Know Your Artist — By the Numbers: Francis Bacon | BLOUIN ARTINFO
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Know Your Artist — By the Numbers: Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon (28 October 1909-28 April 1992) is considered to be one of Britain’s most prominent painters of the Post-World War II period. The Irish-born artist was mostly a self-taught figurative painter whose images are said to convey an emotional intensity in their portrayal of his subjects as distorted, fleshy and expressive masses. His large canvases depicted human figures in a grotesque style, most often a single figure in an empty room, in a cage or against a black background. He is best known for his depictions of Popes, crucifixions and portraits of close friends like the artist Lucian Freud.

Bacon’s painting “Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” a 1969 oil-on-canvas triptych,  broke the record in 2013 for the most expensive work ever sold at auction , when it was purchased for a final price of $142.4 million (including buyer’s premium) at Christie’s in New York. On May 17, 2018, Christie’s will feature Bacon’s “Study for Portrait” at its Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale at New York. 

Here is a performance analysis of Francis Bacon’s artworks in the auction market:

1. Sales Trend in the Past 30 Years
Bacon’s best year was 2014, with a sale of 105 works totaling $305.9 million. While 2016 was a year of moderate sales for the artist with 88 works selling for total of $79.2 million, 2017 showed an uptick to $108.6 million on sales of 62 works. The following graph shows the painter’s year-on-year performance in total sales and number of works sold.


2. Average and  Median Sale Price Trend in the Past 20 Years
In the past four years, the average sales prices of Bacon have been  in the range of $910,000 to $2.9 million and the median sale price in the range of $12,000 to $15,000.


3. Highest-Priced Artworks
Most of Bacon‘s top artworks were sold at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. His highest-ever sale was “Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” at $142.4 million at Christie’s New York in November 2013. The oil on canvas from 1969 is titled and dated on the back of the centre panel.
The second highest sale was “Triptych,”  signed and dated 1976 on the back of the centre panel, which sold for $86.3 million in 2008 at Sotheby’s New York.  It comprises three oil and pastel paintings on canvas using one of Bacon’s favourite formats.  The third highest sale occurred in 2014 at Christie’s New York when “Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards,” painted in 1984, fetched $80.8 million.


4. Price Band in Which His Works Have Sold in the Past 30 Years
Over 46 percent of his artworks were sold in the price range of $10,000 to $100,000 in the past 30 years, followed by 39.5 percent of artworks that sold under than $10,000. More than 85 percent of his artworks sold for less than $100,000; 10.2 percent of 129 works sold for over $1 million.


5. Where His Works Have Sold the Most in the Past 30 Years
More than 46 percent of his artworks (with 588 lots) have sold at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, with both auction houses accounting for 97.6 percent of his total sales.  But while Phillips and the other auction houses accounted for 2.4 percent of total sales, they auctioned 53.7 percent of his artworks, or 683 lots. Based on the geographical location of sale of his works, the United States leads with $1.05 billion, followed by the United Kingdom at $923.2 million and France at $52.2 million.


6. Volume of Artworks on Offer vs. Bought-in Rate
In terms of the number of Bacon’s works offered for sale, 2013 saw a record 169 lots and a bought-in rate of 18.9 percent, or only 32 lots remaining unsold. That contrasts with 2010 when 89 lots were offered, but the bought-in rate reached a peak of 30.3 percent in the 10-year comparison period.  But since 2015, Bacon’s volume of artworks on offer has shown a declining trend. A trend of artworks offered at auction and the bought-in rate can be observed in the graph below.


7. Bought-ins by Auction Houses
In 2017, the volume of lots on offer at Christie’s declined by 44 percent, when compared with 2016, while the bought-in rate remained around 20 percent. It is interesting to note that there are no bought-ins at Sotheby’s for the artist in the past two years, showing that all of Bacon’s artworks that came to auction at Sotheby’s were sold. An overall trend of volume of artworks on offer, and the bought-in rates at the top three auction houses are shown below.


8. How Often Have His Works Exceeded the Auction Houses’ High Estimates?
While the trend has been overall random (see the graph below), data show that in the past two years, the works of the artist have breached the auction high estimates at Sotheby’s more often than at Christie’s. 


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Top auction results for Francis Bacon