LONDON A Francis Bacon small-format triptych of his lover George Dyer made what Sotheby's called a "landmark" price of 26.7 million pounds ($45.4 million) on Monday in a contemporary art sale that surpassed estimates and set records for some artists.
The Bacon, a 1967 work which Sotheby's said was one of about 40 such triptychs that the artist painted in a format of 11 by 14 inches for each of the three frames, was the star of the show for a packed auction in London that netted a total of 93.15 million pounds.
Even with eight of 59 lots unsold, the total topped the pre-auction top-end estimate of 89 million pounds.
The previous top price for a similar Bacon triptych was 23 million pounds, Sotheby's said, while the highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction was the sale by rival Christie's of a large format Bacon triptych in New York last November for just over $142 million.
"The driving force tonight was passion," Cheyenne Westphal, chairman of Sotheby's contemporary art department, told Reuters.
"The Bacon was bought by collectors who truly wanted to own it. It was a completely private market that came from virtually every side of the world and people wanted to own this wonderful piece and they bought it."
Westphal declined to identify the geographic region of the winning buyer but noted that the losing bidder in the tense 10-minute-long battle in which the price for the Bacon soared well above the 20-million-pound top guide price had been handled by Patti Wong, Sotheby's chairman in Asia.
The sales event set an auction record price of 8.5 million pounds for Scottish artist Peter Doig for his "Country-rock (wing mirror) of 1999", though this was slightly below the "in the region of 9 million pounds" that Sotheby's had guided for the enormous oil painting.
There also were some surprise prices for works by younger artists, among them Romanian Adrian Ghenie's "The Fake Rothko". It went for 1.43 million pounds, or roughly four times its top guide price and six times the highest price previously paid for the artist at auction.
A real Mark Rothko "No. 10" from 1949 also sold for much more than the top guide price of 800,000 pounds, going instead for more than 2.5 million pounds.
Other major works sold at the night auction of the two-day event that continues with a day auction on Tuesday included an Andy Warhol "Nine Multicoloured Marilyns" that went for 4.6 million pounds, a Bacon "Study for Portrait of P.L." that sold for just under 4.5 million pounds and a Warhol "Dollar Sign (Yellow)" which went for 4 million pounds.
(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Dan Grebler)