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Lucian Freud’s Rarely-seen Portrait of Francis Bacon to be Offered at Christie’s

Christie’s announces that they will offer one of only two oil portraits of Francis Bacon (1909-1992) ever painted by Lucian Freud (b. 1922) at the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 19 October 2008 in London. The last known remaining oil portrait (the other was stolen from an exhibition in Berlin in 1988), the rarely-seen painting offers a tangible and intimate glimpse into the inspirational friendship of two of the greatest British artists of the 20th century.

It will be exhibited to the public for the first time in London from 15 to 19 October at Christie’s South Kensington, and is expected to realize £5 million to £7 million. At Christie’s New York in May 2008, Lucian Freud’s Benefit Supervisor Sleeping sold for $33 million / £17.3 million, a world record price for a work by a living artist sold at auction.

Pilar Ordovas, Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, Christie’s London: “Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon are widely considered to be the most important British artists of the 20th century, and the international appreciation for their work has grown significantly over the last few years. We are thrilled to present to the international art market a rarely seen, intimate portrait which pays tribute to an inspirational friendship, and a key moment in the development of Freud’s career. This incredibly rare painting is one of the highlights of a week in which the international art world will turn their attention to London, and in which we will offer an exciting selection of Post-War and Contemporary art at Christie’s.”

Lucian Freud first met Francis Bacon in 1945 having been introduced by Graham Sutherland, a mutual friend and contemporary artist, who invited the pair to his house for the weekend. The pair formed a close friendship and saw much of each other during the following years. Although their friendship was built on a mutual respect, Bacon had a great influence on the younger Freud and is often credited with liberating his style and fuelling his desire to depict human life. In the early 1950s, the artists compounded their friendship by sitting for each other; Bacon’s first portrait of Freud was painted in 1951, and many other examples were to follow.

In contrast to his quite frequent appearances in Bacon’s portraits, Freud painted Bacon only twice; first in 1952 and again in 1956-57, which is the portrait to be offered at Christie’s in October. The earlier portrait was lent from the collection of the Tate to a Retrospective on the artist at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin in 1988 where it was stolen. In 2001, in preparation for the artist’s great Retrospective at Tate Britain, and echoing the great respect he held for Bacon, Freud designed a wanted poster which was placed around Berlin in the hope that the painting would be recovered in time for the exhibition. Its whereabouts remain unknown, and Freud has never allowed the image to be reproduced in color.

The present work was painted in 1956-57 and, as with the earlier portrait of 1952, shows Bacon with a downward gaze. Bacon sat knee-to-knee with Freud while he worked on the portraits, and during the three months of sittings for the first work, he is said to have ‘grumbled but sat consistently’. The present work is unfinished, offering a fascinating snapshot into the working methods of the artist at a critical point of his artistic development; Freud had begun to work in a more expansive way using thicker brushstrokes, liberating the paint and creating a more worked complexion, more seasoned and full of life. It is thought that Bacon left suddenly, most likely in order to pursue his lover Peter Lacy in Tangiers.

The portrait was acquired by the present owner from a London gallery in 1972 and has remained in their possession ever since. It has rarely been seen in public, having made rare appearances at Wolfsburg and Tolouse in 2002-03, and in Venice in 2005.

Christie’s will present a series of exhibitions and auctions dedicated to Post-War and Contemporary art and 20th century Italian art from 15 to 21 October 2008, during a week when the international art world will gather in London for a showcase of contemporary art exhibitions and events including The Frieze Art Fair.

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September 10, 2008 - Posted by | Art Exhibitions, Art Fairs, Artists, News, raw art gallery, Uncategorized | , ,

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