What Are the Most Expensive Paintings in the World?

Of all the many millions of paintings that now exist in the world, these are the most expensive by a long measure.

Aug 18, 2023By Rosie Lesso, MA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine Art
what are the most expensive paintings in the world


Valuing a work of art can be a tricky business, as prices can fluctuate wildly depending on market trends. However, there are a number of artists whose art will always remain so prized, that their value remains steady and undisputed, and it would be virtually impossible for the majority to buy them. Of these extremely rare and highly valued objects, there are just a few that hit the highest peak of the art market, reaching into the hundreds of millions in dollar value. Below are the rare few art objects that have recently sold at auction, or whose values have been recently estimated as the highest in the entire history of art.


Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, 1503

Portrait of Mona Lisa del Giocondo, circa 1503-1506, by Leonardo Da Vinci
Portrait of Mona Lisa del Giocondo, 1503-1506, by Leonardo da Vinci, the most expensive painting in the world


Leonardo da Vinci’s famed Mona Lisa has belonged to the Louvre Museum collection in Paris since 1804, and it is a star attraction that draws in thousands of tourists every year. The painting belongs to the French people by law, which would make it extremely difficult for the painting to ever be sold. All this means it is nearly impossible to place an exact value on the Mona Lisa. However, when the Mona Lisa was insured in 1962, its value was placed at $100 million. Recent estimates, considering inflation, suggest the painting would be worth over $834 million by today’s standards.


Meanwhile, in 2020, when French entrepreneur Stephane Distinguin argued that France could sell the Mona Lisa to help the country recover from the catastrophic impact of the pandemic, he guesstimated its value could go as high as $50 billion, given the amount of revenue it brings to the country through tourism. But his excessively high number was largely discredited by art experts.  


Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci, 1490-1500

Salvator Mundi da vinci most expensive paintings
Salvator Mundi, painting of Christ as Savior of the World, 1490-1500, by Leonardo da Vinci


By contrast, Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi sold at a Christie’s auction in New York in 2017 for $450 million. One of the reasons for its high value was due to the painting’s disappearance for 200 years, before being rediscovered in 2005, badly damaged and in need of restoration. The two New York dealers who found the painting paid $1,175 at an obscure art auction in New Orleans, before taking it to the renowned art restorer Dianne Modestini. It was she who was able to recognize, after removing hundreds of years’ worth of grime, that it was likely to be painted by Leonardo.

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The painting was purchased by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, his Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud. Despite its fame, the painting has yet to be displayed in any museum collection, although rumors suggest it is likely to go on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. 


The Painting May Not be An Original Leonardo

Salvator Mundi on display prior to 2017 auction.
Leonardo Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi on display prior to the 2017 auction, the most expensive painting to be sold to a private buyer.


There is still some debate amongst scholars as to whether the painting was completed by Da Vinci himself, or one of his most talented students. Experts suggest the painting’s composition differs from the Renaissance master’s style. One analysis by the Louvre in 2018 suggested that the hands and arms may have been painted by Leonardo, but it is still a subject of scrutiny. However, the speculation has done little to quell the excitement around the artwork’s value. 


Interchange by Willem de Kooning, 1955

Interchange, by Willem de Kooning, 1955 most expensive paintings
Interchange, by Willem de Kooning, 1955, one of the most expensive paintings in the world.


Moving forward in art history, the third most valuable painting of all time might surprise you, being an Abstract Expressionist masterpiece by New York school painter Willem de Kooning. In September 2015, De Kooning’s painting titled Interchange, sold during a private sale from David Geffen to Kenneth C. Griffin, the CEO of hedge fund Citadel for an incredible $300 million, making it the most valuable modern artwork in the world. The painting is currently on loan to the Art Institute of Chicago, meaning members of the public can still enjoy this striking example of De Kooning’s mature, expressionist style. 


The Card Players by Paul Cezanne, 1894-5

The Card Players, Paul Cezanne, 1894-5 most expensive paintings
The Card Players, Paul Cezanne, 1894-5, one of the world’s most expensive paintings


Recognized today as the ‘father of modern art,’ Paul Cezanne’s artworks are a safe bet during art sales, often reaching into the millions. He made four different versions of The Card Players, three of which are placed in major public museum collections. This particular version was purchased in 2011 by the Royal Family of Qatar for a cool $288 million.

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By Rosie LessoMA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine ArtRosie is a contributing writer and artist based in Scotland. She has produced writing for a wide range of arts organizations including Tate Modern, The National Galleries of Scotland, Art Monthly, and Scottish Art News, with a focus on modern and contemporary art. She holds an MA in Contemporary Art Theory from the University of Edinburgh and a BA in Fine Art from Edinburgh College of Art. Previously she has worked in both curatorial and educational roles, discovering how stories and history can really enrich our experience of art.