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A 1963 female nude by Francis Bacon may raise as much as $30 million at an auction next month.

Bacon’s sexually charged “Portrait of Henrietta Moraes,” showing one of his favorite models sprawled across a bed, has a formally undisclosed estimate of about 18 million pounds at Christie’s International (CHRS) in its Feb. 14. London sale.

The painting’s owner, an unidentified New York collector, is testing the market for high-value contemporary works. Bacon is the U.K.’s most expensive artist at auction. The portrait has never appeared at public sale before and has no guaranteed minimum price, said Christie’s. It dates from the year that the painter embarked on his relationship with George Dyer.

“Bacon’s lack of personal erotic interest in naked females did nothing to prevent these paintings from being as passionate as those of the male bodies that obsessed him,” said David Sylvester, a U.K.-based art critic, who interviewed the artist in the 1960s and 1970s.

Moraes was a close friend of Bacon’s during the 1950s and 1960s. Like Bacon and Lucian Freud, she was a regular visitor to the Colony Club Room in Soho. She battled drink and drug addictions, had many lovers, once shared an apartment with singer Marianne Faithfull and was sent to prison after an unsuccessful attempt to become a cat burglar. She appears in a number of paintings using photos taken of her by John Deakin.

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Works by Francis Bacon, Peter Doig and Lucian Freud helped Christie’s International raise 78.8 million pounds ($126 million) at an auction in London last night. It was the company’s highest total for a sale of contemporary works in the U.K. capital since June 2008.

The top seller was Bacon’s “Study for a Portrait,” a precursor of the Irish-born artist’s “Pope” paintings, offered by the Swiss entrepreneur and collector Donald M. Hess. The painting sold to a telephone bidder represented by Christie’s specialist Sandra Nedvetskaia, who deals with Russian clients, for 18 million pounds, against two other telephone bidders. The 1953 work was estimated at about 11 million pounds.

The above-estimate price contrasted with the failure of Bacon’s similar 1954 painting, “Man in Blue VI,” estimated at 4 million pounds to 5 million pounds, at Christie’s in February 2009 during the financial crisis.

“Bacon is back,” Offer Waterman, a London-based dealer, said. “The market is strong, though with problems like Greece, it could fall out of bed in two minutes. At the moment, there are people with plenty of cash who are investing in art as an asset class.”

Christie’s 65-lot offering had carried an estimate of 55.3 million pounds to 76.8 million pounds and was part of a series of evening sales in London that is estimated to raise as much as 195 million pounds, reflecting renewed confidence among sellers of high-value contemporary works.

While the mood in the market was lifted by dealers reporting plentiful sales in the $200,000 to $2 million-range earlier this month at the Art Basel fair in Switzerland, auctions remain the arena where international collectors are most prepared to spend multimillion sums.

Doig’s Surprise

The surprise of the evening was the 6.2 million pounds paid by another telephone bidder, represented by Christie’s U.K. chairman David Linley, for Doig’s 2003 to 2004 West Indian landscape, “Red Boat” (Imaginary Boys),” estimated at 1.4 million pounds to 1.8 million pounds.

Another telephone bidder, competing against a third-party guarantor, gave 7 million pounds for Andy Warhol’s 1973 silkscreen painting, “Mao,” a work estimated at 6 million pounds to 8 million pounds.

A 1958-1959 Freud portrait of his lover Suzy Boyt sold for 4.7 million pounds against an estimate of 3.5 million pounds to 4.5 million pounds. Entered by a descendant of the late Simon Sainsbury, “Woman Smiling” was bought by a telephone bidder.

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L&M Arts gallery is serving Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup in a form less familiar than the realistic red-and-white images of 1962’s Pop Art landmark.

The Manhattan gallery has assembled 12 of the 20 existing multicolored Campbell’s soup cans that Warhol painted in 1965. This is the first time they have been the sole focus of an exhibition, and the effect is remarkable.

By adding more colors to the palette, the artist transformed his original silkscreens and in the process stepped beyond his roots in the graphic arts. Greens, yellows, purples and blues fill the labels, and no one hue is identical to another in the 12 joyful paintings.

Warhol’s sharp use of color combinations gives each a painterly uniqueness where once they were only distinguished by flavor.

Two works are for sale and prices will be provided upon request. A colored Campbell’s soup can fetched $3.4 million at Phillips de Pury & Co. in 2007.

“Andy Warhol: Colored Campbell’s Soup Cans” is at 45 E. 78th St. through June 11. Information: +1-212-861-0020;

Avedon, Gorky

Francis Bacon in black stares at visitors as they enter “Avedon: Artists” at Manhattan’s Gagosian Gallery.

The 1979 print, from an edition of 10, hangs alongside other portraits of artists, among them Duchamp, Picasso and de Kooning.

A blond dog lovingly looks up at Robert Frank, with his paw resting on the photographer’s arm. Andy Warhol shows off the scars left in his midrift by Valerie Solanas.

Also on view at Gagosian’s uptown space is a show revolving around the discovery, last year, of Arshile Gorky’s “Untitled (Pastoral),” a 1947 painting that had been hidden behind “Pastoral” -- on the same stretcher -- for more than 60 years. The exhibition focuses on the artist’s last year of life, before he committed suicide in 1948.

The challenging canvas is covered in dark brushstrokes and features an evil-looking face in the top left area with only one blue eye. In “Pastoral,” a green dog seems to be slowly stepping out of Gorky’s original yellow universe.

Not to be missed is “The Limit,” a gray abstract canvas decorated with patterns made of colors and thin lines, last shown in a retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum almost 30 years ago.

Some works are for sale, although the gallery won’t disclose prices. “Avedon: Artists” and “Arshile Gorky: 1947” are at 980 Madison Ave. through July 8 and July 1, respectively. Information: +1-212-744-2313;

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London’s February series of evening contemporary-art auctions raised 56.2 percent more than last year, boosted by works by Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol, and phone bidding from a widening range of international clients.

The auctions at Sotheby’s, Christie’s International and Phillips de Pury & Co. raised 155.1 million pounds ($251 million), up from 99.3 million pounds last year, according to Bloomberg News calculations.

“There’s a feeling among investment-driven collectors that art has been tested and it’s passed,” Anders Petterson, founder of the London-based research company ArtTactic, said. “People have been surprised how quickly the market has recovered and how blue-chip works have held their value.”

Dealers said the sales were helped by Russian and Asian buyers and the sale of the 43.7 million-pounds of contemporary works from a private collection. These boosted the Sotheby’s total to 88.3 million pounds. Christie’s raised 61.4 million pounds, the most for a contemporary-art auction in the U.K. capital since July 2008, as New York dealer Larry Gagosian paid 10.8 million pounds for a Warhol self portrait. Two years earlier, during the financial crisis, the auction house’s entire sale raised 8.4 million pounds. Phillips added 5.4 million pounds to the tally.

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