Major Francis Bacon work poised to set record at N.Y. art auction

Chris Michaud
Artist Francis Bacon's "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" is seen during a media preview at Christie's Auction House in New York
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Artist Francis Bacon's "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" is seen during a media preview at Christie's Auction House in New York, October 31, 2013. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Art works by Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol are poised to break records this week at New York's two big auction houses at sales that would boost an already surging market for top-tier works.

Christie's sale on Tuesday is led by Bacon' 1969 triptych, "Three Studies of Lucian Freud," which has never been offered at auction and carries a pre-sale estimate of about $85 million - the highest ever exceeding even that of Edvard Munch's "The Scream," which sold for a record $120 million last year.

Such a price, once millions of dollars in commissions are added, would easily break the $86.3 million Bacon record set in 2008, months before financial markets crashed and sent the art market into a brief decline.

Since then, new, deep-pocketed collectors from around the globe have driven prices to record levels.

At a recent preview, Christie's head of postwar and contemporary art, Brett Gorvy, noted that collectors from Asia, Russia and the Mideast flush with cash were determined to assemble world-class collections featuring trophy works.

In May, Christie's achieved the highest total in the history of auctions when it sold $495 million worth of art at its postwar and contemporary sale.

The auction house said Bacon's three-paneled work, which depicts the Dublin-born painter's friend and fellow artist Lucian Freud on a chair, with a view from each side and one face on, was "a true masterpiece that marks Bacon and Freud's relationship" and their "creative and emotional kinship."

"The juxtaposition of radiant sunshine yellow contrasting with the brutal physicality and immediacy of the brushstrokes in this celebrated life-size triptych is what makes Bacon's art so remarkable," said Francis Outred, the head of European postwar and contemporary art for Christie's.

"This suddenly becomes a very important conversation between two masters," Outred said in an interview.

He noted that 'Three Studies of Lucian Freud' is one of only two existing full-length triptychs of Freud, a grandson of the founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, and that the three panels were separated for 15 years in the 1970s before being reunited.

Christie's is also offering a Warhol "Coca-Cola," which carries an estimate of $40 million to $60 million, and a sculpture by Jeff Koons, "Balloon Dog (Orange)" expected to fetch $35 million to $55 million.

On Wednesday, Sotheby's will try to break the $71.7 million record price for a Warhol when if offers the monumental "Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)," which has an estimated sale price of $60 million to $80 million.

(Reporting by Chris Michaud; editing by Patricia Reaney)