Top results in 2020

[11 Dec 2020]

The years go by… but are never quite the same… Bacon, Hockney and Rothko, who were already in the Top 10 results of 2019, are admittedly still present this year, but Claude Monet and Jeff Koons are absent. The latter two (very different) artists generated a record for Impressionism record at $110.7 million (Claude Monet’s Meules) and a record for Contemporary sculpture at $91.1 million (Jeff Koons’ Rabbit).

Obviously, the Top 10 for 2020 is less dazzling than last year’s, but the results are very positive despite the difficulties associated with the pandemic. From an ancient Chinese painting by Wu Bin depicting views of a stone appreciated by scholars to Francis Bacon’s somewhat harrowing and tortured images, via the abstract and vibrant canvases of the American artists Brice Marden and Mark Rothko… here are the Top 10 results of the year (and as many artists) for 2020:

1. – $84.55 million – Francis BACON

> Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (1981), Sotheby’s New York on 29 June 2020.
This large 1981 triptych is one of 28 triptychs painted by Bacon. This one is inspired by the Greek drama “Oresteia” of Aeschylus which tells the story of King Agamemnon. In June, this sensational work becomes the 3rd most expensive Bacon painting ever auctioned, but still far behind Three Studies of Lucian Freud which fetched $142 million at Christie’s in 2013.

2. – $76.6 million – WU Bin

> Views of a Lingbi stone, Poly International on 18 October 2020.
This almost 11-meter-long scroll was made in 1610. It is one of the most important works created for Mi Wanzhong by the famous painter at the end of the Ming dynasty. This result, not far below the $80 million threshold, makes Wu Bin the second most expensive Chinese artist after QI Baishi, champion of the revival of traditional Chinese painting in the 20th century (who dwarfs all his compatriots with a record at nearly $141 million in 2017).

3. – $46.2 million – Roy LICHTENSTEIN

> Nude with Joyous Painting (1994), Christie’s New York on 10 July 2020. Produced at the end of the immense career of the great American pop artist, this iconic work revealing a young blonde woman dressed in a single blue headband and lipstick had never before been to auction. Selling well above its estimate (around $30 million), the painting generated Lichtenstein’s 3rd best result. His all-time record still stands at $95.3m for Nurse sold at Christie’s NY in 2015.

4 – 41,1 m$David HOCKNEY

Nichols Canyon, Phillips, New York on 7 December 2020. This 1980 painting pays homage to his Californian neighborhood in Hollywood Hills. Vibrant and colorful, almost “Fauvist”, Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio is one of just two David Hockney landscapes in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Presented for the first time at auction, the painting generated the 4th best result of the year and set a new auction record for Hockney’s landscape paintings.

5. – $39.5 million – REN Renfa

> Five drunken princes returning on horseback, Sotheby’s Hong Kong on 8 October 2020. This India ink painting is the most valuable painting of that medium ever sold by Sotheby’s Hong Kong and it generated the house’s second highest result for an artwork in Hong Kong. The parchment, from the late 13th / early 14th century of the Yuan dynasty, measures over two meters long and it had had already reached $6 million at Christie’s Hong Kong in 2009. The price of the precious drawing has therefore added $33.5 million in ten years! Now belonging to the Long Museum in Shanghai, it has joined one of the finest collections of Chinese art in the world.

6. – $38.7 million – Cy TWOMBLY

> Untitled [Bolsena], Christie’s New York on 6 October 2020.
From an emblematic series of 14 works produced in the aftermath of the Apollo 11 mission, this work by Twombly eloquently merges painting, drawing and writing, in a lyrical thesis on time and space. Untitled [Bolsena] (1969) stands out for its chromatic and rhythmic complexity. In less than 20 years, its price multiplied by 37 (it sold for $1.5 million at Sotheby’s New York on 6 May 1992).

7. – $33.3 million – SAN Yu

> Quatre nus, Sotheby’s Hong Kong on 8 July 2020. At a sale organized by Sotheby’s Hong Kong last July, San Yu’s Quatre nus (1950) fetched $33.3 million, his third best-ever auction result and a price that added $31.2 million to its previous sale in 2005 ($2.1 million – Christie’s Hong Kong on 27 November 2005). San Yu’s prices have been rocketing. Last year, his Five nudes reached $33.9 million.

8. – $31.3 million – Mark ROTHKO

> Untitled (1967), Christie’s New York on 6 October 2020.
Untitled (1967) is not among the artist’s top 10 which, of course, includes his Orange, Red, Yellow that sold for over $86.9 million in 2012 at Christie’s NY! However, this Untitled (1967) was acquired from Christie’s in 1998 for just $1.2 million. Multiplied by 26, the price of this 173 x 153 cm meditative colorful field perfectly illustrates Rothko’s extraordinary value accretion.

9. – $31.2 million – David HOCKNEY

> The Splash, Sotheby’s London on 11 February 2020.
This 1966 painting cost “only” $5.4 million in 2006 (at Sotheby’s London). It needed almost $26 million more this year to become the proud owner of one of the most iconic works of the second half of the 20th century.
The Splash generated David Hockney’s third best-ever auction result, well behind his all-time record of $90.3 million in 2018 for Portrait of an Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) with which he became, for a short period, the world’s most expensive living artist.

10. – $30.9 million – Brice MARDEN

> Complements, Christie’s New York on 10 July 2020.
Marden’s Complements diptych, painted between 2004 and 2007, was sold during the famous “One” sale organised by Christie’s on 10 July. At 82 years old, the American abstract painter signed his latest record and it places him among the 10 most successful living artists on the art market. His previous record dated from 2013 and amounted to just $10.9 million (Sotheby’s NY).


During this year of unprecedented difficulties, major collectors appear to have maintained confidence and a commitment to the high-end market. Exceptional works fetched exceptional prices. With an entry ticket of $30 million this year, our 2020 ranking contains two new artist’s records, one for Brice Marden and the other for Wu Bin. American and Chinese artists are still leading the dance…