For decades, Art has remained a form of self-expression through the use of colors, techniques, and skills. The form was even developed in the earliest days of mankind, dating back to prehistoric times. Archeologists have discovered remains of ancient rock carvings and sculptures across the world, leading to the assumption that even different forms of art were practiced. While many believe art started in Europe, research tells a different story, as many of these ancient artifacts were found in parts of Indonesia and Africa. Thus, art tells visual stories throughout human history.
Over the centuries, artists have used various mediums, such as oil painting, to breathe life into their subjects. These images were so captivating that people were willing to pay a pretty penny for their work. Today, many famed artists’ works have been sold via auction’s, where buyers are willing to pay even millions of dollars for a single piece of artwork. Here are 10 of the most expensive paintings sold at an auction!
10 “Juin-Octobre” by Zao Wou-Ki (1985)
Asian Contemporary artist Zao Wou-Ki certainly takes pride in his oil paintings and with good reason. In 2017, he became the tenth most well-known traded artist in the world, and one of four major Chinese artists to receive such an honor. Zao Wou-Ki’s work has been accepted by institutions throughout Europe, America, and Asia. The artist is known for his ability to combine traditional Chinese painting techniques, such as ink painting, with abstract pieces belonging to Western artists. Zao Wou-Ki’s most renowned work was his 1985 Juin-Octobre painting triptych that sold for a whopping $65 million at the Sotheby’s Modern Art Evening Sale in Hong-Kong. This was not only setting the world record for the highest paid Asian artist, but his piece was considered the most expensive work sold at an auction house in Hong Kong! Zao Wou-Ki snagged a big win, despite his passing back in 2013. At least he didn’t leave this world a struggling artist, as so many have.
9 “Femme Au béret et à la robe quadrillée” by Pablo Picasso (1937)
Pablo Picasso, unlike Zao Wou-Ki, was no stranger to the world of fame. Probably one of the greatest artists that lived, Picasso’s work transcends over time and space, making his pieces an international treasure. There’s not one gallery or art museum that doesn’t own this artist’s work. So it was quite the shock to learn that, back in 2018, one of Picasso’s pieces was to be sold at its very first auction. Originally called by the late artist himself “Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée”, the 1937 piece was Picasso’s best work, as it depicted his conflicting feelings between the two women he loved; Marie Therese Walter and Dora Maar. Despite Picasso’s personal problems at the time, his painting took home an insane $69.4 million at the Sotheby’s Impressionist Modern and Surrealist auction in London on February 28, 2018. That’s a major sellout!
8 “Woman As Landscape” by Willem de Kooning (1954 - 1955)
Willem de Kooning is another male artist that often used women as inspiration for much of his paintings. Kooning emerged as a prominent artist in the 20th century. When he first displayed his work in the 50s, it became controversial and shook the art world at its core. Other artists at the time, also illustrated the idea of a progressive woman as well. Accordingly, great artists like Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp began to alter the perception of women as beautiful, fragile beings to strong and complex individuals. According to art scholars, His 1950’s Woman as Landscape oil painting was perhaps one of the artists interesting pieces, showcasing the abstract portrait of a woman that “commands” the viewer’s attention. Kooning’s work was deserving of the $60 million it received at auction back in the fall of 2018!
7 “Savior Of The World” by Leonardo De Vinci (1500)
Art is expensive and can cost almost as much as buying a large estate in L.A. With there being a hefty price tag on many of these pieces, it’s no wonder someone would be willing to steal them. In 2017, the last remaining piece from 14-15th century Renaissance painter Leonardo De Vinci’s, called Savior of the World, was stolen from the Saudi Arabian Prince, of all people. Though the disappearance of De Vinci’s artwork remains a strange story, leading to the speculation that it may have not have even been stolen in the first place. Originally, the piece was acquired by a big-time Russian businessman from a Swiss Art Dealer, before being put on auction in 2017 at Christie’s Sale in New York. After a telephone bidding war ended with the Prince of Saudi Arabia winning the piece for $450 million, things went downhill. The painting was scheduled to be displayed at The Louvre Abu Dhabi, an art and civilization museum, but at the time the painting had gone missing. Even stranger is that the museum hasn’t sought any police assistance for the recovery of the painting, further validating the assumption that it isn’t lost at all. It could just be a publicity stunt!
6 “Nymphéas en fleur” by Claude Monet (1914 - 1917)
Though Leonardo De Vinci’s work remains missing, one relevant piece of artwork that hasn’t disappeared from the public eye is French painter Claude Monet’s 1804 painting Nympheas en Fleur. Another artist to turn the world upside down, Monet was the founding father of the Impressionists era, as the movement’s name drew directly from his 1827 painting Impression, Sunrise. When Monet moved to a city west of Paris in 1883, most of her work was centered around paintings of his hand-crafted garden. His most famous work included the 250 versions of Water Lilies, and of course the memorable Nympheas en Fleur. According to the Christie’s Auction website, the painting sold to a buyer for a total of $84,687,500 million, which is a lot of money. Guess there’s no such thing as paying too much for a painting, especially if it’s as calming and hypnotizing as the Nympheas en Fleur!
5 “Suprematist Composition” by Kazimir Malevich (1916)
Russian artist Kazimir Malevich is arguably the founding father of abstract art as well, though the title hasn’t been made official, yet. The 1900s was a time where artists only composed pieces that were the everyday norm, while the unusual was rare. Malevich challenged traditional art by painting colorful geometric shapes, which was much of his work until 1919. The Russian artist’s reason for wanting to paint pictorials of shapes was to experience the extreme, outer limits of the art form. Looks like the further he went, the more successful he became. In May 2018, his 1916 piece Suprematist Composition sold for $85, 812, 500 at the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale at Christie’s New York as well.
4 “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” by David Hockney (1972)
Kazimir’s work was phenomenal and really challenged the traditional art of his time. However, David Hockney’s 1972 work took the art form a step further. No, his piece wasn’t a concentration on the geometric shapes and color, but rather it spoke to the human heart. Hockney’s 1972 painting called Portrait of an Artist details a personal experience of heartbreak. As a professor of the University of California, the artist was in a relationship with one of his students. In the end, he lost his lover to someone new. The portrait illustrates Hockney’s lover peering into the pool at the other man. Despite Hockey’s heartbreak, the portrait sold for an insane $90.3 million at a New York Christie’s Sale auction back in 2018. Did anyone mention that this is the most expensive piece of artwork sold for any living artist? Turns out, there’s no such thing as a struggling artist anymore!
3 “Chop Suey” by Edward Hopper (1929)
Hockney may be alive to cash in his big check from the auction win, but sadly, most artists aren’t. American painter Edward Hopper, unfortunately, wasn’t able to collect his reward for his world-renowned 1929 piece “Chop Suey” but his work still strikes us. Like Hockney, his portrait of an intimate setting between two women hinders on emotion. The artist clearly uses influences from French painters Van Gogh and Manet, by putting the café scene within an American backdrop. Hoppers piece sold for roughly the same price as Hockney’s, coming in at $91.9 million at a 2018 auction.
2 “Untitled” by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-88)
Edward Hopper’s work may have been the most expensive art sold in America but not by an American artist. An art piece that sold for an astronomical price was created by the late, 21-year old Jean-Michel Basquiat. His 1960 “Untitled” piece was sold at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Auction back in 2017 for an insane $110. 5 million! Basquiat was an unknown artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage and created pieces centered around race and culture. His “Untitled” piece that sold at auction two years ago, was a depiction of a destroyed skull on a turquoise background, with wording and symbols written along the canvas. The young artist’s work, however, made it known that he was the youngest artist to sell at a piece for $100 million.
1 “Past Times” by Kerry James Marshall (1997)
Kerry James Marshall’s larger-than-life canvas pieces have also challenged the old doctrines of the art world, making him one of the most influential and successful African American artists ever. In 2018, his 1997 piece Past Times was sold at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Auction as well for $21.1 million. It wasn’t anywhere near as much as Basquiat’s Untitled canvas piece but that’s still a major win for Marshall. The Alabama native is known for painting his subjects with black skin, showcasing a wide range of different tones and moods of the color, to illustrate that the truest form of black is beautiful. Arguably his work is genius and quite frankly, the best depiction of African American culture. Though Past Times price tag was buzz-worthy, so was the speculation of who bought the piece. After weeks of speculation, it was revealed that none other than P.Diddy Combs had purchased Marshall's piece at auction. Kerry James Marshall is a game-changer in the art world.