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

Landscape near Malabata, Tangier

FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
Landscape near Malabata, Tangier
titled and dated ‘Landscape near Malabata, Tangier 1963’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
78 x 57in. (198.1 x 144.8cm.)
Painted in 1963
Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London.
Roald Dahl Collection, Great Missenden.
Patricia Neal Collection, Great Missenden and New York.
Her sale, Sotheby’s New York, 2 May 1985, lot 58.
Ivor Braka Collection, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2000.
Francis Bacon: Recent Work, exh. cat., London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., 1963, no. 7 (illustrated, unpaged).
L. Alloway, 'Francis Bacon: A great, shocking, eccentric painter', in Vogue, vol. 142, no. 8, 1 November 1963, pp. 138 and 182, no. 8 (illustrated in colour, p. 139).
'Art: In the New Grand Manner', in Time, vol. 82, no. 18, 1 November 1963, p. 82.
R. Alley and J. Rothenstein, Francis Bacon, London 1964, p. 152, no. 215 (illustrated, p. 253).
J. Rothenstein, 'Francis Bacon', in Vogue, London, vol. 212, no. 7, May 1964 (illustrated in colour, p. 108).
L. Trucchi, Francis Bacon, London and New York 1975, p. 39, no. 86 (illustrated, p. 127).
M. Leiris, Francis Bacon: Full Face and In Profile, New York 1983, p. 258.
H. Davies and S. Yard, Francis Bacon, New York 1986, p. 44, no. 45 (illustrated in colour, p. 42).
E. van Alphen, Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, London 1992, pp. 144 and 147, no. 76 (illustrated in colour, p. 133).
A. Sinclair, Francis Bacon: His Life And Violent Times, London 1993, p. 140.
B. Pearce, Brett Whiteley: Art & Life, New York 1995, p. 30.
M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, pp. 173 and 176.
C. Domino, Francis Bacon: Painter of a Dark Vision, New York 1997 (illustrated in colour, p. 45).
C. Domino, Francis Bacon ‘Taking Reality by Surprise', London 1997 (illustrated in colour, p. 45).
J. C. Delpierre (ed.), 'Francis Bacon', in Beaux Arts Magazine, Paris 1997, no. 11 (illustrated in colour, p. 16).
D. Sylvester, Looking back at Francis Bacon, New York 2000, pp. 168, 175 and 270, no. 132 (illustrated in colour, p. 176).
C. Tóibín, Love in a Dark Time: Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodóvar, London 2003, p. 163.
L. Ficacci, Bacon: 1909-1992, Cologne 2003, p. 52 (illustrated in colour, p. 53).
M. Cappock, Francis Bacon’s Studio, London 2005, p. 137, fig. 251 (illustrated in colour, p. 139).
M. Harrison, In Camera: Francis Bacon, Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting, London 2005, p. 126, no. 127 (illustrated in colour, p. 127).
W. Schmied, Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict, Munich 2006, p. 164.
M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, New Haven 2006, p. 171.
M. Harrison, 'Bacon’s Many Sources Do Not Explain His Works', in The Art Newspaper, vol. XV, no. 165, January 2006, p. 37.
M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait: Essays and Interviews, New Haven 2008, p. 262.
D. Dalwood, 'Francis Bacon', in Burlington Magazine, vol. 150, no. 1269, December 2008 (illustrated in colour, p. 841).
M. Harrison, (ed.), Francis Bacon: New Studies, Centenary Essays, Gottingen 2009, no. 173 (illustrated in colour, p. 270).
J. Richardson, 'Bacon Agonistes', in The New York Review of Books, 17 December 2009 (digital).
A. M. Wieland, Francis Bacon, Munich 2009 (illustrated in colour, p. 83).
D. Sturrock, Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl, London 2010, pp. 440 and 540.
Francis Bacon: Late Paintings, exh. cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, 2015, p. 73 (illustrated in colour, p. 72).
M. Harrison and R. Daniels (eds.), Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume III, 1958-71, London 2016, pp. 718 and 720, no. 63-06 (illustrated in colour, p. 719; detail illustrated in colour, p. 721).
M. Cappock, 'Francis Bacon', in Burlington Magazine, vol. CLVIII, October 2016, p. 846.
Francis Bacon Couplings, exh. cat., Gagosian, London, 2019 (illustrated in colour, p. 33).
Y. Peyré, Francis Bacon or the Measure of Excess, Paris 2019, p. 317 (illustrated in colour, p. 133).
S. Moore, 'London Calling', in Apollo, December 2019, p. 71.
C. Tóibín, 'Open in a Scream', in London Review of Books, vol. 43, no. 5, 4 March 2021 (digital).
M. Stevens and A. Swan, Francis Bacon: Revelations, London 2021, pp. 459-460.
M. Harrison (et al.), Francis Bacon: Shadows, London 2021, p. 49-50, no. 40 (illustrated in colour, p. 48).
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Francis Bacon, 1963-1964, p. 29, no. 64 (illustrated, p. 73). This exhibition later travelled to Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago.
London, Tate Gallery, Painting & Sculpture of a Decade 54-64, 1964, no. 143 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Francis Bacon, 1971-1972, p. 48, no. 47 (illustrated, p. 121). This exhibition later travelled to Düsseldorf, Kunsthalle.
Southampton, Southampton Art Gallery, 1972-1977 (on long term loan).
Waltham, Brandeis University, Rose Art Museum, 1982-1985 (on long term loan).
Tokyo, The National Museum of Modern Art, Francis Bacon: Paintings 1945-1982, 1983, p. 24, no. 20 (illustrated in colour, p. 47; illustrated, p. 85). This exhibition later travelled to Kyoto, The National Museum of Modern Art and Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Art Gallery.
London, Tate Gallery, Francis Bacon, 1985-1986, p. 235, no. 41 (illustrated in colour, p. 76). This exhibition later travelled to Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie and Berlin, Nationalgalerie.
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Francis Bacon: Retrospektive, 1987, no. 16 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Moscow, Central House of the Artists, New Tretyakov Gallery, Francis Bacon Paintings, 1988, pp. 12, 18, 40 and 72, no. 7 (illustrated in colour, p. 41).
Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Francis Bacon, 1989-1990, pp. 20, 94 and 179, no. 25 (illustrated in colour, p. 95). This exhibition later travelled to Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and New York, Museum of Modern Art.
Lugano, Museo d’Arte Moderna della Città di Luagno, Francis Bacon, 1993, p. 66, no. 30 (illustrated in colour, p. 67; illustrated, p. 147).
Paris, Centre national d'art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Francis Bacon, 1996 - 1997, p. 142, no. 41 (illustrated in colour, p. 143). This exhibition later travelled to Munich, Haus der Kunst.
New Haven, The Yale Center for British Art, Francis Bacon: A Retrospective, 1999, p. 128, no. 39 (illustrated in colour, p. 129). This exhibition later travelled to Minneapolis, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts; San Francisco, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and Fort Worth, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
Dublin, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Francis Bacon in Dublin, 2000, pp. 15, 69 and 124, no. 29 (illustrated in colour, p. 73).
Porto, Fundação de Serralves, Francis Bacon: Caged, Uncaged, 2003, pp. 142 and 271 (illustrated in colour, p. 143).
London, Tate Britain, Francis Bacon A Centenary Retrospective, 2008-2009, pp. 181 and 280 (illustrated in colour, p. 187). This exhibition later travelled to Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado and New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum, Francis Bacon and the Art of the Past, 2014-2015, p. 130, no. 64 (illustrated in colour, pp.131 and 205). This exhibition later travelled to Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts as Francis Bacon and the Masters.
Monte Carlo, Grimaldi Forum, Francis Bacon, France and Monaco, 2016, p. 34, no. 11 (detail illustrated in colour, p. 2; illustrated in colour, pp. 35 and 227).
Bilbao, Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, Francis Bacon: de Picasso a Velázquez, 2016-2017, pp. 122 and 203, no. 45 (illustrated in colour, p. 123).
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, 2022, pp. 62 and 90, no. 20 (detail illustrated in colour, pp, 64-65; illustrated in colour, p. 91).

Brought to you by

Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

A rare and seminal masterpiece that stands among Francis Bacon’s most poignant paintings, Landscape near Malabata, Tangier is a powerful and passionate memorial to his great love Peter Lacy. It was painted in London in 1963, the year after Lacy’s tragic death in Tangier, and depicts the landscape where he was laid to rest. Here, the artist pays tribute to their relationship in a singular image of grief, desire and longing. Two shadowy forms orbit a luminous vortex, bound together by the sweeping gestural motion of Bacon’s brush. Hauntingly anthropomorphic, they dissipate like spirits beneath the glaring North African sun. Visually unparalleled within the artist’s oeuvre, the work serves as a summation of his entire practice, drawing together elements from his early portraits of Peter Lacy and his Van Gogh-inspired paintings of the 1950s, while pointing towards the elliptical arenas and metaphorical landscapes that would evolve over the next two decades. With exceptional provenance, it is one of the artist’s most prominently exhibited paintings: an extraordinary portrait of love and loss, capturing the inevitable circularity that eventually returns flesh to earth.

Martin Harrison, author of the artist’s catalogue raisonné, describes the work as ‘Bacon’s ultimate, oblique memorial to his lover, and one of his greatest, most impassioned paintings’ (M. Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume III, London 2016, p. 720). Its history, indeed, bears witness to its significance. Shortly after its creation, it was unveiled at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, and featured in the pages of Vogue, where the critic Lawrence Alloway hailed its ‘dazzling colour range, and the emotive power of [its] imagery’ (L. Alloway, ‘Francis Bacon: A great, shocking, eccentric painter’, Vogue, vol. 142, no. 8, November 1963, p. 182). Not long after, it was acquired by the celebrated author Roald Dahl, who purchased a number of masterworks by Bacon including the landmark Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer (1963). Over the years, critics from David Sylvester and Grey Gowrie to the writer Colm Tóibín have named it among his finest and most important paintings. It has been included in almost all of his major retrospectives across twenty-seven cities worldwide, most recently featuring in Bacon’s acclaimed survey at the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 2022.

Among the work’s most significant exhibitions was Bacon’s career-defining retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris in 1971. The show was a triumph for the artist, but was also marked by tragedy. Less than thirty-six hours before its opening, George Dyer—his lover after Lacy—was found dead in their hotel room. At that moment, in a cruel twist of fate, history seemed to repeat itself. On 24 May 1962, the official opening day of his first retrospective, held at Tate Gallery in London, Bacon had sent Lacy a telegram in Tangier with news of the show’s success. The answering telegram shattered him: Lacy was dead. With its deep dark void and fleeting shadows, Landscape near Malabata, Tangier seems to anticipate the historic ‘black triptychs’ that Bacon produced in posthumous memorial to Dyer. The curved arena, punctuated by ghostly figments that revolve around its perimeter, would find itself echoed in the 1971 painting In Memory of George Dyer (Fondation Beyeler, Basel). Life, Bacon came to realise, was a sequence of inevitable cycles, replaying themselves to often devastating ends.

Bacon and Lacy had first met in 1952. Some trace their first encounter to the artist’s beloved Colony Room in Soho; others suggest they may have met at Careless Talk, where Lacy worked as a pianist. ‘I’d never really fallen in love with anyone until then,’ Bacon recalled; ‘… he had this extraordinary physique—even his calves were beautiful. And he could be wonderful company … he had a real kind of natural wit’ (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p. 145). Beneath this exterior, however, Lacy was a troubled man: a former pilot who had served during the Second World War. Both he and the artist were tempestuous, mercurial characters, and their relationship—from Lacy’s home near Henley-on-Thames, to trips to the South of France and Rome—was fuelled by a turbulent mixture of passion, infatuation, violence and hysteria. On one occasion, Lacy hurled Bacon’s clothes off the side of a ship in anger; on another, he reportedly pushed the artist himself out of a window. ‘I couldn’t live with him’, Bacon confessed, ‘and I couldn’t live without him’ (ibid., p. 151).

The complex, fragile feelings that Bacon and Lacy shared for one another wrote their way into the artist’s practice. During the 1950s Lacy became the artist’s first true portrait subject, and featured in some of his most ground-breaking paintings. Among the earliest of these was Study of Figure in a Landscape (1952, Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.), inspired by Bacon’s time in South Africa. The painting, in a poignant piece of symmetry, foreshadows much of the present work’s language. So, too, do the seminal Two Figures (1953) and Two Figures in the Grass (1954), which Lacy is said to have inspired. His likeness haunted Bacon’s landmark Man in Blue series, as well as portraits including Lying Figure (1958, Kunstmuseum Bochum) and Seated Figure (1961, Tate, London). He continued to punctuate the artist’s practice after his death: Study for Portrait on Folding Bed (1963, Tate, London) features the same black void and sweeping central ellipse as the present work, while the now-destroyed Study of Portrait of P.L. from Photographs (1963) depicted Lacy on a striped mattress inspired by the bedding in Tangier.

It was there, under the dazzling Moroccan sky, that the couple’s relationship reached its explosive denouement. Ever-restless and dissatisfied with his life in London, Lacy had moved to Tangier in 1955. Though his affair with Bacon had already approached breaking point, the artist visited him every summer, and the two continued their volatile liaison abroad. With its glistening sun, lively expatriate community and liberal gay scene, Tangier quickly surpassed Monte Carlo as Bacon’s favourite exotic retreat. Among its residents were Beat Generation poets such as Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, who was working on his 1959 novel The Naked Lunch, as well as the playwright Tennessee Williams and the composer Paul Bowles. Lacy, too, had carved a new life for himself, playing the piano in Dean’s Bar. Increasingly penniless and dependent on alcohol, however, his feelings towards Bacon spiralled out of control. ‘Consider me dead!’, he had said to the artist in a burst of rage after a visit in 1960. The artist’s final trip in 1961—intended to patch things up—was a disaster, punctuated by cold-shouldering and betrayal. Bacon never heard from Lacy again.

With its windswept trees and grassy sand dunes, the landscape around Cape Malabata—some six miles east of central Tangier—had made a deep impression on Bacon. It was a place he had undoubtedly visited with Lacy: a site to which he would return after his death, and a scene he had attempted to paint many times. The present work is one of only two canvases in which the artist would make direct reference to Morocco, and is the only one of these painted from memory. Its extraordinary conflation of figure and landscape—described by Ernst van Alphen as a ‘bodyscape’—stands alone in Bacon’s oeuvre (E. van Alphen, Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, London 1992, p. 145). While the artist’s later landscapes would extend its metamorphic language, none would so powerfully unite human presence and absence. The standing figural form resembles a tree, its arms spread wide in cruciform surrender. The lower figure, meanwhile, is reduced to an animalistic blur: a corporeal whisper on the breeze. Together they spiral into abstraction, locked together—and held apart—like hands on a clockface.

Bacon claimed that he found the light in North Africa too bright to paint. Instead, in the basement of his newly acquired studio in London’s Reece Mews, he conjured its glow from the depths of his psyche. The work bears witness to the lasting influence of Van Gogh upon Bacon’s imagination, channelling the opulent palette that had dominated his tributes to the artist during the second half of the 1950s. During this period, as his feelings towards Lacy continued to oscillate between hope and despair, the artist found great comfort in the Dutch master’s psychologically charged portraits of human solitude in nature. The present work shares much in common with Bacon’s magnificent suite of homages to Van Gogh’s The Painter on His Way to Work (1888). It also recalls his 1957 painting Van Gogh in a Landscape (Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris), itself inspired by the countryside surrounding Tangier. Bacon echoes Van Gogh’s electric palette and raw, expressive brushwork: vivid streaks of red and teal glow brightly amidst the gloom, while each blade of grass seems to quiver with a life of its own.

Elsewhere in the work’s depths, other art-historical spectres abound. Sylvester writes that ‘the work is a superb example of the influence on Bacon of Soutine’s Céret landscapes. Their surging convulsive forms and brush marks often turn the trees and houses and hills of Céret into writhing animals, and this transformation is here on a majestic scale’ (D. Sylvester, Francis Bacon in Dublin, exh. cat. Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin 2000, p. 69). Dexter Dalwood, meanwhile, notes that Bacon’s vivid range of hues demonstrates his engagement with Colour Field painting during this period (D. Dalwood, ‘Francis Bacon: London’, The Burlington Magazine, vol. CL, no. 34, December 2008, p. 841). Though the artist fervently denied comparisons with Abstract Expressionism, he had been deeply affected by the Tate Gallery’s 1959 exhibition The New American Painting. The present work’s distinct zones of colour recall the planar divisions of Mark Rothko, while its entanglement of body and ground conjures the Women of Willem de Kooning. Bacon would come to identify particularly with the latter’s works: the critic Robert Hughes, indeed, later named the two artists as the twentieth century’s most important exponents of ‘the disquieting human figure’ (R. Hughes, The Shock of the New, BBC, 1980).

The painting’s circular arena, inherited in part from Van Gogh in a Landscape, would come to feature with increasing intensity throughout Bacon’s oeuvre. Harrison links it to his fascination with the greyhound racetracks; elsewhere, it has been attributed to the sweep of the casino tables in Monte Carlo, or his admiration for Picasso’s bullfighting paintings. More broadly, however, it might be said to resemble a vast, all-seeing eye. As a young man in 1920s Paris, Bacon had lived among the Surrealists, absorbing the work of Georges Bataille, Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel. Their use of ocular imagery, most notably in the latter’s Un chien andalou (1929), has been posited as a potential source for Bacon’s elliptical spaces. The artist famously spoke of his ability to ‘see everything’ and recall imagery ‘like slides’. The present work, indeed, flickers with memories of his own visual archive. The lower figure is derived from a photograph found in the artist’s studio, depicting an owl wrestling a snake. The tall tree-like presence, meanwhile, conjures Bacon’s fascination with Cimabue’s depiction of the Crucifixion: an image that haunted his early oeuvre.

Such qualities undoubtedly appealed to Roald Dahl, who acquired the present work with his wife, the American actress Patricia Neal. He professed that ‘I myself had become an enthusiastic collector of pictures as soon as World War II ended, in 1945. Each time I sold a short story I would buy a picture [and] when there was a bit more money in the bank I began buying pictures for keeps’ (R. Dahl, ‘Architectural Digest Visits: Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal’, Architectural Digest, February 1981, p. 74). Buoyed by the triumphant professional and financial success of the publication of James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dahl bought four other Bacon canvases between the years 1964-68. Dahl enthused about his ownership of seven of Bacon’s paintings; an exaggeration made on more than one occasion, which his biographer Donald Sturrock regarded as typical of Dahl’s character and a reiteration of the high esteem he held for Bacon’s work. He declared that the artist was a ‘giant of his time’, admiring his ‘blend of economy and profound emotion’ (R. Dahl, quoted in D. Sturrock, Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl, London 2011, p. 440). Under his stewardship, Landscape near Malabata, Tangier was loaned to both the Grand Palais exhibition and to the Southampton Art Gallery, where it remained on view for five years.

Bacon himself had a profoundly literary imagination. As tragedy came to mark his lifetime and again, he believed himself doomed to suffer at the hands of fate, informed by his readings of Shakespeare, Aeschylus and others. Harrison compares the work’s foreground figure to the ‘Furies’—inspired by the latter’s Oresteia—that came to punctuate the artist’s later oeuvre. Gowrie, meanwhile, in his analysis of the painting, invokes Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Shakespeare’s King Lear (G. Gowrie, Francis Bacon Paintings, exh. cat. Central House of the Union of Artists, Moscow 1988, p. 18). Perhaps ultimately, suggests Harrison, Bacon looked to one of his favourite poems: W. B. Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming’. ‘Turning and turning in the widening gyre / the falcon cannot hear the falconer’, runs the opening stanza. ‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world’. Time spins on its axis; life and death flit across the stage. In Landscape near Malabata, Tangier, the artist captures the eternal cycles by which we are all bound: from body to earth and back again.

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