At Large  May 27, 2024  Carlota Gamboa

Stolen Painting by Francis Bacon Recovered in Madrid

Courtesy of Christie's

Francis Bacon (1909-1992), Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer, oil on canvas, in three parts, 1963

A portrait by the figurative, Irish-born artist Francis Bacon has been recovered by the Spanish police in Madrid. Stolen from the home of banker José Capelo, along with four other paintings and a safe full of jewels and valuable coins, the work had been missing since 2015. 

16 people have been arrested in connection to the crime since the start of the investigation, including those who organized it. Three of the five works, collectively worth $27 million, were tracked down by police in 2017, and previous arrests subsequently led to the restitution of Capelo’s $5.4 million portrait by Bacon. 

When the stolen painting was found, police stated, “Investigations are continuing to locate the remaining work and arrest those in possession of it, with the focus on Spanish nationals with links to organized groups from Eastern Europe.” Time will tell when what has been called “the biggest art heist in Spanish history” will finally come to an end.

Courtesy of Policía Nacional

Study for Portrait of José Capelo (1989) by Francis Bacon

“Study for Portrait of José Capelo” was completed in 1989 after the two men became friends at a dinner party held for English ballet dancer and choreographer Frederick Ashton. Bacon, who was 78 at the time, supposedly became “infatuated” with Capelo, who was in his early 30s. According to sources close to both parties, Bacon died of a heart attack in 1992 when he was in Madrid to see Capelo. 

Francis Bacon is regarded as one of the most important 20th century artists and once held the auction record for the most expensive painting ever sold. He is recognized for his distinctive style of distortion. Focused on a study of human form, he often painted self-portraits and portraits of friends in grotesque depictions. He rejected more generic classifications and instead insisted on “the brutality of fact” within his work. 

About the Author

Carlota Gamboa

Carlota Gamboa is an art writer based in Los Angeles.

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