Francis Bacon News 












Contemporary Art Evening Auction



New York | 09 May 2012, 07:00 PM | N0 8853



LOT 42





signed, titled and dated1978 on the reverse



ESTIMATE 4,000,000-6,000,000 USD

Lot Sold: 4,282,500 USD



Marlborough Fine Art, New York
Nohra Haime Gallery, New York
Private Collection, Belgium

Sotheby’s, London, February 27, 2008, Lot 12
Acquired by the present owner from the above




New York, Gagosian Gallery, Isabel and Other Intimate Strangers: Portraits by Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon,
November - December 2008, p. 195 and p. 261, illustrated in colour



Milan Kundera, Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits, London, 1996, p. 138, illustrated in colour



Superbly combining both a dazzling display of painterly bravura and a multi-layered psychological intensity, Study for a Portrait exemplifies the salient features of Francis Bacon’s tremendous output. The presence of Bacon’s ubiquitous title prefix "Study" is laden with understatement and couldn’t be more ironic: this painting is in fact an intensely charged minor masterpiece. It is a classic example from Bacon’s seminal suite of small portrait heads in that it shows an intense, contained head flickering with the faintest movement, and is highly unusual in design as a slightly cast down profile. Below two sweeps of tightly brushed hair sits a face of striking calm and resolve, which almost certainly belonged to a singularly important figure in Bacon’s existence.

Although the subject of this painting has not been explicitly identified, it is important to appreciate it from the perspective of two well known characteristics of Bacon’s contemporaneous oeuvre. First is that in the period after the suicide of Bacon’s lover George Dyer in 1971, the artist focused on self-portraiture and depicting a close coterie of friends with particular intensity. Second is Bacon’s extraordinary capacity to invest his portraits with personal import, as noted by Sylvester: "Bacon had something of Picasso’s genius for transforming his autobiography into images with a mythic allure and weight." (David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London, 2000, p. 186). Looking to Bacon’s friends for the subject of this work, it becomes starkly clear that this physiognomy bears a striking resemblance to that of John Edwards (1949-2003), the darkly handsome East-Ender whom Bacon had met through Muriel Belcher at the Colony Room drinking establishment in Soho in 1976. In the present work, the hair’s parting and short sideburn, the long jaw-line stemming from the ear, the cleft chin, and the shadows of the eye and at the corner of the mouth are all closely concomitant with those of Edwards. Furthermore, the white stripe of shirt visible next to the neck and even the rectangular blue backdrop are exactly akin to those features in photos Bacon took of Edwards. The first acknowledged depiction of Edwards was not to come until 1980, and that Study for a Portrait predates this by two years is extremely significant and would mark this as the inauguration of Bacon’s sustained suite of works painted as tribute to his friend.

Until Bacon’s death in 1992 the two shared a platonic relationship in which the artist took a more paternal role. As Edwards wrote in 1998, "it was a perfect relationship. I was never Francis’ lover, but I loved him as the best friend a man could have. He was fond of me like a son." (John Edwards in: Exh. Cat., New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Francis Bacon, 1998, p. 7). Edwards provided, particularly in the earliest stages of their relationship, consolation from the intense self-accusatory demons that had beset Bacon since Dyer’s death. In this light this work is the very intimate portrayal of the emotional constancy of Edwards that was so critical to Bacon’s existence, and the calmness, assurance and dignity that were apparently so resonant in Edwards’ personality are powerfully evoked here. The beautiful composition is arranged around a schema of framing devices, immediately indicative of a window, which is intersected by the rhythmic arcs of the head and shoulders. Overlapping matrices of paint hatching, presumably imprinted via Bacon’s habitual use of corduroy, describe the modulations of texture across the subject’s face, while the smartly arranged short hair is presented as dragged streaks of dry pigment. The head’s carefully organised containment within the frame prepares the viewer from the outset that this portrayal is pensive, focused and enduring. Bacon’s extraordinary aptitude to shift through different modes of execution, from exactitude to expressivity, from the diagrammatic to the painterly, is here on full exhibition at its instinctive best.

The treatment of this visage reveals a confident familiarity that must have stemmed from a particularly warm estimation of the sitter by the artist. The gentle hollow of the cheek is palpably tender and the general softness of the reflective features describes a deeply considerate and thoughtful countenance. Indeed, with the inclination of the head and relaxed eyelids it becomes easy to recognize the deeply sensitive affection invested in this painting. Over one hundred and fifty photos of Edwards were found during the deconstruction of Bacon’s Reece Mews studio in 1998, a far greater number than anyone else. According to Margarita Cappock, "The existence of so many images of Edwards makes it plain that the artist derived some reassurance from their presence. Yet their plenitude may have had the unanticipated effect of freeing his grip from particular examples, leading to something closer to that memory-based process described in his interviews." (Margarita Cappock, Francis Bacon’s Studio, London, 2005, p. 55). Similar to the way in which the shadow behind Bacon’s own profile in his Self-Portrait of the same year (1978) denotes the idiosyncratic and immediately identifiable outline of George Dyer; the silhouette behind the subject in Study for a Portrait does not correlate with that of the main subject but is reminiscent rather of the artist himself. This is particularly evident in the shadow of a protruding wisp of hair, which is immediately reminiscent of Bacon’s coiffure at that time, and the straighter bridge of the nose that was distinctive to the painter. In addition therefore to this being a portrait of Bacon’s trusted companion, it is thus possible also to see it as an extraordinary double portrait featuring the spectre of the artist, and thereby a very early affirmation of the deep emotional affiliation between Bacon and Edwards.

John Russell claims that the single head portrait became "the scene of some of Bacon’s most ferocious investigations. Just as a gunshot sometimes leaves an after-echo or parallel report, so these small concentrated heads carry their ghosts within them." (John Russell, Francis Bacon, London, 1993, p. 99). At the end of a decade replete with monolithic canvases that broadcast Bacon’s deafening self-exorcism and existential fallout after his lover’s suicide, the artist created this beaming ray of reborn optimism that, almost certainly, lovingly renders the features of his new, trusted compatriot. That it may also intimate the echoing shadow of the artist as well makes it one of the most outstanding and intriguing small portrait heads in this most important canon, and further contributes to Bacon’s reputation as the pre-eminent painter of the psychology of human emotion in the Twentieth Century.










The Visual Sonority of Francis Bacon’s Painting in

Jerzy Skolimowski’s “The Shout” (1978)  






The structure of The Shout (1978) by Jerzy Skolimowski is built on the antagonism between two male protagonists, Anthony Fielding (Ian Hurt) and Crossley (Alan Bates). The first is a composer who records and experiments with natural sounds; the latter is a mysterious invader who claims to possess supernatural powers and is able to kill with his shout. The classically trained musician embodies human culture and order, while the other character denotes rough animalistic forces and natural elements. This contrast between the two characters is accentuated by other elements in the film that represent the norm and the irregularity, such as the cricket match played between the “sane” and the “insane” teams, or the “normal” and “abnormal” tree that grow nearby the mental asylum.

The motif of the shout is connected to the painting of Francis Bacon. The inarticulate scream of the Pope is, in fact, the third voice in the film. Reproductions of Bacon’s works hang in the composer’s studio, probably as a source of inspiration. They also represent a “feeling of absurdity” as the director pointed out once, and are a complement of the surreal sense of the film. The three paintings are also present in the film in form of a series of tableaux vivants. His grotesque figures, half-human and half-animal, represent the artistic ideal to which Fielding aspires but which he is never able to achieve.

The surrealistic story with references to electroacustic music and Francis Bacon occupies an important position in Skolimowski’s filmography. He has been gradually abandoning realism in his films since the second half of the 1960’s; The Shout is a final radical break from the realistic representation and rational plots. Skolimowski’s work in many ways escapes classification. The director himself has been considered an outsider by Polish critics and, as Ewa Mazierska has pointed out(1), the foreign media have often failed to.

The film commences with the arrival of Rachel (Susannah York) at a mental asylum, where she examines corpses deposited on the tables in the dining room. The action moves back to a cricket match played at the mental asylum between the patients and medical staff. One of the doctors introduces Robert Graves, interpreted by Tim Curry, to a very unusual patient: extremely intelligent and well-read, but “not entirely normal.” To explain his abnormality, the doctor shows him two trees, one strong and healthy looking, and another one with twisted branches and irregular shape. Graves and Crossley are the score-keepers and remain in the shed during the game; the patient points at one of the cricket players and starts relating how this man has lost his wife.

The action moves back again, this time to the North Devon coast. A married couple is sunbathing on the dunes while they are awaken by a vision of an Aboriginal shaman pointing a bone at them. This appearance will be soon explained as they experience an unexpected visit by a stranger, Crossley, who claims that he lived with the Aborigines in Australia for 18 years. He had an Aboriginal wife and children, but none of them survived as he exercised his right to kill them shortly after birth. This fact strikes the Fieldings as they have been unsuccessfully trying to conceive a child. Crossley also claims that a shaman taught him to kill with his shout and he proves his abilities the next day on the dunes. The composer collapses, even though he covered his ears for protection, but a shepherd and some sheep die. The appearance of the stranger at Fielding’s home causes distress and destroys their lives. Fielding is unable to compete with the intruder on an artistic or biological level, and his wife is unable to resist him. The intrusion of the stranger forces the couple to abandon their rational ways of acting and thinking. Rachel succumbs to his charisma and adopts a passive role in her new relationship. Her submission is represented in the scene of her transformation into a crippled creature from Bacon’s painting Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (1961), shown in form of a tableau vivant based on the Bacon’s painting.


          ... a crippled creature from Bacon’s painting Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (1961)



Fielding keeps these pictures in his studio as a form of inspiration for his own compositions. The three images also represent the three main characters of the film. The crippled figure is the composer, unable to produce a piece or a child; he is as unfertile as an artist as he is as a husband. The reclining nude figure on a bed is the wife, unable to control her attraction towards the visitor. Crossley is identified with the screaming figure of the pope from Head VI that might be identified as a patriarchal symbol, the Holy Father.

Crossley represents the atavistic element, as opposed to the civilized composer. The scream is one of the primordial reactions of the human being to fear or pain, the most primitive expression of emotions, and also a way to intimidate adversaries that we inherited from our animal ancestors. It is as such independent from the social or ethnic background. Crossley’s shout is a cultural throwback to a primitive form of being, a natural power uncontrolled by human logic. His voice in the film is being magnified using the Dolby stereo system, to make it sound supernatural and terrifying. Fielding also attempts to record his own shout in his studio, but the results are not comparable to Crossley’s sinister skills.

The third voice in the film is the painting of Francis Bacon. The depiction of scream in his painting contains a resonant element, a sensation of sound. Skolimowski represents in The Shout the visual motifs from Bacons paintings through a series of tableaux inspired by his images as well as the sonorous aspects of his work.

The works of Francis Bacon, who was very interested in film himself, have been extensively used and quoted in cinema. At least since the 1960s multiple references to his painting appeared in the films of directors such as Pier Paolo Pasolini (Accattone, 1961, Theorem, 1968), Bernardo Bertolucci (Last Tango in Paris, 1971), Nicholas Roeg (Performance, 1971) and Derek Jarman (Caravaggio, 1987, Edward II, 1991), who were inspired by his representation of the human body and the connections between violence and sexuality. Bacon’s images have been a visual and narrative model for David Lynch surreal films and Peter Greenaway’s cinema of ideas. An interesting example of use of his painting is Love is the Devil (1998), John Maybury’s biopic based on Bacon’s life, where no actual paintings were shown, though his aesthetic is overly present in almost every frame. Bacon’s imagery was also frequently employed in horror and science-fiction films, like Ridley Scott’s Alien (1978), The Thing (1982) by John Carpenter and several works by David Cronenberg, where the key characteristic of his painting that inspired the film-makers is its violence.

Skolimowski’s treatment of Bacon’s works stands out in this wide panorama of films and film-makers influenced by the works of the British painter. The Shout shows a unique approach to Bacon’s work, exploring both visual and sonorous aspects of his painting, Skolimowski achieved a double ékphrasis, and a transcription of the visual content of Bacon’s painting into two different time-based media, film and sound.

In the film there are several direct references to Bacon’s painting; apart from the reproductions of the three images pinned on the wall, it is also present in the form of several tableaux vivants. The sequence of the transformation of Fielding’s wife into a primitive self is a tableau from Bacon’s Paralytic Child. The images of Ian Bates screaming are similar to the images of Bacon’s screaming figures. The upper part of Crossley’s face is often shadowed, so the eyes are invisible and the mouth is the center of camera’s attention, in a similar way that the face of the screaming pope is represented in Bacon’s Head VI.

In the sequence shot on the dunes of Braunton Burrows where Crossley demonstrates his shouting skills to Fielding, Alan Bates is shown with his arms extended in form of a cross and with his mouth open, in a position that recalls the form of the crucifixion from Bacon’s paintings. Far from its original iconographic connotations, the crucifixion for Bacon is just another example of human behaviour. It is sometimes connected to the motif of the scream, as in the Fragment of a Crucifixion (1950), as an ultimate representation of an act of violence.

In The Logic of Sensation Gilles Deleuze distinguishes between two different kinds of violence represented in Bacon’s painting: one of spectacle, which refers to the explicit images of blood and brutality, and one of sensation, which relates to the spectator’s experience in front of the canvas. The pope’s scream in Head VI represents, according to Deleuze, “invisible forces,” the abstract idea of violence rather than visual horror. The motif of the scream in Bacon’s painting is associated with violence, and it has sexual connotations, such as the orgasmic scream. Crossley’s shout has a similar denotation in the film: his skills horrify the husband, but they impress his wife and help him to seduce her.

Michael Peppiatt has made the first attempts to represent the scream in Bacon’s first paintings, such as the Abstraction from the Human Form (1936), but the motif became more visible in his art in the 1940s and 1950s, particularly in the series of heads and screaming popes inspired by the Velázquez’s portrait of Innocent X. Bacon abandoned this topic in the following decades. He painted both human and animal screams, for example A Study of a Baboon (1953); he also represented the human figure with animal features. The profusion of those atavistic figures in his works is connected with is interest in the animal and primal side of human being. Bacon collected books on Darwin’s theory of evolution and the origins of man, as well as studies on zoology and images of hominids. Many of these illustrations torn from the books were found on the floor in his studio, and in many cases they were used as source material for his paintings. He attempted to paint the human figure as a primal self, disconnected from its cultural and civilized upbringing.

Deleuze mentions the resemblance between the painting of Bacon and the work of some contemporary composers such Alban Berg and Olivier Messiaen, whose works transmit sensations in a non-narrative way, and he also pointed on the similarity between Bacon’s representation of the primal scream and its use in Berg’s operas Wozzeck and Lulu.

Although Bacon himself apparently didn’t use musical compositions as a direct source of inspiration for his work, and the only reference to music or musician in his painting are the portraits of Mick Jagger, it is known that he was interested in contemporary music. He was a friend of Pierre Boulez, the composer of electroacustic music who is famous for his creative method of “controlled chance.”(3) He also kept a close friendship with Gerhard Schurmann, the author of Six Studies after Francis Bacon (1968). Schurmann was probably the first composer who studied the works of the British painter as a potential source of inspiration. In the following decades, Bacon’s art inspired numerous composers of contemporary music, and the fictitious character from The Shout could be easily one of them. Authors such as Massimiliano Damerini (Omaggio a Francis Bacon, 1999), Mario Garuti (For Francis Bacon, 2002) or Mark-Anthony Turnage (Three Screaming Popes, 1989 and Blood on the Floor, 1996) were inspired by different facets of Bacon’s art. Their works represent both the violent feeling of his paintings and some of their iconographic elements, including their serial character; the form of the triptych; Bacon’s own artistic references to Spanish art; and even allusions to Deleuze’s Logic of Sensation (Garuti). Many of these pieces focus on the sonorous aspect of Bacon’s art: the motif of the scream and its resonance in a glass cage, or the sound of a blood drop falling on the floor. They represent the visual content of the painting as a musical ékphrasis, in a similar way to the way in which Skolimowski transcribed this facet of Bacon’s work into the medium of film



1. Ewa Mazierska, Jerzy Skolimowski: The Cinema of a Nonconformist (London, Berghahn Books, 2010)

2. Robert Graves, The Shout (London: Mathews & Marrot, 1929)

3. The lithograph of The Second Version of the Triptych 1944 (1988) is subtitled En Hommage a Pierre Boulez




                                                                                                Jerzy Skolimowski (dir.), The Shout, 1978 






Bacon painting could fetch €30m




A painting by Dublin-born artist Francis Bacon that has been held in a

private collection for more than 30 years could fetch as much as €30m

when it goes on sale next month.





The painting, Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror, will go on show in London on April 13 before going on view in New York where it will be sold as part of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Sale.

The half-naked figure depicted in the work, which is described by the gallery as one of Bacon’s “most powerful and sophisticated paintings”, is believed to represent Bacon’s lover George Dyer and the artist himself. It first went on show in Paris in 1977 where it was bought by its owners.

“It is a very, very serious painting that we’ve chased for years,” said Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art.

Bacon, who died in 1992, is one of the most sought-after modern artists.

The auction house believes Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror is as important as two works by Bacon which set auction records for post-war art in 2007 and 2008. First Study from Innocent X briefly held the record when it sold for $52.6m. Triptych 1976 now holds the record after Roman Abramovich bought it for $86.3m, an astonishing sum that had jaws dropping — not least because it was a time when many were predicting an end to crazy auction prices.

Meyer recalled seeing the Bacon up close. “It was quite something,” he said. “But great Bacons do that you, hit you over the head a little bit and the body of work that was shown in 1977 does that with great vigour and energy.”






Francis Bacon art could fetch €30m





A PAINTING depicting Irish-born artist Francis Bacon and his male lover is expected to fetch more than €30m when it goes under the hammer in New York next month.

The painting ’Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror’ has been described by art critics as one of the painter’s "most powerful" work.

It is guiding for between $30m (€23m) and $40m (€31m) when it goes for auction at Sotheby’s on May 9. It will go on display at the auction house’s London showroom on April 13.

The painting shows the near naked figure of a man seated at a desk writing with discarded papers scattered on the floor underneath. A mirror reflects a second figure.

The image of the writer is believed to be a combination of the painter and his lover, the tormented writer George Dyer who died of a drink and drugs overdose in 1971.

The painting was last exhibited in Paris in 1977 where it was shown alongside ’Triptych 1976’, a Bacon masterpiece which fetched a record-breaking $86.3m (€66m) at auction in New York in 2008 after it was snapped up by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.









£14m Bacon sale crowns record auction week











An American art dealer helped send art records tumbling yet again when he paid £14 million for a Francis Bacon painting at Christie’s.

New Yorker Andrew Fabricant bought Bacon’s 1956 Study For Portrait II, inspired by Diego Velázquez’s 1650 portrait of Pope Innocent X, for a mystery American buyer.

It is the latest record-breaking sale in an astonishing week for the British art world at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses.

Last night’s Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art sale raised £70.4million pounds, against a high estimate of £56million – breaking the record for the contemporary art sale in Europe which Sotheby’s had set only 24 hours earlier with its £45.8 million haul.

Eleven world records were established at Christie’s King Street HQ and sixteen works sold for over a million, including Roy Lichtenstein and three pictures by Andy Warhol.

Bacon’s papal portrait, understood to be sold by Sophia Loren from the collection of her late film producer husband Carlo Ponti, made a world record for a Bacon painting and exceeded the £12 million estimate.

Mr Fabricant, director of the Richard Gray Gallery, admitted after the auction that he was selling the work to a North American client, but declined to elaborate further. The Richard Gray Gallery is one of the leading dealers in modern and contemporary US and European art and has galleries in both New York and Chicago.

But last night’s sale just fell short of the record established for a post-war work of art at auction in New York last autumn – £14.3 million for Willem De Kooning’s Untitled XXV.

Other works under the hammer included an Warhol’s 1978 Brigitte Bardot which was sold for £5.4million to a French collector – £3.4million more than its high estimate.

The artist’s sinister 1963 photo Three Women, depicting a trio of prostitutes covering their faces with pillows, fetched £4.4 million against a predicted high estimate of £3.5million, while 1981’s Dollar Sign made £1.98million.

Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Black, Red, Black on Brown) (1968) realised £3.38 million, a world record for a work on paper by the artist.

Lucian Freud also achieved his highest sale for a work on paper when his 1945 drawing Boy In Red And Blue Jacket sold for £468,000 – beating a high estimate of £350,000.

Late New York 1980s street artist Keith Haring, Italian abstract painter Alberto Burri and German pop artist Sigmar Polke also achieved record prices for their work.

The London sale proved for the first time more lucrative than Christie’s modern art sale in New York. Christie’s Amy Cappellazzo, representing American collectors at last night’s sale, said: “I found myself outbid by my London colleagues.”

Pilar Ordovas, head of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s, said: “It is particularly encouraging to see the majority of works this evening bought by European-based clients, highlighting the intrinsic role of London within the international art market.”








Francis Bacon’s Studio: Dublin City Gallery - Review

Controversial Bacon drawings displayed in London


Harriet Rowlinson, Staff Writer


The University Newspaper, Trinity College’s Student Newspaper, Monday, April 2nd, 2012


The first thing I notice is the dust that covers nearly all the contents of the studio, like a thin film marking those objects that have long been forgotten. Would Francis Bacon only use a paintbrush once before it was swallowed by the chaos? Later on I discover that this is no ordinary dust, it was actually collected and transported with the rest of the studio so that the artist’s work place could be fully recreated to the nearest particle.

The reconstruction of his studio at the Dublin City Gallery Hugh Lane is beyond comprehension.  In terms of mere numbers the small unique space holds 570 books and catalogues, 1,500 photographs, 100 slashed canvases, 1,300 leaves torn from books, 2,000 artist’s materials and 70 drawings. Over 7000 of these items were carefully shipped from his studio in Reece Mews in London to Dublin where the artist himself was born. The project took three years to complete with a team of archaeologists, conservers and curators working to make sure everything was mapped out on the grid system, labeled and put onto the database. The end result is a huge privilege, to see what was only ever known to a close circle of Bacon’s friends.

In 1926 Bacon left Ireland when he was only 16 years old following a heated row with his father, who had found his son dressed in his mother’s underwear. After travelling to many cities including Berlin and Paris, Bacon finally chose London as his adopted home. It was in Mayfair where he gambled, Soho where he drank, the East End where he met the gangsters and South Kensington where he decided to paint. The studio that dissolved into disorder now stands before me, but what beauty this disorder inspired! Despite the Monets and Constables hanging in next-door rooms, visitors from around the world flock to Dublin City Gallery for this studio alone

When you first walk in you are met with a giant screen on which an interview from 1985 with Bacon is being played on a loop. You are also surrounded by quotes from the artist talking about the infamous Reece Mews studio: “For some reason the moment I saw this place I knew that I could work here. I am influenced by places, by the atmosphere of a room.”

You are then led to the back of the room where the studio lies. A long window at the entrance of the studio immediately brings you closer to the artist, as though Bacon himself has invited you in. Despite the chaos, certain objects jump out at you such as photographs of the late Lucien Freud with whom he conducted a tumultuous friendship, his trousers, shoes, a book on Velasquez and at least ten empty boxes of Krug champagne alluding to Bacon’s hard partying days.

The room is littered with the props used in his paintings. There’s a chair featured in the Triptych of Lucien Freud 1969, the circular mirror which resides on the back wall of the studio, and the hanging light bulbs and switches both of which feature in an untitled and unfinished painting c.1980-82 of a back view of kneeling figures, one of which was George Dyer – Bacon’s lover which is hung at this very gallery.                           

One of the reasons why I enjoy Bacon’s paintings is his use of colour, especially the use of fleshy pink tones that have become synonymous with his work. The walls and door of his studio were effectively how he decided on his palette and as he smilingly said in one interview they were “his only abstract works.” The surfaces are covered in a range of tones and textures. You can almost see his thought process right before your eyes. Materials like corduroy and towelling used for creating texture and depth to his paintings are strewn across the floor or under piles of boxes. In the video that still plays overhead I hear him bragging that he “never went to art school, thank god.”

 Bacon’s relief is clear. He wanted to learn new techniques and not copy those who had come before him. He knew only too well that what to us looks like a pile of rubbish was to him useful and inspirational “This mess here around me is rather like my mind; it may be a good image of what goes on inside me, that’s what it’s like, my life is like that.” It’s hard to think that the 1976 Triptych that was allegedly sold to Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich in New York  for $86.3million in 2008 could have been created from this mess, let alone how canvases of that size fitted in there.

Although we may not have Abramovich’s budget, the Dublin City Gallery has allowed us our very own piece of Francis Bacon, who, before he died in 1992, was the most expensive living British artist. I feel his studio gives a real insight into the world and mind of this complex genius, whose torment can be seen on the paintings that now reach such astronomical prices. Part of Bacon has come home, and we should feel lucky that somehow it chose us.







Estimate up to £25m on painting representing lover George Dyer

and the artist which has been in private collection since 1977







A powerful and important Francis Bacon  painting showing a contemplative figure writing, which has remained in the same private collection since it was bought in 1977, is to be sold at auction in May.

"It is a very, very serious painting that we’ve chased for years," Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art, told the Guardian ahead of the sale announcement.

The auction house believes Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror is as important as two works by Bacon which set auction records for post-war art in 2007 and 2008. First Study from Innocent X briefly held the record when it sold for $52.6m but was later pipped by a Mark Rothko. Triptych 1976 now holds the record after Roman Abramovich bought it for $86.3m, an astonishing sum that had jaws dropping – not least because it was a time when many were predicting an end to crazy auction prices.

Both the triptych and the new-to-market Bacon were part of a small and now famous 1977 show of his work at the Galerie Claude Bernard in Paris.

Meyer recalled seeing the Bacon up close. "It was quite something," he said. "But great Bacons do that you, hit you over the head a little bit and the body of work that was shown in 1977 does that with great vigour and energy.

"Apart from being important paintings and very convincing, they are also incredibly beautiful because it is probably Bacon at the height of his skills as a painter."

Another painting in the show included Three Figures and Portrait, now owned by Tate and on display in Liverpool.

Figure Writing Reflected in a Mirror shows a male figure in white underwear who bears a distinct resemblance to the artist’s lover George Dyer, who, with breathtaking timing, killed himself on the eve of Bacon’s important retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris, in October 1971. The black sweep of hair resembles Bacon, so it can be interpreted as representing both artist and lover.

Dublin-born Bacon was hugely inspired by literature, whether the Oresteia or TS Eliot, and the figure writing, with crumpled paper on the floor, would seem to be a direct manifestation of the artist’s obsession with the written word. No other Bacon canvas has someone writing.

The painting remains something of a mystery, as it is difficult to fathom exactly what was going on in Bacon’s mind. Unlike other works there are no classical references. "There are no birds swooping down to eat the liver of Prometheus," said Meyer.

Sotheby’s has estimated the painting at $30m-$40m (up to £25m) and Meyer said it might be easier to sell because it is a single panel and not as violent as the Triptych.

Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror was clearly considered a star at the 1977 exhibition because it was used as the catalogue cover and the anonymous collector who bought it had been given first choice of the works by Claude Bernard.

Bacon who died in 1992, aged 82, was one of the greatest and most influential 20th century artists. The critic Robert Hughes, writing in The Guardian in 2008, described him as "England’s most celebrated recently dead painter. He is probably the best-known one, and possibly the most popular, since JMW Turner." His distorted paintings of tormented figures were not to everyone’s tastes. Margaret Thatcher once called him "that awful artist who paints those horrible pictures."

The painting will be sold by Sotheby’s in New York on 9 May but British audiences can see it at the auction house in New Bond Street, London, for a spell from 13 April.





Francis Bacon: Painting after Photography








It mattered a great deal to Francis Bacon that making his paintings felt open, fluid, and intuitive: ‘I don’t want the work to be hazy, but I work in a kind of haze of sensations and feelings and ideas that come to me and that I try to crystallise.’1 The process was inaccessible to external scrutiny in the sense that it involved the accumulation and interplay of all manner of imaginative impulses and pictorial decisions in the privacy of the studio. We do not generally have the benefit of preparatory studies to show how Bacon’s thinking for works evolved, or contemporary documentation explaining his ambitions for particular pictures. But we are not obliged to succumb to mystifi cation. It is possible to describe the general sequence of well-rehearsed operations that Bacon employed, within which pictures might be improvised into being.2 One can in addition identify broad categories of stimulus that consistently fed into the production of his paintings, alongside more fleeting thoughts and emotional states. These might include reading poetry and other kinds of text, as a limbering up for painting, or responding to work by other artists. Here I want to focus on the contemplation of photographs as a persistent and crucial activity in the production of his pictures. Bacon’s habit of working from photography locates him within a major trajectory in modern art, extending from Edgar Degas and Walter Sickert to the likes of Richard Hamilton, Andy Warhol, and Gerhard Richter. But the manner in which Bacon edited and transmuted such sources is highly distinctive. For that reason perhaps he has been omitted from recent explorations of the specific theme of painting based on photographs, as in the 2007 Hayward Gallery show The Painting of Modern Life, which opened with ‘a major turn in the history of painting’ in the 1960s and carried the story through to the present.3 It is as though critics simply cannot see Bacon’s pictorial interest and originality through the expressionistic, ‘human condition’ discourse that characteristically frames his work..


Within the Bacon literature, the topic features routinely. His fascination with particular sorts of photography was registered by early supporters such as Robert Melville, Sam Hunter, David Sylvester and Lawrence Alloway.4 Hunter famously illustrated two spreads of photographs that he had encountered in the artist’s studio in 1950, and judged relevant to the paintings he saw in their vicinity.5 In 1954, Sylvester went so far as to state that ‘no serious painter has owed so much to the photograph as Bacon’; while other artists had merely borrowed imagery, ‘he has tried to find a painterly equivalent for its actual physical attributes and its manner of presenting the image’.6 In the famous volume of interviews, the same critic illustrated several photographs in Bacon’s possession, while the artist is quoted talking memorably about how he found photographs more interesting than paintings. He had ‘always been haunted’ by them, he remarked, evoking the reverie that he found they could stimulate: ‘I think it’s the slight remove from fact, which returns me onto the fact more violently. Through the photographic image I find myself beginning to wander into the image and unlock what I think of as its reality more than I can by looking at it. And photographs are not only points of reference; ‘they’re often triggers of ideas’.7 Bacon’s appropriations were sustained by a general sense of the psychological and cultural impact of lens-based imagery, since ‘when one looks at something, one’s not only looking at it directly but one’s also looking at it through the assault that has already been made by photography and film’.8 Yet images borrowed from photography could only provide a starting point for the more profound sensations and emotions that painting could produce: ‘the difference from direct recording through the camera is that as an artist you have to, in a sense, set a trap by which you hope to trap this living fact alive’, a process connected to his sense that ‘the texture of a photograph seems to go through an illustrational process onto the nervous system, whereas the texture of a painting seems to come immediately onto the nervous system’.9


Since the artist’s death in 1992, research in this area has been stimulated by the retrieval and cataloguing of the sedimented contents of his studio, including numerous photographs, though what survives may be quite random given the stories about Bacon destroying material and the absence from the archive of material we know he exploited at some point. The many sheets and publications that emerged have been widely exhibited, culminating in the recent Francis Bacon: A Terrible Beauty. 10 Moreover, several critics have focused on the artist’s photographic adaptations, accumulating derivations for elements in the pictures.11 Further detective work will no doubt continue to establish precise points of origin, and the provenance of sheets in the archive torn from books or magazines.12 In broad terms we probably have a good grasp of the range of photographic material that Bacon collected and exploited. We know, for instance, that he harvested images from magazines such as Picture Post, Le Crapouillet, Paris Match, sporting and body-building magazines, and later the Sunday colour supplements, pioneered in Britain by The Sunday Times in 1962. His immersion in press imagery went back to the late 1930s, and was foreshadowed, and perhaps prompted, by the later work of Sickert.13 Bacon’s engagement with such material after the War paralleled that of early pop artists such as Paolozzi and Rauschenberg, as well as cultural analysts such as Marshall McLuhan and Roland Barthes. More idiosyncratically, Bacon derived sustenance from quite esoteric illustrated books, often in large format and presumably expensive, though this did not inhibit him from vandalizing them to make it easier to use images for artistic purposes. He seems, for example, to have made regular reference to Marius Maxwell’s Stalking Big Game with a Camera (1924), K. C. Clark’s medical textbook Positioning in Radiography (1939), Eadweard Muybridge’s studies of human motion first published in the late nineteenth century, Baron von Schrenck Notzing’s weird Phenomena of Materialisation (1920), and, as recently demonstrated, volumes of Nazi propaganda imagery.14 It was likewise from printed sources, rather than from the original works, that Bacon often borrowed ideas from artistic tradition, as in the numerous books he acquired with reproductions of Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, the springboard for his own variations produced over a twenty-year period. Bacon worked extensively from reproductions of his own paintings, a very visible feature of his working environment after the move to Reece Mews in 1961.15 During his later decades, he also referred to photographic portraits of the likes of George Dyer, Isabel Rawsthorne and Lucian Freud, made and printed to his specifications by his photographer friend John Deakin. Overall, it can probably now be assumed that there is hardly a painting by Bacon that did not, in some sense, take its cue from one or more photographic images, even if the derivations cannot as yet be pinned down in all cases.


Furthermore, we can presume that Bacon actually looked at physical photographs while painting (rather than just looking at them in advance, or working from images committed to memory). The evidence includes the testimony of sitters who recalled Bacon contemplating unrelated photographs while ostensibly painting their portraits; the creases, tears and spatterings on images within or torn from books or magazines, as already evident in the images Hunter recorded, testifying to their presence near the easel; and also Bacon’s frequent cropping and folding of photographs. Recent research has revealed that the precise extrication of details from images can already be documented in the early 1940s, when he cut out an element of a Nazi photograph and used it in designing a picture; and also that the strange origami he performed on photographs was done in some cases at least to make it easier for Bacon to hold or stand the image up in front of him while working.16 One reason perhaps why he disliked others watching him paint was a sense that such procedures could easily at that time have been misunderstood and used against him.


Aside from their frequent obscurity, the obstacle to ready recognition of Bacon’s photographic adaptations is the degree to which source material was edited within the creative process and through the filter of a painterly style. In the work of other photography-dependent painters, before or since, there is no such transformation, although the appropriated image may well be counterpointed (as in Richter) by visible paint manipulation. Bacon’s paintings could also involve unlikely fusions, such as the torso taken from Velázquez’s Pope Innocent X and the head from Battleship Potemkin; or the merging, when concocting visceral and erotically charged images of the human body, of suggestions from Muybridge and reproductions of Michelangelo drawings.17 Equally, a figure might be adapted from one source and elements in the setting from elsewhere. In the early Figure in a Landscape (1945), the fragmentary figure that Bacon claimed was based on a snapshot of Eric Hall sitting in Hyde Park is set against a landscape backdrop extracted from the photograph of a water buffalo in Maxwell’s Stalking Big Game.18 In such cases, we cannot be sure whether Bacon began with a preconceived intention to bring together those two elements, or whether he started with the one, be it figure or setting, and then decided to combine it with the other on scrutinizing what he had already committed to canvas.


 It is necessary to go beyond the identification of specifi c sources, and the description of their pictorial editing and combining, in order to confront the fundamental question of why Bacon homed in on found images in the first place. He clearly looked widely at the photography that was now so ubiquitous in the modern visual environment, but was discerning and selective about the particular examples that he chose to collect and to extricate from their original setting. So what was it about certain photographs that induced him to ‘wander’ into them imaginatively, to ‘unlock’ their reality so that they became ‘triggers of ideas’? We can only guess of course at what Bacon saw, thought and felt when he looked, obsessively in some cases, at particular photographs. An instance where his reaction is recorded suggests that his interpretations could be highly personal. Bacon was especially attached to a well-known historical image, captured from a high viewpoint, of people running for safety in all directions on Nevsky Prospekt, Petrograd, during the unfolding of some violent episode during the Russian Revolution.19 When he showed it to John Rothenstein, Bacon remarked ‘“Not one of these hundreds of figures looks remotely like a conventional fi gure; each one, caught in violent motion, is stranger and at first sight less intelligible than one could possibly have imagined it. Could anything”, he asked, indicating an off-balance L-shaped form in the foreground, “be more utterly unlike the conventional concept of a man running”’.20 According to John Russell, who had clearly talked about the same picture, ‘Bacon prizes it for the strange kinship between this panic-stricken populace and the strange distortions of cave painting.’21


It may be helpful in thinking about Bacon to bring to bear the reflections on photography encountered in the writings of Barthes. Barthes belonged roughly to the same generation as Bacon, and likewise manifested an obsessive fascination with photography throughout his working life. In brief summary, the early journalistic essays collected in Mythologies (1957) teased out the ideological messages encoded in kinds of imagery that pervaded the mass media. Subsequent, more theoretical writings address the different levels on which photographs register, as in ‘The photographic message’ (1961).22 ‘The third meaning’ (1970) demonstrates that Barthes, like Bacon, was very interested in the particular category of film stills, notably those deriving from the films of Eisenstein. For Barthes, such images fl oat free from the ready legibility of film narrative and possess what he termed an ‘obtuse’ meaning distinct from, indeed contradictory to, their obvious descriptive and symbolic meanings.23 Barthes’s pursuit of the quirky and supplementary dimension of photographic images culminates in Camera Lucida (1977), his booklength meditation on the distinctive nature of the medium. He acknowledged that his approach to photographs was now informed by a ‘vague, casual, even cynical phenomenology’, which sought ‘to retain an affective intentionality, a view of the object which was immediately steeped in desire, repulsion, nostalgia, euphoria’.24 His viewing of actual images was unashamedly subjective: ‘As spectator I was interested in Photography only for “sentimental” reasons; I wanted to explore it not as a question (a theme) but as a wound: I see, feel, hence I notice, I observe and I think.’25 Barthes reflected on why he was wholly indifferent to most of the images he encountered and profoundly affected by just a few, even within the work of major practitioners: ‘In this glum desert, suddenly a specific photograph reaches me; it animates me, and I animate it. So that is how I must name the attraction which makes it exist for me: an animation. The photograph itself is not animated (I do not believe in “lifelike” photographs), but it animates me: this is what creates every adventure.’26 It was in characterizing this process that Barthes developed his distinction between the studium and the punctum, or the stock, culturally informed reading to which all photographs are susceptible, which is in tune with what its maker intended and provokes no more than interest, as opposed to the surprising detail that subverts the coherence of the image and sparks off a more individual reaction and an ‘expansion’ of meaning, against the grain of whatever the photographer had in mind. The punctum is ‘that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me)’.27 It induces an ‘absolute subjectivity’ and a state of ‘pensiveness’.28 This seems strikingly akin to Bacon. One might say that the painter too was subject to experiences of animation, where a photographic image or punctum-like detail seemed to spark off ideas, sensations, and connections with poetic ideas or notions for pictures, irrespective of any intended purposes. The ‘adventure’ in his case might go beyond the private contemplation described by Barthes, and take the form of a decision to appropriate, transmute and fuse elements from found imagery, bringing his sources to life by making them his own.


The juxtaposition with Barthes might imply that Bacon’s focus on specific photographs was random rather than the result of any thematic logic. This may substantially have been the case, but it is nevertheless worth asking what if anything the different kinds of photography that he relished or worked from had in common, whether visually or thematically. Part of the appeal of photographs, including for Bacon and Barthes, is that they are indexical; they necessarily register some aspect of the world as it is, or was at the instant of capture, whereas painting always entails interpretation and abstraction. However, some of Bacon’s favourite strands of photography are also notable for looking emphatically staged and artificial. The spreads in Positioning in Radiography combine sharply focused, stylized images of models interacting with X-ray equipment, to demonstrate how different parts of the body are recorded, with examples of the resulting photographs, incorporating diagrammatic lines, arrows and symbols for didactic purposes. In Muybridge’s sequential depictions of actions and movements, the human or animal subjects are often captured against a backdrop of numbered grid patterns, ostensibly for reasons of scientific measurement. Still more overtly contrived are the images in Phenomena of Materialisation (1920), which purport to show the manifestation of ectoplasms, either in a raw state or legible as faces or bodies. Such occurrences are played out by a cast of mediums in trance-like states, often partially hidden by curtains. Compelling photographs of Nazi leaders and their political rituals record events that were patently staged for the benefit of actual audiences but also to generate images for wider circulation as propaganda. In directing Deakin about how to characterize his friends, Bacon had first hand experience of the calculating decision-making process behind the production of any photograph, however casual the result might appear. Within such imagery, then, overt artifice and theatricality reinforces the remove from reality inherent in the tonal nature of black and white photography; in the freezing of a process of movement that we normally register as continuous (a characteristic for instance of the sports photography that Bacon enjoyed), and that generates unfamiliar ‘distortions’ of pose and anatomy; and in the flimsy flatness of images that purport to describe a solid spatial world. Bacon’s outlook is epitomized by his seemingly eccentric perspective on colour photography, which became increasingly prevalent in post-war popular culture and seemed to most consumers to offer a more vivid effect of realism. According to Russell:

Over the last twenty years he has been fascinated, also, by colour photography: or, more precisely, by reproductions of colour-photography ... he finds in the heightened and falsified colour of photography a stimulus more potent than that which other peoples’ paintings can normally offer. By taking a magnifying glass to some colour-plate book, he can bring into focus the ‘wonderfully arbitrary’ procedures by which form is conveyed in such conditions: somehow or other, in these bizarre tumbles, falsehood and truth change places.29


Indeed, Russell remarked, ‘Bacon values the photograph as a source of significant falsehood.’30 The found image serves ‘as a way of breaking back into reality: or, equally, of taking reality by surprise’. This apparent paradox, the falsehood that reveals reality, underpinned Bacon’s response to particular photographs and also the effect that he aimed for in his own paintings. The idea of artifice crops up regularly in the commentary on his work that he provided to Sylvester.31 Elsewhere Bacon explained the old-fashioned presentation of his pictures:


The frame is artifi cial and that’s precisely why it’s there; to reinforce the artificial nature of the painting. The more the artificiality of the painting is apparent, the better, and the more chance the painting has of working or of showing something. That might seem paradoxical, but it makes perfect sense in art: one achieves one’s goal by using the maximum of artificial means, and one succeeds much more in doing something authentic when the artificiality is perfectly obvious.32


One might, then, discern an accord between his own subjective experience of those photographs that induced him to ‘wander’ into them and to ‘unlock’ their reality, and the sensations that his own paintings would, ideally, present to viewers confronting his pictures (of whom he of course was always the first), that of being led into a deeper apprehension beyond the screens and veils of familiar sense impressions, or as Bacon might say of being returned ‘onto the fact more violently’.

Bacon was excited in fact by the limitations of photography outlined by Peter Rose Pulham in a 1952 radio talk, published in The Listener, which Bacon thought ‘the finest thing ever written about photography’.33 The two men were close friends during the War years and after. As a once successful, now partially lapsed photographer, Rose Pulham argued that the photographic registration of reality was limited, compared to the perceptual fluidity and complexity of the human eye, as well as necessarily partial: ‘Nothing is less true than the notion that the camera cannot lie: on the contrary, it is incapable of telling the truth, it cannot even reproduce human vision, and as our idea of human vision is in itself a convention, a photograph is twice removed from any possible reality; it can only present one of the myriad facets of a possible truth.’34 The most vivid images were, for Rose Pulham, those in which the artifice of the medium was apparent: ‘Both the curiously precise detailed flatness of early photographs, and the vagueness of press photographs reproduced through a coarse screen on bad paper, seem to me more convincing, more realistic, than those which show every pore of your skin.’ Ironically, Rose Pulham seems here to be taking a pot shot at the brutal close-up portraits produced in 1951/52 by John Deakin, for which Bacon was one among many sitters.35 As Bacon also realized, the representation of colour, like that of space and light, revealed to Rose Pulham the inherent unreality of images generated by the camera:


... even a coloured photograph is not much more realistic than one in monochrome, nor could it be, however much the chemical side were perfected. If you look in the ground glass screen of a camera you will see that the colours appear harder, more metallic, than they do to the eye ... Van Gogh seems to have painted a sky and sun as convincingly as anyone has done so far, but the reality is achieved by an exaggeration or even a partial reversal of the colours the mind is accustomed to accept.36


The much-vaunted objectivity of the camera is qualifi ed in another respect, recalling Bacon’s wilfully subjective responses: ‘the photograph looked at is an image distorted by emotion, for no two people can look at a photograph with quite the same sensations.’37 From the photographer’s perspective, there can be no definitive realism, only the choice of one set of conventions and picture-making possibilities rather than the available alternatives. One might speculate that Rose Pulham’s stance towards photography had some impact upon Bacon, just as the example and convictions of the latter encouraged Rose Pulham during the War to transfer his allegiance. Although ‘the photographer has as much scope as the painter for the expression of his feelings, in the end photography seemed to me a cumbersome means of expression and I returned to painting ... I really believe now that a painting can be more realistic than a photograph.’38 For Bacon, the more intense impact of painting was perfectly compatible with exploiting the suggestive imagery and visual effects of photography. His appropriations in practice reflected his fascination with the artificial resources of a medium often misunderstood as straightforwardly truthful. Bacon’s approach to colour in the work of his later decades might be considered in this context, though the topic would be difficult to research. One story is revealing. After the Marlborough Gallery started to have his pictures photographed in colour, he was shown a colour transparency of a new work which had, by mistake, ended up too blue; however, he greatly liked the unintended effect and, partly in response, arranged for the picture to be returned to him so that he could rework it.39


I want to focus on an earlier phase of his work, in relation to Isabel Rawsthorne’s report to Rose Pulham in 1949 that their mutual friend Bacon was currently ‘obsessed with the photographic delineation of form – wishes, as far as I can see, to seize such a quality in painting’.40 This aspect of Bacon’s work famously took on a wider signifi cance for Lawrence Alloway, who in 1962 declared: ‘Pop art begins in London about 1949 with work by Francis Bacon’: ‘He used, in screaming heads that he painted at this time, a still from an old movie, The Battleship Potemkin. This image, of the nurse wounded in the eye in the Odessa-steps sequence, though mixed with other elements, of course, was central to the meaning of the work ... The difference between Bacon’s use of quotations from the mass media and other, earlier uses is this: Recognition of the photographic origin of a part of his image is central to his intention.’41 Alloway adduces the obvious example. But 1949 also saw Bacon’s fi rst known appropriations from Muybridge in Study for the Human Body, indicating his move towards a more naturalistic, and in a sense photographic, figure style.42 For Bacon, emulating ‘the photographic delineation of form’ may have represented a strategy for sidestepping the received languages of recent and contemporary art, and staking out an independent territory – an understandable motivation for an artist about to launch himself with a one-man show at the Hanover Gallery in November 1949. He certainly had plenty of opportunity to observe the methods of photographers, given his friendships with Rose Pulham, Deakin and others. Beyond increased naturalism, one might discern a photographic allusion in Bacon’s new, albeit short-lived approach to colour, whereby he limited his palette to monochromatic shades of grey, interrupted only by the browns of bare canvas, an effect which recalls the silvery tonal structure of black and white photographic prints.43 His concurrent introduction of the space frame in Head VI and Study for a Portrait (both from 1949) could be viewed as a pictorial and perspectival elaboration of the standard photographic process of cropping, using a masking device and an enlarger. The affinity is perhaps implicit in Bacon’s comment that the device was not expressive or descriptive in origin: ‘I use the frame to see the image ... I cut down the scale of the canvas by drawing in these rectangles which concentrate the image down.’44 The most direct parallel may be with the marking up of a print with a grease pencil that photographers would customarily do as the preliminary, or sketch, for an actual cropping.


This was not the only context in which photographic imagery might be found in combination with graphic mark-making. Bacon was doubtless aware of Rose Pulham’s importation of loosely surrealist devices and stylistic experimentation into his pre-war fashion photography. In one instance, the overt montaging of an elegantly dressed figure, extracted from a photograph, and an insubstantial architectural setting drawn in white paint against a dark backdrop, a trick of the darkroom, strikingly prefigures the visual idiom in a cluster of Bacons from the early 1950s, notably the large 1951 Popes (plate 1 and plate 2).45 Here the painter likewise started with a ground of diluted black or dark blue paint sunk into the weave of the canvas, and proceeded to work from dark to light in superimposing an architectural perspective and, then, the more tangible forms of the figure and other foreground fixtures.


The interplay between figure and ground was a key issue for Bacon at this time. Several of the works in his 1949 show included a curtain delimiting a shallow and frontal pictorial space, with fi gures moving through small gaps either towards us or, more commonly, backwards into fictive depth. The motif can be connected to the actual floor to ceiling drape that evidently featured at one end of Bacon’s studio, as recorded in Sam Hunter’s 1950 studio photographs, having perhaps started life as a wartime blackout.46 There is an intriguing parallel in the contemporary work of Bacon’s friend Lucian Freud, which would merit further research in relation to the interplay between the two painters.47 Curtain backdrops are also a stock feature of many strands of photographic imagery, to the extent that Bacon’s allusion seems over-determined. They are ubiquitous in the tradition of painted portraiture, as extended by contemporary society photographers such as Cecil Beaton. Comparisons have been made with the mysterious images of mediums emerging from the shadowed gaps between heavy, theatrical drapes in the photographs illustrating Schrenck-Notzing’s Phenomena of Materialisation. The Nazi propaganda images that Bacon exploited extensively in the post-war decade often featured settings rendered glamorous, photogenic and spuriously dignified by the inclusion of swathes of fabric, as a backdrop to oratorical performances by the party leadership.48 Indeed, Bacon’s fi rst curtain appears in Man with Microphones (1946), which plainly refers back to such imagery. The motif also featured routinely in magazine images of theatrically posed male body builders, mainly imported from America, which evidently functioned as a form of gay pornography during a period when homosexuality remained illegal. The effect seems especially close to the setting Bacon devised for an unfi nished and abandoned picture from around 1949 that emerged after his death.49


In Study after Velasquez (1950), the parallel black and grey striations that served previously to describe curtain folds have floated free from their representational moorings, generating a semi-transparent shuttering (plate 3). Bacon’s experimentation was remarked upon by Rawsthorne in a letter to Rose Pulham:

The background is the same grey curtain with a suggestion of the folds in front of the head – ‘dissolving’ is Francis’ own expression, for this kind of double vision. I gather he wants to make it even more accentuated …. This is a much more austere painting than any I have seen of his. The modelling, and it really is the only word to use in this case, is quite remarkable. The whole thing has a beautiful texture.50


The effect is commonly compared to Titian’s portrait of Cardinal Filippo Archinto semi-concealed by a transparent curtain, a picture in Philadelphia that Bacon is unlikely to have known, even in reproduction.51 Photography once again offers more compelling precedents. Despite the gulf of imagery, one possible point of reference for Study after Velasquez is the extraordinary body of photographs, emanating from Nazi Germany, that celebrated the ‘cathedral of light’ made up of parallel searchlight beams directed into the night sky, as devised by Albert Speer for the Berlin Olympics and the culminating ceremony at the Nuremberg rallies (plate 4).52 Figures seen through veils or partially opaque materials are a recurrent element in fashion imagery from the 1930s, as in the image by Georges Saad reproduced in Photography Year Book or, again, in the work of Rose Pulham (plate 5).53 Equally, Bacon would doubtless have encountered the photograph by Erich Salomon, reproduced in Picture Post magazine in 1947, where the great and the good are captured, unaware and unposed, through a diaphanous curtain (plate 6).54 The artist’s own interest in Salomon may well be reflected in the lengthy excursus on ‘the camera as polemicist’ in John Russell’s 1971 monograph, which drew on conversations and a long-term acquaintance between the two men.55 For Russell, the importance of Salomon was the way that his work in Germany in the late 1920s ‘had broken the cipher of public life by penetrating into forbidden places at forbidden times’, capturing, for example, ‘moments late at night when the delegates to an international conference collapsed on the sofa like stranded landfi sh, jaws agape, waistcoats awry, liqueur glasses filled just once too often’.56 Of Bacon’s work up to the mid-1950s, the critic remarked that ‘human nature is caught off balance ... in ways that relate quite closely to Dr Salomon’s intrusions’.57 This particular juxtaposition with Study after Velasquez reinforces Sylvester’s probing account in 1954 of what the artist, by now a close friend, was deriving from the visual language of photography:

Bacon is fascinated by the peculiar tonal unity of photographs, their ‘alloverness’ of texture ... he is attracted by the velvety consistency of images on newsprint, as well as by the way in which the forms in such images are blurred as if dissolving away. Bacon’s interest in these quasi-atmospheric effects of the conjunction of the camera lens and the behaviour of printer’s ink on the porous surface of cheap newsprint is the outcome of his desire to make the vibrations of the paint itself his means of communication.58


In the context of more experimental photography, Bacon’s fusion of fi gure and shuttering can, for example, be associated with early works by Nigel Henderson, in which fi gures merge into semi-transparent screens comprising, for instance, glass windows complicated by refl ections or by distorting textures, the rows of nylon stockings or mannequin heads on market stalls, or the access to shop interiors.59 The precise dating of these images is uncertain, and it is conceivable that awareness of Bacon’s new work fed into the work of the photographer, both here and in Henderson’s stressed bather photographs with their distortions of the naked male form produced by stretching the print while enlarging. An example of the latter remained amongst Bacon’s studio detritus, though we do not know when and whether it was either given or purchased.60 Henderson appropriated his imagery in this work from a Victorian lantern slide, which seems akin to Bacon, while the sense of artistic intervention was reinforced by pleating prints and rephotographing them, a process that again brings to mind Bacon’s physical manipulations of photographs. Henderson’s work more obviously reflected the inspiration of László Moholy-Nagy’s street photography from the late 1930s, and the innovative photography assembled in his book Vision in Motion (1947), where motifs are shown as radically disrupted by the patterns of light and shadow created by physical or optical fi lters.61 It is possible that such images were a catalyst for Bacon too. We know that the volume was in his possession, since the Dublin archive also contains a photograph extracted from it showing a complex effect of sunlight passing through shuttered windows.62 Vision in Motion is more commonly encountered as one of a cluster of books with photographic illustrations that became touchstones in the late 1940s for the likes of Henderson and his close friend, the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi. Ozenfant’s Foundations of Modern Art (1931) was another such catalyst that Bacon also owned and foraged from.63 Such volumes were not obvious points of reference for the artist, and it is possible that his interest was stimulated by his association with these younger figures, who may in turn have responded to Bacon’s one-man show in late 1949, and to the originality of his pictorial acknowledgement of photographic sources, as later transmitted by their supporter Alloway. Such interplay with the emerging Independent Group is indicative of an awareness of self-consciously artistic photography that underpinned Bacon’s espousal of ‘the photographic delineation of form’.


Advanced photography in an international context provides further points of contact with Bacon. One affinity is the theme of the enclosed small-scale interior, often dark, which served on either side of 1950 as a metaphor for the retreat to inward spaces in the work of many photographers (e.g. Irving Penn, Bill Brandt, Harry Callahan, Josef Sudek and the occasional production at this stage of Rose Pulham).64 Moreover, several photographers at this time were drawn to effects of variable or selective focus, the manipulation of the contrast between sharp and blurred components of a scene, and the cultivation of accidental- and spontaneous looking effects evoking the snapshot, located at the opposite stylistic pole from the formality and consistent precision of predecessors such as Walker Evans or Henri Cartier-Bresson. Graininess and blur are especially associated with the innovative post-war street photography of Otto Steinert, who labelled a new ‘subjective photography’ tendency in a German context in 1951, and that of his American contemporaries such as Louis Faurer, Robert Frank and William Klein. Comparably extreme and disquieting effects occur in much of Bacon’s work at that time, as in the varied resolution in Study for Crouching Nude of 1952, where the vulnerability of the figure is enhanced by its ethereal description, in contrast to the hard-edged definition of its surroundings.


There are particular parallels of sensibility between Bacon and Frank, presumably coincidental though the two men could have encountered one another when Frank worked in Britain for several months around 1950. A copy of the first French edition (1958) of Frank’s legendary book The Americans was unearthed in Bacon’s studio archive.65 Whether or not he was aware of Bacon’s work, Frank was certainly attentive to artistic developments, and was clearly affected in New York, his principal base, by the aesthetic and improvisational ethos of gestural abstract expressionists such as Willem De Kooning and Franz Kline. If we return to Bacon’s Study after Velasquez (1950), the sensation of the solid fi gure seen through, and dematerialized by, an all[1]over vertical shuttering generates a spatial ambiguity that would be heightened for the viewer by reflections in the glazing that Bacon used in presenting his pictures. In Frank’s London (1951), a variety of reflective surfaces are observed through a surface that itself bears the traces of a reflected curtain.66 The subjects could hardly be more divergent, but the two works manifest a strikingly comparable aesthetic language. Likewise, Bacon’s Man with Dog of 1953 brings to mind Frank’s well-known New York City from the following year, a raw and spontaneous-looking image shot probably without any reference to the camera’s viewfinder (plate 7).67 The connections between the two works extend from the uncluttered pavement settings and the cut-off black silhouettes of the two walking men to the abjection and pathos of the central feature, dog and legless man respectively, and of course to the emphatic blurring, unmitigated by passages of sharper focus, that evokes both the sensation of fleeting movement and the subjectivity in a more emotional sense of the implied perceiving agent. For Frank, it has been said, ‘blur and other half-controlled accidents could be recoded ... as signs of fractured experience, of the anxious immersion of the photographer/viewer in the chaos of the world’.68 The existential isolation of the dog in this and related pictures by Bacon finds its closest corollary in the image captured in London by Frank of a forlorn and unprepossessing bulldog, excluded from the massed humanity lined up behind it who seem oblivious to its presence.69 Overall, such affi nities with the likes of Rose Pulham, Henderson and Frank suggest that Bacon probably had a closer alignment with current avant-garde photography than did any other innovative painter of his day, and that this is a key component of his originality.


The works from the early 1950s are interesting, finally, in relation to the complex interplay between thematic preoccupations and the animating impact of photography. Schematically, did Bacon’s reactions to the imagery and visual vocabulary of photographs come before and stimulate ideas of pictorial content, or did meanings projected for paintings shape his appropriations from photography? Existing commentary tends to take its cue from the artist’s remark about photographs serving as suggestive triggers for ideas, implying that Bacon, in his creative ‘haze’, was the virtually passive medium through which sensations, feelings and impressions from photographs, films, books, private experiences and so forth mysteriously passed, through the intermediary of accidental, subconscious processes. The outcome was powerful, evocative pictures, rooted in and addressing the faculty of instinct rather than rational intellect. Bacon typically insisted: ‘I’m just trying to make images as accurately off my nervous system as I can. I don’t even know what half of them mean. I’m not saying anything.’70 The alternative to this ‘automatist’ model is to consider whether, either generally or in the case of the other half of his work, Bacon might have approached the canvas armed with conscious ideas, intentions and a repertoire of particular image types in mind, even if these were subject to minor or substantial revision within the creation of works. Bacon’s lists of pictures he envisaged making, and the series format in which he so frequently worked in the 1950s, imply the role of preconception in his creativity.71 In the case of one series, we have an inkling of the association he himself made between an image and the underlying meanings it embodied. In November 1954, while working on the Man in Blue pictures, he told Sylvester in a letter that he was ‘excited about the new series I am doing – it is about dreams and life in hotel bedrooms’.72 Can we assume, then, that Bacon often had some such notion of what a picture he was working on, or was about to embark upon, was ‘about’? If so, decisions about appropriating photographic imagery might need to be viewed as secondary to an idea of pictorial content, rather than as the spur to images. Conceivably, he sometimes decided to explore an idea, and then realized it by retrieving particular photographic images from his studio stock, and adapting what he needed to the pictorial purpose at hand. The scenario is compatible with Russell’s remark about the photographs Bacon had long been accumulating:

Bacon has at one time or another hoarded thousands of such photographs; and just as James Joyce was said to be able to put his hand on just the book or newspaper or magazine in which he could fi nd the everyday phrase that he wanted to metamorphose, so Bacon knows every one of his strange family of images by name.’73


An interesting case study is provided by Bacon’s several variations on the image of a crouching naked male seen from a three-quarter side and back view, with his nearest arm extended towards the ground and his head inclined downwards so that it is barely visible. Earlier explorations may have been destroyed, but the confi guration fi rst appears in the Detroit Study for Crouching Nude (1952) and Untitled (Crouching Figures), currently on loan to the Courtauld Galleries, which has also been dated to the early 1950s (plate 8). It is repeated in several subsequent works.74 Matthew Gale has described the motif as ‘a potent synthesis of Bacon’s disparate vocabulary of images’, drawing on such varied artistic sources as Michelangelo, Cézanne and Masaccio, while also echoing poses encountered in Muybridge’s images of rowing and, behind the fi gure in the Detroit picture, the numbers accompanying grid backdrops in the famous sequential photographs of movement.75 Another possible catalyst was the big Degas show at the Tate Gallery in the autumn of 1952; one can easily imagine Bacon reacting with excitement to the frank presentation of the body and the striated technique in works such as the Edinburgh Woman Drying Herself, a pastel from the mid[1]1890s.76 Whatever the role of such stimuli, the actual source for the fi gure turns out to have been photographic and much less artistic. Bacon’s nude was derived from an illustrated feature about a lioness attacking a photographer in the wild, which had appeared in Picture Post magazine back in 1947, in the same issue in fact as the feature on Erich Salomon (plate 9).77 The artist was clearly mesmerized by the largest of the images, where the seated lioness assumes a decidedly anthropomorphic appearance and seems to take on an incongruously gentle and protective attitude towards the recumbent figure. In the paintings under consideration, the viewpoint edited out the individuality implicit in facial features and projected an animalistic condition of humanity, an association reinforced by the squatting or crouching posture that recalls the body language of apes, complementing the cage-like setting in Study for Crouching Nude or the landscape backgrounds elsewhere. We can now see how the image of an animal with human attributes has been metamorphosed, through pictorial editing, into a figure with animal undertones. Aside from the detailed articulation of the body, the relationship with the photograph is implicit in the pool of shadow to the right of the figure in Study for Crouching Nude, while in Untitled (Crouching Figures) and related pictures it is acknowledged by the inclusion of the second, lying figure with bent legs, the victim in the original photograph. In Bacon’s hands, the imagery takes on unmistakable homoerotic overtones, with a suggestion perhaps of the instinctive violence of the kill transmuted into some sadomasochistic fantasy. The appropriation suggests that he might have conceived the notion, in or around 1952, of creating a pictorial distillation of some state of sexual desire, and at the same time responding to existing presentations of the nude. Such thinking prompted him to dig out the photograph from Picture Post that had been in the studio for five years to provide the springboard for his figure. Of course, this account is much too crude. But some such process seems to be captured in the artist’s frank comments, towards the end of his career, about the ‘incredibly useful source of inspiration’ that photographs had always provided: ‘Images also help me fi nd and realise ideas. I look at hundreds of very different, contrasting images and I pinch details from them, rather like people who eat from other people’s plates. When I paint, I want to paint an image from my imagination, and this image is subsequently transformed.’78







                    ‘Mauled by a Lion in Africa’, Picture Post, 9 August 1947.                                                           Untitled (Crouching Figures), c.1952 Francis Bacon






The princess and the painter


Craig Brown’s entertaining One on One surveys some of history’s oddest encounters.

Ahead of his Oxford appearance, Brown recounts one of the oddest





Brought along by his fellow painter Lucian Freud to a ball thrown by Lady Rothermere, Francis Bacon clings to the champagne bar. He is not one for mingling, and would certainly never dance. At the furthest corner of the ballroom, Princess Margaret, emboldened by champagne and egged on by her fellow party-goers, decides to put on a bit of a performance.

Traditionally, members of the royal family are granted a special licence as entertainers. Their efforts at sparkling, however dim, are greeted with enthusiasm; their repartee, however pedestrian, sets tables aroar; their musical forays, however painful, are hailed as delightful. This conspiracy of sycophancy has, over the years, led one or two of them to gain an inflated notion of their own talents.

From an early age, Princess Margaret has been encouraged to believe that she is blessed with a heaven-sent knack for playing the piano, singing and mimicry. “She has an impeccable ear, her piano playing is simple but has perfect rhythm and her method of singing is really very funny,” swoons Noël Coward in 1948.

Occasionally, a guest might come a cropper, misdirecting the gush. The biographer Michael Holroyd was once placed on the right of Princess Margaret at dinner. The princess began a series of terrible impersonations, adopting a heavy Irish brogue for the author Edna O’Brien, who was also present. Holroyd laughed dutifully at the first two, which he vaguely ­recognised, then continued to laugh at a third — a high-pitched, nasal squeak — which he did not. “If I may say so, ma’am, that’s your funniest yet!” he remarked. The moment he did so, it occurred to him that the princess had, in fact, reverted to her own voice.

“What happened next?” the princess’s biographer asks him some years later. “I seem to remember,” Holroyd recalls, “that she spent rather a lot of time talking to the person on her left.”

As a house-guest, Princess Margaret is allowed exceptional leeway. Hosts bend over backwards to satisfy her every whim. One hostess has the guest bedroom rewired so that the princess can employ her Carmen rollers. Another swims out to her in a pool, fully clothed, bearing the glass of gin-and-tonic she has ordered. Lights in dining rooms are always kept bright, in accordance with the princess’s professed belief that “a dark dining room upsets my tummy. I can’t see what I’m ­eating”. When the princess finally departs, her hosts invariably take a masochistic ­pleasure in recounting her more outrageous demands to their friends and ­acquaintances. If the princess were aware of the pleasure afforded by her haughtiness, she might feel less inclined to make such a display of it.

On this particular evening at Warwick House, she has the wind behind her. She strides up to the stage, adroitly removes the microphone from the hand of the singer and instructs the band to strike up some Cole Porter. “All the guests who had been waltzing under the vast chandeliers instantly stopped dancing,” recalls Lady Caroline Blackwood, the former wife of Lucian Freud.

“They stood like Buckingham Palace sentries called to attention to watch the royal performance.” Francis Bacon, however, stays rooted to the bar.

Princess Margaret bursts into song. She sings off-key, but with ever increasing gusto, egged on, as always, by her jubilant fellow guests, who shout and roar and beg for more. Consequently, she grows fearfully overexcited and starts, in the words of one observer, “wiggling around in her crinoline and tiara as she tried to mimic the sexual movements of the professional entertainer. Her dress with its petticoats bolstered by the wooden hoops that ballooned her skirts was unsuitable for the slinky act but all the rapturous applause seemed to make her forget this”.

She has just embarked on Let’s Do It when “a very menacing and unexpected sound came from the back of the crowded ballroom. It grew louder and louder until it eclipsed Princess Margaret’s singing. It was the sound of jeering and hissing, of prolonged and thunderous booing”.

Everyone looks round aghast, as though drawn by HM Bateman. It is Francis Bacon, barracking the princess from the bar. As Lucian Freud remembers it, “People became extraordinarily angry about it. Binkie Beaumont, the promoter, was one of the angriest. Because I was the one who had brought him, they turned on me, ­blaming me. Of course, in response I was fiercely defensive of Francis.”

Princess Margaret falters and screeches to a halt mid-song. “Mortification turned her face scarlet and then it went ashen. Because she looked close to tears, her smallness of stature suddenly made her look rather pitiful.”

The princess rushes offstage. The band stops playing, unsure what to do next. A furious red-faced man comes up to Caroline Blackwood and splutters, “It’s that dreadful Francis Bacon! He calls himself a painter but he does the most frightful paintings. I just don’t understand how a creature like him was allowed to get in here. It’s really quite disgraceful!”

Bacon complains afterwards: “Her singing was really too awful. Someone had to stop her. If you’re going to do something, you shouldn’t do it as badly as that.”

Caroline Blackwood is one of the few present to be impressed by Bacon’s refusal to kowtow. “I can think of no one else who would have dared to boo a member of the royal family in a private house. Among all the guests assembled in Lady Rothermere’s ballroom, more than a few were secretly suffering from Princess Margaret’s singing, but they suffered in silence, gagged by their snobbery. Francis could not be gagged. If he found a performance shoddy, no conventional trepidation prevented him from expressing his reactions. Sometimes his opinions could be biased and perverse and unfair, but he never cared if they created outrage… He had an anarchic fearlessness which was unique.”

Thirteen years later, Lord Rothermere is introduced to Francis Bacon at a Daily Mail party, but fails to recognise him. “And what do you do?” he asks. “I’m a nancy boy,” replies Bacon.




Controversial Bacon drawings displayed in London



The works were set to be displayed at a now cancelled authentication debate





The first exhibition in Britain of the controversial drawings attributed to Francis Bacon took place last month.

Comprising 33 works acquired by Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino (which were not for sale), the exhibition was at The Gallery in Cork Street, London, from 8 to 18 February.

This followed the cancellation of a debate on the drawings that had been scheduled at the Courtauld Institute in January, but was cancelled for legal reasons (The Art Newspaper, February 2012, p1).

Bologna-based Ravarino says that Bacon was his lover and that the artist gave him 600 drawings.

The authenticity of the works has not been accepted by the established Bacon scholars.

 Ravarino said at the exhibition opening that he had refused to come to London to live with Bacon.




 Bacon’s Indian born muse






Indian-born muse of British contemporary artists, Henrietta Moraes, was in the news again as her portrait by Francis Bacon was auctioned by Sotheby’s for £21.3 million.

Henrietta, who was born in 1937 in Simla in British India, was known for her beauty and famous for being a model and the muse of renowned contemporary British artists, Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon, and Maggi Hambling.

Henrietta, described as a notorious bonne-vivant, was known for her love affairs with both sexes and a series of marriages. She was even briefly married to Indian poet Dom Moraes in the 1960s and kept the last name of the poet after their separation.
Famous for her bohemian life, which led her to alcohol dependence and a career as a cat burglar that ended with a stint in Holloway prison, according to her autobiography, Henriettta, published by Hamish Hamilton in 1994.

Henrietta, who was born was born Audrey Wendy Abbott, had a tough childhood growing up in England where she was sent as a child after her father deserted his family. Known as “the Queen of Soho,” she was given the name Henrietta by her first husband Michael Law, a filmmaker.

She then married actor Norman Bowler and that marriage broke up in 1956 as she took up with 18-year-old Dom Moraes, at the time a student at Jesus College in Oxford University. Henrietta took Moraes’ last name after they got married in 1961, but the marriage, like her first two marriages, did not survive and ended in a few years.

Henrietta haunted the infamous drinking dens, the Colony Room Club, and the French House, in Soho, and became friends with post-war contemporary artists Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud and the Soho set, which included Vogue photographer John Deakin, in the 1950s.

“Two people I was determined to make friends with because I felt so drawn to them were Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon. They were both young, not particularly well-known painters, but Lucian’s hypnotic eyes and Francis’ ebullience and charming habit of buying bottles of champagne proved irresistible,” she wrote in her memoirs of the bohemian era.

Bacon, who was gay, was very close to Henrietta who he painted more than 16 times in his painting career.
Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, painted in 1963 from a series of photographs by Deakin, is “quite simply one of the most beautiful, seductive and sexy portraits of a female figure by Bacon,” says Frances Outred, the head of post-war and contemporary art, Europe, at Sotheby’s.

“Henrietta Moraes was a larger than life figure in 1950s Soho and she really captivated the life of Francis. She became one of his key muses,” he adds.

Bacon had asked his friend Deakin to take some nude photographs of Henrietta, as he only painted from photos and not directly from figure. Describing Henrietta as Bacon’s close friend, Leonie Grainger, associate specialist in post-war & contemporary art at Sotheby’s, says, “Bacon only ever depicted friends and never painted the subject from life, preferring to use photographs instead.”

Henrietta was also painted by Lucien Freud, who was her one-time lover, and appeared in his Girl in a Blanket in 1952, which she later used as the cover of her autobiography.

A combination of her hedonistic lifestyle, full of drinking liquor and sampling a variety of drugs, led Henrietta to die at 67 and she was buried in the Brampton Cemetery in west London.

Henrietta also had same sex relationships, including with singer-actress Marianne Faithfull, and the last one was with artist Maggi Hambling, who described as her most powerful muse.




                                                         Henrietta Moraes by John Deakin




Modern art brings home the Bacon





Demand for artworks valued at many millions of pounds has tripled in the past five years despite the global economic turmoil, according to one of the leading auction house.

“The pool of collectors is deeper now [than at any previous point],” said Jussi Pylkkänen, president of Christie’s Europe, which yesterday completed the most lucrative fortnight of art auctions ever held in London.

Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art worth £291.5 million was sold, with British artists the most coveted. A Francis Bacon fetched £21.3 million, a Henry Moore sculpture went for £19.1 million and works by David Hockney fetched £1,399,400 yesterday.

Sotheby’s also enjoyed a strong showing, and Mr Pylkkänen said that the capital’s position “right in the centre of the global market” meant that the city would attract rich buyers for years to come.

Christie’s said that there had been strong interest during the fortnight from collectors in Europe, the United States, the Middle East, Asia and Russia, a reflection of the global distribution of great wealth and the fact that more and more high quality artworks are coming to market.

“As long as great masterpieces are for sale you will get monumental prices for them,” Mr Pylkkänen said, adding that London is ideally placed “right in the centre of the global market” . And as the market becomes more international than ever before, London is uniquely well placed to profit.

“It’s right in the centre of the global market ... I’ve devoted 25 years of my career to the London market. I never quite expected to get the stage where I would be speaking with a long term view that looks so positive.”

Even so the prices achieved this month took the auction house by surprise, exceeding even the last round of sales before the collapse of Lehman Brothers marked the onset of the banking crisis in September 2008.

This week’s Impressionist and Modern Art sales realised £179.1million with four works selling for over £10million and last week’s Pos-tWar and Contemporary auctions pulled in £109.5million with 16 lots fetching more than £1 million.

Across town Sotheby’s enjoyed a strong showing, though not a record-breaking one, realising a combined total for the fortnight of £162,161,975. Their top lots were a Claude Monet snowscape and an abstract work by the German painter Gerhard Richter.

Helena Newman, Chairman of Sotheby’s European Impressionist & Modern Art Department, said: “Our auctions of Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary Art this season saw bidders from 50 countries across six continents participate. The results of these two weeks of major sales are both strong and positive indicators of the health of the art market.”







The thief and the borrowers






Jackie Wullschlager on an exhibition that explores Picassos influence on British

artists from Wyndham Lewis to Francis Bacon





“What can I have done that they should have let me through?” wailed Picasso to his English supporter Roland Penrose in 1950. One of 52 Parisian delegates landing at Dover to attend the Second World Peace Congress in Sheffield, Picasso alone was allowed into the country; the rest were sent back to Calais.

His surprise Was understandable, because for the first half of the 20th century Picassos were rarely admitted to Britain. Tate did not buy its first work by the artist until 1933 a conservative still life, “Flowers”, from 1901. Legendary modern art collector Samuel Courtauld purchased just one Picasso, the domesticated Blue Period “A Child with a Dove”. Although by 1950 Picasso was the most famous living artist, his UK visit was controversial enough to be discussed in parliament, and a government planted newspaper article called him “the distressed victim of a distressed time”.

But a decade later, in 1960, Tate held a landmark Picasso retrospective, attracting half a million visitors, and the museum acquired from the artist the jagged, ecstatic “The Three Dancers” (1925), which Picasso reckoned, with “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (1907), one of his two greatest works. Why did he part with this dance of sex and death, primitivist, abstracted, but also deeply personal (its origins lay in the lovetriangle suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas) to Britain? When Penrose, a Tate trustee, picked up the painting from his Mougins studio, Picasso talked of how Winston Churchill had saved “Angleterre... et bien plus c’est il a sauve nous tous.”

“The Three Dancers” is a highlight of Tate Britain’s Picasso & Modem British Art, an unusual, anecdotal exhibition about art and politics, the history of British taste and our slow acceptance of European modernism. Its weakness is predictable: most artists are feeble compared to Picasso, and of the seven in focus here Duncan Grant, Wyndham Lewis, Ben Nicholson. Graham Sutherland, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon and David Hockney only the last three transform his impact into something individual and new.

Plundering the past, Picasso boasted: “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” Put the borrowings Grant’s decorative proto-cubist pastiches “The White Jug” and “Design for a Firescreen”; Lewis’s dry, sound-and-fury abstractions and Nicholson’s pallid, lifeless ones; Sutherland’s plants-as-beasts such as “Gorse on Sea Wall”, recalling Picasso’s surrealist metamorphoses alongside the originals, and they wilt. Among British artists born in the 1880s-90s, Picasso’s near-contemporaries, Moore alone convinces because, working in a different medium, he appropriated with less anxiety. How marvellously he learnt monumentality from Picasso’s classicising 1920s oeuvre, reprising the exact pose and grandeur of the sculptural figure in “The Source”, for example, in his weighty elmwood “Reclining Figure”.

For a trio of reasons, this show is greater than the sum of its parts. First, its narrative - especially the celebration of Quakerborn connoisseur Penrose is arresting throughout. Penrose won Picasso’s grudging respect by falling for “Nude Woman Lying in the Sun on the Beach” (1932), a picture whose central oval shape represented the bather’s anus and had been rejected by Picasso’s dealer because “I refuse to have any arseholes in my gallery”, Penrose acquired the piece in 1936, then began a campaign to change British opinion. To astonishment, he wangled a visit of “Guernica” to London in 1939. By,1960 he had made Picasso a sufficiently establishment name to escort the Queen privately around Tate’s retrospective.

Second, partly as a result of Penrose’s canny purchases, the show is packed with Picassos. So broad is its remit that any Picasso that ever did time in Britain has a claim for inclusion; the jumble of foreign loans, private and museum pieces, early and late works, confers an exhilarating, random quality, affording juxtapositions liberated from the usual curator-led themes.

Thus the masterpiece of hermetic cubism “Man with a Clarinet”, a key work in the collection of Penrose’s rival, the academic and embittered Douglas Cooper, returns from Madrid, joining a seminal collage-like “Head of a Man” bought by Roger Fry in 1913, from New York’s MoMA. Canvases lent fresh from Picasso’s studio to Tate in I960 - an opulent oriental interior “Women of Algiers” (1954) and some savage, vital “Las Meninas” canvases (1957) from Barcelona are reassembled. “Reading at a Table”, a tender portrayal of Marie-Therese Walter absorbed in a book, visits from the Metropolitan Museum, displayed opposite “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust”, a more characteristically voluptuous depiction of Picasso’s sexiest model as a series of luscious curves, her body traversed by black bands inspired by a Man Ray bondage photograph. This daring work briefly adorned the London apartment of Commander Teddy Heywood-Lonsdale in the 1930s.

Such erotic, expressive distortions of the figure of Marie-Therese determined Bacon to become a painter. The third triumph here is that when a true tale of influence rather than imitation exists, Tate tells it expertly. Bacon destroyed most early work, but Tate has excavated several small 1930s studies such as “Corner of the Studio” to display with the 1933 “Crucifixion”, owned by Damien Hirst, illustrating how Bacon’s elongated, spectral figures in motion with their tiny polyp-like heads extended Picasso’s language of distortion. Those convulsive images developed in the upraised, snarling, screaming mouths as in “Head 1” (1947-48), recalling “Guernica” and “Weeping Woman".

Penrose bought “Weeping Woman” (1937) directly from the artist’s studio, then entrusted a young Lucian Freud to take it by train to a wartime London exhibition; it was also the first Picasso encountered by Hockney. A generation younger than the other artists here, Hockney had the distance. plus easy virtuosity and confidence in his own lifelong project the nature of image-making to embrace Picasso’s influence straightforwardly, without becoming overwhelmed by it. In “Artist and Model”, completed in response to Picasso’s death in 1973, Picasso in his striped shirt and Hockney, stripped bare before the master, face each another, one depicted in the new sugar lift technique, the other in traditional hard ground etching: a brilliant, simplified meditation on history and modernity.

“What will painting do when I’m dead? It’ll have to walk over my body. There’s no way round, is there?” Picasso had announced shortly before. In his current Royal Academy show, Hockney is still playing cubist games; at the National Portrait Gallery Picasso’s legacy on Freud’s manipulation of the human figure is apparent. Although flawed, Tate’s exhibition is essential viewing for anyone interested in painting, past or future.

‘Picasso & Modem British Art’. Tate Britain. London, to July 15.   Scottish National Gallery of Modem Art. Edinburgh. August 4-November 4  






                                                                      Moderns: ‘The Three Dancers’ (1925) by Picasso: ‘Crucifixion’ (1933) by Francis Bacon






Portrait of a tragic muse



As this picture sells for £21m, we reveal the extraordinary story of the

sexually voracious but deeply troubled woman who inspired it






She lies, legs spread wide and one breast exposed, in a pose that — for all the accomplishment of the artist — fails to convey what is so utterly fascinating about the beguiling model Henrietta Moraes. She was the legendary Fifties beauty who sat, or more properly reclined, for the Francis Bacon portrait — described as ’sexually charged by Christie’s — which sold to an unknown buyer for a staggering £21 million in London this week, far exceeding its guide price.

That makes it one of the most valuable of the painter’s works, tripling as it does the price achieved by another Bacon portrait of Moraes, entitled Lying Figure With Hypodermic Syringe, that was sold a couple of years ago. This featured the model in the grip of a heroin trip, and Henrietta Moraes’s extraordinary story only adds to the picture’s notoriety.

The model, a half-Indian beauty, was one of the stars of the demi-monde that drank in London’s Soho and bedded each other in the Fifties. She was passed around among the louchest men of the time, including, as was revealed only just before his death last year, the incorrigible Lord Glenconner — most famous for turning the tropical island of Mustique into a celebrity playground.

Princess Margaret’s favourite peer could not wait to boast in his final days that the irresistible Henrietta was the mother of his illegitimate son Joshua, born, unbeknown to him at the time, after a week-long fling in 1955. He and Joshua, then 54, eventually agreed to DNA tests in 2009 in order to prove what they had long suspected — that they were father and son.

But the most telling comment was the one Glenconner made to me shortly afterwards when he said that the artist Lucian Freud ’was furious Joshua was mine, not his son’. Those few triumphalist words lifted the lid on that decadent era when Freud and the Irish-born Bacon mingled with hard-living aristocrats, East-End villains and classless beauties. Both of them painted Henrietta Moraes, who at the time was known by her birth name Audrey Abbott. Born in India in 1931, she was brought to England as a small girl by her mother, after her father, who was in the Indian Air Force, walked out of the family home in the foothills of the Himalayas after a marital row.

Mother and daughter went to live in Northamptonshire, with Henrietta sent to boarding school at the age of three. Before long, however, her restless mother had run away to South Africa, abandoning her little girl to her grandmother, who, finding her too wilful, seems to have mistreated her. Sent to a convent in Reading, Henrietta developed a crush on a girl called Valerie who slept with T.S. Eliot’s poems under her pillow. Valerie went on to marry the poet.

Henrietta, too, gravitated towards artistic circles. Growing into a beautiful teenager, her looks combined with mental frailness made her easy prey for the bohemians who caroused in Soho’s red-light district in the post-war years. The Colony Room, the Gargoyle Club, the French House were the exotic names of these legendary watering holes and it was Henrietta’s ambition to drink copiously in them all.

Now calling herself Wendy Welling, for artistic effect, she was not yet 18 and had lost her virginity to a young trumpet player. She then slept with most of his friends, too. And although, like many girls, she attended secretarial school, she discovered there was more money in stripping off and modelling for the artistic crowd. In 1951, she married film-maker Michael Law, who lived in the centre of clubland.

It is at this point that she met Francis Bacon, who, being gay, was one of the few admirers who did not sleep with Henrietta. But he painted her at least 16 times over a period of some 20 years — the portrait sold for £21 million was painted in 1963 — and he drank with her every night in the Soho clubs. But though she was a close companion, to whom he owed much of his inspiration, it seems to have slipped the temperamental painter’s mind to offer in return any of the pictures he painted, even though he promised he would. Henrietta, perhaps realising the potential profit to be made, continued to complain about this until the end of her life.

Meanwhile, she met Lucian Freud — the man she called her great love’. She fancied him immediately and tugged him onto the dance floor at the Gargoyle club, saying: ’I want you.’ The next day, at lunchtime, they made love on the edge of a sink in a squalid Soho flat where Henrietta was living. But Freud, who left a trail of broken hearts, was congenitally unfaithful and she left him soon after, having found signs of his infidelity.

By now, she had tired of her first husband and set her cap at the body-buildier and actor Norman Bowler (who later starred in TV’s Emmerdale). At this point, Henrietta seems to have been two-timing a stream of men. She married Bowler in 1955, despite knowing she was already pregnant by Colin Tennant, later Lord Glenconner, without telling her new husband.

The truth was that after a dance at the Albert Hall, Tennant — famous at the time as a deb’s escort for his consummate dancing skills — had taken her home in a taxi and stayed for a week, during which Joshua was conceived. The following year, Tennant married Lady Anne Coke, Princess Margaret’s lady-in-waiting. They had five children and Tennant thought nothing more of his affair.

For her part, Henrietta brought her son up as Joshua Bowler. She went on to have a daughter with her husband, but by 1956 she’d thrown Bowler out because he had been unfaithful. In 1961 she embarked on a third marriage to Goan poet Dom Moraes. ’We drank too much,’ she said of their time together. She was now on a downward spiral — tragically witnessed by her son Joshua. Drugs were a major problem. Having smoked her first joint at the age of 22, she was soon drawn into using heroin and cocaine.

She moved into a slum flat south of the Thames. It was here that she welcomed countless addict friends who dossed down with her. Her young son found an addict known as Dustbin Joyce dying in his bed. Reduced to stealing to feed her habit, Henrietta was finally sent to Holloway Prison for a couple of weeks for theft. She left her two young children with the jazz musician George Melly, but throughout these upheavals she remained Bacon’s muse.

Indeed, there was life in Henrietta yet. In the late Sixties, she joined a band of hippy travellers headed by the flower-child baronet, Sir Mark Palmer, who dropped out of mainstream life to make a famous four-year odyssey by horse and cart from Cornwall to Wales — via Scotland. Henrietta was now in her 40s, and friends with a host of rich socialites and well-known artistes including Mick Jagger — with whom the commune wintered in Berkshire in a caravan. As a result, she became close to singer Marianne Faithfull and even became her tour manager.

But Henrietta’s moneyed connections could not save her. She plunged into depression and continued to drink heavily. She was sectioned in the Nineties when she attacked a police officer. Diagnosed with diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver, her son Joshua offered her sanctuary and persuaded her to give up alcohol for a while. She finally moved to back Chelsea where she lived alone with a dachshund called Max.

Her new best friend was the lesbian painter Maggi Hambling, who described the ageing model as her muse. When Henrietta died, aged 68 in 1999, she left Max to Hambling in her will. Following this week’s sale, the new owner of her portrait will be grateful that despite Bacon’s brutal brushstrokes, this sad decline doesn’t show in this study of Henrietta, which was made in her radiant prime.






‘Sexually charged’ portrait by Francis Bacon sells for £21 at auction





One of the most ‘seductive’ female portraits ever produced by Francis Bacon sold at auction for £19million yesterday. Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, one of his favourite models, beat its estimate by £1million, making a total sale price including fees and taxes of £21,321,250.

Bidding began at £13million shortly before 7.25pm at Christie’s in London, but leapt to the final figure in just five minutes. It was snapped up by an anonymous telephone buyer, who saw off competition from two other phone bidders and a saleroom bid as the price was raised at £500,000 a time.

Produced in 1963, it is one of the most valuable pieces to be sold at a post-War and contemporary art sale at the auction house, a spokesman said. The highest selling work in this category was another piece by Bacon, Triptych, which went for £26.3million in February 2008.

Portrait of Henrietta Moraes is an oil on canvas, raw with colour and texture, which measures 65in (165cm) by 56in (142cm) and shows the model sprawled across a bed. The painting, which has not been seen in public for 15 years, is described as one of Bacon’s ‘most seductive and sexually charged’ paintings.

Since the day it was created the work has only had two owners. The the present owner who offered the item for sale was not disclosed by Christie’s, who said it came from a ‘distinguished’ New York collection which acquired it in 1983.

Francis Outred, Christie’s head of post-war and contemporary art, said: ‘The carefully constructed mood through colour is forcefully invaded by the extraordinary swipes of the loaded brush, which create the woman’s voluptuous figure. This juxtaposition of the sheer beauty of colour with the brutal physicality of paint is what makes Bacon’s art so remarkable.’

Bacon was born in Dublin in 1909 to English parents and moved to London in 1926. Although he had no formal training as an artist, he started to exhibit his work in the 1930s and a decade later he was causing a sensation among the artistic community with his angst-ridden paintings of twisted and mutated forms.

He died of a heart attack in Madrid in 1992. Today his work is among the most popular of 20th century art at auction.




                              Auctioned off: The portrait of Henrietta Moraes sold for £21m





Seductive Henrietta portrait fetches €25m



A PAINTING of a female nude by Francis Bacon sold

in London last night for £21.3m (€25.4m).





Bacon’s sexually charged 1963 canvas Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, showing one of his favourite models sprawled across a bed, had been valued at about £18m (€21.5m) in a 65-lot auction of contemporary art at Christie’s International.

The buyer was Sumiko Roberts, a London-based member of Christie’s client services, acting for a customer on the telephone, outbidding at least one other telephone bidder.

The painting had been entered from an unidentified “distinguished New York collection”, according to Christie’s catalogue. The seller was Sheldon Solow, a prominent Manhattan real estate developer and art collector, who had bought the work from Galerie Beyeler, Switzerland, in 1983, dealers said. Christie’s refused to comment on ownership.

Mr Solow was also the seller of a Joan Miro painting and a Henry Moore bronze that sold for record prices of £16.8m (€20m) £19.1m (€22.8m) at Christie’s auction of Impressionist and modern works on February 7.

London, with its sizeable population of wealthy international residents, has become an increasingly attractive auction venue for the sale of high-value modern and contemporary artworks. Dublin-born Bacon is the most expensive artist at auction in the UK.

This particular portrait had never appeared at public sale before and had no guaranteed minimum price, said Christie’s. It dates from the year that the painter embarked on his relationship with George Dyer.

Moraes was a close friend of Bacon’s during the 1950s and 1960s.






Francis Bacon’s ‘sexually charged’ portrait fetches £21m




A portrait of a female nude by Francis Bacon sold for £21.3 million at Christie’s on Tuesday, helping bring

the total for the post-war and contemporary evening sale in London to £80.6 million.





Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, which features a naked model sprawled on a bed, beat its estimate by £1 million, making a total sale price including fees and taxes of £21,321,250.

It was bought by an anonymous telephone buyer, who saw off competition from two other phone bidders and a saleroom bid as the price was raised at £500,000 a time.

Produced in 1963, Portrait of Henrietta Moraes is one Bacon’s most seductive and sexually charged paintings, according to Francis Outred, Christie’s head of post-war and contemporary art, Europe. Overall, the auction, which had been expected to raise £56.7-84 million after a Mark Rothko painting was withdrawn to be sold privately, made £80.6m.

There were three artist auction records, including for Christopher Wool, whose untitled work went under the hammer for £4.9 million, surpassing expectations of £2.5-3.5 million The solid results follow bumper sales at Christie’s in London last week, when it was offering impressionist and modern works. Those auctions fetched a combined £179.1 million.

The top end of the art market has survived the euro crisis and slowing economic growth relatively unscathed so far, with prices rising sharply in 2010 and 2011 after the financial crisis took its toll in 2009. Sotheby’s holds its main London post-war and contemporary auction on Wednesday.







Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction



Sale 8052 / Lot 33  Estimate £1,800,000 - £2,500,000



 14 February 2012 London, King Street



Lot Description

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) 
Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne
each: signed and titled ’Francis Bacon Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas, in two parts
each: 14 x 12in. (35.5 x 30.5cm.)
Painted in 1983


Special Notice 

Artist’s Resale Right ("droit de Suite"). If the Artist’s Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer also agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist’s collection agent.
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer’s premium.



Dr. Paul and Mrs. Ruth Brass (a gift from the artist in 1983).
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s London, 12 October 2007, lot 31. 



London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., Francis Bacon 1909-1992, Small Portrait Studies, 1993, no. 14 (illustrated in colour, unpaged). 


Lot Notes

[Rawsthorne had an] animal exuberance a magnetism and a mobility of expression that captivated Bacon...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 rapidly replaced’ (M. Peppiatt quoted in F. Laukötter & M. Müller, ’Paintings 1945-1991', A. Zweite & M. Müller (eds.), Francis Bacon: The Violence of the Real, London 2006, p. 148).

Created in 1983, Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne is the last portrait that Francis Bacon ever painted of his lifelong friend, confidante and artistic muse Isabel Rawsthorne. Given as a gift to Bacon’s personal physician, Dr. Paul Brass, along with a number of other paintings including Figure in Movement (1985), it commemorates two of the artist’s most intimate relationships. An enduring character in Bacon’s life, he first met Rawsthorne in 1947. She was already by this stage a deeply desired and sought after model, living and working in Paris with artists including André Derain, Alberto Giacometti and Pablo Picasso. It was this dynamic young woman, with her outspoken charisma and strident zeal who was to introduce Bacon to Giacometti in 1965. In Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne, a sense of her tenacious spirit appears distilled as if into the very fabric of the painting. Two profiles are depicted in opposite panels, like two aspects in a cabinet mirror, presenting the viewer with an almost ’stereoscopic’ view of the subject’s visage. Rendered against a backdrop of brilliant orange, the face appears proud, the arched brow and noble contours expertly captured by Bacon’s brushwork.

Just as the artist elaborated in his Reclining Man with Sculpture (1960) currently held in the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, the present painting has an almost tangible, sculptural quality, the handsome physiognomy almost carved out from the luminescent, flat ground. As the artist once told David Sylvester, 'I would like now
and I suppose it’s through thinking about sculpture I would like, quite apart from the attempt to do sculpture, to make sculpture, to make the painting itself very much more sculptural’ (F. Bacon quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1990, p. 114). Vibrant, fuchsia hatchings partially obscure Rawsthorne’s eyes, cheeks and lips adding a powerful geometry to the composition. At the same time, these veils of paint reveal a sympathy rarely witnessed in Bacon’s oeuvre. Rawsthorne was already seventy by the time of this painting, yet Bacon opted to suspend the passage of time for his friend, softening the lines of her face and the failing eyes in a mark of deep affection.

Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne
 was derived from a black and white photograph taken by John Deakin in and around Soho in the 1960s. As Bacon once explained, 'I have, even in the case of friends who will come and pose, I’ve had photographs taken for portraits because I 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 didn’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' (F. Bacon quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1990, p. 38). In the painting, her profile clearly matches that of the photo, yet it is invested with a unique essence of the character. Distorted and depicted against a shrieking orange palette, the painting goes far beyond the physical appearance to 'record' a sense of Rawsthorne’s own physical atmosphere and gravity. As the artist once concluded, the portrait must capture the ’pulsations’ of the person and in Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne with its bold, unabashed and statuesque composition, this is carried out prodigiously.

Throughout the course of his career Bacon depicted those from his close inner circle of friends. Amongst these, very few were women. Isabel Rawsthorne was perhaps the most significant in his life, appearing in three magnificent large-scale paintings between 1964-1967 and at least fifteen small portraits and five triptychs up until 1983. Rawsthorne was a talented young artist and emigrée living between London and Paris. Studying at the Royal College of Art, she had become Jacob Epstein’s model and was later sponsored through his letters of recommendation to study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. It was here, sitting in the Dôme café near the Boulevard Montparnasse that the audacious, auburn-trussed woman was to meet dealer Pierre Colle. He asked her to model for André Derain who became consumed by the shape of her almond eyes and feline frame. Whilst drinking in the Dôme Isabel also caught the attention of Alberto Giacometti who after a number of days approached her. As she later recounted 'from that moment on, [Giacometti and I] met daily at five p.m. Months went by until he asked me to come to his studio to pose. I already knew he had changed my life forever’ (I. Rawsthorne, quoted in V. Wiesinger, 'Isabel and Other Intimate Strangers', Isabel and Other Intimate Strangers: Alberto Giacometti, Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2008, p. 216).

Through her associations with Giacometti, Rawsthorne went on to form acquaintances, friendships and romantic trysts with men including Balthus, Georges Bataille, Tristan Tzara and Picasso. Shortly after her death, Bacon even suggested that he had once been her lover: 'you know I also made love to Isabel Rawsthorne, a very beautiful woman who was Derain’s model and Georges Bataille’s girlfriend' (F. Bacon quoted in Paris Match, May 1992). Rawsthorne was the person to introduce Bacon to Giacometti in 1965. It was an important encounter for the two mutually admiring painters, each of whom achieved such a tangible, sculptural sense of reality in their works. As Bacon later recounted, 'I do absolutely understand what Giacometti meant when he said to me ’why ever change the subject? Because you could go on for the whole of your life painting the same subject’ (F. Bacon quoted in D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London, 2000, pp. 236-237)








Bacon’s Nude Model Sells $33.3 Million at Christie’s London



Scott Rayburn, SF Gate, San Francisco Chronicle, Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Feb. 14 (Bloomberg) – A painting of a female nude by Francis Bacon sold tonight in London for 21.3 million pounds ($33.3 million).

Bacon’s sexually charged 1963 canvas Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, showing one of his favourite models sprawled across a bed, had been valued at about 18 million pounds in a 65-lot auction of contemporary art at Christie’s International.

The buyer was Sumiko Roberts, a London-based member of Christie’s client services, acting for a customer on the telephone, outbidding at least one other telephone bidder.

The painting had been entered from an unidentified "distinguished New York collection," according to Christie’s catalogue.

The seller was Sheldon Solow, a prominent Manhattan real estate developer and art collector, who had bought the work from Galerie Beyeler, Switzerland, in 1983, dealers said. Christies refused to comment on ownership.



Picasso and Modern British Art 



Richard Dorment wavers between exultance and despair at the

Tate Britain’s exhibition about Picasso’s influence on British art.











When Tate Britain announced plans for an exhibition about Picasso’s influence on British artists such as Duncan Grant and Graham Sutherland, my snorts of disbelief could be heard in Sidcup. Recent exhibitions have pitted him against Titian, Rembrandt, Velázquez, Goya, Delacroix, and Matisse. To hang important works by him in a show full of his British imitators would be an act of cruelty.

I wasn’t wrong, but neither is the show the disaster I imagined. The perverse brilliance of Picasso And Modern British Art is to take a non-subject (Picasso’s impact here was limited to a handful of artists) and turn it into a gripping indictment of British culture in the first half of the 20th century.

It is in this context that Picasso And Modern British Art looks at how his art was understood and absorbed by British artists who saw it either on visits to Paris or in shows at the Grafton, Mayor and Leicester Galleries in London. What they took from him inevitably depended on the style Picasso was working in when they discovered him, so that Duncan Grant’s Picasso is a Cubist while Francis Bacon’s was a Surrealist.

For me Francis Bacon is the artist who suffers most in the show from comparison with Picasso, but also the one I learned the most about. The grossly distorted limbless torsos and gaping mouths are close to the similarly distorted figures in Guernica. The difference is that Bacon moves into the realms of abstraction to express horror and disgust, whereas Picasso never strays from the here, the now, and the specific.

From Wednesday until July 15 



  The source: Picasso’s Three Dancers (1925) presages Bacon’s Crucifixion (1933)



Home-grown talent brings home the Bacon







Francis Bacon, Henry Moore and the other British artists in this exhibition would have been the first to say that they could not hold a candle to Pablo Picasso. The Spaniard is among the all time great painters, for me, up there with Titian and Velázquez.

The curators make no attempt to claim that Bacon, Moore et al match Picasso’s greatness and judiciously avoid pairing his masterpieces with his followers’ work too often, instead gathering the Picasso works that appeared in the UK in clusters, followed by works showing the effects of his work on a succession of Britons.

More often than not, the British artists’ works are less strident: Picasso’s visual drama is adapted to a more becalmed, distinctly British kind of lyricism, particularly in the works of Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland.

Francis Bacon, meanwhile, takes the Spaniard’s visceral power onto an infinitely more disquieting terrain, while David Hockney’s response is self-conscious hero worship. Of course, the Spaniard is the main event here, and a central room with about 30 Picassos from 1901 to the Thirties is magnificent.

British artists were simply in awe of him. See this show, and so will you be.




Ten postwar British artists explore the alchemy of painting








Substantial curated exhibitions in the private galleries are not uncommon, William Packer writes, but such is the over-riding editorial priority given nowadays to the public institutions that they seldom get the critical attention they deserve.

Catherine Lampert has had a long and distinguished curatoriai career in the public sector. But, nothing if not an independent spirit, she has clearly rehashed the freedom lately given her by Haunch of Venison to be herself.

She has taken as her premise the engaging but by no means new idea: that to bring works of art intelligently together is to set going a kind of visual conversation between them, enlightening as much for the unexpected gossip and insight that might thus be generated, as for more obvious comparisons and sympathies.

The works she has chosen are all figurative paintings or drawings mostly from the 1940s to the 1970s, but teasing through to the 1990s. It is a period in which she has always had a particular interest, as much personal as professional, having worked with all the artists, some of whom became close friends. She has taken as epigraph for the show an intriguing statement by Francis Bacon, which is worth giving in full: "To me the mystery of painting today is how can appearance be made. I know it can be illustrated. I know it can be photographed. But how can this thing be made so that you catch the mystery of the making?... one knows that by some accidental brushmarks suddenly appearance comes up with a vividness that no accepted way of doing it would have brought about.”

Abstraction sidesteps the issue altogether, in its preoccupation with the objectivity of the work itself; while work based solely on the photographic image cannot begin to approach it. Yet Bacon's "mystery" is as old as painting itself, and lies at its very heart. I'm not so sure of his “accident”, for there is usually intention in the painter's gesture, for all that the result might not be quite that intended: but, intuition, the subconscious reflex, the spontaneous, instinctive response born of experience? Call it what you like: all real painters know that strange moment of accepting what they've done as right and true, or nearly so, yet not knowing quite how it came about. To put it at its simplest: quite how is it that that stroke of paint laid on the canvas, real stuff in a real world, becomes by some alchemy something quite other than itself?

So, at Haunch of Venison, ten postwar British painters address this central mystery, each in his own way and with more or less success: Kossoff and Auerbach with their densely dripping impasto; Bacon, Andrews and Hamilton working with and against the secondary reference of photograph or reproduction; Hockney with his graphic sophistication; Caulfield with his coolly reductive pictorial analysis; Uglow, Freud and Coldstream with their unremitting scrutiny of the model.

These last three come closest to having the actual visual conversation posited by Catherine Lampert, and, rather than Bacon himself, to addressing his “mystery”. For theirs is the approach that superficially seems the most literal. Between Freud and the other two, it is that close objective observation of the model that alone draws them together.

A shared technical principle draws Coldstream and Uglow closer still, set on the attempt to register the image exactly in the pictorial as in the actual space. The irony is that it is Uglow the pupil who proves to be the master of this dot-and-carry, grid and plumb line-measured system. Coldstream his sometime professor who is its prisoner — a willing prisoner, it must be said, even in his struggle to be free. With Uglow, the freedom comes with its mastery.

And a tiny still-life of his, Obelisk (c.1970), the simplest painting in the exhibition, supplies, perhaps, the closest demonstration of what Bacon in his statement was trying to explain. The whole thing is a quiet harmony of but half a dozen closely related tones and colours, and can have taken Uglow but a few considered minutes to achieve. The economy of its realisation is as astonishing as its effectiveness. For here is paint that disguises neither its physical nature nor its process of application. There is no dissimulation. Paint is paint. Yet the alchemy is such that form and substance are truly set in space and light.

Appearance. It is this mystery that keeps painting forever alive.

The Mystery of Appearance — Conversations between Ten British Post-War Painters is at Haunch of Venison, 103 New Bond Street, London W1, until February 18.






   Unremitting scrutiny: Freud’s study of Francis Bacon (1951)







Art In Liverpool 


Francis Bacon’s Three Figures And Portrait, Tate Liverpool.


Liverpool Student Media, Monday, February 6, 2012


Liverpool is currently one of best cities in the U.K. outside of London to see important, beautiful and mind-blowing pieces of art.  Thanks in part to the 2008 Capital of Culture, the year of culture itself has left a wonderful legacy and a demand for art in Liverpool that has been growing for years even before the festival had started.  With this in mind then, this is the start of a new look at artwork currently on show in the city as well as Merseyside in general and what better place to start than at the haven of contemporary art; Tate Liverpool.

Their collection is huge and though it has many brilliant works that deserve credit (and probably will get it later on in the year), the piece recommended to take a look at this week is Francis Bacon’s dark but oddly beautiful painting, Three Figures and Portrait.  The painting itself is currently housed on the second floor and is a massive canvas of twisted proportions so is not hard to miss.

Though one becomes aware of a strong divide between people that either love or loath Bacon’s work when discussing it, Three Figures and a Portrait is an obvious staggering achievement even if some viewer’s personal taste dictates a wary form of disgust.  The pictures shows two figures that appear to be in the process of physical change, morphing furiously as if trying to escape their redundant form of a person.  This could also be seen a literal re-working of personal identity which is in constant flux for everyone but at the same time is here depicted as something one must try at all lengths to escape both physically and emotionally.

The two figures themselves have, like many of Bacon’s portraits and people, been identified as his deceased lover George Dyer.  Though on no account does this account for the visual darkness on show in the rest of Bacon’s work, it is clear that the death of Dyer caused the artist to go even deeper into his own psyche in creating his work whether he admits it or not.

A third creature inhabits the very front of the painting though describing it as a bird would be highly unkind to ornithology.  Its bird like appearance is juxtaposed to its horribly human mouth which grins its white teeth as it relaxes on top of its cube as the people agonise over their painful metamorphosis.

The work itself is also one of the first self-referencing pieces with all the figures in the painting being watched over by another painting clearly by Bacon.  Perhaps this is turning the idea of what visual art is on its head by making the painting itself watch the artist twist and turn in torment as he tries to gain some sense of being as opposed to the artist torturing the paint with his brush until the painting fits with his ideas of what existence should be about.

Three Figures and Portrait is currently on show at Tate Liverpool, Albert Dock.  The painting is on show as part of the DLA Piper Series: Conversation Pieces, and it’s on show till the 27th of August.  

Adam Scovell





                    Three Figures and Portrait  1975  Francis Bacon








Contemporary Art Evening Auction


Lot 42 | London | 15 Feb 2012, 07:00 PM | L1202



1909 - 1992





oil on canvas
66 by 56cm.
26 by 22in.
Executed in 1951.


  1,800,000 - 2,500,000 GBP

LOT SOLD  1,833,250  GBP



Hanover Gallery, London
F. J. Anscombe, Cambridge
Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London
Private Collection, Belgium
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in the 1980



London, Hanover Gallery, Francis Bacon, 1951-52
London, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Francis Bacon, 1955, no. 4
Porto, Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves, Francis Bacon: Caged Uncaged, p. 119, illustrated in colour
Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia; Milwaukee, Art Museum; Buffalo, Albright-Knox
Art Gallery, Francis Bacon: Paintings from the 1950s, 2006-7, no. 10, illustrated in colour



Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon, London 1964, no. 30, illustrated
Exhibition Catalogue, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Francis Bacon, 1996, p. 244,



"This key notion in Bacon’s art, that man is an animal, was explored in numerous paintings throughout the 1950s in which humans and monkeys are depicted as interchangeable, if not almost indistinguishable: both imprisoned in dark cages with their mouths opened in screams" (Michael Peppiat in: Exhibition Catalogue, Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, and travelling, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, 2006, p. 24)  Throughout the extraordinary oeuvre of Francis Bacon, the human figure is incessantly undone and brutally laid bare: reformed and transposed into primeval animalism, man and beast habitually appear as indistinguishable, if not entirely interchangeable. This impetus to confront the bestial reality of the human form lies at the very centre of the remarkable early painting, Figure with Monkey. Executed in 1951, this work heralds an incipient moment in Bacon’s career. Following a stay in Zimbabwe, then Southern Rhodesia, during 1951 alongside numerous visits to South Africa throughout the 1950s, Bacon produced a cycle of wildlife landscapes and animal paintings, including a small series of encaged screaming monkeys.

Comprising four remarkable paintings in total, three of which prestigiously reside in the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; and the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Figure with Monkey stands as the very first from this extraordinary corpus. The sheer force of Bacon’s painterly invention here commands a magnificent coalition of the artist’s unbridled fascination with wild animals with his inimitable impulse to expose the primal nature of man. Dramatically fixed around the open mouthed bestial scream – the quintessential Baconian leitmotif – Figure with Monkey represents a unique and pioneering articulation of the dialectical "zone of indiscernibility" between man and animal vitally intrinsic to Bacon’s astounding artistic legacy (Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, London 2003, p. 16). Scarcely reproduced and rarely exhibited since its creation, the re-emergence of this significant early work marks a moment of art historical importance for Francis Bacon scholarship.

Despite fiercely avoiding contact with domestic pets owing to severe asthma, Bacon remained strongly captivated by wild animals. Littering the floor of his infamously chaotic studio, a vast and disparate matrix of visual and photographic resources provided an instant well-spring of creative inspiration. Among the various books, magazines and photographs at his disposal, Eadweard Muybridge’s paradigmatic Animal Locomotion and Marius Maxwell’s Stalking Big Game with a Camera in Equatorial Africa published in 1925 have been cited as distinctly influential, while smudged, paint smeared and oil stained depictions of monkeys on torn pages from Life History of  Orang-Outan and Hutchinson’s Animals of All Countries contribute to the broad array of visual stimuli called forth and transmogrified into Bacon’s inimitable canon. Nonetheless the desire to see for himself and photograph such wildlife in situ, most notably at Kruger National Park, was a major driving force behind the several trips Bacon made to see his mother in her new South African surroundings throughout the 1950s. Upon his return Bacon declared: "I felt mesmerized by the excitement of seeing animals move through the long grass"; an enthusiasm that translated to a memorable body of work including the magnificent Elephant Fording a River from 1952 (Michael Peppiat in: Exhibition Catalogue, Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, and travelling, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, 2006, p. 26). For Bacon, it was the thrill of witnessing and perceiving the instinctual impulses shared with human beings that held the most fascination. Undisguised by "the veneers of civilisation" untamed animals embodied an emotive vehicle for transmitting the elemental and unalterable facts of existence (Ibid.). Very much aligned with this experiential enthusiasm and no doubt inspired by his stays in Africa, Bacon’s series of monkey paintings are however starkly differentiated from the safari styled telephoto-reportage of Elephant Fording a River. Snarling, writhing and contorted, these encaged beasts bear a more immediate affinity with Bacon’s treatment of the human subject.

Bacon outlined his interested in monkeys as stemming "from the fact that like humans they are fascinated with their own image, and that their interest in themselves is displayed with an abandon and relish rarely equalled by men" (the artist cited in: Martin Harrison, In Camera Francis Bacon: Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting, London 2005, p. 200). This ’abandon’ is expertly deployed in Figure with Monkey via the focal lure of the monkey’s glinting-jawed shriek. Bacon depicts a moment of volatile release; frightening, spontaneous and primal, the scream is the epicentre of drama and the point at which both animal and man converge. Barely discernable as ape or monkey, the hulking and formidable dark silhouette of the encaged screaming beast is tentatively reached for by a faceless suited man. Here, Bacon imparts a projection of the elemental nature residing behind Man’s veil of appearance. Nominally segregated by the field of criss-cross fencing, the visual connection between man and monkey nonetheless incites a reading of Bacon’s assertion that "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" (the artist cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, and travelling, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, 2006, p. 26).

In this regard, Figure with Monkey bestows an illuminating and apposite visual expression to Gilles Deleuze’s crucially groundbreaking philosophical elaboration on Francis Bacon. As propounded by Deleuze, "Sometimes an animal" in Bacon’s work "is treated as the shadow of its master, or conversely, the man’s shadow itself assumes an autonomous and indeterminate animal existence. The shadow escapes from the body like an animal we have been sheltering. In place of formal correspondences, what Bacon’s painting constitutes is a zone of indiscernibility or undecideability between man and animal" (Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, London 2003, p. 16). Distended and intimidating, the incomprehensible monkey appears as pure shadow out of which the dramatic locus of the painting emerges: the monkey’s terrifying scream. Articulated in a conflation of energetic brushstrokes, the spontaneous flurry of paint betrays the influence of Muybridge’s photography for Bacon’s obsession with depicting motion. Simultaneously shrinking away, the figure of the suited man tentatively extends his grasp towards the unnaturally contorted gape of looming razor-sharp teeth; here the monkey gives violent expression to the faceless and mute primal shadow of Man. In other works in the later 1950s rather than depict the bipartite relationship between man and monkey, ape-like forms are carried over to many of the hulking male nudes, choosing to favour the prehensile crouch of the primate for an evocation of primordial physicality.

The aggressive and contained animality of Figure with Monkey formatively underlines an obsessive preoccupation with the mouth as bestial centre and agent of the primal scream – a motif that would later find its ultimate manifestation in the career defining series of Popes after Velazquez’s 1650 masterpiece Portrait of Pope Innocent X. Belonging to the very earliest paintings centred on the locus of the animalistic existential scream, Figure with Monkey marks the inauguration of Bacon’s major subject matter. Immediately presaging the very first Pope paintings produced that same year, this work emerged at the outset of a pivotal period which was to define Bacon as a major artist. In leading the viewer’s eye to the shrieking animal by means of an outstretched human arm, this work explicitly draws a relationship between archetypal man and beast, a disturbing parity that would later characterise his work from this period: to quote Michael Peppiat, "by focussing on what was most animal in man – the primal scream – Bacon had found the single image which was to define his vision" (Michael Peppiat, Op. Cit., p.24). Indeed, the 1950s denote a period of developmental experimentation in Bacon’s career through which thematic aspects would later filter into Bacon’s masterpieces from the Men in Blue series articulated within foreshortened spatial interiors and contained within a delineated scaffold. Figure with Monkey represents an innovative disclosure of Bacon’s interest in such framing devices: engulfed by an encompassing field of criss-cross fencing, this work delivers an early intimation of Bacon’s employment of ’space-frames’ – the term coined by David Sylvester to denote the  structural and psychological framing device compellingly used to convey the haunting spectacle of man’s alienation and defamation.

Bacon first came to prominence in the late 1940s against the austerity of post-World War II Britain, and it was in this climate that the artist unleashed his acute sense for the violence, suffering and existential isolation at the core of postwar humanity. The first unequivocal expression of this brutal aesthetic can be traced to the seminal 1944 painting, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. First exhibited at the very end of the war in 1945, the menacing, tooth-baring and sightless mythological creatures of Bacon’s triptych shocked contemporary audiences. Imbued with the same nightmarish shriek of the Eumenides in Bacon’s seminal work, the animal screams of Bacon’s 1950s production illustrates a shift away from mythological beasts to distinctly earth-bound ones. Pioneeringly indicating this transferal, Figure with Monkey exists today as one the earliest and most remarkable examples of Bacon’s explicit and nightmarish articulation of the interchangability of man and primate, as means to de-evolve and apprehend the human race as inherently savage. At once, the artist’s pronounced engagement with primates is presciently brought to the fore, whilst a lifelong dialogue with scaffold-like enclosures and screaming subjectivity coalesces to powerfully communicate that which Deleuze imperatively recognised in Bacon’s painting: "Man becomes animal" (Gilles Deleuze, op. cit., p. 16).






                                                                                         Figure with Monkey  1951  Francis Bacon










  Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction



  14 February 2012, London, King Street



  Francis Bacon (1909 - 1992)

  Portrait of Henrietta Moraes



Lot Description

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) 


Portrait of Henrietta Moraes 

titled, inscribed and dated ’Portrait of HENRIETTA MORAES From Photograph by JOHN DEAKIN 1963’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas 

65 x 56in. (165 x 142cm.) 

Painted in 1963. 


Price Realized

£21,321,250  ($33,666,256)


Special Notice

Artist’s Resale Right ("droit de Suite"). If the Artist’s Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer also agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist’s collection agent. VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer’s premium.


Marlborough Fine Art, London. 

Willy & Fänn Schniewind, Neviges.

Galerie Beyeler, Basel.

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1983.


Pre-Lot Text




D. Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, Oxford 1975, no. 26, p. 126 (illustrated, p. 29).
J. Russell, 
Francis Bacon, London and New York 1985, no. 31, p. 186 (illustrated, p. 79).
J. Russell, 
Francis Bacon, London 1993, no. 31 (illustrated, p. 79).
R. Chiappini (ed.), 
Bacon, exh. cat., Milan, Palazzo Reale, 2008, fig. 5 (illustrated in colour, p. 73).



London, Tate Gallery, Painting and Sculpture of a Decade: 54-64, 1964, no. 144, p. 132 (illustrated, p. 133).
Siegen, Oberes Schloss, Francis Bacon, 1967, no. 7 (illustrated, p. 31).
Recklinghausen, Städtische Kunsthalle Recklinghausen, Zeitgenossen: das Gesicht unserer Gesellschaft in Spiegel der heutigen Kunst, 1970, no. 9 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Francis Bacon, 1971-1972, no. 49, p. 48 (illustrated in colour, p. 122). This exhibition later travelled to Dusseldorf, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf.
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Francis Bacon: Retrospektive, 1987, no. 17, (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Francis Bacon 1909-1992 Retrospektive, 1996-1997, no. 40 (illustrated in colour, p. 137 and installation view illustrated, p. 305).


Lot Notes

’Bacon’s lack of personal erotic interest in naked females did nothing to prevent these paintings from being as passionate as those of the male bodies that obsessed him’ (D. Sylvester, Francis Bacon: The Human Body, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1998, p. 36



Painted towards the end of 1963, Portrait of Henrietta Moraes is perhaps the most seductive painting of a female figure ever realised by Francis Bacon. Created the year after his breakthrough retrospective at the Tate Gallery, London in 1962, and the same year as his first major American exhibition at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, the painting depicts the artist’s close friend and model Henrietta Moraes. For many years, the work formed part of the Schniewind collection of important post-War paintings, the present owner acquiring it from the family in 1983, almost thirty years ago. Portrait of Henrietta Moraes represents part of the pantheon of great paintings by Bacon executed in 1963, the majority of which are now housed in major international museum collections. The turning point came with the artist’s powerful and deeply affective Three Studies for a Crucifixion (1962) housed in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Over the preceding four years, Bacon had devoted himself to investigating the properties of paint, technique and undertaking studies of the human nude; a subject that he had rarely dared consider in his early career. In Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, Bacon has perfected the subject’s body, carrying it out with a prodigious use of rapid, impulsive brush marks. Having painstakingly established the stippled, coloured background of his painting, Bacon was taking a calculated risk, confidently establishing the figure as if it were ’his own nervous system projected onto canvas’ (F. Bacon quoted in L. Gowing, ’The Irrefutable Image’, Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings, exh. cat., New York, 1968, p. 13). Standing out proudly from a vivid lilac ground, Henrietta lies undressed in all her voluptuous glory on a simple ticking mattress. Her body undulates in a serpentine from the hilt of her ample bosom, past the narrow cinch of her waist to the sensuous curve of her outstretched leg, just like the sumptuous females of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingress Le Bain Turc (1862). Unflinching and brazenly exposed like an odalisque, Moraes exudes a raw sexuality, her naked body dangerously open to the prying eye. For Bacon, this visceral quality and the sheer physicality of his model’s body was a source of constant rapture. Indeed he returned to Moraes as a subject for more than sixteen paintings over the course of his career including Three Studies for the Portrait of Henrietta Moraes (1963) held in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.


In Portrait of Henrietta Moraes Bacon imbues the painting with a striking passion, as if carried over from the intensity of his own personal life. This was the year that Bacon embarked upon his all-consuming love affair with George Dyer, immortalising his partner in his first painting. Whilst Bacon had often considered the figure of the male nude, his depictions of Moraes were the first to seriously consider the architecture of the female form. The same ardent splendour is present. As David Sylvester once observed: ’Bacon’s lack of personal erotic interest in naked females did nothing to prevent these paintings from being as passionate as those of the male bodies that obsessed him’ (D. Sylvester, Francis Bacon: The Human Body, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1998, p. 36). Moraes herself was a notorious bonne vivante, denizen of the artist’s favourite haunt, the Colony Room, Soho. The muse to a number of contemporary British artists, she was one-time lover to Lucian Freud and appeared as the sitter in his Girl in a Blanket (1952). During the 1960s she met the young Indian poet Dominic Moraes and married him, adopting his surname as her own. A combination of her hedonistic lifestyle and an unsuccessful attempt at being a cat burglar led to her spending a short stint inside Holloway Prison. With the help of her friend and writer Wyndham Lewis she later penned her memoirs of this frenetic period, coloured with the eccentric characters in her life such as Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach. As she recounted, ’two people I was determined to make friends with because I felt so drawn to them were Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon. They were both young, not particularly well-known painters, but Lucian’s hypnotic eyes and Franciss ebullience and charming habit of buying bottles of champagne proved irresistible’ (H. Moraes, Henrietta, London 1994, p. 30).



Bacon only ever depicted friends and never painted his subjects from life, preferring to use photographs instead. As he once explained to David Sylvester, ’even in the case of friends who will come and pose, I’ve had photographs taken for portraits because I very much prefer working from the photographs than from them... I think that, if I have the presence of the image there, I am not able to drift so freely as I am able to through the photographic image... what I want to do is to distort the thing far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance’ (F. Bacon interview with D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, New York 1990, pp. 39-40). For Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, Bacon commissioned John Deakin, his friend and feted photographer to take a now renowned series of images that he would translate into his paintings. The project did not go smoothly at first, as Moraes was later to recount in her memoirs. The photographs were taken at 9 Apollo Place, Chelsea; the house Moraes had inherited from the artist John Minton, where Bacon himself had once lived for a short time in 1955. Deakin had already used Moraes as a model for a nine-foot blow-up image displayed in Archer’s poetry shop in Greek Street, Soho, but had never taken a picture of her or indeed any woman in the nude before. Bacon had devised his own rigid criteria for each pose, carefully instructing Deakin of how to capture Henrietta on film. ’He wants them naked and you lying on the bed’ Deakin said to Henrietta, ’and he’s told me the exact positions you must get into’ (J. Deakin quoted in H. Moraes, Henrietta, London 1994, p. 71). The shoot was a disappointment, Bacon exclaiming, ’Well, look here, Henrietta - this blithering nitwit has reversed every single shot of you I wanted’ (F. Bacon quoted in H. Moraes, Henrietta, London 1994, p. 71). Bacon demanded that it be restaged, and it was through this subsequent shoot that Deakin produced the well-known contact sheet used as the source image for the present painting.



The resulting work with all its heady sexuality was created on a papal red ground, as if derived from Velázquez’s Portrait of Innocent X. On top of this smooth, monochrome surface, the artist conjured up the walls of the bedroom with a stippled, lilac layer of paint just as he had done in his Man and Child (1963) held in the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk. Together the serene chromatic balance of lilac, white and saturated red recall the bold and emotive fields of colour created by contemporary artists such as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. As David Sylvester has pointed out, in Bacon’s other notorious painting of Moraes from the same year, Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe (1963), he employed stacked layers of purple, brown and black colour like those of his American colleagues. Yet Bacon was consistently scathing about Abstract Expressionism. For him, abstraction was to be restricted to the backgrounds of paintings, as complements to his figurative images. Notwithstanding, the Tate Gallery’s 1959 exhibition, ’The New American Painting’ did leave a profound impression on the artist, with certain similarities emerging in his later body of work. As David Sylvester concluded: Bacon, who was famous for enjoying and engendering huge hilarity in his social life, created an art that was always resoundingly solemn. But he was not quite alone in his solemnity; he was in the company of Newman and Rothko and Still and Pollock. Those four contemporaries of his are grouped by Robert Rosenblum as the exponents of ’The Abstract Sublime’. And Bacon’s role in painting has been that of the one great exponent in our time of the Figurative Sublime’ (D. Sylvester, Francis Bacon: The Human Body, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1998, p. 21).



In Portrait of Henrietta Moraes a flurry of white brushstrokes combine to suggest a bedspread and pillows, using a technique strikingly similar to Bacon’s salacious and at the time, deeply provocative masterpiece Two Figures (1953), depicting a couple, ostensibly Bacon and Peter Lacy, writhing around on a bed. In the present work, Henrietta’s ripe body lies majestically at the centre of the bedroom. Her figure is remarkable, the swirling contours created with impulsive, cascading marks of the artist’s brush. The muscles in her limbs almost convulse through the effects of Bacon’s confident gestures. As André Breton once famously asserted, ’beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all’ (A. Breton, Nadja, New York 1960, p. 160) and in Portrait of Henrietta Moraes these words appear to have found their ultimate fulfillment. The figure itself has a carnal quality to it, recalling Bacon’s Three Studies for a Crucifixion (1962), which marked a turning point in his practice. From the late 1940s through to the mid-1950s, Bacon’s treatment of flesh had been largely monochromatic. From 1962 onwards however, his technique and use of vibrant colour offered the body a more visceral and graphic effect than ever before. In Three Studies for a Crucifixion, Bacon coupled the human body with a splayed carcass in the right hand panel, recalling the work of Chaim Soutine and Rembrandt’s Slaughtered Ox (1655), Bacon drew an explicit connection between meat, flesh and sex. In Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, the same link can be made, her body depicted as though the flesh had been turned mysteriously inside-out. As Bryson has suggested, ’Bacon changes the current entirely, by joining the torsion of muscle, with its erotic charge, to the spasms where the boundaries of the body break open to the outside, where inside and outside flow into each other and the body is opened up (like meat)’ (N. Bryson, ’Bacon’s Dialogues with the Past’, W. Seipel et al. (eds.), Francis Bacon and the Tradition of Art, exh. cat., Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna, 2004, p. 54).



Henrietta’s figure is surrounded by a halo of red, radiating like the latent heat from her skin. It is an almost spectral shadow, one of Bacon’s well-known hallmarks. The artist first began engendering this effect in the 1950s in paintings such as Two Figures in a Room (1959) held in the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury collection, University of East Anglia. He had been looking at fragments from books such as J.E. Burns’s, Adventures in Wildest Africa published in 1949 documenting big game hunting with three-dimensional printing. The book shortly predates the public frenzy for 3-D images of the mid 1950s, which clearly informed Bacon’s practice (an interesting parallel given the current, contemporary vogue for 3-D optics). For the artist however, the silhouette was not merely a function of light or optical illusion, but rather a metaphorical tool representing the model’s emotional and physical ’emanation’. As Gamper has elaborated, ’Bacon’s shadow figures are a projection of a past, undamaged condition, a relic of a time when the body was still intact. The figure always carries within it its archetype, marked by unity and entirety, underlining its own precarious corporeality’ (V. Gamper, ’The Ambivalent Function of a Shadow’, W. Seipel et al. (eds.), Francis Bacon and the Tradition of Art, exh. cat., Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna, 2004, p. 301).



Through the centre of Henrietta’s figure, Bacon has also added dark black, curving brush strokes, intimating a sense of movement or rotation of the torso. It is as if he has conflated a series of movements into one image, like an Eadweard Muybridge photograph, so that we simultaneously see Henrietta lying exposed, supine, as well as gently rolling onto her side. Her facial features appear distorted, like an African mask or the angular physiognomy of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) by Pablo Picasso who Bacon greatly admired. She nevertheless offers a potent sense of Henrietta’s character, shining up from the paint surface. As Bacon once explained, ’I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, like a snail, leaving a trail of the human presence and memory trace of past events, as the snail leaves its slime’ (F. Bacon quoted in D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p. 56).



Throughout his career Bacon painted intimate and deeply revealing portraits of men, but it was only in the 1960s that he seriously turned to the figures of women. As Martin Harrison has illuminated, these works are equally insightful of Bacon’s character, revealing the depths of his search for self-identity and sexual orientation. Following the death of Peter Lacy in Tangiers in 1962, the same day as Bacon’s major Tate Gallery opening, the artist turned to strong and independent female characters for support and friendship. He forged close relationships with characters such as Muriel Belcher, Isabel Rawsthorne and Henrietta Moraes whom he painted, as well as other women including Joan Leigh Fermor, Nadine Haim, Janetta Parladé, and Sonia Orwell who he credited as being ’the person most responsible for my success’ (F. Bacon quoted in M. Harrison, In Camera: Francis Bacon, Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting, London 2005, p. 224). In paint, he was expressing neither the absentee mother, nor the ’melting’ submissive woman but, as Harrison has explained, ’the women with whom he identified-the recipients of male sex. He was as extreme in his sexual proclivities-he wore make-up and women’s underwear and ’suffered’ physical beatings-as in all aspects of his life and art. He conveyed his inner life without compromise, but in code, in his paintings’ (M. Harrison, In Camera: Francis Bacon, Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting, London 2005, p. 230). In this respect, Bacon’s Portrait of Henrietta Moraes dismisses the supposed duality between the two sexes, presenting the dynamics of desire and delving into the recesses of Bacon’s own restless mind.







Picasso was a big fan of Britain, and British artists from Bacon to Freud fell

under his spell. Yet relatively few of his works are held in this country — a

result of one collector’s volcanic feud with the Tate’s boss in the 1950s, as

John Richardson, the Picasso biographer, explains






When Picasso’s paintings first went on display in Britain in 1910, GK Chesterton described one work as “a piece of paper on which Mr Picasso has had the misfortune to upset the ink and tried to dry it with his boots” Among practising artists, however, those early 20th-century shows ignited a spark that would fuel British art for the rest of the century.

Tate Britain’s forthcoming exhibition, Picasso and Modem British Art, is an attempt to show how deeply his art became rooted in our own, influencing painters from Graham Sutherland and Francis Bacon to Lucian Freud. The Tate itself has few Picassos in its holdings. And thereby hangs a tale — of rivalry and acrimony, even fisticuffs, centring on the eccentric Englishman who became Picasso’s early champion, Douglas Cooper. Cooper built up one of the largest private collections of Picasso’s work, larger even than that of another English fan, Roland Penrose. None of Cooper’s collection ended up in this country after his death.

John Richardson, the eminent Picasso biographer and curator, who lived with Cooper for a decade, explains why to Chris Stephens, the co-curator of the Tate show.

CS: How did Douglas come to be such a great modernist collector?

JR: From the start, Douglas had defied his family, who wanted him to study law. Egged on by a gay uncle who became a distinguished musicologist, he decided to become a modem art historian and set about doing so systematically: a year at Cambridge, a year at the Sorbonnc and a year at Marburg, in Hessen. On returning to England, he tried to get a job at the Tate, but was turned down — way too modem — and had a brief go at being a dealer — not a success.

CS: Tell us about the origins of Douglas’s collection.

JR: In 1932 he came into a oust fund of £100,000 — in those days a hell of a lot of money — and being rather methodical about life, he set aside a third of that to buy art. By 1939, he had already assembled one of the world’s greatest collections of cubism. Prices were so low that he acquired Léger’s coveted Contrastes de formes gouaches for the equivalent of £5 each. For his greatest acquisition — the hugely powerful 1907 Nudes in the Forest [now in the Musée Picasso, in Paris] — he paid the equivalent of £10,000 in the municipal pawnshop in Geneva.

CS: How well did Douglas know Picasso when he was building his collection?

JR: Casually. Picasso was fairly easy to know in the late 1930s, after he had left his wife, Olga, and taken up with Dora Maar. Douglas frequented the cafes of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, where they were often to be seen, as were Eiuard and the surrealist poets. Roland Penrose, who would become Douglas’s principal rival, was much, much closer to Picasso.

CS: So, how did Penrose and Douglas get along?

JR: Not too badly at first. Roland came of a prosperous Quaker family. Although destined to become an anarchist and a surrealist, Roland was very much a Quaker; intrinsically good, a benefactor. Remember, too, that Roland was 11 years older than Douglas, and for most of the 1920s he had lived in France. He didn’t return to live in England until 1936, when he organised the London International Surrealist show, which launched the English surrealist movement.

[n 1938, Penrose helped get Picasso’s anti-fascist masterpiece Guernica exhibited in London, a painting that had the most profound impact on Richardson, then a schoolboy at Stowe, and Lucian Freud, also a schoolboy and soon to become a friend. Another artist who Richardson would soon come to know was Francis Bacon, who had once been a close friend of Douglas Cooper’s and subsequently quarrelled with him. He had first told Richardson about the Picassos in Cooper’s collection.]

CS: Why had Francis and Douglas fallen out? Birds of a feather, perhaps?

JR: Sort of. In those days, Francis was very hard up, thanks usually to losses at roulette. He would put an advertisement in the personal column of The Times: “Gifted young artist seeks position with generous patron” — that sort of thing. An aged cousin of Douglas’s took him on, but soon fired him. “Did you steal from him?” Lucian told me he once asked Francis. “Probably,” was the reply. This incident would have unfortunate consequences. Though he didn’t give a damn, Douglas stupidly used it against Francis. This explains why Douglas decided to promote Graham Sutherland. Their alliance would have ramifications some years later in the Tate affair.

[Richardson would not get together with Cooper until 1949, at a party for the American writer Paul Bowles]

JR: I was curious to visit the UK’s greatest collection of modem art, not to mention the man who had assembled it. When could I see his pictures? “Right now, my dear, if you can tear yourself away from these hideous mediocrities.” The collection was a revelation. So was Douglas.

CS: Was it Douglas who introduced you to Picasso?

JR: Yes, it was. A few weeks later, Douglas took me to Paris to “meet Picasso”. We went to the Grands Augustins studio one morning and joined an assorted group of supplicants — publishers, museum directors, dealers, communist busybodies. Everybody seemed to want something. On this occasion, Douglas wanted only to impress me. After a somewhat fraught wait, the great man came down from his bedroom above — smaller but infinitely more charismatic than I had expected. Later that day, Douglas took me to see Leger. He and Douglas had been close friends for 15 years. It was Leger who tried and failed to make a communist of him.

CS: How far left did Douglas go to keep in with Léger and Picasso at this time?

JR: Not very far. He was briefly what we used to call a “fellow traveller”. He talked a lot about attending one of the communists’ Congres de la Paix, but never did so. However, he got called upon to help when Picasso came to London in 1950, to take part in the Peace Congress at Sheffield. The British government wanted to keep Picasso out of the country. Douglas arranged for his then roommate, Basil Amulree, in his capacity as a Liberal whip in the I louse of Lords, to vouch for Picasso.

CS: Did Douglas attend the congress?

JR: To his chagrin, the organisers ignored him. “Such a relief,” he lied. Nor was he invited to the party the then celebrated illustrator Feliks Topolski gave for Picasso in London. “Wall-to-wall dregs, my dear. Pablo hated it.”

[In the summer of 1950, Cooperand Richardson were touring Provence when they came across a chateau near Avignon, a “spectacular if somewhat derelict folly” called the Château de Castille.]

JR: Douglas bought it more or less on the spot for about £ 10,000. It would make a perfect showcase for his cubist collection.

CS: What were the parameters of the collection?

JR: Paintings, collages, drawings, sculpture, prints — mostly dating from 1907 to 1914 — by Picasso, Braque, Léger and Juan Gris. Later, Douglas would branch out and buy their subsequent works. He also had a lot of Klees, Miros and de Staëls. Nor should we forget his magnificent library. As soon as the house was fixed and the collection installed, Picasso drove over and was staggered.

CS: Did Douglas ever consider leaving his collection to France?

JR: Yes, we discussed the possibility of leaving the château and its collection to a French equivalent of the National Trust. But then we visited Bernard Berenson shortly before he died. He had decided to leave his treasure-filled villa, 1 Tatti, to Harvard as a study centre. Why not make a similar agreement with the Courtauld, in London? In the event of Douglass death, I was to be the curator and have the top floor of the chateau as a flat. That way, the collection and library would survive and be available to scholars all over the world. The project failed to materialise. It would have required huge funding, which Douglas would never have provided. Also, private museums in France were famously ill cared for.

[That Cooper had once been turned down by the gallery was only one part of his,anti-Tate bias. He was appalled at the way modernist masterpieces in English collections were turned down by the Tate’s director, John Rothenstein. The Tate held out against modernism. Cooper encouraged Sutherland, whom he had befriended when his relationship with Bacon soured, to resign as a trustee. The adverse publicity this would cause, Douglas calculated, would trigger Rothenstein’s downfall.]

JR: It was an obsession with Douglas — one 1 came to share with him. Rothenstein was totally out of step with the modem movement, a disgrace to a great institution. He had to go. Douglas and Graham would endlessly talk about this: “When are you going to resign, Graham dear? Do it now, we’ve got to topple Rothenstein.” And so Graham did, but as usual Douglas overplayed his hand, gave puffed-up interviews to the press, circulated abusive letters, all of which enabled Rothenstein to claim that he was the victim of manic persecution. Questions were raised in Parliament. The climax came at the gala opening of the Diaghilcv show staged by Richard Buckle [former dance critic of The Sunday Times] at Forbes House, in Belgravia. George Harewood was chairman of the event. After dinner, Douglas, who was drunk, and I went round the show with George and his wife, Marion. All of a sudden, Douglas caught sight of Rothenstein. He turned to George and, chuckling loudly, proclaimed, “That’s the little man who’s going to lose his job.”

CS: And Rothenstein hit him?

JR: Yes, Rothenstein flew at Douglas, fists flailing, but Douglas was bigger and fatter, and laughingly held his attacker off.

CS: Did any good come out of this farcical scene?

JR: Yes. Rothenstein stayed on — pathetically. Douglas had lit the match that caused a blaze. Most of the Tate Gallery trustees, in particular the chairman. Sir Dennis Proctor, welcomed him for doing what they should have done years earlier. As a result, Douglas was even enabled, on occasion, to make purchases for the Tate over Rothenstein’s head. This led Douglas and me to go on a buying trip to Paris, and the Tate got two fine Picassos: the 1952 still life with a goat’s skull, and a major cubist figure painting.

CS: I imagine that Picasso was amused by this ever-so-British farce. Didn’t he have a soft spot for the British? We all know he originally intended to go to London, not Paris, when he first left Barcelona, but did his Anglophilia survive?

JR: Very much so. It had got a tremendous boost when he came over to London in 1919 with his Russian wife [a dancer] and the Ballets Russes for a sensationally successful season. The Bloomsbury Group adulated him. The art critic Clive Bell became a close friend. However, as Francoise Gilot [the mother of Picasso’s children, Claude and Paloma] told me, his Anglophilia was to some extent inherited. His tall, elegant Malagucno father prided himself on his English look. Remember that 5 Gibraltar is not far from Malaga, Picasso’s birthplace, and that British outpost is where Don Jose Ruiz Blasco went to buy his clothes. His son followed his example. In London he bought suits from Poole, shoes from Lobb and hats from Lock.

CS: Was Picasso pleased that Roland Penrose, an Englishman, should write his biography?

JR: He was delighted, not least because it allowed him to play two of his leading collectors, not to say friends, off against each other. Picasso had always respected Roland for his Quaker sense of honour, rather than his sense of humour. He was trustworthy, exceedingly discreet and deeply devoted. He was also a painter. However, Picasso derived more pleasure from Douglas’s panache: his black humour, intellectual stimulus, outrageous behaviour and physical ugliness, not to mention his encyclopedic knowledge of art and art-world gossip. “I like monsters,” Picasso once said. “They are a dying breed.”

CS: So how would Picasso play Roland and Douglas off against one another?

JR: When Roland announced he was flying over to Cannes to work on his biography, Picasso would call Castille and suggest we drive over for a day or two. In all innocence, we went. Roland would arrive and be told to wait in his hotel. “Sorry, you can’t come today. Douglas and John are here.” Three or four days later, Picasso would relent and summon Roland to work on his book, talk to him for hours and reward him with a fine drawing. If Douglas seldom had to put up with such treatment, it was because he was Picasso’s Rigoletto — a court jester doomed to do himself in.

CS: How did Douglas react to the Tate appointing Penrose to be the curator of their great Picasso retrospective in 1960?

JR: His wounds suffered in the Tate war still smarted, so his rage — not least his Anglophobia — bordered on madness. He did all he could to sabotage the show, but, as usual, damaged only himself. His mean-spirited refusal to lend anything from his collection spurred Picasso on to be all the more generous. Besides lending even more than he had intended, Picasso insisted that additional galleries be made available for the display of his 58 recently completed variations on Velazquez’s Las Meninas. Even more of a blow to Douglas’s pride was Penrose’s other great coup. He persuaded Picasso to sell the Tate his 1925 masterpiece. La Danse. As a painting, he once said it meant more to him than Guernica.

[After 1960, Richardson spent more and more time in America, but did not finally break with Cooper until 1961. That same year, he was invited to Picasso’s 80th birthday party. He never made it. Two days before, he went to stay nearby at Cap Ferrat. It was there he received the news that Cooper had been stabbed and was dose to death in the hospital in Nimes.]

JR: Though Douglas and I had parted on the worst possible terms, I felt I had better go to him.

CS: So that meant missing Picasso’s birthday.

JR: Indeed it did. Apparently, Douglas had driven into Nimes late at night to get his birthday tribute to Picasso rushed to London. And then, on the way home, he had given a lift to a fellagha [bandit] from a local work camp. Unaccustomed to such encounters, he had stopped the car in a desolate area, whereupon the fellagha drew a knife. It was a “your money or your life” situation. Averse to parting with petty cash, let alone a wallet bulging with banknotes, Douglas tried to escape, and got slashed — once vertically and twice horizontally. “Though not a Gaullist, I bear the Croix de Lorraine,” he told Picasso.

CS: How on earth did he survive such a savage attack?

JR: Douglas had a will of iron. Remember, too, that he’d been an ambulance driver during the first world war, and knew how to hold his guts in as he crawled towards the nearest light. He was lucky. It was a school. A black caretaker took him in and called for an ambulance.

CS: What sort of state was Douglas in at the hospital?

JR: Barely alive. A shortage of nurses meant his housekeeper had to take care of him. I took over her deckchair by his bed. It was touch and go. One morning a week or so later, his one good eye ablaze with malevolence, he came to. “Tell me, my dear, how did you find that assassin?”

CS: Did he mean it?

JR: Of course he didn’t. He was getting better, and his malice was recharging. Gratitude was not Douglas’s forte. It was time for me to say goodbye — for good.

CS: What happened to Douglas and his great collection?

JR: After Douglas died in 1984, his adopted son, Billy McCarty Cooper, sold the core of the collection to a serious New York collector, Leonard Lauder. The rest of it was squandered on grandiose parties, usually in Los Angeles, in honour, McCarty said, of his adoptive father. Douglas’s collection also funded a performance of Mozart’s Requiem at McCarty’s funeral following his death from Aids.

CS: What about his archive?

JR: Some of it survives in the Getty Research Institute, but tragically the legendary correspondence, which Lord Amulree said he was leaving to the British Museum, has disappeared. Let us hope that it resurfaces. It belongs in the Tate. At least Penrose’s smaller but no less significant collection and archive survives, partly in Edinburgh’s Museum of Modem Art and partly in his Sussex farmhouse, which is open to the public. Had Douglas less Anglophobic self-destructiveness, he too could have left a great monument behind, instead of casting a shadow almost as long as John Rothenstein’s over the present show.

 This conversation is extracted from the catalogue for the exhibition Picasso and Modem British Art, which runs from February 15 to July 15 at Tate Britain, SW1






                           Fellow travelled: Pablo Picasso at Victoria station, on route to the Sheffield peace rally in 1950































Although the process of authentication is a subject that The Courtauld Institute of Art is interested in from an academic perspective, whilst there is the possibility of legal action being taken in relation to the “Bacon/Ravarino” drawings, it has been decided that this particular case study is not appropriate for a Courtauld Research Forum event. 


Therefore, the debate that was proposed for 25 January 2012 at The Courtauld will not now take place.









Market News













A debate on authentication with particular reference to a hoard of drawings, supposedly by Francis Bacon, that was to have been held at the Courtauld Institute tomorrow has been cancelled for fear of litigation. In a statement, the Courtauld said: “Although the process of authentication is a subject that the Courtauld Institute of Art is interested in from an academic perspective, whilst there is the possibility of legal action being taken in relation to the Bacon/Ravarino’ drawings, it has been decided that this particular case study is not appropriate for a Courtauld Research Forum event.”


The “Bacon/Ravarino” drawings, which are owned by Cristiano Ravarino, an Italian lover of Francis Bacon, have been exhibited throughout Europe and South America, but authorities on the artist, including his biographer, Michael Peppiatt, and the editor of the artist’s catalogue raisonné, Martin Harrison, have refrained from confirming their authenticity.


However, neither have they declared them as fakes. To do so would have affected their sale value and risked incurring legal action. The debate would have been a platform for scholars to state their opinions frankly without fear of legal action, and Italian lawyers had issued a guarantee that none would face any legal risk at the debate. However, this did not preclude the possibility of other parties taking action. CG





Bacon nude has Laois connection



A notorious London model who later became caretaker’ of Roundwood House in Mountrath

is the subject of a Francis Bacon painting on the market, writes MICHAEL PARSONS





A PAINTING by Irish-born artist Francis Bacon of a woman who once lived in Co Laois is expected to sell for more than €20 million when it goes under the hammer in London next month.

Christie’s has announced that the Portrait of Henrietta Moraes will be auctioned on St Valentine’s Day, February 14th.

The large painting, measuring 65 by 56 inches, dates from 1963. Henrietta Moraes was a British artists’ model whom Bacon painted on a number of occasions.

She was a well-known bohemian character in London during the swinging 1960s who mixed with artists and Soho society but she died, poverty stricken, in a council flat in Chelsea, in 1999 aged 63.

Her eventful life included three dissolved marriages, a spell as a cat burglar which landed her in Holloway Prison, a stint as secretary to singer Marianne Faithfull, a long sojourn in Ireland and nude modelling for artists.

An obituary in The Guardian described her as “foul-mouthed, amoral, a thief, a violent drunkard and a drug addict” but also as a “witty, wonderfully warm and lovable” person who had “enjoyed life in Ireland, where there were young, upper-class addicts in ramshackle mansions”. Who knew?

Henrietta Moraes lived in Ireland during the late 1970s and early 1980s when she was the “caretaker” of Roundwood House, Mountrath, Co Laois. Roundwood was then owned by the Irish Georgian Society but is now a privately-owned guesthouse.

Among friends who joined her there was rock star Eric Burdon (founder of The Animals) who recorded an album Darkness, Darkness at Roundwood in May 1978.

Christie’s described the “sexually charged” painting as Francis Bacon’s “most seductive female portrait” while acknowledging the artist’s “lack of personal erotic interest in naked females”.

The painting, which is being auctioned for the first time, has not been seen in public for 15 years. Christie’s said the estimate was “upon request” but it is understood that the reserve is £18 million (€21.53m).

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) was born in Dublin, spent his childhood in Kildare and lived and worked in London. His work is the most expensive of all Irish-born artists and he is one of the world’s most expensive artists. The highest price achieved for one of his paintings took place four years ago at Sotheby’s in New York when his Triptych, 1976 sold for $86.3 million (€55.6m). The buyer is believed to have been Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.






Bacon’s nude muse portrait to fetch €20m






SHE was an ’It’ girl of 1960s London. He was a gay painter who would become one of the giants of world art. The unlikely bond between femme fatale Henrietta Moraes and Dublin-born Francis Bacon produced over a dozen paintings, one of which is expected to fetch more than €20m when it is brought to auction next month.

Having spent the past 30 years in a New York private collection, the Portrait of Henrietta Moraes will go under the hammer on Valentine’s Day, February 14, as the highlight of Christie’s auction of post-war and contemporary art in London.

While the anticipated price tag is enough to draw attention to the sale, the story of the lives behind the painter and his muse is even more intriguing. Henrietta was the undisputed queen of bohemia in Soho in the late 1950s and 1960s, living a hedonistic lifestyle of nude modelling, drinking, drug-taking and many dalliances.

Born Audrey Wendy Abbott to an officer of the Indian Air Force in 1931, Henrietta had an unhappy childhood, raised by a disciplinarian grandmother in England, before attending secretarial school. She was just 18 when she married an older man, the filmmaker Michael Law, then she wed the actor Norman Bowler before turning to a younger husband, the 18-year-old poet Dom Moraes (she was 25).

In her autobiography, she claims Mr Moraes went out for cigarettes one day and never came back. She was a flatmate of singer Marianne Faithfull for years and had a brief career as a cat burglar for which she served time in Holloway Prison. But her career as an artists’ model will ensure she is never forgotten.

She was briefly a lover of Lucian Freud who painted her on three occasions. But Bacon is believed to have painted her at least a dozen times and possibly more. The actual number is unverified as Bacon liked to paint from photographs and asked his friend John Deakin to take a number of images of Henrietta.

The large, vibrant nude painting up for sale has been described by Francis Outred, Christie’s head of post-war and contemporary art in Europe, as "one of the most seductive and sexually charged paintings I have ever encountered by Bacon".

The image was painted in 1968 when Bacon was embarking on a stormy love affair with George Dyer, who became an important subject of his works both during his lifetime and after his death from an overdose in 1971. The portrait, which measures over 1.5 metres, has only ever had two owners post-war industrialist Willy Schniewind and the present owner who acquired it in 1983, identified as a "distinguished New Yorker".

The auction record for a Bacon was set at Sotheby’s in New York in May 2008 when his 1976 painting Triptych sold for $86.3m (€67m).






         The ‘Portrait of Henrietta Moraes’ which Francis Bacon painted from a photograph by John Deakin in 1963.







Bacon’s Nude Model May Fetch $30 as Owner Tests Demand








A 1963 female nude by Francis Bacon may raise as much as $30 million at an auction next month.


Bacon’s sexually charged Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, showing one of his favourite models sprawled across a bed, has a formally undisclosed estimate of about 18 million pounds at Christies’s International (CHRS)  in its Feb. 14. London  sale.


The painting’s owner, an unidentified New York collector, is testing the market for high-value contemporary works. Bacon is the U.K.’s most expensive artist at auction. The portrait has never appeared at public sale before and has no guaranteed minimum price, said Christie’s. It dates from the year that the painter embarked on his relationship with George Dyer.


“Bacon’s lack of personal erotic interest in naked females did nothing to prevent these paintings from being as passionate as those of the male bodies that obsessed him,” said David Sylvester, a U.K.-based art critic, who interviewed the artist in the 1960s and 1970s.


Moraes was a close friend of Bacon’s during the 1950s and 1960s. Like Bacon and Lucian Freud,  she was a regular visitor to the Colony Club Room in Soho. She battled drink and drug addictions, had many lovers, once shared an apartment with singer Marianne Faithfull and was sent to prison after an unsuccessful attempt to become a cat burglar. She appears in a number of paintings using photos taken of her by John Deakin.


Her full-length portrait was done by Bacon about the time of his first major exhibition in the U.S., held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. The work has only had two owners. It was first part of the collection formed by the German industrialist Willy Schniewind, then acquired by the current seller in 1983, said Christie’s.

A 1976 Bacon Triptych sold for $86.3 million at Sotheby’s (BID) New York, in May 2008, a record for the artist at auction.  Roman Abramovich was the buyer, dealers said. Though demand slumped in the wake of the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., prices have since recovered. The artist’s 1964 painting Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud was sold at Sotheby’s last February for 23 million pounds ($37 million), the highest price achieved for a contemporary work in London in 2011.



A Lilac-Hued Bacon at Christie’s





Have a Francis Bacon to sell? London is where many auction house experts are advising collectors to try their luck. “We’ve seen extraordinary prices paid for Bacons in London in recent years,” said Brett Gorvy, international chairman of Christie’s postwar and contemporary art department. “Americans have competed as aggressively as buyers from emerging markets.” And with so many rich Russians and Middle Easterners putting down roots in London, it’s the obvious place to sell.

That explains the image on the catalogue cover for Christie’s Feb. 14 London sale of postwar and contemporary art. It’s a 1963 portrait of Henrietta Moraes, the model and friend of Bacon’s, reclining naked on a white bed in a room with a deeply saturated lilac wall and a bright red floor.

Bacon generally painted his subjects from photographs rather than from life, and for this picture he commissioned his friend John Deakin to shoot Ms. Morales in 1961. Christie’s estimates the painting will sell for about $23 million to $30 million.

The record price for a Bacon painting at auction is $86.3 million, achieved in May 2008 when Sotheby’s in New York sold a 1976 triptych, supposedly to Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch. Christie’s in London sold Triptych 1974-77 that same year for a robust $51.6 million and a year later auctioned Three Studies for a Self-Portrait (1975) for $34.4 million. And in June Christie’s London sold Study for a Portrait (1953) for $28.7 million.

Mr. Gorvy isn’t saying who is selling Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, but art experts familiar with Bacon’s work said it was Sheldon Solow, the New York real estate developer and a well-known collector who bought the painting from Ernst Beyeler, the Swiss dealer, in 1983.

Mr. Solow is not known as an auction seller but at 83 is re-evaluating his collection.

The Bacon portrait is not all Mr. Solow is said to be selling at Christie’s next month. Two other works from his collection are coming to auction on the evening of Feb. 7: a 1925 Miró painting, Painting-Poem, which is expected to fetch $9.2 million to $13.8 million; and Reclining Figure: Festival, a 1951 sculpture by Henry Moore, expected to bring about $5.3 million to $8.5 million.

The paintings are on view at Christie’s in New York until Tuesday.





Constructions of Homosexuality in the Art of Francis Bacon








Francis Bacon was obsessed with the human body. In spite of his diversions to other subjects, such as the crucifixions and the papal figures, the connecting thread between all his works was the portrayal of the human body in the twentieth century. In his oeuvre, there is a preponderance of images that are of male nudes. These range from the seemingly innocuous and objective portrayals of the male body, such as Study from the Human Body (1949) and Study of a Nude (1952–1953), to more explicit explorations of homosexual encounters, such as Two Figures (1953) and Two Figures in the Grass (1954).

Bacon also painted the female form but, in this instance, was more concerned with capturing the individual essences of female sitters, such as Henrietta Moraes, Isabel Rawsthorne and Muriel Belcher, all of whom were close friends. He was less interested in exploring the female nude form1 and many of his studies of females focus on either head-and-neck portraits or the fully clothed figure. His overriding preoccupation was with the male nude, and it is for this reason that I will be entirely focusing my study on his depictions of the male form. Fuller (1985, p. 554) summarises Bacon’s motivation when he suggests that Bacon seems to suffer from a “glazing of vision when he looks at anything other than the male body”.

In this article, I want to contextualise Bacon’s representations of homosexuality — that is, same-sex relations between men. The male nude made its appearance in Bacon’s work in the early 1950s, “forcing itself on a cultural scene where even female nudes were a rarity” (Domino 1997, p. 39). There is a specificity about the construction of homosexuality in Bacon’s work that differs from the work of his contemporaries. Other British homosexual artists, such as Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde, steered clear of representing homosexuality, whilst others, such as John Minton and Keith Vaughan, depicted homosexuality in their art in an ambiguous and diffuse fashion, often with recourse to the homoerotic. Vaughan’s studies of men exercising focused on the strength and virility of the male nude, and were erotically charged without being overtly sexual. Minton painted closely observed portraits, mostly of men, which have a sensual quality to them, such as Artist and Model (1953).

In contrast, Bacon chose to be more explicit in his depictions. He did not simply allude to, but pointed to the homosexual act of copulation. Given that Bacon was painting at a time when homosexuality was illegal, how can these images be explained and what was Bacon attempting to do? I will explain his motivations by drawing on his cultural and theoretical background. What is evident is that there is not one homogeneous interpretation of his depiction of homosexuality, but multiple readings, which develop over Bacon’s lifetime. His depictions can be explained with recourse to his biography, art historical influences, political activism and his existential awareness of death. I will also demonstrate how changes in the political landscape affected his portrayals in what I will describe as four thematic phases in Bacon’s art.

The first phase is where he depicts the single male nude not engaged in any sexual activity, but in innocuous poses, such as sitting or standing. The nude may be interpreted as homoerotic or encouraging homoerotic urges. However, this is not the motivation of the figure, which has been inadvertently subsumed into a homosexual discourse. In these examples, Bacon is marvelling at the nude male form. The second phase is more sexually explicit and involves “couplings”, which are two male figures that are entwined around each other in a host of different locations. The third phase involves self-identification through reference to the biographical — Bacon depicts himself as homosexual and is represented alongside his lover. The final phase is what I describe as the more experimental phase of Bacon’s work, which occurs in the late 1960s to the 1980s and involves Bacon exploring aspects of homosexuality more widely.


In scholarship on Bacon, there has been a tendency to relegate discussions about homosexuality to his biography2, thereby identifying his paintings with his sexuality — what Werckmeister sees as “the autobiographical self-representation of a homosexual artist” (cited in Schmied 2006, p. 100). The predilection to couple homosexuality and biography has led to a paucity of critical appraisal or evaluation about the representation of homosexuality in his work.3 Another tendency has been to overlook the sexual content of the image and focus instead on the formal aspects of the aesthetic. Zervigon (1995, p. 88) describes how Sylvester (who was Bacon’s primary interviewer) would nullify the sexually charged violence of Bacon’s images by focusing on the aesthetic aspects. For example, “such motifs as screaming bloody mouths were seen as harmless studies in pink, white and red”, instead of sexualising them by likening them to orifices. However, it is highly plausible that given that Sylvester was writing about Bacon before 1967 (when homosexuality was legalised in Britain with the Sexual Offences Act), Sylvester would have been keen to deflect negative attention away from what could be seen as sexually provocative images, which would have, in turn, affected the way Bacon’s work was received. Weinberg (1993, p. xiii) identifies this tendency of keeping work and life or personal identity apart as the desire to isolate the work of art from what is taken to be the polluting force of homosexuality.


It is perhaps understandable why critics such as Sylvester wanted to underplay or distract the viewer from the sexually charged imagery of Bacon’s oeuvre for fear of a reprisal from the conservative British art world. However, it is important now to recoup Bacon’s images of the male nude and to address the ramifications of the homosexual gaze that he expressed in his representations.4 In his varied depictions of homosexuality, Bacon articulated the complexity and problematic nature of same-sex desire. His repertoire of images and vocabulary of pictorial forms are important constructions of homosexual desire that functioned to reflect and represent the different facets of homosexuality, such as the hysteria surrounding the act of copulation between two men and the clandestine measures that men resorted to for sexual gratification. In contemporary British society, homosexuality enjoys greater representation in different spheres of cultural life, but in Bacon’s era homosexuality was an underdeveloped subject that was raised surreptitiously. Bacon’s art reflected the nuances of homosexual desire from the scopophilic gazing at the male body to the mechanics of copulation, and provided sustenance for men who shared the same preoccupations. The potential that Bacon’s work has as an invaluable repository of codes of desire for homosexuality in the visual arts has not been pursued sufficiently in scholarship. This article seeks to expose the importance of his artistic representations — “about seeing and being seen, about desiring and being desired” (Houlbrook 2005, p. 67) — that functioned in the “closet” of coded meanings in cultural representations.5



Formative Influences on Bacon’s Constructions of Homosexuality

In this article, I am taking the social constructivist perspective, which takes the view that “sexual identities are constructed by the society and have meaning only in terms of a complex matrix of culturally determined roles” (Weinberg 1993, p. xvi). I will begin by examining aspects of Bacon’s biography to evaluate critically Bacon’s understanding of homosexuality and further elucidate his interpretations. Bacon’s sexual identity was defined in opposition to his father’s interpretation of masculinity. The person who exerted the greatest (albeit negative) influence in Bacon’s life was his father, Anthony Edward Mortimer Bacon, who was the grandson of a general and was himself once a captain in the army. On retirement, he owned, bred and trained racehorses. His militaristic background was reflected in his conservative views about gender roles. Bacon’s desire to be a painter and his effeminate ways turned his father against him. His father would attempt to “straighten” his son out in a variety of brutal and hostile ways. The turning point in their deleterious relationship came when the 16-year-old Bacon was caught trying on some of his mother’s underwear. This transgressive action led to his irate father expelling him from the house, and Bacon then moved to London and lived on an allowance that was supplied by his mother.

Bacon did not attempt to change his ways or make himself more amenable to his father. However, the wounds left by his father’s ultimate rejection were deep, and many of Bacon’s choices and much of his behaviour in later life stems from the patterns set in these early years. Bacon admitted to a strong erotic attraction towards his father, and in later years his lovers possessed the masculine traits and attitudes that his father embodied. For example, Peter Lacy (who was Bacon’s lover in the 1950s) was a fighter pilot turned pianist, “whose romantically tinged brand of sadism was exactly attuned to Bacon’s masochistic leanings” (Schmied 2006, p. 11). In his sadomasochistic relationship with Lacy, Bacon can be said to have enacted the unbalanced and tortured relationship that he had with his father, where Bacon was the victim of Lacy’s beatings. His next significant relationship (which was in the mid 1960s) was with the working-class East Ender George Dyer, who would have been classed as “rough trade”.6 Both relationships ended disastrously: Lacy died of alcohol-related problems and Dyer was found dead in a hotel room in Paris, where he and Bacon were staying for the opening of Bacon’s exhibition at the Grand Palais in October 1971.

In the nomadic explorations that followed Bacon’s expulsion from the family home, he was exposed to culturally shifting perspectives on homosexuality. In Ireland, where he was born and spent an early part of his life, Bacon experienced the militancy and restraining hand of the Church.7 Bacon’s subsequent visits to Berlin and Paris in 1927 provided him with experiences of the more wide-open possibilities of city life and the spirit of cosmopolitanism. Particularly in Weimar Berlin — which W. H. Auden described as “the bugger’s daydream” (Peppiatt 1997, p. 29)8 — Bacon experienced the gayness and decadence of the Jazz Age. In his adult life, Bacon lived in London, which was more suited to his bohemian lifestyle than Ireland. London life was cosmopolitan and homosexual activity was part of the seedy underworld. Houlbrook describes how

London was, nonetheless, the site of a vibrant, extensive, and diverse queer urban culture. Overlapping social worlds took hold in parks, streets, and urinals; in pubs, restaurants, and dancehalls; in Turkish baths; in furnished rooms and lodging houses. Across this city, men met in these places, brought together by their desires for sex or sociability. (Houlbrook 2005, p. 3).

Before the legalisation of homosexuality, homosexuals existed on the fringes of society along with the criminal underworld of London life, and homosexual encounters were confined to certain places. It is important to note that many experienced the law differently, depending on such factors as age, class and status.

Ofield (2008, p. 71) states that the Second World War provided an opportunity for unspecified social and sexual pleasures between men both within the armed forces and on the streets of London, especially in and around Soho, and these activities continued in the post-war years with National Service. Another outlet for expression and release was in the form of artistic and literary representations of gayness — what David (1997, p. 33) describes as “the essential sense of differentness” — which gave voice to the feelings and attitudes of hosts of men. Given the intolerance towards homosexuality in both its attitude and practice, visual pleasure was often confined to magazines, which were culturally accessible. And so desire was exercised in looking at other male bodies in bodybuilding magazines. These types of magazine came to be regarded pejoratively as being associated with the cultivation and sharing of the male body — what Ofield (2008, p. 67) describes as “the sites of production and seduction”. They enabled spectatorship to occur — where men put themselves on show to be looked at.

Ofield (2008, p. 64) singles out the magazine Physique Pictorial as one such publication, which he notes could be purchased from 1952 and a copy of which was found in Bacon’s studio (7 Reece Mews) around this time.


Bacon’s Attitude towards Homosexuality

The history of homosexuality in Britain is long and complex. The term “homosexual”, as a category of identity, was not coined until 1869. In this conception, “sexual acts and desires became constitutive of identity. Homosexuality as the condition, and therefore identity, or particular bodies is thus a production of that historical moment” (Somerville 1997, p. 37). In this first usage, it was regarded as a medical-legal term. The next milestone was the publication of the Kinsey Report, Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male (1948). The revolutionary findings of Kinsey provided the first study that tallied the instances of same-sex relationships in the general public and discovered how comparatively widespread homosexuality was. Cooper (1994, p. 210) observes how this breached the taboo on homosexuality. Thus, the focus of homosexuality moved from the peripheries of medical and legal discourse to the realm of public discussion. Other studies, albeit on a smaller scale, such as the Wolfenden Report in 1957, raised awareness of the prevalence of male homosexuality in Britain and recommended the decriminalisation of private sexual relations between consenting adult men.

During the early twentieth century in Britain, representations of homosexuality were divided by a fundamental distinction, which related to identification. Some men identified themselves as being homosexual, queer or whatever neologism took their fancy9, whilst others styled themselves differently: as men who have sex with other men. These men often engaged in emotional and sexual relationships with women as well as men, but did not consider themselves as homosexual. They separated their gender (masculinity) from their sexual desire for men and did not view their predilections as a component of their larger overarching male identity. It is worth noting that the binary opposition between heterosexuality and homosexuality was a post-war phenomenon (Houlbrook 2005, p. 7).

Bacon fell into the former category of identifying himself as a homosexual. In spite of the moral and social recriminations that Bacon faced by his father for being homosexual, this did not deter his self-expression. In his personal life, Bacon led a full sexual and emotional life with his lovers. He spent much of his adult life around Soho, which from the 1920s onwards, and certainly by the 1950s, was regarded as a more louche part of London. Although his sexuality was a significant part of his life and undoubtedly spurred on his fascination with the male body, it was not a pronounced part of his social life. His recreational time was taken up by gatherings with artist friends in select bars and restaurants. Earlier, I mentioned the tendency for critics (in early scholarship) to sidestep or take a detour from the explicit content of sexuality in his work, and this may have been significant in Bacon’s public profile. He entered the art scene late (in c.1933), after spending his early adult years as a designer. Emphasis on what many at the time would have regarded as the indecent aspects of his personal life may have hindered his development as an artist. In the early twentieth century, the trial of Oscar Wilde still cast a shadow.

The openness with which he dealt with his sexuality in his personal life was not altogether reflected in his art. Bacon was more circumspect with his visual representations of homosexuality and, with the exception of the Black Triptychs that explicitly convey his sexual relationship with Dyer, Bacon opted, by and large, to depict the anonymity of homosexual encounters. The distorted forms and use of various devices, such as striated curtains and peepholes, enabled Bacon to blur the boundaries between seeing and veiling what would have been regarded as criminal activities.


The Homoerotic in Art

Study of a Nude (1952–1953; see Figure 1) and Study from the Human Body (1949) are two examples of the male nude. In both examples, Bacon attempts to delineate the poise and strength of the male figure, and focuses on the broad shoulders and buttocks. These images are examples of the homoerotic, where Bacon is marvelling at the erotic power and strength of the male body. In his portrayals of male nudes, Bacon was influenced by a range of art historical sources, from Michelangelo’s “voluptuous nudes” (Russell 1993, p. 155) to Thomas Eakins’ homoerotic nudes in the nineteenth century.

In Study of a Nude, Bacon concentrates on the splendour and tautness of the male nude. The figure stands on a rail and takes the position of a diver. The musculature of his arms and back conveys his athleticism. The frombehind position of the figure is a deliberate ploy to fix attention on his body rather than on his personal identity (which would be conveyed by the face). The figure is contained in a space-frame structure, a device that Bacon used to concentrate the image down. The spatial ambiguity of the background and blackness of the background further draws the viewer’s attention to the strenuous centre —— the poised figure. The study of the figure is possibly a study of an athlete or a swimmer, which Bacon may have encountered in one of his magazines. Open-air venues in London, such as parks and ponds, were sites for homosexual display. “The ponds became a place where men could see and be seen, a site of public culture that valued the strength and beauty of the male body” (Houlbrook 2005, p. 55). In the nineteenth century, the realist painter Eakins innovated portraiture and took it out of the drawing room into the open air, into the streets and parks. The Swimming Hole (1884–1885) features Eakins’ finest studies of male nude forms as they dive, swim and lounge by the pool. There are similarities between Eakins’ figurative forms in that painting and Bacon’s representation here in terms of the emphasis placed on the muscularity and strength of the male body. What is idiosyncratic is that there is no water beneath the figure, which quashes the possibility of a transition from his poised state to the action of diving. In other words, the action is going nowhere, and hence the focus on the body is gratuitous and has the purpose of eroticising the male body. The influence of Michelangelo can be seen in the “attitude of maximum anatomical tension” (Ficacci 2006, p. 44). Michelangelo’s male nudes are renowned for their poise and musculature detail, and Bacon adopted these features in order to add to the tension of his work.


Structuring Desire

Bacon’s first two explicitly homosexual images are Two Figures (1953; see Figure 2) and Two Figures in the Grass (1954). Both examples feature two naked men, with bodies entwined, in the throes of what seems to be a passionate tryst. They have been described as couplings. The charged and energetic dynamic of the two figures differs greatly from Bacon’s treatment of the single male figure in the previous example, which is poised and tender. The addition of another figure creates a power dynamic — one figure exerts power over the other, and the union is not tender and loving, but aggressive and intense.

In this visual pair of entwined bodies, Bacon eliminates any sense of social propriety and exposes the human in its most animalistic and ravening state. We can see here the influences of two artists who were important in his formulation of the male body. In the musculature and serpentine forms that many of his figures exhibit, we see the influence of Michelangelo. In his desire to portray the body in motion, we see the influence of the nineteenth-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge, in particular his sequence of photographs from The Human Figure in Motion (1887). Muybridge’s photographs of the 1870s and 1880s changed the way people understood animal and human movement. Muybridge wanted to show movement as it actually is and strove to capture the continuity of motion. He made sequential photographs of animals and humans to show the progression of movement as a horse gallops, for example.

Although the figures in The Human Figure in Motion are clearly wrestling, Lucie-Smith (2004, p. 119) comments on the sexual charge that they impart. Bacon manipulated this to enhance the ambiguity of his figures and, in the depictions of Two Figures, Bacon combines the stature of Michelangelo’s nudes with the explorations of movement and the multiplicity of viewpoints of the body in Muybridge’s forms.10 He transformed the objective and clinical aspects of Muybridge’s studies into carnal and frenetic portrayals, and explores the boundaries between intimacy and brutality. A recurring feature in Bacon’s couplings, which is particularly pronounced in Two Figures, is the ambiguity of action displayed by the two figures. The activities that come to mind when looking at the two figures are that they are wrestling or copulating. But rather than having to make a choice between one or the other activity, it is also possible to entertain both activities simultaneously — it is a double reading. At the level of perception, we see either “wrestling” or “copulating”, but, at the level of thought, both interpretations can hold.11 Bacon cleverly employs coded meanings that mean he is able to present an image which operates on different levels. The more “innocent” reading denotes the sport, whilst the more loaded meaning refers to the transgressive act of male copulation. Indeed, a further reading indicates a temporal continuity of action — the wrestling is a prelude to copulation. By being able to oscillate from one to the other, Bacon was providing his viewers with a socially acceptable image, whilst also appealing to male homosexual desire. The ambiguity of action here could result in inducing “homosexual panic”. This phenomenon, first coined by the psychiatrist Edward J. Kempf in 1920, describes

an acute, severe episode of anxiety related to the fear (or the delusional conviction) that the subject is about to be attracted sexually by another person of the same sex, or that he is thought to be a homosexual by fellow workers, etc. (Campbell 2009, p. 462).

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick develops this concept and suggests that if homophobia is a type of social blackmail which increases the level of vigilance between men in terms of how they should behave towards each other in case they are labelled “gay”, then homosexual panic is the defence mechanism undertaken when a man finds himself being aware of his attraction to another man. However slight this attraction may be, the former man may experience a range of conflicting emotions — the attraction becomes revulsion, horror and may even result in violence (Crain 1994, pp. 33–34; Sedgwick 1985, p. 89). Homosexual panic may explain the oscillation from one reading of Two Figures to the other. The viewer is taken aback by the presence of two figures copulating and reinterprets their behaviour as that of sport, hence resolving the initial fear.

In depicting homosexual copulation, Bacon was drawing attention to what would have been regarded as an unspeakable act and grounds for prosecution. He was reacting against the politics of the time, which forced homosexual men to be furtive and secretive about their identities and practices. There was always the risk of being discovered. Bacon concentrates on the very act of contention — what was regarded as the most unspeakable aspect of homosexuality — the act of buggery. Crain (1994, p. 34) explains how, “once revulsion at the particular act of homosexuality is transcended, it can be seen as a different, and no worse, structure of affection”. But by overtly placing the act in the public gaze, before society showed any signs of tolerance towards the act, Bacon was underscoring its difference and, paradoxically, alienating society further.

Bacon exercised cunning in his depiction of the two figures. Not only does he make the actions occurring ambiguous, but he also uses striated smudges to blur the faces (and therefore identities) of the figures. Bacon had to present his views circumspectly. Shows of homoeroticism or homosexuality were kept away from the public gaze for fear of recrimination. Higgins (1996, p. 272) comments on the scrutiny that homosexuals were under in 1954: “in no year before or afterwards were so many trials for homosexual offences reported in the press”. The collective imprisonment in the 1950s of well-known figures Lord Montague, Michael Pitt-Rivers and Peter Wildeblood for homosexual offences, and the clandestine life that homosexuals led, inevitably drew them towards anonymity and ambiguity. It is significant that the couplings would recur in other images such as Triptych, Studies from the Human Body (1970), Three Studies for Figures on a Bed (1972) and Two Figures with a Monkey (1973), all of which were painted after the legalisation of homosexuality.

The portrayal of two men embroiled in a physical tryst would have been regarded as a highly controversial image in the 1950s. In gay politics, it was a positive move, as it increased visibility of male homosexuality during a time when it was not seen in mainstream culture. Bacon had established his reputation by this time, and his images would have been circulated widely. However, a more negative reading suggests that he was inadvertently supporting the stereotypical view of homosexual sex — that it was base, anonymous and lacking in any civilised conceptualisation of love. George Shrady, author of one of the earliest medical discussions of homosexuality in the USA, classified homosexual acts as among the “lowest forms of bestiality and sensuousness exhibited by debased men” (cited in Weinberg 1993, pp. 6–7). The setting of Two Figures in the Grass adds to the animalistic overtones of the union. Homosexual acts were regarded as alien and abnormal, and Bacon’s images of the two figures could have added to the marginalisation and suspicion surrounding homosexual behaviour. However, I am inclined to suggest that rather than viewing these as perpetuations of negative stereotyping, they should be viewed as realistic accounts of the situation that faced homosexuals in Britain in the 1950s. Bacon was opposing a social system. He was condemning a system that inhibited the freedom of expression. The social taboo attached to homosexuals meant that encounters were brief and transitory; this was not a matter of choice, but of necessity. The need for discretion, and the apprehension involved in the seeking out of sexual encounters, thwarted the possibility of emotional interchange. The violence of the act in Bacon’s portrayals conveyed the urgency of seeking sexual relief. The clenched teeth of the lower figure adds to the desperation of the union. Encounters were often brief, anonymous and urgent, and took place in dark and desolate hideouts. Here, the starkness of the room adds to the impersonality of the encounter.12 The nature of the meetings is reflected in Bacon’s art, “in the scrambled figure, the sporadic gesture, the chance encounter, the reverse image, the sudden slippage, the lowered guard” (Beaver 1981, p. 105). In Three Studies of Figures on Beds (1972) and Sleeping Figure (1974), Bacon uses circular peepholes, which draw attention to the illicit nature of their activities.


A Discourse on Death

Two Figures can also be subsumed into a discourse on death. The struggle between the two figures can be interpreted metaphorically as a struggle between the forces of life and death, which was a recurring preoccupation of Bacon. The impersonal nature of the relationship conveys the impersonality of death, which indiscriminately snatches people from their lives. In critical theory, eroticism is often used to show the mechanics of death. Ficacci (2006, p. 49) develops this argument. He interprets the act of buggery between the two men as an “antecedent fact”, and the more pressing issue he identifies is the existential condition of humankind. What we are seeing in this struggle of figures is the struggle between life and death, and the ghostly imagery present in the painting supports this reading:

It is wholly transformed in the whiteness of the sheet, the anthracite black of the background, the blending of white, grays and bluish tints on the lovers’ bodies ... The exasperated desires of the amorous act are rendered by the bluish gray magma of the bodies, the blurred anatomical parts, and the faces crushed by a fleeting sensation, fixed in tragic expression, trapped in the tangle of vitality and death. (Ficacci 2006, p. 49)

Another reading points to Bacon’s prescience. His ghostly depictions could be intimating the AIDS crisis, which haunted the 1980s. Although there is now much more education and knowledge about the causes of AIDS, at the time the homosexual population was targeted and there was an inordinate amount of scaremongering, which equated homosexuality with the disease. Dollimore (1998, p. xi) notes that “in certain hostile representations of AIDS, homosexuality and death have been made to imply each other: homosexuality is seen as death-driven, death-desiring and thereby death-dealing”.


Unveiling the Self

Triptych August 1972 (1972; see Figure 3) was painted shortly after homosexuality had been decriminalised in the UK. It involves a coupling and so relates back to the previous phase. However, what is distinct, and why I have chosen to group it in a different phase, is that the identity of the figures of the couple are known — it shows the relationship between Bacon and his late lover, George Dyer. Bacon explored this subject in his triptychs. One would expect the relationship between the two figures to develop from panel to panel, but the typical configuration consists of the central panel involving the sexual union of the bodies, whilst the other two panels convey isolation, detachment and the absence of communication. In Triptych August 1972, the left and right panels echo one another — Dyer in the left panel, sitting alone; Bacon in the right, likewise. Each man is represented in a state of solitary confinement, against a black background, where the blackness signifies the void. The figures could either be absorbed in the contemplation of the abyss or could equally be in the act of masturbating, but, in either case, they display a wilful narcissism. The middle panel consists of what looks like the two bodies, one on top of the other, engaged in copulation. This coupling involves the division of power, where the figure on top can be viewed as the victor/violator and the figure underneath can be viewed as the prey. The imbalance of power is divisive and results in the breakdown of communication and union in the other panels. Their union is not joyous, but only serves to augment the despair and loneliness. Their sense of incompleteness (demonstrated by their fragmented bodies) is not made whole in the encounter.

The shock of Dyer’s death was reflected in the series of three narrative paintings (known as the Black Triptychs) which document and commemorate this influential relationship, and which include Triptych August 1972. In the painting, Bacon is revealing his identity as homosexual. In previous examples, the male figures portrayed were anonymous, but after legalisation Bacon may have felt a need to express this essential aspect of his life, and to be more at liberty to articulate homosexuality without fear of recrimination. The shocking circumstances of Dyer’s suicide add to the drama of the work.

In the USA, the new social movements of the 1960s, such as the Black Power movement, inspired many homosexuals (males and females) to become more politically active and fight their cause, with the result of the Gay Liberation movement emerging towards the end of the decade (which was undoubtedly facilitated by the Stonewall riots of 1969). The activism in the USA had an effect on both sides of the Atlantic, and homosexuals in Britain and Europe started to become more politically active. This affected the visibility of homosexuality in the arts.

In Triptych August 1972, Bacon was positioning his professional and sexual self on the same canvas. He was the artist, but he was also a homosexual. Although he had not been secretive of his sexuality in his social life, this was the first instance of an explicit statement, which constituted an unveiling of the self. The shift in conceptual understanding from regarding the act alone to considering the person who performs the act can be mapped in the transition from Two Figures to Triptych August 1972. In the aforesaid painting, Bacon is engaged in the homosexual act and then embodying it.

Given the shift in thinking about homosexuality and the greater rights that homosexuals had in the 1970s, it seems rather bleak that, in spite of audaciously unveiling his identity as a homosexual, the narrative in the triptych conveys a distinct breakdown of emotionality. It looks like the transitory coming together of two strangers rather than the lovemaking of two lovers. Possible explanations for this treatment include Bacon’s volatile attitude towards his lovers. In his interviews, he discusses the destructive and obsessive effects of sexual relationships. It is plausible that the earlier wounds created by his dysfunctional relationship with his father re-emerged in his later life in the subsequent relationships that he had with his lovers. In these relationships, Bacon exercised his sadomasochistic impulses. This is given graphic portrayal in his work, as depicted by the motif of the struggle (between predator and prey). In the triptych, the figures of Dyer (in the left-hand panel) and Bacon (in the right) are both looking in different directions. Their lack of wholeness can be interpreted metaphorically — they are incomplete and their union does not make them whole. Another factor that adds a different perspective to the argument is that Bacon is drawing the viewer’s attention to the aspect that caused the most disgust. Media, legal and medical attention on homosexuality in his lifetime was fixated on the physical act, and not the emotional aspects of same-sex relationships. The emotional experiences were relegated to literature and other forms of high culture.


Parodying Gayness

In his later work, in the 1970s and 1980s, Bacon also expressed an interest in the portrayal of sportsmen (footballers, boxers, wrestlers and cricketers), as seen in, for example, Study of the Human Body (1982; see Figure 4) and Study from the Human Body, Figure in Movement (1982). In these examples, Bacon is able to be more experimental and to indulge his fantasies by displaying the athleticism of sportsmen with their genitals on show. This exposure lacks the guarded and voyeuristic sense of Two Figures, and is an explicit statement of sexuality. The focal point is the male organ and the fragmented nature of the body deflects the focus onto the (absent) person. One possible interpretation is that Bacon is liberating the desire of the very body part that had been denied to him by social, political and religious norms. The unveiling of the organ is concomitant with the unveiling of himself. In this final phase, Bacon felt more at liberty to explore the subject of homosexuality and opted to explore sportsmen, whom he had a penchant for in his personal life. Bacon is claiming, or reclaiming, gayness for himself. “Gay” as opposed to “homosexual” indicates a further development in sexual politics. It implies the naming of one’s sexuality in one’s own terms, instead of in terms defined by medical or legal bodies.

Another more sinister and paradoxical reading suggests that sexual liberation is followed by sexual exploitation. Bacon is objectifying the male by reducing him to a stereotype that conforms to his fantasy. By stripping away the face, reducing the body to a mere fragment and placing symbols of masculinity — the cricket pads — on the legs, Bacon is objectifying the male body for his own pleasure. The amorphous fragment of the body operates pornographically, to draw the viewer’s attention to the body part rather than the whole body. Bacon is fetishising the male form. The elevation of the mutant body onto a table further enhances the grotesque form of the fragment and situates the genitals at the viewer’s eye level. If each phase outlined corresponds to a progressive liberation of homosexuality, then Bacon has succeeded in moving representations from an underground subculture to the focal point of the viewer.


Refiguring the Boundaries of Desire

In his depictions of homosexuality, Bacon overturns the erstwhile normative position of heterosexism and its ramifications in modernist art. Bacon’s art posed a threat to binary sexuality, which had hitherto framed Western art. In this binary understanding of sexuality, masculinity and femininity were pitted at opposite ends of the spectrum with desire being constructed and fulfilled along a heterosexual axis. Bacon’s art represented a challenge to the viewers in his day, who would have been accustomed to female nudes and the fulfilment of patriarchal norms and male heterosexual pleasure. From the very beginnings, the history of Western art was oriented towards the axis of subject/object, where the male artist/viewer assumed a position of power and possession over the female object (where the viewing position that coexisted with this theory is known as the male gaze). In “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Mulvey (1975) explicates the differences: the (active) male promotes a stance of identification whilst the (passive) female is objectified. In Bacon’s day, the notion of the male gaze13 had been the subject of ongoing critiques in feminist art, which sought to subvert the male focus and enable women to speak about their own experiences and pleasures, and to construct their own identities aside from the constructions of patriarchal discourse. Bacon is working according to a feminist ideology in the broadest sense in that he queries the validity of viewing positions and the constructions of sexuality. He shifts the focus onto the male body and articulates the constructions of desire in relation to personal identity. His depictions enable the viewer to experience the various facets of homosexuality, from the admiration of the male physique, to the anonymity and impersonality of homosexual sex. In his portrayals, Bacon conveys a range of attitudes and approaches to homosexuality. Although he depicted his passionate engagement with Dyer in his 1972 triptych, he would also have been aware that such a stance of self-identification, of unveiling himself as a homosexual, was not typical.

Another hitherto established notion that Bacon thwarts in his art is the fulfilment of the gaze, which completes the circle of desire: the subject requires the gaze of the other to bestow form (Van Alphen 1992, p. 117). In viewing his paintings, wholeness is not conferred on the viewer: we do not read fulfilment and satiation, but despair and desperation. The veiled faces in Two Figures indicate that the self is denied and true identity is suppressed because of illegality. In his later phase in the 1980s, Bacon reclaims his identity by being able to paint the penis, but the fragmented and grotesque nature of these figures inhibits the possibility of viewing fulfilment. It would seem that the construction of self in a self/other relationship is denied in Bacon. The figures resist “being gazed upon” and remain oblivious to one another. Since the subject, who is dependent upon the other for construction, resists the other/viewer, desire is not fulfilled. Van Alphen (1992, p. 115) argues that the subjects in Bacon’s paintings are all represented as trapped in an entirely inner sensation of self. Desire is not satiated but is frustrated in the very act of perception. By displacing the heterosexist discourse which structures the dynamics of viewing, Bacon is withholding the viewing pleasure that we are so accustomed to sharing through viewing. The viewers experience the ruptured effects of the jouissance that consumes the figures, and, in the case of the copulating figures in, for example, Two Figures and Triptych August 1972, the orgasm experienced expresses isolation, alienation and the loss of self. As the Baconian figures are flayed to their bare flesh, we as viewers are taken apart and our nerves are exposed. Viewing therefore becomes a wounding experience.



Bacon makes a very important contribution to the history of visual representations of homosexuality in British art in the twentieth century. From a personal perspective, his representations can be viewed as cathartic. He was reprimanded for his sexuality by his father and had to battle against social constraints and the numerous homosexual arrests that were made in Britain. For the majority of his life, Bacon had to exercise caution about a fundamental part of his identity. His representations can be viewed as an attempt to reclaim what had once been withheld, and the urgency of this outlet may explain “the tangibly violent sexuality that suffuses so much of his imagery” (Peppiatt 1997, p. 17). Bacon’s relentless representations of the male nude throughout his career demonstrate his fervent struggle against a society which knew of the existence of homosexuality but wanted to deny it and eliminate it: the homosexual “stands on the fringes of both ‘nature’ and ‘culture’, fertility and the law” (Beaver 1981, p. 99). Bacon brings homosexuality to the forefront of his aesthetic and demonstrates the complex range of emotions and experiences that are central to the homosexual life in his time. He does not sublimate homosexual desire, as many artists and writers did in former times, but conveys its. complexity in different registers, which I have schematised in a series of visual snapshots. These snapshots convey the pain and isolation of encounter, the urgency of fulfilment and the insatiability of desire. Bacon lifts the veil on homosexuality in a series of stages, which begins with the homoerotic and progresses to openly gay portrayals. This reflects the changing politics of his time and also conveys the multifaceted nature of homosexual expression.

Bacon’s art offers a corrective to the binary schism between male subject and female object. He dislocates these pre-existing structures and works within a feminist paradigm by problematising the gaze (by resisting the conferral of wholeness) and by presenting a range of critical experiences without implying closure or mastery, thus anticipating many of the ideas and practices of queer theory.





1. Although it should be noted that many of his portraits of Henrietta Moraes were sexually enticing

2. Such as Farson (1994) and Peppiatt (1997).

3. However, in recent years, there has been a growing interest in the more theoretical aspects of sexuality in Bacon’s paintings, as evidenced in Ofield (2001, 2008) and Hornsey (2007).

4. In Lost Gay Novels, Anthony Slide (2003) recoups 50 early twentieth-century American novels with gay themes or characters, most of which would not have been considered as gay at the time, and discusses their homosexual aspects, including characterisation and themes.”

5. For an excellent study of how ‘the closet’ functioned to give voice to a range of homosexual desires, see David (1997).

6. ‘Rough trade’ or ‘a bit of rough’ was used to describe working-class masculinised men who had sex with other men, and was central to the homosexual experience (David 1997, p. 43).

7. The proliferation of papal images in the 1950s can be interpreted as the revenge that Bacon took on a figure who opposed his sexual and cultural identity (as an English Protestant, he represented the minority).

8. Bacon’s father sent Bacon to Berlin under the chaperone of a close friend, who was given the honorary title of ‘uncle’, in an attempt to ‘straighten up’ his son. The irony is that the trip to Berlin encouraged Bacon’s homosexual tendencies.

9. It is worth adding that there was variation in the understanding of these terms.

10. Bacon remarked to Sylvester that he often found it difficult to separate out the influences that he gained from both: ‘Actually, Michelangelo and Muybridge are mixed up in my mind together, and so I perhaps could learn about positions from Muybridge and learn about the ampleness and grandeur of form from Michelangelo, and it would be very difficult for me to disentangle the influence of Muybridge and the influence of Michelangelo’ (Sylvester 1993, p. 114).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               11. See Žižek’s (2000, pp. 5ff.) analysis of Casablanca (1942) in The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime for a study of split readings in the film.

12. However, it is worth adding that Bacon’s interiors are notoriously stark and neutral. They have been described as looking like hotel rooms. In that respect, this is not a special case.

13. The gaze is a trope used in the visual arts to refer to the distribution of power across a heterosexist axis.





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Crain, C. (1994) ‘Lovers of Human Flesh: Homosexuality and Cannibalism in Melville’s Novels’, American Literature, vol. 66, no. 1, pp. 25-53.

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         Figure 4  Francis Bacon, Study of the Human Body (1982) oil on canvas









Too risqué for Iran, Bacon’s nudes could be shown in London










With its startling central nudes, a Francis Bacon triptych bought by the last Shah of Iran and displayed in his wife’s dazzling museum of modern art was never going to amuse the country’s hard-line ayatollahs.

So when the fundamentalists seized power in the 1979 revolution, the work, Two figures lying on a bed with attendants, was one of dozens seized and sent to storage.

It has languished unseen for nearly a quarter of a century since, a victim of the sensitivities surrounding depictions of flesh, which are still regarded as indecent by today’s conservatives.

But now negotiations are under way for the work, painted in 1968, to be lent to Tate Britain for display in the UK for the first time. It would form the centrepiece of a small Bacon exhibition for six months from this summer But now negotiations are under way for the work, painted in 1968, to be lent to Tate Britain for display in the UK for the first time. It would form the centrepiece of a small Bacon exhibition for six months from this summer.

With Bacon triptychs now commanding as much as £6m, the show would give British art-lovers a chance to see a valuable work most will never even have heard of.

But if the loan application to Iran’s Ministry of Culture succeeds, it would also be the next step in a gradual but intriguing cultural détente between Britain and a country many would regard as hostile.

Just as the American hospital erected in Bam in the wake of its catastrophic earthquake suggested hopes of a thaw in the enmity between those two countries, the potential loan of the Bacon is part of a developing relationship between Iran and the UK.

In 2001, the Barbican led the way with a season of Iranian film and an exhibition of art including works lent by the Tehran museum which it had never dared display. Last year, as part of a British Council initiative, Dundee Repertory became the first British theatre company to perform in Iran since Derek Jacobi starred in Hamlet in 1977.

Next month the British Council will open an exhibition of British sculpture at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, founded by the late Shah’s wife. And next year the British Museum hopes to stage the first major UK show of treasures from ancient Persia, including some of the greatest relics in Iran.

Relations can still be tricky. The Dundee actors found their performance thoroughly vetted by both the hard-liners and the liberals, with strict restrictions on men and women touching.

The sculpture exhibition was originally due to take place last year but fell foul of political sensitivities when Argentina lodged extradition proceedings against a former Iranian ambassador in Britain accused of terrorism.

But Stephen Deuchar, the director of Tate Britain who visited Tehran last month for talks, said it was clear the political climate was "conducive" to greater contact.

The groundwork for the current discussions was laid two years ago when Dr Deuchar visited the modern art museum while on a family holiday and was made warmly welcome by its director, Dr Sami Azar

"They have got a core collection of Western art which includes some important British work - Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and two Bacons," Dr Deuchar said. "[Dr Azar] kindly showed me this Bacon in the store and I thought it would be rather great to see it in this country in the context of some other Bacons. I hadn’t even seen this one reproduced before.

"It hasn’t been exhibited in this country and I don’t believe it was exhibited in America apart from when it was in the Marlborough Gallery [in New York] for sale." It was in "very good condition", he added.

The work was sold shortly after it was painted in 1968 and is understood to have been in Iran by the early 1970s. Tony Shafrazi, a well-known New York art dealer, was buying works for the Shah at that time and is likely to be asked for details of how it came into the Shah’s collection and the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.

The museum was founded with money from the country’s immense oil revenues by Farah Pahlavi, the widow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran. Housing Iranian art alongside works by Picasso, Monet, Dali and Warhol, it opened in 1977 with great fanfare and a guest list including Henry Kissinger and Nelson Rockefeller.

But when the royal family was deposed, the collection was seized and the more controversial works were consigned to a vault, known since then as "The Treasure".

However, some relaxation of attitudes is emerging. An exhibition of Impressionist paintings at the museum three years ago included a Renoir previously regarded as too risqué for public viewing.

Graham Sheffield, the Barbican’s artistic director, who has visited Iran, said the artistic scene was thriving and artists could get "the odd erotic moment" past the censors if they were subtle enough. But Bacon’s nudes were "probably a bit challenging", he said.




                  Artist Eilya Tahamtani standing in for the censored central panel






Are these Bacon artworks really kosher?




Experts spilt over supposed lover’s claim that hoard of drawings

 is work of revered artist







An Italian who claims to have been Francis Bacon’s lover for 15 years is fighting to prove the authenticity of hundreds of drawings which he says were given to him by the artist.

Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino, from Bologna, insists they are gifts marking a relationship that endured until Bacon’s death in 1992, but experts are divided about their origin and the drawings are now expected to be debated at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London next month.

Opinion could not be more polarised. Edward Lucie-Smith, a leading art historian, told The Independent that he did not doubt the drawings were the work of Bacon, arguably Britain’s foremost 20th-century master whose works now change hands for millions of pounds.

Conceding that some drawings were not as good as others, he saw the master in images such as depictions of priests, related to Bacon’s iconic Popes after Velázquez.

"They are the work of a Laocoön, a man struggling hard to escape from the entwining serpents of his own myth, and to return to the pleasure of making art for its own sake – no other reason than that," he said.

However, Martin Harrison, editor of The Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné, a definitive study to be published in 2013, does not detect the artist’s hand: "Anyone who’s not blind ought to know from about three countries away," he said. "The whole thing would hinge first of all on the likelihood... that Bacon made 600 presentation drawings."

Although Bacon denied making the preparatory drawings, authenticated sketches were found in his studio and others were given to the poet Stephen Spender and later acquired by the Tate. There is also an early filmed interview in which he admitted drawing. But unlike the Ravarino drawings, those were not signed.

"They’re works to a purpose," Harrison said. But Lucie-Smith responded: "If I give a book I’ve written to a friend, I sign it. Why wouldn’t Bacon sign drawings given to a close friend? It would seem odd to me if he didn’t."

While Harrison questioned whether Ravarino was ever Bacon’s lover, Lucie-Smith spoke of witnesses. "Bacon regarded his relationship with Ravarino as unofficial, in the sense that he could never get his friend to commit himself to something fully public – Ravarino worried what his family would say. One of his favourite places for escapes... was Italy. A constant companion in his Italian adventures was... Ravarino... they were often seen together."

Umberto Guerini, Ravarino’s lawyer, named several art historians who support the drawings’ authenticity, and claims to have clinching evidence in scientific tests of the paper and studies of the signatures by a graphologist. He welcomed the chance to show the drawings at the Courtauld.

Titled ’The Challenges of Authenticity: Francis Bacon, A Case Study’ it will take place on 25 January



The trouble with authenticating Bacon




Disputed sketches due to be discussed at Courtauld Institute forum






The Courtauld Institute of Art in London and the Francis Bacon catalogue raisonné project, set up the artist’s estate, are due to host a debate on the problems associated with authenticating Bacon’s work.

More than 600 disputed drawings, said to be by Bacon and acquired by Bologna-based Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino, who says he was Bacon’s lover (The Art Newspaper, December 2011, pp.1,8,9), are due to be discussed during The Challenges of Authenticity: Francis Bacon, A Case Study on 25 January. 

Key people involved with the sketches have been invited, including Ravarino, along with leading Bacon specialists from the Tate and Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery (which displays Bacon’s reconstructed studio). It is expected some of the drawings will be available for inspection. 






The Mystery of Appearance, Haunch of Venison 



This is a fine, thought-provoking exhibition but it does little to solve the puzzle of post-war British painting





The Mystery of Appearance, a new show at Haunch of Venison, curated by Catherine Lampert, explores the work of ten leading (and mostly deceased) twentieth-century British painters: Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Patrick Caulfield, William Coldstream, Lucian Freud, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney, Leon Kossoff and Euan Uglow. The show’s title is adapted from a statement by probably the most celebrated member of this decemvirate, Francis Bacon: “To me, the mystery of painting today is how can appearance be made. I know it can be illustrated, I know it can be photographed. But how can this thing be made so that you catch the mystery of appearance within the mystery of the making?”

Lampert imagines the artists, who all knew each other, asking each other such questions. Accordingly, her exhibition is presented as a series of putative pictorial conversations (or arguments) about the representation of reality in the post-war world. It opens with a sequence of images of the single figure: people in rooms, models, the artists themselves. Francis Bacon stares out gnomically from a self-portrait study of 1951 – pencil and charcoal on paper – that makes him look both victim and miscreant, stripped vulnerably half-bare, yet seemingly wearing a stocking over his face, like some melancholy catburglar. Richard Hamilton’s sketches of nudes worry away at the old Cezanne-Cubist conundrum – how to depict the human form in all its ever-shifting transience? – by turning people into fractured ghosts, doubled or tripled by outlines that multiply like whispered doubts. William Coldstream, among the first English proponents of this species of French pictorial anxiety, sinks the problem of looking, and representing, into the very texture of his art. As his Seated Nude looks out at the viewer with a quizzical expression on her face, her face and form retain the scars of multiple pencil-and-plumbline adjustments: both human skin, and the skin of the canvas, have been transformed into indices of uncertainty.

Anxiety is the prevailing mood of the show as a whole. Elsewhere, Lucian Freud’s minutely observed Girl on a Turkish Sofa, slumped in ungainly sleep, resembles a specimen of human fragility. Bacon’s large oil painting, Pope I – Study after Pope Innocent I by Velazquez, offers a reductio ad absurdam of the very idea of the authority figure: a blur of frail flesh with a fraught look in his eyes, anchored to a throne trapped inside a glass cage that recalls the witness boxes of the Nuremberg war crime trials.

Lampert’s thesis is at once intriguingly opaque and overtly polemical. Behind it lies her evident conviction that this particular group of artists – excepting Bacon and Freud – has still not been taken as seriously as it should have been, especially outside Britain. Yet the exhibition’s loose, discursive structure also suggests that the group – sometimes joined under the rubric “The School of London” – was never really a group in the first place, rather a disparate gang of individuals joined by the common ambition to create art rooted in the texture of lived experience. Each painter is confirmed, by this selection of work, as a stubbornly singular individual, no joiner of school or movement – and it is, perhaps, that distrust of the herd instinct that has characterised British art ever since the days of Turner and Constable.

Yet numerous unforeseen affinities do emerge, especially in the fields of landscape and cityscape. Frank Auerbach’s dense screeds of pigment, slashed through with cursively muscular lines, present post-war London as a place in ferment – a patient in post-operative trauma, so to speak, undergoing reconstruction after the horrors of war. That same deeply physical sense of London, as both sprawling city and body scarred by history, is expressed in Leon Kossoff’s clotted panoramic view of Willesden Junction, Summer No.1.; and also – albeit in a very different pictorial language – in Michael Andrews’ viscerally powerful, muddily low-toned Thames at Low Tide.

The display also teases out unexpected connections between the work of Andrews and that of Bacon. Both were drawn to the language of satire, in their bloated or distorted depictions of the human form and face, although not to purely satiric ends – more, perhaps, as a means of expressing an anxiously absurdist sense of life. David Hockney’s own ironic references to graffiti, evident in Man in a Museum (Or You’re in the Wrong Movie) of 1962, may have been what persuaded Lampert to include him as one of their bedfellows. Although at first sight he seems an unlikely companion to Bacon, in particular, the blurred and painterly quality of his work of the 1960s suggests that Hockney did indeed give a great deal of thought to the older artist’s work during his own early career.

Some of Lampert’s inclusions and comparisons seem a little puzzling, likewise some of her omissions. Why is Coldstream present as the sole representative of an older generation, when the figure of David Bomberg surely loomed yet larger for many of these painters – especially Auerbach and Kossoff? And why include Patrick Caulfield yet omit Howard Hodgkin, to whose work Caulfield’s own  had such a deep affinity? This is a teasingly enigmatic display, a sometimes baffling but always thought-provoking anthology of paintings, studies and drawings. Reflecting its rather slippery subject, The Mystery of Appearance is a sphinx’s riddle of an exhibition.

The Mystery of Appearance: Conversations between ten British post-war painters", to Feb 18






The law vs scholarship





Taking academics to court over authentication issues is eroding independent expertise







LONDON. The news that a leading scholar felt constrained by legal advice from giving a full opinion on a group of drawings attributed to Francis Bacon highlights a growing fear among experts that they might be sued for giving their opinion. 

On the advice of lawyers, Martin Harrison, who has published widely on 19th- and 20th-century art and is the editor of the Bacon catalogue raisonné, will only go as far as saying that these drawings, which some suspect are fakes, are “unlike any authenticated works”. An open seminar on these drawings is due to be held at the Courtauld Institute on 25 January. 

When art history disputes do end up in the court, it is often the least appropriate place for them. “The law courts, certainly since the Ruskin vs Whistler trial in 1878, have often been little more than a vehicle for the judiciary to parade its ignorance,” says Harrison. Manifold cases have seen judges dismiss expert opinion: for example, in the case of an Alexander Calder work, the judge declared the piece authentic, ignoring the opinion of the leading Calder dealer and the Calder Foundation, saying it was not a forgery but mis-assembled. The mobile, which cost the owners $500,000, is not in the Calder catalogue raisonné and reportedly languishes in a basement, now considered unsellable. 

As a result even flagrant fakes are not denounced, meaning that innocent people could be deceived. The authors of this article empathise with Eugene Thaw, who, when asked why he would not specify reasons for doubting a Pollock attribution, said: “It would land me in court.”







Are these drawings really by Francis Bacon?





 A Courtauld conference will investigate works on paper said

 to be by the artist. Owner’s side to offer legal immunity







More than 600 controversial and disputed drawings, said to be by Francis Bacon, which the artist gave to an Italian lover, will be discussed next month at an open forum at London’s Courtauld Institute, organised jointly with the catalogue raisonné project set up by the Francis Bacon estate.

The 25 January seminar will be the first gathering of scholars to debate the authenticity of these unusual drawings. Among those invited is Cristiano Ravarino, who was Bacon’s lover, as well as specialists from the Tate and Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery (which displays Bacon’s reconstructed studio). It is expected that some of the drawings will be available for inspection.

The Bacon estate says the Italian works can at best be described as “attributed to” the artist. However, Ravarino’s lawyer suggests that it could be libellous to describe them as such, and they should be categorised as “by” the artist. In 2004 an Italian court ruled that “no one can say that Francis Bacon’s drawings owned by Cristiano Ravarino are fakes”, but neither did it say they were authentic.

These terminological differences have made it legally difficult for art historians even to discuss the question of their authenticity. However, for the London seminar, Bologna-based lawyer Umberto Guerini is offering “a guarantee that nobody will run any legal risk”—although this does not preclude other parties taking action.

Last month the Bacon estate referred our queries to the editor of its catalogue raisonné, Martin Harrison. He stated that “the so-called Italian drawings are unlike any authenticated Bacon works that I know.

The Italian drawings began to emerge on the market in the 1990s. A legal case was later brought against Ravarino in Bologna, and in 2004 judge Norberto Lenzi cleared him of all charges over the sale of Bacon drawings. Key evidence was given by a graphologist, who verified the signatures as authentic, although “most likely to have been signed while under the influence of alcohol”.

So far the drawings have been accepted by a number of Italian art historians, but most notably by Rome-based Raffaele Gavarro, as well as London-based Edward Lucie-Smith. Alberto Agazzani, who previously authenticated the works exhibited in Venice in 2009, now says these are “likely to be attributed to Bacon”, but other drawings are “suspect” and he no longer wishes to be linked to them.

None of the leading Bacon specialists has accepted the drawings. One of Bacon’s biographers Michal Peppiatt says that “their style leaves me unconvinced of their authenticity”.

Lying behind the emergence of the works is the question of whether Bacon drew, since he denied it (except in one interview with David Sylvester). As Lucie-Smith says: “What you are dealing with often resembles a religious controversy far more than it does a conventional art historical one. For many Bacon hangers-on and groupies, to say that the artist drew is a challenge to faith.”

Since Bacon’s death in 1992, several completely separate Bacon groups of works on paper have emerged in Britain, including the Barry Joule collection, which was donated to the Tate in 2004. So far, however, the works now generally accepted by Bacon scholars are relatively small in size, and are sketches, often very rough and done over printed or photographic images.

The Italian drawings, by contrast, are finished, independent works, some up to 1.5m by 1m, and are signed. They include highly coloured, mixed-media works related to the themes of some of Bacon’s most iconic paintings, such as those after Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X and crucifixions.

Altogether 150 drawings were sold before the 2004 Bologna case and a dozen since then, according to Guerini. During the past three years a series of exhibitions has been held. The first was in 2009, during the Venice Biennale, at the Palazzo Ca’ Zenobio degli Armeni, called “The Tip of an Iceberg”. Subsequent shows have been held in Zurich, Milan, Buenos Aires, Evora (Portugal) and Cento (near Ferrara). Last summer the works were shown at a gallery in Venice’s Piazza San Marco.

Most recently, drawings were presented at two commercial galleries in Berlin, the Werkstattgalerie and Galleria Nove. The works are currently on the websites of the two galleries, “attributed to” Bacon.

Earlier this year Guerini helped establish the Francis Bacon Drawing Foundation in London. This led to complaints from the Bacon estate, which ordered him to desist from using the artist’s name in this way.

Guerini is now planning two projects. He wants to arrange the first major exhibition of the drawings in London. Further exhibitions are being planned next year in Bogota, Prague, São Paulo, and possibly Saint Etienne and Taipei.

The other venture is a complete catalogue of the Italian drawings, which is being planned in four volumes. Guerini optimistically says that the first volume, with around 150 works, will be published in January. However, Lucie-Smith, who is its editor, says that he has not yet seen all the drawings or started writing his introductory essay.

In a further twist, last year Ravarino said that he had just found “some very rare and unpublished photographs of Hitler and Mussolini (obviously original prints) that Francis Bacon, during one of our encounters, had forgotten to ask me to return”.









Freud admired Bacon’s attitude, Uglow and Kossoff were friends. Catherine Lampert, the curator of a new London exhibition ofBritain’s

most celebrated postwar artists, explores the often surprising dialogue between these painters – and what it reveals about their work






Sixty years ago, Francis Bacon’s “Pope I” shocked visitors at his first “exclusive” exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in Mayfair; words such as “ectoplasmic” and “a texture like cigarette ash” were used to describe it. It hung near a full-length portrait of Lucian Freud.

After they had met on the way to Graham Sutherland’s house in Wales in 1944, Freud had begun going to Bacon’s studio in Cromwell Place in the afternoons. Freud said later about Bacon: “It was his attitude that 1 admired. The way he was completely ruthless about his own work. He talked about packing a lot of things into one single brushstroke which amused and excited me, and I realised that it was a million miles from anything I could ever do”.

In 1951, Freud was one of a number of artists who came together at the Slade, where William Coldstream had just arrived as professor of fine art. Among them were Richard Hamilton, Freud’s exact contemporary (both were born in 1922; both died in 2011), Euan Uglow and Michael Andrews. As Hamilton remembered, “the atmosphere was marvellous at that time”.

The deliberately unorthodox assembly of paintings and drawings that opens at London’s Haunch of Venison gallery next month is intended to parallel similarly surprising conversations between these 10 artists and friends who wrote about art. Ostensibly a historical exhibition, with the earliest works dating from more than half a century ago, it is also contemporary in that three of the artists – Leon Kossoff, Frank Auerbach and David Hockney – are still working; indeed, their images are “alive” in a seasonal sense, literally so, as all three have been concerned year-round with depicting trees, a difficult subject but one, as Hockney says, with “deep appeal, and... partly a spatial thrill”.

The exhibition has the additional ambition that viewers might forget the clichéd conventions that define generations and styles such as “School of London” or “Pop Art”, or a tendency to see the 1950s and 1960s by way of exaggerated attention to Soho or the ICA on Dover Street. In the small art world of postwar London, it becomes clear the ambitious, talented young artists watched each other and were hardly cast down by the nuclear threats that defined the cold war. Auerbach recalls the atmosphere as invigorating: “There was a curious feeling of liberty about because everybody who was living there had escaped death in some way. It was sexy in a way, this semi-destroyed London.”

Underlying the selection for the show was the question as to why the best British art of the mid-1950s to the late 1970s was always about “something”, about facts, sometimes from direct observation of people the artist knew intimately, or, in Bacon’s case, also mined from tables piled high with photographs, mainly of violent scenes. The American abstract expressionist painters of the same period were looking for a more all-over wholeness, a non-referential, mainly gestural way of describing the world, although De Kooning, closest in spirit, remained obsessed with depicting women. Coldstream had thought about these questions in the 1930s, writing to a friend, John Rake: “All the time I have in the back of my mind the feeling that painting must rise above purism and take back humanity if it is to be really vital again”.

Lucian Freud and Richard Hamilton were neighbours in St John’s Wood in the early 1950s. Their recent recollections contain embers of lively exchanges. They discussed girls, and whether artists need strategies, such as Hamilton’s plotting of movement and perspective in his life drawings or studies of organisms, or whether they must instead be attuned to private compulsions, as Freud’s scrutiny of a friend, Lady Anne Tree (“Portrait of a Woman, Portrait of Lady Anne Tree”, 01950), makes evident. Both artists were highly articulate. In 2000 the critic David Sylvester explained that when their now-famous series of interviews began in 1962, Bacon had already learned to talk about art from Freud not him, although he looked to Hamilton and Auerbach for feedback on his painting.

Hamilton was one of the consummate inventors of new production techniques and processes for subverting the ordinary “retinal”, empirical side of painting. He remembered: “There was a turning point in my life, in 1956, where I thought that art doesn’t need to come out of looking at reality... all I needed for stimulation was second-hand pictures in film and TV magazines, newspapers... things that had been pre-digested and ‘two-dimensionalised’”. The image for “Whitley Bay” came from a photograph turned into a postcard: “I find it astonishing,” he said, “that a flick of a shutter over a coating of silver emulsion can snatch so much information about that millisecond of activity over half a mile of beach at Whitley Bay one summer’s day... I marvel that marks and shapes, simple or complex, have the capacity to enlarge consciousness.”

During the same years, Michael Andrews was absorbed with a series of paintings about social behaviour and parties that came to a head in a commission for a large painting depicting the reception for the first chancellor of the University of East Anglia at Norwich Castle museum. The raw material was sourced from snapshots taken by a photographer who posed the guests in little groups as if at a wedding, supplemented by images of friends and celebrities, the complex panorama collaged on to canvas by a novel method of silk-screening with help from the artist Nigel Henderson.

Something of Hamilton’s aesthetic occurs in Patrick Caulfield’s combination of precision drawing and fascination with design; using flat house paint and black contour lines he transformed commonplace objects and postcard images into enigmatic interiors and still lifes. David Hockney, a fellow student at the Royal College, painted in California in the 1960s, and his sense of light and stillness compares to Euan Uglow’s paintings with their often-blue backgrounds, whether the Reckitt’s blue colouring applied to the studio wall behind the model or the Mediterranean sky. Uglow insisted his goal wasn’t representational painting or to be true to life; something marvellous had to be translated to another world, although he couldn’t begin with photographs: “I’m not interested in that because I like the poignancy of the right light at the right time hitting a bit of colour. Everybody’s trying to make an image, but we have different ways of getting at it”.

Uglow and Kossoff were friends, and both were reticent to describe emotions; their paintings after the Old Masters, like Kossoff’s “A Woman Bathing (Study After Rembrandt)”, share a direct appreciation of the beauty and contained sensuality of the originals. Hamilton and his wife, the artist Rita Donagh, recalled Bacon praising Manet for his sheer painterly skill. He “would talk at great length about a rose on a Manet painting: the fact that the brush marks didn’t describe the structure of a rose they created a rose.” Auerbach’s small figure lying on a bed conveys something of what it would be like to touch her back, an unrepeatable experience translated to wavy, sensual strips of paint. John Berger suggested to Kossoff that while painting from life something else crept in – “the self-effacement of the good host?” – and the artist agreed: “It is to do with the collaboration of the sitter, as you say, but also to do with the disappearance of the sitter the moment the image emerges”.

The reconsideration of British painting in this period will flourish with more exposure of the artists’ lesser-known works, the publication of additional memories and facts related to a wider net of their contemporaries, as well as comparison to some of the equally strong British painters from younger generations. For certain, the things that draw these 10 artists together are not an advocacy of any one idiom or figurative art ideology. The commonality is the always renewable thrill, or obsession, with the living world and the practice of painting and drawing giving rise to different sensations day by day; the goal an absolutely unprecedented image that is utterly personal. FT

“The Mystery of Appearance: British Painting 1955-1985” is at the Haunch of Venison, London W1 from December 7 to February 18 2012





         Francis Bacon “Pope I – Study after Pope Innocent X by Velazquez”, 1951







Francis Bacon: Back to Degas



                   Rothenstein Lecture 2011



Providing the first focused account of Francis Bacon’s artistic dialogue with Edgar Degas, Martin Hammer

argues that the French painter was a consistent source of inspiration to Bacon throughout his career,

informing his decisions about subject matter, style and medium





Bacon once observed that ‘to create something … is a sort of echo from one artist to another’.2  The mainstream texts on his work tend to emphasise the places Bacon encountered, the people he knew, and the terrible times he lived through, as though his work adds up to a kind of psychological autobiography. This is overstated and simplistic, even if Bacon in other moods encouraged such readings. Art does come out of life, but in an indirect and more complicated fashion than this type of commentary implies. What is more demonstrable is that major artists engage with past and present art as a resource in itself, in developing the aesthetic means to embody whatever content they have in mind. This was certainly true of Bacon, who insisted that he looked at everything. Quite a lot is now known about his visual and imaginative reactions to photographs, which he worked from more consistently than almost any other modern painter. But we are at a rudimentary stage in grasping how Bacon responded to the work of other artists. The theme encompasses his quotations from Old Masters such as Velázquez, Rembrandt, Grünewald and Ingres; and his appropriations from such immediate predecessors as Picasso, Sickert and Soutine; as well as his interchange with contemporaries such as Sutherland and Giacometti.3

Bacon also declared great admiration for several late nineteenth-century artists such as Monet, Gauguin, Rodin, Seurat, and, above all, van Gogh. But this essay focuses on Degas, and can only hint that Bacon’s interest in the work of these artists is much more jumbled up than a crude listing makes out.4

Artists scrutinise other artists in distinctive and idiosyncratic ways, through the filter of their own preoccupations. 5 But Bacon’s take on Degas was also shaped by the works he happened to confront, and whose availability reflected decisions made by other people about acquiring works for museums, selling them in galleries, and displaying them in exhibitions. In that sense, Bacon’s artistic assimilation is one component within the larger story of the British response to Degas, which began as early as the 1870s, and is of course still alive and well.6  In between, we might note the commercial Degas show at Agnew’s, London, in 1936, the year before a group show in the same gallery in which Bacon participated; and further exhibitions in 1950 and 1958 at the Lefevre Gallery, which had also staged Bacon’s emergence in another series of group displays in 1945 and 1946.77 Many of the best works by Degas in British public and private collections were brought together in a major exhibition in Edinburgh and then at the Tate Gallery in 1952. Then there were the works and exhibitions Bacon could have seen on trips to Paris, which may well have been more frequent than is currently known. At any rate, Bacon had ample opportunity to engage with Degas in the original – over and above the increasingly vivid reproductions that were becoming available – and this essay will try to pin down what he gleaned from such specific encounters.

In Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion c.1944 (Tate No6171), the work in which Bacon came to believe he had discovered his artistic identity, the disquieting hybrid creatures pay homage to the grotesque anatomical distortions and sculptural presence of a particular phase in Picasso’s art around 1930, focused upon bather imagery.8  Bacon’s three images almost certainly started life as separate pictures, and the decision to bind them together visually into a triptych was realised in part by superimposing around the figures’ contours a consistent backdrop of unmodulated orange, with minimal perspective indications. One critic has drawn a visual parallel with Degas’s Combing the Hair c.1896 (National Gallery, London), which had been acquired for the national collection in 1937.9 In the wake of Degas’s death in 1917 and the sales of his studio contents, the interwar years were a key moment for the acquisition of works by British institutions, works that tended to be shown initially at the Tate Gallery and were only later sent to their present home in Trafalgar Square. Another work already in public public hands, Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando 1897 (National Gallery London), was an even more telling model to Bacon for the floating three-dimensional form set against a backdrop of strong, flat orange, which Degas also superimposed later on, to offset the figure and perspective construction (fig.3)10

The triptych also indicates Bacon’s interest in a third Degas that had entered the national collection as early as 1926, namely the the late Ballet Dancers c. 1890–1900 (National Gallery, London; fig.4). Discussing the left-hand picture of the triptych (fig.5), Martin Harrison has noted that Bacon appropriated the head in profile from one of the photographs in an old book he owned about ectoplasms and mediums. 11 But it is almost as though Bacon homed in on the particular illustration that reminded him of the treatment of the head in the nearmost dancer in the Degas. That figure certainly seems to be the springboard for the configuration of the upper body, where Bacon exaggerates the indentation between the two rounded shoulder blades, and the extension of the spine into the neck, which in his hands becomes elongated and downwards inclined. The slender white straps and emphatically curved forms seem to secure the connection with Ballet Dancers, as do the the placement of his creature’s knee and the angle of the stool on which it rests. In sum, the Bacon figure starts to look like an unlikely composite of the photograph, the Degas, and Picasso bather imagery. Such things appear ‘mixed up’ in his mind in much the same way that Michelangelo and Eadweard Muybridge converged, Bacon famously remarked, in his imaginative projections of the male body.12  Moreover, it is likely that Bacon was excited by the painterly freedom of Ballet Dancers, the bold and diverse marks, made with the artist’s fingers perhaps in places, applied onto coarse unprimed canvas which is left substantially exposed, especially to the right of the picture. 13  Bacon, too, often left canvas bare, as in the central panel of the 1944 triptych. He subsequently took to painting on the rear, rougher side of his supports, to heighten the contrast between the visual textures of granular canvas and smeared, scumbled paint marks. It is even possible to speculate that Degas’s necessary recourse to glazing large pastels might have reinforced Bacon’s impulse to use glass in framing his paintings, for practical reasons initially, perhaps, but thereafter on aesthetic grounds. At any rate rate, Ballet Dancers suggests  that late Degas was a key point of departure for the sense of layering and variable degrees of sharpness and bl