Francis Bacon’s Portrait of Muse and Lover George Dyer Makes Its Auction Debut

The 1966 portrait is expected to fetch up to $50 million this May.

Oil portrait of naked man crouching over
Francis Bacon, Portrait of George Dyer Crouching, (1966). Courtesy Sotheby's

Francis Bacon, the Irish-born artist known for figurative and occasionally unsettling portraits, painted subjects ranging from disfigured friends to screaming popes. One of his greatest muses, however, was his lover George Dyer.

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Bacon’s first full-scale portrait of Dyer, which stands at more than six feet tall, will make its auction debut this spring with Sotheby's. Estimated to sell for between $30 million and $50 million, the 1966 painting has been in an anonymous private collection ever since it was sold in 1970 by Marlborough Gallery.

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Entitled Portrait of George Dyer Crouching, the monumental work contains classic Bacon characteristics like entwined heads, self-reflection and flesh. Depicting Dyer crouching above his shirt, Bacon initially named the work Portrait of George Dyer Squatting, but later changed the title to reflect a more animalistic feel. “Dyer is simultaneously predator and prey,” said Lucius Elliott, head of Sotheby’s contemporary marquee sales in New York, in a statement. “This painting is a gut punch—a vortex of flesh and emotion that lures you in with this almost gravitational pull.”

Francis Bacon and George Dyer’s complicated relationship

The movement-filled painting, which shows Dyer’s head in three different positions—and in one instance, fused with Bacon’s—reflects the couple’s passionate and at times tumultuous relationship. The pair first met at a London bar in 1963, where Dyer approached Bacon and said, “You all seem to be having a good time. Can I buy you a drink?” as once recalled by the artist.

A petty criminal from London’s East End, Dyer was an alcoholic prone to bursts of violence. But he was equally inspiring to Bacon, who captured his partner in more than forty different paintings. Their relationship came to a tragic end in 1971 when Dyer died of an overdose just two days before the opening of Bacon’s major retrospective at Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais in Paris, which included Portrait of George Dyer Crouching.

Woman looks at pink and purple painting of male figure
Francis Bacon, Portrait of George Dyer Talking, (1966). Andrew Cowie/AFP via Getty Images

The portrait was also displayed during Bacon’s 1966 solo show at Paris’s Galerie Maeght, and more recently at a 2022 exhibition at London’s Royal Academy of Arts. It was the first of a ten-piece series Bacon completed between 1966 and 1968 and dedicated to Dyer—one of which was destroyed in a 1979 fire. A third of the remaining works are held in the collections of the Fondation Beyeler in Riehen, Switzerland; the Sara Hildénin Foundation in Tampere, Finland; and the Thyseen-Bornemisza National Museum in Madrid.

Dyer inspired numerous Bacon triptychs both during his life and after his death, including a series of grief-filled works between 1972 and 1974 known as The Black Triptychs. Meanwhile, Bacon’s Portrait of George Dyer Talking, one of the ten Dyer-focused portraits he painted in the 1960s, fetched $70 million at auction in 2014 and stands as Bacon’s most valuable single-panel portrait. The artist’s overall auction record was set the year prior when his 1969 Three Studies of Lucian Freud sold for $142 million.

Portrait of George Dyer Crouching is “an undeniable masterpiece that captures a transformative moment for Bacon and for 20th-century art,” according to a statement from Grégoire Billault, Sotheby’s chairman for contemporary art. The portrait will be exhibited in Hong Kong and London before returning to New York to lead Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Auction in May.

Francis Bacon’s Portrait of Muse and Lover George Dyer Makes Its Auction Debut