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$20M Bacon Portrait Crowns Sotheby’s Contemporary Sales

On Dec 12-13, two sessions of contemporary art auctions achieved a combined €25.7 million ($37.6 million) at Sotheby’s.

PARIS—On Dec 12-13, two sessions of contemporary art auctions achieved a combined €25.7 million ($37.6 million) at Sotheby’s. Excitement hung over the long-anticipated sale of Francis Bacon’s Seated Woman (Portrait of Muriel Belcher), 1961. The 65-by-56-inch oil on canvas depicts a Colony Room bartender and confidante of Bacon’s— known for “her virulence and uncensored humor,” according to Sotheby’s catalogue—awkwardly hunched over the edge of a couch. Estimated at €7.5/10 million, the painting drew €13.7 million ($20 million)—about 20 percent above its high estimate and the highest price achieved for any artwork sold at auction in France since 1989.

Collector and philanthropist Audrey Irmas, who sold the work, said it had been “a prized part” of her family’s collection for a number of years. The proceeds, she noted, will be donated to the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Family Foundation, created with her late husband, and will be used most particularly to address women’s causes around the world.

“In the first year alone,” Irmas stated, “we intend to donate $300,000 each to women’s programmes in Darfur, New Orleans and South Central Los Angeles.”

The Sotheby’s auctions also included works by Nicolas de Staël, Niki de Saint-Phalle and Christo, whose 1962 Assemblage (Bicyclette empaquetée sur galerie de voiture)—consisting of a packed-up bicycle attached to a car rack—fell for €384,200 ($562,400), a record for the artist. A Jean Dubuffet painting, Tête péninsule rouge, 1951 (estimate: €350,000/450,000), made €637,050 ($932,405). Other top sales included a landscape by de Staël, Paysage de Provence, 1953 (estimate: €400,000/600,000), which brought €895,000 ($1.3 million); and Robert Indiana’s iconic 72-by-72-by-36-inch aluminum sculpture Love, Red, executed in 2000 in an edition of six (estimate: €700,000/900,000), which earned €839,000 ($1.2 million).

Record for a Picasso Postwar Work on Paper

The next day, Dec. 13, Sotheby’s session of Impressionist, modern and Surrealist art brought in a total of €11.5 million ($16.9 million) and was marked by several highs as well: Un matin au harem, a colorful 1954 work on paper by Pablo Picasso, brought in €1.6 million ($2.3 million), largely exceeding its estimate of €500,000/700,000—and setting a record for the artist’s postwar work on paper at auction. Ergo, 1947, by Francis Picabia, fetched the second-highest figure in the sale, €1.4 million ($2 million), also surpassing its estimate of €800,000/1 million. And Man Ray’s Portrait of Juliet, 1947 (estimate: €200,000/300 000), sold for €491,250 ($722,500).

Other works in that sale included a René Magritte collage of a dove, Columbe, 1961-62 (estimate: €300,000/400,000), which sold for €420,250 ($618,050); an oil on cardboard by Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Pégase sur son roc ou la cime (estimate: €350,000/450,000), which took €480,250 ($706,300); a Henri Matisse drawing of a young girl, Eune femme accoudée à la blouse Roumaine, 1939, which brought €120,250 ($176,900), within its €100,000/150,000 estimate; and a bronze by Alberto Giacometti (1901-66), Petite tête de femme (Diane Bataille), with an estimate of €40,000/60,000, which was acquired for €156,250 ($230,000).

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