The highest expectations at tonight’s sale were on Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd Version 1971 which was described in the catalogue as “the grand finale to his celebrated body of Papal portraits”.
Dating from 1971, the picture was a reworking of his 1962 canvas Study from Innocent X but with the added inclusion of the artist’s lover George Dyer in the background appearing as the Pope’s reflection.
The 6ft 6in x 4ft 10in (1.98 x 1.48cm) oil on canvas had been acquired from Marlborough Fine Art in Zurich in February 1973 and had descended to the vendor. It had an ‘estimate on request’ which was reportedly in the region £60m-80m but, on the night, the bidding failed to reach the low end of this range and the work was left unsold.
Six lots later, Bacon’s earlier and smaller painting Head with Raised Arm was offered with a £7m-10m estimate.
The 2ft x 20in (61 x 50.5cm) oil on canvas from 1955 had been in the vendor’s collection over 50 years in which time it had never been exhibited publicly. Indeed, its location was listed as ‘unknown’ in the most recent version of Bacon’s catalogue raisonné published last year by Martin Harrison.
The painting belonged to a group of nine surviving paintings depicting the then-Pope, Pius XII, of which four are now in museum collections.
With market freshness in its favour and the pitch not deemed unreasonable for an artist whose single-format portraits have sold for over £35m at auction before, the bidding was taken up by a number of parties before it was knocked down at £10m.
It was not the only lot of the night to make £10m or more.
With Christie’s having dropped its June sale of Contemporary art in London (its two main series in this category now take place in March and October only), these two works by Bacon were part of a higher number of big-ticket lots than would usually appear at these Frieze week auctions.
Peter Doig’s (b. 1959) Camp Forestia, an oil on canvas from 1996, sold at £13.5m while Red Skull from 1982 by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) sold at £14.5m.
Elsewhere, auction records were posted for Howard Hodgkin (1932-2017) when his painting Goodbye to the Bay of Naples fetched £1.4m and also sculptor Antony Gormley (b.1950) when his 8.5m-wide A Case For An Angel I from 1989 sold at £4.5m. ATG understands the latter was bought by Japanese collector Yusaku Maezawa for his museum opening in Chiba, Japan.
The sale total was £99.5m (including premium), with Christie's raising a further £32.2m from its Italian art sale staged on the same evening.