Francis Bacon Painting May Reach $70 Million at Christie's Sale

  • The 1963 triptych previously belonged to author Roald Dahl
  • The seller is the French actor and collector Francis Lombrail

A portrait of Francis Bacon’s lover may fetch as much as $70 million at Christie’s in May, when bellwether auctions test the health of the high-end art market.

The triptych “Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer” was painted in 1963, soon after the two men met. It depicts three versions of Dyer’s twisted face, each on a separate, small, black canvas. In 2014, a similar triptych, done in 1964 on a light background, sold for 26.7 million pounds (about $45.6 million at the time) at Sotheby’s.

“Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer”

Source: Christie’s

The work for sale at Christie’s is the first major consignment for the next auction season in New York. Sales of works by Bacon, who became the most expensive artist at auction in November 2013, have fallen 74 percent since 2014, according to Artprice.com. Last year, his sales tallied $69.6 million as the industry’s supply of top-tier works dried up amid economic and political volatility.

The work previously belonged to Roald Dahl, the British author of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach.” The piece, which isn’t guaranteed, will be offered during the evening sale of postwar and contemporary art on May 17, Christie’s said Friday in a statement.

“It’s a real trophy work,” said Loic Gouzer, Christie’s deputy chairman of postwar and contemporary art. “George Dyer is Bacon’s No. 1 muse like Dora Maar was for Picasso. He was the subject who allowed Bacon to push his limits and become the artist he became.”

Savvy Investment

The seller is Francis Lombrail, a French actor who’s owned it for 25 years. Lombrail said he first spotted the work when it was turned against the wall at a Paris art fair; all he could see was back of the canvas.

“I saw the title. I saw the date. And before I even saw the work, I knew it’s my painting,” Lombrail, 70, said in a telephone interview. “I knew I had an incredible chance.”

Although he declined to disclose his purchase price, Lombrail said he had to sell much of the art he owned at the time to pay for the Bacon. It may turn out to be a savvy investment, as Christie’s is estimating the work at $50 million to $70 million.

Over the years, he lent the piece to major exhibitions, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, London’s Tate and the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid. He said he will use the proceeds to pay for an historic Paris theater he recently bought.

“All the biggest actors in France played there,” said Lombrail. “It’s like the Bacon of theaters.”

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