Christie’s announced overnight that it would be selling Francis Bacon’s Triptych 1986-87 estimated at £35,000,000 ($47.3 million) during the 20th / 21st Century: London Evening Sale on March 1st. The triptych predicts a suited figure based on a press image of President Woodrow Wilson leaving the Treaty of Versailles negotiations in 1919. The right-hand panel draws inspiration from a photograph of Leon Trotsky’s study taken after his assassination in 1940. The center figure resembles Bacon’s partner John Edwards. The triptych was originally unveiled in New York in 1987 at Marlborough Gallery. Christie’s plans to exhibit the work at Rockefeller Center on February 10th.
The year after its creation, Triptych 1986-87 was one of 22 paintings shown at Gallery Tretyakov in Moscow: the first exhibition by a well-known artist from the West in Soviet Russia. Between 1962 and 1991, Francis Bacon made only 28 large triptychs measuring 78 by 58 inches. Almost half of these are owned by museums. The triptychs of this size account for the half of the top ten prices that Bacon’s work has achieved at auction. The four most valuable works each achieved a price above $80 million with the three-part portrait of Lucien Freud making $142 million in 2013.
This work was made at the end of Bacon’s career. He had returned to the subject of his first monumental triptych from 1944 in 1987. This work was made next in atmosphere of ambivalence. In 1985, Bacon had been lionized in retrospective at the Tate museum. Nonetheless, Bacon was still hounded by the death of George Dyer, fixated upon his own mortality and beleaguered by drink.