Bacon portrait of lover fetches record £4.9m

Click to follow

A portrait by Francis Bacon of his one-time lover has been sold for £4.9m at auction, a record price for a painting by the artist.

Bacon's 1967 work, Portrait of George Dyer Staring Into A Mirror, fetched £500,000 more than the previous most expensive Bacon - a portrait of Henrietta Moraes sold in New York three years ago.

It also fetched considerably more than its advance estimate of £2.5m-£3.5m.

The successful, unnamed bidder on Lot 24 in the Post War and Contemporary Art Sale at Christie's in London, has bought what many critics believe to be among Bacon's best works, and which documents of one of his most tempestuous relationships.

The meeting between Bacon and Dyer in 1964 has passed into art folklore. The Dublin-born artist liked to say he first encountered the small-time criminal as he caught him red-handed in the act of burgling his studio. Bacon reputedly said "Take all your clothes off and get into bed with me. Then you can have all you want." Another, more prosaic, version has it that Dyer approached Bacon and his friends during a night of drunken revelry in Soho.

Their meeting marked the beginning of an intense friendship, during which Dyer became Bacon's lover and muse through much of the 1960s.

Portrait of George Dyer Staring Into Mirror shows him sitting cross-legged, dressed in a boxy suit of the kind favoured by the Krays, glancing sidelong into a mirror. Like many of Bacon's portraits - especially those of his lovers - the sitter's features are distorted and smeared. It was one of many paintings Bacon made of Dyer during the late 1960s.

Dyer, a drifter with a speech impediment who had spent time in prison before he met Bacon, was unhappy for much of their time together and felt inadequate among Bacon's erudite social circle, committed suicide in 1971. After his death Bacon painted two triptychs in his memory.

"His stealing at least gave him a raison d'être, even though he wasn't very successful at it and was always in and out of prison" Bacon once said. "It gave him something to think about ... I thought I was helping him when I took him out of that life. I knew the next time he was caught he'd get a heavy sentence.

"And I thought, well, life's too short to spend half of it in prison. But I was wrong, of course. He'd have been in and out of prison, but at least he'd have been alive."