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FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED EUROPEAN COLLECTION
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)

Sand Dune

Details
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
Sand Dune
signed, titled and dated ‘Sand Dune 1981 Francis Bacon’ (on the reverse)
oil, pastel, dust and dry transfer lettering on canvas
78 x 58 1/8in. (198 x 147.5cm.)
Executed in 1981
Provenance
Marlborough International Fine Art, Vaduz.
Marlborough Gallery Inc., New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1983.
Literature
M. Leiris, Francis Bacon: Full Face and in Profile, Oxford 1983, p. 270, no. 136 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
H. Davies and S. Yard, Francis Bacon, New York 1986, no. 94 (illustrated in colour, p. 97).
M. Leiris, Francis Bacon, Barcelona 1987, p. 128, no. 133 (illustrated in colour, p. 110)
E. van Alphen, Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, London 1992, p. 207, no. 75 (illustrated in colour, p. 132).
A. Sinclair, Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times, New York 1993, p. 278.
C. Domino, Francis Bacon: 'Taking Reality by Surprise', London 1997, p. 74.
Francis Bacon in Dublin, exh. cat., Dublin, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, 2000, p. 15.
D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p. 168, no. 134 (illustrated in colour, p. 178).
V. Todoli (ed.), Francis Bacon: Caged, Uncaged, exh. cat., Porto, Fundação de Serralves, 2003, p. 245.
L. Trucchi, Francis Bacon, Rome 2005, pp. 56 and 63, no. 14 (illustrated in colour, p. 60).
G. Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, London 2005, pp. xiii, 23 and 122, no. 86.
A. M. Wieland, Francis Bacon, Munich 2009, p. 124 (illustrated in colour, p. 29).
Francis Bacon: Late Paintings, exh. cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, 2015, p. 73 (illustrated in colour, p. 72; installation view with the artist illustrated, p. 91).
M. Harrison and R. Daniels (eds.), Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné Volume I, London 2016, p. 19.
M. Harrison and R. Daniels (eds.), Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné Volume IV 1971–92, London 2016, p. 1226, no. 81–04 (illustrated in colour, p. 1227).
Exhibited
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Acquisition Priorities: Aspects of Postwar Painting in Europe, 1983, no. 32 (illustrated, p. 45).
London, Tate Gallery, Francis Bacon, 1985-1986, p. 238, no. 111 (illustrated in colour, p. 210).
Washington D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Francis Bacon, 1989-1990. This exhibition later travelled to Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and New York, Museum of Modern Art.
Venice, Museo Correr, Francis Bacon: Figurabile, 1993, pp. 78 and 128, no. 27 (illustrated in colour, p. 80).
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Bacon-Freud: Expressions, 1995, pp. 96 and 205, no. 26 (illustrated in colour, p. 97).
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Francis Bacon, 1996-1997, p. 204, no. 75 (illustrated in colour, p. 205).
Paris, Centre Pompidou, Bacon. En toutes lettres, 2019-2020, pp. 96 and 238 (illustrated in colour, p. 97). This exhibition later travelled to Houston, Museum of Fine Arts.
Special Notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Lot Essay

Held in the same private collection for nearly four decades, Sand Dune is a rare masterwork from Francis Bacon’s distinguished body of landscape paintings. Executed in 1981, during one of his most extraordinary creative periods, it is the first of two works to take the sand dune as its subject: the second, dating from 1983, resides in the Fondation Beyeler. With an outstanding exhibition history—ranging from Bacon’s landmark Tate retrospective in 1985, to his acclaimed survey at the Centre Georges Pompidou last year—it captures the visionary artistic language that came to define his spectacular final decade. Angular geometries, saturated planes of colour, inscrutable fragments of text and ethereal textures morph into a surreal mise-en-scène. A crystalline ocean horizon glimmers on the distance; in the centre, a blaze of grass erupts like a burning bush, infused with the same visceral charge as his depictions of human flesh. Alluring and enigmatic, it captures Bacon’s fundamental ambition at the height of his powers: to strip away the wild painterly excesses of his youth, leaving in their place a raw, distilled trace of reality.

Bacon’s landscape paintings punctuate his practice like jewels. Among their select number are some of his greatest achievements, including the early masterpiece Study of Figure in a Landscape (1952, (Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.) and the immortal Landscape Near Malabata, Tangier (1963). Sand Dune takes its place within a period of renewed emphasis on this subject matter, which began in 1978 and continued for the next decade. While the majority of Bacon’s early landscapes had featured figures, these later offerings were largely devoid of human presence. Instead, they infused their natural subjects with anthropomorphic qualities, treating grass, sand and sea with the same intensity as Bacon had formerly lavished upon human hair and skin. The present work shares a number of features in common with the remarkable 1979 work Jet of Water, which similarly sets up a tension between the billowing chaos of nature and the surreal, industrial framework that surrounds it. Like the angular ‘space frames’ that once housed Bacon’s writhing nudes and screaming Popes, the strange, clinical armature of pipes and shelves seems to contain the carnal explosion at the centre of the painting—a bid, as the artist once put it, to ‘trap this living fact alive’.

Several commentators have spoken of Bacon’s landscapes as extensions of his portraits. In his discussion of the present work, David Sylvester identifies ‘a metamorphosis of dune and blown sand into some feathery or furry creature’ (D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p. 168). Elsewhere, he compares the dunes to ‘parts of unidentifiable giant bodies slowly moving in their sleep’ (D. Sylvester, ‘Bacon’s Course’, in Francis Bacon: Figurabile, exh. cat., Museo Correr, Venice 1993, p. 78). Bacon himself rejected such interpretations, claiming that his sand dunes were not conscious ciphers for the human form but simply memories of a trip to Brittany: a suggestion supported by a postcard and photograph excavated from his studio. Yet for an artist who likened his own visual imagination to a ‘grinding machine’—where source material morphed and mutated at will—realism and metaphor were never far apart. As the critic John Russell recounted, ‘The great painter for him was the one who paints the grass as Velázquez paints the hair. Hair and head, grass and earth must be moved in the same movement’ (J. Russell, quoted in Bacon Freud: Expressions, exh. cat., Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence 1995, p. 96).

One such artist, for Bacon, was Edgar Degas, whose use of pastels he had long admired. While many of his early painterly techniques had drawn inspiration from the medium, during the 1980s he began to make explicit use of pastel in his own canvases. Its ethereal, granular textures came to play an important role in his increasingly stripped-back aesthetic, operating in stark contrast to the thick, viscous swathes of impasto that defined his 1960s portraits. In the present work, its combination with dust seems to conjure the very qualities of sand itself, imbuing the painting with a heightened material charge. Martin Harrison draws a comparison between the painting and Degas’ own coastal studies of the 1890s, which—he writes—‘are evocative of the contours of the human form’ (M. Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. IV, London 2016, p. 1270). Jean-Louis Prat even goes so far as to suggest that Bacon must surely have been familiar with Degas’ 1892 work Rocky Coast, which—executed on top of an image of a female nude—remains ‘strangely endowed with voluptuous forms’ (J-L. Prat, Bacon Freud: Expressions, ibid.).

Sand Dune also points to another key source of inspiration for Bacon during this period: the works of T. S. Eliot. Having long devoured both classic and modern literature, the artist looked increasingly to the rigours of poetry during his final decade, seeking to capture what he described as ‘the sensation without the boredom of its conveyance’. Bacon greatly admired Eliot’s The Waste Land: a work whose imagery chimes with many of the artist’s late landscapes, and whose title is explicitly echoed in the 1982 canvas A Piece of Waste Land. Several lines are particularly evocative in relation to Sand Dune: perhaps Eliot’s question ‘what branches grow out of this stony rubbish?’ rang in Bacon’s ears as he transposed his coastal view to a setting resembling an industrial scrap yard. Eliot’s ‘heap of broken images, where the sun beats’, moreover, seems to speak to the work’s metamorphic, quasi-Surrealist tenor, where the landscape shifts and mutates beneath a stark, clinical glare. The line, in turn, evokes an earlier precedent—Salvador Dalí’s La persistance de la mémoire (1931)—whose dreamlike juxtaposition of manmade and natural worlds gives rise to a similar feeling of desolation.

Bacon’s dialogue with literature during this period may also be seen to account for his increased use of transfer lettering, or Letraset. Beginning in the early 1970s, these semi-legible letters spilled across his paintings in various formations, recalling fragments ripped from the pages of a book. Their appearance in Sand Dune, strewn like a discarded letter and tinged with splashes of blood-red paint, seems to transport the work to the realm of dark fiction, infusing it with psychological tension. At the same time, the industrial, newsprint-like quality of the lettering evokes a range of art-historical comparisons—from the Synthetic Cubist collages of Pablo Picasso, to the works of David Hockney, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. The latter set of references offers striking context for Bacon’s late canvases: notably, Sand Dune marks one of his first uses of spray paint, offering a fleeting nod to the quotidian materials and subjects harnessed by Pop and Neo-Expressionism. Ultimately, however, the Letraset fragments remain oblique in their narrative, forever obscured amid the sand.

Despite their elusive semantic properties, Bacon’s late works nonetheless aspired to a new sense of structural clarity, shedding the chaotic surfaces of the artist’s youth and seeking—as he put it—to ‘abbreviate to intensity’. ‘You’re more conscious of the fact that nine-tenths of everything is inessential’, he explained, ‘... few things that matter become so much more concentrated and can be summed up with so much less’ (F. Bacon, quoted in Francis Bacon, exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2009, p. 237). This conviction is eloquently borne out in Sand Dune, where—against the work’s central flurry of motion—geometric order reigns supreme. Bacon’s smooth planes of colour draw parallels with the colour fields of Mark Rothko and other Abstract Expressionists: a comparison frequently proposed in relation to the artist’s late works, though one that he himself fervently rejected. The blocks of white scaffolding, meanwhile—with their clean lines and rigid angles—conjure a near-Minimalist sense of simplicity and elegance, loosely recalling the architectural purity of Donald Judd’s ‘stacks’. It is worth recalling that Bacon had started life as a Bauhaus-inspired furniture designer in the 1920s, producing sleek, elegant pieces whose forms are momentarily invoked here.

In more than one way, ultimately, does Sand Dune come full circle. Another formative ghost lingers upon its glimmering horizon line: the beach scenes that Picasso painted at Dinard and Cannes between 1927 and 1932. It was these works that first inspired Bacon to devote his life to art, and would remain a guiding force throughout his oeuvre. Having first encountered them in Paris, the young artist was struck by their raw, visceral intensity and surreal, organic forms—properties that are still very much alive in the present work. The previous decade, Bacon had used the beach as a setting for his grand Triptych 1974-1977—a poignant memorial to his ill-fated lover George Dyer—in which the figure melds organically with the sand. In Sand Dune, the artist goes one stage further, dissolving the human form altogether in an abstract blur of dust. It is reminder of the primal substance from which we are all made, and to which we must all ultimately return—as Eliot put it, ‘In my beginning is my end’. In this, Sand Dune transcends its status as a landscape: it remains, in the manner of Bacon’s finest works, a powerful portrait of the human condition.

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