The famous painter of tortured expressive psychological landscapes, Francis Bacon, will have a self-portrait of his go on sale on May 11 at Sotheby’s New York. This is the first time “Two Studies for a Self-Portrait” (1970) has been at auction ever; since it was completed, it remained in the same private collection. The painting is worth an estimated $22-30 million.
Bacon was born in 1909 and had a bad relationship with his family (and especially his father) due to, among other things, his homosexuality. The artist lived in poverty for a period of time, and over the years developed his now-famous style. Knitting together his own inner torment and experiences with his technical skill, Bacon’s art depicts a monstrous and haunted reality, returning to many key traits that he was obsessed with, such as screams and religious motifs like the crucifixion.
In a characteristic Baconian way, the portrait eschews normal artistic representation and ‘disfigures’ its subject, Bacon’s own face, to point to an underlying psychological state. Bacon has done such permutations before with older forms, such as a portrait of the Pope done by 17th Century Spanish Artist Diego Velázquez. In his take, Bacon turned the religious figure into a grotesque screaming nightmare with purple and dark streaks running downwards. In this self-portrait, various smudges of colors run across the artist’s face until some of the discernable features are obscured. Yet all this leads up to an overall ‘lighter’ feel (at least relative to his other works) because the colors involved here are vibrant reds, pinks, blues, and whites rather than his characteristic black horrific tones. The result is less distraught and poignantly calmer; it is worth noting that this self-portrait dates from before the suicide of George Dyer.
“‘Two Studies for a Self-Portrait’ goes straight in at number one of all the paintings I’ve handled in my career. Discovering a work such as this is like finding gold dust. To my mind, the painting is worthy of a place alongside the very finest self-portraits of Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Picasso. It’s certainly among the greatest self-portraits ever offered at auction,” said Oliver Barker, Senior International Specialist in Contemporary Art. Indeed, the rare work has only been exhibited to the public two times. The first time was in 1971 in Paris, and later, 1993 in London. It was also chosen as the cover of Milan Kundera and France Borel’s book “Francis Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits”.
Tate Liverpool and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles will both be hosting Francis Bacon exhibitions in 2016. “Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné” edited by Martin Harrison will also be released this year. It is expected to feature around 100 works by Bacon that have never been seen before.