A major portrait by Francis Bacon will be offered at Christie’s in their upcoming Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 13 February 2014. The painting depicts George Dyer and was executed in 1966, at the artist’s creative peak. George Dyer was Bacon’s lover, muse and arguably his greatest influence. A powerful and poignant portrait it has been widely celebrated since it was first shown in Paris in the year of its creation, and was also exhibited at the artist’s legendary first museum Retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971. The most significant large-scale portrait of George Dyer to be presented at auction in more than a decade, it is being offered from a private collection and is expected to realize in the region of £30 million.
Francis Outred, Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, Christie’s Europe: “Francis Bacon’s position at the forefront of 20th century painting was highlighted at Christie’s in November when his triptych of Lucian Freud sold for $142 million and became the most valuable work of art sold at auction. For the triptych we had 6 collectors who bid at over $100 million, showing both the global demand which we see in today’s art market as well as the huge appeal of the artist. It is exciting to be able to follow this success by offering this tour-de-force portrait of George Dyer which presents a powerful portrait of arguably one of Bacon’s greatest loves, painted in 1966, and one of the last full-size portraits of him to remain in private hands. In addition it was shown at Bacon’s Retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris adding emotional poignancy and importance. Alongside the renowned Black triptychs which mourn his tragic loss just before that retrospective, the small amount of works from this period represent the finest images of George Dyer. We look forward to exhibiting the painting in the coming weeks in New York and London and to the auction in February, which will present a fantastic opportunity at a time when we congregate collectors from all around the world.”
Francis Bacon met George Dyer in Soho in the autumn of 1963 and went on to dominate the artist’s portraits of what was his greatest decade. A handsome man from humble beginnings who took meticulous care over his appearance, Dyer wore a uniform of clean-cut suits and narrow ties tightly knotted around the neck to match the style of the infamous Kray Twins whom he both revered and reviled. Often anxious, and constantly smoking, Dyer was equally fragile, undermined by a feeling of a lack of purpose. Cast adrift and in need of protection, Dyer became Bacon’s lover, muse and dependent; a source of inspiration not only for his classical proportions and distinctive good looks (reminding Bacon of the lithe figure studies undertaken by Michelangelo), but as an emotional study with all his vulnerability and susceptibility. As Russell has described, ‘a compact and chunky force of nature, with a vivid and highly [unorthodox] turn of phrase, [George Dyer] embodied pent-up energy. As a spirit of mischief, touched at times by melancholia, he had been the subject, and the inspiration of some of Bacon’s greatest images’ (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, 1971).
Painted in 1966, Portrait of George Dyer Talking is a glowing tribute to Bacon’s great lover and muse. He was the subject of some of Bacon’s most arresting large-scale portraits, most of which now reside in museum collections. Rendered against a regal palette of ruby red and luxuriant swathes of lilac, Portrait of George Dyer Talking reaches its climax with the figure, which appears almost incandescent and brimming with nervous energy. In this painting, Bacon has situated the figure of Dyer at the centre of a revolving room; the walls, floor and ceiling forced to curve like a centrifuge. Under the heady momentum, the body of Dyer appears to unravel like cotton from a spinning bob, his very essence seeping out from his outstretched limb onto the scattered cluster of papers littering the floor. His torso appears to undergo some extreme torsion while his head revolves, whipping around to the left and forcing open his jaw. It is an incisive, biting portrayal of a man, which goes beyond the possibilities of traditional painting.
Portrait of George Dyer Talking has been included in many of the most important exhibitions on the artist. These include exhibitions at Galerie Maeght, Paris, in 1966-1967; Malborough Fine Art Ltd. in 1967 (the only time it has been seen in public in the United Kingdom); the Retrospective at the Grand Palace in 1971-1972; the Museo de Bellas Artes in Caracas in 1973; the Museo d’Arte Moderna in Lugano in 1993; and the artist’s Retrospective at Yale Center for British Art in New Haven in 1999. It was last seen at auction at Christie’s New York in 2000 when it sold for $6.6 million – a record price for the artist at the time. It is expected to realize in the region of £30 million in February, and could set a record price for a single canvas by the artist.
Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 13 February 2014.