As Marc Campbell pointed out on DM last month, when a b&w Coke bottle by Andy Warhol sold for $35, “some things are recession proof.” Now, a painting of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon has turned up after being kept in a private collection and not exhibited anywhere since 1965. This triptych goes on sale next month at Sotheby’s, in London, and according to the Daily Telegraph its $10m-$14m estimate “does not seem unreasonable.” Not unreasonable if you think of art as just a money-making exercise, like Warhol once said, “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”
Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud is a powerfully rendered triptych of small, 14in x 12in portraits, and is a testament to one of the most significant artistic relationships of the 20th century.
Bacon and Freud met in 1945 through the artist Graham Sutherland and became close if competitive friends, painting each other on several occasions. At one point, they met on an almost daily basis, frequently at their favourite watering hole, the Colony Room in Soho. But their friendship cooled in the late Seventies after an argument.
Only four portraits of Freud by Bacon have been at auction in the past 20 years. The last was in 2003 when a very similar small triptych sold to Pierre Chen, chairman of the Taiwanese Yageo Foundation, for $3.8 million (£2.2 million), which was record for a Bacon painting of these dimensions.
Since then, the price of Bacon has risen dramatically, climaxing in May 2008 with the $86 million (£44 million) paid by Roman Abramovich for a large-scale triptych.
However, top-drawer paintings by Bacon have been scarce at auction during the credit crunch. Since the summer of 2008, four works of varying quality have been unsold, creating a state of uncertainty in the Bacon market, and potential sellers have been waiting for someone else to make the first move to ascertain its strength. Hopefully for Sotheby’s, that deadlock was broken last November when a late painting of a cricket player belonging to Bacon’s doctor, Paul Brass, sold for $14 million (£8.7 million), comfortably above its estimate.
Considering that two small-format self-portrait triptychs by Bacon made £14 million and more in 2008, the £7 million-£9 million estimate for this triptych of Freud does not seem unreasonable. The only thing against it is that it has recently been offered privately and not sold, but that was for a much higher sum.
Sotheby’s is not saying who is selling the portrait, which was bought directly from Bacon’s dealers, Marlborough Fine Art, in 1965, apart from indicating that it is part of a family inheritance. Trade sources, however, confirm that the painting belonged to the Geneva based collector, George Kostalitz, who died last year. A private man about whom little is on public record, Kostalitz is said to have had a close working relationship with Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art.
Previously on Dangerous Minds