The Most Obscenely Expensive Paintings in the World, in One Map
Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O) was recently sold at a Christie’s auction for the highest auction price ever recorded for a piece of artwork. The work, painted in 1955, just sold for a whopping $160 million plus $19.35 million in commission paid to Christie’s. Amazingly, the last time the painting was sold it went for only $31.9 million, which means that the seller made a $130 million profit. This is part of a growing trend: according to Christie’s, global sales of impressionist and modern art were $1.2 billion in 2014, a 19% increase over 2013.
In North America, the most expensive art works were created by the American artist Andy Warhol – his Silver Car Crash piece last sold for over $105 million; Canadian artist Lawren Stewart Harris, whose The Old Stump, Lake Superior piece is worth $3.3 million; Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo, whose Trovador piece is valued at $7.2 million; and Cuban artist Wilfredo Lam, whose piece called ídolo (Oya/Divinité de l’air et de la mort) last sold for over $4.5 million.
But the majority of the World’s most expensive works were created throughout Europe. Most notably, Spain’s Picasso painted Les Femmes d’Alger; France’s Claude Monet painted Le Bassin aux Nymphéas, which was last purchased for $80.5 million; Britain’s Francis Bacon painted the famous Three Studies of Lucian Freud, worth more than $142 million; Norwegian artist Edward Munch’s The Scream is valued at $120 million; Dutch painter Van Gogh’s Portrait du Dr. Gachet is valued at $82.5 million; Gerhard Richter from Germany painted Abstraktes bild, now worth $46 million; Italian Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu assis sur un divan (La belle romaine) is worth almost $69 million; Gustav Klimt of Austria painted Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, now valued at $88 million; Belgium’s Peter Paul Ruben painted Massacre of the Innocents, which is worth almost $77 million; and Russia’s Kasimir Severinovich Malevich’s Suprematist Composition is worth $60 million. It is interesting to note the difference in styles between Western and Eastern Europe.
Asia is the birthplace of some pricey artwork too, most notably in China, where Zhang Daqian painted Lotus and Mandarin Ducks, now worth $24.5 million. The most expensive pieces of art created throughout Asia tend to be representative of local cultures.
The most expensive piece of art produced in South America is Roberto Matta’s La Révolte des Contraires (painted in Chile), now worth $5 million. Matta’s painting is followed by Lygia Clark of Brazil’s painting called Contra Relevo (Objeto N. 7), which is worth $2.2 million; Fernando Botero’s The Musicians, painted in Colombia and now with $2 million; and Joaquín Torres García’s Constructif Mysterieux, painted in Uruguay and valued at $1.7 million.
All of these maps show just how much cultural diversity there is around the World. However, they are also useful for illustrating the accumulation of wealth in rich nations. Art tends to be more highly valued by people living in countries with larger economies. Often art is valued not just for its aesthetic qualities or for the meaning behind it, but also for its ability to retain value and act as a safe investment vehicle. More and more, the superrich are relying on rare works as part of their investment portfolios. This might be having profound impacts on the wider economy: some have speculated that bouts of increased art sales actually signal overheated equity markets. Whether or not this is true, it is clear that the market for rare art is alive and well, and showing no signs of slowing.
Our research contains paintings sold in public auctions with reported prices, other paintings such as Gauguin painting sold privately with unconfirmed amounts are not included
Data on art prices is tough to find, and many countries do not have any data at all -- if you know of any top-dollar pieces of artwork made by artists in your country or have questions/comments, drop us a line. We are open to corrections or suggestions.
An earlier version of this article showed the wrong map in Hungary, we are now showing the right painting by Mihaly Lieb Munkacsy.
Sources: Table 1