Back in May, Christie’s auctioned off the most expensive painting ever claimed at such an auction: Picasso’s 1955 painting Les Femmes d’Alger was sold to a buyer for an overwhelming $179 million. The auction garnered an astonishing $700 million overall. The bidding for the painting went on for 11 minutes between five, and then two, representing clients over the phone. Dora Maar’s 1938 painting Buste de Femme went for $67 million.
Picasso’s high-priced painting joins a host of other pieces of art that have gone for buckets of money. In 2010, another of his pieces, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, sold at Christie’s for $106.5 million dollars. The piece was previously owned by a California-based philanthropist. Art, especially art by well-known artists, can go for incredible amounts of money. Though Les Femmes d’Alger currently holds the record for the most expensive painting ever sold at auction, it is not the most expensive painting ever: Paul Gauguin’s 1982 painting When Will You Marry was sold to Qatar for $300 million in February of this year. In 2011, Qatar also bought Paul Cézanne’s The Card Players for $274 million.
So what makes art so expensive? Well, several reasons, The Huffington Post suggests. Demand, of course, drives the price of art way up, but the primary factor in art’s price is rarity. Because many of artists still so popular today have already died, there won’t be any more of their original artwork, making each piece all the more special. There are other factors to consider, too, like the writing done about the art to promote visibility, the cost of getting the art into galleries (and high-end galleries can charge a lot for this), and getting the art placed into the right collection. Additionally, art is generally priced in its relationships to other pieces of its kind.
Art is a great thing to have, preserve, and promote. The $179 million price tag for Les Femmes d’Alger seems incredible, and it is, but when Picasso’s undiminished popularity is considered as well as the increasing rarity of his works, the numbers start to make sense.