Salvator Mundi

Salvator Mundi is the most expensive painting ever sold | Source: Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

The 10 Artists Behind the World’s Most Expensive Paintings

Time and time again, paintings by the greats are proving to increase exponentially in value. Now fetching well into the eight and even nine digits, it is clear the works of Picasso, Warhol and Van Gogh are viewed more as assets than simply thought-provoking, art movement-defining paintings.

These artists and their work reflect how art has grown into a billion-dollar investment class where records continue to be smashed at auction. Take Andy Warhol’s silk-screen print of Marilyn Monroe which sold for an incredible A$281 million at Christie’s last week to become the most expensive 20th-century artwork of all time. Its record-breaking auctions like these that are pushing the art market towards an estimated market value of US$552.5 billion in 2025.

According to a study from which looks at auctioned works, these iconic artists are the world’s most invested-in artists. Featuring some of the most iconic painters in history, the works of these critically acclaimed artists have sold and will continue to sell, for millions under the hammer.

1. Pablo Picasso

As well as being one of the founding fathers of Cubism, Spanish artist Pablo Picasso was a renowned sculptor, ceramicist and printmaker, producing upwards of 10,000 paintings and potentially more than 50,000 total artworks throughout his lifetime.

Picasso’s striking Cubist paintings have taken Picasso to the top of the list, generating approximately A$1.8 billion in total sales from the artist’s auctioned paintings. Picasso’s most expensive work is the 1955 Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) which sold for US$179 million in 2015, approximately A$255 million, at a Christie’s auction in 2015.

Women of Algiers (Version 0)
Women of Algiers (Version 0) | Source: The Independent

2. Andy Warhol

A leading artist in the visual art movement, the ‘Pope of Pop Art‘ Andy Warhol is best known for his silkscreen works, including Campbell’s Soup Cans and Marilyn Diptych. In May 2022, Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn became the most expensive 20th-century artwork, selling for A$281 million.

The English artist’s works have made approximately A$1.4 billion in total auction sales. Before the record-breaking sale of Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, Warhol’s most expensive masterpiece was Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster). Comprised of two canvases, the serigraph from Warhol’s Death and Disaster series sold for A$150 million in 2013.

Shot Sage Blue Marilyn
Shot Sage Blue Marilyn | Source: Christie’s
Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)
Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) | Source: Conceptual Fine Arts

3. Mark Rothko

Leading American abstract painter, Mark Rothko, is known for his large-scale paintings and murals of abstracted colour forms. The artist once famously said: “I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions – tragedy, ecstasy, doom…”

Rothko’s ‘colour field’ paintings have generated a total of approximately A$1.1 billion in auction sales. Crowning Rothko’s auctioned works are Orange, Red, Yellow which fetched around A$123 million at a Christie’s auction in 2012.

Orange, Red, Yellow
Orange, Red, Yellow | Source: ArtNews

4. Willem de Kooning

Dutch-American painter Willem de Kooning’s work has generated an incredible A$924 million in auction sales. A leading artist in abstract expressionism, de Kooning’s work employed a form known as ‘action painting’ which involved spontaneous methods like dripping paint and sweeping brushstrokes.

The artist’s most expensive work sold is his 1955 painting Interchange which sold at Sotheby’s for more than A$28 million in 1989 and then went on to sell for A$428 million in a private sale in 2015.

Interchange | Source: Art Market Monitor

5. Vincent van Gogh

One of the most well-known painters in modern history, Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh post-humously became one of the most influential figures in Western art.

Generating A$810 million in auction sales, van Gogh’s most expensive work to date is his famed 1890 portrait of Dr Paul Gachet which sold for around A$118 million at a Christie’s auction in 1990. His other prized works that have gone on to fetch huge sums include Labourer in a Field and Wooden Cabins among the Olive Trees and Cypresses.

The artist’s rich and immersive art has been translated into a digital exhibition called Van Gogh Alive which has toured across the globe and is set to land in Perth on May 27.

Portrait of Dr. Paul Gachet at Christie's auction in 1990
Portrait of Dr Paul Gachet at Christie’s auction in 1990 | Source:

6. Amedeo Modigliani

Known for his asymmetrical compositions and nudes, Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani comes in at number six on the list with his top auctioned paintings totalling A$747 million in sales.

Another artist to become famous in death, Modigliani’s work, particularly his portraits, went on to eventually be regarded as some of the most significant portraits of the 20th century. This includes Nu couché (Sur le côté gauche) which sold at a 2018 Sotheby’s auction for approximately A$223 million.

Nu couché (sur le côté gauche Modigliani
Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) | Source: Sotheby’s

7. Gustav Klimt

Earning around A$681 million in total auction sales, Austrian painter Gustav Klimt’s erotic paintings often explored the female body in eclectic and fantastical depictions. While Klimt’s work was controversial in the 1880s, today his work continues to sell for millions and his contribution to the art world cannot be understated.

Along with The Kiss, one of Klimt’s most recognised works is the highly embellished and alluring Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Painted in 1907, the portrait was once confiscated by the Nazis but eventually returned to the Bloch-Bauer family before being sold for a then-record price of around A$192 million to the Neue Galerie. In terms of auction sales, Klimt’s most expensive painting is Adele Bloch-Bauer II which Oprah purchased at a 2006 Christie’s auction for around A$125 million.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I | Source: ArtNet

8. Francis Bacon

Irish-born figurative painter, Francis Bacon’s dark and unsettling works have generated a total of A$674 million at auction. His paintings, which tend to explore the human form and dark subject matter, have been recognised as some of the most significant works in post-war art. Bacon’s most expensive painting, or paintings rather, ever sold at auction is his 1969 triptych, Three Studies of Lucian Freud which sold for US$142 million at Christie’s in 2013, around A$202 million.

Bacon’s visceral works, including the triptych Three Figures in a Room, were exhibited in London in May 2022.

Three Studies of Lucian Freud
Three Studies of Lucian Freud | Source: BBC

9. Leonardo da Vinci

Widely recognised as a genius, Leonardo da Vinci was many things: an engineer, architect, inventor, mathematician and renowned artist. The great Rennaisance painter’s most notable works are household names, being the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper.

However, it’s the portrait of Christ titled Salvator Mundi (which translates to ‘Savior of the World’) that places da Vinci at number nine on the list. The portrait is the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction. Purchased for approximately A$654 million by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at a Christie’s auction in 2017, the painting’s murky history has prompted many scholars to debate the painting’s value and legitimacy.

Salvator Mundi
Salvator Mundi | Source: Christie’s

10. Claude Monet

A leading figure in the impressionism art movement, French painter Claude Monet is best known for his series of water lily paintings and landscapes. His soft depictions of nature and signature style, in general, earned the support of many collectors during his lifetime and influenced many notable artists, including Henri Matisse and van Gogh.

Accumulating a total of A$621 million in auction sales, Monet’s paintings continue to sell for eight and now nine figure sums. Monet’s most expensive painting to date is his 1890-1891 work Meules or Haystacks, which sold for A$158 million at Sotheby’s in 2019.

Women in the Garden
Women in the Garden | Source: Wikipedia
Meules by Claude Monet
Meules | Source: Sotheby’s

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