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Bacon Nude May Fetch $15 Million as Owners Test Market Demand

``Crouching Nude'' by Francis Bacon
The 1961 Francis Bacon painting, ``Crouching Nude'' is included in Sotheby's evening sale of contemporary works in London on June 29, 2011, The 7-foot-high canvas will be on show in the New York galleries of the auction house from May 6 to May 9. Photograph: Sotheby's via Bloomberg.

A 1961 female nude by Francis Bacon may raise $15 million at auction next month as owners regain confidence in the market for the U.K.’s most expensive artist.

“Crouching Nude” is valued at 7 million pounds to 9 million pounds and included in Sotheby’s London evening sale of contemporary works on June 29. The canvas of a grinning woman in an interior will be on show at Sotheby’s New York from today through May 9, the auction house said in an e-mailed statement.

The Bacon market was boosted when his 1964 triptych, “Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud,” fetched 23 million pounds at Sotheby’s in London on Feb. 10. The work was bought, at more than three times estimates, by the Cologne-based dealer Alex Lachmann, who acts for Russian clients.

“The market needed good works to gauge the new levels,” said James Holland-Hibbert, a London-based dealer. “Prices went up so quickly, then the crash came and no one was quite sure what Bacon was worth. The estimates had got too high.”

“Crouching Nude” -- a composite of the artist’s friends Isabel Rawsthorne, Henrietta Moraes and Muriel Belcher -- was one of 90 works included in a Tate Gallery traveling retrospective in 1962. It was also in a 2006 exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery, London, where it was bought by an unidentified private collector, who is re-offering the work now, Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s European deputy chairman, said.

The seller hasn’t been offered a guaranteed price, he said. The estimate was based on a valuation of 7.5 million euros ($10.9 million) to 10 million euros placed on a similar 1961 Bacon female nude that fetched 13.7 million euros at Sotheby’s in Paris in 2007.

“Conservative estimates are the way to get the best auction prices,” Barker said. “The market’s still selective.”

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich paid a record $86.3 million for Bacon’s 1976 “Triptych” at Sotheby’s New York in May 2008, dealers said. Works by the Irish-born artist were in short supply at auctions during 2009 and 2010.

Bacon’s 1974 “Three Studies for Self Portrait” will be offered at Christie’s International, New York, on May 11 with a low estimate of $20 million.

(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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