When a painting by British artist Francis Bacon sold for $ 142.4 million at Christie’s in New York this week, the media coverage blared it was the most expensive artwork ever sold at public auction.
Which immediately led some to ask: What are the top five? Answer: It’s complicated.
But one thing is clear: Auction sales of valuable art don’t always produce higher prices than private sales.
According to Wikipedia‘s list of the most expensive paintings ever sold, the all-time record is $ 259 million for The Card Players by French Post-Impressionist Paul Cezanne, which was sold to the royal family of Qatar in a private sale in April 2011.
And at least one other painting, Le Rêve by Picasso, sold for more than the Bacon — $ 155 million — when Vegas casino honcho Steve Wynn sold it in March to hedge-fund honcho Steven Cohen in a private sale.
(This was the painting Wynn accidentally damaged when showing it to friends. Also, Cohen is now selling a lot of his art, after his fund, SAC Capital Advisors, reached a deal with the government to plead guilty to securities fraud.)
The complicated part about auction sales is that there can be a significant gap between the original price paid and the later adjusted price for inflation.
For instance, The Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Vincent van Gogh sold for $ 82.5 million in 1990 at Christie’s to a Japanese buyer, but its current adjusted price is $ 149.5 million.
Here are the top five paintings sold at auction based on their original sales prices:
1. Three Studies of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon, a triptych of his friend, the late Freud, another leading British artist: Sold Nov. 12 at Christie’s for $ 142.4 million to a New York art gallery on behalf of an as-yet-unknown buyer.
2. The Scream by Edvard Munch, the Norwegian artist’s iconic work. Sold for $ 119.9 million at Sotheby’s in May 2012 to New York financier Leon Black.
3. Nude, Green Leaves and Bust by Pablo Picasso. Sold at Christie’s in May 2010 to a still-unknown buyer.for $ 106. 5 million.
4.Garcon à la pipe by Picasso: Sold at Sotheby’s in May 2004 for $ 104.2 million to a buyer believed to be Barilla Group, a European food company.
5. Adele Bloch-Bauer II by Gustav Klimt. Sold at Christie’s for $ 87.9 million in November 2006 to an unknown buyer. (The painting is one of several stolen by the Nazis and held by Austria, until forced to return them to Maria Altman, a descendant of Adele Bloch-Bauer, in 2006. She then sold them.)