Hidden for Decades, Francis Bacon’s Tragic Final Pope Painting Will Now Go on Sale at Christie’s London

It will be featured in the sale alongside another rare, long-lost pope painting.

Francis Bacon, Study of Red Pope, 1962, 2nd version, (1971). Courtesy of Sotheby's.
Francis Bacon, Study of Red Pope, 1962, 2nd version, (1971). Courtesy of Christie's London.

Art collectors will have the chance to snag not one, but two exceptional pope paintings by Francis Bacon at the Post-War & Contemporary Art auction at Christie’s next month during Frieze Art Fair in London. The first is the last pope painting the artist ever created, Study of Red Pope, 1962, 2nd version (1971). The work has not been publicly exhibited since the artist’s 1971 Grand Palais retrospective, which took place a mere six months after the work’s completion.

“A grand finale to his celebrated body of papal portraits,” the painting is said to be worth £60 million ($81.5 million), according to Christie’s. It has belonged to a private collection in Europe since 1973.

The piece is a reworking of Bacon’s 1962 canvas Study from Innocent X. (The artist’s groundbreaking and emotionally charged pope paintings were inspired by the Diego Velázquez’s 1650 portrait of the pontiff.) Bacon expanded the composition to add the likeness of his lover and frequent subject George Dyer. Sadly, Dyer committed suicide just 36 hours before the Grand Palais exhibition opened—his visage haunting many of the paintings on view.

The Grand Palais during the 1971 "Francis Bacon, in Paris" exhibition. Photographer André Morain. Courtesy of Christie's London.

The Grand Palais during the 1971 “Francis Bacon, in Paris” exhibition. Photographer André Morain. Courtesy of Christie’s London.

“It is a tragic premonition which unites Bacon’s two greatest muses, the Pope and George Dyer, for the first and only time,” said Francis Outred, Christie’s head of post-war and contemporary art, to the BBC.

The second pope canvas by the British master being offered by the auction house, announced earlier this month, is Head With Raised Arm, a rare 1955 painting of Pope Pius XII valued at £10 million ($13.5 million).

Francis Bacon, <i>Head with Raised Arm</i>, (1955). Estimate: £7–10 million. Courtesy of Christie’s London.

Francis Bacon, Head With Raised Arm, (1955). Estimate: £7–10 million. Courtesy of Christie’s London.

Last shown in 1962, the painting was sold a year later at an auction in Turin before being locked away in a private collection. The work’s whereabouts were listed as unknown in Martin Harrison’s 2016 Bacon catalogue raisonné, and Christie’s is not revealing the seller’s identity.

According to the artnet Price Database, the auction record for Bacon is $142.4 million for his painting Three Studies of Lucien Freud (1969). At the time of the November 2013 sale, which took place at Christie’s New York, the piece set the record for the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction.

It has since been surpassed by Pablo Picasso‘s Les Femmes d’Alger (“Version O”), which sold for $179.4 million at Christie’s New York in May 2015, and by the $172.2 million sale of Nu Couché by Amedeo Modigliani at the same auction house that November.

The upcoming auction, scheduled for October 6, will be preceded by a presale exhibition of the two Bacon paintings at Christie’s New York beginning September 8 before traveling to Christie’s Hong Kong on September 18, and Christie’s London on September 30.


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