Ba­con’s ‘lost’ paint­ing of pope and lover could shat­ter records at auc­tion

Can­vas with tragic his­tory was last seen in pub­lic in 1972 and is es­ti­mated to sell for more than £60m

The Daily Telegraph - - News - By Anita Singh ARTS AND EN­TER­TAIN­MENT EDI­TOR

A PAINT­ING by Fran­cis Ba­con that was hid­den away for 45 years is ex­pected to be­come the most ex­pen­sive art­work sold in Europe when it goes un­der the ham­mer next month.

Car­ry­ing an estimate in the re­gion of £60 mil­lion, Study of Red Pope 1962, Sec­ond ver­sion 1971 unites two sub­jects that ob­sessed Ba­con dur­ing his ca­reer: his lover, Ge­orge Dyer, and the fig­ure of Pope In­no­cent X.

The can­vas has been in a pri­vate col­lec­tion for more than four decades and never loaned. It was shown at the Ba­con ret­ro­spec­tive at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971, and in Düs­sel­dorf the next year, be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing from view.

The paint­ing fore­tells a tragedy. Ba­con pro­duced it for the Grand Palais show, and Dyer ac­com­pa­nied him to Paris for the open­ing. The un­likely cou­ple – the older artist and the young, East End crook – had met in a Soho pub and their re­la­tion­ship was tem­pes­tu­ous.

Dyer in­sisted on be­ing in­vited to the Paris show, but the artist had lit­tle time to spend with him in the days lead­ing up to the open­ing. Two days be­fore the Oc­to­ber open­ing, Dyer took an over­dose and was found dead in his ho­tel bath­room.

A grief-stricken Ba­con car­ried on with the show. He said later: “If I’d have stayed with him rather than go­ing to see about the ex­hi­bi­tion, he would be here now. But I didn’t and he’s dead.”

The paint­ing will be sold at Christie’s, Lon­don, on Oct 6. Christie’s be­lieves it could sur­pass the Euro­pean record for a work of art sold at auc­tion: £65 mil­lion for Gi­a­cometti’s Walk­ing Man bronze in 2010. The ham­mer price for that work was £58mil­lion, with the fi­nal fig­ure in­clud­ing buyer’s premium.

If the Ba­con paint­ing achieves its £60 mil­lion estimate, it will fetch around £67 mil­lion with premium added. Fran­cis Outred, Christie’s head of post-war and con­tem­po­rary art, hailed the paint­ing as “quite sim­ply art his­tory”. He said: “It is a tragic pre­mo­ni­tion which unites Ba­con’s two great­est muses, the Pope and Ge­orge Dyer, for the first and only time.”

Dyer is de­picted as the Pope’s re­flec­tion. The pa­pal fig­ure is based on the Velázquez por­trait of In­no­cent X that in­spired many Ba­con works, in­clud­ing a 1962 paint­ing that Ba­con had hoped to ex­hibit at the Grand Palais.

How­ever, the owner of that work turned him down, and Ba­con em­barked on this sec­ond ver­sion in April 1971.

Katharine Arnold, se­nior spe­cial­ist at Christie’s, said: “Ba­con de­scribed him­self as al­most hav­ing a boy­hood crush on the paint­ing by Velázquez. And he def­i­nitely had a crush, or some­thing more pow­er­ful, on Ge­orge Dyer.

“The paint­ing is very in­tense. There must have been fric­tion in their re­la­tion­ship at this point, and I’m sure the pres­sure in the lead up to the ex­hi­bi­tion must have had an im­pact on Dyer as well.

“There are two sash cords in the pic­ture, as if to turn off a light – it’s al­most prophetic. It has this sense of the dra­matic. The wall on the right looks blue on first glance, but then you see the re­flec­tion of the red.”

The paint­ing was ac­quired by the fam­ily of the present owner in 1973.

It will not be the most ex­pen­sive Ba­con paint­ing ever sold. That record is held by Three Stud­ies of Lu­cian Freud, a trip­tych that went for £89mil­lion in New York in 2014.

Fran­cis Ba­con’s Study of Red Pope 1962, Sec­ond ver­sion 1971, un­seen in pub­lic for 45 years, is pre­sented by Christie’s

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