Bacon’s Nude Model Tops $126.5M at Auction

15 February 2012

A Francis Bacon portrait of a naked model sprawled on a bed and a Gerhard Richter abstract last night boosted a 80.6 million pound ($126.5 million) auction as contemporary artworks drew multiple bids.

Bacon’s sexually charged 1963 canvas “Portrait of Henrietta Moraes” fetched $33.3 million, topping the 65-lot Christie’s International (CHRS) sale. The total was the company’s second-highest for a contemporary-art auction in London and was greeted with whoops and applause from Christie’s staff members.

“We expected fireworks, and we got it,” London-based art adviser Wendy Goldsmith said in an interview. “When you add all the extras up, the prices are high. Where will it end?”

Bacon is the U.K.’s most expensive artist at auction. The portrait’s final price of 21.3 million pounds with fees beat an 18-million-pound hammer-value estimate. The sale demonstrated investment demand for his paintings and the attractiveness of the U.K. capital as an auction venue, with its population of wealthy international residents, dealers said.

Sheldon Solow, a Manhattan real estate developer and art collector, was identified by dealers as the Bacon’s seller. The work was bought on the telephone by Sumiko Roberts of Christie’s London-based client services department, representing a customer, against two other telephone bidders.

“For a Bacon, it was a commercial image,” the London-based dealer Offer Waterman said in an interview. “I don’t think it would have fetched a higher price in a gallery.”

Record Triptych

The Bacon auction record is $86.3 million for a 1976 “Triptych” at Sotheby’s (BID) New York, in May 2008.

At least four telephone bidders were prepared to pay the upper estimate of 7 million pounds for Richter’s large green, blue and pink “Abstraktes Bild,” dating from 1994 and never offered at auction before.

Interest in the painting was high, following the recent Richter retrospective at Tate Modern and the record $20.8 million paid by the collector Lily Safra for a 1997 abstract by the artist at Sotheby’s New York in November.

It was eventually bought by Christie’s New York-based specialist Andrew Massad, bidding for a client on the telephone, for 9.9 million pounds.

There was also a flurry of telephone bidding for the 1990 black-and-white word painting “Untitled,” showing the word “FOOL,” by the U.S. artist Christopher Wool, who is consistently in demand at contemporary-art fairs. Again fresh to the auction market, this was sold to a record telephone bid of 4.9 million pounds handled by Pedro Girao, chairman of Christie’s European advisory board.

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