Saturday - 25 October 2014

Bacon triptych tops contemporary sales

07 July 2014Written by Alex Capon

The total from last week’s Contemporary art auctions in London may have been a far cry from the record New York series in May where $1.57bn (£975m) of art changed hands, but there was still plenty of action as the market continued on its current buoyant course.

With international bidding coming from Europe, North America and Asia, the total of just over £207m from four auctioneers - Sotheby's, Christie's, Phillips and Bonhams - was in excess of the £169.5m seen for the equivalent series last year.

Both Sotheby's and Christie's had works by Francis Bacon (1909-92) and Peter Doig (b.1959) as their top two lots - the four works raising a combined £50.25m, a large chunk of the series total.

Sotheby's led the week with Bacon's Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer, a small-scale triptych from 1964 and one of five such paintings of his lover that exist in this format. This 14 x 12in (36 x 30cm) oil on canvas was on a light ground (the others either have black or pink backgrounds) and was one of three that remain in private hands.

It came to auction from a European vendor who had purchased it from Galleria Galatea in Turin in 1970 and was estimated at £15m-20m.

In the event, four bidders were in contention but it eventually came down to a battle between two phone bidders, one being a European collector giving instructions to Helena Newman, the chairman of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern art department in Europe, and an Asian client bidding through Patti Wong, chairman of Sotheby's Asia.

The hammer fell to the former at £23.75m, the highest auction sum for a small-scale Bacon triptych, beating the £20.5m seen for the Portrait of Lucian Freud (in 3 parts) also from 1964 which sold at Sotheby's London in February 2011.

The sum helped Sotheby's evening sale on June 30 to an £80.7m hammer total against presale expectations of £67.9m-89.7m. On the night, 51 of the 59 lots got away (86%).

Roald Dahl's Bacon

The following day, Christie's post-War and Contemporary art evening sale on July 1 was led by a single small-scale portrait study of Lucian Freud by Bacon that came from the collection of the writer Roald Dahl who died in 1990. The work had been purchased by Dahl in 1967, the year it was painted, for £2850 using proceeds from the previous year's first British publication of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

While no estimate was published, the lot had been fully guaranteed by the auctioneers but again four bidders pursued it. It was knocked down at £10.2m to an unidentified bidder in the room but the auctioneers stated after the sale that it sold to a European private buyer. The underbidder was also on the phone bidding through Xin Li, deputy chairman of Christie's Asia.

Doig in Demand

If Sotheby's had the better of the Bacons, then Christie's had the pick of the Doigs. Sotheby's had set a record £7.5m when a large-scale painting of a tunnel in Toronto, Canada, Country-rock (wing-mirror) from 1999, sold to an anonymous phone buyer, but this was trumped the day after when Christie's saw Gasthof, an equally large oil on canvas from 2002-04, sell at £8.8m.

Around six parties were bidding on this work, estimated at £3m-5m, and after a lengthy competition it was sold to dealer Larry Gagosian. The picture itself was a dream-like image of two figures in theatrical costume, one of whom was the artist himself. Self-portraits are rare in Doig's oeuvre.

Tracy Emin's Bed

While numerous lesser-known artists were taken to phenomenal levels at these sales, the auction series will no doubt be best remembered by the wider public for the sale of one of this country's most famous pieces of Contemporary art.

Christie's evening auction featured Tracy Emin's (b.1963) My Bed - the Turner Prize-shortlisted installation that has garnered huge media attention ever since it was created in 1998. It was on view in the ante-room immediately outside the saleroom and the artist herself was also present, recording the bidding on her mobile phone and joining in the applause when the hammer came down.

With the proceeds going to the Saatchi Gallery Foundation, My Bed drew competition over the £800,000-1.2m estimate before it was knocked down to Emin's dealer Jay Jopling at £2.2m.

The price was one of seven artist's records at Christie's evening sale which, overall, generated a hammer total of £85.7m against an £80m-114.8m presale estimate with 63 of the 75 lots (84%) finding buyers.

The buyer's premium for all the sales was 25/20/12%.

 

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