Francis Bacon is a favourite with the art market. In 2013 his triptych of Lucian Freud was sold for $142 million at Christie’s in New York. This week the auction house announced that it would once again be associating its name with that of the British painter when it offers for sale Head with Raised Arm, a very rare painting with an estimated value of between 7 and 10 million pounds.
Christie’s is presenting this portrait of Pope Pius XII as the “culminating point” of the sales to be held in London during Frieze. It will be one of a series of nine canvases featuring the Pope, four of which are held in national museums. As Christie’s has noted in a statement, Head with Raised Arm has not been exhibited since 1962. At that time it was hung at the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna in Turin. Purchased a year later, it has remained in the same private collection for over 50 years. In Martin Harrison’s catalogue raisonné of Francis Bacon, the whereabouts of this painting were given as “unknown”.
“Bacon’s Head with Raised Arm poses the question that would haunt Bacon for the duration of his career: how to paint the human figure in the age of photography”, explained Francis Outred, post-war art specialist at Christie’s. Francis Bacon’s portraits represent the personal difficulties faced by the Pope. This series of works was inspired by the portraits of Pope Innocent X by Velázquez.
The sale will be held in London on 6 October.