Time Capsule Collection of Unseen Masterworks

Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Time Capsule Collection of Unseen Masterworks

Time Capsule Collection of Unseen Masterworks led by two re-discovered Francis Bacon Self-Portraits to be offered across Sotheby’s worldwide salesrooms this summer “Figure and Form: Works from an Important Private Collection”.

Time Capsule Collection of Unseen Masterworks

Time Capsule Collection of Unseen Masterworks led by two re-discovered Francis Bacon Self-Portraits to be offered across Sotheby’s worldwide salesrooms this summer “Figure and Form: Works from an Important Private Collection”.

An extraordinary private collection of rarely seen masterpieces will come to auction for the very first time this summer, as 21 superlative works are offered across a series of sales at Sotheby’s in London, New York and Paris between May and July 2015. 

Assembled in the 1970s and 80s, this discerning collection encompasses outstanding works ranging from African to contemporary art, focused around a single theme – the human figure and form. 

Led by a pair of re-discovered Francis Bacon self-portraits (each estimated at £10-15 million), never seen in public before, the collection is the product of diligent collecting and immersion with the key contemporary galleries and specialists of the time. 

Tracing the artistic interpretation of the human form over 400 years, the collection draws together terracotta heads from Nigeria and Ghana with works by the greats of 19th and 20th century art: Edgar Degas, Edouard Vuillard, Yves Tanguy, Henry Moore, Lynn Chadwick and R.B. Kitaj. 

The vast majority of these historically significant drawings, paintings and sculptures have not been seen in public since they were acquired over thirty years ago. 

Francis Bacon: Two Re-discovered Self-Portraits 

Never exhibited in public before, these sublime self-portraits utterly embody the power and emotion of the very best of Bacon’s celebrated small portrait heads. Fixed against two electrifying blue grounds, they exude conceptual brilliance and, above all, painterly genius; the combination of an Impressionistic colour palette, layers of Letraset, grazes of corduroy fabric, and exigent marks award these paintings unequivocal masterpiece status. 

Acquired directly from Marlborough Fine Art, London, soon after they were painted in 1975 and 1980 respectively, these magnificent works narrate the latter half of a most extraordinary decade for Francis Bacon. This sale will mark the first time that two self-portraits by the artist have been offered in the same auction. Another Bacon masterwork from the same collection was sold at Sotheby’s in 2007 for £21.6m – still the record for any self-portrait by the artist. 

Francis Bacon, Self-Portrait, 1975, oil on canvas, 35.5 by 30.5cm, £10-15 million 

This dramatic 14 by 12 inch single canvas hails from the very height of Bacon’s career, when he spent long periods in Paris with increasing success following his celebrated retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1971. Most likely painted from his studio in the Marais, the work shows the artist aged 65 wearing his mackintosh. 

Framed by a thickly applied and electric midnight blue ground, Bacon’s three-quarter-turn profile is articulated in an extraordinary palette of green blending into purple and pink - pastel tones that are interwoven and offset by corduroy swipes of orange, and alabaster accents of white, that illuminate the entire painting. This is the only small portrait-head by the artist to be overlaid with fragments of illegible Letraset – a technique typically employed to suggest discarded newspaper sheets in his larger canvases. 

Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Self-Portrait, 1980, oil on canvas, each: 35.5 by 30.5cm, £10-15 million 

Executed across three canvases, this remarkably tranquil portrait shows the artist with eyes downcast and apparently shut. Aged 71, Bacon was increasingly haunted by the inevitability of death, frequently drawing attention to his age with expressions such as “What’s unpleasant when you get to my age is that you know for certain you won’t live much longer” or “My life’s nearly over and all the people I’ve been fond of are dead”. In 1979 and 1980 the respective loss of his close friends Muriel Belcher and Sonia Orwell provided a substantial blow and fuelled the artist’s intimate grasp of death’s finality. 

Emanating youthfulness, the portrait belies the age of its author. Obsessed with his physical appearance and the effects of old-age, Bacon took great care with his appearance, dying his hair and applying liberal amounts of make-up as he grew older. Both ‘Figure and Form’ portraits reflect the artist’s intense desire to reject the ravages of time. 

he influences of the physiognomies of two younger men who came to increasingly influence Bacon’s life at this time are clearly apparent in this portrait. While the artist normally chose to portray his subjects from all angles - like a police record from left to right - here he presents a succession of images in almost identical three-quarter turn profiles. The only other portraits he produced in this format in 1980 were of the American wildlife photographer Peter Beard and ‘a ruggedly good-looking Eastender’ John Edwards, two men who ushered in a tonal change that signalled the beginning of a late style for the artist. 

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