The 5 Most Expensive Paintings in History | History Hit

The 5 Most Expensive Paintings in History

Lily Johnson

01 Sep 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

For centuries art has had the power to move people. Whether it be the serene face of the ‘Saviour of the World’ or the focused expressions of The Card Players, paintings have long inspired their audiences to consider the world around them and the people that inhabit it.

Not only does fine art inspire emotion in its onlookers however, it also attracts awe, reflects wealth, and instills majesty to the venues in which it hangs. The 21st century has witnessed a host of monumental purchases for some of history’s most striking artwork, which now feature across the globe in a mixture of museums and private collections.

From Leonardo da Vinci to Jackson Pollock, here are the 5 most expensive paintings in the world:

1. Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci, c.1500

As one of the most renowned artists in history, Leonardo da Vinci‘s paintings are some of the most recognisable and highly-prized works on the planet. Though slightly less well-known than some of his other paintings (Mona Lisa, we’re looking at you), Salvator Mundi fetched an astonishing price at auction in 2017 after it was rediscovered as an original work in 2005.

Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci, c.1500

Image Credit: Public domain

Previously believed to be a mere copy, the original Renaissance piece was thought to have been lost in 1603 – its reappearance made it a tantalising purchase. It was put on auction at Christie’s in New York and sold for an enormous $450.3 million, becoming the most expensive painting in history and purchased by Saudi Minister of Culture Badr bin Abdullah Al Saud, likely on behalf of the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia.

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2. Interchange by Willem de Kooning, 1955

A contemporary feast of colour, Interchange by Willem de Koonig was completed in 1955 against the backdrop of the abstract expressionism movement. Its name likely corresponds to the area of New York de Kooning was living in when he painted it, and shows his move towards more abstract urban landscapes.

Inspired by fellow artist Franz Kline, de Kooning used quick gestural marks instead of violent brush strokes to achieve his intriguing work, with the shape at the centre representing a seated woman.

Interchange by Willem de Kooning

Image Credit: Google Cultural Project / CC

In 2015, Interchange was sold to hedge fund manager and billionaire Kenneth C. Griffin for $300 million dollars, and is currently on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. In the same sitting, Griffin also purchased #5 on our list… no spoilers!

3. The Card Players by Paul Cézanne, 1892-93

The Card Players by Paul Cézanne is a series of 5 paintings by the eminent French artist created in the early 1890s. Depicting Provençal peasants engrossed in the still quiet of their cards, the subjects were modelled on the farm hands Cézanne knew and employed at his home in Aix-en-Provence.

The Card Players by Paul Cézanne, 1892-93

Image Credit: Shutterstock

In 2011, the above version of The Card Players was sold to the Royal Family of Qatar for $250 million, ranking as the most expensive painting for its time. It is currently on display in the Musée d’Orsay.

4. Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?) by Paul Gauguin, 1892

In 1891, Paul Gauguin first travelled to Tahiti hoping to gain an authentic look into ‘primitive’ life. In reality, he found that the island had been colonised in the 18th century and had a clear Western influence. This did not dissuade him from painting it however, and he soon found its women to be inspiring subjects.

Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?) by Paul Gauguin, 1892

Image Credit: Public domain

The following year he painted Nafea Faa Ipoipo, meaning ‘When Will You Marry?’ in Tahitian. Note the difference in dress of the women: the front figure dons a traditional Tahitian outfit, while the figure behind wears a high-necked Western-style gown.

In 2015, it was privately sold for almost $210 million to Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad Al-Thani, sister to the ruler of Qatar. Again, at the time it was sold it claimed the top spot as the most expensive painting in history.

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5. Number 17A by Jackson Pollock, 1948

One of the most influential contemporary artists, Jackson Pollock painted Number 17A a year after introducing his famous drip technique to the world of art. This technique saw him dash paint across his entire canvas, often in an energetic dancing style, for which reason Pollock also dubbed it ‘action painting’.

Initially treated with scrutiny, Number 17A found fame in 1949 when it was featured in Life Magazine, catapulting Pollock to widespread acclaim.

Number 17A by Jackson Pollock, 1948

Image Credit: Jackson Pollock / Fair use: the image is being used for informational purposes; its inclusion in the article adds significantly to the article because it is the primary means of identifying the subject in question

In 2015, it was sold to Kenneth C. Griffin for $200 million, joining his his other piece of fine modern art by Willem de Koonig and totalling his spend to $500 million.

Lily Johnson