Where Leonardo Meets Picasso: The World’s Most Expensive Art

Wednesday 3 July 2019

Ian Swankie

A Londoner with a passion for art and architecture., Ian Swankie is an official guide at Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Guildhall Art Gallery and St Paul’s Cathedral, and gives regular tours at each venue. He is also a qualified and active freelance London guide and a member of both the City of London and Westminster Guide Lecturer Associations. Clients include WEA groups, Transport for London, the National Trust and London Open House. In 2012, he established a weekly independent art lecture group in Richmond and gives talks on a variety of subjects.

More information on Ian Swankie is available via his website.


In the last few years the combined price paid for the dozen most expensive artworks is about the same as the cost of building three large public hospitals. This lecture is not about the excesses of the top end of the over-heated art market, but an excuse to examine some beautiful and varied art. These works would not achieve such sky-high prices if they were no good. So we’ll see some wonderful paintings including those by Picasso, Cezanne, Rembrandt, Modigliani, Klimt, Bacon and Pollock, all held together by the common thread of their extraordinary commercial value. But we will also look at the buyers and sellers, the back-story of the works, the reasons for changing hands and I will try to answer the question “Are they are really worth hundreds of millions of pounds?”


Caption: Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt (1907), which sold for a record $135 million in 2006, Neue Galerie, New York


The lecture notes leaflet can be downloaded here


Suggested Further Reading:

  • The Last Leonardo, by Ben Lewis, Collins, 2019 (a study of the loss and rediscovery – if indeed it is – of Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi, sold at auction in 2017 for $450m)
  • The Price of Everything, 2018, 98 minutes (documentary about collectors, dealers, auctioneers and artists), directed by Nathaniel Kahn


Below are some photos of this lecture