The Most Expensive Francis Bacon Paintings at Auctions

May 25, 2016Lorenzo Pereira

It was November 12, 2013, when one of the Francis Bacon paintingswas sold at auction in New York, setting the world record as the most expensive piece of art sold at auction (you probably know which piece we are talking about, but we are not going to reveal it in introduction). Bacon became a star (although he died in 1992); however, this, a bit unexpected sale that broke all the records put Francis Bacon at the list of the most popular contemporary artists of our era. This sale raised a lot of controversies though. Marina Abramovic said in one interview: When Francis Bacon’s “Tryptic” was sold for $127 Million, it’s incredible to talk about this. How could you possibly ever see the painting without seeing the money in front? Marina might be right, but this is the question about the prices at the art market. Here, we want to focus first on some famous Bacon’s paintings (regardless of the price they were sold for), and on his quite unique style and approach. Of course, we have to mention the fact that Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (“Version O”) was sold for $179.4 Million a year later, breaking a new record.

Francis Bacon paintings are usually “classified” as figurative paintings, while his most famous paintings are known for bold and even grotesque imagery. Francis Bacon paintings were often created in form of diptychs and triptychs thus reflecting the artist’s belief that images should be seen “in series” and not in singularity. Many consider that Bacon’s art was largely influenced by his private life. In the beginnings of the 1960s, Bacon met George Dyer with whom he had fallen in love. Infatuated, Bacon chose Dyer as a recurrent subject of his works in the 1960s (some of the most notable ones). The death of his lover led to the different approach by Bacon, that would eventually lead to the more reductive artistic approach, which culminated during the 1980s. But, in this article, we are not focusing on Francis Bacon’s unique art, and his life, but on his paintings. We want to see what are the most expensive Francis Bacon paintings sold at auctions. There are many of them that were sold for huge amounts of money, but, let’s focus on the ten most expensive artworks by this great British artist.

Francis Bacon

Editors’ Tip: Francis Bacon: Five Decades

The art of Francis Bacon largely depended on his private life. The book that is titled “Francis Bacon: Five Decades” perfectly draws a parallel between artist’s practice and his private and love life. This generously illustrated monograph opens with the fecund period, then traces subsequent periods of exceptional artistic output, decade by decade, through the end of Bacon’s career. Gorgeous color illustrations allow readers to study the artist’s darkly expressive palette and powerful imagery through his series of screaming popes, portraits of friends, mourning triptychs, scenes from Greek mythology, and, finally, self-portraits inspired by an awareness of his own mortality. Thought-provoking essays provide further insight into Bacon’s world both within and without the studio. The volume includes a wide range of photographs and archival material.

Scroll down, and find out what are the most expensive Francis Bacon paintings at auctions!

George Dyer

Self Portrait, 1978

This piece is not the only a self-portrait by Francis Bacon, but a very significant artwork since it was created during the recovery from depression caused by the death of the artist’s lover George Dyer in 1971. It shows the artist dressed in boots and an unbuttoned shirt in a lavender room. The piece was put on sale in 2007, at Sotheby’s London, with estimated price at $15,924,800-$23,887,200. Finally, it was sold for quite amazing $43,015,400.

Marina Abramovic

Seated Figure, 1960

Seated Figure is a powerful example from Francis Bacon’s most celebrated series of works. Inaugurated by the so-called Screaming Popes of the 1950s, Bacon’s renowned series of Papal portraits were the works responsible for establishing the artist’s reputation. This silent figure painted in 1960 and cloaked in a rich blood-red crimson is a work that stand as an almost unique example from this seminal series. The piece was sold for $40,000,000 in 2014, at Christie’s New York.

Roman Abramovich

Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror, 1976

Exuding unrivalled intellectual and painterly command, Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror represents a stunning summation of the intensely introspective years that preceded its creation and the prevailing triumph that shortly followed with Bacon’s legendary exhibition at Claude Bernard. With his muscular back turned and deeply immersed in the act of writing, Francis Bacon’s nude figure radiates melancholic absorption. Exuding the refinement in line, coolness in the palette and haunting grandeur inimitable to Bacon’s post-Dyer opus, this approach characterizes the second peak of the artist’s career. The piece was sold for $44,882,500 at Sotheby’s New York in 2012.

the metropolitan museum of art

Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (On Light Ground), 1964

As we already mentioned, George Dyer played an important role not only in Francis Bacon’s personal life, but in his art as well. Dyer appears in over forty paintings, with as many created following his death as executed during his lifetime. His portrayal spans the full extent of human drama: at once vulnerable, brooding, romantic, absurd, heroic and tortured Bacon’s painterly incarnations traverse the sublime to the ridiculous. Painted within the first year of their meeting, Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (on Light Ground) materialized at the height of Bacon’s affection with his new lover. The piece was sold for $45,712,500 at Sotheby’s London in 2014.

Francis Bacon

Triptych 1974-1977

One of the finest and most mysterious of Bacon’s paintings from the 1970s, Triptych 1974-77 is the last in the great series of triptychs that Bacon painted in response to the tragic death of his lover George Dyer in 1971. Painted between May and June of 1974, this great Baconian landscape was the last work the artist made before a major retrospective of his work held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1974. As the most recent and also one of the most elaborate and ambitious of the artist’s paintings to be included in this exhibition, it formed the culmination of this important survey of Bacon’s career from the late 1960s onwards and was immediately recognized as both a major landmark and also perhaps a turning point in Bacon’s career. The artwork was sold for $46,297,400 at Christie’s London in 2008.

George Dyer

Study from Innocent X, 1962

Heretical successor to a lineage inaugurated by Raphael, defined by Titian and epitomized by Diego Velázquez, Francis Bacon stands alongside art history’s consummate painters of the Catholic Church’s supreme Head and representative of God on earth: the Pope. This is only one out of several famous Francis Bacon paintings representing the Pope. The piece was sold for $52,680,000 at Sotheby’s New York in 2007.

Marina Abramovic

Portrait of George Dyer Talking, 1966

In Portrait of George Dyer Talking, Dyer’s figure is surrounded by a halo of green and is flanked by a limpid, grey shadow on the floor beneath. It is an almost spectral figure, one of Bacon’s well-known hallmarks. This was the first painting in which Bacon incorporated sheets of paper in the foreground, and in this instance their blankness is both deeply poignant and an essential element in the composition. The piece was sold for $69,705,300 at Christie’s London in 2014.

Roman Abramovich

Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards, 1986

Painted in 1984, Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards is a celebration of what was probably the most important and significant relationship of Francis Bacon’s life. The subject of this painting is John Edwards, a bar manager from the East End of London, who Bacon had met a decade earlier and who went on to become one of the artist’s closest and most trusted companions. Across its three panels, Bacon records with his characteristic verve and painterly flourishes the lithe figure of Edwards dressed in a simple outfit of a white shirt and grey pants. This great piece was sold for $80,805,000 at Christie’s New York.

the metropolitan museum of art

Triptych, 1976

The 1976 triptych is a large three panel painting (each panel measuring 78 x 58 in, 198 x 147.5 cm), with dense colors and abstract shapes. Bacon used his usual technique, starting on the left panel and working across. The piece draws on classical Greek iconography and mythology, and makes reference to Prometheus, as several interpretations claim. The piece was bought by Roman Abramovich for $86,281,000 at Sotheby’s New York in 2008.

Francis Bacon

Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969

And we have a winner – Three Studies of Lucian Freud sale broke all the records in 2014. Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud were friends, but also rivals. All three panels, in Bacon’s typical abstract, distorted, isolated style, show Freud sitting on a cane-bottomed wooden chair within a cage, on a curved mottled-brown surface with a solid orange background. Behind each figure is a headboard of a bed, originating in a set of photographs of Freud by John Deakin which Bacon used as a reference. This stunning piece was sold for amazing $127,000,000 at Christie’s New York in 2014.

For more information about the sale, click here!

All Images used for illustrative purposes only.

Credit: Widewalls: https://www.widewalls.ch/francis-bacon-paintings/three-studies-of-lucien-freud/

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