Amateur's Canvas Reveals Hidden Francis Bacon

One of Francis Bacon's iconic “Screaming Pope” series paintings, from the 1950s has emerged on the backs of several paintings used by a Sunday painter.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social media network always know to carefully inspect the reverse of any painting for hidden flaws and treasures.

They will be sold by the Surrey auctioneer Ewbank’s who notably sold 3 other fragments of Bacon works for more than £1 million last year. The canvases were cut up by an aspiring painter in Cambridge to practice on.

The five fragments, all of which have been authenticated by the Francis Bacon Authentication Committee, will be sold on March 20. They are estimated conservatively to fetch around £100,000.

A sixth canvas from the same source has been sent from America to be examined by the committee and is in the process of being authenticated. It is estimated at £5,000-10,000.

All six canvases originated from the studio of Lewis Todd from Cambridge, who as an aspiring painter, had cut them up and used them for his own paintings, which he later sold to visitors and collectors on the All Saints Craft Market and art exhibitions.

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) is known to have painted mainly on the unprimed reverse of canvases and was a ruthless critic and editor of his own work. Anything he was not satisfied with or thought too perfect he mutilated.

Lewis Todd, who died in 2006 aged 81, was well known as a caricature artist for the Cambridge Daily News, now the Cambridge Evening News. After the Second World War and short of funds, he was encouraged to take up painting in oils by John Kesterton, manager of the Heffer Gallery who gave him his first canvases free because they had only been used on the reverse by Bacon whom the gallery also supplied.

The gifts were conditional upon Todd agreeing to cut up the canvases before making use of them for himself. It is not known how Bacon’s used canvases came to be at the Heffer Gallery in the first place.

Astonishingly, among them and on the reverse of at least one of the original uncut canvases was one of Bacon’s most celebrated and graphic “Screaming Pope” images. This series of paintings was inspired by Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X, and said to be Bacon’s way of expressing the horror of war and its aftermath.

Comparing the fragments to the famous Bacon painting hanging in the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa – “Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X”.

Last November, Francis Bacon’s “Untitled (Pope) 1954”, depicting a shrieking pontiff, sold in a New York auction for a record £18.7 million.

Most valuable of the six oils shows the yellow, white and black edge and leg of a chair, and some of the white papal clothing, on a black and blue ground.

It measures 36 by 24 inches, with an additional 3 by 4 inches obscured where the canvas is wrapped and nailed to stretchers. The “right” side shows a still life painted by Todd in 1958, and is signed and inscribed verso, ‘The Studio at Orchard Avenue’.

It is estimated at £25,000-30,000, as is another showing what appears to be the fleshy hand and arm of a Bacon pope. Also visible is the white and green arm of the chair on a black and blue ground. The painting measures 21 by 26 inches and has been removed from its stretchers. On the front is a painting of a house and tree by Lewis Todd.