You ever watch a movie or TV show and see all the evil people in masks putting down a ton of money on weird things while you just kind of sit there on your old couch like “dang, there’s no way people actually live like this otherwise they would be evil”? Then you go online and realize that yes, people do live like this. Anyway while you ponder that, you might be wondering about those auctions where people spend lots of money. Let’s start with art stuff today, since that’s… a lot more tame than spending a ton of money on some kind of ancient heirloom that could be used to further human knowledge or something. We’re sure some paintings straddle that line, but let’s just have some fun with big numbers and fun paintings. What is the most expensive painting?
Where Are Most Famous Paintings Held?
On the bright side, kind of, most famous paintings sit in museums. Unfortunately, you can’t see most of them, since many of them keep the vast majority of their collections in storage. Well known Western museums like the Louvre or the Guggenheim only have 8% or 3% of their collections on display, respectively. Notably, many pieces considered “old master” works from before 1800 are housed in museums. Well, at least somewhere in the museum, since we now know most of them aren’t out on display.
If you ever dabbled in art history in school or just kind of know of some “famous old paintings” like the Mona Lisa, you can kind of pick up the vibe of what constitutes an “old master” piece. Unfortunately, these pieces by definition are exclusively European, so it’s harder to pin down where non-European art sits when the discussion about art diversity is dominated by how dominated art is by Western artists.
No really, like 85% of pieces in American museums were done by white individuals. 87% of pieces were done by men.
The Scream (1895) – Edvard Munch – $120 Million – $145 Million Adjusted for Inflation
The sale of The Scream broke records at the time (around 2012), though its buyer remains a mystery, we’re pretty sure The Scream now depicts the faces everyone made when that much money was slapped down. We could find a lot of other paintings that sit in the 100 million or 90 million price range, but they get absolutely eclipsed by the record holder by a margin so large you’ll probably also make the face on The Scream.
12 Landscape Screens (1925) – Qi Bashi – $141 Million – $160 Million Adjusted for Inflation
When 12 Landscape Screens was sold in 2017, it held the mantle for being the most expensive painting ever sold. Very briefly. The amount 12 Landscape Screens sold for is absolutely paled next to the sale that broke its record, and you’re about to find out which painting broke it.
Fun fact, it’s also the highest price paid for a Chinese work of art at auction.
Salvator Mundi (c. 1500) – Leonardo da Vinci – $450 Million – $507 Million Adjusted for Inflation
This piece sold for over $450 million at private auction in 2017. Salvator Mundi kind of went missing afterwards–though it does seem like people figured out its location in 2019. It was reported that Salvator Mundi was being kept on a superyacht owned by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
See if you can identify a bunch of neat paintings here.