Art | The Most Expensive Paintings of All Time

Sotheby’s art auction last week cements the fact that even in our less-than-stable economic climate, the value of good art is on the rise every day- and people are certainly willing to pay good money for it. The auction in London brought in a staggering £74 million- Sotheby’s second-highest total for a February sale of contemporary art in London. Works sold include paintings by renowned artists such as Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko and Francis Bacon. Buyers from fourteen countries participated in the auction, which consequently saw fourteen works sell for over £1 million respectively.

Here’s a little look at the top five highest selling paintings of all time:


1. The Card Players, Paul Cézanne (1894-95)

Sold for $267m in April 2011

Considered to be a cornerstone of the post-Impressionist’s work, the series of oil paintings depict French male peasants smoking their pipes whilst thoroughly immersed in a card game. This series, amongst other Cézanne portraits, was known for its lack of narrative and conventional characterisation, and is often described as ‘human still life’.


2. No. 5, Jackson Pollock (1948)

Sold for $160.8m in November 2006

Considered to be the leader of Abstract Expressionism, Pollock epitomised the movement’s character in 1948. The painting was created on 8×4 ft. fibreboard using an unconventional painting style with liquid paints that were dripped, smeared and flung onto the board, emphasising the purity of paint as a medium. Pollock longed to bring a totally new perspective into painting.


3. Woman III, Willem de Kooning (1953)

Sold for $157.9m in November 2006

Abstract Expressionist de Kooning’s ‘Woman III’ is one in a series of six paintings. The female figure was often employed as de Kooning’s focal point and is usually depicted with vacuous eyes, exaggerated breasts and claw-like hands set against vibrant layers of paint. This is said to be one of the most important post-war paintings.


4. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Gustav Klimt (1907)

Sold for $154 m in June 2006

Elaborately made of gold and oil on canvas, this painting took Klimt three years to complete. Nevertheless, it is perhaps most famous not for its artistic quality, but its scandalous history. Upon her death, Adele Bloch-Bauer wished the painting to be given to the Austrian State Gallery, but it was consequently seized by advancing German forces in World War II. Bloch Bauer was the only model ever to be painted by Klimt twice.


5. Portrait of Dr Gachet, Vincent Van Gogh (1890)

Sold for $147.8 m in May 1990

One of the most revered of his paintings, ‘Portrait’ depicts Dr. Paul Gachet, who looked after Van Gogh during the final months of his life. Gachet is resting his right elbow on a table, head in hand. The sensitive face which, according to Van Gogh “carried the heartbroken expression of our time”, is said to be the painting’s focus.


words: Melissa Baksh

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