On May 11th, in New York, an exciting opportunity awaited art enthusiasts as Christie's presented the third installment of the auction "Masterpieces from the S.I. Newhouse Collection."
There was one Francis Bacon piece within this part of the prestigious Condé Nast chairman's collection: ‘Self-Portrait’, 1969 had at least three bidders vying for it and eventually fetched a huge US$34.6 million.
By 1969, Bacon had achieved remarkable success as an artist in London and established himself as a prominent figure in the art world. His career had received a significant boost with his first major retrospective, held at the Tate in 1962, which propelled him forward and garnered critical acclaim.
During this time, Bacon focused primarily on figures surrounding him. ‘Self-Portrait’ is a rare introspection that comes after the death of love Peter Lacy. Bacon expressed his motivation for painting self-portraits in a quote from David Sylvester's book:
“I've done a lot of self-portraits, really because people have been dying around me like flies [...] I loathe my own face, but I go on painting it because I haven't got any other people to do” (Bacon quoted in David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with Francis Bacon).
Bacon believed that portrait painting should go beyond simply depicting or imitating reality. Instead, it should reveal something deeper, more essential and irrational. The focus is on capturing the essence of the subject matter, evoking emotions and expressing ideas or concepts that go beyond literal representation. The aim is to create a powerful and impactful artistic experience that engages the viewer on a profound level:
"The living quality is what you have to get. In painting a portrait the problem is to find a technique by which you can give over all the pulsations of a person... The sitter is someone of flesh and blood and what has to be caught is their emanation." (David Sylvester, Ibid., 2000, p. 98)
In addition to his 'Self-Portrait', Bacon completed another significant work during the same year titled 'Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing'. This painting was part of a series of 23 portraits capturing the essence of the British model and muse. In 1971 both the 'Self-Portrait' and 'Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing' were featured in a prestigious exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. This achievement was a remarkable honor for Bacon, as he became only the second artist - following in the footsteps of Picasso in 1966 - to receive such recognition during his lifetime.
These accomplishments, along with Bacon's artistic philosophy of delving beyond surface appearances to evoke deeper emotions and connections, have solidified his legacy as one of the most significant artists of the 20th century.