LONDON.- One of only two oil portraits of Francis Bacon (1909-1992) ever painted by Lucian Freud (b. 1922) sold today at Christies auction of Post-War and Contemporary Art for £5,417,250 / $9,404,346 / 6,972,001. The last known remaining oil portrait (the other was stolen from an exhibition in Berlin in 1988), the rarely-seen painting offers a tangible and intimate glimpse into the inspirational friendship of two of the greatest British artists of the 20th century.
Lucian Freud first met Francis Bacon in 1945 having been introduced by Graham Sutherland, a mutual friend and contemporary artist, who invited the pair to his house for the weekend. The pair formed a close friendship and saw much of each other during the following years. Although their friendship was built on a mutual respect, Bacon had a great influence on the younger Freud and is often credited with liberating his style and fuelling his desire to depict human life. In the early 1950s, the artists compounded their friendship by sitting for each other; Bacons first portrait of Freud was painted in 1951, and many other examples were to follow.
In contrast to his quite frequent appearances in Bacons portraits, Freud painted Bacon only twice; first in 1952 and again in 1956-57, which is the portrait sold at Christies today. The earlier portrait was lent from the collection of the Tate to a Retrospective on the artist at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin in 1988 where it was stolen. In 2001, in preparation for the artists great Retrospective at Tate Britain, and echoing the great respect he held for Bacon, Freud designed a wanted poster which was placed around Berlin in the hope that the painting would be recovered in time for the exhibition. Its whereabouts remain unknown, and Freud has never allowed the image to be reproduced in colour.
The portrait sold today was painted in 1956-57 and, as with the earlier portrait of 1952, shows Bacon with a downward gaze. Bacon sat knee-to-knee with Freud while he worked on the portraits, and during the three months of sittings for the first work, he is said to have grumbled but sat consistently. The present work is unfinished, offering a fascinating snapshot into the working methods of the artist at a critical point of his artistic development; Freud had begun to work in a more expansive way using thicker brushstrokes, liberating the paint and creating a more worked complexion, more seasoned and full of life. It is thought that Bacon left suddenly, most likely in order to pursue his lover Peter Lacy in Tangiers.
The portrait was acquired by the vendor at todays auction from a London gallery in 1972 and has remained in their possession ever since. It has rarely been seen in public, having made rare appearances at Wolfsburg and Toulouse in 2002-03, and in Venice in 2005.
At Christies New York in May 2008, Lucian Freuds Benefit Supervisor Sleeping sold for $33 million / £17.3 million, a world record price for a work by a living artist sold at auction.