To mark the anniversary of Francis Bacon’s death 30 years ago on 28 October 1992, Majid Boustany, founder of the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, is selling a collection of rare items by and related to Francis Bacon.
The highlight of the sale is the 1949 painting ‘Figure Crouching’, which had remained undocumented during Bacon’s lifetime, and which has only ever been shown in one exhibition. Another of the 20 lots of great interest is a hand-knotted carpet made while Bacon was working as an interior designer in the 1930s (a career that he was later coy about).
The auction at Sotheby’s is also intended to celebrate the artist’s love of France, and will be held on 24 October at the end of Paris+ week – the first Parisian edition of the Art Basel fair.
Since he first visited in the 1920s, Paris remained a place of inspiration for Francis Bacon. In interviews given later in life, Bacon credited seeing a Picasso exhibition at the Galerie Paul Rosenberg in the summer of 1927 as being instrumental in his decision to paint. The drawings in the Picasso show were varied in period and content, but Picasso’s imaginative mastery of line struck a deep chord. Bacon began making drawings and watercolours himself, apparently without formal guidance, and moved to a bohemian hotel in Montparnasse.
Francis Bacon was honoured with a 1971 retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris – the only other living artist to have been given the honour until then was Picasso. Two nights before the opening of the show, and in a cruel echo of a similar tragedy which occurred before the opening of his Tate retrospective in 1962, his companion George Dyer was found dead from a drink and barbiturate overdose in a bathroom at the Hôtel des Saints-Pères. A series of paintings made over the next few years record the true strength of his grief. These include the so-called black triptychs, such as In Memory of George Dyer, 1971, and Triptych August 1972. The bleakest and perhaps the greatest of these testaments is Triptych, May-June 1973, a work of monumental and grave simplicity in which the circumstances of Dyer’s death are re-enacted.
Bacon spent considerable periods of time in Paris during the 1970s, and following the success of the 1971 retrospective, in 1974 bought a flat on rue de Birague, near the Place des Vosges. It was his base in Paris for the next decade and a half and allowed him to spend more time in the city. Part of which he used to renew and deepen his friendships with Michel Leiris, Nadine Haim and Jacques Dupin.
To mark the Sotheby’s sale, British art historian, Martin Harrison, author of the Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné has contributed a catalogue essay in which he writes: “Arguably the most significant consequence of Bacon’s reception in Paris in the 1970s was that it reversed the injudicious and casual opinions of British critics who tended to glibly posit a visible decline in his later paintings. French critics ignored such subjectively inclined periodisation and responded with intelligence to major works that were often given their debut in Paris.”
Guillaume Mallecot, who is overseeing the auction for Sotheby’s on 24 October, told the Guardian that despite the clear influences of other grand masters like Picasso, Bacon remains “in a class of his own”.
All proceeds from the sale will go to Boustany’s Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation.