Last night, an unknown art lover forked out £21.3 million (€25.4m) for Bacon’s 1963 Portrait of Henrietta Moraes in the space of time it takes most of us to buy €4 Lotto quickpick.
Bacon’s portrait of Henrietta — a larger-than-life figure in 1960s Soho and the former lover of Lucian Freud — is seen as a breakthrough in his painting of female nudes.
Francis Outred, Christie’s head of post-war and contemporary art in Europe, called it “one of the most seductive and sexually charged paintings I have ever encountered by Bacon”.
The Irish-born figurative painter was renowned for his bold, graphic and emotionally raw imagery.
His portrait of Henrietta Moraes, a model and friend of Bacon’s and muse to a number of British artists, depicts her reclining naked on a white bed in a room with a deeply saturated lilac wall and a bright red floor.
Bacon generally painted his subjects from photographs rather than from life, and for this picture, he commissioned his friend John Deakin to shoot Ms Morales in 1961.
The record price for a Bacon painting at auction is €65.8 million, achieved in May 2008 when Sotheby’s in New York sold a 1976 triptych, supposedly to Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch and owner of Chelsea FC.
The identity of the seller of Bacon’s Portrait of Henrietta Moraes has not been made public, but art experts believe it to be Sheldon Solow, the New York real estate developer and a well-known collector who bought the painting from Ernst Beyeler, the Swiss dealer, in 1983.
Christie’s said the work, which measures over 1.4 sq metres, had only had two owners — the post-war industrialist Willy Schniewind and the present owner who acquired it in 1983. Portrait of Henrietta Moraes has not been seen in the public eye for 15 years.