Take the facts of the matter: it is
the eve of the huge 1971 Paris retrospective exhibition of the artist Francis
Bacon's work, the big splash that would have him declared the greatest
figurative artist of the 20th century. The French president Georges Pompidou
himself is to open it. Bacon's muse and lover, George Dyer, alone in their hotel
room, dies in his own vomit and excrement sitting on the toilet bowl in his
underpants, apparently from an overdose of drugs and feelings of rejection and
Bacon goes on to paint a triptych
depicting his lover in various stages of his lonely death throes; and the
Triptych of May-June 1973 comes to be regarded as one of Bacon's greatest works.
Tragedy? Soap opera? Pathos? Bathos?
Now take up a scalpel knife. No
palette knife will do here. Scrape away these facts from the surface of the
matter and smear them instead across a word canvas. Let them flow like runnels
of paint across the canvas in contrapuntal or syncopated rhythms of vivid
feeling and sloughs of contorted flesh. Sideways with the knife push them hard
into the prose of ordinary, everyday speech, or let them burst into verse
patterns like those in Eliot's The Waste Land or Sweeney Agonistes's lurid
descriptions of "Birth, and copulation, and death. That's all the facts
when you come to brass tacks".
Now mix in the wrath of the Greek
Furies and the raw pain of Bacon's grief - and you might be close to the
performing text of Stephen Sewell's new play, which opens on Wednesday night at
the Opera House, as part of the Sydney Festival.
The work, Three Furies: Scenes from
the Life of Francis Bacon, is described as a play with songs, but this is too
coy. Its music scheme is operatic and yet vaudevillian; its drama stretches from
Euripides to Joe Orton, and across all boundaries into the howling soul of a
Francis Bacon painting. It is definitive Sewell, working in top gear.
"I believe he has created a new
form," says Jim Sharman, who is directing the new work. From someone who
has experimented with just about every form the theatre can offer - and has
mastered all of them - this could not be hyperbole. This is a fact, as far as
Sharman is concerned. It is clear he is very excited.
Perhaps Sharman's positive response
is coloured by his own great interest in Bacon's work.
"Like others of my generation, I
was greatly influenced by him," he admits. "He showed me another way
of looking at the world and of seeing the world. Though I don't necessarily
share his point of view, he gave me a certain insight into the way things were
behind appearance. You draw back the curtain, as he did, and the truth is there.
Dark it might have been, but true it was."
This vision was generational, Sharman
says. Bacon comes out of a postwar period where half of Europe had been
destroyed, the atom bomb dropped, the facts of the Holocaust revealed.
"This is a time that produced
such artists as Bacon and Beckett, Giacometti, and Patrick White is in there,
too," says Sharman. "Bacon describes himself as an optimist about
nothing. I sympathise with this. Behind the veil lies the truth, the real. This
is what he was after in his painting, the brutality of the fact."
Sharman first encountered Sewell's
work on Bacon when it was sent to him in very early draft form, almost
embryonic. Even then, he says, he recognised something about it that made him
sit up and take notice.
"I engaged with it straight
away," Sharman says. "Apart from the fact that it was about Bacon, it
was the quality of the writing that impressed me. It was its musicality. I
recognised that this was Stephen aiming at something very ambitious. I responded
Sharman has always responded to the
ambitious, you might say, especially to that strain of it in himself. But
perhaps he would not call it this. "I am not frightened of the imaginative,
no," he says instead, with some irony.
"So we began collaborating
together on it, Stephen writing, me in the background helping with the
structuring, because some of it was very difficult, finding ways to take the
work where he wanted to take it.
"In the early stages of the
collaboration, at first we approached each other with mutual caution. But when
he realised that I, too, wanted to row the boat out, not bring it back to shore,
be safe, that I wanted him to take it into uncharted waters, that the whole
collaborative thing took off. I would say, 'Let's go, let's go, let's go out
there!" And he would respond with this wonderful writing, this remarkable
shifting he is doing between great tragedy and comic vaudeville playing at one
and the same time."
Theatre, for both these artists, has
never been small happenings in little rooms. It is a great force for change and
revelation; and both artists have built careers on finding ways of harnessing
that force to push the boundaries as far out from the shore as they dared to go.
"The theatre of the Greeks and the
Elizabethans, that is the kind of theatre I like," says Sharman. "And Stephen
has written a modern version of an Elizabethan play; it has something of its
vitality in its form. The notion that theatre has the power to really transform,
through laughter, tears, song, dance, whatever, is at the heart of what I've
ever done in the theatre.
"I have felt a sense of wrapping
up lately. But this is the first thing for a long time where I have felt this
feeling of something happening that is completely new.
"I find I rely very much more on
instinct now, than thinking things out, as I have in the past.
"Bacon, too, worked very much on
the theory of chance, or what he called ordered chaos."
Between them, Sewell and Sharman have
delved deep in the realm of ordered chaos, and found a way to lift the veil once
more from our eyes, so that we may see a truth, whether the brutality of fact,
or its beauty, in the life of Francis Bacon.
"Between life and death,"
Bacon once said, "it's always been the same thing. It is what it is. It is
the violence of life."
There lies the fact of the matter.
Three Furies: Scenes from
the Life of Francis Bacon, a play with songs by Stephen Sewell, is at the
Sydney Opera House Playhouse, January 19-29.
of an amoralist
, The Australian, January 14, 2005
their tongues is not always easy, but artists are generally much more
interesting on the subject of art than critics. No surprise there.
The 19th century produced a bonanza of artists' writings about art, and books
such as Delacroix's journals and the letters of both Cezanne and Van Gogh have
long been recognised as literary masterpieces.
They contain more than their
matchless insights into the business of making art; their ostensible frames of
reference tend to dissolve as you read, so that you find yourself reading not
about art but about life itself.
In the 20th century, there were few
records of an artist's thinking more influential than Francis Bacon's interviews
with the critic David Sylvester. First published in 1975, the book which
collected and reprinted these interviews is now in its fifth edition, and has
had a huge influence not only on artists, but on novelists, playwrights, poets,
musicians and film-makers across the world.
It has also done wonders for Bacon's
posthumous reputation, leaving scholars and curators with an almost endless
source of ideas. Just last year, a huge exhibition called Francis Bacon and the
Tradition of Art was organised by the Beyeler Foundation in Switzerland; the
pairing of Bacon paintings with works by Titian, Velazquez, Rembrandt, Goya, Van
Gogh and Picasso were almost all inspired by what Bacon said about those artists
in the interviews.
Bacon the man is the subject of one
of the Sydney Festival's main attractions - Stephen Sewell's Three Furies:
Scenes From the Life of Francis Bacon, a play with songs.
Two films about Bacon are also being
screened on Sunday as part of the festival's film program. One of them is the
recording of an encounter between Bacon and the poet William Burroughs in
Bacon's London studio in 1982. The other is an interview with Bacon conducted by
Melvyn Bragg for The South Bank Show in 1985.
It has to be said that by 1985 (he
died in 1992) Bacon was almost interviewed out. The Sylvester interviews in the
book are published in nine parts. They were taped conversations conducted
privately or in studios for radio and television. The last ones, conducted in
the mid-'80s, are full of tiresome repetitions, mannered formulations and barely
veiled self-regard - a lot like Bacon's late paintings.
But the earlier interviews, like
Bacon's best work, are quite unforgettable. They reflect on his own life
("I live in, you may say, a gilded squalor"); his upbringing in
Ireland; his love of gambling; his homosexuality (in one extraordinary dialogue
he discusses being sexually attracted to his father); his fascination with
photography and film; his distaste for abstract art; the success and failure of
his own work (he dismisses outright some of his most famous paintings, including
those of the human scream and the series after Velazquez's Pope Innocent X:
"they're very silly"); and the unique condition of art today.
"You see, all art has now become
completely a game by which man distracts himself ... I think that is the way
things have changed, and what is fascinating now is that it's going to become
much more difficult for the artist, because he must really deepen the game to be
any good at all."
Bacon is especially good on other
artists. His comments on Degas's pastels and on Velazquez's sophisticated
recording of the Spanish court ("You feel the shadow of life passing all
the time") have stayed with me ever since I first read them as a teenager.
Bacon was adamantly amoral, and along
with this came a contempt for all forms of artificial security, including
government welfare: "I think that being nursed from the cradle to the grave
would bring such a boredom to life ... But people seem to expect that and think
it is their right. I think that, if people have that attitude to life, it
curtails the creative instinct."
Although he was irreligious, one of
Bacon's prevailing obsessions was the art historical theme of the Crucifixion.
He famously likened the figure of Christ in Cimabue's 13th-century Crucifixion
to "a worm crawling down the cross".
After a while you begin to suspect
that a lot of what Bacon says is calculated to shock. When he says: "You
know in my case, all painting is accident. So I foresee it in my mind and yet I
hardly ever carry it out as I foresee it. It transforms itself by the actual
paint" - it sounds a brilliant and explosive thing to say.
But examined more closely, it begins
to feel jerry-built. To the extent that it is true, isn't it more or less true
for all successful forms of creativity? And then, to the extent that it is
false, it is self-evidently so: a good painting, as Bacon himself knew, is hard
work, and it usually involves making thousands of decisions, both conscious and
Look at Bacon's own work and one sees
instantly that the best of it is highly calculated and beautifully finished.
Chance plays a crucial role. But he exaggerates this role for rhetorical
No matter. As he said: "As
existence in a way is so banal, you may as well try and make a kind of grandeur
of it rather than be nursed to oblivion."
David Sylvester's Interviews with
Francis Bacon is published by Thames & Hudson
Bacon Meets Burroughs and Portrait of
an Artist: Francis Bacon screen at the Dendy Cinema, Opera Quays, Sydney on
Three Furies: Scenes from the Life of
Francis Bacon is at the Sydney Opera House, January 15-29.
A tale of sound and furies
Arts Performance, Sydney Star Observer, Issue 747, 12.1.2005
The gayest event of the Sydney
Festival, a sensual and hallucinogenic exploration of the
life of painter Francis Bacon, can be seen in previews from this week.
The versatile Simon Burke plays the tortured gay artist, who on the eve of a
major Paris exhibition is faced with the suicide of his muse and lover George
Three Furies: Scenes From The Life Of Francis Bacon features strong
language and nudity, is directed by Jim Sharman and co-stars Socratis Otto as
The Model and siren Paula Arundell as Tisiphone.
Take the trip at the Sydney Opera House, Playhouse from 15 to 29 January. Phone
9250 7777 for bookings.
By Clare Morgan,
Sydney Morning Herald, January 7, 2005
Things will be quieter but
no less intense a few days later for the world premiere of Australian playwright
Steven Sewell's latest work, Three Furies: Scenes From the Life of Francis
Bacon, directed by Jim Sharman. The play with songs explores the tempestuous
relationship between Bacon and his model, muse and lover, George Dyer, who
committed suicide on the eve of the artist's great Paris retrospective.
Brett Sheehy says he has
seen the work evolve from a text-based two-hander when he first spoke to Sewell
about it several years ago, "to a hybrid work that is half musical theatre,
half lunar cycle".
"I love that Brian
Thomson and Jim Sharman are together again after The Rocky Horror Picture
Show all those years ago. Both have, in a kind of theatrical way, created a
Bacon tryptich on stage. What this looks at is the role of the model, the muse
and beauty in art."
This is Sheehy's final
festival. Whatever the verdict, he confesses he might shed a tear once it's over
- in private, at least.
"One of the primary
roles of a festival is to present something that moves people and touches them
and affects them," he says. "The idea that you can deliver a great
artistic moment to people for the price of a railway ticket, I kind of love
that. To watch people's faces light up, and see that they're moved and touched
by something, makes my heart sing."
Times, December 13,
THE face of Soho
has changed. The paint and ink-stained doyens of yesteryear have slipped away.
Their alcohol-fuelled chatter that once resounded in pubs is now only a memory
that occasionally disturbs the muted conversation of the elderly survivors of a
ghosts of Augustus John, Francis Bacon,
Henrietta Moraes, Elizabeth Smart, Dylan
Thomas and Daniel Farson would all be able
to surprise the hordes of young people who
now throng Soho with accounts of life as
it was. Media chatter still rings around
the bar of the Toucan pub, or the Coach
and Horses (famous for Norman, its
landlord, and as the second home of
Jeffrey Bernard and Private Eye).
creativity displayed by the generation
that frequented Soho was bought at a cost
of heavy drinking. Not all pay the supreme
sacrifice like Dylan Thomas, who died
young. However, even for those who are
more circumspect about drinking, or who
are better endowed with the enzymes that
metabolise alcohol, there is still the
likelihood of a punitive hangover. Many
who have had a hard night in Soho are
later disturbed by pillow spin, and a
sickening feeling each time they need to
crawl out of bed and navigate their way to
may even remember Francis Bacon’s words:
“I have never found any panacea for a
hangover. I don’t think one exists apart
advancing age, with its concomitant
progressively shrinking brain, finally
removes the peril of a splitting headache
after a night’s heavy drinking.
with the headache of a hangover, the other
adverse affects of alcohol, such as an
upset gastrointestinal system, nausea,
sweating and confused thinking, are as
nothing. Even if Bacon is correct in
suggesting there is no one panacea for a
hangover, there are many ways in which one
can be prevented or relieved.
drunk someone becomes depends entirely on
how much alcohol they have imbibed, their
sex, their genetic make-up, their size,
and how experienced their liver is in
dealing with it. It is a myth that mixing
drinks makes people more drunk: it merely
gives them a worse hangover. Practice at
the bar may not make perfect but it can
increase the amount drunk without untoward
effects by as much as a third. The
body’s enzymes which metabolise alcohol
can dispose of a unit much more quickly if
the drinker is an established one whose
liver is not yet beginning to fail. Women
metabolise alcohol more slowly and less
efficiently than men, so they get drunk
faster and sober up more slowly — and
may well have a worse hangover. Thin,
muscular people can take it better than
short, fat, couch potatoes.
hangover, as opposed to drunkenness, is
also dependant on the type of drink
consumed. As a rough guide, the darker the
drink the greater the hangover. Eating a
proper meal — cashew nuts don’t count
— while drinking not only reduces the
hangover but also boosts the medicinal
qualities of alcohol when taken in
a century or two those who wined, dined or
merely drank in the clubland district of
St James, London, have had a refuge that
they can attend the following morning: the
long-established chemists D. R. Harris and
Co of St James Street have been dispensing
their pick-me-up made from a secret recipe
of tincture of gentian and cardamom, clove
oil and a little bit of camphor, diluted
and served in a special glass. It clears
the head and settles the stomach. Few
people believe that a little alcohol the
following morning can help, but as
iniquitous as the habit may be, it can do
scientific approach to a hangover is to
study the effects of the alcohol and
counteract each one. Alcohol dehydrates so
that every part of the body is shrunken
other than the brain, and needs
refreshing. The brain swells because of
the damage, usually only temporary, that
has been done to the nerve cells by the
alcohol. Old people don’t develop
headaches because their age-shrunken brain
has room to swell within the rigid skull
without becoming crushed and painful.
causes a great tide of insulin to flow out
from the pancreas. As a result the blood
sugar level is lowered, hypoglycaemia sets
in and the drunken person becomes hot,
sweaty and shaky, and the mind turns over
rather more slowly than usual. Just as
dehydration should be treated with a high
water intake before and after drinking, so
should the hypoglycaemia be treated by
asking the hungover person to eat a diet
with as much protein and carbohydrate —
a classic fry-up will help those with a
strong stomach — as they can without
alcohol also irritates the
gastrointestinal system. Alka-Seltzer,
Rennie, or any other popular remedies ease
the inflammation and Alka-Seltzer has the
advantage of helping the headaches, too.
For the headache alone, there are the
analgesics, preferably paracetamol — no
one wants to make the inflamed gut bleed
with too much aspirin.
reborn—back to front
Expanded $858 million new building complex unveiled
By Mark Irving, The Art
On 20 November, the
largest, grandest and richest modern art museum in the world reopens after a two
and half year closure to allow for an $858m architectural expansion. The project
to reshape the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), located between 54th and 53rd
Streets in midtown Manhattan, is huge. At the hands of Japanese architect Yoshio
Taniguchi, it has become twice its former size.
The official line is
that after the war New York took over from Paris as the centre of contemporary
art, but since then suzerainty has shifted between America and Europe, with new
centres also opening up in the Far East and Latin America. It is now the type of
contemporary art, not where it is being made, that determines critical and
commercial success. In this regard, Britain has recently proved to be an
important hub. MoMA’s latest acquisition of Francis Bacon’s Triptych (1991),
for example, “allows us to look at figure painting in the 1980s in a very
different way”, says Mr Lowry.
Art Auctions Continues to the End, as Recent
By CAROL VOGEL, THE NEW YORK TIMES, NOVEMBER 13, 2004
Oedipus and the Sphinx
After Ingres, 1983 Francis Bacon
pope, a giant bear, a bright yellow puppy with its ears standing upright and
shelves of jars filled with bovine internal organs preserved in formaldehyde
were just a few of the artworks that a loyal and growing group of
contemporary-art collectors snapped up on Thursday night at Phillips, de Pury
of the 1980's and 90's dominated the offerings in the packed Chelsea salesroom
on the last night of two solid weeks of the important fall art auctions. Of the
58 lots, only 4 failed to sell. The auction totaled $25.5 million, right in the
middle of its estimate of $20.9 million to $29.3 million.
lot was a 1979 Francis Bacon "Oedipus,'' which was the cover image on the
sale catalog and was inspired by Ingres's "Oedipus and Orestes.'' Two
bidders went for the painting, which sold to Lawrence Graff, the jeweler, who
was sitting in the front row. Mr. Graff paid $3.5 million, after an estimate of
$4 million to $6 million. Bacon's work has not performed well at this week's
auctions, so the fact that the painting sold for less than its estimate was not
Million Rothko One of Many Records at Sotheby's
New York, 10.11.2004
Among the few
casualties were Gerhard Richter's "Drei Geschwister (Three Sisters)"
and Francis Bacon's "Pope and Chimpanzee," works estimated from $3
million to $5 million that failed to sell when bids fell off at $3 million or
Contemporary Art, Evening
9th November 2004 New York
Pope and Chimpanzee 1962 Francis Bacon Lot 32
Estate of the artist
Faggionato Fine Arts, London
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Francis
Bacon, Important Paintings from the Estate, October 1998 - January 1999, p.
55, illustrated in colour, and p. 57, colour illustration of detail.
Pope and Chimpanzee, from 1962, displays a number of Bacon’s celebrated
motifs, channeling their concomitant tributaries of thought onto the same
canvas. This complex, deeply intelligent canvas continues Francis Bacon’s
impassioned and celebrated exploration of the Pope and, specifically, his
reaction to reproductions of Diego Velazquez’s masterpiece, Portrait of Pope
Innocent X (1650, Rome, Galleria Dora Pamphili). For nearly twenty years, Bacon
filled his canvases with bold, searching swathes of oil paint in an effort to
render, both physically and psychically, the most senior and powerful figure in
the Catholic Church. One finds in this ‘series’ of ‘portraits’
brushstrokes that engender an unerring sense of presence, giving the viewer the
overriding sensation of the fullness of life sweeping through these paintings.
Such drama is born from Bacon’s obsession with the Velazquez painting, placing
this Pope into his own cast of isolated, existential figures who all appear to
live at the very edge of life. Accompanying this papal figure is another of
Bacon’s familiar motifs: that of the monkey. Here, a chimpanzee bursts out of
the pictorial space, aggressively confronting both the Pope and the viewer; its
active, almost cruciform pose is in stark contrast to the more static, regal
pose of the Pope. Like the Pope, the monkey provided Bacon with a subject that
allowed him to explore a series of emotions. Bacon famously painted Study of a
Baboon (1953, New York, The Museum of Modern Art), focusing on the arched head
of the isolated animal, clearly depicting it screaming. Its fanged mouth is
found in earlier works such as Head II (1949, Belfast, Ulster Museum), and all
relate to another of Bacon’s obsessions: the scream, and, in particular, the
filmic rendition one finds in Sergei Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin
(1925) and the shrieking, wounded character of the nursemaid. A silhouette of a
walking figure, delineated in lilac paint, is curiously layered over the
chimpanzee figure, as if to further connect these two motifs, as well as linking
the veiled spatial device below the two motifs with both the throne and the
figure of the Pope.
Francis Bacon famously turned down
the opportunity to go and see the Velazquez portrait of Innocent X. He was in
Rome in 1954 and had the chance to see the painting, but he turned it down,
worrying how he might react to the original. Bacon was enamored with the grand
portrayal of the Pope that he saw in reproduction. As the present work clearly
exemplifies, Bacon’s task was not one of representing the image, but rather
re-presenting the Indices of meaning inherent to the portrait: stature,
presence, role, and the very mechanics of being. In essence, Bacon gets under
the skin, goes beyond the surface of the representation, and engages us with a
series of emotions that lie at the heart of existence. Here, the papal figure is
seated in a traditional ‘three-quarter’ pose, set against the bright red
background of the throne, configured here as a three-dimensional rectangular
block of unadulterated color from which the figure seems to step out and into
the composition. The light blue veil below can be seen to represent the Pope’s
dress, yet is delineated architectonically, providing a space for the
chimpanzee; its cubistic construction in contrast with the more curvilinear
marks setting out the neutral amphitheatre of the background. Such an intricate
composition reveals Bacon’s interest in stretching the boundaries of painterly
tradition as well as the confines of this traditional subject. Here, he reverses
the expectation of religious obedience by vexing the figure; setting him (and
his viewer) in a state of flux. Paternal serenity is now replaced with an itchy
agitation of self and status. Discussing the status of the ‘figure’ in the
post-war canon, Bacon’s Popes straddle both the abstract and the figurative,
depicting the extreme forms of human experience.
The chimpanzee appears as if it is
about to pounce on the papal figure; its action in stark contrast with the more
hieratic pose of the Pope. For Bacon, this animal was the embodiment of chaos.
Like many of his human subjects, Bacon’s animals are generally shown in
tortured states, where they shriek and twist in physical contortions. The
chimpanzee is depicted with an almost violent attack of the brush, causing the
blurring of the image, reflecting Bacon’s interest in frozen motion and the
effects of photography and film, and making it difficult to interpret the pose
or expression. In composition and treatment it is close to paintings of simians
executed in the fifties by Graham Sutherland, with whom Bacon became friendly in
1946. The faint, schematic framing enables Bacon to unleash the action of the
chimpanzee better, while the monochrome red background of the papal throne
provides a starkly contrasting field that helps to define its form. The violence
of the chimpanzee must be linked to that of Bacon’s own technique. Bacon
augmented his firsthand experience of animals by referring to the photographic
plates of Marius Maxwell’s Stalking Big Game with a Camera in Equatorial
Africa (1924). As Davies and Yard note, “In pursuit of his dangerous subjects,
Maxwell had been forced to act quickly, and many of the resultant images have a
blurred, dreamlike insubstantiality that must have appealed to Bacon.” (Hugh
Davies and Sally Yard, Francis Bacon, New York 1986, p. 32). Indeed, the figure
of the chimpanzee is so blurred here as to take on a phantasmagorical, rather
than a physical presence, presented as a charged sweep of pigment across the
Pope. Compositionally, this adds an electric charge to the landscape of the
painting. Layered on top of the chimpanzee figure is a plain silhouette of a
figure. Like a negative shadow, this simple delineation seems to conjoin the two
motifs; man and beast becoming one and the same.
Both motifs sit neatly together on
the canvas, in unison becoming the architecture of the painting itself. The
closed, claustrophobic interior, often delineated as a cage-like construction
within the composition, is crucial to Bacon’s art. They provide theatre spaces
in which the existential drama takes place, enacted by his cast of players.
Here, that space seems almost fused with the figures. The throne becomes the
Pope; his dress becomes a smaller stage for the chimp. The background, sliced
with a couple of simple curved lines, is rendered in exactly the same way as the
dress. The interior architecture of self now becomes the exterior environment of
the theatre of existence. Indeed, the extraordinary compression of the images,
blurred to a point where they become meaty passages of pure pigment, together
with the scumbled burgundy background heightens the drama of the scene before
us. Bacon draws broad sweeps of his paint-filled brush as if trying to mimic the
psychological conflict into physical action. Incorporating a rich array of
colours, techniques and textures the image brings the paint to life. The alliance
of the weave together with the scumbling and meandering areas of thick and thin
paint, creates a living, breathing action that is nothing short of mesmerizing.
Contemporary Art, Evening
9th November 2004 New
York Sale 8026
Pope and Chimpanzee 1962
Art/Auctions, The City Review
Lot 32 is a
superb work by Francis Bacon, entitled Pope and Chimpanzee.
An oil on canvas, it measures 64 ¾ by 56 inches and was executed
painterliness, it could be a fine companion to the Rothko,
especially for schizophrenic collectors.
provides the following very incisive commentary on the Bacon,
noting that it "displays a number of Bacon's celebrated
motifs, channeling their concomitant tributaries of thought onto
the same canvas":
complex, deeply intellectual canvas continues Francis Bacon's
impassioned and celebrated exploration of the Pope, and,
specifically, his reaction to reproductions of Diego Velasquez's
masterpiece, Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650, Rome, Galleria
Dora Pamphili). For nearly twenty years, Bacon filled his canvases
with bold, searching swathes of oil paint in an effort to render,
both physically and psychically, the most senior and powerful
figure in the Catholic Church….Accompanying this papal figure is
another of Bacon's familiar motifs: that of the monkey. Here, a
chimpanzee bursts out of the pictorial space, aggressively
confronting both the Pope and the viewer; its active, almost
cruciform pose is in stark contrast to the more static, regal pose
of the Pope...A silhouette of a walking figure, delineated in
lilac paint, is curiously layered over the chimpanzee….Francis
Bacon famously turned down the opportunity to go and see the
Velasquez portrait…,worrying how he might react to the
original…..Bacon's task was not one of representing the image,
but rather re-presenting the Indices of meaning inherent to the
portrait: stature, presence, role, and the very mechanics of
being. In essence, Bacon gets under the skin, goes beyond the
surface of the representation, and engages us with a series of
emotions that lie at the heart of existence….The chimpanzee
appears as if it is about to pounce on the papal figure; its
action in stark contrast with the more hieratic pose of the Pope.
For Bacon, this animal was the embodiment of chaos. Like many of
his human subjects, Bacon's animals are generally shown in
tortured states, where they shriek and twist in physical
contortions. The chimpanzee is depicted with an almost violent
attack of the brush, causing the blurring of the image, reflecting
Bacon's interest in frozen motion and the effects of photography
and film, and making it difficult to interpret the pose or
expression….The closed, claustrophobic interior, often
delineated as a cage-like construction within the composition, is
crucial to Bacon's art. They provide theater spaces in which the
existential drama takes place, enacted by his cast of
The lot has a
modest estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It failed to sell.
sees off Sydney Festival
by Raymond Gill, The
Age, Australia, Nov 4, 2004
director Brett Sheehy launched his fourth and final festival program yesterday
before he moves on to direct the 2006 Adelaide Festival. And true to form, it's
another festival perfectly pitched for a Sydney summer, with a broad sweep of
crowd-pleasing high and popular arts featuring well known artists. Playwright of
the moment Stephen Sewell turns his attention to artist Francis Bacon in his new
work Three Furies - Scenes From the Life of Francis Bacon. Billed as
"a play with songs", it stars Simon Burke as Bacon, is directed by Jim
Sharman and features songs and music by Basil Hogios.
estate: partner’s will published
Friday, 24 September 2004
Edwards, heir to the Bacon fortune, left a surprisingly modest estate, valued at
£787,000, following his death in Bangkok last year. Mr Edwards, a former barman
and companion of the artist, was the sole beneficiary of Bacon’s £11 million
legacy in 1992. The Edwards will was published a month ago. It had been assumed
that Mr Edwards would have left considerably more, benefitting his close friend,
Philip Mordue, who has been involved with the Thai nightclub scene. Mr
Edwards’ assets, however, were reduced by heavy spending and gifts. Most of
the money went to the John Edwards Charitable Foundation, set up last year to
promote Bacon’s work. One of the first beneficiaries of the Edwards (and
Bacon) estate is the National Portrait Gallery in London, which was given a
contribution towards the purchase of Larry Rivers’ “Mr Art”, a portrait of
art critic David Sylvester.
2nd October 2004
by Ben Jones
Bacon occupies a central position in the history of modern art. He
reinvigorated figurative art and his celebrated Triptychs,
of single figures in action, are both visually powerful and
psychologically disturbing. They frequently deal with the horror of
the human condition in the mid and late twentieth century - as
the critic David Sylvester has said, ‘not at the literal level of
observation, but by imaginatively crystallizing the conflicts into
highlight of Tate Britain's new FrancisBbacon display is the triptych of 1968, on loan from
the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran, and never before shown in
the UK. This study day uses slide lectures and gallery discussion to
review the principal themes and continuing influence of Bacon's work
in the context of this painting.
Tate Britain Studio
£15 (£10 concessions), booking required
Price includes refreshments
lover who blew Bacon's millions
Francis Bacon left his barman boyfriend £11m: last
week there was almost nothing left. Andrew Sinclair, who knew them both, on a
spectacular spending spree
Francis Bacon was the most famous
British painter of his age. His horrific pictures changed the face of art and
sold for millions of pounds. But one day in 1988, instead of going to Moscow for
a show of his paintings he joined me at the Groucho club in London’s Soho.
Four hours and four bottles of
champagne later, I was legless. His last words to me were: “Andrew, unless I
leave to see a lawyer, £3m will go to my sister in South Africa. Have you got a
bad cause?” “What about yourself, Francis?” I said.
He laughed and left. He was looking,
at about 80 years old, like a pantomime Prince Charming, jaunty in high boots,
teeth washed in Persil and short slick hair rubbed down with brown boot polish.
I do not know if he got to his lawyer
that day. But eventually he did — and left his entire £11m fortune to his
final lover, a docker’s son named John Edwards, when he died in 1992.
Edwards died last year and last week
his will was published. In 12 years he had managed to squander virtually the
whole of his famous friend’s wealth. After tax and other deductions,
Edwards’s estate was worth just £786,702.
He was Francis’s last great love.
Not least due to their age difference — Bacon was nearly 40 years older than
Edwards — the painter and his companion have been described as the art
world’s odd couple. Publicly they denied being lovers — homosexuals in that
era often did — but I have no doubt they were. What is indisputable is that
the two were together for the last 15 years of the painter’s life, and Edwards
featured in 30 of Bacon’s works.
They met in the mid-1980s. Edwards, a
dark and handsome East Ender with a square jaw and a brooding presence, was
working in a pub when Francis first saw him. Living in the seedy area of Cable
Street with his five brothers, Edwards wanted to get away from the East End —
and the patronage of his new friend was just the ticket.
Bacon set up the Edwards family in
the antiques business, bought houses for them and enabled them to enjoy lives
that bore no resemblance to their former existence.
Francis and Edwards would meet after
breakfast at Bacon’s jammed and cluttered studio at Reece Mews in South
Kensington. The artist would often paint Edwards, but his lover recalled that he
always made painting into a drama, “as if he was fighting with the canvas”.
When Francis slashed up his pictures with a Stanley knife, sometimes John saved
the bits and pieces. But he was a minder in real life, not just in art.
The painter needed protection from
the swarms of raffish young men around him, looking for a free lunch and more.
All rich gays need a warning system in Soho and elsewhere. Bacon realised this.
It was for this reason he left his cash and the contents of his studio to
So where did the money go? After
Bacon’s death, Edwards lived on the Florida Keys and later Thailand.
A sizable portion of the Bacon estate
was lost in an extremely foolish legal battle with Marlborough Fine Arts, the
gallery, headed by the Duke of Beaufort, through which Bacon had sold his works.
A £100m lawsuit claimed the Marlborough had exercised “undue influence”
over Bacon, charged too much commission and failed to account for 33 paintings.
The gallery rightly denied any wrongdoing — indeed I was lined up as an expert
witness in its support.
Then, suddenly, Edwards dropped the
case after years of legal wrangling, leaving him lumbered with a bill that ran
The Bacon money also went to finance
Edwards’s life in Thailand with his lover, Philip Mordue — better known in
the London underworld as Thailand Phil or Phil the Till — where it was
invested in bars and brothels in the über-seedy resort of Pattaya. Does it
matter that the money was frittered away? Such things did not matter to Francis
Bacon, who never cared about money or whether he was poor or rich.
The Marlborough Gallery used to give
him £10,000 every Monday in a roll of £50 notes. Some of these he used to pay
for our champagne at the Groucho club. Otherwise he would gamble what he still
had at the weekend, playing roulette at the Soho casino of Charlie Chester. The
rest he gave to his companions.
Francis moved the Edwards brothers to
the Suffolk village of Long Melford. Pamela Firth Matthews, his first cousin,
lived there at Cavendish Hall and was the lady of the manor. Long ago at a local
dance, the young Francis had shocked everybody by dressing in women’s clothes
as a 1920s flapper and declaring his preferences.
Francis bought a gamekeeper’s
cottage and then the headmaster’s house at the rear of the village school. The
aged Edwards parents would end up living there in green retirement far from
Wapping. Later, a pub was bought and two large houses.
Fortunes and the fortunate climb the
ladder of success, as Mae West said, wrong by wrong. The Edwards family became
the largest landowners in the village and were richer than the Firths. With the
help of Bacon, whose family had come from the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland,
the cockney lads would do better than landed aristocrats from Kildare. This was
pure Bacon. His disasters and his pleasures lay in trying to bring opposites
In the words of Caroline Blackwood,
once married to Bacon’s friend, the painter Lucian Freud: “Francis had an
anarchic fearlessness which was unique. I can think of no one else who would
have dared to boo a member of the royal family in a private house.”
That was the late Princess Margaret,
who had made the mistake of trying to sing in front of him.
He never booed John Edwards in the 15
years they were together. Edwards, like nobody else, always treated him like a
good mate from the pub.
Andrew Sinclair has written a
biography of Francis Bacon. His recent book is An Anatomy of Terror
Bacon's fortune 'was not wasted'
September 04, 2004
THE companion of Francis Bacon,
accused of squandering the artist’s £11 million legacy, had disposed of his
fortune carefully, knowing he was dying, his brother said yesterday.
John Edwards, to whom Bacon left his
entire estate, had ensured that no one took advantage of the artist’s
generosity, David Edwards, an antiques dealer from Long Melford, Suffolk, said.
John Edwards, the illiterate son of
an East End docker, appeared in 30 of Bacon’s paintings. He died last year,
aged 53. Recent probate showed that Mr Edwards’s estate was worth less than £1
million after tax and debts.
David Edwards claimed that £50
million would be a closer estimate of his brother’s wealth. “He was already
a multimillionaire when he inherited the £11 million. My brother knew he was
going to die for 18 months. Like any businessman he planned what he was going to
do with his money. He also set up the John Edwards Charitable Trust, which
promotes the work of Bacon and supports up and coming artists.”
Much of Bacon’s work has remained
unaccounted for, but David Edwards said his family knew the whereabouts of many
of the paintings.
brother didn't squander £11m fortune
By Patrick Lowman, East Anglian Daily Times, September 3,
A BUSINESSMAN has defended the reputation of his brother after he was accused of
squandering a celebrated artist's multi-million-pound fortune.
John Edwards has been accused of frittering away an £11m legacy left to him by
his long-time companion, the artist Francis Bacon, on a Champagne lifestyle.
Bacon shocked the art world on his deathbed when he left his entire fortune to
John Edwards - the illiterate son of a London docker.
He was Bacon's favourite model, appearing in 30 of his paintings, including
Three studies For A Portrait of John Edwards that sold for more than £3m in
John Edwards died last year at the age of 53, but his reputation is still dogged
with national newspapers claiming he engineered his friendship with the artist
and used the bond purely for financial gain.
Recent probate revelations, which showed John Edwards' estate was worth just
over £3m, reduced to less than £1m after tax and debts, have added fuel to the
Now his younger brother David, an antiques dealer from Long Melford, has decided
to speak out in defence of his sibling.
He insisted the pair had a true friendship, adding his brother had cared deeply
for Bacon and looked after him during his life, ensuring no-one was able to take
advantage of the artist's generosity.
“My brother never used Francis for personal gain, they were the greatest of
friends. Francis didn't suffer fools lightly, but my brother was a great judge
of character and he made sure nobody took advantage of what he had,” said
“They were never lovers, just the closest of friends. Francis had hundreds of
lovers, but he never left them anything, that tells its own story.”
David Edwards also refuted suggestions his family's substantial financial
successes had been funded by Bacon's “missing millions”.
He said: “John did look after his family, but our family has not been
successful off the back of Francis' fortune, we all made money independently.
“A lot has been said about John and our family in the newspapers, but that
doesn't bother us.
“People have often assumed John was stupid because he wasn't formally
educated, but anyone who knew him knows the truth and that is all he cared
John Edwards, who owned homes in Long Melford and Hartest, near Sudbury, has
been accused of squandering Bacon's £11m fortune in less then a decade.
But his brother, who is a multi-millionaire in his own right, insisted the money
had been well invested and claimed £50m would be a closer estimate of his
“You have to remember he was already a multi-millionaire when he inherited the
£11m. Then later more of Francis's paintings were uncovered, which John also
owned and received royalties for. His fortune was in excess of £50m,” said
“What people do not realise is that my brother knew he was going to die for 18
months. Like any true businessman he planned what he was going to do with his
money long before he died and disposed of most of it before his death.
“He was a very shrewd and clever man and I can assure you he never squandered
any of Francis' money, in fact he used it very wisely.
“John was a multi-millionaire in his own right through his property dealing
before Francis died. John didn't need to use Francis for any reason, he knew
lots of talented and famous people and they all loved him dearly.”
He added: “John was a fantastic and clever businessman. He may not have been
able to read or write, but he could certainly add up.
“John didn't squander any of the money. We as a family know exactly what has
happened to all the money, but John's wish was that everything was kept
confidential and we will not breach his trust and neither will anybody else.
“He also put a huge amount of money into setting up the John Edwards
Charitable Trust, which promotes the work of Francis Bacon and supports up and
Since his death much of Bacon's work has remained unaccounted for, but David
Edwards said his family knew the whereabouts of many of the paintings.
“It is fair to say some of Francis' work is still in the family hands, but I
will not say more than that,” he added.
National newspapers have also suggested that John Edwards' partner for more that
20 years, Phil Mordue, had inherited the Bacon fortune.
The pair had a homosexual relationship and had homes in Hartest, Long Melford,
New York, London and Florida. They were together at their penthouse department
in Thailand when John Edwards died of cancer.
David Edwards said Mr Mordue had received some of the estate, but stressed money
had also been shared between other friends, family members and charitable
“My brother was an extremely generous person who looked after those he loved.
He loved Philip dearly and he has been looked after, and so he should be,” he
John Edwards was one of six children born to his East End parents. The family
was initially involved in the pub trade and property dealing in London and all
the children have become financially successful..
David Edwards moved to Suffolk several years ago and is a successful business
property owner and antique dealer, owning antique shops in Long Melford and
How barman spent Bacon's £10m booty
Times, August 31, 2004
THE Cockney barman who inherited
Francis Bacon’s £10.9 million fortune in 1992 was down to his last £800,000
when he died last year, it was disclosed yesterday.
John Edwards, 53, drank a large
portion of the legacy and gave much of it away to friends and relatives before
his death from lung cancer in Thailand.
The art world was mortified when
Bacon bequeathed his entire estate of artworks to the man who, though 41 years
his junior, he described as his “only true friend”.
But the painter, one of the towering
figures of 20th-century art, liked the fact that, from the outset of their
16-year friendship, Edwards refused to put him on a pedestal or to think of him
as any more than a “good mate”.
Although both were homosexual, Mr
Edwards, the son of an East End docker, insisted that he and Bacon, who died
from a heart attack aged 82, were never lovers.
The uneducated, dyslexic Mr Edwards
would visit Bacon’s South Kensington mews house every morning to make the
artist breakfast and sit with him while he painted.
Probate records reveal that Mr
Edwards left a gross estate of £3,125,704, reduced after liabilities to a net
figure of £786,702.
It is believed that he had earlier
bought properties in Suffolk for his parents and other family members. It is
also thought that he sold some of Bacon’s paintings through galleries in
London and New York.
Mr Edwards, who featured in 30 of the
paintings, set up the John Edwards Charitable Foundation a year before his death
to promote Bacon’s work.
His will stated that the bulk of his
estate should be left in trust — his trustees having the power to distribute
it to any charity or individual.
Mr Edwards’s lawyer John Eastman,
the brother of the late Linda McCartney, was left a silver plate and framed
certificate given to Edwards by the Lord Mayor of Dublin in 2001 after he
presented Bacon’s studio to the city.
Bacon’s messy studio in South
Kensington, which included around a hundred canvases that he had cut up because
he was not satisfied with them, has been faithfully recreated at a gallery in
the Irish capital, the artist’s home city.
But, true to form, Mr Edwards also
stated that he wanted £50,000 spent on a party at the Harrington Club in
London, for his family and friends to celebrate his life. He ordered that Krug
champagne should be served.
In his will he also stated that he
wanted his ashes scattered at Dales Farm in Hartest, near Bury St Edmunds,
Suffolk, which he bought after Bacon’s death.
Mr Edwards initially moved to the
Florida Keys, but spent the last nine years of his life in a luxury penthouse in
the sex resort of Pattaya, Thailand.
He lived with his boyfriend Philip
Mordue — a fellow East Londoner nicknamed “Phil the Till” — who survived
a bullet through the neck on Pattaya’s sex-bar strip in 1997.
Mr Edwards said in an interview in
2002: “I think (Bacon) felt very free with me because I was a bit different
from most people he knew. I wasn’t asking him about his painting. He liked the
way I didn’t care about who he was supposed to be.”
After Mr Edwards’s death there were
claims that the money Bacon had left him was used to prop up bars and brothels
in Thailand — thus helping to explain the plummeting value of his inheritance
despite the burgeoning value of the painter’s work.
Bacon left his
best friend an £11m fortune.
So where has
it all gone?
Independent, 31 August 2004
Even for an arts world where
the unusual is quotidian, the decision by the painter Francis Bacon was
remarkable. After his death in 1992 at the age of 82, his will left most
of his £11m fortune to a former Cockney barman and gay model, John
Edwards, then aged just 41.
Bacon called Edwards his
"only true friend"; but some in the business wondered how good
a friend Mr Edwards would be to the artist's works.
But the story has acquired a
remarkable twist - with the revelation that Mr Edwards, who died in a
Bangkok hospital in March 2003 of lung cancer, left an estate with a
gross value of £3.12m; after liabilities, it is worth just £786,702.
Now the question everyone is
asking is: where did the rest go? As the price of works by dead artists
only ever rises, Bacon's estate should have been worth between £30m to
£50m. Yet the will suggests it has been dissipated.
Early suggestions are that Mr
Edwards spent the money on properties in Suffolk for his parents and
other family members. A year before his death, he also set up the John
Edwards Charitable Foundation, intended to promote Bacon's work. He
willed the bulk of his estate to trustees who could distribute it to
"any charity or individual".
But there are some
indications he may have given away many of the paintings that made up
the collection before his death, perhaps to avoid death duties. Mr
Edwards's mother, Beattie, has a triptych by Bacon, valued at about £3m,
hanging on the wall of her Hackney home. David Edwards, his brother,
said in July: "The fact is John has been very, very generous to all
of his family and all those he loved."
Many speculated that John
Edwards's estate, with the cash and paintings he had been bequeathed,
would go to his long-time boyfriend Philip Mordue, a fellow East Ender.
But the paucity of the estate suggests he sold off or gave away many of
the paintings, and used the proceeds to fund a lavish Bangkok lifestyle.
But some of the cash remains
for going out in style. He willed £50,000 should be spent on a funeral
party for his family and friends at the exclusive Harrington Club in
Chelsea, London. For Mr Edwards, such a send-off will be a fitting end
to a life which began anonymously but soon encompassed worldwide fame
through his contact with Bacon.
The painter's reputation
continues to grow after his death, with his paintings selling for
millions. In January, the Tate gallery announced it had been given 1,200
items that were no more or less than the sweepings from his studio
Yet art world rumour says
that after Bacon's death the Tate turned down Mr Edwards's offer to
donate it the studio itself. Thus it is now on show - painstakingly
recreated - in Dublin at the Hugh Lane Gallery.
Mr Edwards, the dyslexic son
of an East End docker, used to visit Bacon's south Kensington mews house
- which also housed his ramshackle studio - every morning. He was the
only person ever allowed into Bacon's studio while he worked, and was
Bacon's confidant and muse. Mr Edwards featured in 30 of Bacon's
paintings and was his closest companion for 18 years. Yet although both
men were gay, Mr Edwards always denied they were lovers.
After Bacon's death, Mr
Edwards moved to Thailand with his boyfriend Philip Mordue (nicknamed
Phil the Till), ostensibly to escape the attentions of the press. But
there may have been other pressures: Mr Mordue, now 54, was reportedly
shot in a bar in Pattaya in 1997, and spent four days in hospital from a
bullet wound in the neck.
Friends described Edwards as
"a typical East End diamond geezer".
of artist Bacon spent £10m in 10 years
David Sapsted, The Daily Telegraph, 31 August 2004
Most of the £11
million fortune left by Francis Bacon, one of the 20th century's most acclaimed
artists, was frittered away by his male companion in little more than a decade.
Bacon died of a heart
attack in 1992 at the age of 82 and, in a shock to the art world, left his
entire estate to John Edwards, the uneducated son of a London docker, who was
half the artist's age.
Mr Edwards died of
cancer in Thailand last year and there was speculation that the Bacon fortune
had grown to £30 million. But details of the will show that Mr Edwards, a
former barman, spent most of the money on high living and on gifts for friends
and relatives, leaving him with a net estate worth less than £800,000.
Mr Edwards, 53, was
Bacon's companion for 16 years and featured in 30 of his paintings. Although
both were homosexual, Mr Edwards denied in an interview a year before his death
that they had been lovers.
After Bacon's death, he
moved first to the Florida Keys before spending the last nine years of his life
living with Philip Mordue, his boyfriend of 27 years and a fellow Cockney
nicknamed "Phil the Till", in a penthouse apartment in the seaside
town of Pattaya south of the Thai capital, Bangkok.
There were reports at
the time of Mr Edwards's death in March last year that he had made Mr Mordue the
main beneficiary in his will.
But probate records
show that the estate - worth £3,125,704 gross but reduced to £786,702 after
liabilities - was left mainly to the John Edwards Charitable Foundation, a trust
set up by Mr Edwards a year before his death to promote Bacon's work.
Mr Edwards also
stipulated that £50,000 was to be spent on a party for his family and friends
at the Harrington Club in Kensington, west London. The principal drink was to be
After inheriting the
Bacon estate, Mr Edwards is believed to have bought properties for his parents
and other members of his family in Suffolk.
He is also believed to
have sold some of the paintings left to him by Bacon, primarily later works
which were less well regarded by critics, through galleries in London and New
The will stated that Mr
Edwards wanted his ashes scattered at a farm near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk,
which he bought after Bacon's death.
His bequests included
Bacon's 1962 Sketch for Seated Figure, which he left to Tony Shafrazi, the owner
of a New York art gallery.
John Eastman, Mr
Edwards's lawyer and the brother of the late Linda McCartney, was left a silver
plate and certificate presented to Mr Edwards by the lord mayor of Dublin in
2001 after he presented Bacon's studio to the city.
Friend who inherited
Bacon's £11m fortune went on 11-year spending spree
Sam Jones, The Guardian,
Tuesday August 31, 2004
Despite a reputation for being difficult, Francis Bacon did - in death at least
- live up to his celebrated toast of "Champagne for my real friends, real
pain for my sham friends".
So it's hard to know what
the artist would have made of the behaviour of John Edwards, the man to whom he
left his £11m fortune when he died in 1992.
It appears that Edwards, a
former cockney barman once described by Bacon as his "only true
friend", spent most of his inheritance before he died last year - mostly on
homes in Suffolk for his family.
Records show that Edwards,
who died of lung cancer in a Bangkok hospital, left an estate with a gross value
of £3,125,704. After liabilities, that figure comes down to £786,702.
Although Edwards was Bacon's
closest friend for 16 years, the art world raised its collective eyebrow when
the artist bequeathed his entire estate - including his shabby studio in South
Kensington and several of his paintings - to a man summed up by his friends as
"a typical East End diamond geezer".
Their suspicions may have
been confirmed when rumours circulated that he had sold some of Bacon's
paintings in London and New York. However, the art he inherited was mainly made
up of late Bacon works which were less well regarded by critics.
There is also speculation
that his legacy, which could have risen to £30m by the time he died, may have
been left to Philip Mordue, his boyfriend of 27 years.
He and Mordue - a fellow
east Londoner nicknamed Phil the Till - lived together in a luxury penthouse in
Pattaya, Thailand, for the last nine years of Edwards' life.
His will stated that the
bulk of his estate should be left in trust, with his trustees having the power
to distribute it to any charity or individual.
But Edwards also specified
that £50,000 should be spent on a funeral party for his family and friends at
the exclusive Harrington Club in London.nd, in a final flourish worthy of his
old friend, he decreed that Krug champagne should be served to those gathered.
National Gallery gets U.K.
expressionist's marked-up memorabilia
TORONTO - A friend and neighbour of
the late English painter Francis Bacon has donated a number of items from the
studio of the expressionist artist to the National Gallery of Canada.
Gallery officials announced
Wednesday the donation by Barry Joule, a Canadian who lived next to and was
friends with Bacon during the last 14 years of his life.
This fall, the Ottawa gallery will
mount an exhibit featuring Study for Portrait No. 1, which it already owns,
alongside two of the donated items related to the work. The exhibit will also
include a film and photographic display inspired by Bacon.
Before his death in April 1992, the
self-taught, surrealist-inspired artist – perhaps best known for his series
of pope portraits – left several bundles of material from his famously
chaotic studio to Joule. The material included an album of sketches, annotated
books and more than 900 worked-over photographic images.
Joule exhibited this collection at
the Irish Museum of Modern Art and at London's Barbican Centre before donating
most of it to London's Tate Gallery. He also donated some items related to
cubist painter Pablo Picasso – one of Bacon's early influences – to the
Musée Picasso in Paris.
Joule's gift to the National
Gallery was made in memory of former Queen's University Professor Charles
Pullen, who was a great admirer of Bacon's work.
Among the items bequeathed to the
gallery is a reproduction of 17th century Spanish painter Diego Velasquez's
Portrait of Innocent X that Bacon marked up heavily. Velasquez's painting
inspired Bacon's eventual pope portraits.
"The reproduction of
Velasquez's painting is fascinating," said Diana Nemiroff, the gallery's
curator of modern art and organizer of the upcoming exhibit.
"The lines scratched into the
paper recall Bacon's use of a sort of linear cage around the figure of the
pope in his own paintings. Bacon only knew Velasquez's painting from a
reproduction, and this gives us an idea of how he imposed his own vision on
The exhibit will be displayed in
the gallery's European wing from Aug. 30 through Oct. 24, after which the
donated material will be added to the gallery's Library and Archives
collection, available for study by art scholars.
Bacon: The Sacred and The Profane
Vierny-Musée Maillol, 61, rue de Grenelle – 75007, Paris (AR)
Heard Art Review July
In the catalogue,
exhibition curator and Francis Bacon biographer, Michael Peppiatt, states: "This
exhibition sets out to explore the varieties of the sacred and the profane in
Bacon’s art. It focuses on some of the enigmas that persist at the heart of
his profoundly searching and subversive imagery…An exhibition of this kind
will not necessarily take us to the mysterious core of Bacon’s paintings –
they are infinitely elusive and, like the sphinx that became one of Bacon’s
emblems, they raise questions to which we have at best a faltering reply. But
the exhibition will bring us face to face with unexpected and discomfiting
The title of this
exhibition of 41 of Bacon’s paintings - ‘The Sacred and The Profane’ -
became lost once one was immediately confronted by the brutality of paint, for
the paint speaks louder than any narrative thread. It is seeing – I would say
– sensationing - Bacon’s paintings ‘in the flesh’, in the paint, that
negates the kind of ‘story-telling’ that Bacon himself so despised.
Curiously, the paintings that did not work anymore were the famous images of
paranoid Popes which seemed over time to have taken on a mixture of nostalgic
naivety and melodramatic campness. This amateurish naivety can be seen in Study
for Portrait (Pope) 1957 where Bacon’s handling of the raised arms is clumsy
In the catalogue the reproduction of Pope II, 1951 is richer and darker and
oddly more powerful than the original which appeared muddy and sloppy; indeed,
the reproductions in the catalogue tended to be darker than the paintings
themselves and also to homogenise the textures of the paint. For instance, in
the flesh, Fragment of a Crucifixion, 1950, has a nerve-wracking quality, with
what seem to be white puffs of wool on the back of the headless beast which
hangs over the top of the cross. These furry textures with grainy paint are what
bring Bacon’s images to life and no reproduction can ever faithfully capture
the violent graininess of the paint. This is evident in Reclining Figure III,
1959 where the flesh-paint takes on sinuous swirls of rainbow hues with
Bacon’s brush making musical imprints in the figure’s muscular rhythmic
By far the finest
painting on display was Man in Blue V, 1954 where the head seems to smoulder
between being and non-being, with the fragile face being woven together by thin
slivers of white silvery paint leaking into darkness. The right eye is painted
without being painted-in, evoked without being filled in; it is an eye without
being a literal eye. Being made out of arbitrary, non-rational marks, this is
anti-illustrational painting at its most poignant and powerful.
This is also
sensationed in Study for a Self Portrait, 1963 where again the arbitrary paint
smudges fuse facial features through non-illustrational marks. It was indeed
between 1954 and 1963 that Bacon was at his inventive painterly best. In stark
contrast, by far the worst was Self Portrait, 1978 where Bacon looks like a
bloated botox baby; the older he became the younger he made himself look, like a
parody in reverse of the Picture of Dorian Gray - and here the image is inanely
illustrational, the paint smooth and etiolated – as was also the case in
Triptych, 1983 - directly opposite - with its dead orange ground and flat
figures: here was a bored Bacon as a ghost of his former self.
Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer, 1963 is hardly ever reproduced yet
it is one of Bacon’s finest studies of his tragic loser lover. With its curls
and flourishes it is strikingly baroque while having the spiritual aura and
mystical mood of Jawlensky’s Meditations.
I have seen Paralytic
Child on All Fours (after Muybridge) 1961 only in reproduction and never
realised what a sensitive and refined image it is in reality. The reptilian
half-moon face has a Vermeeresque luminous serenity; the body’s gestures are
balletic; here Bacon brings out the animal in man with a suave graceful
similar reptilian alien creature is sprawled out in Reclining Figure in a
Mirror, 1971 which seems caught in a state of shape-shifting between animal and
human. Both these animalesque images dispel the myth that Bacon’s figures are
distorted. Indeed, the images at this exhibition all displayed a tranquil
radiance devoid of the usual clichés associated with the Bacon canon:
‘horror’ and ‘pain’ were absent.
Shown on the lower
ground floor was a 1964 TV documentary with Bacon speaking fluent French in the
only interview I’ve ever seen conducted in movement: a euphoric Bacon twirls
around with camera crew and interviewer and hangers-on trying to keep up with
him. Edgar Varese’s Integrales was an apt sound track to go with Bacon’s
Michael Peppiatt has
curated a beautifully balanced show; every image seemed to be at the right place
at the right time and all images were bathed in perfect light. Bacon would have
been delighted by such a finely pitched exhibition. Originally scheduled to
close on June 30th it has been extended to August 15th due
to popular demand.
Updated: Wednesday, 28 July, 2004, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
could go overseas
A painting by Francis Bacon valued at £9.5m could be sold overseas
after a UK export ban ran out on Tuesday.
was twice withdrawn from exhibition
A temporary banning licence
for Bacon's Study After Velasquez was granted by the Department for
Culture, Media and Sport in May.
The DCMS hoped the ban would
ensure a buyer could be found in the UK for the 1950 artwork.
Bacon believed it had been
destroyed and it was only rediscovered after his death in 1992.
Withdrawn from exhibition
twice, Bacon sent the work to his art material supplier and later
expressed regret at its loss.
The piece was based on the
work of Spanish renaissance painter Velasquez's Portrait of Pope
Innocent X, painted in 1650.
The DCMS's reviewing
committee on the export of works of art said Bacon's painting had been
recommended for the temporary export ban because of its
"outstanding aesthetic quality".
The government recently
placed an export ban on The Burgomaster of Delft, by artist Jan Steen,
which dates from around 1655 and is owned by a family in Wales.
the world desires a Brit
on the latest movements in the contemporary art market
Colin Gleadell, The Daily
28 June 2004
British artists with
worldwide appeal were among the stars of the select evening sales of
contemporary art at Sotheby's and Christie's last week when more than £28
million changed hands - more than ever before in London.
But it wasn't the
radical, conceptual art of the YBAs that dominated. For its sale on Wednesday,
Sotheby's had assembled a strong group of figurative paintings by the post-war
"School of London" artists - Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Leon Kossoff - and the results
showed how global their market has become. As auctioneer Tobias Meyer said:
"There needed to
be a big jump for British art - and it happened tonight."
The most spectacular
results were for Bacon and Auerbach. A small self-portrait, just over 12in
square, made the highest price to date for a Bacon painting of that size,
selling to private dealer Ivor Braka for £1.6 million - twice the estimate. The
self-portrait last sold in 1991 for £363,000.
Braka also tried to buy
an exceptional painting by Frank Auerbach, but without success. Auerbach's
market has revived recently after more than a decade in which his solid,
painterly values have appeared out of fashion. Yet not even Sotheby's was
prepared for the interest shown in Head of J.Y.M.11 (1984-5), a painting that
the artist considered one of his best.
Until Wednesday, no
portrait by Auerbach had made more than £170,000 at auction. But for this one,
estimated at £60,000 to £80,000, 11 telephone bidders from as far as Asia and
America lined up against the British art trade, driving the price to £352,500 -
paid by a European collector.
Sells $25.7 Million of Artworks by Bacon, Kapoor
24th/25th June 2004
June 25 (Bloomberg) -
Christie's International sold 90 percent of its offered works by artists such as
Francis Bacon and Mark Rothko, taking in 14.1 million pounds ($25.7 million) and
breaking records for Anish Kapoor, Emilio Vedova and Eduardo Chillida at a
London auction of contemporary art last night.
The top-priced lot was
Bacon's 'Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne,' a 1966 triptych portrait valued as
high as 2 million pounds that brought 2.4 million pounds after adding Christie's
commission. The auction competed with the England-Portugal Euro 2004 soccer game
and people started leaking out of London-based Christie's King Street rooms
halfway through the event.
Sells Auerbach, Rego Works for $26 Million
June 24 (Bloomberg) --
Sotheby's Holdings Inc. sold Frank Auerbach's 1983 portrait, 'Head of J.Y.M.
II,' for 352,800 pounds, including the auctioneer's commission, nearly four
times its estimated value at a London auction of contemporary art last night.
Bacon's 1973 'Study for
Self-Portrait,' valued at as much as 800,000 pounds, was bid up last night to
1.6 million pounds.
triptych saved from ayatollahs
Lost masterpiece surfaces in
Nigel Reynolds, The Daily
Telegraph, 18 June 2004
Few modern paintings have a
history quite like it.
Tate Britain put on show
yesterday a virtually unknown homo-erotic triptych painted by the late Francis
Bacon in 1968.
Improbably, the piece is owned
by the Iranian state and, for obvious reasons, it has never been displayed.
Experts in the West had lost
track of the work, titled Two Figures Lying on a Bed with Attendants, and
regarded it as a lost masterpiece.
It is thought that it would
fetch at least £5 million on the open market.
For 30 years, the risque
triptych was squirrelled away in the vaults of Teheran's Museum of Contemporary
Art, out of sight and out of mind, made safe from the disapproving eyes of the
regime of Ayatollah Khomeni.
Stephen Deuchar, the director
of Tate Britain, stumbled on it on a family holiday to Iran in 2001.
Making a courtesy call on Dr
Sami Azar, the director of the Teheran museum, he was led to the storerooms and
the treasure was unwrapped before him.
Dr Deuchar said yesterday:
"I didn't even know of its existence. I was astonished to see it and was
exhilarated by its quality.
"Quite rapidly, I decided
that I might broach the idea of it coming on loan to Tate Britain.
"I don't think that it is
surprising that it hasn't been seen in Teheran but in the context of Bacon's
work as a whole it's not remarkable for its homo-eroticism so much as its
Bacon, a Soho high-lifer and
promiscuous homosexual, was probably not, it is safe to assume, one of the
favourite Western artists of Iran's Islamic revolution.
Two Figures Lying on a Bed with
Attendants was, in fact, bought for the country in 1975 in the dying days of the
Peacock Throne, by the ruling Pahlavi dynasty, whose pro-Western policies - and
rigorous secret services - fanned the revolution in 1979.
Through a foundation that she
controlled, Farah Pahlavi, the widow of the last Shah of Iran, quietly built up
a small but significant collection of Western art for the museum.
When the Shah was deposed,
works by Henry Moore, Renoir, Picasso, Warhol and Dali joined the Bacon in the
Two Figures Lying on a Bed with
Attendants was last seen in Europe in 1972 at an exhibition in Dusseldorf. In
the catalogue for a big Bacon retrospective at the Tate a decade ago, its
whereabouts were listed as unknown.
It is on loan to this country
for six months, joining nearly a dozen other pictures by the artist owned by
Dr Azar, who must still walk a
the tightrope as reformers and traditionalists struggle for ascendancy in Iran,
finally plans to show it in Teheran on its return, Dr Deuchar said yesterday.
Bacon triptych emerges from
Charlotte Higgins, arts
The Guardian Friday June 18, 2004
Bedside manner: Francis Bacon's Two Figures Lying on a Bed with
with two Tate Britain attendants. Photo: Graham Turner
A major triptych by Francis Bacon is about to see the light after
languishing for more than 30 years in the store of the Tehran Museum of
Two Figures Lying on a Bed
With Attendants (1968) was bought, having been shown in Europe in 1972, by the
wife of the last shah of Iran. It became part of the collection of the Tehran
museum, but it is thought to have been on display there only once in 30 years.
Then, in 2001, Tate
Britain's director, Stephen Deuchar, holidayed in Iran. He stopped off at the
Tehran museum, asked to meet the director, Ali Reza Sami Azar, and was shown the
gallery's reserve collection.
"Even under the
fluorescent lighting of the store we could see it was a strong work," Dr
Deuchar said yesterday. "An idea of exchanging works emerged - we recently
lent them a Bill Woodrow sculpture for a British Council exhibition in the
The triptych is on loan to
Tate Britain for six months, where it forms the centrepiece of a new Bacon room.
The work did not remain in
store merely because of its overtly sexual content, though that may have been a
factor. "Dr Sami Azar did acknowledge the need for caution over one or two
female nudes in the collection," Dr Deuchar said, "but he would say
that it was as difficult finding a proper context for the Bacon's display - the
revolution brought to an end collecting of contemporary art."
The work is one of a number
of vast triptychs that Bacon produced. The left and right panels mirror each
other, with a seated figure nude on the left and clothed on the right. It is
possible that this represents George Dyer, Bacon's lover who died alone of drink
and drugs on their hotel lavatory in Paris in 1971.
The central panel shows two
male figures, with simian facial features, in bed. The bed is identifiably that
which Bacon used in Morocco and on which he received many beatings by lovers.
& CONTEMPORARY EVENING SALE
2004 King Street, London
Lot Number 26
Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne
1,500,000 - 2,000,000 British pounds
including Buyer's Premium £
Christie's has a direct financial interest in lots consigned for sale. This
interest may include guaranteeing a minimum price to the consignor of property
or making an advance to the consigned property. Such property is offered subject
to a reserve. This is such a lot.
No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 17.5% will be added to
the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.
PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE FRENCH COLLECTOR.
Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne
oil on canvas, triptych
each: 14 x 12in. (35.5 x 30.5cm.)
Painted in 1966
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1971.
M. Leiris, Francis Bacon, Full Face and in Profile, Barcelona 1983, no. 36 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
1960s and '70s Bacon painted his close friend Isabel Rawsthorne repeatedly. One
of the most frequent subjects of his art, Bacon's portraits of Rawsthorne are
today widely regarded as among his finest works. Bacon's art, which was strongly
reliant on the human figure as the vehicle by which his unique and disturbing
vision of life was expressed, was greatly dependent on portraiture and Bacon is
well known to have chosen to paint only a select group of people whom he knew
well. Peter Lacy, George Dyer, John Edwards, Henrietta Moraes Lucian Freud,
Muriel Belcher along with Isabel Rawsthorne, were all close friends and lovers
mainly drawn from the Soho bohemia of Bacon's 'gilded gutter life'. They were
the gritty 'real-life' characters whose strong individuality and unique humanity
Bacon drew on to fill the empty void of his often stark and alienating canvases.
Like character actors in modern dress taking part in some epic ancient Greek
tragedy each of these unique and memorable individuals fulfils a vital role in
Bacon's art. Their raw individuality, so powerfully captured and conveyed by
Bacon's distortions and visceral use of paint, is also transformed into a
physical prison. Each figure in Bacon's art is isolated and alone, trapped
within their body in the midst of an alienating and empty abstract space. A raw
and pulsating piece of meat animated solely by the electric pulse of their
nervous system, they are unique animals yet also ultimately, in Bacon's hands,
part of an ugly and generic humanity.
It was largely because of the intense and specific nature of Bacon's powerful
and disturbing art that the artist only felt comfortable painting those
individuals he knew well. What these friends and lovers had in common for Bacon
and what made him able to paint them so successfully was that he knew them. He
had lived alongside them. They were people and faces he had not only seen, but
observed and scrutinized in everyday life, taking in their variety of expression
and the way they moved or how they responded to a whole range of differing
circumstances recording each in a series of photographic-like flashes that stuck
in his memory like mental snap-shots which captured the uniqueness of their
innate individuality. In the studio, Bacon would paint from a photograph which
would help to prompt this visual memory and, as he once explained to David
Sylvester, enable him to 'drift' from the outward appearance more freely.
"Even in the case of friends who will come and pose,' he recalled, 'I've
had photographs taken for portraits because I very much prefer working from the
photographs than from them, It's true to say I couldn't attempt to do a portrait
from photographs of somebody I don't know. But, if I both know them and have
photographs of them, I find it easier to work than actually having their
presence in the room. I think that, if I have the presence of the image in
there, I am not able to drift so freely as I am through the photographic image.
This may be just my own neurotic sense but I find it less inhibiting to work
from them through memory and their photographs than actually having them seated
there before me.' (David Sylvester (ed.), The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with
Francis Bacon, London 1990, p. 40)
Bacon's portraits of Isabel Rawsthorne are among the most powerful and
successful of his works because of all of the friends he painted, Isabel
Rawsthorne was one of the closest and, perhaps with the exception of Muriel
Belcher, the woman with whom he felt most comfortable. With her strength of
character and her illustrious history as a model and mistress of several great
twentieth century artists she was also, in direct contrast to Bacon's former
lovers Peter Lacy and George Dyer for example, a powerfully independent
character whom Bacon not only respected but also to some extent looked up to.
When Bacon bragged to Paris Match , 'You know I also made love to Isabel
Rawsthorne, a very beautiful woman who was Derain's model and Georges Bataille's
girlfriend', he, perhaps unwittingly, revealed this aspect of his relationship
with her. Other than one other youthful attempt at heterosexuality - with a
prostitute who reportedly ate chips while Bacon attempted intercourse -
Rawsthorne, as Bacon's friend and biographer Michael Peppiatt tells us, appears
to have been the only woman with whom Bacon ever even attempted to have sex.
(Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London, 1996 p. 17)
Rawsthorne, was born Isabel Nichols in the East End of London in 1912 the
daughter of a master mariner. She grew up in Liverpool and attended Liverpool
School of Art and later studied at the Royal Academy Schools. A model and
mistress of Sir Jacob Epstein, by whom she had a child, she moved to Paris when
she was 22 where she worked in Derain's studio, often modeling for him as well.
"I adored Derain' she once recalled, "he was the most French person
you could ever meet. That's how I learned the language.' Through Derain, Isabel
Delmer, as she then was, met Giacometti, who also took her as his model and
mistress. According to Giacometti's biographer James Lord, Giacometti recalled
Isabel standing at midnight on the Boulevard Saint-Michel - remote and imperious
- and it was this image that gave rise to his many sculptures of extraordinarily
thin, unreachable women. In addition to this, Giacometti's painting Isabel dans
l'atelier, and two sculptures Isabel I of 1936 and Isabel 2 from 1938-9 are
direct portraits of her.
It was through Giacometti that Isabel also came to be painted by Picasso.
'Alberto worked all night,' she told Bacon biographer Daniel Farson, 'but at
five every evening we drank at the Lipp. Picasso used to sit at the table
opposite and one day, after staring at me particularly hard, he jumped up and
said to Alberto: 'Now I know how to do it.' He dashed back to his studio to
paint my portrait - with little red eyes, wild hair and a vertical mouth - one
of five he painted from memory." (Daniel Farson The Gilded Gutter Life of
Francis Bacon, London, 1993, p. 165)
Isabel was separated from Giacometti by the outbreak of war in 1939 but she
joined him again briefly in 1945 before marrying the composer Constant Lambert.
When Lambert died in 1951 she married his friend and fellow composer Alan
Rawsthorne. She met Bacon in the early 1960s and soon became one of his closest
friends as well as a frequent figure in his portraiture. Strong-willed, fiercely
independent and greedy for life Isabel Rawsthorne had a warm, and distinguished
face that evidently fascinated Bacon. It wore, what Daniel Farson once described
as a 'surprised expression of someone who has just heard a marvelous joke and
wishes to share it.' (op. cit. p. 166) In addition to her burgeoning friendship
with the artist Rawsthorne was also particularly instrumental in strengthening
Bacon's ties with the city of Paris during the 1960s. Like Bacon she was a
friend of the poet and writer Michel Leiris and it was through her that Bacon, a
great admirer of Giacometti, whom he once declared to be 'the greatest living
influence on my work', came to meet the Swiss sculptor, on two occasions in
London in 1965.
Painted in 1966 Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne is a return to the subject
that Bacon had first developed in two triptychs the year before; one on a dark
and one on a light background. Split into three separate sections, this 1966
triptych is a composite work that develops like a series of film stills with
each portrait operating like a snap shot of Rawsthorne caught in motion. Each
portrait depicts a radically different facial expression that Bacon has enhanced
by the use of dramatic and seemingly chance-driven splashes of white paint to
articulate a sense of nervous movement and frozen animation. These deliberate,
so-called 'distortions' are used by Bacon to emphasize the living nature of
Rawsthorne's flesh and to animate the portrait. Sweeping marks that link her
recognisable but illustrative features to her essentially abstract surroundings,
they reinforce the notion that collectively the three frames of the portrait
bracket something of the essence of the raw reality of life that animates all
humanity. As Bacon himself expressed it, "Whether the distortions which I
think sometimes bring the image over more violently are damage is a very
questionable idea. I don't think it is damage. You may say it's damaging if you
take it on the level if illustration. But not if you take it on the level of
what I think of as art. One brings the sensation and feeling of life over the
only way one can. I don't say it's a good way, but one brings it over at the
most acute point one can.' (op. cit. Sylvester, p. 43)
Through the seeming 'damage' or 'violence' of these 'distortions' and the
3-D-like fragmentation of the portrait into three constantly shifting parts, a
composite but recognisable and animated image of Rawsthorne asserts itself in
our minds. It is an image that Rawsthorne herself described as "fabulously
accurate'. (op. cit. Peppiatt, p. 208.) Bacon, somewhat more cautiously
described this successful painterly process as being able to 'clear away one or
two (of reality's) screens'.
Bacon's rare portraits of
a female lover go to auction
John Ezard, arts correspondent,
The Guardian, Tuesday June 8, 2004
Francis Bacon's Three Studies of Isabel
Rawsthorne, which are expected to fetch £1.5m to £2m when they go under the
hammer at Christie's this month.
Paintings by Francis Bacon of one of his two known female lovers were forecast
yesterday to fetch £1.5m to £2m at auction in London this month.
They are of the friend about
whom the famously homosexual painter bragged to the magazine Paris Match:
"You know, I also made love to Isabel Rawsthorne, a very beautiful woman
who was Derain's model and George Bataille's girlfriend."
Isabel Rawsthorne was one of
the strikingly independent, good-looking people of her time, with a warm and
distinguished face. Yet her fate - as model and mistress to several great
20th-century artists - was to be shown in strange ways by her lovers and
Picasso gave her wild hair
and a vertical mouth. The sculptor Alberto Giacometti based some of his stick
people on her. And Bacon's canvases, titled Three Studies of Isabel
make her look lion-faced, with a nose and cheeks which appear to have had skin
flayed from them.
Raised in east London and
herself a painter, Rawsthorne was one of Bacon's closest friends and more
frequent models in the Soho milieu they moved in, centred round the Colony club.
In his book about the artist, Michael Peppiatt says Bacon respected and to some
extent looked up to her.
She had the "surprised
expression of someone who has just heard a marvellous joke and wishes to share
it", according to the journalist Daniel Farson, another club regular.
When she met Bacon in the
early 1960s, Rawsthorne was 48 and most of her artists were behind her. By the
age of 22 she had had a child by the sculptor Jacob Epstein. Living with the
painter André Derain in Paris introduced her to Giacometti, who drank at the
same brasserie as Picasso.
"Picasso used to sit at
the table opposite and one day, after staring at me particularly hard, he jumped
up and said to Alberto: 'Now I know how to do it,'" she told Farson.
"He dashed back to his studio to paint my portrait - with little red eyes,
wild hair and a vertical mouth - one of five he painted from memory."
She married the composer
Constant Lambert and, after his death, the conductor and composer Alan
Rawsthorne. She died in 1992.
Bacon's only other known
excursion into heterosexuality came while he was a young man, according to
This was with a prostitute
who, Bacon said, ate chips while he attempted intercourse.
portrait in auction
Monday, 7 June, 2004
A painting by artist Francis Bacon of the woman he said was his only
female lover is expected to fetch up to £2m at auction on Monday.
Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne, painted in 1966, is part of Christie's
post-war and contemporary art sale in London.
herself, Rawsthorne was one of Bacon's lifelong friends.
French magazine Paris Match the pair were lovers, and she was the
only woman he had a relationship with.
born in 1912 in the east end of London and studied at Liverpool
School of Art and the Royal Academy.
She became known
as an artist's model and had relationships with several artists,
including Sir Jacob Epstein, with whom she had a child.
She also lived
for a time in Paris and had a relationship with the artist Derain.
During her time
there, she was also painted by Pablo Picasso.
Prophet of a pitiless world
John Berger used to think
Francis Bacon painted only to shock and his appeal would soon wear thin. But at
a new show in Paris, he realised the painter's personal preoccupations have
become terrifyingly relevant
John Berger, The Guardian,
Saturday May 29, 2004
Visit the Francis Bacon
exhibition at the Maillol Museum in Paris. Read Susan Sontag's latest book,
Regarding the Pain of Others. The exhibition, despite the stupid subtitle of
Sacred and Profane, represents succinctly a long life's work. The book is a
remarkably probing meditation about war, physical mutilation and the effect of
war photographs. Somewhere in my mind the book and exhibition refer to one
another. I'm not yet sure how.
As a figurative painter,
Bacon had the cunning of a Fragonard. (The comparison would have amused him, and
both were accomplished painters of physical sensation - one of pleasure and the
other of pain.) Bacon's cunning has understandably intrigued and challenged at
least two generations of painters.
If, during 50 years, I have
been critical of Bacon's work, it is because I was convinced he painted in order
to shock, both himself and others. And such a motive, I believed, would wear
thin with time. Last week, as I walked backwards and forwards before the
paintings in the Rue des Grenelles, I perceived something I'd not understood
before, and I felt a sudden gratitude to a painter whose work I'd questioned for
such a long while.
Bacon's vision from the late
1930s to his death in 1992 was of a pitiless world. He repeatedly painted the
human body or parts of the body in discomfort or want or agony. Sometimes the
pain involved looks as if it has been inflicted; more often it seems to
originate from within, from the guts of the body itself, from the misfortune of
being physical. Bacon consciously played with his name to create a myth, and he
succeeded in this. He claimed descent from his namesake, the 16th-century
English empiricist philosopher, and he painted human flesh as if it were a
rasher of bacon (tranche du lard fumé).
Yet it is not this that
makes his world more pitiless than any painted before. European art is full of
assassinations, executions and martyrs. In Goya, the first artist of the 20th
century (20th, yes), one listens to the artist's own outrage. What is different
in Bacon's vision is that there are no witnesses and there is no grief. Nobody
painted by him notices what is happening to somebody else painted by him. Such
ubiquitous indifference is crueller than any mutilation.
In addition, there is the
muteness of the settings in which he places his figures. This muteness is like
the coldness of a freezer which remains constant whatever is deposited in it.
Bacon's theatre, unlike Artaud's, has little to do with ritual, because no space
around his figures receives their gestures. Every enacted calamity is presented
as a mere collateral accident.
During his lifetime, such a
vision was nourished and haunted by the melodramas of a very provincial bohemian
circle, within which nobody gave a fuck about what was happening elsewhere. And
yet ... and yet the pitiless world Bacon conjured up and tried to exorcise has
turned out to be prophetic. It can happen that the personal drama of an artist
reflects within half a century the crisis of an entire civilisation. How?
Has not the world always
been pitiless? Today's pitilessness is perhaps more unremitting, pervasive and
continuous. It spares neither the planet itself, nor anyone living on it
anywhere. Abstract because, deriving from the sole logic of the pursuit of
profit (as cold as the freezer), it threatens to make obsolete all other sets of
belief, along with their traditions of facing the cruelty of life with dignity
and some flashes of hope.
Return to Bacon and what his
work reveals. He obsessively used the pictorial language and thematic references
of some earlier painters - such as Velásquez, Michelangelo, Ingres or Van Gogh.
This "continuity" makes the devastation of his vision more complete.
The Renaissance idealisation
of the naked human body, the church's promise of redemption, the Classical
notion of heroism, or Van Gogh's ardent 19th-century belief in democracy - these
are revealed within his vision to be in tatters, powerless before the
pitilessness. Bacon picks up the shreds and uses them as swabs. This is what I
had not taken in before. Here was the revelation.
A revelation that confirms
an insight: to engage today with the traditional vocabulary, as employed by the
powerful and their media, only adds to the surrounding murkiness and
devastation. There are a number of words and cliches, filched from the past,
whose currency has now to be categorically refused. Liberty, terrorism,
security, democratic, fanatic, anti-semitic, etc are terms that have been
reduced to rags in order to camouflage the new ruling pitilessness.
This does not necessarily
mean silence. It means choosing the voices one wishes to join. The present
period of history is one of the Wall. When the Berlin one fell, the prepared
plans to build walls everywhere were unrolled. Concrete, bureaucratic,
surveillance, security, racist, zone walls. Everywhere the walls separate the
desperate poor from those who hope against hope to stay relatively rich. The
walls cross every sphere from crop cultivation to healthcare. They exist, too,
in the richest metropolises of the world. The Wall is the front line of what,
long ago, was called the class war.
On the one side: every
armament conceivable, the dream of no-body-bag wars, the media, plenty, hygiene,
many passwords to glamour. On the other: stones, short supplies, feuds, the
violence of revenge, rampant illness, an acceptance of death and an on-going
preoccupation with surviving one more night - or perhaps one more week -
The choice of meaning in the
world today is here between the two sides of the wall. The wall is also inside
each one of us. Whatever our circumstances, we can choose within ourselves which
side of the wall we are attuned to. It is not a wall between good and evil. Both
exist on both sides. The choice is between self-respect and self-chaos.
On the side of the powerful
there is a conformism of fear - they never forget the wall - and the mouthing of
words that no longer mean anything. Such muteness is what Bacon painted.
On the other side there are
multitudinous, disparate, sometimes disappearing, languages with whose
vocabularies a sense can be made of life even if, particularly if, that sense is
"When my words were wheat
I was earth. When my words were anger
I was storm.
When my words were rock
I was river.
When my words turned honey
Flies covered my lips".
- Mahmoud Darweesh
Bacon painted the muteness
fearlessly, and in this was he not closer to those on the other side, for whom
the walls are one more obstacle to get around, even if it involves risking their
lives for those following? It could be ...
· Francis Bacon:
Sacred and Profane is at the Maillol Museum, Paris, until June 30. Details: 00
33 1 42 22 59 58.
Study After Velasquez Deferred From Export
artdaily.com Monday, May 31,
ENGLAND.- Arts Minister Estelle Morris has placed a temporary export
bar on a stunning rediscovered masterpiece by Francis Bacon,
entitled Study after Velasquez, 1950. The work is from Bacon’s “Pope
Series” of over forty-five paintings resulting from the his fascination with
Velasquez’ Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1650, which Bacon used as a
springboard for his own intense exploration of the human condition.
The painting has an interesting history. Withdrawn from exhibition twice, Bacon
eventually sent it to his art materials supplier with instructions for it to be
removed from its stretcher, presumably so he could begin another work. Later
thinking the painting had been destroyed the artist allegedly often expressed
regret at its fate. The work remained undiscovered until after Bacon’s death
in 1992. This will provide a last chance to raise the money to keep the
painting in the United Kingdom.
The Minister’s ruling follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on
the Export of Works of Art that the export decision be deferred. This
reflects the painting’s outstanding aesthetic quality and its significance for
study as Bacon’s first completed full-length Pope portrait, reflecting his
ambition to develop the grand manner portrait.
The deferral will enable purchase offers to be made at the following agreed fair
A painting by Francis Bacon, Study after Velasquez, 1950, deferred at the
recommended price of £9,500,000, until after 27 July 2004, with the possibility
of an extension until after 27 November 2004, if there is a serious intention to
raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase.
Anyone interested in making an offer to purchase the painting should contact the
owner’s agent through:
The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
2-4 Cockspur Street
tries to bar export of Bacon painting
Reynolds, Arts Correspondent, The Daily Telegraph, 28 May 2004
stepped in yesterday to try to prevent an important long-lost painting by
Francis Bacon, thought to have been destroyed years ago, from being sold to
America for almost £10 million.
Study After Velasquez, was rediscovered after Bacon died in 1992, though its
current ownership is unknown.
Britain's foremost post-war artist, left a tangled web on his death with some of
his works owned by his gallery and others left to his homosexual long-term
companion, John Edwards.
Morris, the minister for the arts, yesterday called the painting, one of a
series of 45 in Bacon's Screaming Pope Series, "a stunning rediscovered
She issued a
temporary export bar giving public collections in Britain six months to keep the
1950 painting in this country by matching the £9.5 million private sale price
Screaming Pope Series was inspired by his fascination with Velasquez's Portrait
of Pope Innocent X and the insight it showed into the human condition.
shows a snarling Pope, snared inside a curtain of rods, apparently screaming
to show the work first at the Hanover Gallery in London in 1950 and then at the
Festival of Britain in 1951, but on both occasions he mysteriously withdrew it.
sent the piece to his art materials supplier with instructions for it to be
removed from its stretcher but later, thinking that it had been destroyed, he is
said to have expressed profound regret at its loss.
for Culture, Media and Sport was unable to shed any light on when and where it
was rediscovered, who the seller is or the American buyer's identity.
astonished the art world by leaving his £11 million estate, including a number
of pictures, to Edwards, the illiterate son of an East End docker who was 40
years the artist's junior.
described as "a typical East End diamond geezer", said he never had a
sexual relationship with Bacon, but he was his closest friend for 16 years. They
frequented Soho together and Edwards visited Bacon's South Kensington mews house
every morning to make him breakfast and sit with him while he painted.
from lung cancer last year in Thailand where he had gone to live after Bacon's
death with Philip "Phil the Till" Mordue, another East Ender.
£9.5m Bacon out of
Funding crisis makes
export bar unlikely to succeed
Maev Kennedy, arts and heritage correspondent,
The Guardian, Friday
May 28th, 2004
A major work by Francis Bacon
seems fated to leave the country after the Tate reluctantly decided yesterday
that it could not afford even to contemplate the £9.5m price tag.
"We have sadly decided
that it is simply beyond our means, though it is an important and wonderful
work," a spokeswoman said of the Study after Velásquez 1950, a painting
which Bacon, who died in 1992, believed to be destroyed.
The arts minister, Estelle
Morris, granted an export bar yesterday, which will keep it in Britain at least
until July, and can be extended to November.
This is intended to give a
British institution a chance to match the £9.5m price. With the Tate admitting
defeat, it is unlikely that any other museum will try to raise the money.
David Barrie, director of
the Art Fund, the charity which helped the National Gallery acquire Raphael's
Madonna of the Pinks for more than £20m, said: "It is certainly true that
there is a massive weakness in the system, which undertakes to compensate
vendors at the current market price without providing any means for museums and
galleries to afford that price.
"It is particularly
serious at the moment, with the Heritage Lottery Fund unable to move quickly in
a rapidly moving art market and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, which can
move very fast, having seriously depleted its resources."
The vendor is believed to be
Bacon's estate. No public announcement was made, but most major disposals from
the estate in the past decade have been made discreetly.
The painting is from Bacon's
most famous series, The Screaming Popes, based on Velásquez's great portrait of
Pope Innocent X.
Bacon never saw the 17th
century painting, though he obsessively bought prints of it; he once said that
he would have been afraid to confront the original, after manipulating it
He twice withdrew this
painting from exhibitions, and in the 60s sent it to his materials supplier with
instructions to take it off its stretcher and replaced it with a new blank
canvas. He believed it had been destroyed, and is said to have regretted it. It
was rediscovered after his death.
His estate was valued at £11m
when it was left to his friend John Edwards, who died last year in Thailand.
Bacon was regarded as one of
the greatest painters of the 20th century, and in 1989 became the world's most
expensive living artist when a triptych sold for £3.8m in New York. Since his
death his reputation and prices have continued to soar: the previous record is
just over £6m for another triptych.
The Tate's decision points
to the hole at the heart of the export bar system. Experts such as Sir Nicholas
Goodison, who recently completed a review for the Treasury, have warned that the
gap can only be filled by a serious injection of government money for
Last year the Tate director,
Sir Nicholas Serota, said his galleries were losing major works every week
because they could not afford to bid for them.
the Tate owns 50 works definitively by Bacon, the pope painting would be a major
addition. Last year it got the most eccentric Bacon collection: thousands of
sheets and torn scraps of paper from the legendary knee-deep litter on his
1: 23rd June 2004 7:00pm
Self Portrait Francis Bacon 1973
Lot 4: Estimate: £600,000-800,000 GBP
with Buyer's Premium £1,573,600.
Alfred Hecht, London
Sotheby's, London, Post War and Contemporary Art, 27 June 1991, Lot 40
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner.
London, Tate Gallery; Stuttgart,
Staatsgalerie; Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Francis Bacon, 1985, no. 83,
illustrated in colour
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., Francis Bacon 1909-1992 Small Portrait
New Haven, The Yale Center for British Art; Minneapolis, The Minneapolis
Institute of Arts; San Francisco, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Fort
Worth, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Francis Bacon: A Retrospective
Exhibition, 1999, p. 160, no. 52, illustrated in colour.
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES
Lorenza Trucchi, Francis Bacon,
London 1976, no. 169, illustrated in colour
John Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1979, p. 157, no. 81, illustrated
Dawn Ades and Andrew Forge, Francis Bacon, London 1980, p. 83,
illustrated in colour.
“People have been dying around me
like flies and I’ve had nobody else to paint but myself … I loathe my own
face, and I’ve done self-portraits because I’ve had nothing else to do”
(Francis Bacon in David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with
Francis Bacon, London 1975, ps. 129-133).
The love of Francis Bacon’s life to date, George Dyer, died in 1971. It was
two nights before the grand opening of his retrospective at the Grand Palais in
Paris and Dyer had committed suicide by overdose in their hotel room. A handsome
ex-petty criminal, Dyer offered Bacon a different take on life and their
relationship from 1963 onwards inspired arguably one of his most fertile periods
of creation. Filled with bold, confident swathes of joyous colour and
distinguished by brushstroke upon brushstroke of self-assured representational
genius, the over-riding sense of the fullness of life swept through the
paintings, like never before. However, Bacon’s art had always been aware of
the direct opposition between life and death, and the period immediately
following Dyer’s suicide was characterised by a deep sense of mourning.
Infused with grief and self-accusation, the depth of despair in the works
between 1971 and 1973 show the reverse of Bacon’s painterly coin.
On the one hand this period confronted Bacon’s desolate sense of loss, but on
the other it also represented a period of intense loneliness for the artist.
With the loss of his right hand man, Bacon withdrew from society in a kind of
self-imposed exile. As such, apart from his outstanding triptych epitaphs to
George, most of the paintings of this period were self- portraits. Bacon had
always been an incredibly gregarious bon-viveur, but with nobody else around
him, he was forced to confront himself, and this he did with his usual unerring
sense of painterly presence.
Painted during this period of intense drama, turmoil and self-reflection,
for Self Portrait of 1973, represents one of the most powerful smaller single
panel works in Bacon’s oeuvre. The larger full-body studies of the same period
show his body in a state of extreme reluctance. Slumped back into a chair with
his head held in his hands or holding his legs towards his head in a kind of
adult foetal position, all of these works show him dressed in black, with his
head cast in various tones of grey. This is Bacon plumbing the depths. The
extraordinary Study for Self-Portrait closes right in on a profile of his head. Fidgetting nervously, his right hand and arm are drawing across his face,
seemingly surprised at the attention he is receiving. The extraordinary
compression of the image, together with the scumbled pale blue background
heightens the drama and magnifies the prominence of his wristwatch. The
wristwatch was present in a few of the works of this period and would appear to
remind the viewer of the transitory nature of existence. As Bacon reflected
“Time does not heal. There isn’t an hour of the day that I don’t think
about him [George Dyer]” (Francis Bacon in Exhibition Catalogue, Lugano, Museo
d’Arte Moderna di Lugano, Francis Bacon, 1993, p. 44)
As with all of his self-portraits, this image would have been painted from
memory and, up close and personal, Bacon covers the canvas with his immediate
presence. Dressed once again in black, the contemplative profile is picked out
in delicate detail right down to the flick of hair which appears to disappear
into the background sea of pale blue. Equally, as the face merges with the
appearance of the movement of the arm across it, Bacon draws broad sweeps of his
paint-filled brush as if trying to mimic the action. Incorporating a rich array
of colours, techniques and textures the image brings the paint to life. Bacon
has primed the back of the canvas to allow the pigment to seep into the weave,
this alliance of the weave together with the scumbling and meandering areas of
think and thin paint creates a living, breathing action. Bacon here appears to
have achieved his aim: “What I want to do is to distort the thing far beyond
the appearance, but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the
appearance” (Francis Bacon in conversation with David Sylvester, Exhibition
Catalogue, London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings,
1967, p. 37)
If Bacon’s art sought the height of painterly expression as a reflection of
life, then his self-portraits represented the heart of that exploration.
Bacon’s life itself was filled with extremes and, from his very first self
portrait in 1956 to the last in 1986, one can sense a man who responded directly
to the ups and downs of life. If the late 1960s provided some of his happiest
moments, the early 1970s provided undeniably his most introspective moment. The
counterpoint of the two, as in Study for Self-Portrait, contrived to provide
some of the most complex depictions of emotional presence in the history of art.
Art Isn't Easy: 7 Reece
About an Artist's Search
for Painter Francis Bacon
By Kenneth Jones
Plays NYC May 20-June 5
Theatre Since 1984 20 May 2004
7 Reece Mews, David Brendan Hopes'
play about a young artist's interest in painter Francis Bacon, makes its New
York City debut May 20 at the Westbeth Arts Center in Greenwich Village.
The performance space is inside the
courtyard at 155 Bank Street between Washington and West Streets, across from
the Bank Street Theatre.
Jamie McGonnigal directs the new
Off-Off-Broadway work, about "Mark, a young American artist who goes to
Dublin to be near painter Francis Bacon, the man he has taken as his master and
teacher. Bacon, being dead, could only communicate through his jumbled
possessions, and perhaps through John, a mysterious man who may or may not have
been Bacon's last lover. The play is about the mystery and the unfairness of
art, which may be taken as a prime type of the mystery and unfairness — and
yet the extreme beauty — of life."
Some call Irishman Francis Bacon as
"the finest painter of the second half of the 20th century, certainly the
best on Britain," according to production notes. "He painted most of
his productive life at 7 Reece Mews in London, in a room of almost incredible
disarray, which, nevertheless, may have possessed a mystical order which was
preserved intact when the studio was moved bodily to the Hugh Lane Gallery in
Dublin, as a gift from John Edwards, Bacon's last and luckiest life
The play features Tate Ellington as
Mark, Paul Finbow as John, Amanda Jones as Nora and Mick Bleyer as Naill.
Playwright Hopes is professor of
literature and language at the University of North Carolina at Asheville,
founder and editor of Urthona Press, founder and director of the Black Swan
Theater Company. He is the author of the Juniper Prize and Saxifrage
Prize-winning book, "The Glacier's Daughters," and of "Blood
Rose" (Urthona Press, 1997), the Pulitzer-and-National-Book Award-nominated
"A Childhood in the Milky Way" (Akron University Press), and "A
Sense of the Morning" (Milkweed Editions, 1999). His new book of
nature writing, "Bird Songs of the Mesozoic," is due from Milkweed in
2005. His works have appeared in periodicals such as The New Yorker,
Audubon, Christopher Street and The Sun.
Director McGonnigal has been
represented in New York City most notably for directing and producing the New
York City premiere of Stephen Schwartz's Children of Eden, which benefited The
York Theatre Company and The National AIDS Fund. He also directed
productions of The Ritz (Lincoln Center's Clark Studio), Love! Valour!
Compassion! (to benefit for the Twin Towers Fund). Other recent credits
include Miracle on 47th Street at The King Kong Room, a benefit for God's Love
We Deliver (director/producer), Embrace!, a concert benefiting The Matthew
Shepard Foundation (director/producer), Snoopy! The Musical in concert with Tony
Award winner Sutton Foster and more.
The producer, Monday Morning
Productions, is a production company in its third year. Other theatre
productions have included A Month of Sundays by Jason Cicci at Theatre Row
Theatre, and him & her and Closet Chronicles (starring Marilyn Sokol) at
Ground Floor Theatre.
Performances of 7 Reece Mews play
Thursdays Sundays May 20-June 5. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays doors
open at 7 PM for a pre-show wine reception, with performances at 8 PM. On
Sundays, May 23 and 30, the wine reception begins at 6:30 with performances at 7
Tickets are $20 for performances and
refreshments. Tickets can be purchased through Smarttix at (212) 868 4444.
Bacon’s Sacred And Profane In Paris
Fragment for a the Crucifixion, 1950
Art Daily April 8th 2004
Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol began yesterday the exhibition “The
Sacred and the Profane” featuring the oeuvre of painter Francis Bacon.
The exhibition including 42 paintings that shed new light on his profoundly
disturbing masterpieces will end on June 30, 2004.
Francis Bacon was, to an extreme, living proof of William Butler Yeats’
saying that: "No mind can create until it is divided in two". In his
life as well as in his art, he was able to maintain a precarious yet lasting
balance between totally conflicting points of view. This ambivalence, which
appears clearly in his works, reaches extraordinary proportions in his
interpretation of Christian symbols.
Bringing together 37 paintings and 5 triptyches provenating from museums and
private collections, a certain number of which have rarely been exhibited,
this show serves as an inventory of the Sacred and Profane within Francis
Bacon’s art. Crucifixions, popes or irreverent images of couples entwined on
the grass, isolated men screaming in cages and women nailed to their bed by a
syringe in a lather of paint. Bacon inverts all traditional concepts of the
Sacred and the Profane, replacing them with his own ,both unsettling and
unpredictable visions. A crucifixion may appear in the guise a cut of meat or
a threatening animal, whereas the lustful embrace of two bodies assumes all
the tender suffering of a Pieta.
This show addresses some of the underlying enigmas which the intensely
disturbing iconography of this great English painter embodies. It is
remarkable that someone as fiercely atheist as he was relentessly kept on
painting, in an obsessive manner, the motif of the Crucifixion or variations
on a specific theme. A case in point is the portrait of the pope Innocent X by
Velasquez., of which there are at least forty-five variations. At the same
time, his uncanny powers of transformation enabled him to lend an almost
mythic dimension to the most commonplace everyday scenes: a man alone in a
room becomes a kind of crucifixion of modern life.
The event is being curated by Michael Peppiatt.
I was astonished that the Tate Gallery has acquired
the Barry Joule Archive of alleged Francis Bacon sketches and doodlings
donated by Barry Joule. Even an 'O' Level art student could tell that
these are very bad fakes: everything in Joule's Archive is over scratched and
scribbled as well as being too naive for Bacon's sophistication - for even Bacon's own
sketches had a suave line.
if Mr Joule acquired some of the photos from
Bacon's Reece Mews studio, the mannered markings are certainly not from the hand of Bacon. I
suggest Joule acquired some photographs and reproductions from the studio and that they
were subsequently doctored. The Francis Bacon Estate was correct and
insightful in not authenticating this rubbish, which is only fit to be
put out with the garbage.
of Francis Bacon,
acquires Bacon trove
Tate Britain has acquired an archive of controversial material from Francis
Bacon's London studio at 7 Reece Mews. It was donated to the museum by Barry
Joule, the artist's friend, chauffeur and handyman. Called the Barry Joule
Collection, the trove contains more than 1,200 items from the artist's studio,
including source material, sketches and photographs of the painter with
friends. The material will be catalogued and studied over the next three years
before being displayed or made available for loans. Joule kept some items,
which he has promised to bequeath to the Tate.
to press reports, Joule claimed that Bacon had given him a group of some 700
works just before his death, though some accounts state that Bacon had asked
Joule to discard sackloads of rubbish from his studio, saying "You know
what to do with them." Joule was often asked to destroy works that Bacon
wasn't satisfied with, but Joule maintains that, in this case as in several
earlier instances, the artist meant to keep the works.
the artist died in 1992, the Tate was reportedly offered the studio and its
contents (less the items in Joule's possession) by Bacon's companion and heir,
John Edwards, who died last year. The Tate declined the offer and, in 1998,
the studio and the bulk of its contents were given to the Hugh Lane Gallery in
Dublin--Bacon's birth city--where it is meticulously preserved in its famously
chaotic state [see "Front Page," Feb. '00]. Much of the controversy
about the Joule collection arises from a number of works on paper that would
seem to counter Bacon's assertions that he never made preparatory studies for
his paintings, but worked directly on the canvas. Several scholars, including
the late David Sylvester, expressed doubts as to the drawings' authenticity.
2000, Dublin's Irish Museum of Modern Art worked out an agreement with the
estate to display some 100 of the disputed items as "work attributed to
Francis Bacon," in a show that inaugurated new galleries devoted to the
artist. The following year, the Barbican Gallery in London also showed
selections from the Joule archive with the same disclaimer. The Bacon estate
stressed that the Tate's acceptance of the gift does not constitute an
authentication of the contents, and that it will take years for experts to
sort through the material.
Digging for sources of
Exhibit shines light on
painter Francis Bacon
CNN.Com Friday, February 27, 2004
BASEL, Switzerland (AP) --
Archaeologists had to retrieve the more than 7,000 objects cluttering the late
artist's London studio.
They collected countless
brushes, empty tubes, rags and tin cans encrusted with paint. They also picked
up many crumpled and torn pages of magazines and books. And they catalogued
close to 1,500 photos, often in poor condition.
Chaos seems an
understatement in describing the place where Francis Bacon lived and worked for
his last three decades until his death in 1992 at the age of 82. But the studio,
since reconstructed to its original, messy state at The Hugh Lane gallery in his
native Dublin, was a treasure trove for art historians seeking a deeper insight
into the enigmatic painter's disturbing and distorted imagery.
Showcases with some 65
newspaper clippings, photos, book leafs and other samples from this "studio
material" are for the first time part of a unique exhibition on the artist.
Titled "Francis Bacon and the Tradition of Art," it focuses on his
main sources of inspiration by confronting some 40 of his paintings with an
equal number by old masters and other artists. They are on loan from museums and
private collectors in the United States and Europe. The show runs through June
For Barbara Steffen, curator
of the show at the Beyeler Foundation museum in suburban Riehen, Switzerland,
the studio material presents the missing link between the "the sublime
horror of Bacon's own imagery and the often complex, ambiguous beauty of the
artists he accepted as his idols."
Among the paintings, special
prominence is given to Bacon's interpretations of an austere 17th-century
portrait of Pope Innocent X by Diego Velazquez, which fascinated him for many
years. Some of Bacon's images, which are up to 78 inches high, suggest the papal
throne, supposedly a symbol of power, holding an anguished, isolated figure.
They include versions of his
"screaming pope" shown together with the still of a terrified victim
taken from film director Sergey Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin,"
the 1925 silent film about the Russian revolution. Confronting them are sketches
of a weeping woman by Picasso. The close-up still, his source for the pope's
stunned features, was found in Bacon's studio as were numerous colour and
black-and-white reproductions of the Velazquez original, which he never saw.
Distance from subjects
Also on view are other
examples of how Bacon merged several sources from his studio collection in his
paintings, sometimes with absurd results. In two versions for "Study for
Bullfight," shown along with Goyaesque prints on the same theme, Bacon has
introduced a section of a Nazi party rally, presumably inspired by a newspaper
"The arena doubles as a
place for mass rallies where violence on a broader scale can be fomented,"
comments Margarita Cappock, co-author of the 400-page exhibition catalogue.
Bacon became interested in
bullfights during visits to Spain and southern France. Cappock notes he once
told an interviewer that "bullfighting is like boxing - a marvelous
aperitif to sex."
Bacon was a flamboyant gay
whose lurid sex life began long before 1967 when homosexuality ceased to be a
criminal offense in Britain. In 1953, a painting suggestively showing two men on
a bed caused a scandal when it was exhibited at London's Hanover Gallery. The
painting was based on photographs of wrestlers by Eadweard Muybridge, the
19th-century American pioneer of photographic art.
Bacon kept several copies of
Muybridge's book "The Human Figure in Motion" in his studio. Several
leaves from the book allow visitors to see how Bacon used them in depicting
overtly homosexual themes through most of his artistic career.
A deeply shocking Bacon
triptych displayed at the Beyeler Foundation museum recounts the 1971 suicide of
George Dyer, an almost illiterate one-time petty thief and Bacon's lover for
eight years, who became addicted to drugs and drinking. On the eve of a large
Bacon retrospective in Paris' Grand Palais, Dyer was found dead on the toilet in
a Paris hotel where they had shared a room.
Bacon almost never painted
from life. Even portraits of his closest friends were based on photos he had
ordered for the purpose; sometimes they were based on pictures of other people.
He repeatedly said he felt inhibited by the presence of models and that he
needed a distance from what he was painting. His many self-portraits, shown with
some of the Rembrandts he admired, also were done from photos, including some
taken in automatic photo booths.
No palette was found in his
studio. Walls, doors and abandoned canvases served Bacon as substitutes.
Sometimes, he left brushes aside and used his hand or rags to apply the paint.
Bacon died of a heart attack
on April 28, 1992, during a visit to Madrid. Long before his death, he had
amassed a fortune but never changed his lifestyle, continuing to live in his
tiny apartment and studio above a garage in Kensington. His sole heir was his
last lover, John Edwards, who died of lung cancer last year at age 53. He once
said in an interview that despite his seeming flamboyance, Bacon was actually
"a lonely and shy man."
Three years before Bacon's death, the disturbing Dyer suicide triptych was
sold at a New York auction for $6.27 million, believed to be an all-time record
for a Bacon work. And there still seems to be a good market for his papal
portraits although he did more than 45 of them in a span of 20 years. One, dated
1963, fetched $5.43 million at a recent London sale.
charm of the alien
Bill Brandt always thought of his nudes as his most important work. But, Paul
Delany argues, he has a particular place among great British photographers for
bringing an outsider's eye to his adopted country and capturing a strangeness
that has come to seem familiar and true.
Saturday February 21, 2004
Connolly described Brandt's portrait of Francis Bacon as "a symbol of the
despair of his generation". It is certainly a quintessential Brandt
portrait, with Bacon's haunted look matched by what he does not see behind him:
the ominous trees on the skyline, the path in an impossible perspective, the
leaning lamp-post seemingly transported from a German expressionist film. Does
it matter that Bacon himself hated the picture?
1: 7 pm 5th February, 2004
New Bond Street
Study for Pope VI 1961 Francis Bacon
Executed in 1961.
Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London & New York
Lord Weidenfeld, London
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
to 3,200,000 GBP
London, Tate Gallery, Francis Bacon, 1962, n.p., no. 84f, illustrated
Mannheim, Kunsthalle, Francis Bacon, 1962, n.p., no. 72f, illustrated
Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Francis Bacon, 1962, p. 21, no.
Zürich, Kunsthaus, Francis Bacon, 1962, pl. 11, no. 71f, illustrated
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Francis Bacon, 1963, n.p., no. 63f,
Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Grosse Orangerie, Zeichen des Glaubens,
Geist der Avantgarde: Religiöse Tendenzen in der Kunst des 20 Jahrhunderts,
Lugano, Museo d'Arte Moderna, Francis Bacon, 1993, p. 63, pp. 64-65
(colour) and p. 146, no. 29, illustrated
New Haven, The Yale Center for British Art; Minneapolis, The Minneapolis
Institute of Arts; San Francisco, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Forth
Worth, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Francis Bacon: A Retrospective
Exhibition, 1999, p. 127, no. 38, illustrated in colour
In: Kunstwerk, XVII, August-September 1963, p. 21, illustrated
John Rothenstein and Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon, London 1964, pl. 186,
Exhibition Catalogue, Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges
Pompidou, Francis Bacon, 1996, p. 259, illustrated as part of
installation at Tate Gallery, 1962
Beginning in 1949, Francis Bacon’s obsession with arguably his most renowned
and iconic subject, the Pope, lasted almost two decades. In much the same way as
Andy Warhol’s profound fascination with the legend of Marilyn Monroe spanned a
20 year love affair, so Bacon continuously returned to his famously harrowing
depiction of the most senior and powerful figure in the church. The history of
art is peppered with examples of the subject of the enthroned Pope. From Raphael
to Titian, many others had attempted his portrait, but it was the Portrait of
Pope Innocent X by Velásquez of 1650 (Fig. 2) which clearly had a huge impact
on Francis Bacon. “Haunted and obsessed by the image, … by its
perfection”, Bacon adopted Velazquez’s Pope into his cast of isolated and
tortured figures who all appeared to be living at the edge of existence.
Working from reproductions, Bacon famously turned down the opportunity to go to
see his beloved Velazquez during a trip to Rome in 1954 because he was worried
about his reaction to the real painting. Obsessed by the magnificent colour and
grand portrayal of the many reproductions that he saw, Bacon did not want to
make a representation of this image, rather he wanted to get beneath the
surface, to get behind the façade of the representation and depict the feeling
which lies at the heart of existence. Bacon’s paintings gained their
historical momentum not only from the time honoured composition and the
painterly richness of the realisation, but from the opportunity to defy and
scandalise tradition, and to reverse the expectation of religious obedience by
vexing and victimising this paternal serenity. Many of the older masters had
worked in the tradition of great religious painting, but by 1949 the artistic
faith in religion had been replaced by the harsh realities of two bloody wars in
the first half of the Twentieth Century. Immediate Post-War art either sought to
remove itself completely from painted reality in its reverse form, abstraction,
or sought to depict the extreme forms of human existence.
In 1650 the Pope was just about the most powerful man in the world and
everything in Velazquez’s portrait points to it: the throne, the robes, the
ring, the state paper held in the left hand and the note of perfectly balanced
and incorruptible authority which is set by the relaxed way in which the
Pope’s arms rest lightly on the throne. Everything is sumptuously re-created.
Bacon could have chosen many different subjects for this kind of portrayal but
in choosing the Pope he seemed to be purposefully alighting on one of the
grandest examples of humanity and one who showed very little public emotion.
Beginning with the relatively ambiguously titled painting, Head IV of 1949,
Bacon executed roughly twenty-five completed variations on the theme of the
Pope. During this time, Bacon took this image, stripped it of all pretension to
perfection and luxury and turned the cool, calculated Pope of Velazquez’s
portraits into a fragile specimen of human life. One of raw emotion, just like
any of his other subjects.
The six Studies for a Pope (FIg. 4), executed in April-May 1961
represent the last consecutive treatment of the theme, although Bacon was to
complete further, separate studies from Velazquez’s Portraits of Pope Innocent
X later in the decade. Study for a Pope VI, the last of the series, shows the
Pope engulfed by his throne. Massive in proportion, this formerly luxurious and
ornamental seat of power, has now become a simplistically utilitarian object
whose construction is made up merely of flat plains. Cast against a jet-black
background and slumped deep into his chair, he is not seen here as an all
powerful spiritual leader, but as a shrunken, rather impotent and lonely figure.
Wilting in a gesture of complete regression, Bacon here appears to be exploring
the private anguish of a very public figure, who despite the outward trappings
of power, seems powerless to control events.
Across the breadth of the six studies, one can trace the movement of the figure,
much like a series of film-stills. Relatively calm, yet seemingly agitated, the
pope fidgets through the series, before raising his arms in panel five in a
moment of surprise or joy. The irreverence has turned to a moment of excitement,
before the Pope settles back into his own introspection in the sixth panel, the
present work. The viewer somehow feels like they are watching a caged animal in
a zoo, not the most powerful figure in the religious world. In each canvas the
background and clothes are sketched out with a quick fluidity as the canvas
seeps up the pigment in readiness for the main event, the face. Set against the
imperious scarlet, green and black background, the main expressive tool in
Bacon’s armoury is a densely textured face, it is a picture of brooding and
pent-up emotion. Sweeping the fully loaded brush in a series of brilliant, swift
gestures, Bacon carves out the three quarter profile of a head, blurred as if in
movement. With its accentuated curves, somehow a combination of menace and calm
seems to animate his face.
Study for Pope VI 1961 Francis Bacon
acquires contents of a legendary atelier
Kennedy, arts and heritage correspondent
The Guardian, Tuesday January 20, 2004
The Tate announced yesterday it had acquired what looks less like a national
treasure than the sweepings of a studio floor - which is exactly what it is, but
from the studio floor of a genius.
1,200 items were once part of the legendary chaos of Francis Bacon's studio at
Reece Mews in south Kensington, where the artist was known to work knee-deep in
a litter of scraps of paper, paint rags, old envelopes and newspaper clippings.
Tate said the acquisition was "the generous gift of Barry Joule, a friend
of the artist", neatly sidestepping a decade of controversy.
Francis Bacon estate stressed yesterday that the Tate's acceptance of the
archive did not constitute an authentication, and said much work remained to be
done on the contents.
will take experts years to work through the hoard to see exactly what they have
been given by Mr Joule, the artist's friend, chauffeur and handyman.
world legend insists that when Bacon died in 1992 the Tate was offered the
studio by his heir and last companion, John Edwards, who died in Thailand last
gallery is said to have rejected the offer and the room, with every scrap of
paper and cigarette stub forensically recorded, went to the Hugh Lane Gallery in
Dublin, where it is a popular exhibit.
history of the material donated to the Tate is as eccentric as the artist.
Joule, a Canadian living in London, met Bacon in 1978 when he saw a head
sticking out of an upstairs window of the neighbouring house. It turned out to
be the artist, worrying his television aerial had blown off in a storm. Mr Joule
offered to replace it, and the men became friends.
says Bacon asked him to take away sackloads of rubbish from his studio before he
died. The circumstances of the removal have been disputed ever since. The
donation to the Tate ends bitter controversy over the archive.
of the scraps of paper are drawn over, many with images recognisable from
Bacon's work. One sheet is a map showing the shortest route between Reece Mews
and the Colony Club, Bacon's favourite drinking place in Soho.
have two very successful exhibitions of part of the Joule archive: one in 2001
at the Barbican Gallery in London and the other in Dublin.
Joule, who has homes in England and France, has kept some items, but has
promised to bequeath them to the Tate.
gallery said yesterday it could be three years before the material was
Collection Donated to Tate Gallery
By Sherna Noah, Arts Correspondent,
19th January, 2004
Bacon’s former friend and handyman has donated more than 1,000 items
relating to the late painter to the Tate Gallery, the museum said today.
Canadian Barry Joule, 49, was Bacon’s friend for 14 years after he put up a
television aerial at his neighbour’s home in South Kensington in 1978.
The donation, which includes drawn-over newspaper cuttings, photographs of the
painter with friends, and some preliminary sketches, is one of the most
generous to date to the Tate’s archives.
Much of the photographic material and documents have not yet been studied, but
the most treasured pieces in the collection have been valued at £5 million.
A Tate spokeswoman said that the collection would help understand the way
Dublin-born Bacon, who died in 1992, worked.
She said: “We can’t authenticate everything in this collection as
belonging to Francis Bacon, but this collection comes from the studio of
Francis Bacon and is definitely related to his work.
“We can look at these and try to assess how Bacon was working.
“Tate hopes the acquisition and further study of this material will enable
scholars to resolve remaining issues about Bacon’s working practice.”
The collection will be studied, photographed and catalogued over the next
three years before the items are displayed.
Although Bacon had no formal art training, he began to paint in around 1930,
two years after settling in London, when he was inspired by a Picasso
Initially he had little success and the painter destroyed most of his early
work in 1941.
But Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion in 1944 established
his reputation, and Bacon is now recognised as one of the major 20th Century
painters of the figure.
The collection includes over 900 pieces of source material from newspapers,
magazines and books, with many items painted or scratched on the surface.
There are over 50 pages, collaged or over-painted, from the X-Album, believed
to have begun life as Bacon’s nanny’s photographic album.
The collection also includes over 100 photographs of the artist and friends,
and a map marking the route between the Colony Club – Bacon’s favourite
Soho drinking hole – and his home.
Joule has kept a small number of items, which he will bequeath to Tate at a
brings home a £20m Bacon collection
lovers will be the main benefactors of a
selfless act that ends a 12-year legal
FRIEND of Francis Bacon has given the Tate
Gallery more than 1,200 sketches by the
Irish-born 20th-century master.
to be worth £20 million, it is one of the
most generous donations in the Tate’s
Joule, 49, a Canadian who became Bacon’s
chauffeur, handyman and friend for 14
years after he had repaired the artist’s
television aerial, told The Times
yesterday that this was his way of giving
something back to London, his home since
1978. The two men lived next door to one
another in South Kensington.
the sketches piled up in boxes at the Tate
yesterday, Mr Joule said: “It’s
painful to part with, in a way. But I love
London. It’s been good to me. Francis
was a London painter, not an Irish
painter, and he liked coming to the
collection offers a unique insight into a
self-taught painter who captured the pain
of human existence. It includes
paint-splattered photographs and sketch-covered
clippings from magazines, and the images
range from oil studies for known
compositions to the briefest of rehearsed
outlines for figures. Bacon repeatedly
worked over photographs to capture an
action or movement, or the expression on a
face — “ things that caught his
eye”, Mr Joule said.
pieces offer crucial evidence of how Bacon
drew and prepared his compositions,
despite his repeated insistence that he
never did so. Most of the sketches have
never been seen publicly before. Mr Joule,
who is now writing a book about life with
the artist, has kept them in a bank vault
since Bacon’s death in 1992.
Tate’s acceptance of his gift marks the
end of a bitter 12-year legal battle with
Bacon’s estate. Until now, the estate
had repeatedly refused to authenticate the
works, let alone accept Mr Joule’s
ownership of the collection. “At one
point they said I’d stolen it,” he
estate also prevented the Barbican Centre
in London from showing reproductions of
Bacon’s paintings in 2001, disputing Mr
before he died, Bacon handed the works to
Mr Joule with the words: “You know what
to do with them.”
of Mr Joule’s duties had been to destroy
works with which Bacon was not satisfied,
slashing a picture to shreds with a
Stanley knife and burning it. The artist
could not simply throw them away because
members of the public used to search
through his dustbins for valuable
in the case of this collection, Mr Joule
does not believe that Bacon wanted it
destroyed. “Definitely not. He meant to
keep it,” he said.
earlier years Bacon had given Mr Joule
works which he later wanted returned, and
others as gifts to keep. But without the
blessing of Bacon’s estate, the
collection remained in limbo, dividing the
art world over the works’ authenticity.
Some even suggested that the sketches
could be fakes.
the collection includes images that relate
to known paintings, such as his study for
the death mask of William Blake in the
Tate, along with the seminal Pope series
and his portrait of George Dyer, his early
lover, the doubters were concerned because
it contradicted Bacon’s claim that he
never drew. In interviews, both with Bacon
scholars and in a series of taped
conversations with Mr Joule himself, he
repeated the denial, saying that his
imagination was sparked by literature,
poetry, films and life events.
climate changed after the death last year
of John Edwards, Bacon’s former
boyfriend, who headed the estate. Mr Joule
said: “John Edwards was like a son to
Francis. He wanted 100 per cent of Francis
and there was little room for someone
in a statement, the estate of Francis
Bacon said: “It is right that these
items should be studied and we are happy
Tate and the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin
(which has other material from Bacon’s
studio) will be able to join their
scholarly forces in this endeavour.”
Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate,
said: “Barry Joule’s generous gift
will provide a fascinating insight into
Bacon’s working practices.”
is the scale of the material that the
gallery estimates that it will take as
long as three years to study it properly.
Only then will it go on display to the
Goes after the Bacon
Joe La Placa, Artnet, January
Iran's hard line Ayatollahs were not amused when
they came across a Francis Bacon triptych bought by Farah Pahlavi, the
widow of the last Shah of Iran. Two Figures Lying on a Bed with
Attendants, its central panel featuring two spooning male nudes, was one
of dozens seized and banished to storage when the fundamentalists came to
power after the 1979 revolution. Bacon's masterpiece languished for nearly
a quarter of a century, a victim of the sensitivity of depicting the
flesh. Even today, it's still regarded indecent by Iran's conservatives.
But negotiations are now underway for the painting to be lent to the Tate
Britain. With Bacon triptychs now commanding as much as £6,000,000 on the
market, the painting would form the centerpiece of a small exhibition
planed for this spring.
The current discussions began two years ago. Stephen Deuchar, the director
of Tate Britain, was on holiday in Tehran. He visited the Tehran Museum of
Contemporary Art and was made warmly welcome by its director, Ali Reza
Semiazar. He showed Deuchar a Bacon in storage. "I thought it would
be rather great to see it in Britain - in the context of other
Bacons," said Deuchar. "I hadn't seen this one reproduced
before. It hasn't been exhibited in this country." The work was sold
to Iran by Marlborough Gallery in New York shortly after it was made in
The Tehran contemporary museum was founded by the last Shah's widow, Farah
Pahlavi, in 1977, and became a big player on the contemporary art market,
thanks to Iran's immense oil revenues. The museum houses Iranian art
alongside works by Picasso, Monet, Dalí and Warhol. The collection
includes important British work - works by Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, and
And Iran isn't completely uninterested in art from the West. In return for
the loan of the Bacon, the British Council is sending the Tehran museum a
show titled "British Sculpture in the 20th Century," which opens
there in February.
LA PLACA is Artnet's representative in London.
Bragg: You ask the questions
15 January 2004
Which South Bank Show interview do
you consider the most revealing?
Charlotte Smith, Peterborough
Francis Bacon. I'd known him
for over 20 years and when he eventually agreed to do the interview, he was
prepared to give everything. Both of us got what can only be described as rather
drunk, and he revealed himself in a way that was wonderful. I, emphatically,
don't mean that he revealed his homosexual life - which was totally beside the
point and taken for granted - but rather that he revealed himself as an
"optimist about nothing", as he put it. He was a nihilist who despised
almost every work of art in the world and who had a totally unyielding
tunnel-vision about his painting.
How useful is alcohol as an aid to
Jemima Green, Manchester
Very useful in the case of
Francis Bacon, but basically I'm an alcohol-free interviewer. You need all your
wits about you.
A Loan From Tehran
By CAROL VOGEL, The New
York Times, January 9, 2004
the first time since arriving in Iran 36 years ago, Two Figures Lying on a
Bed With Attendants, a 1968 triptych by Francis Bacon, is to be exhibited
publicly. But not in Iran: it will be the centerpiece of a small exhibition of
Bacon's work at Tate Britain in London in April.
"Obviously it's very
exciting," said Stephen Deuchar, director of Tate Britain. "The chance
to bring a work by Bacon completely new to the British public animates our
existing collection." While the Tate has important holdings of Bacon, it
doesn't have a 1960's triptych, which makes the loan particularly interesting.
The Marlborough Gallery in
New York sold the painting to the Shah of Iran the year it was made. Since then
it has mostly been in storage at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran, along
with works by other masters like Picasso, de Kooning and Warhol that have not
been considered suitable for display for political and cultural reasons.
Although so much of the
collection has gone unseen, museums and collectors worldwide have known about it
and have coveted some of what it has in storage. Last fall the museum turned
down a staggering $105-million offer from an unidentified collector for a single
painting: a rare and exceptional 1950 de Kooning drip painting from its
Even though none of its
holdings are for sale, the museum will readily lend works. Three paintings — a
Picasso, an Ernst and a de Kooning — just came come off the walls of Le
Scuderie Papali al Quirinale in Rome, where they were part of a show called
"Metafisica," which ended on Tuesday and centered around de Chirico
and his followers.
"We are going to send
the Bacon in two or three months," said Ali Reza Semiazar, director of the
museum in Iran. "They asked for it unofficially a year and a half
In exchange the British
Council has organized "British Sculpture in the 20th Century,"
scheduled to open next month at the Tehran museum. The show is to include works
by Henry Moore, Anthony Caro, Damien Hirst and Bill Woodrow. Tate Britain is
among the show's lenders. Still, Mr. Semiazar stressed, the sculpture show isn't
the reason for the loan. "The Tate Gallery has one of the best collections
of Bacon," he said.
Asked if officials at the
Tate were concerned about the safety of artworks being sent to Iran, Sir
Nicholas Serota, director of all the Tate galleries, said, "As the British
Council is the cultural arm of the Foreign Office, we are happy to be advised by
them concerning security and safety issues."
Too risqué for Iran,
Bacon's nudes could be shown in London
By Louise Jury, Arts
Correspondent, The Independent,
08 January 2004
With its startling central nudes, a
Francis Bacon triptych bought by the last Shah of Iran and displayed in his
wife's dazzling museum of modern art was never going to amuse the country's
So when the fundamentalists seized
power in the 1979 revolution, the work, Two figures lying on a bed with
attendants, was one of dozens seized and sent to storage.
It has languished unseen for nearly a
quarter of a century since, a victim of the sensitivities surrounding depictions
of flesh, which are still regarded as indecent by today's conservatives.
But now negotiations are under way
for the work, painted in 1968, to be lent to Tate Britain for display in the UK
for the first time. It would form the centrepiece of a small Bacon exhibition
for six months from this summer.
With Bacon triptychs now commanding
as much as £6m, the show would give British art-lovers a chance to see a
valuable work most will never even have heard of.
But if the loan application to Iran's
Ministry of Culture succeeds, it would also be the next step in a gradual but
intriguing cultural détente between Britain and a country many would regard as
Just as the American hospital erected
in Bam in the wake of its catastrophic earthquake suggested hopes of a thaw in
the enmity between those two countries, the potential loan of the Bacon is part
of a developing relationship between Iran and the UK.
In 2001, the Barbican led the way
with a season of Iranian film and an exhibition of art including works lent by
the Tehran museum which it had never dared display. Last year, as part of a
British Council initiative, Dundee Repertory became the first British theatre
company to perform in Iran since Derek Jacobi starred in Hamlet in 1977.
Next month the British Council will
open an exhibition of British sculpture at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary
Art, founded by the late Shah's wife. And next year the British Museum hopes to
stage the first major UK show of treasures from ancient Persia, including some
of the greatest relics in Iran.
Relations can still be tricky. The
Dundee actors found their performance thoroughly vetted by both the hard-liners
and the liberals, with strict restrictions on men and women touching.
The sculpture exhibition was
originally due to take place last year but fell foul of political sensitivities
when Argentina lodged extradition proceedings against a former Iranian
ambassador in Britain accused of terrorism.
But Stephen Deuchar, the director of
Tate Britain who visited Tehran last month for talks, said it was clear the
political climate was "conducive" to greater contact.
The groundwork for the current
discussions was laid two years ago when Dr Deuchar visited the modern art museum
while on a family holiday and was made warmly welcome by its director, Dr Sami
"They have got a core collection
of Western art which includes some important British work - Henry Moore, Ben
Nicholson and two Bacons," Dr Deuchar said. "[Dr Azar] kindly showed
me this Bacon in the store and I thought it would be rather great to see it in
this country in the context of some other Bacons. I hadn't even seen this one
"It hasn't been exhibited in
this country and I don't believe it was exhibited in America apart from when it
was in the Marlborough Gallery [in New York] for sale." It was in
"very good condition", he added.
The work was sold shortly after it
was painted in 1968 and is understood to have been in Iran by the early 1970s.
Tony Shafrazi, a well-known New York art dealer, was buying works for the Shah
at that time and is likely to be asked for details of how it came into the
Shah's collection and the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.
The museum was founded with money
from the country's immense oil revenues by Farah Pahlavi, the widow of Mohammad
Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran. Housing Iranian art alongside works by
Picasso, Monet, Dali and Warhol, it opened in 1977 with great fanfare and a
guest list including Henry Kissinger and Nelson Rockefeller.
But when the royal family was
deposed, the collection was seized and the more controversial works were
consigned to a vault, known since then as "The Treasure".
However, some relaxation of attitudes
is emerging. An exhibition of Impressionist paintings at the museum three years
ago included a Renoir previously regarded as too risqué for public viewing.
Graham Sheffield, the Barbican's artistic director, who has visited Iran,
said the artistic scene was thriving and artists could get "the odd erotic
moment" past the censors if they were subtle enough. But Bacon's nudes were
"probably a bit challenging", he said.
Up the garden path
Birtwistle will be 70 next year - but has he settled down? On the contrary, he
tells Stuart Jeffries, he is winding his way ever deeper into a maze of myths,
shared memories and ancient legends
The Guardian, Friday November 28, 2003
like the idea that there's a bit of dirt in it': Harrison Birtwistle.
Photo: Eamonn McCabe
What is he writing? He looks
bleakly through the conservatory windows and says: "What aren't I
writing?" He has a way, this soft-pawed composer with his beard-softened
face and gentle Accrington accent, of flintily re even contradictory
How did Theseus Game, for
instance, come about? He answers with a question. "Have you ever been to
Lucca? If you go into a walled town, like Lucca, you find what you do is retrace
your steps and approach piazzas from different angles. The nature of the place
is concealed - like a ball of string."
So does this have something
to do with Theseus in the labyrinth, having slain the Minotaur, retracing his
steps with Ariadne's thread? Birtwistle shakes his head sadly. "It's not
about the story," he says. "Francis Bacon talked about 'the boredom of
the story' and that's why I use myths. They've been told endlessly before; you
don't have to do the boring work of creating them." But I thought you
reckoned popular culture had messed so much with our collective psyche that we
don't know those mythic narratives any more. "That's a problem," he
"I used to read a lot
of pulp fiction, but I kept finding that they have an idea about the subject but
they don't know how to end the story, and that's boring. That's what's brilliant
about Psycho. It starts off as what would be a pretty good pulp story even if it
didn't have the Bates Motel. I know I don't have the invention to write Psycho,
but I do have the talent to work through a musical idea."
So what is the musical idea
in Theseus Game if it isn't the McGuffin of Theseus in the labyrinth?
"It's about making a
context and then breaking it. It's how you break it that becomes
interesting." To illustrate what he means, Birtwistle shows me an etching
by Picasso called Minotauromachia. A young girl holding a candle and a bouquet
is confronted by a sexually predatory Minotaur; a wounded female bullfighter is
straddled across a snarling horse; a bearded man, possibly Christ, climbs up a
ladder on the left. The etching sets up an incredibly dense labyrinth of
symbolic associations. Picasso has torn up all but the barest context and
created something more engaging; Birtwistle aspires to do the same.
"I deal in a lot of my
pieces with what you might call a labyrinth. I'm concerned with time which is
circular. Time is not linear, though it expresses itself in that way." That
must be a problem for you since music is traditionally seen as developing in a
linear manner through time.
Contemporary Art Strong for a Second
VOGEL, THE NEW YORK TIMES, NOVEMBER 13, 2003
S. I. Newhouse Jr., the publishing magnate, was selling Francis Bacon's
Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud. The 1965 triptych was estimated at $2.5 million to $3.5 million; six bidders leaped at the chance to take it home, and it sold to an unidentified telephone bidder for $3.8
Can't take it with you
TV Review by Mary Novakovich
The Guardian, Wednesday November 12, 2003
All of this nonsense prompted me to think, after Wordsworth, "Bacon! Thou
shouldst be living at this hour:/England hath need of thee: she is a fen/Of
stagnant waters." And there, on BBC2, was the very antithesis of all trash
television culture, Francis Bacon, subject of Can't Take It With You. With
glorious contempt for posterity, Bacon left everything to his muse and surrogate
son John Edwards, who, in his turn, left everything to his boyfriend Phil Mordue,
who is probably now living very comfortably in Thailand.
This was not the usual tale
of greedy heirs sullying their benefactors' legacy; this was the grand gesture
of a man whose last act was to throw a ruddy great spanner in the workings of
the art world. The ever-regal Brian Sewell seemed to know more than he let on,
and delivered himself in resounding, sibylline phrases ("Francis was
totally amoral"). Edwards's mother, Beattie, seemed to remember having a
Bacon or two under the bed; when the camera pulled back, she was living in
baronial splendour, which suggests she didn't do too badly out of the whole
Nobody actually said this,
but the hideous mess in which the Bacon estate now stands could be regarded as
an artwork in itself, smudged and dirty and disturbing in the Master's signature
style. And, as Francis once bought me a drink in an after-hours Soho den in the
80s, I'm thinking of filing a claim to any spare millions that are knocking
Can't Take It With You
BBC Two: Tue 11 Nov,
2003, 10:00 pm - 10:30 pm 30mins
series about celebrity wills reveals how Francis Bacon, Britain's
highest ever selling artist, left a multi-million estate which sent
shockwaves through the art establishment. Bacon enjoyed a wild, bohemian
life in Soho and never cared about money, but now speculation is rife
about who will finally inherit his fortune.
BACON AND THE TRADITION OF ART
October 15, 2003 until
January 18, 2004
1010 Vienna, Maria Theresien-Platz
The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna will host the first solo exhibition in
Austria, dedicated to the artist Francis Bacon, who was born in Dublin in 1909
and lived in London until his death in 1992. This exhibition is not a
retrospective, but rather locates for the first time the network of
relationships and influences spanning from the Old Masters to artists of the
20th century, which were crucial to Bacon’s artistic development.
The idea of this exhibition is by Prof. Dr. Wilfried Seipel, Director General of
the Kunsthistorisches Museum. The show's scholarly concept in connection with
the tradition of art and Bacon's oeuvre as well as its execution are organised
by Mag. Barbara Steffen, an independent curator who has lived in Los Angeles and
New York and has worked for many years for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Ms.
Steffen is the curator of the exhibition for the Kunsthistorisches Museum in
Vienna and for the Fondation Beyeler near Basel.
The exhibition will include some 40 works by Francis Bacon, as well as about 40
works by other artists such as Velázquez, Rembrandt, Titian, Ingres, Degas,
Schiele, Giacometti and Picasso, as well as films directed by Eisenstein and Buñuel.
In addition, rarely exhibited preparatory photographs and sketches by Bacon,
which he kept in his studio and used as inspiration for his oil paintings, will
be shown. Since 1998, this material has been in the collection of the Hugh Lane
Municipal Art Gallery in Dublin, where Bacon's studio was re-erected inside the
museum after his death. From Bacon's collected studio material – among which
are, for example, illustrations from art-books and magazines, photographs and
early drawings – the curator of the exhibition has selected 71 items that
document the interrelation between Bacon and earlier artists he admired.
The exhibition consists of the following sections: the tradition of papal
portraits, Bacon's papal portraits, the motif of the scream, the motif of the
cage, Bacon and Surrealism, Bacon and van Gogh, Bacon's use of the triptych,
portrait and self-portrait, the representation of the body in relation to Ingres
and Velázquez, the motif of the mirror, and several other subjects.
Studies for a Crucifixion from 1962, from the collection of the Solomon R.
Guggenheim Museum, is one of the highlights in this exhibition. This tripytch
has not been seen outside the US for several years. In addition, the exhibition
will include works lent by American private collectors, some of which have never
been exhibited before in Europe. There will be six versions of the screaming
pope and two variations on a destroyed self-portrait by Van Gogh.
Among the works by other artists are Titian's Portrait of Cardinal Philipp
Archinto (c. 1560) from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, his Pope Paul III
from the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum and Jean-Dominique Ingres'
Oedipus and the Sphinx (1826-27) from the National Gallery in London, which was
a direct model for Bacon's version of Oedipus and the Sphinx. A pastel by Edgar
Degas will illustrate why Bacon was so much impressed by the artist’s
technique. The exhibition will offer to Bacon scholars and visitors the
comparison of drawings by Picasso of the theme of the bathers from the late
1920's with Bacon's Surrealist drawings from the early 1930's, the onset of his
artistic career. Picasso's Seated Woman (1939) from the Berggruen Collection in
Berlin is another important work included in the exhibition. The films
Battleship Potemkin by Sergej Eisenstein, and the Andalusian Dog by Luis Buñuel/Salvador
Dali will also be presented in the exhibition. Bacon was inspired by these films
and used individual scenes and film stills for thematic development of his
motifs in his paintings.
A series of lectures by internationally-renowned experts on Francis Bacon will
be organised. A catalogue edited by Wilfried Seipel and Barbara Steffen will
accompany the exhibition.
The exhibition will be on view at the Fondation Beyeler in Riehen near Basel,
between February 7 and June 20, 2004.
7938 7PM, November 12, 2003
Lot 13: Three Studies for Portrait of Lucien Freud
oil on canvas in three parts each 14 by 12 inches, 1965
(1909-1992), the Hieronymous Bosch of 20th Century portraiture, is
represented by Lot 13, Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud. The lot consists of three 14-by-12-inch studies, oil on canvas,
and was executed in 1965. It has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It
sold for $3,816,000. The artist, the catalogue notes, "first met Lucian
Freud in 1945 when both artists were invited to stay for the weekend with
fellow artist, Graham Sutherland." "They quickly became close
friends and a provocative and stimulating social and artistic synergy
between the two ensured....From the 1950's until the 1970's Freud was a
common subject in Bacon's oeuvre, a member of a private community that
included other artists, friends and lovers; familiar arenas in which Bacon
experimented physically, with paint, and psychologically, with emotion,
creating a stunning series of fragile selves that fully arrests our
sensibilities through its extraordinary artistry, yet still clearly
describes what the sitter looks like, thinks of and feels." The
catalogue estimates that Bacon did about 15 portraits of Freud.
12th November 2003
at 7:00 PM
Session One: New York: Lot No. 13
Three Studies for Portrait of Lucien Freud Francis Bacon
SIGNED AND DATED (MAKER'S MARKS)
titled and dated 1965 on the reverse of one canvas
Alfred Hecht, London
Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London
Acquired by the present owner from the above
London, Marlborough New London
Gallery, Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings, July - August 1965, cat. no.
Paris, Centre National d'art Contemporain; Düsseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle,
Bacon, October 1971 - May 1972, cat. no. 59, p. 125, illustrated
New Haven, Yale Center for British Art; Santa Barbara Museum, Eight
Figurative Painters, October 1981 - March 1982, cat. no. 20, illustrated
London, Tate Gallery; Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie; Berlin, Nationalgalerie,
Bacon, 1985 - 1986, cat. no. 47, np., illustrated in color
New York, Marlborough Gallery, Inc., Francis Bacon Paintings, May -
June 1990, cat. no. 4, pp. 10-11, illustrated in color
Madrid, Galleria Marlborough, Francis Bacon, 1992
Lugano, Museo d'Arte Moderna, Francis Bacon, 1993, cat. no. 34, p. 17,
illustrated in color
London, Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd., Francis Bacon 1909 - 1992, Small
Portrait Studies (Loan Exhibition), October - December 1993, cat. no. 7, p.
17, illustrated in color
St.-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Bacon-Freud: Expressions, July -
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centres George Pompidou; Munich, Haus
der Kunst, Francis Bacon, June 1996 - January 1997, cat. no. 46, p. 147
John Russell, Francis Bacon,
London, 1971, cat. no. 66
David Sylvester, Francis Bacon. L'art de l'impossible. Entretiens avec David
Sylvester, London, 1976
Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon: Full Face and In Profile, London, 1983,
pl. no. 31, illustrated in color
Bernard Heitz, "Bacon et Freud à Saint-Paul-de-Vence. La Vision double et
décapante du corps humain par deux peintres à la recherche de la vérite",
Télérama, No. 2378, August 9, 1995, pp. 26-27, illustrated in color
Philippe Dagen, Francis Bacon, Paris, 1996, pl. no. 30, p. 54,
Christophe Domino, Bacon, Monstre de peinture, Paris, 1996, p. 95,
Francis Bacon, Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits, London, 1997, p.
80, illustrated in color
Exh. cat., Ostfildern-Ruit, Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main, Lucian
Freud Naked Portraits: Works from the 1940s to the 1990s, 2001, p. 61,
Francis Bacon first met Lucian Freud
in 1945 when both artists were invited to stay for the weekend with fellow
artist, Graham Sutherland. They quickly became close friends and a provocative
and stimulating social and artistic synergy between the two ensued. The
connection between these two artists was immediate, and the mutual influence
they had on each other cannot be overestimated. Jean-Louis Prat remarks that
Bacon and Freud seemed to share both the ability and the burden of displaying
the vagaries of contemporary life, of translating, with surprising assurance and
the utmost sincerity, its most intense moments in oil paint, just like van Gogh
and Giacometti before them (see Exh. Cat., St.-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation
Maeght, Bacon – Freud: Expressions, 1995, p. 20). Bacon had painted Freud’s
portrait as early as 1951 (Alley no. 33), working, typically, from a photograph
not of the artist but of the writer, Franz Kafka, whose writing Freud admires.
From the 1950’s until the 1970’s Freud was a common subject in Bacon’s
oeuvre: a member of a private community that included other artists, friends and
lovers, familiar arenas in which Bacon experimented physically, with paint, and
psychologically, with emotion, creating a stunning series of fragile selves that
fully arrests our sensibilities through its extraordinary artistry, yet still
clearly describes what the sitter looks like, thinks of and feels. Images of
these select few began to take precedence over earlier re-workings of Velázquez
or van Gogh. The existentialist scream of the artist’s Pope was now re-voiced
by this intimate circle of friends.
It is Bacon’s portraits of the
1960’s that most powerfully display what Michael Peppiatt called the
artist’s "snarl of rage", and the rare series of small triptychs,
his ‘studies’ of these sitters, sees the vanguard artist at his most
experimental and anguished. These heads not only confront the viewer as subject,
but almost seem to confront the very media with which they were created, their
angst being inextricably linked to the powdery pigment and viscous paint
employed by Bacon. Among his favorite sitters were Freud, George Dyer, Isabelle
Rawthorne and Henrietta Moraes: a fellow artist, a lover and two friends who
drank with Bacon in Soho – all individuals somehow allowed into the extremely
private orbit of Bacon’s world. The artist made somewhere in the region of
fifteen works of Freud, from his early 1951 portrait to the right panel of his
outstanding Three Portraits: Posthumous Portrait of George Dyer; Self-Portrait;
Portrait of Lucian Freud, from 1973.
Formerly in the collection of Alfred
Hecht, Francis Bacon's framer who owned a magnificent collection of works by
Bacon, the present work is a sublime example and ranks as one of the greatest
portraits Bacon ever made of his fellow painter. Here, energetic strokes of
paint swoosh across the canvases, at first transparent and then opaque. They
work in concert with loose passages of pure pigment, coalescing to evoke, with
uncanny verisimilitude, the appearance of Freud. Set against a vibrant scarlet
ground, the fleshy pinks and lilacs of the faces are thrust to the front of the
picture plane; each isolated abstract mark commingling to evoke the thoughtful
mien and intense spirit of the sitter. Working in the triptych format allows
Bacon to present three different visages, and thus three different moods, that
come together, as the total object and, by extension, reveals the complexity of
the sitter’s personality. In the left-hand canvas, Freud’s eye is closed
beneath a heavy eyelid, and his hand touches his forehead. His features seem to
slide down the canvas, and literally off his face, under the pressure of his
hand. A visual stress on descending lines thus lends the sitter an overwhelmed
appearance. Bacon, however, still anchors the basic properties of Freud’s
likeness to the painting. Freud’s forehead and his hair are instantly
recognizable as is, ironically, Freud’s own style of painting. Bacon’s seems
to mimic Freud’s own plastic treatment of flesh, particularly in the forehead
The right-hand canvas appears removed
from the first two canvases. Very clear, concrete lines between the face and the
crimson background give this floating head an almost phantasmagoric quality.
Interestingly, the artist has delineated, very faintly, a small cap on Freud’s
head, firmly connecting this portrait to his papal images. Furthermore, by
having this portrait float in a miasma of pure color, and not allow it to be
easily readable as a head, Bacon connects this canvas to his earlier series of
William Blake Death Masks, where the disconnected head seems to emerge from the
shadows of the canvas, illuminated by a ghostly incandescence.
The central canvas clearly the focus
of the triptych. Both the right-hand and left-hand canvases gaze toward this
central head. It is frontal and extremely confrontational. One eye looks
sideways, with the apparently bleeding nose becoming the axis of a wide movement
that sweeps across the top left part of the portrait. This is the liveliest of
the three canvases, and the most readable as a portrait. The head is complete,
and sits atop shoulders. The brushwork is extremely lively, and the spontaneity
inherent to Bacon’s portraiture appears most acute here. The background is not
a blocked red, but a tapestry of differing hues, each serving to project the
sitter out of the pictorial space.
Antonin Artaud wrote in 1947 that the
"… human face carries a kind of perpetual death … which it is for the
painter to save by giving it back its own features." (Antonin Artaud, Portraits
et Dessins, Paris 1947, n.p.). Bacon’s eschewing of realism serves
to heighten his engagement with the Real, striking a greater likeness by
restricting imitation. In achieving this psychological verisimilitude, Bacon
foregrounds certain movements with his brush, privileges certain colours.
Certainly, he invests his portraits with a unique animation, one that touches as
closely as possible the heart of the sitter’s personality, to the point that
he nearly damages it. It is this risk of violence, always hovering over
Bacon’s portraits, that elevates his work and redirects the tenor of his
likenesses. Francis Bacon does what Artaud hoped. He does, indeed, save his
sitter from disappearing. But only just.
The Most Wanted Works of Art
By Kelly Devine Thomas
Making wishes come true doesn’t
come cheap or easy. The Modern recently sold Francis Bacon’s painting Dog
(1952) in order to acquire a triptych by the artist. (Dog went to London dealer
Gerard Faggionato for more than $8 million, according to sources.)
Stories: Teens, trains and too-tight tops
By Jan McGirk,
Independent, 05 October 2003
There is a last wheeze of
geezer chic in Jomtien Beach, an hour's drive south of Bangkok. A popular girly
bar at the resort has been incongruously renamed the Blind Beggar, in homage to
the Whitechapel pub once patronised by Ronnie and Reggie Kray.
According to owner Big Bill
this is not just posturing. Even in the tropics, some of the regulars who hoist
pints there hanker for the East End. The transformation has not changed the
clientele: British men of a certain age and background and Thai bar girls who
while away slow afternoons watching Man United games on the box.
Philip Mordue, who once took
a bullet through his bullish neck without any major damage, occasionally deejays
at the Blind Beggar. When his flatmate, John Edwards, died last spring in
Bangkok, there was wild speculation about the size of the fortune left to Mordue.
The money came from the
painter Francis Bacon, who met Edwards, a former gay model, in his family's East
End pub, and left him at least £11m when he died. You can't help thinking the
artist would have relished the detail with which his favourite London demi-monde
is being recreated in sunny Thailand.
What's on view at the Modern now is significant, but could be more ... fun.
By Anthony Mariani,
Worth Weekly, 13th August, 2003.
Downstairs, there's one hell of an entrance, albeit a conservative one. To your right, Robert Motherwell's huge, black-on-white "Stephen's Iron Crown" greets you -- it's a calligraphic masterstroke in an ambiguous language. Once you step past it, you're in front of Francis Bacon's "Self-Portrait." A tower of an artist, Bacon made a mountain of a career
travelling in darkness. "Self-Portrait" is gloomy, monotonous, and baffling. The man he renders here in oil appears to be sitting on the edge of a couch or bed. His face is grotesque, his soiled suit tattered. There's absolutely nothing remotely decorative about this strong, haunting piece. What you'll likely take away from "Self-Portrait" is a fresh outlook on your own self-loathing
- nobody's as ugly as Francis Bacon.
the Permanent Collection
Thru Aug 31 at Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 3200 Darnell St, FW. 817-738-9215.
Bacon: The Last Interview
The Independent Magazine, June 14th 2003
final months of his life, Francis Bacon was involved in the creation of a
haunting set of pictures - not as a painter but as a subject. They were the work
of the photographer Francis Giacobetti, with whom the artist shared some of his
last thoughts on art, sex, life and death...
AUTUMN 1991 the Corsican photographer Francis Giacobetti began an extraordinary
series of portraits of Francis B He was introduced to Bacon, a famously
reluctant photographic subject, by the artist's close friend, Michael Archimbaud.
The two got along famously. "Why didn't you introduce me before?" said
Bacon. They met 11 times over the next few months, for lunch or dinner, or for
the extensive portrait sessions which took place in suites in two London hotels
- 11 Cadogan Gardens and Browns - and a rented studio.
seems to have warmed to Giacobetti's fluid, low-tech approach. "I had no
lights. In the studio I found a strip of neon and I shot a lot of portraits
using just that".
was inspired by Bacon's paintings, and many of the the portraits echo familiar
motifs - meat on a hook, a single lightbulb - and colours from the artist's
palette. There are triptychs and diptychs, and a fascinating sequence of Bacon
painting. And while Giacobetti worked, they talked. In the end they
capture their interview on video; some of which is reproduced here.
to Giacobetti, "Bacon enjoyed the process very much. Usually he hated to
pose. He told me, 'I'm very shy. I hate myself. I'm like an owl.' And he was so
sharp. I've photographed everyone - Picasso, the Dalai Lama, Yehudi Menuhin,
Einstein...But I never saw anyone so clever."
met for the last time in early 1992. Bacon dies that April in Madrid. It was 11
years before Giacobetti was finally able to realise the work and produce the
prints, which are currently being shown for the first time at the Marlborough
gallery in London. Time has done nothing to dilute their impact, or the stark
honesty of the artist's words.
Giacobetti: Tell me about
Bacon: I remember my shyness above all. I
didn't feel good about myself. People
frightened me. I felt like I wasn't normal. The fact that I was asthmatic
prevented me from going to school. I spent all my time with family and the
priest who gave me my schooling. So I didn't have any friends, I was very alone.
I remember crying a lot. When I think of my childhood, I see something very
heavy, very cold, like a block of ice. I think I was unhappy as a child. I only
ever had one view: that of emerging from it. Added to this was my shyness...it
was like an illness. It was unbearable. Later on, I thought that a shy old
man was ridiculous, so i tried to change. But it didn't work.
though financially we didn't really have any problems (we had a few but not a
great deal), I still have the memory of a miserable childhood, as my parents
were bourgeois. I am inclined to say that I got the wrong family. I don't think
it suited me.
father didn't love me, that's for sure. I think he hated me. He didn't want to
spend money on me. He was always looking for an excuse to get his servants to
beat me. He was a difficult man, very vindictive. He lost his temper with
everyone, he didn't have any friends. He was aggressive...an old bastard. When I
was about 15 years old, I got laid by the grooms that worked for him. He was a
racehorse trainer, a failed trainer. that's definitely the reason why I have
never painted horses. I think it's a very beautiful animal but my childhood
memories are quite negative and the horse brings back a distant anguish. And
besides, I don't like the smell of horse dung, but I find it sexually arousing,
like urine. It's very real, it's very virile. But it's also the reminder of my
father, who was an emotionally disturbed person. he didn't love me and I didn't
love him either. It was a very ambiguous though, because I was sexually
attracted to him. At the time, I didn't know how to explain my feelings. I only
understood afterwards, by sleeping with is servants.
role did photography play in your work?
have always been very interested in photography. I've looked at photos much more
than paintings. Because they are more real than reality itself. When we witness
an event, we are often unable to explain the details. In police inquiries, every
witness has a different view of the event. When you look at an image that
symbolises the event, you can browse through the snap shot of it and experience
it in a much stronger way, and embrace it with more intensity.
in my case, reflects the event in a clearer, more direct way. Contemplation
allows me to imagine my version of the truth and the image that I have of this
truth leads me to discover other ideas, and so on...My work becomes a chain of
ideas created by various images that I look at and that I have often
registered with contradictory subjects. I look for the suggestion of an image in
comparison to another.
enjoy looking at images since my obsession is painting in a representational
manner, so I need to see forms and representational spaces. That gives me
momentum but I don't copy photographs apart from a few [Eadweard] Muybridge
characters that I have integrated into paintings such as L'Enfant paralytique or Les Lutteurs. It's like cooking. (I was once a chef in a
restaurant.) You mix the vegetables, you know the taste of each thing
individually, but the blending with the herbs and meat, the mixture of different
molecules, produces another completely different taste.
art needs to use images, except for, I think music.
are reproductions of my paintings all around my kitchen but I no longer see
them. Those that are in the studio help me to imagine details of other images.
There are also heaps of illustrated books, magazines, photos. I call it my
imagination material. I need to visualise things that lead me to other forms,
that lead me to visualise forms that lead me to other forms or subjects,
details, images that influence my nervous system and transform the basic idea.
It's the same with books or films that I see. I think it's often like that for
artists. Picasso was a sponge, he made use of everything. Me, I'm like an
albatross: I take in thousands of images like fish, then I spit them out on the
principle source of visual information in Muybridge, the photographer of the
last [19th] century who photographed human and animal movement. it's a work of
unbelievable precision. He created a visual dictionary on movement, an animated
dictionary. Everything is there, recorded, untalented, without staging, like a
sequenced encyclopedia on the possibilities of human and animal movement.
For me, who doesn't have any models, it's an unbelievable source of
inspiration. The images help me just as much to find ideas as to create them. I
look at a lot of very different images, very contradictory and I take in details
a bit like those people who eat of other people's plates. When I paint, I have
the desire to paint an image that I am imagining, and this image transforms
itself. I have also asked a photographer friend to do men fighting but that
didn't work. People have always believed that I painted movement directly from
photos, but this is completely wrong. I invent what I paint. Besides, it's very
often the opposite of natural movement. I have also painted men making love
according to Muybridge's images of man fighting. And I have used pornographic
images as well. At the time, it interested me. There weren't porno magazines and
films like there are now. But I have always been interested in pornography. A
painter is alone in front of his canvas; it's his imagination that creates, and
sexuality needs to feed on images that you see or invent. By imagining, you
transgress all taboos, anything is possible. And pornography helps. I have seen
books of [Robert] Mapplethorpe. It's interesting but too graphic, too plastic.
You lose the excitement that only comes from a crude image. Beauty is the enemy
once admitted to me that nothing aroused him more than drawing female genitals.
When you paint men's bodies, is there a physical arousal?
When I paint two men buggering, it's not by chance, it's because I feel some
kind of need to do it. A physical need. It's more primitive than crucifixions.
Painting is very physical as it is, painting scenes of men in action gives me a
great pleasure. It's one of the aspects of human behaviour that most interests
me. It's instinct, and it's my instinct to paint it. Men's bodies sexually
arouse me so I paint men's bodies very often, it makes up almost all of my work.
I have also painted women's bodies, but I have destroyed a lot of the canvases.
I've kept very few of them, if any. Henrietta Moraes is perhaps the most
successful, the one that has the best market I think.
I've also done very crude canvases, very pornographic, but I destroyed them. I
found it too easy. For a painter, moments of sexual fantasy can lead to
paintings that are often very banal, and when the arousal fads, you realise that
it hasn't done anything. It's like drugs. When you are on a high, the result of
your work is rarely something of quality: too many thinks are exterior. And too
many exterior things have disrupted your nervous system, and the result is often
do you believe in?
I believe in being selfish.
I have only myself to think of. I have hardly any family left and very few
friends that are still alive. And a painter works with his human material, not
with colours and paintbrushes. It's his thoughts that enter the painting. But I
don't expect any certainty in life, I don't believe in anything, not in God, not
in morality, not in social success...I just believe in the present moment if it
has genius - in spinning the roulette ball or in the emotions that I experience
when what I transmit on to the canvas works. I am completely amoral and atheist,
and if I hadn't painted, I would have been a thief or a criminal. My paintings
are a lot less violent than me. Perhaps if my childhood had been happier, I
would have painted bouquets of flowers.
Many think that you stand
with Picasso as the most important painter of this century.
Celebrity bullshit! We die
famous instead of being the unknown soldier. And we always talk rubbish in the
small world of art. Perhaps what we have in common is the fact that we like life
above all. But Picasso invented everything. After him, we can no longer paint
without thinking of him. Fame is of no importance but it is important because
one needs to live and sell one's paintings. And there is always, in every one of
us, the concept of being the best. Hence, it's vanity and also egoism, because
your work is you. It's you who sells yourself: your talent, your instinct, your
techniques. There are thousands of painters, but very few are the chosen ones.
Even if one defends oneself, one still always wants to leave something that will
enter the history of art. That is vanity, the driving force of artists. Artists
are very vain. We always think we are making the painting that will
revolutionise all painting, and that's why we keep going. You never retire from
You hate conventions?
I have never made
concessions. Not to fashion, not to constraints, not to anything. I've
been lucky enough not to have to, but it's in my character to refuse social
life, obligations, and to prefer simple people to sophisticated people. And luck
has had it that I Haven't needed to compromise myself in any way. Perhaps, since
I haven't been to school like other people, I have invented my own rules which
please me and which above all are more suited to me.
think that I have a difficult character. I'm a pain. I say the truth even if it
hurts. I have the excuse of liking wine, and when I'm drunk, I talk a lot of
nonsense; but as I have an excuse, I make the most of it. We are all prisoners,
we are all prisoners of love, one's family, one's childhood, profession. Man's
universe is the opposite of freedom, and the older we get, the more this becomes
true. I am a desperate optimist. Optimist, because I live from day to day as
if I am never going to die. Desperate because I don't have a very high
opinion of the human being and of me in particular.
What is your vision of the
Since the beginning of
time, we have had countless examples of human violence even in our very
civilised century. We have even created bombs capable of blowing up the planet a
thousand times over. An artist instinctively takes all this into account.
He can't do otherwise. I am a painter of the 20th century: during my childhood I
lived through the revolutionary Irish movement, Sinn Fein, and the wars,
Hiroshima, Hitler, the death camps, and daily violence that I've experienced all
my life. And after all that they want me to paint bunches of pink flowers...But
that's not my thing. The only things that interest me are people, their folly,
their ways, their anguish, this unbelievable, purely accidental intelligence
which has shattered the planet, and which maybe, one day, will destroy it. I am
not a pessimist. My temperament is strangely optimistic. But I am lucid.
Is death an obsession?
Yes, terribly so. One day,
when I was 15 or 16 years old, I saw a dog having a shit and I realised at that
moment that I was going to die. I think there is a difficult moment in the life
of a man. the moment when he discovers that youth is not eternal. On this day I
realised this. I thought about death and since then, I think about death
everyday. But that doesn't stop me from looking at men even of my age, as if
everything is still to play for, as if life could have a fresh start and often
when I go out in the evenings, I flirt as if I was 50. You should be able to
change the motor. That is the privilege of artists, they don't have an age.
Passion lasts and passion and freedom is seductive. When I paint, I no longer
have an age, just the pleasure or difficulty of painting.
would you like to die?
interview with Francis Bacon:
painted to be loved”
The last summing up, two months before he died, by the
greatest Irish painter of the 20th century in an interview with the
photographer, Francis Giacobetti
The Art Newspaper, June 2003
Bacon died in 1992. All his life he had been fascinated by
photographic images, and he himself was photographed again and
again—by Cecil Beaton, Bill Brandt, Richard Avedon, John Deakin, to
name only the most famous—so it is not surprising or inappropriate
that the last months of his life, from autumn 1991 to early 1992, were
spent allowing the French photographer Francis Giacobetti, 64, to take
experimental photos of him.
Giacobetti learnt his craft as a photo reporter with Paris Match and
has become an established portrait photographer (among his sitters,
the writer Gabriel García Márquez and the Dalai Lama). The more
conventional, posed portrait of Bacon was taken just a week before he
died. In the other images, Giacobetti is playing variations on Bacon
paintings, with the the head of the pope, the carcass, the blurring;
he offers a merging of his artistic personality with that of the great
In June, these photographs, as well as a number of previously
unexhibited paintings by Bacon, go on display at Marlborough, the
London gallery that represented him. Here we publish extracts of one
of the last interviews conducted with Bacon.
Giacobetti: Were you born an artist?
Francis Bacon: I don’t think people are born artists; I think it
comes from a mixture of your surroundings, the people you meet, and
luck. It is not hereditary, thank goodness. But “artist” is a big
word; there are very few painters who are real artists, but, on the
other hand, there are craftsmen working with wood or glass who are
genuine artists. The creative instinct certainly exists. That is what
makes me get up every morning and forces me to paint, otherwise I
should be a tramp. Picasso discussed this very tellingly in
FG: Why do you
paint? For whom?
paint for myself. I don’t know how to do anything else, anyway. Also
I have to earn my living, and occupy myself. I think that all human
actions are designed to seduce, to please. I don’t give a toss about
that any more. But maybe at the beginning, I painted to be
loved…yes, that’s certainly right. It’s so nice being loved. Now
I don’t give a toss, I’m old. At the same time it gives you such
pleasure if people like what you do. Today I paint very little,
although I do paint in the morning because I’m unable to stop; or I
paint when I’m in love, perhaps, but it’s too late now, I’m too
These days I look like an old bird. I’m nearly 82, I’m losing my
memory, I’ve been seriously ill for two years, I have suffered from
asthma attacks since I was a child and it gets no better in old age.
Asthma is a terrible complaint; when night falls you are never sure if
you will wake up the next morning. It attacks the very foundations of
life—your breathing. You always feel as if you are in remission,
always ready to die.
I should really live in the mountains, but it’s impossible to paint
in the mountains, at any rate for me. I need the city; I need to know
there are people around me strolling, arguing, fucking—living, and
yet I go out very rarely; I stay here in my cage. But I know there are
people around me and that is enough.
I often think I am very stupid, I’m often surprised by my optimism.
Very often, in fact; it’s my nature; and with a nature like this I
should never have painted. I should have been, I don’t know, a
con-man, a robber or a prostitute. But it was vanity that made me
choose painting, vanity and chance.
All artists are vain, they long to be recognised and to leave
something to posterity. They want to be loved, and at the same time
they want to be free. But nobody is free. Some artists leave
remarkable things which, a 100 years later, don’t work at all. I
have left my mark; my work is hung in museums, but maybe one day the
Tate Gallery or the other museums will banish me to the cellar…you
never know. Although for me personally it is not important, my vanity
still tells me that it is. Painting gave meaning to my life which
without it it would not have had.
FG: What about
the influence of Picasso?
FB: Picasso is the reason why I paint. He is the father figure, who gave
me the wish to paint. In 1929 I saw some completely revolutionary
pieces, Le baiser and Les baigneuses. The figures are
organic. They were my inspiration in The Crucifixion. Picasso
was the first person to produce figurative paintings which
overturned the rules of appearance; he suggested appearance without
using the usual codes, without respecting the representational truth
of form, but using a breath of irrationality instead, to make
representation stronger and more direct; so that form could pass
directly from the eye to the stomach without going through the
Picasso opened the door to all these systems. I have tried to stick my
foot in the door so that it does not close. Picasso was one of that
genius caste which includes Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Van Gogh and
above all Velázquez. Velázquez found the perfect balance between the
ideal illustration which he was required to produce, and the
overwhelming emotion he aroused in the spectator. He was not only the
photographer of the Spanish court, he was also the psychoanalyst of
the human soul of the Spanish court. In each of his portraits you find
the life and the death of his characters. Like a line stretching from
the beginning to the end. But it was Picasso who overturned the whole
FG: What part does photography play in your work?
have always been very interested in photography. I have looked at far
more photographs than I have paintings. Because their reality is
stronger than reality itself. When you witness an event you are often
incapable of explaining it in detail. And also, in police enquiries,
all the witnesses have different views of the event. Whereas when you
look at an image symbolising the event, you can pause over the event
as it happened and feel it more strongly, partake of it more
Photography, for me, brings us back to the actual event more clearly,
more directly. Contemplation allows me to imagine my own truth, and
the idea that I get of this truth helps me to discover other ideas,
and so on…My work becomes a chain of ideas created by the many
images that I look at and which I have registered, often on
contrasting subjects. I look for the suggestion of one image as it
relates to another.
My principal source of visual information is Muybridge, the
19th-century photographer who photographed human and animal movement.
His work is unbelievably precise. He created a visual dictionary of
movement, a living dictionary. Everything is stated there, without
talent or scenery, like an encyclopaedia of sequences on the movement
of humans and animals. Because I work without models, it is an
incredibly useful source of inspiration.
Images also help me find and realise ideas. I look at hundreds of very
different, contrasting images and I pinch details from them, rather
like people who eat from other people’s plates. When I paint, I want
to paint an image from my imagination, and this image is subsequently
transformed. I even asked a photographer friend to photograph some men
wrestling, but it did not work. People have always thought that I took
my movement from photographs, but it is completely untrue. I invent
what I paint. Anyway, often enough it is the opposite of natural
FG: When you paint, what state are you in?
FB: Before I start painting I have a slightly ambiguous feeling: happiness
is a special excitement because unhappiness is always possible a
moment later. That’s like life: it is so precious because death is
always beckoning. At that moment I have only the vaguest notion of
what I would like to do. You could say that I have no inspiration,
that I only need to paint. I am in an excited state. I begin by
applying the paint manually. In this way, something happens or fails
The creative process is a cocktail of instinct, skill, culture and a
highly creative feverishness. It is not like a drug; it is a
particular state when everything happens very quickly, a mixture of
consciousness and unconsciousness, of fear and pleasure; it’s a
little like making love, the physical act of love. It can be as
violent as fucking, like an orgasm or an ejaculation. The result is
often disappointing, but the process is highly exciting.
FG: Your painting
is often described as violent…
painting is not violent; it’s life that is violent. I have endured
physical violence, I have even had my teeth broken. Sexuality, human
emotion, everyday life, personal humiliation (you only have to watch
television)—violence is part of human nature. Even within the most
beautiful landscape, in the trees, under the leaves the insects are
eating each other; violence is a part of life. You are born, you fuck, you die. What could be more violent than that?
You come into this world with a shout. Fucking, particularly between
men, is a very violent act, and don’t let’s even mention death. In
between we fight to protect ourselves, to earn money; we are
humiliated daily by stupid idiots for even more stupid reasons. Amidst
it all we love or we don’t love. It’s all the same anyway; it
passes the time.
My painting is a representation of life, my own life above all, which
has been very difficult. So perhaps my painting is very violent, but
this is natural to me. I have been lucky enough to be able to live on
my obsession. This is my only success. I have no moral lesson to
preach, nor any advice to give. Nietzsche said, “Everything is so
absurd that we might as well be extraordinary”. I am content with
just being ordinary.
FG: What does flesh represent to you?
and meat are life! If I paint red meat as I paint bodies it is just
because I find it very beautiful. I don’t think anyone has ever
really understood that. Ham, pigs, tongues, sides of beef seen in the
butcher’s window, all that death, I find it very beautiful. And
it’s all for sale—how unbelievably surrealistic!
I often imagine that the accident that made man into the animal he has
become also happened to other animals—lions or hyenas for
example—while man remained a primate. What would have happened?
It’s bizarre, I have never read anything about it, by Darwin or
anyone else. Perhaps it’s science fiction, but it’s very
interesting. I imagine men hanging in butcher’s shops for hyenas,
who would be dressed in fur coats. The men would be hung by their
feet, or cut up for stew or kebabs.
We are all meat. All the inhabitants of this planet are made of meat.
And most of them are carnivores. And when you fuck, it’s a piece of
meat penetrating another piece of meat. There is no difference between
our meat and the meat of an ox or an elephant.
FG: The scream?
are born with a scream; we come into life with a scream, and maybe
love is a mosquito net between the fear of living and the fear of
death. That was one of my real obsessions. The men I painted were all
in extreme situations, and the scream is a transcription of their
Animals scream when they are frightened or in pain, so do children.
But men are more discreet and more inhibited. They do not cry or
scream except in situations of extreme pain. We come into the world
with a scream and we often also die with a scream. Perhaps the scream
is the most direct symbol of the human condition.
FG: And David
Sylvester, [the art critic, since deceased, who interviewed and wrote
I think David Sylvester is a very intelligent man, but I don’t think
he has a genuine feel for painting because in the book he wrote with
me he mentioned all sorts of frightful people, all these painters whom
he loved and admired. I think he has no critical sense.
FG: Is death an obsession with you?
FB: Yes, terrible. Once when I was 15 or 16 years old I saw a dog shiting
and I realised at that moment that I was going to die. I think there
is an equally important difficulty in man’s life. The moment when
you discover that youth does not last for ever. I understood it that
day. I thought about death and since then I have thought about it
Even as old as I am, it doesn’t stop me from looking at men...as if
anything might happen, as if life were about to start again; often
when I go out in the evening I flirt as if I were only 50. We ought to
be able to change our engines.
This is the artist’s privilege—to be ageless. Passion keeps you
young, and passion and liberty are so seductive. When I paint I am
ageless, I just have the pleasure or the difficulty of painting.
FG: How would you
like to die?
A longer version of this interview appears in the livre d’artiste,
with an introduction by Philippe Garner, 484 pp, 250 photographs by
Francis Giacobetti, 150 images of Bacon’s paintings, that will be
published in a limited edition of 3,000 by Turner & Turner in June
An exhibition (11 June-5 July) of Francis Giacobetti’s photographs
and Francis Bacon paintings is at Marlborough Gallery, London. This
exhibition will go on tour.
Giacobetti - Portraits of Francis Bacon
10 June 2003 - 5 July 2003
This exhibition is the fruit of a unique adventure, The History of Art written
in the present, springing from the remarkable meeting between two crazy men -
one a painter, the other a photographer. It is the result of a never before seen
telescoping of two worlds, two lives, two techniques and two generations, which
at first glance appear to be poles apart. One of them having a love of men, the
other a love of women; one a painter, the other a photographer; a profoundly
anglo-saxon culture for one, a resolutely Mediterranean one for the other. In
principle everything should separate them, yet everything, let us say in the
basic sense, brings them together.
Their wildness, to begin with. From the day they were born, both of them stood
out from the crowd, smashing self-righteous boundaries, spitting with deep and
brutal sincerity on the dogmas and preconceived ideas of schools, criticisms,
trends and fashions, daring to shout their mouths off about things of which
others only thought and kept silent…
These two men, both of them called Francis, also unquestionably have other
points in common. Both of them are islanders – one an Englishman, the other a
Corsican. Insularity, as we know, is the mother of singularity, bringing with it
a different manner of seeing, thinking and creating. Insularity has another
consequence - it leads one to view space differently, restricting and enclosing
it and in fact leading one to draw it as a finished form.
These two men are also sons of light. For the man from the north who spent his
youth in Ireland, it is a light that is scarce, unsettled and with a sudden
intensity. For the other man from the Mediterranean shores in the South, the
light is overabundant, so direct that it needs to be filtered and protected
against. For both of them, the sun is a friend and an enemy, and though its
light is difficult to tame, it must be mastered at all costs.
Lastly, both of them fed avidly on images, their unique school being that of the
image. They lived on photography, television, architecture, illustrated albums,
catalogues, as well as on paintings that they saw in books or those upon which
they reflected in museums. They learned everything by carefully observing the
world around them. Their eye is a scalpel, a device with which to learn and
create. Both of them were self-taught and for whom life was, and is, directed by
their instincts - it could not have been otherwise.
And this encounter, improbable as it may seem, was meant to take place. It is
eleven years since Francis Bacon died, and here today is a conclusion to that
During the end of 1991 and the start of 1992, Francis Giacobetti took hundreds
of photographs of the master and his world. Never had Bacon confided for so long
and so often to the watchful eye of a photographer. For hour after hour they
conversed on matters of death, painting, the masters they admired, the painters
they hated, and on colour, love, instinct, photography, pain, sex and
life…quite simply, their life.
This exhibition is the eye of Bacon through the eye of Giacobetti, a truly
loving meeting of minds.
Marlborough Fine Art
FRANCIS BACON BY FRANCIS GIACOBETTI
The Directors of Marlborough Fine Art are pleased to announce their forthcoming exhibition of Francis Giacobetti’s photographs of Francis Bacon which opens to the public on Wednesday 11 June, with a Private View on 10 June from 6-8pm. This exhibition also marks the Gallery’s renewed commitment to fine art photographs, having previously organised exhibitions of work by Bill Brandt, Jules Brassaï and Irving Penn amongst many others.
Born in Marseilles in 1939 to a Corsican family, Francis Giacobetti grew up in Paris where he began his career as a photographer in 1957. He shot to world-wide fame through his work on nudes, fashion and cutting-edge advertising. During the last 15 years Giacobetti has photographed some of the most important personalities and statesmen of our time from the Dalai Lama and Stephen Hawking to Fidel Castro, Gabriel Garcia Márquez and Federico
Giacobetti’s aim as a photographer has always been to proceed beyond the factual and to use camera and film in search of the full aesthetic, symbolic and magical potential of the medium.
In 1991, Giacobetti entered into perhaps his most extraordinary and highly productive working relationship. His subject was the painter, Francis Bacon.
Giacobetti had long admired and studied Bacon in detail and when the photographer approached him to take part in his portrait project, the artist agreed to participate in Giacobetti’s exploration of photographic portraiture. A friendship began and Bacon entrusted himself to this mature and deftly intuitive photographer who could create images that engaged with issues of time and gesture and the essence of being and mortality.
From their first session in the autumn of 1991 to their last in early 1992, Bacon gave himself up to Giacobetti’s direction and the photographer created a series of powerful visual images, sometimes using props with cross references to specific canvases painted by the artist. In these photographs, Giacobetti pushed to the limit all the lessons he had learned during his thirty years as a photographer, his senses guiding him to capture on film the elusive qualities that define the state of human existence and that conventional portrait photography can so rarely transcribe.
At the end of this project, Giacobetti felt that he had succeeded in coming close to the complex core of the artist’s being. Francis Bacon died in April 1992 and for the best part of a decade the photographer postponed working with this wealth of material. Only recently has he become ready to confront the issues of scale and process which needed to be addressed in order to translate what he had captured on film into substantially powerful works of art. It is this series of important photographs that will be shown and offered for sale for the first time at Marlborough Fine Art this Summer.
A fully illustrated catalogue is available.
by Donald Kuspit
Artnet, NY - 15
It seems clear
that Lucian knows the basics of his grandfather's theory of dreams, at least in
outline. But in his art psychoanalytic ideas lose their therapeutic purpose.
Sadistic clinical exposure was never Sigmund's purpose; it became, however
unconsciously, Lucian's main purpose. Once again cruelty is the royal road to
major art in modernity, that is, art that conveys the corrosive effect on the
self of living in the cruel modern world: with the death of Francis Bacon - who
encouraged Lucian to make the transition from socially polite to existentially
potent art...To this day Freud finds painting difficult, as he has acknowledged
- which is why his paintings continue to be full of life, however much they make
us conscious of the death we prefer to be unconscious of - no doubt because of
the difficulty of lifting his sitter's censorship, which makes for the
(necessary) tension of their relationship. He seems to have begun to paint under
the influence of Francis Bacon, a friend he portrayed in 1952. His first
paintings, exhibited in 1958, were badly received. They were regarded as crude
and coarse - vulgar. Kenneth Clark, famous for his distinction between the nude
and the naked body, essentially a distinction between the refined and the raw -
Freud, like Bacon, abolished the difference (although his figures tend to be
more raw than refined, while Bacon's suavely blend the raw and refined, which is
why they seem civilized however barbaric) - congratulated Freud on the
exhibition and never spoke to him again. Thus polite society passed judgment on
his painting. It preferred the familiar illustrator, whose drawings conformed to
social and aesthetic norms - even in their very English eccentricity, which added
tang to their tastefulness - to the violent, irreverent, transgressive new
painter, going into all too human territory, usually repressed. Freud's new
paintings were, after all, too "Freudian." He had come into his own by
identifying with his grandfather, spurred on by the already Freudian Bacon.
Even friends aren't
safe from the Bacon slicer
June 12th, 2003
From beyond the grave
Francis Bacon has launched an astonishing attack on the late David
Sylvester, considered by many to have been Britain's greatest post-war
critic and curator of modern art. In a hitherto unpublished interview
given to the photographer Francis Giacobetti only two months before he
died, the painter said of Sylvester: "I don't think he has a genuine
feeling for painting because in the book he wrote with me he mentioned all
sorts of frightful people, all these painters whom he loved and admired. I
think he has no critical sense." The comments in the interview,
reproduced in The Art Newspaper, are all the more surprising given that
the two were friends, and the artist was the subject of Sylvester's last
book, Looking Back at Bacon. But it seems that the public amity concealed
Bacon's low opinion of the critic. James Birch, a friend of Bacon,
confirms this view. "Francis thought that he had no taste,"
Birch tells me. "He often said that Sylvester had no idea about art
Apocalypse Now, Last Tango
in Paris, 1900 ... Vittorio
Storaro reveals the inspiration behind some of the most beautiful films ever
Interview by Jonathan
Wednesday 9 July, 2003
Storaro, one of the greatest cinematographers in the world, has worked with
Bernardo Bertolucci on films from The Spider's Stratagem to The
Sheltering Sky and, in what is perhaps the high point of his career, was
responsible for the extraordinary appearance of Francis Ford Coppola's
Apocalypse Now. The restoration of his colour photography is the most dramatic
revelation of Apocalypse Now Redux. Currently in post-production on an Exorcist
prequel, Storaro recently published Writing With Light, in which he ranges
across the history of art and the psychology of colour in an attempt to enrich
the language of cinematography, which he feels is too often assumed to be a
technical skill rather than part of cinema's culture.
Last Tango in Paris: Francis
I realised I was using light
in connection with the conscious side of the mise-en-scène and dark for the
unconscious. By instinct and by feeling I was drawing a conflict between light
and shadow. Bacon's paintings gave me the confirmation of an idea that
Bertolucci and I had about the conflict between the warm artificial light in a
northern city like Paris during wintertime and the natural winter light. We
already had the idea, but then we saw the Bacon exhibition in Paris and it
confirmed it. We change our metabolism in front of a painting or watching a
· Writing with Light Volume One: The Light, by Vittorio Storaro is published
Figure in a Landscape, Francis
Saturday June 28, 2003
Artist: Francis Bacon
(1909-1992) revolutionised painting by dragging it backwards into its own
visceral, bloody, expressive history. Bacon was once an acolyte of the
international style, the smooth, stylish modernism of the interwar years. It was
a style he aspired to in his abortive career as an interior designer: the
bizarre circular furniture that props up this Figure is very like the glass and
tubular steel objects the young Bacon created.
However, Bacon's originality
was to mine the traditional in painting, to return, in the 1940s, to the
apparently bankrupt genres of the portrait, the landscape, even the religious
altarpiece. No one could accuse him of seeking comfort in the past. What he
found there was horror, and a language to speak of horror.
In Velázquez he found
alienation, in Rembrandt death, in Christian iconography sadism. The potentially
kitsch qualities of representational art become, in Bacon, tragicomic, the
luxury of painting - and his painting is nothing if not luxurious - a
disillusioned debauch in a closed room. By revealing that
"traditional" art in a gilded frame could be more sick, hideous and,
therefore, contemporary than avant-garde experiment, Bacon resurrected painting,
albeit as mutant zombie.
Subject: Bacon based this
painting on a photograph of his friend Eric Hall in Hyde Park.
This painting fixes you with its hauteur. On the white wall at Tate Modern, it
is old-fashioned and archaic, a portrait on the scale and with the grandeur of
an Old Master. It has that kind of authority, and the sense that you are looking
at a sad, noble thing. It is imposing. But it is a trick. Accepting it as real,
you are pulled into its paradox: a body that is not a body, a person who is not
there. It is a gothic nightmare.
Look at the suit, that
stereotyped garment designed as a uniform for civilians. Bacon paints it with
orthodox realism. It is a real suit, but its legs fade into nothing. The jacket
is a sheltering darkness, a funnel, a haunted house. Inside is no one. The man
who sits here has no heart, no eyes and no head. Someone has sliced away almost
all of him. Horribly, there is still flesh and there is still a person, or as
the surrealists would say, a personage.
The blue and purple, meaty
hand protrudes from the right sleeve as if there were a human being in this
portrait. What emerges from the left sleeve is worse. Bloody, gory and
undefined, a mess of powdered colour, his left hand explodes before our eyes
into a violet cloud. We are looking at an abomination, a body without
consciousness and without structure.
This painting is what
portraiture might look like after the end of humanity: the ghost of the
portrait. It is a travesty of the relationship between human beings and nature
that painting once richly explored. TS Eliot is surely a reference point.
Eliot's wasteland, where life itself, its continuation, is chilling - tubers
from the death earth - is matched in the jagged grass and icy blue sky of this
desolate park. Bacon's nature, while melancholy, is alive. It is the man who
doesn't belong here.
But finally there is pity.
This is a Frankensteinian thing, a wretched, friendless nobody, someone who
wears a suit but cannot fill it, not a personality but a bit of shapeless flesh,
a hollow man.
Inspirations and influences:
Bizarrely, but unmistakably, Bacon's painterly parkland recalls the lovingly
flicked foliage in which the 18th-century portrait painter Thomas Gainsborough
nestled his subjects.
Where is it? Tate Modern,
London, SE1 (020-7887 8000).
artistic Brummie in Paris
reviews At Work In Paris: Raymond Mason on Art and Artists by Raymond Mason
The Daily Telegraph
25 May 2003
Raymond Mason is that
unusual thing, a Parisian from Birmingham. Born in 1922, the son of a taxi
driver, he proceeded to become a sculptor. Like many other young British
artists, he crossed the Channel soon after the end of the Second World War to
see what was going on in what was then generally regarded as the cultural
capital of the world.
Equally diverting is
Francis Bacon's off-the-cuff judgment on the work of his friend Henry Moore,
"When one thinks about it, Raymond, it's so b-a-d. If I ever see his King
and Queen once more, I'll throw up." Moore himself announced one day that
"After all, I am the one who invented the hole", a remark Mason
considers worthy of Punch.
Rare film footage of famous
artists at work and in conversation has been lost, thrown away or even
destroyed. Hannah Rothschild has set out to rescue what remains
The Daily Telegraph
| 22 May 2003
Picasso filmed by
Henri-Georges Clouzot in 1957
Imagine the thrill of seeing Titian or
Rembrandt or Velazquez actually painting. How would they hold their brushes? Or
approach their canvasses? Would they sit or stand, sing or remain silent? What
did Titian look like? Was Rembrandt as melancholy as his self-portraits suggest?
Did Turner really mix his paint with beer and did Constable and Ingres labour
over every mark?
Our knowledge of the old masters is
pieced together from their work and the anecdotes of observers such as Giorgio
Vasari and the Goncourt brothers. But in the last century there has been an
extraordinary and undervalued addition to art history: film-makers have roamed
the world capturing painters at work and in conversation.
One of the earliest artists to be
filmed was Auguste Renoir. By 1915 he was so decrepit that he painted from a
wheelchair, and his hands, deformed by arthritis, resemble plaited loaves - he
dabs at a canvas holding his brush precariously in bloated, twisted fingers. He
clearly loved being filmed and grins like an elderly elf at the camera. (The
director was Sacha Guitry and the shoot was attended by his son Jean, a great
film-maker in his own right.) By contrast, the elderly Monet is thoroughly
magisterial, standing in front of the lily ponds at Giverny in 1914, his snowy
beard matching a white smock and the bristles of his brushes.
Picasso appears half-naked in
Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1957 film, Le Mystere - his torso oiled to catch the
studio lights. But it's his brush you can't stop watching. It's compelling
cinema. The confidence of every stroke, the unexpected twists and turns of the
composition and finally his destruction of the picture. It wasn't good enough
France, recovering from the shame of
the Vichy government, filmed Matisse walking in the Cote d'Azur. It was a piece
of pure propaganda aimed to prove that the country might be bankrupt politically
but it was still pre-eminent artistically. Here was the painter as ambassador
and cultural icon striding around in a beautiful landscape backed by a rousing
In 1925, George Grosz and Otto Dix are
dressed like surgeons and use their pens and brushes with the precision of
scalpels as they wring portraits out of paint and on to canvas. Dali hums and
postures. Magritte dresses like a bank clerk and paints in a nondescript
bourgeois home. Pollock drips. Spencer, mindful of wartime shortages, draws on
rolls of loo paper.
In all these films, serious artists
are shown trying to make sense of both their craft and the world they live in.
The advent of sound in the 1920s allowed them to be heard as well. When asked by
an interviewer in 1982 if his images were a little macabre and disturbing,
Francis Bacon retorts, "What could I paint that is more violent than human
nature?" Frank Auerbach, orphaned aged eight by the Nazis, suggests that
his painting is driven by a desire to "pin things down". Gerhard
Richter, the most powerful and expensive contemporary artist working today,
admits that he's suffering from crippling painter's block. Louise Bourgeois,
while smashing a sculpture to pieces, claims that her creativity is driven by
The best of these films are not only
fascinating records: many are fine biographies in their own right. Their makers
- who include Alain Resnais, Leni Riefenstahl, John Schlesinger, Victor Erice
and Ken Russell - are our modern-day Vasaris. In this country alone, there's
probably six or seven hundreds of hours of film of artists working and talking,
a wonderful learning tool for children, artists and scholars, a window on a new
world for the rest of us.
The tragedy is that few can see it.
The material is held in archives, national and independent. Each has its own
cataloguing system and bureaucratic apparatus. This all takes experience and
money to negotiate and is beyond the means of the average person. A viewing tape
can cost up to £250. Some owners obstruct release, closing history in favour of
Conservation is also a constant
problem. A few weeks ago the entire Indian National Film Archive exploded. Early
nitrate film stock is highly flammable. It only takes one bad can. A similar
accident happened in Mexico. Imagine losing your film heritage in one bang. It's
essential to preserve, digitise and study. Other footage is missing, presumed
lost. Where, for example, is Tristram Powell's film of Lucian Freud made for the
BBC in the 1970s - and never seen since?
But like flints in a flowerbed, old
films keep surfacing. Last year colour footage turned up of Stanley Spencer
exploring a churchyard with some children, as did home movies of Walter Sickert
in his dotage, filmed by a friend's grandson.
Then there is the story of unseen,
uncut footage of Francis Bacon and William Burroughs in conversation in New York
- which lay in a vault for 20 years. Its soundtrack has just been rediscovered
by chance, a reminder of the fragility of film history.
Sadly these discoveries don't outweigh
the losses: over half of the work of the distinguished German film-maker Hans
Curlis - the man who invented the arts documentary - has disappeared. Due to
lack of storage space, rushes are dumped in roadside skips. Poorly stored
footage turns into celluloid soup. Our heritage is eroding unnecessarily.
With this in mind, the art historian
and film-maker Robert McNab and I have founded the Artist on Film Trust, a
charity that aims to make copies of this footage easily available. In this
country there are four main players: Melvyn Bragg immediately pledged his
support and the South Bank Show's material. Channel 4 took a fortnight to agree.
The Arts Council cogitated for several months. And as for the BBC? Well, one can
hardly expect fleetness of foot, but it took five and a half years. (It was the
Birtian era and no one knew which department should ratify the agreement.) The
important thing is that these organisations have established an altruistic
The trust's main priority now is to
find a home and funding. In the meantime there are talks and exhibitions to
plan. The first series of lectures was held at the Prince of Wales Drawing
School this spring and reunited, where possible, the films, their makers and
subjects. The artists Robert Crumb and John Virtue, film-makers Melvyn Bragg,
Alan Yentob and John Read all contributed. The next series is at the Hay-on-Wye
Literary Festival this month, where Anthony Wall, of Arena, will premier his
Bacon-Burroughs rediscovery, and Melvyn Bragg, Alan Yentob, and Gerald Fox with
Marc Quinn will screen and discuss their work.
In October the Getty Institute in Los
Angeles is mounting an exhibition of Alexander Liberman's photographs of the
artist at work. The Artist on Film Trust will complement their images with our
moving footage. We're also working on proposals with the Hermitage in Russia and
two major British institutions, the National Gallery and the London Institute,
for collaboration. Film in museums is often confined to a small, darkened space
off the main room - a holding area between postcards and the exit sign. That
era, we hope, has ended. Film is finally coming out of the back room.
France and Germany pioneered the arts
documentary but we perfected it. This country still produces great films on
artists such as Gerald Fox's recent profile of Gerhard Richter. The television
companies' commitment to arts programming is vital for two reasons. Firstly,
these films enrich our understanding of the present. Secondly, they add to the
record of history and create a source of pleasure for future generations. Let's
hope that more people can see and appreciate them.
Hannah Rothschild's Omnibus
portrait of Frank Auerbach is being shown during the Hay Festival on May 29.
In this exclusive extract
from his new biography, Andrew Wilson describes a chance encounter that turned
Patricia Highsmith into a stalker - and inspired her second novel
Saturday May 17, 2003
Highsmith loved the paintings of
Francis Bacon and, towards the end of her life, she kept a postcard of his Study
Number 6 on her desk. "To me Francis Bacon paints the ultimate picture of
what's going on in the world," she said: "mankind throwing up in a
toilet with his naked derrière showing." Her fiction, like Bacon's
painting, allows us to glimpse the dark, terrible forces that shape our lives,
while at the same time documenting the banality of evil. The mundane and the
trivial are described at the same pitch as the horrific and the sinister and it
is this unsettling juxtaposition that gives her work such power.
Rafferty, writing in the New Yorker, said: "Patricia Highsmith's novels are
peerlessly disturbing - not great cathartic nightmares but banal bad dreams that
keep us restless and thrashing for the rest of the night . . . Our minds have
registered everything, the ordinary and the horrible, with absolute neutrality;
we seem to have been marooned in a flat, undifferentiated territory, like a
desert - a place without values, without the emotional landmarks of our fictions
or our waking lives." Highsmith, although working within the suspense
genre, not only transcended its confines, but created a whole new form.
"Popular fiction isn't supposed to work on us this way," added
Phil the Till bring home the Bacon?
The Daily Telegraph
24 April 2003
There is a new twist in
the long-running controversy over who will inherit Francis Bacon's millions.
Despite speculation to
the contrary, Spy learns that the great artist's huge estate - or at least the
paintings contained in it - will not end up in the sticky clutches of a
colourful ex-gangster known as Phil "the Till" Mordue.
Mordue, a former
convict who now runs girlie bars in Thailand, was rumoured to have come into the
£30 million estate following the death of his long-term boyfriend, John
Edwards, last month.
Edwards - Bacon's
friend and muse - had been named as the sole beneficiary following the artist's
death in 1992.
Senior figures in the
art world have been worried that the collection of the 20th century's greatest
British artist would fall into Mordue's hands.
acting for the Bacon estate are now able to confirm that this will not happen.
"Any reports of Mr Mordue inheriting the collection (of Bacon works of art)
are wrong," said a spokesman yesterday.
One likely outcome is
that the body of art, which has rocketed in value since Bacon's death, will go
into a trust. "The John Edwards Charitable Foundation was founded before
John died," comments Richard Butcher of Payne Hicks Beach, a partner
involved in the administration of the estate.
"It was designed to promote the works of Bacon, but I cannot tell you if that is where the pictures will end up: I can make no comment until the will becomes public knowledge.''
Artists and their Studios
Bernard, Francis Bacon in his studio, 1984.
of Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Euan Uglow, Michael
Andrews and Leigh Bowery
Bernard (1928 - 2000) is probably best known as a picture editor and
curator of photography. His acutely critical but sensitive eye was
legendary. He was responsible for the revelatory photojournalism of the
Sunday Times in the 1970s. His book, Photodiscovery (1980) remains a
classic, and the later anthology of photographs, Century (1999), was a
runaway best-seller, as was Van Gogh by Himself (1985), the first of a
series of pictorial diaries combining the words and images of great
studied as a painter at St Martin's in the 1950s and always affirmed the
supremacy of painting in the visual arts. When he took up the camera
himself in the 1980s, his work was strongly imbued with a painterly
sensibility. Writing of Van Gogh's early paintings, Bernard once
observed that 'what good photographs emphasise best to me is not human
mortality but human endurance, and a very photogenic aspect of that is
human beings at work or standing by their work'.
photographs of his artist friends are uniquely penetrating. The show
opens with six studies of Francis Bacon made in 1984. Bacon disdains to
play-act for the camera, as does Lucian Freud in an equally powerful
series of portraits from the 1990s. The intensity in both men's eyes
speaks of their vocation. Other photographs taken in Freud's studio show
his models Leigh and Nicola Bowery sprawling naked on a couch, the
grandeur of the interior suffused in a Rembrandtesque light. Bernard's
last portraits, of Euan Uglow and Frank Auerbach, were executed shortly
before his death in 2000.
May 2003 - 1 June 2003
June 2003 - 6 July 2003
July 2003 - 10 August 2003
September 2003 - 19 October 2003
October 2003 - 4 January 2004
Kendal, Abbot Hall Art Gallery
January 2004 - 8 February 2004
Cardiff, St David's Hall
Todolí se despide del Museo de Serralves con una gran muestra sobre Bacon
The valeciano Vicente Todolí presented/displayed
yesterday the first great exhibition of Francis Bacon in Portugal, in its last
act like director of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Serralves before being in
charge of the Tate Modern of London. The exhibition, that reunites near fifty
works of the British painter, is inaugurated today and will remain open until
the 20 of April.
The exhibition organized by Todoli in exclusive
right for the museum of Oporto includes some of the Bacon's more well known works, one
of the main painters of the European contemporary art, in addition to works
rarely exposed in public.
Todoli, historian of art born in Palm in 1958,
explained that "this exhibition is not a retrospective one", because
is only tried "to focus one of the central subjects that Bacon persecuted
during all its artistic race". In that sense, the exhibition "looks
for to show the conflict of the artist with the painting, its permanent fight to
summarize in only a picture all its problems without solving", added.
The new director of the Tate Modern of London,
position for which was chosen in last May, said that the idea of the title of
the exhibition, Caged-uncaged, "can be understood better in the light of
Bacon's own words, when he talked about his attempt to realise the element
animal of the human".
The first exhibition ever in Portugal of paintings by
what the gallery plausibly labels the most famous European artist of the second
half of the 20th century. The show is at the Serralves in Oporto (whose former
director Vincent Todoli has now taken over at Tate Modern). The museum also has
a mini-show by 1999 Turner Prize-winner Steve McQueen, with the films 'Carib's
Leap' and 'Western Deep'. Unless you just can't get enough of Bacon in Britain,
the exhibition may not justify the three-hour train trip on its own but it may
be worth organising your trip up north around Serralves opening hours.
Bacon - 'Caged/Uncaged'
Time Out, Lisbon: Art
Until 20 Apr, 10am-7pm Tue, Wed & Fri-Sun; 10am-10pm Thur; Fundaçao
Serralves, Rua Dom Joao de Castro 210, Oporto (351 22 615 6500). Train to Oporto
from Santa Apolonia/Gare do Oriente rail stations, then bus 81.
Francis Bacon: 'Caged/Uncaged' British Council
This is the first exhibition ever in Portugal
of paintings by Francis Bacon, the most famous European artist of the
second half of the 20th Century. This exhibition, curated by Vicente
Todoli, comprises forty masterpieces and portrays Bacon's life-long
struggle with painting, and, to use his own words, lets 'the animal
element emerge from the human'. It's a
must in everybody's cultural agenda. Do not miss it!
Museu de Serralves, Porto
24 January to 20 April 2003
Enquiries: 22 615 6500
7 March 2003
With a suicide, some
petty criminals, a brilliant artist, his homosexual lover and a mysterious
shooting, the only element missing seems to be murder. It is the story of
the legacy of Francis Bacon and it all begins with a death.
Not the 1992 death of Bacon, the brilliant
artist in question - the Soho bohemian, irascible charmer and ill-tempered
drunk, a sadomasochistic homosexual who could move from gentleman to boor
in the downing of glass.
And not even the death of his longtime friend
and sole beneficiary of his £11 million will, John Edwards, who died of
lung-cancer in a Thai hospital this week and opened a whole new mystery
into the ownership of Bacon's paintings and the worth of his estate.
The death that starts
this whole tale is the suicide of Bacon's lover George Dyer, sitting on a
lavatory bowl with blood coming out of his nose and mouth, having
swallowed fistfuls of sleeping pills in a Paris hotel room in 1971.
Dyer was a small-time criminal when he met
Bacon, and the artist delighted in telling the story of their first
meeting. As he told it, Dyer was at work, burglarising Bacon's studio,
which then was on Narrow Street in the East End. But he hadn't realised
the artist was in residence and asleep.
Bacon said that he woke up, saw
the burglar and immediately said: "Take all your clothes off and get
into bed with me. Then you can have all you want."
Less imaginatively, and perhaps with a greater
degree of truth, Bacon also said they met when he was drinking in a Soho
pub with the photographer John Deakin and Dyer came over, saying:
"You all seem to be having a good time. Can I buy you a drink?"
Either way they ended up as lovers. That was
in 1964. Dyer had been in jail, in Pentonville as well as Borstal, but
Bacon was unconcerned. He said that "I think in a way he was simply
too nice to be a crook. Anyway he was always being caught".
Dyer was more complicated than just nice. He
was a drifter with a speech impediment, he was withdrawn and often sullen.
Terribly unsure of himself before he actually killed himself, he had
attempted suicide at least twice before.
He was also the subject of some of Bacon's
greatest work. Bacon could not get enough of Dyer onto canvas. In 1968,
for example, three of his works were Portrait Of George Dyer In A
Mirror, Two Studies Of George Dyer With A Dog and Two Studies For A Portrait Of
Earlier works included
George Dyer Crouching
and George Dyer Talking. After his death there was the triptych In Memory
Of George Dyer, and Triptych August 1972.
But the relationship between master and muse
was a destructive one, as the suicide attempts bear out. Bacon tried to
physically distance himself from his lover, buying him a cottage in Kent,
but physical distance could not destroy their symbiotic attachment.
At its worst, two years before he killed
himself, Dyer had even planted drugs in Bacon's studio - now moved from
Narrow Street to Reece Mews in South Kensington, - and then tipped off the
police, who promptly arrived led by a female detective and a sniffer dog
At the subsequent trial, Bacon was found not
guilty. As an asthmatic, he said, he would have found it difficult to
smoke anything, let alone drugs, and he was forgiving of his lover.
And so he took him to Paris in October 1971
for a huge retrospective in the Grand Palais and the most significant show
in Bacon's career as an artist.
Returning to the Hotel des Saints-Peres that
night, 24 October, the story goes that Bacon was told of his lover's
suicide by the concierge and showed no emotion. "Eh bien," he
said. "And where is the body?"
James Birch is a Soho art dealer and collector
whose gallery was below the Colony Room, the drinking club on Dean Street
founded by Bacon's friend Muriel Belcher, a lesbian dominatrix who brought
together artists and writers, prostitutes and gangsters, snakes and
charmers, politicians too, to indulge themselves in whatever their fancy
Speaking yesterday, Birch - who became friends
with Bacon when he organised the artist's first and only show in Moscow in
1988 - said: "When George Dyer died, he felt so guilty about it and
was guilty about it for the rest of his life. And when he met John Edwards
a few years later he made sure the relationship wasn't going to be
anything like the same.
"Francis would throw a lot of money at
George, and George would then pretend to be Francis Bacon or emulate him
at least. He would buy drinks for everyone, which didn't really work if
you didn't have the kind of panache that Francis had.
"He treated John very differently.
Francis felt John was like a surrogate son in a way and he wanted to make
sure John was secure for the rest of his life."
Edwards was 53 when he died in the Bumrungrad,
a modern state-oftheart hospital in Bangkok - recognised for its quality
even by American organisations - and he was indeed secure.
He had homes in Suffolk, where he also bought
properties for his parents, and in New York. But he moved to Thailand nine
years ago, settling in Pattaya, a resort some 100 miles east of the
capital, and is said to have enjoyed an easy life, walking on the
picture-postcard beaches or fishing.
But Pattaya has another side. International
gangsters, child abusers, pornographers and prostitutes all sit side by
side in the seedy go-go bars - one is called The Dog's Bollocks - as the
police turn a blind eye.
A few years ago 1,000 of Thailand's finest
were despatched to clean up this "Cowboy town", as it was
described, and the only result was a droll tale about a detective who had
picked up and then been robbed by a prostitute. British gangsters treat
the place like a second Costa del Sol.
Six years ago, the police concluded that a
Briton called Geoffrey Chapman, found drowned in the sea, had committed
suicide. But others wondered how he could have when his legs were tied to
his waist and then to a rock.
That same year, an Englishman called Philip
Mordue was shot in the neck in a bar on the main sex-drag. He survived.
Mordue, from Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, was in
fact Edwards's lover and - despite Francis Bacon - had been for 30 years.
With Edwards's death, the legacy of Francis Bacon will almost certainly
pass on to Mordue.
About two years after George Dyer's death,
Bacon met Edwards, who - from the East End, with an inf liction, in his
case severe dyslexia, and homosexual - was not unlike Dyer. Where he
differed was his attitude to life, positive where Dyer was negative, and
helped fill the void left by Dyer's death. By all accounts Edwards, who
was 40 years the artist's junior, and Bacon (Edwards nicknamed him
"Eggs") did not become lovers. But, on Bacon's death in 1992,
Edwards was made the chief beneficiary of his will, some £11 million
worth. And, all the while Edwards was posing in his underpants for Bacon,
his true lover was Mordue.
In recent days Mordue has been dubbed Thailand
Phil and Phil the Till, and his name has been attached to the seamier side
of town, where it is said that he frequented both gay and girlie bars in
between occasional gigs as an amateur DJ.
But yesterday friends who know him were eager
to paint a different type of character. James Birch, for example, thinks
that Edwards and Mordue went to Thailand for tax, and not sex, reasons.
Dave Courtney, the celebrity criminal who was
a friend of the Krays, shared a cell with Mordue in Coldingly Prison near
Woking in 1980.
He told the Standard: "Phil is a lovely
fellow. He is not a criminal. I know people are saying he is an ex-con but
the only thing he was ever in for was some driving offence.
"He is very, very much into art. I've
seen a lot of him since we were inside together and he has obviously been
cultured by John.
"He is what you would call public school
material. The reason he is called Thailand Phil is because in my phone
book ... How many Phils do I know? About 300. I have got Fat Phil, Ginger
Phil, Skinny Phil, Funny Phil and Thailand Phil. The only criminal thing
he has done I know about is I think he was done for driving while
disqualified or something like that.
"He's a bit of a comedian. He will get on
with any circle of people you put him in with. He's a Champagne Charlie
when need be, can rub shoulders with the premier league naughty men when
need be, and he can also be very knowledgeable with the art world."
Birch says: "He looks a bit like Robbie
Williams and likes a laugh."
Neither man has an explanation why someone
would want to put a bullet into someone so innocent as Mordue.
The exact inheritance coming Mordue's way is
also mysterious. When he died, Bacon was rumoured to be worth up to £60
million. Over the years paintings have been sold for as much as £5.5
million, there were problems with the Inland Revenue and it wasn't until
1999 that a costly and long-running dispute between the estate and the
Marlborough Gallery, which had represented Bacon, was settled.
One report has suggested that Mordue had been
selling Bacon's paintings - presumably with his lover Edwards's knowledge
- to invest in Pattaya bars and clubs.
In an interview with the
New York Times
before his died, Bacon spoke of death and the afterlife. He said: "We
live, we die and that's it, don't you think?" If only it were so
Bacon's legacy in doubt
after heir dies
Thursday March 6, 2003
Artist and muse: Francis
Bacon & John Edwards
artist Francis Bacon's long-time companion and muse, John Edwards, died
yesterday in Thailand, throwing the ownership of the dozens of paintings he
inherited after Bacon's death into uncertainty.
Mr Edwards was the sole heir to Bacon's tangled
fortune and was left an £11m estate after the artist died in 1992.
Mr Edwards, 53, died after a long battle with lung
cancer. It is thought he may have left part or all of the inheritance to his
boyfriend of 27 years, Philip Mordue, who like Mr Edwards is from east London.
The two men have lived in a luxury penthouse in
Pattaya for the past nine years. Although the size of the inheritance is now
unknown, reports have it ranging from as much as £30m to very little.
Mr Edwards struck up a friendship with Bacon and
would visit the artist's South Kensington mews house to make him breakfast every
morning and sit with him while he painted. Bacon had described Mr Edwards as the
only true friend he had. Both men were gay, but Mr Edwards said in an interview
with the Daily Telegraph a year ago that they were never lovers.
Whether much of the inheritance remains is unclear.
Mr Edwards is understood to have bought properties in Suffolk for his parents
and other family members, and he is also believed to have sold some paintings
through galleries in New York and London.
An administrator of the Francis Bacon estate refused
to comment on the question of the inheritance yesterday.
Mr Edwards is understood to have moved to Thailand
with Mr Mordue after Bacon's death to get away from the press. Reports in
Thailand said that Mr Mordue, nicknamed "Phil the Till" in Thailand,
was shot in a bar on Pattaya's main sex-bar strip in 1997. He was in hospital
for four days after a bullet passed through his neck.
Mr Edwards was taken to Bumrumgrad hospital in
Bangkok and was with Brian Clarke, a friend and Bacon's executor, when he died,
according to the Daily Telegraph.
Prof Clarke, the British architectural artist, said:
"He showed no self-pity and joked with friends to the last." The body
will be flown to London for a private service.
Francis Bacon's model
companion, in good times and in bad
John Edwards: Obituary
Friday March 7, 2003
John Edwards, a dyslexic, illiterate East End bartender and multi-millionaire,
who has died aged 53, hit pay dirt on the day the painter Francis Bacon failed
to show up at the Swan, one of the three pubs where Edwards worked for his
Muriel Belcher, the legendary owner of the Colony
club in Dean street, Soho - known to its intimates as Muriel's - used to descend
on the Swan to meet her friend, Joan Littlewood. One evening, Belcher told
Edwards to order some champagne for her next visit, when Bacon would be with
her. But neither of them appeared.
Champagne was not the tipple of choice for the
masses in 1972, and the chances of shifting it over the bar of the Swan were
remote. So Edwards went off to the Colony club, marched up to Bacon, and put it
to him squarely that he owed him. "Who do you think you are, mate, ordering
champagne and not bothering to turn up to drink it?" he later said he told
the artist. Bacon, charmed, bought Edwards dinner at Wheeler's, in Old Compton
Street (Edwards chose caviar), and took him under his wing.
Edwards was 22 at the time, 41 years Bacon's junior.
When Bacon died in 1992, he left an estate of nearly £11m to Edwards. By the
time Edwards himself died - of cancer in Bangkok - he had, it is thought, drunk
a heroic portion of his legacy, latterly in a beach resort in Thailand, where he
had washed up after a spell in the Florida Keys.
Bacon and Edwards were both homosexual, but, despite
their obvious closeness, they said that their companionship was a father and son
relationship. Cynics doubted this, but it was probably true, more or less.
Edwards was the son of a London docker - one hard
case in a brood of six, who, like their father, could look after themselves; and
he took it upon himself to look after Bacon as well. The artist's initial
attraction to the East End had doubtless been access to rough trade - he liked
his sex sadistic - but, like the Tory MP Bob Boothby, he also enjoyed the
raffishness of his social contacts there, and, like Boothby, he counted the Kray
twins, Ronnie and Reggie, among his dodgier pals. Edwards knew nothing of art
and, as Picasso had in different circumstances, Bacon responded gratefully to
this lack of pretence or pretension.
As their relationship deepened, many of Bacon's
older friends died, and the artist felt his own end approaching. Edwards's
company brought him solace, and even calm, down at the Waterman's Arms, the
music-hall-cum-pub started on the Isle of Dogs by Daniel Farson, Bacon's boozing
pal and one of his biographers; or as he passed among the tables of Charlie
Chester's casino, neatly staking chips next to the roulette wheels.
Bacon had, in fact, the reputation of spending more
time in pubs, night clubs and gambling dens than in his Kensington mews studio,
but he was always up at 7am to paint, and the first picture he made of Edwards
was done without the barman's participation. After that, he painted several
portraits of his companion - including a famous triptych which fetched £3m -
just as he did of others, from his last model, George Dyer, to Peter Lacy, the
friend of another ill-starred relationship, and female friends like Belcher,
Isabella Rawsthorne and Henrietta Moraes.
It was all one to Edwards. He made no demands, and
he and his artist friend went together like eggs and bacon - unsurprisingly,
Edwards's nickname for Bacon was "Eggs". But he was always there when
he was needed, usually, as it happened, over eggs for breakfast after the first
painting session in the studio.
Easy come, easy go was the watchword for Bacon as
well. He had earlier bought a plush studio near the Brompton road, in west
London, but found that luxury militated against the ability to paint there, and
simply gave it away. So it was no surprise to his friends that he should
bequeath his estate to Edwards; he would, those who knew him felt, have been
smiling down from heaven on his protégé as he watched him spend his way
through the fortune.
For Edwards, it was a mixed blessing. Part of the
bequest was the poky studio in Reece mews, where Edwards had helped Bacon to
destroy work that the artist didn't feel came up to scratch: Edwards donated the
studio to the Hugh Lane gallery in Dublin, the city of Bacon's birth, which has
reconstructed it in all its scruffy, paint-spattered glory.
But he felt that the Marlborough Galleries, which
had run Bacon's professional life for him, were holding out on him, and, it was
later said in the high court, would not give him an account of their dealings,
or even a list of the paintings they had taken from the easel as Bacon finished
them, characteristically not demanding a receipt. The court ordered
Marlborough's nominated Bacon executor to stand down, and, last year, the affair
was settled out of court with each side paying its own expenses. Unverified
reports have it that the remainder of Bacon's estate will now go to Edwards's
friend in Thailand, Philip Mordue, an ex-convict also from the East End.
As Edwards lay dying, the friend at his bedside was
the artist Brian Clarke, another executor of the Bacon will and the man who had
advised Edwards in his suit against the Marlborough. Edwards, Clark reported,
died as he had lived, laughing and joking.
· John Edwards, barman, born 1950; died March 5
now for Bacon's inheritance?
over works after friend loses cancer fight, reports Nigel
The Daily Telegraph
6 March, 2003
John Edwards, the long-time companion
of the artist Francis Bacon and the sole heir to his tangled fortune, died
yesterday. Ownership of the dozens of paintings he inherited is now clouded in
Bacon astonished the art world by
leaving his £11 million estate to Mr Edwards, the illiterate, homosexual son of an
East End docker who was 40 years his junior, when he died in 1992.
Speculation rose yesterday that Mr
Edwards, who died in Thailand after a long fight against lung cancer, aged 53,
may leave all or part of the inheritance to his boyfriend of 27 years, Philip
Mordue, another East Londoner.
Mr Edwards and Mr Mordue, 54,
nicknamed "Phil the Till" in Thailand, shared a luxury penthouse in
Pattaya for the last nine years.
Bacon, who was hailed as Britain's
greatest painter in his lifetime, had an extraordinary friendship with Mr
Edwards. Though both were homosexual and frequented drinking clubs in Soho, Mr
Edwards in an interview with The Telegraph a year ago, insisted that they were never
The uneducated Mr Edwards would visit
Bacon's South Kensington mews house and studio every morning to make the artist
breakfast and sit with him almost every day while he painted. For 16 years, Mr
Edwards was his closest friend and confidant and, as Bacon put it, the only true
friend he had.
The size of Bacon's inheritance now is
unknown. Reports in Thailand yesterday suggested that it might have grown to £30
million. But in London an acquaintance of Bacon and Mr Edwards, who asked to
remain anonymous, said he believed that it might have shrunk to very little.
Mr Edwards is thought to have bought
properties in Suffolk for his parents and other members of his family. It is
also believed that he has sold paintings through galleries in London and New
"I think that Edwards spent a lot
of the money," said the art world acquaintance. "Bacon was not the
sort of man who was ever going to leave his money for artists' almshouses. I
think he would be very tickled that much of his fortune has trickled down into
the East End."
Since his death, Bacon's works have
sold at up to £7.5 million though it is thought that the paintings bequeathed
to Mr Edwards were all late works which are less well regarded by critics.
Liz Beatty, administrator of the
Francis Bacon estate, refused to comment on the death or the question of
A long-standing Soho friend of Mr
Edwards said of him: "He was a typical East End 'diamond geezer'. If you
crossed him he wouldn't want to know but he was also very loyal and generous. He
was incredibly upset when Francis died, and he and Philip moved abroad then to
get away from the press."
According to reports in Thailand, Mr
Mordue was shot outside a bar on Pattaya's main sex bar strip in 1997. The
bullet passed through his neck but he was released from hospital four days later
Mr Edwards inherited Bacon's house and
studio, a large sum of cash and an unknown number - several dozen, according to
friends - of paintings. Bacon had painted Mr Edwards more than 30 times.
But the inheritance proved to be a
complicated web. In 1999, the estate brought a case against the Marlborough
Gallery in London which had represented Bacon for most of his working life,
alleging that the painter had been "wrongfully exploited" in his
relationship with the gallery and seeking "a proper accounting of his
The litigation was suddenly withdrawn
last year and both sides agreed to pay their own costs. Marlborough said
afterwards: "The entire case was without foundation and totally
Marlborough agreed to release to the
estate all the documentation that belonged to Bacon which was still in its
Mr Edwards died at the Bumrumgrad
Hospital in Bangkok. Prof Brian Clarke, the British architectural artist, a
close friend and Bacon's executor, was with him at the time of his death.
Prof Clarke said: "He showed no
self-pity and joked with friends to the last".
Mr Edwards's body will be flown to
London for a private service. In last year's interview with The Telegraph, Mr
Edwards said that he planned to use some of his money to set up a charity to
commemorate Bacon and to further studies. It is not known whether this happened.
He also gave Bacon's studio to the
Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, where Bacon was born. The famously messy studio,
which included around 100 canvases that Bacon had cut up because he was not
satisfied with them, has been faithfully recreated in the gallery.
gets the spoils of Bacon's £30m legacy
BEGAN as the intriguing case of the painter, his lover, the former
convict and a multimillion-pound inheritance.
Last night it ended with claims that a
large tranche of the estate of Francis Bacon, one of the towering
figures of 20th century art, has been invested in the bars and
brothels of one of the seediest resorts in Thailand.
When Bacon died 11 years ago, at 82,
his works were fetching millions, and since then they have changed
hands for up to £5.5 million each. Every penny of Bacon’s £11
million fortune was left to his long-term partner, John Edwards,
the dyslexic son of a London docker. By the time Mr Edwards died
of cancer in a hospital in Bangkok yesterday, aged 53, the
inheritance had grown, by some estimates, to almost £30 million.
He is understood to have left a
substantial amount to the man who shared the last ten years of his
life: Philip Mordue, better known among London’s underworld as
Thailand Phil, and to his associates in that country as Phil the
The exact size of Mr Mordue’s
inheritance was unclear last night, but it is thought to include
several of Bacon’s portraits of Mr Edwards. Mr Mordue, 43, is a
well-known figure in the resort of Pattaya, a town 100 miles east
of Bangkok which is teeming with prostitutes, where the streets
are lined with go-go bars, and where the English-style pubs
display signs declaring: “Lager louts welcome.”
Pattaya has long been a haven for sex
tourists, but today local people complain that it is also packed
with members of the Russian mafia, the Japanese yakuza and, most
visibly, gangsters from London. After Bacon’s death, Mr Mordue
and Mr Edwards divided their time between a six-bedroom Victorian
house surrounded by several acres of Suffolk countryside, and a
luxury seafront penthouse in Pattaya. There has long been
speculation among expatriates in Thailand that some of Bacon’s
millions have been invested in the Pattaya sex industry.
A British bar owner in the town said
yesterday: “Phil hasn’t worked for ten years and will not need
to work again. But using the Bacon fortune he has been backing bar
projects in the resort for many years.
His name was frequently mentioned in
connection with a bar called Butlins. (It) had Thai girls dressed
up as redcoats and offering sex services but it bombed.”
At Mr Mordue’s local, the
Winchester, named after the bar in the television series
one regular denied that any of Bacon’s money had been invested
in Butlins. But he added: “A lot of mystery money is behind sex
bars in Pattaya now.”
Mr Mordue and Mr Edwards knew each
other long before the latter met Bacon in 1976 at the Colony Room,
the artist’s favourite watering hole.
Mr Edwards said in an interview last
year: “I think (Bacon) felt very free with me because I was a
bit different from most people he knew. I wasn’t asking him
about his painting. He liked the way I didn’t care about who he
was supposed to be.” Neither man made any secret of his
homosexuality, but Mr Edwards denied that he was Bacon’s lover,
describing their friendship as more akin to a father-son
relationship, even after they were photographed kissing in a Soho
street. Mr Edwards would stay with Bacon through the day while he
painted. He was the only person the artist ever allowed to watch
him at work.
Their life together followed a set
pattern each day. Even after a hard night’s drinking, Bacon was
always up by 7am to start work.
Around 9am he would telephone his
companion to say that he was ready for breakfast. As Bacon only
liked egg white and Edwards preferred the yolk, Edwards used to
joke that they had the perfect relationship. His nickname for the
artist was Eggs.
He became Bacon’s favourite model,
inspiring him to put brush to canvas in more than 30 portraits.
His Portrait of John Edwards (1986-87), which shows a seated
figure dressed only in a pair of white underpants, is regarded as
one of the artist’s last masterpieces.
Mr Mordue describes himself as a close
friend of Dave Courtney, a gangster-turned-author who has
described in his autobiography Stop the Ride I Want to Get Off
they first met in prison. Mr Mordue, he said, was a “real
character and proper class”. It is unclear what offence Mr
Mordue had committed to find himself in prison, however, and last
night he could not be contacted to comment on his new-found
He has kept a low profile in Pattaya
since he was shot in the neck during a dispute in the red-light
district six years ago. Since emerging from hospital he is said to
have employed a Thai former policeman as a chauffeur and
bodyguard. At Mr Mordue’s farmhouse in a village near Bury St
Edmunds, where his neighbours include Terry Waite, a young man
describing himself as the housekeeper said that Mr Mordue visited
little more than once a year.
Whatever the truth about what has
happened to Bacon’s estate, it seems clear that the artist
himself would not have cared. He earned very little money until he
was in his fifties, and even then lived and worked in a chaotic
two-room mews house illuminated by naked light bulbs.
He once said: “I’d be quite happy
going back to the income I had as a young man, when I worked as a
cook and general servant.”
How Francis Bacon's millions ended up in the hands of an ex-con called Phil The
Did a trail of bitter rivalry,
unrequited gay love and a lesbian dominatrix lead a great artist's legacy to the
seedy strip clubs of Thailand?
PARR | FIONA
MAIL ON SUNDAY | SUNDAY MARCH 9 2003
Francis Bacon, left, and John Edwards
UNDER crashing tropical thunderstorms
and in temperatures of 95 degrees, a grim-looking trio set out last week on the
final leg of an extraordinary journey which has set the art world alight.
Their trip brought to a head the bizarre
story of Francis Bacon, the greatest British artist of the 20th Century; a story
of base desires, of missing artworks and of a pound sterling30 million-fortune -
set to end up in the hands of a dubious character from the East End of London
called Phil 'The Till' Mordue.
It was Mordue, a blond-haired Robbie
Williams lookalike, who appeared most downcast as the trio travelled the 6,000
miles from Bangkok to England, carrying with them the ashes of Bacon's long-time
companion, John Edwards.
With Mordue were Edwards's brothers,
David and Lenny.
The relationship between Bacon, the
irascible, volatile and flamboyant genius, and Mordue, an ex-convict and
practised charmer from a far more prosaic background, involves a convoluted tale
of rivalry, thwarted love, infidelity and tangled homosexual relationships.
Both men were drawn into the same Soho
drinking crowd by John Edwards, a Cockney barman who left school at 14 but who
became a self-made millionaire through a string of nightclubs and pubs.
He was to become Bacon's long-time
companion and muse. For 16 years, Edwards formed his emotional bond with Bacon -
the closest the artist ever had. But it was Mordue with whom Edwards preferred
to be physically intimate.
When Bacon died of a heart attack in
1992, he bequeathed his entire pound sterling11 million estate to Edwards,
leaving many in the elitist art world fearing that the fortune would simply
filter down into the lower echelons of society and that his artworks would
perhaps simply disappear.
Now, following Edwards's death from lung
cancer last Wednesday at the age of 53, the controversy has been reignited.
Already there are mutterings that Bacon
disapproved of Mordue and would be turning in his grave that his legacy -
believed to have tripled in value the last past 11 years - should be left to a
man with whom he had little more than a tenuous link.
Those who knew Mordue in
Thailand say he invested some of Edwards's inheritance in the seedy girlie bars
of the Thai beech resort of Pattaya. The Edwards family vehemently deny this.
However, there is not doubt that Phil
was well known around the bars of Pattaya. He even had a nick-name Phil 'The
Till' - which came about because he always had a stash of cash on him, ready to
buy rounds of drinks.
The irony of it is that Bacon would have
hated his money ending up with Mordue - not because the artist would have
harshly judged unsavoury connections or time spent in jail (after all, the
seamier side of life had always attracted the Irish-born, uppercrust artist) -
but simply because he despised Mordue, who was a serious rival in his affection
It is simply too much for the high-brow
art experts to contemplate that Bacon's money should end up with Mordue, who
didn't have Edwards's streetwise business acumen.
Phil 'The Til', or Thailand Phil as he
is know among his friends at home, is said to be a man who counts gangsters as
his closest friends and whose favourite haunt in Pattaya is The Winchester Club,
where naked girls dance on the bar while sweating Westerners gaze up through
The club is a magnet for British
criminals on holiday and is the kind of establishment where rooms are more often
rented by the hour rather than the week. The club even auctioned a Thai virgin
last year - whom Mordue won with a bid of £250.
Worse, it is said is that some of
Bacon's paintings have already been sold to raise money to finance Mordue's
ownership of the girlie, as he vies with the Yakuza - the Oriental Mafia - and
Thai crime gangs for supremacy in the region's sex industry.
Barry Joule, Bacon's friend for 14
years, said that the artist 'would not be happy' to see his estate pas to Mordue.
H said he would probably rather have seen it left to the Royal Marsden Hospital
in London, where he was once treated.
Joule said: 'I don't think Francis had a
great respect for Philip.'
Former gangster Dave Courtney, once a
henchman for the famous Kray twins, knew Bacon and Edwards and knows Mordue. He
served time with Mordue at Coldingley Prison near Woking, Surrey, in 1980, when
Mordue was jailed for a serious driving offense.
Courtney last saw Mordue six weeks ago
when Edwards had treatment in a £5,000-a-night at the Cromwell Hospital in West
London. He said: 'I know Phil's been left a lot of money and the trouble is that
a lot of noses are put out of joint because it's said he may get £30 million.
'From what I can gather, the art world
may feel cheated and entitled to a bit of it and this just stinks of snobbery. I
get the impression there is a massive fight and the Establishment has its
daggers out for getting all that money. If you ask me this is just the
The story began when Edwards was working
as a bar man in a pub in Wapping, East London. He was already close to Mordue
who had previously worked for Edwards's brother, David.
One of the regulars at Edwards's pub was
lesbian dominatrix Muriel Belcher, who took him to the infamous Colony Club in
London's Soho in 1976.
There, Bacon would often hold court,
buying bottle after bottle of champagne for his entourage. Edwards refused to be
impressed by Bacon's revered status - and Bacon, who famously enjoyed 'rough,
physical and untutored' types and 'enjoyed the company of crooks, gamblers,
drifters, and chancers' - was immediately attracted.
During the next 16 years, he became
Bacon's closest friend and confidant. Indeed, Bacon called Edwards, who was 40
years his junior, 'the only true friend' he had.
Edwards was one of seven children born
to a poverty stricken East End family, the son of a docker who became a war
The family was grindingly poor and the
sons slept sixe in a bed, but they were, and still are, close, loyal and loving
- another fact which attracted Bacon, whose own childhood in Ireland had been
brutal, cold and starved of love.
Edwards was the only person Bacon ever
allowed into his Reece Mews studio in London's South Kensington while he worked.
Edwards, however, already heavily involved in a relationship with Mordue, always
claimed they were never lovers.
When Bacon contentiously left his estate
to Edwards, many in the art world were appalled. What could an illiterate
Cockney know about art and how could he possible steer such an estate with
success? In truth, he managed to more than triple the size of the legacy.
Edwards disappeared to Florida with Mordue shortly after the inheritance came
through, before suddenly moving to Thailand about five years ago.
There, they bought a palatial penthouse
at Jom Tien, set in grounds of swaying banana trees, royal palms and exotic red
hibiscus a mile from Pattaya, known as Thailand's seediest resort.
Here desperate Thai girls and boys ply
their trade next to paedophiles and pornographers in the dozens of bars which
line the once-pristine white beaches.
During 1999, Edwards emerged from his
semi-seclusion to take on the Marlborough Gallery, which had represented Bacon
for most of his working life.
Edwards alleged that the gallery had
'wrongfully exploited' the painter and sought 'proper accounting' of his
affairs, for an amount believed to be £100 million.
However, the threatened action was
suddenly withdrawn just over a year ago, with both sides paying their own costs,
although it was agreed to release to Bacon's estate all documentation still in
the gallery's possession.
Courtney said: 'John had been ill for
about five years and that was when they decided to go and live in Thailand. He
took me there twice all expenses paid, and he often bought me and my family
presents - beautiful Thai silk shirts and clothes. Phil's bisexual, which I know
because I saw him with a girl during an orgy in Thailand about a year ago.
'I'm not sure if John minded, but the
truth is that they were a devoted couple and it was Phil that kept John going
the last two years.'
But for all the spin that their friends
try to put on their 'devoted' relationship, both men had other sexual partners.
In fact, Edwards had been having another
relationship with a 22-year-old Thai man known as Jack, for the past six years,
and Mordue had been seeing a Thai woman for the last four. Jack is likely to be
another beneficiary from Edwards's will.
Ian Read, owner of Le Café Royal hotel
and piano bar in Pattaya which Edwards frequented, said Edwards was so attracted
to Jack that he refused to attend a gallery showing of Francis Bacon's work in
New York when Jack wasn't granted a visa, and refused to attend the opening of
Bacon's studio, which had been recreated at Dublin's Hugh Lane Gallery, until
the Irish embassy would allow the young Thai into the country.
Jack, who was at Edwards's bedside when
he died said: 'He took good care of me, but I also took good care of him. I
dressed him, I bathed him and I pushed his wheelchair. I was at the hospital
'At the end he could no longer speak,
but I was able to make him laugh with my jokes. Our relationship had far more
laughter than tears.'
Also at the bedside were Mordue, and the
Edwards brothers, David and Lenny.
On Friday, the three boarded a Thai
Airways flight and brought John's ashes home to England, delivering them to his
mother, 80 year-old Beattie, who lives close to his six-bedroom white-brick
farmhouse in the quire Suffolk countryside, a world away from the noise, fumes
and steaming humidity of Pattaya.
Beattie, distraught at the early death
of her son, has placed the oriental urn, wrapped in peach-coloured Buddhist
robes, on her dresser, while she contemplates where John's final resting place
Just two weeks ago, her son had been on
a spending spree in Thailand, buying her a multi-carat, brilliant diamond
necklace worth thousands of pounds and designer goods for his brothers and
sisters, all meant as goodbye gifts.
David Edwards, a millionaire antiques
dealer, explained how he and Lenny had arrived in Thailand hours before John
died on Wednesday. Although he was a Catholic, he was cremated later that day in
a simple Buddhist ceremony in a temple at the Bumrungrad hospital in Bangkok.
David told The Mail on Sunday:
'It was a very solemn occasion; simple and brief and the ashes were placed in an
oriental urn and wrapped in a peach coloured monk's scarf.
'He hadn't converted, but he preferred
the Buddhist way of dying - a passing over - rather than the finality of it all
in the Christian religion.'
He disputed allegations that his brother
or Mordue had invested in sex and sin bars in Pattaya.
He said: 'My brother was never Francis
Bacon's lover. But they were very close friends. John went to Thailand to lead a
peaceful life. The only money he had invested there was in his home, a penthouse
in the most expensive building in the area.
'He very rarely went out and if he did
it was usually to an expensive restaurant for a quite supper.
'Phil liked going out a lot more than
John as he's a bit like me, a social animal. And sometimes if they wanted to do
different social things, they would go separate ways.'
He said that it was unlikely that Mordue
would inherit all of John's money.
'The will has not come back yet, but I
know John wished to set up a foundation, possibly to promote up-and-coming
artists. I also know John would have made provision for all those people he
The painter, his
lover, the crook and the £130m fortune
Are Francis Bacon's millions
funding Thailand's girlie bars?
From Andrew Drummond in Bangkok
SUNDAY EXPRESS REVIEW | SUNDAY MARCH 9 2003
LEGACY: Artist Francis Bacon, left, with best friend and beneficiary of his
estate John Edwards and, inset, Philip Mordue, Edwards’s lover
HE WEARS gold chains and bracelets
round his neck and arms, and sports a diamond stud in his ear. To all
appearances, he lives life for the music, vodka, and raucous nightlife for
which the Thai resort of Pattaya, 100 miles east of Bangkok, is famous.
Life for Philip Mordue is an endless
tour of bars, and he is as well known in Boyztown, a gay area of the resort
where men go-go dance in skimpy white briefs, as in the girlie bars that
He has come a long way from the days when he hung around London’s
Piccadilly, working as a roofer in south London and supplementing his income
by robbing gas meters. But although cash buys respect in this seedy resort
where the booze is cheap, and the sex often cheaper, Philip Mordue never
really elevated himself on the social ladder until last Wednesday.
That’s when he became the recipient of – or at least gained a substantial
share in – what is now expected to be the £130million estate of great
British artist Francis Bacon.
Mordue, 54, was the companion of John Edwards, who died last week after a
long battle with lung cancer. Edwards, in turn, was Bacon’s muse, close
friend, and some say lover, for more than 15 years. The artist left his
entire fortune to him when he died in April 1992. The estate was valued at
£11million – a figure which, with the value of Bacon’s work growing and his
works changing hands for more than £7million pounds, plus interest on
investments, has now grown tenfold.
It may seem shocking that the fortune of one of Britain’s
most admired artists should perhaps be frittered away in the bars of a
downmarket sex resort, but Bacon was no snob. He lived a lifestyle which he
described as “from the gutters to the Ritz” – an existence to which Philip
Mordue can also lay claim. Bacon never hid his homosexuality. Edwards became
his full-time companion after the pair met at the legendary Colony Club, the
Soho bar famed in Fifties and Sixties London for the drinking sessions of
its raffish artistic patrons. Edwards was an East End barman and friends
with the Colony’s owner Muriel Belcher.
He refused to pander to Bacon’s fame and the artist was duly taken with
Edwards’s plain-speaking common sense. After meeting in 1976, the pair spent
their days together, always sharing a breakfast of eggs – Bacon liked only
the white, Edwards only the yolk, making theirs a “perfect relationship”
Edwards later said – and Bacon painted his companion some 30 times.
The artist insisted that their relationship was not sexual. “I loved him as
the best friend a man could have. He was fond of me like a son,” he said of
Edwards, who was 40 years his junior.
After the artist’s death Edwards, said by friends to be devastated, retired
to the Florida Keys before moving, a year later, to Thailand with Mordue.
But while Edwards, the chronically dyslexic son of an East End docker,
strove to improve himself studying the arts, the latest recipient of Bacon’s
fortune, Mordue, earned his living by petty theft.
He served time in Borstal with gangland enforcer Dave Courtney – the model
for the character played by Vinnie Jones in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking
Barrels – and they became good friends. When Edwards and Mordue moved to
Thailand 10 years ago, both had different plans for their lifestyle. Mordue
hit the girly go-go bars and gay bars, while Edwards studied, took walks on
the beach, went fishing and monitored investments. He took particular
interest in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin where the Irish-born Bacon’s
studio at 7 Reece Mews, London had been re-constructed from contents donated
by Edwards (including dirty paintbrushes, stained carpets, curtains and
slashed canvasses) of his benefactor’s home.
BUT DESPITE their differences, Mordue and Edwards remained inseparable.
Within months, Mordue had settled into his new home, becoming known among
the London criminal fraternity with whom he kept close links as Thailand
In Thailand, meanwhile, he was known alternatively as Phil the Till or
Flambo Phil. He has been known to herald his approach by blowing trumpets
His favourite bar was the Winchester, run by a man known as Big Bill and
named after Arthur Daley’s local in the television series Minder.
As in the fictitious pub ‘the Old Bill’ would not be welcome at the
Winchester, two miles east of Pattaya in the small resort of Jomtien.
Dotted around the walls are pictures of the Krays, Charlie Richardson, the
Great Train Robbers and Arthur Daley (George Cole) himself.
The amiable boss Bill – nobody uses surnames in Pattaya – understandably
doesn’t have a bad word to say about his new multi-millionaire customer:
“Phil is well liked here by everyone. “Well,” he admits, “I’ve thrown him
out a few times when he gets drunk and starts shouting, but I always let him
back later, and we all get drunk occasionally, after all.
“He is a lovely guy. He just likes music, the lifestyle, a beer and a
cigarette. He and John were inseparable, lifelong mates. I was very sad to
hear of John’s death. John was a quiet, considerate man.
“He had come from nothing and educated himself. He was very well-versed in
the arts, but he taught himself.”
Mordue DJs at the Winchester on Sundays when the girls – most of whom are
pictured on the club’s website – provide shows which would make a docker
blush. In 1997, he was shot outside the Lucky Star, a bar in Pattaya’s
Walking Street, the resort’s main sex bar strip.
During a drunken brawl, a bullet pierced his neck. Happily, little damage
was done and Mordue was released from hospital four days later, after minor
surgery. Another Pattaya bar is a favourite haunt of the new millionaire.
The Dog’s Bollocks is run by Chris Hendersen, a former member of the
notorious football hooligans group the Chelsea Headhunters, and was a
hang-out for football thugs heading for Japan during last year’s World Cup.
MANY have claimed that Mordue’s interest in Pattaya’s bars is not merely
that of a loyal customer; although claims that he has already invested some
of the Bacon fortune in the resort’s many sex bars remain unproven. A girl
at the Playpen a-go-go, another favourite establishment, has more stories to
tell about Phil the Till. “Sometimes he would come in and ring the bell and
buy everyone in the bar a drink. Other times he was drunk and would leave
without paying a penny,” she said. She also made clear that while Edwards
and Mordue had undoubtedly been lovers at one stage, Mordue still enjoyed
the company of women.
“One of the girls here got pregnant and insisted Philip was the father,” she
continued. “He supported her for a couple of months, then threw her away. We
had to have a collection for her hospital expenses when she gave birth.
“She took the baby home to the country and we have not seen her since. I do
not know whether Philip was the father but the girl insisted he was.”
In fact, although Mordue has had a string of Thai girlfriends, he has been
dating a 24-year-old woman called Wanna for four years. Yesterday he was
believed to be with her in Bangkok. A friend said of his absence: “Philip
has taken John’s death very badly. He does not want to talk to the press
about anything at the moment.”
When Mordue does return home it will be to the million-pound Beau Vista
apartment which Edwards bought for himself and Mordue after previous owner
Alois Fassbind – an Austrian hotelier known as The Father – died 10 years
The apartment occupies the whole penthouse floor of Tower B at Royal Cliff
Garden on a rocky outcrop providing a 360-degree view overlooking Jomtien
Beach and Pattaya Bay.
As Mordue looks down over the beaches and bars of the Thai resorts, he will
no doubt feel a very long way from his days as an East End chancer who
relied on coins stolen from gas meters to make ends meet.
Confusion over Bacon legacy
BBC News Thursday, 6
The ownership of dozens of Francis Bacon paintings is shrouded in uncertainty
following the death of the painter's long-time companion, according to reports.
John Edwards, who died in Thailand on Wednesday aged
53, was Bacon's friend and muse for many years.
He inherited the artist's £11m estate when Bacon
died in 1992. The estate included Bacon's house, studio, money and
Several newspapers speculate that Mr Edward's
boyfriend of 27 years, Philip Mordue, is now set to receive part, or all, of the
But it is unclear how much of Bacon's fortune still
remains, and whether it still includes the paintings.
Mr Mordue and Mr Edwards lived together in a luxury
flat in Pattaya, one of the leading tourist destinations in the country.
Mr Edwards is thought to have sold some paintings
through galleries in New York and London, the Guardian reports.
He is also thought to have bought several properties in the UK for family
members, it adds.
However, the Daily Telegraph said reports in
Thailand also suggested the Bacon fortune might have swelled to £30m.
An administrator of the Francis Bacon estate refused
to comment on the question of the inheritance on Wednesday.
Mr Edwards, who denied he and Bacon were ever
lovers, was the artist's closest friend and companion for 16 years.
He also became Bacon's favourite subject, and
inspired more than 30 portraits.
Bacon was one of the last century's most successful
artists, earning about £14m before his death aged 82 in 1992.
A series of three paintings of Mr Edwards by Bacon
sold for £3m in 2001, and Studies of the Human Body sold for £6m in New York
An insightful view
into an artist’s world
Francis Bacon Studio at Hugh Lane
World Socialist Web Site
By Jason Murphy 5th February
The almost life-long art studio and
residence of Francis Bacon (1909-92) was recently donated and
transported from 7 Reece Mews, London and placed on permanent exhibition
at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, Ireland. John Edwards, Bacon’s
sole heir, made the donation; the most significant since Hugh Lane was
established in 1908. The relocation was carried out with all the care of
a major archaeological dig, with each and every item—some several
thousand in all—catalogued and exactly repositioned in the Dublin
The expense and energy required for the
project created some controversy. Relocation and reconstruction cost in
the vicinity of IE£1.5 million ($US2.02 million), partly provided by
the National Millennium Committee, a state-funded body. An entrance fee
of IE£6 ($US8) for over-18s also generated some debate because public
art institutions in Ireland are generally free of charge. Some critics
raised concerns about the dedication of permanent space to the studio
because the Hugh Lane Gallery is quite limited in size; others suggested
that the exhibit was not a work of art and therefore had no right to be
located in the gallery.
These objections, however, do not alter the
fact that the exhibit, which has attracted considerable interest and
large crowds since opening in May 2001, provides a rich and meaningful
insight into the work and life of this significant 20th century artist.
Despite its limited size, the Reece Mews
studio was where Bacon was most at home. He had tried working in other,
more practical studios but could not warm to them. More importantly, it
constitutes the most extensive collection of visual reference material
that inspired his work.
Physical access to Bacon’s principal place
of work, therefore, is extremely helpful for anyone who wants to
understand the makeup, methods and origins of his art. Along with the
studio, the exhibit contains an interview with Bacon by Melvin Bragg,
several new paintings, including his final unfinished piece, and a lush,
complex interactive multimedia presentation establishing the context of
many items in the studio.
Francis Bacon, one of five children, was
born in Dublin on October 28, 1909, to English parents, Edward Anthony
Mortimer Bacon and Christine Winifred Firth. Bacon’s parents were of
wealthy, land-owning descent and remained in Ireland until World War I,
where after they moved between England and Ireland.
Bacon was born into a world undergoing
tremendous upheaval. The Irish Republican Movement was torching
English-owned properties in a campaign aimed at ending British rule, and
Europe was beset with increasing tensions between Britain, Germany and
France. At the same time, science and industry were making great
advances and large numbers of working people were demanding a new
political order with real improvements in their social existence.
Bacon, who was said to have been closest to
his mother, was a frail child and frequently ill. His father, an
austere, puritanical figure, regarded his son as weak and reacted with
horror against the young man’s homosexual tendencies. (Homosexuality
was illegal in Britain at this time and severely punished.) Shortly
after the 17-year-old Francis was discovered dressed in his mother’s
clothes in 1926 his father forced him out of the family home. Over the
next few years he spent time in Berlin, Paris and other European cities,
a period that defined his personal and artistic development.
The bohemian and more open post-WWI Berlin
and Paris were dramatically different to the highly repressed and
conservative Irish social life with which Bacon was familiar. His visits
to these cities were defining experiences and he spent time passionately
sketching in the transvestite bars of Berlin and on busy summer evenings
in Paris’ Montparnasse district.
It was during a visit to Paris in 1927 that
the 18-year-old Bacon saw Picasso’s drawings at the Paul Rosenberg
Gallery. He later explained that these works had made a great
impression. In fact, Bacon was to name Picasso as the most significant
influence on his work. Michael Peppiatt, the art critic and author of
Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, described Picasso as a “father
figure” to Bacon.
Although not as prolific or artistically
varied as Picasso, one can see the connection between Bacon’s
explorations of the figure and Picasso’s—for example, Bacon’s
attempts to represent and capture far more of a person than the mere
conventionally representable. But the similarities end there. Picasso
was full of passion and the joy of life and simply could not stop
creating. A dynamic and playful artist and person, he created in a
multi-dimensional way. Bacon, by contrast, was far more introverted in
his approach and his work radiates pain, confusion and uncertainty.
Bacon, who held his first solo exhibition in
1934, drew on many and varied sources of inspiration. He chose not to
paint from life, but rather from memory and an eclectic collection of
visual images. His portraits—even of close friends, whom he painted
frequently—were derived from photographs. The aim of this practice, he
said, was to “deform his portraits back into appearance,” because
the presence of sitters in his studio would “disturb the
The Reece Mews studio contains all the
recognisable visual influences in his work: reproductions of Diego de
Silva Velázquez’s painting of Pope Innocent X; the screaming woman
from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin; and photographs of
Bacon’s lover and long-time partner George Dyer.
But working through the maze of Bacon’s
studio one comes into contact with an extraordinary range of
images—virtually everything the 20th century had to offer. There are
black-and-white reproductions torn from books and medical journals;
x-rays and film stills; phonograph recordings; and images given to him
from photographer friends John Deakin and Peter Beard. Bacon was also
captivated with the carnal and the animal and the studio contains
pictures of animals screaming in aggression and pain and includes many
images from the great African plains and the predators found there. One
can imagine him randomly drawing on these pictures in times of
difficulty and low motivation.
Bacon, who had many dark sides to his
imagination, was obsessively focused on the human figure and painted it
in a compelling and complex style. This darkness was indicated by his
fixation with disease, particularly of the mouth and skin, and manifest
in one of his best-known works—Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of
Pope Innocent X (1953)—an unsettling picture of a screaming, inhuman,
One long-standing and debatable habit of
Bacon’s has blocked greater access to his artistic work. A passionate
and explosive man, he would often erupt in anger and destroy any
painting that displeased him or fell short of the mark. When asked by
his friend, the writer and curator David Sylvester, about this practice,
Bacon said he “liked to find accidents in the image and would often
ruin a found image in the course of attempting to explore and develop it
further”. While Bacon ruined many pieces, particularly those from the
1930s and early 1940s, he later regretted the destruction of some works,
particularly an important early painting, Wound for a Crucifixion.
Although Bacon spoke at length about his
work, he refused to discuss its significance or meaning. He did not
adhere to any social, political or religious belief, at least not
publicly, and shunned literal readings of his work, claiming they were
unexplainable products of his sub-conscious. He once declared:
“Talking about painting is like reading a bad translation from a
foreign language. The images are there and they are the things that
talk, not anything you can say about it.”
This approach, however, suggests that art
cannot be understood by examining the social context in which it is
produced. Notwithstanding this false assertion, Bacon’s artistic
vision developed in specific political conditions and on the foundations
created by the Dadaists, Surrealist movement and Sigmund Freud’s
explorations into the subconscious.
By the time Bacon had reached “artistic
maturity” and created his own unique and longstanding style in the
mid- to late-1940s, he had lived through two world wars, the Great
Depression and numerous betrayals of the Soviet and international
working class by the Stalinist bureaucracy. Although it is not clear how
much Bacon understood of these events—he largely isolated himself from
other artists, both physically and ideologically—his work seems to be
an intuitive but pessimistic and acquiescent response to them, a vision
of humanity that is bleak and disturbing.
The Hugh Lane Gallery studio reconstruction
certainly deepens one’s understanding of Bacon and his work. In fact,
the dark negativity in his art seems to prefigure the present social and
political climate and can serve to remind us that the background to his
harrowing images—the onset of war and imperialist conflict—is in
danger of being repeated.
POST-WAR AND CONTEMPORARY EVENING SALE
London, King Street Sale Date Feb 05, 2003
Lot Number 3 Sale Number 6692
Creator Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Study for a Portrait Francis Bacon
£400,000 - £500,000 British pounds
Special Notice VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price plus buyer's premium
Pre-lot Text PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION
Lot Description: Study for a Portrait Francis Bacon (1909-1992) Painted in 1979
signed, titled and dated 'Francis Bacon, Study for a Portrait, 1979' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas 14 x 12in. (35.6 x 30.5cm.)
Provenance: Marlborough Gallery, New York.
Private collection, United States.
Anon. sale; Christie's New York, 20 November 1996, lot 22.
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner.
London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Small Portrait Studies: Loan Exhibition, October-December 1993, no. 3 (illustrated in colour).
London, Olympia Exhibition Halls, Francis Bacon and Henry Moore, February-March 1996.
Just as the people around Francis Bacon formed the backbone of his life, so their portraits formed the backbone of his work. Although Bacon painted animals and landscapes in some of his works, it was the host of characters from his daily life who provided his main source of inspiration and fuelled his works. Many of these paintings featured his friends and lovers, be they dead or alive, and
Study for a Portrait, executed in 1979, is marked with notable similarities to the pictures Bacon painted of his partner John Edwards, whom he had first met in
1974. Even through the haze of Bacon's hallmark distortions, these features are visible. Meanwhile, the arching shape of the heavy eyebrow in particular is echoed throughout Bacon's portraits of Edwards. This was also a feature of Bacon's own physiognomy, as seen in his self-portraits, meaning that
Study for a Portrait appears as a strange and haunting fusion of the two men.
In fact, the distortions in Bacon's art lend the faces and flesh of his subjects an extra intensity. Bacon does not merely paint a portrait, he manages to smear life itself across his canvas. "The living quality is what you have to get," he explained. "In painting a portrait the problem is to find a technique by which you can give over all the pulsations of a person... Most people go to the most academic painters when they want to have their portraits made because for some reason they prefer a sort of colour photograph of themselves instead of thinking of having themselves really trapped and caught. The sitter is someone of flesh and blood and what has to be caught is their emanation... There are always emanations from people whoever they are, though some people's are stronger than others." (F. Bacon, 1982-84, in: D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact. Interviews with Francis Bacon, New York 1990, pp. 172-74.)
It is these emanations that mark Study for a Portrait. They seem to blur the face, to bruise it as though Bacon's rendering a portrait is in itself some act of violence, some assault. However, Bacon was a master of rendering flesh and character, and this work condenses both into an almost coagulated mass of humanity.
Bacon's early works were clearly influenced by Surrealism, and its legacy remained visible in his work throughout his career. Instead of merely representing the world and people around him, he tried to displace everything, to rip it out of context so that it could be examined in a new and stark light. This functioned on several levels: in Study for a
Portrait, the facial features appear to have been dragged and blurred, for instance the nose which seems to have little connection to the face. At the same time, Bacon's means of framing the work with bands of orange creates a palpable sense of placing and display, as though the head were in a cabinet. The blue and beige background increase this effect, giving no clues as to the location of the sitter and yet adding a sense of dirt, a bruised darkness whose texture throws the flesh into contrast and thrusts it into the viewer's space.
Why has Melbourne writer Barry
Dickins immersed himself in the world of Brett Whiteley?
Australia, December 8 2002
Brett Whiteley remains a
controversial figure in the Australian cultural landscape, but since his squalid
death in room four of the Beach Hotel in Thirroul on June 15, 1992, he is often
seen in the monolithic terms of art and heroin.
Melbourne writer Barry
Dickins has spent almost two years revisiting Whiteley's world - a world
inhabited by until-now unspoken remembrances in search of completion, lingering
affections, and unresolved resentments about the man and his legacy.
Dickins describes his new
book, Black + Whiteley, as a "warts and all" account of the most
controversial of all Australian artists. He says that while he was writing the
book, he was "working with love and respect after everyone else has
devoured his ruins". Black and Whiteley, he says, is "more a collected
reminiscence on Whiteley, not a biography".
"At his best the
pictures are like jewellery - Whiteley was very finicky about finishes. If the
reader could come to smell the linseed oil, and see the rusty tins of brushes
and crumpled mountains of work - they would come to know that diligence in his
Whiteley offered this advice
to young artists in 1989, just three years before his death: "Try to cheat,
lie, exaggerate, and most particularly distort as absolutely and extremely as
you can. Then, after six months or a year of frustration you'll see something
you haven't seen before, and that is the beginning of yourself, and that heralds
the beginning of difficult pleasure."
Whiteley took influences
from everywhere, and often conspicuously so. He had a close association with
Francis Bacon, the homosexual English abstract painter, whom Whiteley described
as "a wonderful man". His portraits of Bacon not only pay homage to
the artist, but emulate his style. "He called himself a raider, that he
raided from everyone - bits of Picasso, Rembrandt, bits of Nolan and, of course,
Bacon," says Dickins. "I see him as more of a Bower-bird, just
collecting ephemera and nostalgia from everywhere. He was also a brilliant
publicist. He only had to turn up at press conferences and say 'I've just been
with Francis'; everyone knew he was talking about Francis Bacon, then the most
famous artist on earth. Just how close their relationship was no one really
Dean Gallery, Edinburgh
John Calcutt, The Guardian
Tuesday November 19, 2002
Critical epithets are already starting to congeal around John Deakin's work. His
black-and-white portrait photographs of the 1950s and 1960s are
"merciless", "cruel", "brutal". Yes - but there is
something fake about the moody angst displayed here, a subtle whiff of attitude.
Many of Deakin's
"victims" were fellow travellers in London's postwar bohemia: Colony
Room diehards, artists (Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud) and writers (Dylan Thomas,
Were they really all so mad,
bad and dangerous to know? The works were destined for the chic pages of Vogue
two-time employer), and a sense of artful slumming clings to them. Hard on the
heels of the genuinely brutal, cruel and merciless images coming out of Europe
in the 1930s and 1940s, their cultivated gloom is caught between existential
despair and grimy self-admiration.
Yet their currency is
undeniable. It would be hard to think of Freud's wide-jowled, frame-filling
portrait of Bacon existing without Deakin's earlier model, or of David Bailey's
crim-cool portrayal of the Krays without Deakin's low-life hauteur. And there is
something very compelling in these photographs: an uneasy tension between their
aesthetic interest as images, their anecdotal authority as documentary records
and their physical presence as material things.
In compositional terms,
Deakin rarely strays from a basic formula: a single figure posed within a
shallow, frontalised space. This relative lack of formal complexity shifts
attention from the image's internal structure to its external subject matter. In
the earlier Paris Walls series, Deakin produces images of images, directing his
camera towards shop signs, graffiti, sculptures and, in one outstanding
instance, a shop-window tableau of one mannequin painting a portrait of another.
But the most distinctive
feature of these photographs is their material presence. Many are creased, torn,
physically distressed. Those commissioned by Bacon as reference material for his
paintings have the greatest impact. Paint-splattered, crumpled and ripped, these
rescued fragments resonate as objects within the world, rather than as images of
the world. Bacon with Orange Paint Tube summarises this effect: a squeezed, flat
paint tube sticks to the jagged remnant of a photographic print - shattered
debris from the colliding forces of photography, painting and messy lives.
· Until January 12.
Details: 0131-624 6326.
Francis Bacon Symposium opened on the evening of Friday, 8th November with
a reception and private view of the Francis Bacon Studio at the Hugh Lane
Gallery. The highlight of the evening was the announcement by Professor
Brian Clarke, Sole Executor of the Estate of Francis Bacon, of the
donation by John Edwards of a further substantial archive of Francis Bacon
material to the Hugh Lane Gallery. This includes photographic material and
the artist's correspondence with friends including Stephen Spender and
Sonia Orwell and will add greatly to the existing archive of Bacon
material in the Gallery's collection thus further strengthening the
gallery's role as the international centre for Bacon studies.
9th November, over 120 delegates attended the Symposium, which was held at
Trinity College, Dublin. Speakers were Barbara Dawson, Director of the
Hugh Lane Gallery, Dr. Hugh Davies, The David C. Copley Director, Museum
of Contemporary Art, San Diego, Professor Ernst van Alphen, Associate
Professor of Comparative Literature, University of Leiden, Dr. Matthew
Gale, Senior Curator, Tate Britain, Dr. Margarita Cappock, Curator,
Francis Bacon Studio and Archive, Hugh Lane Gallery, Faberice Hergott,
Directeur des Musées, Musées de Strasbourg, Martin Harrison, Photography
The papers were of an exceptionally high standard and gave an
excellent flavour of research currently being carried out on the artist by
scholars. Subjects covered included the significance of Francis Bacon's
studio at 7, Reece Mews; Bacon's works on paper; the nature of influence
and its role in Bacon's work; the Black Triptychs; interviews with the
artist; Bacon and photography; the artist's early life in Ireland; the
Francis Bacon Retrospective at the Pompidou Centre in 1996. At the end of
the day, a lively panel discussion took place with a number of important
questions being posed by a well-informed audience. It is intended that the
Hugh Lane Gallery will publish the papers in the near future.
2002-11-04 until 2002-12-07
Marlborough Gallery, New York, NY, USA
The Directors of Marlborough Gallery are pleased to announce the opening on
November 4th of an exhibition of important paintings by the renowned English
artist, Francis Bacon. This will be the first show of Bacon’s work at
Marlborough since 1993. Marlborough Gallery represented Bacon for most of his
career up until his death in April 1992. With the exception of one early work
all the works shown in this exhibition are signed by the artist, and several
have been exhibited at different times at museums around the world such as the
Grand Palais, Paris; Tate Gallery, London; Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul; Yale
Center for British Art, New Haven; The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; and
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
Marlborough’s show will consist of nine works as
follows: three quintessential triptychs dating from 1970, 1983 and 1986-87, each
panel measuring 78 x 58 inches; a rare 1957 painting of a pope, measuring 60 x
46 1/2 inches; Study for Self Portrait, 1981, measuring 78 x 58 inches; two
other single panel works of the same size dating from 1988 (Jet of Water) and
1990 (Male Nude Before Mirror) as well as two outstanding small works, 14 x 12
inches, from 1967 and 1982 of Isabel Rawsthorne.
One cannot overestimate the importance of Bacon’s
oeuvre. He is very probably the single most important artist England produced in
the twentieth century and, arguably, along with Turner and Constable, the most
significant painter to emerge in that country’s artistic history. He would
also be counted on most everyone’s short list of leading artists of the
twentieth century. One could simply say that Bacon had a highly original mind
and that as an artist he was a genius. No other artist of his time produced
works of such visceral impact combined with what The New York Times called
“delirious beauty.” If the subjects of his work offer “enigmatic glimpses
like lurid images from barely remembered dreams or nightmares” (Ken Johnson),
it is his stature as an inventive and unrivalled painter which assures Bacon’s
high elevation and which will endure through the ages. In an interview with his
friend, the art critic, David Sylvester, Bacon once talked about Van Gogh and
what he (Bacon) wanted to get in his work. He said, “Van Gogh is one of my
greatest heroes because I think that he was able to be almost literal, and yet,
by the way he put on the paint give you a marvelous vision of the reality of
things. I saw it very clearly when I was once in Provence...one just saw in this
absolutely barren country that by the way he put on the paint he was able to
give it such an amazing living quality...The living quality is what you have to
get.” That “living quality” could fairly sum up what makes any painting a
great work of art, and one might add that the more living it is, the greater it
is. What Marlborough’s show demonstrates clearly is that Bacon’s primary
insistence was to a large degree based “on the use of paint as the essential
subject” and that in his best works he got that “living quality” time and
Born in Dublin of English parents in 1909, Bacon
travelled to Berlin and Paris before settling in London in 1929. After a brief
career as a furniture designer, he took up painting. Although never trained as a
painter, his work began to receive wide attention after World War II when he
exhibited his Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion in 1945.
Over his long career his works drew from sources as disparate as Velasquez,
Muybridge, newspaper and magazine photos, and film stills. An illustrated color
catalog of the Bacon show will be available at the time of the exhibition.
UK - 05 Oct 2002
HUNDREDS of previously unknown preliminary sketches and slashed works by Ireland's most famous post-war artist, Francis Bacon, have been discovered by art scholars.
The finds, made at Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, have been described as "a spectacular insight into Bacon's mind" by the gallery's director, Barbara Dawson.
The discoveries came as the artist's chaotic Kensington bed-sit studio was dismantled and transported from London to Dublin after being gifted to the gallery by the artist's heir, John Edwards.
The move, which cost Û2.6 million, began in secret more than two years ago in case the British government tried to block it.
The studio at Reece Mews had been virtually untouched since the artist died of a heart attack in Spain in 1992.
It has since been painstakingly recreated, item for item, at the gallery where it is now a major attraction.
The new finds were made by staff sifting through the clutter.
The preliminary drawings contradict Bacon's assertion that he did no preparatory work for his later paintings.
Ms Dawson said: "It's a very major find and important because for the first time we know how Francis Bacon approached his work.
"The material that we have discovered was inspirational for his extraordinary images, some of which are considered some of the finest paintings of the 20th century."
About 200 preliminary sketches have been found, 1,500 photographs and 100 slashed paintings.
"He may not have done conventional preliminary work but he certainly did a lot of painstaking research, realising the concept he had in his head before he went on to do the actual painting.
"He did a lot of preparatory work."
One of the slashed paintings dates back to 1946, though Bacon didn't move to the Mews until 1961.
"It is quite amazing to think that he kept it with him all his life. We found the two pieces that were actually slashed from the canvas.
"It was actually slashed many years after it was painted."
Ms Dawson said she doubted they would attempt to restore the slashed paintings: "I think that might go against the artist's wishes. He had particular reasons for slashing the canvas. Some are quite violently slashed and some just have the faces cut out."
Bacon was born in Baggot Street in October 1909 after his father moved to Ireland to train horses.
The studio, where he created many of his most famous works, had been offered to London's Tate Gallery. It failed to respond, but galleries in the US and Japan were said to be interested.
Then, when Hugh Lane was approached it gathered a specialist team to move the studio lock, stock and barrell.
First into the bed-sit was a surveyor, then archaeologists, archivists, conservators and cataloguers. In the chaos, every single item was numbered and tagged and its location marked with precision in relation to everything else. Its angle in the room, its orientation and exact position was logged.
Specialists who normally dealt with Renaissance and frescoed walls removed the dry-lined walls of the bed-sit. They were extensively daubed with paint as Bacon mixed his colours on them as he worked. Everything was moved, walls, floor and ceiling.
The studio was also re-created in virtual reality on a computer.
There were more than 7,500 items in the clutter including photographs of surgery, dead people and animals, piles of books several feet high, clothes, newspaper clippings, letters, notebooks and a broken mirror.
The new finds will go on display for the first time at a symposium on the artist's work to be held on November 8 and 9.
Bacon painting stolen
News in brief
Sunday 29 September 2002
A PAINTING by Francis Bacon worth millions
of pounds has been stolen from a house belonging to the artist's
former handyman in France. Barry Joule, a Canadian who befriended
Bacon in 1978 when he put up a television aerial at his home in South
Bring home the Bacon!
A Francis Bacon painting, Study for Pope II, has been stolen from a house in Normandy, France.
The house belonged to one of the artist's former workman, Barry Joule, who struck
up a friendship with the artist after erecting a television aerial for him. Joule blames a BBC documentary for alerting thieves as to the whereabouts of the painting.
Gallery reveals Bacon
BBC News, Monday, 23
Bacon's studio has been
recreated at the Dublin Gallery
unearthed hundreds of sketches by artist Francis Bacon that have been hidden
away in his former studio for decades.
of the drawings, and some of Bacon's paintings that were thought to have been
destroyed, has given art experts new insights into the way the artist worked.
Over 70 drawings
which were found offer evidence that Bacon did make preliminary sketches of
some of his best known works, something he said he stopped doing after 1962.
one of the paintings he destroyed - 1946's Study For Man With Microphones -
were also discovered.
vanished in 1948 and has always been thought of as a lost artwork.
thought to have given Bacon inspiration, including magazine articles and a
book from 1920 featuring photos of paranormal activity, were also uncovered.
The material was
found by scholars who have been re-creating his famously chaotic Kensington
Studio at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.
has been working on the project for two years and plans to present its new
findings on Bacon at a symposium to be held in November.
spent two years going through every single item," Margarita Cappock,
curator of the Francis Bacon Studio and Archive at the Hugh Lane Gallery told
BBC News Online.
findings show that Bacon was a lot more deliberate in his work than he
pretended to be."
Bacon was born
in Ireland to English parents but he left Ireland when he was a teenager. He
died in Spain in 1992.
For 30 years,
he worked in a studio at 7 Reece Mews in South Kensington.
was known for being chaotic and messy, with every inch of floor space covered
by newspapers, tins of paint and photos.
once wrote that his studio was the only place he could work because he was
incapable of working in places that were too tidy.
Hugh Lane Gallery
November 8th and 9th, The Hugh Lane Gallery in association with the
Estate of Francis Bacon and Trinity College Dublin will host a Symposium
to highlight new research on the artist with particular emphasis on his
work after 1961.
Internationally renowned Bacon scholars including
Professor Ernst van Alphen, M. Fabrice Hergott, Dr Matthew Gale, Dr Hugh
Davies, Professor Brian Clarke, Martin Harrison, Barbara Dawson and Dr
Margarita Cappock will participate in the Symposium which will provide
an exciting forum for discussion on Francis Bacon and contemporary
influences on post war artists.
cost of the Symposium is E250 per person.
Concession rates of 100 euros for arts organisations/60 euros for
students are available.
For further information please contact Brid
firstname.lastname@example.org) or Alexander Kearney (
Francis Bacon outside 7 Reece Mews.
power is ageless'
DEIRDRE KELLY meets Sophia
Loren - screen goddess, devoted
mother, tough cookie, and on top of her game as she turns 68
By DEIRDRE KELLY, THE GLOBE 7
MAIL, MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2002
'My god!," shrieks Sophia Loren, a ringed hand
flying into the air. "You said you'd take just one photo! You have taken
now, how many?"
Her producer-husband Carlo Ponti (turning 90 in
December) is said to have amassed a fortune for the family. He has produced most
of Loren's films during her 50-year career (he met her when she was 15, the
winner of an Italian beauty contest he was judging) and in addition has a
sizable art collection (including the biggest private collection of Francis
Bacon) worth many millions of dollars.
Francis Bacon 1909-1992
FOR A PORTRAIT OF CLIVE BARKER
each signed, titled and
dated 1978 on the reverse
oil on canvas, in two parts
each: 14 by 12 in. 35.6 by 30.5 cm.
Brook Street Gallery, London
Private Collection, Switzerland
Sotheby's, New York, May 5, 1986,
Acquired by the present owner from the above
London, Thomas Gibson Fine Art, Francis Bacon, 1985, illustrated
Executed during what David Sylvester called "Bacon's peak
years as a painter", Study for Portrait of Clive Barker is a
remarkable double portrayal of this British sculptor. Born in
1940, Barker first showcased his chromium-plated sculptures of
inconspicuous everyday objects at the RBA Galleries' Young
Contemporaries exhibition in London in 1962. Barker and Bacon met
during the 1960s and the connection between the two is most
evident in a 1978 exhibition at the Felicity Samuel Gallery in
London, Twelve Studies of Francis Bacon by Clive Barker which also
included three studies of Barker by Bacon.
The viewer is presented with two versions of Barker. The left
canvas reveals the sitter's head turned to his right, wearing a
white T-shirt. The right canvas declares a more frontal position,
wearing a black T-shirt. This opposition between black and white
may be extended into a binary antagonism between good and evil. In
both cases, Bacon has closed in on Barker's face, cropping the top
of his sitter's head and forcing a claustrophobic angst. As in all
of Bacon's small portraits, the artist boldly confronts the human
subject. Pushed right to the front of the picture plane, these two
meditations on human appearance confront the viewer in a manner
unique to Bacon's artistic vision: unsettling the viewer,
challenging our sensibilities, yet still declaring a masterful
poise and precision of both portraiture and painting.
Bacon has suggested in
interviews that he instigated a certain 'violence' towards his
sitter when making their portrait. This 'violence' (ostensibly a
'de-naturing' of the physical that, in turn, exaggerates the
psychological) was perpetuated in absentia as he usually painted
his portraits either from memory or, on occasion, from a
photograph. This varied source material, in this case no doubt
recollections from fleeting meetings between the artist and his
subject, manifests itself as a unique dictionary of Barker's
appearance in Bacon's mind. Framed within the artist's
consciousness, these fleeting expressions are liberated by the
artist's imagination in his translation to canvas of the sitter.
Now, newly invigorated and revitalised, Bacon's portrait
represents his attempt at gaining a real purchase on the 'truth'
of his sitter - to go beyond mere physiognomy. As Bacon said,
"If I like them, I don't want to practice the injury that I
do to them in my work before them. I would rather practice the
injury by which I think I can record the facts of them more
clearly." (David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews
with Francis Bacon, London, 1990, p. 41)
Here, the 'facts' come
in the shape of two starkly executed canvases. Barker is presented
almost filmically, in two fleeting moments. He appears to fidget
across the canvases, each subtle movement intensified by Bacon's
exceptional motion of his loaded brush. Onto the bare linen, Bacon
has forcefully modelled and invaded Barker's face with fluid,
gestural brushstrokes that at once define and distort his
features, chasing across the canvas not so much his physical
presence - his muscles, sinews and bone structure - but rather the
psychological trace of his own existence. The present work can be
seen as the perfect marriage of the physical with the
psychological; the meeting point where presence becomes absence.
As such, we are presented with a haunting, almost mystical image
that transcends the boundaries of mere depiction. One delights in
the drama of matter and existence; however, this terse,
deeply-felt combat is counterbalanced by the softness of Bacon's
palette: a combination of gentle lilacs, pale blues and fleshy
pinks punctured by swaths of electric white. Bacon's palette moves
seamlessly from one canvas to the other, as does his rhythmical
gesture, blurred distortion and bold inscription, thus contriving
to build a magical presence that somehow adds up to more than the
sum of its parts.
Study for Portrait of
Clive Barker is a fine example of Bacon's artistry and of his
ability to unearth subconscious emotional states. Bacon's two
portraits of Barker "...exude nervousness, they embody
bafflement, they have the marks of endurance, the mannerisms of
suffering bitten in ... Each one is a sort of trophy. Each has the
air of being won. The faces seem to come from underneath the
paint." (William Feaver, "That's It" in Francis
Bacon, 1909-1992: Small Portrait Studies, Marlborough Fine Art,
London, 1993, n.p.) William Feaver noted that the Surrealist Andre
Breton said that a portrait should be an oracle that questions,
rather than just a mere image. Bacon's double-portrait of Barker
goes beyond the oracular. As Feaver points out, these two canvases
"...are too far gone to submit to any form of questioning.
They are glimpsed, spied on, left to themselves. Bacon uses
melodramatic devices (the impact of the slap, the texture of
intimacy) but does so knowing that melodrama can be resolved into
hypnotic, magnetic stillness". (Feaver, Ibid.)
Here’s A Francis Bacon, And
Another, And Another…
by Dorothy Ho, PD Newswire - 05.29.02
There’s a famous photograph of British
artist Francis Bacon in his studio, sitting on a chair in a midst of a
cluttered workspace. That image — taken by Michael Holtz — is one of
30 images of the artist to be displayed at a special exhibition in Arles,
The images of Bacon are to be exhibited
with Bacon’s paintings of Vincent Van Gogh, a series of 12 paintings he
created in homage to Van Gogh. But the black-and-white photographs of Bacon will
speak as much about the artist as his work of Van Gogh.
Before Bacon died in 1992, a host of
photographers had captured him in a variety of moods and poses. In fact, some
say that Bacon referred to many of these photographs of himself when painting
his self-portraits. Peter Beard, Harry Benson, Don McCullin, Henri Cartier-Bresson,
Perry Ogden and Michel Soskine were
among the photographers whose images of Bacon alone, working in his studio, or
with friends, will be shown at the Van Gogh Foundation in Arles from July 4 to
Contemporary Art Evening Auction
New York, Tuesday, November 12, 2002
Property from a
Private French Collection
LOT 48 FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
TRIPTYCH: THREE STUDIES OF HENRIETTA MORAES
Signed, titled and
dated 1966 on the reverse: oil on canvas.
Estimate : 1 800 000 USD - 2 200 000 USD
Sotheby's, London, Twentieth Century
Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture presented to
The Institute of Contemporary Art for sale on
behalf of the Carlton House Project, June 23,
1966, lot 3 (donated by the artist)
Martha Jackson Gallery, New York (acquired
from the above)
Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris
Nesuhi Ertegun, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above
London, Institute of Contemporary Art,
Obsessive Image, 1960-1968, April - May 1968,
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,
Surrealism: Two Private Eyes, June - September
1999, p. 50, illustrated in colour
Any history of Twentieth Century painting
would not be complete without a thorough
examination of the art of Francis Bacon. His
challenging and provocative work ranks amongst
the most sophisticated examples of the art of
painting in the post-war period. This is an
art driven by an insurmountable desire to
record the self beyond the expression; to
convey presence beyond mere representation. As
such, when exploring Bacon's limitless quest
for the ultimate immediacy (and thus reality)
of depiction, it is to his small format
portrait triptychs that one often turns in an
effort to understand the finer examples of his
creative genius. Here, color, form and
composition are tightly knit together in a
dazzling display of painterly bravura, forming
a small group of extremely rare works that
remain some of the highlights of the last one
hundred years of oil painting.
Triptych: Three Studies of Henrietta Moraes,
executed at a time many believe to be the
height of Bacon's creative powers in 1966, is
an exquisite example of this rare series of
triptych portraits executed on separate
fourteen by twelve inch canvasses. Indeed, the
intimate size and proportions of these
supports allowed Bacon to experiment most
dynamically with the potency of his brilliant
gesture. He would paint, repaint and more
often than not, discard these smaller works
until he found the kernel of his subject's
being. One cannot, therefore, be surprised to
learn that relatively few of these portrait
studies have survived the artist's own (at
best) temperamental editing. Approximately
forty-one examples exist, of which nearly half
now grace important museum collections. Those
that did survive, however, reveal some of the
most intense and elaborate examples of Bacon's
painterly genius. As John Russell has written,
"The single head, fourteen inches by twelve,
was from 1961 onwards, the scene of some of
Bacon's most ferocious investigations. Just as
a gunshot sometimes leaves an after-echo or
parallel report, so these small concentrated
heads carry their ghosts within them'' (John
Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1993, p. 99).
Dynamically thrust to the front of the picture
plane, these searching canvasses reveal a
varied approach to Bacon's exploration of
self. The left-hand canvas finds the head
occupying the majority of the surface turned
to the left and built up through a network of
tight strokes. The central canvas, imposing in
its strident position along the central
vertical axis, is a little looser, while the
right-hand canvas is looser still, suggesting
the swift motion of Henrietta Moraes' head.
Bacon's over brushed and scumbled paint work
contributes to the ambiguity of the form
depicted, but simultaneously, to a deeper
penetration of the sense of self. Again, form
and shape are bewilderingly different, yet
when seen together, these forms combine to
fuel the homogeneity of the composition as a
whole. Each, however, confront the viewer in a
manner unique to and utterly typical of
Bacon's art, so that the poise and precision
of Bacon's portraiture and painting is
represented in all its variegated forms. Set
against a brooding indigo blue and black
ground that propels the forceful plasticity of
Bacon's brushwork, the artist has vigorously
modeled Moraes' face. The side views,
particularly, are markedly different from each
other, but as noted above, they serve to
balance the composition in its triptych
format. There is indeed a wonderfully organic
rhythm to the triptych as a whole. One need
only follow the sensuous undulation of the
subject's shoulders, or make connections
between similar pigmentation on the separate
canvasses, to see how Bacon has managed to
generate a wonderful flow of form, colour and
movement within the triptych form that
energizes this most traditional of formats.
The three canvasses also relate to one another
as if they were separate layers of the same
painting, that when superimposed one on the
other, would allow the viewer to fully
comprehend the 'reality' of the artist as
sitter. Indeed, Bacon told David Sylvester of
his predilection for working in series,
see every image all the time in a shifting way
and almost in shifting sequences. So that one
can take it from more or less what is called
ordinary figuration to a very, very far
point'' ('Francis Bacon', 1962, in David
Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, Interviews
with Francis Bacon, London, 1990, p. 21). This
extreme point, beyond the mere illustration,
description or narrative that Bacon so
detested, conveys what the artist termed the
sitter's 'emanation': "The sitter is someone
of flesh and blood and what has to be caught
is their emanation. I'm not talking in a
spiritual way... But there are always
emanations from people whoever they are,
though some peoples' are stronger than
others" (David Sylvester, Op. Cit., p.
Bacon has not chased across each canvas
Henrietta Moraes' physical presence - her
muscles, sinews and bone structure - but
rather the psychological trace of her own
existence. The present work is thus the
perfect marriage of the real and the ethereal:
we become witness to a meeting point where
presence becomes absence, and vice versa.
These haunting, almost mystical images that
prevail transcend the boundaries of mere
depiction. This is amplified by the intense
background that occasionally consumes her
face, creating terse undertones to the drama
of self, which Bacon recounts before us.
However, this drama, of matter and of self is
counterbalanced by the softness of Bacon's
palette: a combination of gentle lilacs,
fleshy pinks and delicate hues of purple and
Bacon's unique ability to convey the complex
nature of self and presence can only be
compared to Rembrandt's portraits,
particularly his late paintings, which Bacon
so admired. They both share a passion for
broad, sweeping strokes of pigment, set
against dark, ominous backgrounds, unveiling,
in the process, the dance of light and shade
as a metaphor for the dance of life.
London, Wednesday, 26 June 02, 7:00 PM
Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Three Studies for a
each panel : 35.5 by 30.5cm. 14 by 12in.
LOT SOLD Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:
each: titled and dated 1976 on the reverse
oil on canvas, in three parts
Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris
Marlborough Galleries, Inc., New York
Charity Auction: Dublin, Artists for Amnesty, 19th May 1982, Lot 31 (Acquired by the present owner)
Paris, Galerie Claude Bernard, Francis Bacon: Oeuvres Récentes, 1977, no. 8, illustrated in colour
Mexico City, Museo de Arte Moderno; Caracas, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, Francis
New York, Marlborough Fine Art, Francis Bacon Recent Paintings, 1980, p. 29, no. 12, illustrated in colour
New Haven, The Yale Center for British Art (Extended loan since 1982)
"The single head, fourteen inches by twelve, was from 1961 onwards, the scene of some of Bacon's most ferocious investigations. Just as a gunshot sometimes leaves an after-echo or parallel report, so these small concentrated heads carry their ghosts within them.'' (John Russell,
Bacon, London 1993, p. 99)
As part of the constant questioning of his ability to transcend mere representation in his work, to record the self beyond the expression, Bacon's small portrait studies became the lifeblood of his oeuvre. In his unbounded quest for the ultimate immediacy of depiction, the intimate size and proportions of these canvases allowed him to experiment endlessly with the potency of his brilliant painterly gesture. Bacon would paint, re-paint and discard these pieces until he found the core of his subject's being.
For a few chosen subjects, Bacon's constant social and professional dedication to their appearance, his repeated observations of their mannerisms and movements provided the key to their existence on canvas. In the age of photography, Bacon felt that traditional portraiture lacked depth and mere appearance was not enough to capture the essence of life. For him the outcome of his art depended on a direct opposition between a kind of visual intelligence (ordering, remembering, exemplifying) and sensation. His portraits strove not to tell the story of someone's life, but to clamp themselves to the viewer's nervous system and offer as he put it
"the sensation without the boredom of its conveyance.'' A history of observation could be conveyed in the cast of a gesture and that was where the painting stood or fell.
Executed during what David Sylvester has described as 'Bacon's peak years as a painter',
Studies for a Portrait - Triptych is one of Bacon's finest portrayals of his close friend Henrietta Moraes, former wife of the renowned Indian poet Dom Moraes. Bacon counted very few women amongst his pantheon of friends and even fewer made it onto his canvases, but after meeting Moraes in Soho in the mid-sixties, she immediately became one of his favourite and most striking subjects. This particular piece is taken from a renowned series of triptych portraits, begun in the late sixties, which boldly confronted the human subject, literally head-on. Pushed right up to the front of the picture plane, these three deep meditations on human appearance test the viewer in a manner unique to the art of Francis Bacon: unnerving the viewer, challenging his or her sensibilities, yet still declaring a masterful poise and precision of both portraiture and painting.
When Bacon turned his hand to portraits, as he did more and more in the seventies, it was his friends who came under scrutiny:
"If they were not my friends, I could not do such violence to them'' (Francis Bacon in David Sylvester,
The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1990, p. 41). This violence, however, was perpetrated in absentia - since he painted his portraits most usually from memory, and from photographs, or in general from anything except the actual living and sitting model. This varied source material formed Bacon's unique
'dictionary' of Henrietta's appearance in his mind. Spread around his studio, these photographs became a gallery of her
'fleeting expressions', a record of her individual existence which Bacon translated to a newly invigorated being and vitality. Her presence in the room would have inhibited his progress towards
'truth'. He went on to say: "If I like them, I don't want to practice the injury that I do to them in my work before them. I would rather practice the injury in private by which I think I can record the facts of them more clearly.'' (in David Sylvester, Op. Cit., p. 41)
Here, the 'facts' come in the shape of three starkly painted canvases, which present a Modigliani-esque Moraes almost filmically, in a fleeting, angst-ridden moment. She fidgets across the swathe of the triptych bearing a remarkable economy of marks, each exceptional motion of the loaded brush adding up to a true reflection of the fragility of Moraes' existence. Onto the pink background, Bacon has forcefully modelled and invaded Moraes' face with fluid gestural brushstrokes that at once define, yet distort her features, chasing across the canvas not so much her physical presence - her muscles, sinew and bone structure - but rather the psychological trace of her own existence. At one point, in the central canvas of this disturbingly honest depiction, Moraes' face becomes more rounded, her cheekbones more pronounced and her jaw thrusts forward, teeth dramatically exposed. Studies for a Portrait-Triptych must thus be seen as a perfect marriage of the physical and psychological; the meeting point where presence becomes absence, and vice versa. As such, the viewer is presented with a haunting, almost mystical image that transcends the boundaries of mere depiction. However this drama, of matter and of existence, is counterbalanced by the softness of Bacon's palette: a combination of gentle lilacs and fleshy pinks punctured by stark whites and enshrined by haloes of thick brown hair. These run throughout the triptych and although each portrait differs from the others, the dynamic of rhythmical gesture, blurred distortion and bold inscription contrives to build a magical presence which somehow adds up to much more than the sum of its parts.
He climbed inside faces
on the 'wizened, acned dwarf' of 1960s Soho who documented city lives
Maverick Eye: The Street Photography of John Deakin by Robin Muir
208pp, Thames & Hudson, £36
June 8, 2002
Nobody who has read the various accounts of Francis
Bacon's life could have missed the figure of John Deakin, the small, drunken
photographer who made some remarkable portraits of the painters, writers, models
and friends who gathered round Bacon in Soho during the 1950s and 1960s, notably
at Muriel Belcher's Colony Room.
In most accounts Deakin is reviled, not for his
drunkenness but for the bitchiness, scrounging and general meanness of spirit
that came with it. Bacon - who, according to his friend and biographer Dan
Farson, was fond of Deakin - called him "a horrible little man",
though he also thought his portraits "the best since Nadar and Juliet
Margaret Cameron". George Melly called him a "vicious little
drunk", Jeffrey Bernard said he was "a wizened, acned dwarf of a
jockey". But Bruce Bernard, Jeffrey's brother, recognised Deakin as a
member of "photography's unhappiest minority whose members, while doubting
its status as art, sometimes prove better than anyone else that there is no
doubt about it".
Photography was a second best for Deakin, who had
failed to find success as a painter and only took up the camera by accident in
1939 - he is said to have woken up in a Paris apartment after a party, found a
camera unattended, and taken it away to try it out. His working life was
haphazard - he had two brief periods under contract to Vogue, both of which
ended badly, and two small exhibitions in Soho; he produced two guidebooks, one
to London, the other to Rome. He more or less gave up photography in the last
years of his life, and had it not been for Bruce Bernard, who rescued several
boxes of photographs from under Deakin's bed after his death in 1972, the
pictures might have gone the way of his other artworks and ended up in the
gutter in Berwick Street.
In 1984, Bernard made a selection of these
photographs for an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum called The
Salvage of a Photographer. The creased and tattered prints, many of them
portraits of his Soho companions, were to establish Deakin's posthumous
reputation. In 1996, Robin Muir, who as the picture editor at Vogue in the early
1990s had found another cache of Deakin's prints, contact sheets and negatives
in the Condé Nast library - this time of the artists, writers, actors and
directors Deakin had photographed for the magazine - curated a show at the
National Portrait Gallery and published a book on Deakin's work.
This was four years after Bacon's death, and it
included some of the 40 or so trampled and paint-spattered photographs that had
been found in Bacon's studio. These were photographic studies Deakin made at
Bacon's request of figures he wanted to use as references in his paintings. They
included the now well-known sessions with Lucian Freud, Henrietta Moraes and
Isabel Rawsthorne, all of whom are recognisable in Bacon's pictures.
As well as fuelling the debate about just how much
Bacon had relied on photographs, the distressed prints added the glamour of
found fragments to what was by now acknowledged as Deakin's increasingly
important archive. The 1996 show concentrated on Deakin's portraits. The large
close-ups show every pore, pockmark and hair follicle; in most cases the eyes
stare directly into the lens, and the face is often squared off prematurely by
They have been described as "cruel" and
"brutal", but in fact seem to be more the result of Deakin's
impatience with the kind of theatrical gestures and posturing body language that
so often makes a portrait false. But there was another group of pictures, found
in an annexe down the back stairs of the National Portrait Gallery. These were
Deakin's street pictures, taken in London and during his many trips to Paris and
Rome - the city he loved most. It is these that Muir has concentrated on in his
The difficulty this presents is obvious: how to
produce a second book that contains enough information to satisfy those coming
to Deakin for the first time, while offering those who know his work something
new? Muir has partially solved the problem by retelling the story of Deakin's
life in the text - and here there is, inevitably, a certain amount of repetition
- and placing the emphasis, in the choice of pictures, on much less familiar
aspects of Deakin's work.
Of the three sections of photographs,
"London" is still largely made up of Soho portraits, though ones taken
at more of a distance: most are cropped just above the knee, or full-figure.
There is a little series of pictures of Bacon and his lover George Dyer, posing
for Deakin both singly and together, one day in Soho in the 1960s; a strong head
of the writer Elizabeth Smart; and an awkward full-length picture of Muriel
Belcher. There are also a few street scenes - signs, hoardings, shopfronts - in
the manner of Atget, which serve as a throat-clearing exercise for what is to
After London, the book really changes pace. Paris
and Rome seem to have brought out a more compassionate side of Deakin. He is
drawn to street people, to shopkeepers and market traders, tramps and beggars,
and to the cities' ageing fabric. Before his death he had planned a number of
books: one on Paris, another on Rome, and two called "London Walls"
and "Paris Walls". And here you can see why. Walls so often provided
the canvas for some of his best photographs. Like Brassai, who had begun
collecting pictures of graffiti in the early 1930s, Deakin was fascinated by the
randomness of street art. Scribbled in chalk, the simple drawings for children's
games, the vows of love or hate and the slogans of street philosophers have a
fragile, temporary quality that, on the uneven surface, gives them the emotional
purchase of paintings.
Deakin liked walls on which the commerce of the city
had left its mark - layers of tattered posters, or the giant letters of
advertising slogans half rubbed out by the weather. In Paris he followed Atget's
example of going out each morning at dawn to photograph the empty streets. In
Rome he found that the public displays of religion offered fine opportunities
for pictures. He used a Rolleiflex, as Bruce Bernard pointed out, with the same
ease that other street photographers used a Leica. In his portraits it enabled
him to climb inside a face (some of his portraits are close enough to reveal
that aqueous millimetre of flesh that lines the bottom eyelid) with what would
have been intrusive intimacy if he hadn't know his subjects so well. In his
landscapes, it gives ordinary scenes a greater formality.
Deakin said of his pictures that he was
"fatally drawn to the human race". He probably was a fatalist, but
there can be few more life-affirming photographs than the picture of a group of
mothers in Trastavere, proudly holding up their children for his inspection. In
some ways it might have served Deakin well to have one book that included all
sides of his work and all his best pictures. But that's easy to say in
retrospect. Somebody who probably never expected to be remembered for his
photographs now has a life in two volumes.
· Liz Jobey is a deputy editor of Granta
Sale 7797 7 pm, May 15, 2002
Lot 41, Study from the Human Body,
Francis Bacon, 1981
By Carter B. Horsley
This evening sale of contemporary art has the usual sprinkling of famous names
such as Francis Bacon (1909-1992), Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), Adolph
Gottlieb (1903-1974), Gerhard Richter (b. 1932), Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945), Cy
Twombly (b. 1928), Morris Louis (1912-1962), Andy Warhol (1928-1987), Mark
Rothko (1903-1970), Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), mostly with good and
representative but not truly remarkable works.
Perhaps the best painting is Lot 41, "Study from the Human Body," a
large, dramatic and mysterious work by Francis Bacon. Dated July, 1981, it is an
oil on canvas that measures 78 by 58 3/4 inches and its basic composition is
similar to his "Study for Self-Portrait" of the same dimensions and
year that is in the collection of the Von der Heydt Museum in Wuppertal, but
this work is more vibrantly colored and complex. In the Wuppertal picture, a
clothed male figure is seated in front of the left panel of a two-panel black
screen and he casts a shadow across the bottom of the picture. In this work, a
naked male figure appears to be stepping into the right panel but he casts no
shadows and two bright red arrows of unequal length point towards him. It is
painted with Bacon's masterful touch and is a difficult but impressive image. It
has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It failed to sell and was passed at
$1,800,000, which was quite surprising given the fact that another large Bacon,
Evening: New York May 15, 2002
BACON: Lot 41
Study From The Human Body
signed, titled and dated July 1981 on the
Lot 41, Study from the Human Body, Francis Bacon, 1981
The beginning of the 1980's
saw Francis Bacon embark upon a series of Studies from the Human Body,
made in conjunction with a number of Self-Portraits and landscapes as
well as more abstract works that depicted, for example, running water.
Seen together, these works from the early 1980's find a number of connections,
even though their subject matter is wildly different. Technical, stylistic and
chromatic patterns emerge that connect the group as a whole. This connectivity
is further compounded by Bacon's visual vocabulary: light cords, screens,
tables, and arrows appear throughout these works, greatly contributing to the
homogeneity of the 'series' as a whole. Whilst it is not correct to position the
present work as part of a series, it is rewarding to see it in the same light as
a number of, seemingly, very different paintings. A continued passion for the
human form, as well as a development in the cubistic frames Bacon used
that would simultaneously imprison and project his figures, come to light. An
emphasis on sensuous texture, on a more sophisticated pigmented ground as well
as a dryer brush work delineating a more fragmented and dislocated body seems
The present work is an
outstanding example from this later series of explorations into the human male
form, positioned within the fabric of Bacon's pictorial language. The paraphrase
of form here seems to step into a dark screen, as if into another dimension. The
spatial dynamic of the composition is cleverly problematized here as Bacon has
allowed most of the screen to almost fall out of the picture plane. The
three-dimensional form indicated by the frame leg on the left is negated by the
diagonal in the centre of the composition, breaking down the screen into two
parts. The second 'half' then slopes away, making no solid connection with the
pregnant ground Bacon has painted. The motif of the 'double-screen' may be seen
as a development of Bacon's cage-like constructions from the 1950's that served
to encapsulate and condense the human figure, thereby exaggerating the
emotions Bacon depicted. Screams became louder; cries became deeper, more
angst-ridden. The present screen form is seen, in various manipulations, in
other paintings, such as Study for Self-Portrait (1981, Von der Heydt
Museum, Wuppertal). The black ground framed by this screen is mirrored in
Bacon's use of opened doors leading into unknown chambers of black as clearly
seen in his Triptych from 1981 inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus. Moreover,
Bacon used the black background in his earlier triptychs, Triptych. August.
(1972) and Triptych. May-June. (1973), both depicting the moment of
George Dyer's eventual demise. These pseudo-cubistic frames here serve to
deliberately drain the composition of any perspectival logic: the figure shifts
in and out of the artificial spaces that lend a sense of urgency to
struggle and flux. Any sense of perspective is further disturbed by Bacon's use
of the light cord in the right-hand section, and the two crimson arrows,
pointing towards the figure, but for no apparent reason.
The figure seems to enter in
one section and then exist from the other, and it is very noticeable that
the morphology Bacon adopts is extraordinarily elastic. There is nothing
to anchor the figure to a recognizable character. His portraits of George
Dyer or John Edwards, for example, are clearly 'readable'. Here the figure is
anonymous; what interests Bacon are the shapes of legs, buttocks, backs and
shoulders. The fragmentation of the body is continued with other Studies of
the Human Body from 1982: a male version, wearing cricket pads and a
female version, based on a drawing by Ingres from the same year. Both these
fleshy forms act as erotic quotations: buttocks, genitals and breasts are
morphed together to create hybrid-like forms set against bright orange grounds.
These forms are static, whereas, through the use of arrows, and the
ensuing sense of movement to the figure, here the form seems nuch more active.
Bacon's choice of color is
magnificently subtle, yet powerful upon contemplation. The sandy ground holds
ochres, golds, pinks, graphites and beiges that all coalesce together to form a
densely pigmented floor. The ground must therefore be connected to Bacon's more
abstract experiments with pure texture that one sees in works such as Sand
Dune (1981) and Water from a Running Tap (1982). The powdery
surface seems to crystallize in front of the viewer, continuing the sense of
motion inherent to the figure in the most sophisticated fashion. The
robust flesh tones of the 1960's have now been replaced with lighter mauves and
lilacs, accented with passages of orange and enlivened through sweeps of white
pigment that activates the form. The deeply saturated black ground further
projects the figure out of the pictorial space, and provides the most glorious
contrast to the ground.
Study from the Human Body
is a glorious example of Bacon's late work. It insists on a stark, down-to-earth
realism that is contained with a lightness of touch rare in Bacon's oeuvre.
This work powerfully exemplifies Bacon's aesthetic ideal: one which he called
'the brutality of fact', and one which possesses an innate grandeur that marks
this painting as a wonderfully intelligent contemplation of the human body.
Contemporary Art & 14 Duchamp Readymades
de Pury & Luxembourg
Monday, May 13, 2002 Sale NY865
Lot 30 Study for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes by Francis Bacon, oil on
canvas, 78 by 58 inches, 1964
Auctions By Carter B. Horsley, The City Review, 2002
The announcement earlier
this year by Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg that it was canceling its spring
Impressionist & Modern Art auction came as a great relief to Sotheby's and
Christie's but also raised serious questions about the future of Phillips de
Pury & Luxembourg.
The aggressive entry of the
Phillips auction house into the big leagues of fine art auctions under the
guidance of Bernard Arnault's LVMH conglomerate stole a lot of business away
from Sotheby's and Christie's, both of which were under antitrust investigations
that created serious financial problems for them and made them appear to be
quite vulnerable to new competition.
One of the auction's
highlights is Lot 30, Study for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, a
78-by-58-inch oil on canvas by Francis Bacon (1909-1992). A classic and major
Bacon, it was painted in 1964 and has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000.
It sold for $6,712,500.
The catalogue notes that
Bacon's convoluted reshaping of the human body sometimes conjures chopped-up
carcasses and that in this work the woman's body "appears played, and the
passages of gray and red pigment suggest bruises and blood respectively."
"Yet the morbid suggestion of raw, exposed flesh is countered by an
opposing sense of the sitter's vitality. Moraes' voluptuous figure seems to
throb and pulsate before one's eyes, as though it were releasing a powerful
Seeing through the
Lucian Freud, perhaps Britain's
greatest painter, learned early on that portraits could be "revealing in a
way that was almost improper". That terrible candour is clear in all his
work. William Feaver looks back over his 60-year career with him
The Guardian, Saturday
May 18, 2002.
Freud's great friendship, for 20 years from the late
1940s, was with Francis Bacon. He admired the way he painted and the way he
lived, incautiously and impulsively, an enemy to gentility. "Art,"
Bacon said, "is a method of opening up areas of feeling rather than merely
an illustration of an object." Freud recognised that Bacon was reinventing
painting. Bacon's dismal men in suits, his skid pan wipes and smears, his
hilarity and shrieking derision, made his own accomplishment seem tight and
"I got very impatient with the way I was
working, and I think my admiration for Francis came into this. I realised that
by working the way I did I couldn't really evolve. The change wasn't perhaps
more than one of focus, but it did make it possible for me to approach the whole
thing in another way."
Tate takes Bacon
archive at last
Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent,
The Times, Thursday 2nd May 2002
The Tate is accepting a gift of a Francis Bacon
archive containing more than 1,000 sketches and annotated photographs, four
years after it rejected the offer.
Barry Joule, the owner and a friend of the artist,
has struggled for years to prove the authenticity of a collection that he says
Bacon gave to him days before his death, and which, with 1,500 items, has been
valued at £20 million.
The artist's estate has declined to authenticate the
archive, threatening legal action when the Barbican Centre in London exhibited
it last year.
Ten years after Bacon's death, Sir Nicholas Serota,
the Tate's director, now says he will recommend to the trustees that they
acquire it. The collection includes hoarded paint-splattered photographs,
clippings, pages torn from magazines and books and scribbled sketches. The
images range from cyclists and boxers to a portrait of Mick Jagger over which
outlines of figures have been rehearsed.
Mr Joule, who was Bacon's chauffeur and handyman,
says that one of his duties was destroying works with which Bacon was not
satisfied. He said that the artist handed him a bundle of papers to destroy,
but, realising their importance, he had instead kept them.
The Times, Friday 1oth May 2002
The Tate Gallery has asked us to make it clear that,
whereas it is looking forward to discussions about Barry Joule's Bacon
archive (The Times report, May 2 2002) it has not yet received, or
accepted, a formal offer.
to acquire Bacon collection after rejecting it
The Tate is accepting a Francis Bacon archive of more
than 1,000 sketches and annotated photographs four years after it rejected the
The collection, said to be worth £20m, is owned by
Barry Joule, who was Bacon's chauffeur and handyman.
Joule is said to have struggled for years to prove
the authenticity of a collection he says Bacon gave to him days before his
The artist's estate has declined to authenticate the
archive, threatening legal action when the Barbican Centre in London exhibited
it last year.
Ten years after Bacon's death, Sir Nicholas Serota,
the Tate's director, now says he will recommend to the trustees they acquire
The Times says the collection includes hoarded paint-splattered photographs,
clippings, pages torn from magazines and books and scribbled sketches.
The images range from cyclists and boxers to a
portrait of Mick Jagger over which outlines of figures have been rehearsed.
Mr Joule says one of his duties was destroying works
with which Bacon was not satisfied.
He said the artist handed him a bundle of papers to
destroy but he realised their importance and had kept them instead.
Story filed: 08:37 Thursday 2nd May
ART IN REVIEW; Francis Bacon
By KEN JOHNSON, THE
NEW YORK TIMES, FRIDAY APRIL 26, 2002
119 Wooster Street, SoHo
Through May 18 2002
If you were depressed by the joyless art of Gerhard
Richter at the Museum of Modern Art, you might not think a visit with Francis
Bacon would be much help. Bacon is popularly thought of as the pontiff of
existential horror, his most famous image being of a screaming Pope Innocent X
based on a portrait by Velázquez. What Bacon produced, however, was more a kind
of black comedy; increasingly as time passed he realized it in suavely designed,
vibrantly hued, generously spacious compositions.
Far from depressing, the late paintings in this show
combine the sensuous and the visionary to exhilarating effect. All of the large
canvases from the 1980's feature the painter's familiar iconography of smeary
lumps of humanity - or, in one case, a dangling, plucked chicken -
in empty rooms. They are like updates of Christian altar paintings. The largest
work, a triptych in which a vignetted male pelvis has wounded areas circled or
pointed to by a small graphic arrow, refers unmistakably to the Passion, even as
the third panel with the silhouetted head of a bull adds pagan resonance.
In anyone else's hands such imagery would be unbearably
heavy. But Bacon managed his traumatic vision with a light, almost Pop-style
touch. He paints the space around his deftly distorted figures with the
hedonistic delight of a Color Field painter. In the triptych and two related
paintings, broad fields of scrumptious Creamsicle-orange are balanced by windows
of sweet sky blue. The ultimate effect is of a zany and voluptuous beauty. KEN
Published: 04 - 26 - 2002 , Late Edition - Final ,
Section E , Column 1 , Page 33
The art of loss
Paul Bailey on a collection of portraits of creative gay lives: Love in a Dark
Time: Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodóvar by Colm Tóibín
Love in a Dark Time:
Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodóvar
Colm Tóibín 288pp, Picador, £16.99
Saturday April 13, 2002
introduction to this perceptive collection of essays, Colm Tóibín admits to an
"abiding fascination with sadness...and, indeed, tragedy". It should
be stressed that this is a sympathetic fascination, not a morbid or mawkish one,
as his brief accounts of the painful lives of Elizabeth Bishop and James Baldwin
- two of the best pieces here - testify.
Tóibín admires about the painter Francis Bacon is his life-long refusal to
play the role of "tragic queer". He is properly scathing about the
three biographies that appeared, with indecent haste, after Bacon's death - by
Andrew Sinclair (scissors and paste), Michael Peppiatt (dull when it isn't
prurient) and Daniel Farson (a hotchpotch of sexual tittle-tattle). "It is
one of the problems of biography that it seeks out the colourful and the
dramatic at the expense of the ordinary and true," Tóibín observes.
relationship with George Dyer wasn't all gloom and drunken doom - at least, not
in the beginning. Tóibín prefers to look at the paintings, with apt quotations
from Bacon's conversations with David Sylvester, Michel Archimbaud and the
shrewdly observant John Russell. He reminds us how hard Bacon worked, and that
the real danger he had to cope with was that of repeating himself and burning
himself out. This is more interesting, though less amusing, than his remark -
which was intended to be heard by the posh women seated nearby - that he wanted
to be buggered by Colonel Gadafy.
other subjects are Oscar Wilde, Roger Casement, the poets Thom Gunn and Mark
Doty, and the film director Pedro Almodóvar. This last, a reprinted article
from Vanity Fair , is the one really weak chapter in this otherwise fine and
thoughtful book. One wants to know more about this man who thrives in an
atmosphere of chaos. Tóibín, for once, provides only a sketch, instead of the
customary rounded portrait.
Bailey's most recent book is Three Queer Lives (Hamish Hamilton).
Testy tosspot never quite doused anger
Denizen of Soho, journalist
The Daily Telegraph, April 15 2002
In the 1980s, Graham Mason, who has died aged 59,
was the drunkest man in the Coach and Horses, the pub in Soho where, in the
half-century after World War II, a tragicomedy was played out nightly by its
His claim to a title in bibulous misbehaviour was
staked against stiff competition from Jeffrey Bernard and a dedicated cast of
less-celebrated but formidable drinkers.
Mason was a fearsome sight at his
most drunkenly irascible. Seated at the bar, his thin shanks wrapped around the
legs of a high stool, he would swivel his reptilian stare around behind him to
any unfortunate stranger attempting to be served and snap: "Who the fuck are you?"
Unlike his friend Bernard, though, Mason did not
make himself the hero of his own tragedy. His speciality was the extreme. In one
drinking binge he went for nine days without food. At the height of his
consumption, before he was frightened by epileptic fits into cutting back, he
was managing two bottles of vodka a day.
At lunchtime he would walk through the door of the
Coach and Horses still trembling with hangover, his nose and ears blue whatever
the weather. On one cold day he complained of the noise that the snow made as it
landed on his bald head.
His practice of "boozer's economics" meant
dressing in the shabbiest of clothes, many of them inherited from the late
husband of the woman with whom he lived. He wore a threadbare duffle coat with
broken toggles. One day it was inexplicably stolen from the pub coat hook.
Bernard took the opportunity to combine kindness with condescension by buying a
replacement of much grander design and cloth.
From the 1960s on, Mason was a friend of many of the
painters, writers, actors, layabouts, retired prostitutes, stagehands and
hopeless cases that then gave Soho its flavour. He enjoyed talking to Francis
Bacon in the Colony Room Club because Francis Bacon was funny; and, until they
finally had a row, Francis Bacon enjoyed talking to him.
In a couple of hours one evening in February 1988 he
had loud altercations with John Hurt ("You're just a bad actor"); with
a law writer nicknamed the Red Baron, who was later murdered ("You know I
don't like you. Go away and leave me alone"); and with Bernard (who stood
up and shook him by the lapels).
Michael Heath often featured Mason in his comic
strip The Regulars. In one episode he is shown apologising for being so rude the
night before: "You see, I was sober."
Amid the violence of Soho arguments he became a
friend of Elizabeth Smart, the Canadian author of By Grand Central Station I Sat
Down and Wept, a book about her lover George Barker, the poet, who became
another friend. Mason also succeeded in liking Francis Bacon's final close
friend, John Edwards, which some people did not.
Mason felt at home in the Colony Room Club in the
years before homosexuality was decriminalised because no-one who drank there
minded one way or the other.
Mason's own closest friendship was with Marsh
Dunbar, the widow of an admired art director at The Economist. He lodged with
her at first in a fine early 19th-century house in Canonbury Square, Islington,
where she was bringing up three sons. She had herself fallen into Soho after the
war, knowing everyone from John Minton to Lucian Freud. Though enthusiastically
heterosexual, she lived with him until her death.
In the days before licensing liberalisation, he
resorted in the afternoon when pubs were closed to drinking clubs such as the
Kismet, a damp basement with a smell that wits identified as
"failure"; it was known as "the Iron Lung" and "Death
in the Afternoon". Mason admired the diminutive but firm presence behind
the bar, known as Maltese Mary. But his favourite resort remained the Colony.
Graham Edward Mason was born in Cape Town, South
Africa. He had been conceived on a sand dune and to this he sometimes attributed
his abrasive character.
He was educated at Chingola, Northern Rhodesia (now
Zambia), and then joined a local newspaper. From there, as a bright and
promising 18-year-old, he was recruited for the American news agency UPI by its
bureau chief in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe).
He learnt fast as a reporter of the civil war in
Congo, finding the veterans from the Algerian war among his colleagues both kind
and helpful. He witnessed a line of prisoners executed with pistol shots to the
head and was himself injured in the thigh and chin by a mortar shell. Among
those he interviewed were Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe; he did not take to the
Posted to the UPI office in London in 1963, he set
off in a Land Rover with three friends and no proper map through Tanganyika,
Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, and then on an East
German ship via Trieste to Hull.
From UPI's London office in Bouverie Street, Mason
soon discovered Soho and, like many before him, felt he had come home. He
continued as a foreign correspondent, taking a year out in 1968 to work for 20th
Century Fox on feature films, which he hated.
With BBC Television news he reported from the
Northern Ireland troubles and in 1975 took another year out to run a bar in
Nicosia. It happened to coincide with civil war and he and Dunbar were lucky to
be evacuated by the RAF. From then until 1980 he worked for ITN. One day he was
found asleep under his desk, drunk. It was something of a low point.
He was living with Dunbar in a flat in Berwick
Street, Soho. A fire there sent them, fleeing bills, to a rundown council tower
block on the Isle of Dogs. The compensation was a view of a sweep of the Thames
towards Greenwich. He worked while he still could, managing Bobby Hunt's
Mason cooked Mediterranean food well and liked
classical music and fireworks. After Dunbar's death in 2001, with almost all his
friends dead, he sat imprisoned by emphysema in his flat, with a cylinder of
oxygen by his armchair and bottles of white wine by his elbow, looking out over
the Thames, still very angry.
The Daily Telegraph, London
Bacon and jellied eels
did Francis Bacon leave his £11 million estate to John Edwards,
an illiterate barman from the East End? Mick Brown
Mick Brown, The Daily
Telegraph, 19 February, 2002
John: ensured no
one took liberties
'And that," says
John Edwards, pausing in front of the huge canvas at the top of
the stairs in the South Kensington mews where Francis Bacon
lived and painted for more than 30 years, "is me."
Portrait of John
Edwards, 1986-87, which shows a figure seated cross-legged in a
chair, dressed only in a pair of white underpants, is one of the
30 or more paintings that Bacon executed of Edwards, and is
widely regarded as one of the artist's last masterpieces.
says Edwards, with a laugh, "some people have said I look
like a monkey. But I didn't mind. I mean, Francis was a lovely
painter, wasn't he?"
For 31 years, Bacon
spent almost every day in his Reece Mews studio but, as Edwards
admits, he would hardly recognise it now.
bed/sitting room, lit by four bare light bulbs, where Bacon
slept and ate, is now an elegant lounge, all leather sofas and
smoked glass tables. The detritus of dirty brushes, paint pots,
mounds of newspapers and photographs that littered the floor of
Bacon's studio have been replaced by polished wood and splashy
it was," says Edwards. "I remember the first time I
saw it, I said to Francis: how can you work in here? But he said
it was how he liked it. He couldn't be bothered to clear it up.
All he wanted was to have the peace and quiet to paint."
Edwards, the son of an
East End docker, was working as a barman in a Wapping pub when
he first met Francis Bacon in 1976. For the next 16 years, until
the painter's death from a heart attack, he was his closest
friend and confidant - as Bacon put it, the only true friend he
When Bacon died in
April 1992, he left everything - an estate valued at some £11m,
including the mews studio in South Kensington - to Edwards.
But the legacy proved
to be more tangled than it initially appeared. In 1999, the
Bacon estate brought a case against the Marlborough Gallery,
which had represented Bacon for most of his working life,
alleging that the painter had been "wrongfully
exploited" in his relationship with the gallery and seeking
a "proper accounting" of his affairs.
The litigation, which
threatened to become one of the most acrimonious - and costly -
legal battles that the art world has ever seen, was suddenly
withdrawn two weeks ago, in a "drop hands settlement",
in which both sides agreed to pay their own costs. Marlborough
has also agreed to release to the estate all the documentation
that belonged to Bacon which is still in its possession.
The reclusive John
Edwards has never before spoken publicly about Bacon and their
relationship. Following the artist's death, he moved to Florida
and, for the past seven years he has lived a quiet, almost
reclusive life in Thailand.
Last year, however, he
was diagnosed with cancer, and returned to London for treatment.
He is 52, a genial man
with dark, battered good looks, who speaks in a soft,
unreconstructed Cockney accent, spotted with rhyming slang.
"Don't I know your boat-race from somewhere?" he asks.
He offers Krug champagne - "it was Francis's favourite"
- and a "lah-di-dah" (cigar).
A Bacon triptych
dominates one wall. On another are grouped a framed collection
of French five franc stamps bearing Edwards's image, painted by
Bacon; a child-like picture dedicated "to Francis" and
signed "Ronnie Kray, Broadmoor" ("He certainly
knew Ronnie", says Edwards, carefully, "but I don't
think I'd describe them as friends"); and a scroll marking
the award to Edwards of the Lord Mayor's Medal by the city of
This was in
recognition of his donation of the contents of the Reece Mews
studio to Dublin's Hugh Lane Gallery, where it has been
painstakingly reconstructed, item by item, and now stands as a
permanent exhibit. Bacon, Edwards says, "would have roared
with laughter", to think of his discarded brushes and
paints, his moth-eaten bedspread and rotted curtains preserved
first met Bacon in the Colony Room, the famously raffish
Soho drinking club where the painter would hold court. Edwards,
at the time, was working as a barman in his brother's East End
pub, and he was friends with Muriel Belcher, who owned the
Colony, and Ian Board who worked as the barman there.
A few weeks earlier,
Edwards had been asked by Belcher to lay in some champagne as
she intended to bring her "famous painter friend" to
the East End. But they never came. When Edwards was eventually
introduced to Bacon in the Colony Room, he "gave him some
stick" for ordering champagne, then not bothering to turn
up and drink it. "He liked the way I didn't care about who
he was supposed to be."
So began a
relationship that would last until Bacon's death. Bacon was
homosexual and the popular misconception is that Edwards was his
lover. But that, he says, was never the case. Edwards is also
gay and has been with the same boyfriend for 27 years. His
relationship with Bacon was one of deep emotional, but never
"Francis was a
real, true father figure to me. I was close to my own father.
But Francis gave me all the guidance I needed, and we laughed a
lot. And I think he liked me because I didn't want anything from
him. With everybody else, it was 'Francis this' and 'Francis
It was, on the
surface, an improbable friendship. At 66, Bacon was almost 40
years Edwards's senior. He was also Britain's most celebrated
living painter; a man of mercurial intelligence and high poetic
Edwards knew nothing
about painting or books. Chronically dyslexic, he had never
learnt to read or write. But his lack of a formal education, his
down-to-earth unpretentiousness, was one of the things that
clearly endeared him to Bacon.
Edwards recalls that,
shortly after their first meeting, Bacon took him gambling at
Charlie Chester's casino, one of his regular haunts. When
Edwards was handed a membership form he confessed that he could
neither read nor write. "Francis said, God, that must be
marvellous. Because he hated filling in forms or anything like
Their life together
followed a set pattern. No matter what time he'd been drinking
until the night before, Bacon would rise at between six and
seven o'clock and start painting. Around nine, he would
telephone Edwards to say that he was ready for breakfast and
Edwards would join him in Reece Mews, where Bacon would cook a
fry-up. Bacon, he says, liked only egg white, Edwards only the
yolk, "so it was the perfect relationship". His
nickname for the painter was "Eggs".
Edwards would then sit
with Bacon through the day while he painted - the only person
the artist ever allowed to watch him at work - talking and
helping him prepare his canvasses for collection.
"We'd talk about
everything. He was a beautiful man; you'd be hypnotised by him.
He'd talk to you and you'd just want him to talk more.
Everything he talked about - his posh mates, the people he knew
in the art world, it was all so clear."
says Edwards, "he felt very free with me, because I was a
bit different from most people he knew. I wasn't asking him
about his painting or anything like that. Most people around
Francis looked up to him, and he didn't like that.
"I asked him
once: what do you see in me? And he laughed and said: you're not
boring like most people.
"I remember once
we were with the Duke of Devonshire, talking about all this and
that, and Francis decided it was time to change the
conversation, so he got me talking about running a pub and
jellied eels. The nice thing about Francis was he wouldn't let
"John was the
only person in London who treated Francis as an absolute
equal," says the architectural artist Brian Clarke, a close
friend of both men and, for the past six years the executor of
Bacon's estate. "Whenever you saw John and Francis together
you knew you were going to laugh a lot. John is a totally honest
man. He would be very rude to Francis, which was a very
enjoyable thing to see because nobody else had licence to do
that. He'd give it to him straight, and Francis appreciated
that. Even in the Colony Room, Francis was the king of Soho. But
to John he was just 'My Francis'."
Clarke describes the
friendship as "each looking after the other". Bacon
had a famously cavalier attitude to money. He never carried a
cheque book or a credit card, but always had a wad of cash,
likened by one friend to "a bog roll" from which he
would peel off notes to spend on gambling, meals at Wheelers,
drinks at the Colony Room, or simply to give to friends.
Edwards took it upon
himself to ensure that no one was "taking liberties".
with Bacon: 'Francis was a real, true father figure to
me. He gave me all the guidance I needed'
Bacon, he says, didn't
mind being taken advantage of "up to a point". But
beyond that point, he didn't like it.
"He said I was a
good judge of people, which I am," says Edwards.
"There were always lots of people around Francis on the
cadge. But they wouldn't do it while I was around."
When they went
gambling together, Edwards would carefully pocket some of the
chips to ensure that Bacon had something left over at the end of
the evening. Bacon, he says, was "a clever gambler",
who "won some big lumps and lost some big lumps.
"I remember, one
night, he won £15,000. I put some of it in his jacket and some
in his trousers, so he wouldn't lose it.
morning, he phoned and asked if I had the money. I said no, I'd
put it all in his pockets. We searched all over the flat and
couldn't find it anywhere. And then, a couple of days later, I
came across it. He'd stuck it in a pair of old socks. He was so
pleased, he gave me half of it."
good nature was recognised by others in the painter's circle.
Sonia Orwell, the widow of George, and a close friend of Bacon,
offered to teach Edwards to read and write. But she fell ill
before they had the chance.
Stephen Spender was
another of Bacon's friends who became deeply enamoured of
"I think that if
I knew him well I would become obsessed by him, and I can well
understand loving him," Spender wrote, in a letter to
Bacon, in 1988.
"Of course, it is
seriously marvellous to be untainted by what is called
education. It means he moves among real things, and not
"Steve was a
lovely bloke," says Edwards, affectionately.
This letter from
Spender is among a significant cache of documents that have been
returned to the Bacon estate during the course of the
litigation, and which provide a fascinating insight into the
painter's friendships, affairs and his rackety personal life.
They include a cache
of some 150 letters from such friends as Sonia Orwell, Hans
Werner Henze, Peter Beard and the painter Victor Passmore, as
well as numerous pleas for money from Daniel Farson, and a
promise to return "the 50 quid you lent me" from
Jeffrey Bernard. "Fat chance!" says Edwards with a
laugh. "Jeff was terrible. I remember Francis once sitting
in the Tate Gallery, signing books, and Jeff was there right
beside him, trying to borrow money as he signed."
Clarke says that
Bacon's death left Edwards "completely devastated".
For years, the painter had told Edwards that he intended to
leave him everything, but he was totally unprepared for the
attention the bequest brought him.
"I remember him
telling me about opening the curtains at Reece Mews and seeing
the mews full of photographers," says Clarke. "To a
shy person it was the ultimate nightmare."
Edwards retired to a
remote area of the Florida Keys for a year, and then to
Thailand, where he lived quietly in a house on the beach,
spending his days fishing and walking.
But, after five years,
he realised that he had still not received a full accounting of
his inheritance. He approached Clarke, who in turn introduced
Edwards to his lawyer, John Eastman - the brother of the late
Linda McCartney - who initiated the action against Marlborough.
Edwards is reluctant
to discuss the case, except to say that he is relieved that it
is now over.
"All that John
wanted," says Clarke, "was to do right for Francis.
John very well looked after. And John was prepared to spend
every penny he had in the prosecution of this litigation, win or
retrieved as a result of the case will form a substantial part
of the material for a comprehensive catalogue raisonne of
Bacon's work that Edwards intends to commission, and will then
go to the Francis Bacon archive at the Hugh Lane Gallery in
Edwards is also
establishing a charitable foundation that will be devoted to the
promotion and study of Bacon's work and life.
It is for other
people, he says, to make an estimation of Francis Bacon the
painter. He can talk only about Bacon the man.
he says, "that a lot of people misunderstood Francis.
People get this impression of him as the bon vivant, the
gambler, the drinker. That was part of it. But what people don't
realise is that he was a very lonely, and shy man. But I felt
warm with Francis and I think he felt warm with me."
of Francis Bacon drops legal action against Marlborough
No evidence of
blackmail, and video shows the artist satisfied with his gallery
Martin Bailey, The Art Newspaper, February, 2002
The Bacon Estate has dropped its legal action against the Marlborough Gallery,
just days before the full hearing was due to begin. Executor Professor Brian
Clarke had initiated the case because of concerns that the London gallery and
its Liechtenstein subsidiary had not paid Francis Bacon properly for his
pictures, resulting in a loss which could have amounted to as much as £100
million. The Estate also suggested that Marlborough had “blackmailed” the
artist to prevent him moving to New York’s Pace Gallery (The Art
No.121, January 2002, p.3).
Last month the Estate said it was “pleased to announce that it has settled
its litigation with Marlborough.” Both sides are paying their own legal
costs, which altogether could amount to £10 million. It was also revealed
that the Estate’s sole beneficiary, Bacon’s close friend John Edwards, 51,
is suffering from a serious form of lung cancer. The Estate explained: “This
settlement has been agreed, against this background and on the basis of
Professor Clarke’s assessment of the merits of the case in the light of
documents and witness evidence released by Marlborough in the latter part of
last year.” The three-month trial, due to start on 18 February, was
abandoned at a formal hearing on 6 February.
Marlborough was also delighted with the outcome. Gallery head Mr Gilbert Lloyd
commented: “We are pleased that the Estate has finally accepted that the
entire case is completely without foundation. The case was totally
unsustainable. Contrary to the Estate’s claims, no paintings are missing, no
fraud took place and there was no attempt at blackmail. The result of the
action is that the Estate has needlessly wasted millions of pounds on legal
A key factor behind the dropping of the case was the question of evidence of
the blackmail which is alleged to have taken place in 1978. Pace director Mr
Arnold Glimcher, who had heard about the allegation at the time, believed that
his source had probably been Michael Peppiatt, an art historian and close
friend of Bacon. Initially Mr Peppiatt did not wish to become involved in the
recent legal case, but last month he met Marlborough and told them that he had
no knowledge about the alleged blackmail. According to Marlborough’s record
of their meeting with Mr Peppiatt on 4 February 2002: “Neither blackmail nor
any suggestion of blackmail was ever mentioned by Mr Peppiatt, Mr Glimcher or
by Bacon [in 1978]. The first time Mr Peppiatt remembers blackmail being
mentioned was in late 1999. The word was first mentioned by Brian Clarke when
he was telling him of the various misdemeanours of which he suspected
The Estate puts a different gloss on the situation. In a statement, it said
that although Mr Peppiatt had no knowledge of blackmail, “there remains an
unresolved conflict of evidence; Mr Glimcher is clear and detailed as to what
he was told; Mr Peppiatt has made it plain that he could not have been the
source of that information.”
Further evidence to support Marlborough’s argument that Bacon had been
treated properly by the gallery came in the form of a video film made by
Francis Giacobetti shortly before the artist’s death ten years ago. In the
video, Bacon describes the system under which Marlborough sold his paintings,
an arrangement with which he appeared satisfied. This evidence would have
proved helpful to the gallery if the case had proceeded.
Speaking after the claim had been dropped, Professor Clarke told The Art
Newspaper: “We now intend to focus all the Estate’s resources in
creative enterprises relating to Bacon rather than the time-consuming
investigation of the relationship between artist and Marlborough.” To this
end the John Edwards Charitable Foundation is being set up to advance the
study of Bacon and his work. It is expected to be chaired by Professor Clarke.
Although the Estate was valued at £11 million a decade ago (in paintings and
other assets) and has since grown, millions of pounds were spent on legal
fees. It is therefore possible that pictures may have to be sold to fund the
foundation’s work in the years to come. The most ambitious project will be
the publication of a catalogue raisonné of Bacon’s oeuvre. Professor Clarke
has already identified eight art historians who might be a suitable editor,
and a decision will be made shortly on who should lead the project. A book on
the relationship between Bacon and photography is also expected to be
commissioned later this month and other publications are likely to follow.
Professor Clarke points out that the information which surfaced during the
legal proceedings will “cause almost every book on Bacon to have to be
reassessed in some ways.” The Estate, which owns a number of important
paintings, has already had requests to participate in 14 Bacon exhibitions,
including two major retrospectives planned for the next couple of years.
The difficult question now is whether the Estate and Marlborough will be able
to work together. The Estate may need access to Marlborough’s photographs of
lost and destroyed works for its catalogue raisonné. The gallery, on its
side, will only have limited rights to reproduce Bacon paintings which it
wishes to sell. In theory, the two sides would benefit from cooperation.
However, relations between the Bacon’s Estate and his life-long dealer are
now strained and it may be some time before they can work constructively
Buyers stampede for 'bleak' Bacons
By Martin Evans, The Independent, Thursday 7
THREE PAINTINGS by the Irish-born artist
Francis Bacon sold for nearly £2m at auction last night. The three works were
snapped up during an auction of post-war art at Christie's in London.
The bleak pieces have been described as
demonstrating Bacon at his most existential and are good examples of the
confrontational, angst-ridden style of the artist's later years.
His 1954 work, Man In Blue VII, was
the earliest of his paintings up for sale and was sold for £707,750. It was the
culmination of a series of pictures that Bacon painted while staying in the
Imperial Hotel in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, near the house of his lover,
Head, painted in 1962, depicts the
head of a surgeon with a lamp strapped to it. Described as one of his darker
works, it was completed in the year Lacy died and was sold for £311,750.
The final piece under the hammer was
titled Portrait of a Man with Glasses IV, painted in 1963. It
fetched £894,750, more than double the estimated price. It depicts the image of
a man whose distorted face looks as if it has been beaten to a pulp. Bacon's
reputation and standing have gone up markedly since his death in 1992, bringing
higher prices for his work. His most valuable painting sold for more than £6m
in New York last year.
The sale comes the week after Bacon's estate
and his former gallery settled a long-running financial dispute.
Bacon paintings sold for £1.9m
Wednesday, 6 February, 2002
Man With Glasses IV was bought for nearly £0.9m
Three important paintings by Francis Bacon have
been sold for almost £2m at auction.
Christie's in London sold the works by the
Irish-born artist as part of a £7.4m sale called Post-War Art on
Man In Blue VII, Head, and
Portrait of Man
with Glasses IV went under the hammer for a total of £1,914,250.
But in terms of price, they were eclipsed by
the top lot, a bright canvas entitled No 15 painted by Russian-born
artist Mark Rothko, which was sold for £1.65m.
Bacon worked for 30 years at his
The Bacon paintings are regarded by critics as
great examples of his most existential and angst-ridden work.
Bacon's 1954 work, Man In Blue VII, was sold
The piece is the culmination of a series of
pictures Bacon painted while staying in the Imperial Hotel at
Henley-on-Thames, near the house of his lover, Peter Lacy.
Head, painted in 1962, the year Mr Lacy died,
depicts the head of a surgeon with a lamp strapped to it. It was bought
Portrait of Man with Glasses
IV, from 1963, was sold for £894,750, twice the expected price.
It depicts a man whose distorted face looks as
if it has been very badly beaten.
Bacon was one of the last century's most
successful artists, earning about £14m before his death in 1992.
Studies of the Human Body sold for £6m
in New York
Violence was prevalent in much of his work,
reflecting the turbulence of his own life.
His relationship with Mr Lacy was punctuated
by fights that often resulted in Bacon's canvases being vandalised.
A series of three paintings by Bacon of his
long-time partner, John Edwards, sold for £3m in 2001, and Studies of the
Human Body sold for £6m in New York last year.
In total, Post-War Art fetched £7.4m and
included work by Erika Klein and Andy Warhol.
Post War Art 6 & 7 February 2002
'Francis frequently slept on the sofa at my place
underneath a painting he had given me, the small head
of a surgeon with a lamp on his forehead… Having
slashed the larger [original] canvas… a friend
persuaded him to let me have it… To my lasting shame
and regret, I sold it when I was in my doldrums in
So wrote Dan Farson, describing Head (Daniel
Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon,
London, 1994, pp.251-52).
A Soho habitué and well-known television journalist,
Dan Farson had met Bacon in 1951, beginning a long
friendship that lasted until the painter's death. Head
was painted in 1962, a remarkably turbulent year for
The opening of his momentous Tate retrospective
had been overshadowed by the death of his lover, Peter
Lacy, whose features haunt those of the surgeon in
Head. Their tumultuous relationship was punctuated by
fights, which often resulted in Lacy attacking Bacon's
paintings. This violence was complicated by Bacon's
complex enjoyment of a certain brutality in his
relationships and trysts, a sado-masochism that
constantly permeated his art, not least in the hulking
figure of this surgeon.
Medical images often appear in Bacon's work, deriving
from his impressive archive of pictures in books on
radiography, disease and deformity but they are always
imbued with violence. Bodies are shown bandaged and
mutilated, pierced by syringes. An element of torture
taints Bacon's use of the medical. In Head, the
surgeon's headlight suggests interrogation rather than
The latent brutality implied by his bulk and distorted
head is wholly detached from conventional images of
doctors. Bacon's decision to take Head from a larger
canvas intensifies this brutality. The surgeon bursts
forth from the small painting, dominating its
composition completely. This surgeon - possibly a
unique figure in Bacon's œuvre - shows none of the
healer's compassion. Instead he appears as an
aggressor, a hybrid of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He is
the harbinger of horror, occupying a role usually
reserved for Bacon's nightmarish zoomorphic Furies.
The bodies Bacon depicted in his paintings tend to be
those of victims or patients, but here the surgeon, as
protagonist, stalks Bacon's psyche in all his
Neanderthal glory. He is not merely the embodiment but
also the cause of the 'human cry' that Bacon sought to
capture in his art, what he once described to Farson
as the 'whole coagulation of pain, despair'.
William Paton is a Researcher in the 20th Century Art
Department at Christie's King Street, London.
Heir's illness ends the battle between Bacon's estate
and his gallery
A High Court action brought by the estate of the artist
Francis Bacon against his former gallery has been settled, lawyers announced
By Steve Boggan & Terri Judd,
The Independent, 02 February 2002
A line was drawn under one of the most acrimonious art
wrangles in decades yesterday when Francis Bacon's estate and his former gallery
opted to settle amicably.
In the end it was human frailty that averted the £100m
High Court battle. The estate revealed that its only beneficiary - John Edwards,
51, a former pub landlord whom the artist treated "like a son" - is
seriously ill with lung cancer.
The estate had sued Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd
and Marlborough International Fine Art (Mifa), based in Liechtenstein, which had
vigorously defended the action.
Bacon, one of Britain's greatest 20th-century artists,
was represented by the international Marlborough gallery from 1958 until 1992
when he died in Spain from a heart attack, at the age of 82.
The estate took legal action, saying it was seeking a
"proper accounting from Marlborough, so as to be able to establish that
there was a fair balance struck between the interests of the gallery and
Marlborough said it had enjoyed a "frank, close
and mutually beneficial" relationship with the artist for 34 years.
A statement from the solicitors Freshfields Bruckhaus
Deringer yesterday said: "The trial need not now proceed. Marlborough will
release to the estate all documents still in their possession that belong to
Bacon or his estate. Each side will pay its own costs."
The statement continued: "Professor Brian Clarke,
the executor, was under a duty to investigate the concerns as to the
relationship between Bacon and Marlborough, which he has discharged.
"It is with sadness that the estate has to
announce that the sole beneficiary of the estate, John Edwards, has very
recently been diagnosed as suffering from a serious form of lung cancer. This
settlement has been agreed by the estate, against this background and on the
basis of Professor Clarke's assessment of the merits of the case in the light of
documents and witness evidence released by Marlborough in the latter part of
last year as part of the litigation process."
Professor Clarke said: "I am glad that the
litigation has settled. We are now going forward with our long-planned
establishment of the John Edwards Charitable Foundation, which will be for the
furtherance of the study of Francis Bacon and his work."
Gilbert Lloyd, the son of Marlborough's founder,
said it was pleased to "draw a line" under the matter.
Sources involved in the settlement said: "Because
of the length of time involved since Bacon died and since the litigation was
begun, both sides were finding it extremely difficult to find evidence to back
up their side of the claim.
"Coupled with that, when the news came that John
Edwards was seriously ill it was decided that talks would begin with a view to
reaching an amicable settlement. Since Mr Edwards is the sole beneficiary there
seemed little point in entering into potentially acrimonious litigation. Each
side will pay its own costs and both parties will walk away."
It is understood from other sources that no money will
change hands as part of the settlement. This will be seen as a vindication of
the Marlborough's claim that it had treated Bacon fairly.
On the side of Professor Clarke, it is understood there
is considerable satisfaction because during the legal process a number of
paintings were recovered and vast quantities of correspondence and documents
relating to the life of the artist were handed over by the gallery that will
interest art historians for generations to come.
Francis Bacon and Dealer Settle a Two-Year Suit Over Pricing
CAROL VOGEL, THE NEW YORK TIMES, FEBRUARY 2, 2002
the eve of what could have been one of the art world's nastiest trials,
the estate of Francis Bacon and the artist's dealer mutually agreed to
withdraw a two-year-old case in England over whether the dealer had
fraudulently earned tens of millions of dollars by consistently
undervaluing many of Mr. Bacon's paintings.
their agreement, the estate and the dealer, Marlborough U.K. and
Marlborough International, will each bear its own legal costs and be
spared the risk of losing a bruising case and having to pay both sides'
legal fees, which could have come to more than $15 million.
adding to the estate's decision not to go to trial was the fact that John
Edwards, the sole heir, was recently found to have lung cancer.
was going to be a long, tough case," said John Eastman, one of the
estate's lawyers. He said the estate's executor chose to conclude the case
with the uncertain outcome among the
uppermost things in his mind.
Bacon, who died in 1992, left his estate to Mr. Edwards, a reclusive
character with whom he had a filial relationship. Over the years Mr.
Bacon's paintings of distorted, anguished figures brought as much as $6
million at auction and made him one of Britain's most celebrated postwar
suit contended that Marlborough controlled the most minute aspects of Mr.
Bacon's financial and personal life — to the point of paying his laundry
bills and handing him spending money — and so could buy paintings from
him at greatly reduced rates and quickly resell them for substantially
Bergman, a lawyer for Marlborough, called the charges baseless, saying the
estate "realized it was without merit."
Eastman said that the executor, Brian Clarke, is completing plans to set
up the John Edwards Charitable Foundation for the study of Francis Bacon
and his work.
Three Bacon paintings to be sold for £2m
By Matthew Beard, The Independent,
10 January 2002
Three paintings by Francis Bacon, including a portrait
of a tortured-looking Peter Lacy, a homosexual lover, are expected to fetch up
to £2m at auction in London next month.
Nearly 10 years after the death of Britain's finest
post-war artist, competition is expected to be intense for Man in Blue VII, part
of a series Bacon painted in the early Fifties with Lacy as a model.
The tension-filled portrait shows the subject in a dark
suit, standing as though in the dock of a courtroom. Bacon emphasises his
subject's vulnerability by ghostly vertical stripes in the background, which
resemble cell bars.
The 60in by 42in (150cm by 105cm) oil on canvas is
estimated to fetch about £700, 000 at Christie's on 6 February. A second, much
smaller Bacon, a haunting and disturbing painting called Head and given by the
artist to his friend, the writer Daniel Farson, in 1962, is estimated at up to
£500,000. Farson, to his "lasting shame and regret", sold the
painting in 1966 for £2,400 when he found himself "in the doldrums".
A third Bacon, Portrait of a Man with Glasses
painted in 1963 and showing a distorted face reminiscent of the nanny shot in
the head in the Russian film classic Battleship Potemkin, directed by Sergei
Eisenstein, should make up to £400,000. It is being offered for sale by a
The Man in Blue portrait, for which competition is
expected to be fiercest, was painted in 1954 while Bacon was staying in the
Imperial Hotel, Henley-on-Thames, to be close to Lacy, who had a house in the
Oxfordshire town. Fernando Mignoni, a Christie's specialist, said yesterday:
"It is only fitting that a painting showing traces of the features of Lacy,
with whom Bacon had a turbulent and at times violent relationship, should show
his customary ambiguity.
"This is Bacon at his most existential, painting
the whole angst and fragility of life."
Last year, three 1984 portraits by Bacon of another
lover, John Edwards, fetched more than £3m at Christie's in London. The world
record for a Bacon is $6.6m (£4.6m) for a 1966 portrait of a previous lover,
George Dyer, who killed himself in 1971. Edwards met Bacon in 1974 and stayed
with him until the artist's death. He was, like Dyer, an East End boy much
younger than Bacon.
Next month, the High Court in London will hear
allegations that Bacon was blackmailed into staying with the Marlborough Fine
Art gallery in London. The Pace Gallery in New York offered to pay Bacon £50,000
a painting in 1978, but its owner, Arnold Glimcher, claimed that Bacon stayed
with Marlborough after it allegedly threatened to stop his access to his Swiss
bank account and expose him to higher income tax.
The court ruling will settle a £100m battle waged by
trustees of the Bacon estate to establish exactly how much the artist was paid
in his 34-year relationship with Marlborough.
Three Bacon paintings up for auction
Kennedy, arts and heritage correspondent
, The Guardian, Thursday 10
angst-filled paintings by Francis Bacon including an ominous portrait of his
lover, representing a traumatic period in the artist's life, come up for auction
in London next month.
estimated by Christie's at under £1m, but could well soar far past that: the
world record for a Bacon is over £6m, paid at a Sotheby's auction in New York
last year, and a series of three portraits of his last companion, John Edwards,
sold for just over £3m at Christie's in London.
One of the
paintings, Head, the contorted image of a surgeon with a lamp on his
forehead, was given as a present to his friend, the writer Daniel Farson. Four
years later, in 1966, Farson sold it - in his own words to his "lasting
shame and regret" - for £2,400: it is now estimated at up to £500,000.
relationship in the 1950s with a former fighter pilot, Peter Lacy, was marked by
fights which frequently became violent, and sometimes led to Lacy physically
attacking Bacon's canvases. Head was painted in 1962, the year of Lacy's
small canvas was painted the following year, Portrait of Man with Glasses IV,
and shows a face so distorted and apparently blood-spattered that it appears to
have been beaten to a pulp: it is estimated at up to £400,000.
expected to attract most interest is a portrait of Lacy himself, Man in Blue
VII, estimated at up to £700,000. It was the culmination of a series painted in
1954 when Bacon was staying at the Imperial Hotel in Henley-on-Thames, to be
near Lacy's house.
specialist Fernando Mignoni said yesterday: "It is only fitting that a
painting that show's traces of the features of Lacy, with whom Bacon had a
turbulent relationship, should show his customary ambiguity. This is Bacon at
his most existential."
reputation has continued to soar since he died in 1992 of a heart attack,
leaving his entire fortune, then estimated at £11m, to John Edwards, a former
East End barman.
studio, often knee-deep in litter, has been treated as a shrine, and recreated
in his native - but hastily abandoned - Dublin.
POST-WAR (EVENING SALE)
London, King Street Sale Date Feb 06, 2002
Head 1962 Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon (1909- 1992)
oil on canvas laid down on board
16 5/8 x 17in. (42.4 x 43.2cm.)
Painted in 1962
Estimate: 300,000 - 500,000
Lot Number 13 Sale Number 6553
Literature: R. Alley and J.
Rothenstein, Francis Bacon, London 1964, no. 205, p.148 (illustrated p.248).
Provenance: Daniel Farson, London. His sale; Sotheby's London, 14th December
1966, Lot 156 (sold for £ 2,400).
in 1962, Head was a gift from Bacon to his friend Daniel Farson, a writer who
would later become the artist's biographer. Speaking of the house in Limehouse
that he owned between the mid-1950s and 1964, Farson wrote, 'Francis frequently
slept on the sofa at my place underneath a painting he had given me, the small
head of a surgeon with a lamp on his forehead...Having slashed the larger
canvas… a friend persuaded him to let me have it. Years later, when it hung
above the fireplace in my home in North Devon, Henry Williamson, the author of
Tarka the Otter, studied it in amazement. 'That man is a great artist!' he
whispered, though he had not heard of Bacon. To my lasting shame and regret, I
sold it when I was in my doldrums in Devon' (Daniel Farson, The Gilded Gutter
Life of Francis Bacon, London, 1994, pp.251-52). Farson had met Bacon in Soho in
1951, and they struck up a long friendship that would last until the artist's
early 1960s were a crucial period in Bacon's career, especially the year that
this work was painted. Bacon had recently signed a contract with Marlborough
Fine Art, giving him both significant financial stability and increased
exposure, and it was in 1962 that the Tate Gallery held the artist's first
retrospective. The previous year Bacon had changed studio, moving to the mews
that he was to use until his death. Despite all these positive aspects to his
life at this period, the success of the Tate retrospective was utterly punctured
by the simultaneous death of his lover Peter Lacy.
and violence often formed the backdrop to Bacon's life, and this translated
forcefully to his art. In Head, the menacing hulk of the surgeon reeks with
brutality. Bacon himself differentiated between the violence on and off the
canvas, saying, 'I have been accustomed to always living through forms of
violence - which may or may not have an effect upon one, but I think probably
does. But this violence of my life, the violence which I've lived amongst, I
think it's different to the violence in painting. When talking about the
violence of paint, it's nothing to do with the violence of war. It's to do with
an attempt to remake the violence of reality itself' (Bacon, quoted in David
Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, New York, 1990,
p.81). Bacon well remembered the atmosphere of suspense and latent violence in
Ireland during his youth, when English and Anglo-Irish families like his lived
in constant fear of death. This thread of violence continued in London through
the two World Wars where he lived under threat of bombing and, importantly,
witnessed the immediacy of the effects of the death and destruction wrought upon
the people and the landscape - it is no coincidence that Bacon returned to
painting during the Second World War. Likewise, violence played a large part in
many of Bacon's relationships, especially that with Peter Lacy. Their fights
were often brutal. Bacon's attitudes towards this violence were, however, mixed.
Indeed, Bacon was known to enjoy suffering a certain brutality in his
relationships. This was most obvious during his time in Tangier, where Lacy
worked as a pianist and where Bacon would often be found, bloodied and bruised
after an evening's tryst. This mixture of fear and guilty enjoyment mingles
freely in Bacon's paintings. The violence of his imagery is mixed with an overt
enjoyment of the sensuality of flesh, which he took great relish in painting.
The smeared features in Head, the hallmark of Bacon's work, are redolent with a
fleshiness that is obtrusive to the point of nausea. The very application of the
paint shows an appreciation of the sensual, the materiality itself imbuing the
flesh of this menacing surgeon with an awesome presence, perfectly condensing
the 'violence of reality itself'.
implied violence of the surgical theme was of immense interest to Bacon, whose
paintings often contained elements filtered from books on radiography,
deformity, disease and other medical texts. Bacon himself often told of buying
an antique book on diseases of the mouth while in Paris. The book was filled
with exquisitely hand-coloured illustrations which he found beautiful. Bacon saw
this same strange, horrific beauty in car crashes and other sights packed with
the mixed colours and contrasts death and destruction. This fitted with Bacon's
fascination with violence, and especially violence wreaked upon the body. In
Head, the surgeon, possibly a unique figure in Bacon's oeuvre, is depicted
during surgery, wearing what appears to be a surgical robe as well as the light
on his head. Usually when medical elements appear in Bacon's work, the subject
appears to be the patient or victim - mutilated and deformed bodies people his
paintings. The image here is all the more striking because it is the aggressor,
the surgeon, an aspect complicated by the surgeon's role as healer. It is clear
from other paintings by Bacon that the surgical processes and implements,
represented by bandages, mutilations and hypodermic syringes and recalled in
many of his works by the slab-like supports upon which his subjects often
languish, were sources of little comfort to the artist. Each medical element in
his painting screams of horror and torture. In Head, the light on the surgeon's
head reminds the viewer more of interrogation than mere inspection. This Dr. Mengele ambiguity, the dichotomy between torturer and healer, cuts to the core
of Bacon's life, and especially to his relationship with Peter Lacy. Indeed,
traces of Lacy's features haunt this surgeon's face. The pair often fought
intensely, and Lacy often destroyed Bacon's paintings in fits of rage, yet he
also provided Bacon with great happiness.
surgical features often appeared in Bacon's works, the surgeon himself is a
theme of startling rarity. In many ways, he appears to be a rare, fully human
manifestation of the Furies who often appeared in Bacon's paintings, embodying
an abstract sense of guilt and violence. The Furies feature throughout Bacon's
work, often taking strange, fleshy yet zoomorphic shapes. Here, Bacon has
managed to translate this same animal brutality to the image of the surgeon. His
thick, dark arms and sloping shoulders retain a sense of the simian. The
surgeon's menacing, elongated head is portrayed using Bacon's hallmark methods
of distortion, a means of intensifying the image and its reality. Bacon, in a
televised interview with Melvyn Bragg, said that his work was a 'concentration
of reality, shorthand of sensation' (The South Bank Show, London, 1985). By
avoiding what he termed 'illustration' and disrupting actual shapes and sights,
Bacon unveiled a subjective awareness of reality and horror. This is achieved
both in his swirls of paint and the introduction of an animalism to the
surgeon's body. As Bacon himself put it a few years after Head was painted, he
aimed to 'distort the thing far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to
bring it back to a recording of the appearance… I think that the methods by
which this is done are so artificial that the model before you, in my case,
inhibits the artificiality by which this thing can be brought back' (Bacon,
1966, quoted in David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis
Bacon, New York, 1990, p.40).
As Daniel Farson pointed out, Head originally formed part of a larger picture.
Bacon himself cut the head and shoulders from the painting and, judging by the
drawing pin marks, stuck it up in a place of choice for some time. Bacon was
known for his almost whimsical destruction of canvases that he felt were
inferior or that he had ruined. However in Head, whatever happened elsewhere in
the larger composition had evidently not affected this section enough to merit
its obliteration. Although Bacon seems to have spent little care or attention in
the cuts themselves, nonetheless he salvaged this part, a testimony to the
artist's own satisfaction. The haunting, stretched head has a peculiar and
disturbing resonance intensified by its dominance of the picture's new smaller
size. This intimate scale and close-quarters depiction of the subject cut to the
core of Bacon's portraits in the present format. In retrospect, Bacon's decision
to remove this section appears judicious, as increasingly in the early 1960s he
espoused brighter colours and a stark but more expansive sense of space in his
larger paintings while the smaller ones tended to retain this darkness and
customary claustrophobia. Head is similar to these smaller works in appearance
and effect. The dark background and looming figure of the surgeon pack the work
with intensity, almost inducing an existential nausea with its very presence.
Bacon's perceived reality finds a new strength in this small format, and Head
becomes an icon to the horrors of existence.
POST-WAR (EVENING SALE)
London, King Street Sale Date Feb 06, 2002
Man in Blue VII 1954 Francis Bacon
Lot Title Man in Blue VII
Creator: Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Man in Blue VII
oil on canvas
60 x 42½in. (152.7 x 107.9cm.)
Painted in 1954500,000 - 700,000
Estimate 500,000 -
700,000 British pounds
Man in Blue VII,
painted in 1954, is the culmination of a series of pictures with the same title
that Bacon painted while staying in the Imperial Hotel in Henley-on-Thames.
Although to some it seemed like an unlikely spot for the artist to reside, Bacon
spent a great deal of time in Henley during the 1950s in order to be close to
his lover Peter Lacy, who had a house there. Lacy, in fact, appears to be the
model throughout the series, as is most evident in Man in Blue V, where the
subject, filled with confidence, confronts the viewer with an intense gaze
reminiscent of a photograph of him relaxing in Ostia. However, in Man in Blue
VII there is less confidence. The depicted man seems oppressed both by his
background and his situation.
During the early 1950s,
Bacon had begun to abandon the expressionistic, dreamlike images he had earlier
produced, paintings filled with zoomorphic horrors. Instead, he took as his main
subject the human form. His palette became superficially more reserved, with
dark backgrounds, blues and blacks, dominating his work. Beginning with his
reinterpretations of the famous Velazquez Portrait of Pope Innocent X, Bacon
explored tortured humanity on an intimate level. In them, the 'Pope' sat,
screaming, eyes fixed on the viewer. From these evolved intense images of men
dressed in suit and tie, sometimes bespectacled, usually screaming. Despite the
superficial normality of the businessman as subject matter, Bacon was far from
developing a respectable pictorial process - what he termed 'illustration' had
no part in his work. Instead, he was exploring increasingly recognisable
subjects that he could manipulate in order to harness the anguish so central to
his work. Apart from the Popes, Bacon tended to use photographs of people he
knew as the subjects for his paintings, preferring to work from stills rather
than live models. However, he always disrupted the scientific certainty of the
images of the photographs he used, explaining that, 'I don't think it's damage.
You may say it's damaging if you take it on the level of illustration. But not
if you take it on the level of what I think of as art. One brings the sensation
and the feeling of life over the only way one can' (Bacon, quoted in David
Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, New York, 1990,
The Man in Blue took this system of representation to a new scale. The figure is
at the centre of a far larger composition, giving a sense of oblivion to the
bleak surroundings. Where other figures filled their canvases, here the subject
is stranded at the centre of his, helpless. Although in Man in Blue VII the
figure is not screaming, nonetheless there is a huge tension as he stands in his
suit as though in the dock at court. This adds to the sense that the subject is
a defendant, the prey; although Bacon deliberately leaves the nature of his
ordeal unknown. Bacon has emphasised the subject's vulnerability with the
introduction of the ghostly vertical stripes which resemble bars on a cage.
There is a sense of confinement and imprisonment, but at the same time of
complete negation, in that the figure appears absorbed into the nothingness of
the background. In this final work in the series, Bacon has allowed the figure
to be consumed by his surroundings - where he dominated the picture in Man in
Blue V, now he is its victim. He appears disorientated, as though he is looking
for some relief or respite from above infuses the painting with a sense of
paranoia. The simple fact that there is nothing threatening within the painting
except the atmosphere itself allows Bacon to imply that the predator, the source
of menace, is elsewhere, not within the realm of the painting, but in the realm
of the painter - the realm of the viewer.
It is only fitting that a
painting that shows traces of the features of Bacon's lover, Lacy, with whom he
had a turbulent and at times violent relationship, should show his customary
ambiguity. Indeed, the suit is so crisp that the viewer is forced to wonder in
part whether the subject is a victim in the dock or a dictator on his podium.
The uniform-like suit gives an air of authority, and the pose mingles an
impression of restraint - his hands tied behind his back - with a pose of
confidence. The mangled features combine the sad eyes of the persecuted with an
almost rabid mouth, the fanatical orator frothing with ferocity and enthusiasm.
However, the almost disembodied torso that blends into the background, while
making this character something of an eminence grise, also lends him an
insubstantiality inappropriate to the wilful tyrant. In turn, this phantom-like
appearance accentuates the pale face and flesh tones, which are pushed into
relief by the chiaroscuro, the tiny spot of flesh almost phosphorescent against
the dark. This is Bacon at his most existential, painting the whole angst and
fragility of life.
POST-WAR (EVENING SALE)
London, King Street Sale Date Feb 06, 2002
Portrait of Man with Glasses 1963 Francis Bacon
Creator Francis Bacon
Lot title Portrait of
Man with Glasses IV
Lot description Francis
Portrait of Man with Glasses IV
oil on canvas
14 1/8 x 12in. (36 x 30¼cm.) Painted
A gift from the artist to the present owner.
Rothenstein and R. Alley, Francis Bacon, London 1964, p. 154, no. 220 (illustrated).
John Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1985, p. 123.
300,000 - 400,000 British
Painted in 1963, Portrait
a Man with Glasses IV was one of a series of four pictures depicting the
same man at slightly varying angles. In the early 1960s, Bacon increasingly used
small canvases to paint bust portraits, sometimes executing small series
reminiscent in their variations of the sequence photography of his much admired
Portrait of a Man with Glasses IV shows a distorted face looking as though it
has been beaten to a pulp. The mangled glasses even have a spray of red,
implying blood. The head looks battered and bruised. The glasses make this an
image reminiscent of one of the most important sources of inspiration to Bacon,
the nanny shot in the head in Eisenstein's film Battleship Potemkin, where the
woman's twisted glasses are shattered, blood on her face, her mouth open in a
scream. Of this film, Bacon said, 'It was a film I saw almost before I began
to paint, and it deeply impressed me - I mean the whole film as well as the
Odessa Steps sequence and this shot. I did hope at one time to make - it hasn't
got any special psychological significance - I did hope one day to make the best
painting of the human cry… it's much better in the Eisenstein' (Bacon,
1966, quoted in David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis
Bacon, New York, 1990, p.34). Here, Bacon has eschewed his quest for the human
cry, instead presenting a haunting image of a beaten man. The dark abysses in
place of the eyes create a skull-like effect, while the mouth, so detached from
any scream, seems to show the man's resignation, his facial expression appearing
as hollow as his eye-sockets.
The dark background in
Portrait of a Man with Glasses IV pushes the flesh to the fore, as does
the composition. The unpainted areas meld with the man's body and hair. Bacon
often used contrasting thick and thin paints, heightening the almost plastic
effect of the flesh, but here he has taken it to an extreme, the small areas of
raw canvas adding both colour and texture to the painting. Using this technique
on the hair and torso of the man serves to make the pallid flesh all the more
striking, sensuous yet repellent. Portrait of a Man with Glasses: 'had passed
between them, like a snail, leaving a trail of the human presence and memory
trace of past events, as the snail leaves its slime. I think the whole process
of this sort of elliptical form is dependent on the execution of detail and how
shapes are remade or put slightly out of focus to bring in their memory traces' (Bacon,
quoted in The New Decade, New York, 1955, p.63.)
you qualify as a member of the Colony Room Club? You either have to be
talented or amusing - in fact, bores are barred. Now the infamous
private drinking den, where artists from Francis Bacon to Damien Hirst
have partied for more than half a century, is holding an exhibition of
By Colin Gleadell,
The Daily Telegraph, 19 October 2001
and alcohol have always made good bedfellows, but nowhere have they
snuggled up so successfully and for so long as in Soho's notorious
private drinking den, the Colony Room Club. Considering that its
founder, the formidably camp Muriel Belcher, claimed to know 'fuck all
about art', and that it has never been exclusively an artists' club, it
is remarkable how, since its inception in 1948, the Colony has attracted
so many British artists of renown. From Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud
to Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, successive generations have made their inebriated way up and
down the creaking stairs that lead to this small, dark, smoke-filled
room in Dean Street.
since the club's 50th anniversary in 1998, the rank of members and
supporters has been swelled by a stream of thirtysomething British
artists with big reputations. Next week these, together with a host of
illustrious figures from other walks of life who have joined the club,
are contributing to an exhibition curated by Michael Wojas, the club's
proprietor, to celebrate a hard-won court battle over the lease. Apart
from artists of the stature of Sarah Lucas, Gary Hume, the twins Jane
and Louise Wilson and Gavin Turk, the list includes rock
guitarists Paul Simenon of the Clash and Anthony Glenn of Pulp, Swedish
actress Amanda Ooms - shortly to be seen in Granada's The Forsyte Saga -
and man-about-town and aspiring photographer Dan Macmillan, the
27-year-old great-grandson of former prime minister Sir Harold
what's the attraction? Is it something the barman puts in the drinks? Of
course alcohol is the common bait. But, more importantly, it's who you
drink with that counts. For members of the Colony this is something that
is rooted in history. Had Francis Bacon not walked into the club the day
after it opened and found someone as sympathetic to his plight as a poor
homosexual artist than Muriel Belcher, the legend of the Colony might
never have been born. And had the legend not been born, the club would
undoubtedly not be what it is today.
legend rests on the fact that Bacon, arguably the most significant
painter of the post-war era, made Belcher's club his second home. 'At
unproductive moments in his career,' writes Michael Peppiatt, 'he spent
more time at her club than at Reece Mews [his home and studio]'. And
where he went, others followed. In Michael Andrews's famous 1962
painting, The Colony Room, Bacon sits, holding court, with Belcher,
Freud and the photographer John Deakin in attendance. Dotted elsewhere
around the room are the writers Bruce and Jeffrey Bernard, and the
artist's mode; and sometime 'Queen of Soho' Henrietta Moraes.
Bacon's magnetism, Belcher added a genius for selecting and entertaining
not just artists and writers but also actors, gamblers, criminals, peers
and politicians. As George Melly has written, 'She liked her members to
be amusing or talented or rich, although she could be very kind to
down-and-outs.' She knew instinctively who would fit in and who would
not, thus giving the place a sense of exclusivity. Although she
cultivated artists, she knew it would have been boring if it was just
artists talking about art, and bores - except for very rich ones - were
Colony rudeness became a cult. As the Hon Michael Summerskill put it,
'It was a place where the rules against slander could be suspended.' But
under Belcher's successor, Ian Board, the cult reached new extremes.
According to Melly, Board was 'a monster of aggressive, sometimes
incoherent rudeness'. After Belcher's death in 1979, Bacon visited less
frequently, and although artists continued to drink there, the club lost
many of its regular customers.
Board died in 1994, his mantle passed to the barman, Michael Wojas. A
less bombastic, less confrontational character than his predecessors,
Wojas quietly set about re-inventing the club. 'The place had such
potential. I couldn't just let it drift,' he recalls. 'I didn't have a
plan, but I consciously went out to clubs and private views to meet
people and listen to their suggestions.' When new faces began to appear
at his door he would 'get a feeling, take a chance and sign them in,' he
says of the vetting process. 'It's something to do with their general
state of mind. And the younger the better, so long as they're not total
bores.' And if they are? 'I eloquently tell them to fuck off!'
Wojas, the defining moment of regeneration came in 1998, when he
conceived an exhibition by members to celebrate the club's 50th
anniversary. For this he enlisted the support of former art dealer James
Birch. Birch had been going to the Colony since the late Seventies and
had introduced several younger artists, including Damien Hirst, who was
to act as a catalyst for the club's fortunes in the way that Bacon had
done. At his house in Clerkenwell, Birch designed the basement as a
gallery, and agreed to host the exhibition there. Contributions were
received from older-generation artists such as Patrick Caulfield and
Barry Flanagan, younger bloods Damien Hirst, Marc Quinn and Tracey Emin
as well as from singer Lisa Stansfield and fil mkaer John Maybury.It was, said Wojas, a sort of 'Liquorice
Allsorts'. But its impact led to three years of unprecedented membership
expansion at the club.
Bacon was given a weekly
'salary' of free drinks at the art world watering hole in exchange
for bringing in new customers
opening, Wojas was introduced to Sarah Lucas and complained that he was
having trouble finding someone to help out behind the bar. To his
surprise, she volunteered her services, adding that she would like to
work on Tuesdays because, says Wojas, 'that was the night when most of
the galleries held their private views, and she hated private views'.
happened next, as many things in the club do, started as a joke. Lucas
and fellow artist Abigail Lane hatched an idea that each would work
behind the bar for one night with their respective boyfriends - the
artist Angus Fairhurst and the singer/composer/DJ Paul Fryer. Then, when
Hirst and his wife, Maia, decided to follow suit, the idea really took
off with celebrity art-world couples queuing up to offer their services.
From November 1998 until March the following year, Wednesday night
became party night at the Colony as art dealer Jay Jopling and his wife,
video artist Sam Taylor-Wood, Tracey Emin and boyfriend Matt Collishaw,
Jane and Louise Wilson and even Suggs from Madness and his wife took a
turn behind the bar.
Tim Noble and Sue Webster worked behind the bar on one of those nights.
'You don't join the club,' says Webster, 'you just fall in. It's like a
secret drinking hole. Not anyone can go there so it is sort of
exclusive, but not in a snobby way. The night we worked there, we
dressed up as Fred and Rosemary West. A lot of our friends came
expecting free drinks, but they had to pay. The hardest part was working
the till. It's like one of those saloon bar tills you see in westerns
with big buttons. Instead of ringing up £10, you have to ring up £1 -
then, that till has finally expired and Wojas has acquired an old
customised National Cash Registers till which is being cased in chrome.
On the front a panel has been made in etched glass, and the keys are
being decorated with coloured spots to match a Damien Hirst spot
painting behind the bar. It will be unveiled at Wojas's upcoming
most curated exhibitions of contemporary art nowadays, where an
apparently disparate group of works is held together by the curator's
underlying concept, this one holds no such pretensions. As Paul Fryer
says, 'It's a bit like Peter Blake at the RA this summer. When asked how
he had selected the artists he invited to show there he replied,
"They are just basically people I like." '
Fairhurst describes Wojas as 'a drinking curator', but while some of the
work in the exhibition may have been inspired by drink, references to
the Colony itself are not necessarily intentional. Dan Macmillan's
photograph, Adolf Hilfiger, for instance, is 'about America and Tommy
Hilfiger', he explains. 'It's part of an ongoing series I'm doing about
Nazi imagery in graphic design work and the power of graphic designers
in establishing corporate identities.' In the context, one is faintly
reminded of Muriel Belcher's repeated references to the Nazi leader as
Lane's inkjet print, The Inspirator, is something that could just have
been inspired by an all-night session at the Colony, but apparently
wasn't. In it, a panda (actually a busker she met on the Underground
dressed in a panda suit) plays the trumpet in a forest. It's a slightly
surreal vision of a fairground event swathed in the same Buckingham
green colours in which the club itself is painted. Sarah Lucas has made
a sculpture for the show that seems more specific. Smoked, 20 cigarette
butts on wire coils extending from the neck of a hammer like the arms of
an octopus, is not about drink but another of the pursuits of the
Colony's members and 'the price you pay for it'. Gary Hume has chosen to
show a previously unexhibited painting of Michael Jackson taken from a photograph in the Guardian during the singer's
visit to Oxford earlier this year. Somehow Hume captures something of
the essence of the club in describing the subject of his painting as
'both brilliant and tragic at the same time'.
Fairhurst's collage, Proposal for a Monument can be read as a reflection
on how the attitudes of the new generation towards the history of the
club have changed. Without reference to anything specific, Fairhurst
made a series of collages three months ago about the way things collapse
under the weight of their own history. On the top of a building a sign
reads: 'Delete All Memories'. Although the club still looks much the
same as it always did, cluttered with memorabilia and gifts from
artists, 'it is not a shrine' says Fairhurst.
thing that could have been a problem with the club is that Bacon's
shadow hangs too heavily over it,' says Matt Collishaw. 'Michael [Wojas]
gives people the freedom to get on with the present without getting tied
into some heavy mythology.' The ghosts of Francis Bacon and Muriel
Belcher may still linger, but they are rapidly being exorcised.
- A Space Oddity' runs from October 28 to November 16 at James
Birch's A22 Gallery, 22 Laystall St, London EC1R 4PA
Indepth Arts News
2001-01-27 until 2001-05-13
Den Haag, , NL
Francis Bacon's work was first shown at the Gemeentemuseum during the 1964 New
Realists exhibition. It was controversial, partly because it was deliberately
figurative at a period dominated by abstract art. The exhibition led the
Gemeentemuseum to purchase Paralytic Child (1961) with help from the Vereniging
Rembrandt. Now the Gemeentemuseum is putting on a retrospective including all
the most important works of this most fascinating of all post-war painters.
The paintings on view will
include the famous series of Popes, his works based on Van Gogh, portraits of
his friend and companion George Dyer and a large number of monumental triptychs,
including one - Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion ('44) -
which hasn't previously been lent out by the Tate Gallery.
Francis Bacon (Dublin 1909
- Madrid 1992) produced paintings which are neither abstract nor purely
figurative. Interested as he was in the ability of bodily movement to express
underlying emotions, he based his approach on film and photography. The work of
Muybridge was a favourite source, but others included x-rays, portraits and
self-portraits, photographs of dictators and books about diseases of the mouth.
When painting portraits, he liked to have photographs of wild animals to hand,
because one image can suggest many ideas for the other. Because of its rawness,
Bacon's work is sometimes seen as violent. However, violence was neither his
starting-point nor his goal. He wanted to reveal the deformed nature of the
individual. By turning people inside out and literally getting under their skin,
he tried to penetrate their individual personalities, to reveal their weaknesses
and to make their mortality not just visible but actually tangible. He
deliberately chose to do this in a hard-hitting, confrontational way in order to
achieve an intensity which would shock the viewer and touch a nerve. His
recurrent themes are the vulnerability of the human body, mental laceration and
Bacon decided to become a
painter at the age of eighteen, after visiting a Picasso exhibition in Paris. At
first, his shows attracted few buyers and unanimously poor reviews. In disgust,
he destroyed almost everything he made in this early period. His breakthrough
came only in 1944, when he exhibited the first of his triptychs in London. By
the time the MoMa bought one of his works in 1949 his star was already rising
and his show the following year was a sell-out. Thereafter, his career really
took off and the prices paid for his work sky-rocketed. His notoriously
turbulent life alternated between 'the gutter and the Ritz' and was filled with
hard drinking, heavy gambling and promiscuous homosexuality. At one point, his
studio served as an illegal gambling den. He was engaged in a perpetual search
for sensation, a constant high with no subsequent low.
Bacon's London studio in
Reece Mews has recently been moved to Dublin by the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery
of Modern Art, leading to the discovery of a wealth of valuable documentary
material. The photographs, background documents and drawings found there will
now be exhibited for the first time. They provide an insight into the creative
process underlying Bacon's paintings. Also two paintings previously thought lost
and these will be displayed here for the first time ever. Particularly notable
features of the exhibition will include items on loan from the Francis Bacon
Estate, the Tate Gallery and the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. The owners have
announced that these works will not be loaned out again for some time because of
their fragile state and high insurance value.
The exhibition will be
accompanied by a full-colour 144-page catalogue published by Waanders at a price
of NLG 39.95 (hardcover NLG 55).
Study for Portrait of Van Gogh IV, 1957
The show must go on
Critics may accuse the South
Bank Show of sycophancy, but as it begins its 25th series, Rupert Smith finds
Melvyn Bragg in buoyant mood
The Guardian, Monday October
Bragg, or Lord Bragg of Wigton to his peers across the river, rules the LWT arts
and features department from a modest office on the 22nd floor of the London
Television Centre. From his desk he can see the House of Lords (where, perhaps,
he should be sitting) through the spokes of the London Eye. For a man consumed
with the idea of viewing high culture and popular culture through the same
critical lens, it's an appropriate vista.
To prove a point, Bragg's back with a South Bank
Show season that includes profiles of Norman Foster, Rachel Whiteread and Pedro
Almodovar, and boasts commissioned work by Tony Harrison and Ken Russell. The
showreel that accompanied the series launch features SBS highlights with Paul
McCartney (composing a song called Melvyn Bragg in the first show in 1978),
Francis Bacon, Woody Allen, Tracey Emin and Steven Spielberg.
Even more taxing was Bragg's encounter with Francis
Bacon in 1985. "I'd known Francis since the early 60s, and I always wanted
to make a film on him, but he wouldn't play. But then he went and made a film
with an American director, which was not good at all. I went to see Francis and
I read him the riot act. 'We make good films. This is not a good film! I'm
outraged that you went with anyone else and you ended up looking like a pillock!'
He just shrugged and said 'OK, do a bloody film then.' ..."
"Unfortunately, when it came to shooting the
interview I'd just come back from a period of writing and not drinking at all up
in Cumberland. I arrived at Francis's flat in Soho and he was pouring champagne
for everyone. We drank that, then we went and had a proper lunch, then we reset
the restaurant to do the interview and drank some more, then on to the Colony
Club and then to a casino - my liver was like a trout leaping up stream. When I
sobered up I watched the rushes and I thought he said some very good things. I
knew I'd get slammed for doing an interview when drunk, but I decided to leave
it in. Francis just said 'Oh, bugger them. Show it all.'..."
Burn, Bacon, Burn
Art Review: Letters
Art critic William
Feaver ("Should it stay or should it go?" Art Review, May 2001) is
right to argue that we should torch Francis Bacon's studio and its contents.
Reconstructing Bacon's studio in Dublin is like displaying Tut's Tomb sans cadaver.
Bacon would have despised the idea of turning his chaotic studio into a peeping
Tom's cabinet of curiosities.
accordance with Bacon's wishes: "When I'm dead, put me in a plastic bag and
throw me in the gutter" (Bacon in conversation with Ian Board from The
Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon by Daniel Farson) - it would have been
more appropriate for the Dubliners to have placed empty champagne bottles,
oyster shells, gambling chips, £50 notes and Bacon's bones in a black plastic
rubbish bag. However, even in this respect, Bacon's last wishes were thwarted
because he was cremated.
Alex Russell London
Peter Pollock: Obituary
12 September 2001
Francis Bacon with Peter Pollock in Tangier in the 1950s
Peter William Pollock, restaurateur:
born London 19 November 1919; died Tangier 28 July 2001.
Peter Pollock was a friend and supporter of Francis
Bacon who in his fifties moved to Morocco and bought a restaurant, the Pergola,
which became famed for serving the finest plate of swordfish and chips on the
North African coast. Thirty-five of the art-works given him by Bacon formed,
with four drawings given to Sir Stephen Spender, the bulk of the Tate Gallery's
exhibition "Francis Bacon: works on paper and paintings" earlier this
Born in 1919, Pollock was part-heir to the Accles
& Pollock empire – a Midlands-based and highly successful light
engineering company co-founded in 1901 by his grandfather Thomas Pollock. In the
1950s the names Accles & Pollock were juxtaposed nationwide on massive
hoardings, suggesting all manner of interesting spoonerisms – an innovative
form of advertising considered quite racy in its day.
Spurning a possible "reserved occupation"
career in light engineering, the young Peter Pollock was an eager volunteer for
military service at the start of the Second World War. He gained a commission in
the Gordon Highlanders and served, as a captain, both in North Africa and in
Italy, where he was taken prisoner.
After demob, and despite his spending four humdrum
years in a German POW camp, the idea of a career in Midlands light engineering
seemed no more exciting to Pollock than it had done at the start of hostilities.
Instead, he bought a farm in Flaunden, Hertfordshire, and took up the life of a
gentleman farmer, combining a dairy herd with pig-farming, greyhound breeding
and, in the lazy summer afternoons, idling through the leafy Hertfordshire lanes
in his vintage Rolls.
Continually frustrated at what he considered to be
his own lack of creative achievement, Pollock had an unquenchable passion both
for the arts and the company of artists. Sundays provided open house at the
Flaunden farm for painters, writers, actors and actresses.
A constant visitor was the then little-recognised
painter Francis Bacon. Lacking a home of his own, Bacon enjoyed a
come-and-go-as-he-pleased existence, both at the Flaunden farm and at a flat,
overlooking Battersea Park in London, which Pollock also owned. Pollock allowed
the young Bacon a rent-free life over the years 1955-61– a kindness which the
painter acknowledged by leaving behind the occasional picture in unspoken
Another young man whom Pollock took pity on and
befriended – and who was destined to become his lifetime companion – was
Paul Danquah. Danquah's father, J.B. Danquah, had been a minister in Kwame
Nkrumah's government in Ghana, but a change in regimes had resulted in his
temporary imprisonment. Paul Danquah, at that time studying for the Bar at the
Inner Temple, was left unfunded. Pollock's generosity enabled Danquah to
complete and pass his Bar studies – but the young Danquah, inspired perhaps by
Pollock's artistic leanings, was temporarily to abandon his legal career when he
was cast opposite Rita Tushingham in the Tony Richardson directed film of
Shelagh Delaney's stage success A Taste of Honey (1961). (He was also to have
parts in the Morecambe and Wise vehicle That Riviera Touch, 1966, and, as
"2nd Exquisite", in the satire Smashing Time, 1967, written by George Melly.)
The fast life at Flaunden, slow greyhounds and an
over-generous nature finally resulted in Pollock's selling up the farmstead and
moving on. It was in the Colony Club in Soho, presided over by the redoubtable
Muriel Belcher, that, with his artistic friends including Bacon and John Minton,
Pollock had first heard tales of the exciting and exotic life that beckoned in
Morocco. Upping sticks in the late 1970s, Pollock and Danquah set up home in
Tangier, where notoriety was fast making Morocco fashionable.
Pollock acquired the Pergola, a bar and restaurant
on the Tangier seafront, where word of the new owner's culinary skills soon
spread. The "Flaunden set" of friends remained ever-faithful and
followed Pollock and Danquah out to Tangier at holiday-times. John Lahr's 1978
biography of Joe Orton, Prick Up Your Ears, includes a photograph of the
playwright with the Kenneths Halliwell and Williams enjoying themselves at the
Pergola. Pollock's expertise in the kitchen was overshadowed only by his
generosity of spirit. "No, my dear, I absolutely insist – this one's on
me" might provide a fitting memorial.
Peter Pollock suffered a severe stroke in 1999,
which left him an invalid. A second stroke, in July, ended his life.
The extent of Francis Bacon's gratitude for his
mentor's hospitality came to light only a couple of years ago, when a suitcase,
which had gathered dust for decades underneath a bed in a spare room at the
Pollock and Danquah home in Tangier, was found to contain a hoard of the
painter's early work. It was Peter Pollock's innate patriotism which ensured
that those paintings were acquired by the Tate Gallery, rather than offered on
the open market.
Issue 26 Autumn 2001
“Vermeer to bowl legbreaks,”
said a gruff, deep voice at the end of the ’phone. It was around
midnight one Sunday and it took all of a second to realise that it was
David Sylvester completing a Great Artists’ cricket XI that we’d
devised earlier in the week on a flight back from Edinburgh. The day in
Scotland was spent looking long and hard at Giacometti’s work, for a
radio piece; the telephone call was to discuss two tricky sentences in an
article for tate about Cy Twombly, one of which likened a work by the
American painter to a “soiled sheet after a wild night”. Vivid,
visceral and succinct, as I told him, and perfectly judged, but you’re
wrong about Vermeer. The argument continued for the best part of an hour.
He cursed me a couple of times and then conceded that he’d think about
it again. Here, it seems to me, is the essence of the man who was perhaps
the most influential critic and curator in post-war British art:
passionate, playful, profound, an individual who pondered everything
deeply but was always prepared to reconsider.
Over the past decade, David wrote
frequently for tate on a variety of subjects, from his masterly ‘Notes
on Installing Art’ (which should form the basis of a handbook given to
all young curators) to an interview with Rachel Whiteread considered by
the artist as far and away the best she ever did. He also, of course,
wrote about Francis Bacon, whose work he knew better than anyone but which
he constantly re-evaluated. This February, four months before David died,
I interviewed him about his new book on Bacon. He was still wrestling with
the painter’s methods as well as how he ranked with other major figures
in European art – less a cricket team than a wry cultural Olympiad. This
all-too brief interview is published on page 80, while below are tributes
sent to tate from some of David’s friends and rivals; critics, curators
and artists whose understanding of his achievements are infinitely more
profound than mine.
Five years ago now, in an early
issue of the magazine, David experimented with the idea of re-reading
Bacon’s work as if through the eyes of Matisse. Ultimately, he decided
that it was a fascinating but flawed concept. His concluding sentences
about Bacon’s broader creative approach, though, might well have been
written about David Sylvester himself: “Bacon takes a variety of things
and incorporates them into a mixture in which their separate identities
are glimpsed, more or less changed, sometimes changed hardly at all, but
which has a perfectly individual style. It is very like what Eliot did and
a consummation that could have happened only in our own age because it
depends on our unprecedented breadth of reference. Fragmentary memories of
many times and places, of many myths and styles, are brought to mind, some
clearly, some vaguely as we look. It seems that all human history is
present. The poignancy is that those echoes from the store of common
experience are brought to us by a voice that is utterly personal and
David Sylvester was
singular in his ability to focus with great intensity on whatever issue
was at hand. He was always deliberate in his judgment and gave equal
weight to the choice of a painting for an exhibition, a word in a
sentence, the juxtaposition of one work against another, or the right wine
for his guests. Nothing apparently minor escaped his attention.
He was an
extraordinary interviewer, the best I have ever encountered. He was
charming, a little flirtatious and was a great enabler. He led the
conversation in a wholly direct way, but picked up on things that others
didn’t see. He had the ability to generate an intimacy that made the
whole process of talking about art a great pleasure.
He was a person of
gravitas and authority. You felt that everything he said and wrote had
been seriously considered. For me, his genius lay in the shows he curated
and hung. For example, after seeing a show of Picasso’s late work at the
Guggenheim, I had concluded that in his last days Picasso had lost it, but
the “Late Picasso” that David presented at the Tate (1988) completely
changed my view. His Bacon exhibition in Venice was superb. David had a
point of view with his shows; he was saying something and made them work
visually and intellectually. In a way he was like an artist; putting up a
great show is an art.
David Sylvester considered me his bête noire. I think that is an
oversimplification. It is quite important to consider there were quite a
number of things we agreed about. We were both among the first newspaper
critics to recognise Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff. We both greatly
admired Giacometti but wrote different things about him. We disagreed
about Francis Bacon, but disagreements are healthy.
thought he was an extraordinary curator. He had a precision and care for
detail, and had a sense of the whole œuvre of an artist’s work. His
installations were almost like landscapes. He was a good writer. He
struggled towards maximum precision and clarity and succeeded. He also had
the spirit of a great collector; his attitude was that of the connoisseur
who believed in the act of collecting as helping the artist.
David was above all a writer rather than a critic. His subject was art.
Like Ruskin or Henry James, he explored the way in which a visceral
response to things seen translate into language. It is an impossible task.
As Beckett might have said, David failed better than anyone else. He was a
man easily elated and easily downcast but always an enchanting companion.
He was one of my closest friends, and where the visual arts were
concerned, my guru. My celestial dinner party would include Francis Bacon,
Paddy and Joan Leigh Fermor as well as David. Thanks to him I have enjoyed
it on earth.
David Bernard Sylvester,
art critic and curator, born 21 September 1924, died 19 June 2001
got the guts"
Hirst on Francis Bacon
the final extracts from his new book of interviews with
Damien Hirst, Gordon Burn asks the bad boy of British
art what he really thinks about the other major talents
of his time. These conversations between Burn and Hirst
are extracted from interviews that took place over a
period of eight years, beginning before Francis Bacon's
death in 1992:
Burn The Guardian Monday October 8,
Gordon Burn: Why do you
think Francis Bacon is good?
Hirst: He's the best.
There's these two different things, painters and
sculptors. And Bacon is a painter. He doesn't... It's
not about your ability; it's about your guts, on some
level. And Bacon's got the guts to fuck in hell.
You see it in the 1940s
paintings. I remember looking at a newsreader painting
at that exhibition he had in Venice. It was just a head,
like a newsreader. You go up to it and it's, like, the
ear is made of oil paint, but it's almost like a relief.
It's almost three-dimensional. You've only got to get
oil paint and do an ear, and you paint over it three or
four times and it starts to be raised off the canvas.
It's like you managed to stick a fucking ear on.
There's a painting he's done
of a guy cross-legged, and he can't paint baseball
boots. But he doesn't pretend he can. That's why he's
brilliant. He paints a baseball boot to the best of his
ability, and it's totally naked and clean, and it's
right there in your face, and you go, "This is a
painting by a geezer who totally believes, and it's
everything he says it is, and whatever his aim is, he's
achieving much more than that." It's totally laid
out in front of you: no lies, no doubt, nothing. And
he's a different kind of painter, and he came from
Is it just a story that he
[Bacon] went to see the fly piece at the Saatchi Gallery
before he died?
No, I know he went. He
mentions it in a letter [he wrote]. It just goes,
"Hi, blah blah I'm not feeling well blah blah it
was great to see you the other day. Just went to the
Saatchi Gallery and saw this show of new British
artists. Bit creepy blah blah. There's a piece by this
new artist" - I don't think he mentions my name -
"and it's got a cow's head in it and a fly-killer
and loads of flies and they fly around. It kind of
works." It kind of works! Like: "Nice toilet
upstairs. It kind of works." Fantastic.
When he was there I got a
call from Jenny [Blyth] at the gallery. And she said,
"I don't know if this is interesting to you, but
Francis Bacon's here, and he's been in front of your
piece for an hour." Honestly, I got a phone call
that said that. It was a bit embarrassing. I didn't know
what the fuck to say. I dismissed it, but I understand
why he could have liked it - dead fucking flies. So I
dissociated myself from it as an artist and just thought
of it as a spectacle, and quite liked it.
In the interviews with
[David] Sylvester, he talks about killing cattle in a
slaughterhouse being like crucifixions - the closest you
could get to a crucifixion. It would be possible to put
forward the view that you are systematically going
through Bacon's images and obsessions and giving them a
I am definitely. I am
definitely systematically going through it.
How do you rate Freud
You look at Lucian Freud,
and Lucian Freud's an infinitely better painter. But you
can just see why he shits himself while Bacon's alive.
Because he represents something just so fucking enormous
that Lucian's incapable of.
You mean that Freud's
technically the better painter?
I'm not saying that. But I
am in a way. But it's a sigh of relief from Freud when
the cunt dies. I mean, Lucian Freud, without Bacon,
would be the best painter we've got. But he's not. He's
shit next to Bacon. And Bacon can't paint, and Freud
can. What's going on?
So what makes Bacon the
Because he'll go right out
there on the edge of the cliff and he'll stand there and
he'll put his arms in the air with his shirt off in
India without his passport and go, "Come and get
me, you cunts!" D'you know what I mean? And no one
can get him because of it. He doesn't falter. He doesn't
fail. And it doesn't matter he's a homosexual. Everybody
wants to do that, and can't. All everybody ever wants is
somebody to represent that, that
generation of English painters grew up reacting against
what they saw as the horrible dull greys and sludgy
browns of Sickert, and against everything Sickert stood
for. The references were always painters and painting,
weren't they, until about 25 years ago? Have you always
reacted against a painter?
Well, you're always reacting
against something. I grew up in a situation where
painting was considered dead. But I had a massive desire
to be a painter. Not an artist. Not a sculptor. I wanted
to be a painter. Not a collagist. The idea of a painter
is so much greater than the idea of a sculptor or an
artist. You know: "I'm a painter." It's one on
one, mano a mano, you on yourself. But the thing is,
painting is dead. It didn't work. For me, Bacon is the
last result of the great painters. He's the last
painter. It's all sculpture after that.
on Jackson Pollock
greatness is supposed to lie in his naked display of
angst and emotion.
Yeh, but he covered it up
with that whole fucking charade as well. The Americans,
they always do that, don't they? It was guaranteed it
was going to look pretty, do you know what I mean?
Whatever he did. He didn't go up there and wriggle. He
wasn't a worm on a hook. He admitted he hid behind his
work. And he was the best of the gestural Americans. The
great big Americans. But Bacon does it better, because
he smashes right through.
When you compare Bacon to
Pollock, Pollock starts to look like he's producing
logos. When what's really happening is he's scrabbling
about in this void which has been created by
photography, between abstraction and figuration. That's
the truth of it. But the moment he gets there, it starts
to look like logos.
Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn
These are edited extracts from On The Way To Work, by
Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, published by Faber and
Faber on October 22, priced £25. To order a copy for
the special price of £21, plus first-class p&p,
call 0870 066 7979.
G News For UK'S GAY MEN
AND LESBIANS TODAY
Friday 17 August 2001
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a
Crucifixion 1944 Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon was one
of those brave artists who dared to use the raw materials the twisted and
beautiful dark parts of his imagination. Consequently his paintings of fractured
faces and dissolving flesh haunt and cause parts of our own, usually dominant,
conscience to stir.
The new exhibition of
his work, at Sheffield's Millennium Galleries, comprises paintings and drawings
loaned from the Tate and other UK Galleries, and has as its focal point three
triptyches painted in 1944, 72 and 88. The savage imagery
depicted in the earliest, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a
Crucifixion, sparked outrage when it was first displayed after the Second World
War. The exhibition runs until September 23 at Millennium Galleries, Sheffield.
Tel: 0114 278 2600
Bacon Millenium Galleries
new Millennium Galleries do Francis Bacon proud. Here, just as the artist
intended, his cast of naked wrestlers, drunken contortionists and lop-headed
harpies look perfectly well-groomed and dandified in their miserable
predicaments. Despite the studied squalor of his studio, and the voyeuristic
bent of popular opinion to view the artist as a purely impulsive genius, Bacon's
existentialist angst was in fact tempered by the immaculate good taste of a
highly sophisticated aesthete.
Robert Clark, The Guardian, Monday July 23, 2001
This selection from the artist's work looks its best
set off against the gallery's polished marble floors, elegant scalloped ceilings
and subtle, blind-filtered daylight.
Bacon was such an idiosyncratic painter that one can
easily develop a tolerance to his initially breathtaking images. Yet it is an
undeniable fact that he created some of the most memorable figurative pictures
of the 20th century. And, in this setting, the formal transgressions of his
images are easily as evident as their tendency towards expressionist
The flicks and slurs of white pigment that obliquely
distort his portraits might be based on cum-shot porno stills, but they also
serve to set off the delicate and vulnerable bloom of the pinkness of his
unfortunate subjects' all too bruisable flesh. His Study of a Dog is a giant of
entrapped wildness, spinning endlessly on its roundabout pedestal as miniature
cars flash by in the distant background. The 1944 Crucifixion triptych, together
with the Second Version remake of 1988, is perhaps the only really serious and
convincing image on a Christian theme created in any medium over the past 100
It's true that Bacon might not have finally achieved
his ambition of equalling the transvestite grandeur of Velasquez's Pope Innocent
X. His rabid dog might not approach the poignant quicksand of loneliness into
which Goya's Black Period dog eternally sinks. Yet give Bacon his due: what
other painter of our times could we even begin to compare to such epoch-defining
Until 23 September. Details: 0114 278 2600.
Francis Bacon's studio materializes in Dublin
reconstruction of the artist Francis Bacon's London studio was
unveiled today at Dublin's Hugh Lane Gallery.
Irish Times, Tuesday, May 22, 2001
is the fruit of three years' work and is described as the most
detailed and technically advanced archive of any artist's studio
in the world.
was donated to the gallery by Bacon's heir Mr John Edwards and
cost some £3 million to relocate: this is not bad value when you
consider a museum offered $3 million just for the studio door.
on show has over 7,000 items including 80 works on paper, more
than 1,500 photographs as well as books and some dramatically
designed gallery space housing the studio was the work of
prominent British architect David Chipperfield. As well as the
studio itself it also has an audio-visual room, an exhibition
gallery and a "micro gallery" (or electronic tour).
involved cataloguing and removing the entire contents of the
studio. It took a team of 10 archaeologists and conservators
over three years. The original walls, floor, ceiling and shelves
- as well as the famous wooden staircase - can be experienced.
original address, 7 Reece Mews, south Kensington, was Bacon's
home and working space for the last 30 years of his life. The
Dublin-born artist produced some of his most famous work in the
Gallery's director Ms Barbara Dawson said: "The acquisition of
Francis Bacon's studio was a great coup and its retrieval and
documentation has confirmed our suspicions - we have the
definitive archive on Francis Bacon."
"The Gallery's innovative approach to retrieving and documenting
the contents has resulted in the database of information which will be crucial
in the critical analysis of Francis Bacon's work."
Lord Mayor Mr Maurice Ahern who officially opened the studio
said: "This remarkable cultural donation is the most important
received by the gallery since it was established by Sir Hugh
Lane in 1908."
born in 63 Lower Baggot Street on October 28th in 1909 and is
considered by many the most famous "English artist" of the 20th
quest for Bacon
A poster campaign
has been launched to recover the stolen portrait
By Martin Bailey,
The Art Newspaper, 22 June 2001
Berlin is being plastered with “WANTED” posters designed by Lucian
Freud in an attempt to recover the Tate’s stolen portrait of Francis
Bacon, taken 13 years ago. A reward of up to DM 300,000 (£100,000) is
being offered and the hope is that massive international publicity may
lead to the recovery of the Freud painting, which was seized from a
British Council exhibition in the Neue Nationalgalerie.
Although a very private person, Freud is personally backing the
campaign because he wants this key work to be shown in his forthcoming
retrospective. In his only comment to the press, he posed a polite
request: “Would the person who now has possession kindly consider
allowing me to show the painting in my exhibition at the Tate next
Freud’s poster has a very simple design. Below the “WANTED” word
in red is a black-and-white reproduction of the painting, since Freud
does not want it depicted in colour until it is recovered, as a sign
of mourning. Below is the main text in German: “For information
leading to the recovery of this small painting, a reward of up to
DM300,000 is offered. Please telephone +49 30 3110 9940. Calls will be
treated in absolute confidence.” Nowhere do the names of Freud or
Bacon appear on the poster.
The British Council’s publicity campaign was launched in Berlin on
22 June by visual arts director Andrea Rose, Tate director Sir
Nicholas Serota and Peter-Klaus Schuster, director of the Berlin
museums (Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz). Posters are being placed
on 2,200 sites and on 30 large circular kiosks in the German capital.
The considerable cost of these sites and underwriting the reward is
being met by two private donors (we understand that originally the
scheme was to have been quietly funded by Gilbert de Botton, a former
Tate trustee and Bacon collector, but he died last August).
Freud’s portrait of his friend Bacon is a very small work (18 x 13
cm), not much larger than a post card, and, unusually, it is on
copper. It was painted in 1952, and was bought later that year by the
Tate, making it a far-sighted purchase. The portrait was one of the
star exhibits in Freud’s first foreign retrospective, organised by
the British Council in 1987-88 and shown at the Hirshhorn Museum in
Washington, the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Hayward Gallery in
London, with Berlin as the final venue.
The Freud was stolen on Friday 27 May 1988 from the Mies van der Rohe-designed
Neue Nationalgalerie in Potsdamer Strasse, in what was then West
Berlin. It was taken when the gallery was open to visitors. Security
that day was virtually non-existent, and we can reveal that between 11
in the morning and four in the afternoon there was not a single guard
on duty. This astonishing situation suggests that either the crime was
an inside job (with the thief receiving a tip-off) or it was an
opportunist theft by a casual visitor who realised that the gallery
had been left unguarded. The size of the Bacon portrait made this work
Security at the Neue Nationalgalerie was at that time contracted to an
outside firm and the gallery privately admitted liability to the
British Council. The theft was briefly reported in the international
press, but the Berlin museum, the Tate and the British Council made
little effort to publicise the loss, mainly because of the
embarrassment of the German side. An immediate decision was made to
close the exhibition.
SYLVESTER, who has died aged 76, was generally reckoned to be the greatest
critic of modern art writing in English.
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 20 June 2001
A notable scholar and organiser of
exhibitions, Sylvester was also the author of the Magritte catalogue
raisonne, which was to occupy him for more than a quarter of a century,
and of the standard monograph on Giacometti. He was a leading authority on
Francis Bacon and on Henry Moore.
Sylvester's extraordinarily smooth voice and
polished literary style belied a waspish temperament. He could be as
devastatingly critical about people as he was shrewd in his judgments on
art. This led him into memorable confrontations, such as when Norman
Rosenthal, the exhibitions secretary of the Royal Academy, spat at him and
then burst into tears following an altercation over the hanging of the
American Art in the 20th Century exhibition in 1993 - which Sylvester had
condemned as "scandalous".
A man who provoked violent dislikes in some
whom he crossed, Sylvester was also capable of inspiring great loyalty in
those who worked alongside him. They admired his dedication and utter
perfectionism and respected his formidable eye. A large bear-like man with
a great presence, he could be a charming and witty companion, and, despite
his rather prickly nature, an inspiring teacher at the Royal College of
Art from 1960-70, the Slade (where he was Visiting Lecturer from 1953-57),
and Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania (1967-68).
A writer who could turn his hand to film
reviewing or sports commentary, Sylvester had the gift, rare among art
critics, of being able to explain the most difficult modern art in the
most down-to-earth, comprehensible language.
One article which illustrated this vividly was
Art of the Coke Culture which first appeared in 1963 in the Sunday Times
Colour Magazine and was republished in his anthology of collected essays,
About Modern Art (1996). Rolls-Royces and Cadillacs, wine and Coca-Cola,
were brilliantly contrasted to highlight differences between contemporary
European and American art, between the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein and
what Sylvester called the "folk" art of Peter Blake.
Anthony David Bernard Sylvester was born on
September 21 1924 into a family of Russian-Jewish silver dealers. He was
educated at University College School, where a fellow pupil was Alan
Bowness, later Director of the Tate Gallery.
Sylvester's interest in art was awakened at
the age of 17, by the discovery of a black and white illustration of
Matisse's La Danse which gave him "an awareness of the music of
form" and showed him that art did not always have to tell a story.
Following this Damascene conversion, Sylvester tried his hand at painting,
but, discouraged by his efforts, turned instead to writing about it. In a
recent interview with The Daily Telegraph's Martin Gayford, Sylvester
claimed that the critical impulse had come even earlier. "I went to
see a football match when I was 10 or 11, Arsenal v West Bromwich Albion
at Highbury," he recalled. "I came home and I wrote a report on
His first review appeared in November 1942 in
Tribune. For three years he enjoyed a charmed life as a regular reviewer
for the literary pages edited by John Atkins and, later, George Orwell,
but he was to fall foul of the editor, Aneurin Bevan. His swan-song -
ironically, in view of his later fame as an authority on the sculptor -
was a review of a picture book about Henry Moore which appeared in 1945.
When Sylvester telephoned to complain that he
had been paid so poorly for the article, he was told, tartly, that how
much he earned depended upon how good the article was. However, Moore
clearly liked the article even if the magazine's editor did not, because
Sylvester was invited to visit Moore's studio in Hertfordshire and later
spent a few months as Moore's part-time secretary.
The working relationship was terminated,
according to Sylvester, "because we spent too much time arguing about
art" and his secretarial input would seem to have been minimal, given
that there is no surviving written evidence of his tenure in the otherwise
very extensive Henry Moore archives.
Having turned down a place at Cambridge to
read Moral Sciences, Sylvester set out for Paris in 1947, supporting
himself through reviews and translation work while frequenting the studios
of Brancusi, Leger and, above all, Giacometti, for whom he sat and who
came to represent to the young critic "the saintly knight without
armour who had come to redeem art from facility and commercialism."
Another beacon of inspiration was the work of
Paul Klee, whose major retrospective in Paris Sylvester reviewed for
Sartre's existentialist monthly, Les Temps Modernes. But, despite his
admiration for Klee, Sylvester at this period had little sympathy for
abstract art which he regarded as "incomplete art", or for the
work of the American Abstract Expressionists whom he was later to admire.
When he returned to figurative painting, it
was in particular to the work of Francis Bacon, with whom he was to
conduct a series of memorable television interviews culminating in his
book Interviews with Francis Bacon (1975). While embracing Bacon's brutal
realism, Sylvester was careful to dissociate himself from what he regarded
as the banality of artists such as John Bratby, memorably branded as
"The Kitchen Sink School", and from the ideas of the critic John
Berger, who championed their work but "was too much of a boy scout
not to find Bacon a monster of depravity".
In a lecture given at the Royal College of Art
in 1951, Sylvester called upon the students to embrace a new, more
subjective type of realism, reflecting the fact that "modern man
occurs in the consciousness of each individual". It was his own
ability to put these sensations so vividly into words which made him such
a sensitive critic of Bacon's work.
The return to England had brought a revival of
his interest in Henry Moore, culminating in the first of a series of major
exhibitions on the sculptor organised by Sylvester at the Tate Gallery in
1951. Further exhibitions were to follow in 1968, also at the Tate (with
Joanna Drew), and in 1978 at the Serpentine Gallery, very shortly before
Moore's death. The Tate also played host to important shows which
Sylvester organised on Soutine (1963), Giacometti (1965) and Magritte
The Magritte exhibition led to the most taxing
undertaking of Sylvester's career when he was invited to write the
catalogue raisonne of the artist, which was published in 1992. It was a
project which was to occupy him for a quarter of a century and which he
was later to regret, partly because it diverted him from other areas of
criticism, and partly because, despite his unrivalled knowledge of
Magritte, he was not wholeheartedly in sympathy with his subject.
"The fact is," he later wrote,
"that I spent years of my life, like Swann, on someone who was not my
type." Despite this, he wrote about Magritte with great insight,
concluding one memorable essay with an inveterate analysis of art:
"If one looks at anything with the intention of trying to discover
what it means, one ends up no longer looking at the thing itself."
His involvement with Magritte made him also a
natural choice to curate the 1978 Hayward Gallery exhibition Dada and
Surrealism, but, despite his interest in Magritte, he had little respect
for that other pillar of surrealism, Salvador Dali, comparing the
experience of looking at his work to attending a performance by Liberace -
"one of the unhappy few squirming in the midst of an audience
revelling in this oily message".
Despite his lifelong admiration for Moore and
Bacon, Sylvester was otherwise rather out of sympathy with most
20th-century British art, which he saw as bedevilled by vagueness and a
tendency to compromise.
Sickert was one artist who attracted
Sylvester's most vitriolic criticisms, and he also wrote a brilliantly
acerbic essay on that genteel establishment painter Sir William Coldstream,
which contains passages reminiscent of Lytton Strachey. "A list of
the honorary positions he held reads like something out of Gilbert and
Sullivan," he wrote. "As some people are accident prone, so is
he prone to attract official handles." The article concludes:
"Looking at what was painted during the hours between committee
meetings, one is at a loss to know whether, had he painted more, the gain
would be more than quantitative." Surprisingly, Sylvester remained on
good terms with the painter.
Sylvester was also an expert and avid
collector of oriental art, particularly Islamic carpets. This bore fruit
in the exhibition The Eastern Carpet in the Western World at the Hayward
Gallery in 1983.
Other great enthusiasms were music -
particularly jazz - films and cricket. He captained a team called The
Eclectics and wrote cricketing articles for the Observer, where fellow
contributors were A J Ayer and John Sparrow. His film criticism, which he
started to write first for the magazine Encounter, was sufficiently
distinguished to earn him the Golden Lion of Venice award in 1993.
Among his many official duties he was a
trustee of the Henry Moore Foundation and the Tate Gallery, an adviser to
the Arts Council and a member of the Commission d'Acquisitions at the
Musee Nationale d'Art Moderne in Paris.
Perhaps the remark which best sums up his
career was that which he himself made in a brilliantly illuminating essay
about Matisse, the painter who first kindled his interest in modern
painting. "He was a dandy amongst painters . . . one who took
infinite pains to get a casual look." Sylvester was also a dandy by
this definition, one who took infinite pains to get a casual look and his
gift was to make the most difficult art seem easy and accessible.
He was appointed CBE in 1983. Sylvester
married, in 1950, Pamela Briddon; they had three daughters. The marriage
was dissolved. He also had a daughter with the novelist Shena Mackay.
to every detail of presentation: David Sylvester during
the hanging of the Soutine exhibition at the Tate Gallery,
critic and exhibition organiser who for half a century was Britain’s
most persuasive interpreter of modern art
A discriminating champion of new painting and sculpture in the decades
after 1945, David Sylvester might be said to have occupied a position in
postwar Britain not unlike that of Roger Fry half a century or so before.
He was, in his prime, the country’s most influential critic of modern
lacked Fry’s polemical zeal, however, and his relish for the bold
schematic view. But perhaps that reflected the two critics’ different
situations. For where Fry struggled to promote modern art in the face of a
fierce conservative hostility extending far beyond the confines of the art
world, Sylvester found himself defending it in a culture where the new had
long since lost its power to shock. His whole career testified to a
stubborn, humane (and often forlorn) insistence that great art and great
criticism were ideals still worth pursuing.
Fry, Sylvester had a connoisseur’s eye — not just an ability to see,
but a remarkable willingness to look. It made him an acute and attentive
critic. It also made him a notable organiser of exhibitions, beyond doubt
the supreme curator of his day. Rigorous in selection, he took equal pains
with the details of presentation, mindful that art’s impact owes much to
the ways in which it is encountered. No one could hang an exhibition quite
as he could.
sympathies were deeper than they were broad (though actually much broader
than his published writings suggest). The art that engaged him engaged him
utterly. The five-volume catalogue raisonné of René Magritte of
which he was editor and co-author was a quarter of a century in the
making. The book on Giacometti that he published in 1994 was the
fragmentary record of a critical encounter begun more than forty years
before. The hundred or so pages of his published Interviews with
Francis Bacon were distilled from a decade’s worth of talk, and more
than a thousand pages of transcripts.
best work was done in close-up. He got in close to paintings and
sculptures, for the art he admired demanded active involvement from the
viewer, rather than passive contemplation. And he got in close to the
artists he esteemed, winning their confidence, sometimes over many years.
But he could be firm in defending his independence against the claims of
friendship, always ready to quarrel, if he had to, rather than compromise;
and proximity brought him insights which a more dispassionate critic could
never hope to match.
David Bernard Sylvester was born in Hackney, to parents who owned an
antique shop in Chancery Lane and another shop selling silver. He grew up
in North London, attending a prep school in Brondesbury where he once
claimed to have received his only education, before going at 13 to
University College School. At least, that was where he was supposed to go,
but afternoon double bills in the cinemas of Kilburn High Road, or the
latest jazz discs at Selfridge’s and HMV, held more appeal than lessons,
and after persistent absenteeism he left school at 15 without
matriculating. He spent a year selling gold and silver to jewellers, then,
six years later, was offered a place to read moral sciences at Trinity
College, Cambridge, on condition that he belatedly sat the school-leaving
examination. He duly sat it, and failed.
then he was beginning to establish himself as an art critic. He had begun,
in fact, at the age of 17, when a black-and-white reproduction of
Matisse’s La Danse had inspired the jazz-loving teenager to see
for the first time “the music of form”. He took up painting and
drawing, and for a year went at it almost non-stop “eight or ten hours a
was aware, however, that as an artist he had “neither ability nor
originality”, and it was perhaps with some relief that he turned to
writing instead. His first review, of a drawing show at a London
dealer’s in November 1942, was submitted to the Labour weekly Tribune.
The piece was accepted, and marked the beginning of a regular association,
mostly under the patronage of George Orwell as literary editor. The young
critic found Orwell “infinitely kind”, but failed to win the approval
of Orwell’s boss, the paper’s editor Aneurin Bevan, who apparently
thought his style “heavy with Latinisms”.
last piece for Tribune, published early in 1945, was a review of a
book on Henry Moore. On the strength of it, he was contacted by the
artist. Sylvester began to visit Moore’s studio in Hertfordshire,
studying his work closely, and for a time even serving as his part-time
secretary (“this had to stop because we spent too much time arguing
relationship with Moore was based on a mutual respect and empathy strong
enough to withstand quite serious differences of opinion. It set the
pattern for Sylvester’s subsequent close and productive associations
with artists such as Bacon and Giacometti. It also gave him his first
opportunity to curate and catalogue a major exhibition — Moore’s
retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1951. He organised a second Moore
retrospective there in 1968.
and after the war, Sylvester had seized what opportunities there were to
see modern European art in London. In June 1947 he made his first trip to
Paris, and during the next three years he returned there many times. He
visited the studios of artists such as Brancusi, Hans Hartung, and Léger,
regarding the time thus spent as compensation for the university education
he had missed.
introduction to the Parisian art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler brought
him into contact with the circles around the influential Existentialist
review Les Temps Modernes, edited by Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice
Merleau- Ponty. Among those he met in this way were the painter André
Masson; the avant-garde psycho- analyst Jacques Lacan; the anthropologist
and compulsive autobiographer Michel Leiris; Leiris’s well-connected
gallerist wife, Louise; and Alberto Giacometti.
the time Sylvester regarded Giacometti as “the key figure in the current
art scene”. He saw him as “the saintly knight without armour who had
come to redeem art from facility and commercialism” — and as the
artist most likely to give new life to figurative art in an age in which
abstraction had become the norm. He not only befriended him but sat to him
his search for a “figurative art that was new and grand”, Sylvester
was at pains to distance himself from what he saw as the retrogressive
school of naturalistic painting then being championed by the British
critic John Berger, one of the most assertive voices in 1950s art.
Giacometti offered an alternative to what Sylvester dismissed as
Berger’s “kitchen sink” school of realism.
too, did Francis Bacon, an artist Sylvester had been writing about since
shortly after the war, but whom he had initially viewed with some
suspicion as a sort of neo-expressionist. The revelation of Bacon’s real
quality came when Sylvester at last managed to see past the dramas which
his canvases had seemed to depict: “Looking at (an) image of an
ectoplasmic head with an open mouth and an ear that seemed attached by a
cord to the ceiling, I realised that it was a painting, not a cry of
pain.” He came to regard Bacon as “probably the greatest man I’ve
ever known, and certainly the grandest”.
Bacon and Giacometti answered Sylvester’s demand for a modern art that
reflected the way in which “modern man conceives of reality as the
series of sensations and ideas that occur in the consciousness of each
individual”. Both were able to “show that experiences are fleeting,
that every experience dissolves into the next”. They produced “images
in which the observer participates”.
figurative artists who engaged Sylvester’s attention at this time were
Stanley Spencer, whom he thought “a genius” and whose drawings he
collected in a retrospective for the Arts Council in 1954, and Frank
Auerbach, whose debut exhibition at the Beaux-Arts Gallery he hailed as
“the most exciting and impressive first one-man show by an English
painter since Francis Bacon’s in 1949”.
Sylvester’s interests were by no means confined to figurative art. At
least from January 1956, when an exhibition of Modern Art in the United
States arrived at the Tate from the Museum of Modern Art in New York,
he was convinced of the importance of the American Abstract
Expressionists, whose merits he had initially failed to see but who, he
now thought, had “solved as a matter of course one of the problems
which most preoccupy painters everywhere today — the problem of avoiding
a gratuitous beauty or charm without at once producing its opposite”.
American art became an increasingly important focus of his writing. Rothko
and Jasper Johns were among the artists who became his friends.
the 1950s Sylvester’s art criticism appeared in a variety of journals
and magazines, and in 1953 he was appointed art adviser to the newly
founded Encounter. He did some exhibition reviewing for The
Times, but failed in his attempt to become the paper’s regular art
critic (“a job with real standing in those days”, as he waspishly
remarked some years later).
was also able to write about football and cricket for the Observer,
joining the likes of A. J. Ayer and John Sparrow on the startling roster
of occasional reporters maintained by the then sports editor Michael
Davie. He wrote film criticism for anyone who would print it, showing a
predilection, he later said, for science fiction, “trashy social
comedies” and musicals.
1960 he succeeded his bête noir Berger as art critic of the New
Statesman, but he found weekly reviewing restrictive, and two years
later he left. The following year he found a more congenial home, when
Mark Boxer invited him to join the new Sunday Times Colour Magazine.
Here, free of ungenerous deadlines and wordcounts, he was able to write
the more considered and substantial pieces he wanted to produce.
both on radio and television, was another significant outlet for Sylvester
in these years; as well as giving frequent talks, and making films about
Giacometti, Matisse and Magritte, he recorded interviews for the BBC with
many of the leading artists of the day. Teaching was important too: he
once said that his best thinking of the 1950s had gone not into books or
articles but into seminars at the Slade School and the Royal College of
the mid-1960s he published comparatively little criticism. This may have
been in part because he found himself out of sympathy with an art world in
which, increasingly, anything went. It would be wrong, however, to
exaggerate this: he may have written in a 1963 essay of his preference for
“wine culture” over “Coke culture”, but he was a tireless taster,
and found his wine in some unlikely new bottles: he wrote sympathetically
and well about Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Richard
Hamilton and, later, Gilbert and George. He retained to the end of his
life a discriminating interest in the latest art.
more obvious reason for his infrequent appearances in print was that he
was doing other things. He was for many years a member of the Arts Council
visual arts panel, and became a powerful art world presence behind the
scenes. From 1967 much of his energy was in any case absorbed by work on
the Magritte catalogue raisonné, which was finally published in
five volumes between 1992 and 1996. Out of that labour came three
retrospective Magritte exhibitions: at the Tate in 1969; in Brussels and
Paris a decade later; and in London, New York, Houston and Chicago in
1992-93. Work on the catalogue confirmed Sylvester’s belief that
“Magritte was more of a painter, less purely an image-maker, than his
enemies and his friends supposed”. Nevertheless, at the end of it he
confessed to feeling “that I spent years of my life, like Swann, on
someone who was not my type”.
feel like a failure,” Sylvester told an interviewer in 1992. Such gloomy
diffidence might seem absurd in a man widely revered as the greatest art
critic of his day. But the volume of essays he collected under the title About
Modern Art in 1996 was full of wry admissions of misjudgment and
regret: there were dozens of artists he would have liked to write about
but had not; he had been too slow to appreciate Leon Kossoff, whom he came
to think “one of the two or three best painters in Europe”; the hopes
he had placed in Giacometti had not been entirely fulfilled; he had wasted
years in a foolish attempt to establish that Matisse and Bonnard were
greater artists than Picasso, then changed his mind. The fastidious
determination to get it right, and the scrupulous willingness to admit
that he had got it wrong, were characteristic of a critic who, in his
subjects and in himself, prized integrity above all else.
Sylvester and his wife Pamela Briddon had three daughters; they and
another daughter survive him.
Sylvester, CBE, art critic and exhibition organiser, was born on September
21, 1924. He died on June 19, 2001, aged 76.
Liz Jobey, The
Guardian, June 20, 2001
Sylvester, who has died aged 76, was one of the finest writers on
art in the second half of the 20th century. His clarity of
expression and his adherence to the discipline of looking, as a
route to understanding the power of a work of art, set him in a
class apart. He wrote predominantly - whether in his journalism,
in catalogue essays or books - about modern art, from Cezanne and
Matisse up to mature artists of today. He was also a skilled maker
of exhibitions. He curated his first Henry Moore show in 1951, and
contributed many major shows to British and foreign museums and
His exhibition schedule was particularly frantic during the 1990s,
after he finished the catalogue raisonnŽ of RenŽ Magritte, which
had taken, "with interruptions", 25 years. Though his
writing was marked by its simplicity of style (he cautioned
editors that he used shorter words than most critics, so if his
pieces did not make the required column length, that did not mean
he had not supplied - or should not be paid - the agreed amount),
it never came easily or quickly. It was also marked by his
analogies - accurate, but unexpected - drawn as easily from sex or
football as from art history and psychology.
In the 1950s and 1960s, when he was at his most prolific as a
journalist, Sylvester also wrote about football and cricket for
the Observer, ran a cricket team called the Eclectics, and
reviewed films wherever he could, introducing sci-fi films and
musicals to the readers of Encounter.
His expertise in modern art was matched by a love of Islamic,
Indian and Oriental - as well as Egyptian and tribal - art, and he
collected throughout his adult life. He revolved this personal
collection with obsessive frequency, and unsuspecting visitors to
his house might find themselves up a stepladder, hanging on to a
Picasso drawing or a 16th-century Chinese carpet, while he
fretfully solicited their views on this latest domestic rehang.
Sylvester had begun listening to jazz as a schoolboy in the 1930s,
and still had the buff's ability to identify time, place and
line-up of a session on CD without recourse to the sleeve notes.
He also owned an enviable collection of art-house videos, which he
reordered with Desert Island avidity; David Thomson's Biographical
Dictionary Of Film was his indispensable volume of choice. He was
an inveterate compiler of lists. Eliot was his favourite poet;
L'Age D'Or and Ai No Corrida vied for his favourite film;
Manchester United was his team; and Mike Brearley, one of his
favourite cricketers, was among his closest friends.
As for his favourite painter, the artists he championed changed
over the years. "I started being hostile to Picasso in print
in 1948," he explains in his book of essays, About Modern Art
(1996). And not until 40 years later did he feel nearer to
"accepting [Picasso's] genius, rather than resenting
it". It was a tug of love that underpinned his development as
a critic, and only the thoroughness with which he tested his early
champion, Giacometti - in essays, collected in Looking At
Giacometti (1994), exhibitions (1951 and 1981), and on film (1967)
- gives some measure of how prolonged and painful such a shift
The question of Picasso dominated Sylvester's career as a writer.
"It is not even the question of Picasso versus Matisse,"
he wrote, "for even at those times when Matisse seems the
greater, Picasso himself is still the question, probably because
Matisse is a great artist in the same sort of way as many great
artists of the past, whereas Picasso is a kind of artist who could
not have existed before this century, since his art is a
celebration of this century's introduction of a totally
promiscuous eclecticism into the practice of art.
"Picasso is the issue, Picasso is the one to beat, Picasso is
the fastest gun in the west, the one every budding gunfighter has
to beat to the draw in order to prove himself . . . The young
critic cuts his teeth on Picasso. He proves his manhood by putting
down Pic- asso, which is quite easy, because he is so flawed an
artist, is such a colossal figure that he has several parts that
are clay, probably including his feet, but not his balls."
Sylvester was born in London, the son of a Russian-Jewish antiques
dealer, and went to University College School, which he left at
the age of 16. He enjoyed a brief career as a dealer himself
before turning to painting at 17, inspired by a black and white
reproduction of Matisse's La Danse. Until then, he said, he
thought of art as "telling a story".
Matisse changed all that. It was not its narrative qualities that
enthralled him, but its abstract ones; he understood the rhythms
and tensions in its series of curves. By his own account,
Sylvester was not a good painter, and decided he might be better
at writing about it than making it.
While still in his teens, he had an article about drawing accepted
by Tribune. He wrote another, after which the literary editor,
George Orwell, gave him some book reviews. There were few wartime
art exhibitions to write about, but the National gallery put on
monthly shows, and some commercial galleries exhibited British
this way, Sylvester was introduced to the works of Henry Moore,
Stanley Spencer, Graham Sutherland and Matthew Smith, while he met
a younger generation of London artists, including Lucian Freud,
Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach and Francis Bacon.
His stint with Tribune ended in 1945. As Sylvester remembered, its
then editor, Aneurin Bevan, found his style too "heavy with
Latinisms". In any case, he was soon redeployed: his last
piece for the magazine, on Henry Moore, elicited an invitation to
the sculptor's studio, and a job as Moore's part-time secretary.
The chance to study an artist's work in depth led to Sylvester's
first exhibition installation, and, in 1968, his first book, on
In 1947, he turned down a place to read moral sciences at Trinity
College, Cambridge, and went to Paris, finding work editing and
translating. In 1948, after seeing the work of Paul Klee, he wrote
a piece about him for a New York magazine, Tiger's Eye, which the
critical review Les Temps Modernes then wanted to publish in
translation. Sylvester asked for time to rework it; it finally
appeared two years later.
The time-lag testified to the kind of deliberations of which those
who knew him subsequently would find nothing surprising. In
conversation, he was a master of the grand pause, the prolonged
silence broken by heavy breathing, then a sudden intake of breath
that heralded the dramatic response. Lord Snowdon liked to tell
the story of how, driving with Sylvester to Brighton, Snowdon
asked a question at Reigate, and saw the domes of the Brighton
pavilion appear before a voice from the back seat answered deeply,
It was through Picasso's dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, that
Sylvester, then 24, met Giacometti. After that, he visited
Giacometti's studio regularly, and began to write about his work.
In 1960, he sat for Giacometti, and the resulting painting finally
graced the cover of his collected pieces 35 years later, to
Sylvester's first glimpse of American abstract expressionism, in
1950, left him unimpressed. He was, at this point, anti-American
and pro-figurative, and more interested in Bacon, whom he had
identified as the most outstanding of contemporary British
artists. During the 1950s and 1960s, he became a personal friend
of Bacon's, and, in 1975, when their collected conversations on
art were published, the book was recognised as one of the great
additions to the study of late 20th-century art. It made
Sylvester's reputation, and has been revised, extended and
republished in several editions.
Sylvester's support for figurative (though not necessarily
realist) painting embroiled him in an early battle with the critic
John Berger, conducted in essays and reviews, particularly on the
pages of Encounter. A byproduct of this was a piece that coined a
new title for a group of British and French contemporary realist
painters - the kitchen-sink school. Taken up by the media, and
applied wholesale to literature, theatre and film, it added a new
genre to the decade.
In 1960, Sylvester took over from Berger at the New Statesman. Two
years later, he resigned, having discovered that the column was
too short for his good ideas, and came around too frequently to
avoid his bad ones. His career as a broadcaster, however,
blossomed. He took up a visiting lectureship at the Royal College
of Art in 1960 (he had been a visiting lecturer at the Slade from
1953-57), and, in the same year, the US state department invited
him to spend two months in America, during which he interviewed
American artists for BBC radio.
It took Sylvester most of the decade to make up his mind about
contemporary American art. He was warming to Pollock by the
mid-1950s, and, after a touring show at the Tate - and the US trip
- had given him a more detailed chance to see it at first-hand, he
was finally converted. Then came Pop. He introduced it, in a 1963
essay, Coke Culture, in the Sunday Times magazine, which he had
joined as an art writer and adviser.
In the 1960s, his career took off in several directions at once.
He was making a series of films, Ten Modern Artists, for the BBC,
curating at least one major show a year, writing two books - Henry
Moore (1968) and Magritte (1969) - and taking on an escalating
number of public appointments. He liked being asked to sit on
committees and accept trusteeships - something he put down to
being an outsider and a Jew.
Having accepted them, however, they did not always last. He
resigned as a Tate trustee after two years, and gave up the
British Film Institute production board after three. But he kept
up his membership of the art panel of the Arts Council for
almost two decades, and, though not a very politicised
bureaucrat, he did bring about some fundamental changes. He got
the rates for visiting curators raised, and revised the way
works were bought for the Arts Council collection - to prevent
people pushing their favourites through. Towards the end of his
life, he was a trustee of the Henry Moore Foundation, on the
board of the Serpentine gallery and, in 1997, became a governor
of the South Bank Centre.
1950, Sylvester had married a student teacher, Pamela Briddon,
with whom he had three daughters, Catherine, Naomi and Xanthe. He
later had a fourth daughter, Cecily Brown, with Shena Mackay; all
four daughters survive him. When the marriage broke up, he moved
back to their old flat in Wimbledon, south London, and filled the
two large rooms with pieces of art. Most visitors complied with
his rule that they remove their shoes at the door, though the
artist Joseph Beuys is supposed, famously, to have refused, and
been sent packing into the night. At
the end of the 1980s, Sylvester moved to a townhouse in Notting
Hill, where, for more than a decade, his then partner, the art
critic and curator Sarah Whitfield, lived next door. It was there
that he finished editing his work on Magritte.
The commission had been offered by the art patrons Jean and
Dominique de Menil in 1967, initially as a four-year contract.
What was originally intended to be one book finished up as a
five-volume catalogue raisonné, a critical biography and a
touring exhibition. In retrospect, Sylvester occasionally wondered
if he had made the right decision; he was given to periods of
self-doubt, and regretted giving up the opportunity to develop
more films and interviews for television.
As it was, Magritte took over his professional life. In 1982, he
gave up what had been his most prominent public position to date,
his seat on the Arts Council, and vowed to do nothing else until
Magritte was finished. In 1983, he was awarded a CBE for his
public services to art.
In fact, his period of abstinence did not last long. The following
year, he accepted a place on the acquisitions board of the
Musée Nationale d'Art Moderne in Paris, and, in 1988, heralded his
return with a show of Late Picasso at the Centre Pompidou. His
catalogue essay was a tribute from an old adversary who
recognised, in the works of the ageing Picasso, the loss not of
artistic but of sexual potency.
The culmination of the Magritte period came in 1992: the first
volume of the catalogue raisonné was published, and the
exhibition opened at the Hayward gallery, and travelled to New
York, Houston and Chicago. After this, one volume appeared every
year until 1996. After 25 years with Magritte, Sylvester felt it
to have been too long: "I still love the work," he
wrote, "but the fact remains that I spent years of my life,
like Swann, on someone who was not my type."
When the de Menils' support came to an end, Sylvester worried
that, both economically and professionally, he might not be able
to hold his own. He had always been anxious about money. In the
1950s, he had thought he might be able to finance his life by
gambling, as Bacon and Freud did, but he had none of their
success. Considering his reputation, some people regarded his
fears as false modesty, but he was not immune to depression and
insecurity. There was a side to his nature that needed praise, and
he was genuinely pleased when he received it. But by this time
people expected him to be grand.
The word "panjandrum" was often chosen to describe him,
partly because of his reputation, partly in reaction to his
imposing physical presence. Although he played on the grandeur
when necessary, he could also undercut it. His injection of a
slangy word or phrase could refocus the reader's engagement with a
difficult piece; when lecturing he could inspire a kind of
dinner-table intimacy. And his intimacy, and stamina, on the
telephone was legendary among his friends: his late- night
conversations took in everything from share prices to the
impossibility of resolving the demands of love and morality.
As for returning to a freelance career, Sylvester was soon
engulfed by commitments, and, in the last five years of the
century, travelled constantly, particularly to the United States.
He was writing prolifically - catalogue essays and introductions,
reviews, particularly for the London Review of Books, and shorter
pieces for the national press.
By now, many of his old friends were in positions of power.
Nicholas Serota, whom Sylvester had known since he was a young
director at the Whitechapel gallery, was now director of the Tate.
Lord Gowrie, who deemed Sylvester his "best friend among the
generation immediately preceding my own", was head of the
Arts Council. Sir Ian Bancroft and Joanna Drew, for whom he had
curated exhibitions at the Hayward, were among his many close
He had been a connoisseur of love affairs for most of his life,
and he encountered fem- ale friends with a gaze that could match
his pauses of speech in length. It was his very own mirada fuerta,
the look Picasso used to seduce and shock. In Sylvester's case, it
was described, with fond exasperation, by a hab- itual recipient
as "one of those long, sideways, admir ing,
get-your-clothes-off kind of stares" that often heralded
"a brief, platonic love affair".
Of the artists within his field of expertise, Bacon was the first,
and the one he will be remembered for as both champion and major
critic. In 1993, a year after Bacon's death, Sylvester curated a
show of paintings at the Museo Correr, for the Venice Biennale,
and was awarded the Golden Lion, the first time it had been given
to a critic rather than an artist. Three years later, by which
time the French had made him an Officier de l'ordre des Arts et
Lettres, he curated another Bacon show at the Pompidou, which he
said looked even better. And in the spring of 1998, he made a
relatively small selection of Bacon paintings, on the theme of the
human body, for the Hayward gallery, which showed how his
familiarity with the work could produce a subtle show that pleased
critics and the public alike.
Last year, he published his own study of Bacon, Looking Back At
Francis Bacon, and installed a show at the Hugh Lane municipal
gallery, in Dublin, which preceded the installation of the
reconstructed interior of Bacon's studio dismantled from Reece
Mews, South Kensington.
At the end of the 90s, Sylvester had become embroiled in the fuss
over the discovery of a clutch of badly executed oil sketches,
allegedly disproving what Bacon had told him - that he never did
preliminary drawings. Though this provided art historians with a
new area of research, Sylvester made his own definitive response
last March, during a debate at the Barbican, when he reminded the
audience that, whether by Bacon or not, everybody accepted that
the drawings were bad, and therefore an intensive study of them
was pointless; much better to spend the time studying the
paintings, which were, uncontroversially, Bacon's masterpieces.
By this time, Sylvester was ill. But though he complained about
growing old, mentally he never seemed it. His experience of life,
combined with his intellect, made him an unshockable, unjudgmental
and, when the occasion demanded it, candid, adviser and friend. He
could be irritable and demanding. But he was delicate, kind and
never lost the appetites that made him appear more alive in his
senses than most people around him, and which made his writing
about art as visceral as it was analytic.
Sylvester will be remembered as one of the great 20th-century
critics, on a level with Michel Leiris, the one he probably
admired most. During his lifetime, the art world of 1950s Soho, of
which he had been part, became mythologised, almost an art-world
soap opera. The art world itself became ever more deeply involved
with and dependent upon the media, in need of new sensations to
keep it in the public eye.
Sylvester was still a key personality in all this. He was
consulted by Charles Saatchi and Nick Serota; he was asked to
write on contemporary work, as well as his more characteristic
areas of expertise. One of the things that most excited him was
the prospect of a long interview about film with the young
Scottish artist Douglas Gordon, which he realised shortly before
He was part of the contemporary art world, and yet he was also set
apart from it. He understood the game of art, and his writing
deepened our understanding of it.
Anthony David Bernard Sylvester, art critic and curator, born
September 21 1924; died June 19 2001
David Sylvester, 76, Art Critic Who Championed Modernism
By JOHN RUSSELL, THE NEW YORK TIMES, JUNE 20, 2001
Sylvester, for many years an influential critic, exhibition
organizer and shaper of opinion in the international modern-art
field, died on Monday in London. He was 76 and lived in London.
cause was colon cancer, said a spokeswoman for the Tate Gallery.
Sylvester's career was a lifelong romance with the idea of the
modern in art, music, literature and the movies. What he loved he
David Bernard Sylvester was born in London on Sept. 21, 1924, and
educated at the University College School in central London. When
still very young, he endeared himself to many artists, among them
Henry Moore and Francis Bacon, by the authenticity and the drive
of his commitment to their work.
1948 he was giving broadcast talks for the BBC. In 1951 he curated
exhibitions of sculpture by Moore and drawings by Alberto
Giacometti at the Tate Gallery. Afterward, the long list of
exhibitions he organized in London included the work of Stanley
Spencer (1954), René Magritte (1969), Robert Morris (1971), Henri
Laurens (1971), Joan Miró (bronzes, 1972), Willem de Kooning
(1977), "Dada and Surrealism Reviewed" (1977) and late
Picasso (1988). In 1994-95 he was co-curator of a large exhibition
of de Kooning in London and in Washington.
1993 Mr. Sylvester organized an exhibition of works by Bacon, his
close friend, as Britain's contribution to the Venice Biennale.
For this he was awarded the Biennale's Golden Lion Award, which
had never before been given to a critic. Last year he organized a
major Bacon exhibition for Paris, Munich and Dublin.
first visit to New York in 1960 at the invitation of the State
Department resulted in Mr. Sylvester's lifelong commitments to
several American artists. In particular, Jasper Johns, de Kooning,
Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko fired his enthusiasm. On his return
to London he supported the New York School in a series of BBC
radio programs that had a lasting impact.
later years he was a regular visitor to New York, where he was
prized as a critic, a friend and a memorable conversationalist. A
master of the purposeful pause, during which he sometimes seemed
to have left the room, he was also able to proclaim his opinions
in a long series of perfectly formed sentences.
in demand as an adviser, he was on the acquisitions committee of
the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris from 1984 to 1996. In 1995 he
was made a Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters in France.
He was also an Honorary Academician in the Royal Academy in
Sylvester was a trustee of the Tate Gallery from 1967 to 1969, and
a trustee of the Henry Moore Foundation from 1996 on. In 2000 he
was awarded Britain's Hawthornden Prize for art criticism.
marriage to Pamela Bidden ended in divorce. The couple had three
daughters. He later had another daughter, Cecily Brown, with the
English novelist Shena Mackay.
his many publications, the collected "Interviews with Francis
Bacon" was revised and enlarged more than once over the
years. Last year he published "Looking Back on Francis
Bacon." Another lifelong enthusiasm culminated in his
"Looking at Giacometti" in 1994.
Modern Art" (1996, enlarged 1997) touched on many aspects of
his trawl through the second half of the last century. As was true
of the Bacon and Giacometti works, "About Modern Art"
included elements of autobiography. They gave immediacy to a form
of critical writing that often shies away from it.
monumental five-volume catalogue raisonné of the work of Magritte
(1992-97) was a collegial effort by Mr. Sylvester and, among
others, his friend Sarah Whitfield.
his last months he was at work on a book of interviews with
American artists, including Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, de Kooning
and Richard Serra.
world mourns a magisterial critic
Kennedy, The Guardian, Wednesday June 20, 2001
writer, critic and curator David Sylvester, who died yesterday,
was described last night as a magisterial figure who helped create
the reputation of many of the greatest British artists of the 20th
He had been ill for some time -
describing his terminal cancer to The Guardian as "a great
He wrote for many journals and
newspapers, including, for many years, The Observer.
At the age of 76, although he had been
a friend and passionate advocate of the work of 20th century
giants including Henry Moore and Francis Bacon, he remained hungry
for the work of young contemporary artists. He recently
contributed an assessment of the work of sculptor Rachel Whiteread
to the Tate journal.
The director of the National Portrait
Gallery, Charles Saumarez Smith, said he had chosen to have his
portrait made for the collection by Jenny Saville, best known for
her paintings of large nude women.
Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the
Tate - who first met him when Sylvester was a feared critic, and
he was the unknown but promising young director of the Whitechapel
Gallery in London - praised not only Sylvester's writing, but the
exhibitions he curated, as among "the most memorable of the
last 40 years".
He was a trustee of the Henry Moore
Foundation until this year, and last night director Tim Llewellyn
expressed the "deep sadness" of the trustees, describing
his assistance to the foundation as invaluable.
Staff at the Barbican gallery, where
he spoke from the floor at a day seminar on the work of Francis
Bacon four months ago, described him as "a magisterial
Charles Saumarez Smith, called him
"one of the great figures in art in the 20th century, as an
art writer and critic, and as an arranger of exhibitions to which
he brought all his skill and passion.
Artist's champion dies
Wednesday, 20 June, 2001
Renowned art critic David Sylvester, a champion of the work of Francis
Bacon, among others, has died aged 76. Sylvester was generally
considered to be one of Britain's most influential critics of
contemporary art. He is best
known as a leading authority and advocate of the work of Francis Bacon
and Henry Moore but also embraced younger artists such as Rachel
Arts broadcaster and Editor of Tate Magazine, Tim Marlow, worked
with Sylvester many times and told BBC News Online that the Art world
has lost a champion.
"He wasn't a critic who sought out
something new all the time for the sake of it," he says.
"He would think deeply and really
considered the work and the artist."
Sylvester's had the ability to make and
maintain lasting friendships with artists, including Bacon, Giacometti,
de Kooning, Rothko or Jasper Johns. For
the public it was his ability to describe and explain works of art that
was his great skill.
David Sylvester was a giant in every
sense of the word
Tim Marlow, editor of Tate Magazine
Born in London in September 1924,
Sylvester's family were Russian-Jewish silver dealers. His
interest in art was awakened when he saw a black and white illustration
of Matisse's La Danse. He did
attempt to become a painter, but was discouraged by his efforts and
turned to writing. As the peak of
his journalistic career, as well as writing about art Sylvester wrote
about football and cricket for The Observer and reviewed films.
His books include Interviews with Francis
Bacon, published in 1975, Looking at Giacometti in 1994 and About Modern
Art in 1996. In 2000 he published a
study of Bacon - Looking Back at Bacon - and helped install a dramatic
removal of the artist's studio to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.
Sylvester was also a gifted broadcaster,
presenting series on Painting for BBC television and a remarkable set of
interviews, in French, with the sculptor Giacometti, for BBC Radio 3.
Marlow says that Sylvester will be remembered
as not just a writer and critic but as a brilliant exhibition maker.
In Britain he curated important exhibitions on
Soutine, Giacometti and Magritte, and organized shows in Brussels,
Paris, New York, Houston and Chicago.
In 1993 Sylvester won a Golden Lion for his
work at the Venice Biennale - the first time the award was given to a
curator and critic rather than an artist. Sylvester
recently wrote what Marlow described as a "brilliant" piece on
how to hang an art exhibition for Tate Magazine.
"David Sylvester was a giant in every
sense of the word," he said.
"He was a great big cuddly bear of a
man with a gentle ferocity and a great intellect."
Sylvester is survived by his wife, Pamela
and four daughters.
Unseen paintings may provide
evidence in Bacon court case
by Steve Boggan, The
Independent, 30th May, 2001
Previously unseen paintings by Francis Bacon may
be among a photographic archive that a court has ordered his former
gallery to reveal to his estate.
Professor Clarke, a friend of Bacon's and a
highly successful artist in his own right, is suing Marlborough Fine Art
and an associated company in Liechtenstein, alleging they exercised 'undue
influence' over the painter. The estate claims Marlborough would take as
much as 70 per cent of the value of the paintings it sold for Bacon,
instead of a 'fairer' 30 per cent, and that it failed to pay him for
lithographs. The gallery rejects the claims, which could total £100m,
arguing that Bacon was content with what it paid him and knew it would
make a profit when it sold the paintings on, a sentiment underlined by the
fact that he continued to deal through it for 34 years.
It must disclose every Bacon painting and
lithograph that it or its directors currently own or control and must hand
over Bacon's correspondence and an archive of documents kept by Valerie
Beston, a former Marlborough director, who took care of the artist's
affairs. But it is the archive of photographs by Prudence Cummings, a fine
art photographer, and a record book of Bacon's works kept by Miss Beston
that have excited most interest in Professor Clarke.
Mr Clarke, visiting professor at the Bartlett
Institute of Architecture, University College London, met Bacon at the
Colony Rooms in Soho in 1974 through a friend, John Edwards.
Bacon studio gala evening in Dublin
30 May 2001
The Francis Bacon studio was finally opened to the
public on the 23rd May in Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery
to critical acclaim. The preceding evening The Estate of
Francis Bacon headed by Brian Clarke formally handed the
contents of the studio (estimated with a value of at
least $ 15 million, £ 17.5 million) over to the
gallery at the City Hall, Dublin, with guests including
the lord mayor of the city, Dermot Aherne (brother of
the country’s premier), ex-Beatle Sir Paul McCartney
and the Irish artist Louis le Brocquy. When asked by
Gabriuszine as to the Estate’s progress in the $ 141
million (£ 165 million) civil suit currently running
against the Marlborough Gallery (London and Lichenstein),
(regarding alleged non payment of artist fees to Francis
Bacon), Brian Clarke remarked, “We have just returned
from London today and I have every confidence in the
success of our case.” (Andrew Moore)
Bacon's creative chaos
Francis Bacon's London studio has been dismantled and
painstakingly recreated at a gallery in Dublin.
applauds the mess