George Dyer (1934 –1971) was Francis Bacon's (1909-1992) lover and companion until Dyer’s suicide only eight years after they famously ‘met.’ Bacon caught Dyer, a well-built and immaculate man possessing a criminal record and hailing from London’s East End, breaking into his home one night in 1963. The immediately embarked upon a passionate and stormy love-affair, Dyer became Bacon’s most significant muse leading him to making some of his most celebrated art works and featuring large in Bacon’s life and art. The couple travelled to Paris in the autumn of 1971 for a major retrospective of Bacon’s work at Grand Palais, hours before the opening Dyer was found dead in their shared hotel suite. Throughout the years Bacon was rumored to have bought Dyer out of trouble and his kept existence fuelled his drinking problem and depression finally culminating in his overdose of sleeping pills on the fatal day. Haunted by his loss, Bacon continued to paint Dyer for some years, producing the famous ‘Black Triptychs’ of the early 1972-1974, several of which are in Tate's collection.

The Triptych is an important work for several reasons. It has rarely been seen in public; it is the only triptych of Dyer ever to be auctioned; and it is the first time Bacon used photographs by his friend John Deakin – a former Vogue staff photographer - as source material for an artwork.

Bacon hardly ever painted from live models. Bacon rarely painted from live models. Talking of his subjects, Bacon said: “If I know them and have photographs of them, I find it easier to work than actually having their presence in the room. I think that, if I have the presence of the images there, I am not able to drift so freely as I am able to through the photographic image. This may just be my own neurotic sense but I find it less inhibiting to work from them through memory and their photographs than actually having them seated there before me.”

Bacon works are now some of the most expensive that exist. His large-scale triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) broke all auction records when it sold for $142m in New York last November. In February a portrait of Dyer became  Christie’s highest fetching lot in Europe as Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966) sold in London for £42m, setting an auction record for a portrait of Dyer, and the most valuable work of art that Christie's had sold in Europe. The seller Mexican financier David Martinez Guzman was said to have purchased the painting in a private sale for $12m. A small-scale triptych – of Freud again – was sold for £23m in 2011. Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s Senior International Specialist in Contemporary Art, said, about the work on sale: “Painted less than a year after their first encounter, Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer marks both the height of Bacon’s affair with Dyer and the zenith of his achievement in portraiture. Full of the painterliness, chaotic brushstrokes and raw emotion that make Bacon such a giant among artists, we expect it to create great excitement at auction, coming at a moment when the market for works by Bacon is at an all-time high.”

Not seen in London for over 20 years, Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (on Light Ground) will be exhibited in Sotheby’s London galleries from Friday 27th until noon on Monday 30th June, prior to its sale on the evening of the 30th.

See more work by Francis Bacon on Barnebys here.

George Dyer photographed by John Deakins, 1960s George Dyer photographed by John Deakins, 1960s


Francis Bacon. Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (on light ground), 1964. Francis Bacon. Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (on light ground), 1964.