Two Francis Bacon portraits to go on display for first time

Paintings will go on show at Sotheby’s after they were rediscovered in private collection

Two Francis Bacon self-portraits are going on public display for the first time after they were rediscovered in a private collection.

Experts knew of the existence of the works, but had no idea who had bought the paintings soon after they were completed about 40 years ago.

Now descendants of the original collector have decided to sell the portraits, which are estimated to fetch £15 million (about €21 million) each at auction.

They will go on show at Sotheby’s in London and New York before going under the hammer in July.


Self-Portrait 1975 was painted at the height of Bacon's career, in the period which followed the suicide of his former lover George Dyer in 1971.

The triptych Three Studies for Self-Portrait (1980), shows the artist, who was by then in his seventies and becoming increasingly haunted by death, with his eyes downcast.

Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s senior international specialist in contemporary art, described the find as “a pretty extraordinary collecting moment”.

“[Art dealer] Marlborough Fine Art kept a photographic archive and so both of these paintings appeared in a book on Bacon’s self-portraits, but apart from being reproduced in books they’ve not been seen,” Mr Barker said.

“We knew of the existence of the paintings but simply had no idea where they could be.

“The first time I saw these paintings it was such a wonderful awakening. They’re both so luminous.”

He said that the works contained a combination of “intoxicating ingredients”.

Self-Portrait 1975

Bacon painted Self-Portrait 1975 when he was in his sixties, but looks much younger in the work - obsessed with his physical appearance, he dyed his hair and wore make-up as he grew older.

Mr Barker said that the artist deliberately gave “himself film star-style looks, appearing as photogenic as possible while still being highly self-critical”.

Mr Barker said: “He paints himself with a much more youthful appearance.”

He said that the triptych had a “filmic quality”, with “the action unwinding in front of you across three different spaces”, and showed the artist’s “level of psychological angst and questioning”.

“Bacon throughout his life was really questioning human existence. Never is that more pivotal in his work than in his self-portraits.”

A Bacon painting, featuring his friend and fellow artist Lucian Freud, became the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction when it fetched $142 million (about €131 million) in New York in 2013.

The self-portraits go on sale at Sotheby’s London Contemporary Art Evening Sale on July 1st.