Bidding opened at £13 million and zoomed skyward, quickly coming down to a shooting match between New York dealers William Acquavella and Christophe van de Weghe. Van de Weghe made the winning bid of £19.2 million, before the added on buyer’s premium. “That’s the highest price I’ve ever bid at auction,” said van de Weghe moments after the marathon evening, “and this time my client really wanted it. We think it’s a very good painting and it’s exactly what he wanted.”
The dealer wouldn’t identify the ‘he’ other than “he works in finance and spends a lot of time in his private jet.”
As for underbidder William Acquavella, who dropped out at £19.1 million, he was philosophical: “You win some and lose some and that was a good picture.”
Is van de Weghe telegraphing that Nicholas Berggruen bought the painting? It would seem so from this more direct version of the answer he gave to Bloomberg’s Scott Reyburn:
“I was bidding for an international financier who lives in a plane,” Van de Weghe said.
Then, again, there’s no telling how many homeless, stateless billionaires there are currently roaming international air space.
Update:We’re not serious about Berggruen being the buyer. Rather, we’ve gotten to the point where any wild guess gets repeated as fact in the press. Now the dealers and auction houses are competing to come up with clever lines to avoid the question. Credit goes to Brett Gorvy for finessing the nationality question by citing a buyer’s domicile as international airspace. It just so happens there isa billionaire art collector who has made a PR hook out of owning no residence but his private plane. That’s Nicholas Berggruen. By the logic of the guessing game, Berggruen will now be cited as the buyer of the Bacon whether he is a likely owner or not. (Maybe we should just refrain from making jokes that need an explanation.)
Reyburn also has this curious quote about a sale what featured several works—the Bacon and the Basquiat—that had both been on the auction block within the last five years:
“People are still prepared to pay top prices,” the London- based dealer, Stephen Friedman, said in an interview. “The works have to be fresh, though, and great quality.”
What’s the definition of fresh when a work has been bought in and its guarantee fought over in lawsuits before settling out of court?