The Most Expensive Painting Ever Sold: Shipping and Handling

Shipping and Handling

​The most expensive painting in the world is something which, to the uninitiated, might look like child's play.

Interchange by Willem de Kooning is a piece of art in the Abstract Expressionist style. While one would be forgiven for not knowing, it's actually a landscape.

"Why was it sold for so much money?"

​Well, Interchange represents an interchange of a lot of ideas. It represents an intersection of two times in the artist's life, in popular culture, in the art world and in the prices of paintings.

​Willem de Kooning was an abstract painter at the beginning of what would now be considered modern art, but more than that, he was a mover and shaker of the time. He was an influential part of the scene, inspiring the likes of Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline.

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​In the '40s when these artists began their revolution, their art wasn't very popular, as one can imagine. In time, however, the work began to sell and gain popularity. With this change in the art world came changes for the artists.

It's a popular idea that difficulty and struggle are major influences on most artists and while this is still up for debate, success did have an impact on the styles of these painters, de Kooning included. 

​With money coming in, de Kooning began to live a more relaxed life, and with this change came changes in his art as well.

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Many see Interchange as a middle point between these two parts of his life, between his early phases, including biomorphic and black and white paintings, and his later colored landscapes. 

de Kooning was able to sell the piece for a modest sum ($4,000) in the same year that he finished it.

After it left his hands, it spent 34 years in the collection of the original buyer before being sold for the amazingly inflated sum of $20.68 million in 1989. This was already a record for the painting: most expensive ever sold while the artist was still living.

26 years later, the piece again sold for a huge sum, this time the largest price ever paid for a piece of art, $300 million, alongside Number17A from de Kooning's contemporary, Jackson Pollock.

Number 17A had been featured in Life magazine in the late '40s, an event that put the early art form in front of Americans for the first time. 

de Kooning Record Broken 2019, But All Fragile Goods Require Exceptional Shipping and Handling to Reach Their Buyers Safely

All of these details together help to explain how this became the most expensive painting in history, up to that point, only to be surpassed in 2017 with the sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi for $450.3 Million USD. 

It's easy to imagine these astronomical numbers, mythical art works and historical figures in an ambiguous, distant kind of way. Although Interchange is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, many of us will never have the opportunity to see it. It remains an abstract idea. 

Let's ground this story in reality. How did they ship the painting? 

Imagine that you are there for the sale of these paintings.

Unfortunately, thanks to the roll of Fate's dice, you still aren't Kenneth Griffin, the wealthy stock fund manager who purchased the paintings. Nor are you the David Geffen Foundation representative, for whom a half-a-billion dollar check is being written.

No, you are the lowly mover of the painting, hopefully managing to clamp down on an ocean of anxiety over holding the world's most expensive painting in your trembling hands. 

​So how should you act in this situation? One word: delicately.

First of all, while the spender of $300 million certainly wants to see the product at the sale, up until that point you aren't just going to be walking around with the bare painting in your hands; pigeons exist. As do unexpected falls and seizures from overwhelming stress. 

What you want to do, as you would when moving and shipping any high value fragile object, is protect the good from the world around you. Don't worry, Interchange probably has a special case and is wheeled around on a cart to accomplish just this.

​Now, one can only imagine that a painting bought for $300 million warrants a few plane tickets and delivery by hand, but many lesser works of art don't, even great and important pieces (less great and important). It's simply economically unreasonable to hand deliver most art.

​So, what does an even lowlier, lowly painting mover do?

The same thing, of course, only on a mortal scale. Protect the painting from the world around it by choosing the right packaging for such a product.

When you can't afford a special, high-tech case, custom-made for your piece, settle for the next best thing: layers of cardboard, styrofoam and packing bubbles in a closely fitting box. 

This will provide a cushion zone between the painting and the world outside (and any anxiety-induced, unintentional motions). 

Of course, while doing it yourself is nice, you might not have the tools or experience to really protect the piece, especially if it's going to be the most expensive painting ever sold at some point in the future. In that case, trust a professional pick, pack and global shipping service.

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Kais Khadhraoui
Kais Khadhraoui
I'm the CEO & Founder at Fulfillment Bridge. I spent more than 12 years providing cutting edge financial solutions to global banks and stock exchanges and running successfully Multimillions projects at global scale. I decided 8 years ago to start my entrepreneurial adventure in the eCommerce industry. I discovered similarities in both fields which made it easier for me to provide high quality eCommerce related services inspired from the Fintech world. My ultimate goal is to create a leading eCommerce solution following the high standards adopted in the financial industry. When you are looking to take your ecommerce to the next level and partner with a logistics provider that specializes in global ecommerce solutions, you can get in touch with me on LinkedIn.