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That $142.4 Million Bacon Is Going To Portland!

On loan, of course — not for keeps. Three Studies of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon will go on view at the Portland Art Museum in Oregon on Dec. 21 as part of its Masterworks series.

Bacon-Freud-ChristiesThis is a great coup for Brian Ferriso, the PAM director, who’s been a big proponent of one-work exhibitions (as have I). According to Ferriso, “As soon as the triptych sold, I asked my chief curator [Bruce Guenther] to see if he could identify the buyer, which he did and subsequently asked to show it.  We have worked with and borrowed from this lender in the past.”

The two had been looking for a modern or contemporary work to present in it ongoing series, which brings “singular masterpieces to Portland,” and had previously included  Raphael’s portrait La Velata, Titian’s La Bella and Thomas Moran’s Shoshone Falls. 

Guenther, in the press release, said of the painting, “Bacon captures the spirit of Freud, rendering him as a tightly coiled mass of energy, ready to spring from the caned bentwood chair positioned in front of a brass bed. The expressive, volatile brushwork that delineates Freud’s hands and face acts as a brilliant foil to the smooth rendering of the highly abstracted objects and space.”

When the painting sold in November at Christie’s, it set the record for the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction. As The Wall Street Journal told the tale:

When the Bacon came up for bid about 20 minutes into the sale, at least four collectors took the bait. New York dealer Larry Gagosian and Korean collector and dealer Hong Gyu Shin bid in the saleroom against telephone bidders from the U.S. and China. Seconds into the bidding, Mr. Hong tried to spook his competition by lobbing a $100 million bid, but the telephone bidders remained undaunted and in the end, he bowed out at $126 million. New York dealer Bill Acquavella, bidding by telephone on behalf of a client, placed the winning bid of $127 million, or $142.4 million with Christie’s commission.

Part of the attraction stemmed from its history: The work was first shown in Italy and then at the Grand Palais in Paris, in 1971-72, in a Bacon retrospective. Then it was separated into three paintings, sold to three collectors, and went out of public view for more than 15 years — when an Italian collector reunited them in the 1990s. He/she put it up for sale this fall. “With this exhibition, this magnificent work comes into public view for a limited time before returning to a private collection,” the press release says.

Who bought it? I thought I’d seen some conjecture, but when I looked for it online now, I couldn’t find it. But the loan suggests it’s someone in the Northwest, and maybe word will leak soon. 

UPDATE: Readers tell me that the conjectured buyers were either the Quataris or Steve Wynn, according to Page Six… doesn’t look like either, does it?

UPDATE 2: Another source tells me that Bruce Guenther is close to Eli Broad and has borrowed works from him in the past. That would be interesting, because Broad is not known for paying top dollar.


  1. Elaine Calder says

    The Portland Art Museum website says the exhibition is funded by the Paul G. Allen Foundation, which has a great collection in their Seattle offices.

    • Guy Wheatley says

      Paul Allen owns the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team, so he has ties to the city. His name came to mind first.

  2. Julio cortazar says

    I believe that the most expensive work sold at auction still remains The Portrait Of Doctor Gachet. $80+m in 1989 dollars is around $160m+ today

  3. the nameless eye says

    Phillip Kennicott mentioned this in the Washington Post today. One hopes that people who come to see the exhibition will be there for its aesthetic and art-historical value rather than, as he says, goggling over an expensive object.


  1. […] Guenther denied that. He did say that it was someone who lived on the West Coast, however. And Judith H. Dobrzynski on her Real Clear Arts blog mentioned Eli Broad, though goodness knows he has access to lots of potential exhibition spaces in […]

  2. […] Guenther denied that. He did say that it was someone who lived on the West Coast, however. And Judith H. Dobrzynski on her Real Clear Arts blog mentioned Eli Broad, though goodness knows he has access to lots of potential exhibition spaces in […]

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