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  • Provenance

    Ms. Diana V. Watson, London (acquired directly from her cousin, the artist)
    Sotheby's, London, 30 November 1989, lot 600
    Mr. James Kirkman, London (acquired at the above sale)
    Sotheby's, London, 2 July 1998, lot 117
    Crane Kalman Gallery, London
    Private Collection (acquired from the above in June 2000)
    Private Collection, New York

  • Exhibited

    Lugano, Museo d'Arte Moderna, Francis Bacon, 7 March – 30 May 1993, no. 5, pp. 22-23, 137 (illustrated, p. 23)
    Paris, Centre National d'Art et de Culture, Centre Georges Pompidou; Munich, Haus der Kunst, Francis Bacon, 27 June 1996 – 26 January 1997, no. 2, p. 82 (illustrated)
    Paris, Musée Picasso, Bacon Picasso: La Vie des Images, 2 March – 30 May 2005, no. 108, pp. 119, 151, 235 (illustrated, p. 119)
    London, Tate Britain; Edinburgh, The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Picasso and Modern British Art, 15 February – 4 November 2012, no. 92, pp. 154-155, 231 (illustrated, p. 155)

  • Literature

    Ronald Alley and John Rothenstein, eds., Francis Bacon, London, 1964, no. 11, p. 31 (illustrated)
    Hugh Marlais Davies, Francis Bacon: The Early and Middle Years, London, 1978, pl. 20, pp. 24 - 25 (illustrated)
    Andrew Sinclair, Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times, London, 1993, pp. 76, 346
    Richard Kendall, 'Francis Bacon & Lucian Freud,' Apollo Magazine, November 1996, p. 44 (illustrated)
    Christophe Domino, Bacon, Monstre de Peinture, Paris, 1996, pp. 24 - 25 (illustrated)
    Alan Riding, ‘A British Outsider Embraced With a French Blockbuster’, The New York Times, 10 July 1996
    Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, New York, 1996, p. 69
    Christophe Domino, Francis Bacon: Taking Reality by Surprise, London, 1997, fig. 25a, p. 25 (illustrated, incorrectly dated circa 1933)
    David Cohen, ‘The Dualist: Francis Bacon’, Art in America, January 1997, p. 66 (illustrated)
    Christophe Domino, Discoveries: Francis Bacon, New York, 1997
    Ensemble moderne: the still life in modern art, exh. cat., Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg, 1998, pp. 24, 186 (illustrated, p. 24)
    Francis Bacon: A Retrospective, exh. cat., The Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1999, p. 21 (illustrated)
    David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London, 2000, pl. 5, pp. 16, 268 (illustrated, p. 16)
    Anne Baldassari, Bacon Picasso: The Life of Images, Paris, 2005, no. 108, pp. 119, 151, 235 (illustrated, p. 119)
    Rudy Chiappini, ed., Bacon, Milan, 2008, no. 2, p. 28 (illustrated)
    Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné, vol II: 1929 - 57, London, 2016, no. 34-02, pp. 134 -135 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Densely layered and multifaceted in connotative associations, Interior of a room encapsulates a number of the key themes that Francis Bacon explored in great depth throughout his prolific oeuvre, a body of work which altered the course of twentieth century painting and continues to stimulate progressive dialogue surrounding human emotion, societal interaction and psychological anxieties today. Interior of a room is an early example of Bacon's painterly enquiry into the interaction of form and colour, both of which coalesce in the present work to create an enclosed microcosm of tessellated constructed planes, wild beasts and swathes of intense tonal convergence.

    Painted circa 1935, the present work envelops the viewer into Bacon's atmospheric interior, suspending us in a moment of dislocation and intimate reflection. Interior of a room was exhibited at the artist’s self-titled retrospective held at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, in 1996, conceived by David Sylvester and selected as one of three works chosen to represent the artist’s pre-1944 period. Displayed alongside two pivotal canvasses, namely Figures in a Garden, circa 1936, now housed in Tate collection, London, and Crucifixion from 1933, the canvas which attracted widespread critical attention on its unveiling, the present masterwork interweaves the great wealth of sources from which Bacon drew inspiration, creating an intricate and resonant visual spectacle.

    Travelling first to Berlin at the beginning of 1927, then to Paris in spring, Bacon stayed in Chantilly during the summer that year and finally took residence in Hôtel Delambre in Montparnasse during in the autumn. Bacon led an impoverished existence in Paris working as an interior and furniture designer, incorporating the European aesthetic of his contemporaries, such as Le Corbusier, the work of the Bauhaus and Amédée Ozenfant, into his designs. It was in 1927 that Bacon was first exposed to Pablo Picasso’s work, visiting the exhibition Cent dessins par Picasso between June and July 1927 at Paul Rosenberg Gallery, Paris. Remarking on the immediate impression of Picasso’s work upon him, Bacon stated ‘It was there I glimpsed the possibilities of reality in painting’ (Francis Bacon, quoted in L’Express, 15 November 1971). In the present work, we see Bacon continuing a dialogue with Picasso’s abstracted Cubist compositions, particularly Head (La Demoiselle [Tête]), 1929, now housed in the Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Echoing the segregated planes with their clearly demarcated outlines, patterned green evocations of fabric and the all-seeing stare of a single eye, Bacon absorbed Picasso’s experimentations with representation. In October 1933, Bacon’s work was exhibited at Mayor Gallery, Cork Street, at the pivotal exhibition Twentieth Century Art alongside well-established European artists who were already at the forefront of the avant-garde, such as Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Chaïm Soutine, Paul Klee and Salvador Dalí. A keen art historian and only twenty four at the opening of the Mayor show, Interior of a room followed in the fertile energy of this youthful period, where the young artist garnered increasing attention, hungry and on the cusp of colossal recognition. The execution of the present work follows just two years after the 1933 exhibition, firstly incorporating the burst of creative force which would propel the artist to the forefront of British art but also forecasting the themes soon to be seen in his future paintings, a visual syntax which the artist would revisit throughout his painterly career.

    Like Picasso’s cubist constructions, Bacon’s work mediates a tension between abstraction and figuration, where the lines are blurred between reality and fantasy, suggestion and representation. In Interior of a room the shadowy outline of an arm visible up to the shoulder in the upper centre of the canvas appears indistinct, unidentifiable and anonymous. When inspecting the present work under x-ray it appears that the silhouette may have been accompanied by a head which was then over painted with folds of fabric, veiling the countenance of the figure. Like Titian’s Portait of Cardinal Filippo Archinto, painted circa 1558, here Bacon conceals the self, hiding traces of identity, acting as a precursor to his use of hanging fabric in his Pope paintings.

    The drapery in the present canvas also highlights the fluidity and seemingly unstable notion of identity in Bacon’s portraits and wider oeuvre; the visages of his figures are transient and in motion, never fully static in their poses. This shattering of reality and crystallisation of the varying perspectives into transient planes, including the use of railings to delineate and separate us, acts as a prism through which we see numerous zones, blending interior and exterior into one. As Bacon stated ‘I like the anonymous compartment, like a room concentrated in a small space. I would like to paint landscapes in a box… If you could enclose their infinity in a box they would have a greater concentration’ (Francis Bacon, quoted in an interview by Hugh M. Davies in 1973, in Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies, Göttingen, 2009, p. 111).

    As seen in Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez’ masterpiece Las Meninas, 1956, in Interior of a room Bacon juxtaposes interior and exterior perspectives, alternating the dichotomy between viewer and artwork, inner and outer self and artist and painting. Bacon divides the canvas in the same way that Velázquez’s sections his complex portrait, both artists’ intricately segmenting their compositions. Another similarity can be drawn through the inclusion of dogs in both paintings, both sitting at the lower right hand corner of the mise-en-scène. Whereas Velázquez’ family pet is caught in a moment of tension as its young owner steps childishly onto its back, Bacon’s dog is almost mythical, it’s head forcibly decapitated with its elongated neck barely visible. Tracing upwards towards the centre of the canvas you see the creature’s animalistic jaw, gaping or perhaps snarling. It has been suggested that the dog in Interior of a room could in fact be a precursor for the Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion from 1944, housed in Tate, London (Fabrice Hergott, Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Centre national d’art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1996, p. 82). The figures in the triptych, echoing the tripartite composition of the present work, with their anthropomorphic body and protruding ribs are an instantly recognisable sign of horror, fear and anxiety. Dogs and horses are inextricably linked in Bacon’s paintings to morbidity and terror. As a child, dogs and horses would irritate a young Bacon’s asthma and allergies, his reactions often violent and uncontrollable. Once as a child, Bacon was forced to attend a hunt, which the young artist hated for its barbarism, bloodshed and cruelty, and sitting atop a horse, Bacon ‘started to tug at the collar of his shirt as if he were trying to loosen some kind of noose which he found asphyxiating: for a moment he resembled the agonized figures in his paintings whose faces turn a truly dangerous shade of indigo purple as they go into the last stages of strangulation’ (Caroline Blackwood, 'Francis Bacon Obituary’, The New York Review of Books, 24 September 1992). As with his Popes’ bloodcurdling screams and snarling mouths, in the present work Bacon incites threat and violence, forcing the viewer to explore their subconscious reactions to the mystery before them.

    Encaging us within his two dimensional world, Bacon draws us into the confines of his painterly reality in the present work, a painting richly interwoven with meaning. To the centre left of the work in the pyramid-like black outline, our eyes trace the profile of a sphinx, it’s legs outstretched and gripped by the jaws of the dog. With a deep interest in classical literature and theatre, Bacon’s reading of mythology informs his visual syntax, returning to the theme of the sphinx continually throughout his oeuvre. In 1934, the year prior to the present work, Jean Cocteau premiered his play La Machine infernale, in which the character of the sphinx exclaims ‘And I should make you go down on your knees… And you’d bend your head…and Anubis would bound forward. He would open his wolf-like jaws!’ Echoed in the present work, this reference is exemplary of Bacon’s vast array of references and aesthetic pointers which unpack our subconscious and evoke our deepest associations. The poignancy of Interior of a room within Bacon’s practice stands alone, its composition displaying a wide breadth of key themes which are integral to Bacon’s most famous masterworks. A vanguard of what Bacon would go on to produce, the present work is an indication as to just how early Bacon began considering his lifelong revisited subjects.

  • 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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Interior of a room

oil on canvas
111.7 x 86.5 cm (43 7/8 x 34 in.)
Painted circa 1935.

£3,000,000 - 5,000,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £3,249,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2018