Special Report

This Is the Most Expensive Artwork Ever Sold

The art world is full of stories of now famed artists who died destitute or, if they were fortunate, were able to eke out a living by selling their paintings or sculptures for what would today be considered a pittance. One wonders what Vincent Van Gogh, to take one example, would have thought – when he was dying penniless and convinced that he had failed as an artist – if he knew that about a century after his death, one of his portraits would sell for almost $83 million.

Despite that hefty price, Van Gogh’s “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” is far from the most expensive artwork ever sold. That honor would go to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” a depiction of Jesus Christ, which commanded a price of $450.3 million in 2017 (about $534 million when adjusted for inflation). Although the work was set to be displayed at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, to date it has failed to make an appearance in the prestigious museum. (Here are the most expensive museums in America.)

To determine the most expensive artwork/painting ever sold, 24/7 Tempo reviewed several art sites and lists, including Art in Context, Invaluable, Kooness, and The Art Wolf. In case of auction sales, we attempted to confirm prices through Christie’s or Sotheby’s. In cases of private sales, we attempted to confirm prices and dates through major publications such as the New York Times, Bloomberg, and art sites such as Artnet, but some remain estimates. 

Prices were adjusted for inflation using the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calendar.  Prices were converted from other currencies using historical exchange rates from Exchange Rates UK.

The most expensive works of art ever sold were produced by some of the most influential painters in modern history, including Picasso, van Gogh, Pollock, and Klimt. Many of the works represent novel styles of painting by artists who are credited with ushering in new art movements including cubism and abstract expressionism.

Click here to see the most expensive artworks ever sold

At the time of their purchase, some of these paintings were the single most expensive art ever sold to date. They hail from a range of countries including Italy, France, the U.S., China, the Netherlands, and Austria. (Many of the Austrian works were stolen by the Nazis during World War II and subsequently reclaimed by the descendants of their original owners.) 

Three of these high-profile purchases are connected to a running feud in which a Russian oligarch alleges that his Swiss art broker defrauded him to the tune of $1 billion. And multiple have been purchased by American hedge fund manager and billionaire Steven A. Cohen (who runs one of the 20 best-performing hedge funds of all time.)

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