Painting Bacon gave in lieu of rent is set to make £9m at auction

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The Independent Online

It is common practise in some circles to accept the work of an aspiring artist in lieu of rent, mostly in the hope that the artwork will reap dividends.

That is exactly what happened when Francis Bacon's studio was destroyed by a fire in 1969 and he decided to rent a studio in the heart of his beloved South Kensington, London.

He brokered a deal with the Royal College of Art in which he would have six months of rent-free studio space on Cromwell Road in return for one artwork.

Yesterday, the artwork in question: Study from the Human Body, Man Turning on the Light, was unveiled at Christie's auction house with an estimated price tag of £9m. The sale will take place on 14 October.

Although Bacon was a respected artist at the time, it was before the "Bacon boom" which saw the price of his work soar.

According to Sir Christopher Frayling, who is rector of the RCA, this arrangement was in keeping with Bacon's generous, if rather chaotic temperament.

Speaking to The Independent, Sir Christopher said the original artwork given by Bacon was Study For Bullfight No 1, which the painter requested back so it could be taken to New York for a Bacon retrospective in 1975.

Instead, he gave the college the substitute, which he said he "preferred" to the original painting and which had never before appeared on the art market.

"He gave us the second painting and said 'this one is better, you hang onto it'. Shall we say that in retrospect, it is one of the college's better rental arrangements. In those days, it wasn't worth quite as much but it was a great piece to have," Sir Christopher said.

Four decades later, the RCA is selling the painting to raise funds for a new campus in Battersea. Sir Terence Conran, provost of the RCA, said that Bacon had given his blessing to the proposed sale before his death in 1992.

"When the College first discussed the possibility of selling this picture in order to raise funds for future development, I met with my friend Francis Bacon to ask about his views of the proposed sale. It pays great testament to the benevolent nature of the artist that he gave the decision his full and enthusiastic support if it would be of benefit to the students of the College," he said.

Bacon's work now features amongst the most popular 20th century art at auction. In May last year, Study From Innocent X sold for £26m, establishing a world record price for the artist at a New York auction. During the late 1960s, Bacon produced a group of visceral studies of male nudes, of which the painting is one. In the work, he transforms the concept of switching on a light into "something strangely brutal", according to Christie's.

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