Sotheby's $40m Francis Bacon Pope for May

A well-priced Pope painting follows the $51.6m sale of a triptych in March

Marion Maneker

Tue, Apr 19, 2022

Sotheby's $40m Francis Bacon Pope for May

Sotheby’s has been sending art advisors around the world an image of Francis Bacon’s Study for Red Pope, 1962, second version 1971 with an estimate around $40 million. The lot is now on their website. It follows a strong sale for a Bacon triptych in the March sales in London that sold for $51.6 million

A quick look at recent auction prices for the artist shows there’s a fairly clear price level for works of this size, imagery and period. Bacon’s Study for Innocent X from 1962 sold in May of 2007 for $52 million. It’s the same size, year and imagery. Fifteen years is a long time in the Contemporary art market. And this work isn’t from 1962 but was made nine years later. So that may not be a good comparable (or it still might be.)

Another painting of the same size, similar imagery (though not a pope) from a slightly later period, 1977, was sold for $49.8 million in 2018. A smaller pope painting, Pope with Owls from 1958, sold last year for $33 million at Phillips. 

It’s safe then to view Sotheby’s picture as bearing a conservative estimated at $40 million. Will there be competition come May for a significant work like this that comes to market with no guarantee?