New York City (AFP) – A triptych by British painter Francis Bacon — “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” — sold for $142.4 million on Tuesday, smashing the world record for the most expensive piece of art auctioned.
The work by the 20th century figurative artist, who lived from 1909 to 1992, had never before been put under the hammer until Christie’s flagship evening sale. It was bought by a New York gallery.
“What’s amazing for us to see is obviously the highest price ever paid at auction for a work of art, the Francis Bacon,” said Brett Gorvy, head of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s.
The most expensive artwork ever was a Cezanne that sold for $259 million in 2011. But that was a private sale, not an auction.
Gorvy named Acquavella Galleries, which is based in New York, as the buyer at a spectacular auction that broke a string of records and totalled sales of $691.6 million, the highest in auction history.
Hammered to an outburst of applause, the Bacon surpassed the previous record of $119.9 million fetched by Edvard Munch’s iconic “The Scream” by rival house Sotheby’s in New York in May 2012.
Bidding lasted six minutes and was split by would-be buyers on three continents, opening at $80 million and escalating in seconds.
“An historic moment,” said auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen at $126 million as he drove the price yet higher.
The triptych, the only one not in a museum to date and executed almost 25 years after Bacon and Freud met, is the most expensive single lot offered in the New York November auction season.
Officials said it was particularly special because Freud, a close friend of Bacon, went on to become a hugely important artist himself in later years.
The previous record for a Bacon painting was $86 million in 2008.
Christie’s sold a total of 63 lots of post-war and contemporary art for $691.6 million, the highest total in auction history.
In total Christie’s broke a further 10 world records.