Lucien Freud painting sets record

A work by British painter Francis Bacon has sold for $US142.4 million ($A153.57 million) in New York, smashing the world record for the most expensive piece of art ever auctioned.

Three Studies of Lucian Freud, by the 20th century figurative artist, who lived from 1909 to 1992, was sold by Christie’s on Tuesday after being offered at auction for the first time.

“The work was sold for $US142,405,000, after six minutes of fierce bidding in the room and on the phone,” Christie’s announced.

Hammered to an outburst of applause at the auction, it smashed the previous record of $US119.9 million fetched by Edvard Munch’s iconic The Scream, by rival house Sotheby’s in New York in May 2012.

“An historic moment,” said auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen when bidding temporarily stalled at $US126 million, having opened at $US80 million.

The rare triptych, executed almost 25 years after Bacon and Freud met, is the most expensive single lot offered in the entire New York November auction season.

The identity of the buyer has not been revealed.

The previous record for a Bacon painting was $US86 million in 2008.

Pre-sale, Christie’s described the three studies work as “an icon of 20th century art” and said the auction was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity.

Just moments later Christie’s broke another record by selling the giant orange Balloon Dog, a sculpture by Jeff Koons for $US58.4 million, making history for the sale of a work by a living artist.

It is one of five different coloured such pieces by the American, who has most recently collaborated with Lady Gaga providing artwork for the pop diva’s third album Artpop released on Monday.

The previous record for a Koons piece was $US33.7 million.

With impressionist and modern art harder to come by and many of the great works in museums, it is contemporary work that has seen such a dramatic rise in prices.

Brett Gorvy, head of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s, said recently that sales had been revolutionised by new collectors looking for the best.

Billionaires from Asia, China, the Gulf, Latin America and Russia have galvanised the New York market where Americans have long dominated.

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