What is the most expensive painting in the world?

Art, and the ability to create beautiful things, is an incredibly important part of being human. This inherent value is reflected when artworks of the past are sold for millions among the world's richest.

The Mona Lisa is one of the world's most famous paintings, but is it the most expensive?
The Mona Lisa is one of the world's most famous paintings, but is it the most expensive?  © Unsplash/Eric Terrade

When people create beautiful art, they reflect part of their experience whenever and wherever they live. The best artwork of the past, now often some of the most pricey, should be valuable because of these reflections. Sadly, though, the value of art is now more about being a status symbol than a cultural icon.

This is, regrettably, why paintings win world records for how expensive they sometimes become.

The world's most expensive painting: Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci

The most expensive painting in the world is the Salvator Mund, painted by possibly the most famous of all artists, Leonard da Vinci. An oil painting, the artwork itself depicts a frontal view of Jesus Christ, who is pictured holding a crystal ball in his left hand and making a gesture of blessing in his right.

Awarded the world record for most expensive painting ever by Guinness World Records in 2017, the Salvator Mundi was sold for $450,312,500 at an auction held in New York on November 15 of that same year. It was sold by a Russian billionaire by the name of Dmitry Rybolovlev, who had previously purchased the painting for $127.5 million in 2013.

While the latest buyer of Leonardo da Vinci's work chose to stay anonymous, they did end up with one of the most extraordinarily expensive and valuable pieces of art in the world. The painting might not be the most "valuable," but because it is a privately owned piece sold at auction, its majesty is the painting most in monetary terms.

Salvator Mundi is quite an iconic and fascinating piece of work by da Vinci, but hardly one of the painter's most famous. Indeed, it wasn't really discovered until the 1950s, when a private bidder at Sotheby's in London bought it for about $55 (£45). After intense restoration, it was discovered to be a long-lost piece from the world's most famous painter.

Nowadays, though, it is just as mysterious. Despite being extremely expensive, some art historians are not even sure if it's a da Vinci, some attributing it to one of his apprentices.

Fun fact: With an estimated insurance value of around $843 million, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa is probably the most expensive painting in the world. It does not, however, qualify for the world record as it is owned by the Louvre in Paris, and, therefore, its precise value cannot be determined.

These paintings are close to being the most expensive in the world

Card Players by Paul Cézanne is one of the most expensive paintings in the world.
Card Players by Paul Cézanne is one of the most expensive paintings in the world.  © IMAGO/Pond5 Images

There are many extraordinarily expensive pieces of art out there in the world, most of them beyond the reach of any normal human being. Yet, the most expensive is hard to determine in some respects – after all, many are worth hundreds of millions but could never be sold due to public ownership or possession by various major art galleries.

After all, no one is going to pay cash to buy the Mona Lisa from the Louvre, and, to be fair, the Louvre wouldn't accept the money anyway. Instead, we have to rely and focus on pieces of art that are, perhaps, a little more unknown than the absolute greats from the 1800s and earlier.

These two paintings are the runners-up for the most expensive painting in the world:

Joke of the Day for June 20, 2024: Get your funny on
Joke of the Day Joke of the Day for June 20, 2024: Get your funny on
  • Interchange by Willem de Kooning: A representative of abstract expressionism, Interchange is a 1955 oil on canvas. While de Kooning had, until this point, mostly painted women, his style evolved with Interchange and became more abstract. It was sold to Kenneth C. Griffin for $300 million in 2015.
  • Card Players by Paul Cézanne: In third place is this masterpiece from Paul Cézanne, painted between 1890 and 1892. It is one of a series of five works entitled The Card Players, all of which were created during this period. It was sold to the royal family of Qatar for around $250 million in 2011.

There is a vast assortment of paintings that could very well have been featured in this list. Yet, we don't much feel like sharing them – art isn't about money and financial value, it should be an emotional connection, not an economic one.

There are some remarkable, but expensive paintings out there, representing all sorts of wonderful moments in history and art. What's good, though, is that you don't need to buy art to see art – you just need a gallery or a computer!

Cover photo: Unsplash/Eric Terrade

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