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Sotheby's to Sell Francis Bacon's Figure In Movement, Gift from the Artist to his Doctor
Francis Bacon, Figure In Movement, 1985, est. $7/10 million. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Sotheby’s announced the sale of Francis Bacon’s Figure In Movement, the most significant painting by the British artist to appear at auction in several seasons, in its Evening Sale of Contemporary Art on 9 November 2010 in New York. The 1985 portrait of a man twisting and writhing, demonstrates the artist’s genius in painting the human figure in motion, and epitomizes the full spectrum of his legendary artistic technique. The monumental canvas was given by Bacon to his doctor the same year it was executed and has remained in the same collection ever since. Figure In Movement returns to New York two years after it was featured in the 2008 landmark exhibition Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art which began at Tate Britain and was also shown at the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid. The painting, which has been on extended loan to Tate Britain for the past decade, is estimated to sell for $7/10 million*. It will be shown at Sotheby’s London from 11-15 October 2010.

Figure in Movement was Bacon’s gift to his doctor Dr. Paul Brass, who, following on from his father Dr. Stanley Brass, was Bacon’s personal physician and with whose family Bacon maintained extremely close ties until the end of the artist’s life. Bacon offered Dr. Brass a choice of paintings but when he chose a different work, the artist steered him towards Figure in Movement assuring his doctor that it was a superior painting. This is the second time that Sotheby’s has been entrusted to sell on behalf of Dr. Brass having sold a major Bacon painting in 1994. Figure in Movement was on extended loan to Tate Britain and, in addition to the Centenary Retrospective, has appeared in shows at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Hayward Gallery in London and Gemeentemuseum in the Hague as well as a British Council organized exhibition in Moscow.

The figure in the present work bears many similarities to John Edwards, a member of Bacon’s inner circle whose doctor was also Dr. Brass. Edwards was a great source of comfort for Bacon during the period following the death of his lover, George Dyer. Bacon famously didn’t paint from life, preferring to do so from a range of source material including photographs of his closest friends. By placing Edwards alone on the platform Bacon uses him as a symbol of the individual struggle inherent to us all.

The cricket pads being worn by the subject have their roots in the artist’s fascination with the game which had long been a passion and which became an increasingly important theme in his work. Bacon collected photos of cricketers and kept a number of cricketing books in his studio including one by the great England batsmen David Gower that remained there until the artist’s death. Gower is known for his charm and good looks and was identified by the critic David Sylvester as specific inspiration to Bacon in one of his famous interviews with the artist. By giving the man in Figure in Movement protective leg guards Bacon juxtaposes a symbol of English refinement upon a surging figure that seems to be almost struggling to break free of the canvas. Just as the force of the writhing man is held in place by the sky blue frame, the pads evoke a social veneer of outward appearance that keeps the inner soul locked up. In fusing these differing themes and implications, Bacon portrays the chaotic nature of the human experience.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium

Sotheby's | Francis Bacon | London |

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