There are a lot of lists in Internet talking about “the 10 most expensive paintings ever sold”, or something like that. But unfortunately, most of these lists are incorrect, often being obsoletes, often ignoring the private sales and talking only about those pictures sold at auction. Here I tried to create a list as exact and complete as possible, and I’ll try to keep it actualized. At the end of the list I’ve added a few works whose price has not being confirmed despite the rumours about exorbitant sums
1. JACKSON POLLOCK: “Number 5, 1948”, 1948
Private sale, 2006. Seller: David Geffen. Buyer: David Martínez (claimed)
Right now, this stunning “drip” by Jackson Pollock is the most expensive painting ever sold, though the stunning price is still not confirmed (but also not denied). The exorbitant sum demonstrates not only the strenght of the Art market, but also the increasing interest for the contemporary works of Art.
2. WILLEM DE KOONING: “Woman III”, 1952-53
Private sale, 2006. Seller: David Geffen. Buyer: Steven Cohen
Pollock the first. De Kooning second. The inmediate conclusion is that the american abstract expressionism has displaced the impressionism as the most sought-after Art period. This painting is the only “Woman” by Willem de Kooning still in private hands. One of this women -described by T. Hess as “black goddesses”- has been chosen by theartwolf.com as one of the 50 masterworks of the history of painting.
3. GUSTAV KLIMT: “Adele Bloch-bauer I”, 1907
Private sale, 2006. Buyer: Ronald Lauder.
The acquisition of this iconic work by cosmetic magnate Ronald Lauder caused a shock in the Art world, not only for the spectacular sum paid for it, but also for the way it was sold, far away from the noisy auction houses. The painting was part of a group of five canvases recently returned to the heirs of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. The Nazis confiscated his paintings during the World War II, and after the war, the canvases were placed at the National Gallery of Austria in 1948.
4. PABLO PICASSO: “Garçon a la pipe”, 1904
Sotheby’s New York , May 2004. Buyer: anonymous
The sale of this young smoker was a milestone in the Art auctions world. First, it’s still the most expensive painting ever sold at auction (the case of the Klimt is a private sale). But it also broke the record that Vincent van Gogh held since 1990, and it was the first time that the $100 million barrier was broken. Although the name of the buyer was not revealed, some sources says that it could be Guido Barilla, the Italian pasta magnate.
5. PABLO PICASSO: “Dora Maar au chat”, 1941
Sotheby’s New York , May 2006. Buyer: anonymous
Dora Maar (1907-1997) met Picasso in 1930, and their sentimental relation lasts until 1946. A native from Paris , grown in Argentina and fluent in Spanish, Maar was one of Picasso’s favourite models. This painting, measuring 130- 97 cm , was recently rediscovered and authenticated by Picasso’s daughter, Maya Widmaier Picasso. You can read theArtWolf’s article informing about this sale in this link.
GUSTAV KLIMT: “Adele Bloch-bauer II “, 1912
Christie’s New York , November 2006. Buyer: unknown
Sold only a few months later than Klimt’s first version of Adele, this extremely appealing canvas was the star lot in a highly succesful auction in which four works by Klimt -including this- totalled a stunning $192 million
FRANCIS BACON: “Tryptich 1976”
Sotheby’s New York , May 2008. Buyer: European private
Francis Bacon is one of the most sought-after names in the Art market, and this work easily surpassed its impressive $70 million estimate
8. VINCENT VAN GOGH: “Portrait of Doctor Gachet”, 1890
Christie’s New York , May 1990. Buyer: Ryoei Saito
The story about this famous and brilliant work resumes by itself the “Japanese buyer boom” on the late 80s and early 90s: great painting, sold for an astronomic amount of money to a Japanese buyer (Ryoei Saito), who was later ruined, and the whereabouts of the painting are now unknown. Some sources places it in Europe , waiting for its return to the Art market
9. JASPER JOHN: “False Start”, 1959
Private sale, Autumn 2006. Buyer: Unknown
This iconic work by Johns, sold by David Geffen, is the second highest price ever paid for work by a contemporary artist
10. PIERRE AUGUSTE RENOIR: “Le moulin de la Galette”, 1876
Sotheby’s New York , May 1990. Buyer: Ryoei Saito
Another victim of the Japanese “buy it and forget it” boom was this masterpiece by Renoir, the little sister of the version now in the Orsay. As the previous painting, it was bought by Ryoei Saito for $78.1 million at Sotheby’s, 1990, and sold in 1997 to a “European private collector” for $50 million
MORE PRICES OVER $50 MILLION
Peter Paul Rubens: “Massacre of the innocents”, 1610/11– $76.7 million (£49.5 million)
Bought by Kenneth Thompson at Sotheby’s London, July 2002. The flamboyant and dramatic work by Rubens -recently voices discussing its authenticity have been heard- could also fight for the title of “most unexpected success”: Christie’s had estimated its price at a mere £5 million
Mark Rothko : “White center (yellow, pink…)”,1889- $72.8 million (2007)
Mark Rothko’s fabulous “White center (yellow, pink and lavender on rose)” -once in the collection of David Rockefeller, was sold at Sotheby’s New York for more than $72 million, making it the most expensive contemporary Art work ever sold at auction
Andy Warhol: “Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car)”, 1963 – $71.7 million (2007)
Sold two days after the work above, in a record $384 million sale of contemporary Art
Vincent van Gogh: “Portrait of the artiste sans barbe”,1889- $71.5 million (1998)
Van Gogh once again. The sale of this great picture -not a masterpiece, however- represented an extraordinary success -the auction house had estimated it in less than a half of its final price- and began the recuperation of the exorbitant sums in the Art world after the crises of the middle 90s.
Titian: “Portrait of Alfonso d’Avalos”, 1533 – $70 million (2004)
A sum never confirmed, but also never denied, by its buyer, the Getty Museum. The glorious painting -it worth every dollar paid for it- was exhibited for many years in the Louvre Museum , lent by the owners, and the Parisian Museum had the opportunity of acquire it for a sum much lower than the $70 million paid by the Californian museum.
Thomas Eakins: “The Gross clinic”, 1875 – $68 million (2006)
The picture, previously in the Thomas Jefferson University, was purchased in november 2006 by the National Gallery of Washington, setting a record for a 19th-century American painting. You can read more in this link
Willem de Kooning : “Police Gazette “, 1955 – $63 million (2006)
Bought by Steven Cohen, right now one of the leading forces on the Art market, this acquisition -completed just months before his failure attempt of purchase Picasso’s “The dream”- is the second highest price ever paid for a work by a contemporary artist, ony surpassed by John’s “False start”, sold at the same sale.
Paul Cezanne: “Rideau, crouchon et compotier”, 1893/94 – $60.5 million (1999)
Vincent van Gogh: “Wheat field with cypresses”, 1889 – $57 million (1993)
The third van Gogh in this list. The price is really spectacular if we consider that it was paid in 1993, in the middle of a recession in the values of the Art works after the boom of the late 80s. The philanthropic Walter Annenberg lent the work to the Metropolitan Museum shortly afterwards.
Pablo Picasso: “Femme aux bras croisés”, 1904 – $55 million (2000)
Vincent van Gogh: “Irises”, 1888 – $53.9 million (1991)
Resold later to the Getty Museum in Malibú, California
Francis Bacon: “Study for Innocent X”, 1962 – $52.7 million (2007)
Sold at the same auction in which Mark Rothko’s “White center (yellow, pink and lavender on rose)” went for $72.8 million (see above)
Pablo Picasso: “Les noces de Pierrette”, 1904 – $51.9 million (1989)
TRUE OR HYPE? NOT CONFIRMED SUMS
LEONARDO DA VINCI (attributed to): “Madonna dei fusi”, 1501
Private sale, late 90s. Buyer: private collector, New Work
You must put a lot of question marks on this sum. In fact, it’s almost sure that this almost offensive number is an exaggerated hype. Nevertheless, the spectacular of the price suggested -it would be the most expensive painting ever sold- deserves to be commented here. You can read more about this painting in this article
VINCENT VAN GOGH: “Self-portrait with bandaged ear”, 1889
This highly important work was previously in the collection of Leigh B. Block in Chicago , and then was quietly purchased by the Niarchos family. The sum -never confirmed- is not absurd given the high quality of the painting.
SOONER OR LATER. FUTURE SALES
– The “Portrait of a young man ” by Titian, owned by the Earl of Halifax, it’s also for sale. As it’s usual in the United Kingdom , the National Gallery of London is trying to save the picture for the nation, trying to acquire the canvas for less money than the asking price for the foreign buyers, estimated at £50 – 65 million ($77.5 – 95 million)