Francis Bacon’s Landscape near Malabata, Tangier at Christie’s

Christie’s will present Francis Bacon’s seminal painting Landscape near Malabata, Tangier (1963) in their 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale on March 7, carrying an estimate of £15,000,000-£20,000,000.

Estimated at £15,000,000-£20,000,000, the painting was created in London the year after the tragic death of his partner Peter Lacy in Tangier, with the painting depicting the landscape where he was laid to rest. Here, the artist pays tribute to their relationship in a unique image of grief, desire, and longing. Having remained in the same collection for more than 20 years, this marks the first time the painting has been offered at auction since 1985 when it set a then world auction record for Francis Bacon.

Francis Bacon’s Landscape near Malabata, Tangier

A masterpiece within Bacon’s oeuvre, Landscape near Malabata, Tangier has been shown in 32 exhibitions across 27 cities worldwide. Notably it was included in the landmark 1971-72 lifetime retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris, and was most recently exhibited in the Royal Academy’s Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, in 2022. Landscape near Malabata, Tangier will be on display in London for the pre-auction view at Christie’s from March 1 to 7.

Two shadowy forms orbit a luminous elliptical vortex, bound together by the sweeping gestural motion of Bacon’s brush. Hauntingly anthropomorphic, they flicker on the brink of legibility, dissipating like spirits beneath the glare of the North African sun. The ever-present influence of Van Gogh, too, looms large, echoing not only the Dutch master’s psychologically charged vistas, but also Bacon’s own acts of homage to the artist during the 1950s, most notably Van Gogh in a Landscape (1957, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris), itself inspired by the countryside surrounding Tangier.

This extraordinary meditation upon the agonies of love and loss was originally owned by the celebrated author Roald Dahl and his wife, the American actress Patricia Neal. As Dahl professed: “I myself had become an enthusiastic collector of pictures as soon as World War II ended, in 1945. Each time I sold a short story I would buy a picture [and] when there was a bit more money in the bank I began buying pictures for keeps.” Buoyed by the triumphant professional and financial success of the publication of James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dahl bought four Bacon canvases between the years 1964-68. Dahl enthused about his ownership of seven of Bacon’s paintings; an exaggeration made on more than one occasion, which his biographer Donald Sturrock regarded as typical of Dahl’s character and a reiteration of the high esteem he held for Bacon’s work.

Francis Bacon met Peter Lacy at the Colony Room in Soho in 1952. Lacy, a former fighter pilot, was a deeply troubled man whose mercurial personality wrote its way into Bacon’s life and art. The two shared deep, complex feelings towards one another, inspiring the artist’s groundbreaking depictions of male couplings and other definitive early portraits. Their relationship was fueled by obsession, passion, and vehement bouts of rage, the latter exacerbated by Lacy’s increasing dependence on alcohol after he moved to Tangier in 1955. On 24 May 1962, the official opening day of Bacon’s first retrospective, held at Tate Gallery in London, Bacon sent Lacy a telegram in Tangier with news of the show’s success. The answering telegram shattered him: Lacy was dead. “He was killing himself with drink,” Bacon later explained, “like a suicide… He was the only man I ever loved.”

Katharine Arnold, Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, Christie’s Europe: “Francis Bacon’s Landscape Near Malabata, Tangier is an extraordinary feat of painting. It spins with near centrifugal force, a small creature running around the margins of a tree filled landscape, with grass dried to the colour of gold by the heat of the North African sun. Inspired by the landscapes of the master Vincent Van Gogh, this painting is packed with the emotional intensity Bacon is celebrated for. It represents the extremes of love, loss, ecstasy and pain in the wake of the death of his great love Peter Lacy. Part of the same collection for over 20 years, it is a privilege to be working with this masterpiece by an artist revered and loved in London, as well as across the globe.”

Ana Maria Celis, Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, Christie’s New York:Landscape near Malabata, Tangier pays tribute to one of Bacon’s great loves, a relationship that sadly ended in tragedy on the eve of one of Bacon’s career highlights – a major retrospective at Tate Gallery in London. Last seen at auction almost 40 years ago, we look forward to welcoming our clients to London to view the painting and to experience its emotional power.”