Painted in 1963, Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer marks the beginning of Francis Bacon’s relationship with his greatest source of inspiration. This triptych is the very first portrait Bacon made of his long-time muse, who came to feature in many of the artist’s most arresting and sought-after works. The paintings will be offered for the first time at auction in Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 17 May in New York.
Dyer came to appear in at least 40 of Bacon’s paintings, many of which were created after Dyer’s death in Paris in 1971. The convulsive beauty of this work represents the flowering of Bacon’s infatuation with his muse, and it is only one of five triptychs of Dyer that the artist painted in this intimate scale.
The present example once resided in the collection of Bacon’s close friend, Roald Dahl. The celebrated author became an ardent admirer of Bacon’s work after first encountering his paintings at a touring exhibition in 1958, although collecting his work was not financially viable at the time.
In the 1960s Dahl’s career hit new heights with the publication of such classic children’s tales as James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He also wrote the screenplay for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. Buoyed by his newfound success, Dahl acquired four judiciously chosen works by Bacon between 1964 and 1967. The present triptych was among them.
‘George Dyer is to Bacon what Dora Maar was to Picasso. He is arguably the most important model of the second half of the 20th century’
‘Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer is a masterful triptych which was completed within the first three months of Bacon’s first encounter with Dyer,’ explains Loic Gouzer, Deputy Chairman, Post-War and Contemporary Art. ‘This powerful portrait exemplifies the dynamism and complex psychology that the artist is revered for.
‘George Dyer is to Bacon what Dora Maar was to Picasso,’ Gouzer continues. ‘He is arguably the most important model of the second half of the 20th century, because Dyer’s persona as well as his physical traits acted as a catalyst for Bacon’s pictorial breakthroughs. The Francis Bacon that we know today would not exist without the transformative encounter that he had with George Dyer.’
Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer was completed during the period of greatest personal and professional contentment in Bacon’s career. When the artist met Dyer towards the end of 1963, he was being showered with acclaim and hailed as a master of figurative painting. This came on the heels of his first major retrospective in May 1962 at the Tate in London, which was followed by a triumphant exhibition at New York’s Guggenheim Museum in October 1963.
Over the past 40 years, Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer has been a central fixture in many of the artist’s most important exhibitions. It was most recently featured in the celebrated 2008-2009 Bacon retrospective which travelled to Tate Britain, London, the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It has also been shown in the National Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, among other institutions.
The work, which carries an estimate of $50-70million, will be on show at Christie’s in London until 8 March.