Where Leonardo Meets Picasso The World’s Most Expensive Art by Ian Swankie – Thursday 6th April 2023

Picasso ‘Nude Green Leaves and Bust’

Ian Swankie is an art scholar and guide for the Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Guildhall Art Galleries and is also an official London Tourist guide who is passionate about his subject. In this interesting lecture, he looked at art by famous past artists which are not in National Museums and Art Galleries, (since those are very difficult to evaluate), which have fetched over US$100 Million on the open market.

Starting with Pablo Picasso’s “Nude Green Leaves” (1932) which sold at auction in 2010 for $106 million but would now sell for $132M. He told us how Picasso at the age of 45 met his future 17 year old mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter in a Paris street and told her that he wanted to paint her. She became his “muse” for a number of his paintings.

Ian went on to describe how other artists’ works have come up for auction and sold time and again for greater and greater sums, artists like  Rembrandt (The Standard Bearer, sold for $195M), Edvard Munch (The Scream, sold for $120M) and  Modigliani (Reclining Nude with Blue Cushion, sold for $118M). Ian pointed out that Paul Cézanne’s “Mont Sainte Victoire” (1880-90), a charming 25”x32” picture which sold for $138M in November 2022, works out at around $180,000 per square inch of painting or roughly $10,000 per brush stroke!

The artists fetching the highest prices today are Jackson Pollock, Paul Gaugin, Paul Cézanne, William de Kooning and Leonardo da Vinci, whose “Salvatore Mundi” fetched $450M at auction in 2017 and was bought by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the Louvre in Abu Dhabi. But since its sale, its authenticity has been heavily disputed by the experts, so much so that a documentary film has been made about it called “The Lost Leonardo” and since the auction its whereabouts are now unknown.

Ian Swankie showed that the unregulated art market is a bit of a gamble. Paintings are bought and sold for all sorts of reasons, mostly investment, and that many popular famous artists’ works are in private collections.


Liz Beecheno