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    Francis Bacon - Two Studies for a Self-Portrait (1970)

    Francis Bacon – Two Studies for a Self-Portrait (1970)

    A rare optimistic Francis Bacon self-portrait will lead Sotheby’s sale of Contemporary Art in New York on May 11. Two Studies for a Self-Portrait (1970) is at auction for the first time with an estimate of $22-30 million.  It has been in the same private collection since soon after it was painted.   While Bacon is renowned for capturing the tortured psychological depths of human existence in his portraits, the overwhelming positivity of Two Studies for a Self-Portrait renders this work almost unique in the artist’s oeuvre. Here we see an elated Francis Bacon on the cusp of his career-defining retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1971 (Bacon was only the second living artist, after Picasso, to be afforded this honour), and in the throes of his relationship with George Dyer, whose suicide a year later was to haunt Bacon (and shape his art) for decades to come.

    It was exhibited twice: at the acclaimed 1971 Grand Palais retrospective and at the Marlborough Fine Art Small Portrait Studies exhibition in London in 1993.  Its iconic status lies in the fact it was chosen to adorn the cover of Milan Kundera and France Borel’s definitive book Francis Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits, confirming its position at the absolute zenith of Francis Bacon’s most significant and enduring body of work. Oliver Barker of Sotheby’s is fulsome about the work:  “Two Studies for a Self-Portrait goes straight in at number one of all the paintings I’ve handled in my career. Discovering a work such as this is like finding gold dust. To my mind, the painting is worthy of a place alongside the very finest self-portraits of Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Picasso. It’s certainly among the greatest self-portraits ever offered at auction.”

    Bacon created only two other self-portraits in this dual format. One of them, Two Studies for a Self-Portrait (1977) sold at Sotheby’s in February 2015 for £14.7m ($22.4m). The year 2016 is set to be a red-letter year for Francis Bacon.  There are upcoming exhibitions at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco (sponsored by Sotheby’s), at Tate Liverpool, and at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The most significant publication on the artist for 30 years, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, edited by Martin Harrison, will be released in the next few months and is expected to reveal no fewer than 100 unseen works by the artist.

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