The Brooklyn Museum Is Selling This Rare Francis Bacon Pope Painting at Sotheby’s to Raise Money for Other Acquisitions

The painting, estimated to fetch as much as $8 million, is one of only six surviving canvases from the artist's turbulent time in Tangier.

Francis Bacon, Pope (1958). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

The Brooklyn Museum is selling off a rare and major painting by Francis Bacon next month to raise money for its collections fund.

The eerie work being deaccessioned, Bacon’s Pope (1958), is one of just six surviving canvases made by the artist while he was living in Tangier. It will hit the auction block at Sotheby’s Contemporary art evening auction in New York on November 14. 

Sotheby’s estimates that the painting will rake in $6 million to $8 million, though there’s a good chance it will fetch a higher sum. The last time a work from this series came to auction was 11 years ago when another Pope painting sold for $7.3 million at Sotheby’s Paris, more than doubling its $3.2 million low estimate. This spring, an earlier “screaming pope” painting by the artist brought in $50.4 million at Sotheby’s during New York auction week. 

The museum declined to comment on what, specifically, it will do with the proceeds from the sale, saying only that it will use the money to “more sharply focus on institutional collection priorities.”

“While the work is exceptional, post-war European art is not a focus of our collection,” a representative from the museum said.

English painter Francis Bacon, January 1984. Photo: Ulf Andersen/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

English painter Francis Bacon in January 1984. Photo: Ulf Andersen/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

In the mid 1950s, Bacon made several trips to Tangier, where his lover, Peter Lacy, had recently moved. Though the artist is thought to have produced a great deal of work during this time, he destroyed much of it after his notoriously tumultuous relationship with Lacy dissolved. Of the six paintings that survived from the period (Bacon gave the entire suite to his friend, Nicolas Brusilowski), four are now in private collections. 

Pope offers an exceedingly rare glimpse into Francis Bacon’s psychological state during a prolific but ultimately tortured time in his life and career,” Grégoire Billault, the head of Sotheby’s Contemporary art department in New York, said in a statement. “Tangier represented the artist’s first travels outside of Europe, and the promise of an open life with Peter Lacy. But their relationship proved volatile and violent, which found expression in Bacon’s anguished Popes of the period.”

The painting was acquired from Brusilowski in 1967 by New York businesswoman Olga H. Knoepke, who in turn gifted the work to the Brooklyn Museum in 1981.

Pope will go on view to the public at Sotheby’s New York starting on November 1.

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