Portrait of Francis Bacon


1922 – 2011

Oil Painting on Copper, 1953

178 x 127 millimeters

Date of Theft: 27 May 1988

Publicly announced reward: £100,000


Lucian Freud, the grandson of Sigmund Freud, was one of the great figurative painters of the 20th century.  After having studied at the Central School of Art in London he became known for his portraits, which are raw and emotional and often evoke sympathetic emotions from the viewer. Freud required his subjects to sit for every session of painting, even when he was only working on details.

Freud is considered a Contemporary Master. His works are highly sought after by collectors and museums.

Robert Hughes, for many years the art critic for Time Magazine, described the painting as follows:

“A small picture, about the size of a shorthand notepad, and one whose extreme compression makes it even more compact in memory; one remembers it as a miniature.  The thought of ‘miniature’, with its Gothic overtones, was affirmed by the surface: tight, exact, meticulous and (most eccentrically, when seen in the late fifties, a time of urgent gestures of burlap) painted on a sheet of copper.  There seemed to be something Flemish about the even light, the pallor of the flesh, and the uniform cast of the artists’ attention.  But there, on the edge of familiarity, its likeness to the modes of older portraiture stopped.  What a strange, ophidian modernity this small image had, and still retains!  One did not need to know it was the head of a living artist to sense that Freud had caught a kind of visual truth, at once sharply focused and evasively inward, that rarely showed itself in painting before the twentieth century.

In ‘normal’ portraiture, a tacit agreement between painter and subject allows the sitter to mask himself and project this mask – of success, of dignity, of beauty, of role – upon the world.  But here the face with its lowered, almond-shaped eyes and eyelids precisely contoured as a beetle’s wing cases is caught in a moment between reflection and self-projection.  It is as naked as a hand … Bacon’s pear-shaped face has the silent intensity of a grenade in the millisecond before it goes off.”

Francis Bacon 1909-1992, one of the most important English painters of the 20th century, was known for his graphic and emotional paintings.  Freud and Bacon were great friends, and during Freud’s career he painted a triptych and one portrait of his friend.

Freud’s major works range in price from about $100,000 to over $33 million. The highest price paid for one of his works, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, was $33,641,000.


Owned by the Tate Modern, the work had been put on loan to the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. The Neue Galerie had hung the portrait on a wall built specially for the exhibition, which had not been linked to the museum’s standard alarm system; or any alarm system at all.

In broad daylight the thief walked into the museum, took the portrait off the wall and due to its small size 17 x 12cm, just walk out with it.  Because no one has heard of the painting since its theft, Freud suspected that this was a theft by a fan of Francis Bacon.  The painting is still missing, and all that is left in its place is a “wanted” poster designed by Freud.