A Francis Bacon Triptych made another auction record sale on Monday 30th June for this artist; the small format painting of his lover George Dyer, Portrait of George Dyer (on Light Ground) (1964) sold for £26.7 million at Sotheby’s Contemporary art sale beating a record of £23 million for a work in this format.
What makes this rather sensational is that the art market has not forgotten that in November last year Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucien Freud, (1969) sold for $142,405,000 at Christie’s in New York. It had become the most expensive work of art to have ever been sold at auction, smashing within minutes the record set by Edvard Munch’s The Scream in 2012 of $120 million.
This new record had also beaten a further Bacon record set in 2008, when Russian Tycoon, Roman Abramovich bought the Triptych of the artist Francis Bacon (1976) for $86 million, which was the record price for a work by a British artist.
Following these extraordinarily successful sales, it is perhaps unsurprising that there was great interest in the forthcoming sales of this artist’s work in the Sotheby’s and Christie’s post-war and contemporary art sales on Monday and Tuesday of this week.
In the sale on Monday there was a bidding war for the Portrait of George Dyer and according to a BBC news report, Cheyenne Westphal, chairman of Sotheby’s contemporary art department, explained the “landmark price” as follows:
“The driving force tonight was passion… The Bacon was bought by collectors who truly wanted to own it. It was a completely private market that came from virtually every side of the world and people wanted to own this wonderful piece and live with it.”
The background story to the affair between Dyer and Bacon is fascinating and also extremely tragic.
George Dyer committed suicide during Bacon’s most important exhibition of his work at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971, where this painting was last seen. This horrendous tragedy deeply affected Bacon and haunted by his loss he continued to paint his lover Dyer for some years after his death, leading to his famous Black Triptychs in the 1970s.
At the Christie’s sale on Tuesday, Francis Bacon’s “Study for Head of Lucian Freud” (1967) similarly fetched a high price. Unlike the Freud Triptych, this was a single canvas of Freud that was sold from the estate of Roald Dahl for $19.6 million.
Bacon is an example of a brand that sells for extremely high prices and expectations were not disappointed. Other “brand names” such as Peter Doig, Andy Warhol, Lucio Fontana also reached top market prices.
What impact this has on contemporary art auction sales is being hotly analysed as art critics seek to find meaning in the new buyers entering this market place. While the bidding which took place was predominantly from American and Asian bidders, according to Christie’s officials there was active bidding from the Middle East, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. The auction houses have opened up to a truly international marketplace; with new buyers from new markets in the equation.