Francis Bacon: Five Decades, ed. Anthony Bond, published by Thames & Hudson in March, £34.95.

NEW YORK - I was talking to Mark Brown at the Guardian earlier this week about the connection between Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Beat Generation writer William S. Burroughs.

Specifically it was in relation to the painting Five Fish Species that’s in our Contemporary Art Evening sale this February. Basquiat’s triptych, from 1982, depicts the unfortunate incident in 1951 when Burroughs, high on drugs, mistakenly shot and killed his wife Joan Vollmer. Coincidentally, the October Gallery in London currently has an exhibition on Burroughs, who regularly tried his hand at painting. It includes, among other works on paper, targets punctured by ‘Burrough’s Bullet.’

Jean-Michel Basquiat's Five Fish Species, 1983, at the Contemporary Evening Sale, London 12th Feb, Estimate 4,250,000 – 6,250,000 GBP.


Basquiat and Burroughs became friends in the 1980s, and speaking to Mark made me think more about the attraction between these two artistic revolutionaries. What Burroughs did to the novel in the 1950s – first unveiled in The Naked Lunch – is exactly what Basquiat did to painting in the 1980s, a raw and expressive stream of consciousness poured out onto the canvas.

I received this week my copy for the exhibition catalogue for Francis Bacon, Five Decades at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (published by Thames and Hudson in the UK this March). We arranged the loan of the painting Figure in Movement, 1985 for the exhibition, a work we sold in New York in 2010. The chapter on the 1980s reminded me that Bacon, too, was great friends with Burroughs. Having previously met in Tangiers, they were reunited in the 1980s at a time when Bacon had lost many of his lifelong friends. There is a great photo by John Minahan of the two garrulous old rogues arm in arm on a London street in 1989.


William S. Burroughs' Shotgun Target and Spray Paint (Sketch), Burroughs pierced the target and a can of spray paint with his shotgun. Photo: ONUK, William S. Burroughs Trust, Courtesy October Gallery, London.


The Australian exhibition includes the Metropolitan Museum’s Three Studies for a Self Portrait, 1979–80, the immediate precursor to the triptych of self-portraits that is in our sale. Bacon only painted eleven triptychs like this. This is the penultimate from 1980, while the final triptych is in the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

I had not stopped to consider a connection between Bacon’s triptych, painted when the artist was 70 years old and that of Basquiat, painted only a couple of years later when he was in his early twenties. Thinking about the two artists, separated by years and miles, each in conversation with the infamously colourful character Burroughs, it amused me to imagine what a fascinating – and inebriated – dinner party that would be.

Francis Bacon, Three Studies for a Self-Portrait, 1980, at the Contemporary Evening Sale, London 12th Feb, Estimate 10,000,000 – 15,000,000 GBP.