A 1963 female nude by Francis Bacon may raise as much as $30 million at an auction next month.
Bacon’s sexually charged “Portrait of Henrietta Moraes,” showing one of his favorite models sprawled across a bed, has a formally undisclosed estimate of about 18 million pounds at Christie’s International (CHRS) in its Feb. 14. London sale.
The painting’s owner, an unidentified New York collector, is testing the market for high-value contemporary works. Bacon is the U.K.’s most expensive artist at auction. The portrait has never appeared at public sale before and has no guaranteed minimum price, said Christie’s. It dates from the year that the painter embarked on his relationship with George Dyer.
“Bacon’s lack of personal erotic interest in naked females did nothing to prevent these paintings from being as passionate as those of the male bodies that obsessed him,” said David Sylvester, a U.K.-based art critic, who interviewed the artist in the 1960s and 1970s.
Moraes was a close friend of Bacon’s during the 1950s and 1960s. Like Bacon and Lucian Freud, she was a regular visitor to the Colony Club Room in Soho. She battled drink and drug addictions, had many lovers, once shared an apartment with singer Marianne Faithfull and was sent to prison after an unsuccessful attempt to become a cat burglar. She appears in a number of paintings using photos taken of her by John Deakin.
Her full-length portrait was done by Bacon about the time of his first major exhibition in the U.S., held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. The work has only had two owners. It was first part of the collection formed by the German industrialist Willy Schniewind, then acquired by the current seller in 1983, said Christie’s.
A 1976 Bacon “Triptych” sold for $86.3 million at Sotheby’s (BID) New York, in May 2008, a record for the artist at auction. Roman Abramovich was the buyer, dealers said. Though demand slumped in the wake of the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., prices have since recovered. The artist’s 1964 painting “Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud” was sold at Sotheby’s last February for 23 million pounds ($37 million), the highest price achieved for a contemporary work in London in 2011.
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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