A painting by British artist Francis Bacon worth £20 million ($23.8 million) has become the center of a political battle in Leicester, England, after a Liberal-Democrat politician decried the city’s Labor-controlled Council’s keeping the work in basement storage, the BBC reported Sunday.
Bacon’s Lying Figure No. 1 (1959) had been on view at the Leicester Museum and Art Gallery until recently. The City Council, which owns the artwork, cited space limitations as the reason for its removal.
“I’m sure a lot of people would visit Leicester just to come and look at it. It must be the most valuable painting we have got in the museum,” said Liberal Democrat councillor Nigel Porter. “Rather than having this £20m painting stuck in some basement, what harm would there be to put it on display and have it back where it was?” he questioned.
“We have an astonishingly large collection of very important artwork,” Leicester’s mayor Peter Soulsby responded. “It is inevitably the case that, compared to the scale of the collection, we have a limited amount of wall space on which to hang them.” Furthermore, Soulsby explained, Lying Figure No. 1 “will be safely in storage and will be on display in rotation as time passes.”
The sizable oil painting depicts a blurred curvaceous figure at the center lying upside down on what appears to be a green couch, feet propped against a blue wall. The City purchased it in 1960 with the assistance of the Museums and Galleries Commission and a Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund.
Since the artist’s death in 1992, Bacon’s works have fetched high prices at auction. Just last week, his Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud (1964) sold at Sotheby’s for £43 million ($52 million). Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) still holds the record, however, at $127 million, from a 2014 sale at Christie’s.
This news comes on the heels of a decision made earlier last month by the U.K.’s Tate Museum to return a donated archive of Bacon works to its owner Barry Joule, a former neighbor of the late artist. The collection, which has been under the museum’s examination since 2004, included 800 magazine and newspaper clippings, 39 photographs of Bacon and his friends, other ephemera, and an “X Album” of overpainted sketches.
Tate made the news public on June 8, the Art Newspaper reported in a statement, explaining that the archive had been “researched by art historians, and this research has raised credible doubts about the nature and quality of the material,” adding that the “material does not lend itself to any significant exhibition, and any potential it held to improve the public’s understanding of Bacon’s art has been exhausted. It has therefore been considered unsuitable for retention in Tate Archive. In the first instance, it has been offered back to the donor, in line with the donor’s wishes.”