Edgar Degas - The Dance Lesson - Painting c.1879 - Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon - Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

Another Record for a Francis Bacon Painting Sold at Auction

Francis Bacon Triptych Sells for £26.7m

Another auction record was broken for a Francis Bacon painting last week with the most made at auction for a small-format painting by the artist making £26,700,000 at Sotheby’s in London last Tuesday. This beat the previous record of £23 million for the same scale work. The painting making the record was Bacon’s triptych of his lover, George Dyer.

Bacon holds the record for the highest ever amount raised at auction for a painting having made $142,000,000 (£89,000,000) at Christie’s New York auction house in November last year.

The artist is arguably one of the best known Modern British artists, not least for the desirability of his work at auction. Bacon’s career was often turbulent and his best known works are often tortured and dark – reflecting his life and relationships.

Having been born in 1909, it was not until 1927 (at the age of 18) that he was inspired by the drawings of Picasso to take up drawing and try his hand at painting. Bacon’s early career however was not as the painter he is so famous for being, but as an interior and furniture designer. Finally, at the age of 24, Bacon produced his first painting that could be described as promising ‘Crucifixion (1933)’, but it was not until after the Second World War in 1946 that his success as a painter really encouraged him to continue to pursue the distinctive painting style which had been gaining him acclaim.

If you had to pick two themes that are iconic of the work of Francis Bacon, the stand-out example has to be his interpretation of the Spanish artist Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650). The first variation of this theme was painted in 1949 just before a period of travelling in the early 1950s.

Bacon’s international standing was heightened in 1954 when he, alongside Ben Nicholson and Lucian Freud, exhibited in the British Pavilion at the Venice Beinnale. Bacon’s relationship with Freud was one of a friend and competitor and it is a worthy tribute to their relationship that Francis Bacon’s large scale triptych of Lucien Freud is still today the most expensive painting ever sold at auction, having made £89 million.

The second theme that is iconic of Bacon’s work is his ‘black triptychs’ series following the death of George Dyer, on the eve of his retrospective at the Grande Palais in Paris in 1971. This series of dark works culminate in ‘Triptych , May-June 1973’ which depicts the moments before, during and after Dyer’s suicide. However, it is an earlier work, painted in 1967, which is the subject of the latest auction record, depicting George Dyer in portrait form against a beige background in a camel-coloured top.

Bacon’s success is not something that is confined to the 21st Century sale room – his work was hugely desirable during the artists lifetime, even if it didn’t always receive the critics approval, and during Bacon’s first New York show in 1968 all 20 works sold during the opening week. It is possible that the next large scale work by the artist to go to auction might break another all time record.