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?