NEW YORK Francis Bacon's "Triptych, 1976" sold for $86 million at Sotheby's contemporary sale on Wednesday, setting a record for postwar art and contributing to the auction house's best result in its nearly 300-year history.
With a $362 million total including commission, the auction house eclipsed even its best Impressionist and modern art showings, marking yet another milestone for the seemingly unstoppable contemporary and postwar art market.
It was second consecutive night of landmark records in the hot market, after Lucian Freud's "Benefits Supervisor Sleeping" established a new mark for a living artist when it sold for $33.64 million at rival Christie's on Tuesday.
Sotheby's had estimated Bacon's monumental three-canvas painting would sell for about $70 million, making it the top priced work of the annual spring sales, but two determined telephone bidders drove the price up to $86,281,000.
The sale, at which 87 percent of the 83 lots on offer found buyers, exceeded its high presale estimate of $357 million and was likely to quiet naysayers who predicted the spring sales would spell the beginning of a market correction. Some auction officials had privately expressed concern that unstable financial markets might tamp down spending on fine art.
"You could really see global ... bidding," said Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's head of contemporary art, who also served as auctioneer. Officials were uncharacteristically evasive about the geographic makeup of the buyers, saying only that it was "global, all over the place."
The previous record for a work by the Irish-born Bacon, who died in 1992, was $52.68 million, set last year. The triptych that set the record on Wednesday, executed in 1976, had remained in the same European collection since its purchase in 1977 from a London gallery.
Mark Rothko's "Orange, Red, Yellow," went unsold despite expectations it would command more than $35 million. Ironically the previous record for postwar or contemporary art at auction was held by Rothko's "White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)," which sold for $72.84 million at Sotheby's a year ago.
Seventeen other artists also set records, including Yves Klein, whose "MG 9" caused a protracted bidding war before selling for $23.56 million -- nearly three times its high presale estimate.
Robert Rauschenberg, who died in Florida this week, also saw a new mark with the $14.6 million sale of "Overdrive." Tom Wesselmann, Lee Krasner, Brice Marden, Piero Manzoni and Takashi Murakami set records as well, with Murakami obliterating his old mark of $2.7 million as "My Lonesome Cowboy" fetched a whopping $15.16 million.