FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
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FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Masterpieces from the S.I. Newhouse Collection
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)


FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
signed, dedicated, titled and dated 'Self-Portrait 1969 Francis Bacon to V with all very best wishes Francis' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
14 x 12 in. (35.6 x 30.5 cm.)
Painted in 1969
Valerie Beston, London (gift from the artist, circa 1969);
Christie's, London, 8 February 2006, lot 5.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London, 1971, p. 182, no. 89 (illustrated).
L. Trucchi, Francis Bacon, Milan, 1975, (illustrated in color, pl. 136).
M. Leiris, Francis Bacon, Full Face and in Profile, London, 1983, no. 68 (illustrated in color).
Willem de Kooning: Drawings, Paintings, Sculpture, exh. cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1983, p. 242 (illustrated, pl. 1).
J. Burr, "Round the Galleries: Crisis Under the Skin," Apollo, June 1985, vol. CXXI, p. 431, no. 1 (illustrated).
M. Vaizey, "Bacon: Genius Who Walks Alone," The Sunday Times, 26 May 1985, p. 43 (illustrated).
H. Davies and S. Yard, Francis Bacon, New York, 1986, p. 6, no. 1 (illustrated in color and illustrated on the front cover).
D. Kuspit, "Hysterical Painting," Artforum, vol. 24, no. 5, January 1986, p. 55 (illustrated in color).
J. Burr, "Too Much Reality?," Apollo, vol. CXXXI, no. 335, January 1990, p. 59, no. 1 (illustrated).
P. Ackroyd, "Pictures from an Irish Exhibitionist," The Times, 2 September 1993, p. 39 (illustrated).
A. Riding, "The School of London, Mordantly Messy as Ever," The New York Times, 25 September 1995, p. C11 (illustrated).
W. Schmied, Francis Bacon Commitment and Conflict, Munich and New York, 1996, p. 100, no. 31 (illustrated in color).
F. Bores and M. Kundera, Francis Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits, London, 1996, p. 106 (illustrated in color).
Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Paris, Centre national d'art et de culture Georges Pompidou, 1996 (illustrated, pl. 70).
C. Darwent, "Valerie Forever," The Independent, 29 January 2006, p. 5 (illustrated).
H. Lane, "Valerie at the Gallery," Observer Magazine, 29 January 2006, p. 32 (illustrated).
J. Colapinto, "The Alchemist," The New Yorker, 20 March 2006, p. 96 and 100.
M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait: Essays and Interviews, New Haven and London, 2008, pp. 216-217 (illustrated in color).
R. Cork, "Bacon and Edge," The Sunday Times Magazine, 7 September 2008, p. 1 (illustrated).
A. Wieland, Francis Bacon, New York, 2009, pp. 15 and 53 (illustrated in color).
J. Littell, Triptych: Three Studies after Francis Bacon, London, 2013, pp. 190-191 (illustrated in color).
M. Harrison and R. Daniels, eds., Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné: Volume III 1958-71, London, 2016, pp. 22, 920-921 and 1000, no. 69-13 (illustrated in color).
M. Harrison, ed., Bacon and the Mind: Art, Neuroscience and Psychology, London, 2019, p. 120, no. 82 (illustrated in color).
Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais and Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Francis Bacon, October 1971-May 1972, pp. 53 and 131, no. 90 (illustrated).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings 1968-1974, March-June 1975, no. 4 (illustrated in color).
London, Arts Council of Great Britain, The Human Clay: An Exhibition Selected by R.B. Kitaj, August 1976, no. 9 (illustrated).
Madrid, Fundación Juan March and Barcelona, Fundaciò Joan Miro, Francis Bacon, April-July 1978, no. 1 (illustrated in color).
Tokyo, National Museum of Modern Art; Kyoto, The National Museum of Modern Art and Aichi Prefectural Art Gallery, Francis Bacon: Paintings 1945-1982, June-November 1983, pp. 52 and 85, no. 24 (illustrated in color).
Paris, Galerie Maeght Lelong, Francis Bacon. Peintures récentes, January-February 1984, p. 33, no. 2 (illustrated in color).
London, Tate Gallery; Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie and Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Francis Bacon, May 1985-March 1986, no. 66 (illustrated in color).
London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Francis Bacon: Loan Exhibition in Celebration of His 80th Birthday, October-November 1989, p. 23, no. 8 (illustrated in color).
Manchester Art Gallery; London, Barbican Art Gallery and Glasgow, City Art Gallery, The Pursuit of the Real: British Figurative Painting, from Sickert to Bacon, May-September 1990, p. 90, no. 46 (illustrated in color).
London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Francis Bacon 1909-1992: Small Portrait Studies, October-December 1993, no. 19 (illustrated in color).
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Foundation Maeght, Bacon-Freud Expressions, July-October 1995, p. 71, no. 18 (illustrated in color and illustrated on the front cover).
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Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

Painted in 1969, the present work is a masterful and poignant self-portrait from a pivotal moment in Francis Bacon’s career. The artist’s unmistakable countenance emerges in swirling, evanescent strokes of lilac, teal, bone-white and vermillion set against a rich blue backdrop. Flashes of turquoise, orange and magenta halo his silhouette. Bacon has bruised and blushed his features, using a corduroy rag to print delicate, striated impressions across his mouth, nose and shadowed eye sockets. Impastoed sweeps of white convey the sheen of skin under bright electric light. Zones of raw canvas shape his beige trenchcoat and shine through his deftly brushed hair, with the distinctive forelock that Michel Leiris called “a reckless comma staunchly inscribed across his brow” (M. Leiris, Francis Bacon: Full Face and in Profile, Oxford, 1983, p. 12). The artist’s large, hooded eyes gaze out with a subtle glitter. A far cry from some of the more violent distortions of Bacon’s portraiture, it is a remarkably tender self-image. Its warmth may reflect his feelings towards its intended recipient: Bacon presented the work as a gift to Valerie Beston, who had overseen his affairs at London’s Marlborough Gallery since 1958, playing an important role in his personal and professional lives. The 1960s had been a decade of huge success for Bacon, witnessing a flowering of ambition and drama in his painting as he embraced new colors, techniques and subjects. Here, months before his sixtieth birthday, he emerges as a poised and contemplative figure brimming with creative life. Two years later, the work was included in his career-defining retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris; it has been shown in a number of major international exhibitions across the decades since.
An intimate arena charged with spectacular power, the fourteen-by-twelve-inch portrait is perhaps the most iconic format in Bacon’s oeuvre. “Just as a gunshot sometimes leaves an after-echo or parallel report,” wrote John Russell, “so these small concentrated heads carry their ghosts within them” (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, ed., London, 1979, p. 99). Having experimented with painting heads on this scale in 1961, Bacon first fully realized the format in 1962 with the triptych Study for Three Heads (The Museum of Modern Art, New York). Flanked by two portraits of his former partner Peter Lacy, its central panel is a forlorn self-image emerging from a pitch-black void. Lacy’s death had coincided with the opening of Bacon’s first museum retrospective at the Tate, London, in May 1962. As Bacon overcame his sadness, however, the following years would see the small canvases play host to a vivid, colorful cast of characters. Buoyed by critical success and amid the unfolding dynamism of Swinging London, he abandoned the dark, existentialist visions that had defined his work of the 1950s. His charismatic circle of friends—including Lucian Freud, Isabel Rawsthorne, Henrietta Moraes and, following their meeting in autumn 1963, his lover George Dyer—gave rise to a rich, variegated and deeply personal body of portraits. While Bacon sometimes blurred his sitters’ likenesses with his own, he painted himself only rarely during these outward-looking years. Alongside a closely related example dedicated to his cousin Diana Watson, the present work is one of two single-panel self-portraits made at the climax of the 1960s. As Bacon turns the brush upon himself, he showcases the triumphant new heights of painterly eloquence to which he has risen and seems to picture himself taking stock at a moment of great personal contentment.
Bacon worked almost exclusively from photographs when depicting his friends. “I think it’s the slight remove from fact, which returns me onto the fact more violently”, he explained. “Through the photographic image I find myself beginning to wander into the image and unlock what I think of as its reality more than I can by looking at it” (quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, ed., London, 2016, p. 37). In this sense, his self-portraits stand apart: in order to paint them, Bacon would study his own face in the mirror, intimately engaged with its physical presence. John Richardson recounted a visit to the artist’s studio where “Ensconced in front of a mirror, he rehearsed on his own face the brushstrokes that he envisaged making on canvas. With a flourish of his wrist, he would apply great swoops of Max Factor ‘pancake’ makeup in a gamut of flesh colors to the stubble on his chin” (J. Richardson, “Bacon Agonistes,” The New York Review of Books, vol. 56, no. 20, 17 December 2009).
This arresting image suggests not only Bacon’s haptic familiarity with the contours of his own face—so distinct from the photographic remove at which he preferred to study other people—but also the consonance between self-portraiture and the daily acts of masking that we all engage in as we present ourselves to the world: in the words of T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock, “To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.” Like Eliot, whose writing he greatly admired, Bacon understood the modern experience of selfhood as one of instability and uncertainty. It is this sense of flux—of a raw, mutable reality contained beneath the often cultivated composure of appearance—that defines Bacon’s unique visual language. Rather than violence, his formal distortions are acts of investigation, of reaching towards the essence of a person. The present painting’s vorticial sweeps of pigment twist and disintegrate aspects of the artist’s physical form, but—like Pablo Picasso’s stylized faces—they also reveal something indissolubly human.
Self-portraiture played a central role in Picasso’s work and that of Bacon’s other artistic hero Vincent van Gogh, charting the evolution of their respective styles, their changing outlooks on the world and the ups and downs of circumstance. His friend and contemporary Lucian Freud—the subject of some of Bacon’s own most celebrated paintings—also painted a remarkable body of self-portraits, turning an unsparing eye on his aging face and body. Bacon reserved his greatest admiration, however, for the self-portraits of Rembrandt. He saw these paintings’ remarkably free brushwork—the contours of the artist’s face changing between pictures, often almost lost in dramas of shadow and light—as a profound fusion of the artist’s self with his medium. “[If] you think of the great Rembrandt self-portrait in Aix-en-Provence, for instance, and if you analyze it, you will see that there are hardly any sockets to the eyes, that it is almost completely anti-illustrational”, he told David Sylvester. “… there is a coagulation of non-representational marks which have led to making up this very great image” (quoted in D. Sylvester, ibid., p. 67). These daring “non-representational marks”, for Bacon, were more powerful than anything achieved in the years of Abstract Expressionism because they were allied with the recording of what he called “fact”: with the conveying of an image. Never settling for illustrative ease, the tension created by combining representation with the “risk” of visceral, impulsive mark-making drove all of Bacon’s own work.
Bacon would turn further inward over the following decade, painting almost thirty haunting, mournful self-portraits during the 1970s. Many of these were made alongside the tragic “black triptychs” he painted to memorialize George Dyer, who—in a grim echo of Lacy’s death on the eve of his Tate retrospective—died while he and Bacon were in Paris for the opening of the Grand Palais exhibition in 1971. “I loathe my own face, but go on painting it only because I haven’t got any other people to do”, Bacon said of this period. "One of the nicest things that Cocteau ever said was: ‘Each day in the mirror I watch death at work.’ This is what one does oneself” (quoted in D. Sylvester, ibid., p. 152). In the present painting, however, Bacon seems free of such morbidity, instead exhibiting a proud sense of life. He rouges his cheeks, and caresses his eyes, mouth and hair with his brush with palpable care. If some parts of the surface bear the visceral color of vein or bruise, others are touched with the softness of a lipsticked kiss. Appearing youthful, even raffish for a man about to enter his sixties, Bacon emerges as a spirited and mercurial figure. While indebted to the figural language of Picasso, his countenance has none of the mask-like fixity of the Spanish master’s Demoiselles or weeping women, but instead seems—paradoxically—caught in the act of refusing to be pinned down.
“At moments he was one of the most feminine of men,” David Sylvester said of Bacon; “at others one of the most masculine. He would switch between these roles as suddenly and as unpredictably as the switching of a light. That duality did more than anything perhaps to make his presence so famously seductive and compelling and to make him so peculiarly wise and realistic in his observation of life” (Francis Bacon: The Human Body, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1998, p. 21). Here, Bacon presents himself not as an idée fixe, but a dynamic presence in a constant state of becoming. His face’s prismatic, diaphanous contortions are not the result of a cubist exploration of form from different angles, but rather a penetrating mode of superimposition and restatement. The painting reveals an intense, emphatic insight not only into the artist’s appearance but also his being, seized in what Bacon called its “most elemental state.”
“The longer you work,” Bacon said of painting, “the more the mystery deepens of what appearance is, or how can what is called appearance be made in another medium. And it needs a sort of moment of magic to coagulate color and form so that it gets the equivalent of appearance, the appearance that you see at any moment, because so-called appearance is only riveted for one moment as that appearance. In a second you may blink your eyes or turn your head slightly, and you look again and the appearance has changed. I mean, appearance is like a continuously floating thing” (quoted in D. Sylvester, ibid., p. 136). This “moment of magic”, so thrilling in its contingency, brings the present work to extraordinary life. Caught on the precipice between appearance and disappearance, Bacon’s Self-Portrait records not just his likeness but also the process of its own facture: the artist channels the impulses of his nervous system through the face he knows best of all, fusing medium and message at the moment when paint becomes flesh.

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