Colourful start to international art auctions

International auction houses expect further blockbuster sales this year after ‘spectacular’ 2013

A torrent of money was poured into the international art market last year and the spending looks set to continue in 2014. This week, Christie's reported a "a surge in interest across categories and across the globe, fuelled in large part by the online platform" which resulted in sales of €5.5 billion, up 16 per cent for the year ending December 2013. It was the highest sales total for Christie's or any auction house in the history of the art market.

Sotheby’s, which will report detailed full-year results next month, said 2013 was a “spectacular” year with auction sales growing by 19 per cent.

Twentieth-century art is attracting the greatest interest and the highest prices. Christie's has reported phenomenal global demand for paintings by Irish-born artist Francis Bacon whose triptych painting, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, sold for $142.4 million ($105.3m) in New York last year, creating a record as the most valuable work of art ever sold at auction.

Christie's revealed that six collectors had bid more than $100 million for the triptych during the auction so there are possibly disappointed under-bidders waiting for the next painting by Bacon and one will be auctioned in a Post-War and Contemporary Art sale in London on February 13th. Portrait of George Dyer Talking is expected to sell in the, relatively modest, region of £30 million (€36m) but, given recent history, this estimate may be easily smashed.

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The portrait, made in 1966, depicts George Dyer, described as Bacon’s “lover, muse and arguably his greatest influence” and was first exhibited at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971, two days after Dyer was found dead from a drink and drugs overdose in the bathroom of the Hotel des Saint-Pères in the city. Bacon didn’t cancel the opening.

Bacon met Dyer in London in 1963 and painted numerous portraits of him. Portrait of George Dyer Talking last sold at Christie's New York in 2000 for $6.6 million, a record price for the artist at the time.

In a catalogue note, Christie's describe the portrait as "an incisive, biting portrayal of a man, which goes beyond the possibilities of traditional painting". The image depicts "the figure of Dyer at the centre of a revolving room; the walls, floor and ceiling forced to curve like a centrifuge".
Russian princess
Among the numerous other highlights in the London auctions next month is a very different portrait, Boléro Violet by French artist Henri Matisse, which was painted in Nice on St Valentine's Day, 1937. The model in the painting is Princess Hélène Galitzine, daughter of Russian aristocrat Prince Serge Galitzine. It will be sold at Sotheby's Impressionist, Modern and Surreal Art sale on February 5th with a top estimate of £8.5 million (€10m).