Last week art history was made as a painting by abstract expressionist, Jackson Pollock, sold for one hundred and forty million dollars (£73.35m), making it the most expensive painting of all time.

The unusually large piece (4ft by 8ft) which is rather blandly entitled “No. 5, 1948,” is a chaotic entanglement of browns and yellows painted in the dribbled style that was to make Pollock an icon in the art world. It was sold by the Los Angeles entertainment tycoon David Geffin to Mexican financier David Martinez. Despite the fact that Sotheby’s brokered the deal, the sale was not made through auction and therefore the actual agreed price wasn’t made public, so while the $140m price tag may well be accurate it might never confirmed.

To look at the painting I can’t help but wonder why it would be valued so highly. One reason would be that Pollock was not a prolific artist and his works very rarely come up for sale. But the swirling dribbles of paint leave me wondering what on earth Pollock himself was thinking when he created these highly sought after paintings. By no means was he talentless. He developed his dribble technique over many years and his earlier paintings are far more traditional. I wonder if he ever imagined his work would one day be counted among some of the most valuable paintings in the world?

Just after he painted “No. 5, 1948” Life magazine was asking the question “Is he America’s greatest living artist?” But Pollock himself, at the time in his late thirties, was considered a troubled man. He was a violent drunk with a quick temper. His anarchic and apparently disordered style may very well have been a reflection of the man himself who once said, “Every good painter paints what he is.” Pollock died just a few years later in a car accident. He was 44 years old.

While the $140m price tag for “No. 5, 1948” is a record, it might not be for long. Auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s are looking forward to potentially record breaking prices being paid for works being auctioned this month. Paintings by Picasso, Gauguin, and a self portrait by Andy Warhol are all scheduled for auction.

Meanwhile spare a thought for Vegas Casino tycoon Steve Wynn who last month accidentally put his elbow through a painting by Picasso that he had just agreed to sell for $139m. Wynn was showing a small group of guests the painting when the accident happened. Speaking to his guests later that same evening Wynn apparently said “Nobody got sick or died. It’s a picture. It took Picasso five hours to paint it.” An ironic observation given the fact that the agreed sale price of the painting could probably build and stocked a hospital in a part of the world where art is the last thing on anyones mind.

Check back on Saturday when I’ll be giving you all the chance to ‘paint’ your own Pollock style painting right there where you sit!

Jackson Pollock NGA feature
The Pollock-Krasner Foundation
Christie’s : Impressionist & Modern Art auction (Nov 9th)
Sotheby’s : Contemporary Art auction (Nov 15th)
Vegas Tycoon Pokes Hole In A Picasso
The $40 million dollar elbow