While art can be anything you want it to be, the most exquisite pieces out there tend to be expensive. Like up into hundreds of millions kind of expensive.
Read on to learn about the 20 most expensive paintings in the world—and the history that made them worth so much money.
20. Untitled by Jean-Michel Basquiat: $110.5 Million
We start off our list with none other than this woefully untitled piece by NYC graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was worked with big names like Andy Warhol. This colorful depiction of a human skull was created using only spray paint. It sold in 2017 for the large price of $110.5 million.
Not only was this a great feat for Basquiat, but it was also a big deal in the art world. That sale alone broke a record for being the most expensive piece ever bought for art that was created after 1980. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa was the lucky buyer who bought Basquait’s work.
19. “Reclining Nude With Blue Cushion” by Amedeo Modigliani: $118 Million
This artful piece of a nude woman lying on a couch was originally created by artist Amedeo Modigliani in 1917. He was well known for his nude female portraits as well as his eccentric and somewhat troubling behavior.
Back in the day, he would often trade people one of his expensive paintings for alcohol, drugs, and even food.
While he had a number of renowned pieces, “Reclining Nude With Blue Cushion” was one of the most expensive. Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlevn bought it for $118 million in 2012.
18. “The Scream” by Edvard Munch: $119.9 Million
Here’s one most of us are familiar with, as this painting is as expensive as it is iconic.,
What most people don’t know about “The Scream” is that there are actually four different versions of it. And while this one sold for a big chunk of money—A.K.A $119 million—it’s not nearly as valuable as the oil rendition Edvard Munch painted in 1893.
That one, which is located in Norway’s National Gallery in Oslo, Norway, is valued much, much higher. Still, this version broke a world record of being the highest presale estimate ever listed at Sotheby’s. The buyer was anonymous.
17. “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” by Gustav Klimt: $5 Million
The “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” is also known as “The Lady in Gold.” Austrian Artist Gustav Klimt painted this portrait of a Jewish banker’s wife in 1907. It was commissioned originally by her husband, and it was stolen from him by Nazis in 1941. With rich, golden colors and abstract details, it’s easy to see why this painting went for $5 million.
While it’s currently on display at the Neue Galerie in New York, it was purchased by another Russian billionaire in 2006. His name is Ronald Lauder.
16. “Woman III” by Willem de Kooning: $137.5 Million
This painted was originally created by a Dutch abstract expressionist named Willem de Kooning back in the 1950s. While it was on display in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran, Iran, it was taken down after being considered to be too offensive. At the time, the government had implemented strict rules about what could be shown in visual arts.
After it was purchased by well-known American businessman David Geffen, it was soon sold to billionaire Steven A. Cohen for $137.5 million in 2016. The hedge fund manager has it displayed in this personal, private collection of art.
15. “No. 5, 1948” by Jackson Pollock: $140 Million
The colorful, abstract piece known as No. 5, 1948 by American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock was originally created in 1948. In 2016, it sold for a large price of $140 million to an unknown buyer—who got conned because it ended up not being the original piece.
Just a year later, another artist, Alfonso A. Ossorio, bought it for only $1,500. However, it ended up getting damaged under Ossorio’s care. Pollock officered to modified it but ended up repainting the thing entirely.
Today, it’s not known who exactly has ownership of the painting, but it’s suspected to be investor David Martínez.
14. “Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” Francis Bacon: $142.4 Million
Figurative painter Francis Bacon created this portrait of his friend (and later turned rival) Lucian Freud in 1969. Freud was also an artist, and the two painted each other multiple times. While they were friends for a while, an argument in the mid-1970s turned them into enemies.
This painting quickly became one of the most expensive paintings in history when The Queen of Las Vegas herself, Elaine Wynn, bought it at an auction for $142.4 million. While it was a record-setting price at the time, others have since surpassed it.
13. “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II” by Gustav Klimt: $150 Million
Another beautiful Klimt piece makes the list. This one, “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II,” is less famous than the first he painted of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, wife of a Jewish banker. However, it was also stolen by the Nazis during World War II.
Both of the paintings were eventually retrieved and donated to the Galerie Belvedere museum in Vienna. When Bloch-Bauer’s ancestors and estate regained ownership of the historic painting, they sold it to none other than Oprah Winfrey for $150 million. She later sold it to an unknown buyer from China.
12. “Le Rêve” by Pablo Picasso: $155 Million
The title of this vibrant piece, “Le Rêve,” translates into “The Dream.” Many consider this to be one of the most iconic abstract paintings Pablo Picasso ever did. And the subject of it is the artist’s mistress, 22-year-old Marie-Thérèse Walter, and it was originally painted in 1932.
Steve Wynn, the casino tycoon of Las Vegas, owned “Le Rêve” for 12 years, and it was the centerpiece of his art collection before he sold it to Steven A. Cohen. However, right before the deal went through. Wynn accidentally punctured the piece with his elbow. Eventually, Cohen purchased it for $155 million, which was $55 million less than the original price.
11. “Nu couché (sur le côté gauche)” by Amedeo Modigliani: $157.2 Million
Another Modigliani piece, another nude woman laying on a couch. While his 1917 painting, “Reclining Nude With Blue Cushion” broke massive financial records, this one actually sold for more money. “
Nu couché,” translates to “Lying Nude,” and sold for a cool $157.2 million to Liu Yiqian, a Chinese billionaire. He currently has the piece on display at one of his museums in Shanghai. It’s both bigger and displays the entire female figure, unlike the 1917 portrait of the woman on a red sofa.
10. “Masterpiece” by Roy Lichtenstein: $165 Million
Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve arrived at the top ten. Starting us off is none other than Roy Lichtenstein’s masterpiece, aptly titled “Masterpiece.” Inspired by traditional comic book illustrations, Lichtenstein created this piece in 1962. Some of his other works, like “Whaaam!” and “Look Mickey,” are also inspired by comic book art.
Steven A. Cohen—a regular on this list and a regular art buyer—purchased it in 2017 for $165 million. Prior to him, American philanthropist Agnew Gund had ownership of the piece, which she hung above her mantle for years until selling it to Cohen.
9. “Nu couché” by Amedeo Modigliani: $170.4 Million
Yes — we have a repeat! There was another version of “Nu couché” that sold for the astronomical number of $170.4 million. It was originally made public in Paris during his first (and only) solo exhibition in 1917. The show took place at the Galerie Berthe Weill and was shut down by police.
The buyer, a Chinese billionaire by the name Liu Yiqian, reportedly bought the expensive art piece with a single swipe on his American Express Card. Talk about class.
Other owners of “Nu couché” include an Italian businessman named Gianni Mattioli and Italian traders named Riccardo and Cesarina Gualino.
8. “Les Femmes d’ Alger (‘Version O’)” by Pablo Picasso: $197.4 Million
Another Picasso piece that makes the list of most expensive artwork is ‘Les Femmes d’ Alger (“Version O”)” which was created during a series he worked on between 1954 and 1955 titled “Les Femmes d’Alger” or “Women of Algiers.”
There were 15 different versions created in that series, and this was the final one. Many consider it to be a tribute to Picasso’s friend and French artist Henri Matisse. When it sold at an auction for $197.4 million, it broke the record for the most expensive painting sold. The buyer was the former prime minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani.
7. “Pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit” by Rembrandt: $180 Million
In 1634, Rembrandt painted these two pieces to celebrate the marriage of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit. While they were painted separately, these two paintings have never been apart.
Both the Lourve Museum and the Rijksmuseum purchased these iconic pieces of work in 2015 as a joint venture. They both paid half of the massive $180-million price. They alternate displaying the paintings for periods of five to eight years. Originally, the paintings belonged to the subjects’ heirs until 1877.
6. “No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red)” by Mark Rothko: $186 Million
As simple as this painting looks on the outside, for many art critics, it’s worth the massive $186 million value. Mainly because of the influence both the painting and the artist had on the contemporary movement since it was released back in 1951.
This painting received even more attention for being part of the iconic “Bouvier Affair” collection, of which 36 pieces were sold to Russian tycoon Dmitry Rybolovlev. Currently, there’s an ongoing court battle between Rybolovlev and his art dealer, Yves Bouvier. Rybolovlev is trying to prove that Bouvier defrauded him and charged him for multiple paintings, but Bouvier claims he did not.
5. “Number 17A” by Jackson Pollock: $200 Million
Another seemly duplicate on the list, “Number 17A” by Jackson Polluck, was purchased during a $500 million artwork deal hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin completed in 2015. While the 1948 painting looks similar to the other expensive Polluck on the list, “No. 5,” the two are, in fact, different.
This $200 million piece of art isn’t on display and currently sits in a private collection. However, there are many Pollucks you can visit in museums all across the globe, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
4. “Nafea Faa Ipoipo” by Paul Gauguin: $210 Million
As we enter the top four most expensive paintings in the world, we start with “Nafea Faa Ipoipo” by Paul Gaugin. The title translates to “When Will You Marry?”
The French post-impressionist painted this iconic piece during his first of many visits to Tahiti. He would go one to painted numerous portraits of the native women who inhabited the island.
“Nafea Faa Ipoipo” was once believed o be the most expensive painting in the world. It sold for $210 million to an unknown buyer in 2015 after the price was negotiated for a solid two years.
3. “The Card Players” by Paul Cézanne: $250 Million
Welcome to the third most expensive painting in the world, “The Card Players.” This piece is one of five paintings French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanna created in his 1980s series, also titled “The Card Players.” The Royal Family of Qatar actually purchased it back in 2011 and broke the then-record by paying $250 million. That price was double of what had even been paid for an artwork at an auction.
It is believed that the painting was later sold to Blake Davis—the son of billionaire Mike Davis— for $300 million, though that hasn’t been confirmed.
2. “Interchange” by Willem de Kooning: $300 Million
This infamous 1955 Willem de Kooning piece was reportedly inspired by his NYC surroundings. It’s so iconic, in fact, that it sold for the highest price ever paid for artwork in a private sale: $300 million.
It was none other than hedge fund billionaire Kenneth C. Griffin who bought the artwork in the $500 million deal he made together with Jackson Pollock’s “No. 17A,” mentioned earlier in this list. “Interchange” is currently on display at the Art Institute of Chicago for all to see.
1. “Salvator Mundi,” by Leonardo da Vinci: $450.3 Million
It takes something as historic and renowned as a Leonardo da Vinci painting to take the place of the most expensive painting ever purchased. The subject of the piece is Jesus Christ, and he is holding up what appears to be a crystal orb.
King Louis XII commissioned the painting in 1605, during the Mona Lisa period. However, it went missing between 1763 and 1900. It didn’t resurface until 2005 when it was discovered by a group of British art dealers.
They spent $10,000 to acquire it, and the took six years to investigate its history before declaring that it was, in fact, an original work of da Vinci. It was purchased for $430.3 million by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.