Bacon Triptych Sizzles at Auction

A Francis Bacon triptych self-portrait is estimated to sell for as much as $24 million at a sale in London next month.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social network are growing accustomed to sky-high prices for choice works.

It will be the first big test of the auction market for contemporary art after a record week in New York this past November.

Sotheby’s 56-lot auction on Feb. 12 carries a minimum valuation of 63 million pounds ($101 million), based on hammer prices, the highest figure for one of the company’s February London contemporary sales since the previous art market boom of 2008.

Wealthy individuals, concerned about continuing instability in the wider economy, are increasingly turning to contemporary art as an alternative investment, dealers said.

Recent auctions of contemporary art have been dominated by high prices for classic works by gold-standard names such as Bacon, Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Bacon’s “Three Studies for a Self-Portrait” dates from 1980, and is one of 11 such smaller-scale triptychs. Painted when the artist was 71 years of age, it has been entered by a European collector. Its formal top valuation is 15 million pounds. The current auction high for this type of triple self-portrait is 17.3 million pounds paid for a 1975 version at Christie’s International in 2008.

Richter was the biggest-selling living artist at auction in 2012, according to the Artnet database in New York, racking up $298.9 million of sales, a 48.8 percent increase on 2011.

Record Year

Encouraged by this record year for the German artist, sellers are offering at Sotheby’s “Abstraktes Bild (769-1)” from 1992 and the 1976 photorealist painting, “Wolke (Cloud).” These contrasting Richters carry low estimates of 7.5 million pounds and 7 million pounds respectively.

Basquiat’s acrylic, oilstick and collage painting “Untitled (Pecho/Oreja)” had been owned by the Irish rock band U2 until July 2008, when it was sold for 5.1 million pounds at Sotheby’s, London.

The painting, dating from 1982-1983, will be reoffered in February with an estimate of 7 million pounds to 9 million pounds.

Two 1965 monochrome “cut” paintings by the Italian postwar conceptual artist Lucio Fontana -- another investors’ favorite -- provide the sale’s other big-ticket highlights.

The large white single-cut “Concetto Spaziale, Attesa,” is estimated at 2.2 million pounds to 2.8 million pounds, while the smaller blood-red “Concetto Spaziale, Attese,” with four cuts, is priced at 800,000 pounds to 1.2 million pounds.

None of these higher-value paintings has been guaranteed a minimum price, Sotheby’s said. The equivalent auction last February raised 50.7 million pounds with fees from 63 offered lots.

In November in New York, evening and day sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips de Pury & Co. raised a record $1.1 billion, more than double the $448.5 million achieved at the previous week’s Impressionist auctions.