A FRANCIS BACON masterpiece broke the Dublin artist’s record at auction when it sold for $86.3 million (€54m) in New York, Sotheby’s said yesterday.
The sale of Triptych, 1976, for $86.3m eclipsed the previous record set in 1962, by the $52.7m paid for Study for Innocent X.
The three-panelled picture depicts a headless human form surrounded by three vultures and flanked by two portraits of disfigured human faces.
Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art, said: “It is a masterpiece of the 20th century. The world has been waiting for a great triptych, and this is it.”
The piece was sold by a private EU collector who has owned the work since it was first exhibited in Paris in 1977.
Bacon used ancient Greek legends as inspiration for the masterpiece. The central figure alludes to the legend of Prometheus, who has his liver perpetually devoured by an eagle.
Greek dramatist Aeschylus’s trilogy The Orestia, where Orestes is plagued by three furies after murdering his mother, was also an influence.
Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s London deputy director for contemporary art, described the work as a “totemic triptych”.
“It created an overnight sensation when it was first exhibited in Paris in 1977,” he said.
“It showed Bacon working in a new way. It is a watershed painting which sees him moving beyond personal grief on to a more universal scale.”
Bacon (1909-1992) was born in Dublin to British parents and moved to London in 1926.
Although he had no formal training as an artist, he started to exhibit his work in the 1930s.
Bacon died of a heart attack in Madrid in 1992.
Today, his work is among the most popular of 20th-century art at auction.
On Tuesday, a life-size Lucian Freud painting, of a naked London job centre supervisor sleeping, broke the world auction record for a work by a living artist, when it sold at rival auction house Christie’s.
The masterpiece fetched $33.6m, (£17.2m) in the sale at New York’s Rockefeller Centre.
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