First Artist Report sheds light on Francis Bacon's market

A unique view of his auction sales over the past 20 years

Francis Bacon, one of the most important artists of the post-World War II period, continues to dominate the modern art market. Sales prices of his paintings remain a match for the world’s leading iconic artists, the first ever Artist Report from ArtExplored reveals.

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Francis Bacon’s artistic style was heavily influenced by personal loss and traumatic life experiences including rejection by his family, homophobia, and abuse. Renowned for his innovations in portraiture and figuration, many of the subjects in Bacon’s works convey a sense of torment and despair, themes that continue to attract buyers today.

Over the last 20 years, sales of his artworks have totalled more than $3.2bn, according to ArtExplored’s Francis Bacon Artist Report, making his works among the most sought-after and valuable in the world. Average sale prices for his art over this period were $24.1m with his most expensive painting – Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) – fetching $142.4m in 2013, a record at the time for the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction. It still ranks as the seventh most expensive artwork ever sold at auction and, adjusting for inflation, its price today would be over $181m.

Indeed, by adjusting all prices for inflation, three would have sold for over $100m today including Triptych, 1976 (its 2008 auction sale price adjusted for current inflation hits more than $120m) and Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards (1984) (its 2014 auction sale price, when adjusted for inflation, is just over $101m today).

Market prices for Bacon peaked in 2007-2008 and 2013-2015 but his work has proven resilient in economic downturns. His fourth-best auction price, achieved in 2020 during the Covid-19 global recession – for Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (1981) is the equivalent of $84.6 in today's money.

Most recently, in 2022, in the Modern art market, sales of Bacon's work were surpassed only by Pablo Picasso. According to the Art Market 2022 report compiled by ArtTactic, Picasso accounted for $388.8m in auction sales in 2022. Bacon came second with sales over the year worth $224.9m followed by René Magritte in third place with sales of $191.5m. Magritte’s L’empire des Lumières (1961) which sold for $68.8m at Sotheby’s in 2022, achieved the highest sales price for a Modern painting in 2022.

Over the last 20 years, of 135 Bacon paintings sold, 47.3% of total sales revenue was achieved by pieces selling between $10m and $50m with a further 44.4% of sales revenue coming from works achieving prices of more than $50m. Analysing 37 repeat sales of Bacon's artworks over the last 20 years, they have achieved a respectable average compound annual growth rate of 8.3%.

Works from Bacon’s "Power of Colour" phase (between 1957 to 1979) have achieved the highest average prices and, with total sales of $2.5bn, they account for over three-quarters of all sales revenue from lots sold in the last 20 years.

The average sales price of an artwork emanating from this period is $29.7m and all but two of the top 10 paintings (with auction sales prices adjusted for inflation) of Bacon paintings sold also come from this period including Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966) (sold for $70.2m in 2014) and Study from Innocent X (1962) which sold for $52.6m in 2020. Read the full report here.