The 10 Most Expensive (& Controversial) Paintings Ever Sold

Does the artist make the painting or the painting the artist?

10. Claude Monet “Meules” (1890)

110.7 million USD in 2019. The buyer of the stunning sunset landscape remains unknown.

This work of art by one of the most well-known artists ever produced by France was bought and owned by a philanthropic couple who journeyed to Paris in 1892.

Shocked silence was followed by a roar of applause that could be heard outside the saleroom in Sotheby’s as it went for an incredible 110.7 million USD in 2019.

9. Pablo Picasso “Young Girl With A Flower Basket” (1905)

115 million USD. As enormous as this sum is, it’s not even the artist’s most expensive painting, coming in at number two.

The Rockefellers are some of the most famous families in the United States, a part of the super-rich, the unofficial American royalty of yesteryear.

They gobbled up this Picasso masterpiece in 1968, eventually deciding to sell a huge swathe of their amassed collection of art in 2018.

8. Edvard Munch “The Scream” (1895)

119.9 million USD, the buyer was, and remains a mystery….

Edvard Munch made four different versions of his most famous painting, three now permanently reside in museums in Norway. The only piece left in private hands turned heads worldwide in 2012.

It took only 12 nail-biting minutes to settle on the princely sum of 119.9 million USD and gasps abounded as the sale broke records worldwide.

7. Gustav Klimt “The Woman In Gold” (1907)

135 million USD, bought by Robert Lauder

Although Lauder always refused to state the final selling price, sources close to him alerted the press in the aftermath of the sale in 2006.

The painting has a history of controversy, having previously been the subject of a lengthy legal battle between the Austrian government and the niece of the woman depicted in the piece.

She argued that it, along with four other Klimt works, were stolen from her family by the Nazis in WWII. The courts agreed.

6. Qi Bashi “12 Landscape Screens” (1925)

140.8 million USD, The buyer decided to remain anonymous and the painting is not on public display.

Frenetic phone call bids were being cast left right and center, which led to Qi Bashi’s “12 Landscape Screens” breaking the record for not only most expensive painting ever sold for a brief time (2017), but the highest price ever paid for a Chinese work of art at auction - 140.8 million USD.

Commentators at the time saw it as a representation of Asia’s increasing influence

5. Francis Bacon “Three Studies Of Lucian Freud” (1969)

In only ten minutes of heated bidding, it knocked the Scream off the top spot at a staggering final price of 142.4 million USD.

Irish-born British painter Francis Bacon’s triptych of Lucian Freud was made famous not only due to his reputation, but the fame and international renown of his subject and fellow artist Lucian Freud.

Critics view the piece as being symbolic of the relationship between the two contemporaries.

4. Van Gogh “Portrait Of Doctor Gachet” (1897)

Sold in 1990 to a Japanese businessman for 82.5 million USD.

Van Gogh’s most revered work, depicting the doctor who cared for him in his final years, was sold in 1990 to a Japanese businessman for 82.5 million USD.

This amount of money for a painting was utterly unprecedented at the time, leaving the world in shock at this incredible display of disposable income.

What was even more unsettling was the buyer's declaration to have the piece cremated with him upon his death.

It was never confirmed if he followed through with his promise and investigations since, trying to discover the location of the painting, have proved fruitless.

3. Amedeo Modigliani “Nu Couché” (1917)

This particular nude broke not only social but financial barriers, fetching 170.4 million USD at auction in 2015.

It’s hard to believe in modern times what a furor surrounded Modigliani’s series of works depicting the naked female body, having been required to retire them due to public outrage on at least two different occasions.

What could be considered even more surprising in the modern day is that this particular nude broke not only social but financial barriers, fetching 170.4 million USD at auction in 2015.

The buyers were a Chinese couple who chose to display it in their private museum in Shanghai.

2. Pablo Picasso “Les Femmes D’Alger Version O” (1954-55)

179.4 million USD, sold to a Qatari former prime minister.

The year 2015 was a considerable one for the auction world, with our number two and three spots being sold in the same year.

The source of inspiration for this painting was European artist Delacroix, who Picasso admired greatly.

Version “O”, the last in the series, was presented for auction in 2015, where it received the highest pre-auction valuation ever at 140 million USD.

1. Leonardo Da Vinci “Salvator Mundi” (1500)

$450.3 million. It is said to be the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia

Last but not least, the most expensive and controversial painting ever sold at auction belongs to Leonardo de Vinci. Of the twenty works of art still existing that are considered to have been done by the master of masters “Salvator Mundi” is the only to remain in a private collection.

The unbelievable final price set mouths agape with much speculation on who the potential buyer could have been.

It is said to be the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, but it has never been confirmed.

Equally mysteriously, it has not been publicly displayed since its purchase.

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