Police Recover Stolen Francis Bacon Painting Worth $5 Million

The piece was one of five artworks stolen during a robbery in Madrid in 2015

Frame painting of a man's face against a blue background
Police recovered the 1989 piece titled Study for Portrait of José Capelo. Spanish National Police

In 2015, thieves quietly broke into a Madrid home and stole a safe full of coins and jewels. The robbers also took five paintings created by Francis Bacon, the Irish-born artist known for his distinctive, disturbing style.

Last week, Spanish police announced the recovery of one of the stolen paintings, a 1989 work titled Study for Portrait of José Capelo. The piece is estimated to be worth around $5.4 million.

“Our inquiries led to the arrest of two people in Madrid in February who had received stolen property—two of the stolen paintings,” says the police force in a statement, per a translation by the Guardian’s Sam Jones. “As a result of those arrests and other police actions, one of the missing paintings was found at a property in Madrid.”

Study for Portrait of José Capelo is the fourth artwork that police have recovered since the break in. Investigators have arrested 16 people on suspicion of orchestrating and carrying out the heist. Collectively, the five paintings are estimated to be worth about $27 million.

The break in reportedly occurred at the home of the portrait’s sitter, José Capelo, a banker who was Bacon’s friend and lover. But police have never confirmed this detail, report Reuters’ Emma Pinedo and Miguel Gutierrez.

Police recovered three of the stolen paintings in 2017, after receiving a tip from a London group that specializes in finding lost art, as BBC News reported at the time. They did not reveal the names of those paintings.

In the meantime, investigators are continuing their search for the fifth painting. They’re also looking into Spanish citizens with connections to organized crime groups in Eastern Europe.

Bacon died at the age of 82 while vacationing in Madrid in 1992. Since then, his work has remained popular—and expensive. In 2008, an anonymous buyer paid £26.3 million for Triptych 1974-77. In 2013, Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud sold for $142.2 million, making it the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction to date. And, earlier this year, his Portrait of George Dyer Crouching sold for $27.7 million.

Born in Dublin in 1909, Bacon was a self-taught painter whose “abstract images of psychological and physical brutality made him one of the most exalted, and most disliked, artists of the postwar era,” wrote Michael Kimmelman in a New York Times obituary.

Bacon painted dark, abstract images of the human body; his subjects often had their mouths open as if screaming or appeared trapped inside cages or small spaces. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher reportedly once described him as “the man who paints those dreadful pictures.”

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