13 Feb 2009

Top work fails to sell as Christie's feels the crunch

6:00 am on 13 February 2009

The top lot at an auction of contemporary art failed to sell late on Wednesday, reversing the fortunes of Christie's which held a relatively robust auction of impressionist and post-war art in London earlier in February.

Francis Bacon's Man in Blue VI, expected to fetch between 4 million pounds and 6 million pounds in London, was shunned, and overall the post-war and contemporary sale raised 8.4 million pounds - far below the expected range of 15 million pounds to 21 million pounds.

At the same sale last year, a Bacon triptych sold for 26.3 million pounds and the sale fetched 72.9 million pounds, then the second highest total for a Christie's contemporary and post-war sale held in London.

The result underlines how rapidly values for post-war and contemporary art have eroded due to the economic crisis, following a long bull run fuelled partly by super-rich collectors from Asia, Russia and the Middle East.

The auction comes the same month that Christie's raised 63.4 million pounds at its main impressionist and modern art sale, a total which experts considered to be a strong result given the uncertainty caused by the financial crisis.

Bacon's unsold Man in Blue VI, dating from 1954, is one of seven paintings in the same series. The sitter is an unknown man and experts believe it was made from life rather than from a photograph, which was Bacon's usual method.

The painting was being offered at auction for the first time having been in the same ownership for nearly 40 years.