A triptych of paintings by Francis Bacon just smashed the art world's record for the sale price of an artwork at auction. Bacon's study of fellow British painter Lucian Freud sold for $142,405,000 on Tuesday at Christie's. That's about $20 million more than the previous record sale of a pastel of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" in the spring of 2012 at a Sotheby's auction.
While "The Scream" is generally well-known, it's a bit harder to explain why Bacon's “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” is record-breaking. There's Bacon's obvious significance, as a painter, coupled with the work's subject: another well-known artist. And then there's the fact that this is the first time all three paintings that comprise the single work of art were offered for sale at an auction. Decades ago, as the New York Times explains, the individual panels of the 1969 portrait were sold separately. It took 20 years, and a lot of money, and effort by an anonymous collector in Rome to bring all three panels together. Christie's put together a video on the work, and on the relationship between the two painters, in order to promote the sale:
If you'd like to fake your way through a conversation on the significance of Bacon and Freud, however, Hyperallergic has you covered with a handy primer for both artists. Here, for instance, is their beautiful explanation of Bacon's usual subjects of choice:
Screaming popes, vaguely abstract sides of beef, twisted and blurred faces, and nightmare concoctions of teeth, necks, and talons, usually against an empty background or in a cage of sorts.
The triptych is a signature arrangement for Bacon's work. Before Freud sat down for Bacon, the two had been friends for about 25 years.