History's Most Expensive Paintings

picture of a Centennial College Alumni painting famous artists on canvases

What makes a painting instantly memorable? If you ask 10 people, you will get 10 different answers. For some, it is the exploration of paint and materials used by artists of the modernism era (1890 to 1940) to the express feelings and ideas that classify this time period. For others, it is the work of artists such as Claude Monet, who was one of the great impressionists. Impressionists were artists whose work consisted of relatively small, thin, yet visible brush strokes, open composition, emphasis on accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities, ordinary subject matter, inclusion of movement as crucial to human perception and experience, and unusual visual angles. And others yet will travel even further back in time to the Italian Renaissance era in which the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo ruled supreme with their accurate representation of figures rendered with credible motion and in an appropriately decorous style.

For art collectors, no expense is spared when it comes to owning the artworks of the greats across the various eras and styles of art. But just what are the most expensive paintings in history? You may be surprised to find out that it isn't the works of Picasso, van Gogh or even Rembrandt.

1. "Nafea Faa Ipoipo" ("When Will You Marry?") by Paul Gauguin

Sold for: $300 million

Completed in 1892, and considered the most admired and coveted work of art from the post-impressionist period, the painting is of two Tahitian girls. The French artist Paul Gauguin depicts the two traditionally dressed young women sitting outside. One has a white tiare flower behind her left ear, which indicates she is seeking a husband. She is hunched over, apprehensively. Behind her, a second figure sits erectly, head held high. Gauguin commonly inscribed his paintings in Tahitian and was said to be fascinated by the language. Inscribed at the bottom of this particular painting are the words "nafea faa ipoipo" ("when will you marry?").

2. "Interchange" by Willem de Kooning

Sold for: $300 million

"Interchange" and "When Will You Marry?" actually tie for most expensive painting ever sold. de Kooning was an abstract expressionist painter who was born in the Netherlands and moved to the United States when he was 23. "Interchange," which he completed in 1955, marked a period in the artist's career when he was becoming more financially stable and taming his notoriously wild lifestyle. It is the first painting of an 11-year period during which de Kooning painted abstract landscapes. It features intuitive, quickly made marks in white, black, yellow, red, blue, orange and more.

3. "The Card Players" by Paul Cézanne

Price: $274 million

Featuring two stony-faced card players, models (the gardener and a farmhand) who Cézanne chose from his family's estate outside Aix-en-Provence in France, this oil painting is part of a series of five works. The post- impressionist painter, who Picasso called "the father of us all," depicted the men looking down at their cards in quiet concentration. Some experts note the lack of alcohol or money (implying gambling) in the painting.

If the arts fascinates you, you may want to consider a career in arts management. Centennial College's Arts Management program examines the knowledge and skills needed to work in the performing arts sector (theatres, dance companies, music organizations and presenting facilities), the exhibiting arts sector (galleries, museums), and many other cultural and arts-related areas such as arts and film festivals.

By Izabela Szydlo

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