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  • Francis Bacon in his studio. (Photo: Sotheby's)

    Francis Bacon in his studio. (Photo: Sotheby’s)

    Francis Bacon painted his lover George Dyer with great passion, which may help explain the extraordinary price of a small format Bacon triptych of Dyer that just sold in London for $45 million.

    The sale was not only an affirmation of Bacon, but also of contemporary art, which continues to set records at auction in London and New York City.

    Sotheby’s auction grossed $159.3 million in total sales, according to the auction house.

    “Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (On Light Ground)”  by Francis Bacon (click photo to enlarge)

    “Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (On Light Ground)” by Francis Bacon (click photo to enlarge)

    The Bacon work, titled “Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (On Light Ground)” exceeded its pre-sale estimate by nearly seven million British pounds. It was originally expected to sell for 15 million to 20 million pounds and topped out a 26.7 million pounds.

    Painted on 11×14 inch canvases in 1967, it is one of five small-scale format paintings of Dyer. The last similarly formatted Bacon painting sold for 23 million pounds, Sotheby’s said.

    The bidding was heated among four parties and was ultimately acquired by an unnamed private buyer.

    The person possibly is from Europe since Helena Newman, chairwoman of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern art in Europe, took the winning bid over the phone, according to The New York Times.

    The Dyer triptych was particularly desirable because Bacon painted it in oils early in his relationship with the petty thief and small-time gambler. It had been in a private collection since 1970.

    Here’s how Sotheby’s Cheyenne Westphal described the sale: “The driving force tonight was passion. The Bacon was bought by collectors who truly wanted to own it. It was a completely private market that came from virtually every side of the world and people wanted to own this wonderful piece and live with it.”

    Bacon’s works have been highly sought after in recent auctions.

    A triptych of Lucian Freud smashed sales records at a Christie’s auction last year. It sold for $142.4 million to Elaine Wynn, of Las Vegas casino fame.

    One of four copies of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” held the previous record for contemporary art. It sold for $119.9 million in 2012.

    For more on Bacon and Dyer check out the video below: