NEW YORK CITY – A work by British painter Francis Bacon has been sold for US$142.4 million in New York, smashing the world record for the most expensive piece of art ever auctioned.
"Three Studies of Lucian Freud" by the 20th century figurative artist, who lived from 1909 to 1992, was sold on Tuesday by Christie's after being offered at auction for the first time.
"The work was sold for $142,405,000, after six minutes of fierce bidding in the room and on the phone," Christie's announced.
Hammered to an outburst of applause at the auction, it smashed the previous record of $119.9 million fetched by Edvard Munch's iconic "The Scream" by rival house Sotheby's in New York in May 2012.
"An historic moment," said auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen when bidding temporarily stalled at $126 million, having opened at $80 million.
The rare triptych, executed almost 25 years after Bacon and Freud met, is the most expensive single lot offered in the entire New York November auction season.
The identity of the buyer was not immediately revealed.
The previous record for a Bacon painting was $86 million in 2008.
Pre-sale, Christie's described the three studies work as "an icon of 20th century art" and said the auction was a "once in a lifetime" opportunity to acquire it.
Just moments later Christie's broke another record by selling the giant orange "Balloon Dog" sculpture by Jeff Koons for $58.4 million, making history for the sale of a work by a living artist.
It is one of five different colored such pieces by the American, who has most recently collaborated with Lady Gaga providing artwork for the pop diva's third album Artpop released on Monday.
The previous record for a Koons piece was $33.7 million. The Bacon and Koons were the two most prized lots among a stash of 20th century masterpieces that flew under the hammer in a flourishing market of post-war and contemporary art.
With impressionist and modern art harder to come by and many of the great works in museums, it is contemporary work that has seen such a dramatic rise in prices.
Brett Gorvy, head of post-war and contemporary art at Christie's, said recently that sales had been revolutionized by new collectors looking for the best.
Billionaires from Asia, China, the Gulf, Latin America and Russia have galvanised the New York market where Americans have long dominated. "What's amazing about many of the newer collectors coming out of Asia or coming out of Russia, they have an incredible appetite, an incredible intelligence and these are not cowboys," Gorvy said.
"These are people who want to put together major, major holdings of art because they're responding to the art and they're learning incredibly quickly," he added. AFP