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Klein, Bacon Nudes May Fetch $40 Million Each at Auction

"FC 1 (Fire-Color 1)" by Yves Klein was completed several weeks before the artist's death at 34. Source: Christie's via Bloomberg

April 5 (Bloomberg) -- Yves Klein’s 1962 fire-color painting “FC 1,” whose creation involved two naked models, a blowtorch and a fireman, may bring in $40 million at auction next month.

Finished several weeks before the artist’s death at the age of 34, the 10-foot-wide artwork will be a highlight of the Christie’s International postwar and contemporary sale on May 8.

The gold, flame-licked image depicts a pair of female figures bending backward with outstretched arms, outlined by Klein’s signature blue paint.

Klein’s current highest price at auction is $23.6 million, achieved for a gold-leaf-on-panel work at Sotheby’s in May 2008. Guaranteed by a third party, “FC 1” is expected to bring $30 to $40 million and establish a record for the French artist.

“It’s really his masterpiece in the proper sense of the word,” said Loic Gouzer, the specialist in postwar and contemporary art who won the consignment for Christie’s. “He was risking his life.”

Klein staged the creation of the painting, inviting photographers, a cameraman and the press to document it. The footage was used in “La Revolution Bleue,” a documentary about the artist.

Wet Models

It shows Klein spraying the models with water as they press their naked bodies against specially treated cardboard panels. Once the models move aside, Klein grabs the blowtorch and directs the flame at the surface.

The steps are repeated as the models coat themselves with paint, leaving the marks of their breasts and thighs. While the artist directed the models and adjusted their positions, he never actually touched the surface with his hand.

“The atelier was cold, huge, and draughty, bitter winter in Paris,” Elena Palumbo-Mosca, one of the models, said in a 1997 interview. “The hard physical conditions in close contact with the primeval elements, fire and water, turned the experience into a veritable rite of passage.”

The work comes from a private Swiss collection and was exhibited in numerous museums, including the Guggenheim in New York and the Hirshhorn in Washington D.C.

“I had a cutout of this work as a kid,” said Gouzer. “It’s the painting I was always chasing, but I didn’t know where it was. Finally I tracked it down and just made an offer.”

Bacon at Sotheby’s

A Francis Bacon painting may also sell for as much as $40 million as a highlight of Sotheby’s contemporary-art evening sale in New York on May 9.

The 1976 canvas, “Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror,” also may help revive the Irish painter’s auction revenue, which fell sharply after Sotheby’s record sale of his 1976 “Triptych” for $86.3 million in May 2008.

“Ever since we sold the ‘Triptych,’ nothing of this quality has come up on the market,” said Tobias Meyer, worldwide head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s, in an interview. “People didn’t really offer anything; the motivation wasn’t there.”

Bacon’s auction revenue dropped 99 percent in 2009, according to Artprice, a French research company, and last year remained 49 percent below the 2008 level.

In “Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror” earth tones, black and gray are contrasted with pastel blue and green. It depicts a seated man scribbling on a white sheet of paper with his back and profile toward the viewer.

The work appeared in Bacon’s 1977 exhibition at Galerie Claude Bernard in Paris alongside “Triptych,” which depicts a headless man devoured by vultures.

“This was the show everyone was blown away by,” said Meyer. “There were so many visitors, they had to close the street.”

The consigner bought “Figure Writing” directly from the exhibition, and it remained in the same collection until now, according to Meyer.

To contact the reporter of this story: Katya Kazakina in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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