Mexican financier David Martinez Guzman is the seller of a 1966 Francis Bacon portrait estimated at 30 million pounds ($49 million) that’s scheduled to be auctioned next month, said two people with knowledge of the matter.
“Portrait of George Dyer Talking,” a 6-foot-6-inch-high canvas showing Bacon’s lover sitting in a bare interior lit by one bulb, is offered by Christie’s in its Feb. 13 sale of postwar and contemporary art in London, the auction house said yesterday in a statement that didn’t identify the seller. Martinez, a distressed-debt investor known for secrecy, didn’t respond to a call and e-mails seeking comment on the auction.
Wealthy individuals are making money in a bullish auction market for trophy art by offering desirable works they’ve acquired, either for a quick flip or to sell longtime holdings high. Once regarded by dealers as difficult to market, Bacon’s violently rendered canvases, distinguished by their bright gold frames, are increasingly coveted by billionaires in the salesroom.
“These sellers understand margins, and the uplift can be colossal,” Alan Hobart, a London-based private dealer, said in a telephone interview. “The auction houses have the buyers at the top end of the market. It’s globalized money. Bacon is now an auction commodity,” said Hobart, who paid 13.7 million euros ($18.7 million) on behalf of a client for the Irish-born artist’s 1961 “Seated Woman (Portrait of Muriel Belcher)” at Sotheby’s (BID) Paris in December 2007.
The portrait to be auctioned next month was included in the artist’s retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971, an exhibition that opened two days after Dyer committed suicide in Bacon’s hotel room. The painting last appeared on the open market in 2000, when it sold for $6.6 million at Christie’s in New York. It was acquired by Martinez in a private sale for $12 million more than five years ago, one of the people said.
The painting is certain to reach an undisclosed minimum price thanks to a third-party guarantor, said Matthew Paton, the auction house’s European head of public relations, in a telephone interview.
Five years is the recommended holding period for individual investors seeking to profitably trade contemporary art, according to dealers. In recent years, postwar and contemporary works, including those by Bacon, have been sold in shorter intervals, as prices rise to records and investors seek a quick profit by flipping art.
Bacon’s 1969 “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” fetched $142.4 million at Christie’s New York in November, a record for any artwork at a public sale. At least five individuals, including dealer Larry Gagosian and two bidders from Asia, competed above $100 million for the triptych, said Todd Levin, an art adviser and the director of Levin Art Group, who was among the underbidders. It was bought by New York-based Acquavella Galleries Inc. on behalf of an undisclosed client.
The work, along with two other Bacons, had changed hands about three months earlier in a private sale by Rome-based collector Francesco De Simone Niquesa, a lawyer who advised movie star Sophia Loren, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. The transactions, brokered by a London dealer, included another portrait of Dyer and an early 1960s painting of a pope that were purchased by Martinez.
Niquesa didn’t reply to e-mails seeking comment.
Another Bacon, “Three Studies for a Self-Portrait” from 1980, was sold on consignment by a London dealer to a private individual from Turkey in late 2012, the people said. That smaller-scale triptych was auctioned at Sotheby’s London for 13.8 million pounds in February 2013, netting the flipper a 2 million-pound profit within a few months.
Works from the last 60 years dominate the art market, generating sales of more than $1 billion each from the last three biannual series of evening and day auctions at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips in New York.
At least 10 works in Sotheby’s and Christie’s November evening contemporary auctions had been purchased since the start of 2010, according to the catalogs. Among these was Christopher Wool’s seminal 1988 painting “Apocalypse Now,” which fetched $26.5 million, a record for the artist. David Ganek, the former SAC Capital Advisors LP hedge-fund manager, and French billionaire Francois Pinault were among the previous owners, Christie’s said at the time.
“In my opinion art is an asset class with a growing amount of liquidity,” Ganek said in a telephone interview. “It’s a deep market that can be benchmarked against the performance of other investments,” said Ganek, who in addition to investing in artworks runs a family foundation that organizes educational exhibitions.
Bacon became the world’s most expensive postwar and contemporary artist when a 1976 triptych inspired by the Greek “Oresteia” trilogy of Aeschylus sold at Sotheby’s New York in May 2008, at the height of the last art-market boom, for $86.3 million. The buyer was Roman Abramovich, the Art Newspaper reported.
“It’s difficult to tell who’s a private collector and who’s in it for the money,” Ivor Braka, a London-based private dealer who has bought and sold several Bacon paintings, said in a telephone interview. “The rich have enough money not to need to do this. It’s an extraordinary testimony to human greed.”
Martinez, a Harvard Business School graduate, is the founder of Fintech Advisory Ltd., a London- and New York-based company that invests in corporate and sovereign debt. He was included in the 2012 ARTnews list of the world’s 200 Top Collectors. Specialising in modern and contemporary works, he has been reported as also owning pieces by Mark Rothko, Pablo Picasso and Damien Hirst.
Martinez was identified as the seller of a Mark Rothko painting at Sotheby’s in a 2010 lawsuit against him by Dallas art collector Marguerite Hoffman, who claimed breach of contract. Hoffman sold him the artist’s 1961 red “Untitled” privately in 2007 for a net $17.6 million, forgoing the $30 million to $40 million she said the painting could have fetched at public auction.
Hoffman, a trustee of the Dallas Museum of Art, said the deal’s privacy agreement was broken when Studio Capital Inc., a Belize-registered company she claimed is controlled by Martinez “for the purpose of maintaining the secrecy of his purchases and sales of art,” entered the Rothko in Sotheby’s May 2010 auction in New York and marketing materials revealed her prior ownership. The painting was auctioned for $31.4 million.
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