World's Most Expensive Artwork to Go On View at Portland Art Museum

  • December 16, 2013 22:10

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Francis Bacon's "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" brought over $142 million, a world record price at auction for art.
Christie's

Oregon's Portland Art Museum will exhibit Three Studies of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon, from December 21, 2013 to March 30, 2014. On loan from a private collection, the triptych sold for $142.4 million last month at Christie's, capturing a world record price at auction for any artwork.

Who owns the Bacon has not been revealed, although museum officials have said it is a West Coast collector. The loans for their series represent Portland-area collections.

“For some time Chief Curator Bruce Guenther and I have been looking for a modern or contemporary work to present in this ongoing series that brings singular masterpieces to Portland,” explained Museum Director Brian Ferriso of the musuem's Masterworks / Portland series. “When the collector agreed to our request to exhibit the triptych, we knew that it would be an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our visitors to see this seminal work.”

Among the most significant figurative painters of the 20th century, Bacon (British, 1909-1992) gave form to the emotional and psychological landscape of the modern era. Both acclaimed and reviled during his lifetime, the Dublin-born Bacon touched the raw nerve of the post-war era in his art-historically referenced paintings and existentially wrought portraits.

Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) is considered to be among his finest portraits for its aesthetic resolution and insightful rendering of fellow artist Lucian Freud, the grandson of Sigmund Freud.

Bacon and Freud were close friends and regular companions in post-war London. Their friendship provided an aesthetic sounding board for their exploration of figural expressionism—painting each other on numerous occasions for more than 50 years. Bacon completed more than a dozen different portraits of Freud. Three Studies of Lucian Freud is considered an emotional and painterly summation of their friendship.

Bacon’s monumental triptych positions the subject inside a crystalline frame that defines an emotional as well as architectural space. Each panel shows a different viewpoint—left, front, and right.

“Bacon captures the spirit of Freud, rendering him as a tightly coiled mass of energy, ready to spring from the caned bentwood chair positioned in front of a brass bed,” said Chief Curator Bruce Guenther. “The expressive, volatile brushwork that delineates Freud’s hands and face acts as a brilliant foil to the smooth rendering of the highly abstracted objects and space.”

First shown in Italy and subsequently in Bacon’s retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris, in 1971-72, the triptych was separated and sold into three different private collections. It disappeared from view for more than 15 years before being reunited by an Italian collector in the 1990s. With this exhibition, this magnificent work comes into public view for a limited time before returning to a private collection.

The Masterworks / Portland series brings internationally significant works to Portland and provides an opportunity study a single object and artist in depth. Masterpieces featured in the past include Raphael’s La Velata, Titian’s La Bella, and Thomas Moran’s Shoshone Falls on the Snake River.


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