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Francis Bacon at the Pompidou Centre: the big autumn event in Paris

[09 Jul 2019]

Due to open on 11 September 2019, the Pompidou Centre has all summer to prepare one of the most anticipated exhibitions of the autumn: Francis BACON (1909-1992). A very singular creator (as his great friend Michel Leiris so aptly wrote, “Bacon painted the scream rather than the horror”), Francis Bacon is one of the most sought-after and most expensive artists of our time. A self-taught genius, Bacon is among the Top 15 most successful artists on the global auction market with total sales in excess of $110 million in 2018. In November 2013, Christie’s hammered $142 million for an extraordinary Bacon triptych, Three Studies of Lucian Freud. Francis Bacon’s paintings have a strong emotional impact, eliciting reactions from auction bidders that mirror those of visitors to his exhibitions. The upcoming retrospective will no doubt have a similar impact, especially as his last major exhibition in Paris dates back to 1996. For those who remember, it was an impressive retrospective with no less than 86 works. The upcoming show promises to shed another light on Bacon’s work by placing literature at the heart of the exhibition.

Bacon. En toutes lettres will not only be an opportunity to rediscover his major works from 1971 to his last works in 1992 (sixty paintings including 12 triptychs), but also to enrich this experience with “texts taken from Francis Bacon’s personal library”. The texts have been carefully selected by Didier Ottinger from more than a thousand works the artist possessed. Aeschylus, Nietzsche, George Bataille, Michel Leiris, Joseph Conrad, T.S. Eliot… all had an impact on Bacon’s imagination and readings of their works by major actors (including Mathieu Amalric and Jean-Marc Barr) will be projected during the exhibition. Meanwhile, Bacon fans can travel to London where the Gagosian Gallery is showing several Bacon works in an exhibition titled Francis Bacon: Couplings at 20 Grosvenor Hill (until 3 August).

Francis Bacon’s market in 2019

Painter Lucian Freud… his lovers John Edwards and Georges Dyer Pope Innocent X (after Diego Velasquez) the muse Henrietta Moraes (who also inspired Lucian Freud) and his own face (which he said he hated)… just some of the favourite subjects to which Bacon applied his own particular style of artistic distress, releasing the instincts and sensations of a tormented flesh. The power of Bacon’s work has in no way diminished with age and it still exerts the same fascination as when it was created. The world’s major art collectors eagerly compete to purchase his works at auction, spending multi-million sums to obtain pieces that have acquired a nec plus ultra status on the art market. Over the last 12 years, 40 Bacon canvases have sold above the $20 million line, including one in May 2019 at Sothebys in New York entitled Study for a Head (1952, 66 x 56 cm). Mouth wide open – a black hole for a scream – the work was estimated $2030 million and fetched just over $50 million, one of the artist’s top 10 results. With the increasing rarity of his major works (especially his triptychs), when offered, buyers are falling back onto works of smaller dimensions, sometimes pushing their prices up as well (but not always).

In the first half of 2019 approximately 70 works by Francis Bacon came to auction. Overall, that represents a healthy supply, but very few were paintings, and only three of them were worthy of interest (the fourth canvas proposed being the remnants of a destroyed work, which failed to sell at Ewbank on 17 January). The latest interesting Bacon painting to appear on the market – a small self-portrait from 1965 – was offered at Sotheby’s in London on 26 June with an estimate $19 – 25 million after being acquired four years earlier (1/7/2015) for $24 million. Measuring 35.5 x 30.5 cm, the canvas fetched a somewhat disappointing $21 million (Self-Portrait).

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