US$49.8m Francis Bacon Headlines Christie’s Contemporary Art Sale

Christie’s has dominated New York sales over the past two weeks starting with its record-breaking Rockefeller auction and its solid Impressionist and Modern Art sale. Closing the week on a strong note was its Contemporary Art Evening Sale, which was led by US$49.8m Francis Bacon’s Study for Portrait.

Study for Portrait, painted by Francis Bacon in Paris in 1977, is a powerful eulogy to his greatest love and most important subject: George Dyer. The painting carried an estimate of US$30m.

Francis Bacon and George Dyer

Bacon first encountered Dye breaking into his home one night in 1963. Being an alcoholic and convicted petty crook, Dyer was attracted to Bacon’s self-confidence and intellect, while Bacon was drawn by the younger man’s aura of criminal risk. The two fell deeply in love, and from that moment on, Dyer played an important part in Bacon’s life and art.

Part of the painting

Unfortunately, Dyer tragically took his own life six years earlier in 1971, less than thirty-six hours before the opening of Bacon’s career-defining retrospective at the Grand Palais. His death had a devastating impact on the artist. The present work extends the language of the dark, cinematic “black triptychs” made in the immediate aftermath of Dyer’s death.

The bidding started at US$27m and followed by mainly two telephone bidders offering alternate bids. After nearly 25 bids, the auctioneer, Jussi Pylkkänen, Christie’s Global President brought the hammer down at US$44m and sold the painting for US$49.8m (premium included). The winning bidder was the client represented by Renato Pennisi (image above), Specialist from Post-War & Contemporary Art department.

The second top lot fell to Andy Warhol’s Double Elvis [Ferus Type], a painting that pays tribute to superstar Elvis Presley. It was estimated at US$33m.

The painting was hammered down at US$33.5m and sold for US$37m (premium included) to a room bidder, Bret Gorvy, the co-founder of Lévy Gorvy.

The seller of the Warhol painting is Steve Wynn, the casino mogul who founded Wynn Resorts, who bought the painting for US$37m. Now that the painting is selling for the same amount, seems like the painting is not a wise investment by Wynn.

The third place was taken by Mark Rothko’s No 7 (Dark Over Light), measuring 228.8 x 148.8 cm. Painted in 1954, the painting was expected to fetch US$30m. 

The painting was knocked down for US$27m and sold for nearly US$30.7m (premium included) to the telephone bidder represented by Alex Rotter (the right one in the image above), Co-Chairman of Post-War and Contemporary Art.  

Of 65 lots offered, seven lots were withdrawn or passed. The sale achieved 89 percent sold by lot, with seven pieces sold for more than US$15m.


Lots sold more than US$15m

Francis Bacon (1909-1992). Study for Portrait.

Lot no.: 7B
Size: 198.2 x 147.7 cm

  • Marlborough International Fine Art, Vaduz
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner, 13 May 1977

Estimate: US$30,000,000
Hammer price: US$44,000,000
Price realised: US$

Andy Warhol (1928-1987). Double Elvis [Ferus Type].

Lot no.: 9B
Size: 207.6 x 121.9 cm

  • Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles
  • Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
  • Private collection, 1971
  • Ileana Sonnabend, Paris
  • Mayfair Gallery, London
  • Princess Miriam Jahore, London
  • Shaindy Fenton, Fort Worth
  • Private collection, Fort Worth, 1977
  • Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 09 May 2012, lot 27
  • Private collection
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: US$33,000,000
Hammer price: US$33,500,000
Price realised: US$37,000,000

Mark Rothko (1903-1970). No 7 (Dark Over Light).

Lot no.: 34B
Size: 228.8 x 148.8 cm

  • Sidney Janis Gallery, New York 
  • Count Alessandro Panza di Biumo, Sr., Milan, 1961 
  • His sale; Sotheby's, New York, 02 May 1985, lot 56 
  • Mr. and Mrs. Edward S. Pantzer, New York, 1985
  • Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 18 November 1992, lot 43
  • Pace Gallery, New York, 1992
  • Jane and Terry Semel, Los Angeles, 1992
  • Anon. sale; Christie’s, New York, 19 November 1998, lot 360 
  • Private collection, Europe 
  • Anon. sale; Christie’s, New York, 13 November 2007, lot 36 
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: US$30,000,000
Hammer price: US$27,000,000
Price realised: US$30,687,500

Andy Warhol (1928-1987). Most Wanted Men No. 11, John Joseph H., Jr.

Lot no.: 15B
Size: 124.5 x 96.5 cm

  • Mickey Ruskin, New York
  • Walter Kelly Gallery, New York
  • Mr. and Mrs. Ronald K. Greenberg, St. Louis
  • Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
  • Saatchi Collection, London
  • Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 06 May 1992, lot 39
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: US$30,000,000
Hammer price: US$25,000,000
Price realised: US$28,437,500

Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993). Ocean Park #126.

Lot no.: 26B
Size: 236.2 x 205.7 cm

  • M. Knoedler & Co., New York, 1985
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1985

Estimate: US$16,000,000 - 20,000,000
Hammer price: US$21,000,000
Price realised: US$23,937,500

Jeff Koons (b. 1955). Play-Doh.

Lot no.: 12B
Size: 315 x 386.7 x 348 cm

  • Gagosian Gallery, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2005

Estimate: US$20,000,000
Hammer price: US$20,000,000
Price realised: US$22,812,500

Joan Mitchell (1925-1992). Blueberry.

Lot no.: 6B
Created in:1969
Size: 200 x 150 cm

  • Martha Jackson Gallery, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1970

Estimate: US$5,000,000 - 7,000,000
Hammer price: US$14,500,000
Price realised: US$16,625,000

Auction summary:

Auction house: Christie’s New York
Sale: Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Sale date: 2018/5/17
Lots offered: 65
Sold: 58
Unsold: 7
Sold by lot: 89%
Sale total: US$398,709,500