Which is the most expensive painting in the world?
Well, I must confess that I can’t say for sure. But, I can refer you to a list of most expensive paintings published by Wikipedia.
While I was searching for some information on the price of oil paintings, and other related facts, I came across a painting ‘Diana and Actaeon’ by the Italian Renaissance master Titian, which had the tag as one of the most expensive paintings in the world (the painting featured on the left).
Considered one of the greatest works of Titian, ‘Diana and Actaeon’ (painting of 1556-1559), is currently valued at US$72.7 million (inflation adjusted dollar value based on US Consumer Price Index), which was sold for US$70.6 million (£50 million) by Duke of Sutherland to the National Galleries of Scotland, and the National Gallery (London) at a private sale on February 1, 2009.
By the way, interestingly, Diana and Actaeon, is on tour now, and being exhibited at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts from 6 Feb 2011 to 1 May 2011. On its return from tour, it will remain on display in the National Gallery (London) for 5 years, and then move to the National Galleries of Scotland for another 5 years, alternating between the two art galleries every five years.
Diana and Actaeon that portrays the meeting of Goddess Diana with Actaeon is one of a series of seven celebrated oil paintings by Titian, and known as the ‘poesies’, featuring mythological characters and scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Now let us consider the one of the most famous paintings in the world, Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, currently on display at the Musée du Louvre in Paris and owned by the Government of France. It was also on its famous tour in 1962-63 to the United States for exhibition in New York City and Washington, D.C.
Can Mona Lisa be included in the list of the most expensive paintings? Probably not, the list of the costliest paintings considers only those paintings sold in an auction or sale, and the sale price is known or published.
Incidentally, ‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘Diana and Actaeon’ are just two of the most expensive paintings in the world. The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt, sold for U$135 million, is another oil painting in the list of the world’s costliest paintings.
So, which is the most expensive painting? The official recognition for this title has gone to ‘No. 5, 1948’, an oil painting created in 1948 by the abstract expressionist American painter Jackson Pollock.
Jackson Pollock’s No. 5,1948, valued at US$151.8 million (after adjusting for dollar value inflation based on consumer price index), was sold by David Geffen for US$140 million to an undisclosed buyer at a private sale via Sotheby’s on 2 November 2006.
Unfortunately, you cannot find Mona Lisa in the list of the priciest paintings. The reason is very simple. Mona Lisa is owned by the French Government and it has never been put on sale. The only occasion it changed hands is when it was stolen by Vincenzo Peruggia, a Louvre employee, on August 22, 1911 (and recovered later). So, throughout its history, Mona Lisa was either owned by the rulers of France, or the French Government.
So, the question arises as to whether we can call paintings that were recently sold in auctions or public or private sales as the most expensive paintings, ignoring paintings like Mona Lisa. I think it is incorrect.
As an example, let us find out what would be the price of Mona Lisa, if it is sold in an auction.
Before Mona Lisa’s tour to USA (1962), in an assessment for insurance purposes, the painting was valued at US$100 million, though it was not insured for the American tour. When adjusted for inflation using the US Consumer Price Index, US$100 million in 1962 was estimated to be equal to about US$700 million in 2009. Can it be its real worth? Not necessarily!
There are several occasions when reserved prices are estimated on the basis of similar considerations and published prior to auction by the biggest art auction companies. When the actual sales take place, the price the painting or art piece fetches are either above such estimated prices or lower than that. Still, estimates based on relevant data helps in art evaluation.
Like Mona Lisa, there are thousands of famous paintings owned by art museums, governments, individuals and families that are either never sold in recent times, or the last known sale price is too old to rely upon. Such prices also cannot show today’s real value even if they are adjusted for change in the value of money.
Note: The image of Diana and Actaeon is a public domain photo, free from copyright restrictions. You can download it and use it in any way you like.