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Francis Bacon portrait of Lucian Freud sets records in £43.4 million sale

Study For Portrait Of Lucian Freud, a portrait painting by the artist Francis Bacon of Lucian Freud. The painting which has not been seen publicly for nearly six decades will go on auction later this month, having remained in the same private European collection for 40 years (The Estate of Francis Bacon/DACSArtimage 2021/PA)
Study For Portrait Of Lucian Freud, a portrait painting by the artist Francis Bacon of Lucian Freud. The painting which has not been seen publicly for nearly six decades will go on auction later this month, having remained in the same private European collection for 40 years (The Estate of Francis Bacon/DACSArtimage 2021/PA)

A Francis Bacon painting of Lucian Freud has sold for £43.4 million on its auction debut, making it the most valuable single panel piece by the artist, according to Sotheby’s.

Titled Study For Portrait Of Lucian Freud, it has not been seen publicly for nearly six decades, having remained in the same private European collection for 40 years.

After exceeding its estimate of £35 million when it went under the hammer on Wednesday at Sotheby’s British Art: The Jubilee Auction, the piece set a series of auction records.

Francis Bacon portrait
Sotheby’s said the painting has set a series of auction records (The Estate of Francis Bacon/DACSArtimage 2021/PA)

Sotheby’s stated that aside from becoming the most expensive single panel by Bacon, it has also become the most valuable painting by the artist sold in London in British pounds.

It has also claimed the title of the highest sale at an auction in London during this summer season to date, according to Sotheby’s.

The artwork was painted by British artist Bacon in 1964 and based on a photograph of his fellow art contemporary Freud, taken in the same year by the artists’ mutual friend John Deakin.

It was last seen on display in 1965 when it was on show as the central panel of a large-scale triptych as part of a travelling exhibition to Hamburg and Stockholm.

The piece was also displayed on its own in Dublin in the same year.

Bacon separated the three individual works of the triptych shortly after they were created, with the left-hand panel residing in a private collection and the right-hand piece belonging to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Francis Bacon portrait
The Study For Portrait Of Lucian Freud was painted from a photograph taken by John Deakin (John Deakin/DACSArtimage 2021/PA)

Bacon and Freud had been friends for 20 year prior to Bacon’s creation of Study For Portrait Of Lucian Freud and shared a friendship for over 40 years, before relations soured and the relationship ended in the mid-1980s.

Both artists painted each other on numerous occasions, with Freud often painting from real-life and Bacon preferring to work from photographs.

In the instance of Study For Portrait Of Lucian Freud, Bacon used an image of Freud sitting on a bed with his arms outstretched, fists clenched and white sleeves rolled up above the elbows.

The black and white photographs taken by photographer Deakin became Bacon’s primary source material as he painted Freud obsessively in the 1960s.

Of great personal significance, Bacon kept the photographs with him for the rest of his life, and they were rediscovered torn, crumpled and splattered with paint in his studio following his death in 1992, Sotheby’s said.

Ahead of the portrait’s sale, senior director of contemporary art at Sotheby’s, Tom Eddison, described the work as being “executed with painterly bravura at the height of Bacon’s acclaim”.

He also stated that the painting “pulsates with an intensity, a tension that mirrors the emotions which bonded these two sparring partners (Bacon and Freud) together for over four decades”.