On 17 May, we revealed on our website that the London-based Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea Football Club, Roman Abramovich, is the buyer of Francis Bacon’s Triptych, 1976, which sold at Sotheby’s New York on 14 May for $86.3m as well as Lucian Freud’s Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, 1995, auctioned at Christie’s the previous evening for $33.6m.
Both works made auction history: the Bacon set the highest auction price ever for a post-war work of art, while Lucian Freud became the most expensive living artist, snatching the title from Jeff Koons.
Neither Sotheby’s nor Christie’s disclose information on buyers but sources close to the market confirm that Mr Abramovich, whose fortune is estimated at £11.7bn according to The Sunday Times’s Rich List, purchased both lots, apparently for display in his London home. He has not previously been known to purchase works of art at this level.
These acquisitions demonstrate how the balance of power in the art world is shifting away from the US. Last month we revealed that the so-called Rockefeller Rothko, which sold for $72.8m at Sotheby’s New York in May 2007, has been bought by the Royal family of Qatar whose other recent purchases include works by Francis Bacon and Damien Hirst.
The Bacon Triptych purchased by Mr Abramovich was consigned to Sotheby’s by the Moueix family, owners of Château Pétrus, one of the world’s most expensive Bordeaux wines. In March we revealed that they had owned it since it was bought from a show in Paris at the Galerie Claude Bernard in 1977, where it was illustrated on the cover of the catalogue. It has figured in many major exhibitions of Bacon’s work.
While Mr Abramovich has not previously been known to be interested in art, his girlfriend, Dasha Zhukova, is to open a new gallery in Moscow in a 1927 bus depot designed by Konstantin Melnikov. CCC Moscow will be inaugurated in September with a Kabakov retrospective. Speaking to The Art Newspaper, Ms Zhukova said she hoped “to start a dialogue with a Russian audience. We hope to attract all kinds of people to the gallery, even those who know nothing about contemporary art.” She also said that CCC Moscow had long-term plans to build a permanent collection.