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Fall sales to test art market's resilience

| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 6:03 p.m.
An auction house worker poses for the photographers in front of a Francis Bacon's oil on canvas triptych painting entitled 'Three Studies of Lucian Freud'', in central London, Monday, Oct. 14, 2013. The artwork will be offered in auction at Christie's New York 'Evening Sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art' on Nov. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

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 Nov. 12. Sotheby's is offering Warhol's “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)” 1963 the next 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 downturn.

Anders Petterson, the managing director of global art market analysis firm ArtTactic, said he would not be surprised if 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.

Art Francis Outred, Christie's head of European post-war and contemporary, said 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.”

Sales this year have smashed records again. Most have been set in New York, considered the global auction capital.

The 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 artist Jackson Pollock's “Number 19, 1948.”

In London, Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky's expressionist masterpiece “Studie zu Improvisation 3, 1909” was the highlight of the Impressionist and modern art sales in June.

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