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Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Top Ten Most Expensive Paintings (at the moment)

Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I, 1907, Gustav Klimt
A few days ago Leonardo da Vinci made history. That's pretty remarkable for an artist who's been dead almost five-hundred years. His last remaining painting in private hands, Salvator Mundi sold at auction for $450.3-million (including frame), a record price for any work of art. I should note, however, that this record is a very perishable item. Back on July 19, 2011, I made the same claim for Vincent van Gogh's Dr. Gachet, (below) which sold in 1990 for a record $82.5-million. Similarly, I made the same claim on January 17, 2013, for Gustave Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, (top), which broke the van Gogh record to the tune of $135-million. And as an example of how fluid the art the high art market has long been, just a few months later, on May 24, 2013, I related the fact that Edvard Munch's The Scream had breached the one-hundred-million dollar mark, selling for $125.1-million. I promised myself then I'd never again write about the record prices being garnered for great art work. And for several years now I haven't.
Portrait of Dr. Gachet, 1890, van Gogh
Well, so much for promises. I couldn't resist this one. As of this date, none of the paintings mentioned above even make the top ten list. Is there no end to the astronomical sums art collectors will fork over for masterpieces by the grand masters? How long before some artist's work rockets past the half-billion mark? See anything you like, Mr. Gates? (Who, incidentally, owns Leonardo's handwritten journals.) I know, Salvator Mundi is an acknowledged masterpiece, as are all the other paintings mentioned earlier and the top ten listed below; but does it strike you, as it does me, that there is something obscene about these prices in a world where a sizable chunk of the human population goes to bed hungry every night?

The Scream, 1895 version, Edvard Munch
Of course, there is nothing I, nor anyone else, can do to eliminate world hunger or the staunch the one-upmanship we see in the prices being paid for the beauty created by artists. The whole purpose of a "top ten" list such as this is to underline the situation in the hope that some multi-billionaire contemplating a Picasso or a Pollock, and bidding a thousand times what the artist received for the work, will take a step back and consider how far his or her riches might go for the benefit of mankind, womankind, and kidkind around the world.

10. No. 5, 1948, Jackson Pollock,
$166-million, 2006
9. Nu Couché, 1916, Amedeo Modigliani
$172.2-million, 2015, painted around 1917-18
8. Les Femmes d'Alger  ("Version O"), Pablo Picasso

$181-million, 2015
7. Pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen  Coppit,
 1633, Rembrandt van Rijn
$182-million for the pair, 2015, owned jointly by the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre.
6. No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red), 1951, Mark Rothko
$188-million, 2014
5. Number 17A, Jackson Pollock.
$202-million, 2015, the only artist with two in the top ten.
4. Nafea Faa Ipoipo? (When Will You Marry?) 1892, Paul
$212-million, 2014, now owned by the nation of Qatar
3. The Card Players, 1892-93, Paul Cézanne
$266-million, 2011, now owned by the nation of Qatar
2. Interchange, 1955, Willem de Kooning
$303-million, 2015. Painted in 1955 this and the
Picasso (no. 8) are tied for the most recent of the top ten.
1. Salvator Mundi, 1500, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.
$450.3-million, 2017,
There is, of course a difference between the most expensive paintings and the most valuable ones. The paintings mentioned above were offered for sale. Most will probably never change hands again. in virtually all other cases, the most valuable paintings are in museums and most definitely not for sale at any price. Can you imagine the Louvre ever selling the Mona Lisa? In such cases, the hypothetical attachment of a price to such works is totally meaningless other than to say that many  would far outstrip the "meager" prices attached to these recent sales.


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