On Friday, Sotheby’s announced one of the top lots for its contemporary art evening auction: Francis Bacon’s 1981 Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus, a large-scale, three-part oil painting that will carry an estimate of $60 million. Inspired by ancient scholar Aeschylus’s Greek tragedies dating from the 5th century B.C., the lot will be on offer at the house on May 13 in New York.
The artwork comes from the collection of Hans Rasmus Astrup, a Norwegian business tycoon and heir to a real estate and shipping conglomerate, and one of the ARTnews Top 200 Collectors; he is also the founder of a private museum in Oslo housing his collection of more than 1,300 modern and contemporary works. The proceeds of the sale will benefit the consignor’s family foundation, which funds the museum’s maintenance and development.
In a release announcing the sale, Alex Branczik, head of contemporary art for Sotheby’s Europe, called Bacon “the great tragedian of his age,” emphasizing the artist’s capacity to grapple with his subjects “so that [the] timeless power of the Ancient Greek genre is brought to bear on the human condition in the 20th century.”
Bacon, who was never formally trained as a painter, is considered one of the foremost British artists of the postwar era. His work frequently features semi-abstracted scenes of carnage, and he claimed influence from Picasso’s early work featuring religious imagery, as well as photography’s ability to capture the uncanny.
In 2013, another of Bacon’s colossal triptychs, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, from 1969, sold in a Christie’s New York evening sale, setting the artist’s current auction record at $142 million. The Oresteia triptych’s contention in the Sotheby’s May auction will offer another potentially historic moment for the contemporary category.