Grégoire Billault, Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Department, is getting very personal in his pitch for Francis Bacon’s $20-30m ‘Screaming Pope’ entitled Study for a Head. Billault has had many trophy works come to market and sell beyond expectations. But this painting is where he’s planting his flag:
“I feel blessed to work with what I consider to be one of the greatest paintings we have ever offered in my 20 years at Sotheby’s. Study for a Head is the very best of six portrait heads completed by Francis Bacon in 1952, and one of only two of the artist’s iconic ‘screaming Popes’ executed in this head-and-shoulders format. The painting contains all the elements of the artist’s best-known works from this period – broken pince-nez glasses, a purple mozzetta, and of course the reverberating scream – and draws inspiration from the works of Velázquez, Munch and Poussin, as well as Bacon’s lifelong exploration of the human condition.”
The folks at Sotheby’s go on to explain why Billault is so excited:
The painting will lead a selection of works from the Collection of Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis – one of the most important private collections of 20th century art ever assembled. The full Lang Collection now belongs to a private charitable foundation, whose purpose is to further the mission of cultural organizations through the donation of both funds and of artworks.
Study for a Head from 1952 is an outstanding example of Bacon’s most recognizable iconography. It belongs to a series of six small paintings in the head-and-shoulders portrait format Bacon completed that year, which advanced both his suited businessmen as well as the Papal imagery he began in the late 1940s. The work carries many superlatives, including:
- One of the most important works by Bacon remaining in private hands
- The very best of the six portrait heads completed by Bacon in 1952 (an early year), and one of only two of the artist’s ‘screaming Popes’ executed in this head-and-shoulders format
- One of the first works by Bacon ever to enter a private American collection, having first been acquired by Jackson Pollock’s biographer Bernard H. Friedman the year it was painted
The work is equally notable for the fact that it is on offer from the Collection of Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis. Married from 1966 until Richard’s passing in 1982, Jane and Richard assembled what is indisputably one of the most important private collections of 20th century art, spanning from Cubism through Abstract Expressionism. The Langs were passionate philanthropists, particularly in their support of the performing and visual arts in Richard’s native Seattle – especially the Seattle Art Museum, where Jane cultivated many of the institution’s early shows of Contemporary. Both Richard and Jane were instrumental in supporting the expansion of SAM to its current downtown location.
The Langs’ storied collection now belongs to a private charitable foundation, whose purpose is to further the mission of cultural organizations through the donation of both funds and artworks. Proceeds from our May sales of works by Francis Bacon, Alberto Giacometti, Franz Kline and others will support that mission, which is in keeping with the Langs’ lifelong commitment to both art and philanthropy.
Study for a Head will travel to Hong Kong (March 29 – April 2), Paris (April 8 & 9) and Los Angeles (April 16 & 17), before returning to New York in advance of the official opening of Sotheby’s newly- reimagined galleries on York Avenue, on 3 May. All works on offer from the Lang Collection will be on public view at that time.