What Does 2020’s Most Expensive Painting Say About the Art Market?

Let’s be honest: COVID hit us all pretty hard. There has been a lot of talk about heroes and essential workers, but I’ll get into that another time. The point is that all industries and all countries have been affected to some extent. The art market was no exception. Let’s talk about what the most expensive painting of 2020 says on the state of the art market.

The Painting

The painting in question was Francis Bacon’s Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus. If you’re not an art buff, a triptych is a single picture or relief in a set of three panels. It can also be a collection of three works of art the artists wants you to see and appreciate together.

This painting was sold for $84.5 million at Sotheby’s and is the most expensive painting of 2020. Interestingly enough, this is not the most expensive work of art by Bacon. It’s number 3.

There is a chance the price was affected by private sales before the auction at Sotheby’s.

Under Coronavirus

The art market did not suffer too much under the effect of the coronavirus. As it happens, galleries and private collectors have no issues with online trade, and quite a large percentage of all art transactions are done on the web. So, the aforementioned Sotheby’s raked in a whopping $5 billion and then some. Let’s compare that to 2019 when the auction company made $4.8 billion.

The thing is, the art world realized on time that transactions done in person were not going to be feasible and sustainable as long as the outbreak lasts. So, they switched their business model and focused more on doing things online. Interestingly enough, there were many more first-buyers than in the previous years. There was a 27% increase in their number for the first time in 15 years.

What does this mean? Well, the art world is going to survive and perhaps even thrive, as more and more people with more free time on their hands (and especially if they have a few million bucks to spare) are getting interested in art. It could be a fad, it could be a hobby developed in times of hardship – who knows.

The point is that those who appreciate art are looking for ways to exercise their minds and experience emotions.

Is It That Simple, Though?

Not really, no. Sotheby’s could just as well be an outlier. It is impossible to gauge the entire art market and while galleries and auction houses may put a price on works of art, art critics and enthusiasts will always treat good art as priceless.

As impressive as this Triptych is, it still doesn’t come close to Da Vinci’s Salvador Mundi, which was auctioned for $450 million in 2017. That piece has been the most expensive work of art ever sold. It is also hardly the only work of art that fetched more than the Triptych in recent years.