Christie’s Fails to Sell US$92m Bacon’s Pope Painting

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)’s Study of Red Pope, the star lot to lead Christie’s Post-war and Contemporary Art Evening Auction in London, was expected to fetch £70m (US$92m). It failed to attract bidders and was passed at a price below its lowest estimate in the end.

Despite the high-profile failure to sell Bacon’s Pope painting at a would-be highest price for the artist, Christie’s still managed to achieve a notable sale total of £99.5m (US$130m) and a sell-through rate of 84%. If the leading lot had successfully been sold, Christie’s would have netted a record-breaking sale total.

The leading lot of the sale, Francis Bacon (1909-1992)’s Study of Red Pope, was estimated at £70m (US$92m). Bidders were not as enthusiastic as Christie’s had anticipated. The bidding started at £50m and followed by four bid increments. After about a minute, the painting was passed at £58m, below than its lowest estimate.

The winning lot was Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)’s Red Skull. It was marked as estimate upon request but the Value learnt the estimate was within the range £12m – 18m (US$15.79m – 23.69m). The bidding began at £8m and the competitors were mainly two telephone bidders and a lady in the room. With a bid increment of £1m, the price went steadily up to £14m and stopped. The auctioneer invited bidders to offer higher bids and got one more bid increment. The painting was hammered down at £14.5m and sold for £16,546,250 (US$21.77m) with buyer’s premium.

All proceeds from selling this painting will be donated to the "Knowledge Is Power Program" (KIPP), which supports a network of free public charter schools in New Jersey.

The second most expensive lot was Camp Forestia, created by Scottish figurative painter Peter Doig (b. 1959). Estimated at £14m – 18m (US$18.43m – 23.69m), the painting was offered an opening bid of £9m. The price soon soared to £13m but followed by one bid increment only. The painting was hammered down at £13.5m, below its lowest estimate. It was sold for £15,421,250 (US20,298,991) with buyer’s premium.

Another Bacon’s Pope painting, Head with Raised Arm, was also the highlight of the sale. Estimated at £7m – 10m (US$9.21m – 13.16m), the painting has been kept in private hands for over half a century. The bidding started at £6m and followed by 16 bid increments in 3 minutes. The painting was hammered down at £10m (US$13.16m), its highest estimate. It was sold to a bidder in the room for £11,483,750 (US15.11m) with buyer’s premium.


Leading lot

FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)

Lot no.: 16A
Created in: 1971
Size: 198 x 147.5cm
Estimate: £70,000,000

Top three lots (by sale results)


Lot no.: 8
Created in: 1982
Size: 152.4 x 152.4 cm
Estimate: Estimate Upon Request
(The Value learnt the estimate was £12,000,000 - 18,000,000)
Hammer price: £14,500,000
Price realized: £16,546,250

PETER DOIG (B. 1959)

Lot no.: 19
Created in: 1996
Size:  170 x 170 cm
Estimate: £14,000,000 - 18,000,000
Hammer price: £13,500,000
Price realized: £15,421,250

FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)

Lot no.: 21A
Created in: 1955
Size: 61 x 50.7cm
Estimate: £7,000,000 - 10,000,000
Hammer price: £10,000,000
Price realized: £11,483,750


Auction Summary
Auction house: Christie’s London
Sale: Post-war and Contemporary Art (Evening Auction)
Auction date: 2017/10/6
Sale total: £99,522,750
No. of lots: 64
Sold: 54
Unsold: 10
Average price per lot: £1,843,013
Sell-through rate: 84%
(All prices realized have included buyer’s premium unless otherwise specified)