Francis Bacon's US$27.1m triptych headlines Sotheby's evening sale in London

On 14 October, the Now and Contemporary Evening Auctions presented by Sotheby's London ended with a sale total of £96.1 million (US$107.4 million), which was the highest-grossing Frieze Week Evening Sale at the house since 2015.

With only one of the 34 lots unsold, the highly-anticipated Contemporary Evening Sale achieved a total of £85.7 million and an impressive sell-through rate of 97%. The most expensive lot was British figurative painter Francis Bacon's Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, a triptych in small canvas format, which fetched £24.3 million (around US$27.1 million).

The first-runner up was Gerhard Richter’s 192 Farben, an early abstract art from his Colour Charts series selling for £18.3 million (around US$20.4 million). These two lots, alongside five other works, were guaranteed to sell with irrevocable bids. 

Auctioneer Oliver Barker

Lot 112 | Francis Bacon | Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, Oil on canvas in three parts
Created in 1963
Each: 35.5 x 30.5 cm

  • Marlborough-Gerson Gallery Inc., New York
  • William S. Paley, New York (acquired directly from the above in 1963)
  • Acquired by bequest in 1990 by the William S. Paley Foundation

Estimate upon request
Hammer Price: £23,000,000
Sold: £24,300,000 (around US$27.1 million)

Auctioneer Oliver Barker opened the bidding at £19 million. After five bids, the hammer price came to £23 million, going to the telephone bidder with paddle number 51, represented by Gregoire Billault, Chairman of Contemporary Art.

One of the major British painters of the post-World War II period, Francis Bacon is widely recognized for his iconic, violently-distorted portraits of scathed and traumatized humanity. The first named portrait of Henrietta Moraes in Bacon’s oeuvre, and the second ever triptych executed in the 35.5 by 30.5 cm small canvas format, Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes represents an upheaval in the artist’s practice.

In the 1960s, Bacon began to abandon the motifs and formats of the previous decade and opted for a focused portrayals of the human form in closely cropped and consistent proportions. Where the large panels acted as an arenas for the artist’s operatic musings on the human condition, the smaller canvases were to become the scene of his ferocious investigations.

The present lot is the second small scale triptych ever created by Francis Bacon

Henrietta Moraes established herself as the Queen of Soho

Throughout the 1950s, anyone in London who was interested in art was drawn to Soho. In revolt against her strict convent upbringing, Henrietta Moraes frequented the bars there and soon established herself as the Queen of Soho.

She would become a stalwart feature of the Soho set, among whose notorious troop were Bacon and Lucian Freud – another titan of British art, who had also painted after her. Sexually uninhibited, unconventional and a serious drinker, she captivated Bacon right away – in many ways she held a mirror up to his own untamed character.

While male subjects – friends, lovers and fellow artists – are featured heavily across Bacon’s oeuvre, he had created 20 paintings after Moraes, which clearly reflects his fascination with her. 

Lucian Freud's Girl in a Blanket featuring Henrietta Moraes

Almost immediately following its execution in 1963, the present lot was acquired by William S. Paley from Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, who was best known as the chief executive who built the Columbia Broadcasting System from a small radio network into one of the foremost radio and television network operations in the United States.

Following his death in 1990, Paley’s two important Bacon triptychs had went to MoMA on long-term loan, with Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes going to Sotheby’s directly from the museum where it has resided for over thirty years.

Part of the proceeds of the present lot will be benefitting the MoMA and other charitable organizations.

Lot 107 | Gerhard Richter | 192 Farben, Oil on canvas
Created in 1966
200 x 150 cm

  • The Artist
  • Konrad Fischer Galerie, Dusseldorf
  • Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in February 1981

Estimate: £13,000,000 - 18,000,000
Hammer Price: £15,700,000
Sold: £18,287,800 (around US$20.4 million)


The second most expensive lot went to Gerhard Richter’s 192 Farben, which came with an irrevocable bid before the sale to ensure it would sell. Started at £10.5 million, the painting was pursued by at least two bidders. A total of 14 bids propelled the work to the  £15.7 million hammer price, offered by the telephone bidder with paddle number 67 represented by Brad Bentoff, Senior Vice President, Sotheby’s New York.

Among the world’s leading contemporary artists, Gerhard Richter is at the top of the list in terms of status, fame and net worth. 

Belonging to Richter’s series of Farbtafeln or Colour Charts, 192 Farben stands as a landmark in his practice. Created in 1966, the present lot is not only the very first in the series and the unique one executed in oils, but also witnessed his stepping into the field of abstract art.

192 Farben is the first painting in Richter's Colour Charts series

Richter was commissioned to design Cologne Cathedral's south transept window in 2007

When asked about the impetus for the series, Richter recalled: “I went into a paint shop and there I saw the usual sample cards with the full array of shades in a collection, the sort of thing we’re all familiar with. Suddenly I couldn’t help telling myself: ‘You can’t do a better job than that! Those are perfect pictures.’”

Modelled on sample cards, these works follow a strict schematic grid structure and were titled according to the number of colours in the composition – the present lot consists of 192 distinct colours.

Begun in 1966 with this painting, Richter would continue making works in this series up until the late 2000s – only that his medium became the south transept window on Cologne Cathedral, which he completed in 2007.

Acquired by German collectors Elisabeth and Gerhard Sohst in 1981 –  prior to which it had only been with the artist – this work has been on long-term loan to the Hamburger Kunsthalle, Germany since the 1990s.

Lot 111 | Frank Auerbach | Head of J.Y.M., Oil on canvas (Record for artist)
Created in 1984-85
66 x 61 cm

  • Marlborough Gallery, London
  • Albert Fuss, London
  • Timothy Taylor Gallery, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: £3,000,000 - 4,000,000
Hammer Price: £4,700,000
Sold: £5,648,800 (around US$6.3 million)

Making its auction debut, Frank Auerbach's Head of J.Y.M. was greeted with a rousing reception from the salesroom and attracted 30 bids to achieve a hammer price of £47 million. The lot was sold to the buyer with paddle number 36, represented by Tom Eddison, Director of Contemporary Art at Sotheby's London.

After fees, the work fetched £56.5 million (around US6.3 million), which eclipsed his previous £41.5 million record – set by Head of Gerda Boehm at Sotheby’s London in June this year.

Born in Berlin in 1931 and now in his nineties, Auerbach was sent to the UK to flee persecution from the Nazis during the Second World War. In the war-torn London of the 1950s, Auerbach forged his reputation amongst a new generation of artists – including Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon – taking inspiration from the city and people around him.

Frank Auerbach

Head of Gerda Boehm sold for £41.5 million at Sotheby's London in June 2022

Much like Bacon, Auerbach only depicts subjects with whom he is extremely familiar, and Juliet Yardley Mills, referred to by her friends simply as J.Y.M., was his student and model.

Back in 1956, when Auerbach was teaching at Sidcup College of Art, J.Y.M. offered to model privately for him. For the next 40 years, she would visit Auerbach’s studio regularly to sit for him; and Auerbach had painted over 70 portraits after her.

Their enduring friendship resulted in some of Auerbach’s most significant works – including the present lot, which was hand-picked by the artist to be included in his 2001 retrospective at the Royal Academy of Art.

Along side Frank Auerbach, five other artists have also attained their new personal records during the Now and Contemporary Evening Auctions, which are:

Lot 102 | Kiki Kogelnik | Siempre Por Tio, Oil and acrylic on canvas
Created in 1964
183 x 137 cm

  • Estate of the artist
  • Simone Subal Gallery, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner 

Estimate: £70,000 - 100,000
Hammer Price: £165,000
Sold: £207,900

Now Evening Auction

Lot 16 | Caroline Walker | Indoor Outdoor, Oil on linen
Created in 2015
200 x 160 cm

  • Grimm Gallery, Amsterdam
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2015

Estimate: £60,000 - 80,000
Hammer Price: £420,000
Sold: £529,200

Lot 5 | Charline von Heyl | Untitled, Acrylic and oil on canvas
Created in 2006 
217.5 x 208.2 cm

  • Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York
  • Private Collection, New York
  • Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: £180,000 - 250,000
Hammer Price: £380,000
Sold: £478,800

Lot 1 | Julien Nguyen | Kye, Semper Solus, Oil and tempera on wood panel
Created in 2017
91.4 x 55.8 cm

  • Modern Art, London
  • Private Collection (acquired directly from the above)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: £40,000 - 60,000
Hammer Price: £360,000
Sold: £453,600

Lot 2 | Louise Giovanelli | Peeping Tom, Oil on linen
Created in 2019
51 x 41 cm

  • Frutta Gallery, Rome
  • Private Collection, Europe
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner 

Estimate: £30,000 - 40,000
Hammer Price: £65,000
Sold: £81,900

Auction Details:

Auction House: Sotheby's London
Date: 14 October 2022

Sale: Contemporary Evening Auction
Number of Lots: 34
Sold: 33
Unsold: 1
Sale Rate: 97%
Sale Total: £85,743,450 (US$95.8 million)

Sale: Now Evening Auction
Number of Lots: 17
Sold: 17
Sale Rate: 100%
Sale Total: £11,385,200 (US$12.7 million)