Francis Bacon's Head III has sold with outstanding results as part of Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening Sale, which was held in London on June 26.
The transitional piece, which serves as a precursor to Bacon's famed Screaming Pope series, sold for £10.4m ($16m), making an impressive 49.1% increase on its £7m high estimate.
The top lot of the sale was Bacon's Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne, his close friend, fellow artist and muse, which sold for £11.2m, just topping its £10m low estimate.
Head III was painted in 1949, a seminal year in Bacon's career and one in which he staged his first solo exhibition at London's Hanover Gallery.
It belongs to a series of six Heads that are described as the "most ferocious corpus of Bacon's early career" by the auction house.
It is fitting that Head III and Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne were grouped together in the sale, as it was in preparation for his show at the Hanover Gallery that Bacon would first meet Isabel Rawsthorne, who was herself planning a solo exhibition.
Rawsthorne and Bacon became close friends soon after, with Bacon enamoured with the woman who had also been a muse to artists such as Andre Derain, Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti in the 1930s.
The studies were executed in 1966.
Pierre Soulages' Peinture, 21 November 1959 provided another of the sale's highlights, setting a new world record for the artist at £4.3m ($6.6m). The sale price represents a 44.6% increase on its £3m high estimate.
In total, the auction realised $75.7m ($116.8m), with 90% sold by lot. The average lot value was £1.43m, which is one of the highest figures ever seen for a contemporary art sale in London.
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