Bacon painting sells for record US$142.4m at Christie's auction

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 November, 2013, 5:14pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 November, 2013, 12:18pm


A 1969 painting by British artist Francis Bacon set a world record for the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction, and a sculpture by Jeff Koons broke a world auction record for a living artist at a Manhattan sale.

Three Studies of Lucian Freud was purchased for US$142.4 million at Christie's postwar and contemporary art sale on Tuesday evening. The triptych depicts Bacon's artist friend.

The work sold after "six minutes of fierce bidding in the room and on the phone" to Acquavella Galleries in Manhattan, Christie's said. The price included the buyer's premium.

The price tag surpassed the nearly US$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 US$86 million in 2008. Also up for sale at Christie's evening auction was Koons' whimsical Balloon Dog (Orange), a three-metre-tall stainless steel sculpture resembling a twisted child's party balloon.

It sold for US$58.4 million, a world auction record for the artist and a world auction record for a living artist, said Christie's. The auction house did not reveal the buyer. With Impressionist and modern art harder to come by and many of the great works in museums, art officials say contemporary work has driven an explosion in prices.

"Tonight we showed ultimately the strength of this market and the diversity of this market," said Brett Gorvy, head of post-war and contemporary art at Christie's, insisting that the value of post-war and contemporary art would only increase "incredibly". A 1977 painting by Willem De Kooning, Untitled VIII, sold for more than US$32 million, a world auction record for the artist. In 2006, De Kooning's Untitled XXV, sold for US$27.1 million.

Other highlights at Christie's included an iconic Andy Warhol, Coca-Cola (3), which fetched US$57.2 million. The Warhol auction record is US$71.7 million for Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I), sold in 2007.

There also was a bright orange-yellow and white oil painting by Mark Rothko. Reminiscent of a sunset, the 1957 large-scale Untitled (No. 11) garnered more than US$46 million. In May 2012, Christie's sold Rothko's Orange, Red, Yellow for US$86.8 million, a record for any contemporary artwork at auction.

The auction also featured a masterpiece by German painter Gerhard Richter from the collection of rock star Eric Clapton. Painted in gold and orange hues, the 1994 Abstract Painting sold for US$20.8 million. Richter's photo-based Cathedral Square, Milan brought US$37 million at Sotheby's in May, setting a record at the time for any living artist at auction.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse