The Bacon Sale That Is Becoming Legend . . . for the Wrong Reasons
There’s two ways of looking at the Francis Bacon self-portrait that didn’t find a buyer at Christie’s last week. One reason could be the absence of buyers: all the potential Bacon collectors bought the Bacon picture they wanted in the last 18 months–or some of the potential buyers suddenly found themselves without the discretionary cash necessary for an eight-figure art purchase. The other reason could be the picture itself: it isn’t the most exciting Bacon to have come to market. With many previous works to compare it against–and good reasons to let this one pass–collectors who might still want to buy a Bacon are willing to wait.
Neither of these reasonable explanations appears along side the odd narrative of the Bacon sale that is appearing in British newspapers. According to the Telegraph and the Times, the Bacon was withdrawn from the sale in the middle of the auction. Here’s the Telegraph’s telling:
Study for Self Portrait, painted in 1964, was billed as the highlight of the contemporary art sale with an estimate of $40 million (£27 million). However, when bidding dried up at $27.4 million, the sale was abruptly halted, prompting gasps of surprise in the auction room.
The Times takes two bites at this version of events:
[ . . . ] buyers were notably absent on Wednesday night when a 1964 self-portrait by Bacon, estimated by Christie’s at $40 million, failed to sell. There were gasps in the hall when it was withdrawn from the sale.
And, again in this snarky business column relishing Richard Fuld’s fall there was the getting-to-be-familiar aside:
Bacon’s Study for Self-Portrait, had been the highlight of Christie’s sale with an estimate of $40m. There were gasps when the sale was stopped after bidding dried up at $27.4m.
There were definitely murmurs in the room as the lot was bought in. There were murmur and comments as some other prominent lots passed too. That Christie’s sale was a strange roller coaster of good and bad news about the state of the art market.
Where these writers got the idea that Christie’s departed from accepted auction practice in any way to halt the sale or withdraw the lot is a mystery. Anyone have a clue?
Bacon Portrait Pulled from Sale After Failing to Attract Bids (Daily Telegraph)
Art boom over as auctions fail to bring home Bacon (Times of London)
Art makes loss but Fuld is still an old master (Times of London)