A recently rediscovered work by British figurative painter Francis Bacon is to cross the block at Christie’s.
The piece, titled Head with Raised Arm (1955), is part of a group of nine paintings featuring Pope Pius XII (Pontiff between 1938-1958) – four of which are held in permanent collections.
Francis Bacon's Popes are among his best known works
Bacon’s Papal works were inspired in part by Spanish golden age painter Diego Velazquez’s iconic Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650), albeit filtered through his own twisted lens.
This example has been hidden away in a private collection since 1963. It’s now expected to make around £7m-10m ($9.1m-13m) in a post-war and contemporary art sale in London.
Chairman Francis Outred says: “Bacon’s Head with Raised Arm poses the question that would haunt Bacon for the duration of his career: how to paint the human figure in the age of photography.
“The camera’s ability to cast fiction as truth resonated with the fundamental tension that Bacon identified in religious and political figureheads: a conflict between public image and innate animal instinct.
“Evoking the works of Eadwaerd Muybridge, as well as anticipating Gerhard Richter’s blurred photo-paintings of the following decade, Head with Raised Arm speaks directly to this theme.”
Bacon’s papal paintings are among his most recognisable works and command a premium at auction. One example from 1954 achieved £18.7m ($24.3m) in a 2012 sale.
The value of Bacon’s work has soared in recent years, culminating in his $146.4m record for Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud in 2013.
This growth is the result of a recent re-evaluation of his place in art history. He’s now talked about in the same breath as great names like Rothko or Picasso.
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