Francis Bacon painting sells for $84 million at surreal ‘hybrid’ virtual auction

Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

A Francis Bacon triptych offered for over $84 million throughout a virtual auction at Sotheby’s, on what was an encouraging — and extremely uncommon — night for the coronavirus-hit artwork market.

With an auctioneer live-streaming from London, and phone bids beamed in from New York and Hong Kong, the painter’s 1981 paintings “Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus” exceeded pre-sale estimates of between $60 million and $80 million.

Monday night’s marathon sale marked the primary time that Sotheby’s has trialed its “hybrid” auction format, which noticed chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, Oliver Barker, taking bids from brokers around the globe by way of a wall of screens. In a press assertion Barker described the expertise as “like being at the epicenter of a cinematic production.”

Sotheby's first "hybrid" auction brought in over $363 million for the auction house

Sotheby’s first “hybrid” auction introduced in over $363 million for the auction home Credit: Sotheby’s

Bidders have been additionally capable of make gives on-line, with the 10-minute battle for Bacon’s painting ending in a two-horse race between an online person in China and an unidentified phone bidder. The closing price ticket of $84.6 million, supplied by the latter, marks the third-highest sum ever paid for the artist’s work at auction, in keeping with Sotheby’s.

There have been different optimistic indicators at the night occasion, which consisted of three separate gross sales. Roy Lichtenstein’s “White Brushstroke I” went for $25.4 million, whereas Jean-Michel Basquiat‘s “Untitled (Head)” achieved $15.2 million, a brand new world auction file for a piece on paper by the artist.

The night generated a complete of $363.2 million for Sotheby’s, with 93% of the artworks supplied finally promoting. According to Gregoire Billault, head of the auction home’s modern artwork division in New York, it bodes effectively for the approaching months.

Gallery assistants pose with Francis Bacon's "Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus" at Sotheby's

Gallery assistants pose with Francis Bacon’s “Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus” at Sotheby’s Credit: Getty Images

“Tonight was a very clear demonstration that, even in very difficult times, if you come up with the right (artworks) at the right prices, the market is there,” he mentioned over the telephone shortly after the sale, admitting that staging the auction within the present local weather had been “a risk.”

“It’s definitely going to influence what we’re going to do in the future,” he added. “Whether we’re going to repeat (this exact format) I don’t know, but we know it’s possible and that it works.”

Difficulties stay

Yet, these stay troubling instances for an business that has been severely hampered by the shortcoming to stage reside gross sales. With lockdowns around the globe forcing auction homes to cancel and postpone occasions, Sotheby’s has already furloughed and laid off employees amid a collapse in revenues.

Despite efforts to spice up digital choices in current months, the highest finish of the artwork market continues to be closely depending on reside gross sales and in-person viewings. Proceeds from online-only auctions signify relative pocket-change for the massive homes — simply $80 million of the full $4.eight billion generated by Sotheby’s in 2019 got here by way of the online.

How do artwork auctions actually work?

The auction home has, nonetheless, made efforts to compensate for the dearth of bodily occasions. Its “Contemporary” sale set a new online record in April when it generated greater than $6.4 million via works by the likes of Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. The $1.3 million paid for George Condo’s “Antipodal Reunion” could have represented only a fraction of the sums seen on Monday night, however it was essentially the most Sotheby’s has ever raised for an paintings via online-only bidding.
Sotheby's first "hybid" sale in action

Sotheby’s first “hybid” sale in motion Credit: Sotheby’s

But whereas the obvious success of this “hybrid” auction will little doubt come as a aid, there stay questions across the urge for food for blue-chip artwork amid a worldwide financial downturn. Moreover, the Bacon painting was consigned lengthy earlier than the pandemic took maintain within the West, that means that potential patrons have been capable of view the paintings up shut in Hong Kong and London previous to the sale.

Whether potential sellers will nonetheless wish to put multi-million-dollar artwork on sale within the present local weather — or whether or not patrons will splash out on big-ticket gadgets they can not examine in particular person — stays to be seen.

Billault nonetheless struck an upbeat chord, saying that Sotheby’s had nonetheless been ready “to consign amazing works during the Covid period.”

“We have sent a signal to the art market after all these difficult times, with fairs canceled and museums closed,” he mentioned, including: “It’s a vote of confidence both for sellers and buyers.”

Top picture: “Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus,” 1981, by Francis Bacon

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