In the coming days we are going to see a fantastic selection of quality-museum paintings coming under the hammer at Sotheby's, Christie's and Phillips.
I personally find this extraordinary Pope with owls of 1958 circa by Francis Bacon - which will be auctioned by Phillips on November 17th during their 20th Century & Contemporary Evening Sale in New York - very remarkable.
A bright client of mine recently told me it is incredible how sometimes images speak to you and sometimes don't, and I couldn't really tell you why. I believe this is an absolutely true concept, and we all respond individually to the power of art.
To me as an art historian, it is particularly mesmerising seeing how artists have responded to other artists.
Francis Bacon worked on the series taken from Diego Velázquez's celebrated portrait of Pope Innocenzo X (1650) for over two decades. He said: "I think it is one of the greatest portraits that have ever been made, and I became obsessed by it".
The painting is characterized by the presence of two owls - which immediately capture the gaze of the viewer - symmetrically perched on the throne behind the pope.
My poor heart is an owl
Nailed to the wall, torn loose, and then nailed again
Completely depleted of blood and force.
All those who love me, I praise them.
These are the meaningful words of a poetry by Apollinaire from Le Bestiarie ou Cortegé d'Orpheé, composed in 1911.
The interest in visceral images of birds and animals can be found in another great Modern British painter, Graham Sutherland, who between 1952 and 1962 was working on the preliminary research for the tapestry of Coventry Cathedral, where the Evangelists are represented as beasts, followed by two Bestiaries of 1968 and 1978 for Marlborough Gallery.
As Matthew Senior from Oberlin College reports, Sutherland and Bacon (along with Picasso) can be defined as the great post-humanist artists of the Twentieth Century: "They shared a sense of the transitivity between the human and the animal body".
In 2022 an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, will explore how Bacon's fascination with animals influenced and shaped his representation of the human body.
In the picture: Francis Bacon, Pope with owls, 1958 circa