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Two re-discovered Francis Bacon self-portraits to be offered at Sotheby's London
Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Self-Portrait, 1980, oil on canvas, each: 35.5 by 30.5cm, £10-15 million. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- 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.

Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s Senior International Specialist in Contemporary Art: “I’m extremely excited that Sotheby’s is handling this collection, spearheaded by key works by British artists in two and three dimensions. This sophisticated, focused collection has been quietly enjoyed by its owners for many decades. Hidden away from the public eye, it has resolutely stood the test of time. Assembled with an unwavering commitment to works of the highest quality and with a discerning curatorial eye, it represents the very best of collections of the period. When we first saw the collection we were struck by the dialogue between sculpture, painting and works on paper.”

Highlights - Contemporary Art Evening Sale, London, 1 July 2015
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.

The 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.

R.B. Kitaj Waiting (1975), est. £100,000 - £150,000 pastel on paper, 78.5 by 56.5cm
This exquisitely-worked pastel is a highly-finished tribute to Kitaj’s most celebrated medium, heralding from one of the most sought-after phases of her career. The delicate handling of light and shade wonderfully conveys the sensual undulations of her form, marking Kitaj out as the heir to Edgar Degas as a master of pastel. Undoubtedly the most significant pastel work to appear on the market for several years.

Highlights - Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale, London, 24 June 2015
Falling Warrior (1956-57), bronze, 153.5cm, est. £1,800,000 - £2,500,000

This monumental work of emotive power and gravitas was inspired by the fallen soldiers of the Second World War. The sculpture reflects the artist’s deep interest in Classical sculpture as well as his love of bronze as a material. Of the other ten examples of Falling Warrior that Moore had cast at the Fiorini foundry in London, seven are currently in public collections, including Tate, London.

Other highlights from the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale on 24th June include one of the finest works on paper by Henry Moore to appear on the market in many years, and a seminal pastel by Edgar Degas. Further details to follow in the coming weeks.

Highlights – African Art
Following in the tradition of artists including Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brancusi, who both collected and drew inspiration from African art, this collection comprises four outstanding African works: an impressive terracotta head from the Benin Kingdom, a 17th century Akan memorial head, a Dan Mask from Liberia and a full-length female figure from Nigeria. African art inspired several of the modern and contemporary artists in the ’Figure and Form’ collection, most notably Henry Moore who collected carved masks from Africa and the Marquesas Islands from the 1940s onwards.

Edo Terracotta Head Benin Kingdom, Nigeria, ca. 15th-16th century Height: 24 cm, $400,000-600,000
The Edo kingdom of Benin was a thriving empire situated in presentday Nigeria. This Terracotta Head, created by a member of the royal Brass Casters Guild, is the work of a great artist, a true masterpiece rivaling some of the greatest Benin sculptures in terms of quality and beauty. In light of the exceptional quality of the modeling, the great naturalism of style and the technical detail of metal inlays, which presumably had particular spiritual meaning, the Head can confidently be dated to the 16th century or slightly earlier. Sale African and Oceanic Art, New York, 15 May 2015.

Akan Terracotta Memorial Head Twifo-Heman Traditional Area, Ghana Height: 33cm, €200,000 - €300,000
Akan terracotta heads are amongst the most iconic representations of the sovereigns who have marked the history of the African continent. This commemorative portrait, distinguished by its exceptionally sensitive modelling and its iconographical rarity, is unquestionably one of the finest examples of the historic corpus of Akan heads. Based on its scale and rich ornamentation, the work probably represents a royal princess or head of a matrilineal clan. Sale Paris, 24th June 2015

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April 30, 2015

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