LONDON A triptych by British post-war painter Francis Bacon and works by pop master Andy Warhol will provide a health test for the global art market when they go on sale in New York next month.
Auction house Christie's suspects Bacon's "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" (1969) could break the artist's record price of $86 million when it goes on the block on November 12. Sotheby's is offering Warhol's "Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)", 1963, the following day with an estimate of up to $80 million.
The two will provide a barometer for a market which has defied the malaise that dogged some of the world's biggest economies since a 2008 financial market crash.
Anders Petterson, the managing director of global art market analysis firm ArtTactic, told Reuters he would not be surprised to see those works reach their estimates, given early signs of an improving economy and the number of global billionaires.
"It doesn't feel like there are any dramatic clouds on the horizon," Petterson said. "I just look at the Forbes list of 2013 where you have more than 1,400 billionaires."
On show in the London offices of Christie's, Bacon's triptych depicts his friend and fellow British painter Lucian Freud on a chair with a view from each side and one face on.
Christie's head of European Post-War and Contemporary Art Francis Outred told Reuters the work warrants interest because it is one of the few Bacon triptychs outside of a museum and documents the relationship between two post-war British titans.
"This suddenly becomes a very important conversation between two masters," Outred said.
Bacon (1909-1992) is considered one of the most important British artists since 19th century painter J.M.W. Turner. Freud (1922-2011) was a meticulous realist painter of portraits and figures, whose sitters were drawn from a wide range of backgrounds and included a benefits supervisor and Britain's queen.
For Petterson, the sales of the more prolific Warhol by Christie's and Sotheby's at their post-war and contemporary art auctions will provide the best indication of market buoyancy.
"Bacons are quite rare. There are probably 140 plus works that have come to auction over the years, while Warhol probably has been in the thousands," he said.
"If that market were suddenly to see some signs of weakness I think that would have a much larger impact." he said.
Sales this year have smashed records again. Most have been set in New York, long considered the global auction capital.
The 2013 spring auctions were no different, ending on a record-shattering high as Christie's May 15 post-war and contemporary art sale achieved the highest total - $495 million - in the history of art auctions.
Those sales included $58.4 million paid at Christie's for U.S. artist Jackson Pollock's "Number 19, 1948".
In London, Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky's expressionist masterpiece "Studie zu Improvisation 3, 1909" was the top highlight of the Impressionist and modern art sales in June, falling just short of the artist's $23 million record when it sold for $21 million.
Bacon's triptych may not threaten to rival Edvard Munch's "The Scream", which set a new auction record for any work of art last year when it sold for $120 million at Sotheby's in New York. But the auction market is getting close.
A wide geographic spread of the rich and acquisitive seeking works that boost their investment portfolio and social status combined with cash from newer institutions have kept the top end of the art sales market booming.
"We've had major works of art showing in Dubai, Shanghai, Moscow," said Christie's President of Europe, the Middle East and Russia, Jussi Pylkkanen. "Our first sales in India are in December."
(Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)