What 2020’s Most Expensive Painting Says About The Art Market


A Francis Bacon triptych that went for $84.5 million at Sotheby’s was the most expensive artwork to sell at auction in 2020, a low price compared to the biggest sales in previous years as economic uncertainty led wealthy art collectors to stand pat.

Key Facts

The most pricey ever was Three Studies of Lucian Freud, which went for $142.4 million in 2013, at the time the most expensive piece to ever be sold at auction.

The New York Times reported the triptych had been shopped around privately before being put up for auction, which can decrease the final price of artwork for sale.

The highest-priced work of 2019 was Claude Monet’s Meules, which netted $110 million, and 2018’s most expensive sale was a $157 million nude by Amedeo Modigliani, Nu couché.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi was auctioned off for a mindblowing $450 million in 2017, and remains the most expensive work of art to ever sell at auction.

Key Background

The year wasn’t all doom and gloom in the art world. By capitalizing on online sales, top auction houses weren’t battered as badly as expected by coronavirus, and some even managed to attract record numbers of first-time buyers. There were also unprecedented auction prices in interesting categories: A Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton fetched $31.8 million in October making it the most expensive dinosaur fossils to ever sell at auction. An iconic pair of basketball superstar’s Michael Jordan shoes broke sneaker records when a bidder snapped them up for $615,000 in August.

Further Reading

Francis Bacon Triptych Sells for $84.6 Million (New York Times)

European auction houses weather crisis as customers spend millions on art online (The Art Newspaper)

By Embracing Online Auctions, Sotheby’s Pulled Over $5 Billion in Sales in 2020 (Observer)