This item has been updated with the final sale price and other details after the auction closed.
A rare portrait of famed painter Francis Bacon was sold at Sotheby’s London on Wednesday for £43.4 million ($52.8 million), the first time the artwork has been auctioned in its nearly six-decade history.
The intimate paintings capture British artist Lucien Freud, who was once a friend of Bacon and later, in the mid-1980s, an enemy. The three works of art were exhibited together in Stockholm and Hamburg shortly after their completion in 1965. One side wall now belongs to a museum in Jerusalem, the other is in a private collection.
“Study for the Portrait of Lucian Freud” on display ahead of Wednesday’s auction. Recognition: Courtesy of Sotheby’s
Experts initially predicted the painting would fetch as much as £35 million ($42 million) at the center, although it topped estimates on Wednesday to become the most valuable one-piece painting of Bacon ever sold at auction was said Sotheby’s.
Before the auction, the “study for the portrait of Lucian Freud” had been hidden from the public in a private art collection for 40 years, according to Sotheby’s, which exhibited the painting in London last weekend.
By 1982 Freud and Bacon – two pillars of British contemporary art – no longer spoke to each other. Bacon’s delicate Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud, painted decades before their argument, has become all the more melancholy since it has become a symbol of lost friendship.
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According to Bella Freud, fashion designer and Lucien Freud’s daughter, the ailing friendship cast a long shadow.
“Francis was clearly someone he adored and admired. And there weren’t many people that my dad talked about that way,” she said in a press release ahead of the auction. “The things he repeated about him were absolutely stunning, utterly disarming and breathtakingly wonderful and stunned by their brilliance. I can imagine he must have missed that when he stopped being nice to him.”
Bacon is known to be a hit at art auctions, and his work often exceeds pre-sale estimates. In 2020, his 1981 play entitled “Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus” sold for $84 million, beating the original estimate of $60-$80 million.
Update: A previous version of this article stated that Bacon’s “Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud” was part of a triptych. The story has been updated to reflect that the painting was only intended to be part of a triptych for a short time. Within a year of completing the three works, the artist changed his mind and numbered each painting as a unique piece.