Exclusive: Artnet News Has Identified the Seller of a Francis Bacon Triptych at Christie’s That Could Fetch $74 Million

The work goes up for sale on March 1 in London.

Francis Bacon, Triptych 1986-7. Courtesy Christie's of Christie's Images, Ltd.

The anonymous seller of a prized trophy painting by Francis Bacon going to auction next month at Christie’s in London has been identified.

Bacon’s Triptych 1986–7, which is scheduled to be sold with an estimate of £35 million to £55 million ($47.3 million to $74.3 million) on March 1 in the first of a series of high-stakes 20th- and 21st-century art auctions, is being sold by star architect Norman Foster, according to people familiar with the work.

Since the pandemic began, the triptych has been offered privately, according to people familiar with those discussions, with an asking price ranging from $70 million to $100 million. 

It is now appearing at auction for the first time, according to Christie’s, which noted that the current owner acquired it from Marlborough Gallery in 2007.

Representatives for Foster didn’t respond to emails and calls seeking comment. Christie’s declined to comment.

The painting, which carries a third-party guarantee, making it as good as sold, depicts a male figure in a gray overcoat and top hat on its left-most panel. The image is based on an 1919 photo of the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson at the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I.

The right-hand panel alludes to the assassination of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, and the central panel depicts a contorted figured based on John Edwards, Bacon’s partner at the time.

The work was completed five years before the artist’s death in 1992 and was first exhibited at Marlborough Gallery in New York in 1988. Bacon often painted in triptychs, creating 28 works in the format from 1944 to 1991. One of them, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, fetched $142.3 million at Christie’s in New York in 2013, and remains the artist’s auction record.   

Foster is a winner of the prestigious Pritzker Prize in architecture. He and his wife, Elena Ochoa Foster, have a foundation in Madrid, and she is also a founder of Ivorypress, a publishing house specializing in artists’ books. Since 1996, it has grown to encompass an exhibition space, an art consultancy, and curatorial services, according to its website.

It’s unclear why Foster is selling the Bacon now, but the work did make an appearance in the Centre Georges Pompidou’s acclaimed exhibition “Bacon en Toutes Lettres,” which was open from 2019 to 2020. 

The last triptych by Bacon to come up for auction was at Sotheby’s in 2020. Titled Triptych Inspired By the Oresteia Of Aeschylus, it fetched $84.6 million and was purchased by billionaire Sotheby’s owner Patrick Drahi. 

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