Pictures by Francis Bacon are ambiguous and among the most expensive ever. They easily sell for millions of pounds and maintain a top position in the art market. Last week a single of his paintings reached £21.6m ($33.3 million). The picture is both provocative and perplexing.
Bacon's portrait of a nude woman: as seductive as it gets
Portrait of Henrietta Moraes
Oil on canvas, 165 x 142 cm
Inscribed, titled and dated "Portrait of Henrietta Moraes from photograph by John Deakin 1963" (on reverse).
Selling for a total of £21,321,250 at Christie's London
Henrietta Moraes lying naked on bed
photograph, early 1960s
Henrietta Moraes (1931–1999) was a writer and model. A half-Indian beauty, she was one of the stars of the demi-monde that drank in London's Soho in the 1950s. She was known for her marriages and love affairs. During the 1960s, Moraes was a muse of inspiration for Francis Bacon. He painted more than a dozen portraits of Moraes, who also posed for Lucian Freud.
|Bacon, Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, oil, 1966|
Moraes was a key figure in post-war London’s artistic and bohemian life. Determined to meet Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, she frequented bars such as the French House, and became part of the Soho set which included Daniel Farson, Jeffrey Bernard, Brendan Behan, John Deakin and others. It was in the French House over a glass of champagne that Bacon said to Moraes, "I’m thinking of doing some paintings of my friends." To this end, Bacon asked John Deakin to take some photographs of Moraes. Bacon used the resulting photos of a nude Moraes lying on a bed as the basis for a number of paintings (The Estate of Francis Bacon).
A most seductive female portrait. Bacon's portrait of the naked model sprawled on a bed sold last week probably is considered to be of the most sexually-charged images the artist had ever painted. The portrait has been in the hands of a private collector for 30 years. Francis Outred, Christie's Head of Post-War & Contemporary Art, Europe:
"Searing with raw colour and texture, Portrait of Henrietta Moraes is one of the most seductive and sexually charged paintings I have ever encountered by Francis Bacon. The carefully constructed mood through colour is forcefully invaded by the extraordinary swipes of the loaded brush, which create the woman’s voluptuous figure. This juxtaposition of the sheer beauty of colour with the brutal physicality of paint is what makes Bacon’s art so remarkable. Executed in 1963, this painting was undertaken in a landmark year, which saw the artist perfect his technique. It followed a period of intense experimentation in which Bacon investigated the properties of paint and the architecture of the human form. This turning point is widely acknowledged; 3 out of the 7 large-scale paintings created in 1963 now form parts of major international museum collections including The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art Humlebæk, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff and the Tate Gallery, London. In the same year, Bacon also created a small-scale triptych Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes (1963) currently held in the Museum of Modern Art. In a similar manner to the MoMA painting, Portrait of Henrietta Moraes is built up from a ground of papal red, which acts as a silhouette both in image and metaphor. The work has only had two owners since the day it was made, one of which was the important collector and post-War industrialist Willy Schniewind and the other being the present owner, a distinguished New Yorker who acquired the work in 1983. Portrait of Henrietta Moraes has not been seen in the public eye for fifteen years and I am very excited to be presenting this important piece of British art in London'.
Portrait of Henrietta Moraes was painted by Francis Bacon towards the end of 1963, the year after his breakthrough retrospective at the Tate Gallery, London in 1962, and the same year as his first major American exhibition at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. For many years, the work formed part of the Schniewind collection of important post-War paintings, the present owner acquiring it from the family in 1983, almost thirty years ago.
Portrait of Henrietta Moraes represents part of the pantheon of great paintings by Bacon executed in 1963, the majority of which are now housed in major international museum collections. Over the preceding four years, Bacon had devoted himself to investigating the properties of paint, technique and undertaking studies of the human nude; a subject that he had rarely dared consider in his early career. Standing out proudly from a vivid lilac ground, Henrietta lies undressed in all her voluptuous glory on a simple ticking mattress. For Bacon, this visceral quality and the sheer physicality of his model‟s body was a source of constant rapture. Indeed he returned to Moraes as a subject for numerous paintings over the course of his career including Three Studies for the Portrait of Henrietta Moraes (1963) held in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In Portrait of Henrietta Moraes Bacon imbues the painting with a striking passion, as if carried over from the intensity of his own personal life. This was the year that Bacon embarked upon his all-consuming love affair with George Dyer, immortalising his partner in his first painting.
Whilst Bacon had often considered the figure of the male nude, his depictions of Moraes were the first to seriously consider the female form. As David Sylvester once observed: "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". Moraes herself was a notorious bonne vivante, a regular fixture at the artist‟s favourite haunt, the Colony Room, Soho. The muse to a number of contemporary British artists, she was once the lover of Lucian Freud and appeared as the sitter in his Girl in a Blanket (1952). Bacon only ever depicted friends and never painted his subjects from life, preferring to use photographs instead. For Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, Bacon commissioned John Deakin, his friend and feted photographer to take a now renowned series of images that he would translate into his paintings (www.christies.com).
Bacon’s sexually charged 1963 canvas fetched $33.3 million, topping the 65-lot Christie’s International sale. The amount was one of the highest fetched by a work of post-war contemporary art at Christie's. Bacon is the U.K.’s most expensive artist at auction. The portrait’s final price of 21.3 million pounds with fees beat an 18-million-pound hammer-value estimate. The sale demonstrated investment demand for his paintings and the attractiveness of the U.K. capital as an auction venue, with its population of wealthy international residents.
The Bacon auction record is $86.3 million (£55m) for the 1976 Triptych at Sotheby’s New York, in May 2008. His Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud sold for $36,974,500 at Sotheby's London.
|Bacon, Three Studies for the Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, 1963|
Oil on canvas, three panels, each 35.9 x 30.8 cm
Museum of Modern Art, New York
1. Francis Bacon nude portrait sells for £21m, BBC News, 16.2.2012
2. Francis Bacon portrait could fetch £18 million, Telegraph, 21.2.2012; Francis Bacon's Seductive Female Portrait at auction at Christie's London, Art Knowledge News, accessed 21.2.2012
3. Scott Reyburn, Bacon’s Nude Model, Bloomberg Businessweek, 16.2.2012; Bacon Fires Up Christie's Auction, Artfixdaily, 15.2.2012: "A work by Francis Bacon--the U.K.’s most expensive artist at auction--his sexually charged "Portrait of Henrietta Moraes" from 1963, was the biggest sale of the evening, going for over $33.4 million."
4. Bacon painting sets new record, BBC News, 15.5.2008
Ref. Post-War & Contemporary Art