Study from Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velazquez, his violent image of a screaming pope, was painted in 1959. It was the culmination of a series of reinterpretations of Velazquez's original, which Bacon described as 'one of the greatest paintings in the world'; it was an image that 'haunted and obsessed (him) . . . by its perfection'.
His sources also included a contemporary photograph of Pope Pius XII, a blurred photograph of a baboon, and the wounded face of the nurse from the 1925 film Battleship Potemkin. Bacon's distorted imagery in the Popes series reflects his obsession with the pain and bleakness of existence.
Bacon, who died in 1992, was not a prolific artist, and only a handful of works come on to the market each year. He is one of the few British painters bought by international collectors. In the Fifties, his works could be acquired for just pounds 300. In 1990, a Bacon sold for pounds 3.75m in New York. He was unsentimental about his paintings and cared little about the millions they made. In 1991, Bacon told the Independent that if he could have his way, his figurative work would not have any titles. He said: 'I don't think it's a way into a painting.' By prefixing a description with the words 'study for', he intended to imply that the composition was not a final statement.
Christie's auction takes place on 30 June.
The National Art Collections Fund, the art charity, has offered the Victoria & Albert Museum pounds 500,000 towards its renewed attempt to buy Antonio Canova's Three Graces. It needs to raise pounds 7.6m, the price paid by the Getty Museum, California. An export licence has been withheld until 5 August, to give a British institution the opportunity to match the sum.
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