thing that is interesting about this acquisition is the fact that it was bought by David Geffen, the same person who paid $200 million for Pollock’s Number 17A, making him the, by far, the biggest spender on art on our list.

For anyone else, even hanging a replica of ordering a paint-by-number of the painting would be considered a significant decision.

Salvator Mundi ($400 million)

So, what is the most expensive painting in the world? While some may estimate the Mona Lisa at $970 million, specialists, like the suppliers of the paint by number kits by Number Artists, will argue that the value of such an iconic piece cannot be evaluated.

Well, there’s Leonardo’s painting that was actually sold - Salvator Mundi. Moreover, it was sold for $400 million. In fact, the price reached $450 million (when you count in the fees, as well).

The painting depicts Christ with his right hand raised, holding a crystal orb in his left hand. 

Now, the reason why this painting is so expensive is quite simple really. No matter how expensive, it’s not hard to imagine someone owning a Pollock, a Van Gogh, or even a Picasso. However, owning an original Leonardo is a different story altogether. So, how much is Mona Lisa worth? We can only speculate. At least with Salvator Mundi, we have a figure.

The auction is still not over

As you can see, many of the paintings on this list were sold and resold for even more (sometimes less) than before. However, we live in the age of inflation, and as time goes by, the renown of these paintings grows, as does our distance from their creation and creators, all of which increase their value. 

To support this claim, all you have to consider is the fact that some of the paintings on this list were sold just a few years ago. 

So, the answer to the question of what the most expensive painting in the world is could result in a completely different list in a few years' time.

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