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“Three Studies For Portrait of Lucian Freud” by Francis Bacon, oil on canvas in three part, each 14" x 11 7/8", 1964 (dated on the reverse).

☛ “Three Studies For Portrait of Lucian Freud” by Francis Bacon, oil on canvas in three part, each 14″ x 11 7/8″, 1964 (dated on the reverse). Information retrieved from Sotheby’s Lot Notes. Hi-res reproduction retrieved from Antique and Art Ireland.

On February 10, 2011, this painting was sold for £23 million ($37 million):

Eight bidders wanted the small scarlet-hued Bacon, “Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud” (1964), and after a prolonged battle it was hammered down to the Cologne-based dealer Alex Lachmann who specialises in Russian clients. It was estimated at £7m-£9m and was the top lot in the sale. (The Financial Times: “Bacon sizzles at sell-out auction” by Georgina Adam, February 11, 2011)

Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud met in 1945 and became close friends. Bacon famously said about painting his friends: “If they were not my friends, I could not do such violence to them.” This statement told during an interview with David Sylvester in 1966 is reproduced in John Russell’s book Francis Bacon along with some contextual information relevant to the Bacon’s approach of portrait painting:

Talking to David Sylvester in 1966, Bacon said that the difficulty of painting portrait in present-day conditions was such that, for him, portraiture had replaced the mythological or religious subject as the most taxing of all form of painting. The difficulty in question is manyfold, but it springs above all from the fact that we no longer accept the unitary and unambiguous and closely structured of human personality which portrait-painting traditionally involves. We disbelieve in the monolith view of human nature; we are not awed ―quite the contrary― by the trappings of power; we see human beings as flawed, variable, self-contradictory, subject to the fugitive and the contingent. Portraiture belongs to the drawing-room, and our century has concentrated on the consulting-room, the maison de passe and the displaced persons’ camp.

The unitary ideal in portraiture is one which reach its apogee in the Roman bust: a statement so plain, so direct, so unequivocal that it should have had on its plinth the words ‘This man is all of a piece’. Selfhood is absolute in sculptures of this sort: nothing is feigned, nothing is borrowed, nothing is held over for further discussion. Such confidence is rare, in later period. But at least it was accepted in portraiture, until quite lately, that the official personality was also the real one. A man was what he wore, what he owned, what he had married and what he had bred. Portraiture was by its nature congratulatory; scallywags did not get their portrait painted ―or not, at nay rate, after they had been found out. It was the unblemished Ancient, in Roman times, who had his bust displayed outside his home.

As it happens, few men have as great a faculty of admiration as Francis Bacon, and very few indeed are readier or more generous with praise when a friend happens to do something well. His private Pantheon is not overcrowded, but there is nothing inert or flaccid or taken-for-granted about his feeling for such figures from the past as have managed to get in there. But this is not to say that either the living or the dead can count on the kind of slovenly, undifferentiated approval which elsewhere passes for friendship. Bacon in life practices the kind of aristocratic plain-speaking which was common among the friends of Charles James Fox but has now gone down, almost everywhere, before a convention of wadded hypocrisy. “Who can I tear to pieces, if not my friends?” is a favorite maxim of Bacon’s, and he lives up to it. When he paints portraits, as he does more and more, it is his friends, once again, who come under scrutiny: “If they were not my friends, I could not do such violence to them.” This violence, however, is penetrated in abstentia ― since he paints his portraits most usually from memory, and from photographs, and in general from anything except the actual living and sitting model. To have the models in the room inhibits him because, as he said to David Sylvester, “If I like them, I don’t want to practise the injury that I do to them in my work before them. I would rather practise the injury in private by which I think I can record the facts of them more clearly.” (London: Thames and Hudson, 1971, pp. 84, 86.)

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