11 reasons why this is the most valuable artwork ever auctioned

Last night, Francis Bacon's Three Studies of Lucian Freud became the world's most valuable work of art ever auctioned, when it sold for $142.4m.

But why?

What does it take for a piece to set a record in this most prestigious of categories?

Here are 11 contributing factors that occur to me:

Famous name: Here's the most obvious one. The artist needs to be famous. Very very famous. That normally means some people think he's rather good too. Previous auction record holders include Munch, Picasso and Van Gogh. In this case, the work's desirability is boosted by a famous sitter too.

Archetypal: Francis Bacon is famed for his triptychs, producing 28 known works. Collectors tend to be willing to pay more for the top examples of an artist's signature work (think Van Gogh's sunflower or Monet's water lily paintings), rather than more unusual pieces.

Bacon Freud triptych
Lucky lot number 8a

It helps if the artwork is big: Large-scale canvases tend to achieve more than an artist's smaller works. Each of the three paintings that form the Three Studies measures close to 200 x 150 cm. They'll make an impact wherever the new buyer hangs them.

It just takes two: You only need two determined bidders to get prices rocketing at an auction. Around six would-be buyers are believed to have been competing for the Bacon.

Deceased: A dead painter won't be painting any more, capping the market for their artworks and ensuring that collectors are fighting over a finite number of works - pushing prices higher. 

The right lot number: In a last minute move, Christie's brought the Bacon forward from lot 32 to lot 8a - eight being a prestigious number in China. At least two of the bidders for the piece were from Asia. What's more, placing the lot at the beginning of the auction meant that prospective buyers still had money in their pockets to spend.  

The right auction house: Sotheby's and Christie's have the cachet when it comes to fine art. It's where all the top art sells.

Great provenance: The Freud triptych has a fascinating back story. The three paintings became separated in the mid-1970s, only being reunited in the 1980s after a concerted effort by an Italian collector. Provenance adds value.

An exhibition history: A work that has appeared in a major exhibition has extra prestige: this piece has been shown in both Europe and the US.

The right financial conditions: Bidders at these events have plenty of money, but they're seeing it lose value every year due to low interest rates, high inflation and uncertain financial markets. They don't like that. Art is a tempting place to store money at any time, but especially during a financially difficult period.

One-upmanship: Bidders generally try to purchase items for as little as possible ('tell us something we don't know, Paul!'), but in this case, I'm not so sure. Whoever bought the work will have been well aware of the previous art auction world record - $120m, set by Edward Munch's The Scream last year. Being able to lay claim to owning the world's most valuable artwork ever auctioned may have had an impact on the stratospheric bidding once things got close to the $120m mark.

Do you agree? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Until next week,


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