Sotheby’s Strikes Back with Bacon’s Triptych in the Uphill Battle Against Christie’s Da Vinci

In the battle of Contemporary Art Auction coming next month in New York, Christie’s has got the upper hand with the rediscovery of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi. Instead of sitting back in despair, Sotheby’s decided to step up the game by adding a new painting – Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of George Dyer with an estimate of US$35,000,000 - 45,000,000 – in hope to make a counter-attack.

Bacon (left) and his lover Dyer (right)

According to popular myth, Bacon first encountered Dyer breaking into his home one night in 1963. 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 featured large both in Bacon’s life and art.

This set of Three Studies of George Dyer was painted in 1966 and appeared in public just once at a Marlborough Gallery show in 1967. The work is now being sold by an anonymous private collector, who bought it in a private sale from its original buyer, a European collector.

There are only five triptychs of Dyer in this intimate format. Bacon used his unique visual vocabulary to create the heavily distorted portraits that encompass the full range of his and Dyer’s tempestuous and passionate love.

Sotheby’s London. 30 June 2014. £26,682,500.

Christie’s New York. 17 May 2017. US$52,887,500.

The other four triptychs of Dyer are now either in private hands or museums. The one on light ground was sold for £26.6m (US$45.4m) with buyer’s premium at Sotheby’s London in 2014. Another one on black ground was sold for US$52.8m (buyer's premium included) at Christie’s New York in May this year. The remaining two are in museum collections: the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the Louisiana Museum of Art, Humlebæk.

Though many of the Bacon’s paintings were sold for high prices in auctions, the pattern is not unbreakable. Early this month, his large-scale painting “Study of Red Pope, 1962, 2nd Version, 1971” went unsold at Christie’s London despite carrying a high estimate of £70m (US$92m).


Francis Bacon (1909-1992). Three Studies of George Dyer.

Lot no.: 40
Created in: 1966
Size: 35.6 x 30.5cm (each)

  • Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London
  • Basil and Elise Goulandris, Athens (acquired from the above in 1968)
  • Private Collection
  • Acquired by the present owner from the above

Estimate: US$35,000,000 - 45,000,000


Auction details

Auction house: Sotheby’s New York
Sale: Contemporary Art Evening Auction
2017/10/27 - 2810am - 5pm
2017/10/291pm - 5pm
2017/10/30 - 11/410am - 5pm
2017/11/51pm - 5pm
2017/11/6 - 1110am - 5pm
2017/11/121pm - 5pm
2017/11/13 - 1510am - 5pm
2017/11/1610am - 1pm
Auction date: 2017/11/16