What makes a painting worth $100 million or more? It only takes one thing — a buyer who likes it enough to pay that high of a price. The fame of the artist and an alluring backstory play a role, as does an appraisal from experts in the field, but in the end it boils down to whether a willing buyer exists.
According to the BBC, there are six members of the $100 million club, defined as artists that have at least one painting or sculpture that has sold for at least $100 million at auction. There are at least three other artists that belong in the club for reported private sales outside of auctions. For your consideration, we present the $100 million club and their valuable works.
Pablo Picasso – The prolific Picasso claims three paintings in the $100 million club: Garçon à la pipe from 1905 which sold for $104.1 million; Nude, Green Leaves and Bust from 1932 which sold for $106.5 million; and the most expensive painting ever sold at auction, Les femmes d'Alger from 1955 at $179.4 million.
Amedeo Modigliani – The Italian artist Modigliani is the latest to join the $100 million club with a November, 2015, auction at Christie's. His 1917-18 work Nu couche (Reclining Nude) brought in $170.4 million, putting it in second place behind Picasso.
Francis Bacon – Three Studies of Lucien Freud earned Bacon a spot in the $100 million club when it sold for $142.4 million at a Christie's auction in 2013.
Alberto Giacometti – The Swiss-born artist Giacometti was a world-renowned sculptor. Like Picasso, Giacometti has three works of art that broke the $100 million barrier: L'homme qui marche (Walking Man) from 1960, L'homme au doigt (Pointing Man) from 1947, and Chariot from 1950. They sold for $103.9 million, $141.3 million, and $101 million respectively.
Edvard Munch – There are few more famous (and more parodied) paintings than Munch's The Scream. The 1895 painting changed hands at a 2012 Sotheby's auction for just under $120 million.
Andy Warhol – The king of 1960's pop art registers one painting in the $100 million club, 1963's Silver Car Crash. His contemporary Roy Lichtenstein came close to joining the club with his painting Nurse that fetched $95.4 million in a recent auction.
Paul Gauguin – The French Post-Impressionist Gauguin is believed to hold the top dollar value with his 1892 work Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?). This painting of two Tahitian ladies sold for $300 million according to the New York Times. As with the Cézanne, it is believed to be somewhere in Qatar.
Paul Cézanne – Cézanne's piece The Card Players accurately describes the painting, showing three seated gentlemen playing cards along with several onlookers. A member of the royal family of Qatar reportedly purchased The Card Players for $250 million.
Mark Rothko – Rothko's 1951 work Violet, Green, and Red is self-explanatory — it is an abstract painting with the aforementioned three colors in three different thicknesses of horizontal stripes. A Russian billionaire chose to pay $186 million for this piece in a private sale.
Aside from the artists being white and male, and relatively modern by art standards, there is not a great deal in common between those works.
Could you become an artist and join the $100 million club as well? It does not seem likely, but if you are artistically inclined, why not give it a shot? However, remember that the referenced $100 million never goes to the artist. They have all passed on. You will just have to settle for posthumous fame.
Photos by youtube.com/user/DarnaTelevision, youtube.com/user/FactsTV, youtube.com/user/phaen42, youtube.com/user/SothebysTV, Edvard Munch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, youtube.com/user/christiesauctions, Amedeo Modigliani [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, youtube.com/user/MOCATV, Paul Cézanne [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, Paul Gauguin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons