Francis Bacon signed, titled and dated 'Leventis 92/Head Francis Bacon' (on the reverse) acrylic on canvas 51 x 41 cm.
Provenance: Private collection, London.
Michael Leventis has been quietly painting in London for over twenty years and in that concentrated period, developed not only a singular style but a close friendship with Francis Bacon who greatly encouraged his work.
That was evident in an undated, handwritten letter on Bacon's stationery from the early 1980's, on the occasion of Leventis solo show of fifteen paintings at the now shuttered Solomon Gallery on Dover Street in Mayfair.
"I thought the new paintings looked marvellous," wrote Bacon to his friend Leventis. "Don't let your dealer tie you down as I am sure after your exhibition you will have a great number of galleries interested in your work."
One of the paintings in the exhibition, "The Art Critic," brilliantly captured the likeness of the late David Sylvester, one of Bacon's greatest champions.
Appropriately, the craggy critic was posed in Bacon's studio by a paint-encrusted door that Bacon famously used as a palette. That portrait now resides in a public collection in Belfast.
Another work from that show is the portrait of Bacon, a bravura and art historically relevant depiction that mimes Bacon's own style of working from photographs rather than from close in proximity live models.
"I asked John Edwards (Bacon's companion) that I wanted to do the picture and I knew he wouldn't sit for me," recalled Leventis during a recent interview. "He sent me a bunch of snapshots of Francis and I picked one of them to do the image, complete with paint and his fingerprints on it. After all, Francis wouldn't sit for anyone, not even Lucien (Freud)."
Set against a monochrome and minimal background, Bacon's disembodied head in hyper-realistic detail dominates the canvas. Caricature like though spot on in terms of depicting the painter's lined visage, furrowed brow and tousled hair, the Leventis portrait projects in riveting animation, Bacon's maverick personality.
When Leventis showed the portrait to Valerie Beston, Bacon's trusted confidante at Marlborough Gallery, Beston wanted to use the lineness for the cover of a monograph being prepared on Bacon. But it was too late in the publishing process to pull that off and a photograph of Bacon was used instead.
Beston also urged Leventis to bring the portrait to the National Portrait Gallery but as Leventis recalls, "I didn't want to part with it."
We are grateful to Judd Tully, art critic and editor-at-large of Art & Auction magazine, for providing this catalogue note and additional information for this work.