Wednesday 22 November 2017

Bacon's portrait of mystery man likely to fetch €12m at auction

James J Gibbons

A painting by Irish artist Francis Bacon, which was once owned by artist Louis Le Brocquy, is expected to sell for £11m (€12.4m) at a London art auction next month.

The large picture, painted in 1953 and simply entitled Study for a Portrait, resembles Velazquez's Portrait of Philip IV of Spain, but the identity of the subject is unknown.

Neither Louis le Brocquy (94) nor his son Pierre would comment on the picture this weekend, which means that even if they do know the sitter's identity, it is still safe.

It has been said that if paintings had voices, then Francis Bacon's would shriek. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once called him "that man who paints those dreadful pictures".

In 1951, grief-stricken at the death of his former nanny and companion, Jessie Lightfoot, Bacon left his flat in South Kensington in London, which they shared. He borrowed the studio of the professor of painting at the Royal College of Art, Rodrigo Moynihan, to work in and gave him this picture in return. The picture was acquired from Moynihan by Louis Le Brocquy, who in turn eventually sold it to Marlborough Fine Art. In 1984 it was bought from the gallery by the Swiss entrepreneur and wine producer Donald M Hess, the current vendor.

Bacon, who said his painting career was delayed because he had "spent too long looking for a subject that would sustain his interest", was born at 63 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin, in 1909. His father, a former captain in the British Army, moved to Ireland to breed and train racehorses. The family was based in Co Kildare and rented Cannycourt House, near Kilcullen.

Following a disagreement with his father, Bacon left home at the age of 16 and after a stint in Berlin settled in London, where he began his most dynamic work during the latter stages of World War Two. Despite what many see as an existentialist philosophy expressed through his paintings, Bacon always appeared to favour the lifestyle of the bon vivant, spending much of his days eating, drinking and gambling in London's Soho with other noted bohemians such as Lucian Freud and Jeffrey Bernard.

His work is one of the most sought after in the world, with his Tryptich 1976 making $86.3m (€60.1) when it was bought by Roman Abramovich -- the Chelsea FC owner -- in 2008 at Sotheby's in New York

The auction takes place on June 28 at Christie's, London.

Sunday Independent

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