The most expensive paintings in the world are not always at the top of the list for an art connoisseur. Many such valuable paintings are part of a heritage that cannot be bought or sold. These “priceless” paintings are housed in museums where they can be admired but no one can put a number on them.
Following is a list of the most expensive paintings in the world with their estimated prices in 2023:
1. The Mona Lisa- $ 952 million
The first masterpiece that comes to mind when you think of great paintings is indisputably the Mona Lisa. The painting was created in the Italian Renaissance period during the 16th century. According to historians the painting was started in the year 1503 and was refined continuously during a span of 14 years. The most recognizable artwork around the world has innumerable mysteries surrounding it which has made it increasingly popular. However, there are only a few hard facts that confirm the theories about the Mona Lisa.
She attracts tens of thousands of spectators each day, even centuries after she was created by Leonardo Da Vinci in 1503. The painting is behind bulletproof glass at the Louvre in France, where it enjoys tight security.
What stuns most people is the overpowering simplicity of the woman and the realism of the setting. Dressed in black, translucent robes she sits in front of us with an unreadable expression. The layman thinks that the Mona Lisa is known for its incomprehensible smile but this is only a small reason behind her fame.
Read some interesting facts about the Mona Lisa here: 16 Shocking Facts About Mona Lisa You’ve Never Known
Even though the Mona Lisa is official French property that cannot be bought or sold, there is still a way to ascertain its valuation. As of 2023, the painting holds the Guinness World Record for having the highest insurance valuation in the world. The painting was insured for USD 100 million in 1962. This amount is equivalent to USD 952 million in 2023 if inflation is taken into account. This valuation makes it the world’s most expensive art piece.
2. Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci – $539 million
It is interesting to note that the two most expensive paintings in the world are masterworks by Leonardo da Vinci. Like the Mona Lisa, the Salvator Mundi also has a fair share of mysteries surrounding it. The painting features a young image of Jesus Christ, with long brown hair and blue robes. He is seen holding a glass orb in his left hand, as he makes a cross sign with his right. Most viewers are instantly transfixed by the realism of the glass orb.
Just 6 years ago the ‘Salvator Mundi’ was presented at an auction during a contemporary art event. This event was held at Christie’s New York in 2016 where a Saudi Arabian Prince won after an intense 20-minute bidding war. The winning bidder was a Saudi Arabian Prince who paid a whopping $450 million USD for this masterpiece. With the rates of inflation in mind, the painting is now worth USD 539 million in 2023.
Now a property of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, you probably can’t see this painting in real life. However here’s a picture of Salvator Mundi, up close. The biggest controversy surrounding the painting is that some scholars believe that this painting is not original by da Vinci. However, there has been plenty of research that supports its originality.
3. Interchange by Willem de Kooning – $342 Million
This abstract expressionist painting is quite difficult for laymen to comprehend. Whilst there is no specific structure to the painting, viewers can understand it with the help of some background information on the painting. The interchange was painted by Willem de Kooning in the year 1955.
This oil painting has various elements from Kooning’s life and his work. The pastel pink mass in the center of the painting represents a woman seated on a chair. It is important to know what various elements represent since it is nearly impossible to understand what it means if you don’t follow Kooning’s work. The deconstructed aspects of the painting give us the liberty to look at this work from various angles. The seated woman is a common theme in Willem’s work. The painting represents several changes in his art style from impressionism to a more abstract approach.
‘The Interchange’ was sold for 300 million USD in 2015 at an auction to Kenneth C Griffin. In 2023, it is worth around 342 million USD. Kenneth Griffin is a member of the board of trustees for the Art Institute of Chicago. He has loaned the ‘Interchange’ to the museum and is available to be viewed by the public.
4. The Card Players by Paul Cézanne – $310 Million
The Card Players is a series of five paintings by Paul Cezanne. These paintings were created in the 1890s. Each of the paintings is known by the same name as the whole series. The only way in which we can group the paintings is by the number of players. In the first two paintings, there are four people playing cards. In the last three paintings only two players can be seen, each with an increasingly dark background. It seems as if Cezanne attempted to show changes in light according to the different hours of the day with each successive painting.
Four of the five paintings are in various museums and art galleries around the world. There’s only one that is part of a private collection. The fifth painting now belongs to the Qatari Royal Family since 2011. The painting was bought at an auction for 250 million USD. In 2023, the painting is worth 310 million USD.
5. Nafea Faa Ipoipo by Paul Gauguin – $254 Million
Paul Gauguin is a French post-impressionist painter. He painted Nafea Faa Ipoipo in 1892 while on a visit to Tahiti. The title of the painting translates to ‘When Will You Marry?’ and features two native women from the Tahitian island. The oil on canvas work is bejeweled with bright beautiful colors and detailed shading.
For nearly 50 years, the painting was on loan to the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland. Later, it was privately sold by Rudolf Staechelin’s family to Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad Al-Thani. The estimated price of the deal in 2015 is close to US$210 million. Today, in 2023 it would cost 254 million USD.
6. Number 17A by Jackson Pollock – $228 Million
Number 17A by Jackson Pollock is an archetypal example of spontaneous and subconscious abstract expressionism. Around 1947 to 1950 Pollock used his dripping technique extensively for many of his famous works. The painting was created in the year 1948, hence we also see a lot of his dripping technique in number 17A.
Pollock has used amorphous shapes, that is, the shapes and lines in the work cannot be defined and are ambiguous. These lines and shapes are not horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. There is a lot of randomness in the work. It is abstract art as it does not represent or imitate visible reality.
The Number 17A was acquired by Kenneth C. Griffin at the same auction where he purchased the ‘Interchange’ in the year 2016. The total deal is estimated at around 500 million USD. Number 17A alone was priced at 200 million dollars. Presently in 2023, the painting costs approximately 228 million USD. Number 17A is presently part of a private collection that is not available to be viewed by the public. However, several Jackson Pollock paintings can be seen in museums around the world.
6. Les Femmes d’ Alger (“Version O”) by Pablo Picasso – $225 Million
In the years 1954 and 1955, Pablo Picasso painted a series called the Les Femmes d’Alger. This translates to women of Algeries or Algeria. From this series, Les Femmes d’Alger- Version O has become one of the most expensive paintings in the world. The series consisted of 15 paintings wherein Version O was the last.
Before Salvator Mundi, this was the most expensive painting for nearly 2 years. Now, the painting is part of a private collection. The painting was sold to Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani for 197.4 million USD in 2015 at a Christies’ New York auction. He was a former prime minister of Qatar. In the year 2023, the painting is worth 225 million USD.
7. No. 6 (Violet, Green, and Red) by Mark Rothko – $216 Million
In 1951, Mark Rothko, an abstract impressionist painter created the No.6 (Violet, Green and Red). Rothko worked in a number of abstract styles during his lifetime. He is, however, most well-known for his Color Field artworks. His color field artworks are considered his signature style. A number of variations of his palette were made, focusing on fewer or more individual regions, as well as horizontally based works. His goal was to immerse the viewer within his palette by making his canvases so large, tall, and wide that the boundaries of the work completely enclose the viewer. Unfortunately, No.6 is part of a private collection and cannot be experienced in person. Since its release, the painting has had a great influence on contemporary art.
The painting was purchased for 186 million USD by a Russian businessman, Dmitry Rybolovlev in 2014. What adds to its value is the fact that it was involved in the “Bouvier” affair between Dmitry Rybolovlev and Yves Bouvier. In 2023, the estimated price of the No.6 (Violet, Green, and Red) is 216 million USD.
8. Pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit by Rembrandt – $206 Million
Master artist Rembrandt was commissioned to paint two pieces for the wedding of Maerten and Oopjen in the early 17th century. Dated back to 1634, these inseparable paintings are portraits of the newlywed couples who commissioned the paintings. Art scholars and historians are of the opinion that paintings should always be displayed together and not in the absence of the other. Rembrandt’s soft realism with impeccable attention to detail are highlights of these paintings.
The portraits were purchased for 180 million dollars in 2015. This was joined venture between the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum, where each party paid half the amount. In 2023 the estimated cost of this deal is approximately 206 million USD.
9. Nu couché by Amedeo Modigliani – $195.05 Million
Amedeo’s Nu Couche is part of a series of nudes and a pioneering example of modernist art. Nu Couche translates to Red Nude or Reclining Nude. The painting depicts the detailed contours of a woman reclining naked on a red sofa.
Nu Couche’ was sold in 2015 at a Christie’s New York Auction to a Chinese billionaire, Liu Yiqian for 195.05 million USD. The painting is now estimated to cost approximately 195.05 million USD.
10. Wasserschlangen II by Gustav Klimt – $ 194.5 Million
Wasserschlangen is an oil on canvas masterpiece by the Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt in 1907. The title translates to Water Serpents. A sequel to the Wasserschlangen I this painting also deals with the beauty of the female body and homosexuality. The longer you look at the painting the more faces and bodies you see. These water serpents or rather water nymphs look calm and blissful.
The painting is presently part of a private collection and cannot be viewed by the public. The rumors suggest that the painting was bought by a Qatari princess. It was sold to an anonymous buyer in 2015 for 170 million USD. Today it is worth 194.59 million USD
11. Masterpiece by Roy Lichtenstein – $186.29 Million
As is evident, this painting was inspired by a comic book style. Roy Lichtenstein has painted some other pieces in the same style including “Whaam!” and “Look Mickey”. About one-fourth of the painting is covered by a speech bubble where the blonde woman says –
She says this as she is looking at a painting outside our view. The man “Brad” silently agrees to the woman. Well, as it turns out, she was right. Steven S. Cohen bought this painting for a whopping 165 million USD in 2017. In 2023 the estimated price of the painting is 186.29 million USD.
12. Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) by Amedeo Modigliani – $173.78 Million
Featuring the same theme as Modigliani’s 1917 painting of a naked woman on a red sofa, known as “Nu Couche”, this version of the painting is also one of the most expensive art pieces in the world. The canvas for this painting is a lot bigger than the earlier version. The woman is reclined on the same sofa but in a different position. It seems as if the two paintings complete each other.
The painting was bought at a Sotheby’s New York auction by Ezra and David Nahmad in 2018 for 157.2 million USD. Today it is worth 173.78 million USD.
13. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II by Gustav Klimt – $171 Million
Adele Bloch-Bauer was a socialite and a close friend to Gustav Klimt. Klimt created this oil painting on a portrait canvas with the dimensions of 75in x 47in. As the title of the painting suggests there are two portraits of Adele Bloch-Bauer. During World War II, both paintings were stolen by the Nazis. Fortunately, they were found after the end of the war and were returned to Vienna’s Galerie Belvedere museum.
Soon the Bloch Bauer estate regained ownership of the paintings. The second of the two paintings was sold to Oprah Winfrey who sold it to an anonymous Chinese art collector in 2016 for a hefty sum of 150 million USD. In 2023 it will be worth around 171 million USD.
14. Three Studies of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon – $168.7 Million
Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon were friends in their personal life but were competitors in their professions. Bacon painted a triptych of Freud in 1969 in oil on canvas medium. In these portraits, Freud can be seen sitting on a chair enclosed by a geometric shape from different angles in very similar poses. What catches the eye is the bright yellow background and then the subject.
It became one of the most expensive and famous paintings ever, eventually catching the eye of Elaine Wynn, who bought it at auction in 2013. In the November of 2013, the painting was bought for 142.4 million USD at Christie’s New York Auction. The painting is now worth approximately 168.7 million USD.
15. Bal du moulin de la Galette by Pierre by Auguste Renoir – $170.63 million
This beautiful piece by the French impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir was painted in 1876. The title translates to Dance at Le moulin de la Galette. In the painting we see several people men and women dancing at a ball in the open air, under a shady tree. A few specks of the sunlight pass through the tree and decorate the scene beautifully making it the highlight of the painting.
The painting was bought by Ryoei Saito in 1990 at a Sotheby’s, New York auction for a sum of 78 million dollars. Today it is worth approximately $170.63 million
16. Garçon à la pipe by Pablo Picasso – $153.26 Million
Garçon à la pipe is a 1905 oil on canvas painting by Pablo Picasso. The title translates to Boy with a Pipe, and this is exactly what we see in the painting. This painting shows a very pronounced change in Picasso’s style from the Blue period to the Rose period. The blue period was characterized by pessimism and the rose period has optimistic themes.
The painting was sold to an Italian billionaire Guido Barilla in 2004 in a Sotheby New York Auction for a sum of 104 million USD. In 2023, the paintings are worth 153.26 million USD.
17. The Scream by Edvard Munch- $ 144.45 Million
Edvard Munch is a Norwegian expressionist who is best known for his iconic masterpiece “The Scream”. Being an expressionist, Munch often expressed strong emotions through simple elements in his painting. Munch’s work has been linked to the international development of Symbolism. His travels in Europe allowed him to learn from some great masters such as Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh.
The Scream was sold at a Sotheby New York Auction in 2012 to Leon Black for a sum of 119.9 million USD. Today, in 2023 the painting is worth around 144.45 million USD.
Here are some more masterpieces by Edvard Munch:
- Despair by Edvard Munch: The Screaming Silence
- The Sick Child (Det Syke Barn): Munch’s Most Important Painting
- Anxiety Painting by Edvard Munch Will Give You The Creeps. Here’s Why
18. Nu Couché au coussin Bleu by Amedeo Modigalani – $ 142 Million
A third painting by Amedeo Modigliani from the same series has also made it to the list. The title of the painting translates to Reclining Nude on Blue Cushion. This painting was completed by an Italian painter in 1916. The title of the painting focuses on the areas of the picture that are most important in the visual field. A viewer is likely to look at the subject first and then the stunning bright blue cushion on which she reclines.
This oil on canvas painting is now the property of Russian businessman and collector Dmitry Rybolovlev since 2012. The painting was bought for 118 million USD in 2012 and would be worth around 142 million USD in 2023.
19. Nu au Plateau de Sculpteur by Pablo Picasso – $134.53 Million
Nu au Plateau de Sculpteur is a 1932 oil painting by Pablo Picasso. The title translates to ‘Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust’. The painting features a nude woman, a green plant, and a stone bust as the main subjects.
The painting was sold at a Christie’s New York auction in 2010 to Leonard Blavatnik for a sum of 106.5 million USD. In today’s time, the painting is worth 134.53 million USD.
20. Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin by Vincent van Gogh- $ 133.04 Million
This painting is part of larger series of paintings titled ‘The Roulin Family’ created in the years 1888 and 1889. The series consists of five paintings of each of the members of the Roulin family- Joseph, his wife, and their three children. Joseph Roulin and van Gogh became close friends in Arles. Roulin was supportive of van Gogh’s art, for which he respected and admired Joseph. These portraits were a sign of respect to Joseph for his support of Vincent’s art.
The painting was sold to the Museum of Modern Art in 1989 for a sum of 58 million USD. In 2023, the approximate value of the deal is 133.04 million USD.
Here’s something you might like: At Eternity’s Gate by Van Gogh: All The Hidden Meaning Explained
The best-represented artists on the list are Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Willem Kooning. However, the list is incomplete when it comes to private sales. This happens since the sales are not always reported and even if they are, details like the purchase price might remain secret. Private sales are usually accompanied by a confidentiality agreement, which prevents the actual purchase price from being revealed.