Francis Bacon, 'Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards' (1984), Oil on canvas. © The Estate of Francis Bacon / DACS London 2014. All rights reserved.
Francis Bacon’s triptych ‘Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards’ (1984), and ‘Figure Turning’ (1962), are to be exhibited and auctioned by Christie’s New York later this month in their Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale.
‘Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards’ was held in high regard by the famously critical artist, when interviewed by British television in 1984 Bacon said this work was one of the most successful portraits he had ever completed.
Bacon’s praise for the triptych could be associated with his relationship with the subject, East End bar manager John Edwards. Bacon met Edwards a decade prior to the triptych’s painting when having failed to visit Edwards’s pub as expected – which manager Edwards had purposely stocked with Bacon’s favourite champaign, Bacon was confronted by Edwards over the artist’s selfishness. By this stage in his life Bacon was used to being fêted wherever he went, and Edwards’s stark confrontation startled him somewhat, but also intrigued him. The next day, when Edwards went to visit Bacon at his Reece Mews studio, a painting of Edwards was already underway. John Edwards went on to become one of the artist’s closest and trusted companions.
Bacon’s successful companionship with Edwards at this later stage in his life is thought to be captured in the artist’s careful construction of the painting. Edwards’s soft features are captured with Bacon’s brushwork, this sense of warmth and serenity is present over previous Bacon artwork connotations like angst and fear, this less violent brushwork are the hallmarks of the Bacon’s later work.
This triptych was chosen by Bacon to be the final work of his second major retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1985. This exhibition celebrated Bacon’s great triptych paintings, beginning with one of his most famous paintings of all time, the iconic 1944 work ‘Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion’, and culminating with this present work, which had been painted just one year earlier.
Francis Bacon died in April 1992, and in his will he named John Edwards as his sole heir and keeper of his estate. Over the next decade, until his own death in 2003 at age 53, Edwards maintained Bacon’s legacy by overseeing the artist’s archives, including donating the contents of his Reece Mews studio to the Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane in 1998. The level of trust that Bacon placed in Edwards was perhaps the ultimate demonstration of the close relationship between the two men. These three canvases are an example of the physical manifestation of that trust, and a legacy of one of the most powerful relationships that Bacon had ever experienced. For more information and insight on ‘Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards’ please view the ‘lot notes’ available via Christie’s here.
Francis Bacon, ‘Figure Turning’ (1962) Oil on canvas. © The Estate of Francis Bacon / DACS London 2014. All rights reserved.
Contrasting the ‘delicacy’ of the Edwards Triptych, the second work of Bacon’s to be displayed and auctioned by Christie’s in New York is ‘Figure Turning’ (1962). This work is a demonstration of Bacon’s ability to deconstruct and reconstruct the human form in paint. Bacon’s energetic use of tone captures a muscular lone figure pivoting. The physicality of the work has been associated with the tempestuous relationship the artist once shared with then former lover Peter Lacy, who passed away on the opening day of Bacon’s first major retrospective at the Tate gallery in London, an exhibition this painting was completed just in time for. For more information and insight on ‘Figure Turning’ please view the ‘lot notes’ available via Christie’s here.
“I think if you want to convey fact, this can only ever be done through a form of distortion. You must distort to transform what is appearance into image” (F. Bacon, quoted by H. Davies and S. Yard (eds.)., Francis Bacon, New York, 1986, pp. 41-44).
Both works will go on view from Friday May 9th until May 13th at Christie’s New York Rockefeller Centre ahead of their auction, more information can be found here.
Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale
Christie’s New York, Rockefeller Plaza
May 13th 19:00
Word ref: Christie’s website.
Please note that all details including viewing times are subject to change, for all confirmation please contact Christie’s.