Most Expensive Things Ever Sold at Auction


Imagine having enough money to buy the most prized artwork in the world. While this dream may never become reality, there have been eye-watering sales of prize possessions. We take a look at the 18 most expensive items ever sold at auction and the reasons they commanded such an astronomical price:

Salvator Mundi by Leonardo Da Vinci ($450.3 Million, Christie’s New York, 2017)

The controversy surrounding this painting’s authenticity raged even as it broke auction records in 2017. Several art historians support the attribution, citing stylistic elements and technical expertise consistent with da Vinci’s work. Extensive restoration revealed details and characteristics hidden under layers of grime, strengthening the case for da Vinci. This uncertainty, however, did not deter a Saudi prince from acquiring it as a potential centerpiece for a planned cultural hub.

Portrait of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol ($195 Million, Christie’s New York, 2022)

This vibrant silkscreen of the Hollywood icon, titled “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn,” became the most expensive 20th-century artwork ever sold at auction. Its pop art brilliance and portrayal of the iconic actress resonated with a contemporary collector, sparking debates about pop culture’s value and enduring allure.

101-Carat Graff Vivid Pink Diamond ($57.4 Million, Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 2017)

This impressive jewel, boasting a vivid pink color and exceptional clarity, became the most expensive diamond ever auctioned. Its rarity, flawless cut, and enticing color fueled a bidding war between two Asian collectors, ultimately landing in the hands of Hong Kong businesswoman Doris Yeh.

Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication Pocket Watch ($24 Million, Sotheby’s Geneva, 2014)

This intricate timepiece boasts 24 complications, including a perpetual calendar, moon phase indicator, and Westminster chime. Its intricate mechanisms, historical provenance (commissioned by banker Henry Graves Jr.), and sheer rarity made it a coveted prize for watch collectors, ultimately acquired by the Qatar Museums.

The Rockefeller Sapphire ($51.6 Million, Christie’s New York, 2016)

The 167-carat cushion-cut sapphire, once part of the Rockefeller family collection, was the most expensive sapphire ever sold at auction. Its mesmerizing blue hue, historical significance, and flawless form attracted bids worldwide, ultimately being purchased by an anonymous Asian collector.

Rabbit by Jeff Koons ($91.1 Million, Christie’s New York, 2019)

Rabbit is a stainless steel sculpture of a balloon rabbit that defied expectations by becoming the most expensive work by a living artist ever sold at auction. Its playful yet monumental form and Koons’s artistic legacy sparked interest among seasoned collectors, with US hedge fund manager Steve Cohen emerging as the victor.

Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) by Pablo Picasso ($179.4 Million, Christie’s New York, 2015)

Viewed as a Cubist masterpiece, Les Femmes d’Alger depicts five Algerian women lounging in an ornate interior. Its complex layering of styles, historical significance, and provenance from the renowned Nahmad collection led to a fierce bidding war, ultimately landing in the hands of an anonymous Qatari buyer.

David Hockney’s 90 Portraits and 1 Still-Life ($90 Million, Christie’s London, 2017)

This monumental 7-meter-long oil painting depicts friends, family, and acquaintances of the renowned artist. Its intimate portrayal of diverse individuals and Hockney’s artistic stature fueled passionate bidding, culminating in its acquisition by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Paul Cézanne’s L’Estaque Landscape ($78.4 Million, Christie’s New York, 2015)

The colorful Post-Impressionist landscape showcases Cézanne’s innovative brushwork and pioneering approach to space and light. Its artistic importance and provenance from the Rockefeller family collection attracted high bids, ultimately landing in the hands of Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian.

Alberto Giacometti’s Chariot ($104.3 Million, Christie’s London, 2014)

This bronze sculpture, depicting a slender figure pulling a chariot, embodies Giacometti’s signature elongated forms and existential themes. Its artistic significance, rarity, and provenance from the collection of prominent French art dealer Aimé Maeght ignited a bidding war, culminating in its acquisition by an anonymous buyer.

Claude Monet’s Haystacks (End of Summer) ($81.3 Million, Christie’s New York, 2019)

One of Monet’s iconic Impressionist haystacks, capturing the play of light and color on a rural scene, attracted bids worldwide. Its artistic legacy and provenance from the Rockefeller family collection solidified its value, landing it in the hands of an anonymous buyer.

The Pink Star Diamond ($71.2 Million, Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 2017)

This 59.6-carat vivid pink diamond boasts exceptional size, clarity, and color depth, earning the title of the most expensive vivid pink diamond ever sold at auction. Its allure resonated with Hong Kong jewelry collector Chow Tai Fook, who renamed it “The Star of Josephine.”

Edvard Munch’s The Scream ($120 Million, Sotheby’s New York, 2012)

This iconic expressionist masterpiece, depicting a figure contorted in anguish, became the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction (at the time). Its artistic power, cultural significance, and provenance from Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen fueled a heated bidding war, ultimately landing in the hands of Qatari investor Leon Black.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Codex Leicester ($9 Million, Christie’s New York, 1994)

This scientific manuscript, filled with da Vinci’s notes and inventions, offers a glimpse into the mind of a genius. Its historical significance and rarity propelled its astronomical price, with Bill Gates emerging as the winning bidder.

Giacometti’s Pointing Man ($141.3 Million, Christie’s New York)

Created in 1947, Pointing Man is a bronze sculpture depicting a characteristically thin and elongated figure, as seen in many of Giacometti’s works. However, this figure uniquely raises its arm in a pointing gesture, adding a dynamic element and inviting various interpretations. This record-breaking auction solidified Giacometti’s position as one of the most valuable and sought-after sculptors of the 20th century.

The 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta ($48.4 Million, RM Sotheby’s, 2018)

This legendary race car, known for its beauty and performance, remains the most expensive car ever auctioned. Its rarity, racing pedigree, and pristine condition fueled intense bidding, ultimately landing it in the hands of David MacNeil, founder of WeatherTech.

McClaren P1 GTR LM ’20’ ($13.75 Million, RM Sotheby’s Monterey, 2023)

The McClaren P1 GTR, limited to five units, boasts superior aerodynamic performance and a connection to the iconic Le Mans victory. Its rarity, cutting-edge technology, and motorsport heritage attracted bids from passionate collectors, with an anonymous buyer placing the winning bid.

The 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé ($135 Million, Mercedes-Benz Museum Auction, 2023)

This legendary Le Mans race car, nicknamed the “Silver Arrow,” is considered one of the most desirable automobiles ever built. Its remarkable performance, historical significance, and pristine condition attracted a private buyer at a secret auction, setting a new record for the most expensive car ever sold.

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