Sotheby’s London will offer Francis Bacon’s hugely rare Two Studies for Self-Portrait 1977, which is estimated to sell for £13 to £18 million, one of only three self-portraits in this dual format to have been painted by the artist. Bacon’s (1909-1992) haunting self-portraits have become inseparable from how we remember the turbulent life of one of the great painters of the 20th-Century. On 10 February 2015, the work will go under the hammer as part of its flagship auction of Contemporary Art.
Bacon’s work became increasingly concerned with the dark psychological depths of his own psyche in the years that followed the tragic suicide of his lover George Dyer in 1971, . Painted in 1977, on an almost 1:1 scale, Two Studies for Self-Portrait is a profoundly intimate portrait, which evokes the artist’s inner turmoil at a moment when he was at the height of critical acclaim during his lifetime.
Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s Deputy Chairman, Europe, stated: “Of all the subjects he depicted, it is the self-portraits – painted with an almost obsessive intensity – that bring us closest to the artist. It’s this extraordinary intimacy and power, together with their rarity, that make Bacon’s self-portraits so irresistible to collectors.”
Self-portraiture played a role of unparalleled importance in the work of the artist. “He was never more brilliant, more incisive or more ferocious when it came to depicting himself. In this he helped revive a genre, and Bacon’s Self-Portraits can now be seen as among the most pictorially inventive and psychologically revealing portraits of the Twentieth Century”, wrote the renowned art historian Michael Peppiatt in 2009.
Bacon’s self-portraiture regularly achieving prices well in advance of their estimates when they make a rare appearance at auction. A 1978 self-portrait, estimated at £812 million, more the doubled its low estimate when it sold for £21.6 million at Sotheby’s London in 2007, while a 1969 example, offered at Sotheby’s New York, also in 2007, fetched $33.1 million.
The artist’s life was punctuated by tragedy, reflected in his work. From the suicide of his friend John Minton in 1957 to the death of his decade-long lover Peter Lacy in 1962; the tragic suicide of his lover George Dyer in 1971 and the death of his mother, Winnie Bacon, in the same year. Summoning a lifetime’s worth of memories, Two Studies for Self-Portrait, 1977, shows Bacon at his most self-reflective and at the peak of his of his powers as a painter.
In an interview with the art critic David Sylvester, Bacon was brutally honest about his increasing propensity toward self-portraiture: “People have been dying around me like flies and I’ve had nobody else to paint but myself… I loathe my own face. One of the nicest things that Cocteau said was ‘Each day in the mirror I watch death at work.’ This is what one does to oneself.”
Seeing Double Bacon only ever made three self-portrait diptychs in this format (35.5cm by 30cm), of which this work is the only example to have ever appeared at auction. This was most recently in evidence when a new record for any small-scale portrait by Bacon was set in June 2014. The triptych, Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer, sold at Sotheby’s London for £26.7 million, well in excess of its high estimate of £20 million.