Portrait of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon debuts at auction

A painting by Francis Bacon that has not been seen publicly for nearly six decades will go up for auction later this month, having sat in the same private European collection for 40 years.

Titled Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud, it was painted by British artist Bacon in 1964 and based on a photograph by his contemporary art colleague Freud, taken the same year by the artists’ mutual friend John Deakin.

The painting, which will go up for sale at Sotheby’s British Art: The Jubilee Auction on June 29, was last seen in 1965 when it was displayed as the center panel of a triptych on a large scale as part of a traveling exhibition in Hamburg and Stockholm.

The portrait study of Lucian Freud was painted from a photograph taken by John Deakin (John Deakin/PA)

It was also exhibited in Dublin on its own the same year.

Bacon and Freud had been friends for 20 years prior to Bacon’s creation of Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud and shared a friendship for over 40 years, before relations soured and the relationship ended in the mid-1980s.

The two artists painted themselves on numerous occasions, Freud often painting from real life and Bacon preferring to work from photographs.

In the case of Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud, Bacon used an image of Freud sitting on a bed, arms outstretched, fists clenched, and white sleeves rolled up above the elbows.

Black-and-white photographs taken by photographer Deakin became Bacon’s primary source as he obsessively painted Freud in the 1960s.

Of great personal importance, Bacon kept the photographs with him for the rest of his life, and they were rediscovered torn, crumpled and spattered with paint in his studio after his death in 1992, Sotheby’s said.

Speaking of the portrait ahead of its sale, Sotheby’s Senior Director of Contemporary Art, Tom Eddison, said: “In this portrait alone, we bear witness to a masterpiece, illuminating the deep and complex relationship between two titans of the XXth century.

“It is hard to think of two greater artists whose lives and works are so interwoven into the fabric of our consciousness than Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud.

“At once muses and critics for each other, it was their friendship, respect, rivalry and deep infatuation with each other that ultimately fueled their unequivocal artistic talents.

The portrait will be auctioned for the first time on June 29 (The Estate of Francis Bacon/DACSArtimage/PA)

“Executed with painterly bravery at the height of Bacon’s praise, here we see a portrait that pulsates with an intensity, a tension that reflects the emotions that have bonded these two sparring partners for more than four decades.

“Now, having remained completely invisible to the public for 57 years, this remarkable portrait will return to London as the highlight of the summer auction season.”

The portrait carries an estimate of over £35million.

As well as Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud, Sotheby’s British Art: The Jubilee Season sale will also include other highlights: Banksy’s portrait of Sir Winston Churchill, a sculpture by Dame Barbara Hepworth, the tranquil nearly four-metre depiction of off David Hockney’s Woldgate Woods, LS Lowry’s Town Square, JMW Turner’s View of London and Flora Yukhnovich’s Boucher’s Flesh.

The live auction will begin at 5 p.m. on June 29.

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