Some of Jackson Pollock’s Most Expensive Paintings Listed
Jackson Pollock is best known for his ‘drip’ paintings which were created around the mid-20th century. His life and career was tragically cut short by a car accident in 1956 but, having pioneered the ‘action painting’ movement in the US, his paintings have only increased in notoriety – and value – in the decades since his death.
As a UK pop artist whose brand of ‘By Kerwin‘ music icon portraits are painted in a Jackson Pollock-inspired action painting style, this article examines seven of Jackson Pollock’s most expensive paintings by sale value, along with some of the characteristics behind these iconic pieces.
Pollock’s most expensive paintings include Number 17A, 1948, sold for $200 million in 2015; Number 5, 1948, for $140 million in 2006; and Number 17, 1951, for $61.1 million in 2021. Many of his works have not changed owner for decades; they would likely fetch similar fees if sold in today’s market.
What makes his top-selling pieces stand out from one another? While Jackson Pollock’s action painting style is characterised by a somewhat chaotic randomness, each of his paintings have their own artistic characteristics. Some of these are explored below (note: the figures listed are the original sale prices in US$).
Number 5, 1948 – sold for $140 million, May 2006
Jackson Pollock’s Number 5 (as well as being a Stone Roses song lyric) set the record for the highest price ever paid for a painting when it was sold privately on 22nd May 2006. It held this title for 5 years, until April 2011.
Measuring 8 x 4 feet, No.5 piece was painted on fibreboard with liquid synthetic resin paints (but recorded as oil paint during the painting’s classification). It features densely-layered shades of yellow, brown, white and grey.
There is an unusual story accompanying No. 5’s origin, too. After being painted in 1948, it was said to have received some damage during handling. Jackson Pollock added repairs by painting over the damage, but after first being sold in early 1949 for a mere $1,500, part of the paint effectively fell off – at which point Pollock decided to repaint the whole thing! Fortunately its new owner was even more pleased with the final result.
Number 17A, 1948 – sold for $200 million, September 2015
Not to be confused with other Pollock’s other paintings numbered ‘17’, Number 17A, 1948 was sold privately for $200 million (a record-breaking price at the time) in September 2015 by entertainment mogul David Gefen to billionaire American hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin.
A relatively colourful and bright painting of Pollock’s, Number 17A, 1948, was painted in oil on fibreboard and measures 44 x 34 inches. It features large section of red, yellow and blue, interwoven among layers of black and white – and unusually for his drip paintings, contains three distinguished white stripes running diagonally across the centre of the painting.
The history of this painting is likely to have been a factor behind its astronomical sale price; Number 17A is the painting that earned Jackson Pollock his breakthrough to fame and celebrity, after it was featured with a four-page spread in August 1949’s edition of Life magazine.
Number 17, 1951 – sold for $61.1 million, November 2021
Painted as part of a collection of black enamel painting created by Pollock towards the end of his life between 1951 and 1952, this square painting was auctioned for $61.2 million at Sotheby’s in November 2021. Measuring 148.6 x 148.6cm, Number 17, 1951 – along with the rest of this range – is somewhat unique among Pollock’s catalogue as being painted with just a single shade of paint – black enamel paint on canvas.
Number 17, 1951 was interpreted by many within the art world as indicating a return to Pollock’s earlier, more figure-based painting; and a departure from his densely-layered, ‘all over’ drip painting style. This painting set an auction record for a Jackson Pollock painting with its sale.
Number 19, 1948 – sold for $58 million, May 2013
Jackson Pollock’s Number 19, 1948 went under the hammer and sold for $58.4 million at Christie’s in New York on 15th May 2013 (around $5 million of which was the buyer’s premium). Estimated to sell for between $25-35 million, this painting became the subject of an intense bidding war, despite being one of Pollock’s smaller drip-painted pieces.
Measuring just 78.4 x 57.4cm, Number 19, 1948 was painted in oil and enamel on paper mounted on canvas and possesses a monochrome appearance on first impression. On closer inspection, however, layers of turquoise and red can be seen delicately poised between the shades of black and grey within the painting.
Composition with Red Strokes, 1950 – sold for $55.4 million, November 2018
Unlike many of his paintings around this time that were numbered rather than named, Composition with Red Strokes, painted in 1950, features brightly coloured red and yellow streaks through the predominantly black and grey painting. Measuring 93 x 65.1cm and painted in oil, enamel and aluminium paint on canvas, Composition with Red Strokes reached just over $55.4 million when auctioned by Christie’s in November 2018.
Number 31, 1949 – sold for $54.2 million, Christie’s May 2022
Despite measuring just 31 x 22 inches, the small but brightly colourful Number 31, 1949 fetched $54.2 million at auction at Christie’s in May 2022. Painted in a turquoise, red, yellow and green colour scheme – set amongst black, white and grey as is characteristic of many of Pollock’s paintings – Number 31, 1949 was created with oil, enamel and aluminium paint and gesso on paper, mounted on Masonite.
Number 31, 1949 was sold after being held by an anonymous private collector in the United States for the last two decades.
Red Composition, 1946 – sold for $12 million, October 2020
Sold under auction at Christie’s in New York in October 2020 by the Everson Museum in Syracuse, New York in order to raise funds for the diversification of its art collection, this work of Pollock’s fetched $12million.
Painted in 1946 at the beginning of Jackson Pollock’s action painting period and using oil on Masonite (and not to be confused with another painting featured in this list, ‘Composition with Red Strokes’), Red Composition is among the first of his drip paintings – and one of his smallest, too; measuring just 48.3 x 60.3cm. It is looser and less dense in style than some of his later drip-painted pieces, demonstrating the evolution of his paint-pouring technique over subsequent years.
Poles apart – How do you value a Jackson Pollock painting?
While these are some of the most expensive Jackson Pollock paintings ever sold either privately or at auction, it is worth remembering, too, that many of his creations have remained in private collections for many decades and would likely also fetch similarly high (or higher) prices were they to be sold in today’s global art market.
While sold price is the most common measure of a painting’s worth, many of Jackson Pollock’s painting also have much higher insurance values. Blue Poles, painted in 1952 and also known as Number 11, is owned by the National Gallery of Australia after being controversially purchased in 1973. It is said to have an insurance of 350 million Australian Dollars, and many Australians have since pressurised the gallery to sell it in order to raise funds to help clear national debt.
What is clear from examining some of Jackson Pollock’s highest sellers is that his paintings only increase in popularity and fame with each passing year. I have a hunch that this trend will continue for some time yet, with art fans around the world continuing to be drawn to the simplicity of his action paintings, in an era of increasingly complex technologies and digital processes finding their way into the art world.
Which is your favourite Jackson Pollock painting? Explore the rest of my blog posts on Jackson Pollock and his action painting style here