And at the Peak of Francis Bacon’s Career,
The Triptych is Estimated to Achieve $30 – 40 Million
NEW YORK, 25 October 2022 – Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud's artistic relationship is one of the most impressive and complex of the 20th Century, with Bacon’s depictions of Freud ranking among the artist’s most coveted portraits. This November, Francis Bacon’s powerful Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud will star in the Contemporary Evening Auction at Sotheby’s in New York.
Carrying an estimate of $30-40 million, Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud is the first of only five triptychs Bacon created of Freud, illuminating their profound intimacy and ultimate epochal rivalry as two of Britain’s most preeminent painters.
Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud was executed in 1964, at the height of the artist’s career and 20-year long friendship with Freud. This represented a period of great artistic confidence for Bacon, during which he produced some of his finest portraits of fellow painters – one of the most significant subjects of Bacon’s work in the 1960s. By the 1980s, the deep companionship between Bacon and Freud became enveloped by rivalry, turning the duo into bitter enemies over jealousy and personal differences.
The work hails from the artist’s epic small-format portraiture cycle depicting his close circle of friends, which he began in 1961 and continued in his practice for the remainder of his life. The painting was featured the year after its creation in the artist’s major 1965 solo exhibition Francis Bacon, which travelled internationally from the Hamburger Kunstverein, Hamburg to the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, and the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin.
The triptych format spoke deeply to Bacon, as exemplified in this work. A structure rooted in a religious past that taunted him throughout his life, it allowed for an evolution of form that paralleled his creative process (“I see images in series”, he said) the triptych was a format that took on new life in his hands, that quickly became the signature motif characterizing his most powerful works.
This extraordinary portrait will appear on public exhibition Los Angeles and New York for pre-sale exhibition in advance of the auction on 16 November.
Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud first appeared at auction in 2011, when the painting achieved £23 million at Sotheby’s London – nearly triple its £9 million high estimate.
Bacon and Freud: Intimacy and Intensity
Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud were introduced by painter Graham Sutherland towards the end of the Second World War in 1945, and quickly became close companions. When a young Freud asked Sutherland whom he considered the best painter in England, Sutherland identified Bacon, who was unknown at the time: “Oh, someone you’ve never heard of; he’s like a cross between Vuillard and Picasso; he’s never shown and he has the most extraordinary life.” (L. Freud, quoted in W. Feaver, Lucian Freud, exh. cat., Tate Britain, London, 2002, p. 26). Drawn to Freud’s quick wit and notorious penchant for risk, Bacon found in him an immediate counterpart to his own charismatic attitude. By the 1950s, the two were inseparable, holding court nearly every night in the bars and clubs of London’s Soho, often in the company of other eccentrics, writers, artists, poets, musicians such as Frank Auerbach, Henrietta Moraes and John Deakin.
The two figurative artists began to document their friendship through portraiture, resulting in some of their greatest works – most notably, Bacon’s large Portrait of Lucian Freud from 1951, which now resides in the permanent collection of London’s Whitworth Gallery, and Freud’s own legendary 1952 full-length portrait of Francis Bacon which was later stolen from the Tate Collection and never recovered. By 1954, the duo represented Britain at the Venice Biennale along with Ben Nicholson, solidifying their respective reputations at the vanguard of postwar figurative painting, as well as their relationship as artistic contemporaries.
Despite their close bond, continued scrutiny of each other’s work compounded with Freud’s alleged jealousy of Bacon’s global success, eventually fractured the relationship - Bacon had shows at London’s Tate Gallery in 1962 and again in 1985, while Freud’s debut exhibition at the Tate would not take place until 2002.
Los Angeles – 26 – 29 October
New York – 4 – 16 November