Francis Bacon portrait unseen for 60 years to make auction debut

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Francis Bacon’s Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud, 1964, is extimated to reach in excess of £34m
Francis Bacon’s Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud, 1964, is extimated to reach in excess of £34m

A Francis Bacon painting which has not been seen publicly for nearly six decades will be auctioned off later this month, having remained in the same private European collection for 40 years.

Titled Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud, it was painted by Bacon in 1964 and is based on a photograph of Freud, his contemporary. The photograph was taken in the same year by the artists’ mutual friend, John Deakin.

The painting will go on sale as part of Sotheby’s British Art: The Jubilee Auction on June 29. It was last seen on display in 1965, on show as the central panel of a large-scale triptych in a travelling exhibition to Hamburg and Stockholm.

Bacon used photographs of Freud as a basis for his painting (John Deakin)
Bacon used photographs of Freud as a basis for his painting (John Deakin)

It was also displayed in Dublin on its own in the same year.

Bacon and Freud had been friends for 20 years prior to Bacon’s creation of Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud and shared a friendship for over 40 years before relations soured and ended in the mid-1980s.

Both artists painted each other on numerous occasions, with Freud often working from real-life and Bacon preferring photographs.

In Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud, Bacon used an image of Freud sitting on a bed with his arms outstretched, fists clenched and white sleeves rolled up above the elbows.

The black-and-white photographs became Bacon’s primary source material, as he painted Freud obsessively in the 1960s.

Bacon kept the photographs, which were of great personal significance, with him for the rest of his life. They were rediscovered torn, crumpled and splattered with paint in his studio following his death in 1992, Sotheby’s said.

Speaking about the portrait ahead of its sale, senior director of contemporary art at Sotheby’s, Tom Eddison, said: “In this one single portrait we bear witness to a masterpiece, illuminating the deep and complex relationship between two titans of the 20th century.

“It is hard to think of two greater artists whose lives and works are so interwoven into the fabric of our consciousness than Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud.

“At the same time both muses and critics for each other, it was their friendship, respect, rivalry and deep infatuation with one another which ultimately fuelled their unequivocal artistic talents.

The painting will be shown to the public for the first time in 57 years on June 29 (The Estate of Francis Bacon/DACSArtimage/PA)
The painting will be shown to the public for the first time in 57 years on June 29 (The Estate of Francis Bacon/DACSArtimage/PA)

“Executed with painterly bravura at the height of Bacon’s acclaim, here we see a portrait that pulsates with an intensity, a tension that mirrors the emotions which bonded these two sparring partners together for over four decades.

“Now, having remained completely unseen to the public for 57 years, this remarkable portrait will return to London as the star highlight of the summer auction season.”

The portrait carries an estimate in excess of £35 million.

Along with Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud, Sotheby’s British Art: The Jubilee Season sale will also include further highlights such as Banksy’s portrait of Sir Winston Churchill, a sculpture by Dame Barbara Hepworth, David Hockney’s almost four-metre wide tranquil portrayal of Woldgate Woods, L.S. Lowry’s A Town Square, J.M.W Turner’s view of London and Flora Yukhnovich’s Boucher’s Flesh.

The live-streamed auction will begin at 5pm on June 29.

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