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The 5 Most Expensive Paintings Ever Sold

In May 2018, the famous Sotheby’s New York auction house broke its own record for the most expensive painting ever sold at auction with the sale of a Modigliani nude for $157 million. But that is not even close to the highest price paid for a painting! Here’s a closer look at the valuable paintings that have rocked the art world and helped to define what gallery collectors around the world are now buying.

#1: Leonardo Da Vinci - “Salvator Mundi” (“Savior of the World”)

Nearly half a billion dollars for a single painting? $450.3 million was the price paid for a Da Vinci masterpiece that now hangs in the Abu Dhabi Louvre museum. What’s so fascinating about this painting is the back story – the painting was acquired at auction in 2005 for just $10,000. At the time, the painting had been overpainted so many times that it looked like a really bad Da Vinci copy. One art critic even called it a “wreck.” But an epic restoration project in New York uncovered the real painting below all the excess paint, and found one of the great missing paintings of Da Vinci. The rest, as they say, was history.

#2: Willem de Kooning – “Interchange”

This work by the great Dutch-American Abstract Expressionist painter de Kooning – featuring an abstract view of downtown New York - sold for a cool $300 million at auction. That’s quite a sum, considering that de Kooning originally sold the painting for $4,000 when he painted it in 1955! De Kooning has always been a darling of the New York art scene, though, and it’s easy to see why “Interchange” captured the attention of collectors. It may not be his most famous work – but it perfectly captures his bold move into abstract art.

#3: Paul Cézanne – “The Card Players”

This painting is the most famous of a 5-part series of card players that Cézanne completed, and sold for $250 million in 2011 to the royal family of Qatar. Many art experts now view this 1896 painting as the prelude to Cézanne’s greatest period of work. The painting may appear simple enough – two peasants from Provence playing cards at a small table – but the choice of theme, the mood and the use of post-Impressionist techniques is what makes the masterpiece so distinctive.

#4: Paul Gauguin – “When Will You Marry?”

Gauguin, with his bold, colorful works portraying his experiences visiting the indigenous people of the South Pacific, has always been a crowd pleaser. This 1892 work – known as “When Will You Marry?” – sold for $210 million.

#5: Jackson Pollock – “Number 17A”

Even after the 2000 Hollywood movie “Pollock” starring Ed Harris, there is still much that is inscrutable about Pollock’s painting style. To the untrained eye, his oil paintings appear much as if someone had emptied several cans of paint onto a vast canvas. His painting “Number 17A” sold for $200 million at auction.


Of course, every year seems to bring another blockbuster sale of a famous piece of art. In just the past decade, works by Modigliani, Lichtenstein, Picasso and Rembrandt have broken art world records – only to be surpassed in the span of a few years. The most expensive paintings in the world are backed not just by first-rate painting quality, but also by confidence that they will retain their value over the next few decades.

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