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Lucian Freud Lays Out the Bacon

by Zoe Strimpel
Mon, 8 Sep 2008 at 4:50 PM

The champagne-swilling Contemporary art circus will roll into town again next month with Frieze Art Fair and the Contemporary art sales at Sotheby's and Christie's. But what a difference a year makes: This time last year the credit crunch still felt like a distant, almost unbelievable rumble and the mood was greedy and extravagant. Now, large shows of cash-splashing are considered tasteless.

All the same, if one artist seems to rise way above the recession, it's Lucian Freud, who has been commanding excruciatingly high prices all year. Now Christie's has announced it will be offering one of two portraits by Mr. Freud of his great friend Francis Bacon, the other top-earning artist on the market. The house's press release — though slightly muted — says it expects the work to command between £5 million ($8.8 million) and £7 million ($12.3 million). This sounds impressive, but taken next to Mr. Freud's "Supervisor Sleeping," which went for $33 million at Christie's New York in May, it's positively modest.

The next month will tell whether the strutting, bombastic Contemporary art market is quite as vigorous and autonomous as thought. As the auctioneer Nick Bonham (of Bonhams auction house) told me today, in a recession, the froth is the first thing to go. His bet is on Old Masters retaining value. We shall see if Freud and Bacon count as masters enough.

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