Bacon sizzles at sell-out auction

A rare triptych by Francis Bacon sold for a stunning £23m in a sell-out auction of modern art at Sotheby’s in London last night (February 10). It was the highlight of a session that also saw a Salvador Dalí painting soar to £13.5m, setting a new record for the artist and for any Surrealist work of art.

Eight bidders wanted the small scarlet-hued Bacon, “Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud” (1964), and after a prolonged battle it was hammered down to the Cologne-based dealer Alex Lachmann who specialises in Russian clients. It was estimated at £7m-£9m and was the top lot in the sale. The second highest price was given for the Dalí, “Portrait de Paul Eluard” (1929), estimated at £3.5m-£5m, which also triggered a fierce battle between six bidders. It sold to Sotheby’s New York-based specialist Stephane Cosman Connery on the telephone to an unidentified client.

Sotheby’s sale, dubbed Looking Closely, A Private Collection, featured 60 works of art from the estate of George Kostalitz, a Swiss collector. It was expected to fetch up to £55m. Every lot sold – a “white glove sale” in trade jargon – and it shattered expectations by totalling £93.5m, including the auction house commissions.

The sale ended a week of strong buying apparently from Russians. On Wednesday night Christie’s sale of Impressionist and Modern art saw its specialist Sonia Nedvetskaia, who looks after Russian clients, scoop up a £7m Bonnard, a £4.7m Magritte and a £3m Van Dongen. And the most expensive work of the week, Picasso’s £25.2m portrait of his lover Marie Thérèse, which sold at Sotheby’s on Tuesday, was bought by UK chairman Mark Poltimore, who has close links with the firm’s Russian clients.

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