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Sunday 21 January 2018

Freud triptych smashes art auction record

Jon Swaine

A painting by Francis Bacon of his friend Lucian Freud has set a new world record price for an art auction, after selling for $142.4m (€105m).

Three Studies of Lucian Freud, which was painted in 1969, sold on Tuesday at a Christie’s postwar and contemporary sale in New York. It had been given an estimated price of $85 million.

After 10 minutes of frantic bidding between seven hopefuls, its price easily exceeded the $120m paid for Edvard Munch's The Scream at a sale in 2012, which was previously the highest ever paid for art at auction.

It also broke the previous record price for the work of a British artist, which was set by the sale of Bacon's own 1976 Triptych for $86 million in 2008 to Roman Abramovich, the Russian tycoon.

Francis Outred, the head of post-war and contemporary art for Christie’s Europe, had described the 1969 piece as a “true masterpiece that marks Bacon and Freud’s relationship”. The pair had been friends and rivals since the mid-1940s. Bacon died at 82 in 1992; Freud died last year aged 88.

“The juxtaposition of radiant sunshine yellow contrasting with the brutal physicality and immediacy of the brushstrokes in this celebrated life-size triptych is what makes Bacon’s art so remarkable,” said Mr Outred.

The Francis Bacon painting of his friend and fellow artist Lucian Freud has become the most valuable work of art ever sold at auction - fetching almost £90m
The Francis Bacon painting of his friend and fellow artist Lucian Freud has become the most valuable work of art ever sold at auction - fetching almost £90m
Christie's sale on Tuesday is led by Bacon' 1969 triptych, "Three Studies of Lucian Freud," which has never been offered at auction
'Three Studies of Lucian Freud', by Francis Bacon, at Christie's, in central London

The three panels were separated for 15 years after different sales in the 1970s to collectors from Rome, Paris and Japan. However they were later reunited when the collector in Rome bought the other two.

The Wall Street Journal named the collector as Francesco De Simone Niquesa, a lawyer who advised the actresses Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida in the 1960s and made a separate fortune from bottled mineral water.

However he is said to have sold the six-foot triptych in recent years to a US-based collector, who was the seller behind Tuesday's sale. Christie's declined to name the seller.

Bacon, who is said to have been enchanted by his younger friend, is believed to have painted another triptych of Freud three years earlier, but the work is currently missing.

At the same auction on Tuesday, the sculpture Balloon Dog (Orange) by the American pop-artist Jeff Koons sold for $58.4 million, the highest price ever fetched by a living artist. The sale of the 12-foot tall stainless steel structure beat the previous record of $37.1 million for a painting by Gerhard Richter earlier this year.

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