10 Most Expensive Abstract Art Pieces In The World

October 18, 2023

Did you know the second most expensive painting in the world (Interchange by Willem de Kooning) is an abstract artwork?

Abstraction in art uses various shapes, forms, and colors to encourage the viewer’s involvement and imagination. You can get an impression of the artist’s vision and emotions, which you can interpret the way you want. 

That’s one of the reasons why some abstract art pieces sell for hundreds of millions of dollars at private sales and auction houses.

Let’s take a closer look at the 10 most expensive abstract art pieces ever sold and a few other expensive artworks by master artists. 

We’ll also show you an easy way to invest in shares of abstract and contemporary art.

10 Most Expensive Abstract Art Pieces Ever Sold

Here are the 10 highest-grossing abstract artworks in the world:

  • Interchange – Willem de Kooning
  • Number 17A – Jackson Pollock
  • No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) – Mark Rothko
  • No. 5 – Jackson Pollock
  • Woman III – Willem de Kooning
  • Anna’s Light – Barnett Newman
  • Orange, Red, Yellow – Mark Rothko
  • Black Fire I – Barnett Newman
  • No. 10 – Mark Rothko
  • False Start – Jasper Johns

1. Interchange – Willem de Kooning

Price and Year of Sale: Around $300 million, 2015

Seller: David Geffen Foundation

Buyer: Kenneth C. Griffin

Interchange isn’t just the highest-grossing abstract art piece — it’s also the most expensive piece of Contemporary Art ever sold.

Willem de Kooning, an icon of art history, changed his style of painting after this artwork. He went from painting human figures to more Abstract Expressionist landscapes.  

The focus of this 1955 abstract artwork is a large pink shape that portrays a reclining female figure. The abstraction also includes blue, yellow, and orange colors that highlight the woman’s outline.

In 2015, Geffen sold this piece to hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin for a total of $500 million along with another artwork, Number 17A by Jackson Pollock.

Before this sale, the painting exchanged hands several times. The most notable deal was at a Sotheby’s auction in 1989, when the artwork sold for $20.6 million.

2. Number 17A – Jackson Pollock

Price and Year of Sale: Around $200 million, 2015

Seller: David Geffen Foundation

Buyer: Kenneth C Griffin

Number 17A, created by the Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock in 1948, is considered the most expensive drip painting in the world. 

The painting was featured in a 1949 edition of Life Magazine. Another version of Number 17, painted in 1949, was acquired by Sotheby’s auction house in 2003 before being sold to a private buyer. 

How is a drip painting made? 

To create a drip painting, an artist usually splashes paint on a horizontal surface. While the strokes of most drip paintings appear randomly distributed, a good-quality drip painting usually stands out with subtle, precise brush strokes.

3. No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) – Mark Rothko

Price and Year of Sale: $186 million, 2014

Seller: Cherise Moueix

Buyer: Dmitry Rybolovlev

No. 6 is an expensive abstract painting that remains true to the style of Mark Rothko. The modern art icon is well-known for expressing various emotions through color. 

When Rothko painted this artwork in 1951, he used dark hues to reference an unsettling period of his life.

Do you know the controversy surrounding this abstract artwork?

The last buyer of this expensive abstract art, Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, sued art dealer Yves Bouvier who overcharged him for the No. 6 painting. Complaints by Dmitry Rybolovlev and other clients against Yves Bouvier have resulted in a legal battle known as the Bouvier Affair.

4. No. 5 – Jackson Pollock

Price and Year of Sale: $140 million, 2006

Seller: David Geffen

Buyer: David Martinez

Have you ever wondered why Jackson Pollock paintings always have a number as the title?

His contemporary art pieces lack a descriptive title so that they could stand independently as art. It gives viewers more space for interpretation and creativity. 

Jackson Pollock created this abstract artwork in 1948 alongside the more expensive abstract painting Number 17A

Although the abstraction wasn’t well received at the start, it became the most expensive artwork in the world in 2006 — cementing Pollock’s status as a pillar of western art history. 

David Martinez acquired the expensive painting at a private sale through the Sotheby’s auction house. 

5. Woman III – Willem de Kooning

Price and Year of Sale: $137.5 million, 2006 

Seller: David Geffen  

Buyer: Steven A. Cohen    

Willem de Kooning painted Woman III in 1953. This work of abstract expressionism belongs to a series of six paintings — all of them focused on women. The artist created all of these between 1951 and 1953. 

From the late 1970s to 1994, this abstract painting was housed at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art in Iran. However, after the 1979 revolution, the museum couldn’t display the painting. This was due to the strict rules imposed by the government, especially on western art themes such as women and sexuality. 

David Geffen bought the abstract painting in 1994 from the museum and sold it to Steven A. Cohen for $137.5 million in 2006.

6. Anna’s Light – Barnett Newman

Price and Year of Sale: $106 million, 2013 

Seller: DIC Corporation  

Buyer: Anonymous   

Anna’s Light is a canvas 9 feet tall and 20 feet wide. It’s considered the largest painting Barnett Newman produced in his career.  

This rectangular abstraction is a red canvas that invokes a feeling of calmness.

The DIC corporation of Japan sold the expensive abstract painting in October 2013 to an anonymous buyer for $105.7 million (excluding sales commissions and other costs).

7. Orange, Red, Yellow – Mark Rothko

Price and Year of Sale: $87 million, 2012

Seller: David Pincus’s estate

Buyer: Anonymous

Mark Rothko created this abstract art painting in 1961. 

The expensive painting features a red background with a yellow stripe on top and two orange rectangles right below it. 

It’s a part of the Color Field abstraction technique (that contains other color-focused pieces like White Center) portraying emotions as large, colorful rectangular figures.

From 1964 to 1967, this work of abstraction was displayed at several museums in London, Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania. In 1967, art collector David Pincus acquired this abstract painting. 

An anonymous buyer purchased the modern art piece from the David Pincus collection at a 2012 Christie’s auction in New York. 

8. Black Fire I – Barnett Newman

Price and Year of Sale: $84 million, 2014

Seller: Private Collection

Buyer: Anonymous

Black Fire I perfectly represents Newman’s uncompromising passion for aesthetic, reductive abstract art. 

Barnett Newman painted Black Fire I in 1961, when he was grieving the death of his younger brother. The stark color contrast in the abstract art painting portrays the tension between the light and the dark. 

Black Fire I is one of several paintings Newman created between 1958 and 1966. He painted all of them using black paint on exposed canvas.

An anonymous art collector acquired this abstraction at a 2014 Christie’s auction in New York.

9. No. 10 – Mark Rothko

Price and Year of Sale: $82 million, 2015

Seller: Anonymous  

Buyer: Anonymous     

When No. 10 by abstract expressionist Mark Rothko sold for $82 million in 2015, the work of abstraction set a record as one of the highest-grossing 20th century art pieces. 

The canvas depicts a large rectangle with a smooth blend of yellow and blue hues exuding warmth.

No. 10 by Mark Rothko was sold to a private art collector at a 2015 Christie’s auction in New York.

10. False Start – Jasper Johns

Price and Year of Sale: $80 million, 2006 

Seller: David Geffen  

Buyer: Kenneth C. Griffin    

Jasper Johns created this abstract painting in 1959. 

This artwork plays with perceptual cues. For example, Johns wrote the word “Orange” in white text against a red background. 

The painting is filled with these little markings, which make it an intriguing, puzzle-like creation. 

David Geffen sold the abstract art painting to Kenneth Griffin in 2006 through a private sale. 

Now let’s look at some other expensive artwork by famous artists.

15 Other Expensive Artworks Sold in Modern History

Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci, the most expensive painting in the world.
ArtworkArtist, YearMedium & SizeSelling Price Year of Sale 
Salvator MundiLeonardo da Vinci(c.1500)Oil on walnut panel, 45.4 × 65.6 cm$400 million2017
The Card PlayersPaul Cézanne(1893)Oil on canvas,47.5 × 57 cm$250 million2011
Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?)Paul Gauguin(1892)Oil painting,101 x 77 cm$210 million2014
Shot Sage Blue MarilynAndy Warhol(1964)Silkscreen,101.6 × 101.6 cm$195 million2022
Wasserschlangen IIGustav Klimt(1907)Oil painting,80 × 145 cm$184 million2013
Pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit Rembrandt (1634)Oil on canvas, 209.5 × 135.5 cm$180 million2016
Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O)Pablo Picasso (1955)Oil on canvas,114 × 146.4 cm$179 million2015
Three Studies of Lucian FreudFrancis Bacon(1969)Oil on canvas triptych,198 × 147.5 cm$142 million2013
The ScreamEdvard Munch (1893)Oil, tempera, pastel and crayon on cardboard,91 cm × 73.5 cm$119.9 million2012
Dora Maar au ChatPablo Picasso (1941)Oil on canvas128.3 × 95.3 cm$95 million2006
Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)David Hockney(1972)Acrylic on canvas,210 × 300 cm$90 million2018
Portrait of Dr GachetVincent Van Gogh (1890)Oil on canvas, 67 cm × 56 cm$82.5 million1990
Composition No III, with Red, Blue, Yellow and BlackPiet Mondrian(1929)Oil on canvas,50 × 50.2 cm$51 million2015
Painting with White LinesWassily Kandinsky (1913)Oil on canvas,120 × 110 cm$42 million2017
Abstraktes Bild (809-1)Gerhard Richter(1994)Oil painting, 225 cm x 200 cm$21 million2013

Now let’s look at why you should invest in abstract art.

Why Invest in Abstract and Contemporary Art Pieces

Iconic fine art pieces like the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci, Le Rêve by Pablo Picasso, and The Night Watch by Dutch master Rembrandt are household names. But, not everyone may be familiar with some of the brilliant creations of Impressionist and Abstract artists. 

High-quality, contemporary abstract art is sold for millions at auction events and is in high demand among art collectors and investors. 

For instance, Untitled (New York City) (1968) by Cy Twombly sold for $70.5 million, while Blue Star by Joan Miró sold for $36.6 million.

Abstract art pieces are mesmerizing because no two people interpret them the same way.

Blue-chip abstract art also helps you diversify your portfolio since it has a low correlation to stocks and bonds. Their prices have also still appreciated well in historical and recent periods of volatility. 

Art also offers potentially attractive price appreciation. Contemporary art prices have outpaced the S&P 500 by 131% over the previous 26 years. According to Masterworks’ internal research, contemporary art prices have also appreciated faster than real estate and gold. 

However, choosing investment-grade abstract art at an auction or online marketplace can be tricky if you don’t have the right connections or years of experience in the art world. 

But there’s another smarter way to invest in art – invest in shares of contemporary abstract art through Masterworks.

Invest in Shares of Contemporary Abstract Art through Masterworks

Masterworks is a first-of-its-kind platform that helps you invest in shares representing an investment in fine art. You can easily invest in shares of masterpieces by Mark Rothko, David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, and others.

Here’s how Masterworks operates:

  • The research team identifies artist markets that have been appreciating at auction, and identifies works that they believe are being offered at an ideal price for investment.
  • Artwork is purchased and securitized — then offered to investors. 
  • You can potentially trade your shares on Masterworks’ Secondary Art Market. 
  • If Masterworks sells the painting for profit, you’ll receive your returns on your investment. 

Ready to Invest in Expensive Contemporary Abstract Art?

The finest abstract art can hold great aesthetic and investment value. 

If you’re building an art collection, you may want to acquire fine abstract works from some of the best artists in the world. 

But buying expensive abstract art at private sales and auction houses can get cumbersome. 

Instead, invest in shares of works like these through Masterworks

The content is not intended to provide legal, tax, or investment advice. Past performance is not indicative of future performance. Investing involves risk. See important disclosures at masterworks.com/cd

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A published financial writer based in Brooklyn, dedicated to navigating the intricate world of markets and money. I aim to dissect the complexities of finance, offering readers a clearer lens into the economic tapestry we all navigate.