The Newhouses are selling Bacon’s portrait of a tormented muse

It depicts a distorted female face framed by black hair on light pink background

BY KATYA KAZAKINA

A little gem by Francis Bacon from the storied postwar art collection of the late publishing magnate Samuel “Si” Newhouse Jr is the latest trophy heading to auction next month in New York.

Just 14-by-12 inches, “Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing” (main picture) will be sold at Christie’s postwar and contemporary art evening sale on Nov 15. The 1969 work is estimated at US$14 million (RM58.1 million) to US$18 million. The auction record for Bacon is US$142.4 million.

The painting was a gift from Bacon to his sister (Source: www.francis-bacon.com)

The painting was a gift from Bacon to his sister Ianthe Knott. It depicts a distorted female face framed by black hair on light pink background.

“I recall vividly the day in 2007 when he phoned to ask what I thought about this portrait,” said Tobias Meyer, a former Sotheby’s executive who’s advising the Newhouse family.

“I was mesmerised by the work, so I recommended he acquire it immediately before anyone else could.”

Newhouse, who was chairman of Advance Publications Inc, paid US$9 million for the piece, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing details of a private transaction.

Moraes frequently modelled for artists, including Bacon and Lucian Freud. She was 38 at the time the portrait was painted, with several suicide attempts and three failed marriages behind her, according to Christie’s.

“I’ve always admired this painting,” said Alex Rotter, Christie’s chairman of postwar and contemporary art, who’s done regular appraisals of the Newhouse collection for more than 15 years.

“It has the same intensity as the great faces of Picasso.”

The small painting hung above another Bacon portrait to the side of a large window at Newhouse’s Manhattan apartment, which was filled with 20th century masterpieces, including Andy Warhol’s 1964 “Orange Marilyn”.

“He had the best Warhols, Pollocks, De Koonings, Rothkos,” fellow billionaire David Geffen said in an interview shortly after Newhouse’s death last October at age 89.

“If he wanted the painting, he got it.” — Bloomberg