Picasso, Munch, Renoir… they are all amongst the names behind some of the most expensive artworks ever sold at an auction.
Artworks are expensive, that much we know. Painting and auctions move vast amounts of money, and if coupled with some famous signature in its name, a painting’s worth is significantly higher than the average taxpayer’s annual income. What is perhaps even more impressive is that a lot of artworks, particularly the most expensive and notorious ones, are sold privately.
This means the amounts and intricacies of the deals are not released to the public, and so even if the figures you are about to see impress you, you should account for a behind-closed-doors market of a substantially steeper price point. And so the question remains; how much would you pay for the Mona Lisa?
Edvard Munch “The Scream” (1895): $135.2 million
You know the painting. That one of the man, his face contorted as he screams, hands on either side of his face. It was sold in 2012, knocking Picasso off the top of the most expensive painting ever sold at an auction.
Pablo Picasso “Garçon à la pipe” (1905): $142.7 million
Sold in 2004, this oil painting depicts a young boy, surrounded by flower decorations, holding a pipe and wearing a garland. It stands as Picasso’s 5th most expensive painting, sparking controversy in the art world after selling for such a high price and being considered, by art critics, a “minor painting” of the artist.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir “Bal du moulin de la Galette” (1876): $154.7 million
Another big name and another big fortune spent. This time we’re talking about a Renoir, the identical picture of a piece exhibited at the Musèe d’Orsay in Paris. Purchased by Ryoei Saito, an honorary chairman of a paper factory in Japan, this painting was, at its time, the most expensive artwork ever sold.
A small controversy surrounded this painting and its collector, who claimed to want to burn the painting upon his death. Following public outrage, the painting is now believed to be in the significantly safer hands of a Swiss collector.
Van Gogh “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” (1890): $163.4 million
Would we really be running down the most expensive paintings ever sold without coming across a Van Gogh? Of course not. Sold by Christies in 1990, this painting had several arguments about its authenticity but remains a beautiful portrait of Gogh’s doctor, Paul Gachet, who took care of him during his final moments in life.
Amedeo Modigliani “Nu Couché” (1917/18): $186.1 million
It’s amazing to think how much controversy surrounded Modigliani’s series of paintings showing the naked female body; he had to retire them on at least two separate occasions due to backlash from the public. The fact that this specific nude overcame societal and financial barriers to bring so much money at an auction in 2015 may be even more astounding in today’s world.