Who Is the Best Selling Artist of All Time?

Art Review
24 January, 2024
Who Is the Best Selling Artist of All Time?
If you are sincerely interested in art, you have probably ever asked about who the best-selling artist of all time is. Determining the top-selling artists in the art world's history provides a fascinating insight into the pieces and creators that have resonated most profoundly with collectors and audiences. The artists who have sold the most paintings, sculptures, photographs and other works have undeniably impacted art history and popular culture.

This article will explore the highest-selling artists of all time and their influence.

Top Selling Artists of All Time

Let’s start with the most exciting topic: best-selling artists. This provides a compelling view into the pieces and artists that have most profoundly impacted art history and the current market. While artistic movements and aesthetics evolve over the decades, certain iconic artists consistently resonate with collectors and institutions on an immense global scale.

The list of best-selling artists of all time represents a range of mediums and genres, from Renaissance masters to Contemporary darlings. Their auction prices and total dollar values provide tangible insight into how creators have shaped art history and consistently commanded top dollar for their works over time.

Evaluating the commercial reach of top artists grants a perspective into critical acclaim and the tastes of the elite collectors who invest heavily in top names. The overall best-selling artists based on auction sales and private dealings include:
  • Pablo Picasso$139 million: His artwork, Femme à la montre, painted in 1932, achieved a remarkable sale of over $139 million during a Sotheby's New York auction on Wednesday. This sale positions it as the most valuable piece of art auctioned globally throughout the year; 
    Pablo Picasso
    Femme à la montre
  • Andy Warhol$195 million: In May 2022, the record for the highest price paid for a Warhol painting was established when Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964) was sold for an astonishing US$195,040,000 at Christie's New York. This historic sale not only marked a new record for Warhol's artwork but also positioned it as the most expensive piece of 20th-century art ever sold; 
    Andy Warhol
    Shot Sage Blue Marilyn
  • Claude Monet$110 million: Since 1998, the highest auction price achieved for this artist is $110,747,000, secured by MEULES, sold at Sotheby's New York in 2019. He is considered to be the most famous artist of all time. And this is not an occasion; 
    Claude Monet
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat$110 million: Untitled is a painting crafted by the American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1982. This artwork, portraying a skull, is among history's most valuable paintings. In May 2017, it achieved a record-setting sale at Sotheby's, fetching $110.5 million. This marked the highest price ever paid at auction for artwork by an American artist in a public sale; 
    Jean-Michel Basquiat
  • Zao Wou-Ki$65 million: With a staggering price of HK$510 million / US$65 million, the sale of Juin-Octobre 1985 establishes it as the most valuable painting ever auctioned in Hong Kong. 
    Zao Wou-Ki
    Juin-Octobre 1985
These artists pioneered movements like Cubism, Pop Art, and Impressionism, creating instantly recognisable works that command top dollar decades later.

Who Is the Best Selling Artist of All Time

We found a lot of interesting facts about art auctions and extremely high art prices. But what about the peak? What about the best-selling artist of all time? We can divide our talk into several parts:
  • top-selling artist in general (biggest-selling artist of all time);
  • most successful contemporary artist;
  • best-selling male artist;
  • biggest-selling female artist.

Who Is the Best Selling Male Artist of All Time

Let’s go! We will start with male artists because, as we know, it was tough to achieve the star place in art for women for a long time.

The highest-grossing artist of all time is, of course, Pablo Picasso. He continues to leave an indelible mark on the art world. Impressively, 3,452 lots of Picasso's work have been sold, accumulating a remarkable $671 million. This significant figure underscores the enduring popularity and financial success of Picasso's artistic legacy in auctions. Picasso's distinct Cubist paintings like Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and pioneering sculptures like Head of a Woman revolutionised modern art. His oeuvre continues to be among the most sought-after on the auction block.
Pablo Picasso
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
Also, Andy Warhol is the top-grossing male artist, with over $3.2 million in sales. His pop art prints and paintings like Campbell's Soup Cans and Marilyn Diptych made him a household name. The contemporary appeal of his works continues to set sales records. 
Andy Warhol
Campbell's Soup Cans
But it is about modern art. Next, we must continue our list of best-selling artists for contemporary art. In the fiscal year 2022/2023, bidding exceeding $10 million was notably subdued, with only four contemporary artists achieving such bids.

This contrasts sharply with the previous year (2020/2021), where the $10 million benchmark was surpassed 26 times. During that period, artists like Banksy, Richard Prince, Peter Doig, Adrian Ghenie, and several Chinese contemporaries, including Liu Ye, Zhou Chunya, Zhang Xiaogang, Chen Danqing, Liu Xiaodong, Leng Jun, and Geng Jianyi, witnessed robust market activity.

However, the subdued trend in the ultra-high-end contemporary art market has impacted turnover figures for major Western and Chinese artists.
Best-Selling Art

Who Is the Best Selling Female Artist of All Time

 The top-selling female artist is Georgia O'Keefe, who has over $200 million in sales. O'Keefe's iconic paintings featuring enlarged flowers and southwestern landscapes put her at the forefront of American Modernism and remain extremely popular with major collectors. Since 1998, the highest auction price achieved for the works of this artist stands at 44,405,000 USD for JIMSON WEED/WHITE FLOWER NO. 1, sold at Sotheby's New York in 2014. So, we can conclude that she is the best-selling artist ever in female art. 
Georgia O'Keefe
By the way, let’s look at the best-selling art by women (except Georgia O'Keeffe):
  • Yayoi Kusama$10 million: This artist's artworks have been presented at auctions on various occasions, achieving realised prices that span from USD 1 to USD 10,496,000, contingent on the dimensions and medium of the piece. Notably, since 1998, the highest auction price for this artist is 10,496,000 USD for Untitled (Nets), sold at Phillips New York in 2022; 
    Yayoi Kusama
    Untitled (Nets)
  • Frida Kahlo$34 million: The 1949 self-portrait, named Diego Y Yo, achieved a record-breaking sale of $34.9 million at Sotheby's Modern Evening Sale in New York on Tuesday night, establishing it as the highest price ever paid for Latin American art; 
    Frida Kahlo
    Diego Y Yo
  • Joan Mitchell$29 million: The highest auction price for this artist since 1998 is $29,160,000, achieved for the artwork Untitled at Christie's New York in 2023; 
    La Grande Vallée VII
  • Louise Bourgeois$32 million: The highest auction price for this artist since 1998 is $32,804,500, achieved for the artwork Spider at Sotheby's New York in 2023. It makes her one of the best-selling female artists of all time; 
  • Cindy Sherman$6 million: Since 1998, the highest auction price for this artist is $6,773,000, attained for the artwork Untitled Film Stills at Christie's New York in 2014. 
    Untitled Film Stills

What Is the Highest Selling Art Piece

The painting sold for the highest price at auction is Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi, which went for an astonishing $450.3 million when it was auctioned at Christie's in New York in 2017. This rare painting of Christ as the world's saviour is one of less than 20 known paintings by Leonardo da Vinci and garnered immense interest from collectors and institutions when it went on the block. So, he is the world's best-selling artist, too.
da Vinci
Salvator Mundi
Salvator Mundi's sale broke previous records for paintings like Pablo Picasso's Les Femmes d'Alger, which sold for $179.4 million in 2015. The exorbitant final price for Salvator Mundi reflects the artistic significance of a newly attributed da Vinci and the extreme demand from elite collectors willing to pay astronomical sums for exceptionally rare masterworks, even with disputed attribution. The buyer was later revealed to be a Saudi prince who acquired it for display in the Louvre Abu Dhabi. This record-shattering sale underscores both the mystery and mastery surrounding Leonardo that still captivates the art world centuries later.  
Pablo Picasso
Les Femmes d'Alger
Well, finding the top best-selling artists of all time is a complex task, influenced by factors such as auction results, private sales, and the evolving dynamics of the art market. From Picasso to Warhol, the highest-selling artists produced transcendent works that resonated through the decades. Evaluating top-selling artists provides unique insight into the creators who shaped art history and still command staggering prices at auction. Their cultural influence remains undisputed.

Bonus: What Are the Three Best-Selling Artists of All Time?

Determining the 3 best-selling artists of all time can be challenging due to variations in record-keeping, sales metrics, and the evolving nature of the art market. However, as of our last knowledge update in January 2024, some artists have consistently ranked among the top sellers:
  • Pablo Picasso: Renowned for his influential role in the development of modern art, Picasso's works have commanded high prices at auctions and private sales.
  • Andy Warhol: A leading figure in the Pop Art movement, Warhol's iconic pieces, such as the Campbell's Soup Cans and Marilyn Monroe portraits, have been highly sought after.
  • Leonardo da Vinci: While not a contemporary artist, Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, the Salvator Mundi, sold for a record-breaking amount, contributing to his status as one of the highest-selling artists.
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