How do you put a price on art? What determines the worth of an artwork in terms of money? While that is not an easy question to answer, the fact remains that artworks are bought and sold by art collectors and connoisseurs all over the world for exorbitant amounts.
Many paintings like the masterworks by Leonardo Da Vinci are considered to be practically priceless.
And rightly so, since the world’s most famous paintings, especially those dating before 1803 are held by the great museums of the world and are not for sale. But many artworks by modern artists like Van Gogh, Picasso, Jackson Pollock, count among the most expensive works of art in the world.
Here is a look at the staggering piles of cash that have been paid by art collectors to acquire masterpieces by some of the greatest artists of modern times. Collectively these paintings are worth around $1.7 billion. The prices have been adjusted for inflation to reflect their worth in current dollar value.

1. Nude, Green Leaves and Bust – Pablo Picasso
$115.7 Million

This 1932 painting by Pablo Picasso, one of the greatest modern artists, features his mistress at the time – Marie-Thérèse Walter. It was held by art collectors Sydney and Frances Brody for nearly six decades before it was sold in an auction in May 2010.
Interestingly, this painting is said to be based on a bondage photograph of his mistress.
The Nude, Green Leaves and Bust was sold at an auction organized by Christie’s New York and fetched a price of $106.5 Million. Adjusted for inflation, the painting’s price in current dollar value amounts to $115.7 Million Dollar.


2. The Scream – Edvard Munch
$123 Million

“The Scream” is the name given to each of the four versions of a composition by the Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch.
It has been described as the “an Icon of modern art, a Mona Lisa of Our time”.

While the other three versions are held by museums in Norway and have not been moved for years, the fourth version (pastel, 1895) was sold at a Sotheby’s auction for a price of $119.9 Million. It was acquired by Financier Leon Black.


3. Boy with a Pipe – Pablo Picasso
$130.6 Million

This painting of a boy sitting while holding a smoking pipe was painted by Picasso in Paris at the age of 24. Little is known about the boy in the painting.
In 2004, the painting was sold at a Sotheby’s auction at New York for $104.2 Million. Many art critics speculate that the painting’s high price is more due to the artist’s name than due to the artistic merit of the painting.


4. Bal du moulin de la Galette (Dance at Le moulin de la Galette) – Pierre-Auguste Renoir
$143.3 Million

Bal du moulin de la Galette is a painting by French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir depicting a typical Sunday afternoon at Moulin de la Galette in the district of Montmartre in Paris. It is considered one of Impressionism’s most celebrated artwork.
In 1990, it was sold by the widow of art collector John Hay Whitney to Japanese Businessman Ryoei Saito for a price of $78.1 Million. It said to have been later sold to an anonymous Swiss art collector in a confidential sale for an undisclosed price.


5. Three Studies of Lucian Freud – Francis Bacon
$144.5 Million

Three Studies of Lucian Freud is a 1969 oil-on-canvas, triptych by the Irish-born British painter Francis Bacon, depicting his friend, artist Lucian Freud. Friends and artistic rival, Freud and Bacon painted each other several times and this artwork is a result of this collaboration.

In 2013, this triptych sold for $142.4 Million at a New York auction held by Christie’s. At the time it became the highest price paid for an artwork ever.


6. Portrait of Dr. Gachet – Vincent Van Gogh
$151.4 Million

‘Portrait of Dr. Gachet is one of the most celebrated artworks by Dutch Artist Vincent Van Gogh. It depicts Dr. Paul Gachet who took care of Van Gogh in his last years and with whom Van Gogh developed a deep friendship.

Since its creation in 1890, the painting has passed through many hands, survived Nazi Germany and eventually ended up in New York. Here, in 1990, it was sold at an auction for a record price of $82.5 Million making it the most expensive painting in the world at the time to be sold at a public auction.


7. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I – Gustave Kilmt
$ 157.7 Million

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I is a 1907 painting by Gustav Klimt. It depicts Adele Bloch-Bauer, the wife of a wealthy industrialist who was a patron of arts at the time.

The painting has been referred to as the final and most fully representative work of Klimt’s golden phase.

Although its ownership was contested by Nazis against the heirs of the family who owned it, a panel of Austrian Judges ruled in favor of the family and awarded ownership.

In 2006, the painting was sold to Billionaire Ronald Lauder for a price of $135 Million. The painting has been on display at Lauder’s New York Gallery since then.


8. Le Rêve – Pablo Picasso
$157.9 Million

Le Rêve (The Dream) is a 1932 oil painting by the 50 year old Pablo Picasso, portraying his 22-year-old mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter.

As with many of Picasso’s works, the painting contains erotic undertones, most significantly an erect penis, presumably symbolizing his own, in the upturned face of his model.

Since 1941, when it was purchased by Victor and Sally Ganz, (who were also the owners of the painting for the longest period) the painting has been sold and resold between private collectors for ever increasing sums of money. It finally ended up with Steven A. Cohen of SAC Capital who bought it from Steve Wynn for a price of $155 Million in 2013.


9. Woman III – Willem de Kooning
$161.8 Million

Woman III is a painting by abstract expressionist painter Willem de Kooning. Woman III is one of a series of six paintings by de Kooning created between the years 1951 and 1953.

Initially held by the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, the painting was barred from display due to strict government rules about what visual arts were allowed to depict.

In 1994, Thomas Ammann, a Swiss art dealer, quietly traded it to David Geffen for the remainder of the 16th century Persian manuscript, the Tahmasbi Shahnameh.
In 2006, Geffen sold the painting to Billionaire Steven A. Cohen for $137.5 million.
When accounted for inflation, this price makes La Rêve, the third most expensive painting ever sold and the most expensive artwork by Picasso.


10. No. 5, 1948 – Jackson Pollock
$164.7 Million

No. 5, 1948 is a painting by Jackson Pollock, the American painter famous for his contributions to the abstract expressionist movement.

Interestingly when it was first purchased by Alfonso A. Ossorio in 1949, it somehow got damaged during transportation. Pollock then offered to rework the painting and repainted the whole thing again.

When Ossario witnessed the reworked painting, he was impressed by the new qualities of richness and depth it possessed. He commented that the “original concept remained unmistakably present, but affirmed and fulfilled by a new complexity and depth of linear interplay. It was, and still is a masterful display of control and disciplined vision.”

The reconstruction had not only retained but reinforced the metaphysical concept of the painting and became what Ossorio called “a wonderful example of an artist having a second chance”.

In 2006 the painting was presumably sold by David Geffen to David Martinez in a private sale for a record price of $140 million. Adjusted for inflation, it is the second most expensive painting in the world to this day. Which brings us to the number 1 on this list.


11. The Card Players – Paul Cézanne
$273 Million

The Card Players is a series of oil paintings by the French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne. Cezanne’s art is considered by many to be a precursor to many great artists who came after him. Pablo Picasso called him “the father of us all”
There are five paintings in ‘The Card Players’ series.

One version of The Card Players was sold in 2011 to the Royal Family of Qatar for a price variously estimated at between $250 million and $300 million, making it the most expensive work of art. The mind-boggling price paid for a single work of art sent shockwaves throughout the art world and irrevocably changed the dynamics of art sales.


Leave a Reply