Francis Bacon's Portrait of His Cat Burglar Lover Set to Sell for World Record PS40m

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), February 9, 2014 | Go to article overview

Francis Bacon's Portrait of His Cat Burglar Lover Set to Sell for World Record PS40m


Byline: Elizabeth Sanderson

A MEWS house in South Kensington, 1963. George Dyer, a petty criminal from the East End of London, drops through the skylight and into a room filled with vast canvases and half completed pictures of naked men and screaming popes.

Paint pots and piles of paper scraps carpet the floor. The walls, a makeshift palette, are daubed with gashes of colour - shocking red, pale pink, livid blue. It is the dead of night.

A man emerges from the doorway.

'You've got two choices,' he says matter-of-factly. 'I can call the police or you can come to bed with me.' It is Francis Bacon.

George chose the latter option. And so began a near decade-long love affair between the small-time burglar and arguably the greatest British painter of modern times.

This week, one of Bacon's many tributes to George, Portrait Of George Dyer Talking, is expected to become the most expensive single portrait ever auctioned when it goes on sale at Christie's in London on Thursday.

It is thought the 6ft-tall 1966 oil painting - believed to be being sold by Mexican financier David Martinez Guzman - will fetch up to PS40million. It follows the sale of Bacon's triptych of portraits of fellow artist Lucian Freud, which also set a new world record for an art auction when it fetched PS89million last November.

Even by the standards of the art world, the latest portrait will set a new reference point - the Beckhams recently paid PS40million for their seven-bedroom mansion in London's exclusive Holland Park.

Portrait Of George Dyer Talking is one of the most famous images of Bacon's lover, a man the artist immortalised on canvas but destroyed in real life. Despite his upbringing on the fringes of the criminal underworld - he was a minor associate of the Krays - George was a fragile young man who was fundamentally ill-equipped to cope with the painter's cruel brilliance.

He committed suicide in Paris in 1971 on the eve of Bacon's retrospective at the Grand Palais - an honour that had only ever been awarded to one other artist, Picasso. The show included the portrait, which last appeared on the open market in 2000, when it sold for $6.6million (PS4million) at Christie's in New York. It was then believed to have been acquired by Martinez in a private sale for $12 million (PS7.3 million) more than five years ago.

Last night, a member of George Dyer's family spoke for the first time about the artist who some hold responsible for his lover's death. The relative, a woman in her 80s, who asked not to be named, said: 'George's family thought Bacon was a degenerate man and wanted nothing to do with him. He was not liked by the family because we thought he was an awful man. …

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