A Look at the World’s Most Expensive Artworks and their Owners

Louvre Abu Dhabi

Whether it’s a stroll through a museum or a scroll through Instagram, we all appreciate art to some extent. But then there are the few people who are willing to go very far for their admiration.  Here’s a list of the most expensive artworks in the entire world and the people who own them.

Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci (c. 1500)
Sold for $450.3m (SAR 1.7B)

“Salvator Mundi” (“Savior of the World”) is the only Da Vinci painting in private hands and is one of fewer than 20 the old master painted in oil. In 2011, its dramatic public unveiling as part of the exhibition “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan” at The National Gallery in London caused a worldwide media sensation.

King Louis XII of France commissioned the painting during the same period as the Mona Lisa. It was later recorded in King Charles I of England’s collection. Between 1763 and 1900 it disappeared, until a British art collector bought it at auction. The London art collector’s family sold it in 1958 for a paltry £45. Now it belongs to the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture & Tourism and is due to go on pubic display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the very near future.

Interchange by Willem de Kooning (1955)
Sold for $300m (SAR 1.1B)

Until it was knocked off the top spot in 2017, so for a bit over two years, this abstract landscape painting by Dutch-American painter Willem de Kooning commanded the highest price ever paid in a private sale for an artwork. Hedge fund billionaire and philanthropist Kenneth C. Griffin purchased “Interchange” in 2015 – and he also spent $200 million on Jackson Pollock’s Number 17A at the same time.

The Card Players by Paul Cézanne (1892/93)
Sold for $250m (SAR 918.1K)

French master Paul Cézanne’s “The Card Players” is actually a series of five oil paintings that were created over the course of five years. One of these works can be found at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, one in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art, another is at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris and the fourth can be seen at London's Courtauld Institute of Art. Qatar’s Royal Family purchased this specific version of The Card Players in 2011.

Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?) by Paul Gauguin (1892)
Sold for $210m (SAR 771.2K)

French post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin painted “Nafea Faa Ipoipo,” during his first trip to Tahiti, where he went on to live for six years. When the artwork changed hands in 2015 and was sold to the State of Qatar. The painting itself, depicting two Tahitian women, won Gauguin little or no acclaim in his lifetime.

Number 17A by Jackson Pollock (1948)
Sold for $200m (SAR 734.5K)

Jackson Pollock is the only artist to grace this exclusive list twice. He is perhaps best known for his abstract-impressionist works and especially for his style of drip painting. This work of his, entitled “Number 17A,” was sold in 2015 to hedge fund manager and philanthropist Kenneth C. Griffin.

No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) by Mark Rothko (1951)
Sold for $186m (SAR 683.1K)

The Russian-American artist Mark Rothko is noted for his large, abstract expressionist works and this one, a watercolor in hazy shades of violet, green and red, became the most expensive paining to be sold at auction when it was sold in 2014 to Russian fertilizer tycoon Dmitry Rybolovlev.

Pair of portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit by Rembrandt (1634)
Sold for $180m (SAR 661.1K)

Rembrant painted these two portraits to celebrate the wedding of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit in 1634. Fun (and romantic) fact: The pictures have actually never been separated! The Louvre and the Rijksmuseum are the current owners. They bought them in a joint purchase in 2015, with each gallery contributing 50% to the selling price.

Les Femmes d’Alger (“Version O”) by Pablo Picasso (1955)
Sold for $179.4m (SAR 658.9K)

Inspired by Delacroix’s Les Femmes d’Algers (The Women of Algiers), this was the last of 15 versions Picasso painted. He started the series six weeks after his fellow artist Henri Matisse died, and considered it a tribute to Matisse’s style. It held the record for most expensive artwork sold at auction for more than two years, before Salvator Mundi (number 1 on this list!) was sold at a record price.

Masterpiece by Roy Lichtenstein (1962)
Sold for $165m (SAR 606K)

Masterpiece was a satirical commentary on Lichtenstein's own career, which was taking off when he made the artwork in 1962. In 2017, American philanthropist and arts patron Agnes Gund sold the work to hedge fund founder and philanthropist Steven A. Cohen.

No. 5 by Jackson Pollock (1948)
Sold for $140m (SAR 514.2K)

Jackson Pollock known for his contributions to the abstract expressionist movement. This painting was done on a sheet of fiberboard, with thick amounts of brown and yellow paint drizzled on top of it, forming a nest-like appearance. According to the New York Times, the Mexican investor and art collector David Martínez has owned the work since 2006.

None of the actual artists on this list could have ever foreseen the impact that their works would have and how much they would eventually be worth. But generations later we’re here, admiring their genius.

So next time you come across an impressive work of art, consider how the coming generations will see it, because maybe the very piece in front of you will eventually be found on a list just like this one.

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