A hush fell over a packed Christie’s salesroom tonight at its evening “Post-War and Contemporary” sale as its star lot of Frieze Week, Francis Bacon’s Study of Red Pope (1962), failed to elicit a bid. It had been estimated that it could fetch £60 million. “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 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.
Instead, the lot was Basquiat’s powerful Red Skull (1982), which sold to art advisor Abigail Asher, within estimate, for £16.5 million.
The failure of the Bacon, and of second-rate paintings and sculptures by Peter Doig, Jenny Saville, and Damien Hirst in the £1 million to £3 million range, left Christie’s well short of its £139-million pound minimum target (excluding buyer’s premium) for the evening. Still, the sale brought a nonetheless impressive £99.5 million ($130.1 million), making it Christie’s second highest total for a contemporary art sale in Europe, and the highest ever for Frieze Week.
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 raisonne whose whereabouts was unknown. This painting, Head with Raised Arm (1955), was estimated at a more reasonable £7 million. It drew competition from dealers Thomas Gibson and Nick McLean, before falling to the latter for £11.5 million ($15.1 million).
British art is always a strong suit at these sales and here there was a string of records for British artists, starting with the opening lot, a 2003 decorated ceramic pot by the satirical potter, Grayson Perry, otherwise known as Claire. Saint Claire 37 wanks across Northern Spain was pursued by London dealer Robin Katz before selling to Micky Tiroche for £200,000, double its estimate.
Staying with Britain, Antony Gormley’s 28-foot cast iron A Case for an Angel 1 (1989), a smaller variant of his massive Angel of the North sculpture in Gateshead, sold near the low estimate for £5.3 million ($6.2 million) to a telephone bid. It was from Japanese collector and private museum owner Yusaku Maezawa who immediately Instagrammed news of the purchase. Read more