If the Mona Lisa was for sale, how much would it be worth?

So, the Louvre called and they are doing a little tidying up and they want to get rid of that old painting of the smiling lady.

What do you thing the Mona Lisa would be worth if it were put up for auction?

According to Wikipedia, it was assessed at $100 million for insurance purposes during its 1962-64 tour of the US (Note: using the CPI, that would make it a little over $627 million today).

It’s hard to say with an auction though. People can and do get caught up in the action and drive prices to unreasonable levels. I would think the potential for that happening with the Mona Lisa (probably the most well-known object in the world) would be quite high. How much could someone or some group spend? $1 billion? $1.5 billion? Hard to say.

The work is literally priceless. There is nothing quite like it in the world.

As a reference point, a Picasso painting–and there are thousands of Picasso paintings and drawings–recently sold for $104 million. It’s not at all unreasonable to imagine that the Mona Lisa could be sold for billions.


According to Wikipedia, it was assessed at $100 million for insurance purposes during its 1962-64 tour of the US (Note: using the CPI, that would make it a little over $627 million today).


According to my '98 Guinness Book…, Wikipedia has it slightly wrong. The painting was the most expensive art object ever assessed for insurance purposes, but the painting wasn’t actually insured for $100 million at the time because of the cost of the premiums. It was decided to spend ridiculous, but still cheaper, amounts on security instead.

:smack: Oops… Wikipedia doesn’t appear to actually claim the painting was insured. I’m wrong to say they had it wrong. Hopefully my post adds a touch of clarity in any event…

The going-rate for a painting by a premier-league Old Master is about £50 million. That was the top end of the range of most estimates for Leonardo’s Madonna of the Yarnwinder, stolen from the Buccleuch collection a year ago, although the insurers are believed to have paid out only £3.2 million as His Grace had failed to keep up with the premium payments. Rubens’s Massacre of the Innocents sold for £49.5 million in 2002, while the Getty is thought to have wanted to buy a very small Raphael, the Madonna of the Pinks, for at least £29 million.

It may seem reasonable to assume that the much, much more famous Mona Lisa would be worth much, much more. But that is not the way the art market works. The cliché would be to say that a painting is only worth as much as the top bidder is prepared to pay for it, or, to be more accurate, slightly more than whatever it was that the underbidder would have been prepared to pay. But at the very top end of the market, it becomes more a matter of how much the bidders are able to pay. No bidder has limitless resources and some items are so desirable that the bidders in contention are willing, if necessary, to commit everything they can spare. It is most unlikely that the last bidder to drop out when the Rubens Massacre was sold gave up because he/she/they thought it wasn’t ‘worth’ £49.5 million; they dropped out because they didn’t have £49.5 million in readies. And any painting, no matter how desirable, will eventually run up against some such limit. Even allowing for the fact that the kudos of owning the Mona Lisa is undeniably much greater than that for a mere Rubens, there is only so much that the world’s second richest art collector or gallery would be able to spare. Moreover, they are probably already willing to spend most of that on those top-of-the-range paintings that do come up for sale.