1. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Les femmes d'Alger (Version 'O')
signed 'Picasso' (upper right); dated '14.2.55.' (on the reverse)

promo256245802 Image via Christie's

On 11th May last year, the whole art world held on to their seats, eyes wide, as Picasso's Les femmes d'Alger (Version 'O') sold at Christie's for an incredible $179 365 000 (£124 572 000) making it the most expensive painting to ever be bought at auction.

The painting was born out of Picasso's rivalry with his contemporary, Henri Matisse. Following Matisse's death in 1954, Picasso mourned by creating a series of 15 paintings which paid homage to Eugène Delacroix’s Les Femmes d’Alger, 1834.

Picasso began working on it on 13th December, 1954, 40 days after Matisse's passing. In 15 days time, Picasso had created two canvases and a drawing. A month on, 10 of the 15 works had been completed, and by Valetine's day of 1955, Picasso finished Les Femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) which he gave to his dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. Now that beats chocolates and flowers.

Long before the big sale in 2015, at the time the work was created, Picasso pieces were not held in high regard on the market.

Manhattan collectors Victor and Sally Ganz bought the entire Les Femmes d’Alger suite from Kahnweiler in June 1956 for a cool $212 500 (£147 585.)

In 1997, Sally sold Les Femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) at Christie's for $31.9 million (£22.16 million) to dealer Libby Howie, who bought it on behalf of a client.

2. Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)
Nu couché
signed ‘modigliani’ (upper right)

Christie_s_Auction_3497092b Image via the Telegraph

In 2015, just 6 months after Les femmes d'Alger (Version 'O') sold at Christie's, Modigliani's nude sold at the auction house for $170 405 000 (£118 349 140) making it the second most expensive painting purchased at auction, and the most expensive price paid at auction for an Italian artist.

The work is a real piece of history. Modigliani's dealer and companion Léopold Zborowski had the artwork in his collection, and it was widely recognised as an important work of 20th century art as well as Modigliani's best work.

Advocate for early 20th century Italian Modernism Gianni Mattioli, had the work in his collection, and toured it as part of a world-wide exhibition of Italian art in the sixties.

3. Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Three Studies of Lucian Freud
titled and dated '3 studies for portrait Lucian Freud 1969' (on the reverse of the center panel)

Image via the Independent Image via the Independent

A turning point for the art market was marked at Christie's, New York's Post-war and Contemporary sale in November 2013. The top-end of the art market had now experienced a huge rise in spending, as art had truly become as much of an investment as sectors such as property. Bacon's triptych of Freud sold for $142 405 000 (£98 902 669.)

Like Picasso's Les femmes d'Alger (Version 'O')Bacon's study of Freud highlights both his rivalry and adoration for his contemporary, it celebrates the relationship between two 20th century geniuses. Bacon painted his fellow artist with the knots and texture he is renowned for, which have inspired many an artist after him, and will continue to do so.

4. Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)
L'homme au doigt
signed and numbered 'A Giacometti 6/6' (on the top of the base); inscribed with foundry mark 'Alexis Rudier Fondeur Paris' 

giacometti-l-homme-au-doigt-saleroom Image via Christie's

And so to sculpture, and L'homme au doigt, by the Mick Jagger of clay, Alberto Giacometti.

''As for the sculpture of the pointing man of 1947. I wanted from the start to make a composition of two figures but when the first was made it was entirely impossible for me to make the second. It was not what I wanted and immediately after the exhibition I destroyed the plaster figure which was never cast in bronze, it therefore no longer exists… therefore the first figure, the pointing man, will remain on its own.''

Known for being impulsive and deeply self-critical, Giacometti is held in history as one of the key artists of the post-war period.

Giacometti's L'homme au doigt was part of the same sale at Christie's which saw the stellar sale of Picasso's Les femmes d'Alger (Version 'O'). It sold for a staggering $141 285 000 (£98 285 905.) A haunting portrait of a post-war figure, the sculpture captures Giacometti's constant battle to represent life through art.

5. Edvard Munch, The Scream
Signed E. Munch and dated 1895 (lower left)
Pastel on board in the original frame

AUCTION-articleLarge Image via the NY Times

On May 3, 2012, Edvard Munch's The Scream sold at Sotheby's, New York, to the tune of $119 922 500 (£83 424 930.) Rich in symbolism, during the time it was created, the painting marked a turning point for using art to delve into the inner psyche. Some art historians believe the face is inspired by a mummy which was found near the Utcubamba River in Peru.

In a poem, on the frame of the work, Munch wrote:

"I was walking along the road with two Friends

the Sun was setting – The Sky turned a bloody red

And I felt a whiff of Melancholy – I stood

Still, deathly tired – over the blue-black

Fjord and City hung Blood and Tongues of Fire

My Friends walked on - I remained behind

– shivering with Anxiety – I felt the great Scream in Nature.''

In a twist to the tale, the painting was stolen twice before it made the big bucks at Sotheby's, once in 1994 and again in 2004, from Oslo's Munch Museum.

And this is just the beginning, search more realised prices on Barnebys here.