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The Most Expensive Paintings of All Time

Some say art is priceless. Others say there’s a price for everything. The world of art auctions has always been a place where reputations are measured, staked, and cemented forever. With da Vinci’s recently-discovered piece Salvator Mundi selling at auction for an incredible $450-plus million in November, we wanted to remind you of some other top sellers — all of which we offer for millions less than their originals.

The Most Expensive Art Ever Sold: The Highest Prices From The Fine Art World

10. The Scream — Edvard Munch: $119.9 Million (2012, Adjusted Price $127.0 Million)

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Described by Author Lubow as “a Mona Lisa for our time,” the German title of The Scream, Der Schrei der Natur, means “The Scream of Nature.” It’s one of four versions, but this expensive piece was the only to be auctioned in recent history. It sold for $119,922,600 in 2012, making it the fourth most expensive painting at that time. It’s been stolen twice in its history, once in 1994 from the National Gallery (where the thieves left a note that said “Thanks for the poor security,”) and once from the Munch Museum in 2004 by masked gunmen. Despite some damage done to the painting during its second stolen excursion, it still set a record sale. Sotheby’s auctioneer said that it was “worth every penny,” further calling it “one of the great icons of art in the world,” and that “whoever bought it should be congratulated.”

 9. Bal du moulin de la Galette — Pierre-Auguste Renoir: $78.1 Million (1990, Adjusted Price $130.3 Million)

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Bal du moulin de la Galette (or Dance at Le moulin de la Galette) is one of Renoir’s most famous works, as well as one of the defining masterpieces of Impressionism. It’s especially popular for its depiction of Paris’ 19th century Montmarte scene. One of the two versions lives in the famous Musée d’Orsay, while the other was sold alongside van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet to Saitō Ryōei, who intended to cremate both paintings alongside him upon his death. Fortunately, the financial difficulties of his companies led to the sale of the works to Sotheby’s, who sold it to a mysterious buyer.

8. Portrait of Dr. Gachet — Vincent Van Gogh: $82.5 Million (1990, Adjusted Price $137.7 Million)

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It’s hard to say which of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings is the most famous, but Portrait of Dr. Gachet is certainly one of the most important. As van Gogh required medical supervision after his stay at a French asylum, he went to live with Gachet in Auvers. In a letter to his sister, he intimated that “I have found a true friend in Dr. Gachet, something like another brother, so much do we resemble each other physically and also mentally.” Van Gogh was pleased with the work, hoping that it “may perhaps be looked back on with longing a hundred years later.” Poetically, it was exactly a hundred years later that it sold at auction for the 2017 equivalent of $154.5 million.

 7. Adele Bloch-Bauer II — Gustav Klimt: $150 Million (2016)

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This awesome lady is on our list twice, in two different styles. Another portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, this piece is much different to the woman in gold that the world is more familiar with. Bloch-Bauer is the only person to ever been painted twice by Klimt, and both prints were seized by Nazis during World War II. This portrait has just as much celebrity status, however, having been owned for ten years by none other than Oprah Winfrey. She since sold it for a tidy $150 million, adding “art sales” to the list of things that Oprah excels at.

6. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I — Gustav Klimt: $135 Million (2006, Adjusted Price $158.7 Million)

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Also called The Lady in Gold or The Woman in Gold, this iconic portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer was created between 1903 and 1907 and famously stolen by Nazis in 1941. Ironically, Bloch-Bauer and the husband who commissioned this portrait were Jewish. It was later returned to the family, although the legal battles along the way and since have inspired a movie titled Woman In Gold with Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds. The gold leaf defines Klimt’s style, and has become the most famous piece of his gilded oeuvre.

 5. Masterpiece — Roy Lichtenstein: $165 Million (2017)

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Roy Lichtenstein is famous for his “Ben-Day dots” and cartoon-inspired speech balloons, both of which are in full effect in Masterpiece. The character of Brad also appears in his pieces I Know…Brad, Drowning Girl, and others. It’s considered a tongue-in-cheek look at Lichtenstein’s own art career, especially as it was released in the same year that he had his first exhibition in New York. For years it hung above the mantle of New York art patron Agnes Gund, before she had it auctioned off this January to support a criminal justice reform fund called Art for Justice. In their own words, the Art for Justice fund is “a five-year initiative that aims to turn art into action, investing more than $100 million into strategic efforts to reform the criminal justice system.” As the painting sold for $165 million, they’re certainly well-funded enough to take on this lofty goal.

4. Nu couché (Reclining Nude) — Amedeo Modigliani: $170.4 Million (2015, Adjusted Price $172.6 Million)

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Nu couché (also called Red Nude or Reclining Nude) is from Modigliani’s famous nude series, and was included in a 1917 Paris art show that was promptly shut down by the police. As this was Modigliani’s first and only art show, it’s a piece that’s at the forefront of the ongoing discussion about the difference between art and obscenity. Seven nudes were included in that show, but this one has become the most expensive, both for Modigliani and also for the art world in general. Modigliani died at 35, so it’s incredible that he was able to achieve such heights of artistry within his lifetime, and such fame so far beyond it.

3. No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) — Mark Rothko: $186 Million (2014, Adjusted Price $190 Million)

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Mark Rothko, born Markus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz, is known for his treatment of color. While his early paintings drew inspiration from mythology and the writings of Nietzsche, No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) comes from his signature style of “multiforms.” Painted in 1951, it sold for €140 million in 2014 to Dmitry Rybolovlev, who was the original owner of the da Vinci piece Salvator Mundi. It’s safe to say that it’s now in the hands of one of the biggest art collectors of the modern age.

2. Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?)  — Paul Gauguin: $210 Million (2015, Adjusted Price $213 Million)

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Gauguin did a significant amount of his work in Tahiti, where he hoped to find inspiration for “primitive art,” but instead found a colonized culture where many of the locals had been killed by European diseases. Despite the reality of what he found, he used the local Tahitians to create the imagery he had been imagining. Perhaps because of its inauthentic roots, this series was less than successful, only gaining fame and accolades as the years went by. It was sold from its home in Switzerland to Qatar royal Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, who owns many of the world’s most expensive pieces, as well as Cézanne’s The Card Players, which is also on this list.

 1. The Card Players — Paul Cézanne: $250 Million (2011, Adjusted Price $270+ Million)

Paul Cezanne - The Card Players - From Art.com
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Referred to as a “human still life” by a critic, The Card Players depicts a serious card game, modeled by local Provençal farmhands. There are five pieces titled The Card Players, making it one of the most incredible series in art history. It’s also the most expensive, with just one piece selling in 2012 for somewhere between $250 and $320 million. As both Matisse and Picasso have referred to Cézanne as “the father of us all,” it’s clear that his work is crucially important to the world of art.

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