Francis Bacon’s Tribute to Love Heads to Auction With a $25 Million Price Tag

Bacon created the work to commemorate the love of his life, Peter Lacy.

Francis Bacon, Landscape near Malabata, Tangier (1963). Image courtesy Christie's Images Ltd 2024.

Francis Bacon’s 1963 painting Landscape near Malabata, Tangier will lead Christie’s 20th/21st Century Evening Sale in London on March 7. It’s the first time the work has resurfaced on the market in nearly 40 years. The work’s presale estimate of £15 million to £20 million ($18.8 million to $25 million) is more than 35 times its sale price since it was last auctioned in 1985. It sold then at Sotheby’s New York for $517,000—a world record for the artist at the time. It had previously been in the collection of British author Roald Dahl and American actress Patricia Neal.

Painted around a year after the alcohol-related death of the artist’s partner Peter Lacy in Tangier, Morocco, Bacon created the work to commemorate the love of his life and pay tribute to their relationship.

“Inspired by the landscapes of the master Vincent Van Gogh, this painting is packed with the emotional intensity Bacon is celebrated for. It represents the extremes of love, loss, ecstasy and pain in the wake of the death of his great love Peter Lacy,” said Katharine Arnold, the head of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s Europe.

“[It’s] an extraordinary feat of painting,” she added. “It spins with near centrifugal force, a small creature running around the margins of a tree filled landscape, with grass dried to the color of gold by the heat of the North African sun.”

Bacon’s relationship with Lacy began with their first meeting at the Colony Room in Soho in 1952, after the end of the artist’s relationship with merchant banker Eric Hall. Lacy was a former fighter pilot and also a deeply troubled man. In addition to struggling with alcoholism, he was also reportedly a violent person. On one occasion, Lacy attacked Bacon and threw the artist through a plate-glass window, according to the account of art critic John Richardson, writing in the New York Review of Books.

But that did not stop Bacon from loving Lacy. On the contrary, the relationship between the two deepened further. It also became more complex as it was fueled by the same passion, rage, and obsession that was central to Bacon’s art. On May 24, 1962, Bacon sent a telegram to Lacy in Tangier, sharing his excitement of the success of the opening of his first retrospective at Tate Gallery in London. But the only answer that Bacon received was that the love of his life was dead.

“He was the only man I ever loved,” the artist later said.

The death of Lacy had a profound impact on Bacon, who created works honoring the memory of his lover, such as Study for Three Heads (1962), a triptych created shortly after Lacy’s death in MoMA’s collection, and Study for Portrait of P.L. (1962) in a private collection in Europe. The latter was up for auction in 2013 but did not find a buyer.

Landscape near Malabata, Tangier has changed hands privately several times over the years. The present owner acquired the work in 2000 from London art dealer Ivor Braka’s company. The painting has been exhibited internationally since it debuted at Marlborough gallery in London in 1963. It was last shown in 2022 at the Royal Academy’s “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast” in London. The work will go on view today, Valentine’s Day, through February 19 at Christie’s in New York before returning to London for an auction preview exhibition from March 1 to 7.

Bacon’s auction record was set at $142.4 million when Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) was sold in November 2013 at Christie’s New York; at the time, it was the most expensive work of art to ever be sold at auction. However, prices for the artist’s work have been declining since 2014.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
  • Access the data behind the headlines with the artnet Price Database.