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Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne
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About the item

George Embiricos (1920-2011) was a Greek shipping magnate. Following legal studies in Athens and Cambridge he entered the family business and built it into a leading concern during the Post-War period. Embiricos moved to New York after the War and began collecting art. Passionate and erudite, he retired early to devote his life to art and learning.\n\nOver several decades George Embiricos assembled a legendary collection of paintings, works on paper and sculpture. His profound connoisseurship was eclectic, spanning centuries and cultures. Masterpieces by El Greco, Goya, Cézanne, Kandinsky, Picasso, Van Gogh and Bacon, among others, were brought together in his beautiful home in Lausanne. Sotheby's is honored to present here Francis Bacon’s remarkable Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne of 1967 from the Estate of George Embiricos. Important pictures from Paul Cézanne to Max Ernst and by Francisco de Goya will be offered in Sotheby's auctions of Impressionist and Modern Art on November 5 and Old Master Paintings in January 2013, respectively.\n\n"Her face would assume a look of extreme indignation, followed by one of raucous good humour, and then a glance of seduction, all dropped like masks and as readily replaced".\nMichael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p. 205\n\nA masterful essay on the analysis of facial landscape, Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne is a deeply personal portrayal of one of Francis Bacon's closest female friends. Bacon only painted a handful of female confidants, insisting that he must know his sitters intimately. Isabel Rawsthorne provided unique focus for the artist: she was his preferred female muse and inspired a greater number of small portrait canvases than any of his other friends. Bacon and Rawsthorne had first met in the late 1940s at the home of Erica Brausen, who represented both artists at her Hanover Gallery in London, yet this spectacular portrayal was painted two decades later and today marks the nearly forty years of their close friendship as well as Bacon’s breathtaking ability to navigate the very threshold of abstraction and figuration in rendering the human form.\n\nIn the 1960s Bacon had commissioned John Deakin to photograph Rawsthorne so that he could paint from secondary images. As he told David Sylvester, "I've had photographs taken from portraits because I very much prefer working from the photographs than from them. It's true to say I couldn't attempt to do a portrait from photographs of somebody I don't know. But, if I both know them and have photographs of them, I find it easier to work than actually having their presence in the room." (David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London, 1990, p. 40) Rawsthorne died at the beginning of 1992: the following May, Bacon divulged that they had had an affair and famously told Paris Match "You know I also made love to Isabel Rawsthorne, a very beautiful woman who was Derain's model and Georges Bataille's girlfriend." Bacon's relationship with Rawsthorne was thus singularly unlike that of any of his other female acquaintances.\n\nMichael Peppiatt has described Rawsthorne's prodigious facility for physiognomic change: "Her face would assume a look of extreme indignation, followed by one of raucous good humour, and then a glance of seduction, all dropped like masks and as readily replaced." (Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London, 1996, p. 205). Bacon was inevitably seduced by this expressive variety and this painting epitomizes a rare mode of description that can only stem from a lifetime's worth of close observation. In 1984 Bacon told David Sylvester "I am certainly not trying to make a portrait of somebody's soul or psyche or whatever you like to call it. You can only make a portrait of their appearance, but I think that their appearance is deeply linked with their behavior." (Francis Bacon in conversation with David Sylvester, 1984, Op Cit, p. 234)  Rawsthorne described Bacon's paintings of her as "fabulously accurate" and this deeply personal work is the consummate conflation of her worldly exterior appearance and phenomenal interior character (Michael Peppiatt, Op Cit, p. 208)\n\nThe painting schematizes physiognomy in diagrammatic swathes, whose edges carve through the layers of accumulated paint material among patterns of pigment applied with cashmere sweaters and smeared on the surface. The head looms like a sculpture in paint, reminiscent of Rawsthorne’s other lover Alberto Giacometti’s busts of her, and is virtually superimposed onto the stark flatness of the pale backdrop, whose tonal polarity emphasizes the prominent silhouette of amalgamated profiles. Throughout the work there is this tension between graphic dexterity and the raw power of color, as is so typical of Bacon's most enthralling masterworks. Within the scribed lines of the head Rawsthorne's idiosyncratic features - high forehead, long cheek-bones and arched eyebrows - are confidently incised in flecked streaks and variegated smears of densely worked paint. Variance of expression is revealed through the veiled layers of shuttered hatching, so that "sensation doesn't come straight out at you; it slides slowly and gently through the gaps" (Francis Bacon in conversation with David Sylvester, Op. Cit., p. 243).\n\nBorn in London's East End in 1912, Isabel Nicholas studied at Liverpool Art School before briefly attending the Royal Academy in London. As a young girl she lived with and modeled for the sculptor Jacob Epstein, whose Isabel of 1933 communes a hypnotic sexual allure. In 1934 she moved to Paris and started modeling for André Derain and Alberto Giacometti. She lived with the latter and his sculptures of her bear witness to a statuesque composure and almost celestial assuredness. She also befriended the poet Michel Leiris, who was the son-in-law of Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, Picasso's famous patron. Her first marriage was to Sefton Delmer, a war correspondent for the Daily Express and together they reported on the Spanish Civil War.\n\nHaving divorced Delmer after the Second World War, she married the composer and conductor Constant Lambert. She had her first major solo exhibition in 1949 at the Hanover Gallery, where Bacon also exhibited, after which she designed stage sets, including at the Royal Opera House in 1953. Lambert had died in 1951 and in 1954 she married his friend, the composer Alan Rawsthorne. During the '50s and '60s she mixed in Soho circles along with Bacon at Muriel Belcher's "Colony Room" drinking club and "The George" pub. By the end of the 1970s her eyesight had deteriorated to such a degree that she stopped painting. In this context, Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne is not only the valediction to a truly epic life that spanned the devastating excesses of the Twentieth Century, but also punctuates the closing chapter of her own creativity as an artist.\nTitled and dated 1967 on the reverse
US
NY, US
US

medium

Oil on canvas

creator

Francis Bacon

condition

This painting is in excellent condition. Please contact the Contemporary Art department at 212-606-7254 for the following condition report prepared by Terrence Mahon. The canvas is framed in a gilt wood frame with a linen covered wood rabbet under glass. In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.

dimensions

14 x 12 in. 35.5 x 30.5 cm.

exhibition

London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings, March - April 1967, cat. no. 19, p. 81, illustrated

literature

France Borel, introduction by Milan Kundera, Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits, London and New York, 1996, p. 62, illustrated in color

provenance

Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London Redfern Gallery, London Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., London, March 23, 1983, Lot 73 Waddington Galleries Ltd., London Acquired by the present owner from the above

signedDate

Titled and dated 1967 on the reverse

consignmentDesignation

Property from the Estate of George Embiricos

creator_nationality_dates

1909 - 1992


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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