From: Reuters
Published May 15, 2008 02:43 PM

Sotheby's shares jump as Bacon artwork sells for record price

By Dhanya Skariachan

BANGALORE (Reuters) - Shares of global auction house Sotheby's <BID.N> rose more than 9 percent Thursday, a day after a Francis Bacon painting was snapped up for a record-breaking $86 million at its New York post-war art auction, soothing concerns about a slowdown in the art market.

Sotheby's has lost 23 percent of its market value this year as the art market has been plagued by fears that wealthy buyers may not have enough money to spend on art in the wake of the credit crunch and U.S. economic downturn.

But at the Sotheby's auction on Wednesday, Bacon's artwork, "Triptych, 1976," broke the previous record for a work by the Irish-born artist and also the prior record for post-war or contemporary art, which was held by Mark Rothko's "White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)."

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"Bacon has been doing well lately... it is a trend and this was a good find by Sotheby's," Jody Kevin Kane, an analyst with Sidoti & Co said from New York. He said the Triptych was a "pretty sought-after" piece.

Last November, Sotheby's sold Bacon's "Second Version of Study for Bullfight No. 1" for $46 million, which exceeded the pre-sale estimate of the canvas by more than $10 million.

Sotheby's has outstripped privately held rival Christie's on sales of Bacon works in the recent past, Kane added.

Sotheby's had expected the monumental three-canvas Triptych painting to leave the auction block for about $70 million, but two determined telephone bidders drove up the price to $86,281,000, including the auction house's commission.

Although Sotheby's did not reveal the identity of the bidders, Kane said they may have been from Europe and Asia.

"I think it was the European bidder that won," he said.

A weak U.S. dollar has drawn foreign buyers to the art market and auctions of contemporary art, whose predominant collectors have traditionally been American.

Sotheby's Wednesday auction sales of $362.0 million -- the highest in the 265 year-history of the company -- were 42 percent higher than a year earlier.

The stellar auction sales figures, like Sotheby's April sales numbers, have helped in dispelling fears of a slowing art market, Kane said.

Kane, who has a "buy" rating and a price target of $44 on the stock, said he expects total auction sales of about $1.8 billion at Sotheby's in the second quarter.

The company's stock rose to a high of $29.18, before paring some gains to trade up $2.07 at $28.77 Thursday afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Editing by Pratish Narayanan)

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