Amid continual announcements of sale postponements in the auction sector, Christie’s upcoming London Prints Sale will be among the few still taking place on its original date. As usual, screenprints by Andy Warhol carry the highest estimates in the sale. But a 1969 Francis Bacon print will contend against the higher value lots as the artist’s $60M Triptych is scheduled to be deaccessioned from Norway’s Astrup Fearnley museum during Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sales this May.
Offered at an estimate of £40,000-60,000 Bacon’s Étude pour une corrida is one among several editions made for his three 1969 paintings depicting bullfighters — completed after traveling regularly to Spain and France throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Influenced by religious iconography and depictions of modern violence, Bacon’s studies lend insight into the artist’s signature exploration of brutality that came to shape his works as preeminent 20th Century masterpieces. In this print, with violence as spectator sport, Bacon fused the matador and animal in concert — a crowd of witnesses is contained behind the arena as ceremonial voyeurs. The composition is similar to many of his most famous works: Bacon’s entangled figures stand as centerpieces within a receding enclosure — a visual allegory believed by critics to be inspired by the destructive force central to human behavior.
Bacon cited the work of Pablo Picasso as the inspiration for bullfighting as subject matter. While Bacon’s haunting portraits of Papal figures and close confidants have seen a fair share of headline moments at the top auction houses in recent years, the bullfighting imagery is less widely circulated, but equally important. The record price for a Bacon oil painting with the same subject matter and saturation was set more than a decade ago, with Second Version of study for bullfight no. 1 selling for $46M in a New York Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Sale in 2007.