A portrait by British painter Francis Bacon of his great love sold for $27.7 million at Sotheby’s spring sales in New York on Monday, topping the first night of contemporary art auctions that grossed $234.6 million.   

The work fell short of the $30 million to $50 million range the house had estimated for the portrait – the first in a series of 10 the painter made of George Dyer between 1966 and 1968 – which was making its debut at auction. 

The highest price paid for a single-panel portrait by Bacon is $70.2 million, which came from the same Dyer cycle. 

American painter Joan Mitchell, whose works have led a revaluation of paintings by women artists, was one of the stars of the evening. 

Her work Noon exceeded $22.6 million, maintaining an upward trend that began last November, when two pieces by the “second generation” American abstract expressionism artist fetched over $20 million for the first time. 

Her record sale stands at $29.1 million. 

The night set other records such as the $19 million paid for a work by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, the highest ever paid for a collaboration of this kind, and the nearly $23 million for a work by Lucio Fontana, the highest price ever paid for the Italian artist at auction. 

A sculpture by Frank Stella also went for over $15 million. 

Another rising star was recently deceased African-American artist Faith Ringgold, whose work was sold for more than $1.5 million, three times more than her last record.

French-Israeli Patrick Drahi’s auction house will hold another evening of modern art sales on Wednesday, featuring works by Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Rene Magritte and British artist Leonora Carrington.

With sales of $14.9 billion last year, the art market dropped 14 per cent compared with 2022, although online transactions saw a 285 per cent jump.

Sotheby’s hopes to collect between $549 and $784 million this week in New York, after the good results in Europe, in a market led by American investors and collectors, closely followed by buyers from Asia.

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