Beauty and the Bacon: two portraits to be auctioned


TWO RADICALLY different views of the human figure by Irish artists – a male nude by Francis Bacon and a portrait of a Co Meath aristocrat’s wife by Sir William Orpen – are being auctioned in New York and London.

After last week’s sale of the painting The Scream for $120 million (€91 million), the mere $30 million expected for a male nude by Bacon tonight is unlikely to raise an eyebrow. Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror will go under the hammer at a Sotheby’s auction in New York with an estimate of $30 million- $40 million. The 1976 oil painting, which measures approximately 6.5ft by 5ft, is being sold by an unnamed European collector.

According to an explanatory note in the auction catalogue, the subject of the painting “represents both Bacon’s partner George Dyer and the artist himself”, and the figure combines “Dyer’s distinctive profile” and the artist’s “own distinctive sweep of hair”.

Bacon, who lived in London, met Dyer – an East End criminal – in 1964 when Dyer broke into his studio.

The pair had a stormy relationship that ended when Dyer died from a drink and drugs overdose in a Paris hotel in 1971. Bacon painted numerous portraits of him before and after his death.

The work of Dublin-born Bacon, who died in 1992, is now among the most expensive in the world. Earlier this year, one of his female nudes, Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, sold for £21.3 million (€25.4 million) at a Christie’s auction in London.

Meanwhile, in London tomorrow, Sotheby’s will auction Portrait of Rose, Fourth Marchioness of Headfort by Orpen, which is expected to sell for up to £500,000. The painting, which was on view in Dublin and Belfast last month, is among the Irish lots in a British and Irish art sale in Sotheby’s on New Bond Street.

Rose Boote, an Edwardian London music-hall star and “society beauty”, married the Co Meath aristocrat Geoffrey, fourth marquess of Headfort, in 1901.

Orpen, who was born in Stillorgan, Co Dublin, painted the portrait in 1914. According to Sotheby’s, the “absolutely stunning” sitter “deftly managed the dwindling finances of the estate at Kells in Co Meath, proved a brilliant hostess at numerous house parties, and was attentive to the concerns of the Headfort tenants and the local community”.

She and her husband’s alleged “popularity as progressive landlords ensured that Headfort survived the struggle for Irish independence largely unscathed”.

The earrings seen in the portrait were sold by Sotheby’s at a jewellery auction in Geneva last year for €35,000.

The auction also features work by Roderic O’Conor, Jack B Yeats, Louis le Brocquy and Mildred Anne Butler, as well as four paintings by Paul Henry, including A Connaught Fishing Village, which has an estimate of £120,000-£180,000.