Lot 28
  • 28

Francis Bacon

3,800,000 - 4,500,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Study for Portrait of P.L, No. I
  • oil on canvas
  • 198 by 142cm.; 78 by 56in.
  • Executed in 1957.


The Hanover Gallery, London 

Galleria dell’Ariete, Milan

Carlo Monzino, Rome (acquired from the above in 1959)

Sale: Christie’s, New York, Contemporary Art, 3 November 1987, Lot 45

Private Collection, Belgium

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1990


Turin, Galleria Galatea; Milan, Galleria dell’Ariete; and Rome, L’Obelisco, Francis Bacon, 1958, n.p., no. 7 

Turin, Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Francis Bacon, 1962, p. 143, no. 57, illustrated (incorrectly titled and dated)

Zurich, Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Faces and Figures, 1989, n.p. no. 22 


Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon, London 1964, n.p., no. 138, illustrated

Lorenza Trucchi, Francis Bacon, Milan 1984, n.p., no. 56, illustrated in colour (incorrectly titled and dated)

Catalogue Note

Poignantly capturing Peter Lacy in a moment of atypical vulnerability, Francis Bacon’s Study for Portrait of P.L. No. 1 possesses an extraordinary emotional rawness, recording a rare moment of tenderness in the midst of a profoundly tempestuous relationship. The subject of the portrait huddles almost pitifully on a sofa, hands clasped protectively around his face and legs drawn up in a foetal position. Bacon allows the innermost layers of Lacy’s character and personality to be laid out on canvas, his nudity stripping him of even the merest facet of either mental or physical security. The result is a deeply moving record of Bacon’s own emotions and feelings, captured with a bravura handling of painterly facture and control, whilst energetic swathes of paint delineate the body. Michael Peppiatt relates the dynamic brushwork of this period to the intensity of Bacon’s relationship with Lacy: “The whole gamut of his obsession with his lover, from fury and frustration to a deep tenderness, is conveyed in the elegant writhings of the paint” (Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon, Anatomy of an Enigma, London 2008, p. 218). Painted in the same year as Study for Portrait of P.L. No. 2 – part of the collection of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in East Anglia – the present painting projects a far greater sense of intimacy and a heightened sense of eroticism than the corresponding work, in which Lacy unabashedly confronts the viewer face-on. Indeed, the present work is a pioneering example that would pave the way for an entire corpus of nude figures sprawled or reclining on sofas.

In the present work, Lacy appears wraith-like against the velvety darkness of his support, which in turn emerges from a background of deep midnight hues. The overall impression is curiously reminiscent of one of Ad Reinhardt’s Abstract Paintings of the mid-1950s, in which the artist investigates the possibilities of black as an abstract entity. In an intriguing counterpart to the overwhelmingly dark tonality of Study for Portrait of P.L. No. 1, Bacon also worked on a series of portraits inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s The Painter on His Way to Work, throughout 1957. In their riot of bold colour and texture, the Van Gogh series ostensibly appear to contrast starkly with the restraint of the present work. However, Peppiatt argues that the complexities of Bacon’s relationship with Lacy served as an equal driving force behind the creation of these works: “Van Gogh represented the ultimate outsider… and Bacon, distraught and trapped in the extreme alienation of an unhappy love affair, surely saw his own suffering reflected in the bowed figure trudging towards the strange isolation of making paintings in a field” (ibid., pp. 206-07).

In 1952, having met Peter Lacy in Soho’s Colony Room, Bacon embarked on what was to become “the most exalted and most destructive love affair he was ever to know” (Michael Peppiatt in: Exhibition Catalogue, Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, 2006, pp. 57-58). The artist revealed the tumult of his relationship with the former Battle of Britain pilot, declaring that: “I couldn’t live with him, and I couldn’t live without him” (ibid., p. 42). Bacon had fallen in love partly because Lacy knew how to dominate and hurt him. Tough, to the point of cruelty, Lacy’s demeanour held Bacon perpetually in an emotional and physical vice and although Lacy was one of the most significant loves of his life, this tempestuous affair was ultimately calamitous. Bacon later lamented in conversation with Peppiatt that: “Being in love in that way, being absolutely physically obsessed by someone, is like an illness” (ibid., p. 40).

The turbulent and often violent relationship that existed between Bacon and Lacy was dominated by obsessive love and passion, by aggression, disdain and excessive abuse of alcohol.  Isabel Rawsthorne recalled a particular incident in 1952: “Francis was thrown out of a window 15ft into [the] area below, by Peter, but being drunk survived without much damage” (Isabel Rawsthorne quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Britain (and travelling), Francis Bacon, 2008-09, p. 259). Lacy moved to Tangiers in the mid-1950s, where he lived on a meagre income by playing the piano in a local bar. Whilst Bacon kept his studio in London he made extended trips there during the summers of 1956 and 1957, and they also went to the South of France together on a number of occasions in the late 1950s. The lifestyle of Tangiers was perceived as exotic and had a more tolerant attitude towards homosexuality, offering an escapism that was liberating for them both. Although Bacon’s relationship with Lacy had effectively finished by the end of 1958, the artist was unable to resist an appeal by Lacy to visit him for a final time. As a man trapped in the grasp of alcoholism, the city ultimately proved to be a tragically fatal arena: news of Lacy’s death came shatteringly amongst the many telegrams of congratulations that Bacon received on the eve of his major retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1962.

The 1950s saw Bacon’s reputation as an internationally acclaimed artist rise in concert with the number of shows he exhibited in at the urgings of his loyal dealer, Erica Brausen. He was particularly prolific during his time in Tangiers in 1956 and 1957 where, inspired by the local lifestyle as much as his relationship with Lacy, he wrote to Brausen that: “I hope to come back with about 20 or 25 paintings early in October… I feel full of work and believe I may do a few really good paintings now” (Francis Bacon quoted in: Michael Peppiatt, op. cit., 2008, p. 211). However, the majority of the works created during his time in Morocco were in fact destroyed, either by Bacon himself or by Lacy: the fact that the present work survived from this somewhat chaotic period is arguably indicative of the immense importance that Bacon attached to it. An astonishing and intensely powerful chronicle of a formative relationship within Bacon’s life, Study for Portrait of P.L. No. 1 ranks as an undoubted masterpiece from this key stage of the artist’s career.