Francis Bacon - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 13, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Francis Bacon 'Seated Woman', 1961

    "The body is actually a reflection of Francis' own mind thinking through how to create a figure that is at once quite powerful and robust, but vulnerable at the same time. It has a narrative outside of itself. He is one of the truly great painters of the 21st Century..." Phillips' Deputy Chairman of Europe & Asia Matt Carey-Williams presents Francis Bacon's 'Seated Woman', 1961 to be offered in our Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 14 May in New York.

  • Provenance

    Collection Roger Vivier, Paris
    Marlborough Gallery, London
    Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris
    Galerie Beyeler, Basel
    Kent Fine Art, New York
    Private Collection
    Sotheby's, Paris, Contemporary Art Sale, December 12, 2007, lot 23
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Salon de Mai, 1961
    Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Salon de Mai, June 7 – July 7, 1961
    Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Porträt einer Sammlung. z. B. Kasack, April 7, 1978 – May 7, 1978
    Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Nudes-Nus-Nackte, June - August, 1984
    Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Francis Bacon, June - October, 1987
    Dublin, Kilmainham, Irish Museum of Modern Art, The Moderns, October 19, 2010 - March 25, 2011
    Florence, Palazzo Strozzi, Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina, Traces of Time, October 5, 2012 - January 27, 2013

  • Literature

    Salon de Mai, exh. cat., Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, 1961, n. 9 (illustrated)
    Salon de Mai , exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1961, n. 4 (illustrated)
    Cimaise, VIII, Paris, July – August, 1961, p. 69
    XXe Siècle, n. 21, Paris, May, 1963, p. 34
    R. Alley, Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné, London, 1964, p. 136, n. 181 (illustrated)
    Nudes-Nus-Nackte, exh. cat., Galerie Beyeler, Basel, 1984, n. 2 (illustrated)
    Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Galerie Beyeler, Basel, 1987, n. 11 (illustrated)
    The Moderns, exh. cat., Irish Museum of Modern Art, Kilmainham, Dublin, 2011, cat. 113, p.177 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Francis Bacon’s art, much like the creative enterprise of fellow twentieth-century geniuses Picasso, Duchamp, Pollock or Warhol, speaks powerfully of a period that underwent extraordinary social, political and cultural change. Bacon, much like Picasso, depicted the magnitude of such change by focusing primarily on the human body. The human body; the sheer corporeality of it becomes, for Bacon, his chosen vessel with which he can both explore and expose this period of monumental change; a change at once physical, sexual, experiential and psychological. The status of the body becomes the agent of Bacon’s understanding of material change: often isolated in an existential funk, delineated by coarsely lined cages and set against flat, often nondescript backgrounds of solid color, vigorously pushing both the crude cage and its dynamically-executed sitter out of the pictorial space; always confronting and challenging the viewer in the process.

    The twentieth century challenged the status of the object and thus posed questions of the artist, the art work and the creative devices employed to fashion art. The realms of possibility were constantly stretched, so that the streams of signification pertinent to both the lexis and praxis of object making ebbed and flowed more energetically than ever before. Bacon’s contribution to that discourse is crucial—the object, for him, was the body, in flux, in transition, and often in distress. For Bacon, the body was fundamentally both Sign and Signifier of our time.

    The very early part of his career saw Bacon heavily influenced by Picasso’s bodies, particularly his geometric variants from his Studio series in the 1920’s. The body becomes more isolated and more profound in the 1940’s with Bacon’s series of single heads, often imprisoned in crudely outlined geometric structures; their physiognomy seemingly coalescing in front of our eyes with luscious licks of impastoed paint on the canvas. In to the 1950’s, Bacon’s interest in the body is exemplified by his screaming Popes and howling baboons, as well as by a series of mysterious, anonymous men emerging from an ultramarine darkness in to the light of fleeting recognition (and exposure) by the viewer, and thus, the artist. The early 1960’s, and for more or less much of the rest of his life, one sees Bacon personalize the body, often painting himself, his lovers and, most prominently, his coterie of friends, fellow artists and drinking companions.

    It is from this select group of friends, executed in 1961 – the year the artist moved to his now fabled studio at 7 Reece Mews, where his greatest masterpieces were executed – that Seated Woman (Portrait of Muriel Belcher) comes from. It is a painting that neatly encapsulates all of Bacon’s abilities to portray a searching psychological power as well as an urgent, itchy corporeality and, importantly, a painterly and compositional technique that uniquely positioned him to search deep in to the mind, as well as the flesh, of the body and ask lasting, meaningful questions that are both physically and metaphysically grounded.

    In this masterpiece from 1961, a deeply personal and vigorous portrait of Madame Muriel Belcher is presented. Muriel, whose fiery and vivacious personality was known by all, is captured here by Bacon in what can only be defined as pure and unapologetic splendor. Before us is a seated woman; her shoulders melt together, as her body – soft and supple – pours itself forward toward her viewer. Her flesh, a rich combination of pinks, greys, and tinges of purple, embodies the master’s famed technique and unrivaled mastery of pigment and brushwork. She is suspended between three swaths of color: lavender, charcoal and emerald green. Through her poignant gaze, she looks to us, almost begging for her mysteries of past, present, and future to be revealed.

    Of all of Bacon’s many sources from which he culled inspiration, the photography of Eadweard Muybridge maintains the most pervasive presence in his work. In 1949, Denis Wirth-Miller introduced Bacon to the extensive and complete eleven-volume set of Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion (1887), featuring 781 gravure plates. As we gaze upon Muriel, and absorb her face constructed of multiple profiles, her legs impossibly twisted and her feet delicately suspended, we see how influential Muybridge’s study of the human figure became. Muybridge’s concept had further implications: when his images are viewed in rapid succession they form a moving picture – capturing bodies moving, leaping, striding, and twisting as the pages turn. In Bacon’s study Turning Figure, c. 1957-1961, belonging to the Tate, the figure, rendered in a simple gouache and pencil, spins upon her feet, her arms twisting around her form as she undulates and jives across the picture. It is here, and in the subsequent painting of Muriel, that we see this cinematic effect take hold in the paint.

    As Bacon explains himself, “I very often think of people’s bodies that have particularly affected me, but then they’re grafted very often on to Muybridge’s bodies. I manipulate the Muybridge bodies into the forms of the bodies I have known.” (Francis Bacon, in David Sylvester’s Interviews with Francis Bacon, Thames & Hudson, London, 1987, p. 46)

    In Bacon’s renowned Self Portrait, painted in 1978, nearly two decades after the present lot, he presents not a friend, but himself in similar dynamic motion. He too appears hunched, with his legs dangling before him, much like Muriel’s bare limbs. He, however, appears clothed, even formally so. He dons a blue dress shirt, rose-colored tie, and black slacks. His feet are encased in heavy workmen’s boots. However, possibly as a way of linking himself to his close friend Muriel, the same swath of lavender serves as the backdrop to the portrait; artist and muse forever linked in body, form, and even chroma. Now, let us meet the notorious, wild and beautiful Muriel.

    Muriel Belcher and Francis Bacon met in 1948. It is said that she adopted Bacon as her “daughter” the day after she opened the Colony Room on Dean Street in Soho, London and he became her first patron. In the early days of their relationship Belcher paid the artist £10 a week to bring in his friends and rich patrons to the Colony Room. Bacon was allowed to drink for free, at a cost to Belcher of significantly more than the £10 he earned for introductions.

    Belcher was a larger-than-life figure with a magnetic, extroverted personality. She was gay, Jewish and of Portuguese descent with Welsh extraction. She was complicated, harsh and opinionated. She was renowned for her excruciating rudeness. Christopher Hitchens called her “arguably the rudest person in England” (Hitch-22, 2010, (2011), p. 152) a trait which became part of the antagonistic culture of the Colony Room. She had a most inappropriate favorite word (one of the oldest in the English language) which she used frequently and in in various forms, often as a term of endearment, and delivered in stinging shrills across the club at her patrons—always to the delight of those around her, even if you were the victim of her reprobation. As we become further absorbed in the portrait of Muriel, it becomes evident that she still rules upon her emerald green throne, rendering us victims to her almighty power.

    Belcher’s reign of the Colony Room was akin to an unstable tyranny, ruling by dividing and conquering her (predominantly gay male) clientele. This did, however, lead to her becoming the center of a group of Soho artists and actors who considered themselves outsiders of normal society. Heavy-hitting artists, writers, poets and intellectuals all drank heavily and were the life and soul of the party. The Colony Room thus became the desired location for several colorful characters, such as Bacon, the artists Frank Auerbach and Lucian Freud, Jeffrey Bernard, Dylan Thomas, E. M. Forster, John Hurt and John Deakin to name but a few. Auerbach has said of the Colony Room that he “… drank too much, talked drivel, had some stimulating conversation, often with Francis Bacon, a few arguments, always with Francis Bacon …” (in Roger Lewis, “Join our club and die a horrible death, Mail Online, January 3, 2013). It is at the Colony Room that Bacon made many of his most important connections: John Minton in 1948; David Sylvester in 1950. Muriel Belcher was their imperious Queen and ringmaster.

    Bacon never painted Belcher from life (he never painted any of his subjects from life) but, as was typical of his practice, he painted her from a series of photographs taken by John Deakin in 1959. The candid nature of these photographs, depicting Belcher’s jet-black hair, strong jaw and arching eyebrows, is continued in Bacon’s present depiction of her. The honesty of the execution rings true not as just a likeness of a certain individual, but continues in the manner in which Bacon has painted Belcher. There is a loyalty to his subject, as well as to the paint, that gives life to the subject in this enthralling work.

    It was inevitable, then, that Bacon and Belcher would become the greatest of friends, which they remained until Belcher’s death in 1979 at the age of 71. During their 30-year friendship Bacon painted Belcher several times and she became one of his principal muses. As Kathryn Hughes notes, “While not conventionally beautiful, her handsome features provided the kind of strong bone structure that always inspired [Bacon]. At a time when fashionable abstraction held sway in painting, Bacon persevered in his enduring fascination with the human form, albeit stripped down to its most grotesque elements.” (in “Francis Bacon at Tate Britain: a hidden interest in women”, Daily Telegraph, London, 24 August 2008).

    What makes the present work so exceptional is that this is one of only a handful of full-length portraits of Belcher that Bacon ever executed. He has painted her in single-panel format head shots, as well as smaller-format triptychs, but rarely with her whole body depicted, and never in such an intimate and vulnerable state. His depiction of Belcher is thereby clearly at odds with her fiery temperament. It significantly differs from his depictions of the other two principal female muses of his life.

    We have seen Henrietta Moraes posed on a chaise longue; her arm above her head with her voluptuous breasts and full bottom confronting the viewer with her womanhood and overt sexuality. The portrait, painted in 1966, and belonging to a private collection, captures a similar intimacy known only between artist and subject. In a painting from 1967, we also see Isabel Rawsthorne positioned in the center of a bullring; Bacon staging this muse as a curious gladiator of Soho, combining the genderized zeniths of masculinity (bullfighter) with femininity: the Flamenco dancer. Indeed, in many of the small format portraits and triptychs of Belcher, such as those that make up Three Studies for a Portrait of Muriel Belcher, 1966, she is depicted as aloof; her chin often raised, her face swiftly turned to the side as if disregarding her viewer. It is these comparisons that shine a light on the contrasting mood of introspection that prevails in the present work. Belcher is here not being showcased as in the Moraes portrait; she is not posing as in the Rawsthorne portrait. It feels as if Bacon has captured her in a moment of pure, private self-contemplation, and it is this softer, quieter mood that makes the present work so endearing and unique in Bacon’s body of work.

    Seated Woman (Portrait of Muriel Belcher) intrigues as much because of Bacon’s choice to engage with that most classical of art historical tropes – the female nude – as by his treatment of it. Of course, the point of departure for the present work is his subject, Muriel Belcher, as opposed to a desire on Bacon’s part to paint a female nude. For Bacon, Belcher’s depiction was less an attempt to create a physical, physiognomic likeness of a woman, as it was his real effort to convey something of the essence of Belcher’s person and persona. Bacon spoke often of his search for an adequate technique that would allow him not just to capture the physicality of a sitter – its flesh and blood – but to go beyond and capture their aura.

    That being said, Bacon was a man who has always been (in)famous for the men in his life; his relationships with Peter Lacey, George Dyer, Lucian Freud and John Edwards mark milestones in both his personal life and his career as an artist, and a quick retrospective look through his body of work sees this powerfully mapped out. These images of the men in his life convey a wild array of emotions and demons: lust, loss, love, envy, regret. His images of women, notably those of Belcher, Henrietta Moraes and Isabel Rawsthorne, seem to occupy a slightly different space in Bacon’s emotional canon. Such is the case with the present work since it reveals a more tender, intimate depiction of the hardened, fierce, epigrammatic Belcher. It was, ironically, for the women in his life that these touching, deeply personal moments in paint were reserved.

    Bacon’s treatment of the nude is as much a derobing of the classical subject as it is a depiction of a nude sitter. Here the artist is engaging with an age-old subject, re-investigating and renewing it with a painterly resonance that could only come from the dark annals of Bacon’s mind. Typically the female nude has been a vehicle for men to celebrate certain interpretations of beauty and of fertility. It has become, over time, a status symbol for both civilization and accomplishment in the Western canon. Bacon’s nude takes the viewer on an entirely different journey.

    This depiction of Belcher is, firstly and foremostly, a depiction of vulnerability. A certain anxiety reverberates through the canvas and is channeled, most powerfully, through the twisted, uncomfortable pose that Belcher assumes on the sofa. This hunched form can be compared to the image of sexual repression in Edvard Munch’s Puberty 1894, belonging to the National Gallery, Oslo, where the adolescent sitter painfully confronts the viewer on the edge of her bed, whilst anxiously trying to cover her naked self with her arms; her thin, etiolated legs drawing the viewer out of the picture plane. In Picasso’s Seated Nude (Femme nue assise), 1909-10, belonging to the Tate Collection, a similar, albeit very differently rendered, pose is found. Depicted in his signature cubist hand and subdued palette, his sitter gently places her left arm upon her knee, much like Muriel, as her right arms curve across her torso both elegantly and protectively. In a painting nearly a decade later, Large Bather, 1921, belonging to Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, Picasso reveals a new kind of nude. Now the female form has become monumental; her bulky body is imprisoned by the confines of the canvas, yet her crossed legs, hunched-over torso and downward gaze—all devices employed by Bacon in the present work—convey a quiet sense of intimacy and introspection. Bacon’s peer, Lucian Freud, also executed several images of women in this manner. The twisted pose of Naked Child Laughing from 1963, her legs stretched together to one side, engulfed on a large studio sofa with her arms both hiding her breasts and acting as a platform for her downward stare in to space (and herself), clearly reveals a similar approach to the idea of the female nude and his unravelling of it as an artistic ideal.

    Bacon’s formal treatment of his sitter here is also enlightening. The outstretched arms, muscular shoulders and thighs strike a chord with Picasso’s Neo-Classicist giantesses of the 1920’s. In effect, the structure of the figure is that of an unravelling pyramid. Those twists and turns of the body that affect the pyramidal form are clearly exemplified in Picasso’s later work. The poses of the arms and the thighs, in particular, evoke any number of poses in the graphic work of Michelangelo (a passion of the artist), such as his Ignudo from 1509-10 in the Sistine Chapel or A Seated Male Nude Twisting Around (c.1504-5, London, British Museum). As such, and whilst this is clearly a female nude, a certain surge of muscularity (masculinity, even) vibrates through the body of the sitter. This is, of course, not unusual in Bacon’s depiction of women since his efforts to reveal muscle is as much an attempt to get under the skin of the sitter as it is to suggest a body in motion; it is to capture the simultaneity of experience, as best delineated by Picasso’s Cubist portraits or Muybridge’s aforementioned photography.

    This also adds another layer of complexity to both the figure as form, and the subject of Belcher, curiously as woman, and as object of his desire. Bacon had often made male nudes and then changed them to females. Reclining Woman, from 1961, and now in the Tate, London, was originally intended as a man, but Bacon covered the male genitalia with a thin layer of paint. This obfuscation only served to illustrate the concept and limitations of homoerotic imagery at a time when homosexuality was illegal. It is also interesting to note the comparable compositions between these two paintings; both see a posed nude on a large sofa, split between blocked passages of dynamically painted color.

    As with all of Bacon’s paintings and, specifically, those executed between 1958 and 1963, there is an animated elegance and orchestrated chaos to his dynamic painterly surfaces. The terse psychological footprint of his sitters is voiced majestically in his mastery of the oil medium and his extraordinary technique. Like any Bacon portrait, it is the physiognomy of the sitter that most powerfully conveys Bacon’s need to delve deep in to their consciousness and attempt to render the most compelling depiction of both “self” and “other”. Here Belcher’s face is conjured out of thick lashes of oil, brushed, smeared and smudged over the face to evoke eye sockets, nose and lips. Flicks and flecks of greens, oranges, blacks, purples, mauves, creams and white all suggest a palette of painterly putrescence. This correlates neatly with Belcher’s tightly pursed lips and the downward thrust of her head, as if the sitter is lost in herself. Areas of heavy impasto form the cheeks of Belcher’s face and serve to create a highly animated and agitated surface, like a painterly crust that evokes both bone and flesh. Yet for all Bacon’s heavily worked surface, this highly abstracted passage does still clearly suggest Belcher’s prominent features.

    In Bacon’s own Self-Portrait from 1970, we witness a similar mastery of color and impasto; once again his famed and high cheekbones are rendered in thick swaths of color as they distinguish his complicated features. He appears in a simple black T-shirt, drawing all attention to his seemingly sleeping, or perhaps content, expression. And, as seen in the self-portrait previously mentioned, the surreal and subtle lavender is celebrated once again. Bacon’s own thick mane of chestnut hair stands out against the pale and almost sweet backdrop.

    In the present lot, Belcher’s body is more simply rendered. The figure sits on a large inviting sofa, with one arm stretched to the side to support her body, the other linked under one of her raised legs. Her feet and toes point anxiously inwards; her body is hunched up and thrust forward, hiding her breasts and genitalia. Bacon has created a portrait of Belcher but, simultaneously, an interesting and challenging form which allows him to tease out a certain melancholy from her. Yet, that feeling of tightness or constraint is at odds with the curvilinearity of the body. Swerving strokes build up Belcher’s hips, legs, thighs and feet. The ellipses of her eye sockets are continued in her knees, drawing attention to the inner thigh of her left leg. A thicker, crumbly palette of creams, pinks, green-grays and pale yellows build up her legs. There are moments where Bacon adopts an almost graphic approach to the painted surface. Small indentations pepper the surface of her body like scars, becoming simple, deconstructed versions of hatching and which serve to build up the fleshiness of the sitter, yet draw attention, always, to the work as a surface of paint. There are also moments where it appears as though Bacon has used a dry brush, pushing pure pigment on to the surface, engendering a raw physicality and curious sensuality to the sitter. On Belcher’s right extended arm, Bacon has painted a small purple bruise; a bright, alluring hue at odds with the rest of Belcher’s body and flesh tones. Both beautiful and tragic, all at once: the perfect quotation for an understanding of the mood of the painting as a whole and, indeed, for Bacon’s oeuvre as a whole.

    Belcher is positioned on a sofa of some considerable proportions. The sofa is an ideogrammatically designed form that almost suggests a boat. The backs, split up and placed at the upper left edge of the canvas and in the upper center, together with the upturned end of the sofa at the right edge, certainly convey this form. This also affords the sofa a strong sense of movement, as if it were carrying Belcher along the upper horizontal axis of the composition. That, in turn, creates a compositional tension with Belcher’s apparent downward movement, indicated by her legs and her gaze, towards the emptiness below her. Bacon has used sofas as compositional devices many times (it, if anything, continues to record his interest in design and remind the viewer of his original practice of furniture and rug making in the 1930’s). One need only look at his Nude, from 1960, now in the Museum fur Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, to find a comparable form. The sofa becomes the stage for a drama of self and an unravelling of persona. The deep blue sofa on which Bacon sits in Study for Self-Portrait, 1963, in the National Museum of Wales, appears almost as agitated and animated as the artist himself.

    Sage-green in tonality, here the sofa becomes the perfect device with which to separate the figure from the relatively flat, lilac background of the upper ground and continue the figure down towards the Colony Room green of the lower ground below. The sofa is executed with thick, bold brushwork, clearly affecting a sense of mass and volume. Whilst the figure is, undeniably, of central concern, the movement of the surface is continued in this piece of furniture and the upper and lower realms of the ground. The lilac tone in the background is a shade found in many of Bacon’s paintings. At once pleasant yet jarring; it is a sophisticated or bourgeois color and yet one found in the putrefaction of flesh. The horror of beauty and the beauty of horror is captured in a seemingly simple block of color on the surface. This section is animated further by the constellation of tiny nobbles of painted canvas that one finds in and on the surface because Bacon always painted on the back of the canvas. The physical roughness of the support lends veracity to Bacon’s raw subject and his equally unabashed treatment of it.

    The bottom of the canvas is a variegated stream of quick flicks and luscious striations of dark green, emerald and light green passages. A color which evokes the lurid green, velvety tones of the Colony Room’s walls, clearly exhibited in Michael Andrews’ famous portrait of the club, and its misfit guests, Colony Room I (1962, Chichester, Pallent House Gallery). This specific Colony Room green tone can be found in several paintings of Belcher by Bacon; a bold stripe of it is easily visible in his Head of a Woman IV from 1960, for example. It is a rich, expansive passage of paint. Belcher almost looks like she is dipping her toe in it, as if she is some nervous Susanna testing the waters or, more darkly, like a figure being sailed across the River Styx: that boundary between Earth and the Underworld, between the known and the unknown.

    The work of Francis Bacon has an impact that viewers cannot and will not escape. His pure dominance of pigment, his mastery of color, and the sheer power conveyed in his forms leave a haunting and stirring impression long after we have been released from Muriel’s omnipotent gaze and pose. The response to Bacon’s work is often extreme, but never indifferent. Because of its supreme and almighty impact, his work demands both a visceral and critical approach that considers the effects produced by standing before a masterwork like Seated Woman (Portrait of Muriel Belcher), from 1961. As argued by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, in order to “make sense” of Bacon, it requires us to employ each and every one of our “senses.” One must see, smell, taste and listen in order to fully understand and appreciate his greatness. As Muriel unfurls herself before us, we cannot help but give in to our senses and appreciate both her and Bacon’s honesty, rawness, nakedness and utter power. In the present lot, we see a union of forces materialized in paint on the canvas.

    Few artists have succeeded in making great art by both exploiting and embracing the very tension between abstraction and narrative. Instead, they chose to escape deeply in to one or the other: complete abstraction or figurative narrative. Mark Rothko is one such artist who surrendered himself to the power and sublimity of abstraction through color. What Bacon did was daring. His treatment of pigment, pushing and kneading it into the weave of the canvas, while in opposition to, also pays homage to the master of Colorfield. As we become entrenched in the three swaths of color employed by Bacon in the present lot, we see a similar division and tonality in Rothko’s Earth and Green, from 1955. The two paintings, close in size, share this formal composition, with the purple skies and green grounds. Bacon, however, marries color, abstraction, and figuration in an unrivaled way. We are touched, almost forcefully, by the material presence of Bacon’s work. It is as if both form and color penetrates our skin and psyche by the affects generated by the presence before us: the sheer material reality of the painting.

    Bacon himself described this daring process, “I had put a whole heap of reference marks on the canvas, then suddenly the forms that you see on the canvas began to appear; they imposed themselves on me. It wasn’t what I set out to do. Far from it. It just happened like that and I was quite surprised by what appeared. In that case, I think that instinct produced those forms. But that’s not the same as inspiration.” (Francis Bacon, in Michael Archimbaud, Francis Bacon in Conversation with Michael Archimbaud, Phaidon, London, 1993, p. 81) Through paint, Bacon made visible what otherwise remains invisible: a deep appreciation and understanding of both a person’s essence and the very ability to capture it, or rather find it, in the brilliance and multivalence of paint.

    Francis Bacon’s Seated Woman (Portrait of Muriel Belcher) is a curious, singular work for its juxtaposition of message and medium and how the two seem to be at odds, yet clearly operate powerfully together. This work presents the viewer with the artist’s glorious painterly abilities; that extraordinary synergy between highly worked, impastoed areas of crusty, syrupy pigment and dryer, blocked near-monochromatic passages of mere space. The dynamism of the painted surface, from heavy swirls of paint in the face to the lines of unpainted, unprimed canvas that run through the sofa and the outline of Belcher’s lower body, is obvious upon immediate inspection. What takes a bit more time to apprehend is the quieter, softer mood of the sitter, so clearly at odds with the robust means of her execution. This is as much a portrait of tender vulnerability; of a life lived in the glare of constant performance but which, just for a moment, takes refuge in the shadows of self. Bacon, so clearly part of Belcher’s inner circle, has created a portrait of her that only someone as close to her as he was could create. The theatricality, the outrageous banter of the persona, is eschewed for the honesty and frailty of the person. The drama of the surface belongs to Bacon’s paint, not Belcher’s personality.

  • Artist Biography

    Francis Bacon

    Irish-British • 1909 - 1992

    Francis Bacon was a larger-than-life figure during his lifetime and remains one now more than ever. Famous for keeping a messy studio, and even more so for his controversial, celebrated depictions of papal subjects and bullfights, often told in triptychs, Bacon signified the blinding dawn of the Modern era. His signature blurred portraits weren't murky enough to stave off his reputation as highly contentious—his paintings were provocations against social order in the people's eye. But, Bacon often said, "You can't be more horrific than life itself."
    In conversation with yet challenging the conventions of Modern art, Bacon was known for his triptychs brutalizing formalist truths, particularly Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, which Bacon debuted in London in 1944, and Three Studies of Lucian Freud, which became famous when it set the record for most expensive work of art at auction at the time it sold in 2013.

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Seated Woman

oil on canvas
64 7/8 x 55 7/8 in. (165 x 142.2 cm)
Seated Woman has been requested for inclusion in the upcoming exhibition "Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture", which will open at the Grimaldi Forum, Monaco, on July 2nd 2016, per the request of Martin Harrison, Curator and Editor of the Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné.

$25,000,000 - 35,000,000 

Sold for $28,165,000

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