Painting once owned by U2 sells for £6.8m as modern art auction booms

Paintings by Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter and Jean-Michel Basquiat racked up over £74m (€85m) in the year’s first major test of demand for contemporary art.

Bacon’s Three Studies for a Self-Portrait sold for £13.76m and a Basquiat painting once owned by the rock band U2 fetched £6.8m at London’s Sotheby sale.

Bacon painted the portrait, one of 11 smaller-scale triptychs, in 1980, a less sought-after period than the 1960s and 1970s. It is the only work for sale all week that carries an eight-figure estimate.

The lot had been entered by a European collector, who acquired it at auction in Jun 2006 for £3.8m, and had no guaranteed price.

This Sotheby’s event included four paintings by Richter, the biggest-selling living artist at auction in 2012, according to the Artnet database in New York. Last year, the German racked up £192m of sales, a 48.8% increase on 2011.

Abstraktes Bild (769-1) from 1992 and the 1976 photorealist painting Wolke were estimated to fetch at least £7.5m and £7m respectively. Both sold for hammer prices below these figures.

The large abstract, distinguished by its vertically louvered gradations of blue, yellow, and red, was being sold by a European collector and had not been seen at auction before.

It sold for £8.2m with fees to a telephone bidder, while Wolke fell to another phone bid of £7.6m. It had been bought by its seller for £1m at this same London auction room in 1999.

Basquiat has become a mainstay of the Top 10 price lists at contemporary art auctions, thanks to the support of Jose Mugrabi and other New York collectors.

The former graffiti artist’s acrylic, oilstick, and collage painting Untitled (Pecho/Oreja) was sold by U2 for £5.1m at Sotheby’s, London, in Jul 2008.

The 1982-1983 work, featuring one of Basquiat’s mask-like heads, inscribed “chest” and “ear” in Spanish, was re-offered for sale with an estimate of £7m to £9m.

It was bought by Mugrabi, sitting in the second row of the saleroom. The New York collector also paid £5m for Basquiat’s text-heavy 1983 triptych Five Fish Species, estimated at £4.25m-£6.25m.

Sotheby’s total of £74.4m with fees was slightly below the high estimate of £78m, based on hammer prices.

The result was still the company’s second-highest for a February contemporary art sale.

Of the 54 lots, 81.5% were sold. The equivalent event last year raised £50.7m from 64 lots.

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