Here Are The Most Expensive Artworks Ever Sold At Auction
Art5 Minutes Read

Here Are The Most Expensive Artworks Ever Sold At Auction

byMichelle LaverNovember 27, 2021

People who appreciate art typically marvel at it’s capacity to change their perspectives. But how much would you splurge on a masterpiece?

Art is important. It takes us out of our mundane and celebrates human creativity and ingenuity. It’s simply a channel for so much raw emotion, life experiences and contemplation.

The greatness of art, in general, is that there is such a diverse and varied spectrum of work. Everyone has their favourite artist or artistic period that they think ruled supreme over the rest. 

Nowadays, people are so passionate about collecting art that it’s no surprise original pieces by some of the worlds iconic masters have been sold at auctions for astronomical prices.

Here are the top five most expensive artworks ever sold at auction:

5. Francis Bacon: Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) – $158.2 million 

A member of Christie’s staff looks at Francis Bacon’s ‘Three Studies of Lucien Freud. Getty Images.

These 3 Francis Bacon’s studies of Lucian Freud from 1969, one of the greatest figurative painters of the century, have sold at an astronomical price. The extraordinary value of the piece comes not only from Bacon’s excellent reputation but also from his ability to capture his relationship with the subject: his great friend Lucian Freud.

There were lots of photographs taken of Freud sitting on a bed to model for Bacon’s paintings. He noticed that they often conflated different things as the friendship often turned verbally violent. 

The magic and meaning of the work can only really be seen in his painting technique which has intense brush strokes across the figure’s face to defy the viewpoint of the painting.

Bacon’s masterpiece is another artwork that recently soared straight to the top of the most expensive list. Art world sources now say the buyer was his former wife, Elaine Wynn, a co-founder of the Wynn Casino Empire.

4. Amedeo Modigliani: Nu couché (1917) – $162 million

Amedeo Modigliani’s “Nu couche (sur le côté gauche),” 1917. Sotheby’s.

The Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani created an oil canvas painting in 1917 that became one of the world’s most wildly exhibited and reproduced works. 

Seeing as it was created more than a hundred years ago, its sensuality startled and hypnotized art fans when it was first exhibited in Paris. The artwork was part of an essential series of paintings that gave the traditional nude a modern twist. 

It is the largest painting that Modigliani ever produced, portraying a reclining female nude. The artwork is a perfect example of the artist’s unique portraiture style, primarily centred on women with almond-shaped eyes and elongated face shapes. 

The prominence and the importance of this painting are vital in art history as the masterpiece challenged the forms of beauty. It soon made its way into a private collection. 

But then fell back into New York Christie’s arms in 2015. From here, the painting was bought by the Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian, where it currently remains.

3. Van Gogh: Portrait of Dr Gachet (1890) – $163.4 million

Portrait of Dr Gachet

Despite arguments over its authenticity, one of the most revered paintings by the Dutch artist Van Gogh depicts Dr Paul Gachet, who took care of the artist during the final months of his life. 

Sad but gentle, precise and intelligent, the doctor’s melancholic face carries the heartbroken expression of our time. There were, in fact two replicas made of the painting. One was given to the doctor himself, while the other was sold to Van Gogh’s sister soon after the artist completed it.

Vincent van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr Gachet disappeared after it was sold at Christie’s in 1990 when it fetched $82.5m, then the highest price for any painting at auction. 

The buyer was a Japanese businessman, who later said he would have the picture burnt with his body, but this didn’t happen when he died—and the Van Gogh quietly returned to Europe.

2. Pablo Picasso: Les Femmes d’Alger (1955) – $195.8 million

Pablo Picasso, Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”), 1955. Oil on canvas. © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2015

This man is known by the world over, the one and only Pablo Picasso. Done in 1955, this painting, in particular, is one of the most famous pieces in the series. In 2017 it arrived in Christie’s New York for a second time. 

As one might have been expected, one of the most expensive paintings ever sold in an auction was sold in 2015, setting the world-record price for an artwork at the time. It was bought by the former Qatari prime minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani. 

The painting, Version O,  is the last painting of a series that Picasso created as a tribute to Eugène Delacroix, an artist that he profoundly admired. 

1. Leonardo da Vinci: Salvator Mundi (c. 1500) – $475.4 million


Now, we come to the most expensive painting of all time. It’s the work of the visionary master Leonardo da Vinci. This 500-year-old painting has to be excessively special to sell for this kind of price.

The painting features a portrait of Salvator Mundi, who really draws your eye in. It also has a grand origin and back story. 

Steeped in controversy, this sale set the art world alight at the end of 2017. Salvator Mundi not only broke all records but also genuinely shocked people, for its unprecedented worth.

Due to going on display at the new Abu Dhabi Louvre last year, people are beginning to question its whereabouts as the wait for its display has been prolonged for now. 

Although there are paintings like Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, a near priceless piece that will more than likely never be put on sale, through the years, many high-profile works of art have exchanged hands in the auction room for more money than you could ever imagine.

SEE MORE: The Top Celebrity Art Collectors You Need To Know About

Amedeo Modigliani
Francis Bacon
Leonardo da Vinci
Most expensive
Pablo Picasso
van gogh