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Stolen Francis Bacon Painting Recovered by Spanish Police

Portrait of José Capelo stolen from a property in Madrid. Photo Courtesy Spanish Interior Ministry

A €5 million (£4.2 million) painting by the late British-Irish painter Francis Bacon has been found by Spanish police. The painting was taken from a Madrid residence in 2015. The painting is one of five portraits of Bacon’s friend and banker José Capelo that were taken in the largest-ever theft of contemporary art from Spain.

The painting, which was a part of Bacon’s series of portraits of Capelo, was found after two people who were thought to have been involved in the theft were apprehended. With the addition of the suspected mastermind and the burglars who carried out the heist, the total number of arrests connected to this case has reached 16.

In a statement, the Spanish Police detailed their investigative process: “Our thorough inquiries led to the arrest of two people in Madrid in February who had received stolen property – two of the stolen paintings. As a result of those arrests and other painstaking police actions, one of the missing paintings was found at a property in Madrid.”

The theft, which occurred in July 2015, saw five of Bacon’s portraits taken from Capelo’s residence alongside a safe containing jewels and coins. The combined value of the stolen paintings was estimated at €25m. Three paintings were recovered in 2017, and efforts are ongoing to locate the fifth and final piece.

The Police are now investigating Spanish nationals with connections to organised crime groups from Eastern Europe. “The investigation will remain open as we endeavour to recover the last painting and arrest those who have it in their possession,” the police statement added.

Francis Bacon, born in Dublin in 1909, is celebrated as one of the 20th century’s most prominent artists. His raw and intense depictions of the human condition have commanded significant attention and high prices at auction, underlining the value and importance of his artworks. He died in Madrid in 1992 at the age of 82.

Bacon’s Bacon’s artworks have consistently fetched record amounts at auction. In 2013, his “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” sold for $142m in New York, the most expensive artwork sold at auction.

The recovery of the stolen painting is not just a victory but a significant milestone for Spanish authorities. It instils hope that the remaining missing work will soon be found and returned to its rightful place, bringing closure to this unfortunate chapter.

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) was known for his raw, emotionally intense imagery. Born in Dublin to English parents, Bacon spent much of his early life in Ireland and England. His troubled childhood, marked by a strained relationship with his father and the early death of his mother, profoundly influenced his later works.

Bacon moved to London in the late 1920s, where he initially worked as an interior decorator and furniture designer. It wasn’t until the mid-1940s that he began to gain recognition as a painter, with his breakthrough work, “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion” (1944), which introduced his distinctive style characterised by stark, nightmarish figures set against abstract backgrounds.

Throughout his career, Bacon focused on themes of mortality, human suffering, and existential dread. His works often depicted distorted and tortured bodies, capturing the essence of anguish and despair. Bacon’s famous series, such as the “Screaming Popes” inspired by Diego Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X, and his portraits of friends and lovers, including the poignant series of his lover George Dyer, cemented his reputation as one of the most important painters of the 20th century.

Despite his success, Bacon led a tumultuous personal life marred by alcohol abuse and turbulent relationships. He was a central figure in the Soho art scene, known for his hedonistic lifestyle and deep philosophical reflections.

Francis Bacon died of a heart attack in Madrid in 1992 at 82, leaving behind a legacy of paintings and his studio. His exploration of the human condition through his visceral and haunting paintings remains impactful.

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