‘Lost’ Francis Bacon painting emerges after 45 years
September 17, 2017 09:50 am
A ’lost’ painting by Francis Bacon could become the most expensive art work ever sold in Europe when it goes under the hammer next month.
Carrying an estimate in the region of £60 million, Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd version 1971 unites two subjects that obsessed Bacon during his career: his lover and muse, George Dyer, and the figure of Pope Innocent X.
The canvas has been in a private collection for the past 45 years and never loaned. It was exhibited at the Bacon retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971, then in Dusseldorf the following year, before disappearing from public view.
The painting foretells a tragedy. Bacon met Dyer, a young, East End crook, in a Soho pub in 1963 and their relationship was tempestuous.
He completed the work in April 1971, to be unveiled at the retrospective in October. Dyer accompanied him to Paris, but the artist had little time to spend with him in the run-up to the show.
Two days before the opening, Dyer took an overdose and was found dead in his hotel bathroom.
A grief-stricken Bacon carried on with the show. He said later: “If I’d have stayed with him rather than going to see about the exhibition, he would be here now. But I didn’t and he’s dead.”
The painting will be sold at Christie’s, London, on October 6. Christie’s believes it could surpass the European record for a work of art sold at auction: £65 million for Giacometti’s Walking Man bronze in 2010. The hammer price for that work was £58 million, with the final figure including buyer’s premium.
If the Bacon painting achieves its £60 million estimate, it will fetch around £67 million with premium added.
Francis Outred, Christie’s head of post-war and contemporary art, hailed the painting as “quite simply art history”. He said: “It is a tragic premonition which unites Bacon’s two greatest muses, the Pope and George Dyer, for the first and only time.”
Dyer is depicted as the Pope’s reflection. The Papal figure is based on the Velazquez portrait of Innocent X that inspired many Bacon works, including a 1962 painting that Bacon had hoped to exhibit at the Grand Palais. However, the owner of that work turned him down, and Bacon embarked on this second version in 1971.
Katharine Arnold, senior specialist at Christie’s, said: “Bacon described himself as almost having a boyhood crush on the painting by Velazquez. And he definitely had a crush, or something more powerful, on George Dyer.
“The painting is very intense. There must have been friction in their relationship at this point, and I’m sure the pressure in the lead-up to the exhibition must have had an impact on Dyer as well.
“There are two sash cords in the picture, as if to turn off a light - it’s almost prophetic. It has this sense of the dramatic. The wall on the right looks blue on first glance, but then you see the reflection of the red.”
The painting was acquired by the family of the present owner in 1973. Arnold said: “London in October feels like the right time to show a masterpiece.”
It will not be the most expensive Bacon painting ever sold. That record is held by Three Studies of Lucian Freud, a triptych that went for £89 million in New York in 2014