Finally uncovered: ‘Study of Red Pope’ to go on sale after 45 years locked away

19th September 2017

The late Soho bohemian painter Francis Bacon will have his famous painting ‘Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd version 1971’ put to auction at Christie’s in London, it has been reported. 

According to the Guardian, the painting - which is estimated to be worth at least £60 million - has been hidden away since 1972 by a private collector who was reluctant to lend or show the masterpiece. 

The painting itself is an abstract work of a pope’s body, which looks similar to a selection of sausages and various shapes, with a black-suited reflection staring back at the pope. It sits within a gold frame, and has red, rose and beige running throughout the image. 

Once it was completed in 1971, the painting was quickly whisked away to Paris for its first ever exhibition. The following year, it was on display in Düsseldorf.

It is believed - claims Jussi Pylkkänen, the president of Christie’s - that the ‘Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd Version 1971’ was created at one of the most intense moments of Bacon’s life. He was about to display a one-man exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, which would attract extremely high-profile guests such as surrealist Michel Leiris,  whose opinion he cared deeply about. 

However, Bacon faced a dilemma - despite wanting to include his famous 1962 painting ‘Study for Innocent X’, the owner refused. In response to this, and only a few months before the exhibition, Bacon shut himself away while he desperately tried to create a new version of the work of art. 

In addition to this, Bacon was suffering a crisis in his personal life, where his relationship with George Dyer - an alcoholic and East End criminal - descended into heart-break. It is believed that this is reflected in his painting in the form of the suited figure. 

Mr Pylkkänen thinks that despite his worries, Bacon was working at an artistic and emotional peak when he painted the masterpiece. “There’s something about it that tells me – ‘I’m going to paint a great picture for this show, the last of my popes, with my muse George Dyer in it',” he said. “It’s got all the elements that collectors are looking for.”

Bacon’s exhibition at the Grand Palais did indeed turn out to be the greatest success of his career, pushing his reputation to the high level it has held ever since. However, for Bacon, with his success came much sorrow, as just before the opening of the exhibition, Dyer took a fatal  drug overdose. 

While Mr Pylkkänen predicts the work will sell for around £60 million, Bacon’s other works (such as the ‘Three Studies of Lucian Freud’) have sold for as much as £89.3 million. The price the painting sells for will be down to those in attendance of the auction, and whether they fully understand the painting’s intense undertones. 

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