Francis Bacon’s Early Failures

Francis Bacon’s Early Failures
(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

In 2013, Francis Bacon’s painting Three Studies of Lucian Freud sold for $142 million, setting the world record (since surpassed) for the most expensive painting sold at auction. His second- and third-highest-selling paintings, one of which was sold as recently as the summer of 2020, place him firmly in the art-market ranks of Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, and other blue-chip masters. The similarities between Bacon’s three top sellers are clear. Each piece is composed of three panels and, as in much of his work, the central figures are grotesquely distorted: bodies compressed at their joints, expanded into fleshy puddles, coerced into jumbled parts. As with the best evocative art, many of Bacon’s paintings inspire discomfiting questions. Are Freud’s hands gruesomely melting or surreally clasped? Is he one- or three-legged? Is he lounging and relaxed, or is he caged, on the verge of a violent uncoiling?

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