Defining British Art: Three major works to lead anniversary sale

Paintings by Francis Bacon, Sir Stanley Spencer, RA, and Laurence Stephen Lowry, RA, to feature in an historic sale and international tour

Three major works by Francis Bacon, Sir Stanley Spencer, RA, and Laurence Stephen Lowry, RA, are set to be among those featured in an international tour of highlights from Christie’s 250th anniversary sale, Defining British Art, taking place in London on 30 June 2016. 

Each of the works was painted at a defining moment in the artists’ careers, when their innovative work established them as leading figures of their generations. Both the Spencer and the Lowry were painted in 1929, and the Bacon in 1968. 

Francis Bacon (1909–1992), Version no. 2 of lying figure with hypodermic syringe, 1968. Oil on Canvas. 78 X 58 in. (197 x 147 cm.) Estimate on request. This work is offered in Defining British Art on 30 June at Christie’s in King Street
Francis Bacon (1909–1992), Version no. 2 of lying figure with hypodermic syringe, 1968. Oil on Canvas. 78 X 58 in. (197 x 147 cm.) Estimate on request. This work is offered in Defining British Art on 30 June at Christie’s in King Street

Francis Bacon’s landmark Version No. 2 of a Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe (1968) is a soaring canvas that shows Bacon at his most formally inventive, and is a rare example by him of a female nude (estimate on request: in the region of £20 million). Apparently partly based on a photograph of Henrietta Moraes, one of Bacon’s inner circle and closest companions from Soho’s Colony Club, the work is one of the last of a major series of reclining figures on beds — a theme that preoccupied Bacon throughout the late 1960s.

Bacon painted several versions of lying figures with syringes: another is in the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, and a second at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel. The work provides a rare insight into Bacon’s understanding of Abstract Expressionism. The central figure of Bacon’s canvas is described by swathes of abstract brushwork that animate her entire being, representing not only an external appearance, but also the psychological drama of the 20th-century human condition. It is one of the few reclining nudes to come to the market in recent years, one of which was Portrait of Henrietta Moraes (1963), sold at Christie’s in May 2015, and one of 16 paintings Bacon made of his close friend.

Sir Stanley Spencer, RA (1891-1959), The Garage. Oil on Canvas. 40 X 60 in. (101.6 x 155 cm.) Estimate £1,500,000-2,500,000. This work is offered in Defining British Art on 30 June at Christie’s in King Street
Sir Stanley Spencer, RA (1891-1959), The Garage. Oil on Canvas. 40 X 60 in. (101.6 x 155 cm.) Estimate: £1,500,000-2,500,000. This work is offered in Defining British Art on 30 June at Christie’s in King Street

Painted in 1929, The Garage is one of five pictures that depicted the rebuilding and growth of Britain at the end of the 1920s, by Sir Stanley Spencer, RA (1891-1959). The work is one of the largest and most successful in a series commissioned by the Empire Marketing Board on the theme of Industry and Peace. At the time of its creation British industry was at a crucial juncture for the future of the country and the Empire and, with the Wall Street Crash looming, the car industry would prove vital to the regeneration of the country. Britain was seeking to replicate the modern success story of the Ford Motor Company in America.

One of the finest works by Spencer from this period to come to auction, The Garage captures not only a technological but also a social phenomenon, depicting women and men working together as equals — its figures intrepid, modern, forward-looking and glamorous. Spencer was celebrated for his visionary style and intensity of technique, and this magnificent painting exemplifies his characteristically complex figurative work. Compositionally, the rich curves and angles of the cars and the equipment tie the multiple characters together, creating an overarching balance and harmony. This remarkable painting is being offered for sale by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, which will use the proceeds to further develop its worldwide support of vital projects that enhance arts education and participation, improve access and increase diversity across arts, culture and heritage. The painting is estimated to realise between £1.5 and £2.5 million.

Laurence Stephen Lowry, RA (1887-1976), Industrial scene. Oil on canvas. 20 X 24 in. (58.6 x 61 cm.) Estimate £1,500,000-2,500,000. This work is offered in Defining British Art on 30 June at Christie’s in King Street
Laurence Stephen Lowry, RA (1887-1976), Industrial scene. Oil on canvas. 20 X 24 in. (58.6 x 61 cm.) Estimate: £1,500,000-2,500,000. This work is offered in Defining British Art on 30 June at Christie’s in King Street

Laurence Stephen Lowry, RA (1887-1976), dedicated 40 years of his career to depicting the urban and industrial landscape of the north of England, particularly around Manchester, where he lived from 1909 to 1948. Painted in 1951, Industrial scene (estimate: £1.5-2.5 million) is a highly complex landscape, combining many of Lowry’s trademark motifs to create an extensive urban panorama.

Figures and houses are set against a background teeming with factories billowing smoke from towering chimney stacks. Characteristically, it is not a topographically accurate view, but one that Lowry composed from many recognisable landmarks that recur throughout his work. This painting highlights the way that Lowry often painted from an elevated viewpoint, giving the hurrying figures in Industrial scene a particularly diminutive feel, as they become almost engulfed within the urban sprawl that fades into the background.

Lowry was fascinated with exploring the impact of industry on both the landscape and the human figure. Many of his most successful industrial landscapes are now held in public collections; the present work provides collectors with a rare opportunity to acquire an exemplary work from a private collection.

Christie’s Loan Exhibition and Evening Sale presents a selection of some of the outstanding British art works to have been handled by Christie’s in the last 250 years, including examples by leading artists working in Britain (open free to the public from 17 June to 15 July).