Triptych by Francis Bacon Is Sold for $46.1 Million
LONDON — A mysterious three-part painting that is viewed as a Francis Bacon masterpiece sold for $46.1 million Wednesday night at a Christie’s auction here, countering expectations of a record price for his work.
Three bidders competed for the work, the “Triptych 1974-77,” which was offered by a private collector at a sale of postwar and Impressionist art. The buyer was not identified, but people in the packed salesroom said the winning bid had been submitted by a young man with long hair who was carrying a leather jacket and spoke English.
The hammer price was slightly below the auction’s presale estimate of $50 million to $70 million for the painting as well as Bacon’s previous record. In May his “Study From Innocent X” (1962) was sold for a record $52.6 million at Sotheby’s in New York.
The final price for this towering triptych, including Christie’s commission, was $51.6 million, the auction house said.
The last of a series of harrowing triptychs that Bacon painted after his companion George Dyer committed suicide in 1971, it is a dark work even for Bacon, who is known for his bleak subject matter. The three enormous canvases each depict Mr. Dyer writhing and struggling on a beach.
In the first and third panels he is shielded — or menaced, depending on the interpretation — by a black umbrella; in all three canvases there is a sense that he will be swallowed by a void.
The painting was the last that Bacon produced before a major retrospective of his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1974. That was the first solo Bacon exhibition to be organized since 1971, when, on the eve of a landmark retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris, Dyer killed himself in the Paris hotel room where he and Bacon were staying. (Bacon died in Madrid in 1992.)
Each panel in the work measures 6 feet by more than 4 feet. At the bottom of the central canvas Bacon originally painted a prone figure who seemed to be crawling or sliding along the surface. But in 1977 he painted it out, saying he felt the figure interfered too much with the rest of the composition, which is why the triptych is dated 1974-1977.
The last of Bacon’s paintings to depict Dyer, the work includes several elements from three of the artist’s earlier “Black” triptychs. In each work there is also what he called the “grip and twist” of Mr. Dyer’s contorted naked body with a premonitory shadow hanging over it.
Wednesday night’s sale was the climax of a busy auction week after a sale of Impressionist and modern art at Christie’s on Monday and another at Sotheby’s on Tuesday.