francis bacon

Francis Bacon: Redefining The Art Market

Heike Söns

Francis Bacon's masterpiece, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, sells for a record $142.4 million dollars and becomes the most expensive work of art ever to be sold at auction.


Six intense minutes were more than enough to break the record of the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction, an event that could also mark a new trend in the global market for modern art. Francis Bacon’s intriguing triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud, dethroned Edvard Munch’s The Scream, and Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust to become the most expensive piece of art purchased in an auction.

Francis Bacon

Painted by the Irish-born, British artist in 1969 and sold to the highest (and anonymous) bidder, this piece commanded $142.4 million during a feverish auction held, recently, at Christie’s in New York City. And while this is not the first time a work by Bacon breaks a record, this particular piece was highly coveted for many reasons. The triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud is an interesting piece, not only because it is representative of Bacon`s work, but also because it embodies an artistic current that defines an era.

As the title suggests, this masterpiece presents a series of portraits of Lucian Freud, an acclaimed artist himself, and grandson of the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, with whom Bacon had a close relationship and a rivalry since the 1940s. In these portraits, Freud, who died last year at the age of 88, sits on a wooden chair, contained within a cage against a solid two-toned background, a lone figure suspended in a geometric structure. “This masterful work defines the relationship between Bacon and Freud, as well as their creative and emotional affinity,” said Francis Outred, International Director and Head of the Division of Postwar and Contemporary Art at Christie’s.

Throughout his life, Bacon was both repudiated and acclaimed by critics and the general public. Described by former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, as “that man who paints those dreadful pictures”, Francis Bacon devoted his creative career to produce raw, visceral and extremely graphic images. As is the case of Three Studies of Lucian Freud, many of Bacon’s best works concentrate on the analysis of a primary object, which often poses against a sober and discreet environment, isolated behind glass or inside a symmetrical metal cage.

Francis Bacon
FRANCIS BACON. Three Studies of Lucian Freud.

It is still surprising to collectors and curators that a work by Bacon should be placed as the most expensive work of art on the market. However, it is not the first time one of his pieces fetches a considerable sum during an auction. There is no doubt that the lists of “the most expensive works auctioned worldwide” has taken an unpredictable turn.

1. Three Studies of Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, $142.4 million, Christie’s, 2013.
2. The Scream, Edvard Munch, $119.9 million, Sotheby’s, 2012.
3. Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, Pablo Picasso, $106.5, Christie’s, 2010.
4. Walking Man I, Alberto Giacometti, $104.3 million, Sotheby’s, 2010.
5. Garçon à la pipe (Boy with a Pipe), Pablo Picasso, $104.2 million, private auction, 2004.
6. Dora Maar au Chat (Dora Maar Seated), Pablo Picasso, $95.2, Sotheby’s, 2006.
7. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, Gustav Klimt, $87.9 million, Christie’s, 2006.
8. Orange, Red, Yellow, Mark Rothko, $86.9 million, Christie’s, 2012.
9. Triptych, Francis Bacon, $85.9 million, private auction, 2008.
10. Portrait of Dr. Paul Gachet, Vincent Van Gogh, $82.5 million, private auction, 1990.

Francis Bacon

The controversy raised by Bacon‘s work does not end with its sale. The exhibition of the piece at the Portland Art Museum in Oregon has been extended until March 30th of next year. This decision gives the public an opportunity to view the now scandalous work, but curators and critics also caution that the Portland Museum should not be aligned with the idea that a work of art becomes more valuable when its price goes up.

According to Outred, this work “suddenly becomes a very important conversation between two teachers.” He also mentioned that the three pieces that make up Three Studies of Lucian Freud were separated for 15 years sicne the 1970s, before being definitively reunited.


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