Painting by Francis Bacon sets auction record

‘Three Studies of Lucian Freud’ sold for astronomical sum

Francis Bacon was once described by former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as “that man who paints those dreadful pictures”. Today, Bacon’s piece on his friend, Lucian Freud, sold for the astronomical sum of $142 million – the largest amount ever paid in auction.

The 20th Century artist’s oil painting ‘Three Studies of Lucian Freud’ eclipses Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which sold last year at Sotheby’s for $120 million. As the top-end of the art market is experiencing an incredible surge, the price tag of $142 million still leaves many scratching their head. But Bacon’s triptych had never been offered at auction before, which made it very appealing for high-end buyers. Also, Bacon has a relatively small body of work. He wasn’t nearly as prolific as someone like Picasso, whose total output has been given estimates around 40.000 pieces.

Bacon (1909 –1992) was born in Dublin to parents of English heritage. He had a troubled childhood and was forced to leave home at 16, living a rootless existence in London, Berlin and Paris. But in 1927, a Picasso exhibition in Paris inspired him. He began painting in his early 20s, struggling to find a style that suited him. After he was being declared unfit for military service in 1944, he gained a reputation for being “an observer of the darker aspects of humanity” and soon became known for his bold, graphic and emotionally raw imagery. In 1945, he met German-born British painter Lucian Freud who was 13 years younger than him. They became close friends.

Francis Outred, the head of post-war and contemporary art for Christie’s Europe, described the 1969 three-panel painting as a “true masterpiece that marks Bacon and Freud’s relationship”. It shows Freud sitting on a wooden chair within a cage. Behind each figure is a headboard of a bed, originating in a set of photographs of Freud by John Deakin, which Bacon used as a reference.

Bacon turned “traditional paintings of people inside out, with grotesquely distorted faces and twisted body parts”. Some of his most famous artworks were inspired by old masters, such as the Spanish artist Diego Velazquez.

The ten most expensive paintings ever sold:

  • “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” (1969) by Francis Bacon, 2013 (sold for $142.4 mio.)
  • “No. 5” (1948) by Jackson Pollock, 2006, sold for $140 mio.
  • “Woman III” (1953) by Willem de Kooning, 2006, sold for $137.5 mio.
  • “Adele Bloch-Bauer I” (1907) by Gustav Klimt, 2006, sold for $135 mio.
  • “Der Schrei” (1895) by Edvard Munch, 2012, sold for $119.9 mio.
  • “Akt mit grünen Blättern und Büste” (1932) by Pablo Picasso, 2010, sold for $106.5 mio.
  • “Junge mit Pfeife” (1905) by Picasso, 2004; sold for $104.2 mio.
  • “Dora Maar mit Katze” (1941) by Picasso, 2006 sold for $95.2 mio.
  • “Adele Bloch-Bauer II” (1912) by Gustav Klimt, 2006 sold for $87.9 mio.
  • “Orange, Red, Yellow” (1961) by Mark Rothko, 2012 sold for $86.9 mio.

Sources:

The official website of the estate of Francis Bacon

BBC / Der Spiegel online / Mirror, online 13 Nov 2013