The spectacular failure of Study for a Self-Portrait, 1964, which New York collector George Weiss had dispatched to Christie’s New York on 12 November 2008, but which had failed to attract a single bid (and is now the subject of a dispute over a $40m guarantee which was offered and subsequently withdrawn), had dented the reputation of an apparently resilient market for the artist’s pictures. Bacon traders were hoping that normal business would be resumed with this canvas (lot 11), which had been consigned by Norwich Union and was expected to be the most expensive work of art to be offered in the various contemporary art sessions.
The canvas belongs to a series of seven “Man in Blue” compositions, six of which were included in Bacon’s first exhibition at Erika Brausen’s Hanover Gallery in 1954, and several of which were displayed to critical acclaim in the recent Tate Britain survey of the artist’s work. Nevertheless, the series is regarded as a stark and subtle project omitting the theatrical drama of the artist’s most distinctive and popular work. Christie’s appeared to have addressed this issue with a reasonable valuation for a picture which, according to several Bacon market makers, would have been worth $12m, and even as much as $18m, just a year ago. However, there were no bids for the picture, which becomes the most expensive casualty of the week and brings further disruption to one of the market’s most reliable and profitable centres of trading activity.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Francis Bacon, Man in Blue VI, 1954 (est £4m-£6m), unsold'