Francis Bacon triptych sells for $84m at auction amid coronavirus

Francis Bacon triptych sells for $84m after bidding war at live-streamed auction amid coronavirus pandemic

  • Triptych, painting in three parts, by British painter Francis Bacon has been sold at auction for $84.6 million
  • The artwork was sold at a Sotheby’s auction that was live streamed worldwide from London yesterday 
  • The three paintings, inspired by Greek playwright Aeschylus Oresteia, was one of 28 large scale triptych’s 

A triptych by Francis Bacon sold for $84.6million at a Sotheby’s auction life-streamed to bidders worldwide yesterday.

The British artist’s work, inspired by Greek playwright Aeschylus’s Oresteia, is one of 28 large scale paintings in three parts created by Bacon between 1962 and 1991.

Sotheby’s spring auctions usually earn billions of dollars but managers were forced to adapt when coronavirus struck New York earlier this year.

Last month the auction house announced it would be streaming a series of modern and contemporary art sales from London instead. 



Francis Bacon’s work, inspired by Greek playwright Aeschylus’s Oresteia, is one of 28 large scale paintings in three parts created by Bacon between 1962 and 1991

Bacon’s triptych previously belonged to a Norwegian art collector and had an estimated value of $60-$80million. 

Describing the event as ‘an historic evening’, Chairman for Sotheby’s Europe Oliver Barker introduced the auction, the first of its magnitude to be held without an audience.

A bidding war raged for around 10 minutes between one potential buyer placing bids online from China, and another – who was victorious, but chose to remain anonymous – making counter-offers on the phone to a Sotheby’s specialist in New York.

Another Bacon triptych, ‘Three Studies of Lucian Freud,’ sold in 2013 for $142.4 million at Christie’s in New York, making it one of the 10 most expensive paintings ever sold at auction.

Bacon’s  (pictured) triptych previously belonged to a Norwegian art collector and had an estimated value of $60-$80million

Sotheby’s and Christie’s 20th Century spring auctions’ sales usually occur at the same time, but Christie’s announced earlier this month that it would hold its sale on July 10 this year.

While online bids have until now rarely exceeded $5 million, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s drawing of a head, ‘Untitled (Head)’ sold for $15.2 million on Monday – a new Sotheby’s record for an online purchase – and a painting by Joan Mitchell, ‘Garden Party,’ went for $7.9 million.

The event brought in a total of $363.2 million, the auction house said.

It comes after it was revealed rich people are dropping millions of dollars on jewelry as pick-me-ups during the coronavirus pandemic and are wearing them at home for ‘joy’.

A bidding war raged for around 10 minutes between one potential buyer placing bids online from China, and another – who was victorious, but chose to remain anonymous – making counter-offers on the phone to a Sotheby’s specialist in New York

Bacon’s triptych previously belonged to a Norwegian art collector and had an estimated value of $60-$80million 

According to Sotheby’s, the lockdown and economic uncertainty of the entire country has done nothing to slow down the sale of luxury jewelry. 

Auctioneers feared that the end of in-person auctions might stunt sales, but the opposite has happened. 

‘Clients are sequestering at home and, generally speaking, leading relatively dreary lives. 

‘They’re wearing their big diamonds inside their homes because it brings joy,’ Catharine Becket, a ‘magnificent jewels’ expert at Sotheby’s, told Bloomberg. 

They also see the jewels as a reminder that the lockdown might not last forever. 

The Cartier ‘Tutti Frutti’ bracelet (pictured) sold for $1.3 million in a dedicated online sale 

‘Everyone is waiting for this to be over, and I suppose knowing that a million-dollar piece of jewelry is waiting for you is a fulfillment of when things return to the new normal,’ she said. 

Of the four online sales Sotheby’s has held since the beginning of March, 92 percent have sold out and 61 percent of the lots exceeded estimates. 

They brought in $6.1million, considerably higher than their combined estimate of $5.7million. 

‘What we’re finding is that anything of good quality is performing well and actually better than it would have just a couple of months ago,’ she said. 

A ring in Hong Kong that had been estimated at $110,000 sold for $199,000, a different ring which was estimated to have a value of HK $1.6million sold for HK $2million. 

Becket said it gave her the confidence to convince a client to list a rare Cartier bracelet for sale. 

It had been listed for auction between April 24 and April 28 and was expected to fetch between $600,000 and $800,000. It fetched $1.3 million in a dedicated online sale over a four-day period.

It is the highest price for any jewel sold in an online sale as well as the highest price for any jewel sold at auction in 2020

It was created in around 1930 and had never been sold at auction, having been passed down through descendants of an American family for more than 30 years. 

‘The result achieved for this bracelet is testament to the fact that, even under the most challenging of circumstances, the demand for great art endures,’ said Catharine Becket, head of Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels Auctions in New York. 

‘Tutti Frutti jewels have always held a special allure for collectors, capturing the West’s fascination with the ‘exotic’ at a time when travel was relatively limited, much as it is today. 

‘Now, of course, we can connect with the touch of a button, which allowed us to engage with bidders worldwide.’

By contrast, thousands are protesting across the country to be allowed to return to work despite the ongoing pandemic

Sotheby’s describes the jewel as an exceptional example of the multi-gem, Indian-themed pieces that Cartier first created during the height of the Art Deco era. 

The success of the online auctions disproves the notion that people are unwilling to spend millions on jewelry without ever viewing the pieces. 

‘If these kind of pieces continue to do well, it will mean the pandemic has forced us to arrive at the place we were heading anyway, where people have become more and more comfortable buying things online, sight unseen,’ Becket said. 

Those sales come as millions around the country struggle without paychecks after suddenly losing their jobs as a result of the pandemic. 

Thousands have started protesting around the country, claiming they would rather risk their health than go another minute without a paycheck. 

The federal government has given stimulus checks of up to $1,200 to try to ease the strain and they have boosted unemployment benefits by up to $600 a week. 

But there has been a litany of problems in people actually receiving the money, from system backlogs to mistakes in the banking system.  

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