12 Most Expensive Paintings of All Time

12 Most Expensive Paintings of All Time

What would you buy if you had $100 million?

Would you put it all into a single painting?

Well, guess what? Some of the super-rich have done exactly that. But why? Why would they pay hundreds of millions for nothing but pigments on a canvas?

Investments? Prestige? Or simply the love of art? Whatever their reasons, let’s review the fascinating sales of the 12 most expensive paintings in the world.

1. The Card Players

The best-loved painting (c. 1893) by Paul Cézanne sold in April 2011 for $259 million to the Gulf Kingdom of Qatar. Opening museums and acquiring the most prestigious art, the royal family is turning this tiny, oil-rich nation into an international intellectual hub.

2. Three Studies of Lucian Freud

This triptych (c. 1969) by Francis Bacon sold in November 2013 for $142.4 million. As the wealthy get wealthier, they are looking into contemporary art as a status symbol.

3. No.5, 1948

This Jackson Pollock drip painting (c.1948) sold in 2006 for $140 million. Jack the Dripper is one of the most controversial artists of the 20th century, and this work of chaos, at least, expresses his struggles with rage and alcoholism.

4. Woman III

The last painting (c.1953 ) in Willem de Kooning’s Women series sold in November 2006 for $137.5 million to Steven A. Cohen. A prominent art collector, the billionaire hedge fund manager pleaded guilty to a large criminal insider trading scandal in 2013, and paid a $1.2 billion fine.

5. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer

Also known as “The Lady in Gold,” this painting (c.1907) sold in 2006 for $135 million to Ronald Lauder of the Estée Lauder Cosmetic empire. The value in this painting lies not in the gold and silver on the canvas, but in its ties with Jewish culture and history.

6. The Scream

This famous icon of angst and existential dread (c. 1895) by Edvard Munch sold in May 2012 for $119.9 million. Norwegians are proud, but others raised their eyebrow and thought the art bubble had been blown.

7. Nude, Green Leaves and Bust

Pablo Picasso’s exotic painting (c. 1932) of his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter sold in March 2010 for $106.5 million. Picasso has its price tag. It is the ultimate luxury brand.

8. Boy with a Pipe

Painted in his Rose Period (c.1905) when he was only 24, this Picasso Painting sold in May 2004 for $104.2 million. Once again, we ask the question of whether the price has more to do with the artist’s name or the merit of the work itself.

9. Eight Elvises

This silkscreen painting of American icon Elvis Presley by Andy Warhol sold in 2008 for $100 million. It is a typical Warhol: fame, repetition and the threat of death.

10. Dora Maar au Chat

This portrait (c. 1941) of Picasso’s yet-another-mistress sold in May 2006 for $95.2 million. An artist herself, Dora stimulated, challenged and assisted Picasso in some of his most daring works in his later career.

11. Adele Bloch-Bauer II

Gustav Klimt painted this Jewish woman twice. The 2nd one (c.1912) sold in November 2006 for $87.9 million. Together with the “Lady in Gold,” they were seized by the Nazis during World War II. After a protracted legal battle, the paintings were returned to the descendants of the Bloch-Bauer family, who promptly auctioned them.

12. Triptych, 1976

Created in the aftermath of the suicide of his lover, this Francis Bacon (c. 1976) sold in May 2008 for $86.3 million. Quite a disturbing work. Just imagine how you’d feel looking at this hanging in your home every day.


These are the 12 most expensive paintings whose evaluation can be verified. But let’s not forget the truly great ones that are not evaluated because they will never go on sale — those that hang in museums like The Louvre.

So, hopefully this list will inspire you to make your own art — something that’s an authentic expression of who you are. Sure, it may not sell for millions, but then again, who knows?

Now… tell me, what will you create?

Photo credit; Big Stock Photos

Lucy Chen


Lucy Chen is a corporate banker-turned-figurative artist who believes everyone can understand and enjoy art. Visit her website for actionable recipes to incorporate art and creativity in your everyday life.

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I would like to have a link to each painting. Killed my interest to learn more with that oversight.