6. Francis Bacon by Lucian Freud
Artist Lucian Freud, considered to be Britain’s most important figurative post-war painter and grandson of famed psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, painted this intimate oil on a sheet of copper portrait of fellow artist and one time friend Francis Bacon in 1952.
It is one of the art world’s great unsolved mysteries as the portrait was stolen from Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie in 1988 while the gallery was full of students, patrons and guards. At the time of the theft, the portrait was on loan from the Tate in London who had acquired it for their permanent collection the same year it was completed.
Outraged by the robbery, Freud designed his own wild west style wanted poster depicting a monochrome version of the painting with ‘wanted’ in red as well as a reward. Unfortunately, no leads were forthcoming or suspects identified. In 2001, ahead of a retrospective planned the following year at the Tate, Freud would try this again.
He sketched out a black and white reproduction of the missing painting on a poster (seen above) that proclaimed “Wanted” in bright red type. “Would the person who holds the painting kindly consider allowing me to show it in my exhibition next June?” the text read above the offer of a reward of over $100,000 for its return and the promise that no questions would be asked as Germany’s 12-year statute of limitations on prosecuting crimes like these had passed.
Freud himself never believed that an organized crime ring or an experienced art thief had stolen his work, telling British newspaper The Telegraph in 2001 “I wonder whether it was taken by a student because it was stolen when the gallery was full of students. Also, for a student to take a small picture is not that odd, is it?”
He also suspected that the student nabbed it not out of admiration for Freud’s talent, but out of an admiration for Bacon. The theft would continue to annoy Freud until his death in 2011. Many still hold out hope that it might be found one day, perhaps on the wall of some student flat in Berlin.
Enjoy the complete works of Lucian Freud here