When Lucian met Francis: Relationship that spawned most expensive painting ever sold

Despite their bitter feuds, Freud maintained his admiration for Bacon's work

When a mutual friend introduced Lucian Freud to Francis Bacon it seeded a competitive friendship between the two titans of 20th century figurative art, who made each other a favoured subject.

But while the relationship ultimately soured, its artistic legacy appears more potent than ever after a 1969 triptych of portraits by Bacon of his fellow artist became the most expensive work ever sold at auction, fetching $142m (£89m) in New York.

“Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” which depicts Freud seated on a wooden chair against an orange background, has overtaken the previous record set by Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” which fetched $119.9m (£74m) at Sotheby’s last year.

Outstripping the $85 million which Christie’s had estimated, the piece was purchased by William Acquavella, Freud’s New York art dealer until his death in 2011, on behalf of an unnamed buyer, after a frenetic ten minutes of bidding.

Larry Gagosian, the art super-dealer who was among those outbid, said: “I went to $101 million but it hardly mattered.”

The highest price for one of Bacon’s works until now was $86.3m, paid by the Russian businessman Roman Abramovich in 2008, for a 1976 triptych.

A spokesman for Abramovich declined to comment when asked if he had added "Three Studies…" to his collection.

Bacon, famed for his triptychs, painted the panels in 1969 at London's Royal College of Art, after his studio was destroyed in a fire.

Experts said the triptych showed the intimacy which developed between the two giants of British post-War painting, 24 years after they were introduced by the artist Graham Sutherland.

Francis Outred, head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, Europe at Christie's, described the work as a “true masterpiece and one of the greatest paintings to come up for auction in a current generation”.

He added: “It marks Bacon and Freud's relationship, paying tribute to the creative and emotional kinship between the two artists.”

The artists forged a close bond when Sutherland invited Bacon, then 36 and Freud, 23, to spend the weekend at his country house in 1945. Meeting first at the railway station, Freud later recalled: “Once I met him I saw him a lot.”

At one point, they met on an almost daily basis, frequently at their favourite watering hole, the Colony Room in Soho and the pair painted each other on several occasions.

Freud first sat for Bacon in 1951 and was fascinated by his friend’s approach to portraiture. Bacon’s representation of Freud at this sitting more closely resembled a photograph of Franz Kafka which had been lying on the floor of the older man’s studio.

The following year Bacon “grumbled but sat consistently” over a three-month period at Freud’s behest for a portrait bought by the Tate but subsequently stolen in 1988 while on loan to an exhibition in Berlin. A second Freud portrait of Bacon, painted in 1956, left unfinished after Bacon abandoned the sitting, was sold at Christie's in London for £5.4m in 2008.

Freud, famous for his nudes, cited Bacon’s influence as a reason for his decision to adopt a more spontaneous approach to painting, standing at an easel and using thicker hog’s hair brushes. Freud would praise Bacon for “packing a lot of things into one single brushstroke.”

Notorious for his bitter feuds, Freud fell out with Bacon in the mid-70s after an argument. Frequently broke in his youth, the Irish-born Bacon came to resent Freud’s snobbery and his love of old-fashioned, high society.

Just four portraits of Freud by Bacon have sold at auction in the past 20 years. In 2003, a small triptych was bought for $3.8m (£2.2m).

The "Three Studies" panels had been separated for fifteen years following sales in the 70s. They were united again by a collector in Rome who sold them to an anonymous US-based collector who put the artwork up for auction at Christie’s.

Since Abramovich’s pre-credit crunch $86m purchase, there has been a dearth of major works by Bacon, who died in 1992, on the market.

Ben Street, an art historian, told The Independent:  “This is not an A-grade Bacon; it shouldn’t have gone for $142m. It may have gone for so much because there aren’t that many big Bacons still available.”

Mr Street added: “The market is so insatiable. If something becomes available, especially something large, everyone goes bonkers. This is a well behaved Bacon, it’s neat. It’s not dark and crazy like he can be when he’s really good.”

Although their friendship was sundered, Freud maintained his admiration for Bacon’s artistic achievements. “Francis Bacon would say that he felt he was giving art what he thought it previously lacked,” he once said. “With me, it's what Yeats called the fascination with what's difficult. I'm only trying to do what I can’t do.”

The triptych is not the most expensive painting ever sold. Cezanne’s "The Card Players" was sold privately to Qatar royal family for £160 million last year.

The Christie’s auction did break the world record for a price paid for a single artwork by a living artist. Jeff Koons’ sculpture "Balloon Dog (Orange)", one of a series of five stainless steel sculptures in varying colours, fetched $58,4m (£36.7m).

The previous record for a living artist was set by a Gerhard Richter painting depicting an Italian city square, which sold in May for $37.1 million (£23.3m).

Christie’s had stoked up interest in the New York sale, hailing it as a landmark event with a greater number of paintings and sculptures estimated to sell for over $20 million than it had ever had before.

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice