September 27, 2012 / 9:04 PM / 5 years ago

Bacon Pope painting unseen for decades up for U.S. auction

Artist Francis Bacon's painting "Untitled (Pope)," which Bacon painted circa 1954, is shown in this publicity image released to Reuters September 27, 2012.Sothebys/Handout

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A painting from Francis Bacon's iconic screaming Pope series, which has not been seen in public since 1975, is hitting the auction block where it is expected to sell for as much as $25 million, Sotheby's said on Thursday.

"Untitled (Pope)," which Bacon painted circa 1954, will be sold at the November 13 New York sale of impressionist and modern art, the auction house said in a statement.

"This is a great collecting opportunity," Oliver Barker, Sotheby's senior specialist for contemporary art, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"Paintings of this nature have become tremendously important in terms of asset value," he said, adding that Bacon's early Pope paintings "are truly unattainable objects" with most gracing museum walls and only a few remaining in private hands.

Sotheby's said the work was last sold, and seen in public, in 1975, when a collector it declined to identify bought it for $71,500 at its London auction.

"The timing is absolutely right to capture the upward momentum of the Bacon market," Barker said, noting that prices in recent years "have been driven by an international reassessment of his works by the market".

Barker said Bacon's most desirable works were his Pope series.

Works by the British painter have commanded high prices. A female nude sold for $34 million in London in February, and his "Triptych, 1976" went for $86 million in New York in May 2008.

Art prices have recovered since the financial crisis, and Barker said several of the highest prices for Bacons had been realized in the last three or four years.

Sotheby's has estimated the painting will fetch $18 million to $25 million. It will go on exhibition in Los Angeles on Thursday and be shown in London and New York before the auction.

Editing By Christine Kearney

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