Most Expensive Art Ever Purchased
After last week’s discussion on the elements that determine an artwork’s value, I wanted to give you a run-down on the most expensive art ever purchased. Keep in mind the subject matter, color, size, medium, artist reputation, and the rarity of these works. I first want to look at the most expensive works of art sold at auction in real terms (adjusting for inflation). Here, everything is on a level playing field and was sold in public, so we don’t have to guess about what a work of art actually sells for behind closed doors.
In fifth place is Van Gogh’s Irises, 1889, which sold at Christie’s in New York in 1987 for $53.9 million. This would be $103.2 million in 2010 dollars. Alan Bond, the Australian businessman with debt problems, purchased this work with a loan from the auction house, but was unable to pay the entire amount once it was due.
Fourth place goes to Alberto Giocometti’s Walking Man I from 1960, which sold for $104.3 million in February 2010. (nominal terms, not adjusted for inflation)
With the bronze medal is Picasso’s Garçon à la pipe from 1905, which sold in 2004 at Sotheby’s New York for $104.2 million, which is the same as $120.0 million in 2010 dollars.
The runner-up is Renoir’s Au Moulin de la Galette from 1876, which sold in 1990 at Sotheby’s New York for $78.1 million, which would be $130.0 million in 2010 dollars.
And the winner from this category is Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet, 1890, which sold for $82.5 million in 1990 at Christie’s in New York. This would be a whopping $137.4 million in 2010 dollars. This painting was sold to a Japanese Businessman named Ryoei Saito. After purchasing the work, he stated publicly that he planned on having the painting cremated with him upon his death. Eventually the work was sold and its whereabouts are currently unknown.
It is important to remember that these previous works are sold at public auction, and therefore contain what is called a “buyers premium” in their price, which is a percentage fee that the auction house collects from the buyer. To be fair, the most expensive works ever sold were purchased in private negotiations:
Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I sold for $135 million in 2006, which is $146.08 million in 2010 dollars. The transaction was negotiated by Christie’s in New York. You can view this work at the Neue Galerie in New York City.
In 2006 the famed art collector Steve Cohen purchased Willem de Kooning’s Woman III for $137.5 million, which is $148.78 million in 2010 dollars.
And also in 2006, Jackson Pollock’s No. 5 drip painting sold for $140 million in a transaction negotiated by Sotheby’s. This would have cost $151.5 million in 2010 dollars. Pollock’s drip painting’s rarely come up for sale, and the artist’s early death limits the amount of work created during his lifetime. This is a perfect example of rarity and notoriety increasing an artwork’s value in the art market.
Recently in 2011, the Royal Family of Qatar (go figure) purchased Paul Cezanne’s The Card Players, the last version of the composition still in private hands, from seller George Embiricos. The private sale totaled a whopping $250 million, making it the most expensive work of art ever purchased.