Record Dali, Bacon Triptych Top $150 Million Sotheby’s Auction

"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 record Salvador Dali painting and a triptych by Francis Bacon last night boosted a sell-out auction at Sotheby’s London as collectors snapped up 20th-century art from a private collection.

The sale raised 93.5 million pounds ($150.5 million), led by the Bacon portrait’s 23 million pounds. The Dali became the most expensive Surrealist lot sold at auction, with its 13.5 million-pound price stirring interest in the Spanish artist and breaking the record for his work, set 24 hours earlier at Christie’s International.

Art buyers are continuing to invest in trophies, and this sale was admired for its quality levels, said dealers. Sotheby’s declined to identify the seller, who had acquired the material from dealers and auctions from the 1960s to the 1990s. The pieces had belonged to the Geneva collector George Kostalitz, who died last year, said dealers with knowledge of the matter.

“Single-owner collections carry enormous cachet,’’ London-based dealer Offer Waterman said in an interview. “The guy had good taste and a lot of things made beyond expectations. The market is good for great works.’’

Dali’s 1929 portrait of the poet Paul Eluard -- husband of the painter’s future companion and model, Gala -- had been valued at 3.5 million pounds to 5 million pounds. It beat the 4.1 million pounds paid on Feb. 9 at Christie’s for another work from the 1920s, bought by the Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali based in Figueres, Spain, where Dali was born.

Sotheby’s painting, packed with erotic dream imagery, sold to a telephone buyer represented by Stephane Cosman Connery, one of the auction house’s New York-based specialists. There were five phone bidders and one in the sale room. The 13-inch-high (33 centimeter) piece had been bought by the collector for $2.1 million at Christie’s, New York, in November 1989.

Eying Dali

“We will be offered a lot of Dalis after this,’’ Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art, said after conducting the sale. “Connoisseurship and eye are keys to this world. It’s real collectors who drive this market.’’

Though Dali’s Surrealist vision is familiar from millions of posters, few of his sought-after early works have appeared on the auction market in recent years.

The most highly valued work in the collection was Bacon’s “Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud,” which had been acquired by the seller from the artist’s dealer Marlborough Fine Art Ltd. in 1964, according to Sotheby’s.

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

It was bought by the Cologne-based dealer Alex Lachmann, who buys for Russian clients, sitting at the front of the room against competition from at least five telephone underbidders.

Testing Bacon

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, said dealers, who regarded the performance of this latest triptych as a boost for the Bacon market.

A 1952 self-portrait on copper by Freud sold in the room to a U.S.-based collector, who declined to give his name, for 3.3 million pounds. It had a high estimate of 800,000 pounds. Measuring 5 inches high, it had been acquired at Sotheby’s, London, in March 1992 for 88,000 pounds.

The same American buyer gave 3.4 million pounds for “Bathsheba,’’ the most expensive of a group of four Marc Chagall paintings commissioned by the collector during the 1960s to decorate his salon. They had each been expected to sell for between 2 million pounds and 3.5 million pounds.

Buying Gonzales

A telephone buyer paid a record 4.6 million pounds -- four times estimate -- for the 1930 Julio Gonzales iron sculpture “Masque ‘Ombre et Lumiere.’’’

London-based dealer Alan Hobart, of the Pyms Gallery, gave 4.9 million pounds for the 1961 Alberto Giacometti painting “Portrait d’Annette,’’ valued at 2 million pounds to 3 million pounds.

The 60-lot auction, titled “Looking Closely,’’ had been estimated to raise 39 million pounds to 55 million pounds at hammer prices.

The total was a record for a single-owner collection of Impressionist and modern works at Sotheby’s in London. Twenty-five pieces sold for more than 1 million pounds and the average price per lot was 1.6 million pounds.

Bidding was dominated by more than 60 auction house staff-members on telephones. Sixty-two percent of the lots were bought by European bidders, 35 percent by U.S. clients and 3 percent from Asia, said Sotheby’s.

(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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