Innocent X had enjoyed a suitable career that made acceptable his election but he was completely dominated by the widow of his brother, a stingy and greedy woman. He himself was suspicious. He doubted about Velazquez's skills and had been reluctant to sit for him.
In this painting, he is not a powerful pontiff but an ordinary man, under intense pressure with his sideways gaze and tight lips. He did not like this portrait: too true.
Francis Bacon admired the deep psychology of this masterpiece, and not the painting itself that he never went to see. It had inspired his early mingling between the weakness of the powerful and the scream from Battleship Potemkin. The atheist artist saw in this contradiction an argument concerning the human weakness for which religion is useless.
In 1961, Bacon was invited to prepare an exhibition to be held at the Tate Gallery. His studies for Innocent X were already famous. He executed a new series of six paintings in large size on this theme.
The attitude of the character mimics very closely Velazquez's. The gilt throne is replaced by an ugly black seat that reinforces the unfriendly expression, as if the pope was an imposter to his own official dignity. In this sequence, Innocent gradually collapses until the gesture of impotence of the final image with both arms raised. The gaze is not suspicious but stupid.
The first painting of this sequence, oil on canvas 153 x 120 cm, was sold for $ 10.1 million including premium by Christie's on 8 November 2005. Such a price was exceptional in its time for a work by Bacon and triggered the interest of the art market for this artist. It is now estimated £ 25M for sale by Sotheby's in London on July 1, lot 14.