2014 – A Good Year for Art (So Far!)

As far as years go, 2014 has so far been a particularly good one for the art market – especially for works by British artists. This year has so far seen several record-breaking sales including the most made at a single auction sale and the most expensive painting ever sold at a European auction.

Francis Bacon is the artist of the moment, having broken the world record for the most expensive painting ever sold at auction in 2013 when his triptych ‘Three Studies of Lucian Freud’ sold for $142.4million (nearly £90million) at Christie’s in New York.  Bacon was again the focus of a Christie’s sale in London in February this year with ‘Portrait of George Dyer Talking’ selling for £42.2million.

Art market aside, London has been the centre of several major exhibitions so far this year with highlights including The Sunflowers at the National Gallery, the reunion of two of Vincent van Gogh’s iconic paintings, The Cut-Outs at the Tate Modern, exploring the unusual and often misunderstood technique of the great Henri Matisse and William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain, the V&A’s interpretation of the work of the well-known Architect, landscaper and furniture designer. With a huge range of exhibitions – just mentioning a few block-busters at some of the major institutions – London is proving itself a more than worthy contender for the centre of the art world so far this year!

Among the exhibitions opening in the second half of 2014, I am most excited about the rival exhibitions that the V&A and Tate Britain are staging from September 2014 – January 2015. Rival exhibitions in terms of their star artists, Constable and Turner go head to head to attract visitors to the respective museums, a competitive nature that was very much present during the artists’ lifetimes. Constable: The Making of a Master at the V&A is set to reassess John Constable’s influences and lasting legacy on art – while exploring why he has, in the words of the V&A, become “Britain’s best-loved artist”.  Late Turner – Painting Set Free at the Tate Britain is set to be the first exhibition dedicated to the later work of J.M.W. Turner (1835-1851). Tate Britain rather than claim he is the best-loved British artist, claim he is the best, using art historian John Ruskin’s famous quote that Turner was ‘the greatest of the age’.

Also about to provide an injection of art buyers and enthusiasts to the UK (as well as provide interest for UK-based art lovers) will be the upcoming art fairs. British Art Fair, LAPADA, Olympia Art and Antiques Fair and Affordable Art Fair Battersea, just to name a few are all fast approaching and all have their individual draws and attractions. As part of our offering to our clients, we welcome arts enthusiasts to sign up to our VIP Art Club – which gives members the chance to request tickets to art fairs and exhibitions as well as talks and events taking place in London, and further afield, throughout the year. If this is something that would be of interest to you, please click here to find out more.

2014 has also had the landmark announcement that the National Gallery has lifted its ban on photography and has split the public into camps of those who fear that is will spread the rise of the “selfie” at the National Gallery and those who think that sharing art will widen the audience of this important national collection.

With 2014 having started well for the art market; I hope it continues, but look forward to what the rest of the year will bring!

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.


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

The Advantages (and Disadvantages) of a Healthy Art Market

Bacon triptych fetches $142 million at auction.

Although the economy has started to recover after the global recession, there has been one market that seems to have been, so far, invincible when it comes to raising high prices at auction houses in the US and UK. The art market has had yet another milestone this month with Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) becoming the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction after the gavel came down at $142 million, £89 million, at Christie’s auction house in New York on the 12th November.

Francis Bacon, born in Dublin in 1909, is famous for his triptychs and for his paintings of Pope Innocent X. Not all attention to the artist to date has been favourable, Baroness Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, described Bacon as “that man who paints those dreadful pictures”. Dreadful or the height of artistic talent, Bacon’s works are highly coveted and last month’s record breaking auction cements his place in art history. The question yet to be answered is, for how long art prices can keep rising, although currently the market shows no sign of slowing down.

However, the rising art prices does come with a risk. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) last week claimed that there is a worrying trend in organised criminal groups targeting art both on public display and in private collections. This art, they claim, is stolen to fund further criminal activity with links to money laundering, violent crime and drugs which causes great concern for the ACPO. A task force for dealing with art crime in the UK, lead by the ACPO which also includes the English Heritage, has published an assessment of heritage crime and how to tackle this problem. This assessment also notes that the upcoming centenary of the outbreak of the First World War might have a possible impact on art crime in the near future.

Sources: BBC News, NYTimes