It's difficult to put a price tag on a masterpiece. Today, the vast majority of famous paintings belong to museums like the Louvre and the Getty and can be viewed by visitors all year round. However, some select works of art have remained in private collections for most of their provenance. This list examines the 10 most expensive paintings ever sold between private parties.
While some of these pieces are already well known in the art world, others may be unfamiliar. For instance, Rembrandt's Pendant Portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit are not his best-known paintings, but they are rare amongst the master's oeuvre for portraying the subjects at full length, and were sold in 2016 for $197 million (adjusted price after inflation). Similarly, the French Post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin created a range of work inspired by his time living in Tahiti. His piece, Nafea faa ipoipo? (When Will You Marry?), which depicts two Tahitian women sitting in a natural landscape, was regarded as unsuccessful during the artist's lifetime but sold in 2014 for $229 million.
Scroll down to see the 10 most expensive paintings in the world.
Most Expensive Paintings Ever Sold in the World
Attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi, c. 1500s — $507.4 million (adjusted price after inflation)
As the quintessential Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci‘s legacy spans both art and science. His most famous work, the Mona Lisa, has an estimated insurance value of $660 million, but it is also suggested that the most expensive painting ever sold privately was made by this Italian master as well.
The piece, entitled Salvator Mundi, depicts Christ in a cerulean blue robe, holding a transparent crystal orb in his left hand, which is believed to represent the “celestial sphere” of the heavens. While art historians were aware that Leonardo painted such a piece during his lifetime, the original was believed to have been lost or even destroyed. When the Salvator Mundi appeared in 2005, it resembled a poor copy due to the heavy amount of overpainting and was put under restoration. During this time, professionals found evidence that suggested it was an original, and it was subsequently authenticated. While some doubts still exist regarding the painting's authenticity and its mysterious provenance, most art historians believe the piece was made at least in part by Leonardo da Vinci. It broke the record for the most expensive painting sold in 2017, with its purchase of $475.4 million.
Price after inflation: $475.4 million
Original price: $450.3 million
Date of sale: November 15, 2017
Willem de Kooning, Interchange — $350.4 million (adjusted price after inflation)
A pioneer of 20th-century art, Dutch-American painter Willem de Kooning rose to prominence together with a group of post-World War II painters like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Known for his role in the Abstract Expressionist movement, his style bounced from abstract to figurative throughout his life. His painting Interchange is an abstract piece made with quick gestural brushstrokes, marking a deviation from his focus on female figures. This piece was sold in 2015 for $328 million.
Price after inflation: about $328 million
Original price: about $300 million
Date of sale: September 2015
Paul Cezanne, The Card Players (5th version), c. 1894–1895 — $307.8 (adjusted price after inflation)
Paul Cézanne was one of the pioneering artists of the Post-Impressionist movement, whose work is characterized by painterly brushstrokes, an avant-garde approach to perspective, and a vivid color palette. His expressive body of work is considered to be a precursor to other artistic styles like Fauvism and Cubism, and one of the reasons he is regarded as one of the most influential figures in the history of modern art.
The Card Players is a series of five paintings made by Cézanne during the 1890s. Each piece depicts a number of male figures seated at a table with a couple of cards in their hands. Although it is based on the subject of gambling that was popular in 17th-century genre painting, Cézanne deviates from history by creating a quiet, calm atmosphere devoid of any chaos. The fifth version has just two figures and was sold in 2011 for about $328 million.
Price after inflation: about $328 million
Original price: $250 million
Date of sale: April 2011
Paul Gauguin, Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry), 1892 — $247.2 million (adjusted price after inflation)
In 1891, French Post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin set out for Tahiti in search of a purer form of art. He spent two years traveling the country and painting the landscape and the native women who lived there. Nafea Faa Ipoipo (Will You Marry?) depicts two young women sitting on a grassy field, one of whom is wearing more traditional clothing, while the one in the back is wearing a Western-style dress. It is suggested that the flower behind the ear of the girl in the foreground means she is seeking a husband. It was sold in 2014 for $229 million.
Price after inflation: $229 million
Original price: $210 million
Date of sale: September 2014
Jackson Pollock, Number 17A, 1948 — about $233.3 million (adjusted price after inflation)
One of the most famous abstract artists, Jackson Pollock is best known for his signature drip paintings, which he began producing in the late 1940s. Pollock redefined line, color, and pictorial space by finding an entirely new way to fill a canvas. His painting 17A is an example of this technique, featuring a chaotic composition of yellow, white, blue, and orange oil paint on a fiberboard. This particular piece was featured in a 1949 edition of the magazine Life and brought substantial attention to the young artist. It was sold in 2015 for $218 million.
Price after inflation: about $218 million
Original price: about $200 million
Date of sale: September 2015
Gustav Klimt, Wasserschlangen II, 1907 — $222.6 million (adjusted price after inflation)
Austrian artist Gustav Klimt is one of the most celebrated Symbolist artists. During his successful career, he cultivated a portfolio comprising academic paintings, life drawings, and even decorative art objects. His painting Wasserschlangen II (which literally translates to Water Serpants II) depicts several female figures arranged in a horizontal canvas. It features many of the traits which Klimt was known for including his sensual portrayal of women's bodies and numerous abstract motifs. During WWII, Nazis stole the painting from an Austrian Jewish woman named Jenny Steiner. It was retained by the family of Gustav Ucicky until 2012, when his widow put it for auction. Due to the stolen nature of the painting, however, the proceeds were divided between the Ucicky family and the family of Jenny Steiner. The painting was sold again in 2015 for $204.2 million.
Price after inflation: $204.2 million
Original price: $183.8 million
Date of sale: 2013
Mark Rothko, No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red), 1951 — $217 million (adjusted price after inflation)
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Russian American artist Mark Rothko was a pioneer of color field painting, which was a facet of the abstract art movement. He attempted to express different emotions by combining particular colors on the canvas. No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) features a bright red canvas with a large square of lavender placed at the top and a thick stripe of green just below. It sold in 2014 for $217 million.
Price after inflation: $217 million
Original price: $186 million (€160 million)
Date of sale: August 2014
Rembrandt, Pendant Portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit, 1636 — $197 million (adjusted price after inflation)
Rembrandt is considered one of art history's most important Old Masters—a label reserved for Europe's most prolific pre-19th-century painters. While he is best known for his group portraits like The Night Watch and his lifelong series of self-portraits, he created numerous other portraits within his lifetime—one of which is a pair of paintings called the Pendant Portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit.
These pieces were commissioned as wedding portraits for the two subjects depicted and a portrait of each figure at full length and at a large size. In 2016, the portraits were purchased by the Riksmuseum and the Louvre for $180 million.
Price after inflation: $197 million
Original price: $180 million (€160 million)
Date of sale: February 1, 2016
Pablo Picasso, Les Femmes d'Alger (“Version O”), 1955 — $209.7 million (adjusted price after inflation)
Few names are as synonymous with creative genius as Pablo Picasso. The Spanish artist had a 79-year-long career that included success in not only painting, but also sculpture, ceramics, poetry, stage design, and writing.
His painting Les Femmes d'Alger (“Version O”) was inspired by Eugene Delacroix‘s painting of the same name, as part of a series dedicated to artists that Picasso admired. It depicts the female subjects in their ornate apartment in an abstracted style in which the figures and the space are broken into colorful overlapping shapes. Picasso created several versions of this painting, and “Version O” was the one that sold at Christie's in 2015 for about $195.8 million.
Price after inflation: $195.8 million
Original price: $179.4 million
Date of sale: May 11, 2015