What happens when the right mixture of paint, canvas, and taste comes together? For some artists, not much. But for a small collection of the most incredible pieces of art, the wealth stemming from their creations is unimaginable.
The most expensive paintings in the world bring together authentic pieces of history, combined with deep historical significance, and a splash of something special. That X factor might mean being lost for decades. Or for displaying something culturally forbidden.
Whatever the case, this list of the world’s most expensive paintings is sure to leave you wondering if you should have picked up the paintbrush more often. For investors, these paintings are more than scribbles on canvas, and like the most expensive stamps, they are much more than sticky pieces of paper used to send mail.
They’re deep testaments to the history, popularity, and condition of the pieces of art. Usually offering a glance into the fabled past ownership, challenging social hierarchies, or some other unique backstory, these paintings bring serious cash to the table. Enough to bankrupt some entire countries.
If it were to come up for auction, the Mona Lisa would likely fetch the highest price in history for a painting (even after its glass case was smothered with cake).
But since it’s nearly impossible to determine the value of museum pieces, this list only encompasses the most valuable paintings sold between private sellers, either at auction or in private deals.
The 11 most expensive paintings to look out for
|1||Salvator Mundi||$542.4 million|
|3||Nafea Faa Ipoipo?||$365.9 million|
|4||The Card Players 1892||$321.3 million|
|5||Number 17A||$244 million|
|6||No. 6 (Violet, Green, and Red)||$227.1 million|
|7||Portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit||$219.6 million|
|8||Les Femmes d’Alger (Version “O”)||$218.7 million|
|9||Water Serpents II||$207.4 million|
|10||No. 5, 1948||$200.8 million|
|11||The Standard Bearer||$198.4 million|
Salvator Mundi: $542.4 million
The world’s most expensive painting went missing for many years before being sold to a group of British art dealers in 2005. After spending a measly $10,000 to pick it up, they realized it was the original Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci.
It went back to the auction block in 2016 when the “Lost Leonardo” sold for a record-breaking $450.3 million, equal to $542.4 million in inflation-adjusted dollars.
Artist: Leonardo da Vinci Year of creation: 1500 Current price: $542.4 million
Interchange: $365.9 million
After focusing most of his career on painting women, the aptly named Interchange marks Willem de Kooning’s transition into painting abstract urban landscapes.
As a major influence in the United States abstract expressionism movement, this 1955 piece is now one of the most expensive art pieces in the world. It was last sold in 2015 for $300 million, equal to $365.9 million in today’s dollars.
Artist: Willem de Kooning Year of creation: 1955 Current price: $365.9 million
Nafea Faa Ipoipo?: $365.9 million
This expensive art piece is a nod to the never-ending barrage of questions that parents have thrown at their offspring for centuries. Meaning “When Will You Marry?”, many people from the past and current times can relate to the family pressure shown in this painting by Paul Gauguin, created shortly after his first trip to Tahiti where he found a westernized culture rather than the untouched civilization he expected.
It was privately sold in 2015 for $300 million, equal to $365.9 million in inflation-adjusted dollars.
Artist: Paul Gauguin Year of creation: 1892 Current price: $365.9 million
The Card Players 1892: $321.3 million
In all five of Paul Cézanne’s The Card Players pieces, you can feel the tension behind the games depicted. Maybe he was trying to find out if cards were a game of chance or skill. Or perhaps he was simply showing one of the most popular hobbies of modern men.
In any case, the fifth and final installment of this series has become one of the most valuable paintings. It sold in 2011 for $250 million, a then record-setting price, and equal to $321.3 million in today’s dollars.
Artist: Paul Cézanne Year of creation: 1892 Current price: $321.3 million
Number 17A: $244 million
When artists are willing to take risks, the results can be spectacular. That’s the case for Jackson Pollock’s drip painting technique, which was initially ridiculed by the public, but now has made it on the list of the most expensive paintings ever sold.
Made one year after Pollock unveiled his drip technique to create abstract expressionist works, the Number 17A was sold as part of the deal with de Kooning’s Interchange for a reported $200 million in 2015, equivalent to $244 million in inflation-adjusted dollars.
Artist: Jackson Pollock Year of creation: 1948 Current price: $244 million
No. 6 (Violet, Green, and Red): $227.1 million
Pictures might be worth a thousand words, but this painting is worth millions of dollars. And reportedly can only be properly appreciated in person. As one of Mark Rothko’s Color Field artworks, the expansive canvas is meant to fully encapsulate the focus of the viewer.
This piece is part of the infamous Bouvier Affair in which a Swiss dealer is reported to have defrauded his clients. Nonetheless, this stunning piece of art sold in 2014 for $186 million, or $227.1 million in today’s dollars.
Artist: Mark Rothko Year of creation: 1951 Current price: $227.1 million
Portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit: $219.6 million
Some things are never to be separated. And thankfully for the world of the most expensive paintings, they haven’t been. These full-length portraits completed by Rembrandt at only 28 years old were completed to mark the wedding of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit.
They were held in private hands for many years under the care of the Rothschild family, but in 2015, the Louvre Museum and the Rijksmuseum jointly purchased them for $180 million, or $219.6 million in inflation-adjusted dollars.
Artist: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn Year of creation: 1634 Current price: $219.6 million
Les Femmes d’Alger (Version “O”): $218.7 million
Whenever the famed artist Pablo Picasso comes up, you can be sure that big money is following. The “Women of Algiers” series of 15 paintings and this Version “O” is the final entry, considered the most spectacular, shattering perspective with vibrant color and strong lines.
This expensive art piece last sold in 2015 for an incredible $179.3 million, equal to $218.7 million in today’s dollars.
Artist: Pablo Picasso Year of creation: 1955 Current price: $218.7 million
Water Serpents II: $207.4 million
The interpretation of this work of art from Gustav Klimt has been a source of controversy for over a century. Is it exemplifying a set of four mythical creatures or is it four women engaging in intercourse?
Controversy continued in World War II when it was confiscated by the Nazis, and again at the 2013 sale for $183.3 million, when the owner did not disclose his conflict of interest when discussing the painting with the buyer.
It was most recently sold in 2015 for $170 million, or $207.4 million in today’s dollars.
Artist: Gustav Klimt Years of creation: 1904 to 1907 Current price: $207.4 million
No. 5, 1948: $200.8 million
Another example of Jackson Pollock’s once-controversial drip painting technique has made its way onto the list of the most expensive art pieces, worth about ten times more than the most expensive coins. Initially sold for a mere $1,500, No. 5 from 1948 went on to achieve glory in 2006 as the most expensive painting ever sold at that time.
It transferred hands in 2006 for $140 million, equal to $200.8 million in inflation-adjusted dollars, and remains one of the most valuable paintings ever.
Artist: Jackson Pollock Year of creation: 1948 Current price: $200.8 million
The Standard Bearer: $198.4 million
Self-portraits can be difficult to pull off, but Rembrandt set out to create a masterpiece and was able to achieve it. Produced during his move from Leiden to Amsterdam, some see this work as a sales pitch to gain the commission for a group portrait for the Amsterdam militia.
In early 2022, it was sold from the Rothschild family to a joint venture consisting of the Dutch government, Rembrandt Association, and the Rijksmuseum for €150 million, or about US $198.4 million. Not even the world’s most expensive nickel comes close to paying this bill.
Artist: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn Year of creation: 1636 Current price: $198.4 million
Valuable paintings: conclusion
There are many famous names found in the list of the most expensive paintings in the world. While 20th-century abstract expressionism has two individuals listed here, you can also reach back deep into history and find centuries-old works. One that was hiding in plain sight.
If there is a single thing to say with certainty, it’s that these valuable pieces of art are likely to continue to climb. As they go sky-high with their prices, people around the world can be satisfied knowing that they are in the utmost care and will be preserved for the future to come.
For some collectors, the feeling behind the art is what draws them in and allows them to open their wallets. For others, the history and tales behind the works have turned them into the most valuable paintings around.
But art means something different to everyone. And perhaps, right now as you read this, there is a new name making something incredible that the world hasn’t seen before. And eventually might make its way onto this coveted list.
For now, the 11 most expensive paintings are:
- Salvator Mundi: $542.4 million
- Interchange: $365.9 million
- Nafea Faa Ipoipo?: $365.9 million
- The Card Players 1892: $321.3 million
- Number 17A: $244 million
- No. 6 (Violet, Green, and Red): $227.1 million
- Portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit: $219.6 million
- Les Femmes d’Alger (Version “O”): $218.7 million
- Water Serpents II: $207.4 million
- No. 5, 1948: $200.8 million
- The Standard Bearer: $198.4 million
Frequently asked questions about the most expensive paintings
Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi is the current record holder for the most expensive painting ever sold when it exchanged hands in 2016 for a record-breaking $450.3 million, equal to $542.4 million in inflation-adjusted dollars.
The three most expensive paintings ever sold are Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci at $542.4 million, Interchange by Willem de Kooning at $365.9 million, and Nafea Faa Ipoipo? by Paul Gauguin at $365.9 million. Read our ranking of the most expensive paintings to find out exactly what makes them so valuable to collectors.
It’s difficult to determine how much the Mona Lisa would sell for now, but it was last valued at $100 million in 1942, which is equal to $957.3 million in inflation-adjusted dollars. Some experts say it would fetch closer to $600 million while others argue its worth is nearly limitless and could fetch billions.
Yes, The Card Players by Paul Cézanne are some of the most expensive paintings in the world. The 1892 fifth and final installment of the series last sold in 2011 for $250 million, a then record-setting price, and equal to $321.3 million in inflation-adjusted dollars.