The Royal College of Art (RCA) is to sell Francis Bacon’s Study from the Human Body, Man Turning on the Light (1973-74) to launch a fundraising campaign for a £20m ($40m) campus in Battersea, London. The painting will be one of the highlights of Christie’s post-war and contemporary evening sale on 14 October.
Bacon rented a studio from the college for eight months in 1969 after a fire destroyed his own work space. He gave the work to the college in lieu of rent nearly 40 years ago.
Sir Christopher Frayling, Rector of the RCA, said this made a difficult decision easier. “The painting was given to us for a semi-commercial reason in the first place, so it doesn’t feel like selling off the family silver,” he said.
In 1989, the college had already considered selling the painting to fund the purchase of a building, which the RCA eventually decided to lease instead. According to Sir Christopher, at the time the artist told the college not to hesitate in selling the work “if it helps the students”. The decision to hang on to the work will certainly pay off: in 1989, the record for a Bacon painting was $6.3m, paid for his triptych May-June (1973). Bacon’s 2007 auction record is the $52.7m paid for Study from Innocent X (1962) at Sotheby’s New York in May. Study from the Human Body, Man Turning on the Light is estimated more conservatively at £7m-£9m ($14m-$18m).
The work is not guaranteed, and neither Christie’s nor Sir Christopher will say whether the auction house has waived all or part of its seller’s premium.
• Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper with the headline "Art school sells Bacon"