What are the most expensive artworks ever sold?

Kerry-Ann Holleyman, May 30, 2019

Recently, the artworld has been dazzled by the sale of Claude Monet’s 1890 painting ‘Meules’. The artwork was sold in an astonishing eight minutes for an eyewatering $110.7million, breaking records for the most an impressionist work has ever sold for. Interestingly, professionals are describing the sale as a ‘bargain’ in comparison to previous sale records – so what are the most expensive artworks ever sold, and what makes them so valuable?

Number #3: Paul Cezanne’s “The Card Players” - $250 million, 2012

Cezanne has often been cited as the inspiration for the cubist movement and was even described by Picasso as ‘the father of us all’ – perhaps providing some understanding behind the price tag for this piece of work. The late 19th century oil painting is one of a five-part series depicting two gentlemen sat at a table playing cards and has been noted as the cornerstone to Cezanne’s art and prelude to his final years.

Purchased by the nation of Qatar in 2012, this sale marked a major turning point in both the artwork and the purchaser country’s history. At the point of sale, it was the most expensive artwork ever sold. Other works from ‘The Card Players’ series are owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Musee d’Orsay, the Courtauld and the Barnes Foundation.

Number #2: Willem De Kooning’s “Interchange” - $300 million, 2015

Also known as “Interchanged”, the oil on canvas depiction of an abstract landscape by Dutch-American artist Willem De Koonings holds the title of the second most expensive artwork ever sold. Originally purchased in 1955 for a mere $4,000, the value of this artwork has sky-rocketed through the years due to its unique story and connections associated with the artwork.

After being passed down through the family of American architect Edgar J. Kauffman Jr., the painting was eventually acquired by Japanese gallery owner Shigeki Kameyama for $20.68 million in 1989 to feature in his gallery in Tokyo. While at the time this was not the most expensive artwork ever sold, it did set the record for the most expensive artwork by a living artist – de Kooning passed away in 1997 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

It wasn’t until 2015, when the artwork was purchased by American investor Kenneth C. Griffin for $300 million that the artwork was able to hold the exciting title of most expensive artwork ever sold at auction.

Number #1: Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” - $450 million, 2017

If the return of the $4,000 investment of the aforementioned artwork surprised you, it has nothing on the current record holder for the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction. Previously sold for just £45 sixty years ago, “Salvator Mundi”, a depiction of Christ as saviour of the world accredited to Leonardo Da Vinci was purchased by a private buyer in 2017 for an incredible $450 million. Despite being one of the world’s most renowned artists, there are only around 20 artworks in existence to be formally recognised as works by Leonardo Da Vinci, with all of others displayed in museum collections.

Mistakenly believed to have been a copy at the point of its original sale, the artwork’s authenticity was approved in 2011, and the painting was displayed in the National Gallery’s landmark 2011-12 exhibition of Da Vinci’s surviving artworks. As a result, interest in the painting escalated and artworld professionals began forecasting that the painting would break auction records – however, no one was able to predict the scale of the purchase. In a room of 1,000 art collectors, gasps could be heard around the room as the asking price of the painting escalated to $400million in just 18 minutes – with the painting being sold 2 minutes later for an extra $50 million. The painting was due to be exhibited at the Louvre Abu Dhabi in September 2018, but this was postponed without explanation. The identity of the purchaser remains anonymous, and no further updates have been provided about the possibility of the artwork being displayed any further.

Sitting on a gold mine...

The most interesting element of these sales is the major return in investment for the original owners. With many major artworks by influential figures believed to have been lost or sold at auction for a fraction of their true price, it may be worth checking that the painting that has been hanging in your living room or gathering dust in your garage isn’t a masterpiece…

Written by Kerry-Ann Holleyman - Team Assistant at Alchemy Recruitment Ltd.

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