This November, one of just six surviving paintings from Francis Bacon’s famed Tangier series will be offered in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction. Entitled Pope, the present work was executed in Morocco circa 1958, during a particularly emotional and prolific period of the artist’s life. The offering of Pope is momentous: prior to this, only two of the six surviving Tangier paintings have ever appeared at auction – the most recent, another Pope, was sold at Sotheby’s in 2008 for $7.3 million (estimate $3.2 – 4.7 million).
Entrenched in layers of intimate, dark emotion, the present work is a superb example of one of Bacon’s most iconic subjects. Pope is distinguished by its impressive scale and the subject’s fully articulated face; through swaths of dark blue, green and ivory, the Pope stares out with penetrating, hollow eyes to meet the viewer’s gaze.
FRANCIS BACON, POPE, CIRCA 1958. ESTIMATE $6,000,000 – 8,000,000
Pope offers viewers a privileged glimpse into the passion and pain that influenced Bacon’s work during the later part of the 1950s. Peter Lacy, Bacon’s longtime lover, served as a muse throughout this era. In the mid-1950s, Lacy moved to Tangier, a city known for its exotic lifestyle and unusual tolerance for homosexuality. This reputation attracted many creative figures, including Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. Over the coming years, Bacon traveled to Tangier often to be with Lacy, staying for extended periods of time. During one of these visits, circa 1958, Bacon completed the present Pope.