Here’s as good a succinct explanation as you’re going to get as to why the Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud sold for a record sum at auction this week. Note that no one is claiming the work is Bacon’s best or even that Bacon is the best artist ever. At the risk of boring everyone, it is worth repeating that the art market is not a measure of art historical or aesthetic value.
You need to know some of the history behind it, says Michael Peppiatt, an art historian, author (‘Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma’) and curator of several Bacon exhibitions, including one in Rome that featured the “Three Studies” triptych. (A triptych, for the uninitiated is a three-panel piece of art, a form that Bacon often employed.) “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” was painted in 1969, and features the grandson of Sigmund Freud, a sometime rival of the artist. “You have the greatest painter of the 20th century capturing another great painter,” says Peppiatt. Bacon painted other, and in Peppiatt’s opinion, more inventive and powerful triptychs. But “Three Studies” is unique because anybody with enough money could have bought it. Pilar Ordovas, the former Head of Post War & Contemporary Art for Christie’s London, claims it’s “one of the last, if not the last, Bacon triptych from the 1960s to remain in private hands.”
If you do click through and read the rest of the Q&A, try to ignore the silly posturing (“I know how much they paid for it, but I can’t tell you.”) about who sold the Bacon and how much they paid for it. The whisper number is $100m but it doesn’t really matter.
FAQ: Why Does Francis Bacon’s Art Auction Record Matter? (BusinessWeek)