Two Francis Bacon self-portraits not seen by the public for some time are going on public display after resurfacing in a private collection. relatives of the original collector have opted to sell the paintings, which are expected to fetch £15 million each at auction. Experts knew of the works’ existence, but did not know who had bought the paintings soon after they were completed about 40 years ago.
The works will go on show at Sotheby’s in London and New York before going under the hammer in July. The triptych ‘Three Studies for a Self-Portrait’ (1980) shows Bacon, who was in his 70s and becoming increasingly preoccupied with the inevitability of death, his eyes downcast. Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s senior international specialist in contemporary art, described the rediscovery of the works as “a pretty extraordinary collecting moment”.
“We knew of the existence of the paintings but simply had no idea where they could be.” Stated Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s “Marlborough Fine Art kept a photographic archive and so both of these paintings appeared in a book on Bacon’s self-portraits but, apart from being reproduced in books, they’ve not been seen,” he said. “We knew of the existence of the paintings but simply had no idea where they could be.The first time I saw these paintings it was such a wonderful awakening. They’re both so luminous,” he said.
Bacon painted the 1975 self-portrait when he was in his 60s but looked much younger in the work. Bacon grew increasingly concerned by his physical appearance, he dyed his hair and wore make-up as he grew older.
Mr Barker said the artist deliberately gave himself the quality of a film-star, “appearing as photogenic as possible” while still being highly self critical. “He paints himself with a much more youthful appearance,” he said. The triptych had a “filmic quality” with “the action unwinding in front of you across three different spaces” and showed the artist’s “level of psychological angst and questioning”.
“Bacon throughout his life was really questioning human existence. Never is that more pivotal in his work than in his self-portraits,” he said.
Another Bacon triptych, featuring Bacon’s old friend and fellow artist Lucian Freud, became the most expensive artwork sold at auction when it fetched $142 million, or £89 million in New York in 2013. This latest discovery of self-portraits will go on sale at Sotheby’s London Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 1 July.