Will Bacon's George Dyer portrait break records?

After the artist's Freud triptych set a new world record last year, another iconic portrait goes on the block next month
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From left: George Dyer in the Reece Mews Studio (c. 1964) by John Deakin, Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966) by Francis Bacon
From left: George Dyer in the Reece Mews Studio (c. 1964) by John Deakin, Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966) by Francis Bacon

Can we expect another price peak when Francis Bacon's Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966) goes on the block at Christie's London auction house in February? A few decades back, only Renaissance and Old Masters went for the highest figures.

Then, in March 1987, Van Gogh's Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers (1888), sold at Christie's in London for $39.7 million, making it not only the most expensive painting to have ever been auctioned at that point, but also the highest price paid for also for a post-Impressionist work.

Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966) by Francis Bacon
Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966) by Francis Bacon

Now, truly Modernist works generate high numbers, with the Casino founder Elaine Wynn placing the record-breaking winning bid of $142.4 million for Francis Bacon's Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) at Christies New York last November.

Will this portrait also enter the record books? It certainly is a prime piece. As Martin Hammer writes in our Phaidon Focus on the artist, "The most convincing pictures from the 1960s are sensitive and intimate depictions of individuals in Bacon's life. Portraiture became a strong strand in his art. The genre was outmoded and so ripe of reinvention in a less descriptive and flattering terms."

"A frequent subject was Bacon's new lover, George Dyer, a good-looking, uneducated small-time criminal from the East End with whom Bacon began a relationship in 1963," Hammer goes on.

Interestingly, Hammer explains, "Bacon disliked executing portraits from life, however strong his personal rapport with the sitter," preferring to work from photographs. Plenty of Bacon's shots of Dyer remain, such as this one, taken by Bacon's friend the Vogue photographer John Deakin, offering a tantalizing insight into how the artist worked.

 

George Dyer in the Reece Mews Studio (c. 1964) by John Deakin
George Dyer in the Reece Mews Studio (c. 1964) by John Deakin

The 1966 portrait sold or $6.6m at Christie's in New York back in 2000, a record for Bacon work at that time. While the auction house lists the estimate as being available on request in its e-catalogue, in a press release, Christie's says the work could go for £30m or $49m; a respectable 450% increase, and a record for a single painting on canvas by the artist. Still, who knows what kind of pre-Valentine's Day surprise will follow this Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction, on 13 February.

To find out more go here. For a greater understanding of Bacon's work, pick up a copy of our Phaidon Focus book, a fantastic, illustrated, compact study of the artist's life and work. And for clear-sighted auction advice, invest in a copy of Collecting Art for Love, Money and More.


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