Francis Bacon painting of Lucian Freud expected to sell for over $85m at auction

'Three Studies of Lucian Freud' will go under the hammer in New York

Francis Bacon’s triptych painting “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” is estimated to sell for more than $85 million (£53.4m) tonight, making it the highest ever asking price for an artwork at auction.

Christie’s is set to auction Bacon's 1969 triptych portraits of Lucian Freud, grandson of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, tonight in New York.

Bacon painted two full-length triptychs of his artist friend and rival but the other is missing, making “Three Studies” even more valuable.

Created during Bacon’s period as one of London’s most highly-rated figurative painters, the eye-catching, six-foot high triptych presents Freud sitting against a bright yellow background.

A collector spent around 15 years reuniting the three panels after they were sold separately in the 1970s. He bought one in Rome, before tracking the other two down in Paris and Japan.

Roman Abramovich paid $86.2m for a Bacon in 2008, but art experts and auctioneers are hoping the Russian billionaire’s deal will be exceeded by this evening’s offering.

“The Scream” by Edvard Munch sold for almost $120 million last year after being estimated at auction for $80 million.

This week, twelve contemporary works of art with an estimate of over $20 million each are up for auction - the largest range of top-priced lots to be released for sale at the same time.

Brett Gorvy, principal auctioneer at Christie’s, said the asking price showed “confidence in the art market at a time when there is great purchasing power by a global audience”, adding that “Warhol and Bacon are the modern masters of today”.

Warhol’s double-panel “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)" will lead Sotheby’s auction tomorrow and is expected to fetch up to $80 million.

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