Remember all our gnashing of teeth about the Francis Bacon triptych of fellow artist and pal Lucian Freud? The one that fetched the staggering $142.4 million at auction last month? Well, it’s coming to Portland, in one of the biggest arts surprises ever sprung on the city.
The Portland Art Museum just announced that the new owner had agreed to allow the museum to exhibit the painting(s), starting Saturday, December 21.
Museum Director Brian Ferriso and Chief Curator Bruce Guenther had been looking for an appropriate contemporary art piece to show in its Masterworks/Portland series, which previously featured Raphael’s “La Velata,” Titian’s “La Bella,” and Thomas Moran’s “Shoshone Falls on the Snake River.” “When the collector agreed to our request to exhibit the triptych,” Ferriso wrote in the press release about the Bacon showing, “we knew that it would be an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our visitors to see this seminal work.”
“Three Studies of Lucian Freud” (1969) received a ton of attention after the record-breaking auction sale, but mostly about the event, not the painting itself. This showing will give us a chance to engage with it as a painting and with Bacon as an artist instead of as a sign of the apocalypse, though I suppose its possible to argue that the painting itself may suggest that we are in the middle of the apocalypse now.
“Bacon captures the spirit of Freud, rendering him as a tightly coiled mass of energy, ready to spring from the caned bentwood chair positioned in front of a brass bed,” wrote Guenther. “The expressive, volatile brushwork that delineates Freud’s hands and face acts as a brilliant foil to the smooth rendering of the highly abstracted objects and space.”
The press release also detailed its ownership and exhibition history: “First shown in Italy and subsequently in Bacon’s retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris, in 1971-72, the triptych was separated and sold into three different private collections. It disappeared from view for more than 15 years before being reunited by an Italian collector in the 1990s.” It will return to the private collection after the exhibition here, though it’s a good sign for future public access that the collector is willing to share it with the Portland Art Museum.
The unanswered questions from Day One’s accounts are the name of the owner and why that owner decided to show the painting here. The New York Times speculated that it might be Paul Allen because the Allen Foundation gave the museum a three-year grant to fund special exhibitions, but chief curator Bruce Guenther denied that. He did say that it was someone who lived on the West Coast, however. And Judith H. Dobrzynski on her Real Clear Arts blog mentioned Eli Broad, though goodness knows he has access to lots of potential exhibition spaces in LA, and why wouldn’t he save it for the opening of his own museum next year?
Bob Hicks placed the Bacon acquisition in its current context for ArtsWatch.
I wrote about the triptych after seeing it at the Portland Art Museum