Controversial Paintings That Sold Far Beyond Expectations
Art history is steeped in several controversial artists and paintings. Many artists have pushed the boundaries of tradition and broken the rules with radical painting techniques and outrageous content. Auction houses and private auctions have for many years been the epicenter of breathtaking displays of wealth, influence and mystery in the art world, offering wealthy art lovers the opportunity to invest in rare works of art.
These rare works of art also include controversial paintings that provoke audiences, some more than others. Some artistic pieces are surrounded by questionable auction prices or controversial topics, subjecting them to bans, damages or public contempt. Luckily, most of these controversial paintings are now considered some of the greatest works of art in history, which sold for unexpected prices.
Salvator Mundi – $450 million
Salvator Mundi, Leonardo da Vinci’s forgotten masterpiece, sold at Christie’s for a staggering $450 million, making it the most expensive painting in the world. Surprisingly, the painting has long been mistaken for a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s original, with an unknown history and hidden by several layers of paint. The painting is shrouded in speculation about its originality as it has undergone extensive conservation and cleaning efforts. Moreover, many in the art world believe that it was partly painted by the Italian master’s assistants.
The Women of Algiers (Version O) – $179.4 million
At Christie’s auction in 2015, The Women of Algiers (Version O) by Pablo Picasso sold for $179.4 million to a former Qatari prime minister. The painting, Version O, is the last in the series that Picasso created in homage to Eugène Delacroix, whose painting “The Women of Algiers in Their Apartment” inspired the Spanish master. The price of the painting at auction was considered quite outrageous, as its pre-auction speculation predicted a price of around $140 million. Although the most impressive of the series, this work is considered a derivative of Matisse and Delacroix.
Reclining Nude – $170.4 million
Amedeo Modigliani’s painting Nude Reclining sparked protests when it was first unveiled at the Galerie Berthe Weill in Paris in 1917. According to reports, the solo exhibition had to be closed within hours because the works of art were considered obscene by the French police. However, the same artwork was sold for $170.4 million to Chinese private collector Liu Yiqian. The painting depicts a nude woman and is part of a famous series of nudes painted in 1917 by Modigliani. Once controversial, this work now reinvigorates the nude as a subject of modernist art.
The Golden Woman – $135 million
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I or as she is commonly known The Woman in Gold is a famous painting by Gustav Klimt, which was sold for $135 million to cosmetics magnate Ronald Lauder. The famous artwork has been surrounded by a long legal battle between the Austrian government and Adele’s niece, Maria Altmann. Altmann argued that the painting was stolen by the Nazis in 1941 and should return to his family as they were originally commissioned by Adele’s husband. Maria Altmann won the case and sold the painting to Lauder.
Portrait of Doctor Gachet – $82.5 million
One of Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh’s most acclaimed paintings, Portrait of Doctor Gachet was sold for $82.5 million in 1990 to a Japanese businessman. The painting depicts the doctor who treated the artist in his later years and formed a deep friendship. The exorbitant price of a painting was quite unprecedented at the time, leaving the world in shock and awe. Unfortunately, the buyer wanted the piece to be cremated with him when he died. Whether or not he kept that promise is unclear, but the painting has not been seen since.