LONDON (Reuters) - A Francis Bacon masterpiece painted at the height of the British artist's impassioned affair with a former World War Two fighter pilot is expected to fetch up to 9 million pounds ($15 million) when it is auctioned for the first time in June, auction house Sotheby's said on Friday.
Bacon's 1961 oil on canvas "Crouching Nude" is one of his large-scale paintings and is feted for its ominous, brooding atmosphere in which the distorted female model grins grotesquely.
"Alongside Picasso, Bacon is the outstanding postwar artist and his 'Crouching Nude' of 1961 is a magnificent painting which epitomizes the artist's work at this important moment in his career," said Oliver Barker of auctioneers Sotheby's.
"This work holds within its remarkable paint surfaces all the elusive mystery inherent to the artist's working method. We anticipate this painting will be highly sought after by discerning collectors across the globe."
Bacon never used life models for his existential masterpieces, instead relying on clippings, photographs and memories of the faces and bodies of those around him as inspiration.
The pilot, Peter Lacy, was one such muse, and conducted a fraught relationship with the artist until his death from drink in 1962, which Bacon learned about via telegram on the eve of his 1962 retrospective.
Crouching Nude was featured in the 90-work traveling retrospective which opened at the Tate Gallery in May 1962 as one of Bacon's most recent and striking paintings. It will be auctioned by Sotheby's in London on June 29.
Reporting by Nia Williams, editing by Paul Casciato