Buyers Chase Bacon’s Lover to Koons’s Egg in $207 Million Sale

Feb 13, 2014 9:47 pm ET

Feb. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Francis Bacon’s painting of his lover fetched 42.2 million pounds ($70.3 million) yesterday, boosting Christie’s evening sale of postwar and contemporary art in London.

The price was a record for a single-panel painting by Bacon and accounted for a third of the 124.2 million-pound tally, which exceeded last year’s total by 52 percent. Bidding was explosive for many of the 48 offered lots, eight of which failed to sell. Seventeen works fetched more than 1 million pounds and seven artist records were set, including those for the U.K.’s Jenny Saville, Bridget Riley and Gary Hume.

The event was the last and the largest of four evening postwar and contemporary art sales this week in London that generated a combined 260.9 million pounds. Bidding was global and wealthy new buyers from China, Middle East and Russia helped push up prices for historic, blue-chip and emerging art stars.

“The market keeps shifting up a notch for the best pieces,” said Philip Hoffman, chief executive officer of Fine Art Fund Group, which manages about $300 million in investments from 120 clients. “All over the world people are looking to diversify their assets and art has proven to be an excellent store of value.”

Bacon’s 6-foot-tall 1966 canvas “Portrait of George Dyer Talking” was consigned by Mexican financier David Martinez, two people with knowledge of the matter said in January.

‘Violence, Beauty’

At least four collectors, including those from Asia and Russia, competed through Christie’s staff members for the painting. The winner was an anonymous U.S. client of Brett Gorvy, Christie’s chairman and international head of postwar and contemporary art.

Bacon’s painting depicts a male figure contorted on a stool underneath a bare light bulb in the middle of a room with curved, lilac walls that evoke an arena.

“It has all the elements one looks for in Bacon: violence, beauty, color, texture, movement,” said Pilar Ordovas, a London-based dealer specializing in 20th century and contemporary art.

Christie’s had estimated the painting at 30 million pounds and guaranteed the seller an undisclosed minimum price financed through third parties.

“Bacon is a blue-chip commodity,” said Alan Hobart, a London-based private art dealer who bought a Bacon portrait of Muriel Belcher for 13.7 million euros ($18.7 million) at a Sotheby’s Paris auction in 2007. “He is one of the great 20th century masters and there is an increasing global demand for his work.”

Asian Bidders

Bacon collectors include Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and J. Tomilson Hill, vice chairman of Blackstone Group LP. Billionaire Elaine Wynn, philanthropist and ex-wife of casino magnate Steve Wynn, paid $142.4 million for Bacon’s 1969 triptych “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” at Christie’s in New York in November, an auction record for any artwork.

The artist’s works generated $195.7 million at auction in 2013, a 28 percent increase from 2012, according to French research firm Artprice.com.

Asian bidding was strong throughout the evening, Christie’s executives said after the sale.

Xin Li, Christie’s deputy chairman of Asian business development, placed the winning bid for a vibrant 1989 abstract painting by Gerhard Richter at 19.6 million pounds, surpassing the target of 15 million pounds. Prices include buyer’s premium; estimates do not.

Cracked Egg

She was the under-bidder for Domenico Gnoli’s large 1969 painting “Black Hair,” which sold for 7 million pounds, almost four times its presale high estimate. The price set a record for the postwar Italian artist (1933-1970).

Jeff Koons’s reflective sculpture “Cracked Egg (Magenta)” fetched 14.1 million pounds, within the expected range. The winner was a client of David Linley, Christie’s chairman in the U.K. and a grandson of King George VI.

Emerging artists continued their strong performance this week. A work by Lucien Smith, 24, whose “rain” paintings were included in each of the week’s evening contemporary sales, fetched 158,500 pounds, almost four times the high estimate of 40,000 pounds. A canvas marked with doodles and the word “Burrito” by market darling Oscar Murillo, 28, fetched 194,500 pounds, more than six times its presale high estimate.

Christie’s results were 41 percent higher than rival Sotheby’s postwar and contemporary art evening sale on Feb. 12. Christie’s held a separate evening auction of a private Italian art collection on Feb. 11, tallying 38.4 million pounds and setting auction records for 14 artists.

“There’s a pursuit of quality,” Gorvy said. “We are dealing with a very sophisticated market.”

--Editors: Josh Friedman, Daniel Taub