Pretty Penny

Gay Bacon Painting Is Most Expensive Art Ever

We know what you’re thinking after reading that headline: how can bacon, the most magnificent, magical substance on Earth, possibly be made even better by being gay?

True, gay bacon would be fantastic, and certainly worthy of being the subject of art. But this bacon is Francis Bacon, the openly gay 20th century English artist–and he painted what recently became the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction.

'Three Studies of Lucian Freud' by Francis Bacon
‘Three Studies of Lucian Freud’ by Francis Bacon

“Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” a triptych (painting on three canvases) topped the record books when it was sold in November for $142.4 million, after a flurry of bids from numerous international art aficionados. The identity of the winning bidder was a mystery, until she was revealed to be Elaine Wynn, ex-wife of Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn. She was confirmed as they buyer after she loaned the pricey painting to the Portland Museum of Art to display for a few months.

So go to Portland if you want to see what $142.4 million looks like.

Bacon was part of the abstract expressionist movement, which also included famed artists Piet Mondrian, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, and like most great artists he achieved only minimal success while he was alive. (Correction: Bacon was an influential artist of his generation. He didn’t make $142.4 million, but he was successful within the artistic society.) He was also openly gay during a time when homosexuality in Great Britain was still a crime punishable by prison and hard labor.

Yet he brushed aside public scrutiny and brazenly created paintings of his various male lovers, often in sexually provocative depictions, making his art dangerous even for galleries to display. (Lucian Freud, the subject of the triptych, was just a friend and another artist of the time.)

In this age of Hollywood film mega-budgets, where films like “Avatar” cost over $200 million to make, people are perhaps desensitized to the scale of expense. But seriously, this is a lot of money. With zeroes, the actual cost of this painting (a triptych on three canvases is still considered one painting) was $142,405,000. To put this in perspective: in 2013, The National Endowment for the Arts had a budget of only $147 million for the entire country of the United States of America.

Although to Wynn, this is a mere drop in the deep bucket of her bank account, as she is worth approximately $1.9 billion post-divorce and has an endless source of income from the Las Vegas casino empire of which she serves as the chairperson of the board. She has probably earned $142,405,000 in the time it has taken to read this story.

But that’s not all, folks: another of Bacon’s paintings, Portrait of George Dyer Talking, will go on the auction block in February, and it is expected to rake in at least $50 million, although the triptych wasn’t projected to even break $100 million and obviously things there did not go as planned.

Bacon painted many, many men in his life, but George Dyer was Bacon’s greatest love and the subject of some of his finest works, so this portrait is especially significant both as a painting and as a representation for Bacon’s personal history.

Fun fact: The tumultuous relationship between Bacon and Dyer is the subject of Love Is The Devil, a 1998 film with Dyer played by Daniel Craig in one of his first major film roles. Many of the scenes include Craig in various states of undress, making the film almost as magnificent and magical as bacon.