The nude self-portrait that Lucian Freud painted for Francis Bacon

Lucian Freud (1922-2011) and Francis Bacon (1909-1992) met in London in 1945. They were separated by thirteen years of age and united by a fiery passion for art understood as a way of life. A mutual friend, the also painter Graham Sutherland, led to the beginning of a relationship as convulsive as their characters, which began in the
Colony Room del Soho
of the British capital, crystallized in the
London school
to which both gave luster and ended in the drama of an irreparable break two decades later. No one ever explained the reasons for the end of one of the friendships that has made the most rivers of ink flow in the recent history of the contemporary art,

although new chapters are being written from time to time.

The last of them has its geographical headquarters in Geneva, a Swiss city that in the middle of the last century became a refuge for the artistic community English more liberated and bohemian, especially in the sexual sphere. While in United Kingdom homosexuality was illegal until 1967, in the neutral country par excellence the gays they were no longer considered criminals in 1942, so behaviors that when crossing the English Channel had to hide, in the streets of Geneva, for example, they lived with all the normality that the fact of at least not feeling persecuted allowed.

And it is there, in a flat whose location has not transpired, where the plot of this episode of the relationship between the two geniuses takes place, in part. About twenty-five years ago, the owner of that apartment passed away, and everything that was there auction. Among the most prized possessions that were put up for sale at the time was a painting, 17 inches wide and 65 inches long, attributed to Lucian Freud, a full body naked, with his back turned, that he snatched from a private collector as soon as he saw it. The individual in question purchased the work, titled ‘Standing Male Nude’, and took her home.

Freud’s call

After a while, he tried to find out his market value, but that investigation must have reached the ears of the artist himself, who, according to the version of the collectorHe called him one day to be interested in the work … and claim it, something to which he refused. Three days later, Freud contacted the collector again, but this time to offer him double what he had paid at auction. The collector rejected the offer, which did not sit well with the painter, who, quite annoyed, hung up the phone with a resounding farewell phrase: “In that case, he will never be able to sell it.” So it was. Freud denied the authorship of that oil, which since then has been in a no-man’s-land where, in the world of art, women are banished. unrecognized works.

Despite the refusal that, after the death of the British artist in 2011, the owner of the painting continued to receive from his’ state, he has never stopped fighting to bring it to light of the authenticity. An endeavor that, after years of fruitless research and an expensive investment of time and money, has finally paid off. Thanks to the investigation leadered by
Thierry navarro
, several experts have determined that it is very likely that ‘Standing Male Nude’ was painted by Freud and that, furthermore, it could be a self portrait. It is at this point that the fate of the work meets Francis Bacon, since the private investigator hired by the collector has located a witness in Geneva who defends that it was he who commissioned it to Freud.

Francis Bacon (left) and Lucian Freud, portrayed by Harry Diamond in 1974
Francis Bacon (left) and Lucian Freud, portrayed by Harry Diamond in 1974 – ABC

«This person is over 60 years old. When the painting was presented in a private exhibition, he saw it and said he recognized it, because he had seen it in a flat that Bacon used to use in Geneva, “he explains. Thierry navarro in telephone conversation with ABC. Apparently this ‘witness’ was part of the gay community from the Swiss city at that time and frequented the aforementioned apartment. “Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and other people used to spend time in Geneva because it was kind of a very secret atmosphere, and somehow they could live their lives without it coming out. The witness also explained to us that Freud painted the painting at the request of Bacon and that, afterwards, he did not know anything more about that work, “says the researcher.

Frame analysis

Throughout all these years, the collector has turned to experts, to auction houses, and always got the same answer: yes Lucian Freud He hadn’t recognized the work, there was nothing to do, nothing to sell. Until, finally, he managed to contact Nicholas Eastaugh, a renowned British specialist who made a technical analysis of the frame, comparing pigments with works by the artist present at the Tate, and who came to the following conclusion: “In the work presented we have found both a positive comparative result with Freud and an absence of negative indicators of his authorship.”

After this endorsement, the collector contacted the French art critic and historian Hector Obalk, expert in Lucian Freud, which he ‘portrayed’ in a documentary in 2009. “When the attorney for the ‘state’ discovered that he was working on this painting, Mr. Obalk received an email, we could call it a ‘blackmail’ (blackmail), in which he was warned that they would seriously reconsider his collaboration with him for the DVD rights if he continued to work on it. For an expert, if you start playing that game, you lose the credibility you have in the market, so he refused and decided to maintain his opinion on it, this being that the painting is by Freud. And he is ready to secure it anytime, anywhere. “


To try to explain the reason for Freud’s refusal to admit the authorship of the work, Navarro relies on the story of his friendship with Bacon. Their relationship ended in a very unpleasant way, to say the least, because Francis Bacon he was a very dominant person and Lucian Freud it was under his rule, it was always in Bacon’s shadow. It is probable that when they broke their friendship the painting stayed in that apartment, that Bacon did not take it because he no longer cared.

Navarro believes that Bacon challenged Freud: «Would you be able to paint yourself from behind and in that position? This must have been a tremendous effort for Freud, who had to paint it looking at himself in a mirror. So I can imagine that when he learned that this painting had returned to the market and was in the hands of a collector in Geneva, I would like to recover it, because it connected with his past, with his life with Francis Bacon and it probably aroused in him feelings and emotions difficult to manage. I understand that he did not want to admit it, that he said: “It is not mine” ».

During his research, Navarro also discovered, to his amazement, that the painting was connected to one of the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge naked athletes who are part of the book
‘The Human Figure in Motion’
, whose homoerotic images it is known that they inspired Bacon. «Freud used the ‘Athlete. Catching at a Ball ‘from that book as a model. There is a direct link. In addition, the researcher has compared numerous photographs of Freud with the face that can be seen in the painting, reaching the conclusion that it is him.

Uncertain future

The researcher knows that nothing that has been achieved, not even the testimonies of the experts, «is sufficient for it to be recognized that the painting is by Freud. The market is very difficult, especially if the authorship has been denied by the artist. In fact, the position of the ‘state’ has not moved a millimeter: “Freud denied it, we do not comment on anything else.” That is why at this point, and although in the past he wanted to sell it but could not, it is already “something personal” for the owner of the work. “He told me that he simply wanted to free himself from twenty-five years of struggle. That, in the first place, because so much time has passed, so much money has been invested … And, secondly, this painting has to be presented to the public, the time has come for it to go to another dimension and not remain only in a private collection , that it is in a museum, that people can see it, because connect two masters of art. There is a very strong story behind it, you feel something very intense when you see it ».

But painting future remains uncertain. “There is no evidence that it is not from Freud. Nobody has said that it is a fake, nobody has said that they have not painted it. That’s a fact. He didn’t want to admit it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not his. Surely, the attorneys of the ‘state’ will continue in the same position, unless they begin to look at the evidence and pay attention to new experts … Maybe at some point it can come to that and it can be sold at an auction house, but today this is not the case, “concludes Navarro.


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