(when adjusted for inflation)
How much would you be willing and able to pay for an original painting by one of the most famous artists in the world? Today the most respected art pieces, when they do come up for sale, are generally sold by auction. And as some recent auctions reveal, many times the bidding far exceeds the expected price. Here are some of the most noteworthy art auctions, as well as a few private sales, that have occurred in recent years. Keep in mind that this is not a complete list, but rather a sampling of 10 of the most expensive painting sales.
10) Gustav Klimt - Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II
Painted in 1912, it features the wife of an industrialist named Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, who was a supporter of Klimt’s career. His wife is actually the only model to appear in two of Klimt’s paintings (see number 3 on this list for the other one). There is an interesting story regarding both of these works. After Adele’s death, her husband was forced to leave Austria to escape from the Nazis, leaving his estate, including these Klimt paintings of his wife, behind. When he died, he left the paintings to his niece, Maria Altmann. Altmann actually went to court against the Austrian government to retain rightful ownership of these works. She was ultimately successful in this attempt. She sold this portrait at auction in 2006 through Christie’s, New York, for $87.9 million. When adjusted for inflation, this equals $89.1 million for the sale.
9) Vincent van Gogh - Portrait de l’artiste sans barbe
Completed in 1889, it was one of the artist’s many self-portraits. What makes this one unique, however, was the fact it shows him “sans barbe” or “without a beard.” This oil painting was sold by the heirs of Jacques Koerfer (who was a German collector and former chairman of BMW) through Christie’s, New York, in 1998 for $71.5 million. When adjusted for inflation, this equals $90.1 million. The painting was said to be painted by van Gogh for his mother’s 70th birthday gift shortly before he committed suicide. It is worth noting that the selling price was more than double what this piece was expected to fetch.
8) Pablo Picasso - Dora Maar au Chat
Painted in 1941 to capture the likelihood of his mistress, Dora Maar, who was seated on a chair with a cat perched on her shoulder. This particular portrait of her, which was one of many, was one of Picasso’s last paintings. This piece, which was owned by the Gidwitz family of Chicago, was sold by auction in 2006 through Sotheby’s, New York, for $95.2 million. This was double the pre-sale estimates. When adjusted for inflation, this equals $97 million.
7) Vincent van Gogh - Irises
Completed by the Dutch artist in 1889 at the asylum at Saint Paul-de-Mausole in Saint-Remy-de-Provence, France shortly before he died. This well-known work came up for auction in 1987, when it was sold by the son of Joan Whitney Payson to collector Alan Bond through Sotheby’s, New York. The painting went for $53.9 million, which when adjusted for inflation equals $97.5 million today. It is worth pointing out, however, that the buyer did not have enough money to ever pay the full bill, and eventually the piece was acquired by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where it remains on display today.
6) Pablo Picasso - Garcon a la pipe
It was created when the artist was just 24 years old. The oil painting features orange and pink shades, which characterized his well-known “Rose Period.” While the overall style of the piece is a departure from some other examples of his most famous work, the painting surprised art critics when it brought in $104.2 million at auction through Sotheby’s, New York in 2004, which was much higher than expected. The sellers were the Whitney family/Greentree foundation. The selling price, when adjusted for inflation, totals $113.4 million today.
5) Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Bal au Moulin de la Galette, Montmarte
Painted in 1876, it was sold by owner Betsey Whitney through Sotheby’s, New York, in 1990. The high bid came from a Japanese businessman named Ryoei Saito, who paid $78.1 million back then. This translates to $122.8 million today. It is important to point out that two versions of this painting exist. The first one is housed at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, while the second, smaller one, is the one that Saito purchased. In addition to this masterpiece, Saito also purchased a famous Van Gough work as well (see number 4 below).
4) Vincent van Gogh - Portrait of Dr. Gachet
In addition to the Renoir listed in number 5 above, Japanese businessman Ryoei Saito also purchased this painting in 1990, this time through an auction at Christie’s, New York. The seller was the Siegfried Kramarsky family. This work went for $82.5 million, which today equals $129.7 million. A rumor in the art world regarding Saito’s purchase of both the Renoir and the van Gogh is that when he died, he wanted to have the paintings be cremated along with his body. However, Saito is said to have clarified this request, explaining that he did not mean this literally, but was just figuratively trying to express his deep appreciation for these two famous paintings.
3) Gustav Klimt - Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I
Painted in 1907, which was five years before his Portrait II of this model listed as number 10 above. This earlier piece was sold in a private sale by Bloch-Bauer’s niece Maria Altmann in 2006 to collector and Ronald Lauder (of Estee Lauder cosmetics) for his Neue Galerie, which is located in New York City and features nineteenth and twentieth century works of art. The price of the sale was $135 million, which when adjusted for inflation comes to $137.6 million.
2) Willem de Kooning - Woman III
Completed in 1953, it was sold in 2006 to hedge fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen by private sale. This masterpiece came from the collection of David Geffen, who is one of the founders of Dreamworks movie studios. Kooning is known for his series of artwork depicting women with exaggerated body parts. Woman III is the only one of this series that is still privately owned. Cohen purchased it for $137.5 million, which today equals $140.2 million.
1) Jackson Pollock - No. 5
This painting was also from David Geffen’s collection. Pollock is an artist who became known for establishing his own unique style in the Post-War climate that was a radical departure from his peers. No. 5, which was painted in 1948, is was one of his earliest examples of drip painting, which consisted of using his body to move the paint over the canvas. The details of this painting sale were kept very private, but rumor has it that the buyer is Mexican financier and art collector David Martinez, and that he paid a whopping $140 million, which with inflation now totals $142.7 million.
The Most Valuable Painting Ever Sold
While some of the most expensive paintings ever sold are included in this article, there is one painting whose value far outweighs even those mentioned here. It is the Mona Lisa, which was painted in the 16th century by Italian master Leonardo Da Vinci. While the identity of the woman depicted in this portrait is not widely known, it is thought to be the wife of a wealthy silk merchant. Historians say that Da Vinci was commissioned by this man to paint her as a way to commemorate the birth of the couple’s second child. The painting now sits in the Musée du Louvre in Paris, where it was valued back in 1962 at $100 million, which today makes it worth more than $680 million. Interestingly enough, rather than paying to insure the painting at the time it was assessed, the Louvre spent the money on added security for the piece instead.