Francis Bacon Painting Offered for $78 Million Fails to Sell

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  • Trophy painting at Christie’s London auction lures no takers
  • Evening auction ends with gasps rather than applause

A trophy painting by Francis Bacon failed to draw any bids at Christie’s in London after being offered at auction for 60 million pounds
($78 million).

The unexpected outcome for the star lot of Christie’s evening sale of postwar and contemporary art on Friday drew a collective gasp in the sale room. The auctioneer began soliciting bids at 50 million pounds and continued up to 58 million pounds. None came.

“Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd Version 1971"

Source: Christie’s

Titled “Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd Version 1971,” the 6.5-foot-tall canvas depicts Bacon’s two most famous subjects: his lover George Dyer and Pope Innocent X. It’s the only work that has both muses in the same composition, Christie’s said. Dyer committed suicide six months after the work was made.

A Christie’s spokesperson said Friday that the piece attracted global attention and the auction house expects strong after-sale interest in it.

A smaller Bacon painting, “Head with Raised Arm" (1955), depicting Pope Pius XII, sold for 11.5 million pounds on Friday, above the high estimate, after the commission was added. Prices include a fee Christie’s charges buyers; estimates don’t.

Bacon’s auction record of $142.4 million belongs to the triptych “Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” sold in 2013. “Portrait of George Dyer Talking” brought more than $70 million in 2014, the highest price for a single canvas by the artist.

Christie’s sale is continuing through Friday evening in London. Sotheby’s completed its series of contemporary auctions in London tallying $114.1 million.

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