Every day the auction houses, Christie’s and Sotheby’s in the lead, announce millionaire sales of masterpieces of ancient and contemporary art. And even between private individuals, masterpieces with stellar figures are exchanged. But in what hands do these works end up? It’s not easy to know because every negotiation (at this level) is covered by the most absolute privacy. But when the paintings are really museum pieces then it is easier for buyers to come out into the open.
The most expensive painting whose name and surname of whoever bought it is known is the abstract oil by Jackson Pollock (2.4×1.2m) created in 1948. It was sold in 2006 by David Geffen to David Martinez for $148.1 million. It is an extraordinarily innovative work of its kind, created with synthetic colors and resins poured onto the support used as a canvas. Grey, brown, white and yellow create a sort of net that resembles a nest.
Next we find “Woman III” by Willem de Kooning (172.7×123.2 cm) sold in 2006 by David Geffen to American investor Steve Cohen for $145.4 million. It is part of a series of 6 paintings, executed between 1951 and 1953. One of the paintings by the Dutch-American expressionist who created the fascinating series that has women as the central theme.
In third place in this ranking of treasures we find Gustav Klimt with his famous «Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer» (oil on canvas, 1907) sold in 2006 by Maria Altmann to Ronald Lauder & Neue Galerie for $142.8 million. The first of two homonymous paintings (as we have also seen in this ranking) it is considered the last and most representative of the author’s Golden Period. After being stolen by the Nazis along with all the Bloch-Bauer family’s possessions, the work was claimed decades later by Adele’s niece, who had escaped persecution of the Jews, who finally managed to regain possession of the painting only following a procedure legal. The painting portrays Adele Bloch-Bauer, daughter of the entrepreneur Maurice Bauer, who later got married to the son of Baron Bloch, a great sugar industrialist thanks to whom she consecrated her social affirmation. Adele is set against a vibrant backdrop of light creating a two-dimensional style.
Fourth place: Van Gogh with his «Portrait of Doctor Gachet» (1890, 68×57 cm) sold in 1990 by the Kramarsky family to Ryoei Saito (billionaire, owner of one of the largest Japanese paper companies) for 134.6 million dollars. Doctor Gachet is seated at a table. His bust is turned to the left while his face is oriented in the opposite direction. Her right cheek rests on the clenched fist of his hand. In fact, manifesting a lot of tiredness, the doctor leans on his right arm observing with an absent expression beyond the edge of the painting.
And we are at Renoir. Which conquers the fifth place of most expensive work ever sold with his “Ballo al Moulin de la Galette” (1876, 131×175 cm) sold by Betsey Whitney to Ryoei Saito in 1990. In this masterpiece, the master captures a moment in Parisian life in an atmosphere of happy abandon, portraying the light-heartedness and taste of the Belle Époque.
There is Picasso in sixth place. With his “Boy with a Pipe” (1905, 1m×81cm). Here, neither the name of the seller nor that of the buyer is known. It is only known that it was sold in 1905 for $117.6 million. Sometimes – indeed often – buyers want to remain anonymous.
Seventh place, one more Van Gogh with his masterpiece «Iris» (1889. 71×93 centimetres) purchased by the Australian manager Alan Bond in 1987 for 101.2 million dollars. Vincent made it while he was hospitalized at the San Paul-de-Mausole hospital in Saint-Rémy, a year before his death. Van Gogh did not consider it a finished painting but a study of nature. Here the artist used characteristics typical of the Japanese ukiyo-e artistic style (sharp colors, marked outlines, low perspective and very close view).
Again a Picasso in eighth place of the most expensive paintings sold in the world. It’s about «Dora Maar with cat» sold by the Gidwitz family in 2006 to an anonymous buyer for the public for $100.7 million. In this work Picasso portrays his young mistress with a black cat on her shoulder.
And we are in ninth place, still held by Van Gogh with his «Portrait of Joseph Roulin» (1889, 81.3×65.4 cm) sold to the Museum of Modern Art in New York (USA) by a private collector in 1989 for 99.7 million dollars. The man portrayed in uniform is Joseph Roulin, postman of Arles and good friend of Van Gogh. He will be portrayed a total of six times, alone or in the company of family members, with whom Van Gogh was on excellent terms. Roulin’s wife Augustine will be portrayed in the canvas La Berceuse. Roulin wears the typical postman uniform. His face, serene and ruddy, is framed by a thick beard. In a letter to his brother Theo, Vincent compared the postman to Socrates.
In tenth place we find Klimt with the «Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer II» (1912, 190×120 cm) sold for 93 million dollars by Maria Altmann in 2006 to an anonymous buyer. This is the second version of a famous work by the same author and from his Golden Period, in which he transfigured the image of the model into an unattainable and timeless pagan idol. In this painting, however, the subject returns to being an elegant woman of her era, dressed in fashion. The ornamental component is still accentuated and the flat background recalls a series of superimposed wall hangings or tapestries.