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This Is the Most Expensive Piece of Art Ever Auctioned

All told, that auction raked in $691.5 million, the highest anyone has ever made at an auction in history

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In 1969, Francis Bacon painted a triptych of his friend Lucian Freud. This week, that painting set the record for the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction – $142.4 million.

The painting, titled “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” was sold at the Christie’s auction house on Tuesday. Ula Ilnytzky at the AP writes:

The price tag surpassed the nearly $120 million paid for Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” which set a world record when it was sold at Sotheby’s in a 2012 sale.

The previous record for Bacon’s artwork sold at auction was the British artist’s 1976 “Triptych.” That sold for $86 million in 2008.

Bacon’s painting wasn’t the only record setter at that auction either. A 10-foot-tall sculpture of an orange balloon dog by Jeff Koons sold for $58.4 million. That’s the most anyone has ever paid for a Koons sculpture, and in fact the most anyone has ever paid for a sculpture by a living artist, according to Ilnytzky. All told, that auction raked in $691.5 million, the highest anyone has ever made at an auction in history.

What to make of this? The New Yorker‘s art critic, Peter Schjeldahl says, basically, not to worry too much about it:

Far larger amounts of money move around the world—numbers falling on one balance sheet, rising on another—night and day, and few notice. Most entail commodities (stuffs, like oil or wheat, sold by metric measure) or abstractions (stocks and bonds, financial instruments). When a tangible, useless object is the occasion, in public, there’s drama, though the stakes are relatively trifling…I don’t like Francis Bacon or, for that matter, Lucian Freud a whole lot, but they’re obviously worth something, given the spooky assumption that art is worth anything.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Art Auction for Haiti Recovery Project
Auctioning a Beloved Thomas Hart Benton Collection

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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