Sotheby’s will offer Francis Bacon’s 1981 Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus at its Contemporary Art Evening sale in New York on 14 May with an estimate in excess of $60m.
The painting is one of 28 large three-panel works that Bacon painted between 1962 and 1991, and his three highest auction results are all triptychs from this era: Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969), which sold for $142.4m at Christie’s in 2013; Triptych (1976) sold at Sotheby’s for $86.2m in 2008; and Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards (1984), which sold for $80.8m at Christies in 2014.
"Following the success of Francis Bacon’s Study for a Head in May 2019, an exceptional example of the artist’s famed ‘Screaming Popes’ from 1952 that sold at Sotheby’s New York for $50.4m, we are honoured to bring the next masterpiece by Bacon to auction, and to have been chosen to tell the incredible story of this mythical series of pictures from his later career," says Grégoire Billault, head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art department in New York.
Each of the painting’s three panels measure 78 by 58 inches, and the work was inspired by the writings of the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus. It revisits the themes that Bacon first developed in his 1944 painting, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, which now resides at the Tate in London. This will be the sixth of Bacon’s large format triptychs ever to appear at auction.
The work is currently owned by Norweigan collector Hans Rasmus Astrup, who purchased the work from London’s Marlborough Fine Art in 1984. It has long been held at Astrup Fearnley Museet, the collector’s private museum in Oslo. In 2013, Astrup donated his commercial assets and their holdings of art to his eponymous charitable organization, the Hans Rasmus Astrup Foundation, and proceeds from this sale will benefit the organisation and go towards diversifying the museum’s collection.
Though both Sotheby’s and Christie’s had been vying for the $450m Marron estate—which is now being sold through an unusual gallery alliance of Pace, Gagosian and Acquavella—the Bacon triptych marks the auction house’s second coup for the season after they announced last week that it will sell 26 works of postwar art from the collection of renowned West Coast collectors, the late Harry “Hunk” and Mary Margaret “Moo” Anderson with a presale high estimate of $55m.