Bacon's Portrait of Lucian Freud to debut at Sotheby's Jubilee auction for US$42.9m

In celebration of the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II – marking her 70th anniversary on the Throne, this week Sotheby's London will present a special auction dedicated to the British art across 400 years.

Leading the festive sale will be Francis Bacon's large-scale portrait of his frenemy, Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud, which illuminates the friendship and rivalry between the two titans of British art. Unseen for over half a century, the work is coming to auction for the first time and expected to fetch in excess of £35 million (around US$42.9 million).

Also offered at the sale will be David Hockney's Woldgate Woods II, 16 & 17 May, 2006, with an estimate between £10 million and £15 million (around US$12.2 million to $18.4 million); alongside other great British artists – from Banksy and Gilbert & George to Turner and Constable.

Lot 10 | Francis Bacon | Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud, Oil on canvas
Created in May 1964
198 x 147.5 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London
  • The Hon. Colin Tennant, London 
  • Galleria Galatea, Turin
  • Private Collection, Europe
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1982-83
  • Property of an European Collector

Estimate upon request (expected to fetch above £35 million)

The friendship of two giants of post-war British figurative painter, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, started in London in 1944. On their first encounter, the two sparked an instant friendship and has since enjoyed a famously intense relationship that lasted over 40 years – until the apex of their artistic sparring in the mid-1980s.

The pair was said to be ‘inseparable’ when they were the closest during the 1950s and 1960s, dining and drinking together almost every night in Soho’s restaurants, bars and clubs. Freud’s ex-wife, Lady Caroline Blackwood, recalled having to sit with Bacon for dinner nearly every day throughout their short six-year marriage between 1953 and 1959.  

Apart from the beer and skittles, they would also spend time in each other’s west London studios and subject each other's work to intense scrutiny, sometimes giving harsh criticism to their closest friend. As Bacon later said, “Who can I tear to pieces, if not my friends? If they were not my friends, I could not do such violence to them.”

Francis Bacon (left) and Lucian Freud (right)

Their visual styles differed considerably throughout their respective oeuvres, but both artists were deeply committed to the human figure. While Bacon was known for working quickly, often using photographs as an inspiration, Freud worked slowly – notoriously demanding months of his sitter’s time – and painted exclusively from life.

They painted for each other on multiple occasions over the years: Freud executed his first portrait of Bacon in 1952; the second, however, remained unfinished. As for Bacon, Freud had become a recurrent and one of the most significant subjects of his works in the 1960s, a period of great artistic confidence during which he produced some of his finest portraits. 

His first portrait of Freud was created in 1951, and he had then painted him no less than 16 times. In these Freud portraits, his primary source material was from the black-and-white photographs taken by their mutual friend John Deakin.

Lucian Freud with Francis Bacon's Two Figures, 1953

Unfortunately, perhaps due to jealousy or the increasing artistic rivalry, the two eventually fell out in the 1980s, when Bacon was to enjoy global recognition. At one instance, Bacon blasted Freud’s latest works as “ridiculously” and Freud, in return, caustically labeled Bacon’s paintings from the 1980s “ghastly”. 

Despite publicly rejecting each other’s friendship, Bacon had kept the Freud photographs taken by Deakin with him for the rest of his life, and they were rediscovered torn, crumpled and splattered with paint in his studio following his death – but even so, the photos are of such great personal significance that he would not abandon them. And Freud, had kept an early Bacon painting Two Figures on his bedroom wall for most of his life. 

Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud is based on John Deakin's photograph

Created in 1964, Study for Portrait of Lucian captured Freud sitting on a bed, with his arms outstretched, fists clenched, and white sleeves rolled up above the elbows. Compared to the other large-scale portraits from the period, the painting shows Freud at his most confident, in a threatening pose with chest bare and body open, and his face confronting the viewer with an intense gaze.

Also based on the Deakin photographs is the large triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud, which was sold for US$142.1 million at Christie’s New York – brieftly setting the then record for most expensive artwork ever sold at auction and is still now the auction record for Bacon.

Three Studies of Lucian Freud, sold for a record US$142.1 million in 2013

Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud was originally conceived as the central panel of a large-scale triptych, but separated by Bacon into three individual works shortly after it was created. All three panels were hung together as part of a travelling exhibition to Hamburg and Stockholm.

Today, the left-hand panel resides in a private collection, while the right-hand work belongs to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. As for the present painting, it was shown in Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin from 1945 to 1965. Ever since, the work has remained in private collection and unseen in public for 57 years.

Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud was originally the central panel of a large-scale triptych

All three panels were hung together in an exhibition in Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Lot 15 | David Hockney | Woldgate Woods II, 16 & 17 May, 2006, Oil on canvas in 6 parts
Created in 2006
Each: 91.4 x 121.9 cm
Overall: 182.9 x 365.8 cm

  • L.A. Louver, Venice, CA
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: £10,000,000 - 15,000,000

Born in 1937, David Hockney is one of the British greatest living artist and big names involved in the pop art movement in the 1960s.

After 25 years spent in Southern California, where Hockney created some of his most iconic paintings inspired by its sun-drenched landscapes and the backyard pools, the artist returned to his hometown in East Yorkshire, England in the 2000s to explore in painterly form the beloved land he has known since young.

David Hockney in front of The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011

The Wolds, the landscape Hockney described as “the least changed bit of England that I know”, is an expansive agricultural land between York and the seaside town of Bridlington. Not obtruded by industry nor development, it is always used exclusively as farmland.

Tied with childhood memories, such greenfield always held a special place in Hockney’s heart. He first came to know this place at the age around 15, when he spent his summer holidays there collecting corn on a local farm. In his sixties, he would return to this small area of East Yorkshire every three months and embark on long country drives with his mother, magnifying his intense affection for the landscape.

Hockney painting Woldgate Woods II, 16, & 17 May 2006

Woldgate Woods, 4, 5 & 6 December 2006

Depicting the Wolds, Woldgate Woods II, 16, & 17 May 2006 belongs to a series of nine monumental six-panel paintings of the same landscape, captured en plein air in oil in its varied appearance under different seasons.

In contrast to the stable sunshiny climate in California, England’s capricious weather condition allowed the artist to carefully investigate the multifaceted vistas of the landscape that he knew so intimately and saw transform from season to season.

Woldgate Woods, 24, 25, and 26 October 2006, sold for US$11.7 million at Sotheby's New York.

In the series, Hockney expands the scale of his painting by combining canvases to depict a single scene. Wrestled with the authority of one-point perspective, he offers the viewer multiple entry points to enter the space he portrayed.

In Woldgate Woods II, 16, & 17 May 2006, six different vantage points are created in the middle of each canvas – letting the viewer’s eyes travel across various openings within the same image. Together with the substantial scale, the viewer feels as if being transported into the vast woods.

Woldgate Woods, 24, 25, and 26 October 2006, which captured the Wolds in autumn, was sold for US$11.7 million at Sotheby's New York in 2016.

Lot 17 | Banksy | Turf War, Oil and emulsion on canvas
Created in 2003
254.5 x 254.5 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner
  • Property of an British private collector

Estimate: £4,000,000 - 6,000,000

Turf War, encompassing Banksy’s anti-establishment wit and satirical humour integral, was the centrepiece of his second solo exhibition of the same title in July 2003, which marked his breakthrough and took the British art scene by storm.

Executed on canvas in Banksy’s signature stencilled style, the work transforms Winston Churchill from a formidable politician to a punk rock rebel with an ironic use of green mohican hairstyle made from turfed grass.

Churchill’s statue transformed as part of Guerrilla Gardening by ‘Reclaim The Street’

While Turf War is based on an iconic photograph of Winston Churchill, the green mohawk is actually from the famous image of the Churchill’s statue transformed as part of Guerrilla Gardening by ‘Reclaim The Street’, an activist group in London, in Parliament Square on May Day 2000. They defaced the statue by placing a turf mohican on the statesman's head and applying red paint on his mouth to mimick blood dripping. 

More than a mere mockery of the British political icon, the work stands as a challenge to the political establishment – a notion that weaved its way throughout Banksy’s oeuvre – for which Churchill can be seen as the ultimate symbol.

Lot 32 | Gilbert and George | Swear, Hand-dyed gelatin silver prints in artists' frames in 24 parts 
Created in 1985
Each: 60.5 x 50.2 cm
Overall: 241.3 x 302.3 cm

  • Private Collection, New York
  • Zwirner and Wirth, New York
  • Private Collection, Europe (acquired directly from the above in 2004)
  • Sotheby’s London, 13 October 2011, lot 38 (consigned by the above) 
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: £150,000 - 200,000

In 1967, two young students studying sculpture, Gilbert Prousch and George Passmore, met at Saint Martin's School of Art in London. It was love at first sight and the pair has ever since lived and created artwork together.

Collaboratively referred as an art duo Gilbert & George, they described their relationship as such: “It’s not a collaboration. We are two people, but one artist.” In the late 1960s and early 1970s, when minimalist, pop and conceptual art dominated the art world, the two developed a wholly unique vision with the slogan ‘Art for All’. Their artworks integrated their daily existence and have always addressed social issues, taboos and artistic conventions.

Gilbert (left) and George (right)

Although Gilbert & George created their art in a variety of mediums, they considered all of their works to be sculptures: charcoal on paper sculptures, video sculptures – and even themselves are ‘living sculptures’. Among them, their best-known works are those vividly coloured large-scale photo sculptures consisting of numerous panels – as seen in the present lot, Swear from the series New Moral Works.

Lot 34 | Chris Levine | Lightness of Being (2008), Unique lenticular lightbox
Created in 2022
Image: 116.8 x 82 cm
Frame: 122.7 x 88.2 cm

  • Directly from the artist's studio

Estimate: £100,000 - 150,000

In a Jubilee celebration, an artwork of Her Majesty cannot be missed.

In 2004, the Jersey Heritage Trust commissioned Chris Levine, an artist renowned for his work with lights, laser and holography, to create the first holographic portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. The commission was to mark the Island of Jersey’s 800 years of allegiance to the Crown. The resulting portrait, titled Equanimity, was presented to the National Portrait Gallery by the people of Jersey in 2011.

Equanimity,  presented to the National Portrait Gallery by the people of Jersey in 2011

Created this year, Lightness of Being (2008) offered at the sale, is a colored variant from the 2004 sitting which Levine began using in his work in 2008. The work was a donation by the artist to benefit the Platinum Jubilee. Last year, another 'Lightness of Being', 2008, a black-and-white version of the same setting, was sold £119,700 (around US$146,800), nearly three times its low-estimate.

Other Highlight Lots:

Lot 6 | Bridget Riley | Tinct, Acrylic on canvas
Created in 1972
145 x 141 cm

  • Galerie Beyeler, Basel
  • The Ratner Family Collection, Chicago
  • Sotheby's New York, 26 February 1992, lot 198 (consigned by the above) 
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: £2,400,000 - 2,800,000

Lot 20 | Edward Burra | Minuit Chanson, Watercolour and bodycolour on paper
Created in 1931
54.5 x 73cm

  • Gifted by the Artist to Barbara Ker-Seymer in the 1930s, and thence by family descent to the present owner

Estimate: £1,500,000 - 2,500,000

Lot 14 | Laurence Stephen Lowry, R.A. | A Town Square, Oil on board
Created in 1927
41 x 59 cm

  • Alex Reid & Lefevre, London
  • Midland Bank Plc by 1992, whence incorporated into HSBC Art Collection
  • Property from the HSBC Collection

Estimate: £1,000,000 - 1,500,000

Lot 22 | Dame Barbara Hepworth | Makutu, Bronze
Conceived in 1969 and cast in 1970
Height (including base): 75.5cm

  • Acquired by The Morris Singer Sculpture Association Ltd in April 1971
  • Sale, Sotheby’s, London, 2 July 1980, lot 185, where acquired by the Alwin Gallery, London
  • Marlborough Fine Art, London, where acquired by the grandmother of the present owner in 1985, and thence by descent
  • Property from an American Collection

Estimate: £700,000 - 1,000,000

Lot 18 | Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. | A view of London and the river Thames from Vauxhall with Westminster Bridge, Watercolour over pencil
Created between 1775 and 1851
334 x 464 mm

  • British Private Collection, until 2000
  • from whom acquired by Andrew Clayton-Payne
  • with Andrew Clayton-Payne, London
  • British Private collection, by 2016

Estimate: £300,000 - 500,000

Lot 1 | John Constable, R.A. | Cloud Study, Oil on paper, laid on canvas
Suffolk 1776 - 1837 Hampstead
15.2 x 21 cm

  • By descent to the artist's grandson, Hugh Goulding Constable (1868–1949)
  • From whom acquired by Leggatt Bros., London, by October 1899
  • With Ackerman and Johnson, London, circa 1960s
  • From whom acquired by the present owners

Estimate: £100,000 - 150,000

Auction Details:
Auction House: Sotheby's London
Sale: British Art: The Jubilee Auction
Date and Time: 29 June 2022 | 5pm (London local time)
Number of Lots: 34