Two examples of Francis Bacon female nudes, a rare entity from the artist, will be on offer, priced from $25 million to $35 million, Phillips is staking its claim as a serious competitor to established auction houses at New York’s contemporary art sales next month.
One of the works is a portrait of the voluptuous Henrietta Moraes, based on a photograph by his friend and occasional antagonist John Deakin, whose photographs Bacon used as a visual reference. The work was last sold in London only three years ago for £21.3 million ($33.5 million). The painting is now estimated by Christie’s to fetch not much more at $35 million. The other work to go under the hammer, entitled Seated Woman, is presented by Phillips as a portrait of Muriel Belcher, the foul-mouthed proprietor of Soho’s Colony Room club who paid Bacon to attend the club with his friends.
The sale is something of a coup for Phillips, which is more typically known for offering works by younger artists such as Alex Israel, Oscar Murillo, and Sterling Ruby. It is also likely a sign of the power of CEO Edward Dolman, having taken charge at Phillips this past summer after a three year stint with the Qatar Museums Authority, and, prior to that, 27 years at Christie’s, including nearly 11 years as CEO.
Thus far, Phillips has sold only two other works at auction for more than $20 million apiece. These were works by Andy Warhol and Mark Rothko respectively. Bacon’s paintings are among the most expensive in the world, which includes the current auction record of $142.4 million which was the highest ever price at auction. The record was set at Christies in Novemeber 2013 for the artist’s triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969).
According to the Telegraph: While the portrait of Moraes is the more valuable of the two, it does not stick out at Christie’s which is offering a Picasso for $140 million, a Giacometti for $130 million, and a Rothko and a Freud for up to $50 million each in the same week. The Muriel Belcher painting, however, stands out as by far the most valuable work at Phillips, where it will arguably attract more attention.