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The most valuable paintings in the world

Posted by mandyf on March 6, 2012

The world’s most valuable paintings are well known to all art lovers and most casual observers of the art world as well. While there is always speculation as to what some paintings might sell for if offered at auction or what some pieces that are rumored to be held within the bowels of the Vatican or still uncovered Nazi stashes might claim, this article will stick to what is actually known to have happened. The easiest way to discuss the world’s ten most valuable paintings is to start at number ten and work our way to number one. All values listed are in U.S. dollars.

Bal au Moulin de la Galette

At number ten is Bal au Moulin de la Galette which was painted in 1876 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, better known to the world simply as Renoir. This painting is considered one of the most well known of all works from the era of the French Impression which depicts a Sunday afternoon dance in a Monmarte garden. It was sold in 1990 for $78.1 million, the highest price recorded to be paid for an Impressionist work.

The 1959 Jasper Johns painting titled False Start was sold by David Geffen in 2006 for a reported $80 million. This is the highest price recorded for the sale of a painting by a living artist. The painting is classified as Pop-Art and liberally employs bright contradictory colors and stenciled words.

Portrait of Dr. Gachet

The eighth highest price ever paid for a painting is $82.5 million for Vincent Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet. Completed in 1890, it sold a century later for this astounding price to Ryoei Saito. Van Gogh was a Dutch Post-Impressionist known to many as “the painter that cut off his ear” which often overshadows from his true genius. This portrait was deliberately created to convey the Dr.’s melancholy and is filled with hidden bits of symbolism related to depression like the display of foxglove which was considered a homeopathic treatment for depression.

Trptych, painted by Francis bacon in 1976 is considered the most important of all Bacon’s works which is privately owned. The painting itself uses Greek Mythology to depict what he sensed as his own personal fate, and is considered his most imaginative and complex work. This iconic work sold in 2008 at a Sotheby’s auction for $86.3 million to Roman Abramovich, good enough for seventy all time.

Coming in at number six is Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II by Gustav Klimt. This was Klimt’s second portrait of Adele and marks a new era of his use of color which disregards strong gold tones as a mainstay as well as his combining of reality and unreality in a single work. This was sold to an unknown buyer in 2006 for $87.9 million by Maria Altmann.

Dora Maar au Chat

Opening up the top half of the list of the world’s most expensive paintings is Dora Maar au Chat. This was a work completed in 1941 by Pablo Picasso which is described as a luminous cubist style portrait which depicts his mistress sitting in a chair with a cat perched on her shoulders. Dora was regarded as his favorite model during their eleven year relationship and each painting he did of her is said to hold great symbolism if looked for, in this instance the cat was to symbolize her femininity and sensual nature. This was sold in 2006 by the Gidwitz family to an unknown buyer $95.2 million, the second highest price ever snatched by an auctioneer for a painting in the history of art.



At number four is Garcon a’ la Pipe another Picasso masterpiece which was painted in 1905 when he was only 24. The $104.2 million this sold for in 2004 is the highest price ever recorded for an example of representational art. It took only seven minutes at auction for this price to be sold for this record amount. This is not only considered the finest work from his “Rose Period” but is also regarded as one of the most iconic works of the era, as well as the finest painting of this genre which is privately owned.

A Klimt masterpiece

Weighing in at number three is Klimt’s predecessor to his earlier mentioned work, Portrait of Adele Bauer-Bach I completed in 1907. This painting comes with a history which includes confiscation by the Nazis in WWII and the eventual court order it be returned to it’s rightful owners by order of the Austrian government. While this is considered one of Klimt’s great masterpieces with strong overtones of Egyptian art accentuated by an overwhelming use of gold tones, its sale price of $135 million in 2006 is considered by most to be severely inflated.



Woman iii

The second highest price recorded for the sale of a painting is $137 million for Woman III, the 1953 creation of Willem de Kooning. This is considered one of the finest examples of Abstract Expressionism which highlights his use of abstract and figurative styles via bimorphic synthesis. This is the only painting of his 6 part “Woman series” which is still privately owned. It still amazes many that this painting, while significant, is somehow capable of fetching almost twice what the most valuable Monet commands.



No 5 By Jackson Pollock

Taking top honors is No 5 by Jackson Pollock which was painted in 1948. While the sale price of this has never been confirmed by either seller David Geffen or buyer David Martinez, it is regularly reported this changed hands in 2006 for $140 million with little dispute. No 5 is considered Pollock’s signature work and a masterful example of abstract art. This falls under the category of a “drip/splash action painting which to most casual observers evokes the thought “I could do that!” This is a 4×8 painting which is composed of enamel, oil, and aluminum paint on fiberboard rejecting any point of focus or reference.

Again it is important to remember that many great works do not appear here simply because their values can only be estimated as it is likely they will never be sold due to being regarded as “belonging to the world.” An prime example would be The Mona Lisa which many feel could easily sell for $700 million, or even to a billion if ever offered. Perhaps it would be much less, nobody knows for sure. As such, only recorded sales prices were considered here so that speculation does not become a cornerstone of consideration.


2 Responses to “The most valuable paintings in the world”

  1. sallykwitt said

    I loved this post Amanda! Well done.

  2. mandyf said

    Thank you very much Sally! Thanks as always for coming by!

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