Bacon painting fetches €34m at auction


A male nude painting by Dublin-born artist Francis Bacon sold for $44.8 million (€34.5 million) at a Sotheby’s art auction in New York last night.

Described as a “powerful and sophisticated” painting, Figure Writing Reflected In Mirror exceeded its estimate of $30 million-$40 million.

Five bidders competed to buy the painting. The successful buyer was listed, simply, as “anonymous”. The 1976 oil painting, which measures approximately 6.5ft by 5ft, was sold by an unnamed European collector.

A second, smaller painting by Bacon titled Study for a Portrait sold later in the evening for $4.2 million. The New York Times reported that it had been bought by Donald L. Bryant, an American art collector who told the paper he was “happy to get it at that price”.

Bidders spent over $266 million dollars at the auction. Roy Lichtenstein’s Sleeping Girl painted in 1964, shared the top spot with Bacon – also selling for $44.8 million - a new record for the artist at auction.

Sotheby’s said Sleeping Girl is one of the high-points of the Lichtenstein’s comic book inspired paintings and an icon of Post-War American art.” A painting of Elvis Presley titled Double Elvis by Andy Warhol made $37 million.

Speaking afterwards, Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art, said the company was “thrilled” by the results and that “the top end of the market performed beautifully this evening due to a global demand for masterpieces that is almost unparalleled”.

The record price at auction for one of Francis Bacon’s paintings was achieved at Sotheby’s, also in New York, in 2008 when his Triptych, 1976 sold for $86.3 million (€55.6 million).

The buyer, reputedly, was Russian billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club.

Later today, Sotheby’s will auction a selection of Irish art in London including paintings by Sir William Orpen, Jack B Yeats and Paul Henry.

The annual spring sales bore out auction officials' confidence that the art market would maintain its upward climb, defying an unsettled economy as seasoned bidders competed with new collectors for a limited offering of top-quality works.