A new television show on BBC One showcased some of the most expensive paintings that were ever sold at auctions. The show was hosted by Alastair Cooke and explored the question of who buys the costliest paintings of the world. The show, which was entitled “The World’s Most Expensive Paintings”, involved visits to art collectors, dealers and auctioneers.
Among the well-known personalities that Cooke visited was bestselling author Jeffrey Archer. But in the course of the interview it was discovered that even Archer, who figures at 583rd on the British rich list, cannot afford some of the ultra-expensive paintings that are on offer. Apparently, mere millionaires cannot afford the most expensive paintings in the world. With prices reaching the $100 million mark, only the billionaire and multi-millionaire classes can aspire to own these artworks.
In recent years, artworks have become a popular investment arena. To some extent, they have acquired the stature of luxury items. And many art experts are appalled at the amounts of money being splashed about at auctions of rare and important artworks. Many feel that this is a vulgar display of wealth and the large scale bidding wars that carry on at auctions are less about acquiring a classic painting and more about showcasing one’s spending power. What do you think? Take a look at some of the most expensive paintings that were featured on the show.
1. “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust”
Artist: Pablo Picasso
Price: The 1932 painting fetched $106.5m (£65.5m) in New York last year.
It is rumored that a German oligarch purchased the famous painting. What we do know is that the buyer has lent this Picasso work to the Tate Modern gallery for the next two years. It is part of the same series as “Le Reve”, another Picasso work to make it into the BBC One show about 10 of the most expensive paintings ever sold.
2. “Le Reve”
Artist: Pablo Picasso
Price: Currently estimated at $85 million.
This 1932 painting was a portrait of Marie-Therese Walter, Picasso’s mistress. The painting had been purchased by costume jeweler Victor Ganz and his wife Sally for $7,000 in the early 1940s. After Victor and his wife Sally’s death, their New York dealer daughter Kate Ganz auctioned the portrait for $48.4 million in 1997. In 2006, “Le Reve” would make news once again when owner, Las Vegas casino tycoon Steve Wynn arranged to sell the artwork for $139 million. This would have been a record-making sale. Unfortunately, however, Wynn (who has degenerative eye disease) accidentally ripped through the canvas. The rip has since been stitched, but even in its damaged state, Le Reve is valued at about $85 million.
3. “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I”
Artist: Gustav Klimt
Price: This 1907 painting sold for $135 million in 2006.
The painting was purchased by Ronald S. Lauder, heir to cosmetics giant Estee Lauder, as part of a private sale. The Klimt painting currently holds pride of place in Lauder’s Neue Gallerie in New York. The subject of the canvas, Adele Bloch-Bauer, was married to a Jewish sugar merchant. She was a high society woman if ever there were one, and a fit subject for one of the most expensive paintings in the world.
4. “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II”
Artist: Gustav Klimt
Price: The painting fetched $87.9 million at a Christie’s auction in New York in 2006.
This 1912 painting by Gustave Klimt went under the hammer in 2006. It did not fetch as much as Klimt’s earlier portrait of the Jewish sugar merchant’s wife. However, the price of $87.9 million ensured that only the ultra-rich could have bought this artwork.
5. “Massacre of the Innocents”
Artist: Peter Paul Rubens
Price: Purchased for $76.5 million at an auction in 2002.
This painting that dates back to approximately 1610, went up for auction in 2002. Canadian billionaire David Thomson and his father Ken picked up this Old Master for $76.5 million while bidding over the telephone. In fact, this painting by Rubens is the only Old Master to make it to BBC One’s list of 10 of the costliest paintings ever. Most of the other Old Masters have been picked up by leading museums ages ago. Since then, these fine paintings have not reached the art markets.
6. “Portrait of Dr Gachet”
Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
Price: Sold for $82.5 million at a 1990 auction.
Conducting the auction was veteran auctioneer Christopher Burge, who has the unique distinction of having auctioned four of the featured ten costliest paintings in the world. Moreover, the 1890 “Portrait of Dr Gachet” managed to make a world record at the time. The painting was sold for $82.5 million within three minutes of the commencement of bidding. Burge remembers being put off by the sustained clapping at the end of the bidding war. He felt that the applause was not for Van Gogh or the artwork, but for the money. Apparently, Japanese paper mogul Royei Saito who bought the painting refused to even let his family look at it. When financial ruin was imminent, Saito went so far as to threaten to burn the painting. The painting has not been seen since.
7. “Water-Lily Pond”
Artist: Claude Monet
Price: The painting sold for $80.4 million at a Christie’s auction in London in 2008.
The art advisor for the current owners of this beautiful Monet painting spoke about how her clients love to be surrounded by the very best, from their home to their car and their planes. Serious art enthusiasts might cringe at the idea of likening fine art to luxury products. But for the highly moneyed classes, art often becomes a trophy symbolizing their spending ability.
8. “White Center”
Artist: Mark Rothko
Price: The 1950 painting sold for $72.8 million in 2007.
This painting had not been on the market for a really long time. This may have pushed up the price considerably. Before 2007, the painting was last sold in 1960. David Rockefeller, the heir to the Rockefeller family fortune, purchased the painting in 1960 for $10,000. For the next 50 odd years, the painting held pride of place in his 56th-floor office at the Rockefeller Center. Often informally referred to as the “Rockefeller Rothko”, the painting is believed to have been purchased by the oil-rich Qatari royal family in 2007.