Lost Francis Bacon nude fetches €550,000 at Christie’s

‘It being St Patrick’s Day, the stars could not have been more aligned’

 

A pair of paintings by Irish artist Tony O’Malley which, when reversed and joined up reveal a lost, unfinished painting by fellow-artist Francis Bacon sold at Christie’s in London on Thursday afternoon for £435,000 (€554,000) – more than 14 times the top estimate of just £30,000.

They were sold to an unnamed buyer during an auction of British and Irish Art in Christie’s South Kensington saleroom. Announcing the lot as “a pair of O’Malley’s with, of course the Bacon on the back” the auctioneer quipped: “It being St Patrick’s Day, the stars could not be more aligned”. Bidding opened at £26,000 and jumped quickly. When the hammer fell, there was applause in the saleroom.

The paintings by the Callan, Co Kilkenny-born O’Malley, who died in 2003, were made in the early 1960s.

“Currach, Clare Island” and “Evening Landscape, Tedihy Hospital” were consigned to the auction by separate owners. Christie’s did not name the vendors but the first painting had been gifted to the Irish poet Padraic Fallon who died in 1974 and the second is understood to have been in the collection of O’Malley’s widow Jane.

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The auction also featured another lot by Tony O’Malley “Still Life with Vase and Lemon” dating from 1962 which sold for £2,750 – within the estimate – and a more normal price for the artist.

O’Malley had met Bacon in the English seaside resort of St Ives in Cornwall in 1959. When Bacon left his rented studio there the landlady gave his discarded boards and canvases to other artists – one of whom used one to roof a chicken shed. O’Malley cut his board in half and used both pieces to paint these two pictures – “Currach, Clare Island” and “Evening Landscape, Tedihy Hospital”. However, the board had an almost life-size unfinished image of a male nude by Bacon which O’Malley seems to have accorded no value.

Before the auction Christie’s had said “for years these works [by O’Malley] were separated, residing in the collections of two different owners. Now these paintings, and the lost Bacon study, will be reunited and viewed together for the first time in almost 60 years”.

Christie’s offered the paintings as the work of O’Malley with an estimate for the pair of £20,000-£30,000. Paintings by Francis Bacon, by contrast, routinely sell for tens of millions. Bacon, who was born in Dublin and died in 1992 has become one of the most famous and expensive artists in art history.

One of his triptychs (three-panel paintings) entitled “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” sold for $142.4 million at Christie’s, New York, in November 2013 – the second highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction.

Earlier this week, Spain’s El Pais newspaper revealed that police in Madrid were hunting for thieves who stole five Bacon paintings worth an estimated €30 million from a private home in the city last year.

Separately, Sotheby’s chose St Patrick’s Day to announce that a Bacon self-portrait made by the artist in 1970 had been consigned from a private collection to be auctioned in New York in May with “an estimate of $22 million-$30 million”.