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Study for a Portrait of P.L. by Francis Bacon to be offered at Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening Auction
Francis Bacon, Study for Portrait of PL 1962, 1962. Oil on canvas, 78 x 57 inches. Est. $30/40 million. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- On 14 May 2013 in New York Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction will feature Francis Bacon’s 1962 Study for a Portrait of P.L. Psychologically arresting, this astonishingly-intimate portrait stands as a surviving eulogy of the artist’s ill-fated lover, Peter Lacy and summates a relationship that had a paramount effect on both Bacon’s life and work. Painted posthumously, just months after his early death from alcohol abuse in 1962, this homage is the most important and iconic portrait of Lacy ever created by Bacon and formally marks the direction of his work in the following decades. Until Sotheby’s pre-sale exhibitions began this month, Study for a Portrait of P.L. had not been seen in public since 1972. The work carries an estimate of $30/40 million* and will be shown in Sotheby’s New Bond Street galleries in London from 12 – 16 April and in New York beginning 3 May.

In 1952 Bacon met Peter Lacy, a former Battle of Britain pilot, in Soho’s Colony Room. Described as ‘the greatest and most disastrous love of his life’ their relationship was marked by tempestuous, often violent passion. In the mid-1950s, Lacy moved to Tangier, attracted by the city’s exotic lifestyle and tolerance towards homosexuality. The city though was ultimately a fatal arena for Lacy, and Bacon received the news of the death along with telegrams of congratulations for his 1962 Tate exhibition. Poignantly, it was on the eve of his next major retrospective at the Grand Palais ten years later that Bacon learned of the suicide of George Dyer, Lacy’s successor as the artist’s lover and muse.

Study for a Portrait of P.L. brilliantly conveys Bacon’s immediate memory of the man who had dominated his life during the previous decade. With his depiction of a tortured and troubled personality, Bacon captures his lover’s character as he had intimately observed it. Lacy’s unmistakable presence emerges against the rich bands of blue symbolically holding a glass of wine while his foot reaches down to the sand-like floor.

Study for a Portrait of P.L. adopts a radically minimal composition, with the background colour applied like the colour-field paintings of the Abstract Expressionists, and critically sees the re-introduction of Picasso’s influence on Bacon’s work, the expressionistic brushwork and physiognomy of Lacy’s head reminiscent of Picasso’s early ‘primitive heads’. This formulaic change catapulted Bacon’s paintings and marked the direction of the artist’s work until his death over 25 years later. The impassioned portraits of his close circle of friends and lovers, none more so than George Dyer, are unquestionably influenced by Study for a Portrait of P.L.

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