Warhol’s $1 Bill Fetches $32.6 Million as Bacon’s Pope Flops

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Andy Warhol’s paintings of dollar bills boosted Sotheby’s contemporary art auction total to 130.4 million pounds ($203.6 million).

Although Wednesday’s sale didn’t reach its low presale target, the result was the auctioneer’s highest tally for a contemporary art sale in London, the company said. It represented a 40 percent increase from the equivalent evening auction a year ago.

The top lot was Warhol’s painting, “One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate),” that fetched 20.9 million pounds ($32.6 million), surpassing the high estimate of 18 million pounds.

The 4.3-feet-tall hand-painted work from 1962 was part of a 10-lot group with a U.S. currency theme. Eight sold, totaling 34.3 million pounds.

The biggest casualty was Francis Bacon’s painting of a crimson-robed pope estimated at 25 million pounds to 35 million pounds. It didn’t draw a single bid.

“Study for a Pope I” is part of a group of six pope paintings from 1961 that were completed ahead of Bacon’s retrospective at the Tate museum in London in 1962, according to Sotheby’s.

Bacon’s “Three Studies for Self-Portrait” sold for 15.3 million pounds, slightly above its 10 million pound to 15 million-pound estimate.

Freud’s Eggs

A small painting by Lucian Freud, depicting four eggs on a plate, fetched 989,000 pounds, after a rush of bids pushed the price above the high estimate of 150,000 pounds.

“Everyone wants the eggs,” said Oliver Barker, the auctioneer who almost ran out of breath catching all the bids.

Bacon began painting the pope in 1949 and returned to the subject repeatedly for the next 20 years. The pieces were inspired by Diego Velazquez’s “Portrait of Pope Innocent X,” painted in 1650. Bacon never saw the work in person.

“It was probably a fear of seeing the reality of the Velazquez after my tampering with it,” Bacon says in an interview that is part of a promotional video on Sotheby’s website. The video comes with Chinese subtitles.

Purchases of contemporary art by Chinese collectors were up 45 percent between Jan. 1 to June 18 of this year versus the same period in 2014, Sotheby’s said.

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