The greatest paintings of all time used to be held in museums and shared with the general public. In the past thirty years, more and more paintings have changed hands via auctions and private sales for figures that would astound the original artist. In fact, the five most expensive sales total nearly a billion dollars (US).
Traditionally, museums consider that the greatest works of art, especially paintings and sculpture by the “old masters” are priceless. In a few cases, certain paintings have been valued by insurance companies. Most notably, the Mona Lisa was valued at $100 million back in 1962. In today’s currency that would be approximately $772 million.
The new era of high dollar art sales began in 1987 with the sale of “Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers” by Vincent van Gogh. The price paid was $24.75 million. That figure is more than triple the previous high price paid for a painting. Adjusted for inflation the van Gogh sale represents $82 million. That adjusted figure puts it outside the top 30 sales of all time.
Below is a table of the most expensive paintings sold, showing both the original sale price and the inflation-adjusted price. All prices are in millions (USD).
The Card Players, Paul Cézanne — $259+ ($269.40)
No. 5, 1948, Jackson Pollock — $140 ($162.70)
Woman III, Willem de Kooning — $137.50 ($159.80)
Le Rêve, Pablo Picasso — $155 ( $155.90)
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Gustav Klimt — $135 ($155.80)
Portrait of Dr. Gachet, Vincent van Gogh — $82.50 ($149.50)
Three Studies of Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon — $142.40 ($142.40)
Bal du moulin de la Galette, Pierre-Auguste Renoir — $78.10 ($141.50)
Garçon à la pipe, Pablo Picasso — $104.20 ($129.00)
The Scream, Edvard Munch — $119.90 ($122.20)
Flag, Jasper Johns — $110.00 ($118.30)
Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, Pablo Picasso — $106.50 ($114.30)
Portrait of Joseph Roulin, Vincent van Gogh –$58 + exchange of works ($111 +)
Dora Maar au Chat, Pablo Picasso –$95.20 ($110.10)
Irises, Vincent van Gogh –$53.90 ($109.40)
Jessica Logan is an artist and blogger who is especially interested in the money behind and around the art world. She has written about famous artists and reviewed new artists as well as writing in depth analysis of the art industry for blogs and websites. She has also covered purely financial topics like money mutual funds, the stock market, and the real estate industry.