Artist: Edvard Munch
Year sold: 2012
Price: $119.9 million (auction)
How is this portrait of existential angst — one of the most iconic images in art history — not number one on this list? In short, there are multiple Screams. Munch created four different versions of “Skrik” (its title in Norwegian), the most famed rendition being the 1893 oil painting on display in Oslo, Norway’s National Gallery.
This work, bought by billionaire financier Leon Black, is a more colorful pastel-on-board version done in 1895. As a bonus, the piece resides in its original frame, inscribed by Munch with his own poem about the painting.
9-Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I
Artist: Gustav Klimt
Year Sold: 2006
Price: $135 million (private sale)
Austrian symbolist Klimt painted this portrait (“The Lady in Gold”) of a Jewish banker’s wife in 1907, the apex of the artist’s celebrated “Golden Phase.”
The painting’s proud owner is billionaire Ronald Lauder, who has it on permanent display in New York’s Neue Galerie, which he co-founded.
Another portrait of Bloch-Bauer and more backstory on the paintings are ahead on this list.
8-No. 5, 1948
Artist: Jackson Pollock
Year sold: 2006
Price: $140 million (private sale)
Drippings of brown, yellow, black and grey oil paint comprise one of Pollock’s most chaotic and iconic works. For you art trivia buffs, this painting that sold in 2006 to an unknown buyer is not the original work created by Pollock in 1948 and sold a year later for $1,500 to fellow artist Alfonso A. Ossorio.
The painting’s surface was damaged by a furniture moving company, so Pollock offered to repair it himself, and in the process re-painted the entire piece. Ossorio loved it, saying the do-over exhibited “a new complexity and depth of linear interplay.”
Um, ok. Is there an art theory-to-English translator in the house?
7-Three Studies of Lucian Freud
Artist: Francis Bacon
Year sold: 2013
Price: $142.4 million (auction)
In 1969, Irish artist Bacon painted his friend and artistic rival Lucian Freud as a distorted figure in a cage. Not once, but thrice in separate panels as a triptych. Bold, unsettling and strangely beautiful, the piece sold to Elaine Wynn, ex-wife of casino mogul Steve Wynn, at Christie’s New York for what was then a record-setting art auction price.
Artist: Roy Lichtenstein
Year sold: 2017
Price: $165 million (private sale)
Inspired by comic book illustrations, Lichtenstein’s 1962 pop art piece has been called a tongue-in-cheek joke that portended the artist’s own celebrated career. “Masterpiece” stands alongside pieces such as “Whaam!” and “Look Mickey” as his most famous works. So it’s no surprise hedge-fund billionaire and noted pop art collector Steven A. Cohen paid through the nose to acquire it.
5-Pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit
Artist: Rembrandt van Rijn
Year sold: 2015
Price: $180 million (private sale)
Classic portraiture seldom fetches stratospheric sums, but when a pair of 1634 wedding portraits by Rembrandt came on the market, you better believe the Louvre and Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum (who jointly bought the artworks) stepped up with beaucoup bucks.
Art historians agree these masterful renderings of Dutch high-society newlyweds must always be displayed together, so the museums take turns hosting them. Newly restored, they’re currently hanging in the Louvre.
4-No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red)
Artist: Mark Rothko
Year sold: 2014
Price: $186 million (private sale)
Russian-American abstract-expressionist Rothko’s hallmark “multiform” paintings (two to three rectangular blocks of contrasting yet complementary colors) aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But his profound influence on contemporary art cannot be denied. The sale of “No. 6” marked a late chapter in the scandalous “Bouvier Affair” (see No. 7 on this list: “Wasserschlangen II”).
Artist: Jackson Pollock
Year sold: 2015
Price: $200 million (private sale)
This 1948 “drip painting” by Pollock not only commanded an eye-popping price when David Geffen sold it to Citadel billionaire Kenneth C. Griffin, it elicited the usual cries from Pollock critics whose gripe de rigueur is “Ridiculous! Even I could paint that mess!” Perhaps, but you didn’t invent a radical technique that’s been compared to putting a Miles Davis song on canvas. Nor are you arguably the most important American abstract painter of the 20th Century.
“Number 17A” isn’t currently on public display, but museums with noteworthy Pollock collections include New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).
2-The Card Players
Artist: Paul Cézanne
Year sold: 2011
Price: estimated $250 to $300 million (private sale)
One of five paintings in the French master’s 1890s’ series titled “The Card Players,” it features a pair of Provencal peasants seated at a table, immersed in a card game, studying their hands. Art critics have called it a “human still life.” A New Yorker cartoon poked fun at the notion by depicting the subjects playing not for money, but rather fruit.
This version of “The Card Players” was purchased by the Royal Family of Qatar and is not on public display. However you can see other paintings in the series at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation museum and Paris’ Musée d’Orsay.
Artist: Willem de Kooning
Year sold: 2015
Price: $300 million (private sale)
Behold the priciest contemporary painting ever sold: Dutch-American artist Willem de Kooning’s famed 1955 abstract-expressionist work inspired by his surroundings while living in NYC. Does the piece speak to you? Or do you find it a colossal waste of cash?
Sold by the David Geffen Foundation and purchased by hedge fund billionaire Kenneth C. Griffin (of Citadel), the piece was part of a $500-million package that included Jackson Pollock’s “Number 17A” ($300 for the de Kooning; $200 for the Pollock), which ranked No. 5 on this list.
Want to see “Interchange” in person? It’s currently on loan and displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago.