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Bacon Self-Portrait Trio May Fetch $20 Million as Demand Grows

"Three Studies for Self Portrait'' by Francis Bacon. The work has been owned by a U.S.-based collector for the last 35 years and will be included in Christie's International's evening auction of contemporary art in New York on May 11. Source: Christie's via Bloomberg

A triptych of self portraits by Francis Bacon may raise at least $20 million at auction next month as demand grows for the U.K.’s most expensive artist.

“Three Studies for Self Portrait,” from 1974, are included in Christie’s International’s May 11 New York auction of contemporary art. They are part of a London show, opening tomorrow, that also includes Bacon’s 1952 painting, “Untitled (Crouching Nude on Rail),” estimated at $10 million to $15 million in the same sale.

Owners of high-value paintings by Bacon are more confident about selling at auction after the 1964 triptych, “Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud,” fetched 23 million pounds at Sotheby’s in London on Feb. 10.

“That result helped bring Bacons out of the woodwork,” London-based dealer Offer Waterman said in an interview. “Up until then the market had been in a state of flux. Prices had dropped, and people found it difficult to value his paintings.”

Works by Bacon were in short supply at auctions during 2009 and 2010. In May 2008, before the financial crisis, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich paid a record $86.3 million for a 1976 “Triptych” at Sotheby’s New York, said dealers. Nine months later, the 1954 picture “Man in Blue VI” failed to sell at a Christie’s auction in London after being estimated at as much as 5 million pounds ($8.2 million).

Both of these latest Bacons have been offered by unidentified U.S. collectors and are being exhibited in the U.K. for the first time, Christie’s said in an e-mailed statement.

Guaranteed Price

The triptych of head-and-shoulder studies, one of 10 self portraits Bacon executed in the 1970s, has been owned for 35 years by the seller, who has been guaranteed a minimum price. The canvas of the nude, which doesn’t have a price guarantee, was one of a group of paintings by the artist discovered in a storeroom in London’s Chelsea in the 1990s, Christie’s said.

The 37-work exhibition, continuing through April 19, includes Impressionist and modern works from Christie’s May 4 sale, as well as contemporary pieces. Christie’s haven’t yet released an overall estimate for its auctions.

Other works on show are by Andy Warhol and Mark Rothko, whose rediscovered 1961 abstract, “Untitled No. 17,” -- with rectangular fields of maroon and pink on an orange background -- carries an upper estimate of $22 million.

The works are on show from April 16 through 19, from 12 noon to 5p.m., at Christie’s, 8 King Street, St. James’s, London.

(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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