Controversial paintings that sold for way beyond expectations

The history of art is permeated with several controversial artists and paintings. Many artists have pushed the boundaries of tradition and tossed the rules with radical painting techniques and scandalous content. Auction houses and private auctions have been the epicenter of breathtaking displays of wealth, influence and mystery of the art world for many years now, posing opportunities for wealthy art enthusiasts to invest in rare works of art.  

These rare works of art also include controversial paintings that provoke the audience, some more than others. There are some artistic pieces surrounded by debatable auction prices or contentious subject matter, subjecting them to bans, damage or public scorn. As luck would have it, most of these controversial paintings are today regarded as some of the greatest artworks in history, which were sold for unexpected prices.

Salvator Mundi – $450 million

Salvator Mundi, the long-forgotten masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci, was sold at Christie’s for the astonishing amount of $450 million, making it the world’s most expensive painting. Surprisingly, the painting was long mistaken for a copy of da Vinci’s original, with an unknown history and hidden by several overcoats of paint. The painting is surrounded by speculations about its originality as it underwent a lot of conservation and cleaning efforts. Moreover, many in the art world believe that it was partly painted by the Italian master’s assistants.

Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O) – $179.4 million

At Christie’s 2015 auction, Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O) was sold for $179.4 million to a Qatari former prime minister. The painting, Version O, is the last one in the series that Picasso created as a homage to Eugène Delacroix, whose painting “The Women of Algiers in their Apartment” served as an inspiration to the Spanish master artist. The auction price of the painting was thought to be quite scandalous as its pre-auction speculations predicted the price around $140 million. Although the most impressive in the series, this work is thought of as a derivative of Matisse and Delacroix.

Nu couché – $170.4 million

Amedeo Modigliani’s painting Nu couché sparked protests when it was first unveiled at the Galerie Berthe Weill in Paris in 1917. Reportedly, the solo exhibition had to be closed within hours as the artworks were deemed obscene by French police. However, the same artwork was sold for $170.4 million to private Chinese collector Liu Yiqian. The painting features a naked woman and is one 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 Woman in Gold – $135 million

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I or as it is commonly known The Woman in Gold is a famous painting was Gustav Klimt, which was sold for $135 million to cosmetics tycoon Ronald Lauder. The famous artwork has been surrounded by a lengthy legal battle between the Austrian government and Adele’s niece, Maria Altmann. Altmann argued that the painting was stolen by Nazis in 1941 and should return to her 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 the most applauded paintings by the Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh, Portrait of Doctor Gachet was sold for $82.5 million in 1990 to a Japanese businessman. The painting depicts the doctor who cared for the artist in his final years and struck a profound friendship. The whopping price for a painting was quite unprecedented at the time, leaving the world in awe and shock. Unfortunately, the buyer wanted to have the piece cremated with him upon his death. It is unknown whether he followed through with this promise or not, but the painting has not been seen since.