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  • 'Bullfighting is like boxing - a marvellous aperitif to sex.' —Francis Bacon 

    In the centre of the bullring – or Plaza de toros – an ominous bull with monstrous horns charges at the matador. Contained in a fiery orange interior, the extreme force with which the bull attacks is visualised by the dark curved lines protruding from its horns and hoofs. The bull and matador are rendered in a painterly application of bruise-like tones serving to distinguish the power of their intense combat from the stillness of their finely refined surroundings, and, more significantly, to unite them and express the intensity between man and beast. Entwined together, in Francis Bacon’s studies of bulls, man and beast are simultaneously partners in a beautiful dance as well as enemies in a fight to the death. The red cloth, or muleta, is surprisingly absent from his studies. However, the pure white paint in its place poignantly alludes to the venerated nature of this ritualistic battle.


    Throughout his life Bacon had an intense preoccupation with death and mortality. These materialise in the bullring - the matador risks his life and faces death head on but with a fearless confidence in his ability to defy it. Despite the pomp, grandeur and macho prestige associated with bullfighting as a spectator sport, it is also an embodiment of the precariousness of life. Within seconds, the matador can switch from dominating the scene and controlling the bull, to being made utterly powerless and facing death at the hands of the beast whilst being watched by a crowd of bystanders. This intense and complex relationship with death led to bullfighting becoming a compulsive fascination for Bacon that permeated his art until his death. After first appearing in his work in his 1967 Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne, it was also the subject of his final painting, Study of a Bull, 1991, which was discovered in 2016.

     

    Colour tinted postcard of a matador and bull, found in Francis Bacon’s studio. Image © Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin (Reg. No. RM98BC5), Artwork © Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. DACS 2021

    The mirrors that prominently feature in Bacon’s three studies of bulls evoke the artist’s conception of the bullfight as a metaphorical mirror in which one comes face to face with the presence of death. This idea was certainly influenced by Bacon’s close intellectual friend, Michel Leiris, a French Surrealist writer. Leiris was equally as preoccupied by the corrida as Bacon, and it became the central motif in his writing, most famously distilled in his 1938 text Miroir de la Tauromachie. Leiris conceived of the bull fight as closely tied to ancient tragedy, and he was enthralled by the way in which the matador ‘at every instant must risk disaster’. This historic theme similarly became an obsessive interest for other master artists, such as Francisco de Goya and Pablo Picasso.

     

    The present lot includes Bacon’s three studies of bullfights together with his portrait of Leiris and the Miroir de la Tauromachie text. The three studies will be the highlight of the upcoming Royal Academy exhibition, ‘Francis Bacon: Man and Beast’, where the trio of bull studies will be exhibited together for the first time.

    • Provenance

      Collection of the Artist
      Estate of Francis Bacon
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      Bruno Sabatier 29-30
      Alexandre Tacou 37

    • 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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7

Miroir de la tauromachie (Mirror of the Bullfight) (S. 29-30, T. 37)

1990
The complete set of four lithographs in colours, on folded sheets of Arches paper (as issued) with letterpress text on the inside pages, three full sheets and one with full margins, loose (as issued) all contained in the original fabric-covered portfolio with printed title.
one I. 25 x 21 cm (9 7/8 x 8 1/4 in.)
all S. 47.9 x 35.9 cm (18 7/8 x 14 1/8 in.)
portfolio 51 x 38.5 x 4 cm (20 1/8 x 15 1/8 x 1 5/8 in.)

All signed in pencil, numbered 140/150 in pencil on the colophon (there were also 5 hors commerce impressions in Roman numerals), published by Galerie Lelong, Paris, all unframed.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£30,000 - 50,000 

Sold for £57,960

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Evening & Day Editions

London Auction 19-20 January 2022