On the verso is an autograph letter signed ("Michel Leiris"), to Francis Bacon, dated "Paris, July 1st 1971", in which he sets a date with the painter for dinner at the Grand Vefour and asks him if he enjoyed his time in Nîmes, famous for its Roman arena used as a bullring.
This work will be included in the forthcoming Francis Bacon: The Catalogue Raisonné edited by Martin Harrison.
Original sketches of Francis Bacon works are of the utmost rarity on the market. The majority of them are kept at the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, where Francis Bacon archive was transferred in 1999, or at Tate Modern, London.
A fine autograph manuscript of Francis Bacon describing an elusive triptych destroyed, lost, or never executed.
A highly unusual composition in Bacon's oeuvre.
Bacon was known to prepare working sketches on paper before beginning painting used to sketch his ideas before working on canvas. The work was supposed to represent two figures in motion after Muybridge for the left and right panels. "Tryptich. Each panel / with center screen / Left, figure in move[me]nt / from Muybridge / Right panel ditto / Center panel with / bull charging image / of man on screen / perhaps seated".
The "figures" derived from Eadweard Muybridge “The Human figures in motion" recur in Bacon’s paintings from the 1950s on. Bacon's complete familiarity with Muybridge photos recluded the necessity of sketching the lateral panels.
The central panel, described as a “bull charging image of a man on screen perhaps seated” is however more uncommon in Bacon. In 1969, Bacon worked on three important Studies for Bullfight. He was probably influenced by Leiris whom he met in 1965. The French writer gave him his book Miroir de la Tauromachie, in which Leiris associated bullfighting with many of Bacon's obsessional themes : movement, drama, the sacred, flesh, violence and sex.
The interest of Bacon for this subject is known. He saw bullfights in Madrid and in Nîmes and he had many books and documentations about bullfighting in his library. But, curiously, he never painted another bullfight. In 1980, he was occupied with others subjects. For example, a year earlier, he made the Sphinx-portrait of Muriel Belcher, surprisingly similar to the “man on screen perhaps seated”, of the present manuscript.
So why did Bacon, a man dominated by creation cycles, return to bullfight ten years, with no artistic reason? The fact that he sketched his project on the back of a letter from Leiris might provide a clue. In 1971, Bacon and George Dyer were travelling in France before his important exhibition at the Grand Palais, Paris. They went to Nîmes (“J’ai su que Nimes vous a bien plu » – I heard you’ve been to Nimes and you liked it) – where they probably went to the Roman Arena to see a bullfight. Did he happen upon his friend's letter in his chaotic studio and remembered the trip with his most lamented friend Dyer?
Were he and Leiris already planning to publish their illustrated edition of Miroir de la Tauromachie? The project did not come to fruition before 1990.
It is tempting to speculate that he found the letter in his copy of Leiris “Miroir de la Tauromachie” on “page 40”, the chapter "L'Amour et la Tauromachie", where he read: “Ainsi la Tauromachie, plus qu'un sport, est un art tragique, où se trouve gauchie, par le soulèvement de forces dionysiaques, l'harmonie apollinienne. La question qui se pose maintenant est la suivante : qu’est-ce que cette fêlure par laquelle se manifeste l’élément sombre? Qu’est que cette crevasse d’où montent les effluves d’un délire panique” ["And so, more than a sport, tauromachy is a tragic art in which Appolonian harmony is warped by the upsurge of Dionysian forces. The question that is now posed is the following: what is this flaw through which the sombre element appears? What is this crevice whence the effluvia of a panicky delirium rise?]".
Was the triptych never meant to be? Francis Bacon gives us a clue at the end of the manuscript: "Bad Timing".
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