Christie’s Brings On the Bacon

One of Bacon’s most important triptychs from the 1980s is about to go on the block.

Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards, (1984)


Just as the art world seems to have fully processed the sale of Three Studies of Lucian Freud, the triptych by Francis Bacon that broke the world record for the highest price paid for a work at auction when it sold for $142.4 million at Christie’s in November, the auction house will soon be offering yet another Bacon triptych. At its spring postwar and contemporary evening sale on Tuesday, May 13, Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards (1984), a late-period Bacon, is estimated to bring in $80 million.

The painting depicts a bar manager from London’s East End who became the artist’s confidant and companion from 1976 until the artist’s death in 1992; he was Bacon’s sole heir.

Christie’s touts the work as one of the most important of Bacon’s 1980s triptychs remaining in private hands (of the 28 that the artist created, some 16 are still in private collections). It was also the centerpiece of Bacon’s Tate Gallery retrospective in 1985–86.

This one is being sold by Taiwanese entrepreneur Pierre Chen, who acquired it from 2004 to 2005 for around $15 million through a private sale at Sotheby’s. The work, a much more tranquil triptych than the turbulent Lucian Freud studies that were offered this past November, is estimated to sell for $80 million, just $5 million less than the estimate placed on the Freud studies.

Although it’s only the second of Bacon’s major triptychs to hit the auction block in a handful of years, maybe it’s a sign they are trickling back to market with some of the vigor seen at sales in 2008.

Bacon’s Triptych (in 3 parts) (1976), one of his most ambitious three-panel works and widely considered one of his best paintings, is an allegorically rich and densely layered painting that revisits many of the themes and concerns that engrossed Bacon over the course of his career. It sold for $86,281,000 in 2008 at Sotheby’s New York, breaking the artist’s record at auction. His 1974–77 Triptych, a portrait of Bacon’s lover George Dyer struggling on a deserted beach, and the last in the noted series of triptychs that were inspired by Dyer’s death, sold at Christie’s London in February 2008 for $51,749,508. No estimates were given on those lots. The top lot of a July sale that year at Christie’s London was Self Portrait (study; in 3 parts) (1975), a rare triptych the artist completed while in Paris. Though no estimate was given on that work either, it sold for $34,457,475.

If you want in on a Bacon triptych, even one from the storied George Dyer series, but for a more reasonable price, you might head over to Swann Galleries, where Triptych, an editioned color aquatint and etching on Guarro paper, is estimated to sell for $7,000–$10,000 on May 13 at its spring auction of Contemporary Art.


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