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Bacon and Edwards

Tonight Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edward (1984) will go under the hammer in New York in one of the year’s most anticipated art sales.

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Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards – Image: Christie’s

The hype is understandable. The triptych is valued at $80m.

This is compounded by the fact that in November last year Bacon’s Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud sold for a world record $142.4m against a similar, $85m estimate.

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Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud – Image: Christie’s

Both works are triptychs, are broadly similar in terms of their execution and depict pivotal figures in the artist’s life. In this case, John Edwards was Bacon’s closest friend and confidant.

Each analyses the relationship between the sitter and the artist.

Predictably the Freud is angular, its clashing colours and frenetic composition conveying the rocky friendship between the two men – whose intellectual and creative sparring was legendary.

By contrast, the Edwards is about as serene as Bacon gets.

Christie’s chairman Brett Gorvy described it as showing “an incredible tenderness and harmony that was prompted by Bacon’s paternal relationship with the sitter… this period of contentment elicited a confidence of style that has been compared to late Matisse.”

So are we about to see a new world auction record set?

I would argue not.

Although both paintings are broadly comparable, the work offered in tonight’s sale lacks the sheer impact of the Freud triptych.

However, Bacon stands at the apex of the international art market, making it unlikely that the work will sell for anything less than $100m.

The amount of money invested in art has increased dramatically in recent years and is now close to the levels reached in pre-crash 2007.

Andrew Renton, the head of London’s Marlborough Contemporary gallery and a professor of curating at Goldsmiths in London, explained to CNN earlier today: “We’ve got an economic model which is slightly contradictory. Prices seem to set the value.

“Overpaying is almost the best thing you can do, because you start to define your own market.”

Whatever the result we can guarantee it’ll be more than the £3m ($4.4m) paid for the same piece at Christie’s in 2001.

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