Tuesday, November 12, 2013
For at least 10 minutes Christie’s overflowing salesroom watched in rapt attention as a 1969 triptych by Francis Bacon sold for $142.4 million, described as the highest price ever paid for an artwork at auction.
Seven bidders vied for the painting – “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” – that depicts Bacon’s friend and rival, Lucian Freud, sitting on a wooden chair against an orange background. It ended up selling for $142,405,000.
The price surpassed the nearly $120 million paid at Sotheby’s in the spring of 2012 for Edvard Munch’s fabled pastel of “The Scream,” even after adjusting for inflation. It also topped the previous high sale for the artist at auction set in at Sotheby’s in 2008, just as the art market was peaking, when Sotheby’s sold a 1976 Bacon triptych to the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich for $86 million.
The triptych was part of a group of works by Francis Bacon that were sold by an unidentified collector living in Rome to a consortium of investors. One member of that group, whom officials at Christie’s declined to name, is said to be the seller of the triptych.
Sometime in the 1970s the three panels were sold separately. The right-hand panel was bought by a collector in Rome who spent 20 years trying to reunite the triptych. He bought the middle panel from a Paris dealer in the early 1980s. Then, in the late ‘80s, he bought the left and final panel from a collector in Japan. It is also one of just two full-length triptychs that Bacon painted of Freud — the other, from 1966, is missing.
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