Bacon and Freud: Friends in Flesh and Bone

Oct 25, 2013 3:06PM

“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 in a 1966 BBC interview with David Sylvester

On November 12, Three Studies of Lucian Freud painted by Francis Bacon will be sold at auction at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York.  This work pays tribute to Bacon and Freud's powerful, creative and emotional kinship, and notes their profound impact on contemporary art. 

Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud had a fraught friendship that informed each other’s artistic practices, recalling the great competitive dialogues created between Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Henri Mattise, and Titian and Tintoretto.  They were contemplative counterparts, both rattling the core of British painting through their practices. "Their relationship is the tension between someone for whom making art is a fluid affair, and on the other hand, the artist for whom making art is an arduous, laborious matter,” Sebastian Smee writes in the Boston Globe, “When these two temperaments meet they can have an amazing effect on each other.”  

If Bacon was the id, Freud was the superego.  Already a master draftsman engaged in a labored drawing practice, the grandson of Sigmund coupled Bacon’s savage eroticism with his own bravura technique to produce challenging portraits of subjects splayed in thick, flesh-colored impasto. Bacon’s canvases, in turn, are occupied by contorted faces, twisted flesh and meaty carcasses isolated within stark borders. At their heart, the works belie a turbulent personality and an artistic practice informed by an element of chance and risk.  The duo’s appetite for angst carried them against the idiomatic stylings of Post-War abstraction, and they sealed their friendship by painting each other’s portraits.  Bacon painted Three Studies of Lucian Freud in 1969; the other painted in 1966 has not been seen since the early 1990s.  

For fifteen years, the three-paneled painting, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, was in separate parts, which was deeply distressing for the artist.  On their separation, Bacon noted on a photograph of the left panel that the painting was meaningless unless united with the other two panels.  At Christie’s upcoming sale, the panels will once again be reunited. Three Studies of Lucian Freud will be seen for the first time to the UK public during Frieze Art Week in London, and will be on view in Christie’s New York location from 1-12 November.

According to Martin Harrison, curator of the 1971 Grand Palais retrospective, "Its reassembly into the form he intended would, if he lived to see it, have caused him profound satisfaction, given that this was among the surprisingly small number of his paintings he held in high regard."

(Article by Christine Villanueva; Video Courtesy of Christie's)