and rarity: Francis Bacon’s Untitled (Pope) 1954
Contemporary Art Evening Auction
New York | 13 November 2012 | N08900 | Lot 26
PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTION
- 25,000,000 USD LOT
oil on canvas
59 7/8 x 37 in. 152 x 94 cm.
Executed circa 1954.
This work will be included in the forthcoming Francis Bacon
Catalogue Raisonné, being prepared by The Estate of Francis Bacon
and edited by Martin Harrison.
Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris
Galleria Galatea, Turin
Galerie Krugier, Geneva
Private Collection, Geneva
Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., London, December 4,1975, Lot 238
Acquired by the present owner from the above
Geneva, Musée Rath, Musées d’Art et d’Histoire de Geneva , L’Art
XXe Siècle dans les Collections Genevoises, June - September
1973, cat. no. 176, p. 164, illustrated
Monelle Hayot, "Marché de l’art: Artistes contemporains
britanniques," L’Oeil, nos. 270-271, Paris, January -
February 1978, p. 83, illustrated
“Terror and atrocious suffering make the mouth an organ of searing
Georges Bataille, ‘Dictionnaire – Bouche’, Documents, No. 5, 1930,
“Great art is always a way of concentrating, reinventing what is
called fact, what we know of our existence….tearing away the veils
that fact acquires through time.”
Francis Bacon interviewed by Hugh Davies, June 26, 1973, in Hugh
Davies and Sally Yard, Francis Bacon, New York, 1986, p. 110
“Consciousness of mortality sharpens one’s sense of existing.”
Francis Bacon interviewed by Hugh M. Davies in 1973, in Martin
Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies, Göttingen, 2009,
It is perhaps the most singularly devastating personification in
figural art of the post-war period. It is a vision so universal and
immediate that it threatens to traverse the threshold between viewer
and object, simultaneously leaping into our domain and sucking us
into its own. It is an unrepeatable image, borne specifically of its
time and of the unique experiences of its creator, yet stands as an
allegory for perpetuity. Emerging from the desolate shadows of the
Second World War and its abject annihilation of over fifty million
souls, a Pope looms forth from the depths of Francis Bacon’s
formidable genius and draws near, into our focus. The Vicar of
Christ, Successor of Saint Peter and God’s temporal representative
on earth; this Supreme Pontiff has transmogrified into a chimera of
awesome terror. It has become the anguished epitome of humanity’s
excruciating scream: deafening to our collective interior, yet
silent in the existential void. Encaged within insufferable
isolation, this Pope – totem of enlightened perception, of
authoritative faith, of order against chaos – is violently racked by
the brutal fact of the human condition. It is the proposition of a
world turned upside down, of established systems shattered, and, as
such, is the perfect response to Theodor Adorno’s legendary 1951
axiom “There can be no poetry after Auschwitz.” Having remained in
the same private collection for over thirty years and hidden from
public view, this painting embodies, of course, Bacon’s most
celebrated and recognizable iconography. Even more than this, as a
Pope it crystallizes a thunderous climax in the long arc of that
elusive and indefinable engine of innovation known as artistic
genius. Within the Twentieth Century, perhaps only Picasso’s Guernica,
with its monumental, monochrome nightmare apparition of a Nativity
scene being torn apart by massacre, parallels the impossible
figurative potency of Bacon’s Screaming Popes.
The phenomenal specter of papal imagery and its inspiration had
seeped into Bacon’s work since the end of the 1940s, but the present
painting is more precisely allied to his most revered cycle of
Popes; the eight Study for Portraits that were executed in
the summer of 1953 for his first exhibition outside England, at
Durlacher Brothers Gallery in New York in October to November of
that year. Constituents of this corpus today reside in the
collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Hirshhorn Museum, the
Minneapolis Institute and the Lehman Loeb Art Center. However, it is
to the seminal masterpiece Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of
Pope Innocent X of 1953, housed in the Des Moines Art Center,
that the present work bears especially close parity. In terms of the
composition of space, the bodily expression and the figure’s
portrait, the two paintings harbor close formal correspondence.
Indeed, the visceral physiognomic intensity of the contorted
features and flashing teeth of the gaping mouth in the present
canvas, so deftly fashioned by the artist’s daubs of writhing paint,
achieves a heightened psychological import – shooting the desperate
papal cry straight into the realm of the viewer – that surpasses any
of the eight Studies and is matched only by the Des Moines work.
Bacon’s painting here is unleashed and urgent, unencumbered by any
stodgy deliberation or revision, and his unbridled protagonist
delivers a primal clarion call that summons Georges Bataille’s
potent proclamation: “Terror and atrocious suffering make the mouth
an organ of searing screams.” (Georges Bataille, ‘Dictionnaire –
Bouche’, Documents, No. 5, 1930, pp. 298-99)
Bacon’s typically eloquent declaration that he wanted to “unlock the
valves of feeling and therefore return the onlooker to life more
violently” aptly explains how the genesis of this most ambitious
body of work was seeded by an inspirational touchstone of resounding
familiarity. The archetype Bacon appropriated as starting point for
his Pope series was Diego Velázquez’s extraordinary Portrait of
Pope Innocent X of 1650, held in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj,
Rome; a painting for which Bacon was “haunted and obsessed by the
image…its perfection.” (Francis Bacon interviewed by Hugh Davies,
June 26, 1973, in Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, Francis Bacon,
New York, 1986, p. 23) Having travelled to Rome from the Spanish
court of Philip IV in 1649, Velázquez was afforded the great honor
of depicting the Pope, Giambattista Pamphilj, known as Innocent X,
whom he had met as papal nuncio in Madrid in 1626-30. The painting
was executed in a Jubilee year when 700,000 pilgrims descended on
Rome, and Velázquez dutifully portrayed the Bishop of Rome as the
most powerful man in the world, encased by the trappings of his
office. Yet the spectacular achievement of this portrait is that
within the gold, silk and lace vestiges of papal supremacy resides a
mortal human being beset by flaw and fallibility. While Pope
Innocent X resides literally ex cathedra in the papal throne,
official document clutched in hand and glinting ring proffered for
all to pay homage; the man Pamphilj wears a pained and suspicious
countenance that betrays the unscrupulous and duplicitous pitfalls
of his tenure as Pontiff. The brilliance of Velázquez’s embedded
juxtaposition, pitting the Papacy’s supposed omnipotence against
Man’s inevitable frailty, while also delivering a likeness that was
so highly received that he was awarded a golden medallion for his
services, ignited an ambition within Bacon to equal this
achievement, albeit in a godless world that had been literally torn
to shreds by chaos and destruction. Moreover, beyond the substrate
of canvas and layers of oil paint, Bacon perceived the voice of the
artist speaking across the centuries: “If you look at a Velázquez,
what do you think about? ... I don’t think about his sitters, I
think about him… I think about Velázquez, I think people believe
that they’re painting other people, but they paint out their own
instincts.” (Francis Bacon interviewed by Hugh Davies, August 13,
1973, in Exh. Cat., Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Francis
Bacon: The Papal Portraits of 1953, 1999, p. 34)
It has previously been noted that Bacon had not at this stage in his
career seen the Velázquez painting in Rome first-hand, and for this
initial series of papal portraits he worked from a black and white
illustration of the work. This in turn has been suggested as the
cause for the purple color of the garments in these paintings
differing from the original cardinal red. However, while Bacon’s
extensive enlistment of and reference to photographic sources is
beyond question, it also seems more than likely that he was familiar
with another version of Velázquez’s painting; one that has resided
in Apsley House, the seat of the Duke of Wellington in London, since
the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. This smaller painting by
Veláquez, either a study made before or copy made after the larger
work, was gifted to the Duke of Wellington by the King of Spain in
1816, together with over 150 other pictures from the Spanish Royal
Collection, in recognition of his defeat of Napoleonic forces and
liberation of Spain in the Peninsular War. The British commander had
recovered these works from the fleeing carriage of Joseph Bonaparte,
brother of Napoleon, after the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. Under the
Duke of Wellington’s great-grandson, Apsley House and its art
collection was opened to the public in 1952, the centenary of the
first Duke’s death and, conveniently, shortly before Francis Bacon
initiated a grand cycle of papal portraits including the present
painting. That Apsley House sits at Hyde Park Corner, about fifteen
minutes’ walk from the Royal College of Art where Bacon was using a
studio between 1951 and 1953, readily invites the hypothesis that he
was able to study this highly accomplished version at close
However, the Velázquez painting is merely a template that becomes a
delivery system for Bacon’s radical and unrelenting reinvention.
Indeed, the present work is Bacon’s concrete realization that “Great
art is always a way of concentrating, reinventing what is called
fact, what we know of our existence….tearing away the veils that
fact acquires through time.” (Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, Op. Cit.,
p. 110) Thus Bacon replaces the subjective idiosyncrasies of the
grand state portrait with an intimate visage of pain and suffering
that stands as proxy for the torment of the human race. His source
for this all-encompassing cipher was provided by a film still of a
screaming female character in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 movie The
Battleship Potemkin. Bacon had first seen the movie in 1935 and
viewed it frequently thereafter, and this specific still was
reproduced in Roger Manvell’s 1944 paperback Film, though
Bacon also kept other reproductions of the startling image. The
frame shows a pince-nez wearing elderly woman, commonly referred to
as a nurse, shot through the eye and caught at the instant of death.
It belongs to the movie’s massacre sequence on the Odessa Steps
which, though it veers wildly from historical accuracy, remains one
of the most iconic pieces of propagandist film ever made. Within its
remorseless tragedy it is this character, part blinded and dying
while also witnessing a baby in a pram being brutalized by the sword
of a tsarist soldier, that embodies the conception of absolute
horror and the abandonment of all hope. By supplanting Velázquez’s
portrait of Innocent X with this twentieth-century essence of
ultimate despair and its tortured last gasping breath, Bacon unites
two extremes of enduringly vehement imagery.
It is also important to note the personal biographical import of
this vision to its author. Since a small child, Bacon had suffered
chronic asthma, greatly aggravated by the dogs and horses that had
attended his upbringing. According to Caroline Blackwood, “When he
was a little boy his parents had put him astride a pony and they had
forced him to go fox-hunting. He loathed the brutality of the “Sport
of Kings” and developed a violent allergy to horses. He turned blue
once he found himself on the hunting field and he started to choke
with chronic asthma…The subject made him freeze. He became agitated
whenever I broached it. He started to tug at the collar of his shirt
as if he were trying to loosen some kind of noose which he found
asphyxiating; for a moment he resembled the agonized figures in his
paintings whose faces turn a truly dangerous shade of indigo purple
as they go into the last stages of strangulation.” (Caroline
Blackwood, ‘Francis Bacon Obituary’, The New York Review of Books,
24 September 1992) Bacon’s papal figure is caught in a symphony of
movement; its representation comprised all of shadows and flashing
motion and evolving in constant flux. This also recalls the
photography of Edweard Muybridge, which used multiple cameras and an
elaborate trigger device to capture successive stages of motion.
Bacon possessed many illustrations of Muybridge’s images and this
Pope’s right hand, veering towards us out of the darkness, recalls
something of Muybridge’s photograph series ’Striking a Blow with the
Right Hand’, a fragment of which was found in the artist’s studio
after his death. While the right hand of Velázquez’s Innocent X
hangs limply from the support of his gilded throne, Bacon’s papal
fury lashes out at the viewer with a clenched fist, once again
destabilizing the barrier between viewer and subject.
The drama of all this corporeal expression is greatly intensified by
the artist’s complex framing of the composition and the many facets
that define an uneasy sense of flux and unknowable dimensions within
the canvas. Bacon’s overlapping linear schema here act as cage-like
space frames that enclose this Pope inside its solitary nightmare.
Indeed, the present work proves to act as prototype for Bacon’s
consequent declaration: “I like the anonymous compartment, like a
room concentrated in a small space. I would like to paint landscapes
in a box…If you could enclose their infinity in a box they would
have a greater concentration.” (the artist interviewed by Hugh M.
Davies in 1973, in Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: New
Studies, Göttingen, 2009, p. 111) This compositional
organization echoes Picasso’s strategy of reducing three-dimensions
to a scored network of diagrammatic black lines, such as in the
groundbreaking Painter and Model of 1928. It is also strongly
redolent of the frantic inscribed urgency of Giacometti’s autograph
portraiture style and architectonic construction, so harshly
graphic in his visceral drawings, and evident in Portrait of
Peter Watson of 1953, which, as noted by Martin Harrison, was a
work that Bacon probably knew given his close relationship to the
sitter. It is also reminiscent of Bacon’s work as a furniture
designer in the late 1920s, where he defined the parameters of
actual space with folding screens and curved metal tubes inspired by
the Bauhaus, Le Corbusier and Ozenfant, and which are well-evidenced
in a 1930 article in The Studio magazine and the documentary
paintings of his fellow painter and friend Roy de Maistre. The space
frames of the papal portraits mark the mature inception of these
translucent compartments of literal, psychological and somatic space
that would subsequently trap anonymous businessmen within midnight
blue voids and imprison countless actors in triptychs throughout
Bacon’s oeuvres of the subsequent three decades.
Aside from the formal compartmentalization of space, Francis Bacon
was also transfixed by the potentiality of material strata and
layers of perception, as he described to David Sylvester: "We nearly
always live through screens – a screened existence. And I sometimes
think, when people say my work looks violent, that perhaps I have
from time to time been able to clear away one or two of the veils or
screens." (Francis Bacon cited in David Sylvester, Interviews
with Francis Bacon, London, 1993, p. 26) The vertical and
diagonal, tonally-polarized hatching that spans the present work is
another iconographic device that is both rooted in illustrious
precedent and foreshadows Bacon’s later output. In a way similar to
the Des Moines Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent
X, the upright bands that strike through this protagonist and
unite it with the background are at once evocative of Titian’s Portrait
of Cardinal Filippo Archinto of circa 1551-62, in which a
diaphanous veil bisects the sitter’s right eye and dramatically
blurs his left hand behind the drapery. This shuttering effect takes
Bacon’s character in and out of coherence, like the staccato
pulsations of a half-glimpsed memory disappearing and returning to
our focus. Aspects of the forms merge and blur, instilling a sense
of dynamism and movement, and we are afforded alternative
descriptions of the pictorial content, such as the suggestion that
this pope has his tongue fully extended out of his mouth. Bacon’s
screens and veils complicate our perception of his vision, and as
such deliver a fitting coda to one of his favourite passages from
T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, which he told Hugh Davies had
been a continual source of inspiration to him: “I have heard the
key/ Turn in the door once and turn once only/ We think of the key,
each in his prison/ thinking of the key, each confirms a prison”
(read by the artist in interview by Hugh M. Davies in 1973, in
Martin Harrison, Op. Cit., p. 102)
Perhaps more than any other theme associated with his canon, the
threat of mortality inhabits every pore of Bacon’s art. Danger,
violence and death constantly linger in the recesses of his
canvases, acting like a continual incantation of his deft maxim:
“Consciousness of mortality sharpens one’s sense of existing.”
(Ibid., p. 96). Of course, many of his greatest later works became
directly associated with the sudden and brutal deaths of his
respective lovers Peter Lacy and George Dyer, but in fact the risk
of impending fatality imbued his existence from its most formative
stage. Raised by English parents living in Ireland’s County Kildare
during the violent era surrounding the Easter Uprising, Bacon’s
upbringing was intensely fraught and immersed in the threat of harm:
“My father warned us that at any time, not that we would be shot,
but at night someone might break in or whatever. My grandmother
married three times, at that time her husband was the Head of Police
in Kildare and in their house all the windows were sandbagged. I
lived with my grandmother a lot. I grew up in an atmosphere of
threat for a long time… And then I was in Berlin at the beginning of
the Nazi thing, my whole life had been lived through a time of
stress.” (Ibid., pp. 104-5) Aged no more than sixteen, in 1926 he
was abruptly driven from his home, away from hearth and kin by his
father, and embarked for London. At the beginning of 1927 he was in
Berlin and by the Spring he had arrived in Paris, staying that
summer with a family in Chantilly before moving in the Fall to the
Hôtel Delambre in Montparnasse, where he endured an impoverished
subsistence lifestyle for almost a year. Alongside the actual events
of his life, he of course became a voracious devourer of the canon
of western Art History, and he purposely sought out those most
powerful narrators of the tragedy of the human drama, from
Michelangelo to Velázquez to Poussin to Picasso, to provide an
analytical framework for his own experience. The dramatic shadow of
this illustrious precedent is readily evident in the present work,
and perhaps none more so than a work that Bacon would have
encountered in the Tate, Henry Fuseli’s Lady Macbeth Seizing the
Daggers, which in execution, subject and spirit stands as an
eerily prescient predecessor for Untitled (Pope).
Bacon’s coming of age was thus forged in a crucible of uncertainty
and risk, and this heritage violently coursed through his subsequent
life and art. Fifteen years after Paris, in 1944, he delivered the
searing cry of his masterpiece Three Studies for Figures at the
Base of a Crucifixion; shrieking into existence to announce that
figurative art could never be the same again. A decade after that,
the Popes declared that everything we thought we knew – the history
that was meant to bind us, the psychological and emotional journeys
we supposedly shared, the promise of futures entwined together –
were all merely veils to mask the thunderous yet silent solitary
scream that lies within us all. It remains one of the most
pertinent, universal and affecting visions in the History of Art,
and the full force of its power is trapped forever on the surface of
this sensational painting.
The artist in his studio, 1950 ©
Derek Bayes Diego Velázquez
Pope Innocent X, circa 1651 Apsley House, The Wellington Museum
Dark night of the soul
Two decades after his death, Francis Bacon continues to enthral.
Now this confronting artist’s work is to be exhibited here, writes
JANET HAWLEY | LIFESTYLE | THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD | NOVEMBER
Tortured artist … Francis Bacon, aged 62 in 1971. Henri
Why do uber-rich Russian tycoons, American hedge-fund managers,
Qatar royalty and British football club owners eagerly pay up to $86
million to hang the terrible beauty of a Francis Bacon painting on
their wall? Do they identify with Bacon’s lonely, angst-ridden
screaming popes and the vulnerability of his solitary, contorted
Why has Damien Hirst, Britain’s richest living artist, spent
fortunes reaped from his own diamond-encrusted skulls and sharks in
formaldehyde to buy five Bacons for his private collection?
Why does the dowager Lady Jane Willoughby, a train-bearer at Queen
Elizabeth II’s coronation, cherish her magnificent Bacons –
especially a work showing two entangled, naked, male figures, known
colloquially as “The Buggers”?
Australians will finally get the chance to experience the alluring
Baconian power for themselves when a major exhibition of this
confronting, conflicted British artist’s work comes, at last, to
Australia. It will span the five main decades of Bacon’s painting
life, from the 1940s until his death in 1992 at the age of 82.
It has taken the exhibition’s curator, Tony Bond, five years to
organise, liaising with the Bacon estate and persuading wealthy
international private owners, such as Hirst, and major museums to
lend 53 treasured Bacons, including five large triptychs.
Bacon is renowned for painting the most raw, disturbing and gruesome
aspects of the human experience – be it sadomasochism or the tragic
spectacle of his drunken lover dying on a Paris toilet seat – “in
the most sublimely beautiful manner”, explains Bond.
Hirst lavishes praise on his uncompromising hero: “He’s up there
with Goya, Soutine and Van Gogh: dirty painters who wrestle with the
dark stuff. Bacon has the guts to fuck in hell. They give you the
shivers, his best paintings.” His best images, adds Hirst, remind
him of “spaces I imagined in nightmares”.
While many regard Bacon as the greatest figurative painter of the
second half of the 20th century, those who aren’t seduced by the
artist’s fluent, painterly hand and lush colourist skills label him
“a monster of depravity” and “the black night of the 20th-century
soul”. Margaret Thatcher, while in office, famously called Bacon:
“That dreadful man who paints those horrible pictures.”
Looking at Bacon’s distorted human figures, grappling couples,
screaming popes, hysterical businessmen in suits and grotesque
mythical beasts, you might imagine him to be a morose, pessimistic
character. But those who knew him describe him as a fascinating
firecracker of creativity and a mass of contradictions.
Like Picasso (his first mentor), Bacon’s work is a visual diary of
his life. Whereas Picasso, rampantly heterosexual, painted series of
his six female lovers, Bacon, rampantly homosexual, painted series
of his six male lovers. (Bacon, like Picasso, was also dangerous to
love: two of his broken-hearted lovers would perish by their own
hand, as did two of Picasso’s.)
British art historian Martin Harrison has spent the past 13 years
working on publications for the Bacon estate, enjoying privileged
access to Bacon’s intimates, most of whom have now passed away.
Harrison is still poring over diaries, private letters and
photographs, and has almost completed a catalogue raisonné of all
Bacon’s surviving 600 paintings. “Bacon destroyed probably another
6000, being a ruthless editor of his own work,” he explains. “The
standard Bacon set himself was the National Gallery or the dustbin,
so failures were slashed to pieces.”
It’s not possible to understand Bacon, the person and the art,
unless you also understand that he was homosexual, says Harrison.
“It informs a lot of his imagery and psychology, and also makes
interesting his works which have nothing to do with gay men,” he
says. “Bacon did magnificent paintings of his women friends – he
liked women who were strong-minded, daring and independent.”
From mess to masterpiece … Bacon in his “chaotic” London studio in
The artist’s childhood is illuminating. “Bacon knew he was
homosexual from an early age and made no attempt to hide it,”
Harrison continues, “though he always regarded it as an affliction,
something he had to bear. He was quite posh in his manner, despite
his notorious love of a louche lifestyle. Even when drunk, he
maintained the demeanour of an Edwardian gentleman, and was at ease
mingling with both high life and low.”
Bacon was born in Dublin to privileged English parents. His father,
retired army captain Eddy Bacon, trained racehorses; his socialite
mother, Christina, hailed from a wealthy family of Sheffield cutlery
Young Francis, an asthmatic, was allergic to horses and his father
responded to this perceived weakness by having him regularly whipped
by stable hands to toughen him up. Francis’ retaliation was an
unexpected one: to initiate his first sexual encounters with said
When he was 16, Francis was discovered by his father dressing in his
mother’s underwear and was banished from home. Handsome and alone,
he drifted around London, working in gentlemen’s clubs and having
affairs with “men in suits”. He liked wearing make-up and developed
a penchant for wearing women’s stockings or fishnet tights under his
In 1927, when he was 18, Bacon, at his father’s insistence, left for
Berlin with a family friend, whose job it was to “cure” him of his
homosexuality. Instead, the older man seduced him and the pair
revelled freely in the decadent atmosphere that prevailed in Berlin
at this time. Soon after, Bacon moved to Paris, where he saw a
Picasso exhibition, which changed his life. He decided to become a
painter. It would take him until 1944 to perfect his distinctive
style, and he would destroy nearly all his early work in the
At 20, Bacon began the first of several protracted affairs. “His
first two relationships were with older men, father figures, mentors
and generous patrons,” says Harrison.
Untrained in art, Bacon began work as a furniture designer in London
where, in 1930, he met Australian artist Roy de Maistre, who guided
Bacon in painting technique and art history. A deeply religious man,
de Maistre was painting crucifixions. Bacon, who was defiantly
atheist, painted a ghostly crucifix, Crucifixion, 1933. In a coup
initiation, it appeared in Herbert Read’s book, Art Now, opposite a
painting by Picasso. (This seminal work, now part of Hirst’s Murderme private
collection, is in the AGNSW exhibition.)
A few years on, nascent author Patrick White arrived in London, and
became de Maistre’s lover. White commissioned a writing desk from
Bacon, later describing him in Flaws In The Glass as having a
“beautiful pansy-shaped face, sometimes with too much lipstick on
Bacon took up with Oxford graduate Eric Hall, a wealthy businessman
who left his wife and children to become Bacon’s benefactor. The
pair travelled together, enjoying gambling holidays in Monte Carlo,
with Bacon painting sporadically.
In 1944, when he was 32, amid the senseless destruction of World War
II, Bacon painted a highly original work that shocked the art world
– Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944. The
startling orange triptych depicted three vile, snarling, freakish
figures inspired by the Furies, Greek mythical agents of vengeance
and justice. Bacon explained the work had no religious significance,
but symbolised mankind’s bestial capacity for cruelty and evil.
Bacon’s work was now drawing attention, but his challenging images
were proving hard to sell.
During the 1950s, Bacon embarked on a series of affairs with younger
lovers. Says Harrison: “Francis was sadomasochistic; he often took a
fancy to rough trade, and got a sexual thrill submitting to beatings
and pain. He began an obsessive love affair with ex-RAF fighter
pilot Peter Lacy, who also enjoyed sadomasochism. But their
alcohol-fuelled arguments became so violent that the two almost
killed each other. Lacy eventually moved to Tangier, becoming a
piano player in a bar.” Bacon regularly visited his despondent lover
there but, by 1962, Lacy had drunk himself to death.
The next year, the most celebrated and productive era of Bacon’s
career began. In 1963, aged 54, he moved into a modest two-storey
London mews house, 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington. This would be his
main residence and studio for the remainder of his life.
Here he lived in “gilded squalor”, as one of his posthumous
biographers, Dan Farson, puts it in The Gilded Gutter Life of
Francis Bacon. He took a new lover, George Dyer, a handsome,
strongly built petty thief 25 years his junior, who he’d paint more
frequently, more ominously, than anyone else.
was attracted to underworld characters,” explains Harrison, “who,
like the dark side of himself, enjoyed hanging out in sleazy clubs,
drinking, gambling and being promiscuous. Bacon loved taking risks,
in art and life. Dyer was poorly educated, clueless about art, but
worshipped Francis and did his bidding like a pet puppy – to his
Bacon kept a disciplined routine. Most days, he worked alone, in
silence, in his studio from 6am till 2pm, trusting that creative
spontaneity would spring from his unconscious to enable a kind of
alchemy on canvas. Work over, he’d don a bespoke Savile Row suit to
wear to lunch in an expensive restaurant, where he’d typically order
oysters and champagne. Then, several afternoons a week, he’d adjourn
to the Soho drinking club, the Colony Room, a haunt of artists,
writers, bohemians and fringe-dwellers. Here, he’d hold court,
surrounded by a growing crowd of sycophants and genuine admirers,
displaying his wit and conversational skills and also, at times, his
vicious temper and belittling tongue.
Bacon had the classic genius-artist, sacred-monster personality.
Ferociously talented, he allowed nothing or no one to get in the way
of his work and was often furtive, selfish, demanding and extremely
cruel. He could also be utterly charming and seductive in his
generosity. “Bacon would hand out pocketfuls of money to spongers
bludging off him, and perversely enjoy this,” says Harrison. “His
kindness was as legendary as his scorn and treachery.”
Bacon’s lovers were never permitted to move in and live with him
full-time: he purchased Dyer and subsequent lovers apartments nearby
and they came to him when summonsed. Bacon never wanted a domestic
arrangement. “He hated what he called ‘the billing and cooing’ side
of relationships,” says Harrison, “and only liked the sex.
Essentially, he was a loner.”
"A sweet-natured, good-hearted young man, who worshipped
Bacon" … John Edwards in 1983
The inside of Bacon’s studio resembled a rubbish-filled squat:
“Bacon maintained he needed to work amidst chaos,” says Harrison.
The floor was smothered in avalanches of books, pages ripped from
magazines and newspapers, photographs in their hundreds. “Many
photographs were folded like origami models, giving Bacon ideas on
distorting portraits,” adds Harrison. He would appropriate
reproductions of old masters, in particular Velázquez’s 1650
portrait of Pope Innocent X, the inspiration for his “screaming
popes” series. Paint tubes, brushes, rags, champagne bottles and
boxes were banked up, the walls covered in slapped-on paint where
the artist experimented with colour mixes.
As Bacon’s success and celebrity grew, he tired of Dyer and tried to
buy him off. But Dyer, now drinking heavily to fill his days, was
totally dependent on his revered artist.
In October 1971, Bacon was honoured with a major exhibition at the
Grand Palais in Paris. Dyer accompanied Bacon’s party to Paris but,
unable to cope with the melee of dignitaries and admirers that
permanently surrounded Bacon there, went on an alcohol–and
pill–fuelled bender. “Dyer took a Venezuelan gigolo back to the
hotel room he shared with Bacon, but Bacon complained the man’s feet
stank, and moved to a different bedroom,” relates Harrison. “Next
morning, Dyer was found dead on the toilet.
“Bacon sailed through the opening the next night as if nothing had
happened, but Dyer’s death affected him deeply for years to come. He
realised that showering Dyer with money to stop his petty thieving
had removed his identity and raison d’être.”
Bacon painted three posthumous triptychs of the stark death scene,
one of which shows Dyer slumped on the toilet, vomiting into the
basin, which Harrison describes as “haunting dark elegies; exorcisms
and expiations of guilt. The fluid that flows in the 1972 Dyer
triptych seems to represent the life leaking out of him.”
Although Bacon’s carousing at the Colony Club was legendary, the
artist had another group of friends who satisfied his hunger for
intellectual discourse and appreciation of art. He was especially
close to British critic David Sylvester and French critic Michel
“Yet even with them, Bacon would avoid discussing any meanings to
his work,” says Harrison. “He maintained his only intention was to
create a visual shock to the viewer’s nervous system. He didn’t want
narrative story to get in the way of the paint. People find this
hard to accept, as Bacon’s work seems to invite interpretation.”
Nor would Bacon answer questions on the meaning of life. He believed
in living for the moment: “I’m profoundly optimistic – about
nothing,” he told British interviewer Melvyn Bragg in 1986. “I just
like to drift … from bar to bar, and see what comes up.”
For more than three decades, Bacon had an intense friendship with
fellow artist Lucian Freud – until it soured. The senior British art
critic, William Feaver, now completing a biography of Freud’s life,
says the friendship began in London during World War II, when Freud
was 21 and Bacon was 34.
“Bacon’s work was more startling, unrestricted, wildly amazing than
that of any other contemporary painter, and Lucian was a huge
admirer,” explains Feaver. “Lucian also admired Bacon’s attitude of
not giving a damn about high society or respectability, and his
courage in taking risks with the law; homosexuality was illegal
“Both men were extremely intelligent, well-read, appreciated serious
conversation, but also liked being funny and provocative. Both
enjoyed consorting with dukes and duchesses on one hand, then
carousing with roadworkers until dawn.
“Lucian [the grandson of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud] understood
Bacon’s complicated psycho-sexual, masochistic side. To the younger
Lucian, he was a dramatic, recklessly romantic person to tag along
with. But as time went on, things changed a great deal.”
By the 1970s, Freud was an acclaimed painter. Unlike Bacon, he
worked all day and late into the night, his method slow. It would
take him two to three years to complete a portrait, always wanting
his sitter to be present.
“There was a complete separation of sympathies between the two
artists,” says Feaver. “Bacon started to say waspish things about
Lucian, and Lucian could no longer praise Bacon’s new work.”
Freud was renowned for his love affairs with beautiful English
socialites, yet at the foot of his bed, he always kept a wall-high
Francis Bacon painting of two entangled naked men, Two Figures, 1953,
known among friends as “The Buggers”. “Lucien said the painting
inspired him so much, he wouldn’t let it out of his sight,” says
Feaver, “and he wouldn’t lend it for exhibitions.”
Heiress Lady Jane Willoughby became friends with Freud in her 20s.
There was talk that she would become his third wife, which didn’t
eventuate, but the pair remained dear lifelong friends. Slowly, over
the years, she pieced together a major art collection that included
works by both artists. Freud died last year, and Two
1953 now hangs in her bedroom.
Five years after Dyer’s death, Bacon began a new relationship with a
40-years-younger, good-looking, illiterate bar worker from London’s
East End, John Edwards. Once again, Bacon showered money on his new
lover and bought him an apartment nearby, plus a country cottage.
Edwards was devoted to his benefactor, but he differed from Dyer in
one key respect.
“Edwards was a sweet-natured, good-hearted young man, who worshipped
Bacon,” explains Harrison, “but he wouldn’t stand any nonsense. When
Bacon started throwing tantrums or unleashing his acid tongue,
Edwards would just say, ‘I’m off now, Francis’ and leave.”
Like Dyer, he had no understanding of art, nor of Bacon’s many
portraits of him. Brian Clarke, director of the Bacon estate, says,
“The only question John consistently asked Bacon was: ‘Why the fuck
do you always paint me looking like a monkey?’”
Bacon was now older and calmer and his relationship with Edwards
became more fatherly. Besides, Edwards was embroiled in his own
long-term relationship with a younger man, Philip Mordue. The
arrangement obviously suited them both: Bacon made Edwards his sole
By 1975, 66-year-old Bacon had begun spending more and more time in
Paris, where he had a big following. He bought a studio apartment in
the Marais district, where he met his neighbours, Australian art
historians Eddy Batache and Reinhard Hassert. “We had some new Brett
Whiteley drawings which Bacon wanted to see,” explains Batache.
“Whiteley had visited him in London and he liked Brett’s work.”
A master’s makeover … Bacon’s Paris neighbours, art historians Reinhard Hassert and Eddy Batache, with the double portrait Bacon
painted of them in 1979
In pride of place on their wall is the double portrait Bacon painted
of the couple in 1979. “We’d known Francis for four years, then one
day he suddenly announced: ‘Now I’m ready to paint your portraits,’”
remembers Batache. “I had a beard at the time and Francis said:
‘Eddy, you must shave your beard because it’s a mask; I cannot get
through to your face’. Reluctantly, I shaved it off. Then Francis
said: ‘Oh no, you looked much better with a beard; grow it again.’
So I did, and he painted our portraits in his Paris studio. It took
him three weeks, and we weren’t allowed in to see till it was
finished. Sometimes Francis would say, ‘Oh, today I’ve destroyed
you, Reinhard.’ After he gave it to us, he wanted it back, to
distort my right eye more – but I said no!”
Unlike his chaotic Reece Mews London studio, Bacon’s small Paris
atelier was immaculate. “Francis slept and painted in the same room,
so he had to keep it spotless because of his asthma,” explains
Hassert. “Sometimes he’d invite us in for breakfast, and cook
In all their discussions about art, Bacon was often highly critical
of his own and other artists’ work, but rarely supplied clues as to
the meanings of his paintings. “Francis would say, ‘A painting needs
to unlock the valves of sensation inside us’ – both the artist and
the viewer,” says Batache. “He’d say, ‘The purpose of painting is
not to illustrate or decorate, but to thicken – i.e. enrich – the
quality of life.’ Not to lead you on a spiritual meditation – he was
furiously against that idea. Often he’d get a grin on his face and
quote Macbeth: ‘Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and
fury, signifying nothing.’ ”
In the last four years of his life, Bacon became infatuated with a
handsome young Spanish man, José Capello. “Francis still had
tremendous appetite for life, but he was slowing down,” says Hassert.
“He’d undergone several operations and often struggled with asthma.
He said to me: ‘Sometimes one feels that one has been around for
long enough’.” Bacon maintained everything ends when we die, that
there is no afterlife. “For quite a time, he contemplated the idea
of being buried instead of cremated, saying he liked the image of a
skull being left behind,” says Hassert.
In December 1991, Bacon visited Paris for a Giacometti exhibition.
“He was bloated with cortisone for his asthma and unwell, but we
enjoyed a few days together, and it was the last time we saw him,”
explains Hassert. “In April, Francis rang me from his hospital bed
in Madrid. He’d gone to Spain to visit Capello, against doctor’s
orders, and been taken to hospital with pneumonia. He was worried
about cancelling his planned visit to Paris to see us, and I said he
mustn’t worry; we’re always here for him. Three days later, I heard
on TV he’d died from a heart attack.”
Bacon hadn’t wanted any memorials, famously instructing the barman
at the Colony Room: “When I’m dead, put me in a plastic bag and
throw me in the gutter.” But Edwards, his major heir, was keen to
honour Bacon’s legacy, and donated the contents of the Reece Mews
studio to Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin. Some 7000 items were excavated
and reassembled with archaeological precision, along with the
paint-splattered walls and floor.
The Bacon estate was established using some 20 paintings that had
been stored in the Reece Mews garage and the framers before Edwards
died of lung cancer, aged 53, in 2003.
“Francis never cared about money,” remembers Batache. “He’d say the
prices of his works could all collapse the moment he died, and it
could all be worth nothing. He just painted for himself, and if
others liked his work, that’s luck.”
Bacon’s prices hit US$1 million before his death and, in the decade
following, soared to US$10 million. They peaked at US$86 million in
2008 for Triptych 1976, which was bought by Russian tycoon and
Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich.
Other buyers reportedly include Sheikha Al Mayassa, daughter of the
Emir of Qatar, who paid US$53 million for Study From Innocent X
(1962); British currency trader and Tottenham Hotspurs owner Joseph
Lewis, and US hedge-fund billionaire Steve Cohen, who paid an
undisclosed sum for a “screaming pope” series portrait.
The Bacon estate’s main dealer, Gerard Faggionato, says he regularly
receives requests from vastly wealthy buyers – these days in Russia,
Korea, South America, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates, as well
as the US and Europe – wanting a specific Francis Bacon work.
“The trouble is these days, most of the 600 Bacon paintings are
owned by major collectors and museums, who refuse to part with them.
If they’d release them, many would sell today for US$120 million.”
Bacon’s ghost must be shrieking louder than one of his screaming
popes at his posthumous fate. How strange that his eerily dignified
triptych of his handsome, petty-thief lover, George Dyer, dead on a
Paris toilet seat, could now fetch more than $100 million and be
hung in the world’s finest art collections. That’s wall power.
As the late Robert Hughes wrote in 2008: “This painter of buggery,
sadism, dread and death-vomit has emerged as the toughest, the most
implacable, lyrical artist in late 20th-century England, perhaps in
all the world.”
Francis Bacon: Five Decades will
open at the Art Gallery of NSW on November 17, and run until
February 24, 2013.
Tate Gallery Of Lost Art Displays Destroyed Francis Bacon Work In
PRISCILLA FRANK | CULTURE
& ARTS | THE
HUFFINGTON POST | MONDAY, NOVEMBER 12,
wonder about what happened to forgotten works of art? Well, now you have
of Lost Art is a virtual museum housing the ghosts of artworks past.
The eerie website allows users to become amateur detectives, piecing
together clues regarding art’s most confounding relics and mysteries.
The gallery will unveil a new lost artwork every week, together with
interviews, archival photos and essays pertaining to these elusive
Guardian critic Jonathan Jones put it: "Lost art can never
disappoint. It is beyond criticism." A bold claim, but so far this holds
up in the online gallery.
the lost artworks are already legendary, like the Willem
de Kooning drawing that budding artist Robert Rauschenberg rubbed out
and erased. Others were lost in less spectacular, more tragic
as Tracey Emin’s embroidered tent "Everyone I Have Ever Slept With
1963-95," which was destroyed in a 2004 warehouse fire. On
the website, Jennifer Mundy, curator of The Gallery of Lost Art, says:
“Art history tends to be the history of what has survived. But loss has
shaped our sense of art’s history in ways that we are often not aware
Today the Huffington
Post is unveiling a work both painted and destroyed by none other
than Francis Bacon, entitled Gorilla with Microphones. See a study of
the painting and its appearance after Bacon ripped two giant chunks out
of the center below.
Gorilla with Microphones as discovered
in Bacon’s studio. Collection: Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane
Francis Bacon said "I think I tend to destroy the better paintings… I
try and take them further, and they lose all their qualities." Such was
the case with Man with Microphones, which later became Gorilla with
Microphones. The work depicts a generic male figure with a distorted
body and open mouth, leaning in the direction of a figure reminiscent of
a microphone or machine gun. The dark colours, horrifying distended
torso and ambiguous forms made the work especially haunting, even for an
artist known for shock value.
to Jennifer Mundy, the Head of Collection Research at Tate, Bacon was
returning to a familiar theme of the public orator caught mid-speech.
The work remained unsold after a 1946 exhibition and was returned to the
artist’s studio. When it was shown again six years later it had been
the subject’s plaid suit was stripped down to a truncated nude body. The
title had also been changed to Gorilla with Microphones, Bacon’s
underhanded insult to the unnamed hot-headed politician.
Unfortunately the changes Bacon made were not enough to satisfy the
artist known for frequently destroying his works, sometimes before the
paint had even dried. After Bacon’s death in 1992, Gorilla with
Microphones was found in the studio with two large sections of the piece
cut away, and the removed portions were lying there like a crime scene.
Twenty years later, you can attempt to solve the mystery.
works from the Lost Art archives in the slideshow below and head to the virtual
gallery itself to delve into their stories in full. The complete
essay regarding Francis Bacon’s lost work will go online November 19.
inspect the Hugh Lane Bacon studio materials c.1998.
Love Is the Devil: the view from the art world
The Guardian’s art
critic Adrian Searle gave his opinion of
the film shortly after its release: he was impressed by the accuracy of
Jacobi’s performance, if not
by the insertion of YBAs into the pub scenes
SEARLE drian Searle, The
Guardian, Friday 9 November 2012
The painter Francis Bacon, who turned down both the Order of
Merit and the Companion of Honour, is crouched over the bed in
nothing but his underpants. He waits. His lover, a Kray gang
hanger-on called George Dyer, stands over him, a cigarette in
his mouth, a belt twisted in his fist.
This is a scene from John Maybury’s Love Is the Devil, subtitled
"Study for a portrait of Francis Bacon" starring Derek Jacobi as
the painter, and Daniel Craig as Dyer, Bacon’s lover,
tormentor, victim and model. In the film, Dyer, a hapless East
End burglar, introduces himself by crashing through the skylight
of Bacon’s tiny South Kensington studio, while attempting a
burglary. Bacon responds by taking his burglar straight to bed.
From here, we follow this odd couple on their drunken
peregrinations through 1960s Soho, New York and Paris, to the
bitter end – the result of too many nights, following Dyer down
into the desolation of booze, pills and despair that finally
This is both much more, and much less, than a biopic. The film
charts a relatively short period of Bacon’s life, from his
meeting with Dyer in 1963, to Dyer’s suicide in Paris, on the
eve of the opening of Bacon’s retrospective at the Grand Palais
in Paris, in 1971, attended by Georges Pompidou, the president
of France himself.
In the six years since his death in Madrid, at the age of 83,
Francis Bacon has been the subject of three biographies, at
least four major posthumous retrospectives and a host of smaller
exhibitions. His paintings sell for millions. Bacon, according
to family myth a descendant of the Elizabethan statesman and
philosopher of the same name, is seen by many as the greatest
British painter of the last half of the century, and is
certainly the best regarded internationally. Exhibitions of his
work have drawn queues and crowds from Moscow to Manhattan.
Almost everyone has an angle on Bacon, and he is seen as a
father figure for a current generation of British artists who
admire the danger, the verve, the louche integrity of the man as
much as the art.
Bacon the painter might be regarded as the last great European
artist-as-existential hero. His paintings proclaim as much. His
life and personality have come to overshadow all discussions of
his work. Or rather, the work has come to be seen as a
cartoon-strip of the alarming life and times of Francis Bacon,
man of extreme appetites, genius painter, drunk, gambler, sado-masochistic
homosexual, emotional monster and millionaire who worked in a
tiny, squalid Kensington studio which was as much one of the
artist’s self-dramatising, theatrical invention as the work
In his film, director John Maybury – a pop-promo producer,
artist and one-time collaborator with the late Derek Jarman –
depicts Bacon, framed and trapped like the figures in his
paintings, by multiple reflections, intrigues, gossip and
rumour. Where Bacon hung out with some of the most talented and
influential figures of our times (from Michel Leiris to Alberto
Giacometti from Lucian Freud to William Burroughs), he also
bevvied his life away with some of the most lost,
self-destructive and nihilistic people on the planet, most of
them frighteningly pissed almost all of the time, in the rush to
squander their talents. In fact, the squandering was their major
talent Maybury, on the other hand, inhabits the cooler London
art world of the 1990s, a self-serving, narcissistic demi-monde
of an altogether different sort. Or, on second thoughts, not
such a different sort. In Love Is the Devil, these worlds
Love Is the Devil is
a devilish brew of naturalism, Baconesque film effects, history
and gossip. It is a warped anthropological detour into the fag
end of 1950s Soho bohemia, dragged too far into the 1960s but it
is also a tragic love story, with astonishing performances and
character cameos. It was always bound to be trouble, and was
inevitably going to get into trouble, even before filming began.
Everyone likes a bit of rough – the frisson of danger and
perversion. It is a cliché of how artists are supposed to
behave. Bacon fitted the bill perfectly. He was by all accounts
a deeply complex man. He was also, not to be forgotten, highly
intelligent, profoundly manipulative, contrary, slippery and a
superb performer. He invented not just a style (Bacon was
self-taught), but a personality, as both an artist and a man. He
also looked good, a kind of bruiser intellectual who brushed his
teeth with Vim, dyed his hair with boot polish and went about
wearing women’s undies.
And yet, there are those who would protect Bacon’s reputation,
and try to hold much of the darker side of his personality at
bay, as though it would diminish the quality and integrity of
his work. This is understandable, but it is also a futile
pursuit. The critic David Sylvester, who has curated more Bacon
exhibitions around the world than anyone else (the last was at
the Hayward a few months ago) and whose interviews with Francis
Bacon are regarded as the last word on the artist’s thoughts,
refused to have anything to do with the film, nor to allow any
of Bacon’s words, recorded in the interviews, to be used.
Lord Gowrie, chairman of the Arts Council when the film was in
production, insisted on script changes before the film could get
its £250,000 Lottery funding. A particular sticking point was
the part of Muriel Belcher (played to the hilt by a heavily
pregnant Tilda Swinton), queen of the Colony Room club, where
Bacon drank, who always referred to the artist either as
"Daughter" or "Cunty".
According to Sight and Sound, the Arts Council were chary about
funding the film because it was thought that it came too soon on
the heels of Bacon’s death. Who, one wonders, were they trying
to protect? Love Is the Devil is deeply annoying in all sorts of
ways, yet Derek Jacobi’s performance as Bacon is nothing short
of astonishing. He has the walk. He has the voice (or rather,
the voices. Bacon’s verbal mannerisms swerved from the
upper-crust to the vitriolic mock-cockney queen, switching from
humour to verbal violence in seconds). Malcolm McDowell was Maybury’s first choice to play the part, but luckily for us he
turned it down.
Even caught in the act of painting, swerving a brushload of
black around a dustbin lid used as a template, Jacobi is
believable. One of the problems with movies about artists is
that the stars don’t know how painters go about their business.
Jacobi’s brow-furrowing interrogations of the canvas strike a
false note, but Maybury at least has him working on the right
kind of canvas, in an exact replica of Bacon’s studio.
There was plenty of material for Jacobi to work on. As an
artist, Bacon was more voluble, more filmed, more recorded than
most. Maybury didn’t need Sylvester’s interviews to get his
Bacon quotes. As it was, Bacon said much the same things to
everybody, in the end. He was interviewed sober and in his cups.
He knew that a good bon mot is wasted if you only use it once.
"Champagne for my real friends and real pain for my sham
friends," he says in the film, just as he said in life.
Love Is the
read the original review
On its release in 1998, the Guardian
hailed John Maybury’s
biopic of Francis Bacon as a ’brilliantly
THE GUARDIAN | FRIDAY 9 NOVEMBER 2012
I came out of
John Maybury’s Love Is the Devil, which
is rather coyly subtitled "Study for a portrait of Francis Bacon",
feeling I’d never seen a film that makes such direct and illuminating
connection with the eye of an artist. On the other hand, I didn’t know
Francis Bacon, so I can’t tell whether the story Maybury tells us is
true, in the literal sense. That bothers me. But if you want a
brilliantly sustained imagining of how, according to some of the best
available evidence, Bacon saw his world, and how he rendered that vision
on to canvas, then Love Is the Devil is a very remarkable film
encounter is handled with deft humour. When Dyer falls through the
skylight, an amused and aroused Bacon invites him to bed. Maybury, best
known for his design work on the films of Derek Jarman and his video
clips for the likes of Neneh Cherry, Morrissey and Sinead O’Connor, gets
the narrative off to a good start, and handles the tricky combination of
story and reflection
words, the life itself and the life transmuted into art
with lucidity and a sure sense of cadence.
Scarborough as the creepy Farson and Karl Johnson as the pathetic Deakin
make a fine pair of stooges, and a witches’ chorus is provided by Tilda
Swinton as the foulmouthed Muriel Belcher, Anne Lambton as the
perceptive Isabel Rawsthorne and Annabel Brooks as the cheerily
libidinous Henrietta Moraes. Unwise cameos by the painter Gary Hume and
the fashion journalist Hamish Bowles – as a Moraes conquest and a
limp-wristed David Hockney, respectively – momentarily contradict but
cannot do real damage to the prevailing seriousness of an exceptional
• This review was originally published in
The Guardian on
18 Sep 1998
Sydney served multi-million dollar Bacon rarity
STEVE DOW |
THE AGE | TUESDAY,
It’s a rare
painting of a long lamented lost love, and its temporary home in Sydney
first of more than 50 Francis Bacon canvases to be unpacked over the
next 10 days for an exclusive Sydney retrospective at the Art Gallery of
NSW to mark the 20th anniversary of the Irish figurative painter’s
figure from 1978 is particularly special.
between $35 million and $40 million, and never seen in an exhibition
before, the two-metre tall painting shows Bacon motifs such as an
umbrella and cricket pads on the upper human figure.
the foreground figure that will draw in Bacon buffs: in profile it is
clearly George Dyer, Bacon’s younger lover who committed suicide with a
barbiturate overdose in 1971, just as Bacon’s major exhibition opened at
the Grand Palais in Paris.
The fact that
Bacon kept painting his dead lover’s profile again and again shows he
never got over the loss.
almost four years making his case to more than 30 international and
Australian institutions to loan the Bacon paintings at a cost of more
than $2 million for flights, handling and insurance, curatorial director
Anthony Bond was pleased to gain eight rare works from private
Seated figure is
one such work, with striking purple and orange tones, and yesterday
found a suitable home for the life of the Bacon retrospective, which
opens to the public on November 17 and runs until February 24.
talked into having orange walls by the designer, which I’ve never done
before," says Bond. "I always thought white was just fine. But this
particular painting on that orange wall looks amazing; it actually
also a painting in the show of Bacon’s later, younger lover, John
Edwards, sitting in front of a void. "But the body belongs to George,"
notes Bond. "So he’d taken John’s head and just pasted it onto the body
of George, which I find quite sad, really.
suppose John minded much. I mean, John didn’t really understand Bacon’s
paintings at all. Probably less so than George Dyer did.
said he’d asked Bacon, ’Why do you paint me like I look like a monkey?’
Quite a lot of the portraits in Bacon’s works have a mask-like quality;
even the self-portraits."
retrospective, Francis Bacon Five Decades, brings
together works from the 1940s through to the 1980s. It comprises almost
10 per cent of Bacon’s known output.
It was a
labour of love for Bond, although he admits there were a few dark times
when he worried it wouldn’t come together. "Early on, I thought maybe
this is just not going to be possible at all," he says.
admits there was a couple of desired paintings he failed to get, but
refuses to "name and shame" the one or two museums that were less than
ones we got, those from the Tate Britain were dead easy. I asked for
five, and they gave them to me. I think they have a soft spot for
Australia. [Director Nicholas Serota] did once say to me, ’Well, we
always try to help the colonies’," Bond says, laughing.
considers Bacon the top 20th-century figurative painter. "Nobody paints
anything like Bacon," he says. "He walked a tight line between
figuration and abstraction. The paint is phenomenal and you don’t get it
until you stand a couple of feet away. You realise how risky it is."
Francis Bacon Five Decades,
Art Gallery of NSW, November 17 - February 24.
Handle with care ... Francis Bacon’s Seated figure is unpacked
at the Art Gallery of NSW
Bringing in the Bacon
CARRIE KABLEAN | THE AUSTRALIAN | FRIDAY,
NOVEMBER 02, 2012
"He liked the throw of the dice. It was absolutely central to his
way of thinking. His painting was always to do with chance; rescuing
the image from the brink of disaster, sometimes making the final
throw of paint to see what happen." So says Tony Bond, curatorial
director of the Art Gallery of NSW and an authority on Francis
Bacon, whom Bond believes is, quite simply, "the best painter of the
20th century. I don’t think anyone comes near him."
Bond has spent the past three years sourcing more than 53 of the
artist’s works from 37 collections around the world and bringing
them to Sydney for Francis Bacon: Five Decades, which opens
at the gallery on November 17. This is not the same show that began
at the Tate in London and toured to the Prado and the Met, although
it is similar in scale. Bond first conceived it in the 1980s, but
funding was a problem. Yet that turned out to be a good thing.
"Bacon was very controlling when he was alive," Bond says.
"I’m much happier doing it now because there is the opportunity to
reinterpret him. I’ve done that in a couple of ways: one, [by
showing his oeuvre and its themes] through the decades, which really
works; and the other is something that Bacon talked about a lot –
his fascination with Marcel Duchamp."
Bond also reckons that for someone who "talked a lot about chance,
whose work is about the compulsive moment", Bacon "knew exactly what
he was doing. His distortions are quite calculated. You can believe
both things simultaneously. A good drunk, like a cat, knows exactly
how to fall."
Bacon down under
Francis Bacon’s Australian connections are explored
RIA HOPKINSON |
EXHIBITIONS | THE ART NEWSPAPER | THURSDAY
1 NOVEMBER, 2012
According to Anthony Bond, the curatorial director of
the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the curator of the show
“Francis Bacon: Five Decades”, the Anglo-Irish artist had “very
strong Australian ties”. So it may come as a surprise that this
exhibition, organised to mark the 20th anniversary of Bacon’s
death, is the artist’s first solo show in Australia. The
exhibition features more than 50 paintings, as well as films,
photographs and archival material from the artist’s studio.
Although Bacon never visited Australia, his hated father was
born in Adelaide. Bacon was encouraged to paint by the New South
Wales-born artist Roy de Maistre, and he later influenced the
20th-century Australian artists Sidney Nolan and Brett Whiteley.
The show includes Whiteley’s Francis Bacon, around
1984-89, and photographs of Bacon sitting for the portrait.
The works, which Bond describes as “wild, vivid, sensual”, will
be arranged by decade, starting with “nearly all of Bacon’s most
important works” from the 1940s. Head II, 1949, on loan
from the Ulster Museum in Belfast, is “the only painting on
which Bacon worked for months rather than days”, Bond says. “He
built up a thick skin of paint like a rhinoceros hide.”
Five monumental paintings include the Tate’s
1972, 1972, which Bacon painted in tribute to his lover
George Dyer, a year after the younger man’s death. The 1970s,
and Dyer, are also represented by Three Studies of the Male
More than 70 items from the artist’s studio “show how he altered
photographs as part of the transformation to the painted image”,
Bond says. A crumpled illustration of Velázquez’s Portrait of
Pope Innocent X, around 1650, will be on show alongside the
work it inspired: Pope I—Study after Pope Innocent X by
Velazquez, 1951, on loan from the Aberdeen Art Gallery &
Lenders include the National Gallery of Australia, New York’s
Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Centre
Pompidou in Paris and the Francis Bacon Estate. Video interviews
with Bacon will be shown daily in the gallery’s auditorium, and
the exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue. The show’s
principal sponsor is Ernst & Young.
Francis Bacon: Five Decades, Art Gallery of New South
Wales, Sydney, 17 November-24 February 2013
Contemporary Art Evening Auction
New York | 13 November 2012 | N08900 | Lot 27
PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF GEORGE EMBIRICOS
STUDY FOR HEAD OF ISABEL RAWSTHORNE
Fine Art, Ltd., London
Redfern Gallery, London
Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., London, March 23, 1983, Lot 73
Waddington Galleries Ltd., London
Acquired by the present owner from the above
Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings, March -
April 1967, cat. no. 19, p. 81, illustrated
introduction by Milan Kundera, Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits,
London and New York, 1996, p. 62, illustrated in colour
Embiricos (1920-2011) was a Greek shipping magnate. Following legal
studies in Athens and Cambridge he entered the family business and built
it into a leading concern during the Post-War period. Embiricos moved to
New York after the War and began collecting art. Passionate and erudite,
he retired early to devote his life to art and learning.
Over several decades George Embiricos assembled a legendary collection
of paintings, works on paper and sculpture. His profound connoisseurship
was eclectic, spanning centuries and cultures. Masterpieces by El Greco,
Goya, Cézanne, Kandinsky, Picasso, Van Gogh and Bacon, among others,
were brought together in his beautiful home in Lausanne. Sotheby’s is
honoured to present here Francis Bacon’s remarkable Study for Head of
Isabel Rawsthorne of 1967 from the Estate of George Embiricos.
Important pictures from Paul Cézanne to Max Ernst and by Francisco de
Goya will be offered in Sotheby’s auctions of Impressionist and Modern
Art on November 5 and Old Master Paintings in January 2013,
"Her face would assume a look of extreme indignation, followed by one of
raucous good humour, and then a glance of seduction, all dropped like
masks and as readily replaced".
Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London
1996, p. 205
essay on the analysis of facial landscape, Study for Head of Isabel
Rawsthorne is a deeply personal portrayal of one of Francis Bacon’s
closest female friends. Bacon only painted a handful of female
confidants, insisting that he must know his sitters intimately. Isabel Rawsthorne provided unique focus for the artist: she was his preferred
female muse and inspired a greater number of small portrait canvases
than any of his other friends. Bacon and Rawsthorne had first met in the
late 1940s at the home of Erica Brausen, who represented both artists at
her Hanover Gallery in London, yet this spectacular portrayal was
painted two decades later and today marks the nearly forty years of
their close friendship as well as Bacon’s breathtaking ability to
navigate the very threshold of abstraction and figuration in rendering
the human form.
In the 1960s
Bacon had commissioned John Deakin to photograph Rawsthorne so that he
could paint from secondary images. As he told David Sylvester, "I’ve had
photographs taken from 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." (David Sylvester, The
Brutality of Fact, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London, 1990, p.
40) Rawsthorne died at the beginning of 1992: the following May, Bacon
divulged that they had had an affair and famously told 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." Bacon’s
relationship with Rawsthorne was thus singularly unlike that of any of
his other female acquaintances.
Michael Peppiatt has described Rawsthorne’s prodigious facility for
physiognomic change: "Her face would assume a look of extreme
indignation, followed by one of raucous good humour, and then a glance
of seduction, all dropped like masks and as readily replaced." (Michael
Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London, 1996, p.
205). Bacon was inevitably seduced by this expressive variety and this
painting epitomizes a rare mode of description that can only stem from a
lifetime’s worth of close observation. In 1984 Bacon told David
Sylvester "I am certainly not trying to make a portrait of somebody’s
soul or psyche or whatever you like to call it. You can only make a
portrait of their appearance, but I think that their appearance is
deeply linked with their behavior." (Francis Bacon in conversation with
David Sylvester, 1984, Op Cit, p. 234) Rawsthorne described Bacon’s
paintings of her as "fabulously accurate" and this deeply personal work
is the consummate conflation of her worldly exterior appearance and
phenomenal interior character (Michael Peppiatt, Op Cit, p. 208)
schematizes physiognomy in diagrammatic swathes, whose edges carve
through the layers of accumulated paint material among patterns of
pigment applied with cashmere sweaters and smeared on the surface. The
head looms like a sculpture in paint, reminiscent of Rawsthorne’s other
lover Alberto Giacometti’s busts of her, and is virtually superimposed
onto the stark flatness of the pale backdrop, whose tonal
polarity emphasizes the prominent silhouette of amalgamated profiles.
Throughout the work there is this tension between graphic dexterity and
the raw power of colour, as is so typical of Bacon’s most enthralling
masterworks. Within the scribed lines of the head Rawsthorne’s
high forehead, long cheek-bones and arched eyebrows
are confidently incised in flecked streaks and variegated smears of
densely worked paint. Variance of expression is revealed through the
veiled layers of shuttered hatching, so that "sensation doesn’t come
straight out at you; it slides slowly and gently through the gaps"
(Francis Bacon in conversation with David Sylvester, Op. Cit., p. 243).
Born in London’s East End in 1912, Isabel Nicholas studied at Liverpool
Art School before briefly attending the Royal Academy in London. As a
young girl she lived with and modelled for the sculptor Jacob Epstein,
whose Isabel of 1933 communes a hypnotic sexual allure. In 1934 she
moved to Paris and started modeling for André Derain and Alberto
Giacometti. She lived with the latter and his sculptures of her bear
witness to a statuesque composure and almost celestial assuredness. She
also befriended the poet Michel Leiris, who was the son-in-law of
Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, Picasso’s famous patron. Her first marriage was
to Sefton Delmer, a war correspondent for the Daily Express and together
they reported on the Spanish Civil War.
Having divorced Delmer after the Second World War, she married the
composer and conductor Constant Lambert. She had her first major solo
exhibition in 1949 at the Hanover Gallery, where Bacon also exhibited,
after which she designed stage sets, including at the Royal Opera House
in 1953. Lambert had died in 1951 and in 1954 she married his friend,
the composer Alan Rawsthorne. During the ’50s and ’60s she mixed in Soho
circles along with Bacon at Muriel Belcher’s "Colony Room" drinking club
and "The George" pub. By the end of the 1970s her eyesight had
deteriorated to such a degree that she stopped painting. In this
context, Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne is not only the
valediction to a truly epic life that spanned the devastating excesses
of the Twentieth Century, but also punctuates the closing chapter of her
own creativity as an artist.
In Bacon’s existential zone
FRANCIS Bacon seduces the viewer like a bottle of whisky and a grope
under the table.
One way or another, he’ll drag you into his thrillingly dangerous
or you’ll straighten your skirt and run from the room.
MATTHEW WESTWOOD | THE AUSTRALIAN | TUESDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2012
His most famous image is that one of the screaming pope, based on
Velazquez’s portrait of Innocent X and as primal in its howl of
existential terror as one of Edvard Munch’s pictures. Bacon depicts
the pontiff trapped by his throne and with what look like flames
from the underworld shooting skyward.
Many more of Bacon’s pictures are portraits of his friends,
especially his doomed lover George Dyer, and self-portraits. Bacon’s
figures are unlike anyone else’s. Their flesh seems entirely
malleable, even squishy, as his subjects twist in chairs, on beds
and in weird geometric contraptions. The faces are scrapes of
colour: like an after-image or memory of someone who has already
left the room.
Often, his male figures are shown wrestling in a pictorial theatre
with sets of lurid colour. He painted female figures, too, but
Bacon’s is a man’s world.
His pictures have a masculine glamour that recalls Michelangelo or,
more recently, Robert Mapplethorpe.
Bacon’s story is a gift for biographers, dramatists and
hagiographers. Born in Dublin in 1909, he was thrashed by his
puritanical father, who discovered him wearing his mother’s underwear.The beating gave him an appetite for sado-masochistic sex,
Untrained as an artist, he began his career as an interior
decorator – he designed a desk for Patrick White – before turning to
painting at the encouragement of Roy de Maistre, the Australian
artist who was briefly, at different times, Bacon’s and White’s
Bacon’s orgies of gambling and drink were legendary, as was his
His tormented lover Dyer committed suicide on the eve of a major
retrospective in Paris, where a poll in an art magazine would
declare Bacon the greatest artist alive.
Fascination with Bacon seems only to have increased after his death
in 1992. His London studio was spirited away to Dublin and
painstakingly reconstructed, with 7500 objects encased in glass. In
2008 he became the most expensive post-war artist at auction when
Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich paid $US86.3 million for a 1976
In his centenary year of 2009, Bacon was the subject of a
comprehensive retrospective that toured from London to Madrid and
And claims continue to be made for his supremacy in 20th-century
art. Just this month, Tony Bond, head curator of international art
at the Art Gallery of NSW, declared him a better painter than
"What you experience with Bacon is sheer paint," says Bond. "You
look at Picasso carefully and basically you find he does drawings
and fills them in."
Bond has organised the first Australian survey of Bacon that will
open at the AGNSW in Sydney next month. (He had first attempted a
Bacon show in the late 1970s, but the artist disabused him of that
idea when, at dinner in London, he dismissed him as a "fucking
Francis Bacon: Five Decades
contains 54 works from international collections including the Tate
in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Bacon estate
and several private, anonymous lenders.
Arranged chronologically, the exhibition will chart Bacon’s progress
from his creepy crucifixion pictures of the 1930s and 40s to his
formulaic figure paintings of the 80s. As surveys go, it is shorter
than the 2009 retrospective, and just as well. In quantity, Bacon’s
appeal starts to wear thin and the hyperbole surrounding his
abilities becomes ever more like hot air.
Bacon declared that he had no interest in illustration or narrative.
Everything in his pictures happens in an existential zone where
story, sentiment and nostalgia are left at the door. He painted the
human form not as a figure but, as French theoretician Gilles
Deleuze put it with a capital F, a Figure. In this formulation, the
Figure is a conductor of sensation directly into the viewer’s
But Bacon’s denial of narrative contradicts the evidence of the
pictures, which are all about narrative. In his grief for Dyer,
Bacon painted his portrait repeatedly, often in the scene of his
suicide. Elsewhere he alludes to classical mythology or art history.
In so many paintings, figures are accompanied – like saints in
devotional images – by attendants, attributes and other story
Another false myth that Bacon perpetuated was that he never made
drawings, that his pictures were spontaneous gestures with paint:
applied by brush, scrubbed on with a scrap of fabric or spurted on
to the canvas.
That is a clever ruse because Bacon was no draughtsman. In fact, it
appears he did make preparatory sketches for some of his paintings.
Margarita Cappock from Dublin’s the Hugh Lane gallery was
responsible for reconstructing Bacon’s studio there. Among the
masses of papers, paints, photographs and books, she says, were
about 70 drawings that Bacon had made. Also found were stencils for
the arrows that he included in some of his late works.
"He obviously pinned them on to a canvas and painted around them,"
Cappock says. "It’s not something you expect."
Bond, in his AGNSW exhibition, has attempted to get beyond the Bacon
myth and to get a look at the artist and his contradictions.
On a recent Friday afternoon, he took me down into the AGNSW
storeroom to inspect the gallery’s own Bacon, Study for
Self-portrait, 1976. Although a single panel rather than a
triptych, the self-portrait could stand in for any number of Bacon’s
The familiar tropes are there: the seated Figure on a chair,
twisting itself into anxiety, the coloured ground and black void, an
impossible geometric solid, something icky leaking on the floor.
He habitually painted on the wrong side of the canvas, preferring
the rough texture of the back to the smooth, primed surface. The
paint could not be manipulated and worked over until he was
satisfied with the result: he had to get it right the first time.
Bond points out the different methods Bacon used.
The blue upholstery of the seat is done with spray paint. The arc
through the middle of the face is the same arc as a crease in a
photo of actress Emmanuelle Riva in Hiroshima Mon Amour. The light
blue shading on the face may have been wiped on with a scrap of
There’s that void, a white circle, the figure isolated in space.
"What’s extraordinary is the very typical pose of Francis: the legs
crossed, the arms folded in towards the legs, the whole thing has
this corkscrew feeling to it," Bond says. "The face itself, you
barely recognise it as a self-portrait. The most typically Francis
thing is that lick of hair at the forehead."
We are looking at this painting in an unusually frank state. It is
having some conservation work done before the exhibition and is
without the glass-fronted frame that Bacon always insisted on. He
consigned his paintings to the fine art museum or the rubbish,
Around the back we can see where Bacon named, signed and dated the
picture in black marker. At the front, the tactile quality of the
picture is inescapable: the raw brushstrokes, the paint being wiped
on with a rag. The immediacy of the mark-making on the canvas makes
the artist seem incredibly present.
This, perhaps, is the way to look at Bacon: not behind the safety
glass but with the mask off, face to face.
Francis Bacon: Five Decades is
at the Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, November 17-February 24.
Bacon’s Three Studies for a Self-Portrait (1979-80).
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Art tries to throw off burden of the Rothko scandal
Marlborough gallery effectively invented the modern art market in the
but the notorious Rothko case badly dented its image.
Now a new
space to showcase today’s art world stars is giving it fresh direction
TIM ADAMS | THE
OBSERVER | SUNDAY,
14 OCTOBER, 2012
night, Marlborough Fine Art, which has occupied the ground floor of a
fine 18th- century terrace at 6 Albemarle Street, Mayfair, for the last
40 years, opened an upstairs gallery and celebrated the fact with a
party attended by the London art world’s most glamorous figures. This
was more than a routine office expansion. It was, in the eyes of the
Marlborough’s managing director, Gilbert Lloyd, a long-awaited rebirth.
Lloyd, a twinkling, bearded man of consummate charm, now 72, is an
elusive, semi-mythical figure in his world. A long-time resident of
Nassau in the Bahamas, with an accent that still betrays a little of his
Austrian ancestry, he started work in the family firm, established by
his father, Frank, 50 years ago. In the decades that followed, and
before dealers such as Charles Saatchi or Larry Gagosian had their say,
for better or worse Marlborough virtually invented the modern art
In the 1960s,
the gallery was the dealer for Francis Bacon, Henry Moore, Frank
Auerbach, Lucian Freud,
Graham Sutherland and Barbra
Hepworth, as well as establishing the international reputations of Egon
Schiele, Gustav Klimt and others. In America, where Marlborough opened
the doors of a New York gallery in 1963, it was the prime mover of
abstract expressionism, taking on the estate of Jackson Pollock and
working exclusively with Robert Motherwell, David Smith and, most
infamously, Mark Rothko, an association that was to end in the "art
trial of the century". Despite that scandal, Marlborough maintained its
place at the top table of the art world. The London gallery continued to
represent Auerbach and Paula Rego, among many others.
is reaching an age when some men could be thinking perhaps of winding
down, but instead he has been planning for the shock of the new. With
this in mind, he has turned to Andrew Renton, until recently professor
of curating at Goldsmiths College, London, to move in upstairs and open
sight, theirs is an unusual marriage. The academic Renton, 48, has no
experience of selling paintings, whereas Lloyd has been happily swimming
in the sharkish waters of art dealing for most of his life. Speaking to
both of the new partners in advance of their adventure, however, it is
hard to say who is the more enthralled. Renton says: "When we first
began discussing plans, Gilbert asked, hopefully, ’I expect you will be
having a lot of discotheques upstairs?’ He pretends to be the old guard,
but he is really excited about it all."
was approached for the job, at a time when he was "thinking of having
leather patches sewn on his elbows" and settling into his tenure at
Goldsmiths, alma mater to Damien Hirst and the Sensation group of young
British artists, he thought they had the wrong man. He had spent his
working life writing and teaching and curating mostly conceptual
exhibitions, not whispering up seven-figure prices for painterly modern
masters. Eventually, though, he went along to meet Lloyd, if only out of
curiosity for "the legend" and "because as a lonely and difficult
teenager I used to come to Marlborough to look at art, particularly
immediately seduced. "It was like meeting a new old friend," he says.
"After about three months it became clear that the most interesting
thing to do would be for me to create something brand new alongside the
original thing. Marlborough London remains a fantastic business. But I
suppose there was a feeling from Gilbert that the likes of Frank
Auerbach and Paula Rego were not being replaced."
his part, suggests that he had been "looking for years and years for the
right man to take things forward. It so happened that I found Andrew at
the very same time that it became possible to renovate this 18th-century
building because all the sub-leases came up in the same month. All the
tenants cleared out and we were able to gut the place."
in for Lloyd the gaps in his knowledge of contemporary art that had
inevitably grown, despite a peripatetic life that sees him and his wife
travel the world’s art fairs for much of the year. "I am not ashamed to
say I don’t know parts of this new world at all," Lloyd says. "At Frieze
[art fair] in London for example, which I always find very invigorating,
it is always very difficult for me to pick out from this enormous amount
of art what we can sell with a good conscience. Andrew has that eye."
his precisely clipped beard and immaculate tailoring, believes Renton,
who has a shock of black hair and an air of practised dishevelment, can
work in the Marlborough tradition. "We have always been after quality
and beauty and desirability," Lloyd says. "There is a lot of
trophy-hunting which goes on in the art world. At the moment for
example, you have to own a Warhol Marilyn. We are not in the business of
course, is what all art dealers say. When I meet Lloyd at Brown’s hotel
over the road from his gallery, he is just back from Art Basel, where
the Marlborough stand had a 1954 Rothko from a Swiss collection, a block
of orange above a band of pale pink that Lloyd had priced at $78m
(£48.7m). Though he had been talking to some interested parties,
particularly from South America, the Rothko remained for sale. "It will
find a good home this month or next though. It is a very great picture."
what Renton calls the "legend" of Lloyd, it seems important to know a
little of where he came from. He is, in some ways, the creation of his
father, Frank, who established Marlborough when he was demobbed from the
British army in 1946 along with his friend, and fellow Austrian emigre,
Harry Fischer. The Marlborough name was chosen because it sounded like
an establishment fixture, just as Frank Lloyd had changed his name from
Franz Kurt Levai, prompted by the bank at which he opened his London
war, Levai’s parents had an antiques shop in the centre of Vienna. In
1938, they lost everything in the Anschluss and his parents eventually
perished in Auschwitz. Levai, a Jew, escaped to France with his
non-Jewish girlfriend. Gilbert was born in May 1940, the same day his
father sailed from St Jean de Luz harbour for Britain. Mother and baby
were repatriated by the Gestapo to Austria.
knew his father until he was five, when Frank arrived in a British
uniform in the little village outside Salzburg where he and his mother
had been hiding all that time. "It had been quite tough," Lloyd recalls,
with understatement. "In the village money had no value. My mother’s
father taught all his children a trade and she was a seamstress. That
saved our lives really. She could make some dresses for a farmer’s wife
and in return we could get a quarter of a pig and a kilo of butter for
the winter. That was how we lived."
deal-making ran deep with Lloyd. They moved to London with his father. A
baby sister was born and Lloyd eventually attended the Courtauld
Institute of Art before joining what had become the family firm. By that
time, Marlborough was already established as one of the biggest players
in an expanding international art market. Lloyd and Fischer, and their
British partner David Somerset, later the Duke of Beaufort, had seen
that after the war there were many possible openings: for the sale of
old masters from the British aristocracy fallen on hard times, for the
marketing of European artists almost unknown in Britain and America such
as Schiele and Klimt and, most crucially, in the establishment of a new
generation of postwar masters, of whom there was a potentially unlimited
"In the 60s,"
Lloyd recalls, "there was a lot of art to be had on the secondary market
and living artists were not well looked after at all. There were very
few collectors, very few competitors and hardly any money. Marlborough
were good at what they did. David Somerset handled the PR and sales [the
duke remains Marlborough chairman], Harry Fischer was the intellectual
salesman and my father was the businessman who loved art and who
concentrated on providing the capital."
catalogues boxed in the basement of the current gallery are a testament
to that endeavour. "When we opened premises at 39 Old Bond Street,"
Lloyd recalls, "we had an exhibition of 18 Van Gogh self-portraits. It
would be impossible to do that now. The engineer Van Gogh, Vincent’s
nephew, who was heir to the Van Gogh estate, came to the opening. I
remember him well, a charming old Dutchman."
For a short
while, it seemed Marlborough had almost everything to itself. "For one
thing, the auction houses were rather fuddy-duddy and not at all
active," Lloyd says. "Though that all changed one night in the mid 60s,
when for the first time we were invited by Peter Wilson to an evening
auction at Sotheby’s. Black tie. And all us dealers thought, ’What is
going on here? Auctions happen at 11 in the morning and no one goes.’
That was the beginning of the auction houses’ rocket-like ascent and in
a more modest way Marlborough took off alongside them."
It was not
all high octane. Lloyd well remembers the years when "we used to
celebrate for a week when we sold a Bacon; we would celebrate for two
weeks when we sold an Auerbach. These British painters were totally out
of fashion," he says, even, if you went to a client’s home in Dallas,
Texas, say, something of an embarrassment. "I remember one man in
particular, Jim Clark, had a wonderful collection of Mondrians," Lloyd
says. "At some point in our meeting, Mrs Clark would say, ’Show us some
of your newer gallery art’ and I would bring out a large Bacon of two
men in the nude cavorting in a field. This would tend to cause a deathly
signed a 10-year contract with Marlborough in 1958 that began with Frank
Lloyd’s undertaking to settle a £5,000 gambling debt the artist had
incurred and which guaranteed money against future paintings. In the
terms of the contract, a painting measuring 20in by 24in was valued at
£165; one of 65in by 78in £420. Bacon was contracted to supply the
gallery with £3,600 worth of paintings each year. Bacon called his
Marlborough employers "the old uncles" and was known to joke of Frank
Lloyd: "I’d rather be in the hands of a competent crook than in the
hands of an incompetent honest man." The gallery’s administrator,
Valerie Beston, became his celebrated helpmeet and protection from the
world, and even after he withdrew from that original contract and his
paintings were selling for hundreds of thousands of pounds, Bacon
retained a loyal affiliation to the gallery.
exhibition in the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971 was one of the most
stunning moments of my life," Lloyd says. "You knew that the explosion
was going to happen for Francis and that was the moment. But I am also
rather pleased for example to have been with Francis in Berlin for his
retrospective in 1984 and walked along the Berlin Wall with him and,
although I warned him against it, taken him to East Berlin. He wanted a
slap-up meal there, though we didn’t find one of course. He went to see
the Pergamon Altar. We spent a lot of time together. I always thought
being a dealer is a bit like being the oil in the gear case of the
efficient anonymity was undone for Marlborough in 1972 with the Rothko
trial, which still attaches itself to the gallery’s name 40 years on.
When I bring it up with Lloyd he winces slightly and a little wearily.
inevitable that people will talk about it," he says. "As far as I am
concerned it was a very bad chapter for Marlborough, but it was dealt
with by the judicial system and everything was cleared up; we came out
of it with a black eye and we have long considered it history."
however, history with a capital H. At the time, the trial was routinely
called the Watergate of the art world, casting light on the murkier
practices of millionaire dealers and their clients. When Mark Rothko
died in 1970, he left behind 800 paintings in the hands of his appointed
trustees, a triumvirate of men who were very close to Marlborough and
Frank Lloyd. A hundred of those paintings were quickly sold to the
gallery for $1.8m, a fraction of their market value. In 1972, Rothko’s
20-year-old daughter, Kate, on behalf of herself and her eight-year-old
brother, Christopher, sued the trustees and the gallery over the terms
of that deal and the alleged exploitation of her father’s work. The
court case lasted eight months and became a cause celebre in liberal New
York, as it exposed the ways in which Marlborough (in common with other
dealers) manipulated the market and its artists to hugely rewarding
advantage, using a base in Liechtenstein legally but shadily to avoid
taxes on the art it bought and sold.
became a media pariah for his performance in the witness box, telling
one reporter: "I collect money, not art." The critic Robert Hughes,
commenting on the trial, suggested Lloyd senior was viewed by the New
York public as a combination of "Fu Manchu and Goldfinger", the foreign
plutocrat resident in Nassau defrauding the orphans of tortured artists.
Marlborough and the trustees lost the case and Marlborough was ordered
to pay more than $9m in damages and fines. Later, it was discovered
Lloyd had sold some of Rothko’s paintings in contravention of a
temporary ruling and had tampered with the gallery’s books to cover up
the deals. Another consignment of Rothko paintings was reportedly bound
for Liechtenstein before prosecutors, who had been tipped off,
originally moved to Nassau in part to escape American justice, although
he returned to face a criminal trial in 1982, a conviction resulting in
a fine and a requirement to teach in New York public art schools. He was
also forced to leave the company, its reputation severely compromised,
to be managed by Gilbert, his sister, Barbara, and their cousin, Pierre
Levai, who remains president of Marlborough New York.
is necessarily practised in playing down the impact of the trial on
Marlborough’s reputation. "There were some consequences. Some of the
more politically correct American artists rather sadly said, "We have to
leave.’" This is a reference to the loss of the Jackson Pollock estate
and the abrupt departure of Robert Motherwell, who said of Frank Lloyd:
"If you are in his power, he is ruthless" and: "He knows everyone has
his price; Lloyd’s potency is money."
generally speaking," Lloyd maintains, "there were not so many
When I ask
the about the frustrations in what seems a generally golden life, Lloyd
talks about the fact that "I was never able to do exactly what I wanted
when my father was in charge. He was a great man, but he ruled the place
with a fist of iron. When he left the scene, half my life was gone and I
really had to try very hard to change the direction of the gallery."
One of the
difficulties of that change was that after the Rothko case a slew of
other litigation followed, attempting to use the Rothko ruling as a
precedent. Marlborough was faced with defending its actions against the
estates of Naum Gabo, Kurt Schwitters and most famously that of
Francis Bacon, which looked back at that original 10-year contract and
sought retrospective compensation. None of these suits was successful;
the Bacon case, pursued by John Edwards, the former publican who was
Bacon’s heir, was dropped before it came to court.
surprisingly, Lloyd is somewhat rueful about this part of his father’s
legacy. "He was an enormous influence on me. But he has been dead a long
time now. I really like to think I turned over a new page. He started it
all, but I feel we are very much a different generation."
One of the
motivations for opening the new gallery, you imagine, is to emphasise
that fact and to secure the wider legacy of the family firm. Lloyd is
proud to report that the "builder has constructed Marlborough
Contemporary to last for a couple of centuries". Having lived through
precarious times, he is interested in permanence.
Renton, for his part, thinks it is "amazing that the Rothko case is
still on the radar. Gilbert feels strongly they paid their dues. But
people bring it up, artists are conscious of it. It is partly I think
because we can’t get our heads around the concept of someone like Rothko
being represented in that way. If one painting is worth $78m, what would
100 paintings be worth?"
announced his new role, one artist friend gave Renton a gift of the book
that details the events of the trial along with the instructions not to
open it inside the gallery. When he read it, he says, it seemed to
reflect a different era entirely. "Some of the things that Marlborough
was accused of – manipulating the PR of museum exhibitions or supporting
their artist for the Venice biennale – you think: ’Isn’t that exactly
what our job is?’"
long-blurred boundaries between the commercial and public, educational
art worlds are personified in Renton’s appointment. It is one thing to
back your judgment academically, I suggest, but quite another pressure
to put your money, or the gallery’s money, where your mouth is.
laughs. "Absolutely. This is a business. But having worked a large part
of my life in the public sector I know how enabling collecting art is.
The fact that people buy art makes art possible. You can wait for public
funding for ever."
enjoyed sitting in inner-sanctum meetings with Lloyd and his fellow
directors, who have all been with Marlborough since at least the 1960s,
and in the case of David Somerset from the beginning. "What I get is
that arc of history. They have seen four or five recessions come and
he has consulted on establishing several important collections, the
closest Renton has previously come to running a commercial gallery
was in a space in 1996 that someone had given him rent-free. "It was
basically a corridor that had its own front door," he says. "One
day, we had a crisis because one of the artists we showed sold a
book. I called him up and said, ’I have 25 quid but I don’t know
what to do with the money.’ He said: ’Do you want to go for a
artist, Ian Whittlesea, is among those that Renton has contracted to
Marlborough Contemporary. He also plans exhibitions with the Belgian
painter Koen van den Broek and the video artist Adam Chodzko. The
gallery with an installation by the Mozambique-born artist Ângela
Ferreira, who looks at the influence of modernism in Africa, in a
documentary spirit, "and is about as far from a traditional
Marlborough artist as you could get," Renton says.
Ferreira’s show is upstairs from a display of new work by Frank Auerbach. Lloyd enjoys the contrast. "We have been a gallery dealing
with easel paintings and bronzes in limited editions. I never dealt
in works with motors and flashing lights and televisions because I
was always worried about how you maintain them. I mean, if you have
something featuring a television made in 1960, what do you do when
it goes wrong? Nowadays, though, with digital media, they are to a
certain extent indestructible."
seen at first hand the difficulties created by a domineering
managing director in his father, Lloyd is determined not to cramp
Renton’s style. "I am not going to interfere one iota. That said, I
am on the phone to him every day discussing plans."
point on which the two men seem slightly to diverge is the length of
time it will take to make the new gallery a success. Renton talks in
terms of five- and 10-year plans. I get the idea that Lloyd is a
little less patient than that. "I am 72," he says. "I am looking
forward to some buzz." By which I guess he means sales.
still love the art of the deal? "It is an enormous thrill," he says.
"It is not about the price, it is the making of a good sale. I don’t
like much these individuals who walk around in faded blue jeans and
white shirts open to the navel saying they are ’gallerists’ and not
in it to make money." Money has always to be at the heart of it? "It
has to be," he says, determinedly, before adding: "But only to make
all the other good things happen."
Denis Wirth-Miller, Frank Lloyd, Gilbert Lloyd and Francis Bacon leaving
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1975.
Monstrous war: Francis Bacon’s
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion
In Bacon’s delightfully disturbing triptych, a
Europe of death camps has
become a breeding ground for
JONATHAN JONES | THE
STORY OF BRITISH ART | CULTURE
2 OCTOBER 2012
artist anywhere during the second world war revealed its
destruction of lives and meanings as ruthlessly as Francis Bacon
A Europe of death camps has become a breeding ground for
nauseating monsters in this brutal requiem for art and god.
Bacon’s three creatures, grey-fleshed, unpleasantly phallic, are
set in an airless theatre of reddish light. This is a seriously
disturbing, horribly great work of art
Illustration: Currently on display at the National Galleries of
Out & About: Francis Bacon
Nicola Harvey | ABC
Arts | Friday
28 September, 2012
What role does art play in your day to day life? In an
ongoing series ABC Arts’ bloggers discuss the events, shows and artists
who have inspired and excited them. This week, Nicola Harvey learns
about Francis Bacon at the AGNSW Study
for self-portrait: Francis Bacon’s Britain
Bacon was born in 1909 and died in 1992. In the words of Anthony Bond,
the curatorial director at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the
British artist “saw an extraordinary century”. His art – paintings,
drawings, and early on furniture design – tracks this century and the
great events that unfolded throughout. In November, AGNSW will present Francis
Bacon Five Decades an
exhibition featuring over 50 of Bacon’s works sourced from collections
around the world.
first major exhibition of Bacon’s work in Australia and marks 20 years
since his death. For many, Bond included, his legacy still looms large.
Damien Hirst has said Bacon took painting to a new level, “there’s
no-one really like him.”
and next, the gallery is hosting a series of lectures exploring Bacon’s
work. In the first, on September 16, Anthony Bond regaled us with tales
of Bacon’s youth. I learned things few art history books have imparted.
Did you know, for example, Bacon was a chronic asthmatic? It was a
condition his domineering father found intolerable. He considered his
son a wimp for not ‘mucking in with the horses’ (Bacon’s father was a
military man turned racehorse trainer). But while Bacon may have found
working in the stables difficult, playing in the stables (with the young
grooms) was a regular source of amusement.
according to Bond, Bacon’s father, Captain Anthony Edward Mortimer
Bacon, Eddie as he was known to friends, discovered the young man
wearing his mother’s underwear. It was the final straw and Bacon was
banished from the farm and sent to Berlin, straight into the heart of
the extravagant, dazzling nightlife of the Weimar Republic. There his
artistic career commenced and over the following decades he slowly
established himself as one of the great figurative painters of the 20th
months, Meredith Burgmann, Tom Wright, Justice Michael Kirby and Craig
Judd, among others, will talk about Bacon’s life and career, and the
culture movements that rocked Britain during his lifetime.
eight-part lecture series is hosted at the AGNSW from September 16 -
November 18. Coming up this Sunday at 10.30am, Dr Christopher Hartney
examines shock tactics in the Bacon’s work and British cinema.
Francis Bacon in his Reece Mews studio. May 1970 (Photographer: Michael
Pergolani, Dublin Gallery The Hugh Lane, Art Gallery New South Wales)
Behind the scenes at the Art Gallery of New South Wales as they
prepare for Francis
Bacon: Five Decades
Francis Bacon in his studio in 1975. Photograph:
Contemporary Art Evening Sale
London | 12 October 2012 | L12024
Untitled (Head of a Woman) - Lisa Sainsbury
FRANCIS BACON 1909 - 1992
(HEAD OF A WOMAN – LISA SAINSBURY)
oil on canvas
by 24 3/8 in.
Executed circa 1955-57.
- 800,000 GBP Lot
note that this work will be included in the forthcoming Francis Bacon:
The Catalogue Raisonné, edited by Martin Harrison.
of the artist
Paul Danquah (acquired directly from the artist circa 1958)
Private Collection, United Kingdom (acquired in 2000)
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York
Pacific Heights Gallery, San Francisco
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Gagosian Gallery, Isabel and Other Intimate Strangers: Portraits by
Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon, 2008, p. 171, illustrated in
all done not as a commission but as an act of friendship.”
Lisa Sainsbury cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, Norwich, University of
East Anglia, Trapping Appearance- Portraits by Francis Bacon and
Alberto Giacometti from the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury
Collection, 1996, p. 30.
four surviving works from an original series of eight studies depicting
Lisa Sainsbury, the present work offers a rare account of a subject
privileged enough to sit for the artist. Untitled (Head of a Woman –
Lisa Sainsbury)1955-57, captures wonderfully the formative features of
Francis Bacon’s analysis of the human head and demonstrates an early
exploration of the single head portrait that was to become, as John
Russell notes, "the scene of some of Bacon’s most ferocious
investigations" (John Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1993, p.
in the embryonic stages of his life-long investigation to visually
explain the variations of the human condition through pictorial
representation, Head Untitled (Head of a Woman – Lisa
Sainsbury) superbly encapsulates the essence of the sitter. Here, Bacon
displays an array of textures and techniques that, much like
Giacometti’s sculptures of women, coalesce the head of someone he knew
“with that of an Egyptian sculpture in all its formal rigour and
monumental grandeur” (David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon,
London 2000, p.203). Lisa’s delicate features are built up with layers
of paint; smeared strokes of pink and mauve contrast against a rich
black ground that magnifies the presence of the figure. The treatment of
the mouth –
an area of intense scrutiny for Bacon radiates serenity, her plump
rose lips exuding none of the violence of the gaping mouths that are
present in his earlier Head series, and suggests a warm assessment of
the sitter by the artist.
first collectors of Bacon’s work, Lisa Sainsbury and her husband Robert
were first introduced to Bacon at a party by Erica Brausen of the
Hanover Gallery. The Sainsburys, who had already amassed an eclectic
collection, including works of Pre-Colombian, African, Japanese and
Oceanic art, immediately became admirers, and began to purchase a number
of paintings. They accumulated a collection, later donated to the
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, of thirteen works, including: Sketch
for Portrait of Lisa 1955, Portrait of Lisa 1956 and Portrait
of Lisa 1957 that provides an outstanding example of Bacon’s corpus
of work from the 1950’s.
Sainsbury had a deep respect for Bacon’s artistic practice and the
collaboration with Bacon began after she commissioned him to paint her
husband Robert. By this time, Bacon had moved from his studio in
Cromwell Place and, after several years of wandering from lodging to
lodging, had moved to a flat on Prince of Wales Drive that belonged Paul
Danquah and Peter Pollock. It was here, during the period of 1955-1957,
that Lisa sat for Bacon every week, ceasing only when he was abroad in
Tangier. During this pivotal time Bacon worked intensely, making a
concerted effort to work directly from life. Indeed such was Bacon’s
affection for Lisa that, as Daniel Farson recalls, "For once, Francis
encouraged them to sit for him: Lisa for several pictures" (Daniel
Farson, The Guilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, London 1993, p.
90) This practice marked a stark, albeit brief, departure from the
artist’s preferred method of working solely from commissioned
photographs of friends and lovers that acted as a visual aide in which
he could project their presence onto the canvas, and elevates the
present work’s unique significance within Bacon’s entire oeuvre. Bacon
developed a total of eight studies but owing to his dissatisfaction with
his work only four studies, including the present, survive. As Lisa
Sainsbury recalls in an interview with David Sylvester, “I would sit and
then I might come back two or three times and suddenly there was a
message saying it was gone…He worked at them again and destroyed them
but the final one was done very quickly indeed.” (David Sylvester in:
Exhibition Catalogue, Norwich, University of East Anglia, Trapping
Appearance- Portraits by Francis Bacon and Alberto Giacometti from the
Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, 1996, p. 30).
Christoph Heinrich notes, “…sets out to convey the specific energy of
very different individuals through painting" (Exhibition Catalogue,
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Bacon, 2008, p. 55). Where many of Bacon’s
portraits are fraught with intense struggles of emotion, Untitled (Head
of a Woman – Lisa Sainsbury) demonstrates a calmness that serves both as
a testament to the valued connection that resonated between the pair,
and seamlessly displays Bacon’s ability to capture the spirit of a
sitter who, in the case of Lisa Sainsbury, was to remain a constant
source of support throughout his career.
Sotheby’s to sell Francis Bacon Screaming Pope
SPEAR’S, Thursday 27 September 2012
November 2012 Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York
will offer one of the most important versions of Francis Bacon’s
iconic Pope Paintings ever to have appeared at auction. The vision
of screaming Popes emerged from the desolate shadows of the Second
World War as humanity tried to make sense of the horrors that had
been committed during those years.
version was painted circa 1954 and is closely related to the artist’s
Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, the seminal
masterpiece that is now housed in the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa. Untitled (Pope)
has been in the same private collection since a 1975 auction at
Sotheby’s London and is estimated to fetch $18/25 million (£11/15
million)*. The work goes on public exhibition for the first time in
nearly 40 years at Sotheby’s Los Angeles on 27 September before being
shown in London from 7 October and Doha later this autumn.
Bacon’s Pope portraits are some of the most radical and provocative
paintings to have appeared in the years immediately following World War
II. The viewer is presented with the Supreme Pontiff, the totem of
enlightened perception and order against chaos, violently wracked by the
brutal terror of the post-war reality.
imagery and its inspiration first started to appear in Bacon’s work in
the late 1940s, however this version is more closely allied to a cycle
of eight Study for Portraits from 1953 that were created for an
exhibition at Durlacher Brothers in New York – Bacon’s first show
outside England. These paintings can be found in museums such as the
Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Hirshhorn in Washington D.C., the
Minneapolis Institute, the Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College as
well as several distinguished private collections, but this painting
most closely relates to the pivotal version in Des Moines.
series is based upon the 1649 state portrait of Pope Innocent X by Diego
Velázquez, court painter to King Phillip IV of Spain. Velázquez
dutifully portrays Innocent as the most powerful man in the world
surrounded by the luxurious trappings of his office, yet also as a
fallible mortal who must face the burdens and pitfalls of his position.
Untitled (Pope) Bacon removes the idiosyncrasies of the grand state
portrait. They are replaced by a more intimate depiction of pain and
suffering inspired by the screaming nurse figure in Sergei Eisenstein’s
1925 movie The Battleship Potemkin and the clenched fist from
Edweard Muybridge’s photograph Striking a Blow with the Right Hand.
previously been thought that Bacon had not seen the Velázquez original
when he painted this circa 1954 work. However, new research has
suggested that he could have been familiar with another version of the
Innocent X painting. A smaller rendering belonged to the Duke of
Wellington and was housed at Apsley House in London, just a short walk
from Bacon’s studio at the Royal College of Art. Apsley House was opened
to the public in 1952 meaning Bacon could well have studied this version
at first-hand prior to starting his cycle of papal portraits.
Bacon’s depictions of Popes are among his most important paintings
encompassing many of the themes and iconography that fueled his artistic
output over the following decades. Untitled (Pope) is emblematic
of these, and of an artist who had such a dramatic effect on post-war
Francis Bacon ‘screaming pope’ painting to be sold
Picture from one of artist’s most provocative series
of works has hung in same private collection for 40
ART & DESIGN
THURSDAY 27 SEPTEMBER 2012
Francis Bacon’s "screaming pope" paintings which has hung in the same
private collection for nearly 40 years is to be auctioned with an
estimate of 200 times what it was bought for. The work, Untitled (Pope),
was painted around 1954 and is from one of Bacon’s best known and most
provocative series of works.
It will be
sold at Sotheby’s, New York, on 13 November. The seller is in for a big
windfall. It was bought in 1975 at Sotheby’s in London for £71,500 and
is expected to fetch $18m-25m (£15m).
Barker, Sotheby’s senior international specialist in contemporary art,
said: "Bacon is the artist everybody is seeking at the moment, he is in
many ways top of the pile. To find something of this date, of this
subject, of this importance is really a very notable moment."
He said he
had been working and advising on the picture for six years. "It has been
a slight personal odyssey and it is incredibly exciting to be able to
share this with a wider audience because it is not a painting that’s
widely known. It has been tucked away in an extremely discreet private
place and it is so fantastic to be able to announce it to the world. "It
has been in a wonderful home and it’s now time to find a new home. We
are very excited because it comes at a time when some incredibly rare
and fresh to market material is coming to market."
pope series was inspired by Velázquez’s Portrait
of Pope Innocent X and Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film Battleship
Potemkin. It became a way for the artist to express post-war horror
and what mankind was capable of.
The pope being sold is closely related to a famous Bacon
hanging in the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa – Study after Velázquez’s Portrait
of Innocent X. It goes on display in Los Angeles on Thursday and
will travel to London this autumn.
A detail from Francis Bacon’s Untitled
(Pope), to be sold at Sotheby’s in New York
‘Screaming Pope’ to fetch £15 million
‘Screaming Pope’ painting, which one of Francis Bacon’s
provocative Pope series of works and has been in a private
collection for 40 years, is to be sold at Sotheby’s, New York
BY CLIVE MORGAN | ART SALES | CULTURE | THE DAILY TELEGRAPH |
THURSDAY 27 SEPTEMBER 2012
After nearly 40 years in one private collection, one
of Francis Bacon’s "Screaming Pope" paintings is to
be auctioned. The work, Untitled (Pope),
work, painted around 1954, was bought for £71,500 in
1975 at Sotheby’s in London, and is estimated to be
fetch 200 times what it was bought for. If the
estimates are correct, the sale at Sotheby’s, New
York, on 13 November, could net the current owner a
windfall of $18-25m (£15m).
Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s senior international specialist in
contemporary art, said: "Bacon is the artist everybody is seeking at
the moment, he is in many ways top of the pile. To find something of
this date, of this subject, of this importance is really a very
"It has been a slight personal odyssey and it is incredibly
exciting to be able to share this with a wider audience because
it is not a painting that’s widely known. It has been tucked
away in an extremely discreet private place and it is so
fantastic to be able to announce it to the world.
If the estimates are correct, the sale at Sotheby’s, New York,
on 13 November, could net the current owner a windfall of
Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s senior international specialist in
contemporary art, said: "Bacon is the artist everybody is seeking at
the moment, he is in many ways top of the pile. To find something of
this date, of this subject, of this importance is really a very
"It has been a slight personal odyssey and it is incredibly exciting
to be able to share this with a wider audience because it is not a
painting that’s widely known. It has been tucked away in an
extremely discreet private place and it is so fantastic to be able
to announce it to the world.
"It has been in a wonderful home and it’s now time to find a new
home. We are very excited because it comes at a time when some
incredibly rare and fresh to market material is coming to market."
Bacon’s Pope series was inspired by Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope
Innocent X and Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film Battleship
The Pope being sold is closely related to a famous Bacon hanging in
the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa – Study after Velázquez’s
Portrait of Pope Innocent X
Francis Bacon’s ’Screaming Pope’ portrait is due to be sold at
Francis Bacon rugs remain an enigma after second
A pair of rugs signed Francis Bacon, and thought to
relate to the artist’s early career as
an interior decorator, have been withdrawn from sale
for the second time in three years.
ATG REPORTER | ANTIQUE TRADE GAZETTE | THE ART MARKET WEEKLY |
Newcastle auctioneers Anderson & Garland, who had
estimated the rugs at £180,000-220,000, were not at liberty to discuss
their decision not to offer them in their September 11 sale but their
withdrawal adds another chapter to a fascinating story.
The recent history of the two Modernist rugs, measuring
5ft 5in x 3ft (1.65m x 91cm) and 7ft 4in x 3ft (2.24m x 91cm) and each
signed in the weave Francis Bacon, begins in 2008 when both were
consigned to the bi-monthly carpet sale at Netherhampton Saleroom, near
Salisbury. The consignor, a Portobello Road rug dealer, is reported to
have famously asked specialist Ian Bennett: "Who is Francis Bacon
Subsequent correspondence with the Francis Bacon
Foundation raised the possibility that they might be among Bacon’s
— perhaps made c.1929 when the 19-year-old artist, fresh
from travelling in Europe, set himself up in a studio at 17 Queensberry
Mews West, South Kensington, as an interior decorator and furniture
Bacon later sought to destroy evidence of this career in soft
furnishings (he himself described his efforts as poor imitations of the
generic Cubist style), records of two exhibitions, an article in The
Studio magazine titled ’1930 Look in British Decoration’ and a
handful of the objects themselves have survived.
Speculation prior to their sale in March 2009 revolved
around just how much the new discoveries might bring (the estimate was
£50,000-80,000), but two days before the sale the vendor chose to
withdraw them. Anderson & Garland described their source as ’a German
collection since 2009’.
Since then further research has been undertaken into
Bacon’s rugs - and these two carpets in particular.
In Hali magazine (number 162) Berkshire-based dealer
Clive Rogers and Jean Manuel de Noronha compared the half-dozen
undisputed Bacon rugs, known to have been made at the Royal Wilton
Carpet factory, with the Netherhampton pair.
They concluded the yarns, knotting technique, pile and
handle were significantly different (comparable to the work of the
Killybegs factory in Co. Donegal) and demonstrated that the design for
these two rugs that so prominently displayed the Francis Bacon signature
was, in fact, made c.1927 by the well-known French Art Deco textile
artist Ivan da Silva Bruhns (1880-1980).
"Quite what Bacon has to do with these rugs, if anything,
remains a mystery, as does the date of manufacture," said Clive Rogers
on hearing that the rugs had been withdrawn from sale for a second time.
"I must concede that they might be the copies of a
19-year-old impressed by the lights of 1920s Paris and Berlin with
family connections in Eire. That, or the regurgitation of the shelved
project at Donegal once Bacon’s fame was rising."
In short, they remain an enigma.
Neil Libbert: the faces that came to define an era – in pictures
ART & DESIGN | THE OBSERVER | SATURDAY 15 SEPTEMBER 2012
The French House in Soho was the location for this impromptu shot of
Libbert had called in for a lunchtime pint and found the pub empty
apart from the painter, who drank there regularly.
There was no film in Libbert’s camera so he loaded it
surreptitiously and then secretly took two shots.
Bacon was so deep in thought he did not notice him.
Libbert never intended the picture to be published but it eventually
appeared in the Observer some years later alongside the
The National Portrait Gallery’s solo exhibition of photographs by
Neil Libbert celebrates his 55 years as an award-winning
photojournalist for the Observer, the Guardian and many other
So often in the right place at the right time, Libbert has captured
many of today’s biggest names at the start – and also at the height
– of their careers. Here we tell some of the stories behind these
The exhibition, Neil Libbert: Photojournalist,
runs from 17 September 2012 to 21 April 2013.
FRANCIS BACON 14 December 1984
Francis Bacon was a shock merchant, not a Nazi
Reports that the artist was influenced by Third Reich imagery have
missed the point:
Bacon loved nothing more than to challenge and disgust
the world with his work
JONATHAN JONES | ART
& DESIGN | THE
GUARDIAN | TUESDAY
4 SEPTEMBER 2012
Bacon’s painting Triptych May–June 1973 portrays the last days of his
lover George Dyer. A man squats in a black doorway, his shadow emerging
like a bat. Deep purples promise: there will be blood. Bacon painted
this corruscating vision of despair after Dyer killed himself. You
cannot call it an act of mourning for Dyer. It is too brutal. Perhaps it
is a history painting, giving one man’s suicide the status of a
use of Dyer’s death in his art because this stupendous painter’s only
ethos was his belief in painting itself. Everything was worth stuffing
into the violent sausage mill of his art if it made for a potent image –
even a lover’s suicide. So how is it surprising that Bacon also used
Nazi imagery in his deliberately shocking pictures?
silly-season art story has it that Bacon made massive use of Third Reich
imagery and that champions of his work deliberately ignored this. The
story, inspired by a new book, is misleading in two ways. First, Bacon
never concealed his interest in such imagery, and nor did critical
admirers in his lifetime. Second, the "discovery" changes nothing about
how Bacon’s art ought to be interpreted. A man who painted his closest
friends with vicious intimacy was never a sentimental liberal type full
of good will. The malignity in Bacon is self-evident. What makes him a
great artist is the visceral force of his sense of human life as a
godless disaster area. The Nazis fit rather well into that vision.
Nazi references are no mystery, and no surprise. It is false to pretend
his admirers glossed over them. In this radio programme, his most famous
champion, David Sylvester, discusses how Bacon used the swastika as an
artistic image. And here is Sylvester again, on swastikas and cricket
pads in Bacon’s art.
sensational speculations now being relished about Bacon hinge on the
idea that, in seeing his second world war tropes as formal painterly
effects, his fans have ignored the underlying issue – that Bacon was
promoting Nazism, or sympathetic to it. This is a childish, glib, and
leaden way of hitting a poetic artist on the head with the rolled-up
newspaper of literalism. Bacon created a monstrous, surreal imaginative
world of enclosed rooms and private hells. Nazi armbands fitted
naturally into his vision too.
of Bacon’s art after the second world war had a lot to do with the fact
that he was the first artist who captured what the war revealed about
the terrible truths of human capabilities. The opening of concentration
camps such as Belsen in 1945 and the images of industrial mass slaughter
that were Hitler’s ultimate legacy left most artists incapable of
matching horror with horror. Picasso’s painting The Charnel House barely
hints at the real nightmare of the Holocaust. Yet when Bacon’s wartime
masterpiece Three Figures for the Base of a Crucifixion was first
exhibited, it caused a familiar shudder: here was an art that rose, or
rather sank, to the challenge of representing the worst crimes
later paintings, Bacon shows people enacting brutalities on one another
in a terror that never ends. It was not the Nazis who obsessed him. It
was their crimes.
shocking ... Francis Bacon
Interviewing Francis Bacon
KISTERS | GEGENWART | KUNST
TEXTE | NUMBER
The first time that I saw British painter Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
talking about his art, was when I was a student at the academy of
arts in Arnhem (The Netherlands) in the 1990s. The documentary the
teacher showed us was probably The Brutality of Fact by
Michael Blackwood (1984). As an aspiring artist, I was deeply
impressed by the ease and persuasiveness with which Bacon spoke
about his unsettling paintings. Years later, when I had started to
work on a PhD project about controlling the representation of modern
artists at VU University in Amsterdam, I selected Bacon as a case
study, in particular because he was interviewed repeatedly.
Bacon, who was notorious for his often as ‘violent’ characterised
paintings of screaming popes and distorted bodies, as well as for
his extravagant life style, was also known for the eloquence with
which he talked about his art. He was easy to talk to, and was
interviewed countless times by numerous critics. However, when
studying Bacon’s paintings one soon comes across the published
interviews with art historian, critic and curator David Sylvester
(1924- 2001). In fact, it was Sylvester who interviewed Bacon in the
documentary that I had seen in the 1990s.
When he first interviewed Bacon in 1962, Sylvester was interviewing
several contemporary artists, such as Willem de Kooning and Robert
Motherwell. But as he kept interviewing Bacon – he interviewed him
as many as 18 times between 1962 and 1986 – the interviews received
a status apart within his career as a critic, and Sylvester became
interconnected with the painter. He was not able to really take his
distance until after Bacon had died in 1992, or so he wrote in the
book Looking Back at Francis Bacon (2000).1
In this paper I will argue that the interviews with Francis Bacon
are carefully constructed and not very reliable as a form of oral
history. However, they are very interesting material from the point
of view of the representation of the artist and his strong influence
on the interpretation of his work. In order to illustrate this, I
will discuss several themes that reoccur within the interviews, such
as the mythological beginning of his career as a painter with the
triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion
(1944), his working methods and the role of his studio. Furthermore,
I will discuss the interviews as a marketing tool, and Sylvester’s
own reflection on the interviews, which he discussed with art
historian Andrew Brighton at the London Tate in 2000. In the last
few decades, artists’ interviews have become an important source and
tool in art historical discourse and research, but their usefulness
and reliability can differ significantly, as can be demonstrated
with the Bacon interviews.
Sylvester’s first interview with Bacon was recorded in October 1962
and broadcasted on BBC radio on March 23, 1963.2
Although they had known each other since the 1950s, and Sylvester
already had written about his work, the idea for the interview was
not Sylvester’s.3 Instead, BBC radio
had asked him to interview him following Bacon’s successful one-man
show at the Tate Gallery in 1962. In the previous years, Sylvester
had kept his distance towards Bacon because he found Bacon’s
critical response to Jackson Pollock’s paintings childish and he did
not like the paintings that Bacon himself was producing around
The first interview was structured around the term accident – one of
Bacon’s favourite terms. With accident Bacon meant that he might
have had a general idea about what he was going to paint,
but that through the
process of painting he came to different insights and solutions.5
In the interview Bacon and Sylvester discuss several themes that
would reoccur in all Bacon interviews: next to the elements of
accident and chance Bacon refers to his image depository – when
Sylvester asks him about the influence of a Cimabue crucifixion
(1272-4) – and says that: “Yes, they breed images for me. And of
course one’s always hoping of renewing them.”6
But they also discuss his tendency to destroy his paintings, even
the better ones, his lack of using preliminary sketches or drawings,
and his wish to avoid story telling, or a narrative interpretation
of his paintings. Lastly, they discuss Velázquez and the influence
of photography on his work. Although the interviews were held over
the course of more than twenty years, their tone and contents are
very consistent and one hardly notices the passage of time.
The published interviews are often
related to radio broadcasts or documentaries. For instance, the
second interview is a compilation of material derived from three
days of shooting for the BBC documentary Francis Bacon: Fragments
of a Portrait by Michael Gill in 1966. The fifth interview was
partially based on recordings for Weekend Television in 1975 and the
eighth interview is correlated to the documentary The Brutality
of Fact by Michael Blackwood that was mentioned earlier.
The first work
It is no coincidence that the first interview, both in the edited
edition as in the radio broadcast, starts with a discussion of Three Studies of Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944),
the triptych that Bacon regarded as his first autonomous work of
art.7 Bacon always claimed that his
career as a painter began with this triptych. The only earlier work
that he acknowledged was Crucifixion (1933). Bacon, who had
initially worked as an interior designer and designer of modernist
furniture and carpets, started painting seriously around 1933,
although some paintings from the 1920s have survived.8
These early works were heavily influenced by artists like Pablo
Picasso, Graham Sutherland and Roy de Maistre, something Bacon did
not like to acknowledge, except for the influence of Picasso.9
To interviewers he always downplayed this period as a time in which
he was drifting and drinking; but not working seriously as an
In the third interview Sylvester asks Bacon why he was such a late
starter. He suggests that Bacon did exceptional work, both as a
designer, and as a painter in the early 1930s, but that he did not
do a lot of painting in the following years. Bacon answers: “No. I
didn’t. I enjoyed myself.”10 Bacon also
states that he did not consider painting as a serious profession
until much later. But if this were right, why then would he consider
participating in the group shows at the Mayor Gallery in 1933 and
Agnew’s Gallery in 1937, both in London? He even organised a solo
exhibition of his own work in the so-called Transition Gallery in
1934. As one of Bacon’s biographers, Michael Peppiatt, argued, Bacon
was so disappointed about the harsh critiques that he received of
his works at these exhibitions, that he destroyed all the unsold
Subsequently, Bacon always claimed that he did not paint between
1937-1944, but it is more likely that he did paint, but was not
satisfied with the results and destroyed the paintings, as was his
habit; being a severe critic of his own work.12
Only when he was confident enough about his new work, supported by
artist Graham Sutherland and his new lover Eric Hall, did he exhibit
again; in a group show at the Lefevre Gallery in London in 1944,
where his work was noticed by several art dealers and collectors
such as Erica Brausen of Redfern Gallery (she later owned the
influential Hanover Gallery) and Colin Anderson.13
From then on, Bacon kept pointing to Three Studies for Figures at
the Base of a Crucifixion as the starting point of his career as
an autonomous artist, and increasingly managed to influence both
publications and exhibition displays into showing no works previous
to the triptych.14 By focussing on the
triptych as the start of his career, he presented himself as a
radical post-war painter, and not as an artist who had been
struggling to find his own style.15 By
starting the edited interviews with Three Studies for Figures at the
Base of a Crucifixion, Sylvester supported Bacon’s claim
Although Bacon loved to show his studio to interviewers and
photographers – for instance, he seems to really enjoy Melvin
Bragg’s shocked reaction to the absolute chaos in his studio when he
shows it to him in the episode of The South Bank Show in 1985 – he
was never very open about his studio practice. The information he
gave, was the information he wanted to give, and no more. For
example, Bacon openly talked about the influence of the photographs
of Eadweard Muybridge and a book by K.C. Clark about
Positioning in Radiography (1939); he discussed them
with Sylvester in the second interview (1966), but he did not
explain how exactly he used them. In the same interview they discuss
the influence of Velázquez, whom he greatly admired, but supposedly
only in reproduction, and the film The Battleship Potemkin
(1925) by Sergei Eisenstein.
In the documentary by Michael Gill, whereupon this interview is
based, we see Bacon and Sylvester on their knees in the studio,
picking up reproductions, books, photographs (Bacon had his friend
John Deakin make photographs of some of his friends in the 1960s),
all crumpled and covered with paint. Bacon says:
“Well, my photographs are very damaged by people walking over them
and crumpling them and everything else, and this does add other
implications to an image of Rembrandt’s for instance, which are not
He implies that others damage the materials and that he passively
lets it happen; that it is not an active working method. However,
since the relocation of the studio, a lot of research has been done
into the way in which he used these sources, and in particular Bacon
scholar Martin Harrison has made some remarkable discoveries.17
Harrison pointed out that Bacon folded his source material, using
paper clips to hold a certain fold, thus creating distorted images
of the human body.
Although Bacon kept emphasising the element of accident and chance
in the interviews with Sylvester, scholars such as Harrison have
demonstrated that this is only partially true. The stains and
smudges on the photographs and reproductions are accidentally, but
the way he used them was not. Also, the tidying of the studio – by
sometimes throwing away materials and destroyed paintings – and the
organisation of the materials throughout the studio turned out to be
more systematic than Bacon led on to believe.18
Bacon always was very persistent in denying the making of
preliminary sketches. Although he said to Sylvester in the first
interview that: “I often think I should, but I don’t. It’s not very
helpful in my kind of painting. As the actual texture, colour, the
whole way the paint moves, are so accidental, any sketches that I
did before could only give a kind a skeleton, possibly, on the way
the thing might happen.”19
He kept stating that he did not draw, although he said in the last
interview (1984-1986): “Well, I sketch out very roughly on the
canvas with a brush, just a vague outline of something, and then I
go to work, generally using very large brushes, and I start painting
immediately and then gradually it builds up.”20
The last unfinished painting that was found on the easel in his
studio confirms this remark. Posthumously however, several
collections of drawings surfaced, of which some have been studied by
experts who have confirmed their authenticity.21
The studio itself is not discussed in the interviews until the last
edited interview of 1984-1986. This interview is for a large part
based on the recordings for the documentary by Michael Blackwood of
1984. It contains the most biographical information about his youth
and artistic development, although Bacon again stresses: “And it was
then, about 1943-44, that I really started to paint.”22
The period 1929-1943 is skipped altogether. It is the first time
that his studios are being discussed, the different locations, the
circumstances that Bacon needs to be able to work and the reason why
they tend to become so very messy within days. Bacon says that he
needs the (created) chaos because it breeds images for him. In the
documentary his friend John Edwards jokes that Bacon loves a chaotic
atmosphere as long as the dishes are clean, but this is left out in
the published interview. Sylvester suggests:
“It’s probably easier to work in a space that’s chaotic. If painting
or writing is an attempt to bring order to the chaos of life, and
the room you’re working in is disordered, I think it may act
unconsciously as a spur to create order. Whereas, if you try to do
it in a very tidy room, there seems to be much less point in getting
Bacon ‘absolutely agrees’ with him, and goes on to describe how he
bought a studio around the corner in Roland Gardens. He decorated
the place beautifully, but made it ‘to grand’ to work in. He could
not work without the chaos.24 Another
apartment that Bacon bought with a studio overlooking the Thames was
not used and later sold, because the reflection of the light on the
water bothered Bacon, who had covered several windows in his studio
at Reece Mews and liked working with the only light coming from a
skylight. This interview is rather telling for the importance
artists give to the atmosphere of the places where they are working,
and how afraid or even superstitious they are of leaving a
Using interviews as a marketing tool
Bacon’s first dealer was Erica Brausen of the Hanover Gallery in
London. In 1958 he unexpectedly changed to the Marlborough Fine Art
Gallery, a more commercial gallery that already represented artists
such as Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Graham Sutherland.
Marlborough Fine Art had a reputation for presenting their artists’
works in a museum-like display, and publishing accompanying
catalogues modelled after the catalogues of the Museum of Modern Art
in New York.25 They also lobbied
intensively to realise solo exhibitions of their artists in renowned
From 1960 onwards, Marlborough Fine Art started to promote Bacon
more openly and commercially than Brausen had done. Catalogues
contained more biographical information than before and, next to
reproductions of his work and lists of museums that had works by
Bacon in their collections; photographs of the painter himself were
used. The first catalogue for Marlborough Fine Art, Francis
Bacon: Paintings 1959-1960, contains a photograph that Cecil
Beaton took of Bacon in his Battersea studio. The series Beaton took
also contains photographs in which the messiness of the studio is
visible. The one that was included in the catalogue shows Bacon who
confidently looks into the camera and is positioned between several
of his paintings that are for sale in the exhibition. In the
following years Bacon the man and his studio became more present in
catalogues that were meant to promote his work. In fact, combining
private photos such as pictures of Bacon drinking and laughing on
the Orient Express, made by John Deakin, combined with valuable
paintings – intimacy and exclusiveness – seems to be an inventive
The Marlborough catalogues, nearly always, included texts by eminent
writers such as Robert Melville, John Russell or Michel Leiris.
Unsurprisingly, the gallery was quick to recognize the value of the
interviews with Sylvester. Extracts of the first interview for BBC
radio were included in their exhibition catalogue Francis Bacon:
Recent Work (1963) and the second Bacon interview by Sylvester
was published for the first time in the exhibition catalogue Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings
This catalogue also includes film stills from Gill’s
documentary in which Sylvester interviews Bacon. The inclusion of
Bacon interviews in catalogues of Marlborough Fine Art or Galerie
Maeght Lelong (Paris) continued up until the ninth interview, which
was published in Francis Bacon: Paintings of the Eighties
(1987) as ‘An unpublished interview by David Sylvester’.
Editing the interviews
David Sylvester interviewed Francis Bacon as many as 18 times
between 1962 and 1984-1986. The first four interviews were first
published in 1975 as Interviews with Francis Bacon, followed by
expanded editions in 1980 and 1987. These expanded editions of the
interviews contained first seven and than nine interviews in total,
so the material of the 18 interviews has eventually been condensed
into nine texts. It is common knowledge that Sylvester edited the
interviews, and he mentions it himself in the introduction the first
edition of Interviews with Francis Bacon (1975).28
In the preface of the first edition, Sylvester admits that the texts
have been heavily edited, although he uses “Bacon’s turn of phrase”.29
Only a fifth of the material in the transcripts has been used in the
edited collections. With the exception of the first interview, most
of the other interviews are compilations of two or more interview
sessions. “In order to prevent the montage from looking like a
montage, many of the questions have been recast or simply
fabricated”, Sylvester wrote.30
Sylvester used four types of ‘spoken material’ as sources for the
written interviews: interviews for the radio of other forms of
distributions recorded on tape, filmed interviews, private tapes
made by Sylvester himself and notes he took while talking to Bacon,
which Sylvester refers to as ‘unrecorded conversation’.31
He included the so called leftover material in Looking
Back at Francis Bacon (2000).32
Less known is the fact that Bacon himself was involved in the
editing process.33 In a book review of
the first edition of the interviews in 1975, Stephen Spender assumed
that: “he has given an exact transition of Bacon’s words, with only
‘minimal modifications to clarify syntax’.”34
In 2000 however, Sylvester himself wrote that Bacon sometimes would
call him at about eight in the morning to discuss a certain phrase
or thought with him. “Such turns of phrase didn’t always come on the
spur of the moment.”35 Even more
tellingly, at the time of its relocation from London to Dublin,
manuscripts of the eighth interview (1982-1984) where found in
Bacon’s studio, edited by Bacon himself.36
In addition, the Francis Bacon studio database also contains a
questionnaire that Sylvester sent to Bacon and on which Bacon filled
in some of the answers.37
One of the questions is about his decision to stop being a designer
to become a painter. Bacon wrote on the questionnaire that he was
never any good as a designer and became more interested in painting.
Then Sylvester included the question:
Sylvester: “Why do you feel it useless to use drawings or
Bacon [hand-written]: “Directness of statement” [and crossed out]
“fact emphasising not xxxxx”
Typed: “The brutality of fact”.38
The manuscripts are rough transcripts of the interviews, and they
show how Bacon and Sylvester carefully were searching for the right
phrases. Although it is understandable that Sylvester edited these
passages in order to condense them into coherent paragraphs, the
literal transcriptions show how the conversation actually takes
Sylvester: “But you say there is a subjective and an objective
Bacon: “No, I don’t say ….”
Bacon: “…. I don’t think there are two different realisms.”
Sylvester: “Ah, right. Sorry.”
Bacon: “I think realism incorporates the subjective and the
Bacon: “No, I don’t for a moment think there are two realities.”39
The end result of the written interviews gives the impression of two
amiably talking art professionals, who both appear to be very
eloquent and articulate. This is a great accomplishment of Sylvester
(and coeditor Shena Mckay) and not unimportant for his own image of
an insightful art critic. It is interesting though, that Bacon
apparently got to see several draft versions of the eighth interview
before it was published and got a chance to comment on it. The
corrections in the manuscript seem to focus in particular on how
Bacon wants his work to be described, such as his vision on realism,
which in the published interview is connected to the work of Picasso
and Van Gogh. 40
In addition, it is obvious that Bacon felt very strongly about
phraseology. He erased words like ‘very, very’, or ‘well’, and ‘you
see’, but added words like ‘accident’ and ‘artificial’.41
Bacon was controlling biographical information in the sense
that he avoided answers to questions – like in the questionnaire –
about his training as an artists or the shift from interior design
to painting. However, this manuscript does not contain a lot of
biographical data. The most biographical interview is the last
(ninth) interview. Part of the answers to the questionnaire however,
return in this last interview.
David Sylvester’s personal archive probably contains tape recordings
of numerous artists’ interviews, including the ones with Bacon and
other manuscripts of the Bacon interviews. The archive was purchased
by the Tate Archive from Sylvester’s Estate in 2008, and is located
in the Hyman Kreitman research Centre at Tate Britain.42
Once these papers become catalogued and available for
researchers, research into this matter can be conducted and may
provide further interesting insights into their collaboration and
Sylvester’s approach to interviews with other artists.
Interviewing David Sylvester
In 2000, Andrew Brighton, an art historian and at the time senior
curator of public programmes at Tate Gallery, held a public
conversation with Sylvester to celebrate the publication of his book
Looking back at Francis Bacon (2000).43 Sylvester had just gotten
out of the hospital, and was still very fragile – he would die a
year after –, but he was very candid and willing to talk about the
process of interviewing Bacon. Brighton was curious to know whether
he felt that Bacon had learned how to formulate his ideas about art
through Sylvester, but he denied this forcefully. Looking back, he
regarded the first interview with Bacon as the best one. Bacon’s
personal language was already there. According to Sylvester one
could arguefirst two interviews, since he kept on drawing from them.
One should also note, that in 1962, at the time of the first
interview, Bacon already was in his early fifties and had formulated
a strong vision about his own art.
At the time of the first publication of the collected Interviews in
1975 Sylvester had been criticized for not being objective. Willem
Feaver mentions in The Listener that Sylvester: “becomes the
impresario and director, controlling the flow pattern, presenting
his star at his best.”44 It took
Sylvester five exhibitions and a book to leave Bacon behind. These
exhibitions would not have been possible while Bacon was alive,
Sylvester told Brighton, since Bacon would have definitely
interfered.45 For the same reason he
felt the need to write Looking back at Francis Bacon:
“It seemed to me that, while the interviews were in progress and I
was serving as a sort of henchman to the artist, I couldn’t trust
myself to perform with detachment as a critic or historian of his
work. Shortly after he died, the floodgates opened and this book is
Brighton started the public discussion by asking if Sylvester ever
felt that Bacon was misleading him, for instance regarding the
existence of preliminary sketches. Sylvester answered that he did
see drawings on the last page of a paperback edition of poems by T.S.
Eliot, but that he regrettably did not confront Bacon about it.47
“I had been gullible enough to not have realised that these were the
tip of an iceberg.’48 However,
Sylvester did not regard this as a deliberate conceit. He felt that
for artists it is essential not to expose everything to the public.
Nonetheless, the drawings, over-painted photographs, and the
hand-written notes, are of great importance. They give insight into
the process of transformation that Bacon applied: [on] “how he could
superimpose the images”, as Sylvester put it.49
Today, these sources are an important focus of new research on
Bacon, and one could say that they lead attention away from the work
itself; something Bacon was very keen on preventing. As Sylvester
pointed out, he was a modernist art historian, mainly interested in
formalistic aspects and therefore did not pay a lot of attention to
a psychoanalytical approach to Bacon’s work or the identification of
all of Bacon’s source materials. Brighton on the other hand was
interested in autobiographical elements, in particular regarding
Bacon’s youth, in his paintings and discussed these later on in the
publication Francis Bacon (2001).
In the public interview Brighton confronted Sylvester with the
question that he had been a part of Bacon’s construction and
manipulation of his own reception.50 Sylvester was very frank in his
response and admitted that the more he learned about Bacon, the more
he became aware that he was very influenced by his image. But, as
Sylvester rightfully argued: in order to interview an artist, one
has to go along with his vision to a certain degree, or the
interview will not go very smoothly or even come to an end.
Sylvester continued to say that as an interviewer, one should not
interfere too much. One should let the artist talk, like a
psychoanalyst let’s his patient talk. He said that if he would have
mentioned for instance that he saw influences of Rothko in Bacon’s
paintings, while Bacon denied such interpretations, the interview
would have stopped. At the end of the interview Brighton asked
Sylvester how he had gotten Bacon’s trust, upon which Sylvester
answered that he did now know if he ever had it.
The influence of Sylvester’s published
interviews with Francis Bacon is still significant. Almost every
text about Bacon contains quotations from them. Bacon used the
interviews to formulate and refine standard answers to recurring
questions from the press, such as an explanation for the ‘horrific’
character of his work, the motif of the crucifixion, or the
placement of his paintings behind glass. His explanation for the use
of the crucifixion theme in the second interview from 1966 is
well-known: “Perhaps it is only because so many people have worked
on this particular theme that it has created this armature – I can
think of no better way of saying it – on which one can operate all
types of feeling.”51 Another famous
remark is about the connection that according to Bacon exists
between meat and the crucifixion: “Well, of course, we are meat, we
are potential carcasses. If I go in a butcher’s shop I always think
it’s surprising that I wasn’t there instead of the animal.”52
Questions about the use of religious iconography, autobiographical
interpretations or the narrative aspects in his work were cleverly
evaded.53 Bacon only hinted at his
working methods, such as the use of dust or the throwing of paint.
He discouraged a thorough analysis of his work and always referred
to the same inspirational sources: Picasso, Velázquez or Van Gogh,
photographers like Muybridge or books on radiology and diseases of
the mouth, and films by Eisenstein.
In recent years, artists’ interviews have
become an important source for museums for the documentation of the
way in which art works are to be installed and preserved, but they
also continue to be an important source for historical research.54
As I have argued, Sylvester’s interviews with
Francis Bacon are carefully constructed and therefore not very
reliable as a form of oral history, but they are extremely
interesting from the point of view of representation and of the
controlling of the interpretation of the work.
As Sylvester rightfully mentions, the
interviewer has a difficult position. In hindsight it is easy to
criticise the interviewer for not being critical enough or for
missing certain things, such as the existence of hand-written notes
and sketches by Bacon. Moreover, he can be accused, as Sylvester
was, for being used as a henchman. But in order to gain an artist’s
trust and to be able to talk in depth about his art, one perhaps has
to except that certain topics are difficult to address.
1. David Sylvester, Looking back at Francis
Bacon, London 2000, p. 8.
2. David Sylvester,
Interviews with Francis
Bacon, (1987) New York 2004, ‘Editorial Note’, p. 202-203. The
original interview can be listened to on the BBC archive website –
Francis Bacon at the BBC -
Sylvester 2000, Looking back at Francis Bacon, p. 8. They met
4. ‘David Sylvester on Francis Bacon in
conversation with Andrew Brighton’, Tate Modern June 6, 2000, TAV
2217 A. Tate Audiovisual Archive, Hyman Kreitman Research Centre,
Tate Gallery, London, hereafter referred to as TAV.
5. A similar analysis of the painting process,
not as a static form of intention, but as a “numberless sequence of
developing moments of intention”, is given by Michael Baxandall in
Patterns of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictures,
(1985), New Haven and London 1986, p. 63.
6. Sylvester 2004,
Interviews with Francis
Bacon, p. 14.
7. See for a discussion of the Three
Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion as ‘primary
work’, Sandra Kisters, ‘Orchestrating the beginning – Francis
Bacon’, in Véronique Meyer and Vincent Cotro [eds.], Le Première
Oeuvre, Universities of Tours and Poitiers, forthcoming 2013.
8. See Martin Harrison, In Camera: Francis
Bacon, Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting, New York
2005, p. 38. Harrison refers to Roy de Maistre, Bacon’s mentor and
lover in the 1930s, who painted Bacon’s studio at Royal Hospital
Road in 1934. In the painting Bacon’s studio is clearly filled with
9. As Martin Hammer, Andrew Brighton, Anne
Baldassari and Martin Harrison already have shown, Bacon was
influenced by Roy de Maistre, Pablo Picasso and Graham Sutherland,
amongst others. See Martin Hammer, Bacon and Sutherland, New Haven
and London 2005, Andrew Brighton, Francis Bacon, London 2001,
Anne Baldassari, Bacon-Picasso: The Life of Images, Paris
2005, Martin Harrison, In Camera: Francis Bacon, Photography,
Film and the Practice of Painting, New York 2005.
10. Sylvester 2004,
Interviews with Francis
Bacon, p. 70.
11. Michael Peppiatt,
Francis Bacon: The
Anatomy of an Enigma, New York 1996, p. 67-68.
12. He for instance told this to John
Rothenstein, the director of Tate Gallery at the time of Bacon’s
first retrospective exhibition at the Tate. See John Rothenstein
‘Introduction’, in John Rothenstein and Ronald Alley (eds.),
Francis Bacon, London 1962, exh. cat. Tate Gallery.
13. The importance of the friendship with
Graham Sutherland for the development of his career as a painter has
been described thoroughly by Martin Hammer, Bacon and Sutherland,
New Haven and London 2005. See for instance, p. 14 and 30.
14. In the catalogue of the 1962 retrospective
at Tate Gallery, four works from before 1944 were included, while in
later catalogues, such as the catalogues for retrospectives in
respectively 1971 Grand Palais in Paris and 1985 at the Tate all
start with the Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a
Crucifixion as the first (colour) plate. A more detailed
discussion of the growing influence of Bacon on his retrospective
exhibitions at Tate Gallery in 1962, 1985 and even the posthumous
exhibition in 2009 can be found in Kisters, ‘Orchestrating the
beginning – Francis Bacon’, in Meyer and Cotro (eds.), Le
premiere Oeuvre (forthcoming 2013).
15. Op. cit 9. 16. Sylvester 2004,
Interviews with Francis Bacon, p. 38.
17. See Harrison 2005,
Barbara Dawson and Martin Harrison [eds.], Martin Harrison, Francis Bacon: Incunabula London 2008 and
Francis Bacon: A
Terrible Beauty, exh. cat. Dublin City Gallery the Hugh Lane,
18. See the analysis of Bacon’s studio
contents in Margarita Cappock, Francis Bacon’s Studio, London
19. Sylvester 2004,
Interviews with Francis
Bacon, p. 21.
20. Ibid., p. 194-195
18. See the analysis of Bacon’s studio
contents in Margarita Cappock, Francis Bacon’s Studio, London
19. Sylvester 2004, Interviews with Francis
Bacon, p. 21.
20. Ibid., p. 194-195.
21. Matthew Gale researched and described the
collections of poet Stephen Spender and Bacons friends Peter Pollock
and Paul Danquah in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, London
1999. Other collections, such as Barry Joule’s, are still the topic
22. Sylvester 2004,
Interviews with Francis
Bacon, p. 189. 23. Ibid, p. 191. 24. Ibid, p. 189,
25. Brighton 2001,
Francis Bacon, p. 75
26. See for instance the catalogue Francis
Bacon. Recent Paintings, London 1965.
27. The Marlborough Fine Art Gallery did all
kinds of other promotional activities, such as initiating
retrospective exhibitions, like the one in Tate Gallery in 1962.
This is discussed in my dissertation Leven als een kunstenaar.
Invloeden op de beeldvorming van beeldend kunstenaars. Auguste
Rodin, Georgia O’Keeffe, Francis Bacon, VU University Amsterdam
2010, p. 321-326.
28. He edited the interviews together with
Shena Mackay, see Sylvester 2004, Interviews with Francis Bacon, p.
203. In an ‘Editorial Note’ at the end of the edition of 2004 he
gives additional information about the sources for each edited
29. Sylvester 2004,
Interviews with Francis
Bacon, p 6-7.
31. Ibid, p. 7.
32. Sylvester 2000, Looking back at Francis
Bacon, p. 8. In part 3 ‘Fragments of Talk’ Sylvester included
leftover material of the 18 recordings, which is grouped in themes.
33. I would like to thank Margarita Cappock,
Head of Collection at Dublin City Gallery the Hugh Lane, for
bringing the manuscripts of the interviews that were found in the
studio to my attention.
34. Stephen Spender, ‘Armature and alchemy’,
Times Literary Supplement, March 21, 1975, p. 290-291.
35. Sylvester 2000,
Looking Back at Francis
Bacon, p. 191.
36. They were found during the relocation of
the studio from London to the Dublin City Gallery the Hugh Lane, and
can be consulted through the database of the Francis Bacon Studio
Project, Dublin under the numbers F1A:122A, F1A:122F, F1A:122G,
F1A:122J, F1A:122K and F1A:122M. 36. I would like to thank the
Francis Bacon Estate for their permission to include a few
quotations from these manuscripts.
37. Francis Bacon Studio Project, F1A: 122A.
The answers are partly typed, partly handwritten and partly crossed
39. Ibid. p. 5. 40. Sylvester 2004,
Interviews with Francis Bacon, in particular p. 170-71.
41. Francis Bacon Studio Project, F1A: 122G.
Typed manuscript of an edited interview of Sylvester with Bacon
entitled ON REALISM: interview with Francis Bacon by David Sylvester
recorded in 1982, 15 pag.
42. ‘The personal and professional papers of
the curator, writer and art historian, David Sylvester, 1940s–2001’,
purchased from the Sylvester’s Estate, 2008. Tate Gallery Archive,
Hyman Kreitman Research Centre, Tate Gallery, TGA 200816. The
Sylvester papers are currently uncatalogued and are therefore
difficult to consult.
43. TAV 2217 A. 44. William Feaver, ‘All flesh
is meat’, The Listener, May 15 1975, p. 652-653. 45. TAV 2217
46. Sylvester 2000,
Looking back at Francis
Bacon, p. 8. 47. The Francis Bacon Studio Project has a large
amount of books covered with drawings or paintings in their archive:
studio relocation and Cappock 2005, Francis Bacon’s Studio.
48. Sylvester in Matthew Gale, Francis
Bacon: Working on Paper, London 1999, p. 9.
49. TAV 2217 A. This superimposing of images;
the combination of several inspirational sources within one work has
been analysed in depth by Martin Harrison. Op. cit. 17.
50. TAV 2217 A.
51. Sylvester 2004,
Interviews with Francis
Bacon, Interview 2, p. 30-67, p. 44.
52. Ibid, p. 46.
53. Recently, a new study has appeared
discussing this very theme: Rina Arya, Francis Bacon: Painting in
a Godless World, London 2012.
54. For instance, the ‘Artist Interview
Project’ of the International Network for the Conservation of
Were Francis Bacon’s Torturous Portraits
Influenced by Nazi Photography?
ARTINFO, Saturday, September 1, 2012
Bacon’s tortured figures might allude to more than his own conflicted
psyche. In a book that will be published by Tate later this
month, Martin Hammer suggests that the British painter also drew heavily
on Nazi photographs found in books and magazines after the war.
radical new reading of Bacon’s oeuvre. Hammer, a professor of history
and philosophy of art at the University of Kent, told The Independent:
“The use of Nazi imagery in Bacon’s work was an important aspect of his
creativity; it is present in many works. It was something that hadn’t
professor is also quick to acknowledge that his findings might not be
unanimously well received by Bacon scholars: “The visual evidence is
compelling, but it’s hard to know what to make of it,” he said. “It’s
open to interpretation.”
first noticed the visual affinities between some of Bacon’s paintings
and Nazi photographs at Tate’s 2008 retrospective of the artist’s works.
His subsequent research led him to the conclusion that it was “a
consistent feature of Bacon’s work from the 50s and 60s.”
Bacon’s “source” photographs were shot by Heinrich Hoffmann, a
photographer belonging to Hitler’s entourage. According to the art
historian, the artist worked on these images for more than two decades,
increasingly submerging the Nazi references.
started working with this imagery, looking at the true nature of the
regime that had emerged,” said Hammer. “He used it to explore the
instinctive, savage, bestial nature that was dominating everyone’s
Bacon inspired by Nazi propaganda
Art historian Martin Hammer’s new book argues that the creative
potential of photographs
and posters from Nazi Germany were "an
important aspect" of painter Francis Bacon’s work.
O’MAHONY | THE
DAILY TELEGRAPH | WEDNESDAY 29
Francis Bacon dealt with "man’s capacity for savage violence" by using
elements of Nazi propaganda in his work for more than two decades, a
leading art historian has claimed.
Martin Hammer, who studies history and philosophy of art at the
University of Kent, said:
of Nazi imagery in Bacon’s work was an important aspect of his
creativity; it is present in many works. It was something that hadn’t
Hammer believes works including Bacon’s famous 1944 triptych Three
Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion were primarily
inspired by the photographs of Adolf Hitler’s close associate Heinrich
Hoffmann, whose images were circulated in British magazines at the time
of the second world war.
Bacon and Nazi Propaganda, Professor Hammer analyses Bacon’s paintings
from the angle of his "horrified fascination" with the Nazi regime.
started working with this imagery, looking at the true nature of the
regime that had emerged. He used it to explore the instinctive, savage,
bestial nature that was dominating everyone’s lives," Hammer said.
a horrified fascination with the image of Hitler and the Nazi
leadership," he added, in particular a "screaming orator-like figure
with a military helmet," an image from Figure Study II, which
"clearly sets up the Nazi leadership as these grotesque creatures. You
get a sense of his horrified reaction to this culture."
chronic asthma exempted him from military service during World War Two,
and he spent the early war years in Hampshire, and later in London
during the Blitz.
believes Bacon’s work shows elements of fascist imagery until well into
the 1960s, when he shifted his focus away from extreme imagery and onto
portraits of close friends.
subject of why fascist elements have remained unnoticed for so long, and
why the artist himself never spoke of his precoccupation with Nazi
imagery, Hammer claims he "wasn’t asked about it. Interviewers either
didn’t recognise it or thought it shouldn’t be talked about."
Bacon’s work has long been controversial for its violent imagery
OFFER A BACON POPE
BY ARIEL GREENE | ART
NEWS | ART
IN AMERICA | THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER
One of Francis
Bacon’s iconic Pope paintings will appear at Sotheby’s contemporary art
evening sale in New York on Nov. 13. Untitled
from circa 1954, is part of the artist’s series of screaming Popes
painted in the wake of the Second World War. The painting has been in a
private collection since a 1975 auction at
Sotheby’s. Earlier this year, Bacon’s Figure
Writing Reflected in Mirror (1977)
sold for $44.9 million. Untitled
expected to go for $18/25 million
Referencing Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X (1649), Bacon’s Pope
series portrays the Supreme Pontiff violently afflicted by the terrors
of World War II. This version from the series most closely resembles the
After Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, now housed in the
Des Moines Art Center in Iowa
Untitled (Pope) is now on public exhibition for the first time in 40
years, at Sotheby’s Los Angeles and will be exhibited in London from
Oct. 7 and Doha later this Fall.
Untitled (Pope), ca.
— so was
Disturbing, raw and graphic
Francis Bacon inspired by the
fascist imagery in artist’s most important paintings has been ignored
NICK CLARK & ADAM SHERWIN | CULTURE | ART | THE INDEPENDENT | TUESDAY, 28
Francis Bacon appropriated Nazi propaganda for some of
his most important paintings to explore "man’s capacity for savage
violence", a leading art historian claims.
have long ignored the depth of inspiration the painter drew from fascist
imagery despite "compelling" visual evidence, Martin Hammer says.
Several of Bacon’s most violent works, which are generally interpreted
as sexual and autobiographical, actually contain "submerged" attempts to
deal with the horrors of Hitler’s regime, he argues in his book, Francis
Bacon and Nazi Propaganda.
It aims to
shed new light on one of the greatest British artists of the 20th
century. Hammer, professor of history and philosophy of art at the
University of Kent, said: "The use of Nazi imagery in Bacon’s work was
an important aspect of his creativity; it is present in many works. It
was something that hadn’t been addressed."
contemporaries sought to bury wartime memories, Bacon appropriated and
transformed Nazi photography, using the imagery as a springboard for
works painted over 20 years. The professor says it is remarkable that
Bacon’s Nazi aesthetics have not been scrutinised before: "The visual
evidence is compelling, but it’s hard to know what to make of it. It’s
open to interpretation."
born in 1909. He experienced the Blitz in London, but unlike many of his
contemporaries he did not participate in the Second World War or become
a war artist. Professor Hammer said: "Bacon started working with this
imagery, looking at the true nature of the regime that had emerged. He
used it to explore the instinctive, savage, bestial nature that was
dominating everyone’s lives."
influences came from photographs and posters, often by Heinrich
Hoffmann, a photographer close to Hitler. Many of the German images were
recycled in books and magazines in the UK, Professor Hammer said.
a horrified fascination with the image of Hitler and the Nazi
leadership." The book refers to a painting of a "screaming orator-like
figure with a military helmet, it clearly sets up the Nazi leadership as
these grotesque creatures. You get a sense of his horrified reaction to
professor added: "His earliest pictures using Nazi imagery were pretty
obvious, which is why he abandoned them. Increasingly these references
book, published next month by the Tate, Professor Hammer addresses the
question of how and why Bacon appropriated the Fascist imagery. The
trigger for the book, was the major Bacon exhibition at the Tate Britain
started a purely visual observation. I noted the parallels between one
or two of the paintings and certain Nazi images I was aware of," he
said. That started a process of research that accumulated a whole series
of other images. "It got to the point where I felt this was a consistent
feature of Bacon’s work from the 50s and 60s."
never referred to the Nazis, "largely because he wasn’t asked about it.
Interviewers either didn’t recognise it or thought it shouldn’t be
talked about," Professor Hammer said.
never went on record referring to the Nazis
Soho’s Colony Room brought back to life
London Evening Standard, Thursday, 23 August 2012
set: Parkin recalls Francis Bacon being among the Colony Room crowd
Crucifixions and Popes
Religious Imagery in the works of Francis Bacon
PROCEEDINGS OF 33RD CONGRESS OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE
HISTORY OF ART
MONIKA KESKA | THE
CHALLENGE OF THE OBJECT | NUREMBURG
Bacon’s paintings were screams from the abattoir, cries from the
execution pits of World War II. His deranged executives and his
princes of death in their pontifs’ robes lacked all pity and
remorse. His popes screamed because they knew there was no God.
(J. G. Ballard)1
The subject of this paper is the analysis of the reinterpretation of
religious motifs in the works of Francis Bacon, the crucifixions and
the portrait of the popes, not as a Christian motif but as an
emotional response to personal dramas and historical events
witnessed by the artists.
Despite being a confessed atheist during all his life, in his works
Bacon employed a number of religious motifs and references, such as
the portraits of popes and the crucifixions. Also the form of the
triptych, characteristic to his work has religious connotations. The
religious imagery was present in his early works since the 1930s and
was abandoned almost completely in the mid-1960s. Bacon started his
career as a painter twice, first in the early thirties, although he
destroyed most of the paintings from that period, and in 1944. In
both cases, when he started, he painted crucifixions. The popes are
his first mature portraits, first of them dating in 1949 (‘Head
Bacon never attended an art school, although he received some
technical advice from fellow artists, such as the Australian painter
Roy de Maistre and Graham Sutherland. He also collected
reproductions of paintings by his favourite artists such as Picasso,
Degas, van Gogh or Velázquez and used them as a source of
inspiration for his own works.
Bacon always worked with photographs and printed images rather than
with life models. In his studio he stored material on very different
subjects, such as books on art, forensics, ornithology, medicine,
poetry, Greek tragedies or contemporary history. He used them as a
visual and intellectual reference for his paintings.
In 1950 the American art historian Sam Hunter took several
photographs2 of working material from Bacon’s studio in South
Kensington at 7, Cromwell Place (fgs. 1–2).3
The selection shows books and images torn from books and magazines
dating from the 1930s till the late 1940s, including a large
reproduction of Velázquez’s
(possibly removed from Lafuente Ferrari’s monograph on the
and a reproduction of
Bearing the Cross’
(1523–1525). That page was torn from the book by Hans Heinrich
Naumann, Das Grünewald-Problem und das neuentdeckte Selbstbildnis
des 20 jährigen Mathis Nithart aus dem Jahre 1475.5
On the second photograph taken by Hunter there is an image of
another Pope. The leaf in question was torn from a book, most
likely: Vatican behind the Scenes, with photographs by David
published in 1949. It represents Pius XII carried in his sedia
gestatoria through the Sala Ducale on the 10th anniversary of his
coronation as pope.
None of this material survived to this day and was probably disposed
of after Bacon abandoned,7
Cromwell Place in 1952. He often changed his residence and studios
till 1961 when he found his definitive working space, a small
apartment, in reality a converted stable, with an attic at 7, Reece
Mews in South Kensington. After his death Francis Bacon’s studio and
all his working material and books were removed from the house and
donated to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin; currently, the
reconstructed studio is
on display. The material found in the studio was catalogued and its
analysis offered numerous new points of view on Bacon’s sources and
the inspirations he took for his paintings.7
Some of the material found was related to religious subjects, but
not to religion itself. Many of the images are related to the
crucifixion and the scenes of Passion of Christ, such as the
fragment of a reproduction of Cimabue’s
(Santo Domenico, Arezzo).8
The image shows the suffering on Christ’s face and his anatomy
emaciated to the point that one can almost see all the structures
that otherwise hide in the flesh under the skin. This image, as well
as the other Cimabue’s Crucifix from Santa Croce in Florence, always
fascinated Bacon. In an interview with David Sylvester he compared
the body of Christ to
worm crawling down the cross. I did try to make something from the
feeling which I’ve sometimes had from that picture of this image
just moving, undulating down the cross.”9
Cimabue’s paintings inspired the central figure from Bacon’s
(1962) although Bacon inverted the crucified figure, making it look
like a carcass hanging from a hook.
In general, Bacon was fascinated by images of meat and
slaughterhouses, as a representation of an act of violence. Most of
his crucifixions are set against a red background that reminds of
the blood stained spaces of an abattoir. Bacon told David Sylvester
that he was interested in the motif of the crucifixion, understood
not as the sacrifice of God’s son, but as an act of cruelty of one
human to another:
always been moved by pictures about slaughterhouses and meat. And to
me they belong very much to the whole thing of the Crucifixion.
There’ve been extraordinary which have been done of animals just
being taken up before they were slaughtered; and the smell of death
[...] I think these pictures were very much based on that kind of
thing, which to me is very, very near this whole thing of the
Crucifixion. I know for religious people, for Christians, the
Crucifixion has a totally different significance. But as a
non-believer, it was just an act of man’s behaviour, a way of
behaviour to another.”10
This statement reminds me of the opening sentence of Zofa
Nalkowska’s Medallions, a compilation of short stories based on true
events, an account of the Nazi atrocities in Poland:
to People prepared this fate.”11
In my belief this is the same kind of human behaviour that Bacon
attempted to represent through his crucifixions.
Bacon started painting relatively late, because he could not find a
suitable subject. Religious motifs acted as a trigger for his
artistic career, the crucifixion became an armature on which you can
hang all types of feelings and sensations,12
a subject that can be explored far from its original Christian
connotations. Amongst his first original works are the
executed in 1933, although Bacon himself did not consider anything
he painted before 1944 to have any artistic value. Few of those
earliest works have survived to this day. Disappointed by the
response of the critics, Bacon destroyed most of his works and
stopped painting for almost a decade. The early crucifixions
represent ghostly, almost abstract creatures, with their arms
raised. The three
of 1933 and a similar painting entitled simply »Composition« are a
reminiscence of the biomorphic figures from Picasso’s paintings of
the 1920s and 1930s, such as
standing by the sea,’
Picasso was probably the most important influence in the earliest
stage of Bacon’s artistic career. He decided that he wanted to
become an artist after visiting an exhibition of Picasso’s drawings
in 1927 at the Paul Rosenberg Gallery in Paris.
could also be related to a reproduction found in the artist’s studio
of the engraving based on
by Edouard Lievre, after Hans Holbein the Younger.13
It represents Christ lying exhausted on the ground with his arms
raised, surrounded by an angry crowd and soldiers who violently rip
of his clothes. Another soldier is preparing the cross, the scene
shows Christ’s inevitable fate.
Bacon never attended an art school and was essentially a self-taught
painter. He only received some basic technical advice from his
friends and mentors, the Australian artist Roy de Maistre and the
British painter Graham Sutherland, who also painted crucifixions
inspired by Grunewald. The influence of Grunewald’s religious
paintings, especially the Isenheim Altar, is also perceptible in
Bacon’s 1944 triptych, although it is less obvious as it is the case
with Sutherland. Grunewald’s naturalistic representation of the
effects of torture on the crucified body as an almost a forensic
account of suffering is certainly close to Bacon’s aesthetic and his
own way of representing the human figure.
In 1944, Bacon executed his first triptych
Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion’
it was exhibited at the Lefevre Gallery a year later along with
works by other artists. The triptych caused deep impact on the
British art scene. The art critic John Russell described Bacon’s
first mature work as:
so unrelievedly awful, that the mind shut snap at the sight of them.
Their anatomy was half-human, half-animal, and they were confined in
a low-ceilinged and oddly proportioned space. They could bite, probe
and suck, and they had very long eel-like necks, but their
functioning in other aspects was mysterious [...]. Common to all
three figures was a mindless voracity, an automatic unregulated
gluttony, a ravening undifferentiated capacity for hatred. Each was
cornered and only waiting for the chance to drag the observer down
to their level.”
in the title of the painting and the form of the triptych suggest
their religious connexions. The blindfolded figure in the central
panel was possibly inspired by Grunewald‘s painting
which shows Christ with a cloth tied around his eyes. The three
figures could also be interpreted as a representation of the
mourners at the base of the cross, but the scene it also associated
with Greek tragedy. The triptych was inspired by sensations that the
artist experienced after reading the Oresteia of Aeschylus. The
three figures represent the Furies chasing Orestes after his
mother’s assassination. The figures in Bacon’s first triptych
are extremely ambiguous; they simultaneously represent the passive
suffering of the victims and the fury of the revengers. Also the
motif of the scream does not have a definite explanation, in Bacon’s
works the screaming mouth has multiple connotations of pain and of
the orgasmic scream, of the primordial and animal side of man. In
works, the representation of screams was often linked to religious
motifs. It is present in his first two
and in many of the portraits of the popes.
In 1950, he executed the only crucifixion on a single canvas,
of a Crucifixion.’
The painting represents an owl like screaming figure, probably
inspired by the photographs of birds by Eric Hosking, being attacked
by a beast, which is a close reminiscence of the mastiff from the
photographs of dogs in motion by Eadweard Muybridge. The two
of the 1960s are far more complex in terms of composition and
metaphorical contents. The panels of the 1962
represent a tortured semi-human figure lying on a bed being observed
by other figures, probably caught in a perverse sexual act. The
inverted crucified figure, inspired by Cimabue’s
(c.1625), is an almost satanic image of extreme suffering. This
represented another turning point in Bacon‘s career; it was shown at
Tate Gallery, as a part of his first retrospective. After that
exhibition Bacon eventually gained recognition as one of the most
important artists in Britain. Bacon admitted to David Sylvester that
he was drunk while painting the 1962 triptych and it was sometimes
interpreted as a subconscious account of his expulsion from home.
shows a similar approach to religious subject; the sacrifice of
Christ is set once again in a slaughterhouse. The eviscerated
crucified carcass is placed in the central panel, surrounded by a
scene of sexual violence and a bent male figure with a swastika band
on his arm. Bacon refused to explain the symbolism of that element,
claiming it was a purely formal component of the image, but it
clearly refers to his experience of the II World War. It can also be
linked to images of the Nuremberg Nazi rallies that were found in
the studio. After 1965, Bacon abandoned the theme of crucifixions,
with the exception of the
version of Triptych 1944’
(1988), although he kept painting triptychs with agonizing figures
on beds, often observed by other figures that can be interpreted as
either observers or executors that inflict pain. A frequent motif is
a hypodermic syringe placed in the figure’s arm; this element can be
read as a symbolical form of nailing the figure to the bed, which is
probably a continuation of the theme of the crucifixions in his
later triptychs. The other religious subject present in Bacon’s
painting is the portraits of the popes. This series was initially
inspired by the portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velázquez. Although
he insisted that
the whole series had nothing to do with religion and was
meant/intended as a homage to the Spanish master. Yet, there is no
doubt that Bacon was interested in the gure of the Holy Father, not
just in that particular painting. He employed images of other popes
and cardinals, such as the portrait of Cardinal Filippo Archinto by
Titian and the script for Otto Preminger’s film
(1963) was found in his personal library.15
In is studio he also had images of more contemporary figures such as
John XXIII and especially Pius XII who can be identified on many of
the portraits, such as
Portrait of Pius XII’
for a Head’
I, II and III’
he represented the pope on a throne adorned with ostrich feathers
fans, clearly inspired by the photograph of David Seymour,
reproduced on Sam Hunter’s montage.
(1949) is Bacon’s first pope and at the same time his first mature
portrait. It is also one of his first screaming figures. During the
1950s and the first half of the 1960s the popes were subject of
formal experimentation and he completely abandoned that motif around
1965. They were often represented screaming and disconnected,
confined in slaughterhouses and glass cages, surrounded by animal
carcasses and owls. The pope is represented as a tyrant and a victim
at the same time. While Velázquez’s painting was the representation
of power, of the Holy Father, Bacon’s popes are powerless and scream
in despair. This topic can be interpreted as a depiction of the
artist’s struggle with his own sexuality and his masculinity or the
complicated relationship with his despotic father.16 Bacon always
avoided explaining the significance of his own paintings, as he
strongly opposed to any kind of narrative interpretations of his
work. He opted for more independent and immediate form that
transmits ideas and sensations, rather than scenes and stories.
Bacon distinguished between paint which conveys directly and paints
which conveys through illustration:
paint comes across directly onto nervous system and the other ones
tell you the story in a long diatribe through the brain.”17
In my view, the religious motifs in Bacon’s
painting can be analysed as the artist’s response to a trauma,
either personal or collective. Bacon took the decision to become an
artist in 1927 shortly after being expelled from the household as
his father could not accept his homosexuality. During the period
when the seemingly religious paintings were executed he experienced
a series of personal dramas. His father died in 1940, followed by
the death of Bacon’s beloved childhood nanny, Jessie Lightfoot, who
was more important to Bacon than most of his family, in 1951. In
1962, Bacon’s lover Peter Lacy committed suicide in Tangier, on the
day of the opening of Bacon’s retrospective at the Tate Gallery.
In addition, we cannot forget the historical events of the 1940s
contemporary to those paintings, as a possible key to understanding
the choice of imagery employed by Bacon in that period. As Bacon
suffered from chronic asthma, he was spared from regular military
service during the II World War, but he experienced the horrors of
war working as volunteer in the Civil Defence Air Raid Precautions.
His duties were to assist the wounded after bombings or remove the
dead bodies. In addition, he remembered the constant fear he
experienced living in Ireland, the threat of Sinn Fein’s attacks,
and had memories of the I World War.
Bacon collected images of Nazi officials and Hitler (he showed a
particular interest in the Nazi rallies in Nuremberg), photographs
from war events, wounded faces and mutilated bodies. His fascination
with the figure of the Pius XII could probably also be explained by
the pope’s connection to Hitler’s government and his refusal to
condemn Nazi politics. In his paintings the Pope is represented as a
jailed tyrant, and Christ as a slaughtered victim, but both are
tragic heroes put in an extreme situation.18
In addition, both seem to be understood by the painter as only
human, despite their unique position as intermediaries between man
Michel Leiris once said that Bacon was a realistic painter; he
painted his reflections of reality filtered through his own life
experience and the violent historical events he had witnessed. On
one occasion Bacon admitted that painting a crucifixion was
something very intimate, almost as painting a self-portrait.19
That might indicate that he identified himself either with the
crucified or slaughtered figures. The inverted crucified bodies and
screaming figures reflect the negation of values violated in the II
World War events on a scale never seen before. His paintings can be
read as a universal metaphor of the human condition and the
expression of human suffering, but most importantly for Bacon the
practise of painting was a form of personal redemption.
J. G. Ballard: Miracles of Life. London 2008, p.157.
Two of these photographs were published in Sam Hunter’s article:
Francis Bacon: The Anatomy of Horror. In: Magazine of Art, New
York, 95, 1952, n.1.
The studio formerly belonged to the pre-Raphaelite painter John
Enrique Lafuente Ferrari: Velázquez: Complete Edition. London
Hans Heinrich Naumann: Das Grunewald-Problem und das neuentdeckte
Selbstbildnis des 20 jahrigen Mathis Nithart aus dem Jahre 1475.
David Seymour (David Szymin) was a Polish photographer, cofounder of
Magnum photo with Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Margarita Cappock: Francis Bacon’s Studio. London/New York
Removed from the book by Paolo D’Ancona: Les Primitifs italiens du
XIe au XIIIe siècle, Paris 1935.
David Sylvester: Interviews with Francis Bacon. London 2009,
Sylvester 2009 (note 7), p. 23.
ZoÀ a Nalkowska: Medaliony. Warsaw 1946.
Sylvester 2009 (note 7), p. 44.
Removed from the book by Paul Mantz: Hans Holbein. Paris 1879.
John Russell: Francis Bacon. Oxford 1979, p.10.
See complete list of Francis Bacon’s books:
The Department of History of Art and Architecture,
Father Figures and Crucifixions 1944–46. In: Michael Peppiatt: Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma. London 1996.
Sylvester 2009 (note 7), p. 18.
Sylvester 2009 (note 7), p. 26.
Sylvester 2009 (note 7), p. 14.
Montage of material from Francis Bacon’s
studio at 7 Cromwell Place
Too risqué for Iran, Bacon’s
‘lost’ painting goes on show
JURY | THIS
BRITAIN | THE
INDEPENDENT | WEDNESDAY 04
For the past quarter of a century, a major painting by Francis Bacon
has languished in a storeroom in Iran, its eroticism deemed too
inflammatory for public display.
But now British art lovers are to get the chance to see the work
which has been kept from Iranians. Tomorrow the extraordinary
triptych Two figures lying on a bed goes on display after
years of negotiations by the Tate.
The work is owned by the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, an
institution originally founded by the wife of the last Shah of Iran
and the holder of an extraordinary collection of Western paintings.
But it was one of dozens of depictions of nudes consigned to storage
after the fundamentalists seized power in the 1979 revolution.
Like most younger Western academics, Stephen Deuchar, the director
of Tate Britain, knew the work only through reproduction. So when he
was on holiday in Iran in 2001, he naturally asked to take a look.
Even under the harsh fluorescent lighting of the underground store,
it was striking. He asked whether he could borrow it. And the
Iranian Ministry of Culture finally agreed.
Surveying the work on the walls of Tate Britain yesterday where it
is the highlight of a new temporary Bacon display, he said that it
was even more striking seen properly.
"When you saw it under the fluorescent lighting in the store, you
could tell it was a strong work, but it looks very vibrant here. The
lilac background is very surprising," he said.
Toby Treves, who has curated the display, said the work, which was
painted in 1968 not long before it was sold to the Shah’s wife,
clearly showed a homoerotic strand of Bacon’s work that was largely
"At the beginning of his fame after the war, there was a
concentration on the existential aspect of the work, but not much
discussion of the quite frank eroticism in many of the paintings,"
he said. "This triptych is probably the most overtly erotic of the
paintings in this room."
The work shows figures in two flanking panels who appear to spy on
two naked men lying on a bed in the central panel, with a splatter
of white paint flung across them. "It is deeply ambiguous and
deliberately so," Mr Treves said.
The Iranian loan is hung alongside another celebrated
triptych, his Three Studies for Figures at the Base of the
Crucifixion, dating from 1944, and a work apparently based on
photographs of the former cricketer David Gower. Bacon triptychs now
command as much as £6m at auction.
The generosity of the Iranian museum and its director, Dr
Ali Reza Sami Azar, was returned earlier this year when the Tate
lent a Bill Woodrow to an exhibition of British sculpture organised
by the British Council.
And extraordinarily, it now looks as if the Bacon may even
be seen in Tehran itself. Dr Sami Azar is hoping to include Two
figures lying on a bed in an exhibition provisionally entitled
Figurative Tendencies in Western Art when it is returned to Iran in
By RICHARD BROOKS | THE SUNDAY TIMES | SUNDAY JULY
The only club in which Francis Bacon felt happy was the
Colony Room, in Soho. Now a lifestyle e-shop has been set up to flog
products based on his paintings and quotations. What, his drunken
rants? The items include cashmere throws, silk scarfs, espresso
cups, T-shirts, belts and beach towels. Fancy lying on a screaming
Not too happy, however, is David Edwards, brother of the
late John Edwards, Bacon’s close companion and inheritor of his
estate. Edwards thinks this shopping venture, sanctioned by the
artist Brian Clarke, now the sole executor, is a tad tacky. Yet it
will be a useful earner for the estate, as there is a levy payable
on every Bacon item sold.
Records Set at Christie’s Contemporary Sale in London
By CAROL VOGEL | THE
NEW YORK TIMES | WEDNESDAY,
LONDON – At Christie’s post-war and contemporary art
auction here on Wednesday evening – an event aptly described by the
super dealer Larry Gagosian as “Masterpiece Theatre’’ – collectors from
around the world dropped millions of dollars on works by many of the
major names of the 20th century, and record prices were set for two of
them: Yves Klein and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Another hefty price was paid for Francis Bacon’s Study for
Self-Portrait,’ a 1964 full length painting of the artist perched on a
bed, which was expected to sell for between $23.4 million and $31.2
million. After it failed to sell at auction at Christie’s in New York in
2008 it was the subject of a law suit, in which the owner, a family
trust led by the Connecticut collector George A. Weiss, claimed that
Christie’s had reneged on a $40 million guarantee (a sum promised the
seller regardless of a sale’s outcome). That suit was settled in July of
last year, with Christie’s agreeing to pay the trust an undisclosed.
On Wednesday night William Acquavella, the Manhattan
dealer, bid for the work by phone in what became a protracted battle
against Christopher van der Weghe, another Manhattan dealer. Mr. van der
Weghe won, paying $33.6 million. “We knew we would have to fight for
it,’’ Mr. van der Weghe said after the sale, describing the client he
had bid for only as an international collector. “Quality is more
important these days than ever.’’
Bacon’s Self-Portrait Sells For $7 million At Sotheby’s
By SCOTT REYBURN | BLOOMBERG | TUESDAY, JUNE
The 1980 canvas Study for Self-Portrait was estimated at 5
million pounds to 7 million pounds at hammer price in Sotheby’s
(BID) 79-lot sale of contemporary artworks. One of six works in the
auction that was guaranteed to sell, thanks to a third- party
“irrevocable bid,” the painting attracted one bid from Cheyenne
Westphal, Sotheby’s European head of contemporary art.
The Bacon had been purchased by its seller for $1.8 million at
Sotheby’s sale of the collection of Stanley J. Seeger in New York in
An earlier single-panel portrait, dating from 1969, sold for $33.1
million at Sotheby’s, New York, at the height of the last art-market
boom in November 2007.
Study for Self-Portrait, a 1980 painting by Francis Bacon.
sold in a 79-lot auction of contemporary artworks at Sotheby’s in
London on June 26.
Art’s revenge on commerce
Hirst’s butterfly deckchairs would complement your
‘I believe in deeply ordered chaos’ beach towel
PETER ASPDEN | THE FINANCIAL TIMES | FRIDAY, JUNE 22, 2012
Here is something you may want to pull out when you
finally hit the seaside this summer: a green and red
beach towel featuring a slogan that is bound to
strike terror in those deckchair attendants
responsible for keeping you in the right row of
sand: “I believe in deeply ordered chaos”.
Wave that in their faces, and watch them cower. Or
not. Whatever their reaction, they are highly
unlikely to recognise the source of the quote: that
beach-adoring, heat-seeking, muscle-pumping hero of
all sun-lovers everywhere, Francis Bacon.
The towel is not the only surprise to feature at
Francis Bacon Online Shop. You can buy a birch wood
tray that features Bacon’s disturbing 1967 work
“Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne”, or a silk
scarf featuring a frankly terrifying self-portrait
of the artist. There is a poignant deal in the
special offers section: if you buy a T-shirt
featuring another of the artist’s quotes, “I painted
to be loved”, they will throw in for free a fine
bone china mug embellished with the words: “You are
born, you fuck, you die”, which will give an extra
frisson to your afternoon Lady Grey and Chocolate
The estate of Francis Bacon is not the only
organisation to be cashing in, in somewhat surreal
fashion, on the greatness of artists. Far from it.
At the Damien Hirst online shop, under GIFT IDEAS,
there are wallpapers, greeting cards, coin purses,
skateboard decks. A £1,000 cashmere blanket is
decorated with four images: a prayer book, a
communion cup, a pair of hands clasped together in
worship and, of course, a skull. The apparel of
redemption has never come cheap
Hirst’s butterfly deckchairs are rather beautiful,
and would make an intelligent complement – think
about it – to your “I believe in deeply ordered
chaos” beach towel. But this attempt to show off
some elementary understanding of chaos theory may
well be lost in the summer breeze. You would be
better off with the altogether racier Ed Ruscha
beach towel on offer at culturelabel.com, adorned
with the thesis title-like words: “The Study of
Friction and Wear on Mating Surfaces”.
I am not among those who routinely decry the
commodification of art, although it is tempting to
conclude that a tipping point has been reached. That
an artist such as Hirst, or Ruscha, or Jeff Koons
should be interested in the mass dissemination of
their own images is entirely in keeping with the
philosophies behind their work.
As Tate Modern’s excellent 2009 show Pop Life
showed, the slick practices of selling became as
important to the post-Warhol generation of artists
as the hard graft of creation. “Good business is the
best art” was one of Warhol’s shrewdest quotes, and
what could be better business in 2012 than online
selling to the leisured bohemian classes?
I’m not so sure about Bacon, though. His work was of
a different order, and if we are to regard him as a
masterly commentator on existential isolation and
mortality, we are surely traducing his work by
spreading it so thinly, on mugs, towels, silk
scarves. We may live in a cheerfully ironic age, but
there are limits. Bacon was trying to say something
important about the human condition in his work. He
struggled to say it, and we are captivated by the
romance of that struggle. But the minute that the
results appear on a kitchen tray, some of that
subtle alchemical reaction between artist and
spectator cannot help but be altered. We have lost
something. The descent into kitsch is a one-way
street and there is no turning back.
Turning high art into cheap products can be seen as
an act of revenge by art on society. For most of
history, great artists (with notable exceptions)
have struggled to make money. The neglected genius
is a cliché born of culture’s inability to reap its
own rewards. But now art has turned the tables. In
its inexorable spread into our kitchens and beach
bags, it makes serious money for practitioners who
have not necessarily risen above the ranks of the
mediocre. It used to be too difficult for an artist
to earn a living. Now, at a certain level of
celebrity, it is too easy. It may be that the
success of the art-related product tells us more
about shopping than about art, and it may be good
news. It seems we are desperate, even in our most
trivial transactions, to associate ourselves with
something profound. A tea towel featuring
millennia-old motifs from the British Museum makes
us feel there is a metaphysical resonance in our
dish-drying. An umbrella whose underside is
decorated with the vault of the Sistine Chapel makes
us look to the heavens, in all senses.
In truth there has never been more common ground
between the artist’s yearning for transcendence and
the consumer’s banal checklist of trinkets. That is
a relatively new development, and it has its pluses:
cultural institutions make vital money from it
(impulse-buying in the museum shop has become as
important as the consumption of interval
gin-and-tonics at West End theatres) and our lives
and homes acquire a hint of crafty colour.
But it does make it harder for the artist to claim
special status, as one who stands apart from the
world of easy money and cheap success to ponder
heftier themes. Who will now believe the words of
Bacon, when he said: “The job of the artist is
always to deepen the mystery”, especially when they
can be read on a blue-and-beige €620 cashmere throw?
The Tricky Provenance of a Bacon Portrait at Christie’s
By MICHAEL H. MILLER | THE NEW YORK TIMES |
THURSDAY, JUNE 21, 2012
In her Inside Art column this week, Carol Vogel discusses a 1964
painting by Francis Bacon that combines Bacon’s face with the body of
his friend and contemporary Lucian Freud. The painting will be for sale
at Christie’s in London next week and is described by the auction house
as “an exciting new discovery.” Its estimate is available on request,
but apparently Christie’s has told clients they are expecting it to sell
for £20 million, or about $31.3 million. But, Ms. Vogel writes:
What Christie’s has not disclosed in the provenance is that the
painting was up for sale at Christie’s in New York in November 2008,
when it did not draw a single bid. The work was also the subject of a lawsuit,
settled last July, filed in March 2009 in the United States District
Court in Manhattan by a family trust led by the Connecticut collector
George A. Weiss. The trust said that Christie’s had reneged on a $40
million guarantee, which is an undisclosed sum promised the seller
regardless of a sale’s outcome.
“Some experts with knowledge of the lawsuit,”
according to Ms. Vogel, said that Christie’s ended up giving the trust
something close to $40 million.
Portrait of Bacon-Freud Back Up for Auction
By CAROL VOGEL | THE
NEW YORK TIMES | THURSDAY,
LONDON — The e-mail blast was sent late last month. “An
exciting new discovery at Christie’s,” read a statement from Francis
Outred, the head of the postwar and contemporary art department in
Europe for Christie’s. Mr. Outred was describing a 1964 painting by
Francis Bacon, Study for Self-Portrait, which he said was the
only full-length self-portrait to combine Bacon’s face with the body of
his friend the painter Lucian Freud.
canvas’s entry in the catalogue for the Wednesday sale here goes on for
10 pages and includes 20 illustrations. It says the painting is the
“property of a private New York collector.” A symbol next to the lot
number indicates that Christie’s has a financial interest in Study for
Self-Portrait, but the details are unclear.
Christie’s has not disclosed in the provenance is that the painting was
up for sale at Christie’s in New York in November 2008, when it did not
draw a single bid. The work was also the subject of a lawsuit, settled
last July, filed in March 2009 in the United States District Court in
Manhattan by a family trust led by the Connecticut collector George A.
Weiss. The trust said that Christie’s had reneged on a $40 million
guarantee, which is an undisclosed sum promised the seller regardless of
a sale’s outcome.
guarantee had been offered in July 2008, before the markets plummeted.
But by September, after Christie’s had possession of the painting, it
said it would no longer honour the guarantee because of the uncertain
painting was put up for auction anyway, and when it didn’t sell, Mr.
Weiss’s family trust sued Christie’s for the $40 million it says it was
promised. In next week’s sale catalogue the estimate simply says, “on
request,” although Christie’s experts are telling clients they believe
it should sell for around £20 million, or about $31.3 million.
did not return phone calls seeking comment. Ivor Braka, a London dealer
who is Mr. Weiss’s agent, said he was “unable to comment” on the
settlement of the lawsuit.
statement Christie’s said it “is delighted to be offering this important
work for sale next week in London following an amicable agreement with
the client in 2011.”
portrait depicts Bacon perched on a bed, body twisted from head to toe.
It was only this year that Christie’s experts determined that the body
was based on a photograph of Freud.
is hoping to capitalize on the record prices paid for Bacon works in
recent seasons. A 1976 triptych went for $86.3 million in May 2008 at
Sotheby’s in New York, and a 1975 self-portrait brought $34.4 million at
Christie’s in London in June 2008. But both sales occurred before the
markets slumped, and some dealers believe that Christie’s is offering
the painting too soon after its last auction appearance.
nobody will reveal the details of Christie’s settlement with Mr. Weiss’s
family trust — citing confidentiality agreements — some experts with
knowledge of the lawsuit said they believe that Christie’s ended up
giving the trust a figure close to the $40 million it was after. If that
is true, then Christie’s, not Mr. Weiss, owns the painting, regardless
of the catalogue’s designation.
Again, Christie’s declined to comment.
Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction
Sale 5488 27 June 2012 London,
’How can you cut your flesh open and join it with
the other person?’
(F. Bacon interview with G. Miller (dir.), Francis Bacon: Grand
Palais, BBC TV, 1971, quoted in M. Harrison, In Camera Francis
Bacon: Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting, London, 2005,
’I sensed that for once Francis was deeply content, possibly as
satisfied with his work as he had ever been, yet overwhelmed too, and
possibly frightened’ (D. Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis
Bacon, New York, 1993, p. 158)
’His work impressed me, his personality affected me. He talked a great
deal about the paint itself, carrying the form and imbuing the paint
with this sort of life. He talked about packing a lot of things into one
single brushstroke, which amused and excited me the idea of paint having
that power’ (L. Freud quoted in W. Feaver, ’Beyond Feeling’, Lucian
Freud, exh. cat., Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 1993, p. 13).’I
do work very much more by chance now than I did when I was young. For
instance, I throw an awful lot of paint onto things, and I don’t know
what is going to happen to it.
throw it with my hand. I just squeeze it into my hand and throw it on. I
can’t by my will push it further. I can only hope that the throwing of
paint onto the already-made or half-made image will either re-form the
image or that I will be able to manipulate this further into, anyway,
for me, a greater intensity’ (F. Bacon interview with D. Sylvester, The
Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London, 1993, p.
’Francis always said that Lucian was the most entertaining and
stimulating person he knew. And whatever ambivalence, he made no
pretense that he very much minded the gap in his life when in later
years Lucian stopped ringing up’ (D. Sylvester, ’All the Pulsations of a
Person’, The Independent, October 24 1993).