Francis Bacon Painting Hits $51.8m Bid

Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer,” 1964, which sold for $51.8 million in May. (Photo: Christie's)

By Olivia O’Mahony, Editorial Assistant
June / July 2017

A triptych painting of George Dyer, the lover and muse of Irish-born figurative artist Francis Bacon, sold for $51.8 million at a Christie’s auction for contemporary works in May. The painting, once owned by children’s author Roahl Dahl, a close friend of Bacon’s, spent the last 25 years in the private collection of French actor Francis Lombrail and was originally slated to reach up to $70 million with bidders. However, a substantial fall on Wall Street at the time of the auction resulted in a notably cooled demand.

The piece, “Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer,” was painted in 1963, one year after the two men met, and is the first of almost 40 works inspired by their relationship. One of only five triptyches painted of Dyer, it is representative of the explosive vitality of new romance and was completed during the period of Bacon’s greatest satisfaction in his personal and professional lives. A petty thief with a yearning to learn his true place in the world, Dyer was 33 years Bacon’s junior and sought meaning through his role as muse. When their dynamic as creatives and lovers alike began to crumble, Dyer fell into an intense depression. After some time apart, Bacon invited him to Paris for a retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1971, but ignored him in favor of other guests upon arrival. The young man finally snapped, and after a hurricane of drinking and drug use, he was found dead the following morning. In his guilt-ridden grief, Bacon would paint several more portraits of Dyer in the years that followed.

“George Dyer is Bacon’s number one muse, like Dora Maar was for Picasso,” said Loic Gouzer, deputy chairman of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s. “He was the subject who allowed Bacon to push his limits and become the artist he became.”

Bacon’s triptyches are incredibly sought after among art collectors; one piece that depicted his joint friend and rival, Lucian Freud, previously held the world record for highest bid fetched by a painting at an auction, with an offer of $142.4 million in 2013. ♦

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