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Place your bid: 5 most expensive art pieces in the world

The world of art is a weird and wonderful one. While no one really bats an eyelid when pieces by legendary artists the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso fetch eye-watering prices, this isn’t always the case for all artworks.

An example would be New York abstract artist Barnett Newman’s Onement VI, which sold at a 2013 Sotheby’s auction for an astounding US$48.8 million (S$61.2 million) — and is essentially a blue canvas with a single line running down its centre.

Onement VI by Barnett Newman. (Photo: Sotheby’s)

Fans of Newman, a prominent name in the abstract-expressionist scene, probably found nothing shocking about its high price. After all, the artist has long been known for creating such paintings with lines. But for those who weren’t quite as keen on or familiar with his style, Onement VI’s sale was perhaps a baffling one, because of how ordinary it looked.

The contentious painting isn’t the most expensive artwork ever sold, though. Past years have seen many other art pieces achieving multi-million record prices — the most recent being a Gustav Klimt work, which fetched £48 million (S$83.4 million) at a Sotheby’s auction earlier this month.

Here are 5 of the world’s most expensive art pieces ever sold. Whether you agree with their prices, one thing is for certain: Art is indeed subjective.

Bauerngarten (1907) by Gustav Klimt

The rare masterpiece by the legendary Austrian painter went under the hammer for £48 million (S$83.4 million) at Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art and Surrealist Art auction in London, earlier this month. Depicting lush foliage and colourful flowers, its price is the third highest for any work sold at auction in Europe. So coveted is the painting, that four bidders were competing to buy it at the auction.

(Photo: Sotheby’s)

Interchange (1955) by Willem de Kooning

This abstract painting by Willem de Kooning was privately sold by the David Geffen Foundation to hedge fund investor Kenneth Griffin last year for a sky-high US$300 million (S$419.4 million). Its extravagant price matches that of French artist Paul Gauguin’s Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?), which was sold to Qatar in 2015. The two paintings share the record for the most expensive artwork ever sold.

(Photo: Artnet)

Les femmes d'Alger (Version 'O') (1955) by Pablo Picasso

This eye-catching Picasso artwork achieved an impressive US$179.4 million (S$250.9 million) at a Christie’s 2015 auction in New York, surpassing its initial estimate of US$140 million (S$195.8 million). It is the last artwork in the artist’s Les femmes d’Alger series, which comprises 15 paintings and drawings.

(Photo: Christie’s
The Card Players (1892/1893) by Paul Cézanne

The state of Qatar is clearly serious about its art. Apart from possessing one of the world’s most expensive paintings, it’s also the owner of this Cézanne piece, which it paid over US$250 million (S$349.6 million) for in 2012. The painting, which features two men engaged in a card game, is one in a series of five.

(Photo: Vanity Fair)

Nu Couché (1917) by Amedeo Modigliani

Created by Italian-Jewish artist Amedeo Modigliani, this painting sparked controversy when it was first displayed in 1917 — the police at that time deemed it (along with his other nude artworks) inappropriate, and shut down his first and only solo exhibition. Little did Modigliani know that decades later, this artwork would become regarded as a prized masterpiece, and would sell for an incredible US$170.4 million (S$238.1 million) at a 2015 Christie’s auction. It was purchased by Chinese tycoon and art collector Liu Yiqian.

(Photo: Christie’s)

Sara Yap
Deputy Director, Digital Operations (Asia)
Sara Yap is the Deputy Director of Digital Operations at BurdaLuxury, and a contributing writer to Lifestyle Asia’s dining and jewellery beats. When she’s not on the lookout for exciting new restaurants or bejewelled trinkets, she’s probably buried in a riveting read, or reminiscing the good ol’ days with her favourite playlist of ’90s boyband hits.