The World's 10 Most Expensive Paintings

by Christie Cluett 1. May 2015 09:48

In February this year, Paul Gauguin’s ‘When Will You Marry?’ became the most expensive painting ever sold, when it was purchased by the Royal Family of Qatar for $300m. To mark the occasion, we wrote a piece describing the story behind this record-breaking artwork, which you can read here.

But, how does the sum paid for Gaugin’s masterpiece compare to the world’s other priciest paintings? After adjusting their value for inflation, here are the remaining paintings in the top 10, from the most expensive to the least.

‘The Card Players’ by Paul Cézanne – $263.1m


Above: ‘The Card Players’ by Paul Cézanne. Image by Joaquín Martínez

One in a series of five oil paintings, the ‘Card Players’ was created by Cézanne in the early 1890s, during the French Post-Impressionist’s final period.

Like Gauguin’s record-breaking painting, ‘The Card Players’ was purchased by the State of Qatar, this time in 2011. Having opened a series of world-class museums over the last decade, the oil-rich nation has been busy building a collection of famous artworks ever since.

‘No. 5, 1948’ by Jackson Pollock – $164.4m

Above: ‘No. 5, 1948’ by Jackson Pollock. Image by Markldiaz

For many critics, Jackson Pollock’s ‘No. 5, 1948’ represents the pinnacle of the Abstract Expressionism movement, which started just after World War II.

In 2006, the New York Times claimed the painting was sold by David Geffen, founder of Geffen Records, to David Martinez, managing director of Fintech Advisory. However, Martinez later issued a press release denying this, so there remains some confusion about who actually acquired this painting.

‘Woman III’ by Willem de Kooning – $162.2m

Above: ‘Woman III’ by Willem de Kooning. Image by Uri Jimenez Carrasco

Painted by the Dutch American abstract painter, Willem de Kooning, ‘Woman III’ is the third in a series of six paintings, created between 1951 and 1953.

As proof that the most expensive art usually changes hands between a select number of people, ‘Woman III’ is another painting on this list that was sold by David Geffen in 2006. This time the painting was bought by billionaire hedge fund manager, Steven A. Cohen – which is one of several names that appears on this list more than once.

‘Le Rêve’ by Pablo Picasso – $158.5m


Above: ‘Le Rêve’ by Pablo Picasso. Image by NichoDesign

As one of the most famous and revered artists to have ever lived, Pablo Picasso’s name was bound to feature on this list sooner rather than later.

His most expensive painting is ‘La Rêve’ (translated as The Dream), which depicts the Spanish artist’s French mistress Marie-Therese Walter. It is widely reported that Steven A. Cohen bought the painting from the casino owner, Stephen A. Wynn, in 2013.

‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer’ I by Gustav Klimt – $158.4m

Above: ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer’ I by Gustav Klimt. Image by Markldiaz

The story behind this remarkable portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer is so fascinating that it was recently turned into a Hollywood film called Woman in Gold, starring Helen Mirren.

After Bloch-Bauer died tragically young, her will instructed that the painting should be left to the Austrian state upon the death of her husband. But when Austria was annexed by Germany in 1938, Mr. Bloch-Bauer fled to Switzerland and the painting was confiscated by the Nazis.

After nearly 60 years hanging in the Austrian Gallery, Maria Altmann (Adele Bloch-Bauer’s niece) won a lengthy battle to claim ownership of the painting in 2006. Later that year, the painting was sold to Ronald Lauder for the Neue Galerie in New York.

Portrait of Dr. Gachet’ by Vincent van Gogh – $152m 

Above: ‘Portrait of Dr. Gachet’ by Vincent van Gogh. Image by Markldiaz

Painted by Vincent van Gogh just before his death in 1890, the painting depicts Dr. Paul Gachet, who took care of the famous artist in his final months. Although there are two versions of this painting, both are easily distinguishable because of their unique use of style and colour. The first version of this painting was sold at a New York auction in 1990 to the Japanese businessman, Ryoei Saito.

  ‘Three Studies of Lucian Freud’ by Francis Bacon – $145m

Above: ‘Three Studies of Lucian Freud’ by Francis Bacon. Image by Hrag Vartanian

Painted in 1969, the ‘Three Studies of Lucian Freud’ is a triptych of Francis Bacon’s friend and fellow artist, Lucian Freud. According to the New York Times, the ‘Three Studies of Lucian Freud’ was purchased by the art dealer, William Acquavella, after he won a bidding battle against seven other prospective buyers.

The sum paid for this triptych beat the previous record price of $86.3m for one of Bacon’s works, paid in 2008 by Roman Abramovich, for a 1976 triptych

‘Bal du moulin de la Galette’ by Pierre-Auguste Renoir – $143.9m

Above: ‘Bal du moulin de la Galette’ by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Image by Sharon Mollerus

In 1876, Renoir painted a large and small version of the ‘Bal du moulin de la Galette’. The large version of the painting has been on display at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris since 1986. However, the smaller version was sold via auction in 1990 to Ryoei Saito.   

Saito, who also bought the ‘Portrait of Dr. Gachet’, caused outrage in 1991, when he announced his intention to cremate both paintings alongside himself when he died.

Luckily his company, the Daishowa Paper Manufacturing Co, ran into financial problems and both paintings were sold to help clear the debt. Many critics believe that the ‘Bal du moulin de la Galette’ is now owned by a private Swiss collector.

‘Garçon à la pipe’ by Pablo Picasso – $131.1m

Above: ‘Garçon à la pipe’ by Pablo Picasso. Image by Markldiaz

The only artist to feature in this list twice, Pablo Picasso’s ‘Garçon à la pipe’ was painted in 1905, when the artist was just 24 years old. When ‘Garçon à la pipe’ was sold at auction in 2004, it became the first painting to break the $100m mark (before adjusting prices for inflation).


There is clear evidence that the world’s most expensive paintings are increasing in value significantly. In fact, six of the world’s 10 most expensive paintings were purchased in the last decade. This mirrors the wider trend of an increase in spending on art, which suggests more collectors than ever are viewing artworks as a viable investment. 

Are you thinking of investing in an art collection of your own? Simply click here to visit our gallery, and then use the search tool on the right to find an artwork to suit your taste and budget. 


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