Art Market

A Francis Bacon ‘screaming pope’ painting could fetch $30 million at Sotheby’s.

Benjamin Sutton
Mar 29, 2019 5:20PM, via Sotheby’s

Francis Bacon, Study for a Head, 1952. Est. $20 million–$30 million. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

A Francis Bacon painting from one of the British artist’s most iconic bodies of work will be offered at Sotheby’s contemporary art evening sale in New York in May, where it could bring between $20 million and $30 million. The 1952 work, Study for a Head, belongs to Bacon’s so-called “screaming pope” series. It comes from the collection of the late Seattle collectors Richard E. Lang (who passed away in 1982) and Jane Lang Davis (who died in 2017).

Like many of Bacon’s best-known “screaming pope” works, many of which are now in museum collections, Study for a Head draws on the Diego Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X from circa 1650. The auction record for a painting from Bacon’s series of pope paintings was set by Study for Innocent X (1962), which sold for $52.7million, also at Sotheby’s, in 2007 (it is currently Bacon’s fifth-highest auction result).

In a statement, Grégoire Billault, a former researcher for the Francis Bacon Estate who is now the head of Sotheby’s contemporary art department in New York, said:

Study for a Head is the very best of six portrait heads completed by Francis Bacon in 1952, and one of only two of the artist’s iconic ‘screaming Popes’ executed in this head-and-shoulders format. The painting contains all the elements of the artist’s best-known works from this period – broken pince-nez glasses, a purple mozzetta, and of course the reverberating scream – and draws inspiration from the works of Velázquez, Munch and Poussin, as well as Bacon’s lifelong exploration of the human condition.

Alberto Giacometti, Le Couple, 1927. Est. $900,000 to $1.5 million. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Other works from Langs’ collection that will be sold across various Sotheby’s sales in May include a startling Alberto Giacometti bronze, Le Couple (1927), estimated to bring $900,000 to $1.5 million, and Hans Hofmann’s View from the Balcony (1964), estimated at $500,000 to $700,000. Proceeds from the sales will support the activities of the Friday Foundation, which manages the Langs’ collection and carries on their cultural philanthropy.

Further Reading: Francis Bacon, Enigmatic Painter of Howling Popes, Lived a Life on the Edge

Benjamin Sutton