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Dali, Bacon Boost $85 Million Auction; Erotic Portraits on Sale

"Paul Eluard" (1929) by Salvador Dali was included in Sotheby's auction, ``Looking Closely: A Private Collection,'' held in London on Feb. 10, 2011. It fetched 13.5 million pounds with fees, beating a hammer-price estimate of 3.5 million pounds to 5 million pounds. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

A collection of 20th-century artworks that includes portraits by Salvador Dali, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud is estimated to sell for as much as 55 million pounds ($85 million) at a London auction.

The group of 60 paintings and sculptures will be offered by Sotheby’s in a stand-alone sale, titled “Looking Closely,” on Feb. 10. The minimum estimate is 39 million pounds.

“The works were bought between the 1960s and the 1990s,” Helena Newman, Sotheby’s European chairman of Impressionist and Modern Art, said in an interview. “It’s a personal collection of pieces that can be lived with on a domestic scale.”

Sotheby’s declined to identify the owner. The works belonged to the low-profile Geneva collector George Kostalitz, who died last year, said dealers with knowledge of the matter.

The most highly valued lot of the auction, held during the week of London’s Impressionist and Modern art sales, is Bacon’s “Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud.” The work was acquired by the collector from the artist’s dealer Marlborough Fine Art Ltd. in 1964, according to Sotheby’s.

The 14-inch (35.5 centimeter) high triptych of expressively painted heads has rarely been seen and carries an estimate of 7 million pounds to 9 million pounds. It has previously been offered for private sale at about $25 million, dealers said.

High-value works by Bacon, the U.K.’s most expensive artist, have been in short supply at auctions during the last two years. In May 2008, at the height of the art-market boom, Roman Abramovich paid a record $86.3 million for a 1976 “Triptych” at Sotheby’s New York, dealers said.

Bacon Confidence

“When artist prices go high, it creates concern,” London-based dealer Gerard Faggionato, who represents the Bacon estate, said in an interview. “People began to wonder whether it was a real market, and then there were some failures at auction. Buyers now feel more confident about valuable paintings.”

Bacon collectors were reassured at Sotheby’s New York in November when the 1985 painting, “Figure in Movement,” sold for $14.1 million, above estimates.

An early Freud self-portrait on copper is expected to fetch as much as 800,000 pounds. Dali’s 1929 portrait of the poet Paul Eluard -- husband of Dali’s future companion, Gala -- is valued at 3.5 million pounds to 5 million pounds. The high estimate is set above the auction record of $5.7 million for the Spanish artist, set at Sotheby’s New York last May.

“Important paintings by Dali rarely appear on the auction market,” Newman said.

The only large-scale works in the auction are a group of four Marc Chagall paintings commissioned by the collector during the 1960s to decorate his salon. “David,” “Bethsabee,” “La Danse” and “La Musique” are each expected to sell for between 2 million pounds and 3.5 million pounds.

Schiele Show

Sotheby’s sale will coincide with the opening of an exhibition of 45 drawings by Egon Schiele to be held by the London-based dealer Richard Nagy.

“Women” will inaugurate Nagy’s new gallery at 22 Old Bond Street on Feb. 7. The collection of intensely observed female figure studies -- many of them overtly erotic -- will be the first solo exhibition of works by the Austrian Expressionist artist to be held in London since a Royal Academy of Arts retrospective in 1989.

“The English have never been comfortable about Schiele,” Nagy said in an interview. “His art is about sex and it’s about angst.”

About 20 percent of the drawings, sourced from various private collections, will be available for sale. Prices range from 100,000 pounds to 5 million pounds. The show runs through March 4.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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