Francis Bacon News
Francis Bacon News
Soho club loved by O’Toole, Bacon and Bowie
rekindles bohemian nights
BY PETER CHAPPELL | UK NEWS | THE TIMES | SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2023
A London club beloved by Peter O’Toole and Francis Bacon and celebrated with drink prices unchanged from the day it shut its doors in 2008.
Over the years the Colony Room Club in Soho welcomed the likes of EM Forster, Kate Moss, Christine Keeler, David Bowie, Damien Hirst, Dylan Thomas and Tracey Emin to its dingy second-floor bar on Dean Street.
The club was famous for Michael Wojas, a former barman who ran it for its last decade and encouraged many of the Young British Artists to join.
He died two years after the club shut. A visitor to the private members’ club over the years could have been served by Daniel Craig, seen Tom Baker sipping champagne.
‘Portrait of Francis Bacon’:
The stolen Lucian Freud painting that is lost forever
BY POPPY BURTON | ART | LATEST ARTICLES | FAR OUT MAGAZINE | FRIDAY, 17 NOVEMBER, 2023
Ahead of a major retrospective exhibition at the Tate in 2001, figurative artist Lucian Freud made a public plea. He wasn’t trying to drum up more interest in the show but desperately appealing to a thief after one of his copper works was stolen. “Would the person who holds the painting kindly consider allowing me to show it in my exhibition next June,” he asked, in vain. The painting, a portrait of Francis Bacon, has still never been found.
The mystery surrounding its disappearance only added to its infamy, and Freud was so bereft it was lost that he demanded that the few photographs of it be shown in black and white. He’d started a second painting of his artistic peer, but the missing one was the only version he ever completed. When it first debuted in 1988, the work was briefly well-received. That’s not to say the viewers in Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie got cold feet about their love of the painting – it was just that it was stolen before anyone could form a long-lasting opinion.
The gallery was teeming with students and art critics, who were all milling around the exhibit, closely watched by guards. It became quickly apparent one very crucial piece was missing. In one of the art world’s boldest thefts, in broad daylight and surrounded by onlookers, someone walked out with Francis Bacon tucked under their arm.
Likely, to the delight of the thief and the regret of Freud, this was a particularly small painting, almost the perfect size to be smuggled out in a briefcase. The oil portrait had been painted on a sheet of copper in 1952 and was only 7-by-5 inches in size.
A panicked appeal to get it back ensued, involving “wanted” posters promising a 300,000 DM reward for its recovery, but the steep cash offering didn’t entice the thief. In 2008, art critic Robert Hughes reviewed the Tate’s Francis Bacon exhibition and recalled a conversation he’d had with Freud following the theft. The only conclusion Freud could draw was that the thief wasn’t a fan of his. He believed it was a Bacon superfan who’d taken it because only that “would justify the risk”.
Though a rare picture of the painting, taken hours before its eventual theft, was released in David Scherf’s 2021 book, Lucian Freud: The Copper Paintings, the late Freud had always insisted photos of the painting be shown only in black and white. “Partly,” he explained to The Telegraph, “Because there was no decent colour reproduction, partly as a kind of mourning.” He approached it with humour, but it was a reminder of his loss – both of the painting and his late friend Bacon.
“The painting is quite near monochrome, so it comes out quite well, and I thought it was a rather jokey equivalent to a black armband,” he joked. “You know – there it isn’t!”
The Colony Room: Soho’s Infamous Drinking Den
is Back From The Dead... Sort Of
The Colony Room — the boozy Soho salon where Francis Bacon rubbed
shoulders with Tom Baker — is reopening as a pop-up bar this November.
BY WILL NOBLE | DRINK | FOOD & DRINK | LONDONIST | MONDAY, 13 NOVEMBER, 2023
You could fill a book with the brandy-soaked anecdotes from the debauched club which stood on Dean Street from 1948 to 2008 — in fact, a few years back, the artist Darren Coffield did, regaling us with stories such as the time Jeffrey Bernard accidentally told a Kray twin to “stop being such a fucking bore.”
Coffield has now worked with Daisy Green Collection (the outfit who’ll you“ll now find all over the National Portrait Gallery), to create a faithful facsimile of the Colony Room, its emerald green walls cluttered with a slew of artworks and knick-knacks including Maggi Hambling’s portrait of Soho dandy Sebastian Horsley, and Francis Bacon as painted by Michael Clarke. Even little details — a gravy-hued Bakelite phone, a Courvoisier ashtray — are scattered about.
The Colony Room 2.0 opens on 16 November as a pop-up below bougie Heddon Street restaurant Ziggy Green (so named, of course, because David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album cover was shot here). The closest that younger Londoners have been able to come to the club where doyens of the arts scene — from Joan Littlewood to Tracey Emin to Princess Margaret to Suggs — came to get sozzled, has been through old footage of the club, folkloric tales, and the occasional batty scene in Toast of London’s ‘Colonial Club’ (in which there’s a thinly-veiled version of the club).
It should prove an interesting installation, buoyed by the fact it will stay true to the original bar by banning phones, keeping the opening hours at 3pm-11pm daily, plus as an introductory offer — certain drinks will sell at 2008 prices (£4 for a Beefeater and tonic is not to be sniffed at in 2023).
Other things will have to change. The bar is downstairs, rather than up. No longer will a pea souper of fag fumes be permitted to clog the ether. (In fact if you so much as think of using that ashtray, you’ll surely get barred.) And we'd expect the barkeep to be a smidge politer than the club’s nefarious landlady Muriel Belcher (we’d put money on the Daisy Green peeps NOT greeting punters with the catchphrase “Hello cunty!”).
Some will say this self-billed “love letter to London’s lost bohemia” is folly; last year, the Standard wrote how today’s Londoners are “too dull” to appreciate such a place — and after all, that was always the cardinal sin. As for what Muriel Belcher would say about all this... well, we're not able to print that.
Muriel Belcher in a blonde wig, Ronnie Kray, Joan Littlewood, and James Booth (photograph by David Marrion)
Christie’s Robust 20th Century Sale Nets $640.8 M.,
with Six Auction Records
BY BRIAN BOUCHER | NEWS | ART NEWS | ESTABLISHED 1902 | FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2023
Christie’s New York staged a marathon two-and-a-half-hour sale of 20th-century art on Thursday night that netted $640.8 million and notched new auction highs for Fernando Botero, Richard Diebenkorn, Arshile Gorky, Barbara Hepworth, Joan Mitchell, and Joan Snyder. All but two of the 63 works found buyers and two lots were withdrawn.
The night was notable for the depth of bidding both in the room and on the phones; American bidders were an especially strong presence throughout the evening, the house said at a post-sale press conference. Applause broke out no fewer than six times in the course of the evening, including a round of applause for auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen, who helmed the first half of the sale and gave his final performance before retiring after 38 years with the house.
“It was a solid performance,” advisor Todd Levin told ARTnews on his way out of the sale room. “They did a good job with the estimates, and it was livelier than the last two nights.” Advisor David Norman described the sale as “quite remarkable, especially when world events are so perilous.”
“It was an excellent sale, with lots of good, fresh material, which is exactly what the market wants,” Norman told Art News after the auction. “Works that were making a repeat performance, like the Magritte, did extremely well,” he added, referring to L’empire des lumières (1949), which sold for a $30 million hammer price, or $34.9 million with fees, just shy of its high estimate.
Thursday’s sale marked the third night of New York’s marquee fall auction season. It followed a subdued $107.5 million debut sale of 21st-century work on Monday, which nonetheless set several records, and a white-glove sale of 31 works from the Emily Fisher Landau Collection at Sotheby’s on Tuesday that totaled $406 million, led by Femme à la montre, a 1932 Pablo Picasso painting of his young lover Marie-Thérèse Walter that fetched $139 million to become the second-priciest painting by the Spaniard ever to sell at auction.
Thursday’s sale at Christie’s was led by Impressionist Claude Monet’s Le Bassin aux nymphéas, ca. 1917-1919, spanning nearly seven feet wide. It hammered for $64 million against a high estimate of $65 million to a phone bidder courtesy of the house’s Alex Marshall after just over a minute’s worth of bidding. With the house’s fees, the painting cost $74 million.
Alex Rotter, chairman of the 20th- and 21st-century art department, secured the night’s second highest sale, Francis Bacon’s Figure in Movement, 1976, also after about a minute-long contest, at a hammer price of $45 million. That was shy of the $50 million estimate but good enough for the seller, and with fees, the painting went for $52.2 million. The work had been off the market since the year after it was created and is considered part of a group of works painted following the death of the artist’s beloved partner George Dyer in 1971.
One of the longer contests was for Picasso’s Femme endormie, a painting showing the shape of his sleeping young lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter. Against a high estimate of $35 million, it hammered for $37 million to a phone bidder via the house’s Xin Li, who works with Chinese buyers, after a three-and-a-half-minute contest to rank as the fifth-highest-selling lot, for $43 million with fees.
Jussi Pylkkänen works the room at the Christie's. It was the auctioneer's last performance after 38 years with the house.
Rooms: Francis Bacon in Wartime London
Research Lunch – Altair Brandon–Salmon
Paul Mellon Centre
ALTAIR BRANDON–SALMON | PAUL MELLON CENTRE | BEDFORD SQUARE WC1B 3JA | 17 NOVEMBER 2023
In 1942, Francis Bacon moved into a dilapidated flat in a bomb-damaged house at 7 Cromwell Place in South Kensington. It was here that he painted Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion in 1944 and other early, groundbreaking work which cut across the prevailing trends of British art.
His work that was exhibited at the Lefevre Gallery the next year all came from this studio, where he mixed the bomb dust into his paint. Bacon’s art often focused on the human body placed under stress in an interior environment, a manoeuvre that was shaped by the impact of Picasso. The domestic space of the room, central to early twentieth-century modernist art, came under attack as never before during the Second World War. The destruction of London during the Blitz enabled a new creative direction for Bacon.
By tracing the history of Cromwell Place, the evolution and political urgency of Victorian domestic rooms will emerge; a powerful force which Bacon sought to explore in his painting. It will enable connections to be drawn between his upbringing in colonial Ireland and his life in war-torn London.
These environments structured how he approached creating space in his painting of the 1940s while his defiantly unconventional life at Cromwell Place breached the boundaries between public and private worlds. Bacon’s work shows how the terrors of the twentieth century would be unleashed within rooms.
This lunch time event is part of the The Paul Mellon Centre’s summer Research Lunch series 2023. Speaker: Altair Brandon-Salmon (Stanford University). Altair Brandon-Salmon is a PhD candidate in Art History at Stanford University, writing a dissertation on how bombsites in London shaped postwar British art and architecture. His essays have appeared in Art History.
1:00 – 2:00 pm, 17 November 2023, Paul Mellon Centre, 16 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3JA
Francis Bacon, London, 1952. Photograph: Henri Cartier-Bresson
20th Century Evening Sale
20th Century Evening Sale
New York | 9 November 2023 | Live Auction 22055
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
Figure in Movement
Figure in Movement
Estimate on request
Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris
Galerie Alice Pauli, Lausanne
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1977
M. Leiris, Francis
Bacon: Full Face and In Profile, Oxford, 1983, n.p., no. 105 (illustrated).
J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London, 1985, p. 176, no. 103 (illustrated).
M. Frizot, "La photographie, hors-champ de la peinture," Artstudio, Summer 1990, no. 17, p. 107 (illustrated).
E. van Alphen, Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, London, 1992, pp. 148 and 150, no. 90 (illustrated).
A. Sinclair, Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times, New York, 1993, p. 252.
J. M. Faerna, ed., Bacon, New York, 1995, pp. 34-35, no. 32 (illustrated).
W. Schmied, Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict, Munich, 1996, p. 113, no. 29 (illustrated).
C. Domino, Francis Bacon ‘Taking Reality by Surprise,’ London, 1997, pp. 88-89 (illustrated).
J.-C. Delpierre, ed., “Francis Bacon,” Beaux Arts Magazine, Paris, 1997, pp. 32-33, no. 23 (illustrated).
D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London, 2000, pp. 152 and 155-156, no. 118 (illustrated).
Francis Bacon in Dublin, exh. cat., Dublin, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, 2000, pp. 109 and 117, no. 42 (illustrated).
L. Ficacci, Bacon: 1909-1992, Cologne, 2003, p. 9 (illustrated on the front cover).
M. Cappock, Francis Bacon’s Studio, London, 2005, pp. 103, 105 and 212, fig. 179 (illustrated).
Bacon, exh. cat., Milan, Palazzo Reale, 2008, pp. 64 and 66-67, fig. 11 (illustrated).
S. Hunter, Francis Bacon, Barcelona, 2009, p. 44 (illustrated).
B. Dawson, “Food for Thought,” Apollo, March 2013, p. 124, fig. 12 (illustrated).
J. Littell, Triptych: Three Studies After Francis Bacon, London, 2013, pp. 107-108.
Francis Bacon and the Masters, exh. cat., St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum, 2014-2015, p. 36.
M. Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, London, 2016, vol. I, pp. 14-15 (illustrated).
R. Daniels and M. Harrison, eds., Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, 1971-1992, London, 2016, vol. IV, pp. 1090-1091, no. 76-02 (illustrated).
D. Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London, 2016, p. 175, no. 115 (illustrated).
G. Manfieri, "La violenza del reale. Bacon e Giacometti vis-à-vis a Basilea. Le immagini," ArtsLife, 17 July 2018, digital (illustrated).
Y. Peyré, Francis Bacon or The Measures of Excess, London, 2019, pp. 232 and 239 (illustrated).
M. Stevens and A. Swan, Francis Bacon: Revelations, London, 2021, p. 616.
J. Birch and M. Hodges, Bacon in Moscow, London, 2022, pp. 182-183 (illustrated).
Marseille, Musée Cantini, Francis
Bacon œuvres récentes, July-September 1976, n.p., no. 16 (illustrated).
London, Tate Gallery; Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie and Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Francis Bacon, May 1985-March 1986, p. 237, no. 96 (illustrated).
Aix-en-Provence, Cloître Saint-Louis, Présence contemporaine, images du corps: exposition réalisée d’après l’ouvrage de Marc Le Bot, July-August 1986, p. 21 (illustrated).
Marseille, Centre de la Vieille Charité, Peinture, Cinéma, Peinture, October 1989-January 1990, p. 112 (illustrated).
Venice, Museo Correr, XXXXV Biennale Internazionale dell’Arte, Francis Bacon: Figurabile, June-October 1993, pp. 72, 76, 82 and 128, no. 24 (illustrated on p. 76 and the front cover).
Paris, Centre national d’art et de culture Georges Pompidou and Munich, Haus der Kunst, Francis Bacon, June 1996-January 1997, pp. 29 and 202-203, no. 70 (illustrated).
Lausanne, Fondation de l'Hermitage, Shared Passions: From Cézanne to Rothko, June-October 2009, pp. 138-139, no. 1 (illustrated).
Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Bacon-Giacometti, April-September 2018, pp. 124, 125, 145 and 197 (illustrated).
Standing among the great icons of Francis Bacon’s oeuvre, Figure in Movement is an extraordinary meditation on love, loss and the transience of the human condition. Painted in 1976, it takes its place within the canon of masterworks that followed the tragic death of his beloved George Dyer in 1971. Described by the critic David Sylvester as the greatest large single canvas produced during these years, it is a staggering image of human flesh in motion. A visceral tangle of limbs is suspended within an empty arena, shot through with the influence of Michelangelo and Muybridge. A circle magnifies the figure’s face, fusing hints of Dyer’s likeness with fleeting echoes of Bacon’s own. Illegible fragments of text spill onto the fiery orange ground like literature. In the corner hangs a bird-like spectre, referencing the ancient Greek “Furies” that had long haunted Bacon’s art. Conversant with the elegiac “black triptychs” that had dominated the artist’s output since Dyer’s death, it is a work of near-operatic grandeur: a fantasy of bodies entwined before the abyss, an image of life illuminated against the void, and a portrait of flesh on the brink of transcendence.
With an outstanding exhibition history that includes landmark retrospectives at the Tate Gallery, London, the Museo Correr, Venice and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Figure in Movement has been widely celebrated in scholarship. For Sylvester, whose seminal interviews with Bacon were published the year before the painting, it was a monument “to George Dyer’s tragic fall, in which a whole range of Baconian devices are brought together with a compelling mastery” (D. Sylvester, Francis Bacon in Dublin, exh. cat. Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin 2000, p. 109). For Martin Harrison, author of Bacon’s catalogue raisonné, it is one of the artist’s “quintessential images of entropy, a boldly-coloured masterpiece of disorder and inquietude” (M. Harrison, Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné: Volume IV 1971-92, London 2016, p. 1090). The poet Yves Peyré, meanwhile, wrote that “This picture paints man’s sui generis destiny … In the vehemence of its efficiency, this painting has the import of a treatise. It would be easy to think that few paintings could compare to this wonder” (Y. Peyré, Francis Bacon or The Measure of Excess, London 2019, p. 232).
Dyer’s death marked a turning point in Bacon’s oeuvre. On that fateful night in 1971—less than thirty-six hours before the opening of his career-defining retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris—his great love and muse was ripped away from him. From their first meeting in 1963, through the ensuing years of passion and tumult, Dyer had been the subject of some of Bacon’s most extraordinary portraits. As the artist attempted to process the grief of his loss, his likeness continued to burn brightly in his art. The black triptychs replayed in harrowing detail the tragic events of his final hours. Several—including the middle panel of Triptych August 1972 (Tate, London) and the left-hand panel of In Memory of George Dyer (1971, Fondation Beyeler, Basel)—depicted Dyer’s body in a state of contortion, as though wrestling with his own life force. Figure in Movement extends the language of these works, its hybrid figure at once raw and sensual. Where Bacon had previously positioned Dyer on the edge of the void, however, here he seems to tumble into its depths, his form engulfed by darkness.
Shortly after its creation, Figure in Movement was unveiled alongside the black triptychs in Bacon’s solo exhibition at the Musée Cantini in Marseille. The artist, an ardent Francophile, had based himself in Paris for much of the period following Dyer’s death, and by 1976 had truly cemented his reputation in his adopted homeland. The show in Marseille—Bacon’s first French museum exhibition outside the capital—brought him great joy and catharsis. The paintings shown, created between 1969 and 1976, captured the full gamut of his grief. Sylvester notes parallels between the present work and Three Figures and Portrait (1975, Tate London): an obsessive meditation on Dyer’s likeness, featuring two similarly convulsive nudes (D. Sylvester, ibid.). Elsewhere, he draws comparison with the masterpiece Triptych 1974-77, also exhibited. The triptych’s “luminosity and transparency,” he writes, are echoed in “certain other outstanding works of the period,” including the present work. He also suggests that the figure developed directly from the male nude in the triptych’s right-hand panel (D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p. 152). Both evoke the immortal photograph of Dyer in profile taken by John Deakin in 1964, whose chiselled silhouette flooded Bacon’s art.
Bacon was fascinated by movement. He was particularly inspired by cinema and photography—most notably the work of Eadweard Muybridge, whose images captured moving figures in successive frames. Since the dawn of his practice Bacon had set out to paint what he described as the “emanation” of his subjects: the pulsations of energy that flowed through their veins and sent their spirit out into the world. He, in turn, drew heavily upon the motions and impulses of his own nervous system, seeking—as he put it—to “trap this living fact alive.” In the present work, his figure descends into metamorphosis. Harrison, in his commentary on the painting, invokes what the philosopher and Bacon scholar Gilles Deleuze termed “derisory athleticism”: a state of chaos, in which the flesh seems to escape its own confines. Like the Futurists’ depictions of speed, or Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, the body is fixed in multiple positions simultaneously. The figure seems to float in free-form through time and space, his flesh sublimated by forces beyond his control.
Bacon’s exploration of motion was at its most expressive in his depictions of figural couplings. The artist drew heavily upon Muybridge’s photographs of male wrestlers, giving rise to images including the ground-breaking Two Figures (1953) and Two Figures in the Grass (1953), as well as later works such as Three Studies of Figures on Beds (1972). In Figure in Movement, two bodies seem to become one. The figure’s profile, while most suggestive of Dyer, is also evocative of the artist’s Study for Self-Portrait (1973): one of the many harrowing self-images produced during this period, in which Bacon confronted his own mortality. The fluid elision of his likeness with Dyer’s was not without precedent. The 1966 masterwork George Dyer Riding a Bicycle (Fondation Beyeler, Basel) had depicted their faces simultaneously; so too had the heart-wrenching painting Two Figures (1975). Bacon had once described the agonies of love in these very terms: “you can’t break down the barriers of skin,” he lamented. “… How can you cut your flesh open and join with the other person?” (F. Bacon, quoted in interview with G. Millar, Francis Bacon: Grand Palais, BBC TV documentary, 1971).
Sotheby ’ s
CONTEMPORARY EVENING AUCTION
CONTEMPORARY EVENING AUCTION
LOT 111 | 12 OCTOBER 2023 | 12:00 BST | LONDON
OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR
PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR
Study for a Portrait
Estimate 3,500,000 — 4,500,000 GBP
Lot Sold: 4,283,000
Marlborough Gallery, New York
Private Collection, U.S.A.
Christie’s, New York, 20 November 1996, lot 22 (consigned by the above)
Private Collection (acquired from the above)
Christie’s, London, 5 February 2003, lot 3 (consigned by the above)
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Private Collection, U.S.A. (acquired from the above in 2006)
Sotheby’s, New York, 9 November 2011, lot 43 (consigned by the above)
Private Collection, Paris (acquired from the above)
Private Collection, Monaco
Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 6 October 2020, lot 1128 (consigned by the above)
Private Collection (acquired from the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Small Portrait Studies: Loan Exhibition, October – December 1993, no. 3, p. 11, illustrated in colour
London, Olympia Exhibition Halls, Francis Bacon and Henry Moore, February – March 1996, n.p., illustrated in colour
London, Gagosian Gallery, Francis Bacon: Triptychs, June – August 2006, p. 25, illustrated in colour
Montpellier, Musée Fabre de Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole and Paris, Centre Pompidou, Francis Bacon/Bruce Nauman. Face to Face, July – November 2017, no. 42, p. 164, illustrated in colour
Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume IV, 1971-92, vol. IV, London 2016, no. 79-08, p. 1187, illustrated in colour
Combining both a dazzling display of painterly bravura and a multi-layered psychological intensity, Study for a Portrait from 1979 exemplifies the salient features of Francis Bacon's tremendous output. Composed of a three-quarter profile set against a soft blue background and a strip of bright cadmium orange, the present work is a classic example from Bacon’s seminal suite of small portrait heads. The painting first began as a framed head nailed to a wall of cadmium orange, a prominent colour in Bacon’s 1970s works as well as in the 1944 Crucifixion triptych. When Bacon repurposed the original piece into the present smaller format, he retained a strip of cadmium orange at the bottom. The beautiful composition of the present work is thus arranged around a schema of framing devices: the overlapping matrices of paint hatching and modulations of texture carefully organise the containment of the head within the frame, preparing the viewer from the outset that this portrayal is pensive, focused and enduring.
The extraordinary compression of the image, together with the soft blue background heightens the drama and magnifies the prominence of the visage. Painted in an intimate scale, the intensity of each stroke is contained in the twisting head as it flickers with the faintest movement. Bacon preferred to paint in absentia relying predominantly on the combination of photographic material and memory to inform his image production. He viewed painting by nature as an artifice and felt that having the model before him suffocated spontaneous creative invention. Bacon spoke admirably of Picasso, especially his work of the 1920s and 1930s, in which he saw a syntax of "organic form that relates to the human image but is a complete distortion of it" (Francis Bacon quoted in: Milan Kudera and France Borel, Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits, London 1996, p. 10). Bacon consistently returned to the portrait format throughout his career and steadfast in his belief that abstraction was merely aesthetic, and that art devoid of human content lacked emotional resonance. As a committed portraitist, Bacon was seeking to visually explain the variations of the human condition and capture the distinct psyche and intensity of his sitters. As Christoph Heinrich notes, "Bacon paints not only 'the person', but also sets out to convey the specific energy of very different individuals through painting" (Exh. Cat., Milan, Palazzo Reale, Bacon, 2008, p. 55).
The beginning of the 1970s was marked by great sadness for the artist, following the death of his lover George Dyer. In this period, Bacon focused on self-portraiture and portraiture of a close group of friends with particular intensity. Looking to Bacon’s friends for the subject of this work, it becomes clear that this physiognomy bears a striking resemblance to that of John Edwards, Bacon’s close friend and platonic companion for many years. Until Bacon’s death in 1992 the two shared a 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 first acknowledged depiction of Edwards was not to come until 1980, and perhaps this work painted a year earlier can be viewed as an inaugural foray into the important suite of paintings done in tribute to his friend. The vibrant yet calm palette utilised here by the artist takes on an independence of its own. The vitality of the interaction between colours, particularly the orange and the turquoise create momentum in the background that highlights the figure in the foreground and adds to the impact of the single head. The treatment of the present visage suggests a confident familiarity with the muse that may stem from a particularly warm assessment of the sitter by the artist. The gentle hollow of the cheek is tender and the general softness of the features describes a thoughtful countenance. 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.
Portraits, both of self and of others, from the beginning of the decade are fraught with intense struggles of emotion and sadness. As John Russell claimed, 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). These deeply introspective moments gave way to works like the present – subtly emotional and constrained as opposed to the uneasy, dissonant and grotesquely contorted earlier examples. There is a beaming ray of reborn optimism that, almost certainly, lovingly renders the features of his new and trusted compatriot.
Francis Bacon, Two Figures & Portrait, October—November 1977. Destroyed by the Artist in May, 1978.
FRANCIS BACON AND JOHN EDWARDS AT BACON'S REECE MEWS STUDIO. LONDON 1980. IMAGE: © EDWARD QUINN
Francis Bacon’s ‘Figure in Movement’
Could Sell for $50 Million at Christie’s
The 1976 painting of George Dyer, owned by the same anonymous family for
nearly 50 years, is among highlights of the auction’s house New York sales
BY ABBY SCHULTZ | ART | COLLECTOR | PENTA | BARRON’S | OCTOBER 3 2023
Figure in Movement, a 1976 painting by Francis Bacon that expressively reveals the artist’s pain after the death of his lover and muse, George Dyer, is expected to achieve about US$50 million this November at Christie’s in New York, the auction house announced early Tuesday.
With the news, Christie’s lineup of major works for its series of major 20th-century and 21st-century sales is beginning to take shape. Last week, the auction house announced it would offer Claude Monet’s Le bassinaux nymphéas, circa 1917-19, with an estimate of about US$65 million, and three paintings by Paul Cézanne that are being offered by the Museum Langmatt in Baden, Switzerland.
Cézanne’s Fruits et pot de gingembre, circa 1890-93, is estimated to achieve between US$35 million and US$55 million.
The Bacon work, rendered in oil and dye transfer lettering on a six-and-a-half-foot tall canvas, is among a series of paintings the artist created after Dyer’s death in 1971. It’s never been sold at auction and was owned by the same anonymous family for nearly 50 years.
“It is a painting in which a whole range of Baconian devices are brought together with a compelling mastery,” the critic David Sylvester wrote of the work, according to Christie’s.
This 1976 Figure in Movement (other Bacon works have had the same title) was first displayed in a solo exhibition at the Musée Cantini in Marseille, France, along with the artist’s black triptychs, which were painted shortly after Dyer died. The painting has been widely exhibited since, most recently in 2018 at the Beyeler Foundation.
Denis Wirth-Miller’s studio collection
BY KATHARINA GÜNTHER | ARCHIVE | THE BURLINGTON MAGAZINE | VOLUME 165 | NUMBER 1446 | SEPTEMBER 2023
In 1944 the artist Denis Wirth-Miller and his partner, Richard Chopping, a prolific illustrator, bought the Store House on the quayside of the small town of Wivenhoe, on the Colne Estuary in Essex. Wirth-Miller (1915–2010) was to live in this converted warehouse made for storing sails until his death, two years after Chopping (1917–2008). His best-known paintings are of the surrounding countryside, with a particular focus on its wind-swept trees, open salt marshes and flat grasslands. The Store House soon became a bolthole for the couple’s illustrious group of London friends, including in particular Wirth-Miller’s best friend, the painter Francis Bacon (1909–92).
Although Wirth-Miller has received growing attention in recent years, little is known about his studio practice and working methods. On the basis of a selection of items from his Store House studio – an eclectic collection of torn-out and cut-out photographic images from books and magazines on content as diverse as botany and body-building – this article aims to provide a better understanding of his preparatory and painting processes. The origins and dates of most of these loose leaves and newspaper cuttings have been established, and their physical state, notably the creative alterations to which some were subjected, has for the first time been analysed. A study of their relationship to Wirth-Miller’s works and approach to painting, a significant lacuna in research on his art, may in addition help understanding of his much-emphasised but under researched artistic relationship with Bacon. It also provides a case study of value in the history of the use painters have made of photography.
Wirth-Miller started his career at the age of sixteen as a fabric designer at the cotton manufacturing company Tootal Broadhurst Lee in Manchester, and did not commit himself to painting until 1939. He met Chopping in London in 1937 and in 1941–42 they took lessons at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing run by Cedric Morris and his partner, Arthur Lett-Haines, at Benton End, near Hadleigh, Suffolk, where they coincided with the young Lucian Freud. During this time Wirth- Miller and Chopping formed a friendship with Bacon, to whom they had been introduced by mutual friends, the artists Robert MacBryde and Robert Colquhoun. Bacon and Wirth-Miller quickly became close; they went on holiday abroad together and although contemporaries recalled that the relationship could be turbulent and even ‘stormy’, to the end of Bacon’s life they spoke on the telephone almost every day. Although Wirth-Miller’s art has inevitably been overshadowed by that of his famous friend, he exhibited at prestigious London galleries, such as the Beaux Arts Gallery, works by him were purchased for important collections, such as the Arts Council of Great Britain, a biography of him and Chopping was published in 2016 and in 2022–23 a retrospective at Firstsite, Colchester, prompted a reassessment of his achievement.
In 2014 Wirth-Miller’s studio was photographed in order to record an impression of the space before it was dismantled. These photographs show how his collection of photographic material – illustrated books, magazines and newspapers, and a few original photographs – was piled up in heaps, littering the floor, shelves, desks and walls of the small space (Figs.1 and 2). The total number of items in the studio is not known, but judging from these images it must have been at least several hundred. In 2014 some of the studio’s contents became available for analysis, following their acquisition by the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation. Of the 272 items that could be studied, 212 have been traced back to the books and magazines from which they were removed. Although this is only a fraction of the whole, and a more comprehensive study of the Wivenhoe studio is still needed, analysis of this cross section has proved enlightening in terms of their use and purpose.
Wirth-Miller owned material on a wide range of topics, from archaeology and ornithology to war and conflict. One group, for example, ranges from a picture from an article on the Korean War in a 1950 issue of Picture Post, which Wirth-Miller cut out and mounted (Fig.4), to printed matter on male erotica, athletics and body building, such as twenty leaves torn from a 1949 edition of Muscle Control or Body Development by Will-Power by ‘Maxick’ (Fig.3). Many pages were torn from books and newspapers but relatively few were altered or embellished by Wirth-Miller. Some images and figures were accentuated by cutting them out, as in a photograph of a semi-nude bodybuilder, and some were given painted frames, such as a soldier within a group of American G.I.s in a black-and-white news picture from a 1950 issue of TIME magazine (Fig.6). Although Wirth-Miller dismantled several of the series of reproductions of photographs by Eadweard Muybridge that he owned, curiously, he numbered the separated images according to their original positions in the series. His most intrusive manipulation was the painting over of heads and figures, as he did with greyish-green paint on a page torn from R.D. Lockhart’s Living Anatomy: A Photographic Atlas of Muscles in Action and Surface Contours (1950).
Occasionally Wirth-Miller created collages. On one cardboard support, for example, he combined four unidentified clippings: on the verso is an aerial view of a street scene and a fragment of a news picture of a cyclist and on the recto a goalkeeper in mid-air catching a football, together with a nude male torso. Several items, in particular individual cut-out frames from sequences by Muybridge, were mounted on supports. For some, such as the news picture of American soldiers mentioned above, Wirth-Miller used glue. For Muybridge’s photographs of a dog walking, he used a number of small pieces of Sellotape (Fig.5). Sometimes he cut two diagonal, parallel slits in the support into which the corners of the photograph were slotted. From an unidentified colour photographic reproduction Wirth-Miller cut out the upper half of a man’s face. The result is reminiscent in its plain deconstruction of anatomy of the interactive children’s book Heads, Bodies and Legs that Wirth-Miller wrote with Chopping in 1946, in which body parts from different figures can be combined in any way the reader chooses. Some torn-out pages have a few spatters of paint, such as a fragment from Picture Post from 1956; on some, including a Muybridge photograph of a dog, a faint fingerprint can be seen. In some instances, as in the marks below an image on a loose page from a body-building magazine, the paint appears to have been applied intentionally. Overall, however, the torn-out pages show only minor signs of use in the painting process or exposure to it.
The photographic illustrations in the books and magazines that Wirth-Miller accumulated at the Store House sometimes served as source material for his paintings, at least for a period. For example, Walking man (Fig.7), an unfinished canvas featuring a suited man moving away from a dark backdrop, is based on a news photograph of a young man named Tom Doxsee taken when he was on trial for killing a fellow student at Dartmouth College. Published in TIME: The Weekly Newspaper Atlantic Overseas Edition in 1949, it was cut out, mounted on cardboard and given a dark blue painted frame over the surrounding text (Fig.8). In the painting the head is obscured and the legs dissolve into the background, but otherwise the figure is very close to the photograph in the shape, proportions and positioning of the limbs. The painting is dominated by black, white and grey hues that are consistent with the monochrome source image, just as the cropping of the legs corresponds to the photographic source. The most significant deviation is the omission of Doxsee’s head, although, in contrast to other working documents in the collection, Wirth-Miller did not paint over it on the photograph.
In both the quantity and type of material, the contents of the Wivenhoe studio are reminiscent of those of Bacon’s famously chaotic studios, notably the last and best documented, that at 7 Reece Mews, London, which has been reconstructed at Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, the contents of which have been available for research there since 2001 (Fig.9). Comparative analysis suggests itself because Bacon visited Wivenhoe not only to socialise, but for at least twenty-five years he regularly shared Wirth-Miller’s studio. In a letter from the 1950s to his dealer Erica Brausen, Bacon explained that he was staying ‘with Dennis [sic] and Dickey [Chopping] for a few weeks and am working on some small canvases. [. . .] I am staying in a pub here and working in their home’. It is not known which paintings he meant or if they were ever finished, but fragments of an early version of the left panel of Three studies of Lucian Freud (1969; Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation Monaco), found in Wivenhoe after Wirth-Miller’s death, are evidence of Bacon’s activities there. They suggest that the triptych, which was finished at the Royal College of Art, London, was begun in The Store House. It is known that Bacon’s Study for portrait (1966; private collection) was both started and completed there.
Spatial proximity may have fostered some exchange on the paintings themselves. In his 1964 Bacon catalogue raisonné Ronald Alley credited Wirth-Miller for painting ‘a few brush-strokes’ on Landscape (1952; private collection). In the same year Bacon allegedly turned to Wirth-Miller for help when painting House in Barbados. Wirth-Miller himself claimed to have contributed to Bacon’s Dog (Fig.12), but it is more likely that he meant the less refined Dog (1952). He may also have contributed to a Vincent Van Gogh variation painted in 1957. Although there is no definitive evidence that Wirth-Miller made any of these supposed contributions to Bacon’s paintings, Bacon might well have taken advantage of the fact that his technically more adept friend was readily available. Although, like Bacon, Wirth-Miller never received any formal training, the skills he had absorbed when working as a pattern designer, and the one and a half years spent at Benton End, where ideas and techniques were exchanged and students were pushed to challenge themselves, are evident in such sketches as Study of a dog in movement: running (c.1953–54; private collection) that demonstrate Wirth-Miller’s competent handling of perspective and grasp of anatomy. By contrast, as David Sylvester remarked, Bacon ‘was forever asserting that he couldn’t draw, and this was not a pose’. The two painters themselves recorded little about their artistic exchange, although Bacon did publicly credit Wirth-Miller with introducing him to Muybridge’s photographic motion studies when they visited the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, together in 1949, with important consequences for Bacon’s art. With very few exceptions, Wirth-Miller and Chopping retained a discreet silence about their famous friend all their lives.
Wirth-Miller had at least a cursory knowledge of Bacon’s collection habits and studio set-up. He knew that Bacon ‘had a distinct core of source material which could be packed into a couple of suitcases’, and in a 1964 television documentary he can be seen in the Reece Mews studio together with Bacon and his lover George Dyer. The survival of both men’s collection of source material – on Wirth-Miller’s side at least in part – and the way this material provided pictorial springboards for their paintings allows for a comparison between their approaches to their art. Both Wirth-Miller and Bacon were interested in publications on physical exercise and body-building. Wirth-Miller’s books on this topic are matched by Bacon’s copies of Pumping Iron: The Art and Sport of Bodybuilding (1977), History of the Olympics in Pictures (1972) and an issue of the magazine Physique Pictorial from 1961. Themes of books owned by Wirth-Miller, such as archaeology, ornithology and violent conflict, correspond, for example, to The Concise Encyclopaedia of Archaeology (1960), Birds of the Night by Eric J. Hosking (1945) and The True Aspects of the Algerian Rebellion (1957), which Bacon kept in Reece Mews. Like Bacon, Wirth-Miller owned printed reproductions of works by Rembrandt van Rijn, Alberto Giacometti and Marcel Duchamp. Sometimes the painters even owned copies of the same books. Unsurprisingly, both Wirth-Miller and Bacon possessed publications containing reproductions of Muybridge photographs, and both owned the books Stalking Big Game with a Camera in Equatorial Africa (1925) by Marius Maxwell and Film (1944) by Roger Manvell. Although to some degree such overlaps in their collections are a manifestation of the two men’s shared visual interests, many of the book’s topics, such as war photography, that are prominent in Bacon’s collection of material and sometimes fed into his paintings, played no role in Wirth-Miller’s art. It is possible that Wirth-Miller acquired books on these subjects in imitation of his friend, or in an attempt to make him feel at home.
There are also noticeable differences between the two collections. Judging from the studio contents that have survived at the Store House and are available for research, some types of material and topics that played a vital role in Bacon’s studio are absent from Wirth-Miller’s. For instance, Bacon owned thirty-one books on ancient Egypt, and a variety of cookery books. He also possessed larger quantities of original photographic prints, handwritten notes with ideas and plans for paintings, together with transparencies and reproductions of his own work. Photographs of Bacon’s friends and lovers, books on cities and places where he had lived, publications on bull fighting, which he witnessed in France and Spain, and books on the wildlife that he saw when he visited his family in South Africa make the contents of Reece Mews a picture of his personality and biography. There is nothing similar reflecting Wirth-Miller’s life and interests in the Wivenhoe collection, apart from a set of pages torn out of A.G. Tansley’s The British Islands and their Vegetation (1939–65).
Even though photographs of Wirth-Miller’s studio depict a large number of objects, his collection of source material came nowhere near the four thousand ‘flat items’ unearthed from Reece Mews after 1992. In addition to this, he usually kept only single leaves on such topics as archaeology or specific sports, whereas Bacon often obsessively bought a number of books on one subject, often acquiring multiple copies of the same publication, such as three copies of Robert Daley’s The Swords of Spain (1967). Furthermore, the contents of Reece Mews range from the early nineteenth century to 1991, whereas the material from the Store House analysed here dates only from 1911 to 1974.
There were also differences in the arrangement of material in the two studios. Known to be very tidy, Wirth-Miller kept his working material in neat piles whereas Bacon built messy heaps and scattered ripped out pages, fragments of books and crumpled photographs carelessly over the studio floor (Fig.13). This ‘image carpet’ formed a giant collage incorporating multiple viewpoints, perspectives and distances from the subject, which may have anticipated the combination of different viewpoints on some of Bacon’s canvases. In the left panel of Three studies for a crucifixion (1962; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York), for example, the figures are placed parallel to the picture plane, but the surrounding space is seen from above. The democratisation of images of all sorts and their reciprocal fertilisation on the studio floor may have inspired Bacon to combine, in such paintings as Study after Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953; Des Moines Art Center), sources as disparate as a Baroque painting and a still from the film Battleship Potemkin (1925).
The working material from Reece Mews incorporates a variety of interventions and alterations by Bacon that both have considerable consequences for the image and demonstrate their underlying purpose for him. Although he shared some techniques with Wirth-Miller, they were executed differently. Bacon used cut-outs of faces or figures as stencils, as is suggested by the paint around the edges of a profile of Dyer cut from a photograph by John Deakin, which forms the basis of such works as Study for head of George Dyer (1967; private collection). Although Bacon, like Wirth-Miller, highlighted elements in an image by framing them with paint, instead of enclosing the entire image he singled out elements of it, such as one figure or parts of a subject. Bacon also anonymised figures by obliterating their heads, but did so mostly by folding or taping over them rather than painting over them. Collages are rare among Bacon’s surviving working documents, and none includes a combination of images on both sides of a support.
Other techniques employed by Bacon were not utilised by Wirth- Miller. Bacon sometimes made pictorial additions to a found image – for instance, by drawing a stool on a depiction of a nude in a drawing manual. Furthermore, the haphazard arrangement of loose leaves, newspaper fragments and photographs in the studio meant that they were often accidentally crumpled, folded, torn and spattered with paint. Bacon cherished these effects of use and decay and sometimes integrated them into his paintings, rendering the battered photographs and decomposed news cuttings the equivalents of the preparatory work of more traditional artists. For example, a Muybridge series of a pugilist striking a blow has been (probably accidentally) folded in such a way that two frames – two moments in time – are merged into one, creating an anatomically curious ‘split’, or ‘double back’ (Figs.14 and 15), which Bacon referenced in Study from the human body (man turning on light) (Fig.16). Such treatment of the photograph undermined its integrity. This is in stark contrast to Wirth- Miller’s careful and controlled handling of his own working documents, the alterations to which did not result in meaningful changes to the subject, neither distorting nor elevating the image. A good example is the cutting from TIME magazine that served as the pictorial springboard for Walking man: mounted, over-painted and paint-spattered, it is one of the most intensely used and modified items from the Store House. In that, it bears a strong resemblance to Bacon’s working documents, but its framing, mounting and blob of pink paint have no consequences for the painted canvas. There is no connection between the cutting and the painting beyond the formal aspects of the original photograph. Thus, at first sight, the two sets of material may look similar, but a closer look reveals a different understanding of their use and purpose.
Perhaps inspired by Bacon’s treatment of source material, Wirth- Miller toyed with the techniques he observed, but never gave them the significance they had for Bacon. He never matched Bacon’s free, inventive and complex appropriation process, in which trivial base images could be transformed into powerful iconography. For example, in ‘Figure getting out of a car’, which was later overpainted and is now titled Landscape with car (c.1945–46; private collection), Bacon converted a figure of a female gardener from an illustration of a colour print in a German book on the history of morality into an eerie fantasy creature, whose neck and head is based on the original figure’s arm. Often the identity of the figure in the source image was changed during the appropriation process, so that, for example, the distinctive appearance of Quasimodo as portrayed in a 1939 film adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame became the source for Self portrait (1956; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth). In addition, Bacon’s backgrounds usually stem from a photographic source different from that of the figure, as is exemplified by three of his dog paintings from 1952: the animals are taken from a Muybridge motion series, but the setting is lifted from a photograph of a Nazi rally at the Zeppelin Feld, Nuremberg. There is nothing similar in Wirth-Miller’s borrowings.
In the 1940s and 1950s Wirth-Miller often painted his landscapes en plein air, ‘sketching and painting landscapes and individual trees by the estuary’, and thus had little need for photographic source material to inspire a motif. Although most of the identified items from Wirth-Miller’s studio available for analysis date from this time, they cannot have provided much inspiration for landscape painting. Instead, the material seems predominantly to date from the period when Bacon and Wirth-Miller were working most closely alongside each other and it seems reasonable to suggest that it was during this time, in the early 1950s, that Wirth-Miller was creatively closest to Bacon.
In the early 1950s the two artists did not only share common interests regarding the type of material that they collected, but for a couple of years they also shared similar motifs. Although Wirth-Miller’s early works featured portraits, figures and still lifes, he had soon found his main subject: the British landscape, and later the Essex countryside in particular, and in 1944 he was included in the group show British Landscape Painting at the Lefevre Gallery, London. But in 1954 he deviated from his usual subject-matter.
In his first solo show Paintings. Studies of a Dog in Movement at the Beaux Arts Gallery, London, Wirth- Miller exhibited fourteen paintings of a dog, all painted in 1953. Several more dog paintings in various degrees of completion were found in the Store House after 2010. Centred on the canvas and taking up almost all of its space, solitary light-coloured dogs are placed on sparse, sombre backgrounds, sometimes evocative of grasslands, a pavement or a street. In several, for example Dog (Estate of Francis Bacon), the subjects are built up from sharp, angular brushstrokes that barely fill the space within the outlines of the subject. This brushwork is an ingenious way of conveying movement, giving the illusion of body parts revolving around and sliding against each other. In other paintings, such as Study of a dog in movement: walking; plinth (c.1953–54; private collection), found in the studio after Wirth-Miller’s death, the depiction of the body is interrupted by vertical omissions. In others, such as Study for ‘Dog in movement’ (Fig.10), the anatomy is blurred and barely distinguishable. As a consequence, the dogs lack corporeality and, together with their colour composition, the paint application gives them the ghostly look of a supernatural emanation, a flickering, unreal appearance full of internal energy.
The exhibition took place two years after Bacon had begun a group of very similar dog paintings, starting in 1952 with three works all titled Dog, followed by Man with dog (1953; Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo) and two paintings from 1954 titled Study of a dog (National Gallery of Art, Washington) and A performing dog (private collection). Wirth- Miller must have been familiar with all but the last two when painting his series, especially since Bacon’s Man with dog had been shown at the Hanover Gallery in the summer of 1954, and Dog was exhibited there in the winter of 1952–53. As discussed above, Wirth Miller may even have contributed to one of these canvases. It was a moment when his work showed clear influence from Bacon: for example the unfinished painting of a suited man walking mentioned above alludes to Bacon’s Men in blue series painted in 1954. The obvious parallels between the two groups of dog paintings stems in addition from the fact that both artists borrowed the form of the dog from a Muybridge series documenting the motion of a mastiff. This source, used by Wirth-Miller in Study for Dog in Movement (MB Art Foundation, Monaco) was found among his studio material (Fig.6). For his dog paintings Wirth-Miller also adopted distinctive stylistic devices of Bacon’s. The smearing of the animal’s face in Dog is not unlike Bacon smudging of the face in Dog (1952; Tate), a technique also evident in other works of this period, such as Study of figure in a landscape (1952; Phillips Collection, Washington). In addition Wirth-Miller used what Bacon called ‘shuttering’ – the interruption of anatomy by vertical omissions – producing an effect reminiscent of a number of Bacon’s paintings, such as Study after Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X.
The colour scheme of Wirth-Miller’s dog paintings, in which bright figures are set against a dark grey, blue or black background, is also consistent with Bacon’s preferred hues from 1953 onwards, as is exemplified by Study of a nude (1952–53; Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich). The purple and black in combination with large areas of unpainted canvas in Wirth- Miller’s Study for Dog in Movement (MB Art Foundation) is reminiscent of Bacon’s Study of a baboon (1953; Museum of Modern Art, New York) and the studies of a pope of the same period. On some occasions, Wirth-Miller even emulated Bacon’s hand. In Study of a dog in movement: walking; plinth, he merely provided an indication of a foreleg with a free brushstroke, imitating Bacon’s way of hinting at elements of figures in such paintings as Sphinx II (1953; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven).
Yet although Wirth-Miller’s dog paintings are so close to Bacon’s that a comparison is inevitable, Bacon’s dogs are, for instance, much smaller in relation to the canvas, creating room for more complex and meaningful backgrounds. All of Bacon’s dog paintings of 1952 emphasised the figure by placing it in the centre of an octagonal constellation on the ground; in addition Man with dog incorporates a second, albeit shadowy figure. Furthermore, whereas Wirth-Miller made use of a wide variety of poses taken from several different Muybridge sequences, the subjects in Bacon’s Dog (1952; Tate), Dog (1952; private collection), Man with dog (1953; Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo) and probably, albeit with slight alterations, Dog (1952; private collection), all derive from the same Muybridge photograph (Fig.11). In general, Wirth-Miller studied the Muybridge sources more diligently and remained closer to them. This is exemplified by the way that in contrast to Bacon’s paintings, where the dogs’ heads resemble those of a greyhound, Wirth-Miller kept the bulky head of Muybridge’s mastiff. In their overall design, and especially in the rendering of the animals, his paintings are more deliberate, planned and sometimes laboured, whereas Bacon’s works harbour his explosive imagination, spontaneity and ability to surprise, along with his characteristic expressive and gestural paint work.
After he had created his series of dog paintings, Wirth-Miller returned to landscape painting, as exemplified by his solo show East Anglian Landscapes at the Beaux Arts Gallery in 1956, which consisted of paintings of the Essex countryside. Although some colour photographs of landscapes, probably from later decades, were found at the Store House no direct references to them in Wirth-Miller’s paintings have yet been established.
A comparison of the use Wirth-Miller and Bacon made in their work of the photographic material they collected in their studios opens up important new insights into the painters’ artistic relationship and helps to delineate its extent. Their diverging ideas of how to handle their studio collections, what to borrow from them and whether or not to alter subjects in the images they collected, are both enlightening and exemplary in terms of the different ways painters have worked with photography. The obvious parallels in these aspects of their art make comparisons both sensible and fruitful. However, for many other aspects of Wirth-Miller’s work, it may be worth eventually shifting the emphasis away from Bacon. There is still much to be explored about him as an artist in his own right. For example, as the exhibition at Firstsite demonstrated, a considerable amount of his work is not conclusively dated and the variety of style in his paintings suggests that an equally wide range of influences remains to be explored. It will be exciting to see what comes to light when Bacon is taken out of the equation.
The author would like to thank the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation for initiating and supporting her research on the contents of Wirth-Miller’s studio. The present article summarises its results.
Walking man, by Denis Wirth-Miller. c.1954. Oil on canvas, 130 by 99 cm.
How almost meeting Alberto Giacometti
the week he died inspired a new biography
A 60-year “obsession” began when Michael Peppiatt set out for Paris with
a letter of introduction from Francis Bacon
BY GARETH HARRIS | BOOK CLUB | FEATURE | THE ART NEWSPAPER | FRIDAY 1 SEPTEMBER 2023
The author and art historian Michael Peppiatt is candid about his art passions: in 2015, he published a frank memoir that focused on his friendship with Francis Bacon (Francis Bacon in Your Blood). In his new publication, Giacometti in Paris: A Life, he shines the spotlight on another of his heroes, the Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti, setting his life and work against the backdrop of Paris where, in his hovel of a studio, he created his recognisable, now million-dollar-selling spindly human figures.
“I’m interested in a wide range of artists, but Giacometti and Bacon have both been singular obsessions for me for 60 years!” Peppiatt tells The Art Newspaper. “To some extent I have been formed by them because they were kind of father figures.”
The new book, writes Peppiatt in his introduction, is “a double portrait in which a gifted individual and a magical city confront and reflect each other”. He paints a colourful picture of Giacometti’s experiences in the city, from his arrival in 1922 as an ingénue from Switzerland to the relationships he built with writers such as André Breton, Michel Leiris and Jean-Paul Sartre, and fellow artists like Pablo Picasso.
The narrative is furnished with absorbing episodes, such as the time in early 1932 when Giacometti found himself lying clothed on a bed next to the artist Robert Jourdan, who had died during the night from an overdose. “The life lacks a vital dimension without the work, and the work should become far more accessible and interesting once seen in the context of a life,” Peppiatt says. The book begins with the author’s account of going to Paris in early 1966 for a job at Réalités magazine. He moves into a flat in the Alésia neighbourhood, which turned out to be a stone’s throw from the studio where Giacometti spent most of his working life (1927-66).
“Bacon had given me this letter of introduction, so I tried several times to deliver it and then I heard Giacometti had died that very week in Switzerland. The obsession grew out of not having met him and not being taken into his world. I compensated by building up a collection of books and catalogues, and photographs of him and the studio.”
As an art critic mining the Paris scene, Peppiatt also came into contact with key relatives like Giacometti’s wife Annette and his brother Diego, who helped with his research.
So was there a gap in the scholarship around Giacometti? “I don’t think his relationship with Paris and the extraordinary intellectual climate of the city before and after the war have been fully explored. The way Giacometti became such a main actor and personality in Surrealism, and then a central figure, partly thanks to Sartre, in Existentialism, interested me particularly and made me feel envious.” Indeed, Peppiatt’s account of the personalities who shaped Giacometti in the most profound way forms the core of the book, such as the artist’s years spent under the spell of the Surrealists, especially Breton and Leiris. In the early 1930s, Giacometti created a statue-like head of Breton in pencil but was formally expelled from the Surrealist group in February 1935.
“[Breton] is by far the most intelligent and sensitive person I know and the only one from whom I learned so much,” Giacometti wrote to his father in June 1933. Leiris initiated his own lifelong relationship with Giacometti by writing the first article devoted to his work in the Documents journal in September 1929.
Meanwhile, Sartre’s catalogue introduction to Giacometti’s 1948 exhibition in New York (The Search for the Absolute, Pierre Matisse Gallery) is still a key touchstone in relation to the sculptor’s work.
“It had an amazing impact at the time and still has those marvellous phrases, like ‘cutting the fat off space’, that stop you in your tracks,” Peppiatt says. “Sartre and Giacometti loved talking together— Simone de Beauvoir regretted they were never recorded — and I think Sartre took quite a lot from those conversations. The introduction as a whole is overlong and sounds a bit waffly now. But how wonderful that those two exceptional men came together at that time.”
Throughout the book, Peppiatt focuses on the gradual evolution of Giacometti’s practice. In 1930, for instance, Giacometti showed the sculpture Suspended Ball at the Galerie Pierre in Paris alongside works by Hans Arp and Joan Miró. The piece “worked as a metaphor for a generalised pent-up state of frustration, and the Surrealists with their heightened interest in sexuality”, writes Peppiatt. He notes also that “between 1952 and 1954, after a period of varied output and international success, Alberto’s work grew more sharply focused”.
The art world’s love for Giacometti continues apace, his status sealed with plans for a vast new museum in Paris due to launch in 2026 (the Giacometti Foundation’s current 350 sq. m of space will grow to 6,000 sq. m as it moves into the Gare des Invalides).
“I’m pleased that Giacometti is now getting his ‘palace’, like Picasso,” Peppiatt says. “Although, the whole idea of transferring his art to a vast, imposing space is a contradiction in terms. After all, both Giacometti’s life and his work came out of constant reduction, of impoverishment and cutting back to the bone to reveal the core and truth of human existence.”
• Michael Peppiatt, Giacometti in Paris: A Life, Bloomsbury Publishing, 352pp, £30 (hb)
Alberto Giacometti in 1966
McCartney, Bacon, Dodd: Melvyn Bragg’s
10 best South Bank Show interviews
From divas to epic drinking sessions: as Britain’s longest-running arts
show comes to an end, a look back at its most revealing encounters
Francis Bacon (1985)
BY ALEXANDER LARMAN | CULTURE | THE DAILY TELEGRAPH | TUESDAY 29 AUGUST 2018
By the mid-1980s, Francis Bacon’s reputation as an artist was assured; so was, to put it crudely, his standing as a piss-artist. Therefore, any interview with him would be fraught with danger and event, and so it proved when he appeared on The South Bank Show, at the age of 75. Bragg had refrained from drinking for a few months while he was working on a novel, but when he met Bacon, what ensued was “an alcoholic waterfall”; the artist insisted that they drank Bollinger, then cheap red wine, and then led Bragg on a drinking spree, all the while on camera.
The refreshed, and exhausted, interviewer later confessed that “my liver [was] leaping up into my ribs like a salmon” and that “we were not a pretty sight”, but the final show was a fascinatingly unvarnished insight into Bacon in all his ferocity and creativity. As late as 2009, Bragg reflected that, “Still today art students like to say: ‘Cheerio Francis, cheerio Melvyn’ and lift an imaginary glass of rough red.
Extract: Bacon in Moscow by James Birch
Art crosses the Iron Curtain in this complex memoir of suspicion, espionage and opportunity
BY JAMES BIRCH | EXTRACT | BOOKS | VISUAL ARTS | THE ARTS DESK | FRIDAY 07 JULY 2023
In 1988, James Birch – curator, art dealer, and gallery owner – took Francis Bacon to Moscow. It was, as he writes, “an unimaginable intrusion of Western Culture into the heart of the Soviet system”. At a time of powerful political tension and suspicion, but also optimism and opportunity, the process of exhibiting Bacon was riddled with difficulties, careful negotiations, joys and disappointments.
In this extract, we find James in 1988 and perestroika is in full bloom: General Secretary Gorbachev appears to be at the height of his popularity and power, and a possible democracy beckons. James sits with one of his story’s most important figures: Sergei Klokov, the man on the inside of the iron state who could make things happen, a bridge to the West and all the art it might bring, James’s exhibition fixer fraught with contradiction – but a man necessary to his cause.
One misstep with an unseen Soviet official and the exhibition would be cancelled. If Moscow was leaning towards the West, could the USSR really follow suit? Could goodwill and and openness to Western art and culture really solve Russia’s huge economic problems? And could the iron state re-make itself, within the space of a few years, as a liberal democracy? The tale that tells the attempt is one of thrilling twists and turns, full of false-starts, narrow triumphs, and near misses: an important piece of history
Klokov came back into the room with Vodka. “Poyekhali!” he declared – let’s go! – the word uttered by Yuri Gagarin before blasting off in 1961. “Poyekhali!” we echoed.
In these circumstances, I had to see Klokov as a friend, and as I got to know him better I came to admire his apparent genius for pushing things just about as far as they could be pushed without incurring the wrath of the Communist Party. Klokov had the knack of judging what could qualify as acceptable under the Soviet system. He also took me seriously, which I responded to, and he was happy to consider the largest and most unlikely projects. This struck a chord with me. We were both, in our different ways, ambitious, and I wanted to give the Russians the opportunity to see a different version of the world through art. It might sound foolishly idealistic now, but I believed it with complete conviction and I saw Klokov as the man who would help me make it happen.
As we sat at the table that evening, Paul talking to Johnny Stuart and Elena next to me, I mentioned to Klokov an idea I had had: might it be possible for the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude to wrap up the Kremlin? In September 1985 they had covered the Pont Neuf in Paris in bronze-coloured man-made silk, a project that attracted three million visitors. Imagine what the world would say if they wrapped the Kremlin in Russian Red. I wasn’t being entirely serious but Klokov considered the suggestion as if I were in deadly earnest. He waved a finger around, grunted, pulled a face and then declared, “Yes, why not wrap the Kremlin? It would announce perestroika to the world. Anything is possible!” We cheered and applauded, as indeed anything did seem possible in that moment.
Even Johnny Stuart, usually urbane and contained, was caught in the mood of excitement. “It’s happening already,” he said. “Sotheby’s are going to have an auction of early Soviet art and they’re letting the contemporary guys take part. There’ll be avant-garde pictures in the auction too.”
I had read Sotheby’s auction announcement. It was to be the first official art sale to take place in Moscow since the Revolution. Klokov knew about this already, of course.
“It will bring influential people to Moscow,” Klokov said. “The world will be looking at us and they will still be looking in September when we have the Bacon exhibition.”
The Bacon show was a radical departure from the norm but still recognisably within the parameters of the Soviet worldview, part of the state’s remit to bring culture to the masses. In theory, anyone could queue up and buy tickets for Bacon in Moscow. However, the Sotheby’s auction was an expression of pure capitalism and in stark contrast to official Soviet ideology.
“Will it be low-key?” I asked.
“I doubt it,” laughed Johnny. “The whole circus will come to town. There’ll be Western dealers, international journalists, agents for wealthy bidders. I’ve heard Elton John and David Bowie are interested. And I guess there’ll be some big nobs from the politburo.”
“What about the Russian artists?” asked Paul. “Won’t they be there?”
“They’re letting them in,” said Johnny. “I think they are going to stand at the back and watch from behind a rope, but there won’t be any mingling. The dissident artists will only be allowed a glimpse of capitalism.”
I knew enough to recognise the implications of the auction. It commodified an aspect of human existence that Marx and Engels had argued, in those long meetings above the Red Lion, would prosper through communism – man’s innate artistic creativity. Sotheby’s were the out-riders of a coming counter-revolution.
Did Klokov realise this? What calculations was he making? Which bets was he laying off in the months before the Bacon show? As we talked and laughed that evening, I found myself freshly intrigued by him. His great knowledge, his occasional naivety and, of course, the ominous pressure he was subject to. Occasionally there would be a hint of a darker, more terrifying Russia just behind the city of empty shops and threadbare hotels we were encountering: the Soviet hinterland where Klokov also lived, with the long shadows of interrogations, prison camps and executions.
This is an exclusive extract from Bacon in Moscow by James Birch (Cheerio, £17.99)
Francis Bacon, John Edwards and James Birch
Stranger than the sum of his parts: Francis Bacon’s legacy, 1967
Five years after his first major Tate retrospective, a critic wonders how future generations will view the artist
EMMA BEDDINGTON | FROM THE OBSERVER ARCHIVE | LIFE & STYLE | THE OBSERVER | SUNDAY 25 JUNE 2023
‘Bacon is the man of the moment,’ art critic Nigel Gosling declared in an Observer profile on 5 March 1967. ‘But will his reputation last?’ The assessment that follows is almost as intense as the full-page colour reproduction of a recent portrait of Bacon’s lover, George Dyer, that accompanies it.
Bacon was 57 and, five years after his first major Tate retrospective, the pre-eminent figure in British art and beyond: ‘A disturbing rock dominating the world scene’. That reflected, Gosling argued, his ability to tap into a counter-current to the general forward-looking positivity of the age. ‘Beneath the prosperity and fun-loving, cures-for-cancer optimism, the old pit of fear yawns as widely as ever.’ Bacon’s themes were universal: ‘The love-suffering equation that is sex and the vacuum of loneliness that is death.’ Cheery stuff for your Sunday morning.
Pinning the artist himself down on the page proved tricky. Anglo-Irish, upper-middle, untrained, peripatetic, apolitical, Bacon was stranger than the sum of his parts. There’s his chaotic studio, house number roughly chalked on the front door and brushes wiped on curtains, but then there are the elegant suits and shiny shoes for outings to ‘posh restaurants’. His relationships span ‘respectable to the seamy underworld’ and his hobbies are ‘Nietzsche, champagne and gambling’. The man himself is described as ‘slightly fey-looking, soft-moving, soft-speaking… civilised and intelligent,’ but his work is ‘squeezed out of him by a convulsion of the spiritual bowels’.
A photographed collage of Bacon’s influences includes ‘riot scenes, film facials and closeups… a man with a monkey, the Velázquez papal portrait that has haunted him for years, Baudelaire, hippopotamuses’. Gosling seems almost physically winded by the work; that’s how he describes it: ‘Coming upon one of his huge, horrific canvases is like being hit in the crotch.’ He sees a lasting and transcendent truth in that violence, though. ‘I believe future generations will continue to be moved by it,’ Gosling concludes, answering his own question, ‘and even, which might alarm Bacon, find it totally beautiful.’
‘I believe future generations will continue to be moved by it’: Observer’s
art critic on Francis Bacon’s work, 1967. Photograph: Ian Berry
$100 for a piece of Francis Bacon
THE ART MARKET | NEWS | ART REVIEW | FRIDAY 2 JUNE 2023
Investors can now buy a small chunk of a triptych painted by Francis Bacon in 1963. Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer shows the artist’s lover from three angles. The work is the first to be offered by a new company billed as a ‘stock exchange for art’, with up to 70 percent of the painting available in shares equivalent to $100 (£79) each.
The painting was bought by its present owner at Christie’s for $51.8mn with fees in 2017. Artex, the shares platform, which is regulated by the Liechtenstein Financial Market Authority with an EU licence, now values it at $55m.
Yassir Benjelloun-Touimi, a former investment banker and co-founder of Artex, told the Financial Times that the current owner will maintain ten percent of the work, with initial trading opening 19 June and the remaining shares coming available soon after.
A work by Bacon, 3 Works: Studies Of Lucien Freud sold in 2013 for £89.4m, landing it just shy of the top twenty most expensive paintings ever sold. Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer once hung on the walls of the author Roald Dahl’s home in Great Missenden in the English country of Buckinghamshire.
Stock exchange for art opens with $55mn Francis Bacon
MELANIE GERLIS | THE ART MARKET | THE FINANCIAL TIMES | THURSDAY 1 JUNE 2022
A stock exchange for art announced its launch in London this week, aiming to make art a more accessible investment prospect. Called Artex, the new exchange — regulated by the Liechtenstein Financial Market Authority with an EU licence — opens with the listing of Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer” (1963), which Artex has valued at about $55mn. The work has been consigned by a private collector who bought it from Christie’s for $51.8mn with fees in 2017. Artex will initially offer 70 per cent of the work (worth $38.5mn) in shares equivalent to $100 each, though more will come as its owner can only keep up to 10 per cent, confirms Yassir Benjelloun-Touimi, co-founder and chief executive of Artex and a former investment banker. Pre-marketing is set to begin officially on June 19 and public trading starts on July 21.
Artex will take 3 per cent of the work’s valuation and will also make a “small fee” from each trade, Benjelloun-Touimi says. Other works will come to market, with their frequency “depending on the response”, he says.
This is not the first attempt to divide art into tradeable chunks — and so far the jury is still out on such projects, which have yet to attract enough liquidity to succeed and can invite shortlived speculation. Benjelloun-Touimi says that Artex’s regulated framework dictates “transparency and non-discrimination”, making it a viable option for institutional investors. He accepts that “art is not oil, it is not a commodity” and is committed to having the works Artex offers on view in public museums, rather than, for example, kept in a freeport. When it comes to speculation, he says, “you can limit it but you can’t stop it in any asset — it is ingrained in human nature”.
Christie’s will offer a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting of Picasso, estimated at between £4.5mn and £6.5mn, in London on June 28. The 1984 work is painted on metal with “Pablo Picasso” written in capital letters seven times, “almost like a mantra”, says Tessa Lord, Christie’s senior specialist. “There’s a continuing fascination about an artist painting an artist, particularly cross-generationally, and Basquiat and Picasso are two big ticks for us,” Lord says. The work sold at Christie’s for £1mn with fees in 2007 and was last seen in public at the Barbican’s Basquiat: Boom for Real exhibition in 2017-18, on loan from an Italian private collection.
Christie’s scored a hit with Basquiat in Hong Kong last weekend when his three-dimensional painting “Black” (1986) made HK$51.5mn (HK$62.6mn with fees, about $8mn). The work, which had a third-party guarantee, was the top lot of its healthy 20th/21st-century evening sale on May 28, though its final price was just below its presale estimate and the amount made at its previous sale in 2020 ($8.1mn, not accounting for inflation).
The estate of the German-French artist Hans Arp (1886-1966) has given 200 plaster sculptures to 10 museums worldwide, including the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, the Hepworth Wakefield in the UK and Vienna’s Albertina. The donation also includes two bronzes for each institution, the foundation confirms. The plasters, which Arp finalised before handing them over to foundries for fabrication, are “invaluable resources” towards understanding the artist’s process, says Engelbert Büning, director of the foundation. The gift and associated collaboration, which targets institutions that don’t have Arp works, stretches to Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria, while Büning says plans are afoot to add museums in Asia and Africa.
Arp was a co-founder of the Dada movement, which rejected traditional definitions of art after the horrors of the first world war, and his often amorphous work reflects the fluidity of national and cultural identity. Born in Alsace, Arp was originally German but, after the war, became French with the region. He used two first names — Hans and Jean — to reflect his mixed nationality.
Rarely seen Two Figures painting has rival art companies spending
tens of thousands in legal fees wrestling over its ownership
PATRICK SAWER & SARAH LIMBRICK | NEWS | THE DAILY TELEGRAPH | SATURDAY 20 MAY 2022
When it was first unveiled in 1953 Francis Bacon’s painting Two Figures shocked the British public with its intimate depiction of two men grappling on a bed. It has since become one of the painter’s most acclaimed works, estimated to be worth as much as £5.23 million and praised for its muscular representation of what could equally be a portrayal of agony or ecstasy
But the rarely seen painting is now at the centre of a bitter legal row, with two rival art companies spending tens of thousands in legal fees wrestling over its ownership. Bacon sold the oil painting for just £100 to his former friend, the painter Lucian Freud, just months after completing the work.
Painted at the cottage of his violent and neurotic boyfriend, Peter Lacy, a former fighter pilot, the work – produced at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in Britain – has been rarely exhibited in public. London-based Ashti Fine Art said it bought the painting from the Goldmark Gallery for £1.25 million plus VAT, paying for it in instalments by 2022.
The painting, which measures 134.5 x 91.5cm, was delivered to the Art Logistics warehouse in Park Royal, in Oct 2021. But even before it had arrived Ashti Fine Art claimed it had agreed to sell it on to Italian gallery Dart Milano for £1.75 million.
In documents lodged with the High Court in London, Ashti Fine Art said it handed over the painting to Fracassi Worldwide Shipping, on the proviso it was not to release it to the Milan-based gallery until it had been paid for. Ashti Fine Art maintained, however, that the deal was not fulfilled and that the Italian company had not yet paid for Bacon’s painting in full.
On Nov 12 last year, Ashti Fine Art directed Dart Milano and Art Logistics to release the painting to Ashti’s director, 31-year-old Ashwin Uttamchandani Daswani. But, a month later, Dart Milano is alleged to have borrowed money secured against the painting and moved it to the “account” of the Los Angeles-based company Art Lending Inc.
Ashti disputed that the Italian gallery has “title to the painting” – meaning ownership of the work – or that it has ever had the right to use the painting as security. It asked the High Court to declare it to be the owner of Two Figures and for Art Lending and Art Logistics to be ordered to hand over the work.
But Art Lending has rejected all the allegations and is preparing to fight them in court, claiming that not only is the painting rightfully its property, but that it is in fact worth $6.5 million (£5.23 million) rather than the £1.25 million Ashti paid for the work.
The Los Angeles firm also claimed that Ashti has produced “no sufficient documentation” proving that the painting belongs to it. Art Lending is now countersuing Dart Milano for £42 million for breach of contract, alleging it is the victim of a conspiracy involving the Bacon painting, as well as an unnamed painting by Picasso.
A troubled history
Two Figures has had a troubled history. When it was first exhibited in 1953 at the Hanover Gallery, its founder Erica Brausen placed it in an upper room in a bid to avoid scrutiny from the police, who might have regarded the graphic subject matter as obscene and potentially subject to prosecution.
The composition was said to be based on a motion series of photographs of men wrestling published by the pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge in the 1880s, although that explanation was widely regarded as a cover for its depiction of a sadomasochistic homosexual encounter.
Two Figures was exhibited at the Bacon retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1962. However, Freud, who fell out with Bacon, subsequently kept it in his private collection and refused to lend it for exhibition.
Following Freud’s death in 2011, Two Figures was seen in public for the first time in decades at the Fitzwilliam Museum in 2017-18, before being displayed at the “Francis Bacon: Couplings” exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in London, in 2019.
Two Figures offers an intimate depiction of two men grappling on a bed
The S.I. Newhouse Auction: 16 Paintings, $177.8 Million
A Francis Bacon goes big, but there were few fireworks at the sale of paintings from
Condé Nast’s former chairman, who built one of the major art collections in the country.
ZACHARY SMALL & ROBIN POGREBIN | ART & DESIGN | THE NEW YORK TIMES | THURSDAY MAY 11 2022
One might expect paintings from the illustrious collection of the late magazine publisher S.l. Newhouse — by Picasso, de Kooning, Lichtenstein and Bacon, among others — to generate some fireworks in the art market. Yet even with that provenance, the Thursday evening sale at Christie’s that kicked off the spring 2023 auction season was muted. Most of the 16 lots went for solid if predictable prices at, or just above, their estimates, for a total of $177.8 million. This may well be because the market has cooled in response to recession fears and spending sprees during the pandemic.
But it is also because every item had been guaranteed — essentially presold to buyers who had promised to pay undisclosed minimum prices — adding credence to the increasingly common lament that sales have lost the suspense that used to animate bidding in the room and make auctions exciting.
While they may dampen the sense of spectacle, guarantees are now considered a staple of the auction market, as they enable sellers to hedge their risk should consignments go unsold. In stark contrast to the high-flying $100 million masterpieces recorded recently — and the explosive prices paid for art owned by Microsoft’s co-founder, Paul G. Allen, last November — Thursday night’s sale was Roman candles. The highest estimate in the Christie’s sale was about $25 million for Willem de Kooning’s 1947 black-and-white “Orestes.”
That important early painting — said to have marked the artist’s transition from figuration to abstraction — sold for $30.9 million with fees, with back-and-forth bids by phone. The highest price of the evening was $34.6 million with fees, for a 1969 self-portrait by Francis Bacon. (The total for the evening was midway between Christie’s high estimate of $202 million and its low estimate of $142 million.)
Since Newhouse’s death, in 2017, his estate has been selling works privately and at auction under the guidance of the former prominent Sotheby’s auctioneer Tobias Meyer. Thursday’s sale was the third group of consignments. Newhouse’s 1986 Jeff Koons “Rabbit” sculpture, for example, set an auction high for the artist when it sold for $91 million it at Christie’s in 2019.
Other highlights included Picasso’s colorful “L’Arlésienne (Lee Miller),” one of seven portraits Picasso painted of the American photographer Lee Miller as an Arlésienne during a 1937 trip. The piece sold for $24.6 million on an estimate of $20 million to $30 million.“That’s not a picture for everyone — it’s too wild for some people,” the collector Alberto Mugrabi said, remarking on the low-energy bidding for the work. But he added, “I loved it.”
The painting also had a peculiar back story. Legend has it that Miller accidentally stepped into oncoming traffic and was pulled to safety by Condé Nast himself, who signed her as a Vogue model. She later studied photography under Man Ray and entered into a relationship with him. “We lived together for three years,” Miller later recalled. “I was known as Madame Man Ray, because that’s how they do things in France.”
Francis Bacon’s “Self-Portrait,” from 1969, sold for $34.6 million with fees at Christie’s on Thursday night.
Masterpieces from the S.I. Newhouse Collection
LOT 5A | 11 MAY 06:30 PM EDT 2023 | LIVE AUCTION 22522
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
signed, dedicated, titled and dated ‘Self-Portrait 1969 Francis Bacon to V with all very best wishes Francis’(on the reverse) – oil on canvas – 14 x 12 in. (35.6 x 30.5 cm.) – Painted in 1969
ESTIMATE USD 22,000,000 – USD 28,000,000
HAMMER PRICE: USD 29,750,000
PRICE REALISED: USD 34,622,500
Valerie Beston, London (gift from the artist, circa 1969);
Christie’s, London, 8 February 2006, lot 5.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
Painted in 1969, the present work is a masterful and poignant self-portrait from a pivotal moment in Francis Bacon’s career. The artist’s unmistakable countenance emerges in swirling, evanescent strokes of lilac, teal, bone-white and vermillion set against a rich blue backdrop. Flashes of turquoise, orange and magenta halo his silhouette. Bacon has bruised and blushed his features, using a corduroy rag to print delicate, striated impressions across his mouth, nose and shadowed eye sockets. Impastoed sweeps of white convey the sheen of skin under bright electric light. Zones of raw canvas shape his beige trenchcoat and shine through his deftly brushed hair, with the distinctive forelock that Michel Leiris called “a reckless comma staunchly inscribed across his brow” (M. Leiris, Francis Bacon: Full Face and in Profile, Oxford, 1983, p. 12). The artist’s large, hooded eyes gaze out with a subtle glitter. A far cry from some of the more violent distortions of Bacon’s portraiture, it is a remarkably tender self-image. Its warmth may reflect his feelings towards its intended recipient: Bacon presented the work as a gift to Valerie Beston, who had overseen his affairs at London’s Marlborough Gallery since 1958, playing an important role in his personal and professional lives. The 1960s had been a decade of huge success for Bacon, witnessing a flowering of ambition and drama in his painting as he embraced new colors, techniques and subjects. Here, months before his sixtieth birthday, he emerges as a poised and contemplative figure brimming with creative life. Two years later, the work was included in his career-defining retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris; it has been shown in a number of major international exhibitions across the decades since.
An intimate arena charged with spectacular power, the fourteen-by-twelve-inch portrait is perhaps the most iconic format in Bacon’s oeuvre. “Just as a gunshot sometimes leaves an after-echo or parallel report,” wrote John Russell, “so these small concentrated heads carry their ghosts within them” (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, ed., London, 1979, p. 99). Having experimented with painting heads on this scale in 1961, Bacon first fully realized the format in 1962 with the triptych Study for Three Heads (The Museum of Modern Art, New York). Flanked by two portraits of his former partner Peter Lacy, its central panel is a forlorn self-image emerging from a pitch-black void. Lacy’s death had coincided with the opening of Bacon’s first museum retrospective at the Tate, London, in May 1962. As Bacon overcame his sadness, however, the following years would see the small canvases play host to a vivid, colorful cast of characters. Buoyed by critical success and amid the unfolding dynamism of Swinging London, he abandoned the dark, existentialist visions that had defined his work of the 1950s. His charismatic circle of friends—including Lucian Freud, Isabel Rawsthorne, Henrietta Moraes and, following their meeting in autumn 1963, his lover George Dyer—gave rise to a rich, variegated and deeply personal body of portraits. While Bacon sometimes blurred his sitters’ likenesses with his own, he painted himself only rarely during these outward-looking years. Alongside a closely related example dedicated to his cousin Diana Watson, the present work is one of two single-panel self-portraits made at the climax of the 1960s. As Bacon turns the brush upon himself, he showcases the triumphant new heights of painterly eloquence to which he has risen and seems to picture himself taking stock at a moment of great personal contentment.
Bacon worked almost exclusively from photographs when depicting his friends. “I think it’s the slight remove from fact, which returns me onto the fact more violently”, he explained. “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” (quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, ed., London, 2016, p. 37). In this sense, his self-portraits stand apart: in order to paint them, Bacon would study his own face in the mirror, intimately engaged with its physical presence. John Richardson recounted a visit to the artist’s studio where “Ensconced in front of a mirror, he rehearsed on his own face the brushstrokes that he envisaged making on canvas. With a flourish of his wrist, he would apply great swoops of Max Factor ‘pancake’ makeup in a gamut of flesh colors to the stubble on his chin” (J. Richardson, “Bacon Agonistes,” The New York Review of Books, vol. 56, no. 20, 17 December 2009).
This arresting image suggests not only Bacon’s haptic familiarity with the contours of his own face—so distinct from the photographic remove at which he preferred to study other people—but also the consonance between self-portraiture and the daily acts of masking that we all engage in as we present ourselves to the world: in the words of T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock, “To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.” Like Eliot, whose writing he greatly admired, Bacon understood the modern experience of selfhood as one of instability and uncertainty. It is this sense of flux—of a raw, mutable reality contained beneath the often cultivated composure of appearance—that defines Bacon’s unique visual language. Rather than violence, his formal distortions are acts of investigation, of reaching towards the essence of a person. The present painting’s vorticial sweeps of pigment twist and disintegrate aspects of the artist’s physical form, but—like Pablo Picasso’s stylized faces—they also reveal something indissolubly human.
Self-portraiture played a central role in Picasso’s work and that of Bacon’s other artistic hero Vincent van Gogh, charting the evolution of their respective styles, their changing outlooks on the world and the ups and downs of circumstance. His friend and contemporary Lucian Freud—the subject of some of Bacon’s own most celebrated paintings—also painted a remarkable body of self-portraits, turning an unsparing eye on his aging face and body. Bacon reserved his greatest admiration, however, for the self-portraits of Rembrandt. He saw these paintings’ remarkably free brushwork—the contours of the artist’s face changing between pictures, often almost lost in dramas of shadow and light—as a profound fusion of the artist’s self with his medium. “[If] you think of the great Rembrandt self-portrait in Aix-en-Provence, for instance, and if you analyze it, you will see that there are hardly any sockets to the eyes, that it is almost completely anti-illustrational”, he told David Sylvester. “… there is a coagulation of non-representational marks which have led to making up this very great image” (quoted in D. Sylvester, ibid., p. 67). These daring “non-representational marks”, for Bacon, were more powerful than anything achieved in the years of Abstract Expressionism because they were allied with the recording of what he called “fact”: with the conveying of an image. Never settling for illustrative ease, the tension created by combining representation with the “risk” of visceral, impulsive mark-making drove all of Bacon’s own work.
Bacon would turn further inward over the following decade, painting almost thirty haunting, mournful self-portraits during the 1970s. Many of these were made alongside the tragic “black triptychs” he painted to memorialize George Dyer, who—in a grim echo of Lacy’s death on the eve of his Tate retrospective—died while he and Bacon were in Paris for the opening of the Grand Palais exhibition in 1971. “I loathe my own face, but go on painting it only because I haven’t got any other people to do”, Bacon said of this period. “One of the nicest things that Cocteau ever said was: ‘Each day in the mirror I watch death at work.’ This is what one does oneself” (quoted in D. Sylvester, ibid., p. 152). In the present painting, however, Bacon seems free of such morbidity, instead exhibiting a proud sense of life. He rouges his cheeks, and caresses his eyes, mouth and hair with his brush with palpable care. If some parts of the surface bear the visceral color of vein or bruise, others are touched with the softness of a lipsticked kiss. Appearing youthful, even raffish for a man about to enter his sixties, Bacon emerges as a spirited and mercurial figure. While indebted to the figural language of Picasso, his countenance has none of the mask-like fixity of the Spanish master’s Demoiselles or weeping women, but instead seems—paradoxically—caught in the act of refusing to be pinned down.
At moments he was one of the most feminine of men,” David Sylvester said of Bacon; “at others one of the most masculine. He would switch between these roles as suddenly and as unpredictably as the switching of a light. That duality did more than anything perhaps to make his presence so famously seductive and compelling and to make him so peculiarly wise and realistic in his observation of life” (Francis Bacon: The Human Body, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1998, p. 21). Here, Bacon presents himself not as an idée fixe, but a dynamic presence in a constant state of becoming. His face’s prismatic, diaphanous contortions are not the result of a cubist exploration of form from different angles, but rather a penetrating mode of superimposition and restatement. The painting reveals an intense, emphatic insight not only into the artist’s appearance but also his being, seized in what Bacon called its “most elemental state.”
“The longer you work,” Bacon said of painting, “the more the mystery deepens of what appearance is, or how can what is called appearance be made in another medium. And it needs a sort of moment of magic to coagulate color and form so that it gets the equivalent of appearance, the appearance that you see at any moment, because so-called appearance is only riveted for one moment as that appearance. In a second you may blink your eyes or turn your head slightly, and you look again and the appearance has changed. I mean, appearance is like a continuously floating thing” (quoted in D. Sylvester, ibid., p. 136). This “moment of magic”, so thrilling in its contingency, brings the present work to extraordinary life. Caught on the precipice between appearance and disappearance, Bacon’s Self-Portrait records not just his likeness but also the process of its own facture: the artist channels the impulses of his nervous system through the face he knows best of all, fusing medium and message at the moment when paint becomes flesh.
Mark Stevens on Francis Bacon’s Self-Portrait
Mark Stevens is the former art critic for Newsweek, The New Republic and New York Magazine and, with his wife, Annalyn
Swan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of de Kooning: An American Master (2005) and Francis Bacon: Revelations (2021)
In the 1960s, Francis Bacon—on the way to his haunts in Soho—regularly strolled through the Piccadilly tube station. It was a congenial environment for the storied artist and flâneur. He could observe the wide array of London fauna, which included businessmen with rolled umbrellas but also prostitutes, tourists, pickpockets, addicts, and brightly-colored young things from Carnaby Street. And men on the hunt, including homosexuals hoping to catch an eye. In the end, of course, a flâneur—reflecting on his reflections—mostly observes himself. Sometimes, Bacon stepped from the crowd into a Piccadilly station photo booth, closed the curtain behind him, and stared into a large blank rectangle. Soon the flashing machine spit out a strip of four connected photos of his face, still damp to the touch and smelling of chemicals. A moment subdivided. A moment multiplied. And small enough to drop into his pocket..
The photo booths of that period, an inspiration behind Bacon’s self-portraits, were an emblem of the modern world. They embodied the phantom, elusive, and solipsistic sense of self characteristic of 20th century society. They were public and private, personal and mechanical; they offered the lonely crowd a cheap sideshow in which, concealed behind a flimsy curtain, one could perform oneself in front of oneself. I myself etcetera. Bacon began painting portraits and a few self-portraits of varying sizes during the 1950s, but he addressed the genre in a more sustained way the following decade, when he often depicted his friends. In 1969, the year he painted Self-Portrait, he was turning sixty—a gateway for an artist obsessed with death. One of the first of forty 14” x 12” self-portraits that he made in the last three decades—including three diptychs and eleven triptychs—Self-Portrait (1969) marks that important gateway.
Rembrandt, of course, provided the essential model. Not only did the Dutch master examine himself unsparingly: he also captured the visceral sensation of aging flesh, a quality important to Bacon. Rembrandt’s late self-portraits were also peculiarly modern, especially those in which he appeared to dress up. Then he resembled a performer whose slipping mask reveals the truth of the flesh; the mask, finally, will be what remains. The great peekaboo questions—of existential identity, authenticity, and appearance—mattered to Bacon, a homosexual who learned early that to survive he must perform, no less than Rembrandt. In Self-Portrait, Bacon appears dressed up, still handsome and, at the age of sixty, very well-combed. The painting is steeped in elegant curves (he has carefully composed a curl of hair on his forehead, something he liked to do when he went out) and his fine jacket looks casually right, its color and wavy lines complementing his hair. He may have powdered his face.
But the modern world’s phone booth has still exposed the artist. Separated from the crowd, concealed offstage behind the curtain of appearances, he appears caught out—the melancholy flâneur who knows finery is just another fraudulent performance. Some formal characteristics of phone booth pictures helped Bacon give his self-portraits their sharp modern edge. The photos are almost mug shots, typically stark, frank, and full face, and the positioning of the head and body in the rectangle is rarely elegant, in contrast to the fine three-quarter view found in many great old master portraits. The posers in the photo booth may be poseurs, in short, but they are also amateurs. The modern world no longer holds together the way the old one did. In Self-Portrait, Bacon, rather than settle his head inside the composition, leaves some patchy raw canvas above the hair. And his elegant jacket is also, on second look, just raw canvas. His head and shoulders are floating in a space raw and blue.
In the modern booth, Bacon’s face comes undone, though not in this instance with a Rembrandt-like corruption of the flesh. Bacon’s characteristic “mark” was a kind of coil-and-twist. In Self-Portrait, he has visually twisted his face into two parts that do not fit together seamlessly. The right side of his face, as we look at him, is the more clearly delineated. It is the “face” better suited to the outside world, with a declarative eye and sensual lips. The other side of the face cannot hold up. The eye is fainter and inward-looking, the cheek sunken rather than (as on the other side) protruding boldly. Around the lips where the two sides meet there is a churning, a beautiful jumble, painted in an altogether clear way. There can be no doubt that inside and outside can never smoothly conjoin. Where the fissure actually opens, on Bacon’s chin, he has painted two small circles. We may dream of snapping together our parts.
Bacon was a painter of range and subtlety, something often overlooked. He brought many different moods to his self-portraits. He remained on the blue side of the emotional scale, of course, but moved across a wide spectrum, from the softest melancholy to the harshest pain. (After the death of his lover George Dyer in 1971, the fissures in his face enlarged.) And he could take such pleasure—which he conveyed—in the act of painting. He was an artist with an exacting eye, never a paint-and-splatter man; he weighed his effects, including those found by chance. Every dot and edge of Self-Portrait—such as the delicate tracing of violet just beyond one cheek—was rendered with needlepoint care. Bacon gave this portrait to Valerie Beston, his friend at the Marlborough Gallery who looked after his affairs, and she kept it until the end of her life. Valerie Beston and Bacon were a special sort of couple. They often went to the movies on Sundays when Bacon was alone. They were comfortable enough together that talking did not seem necessary, especially about important things. Bacon’s gift of Self-Portrait said all that mattered. His “Who am I?” begged the question, “Who are you?”
Polaroid self-portrait taken by Francis Bacon in a mirror, circa 1970.
How seeing a Francis Bacon exhibition at Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery
of modern art changed this fashion designer’s life
During a school trip to Ireland for her English A-level studies, Celine Kwan was taken to Dublin’s Hugh Lane
Gallery to see its Francis Bacon exhibition
RICHARD LORD | ARTS & MUSIC | POST MAGAZINE | WEDNESDAY, 5 APRIL, 2023
The Hugh Lane Gallery, one of Dublin’s leading museums of modern art, hosts a permanent Francis Bacon exhibition that includes a reconstruction of the Anglo-Irish artist’s studio, which was moved there piece by piece from London after his death in 1992, and showcases the chaotic nature of his working environment as he created his unsettling abstracted portraiture.
Celine Kwan visited a Francis Bacon exhibition during a school trip to Dublin, and was amazed at the replica of the Irish artist’s studio and how messy it was. It inspired her to pursue a career in design.
Hong Kong-born, London-based fashion designer Celine Kwan Yu-hei tells Richard Lord how it changed her life.
“My parents shipped me off to boarding school aged 12, to Queen Anne’s School in Reading (near London). We went on a trip to Dublin when I was 16. The trip was for English A-level; we were studying James Joyce and W.B. Yeats at that point, and the school thought it would be useful for us to go and see the sights of Dublin. It was a very memorable trip, but the visit to the Hugh Lane Gallery was unexpected.
The teachers decided to take us there because we had some spare time. I didn’t know much about the gallery, but I was studying art, so I knew Francis Bacon and was pleased to see his work there. What made it special was the exact replica of his studio in the exhibition.
I was mesmerised. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before – it was complete chaos, the messiest space I’d seen, and it really left an impression on me. I remember clearly the pink and blue marks on the wall, and the floor just covered with brushes, paint and slashed canvases. It was so different to me. At boarding school, everything is so strict, with everything in its place, and it was the same with my family in Hong Kong. This was just so out of bounds, and it struck a chord. I thought, ‘Wow – someone can work in that environment.’
At that moment I really wanted my studio to be like that. I had a kind of envy that he could work in a space so free. It gave me the courage to be messy, which also meant I felt more free to pursue my career in design. I guess you could describe it as an epiphany. It shifted my thinking. I realised I was not suited to a normal job, one that my Asian parents would want me to do.
I applied to (leading British art and design college) Central Saint Martins by myself, knowing my parents wouldn’t be happy about it. And when I did break the news to them, they weren’t very happy, because they didn’t think it was a stable career, but they were supportive. I’m very grateful that I was rebellious enough to do it.
A few years later, when I was at art school, I went back to Dublin to see that exhibition again and pay homage. It was like coming back home. I kind of chuckled to myself, ‘Now I’m in Francis Bacon’s world, where I can be creative. My studio sometimes goes through messy periods these days, but I think, ‘Francis Bacon’s studio was messier’. He set the bar very high.”
Irish-born artist Francis Bacon in an undated photo
Whatever happened to the British bohemian?
Twilight of the Soho set
TIM DAWSON | ARTILLERY ROW | THE CRITIC | SUNDAY 19 MARCH 2023
“I’m not one of those made-up poofs!” hollered Francis Bacon, at nobody in particular, as he ordered yet another round of gin and tonics in The Colony Room Club.
The club, which closed in 2008, was one of a triumvirate of smoke-filled watering holes that serviced the network of artists, writers, actors, criminals and misfits that made Soho home in the mid-to-late 20th century.
The French House is still going, as is The Coach and Horses — though, like Soho itself, they have been stripped of much of their character.
Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, George Melly, Peter O’Toole, Tom Baker. These were the sorts of people who called such dens of iniquity their turf. They were bohemians in the truest sense; the antithesis of the shiny-faced young thrusters pretending to find each other interesting in Soho House today.
The remaining link, between the new generation and the old, is alcohol. Arguably the louchest, lowest-lifer of them all, the journalist Jeffrey Bernard, drank vodka in prodigious quantities. He was, essentially, a professional alcoholic — as opposed to so many in the cultural sphere today, who are alcoholic professionals.
“Jeffrey Bernard is unwell”, The Spectator would print, in the space where his column should appear, when the old fruit had allowed his second bottle of vodka of the day to bleed into a third. The phrase gave Keith Waterhouse the title for his play about Bernard’s life, which starred O’Toole in its original run, the dialogue pieced together from Bernard’s columns.
Bernard wrote as elegantly as he smoked, the prose winding across the page in a series of languid plumes. It takes skill to write — and smoke — like that.
John Le Mesurier, who took things a step further and lit up a joint at the BAFTAs, made a permanent smouldering fag an extension of the soul; the delicately held Woodbine adding inflection and dash. Bernard and O’Toole pulled off the same trick. Curiously, stubby people can’t do it. You need a bit of length.
“I think most people lead lives of such annihilating boredom, sort of paralysed by the awfulness of life,” remarked Tom Baker, “that being in an alehouse, drinking with a few acquaintances and talking a load of rubbish half the time, is a tremendous relief.”
Of course, as Christopher Howse notes in his excellent book, Soho in the 80s, it was unsustainable. Tom Baker is, happily, still with us, but most of his drinking crowd are long dead, in many cases taken by the bottle.
Graham Mason, known semi-affectionately as Soho’s Angriest Drunk — once telling John Hurt “you’re just a bad actor” — ended his days wired to an oxygen cylinder, sipping wine as he stared through the window of his East London council flat, along the Thames at the life he could have had.
Bernard fared little better. The drinking got worse, and eventually his right leg went. Loneliness enveloped him, and he found himself placing an advert in the personal column of The Spectator: “Alcoholic, diabetic amputee seeks sympathy fuck.”
It was a far cry from the glory days, when Muriel Belcher, a magnificent Jewish lesbian, would sit by the door of the Colony Room Club and shout “Hello Cunty!” at anyone brave, or foolish, enough to stagger in. A friend of mine recalls going — only once — and finding the whole experience terrifying.
Perhaps these characters cast a particular spell over those of us who are, when we survey our lives, downwardly mobile.
I certainly feel they have something to teach us. They were egalitarians, they were meritocrats, and they embraced the whole spectrum of life. Common criminals drank with celebrated thespians. Kitchen porters mixed with politicians, conservatives with communists.
Their central mission, I think — aside from drinking — was to sit stubbornly outside the 9-to-5, and to refuse to bow to convention. Their exploits, therefore, give all of us who are palpably less stylish a taste of la vie bohème.
But it is amusing to consider what they would make of the current consensus. There were plenty of gays, lesbians and bisexuals amongst this group, yet it’s hard to believe they’d be much impressed by today’s humourless, corporatist LGBTQI+ “community”.
And what of Gary Lineker, currently in the news, parading his “empathy”? Well, they probably wouldn’t know who he was. But if they did, they’d likely think him — as they’d likely think all the new generation Sohoites spilling onto Greek Street this evening, and every evening — stultifyingly dull. It’s not just his politics. It’s the predictability. It’s sad, I feel, that when you hear a person is a writer or an artist — or, God forbid, a “creative” — and you know exactly what they will think.
You know how they’ll dress, who they’ll hang out with, what they tweet. You’ll know the television programmes they pretend to watch, the books they pretend to have read. You can probably even guess their dietary requirements. Most of the time your guess will be right.
The decline of the English bohemian is not a happy thing.
Perhaps it’s the inevitable consequence of mainlining progressivism. A bohemian can only really thrive when there are sets of rules and expectations — social, sexual — that they can make it their business to reject. Similarly, that other trope, the eccentric English aristocrat, has been largely swept away, along with the old aristocracy – to be replaced by a new elite: progressive rather than conservative, but still, ironically, unelected, and every inch as fierce in defence of its interests.
But I, for one, would love to see a bit more colour, a bit more imagination and, well, a bit more diversity in our culture. Let us hope we’re just temporarily unwell.
Francis Bacon on Old Compton Street, Soho, London, in 1978, photographed by Carlos Freire
Crunch time: — The day Roald Dahl spoke to
Francis Bacon about the threat of censorship
DIARY | NEWS | THE ART NEWSPAPER | MONDAY, 27 FEBRUARY, 2023
The children’s author Roald Dahl once found an unlikely confidant in the artist Francis Bacon, according to The Observer which reports that the pair once discussed the delicate topic of censorship. Dahl told the artist during a meeting in 1982 that he would set one of his most popular characters, the Enormous Crocodile, on his publishers if they tried to change the language used in his books. “I’ve warned my publishers that if they later on so much as change a single comma in one of my books, they will never see another word from me. Never! Ever!” he said.
The revelation is timely in the wake of the controversy over publisher Puffin’s plan to rewrite Dahl’s books with hundreds of revisions, changing for instance the description of the character Augustus Gloop from “enormously fat” to “enormous” in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Puffin has said it will publish the original texts and reworked versions). Bacon was just as adamant on the subject, telling Dahl: “There must be no changes to an artist’s original work when he is dead for any reason whatsoever.” The conversation was recorded by Bacon’s friend Barry Joule during a sojourn at Dahl’s home in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire.
Roald Dahl promised to set a crocodile on anyone who changed his words
BEN ELLERY | BOOKS | UK NEWS | THE SUNDAY TIMES | SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2023
Roald Dahl said he would go about “setting an enormous crocodile” on his publishers if they changed his work, in a conversation uncovered with the painter Francis Bacon.
The author was recorded at his home in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, telling Bacon that “I’ve warned my publishers that if they later on so much as change a single comma in one of my books, they will never see another word from me. Never! Ever!”
Dahl said: “When I am gone, if that happens, then I’ll wish mighty Thor knocks hard on their heads with his Mjolnir. Or I will send the ‘enormous crocodile’ to gobble them up.”
He was referring to his Norwegian roots and to his story of “the greediest croc”. Bacon told him: “There must be no changes to an artist’s original work when he is dead whatsoever.”
Crossing himself, Dahl replied: “I just hope to God that will never happen to any of my writings as I am lying comfortably in my Viking grave.”
The conversation, revealed in The Observer, was recorded, with permission from both men, by Barry Joule, who had accompanied his friend Bacon to spend a weekend with the writer.
Dahl’s publisher, Puffin, caused controversy this month for hiring “sensitivity readers” to rewrite his books with hundreds of revisions so that they “can continue to be enjoyed by all today”.
In the new edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Augustus Gloop — a glutton for chocolate — is now just “enormous” rather than “enormously fat”. In The Twits, Mrs Twit is no longer “ugly and beastly”, just “beastly”.
Following a backlash the publishers announced on Friday that they will publish both the original texts and reworked editions.
Recalling the 1982 weekend, Joule said that both Dahl and Bacon were “pleasantly oiled with drink and in a good mood”, and that talk of “red-line post-mortem changes to any artist’s work” sparked passionate debate.
He said that Dahl was “banging his fist so hard all the glasses shook and wine spilled” and Bacon thumped his wine glass down with such force that “I thought he would break it”.
Their weekend together followed the publication of Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, and Joule recalled that he and Bacon were presented with copies.
He said: “Fully puffed up on the subject, [Dahl] informed us, ‘You know, it was Marx and Lenin who commenced this political correctness rubbish way back in 1917, and by God it’s creeping into this country.’
“He suddenly grabbed my copy and roughly flipped through several pages to a fine comical drawing by Quentin Blake of Miss Red Riding Hood wearing a heavy wolfskin coat. ‘For instance, look here — knickers!’ he exclaimed [at the line ‘She whips a pistol from her knickers’] and pressed his forefinger fingernail under the eight letters so hard an imprint was left behind… noting, ‘I suppose if the political correctness police could get ahold of that, they’d change the filthy word to “ladies underwear apparel”!’
“Francis frowned, then grinned widely at such an outrageous possibility.”
Roald Dahl threatened publisher with ‘enormous crocodile’
if they changed his words
Conversation with Francis Bacon emerges amid the row over updating controversial
language in the children’s author’s books
DALYA ALBERGE | BOOKS | CULTURE | THE OBSERVER | SATURDAY, 25 FEBRUARY, 2023
One of Roald Dahl’s best-known characters was the Enormous Crocodile, “a horrid greedy grumptious brute” who “wants to eat something juicy and delicious”.
Now a conversation the author had 40 years ago has come to light, revealing that he was so appalled by the idea that publishers might one day censor his work that he threatened to send the crocodile “to gobble them up”.
The conversation took place in 1982 at Dahl’s home in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, where he was talking to the artist Francis Bacon.
“I’ve warned my publishers that if they later on so much as change a single comma in one of my books, they will never see another word from me. Never! Ever!” he said.
With his typically evocative language, he added: “When I am gone, if that happens, then I’ll wish mighty Thor knocks very hard on their heads with his Mjolnir. Or I will send along the ‘enormous crocodile’ to gobble them up.”
He was referring to his Norwegian roots and to his earlier story of “the greediest croc” in talking to Bacon, who apparently felt just as strongly about the subject, telling him: “There must be no changes to an artist’s original work when he is dead for any reason whatsoever.” Crossing himself in mock jest, Dahl replied: “I just hope to God that will never happen to any of my writings as I am lying comfortably in my Viking grave.”
The conversation was recorded, with permission from both men, by Barry Joule, who had accompanied his friend Bacon to spend a weekend with the writer.
Dahl, who died in 1990 aged 74, was one of the most successful children’s authors of all time. But his publisher, Puffin, caused controversy this month for hiring “sensitivity readers” to rewrite his books with hundreds of revisions so that they “can continue to be enjoyed by all today”.
In the new edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Augustus Gloop – a glutton for chocolate – is now just “enormous” rather than “enormously fat”; in The Twits, Mrs Twit is no longer “ugly and beastly”, just “beastly”, and in The Enormous Crocodile, “we eat little boys and girls” has been changed to “we eat little children”.
Salman Rushdie, the Booker prize-winning novelist, is among many who have condemned such censorship as “absurd”, while Puffin has been reportedly inundated with complaints from the public.
On Thursday, Camilla, the queen consort appeared to weigh in on the debate. At a Clarence House reception for her online book club, she told authors: “Please remain true to your calling, unimpeded by those who may wish to curb the freedom of your expression or impose limits on your imagination.”
Responding to the criticism, the publishers announced on Friday that they will publish both the original texts and reworked editions.
Recalling the 1982 weekend, Joule said that both Dahl and Bacon were “pleasantly oiled with drink and in a good mood”, and that talk of “red-line postmortem changes to any artist’s work” sparked loud and passionate debate.
He said that Dahl was “banging his fist down so hard all the glasses shook and wine spilled” and Bacon thumped his wine glass down with such force that “I thought he would break it”.
The weekend followed the publication of Dahl’s now-classic Revolting Rhymes, and Joule recalled that he and Bacon were presented with copies.
He said: “Fully puffed up on the subject, [Dahl] informed us, ‘You know, it was Marx and Lenin who commenced this political correctness rubbish way back in 1917, and by God it’s creeping into this country.’
“He suddenly grabbed my copy and roughly flipped thorough several pages to where the right-hand side featured a fine comical drawing by Quentin Blake of Miss Red Riding Hood wearing a heavy wolfskin coat. ‘For instance, look here – knickers!’ he exclaimed [at the line ‘She whips a pistol from her knickers’] and pressed his forefinger fingernail under the eight letters so hard an imprint was left behind … noting, ‘I suppose if the Political Correctness Police could get ahold of that, they’d change in an instant the filthy word to “ladies underwear apparel”!’ Francis frowned, then grinned widely at such an outrageous possibility.”
Joule had regularly recorded his conversations with Bacon, and over that 1982 weekend Dahl also agreed to a tape recorder being turned on. Luckily, Joule also transcribed the conversation because the recording was inadvertently destroyed soon afterwards.
Roald Dahl, Francis Bacon and Barry Joule during a weekend in 1982 at Dahl’s home in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. Photo: Barry Joule
Works from publishing billionaire S.I.
Newhouse’s collection could bring more than $144m at Christie’s previous group of 11 works from
Newhouse’s collection brought in $216.2m across two Christie’s sales in 2019
BY CARLIE PORTERFIELD | ART MARKET | NEWS | THE ART NEWSPAPER | TUESDAY, 21 FEBRUARY, 2023
Christie’s will auction off more works from the collection of the late billionaire media mogul S.I. Newhouse, four years after a sculpture that belonged to him fetched $91m at auction and set a record to make Jeff Koons the most expensive living artist at auction.
A single-owner evening sale, scheduled for May, will feature 16 works that belonged to Newhouse, who was among the most prolific collectors of his time. Highlights from the collection include Orestes (1947) by Willem De Kooning—which a Christie’s spokesperson described as the finest of the artist’s black-and-white works to ever appear at auction—that is expected to fetch more than $25m.
Also up for auction is Francis Bacon’s Self-Portrait (1969), valued in excess of $20m, and Pablo Picasso’s L’Arlésienne (1937), which is expected to bring in more than $20m.
Christie’s said the artist completed L’Arlésienne between finishing his well-known works Guernica (1937) and La femme qui pleure (1937). The collection heading to auction also includes works by Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Brice Marden, Lee Bontecou and others, a Christie’s spokesperson said. The lots are expected to collectively fetch more than $144m at auction.
The previous tranche of art from Newhouse’s collection came up for auction at Christie’s in 2019, two years after his death at age 89. The 11 works brought in a collective $216.2m (including fees) across two auctions. Jeff Koons’s sculpture Rabbit (1986) sold for $91m (including fees), which set an auction record for a work by a living artist. Other top lots from Newhouse’s collection included Paul Cézanne’s Bouilloire et fruits (1888-90) that sold for $59m and Vincent van Gogh’s Arbres dans le jardin de l’asile (1889), which brought in $40m, including fees.
Large single-owner auctions from wealthy collectors have served as a boon for auction houses over the past few years. In November, works that belonged to late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen fetched $1.6b at Christie’s to become the most valuable art collection ever sold at auction. The sale broke a record that had been set just six months earlier, when the collection that belonged to real estate mogul Harry Macklowe and his ex wife Linda brought in $922m over two auctions.
Francis Bacon’s Self-Portrait (1969) is valued in excess of $20m. Courtesy Christie’s
Paul Johnson was a man who never wrote a dull
sentence – or had a dull thought
BY STEPHEN GLOVER | OBITUARY | THE DAILY MAIL | THURSDAY 12 JANUARY 2023
With his Promethean energies and strong convictions, he might have walked out of the Victorian age. For more than two decades Paul Johnson, who has died aged 94, was a regular columnist on The Daily Mail, where he displayed the extraordinary breadth of his knowledge, as well as trenchant opinion, on all manner of subjects.
He was an exceptional columnist who created a sense of excitement whatever he wrote. Even readers who thought they might disagree with him looked forward to his next offering. He never penned a dull sentence, or had a dull thought. As well as being an intellectual pillar of the Mail, he wrote for many publications including The Spectator (where he had a regular column for many years); Forbes, the American magazine; and the Wall Street Journal.
He also produced more than 50 books. Nothing daunted him. He wrote, with equal authority, a history of the Jews and a history of the world. Biographical subjects ranged from Socrates to Charles Darwin to Napoleon to Jesus Christ. In a world of increasing specialisation, Paul Johnson’s fearless and restless intellect respected no bounds.
He was not always a man of the Right. As a young journalist he revered Aneurin Bevan, the firebrand of the Labour Left. Only in middle age, disgusted by the selfish behaviour of the trade unions, did he abandon the Left. Margaret Thatcher became his heroine.
Paul Johnson was born in Manchester into a devout Roman Catholic family, and remained loyal to his faith all his life. He was educated at Stonyhurst College, where Jesuits taught him the difference between right and wrong, and Oxford, where he read history. His father was an artist and the principal of an art school in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent.
Johnson himself became a prolific watercolourist. He deplored most modern art, recalling that when he met Picasso the famous artist described himself as a ‘joker’. When the avant-garde Francis Bacon offered Johnson a free painting, he declined.
After Oxford he joined the Left-wing New Statesman, where he was a foreign correspondent, leader writer, deputy editor and, from 1965 to 1970, editor. During his editorship the magazine, then at the high-water mark of its influence, achieved record sales.
The political journalist Alan Watkins, who worked for Johnson at the New Statesman, described him in his book Brief Lives as the outstanding polemicist of his age. Watkins noted that, notwithstanding his ‘irascible manner’, he was a ‘kind man’ who ‘had a personal concern for anyone in trouble’.
Johnson’s iconoclasm was as much in evidence when on the Left as it later was on the Right. He railed against many aspects of the modern age, and in 1964 warned of ‘The Menace of Beatlism’.
Once he had embraced the Right with the enthusiasm of a convert, his many preoccupations included the importance of the Anglo-American relationship, standing up for the state of Israel, and championing Mrs Thatcher and her values. There was a strong moral quality to all his writing, informed by his religious belief.
He was probably more celebrated as an intellectual in the United States than in his own country, where some on the Left could never forgive him for being what they regarded as a political turncoat. In 2006 he received a personal medal from President George W. Bush for services to freedom.
In the scope of his interests, the strength of his beliefs and the energy of his intellect, Paul Johnson was in many ways an old-fashioned figure. His death leaves a vacuum in British life which may never be filled.
Paul Johnson, 1928–2023
‘Drawn from life: biography in British art history’
– a talk at London Art Fair
LONDON ART FAIR | APOLLO EVENTS | APOLLO MAGAZINE | THURSDAY 12 JANUARY 2023
On Thursday 19 January at 4pm, Apollo assistant editor Samuel Reilly will chair a panel discussion at London Art Fair, Islington, on the theme of British art and the environment – with panellists Peter Parker (writer), and Florence Evans (art historian, curator and director of Florence Evans Fine Art). Read more about the talk below.
Recent years have seen a proliferation of biographies published and monographical exhibitions staged on modern British artists. These have come both as a means of reassessing well-known figures such as Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon or Walter Sickert, and of returning attention to forgotten figures.
To an extent, this reflects a global trend towards the return of the biographical method in art history. But is there something in modern British art – with its neo-romantic tendencies and continued celebration of the figurative in the face of abstraction – that is peculiarly open to being read through the lives of its artists? How does it change our appreciation of the course of modern British art to think and write of Sickert, rather than the Camden Town Group, or Hepworth and not the St Ives School? How far does an emphasis on personality risk entrenching particular ways of looking at the work of artists like Freud or Bacon – and how far can it enable the possibility of broadening out the story of modern British art to encompass neglected voices?
Group portrait of painters (left to right) Timothy Behrens, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon,
Frank Auerbach, and Michael Andrews at Wheelers Restaurant in Soho, London (1963).
The makings of Francis Bacon – inside The Outsider
DOCUMENTARIES | VISUAL ARTS | CULTURE | RTÉ IRELAND | WEDNESDAY, 14 DECEMBER, 2022
Producer and Director Karen McGrath introduces The Outsider, her revealing new documentary about iconic painter Francis Bacon, hosted by U2’s Adam Clayton and premiering on RTÉ One this December. Not much was known about Francis Bacon’s early years in Ireland, bar he had a difficult relationship with his father, he lived largely in Kildare and he left the country at sixteen. Ireland was little more than a footnote in Bacon’s life.
In 2020, however, Dr Margarita Cappock, art historian, contacted me about a book she reviewed, released by the estate of Francis Bacon which published diary extracts by his friend and early patron Eric Allden. She realised the significance these diaries had to understanding Bacon’s time in Ireland – and that became the concept for our documentary Francis Bacon: The Outsider.
Having successfully pitched the idea to RTÉ’s Executive Producer for Arts & Culture, Aifric Ni Chianáin and the BAI, we set about producing a documentary which would go some way towards exploring the relationship Bacon had with Ireland, the land of his birth, thirty years after his death.
Given the importance of Francis Bacon’s legacy and the cultural influence he continues to wield, I felt that U2’s Adam Clayton – a man with an understanding of art and an admiration for Bacon since his early years – was the right person to present our findings.
Adam started the road trip from 7 Reece Mews in London, Bacon’s home and studio for his last thirty years (and now home to the Estate of Francis Bacon) before travelling to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin and then to the West of Ireland, via Straffan Lodge in Kildare, and finally to Monaco where the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation gave permission to film their unique and extensive collection of Bacon’s early work.
Once we went into production, the journey used the diary as our guide and supported the theory that the relationship Francis Bacon had with Ireland was far more nuanced than previously written. As a filmmaker nothing can be more exciting than making a story that is a genuine journey of discovery. so well evident in the enthusiasm of our presenter, Adam Clayton.
Kevin Cooney edited the story, with brooding landscape and atmospheric shots by John Fay to reflect the themes of darkness and light. Original music from Gavin Friday and Michael Heffernan create an undercurrent of tension and pain redolent of Bacon’s work to cut with our footage of Francis Bacon’s work from the recent Man and Beast Exhibition at the Royal Academy, London and Tate Britain.
The documentary reveals how the Allden diaries cast a new light on Bacon’s early years. They offer an intimate account of Bacon’s 1929 tour across Ireland and unveil details of family dynamics, previously unknown work and glimpses into Anglo-Irish relations at the time.
Shrouded in mystery, partly of his own making, these diaries uncover an alternative account of Bacon’s relationship with his family and his childhood home.
The Outsider, RTÉ 1, Thursday 15th December at 10.15 pm – catch up afterwards via RTÉ Player
Francis Bacon, pictured on the streets of his adopted hometown of London
Lucian Freud at the National Gallery and
Friends and Relations at Gagosian
Nicholas Cranfield sees exhibitions for Lucian Freud’s centenary
NICHOLAS CRANFIELD | ART REVIEW | BOOKS & ARTS | CHURCH TIMES | 09 DECEMBER 2022
UNDOUBTEDLY the two greatest artists of the last century who came to dominate artistic representation in England and to reclaim figurative painting were rank outsiders.
Born to English parents in Dublin in 1909, Francis Bacon, like the younger German Lucian Freud from Berlin, was subject to a range of indifferent English boarding schools. Both men survived schooling, art college, and a succession of scandals and sexual adventures, although neither really fitted in, and both preferred to live and love along the boundaries.
In the second room of the National Gallery exhibition, which offers new perspectives on the younger of the two in his centenary year, we are privileged to come face to face with both, side by side. The self-portrait (fragment) of 1956 is larger (measuring 61 × 61cm) than the oil and charcoal sketch of Francis Bacon from the same period (35.5 × 35.5 cm). It is the very nature of the unfinished state which makes such a powerful statement. These could be fragments from the early Italian Renaissance or the wooden remains of Fayum portraits.
Freud has chosen to depict himself with his hands scratching his cheeks or maybe holding his face up. Bacon looks down, not addressing the artist and perhaps intentionally avoiding his interlocutor. It was never finished. Bacon shot off to travel abroad, but Freud may have intended to leave it non finito.
The Bacon may have served as sketch for the portrait that was owned by the Tate and stolen when it was exhibited in a British Council exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin in 1988. Both painters had friends in common, many of whom were crooks and aristocrats. No doubt that hampered any attempt at finding the missing portrait long before the Berlin Wall came down.
At Grosvenor Hill, in Richard Calvocoressi’s staggering show for Gagosian, Freud and Bacon are reunited, together with Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews. They fell in and out of friendships, drank deeply at the Colony Room in 1960s Soho, and variously inspired, and sparred with, one another.
Two other portraits, which are in fact not paired together at Trafalgar Square but will be subconsciously linked by the viewer there, are much more widely known.
The first was the royal commission for a Diamond Jubilee portrait of Her Late Majesty the Queen in 2001. She made no secret that she did not enjoy being painted by Freud with honesty and invasive intelligence over nine sittings. While many of her opinions remain private, we understand that she quipped that at least he had not painted her in the nude.
The diminutive portrait of her head (23.5 × 15.2 cm) is simply about flesh. It is her face that commands, as the spectacular crown, rendered more directly, her earrings, and three ropes of pearls become accessories of little value. It is a profoundly intimate portrait of the unknowable and unknown monarch, and a hundred times better than so many commissioned daubs from her 70-year reign.
In the same Jubilee year of 2002, that other national treasure David Hockney (private collection) sat to the artist for more than 100 hours. His portrait head is hung next to that of the Queen. Instantly recognisable (even with his clothes on, unlike his earlier forays into film), it shows how Freud painstakingly worked to let all his subjects live and breathe.
The other portrait that will receive, if nothing more, a moment of esteem from a nation still obsessed with Diana, Princess of Wales, is simply entitled The Brigadier (private collection). It is in the final room at the National Gallery and commands the enfilade as visitors walk towards it through the seven galleries that, broadly chronological, cover seven decades.
Painted in 2003 or 2004, this depicts Andrew Parker Bowles with rather more on his mind than simply sitting for a portrait. The first husband of the Queen Consort is barely able to hold his military stance. He is seated in a chair, placed some four feet below the artist’s brush. Although he is wearing full dress uniform, it is unbuttoned, and he appears as if he is a roué, recovering after a night out drinking to console himself in the collapse of his marriage.
Freud is an artist who frequently came into the National Gallery, often outside opening hours, saying that it was “rather like going to doctor for help”.
He never acknowledged the debt that he paid to previous artists, although, in a wonderfully back-handed joking remark made to the then director of the National Gallery, after long looking at a landscape painting by Constable, he remarked that he had failed to appreciate how much Constable was indebted to Max Ernst. Constable died in 1837; Ernst, who inspired the young Freud in Berlin, was not born until 1891.
The 1993 self-portrait Reflection shows him standing in his studio full length. He is naked and brandishes a palette knife in his right hand and a palette is held in his left. The pose echoes Michelangelo’s Saint Bartholomew in the Sistine Chapel, where the martyr holds his attributes of a knife and his own skin. Freud never used a palette knife in his own painting, so this deliberately makes us look at flesh as life.
Although there are works on paper, including two early self-portraits of 1948, in which fronds of his hair are depicted like foliage in watercolour in the first room, and the graphite and pencil drawings of his mother, alive in 1983 and dead in 1989, hanging in sepulchral gloom in a shrine-like side room, the National exhibition of 64 works is principally one that is given over to oil paintings.
Thank goodness, as this is where Freud excels. The head of his friend Frank Auerbach, painted in 1975-76, or of one of his mistresses with a whippet in her arms (Double Portrait, 1985-86) speak volumes of paint and of flesh on a monumental scale, long before he began painting his oversized models, one the performance artist Leigh Bowery and the other a benefits supervisor, Sue Tilley.
It was Freud’s profound wish that a retrospective might be held in the nation’s premier gallery. The curator, his long-term friend and associate David Dawson, finally brings this to bear in the year marking the centenary.
There are many bons mots in what he claimed to be his inspiration, but he picked up on a line of W. B. Yeats, “Only two topics can be of the least interest to a serious and studious mind — sex and death,” a line he apparently used repeatedly.
There is a great deal of flesh as the oft-married artist took up with mistresses. Latterly, he enjoyed painting gay men and their lovers, but all are portrayed with the same generosity of observation which he had brought to his study of the Queen. We see, and indeed feel, the mischief behind much of Lucian Freud’s painting, but also the dedicated and deep introspective sense of an artist who engaged with his sitters.
Is Man in a Blue Shirt from 1965 (private collection, courtesy of Ordovas), his troubled portrait of Bacon’s lover George Dyer (1934-71), who took his own life, evading our glance? Are the studies of Leigh Bowery confrontational or redemptive?
In Bowery’s case, he had stripped naked when he entered the studio before Freud had even discussed how he might portray him. Certainly, there is a brashness of depiction; maybe that is what our late Sovereign Lady did not like. This National offers a majestic exhibition, and, if not all the essays offer new perspectives on Freud, it is the art of the century, and will show well in Madrid.
Seven other London galleries host significant centenary shows: Gagosian, Ordovas, Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, and Lyndsey Ingram, as well as the Freud Museum and the Garden Museum, housed in the former church of St Mary at the gatehouse of Lambeth Palace, long since secularised, which gives visitors to the Archbishop one view of what the Church of England thinks of its built heritage.
At Gagosian, the sheer power of Freud comes out by comparison; his 1952 nude study of Henrietta Morales sitting in a Paddington window faces a Bacon triptych of the same model painted in 1969, each vying for our attention as we leave the first great room that holds Freud’s portrait of the owner of Wheeler’s restaurant, who brazenly knows he is successful, his studio window view painted 20 years later (1970-72) over a run-down Paddington mews, and the naked self-portrait, Interior with Plant, Reflection Listening (1967-68), canvases that each provoke an intense response and attention from the view.
Each show is a fitting tribute to this extraordinary artist who kept painting to the very end; the unfinished Portrait of the Hound is a sober reminder that ‘Art is long, life is short’.
“Lucian Freud: New Perspectives” is at the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2, until 22 January 2023. Phone 020 7747 2885.
“Friends and Relations: Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews” is at Gagosian, 20 Grosvenor Hill, London W1, until 28 January 2023. Phone 020 7495 1500.
Francis Bacon, Head of a Man, 1960, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of Anglia, Norwich, in the Gagosian exhibition
Lucian Freud And His Circle Surveyed
In Two London Exhibitions
REVEREND JONATHAN EVENS | REVIEWS | ARTLYST | 1 DECEMBER 2022
In Bruce Bernard: Portraits of Friends and in a noted John Deakin photograph of Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud in Soho in 1963, we see the group conviviality which underpinned the angst typically depicted in the work of these foundational School of London painters. While often discussed in terms of figuration versus abstraction, their work is also resolutely existential, with the mood engendered by much of Bacon’s work, in particular, being, in the words of the writer Sue Hubbard, “one of bleak isolation and violent angst … a paean to existential despair.”
While the Deakin photograph was posed and was rejected for publication at the time, it does, nevertheless, capture something of the depth of friendship enjoyed initially by these four, when, for example, Auerbach would see Bacon twice a week, and Bacon and Freud would be together all day when they weren’t working. Auerbach has described their conversations about painting, literature, gossip, and all things under the sun. Bernard’s images of Freud, Bella Freud, and Celia Paul show them playing the fool together in the studio in refreshing contrast to the intensity found in paintings such as ‘Painter and Model’, 1986-7, and ‘Naked Portrait on a Red Sofa’, 1989 – 1991. It’s worth noting that, in recent years, Paul has emerged as a Gwen John to Freud’s Augustus and that there’s a lightness in the photographs which is rarely seen in the artist’s work, perhaps appearing most fully in some works by Andrews. ‘The Colony Room I’, 1962, and ‘The Colony Room II’, 1962, however, while showing members of the group relaxing through their intense colours, distortions and expressive brushstrokes, inhabit the existential in ways not shared by the photographs.
The group also painted one another, while Freud, in particular, collected the work of each of his friends. At various times throughout his life, he owned paintings by Bacon. At his death, he owned sixteen by Auerbach and one small oil by Andrews. Portraiture sat at the heart of all their practices with images of each other and self-portraits found in Friends and Relations: Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews and Lucian Freud: New Perspectives. The National Gallery exhibition, for example, has ‘Michael Andrews and June 1965–6 and ‘Frank Auerbach, 1975-6, while the Gagosian show has two studies of Freud by Bacon. The exhibitions explore aspects of the camaraderie and interrelationships of these four painters whilst also highlighting the intimate relationships between artist and sitter, including artist and lover, partner, and offspring.
While figuration, existentialism, and portraiture remain significant strands within their work, the critical debate between them, within their works, seems to have been about distortion versus clarity and fine versus broad brushstrokes. Freud moves from his crisp, clear early style, which shows a debt to Neo-Romanticism, to a much more expressive use of broad brushstrokes, presumably somewhat influenced by Bacon’s distortions, Auerbach’s layers and Andrews’ mix of loose and tight passages of paint.
Bacon distorts his portraits to reveal the underlying existential angst found within, while Auerbach’s layers serve to suggest the subject’s presence more than their features. Both operate primarily in the liminal hinterland between figuration and abstraction. Andrews and Freud, while using abstract passages, remain more fundamentally figurative artists. Andrews’ use of looser and more tightly painted passages within the same painting is a way of indicating focus and creating atmosphere. Freud, who spoke of “wanting the paint to work as flesh does,” increasingly comes to paint flesh and how flesh forms and fails us as human beings.
The National Gallery’s exhibition is structured in five chronological sections, which are also thematic. In ‘Becoming Freud’ we see a move from an initially naïve expressionism to the crisp objective acuity, which led Herbert Read to describe Freud as the “Ingres of Existentialism.” The Gagosian exhibition ‘Girl in a Dark Jacket’, 1947, exemplifies this early style depicting Kitty Garman, Freud’s first wife and the daughter of sculptor Jacob Epstein and Kathleen Garman.
‘Portraying Intimacy’ frames his artistic development within the context of relationships with family and friends, covering similar ground to that explored in Friends and Relations. ‘Power and Death’ contrast Freud’s portraits of powerful individuals with his delicate and poignant chronicling of frailty in his own mother’s death, such as ‘The Painter’s Mother Dead’, 1989. Again, the two exhibitions overlap as, in the Gagosian show, we find ‘The Painter’s Mother Resting III’, 1977, an early entry in the series of portraits of Lucie Freud, which he began after the death of his father, Ernst Freud, in 1970. ‘Art and the Studio’ then focuses on Freud’s keen awareness of artistic predecessors and the role of the studio in his practice, with it presented both as stage and subject matter. His awareness of his predecessors enables his paintings to reflect aspects of the history of art astutely; couples hold hands in ways that remind of Renaissance friendship portraits; sitters clutch flowers in the manner of Hans Holbein, and interiors are informed by Surrealism.
His interest in the representation and materiality of paint also comes to the fore in this section. It is carried over into the final section, ‘The Flesh’, which brings some of Freud’s most famous large-scale naked portraits into this retrospective, among them ‘Painter Working, Reflection, 1993. Tessa Lord has explained that it was, in part, under Francis Bacon’s influence that “Freud adopted a more painterly approach, producing bigger and bolder brushstrokes as a result.” This change in style leads Freud to focus on flesh more than likeness and fuels his continuous examination of the surface of the human body, including his own, in old age. The Gagosian show, ‘Sleeping Head’, 1962, gives us a portrait that is more a depiction of the individual’s skin than of their likeness. Interestingly, this returns us to the ripples or waves of paint that non-realistically cross his face in an early ‘Self-portrait’, 1940.
Freud—in the centenary year of his birth—emerges as the group’s central figure in terms of maintaining relationships, painting group members, and collecting their works. Each painter was aware of the others’ practices to the extent of occasionally competing with one another. In his interview with Richard Calvocoressi for Gagosian, Auerbach said, “the basis of the association was a feeling that the others were worth contending with”, and yet he also “found Lucian quite exceptionally nice, an exceptionally sweet man, and a good friend, and very frank and honest and everything one could wish for in a friend.” Influence, he suggests, was more in terms of lifestyle and behaviour than painting. Yet, affect one another they did, whether reacting against aspects of each other’s styles as Auerbach says he initially did with Freud’s fine sable brush style or more positively as Freud when influenced by Bacon towards the use of more extensive and bolder brushstrokes. While their talk was about all things under the sun, their primary effect, one on the other, was on the marks that their brushes made on canvas.
Bruce Bernard: Portraits of Friends and Friends and Relations: Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews, 17 November 2022 – 28 January 2023, Gagosian Gallery Grosvenor Hill
Queer icon and Francis Bacon confidante:
an interview with Maggi Hambling
She tells Art Basel about sharing a muse with the legendry artist and painting the dead
SKYE SHERWIN | INTERVIEW | LATEST STORIES | ART BASEL | THURSDAY 24 NOVEMBER 2022
When Maggi Hambling was an art student in 1960s London, visiting Francis Bacon’s exhibitions at Marlborough gallery was, she chuckles, ‘regarded as a bit of a dirty habit.’ The master of existential dread and tortured human meat was a ‘figurative painter when everything going on was Abstract Expressionism.’ ‘Of course,’ she adds, ‘it was fantastic paint.’
Hambling, famously, is not an artist who has ever toed the line when it comes to art world dictums. A Queer icon who lit up old Soho’s drinking dens and gay clubs, her five-decade career has been dedicated to expressionist renderings of people and places. She and Bacon were in many ways kindred spirits, both as bastions of figurative painting and in the social scene they sometimes shared. For Hambling, the connection is first and foremost material. ‘It’s the physicality of his paint,’ she says. ‘You can feel the sweat of his bodies and you can feel that they’re breathing. Mine is a very physical painting too.’
At Art Basel Miami Beach, Marlborough’s presentation of a selection of Hambling’s portraits of loved ones, animals, and seascapes alongside Bacon’s Man at a Washbasin (1989–1990), throws the crossovers and departure points for their projects into relief. They both speak to big, timeless themes like death and loss. The hulking nude before a skeletal sink against a grey void in Bacon’s painting revisits his first works of the 1950s depicting his former lover, Peter Lacy. A twist on art history’s many women at their toilettes, the bruised pink, disturbingly swollen flesh of this animalistic figure suggests both masculine energy and vulnerability, sex and violence. It’s less a painting of a person than angst made flesh.
Hambling’s portraits also conjure ghosts, but what fuels them is empathy. A case in point is Double Portrait (2001–2002), in which the face of her late lover Henrietta Moraes materializes from swirling serpentine brushstrokes. Though her skin is an uncertain tumult of smoky hues, her gaze is strong. ‘I try to paint the spirit of the person,’ says Hambling.
Moraes was herself a bridge between the two artists: this ‘Queen of Soho’ had been one of Bacon’s key muses in the 1960s. When Hambling first met her at a Boxing Day lunch in the late-1990s she says, ‘it was like being with a Bacon painting, but alive.’ In the nine months leading up to her death from liver disease, Hambling made many portraits of the woman she describes as ‘One hundred times more alive than anyone else in the room.’ These works continued after Moraes had died too, including a portrait of her in her coffin. ‘She looked absolutely furious,’ Hambling recalls warmly. ‘She was still very much “there”.’
While Bacon was concerned with death as a brutal reality, Hambling has painted actual deceased loved ones, beginning with her mother to whom death gave a ‘serenity […] It’s the last time you’re going to see them so it’s obvious to make drawings or paintings.’ The posthumous portraits in Marlborough’s presentation however have been created from memory. ‘They just come, years after the person has died,’ she says.
As a Queer woman Hambling has made her own alternative family, and its members are the subjects of these works. They include Arthur Lett-Haines, her friend and mentor who, with Cedric Morris, ran the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, a rural Suffolk art school, where the teenage Hambling first encountered Bacon in person. ‘People ironically called Lett “father” because he was rather frightening, though not to me,’ she says. Sebastian Horsley, the artist and well-known dandy who died of a heroin overdose in 2010, appears in a chaotic Egon Schiele-esque sweep of black and purple: ‘He always called me “mother”, and I called him my “wicked son”.’
As with Bacon, Hambling’s work upends heteronormative structures, including the dichotomy of male artists and female muses. Yet she doesn’t see identity as a useful vector for thinking about her art. ‘It’s a question of whether it’s any good or not,’ she says. ‘I agree with Picasso who said we are all partly male and partly female and you have to bring the whole thing together to make a work of art.’
Furthermore, she considers her paintings of animals and nature to be in the same vein as those depicting friends or famous faces. Her most recent subjects include the waves crashing on the Suffolk beach near her rural home, captured in paintings like Wall of Water VI (2011) – an ecstatic crescendo of icy spatters and churning darkness. ‘Every wave is different from the last,’ she says. ‘My paintings of them are portraits just as much as those of people.’
She recalls some crucial advice that her school art teacher once gave her: ‘The subject chooses you, you don’t choose the subject.’ Whether it’s Henrietta sitting for me or the waves, the subject has to dictate every mark that I make. It’s all a question of being a channel for the truth to come through me into the paint. The subject is in charge.’
‘Friends and Relations: Freud, Bacon, Auerbach, Andrews’
WRITTEN BY EDDY FRANKEL | LATEST LONDON ART REVIEWS | ART | TIME OUT | FRIDAY 18 NOVEMBER 2022
A bunch of lads getting pissed in Soho isn’t unusual, it happens every day. But the boozed-up fellas in the photo as you walk into this gallery aren’t your average louts, they’re some of the most important British painters of the modern era: Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews, all chowing down, lighting up and getting the drinks in at Wheeler’s restaurant in 1963.
They were friends, drinking buddies and colleagues in art. The works in this exhibition show how they painted each other, themselves, their city and their world, carving four different paths through the artistic landscape of twentieth-century London art.
There are some stunning Bacons here. The triptych studies are gorgeous, especially the three visions of Henrietta Moraes as a mound of twisted flesh and jet-black hair. His image of Freud is all blurred, swirling chaos; John Hewett is pure abstract psychedelia. These little works are intimate, intense. The bigger works, including a splashy, splodgy reclining Freud, are more restrained, calmer.
If Bacon is all inner turmoil, heaving flesh and psychological intensity, then Freud is all skin, surface and full-frontal reality. His works are so much lighter and physically attractive than Bacon’s. He looms over his sitters, reducing them down to folds of skin and shellshocked eyes. His portrait of petty criminal Ted is an act of total domination, but his portrait of Moraes is all flat, light, foreboding sensuality.
So Bacon is inner life, Freud is all surface, and then there’s Auerbach and his endless tonnage of gooped paint. His portrait of a woman and her kids is caught in a haze of thick static beige. Gerda Boehm is like a pile of cream waiting to sludge off the canvas. It’s like he’s trying so desperately to hold on to these people, these places and memories, that he’s buried them in paint.
And then there’s poor Michael Andrews, who just can’t compete with his mates, not even close. He paints evenings at the Colony Rooms and a portrait of a woman in front of some steps, but his faces are a mess: they feel rushed, unfinished, poorly executed. He just can’t stand up to the painterly prowess of Bacon, Freud and Auerbach. That said, his painting of him teaching his daughter to swim in ink-black water is fantastic, as is the ghostly nude portrait of his wife, but they really are the exceptions here.
How lucky was London to have these lads doing their thing here for so long though? Decades of friendship, drinking, partying, and a little bit of changing the course of art history chucked in for good measure. Incredible.
Friends & Relations, Gagosian Gallery Grosvenor Hill, November 2022 Photo: Lucy Dawkins
The British painter who was bullied into obscurity
PETER PARKER | REVIEWS | APOLLO MAGAZINE | THURSDAY 17 NOVEMBER 2022
The name Denis Wirth-Miller is invariably coupled with that of his lifelong partner, Richard Chopping, and their close friend of many years, Francis Bacon. While Chopping achieved success and fame with the dust-jackets he designed for Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, and Bacon is widely acclaimed as one of the greatest painters of the 20th century, the work of Wirth-Miller (1915–2010) has until recently remained little known. It has not helped his reputation that he and Bacon often worked closely together, at times pursued similar subjects and in a few cases, even seem to have worked on each other’s paintings. Instead, Wirth-Miller has been unfairly dismissed as a pale imitation of his sometime collaborator. It is good to report that a major survey at Firstsite in Colchester conclusively demonstrates that Wirth-Miller was not only an artist in his own right, but also a very fine one who deserves to be much better known.
Born in Folkestone, Kent, to an impoverished German hotelier and his English wife, Wirth-Miller showed an early talent for drawing and painting. He left school at the age of 15 and got a job in the design department of the Manchester textile manufacturer Tootal, Broadhurst and Lee. After a year he asked to be transferred to the company’s London office and set about joining the capital’s artistic and sexual bohemia. He moved into Walter Sickert’s old studio in Fitzrovia and dedicated his spare time to improving his skills as a painter. In 1937 he met Richard Chopping, who had worked for an interior design magazine, then embarked on a course in stage design. The two men entered a lifelong and notoriously combative relationship and became part of the Fitzrovian set alongside other queer painters such as John Minton and the Roberts Colquhoun and MacBryde. When war broke out they decamped to a small cottage in the Stour Valley, where they were befriended by John and Christine Nash. Among the earliest paintings in the Firstsite exhibition is Watercolour After John Nash (undated), while Stour Valley Landscape (1939) bears some resemblance to the work of Nash’s brother Paul.
Wirth-Miller then decided that both he and Chopping should enrol at Cedric Morris’s East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, where they did odd jobs in exchange for tuition and met Lucian Freud, with whom they briefly became close before experiencing the kind of major falling out that characterised the lives of all three artists. After leaving the school they became temporary house-sitters in a huge, run-down manor in Essex, ideally situated for Wirth-Miller to develop his skills as a landscape painter. While there they collaborated on a children’s book, Heads, Bodies and Legs, which became a huge success when it was published in 1946. They made frequent excursions to London, where in late 1944 Wirth-Miller (who always maintained he was set up by the police) was arrested for gross indecency and sentenced to nine weeks’ imprisonment.
The two men had meanwhile bought the Storehouse, a dilapidated but beautifully situated property on the banks of the River Colne at Wivenhoe. They moved in a few months after Wirth-Miller emerged from Wormwood Scrubs and lived there for the rest of their lives. The Storehouse provided Wirth-Miller with inspiring views to paint and their friends with a riparian Fitzrovia where they could carry on the kind of drunken revels they enjoyed in London. The most regular visitor was Bacon, to whom they had been introduced by the Roberts, and he more or less became part of the household, often working in the studio there. Wirth-Miller had by now begun exhibiting his paintings in London galleries with some success, and by the 1950s would shake off the influences of the Nashes, and of the Neo-Romantics, seen in the paintings he did of Welsh landscapes during the previous decade, to produce something entirely new both in vision and technique.
His landscape paintings are almost entirely devoid of human or animal figures, but at the same time he was also making intensely dynamic studies of dogs and other ‘beasts’, including crouching or wrestling men. Inevitably, these paintings have been compared with those of Bacon, notably by David Sylvester who in a review in the Listener declared that ‘an idea of Francis Bacon had been re-stated in a rather neon-lit way’. Though Wirth-Miller is often characterised as a disciple of Bacon, Andrew Wilson in his contribution to the excellent exhibition catalogue convincingly argues that the relationship between the two painters was more mutually dependent. Bacon frequently worked alongside his friend and discussed work-in-progress with him. Crucially, it was Wirth-Miller who first ‘discovered’ Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of humans and animals in motion, and who in 1949 introduced Bacon to images that had a profound influence on the work of both artists.
The two painters were also clearly drawn to the bestial nature of animals and human beings – the exhibition at Firstsite devotes a whole wall to Wirth-Miller’s studies from around 1953–54 of solidly muscular dogs, any one of which looks capable of seeing off Bill Sikes’ fearsome Bull’s Eye. Although some of these studies are derived from Muybridge, one wonders whether Wirth-Miller was also familiar with the many drawings of ferocious or down-at-heel dogs by Honoré Daumier, who was one of Bacon’s favourite artists. In a separate room Wirth-Miller’s paintings are hung alongside several by Bacon. Wirth-Miller emerges very well indeed from this juxtaposition – though it should be admitted that his case is helped by the inclusion of one of Bacon’s very worst paintings, the garish and slovenly Study for Portrait of Van Gogh VI (1957). While Wirth-Miller’s Study of a Dog in Movement: Leaping (1953–54) could at first glance be mistaken for a work by his fellow artist, not least because of its blue and buff background, the overall composition is very different from Bacon’s celebrated Dog (1952), which hangs near it. As with his caged monkeys, Bacon’s canines seem trapped – pacing a green circle in Dog, while cars speed by in the distance, or attached by a leash to a shadowy owner in Man with Dog (1953) – whereas Wirth-Miller’s freely walk, trot or bound along, their tails whisking behind them, apparently captured just as they are about to leap out of the picture plane. These paintings are all about movement, swirling brushstrokes skilfully mimetic of sheer animal energy. In Shaking Dog (1954), for example, white lines dashed all over the dark outline of the dog not only suggest water flying from a violently agitated pelt, but also the precarious stance and instability of the animal’s legs as it performs this action.
In the article already quoted, Sylvester stated that even in Wirth-Miller’s landscapes ‘a broad hint has been taken from Francis Bacon’, a suggestion that he does not elaborate upon and seems inexplicable unless motivated by simple malice. Small wonder that Wirth-Miller slapped the critic when he next encountered him, whereupon Sylvester punched him back, breaking the artist’s nose. Wirth-Miller was inclined to such confrontations, particularly when drunk (as he frequently was), but one can see why he was infuriated, especially because Sylvester’s summing-up on him as ‘an essentially derivative painter’ would stick.
In fact the landscapes to which Wirth-Miller largely devoted the rest of his career are not in the least derivative of anyone but instead highly distinctive. Several of the paintings in the exhibition depict the estuarine countryside of Essex, a local landscape of marshes and reed-beds to which he often returned as a subject, but he also painted other parts of East Anglia and made excursions to Dartmoor. Many of the Essex paintings show a flat landscape stretching away in layers of colour to a distant and largely featureless horizon, with the contrasting vertical stripes of reeds taking up the foreground. The occasional line of trees can be seen – bare-branched and painted with an etching-like delicacy in the beautiful Estuary Landscape Winter (1967–68), or in leaf and created from seemingly casual swirls of khaki paint in the bravura Reedbed with Small Wood (1959). The Dartmoor paintings similarly emphasise a wide horizon, with thin lines of carefully graded colour painted across the entire width of the canvas.
To appreciate the quality of these paintings, one really needs to stand before them, as they do not reproduce well. Photographs flatten their complex textures, fail to pick out their painterly detail and freeze the sense of movement that often characterises them. In Reedbed with Small Wood, for example, the background is painted in earthern colours so thinly that the texture of the canvas is visible, while the reeds are vertical lines that, though narrow, are made three-dimensional by the thick application of paint, so that they look like slivers of gathered fabric. A similar technique ingeniously and convincingly creates the lines and layout of the fields beyond. As for movement, Wirth-Miller based many of his landscapes on photographs he took at random through the car window while being driven by Chopping through the countryside. Three paintings of a country lane from the early 1970s give a remarkably vivid impression of speeding towards a bend in a road lined with high hedges and an overhanging canopy of trees, while lines smeared across Wet Evening Landscape (1962) evoke not only a heavy downpour but the ineffective sweep of windscreen-wipers. Weather plays a significant role in most of Wirth-Miller’s landscapes, which tend to be darkly brooding or subject to pelting rain and howling winds, beautifully conveyed. Thin, horizontal slashes of paint blur the dark green outlines of trees to suggest a gusty day, while dashed vertical lines all curving in the same direction become wind-bent grasses and reeds. The energy that has gone into such pictures is palpable, giving them an extraordinary immediacy. These landscapes do not belong to any gentle English pastoral tradition of painting but are instead thrillingly elemental.
While by the mid 1970s Wirth-Miller’s reputation as a painter had remained steady, that of Francis Bacon had reached giddy heights. Success had not improved Bacon’s bad behaviour, and in 1977 he drunkenly mocked and condemned as ‘rubbish’ the work his friend had assembled for an exhibition at the Wivenhoe Arts Club. Wirth-Miller decided that his career was over: he closed the exhibition, destroyed most of the work and hardly ever painted thereafter, though some pictures were included in a group show the following year. His paintings were never exhibited again until the year after his death, when the Minories in Colchester held a retrospective. Without his painting, Wirth-Miller found it hard to fill his days and he increasingly turned to drink. He and Chopping became famed less for their art than for their furious rows, which often took place at other people’s houses, making them unwelcome dinner guests.
Their declining years were increasingly grand guignol, but none of this should detract from their considerable achievement as artists. Chopping was given his due in an exhibition at the Salisbury Museum last year, and now it is his partner’s turn. Firstsite has mounted a survey of more than 100 works that more than justifies its size and makes Lucian Freud’s characteristically vindictive habit of referring to the artist as ‘Denis Worth-Nothing’ look very silly indeed. Most of these outstanding paintings and drawings are in private hands, and so this beautifully mounted exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see them – an opportunity that no-one who is interested in 20th-century British art should miss.
‘Denis Wirth-Miller: Landscapes and Beasts’ is at Firstsite, Colchester, until 22 January 2023.
Crouching Figure (1955–56), Denis Wirth-Miller. © the Estate of Denis Wirth-Miller
A Hack Has Revealed What Many Long Suspected: The Owners
of Auction Houses Are Also Some of Their Best Customers
After a leak revealed Sotheby’s owner Patrick Drahi’s extensive art purchases,
some say he should have disclosed them earlier.
KATYA KAZAKINA | MARKET | LATEST NEWS | ARTNET NEWS | WEDNESDAY 16 NOVEMBER 2022
Sotheby’s sale of Francis Bacon’s Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus for $84.6 million was a big deal in the art world in June 2020.
The pandemic lockdowns had just started getting lifted, but the state of the art market remained uncertain. Sotheby’s first-ever livestreamed auction—a masterful cinematic production viewed by thousands of people—sent a clear message.
“Tonight we redefined the boundaries of what is possible,” said Oliver Barker, the event’s auctioneer. The Bacon, the night’s top lot, was key to its success, accounting for almost a quarter of the sale’s total. It was the subject of a 10-minute “dramatic” bidding war between a “determined” telephone client of Gregoire Billault and an online bidder from China, Sotheby’s said at the time.
Artnet News reported last year that the winner was none other than Sotheby’s billionaire owner Patrick Drahi. Sotheby’s declined to comment at the time.
Any ambiguity surrounding that sale came to rest last week after The Art Newspaper revealed it was part of Drahi’s $750 million art collection, based on a cache of leaked documents that surfaced as the result of a hacking incident. Sotheby’s owner amassed more than 200 works of art, with at least 25 of them bought from the auction house between 2015 and 2022. (Drahi paid $3.7 billion for Sotheby’s in 2019 and took it private.)
Another significant work in his collection is Alberto Giacometti’s 9-foot-tall bronze, Grand Femme I (1960), that was consigned to Sotheby’s by billionaire Ron Perelman for a private sale in 2020. Estimated at $90 million it was offered in a “sealed bid” process, with submitted bids reviewed by Sotheby’s general counsel and an outside auditor.
“This is the bespoke sale for a very special work by one of the greatest 20th century artists, designed to both embrace the vast potential field of interest, but also to maintain the privacy that people desire,” Brooke Lampley, then Sotheby’s vice chairman of global fine arts, said at the time.
News of the hack tore through the art market like fire. One market player compared the situation to getting caught dancing naked in the middle of Art Basel Miami Beach. Another said “it was like eating popcorn at the movie theater.”
According to TAN, the French website Reflets published 10 articles in September based on the leaked documents, providing details on Drahi’s collecting and manoeuvres to pay lower taxes on acquisitions. The hackers demanded a €5 million ransom from Drahi not to leak at least 140 GB of data, TAN said. Drahi sued the publication, according to the newspaper.
“Mr. Drahi and his family have always paid all taxes due in respect of each related regulation,” Arthur Dreyfuss, CEO of Altice France, told Artnet News in a statement. “The documents that you reference are in the public because of criminal theft. We’re working closely with authorities on this matter.”
Aside from the curiosity and the gawking—and cringing at the hacking and blackmail—the revelation sparked a question. Is buying from your own business at publicly high prices tantamount to market manipulation?
“Nobody should be shocked by this,” said Todd Levin, an art advisor in New York. “If you own a sandbox, you can play anyway you want in it.”
A. Alfred Taubman notoriously bought at Sotheby’s when he owned it privately and later when he became the majority shareholder of the public company. This became evident when his estate was sold at Sotheby’s in 2015, with works by Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, and many others previously purchased at the house.
Christie’s owner Francois Pinault is known for guaranteeing art at Christie’s, whether to build his collection or prop up a high-value artwork that may have no other buyers. One of these is said to be Roy Lichtenstein’s Nurse, which fetched $95 million in 2015 and remains the Pop artist’s auction record. The Russian owners of Phillips have done the same, according to people familiar with the company.
“To me, an auction house owner anonymously buying from their auction house can be market manipulation as it creates the appearance of more market appetite than there actually is,” said Natasha Degen, chair of art market studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “But it’s not so dissimilar to guarantees. Both help prop up prices and project success to external audiences, mainly the public and the media.”
Not everyone agrees.
We find nothing wrong with auction house owners collecting art, in fact, we applaud it!” Josh Baer wrote in the Baer Faxt newsletter on November 14. “They ‘walk the walk and not just talk the talk’ about collecting art. However, as we have advised for years, we think when they succeed at auction (or in sealed bids, such as for the Giacometti), they should immediately reveal themselves as the buyer.”
Baer said that “the transparency would benefit both showing the truer market of the artists they bought, as well as be more honest as to the actual business viabilities of the auction companies.”
Francis Bacon, Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (1981). Image courtesy of Sotheby’s
Cache of leaked documents reveal Sotheby’s owner Patrick Drahi’s
$750m art collection—and his tax affairs
Billionaire businessman has amassed a treasure trove of more than 200 prime works of art,
many bought through his auction house
ANTOINE HARARI & GEORGINA ADAM | ART MARKET NEWS | THE ART NEWSPAPER | FRIDAY 11 NOVEMBER 2022
In 2019 the French telecommunications billionaire Patrick Drahi stunned the art world by buying Sotheby’s for $3.7bn (Sotheby’s was sold to Bidfair USA, a company wholly owned by Drahi) and taking it private. Now Drahi is the focus of something equally headline grabbing—the surfacing of a cache of leaked documents concerning his art collection, following a ransom demand by hackers.
The documents provide details not only of Drahi’s collection, but also of the arrangements around his tax affairs, and the extent to which he and his advisors were optimising these. The Swiss online publication, Heidi News, has seen the documents and is publishing an investigation, as is the French newspaper Le Monde.
In September this year the French site Reflets initially published ten articles based on the hacked emails. HIVE, the name of the hackers, were demanding €5m as a ransom from Drahi not to publish at least 140GB of data about his collection and various communications from his tax advisors.
Three of Drahi’s companies brought a complaint against Reflet’s company Rebuild.sh in the Commercial Tribunal of Nanterre, France, in September, alleging breach of commercial secrecy and “troubling public order”. The tribunal ordered Reflets not to publish any new information but allowed the existing articles to remain online. An appeal is scheduled for the 23 November.
While Drahi was described as a collector at the time of his acquisition of Sotheby’s, very little was known about what he collected nor the extent of his holdings. However, the leaked documents reveal the extraordinary quantity of prime quality art he has amassed, over the last seven years, much of it bought through Sotheby’s. Picasso, Magritte, Bacon, Marc Chagall, Dubuffet, Giacometti, Léger, Vasarely and Kandinsky are just some of the authors of works he owns. The prices range from €76.6m for Alberto Giacometti’s Grand Femme I, 1960,to €6,700 for a ceramic piece by Suzanne Ramié. Estimates of the value of the holdings are well over €750m.
Among the major pieces belonging to Drahi are Pablo Picasso’s Femme Turc au costume dans un fauteuil (1955), valued at €27m, Amadeo Modigliani’s Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne sitting in an armchair (1918), €71m, and Francis Bacon’s Triptych inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschyluss (1981), €75.2m. There is another Giacometti, Femme de Venise II (1956-57), valued at €13.3m, and René Magritte’s Le domaine enchanté (V) (1953) acquired by private sale from Sotheby’s New York for $8.9m in 2020. Jean Dubuffet’s, La tasse de thé V (1966) was bought in June 2015 for $1.1m. Then there were two Gerhard Richter Abstraktes Bild paintings, one yellow, one red, with their prices given as $2.9m and $3.9m. Other works cited by Heidi News are Marc Chagall’s Crépuscule ou la maison rouge (1948), bought for $5m, and Fernand Léger’s Le corsage rouge (1922), $17m.
From Asia comes a Ye Liu, Leave me in the dark (2008), for €5.5m, and a large longquan celadon vase bought for €842,183.40. There is also a Giovanni Battista Tiepolo Madonna of the rosary with angels (1735) that cost €15.7m. But the vast majority of the collection consists of Modern and Impressionist art, from Barbara Hepworth The family of man, 12, purchased for €4.8m, to Egon Schiele’s Dammernde Stadt (1913), bought for €25m.
At least 25 works of art were bought from Sotheby’s between 2015 and 2020, according to another inventory, which contains handwritten notes in blue pen, noting where they could be placed in Drahi’s Swiss residences.
As a private company, Sotheby’s only publishes its sale results but not profits, but for the year 2020 its top lot was the Francis Bacon triptych bought at auction for $84.5m. It carried an in-house guarantee; until now the buyer had not been identified. The record price raises questions about how this price was achieved, and whether the buyer benefited from the terms of the guarantee. Such sales inevitably boost the firm’s reported sales figures.
Much of the collection was stored in the armoured warehouse of the Geneva freeport, in Grand-Lancy, beside the airport. While in the freeport they would not attract 7.7% Swiss VAT, but should they be moved into Drahi’s multiple homes this would be payable. For example, in the case of Drahi’s Zermatt chalet, works worth €65m were destined (according to what are thought to be Drahi’s handwritten notes) to be hung there, which would have attracted €5m VAT. His two Cologny houses were noted as possible destinations, too, for another €312m worth of art, potentially attracting €24m VAT.
He was advised by the Geneva tax advisors Oberson and Abel that he could rent the works from Before SA, which would enable him to get a refund of VAT. Another solution they suggested was a “temporary import”—permitted for two years, which could be prolonged for a third.
Oberson and Abel proposed to write to the Geneva customs authorities requesting exemption from VAT. Heidi News asked the Swiss authorities whether this proposal was accepted, but has not received a reply. The documents show Drahi’s advisors exploring the possibilities of his home being used regularly for business purposes, with works of art displayed as potentially for sale, or the creation of an adjoining gallery annex with some measure of public access, in order to reduce the VAT burden. There is no documentary evidence that Drahi took the Geneva firm’s advice, although they did write to the tax authorities along these lines.
According to Heidi and Le Monde, Drahi initially owned some 200 works of art through his Luxembourg-registered company Before SA, and because of this would not be liable for capital gains tax when he resold them or gave them to his children. However, this possibility changed in January 2022 when the European Union adopted a new directive, ATAD2 (Anti Tax Avoidance Directive), notably targeting Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
Perhaps in anticipation of this change in regulations, a few months before, on 29 October 2021, ownership of the collection had been transferred to two companies in St Vincent and the Grenadines, a Caribbean tax-haven, called Angelheart Ltd and Forever Ltd. The group was initially valued at €764m, but in order not to attract capital gains tax, the valuations were subsequently reduced. In March 2022 the valuations were revised and lowered to €717,023,825. When existing losses on other items were taken into account, no capital gains tax was due on the transfer. It is unusual for such a valuation to be carried out in-house, rather than by an outside, accredited expert. Professor Roman Kräussl, from the department of finance at the University of Luxembourg, commented: “You just cannot do this sort of evaluation internally, you need an independent, external specialist and preferably more than one. Otherwise there is such a risk of underevaluation which could lead to problems with tax.”
At the time of publishing, Drahi had not responded to questions from The Art Newspaper. He and his advisors did not respond to 31 precise questions sent by Heidi. However they did say: “Mr Drahi does not comment, confirm or reject allegations relative to his private life, to his children or his religion,” adding: “Mr Drahi and his family have always paid taxes which were due, in conformity with the applicable regulations in the countries concerned.”
The Francis Bacon triptych bought at auction for $84.5m. It carried an in-house guarantee; until now the buyer had not been identified. The record price raises questions about how this price was achieved, and whether the buyer benefited from the terms of the guarantee. Such sales inevitably boost the firm’s reported sales figures.
Astronomic total defies economic downturn
MELANIE GERLIS | THE ART MARKET | THE FINANCIAL TIMES | THURSDAY NOVEMBER 10 2022
Auction records tumbled at Christie’s New York on Wednesday night as the first 60 works from the collection of late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen sold for $1.3bn ($1.5bn including fees). It was the biggest single auction haul ever and the first to break the $1bn barrier. All but one work hammered above $1mn — the cheapest was a 1922 oil by Paul Klee at $850,000 ($1.1mn with fees) — while three works hammered for more than $100mn, five once the auction house’s premium was added, in another auction first.
Top of the lots was Georges Seurat’s 1888 work “Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version)”, which sold for an artist record of $130mn ($149.2mn) over the phone to Xin Li-Cohen, Christie’s deputy chair and its liaison with China’s billionaires. Buying in the busy saleroom was dominated by high-power art advisers picking up works on behalf of their wealthiest clients. Overall, 20 artist records were made on the night.
Wednesday’s cream-of-the-crop auction — with hammer proceeds all going to charities — beats the likes of Peggy and David Rockefeller’s, whose collection totalled $835.1mn with fees in 2018. Much of the excitement of the Paul Allen auction was inevitable. Presale estimates had been set to at least $1.1bn and Christie’s had guaranteed to buy all the works, with 39 of the 60 subsequently backed by third parties who promise to buy at a minimum agreed level. Nonetheless, the astronomic totals will add more confidence to a market that still seems to defy the ongoing economic and political uncertainty outside of its bubble.
The works in the Christie’s sales, which by no means include everything that Allen owned, characterise him as a scattergun collector. The Microsoft executive, who died in 2018 aged 65, voraciously bought a broad range of artists rather than favouring any one style or period. He had a sentimental streak, and Christie’s catalogue notes some themes, including a penchant for Venice, where Allen’s yacht was often spotted. His Venice-based works on Wednesday included two Canalettos — one from around 1730, which sold for $8.8mn ($10.5mn with fees, est $5mn-$7mn) and a slightly later work that soared to $10mn ($11.8mn with fees, est $2.5mn-$3.5mn). Manet’s uncharacteristic, light-filled 1874 painting “Le Grand Canal à Venise” went for $45mn ($51.9mn with fees, est $45mn-$65mn) while Giacometti’s “Femme de Venise III” sculpture (cast 1958) sold for an above-estimate $21.5mn ($25mn with fees).
Most striking is the revelation of Allen’s dominance in London and New York auction rooms in the last 20 years of his life. He apparently bought directly and often picked up more than one work in a sale. On December 8, 1999, he bought three paintings from an auction at Christie’s in London. These sold well: Paul Klee’s “Bunte Landschaft” (1928), bought by Allen for £991,500, sold on Wednesday for $4mn ($4.9mn with fees, est $1.2mn-$1.8mn); Yves Tanguy’s “Un grand tableau qui représente un paysage” (1927), bought for £1.5mn — an artist record at the time — sold on Wednesday for $2.8mn ($3.4mn with fees, est $2.5mn-$3.5mn); while Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies for Self-Portrait” (1979), bought for a mere £1.2mn in 1999, proved the best investment of the day, selling this week for $25mn ($29mn with fees, est $25mn-$35mn).
Lovers’ drunken brawl nearly cost Francis Bacon
an eye, diaries reveal
The spat and injury inspired Bacon to paint his violent
expressionist canvas Self-Portrait with Injured Eye
DALYA ALBERGE | CULTURE | ART & DESIGN | THE OBSERVER | SUNDAY 30 OCTOBER 2022
Francis Bacon feared for his sight in one eye and how it would affect his future as a painter after he was seriously injured in a drunken brawl with a lover in 1972, it has emerged.
Part of the evidence comes from the previously unpublished diaries of the late Denis Wirth-Miller, who was Bacon’s friend for 45 years, although their relationship was famously turbulent.
In April 1972, Bacon was holidaying in France with Wirth-Miller and his partner, Richard Chopping. In one diary entry, Wirth-Miller wrote: “F very neurotic, concerned over his left eye and a tendency to double vision.” In another passage, he added: “Francis strangely quiet and low, worried about his eye.”
The fashion designer Dame Zandra Rhodes, who was a close friend of Chopping and Wirth-Miller, through whom she met Bacon several times, confirmed details of the brawl in Bacon’s London home and studio.
Speaking to The Observer, she said she had been told the story by a friend who knew Bacon’s doctor: “[My friend] told me that Francis had had a drunken fight in his studio with a lover. Francis phoned the doctor because his eye was out. The doctor said, ‘you must go to hospital to have your eye put back’. Francis refused point-blank to go to the hospital because he didn’t want the publicity.
“The doctor went to his studio and, despite the filthy environment, sewed the eye back, saying ‘you must come to my surgery the next morning so that I can clean your eye properly’. Francis did that, and the doctor gave him a lecture that he shouldn’t drink so much. When Francis was just leaving, the doctor said, ‘you’ve left a package there’. Francis said, ‘No, that’s for you’. It was a painting.”
The incident inspired Bacon to paint the violent expressionist Self-Portrait with Injured Eye, 1972, which is said to reflect the desperation and loneliness he felt at the time.
Designer Jon Lys Turner revealed the contents of the diaries to the Observer. He has been transcribing them, slowly but surely, as they are part of a vast archive that Wirth-Miller bequeathed to him following his death in 2010.
Turner completed his masters degree at the Royal College of Art, where he was taught by Chopping. Both became his mentors and close friends. He recalls many drunken evenings with Bacon, who would drink his friends under the table in Soho’s pubs and clubs, painted his masterpieces while hungover and, late in life, claimed to have been “drunk since the age of 15”.
While Bacon is revered today as one of Britain’s foremost painters, Wirth-Miller is relatively unknown, although his paintings are in public institutions, including the Royal Collection.
Turner said: “Bacon would often open up to these two friends as they drove across Europe, or walked along the Essex coast, or painted together.”
But, in 1977, after a public spat with Bacon, Wirth-Miller destroyed some of his own pictures and virtually gave up painting. The friendship continued on and off until Bacon’s death in 1992, but it was never as close again.
Francis Bacon, Self-Portrait with Injured Eye, 1972
VISIONARY: THE PAUL G. ALLEN COLLECTION
PART I | 9 NOVEMBER | LIVE AUCTION 22010 | LOT 52
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
Three Studies for
Three Studies for Self-Portrait
signed, titled and dated ‘ Three
Studies for Self-Portrait
Three Studies for Self-Portrait’
(on the reverse of each canvas)
triptych—oil on canvas
Each: 14 x 12 in. 35.6 x 30.5cm.)
Executed in 1979
Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London.
Private collection, Europe (acquired from the above, 1979, then by descent).
Anon. sale, Christie’s, London, 8 December 1999, lot 72.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
M. Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, 1971-1992, London, 2016, vol. IV, pp. 1174-1175 (illustrated in color, p. 1174, no. 79-02
Palma de Mallorca, Pelaires Centre Cultural Contemporani, Marlborough
in Pelaires, August-October 1990 (illustrated in color, p. 37).
Seattle, Pivot Art + Culture, The Figure in Process: de Kooning to Kapoor 1955-2015, December 2015-February 2016, pp. 11 and 23.
Seattle, Pivot Art + Culture, A Closer Look: Portraits from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, December 2016-March 2017
Staging a triple encounter with his own visage, Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for Self-Portrait is a vivid and visceral example of the artist’s celebrated self-portrait triptychs. Painted in 1979, its rich skeins of color and texture writhe and shimmer against a blazing orange backdrop, articulated in near-cinematic sequence. The work takes its place within the extraordinary, career-defining sequence of self-portraits that Bacon produced during the 1970s and 1980s: a period of tragedy and triumph that saw him push the genre into profound new territory. Following the devastating death of his great love and muse George Dyer in 1971, the artist had begun to stare his own mortality directly in the eye, pouring his grief and sorrow into powerful confrontations with his own likeness. Flickering with the spirit of Rembrandt, Picasso and others who charted the passage of life across their features, the present work is one of only seven self-portrait triptychs of this size painted in the 1970s: another from 1979 is held in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, with later examples held in the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen and the Honolulu Museum of Art.
Far from slowing down as he entered his eighth decade, Bacon continued to breathe new life into his practice. The present work’s rich and complex surface, in particular, bears witness to the thrilling array of techniques that the artist brought to bear upon his own countenance during this period. The spectral pallor of his flesh is layered with electric veils of blue and pink, their ribbed textures demonstrating Bacon’s use of his corduroy jacket as a printing material. In places, the paint is chalky like pastel; elsewhere, it is thick with tactile impasto. Amid the painting’s abstract strata and schisms, moments of clarity emerge: a strand of hair, perfectly defined; an ear, rendered in intricate detail; the curve of a lip or nostril; an eye, staring directly at the viewer. Though Bacon typically worked from photographs, he would also study his own face in the mirror, letting his stubble grow for several days and using pots of Max Factor pancake make-up to practise swirls and distortions upon his features. Here, this approach breeds three images charged with the very feeling of flesh itself, each arrested in living motion.
Far from slowing down as he entered his eighth decade, Bacon continued to breathe new life into his practice. The present work’s rich and complex surface, in particular, bears witness to the thrilling array of techniques that the artist brought to bear upon his own countenance during this period. The spectral pallor of his flesh is layered with electric veils of blue and pink, their ribbed textures demonstrating Bacon’s use of his corduroy jacket as a printing material. In places, the paint is chalky like pastel; elsewhere, it is thick with tactile impasto. Amid the painting’s abstract strata and schisms, moments of clarity emerge: a strand of hair, perfectly defined; an ear, rendered in intricate detail; the curve of a lip or nostril; an eye, staring directly at the viewer. Though Bacon typically worked from photographs, he would also study his own face in the mirror, letting his stubble grow for several days and using pots of Max Factor pancake make-up to practise swirls and distortions upon his features. Here, this approach breeds three images charged with the very feeling of flesh itself, each arrested in living motion.
Bacon’s self-portraits of the 1970s stand among the twentieth century’s most daring and poignant explorations of the human condition. Cathartic, mournful and near-obsessive in their spiraling iterations, they witness a giant of his time coming to terms with his own mortal transience. The decade saw Bacon acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest living painters, with major retrospectives at the Grand Palais in 1971 and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1975, as well as the publication of his landmark interviews with the critic David Sylvester. At the same time, however, it was a period of overwhelming loss. Though the artist had long been sanguine about life’s fleeting nature—declaring the earth a “vast lump of compost” and its inhabitants “potential carcasses”—Dyer’s death had plunged him into turmoil. The tragedy, which took place on the eve of Bacon’s Grand Palais exhibition, was a haunting reminder of the death of his previous lover, Peter Lacy, who had passed away shortly before the opening of the artist’s Tate retrospective in 1962. Around the time of the present work, moreover, Bacon had been deeply affected by the death of his close comrade and muse Muriel Belcher—founder of The Colony Room—whose passing marked the end of an era at his beloved Soho haunt. The deaths of his great friend Sonia Orwell, and his sister Ianthe, would follow in quick succession.
After years of painting his social circle, it was within this context that Bacon truly began to turn inwards. Self-portraiture had not been entirely absent from his earlier practice: his first attempt, dating from 1956, resides in the Museum of Modern Art, Fort Worth, with other notable examples including a 1958 canvas held in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D. C., and an impressive large single panel of 1963 housed in the National Museum and Gallery, Cardiff. In the aftermath of Dyer’s death, however, the act of painting himself became something akin to a compulsion: of the 53 named self-portraits within Bacon’s oeuvre, 29 were painted in the 1970s, many in tandem with the harrowing “black triptychs” produced in his lover’s memory. “I’ve done a lot of self-portraits, really because people have been dying around me like flies and I’ve had nobody else left to paint but myself,” he explained. “… One of the nicest things that Cocteau said was: ‘Each day in the mirror I watch death at work.’ This is what one does oneself” (quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London, 1975, pp. 129-133).
The present work takes its place within this remarkable outpouring. Among its companions are magnificent single heads held in the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and the Musée Cantini, Marseilles, as well as large-scale canvases held in the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal. A profound sequence of works from 1973 depicts Bacon with a watch: a poignant memento mori, and a rare example of an illustrational device within his practice. In certain works, his form looms like a ghostly beacon in the darkness; elsewhere, he houses his body within a space frame or windowless interior, as if tormented by the trappings of the world. On occasion, Bacon would insert his self-portrait into just one triptych panel, featuring alongside Dyer and Lucian Freud in 1973, and as a painting within a painting in the late 1991 masterwork Triptych (The Museum of Modern Art, New York). The range of his self-representations was—and remains—staggering in ambition. “Feeling less constrained about pulling apart and recreating his own looks than he did with those of his friends and lovers,” writes Michael Peppiatt, “Bacon was at his freest and most inventive in his self-portraits” (Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait, London, 2021, p. 156).
Within this diverse output, the self-portrait triptychs occupied a particularly notable place. As a format, the triptych had fueled Bacon’s practice for more than three decades, aspiring less to the condition of grand narrative altarpieces than to the aesthetics of cinema. The triptychs “are the things I like doing most,” said Bacon, “and I think this may be related to the thought I’ve sometimes had of making a film. I like the juxtaposition of the images separated on three different canvases. So far as my work has any quality, I often feel perhaps it is the triptychs that have the best quality” (quoted in D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London, 2000, p. 232). Bacon famously described his visual imagination as a “grinding machine” into which images fell like slides: a process that found affinity with the films of Sergei Eisenstein and Luis Buñuel—among others—as well as the sequential photographs of Eadweard Muybridge. The present work, with its three shifted stances, offers a vivid demonstration of this tendency, capturing Bacon’s enduring aspiration to trap his subjects alive. Light flickers in his eyes; words seem to strain at his lips. “The rest”—as his beloved Shakespeare once wrote—“is silence.”
The fourteen-by-twelve inch portrait, too, was similarly significant for Bacon. Since the 1960s, wrote the critic John Russell, these intimate, concentrated heads had been “the scene of some of Bacon’s most ferocious investigations,” their impact comparable to the “after-echo” left by a fired gun (Francis Bacon, London, 1993, p. 99). As the artist grew older, this effect intensified, in concert with a broader sense of clarity and distillation that came to define his later practice. Arriving at the realization that reality can be “summed up with so much less”, the artist began to reduce his gestures and palette to their bare essentials, using defined strokes, saturated colors and often cropping his subjects—here losing an entire eye. The present work, notes Martin Harrison, is the first smaller-format painting to employ the searing cadmium orange backdrop that Bacon typically reserved for his larger canvases—among them his seminal 1944 masterwork Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, 1971-1992, London, 2016, vol. IV, p. 1174). The addition of blue and pink overlayers, “printed” onto the surface with Bacon’s jacket, imbues the work with a striking, almost Pop-like intensity: Andy Warhol, notably, would produce his own electrifying series of late self-portraits just seven years after the present work.
Throughout history, painters have used their own image as a barometer for their art. Bacon’s idol Pablo Picasso painted himself from the ages of 15 to 90, completing his final haunting iteration in 1972. Vincent van Gogh, another of his great heroes, painted more than 35 self-portraits in his 37 years of life, while Bacon’s contemporary Lucian Freud charted his ageing form in everything from intimate portrait heads to full-frontal nudes. For Bacon, however, it was Rembrandt’s self-portraits that truly set the standard. “If you take the great late self-portraits of Rembrandt,” he stated, “you will find that the whole contour of the face has changed time after time; it’s a totally different face” (quoted in Irrational Marks: Bacon and Rembrandt, exh. cat., Ordovas Gallery, London, 2011, p. 7). Moreover, he explained, Rembrandt’s self-portraits went beyond mere facial likeness, offering instead microscopic insights into his hand. They were “almost completely anti-illustrational … a coagulation of non-representational marks”: a foreshadowing of Abstract Expressionism, he proposed, trained upon the recording of fact (quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, in ibid., p. 58). In Rembrandt’s self-portraits, Bacon believed, the artist ultimately dissolves into his art.
It is this, too, that fundamentally underpins the present work. It is not simply a record of appearance, but a record of process: a repository of action, feeling and intuition, channelled through the face that Bacon knew better than any other. For an artist who devoted his life to transferring the impulses of his nervous system onto canvas, it offers a vivid dramatization of the moment at which flesh ends and paint begins. “Bacon’s portraits are the interrogation on the limits of the self,” wrote Milan Kundera. “Up to what degree of distortion does an individual still remain himself? To what degree of distortion does a beloved still remain a beloved being? For how long does a cherished face growing remote through illness, through madness, through hatred, through death still become recognizable? Where lies the border beyond which a ‘self’ ceases to be a ‘self’?” (“The Painter’s Brutal Gesture,” in F. Borel, Bacon Portraits and Self-Portraits, London and New York, 1996, p. 12). In Three Studies for Self-Portrait, Bacon proposes that paint can give form to those boundaries, enacting the shift from figure to figment that defines how we come to know ourselves.
Inside the World of Francis Bacon
Provenant de la Collection Majid Boustany
24 OCTOBER 2022 | 18:30 CEST | PARIS | LOT 3
Private Collection, London
Acquired from the above
Martin Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, London, 2016, pp. 214-215, no. 49-10, illustrated in colour
Majid Boustany, Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, Monaco, 2017, pp. 15, 40-41, illustrated in colour Perrine Le Querrec, Bacon Le Cannibale, Pérronas, 2018, pp. 31, 32, 36, illustrated in colour
Never before seen on the market, ‘Figure Crouching’ is an intriguing work of great art historical significance. Featuring a solitary and seemingly half-human, half-animal figure, isolated in a confined space which hangs mysteriously in a dark void, the present work brings together some of the most iconic motifs of Bacon’s oeuvre at their earliest conception. Executed in 1949, ‘Figure Crouching’ is the earliest surviving painting of Bacon’s long-lasting series of hunched subjects which he would continue into the 1970s. Featuring a vulnerable nude creature balancing precariously on a rail within a transparent and weightless cube, this image is also one of the first instances in which Bacon isolates his subject within a defined space of the canvas. The linear structure here, often referred to as a ‘space frame’, foreshadows the white structure which reappears in Bacon’s Pope paintings of 1951. Paradigmatic of the artist’s painterly bravura and pictorial authority, ‘Figure Crouching’ is a compelling evocation of beast and barrier, transmitting a palpable vulnerability through profound aesthetic concision.
Bacon believed that ‘our greatest obsession is with ourselves. Then possibly with animals, and then with landscapes.’ Growing up in the eastern midlands of Ireland, Bacon’s childhood was surrounded by animals. In the early 1950s, the artist made two visits to his family residing in South Africa where he was captivated by the dry, arid veld in which he observed wild creatures in their natural habitat. At the time, Bacon was already building a library of books by wildlife photographers from Arthur Radclyffe Dugmore to Marius Maxwell and was fascinated by the sequential photographic stills of human and animal bodies in motion which were produced by Eadweard Muybridge in the late nineteenth century. Photographs found among Bacon’s studio materials evidence that the posture of the figure in the present work was even prompted by Muybridge’s photographic studies of the human body in motion as well as Auguste Rodin’s bronze sculpture, The Thinker. Bacon would go on to paint his former lover George Dyer in a similar position in two of his paintings, George Dyer Crouching from 1966, and in one of his legendary so-called ‘Black Triptychs’ entitled May June 1973, in an evocation of his tragic death in a Parisian hotel.
Bacon was acutely aware of the animal in man. Animal-like humans, such as the one depicted in the present work, and humans transformed into beasts and back again proved to be the ideal surrogate through which the artist was able to explore human nature more accurately. As in the present work, the simian position his subjects assume echoes the evocative title of the recent anniversary exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast. Human and animal features are often interlinked in Bacon imagery, as Bacon himself stated: “I want to make the animal thing come through the human”. (David Sylvester, Looking back at Francis Bacon, p. 49, New York, 2000). In fact, the texture of elephant and rhinoceros’ epidermis was often filtered into his earlier translations of human skin into paint on canvas
However, far from the overarching sky and distant horizon he experienced in South Africa, the space of Bacon’s images extends from his cramped London studio, Soho streets and the dark corners of members-only bars. Bacon, a self-taught artist, was convinced that the problem of making a satisfactory image was a problem of technique. The artist experimented with a variety of methods through which to focus the attention of the viewer on his main subject: the human figure. Three-dimensional cages, pedestals, beds, couches, pleated curtains, Venetian blinds, and later such devices as magnified details, syringes and arrows narrow the space of the figure within the frame of the canvas, thus intensifying the presence of Bacon’s subject. A sort of pictorial cage, the ‘space-frame’ provided a most effective means through which Bacon could visually organize his composition. Friends and admirers of each other’s work, Bacon may have first identified the use of ‘space-frames’ in the paintings, drawings, and sculptures of Alberto Giacometti. The space-frame acted as a cage or a trapping device to imprison his figure. A feeling of anxiety, vulnerability and alienation is strongly present in his isolated figures. Confining the half-animal, half-human creature to the claustrophobic space of a narrow cell was a technique that Bacon described as ‘trapping the fact.’
“I think that the very great artists were not trying to express themselves. They were trying to trap the fact, because after all, artists are obsessed by life and by certain things that obsess them and that they want to record. And they’ve tried to find systems and construct the cages in which these things can be caught.” (The artist quoted in David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, 2000)
Adding to the sense of imprisonment, are the bare and unpainted ‘walls’ of the space. Indeed, the figure was executed on the ‘natural’ textures of the un-primed canvas. As Martin Harrison writes: “He found he preferred the coarser ‘tooth’ of the canvas, which was conducive to both his saturation of dilute paint and his thick impastoed textures – techniques he was developing at this time. Thereafter, while his canvases were invariably primed, he always painted on the unprimed side.” (Martin Harrison in ‘Bacon in Monaco and France’, Francis Bacon, France and Monaco, Monaco, 2016, p. 32)
After our eyes adjust to the darker tonalities of the painting, the viewer is suddenly made uncomfortably aware that they are not alone in observing this figure as they notice the shadow lurching into the lower edge of the painting. The half-length shadow of a figure at the bottom right could be seen as an observer, an attendant or even a voyeur. This anonymous presence emphasises the already palpable sense of anxiety in the painting. The painter Edgar Degas, a constant point of reference for Bacon, stated about viewers of his paintings of bathers: “It is as if you were looking through the keyhole”. The onlookers and intruders in Bacon’s works are witnesses to the tragedy, the intercourse or the captivity taking place within the intimacy of his spaces.
Bacon’s bodies disrupt the traditional tropes of nude painting. At once erotic and pitiful, the present figure suggests submission to a more powerful force. Moreover, against references to classical mythology and Christian iconography, Bacon’s figure calls viscerally into question the confines of existence. Distorting skin and bone, entrapped within a vague, narrow cell, Bacon reminds the viewer of their own fleshy limbs at the same time as he makes them aware of the defined space of the room surrounding them. Infusing pigment with a life of its own to fill cryptic scenes with unsettling implications, the present work stands as a testament to the enduring appeal of Bacon’s radical oeuvre.
A Francis Bacon series of paintings of legendary Soho 50s
beauty Henrietta Moraes sells for £24.3million.
The portraits come from the collection of US media executive William S Paley
BY TOM SCOTSON FOR MAIL ONLINE | NEWS | DAILY MAIL | SATURDAY 15 OCTOBER 2022
A Francis Bacon series of paintings of legendary Soho 50s beauty Henrietta Moraes sells for £24.3million. The paintings were the highest value work sold in a Frieze season auction in the last 10 years.
The three portraits come from the collection of American media executive William S Paley, who acquired the work from Marlborough Gallery months after it was finished in 1963. Moraes was a key figure in London’s post-war artistic landscape and acted as a muse for both Bacon and Lucian Freud.
The triptych made its auction debut at Sotheby’s in London during a contemporary evening sale on Monday. Until recently the work was kept under the stewardship of the Museum of Modern Art (Moma) in New York, where it stayed for more than 30 years following Mr Paley’s death in 1990.
Bacon, known for his bold and shocking figurative style, died aged 82 in 1992. His work focused on the human form in an often brutal manner and included a number of triptychs, religious images of crucifixions and popes, and self-portraits.
Sotheby’s said proceeds from the sale will support various charitable organisations, including The Paley Museum, the Greenpark Foundation, and a new endowment at the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art). Further works will be sold at Sotheby’s to benefit charitable causes on Saturday.
Born in India in 1931, Henrietta was one of the stars of the demi-monde that drank in London’s Soho and bedded each other in the Fifties. The half-Indian model 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.
The two of them went to live in Northamptonshire, with Henrietta sent to boarding school at the age of three. Her mother abandoned her after running away to South Africa and leaving her with her grandma who badly mistreated her.
She was shipped off to a convent in Reading and developed a crush on a girl called Valerie who slept with T.S. Eliot’s poems under her pillow. Henrietta Moraes drunk regularly in her teenage years and wined and dined at the Colony Room, the Gargoyle Club, the French House.
During this point she met Francis Bacon who was one of the few admirers she did not sleep with. But the famous artist did paint her at least 16 times over a period of some 20 years — the portrait sold for £21million was painted in 1963 — and he drank with her every night in the Soho clubs.
Henrietta, perhaps realising the potential profit to be made, continued to complain about this until the end of her life.
The half-Indian model, who died in 1999, 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.
Francis Bacon triptych sells for £24.3m at auction
Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes was sold on Friday.
ISOBEL FRODSHAM | NEWS UK | THE INDEPENDENT | FRIDAY 14 OCTOBER 2022
A Francis Bacon triptych depicting his close friend has sold for £24.3 million – the highest value work sold in a Frieze season auction in the last 10 years.
The paintings, titled Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, come from the collection of American media executive William S Paley, who acquired the work from Marlborough Gallery months after it was finished in 1963.
Moraes was a key figure in London’s post-war artistic landscape and acted as a muse for both Bacon and Lucian Freud.
On Friday, the triptych made its auction debut at Sotheby’s in London during a contemporary evening sale, which totalled £96.1 million – highest frieze week evening sale at Sotheby’s since 2015.
Until recently it was kept under the stewardship of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York, where it stayed for more than 30 years following Mr Paley’s death in 1990.
Bacon, known for his bold and shocking figurative style, died aged 82 in 1992.
His work focused on the human form in an often brutal manner and included a number of triptychs, religious images of crucifixions and popes, and self-portraits.
Sotheby’s said proceeds from the sale will support various charitable organisations, including The Paley Museum, the Greenpark Foundation, and a new endowment at the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art).
Further works will be sold at Sotheby’s to benefit charitable causes on Saturday.
Technicians handle ‘Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes’ by Francis Bacon
Jackdaw — a metafictional dive into the life of Francis Bacon
Tade Thompson deploys an alter ego for this disturbing immersion in darker aspects of the artist’s lifestyle
MICHAEL ARDITTI | REVIEW | FICTION | BOOKS | THE FINANCIAL TIMES | THURSDAY 13 OCTOBER 2022
Tade Thompson enjoys a more charmed professional life than most novelists. An award-winning science-fiction writer and consultant psychiatrist, he relates at the start of Jackdaw that about twice a week someone contacts his agent “about me doing some work for a book or a television or radio show”. A commission from the Francis Bacon Estate to write about the artist’s work was, indeed, the genesis of this novella.
Of course, the Tade Thompson who is Jackdaw’s protagonist should not necessarily be identified with the Tade Thompson who is its author — and, given the appalling abuse that the fictional Tade suffers in childhood, one trusts that his naming is a device.
The real-life author plays various metafictional games, firstly around the writing of the book, and then around the editing of the finished text. But by putting either himself or his alter ego in the frame, Thompson both increases readers’ investment in the story and excites their curiosity about its truthfulness.
The fictional Thompson’s agent and patrons both give him books about Bacon, which he later ingests — literally — explaining that it takes 15 minutes to chew a glossy, high-quality sheet of paper into an edible pulp.
One of the books contains a series of explicit photographs by John Deakin of Bacon’s muse Henrietta Moraes, who comes to obsess Thompson, driving him to compulsive masturbation at home, in a restaurant, on a train and, most humiliatingly, at the hospital where he practises psychiatry.
More disturbing still is the silent apparition of Jessie Lightfoot, Bacon’s childhood nanny and adult partner-in-crime, who bought him drugs, organised his illegal gambling parties and, despite her rabid homophobia, vetted the replies he received when he advertised himself as a “gentleman’s companion” in The Times. Most disturbing of all is Thompson’s vision of an amorphous “flesh sculpture”, which — though never explicitly stated — resembles one of Bacon’s “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion”. When Thompson succeeds in destroying it, it is punningly found to consist of pork.
Thompson strives to understand Bacon’s masochism, first by hiring a dominatrix prostitute, the Destroyer, whose previous incarnations as an actress and a nurse turn out to be useful for both fuelling his fantasies and stitching his wounds. She penetrates him anally, but when he decides that he is “still clinging to my heterosexual schema for safety”, he pays a violent rent boy, the denizen of a crack den.
Jackdaw is an original and compelling account of a writer so desperate not to short-change his subject that he descends into a cycle of degradation and madness. It is therefore something of a disappointment when, after he is finally committed to a mental institution, his troubles are found to stem from a frontal lobe injury that can be surgically cured. Nevertheless, while this may account for the perversity of the fictional Thompson’s behaviour, it cannot explain the mystery of Bacon’s art.
Jackdaw by Tade Thompson, Profile Books £15, 160 pages
Battle of the Francis Bacons: two multi-million-dollar
paintings face off at Frieze Masters
Marlborough is offering work by the artist for $30m, while
Skarstedt has earlier painting available for $15m
KABIR JHALA | ART MARKET | NEWS | THE ART NEWSPAPER | THURSDAY 13 OCTOBER 2022
Two paintings by Francis Bacon are among the most expensive works offered at this year’s Frieze Masters. The first, Study from the Human Body—Figure in Movement (1982), from Marlborough Gallery, shows a contorted naked male torso wearing cricket leg pads, a decision Bacon said he made to make the image look “more real”. The work was bought by a private collector directly from the artist in 1984.
It comes from a two-part series, the first of which is in the collection of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Priced at $30m, it is the most expensive work at the fair with a disclosed price. It was placed “on reserve” prior to the fair’s opening, gallery director Joe Balfour says.
For Bacon collectors with exactly half that budget, Skarstedt is offering an earlier work by the British artist, Seated Figure on a Couch (1959), for $15m. An abstracted portrait of Bacon’s one-time lover, the fighter pilot Peter Lacy, the work comes from a private collection and was purchased from Bacon’s first show at Marlborough.
It was made the year after the artist switched representation from Hanover Gallery to Marlborough, which represented him until his death, famously advancing the artist money to pay off his gambling debts. At the end of preview day, this work was still available. Neither Skarstedt nor Marlborough represents Bacon’s estate.
Francis Bacon’s Study for the Human Body—Figure in Movement (1982)
20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale
LONDON | 13 OCTOBER 2022 | LIVE AUCTION | LOT 27
PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
oil on canvas
78 x 58 ⅛in.
M. Harrison and R. Daniels (eds.), Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné: Volume IV 1971-92, p. 1376, no. 90-04 (illustrated in colour, p. 1377).
London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., The Marlborough Gallery Re-Opening Exhibition, 1991.
Berlin, Galerie Sander, Bacon, Freud, Kossoff, Auerbach: Gemälde und Arbeiten auf Papier / Paintings and works on paper, 2003, p. 14 (illustrated in colour on the front cover; illustrated in colour, p. 15).
Painted just over a year before Francis Bacon’s death, Painting 1990 is a poignant and majestic work that stands among the artist’s last great canvases. Rendered in the stark, distilled painterly language that came to define his extraordinary late output, it is a radiant tribute to the vitality of the human form, its central figure aglow with the visceral dynamism of living flesh. According to Martin Harrison, author of the artist’s catalogue raisonné, Bacon’s subject is a hybrid vision. The face, framed like a portrait within a portrait, resembles José Capelo: the artist’s last significant love and muse, and the man he was visiting in Madrid when he died. The figure’s cross-legged pose, meanwhile, is hauntingly reminiscent of the artist’s former lover George Dyer—who tragically died in 1971—as well as his subsequent companion John Edwards. Both their forms populated Bacon’s art throughout the 1970s and 1980s: the present work, indeed, is the last in his oeuvre to feature this iconic posture. It is a powerful testament to those he loved—and had loved—and a vivid summation of his art.
Dyer’s death had shaken Bacon to the core. On the eve of the artist’s career-defining retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris, the man who had been the very lifeblood of his art had been wrenched from his world. The distinctive cross-legged pose, immortalised in John Deakin’s photographs of Dyer half-naked in Bacon’s studio, had fuelled his paintings throughout the 1960s. In the immediate aftermath of Dyer’s death, it resurfaced in the harrowing ‘black triptych’ Triptych—August, 1972 (Tate, London), made in memory of his lover. As the 1970s wore on, new light came to Bacon’s life in the form of his beloved, steadfast partner John Edwards; yet, even in his tender, luminous portraits, the ghosts of Dyer lingered still. Edwards, too, would assume the cross-legged pose, notably in the left-hand panel of the celebrated 1984 triptych Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards, whose sky-blue backdrop and compositional structure shares much in common with the present work. The truncated shadow that quivers below the figure’s left foot—a frequent motif in Bacon’s late works—seems to conjure the ever-present spectre of death. The artist, indeed, was all too aware that time was running out.
Capelo—a young Spaniard who deeply admired Bacon’s work—had entered his life towards the very end. The pair first met two years after Capelo attended the artist’s 1985 retrospective at the Tate Gallery in London: Bacon, incidentally, had selected Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards to feature as the grand finale to the exhibition. Their relationship flourished, buoyed by a shared love of art, music, travel and Spanish culture. Capelo’s likeness featured in four portraits, including the left-hand panel of the celebrated late Triptych (1991, Museum of Modern Art, New York). While the present work is the only one of these examples to feature a full-length seated figure, Bacon nonetheless seems to focus his attention on Capelo’s head, encasing it in the manner of his celebrated fourteen-by-twelve-inch portrait heads. Deriving from a fascination with the Chinagraph markings used in photography, and the analytical diagrams in medical textbooks, Bacon had long used cubic and circular structures to spotlight his subjects. Here, in tandem with the picture’s sparse setting, these seemingly clinical devices serve to amplify the vivacity of the flesh contained within them: the figure’s limbs, muscles and facial features seem to glisten with life and movement, even in the knowledge of their impermanence.
Bacon’s love life had long intersected with his art. Almost four decades earlier, in the 1950s, his complex, troubled relationship with former fighter pilot Peter Lacy had launched his portrait practice in earnest, instilling within Bacon a predilection for painting those he knew intimately. In 1963, the year after Lacy’s devastating death, he had met Dyer in a Soho bar, embarking upon an intense love affair that etched itself into some of his greatest canvases. Around fifteen years Bacon’s junior, Dyer was a handsome, well-groomed individual, whose lithe physique and chiselled features reminded the artist of Michelangelo’s drawings and sculptures. At the same time, a deep vulnerability flickered behind his eyes, born of a wasted youth of petty crime and a life that frequently seemed to lack direction and purpose. His relationship with Bacon was passionate and tumultuous in equal measure: a dynamic that gave rise to some of the artist’s most profound observations of the human condition. As Michael Peppiatt has observed, ‘however great the liberties Bacon had taken in pulling apart and remaking the appearance of his other friends, with Dyer he reached a maximum intensity’ (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p. 261).
In 1964, Deakin took a seminal series of photographs of Dyer seated in his underwear in Bacon’s studio. The dynamic cross-legged pose, captured from multiple angles, would go on to inspire major works such as Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966), Portrait of George Dyer (1967), Portrait of George Dyer and Lucian Freud (1967), Two Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer (1968, Sara Hildén Art Museum, Tampere) and Two Studies of George Dyer with Dog (1968). It would also come to inflect portraits of other muses: notably Bacon’s seminal triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969), as well as the 1968 work Two Figures Lying on Beds with Attendants (Museum of Contemporary Art, Tehran). For Bacon, photographs such as Deakin’s were an essential part of his working process, allowing him to distance himself physically from his subjects and—in doing so—to channel his raw, sensory impressions of them onto canvas. A vast repository of printed source imagery littered Bacon’s Reece Mews studio: the artist famously described himself as a ‘grinding machine’, into which residual traces of these pictures dropped repeatedly ‘like slides’.
In the years following Dyer’s death, this process would take on new meaning. Echoes of his form continued to haunt Bacon’s art, with Deakin’s photographs never far from his mind. ‘People say you forget about death, but you don’t’, he explained; ‘… you don’t stop thinking about them; time doesn’t heal’ (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1975, p. 76). Edwards—an East End pub manager whom Bacon met at the Colony Room in 1974—provided some degree of comfort, becoming a trusted, son-like companion. As his likeness began to appear on canvas, however, the memory of Dyer refused to subside, his poses and features infused with reminders of the crumpled 1964 snapshots that lay among the detritus of Bacon’s studio. As well as the 1984 triptych, works such as Portrait of John Edwards (1988) and the central panel of Triptych 1986-7 would all invoke Dyer’s cross-legged form. Interestingly, not long before the present work, Bacon had stood once again in front of the mournful Triptych— August, 1972 at his Tate Liverpool retrospective. ‘… It goes on having power … for me anyway’, he observed. ‘Maybe I’ll do another one day’ (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Stevens and A. Swan, Francis Bacon: Revelations, London 2022, p. 724).
If these words rang in Bacon’s ears as he began to paint the present work, it was perhaps with a third figure in mind. On 12 December—the day before the work was first photographed—the artist had waited excitedly at Sloane Square Station to greet Capelo, who had just returned to London from a solo trip to Asia. His hair had been cut newly short, and Bacon greatly admired the look. By this stage, the two had known each other properly for three years: though Capelo had met Bacon briefly at his Tate retrospective, and had written to him afterwards, it was not until 1987 that the two were formally introduced at a dinner hosted by their mutual friend Barry Joule. Serendipity played its part: the singer Freddie Mercury, who had long wanted to meet the artist, had been taken ill on the day of the dinner, prompting Joule to extend the invitation to Capelo instead. Aged thirty-one at the time, Capelo had trained as an aeronautical engineer in America before taking a position as a business analyst in London. He was well-travelled and multi-lingual: an intellectual with deep interests in art and culture. Though somewhat different to Bacon’s former flames, the two connected straight away, and began what was to become the artist’s last significant love affair.
Capelo accompanied Bacon through the highs and lows of his final few years: from the triumph of his 1989 Hirshhorn retrospective, to his last days in hospital in Madrid, where his ailing health eventually gave way to cardiac arrest. With Capelo, Bacon had felt young once again, and—though their romantic relationship remained largely private—the two deeply enriched one another’s lives. They travelled widely in France, Italy and Madrid: Bacon’s second favourite city after Paris, where he nourished his long-standing fascination with Velázquez at the Prado and relished the thrills of Spanish nightlife. They dined out regularly in London and mingled with the intellectual elite; they absorbed art and music across Europe, notably attending the Seurat retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris, as well as the premiere of Pierre Boulez’s …explosante-fixe… at IRCAM. During Capelo’s solo travels, Bacon feared the prospect of growing distance between them, perhaps accounting for his decision to commit his likeness to canvas. A diptych and a single portrait head would follow the present work, as well as the 1991 triptych. In the latter, the figure of Capelo is counterbalanced by a self-portrait in the right-hand panel: a bold move for Bacon, who rarely depicted himself alongside his lovers in his work.
Aside from its subject matter, Painting 1990 bears witness to the restless creative spirit that surged through Bacon’s oeuvre during its final years. For the artist, the urge to paint never dimmed; if anything, he explained in a BBC radio interview in 1991, ‘the nearer to death I am, the stronger it gets’ (F. Bacon in conversation with R. Cork, Kaleidoscope, BBC Radio 4, broadcast 17 August 1991). Over the course of his final decade, Bacon had begun to distil and clarify his vision, declaring that ‘nine tenths of everything is inessential’ and vowing to ‘abbreviate to intensity’. His colours became brighter, his lines sharper and his settings ever-more abstract, often near-Minimalist in their diagrammatic rigour. Richard Calvocoressi draws parallels with Colour Field painting and Pop Art, noting that it was ironically within these contexts that many of Bacon’s early works were initially received. It was, he writes, a period of ‘astonishingly inventive’ output, ‘as if the artist’s imagination, far from drying up, had been stimulated by create new and ever more intense combinations of colour, structure and form’ (R. Calvocoressi, Francis Bacon: Late Paintings, exh. cat. Gagosian Gallery, New York 2015, p. 9).
For all their elemental clarity, however, Bacon’s figures continued to live and breathe with the same carnal vitality. Renaissance sculpture, the motion photography of Eadweard Muybridge and the Old Masters’ exacting observations of human flesh remained potent sources of inspiration, while the 1920s beach scenes of Pablo Picasso—some of his earliest and most profound influences—continued to inhabit his thoughts. Indeed, the present work’s planes of sandy ochre and crystal clear blue seem to conjure the shores of Dinard, where Picasso’s bathers had first revealed to him what he would later describe as the ‘brutality of fact’. Other early infatuations, too, linger in the present work’s composition: the sharp, angular lines and planes invoke the sleek, Modernist aesthetic of Bacon’s formative ventures in furniture design, while the ovular arena that houses the figure—by now a signature motif within his practice—conjures his youthful encounters with Surrealism, and the imagery of eyes that laced the work of Buñuel, Dalí, Magritte and Bataille. Seen in another light, this form invokes the vortex of the bullfighting ring: a subject whose dance of life and death had repulsed and entranced Bacon in equal measure, and which he took the opportunity to witness with Capelo during visits to Madrid.
Since his obsessive, unflinching series of self-portraits of the 1970s, many of which saw Bacon raise a ticking pocket watch to his face, the artist had been keenly aware of his own mortality. Yet, sanguine to the core, Bacon saw death as an essential part of existence: ‘if life excites you, its shadow, death, must excite you too’, he claimed. An avid reader of literature—from ancient Greek mythology to the poems of T. S. Eliot—Bacon would increasingly find solace in the great poets, novelists and playwrights who had sought to make sense of this duality. William Shakespeare’s Macbeth remained a particular favourite: ‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,’ declares the protagonist, ‘That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, / And then is heard no more.’ In Painting 1990, the figure’s shadow is severed at his feet, his identity never fully disclosed. He is at once a living reality, and a spectre consigned to memory: a portrait of the thin, wavering precipice upon which our existence is eternally hinged.
20 pieces from Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation
in Monaco, to be auctioned soon in Paris
The sale will take place on 24 October at Sotheby’s, the prestigious auction house.
CAMILLE ESTEVE | CULTURE | NEWS | MONACO TRIBUNE | MONDAY 10 OCTOBER 2022
The Majid Boustany Foundation in Monaco is organising an auction of twenty exceptional pieces on 24 October to mark the 30th anniversary of the death of the British painter Francis Bacon, The sale will take place at Sotheby’s in Paris.
Called “Inside the World of Francis Bacon”, the sale will include a number of different items, including a major 1949 painting, “Figure Crouching”, estimated at 3,500,000 – 5,000,000 euros.
Bidders will also be vying to acquire a very rare rug, signed by the artist in 1929 (estimated at 90,000 – 140,000 euros), two magnificent works on paper, or historical objects, such as a plate that the painter used as a palette (estimated at 20,000 – 30,000 euros), as well as other pieces from Bacon’s Parisian studio.
The collection also includes works by friends of Francis Bacon, such as painters Graham Sutherland, Louis Le Brocquy and Roy de Maistre, as well as an original letter from Francis Bacon to the writer Michel Leiris and portraits of the artist by photographers such as Cecil Beaton, Don McCullin and Peter Beard. All proceeds from the sales will be donated to the Foundation.
The painter will be honoured on Saturday 8 October, at the Mouans-Sartoux Book Festival. The film Francis Bacon / Ernest Pignon-Ernest : Échanges, by Alain Amiel and produced by the Foundation, will be screened free of charge at 5.15 pm at the La Strada cinema.
The film deals with the written correspondence between the two artists, who never met. Francis Bacon is said to have asked Ernest Pignon-Ernest, an emblematic figure of the Mouans-Sartoux Book Festival, to send him several enlargements of his drawings. The screening will be followed by a discussion between the artist from Nice, the film’s director, and the writer Gérard Mordillat.
« Figure Crouching » – Francis Bacon
CONTEMPORARY EVENING AUCTION
LOT 112 | 14 OCTOBER 2022 | 7:00 PM BST | LONDON
A Legacy of Innovation: Works From The Collection of William S. Paley Sold
to Benefit the Museum of Modern Art and other Charitable Organizations
Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes
Executed in 1963
Estimate Upon Request
LOT SOLD: £24,300,000
Marlborough-Gerson Gallery Inc., New York
William S. Paley, New York (acquired directly from the above in 1963)
Acquired by bequest in 1990 by the William S. Paley Foundation
Painted in 1963, Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes is unequivocally one of the finest and most accomplished small portrait triptychs ever created by Francis Bacon. The first named portrait of Henrietta Moraes in Bacon’s oeuvre, and the second ever triptych executed in the iconic 14 by 12 inch canvas format, this is a work of great historical importance and unrivalled execution. Delivering a seamless interlocking of paint and image, these three canvases epitomise the consummate painterly virtuosity and uncompromising power of their creator. In his Catalogue Raisonné entry for this painting, Bacon scholar Martin Harrison praises this very work, identifying it as the artist’s “consummation” of the small portrait triptych, in which “Bacon’s execution has a power, skill and confidence that he scarcely ever surpassed in this format” (Martin Harrison, Ed., Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné, Volume III 1958-71, London 2016, p. 733). In a manner unparalleled by any before or since, Bacon had an ability to capture beauty, pathos and violence in a flick of paint, a talent that surpassed a translation of mere form and likeness to deliver something closer to the raw fact of existence. The present work delivers this with aplomb: here we bear witness to a portrait of a legendary Soho Bohemian, a subject whose unconventional, uninhibited lifestyle and gregarious nature is writ large across each canvas. Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes was the last picture included in Bacon’s early Catalogue Raisonné, to which its editor Ronald Alley wrote that it was “painted partly from life”; a positing that situates it as one of the final works Bacon executed in this manner, as from 1962 Bacon began principally to rely on photographs of his friends/subjects taken by John Deakin (Ronald Alley and John Rothenstein, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné and Documentation, London and New York, 1964, p. 155) Reinforced by Bacon’s own proclivity for the peril of life’s roulette wheel, Moraes’s very essence projects forth through a confluence of daring brushwork and imagination: a powerful coalescence of colour, texture and form that radiates sheer vitality. Hung upon an armature of disfigured facial features contained by the focussed proportions of these three canvases, the present triptych harnesses chaos, chance, beauty, and violence to deliver images of astonishing intensity and carnal grace.
Created during an extraordinary decade buttressed by two major retrospectives – the first at London’s Tate Gallery in 1962 and the other at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971 (the present work was prestigiously included in the latter) – Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes was acquired by William S. Paley from Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York, almost immediately following its execution in 1963. Indeed, only months prior, Paley had also acquired Bacon’s first triptych in this format, Study for Three Heads of 1962 – a painting in which Bacon’s recently departed lover, Peter Lacy, flanks a contorted self-portrait of fraught emotion. Considered one of the most forward-thinking, generous, and influential collectors of the Twentieth Century, William S. Paley played a key role in the development of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Beginning in 1937, Paley was instrumental in defining an institution only established 8 years previously and over the next five decades he would take on major roles within the organisation including trustee, president, and chairman. Today, many of the museum’s most treasured works are those donated from Paley’s collection, including Picasso’s Boy Leading a Horse (1905-06) and The Architect’s Table (1912), Cézanne’s L’Estaque (1882-83), and Redon’s Vase of Flowers (circa 1912-14). Following his death in 1990, Paley’s two important Bacon triptychs would go to MoMA on long-term loan, with Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes coming to Sotheby’s directly from the museum where it has resided for over thirty years.
As a debut work in Bacon’s newly forged small-triptych format, Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes announced a sea-change in Bacon’s practice. The motifs and tropes of the previous decade were abandoned in favour of unadorned and focussed portrayals of the human form in closely cropped and consistent proportions. Alongside the small 14 by 12inch canvas format, Bacon would also standardise his larger production in panels measuring 78 by 58 inches: from 1962 onwards these two formats provided the structural basis for the rest of Bacon’s career. Where the large panels acted as arenas for Bacon’s operatic musings on the human condition, the smaller canvases were to become, in the words of esteemed art historian John Russell, “the scene of some of the artist’s most ferocious investigations” (John Russell, Francis Bacon, London, 2001, p. 99). With Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes Bacon powerfully laid down the harrowing introspective quality and unadorned immediacy that would become intrinsic to the small portrait triptychs.
The second small scale triptych ever created by Francis Bacon and arguably his finest, Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes is a tour-de-force of visceral technique and painterly invention. Tightly focussed and with nowhere to hide, three head-and-shoulders images of Moraes play out as a sequence of superimposed states. Here we see Bacon truly define the power and impact possible within the confines of three 14 by 12 inch canvases. Across a bituminous, tar-like ground of thick texture, Moraes’s likeness emerges in swipes of crimson and white. The more refined silhouette of the left-hand canvas – a form that exudes the influence of Picasso’s Dora Maar – gives way to two gnarled and contorted images accented with tones of green, blue, and purple. In his Catalogue Raisonné entry Martin Harrison further expounds upon the virtuosity of this very work: “The restricted palette of mainly crimson and white on a textured black ground is masterly, as are the energy and motion of the brushstrokes and smearing of the wet pigment.” (Martin Harrison, Ed., Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné, Volume III 1958-71, London 2016, p. 733). Even when making the comparison to Bacon’s other great small triptychs of this period – notably Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer (1963) and Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud (1964) which share the same bituminous ground and dominant red/black colour palette respectively – it is clear that Bacon’s Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes embodies his greatest achievement in this format. The artist clearly thought as much; in John Russell’s monograph he recalls Bacon comparing this triptych to Giorgione’s self-portrait in the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum in Brunswick, stating that both seem to say “the most that can be said in paint at this time about human beauty” (Francis Bacon quoted in: Ibid., p. 100).
This triptych announces Moraes’s first named presence in Bacon’s oeuvre; however, as noted by Martin Harrison, her bodily form had already found expression as early as 1961 in works such as Crouching Nude (1961). By 1963, Moraes had become the locus of some of Bacon’s most powerful full figure paintings and expressions of the nude such as the extraordinary Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe (1963). Though her face is entirely obliterated in this work, this prophetic image (it eerily prophesised Moraes’s later intravenous methamphetamine addiction) is the first in a series of large-scale reclining nudes that Bacon would paint based on nude photographs taken by John Deakin. Across Bacon’s oeuvre, the number of paintings after Moraes clearly demonstrate the great depth of invention sparked by her likeness and personality. Indeed, where male subjects – friends, lovers and fellow artists – feature heavily in Bacon’s work, Moraes recurs with a frequency that reflects his fascination with her. In sum there are 4 named small head triptychs of Moraes, 2 single small portraits, 5 large format portraits, and 9 unnamed figure paintings, all of which pulsate with animal vitality and unchecked verve.
In comparison to depictions of Bacon’s other great female muse, Isabel Rawsthorne, whose portrayals are generally less distorted, Moraes’s visage and bodily countenance deliver an unadorned corporeal vitality and charged bestial energy; closer perhaps to the ‘brutality of fact’ which drove Bacon’s artistic impetus. Where Rawsthorne – friend of the Parisian cultural elite – represents nobility and an almost masculine heroic spirit in Bacon’s work, Moraes embodies fleshiness, femininity, unvarnished vivacity and instinctual carnality. As in the present triptych, and as played out across the many outstanding large figure studies depicting her form, the extreme facial and corporal distortions of Moraes’s likeness cast her as a remarkable vehicle for Bacon. In a photograph of the artist taken by Derek Bayes in October 1963, the centre and right-hand canvas of the present work appear on Bacon’s easel positioned at the artist’s head height. With one hand raised in an expression of intensity and focus, Bacon seems to complete the triptych. In this photograph as in the fully finished Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, painter and subject form an indelible confluence. Moraes was the ultimate female subject for Bacon. A notorious bonne vivante, sexually uninhibited, unconventional and a serious drinker, she captivated Bacon both physically and spiritually; in many ways she held a mirror up to his own untamed character which yearned for the unvarnished underbelly of life.
Born Audrey Wendy Abbott in India in 1931, Henrietta Moraes had a challenging and unconventional childhood. Her family returned to England when she was still very young, and after many years living with her fearsome, often violent grandmother and having attended various schools in different parts of the country, Moraes came to London at age eighteen to begin Secretarial College. With a spirited character, restless nature and little talent for shorthand, she abandoned her education and started work as a life model in art schools across London. Three marriages later and Audrey Abbott had become Henrietta Moraes: her final and most well-known moniker given to her by husband number three, the poet Dom Moraes. It was through her first husband however, the documentary filmmaker Michael Law, that she would become a stalwart feature of the Soho set, among whose notorious troop was of course Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon. In her autobiography published in 1994 – a book that is both a wonderful memoire of 1950s/60s Soho Bohemia and a vivid account of a life less ordinary – Moraes records her first impressions of both artists:
“Two other people that 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’s ebullience and charming habit of buying bottles of champagne proved irresistible…”
(HENRIETTA MORAES, HENRIETTA, LONDON, 1994, P. 30).
FRANCIS BACON WITH CENTER AND RIGHT PANELS OF THREE STUDIES
FOR PORTRAIT OF HENRIETTA MORAES, 1963 PHOTO BY DEREK BAYES
Though married at the time, Moraes would have an affair with Freud during this period and was painted for the wonderfully tender portrait Girl in a Blanket of 1952 in which Moraes sits partially covered on the edge of Freud’s unmade bed in his Paddington studio. This work presages Bacon’s own portrayals by almost a decade. Of Bacon, Moraes fondly recalls:
“When I was eighteen, I had spent almost all my mornings, afternoons and evenings with him, dined along with him at Wheeler’s, oysters and Chablis, gone with him to the Gargoyle, listened to the wit and wisdom which flowed almost continuously from his lips. Sometimes I was aghast at the scathing sarcasm which bubbled out of him, but it was never directed at me. At every meeting I had learned something new from him, been captivated, spellbound. Wherever he appeared, the air brightened, groups of people were animated, electricity hummed and buzzed and bottles of champagne arrived. I had learned so much of the ways of the world from him and, though at the time I had not properly understood half of his teaching, it had nevertheless, willy-nilly been assimilated.” (Ibid., pp. 72-73).
Indeed, by the time Bacon came to paint Moraes, ten years had passed; aged 30 or 31 at the time, Moraes recalls Bacon’s suggestion that she pose for him:
“One night I was having a drink in the French Pub with Francis Bacon and Deakin and others. Francis said, ‘I’m thinking of painting some of my friends and I’d like to do you but I can really only work from photographs, so, if it’s OK, Deakin will come round to your house and take them. I’ll tell him what I want. You are beautiful, darling, and you always will be, you mustn’t worry about that.’” (Ibid., 71).
This would have been around 1962 and was the point at which Bacon began commissioning his drinking partner, friend, and Vogue photographer, John Deakin to capture Moraes and the protagonists of his Soho enclave. The resulting photographs formed a repository of visual aids for Bacon, whose lasting impact is plainly manifest across the host of astonishing paintings that followed; indeed, at the time of his death in 1992 over three hundred of these images were found scattered and strewn across Bacon’s studio. Among these, nude and clothed, full figure and head shot, interior and exterior, paint stained, crumpled and folded, Deakin’s photographs of Moraes feature heavily.
Moraes’s appearance in Bacon’s oeuvre thus illustrates a seismic shift at the beginning of the 1960s. Moving away from emblematic forms – such as those extrapolated from Velazquez’s Pope, Muybridge’s The Human Figure in Motion, motifs from Van Gogh and Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin – Bacon looked to capture the ‘fact’ of human behaviour in a more direct non-illustrational way. Realising the need for a physical armature upon which to hang this ‘energy’ and ‘living quality’, Bacon turned to his inner social circle, and specifically those with whom he shared a similar instinctual and risk-taking attitude towards life. Bacon’s principal subject thus became the people he knew best: combining memory with Deakin’s aide-memoires, alongside Moraes Bacon painted George Dyer, Isabel Rawsthorne, Lucian Freud, and Muriel Belcher, and in so doing, created some of the most astounding and inventive portrait studies of the Twentieth Century. Delivering an extraordinary coming together of familiarity and total originality, the small portrait studies signify the ultimate record of sensation in Bacon’s work. To quote art historian William Feaver: “‘Studies’ or exercises though they are, these small paintings are central to Bacon’s art. The scale of a bathroom mirror-image makes them one-to-one, and when they are paired, or grouped in threes, the differences animate them. No rooms, no thrones, no perfunctory landscape settings are needed. Without context or posture, the heads have nothing to do but look, sometimes at one another, and wait” (William Feaver, ‘That’s It’ in: Exh. Cat., London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Francis Bacon 1909 - 1992 Small Portrait Studies, 1993, p. 6).
Bacon’s portraits are an enactment of his own thoughts on the nature of real friendship; the artist is famously quoted saying: "I’ve always thought of friendship as where two people really tear each other apart", indeed, in his portraits Bacon mercilessly pulls, rips and cleaves the intricacies of his friends’ likenesses until their flayed countenances distil some essential physical and pictorial truth (Francis Bacon quoted in: Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London, 2009, p. 257). Exploiting familiarity to his advantage, Bacon freely manipulated and wrestled with the physiognomy of those closest to him to engender an elemental painterly distillation in which facture and expression are resolutely interlocked. Representation is deconstructed to the point where features become indiscernible and physical states are superimposed. Nevertheless, the end result is unmistakable in subject. As outlined by John Russell: “although the features as we know them in everyday life may disappear from time to time in a chromatic swirl of paint or be blotted from view by an imperious wipe with a towel, individual aspects of the sitter are shown to us, by way of compensation, with an intensity not often encountered in life” (John Russell, Francis Bacon, London, 2001, p. 124).
Emulating mug-shot proportions of a photobooth image or ‘police record’, the unadorned immediacy of Bacon’s small portraits radiate endurance, nervousness, and involuntary mannerisms: these heads truly embody Bacon’s desire to paint as close to the ‘nervous system’ as possible. Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes consummately epitomises the breathtaking power of these small triptychs, and indeed, Bacon’s unique ability to harness the essence of being – its chaos, the ludicrous chance of life itself, it’s terrible beauty – is nowhere more apposite. Beyond mere form and likeness, these are remarkable portraits as unrestrained and exuberant as Moraes’s uninhibited and extraordinary life.
Francis Bacon triptych could sell for more than £30m at auction debut
The work is being previewed at Sotheby’s in London.
BY ALEX GREEN | UK NEWS | THE INDEPENDENT | SATURDAY 8 OCTOBER 2022
Francis Bacon triptych depicting his close friend Henrietta Moraes is expected to sell for more than £30 million when it goes to auction this month.
Moraes was a key figure in London’s post-war artistic landscape and acted as a muse for both Bacon and Lucian Freud. The paintings, titled Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, come from the collection of American media executive William S Paley, who acquired the work months after it was finished in 1963.
The triptych will make its auction debut at Sotheby’s in London during a contemporary evening sale on October 14. Until recently it was kept under the stewardship of the Museum of Modern Art (Moma) in New York, where it stayed for more than 30 years following Mr Paley’s death in 1990.
Bacon, known for his bold and shocking figurative style, died aged 82 in 1992. His work focused on the human form in an often brutal manner and included a number of triptychs, religious images of crucifixions and popes, and self-portraits.
The sale also includes German artist Gerhard Richter’s 192 Farben, which has an estimated sale price of between £13 million and £18 million, the highest placed for a work from its series. Also featured are Frank Auerbach’s Head of JYM and a 1948 portrait by Jean Dubuffet in his signature art brut style.
A full preview of the series will be unveiled at Sotheby’s New Bond Street Galleries from October 8-14 ahead of the evening auctions on October 14. It will be followed by the contemporary day sale the following afternoon.
Denis Wirth-Miller | Bohemian in the Bullrushes
From louche Fitzrovia carouser to painting partner of Francis Bacon,
Denis Wirth-Miller confounds Alexander Adams.
ALEXANDER ADAMS | EXHIBITIONS | ART | WHY NOW | TUESDAY 4 OCTOBER 2022
What was going through Denis’s mind as he waited for his friend Francis Bacon to visit his solo exhibition? Trepidation, anticipation, pride? Bacon was an artistic superstar, a fierce wit and notoriously capricious. Denis had been his friend since the 1940s and had a hand in some of Bacon’s best early works. By 1977 Denis’s profile was dwarfed by Bacon’s, and the display of his landscape paintings (in a modest East Anglian venue) was only a small affair. Knowing Bacon’s volatility, Denis must have been a little apprehensive.
Bacon arrived and toured the display with Denis before the private view. His comments were so savage and contemptuous that Denis was distraught. Humiliated and shocked, Denis took all the canvases away and destroyed them. For the four decades that remained to him, he virtually ceased painting. It appeared the artist had lost inspiration and lost heart. Bacon, the painter who had inspired him, had also crushed and extinguished the pleasure he experienced from making art.
From Soho to East Anglia
The extraordinary life of British painter Denis Wirth-Miller (1915-2010) is like a history of the last century. The new exhibition Denis Wirth-Miller: Landscapes and Beasts (Firstsite, Colchester, 1 October until 22 January 2023) presents the best of his art and sheds light on three remarkable men: Denis Wirth-Miller, Francis Bacon and Richard “Dickie” Chopping, Wirth-Miller’s partner.
Born in the First World War, Denis worked in textiles and window dressing before following his vocation as a painter. The exhibition includes paintings in Cubist and Neo-Romantic styles from the 1930s and 1940s when he studied alongside Lucian Freud. (They did not get on, then or later.)
During the Second World War, Wirth-Miller met Chopping, and they became lovers. Despite constant rows – often fuelled by heavy drinking – “Dickie and Denis” remained devoted to each other for the next 60 years. In 2005, they became one of the first gay couples to enter a civil partnership. Chopping was a brilliant illustrator, beloved tutor at the Royal College and sometime novelist. His covers for James Bond novels are still hailed as classics. One layout for a Bond novel jacket is exhibited here
The couple moved to Essex to escape the frantic social life of Soho. They moved to the Storehouse, an old quayside house in Wivenhoe, which would become their long-term home. Artists, actors, authors, and socialites would travel by train to Wivenhoe’s tranquillity. Turner became heir to Chopping and Wirth-Miller’s art and archives.
Painter-partner of Bacon
Bacon and Wirth-Miller were best friends from the 1940s until Bacon died in 1992. Bacon was inspired by Eadweard Muybrodge’s photographs of figures in motion, and Denis’s paintings of the time, of nude boxers and dog-walking, are close to Bacon’s style
The pair collaborated, with Denis painting foliage in Bacon’s canvases. Wirth-Miller’s dog paintings are comprised of rough brushstrokes on dark backgrounds, causing the forms to flicker and surge out of the gloom. The animals have a raw muscular presence, and the pictures of crouching figures are animalistic, like beasts about to pounce.
The exhibition includes three Bacon paintings: the head of a screaming pope, a dog walking (from 1952) and a depiction of Van Gogh, where trees resemble Wirth-Miller’s views. That gallery shows Bacon and Wirth-Miller at their very best. Visitors will be tempted to see Bacon’s handiwork in some canvases attributed to Wirth-Miller. That’s how close the subjects and the technique are.
Wirth-Miller adulated Bacon the artist but drew away from him artistically in the 1960s, choosing to paint landscapes, while Bacon’s trajectory drew him closer to the figure. Wirth-Miller resented that his art never got more recognition than it did, though he did have good sales and even had his art bought by the Queen. Yet, if he is known today, it is as a friend of Bacon’s.
Brilliant and banal
Wirth-Miller’s landscapes are usually squarish in format, mainly of Essex and Suffolk, capturing the fenlands with level horizons and rushes. Broad stripes evoke furrowed soil, curving in slashes, brio, and tension. The thickly textured surfaces and repeated marks make paintings look like textile-wood-plaster decorative plaques from the 1950s and early 1960s. No wonder interior designers bought his landscapes for display rooms.
The best landscapes have energy and impact, but the worst verge on handicrafts, with dots of impasto (thick paint) speckling simple compositions. Unlike Chopping, who made detailed observations for his own botanical and animal illustrations, Wirth-Miller could be relatively casual and generic in nature paintings. One has trouble discerning species of trees or bushes in his landscapes. This absence of deep engagement (a degree of superficiality, maybe) prevents Wirth-Miller from being a great landscape painter.
Curator James Birch (author, collector and expert on Wirth-Miller) has been honest enough about Wirth-Miller’s limitations to include two paintings (of cows and ducks) that are lousy and lazy. These simple images of animals are flickered with diluted paint to animate them; they are painfully bland.
Time for reassessment
Wirth-Miller is a skilled and occasionally dazzling painter who deserves to be appreciated more. Long ignored by London’s commercial dealers, the exhibition should see the re-emergence of Wirth-Miller as a vital collaborator with Bacon and as a painter in his own right. Firstsite should be commended for exhibiting a local artist and calling in a knowledgeable curator whose passion shines through.
Well worth a trip to Colchester or picking up the handsome catalogue.
RELATIONS: LUCIAN FREUD, FRANCIS BACON,
FRANK AUERBACH, MICHAEL ANDREWS
MARK WESTALL | ART PREVIEWS | EXHIBITIONS | FAD MAGAZINE | MONDAY 3 OCTOBER 2022
Taking as its inspiration a famous John Deakin photograph from 1963 that shows the four painters in Soho (along with much younger painter Timothy Behrens, the subject of a portrait by Freud that is on view), the exhibition includes some of the artists’ portraits of each other, elucidating the connections between their respective practices.
Curated by art historian Richard Calvocoressi, Friends and Relations contextualizes key works by four era-defining artists. Featuring about forty paintings from private and public collections, it positions Freud—in the centenary year of his birth—as the grouping’s central figure. Each painter was aware of the others’ practice, to the extent of occasionally competing with one another, but of the four, Freud alone collected his friends’ work. At his death, he owned fifteen paintings and a large number of works on paper by Frank Auerbach. The exhibition includes two portraits by Auerbach formerly in Freud’s collection, on loan from British museums.
Portraiture was at the heart of Freud’s, Bacon’s, Auerbach’s, and, less directly, Andrews’s practices, and the exhibition’s title echoes not only the four artists’ camaraderie, but also intimate relationships between artist and sitter, which here includes artist and lover, partner, and offspring. Girl in a Dark Jacket (1947) exemplifies Freud’s early style and pictures Kitty Garman, the artist’s first wife and daughter of sculptor Jacob Epstein and Kathleen Garman. The Painter’s Mother Resting III (1977) is an early entry in a series of portraits of the artist’s mother, Lucie Freud, which he began after the death of his father, Ernst Freud, in 1970.
The intense friendship between Freud and Bacon is commemorated in the latter’s Three Studies for Portraits: Isabel Rawsthorne, Lucian Freud and J.H. (1966), in which Freud’s head is paired with those of John Hewitt, an antiquities dealer, and Rawsthorne, a close friend and fellow artist whom Bacon painted many times. Another highlight is Portrait of a Man Walking Down Steps (1972), a tribute by Bacon to his lover George Dyer, who committed suicide the year prior, the day before the opening of the artist’s 1971 retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris.
A selection of Auerbach’s work includes E.O.W., S.A.W. and J.J.W. in the Garden I (1963), a full-length portrait of his lover and frequent model, Stella West, and her family outdoors. Also included is Head of Gerda Boehm (1964), which depicts Auerbach’s cousin, who was, like him, a refugee from Nazi Germany. On loan from the Sainsbury Centre, University of East Anglia, in Norwich, the work’s dense accretion of paint epitomizes Auerbach’s approach during this era.
Michael Andrews’s ambitious group portrait The Colony Room I (1962) is on loan from Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. Set in Soho’s storied drinking club, it pictures Andrews’s own mural in the background, with figures of Freud, Bacon, Bruce Bernard, artist’s model Henrietta Moraes, and the club’s proprietor, Muriel Belcher. Melanie and Me Swimming (1978–79), loaned to the exhibition by the Tate, depicts the artist teaching his daughter to swim in a river in Scotland.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring essays by Martin Gayford and Florence Hallett, and an interview with Frank Auerbach by Richard Calvocoressi.
Also on view at Grosvenor Hill will be a selection of photographs of the four artists by their friend, the distinguished picture editor, writer, and photographer, Bruce Bernard (1928–2000). Complementing the paintings in Friends and Relations, Bernard’s portraits of the artists in their studios—some of which are exhibited publicly for the first time—are both direct and informal. The painter Virginia Verran, who represents Bernard’s estate, notes: “The link between painting and photography was a vital one throughout his life and the chance to bring his photographs together with paintings in this way is a profound one.”
Friends and Relations: Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews, Bruce Bernard: Portraits of Friends Opening reception: Thursday, November 17th, 6–8pm, November 17th, 2022–January 28th, 2023, Gagosian, 20 Grosvenor Hill, London
FRANCIS BACON Head of a Man (Self-Portrait), 1960
Together again: Gagosian exhibition celebrates Freud’s centenary
by reuniting the artist with his closest friends
The show will feature works by Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews
and the photographer Bruce Bernard
DANIEL CASSADY | EXHIBITIONS | NEWS | THE ART NEWSPAPER | MONDAY 26 SEPTEMBER 2022
If it is true that you can judge a man’s character by the company he keeps, then Gagosian’s forthcoming exhibition, Friends and Relations, has much to say about Lucian Freud. One of many shows across the UK that will mark the artist’s centenary this year, Friends and Relations will situate his works among those by three others with whom he was close: Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews.
The exhibition will feature around 40 paintings, roughly half of which are by Freud, loaned from both private collectors and institutions. The idea for the show, which opens on 18 November and was curated by the art historian Richard Calvocoressi (formerly of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and Tate), came from a photograph of the four painters at Wheeler’s Restaurant in Soho, London, in 1963. The picture was taken by a friend and occasional subject of the group, the bohemian photographer John Deakin, who Bacon had commissioned to take photographs of his friends that he would later use as the basis for his paintings.
“For Freud’s centenary, The National Gallery in London is mounting a retrospective of his work, ” Calvocoressi says. “I thought rather than put on a complementary Freud exhibition, it would be more interesting to look at this group of friends and see how they reacted to each other’s work. ” The four painters shared many of their sitters and models, providing the exhibition with a great deal of common ground, Calvocoressi adds so “why not look at them as a sort of core. Not exactly a formalised group in any way, not a school or anything like that, but rather a group of friends who saw each other a lot and who sparked off each other?”
Freud and Bacon’s relationship is on full view in Three Studies for Portraits: Isabel Rawsthorne, Lucian Freud and J.H. (1966), while The Painter’s Mother Resting III (1977) is an early entry in a series of 18 portraits of the artist’s mother, Lucie Freud, which he began after the death of his father, Ernst Freud, in 1970. Andrews’s group portrait from 1962, The Colony Room I, features both Freud and Bacon, as well as the artist’s model Henrietta Moraes, and Muriel Belcher, who ran The Colony Room, one of the Soho haunts favoured by the group. Two portraits by Auerbach, formerly in Freud’s collection, will be lent to the exhibition from museums in Britain.
With a few exceptions the works are from the 1960s, when the four were closest. It was also a time “when figurative painting was very much going out of fashion,” Calvocoressi says. “With the rise of Minimalism, conceptual art and politicised art they stuck to the idea of paint on canvas and tried to represent the human presence in some sort of way.”
The exhibition will be accompanied by a smaller show: Bruce Bernard: Portraits of Friends. Bernard, a picture editor and writer, was a close friend of all four artists, and his photographs of the painters in their studios, some formal and some more candid, will further contextualise the relationships embedded in the paintings on view.
Friends and Relations: Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews and Bruce Bernard: Portraits of Friends, 17 November 2022-28 January 2023, Gagosian, 20 Grosvenor Hill, London
Group portrait of painters (left to right) Timothy Behrens, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon,
Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews at Wheelers Restaurant in Soho, London, 1963
Francis Bacon pulls the rug out
ALICE FISHER | DESIGN | THE GUARDIAN | MONDAY 26 SEPTEMBER 2022
While Francis Bacon’s art has been exhibited all over the world and he’s acknowledged as one of the most important painters of modern times, far less attention is paid to his time as an interior designer. But in the late 1920s, inspired by his European travels and the likes of Bauhaus and Le Corbusier, Bacon designed modernist rugs and furniture. His showroom – Francis Bacon Modern Decoration: Furniture in Metal, Glass and Wood; Rugs and Lights – contributed important works to British interior design and the rugs, in particular, are resonant of his early paintings.
Bacon often destroyed his work (his slashed and abandoned canvases are a headache for the authors of his catalogue raisonné) and, as his time as a furniture designer was so brief, little of his furniture remains – only seven of the 12 rugs he created still exist. One is in the Victoria and Albert Museum collection, another is at the Château de Gourdon, France, one of the most exceptional collections of art deco works in the world.
But next month, one comes up for sale at a Sotheby’s auction to mark 30 years since Bacon’s death and to celebrate the artist’s love of France. Bacon was a Francophile, and he was deeply respected by the nation. He was honoured with an exhibition at the Grand Palais in 1971 – the first living artist to achieve this since his hero, Picasso, in 1966. He also lived in Paris from 1974 to 1987.
The rug features the string instrument and brickwork which also appear in one of his earliest paintings, Gouache (1929).
The auction at Sotheby’s will be held on 24 October at the end of Paris+ week – the first Parisian edition of the Art Basel fair.
Francis Bacon Triptych, August 1972
‘We cannot understand happiness before pain’
Francis Bacon and his Triptych August 1972 is next in Art Feeds The Soul, where we
examine several pieces of art in permanent collections around London that are not
necessarily easy to see, but that may be today’s medicine for our existential needs.
RAPHAEL TIFFOU | PAINTING | ART FEEDS THE SOUL | WHY NOW | THURSDAY 22 SEPTEMBER 2022
“The emotionally intelligent person knows how to hope and be grateful while remaining steadfast before the essentially tragic structure of existence.” – Alain de Botton.
While discernible in ordinary life, there is no place in which de Botton’s words ring more accurate than in the art gallery – a place where even the most optimistic people are faced with questions of purpose. This leaves little space in a gallery for art that is comfortable and familiar and even less for art that is comforting.
But the challenges of art can themselves be comforting. In this vein, we look at several pieces in permanent collections around London that are not necessarily easy to see but that may be today’s apothecary for our existential needs.
Triptych August 1972 is not a life-affirming painting. It is not even a cheerful painting. It is a painting that defines the depths of survivor’s guilt, the pain of losing a close one even while acting as though nothing is the matter, but also one that represents the technical zenith of Bacon’s work.
We all know the overused epigram of great art borne from great pain, but it is difficult not to apply this cliché tracing paper over this painting.
It is a painting of Bacon’s lover and muse, George Dyer, a hardened East Ender from a criminal family. In a mythical but oft-repeated story, Bacon and Dyer met while the latter was burglarising Bacon’s studio – and they started a turbulent relationship. Withdrawn and reserved when sober, Dyer was highly animated and aggressive when drunk, and he became increasingly needy and dependent on his older caregiver.
By 1971, he was drinking alone and only in occasional contact with Bacon, who was more or less paying him to be drunk from dawn to dusk. Bacon’s most extensive retrospective in his career took place that October in Paris, and purely as a gesture of respect to the man who featured in so much of his work, Dyer was invited to Paris for the show. Although clean at the time, the pressure of being back in the fore entrained him into an evening of heavy pill and alcohol use.
Bacon and a friend discovered his body, sitting peacefully on the toilet the night before the opening. According to the critic John Russell, Bacon continued with the retrospective and displayed powers of self-control “to which few of us could aspire”. Bacon was deeply affected by the loss of Dyer; from this point, death haunted his life and work. Though outwardly stoic, he was inwardly broken.
The Tate gallery display caption for Triptych–August 1972 reads, “What death has not already consumed seeps incontinently out of the figures as their shadows.”
There are three highly regarded “Black Triptychs”, though two are in private collections, each of which details moments immediately before and after Dyer’s suicide.
Several other characteristics bind them. The shape of a black rendered doorway features centrally in all, and flat and shallow walls frame all. In many, Dyer is stalked by a broad shadow which takes the form of pools of blood or flesh in some panels or the wings of the angel of death in others.
Bacon was helped towards the irrationality of this amalgam by adapting the pose from one of his favourite photographic sources: ‘Some Phases in a Wrestling Match’ from Eadweard Muybridge’s sequential photographs of moving bodies published as The Human Figure in Motion.
The popular association of his work with anguish and debauchery was confirmed when the film director Bernardo Bertolucci used Bacon’s paintings in the opening credits of the controversial and sexually explicit Last Tango in Paris (1972). This film has taken on additional negative weight from the apparent treatment that Marlon Brando subjected his co-star too.
This may be a strange word for a series named ‘Art Feeds the Soul’. But art is as much a personal voyage for him, the artist, as it is a unique feeling for us, the viewer. This is perhaps the most striking example of pain objectified onto a canvas, which is why it is a piece that needs to be seen. We cannot understand true happiness until we understand real pain. This is undoubtedly an excellent place to start.
During the funeral, many of Dyer’s friends, including hardened East End criminals, broke down in tears. As the coffin was lowered into the grave, one friend was overcome and screamed, “you bloody fool!”
Triptych August 1972 , Francis Bacon Tate Gallery, London. Purchased 1980
‘A class of his own’: Sale of rare Bacon works
marks 30th anniversary of artist’s death
The auction will include rarely seen paintings, rugs, photographs and letters
KIM WILLSHER | CULTURE | THE GUARDIAN | WEDNESDAY 21 SEPTEMBER 2022
As a teenager, the artist, Francis Bacon, famously ran away to Paris to escape school and an authoritarian, homophobic father who had thrown him out of the family home.
Although his visit was brief, Bacon returned to the city two years later and became fascinated with the works of Picasso, Rodin, Degas and Monet. On seeing Picasso’s works at the famous Paul Rosenberg gallery, Bacon would later say: “At that moment I thought, well, I will try and paint too.”
Back in London, Bacon became an interior designer. It was the beginning of a lifelong relationship with the French capital, however, to which he would often return, eventually setting up his studio in the newly trendy Marais district where he lived for more than a decade, from 1975 to 1987.
Now, to mark the anniversary of Bacon’s death 30 years ago on 28 October 1992, one of the artist’s most assiduous collectors, the Monaco-based philanthropist Majid Boustany, founder of the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, is selling a number of rare pieces including paintings, photographs and letters.
The highlight of the sale is the 1949 painting Figure Crouching, the earliest surviving work from Bacon’s long-running series of hunched subjects, which he would continue until into the 1970s, valued at up to €5m. Another of the 20 lots is a hand-knotted carpet made while Bacon was working as an interior designer.
Guillaume Mallecot, who is overseeing the auction for Sotheby’s on 24 October, says the artist produced 20 rugs in the late 1920s and early 1930s, of which only seven are believed to exist today.
“We don’t know very well this side of Francis Bacon the interior designer, and very few of the items he produced in the 1930s exist, so this rug adds a touch of magic to the sale,” Mallecot told The Guardian.
A rare surviving painting from the 1930s (Bacon destroyed most of his early works), the Corner of the Studio, which reveals the extent of Picasso’s influence, is also being sold along with a hand-drawn postcard, a paint-covered plate palette from the artist’s Paris studio – one of only three from this time – and several black-and-white photographs, including one by Cecil Beaton and another by Don McCullin.
During his life, Bacon was equally parsimonious with details of his early years, censoring biographers and removing details he did not approve of. However, he admitted that he would not consider himself a success as an artist until he had achieved recognition in France.
“If the French like my work, then I shall feel that I have, to some extent, succeeded,” he said.
They did. A 1971 retrospective at the Grand Palais is considered the zenith of his career – the only other living artist to have been given the honour until then was Picasso, though the event was marred by the suicide of Bacon’s companion, George Dyer, two days earlier in the Paris hotel they were staying in. David Hockney, then 34, and described by Le Monde as a “young rival” of Bacon’s, travelled from London to attend the opening.
“He always thought the English didn’t understand him, that his reception in Paris was decisive in a career, that it was the only place where an artist of his calibre could be recognised,” Didier Ottinger, curator of the 2019 exhibition Bacon en toutes lettres at the Centre Pompidou, told Le Monde at the time.
This was perfectly illustrated by the fact that the president, Georges Pompidou, opened the 1971 retrospective, while the then-prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, described Bacon as: “The man who paints dreadful creatures”.
The success of the Grand Palais exhibition prompted Bacon to buy a studio at rue de Birague in the Marais in 1974, which he kept until 1987.
To mark the sale, British art historian, Martin Harrison, an authority on Bacon’s work, wrote: “Arguably the most significant consequence of Bacon’s reception in Paris in the 1970s was that it reversed the injudicious and casual opinions of British critics who tended to glibly posit a visible decline in his later paintings. French critics ignored such subjectively inclined periodisation and responded with intelligence to major works that were often given their debut in Paris.”
Mallecot says despite the clear influences of other grand masters like Picasso, Bacon remains “in a class of his own”.
“There is no Francis Bacon movement, there is only Francis Bacon. He is a giant in the history of 21st-century art,” he said. “There is no Francis Bacon movement, there is only Francis Bacon. He is a giant in the history of 21st-century art,” he said.
All proceeds from the sale will go to Boustany’s Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation.
A portrait of Bacon by Don McCullin.
An Uncertain Image
A collector thought he had bought a painting by the celebrated British artist.
How far would he go to prove it?
BY SAM KNIGHT | ONWARD AND UPWARD WITH THE ARTS | THE NEW YORKER | SEPTEMBER 26, 2022
In the spring of 1997, an art collector in Geneva received a call from a contact at the city’s office of bankruptcies and legal proceedings. There was an auction coming up, of an estate that had gone unclaimed for nine years, and among the lots was a painting that the collector might want to take a look at: a canvas attributed to the British artist Lucian Freud. The collector was a businessman, originally from North Africa, who was used to picking up furniture and art works at competitive prices from Geneva’s plentiful array of galleries, antique dealers, and salesrooms. He is keen to preserve his privacy, so I will call him Omar.
Omar went to see the painting that day, at the auction house in Carouge, a suburb to the south of the city. The estate had belonged to a man named Adolfo di Camillo, who died in 1988. According to auction records, di Camillo appeared to have been a collector, too. In the seventies, he had sold a seventeenth-century painting of Pan, the Greek god of shepherds, that was once believed to be a Rubens.
The work attributed to Freud was a medium-sized, naturalistic oil portrait of a naked man, painted from the side and from behind. Parts of the background appeared unfinished, or hastily sketched, but the figure itself was skillfully captured, with a certain power. “Oh, it’s interesting, it’s strong,” Omar recalled saying to himself.
The bankruptcy office had attached an estimate of five hundred thousand Swiss francs (about three hundred and fifty thousand dollars) to the work. At the time, a recognized Freud portrait of a named sitter could fetch three times that amount. Omar asked his contact to hold it back, as one of the final lots of the sale, so that the room would be quieter. On the afternoon of March 7th, Omar bought the painting for less than a hundred thousand Swiss francs, or seventy thousand dollars. He also picked up one of di Camillo’s side tables, a lampshade, and a bronze sculpture in the style of Giacometti.
“After I bought the painting, I went home and put it in the rest of my collection and I forgot about it,” Omar told me in French when we met, earlier this year, at an expensive hotel on the lakefront in Geneva. He wore a Harrods baseball cap and was carrying a plastic bag. For years, Freud’s searching, candid portraits went against the overwhelming appetite of the contemporary art market, which was for abstraction. Although he was a famous painter in England, in part because of his surname (Sigmund, his grandfather, went to London as a refugee in 1938), Freud was a respected rather than a fashionable artist in Europe. In 2002, Omar watched a program about his career on Swiss television, which prompted him to learn more about the painting. So he put it on eBay.
Omar posted the ad on the evening of Saturday, November 30th. The item description read “Lucian Freud Painting.” Omar told me that he didn’t intend to sell the work; rather, he hoped to flush out information. “To do a reconnaissance,” he said. Four days later, Omar got a message from the auction site: his item had been blocked because of a copyright complaint. He called eBay’s office in France, and was told that the complaint had come from the artist.
According to Omar, a few days later the phone rang in his apartment. It was early in the afternoon. “I said, ‘Hello, hello,’ and after a long time I heard a voice: ‘I am Freud, Lucian Freud,’ ” Omar recalled. The voice, speaking in English, but with a Germanic rasp, said that he was the rightful owner of Omar’s painting and that he wanted it back. (Omar had put his phone number on the eBay ad.) Omar says that Freud offered him a hundred thousand Swiss francs, which he declined.
Three days later, the voice called back. This time, according to Omar, the man was angry. Freud was eighty years old at the time. The caller offered Omar twice what he had paid for the painting, but still the collector refused to sell. “ ‘No. Sorry,’ ” Omar remembered saying. “ ‘I am loving this painting. I am loving this.’ He said, ‘Fuck you.’ He said, I remember, ‘You will not sell the painting all your life.’ And he hung up.”
Omar has been trying to unravel the meaning of this call—and have his painting authenticated—for the past twenty years. Owning a disputed, possibly wildly valuable, art work is a cruel test of any person’s aesthetic values, basic reason, and innate (often well-disguised) capacity for greed. Close your eyes and there are millions of dollars hanging on the wall. Open them, and there is nothing to see. Hope flares, dies for years at a time, then sparks again, at odd moments. The question of authorship can be both maddeningly simple and frighteningly difficult to resolve. Laboratories and lawyers might tell you what you want to hear, and charge you by the hour. Omar always projected confidence when we spoke. “There is a beautiful story behind this painting,” he told me more than once. But there were days this year when I wished that I had never heard of it at all.
In July, 2005, Omar shipped the portrait to London, where it was examined by Freud’s longtime confidant and biographer, William Feaver. By this time, Omar was wondering if it could be a self-portrait, noting a similarity between the face of the figure and photographs of Freud from the fifties and sixties. In customs documents, he declared the value of the painting to be a million Swiss francs.
Feaver gave it the thumbs-down: the feet were unfinished, which was unlike Freud; the body was too heavily built for a self-portrait; the background was stylistically off. When I asked Feaver about the picture recently, almost seventeen years after the viewing, he had no memory of seeing it at all. But after consulting his diary he agreed with his initial assertion, which was recorded by a gallery assistant at the time. “If this spectral me had gone in, he would have said roundly that it wasn’t by Freud,” Feaver said. “There’s nothing like it in Lucian’s work ever, anywhere, to survive. . . . Every single certifiable one is fundamentally quite different from this rather careful, painstaking, correct thing.”
Freud was shown images of the painting several times, by his daughter Esther and by Pilar Ordovas, a former deputy chairman of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s, who is now a gallerist. Ordovas grew close to Freud in 2003, after she brought to market a rare urban scene of his, which he had not seen for thirty years. She became a regular visitor to his studio and handled his relationship with the auction house. “The artist was alive. I was doing my duty of showing him this work, slightly embarrassed,” she told me. “He said, ‘Pilar, absolutely not.’ There was not even a moment’s thought or question.” After Esther showed her father images of the painting, Freud asked for his name to be removed from the frame.
Omar had more luck with independent experts. In the summer of 2006, Nicholas Eastaugh, a world authority on pigmentation analysis, travelled to Geneva. Eastaugh examined the painting, which was now being called “Standing Male Nude,” with a microscope, under UV light, and took sixteen tiny paint samples. Eastaugh found “a series of points of similarity and correspondence” between Omar’s painting and known Freud works: traces of charcoal in the paint, the use of hog-hair brushes, which Freud favored starting in the late fifties, and the presence of a loose preparatory drawing, in pencil. On the bottom edge of the canvas, Eastaugh also found a partial fingerprint, which could point to a more definitive connection with the artist.
In life, Freud was a keen guardian of his œuvre and of his privacy. He communicated mostly by phone but did not give out his number, and he changed it often. He was sensitive to the market for his work and hated signing his name. “He was prepared to do whatever was necessary in order to protect what he thought was his right to be able to project to the world what he wanted,” Geordie Greig, a former editor of The Daily Mail and a friend of Freud’s, who wrote a book about him, told me.
Most of Freud’s failed paintings never left the studio. “Lucian was an avid destroyer of works that went wrong,” Feaver wrote me, in an e-mail. “I can remember many awaiting the cull. Generally, these—portraits especially—would be stiff and, more often, disproportionate.” Freud also kept an eye on paintings long after he made them. Throughout his career, he became angry when substandard works found their way to the market or forgotten canvases resurfaced. In the early fifties, the house of Gerald Gardiner, Freud’s lawyer at the time, was broken into and a single picture was taken: a portrait of Carol, Gardiner’s daughter, which Freud had painted but didn’t think much of. The story gave rise to a legend, encouraged by Freud, that he paid criminals to get hold of paintings that displeased him or that he regretted seeing out in the world. Late in his life, one of Freud’s daughters, Rose Boyt, hesitated to send him a painting for authentication, for fear that he would punch a hole in it instead.
“Everything had to be remarkable,” Greig said. Freud was drawn to extremes, and to fights. In the early seventies, John Craxton, an artist and an intimate friend of Freud’s, sold some of his drawings to a collector. When a dealer asked Freud to sign the sketches, he was furious, writing, “John Craxton is a cunt” on one of them. Freud’s fight with Craxton—a mess of legal letters and injunctions—went on for years. At one point, according to Ian Collins, Craxton’s biographer, Freud managed to have a Craxton portrait called “Lucian” removed from an exhibition, by saying it was not of him. “They became an art form,” Collins said of Freud’s feuds. “He had this phenomenal energy. He actually needed this to get him fired up. He needed enemies.”
Freud died in 2011, at the age of eighty-eight. From then on, his estate, and his lawyers, took over the protection of his name. Omar felt that every attempt to have his painting authenticated, or even looked at, resulted in a mysterious dead end. Curiosity would turn to silence. A few months after Freud’s death, a French connoisseur named Hector Obalk agreed to go to Geneva. Obalk presents an art-history show on French television. In the preceding decade, he had filmed two hundred and fifty-eight Freud works, collecting hours of footage in collaboration with the artist’s studio. Obalk viewed the painting in Omar’s office. “He had a pipe. He stood for half an hour like this,” Omar recalled, striking a pose of contemplation.
Obalk had no doubt that the painting was by Freud. But he saw limitations, too. Like Feaver, he found the feet unconvincing. He thought the face showed poor technique. Moreover, he respected Freud’s right to reject the painting. “Authentication of an œuvre does not only depend on the reality of a piece of work, but also on an aesthetic decision sanctioned by a number of acts, such as its signature, the studio output, exhibition in the artist’s lifetime, etc.,” Obalk wrote, in a nine-page report.
But the painting didn’t look like a forgery, or a case of mistaken attribution. Obalk noted a patch of impasto on the figure’s flank—paint so thick that it stands out from the canvas, a characteristic of Freud’s work—and a handling of the flesh tones that recalled several of his other portraits. In Obalk’s analysis, the painting was by Freud but not a Freud. “In our opinion, Standing Male is a canvas which Lucian Freud painted, then abandoned and disowned,” he wrote. “It is always more delicate to authenticate an unfinished work (in which the artist has hit an impasse) than to authenticate a resounding masterpiece.”
Twelve days before he delivered his verdict to Omar, in the spring of 2012, Obalk received a warning from Goodman Derrick, L.L.P., the law firm that represented Freud’s estate. The letter reiterated Freud’s disavowal of the painting during his lifetime. “It seems unclear to us why you may be using your extensive knowledge of the work of Lucian Freud to back an attribution you must know makes no sense,” the letter said. The law firm asked Obalk not to authenticate the painting but “to deny it,” and appeared to threaten any future coöperation by the estate on Obalk’s television work.
Obalk authenticated the painting anyway. He declined to speak for this article. “I have nothing to add,” he said. For several years, he was the only connoisseur willing to study Omar’s portrait, let alone give a positive opinion. The trail went cold until January, 2016, when Omar mounted a private show of his collection at the Freeport, a huge storage facility for art works and other valuables, in Geneva. To his surprise, an acquaintance named Ignacio Moreno stopped in front of “Standing Male Nude,” and said that he had seen it before.
“It was a flashback,” Moreno told me recently. Moreno, who was born in Cuba, is in his mid-sixties. He remembered seeing the nude on the wall of the apartment of the previous owner, di Camillo, where he occasionally went as a young man, in the late seventies. Moreno described the apartment as a gay oasis in Geneva at the time. He showed me a photograph of himself sitting near a fireplace, with another canvas propped against the wall behind him. Curiously, Moreno said that the apartment was used by Francis Bacon when he stayed in the city: a place of mess and paint by day, and raucous gatherings by night.
The relationship between Freud and Bacon, two of Britain’s greatest twentieth-century artists, is one of the most exciting and complex stories in modern art. During the fifties, the two men saw each other almost every day. Bacon was thirteen years older: famous, more obviously transgressive, gregarious and rude, openly gay when homosexual activity was still illegal in Britain. Freud was, in many ways, an unlikely protégé. He was a social celebrity—the weekend guest of aristocrats, turning heads in grotty drinking dens in Soho—magnetic to an almost intolerable degree. People kept falling in love with him. But Freud was haunted by Bacon’s genius: the older artist’s willingness to embrace accident, his feel for paint itself. “Real imagination is technical imagination,” Bacon told Time, in 1952. “It is in the ways you think up to bring an event to life again.”
Each was entranced by the other. Bacon painted Freud at least seventeen times. The younger artist had access to Bacon’s cramped, image-strewn studio. (Bacon preferred to work alone, from photographs, often taken by the artists’ mutual friend John Deakin, which he first crumpled up and threw on the floor.) There was a fierce attraction. A Bacon painting, “Two Figures,” from 1953, which is based on an Eadweard Muybridge photograph of wrestlers but seems to show two men making love, hung opposite Freud’s bed for fifty years. He was reluctant to lend it for exhibitions.
Freud painted Bacon only twice (an exquisite, postcard-size portrait, on copper, from 1952, was stolen in Berlin in 1988 and has never been recovered), but, of the two men, he owed the greater artistic debt. “I got very impatient with the way I was working. It was limiting,” he told Feaver. “I think my admiration for Francis came into this.” In the late fifties, Freud moved away from his hyper-controlled, almost inert painting style to a looser, more baroque mode of portraiture, which he ultimately realized with his candid, sprawling nudes of the eighties and nineties. Freud painted from life, working on some pieces for years at a time. “My work is purely autobiographical,” he said. “It is about myself and my surroundings. It is an attempt at a record. I work from the people that interest me, and that I care about and think about, in rooms that I live in and know.”
As Freud fully matured as an artist, he and Bacon drifted apart, with occasional spats until Bacon’s death, in 1992. In 2008, Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” sold for $33.6 million, making him, for a time, the world’s most expensive living artist. Both painters are now highly collectible, but works that carry a charge of their early love and rivalry are in a category of their own. Earlier this year, a single panel of a Bacon triptych, “Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud,” from 1964, sold for fifty-two million dollars.
The possibility of a connection between Omar’s painting and Bacon was tantalizing. Had Bacon owned the work? What was he doing in Geneva?
In late 2018, Omar asked Thierry Navarro, a Swiss investigator, to get to the bottom of the authentication problem. An engineer by training, Navarro is an alert, quietly stubborn man in his early fifties, who wears half-rimmed glasses and walks extremely fast, as if he were slightly late, which he often is. His other jobs have included developing computer games and a new navigation system for motorcyclists. His father, Pedro, was a landscape artist, and Navarro himself is a self-taught painter. “I’m a multidimensional person, quite a complex one, I guess,” he told me. Nonetheless, Navarro saw the question of Freud’s authorship in binary, provable terms. “It has been denied. That is a fact. No question,” he said. “And there is another fact: the painting is on the table. I mean, it exists. And nothing is against the attribution to Lucian Freud.”
Studying Omar’s file, Navarro noticed that Obalk had flagged the academic, formal pose of the subject as extremely unusual for Freud. “Throw of discus?” Obalk had asked, in parentheses. One evening, as Navarro read up on Bacon, he found himself scrolling through an online copy of “The Human Figure in Motion,” a collection of Muybridge photographs from 1901. “Suddenly, I came to a series of images—then I went slowly,” he recalled. The series was called “athlete. catching at a ball.” Navarro stopped scrolling. “It was just, like, That’s it,” he said.
Navarro zoomed in. To his eye, the pose of Omar’s portrait matched a figure in the third row of the Muybridge series, down to the line of the wall and the floor in the background and a blemish on the figure’s left buttock. “My mind was, just, Wow,” Navarro said. The only difference was that the images were reversed—a discrepancy that could be explained if the artist had been painting in a mirror, which, if the work was a self-portrait, he might have been. “You get the dots and you start drawing a line,” Navarro said. “It’s probably not the entire line, but there are a lot of similarities and consistency, I would say, between all those dots.” If his theory was correct, and Freud had worked from a key Bacon reference, that would make the painting a remarkable artifact of the artists’ relationship. “I think this might have been a challenge requested by Bacon,” Navarro said. “ ‘Can you paint yourself from the back? For me?’ ”
In the spring of 2019, Omar and Navarro approached Art Recognition, a tech company outside Zurich, and asked it to evaluate the painting. Art Recognition uses artificial intelligence to detect the brushstrokes, color palette, compositional choices, and other barely definable mannerisms of individual artists. The C.E.O. is Carina Popovici, a theoretical physicist. She trained the first prototype of the system to recognize works by Max Pechstein, the German Expressionist, in order to weed out fakes by Wolfgang Beltracchi, a notorious forger, and has since worked with museums, galleries, and dozens of private collectors. In 2019, Art Recognition independently authenticated a van Gogh self-portrait at the Norwegian National Museum, in Oslo. When she started out, Popovici worried about giving owners bad news. It turns out that most people are relieved, either way. “They’re just glad to have an answer,” she said.
For Omar’s portrait, Art Recognition used data from two hundred and thirty-five known Freud paintings and more than three hundred paintings by other comparable artists from the same period. These were broken down into a total of some five thousand fragments, which were used to train the A.I. to identify patches of canvas painted by Freud, and those by other artists. For each art work examined by the A.I., Popovici explained, the model is run forty-five times, with slightly different calibrations, to make sure that the over-all result is representative. Popovici’s team found that “Standing Male Nude” had an eighty-nine-per-cent chance of being an original art work by Lucian Freud. “From our point of view, it’s a very, very solid result,” she told me. I asked if, to her knowledge, her A.I. system had ever been wrong. “No,” Popovici replied. Then she laughed for a long time, as though this was somehow an inappropriate question.
The A.I. report appeared to vindicate Navarro’s technical approach to proving that “Standing Male Nude” was by Freud. “There is no feeling,” he said. “It’s just facts.” Navarro came to perceive the rejections of the artist and his estate as a matter of intrigue, rather than facts with meaning of their own.
“Why would the painter have denied this? That is really, for me, the point,” he said. When I suggested that Freud may have denied the work because he didn’t paint it, Navarro shrugged off the idea. Both Omar and his investigator became deeply suspicious of what Navarro called “the Freud environment”—the close group of experts, former assistants, biographers, and lawyers who guard his work, and its value—in London. “Nobody’s going to move,” Navarro said. “There is this kind of secret rule. You don’t go against the will of someone like Freud.”
In time, Omar’s file of paperwork relating to the painting grew thick, becoming—in the eyes of many art-world insiders—a problem in its own right. A New York-based art lawyer told me that he tunes out whenever people start talking about scientific reports relating to disputed art works. “You can tell when something doesn’t feel right,” another dealer said, of similar situations, “when someone so desperately wants something.” The art market can’t stand doubt. Great art should be simple, agreed-upon, and expensive: visceral to the eye and to the wallet. Truth is more important than facts. “The moment the story is elaborated, the boredom sets in,” Bacon once said, of complicated paintings. “The story talks louder than the paint.”
It didn’t help that Omar and Navarro were relative outsiders, with no track record of owning or researching Freud’s work. Some of their attempts to make headway were touching in their naïveté. Navarro called Scotland Yard and the F.B.I., to see if they had copies of Freud’s fingerprints that they would be willing to share. (The authorities declined.) Navarro was offended when experts seemed to skim through a dossier that he had prepared on the painting, or didn’t engage with his Muybridge theory.
One prominent European dealer, who went to see the painting at a private bank in Geneva, told me that he had misgivings as soon as he walked through the door. “I’m not an expert in Freud,” the dealer told me. “But I am an expert in situations.” “Standing Male Nude” was on an easel, next to another work from Omar’s collection, which the dealer believed was a reproduction.
“It was just a farce,” the dealer said. “Everybody was talking about millions of dollars. . . . And I was, like, What are we talking about? We shouldn’t be talking about money when we don’t even know what we have.” According to the dealer, Navarro seemed to think that it was up to the Freud estate to disprove the attribution, rather than up to him to provide any proof that this could be a Freud in the first place. “There was nothing to substantiate anything,” the dealer said. “I’m not doubting the good faith of everyone. But, basically, when you’re outside of the art world, you put the chariot before the cattle. I don’t know how you say it in English, but you do things backwards.”
During the meeting, the dealer called Ordovas, the former Christie’s expert, whom he knew, for her opinion. She told him that Freud had denied the work during his lifetime, which the dealer said was the end of the matter. Navarro told me that he thought the call was staged—a stunt designed to humiliate him and Omar—and he lost his temper. “I was a bit upset,” he said. He reminded the dealer of Obalk’s verdict, the A.I. report, and Eastaugh’s positive pigmentation analysis. “How can you say that? Do you have no respect for those experts? Who are you?” Navarro recalled saying.
The dealer softened and, according to Navarro, acknowledged, “Ça pue de Freud.” “It stinks of Freud.” (The dealer disputes Navarro’s account of the meeting.) But to what end? “Even if it was the case, there’s nothing I can do about it,” the dealer told me. According to Navarro, the dealer offered to send the painting to London again, to other experts that he knew, but there was a risk that it might be destroyed, or disfigured, in the process. “Come on,” Navarro said. “It’s a joke.”
More than a hundred and fifty years after art historians began certifying Old Master paintings (for a fee, of course), the rules for authenticating art works are the same as the rules for the rest of the art market: strict, scholarly, and undermined by human sin.
People talk about three pillars, or a triangle, of authentication: connoisseurship (What does it look like?), technical analysis (What is it made of?), and provenance (Where did it come from?). But in truth every major artist’s output is a fiefdom unto itself, with august gatekeepers and unwritten rules. There is no single authentication process. Some artists’ estates have a committee, made up of scholars and hangers-on, to evaluate possible works. Others have disbanded theirs, in part because of the risk of litigation from rich collectors. (Since 2012, committees for Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring, and Jean-Michel Basquiat have all stopped authenticating works.) Some artists have a single catalogue raisonné—a definitive record of all their work, typically in chronological order—which acts as the reference for their œuvre. Others have none. Modigliani has five, and they are all different.
Money makes everything worse. “You can have good people at the beginning. And then, you know, they begin to be influenced for some reason,” a Swiss lawyer who works in the field told me. At the top end of the market, the power to authenticate a Picasso, a Rothko, a Hepworth, is a lambent, magical thing. Often it comes to rest—by chance or by careful plotting—in the hands of two or three people. Preparing a catalogue raisonné is a project with its own unique rewards, risks, and access to privileged information. Dealers have been known to fund the research, in order to find out who owns an artist’s œuvre. Deciding what to include, and what to leave out, can have huge financial implications. One dealer described the responsibility as a kind of curse.
But the lure of being an authenticator is strong. Since the late nineties, Marc Restellini, a French curator and connoisseur, has been attempting to sort out the Modigliani mess. He began work on a sixth (and presumably final) catalogue raisonné with a research institute in France, funded by the Wildenstein family, the legendary Parisian art dealers.
In 2001, Restellini paused his work on Modigliani’s drawings after receiving death threats. I asked him recently whether the threats had come because he had been willing to include previously unrecognized works (which can drive down prices) or because he had taken out existing Modiglianis. “Out. Out. Out!” Restellini replied. For the past twenty-five years, he explained, his problem has been a catalogue raisonné first published by Ambrogio Ceroni, in 1958. The Ceroni catalogue has come to define the market for Modigliani (the most expensive Modigliani nude sold for a hundred and seventy million dollars) despite containing obvious omissions. Restellini believes that Ceroni also included forgeries and even touched up Modigliani’s paintings himself. (The catalogue’s publisher did not respond to a request for comment.) “The market for me is just mad,” he said. “Because they are in negation of the truth for just private and financial interest.”
It is unclear whether Restellini will ever set the record straight. Since 2020, he has been in litigation with the Wildenstein Plattner Institute over intellectual-property rights relating to the latest catalogue raisonné. Restellini is himself an art-world player. He has been a curator and an entrepreneur, as well as a scholar. He lends his name to a high-end art-analysis laboratory, the Institut Restellini-Investigation, in Geneva. He promised that his Modigliani-paintings catalogue will be published next year. I said that the project sounded like a nightmare. “Not so much,” he replied. “I think I am the nightmare of many people.”
Overturning an artist’s own verdict on a work—during his lifetime or after his death—is a tough move in a tough game. In France, the moral right of an artist to withdraw or deny his work is perpetual, and passed on to his heirs. Discarding art is an aesthetic gesture in itself, the inverse of the creative act. “Cutting up the paintings was always an act of liberation,” Gerhard Richter, the German artist, told the magazine Der Spiegel a few years ago. Richter is thought to have destroyed about sixty works from the early sixties, when he began to paint from photographs, that would now have an estimated value of six hundred million dollars. If an artist detests something he makes, particularly an early work or an experiment that failed, then the market tends to reflect that. “You wouldn’t want to own that, would you?” one dealer said. “If you could buy anything?”
But what about when artists lie, or muddy the waters for their own reasons? “I often paint fakes,” Picasso is said to have said. In the sixties, he was shown a photograph of “La Douleur,” a painting that he supposedly made in 1902 or 1903. Picasso described the work as a “joke by friends,” and it was ignored for decades in a storage room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until it was definitively authenticated in 2010. In 1995, a New York appeals court overruled a judgment that a work by Balthus was a fake just because the artist said it was. At the age of eighty-three, Balthus had signed an affidavit saying that he was not blind and that “Colette de Profil,” a portrait from 1954, was a “faux manifeste.” But the court sided with the work’s former owner and an expert from the Met, who suggested that Balthus was trying to get back at his ex-wife, who had authenticated it in the first place.
Along with the moral and legal hazards, orphaned works are often difficult to identify because they are simply not that good. “It’s slapdash,” Gary Tinterow, a Met curator, told the Times, in 2010, of the authenticated Picasso. Talking to Freud experts, I noticed that even connoisseurs who were extremely disparaging about Omar’s painting often left the door open a tiny crack. “I saw a photo of this a year or two ago and assumed it’s a dud,” James Kirkman, one of Freud’s former dealers, told me in an e-mail. “One is capable of being proved wrong, I suppose,” Feaver said.
One day in February, I stopped by the Bacon estate, which occupies Bacon’s former studio, in Reece Mews, in Kensington. I was looking for evidence that Bacon spent time in Geneva. Until 2016, the Bacon estate had an authentication committee, which was chaired by Martin Harrison, the editor of Bacon’s five-volume catalogue raisonné. (The committee stopped meeting after the catalogue was published.) Like Freud, Bacon destroyed or abandoned hundreds of paintings during his career, many of which then escaped from his control one way or another. (Bacon’s studio was burgled three times; roughly a hundred canvases that had been slashed by Bacon survive.) When genuine works have resurfaced, Harrison has had no choice but to recognize them as such. “If I believe a work to be by Bacon, I have to say it,” he told me. “I wish it weren’t, in many ways. What am I going to do?”
Bacon and Freud scholars maintain a quietly bitchy relationship, and Harrison, who has a mischievous side, took an interest in Omar’s painting. “It doesn’t stop it being a Freud just because it’s not good,” he said. “I wouldn’t dismiss it.” In a recent biography of Bacon, the American art writers Annalyn Swan and Mark Stevens suggested that he made short trips to Switzerland in the seventies, likely to collect money from a Swiss bank account. Harrison invited me to look at one of Bacon’s two passports for the period. I found only a few Swiss border stamps, from Basel, in 1969 and 1976.
Harrison thought that Omar’s painting was competently done. “Some of the Bacons that I had to reproduce were much more negligible than this,” he said. In the room where Bacon used to paint, Sophie Pretorius, who manages the estate’s archive, magnified an image of “Standing Male Nude” on her computer. “I just don’t think the body is right,” she said. “There’s no distortion.” Harrison looked again. “It looks like somebody else,” he agreed. “But who on earth is somebody else?” Harrison said he thought the painting had a thirteen-per-cent chance of being by Lucian Freud. I couldn’t tell if he was teasing.
The perils of the authentication process, and the slim chance of extreme rewards, mean that some quests never end. Eastaugh, the pigmentation expert, told me that he sees it a lot: the bulging file, the flights from one European city to another, the latest invoice for a round of bomb-pulse radiocarbon dating. It’s usually a campaign carried on by men and, when they die, Eastaugh observed, continued by their daughters. At a certain point, it stops being about the painting and becomes a search for deeper, and even more impossible, forms of validation. Owning a work made by a genius induces a feeling of connection—to something pure, and, perhaps, to the purer part of ourselves.
“The obsessive desire to prove parentage is quite a strong psychological state of mind,” Feaver remarked. “Isn’t it?”
Seven years ago, Richard Polsky, a former Warhol dealer, set up his own art-authentication business. He quoted a Talmudic idea to describe an elision of identity that can take place between owners and their unproven masterpieces: “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” (Polsky’s life has also been threatened, over a fake Basquiat). “When you make money, you feel smart. It’s as simple as that,” he told me. “It does sort of justify who you are as a person—‘I’m a smart person, I made a good decision. I saw something others didn’t see.’ ” Uncomfortably, the reverse is also true. Finding out that you didn’t, in fact, buy a priceless art work from a bankruptcy auction can raise troubling questions about whom you imagine yourself to be.
When I first met Omar, over lunch in Geneva, I asked him why he didn’t just try to sell the painting in its disputed state, and let someone else take on the problem. He made it clear that this wasn’t an option. “It is a battle,” he replied.
“I think it’s about personal ego,” Navarro chimed in across the table, indicating a degree of association that now existed between his client and one of the greatest twentieth-century artists. “I think he has a personal feeling, or he wants to prove to himself that he can go over this decision by Freud.”
There is no Freud authentication committee. In 2013, the Freud archive appointed Catherine Lampert, a curator and historian, who knew Freud, and Toby Treves, a former curator of twentieth-century British art at Tate, to write his catalogue raisonné. The first catalogue, of Freud’s prints, was published in the spring. A second catalogue, of about five hundred paintings, will appear next year
In May, I visited Treves at his home, in West London. Although Omar and Navarro had not formally submitted “Standing Male Nude” for the catalogue raisonné, Treves had seen an image of the painting in an article in The Observer, last year. “I don’t need to see it again,” he said. “If we put that painting in a line with all the other paintings that he made from 1939 to 2011, I think pretty much everyone would think, That looks like the odd one out.” The selection for the Freud catalogue raisonné was practically complete. “The criteria is certainty,” Treves explained. “And, if we’re not certain, then that’s it.”
Treves acknowledged Freud’s unpredictable behavior toward attribution during his lifetime. “Freud was an extremely knowing individual,” he said. “And he knows about mythmaking.” But Treves also observed that Freud’s artistic output was well documented. He had the same studio assistant, David Dawson, for the last twenty years of his life. He worked extremely slowly, usually on three portraits at a time, and was fairly static, making almost all his paintings in London. During nine years of research, Treves and Lampert turned up only four small paintings that they previously hadn’t seen, and three belonged to the family of one of Freud’s lovers. “People doing these projects would love to find a new work,” Treves said. “That really is finding a new poem by Keats.” But he added that the chances of discovering a major portrait at this stage were almost nonexistent. “I very much doubt it,” he said. “What you may find is unfinished, abandoned paintings. . . . That’s definitely happened.”
In 1997, the year that Omar bought his nude, a creative director named Jon Lys Turner inherited another painting attributed to Freud which the artist had denied. Turner’s portrait, of a young man in a black cravat, belonged for many years to Denis Wirth-Miller, a bohemian landscape painter. Wirth-Miller and his partner, Richard (Dicky) Chopping, were among Francis Bacon’s closest friends. But they couldn’t stand Freud. Freud called Wirth-Miller Worth-Nothing; Chopping kept a handwritten list of reasons he hated Freud. Turner recalled that Wirth-Miller had left the painting to him with a specific instruction: “I want it sold as loudly as possible to really upset Lucian.”
But it wasn’t as straightforward as that. In 1985, Christie’s had accepted the painting for an upcoming auction, only for Freud to reject the attribution. The reason appeared to be spite. Wirth-Miller and Freud had studied together at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, in Suffolk, during the Second World War, and Wirth-Miller had owned the canvas since then. Like Omar, Turner found the task of overturning Freud’s repudiation virtually impossible. Polite phone calls went nowhere. “They said, ‘O.K., we’ll get back to you,’ ” Turner said. “Tumbleweed.”
As Freud’s fame grew—and his prices rose—Turner’s relationship with the painting became uncomfortably charged. “It’s a lot like going through hell as you go through one recession after another. I used to think to myself, Imagine if this is a Freud,” he said. “Imagine if this is worth lots of money.” Unlike Omar, however, Turner was close enough to the London art market to be sensitive to its unspoken codes. “A lot of people were frightened of him and they weren’t going to go against him,” he said, of Freud. “I am a sole individual who goes into a big auction house. Which side is that auction house going to take?”
In 2015, the producers of a BBC arts program, “Fake or Fortune?,” agreed to investigate Turner’s painting for the show. “I was full of trepidation,” Turner said. “I also knew that, at the end of it, if I did that myself, I will get nowhere.” During filming, Diana Rawstron, Freud’s lawyer, revealed a note from a phone call with Freud, in which he acknowledged starting Turner’s painting. Technical analysis of the canvas, paint, and brushstrokes suggested strongly that the work had been completed by a single hand. In 2019, Treves and Lampert agreed to include Turner’s portrait in the catalogue raisonné, as an unfinished painting.
Three years later, Turner’s Freud remains unsold. He waited for the publicity around the TV show to fade and then offered to use it to endow a scholarship at an art school. But the conversations did not progress. A couple of curators asked to borrow the painting for exhibitions, but, similarly, did not follow through. When we met, Turner did not want to think about why. “I have got no evidence, no evidence for anything, but it is history repeating itself,” he said. He wondered how the painting would be received by Freud’s circle if he put it on the open market. “I’m still the outsider,” Turner said. “Let’s face it. . . . They must hate me, because I did what they didn’t want. I won.”
You carry on, because what else can you do? In November, 2021, Omar and Navarro escalated their campaign, sending “Standing Male Nude” to the laboratory of Marc Restellini, the scourge of the Modigliani market. The Institut Restellini charges up to thirty thousand euros to examine an art work. A specific type of carbon dating that has been recently applied to twentieth-century canvases allows them to be dated to within a couple of years. According to the Institut Restellini, the canvas of Omar’s painting dated from the early fifties, which ruled out a recent forgery. In May, Navarro told me that Omar had unearthed a second witness, based in Italy, who could also attest to Bacon spending time in Geneva in the seventies. “Excellent news are on track and should be confirmed soon,” Navarro texted.
The longing is infectious. One day, I remembered something that Harrison had said, at the Bacon estate. A few years ago, he was sent a group of supposed Bacons, which had originated in Sweden. He came to the conclusion that they weren’t fakes, as such, but had probably been made by an art student in the sixties or seventies, who had fallen under Bacon’s influence; the paintings had later been mistaken for the real thing. I wondered if the same thing might have happened with Omar’s nude. Freud supervised students sporadically throughout his career—at the Slade, in London, and, in the autumn of 1964, at the Norwich School of Art.
I tracked down Roger James Elsgood, a radio producer in his seventies, who was one of five students taught by Freud in Norwich. One morning, in the spring, we met at the Royal Academy of Arts, on Piccadilly. There was a major Bacon show on display, which included “Two Figures”—the masterpiece that had hung in Freud’s bedroom—complete with an image of the Muybridge reference on the wall next to it. Elsgood didn’t think that Omar’s painting could have been done by a student. “It’s a relatively mature work by a very middling figurative painter,” he said. “They were ten a penny.” Then he brought out his phone. He wanted to show me a painting that his wife, Jan, had bought in the late sixties, from Ken Brazier, an artist whom Freud painted in 1957. Elsgood had begun to think that maybe they owned a Freud, too. “Of course, when you start to wonder, you start to think, Well, we’re rich,” he said. He was thinking about looking into it.
The painting was on display in a conference room at Omar’s lawyers’ offices, in the middle of town. It rested on a stand in an alcove. Omar had put the portrait in an elaborate gilt frame, which was distracting. Up close, I was struck by the painting’s tidy correctness. The figure looked away. The patch of impasto on the flank was the artist’s only real flourish. The previous day, I had been to a small show of Freud’s paintings at the Freud Museum, the London home of Sigmund, and all the works there had seemed to possess more complexity, more problems, more life. “Everything is fought over,” Feaver said, of Freud’s work. A home video at the exhibition had showed the artist, in his late teens and wearing a suit, performing somersaults in Sigmund’s garden.
Moreno, the witness who remembered the painting and Francis Bacon from the late seventies, was also at the meeting. He wore a Panama hat, silver reflective sunglasses, and sneakers covered with rhinestones. He said that he first met Bacon at La Garçonnière, a disco bar. Moreno seemed totally plausible as someone who might have partied with Bacon almost fifty years ago. He said that Bacon loved Geneva, because of the anonymity and because it was the place where he first met Sophia Loren. (Her manager confirmed this.) “He saw that people looked at her in the street and no one bothered her,” Moreno told me. “He thought, I can do my private life here.” At the same time, there were gaps, and oddities, in Moreno’s account. He claimed to have owned a Bacon painting, and later sent me a video of “Head,” a Bacon work from 1962, whose recent owner said that the assertion was impossible. Moreno told me that he once had a photograph of Bacon in Geneva, but that it might have been lost in a flood. At one point, for complicated reasons, he showed me a pornographic video on his phone.
The margins of the multibillion-dollar art market are a bewildering place. You are touching immortality, or you are touching nothing at all. A few weeks after the meeting, Omar and Navarro fell out, over Omar’s plans to sell the painting and Navarro’s role in the process. (Neither man wanted to talk about the details, for legal reasons.) In the conference room, there was an intoxicating, disorienting atmosphere. I found myself doubting everything except the fact of the painting resting against the wall. When Navarro started talking about his own forays as an artist, I even had the bizarre thought that maybe he had painted it, or his father, who, as Navarro said, liked to make copies.
Across the table, Omar beamed. “I am proud to say I am the owner of a Freud,” he said. He repeated his offer to the estate, and to the authors of the catalogue raisonné, to come and see “Standing Male Nude” for themselves. “It’s like saying you don’t like an orange,” he said. “And yet you have never tasted one.”
Sotheby’s to sell $70m of art stored at MoMA to
benefit New York museum’s digital initiatives
Francis Bacon triptych and Renoir still life among works from the collection of CBS founder
William S. Paley that have been “under the museum’s stewardship” since his death
BY KABIR JHALA | ART MARKET | NEWS | THE ART NEWSPAPER | 14 SEPTEMBER 2022
Around 30 works from the collection of the late Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) founder William S. Paley, which have been on loan to the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) since his death in 1990, will come to auction this autumn at Sotheby’s sales in London and New York.
Consigned by Paley’s foundation, these works come from an 81-piece-strong trove that was placed under MoMA’s stewardship; Paley served as the museum’s chairman and president during his lifetime. They were loaned with the understanding that both the museum and foundation could determine “how these works could best be used to serve the public and the changing needs of the institution”, according to a MoMA press release that announced the forthcoming sale. Accordingly, much of the sales’ proceeds will go toward establishing an endowment for digital media and technology at MoMA, as well as towards the museum’s “new strategic acquisitions”.
The works carry a combined estimate of $70m to $100m. Top lots offered in New York’s Marquee evening sales on 14 November include Pablo Picasso’s Guitare sur une table (1919), estimated between $20m to $30m and Renoir’s fruity canvas Les Fraises (1905) (est $3m-$4m).
And Sotheby’s contemporary art evening sale on 14 October during Frieze Week in London will be headlined by Francis Bacon’s intimately sized triptych Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, (1963), estimated in excess of £30 million. This is the first time the work has come to market since Paley purchased it from Marlborough Gallery in 1963, according to a Sotheby’s statement. Many of these works were until recently considered “off limits” for selling, Sotheby’s chairman Brooke Lampley tells The Wall Street Journal.
As the works were never officially in the collection of MoMA, but rather under its stewardship, the sale cannot be considered an instance of deaccessioning.
This is the first time that works from Paley Foundation’s collection have been sold since being loaned to the MoMA. Since Paley’s death they have been the subject of two travelling exhibitions. One in 1992, and the other between 2012 to 2014.
Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, (1963)
BY PARK YUNA | INTERVIEW | LIFE & STYLE | THE KOREA HERALD | SEPTEMBER 7, 2022
When Korean contemporary artist Kim Whan-ki’s masterpiece “05-IV-71#200 (Universe)” fetched 13.2 billion won ($9.6 million) as a highlight of the Christie’s autumn auction season in 2019, it became the highest-ever price for a Korean artwork sold at an auction house. The record remains unbeaten.
The record sale has attracted attention to the late artist from home and abroad.
Kim is a pioneer of Korean abstract paintings that feature lines and dots with
colors reminiscent of the ocean around his hometown, located at the southwestern
tip of the Korean Peninsula.
“There are many (Korean) artists of which we have established world records, from Kim Soo-ja to Kim Tschang-yeul. Interestingly, we have seen a fairly high number of records in the past seasons. This season in May in Hong Kong, we broke 35 records of artists in total, of which four are Korean (artists). There is a strong belief in Korean art,” said Francis Belin, president of Christie’s Asia Pacific during an interview with The Korea Herald on Wednesday in Seoul.
“What we bring is the global stage to Korean art. We bring global attention when we put Korean art into our sale, because we put them along other very prominent artists — whether they are modern artists or contemporary artists. This is where we see our contribution to the Korean art market, which is giving it an international platform, not domestic one which is very well-structured and very active,” he said.
Belin arrived in Seoul two weeks ago, ahead of the Frieze Seoul opening on Friday, to showcase the exhibition “Flesh and Soul: Bacon/Ghenie” at Boon the Shop in southern Seoul, which brought together 16 works by Francis Bacon and Adrian Ghenie — works to which Koreans have not been widely exposed.
The three-day exhibition that opened on Saturday went viral on social media and the reservation roster of 1,000 people filled quickly as soon as it opened on Sept. 2. The works in total are worth more than $440 million, according to Christie’s.
“It was the first time that these two artists were put together, and no institutions have done it. The reason why we do this is because a lot of galleries are coming to town, and a lot of things are going to happen here (coinciding with Frieze Seoul),” Belin said. “It is an amazing moment for Seoul, and we wanted to do something very unique. This is also a way to start a conversation with our clients.
Christie’s has been one of the forerunners in the international auction scene in Seoul, opening its office in the capital in 1995. Since its opening, there has been steady development in the South Korean market. Over the past two years, there has been a clear acceleration, and expansion of the office is under consideration, Belin said.
“The Korean market is increasingly important for us. In the past few seasons, we have seen a very strong uptake (of Korean collectors),” he said. “We are constantly looking at our real estate footprint in Seoul.
Young collectors are growing — particularly in the Asian markets, including South Korea. While some people are skeptical of the sustainability of the Hong Kong market, Belin said the art market is still strong and that people need to see the Asian art market as a “growing pie” rather than a “zero-sum game.” Christie’s has signed a 10-year lease for a new Asia Pacific headquarters at The Henderson in Hong Kong, which will open in 2024.
South Korea’s art market has a “strong ecosystem” involved by a variety of stakeholders in the art scene – art institutes for academic aspects and galleries and auction houses on the commercial sides, growing collectors and great artists, he said.
When asked about the recent infighting between local galleries and auction houses in the country, Belin said that tension between the primary and secondary markets could happen in any region, but it should be a “healthy competition,” as they are all intertwined together to create an ecosystem of the art world.
“Galleries are our clients too. They may sell with Christie’s or they may buy with Christie’s. We must respect our clients. It’s really important to create a successful ecosystem of the stake holders, and we are small part of it. Is one more important than the other? No, they are all important,” he said.
Francis Bacon Study for Portrait II 1953
SKARSTEDT GALLERY | NEW YORK R79
DONALD KUSPIT | REVIEWS | ARTFORUM | SEPTEMBER, 2022
Five of the ten portrait paintings in this Francis Bacon exhibition, “Faces & Figures,” were studies, indicating that they may have been works in progress. The artist’s hyperactive, agitated brushstrokes seem to imply that a person’s true essence can never be definitively nailed down. Thus, Bacon (1909–1992) offers us Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (on light ground), 1964, bizarre embryonic renderings of his burglar lover (who committed suicide in 1971), and Three Studies for a Portrait, 1976, a visceral excavation of some unknown soul with disagreeably wormlike lips. The show also included Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing, 1969, a depiction of the famously hedonistic bon vivant, who seems to be morbidly grimacing rather than happily giggling—a rather unflattering picture of a close friend. Also featured were full-body illustrations, such as Seated Woman, 1961, in which a woefully twisted being rests uncomfortably on an ungainly gray thing that appears to be carved from stone, and Figure in Movement, 1972, a portrayal of a man who casts a pitch-black shadow that contrasts irreconcilably with the bright-yellow space of its surroundings. Bacon’s imagery is indebted to film, as he acknowledged, and possesses a certain melodramatic flair. All of these works are masterpieces of their kind; but what was Bacon trying to master?
The artist’s canvases contain only excruciating pain and unrelieved suffering, as the relentless blackness that surrounds many of his figures makes clear. His harshly rendered, grotesquely distorted subjects, often fragmented to the extent of being dehumanized, are monstrous creatures, tormented in hells of their own making. Their bodies and faces are frequently patchworks of conflicting colors and shapes, further marred by streaks of darkness recalling scars and pus-like eruptions of white, the latter of which convey a sickness unto death. The figures are both Manneristically distorted and expressionistically destructive—actors in some bloody theater of the absurd. None of Bacon’s models seem capable of cracking a smile—to do so would go against the grain of their steadfast ugliness. As art historian Stephen Eric Bronner once stated, these faces are “bursting the objective barriers that constrain the subjectivity of the subject,” achieving an objective he claimed was the goal of all expressionistic painting. So I wonder: Does this aspect of Bacon’s work make it existentially authentic? Or, rather, is denying his vulnerable human subjects the “promesse du bonheur,” per Stendhal, a terrible injustice?
“Everywhere and at all times the portrait was a school of objectivity,” wrote art historian Max J. Friedländer—but in modernity it has become a school of subjectivity. All of Bacon’s people convey a sense of what psychoanalyst Erich Fromm felicitously called “vital impotence,” which he said is indicative of “psychical ‘crippledness.’” Bacon’s people are as emotionally incapacitated as Bacon himself was: The man was notorious for his uncontrollable destructiveness, someone whose particular brand of love almost always led to ruin. Psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott noted that the painter’s depictions of his subjects’ faces were “distorted significantly,” arguing that their hideousness indicated the artist’s “painful striving towards being seen,” or the need to be empathetically mirrored, a desire that can persist throughout life. Bacon was a shy child with an effeminate manner, a trait that angered his manic-depressive father, a breeder of horses who had his son whipped by stable hands in his employ. Is Bacon projecting this experience of paternal violence onto his subjects, mercilessly brutalizing them as his father had brutalized him? “The past is never dead,” as William Faulkner said. Perhaps more to the emotional point of the individuals Bacon portrays is that they are all wracked by pain, as he was his entire life—the most broken of souls, lost and isolated.
— Donald Kuspit
Francis Bacon, Figure in Movement, 1972, oil and dry-transfer lettering on canvas, 78 × 58".
Arts & Culture shine in new season on RTÉ
DOCUMENTARIES | ART & CULTURE | RTÉ IRELAND | FRIDAY, 26 AUGUST, 2022
RTÉ’s new season puts Irish culture, creativity and talent centre stage, with a number of major new documentaries from the Arts & Culture team alongside several major stand-alone cultural events and the return of a number of old favourites.The season was launched at an event in Dublin’s RDS, featuring a show-stopping performance from singer Tolü Makay, who features in the forthcoming RTÉ documentary A Note for Nature.
Highlights include fresh takes on the lives of Francis Bacon and Lady Gregory, deep dives into Irish culture, landscape and familial bonds from the likes of Tommy Tiernan, Sebastian Barry and Colm Toibin, new writing from the cream of the nation’s authors and an array of homegrown musical talent across every imaginable genre.
Francis Bacon: The Outsider
A new diary reveals an unrecorded chapter in Francis Bacon’s life. U2’s Adam Clayton, a huge admirer of the artist, retraces a trip Bacon took to Ireland in 1929, with his new friend and diarist, Eric Allden, painting a fresh picture of Bacon’s relationship with the land of his birth.
Adam Clayton hosts The Outsider
Christie’s and HomeArt Bring Seminal Works by
Bacon and Ghenie to Seoul for the First Time
BY KAME HAME | EXHIBITION ANNOUNCEMENTS | WIDEWALLS | AUGUST 20, 2022
Even though artists Francis Bacon and Adrian Ghenie are generations apart, their works possess a haunting similarity. Inspired by the human condition, they are united in the exploration of the deepest, darkest parts of humanity. Each with their own unique style and technique brings to life the raw images that speak about violence, nightmares, and the darkest facets that, for most, are better left in the dark.
This September, Christie’s and HomeArt will highlight the artists’ commonalities and differences in the museum-quality exhibition entitled Flesh and Soul: Bacon/Ghenie at BOONTHESHOP – Cheongdam in Seoul, South Korea. The not-for-auction exhibition will feature the 16 most renowned works by two artists priced at over US$440 million.
Private demons and the angsts of post-war Europe come together in Francis Bacon’s eerie, ghoulish figurative paintings. Inspired by history and his often personal volatile relationships with sitters, the artist has produced images that speak about the primal fear that is in all of us. Standing as a silent and unflinching witness of humanity’s daemons, he created images featuring crucifixes, distorted bodies imprisoned inside claustrophobia – inducing settings, and portraits of howling faces begging for release. About his ultimate goal, Bacon said:
“I would like someday to trap a moment of life in its full violence, its full beauty. That would be the ultimate painting.”
Romanian painter Adrian Ghenie is best known for dark and disturbing images inspired by European history. Over time, what started as an exploration of personal daemons and the unconscious mind has evolved and become a journey into collective and shared traumas. In his work, the artist sheds light on the darker parts of history, such as the eugenics of WWII German physician Josef Mengele, communism, and genocide, in hopes of bringing forth feelings of desire, vulnerability, and frustration.
Flesh and Soul: Bacon/Ghenie will showcase some of the artists’ most iconic motifs side by side and thus bring all similarities and differences into a sharp focus. From Bacon’s Papal Series, Study for Portrait II and Study for a Pope I will be shown alongside Ghenie’s Lidless Eye and The Collector 3.
Papal Series was inspired by the work of Spanish artist Diego Velázquez entitled Portrait of Innocent X., which features the portrait of Pope Innocent X sitting in a throne-like gilded chair. Bacon reinterpreted the stern-faced image into a dramatic, dark, and sinister composition that alludes to the chaotic modern age.
Ghenie’s work Lidless Eye, inspired by Van Gogh’s s Self Portrait (1889), investigates how memories of the past influence the future. The chiaroscuro drips and pours and scraped surfaces come together in the artist’s paintings to create decay and fluidity within a single composition.
The exhibition aims to encourage public dialogue around art and foster cultural exchange. It is one of a kind opportunity to see together works by the two most distinguished artists. Elaine Holt, Deputy Chairman, and International Director, Christie’s Asia Pacific, said:
“Curating their work side-by-side opens a window into the heart of a myriad of themes - love and intimacy, power and oppression, cultural icons, and the tropes of war.”
Exhibition Flesh and Soul: Bacon/Ghenie will be on view BOONTHESHOP – Cheongdam in Seoul from September 3rd until September 5th, 2022.
John L. Eastman, McCartney’s Lawyer in Beatles’ Strife, Dies at 83
An entertainment attorney for high-profile clients, he was central to a battle over control of the Beatles’
business empire in the last days of the band.
BY BEN SISARIO | OBITUARIES | ARTS | MUSIC | THE NEW YORK TIMES | MONDAY, AUGUST 15, 2022
An entertainment attorney for high-profile clients, he was central to a battle over control of the Beatles’ business empire in the last days of the band.
John L. Eastman, a lawyer for musicians and artists whose representation of famous clients like Paul McCartney, Billy Joel and Willem de Kooning made him a force in the entertainment world, and who played a key part in a power struggle over the control of the Beatles’ business in the last days of the band, died on Aug. 10 in East Hampton, N.Y. He was 83.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his son Lee, a partner in their longstanding family firm, Eastman & Eastman in Manhattan.
Mr. Eastman and his father, who was also named Lee, worked with a long roster of big-name clients over the years, including Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Bowie, Elton John and the estates of Tennessee Williams and the painter Francis Bacon. But of all of them, the lawyers were most closely associated with Mr. McCartney, whom Mr. Eastman represented for more than 50 years.
Their connection was both professional and personal. Mr. Eastman was the brother of Linda McCartney, Mr. McCartney’s first wife, and Lee was her father.
The Eastmans became involved in the fight over the Beatles’ business empire in early 1969. Mr. McCartney had hired the Eastmans, father and son, to be his representatives and tried to persuade his three bandmates to put them in charge of the group’s affairs. Despite their enormous success, the Beatles were then on the brink of insolvency.
But John Lennon and the other Beatles had selected another New Yorker to manage the group: Allen Klein, who had worked with Sam Cooke and the Rolling Stones. Mr. Klein had a reputation as a ferocious negotiator and, as Mick Jagger once described him, a “gangster figure” — the opposite of the refined Eastmans, whose townhouse office in Manhattan was lined with museum-quality paintings by de Kooning and others.
The conflict between Mr. Klein and the Eastmans, and the disagreement within the group over those men, would consume the Beatles for years to come, even after their official breakup in 1970.
To break Mr. Klein’s grip over the band, and to secure Mr. McCartney’s independence, Mr. Eastman masterminded a lawsuit, filed in London on Dec. 31, 1970, to dissolve the Beatles’ partnership agreement. As part of their preparations for the case, Mr. Eastman suggested that his brother-in-law wear a suit and tie to court. Mr. McCartney half-complied: He appeared in a suit, but no tie.
The other Beatles responded to the lawsuit in frustration. “I still cannot understand why Paul acted as he did,” George Harrison said in an affidavit. In March 1971, the judge ruled in Mr. McCartney’s favor, appointing a receiver for the Beatles’ business interests until the dissolution of their partnership could be negotiated, which came several years later.
Early in their work with Mr. McCartney, the Eastmans helped him set up what would become MPL Communications, his entertainment company. It owns many valuable copyrights, including the music publishing rights to songs by Buddy Holly, Fats Waller and Carl Perkins and from hit Broadway shows like “Annie” and “Grease.”
With the Eastmans’ guidance, Mr. McCartney also acquired ownership of all of his recordings and songwriting rights since the breakup of the Beatles. Lee Eastman died in 1991, and Linda McCartney died in 1998.
In 2017, Mr. Eastman steered a lawsuit by Mr. McCartney against Sony/ATV, the music publisher (now known as Sony Music Publishing), to regain his share of the United States copyrights in Beatles songs that he wrote with Mr. Lennon, citing an amendment to federal law that allows creators to recapture those rights after set periods. The case was settled; the terms were not disclosed, but Mr. McCartney has been registering the American ownership of those rights under MPL
“John was a great man,” Mr. McCartney wrote on Twitter last week, along with a photo of him with Mr. Eastman in yoga poses. “Not only did he help me massively in my business dealings as my lawyer but as a friend he was hard to beat.”
John Lindner Eastman was born on July 10, 1939, in Manhattan, and grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y., the eldest of four children of Lee and Louise Lindner Eastman. His mother had inherited a fortune from the Lindner department store in Cleveland.
His father, who had changed his name from Leopold Epstein, set up a successful legal practice representing high-profile musicians, artists and writers, among them the bandleader Tommy Dorsey and the songwriters Harold Arlen and Hal David.
John Eastman graduated from Stanford University in 1961 and from the New York University School of Law in 1964. The next year, after briefly working in the office of the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, he and his father set up Eastman & Eastman.
They developed a specialty in working with pop musicians whose business had suffered under previous representatives. Aside from Mr. McCartney, they were best known for working with Mr. Joel in the late 1980s and early ’90s, when he sued his former manager and lawyer. The case was settled, and the Eastmans helped Mr. Joel rebuild his business
“He was fierce when it came to protecting artists’ rights,” Mr. Joel said in a statement to The New York Times, “and I credit him with whatever longevity I have achieved in my career.”
Mr. Eastman served on the boards of a number of prominent organizations, including the American Museum of Natural History, and two music groups, the National Music Publishers’ Association and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, known as ASCAP.
In addition to his son Lee, he is survived by his wife, Josephine; another son, Jay; a daughter, Louise; two sisters, Louise Weed and Laura Malcolm; and 11 grandchildren.
Francis Bacon to be celebrated at Heritage
Arts Festival in Laois town this week
BY EXPRESS REPORTER | LAOIS LIVE | LOCAL NEWS | LEINSTER EXPRESS | SUNDAY, 7 AUGUST, 2022
The life of internationally renowned Irish artist Francis Bacon is being celebrated in Abbeyleix next week.
The Abbeyleix Heritage Arts Festival will run from August 12 to 14 with a marvellous line-up of music, exhibitions, workshops, and much more centred around the life and times of Bacon.
Francis Bacon was born in a nursing home at 63 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin on the 28th October 1909. He was the second of five children born to English parents who had recently settled in Ireland, but had no Irish blood ties. His father Anthony Edward ‘Eddy’ Mortimer Bacon, was a retired Army Major. His mother was Christian Winifred Loxley.
The Bacon family moved between various country houses in counties Laois and Kildare and, for shorter stays, to England. As his home life was chilly and fraught with his father, Bacon developed a close relationship with his maternal grandmother, Winifred Margaret Supple who disliked Bacon’s father.
Her house near Abbeyleix contained bow-ended rooms that would be echoed in the backdrops of Bacon’s paintings as a result of living with her for sometime — hence his love affair with Laois began, seen through his expressionism and surrealism influenced art.
Festival organiser Andy Ring said, “Bacon was an Irish-born British figurative painter known for his raw, unsettling imagery but he developed deep regard and fondness for Laois as his grandmother Winifred Supple lived here. She and the county became an ongoing influence in his life until his death in 1992 in Spain.
“The Festival organisers decided the time was long overdue to celebrate Bacon’s life and his times here in Laois along with that of one of the most famous sculptors, Launt Thompson.
“Many of his works are now housed in the Smithsonian American Museum of Art in Washington DC.”
The sculptor left Abbeyleix as a teenager during the Famine with his widowed mother and became one of the United States’ most sought after sculptors. They settled in the Albany, New York area. Thompson was one of the most important post-Civil War sculptors in America, who exhibited in France and Italy who died in obscurity and was buried in an unmarked grave until recently.
Music over the three day festival will be held in Morrissey’s Pub and includes the bands Beats Working, Abbeyfolk, Revelation and Brian Kileen.
All proceeds from the Festival go to Laois Down Syndrome Laois — Abbeyleix Field of Dreams. It is kindly sponsored by Morrissey’s Pub in Abbeyleix, one of the oldest and most iconic pubs in Ireland which has been in existence since 1775. All artists have been asked to give 25 per cent of everything they sell to charity.
Mr Ring added, “While we want to celebrate Bacon’s and Launt’s links to Abbeyleix we want to also champion those in our community who live with intellectual difficulties and that is why all funds from the Festival will be donated to Laois Down Syndrome and their project Field of Dreams.”
The charity’s goal is to establish an Employment Training Centre of Excellence called the Laois Field of Dreams in Abbeyleix. They aim to continue their cradle to grave philosophy and help complete the life cycle of those who live with an intellectual difficulty.
The charity has secured four acres of land from Laois County Council and are currently drawing up plans to develop the site to accommodate members with an intellectual difficulty in the county. The planned service aims to get those helped by the charity to have less reliance on Day Services and move them into the community in a very practical way through inclusion and integration into society and the community.
Denis Wirth-Miller show to launch at Firstsite Colchester
BY LEWIS ADAMS | NEWS | DAILY GAZETTE | COLCHESTER GAZETTE | THURSDAY, 4 AUGUST, 2022
A MAJOR new exhibition will revisit the work of a Colchester artist whose work was once acquired by the Queen. Before his death in Colchester aged 94, Denis Wirth-Miller’s art had been shown in London’s leading galleries and owned by the Her Majesty.
The self-taught painter was both a friend and collaborator with famed artist Francis Bacon, but following an explosive disagreement with Bacon, Wirth-Miller ended his career in painting in 1977. Now, in the largest retrospective of his work to date, Firstsite, in Lewis Gardens, Colchester, will display more than one hundred paintings by the influential artist.
The exhibition is curated by the renowned writer and curator James Birch, who has secured key loans from a variety of sources to give visitors a chance to view pieces never before been seen in public.
Many artworks are from private collections, including more than 70 never shown and important artworks from Jon Lys Turner, the holder of Denis and Dickie’s personal archive and author of their biography, The Visitors’ Book.
Wirth-Miller was born in 1915 in Folkestone, Kent but, having met his partner-to-be Richard Chopping in London, he would later move to Wivenhoe in 2005. The couple became the first in Colchester to solemnify their relationship with a civil partnership in December of that year.
“It’s a great honour to be able to draw attention to an often overlooked and talented artist who loved and depicted this area with such vibrancy,” said Firstsite director Sally Shaw. “The show will examine how Wirth-Miller and Bacon collaborated together.
“This can been seen in the style and techniques used in some artworks –showing how powerful it can be when people are creative together.” While living in Wivenhoe simultaneously, Wirth-Miller and Bacon would share a studio and often contributed to each other’s work, however, theirs was a tempestuous relationship.
After his 1977 exhibition, following a public spat with Bacon, Denis destroyed his own pictures and virtually gave up painting. James Birch added: “[Denis’] work captures the magic of this country’s landscapes, especially the Essex marshes and fields, and deserves to be much more well-known in its own right”.
Francis Bacon, Reinhard Hassert and Denis Wirth-Miller in Paris, November 1983
The well of happiness – and despair:
The town in the 1950s was a crucible of gay artistic life, as painters,
sculptors, playwrights and actors flocked
WRITTEN BY PETER PARKER | BOOK REVIEWS | THE SPECTATOR MAGAZINE | 23 JULY 2022
In the winter of 1952 the 21-year-old sculptor John Milne travelled to St Ives in Cornwall to take up a temporary job as an assistant to Barbara Hepworth. The arrangement was that he would become her pupil in exchange for helping her in the studio, but he was subsequently paid a small salary and ended up staying in her employ for two years. By this time, Milne had decided to settle in the town, which had become a thriving modernist artists’ colony, and in 1956 he acquired Trewyn House, a three-storey Victorian property next door to Hepworth’s studio. The reason a working-class boy from Eccles could afford so substantial a house was that it had in fact been bought for him by Cosmo Rodewald, a very wealthy American-born academic 16 years his senior who was also a collector of contemporary art. The two men had met and become lovers in 1951, and although Rodewald found the man who would become his life partner some four years later, he remained Milne’s close friend and patron.
Milne decided to run Trewyn as ‘a guesthouse for painters, sculptors, and people generally connected with the arts’, and visitors included Francis Bacon, Patrick Procktor, Keith Vaughan, Noël Coward, John Schlesinger and Lindsay Anderson. Some were merely holidaymakers, but despite finding the town ‘a stronghold of really dreary abstract stuff’ and having a tooth knocked out by his boyfriend during an altercation with locals outside the Sloop Inn, Bacon rented a studio in St Ives and produced 13 paintings while there. A woman brought up in the town later recalled that it wasn’t until she moved to London that she realised homosexuality was not universally accepted.
Another regular visitor was a flamboyant young layabout called Julian Nixon, who helped run the guesthouse, becoming a talented cook ‘of the Fanny Cradock type’. Nixon joins Milne and Hepworth as the third principal player in Ian Massey’s beguiling account of what Tatler in 1958 dubbed ‘Le Quartier St Ives’. Four years earlier, Nixon had been one of a group of 15 men found guilty of ‘gross indecency’ in a notorious trial at the Somerset Assizes, but he had escaped a prison sentence, being instead bound over on condition he spent 12 months in a psychiatric hospital.
The ‘treatment’ he received proved unavailing, and after his release he took up with a succession of older men, notably Richard Blake Brown, a dandified clergyman and the prolific author of such novels as Bright Glades, My Aunt in Pink and A Broth of a Boy. It was because of this last book that Brown nicknamed the wayward Nixon ‘Brothy’, and in spite of severe provocation he remained devoted to him. Nixon left St Ives in 1965, heavily in debt, but reappeared in Milne’s life five years later when he attempted to take him to court, claiming damages of £10,000 for the ‘alienation of affection’ of a young man the sculptor had employed as a gardener.
Meanwhile, Milne had continued to pursue his vocation, but turned in the mid-1960s from carving to casting and produced many drawings. He had been advised to use drawing as a way of dealing with his frequent nightmares while undergoing Jungian therapy as a teenager, and this became a lifetime’s practice. These drawings, Massey observes, were ‘abstract expressions of his inner life that, in contrast to the formal containment and smooth surfaces of much of his mature sculpture, read as maps of his state of mind’. Hepworth remained a major influence, but whereas her work had a strong connection to Britain’s ancient landscape, Milne became more inspired by the mountainous terrains of Greece, Morocco and Iran. He was attracted particularly to the architecture, the traces of ancient civilisations and the willing young men he encountered, and the extracts from his travel diaries reproduced here are exceptionally fine.
Although their relationship was not always an easy one, Milne was devastated when Hepworth died in a fire in 1975, an event that exacerbated his regular bouts of suicidal depression and insomnia. At the same time, he was achieving his greatest success as a sculptor, with major exhibitions in Britain, America and Ireland. Having visited St Ives in late autumn, however, Massey finds it ‘easy then to imagine how one might turn in on oneself, depression seeping in like a sea fog, so that you gradually lose your bearings’, and Milne died the day after his 47th birthday from an accidental overdose of barbiturates.
Massey skilfully describes the physicality of Milne’s sculptures, mere photographs of which do not convey their volume or the experience of walking round them. He also provides an illuminating account of the queer and artistic circles in which Milne had moved in Manchester before coming to St Ives. This is an absorbing and extremely well written book, and it sheds new and welcome light both on Milne and the celebrated town in which he lived and worked.
Queer St Ives and Other Stories Ian Massey Ridinghouse, pp. 256, £30
For sale: Francis Bacon’s former home
where he painted George Dyer
Five bedroom house comes with a piece of Britain’s artistic history
BY MARIA BASTAN-SARABI | PROPERTY | THE DAILY TELEGRAPH | MONDAY, 11 JULY, 2022
There are conflicting accounts of how Francis Bacon met George Dyer, his artistic muse. The most captivating story is that Dyer, known as a criminal from East London, attempted to burgle Bacon’s Reece Mews home in 1963. According to The Irish Times, Bacon told Dyer he could take whatever he wanted if he took his clothes off and came into his bed.
Although this may be urban legend, Bacon continued to paint Dyer in his small studio at Reece Mews. Bacon’s London home serves as the location where he crafted his most famous works as he reported “I feel at home here in this chaos because the chaos suggests images to me”. Francis Bacon’s artwork is known for its abstract and ominous flare, a vision that he enabled through the griminess of London.
Surprisingly however, Bacon swapped his Reece Mews home for the quieter Horsemoor Studio in 1964, a house located in Chieveley, Berkshire and known now as Courthill. Bacon found his Chieveley home through an advertisement James Page-Roberts, the previous owner, placed in The Daily Telegraph. Although he experienced less robbery in his country home, his artistic passion withered.
In The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, Daniel Farson notes the artist’s reaction to his new home, remarking, “I thought I’d be able to do some work there, but I’ve discovered that the light is entirely wrong. The studio’s facing the wrong way”.
Although the studio was rebuilt by Page-Roberts, the glass walls and marble floor failed to suit Bacon’s grungy and dark aesthetic. He continued to derive artistic inspiration from Dyer, with Page-Roberts recalling in his blog an instance when Dyer draped himself on the studio platform in a “languid, greased-hair pose”.
Page-Roberts progresses by writing how he would occasionally see a Bacon painting of Dyer and notice that it had been created when Dyer would “recline in the corner” of the studio. Bacon and Dyer therefore spent much time together in Chieveley with photographs taken of the two sitting outside the property.
After undergoing extensive refurbishment, remodelling, and enlargement, Courthill is now on the market with Carter Jonas for £1,000,000. At 2,540 sq ft, the house includes five bedrooms, a bespoke fitted kitchen, and a south facing garden which looks onto open farmland.
Edward Westmacott, of Carter Jonas Newbury, comments that “this exquisite house would suit a family, or a buyer who is particularly architecturally inclined and is keen to own a part of Britain’s artistic history”.
Courthill serves as a spacious family property and tells a story of art.
Francis Bacon (right) and George Dyer on the Orient Express in 1964
Francis Bacon friend hits out at Tate for returning archive
BY ROBBIE GRIFFITHS | LONDONER’S DIARY | NEWS | EVENING STANDARD | MONDAY, 6 JULY, 2022
A FRIEND of artist Francis Bacon, who had a Bacon archive once valued at £20 million returned by The Tate last month over fears it is fake, has hit out at the gallery.
Barry Joule claims an archive of hundreds of sketches and clippings were given to him by his former friend Bacon just before the artist’s death in 1992. Joule donated the archive to the Tate in 2003, but the gallery struggled to verify it, saying last month it had “credible doubts” over its veracity. The Francis Bacon estate has also queried the items
Joule told The Art Newspaper criticisms of him were “fake news... filled with omissions and glaring inaccuracies”, saying it was his legal demand which led to the return of the works. Joule claims to be giving the archive to the Centre Pompidou in Paris, though the French gallery say they have not been in contact with him.
A $23.8 M. Francis Bacon Painting Has
Become a Political Football in the U.K.
BY FRANCESCA ATON | NEWS | ART NEWS | EST. 1902 | TUESDAY, JULY 5, 2022
A painting by British artist Francis Bacon worth £20 million ($23.8 million) has become the center of a political battle in Leicester, England, after a Liberal-Democrat politician decried the city’s Labour-controlled Council’s keeping the work in basement storage, the BBC reported Sunday.
Bacon’s Lying Figure No. 1 (1959) had been on view at the Leicester Museum and Art Gallery until recently. The City Council, which owns the artwork, cited space limitations as the reason for its removal.
“I’m sure a lot of people would visit Leicester just to come and look at it. It must be the most valuable painting we have got in the museum,” said Liberal Democrat councillor Nigel Porter. “Rather than having this £20m painting stuck in some basement, what harm would there be to put it on display and have it back where it was?” he questioned.
“We have an astonishingly large collection of very important artwork,” Leicester’s mayor Peter Soulsby responded. “It is inevitably the case that, compared to the scale of the collection, we have a limited amount of wall space on which to hang them.” Furthermore, Soulsby explained, Lying Figure No. 1 “will be safely in storage and will be on display in rotation as time passes.”
The sizable oil painting depicts a blurred curvaceous figure at the center lying upside down on what appears to be a green couch, feet propped against a blue wall. The City purchased it in 1960 with the assistance of the Museums and Galleries Commission and a Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund.
Since the artist’s death in 1992, Bacon’s works have fetched high prices at auction. Just last week, his Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud (1964) sold at Sotheby’s for £43 million ($52 million). Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) still holds the record, however, at $127 million, from a 2014 sale at Christie’s.
This news comes on the heels of a decision made earlier last month by the U.K.’s Tate Museum to return a donated archive of Bacon works to its owner Barry Joule, a former neighbour of the late artist. The collection, which has been under the museum’s examination since 2004, included 800 magazine and newspaper clippings, 39 photographs of Bacon and his friends, other ephemera, and an “X Album” of overpainted sketches.
Tate made the news public on June 8, The Art Newspaper reported in a statement, explaining that the archive had been “researched by art historians, and this research has raised credible doubts about the nature and quality of the material,” adding that the “material does not lend itself to any significant exhibition, and any potential it held to improve the public’s understanding of Bacon’s art has been exhausted. It has therefore been considered unsuitable for retention in Tate Archive. In the first instance, it has been offered back to the donor, in line with the donor’s wishes.”
‘Tate capitulated to my legal demand’: donor of disputed Francis Bacon
archive responds to museum’s return of collection
Barry Joule disputes gallery’s claim that trove of sketches and documents,
which he donated, was “unsuitable for retention”
MARTIN BAILEY | LATEST NEWS | NEWS | THE ART NEWSPAPER | MONDAY, 4 JULY, 2022
Barry Joule, who donated his Francis Bacon archive to the Tate, tells The Art Newspaper that its decision in June to return a thousand items was at his insistence. “Tate capitulated to my legal demand,” he says.
On 8 June we revealed the Tate’s decision to return the archive to Joule, the friend of Bacon who had donated it. Joule has subsequently provided The Art Newspaper with a lengthy and detailed response to the Tate announcement.
In January his lawyers, Collyer Bristow, had demanded “the return to Joule of the entire donated archive whilst highlighting the non-fulfilment of the Tate/Joule contract”. Joule says that he had “long suspected they [Tate] wanted to hang onto it forever, lingering in their basement vaults, and for me to shut up and go far away”.
The Tate’s 8 June statement said that the Joule donation had been “researched by art historians, and this research has raised credible doubts about the nature and quality of the material”.
The Tate statement added: “The material does not lend itself to any significant exhibition, and any potential it held to improve the public’s understanding of Bacon’s art has been exhausted. It has therefore been considered unsuitable for retention in Tate Archive. In the first instance, it has been offered back to the donor, in line with the donor’s wishes.”
It is most unusual for the Tate to deaccession works, or archives, and this decision needed to be approved by the gallery trustees.
In his response, Joule explains that he had acquired around a thousand documents and sketches, which he is convinced are from the hand of Francis Bacon. Joule, a neighbour of Bacon’s, had known him since 1978. He would do occasional odd jobs for the artist and became a friend.
Joule’s collection donated to the Tate included 800 magazine and newspaper cuttings, some bearing pencil and pen marks and daubs of paint. There were also 39 photographs of Bacon and his friends, books and other documents. Finally, there was the so-called “X Album” of overpainted sketches, which the Tate now describes as “of unknown authorship”. Joule has always vigorously defended the authenticity of all the items...
The collection was apparently given by Bacon to Joule at his Reece Mews studio in London on 18 April 1992, ten days before the artist’s death. Joule cites a witness who recorded seeing the artist help load up his car with the papers
Joule handed over the archive to the Tate for examination in early 2003. A contract donating the archive was subsequently signed on 15 January 2004, with no requests for payment or tax concessions.
At the time of the donation the papers were described as probably the Tate Archive’s most important acquisition ever. Press reports suggested that it might be valued at up to £20m, although the source of this figure is now unclear.
The 2004 press announcement stated that “Tate will undertake to study, photograph and catalogue the collection over the next three years, before displaying these items and making them available for loan”.
Joule says that, despite the promise of an exhibition, this never occurred in what is now more than 18 years. Disappointingly, the archive was not digitised and posted online, although he says he had offered to fund this. Joule blames the Bacon Estate. “Over the years they have continually exerted their considerable influence on the Tate to make certain the archive was never exhibited,” he says.
In June last year the Francis Bacon Estate, set up by the artist to administer his inheritance, published an analysis of the Joule archive by their archivist, Sophie Pretorius. Her essay was included in the estate’s publication Francis Bacon: Shadows. The Tate’s private letter to Joule, informing him that the archive would be returned, relied heavily on the Pretorius research.
“Fake news, cheap shots”
Joule is dismissive of the essay. He describes it as “fake news, peppered with cheap shots and slurs at myself, filled with omissions and glaring inaccuracies”. Joule points out that Pretorius failed to contact him for any information while she was working on his archive.
Details are disputed. Pretorius writes that Bacon never used charcoal, which appears in some of the items in the Joule archive. Joule disagrees, pointing out that he was in Bacon’s studio on numerous occasions, whereas she was not.
Joule also stresses that his archive has been exhibited at major museums, including the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, the Barbican Art Gallery in London, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Musée Picasso in Paris, the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul de Vence and, most recently, the Shoto Museum of Art in Tokyo.
The Barbican catalogue was published with support from the late David Bowie. Joule says that Bowie was deeply involved with its production, “even insisting on the disturbing transformation image for the cover”.
In April this year Joule told The Observer that he has now cancelled plans to give the Tate hundreds more items that he had saved from Bacon’s studio. He lives in France and instead intends to offer them to the archives of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. “The Tate and Britain will be missing out on part of the nation’s art history of one of their most important painters. I turn my back on the Tate forever.”
A spokesperson for the Centre Pompidou says that it “hasn’t had any contact with Barry Joule in this matter and we only learnt about it through the press”.
The Francis Bacon Estate comments: “Many specialists from within the Estate and without have studied the material, coming to the conclusion that the material does not bear any substantial evidence of Bacon’s hand.”
Reece Mews in South Kensington, London, where the artist lived and worked for 30 years
Leicester owns famous Francis Bacon painting worth £20m
— but you can’t look at it
‘It must be the most valuable painting we have got in the museum’
BY HANNAH RICHARDSON | LEICESTER NEWS | NEWS | LEICESTER MERCURY | SATURDAY, 2 JULY, 2022
A painting by Francis Bacon claimed to be the most valuable in Leicester’s collection is in storage and unable to be enjoyed by members of the public Leicester City Council owns the work of art titled Lying Figure No1, which is thought to be worth around £20 million.
But the piece, which dates back to 1959, is not currently on display. It would formerly housed at the top of the stairs in the New Walk Lricester Museum and Art Gallery.
Liberal Democrat councillor for Aylestone ward, Nigel Porter, questioned why such a valuable work of art was ‘sitting in a basement somewhere’ at a scrutiny meeting this week. “I think a lot of people would like to see it,” he said.
“It’s a very valuable, very important painting and I’m sure a lot of people would visit Leicester just to come and look at it. It must be the most valuable painting we have got in the museum.
“Rather than having this £20 million painting stuck in some basement, what harm would there be to put it on display and have it back where it was?”
Bacon died in 1992 and his works have been selling for huge sums. In 2013 his Three Studies of Lucien Freud sold for a record $142.4m in New York. Another piece of his called Seated Figure sold for $40m in 2014.
However, city mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, said the council has many valuable paintings in its collection and cannot have them all on display at the same time. “Down to the generosity of previous generations, we have an astonishingly large collection of very important artwork,” he said.
“It is inevitably the case that, compared to the scale of the collection, we have a limited amount of wall space on which to hang them.
“If it is the case that the Bacon is not in display at the moment, I can assure [Councillor Porter] that is will be safely in storage and will be on display in rotation as time passes,” he added.
Francis Bacon. Lying Figure No I. Oil on Canvas. Leicestershire Museums
Sotheby’s sales in London fall short —
though Francis Bacon brings in £43.4m
Bidding was strong for red-chip artists, but the air is much thinner at the top of the market
DANIEL CASSADY | ART MARKET | NEWS | THE ART NEWSPAPER | THURSDAY, 30 JUNE, 2022
Sotheby’s Modern and contemporary art sale yesterday was a study of extremes, but ultimately fell short of its estimate of £70m-£101m, bringing in a lacklustre £64m (£76.8m with fees).
At times there were bidders almost jumping out of their seats and experts wildly gesticulating while whispering into their phones and holding out shaky hands to try and get another bid in. At other times, especially during the latter half of the sale, many of the experts who were manning the phones looked slightly bored, their heads down, texting, chatting to each other or casually flipping through what was presumably the printed catalogue.
That does not mean there was no excitement. The sale started off at a gallop, with the first five lots spurring fast-paced bidding from the phones, the floor and online. Michel Majerus’s new comer (2000) opened the sale and sparked a snappy bidding battle between specialists Bame March and James Sevier, with some added competition from the floor. The picture sold for £190,000 (£239,400 with fees) against a £150,000 high estimate to the bidder on the phone with Sevier. Next was golden lion winner Simone Leigh’s Blue/Black (2014), a terracotta and porcelain bust that looks both ancient and futuristic. The sculpture sold for well above its high estimate of £300,000, hammering at £490,000 (£617,400 with fees), after a lengthy battle between David Galperin, Julian Gascoigne, Gregoire Billault and Oliver Barker, who worked in the trenches while Helena Newman took command of the rostrum.
Gagosian’s new recruit Anna Weyant’s elegant still life Buffet (2020) came next and within a minute or two doubled its high estimate of £150,000. An absentee bidder swatted away the competition at first with what turned out to be a £200,000 bid, but the pressure kept coming, as did the bids. The picture ultimately hammered at £370,000 (£466,200 with fees). The fourth lot, René Magritte’s eerie La Saveur des larmes (1938 or 1939) was the first lot to break £1m, but also foreshadowed the latter half of the sale when the excitement had dissipated in the room. The picture hammered at £1.3m (£1.6 with fees). Bidding was slow and felt conspicuously drawn out for Study for Clouds (Contre-jour) (1970), an ethereal picture populated with translucent clouds by Gerhard Richter. With an estimate of £6m-£8m, the canvas eventually hammered at £8.4m (£11.2m with fees) to a bidder in the room.
Andy Warhol’s Self Portrait (1986) was one of the most impressive lots but did not bring in as much as expected. The estimate was £12m-£18m and it barely sold after a round of bidding that was over almost as soon as it began. Newman opened the bidding at £10m, and the picture hammered at £11m (£12.7m with fees).
Still, more than 50% of the of the works sold above the high estimate. But the pace that introduced the sale, almost exclusively for the red-chip artists that have been commanding the market for the past couple of years, proved to be unsustainable. Indeed, for a sale that had more than 40 lots, only nine went unsold—but six of those were among the last 12 lots, among them Andreas Gursky’s Chicago, Board of Trade III (1999-2009), Camille Pissarro’s charming Statue d’Henri IV et hôtel de la Monnaie, matin ensoleillé (1901) and Eugène Boudin’s Trouville, l’heure du bain (1881).
Meanwhile, the preceding Jubilee Auction of British art brought in £61m (£72.3m with fees), again noticeably short of the £73m-£99.9m estimate. Here, a 1964 portrait of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon accounted for more than half of the sale’s value, achieving £43.4m with fees.
In total, Sotheby’s made £125m (£149.1m with premium), falling below the low end of its combined pre-sale estimate of £143m-£201m. The market could yet be headed for a correction.
Francis Bacon portrait of Lucian Freud sells for £43 million
BY ROBERT DEX | UK NEWS | THE EVENING STANDARD | LONDON | WEDNESDAY, 29 JUNE, 2022
A Francis Bacon painting of Lucian Freud has sold for a record-breaking £43.4 million at auction The work, Study For Portrait Of Lucian Freud, had not been seen in public for almost 60 years and was owned by the same person - described by Sotheby’s as a “distinguished European collector” for four decades.
It was originally estimated to make £35 million before it went under the hammer at the auction house. The artwork was painted by Bacon in 1964 and based on a photograph of his contemporary and great friend Freud, taken in the same year by their mutual friend John Deakin.
It was last seen on display in 1965 when it was on show as the central panel of a large-scale triptych as part of a travelling exhibition to Hamburg and Stockholm. The piece was also displayed on its own in Dublin in the same year.
Bacon separated the three individual works of the triptych shortly after they were created, with the left-hand panel in a private collection and the right-hand piece belonging to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Bacon and Freud had been friends for 20 year prior to Bacon’s creation of Study For Portrait Of Lucian Freud and shared a friendship for over 40 years, before relations soured and the relationship ended in the mid-1980s
Both artists painted each other on numerous occasions, with Freud often painting from real-life and Bacon preferring to work from photographs.
In the instance of Study For Portrait Of Lucian Freud, Bacon used an image of Freud sitting on a bed with his arms outstretched, fists clenched and white sleeves rolled up above the elbows. The black and white photographs taken by photographer Deakin became Bacon’s primary source material as he painted Freud obsessively in the 1960s.
Bacon kept the photographs with him for the rest of his life, and they were rediscovered torn, crumpled and splattered with paint in his studio following his death in 1992, Sotheby’s said. Ahead of the portrait’s sale, senior director of contemporary art at Sotheby’s, Tom Eddison, described the work as being “executed with painterly bravura at the height of Bacon’s acclaim”.
Velázquez’s Pope eclipses Bacon’s ‘silly’ screamers
A firsthand encounter with the Spanish artist’s portrait of Pope Innocent X
in Rome puts the later interpretations in perspective
BEN LUKE | COMMENT | LATEST | THE ART NEWSPAPER | THURSDAY, 23 JUNE, 2022
Recently, I was about to see a painting by a favourite artist that I had never viewed in the flesh—the Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650) by Diego Velázquez in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome. Yet amid my excitement was a hint of trepidation. Two things provoked it. First, the fear of disappointment. Just before my visit, the artist Mark Leckey had confided in our A brush with… podcast how he had journeyed to view Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling but found that he “couldn’t see it”. He said: “I made this pilgrimage. And then it was denied by the crowds and everything else. It was just horrible.”
I had been so bewitched by Velázquez’s painting in reproduction, so expectant of its mastery, that I couldn’t help but worry that it might not live up to the magnificence I’d already projected onto it. At least, at the mercifully quiet Galleria Doria Pamphilj, there are none of the stifling hordes that contributed to Leckey’s disillusionment in the Vatican Museums.
But then there was a different claustrophobia surrounding the Velázquez: Francis Bacon’s interpretations of it, many of which I had seen up close. There are around 50 Bacon Popes, made from the 1940s to the 1960s, which, according to Gilles Deleuze “hystericised all the elements of Velázquez’s painting” by portraying the pontiff in various stages of scream. After Bacon’s shrill horror, is it possible to innocently see Innocent X?
Bacon himself never saw Velázquez’s masterpiece, even though he visited Rome in 1954, at the height of his engagement with it. Would confronting it have affected his capacity to reinvent it? He avoided making portraits from life, because, as he said, “I don’t want to practice before them the injury that I do to them in my work.” Whatever, as Deleuze tells us, Bacon always expressed “his doubt and discontent” when he discussed them.
Now, more than ever, I can see why. Perhaps no one described the power of Velázquez’s paintings better than Bacon when he said: “In each of his portraits you find the life and the death of his characters.” What I hadn’t expected, something visible perhaps only in the flesh, is the tenderness in Velázquez’s handling—even if it’s unflinching, it’s also empathetic, one of Velázquez’s greatest qualities.
You also feel a little-discussed delight—a relish in the depiction of Innocent’s ruddiness, perhaps after so many sessions with the pallid Habsburgs in the austere gloom of the Spanish court. Most powerfully, more even than in Las Meninas (1656), I felt Velázquez’s presence in the picture—while he observes the most powerful man in the world, he is being observed, and so, too, are we.
The multitudes contained in Velázquez’s canvas make Bacon’s interpretations seem almost “silly”, as he himself described them. So magnificent is the Spaniard’s painting that those screams fade to whimpers.
Despite his recreations of it (left), Francis Bacon never saw Velázquez’s masterpiece (right)—even though he visited Rome in 1954
Poisonous feud between the artists who painted the town red:
Behind the £35m sale of an iconic portrait lies the colourful tale of how
Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud — once so close many thought them
lovers — fell into spiteful rivalry, writes Richard Kay
Francis Bacon became ‘bitter and bitchy’ towards his one-time protégé Freud
RICHARD KAY | LATEST HEADLINES | NEWS | THE DAILY MAIL | MONDAY, 20 JUNE, 2022
Like all good feuds, theirs began in a blizzard of mutual admiration — passion, even — that led some in London’s bohemian circles to wonder if there was a frisson of romance to their friendship.
But it was art, not sex, that drew Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon to one another. Bacon, thrown out of the family home when his father found him wearing his mother’s clothes, was childless and gay; while Freud, who acknowledged 14 children but may have fathered as many as 40, was an ardent pursuer of women.
Both men had a prodigious appetite for the good life. For more than 30 years the two were inseparable, drinking and carousing in raffish Soho bars and clubs, gambling — roulette for Bacon, the horse track for Freud — and basking in each other’s company.
And, of course, they painted one another, too — indeed, Freud sat for Bacon no fewer than 18 times. Such was their closeness that Lady Caroline Blackwood, Freud’s second wife, noted that she had dinner with Bacon ‘nearly every night for more or less the whole of my marriage to Lucian — we also had lunch’. The marriage, perhaps inevitably, lasted only four years.
Freud recalled seeing Bacon at some point virtually every day for a quarter of a century. The pair scrutinised each other’s work. As Bacon put it: ‘Who can I tear to pieces if not my friends?’ Alas, over time, this competitive rivalry consumed their friendship and their mutual regard for one another descended into envy, resentment and hatred.
The sale at the end of this month of Bacon’s 1964 work Study For Portrait Of Lucian Freud, which is expected to go under the hammer for £35 million at auction, has reignited the story of one of the art world’s greatest sagas. It is a story as electrifying and colourful as any of the masterpieces both men produced. It also followed a noble artistic tradition. Van Gogh and Gauguin were also friends-turned-enemies and when their relationship ended, the Dutchman sliced off his own ear.
If the poisonous feud between Freud and Bacon did not descend to quite such grisly levels, nor did it do anything to diminish their public status as Britain’s greatest post-war artists: the Turner and the Constable of their age. No two artists did more to revitalise figurative painting than Freud and Bacon, and both lived to see their work sell for many millions of pounds.
Such status and riches must have seemed a distant prospect when they first met in the louche and dangerous streets of bombed-out Soho in the mid-1940s. Freud, who was 13 years Bacon’s junior, looked up to the older man, who represented a thrilling example of how to conduct the life of an artist while also embodying an aristocratic spirit.
In background, they couldn’t have been more different. Bacon, born in 1909 to well-to-do British parents in Ireland where his father trained racehorses, had little formal education because of severe asthma. His childhood was turbulent, not least because of his abusive father, who once ordered stable boys to give him a whipping.
After spending time decadently in Paris and Berlin, he arrived in London in 1930 where he found work as a gentleman’s gentleman, only to be fired when his master saw him dining at the next table at the Ritz. As one biographer noted, the flamboyant Bacon ‘could be found in the gutter or the Ritz and was at home in both’.
Even in later years, when he was recognised as England’s finest painter for 150 years and his work was selling for many millions, Bacon still preferred to travel by bus and live in the same scruffy mews house he had for years. For a time, he earned a precarious living as a designer of furniture and rugs, and it wasn’t until the closing years of World War II that he started painting seriously.
Self-taught, his work demonstrated considerable technical ability and originality that took the art world by storm. Even so, he was his own most severe critic and he destroyed more canvases than have survived of that period.
Freud, born in Germany in 1922 and raised in Berlin during the rising tide of Nazism, studied at art school. As a Jew and the grandson of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, whom the Nazis abhorred, he had to be accompanied by a bodyguard to and from his private school. The family fled to Britain and Lucian was sent to Bryanston public school in Dorset. He was expelled for dropping his trousers for a dare in Bournemouth.
However, there were other domestic similarities with Bacon. He had a lifelong estrangement from his younger brother Clement, the broadcaster and former Liberal MP, and was only partly reconciled with his elder brother Stephen, an ironmonger. After a stint of war service in the Merchant Navy, he began to paint full-time from his early 20s.
Like Bacon, Freud gravitated towards the drinking dens, illegal betting shops and seedy sex parlours of Soho. Both loved its gilded squalor.
In Bacon, Freud found a teacher not just in art but in life. From him he learned about the best wine, food and tailoring. They spent much of their time at the Gargoyle Club and later the Colony Room, drinking and arguing with figures such as the philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. But, usually, they preferred to be alone and, if they could, would exclude anyone else.
Many found this self-obsession insufferable and rumours circulated that the pair were sleeping together. Biographers have suggested this friendship did have a ‘quasi-erotic tone’ but that it was ‘sensual’ rather than sexual.
Freud’s daughter Annie said her father described Bacon as having the ‘most sensuous forearms . . . That is lover-like, isn’t it?’ The two were rarely apart — breakfast at a working man’s cafe in Smithfield Market, lunch at Wheeler’s on Old Compton Street, then drinking in the Colony. A lot of it, recalled friends, was the two of them showing off.
Then there was the gambling: both men were reckless. On one occasion Freud lost everything he owned, including his car, which he went home to fetch and drove to a garage to sell, placing the proceeds on a horse which also lost. Bacon was similarly profligate, throwing money at people and buying extravagant rounds of drinks. He would say: ‘Champagne for my real friends — real pain for my sham friends.’
In 1949, they attended a white-tie ball where an ingenue Princess Margaret had taken the microphone and began to sing an out-of-key Cole Porter classic, Let’s Do It. Bacon, who was standing with Freud, started to boo and hiss and a red-faced Margaret fled mid-song with her ladies in waiting. Freud declared his friend was the most fearless man he had ever met, the ‘wildest and wisest’.
Although they painted in the same tradition, their methods were very different. Freud liked to show women’s flesh, wrinkled by age and imperfections. Bacon’s distorted portraits captured the peculiar horror of modern life.
When Lucian first sat for Bacon in 1951, he was fascinated by Bacon’s hurried and spontaneous approach. Bacon, when sitting for Freud the following year, was amazed at how long the younger man took to paint. This portrait was stolen from a gallery in Berlin in 1988.
Their sexual proclivities, however, were wildly different. Henrietta Moraes, a muse to both men, was painted and pleasured by Freud — for Bacon the beauty was sitter and drinking companion.
Freud fretted over his friend’s taste in rough male trade and couldn’t understand his relationship with George Dyer, a hanger-on of the Kray crime gang family. Bacon liked rogues and was sexually unafraid at a time when homosexuals caught in the act could still be imprisoned.
Bacon disapproved of Freud’s hobnobbing with aristocrats. But Freud relied on this ‘posh trade’ for his portraits and for the ruthless candour the upper-classes offered. In the 1950s and 1960s, Freud was the less successful and viewed by the snobbish art world as Bacon’s ‘pet’. But everything changed with Freud’s first major show in 1969.
Suddenly, Freud found the sycophants around Bacon tiresome while Bacon grew tired of Freud’s refusal to acknowledge any kind of ‘duty’. They also became impatient of each other’s sexual obsessions.
Francis became ‘bitter and bitchy’ towards his one-time protégé. As a rift opened up, Bacon cruelly observed of his one-time friend: ‘She’s [Freud’s] left me after all this time and she’s had all these children just to prove she’s not homosexual.’ Freud, who was by now the much more substantial figure, confined his public remarks to criticism of Bacon’s art. ‘Ghastly’, he said of his work from the 1980s on.
Matters came to a head when Freud accepted honours — both men had previously turned down the CBE. But Freud accepted a CH — Companion of Honour — and later became an OM, a member of the Order of Merit. Bacon observed: ‘I came into this world as Mr Bacon and I want to leave as Mr Bacon.’
They did occasionally meet in the 1980s but their encounters were punctuated by ever-longer silences. On one occasion, Freud telephoned Bacon at home. The conversation ended with a red-faced Francis slamming the receiver down so violently the wall shook.
A few years later — and shortly before his death in 1992 — Bacon was having breakfast in a London restaurant when Freud walked in and past his table without stopping. Bacon observed sadly: ‘That’s the way things are.’
Freud, who outlived his one-time friend by 19 years, had other feuds with lovers, friends and agents. There was no rapprochement with Bacon — but he kept one of his paintings hanging on his bedroom wall until the day he died.
For more than 30 years the two were inseparable: friends Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud
Francis Bacon: why Tate returned a 1,000-piece archive
BEN LUKE | THE WEEK IN ART | PODCAST | THE ART NEWSPAPER | FRIDAY, JUNE 17, 2022
This week: Why is Tate rejecting an archive of material relating to Francis Bacon,18 years after acquiring it? Our London correspondent Martin Bailey tells us about his recent scoop that Tate is returning a thousand documents and sketches said to have come from the studio of Francis Bacon. The Art Newspaper broke the story last week that the items are due to be returned to Barry Joule, a friend of the artist, who gave them to the Tate in 2004. At the time of the donation the material was described as probably the Tate archives most important acquisition ever but last week Tate issued a statement that the items had been researched by art historians who had raised credible doubts about the nature and quality of the material.
Now among the scholars to have expressed doubts about the Joule archive are Martin Harrison, the pre-eminent Bacon expert who compiled the catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work published in 2016, and Sophie Pretorius, the archivist for the Francis Bacon Estate, mentioned by Martin Bailey, who analysed the Barry Joule donation in the Tate archive item by item and wrote an essay on the subject for a recent publication Francis Bacon: Shadows. I went to 7 Reece Mews in London, the location of Bacon’s famously detritus strewn studio, where he worked from 1962 until his death in 1992, to talk to them.
Ben Luke: Martin, you put together the catalogue raisonné of Bacon’s work over a long period; at what point did Joule’s material enter into your thoughts in that process, did you consider the material for the catalogue raisonné?
Martin Harrison: Joule’s material was available before the catalogue raisonné began, which in earnest was 2006, and it was well known before that, I tried to stress that I was author of the catalogue raisonné primarily but I had a committee, an authentication committee of five distinguished art historians, who obviously became friends, one can understand, we met twice a year and some I knew already and their opinions were very important and so when we saw, as we did latterly, material that came from Barry Joule, I had then to voice their opinions; in case of one member of my committee, he almost refused to look at it: Why are you making me look at this garbage, basically. You know the whole question comes back to one, and they’re not popular ways of looking at art anymore, but the question of authenticity, and you can be, I could bore people with lots of pages of writing about this, will make an intellectual case out on a long carefully reasoned argument for what that means, but in the past great art historians going way back sometimes said things and it sounds a bit rhetorical but it gets to the truth: Look if it looks like a Rubens or Caravaggio it’s probably not a Bacon, there’s even chance it’s Rubens of a Caravaggio. And the works from Barry Joule, I often use the word, they’re like juvenile parodies of Bacon, they’re based on Bacon, to some extent, the imagery past, which they bare no relation in their fabrication and materials and in every conceivable way.
We’re talking a vast number of things, more than a thousand, I am told, and across that material you have drawings, you have archive material, photographs that have been sketched on, etcetera, to what extent are there just obvious inconsistencies in those materials; for instance, is it right there are things like charcoal which Bacon never used?
Yes, the materials themselves are one the key reasons why you’d immediately eliminate them, or, be very careful with the way you questioned and examined them, and it presupposes, therefore, that there was a whole body of work by Bacon which came ostensibly from the building we’re sitting in, 7 Reece Mews, Bacon’s studio, and yet even in those terms of the actual materials, bore no relation, or hardly any relation ever to the material we know came from this studio, and was removed forensically and archeologically, eventually to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. The differences between that material, which we can take and no one’s ever going to question that and surely wouldn’t, as authentically Bacon’s, and for material I don’t believe came from here at all. Perhaps occasionally there was some base-material that came from here and was worked on by someone else. We tend to say, it’s easier, that it was Barry Joule himself but we don’t know that, he could have had a sister we don’t know of or a friend, or anything that made them, could be more than one person, so you’re only guessing then and we’re trying to make this a carefully scrutinised question of establishing real authenticity so one doesn’t want to be careless about attributing things so what we may say among ourselves, a lot of it not printable, you asked what acquaintance I had, most of my members had seen material, I was granted a day at the Tate, I think it was 2003 because they realised my project; at that time the public weren’t really being allowed in to look at it because it wasn’t in a form properly within its archive where it could be. And you know a day was more than enough, it’s deeply depressing and of course it had been shown before that at IMMA in Dublin and at the Barbican art gallery here in London and I’d seen that, that was just the selection that was displayed and you sort of looked at it in disbelief, as most people did, and you know that people were prepared to entertain it, you might wonder what their motives were for this and perhaps there were people who actually can’t tell a Francis Bacon from a Lucian Freud, and you’d want to test their ability to do that and know what criteria they applied in making this comparative assessment to see whether their views worth listening to.
So what was your reaction when the Tate acquired this material for its archive?
Well, people have shown me emails that prove I was sort of around but I was very much on the edge. I wasn’t then being sponsored, as I was to write my first book about Bacon or around Bacon, called In Camera by the Bacon Estate and I was no part of that process. I knew the main protagonists and I was being proved to me I was in London where David Sylvester was present and there was a lot of material on show, I didn’t live in London then I came down for the day and I remember seeing it on tables and just being well, bemused would be a polite word, what is all this, and it was so disparate, I guess, you’ve referred yourself to, works over photographs, actual works on paper and so on, so many different things and all looking like some wild fantasy around Bacon and I had not yet begun the catalogue raisonné and so if you’re going to grandly call yourself a Bacon expert that I had to be careful about saying it back then but I kind of knew what a Bacon looked like and it was nothing like this; and someone from the Tate was there, I think David Mellor, who was then professor at Sussex and some of these people knew Joule, as I did. And the fact that he’s a very affable chap, which he was and charmed people sometimes complicated this slightly, he came across so well and he often goes around with pictures of himself and Francis because no one’s denying he knew Francis. I tried to persuade him, and put a lot of effort into it, to do a book, I said tell the truth about you and Bacon because especially in the last five or six years of Francis’s life, John Edwards wasn’t around much and Barry was a valued helper, yes electrician, driver a lot, odd jobs, Bacon needed people like that because he was on his own, he was very much on his own, Bacon, and it’s jolly useful to have someone near by to perform those functions so he was generally useful to him, quite genuinely; and the thing that interested me as an art historian, he was almost uniquely given access to take snap shots around the studio; so Barry would send me photographs of authentic Bacon paintings in the studio here in Reece Mews half finished; imagine what of value that is because we only know the finished painting, he showed canvases begun with a rough sketch of an idea which don’t exist that Bacon obviously the next day, whatever, scrapped it; these are invaluable. I said Barry, tell the true stories and show your pictures which they’re not great quality, technically, but really valuable historically, and I put him in touch with a publisher but.
And we are now joined by Sophie Pretorius who wrote an essay in the book Francs Bacon: Shadows which went through the Joule material in detail. Sophie can say something about your methodology for doing that; so you were looking at each individual item of this archive?
Sophie Pretorius: So, yes I was asked by the Estate to go into the Tate and establish the authenticity of each item individually because most of the discussion of this work it’s always been, well, the base material is real, the marks on top are questionable and no one’s ever really analysed if that first statement is true: the base material is real: it just looks a bit like stuff Bacon had and so I went in, very open minded and for the better part of a year everyday went though each and every item and slowly went insane because, as Martin said, it’s so obvious it’s not Bacon and if you have eye-balls, it’s true, like, there’s no denying it.
And just how early in the process were you thinking like that? First day?
Yes, especially because when you go into the Tate and ask to see this archive you get shown the X-Album first and the X-Album is this once bound now unbound photography album that’s been painted on with finished drawings sort of presentation drawings, we can get into the nature of drawing and Bacon maybe a bit later but he definitely didn’t make presentation drawings; but these get shown to you, probably the worst things in the whole archive, they’re really bad, very juvenile, they have giant, as we’re looking at here, giant penises drawn like on a boys lavatory wall, really ridiculous; outrageous; men dressed as sailors and things. You look at them and I obviously admire Bacon a great deal and you think, oh, poor Francis, that’s what you think; and so yes, very early on in the process I thought this; but connoisseurship of that sort, Morellian analysis, is very much dead in art history and there are reasons behind that, not good reasons but there are reasons and so scientific fact, that’s what you need to establish and so I was going through, trawling trawling trying to find something that was undeniable and I did, six months in, I found a clipping from 1995. Bacon is dead by 95. And this is what’s so confusing about the journalistic reaction to this essay, my essay, is there are points like that and chronologies is another one of these things that just gets swept under the table. Francis cannot paint if he’s dead. Journalists, when they asked us for a comment, we sent them a PDF of my essay it’s in-depth as we can possibly get and they picked up the charcoal comment, which you repeated to Martin earlier now that is a point I make in the essay but it’s a point 150 of 300; and it’s true that he didn’t work in charcoal ever and there’s no charcoal in his studio and there’s lots of charcoal in the Barry Joule archive but he strongest points in my essay are Bacon can’t paint when he’s dead and various other large lacunae in the author of the Barry Joule materials working practice but I guess it’s not very sexy to say something that completely damns it; it has to be will it won’t it, could it be, so I trawled through and I would say, as Martin said, because Barry did know Bacon, there are somethings that are real; there are photographs in there there are receipt for when they went to Bibendum but you can sort of count the items on two hands and the Tate did a show in 2019 of material from the Barry Joule archive and they very cleverly included nothing with a single mark on it; no paint, no watercolour, no charcoal, it was only detritus of their friendship of which Barry has kept most so the stuff in the Tate is miniscule and you didn’t ask me the question but if the stuff that was in that show can be considered genuine and as much as they are photographs of them together, genuine photographs, but the end of my research over that period the conclusion was none of the marks on it could be by Bacon; and if you’re going to talk about material, the main point against it is none of them are in oil, and Bacon painted in oils and there’s not even drips of oil paint on any of it.
And if you look at the studio photographs of Reece Mews there’s just oil everywhere right.
Yeh, and oil obviously leaves a hallo on paper and so it’s so easy to tell when its oil and not watercolour; also watercolour everywhere in there, Bacon didn’t own a tube of watercolour; so you have to think that Bacon had a separate studio he kept all this stuff in, if it’s real, to work exclusively in charcoal and watercolour and kept it all separate and then gave it to Barry and the mental gymnastics you have to do in order to justify it because in the spirit of open enquiry I was trying very hard to think am I biased I’ve been asked by the Estate, obviously, there’s a history there, if it was real I would have said it was and unfortunately it isn’t.
And just to be clear, the idea of the base-materials, you’ve talked about counting on two hands, so there’s nothing that has inauthentic marks in your view on a base material that is real?
There’s one item which is a Bacon catalogue that has the evidence of Bacon fumbling the edges, I mean it’s likely that it was Bacon’s and that has some watercolour drawings over the paintings so there’s been figures added to a painting, a reproduction of one of Bacon’s paintings in this catalogue. So there’s one out of a thousand. Bacon was very generous with his possessions and so there’s lots of books in there that are inscribed to Bacon from famous people; Peter Beard for instance, there’s a dear Francis here’s my latest catalogue love Peter, that’s there, so that obviously was Francis’s at one point and then Barry got it. And then there’s marks in that; it was likely Bacon already had a copy of that catalogue and so off it goes, and so in that sense, there’s again maybe you can maybe you can count on one hand the number of items that have a significant paper-trail back here and then have marks that are obviously not in Bacon’s hand on them; and another thing people don’t remember about the whole process because it’s so boring is that from the very beginning, from day one of looking at this material, people said it was bad quality; David Mellor said that in his IMMA catalogue, and that it was clear that it was by more than one person; even its supporters form the get-go say it was all by Bacon and if they did say it was by Bacon, they said it was very poor quality Bacon. It’s very worrying when a collection can’t even have one supporter that says it’s all real. You end up having to come up with these ridiculous and then this happened and this happened; Peter Lacy, one of Bacon’s lovers, was brought in as a possible author, I mean he’s dead before most of the stuff is printed so that’s impossible. But it was a very unsexy process digging it all up, and I think I’m very glad we’ve got the result we have because as an Estate a lot of what we do is of, I think, huge value but it’s not provable how valuable it is but getting something that is not a Francis Bacon out of our national collection, the collection he donated his work to, so he clearly thought a great deal about is capital g Good in my opinion and I think something that he would be pleased we were doing.
Right. Can I ask you about liaison with the Tate about all this so you’ve done all this work, you did it, as you say, for the Francis Bacon Estate.
What correspondence did you have with the Tate in that process?
The Tate were very very helpful. When they accepted the items in 2004, they, even in their publicity statement about it, they said this material is going to be studied and made available online; nether of those things happened and I was the first person to look at each piece methodically.
First person ever to have done that?
Yes, every single piece. Marcel Finke did a very good piece about it in 2000 which was basically ignored but that was of a much smaller section. I mean I think the Tate implicitly knew, that’s even unkind of me, they knew, they’re smart people. In 2008 when the big Bacon show happened, the centenary, they didn’t include any of the Barry stuff and so they knew. So they made everything available and they were very encouraging, they, as a big institution, and it being part of a public collection, they obviously had to be careful and I very much respected their going through due process with it and it’s very unusual, as Martin points out, that something leaves a public collection and so you have to be surer than sure that you’re making the right decision but the stuff was accepted with a proviso and the proviso was never fulfilled and so it left it in art historical limbo this collection and I’m glad that someone did it, it’s great that it’s me but it could have been anyone and I don’t think it’s anything to do with my talent as an art historian I think literally any art historian looking at it would have come to the same conclusion but it was just hard work, just sloggy, horrible, repetitive work which means you can come forward with the data and that’s what people listen to and that’s what persuaded the Tate’s lawyers and our lawyers to even let me publish that. I’m not saying anything about him as a person or who did it, it’s just that it wasn’t Bacon and that’s the end of it.
Well, Martin and Sophie thank you so much for telling us about this today.
Martin: Thank you, Ben. Sophie: Thank you.
Francis Bacon in his 7 Reece Mews Studio (around 1970s) Prudence Cuming
Great Art Heists of History: A Break-in for Bacon
In the final iteration of our heist column, we take a look at a still
not fully resolved break-in and the taking of five Bacons
BENJAMIN BLAKE EVEMY | GREAT ART HEISTS OF HISTORY | MUTUAL ART | FRIDAY, JUNE 17, 2022
Art heists, by nature, typically target museums and galleries. They are where most masterpieces and priceless works are housed, their whereabouts not being a secret – the targeted loot is common knowledge for those that are inclined that way. And once the art pieces are selected for procurement, the heist itself can be planned and executed seamlessly, as museums and large galleries are places teeming with thousands of daily visitors. How is the half-asleep security guard to know that the solemn, non-descript man taking in the Van Gogh or Rembrandt isn’t plotting its forthcoming departure? But, of course, as we’ve learnt during the course of this column, not all art heists fit the mould. And for our final entry in Great Art Heists of History, we will be observing a heist not targeting the Louvre or the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, but a private residence. That doesn’t make the crime any less impressive, however, for 2015’s heist of five Francis Bacon paintings from an apartment in Madrid has gone down as the largest contemporary art heist in recent Spanish history.
José Capelo, a banker by trade, owned an apartment located in one of Madrid’s safest and most secure districts. And even though Capelo was away in London at the time of the theft, the criminals responsible for the robbery managed to pull it off without tripping any alarms or rousing suspicion in the neighbourhood. They also left no tangible evidence such as fingerprints. It was clear that the thieves behind the heist were professionals. The paintings were small to medium in size, making them easier to transport, and were worth a combined estimated value of 30 million euros. Even though the theft occurred in June 2015, it was initially kept under wraps by the authorities, and only made public in March 2016. Alongside the paintings, jewels and other items of value such as precious coins were taken from the premises.
Almost a year after the paintings were taken, in May 2016, seven suspects were apprehended in connection to the theft. Although this in itself was not a complete victory, as unlike the criminals, the paintings themselves still remained at large. The arrests were made after a tip-off was received by Spanish police from the Art Loss Register (ALR) in London – a team that specializes in tracking down stolen and missing artworks via the use of a sophisticated art database. The ALR had been contacted by an individual in Sitges, a coastal town near Barcelona, who asked the team to verify what could potentially be one of the stolen Bacon paintings. The team received photographs of the piece in question, which included one of Bacon’s signatures on the rear side, and verified it as indeed real. The photographs also were concluded to have been taken after the heist was pulled off. The Spanish police wasted no time in identifying the model of camera used to take the photographs, and traced it to a camera rental firm, where they identified the photographer responsible for the shots. This break in the case led to the first arrest being made. The other six swiftly followed – and a further three in January 2017.
In July 2017, three of the five stolen paintings were recovered due to the diligent combined work of the Art Loss Register and the Spanish police. The ALR’s director of recoveries and general counsel, James Ratcliffe, stated at the time of the paintings’ recovery:
“The return of the pictures is testament to the value of collaboration between the public and private sector. We gave the police this lead to help them track down these individuals. The Spanish police have done a fantastic job.”
The 2015 Francis Bacon theft is cloaked in secrecy. There is no detailed account of the break in or any subsequent attempt to sell the stolen paintings. But what makes this heist so tragic is the personal element involved. The thieves violated someone’s sanctuary, their place of security and comfort. Even more tragic is the connection the victim had to the artist. José Capelo was a dear friend of Bacon’s and reportedly the artist’s final lover before his death of a heart attack in Madrid in April 1992.
The men arrested in connection to the case remain accused of masterminding the heist and all are currently on parole. The two paintings not recovered remain missing. They are believed to be somewhere in Spain.
And that concludes in the final chapter in Great Art Heists of History.
José Capelo and Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon portrait unseen for 60 years to make auction debut
Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud was painted by British artist Bacon in 1964
BY CONNIE EVANS | CULTURE | UK NEWS | THE INDEPENDENT | WEDNESDAY, JUNE 15, 2022
A Francis Bacon painting which has not been seen publicly for nearly six decades will be auctioned off later this month, having remained in the same private European collection for 40 years.
Titled Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud, it was painted by Bacon in 1964 and is based on a photograph of Freud, his contemporary. The photograph was taken in the same year by the artists’ mutual friend, John Deakin.
The painting will go on sale as part of Sotheby’s British Art: The Jubilee Auction on June 29. It was last seen on display in 1965, on show as the central panel of a large-scale triptych in a travelling exhibition to Hamburg and Stockholm.
It was also displayed in Dublin on its own in the same year. Bacon and Freud had been friends for 20 years prior to Bacon’s creation of Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud and shared a friendship for over 40 years before relations soured and ended in the mid-1980s.
Both artists painted each other on numerous occasions, with Freud often working from real-life and Bacon preferring photographs.
In Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud, Bacon used an image of Freud sitting on a bed with his arms outstretched, fists clenched and white sleeves rolled up above the elbows. The black-and-white photographs became Bacon’s primary source material, as he painted Freud obsessively in the 1960s.
Bacon kept the photographs, which were of great personal significance, with him for the rest of his life. They were rediscovered torn, crumpled and splattered with paint in his studio following his death in 1992, Sotheby’s said.
Speaking about the portrait ahead of its sale, senior director of contemporary art at Sotheby’s, Tom Eddison, said: “In this one single portrait we bear witness to a masterpiece, illuminating the deep and complex relationship between two titans of the 20th century.
“It is hard to think of two greater artists whose lives and works are so interwoven into the fabric of our consciousness than Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud.
“At the same time both muses and critics for each other, it was their friendship, respect, rivalry and deep infatuation with one another which ultimately fuelled their unequivocal artistic talents.
“Executed with painterly bravura at the height of Bacon’s acclaim, here we see a portrait that pulsates with an intensity, a tension that mirrors the emotions which bonded these two sparring partners together for over four decades.
“Now, having remained completely unseen to the public for 57 years, this remarkable portrait will return to London as the star highlight of the summer auction season.” The portrait carries an estimate in excess of £35 million.
Along with Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud, Sotheby’s British Art: The Jubilee Season sale will also include further highlights such as Banksy’s portrait of Sir Winston Churchill, a sculpture by Dame Barbara Hepworth, David Hockney’s almost four-metre wide tranquil portrayal of Woldgate Woods, L.S. Lowry’s A Town Square, J.M.W Turner’s view of London and Flora Yukhnovich’s Boucher’s Flesh.
The live-streamed auction will begin at 5pm on June 29.
Francis Bacon’s Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud, 1964, is estimated to reach in excess of £34m
British Art: The Jubilee Auction
LOT 10 | 29 JUNE 2022 | 17:00 BST | LONDON
Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud
Property of a Distinguished European Collector
Property of a Distinguished European Collector
: 43,336,000 GBP
Executed in 1964, Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud exemplifies an iconic pairing of two of the most significant painters within the canon of twentieth-century art. Last seen by the public during a travelling exhibition in Hamburg, Stockholm and Dublin between January and May 1965, the present work is testament to Francis Bacon’s capacity to provoke emotion and capture in paint the complexities of the human psyche. Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud illuminates a powerful dialogue rarely matched in history: The great friendship and epochal rivalry between Bacon and Freud that lasted from 1944 until the apex of their artistic sparring in the mid-1980s. Though their visual styles differed considerably throughout their respective oeuvres, both painters were deeply committed to the human figure. They sat for each other on multiple occasions; Bacon painted Freud fourteen times between 1964 and 1971, in a combination of two small panels, four large panels (one destroyed), two small triptychs, three large triptychs (of which the present work was part) and part of larger compositions. Indeed, the present painting was originally part of one of only three full-length triptychs measuring 1.9 metres in height, depicting a restless Freud in alternating poses within differing architectural spaces. Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud is only comparable in its excellence to Bacon’s masterpieces Double Portrait of Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach (1964, Moderna Museet, Stockholm), Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud (1966, Private Collection), and Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969, Private Collection).
Bacon and Freud became close friends towards the end of the Second World War and were introduced by the English painter Graham Sutherland. As Freud later recalled, "I said rather tactlessly to Graham ’who do you think is the best painter in England?' he said 'Oh, someone you’ve never heard of; he’s like a cross between Vuillard and Picasso; he’s never shown and he has the most extraordinary life; we sometimes go to dinner parties there" (Lucian Freud quoted in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Britain, William Feaver, Lucian Freud, 2002, p. 26). Bacon and Freud spent time in each other’s west London studios, they had dinner nearly every night for a lengthy period and frequented the great restaurants, bars and clubs of Soho together with friends such as Frank Auerbach, John Deakin, Michael Andrews, Timothy Behrens, Stephen Spender and Henrietta Moraes. Indeed, writer Daniel Farson recalled Bacon and Freud as being inseparable throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and Lady Caroline Blackwood remembered having dinner with Bacon nearly every night for the duration of her marriage to Freud, which lasted until 1959 (Caroline Blackwood quoted in: Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon Anatomy of an Enigma, London, 1996, pp. 192-93). In his recent memoir Michael Peppiatt recalled these lively, raucous dinners: “Lucian also clowns around, specially for Francis. One of his favourite turns is to pick up the restaurant bill when it comes, give it a cursory look and then pretend to faint, falling sideways on the banquette like Charlie Chaplin, while Francis chuckles and writes out a cheque… He is quite funny in an ironic way, with his lightly inflected patter doing quick pirouettes around the people he describes, but I think he is in awe of Francis, or even in love with him. But then I suppose most of us are, whether it’s Lucian or George or me, Sonia Orwell or models like Henrietta Moraes, or Miss Beston, who looks after everything to do with Francis at the Marlborough gallery… He is the point, whether we know it or not, around which we all turn” (Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in Your Blood: A Memoir, London 2015, pp. 40-41).
Bacon executed his first portrait of Freud in 1951, Portrait of Lucian Freud (currently in the collection of the Whitworth Art Gallery, London) and would thereafter employ black and white photographs of Freud taken by their mutual friend John Deakin as source imagery. The figure’s pose in the present work is based on a photograph Deakin took of Freud sitting on a bed in 1964, the very same year the present work was executed. In the photograph Freud sits with his arms outstretched behind him, his fists clenched and white sleeves rolled up above the elbows. Freud’s pose in the present painting mirrors this position almost precisely. Bacon’s paintings of Freud from the 1960s were, in the words of Freud biographer William Feaver, “all closely informed by Deakin’s photographs of him, were systematically dramatised in the making. Bacon amplified the feel of shapes, exaggerating how it feels to sit, to slump, or to fidget to avoid a crick in the neck and cramp behind the knee. He loved a good whiplash assertion of fellow feeling. This often involved interchanged body parts” (William Feaver, The Lives of Lucian Freud: Fame 1968-2011, London 2020, p. 588). Bacon’s frenetic emerald green, pink and white brushwork in the face of Freud on the surface of the present painting exemplifies this sense of dynamic, visceral movement – or whiplash – as Freud’s head appears to swivel quickly to the side, his body bent forward in tense aggression. From the 1960s onwards, Deakin would produce several photographic series of Bacon’s friends and lovers, among them Freud, Peter Lacy, George Dyer, Isabel Rawsthorne, and Henrietta Moraes. Through the medium of Deakin’s photographs, Freud became a recurrent subject of Bacon’s paintings throughout the 1960s, and indeed one of the most significant.
The threatening pose of the sitter with his fists clenched is unique and rare among the large-scale portraits of Freud painted during this period. In the triptychs Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) and Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud (1966) Freud is seen equally restless and agitated, yet his positions are seemingly insecure and protected – legs crossed, arms folded, his body always angled slightly away from the viewer. In contrast, the present work illuminates Freud at his most confident, his chest bare and body open facing directly towards the viewer; Bacon’s thick brushwork shows Freud’s face spectacularly distorted, yet his eyes regard the viewer directly in a visceral glare. Bacon has positioned his subject directly in the centre of the composition, the viewer unable to escape Freud’s intense stare. It is no surprise therefore that Bacon’s powerful rendering of his friend and artistic foe in the present painting formed the central panel of the original triptych, a seminal anchor for the outer panels. Depicting Lucian Freud in a steady progression of nuanced poses, the triptych was broken up shortly after the 1965 travelling exhibition to Hamburg, Stockholm and Dublin, and the panels are now described as individual works in the artist’s catalogue raisonné, numbered 64-05, 64-06 and 64-07 respectively. The left panel, exemplifying Freud reclined towards the left side of the composition, remains in a private collection, while the right panel, showing the figure sitting to the right of the composition with his hand hovering around his face, resides in the collection of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. The two outer panels show Freud illuminated by suspended light bulbs which seem to glow against Bacon’s stark black ground.
The thick bands of exuberant and alternating colour on the surface of the present work unquestionably reveal the influence of the expansive colour-field canvases of Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, which Bacon would have seen at The New American Painting exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1959. The broad, horizontal bands of black and sea green evoke Barnett Newman’s sublime vertical stripe or ‘zip’ paintings, such as Abraham (1949) and Concord (1948) which were both included in the 1959 Tate show. Such colouristic compositions clearly held enduring appeal for Bacon and the bands of colour on the surface of Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud help create an illusion of depth. Here, perspective is simplified into a confined, flattened space, the bench painted with swathes of rich sea green and positioned against a matte black ground. In rich blue and green hues, the lower third of the composition is thickly worked, and the imprint of corduroy can be seen across this highly textured area; Bacon employed corduroy as a painting material throughout his oeuvre, and the texture can be found on the door of his Reese Mews studio, which suggests the he applied the oil paint from the tube first to the studio door, and then printed the corduroy and set it against the canvas. These painterly passages recall the abstracted, spatially ambiguous compositions of Monet’s water lilies in an instantly recognisable colour palette of blue, green and lilac. As Martin Harrison writes in the artist’s catalogue raisonné, “The textured carpet is the closest Bacon came to reprising Monet’s Nymphéas” (Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume III, 1958-71, London, 2016, p. 752). Bacon’s gestural daubs of oil paint are accented by flecks of white, the impressionistic surface fully recalling Monet’s celebrated triptychs such as Water Lilies (1914-26) now in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Bacon’s influence on Freud’s life and work was profound. As Freud recounted early in their friendship, “I realised immediately that [Bacon’s] work related to how he felt about life. Mine on the other hand seemed very laboured. That was because there was a terrific amount of labour for me to do anything – and still is. Francis on the other hand, would have ideas, which he put down and then destroy and then quickly put down again. It was his attitude that I admired. The way he was completely ruthless about his own work. I think that Francis’s way of painting freely helped me feel more daring” (Lucian Freud quoted in: Richard Calvocoressi, Lucian Freud on Paper, New York 2009, p. 11). Critic Sebastian Smee further describes Bacon’s impact on Freud: “But now, under Bacon’s influence, he stops drawing entirely and begins to loosen up his paintwork. He sticks to his incredibly slow and arduous way of working. But, like Bacon, he incorporates chance and risk, he smears and displaces the face’s fixed features, he utilizes all the viscosity and latent energy of oil paint applied by the brush” (Sebastian Smee, The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals & Breakthroughs in Modern Art, London 2016, p. 87). Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud thus exemplifies Bacon and Freud’s great mutual respect for one another and a mutual appreciation for each other’s work.
The present work dates from the most crucial period of Bacon’s career and life; he was gaining immense international recognition following a number of major museum exhibitions and his relationship with George Dyer was at full height. His artistic confidence throughout the 1960s is exemplified by the fact that some of his greatest self-portraits were executed during this highly successful and fruitful period of production. Painted obsessively, Freud’s likeness utterly dominates Bacon’s production. As resolutely indicated by this extremely rare and little-seen work, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon fuelled each other’s extraordinary talent, two masters of modern art at the apex of their ground-breaking, technical prowess. Lucian Freud was known to have been an avid collector of Bacon’s work, with works such as Head (1951, now in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art), Two Figures (1953, Private Collection), Figure with Meat (1954, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago) and Study for Portrait II (After the Life Mask of William Blake) (1955, Tate, London) remaining in his collection until his death in 2011. The present work thus exudes a sense of friendship, respect, rivalry and fervour that immortalised Bacon and Freud’s deep infatuation with each other. A paragon of Francis Bacon’s encyclopaedic iconography and inimitable painterly style, Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud is a riveting masterpiece of the twentieth century.
Bacon and Freud: unseen portrait
is glimpse into doomed friendship
Painting goes on show in the UK for the first time before expected £35 million sale
BY PETER CHAPPELL | ART | UK NEWS | THE TIMES | WEDNESDAY, JUNE 15, 2022
Lucian Freud’s second wife, the writer Lady Caroline Blackwood, once claimed she sat through dinner with her husband and Francis Bacon “more or less every night of my marriage to Lucian” which, inevitably perhaps, lasted just four years.
The buyer of Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud by Bacon of his then best friend in 1964, which is expected to sell for £35 million at auction later this month, may hope they can put up with the presence of two of Britain’s greatest contemporary artists for a little longer.
Art critics say that the oil painting, which will be exhibited in the UK for the first time before it goes under the hammer, reveals a softer side to an artist described as having a “pitiless sense of mankind.
“It’s a very admiring portrait in a way of Freud”, said Mark Stevens, co-author of Francis Bacon: Revelations. “We don’t often think of Bacon as a person who paints admiring sorts of portraits, but I think this is a portrait of focus and determination.”
It offers a glimpse into a doomed friendship forged in the pubs and clubs of 1950s Soho, and is based on a photograph taken by John Deakin, one of their close bohemian circle.
“They were actually inseparable from about the late 40s throughout the 50s and even into the early 60s. And Lady Caroline was correct,” says Bacon’s biographer Annalyn Swan. “When they were both in the Colony Room [a Soho club] they only saw each other, they only wanted to gravitate to each other, to talk to each other, and excluded everyone else.
“It was sort of a partnership of the two of them. And what they had to say about art mattered most. Bacon admired Freud’s eye and Freud admired Bacon’s.”
In the painting, which was originally part of a triptych, Bacon has “planted this figure on the bench, and it’s as if he’s screwed him on to the bench with such force that his head almost seems to twist. To me, it’s a picture that captures a man of will, focus, determination, and a person resolute on dominating his body in achieving what he wants,” Stevens said.
Despite the pair’s friendship creating an “unbreakable rhyme in a room”, many found their self-obsession “insufferable”.
Bacon and Freud were so close that there were rumours the pair were sleeping together. Stevens and Swan said this was unlikely but the “friendship did have this sort of deep quasi-erotic tone, not overtly sexual, but sensual”.
The two artists fell out after 1974 when Lucian Freud’s show at the Hayward Gallery transformed him into an international star, with Bacon left feeling like their relationship was permanently altered.
“Bacon suddenly had to see Freud in a new light. Freud had always been the one who hadn’t gotten all the acclaim and the sales . . . And so there began to be a strain and a shadow in this relationship,” Swan said.
Aside from jealousy, the two objected to each other’s sexual tastes. Freud couldn’t understand Bacon’s love of the East End world and his relationship with George Dyer, a Cockney from a well-known crime family. “He shared it to a certain extent, but certainly not in the bedroom. And then Bacon, for his part, disliked Freud’s social-climbing,” Swan said.
However, this painting created ten years earlier was a “testament” to their friendship and one of the first of Bacon’s mature oil portraits. Despite the feud, the pair still met for intimate breakfasts into the 80s, with Freud arriving at Bacon’s nearby studio in his Bentley to pick him up.
The work has been in the collection of a private European owner for 40 years and its existence only became widely known in 2016 when a colour photo was included in a catalogue of Bacon’s work. It will go on public display at a gallery in New Bond Street from Thursday of next week.
Bella Freud, a fashion designer, and Lucian’s daughter, said last year: “I was rather disappointed that they weren’t friends when I then started spending more time with my father, and sitting for him in the late 70s. When I asked him why he fell out with Francis, he said “because his work went off.”
“But I am sure there was more to it than that, because they had been so close and obviously seemed to love each other. Francis was clearly somebody who he adored and admired. And there weren’t many people my father talked about in that way.
“The things he repeated about him were just dazzling, utterly disarming and breathtakingly wonderful, and silencing because of their brilliance. I imagine he must have missed that when he stopped being friendly with him.”
Tom Eddison, senior director of contemporary art at Sotheby’s, said it was “rare” for a previously unseen Bacon portrait to come up for sale. “Executed with painterly bravura at the height of Bacon’s acclaim, here we see a portrait that pulsates with an intensity, a tension that mirrors the emotions which bonded these two sparring partners together for over four decades.
“Now, having remained completely unseen to the public for 57 years, this remarkable portrait will return to London as the star highlight of the summer auction season.”
Bacon’s Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud, 1964, is expected to sell for £35 million at auction this month
Francis Bacon portrait of Lucian Freud expected
to sell for over £35m at auction
Painting, based on black and white photograph, last exhibited in 1965 as part of a triptych
BY MARK BROWN | ART & DESIGN | CULTURE | THE GUARDIAN | WEDNESDAY, JUNE 15, 2022
A Francis Bacon portrait of Lucian Freud not seen in public since it was first exhibited 57 years ago is to be auctioned with an estimated price of more than £35m.
Sotheby’s on Wednesday announced what is believed to be the most valuable contemporary work to be offered in London in almost a decade.
Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud was painted in 1964 and shows Freud with his chest bare and face monstrous and mangled, sitting on a hard bench with his arms outstretched and his fists clenched.
It is based on a black and white photograph taken by the two artists’ mutual friend John Deakin and shines light on a friendship and rivalry that was incredibly intense, but ultimately incredibly bitter.
The painting was the central panel in a triptych exhibited in 1965 in a travelling exhibition to Hamburg, Stockholm and Dublin. With Bacon’s consent, the triptych was broken up, with the left-hand panel now in a private collection and the right-hand one in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Bacon and Freud met in 1944, introduced by the painter Graham Sutherland. They became instant friends and in the 50s and 60s they would see each other almost every day, both in each other’s studios as well as eating and drinking in Soho’s most celebrated haunts.
The Guinness heiress Caroline Blackwood once said she remembered having dinner with Bacon every night for the five-year duration of her marriage to Freud in the 50s.
Freud was the sitter in 1951 for Bacon’s first identifiable portrait of an individual. He went on to paint Freud more than any other person, save himself.
By the 80s they were drifting apart because of petty rows and jealousies, with Freud clearly tiring of Bacon.
Freud’s daughter, Bella, said of the feud: “I was rather disappointed that they weren’t friends when I then started spending more time with my father and sitting for him in the late 70s. When I asked him why he fell out with Francis, he said ‘because his work went off’. But I am sure there was more to it than that, because they had been so close and obviously seemed to love each other.
“Francis was clearly somebody who he adored and admired. And there weren’t many people my father talked about in that way. The things he repeated about him were just dazzling, utterly disarming and breathtakingly wonderful, and silencing because of their brilliance. I imagine he must have missed that when he stopped being friendly with him.”
Bacon’s remark on the fizzling of the friendship, told by a smiling Freud to William Feaver, his biographer, was: “She’s left me after all this time. And she’s had all these children just to prove she’s not homosexual.”
The work has been in the same private collection for 40 years and will go on public display at Sotheby’s galleries in New Bond Street London from 23-29 June.
It will be auctioned on 29 June in a sale titled British Art: The Jubilee Season. Other works include Banksy’s portrait of Winston Churchill with a lime green Mohican, estimated at £4m-£6m; and David Hockney’s almost 4-metre wide portrayal of Woldgate Woods.
Austrian Billionaire Heidi Goëss-Horten Has Died at Age 81,
Just Days After Opening Her Private Museum in Vienna
The collector owned some 700 artworks.
BY SARAH CASCONE | PEOPLE | NEWS | ARTNET | TUESDAY, JUNE 14, 2022
Austrian billionaire Heidi Goëss-Horten died on Sunday at her home on Lake Wörthersee, just days after opening her private museum in Vienna. She was 81.
“It is with great regret and in deep mourning that we have to give news of the completely unexpected death of our patron and benefactor Heidi Goëss-Horten,” read a statement from the Heidi Horton Collection.
In honor of Goëss-Horten, admission to the museum—normally €15 ($15.60)—will be free through the weekend. In its first week, the institution attracted some 800 daily visitors, according to Artnews.