TEHRAN. (Iranart) - A hush fell over a packed Christie’s salesroom October 6 at its ‘Post-War and Contemporary’ sale in London as its star lot ‘Study of Red Pope,’ a 1962 work by Irish-born British figurative painter Francis Bacon (1909-1992) failed to elicit a bid. It had been estimated that it could fetch £60 million ($78.4m).
“People were in the room who had expressed interest,” said department head, Francis Outred, afterwards, “but none of them wanted to break the ice. I am sure we can still sell it.”
The would-be bidders might have been calculating the significance of the potential sale. The highest price for a single canvas by Bacon was the £42.4 million ($55.4m) paid in 2014 for the 1966 ‘Portrait of George Dyer Talking.’ Had they bid, they would have broken new ground for a single Bacon canvas at auction. But they didn’t, according to artnet news (News.artnet.com).
Instead, the lot ‘Red Skull,’ a 1982 painting by celebrated American graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) was sold to art advisor Abigail Asher, within estimate, for £16.5 million ($21.5m).
The failure of the Bacon, and of second-rate paintings and sculptures by Scottish painter Peter Doig, 58, British painter Jenny Saville, 47, and British artist and art collector Damien Hirst, 52, in the £1 million to £3 million range ($1.3-$4m), left Christie’s well short of its £139-million pound ($181.5m) minimum target for the evening, excluding buyer’s premium. Still, the sale brought a nonetheless impressive £99.5 million ($130.1m).
In pulling this off, they were fortunate to have not one, but two Bacon ‘Pope’ paintings that had not been seen in public for 50 years. The smaller of these was the only painting in the recently published Bacon catalogue whose whereabouts was unknown.
This painting, ‘Head with Raised Arm (1955),’ was estimated at a more reasonable £7 million ($9.1m). It drew competition from dealers Thomas Gibson and Nick McLean, before falling to the latter for £11.5 million ($15.1m).