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'Screaming Pope' by Bacon to lead Sotheby's Sales of Works from the Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection
An iconic ‘Screaming Pope’ by Francis Bacon, one of the most important works by the artist remaining in a private collection. Estimate $20/30 Million. Courtesy Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s announced the sale of select works from the Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection across the May 2019 auctions of Contemporary and Impressionist & Modern Art.

Assembled in the 1970s and ‘80s, the Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection now belongs to the Friday Foundation, a private charitable organization committed to working with its cultural partners to ensure that the great works remaining in the collection will be enjoyed by the public, while also supporting key arts initiatives that were important to the Langs with proceeds from the sales.

Sotheby’s offering of works from the Lang Collection will be led by one of the most important paintings by Francis Bacon remaining in private hands: Study for a Head from 1952. An outstanding example of Bacon’s most celebrated and recognizable iconography, the work powerfully captures the silent scream of his iconic Popes. Study for a Head will highlight Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 16 May 2019, carrying an estimate of $20/30 million.

Grégoire Billault, Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Department in New York and former researcher for the Francis Bacon Estate, commented: “I feel blessed to work with what I consider to be one of the greatest paintings we have ever offered in my 20 years at Sotheby’s. Study for a Head is the very best of six portrait heads completed by Francis Bacon in 1952, and one of only two of the artist’s iconic ‘screaming Popes’ executed in this head-and-shoulders format. The painting contains all the elements of the artist’s best-known works from this period – broken pince-nez glasses, a purple mozzetta, and of course the reverberating scream – and draws inspiration from the works of Velázquez, Munch and Poussin, as well as Bacon’s lifelong exploration of the human condition. We greatly look forward to presenting the painting to collectors and admirers of Bacon’s genius around the world this spring.”

Married from 1966 until Richard’s passing in 1982, Jane Lang Davis and Richard E. Lang together assembled what is indisputably one of the most important private collections of art of the 20th century, spanning from Cubism through Abstract Expressionism. While based in Richard’s native Seattle, the couple enthusiastically joined the burgeoning New York art world of the 1970s and ‘80s, collecting with determination, confidence and an unwavering dedication to works of art that profoundly moved them. In pursuing these masterworks, the Langs did not restrict themselves to size, medium or time period; rather they surrounded themselves with objects they loved, filling their Seattle home floor-to-ceiling with pieces that brought them unbridled joy.

In Seattle, the couple embraced both the performing and visual arts. As a founding member of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Jane instilled in others her passion for dance, and convinced choreographers and artistic directors Kent Stowell and Francia Russell to come to Seattle and create a world-renowned ballet company. Together, she and Richard enriched the local ballet, opera, symphony – as well as both the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington and the Seattle Art Museum (SAM).

Jane served as part of SAM’s Contemporary Art Council (CAC), which cultivated and supported many of the institution’s early shows of Contemporary art – including the 1976 exhibition Andy Warhol Portraits for which Warhol painted a double portrait of Jane. Richard and Jane were also instrumental in supporting the expansion of SAM to its current downtown location.

16 MAY 2019

In 1952, Francis Bacon embarked on what would be an increasingly significant category in his output: the head-and-shoulders portrait. That year he painted six small paintings in this format, which demonstrate the advancement of his suited businessmen as well as the Papal imagery that he began in the late 1940s. Other works in the series of six seminal heads from 1952 now reside at Tate Britain, London and the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven. Today, Study for a Head from the Lang Collection represents one of the most important works by the artist remaining in private hands (estimate $20/30 million).

Study for a Head draws inspiration from Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, a painting dating circa 1650 that captivated Bacon for decades, as is clear from his own words: “I became obsessed by this painting and I bought photograph after photograph of it. I think really that was my first subject.” While Bacon never saw the original painting in Rome, a smaller rendering hung at Apsley House in London, which opened to the public in 1952, and was just a short walk from Bacon’s studio at the Royal College of Art. Study for a Head is closely related to Bacon’s Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X – the seminal masterpiece that is now housed in the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa – as well as Head VI from 1949, which resides in the Arts Council Collection in London.

Perhaps reflecting the horrors of the war from the previous years, or even his own struggles with his father in a strict Catholic household in Dublin, Bacon replaces the stately stare of the Supreme Pontiff with a grimace of pain and suffering. His source was provided by a film still of a screaming female character wearing a shattered pince-nez at the moment of her death in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 movie The Battleship Potemkin, which hung on the wall of his studio.

Study for a Head is further distinguished as one of the first works by Bacon to enter a private American collection, having first been acquired by the collector, art critic and biographer of Jackson Pollock, Bernard H. Friedman in 1952 – predating the artist’s first solo exhibition outside of England, which was held at Durlacher Brothers in New York in 1953. American interest for Bacon’s work undoubtedly began in the most spectacular of fashions, with his Painting 1946 being acquired by Alfred H. Barr, Jr. for the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Today, American institutions represent the highest ownership of paintings completed by the artist from 1948–59.

14 MAY 2019

Le Couple was one of the very first sculptures Alberto Giacometti exhibited, shown alongside the work of Constatin Brancusi and Ossip Zadkine in the Salon des Tuileries of 1927 (estimate $900,000/1.5 million). The work is a powerful totemic evocation of the subjects that would dominate Giacometti’s work for his entire career: the male and female standing figure.

The artist and his brother, Diego, had recently moved to a new Paris studio on the rue-Hippolyte-Maindron, where they would remain for the rest of their lives. In that new studio, Giacometti surrounded himself with imagery and objects that he distilled into this essential vision. A photograph from 1927 shows the artist seated at a small table with photographs and drawings tacked up on the wall around him. To his right proudly stands a Bakota Reliquary figure – whose structure bears a striking resemblance to the female figure in Le Couple – that he purchased from the Swiss avant-garde artist and noted collector of African art, Serge Brignoni.

The present work represents the first cast of Le Couple ever to appear at auction.

17 MAY 2019

An outstanding group of 11 works from the Lang Collection will highlight Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Auction. From an early Surrealist drawing by Robert Motherwell, to a Hans Hofmann painting that Walter Darby Bannard pronounced one of the artist’s best late works, the selection of Abstract Expressionist works from the collection features exceptional and rare gems that are, in almost every case, the best of their type.

The Langs collected many artists in depth. Their first important purchase was a work by Franz Kline — Untitled No. 11, which they acquired in 1970 — and the Day Auction includes an encyclopedic overview of the artist’s work. The survey begins with Untitled, an early depiction of pigeons painted by Kline in 1945 that once belonged to the artist’s brother Jacques (estimate $15/20,000). In a wonderful scene, the birds are outlined in a dark black line that anticipates Kline’s best known works. Chronologically the work is followed by the ink drawing Untitled from 1949 (estimate $50/70,000), a 1950 Untitled painting executed on the page of a telephone book (estimate $30/40,000), and an Untitled ink and pastel from 1951 (estimate $30/50,000).

It was in 1948 that Kline had a now-famous conversation with Willem de Kooning, who had the idea that Kline should project images of his sketches onto the wall of his studio – this ultimately inspired the large-scale black and white abstracts first shown at Egan gallery in 1950. One of the highlights of the Kline works on offer from the Lang Collection is a large-scale Untitled oil on paper from 1957 (estimate $200/300,000).

Hans Hofmann’s View from the Balcony from 1964 was featured on the cover of the catalogue for the 1972 show of his work at André Emmerich Gallery (estimate $500/700,000). The large and impressive canvas was also included in the artist’s 85th anniversary show at the Kootz Gallery in 1964, as well as Hoffman’s 1976 retrospective of the artist’s work organized by the Hirschhorn Gallery in Washington, D.C. In the catalogue for that retrospective, Walter Danby declared the present painting to be one of the artist’s finest late works.

Figure with Red Hair from 1967 is a prime example of Willem de Kooning’s interest in depicting female portraits and blending them with their surroundings, and anticipates his great 1970s abstracts (estimate $350/450,000). Painted with the same vigor and luscious use of paint, Figure with Red Hair was included in the important 1990 exhibition Abstract Expressionism: Other Dimensions at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Adolph Gottlieb’s painted his pictograph Evil Eye in 1946 (estimate $120/180,000). Beginning with a work called the Eye of Oedipus from 1941, Gottlieb began his series know as Pictographs which continued throughout the 1940s. They were devised of a grid-structure with various elements and symbols drawn from African, Oceanic and Native American Art. The titles alluded to mythology, mysticism and alchemy. Evil Eye is a prime example of the group, and once belonged to Karl Nierendorf – Gottlieb’s first dealer and champion.

Doyer I from 1958 is one of eight gouaches on paper by Philip Guston that were shown at Sidney Janis Gallery the same year (estimate $200/300,000). Its title, likely inspired by Doyers Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown, is a captivating tribute to the New York School of the 1950s and 1960s. The composition recalls the city skyline and rooftops of the artist’s surroundings.

Robert Motherwell’s work on paper Three Important Personages was included in the artist’s first solo show at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of this Century Gallery in 1944 (estimate $30/50,000). Upon reviewing the exhibition, Clement Greenberg declared that Motherwell, along with Pollock, would be a defining voice in the future of American painting. Guggenheim would have a defining impact on Motherwell’s career, also arranging for a group of works to travel to the Arts Club of Chicago and to the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1946.

Representing Color Field and the second generation of Abstract Expressionist painters, Morris Louis bookends the Langs’ collection with his Number 21 from 1962 (estimate $400/600,000). Previously owned by noted collector Carter Burden, Number 21 is one of the best examples from the artist’s series of Stripe paintings.

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