FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
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FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)

Seated Man

FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
Seated Man
oil on canvas
55 x 43 3/8in. (140 x 110cm.)
Painted circa 1957
Nicholas Brusolowski, Paris (acquired directly from the artist in 1959).
Galerie Isy Brachot, Brussels.
Private Collection, Paris.
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2000).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's London, 30 June 2014, lot 30.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
M. Harrison and R. Daniels (eds.), Francis Bacon, Catalogue Raisonné, Volume II: 1929-57, London 2016, p. 532, no. 57-26 (illustrated in colour, p. 533).
Brussels, Galerie Isy Brachot, L' Europe des Peintres, 1979, no. 8 (incorrectly illustrated as no. 6, unpaged).
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

Painted at the height of Francis Bacon’s most transformative decade, Seated Man (1957) is a brooding portrait of the artist’s first true love and muse, Peter Lacy. Suspended within a blackened void, Lacy reclines against a deep Prussian blue backdrop, edged with gold in a manner reminiscent of Bacon’s Papal portraits. Rendered with rapid, intuitive brushstrokes, he flickers like an image caught on camera, infused with a powerful, restless motion. Executed in Tangier, where Lacy had moved in 1956, the work’s composition posits it as a companion piece to Bacon’s Self-Portrait of 1958, painted immediately afterwards and now held in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. During this period, the couple’s already-tempestuous relationship had become increasingly fraught, creating a volatile, destructive dynamic that would continue until Lacy’s tragic death in 1962. Though shrouded in shadow, the present work’s luxuriant, velvety blue indicates the near-abstract fields of bright colour that gradually began to encroach upon Bacon’s language, inspired perhaps by the radiant light of North Africa. Enveloped, Lacy hovers illusively as if within a shrine: the object of Bacon’s most ardent desires, and the source of his greatest turmoil. 

Bacon and Lacy had met in 1952 at the Colony Room in Soho. ‘I’d never really fallen in love with anyone until then,’ the artist recalled. ‘… He was marvellous-looking, you see. He had this extraordinary physique … He played the piano marvellously and he had a real kind of natural wit’ (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p. 145). A former fighter pilot who served in the Battle of Britain, Lacy was nonetheless a deeply troubled man, and his mercurial personality would provide the artist with one of his most important early character studies. Their relationship was fuelled by obsession, passion and vehement bouts of rage—all of which found potent expression in Bacon’s canvases. Lacy’s form haunted his first portrait triptych of 1953, his ground-breaking depictions of male couplings and his celebrated Man in Blue series, as well as works now held in the Phillips Collection, Washington D. C. and Tate, London, among others. Following his move to Tangiers, their relationship began to deteriorate, exacerbated by Lacy’s increasing dependence on alcohol. Bacon received the devastating news of his death shortly before the opening of his major Tate retrospective, and continued to mourn his lover in paint—most notably in the 1963 masterpiece Landscape near Malabata, Tangier.

Despite his tumultuous relationship with Lacy, in 1957 Bacon was on the brink of international acclaim. The previous year, six of his works were shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, whose director Alfred Barr would subsequently describe him as ‘England’s most interesting painter’. Having represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1954, his work also garnered interest in Europe, culminating in his triumphant first solo exhibition in Paris in 1957. As his star rose internationally, he began to move away from the dark, existentialist visions that had dominated his early practice. As well as absorbing the influence of Abstract Expressionism—though he denied it at the time—Bacon drew increasing inspiration from the work of Vincent van Gogh, producing a major series of works based on The Painter on the Road to Tarascon (1888) during the mid-1950s. The loose, expressionistic brushwork he gleaned from these sources is tangible in Seated Man: the harsh vertical ‘shuttering’ of his Papal portraits is quelled, replaced instead by fluid streaks of colour that seek to capture the carnal life force of his subject. It is a tribute to the man who would change the artist’s life and practice forever, propelling it into daring new territory.

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