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15) In 2013 the Francis Bacon painting called “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” sold for $142.4 million at auction.

Three Studies of Lucian Freud

In 1969, Irish artist Bacon painted his friend and artistic rival Lucian Freud as a distorted figure in a cage. Not once, but thrice in separate panels as a triptych. Bold, unsettling and strangely beautiful, the piece sold to Elaine Wynn, ex-wife of casino mogul Steve Wynn, at Christie’s New York for what was then a record-setting art auction price.

14) In 2016 the Gustav Klimt painting called “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II” sold for $150 million at a private sale.

Austrian artist Klimt painted this vivid, Impressionist portrait of an industrialist’s wife in 1912.  It was one of two formal portraits he painted of Bloch-Bauer, the first 1907 version from Klimt’s so-called “Golden Phase” being the more famous of the pair.

Both pieces were looted by the Nazis during World War II, then given to Vienna’s Galerie Belvedere museum after the war. Following a years-long legal battle, in 2006 the Bloch-Bauer estate regained ownership of the artworks and promptly sold them. The buyer of this 1912 portrait was Oprah Winfrey, who in turn sold it to an unidentified buyer in China. If you’d like to see the 1907 version, it’s currently displayed in New York’s Neue Galerie.

13) In 2013 the painting by Pablo Picasso called “Le Rêve” sold for $155 million in a private sale.

The French title of Picasso’s erotic 1932 painting of his mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter, translates to “The Dream.” But for casino mogul Steve Wynn, his 12-year ownership of the artwork turned into a nightmare on one fateful Las Vegas afternoon in 2006.

Wynn had just agreed to sell his prized Picasso to billionaire Steven A. Cohen for $139-million. But first wanted to show off the painting to a few friends in his casino office. Talking excitedly about its provenance and gesturing wildly, Wynn accidentally thrust his elbow through the canvas, causing a six-inch tear that instantly devalued the painting roughly $55-million and negated the deal with Cohen. Among the stunned onlookers, that day was screenwriter Nora Ephron, who recounted the scene in a must-read blog for the Huffington Post.

Cohen eventually bought the repaired canvas for a hefty sum. And one can only guess how many times he’s taken a magnifying glass to the spot where Steve Wynn once punched a hole in a Picasso.

12) In 2018 the Amedeo Modigliani painting called “Nu couché (sur le côté gauche)” sold for $157.2 million at auction.

The newest entry on the list, Italian artist Modigliani’s 1917 modernist painting of a reclining nude set a new all-time Sotheby’s New York auction price record when it sold to a so-far anonymous buyer in May 2018. It’s not the artist’s most famed nude, which is “Nu couché,” but it’s bigger (nearly 5 feet by 3 feet) and features the entire female figure from head to toe, an anomaly in his work.

If you’re unfamiliar with the artist, Netflix the 2004 bio-pic “Modigliani,” starring Andy Garcia as the titular character. The historical facts aren’t entirely accurate, but hey, that’s Hollywood.

11) In 2017 Roy Lichtenstein’s “Masterpiece” sold for $165 million in a private sale.

Inspired by comic book illustrations, Lichtenstein’s 1962 pop art piece has been called a tongue-in-cheek joke that portended the artist’s own celebrated career. “Masterpiece” stands alongside pieces such as “Whaam!” and “Look Mickey” as his most famous works. So it’s no surprise hedge-fund billionaire and noted pop art collector Steven A. Cohen paid through the nose to acquire it.

10) In 2015 Amedeo Modigliani’s “Nu couché” sold for $170.4 million at a private auction.

The piece, Modigliani’s most famous nude, made its public debut at the artist’s 1917 solo exhibition in Paris, which was promptly shut down by police over charges of obscenity. Flash forward to a 2015 Christie’s New York auction, in which it took an obscenely high bid to win the artwork for Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian, who reportedly paid with his American Express card.

9) In 2015 Pablo Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’ Alger” (“Version O”) sold for $179.4 million at auction.

"Les Femmes d' Alger" ("Version O")

Part of Picasso’s 1954-55 series titled “Les Femmes d’Alger” (“Women of Algiers”), this vibrant cubism tribute to artists he revered (Delacroix, Matisse, Renoir) found the master at the top of his game and fetched a pretty penny at the bang of a Christie’s New York gavel. The buyer was Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, former prime minister of Qatar.

8) In 2015 Rembrandt van Rijn’s “Pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit” sold for $180 million in a private sale.

Pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit

Classic portraiture seldom fetches stratospheric sums, but when a pair of 1634 wedding portraits by Rembrandt came on the market, you better believe the Louvre and Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum (who jointly bought the artworks) stepped up with beaucoup bucks.

Art historians agree these masterful renderings of Dutch high-society newlyweds must always be displayed together, so the museums take turns hosting them. Newly restored, they’ll be hanging in the Louvre beginning in September 2018.

7) In 2012 the Gustav Klimt “Wasserschlangen II” painting sold for $183.8 million at a private sale.

Painted during Klimt’s celebrated “Golden Phase,” in which his use of gold leaf lent to stunning work, this serene 1904 painting features curvaceous “water serpents” adorned with shimmering stars and barnacles.

The piece was one of many high-dollar artworks (including paintings by Gauguin and Rodin) that Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev purchased from infamous Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier. The two have since become entangled in a high-profile, ongoing fraud/art theft/money laundering/tax evasion imbroglio the art world has dubbed the “Bouvier Affair.”

6) In 2014 Mark Rothko’s “No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red)” sold for $186 million at a private sale.

Russian-American abstract-expressionist Rothko’s hallmark “multiform” paintings (two to three rectangular blocks of contrasting yet complementary colors) aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But his profound influence on contemporary art cannot be denied. The sale of “No. 6” marked a late chapter in the scandalous “Bouvier Affair” (see No. 7 on this list: “Wasserschlangen II”).

5) In 2015 the Jackson Pollock painting called “Number 17A” sold for $200 million at a private sale.

This 1948 “drip painting” by Pollock not only commanded an eye-popping price when David Geffen sold it to Citadel billionaire Kenneth C. Griffin, it elicited the usual cries from Pollock critics whose gripe de rigueur is “Ridiculous! Even I could paint that mess!” Perhaps, but you didn’t invent a radical technique that’s been compared to putting a Miles Davis song on canvas. Nor are you arguably the most important American abstract painter of the 20th Century.

4) In 2014 Paul Gaugin’s “Nafea Faa Ipoipo” sold for $210 million at a private sale.

French post-impressionist Gauguin’s first-ever trip to Tahiti resulted in several paintings of its native women, including this 1892 oil on canvas that was met with critical indifference upon his return to France. The painting’s title translates to “When Will You Marry?”

In the fall of 2014, Sheikha Al-Mayassa of Qatar said “I do” to the piece — to the tune of more than $200-million.

3) In 2011 the Paul Cézanne painting called “The Card Players” sold for an estimated $250 to 300 million in a private sale.

One of five paintings in the French master’s 1890s’ series titled “The Card Players,” it features a pair of Provencal peasants seated at a table, immersed in a card game, studying their hands. Art critics have called it a “human still life.” A New Yorker cartoon poked fun at the notion by depicting the subjects playing not for money, but rather fruit.

This version of “The Card Players” was purchased by the Royal Family of Qatar and is not on public display. However, you can see other paintings in the series at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation museum and Paris’ Musée d’Orsay.

2) One of my person favorites, the Willem de Kooning called “Interchange” sold for $300 million at a private sale.

Behold the priciest contemporary painting ever sold: Dutch-American artist Willem de Kooning’s famed 1955 abstract-expressionist work inspired by his surroundings while living in NYC. Does the piece speak to you? Or do you find it a colossal waste of cash?

Sold by the David Geffen Foundation and purchased by hedge fund billionaire Kenneth C. Griffin (of Citadel), the piece was part of a $500-million package that included Jackson Pollock’s “Number 17A” ($300 for the de Kooning; $200 for the Pollock), which ranked No. 5 on this list.

Want to see “Interchange” in person? It’s currently on loan and displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago.

1) The most expensive painting ever sold is Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi”. In 2017 it was sold at auction for $450.3 million.

Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci

A circa-1500 da Vinci painting of Jesus Christ holding a crystal orb representing the “crystalline sphere” of the heavens? Ka-ching! There are only a handful of the master’s paintings that art historians generally accept as the genuine article, and “Savior of the World” is one. At the time of its record-breaking sale, it was also da Vinci’s only work held in a private collection; the rest are in museums or churches.

So who won the most expensive artwork ever sold at its headline-grabbing Christie’s New York auction? The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, who purchased it on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture & Tourism. In September 2018, this Renaissance treasure goes on public display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

 

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