"Whatever the market will bear..."
The world's most famous paintings, especially old master works done before 1800, are generally owned or held at museums, for viewing for patrons. The museums very rarely sell them, and as such, they are quite literally priceless. Guinness World Records lists the Mona Lisa as having the highest insurance value for a painting in history. It was assessed at US$100 million on December 14, 1962, before the painting toured the United States for several months. However, the Louvre chose to spend the money that would have been spent on the insurance premium on security instead. Taking inflation into account, the 1962 value would be around US$743 million in 2011.
The earliest sale on the list below (Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh) is from March 1987; with a price of £24.75 million ($80 million in 2011 dollars) it tripled the previous record and introduced a new era in top art sales. Before this, the highest absolute price paid for a painting was £8.1 million ($22 million in 2011 dollars) paid by the J. Paul Getty Museum for Mantegna's Adoration of the Magi at Christie's in London on April 18, 1985. In constant dollars, the highest price paid before 1987 was by the National Gallery of Art when in February 1967 they acquired Leonardo da Vinci's Ginevra de' Benci for around $5 million ($34 million in 2011 dollars) from the Princely Family of Liechtenstein. The sale of Van Gogh's Sunflowers was also significant in that for the first time a "modern" (in this case 1888) painting became the record holder, as opposed to the old master paintings which previously had dominated the market. In contrast, there are currently only five pre-1800 paintings among the top 41 listed, none of which have reached the Sunflowers constant dollar price.
Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso are by far the best represented artists in the list. Whereas Picasso became a wealthy man, Van Gogh (supposedly) sold only one painting in his lifetime, The Red Vineyard, for 400 Francs (about $1600) to the impressionist painter and heiress Anna Boch. His seven paintings in the list below alone were sold for $670 million.
This list is ordered by consumer price index inflation-adjusted value[note 1] (in bold) in millions of December 2011 United States dollars. Where necessary, the price is first converted to dollars using the exchange rate at the time the painting was sold. The inflation adjustment may change as recent inflation rates are often revised. A list in another currency may be in a slightly different order due to exchange rate fluctuations. Paintings are only listed once, i.e. for the highest price sold.
|Adjusted price (in millions)||Original price (in millions)||Painting||Artist||Year||Date of sale||Rank at sale||Seller||Buyer||Auction house|
|$250||$250 +[note 2]||The Card Players||Paul Cézanne||1892/93||2011||1||George Embiricos||Royal Family of Qatar||Private sale |
|$156.8||$140||No. 5, 1948||Jackson Pollock||1948||2006-11-02||1||David Geffen||Private sale via Sotheby's|
|$154.0||$137.5||Woman III||Willem de Kooning||1953||2006-11-18||2||David Geffen||Steven A. Cohen||Private sale via Larry Gagosian|
|$150.2||$135||Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I||Gustav Klimt||1907||2006-06-18||1||Maria Altmann||Ronald Lauder, Neue Galerie||Private sale via Christie's|
|$144.1||$82.5||Portrait of Dr. Gachet||Vincent van Gogh||1890||1990-05-15||1||Siegfried Kramarsky family||Ryoei Saito[note 3]||Christie's, New York|
|$136.4||$78.1||Bal du moulin de la Galette[note 4]||Pierre-Auguste Renoir||1876||1990-05-17||2||Betsey Whitney||Ryoei Saito[note 5]||Sotheby's, New York|
|$124.3||$104.2||Garçon à la pipe||Pablo Picasso||1905||2004-05-04||3||Greentree foundation (Whitney family)||Barilla Group?||Sotheby's, New York|
|$110.1||$106.5||Nude, Green Leaves and Bust||Pablo Picasso||1932||2010-05-04||7||Frances Lasker Brody estate||Christie's, New York|
|$107 ++||$58 plus exchange of works[note 6]||Portrait of Joseph Roulin||Vincent van Gogh||1889||1989-08-01||1||Private collection, Zürich||Museum of Modern Art New York||Private sale via Thomas Ammann, Fine Art Zurich|
|$106.1||$95.2||Dora Maar au Chat||Pablo Picasso||1941||2006-05-03||4||Gidwitz family||Boris Ivanishvili||Sotheby's, New York|
|$105.4||$53.9||Irises||Vincent van Gogh||1889||1987-11-11||1||son of Joan Whitney Payson||Alan Bond[note 7]||Sotheby's, New York|
|$104.2||$100.0||Eight Elvises||Andy Warhol||1963||2008-10||10||Annibale Berlingieri||Private sale via Philippe Ségalot|
|$98.5||$87.9||Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II||Gustav Klimt||1912||2006-11-02||9||Maria Altmann||Christie's, New York|
|$98.4||$71.5||Portrait de l'artiste sans barbe||Vincent van Gogh||1889||1998-11-19||5||Heirs of Jacques Koerfer||Christie's, New York|
|$96.1||$76.7 (£49.5)||Massacre of the Innocents||Peter Paul Rubens||1611||2002-07-10||6||an Austrian family||Kenneth Thomson[note 8]||Sotheby's, London|
|$89.9||$86.3||Triptych, 1976||Francis Bacon||1976||2008-05-14||13||Moueix Family, Château Pétrus||Roman Abramovich||Sotheby's, New York|
|$89.5||$80.0||False Start[note 9]||Jasper Johns||1959||2006-10-12||10||David Geffen||Kenneth C. Griffin||Private sale via Richard Gray|
|$89.2||$57||A Wheatfield with Cypresses||Vincent van Gogh||1889||1993-05||5||son of Emil Georg Bührle||Walter H. Annenberg[note 10]||Private sale via Steven Mazoh|
|$88.4||$49.3 (F300)||Les Noces de Pierrette||Pablo Picasso||1905||1989-11-30||3||Fredrik Roos||Tomonori Tsurumaki||Binoche et Godeau Paris|
|$87.2||$47.85||Yo, Picasso||Pablo Picasso||1901||1989-05-09||2||Wendell Cherry||Stavros Niarchos||Sotheby's, New York|
|$86.8||$80.0||Turquoise Marilyn||Andy Warhol||1964||2007-05-20||17||Stefan Edlis||Steven A. Cohen||Private sale via Larry Gagosian|
|$83.1||$80.5 (£40.9)||Le Bassin aux Nymphéas||Claude Monet||1919||2008-06-24||19||J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller||Christie's, London|
|$82.2||$60.5||Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier[note 11]||Paul Cézanne||1894||1999-05-10||9||Whitney Family||Sotheby's, New York|
|$79.9||$39.7 (£24.75)||Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers||Vincent van Gogh||1888||1987-03-30||1||daughter-in-law of Chester Beatty||Yasuo Goto, Yasuda Comp.||Christie's, London|
|$79.1||$72.8||White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)||Mark Rothko||1950||2007-05-15||20||David Rockefeller, Sr.||Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani||Sotheby's, New York|
|$77.8||$71.7||Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I)||Andy Warhol||1963||2007-05-16||21||Private collection, Zürich||Philip Niarchos||Christie's, New York|
|$75.1||$70.6 (£50)||Diana and Actaeon||Titian||15561559||2009-02-01||25||Duke of Sutherland||National Galleries of Scotland & National Gallery, London||Private sale|
|$75||$75 (50-60) [note 12]||Darmstadt Madonna||Hans Holbein||1526||2011-07-12||27||Donatus, Hereditary Prince of Hesse||Reinhold Würth||Private sale via Christoph Graf Douglas|
|$74.3||$68||The Gross Clinic||Thomas Eakins||1875||2007-04-12||20||Thomas Jefferson University||Philadelphia Museum of Art||Private sale.|
|$73.0||$40.7||Au Lapin Agile||Pablo Picasso||1904||1989-11-27||5||daughter of Joan Whitney Payson||Walter H. Annenberg||Sotheby's, New York|
|$72.3||$38.5 (£20.9)||Acrobate et jeune Arlequin||Pablo Picasso||1905||1988-11-28||3||heir of Roger Janssen? [note 13]||Mitsukoshi||Christie's, London|
|$71.3||$55.0||Femme aux Bras Croisés||Pablo Picasso||1902||2000-11-08||13||McCormick family, Chicago||Christie's, New York|
|$71.1||$69.0||Nude Sitting on a Divan ("La Belle Romaine")||Amedeo Modigliani||1917||2010-11-02||31||Halit Cingillioğlu||Sotheby's, New York|
|$71.0||$63.5||Police Gazette||Willem de Kooning||1955||2006-10-12||19||David Geffen||Steven A. Cohen||Private sale via Richard Gray Gallery|
|$67.6||$48.4||Le Rêve[note 14]||Pablo Picasso||1932||1997-11-10||11||Ganz family||Wolfgang Flöttl||Christie's, New York.|
|$66.8||$47.5||Peasant Woman Against a Background of Wheat||Vincent van Gogh||1890||1997||11||Stephen Wynn[note 15]||Private sale via Acquavella Galleries Inc., New York|
|$66.5||$49.6||Femme assise dans un jardin||Pablo Picasso||1938||1999-11-10||15||Robert Saidenberg||Sotheby's, New York|
|$65.4||$65.5 (¥425.5)||Eagle Standing on Pine Tree||Qi Baishi||1946||2011-05-22||36||Liu Yiqian||Hunan TV & Broadcast Intermediary Co||China Guardian Auctions|
|$65.4||$63.4||Men in Her Life||Andy Warhol||1962||2010-11-08||35||Jose Mugrabi||Phillips de Pury & Company|
|$64.2||$35.2||Portrait of a Halberdier||Pontormo||1537||1989-05-31||5||Chauncey Devereaux Stillman||Getty Museum||Christie's, New York|
|$63.7||$60.0||Suprematist Composition||Kazimir Malevich||1916||2008-11-03||34||Heirs of Kazimir Malevich||Sotheby's, New York|
|$62.1||$62.1 (¥402.5)||Zhichuan Resettlement||Wang Meng||c.1350||2011-06-04||40||Beijing Poly Auction|
|$61.6||$61.7||1949-A-No.1||Clyfford Still||1949||2011-11-09||42||City and County of Denver||Sotheby's, New York|
Correctamundo! And while it is iconic, I wouldn't pay more than 8 grand for the thing even if I were Larry Ellison.
For 80 Million you could probably restore an iconic flying work of art like a Spitfire, or even a big Connie. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder I guess.