Painted in 1963, Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer marks the beginning of Francis Bacon’s relationship with his greatest source of inspiration. This triptych is the very first portrait Bacon made of his long-time muse and lover, a handsome petty thief from London’s East End who came to feature in many of the artist’s most arresting and sought-after works. The paintings will be offered for the first time at auction in Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 17 May in New York.
Dyer came to appear in at least 40 of Bacon’s paintings, many of which were created after Dyer’s death in Paris in 1971, barely 36 hours before Bacon’s major retrospective opened at the Grand Palais. The convulsive beauty of this work represents the flowering of Bacon’s infatuation with his muse, and it is only one of five triptychs of Dyer that the artist painted in this intimate scale.
This example is unique among them as it does not depict the white shirt and sharp suit that Dyer invariably wore. Instead, the head and neck emerge disembodied from the darkness — explosive, agitated, naked, and unmoored from spatial or temporal reality. It was completed during the period of greatest personal and professional contentment in Bacon’s career.