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Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969. © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / ARS, New York / Christie's Images Limited 2013.

PORTLAND, ORE.- The Portland Art Museum continues the Masterworks / Portland series with the presentation of Three Studies of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon, opening December 21. 

For some time Chief Curator Bruce Guenther and I have been looking for a modern or contemporary work to present in this ongoing series that brings singular masterpieces to Portland,” explained Museum Director Brian Ferriso. “ “When the collector agreed to our request to exhibit the triptych, we knew that it would be an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our visitors to see this seminal work.” 

Among the most significant figurative painters of the 20th century, Bacon (British, 1909-1992) gave form to the emotional and psychological landscape of the modern era. Both acclaimed and reviled during his lifetime, the Dublin-born Bacon touched the raw nerve of the post-war era in his art-historically referenced paintings and existentially wrought portraits. 

Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) is considered to be among his finest portraits for its aesthetic resolution and insightful rendering of fellow artist Lucian Freud, the grandson of Sigmund Freud. 

Bacon and Freud were close friends and regular companions in post-war London. Their friends hip provided an aesthetic sounding board for their exploration of figural expressionism—painting each other on numerous occasions for more than 50 years. Bacon completed more than a dozen different portraits of Freud. Three Studies of Lucian Freud is considered an emotional and painterly summation of their friendship. 

Bacon’s monumental triptych positions the subject inside a crystalline frame that defines an emotional as well as architectural space. Each panel shows a different viewpoint—left, front, and right. 

Bacon captures the spirit of Freud, rendering him as a tightly coiled mass of energy, ready to spring from the caned bentwood chair positioned in front of a brass bed,” said Chief Curator Bruce Guenther. “The expressive, volatile brushwork that delineates Freud’s hands and face acts as a brilliant foil to the smooth rendering of the highly abstracted objects and space.” 

First shown in Italy and subsequently in Bacon’s retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris, in 1971-72, the triptych was separated and sold into three different private collections. It disappeared from view for more than 15 years before being reunited by an Italian collector in the 1990s. With this exhibition, this magnificent work comes into public view for a limited time before returning to a private collection. 

The Masterworks / Portland series brings internationally significant works to Portland and provides an opportunity study a single object and artist in depth. Masterpieces featured in the past include Raphael’s La Velata, Titian’s La Bella, and Thomas Moran’s Shoshone Falls on the Snake River. 

The exhibition is organized by the Portland Art Museum and curated by Bruce Guenther, chief curator and The Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. This special installation is made possible in part through the support of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. 

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 Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969 (detail). © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / ARS, New York / Christie's Images Limited 2013.

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Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969 (detail). © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / ARS, New York / Christie's Images Limited 2013.