Sotheby's to sell Francis Bacon's powerful self-portrait
Francis Bacon’s late desolate, twisted and pitiful diptych self-portrait is to be one of the main highlights at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in London next month. It has been estimated at between £13 million and £18 million, a sizeable jump from its previous sale price of £353,500 back in 1993.
Executed in 1977 when he was 68, the painting represents a continuation of not only his lifelong unease of the human experience, but the more immediate feeling of despair following the death of his partner George Dyer in 1971 (and, in turn, thematically linked perhaps to the Black Triptychs, which deal more acutely with his suicide).
However, the sense of loss extends beyond Dyer and represents the near-total experience of heartbreak. It is also therefore a portrait of an artist in deep reflection, nostalgic for unliveable memories, for conversations that can never happen, for the simple joy of seeing someone you love and care for.
The Guardian’s art correspondent Mark Brown posits that Bacon, in painting Two Studies for Self-Portrait, appears to be ruminating about everything bad that happened to him, specifically the deaths of his good friend and fellow artist John Minton, his decade-long former partner Peter Lacy and his mother Winnie.
In an interview with the British art critic and curator David Sylvester two years before he painted this seminal work of art, Bacon, a portrait artist to all intents, admitted that he was finding it somewhat difficult to paint anyone close to him or anyone he found interesting. He was thus left with himself.
“I loathe my own face,” he told Mr Sylvester, straight to the point, brutal and self-loathing as always. “I’ve done a lot of self-portraits, really because people have been dying around me like flies and I’ve nobody else left to paint but myself.”
Bacon is considered to be one of the greatest post-war artists of his generation, lauded for his distinctly dark and expressive style – lyrical even, as the art critic Robert Hughes once commended – and, more so since the turn of the twenty-first century, much sought after at auction.
In 2013, his triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) became the most expensive painting auction, selling for a thunderous $142.4 million (approximately £89 million). This smashed its pre-sale estimate of £53 million and the previous record for a Bacon work at £54 million.
It is expected that the self-portrait will, if anything achieve its estimate, if not exceed it. There is a want for Bacon, whether there is an interest in the integrity of the work itself or not (art, as a commodity, is self-evident).
Take 2014, another record-breaking for art sales – these captivating figures were made possible because of interest in artists like Bacon, who along with big names like Andy Warhol, are highly sought after by collectors and investors.
One of the most important moderns artists is also one of the most bankable.
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