Francis Bacon News
Francis Bacon News
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.
Born Heidi Jelinekin Vienna in 1941, Goëss-Horten met her first husband, department store magnate Helmut Horten at a bar in 1959. She was just 19 and he was 51, and in 1966 they were married. Together, they began building what became a nearly billion-dollar art collection in the 1970s.
Horten died in 1987, leaving Goëss-Horten a $1 billion fortune, which allowed her to continue amassing her collection, with a focus on Expressionism and American Pop art. At the time of her death, Goëss-Horten’s net worth was $2.9 billion, which put her at 1,040 on the list of the world’s wealthiest people, according to Forbes. When she died, Goëss-Horten had a collection of some 700 artworks.
In 1996, Goëss-Horten notably spent $22 million in a single week on works by Francis Bacon, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Paul Klee at Sotheby’s, The New York Times reported.
Agnes Husslein-Arco, then managing director of Sotheby’s Austria, served as Goëss-Horten’s art advisor, and was eventually tapped to direct the Heidi Horton Collection.
It wasn’t until 2018 that Goëss-Horten finally shared her holdings with the world, in the critically acclaimed exhibition “Wow! The Heidi Horten Collection” at Vienna’s Leopold Museum. It became the museum’s most-visited show of all time, and inspired the collector to create a permanent venue to showcase her collection.
“I knew after the first public presentation of my collection that I wanted to preserve the works for posterity and share a treasure with people that has been with me in my private life for many years and given me such happiness,” Goëss-Horten told Artnews.
The high-profile project invited greater scrutiny of Goëss-Horten’s finances. In 2020, she commissioned a report from historian Peter Hoeres that found that her husband “Helmut Horten benefited from the economic circumstances provided by the Nazi state” in the form of confiscated Jewish-owned department stores, according to The Art Newspaper.
In 2018 and 2019, Goëss-Horten donated nearly €1 million ($1.04 million) to the conservative Austrian People’s Party, but in amounts small enough not to be publicly reported, according to Der Standard. Her lawyer maintained she did not break any laws, and Goëss-Horten said she would no longer make political donations.
But any controversy appears to have failed to dampen enthusiasm for Goëss-Horten’s new museum. The venue, originally an annex of the Albrecht Palais and the offices of Archduke Friedrich, underwent a gut renovation by Next Enterprise Architects Vienna ahead of its transformation into a museum.
The building, rechristened the Palais Goëss-Horten, now features three floors of gallery space, with two futuristic floating platforms.
For its inaugural exhibitions, the 16,000-square-foot museum is showcasing a selection of 50 works by the likes of Lucio Fontana, Robert Rauschenberg, Dan Flavin, Andy Warhol, and Damien Hirst. But there is also a focus on less established figures, particularly emerging and mid-career Austrian artists, with new commissions by Constantin Luser and Andreas Duscha.
“I am proud, with my collection and the construction of the museum,” Goëss-Horten said in a statement ahead of the museum’s opening, “to have created something lasting, which future generations will also be able to experience when they visit my museum and take joy in the art that has given me such joy for so long.”
The 1958 canvas was offered for $15 million.
BY KATYA KAZAKINA | SENIOR REPORTER | NEWS | ART WORLD | ARTNET NEWS | TUESDAY, JUNE 14, 2022
The Nahmad family is known for bringing some of the most expensive and significant modern artworks to international art fairs such as Art Basel. Inevitably, the Picassos, Rothkos, and Calders displayed on their booths act as bellwether for the high-end art market.
Some years, these paintings linger. Some years, they go fast. This year is a fast one.
The latest edition of Art Basel, which opened to VIPs on Tuesday, is an example of the booming market. By the end of the day, Helly Nahmad gallery sold its Francis Bacon Pope painting, according to a representative.
The 1958 canvas was offered for $15 million, and the sale price wasn’t disclosed. Multiple people considered the work, according to the gallery. It was the second-highest known price at the fair. Earlier in the day, Hauser & Wirth reported the $40 million sale of an 11-foot-tall Spider by Louise Bourgeois.
You may recall the ghostly Pope from Sotheby’s contemporary art evening auction in November 2019, just before the pandemic struck. At the time, it was consigned by the Brooklyn Museum to raise money for its collections fund. Estimated at $6 million to $8 million, it fetched $6.6 million, and was bought by the Helly Nahmad gallery.
The $15 million list price represents a considerable markup over just a few years—127 percent, to be exact.
There’s been a steady stream of high-end Bacon paintings at auction. Two years ago, billionaire Sotheby’s owner Patrick Drahi was the winner of Francis Bacon’s Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (1981), which fetched $84.6 million.
Earlier this year, star architect Norman Foster’s triptych fetched $51.2 million at Christie’s in London. Patrick De Pauw, a scion of a Belgian collecting family, sold Bacon’s Study for Red Pope 1962, 2nd Version 1971 (1971) for $46.3 million at Sotheby’s
Bacon’s auction record of $142.4 million was established in 2013 for Three Studies of Lucian Freud (in 3 parts).
Francis Bacon Pope (1958). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.
A Secretive Austrian Collector Unveils a Long-Awaited Private Museum in Vienna
BY ALEX GREENBERGER | MUSEUMS | NEWS | ART NEWS | ESTABLISHED 1902 | FRIDAY, JUNE 10, 2022
Back in 1996, the art market was left in shock after a single collector bought up $22 million worth of art at a Sotheby’s auction in London.
The buyer, who called in with a Vienna specialist with the house, was a “mysterious German-speaking collector,” The New York Times reported at the time, and she had purchased pieces by Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, and others all in one fell swoop, making herself a sensation almost overnight
That collector, The Times went on to reveal, was none other than Heidi Göess-Horten, the ex-wife of Helmut Horten, a Viennese department store owner with whom she began buying art. (She has since remarried two times.) Some years after Helmut’s death in 1987, a new passion for art collecting was ignited in Heidi, who currently owns 700 pieces and ranks on the ARTnews Top 200 Collectors list.
Now, in addition to those hundreds of artworks, she also owns a museum, the Heidi Horten Collection, which opened in Vienna earlier this month.
In a sense, Göess-Horten has even come full circle, naming Agnes Husslein-Arco, the Vienna Sotheby’s specialist who placed bids for her in 1996, as the museum’s director.
It is not the first time Göess-Horten’s collection has been seen in Vienna — that would be in 2018, when a survey of it opened at the Leopold Museum. But that exhibition came and went in a matter of six months, and the goal with the Heidi Horten Collection is to offer a permanent view of one of the country’s richest private collections, which has rarely been seen publicly.
“I knew after the first public presentation of my collection that I wanted to preserve the works for posterity and share a treasure with people that has been with me in my private life for many years and given me such happiness,” Göess-Horten told Artnet News in an email.
“That’s why I see my museum as a place of discovery, of sensuous experience, of the joy of art—because that’s what art has been and still is for me: a vital source of joy!”
So far, according to those involved with the museum, the Viennese have indeed taken pleasure in visiting the museum, which has 16,145 square feet of exhibition space. Self-reported data from the museum say that at least 800 people visited each day during the space’s first week and, on Thursday, there were already crowds pouring in just 15 minutes after opening.
In some ways, this fervor from the public is a bit of a surprise, since Vienna is already packed with museums, among them the Albertina, mumok, the Kunsthalle Wien, and more, all of which are walking distance from the Heidi Horten Collection. But Husslein-Arco did not seem shocked that the museum already had such a large audience.
“The people love it,” she said.
Some coming to the exhibition are likely to arrive expecting some of the iconic works in Göess Horten’s collection, including paintings by Bacon and Roy Lichtenstein. Those paintings, as well as some of the other more famous ones owned by Göess-Horten, are still in her house, however. Instead, the spare opening hang at the museum, set across three pristine floors, is primarily devoted to emerging and mid-career artists, many of whom are Austrian.
“I did it on purpose,” Husslein-Arco said. “I wanted to show two things: that the collection keeps growing and that there is a younger art” in Göess-Horten’s holdings. She also wanted to foreground the architecture, by the Vienna-based firm ENTERprise architects.
The Heidi Horten Collection’s building seems small from its outside, but on the inside, it feels big. (The price to get in, at 15 euro per adult visitor, is hardly small either.) Two staircases appear to float over viewers’ heads, and there are large airy parts in which one can see right up to the roof.
This scale allows the museum to show grand works, most notably Constantin Luser’s Vibrosauria (2022), a 20-foot-tall sculpture of a female dinosaur that is crafted from brass instruments twisted together to form something like an armature. The sculpture can be played by up to 24 musicians at once. Meanwhile, the museum’s tearoom is itself a work of art by Markus Schinwald, who covered its walls in paintings of an old-school teahouse. Schinwald Photoshopped out any people who appeared in his source images, however, and anyone who inhabits the room is meant to effectively figure in their place.
More minimal pieces shine as well. A Dan Flavin sculpture composed of a fluorescent lighting tube propped against a corner gets a gallery to itself, as does Lili Reynaud-Dewar’s video Lady to Fox (2018), in which the artist, painted entirely red and wearing only a set of white sneakers, gyrates among a herd of sheep. That work stems from Göess-Horten’s longtime love of animals, which also informed her decision to buy works by Claude Lalanne, Lena Henke, and Ulrike Müller.
There’s enough blue-chip art to whet the palette of those wanting bigger names. Among the offerings are two paintings resulting from a collaborative effort by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat (plus a drawing by the latter working solo), two of the six Lucio Fontana paintings that Göess-Horten owns, a painting from Robert Rauschenberg’s beloved early ’60s period, and a painting made with dead butterflies by Damien Hirst
More works by stars like Franz Marc, Georg Baselitz, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner are likely to figure in future shows, but it’s these lesser-known artists that speak to the depth of her collection. After all, the opening hang is just 50 works, or roughly 7 percent of her holdings.
“I am convinced that my collection contains treasures that are unmatched in Vienna, in Austria, even in Europe,” Göess-Horten said.
Heidi Göess-Horten 13 February 1941 – 12 June 2022
Tate returns a £20m slice of Francis Bacon
Authenticity fears led to the rejection of a gift of sketches from the famous artist’s friend
DAVID SANDERSON | ARTS CORRESPONDENT | ARTS | NEWS | THE TIMES | THURSDAY, JUNE 9, 2022
Francis Bacon would probably have had a chuckle — but for those left to resolve the legacy of one of the 20th century’s most important painters it is no laughing matter. A long-running dispute over a “generous” gift to Tate from a friend of Bacon’s escalated yesterday after the gallery returned the 1,000-plus items and cast doubt on their authenticity.
It said “credible doubts about the nature and quality of the material” had been raised by art historians. The archive of documents and sketches purportedly from Bacon’s studio were donated to Tate in 2004 by Barry Joule, a gift estimated at the time to be worth about £20 million.
Joule, who said he had been Bacon’s chauffeur, friend and handyman for more than a decade before the artist’s death in 1992, said that Bacon had handed the items to him saying: “You know what to do with them.” After 2004, however, it seemed that Tate did not know what to do with them.
Sir Nicholas Serota, its director at the time, said the “generous gift will provide a fascinating insight into Bacon’s working practices”. The gallery said it would take as long as three years to study the material before it could be put on display. However, only a few items were exhibited. The Francis Bacon estate has continually cast doubts on the authenticity of the material.
Last year in a book, Francis Bacon: Shadows, Sophie Pretorius — the archivist of the estate’s collection — launched an attack on the Barry Joule Archive [BJA]. “The story of the material associated with Joule is riddled with exaggeration, half-truths and contradictions,” she wrote. “Bacon’s work is not easy to mimic. But the author of the items in the BJA made a stab at it.”
She said that while many of the sketches were drawn in charcoal, “no charcoal or charcoal marks were found in Bacon’s studio upon his death”. Joule at the time said he was “fuming” and would consider legal action.
He said the estate had only started questioning the authenticity of the material after he had declined its request to donate it to the Bacon Study Centre in Dublin in the 1990s. He has previously said the estate once accused him of having stolen the material. Joule also said last year that he was frustrated that Tate had failed to exhibit works from the archive.
In April of this year he said he was cancelling plans to donate a further 150 drawings, ten paintings, hundreds of photographs and more than 12 hours of taped conversations with Bacon which he said would instead go to 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,” he told The Observer. Bacon, who was born in Ireland but was based in London for most of his working life, is regarded as one of the 20th century’s most influential painters. In 2013 his triptych, Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) became the then most expensive artwork ever sold at auction after it fetched £89 million
Among the works that Tate is deaccessioning from its archive — a highly unusual move in Britain’s museum world — and returning to Joule are an album of overpainted sketches. Tate said the sketches were of “unknown authorship”, adding: “The gift has been researched by art historians, and this research has raised credible doubts about the nature and quality of the material.
“In itself, 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.”
Loud, drunk and desired
Francis Bacon, according to Tracey Emin, “just did whatever he wanted to do, drank whatever he wanted to drink, slept with whoever he wanted to sleep with” (David Sanderson writes). Her contemporary and fellow Bacon aficionado, Damien Hirst, meanwhile, was drawn to Bacon’s “very, very dark view of the world”.
Much of the darkness came from his formative years in Ireland where he grew up as the openly gay son of a horse breeder and was banished from his conservative family’s home aged 16.
Violence and sex became the markers of his life. Childhood horsewhippings from grooms and stable boys segued to fights with strangers on the streets of London; exploratory teenage sex progressed to sado-masochist relationships with a parade of lovers.
And all the time his star kept rising, with an enthralled art market and appreciative curators. All in all, there are many reasons he was described as the “loudest, rudest, drunkest, most sought-after British artist of the 20th century”.
Following his death in 1992 aged 82, his star continued to glow, with a procession of auction records and prestigious exhibitions. The Royal Academy this year devoted an exhibition entirely to the artist’s relationship with animals.
Barry Joule with Francis Bacon at the home of the artist Richard Hamilton in June 1982
Tate to return Francis Bacon archive—once valued at £20m
—to donor who was close friend of the artist
A thousand documents and sketches from the Barry Joule collection to be
deaccessioned by London museum over attribution doubts
BY MARTIN BAILEY | TATE NEWS | THE ART NEWSPAPER | WEDNESDAY, 8 JUNE, 2022
Tate is to deaccession a thousand documents and sketches said to have come from the studio of Francis Bacon. The Art Newspaper can report that they are to be returned to Barry Joule, a close friend of the artist, who donated them in 2004.
At the time of the donation the material was apparently valued at around £20m and was described as probably the Tate Archive’s most important acquisition ever.
A Tate statement issued today records that the Joule donation has been “researched by art historians, and this research has raised credible doubts about the nature and quality of the material”.
The statement explains: “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.”
Joule has consistently and robustly defended the authenticity of the material.
Canadian-born Joule had been a London neighbour of Bacon’s and developed a friendship with him in 1978. He helped Bacon in various ways up until the artist’s death in 1992. Joule came into possession of a considerable quantity of paper material from Bacon’s London studio at 7 Reece Mews in South Kensington.
The studio material donated to Tate includes 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 is the so-called “X Album” of overpainted sketches which Tate describes as “of unknown authorship”.
When Tate accepted the 2004 gift it was described in glowing terms: “The trustees of Tate have acquired an archive collection from the studio of Francis Bacon, one of the most important painters of the 20th century, thanks to the generous gift of Barry Joule, a friend of the artist… Tate hopes the acquisition and further study of this material will enable scholars to resolve remaining issues about Bacon’s working practice.”
But since then specialists from the Francis Bacon Estate have studied the material, ending with a negative conclusion. An essay on the donation by the estate’s archivist, Sophie Pretorius, was included in their publication Francis Bacon: Shadows, released in June last year.
Pretorius quotes Andrew Wilson, until last year a senior Tate curator, who believed that the hand(s) that applied the marks “may not have included Bacon to any substantial degree”. She herself concludes that “for scholars to devote time to analysing a collection of works not by Francis Bacon is a waste of resources”.
It is certainly unusual for Tate to deaccession. Under a Parliamentary act, the gallery is normally prohibited from deaccessioning artworks. Although this does not apply to archival material, the gallery follows the same procedure when this is considered, a Tate spokeserson says.
Tate’s trustees have now deemed that the Joule material "can be disposed of without detriment to the interests of students or other members of the public”—and have decided to offer it back to Joule.
After holding the Joule archive for nearly 20 years, a Tate spokesperson says: “Credible doubt has been cast on the majority of the material. While it remains unproven as to whose hand the markings on this material might be attributed, the addition that it represents to the public understanding and enjoyment of Bacon’s art has been exhausted and is no longer suitable for retention in the collection.”
Joule has voiced frustration with Tate’s failure to exhibit his donation, which he insists is fully authentic. In April he told The Observer that he has cancelled plans to donate hundreds more items from Bacon’s studio to Tate. Instead he 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 for ever.”
Francis Bacon in his studio in London in 1974 Photo Michael Holtz
Tate returning Francis Bacon archive
after researchers raise ‘credible doubts’
The collection was donated in 2004 by Barry Joule, a close friend of the artist.
BY ALEX GREEN | UK NEWS | LONDON EVENING STANDARD | WEDNESDAY, 8 JUNE, 2022
The Tate is returning an archive of documents and sketches purportedly from the studio of Francis Bacon, saying its researchers raised “credible doubts about the nature and quality of the material”.
Donated in 2004 by Barry Joule, a close friend of the artist, the collection includes almost 1,000 items and was reportedly valued at £20 million at the time of acquisition. As first reported by The Art Newspaper, a statement from the Tate said the gallery had offered the material back to Mr Joule after concluding it “does not lend itself to any significant exhibition”.
The gallery also said that any potential the material held to improve public understanding of Bacon’s art “has been exhausted”. Of the 1,000 pieces donated, around 800 are magazine and newspaper cuttings, some bearing incidental marks or daubs of paint.
It also includes 39 photographs of Bacon and his friends, a selection of books and other documents and an album of overpainted sketches the Tate concluded were of “unknown authorship”. Bacon, known for his bold and shocking figurative style, died aged 82 in 1992.
Among his most famous and recognisable works were 1966’s Portrait of George Dyer Talking and 1953’s Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. The Tate said: “Francis Bacon is one of the most celebrated and influential British artists of all time. “Tate has consistently championed Bacon’s art for over half a century, having staged his first ever retrospective exhibition in 1962, and today Tate’s collection holds several of his most renowned paintings which are regularly on public display.
“In 2004 Barry Joule, a friend and neighbour of Francis Bacon in his later years, offered Tate a body of archival material which had recently come to light. Tate Archive accepted the donation as ‘material relating to Francis Bacon’s studio at 7 Reece Mews, London’ and it was catalogued and made available for further study. Since then, some items from the gift – photographs and written material – have featured in an archive display and been made available for publication. The entire gift has also been researched by art historians, and this research has raised credible doubts about the nature and quality of the material.”
“In itself, 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.”
Mr Joule has repeatedly defended the authenticity of the material, which has been questioned in recent years by the Francis Bacon Estate. In August 2021, he threatened to cancel the gift and accused the Tate of reneging on a pledge to stage exhibitions of the material, according to The Observer.
Canadian-born Mr Joule was living near to Bacon’s home and studio at 7 Reece Mews, west London, when they met in 1978 and became close friends. He helped Bacon with his work until the artist’s death in 1992, when he came into possession of a collection of material said to be from the London studio.
Announcing the donation in January 2004, the Tate hailed “the generous gift of Barry Joule, a friend of the artist”. It said: “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.”
However, since then specialists from the Francis Bacon Estate have studied the material and come to negative conclusions, even questioning its authorship.
Francis Bacon at the Tate Gallery in 1985 London
Tate to Deaccession Francis Bacon Archive
Over Authenticity Concerns
BY ANGELICA VILLA | NEWS | ART NEWS | ESTABLISHED 1902 | WEDNESDAY, JUNE 8, 2022
In an unexpected turn, the Tate announced Wednesday that it will deaccession a vast archive of materials from Francis Bacon’s estate donated by a close confidant of the Irish-born painter, after researchers raised questions about the gifts’ authenticity.
The move comes just two months after Barry Joule, a British man who befriended Bacon in 1978 while living in London, rescinded his initial plan to donate another group of works to the museum after it failed to exhibit the disputed archive, which he donated nearly two decades ago. Joule, who is said to have been in contact with the artist until his death in 1992, threatened to take legal action against the Tate over the rift.
In 2004, Joule donated the near 1,200-item archive spanning drawings to photographs from Bacon’s studio that was worth an estimated £20 million ($25.1 million) to the Tate. At the time, the Tate said it would catalogue the donation over a period of three years before making it available to be exhibited, but the promised public showcase never materialized. The museum said it is now offering the archive back to the donor — a move that is rare, but legally permissible for U.K. institutions.
In a statement first obtained by the Art Newspaper, the Tate said the Joule archive materials had been “researched by art historians, and this research has raised credible doubts about the nature and quality of the material,” continuing that “any potential it held to improve the public’s understanding of Bacon’s art has been exhausted.” Joule has denied any claims that the archive contains inauthentic materials.
In April, reports of the ongoing row escalated when it was revealed that doubts had been cast by scholars over Joule’s donation, known formally as the Barry Joule Archive (BJA). Last September, the Bacon Estate published Francis Bacon: Shadows, which quotes a former Tate curator Andrew Wilson as saying “the hand/s that applied the marks to the material may not have included Bacon to any substantial degree.”
Joule said he intended instead to donate a second grouping of Bacon’s works—around 150 drawings, 10 paintings and other archival materials including documents and audio recordings — to the national archives of the Centre Pompidou in France after falling out with the London institution and had already begun negotiations. Bacon was the subject of a retrospective focused on his literary influences in 2019 at the French museum, titled “Bacon: Books and Painting.”
Whether or not the Tate’s move to jettison the long-held archive will affect the ongoing negotiations between Joule and the Pompidou to receive the other tranche of works is still unclear. A representative for the Center Pompidou did not immediately respond to ARTnews’ request for comment.
The Tate is returning Barry Joule’s Francis Bacon archive
ART NEWS | APOLLO | THE INTERNATIONAL ART MAGAZINE | WEDNESDAY, 8 JUNE, 2022
The Tate announced on Wednesday (8 June) that it will deaccession around 1,000 sketches and documents said to have come from the studio of Francis Bacon by his friend and neighbour Barry Joule, who donated the archive to the Tate in 2004.
At the time of the gift, the archive was valued at around £20m, but in a statement today, the institution revealed that art-historical research into Joule’s collection has ‘raised credible doubts about the nature and quality of the material’, which has now been offered back to the donor.
Joule has defended the authenticity of the material, and in the past has voiced frustrations with the Tate for not making use of the material in exhibitions; in April, he announced that he had cancelled plans to donate further items associated with Bacon to the museum, intending to offer them to the Pompidou instead.
Francis Bacon: Faces & Figures
BY ALFRED MAC ADAM | ART SEEN | THE BROOKLYN RAIL | JUNE, 2022
Francis Bacon’s biography may help us to understand the artist, but can explain nothing about his art. That is, from the biographer’s perspective, the work only exists to reveal something about Bacon’s tumultuous life. To learn that such and such a figure is George Dyer, a lover, or Henrietta Moraes, a friend, is at worst anecdotal gossip and at best historical fact.
To deal with Bacon as artist, to deal with this extraordinary panoply of ten paintings assembled here, we have to deal with a number of undeniable facts. Bacon does not represent people as they are: his bodies or faces are contorted, his colors are unnatural, and his disregard for verisimilitude is total. To deal with Bacon’s work, we must equip ourselves with an aesthetic of ugliness.
Umberto Eco’s 2007 essay “On Ugliness” establishes the ugly as an artistic category, one that traffics in rejection, disgust, lack of harmony, irrationality. Notions such as these, and not the names of Bacon’s sitters, explain our unending fascination with Bacon, revealing why the emotional and psychological reactions his paintings arouse in us far outweigh the importance of his drinking, gambling, and sexual proclivities.
If we do want to take into account a biographical fact about Bacon in looking at his work, it would be that he is not our contemporary. Born in 1909, before World War I, he comes from a remote, alien social and artistic milieu. It is precisely Bacon’s unabashed manipulation of “primitive art” elements, his affinities with Picasso, with the distortions and unnatural colors of Expressionism, with his reworking of the composition principles in seventeenth-century Dutch portraiture and genre paintings: all of that links him inextricably to a twentieth-century art that reveled in its links to art history.
The ten oils on canvas here, ranging from the astounding Man at a Washbasin (ca. 1954) to Study for Self-Portrait (1979), do not pretend to be a comprehensive presentation of Bacon’s long career. There are no biomorphic figures, no screaming popes—only explorations of figures within the confines of pictorial space. But that self-imposed limitation is a tremendous opportunity to look closely at superb examples of Bacon’s work.
Two studies come to the point: Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (on light ground) (1964) and Three Studies for a Portrait (1976). The six images are all 14 by 12, so despite the twelve-year distance between them, the two series share a genealogy that leads back to Van Dyck’s 1635 Charles I in Three Positions. That each portrait of the king is slightly different from the others may have appealed to Bacon, who also individualizes each of his images by torquing them in different ways and defacing them with swaths of paint. True, the Dyer images are slightly closer to reality than the 1976 studies, but the face in both instances is no longer human. In the 1976 triptych, the echo of Picasso’s mask faces in Demoiselles d’Avignon is palpable, and we are staring into an allegory we can never hope to fathom. Bacon leaves Picasso and his bordello far behind and focuses instead on the reality of grotesque distortion.
The same applies to Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing (1969) and the three other portraits. The Moraes image is arresting because it might be a death mask, while the Study for a Head (1955), the largest of the portraits at 40 by 30 inches, constitutes a parodic version of a conventional portrait—a bank president perhaps now transformed into a leprous demon.
The other four works here, all on a larger scale, involve figures arranging themselves in space. Here Bacon takes cues from a host of antecedents: Goya, Ingres, and Manet, who all painted women reclining on divans. Man at a Washbasin (ca. 1954) takes up a Degas theme: a person washing themselves off. But Bacon reduces his figure to a ghostly presence, as if to draw attention away from the central figure to the composition itself: the rigorous geometry of a Dutch interior, static but animated by the nebulous figure.
Figure in Movement (1972), the largest piece in the show at 78 by 58 inhces, is the culmination of Bacon’s aesthetic of the ugly. Again, a single, writhing figure isolated in a yellow space, perhaps a model on break reading a newspaper and moving around rather than posed. But the torsion and distortion contrast with the control Bacon imposes on the space, with its roomlike geometry enhanced by encasing rectangular outlines. The figure, as in the other two images of seated figures, is both in transit and fixed for all time, captured in an artistic experiment of simultaneity.
This is the way to truly experience Francis Bacon’s greatness: a dose large enough to tell us what Bacon was all about and small enough to remain comprehensible.
Alfred Mac Adam is Professor of Latin American literature at Barnard College-Columbia University. He is a translator, most recently of Juan Villoro’s Horizontal Vertigo (2021), about Mexico City.
Francis Bacon, Man at a Washbasin (ca. 1954)
Bacon’s US$46.2 million Pope portrait
tops Sotheby’s New York evening sale
BY KAYAN WONG | AUCTION NEWS | LATEST | NEWS | THE VALUE | FRIDAY, 20 MAY, 2022
This season’s New York auction marathon came to a close with Sotheby’s US$210 million Contemporary Art Evening Sale.
Amongst 27 lots offered, only one was unsold, bringing in a total hammer price of US$181 million – higher than its presale low estimate of US$170 million.
The sale’s top lot was Francis Bacon’s Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd Version 1971 – the only painting by the British figurative painter depicting both the Pope and his lover, George Dyer – which realised US$46.2 million after fees.
The auctioneer began soliciting bids at US$35 million and saw unenthusiastic reception from both telephone and floor bidders. The hammer was dropped at US$40 million, offered by Grégoire Billault, the chairman of Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s New York, for his client with paddle number 267.
One of the major British artists of the post-World War II period, Francis Bacon is widely recognized for his iconic – often unsettling and blatant – images of scathed and traumatized humanity.
Inspired by Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, his renowned Papal portrait series, which he worked on for at least two decades, is no exception. Under his brushes, the benevolent, highly-respected Pope is casted as a victim of his own status, tortured by the weight of his authority.
Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd Version 1971, the last painting in his Pope series, was originally created in 1962, when only Pope Innocent X was on the canvas. Later in 1971, he decided to rework the painting and placed his lover George Dyer next to the Pope, making it the only work by him that has both muses in the same composition.
Bacon’s relationship with George Dyer began in late 1963 in a pub in Soho. Dyer’s devotion to Bacon was fuelled by his admiration for Bacon’s intellect, power, and confidence. From the mid-1960s, Dyer became Bacon’s muse and was seen at every gallery opening.
However, their relationship soon went downhill due to Bacon’s tempestuous manner and increasingly destructive drinking. By 1971, Dyer had already attempted suicide on more than one occasion but saved by Bacon every time. At the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971, while Bacon was to be honoured with a major retrospective, Dyer was found dead from a drink and drugs overdose in the bathroom of the hotel.
According to literature and scholars, Pope Innocent X’s sister-in-law Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj was actually the power behind his papal throne. The two were rumoured to be having an affair; however, after the Pope’s death, Olimpia wouldn’t even pay for his burial but instead letting the body being dumped in a closet, where rats nibbled at it.
Was Bacon reminded of this story of Pope and decided to include his lover Dyer in his painting?
Lot 115 | Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd Version 1971 | Sold: US$46,284,500
Last of Bacon’s famous papal portraits
auctioned for $46 million in New York
ONLINE NEWS EDITOR | ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT | LA PRENSA LATINA | FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2022
New York City, US, May 19 (EFE). — The last of Francis Bacon’s famous papal portraits was sold on Thursday for $46 million at an auction of contemporary art at Sotheby’s in New York.
The sale of “Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971,” which has been in private hands since 1973 and has a tragic history, took place five years after it failed to sell at Christie’s in London, which made an overly optimistic valuation.
The Irish-born modernist painter depicts a “haunting” encounter between the Pope and Bacon’s lover, George Dyer, who committed suicide two days before the work was unveiled to the public at a career-defining exhibition at the Grand Palais in 1971.
It is the last papal portrait of several dozen that Bacon painted, inspired by Diego Velázquez’s “Portrait of Pope Innocent X,” 1650, but despite its historical significance, it failed to fetch a price close to the artist’s most expensive painting, “Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” sold in 2013 for $142.4 million.
This Bacon painting’s selling price was closer to its minimum value of $40 million than to the maximum of $60 million predicted by Sotheby’s and that was the general tone of the auction, which had three dozen pieces, most of them paintings.
The next most valuable work was an untitled painting by the American Cy Twombly, of circular scribbles in wax on a dark gray background, which sold for $38 million.
Andy Warhol’s “Elvis,” in which rock-and-roll legend Elvis Presley is dressed as a gunslinger, raked in $21.6 million.
A huge painting by Ed Ruscha that had “Cold Beer Beautiful Girls” stenciled in white letters onto an image of clouds fetched $18.82 million, and David Hockney’s colorful “Grand Canyon III,” sold for $11.03 million.
Perhaps the only surprise was German artist Georg Baselitz’s record-breaking sculpture “Women of Dresden,” which was estimated at a maximum $4 million but sold for $11.24 million. EFE
The Thrill of Bringing Bacon to Moscow
James Birch recounts the fascinating journey of introducing Francis Bacon’s art
to Soviet Russia, including transvestites, the KGB, and political manoeuvring
MICHAEL PEARCE | BOOK REVIEW | MUTUAL ART MAGAZINE | WEDNESDAY, MAY 18, 2022
Art history would be much more fun if it was all written like James Birch’s excellent Bacon in Moscow. The book is a ripping yarn about the author’s wild Cold War adventures as a young gallerist attempting to bring paintings by Francis Bacon to the Russian capital. Bacon in Moscow reads with the tension of a John le Carré spy story, vividly coloured with the fluid sensuality of scenes from Birch’s bohemian life set against the scenography of taut life in late Cold War Russia, which was ready to snap.
The story begins innocently enough in the early eighties, when an ambitious Birch set up his first gallery in London. To put it on the cultural map, he formed the crazy idea that he should take an exhibit of work by transvestite potter Grayson Perry, and the members of his eccentric “neo-naturist” group, a surrealist collective of body-painting nudists, to Moscow, thinking that this bizarre cultural mission might bring his gallery some notoriety. He travelled to Paris to follow an introduction to an unlikely Russian cultural diplomat, Sergei Klokov, a frightening but comical KGB agent who looked like a hairdresser but had the power to stop airplanes on the runway on their take-off approach and board them, to sweep aside murder, and to intimidate his countrymen with looks and gestures alone. In this first bizarre meeting, Klokov introduced Birch to a tall and beautiful young woman, Elena Khudiakova, who left the room several times, reappearing dressed in different outfits, attempting to impress Birch with her skill as a fashion designer. Dangerous, and self-obsessed, Klokov agreed to help Birch with papers to go to Moscow to scout venues for an exhibit.
Birch’s Moscow delivers as the grim, grey, and oppressive setting of the surreal Soviet dystopia of the 1980s, and his fluidly descriptive writing brilliantly carries the narrative on a vivid journey through a dreary series of cavernous, dirty, white galleries and into age-beaten hotels with suites subdivided into tiny and stinking rooms, miserable food, and worse waiters. As he was toured around the smoke-stained and vodka-fueled nightmare of declining communism, constantly chaperoned by KGB guides and translators, Birch realized that the Soviet art scene was not tuned for the decadent excesses of cross-dressing Perry and his louche pots, or naked body painters mocking bourgeois pretentions – what need, when there was no bourgeoisie to mock? Instead, he suggested bringing Russian artists to Britain. Klokov promptly arranged for him to be escorted to the state-funded studios of mediocre Russian artists, but in them Birch saw only a stream of paintings frozen by decades of fear into the official Socialist Realist style ordered by long-dead Lenin, Stalin, and Lunachersky, and who shared an endless supply of theoretically rationed vodka. However, while their work deserved little praise, to Birch’s plastered surprise these painters were united by their admiration and applause for Bacon, whose work they had only seen in small photographs in art magazines discretely passed from hand to hand among artists until they were ragged and stained. Klokov asked Birch if he could reach Bacon. Birch had known him since he was a little boy – Bacon once snapped a photograph of him splashing about in his grandmother’s bathtub. Now, Birch’s mission was clear – bring Bacon to Moscow.
Birch returned to England and met with Bacon during one of his legendary drunken nights out in Soho. Over bottles of champagne he pitched the idea of a Moscow show. To his surprise Bacon immediately agreed to the idea. “When I was younger, I met two Russian sailors in Berlin, they were very good to me,” he said with a smile.
But who would fund the show? A rush of meetings followed. The Marlborough Gallery wouldn’t pay. The Russians couldn’t pay. Bacon was nonchalant. Klokov came to London and met him for lunch at an expensive restaurant on Germyn Street, in the heart of the establishment, then met representatives of the British Council, bringing the Russian ambassador with him and persuading them to fund the expensive shipping, crating, and insurance of the paintings with British taxpayers’ money. Eager for opportunities to develop new intelligence contacts in Gorbachev’s Russia, the British Council promised to assist. Klokov complained of sharkish behavior at the Marlborough Gallery and warned Birch that he must find a way to neutralize the threat that they might attempt to control the exhibit. Birch worried about the word “neutralize” coming from the mouth of the KGB agent. The Union of Artists offered to host the exhibit in their own gallery.
Birch returned to Moscow to measure the gallery. He had begun thinking of Klokov as a friend and was falling in love with Khudiakova, and they all dined together to celebrate. Birch was becoming used to the pragmatic and dour Russian outlook, although he was shocked when Klokov told him he served in Afghanistan as a flamethrower operator, burning down the houses of suspected mujahadin. Chillingly, he said that the smell of burning flesh and the sand in his mouth had made breathing difficult. “It felt like an ethical lobotomy,” Birch writes. To lighten the mood, he retrieved a copy of Daniel Farson’s story announcing Bacon’s exhibit in the Daily Mail, which reported that Klokov had joked to Birch, “You know James… if Mister Bacon made a show in Moscow, I’m sure the queues will be bigger than those for Lenin’s tomb.” For the first time he saw fear on Klokov’s face. Klokov cursed Birch’s naivete and told him he had put him in danger. “These kinds of remarks can have serious repercussions in USSR,” he said. But Gorbachev was in power now, and Klokov had unwittingly captured the mood of perestroika.
After all the drama, Birch’s description of Bacon’s show in Moscow seems almost like an afterthought. As Klokov had predicted, immediately after it was clear that it presented a real opportunity for political manoeuvring, powerful players pushed him to the sidelines, although he had a glowing career ahead of him as an international art dealer and curator. Bacon’s show in Moscow attracted more than 600,000 people. Lenin’s tomb didn’t stand a chance.
Birch asked Khudiakova to marry him, and eventually she came to London to live with him. He discussed the marriage proposal with his mother, and she was horrified, telling him, “You can’t marry her, she’s KGB.” His father asked Khudiakova what was the best thing that had ever happened to her, doubtlessly expecting her to affirm her love for Birch, and she replied, “Meeting Klokov.”
James Birch, Bacon in Moscow. Cheerio Publishing
CONTEMPORARY EVENING AUCTION
Property from a Private European Collector
LOT 115 | 19 MAY 2022 | 19:00 EDT | NEW YORK
Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd Version 1971
signed Francis Bacon, titled and dated Study of Red Pope 1962,
2nd Version 1971 (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
78 by 58⅛ in. 198 by 147.5 cm.
Executed in 1971.
Estimate: 40,000,000—60,000,000 USD
Lot sold: 46,284,500 USD
Marlborough Fine Art,
Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above in February 1973)
Acquired by descent from the above sale by the present owner
John Russell, Francis Bacon,
London, 1971, p. 112, illustrated in color
Lorenza Trucchi, Francis Bacon, New York, 1975, p. 14 (text), p. 150, illustrated in color
Exh. Cat., Venice Biennale 45th International Exhibition, Figurabile Francis Bacon, 1993, p. 117 (text)
Wieland Schmied, Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict, Munich, 1996, no. 18, fig. 34, p. 23, illustrated, p. 49, illustrated in color
Exh. Cat., Institut Valencià d’Art Modern (and travelling), Francis Bacon: Lo Sagrado y lo Profano, 2003–2004, p. 31, illustrated in color
Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London, 2008, p. 292 (text)
Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume III, 1958-71, London, 2016, no. 71-04, p. 970-971, illustrated in color
Maia Wellington Gahtan & Donatella Pegazzano, eds., Monographic Exhibitions and the History of Art, New York, 2018, p. 56 (text)
John M. Carvalho, Thinking with Images: An Enactivitst Aesthetics, New York, 2018, p. 35 (text)
Paris, Galeries Nationals du Grand Palais
and Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Francis Bacon, 1971-1972, no. 107, p. 137,
Paris, Centre Pompidou, Francis Bacon: Books and Panting, 2019-2020, pp. 50-51, illustrated in color, p. 229 (text)
“Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971… is the final work in the series. Once again, Bacon introduces an element that complicates the spatial situation and sharpens the challenge to the viewer’s perceptions. The element in question is the mirror, an inherently ambivalent image that can also be read as a window. Here, too, the backrest of the throne has the function of a picture within a picture, but in this case, it is extended to form a triptych, a winged altarpiece whose two side-panels are folded out so that the viewer sees only their inner surface.”
WIELAND SCHMIED, FRANCIS BACON, MUNICH 2006, P. 2
A defining masterpiece and triumphant finale to the artist’s seminal series of Pope paintings, Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971 depicts the first and only encounter within Francis Bacon’s oeuvre between his two most important subjects: the Pope raised on a dais, drawn from Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X,1650, and George Dyer, the love of Bacon’s life and one of his most celebrated muses. First unveiled at Bacon’s landmark retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1971, a career-defining exhibition and an accolade only previously afforded to Pablo Picasso among living painters, Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971 remains a testament to Bacon’s limitless capacity to provoke and capture the most fundamental of human emotions. In the present work, Bacon reworks the composition of his 1962 painting Study from Innocent X, revising the portrait to include his love George Dyer, as if the figure of the Pope, not only the progenitor of Bacon’s practice but a stand-in for authority, the canon, and the father, finds its counterpart in Bacon’s lover, instantly identifiable by his curved nose. On October 26th, 1971, the Francis Bacon retrospective opened to great acclaim, the galleries at the Grand Palais were filled with admirers, yet George Dyer’s presence was tragically absent. Less than thirty-six hours prior, Dyer had taken his own life in their Paris hotel room. Executed shortly before the Retrospective, Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971 reveals a haunting premonition of the devastating loss of Bacon’s lifelong love, a singular meeting of his two greatest muses and charts Bacon’s artistic maturation between 1962 and 1971. Having remained in private hands since 1972, the present work’s importance is further attested to by its inclusion in the major retrospective Francis Bacon Books and Painting at the Centre Pompidou in 2019.
“In the lives of all of us there is a human being whom we least wish to lose. Bacon sustained that particular loss at the time of his retrospective exhibition in Paris in 1971-1972. He bore it with a stoicism for which even Homer would have been hard put to find words; but in his real-life – his life as a painter, that is to say – it came to the fore over and over again.”
JOHN RUSSELL, FRANCIS BACON, LONDON 1971, P. 151
A tragic loss and profoundly emotional soul, Dyer was often portrayed in Bacon’s oeuvre as in motion or in a mirror. As John Russell describes: “A compact and chunky force of nature, with a vivid and highly unparsonical turn of phrase, he embodied a pent-up energy... a spirit of mischief, touched at times by melancholia... his wild humour, his sense of life as a gamble and the alarm system that had been bred into him from boyhood... George Dyer will live forever in the iconography of the English face.” (John Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1993, pp. 160-65) Dyer’s passing would continue to haunt Francis Bacon’s artwork throughout his career. A now legendary portrait, Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971 is one of the last images Bacon made of Dyer prior to his death, embodying Bacon’s fervent attempt to find catharsis in the canvas. Bacon’s portraits of George Dyer are some of his most passionate and psychologically arresting paintings; the spectral figures incisively convey the dichotomously tortured and heroic, romantic and tempestuous nature of their relationship.
Dyer and Bacon met in the fall of 1963 for the first time at a Soho pub; Dyer famously introduced himself to the artist’s party with the gambit “You all seem to be having a good time. Can I buy you a drink?” (Jonathan Fryer, Soho in the Fifties and Sixties, London 1998, p. 9) A charming, handsome man, Dyer would soon become Bacon’s lover and muse. Underneath this beautiful façade, however, Dyer was deeply conflicted and vulnerable. Their relationship was passionate and tumultuous, tender and brutal. Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971 reflects on the eight years they had together, the artistic and emotional transformation Francis Bacon encountered following their meeting in late 1963. During this period, Bacon sought to capture Dyer’s likeness with a painterly dynamism that captured his inner turmoil and the mercurial, fierce passion of their relationship. In Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971, Dyer meets the Pope from behind a mirror; he resembles a trapped spectral reflection under that stirring gaze. A macabre and disquieting prophecy, Bacon illustrates Dyer as a shadow, a memory trapped stoically behind the glass, a seminal meeting with the conflicted head of the Catholic Church.
Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971 endures as a fervidly fraught and harrowing grande finale to the incomparably momentous series of pontiffs that Bacon obsessively reworked in the 1950s and 1960s, transmitting a palpable vulnerability through the profound aesthetic translation of their psychological tension into painted form. In any one period, there are only a finite number of images with almost limitless connotations. In our time, along with perhaps Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, Duchamp’s La Grande Verre and a Giacommeti Femme debout, Bacon’s Popes are not only the centerpiece of all his paintings...but a centerpiece of the whole of twentieth-century art.” (Michael Peppiatt, Exh. Cat., Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (and travelling), Francis Bacon in the 1950s, 2006, p. 28) A titan of twentieth-century portraiture and one of the most iconic bodies of work, Bacon’s Pope paintings were inspired by Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1650.
Bacon was deeply affected by the work, which he described to David Sylvester as “one of the greatest portraits to have ever been made” (Interviews, the green edition, p. 26), and the series became his most famous arena for the rendering of flesh in all its tactile glory and psychological deconstruction. Bacon’s chosen task in painting the Pope was not one of representing an image but rather re-representing the meanings inherent to Velázquez’s portrait: stature, presence, public role and the very mechanics of being. Bacon gets under the skin and goes beyond the surface of the image, engaging a series of emotions that lie at the heart of ordinary daily existence in the most extraordinary way.
A symbol of authority and power, the Pope that Bacon illustrates, distorts the infallibility of the figure. In many portraits, he is seen erupting in screams, writhing or disfigured. Through his depictions of the Pope, which he began after he first came across a reproduction of Velásquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X around 1946, Bacon would launch an exploration of the nature of existence that would guide his portraiture throughout his career, including those of George Dyer. In Velázquez’s portrait, Bacon became infatuated by the raw and tormented figure he glimpsed, a poignant juxtaposition to the figure’s exalted status.
“Bacon’s mirrors can be anything you like — except a reflecting surface... Bacon does not experience the mirror in the same way as Lewis Carroll. The body enters the mirror and lodges itself inside it, itself and its shadow. Hence the fascination: nothing is behind the mirror, everything is inside it.”
GILLES DELEUZE, FRANCIS BACON: THE LOGIC OF SENSATION, LONDON AND NEW YORK, 2005, P. 13
A retired army captain and racehorse trainer with a puritanical and vindictive streak, Bacon’s father Eddy tyrannized the family household, and in particular his son, with whom he was at odds. Allergic to his father’s horses, asthmatic and unashamedly effeminate, Bacon was expelled from the family home after being caught admiring himself in the mirror wearing his mother’s underwear. That the Pope – the Holy Father – was to be Bacon’s first subject when he reached artistic maturity is perhaps in part owing to a working-through of personal trauma. Bacon created approximately 50 canvases in the series of Popes, including early works from 1946 to 1950, which he subsequently destroyed, depicting Pope Innocent X, a man afflicted by the weight of his own authority. In the 1960s, Bacon turned to some of his most arresting and intensely captivating muse, his great love.
In 1971, for the retrospective Francis Bacon at the Grand Palais, the artist revised two of his most celebrated works, the present work and Second Version of ‘Painting’1946 (1971), held in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Bacon’s insistence that this image be included in the exhibition, despite its then owner’s refusal to lend it, coupled with the new inclusion of the intimate portrayal of an emotionally fraught George Dyer, evidences Bacon’s regard for the importance of this piece and composition. Together Study for Innocent X and Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971 chart the changes in technique, form and style that Bacon employed over the intervening nine years; the Baroque richness of color evident in his 1962 painting differs from the sparingly applied paint and raw canvas in Bacon’s later work.
The dynamic passages of painterly strokes of impasto juxtaposed against the bare canvas highlight the dramaturgy of the composition, the curved mirrors and fragmented space almost seem to foreshadow the iconic Black Triptychs executed following Dyer’s death. Furthermore, the inclusion of George Dyer evidences a palpable emotional reverence. Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971 elevates the personal to the universal, transmitting a palpable vulnerability and arresting intensity. The work marked the end of an era for both muses, the final papal portrait and one of the last portraits of Dyer prior to his death; the light cords that dangle between them are suspenseful and threatening, a premonition of Dyer’s death. Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971 singularly embodies the profound artistic reckoning between 1962 and 1971, becoming the ultimate encapsulation of Bacon’s most transformative decade.
As Wieland Schmied describes, "Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971… is the final work in the series. Once again, Bacon introduces an element that complicates the spatial situation and sharpens the challenge to the viewer’s perceptions. The element in question is the mirror, an inherently ambivalent image that can also be read as a window. Here, too, the backrest of the throne has the function of a picture within a picture, but in this case, it is extended to form a triptych, a winged altarpiece whose two side-panels are folded out so that the viewer sees only their inner surface." (Wieland Schmied, Francis Bacon, CITY 2006, p. 23) Bacon worked from printed photographs of both the Velásquez Pope and Dyer, disfiguring and morphing their images to illustrate the burden and complexities of their internal psyche. He felt that by referring to secondary sources, he was able to remove their literal appearance and instead capture the essence of their selves. Equally conflicted characters, wrestling with power and vulnerability, the Pope and Dyer meet in the present work confronting each other’s gaze with a binding intensity.
One of the most radical iconoclasts, Bacon’s obsession with the Pope and Dyer, both fundamentally impacted his oeuvre and, more broadly, twentieth-century painting. Coupled together in the present composition, akin to a devotional diptych, the Pope and Dyer’s figures appear twisted, fractured and densely worked. Together, united as subjects of Bacon’s painterly obsession, they deftly embody the fragility of the human experience. In Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971, the reference to his painting from nine years earlier offers unique insight into Bacon’s artistic evolution in the intervening years, a period that marked the most important decade in his life, culminating with the Grand Palais retrospective. Through Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971, Bacon is in dialogue with himself, his muse, his lover, his past and his present, rendering a sublime commentary on the human condition with a fervent passion and incisive vigor. Staging the encounter between his great love, Dyer, and his greatest obsession, the Pope, Francis Bacon reveals a tragic premonition of Dyer’s fateful passing and a seminal reverent homage to his two most renowned muses finally united together.
Majid Boustany: “When Bacon burst into my life,
I was fascinated by the unique giant”
BY CAMILLE ESTEVE | EDITOR’S CHOICE | PERSONALITIES | NEWS | MONACO TRIBUNE | MONDAY 2 MAY 2022
The patron and president of the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation agreed to tell us about his passion for the painter and the activities carried out by his Foundation.
Could you tell us about your background?
After a degree in business administration followed by a master’s degree in international relations in England, I started working as a corporate director in my family’s business in Monaco. I am also co-owner, along with my brother, of the Hôtel Métropole in Monte-Carlo and founder of the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation Monaco, a non-profit institution that is dedicated to the British artist Francis Bacon.
How would you describe the bond between yourself and Monaco?
Extremely strong. My family has been here for over forty years and I am deeply attached to the Principality and the Princely Family.
Why did you decide to launch the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation in Monaco and not elsewhere?
During my student years in London, I took an art history course and on a visit to the Tate Gallery, when I was in my twenties, I came across Bacon’s triptych, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), which defied interpretation and triggered a need within me to explore his world.
In the course of my research, I discovered that the artist first visited Monaco in the early 1940s, that he was a resident of Monaco from July 1946 until the early 1950s, and that he continued to stay regularly in the Principality with his family, lovers, and circle of friends right up until the end.
He would readily speak of his stays in Monaco and he often referred to the work he managed to do here, despite the many distractions he faced. It was in Monaco that he began to focus on the representation of the human figure and began his first series of popes and series of heads. Creating a foundation in the Principality therefore seemed to me to be an obvious choice.
The vital support of Prince Albert II and the Monegasque authorities played a major role in the creation of the project, and the Sovereign inaugurated the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation on 28 October 2014, the anniversary of the painter’s birth.
What does the painter mean to you? What does his art awaken in you?
When Bacon burst into my life, I was quickly fascinated by this unique, unclassifiable, self-taught and uncompromising giant whose works raise burning questions. As an observer of his time, he made monumental and tragic works, “a concentration of reality,” as he put it so well, which captivated and haunted me. His powerful images, tinged with intense pain, disturb, shock, fascinate and have such a spellbinding power that nobody can remain indifferent.
Is there a seminal work for you?
One of my favourite works by Bacon, and part of my collection, is Figure Crouching, a canvas dating from 1949 that was probably painted in Monaco.
What are your Foundation’s aims?
The Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation is a non-profit institution that is dedicated to study and research on the British painter. It was created to promote a better understanding of the artist’s work, life and creative process, with a special focus on the period he spent living and working in Monaco and France.
It supports research, awarding a research scholarship every four years to a doctoral student at the École du Louvre whose work focuses on Francis Bacon, and is open to researchers and art historians. It also supports artistic creation by providing scholarships to young graduate students from Villa Arson, publishes books on Bacon and supports publications about the artist.
The Foundation also produces short films about the painter and contributes to exhibitions by lending works or through financial support. The Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, the Tate Liverpool, the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, the Musée Fernand Léger in Biot, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon and the Royal Academy in London are some of the museums we have cooperated with.
The Foundation is open year round to researchers and art historians. It is open to the public, by appointment only, every Tuesday and on the first Saturday of the month for guided tours, free of charge.
What other philanthropic activities have you carried out?
In 2020, I created an endowment fund with the Musée du Louvre, directed towards the conservation and enhancement of the collections of this prestigious Paris institution.
The income from the fund is destined to support the restoration of works in the Louvre that were admired by Bacon during his many visits, some of which influenced his own work. That same year, I became a patron of the École du Louvre’s endowment fund by making a capital donation to enable it to carry on its work.
I was also the patron of an ambitious architectural project entitled “ÉCOLE DU LOUVRE 2021-2022” involving the refurbishment of its library, IT and documentation services and cafeteria, as well as the creation of a research centre, which was recently inaugurated in the presence of the French Minister of Culture Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin and Princess Caroline of Hanover.
It is the most significant funding ever provided to an educational establishment run by the Ministry of Culture. For this major project, I also provided the school with two sculptures by the British artist Antony Gormley, Witness VII and Witness VIII, as well as an easel that belonged to Francis Bacon and a photograph of the artist, bringing works of art into this study and research environment for the first time.
How do you view the cultural offering and the art world in Monaco?
Culture in all its forms has always played a fundamental role in the history of the Principality. The Ballets de Monte-Carlo, the Philharmonic Orchestra and the Monte-Carlo Opera have been internationally renowned for over a century.
I have noticed a significant development in the cultural offering in the Principality over recent decades, in particular thanks to the opening of two establishments: the Grimaldi Forum which, along with its other attractions, hosts a major exhibition every summer that has become a must-see event, and the New National Museum of Monaco, which holds several exhibitions each year, promoting Monegasque heritage and its collection.
The Oceanographic Museum, by inviting major artists for its temporary exhibitions, has also contributed to this movement. This development was made possible thanks to the essential support of Prince Albert II and Princess Caroline of Hanover as well as the numerous initiatives by the Directorate of Cultural Affairs.
The Principality of Monaco has also become a pivotal centre for the art market with the arrival of the artmonte-carlo show but also thanks to the recent opening of prestigious galleries and the vitality of its auction houses. By creating the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, I wanted to make a further contribution to Monaco’s existing cultural landscape.
What are your tastes and choices as a collector?
I have dedicated my collection to the works of Francis Bacon but I have also acquired works by painters who worked alongside Bacon, such as Graham Sutherland, Roy de Maistre, Denis Wirth-Miller, Vladimir Veličković, César, Maggi Hambling and Louis le Brocquy, or who were influenced by the work of Bacon such as Ernest Pignon-Ernest or Robert Longo.
Majid Boustany © Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation
How Elaine Wynn Became the Grande Dame of Las Vegas
BY CHRISTINA BINKLEY | FEATURES | THE WALL STREET JOURNAL MAGAZINE | WEDNESDAY, 27 APRIL, 2022
On mornings in one of her four homes, Elaine Wynn likes to take her coffee beside Francis Bacon’s triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud. She bought the paintings for $142.4 million at a Christie’s auction in 2013. That purchase, made anonymously at the time, smashed the record for the most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction and created a frenzy of speculation as to the buyer’s identity.
In the hours after the auction, Wynn says reporters called her ex-husband, Steve Wynn, to ask if he was the mystery buyer. “They were saying it will probably be on the wall of a hedge fund guy or in the desert in Arabia,” Elaine Wynn recalls. “I remember being offended that speculation centered on men, and nobody thought that a woman would either have the money or the balls.”
On this February morning, she is wearing an old Giorgio Armani blouse and newish Gabriela Hearst slacks. To her right, the shimmering copper-tone towers of the Wynn Las Vegas casino resort dominate the view from her limestone-walled dining room. She recently redid her condo with the decorator of the Obama-era White House, Michael Smith. It sits in a complex that has been home to numerous casino titans and power hitters, including the former heads of Harrah’s (now Caesars Entertainment), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Fontainebleau Resorts. It goes almost without saying that those titans have been men.
Wynn’s panorama is metaphorically rich. Wynn and her ex-husband designed and operated one Las Vegas casino after another for nearly 50 years. They brought fantasy to the desert town in the form of Mirage’s volcano, Treasure Island’s pirate battle, Bellagio’s fountains and the Wynn’s luxury. While she watches over the Wynn from her aerie, her ex lives far from his high-powered former life after having been ousted in a cloud of sexual harassment allegations from the company they co-founded. These days, he can often be found in Palm Beach, Florida, with his new wife, Andrea. Las Vegas itself has changed too, its founders replaced by hired fund managers and marketing executives.
Though Elaine Wynn is no longer an executive of the empire she co-founded, she is its biggest and most active single shareholder. This makes her the last of the dreamers whose gambling parlors transformed a small town into a global resort destination while they became high-profile casino moguls with political and financial clout ( Kirk Kerkorian bought MGM film studios; Steve Wynn became fundraising chair of the GOP). In one of the most testosterone-driven cities on earth, a woman outlasted and outmaneuvered them all.
Wynn, who has held a Nevada casino license since 1978, is worth an estimated $1.8 billion, according to Forbes, based largely on the value of her 8 percent share in Wynn Resorts. Yet for most of her adult life she has been known more for her philanthropic work in education, and as a supreme hostess with friends in high places (one of her former homes featured a mini Oval Office for visits from George H.W. Bush).
As she turns 80 in April, Wynn is coming to terms with the hand she was dealt when her husband divorced her, in 2010, and then left Wynn Resorts amid allegations of sexual harassment and rape (which he has repeatedly denied), revealed in a January 2018 Wall Street Journal article. Elaine Wynn became a primary catalyst in the company’s reform. She established new leadership on the board and testified in support of Wynn Resorts keeping a vital license to operate a new casino in Boston.
She has remade herself as a world-level art collector and a force in public art, supporting the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and using her influence to help create a national monument designation to protect land around Michael Heizer’s City—a 1.25-mile-long earthwork sculpture in Nevada. She has taken her work in Nevada education to the national level: She is chairman of Communities in Schools, which provides resources to disadvantaged children. It recently received a surprise $133 million gift from MacKenzie Scott, Jeff Bezos’s ex-wife.
She laughs that her taste is evolving as she learns to create spaces that aren’t mega casinos, and without pressure from her design-obsessed ex. Smith, she says, rejected some of her fabric choices as “too hotel” as they designed her Las Vegas home, which ended up, she says, without a single fabric that she chose herself. “There is a Wynn style that’s very much based on the hotels,” says Smith. “Elaine has a personal style also that we wanted to explore.” She is more confident in her fashion choices, and those have evolved too. Once a loyal client of Oscar de la Renta, she recently purchased a colorful oversize sweater from Christopher John Rogers and a zany embellished Libertine coat. “Fashion is the new art,” she says, pulling the looks from her room-size closet and describing her pursuit of an asymmetrical satin Balenciaga dress that she saw on a client at the brand’s flagship store in New York. When she’s in New York, she likes to shop at Linda’s, a boutique curated by Bergdorf Goodman’s well-known fashion director, Linda Fargo.
The Wynns have two daughters: Kevyn Wynn, a sometime fashion designer who was famously kidnapped in 1993 and released after her father paid a $1.45 million ransom, and Gilian Wynn, an entrepreneur and philanthropist. They have seven grandchildren, including 23-year-old Marlowe Early, who has begun working on an oral history of her grandmother, with whom she sided in the family split. Early says she believes that “Mouchie”—Elaine’s family nickname—has been under-recognized for her achievements in the face of dramatic personal and professional turmoil.
“I don’t think it’s fair that he gets to go on with his life,” Early says. “She is the person who has conducted herself with grace, value, consistency. Who is the real superhero in my eyes?”
Elaine Wynn had worked in and served on the board of the Wynns’ companies since 1967, maintaining an office and focusing her energy on everything from human resources to training to catering. She directed the Chanel-style uniforms for front desk employees when the Wynn resort opened in 2005 and persuaded Oscar de la Renta and Manolo Blahnik to open their only Las Vegas boutiques (at the time) there. But she has been credited only in recent years as a co-founder. Steve Wynn, as chairman and CEO, sometimes called himself the casinos’ “dada,” but her management roles didn’t fall into the standard executive titles.
“I was always the wing lady,” Wynn says. “It wasn’t part of the push for me to be concerned about gender equity or recognition. I always viewed our work as partners.”
Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, says Wynn was a key figure in the 2015 creation of Basin and Range National Monument, which protects the 704,000 acres surrounding Heizer’s City. President Barack Obama approved the designation. “When [Elaine] started making calls to Congress,” Govan says, “somehow I was received in a different way.”
Wynn was one of the first major donors to support a controversial new LACMA building designed by reclusive Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. When Govan, hoping she would donate, invited Wynn to tour Zumthor’s work in Europe in 2015, they wound up that August on a four-day road trip from Cologne, Germany, and Bregenz, Austria, to Haldenstein, the tiny Swiss mountain village where the architect works, with Govan behind the wheel of a rented station wagon. Marlowe Early and Govan’s daughter Ariana came along, the teenagers lending a National Lampoon’s Vacation vibe.
Wynn soon pledged $50 million without requesting that the building bear her name. “Without that initial 50 there would be no project,” says Govan. Music mogul David Geffen later pledged $150 million, securing the naming rights. Wynn is now co-chair of LACMA’s board.
The Wynns once had Picasso’s famous Le Rêve in their dining room (Steve Wynn later put his elbow through the painting by accident), but Elaine Wynn says her own tastes ran to the crafty, such as basketry and weaving. At a cocktail party at Donna Karan’s home in New York, Wynn saw a Francis Bacon work on display that sparked her interest. “It got me by the gurgle,” she says.
“I decide I’m going to enter into the auction business myself and get me a Bacon,” she says, conceding she failed at her first attempt. She began fleshing out her collection with works by Édouard Manet and Lucian Freud, as well as contemporary artists including Lauren Halsey, Adrian Ghenie and El Anatsui.
Wynn was working with art dealer Bill Acquavella in 2013 when the Bacon triptych showed up in a Christie’s auction catalog. “I always do my 48-hour test where I leave the darn thing on a credenza somewhere and go about my business,” Wynn says. “Well, this thing just didn’t leave me alone.”
A basketball fanatic, Wynn was in Chicago for the Duke versus Kansas game at the State Farm Champions Classic tournament the day of the auction. She bid anonymously from her hotel room with Acquavella on the phone. “There’s a lot of action until we get up to $100 million,” she recalls wryly. When the gavel smacked at $142.4 million, “I had this moment, like, OK, OK,” Wynn says. “I get in the car to go to the game, and I am having the worst buyer’s remorse. What have I just done?”
Much has been written about Steve Wynn, Wynn Resorts and the aftermath of the 2018 sexual harassment and assault allegations. Little is known about Elaine Wynn’s aftermath.
In 2018, she found herself an outsider, having been ousted from her office and the Wynn Resorts board after the divorce. She was now the largest individual shareholder, however, while the company was being investigated by Nevada and Massachusetts casino regulators. She was also locked in litigation with her ex and the company involving the control of her shares. Then she began to hear from women making the allegations about her husband. In a sign of the complexities of the relationships and notions of responsibility, Wynn says some described their experiences and apologized for not coming forward earlier.
“I don’t know how many other victims confess to the wives,” Wynn says. “But because of my unique situation, as being their employer-slash-mentor-slash, you know, mom—there were departments in that place that I helped put together…so I knew those people.
“People will always say, ‘How could she not have known?’ ” Wynn says. “Did I suspect that my husband could be mischievous and be, you know, a playboy?” She pauses. “All I did was apologize.”
Steve Wynn, who has said that any suggestion that he assaulted a woman is “preposterous,” declined to comment or answer any questions for this article, according to his attorney, Reid Weingarten.
Wynn’s face clouds as she discusses that year—the shame felt by her family, and the recognition that her net worth was tied up in a company that required wholly new corporate governance.
“I was really distraught by the behavior and the history that was unveiled,” Wynn says. When a longtime friend of Steve Wynn, John Hagenbuch, opted to remain on the board with the support of management, Elaine Wynn went rogue against the company she co-founded, waging a proxy fight to remove him that she says cost her “several” million dollars.
“Everybody, even her children, told her to stop,” Marlowe Early says.
Michael Klein, a banker and founder of the consultancy M. Klein & Company, was one of the advisers who accompanied her on a road trip to make the case to investors. He notes that Wynn was often received with suspicion, more as a vindictive ex-wife than a founder and shareholder. The proxy battle was bruising.
“To sleep at night, I’d say, I know I’m killing myself, but I can’t let this story end on their terms. I am the only one that’s being held accountable,” Wynn says.
In May 2018, Wynn won the proxy battle after investors and the three largest institutional investor advisory firms voted in her favor. But with critical regulatory investigations underway in Nevada and Massachusetts, the role of Wynn Resorts chairman was held by another of Steve Wynn’s longtime friends, D. Boone Wayson. Wynn saw that as a risk.
Wynn reached out to Phil Satre, the former chief executive of Harrah’s casinos, who had a reputation as the casino industry’s altar boy and was respected by regulators, whose support Wynn Resorts desperately needed. Satre was by then chairman of the board of Nordstrom In. Satre says that Wynn phoned him, then flew to Seattle, where he was attending a Nordstrom directors’ meeting, and convinced him to consider joining the Wynn board.
“The remarkable thing about Elaine is that a lot of people in her situation, in my opinion, would have taken her shareholder position and gone off and had a good time in Sun Valley and L.A. That’s not what she did,” says Satre, who resigned as chairman from Nordstrom and left other commitments to join Wynn Resorts that August. Wayson retired, and Satre became chairman in November.
“Her ability to finalize that last play on the chessboard—I’ve watched some fantastic tacticians in the corporate boardroom, but no one was thinking of Phil until Elaine,” Klein says.
Wynn says she is now pleased with the direction of the company. “The stock’s in the toilet but that’s OK. I’m here for the long term. We’re doing fine. And I do like the management now.”
With the casino drama settled, Wynn has turned her focus to her children and grandchildren, her life in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York (her Sun Valley, Idaho, house was under contract to be sold in April) and her work in education.
She continues to trade and collect art but says she will never sell the Bacon triptych. Yet she wishes to assuage her guilt, she says, for keeping such a valuable artwork to herself, so it will be part of her estate, destined one day for an as-yet-unnamed museum. “I’ll have had the pleasure of being a steward for a while,” Wynn says. “And that will clear my conscience.”
How much does Govan want it for LACMA? “What’s the scale?” he responds. “From one to 10? Eleven.”
Wynn recently watched a CBS Mornings interview in which Melinda French Gates reflected candidly on exiting her 27-year marriage to Bill Gates, and on the ways women are often left to answer for the men in their lives. “I had a lot of tears for many days. Days when I’m literally laying on the floor on the carpet,” French Gates told interviewer Gayle King after parrying several questions about her husband’s infidelities. “Days I certainly was angry.”
“Man,” Wynn says. “There I was right in that woman’s body, feeling what she was describing.”
Elaine Wynn likes to take her coffee beside Francis Bacon’s triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud. She bought the paintings for $142.4 million at a Christie’s auction in 2013.
Skarstedt New York explores Francis Bacon’s
relationships in upcoming exhibition
WRITTEN BY DOM CARTER | ART & CULTURE | NEWS | CREATIVE BOOM | WEDNESDAY, 27 APRIL, 2022
A group of masterworks by Francis Bacon painted between the 1950s and 1970s are coming to Skarstedt Gallery in New York as part of an upcoming exhibition that explores the artist’s relationships with beloved friends and muses.
Running from 4 May to 11 June 2022 at Skarstedt Gallery in New York, Francis Bacon: Faces and Figures looks at the "poignant moments of loss and companionship" which were felt in the great painter’s personal relationships.
Featuring depictions of some of Francis Bacon’s most beloved friends, lovers and muses — including Peter Lacy, George Dyer, Muriel Belcher, and Henrietta Moraes — the exhibition also doesn’t shy away from the fiery and tempestuous aspects of these relationships. Intimate self-portraits and a portrait of Pope Pius XII are also on display to round out the collection.
For admirers of how Bacon experimented with figures and distorted the human form in his expressive paintings, Francis Bacon: Faces and Figures also promises to offer up some rarities. Amongst them are the paintings of Muriel Belcher and Henrietta Moraes. While not usually associated with the romantic discourse which usually dominates his work, the two women played an essential role in his practice.
In particular, the muse of Henrietta Moraes gets special treatment. Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing and Three Studies for a Portrait will be shown side-by-side for the first time, which is fitting, seeing as both pieces were inspired by the 1959 film Hiroshima Mon Amour in which the lead actress appears with a piece of hair across her face.
“Here, Bacon uses it as a compositional device to split Moraes’s face in two while evoking the love, loss, and despair latent in the film and his own life,” Skarstedt Gallery explains.
However, Bacon’s muse was not always other people, and the artist started to turn to himself for subject matter later in his career when people around him started to die.
“Painted when he was nearly seventy, Study for Self-Portrait (1979) sees Bacon considering his own mortality after a life of so much loss and death,” says the gallery. “Hues of crimson, blue, and purple flicker across his face as if battered and bruised, tired from years of fighting.”
Man at a Washbasin (1954)
OBSERVER LETTERS | NEWS | THE OBSERVER | SUNDAY, 24 APRIL, 2022
Your article mischaracterises the material donated to the Tate by Barry Joule and the events that have taken place since (“Francis Bacon bequest will be sent to France is snub to Tate gallery”, News).
This is a collection of archival material from Bacon’s studio address, including documents and photographs, not finished works of art. It was accepted into the Tate’s archive as such, where it has been catalogued and made available for research at Tate Britain, and where some of the items have since been publicly shown in archival displays.
We have acknowledged and thanked Mr Joule, keeping an open dialogue with him throughout this period and our conversations with him about the material are ongoing.
Maria Balshaw, director, and Roland Rudd, chair of Trustees, Tate, London
Nicolas Cage faces off with a new foe: himself
BY JAKE COYLE | AP FILM WRITER | NEWS | THE INDEPENDENT | MONDAY, 21 APRIL, 2022
“Metropolis.” Bruce Lee. Woody Woodpecker. A pet cobra. All of these things have been inspirations behind Nicolas Cage performances — sometimes private homages that the actor has used like blueprints to build some of his most exaggerated, erratic and affecting characters.
A conversation with Cage, likewise, pulls from a wide gamut of sources. In a recent and typically wide-ranging interview ahead of the release of “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” Cage touched on Picasso, Elia Kazan, Timothée Chalamet and Francis Bacon. A book of interviews with Bacon, “The Brutality of Fact,” for instance, helped Cage define his attraction to intense, even grotesque performance — “that which is not obviously beautiful,” he says — rather than naturalism.
“And I’ve kind of approached my public perception, as well as the way I design my film work, as an actor with that concept in mind — to not be afraid to be ugly in behaviour or even in appearance,” says Cage. “To create a kind of taste that you have to discover.”
With more than 100 films, the 58-year-old Cage — an Oscar-winner (“Leaving Las Vegas”), an action star (“Con Air”) and the source of countless Internet memes for his most theatrical moments in films like “Face/Off” — has long been one of the most particular tastes in movies. Yet by being “an amateur surrealist,” as he refers to himself, Cage has emerged — even after resorting to a string of VOD releases to pay off back taxes and get himself out of debt — as one of Hollywood’s most widely loved stars. As “Unbearable Weight” director Tom Gormican says, “the sight of his face sort of makes people happy.”
But for even the mercurial Cage, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” which opens in theaters Friday, represents something different. In it, Cage plays himself. Or, rather, he plays a fun-house mirror version of himself that sometimes interacts with a younger version of himself. The movie is one big homage to Cage in which the actor somehow manages to both satirize perceptions of himself and act out those personas sincerely.
“The through line that’s always been there for me: No matter what I designed, and it has been a design whether it’s ridiculous — and it’s often ridiculous — or whether it’s sublime, it has to be informed with genuine emotional content,” says Cage.
“No matter how broad or what some folk like to call over the top, it had genuine feeling.”
But what to Cage constitutes over the top? This is the actor who, channeling Nosferatu in “Vampire’s Kiss,” gave one of the most bonkers recitals of the alphabet ever heard. He’s fond of answering: “Well, show me where the top is and I’ll tell you if I’m over it.”
“I grew up in a house where my mom would do things that if you put it in a movie, you would say that was over the top,” says Cage, whose mother, Joy Coppola, was a dancer and choreographer. His father, August Coppola, brother of Francis, was a professor of literature. “But what is the top? When you want to design something and you think about different styles — naturalism, impressionism, surrealism, abstract — then you start to look at it in a different way. It’s not going to be for everybody and it’s not necessarily going to sell tickets. But that’s OK.”
“Movies are a business and it was not without peril that I took this path, but it was important to me,” he adds. “I stuck by it and, sure, I got plenty of rotten tomatoes thrown in my face. But I knew that was going to happen so it wasn’t anything I didn’t expect.”
But what’s unusual about Cage is that many of those experiments HAVE sold tickets. A lot of them. Cage’s films account for nearly $5 billion in worldwide box office. Still, it’s been a while since he was front-and-center in a major studio film.
“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” which Lionsgate premiered at South by Southwest to warm reviews, allows him to play around with the notion of a comeback. In the film, he’s desperate to score better parts than the birthday party he’s been offered $1 million to attend. The movie was an opportunity to wrestle — usually comically, sometimes physically — with his own exaggerated mythology.
“He would come up to me and say, (lowers voice) ‘Tom, there’s a guy who wears rings and leather jackets and he lives in Las Vegas and he would never say that line,’” recalls Gormican. “And I would go, ‘Oh, you mean you.’ He’d say, ‘Yes.’ And I’d be like, ‘Well, it’s not you. It’s a character based on you.’ And he’d go, ‘But he has my name.’ I was like, ‘Come on, man, just say the line.’”
“We’d have discussions about who understood Nick Cage more,” adds Gormican, laughing.
Gormican was initially turned down several times by Cage before a heartfelt letter finally convinced the actor to make the film. The issue was that Cage, even at his most outlandish, has never put quotation marks around his performances. He tends to invest fully in even the most unhinged characters. (Werner Herzog’s “Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans” comes to mind.) Cage initially feared Gormican’s film would be self-mocking parody, and while it has those elements, Cage steers it in more unpredictable directions.
“Without mentioning names, there were some actors that came out of the gate that I thought were really sincere and profoundly emotional and honest in the beginning and then became too high on their own supply,” Cage says. “They started winking at the audience and, in my opinion, it lost the emotional connection. It’s a slippery slope when you make the decision that you want to be emotional and raw.”
The actor does reach some gonzo heights in the film. After one scene, Gormican was honoured to hear Cage say: “That was the Full Cage. You got the Full Cage.” Another scene features the two Cages making out, after which the younger exclaims, “Nick Cage smooches good!”
Cage’s own exotic tastes — he once had to return a dinosaur skull he purchased that had been stolen from Mongolia — have contributed to his legend. But he insists that he is normal in his life so that he can be extreme in his work — and that some of his self-promotion, like an infamously nutty appearance on “Wogan,” was itself an act.
Cage last year married Riko Shibata, his fifth wife, and they are expecting a child. (Cage also has two grown sons; a sticking point in “Unbearable Weight” was that he not be shown as an absentee father — one fiction Cage wouldn’t permit.) After an unusually introspective press tour for the film, Cage is looking forward to returning to the desert outside Las Vegas, where he lives. He could use a break from “Nick Cage.”
But “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” wraps a chapter for the actor. He’s finally out of the red after making some 30 video-on-demand films over the last decade to pay off the IRS and his creditors. He makes no apologies for those films. They made him a better actor, he says.
“I was practicing. I managed to keep my access to my imagination at my fingertips. It was a much better way for me to get this financial crisis off my back than doing something like a Super Bowl commercial — and believe me they offered,” says Cage. “That was also a point for me, that I’m not a salesman, I’m an actor.”
Cage can also once again feel some mainstream momentum behind him. His performance in last year’s “Pig,” as a grizzled truffle hunter with a past, earned some of his best reviews in years. It was a more naturalistic performance than Cage is generally known for — and a reminder of his limitless range. Having started professionally at 15, Cage reminds that he’s been doing this a long time. To him, his path began, appropriately enough, with an audacious performance.
Cage’s father, the actor says, had a massive influence on him, exposing him to books, early films and paintings. But he could cut his son down with words.
“And I just wasn’t going to take it,” says Cage. “I knew that he thought more of me than he let on. I tricked him once and I did something that I’ve never done ever again. I lied. I said, ‘Dad, I wrote this song.’ And I played him Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” And he believed me. He said, “Wow, Nicky, that’s incredible.” Then I got the positive affirmation that I needed to believe in myself. That was the one time a lie saved me.”
Nicolas Cage, “Mandy,” 2018
Francis Bacon Confidant Reroutes Donation
to France Following Rift with Tate
BY ANGELICA VILLA | LATEST NEWS | ART NEWS | MONDAY, APRIL 18, 2022
A confidant of Francis Bacon has decided not to donate a trove of works by the postwar painter to Tate in London following a long-running rift with the British institution over its handling of a previous gift. Instead he will donate the works to the French state.
Barry Joule, a British man who befriended Bacon in 1978 while the two were living in London, rescinded his initial plan to donate the works after Tate had failed to exhibit an earlier tranche of works he had donated almost two decades ago, The Guardian reports.
The current donation is said to comprise around 150 drawings and 10 paintings, along with a trove of archival materials that include hundreds of photographs and 12 hours of audio recordings between Joule and Bacon. Joule maintained contact with Bacon until the artist’s death in 1992.
Now, Joule says he has already begun negotiations to donate the materials to the Centre Pompidou’s national archives in Paris. In 2019, the Pompidou organized an exhibition titled “Bacon: Books and Painting” that looked at the literary influences on the Irish-born artist’s work.
Joule has donated works to French museums before. In 2005, he donated 80 drawings by Bacon to the Musée Picasso in Paris, which displayed them in a large-scale exhibition that same year.
In 2004, Joule donated to Tate a near 1,200-item archive spanning drawings to photographs from Bacon’s studio that was worth an estimated £20 million at the time. When the announcement was made, Tate said it would catalogue the donation over a period of three years before making it available to be exhibited.
Joule has said he is considering taking legal action against the Tate over the museum’s failure to prominently showcase the collection as agreed, threatening to sue the institution in an email correspondence published in August 2021.
A representative for Tate did not immediately respond to Artnews’s request for comment.
But recently doubt has been cast over the bona fides of Joule’s 2004 donation, known as the Barry Joule Archive (BJA). Last September, the Bacon Estate published Francis Bacon: Shadows, which quotes an unnamed Tate curator as saying “the hand/s that applied the marks to the material may not have included Bacon to any substantial degree,” according to an article published by The Guardian at the time.
In Shadows, Sophie Pretorius, an archivist for the estate, adds, “The story of the material associated with Joule is riddled with exaggeration, half-truths and contradictions… Bacon’s work is not easy to mimic. But the author of the items in the BJA made a stab at it.”
Francis Bacon friend to snub Tate with French donation
BEN ELLERY | UK NEWS | THE TIMES | MONDAY, APRIL 18, 2022
A collection of art by Francis Bacon will not be given to the Tate and will instead go to France after a row between the gallery and one of the artist’s closest friends.
Barry Joule, a confidant of the artist, will no longer give the Tate hundreds of works after it failed to exhibit an earlier donation.
The second donation was to have included up to 150 drawings, ten paintings, hundreds of photographs and more than 12 hours of taped material in which the artist chatted with Joule about subjects including art and sex.
Joule has started negotiations to give the work to the French National Archives at the Pompidou Centre in Paris.
He told The Observer: “The Tate and Britain will be missing out on part of the nation’s art history of one of their most important painters.”
In 2004 Joule gave the Tate 1,200 sketches, photographs and documents from Bacon’s studio in a gift estimated to be worth £20 million. At the time the gallery said: “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 has since threatened legal action after what he describes as its failure to display it in a proper exhibition, as agreed, although Maria Balshaw, the Tate’s director, wrote to him last year reiterating the gallery’s gratitude.
Last year Sophie Pretorius, archivist of the estate’s collection, wrote in a book about Bacon: “The story of the material associated with Joule is riddled with exaggeration, half-truths and contradictions . . . Bacon’s work is not easy to mimic. But the author of the items in the BJA [Barry Joule archive] made a stab at it.”
Joule said he was “fuming” and was considering legal action. He had lived near Bacon’s London studio and in 1978 they struck up a friendship that lasted until the artist’s death in 1992. Joule recorded several of their conversations. He said: “He [Bacon] signed a statement saying I could use it 12 years after his death. Many of those conversations feature him philosophising.
A Tate spokeswoman declined to comment on the gallery’s handling of the 2004 gift. Asked about Joule’s cancellation of a further gift, she said: “We can confirm we have received the letter and will be responding to it.”
Barry Joule, left, a confidant of Francis Bacon, has started negotiations to give the work to the French National Archives at the Pompidou Centre in Paris.
Friend of Francis Bacon snubs the Tate to give art works to Paris instead
Barry Joule says he is cancelling plans to donate a collection to the UK gallery because it failed to exhibit works in earlier gift
DALYA ALBERGE | CULTURE | THE OBSERVER | SUNDAY, 17 APRIL, 2022
An extensive collection of Francis Bacon’s art will be given to France instead of to the Tate following a row between the gallery and one of the artist’s closest friends.
Barry Joule, who was Bacon’s confidant, said he is so frustrated by the Tate’s failure to exhibit an earlier donation of the artist’s work that he has cancelled plans to donate hundreds more items to the gallery.
The further donation was to have included up to 150 drawings, 10 paintings, hundreds of photographs and more than 12 hours of taped material in which the artist chatted with Joule about subjects from art to sex.
Instead, he would now like the work to go the French National Archives in the Centre Pompidou Paris, and has started negotiations.
Joule told The Observer: “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 for ever.”
In 2004, he gave the Tate about 1,200 sketches, photographs and documents from Bacon’s studio in what was then described as one of the most generous gifts to the gallery, worth an estimated £20m. Its announcement stated then: “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 claims he has been driven to pursue legal action against the Tate over what he describes as its failure to do justice to that collection with a proper exhibition, as initially agreed, although the Tate’s director, Maria Balshaw, wrote to him last year, reiterating the gallery’s gratitude.
He has now told the Tate they won’t receive a further gift. “The gallery’s reaction? Nothing,” he said.
Joule had lived near Bacon’s London studio, and in 1978 they struck up a friendship that continued until the artist’s death in 1992, exactly 30 years ago this month.
He spent numerous holidays with Bacon and recorded a series of their conversations: “He [Bacon] signed a statement saying I could use it 12 years after his death. Many of those conversations feature him philosophising, often with his unmistakable no-nonsense comments,” he said.
He singled out a 1991 recording that gives insights into Bacon’s dismissal of his own success. At one point, he shouts the words “I am not rich!” – even though he was by then the most famous and richest painter alive.
Joule said: “He was a self-deprecating artist who, strangely enough, never ever thought of himself as rich. Of course, he was rich, but he lived very simply. The only time he really splashed out was in expensive restaurants.”
In those recordings, Bacon talked about other artists, including Jasper Johns, dismissing his 1959 abstract painting, False Start – which had sold in 1988 for $17m (£12m) – as “such a ridiculous thing”: “It is nothing. It is just a … number of diagonal scratches going in different directions in red and blue,” Bacon said.
Joule, who now lives in France, noted Bacon’s love of Paris, although “he said he couldn’t work there because there were too many distractions”.
He previously donated about 100 Bacon drawings based on Picasso to the Musée Picasso in Paris, which exhibited them in a large Bacon-Picasso exhibition in 2005. Shortly afterwards, the French government awarded him the Chevalier des Ordres des Arts et des Lettres: “It’s the equivalent of a knighthood. I gave them one-tenth of what I gave to the Tate and they knighted me … I never got a cup of coffee out of the Tate.”
Joule’s donation to France will now include a dramatic painted head that musician David Bowie particularly liked: “Bowie had an art publishing company and personally chose what art catalogues they would publish. He immediately agreed to do the catalogue for the 2001 exhibition of my Bacon archive at the London Barbican. Bowie chose this image for the front cover. Of course the Barbican and I agreed,” he said.
He added: “Many of these Bacon images in my collection have an engaging story to tell. That art history and my intimate knowledge of Bacon will be lost to the UK.”
A Tate spokeswoman declined to comment on the gallery’s handling of the 2004 gift. Asked about Joule’s cancellation of a further gift, she said: “We can confirm we have received the letter and will be responding to it.”
Sunday 24 April 2022. For the record. UK news. This week’s corrections. An article (“Friend of Francis Bacon snubs the Tate to give art works to Paris instead”, 17 April, p22) referred to Bacon’s work going to “the French National Archives in the Centre Pompidou Paris”. The French National Archives and the Centre Pompidou Paris are two separate organisations; we meant the archives of the latter.
Francis Bacon and Barry Joule on holiday in Sicily in 1987. Bacon and Joule with Catharina Toto Koopman in Sicily in 1987.
Hilary Fannin: Francis Bacon offers a kind of therapy
Bacon’s bleak vision is more in tune with the times than Bond Street’s glitzy shops
HILARY FANNIN | LIFE & STYLE | THE IRISH TIMES | FRIDAY, APRIL 15, 2022
At London’s Oxford Circus Tube station the concertinaed gates had been temporarily drawn closed, the platforms below too congested to take any more commuters. In search of the Victoria line to Brixton, we walked, the three of us, towards Piccadilly and then on to New Bond Street, en route to Green Park station. My two companions walked ahead, talking quietly, amicably, about their shared past, postwar babies both, strolling through the city of their birth. I trailed behind them, looking in the windows of the designer shops.
Dawdling past the displays of frigid opulence on that warm spring evening, the minimalistically exhibited luxury accoutrements seemed, in the light of the increasingly devastating international news, quite bizarre.
The items on show – mother-of-pearl inlaid watches, lambskin “poodle-curve” high-heel sandals (hand-stitched by elves in a forest of primroses), tiny gold-chained handbags that wouldn’t fit much more than a credit card, a tube of Dior Rouge, a condom and a packet of vintage Marlboro – all appeared, as a contusion of purple clouds gathered overhead and a light rain began to fall, particularly vulgar and gracelessly misplaced.
But what do I know? I’ve never shopped on Bond Street, never experienced the rush of pleasure or the sense of belonging that proceeding under the marbled portico of a designer boutique to purchase a yellow shearling handbag might bring. I haven’t experienced the sense of accomplishment that some, apparently, derive from consuming high-end goods.
I don’t know how much the little furry yellow handbag cost; there was no price tag in the window. “If you need to ask…”, as the saying goes.
There was a similar handbag a few shops down, also very small and fluffy and tethered to a golden chain. This one, in shades of tangerine and brown, looked like it might bite; looked indeed as if it might have a row of tiny incisors underneath its pelt to snap the hand off anyone who might try to snaffle it. Mind you, given that it was retailing at around three grand, you’d expect it to do something for its keep.
We’d been at the Royal Academy that afternoon to see the Francis Bacon exhibition, Man and Beast. The uncompromising savagery of some of the Dublin-born artist’s images – many painted and exhibited in the immediate aftermath of the second World War – made them feel like the work, once again, of a man for the times.
Anguish is everywhere in this exhilarating show. It is in the studies of the figures at the base of a crucifixion; in the emaciated howling monkey on its shocking pink background; in the aghast, almost severed-looking heads of the popes, melting like wax on the canvas; in the deformed, mostly faceless bodies with screaming razor-toothed mouths. There is carnage, too, in the circular room full of massive orange canvases depicting the bullfight, in the broken bodies of matador and taunted beast.
The retrospective, spanning decades, at times felt almost too much. But then there was always the distraction of observing the other spectators, standing stock still and silent in front of the work, themselves adding another component to the dramas on the walls.
Some visitors to the gallery even brought along small foldable stools and perched, seated, in front of the paintings, staring intently at their details.
I watched one elderly man, his eyes wet with emotion, sit and lean forward towards the canvas as if he was trying to read it, to decipher in its language signs of hope or revelation.
I watched a magnificent woman with long dark hair, dressed in the palest yellow silk, her slim feet in jewelled shoes, stand in front of a painting called Two Figures in the Grass, in which two hunched lovers are coldly observed as if by a huntsman watching game.
Even if I was desperately rich; rich enough to schlep about in poodle-curve slingbacks with a tooth-baring reticule over my arm, I wouldn’t have paid to have a private view of this exhibition.
Although I’m aware that paying a few quid for the thrill of its unyieldingly bleak vision is itself a form of consumerism, experiencing it with other silent watchers gave me a momentary sense of belonging which, to be fair, I don’t think I’d get from purchasing a pair of diamante-encrusted sunglasses.
At Green Park station, the newspaper billboards told a grim story. I followed my companions down the escalator, dropping into the bowels of the city, reassured once more by the murmur of their equitable conversation, by the ordinary, unremarkable rhythm of our homeward journey.
‘Anguish is everywhere in this exhilarating show’. Head VI by Francis Bacon (1949). Man and Beast exhibition, Royal Academy, London.
Norman Scott has the last word on a very English scandal
The hypocrisy, class bias and establishment cover-up throughout the Thorpe affair is fully
revealed in Scott’s long-awaited memoir
WRITTEN BY ROGER LEWIS | LEAD BOOK REVIEW | THE SPECTATOR MAGAZINE | SATURDAY, 9 APRIL, 2022
I’m glad Norman Scott can say he has ‘always had the ability to laugh at the absurdity’ of his existence because, as detailed here in a long-awaited memoir, I too couldn’t stop shrieking, he is so tragic. When he came home unexpectedly as a youngster, for example, and witnessed his mother having sex in the lounge with a telephone engineer, he was so shocked he dropped his tortoise. ‘The terrible guilt over my tortoise stayed with me,’ he writes – maybe until just the other day. Scott is now 82.
He’ll always be remembered of course for the Jeremy Thorpe trial, when the judge, Mr Justice Cantley, called him a fraud, a sponger, a whiner and a parasite; and Scott’s haplessness is truly in a class of its own. I know he was played on television tenderly and sensitively by Ben Whishaw, but the personality in An Accidental Icon is more Jim Dale when, in one of the Carry Ons, he zoomed about tethered to a floor-polisher or clattered down steps on an iron bed frame. I lost count of the times Scott wakes up ‘strapped to an iron bed’, whether in psychiatric wards or when romantic assignations go awry: ‘I couldn’t move. My wrists and ankles were tied.’
A commingling of horror and farce is never distant. An unhappy childhood sets it all in motion: desertion, insecurity, violence. Scott had a stepfather who ‘got hold of Mummy by her hair and threw her down the stairs’. The nuns at his convent school were bullies. Friends were few. He had a stammer and curvature of the spine. He wet the bed; and any adult he met fiddled with his flies. ‘The sense of something unkind and unpleasant about to happen was always present.’
His mother was no support. She wanted to have him taken into care: ‘I can’t control him. He’s just difficult.’ Scott’s salvation was horses: ‘They didn’t see me as weak or vulnerable or someone they could manipulate.’ No, they simply threw him off, bucking like mad in ‘a nightmare of flailing hooves, sky, brown earth, splinters of wood’, leaving him concussed and with shattered vertebrae.
Scott is undoubtedly brave, mastering these vigorous creatures. He has spent his professional life in the equestrian world of dressage, three-day eventing, jumping and racing, and was employed as a stable lad and groom by many a ghastly old snob, bore, lunatic, sadist, bankrupt or associate of Princess Anne. One morning on his way to work he fell off his scooter, breaking limbs, which caused him to reflect: ‘I had found myself gripped by a bleak premonition that nothing would ever go right for me.’ Nor did it. The doctors put him on high doses of tranquillisers and antidepressants and he found it impossible to sustain relationships.
In one typical sequence he moves in with someone in the Cotswolds. Their mental anxieties clash and soon everyone is ‘placed in a psychiatric clinic’. They escape, rent a flat in Oxford and ‘within a week Jane had slashed her wrists’; the other person, Brian, gets drunk and hurls a pass (‘he was a big, strong man and at first I was very scared of him’), before somebody else switches on all the gas taps. Scott throws a chair through a window and goes for a walk with Brian, who tries to drown them both in the canal. Later on the gas trick is tried again, and Brian was ‘standing over me, holding a knife’.
This sort of caper happens every day. Friends vanish and turn up in Australia or commit suicide in Wales. Scott is always getting the wrong train, or finding himself stranded in the middle of nowhere, his luggage lost. Businesses close down, leaving him in the lurch. Helicopters buzz his bungalow. Pranksters phone up pretending to be Michael Heseltine. Doctors he trusts are struck off. One minute he is a male model in London, sharing premises with Margot Fonteyn (‘she spoke about her involvement in the Panamanian revolution’), the next he is in Dublin, being intimate with a member of the Dáil and Elizabeth Taylor’s secretary – Taylor and Richard Burton having ‘returned to the yacht to be with their pet dogs’. If this is meant to be 1964, the only time the Burtons were in Ireland, then it’s worth mentioning they didn’t acquire a yacht until May 1967.
I relished this book’s celebrity cameos. In a Dulwich flat filled with ‘flamboyant and extrovert’ sorts, Lord Snowdon is glimpsed. Scott’s mother’s best friend was Dorothy Squires. When Scott was (very briefly) married in 1969, he spent his honeymoon in a cottage owned by Terry-Thomas and there were elderly Czech refugees hiding in the bathroom. Scott says he slept with Francis Bacon, who snored, and next morning said: ‘You’re not my usual type.’ Scott’s favourite West Country pub was run by the son of Fanny Cradock.
Thorpe, who first encountered Scott at one of those grisly stables, was intrigued enough by the sound of this picaresque existence to give him his telephone number – and Scott, who during one low ebb ‘ended up sleeping in the men’s lavatories in Barnstable’, was naive enough to believe that Thorpe could rescue him. He appeared at the House of Commons, where the MP ‘put his arm round me in a warm friendly gesture’. Thorpe took Scott home to meet his mother, a grim old trout called Ursula, who knew the score. The abuse began immediately. Scott relates how ‘he held me down with great force as he thrust violently into my body. It hurt so much I was gasping with pain.’ Thorpe took full advantage of a vulnerable, medicated person. ‘I was forced,’ says Scott, ‘into non-consensual, illegal, agonising sex by a man in a position of considerable power and influence... I was just a vessel for his pleasure.’ One interesting fact emerges: Thorpe had nodules on his balls.
Scott had no redress. No one was interested in his complaints. ‘I just don’t believe you,’ said David Steel. ‘I don’t believe this could have happened.’ Evidence went missing. Briefcases containing letters were stolen. The authorities treated Scott as a blackmailer. Several times he was roughed up by the police or security services. ‘If you don’t cooperate, I have the power to lock you away and you won’t see the light of day for 14 years,’ he was told, before having his head banged against a cell wall. Thorpe kept Scott’s National Insurance cards, in an attempt to control him, and Peter Bessell, the Liberal member for Bodmin, paid Scott a weekly retainer to ensure his silence. Thorpe, meantime, seduced sailors at Dan Farson’s pub on the Isle of Dogs. He was thoroughly homosexual, despite two marriages. Being with a woman was ‘like making love to cold rice pudding’, Thorpe claimed. On one occasion he sodomised Scott against Selwyn Lloyd’s garden wall.
The bungled murder attempt on Exmoor is well known, but increasingly bizarre in retrospect. The failed assassin, Andrew Newton, who’d later become a rubber fetishist, initially went to Dunstable, mistaking it for Barnstaple. After he shot Rinka, the Great Dane, the gun jammed, so he fled. ‘They have shot my dog and they tried to shoot me!’ said Scott, covered in Rinka’s blood. Owing to his homosexuality – thus ‘hysterical, vindictive’ and ‘a dreadful pervert’– he was accorded little sympathy. That was the cruel line taken by George Carman, defending Thorpe at the subsequent trial in 1979. Scott’s evidence was worthless because he was weak, soft, poisonous and paranoid. Thorpe, by contrast, was ‘a statesman of courage and truth’ and, despite documentation of his lies, manipulation and financial embezzlement, was acquitted.
It was the greatest miscarriage of justice of modern times – Thorpe getting away with his murderous conspiracy through class bias, homophobia, hypocrisy and establishment cover-up. Scott says there was even talk of Thorpe’s wanting him chucked down a Cornish mine or dumped in the Florida Everglades. He is to be applauded, therefore, for surviving to have the last word. He deserves a medal for his resilience.
Norman Scott, An Accidental Icon: How I Dodged a Bullet, Spoke Truth to Power and Lived to Tell the Tale, Hodder, pp. 336, £20
Howard Jacobson’s Diary: Home-front warriors
and Francis Bacon’s waning shock value
The spectacle of genuine horror unfolding in Ukraine throws into
perspective our more synthetic outrages.
BY HOWARD JACOBSON | DIARY | THE NEW STATESMAN | WEDNESDAY, 6 APRIL, 2022
So now we know what tyranny actually looks like up close and personal, we must wonder what those intrepid warriors who faced the might of Priti Patel to defend their right not to wear a paper mask have to say about their struggle. “I suppose we were being a mite silly”? Not a bit of it. “We stand vindicated” is my bet. “See? Isn’t this exactly what we warned against? Allow them to stick a needle in our arms today and they’ll be occupying the Isle of Wight tomorrow.”
And what of those who’ve been bowdlerising Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare lest it creates panic in the playground? How are they explaining the horrors of war to their little ones? “Darling, they’re only lying down to take a rest. It’s a game, like paper, stone and scissors, only don’t use the word scissors in this house. Now dry your eyes, turn off the television and get back to reading that comic of King Lear I bought you, the one without the naughty daughters, the rude clown, the bad weather and the blinding scene.”
I can’t pretend I’ve been any more heroic myself. I too was waking wet-cheeked until I stopped doom-scrolling before bed. In fact, what I was doing was more like false-solace-scrolling. Tell me the Ukrainians have shot down the entirety of the Russian air force. Tell me the Russian people have suddenly begun to wonder why opposition politicians in their country are always going away and not coming back. Tell me Zelensky’s flying in to do Live at the Apollo. Sing me a nice hymn. “All things bright and beautiful…”
Writing is reality
Beyond that, I’m making a reasonable fist – sorry, sorry, not fist, job – of following Kingsley Amis’s advice to writers to forget all about a book the minute they finish writing it and get stuck into a new one. This is to forestall the disappointment that invariably waits on publication. The world will look no different the day it appears in print, he warned. And he’s right. A few appreciative words from an astute reviewer, a handshake dipped in Novichok from an embittered fellow writer, someone mistaking me for Alan Yentob on Regent Street, otherwise all is as it was before.
So it’s back to the desk and the pleasure of actually writing, which must never be confused with the siren distractions of praise or dispraise, publicity or the lack of it, and worry about one’s legacy. A writer’s only legacy is the sentence that comes after the one before.
Paint and politeness
I suspect Francis Bacon would have agreed with me. My only subject is paint, he said to someone. By which I take him to have meant his only lasting purpose and pleasure was paint. As opposed to getting sloshed in Soho. I usually leave it too late to go to the great art shows in London, which must bespeak some deep reluctance to see them, or at least to being told I must, but I made it just in time to catch Francis Bacon: Man and Beast at the Royal Academy, on the way to which I was mistaken twice: once for Waldemar Januszczak and, for a second time, though not by the same person, for Alan Yentob.
It was a bold, well curated show with informative wall notes in the English language, rather than that academic socio-speak that squeezes the vitality out of every canvas it describes in the name of precisely those abstractions art abhors. How much I like Bacon’s work I can’t decide. There’s some disconnect that bothers me between the raw animality of what he paints and the serenely civilised demeanour of those looking at it. What beasts we are, except when we’re looking at Francis Bacon!
You can’t blame him for the way he’s looked at, of course, but you can wonder why work so obviously intended to be disturbing barely disturbs a hair of his admirers’ heads. How do I know that? Well, put it this way: it barely disturbs a hair of mine. Are we too used to it now? Has Bacon dated already? Or was it always less harrowing than it purported to be – more kitsch than horror, more partygate than Mariupol?
We play happily with plasticine bestiality until the real thing bursts into the nursery. Suddenly I find myself thinking Boris Johnson’s not so bad. When hell unlooses demons, what’s a scoundrel more or less?
Howard Jacobson’s memoir “Mother’s Boy: A Writer’s Beginnings” is published by Jonathan Cape
David Lynch once named his favourite artist of all time
SWAPNIL DHRUV BOSE | FILM | FAR OUT MAGAZINE | TUESDAY, 5 APRIL, 2022
David Lynch has always maintained that he is not just a filmmaker. Even though he is considered to be one of the greatest pioneers of surrealist cinema, Lynch has actively ventured into other areas of artistic expression such as music and painting. In fact, a major part of Lynch’s cinematic vision has been deeply influenced by his formative training as a painter.
During his college years, Lynch decided that he was going to pursue a career in painting and had even travelled to Europe in order to learn from the famous expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka but it never ended up happening. Upon returning to America, Lynch found a different kind of liberation in making short films after being moved by the grotesque surrealism of Philadelphia.
In many interviews, Lynch has stated that he conceptualises the artistic process as something very similar to fishing. According to the legendary director, one has to bait ideas as if they were elusive fishes. “If you catch an idea that you love, it is a beautiful, beautiful day,” he declared. Adding to his comments, Lynch explained: “In the other room, the puzzle is all together but they keep flipping it one piece at a time.”
These conceptualisations are very familiar to those who have seen Lynch’s work, especially incomprehensibly alluring projects such as Eraserhead and Twin Peaks. While Lynch drew from the contributions of other directors like Werner Herzog, he was also motivated by masters of painting. Specifically, Lynch named the enigmatic painter Francis Bacon as a chief source of inspiration.
Lynch’s films have been described as paintings themselves by many people, including Jeremy Irons who compared Lynch’s works to Rothko paintings. However, the influence of Bacon throughout the filmography of the director is pretty apparent. Lynch discovered the works of Bacon early on in his life, being moved by them for the first time at a gallery in 1966.
According to a popular myth, Lynch’s interest in filmmaking was generated when he asked himself “How would I do a moving painting?” after one of his paintings was moved by the wind. The unsettling art of Francis Bacon played a major role in showing Lynch how visual images can have emotional momentum and can even project movement.
Looking back on the experience of discovering Bacon, Lynch described it as “a beautiful storm” and “thrilling”. Later on, he would use Bacon’s paintings like Portrait of a Man and Two Figures at a Window for visual inspiration in Twin Peaks. While the iconic Red Room of Twin Peaks was also directly influenced by Bacon, Lynch based the look of the protagonist of his 1980 masterpiece The Elephant Man on Bacon’s Self-Portrait 1969.
Lynch based the protagonist of The Elephant Man on Bacon’s Self-Portrait 1969.
Spying an opportunity – how Francis Bacon made it to Moscow
WILLIAM DUNBAR | REVIEWS | APOLLO | THE INTERNATIONAL ART MAGAZINE | TUESDAY, 5 APRIL, 2022
As his plane touched down in Moscow in 1986 the young English gallerist James Birch saw ‘low grey clouds, military vehicles and […] apparently endless birch forest’. It was, he says, ‘exactly what I expected to see’. Birch was there on a wing and prayer, trying to get some of his stable of young contemporary artists, which included a nudist collective and a young Grayson Perry, a gallery show in the Soviet Union. This, he soon realises, was never going to work, but when his KGB minder-cum-cultural-collaborator, Sergei Klokov – who serves as the book’s amoral anti-hero – introduces him to some penniless Soviet artists, they soon all have the name of the same Western artist on their lips: Francis Bacon. As it happens, Birch has known Bacon since childhood, and an idea takes root.
Birch’s account of his struggle to stage the show, the first of a living Western artist ever to exhibit in the Soviet Union, barring Chagall, who was after all born in the Russian empire, reads as if he were recounting it to you over drinks at the Colony Room – which, it seems, is where almost everything got done in the London art world of the 1980s. As well as an intriguing portrait of Bacon himself, there are cameos from Soho sleaze baron Paul Raymond, Grayson Perry and Grisha Bruskin, as well as (inevitably) a raven-haired Russian beauty, the fashion designer and KGB informant Elena Khudiakova, and the great textile expert and scholar of Dagestan Robert Chenciner, whose idea it was for Birch to go to the Soviet Union in the first place.
But beyond being a garrulous yarn of a memoir (the word ‘rollicking’ is used twice on the dust jacket), the book is a record of an extraordinary encounter at a momentous time. Based on Birch’s journals, letters from Bacon, Klokov and others, and illustrated with the author’s pictures of Russia and a gazetteer to the Bacon exhibition, with reproductions of all the paintings, there is some proper art history being smuggled into this book, like a bottle of scotch entering the USSR.
Birch gives an engaging account of his struggles to stage the show. First, dealing with an opaque Soviet system in which nothing makes sense: machinations involving the Union of Artists, the delegation to UNESCO and mysterious, unseen wielders of influence. All this would seem like so much Cold-War cliché until he gets back to London to deal with the capitalist equivalent: insurance companies, cultural grandees and gatekeepers from Bacon’s gallery and the British Council – as well as the vanities and resentments of the great man’s inner circle, which ultimately meant that Bacon never travelled to the Soviet Union to see his own triumph.
The exhibition itself – at the Central House of the Union of Artists in Moscow in 1988 – was a watershed, a set-piece of perestroika, and an indication of what Gorbachev wanted the Soviet Union to become. It would now be called cultural diplomacy, an expression of ‘soft power’ but, as the memoir shows, Russia in the 1980s exerted its own soft power on those from the West, not least James Birch, who later comes to realise he has developed the ‘Russia bug’.
Some 400,000 people visited the exhibition during its six-week run, many queuing for hours for a chance to see Bacon’s disturbing vision of humanity – his twisted forms the polar opposite of the smiling-but-sexless musclebound workers and peasants of so much officially sanctioned art. Indeed, only one painting was forbidden by the Soviet censors, Triptych from 1972, which depicts gay sex. Birch had been warned by Klokov not to include too many ‘cock-exalting’ pictures, and Klokov later provided the excuse to the Independent that its inclusion might have led Soviet society to dismiss the entire show. Even so, the reception was not universally positive. Included as an appendix are selections from the visitors’ book: ‘I haven’t seen anything like this before in my life,’ ‘The exhibition reminds me that madness is real,’ and, most memorably of all, ‘We want bacon, not Francis Bacon.’
We all know what happened next. Within four years, the USSR would be no more, although Birch would get one more exhibition in just below the line; he brought Gilbert & George to Moscow in 1990, but does not record what the Soviets thought of their underpants. The borders would open – for those who could afford travel – and the entirety of Western modern art would become available to the peoples of the Soviet Union. It was a two-way street of course. Russian artists such as Bruskin would become millionaires and move to New York, while some of Klokov’s circle (though not Klokov himself) would become billionaires and furnish their London homes with paintings by Bacon. James Birch would become rich and successful, though as this book shows he would never lose his roguish, self-deprecating charm, and has never left the demi-monde of the Soho art scene.
There is a particular pathos reading Bacon in Moscow now, as Russian aggression flattens cities in Ukraine and the resulting sanctions cut off Russia from the West more than at any time since Birch’s first visit in 1986. The Russian invasion of neighbouring Ukraine shows that the experiment that began during perestroika has definitively failed. The country is again becoming the secretive pariah state in which Birch landed all those years ago, with KGB-style surveillance, low grey clouds and military vehicles on the runway.
Francis Bacon, David Hockney and Picasso: Inside their studios
Meticulously tidy or a horrible mess? To really know an artist, just look at their studio
WALDEMAR JANUSZCZAK | ART REVIEW | THE SUNDAY TIMES | SUNDAY, MARCH 27, 2022
One of the perks of being an art critic is that you get to visit artist’s studios. Sometimes, I manage to inveigle my way into the alchemist’s lair for the simple reason that I’m dying to see it. Studios are such fascinating and telling sites of work.
When I interviewed Yoko Ono in New York, she showed me the spaces in the Dakota Building in which she and John Lennon had lived and worked. In a big white room was the big white piano on which she and Lennon had recorded Imagine. Next to it was a looming golden sarcophagus containing an unwrapped Egyptian mummy!
But the really telling moment came in the kitchen. Next to the large table where she did most of her work was a fridge plastered with photos, attached with magnets. I looked closer. They were private photos of John. Polaroids. Kodak snaps. Yoko makes cool, purist art. Most of it is strikingly white. But the loving emotions that hide behind her purist whites were laid bare on the fridge of her working kitchen.
When you get inside an artist’s studio, you get inside their intimacy zone. Studios are mini museums not just of the artist’s materials and methods, but also of their minds. And the really marvellous thing, the miraculous thing, is what happens when the materials and the minds coalesce to illuminate the art.
The other day I went to interview David Hockney in his studio in Normandy and was struck by the dramatic sense of order in his converted barn. Everything was in exactly the right place. Hundreds of tubes of acrylic paint were arranged in perfectly neat rows, like those army parades you see in footage from North Korea. Every brush was spotlessly clean and standing to attention in a glass jar. Here, clearly, was an 84-year-old artist determined not to waste a second that was left to him. The studio was as ready to go as an Olympic sprinter in the blocks.
That, then, is one kind of workplace: neat and minutely organised. I bet Vermeer’s studio was like that. Or the studio of Ingres. It’s an arrangement that fills me with respect and admiration. But, hand on heart, it is not the kind of studio that sends the pulse racing. For that to happen you need mess.
A classic example is Francis Bacon’s germ-filled and chaotic work room, which we’ll come to in a moment when we visit The Artist’s Studio, the new show at the Whitechapel Gallery. I never made it into Bacon’s abattoir, but I came close when I interviewed Louise Bourgeois in her profoundly disordered studio/home in Greenwich Village.
Bourgeois was in her eighties. Every inch of her tall, thin brownstone was packed with drawings, manikins, plaster casts, reams and reams of cloth and materials. If a cat died somewhere in the clutter you would never have found it. Had she not been an artist — one of the greatest the world has seen, I think — social services would have been called in to put her in a home. But that’s the thing about studios: they are not part of the “normal” world.
It’s a point that keeps being made by the Whitechapel’s appropriately chaotic event. Looking back on a century of artist’s studios, from 1920 to 2020, this crowded, throbbing parade has evidently had serious difficulty managing its subject. As a show it’s all over the place. Some of this chaos comes with the territory. But not all. Some is down to contemporary overthinking.
What they seek to present us with here — it’s announced in the opening wall texts — is the studio not just as a private place of work, but also as a public domain. We will be visiting not only the places where artists make art but also the ways in which they present themselves to the public. These are two reasonable ambitions. Each would make a reasonable show. But they are not the same ambition, and the divide between them keeps derailing this event.
We begin with a moody Bourgeois sculpture, one of her atmospheric cages, inside which two marble carvings of the artist’s hands sit atop a roughly hewn altar, surrounded by mirrors. As an artistic statement — a tribute to the artist’s hands — it’s powerful and resonant. But to feel these powerful meanings you need to concentrate on the hands and forget the studio.
The busy journey ahead — 80 artists! — is packed with such detours. For every tangible evocation of a studio, like the grubby but fascinating recreation of the pictorial compost in which Bacon worked, there are intrusions of a different kind of subject matter. The Nigerian artist Rotimi Fani-Kayode takes subfusc homoerotic photographs styled deliberately on Caravaggio. They’re beautiful. But they say nothing tangible about artist’s studios. The Egyptian painter Inji Efflatoun stares soulfully at us from a self-portrait. It’s nice to discover her. But the image clearly belongs in a self-portrait show.
As the display bounces between its confusing ambitions we keep getting glimpses of artist’s studios and then having them taken away. It’s the sort of problem that regularly afflicts contemporary theme shows. In their urge to get away from traditional, one-directional, masculinist tellings of a story, they end up saying nothing solid.
Here, though, it needs also to be admitted that the studio of today is not what it used to be. The cost of urban hire has turned them into expensive luxuries. And modern methods of communication have done away with much of the need for fixed art spaces. The old idea of a sacred locus in which artists could work their magic has been replaced by a shifting reality where artists plan their art on portable workstations and travel the world with their MacBook Airs.
The Artist’s Studio makes a point of noticing these changes. Indeed, it is as much a celebration of them as a record of the old ways. I find that sad. Others will not.
The Artist’s Studio, Whitechapel Gallery, London E1, until June 5
Lovingly preserved, piece by piece, Francis Bacon’s famous studio was moved from London in 1998 and is now on show in all its notorious squalor at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.
BY ASTRAGAL | NEWS | THE ARCHITECTS’ JOURNAL | THURSDAY 24 MARCH 2022
This month Foster + Partners said it would stop working in Russia, as it ‘deplored’ the country’s invasion of Ukraine. The announcement came a week after similar statements by Zaha Hadid Architects and David Chipperfield Architects.
Given that the Russian ruble has lost 43 per cent of its value against the pound since the start of the year – and sanctions are targeting a growing number of Russian companies, including banks – this may not be quite the principled sacrifice it appears.
Either way, Foster + Partners chairman Norman Foster is still making ends meet, having also this month sold a triptych by painter Francis Bacon. The artwork features, among other things, a blood-soaked sheet on the recording equipment of Leon Trotsky, the Marxist revolutionary Ukrainian assassinated by the Soviet state in 1940. The 1987 piece sold at Christie’s auction house for its minimum asking price: £35 million.
Bringing Out The Beast At Royal Academy’s Francis Bacon Exhibition
NICHOLAS STEPHENS | EXHIBITION | DOSSIERS | COBO SOCIAL | WEDNESDAY 23 MARCH 2022
London’s Royal Academy of Arts is presenting a solo exhibition of 46 paintings by Francis Bacon, one of the most celebrated and influential artists of the 20th century, spanning from the 1930s and 40s through to Bacon’s final painting in 1991. Finding common ground between human and animal, exploring how animals are less inhibited versions of ourselves, bulls, chimpanzees, humans and other beasts are portrayed with a pitiless, unflinching eye.
In an accompanying video to “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast”, Michael Peppiatt, co-curator and friend of Francis Bacon, talks of Bacon’s fascination with animals. “He wanted to know what humans were, and what they were made up of. Animals took you to that truth more directly and quickly. They are a guide to humanity”. Bacon grew up around animals, particularly horses, in rural Ireland, but turned towards them most markedly after his visits to Africa in the early 1950s. He believed that to look at animals is to look at mankind beneath the veneer of civilisation, and to see what we really are. In so doing, we are faced with, in Bacon’s own words, “The brutality of fact”. This exhibition is based on that premise.
It is said that, shortly before his death, Shakespearean actor Laurence Olivier spent his days watching films starring Vivien Leigh, with tears in his eyes exclaiming “This, this was love”. The spark and the passion endures, the remnants of longing, the petty vengeances, the sulking betrayals and joyous reconciliations live on. Bacon had to come to terms with the death of two of those closest to him during his lifetime: Peter Lacy died of alcoholism in 1962, aged 46, while his subsequent partner, George Dyer, died of an overdose in 1971. Like Olivier and Leigh, this was love at its most raw and tempestuous—Lacy once threw Bacon out of a window.
In a video interview introducing the exhibition, Peppiatt remarks: “These pictures are almost too much to bear. Because they look at life with a pitilessness”. Bacon’s memories of Lacy and Dyer were fertile ground for his exploration of humanity at its most exposed and defenceless. In Bacon’s Study for Portrait of P.L. No. 1 (1957), Lacy is curled up on the sofa like a domestic pet, a depleted figure of abject sorrow and misery, cowed and vulnerable. To look at this painting is to hover over an abyss of despair. In Triptych August 1972 (1972), one in a series of Black Triptychs painted after Dyer’s death, the central image is a life and death wrestling match, perhaps one of love and death. Dyer and Bacon sit patiently, separately either side. The dark emptiness of death does not dominate but projects a hushed glow of anticipation.
Bacon’s intense interest in the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904) vindicates the joint top billing of man and beast in this exhibition. Known as the man who proved that horses can fly, Muybridge’s harnessing of the camera to document motion of both humans and animals was prime source material for Bacon, who owned several copies of The Human Figure in Motion (1901) and Animals in Motion (1899). Several of the paintings on display directly echo Muybridge’s ground-breaking anatomical photography, notably Two Studies from the Human Body (1974–75) and Man with Dog (1953).
Not all of the forms are recognisably animal or human. Some are in between—these are the “beasts” of the title perhaps. In Figure Study II (1945–46), an elongated figure bows and peers, with trappings of domestic mundanity dotted around her—her dimensions are palpably not human, yet she is a redoubtable force of sentience and intelligence. Second Version of Triptych (1944), a reworking of his Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) presents what Bacon describes as his “Furies”, women of a kind, principally mythological harbingers of vengeance. One critic described this painting as depicting “the atrocious world into which we have survived”. Bacon’s world is one where religion lends its stories, props and language to illustrate a reality of fear and hopelessness. An example is Head VI (1949), a satisfying injection of one of Bacon’s most iconic motifs. Inspired by Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Diego Velázquez (1650), the purple robed, ghostly figure screams in primal horror or fear—this is mankind, mouth agape, releasing its inner beast in surrender to the terrors around it.
In 1969, Bacon began to depict bullfighting, perhaps the ultimate showdown of man and animal, and an opportunity to blur the lines between them. The corrida became a theme he returned to in later decades, and it is at the heart of his final painting, Study of a Bull (1991). Poignantly, Bacon employed dust as a medium in this work, commenting: “Dust seems to be eternal . . . the one thing that lasts forever”.
For an artist who roguishly dressed his works in Christian themes, his remark about dust is in character. Whilst Christians are told on Ash Wednesday that “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return”, Bacon muses on the immortality of that medium rather than our own transience. In so doing, he underlines the power and endurance of art itself. Visitors to this exhibition will most likely reflect on the gratifying immortality of human passion—how it retains its power to shock and unsettle us, even when the fires of love have burned out.
Francis Bacon, Study from Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1965. Installation view in “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast”
A tawdry death imitating art
Francis Bacon’s turbulent love for George Dyer is visible on the canvas
BY MICHAEL PRODGER | ON ART | THE CRITIC MAGAZINE | WEDNESDAY 23 MARCH 2022
One night in late 1963, Francis Bacon was at his studio at 7 Reece Mews in South Kensington when he heard a loud crash followed by scrabbling noises. He rushed upstairs to find that a burglar had just slipped and tumbled through the skylight.
Bacon confronted him, sized him up and gave him an instant ultimatum: they must have sex there and then or he would call the police. This is how Bacon first met George Dyer, a petty criminal from Borough, just south of the Thames, who would become one of the painter’s great loves.
At least it is one version of how they met. Lucian Freud offered a rather less picaresque alternative: the pair met in a club and went back to Reece Mews to seal the new acquaintance. Freud added that Bacon expected to be robbed by his casual squeezes — usually it was a watch that went missing. This time, however, Bacon was the recipient: Dyer gave him a gold watch, albeit one he had stolen the night before.
Dyer would go on to feature in some 20 paintings by Bacon, although he never liked them: “I think they’re fuckin’ ’orrible, really fuckin’ orful,” he told Bacon’s friend, Michael Peppiatt. If Bacon believed that “a thing has to arrive at a stage of deformity before I can find it beautiful,” Dyer didn’t. However, perhaps the most important pictures to emerge from the relationship were painted after Dyer’s death in 1971. Then, in mourning, Bacon produced three works, known as the “Black triptychs”, with Dyer, transmuted, in every panel.
The first of them, Triptych August 1972, is currently on show at the Royal Academy’s uncomfortable if stirring exhibition, “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast”. Even fifty years on, it remains an upsetting work. Dyer is shown twice seated, in nothing but his underpants, in front of a black door opening as he appears to melt into a pink puddle on the floor. In the third canvas he is on the ground, either in his death throes or tangled with Bacon as they have sex.
Bacon famously refused to explain his pictures but nevertheless admitted that while he wasn’t trying to express “the sorrow about somebody committing suicide … perhaps it comes through without knowing it”. If so, the visual metaphors — a dark portal to a void, dissolving forms as if life itself is seeping away — seem straightforward enough.
In a second work, Triptych May-June, 1973, they are even more obvious. In its panels, Dyer is shown in the dark of the doorway, sitting on the toilet, retching into a sink, and liquefying into the shape of a black bat. The picture, said the artist, “is in fact the nearest I’ve ever done to a story” because it shows how Dyer was found, dead from alcohol and amphetamines in their hotel bathroom, on the eve of Bacon’s 1971 retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris. Such an exhibition was only the second time that the honour had been granted to a living painter and was supposed to be the crowning moment of Bacon’s career.
By then the relationship between the two men had soured, exacerbated by Dyer’s drinking and drug taking and a series of unpleasant incidents. Dyer, by turns maudlin, possessive and vindictive, had planted cannabis in Bacon’s studio and called the police; in New York he had threatened to hurl himself from a skyscraper — again the police were summoned; and he had thrown Bacon’s furniture down the stairs at Reece Mews, blocking the painter out. As Freud (again) said: “It was awfully tragic, really. Francis stopped fancying him and George was in love with him.”
Bacon seemingly invited Dyer to accompany him to Paris out of pity. He was told of Dyer’s death just before the exhibition opening and went through the full meet-and-greet rigmarole knowing that his lover of nearly 20 years was dead nearby, in the most ignominious of circumstances.
As added torture, shortly after their relationship began, Bacon had painted Dyer on the toilet as part of an earlier triptych, Three Figures in a Room, 1964 (also in the RA show). He would never know if the conditions of Dyer’s death were a coincidence or some form of mockery or accusation.
Dyer’s death was one of several in Bacon’s circle around the time, including that of his childhood nanny, Jesse Lightfoot, who lived with him in London, ministering to him just as she had when he was a boy. Bacon claimed not to think about it: “because there’s nothing to think about. When it comes, it’s there. You’ve had it.” Nevertheless, a greater morbidity can be sensed in his paintings from that time on.
Bacon remained addicted to rough-trade lovers — a legless Moroccan in Tangier who pushed himself around on a wheeled board, another who interrupted a conversation about Bonnard with an art critic by asking “Are you ready for a thrashin’ yet, Francis?”, and assorted couplings near Tube stations and at rooms-by-the-hour hotels. Even when he was in his eighties Bacon would look at men “as if everything is still to play for”.
These though were transient fancies and did not make it on to canvas the way Dyer had. According to Bacon, “You always have to go too far to get anywhere at all, in art or life.” He did indeed get somewhere with his posthumous triptychs, but it was Dyer who had gone too far.
A detail of Triptych August 1972
THAMES MMXX Readies a Collection Celebrating the Works of Francis Bacon
Featuring five paintings by the British figurative painter.
TEXT BY NICOLAUS LI | FASHION | LATEST | HYPEBEAST | TUESDAY 22 MARCH 2022
For its latest collaboration, Blondey McCoy’s THAMES MMXX has worked together with the Estate of Francis Bacon on a full collection. Comprised of twelve styles, the special range is centered around select paintings by the Irish-born British figurative painter.
A work jacket, hoodie, crewneck sweater, viscose shirt, T-shirts, beach towel, skateboards and printed booklet bring THAMES MMXX’s distinct take on streetwear with Francis Bacon’s raw imagery. Works featured include Study from Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velázquez (1959), Two Figures Lying on a Bed with Attendants (1968), Self-Portrait (1969), Oedipus and the Sphinx after Ingres (1983) and Chicken (1982). Ensuring the original qualities of each painting, the compositions and emotive color characteristics of the imagery depicting popes, self-portraits, nude figure studies, mythology and meat are maintained. Additionally, the limited run of 100 and numbered skate decks split paintings, mirroring Bacon’s affinity for separating his compositions.
Limited to 1,000 copies and free with the first 250 orders, the accompanying booklet highlights the breadth and depth of Francis Bacon’s life and work, art directed by Blondey. The print work features pictures of the collection’s campaign, starring Swedish skateboarder Ludvig Håkansson and shot by esteemed fashion photographer Daniel Martensen. Images of the paintings featured throughout the collection are also shown with selected quotes.
“For six or seven years now, I have caught myself standing in front of fucking great paintings, not wholly incapable of appreciating them, as such…but always, always noting the voice in my head saying, ‘it’s great, but it’s not Bacon,’ or words to that effect. Silly, I know, but there you are. I do try to suppress the voice. To simply appreciate other painters and paintings for who or what they are. But the man set the bar at such a height or, rather, in such a way that I find it near-enough impossible. The THAMES MMXX. x Francis Bacon collection is an attempt to thank him for that,” said Blondey McCoy Founder and Creative Director of THAMES MMXX.
Check out the range above and look for the Francis Bacon x THAMES MMXX collection to be available on THAMES MMX’s website March 25, 7 a.m. EDT.
Valuable reassessment of British art: Barbican’s Postwar Modern
This show succeeds in revealing numerous half-forgotten movements – and contains some out-and-out masterpieces
WRITTEN BY MARTIN GAYFORD | EXHIBITIONS | MAGAZINEE | THE SPECTATOR | 19 MARCH 2022
Notoriously, the past is another country: what’s more, it’s a terrain for which the guidebooks need constantly to be rewritten. That’s one attraction of the new exhibition Postwar Modern at the Barbican. It’s a survey of what might seem all-too-familiar territory: British art in the two decades that followed VE day. Yet it succeeds in revealing numerous half-forgotten or undervalued movements and people, the good, the bad and – most intriguingly – candidates for reassessment.
The decades that followed the second world war were marked by dreary austerity, perhaps explaining the tendency for the art to be coloured oatmeal, beige, grey and brown. But this was also a time of dawning hope, increasing prosperity and growing optimism. One of the out-and-out masterpieces on display, Leon Kossoff’s ‘Willesden Junction, Early Morning’ (1962), manages to embody both these contradictory moods.
It is executed in shades of sludge, while the subject – a snaking tangle of railway lines under overcast sky – is the reverse of picturesque. But when you see the actual picture, it knocks you back on your heels. The thickly encrusted paint is pulsing with force and energy.
Here Kossoff presents something banally familiar, north London commuter transport, but in a way so utterly fresh you might think the artist was from another galaxy or a different age. Frank Auerbach pulls off a similar feat in his marvellous ‘Head of Gerda Boehm’ (1964), a portrait of a modern woman that looks like something excavated from an archaeological site. It was painted in 1964 but you could believe it came from Mycenae or Babylon.
From Lucian Freud there is a trio of early masterpieces, depicting his first wife, Kitty Garman, and second, Caroline Blackwood. The almost incredible levels of observation and precision that he then achieved are visible if you look into the eyes of ‘Girl with Roses’. In each of her pupils the sash window of his studio is clearly reflected. Worlds within worlds, observed in the rundown area of Paddington where Freud worked.
Francis Bacon fares less well in this selection, understandably since there is a phenomenal exhibition of his greatest works elsewhere in London. The trio of his pictures at the Barbican are of lower wattage. On this basis it would be hard to explain the enormous impact Bacon had on his contemporaries. But his example was crucial, for his audacious ambition as much as for his actual pictures.
On the opposite side of the divide between figurative and non-figurative art, Alan Davie was perhaps the nearest thing Britain produced to a true abstract expressionist. He was also one of those artists who were only briefly on peak form – at more or less the moment of the two works in this show. His ‘Creation of Eve’ (1957) looks roughly like a half-and-half mix of Pollock and Bacon: a swirling mass of brushstrokes disquietingly like body parts and innards.
Even better is Frank Bowling’s ‘Big Bird’ (1965), in which two wounded and bleeding swans flutter against geometric areas of colour (borrowed from abstraction). These birds stand, Bowling explained, for ‘people who had broken lives’, adding, ‘If you don’t straighten up and fly right, you’re going to end up in the gutter.’ There’s a touch of Bacon here too, in the splattered gore and free-flying paint. Altogether more buoyant, indeed sumptuous and ebullient, is Gillian Ayres’s ‘Break-off’ (1961) in which a whole genus of new organisms like plankton or protozoa seem to float out of the canvas.
Biology was one of the obsessions of the age, as was science fiction. The ‘action sculptures’ of the short-lived Peter King suggest both: inchoate masses of material which seem just on the point of transformation into a body or a face. Something similar is true of Eduardo Paolozzi’s strange sentinel figures made by pressing bits and pieces of detritus into clay and suggesting robots, but also vagrants.
To my eye, though, the most effective three-dimensional works on show are not conventional sculptures but an array of pots by Lucie Rie and Hans Coper (both refugees from the Nazis). Coper especially was able to create forms and surfaces that look as if they might belong to an ancient culture and were simultaneously filled with the spirit of the times. His ‘hourglass’ vases are a bit like miniature versions of those monumental works of the 1960s, the cooling towers at power stations.
There is much more, too much to describe here, including remarkable documentary photographs by Roger Mayne and Nigel Henderson. Other artists and idioms and reputations remain in the not-to-be-resuscitated category. But, having said that, it’s true that our view of the past continues to alter as the present unfolds.
That’s happening as I write to works by Elisabeth Frink, William Turnbull and Lynn Chadwick in the idiom known as ‘geometry of fear’. These sculptural evocations of tangled metal, ruined cities and burned, blasted bodies used to seem like relics of a distant age. In the past few days, they’ve started to look horribly close to news reports.
Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain 1945-1965
Barbican Art Gallery, until 26 June
Chelsea art dealer owes us royalties going back 16 years, artists tell court
Ivor Braka, who sold a Francis Bacon painting for $50 million, is accused of denying ‘desperately needed’
income to painters and creatives
BY DANIEL CAPURRO | SENIOR REPORTER & HISTORY CORRESPONDENT | THE DAILY TELEGRAPH | FRIDAY 18 MARCH 2022
A high-profile Chelsea art dealer has become embroiled in a High Court battle over claims that he hasn’t paid royalties in 16 years.
Ivor Braka and his company, Ivor Braka Ltd, have not paid any royalties or revealed what artworks they have traded, despite reporting sales of goods of over £9 million, a judge was told this week.
Since 2006, art dealers have been required to pay royalties to living artists if they resell their works.
Mr Braka is well known in the art world, having once sold a Francis Bacon painting for $50 million (£38 million) and amassed a sizeable private collection, including works by Damian Hirst.
The Artists’ Collecting Society (ACS) and the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS), which collect royalties on behalf of artists, have taken Mr Braka and his company to the High Court to force them to reveal details of their sales since 2006.
In documents submitted to a preliminary hearing on Thursday, a judge was told that the claimants had made requests for information on payable royalties from Mr Braka and Ivor Braka Ltd every quarter since 2006-07 and had never received a response
The lawyers argued that they were making “a straightforward claim for information.”
Mr Braka’s legal team responded in a written argument that the requests “were advanced on an incorrect basis” because it was necessary “to identify a relevant sale… it is not enough to simply ask for information as to any potentially relevant sales”.
Not disclosed information
The claimants argue that this is not possible to do, given that Mr Braka and his company have not disclosed information on any of their sales.
Mr Braka’s team argued: “The claims against Mr Braka were misconceived, speculative, inconsistent with the claimants’ own contemporaneous documents, and should never have been brought.”
Representatives of ACS and DACS told The Daily Telegraph that the amount of royalties involved was likely to be very small but that it could make an enormous difference to artists who rarely made much money.
Gilane Tawadros, chief executive of DACS, said: “While the majority of the art market complies with the Artist’s Resale Right Regulations, a few do not, and in doing so gain an unfair advantage against their fellow art dealers and deny artists and creatives income that is desperately needed, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Ivor Brakar Ltd was approached for comment. A further hearing is scheduled to take place in the summer.
Mr Braka is well known in the art world, having once sold a Francis Bacon painting for $50 million (£38 million)
‘Francis Bacon: The First Pope’
WRITTEN BY EDDY FRANKEL | ART | THINGS TO DO | TIME OUT | LONDON | FRIDAY 18 MARCH 2022
The man on the dais screams his invective. The microphone in front of him shakes with the volume of his speech. His mouth is wide, his teeth are bared, the anger and viciousness of his rhetoric is almost real, physical, like you can feel it in your chest.
This is Francis Bacon’s first pope painting. He painted it in 1946, based on a Velázquez image of Pope Innocent X. It would lead to more pope paintings, images full of aggression and tyrannical hate, but this first one hasn’t been seen in public since it was sold in 1967.
And now it’s here, presented all on its own, with no other works around it, in a pitch black room. It’s like entering a tiny private chapel. The air conditioner hums, but otherwise it’s silent. You are alone with this one single, beautiful, awful, violent painting.
The pope in his shirt and tie is part religious leader, part tyrannical despot. He stands in front of a neo-classical Nazi colonnade, spewing his bile at a crowd of violet cyclamen flowers. It’s a stunning, powerful work.
If the giant Royal Academy exhibition of Bacon’s work that’s on show now is an overwhelming celebration of his art, this is a tiny, private, personal meditation. It’s a chance to be one on one with his painting, eyeball to eyeball with his first pope, and it’s amazing.
Installation view, Francis Bacon, © The Estate of Francis Bacon.
Heart of Darkness: A Look at Francis Bacon’s
Visceral London Exhibition
MICHAEL CAMERON | ART & COLLECTING | FANCY | THE MARKET HERALD | THURSDAY, MARCH 17, 2022
Man and Beast. The name of an exhibition of the 20th century Irish-born figurative painter, Francis Bacon is indicative of his carnal impression of life and death and subsequent expression of what he saw as risqué and primal.
His paintings are often vicious, confronting depictions of human forms with animal characteristics, deformed and dramatised to fit his bleak world view which depicted the carnage and violence of the military conflicts of his time with raw, unsettling imagery.
Bacon existed in the art world as a boundary-pusher, his depictions of crucifixions, portraits of popes, self-portraits, and portraits of close friends all presented the viewer with a reaction-inducing take on the prevailing ideological direction at the time, pacing them far outside their comfort zone.
The work Head, 1947-48, from his first exhibition at Erica Brausen’s Hanover Gallery, London, in 1949 is indicative of compositional elements he would go on to use for many years such as the addition of white lines in a geometric pattern reminiscent of a room or cage.
Bacon seems to ask where the distinction is between the human-like figure in the painting and the grisly fangs as it seems to morph and transform in muted, dusty grey into some kind of deformed mouth, he seems to want us to realise our capacity for transformation, but leaves the viewer with an undesirable image of biological ugliness rather than the current, prevailing, nature-positive viewpoint.
It is not his only work that uses such evocative imagery and combines it with compelling composition.
The Exhibition will feature a trio of Bullfighting pieces that have never been on display before, many posit this triptych was an unfinished project and there is conjecture that a fourth, central painting was abandoned and destroyed as happened to many of his work that he was dissatisfied with.
Bacon said of bullfighting, ”[It] is like boxing – a marvellous aperitif to sex.’
He was decades ahead of his time, discussing the complex relationships between spectacle, terror and power, and the capacity of the individual to become lost in herd mentality in the rare bullfighting triptych with his depiction of the crowd including a Nazi-like Eagle.
This exhibition is being shown at the Royal Academy London until the 17th of April.
FRANCIS BACON: MAN & BEAST EXHIBITION AT THE ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS IN LONDON WHICH RUNS FROM JANUARY 29 TO APRIL 17
“POSTWAR MODERN: NEW ART IN BRITAIN 1945 -1965”
BARBICAN ART GALLERY – THE PROCESSION OF CATHARSIS
BY JASPER SPIRES | ART REVIEWS | EXHIBITIONS | ART STUFF LONDON | FAD MAGAZINE | THURSDAY, 17 MARCH, 2022
“Postwar Modern” collects not only some of the most impactful artwork produced following the Second World War, but draws crucial focus to the impact that trauma can have on the subjectivity of the artist. Now showing at the Barbican until 26th June 2022, the exhibition delicately balances the distressing imagery and impact of world-changing events with a beguiling intellectual narrative.
The lights are low in the gallery, hauntingly facing the walls and the art on them. Through the dense atmosphere, the exhibition’s path climbs across two floors to mimic a dialectical spiral. In a thrilling combination of emotional resonance and ideational creativity, what becomes most impressive about this show is the active curatorial philosophy behind its execution. It builds firmly upon itself, enacted as though performing a drama, and leading visitors towards a concrete vision of the works within. Once inside, the visitor is guided from the colossal and intrusive intercession of John Latham’s ‘Full Stop’ (1961) – a Lacanian traumatic interruption if ever there was one – through the dissemination of the subject into their art by Alan Davies’s ‘Creation of Eve’ (1956), and finally into confronting the thing in itself – the war, the violence, and the uneasy future that awaits. Perfect for our moment, as the UK and so many of its citizens begin to define our times as similarly ‘post-covid’, the mechanics of this story play out with an eerie resonance.
These are neatly encapsulated by another work of Latham’s, ‘Man Caught Up with a Yellow Object’ (1954), where the artist’s obsession with spray painting finds theoretical impact through the painting’s form – a chaotic spread of atomised particles and pigment and a looming figure. The piece’s plaque reads of how Latham interpreted the Christian god’s act of creation – standing in for the acts of the artist – to represent not concrete objects but moments in time. A poignant Kantian portrait, this is tantamount to the announcement of the show’s intentions: that the art which follows is tied not to the artist as a unique object, but an immediate reflection of their subjectivity at one time, and in the wake of violence. Looping around the many works inside, the visitor finds the passing of time painstakingly apparent between canvases and sculpture, as they dizzyingly traverse all manners of expression. The artworks unfold from the dense packaging of earthy colours and bombastic composition in earlier images, to a settling of tones in Lucien Freud’s impressions of his surroundings in ‘Hotel Bedroom’ (1954), and finally Richard Hamilton’s pop-art visions of the future, in his poster for the ‘This is Tomorrow’ show at Whitechapel Gallery (1956). In short, it is a procession through trauma, and eventually into moving past it.
The upper floors follow much the same trajectory, though more compactly exploring divergent sets of themes as opposed to one overwhelming post-war narrative; as if unburdened with the direct influence of tragedy, the artists included could act purely of their own accord. The dark surrealism of Francis Bacon in works like ‘Man in Blue II’ (1954) may be tonally consistent with the bloody battles of the recent past, but their thematic content represents an individualistic move away from historical engagement. Similarly, the constructionist departure of abstract sculpture enters its own reality, apart from history in the ‘concrete’ themed room. Here lies the sharp absence of grimy interpretations of war, and in their place mathematical and architectural forms designed quite without human beings in mind, as if the past subjectivity had itself been experimentally abandoned, or left behind in the procession of the arts.
After leaving behind a likewise traumatic period of history, the Covid-19 pandemic of our times, the Barbican’s latest creation is most vitally a suggestion towards how we may process this interruption in our lives. By looking to the past, it vocalises through the drama of its curation how we may move beyond the mire of reflective work, beyond being trapped by the memories of violence. Once again, it becomes apparent that towards art is the direction we must take. To express, and process these events in therapeutic catharsis, and if not to create ourselves then to languish and engage with the expression of others; that by art we must always be drawn to take the next step.
Postwar Modern New Art in Britain 1945-1965— 26th Jun 2022 Barbican Art Gallery
Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain 1945 – 1965 Installation view Barbican Art Gallery – 26 June 2022 © Tim Whitby
Screaming pope painting by Francis Bacon goes on display
REUTERS | GAGOSIAN GALLERY | PREVIEW | LIVING | NEW YORK POST | WEDNESDAY, MARCH 16, 2022
LONDON, March 15 – A dark Francis Bacon painting of a screaming pope, said to be the earliest in his series of papal depictions, went on display in London on Tuesday, the first time the artwork has been exhibited publicly.
The Dublin-born artist created the canvas, known as “Landscape with Pope/Dictator,” in 1946 while living in Monaco.
It depicts a blurred, open-mouthed figure in a biretta, a traditional cap worn by Catholic clergy and wearing a politician’s usual attire of a shirt and tie. A microphone stands in front of him and beneath are flowers.
Art gallery Gagosian, which is showing the work in its London Davies Street gallery, said it was “Bacon’s first treatment of the papal image.”
“Here you’ve got this sort of hybrid figure of a kind of papal clerical figure but at the same time, dressed in an ordinary secular suit and tie,” Richard Calvocoressi, director and curator at the Gagosian gallery, said.
“So fusing these two figures of authority…on the one hand the pope, on the other hand, the dictator, the authoritarian figure is something that he pursued and carried on…for another 20 years, coming back to this idea.”
The painting was recently discovered when British art historian and curator Martin Harrison compiled a catalog of Bacon’s work. The listing was published in 2016.
“It’s never been in an exhibition. It went into a private collection in Italy in 1967 and really, this is its first public appearance since then,” Calvocoressi said.
The painting is on show until April 23.
Dublin-born artist created “Landscape with Pope/Dictator” in 1946
Oil be back: is this long-lost, terrifying painting Bacon’s very first pope?
The Gagosian Gallery certainly thinks so, and it’s well worth heading to Mayfair to see it (if you dare...)
BY ALASTAIR SOOKE | CHIEF ART CRITIC | REVIEW | CULTURE | THE DAILY TELEGRAPH | MONDAY, 14 MARCH, 2022
Against a dark, sinister background, a man sits before a microphone, ranting into the night. Who is this screaming, eyeless spectre, with teeth as sharp as a vampire’s? Answer: a figure by Francis Bacon – and, according to the Gagosian Gallery, which is about to show the picture in which he appears, his “first pope”.
Likely abandoned by Bacon in the early Fifties, when he moved out of a studio in South Kensington, the painting was lost for decades, hidden away, since 1967, in an obscure private collection. Now, following its rediscovery in 2016, it’s being exhibited for the first time – not far from the Royal Academy, where three of the artist’s pope paintings (he made more than 40, over 20 years) are on display in Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, including Head VI (1949), usually considered the series’s prototype.
Anyone interested in modern art will want to see such a potentially important early Bacon for themselves. So, at the first opportunity, I pedalled to Gagosian in Mayfair, where the gilt-framed painting has been hung dramatically (and spookily), surrounded by Stygian drapes, so that it seems to float, by itself, in an otherwise empty, pitch-black space. If this is what the threshold to the underworld looks like, I won’t be surprised – and, judging by the distorted, hysterical expression of the picture’s purple-clad martinet, we’re all going straight to hell.
It was the art historian Martin Harrison who tracked down the painting, which the artist never titled, to a warehouse in northern Italy, while compiling Bacon’s catalogue raisonné. Could it be one of three lost “sketches” of Velázquez’s 17th-century portrait of Pope Innocent X, which Bacon mentions in a pair of letters written on the same day in 1946? “It is thrilling to paint from a picture which really excites you,” he told his friend, the artist Graham Sutherland – although he knew Velázquez’s composition only in reproduction, and never visited the original in Rome.
One of the studies, he added, was almost finished, and Gagosian, who insist it isn’t available, believe this is the “new” work. In which case, it must have been painted in Monaco, where Bacon, feeling flush following the sale of Painting (1946), which today hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York and features another menacing, eyeless bully, was rattling around the roulette tables, with his lover, Eric Hall, and beloved former nanny, Jessie Lightfoot, in tow.
If correct, the painting, which measures 55 x 43 inches, was executed (on the canvas’s rougher, unprimed side) very early in Bacon’s career, which, traditionally, is said to start with Tate’s 1944 triptych, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. Astonishingly, many of the motifs that we associate with his artistic maturity are already present: a solitary male figure; a bestial, chimp-like scream; the claustrophobic sense of being trapped within box-like structures. In the foreground, pink flowers (cyclamens?) crackle and sputter like fireworks. Their pronged, finger-like petals echo the figure’s blurred, gesticulating hands.
In an elegant essay, art historian Richard Calvocoressi suggests that they may, too, stand in for his audience: the “waving or saluting” hands of a crowd listening to a demagogue. Bacon kept press photos of speechifying dictators, and the painting’s neoclassical colonnade recalls buildings by the Nazi architect Albert Speer. Hence, Harrison’s tentative title: “Landscape with Pope / Dictator”. Perhaps those petals represent toxic propaganda tumbling, like spittle, from the figure’s fanged, fanatical mouth.
In fact, isn’t this tyrannical phantom more dictator than pope? He wears a collar and tie, not vestments. (Am I seeing things, or are the notches of a lapel visible in the thin paint describing his outer garment?) True, his throne is a little like that in Velázquez’s portrait, while, Calvocoressi argues, the predominant blue-violet tonality “anticipates the later series of popes from 1951 and 1953”. His elongated headgear may be a prelate’s “biretta”.
But, at its base, encircling his temples, there’s the ghostly line of a brim, which suggests a different sort of hat altogether. If he is a pope, he’s a shadowy one – the first stirrings of an idea. Still, whoever he is, he’s fascinating, as well as scary, and I suggest you seek this intriguing, transitional picture out.
From March 15 until April 23
Francis Bacon’s Landscape with Pope/Dictator c. 1946
ArtBeat: Féile an Earraigh, Guernica and Ukraine, Francis Bacon,
Big Telly Theatre Company and President Zelensky
Notes and musings from the arts scene as it continues to emerge from lockdown, by Jane Hardy
BY JANE HARDY | BOOKS | ARTS | THE IRISH NEWS | SATURDAY, 12 MARCH, 2022
IT is Féile an Earraigh time and we’re midway through its tempting programme, with cultural treats such as today’s Tin Whistle Challenge at 11.30am at the Cultúrlann Mcadam Ó Fiaich, Falls Road.
Sometimes politics and art make beautiful music. Think of the savage force of Guernica — Picasso’s take on the 1937 Nazi bombing of the Basque town — which I remember seeing in London with my mother a long time ago.
Of course, given the situation since Russia’s attack on Ukraine, there has been another form of politics invading the arts. That’s the outright ban, the straight embargo of cultural events produced by the enemy, or at least our ally’s enemy.
So, for example, the British tour of the Russian State Ballet of Siberia has been abruptly cancelled, artists (who may not approve of the events taking place back home) have had to pack their bags. And the Bolshoi won’t be coming to London’s Royal Opera House.
These tough cultural sanctions can hurt the innocent as well as the big bad guys. Shostakovich, when challenged during an interview in America, refused to produce outright condemnation of Stalin, saying the journalists risked nothing, he risked everything.
I agree that the virtue signalling could be a little over the top. Cleverly, Northern Ireland has found, post-Troubles, a different artistic solution.
Here we practise a kind of cultural osmosis, with both sides of Ulster’s bloody debate encouraged to tell their stories, with events like Féile an Phobail and the Eastside Arts Festival playing their part.
However, if you want a sense of the raw cruelty of the human condition you could do worse than go see the Irish-born but London-based artist Francis Bacon’s work in the Ulster Museum. His Head II (1949), for example, is both animal and sinister.
The painter produced the most magnificently disturbing portraits of the 20th century, including his Screaming Pope series.
Now Bacon will reach a new audience. Via, of all things, a colourful graphic (both senses) novel, Francis Bacon: the Story of his Life, by Cristina Portolano (Prestel).
To find out more, you can visit Bacon’s famously messy studio, the room as smeared as his palette, in the Dublin City Gallery aka the Hugh Lane.
It was lovingly relocated, with 100 slashed canvases and 2000 items of artist’s kit, from London in 1998.
Apparently Ukrainian geography might lend itself to guerrilla warfare (hopefully not) but what about Portrush?
The Big Telly Theatre Company is staging one of its innovative dramatic outings from March 17-19 where you move around town like a spy — it’s immersive, so we all join in, mobiles at the ready, to undertake a mystery assignation.
Finally, this week we learnt political oratory, and courage, are not dead.
President Zelensky’s speech to the Houses of Parliament referenced Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquy, Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be”, had Churchillian rhythms and moral force. British politicians, take note.
Francis Bacon: the Story of his Life is a graphic novel about the Dublin-born artist, who died in 1992.
How Larry Gagosian courted Russian oligarchs
to build art gallery empire
BY ISABEL VINCENT | THE LATEST | ENTERTAINMENT | NEW YORK POST | FRIDAY, MARCH 11, 2022
New York’s most successful art tycoon has built a billion-dollar empire by being the dealer of choice for Russia’s biggest oligarchs.
One art world source dubbed Gagosian “the official art dealer to the Russian oligarchy,” adding that “the Bond villains he consorts with are dangerous, repulsive and devalue art by their very presence.”
Larry Gagosian, 76, has worked with billionaire and Putin confidant Roman Abramovich, whose assets were frozen by the British government Thursday over Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, and Mikhail Fridman, the sanctioned co-founder of Alfa Bank.
He is also said to have cultivated relationships with Russia’s most important museum, run by a close associate of President Vladimir Putin. With Ukrainian artists and others calling for more sanctions in the cultural sector, such relationships may soon be under scrutiny, analysts say. The Gagosian Gallery in New York did not return The Post’s calls and an email seeking comment this week.
Gagosian, who owns several galleries around the world, has long held close ties to Abramovich, the owner of the UK’s Chelsea football club, helping him and ex-wife Dasha Zhukova build up a massive art collection. It includes pieces by artists Francis Bacon and Damien Hirst, whose work has been represented by Gagosian’s galleries.
“In my years working for the Gagosian gallery, I watched Larry’s interest move from key American collectors to mother Russia,” said a former gallery employee who did not want to be identified.
In his pursuit of wealthy Russian clients, Gagosian hosted exhibitions in Moscow, beginning in 2007, featuring artists Hirst, Willem de Kooning and Jeff Koons, among others. That inaugural show was partly funded by Russia’s Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private financial institution, which was sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury last month.
One of the bank’s founders, Fridman — who, as of 2017, was Russia’s seventh-richest citizen — was a client of the Gagosian Gallery, and sanctioned by the European Union in February. He resigned from the bank’s board earlier this month, according to reports.
Fridman bought an Andy Warhol painting of Marilyn Monroe through the gallery for more than $38 million in 2013. He then flipped the 1962 acrylic and silk-screen “Four Marilyns” two years later for $44 million. At the beginning of his business relationship with Gagosian, Fridman had bought “Midas,” a monochrome painting of butterflies in a gilded cage, by Hirst from the Gagosian Gallery.
“Gagosian is no different from all the other art dealers who were circling around the money trough of the oligarchs,” said an art world source who did not want to be identified. “Everybody, including Christie’s and Sotheby’s were shamelessly courting the oligarchs.”
But Gagosian, whose net worth is estimated at $600 million, may have been better than most at courting these billionaire clients. His gallery is the most successful modern dealership in the world, with outposts in Geneva, Los Angeles and even a hangar at a Paris airport. The nearly 18,000-square-foot space near a runway at Le Bourget has featured exhibitions of Gagosian artists Richard Serra and Anselm Kiefer, among others.
“Larry occupies a unique position that hasn’t been reached by any dealer in the history of art and will never be reached after him,” said fellow contemporary art dealer Philippe Segalot in a 2018 interview with Allinet, an online art journal. “He is the greatest on the market. He is a true military machine.”
To that end, Gagosian has maintained a close connection with the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and its longtime director Mikhail Piotrovsky, who is so close to Putin that he boasted about helping the Russian president draft constitutional amendments in 2020. Piotrovsky’s wife Irina worked with Putin for six years while he was deputy mayor of St. Petersburg in the early 1990s.
“It’s not that I’m Putin’s person since the early ’90s,” said Piotrovsy in an interview with The Art Newspaper last year. “Putin has been my person from the early ’90s. He is from Petersburg. He had approximately the same job that I did. We both worked for the reputation of Petersburg. So indeed he is closer to me than many others.”
In partnership with Piotrovsky, Gagosian has staged several art exhibitions of his clients’ work at the Hermitage in the past, and wined and dined Piotrovsky on his numerous trips to the US. “My relations with Dr. Piotrovsky are excellent,” said Gagosian, the son of Armenian emigrés in a 2018 interview “After all, he is half-Armenian. For me, to be an Armenian means to have a kinship with Russia.”
Gagosian and the New York-based Hermitage Museum Foundation, a non-profit that raises money for restoration projects and artistic donations to the Russian museum, hosted Piotrovsky on visits to the US, including “whirlwind” tours of Palm Beach and Washington DC in 2009, according to the group’s federal tax filings.
During the Palm Beach trip, Piotrovsky was treated to a farewell brunch at Mar-a-Lago, hosted by Donald Trump. In Washington, he was given a private tour of the Library of Congress and awarded the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service. He even laid a wreath at Mount Vernon where George Washington is buried, according to tax filings.
In 2017, “Larry Gagosian graciously hosted an intimate dinner for Professor Piotrovsky and several art collectors in his home,” according to the Hermitage Museum Foundation’s website.
Abramovich, who made international headlines when he paid $86.3 million for Francis Bacon’s “Triptych” and another $33.6 million for Lucian Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” in 2008, was added to the British sanctions list of “pro-Kremlin” oligarchs with ties to the UK.
Gagosian’s galleries have included pieces by artists Francis Bacon (above) and Damien Hirst.
This is art for the penthouses of oligarchs’
– Damien Hirst: Natural History
The artist’s progress from raw young punk to pretentious money-lover
is on show in this collection of formaldehyde works. Even the shark is
getting very shrunken around the mouth
JONATHAN JONES | REVIEW | EXHIBITIONS | CULTURE | THE GUARDIAN | WEDNESDAY 9 MARCH 2022
Thirty years ago, when I walked into the Saatchi gallery in London, I saw something wildly liberating and compulsive: a huge tiger shark that seemed to swim forward through clear blue liquid, with just a sheet of glass between you and its jaws. But the shark you see on entering Damien Hirst’s survey of his formaldehyde creations is not the same work: it’s Jaws 2, or even Jaws 3, the one where the mother shark attacks an aquarium. It is called Death Denied and was made in 2008, a fresher version of the notoriously decaying original, titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. But even 14 years is a long time for a dead shark, and this one’s getting very shrunken around the mouth.
Any fear of those teeth – and the inevitable advance of death they symbolise – rapidly dissipates as you take in the progress of Hirst from raw young punk to pretentious money-lover. It is still possible to put on a strong exhibition of his early work, with its genuine sense of grabbing something from this short life, but what we see here instead is how his original desire to shock has become empty and artificial. Somewhere along the line he stopped feeling it.
Behind the shark are three tall tanks with a dissected upright sheep in each, like the three crosses in a medieval altarpiece. Of course, he’s emulating Francis Bacon, who took the gothic art form of the triptych (or three-part altarpiece) and filled it with painted meat, purple and grey emanations of godless flesh. Does Hirst want to be Bacon? He isn’t.
The Pursuit of Oblivion is a towering tank, inside which an umbrella floats over an empty overcoat on a chair, among sides of beef and butchery tools hanging in still, clear fluid. It is a homage to Bacon’s crushingly real nightmares, especially his 1946 canvas, Painting. The cleavers and knives remind you of Bacon’s admiration for butchers’ shops. As the eloquent Soho existentialist once said between drinks: “Ham, pigs, tongues, sides, of beef seen in the butcher’s window, all that death, I find it very beautiful.”
Bacon waxed lyrical about meat but what he put on canvas was paint. His smears of pink and grey, his sickening orange backgrounds and tubular furniture, are acts of imagination. Hirst’s vitrine looks like the artistic effort of someone with no imagination. Why can’t you create a Bacon masterpiece with real meat and a real umbrella? Because it becomes banal. It’s like pretending that by exhibiting a pig sliced in two to reveal its guts you’ve made a powerful modern version of Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical drawings. Oh and yes, Hirst does try that one here, too.
The more art history his vitrines quote, the sillier they seem. Chopping off a cow’s head to create The Beheading of John the Baptist (2006) does seem a bloody waste. It just does not achieve the same pathos and horror as Caravaggio could get by painting a man with his head half removed in a prison yard and the executioner reaching with his knife to sever the last flap of skin.
That’s because Caravaggio and Bacon were painting human suffering. Many will be offended by the fact that every work in this show is made with dead animals. But, paradoxically, you would have to believe every animal death equal to the death of a human to be moved in the right way by The Beheading of John the Baptist. As someone who still eats meat, it would be hypocritical for me to weep. So the only people who can take Hirst seriously are more likely to be outside the gallery protesting.
To be fair, he’s closer to veganism than you might think. His early 1997 piece Shut Up and Eat Your Fucking Dinner is a grotesque recreation of a butcher’s window. It looks like a memory of being sickened by windows full of dead animals when he was a little boy in Leeds. But this ghost of sensitivity fades in the cold, industrial output of fake masterpieces that surround it. This is art for the penthouses of oligarchs who look out of their windows and ask who really cares about all those pieces of meat walking about down there.
Damien Hirst: Natural History is Gagosian Britannia Street, London
The Beheading of John the Baptist, 2006, in Damien Hirst: Natural History.
Las bestias de Francis Bacon llenan la Royal Academy de Londres
Hasta el 17 de abril podremos ver algunas de las mejores y más inquietantes obras del “generoso y viperino” artista.
POR BRUNO RUIZ-NICOLI | EXPERIENCIAS | CONDÉ NAST TRAVELLER MAGAZINE | ESPAÑA | MIÉRCOLES, 9 MARZO, 2022
El viaje a lo animal es breve. Así lo expresó el pintor Francis Bacon en sus grandes lienzos. Antes, otros, desde la Antigüedad, dieron forma al animal que guarda el corazón humano. Los egipcios representaron a sus dioses en cuerpos con cabeza de ibis, o de cocodrilo, o de halcón, o de leona.
Para los griegos lo que no era humano era ya monstruoso, como el Minotauro, encerrado en su laberinto, ante quien hoy no podemos evitar un brote de ternura. El Medievo siguió la tradición que identificaba al animal con el vicio, el instinto bajo, el pecado. Así el Bosco llenó sus obras de seres de los que surgen bestias extrañas. Habitan espacios infernales, condenados a penar por su naturaleza.
FRANCIS BACON: MAN AND BEAST
En la exposición Hombre y bestia comprobamos que, para Francis Bacon, no había distancia entre ambos. El artista creció en la visión cruda de Rembrandt y Goya, y sobre ella recreó las formas orgánicas de los surrealistas y de Picasso. Permaneció en el interior. Sus obras son inquietantes porque miran dentro y muestran lo que no queremos ver.
Su padre, militar y criador de caballos, le expulsó de casa a los 16 años tras descubrir su homosexualidad y su afición por el travestismo. Le envió a Berlín con un amigo de la familia con el objetivo de que se convirtiese en un hombre. Francis le sedujo y disfrutó de la libertad que ofrecía la ciudad en los años 20. Viajó a menudo a París y finalmente se instaló en Londres, donde se dedicó a la decoración.
En su afición por el juego, llegó a instalar una ruleta ilegal en su sótano. Dedicaba las noches a saltar de bar en bar en el Soho. Desde los años 40 frecuentó junto a Lucien Freud el Colony Room, propiedad de su amiga Muriel Blecher, que le pagaba por llevar clientes. Ocupaba siempre el mismo asiento, en una de las esquinas. Según sus conocidos era generoso y viperino, de ingenio afilado.
UN VIAJE AL INTERIOR
Afirmó que tardó en implicarse en la pintura porque no sentía interés por representar lo que le rodeaba. Su viaje le dirigió hacia el interior. Los excesos alcohólicos y su inclinación por las relaciones tortuosas, marcadas por el masoquismo, conformaron un universo cerrado en el que habitan animales y personajes que son carne más que piel.
Partía de recortes que colgaba en su estudio. Las primeras investigaciones sobre el movimiento en fotografía, imágenes de un viaje a Sudáfrica, una escena de una película de vanguardia en la que una mujer grita o la máscara mortuoria del poeta William Blake, emergen una y otra vez en sus obras.
Tras su acuerdo con la galería Marlborough, que pagaba sus piezas en función de su tamaño, se multiplican los trípticos y su extensión se hace monumental.
DONDE ACABA EL HOMBRE Y COMIENZA EL ANIMAL
Su obra más célebre, una versión del retrato del papa Inocencio X de Velázquez, toma un personaje cuyo poder roza lo divino, le encierra en una jaula y le priva de su humanidad con un grito, que, a diferencia del de Munch, es solo una boca. En la boca acaba el hombre y comienza el animal, afirmaba Bacon.
El mono representaba para el artista la fusión de ambas naturalezas. Si en el hombre buscaba la animalidad, trasladaba al animal su soledad. En la exposición de la Royal Academy, el personaje más amable es un babuino.
En los sesenta conoció en un pub a George Dyer. Era joven, del barrio popular del East End y contaba con un historial intermitente de hurtos. Bacon, que había abrazado una sumisión consciente en sus relaciones, se transformó en protector de Dyer, a quien percibía como un ser vulnerable.
Durante una década Dyer ocupó el lugar central en sus series. Bacon realizó numerosos estudios de su rostro, en los que aparece representado con cercanía y cierta ternura. Si el retrato era el género en el que buscaba explorar los límites entre lo humano y lo inhumano, Dyer aparece privado de los rasgos voraces que mostraban los personajes de su etapa inicial.
La relación se degradó hacia finales de los 60, cuando Bacon se consagró como exponente de la alta cultura. Reclamado en los círculos artísticos a pesar de sus particularidades, Dyer se vio relegado y se sumió en un alcoholismo cargado de violencia. En 1971, en París, la noche que precedió a la inauguración de una retrospectiva de Bacon en el Grand Palais, se suicidó con una combinación de alcohol y barbitúricos.
El artista resurgió de una época que él mismo definió de “demonios, desastre y pérdida” cuando conoció al español José Capello en una fiesta en Londres, a quien superaba en más de 40 años. La relación se consolidó en viajes por Italia y España. Acudía a menudo a Madrid, donde tuvo la oportunidad de revisitar dos de sus referentes: Velázquez y Goya, en el Museo del Prado. Pintó su última obra en 1991.
Desde entonces, la posición de Francis Bacon como uno de los grandes maestros del siglo XX no ha cesado de crecer. En 2013, 3 estudios de Lucian Freud alcanzó en Christie’s Nueva York los 142,4 millones de dólares, el mayor precio en subasta hasta entonces, solo superado en 2017 por el Salvator Mundi de Leonardo.
Francis Bacon, Triptych August 1972, 1972. ‘Francis Bacon: Man and Beast’, Royal Academy of Arts, Londres (29 enero – 17 abril 2022).
Never before exhibited, Francis Bacon’s first screaming Pope
goes on show at London’s Gagosian gallery
Sinister besuited figure, painted in Monaco in 1946, was only recently rediscovered
BY GARETH HARRIS | EXHIBITIONS | NEWS | THE ART NEWSPAPER | MONDAY, 7 MARCH, 2022
Francis Bacon’s first image of a screaming Pope—which has never been exhibited publicly—is due to go on show next week at Gagosian gallery in London. The papal image, known as Landscape with Pope/Dictator, will be displayed at Davies Street gallery in Mayfair from 15 March to 23 April.
The work, made in Monaco in 1946, depicts a figure in a traditional Catholic clergy cap known as a biretta and a shirt and tie, combining religious elements and more sinister aspects, drawing on the artist’s fascination with Fascist dictators.
On 19 October 1946, Bacon wrote to Duncan MacDonald, a director of the Lefevre Gallery in London: “I am working on three studies of Velázquez’s portrait of Innocent II [sic]. I have almost finished one. I find them exciting to do.” Bacon was fascinated by Velázquez, the leading 17th-century artist in the court of King Philip IV of Spain.
According to the Sunday Times, the work was discovered by Martin Harrison as he compiled Bacon’s catalogue raisonné in 2016. The painting was reportedly acquired from Bacon’s London studio in 1951 and was later held by galleries in Milan and Turin before being bought by an unnamed Italian collector. Gagosian gallery says that Landscape with Pope/Dictator is not for sale.
Gagosian’s director Richard Calvocoressi says in a statement: “It is particularly exciting that this important early Bacon has re-emerged now, while three of the artist’s reinterpretations of the Pope theme—from 1949, 1951, and 1965—are on display in London, in the Royal Academy’s current exhibition, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast.” Bacon, a devout atheist, made more than 40 portraits of popes over a 20-year period.
Francis Bacon’s Landscape with Pope/Dictator (around 1946)
The First Pope
EXHIBITIONS | GAGOSIAN GALLERY | DAVIES STREET | LONDON | MARCH 15–APRIL 23, 2022
Gagosian is pleased to announce the exhibition of Francis Bacon’s first treatment of the papal image—a subject that would preoccupy the artist on and off for at least two decades. Executed circa 1946, this highly important picture in Bacon’s oeuvre has never before been exhibited publicly. The canvas entered a private collection in 1967 and was only rediscovered during the compilation of the artist’s catalogue raisonné by Martin Harrison, which was published in 2016. The painting will be on view in Gagosian’s Davies Street gallery from March 15 to April 23, 2022.
Scholar, art historian, and Gagosian director Richard Calvocoressi commented, “It is particularly exciting that this important early Bacon has reemerged now, while three of the artist’s reinterpretations of the Pope theme—from 1949, 1951, and 1965—are on display in London, in the Royal Academy’s current exhibition, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast.”
‘Landscape with Pope/Dictator’ (c. 1946) (the title is placed between quotation marks in the Bacon catalogue raisonné because the artist did not give it one) was painted in Monte Carlo, Monaco, where Bacon lived for much of the time from 1946 until 1950. Having survived the London Blitz and wartime austerity, he was susceptible to the Mediterranean climate, the good food, and the temptations of the casino. In Monte Carlo he completed only a handful of paintings, of which this is one. On October 19, 1946, he wrote to Duncan MacDonald, a director of the Lefevre Gallery in London: “I am working on three studies of Velasquez’s portrait of Innocent II [sic]. I have almost finished one. I find them exciting to do.”
A couple of months later, starved of the stimulating company of sympathetic fellow artists, Bacon wrote to his friend Graham Sutherland, hoping to persuade him and his wife Kathy to join him in Monte Carlo for the winter. “I don’t know how the copy of the Velasquez will turn out,” he added. “I have practically finished one I think. . . . it is thrilling to paint from a picture which really excites you.”
In 1946 Bacon would have known Velázquez’s full-length Portrait of Innocent X (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome) only in black-and-white reproduction. From the following year he could have seen the half-length version at Apsley House, London, when a selection of the Duke of Wellington’s collection went on show, although the house itself did not open to the public until 1952. However, a number of Bacon’s radical reinterpretations of images of enthroned Popes in the 1950s were based not on Velázquez’s portraits of Innocent X but on photographs of a living Pope, Pius XII—a controversial pontiff owing to his alleged failure to publicly condemn Nazism and the Holocaust. In Bacon’s paintings he can be identified by, among other details, his metal frame spectacles.
Another source for the picture was Bacon’s fascination with press and propaganda photos of Fascist dictators and their henchmen. ‘Landscape with Pope/Dictator’ is one of a very small number of his paintings in which the attributes of a Catholic clergyman—for example, the traditional cap known as a biretta—are combined with the secular garb of the political leader, such as a suit or uniform, shirt, and tie. The microphone appears in other works of this period. Pius XII was sometimes photographed speaking in front of microphones, although entirely without the atmosphere of suggestibility, mass hysteria, and violence implied by the shouting or screaming mouth and strutting stance of the dictator.
The columns in the background of Bacon’s picture seem to have been based on a photograph of a neoclassical colonnade such as those found in public buildings by Albert Speer and other Nazi architects.
The fusion of human and animal in the Pope/Dictator’s blurred face and wide-open mouth with prominent teeth—a theme of the current Bacon exhibition at the Royal Academy, London—suggests that Bacon was already looking at photographs of monkeys and chimpanzees. Another arresting feature is the bank of delicately painted pink and green flowers, probably cyclamen, beneath the podium, which also evokes a crowd of waving or saluting hands. The predominant tonality of blue-violet anticipates the later series of Popes from 1951 and 1953.
Francis Bacon was born in 1909 in Dublin, and died in 1992 in Madrid. His work is held in prominent public collections worldwide. Recent exhibitions include Bacon en toutes lettres, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2019–20); Invisible Rooms, Tate Liverpool, England (2016, traveled to Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, Germany); Francis Bacon and the Art of the Past, Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia (2014, traveled to Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, England, under the title Francis Bacon and the Masters); Five Decades, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (2012); Tate Britain, London (2008, traveled to Museo del Prado, Madrid, and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); Portraits and Heads, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Scotland (2005, traveled to Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany).
Francis Bacon: Man and Beast is on view at the Royal Academy, London, through April 17, 2022.
17–19 Davies Street
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 10–6
March 15–April 23, 2022
Francis Bacon, ‘Landscape with Pope/Dictator’, c. 1946
FRANCIS BACON’S FIRST POPE TO BE
UNVEILED IN LONDON EXHIBITION.
BY MARK WESTALL | EXHIBITIONS | ART PREVIEWS | ART STUFF LONDON | FAD MAGAZINE | MONDAY, 7 MARCH, 2022
Gagosian to exhibit Francis Bacon’s first treatment of the papal image—a subject that would preoccupy the artist on and off for at least two decades. Executed circa 1946, this highly important picture in Bacon’s oeuvre has never before been exhibited publicly. The canvas entered a private collection in 1967 and was only rediscovered during the compilation of the artist’s catalogue raisonné by Martin Harrison, which was published in 2016.
Scholar, art historian and Gagosian director Richard Calvocoressi commented, “It is particularly exciting that this important early Bacon has re-emerged now, while three of the artist’s reinterpretations of the Pope theme—from 1949, 1951, and 1965—are on display in London, in the Royal Academy’s current exhibition, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast.”
‘Landscape with Pope/Dictator’ (c. 1946) (the title is placed between quotation marks in the Bacon catalogue raisonné because the artist did not give it one) was painted in Monte Carlo, Monaco, where Bacon lived for much of the time from 1946 until 1950. Having survived the London Blitz and wartime austerity, he was susceptible to the Mediterranean climate, the good food, and the temptations of the casino. In Monte Carlo he completed only a handful of paintings, of which this is one. On October 19th, 1946, he wrote to Duncan MacDonald, a director of the Lefevre Gallery in London: “I am working on three studies of Velasquez’s portrait of Innocent II [sic]. I have almost finished one. I find them exciting to do.”
A couple of months later, starved of the stimulating company of sympathetic fellow artists, Bacon wrote to his friend Graham Sutherland, hoping to persuade him and his wife Kathy to join him in Monte Carlo for the winter. “I don’t know how the copy of the Velasquez will turn out,” he added. “I have practically finished one I think. . . . it is thrilling to paint from a picture which really excites you.”
In 1946 Bacon would have known Velázquez’s full-length Portrait of Innocent X (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome) only in black-and-white reproduction. From the following year he could have seen the half-length version at Apsley House, London, when a selection of the Duke of Wellington’s collection went on show, although the house itself did not open to the public until 1952. However, a number of Bacon’s radical reinterpretations of images of enthroned Popes in the 1950s were based not on Velázquez’s portraits of Innocent X but on photographs of a living Pope, Pius XII—a controversial pontiff owing to his alleged failure to publicly condemn Nazism and the Holocaust. In Bacon’s paintings he can be identified by, among other details, his metal frame spectacles.
Another source for the picture was Bacon’s fascination with press and propaganda photos of Fascist dictators and their henchmen. ‘Landscape with Pope/Dictator’ is one of a very small number of his paintings in which the attributes of a Catholic clergyman—for example, the traditional cap known as a biretta—are combined with the secular garb of the political leader, such as a suit or uniform, shirt, and tie. The microphone appears in other works of this period. Pius XII was sometimes photographed speaking in front of microphones, although entirely without the atmosphere of suggestibility, mass hysteria, and violence implied by the shouting or screaming mouth and strutting stance of the dictator.
The columns in the background of Bacon’s picture seem to have been based on a photograph of a neoclassical colonnade such as those found in public buildings by Albert Speer and other Nazi architects.
The fusion of human and animal in the Pope/Dictator’s blurred face and wide-open mouth with prominent teeth—a theme of the current Bacon exhibition at the Royal Academy, London—suggests that Bacon was already looking at photographs of monkeys and chimpanzees. Another arresting feature is the bank of delicately painted pink and green flowers, probably cyclamen, beneath the podium, which also evokes a crowd of waving or saluting hands. The predominant tonality of blue-violet anticipates the later series of Popes from 1951 and 1953.
Francis Bacon, ‘Landscape with Pope/Dictator’, c. 1946 © The Estate of Francis Bacon.
There’s Pannick on the streets of Londongrad!
BY ANNA MIKHAILOVA | NEWS | THE MAIL ON SUNDAY | SATURDAY, 5 MARCH, 2022
The preening self-regard of the great legal minds in the House of Lords was on full display last week as several peers defended themselves from the charge of courting lootin’ and Putin-friendly oligarchs.
This undignified sight was part of the spat following the Government’s laggard response to sanctioning them, with Ministers desperately trying to blame amendments tabled five years ago by QCs Lord Pannick and Lord Judge to legislation covering sanctions and anti-money laundering.
These required the Government to provide ‘good reason’ to sanction targets – men such as Arkady Rotenberg, Pannick’s client and Putin crony who the lawyer defended from 2014 to 2015. Ministers say these amendments put too much emphasis on the rights of oligarchs.
In response, an incensed Pannick penned a letter to The Times saying oligarchs, like alleged murderers, are entitled to legal representation.
George Osborne was spotted last week chatting to Christie’s honorary chairman and minor royal David Linley ahead of the auction house’s spring sale, once a favourite place for oligarchs to deodorise their reputation and fortunes in London.
The former Chancellor, who oversaw a financial sector swilling with dodgy Russian money, had been admiring a Francis Bacon portrait of US President Woodrow Wilson, alongside a piece of paper stained with the blood of the assassinated Leon Trotsky.
Priced at £55 million, the Bacon was out of Osborne’s reach, but in other times would have attracted Roman Abramovich, who used a slice of his fortune to bring home a $86 million Bacon from Sotheby’s in 2008. But I hear he’s a little tied up right now.
Strange happenings back in the USSR
The brilliant story of a Francis Bacon exhibition in Moscow
BY ROBERT THICKNESSE | REVIEW | BOOKS | THE CRITIC | SATURDAY, 5 MARCH, 2022
Did it really happen? Did that place really exist? The further it shrinks in the rear-view mirror, the more wholly improbable the Soviet Union seems, some feverishly over-imagined sci-fi comedy-horror, a fairytale of indecipherable meaning written by a madman.
James Birch’s rollicking book about late-80s Moscow, as he dreamed up the plainly ridiculous idea of holding a Francis Bacon exhibition in that peculiar place, pithily brings it all right back with bracing black comedy. As a fellow celebrant of those dog-end Soviet years, memories subsequently overlaid with gaudier images of the later Moscow came storming back.
It’s all here: how flying to Moscow always felt like going to prison, shadowed by the queasy fear that you’d never get out. Once there, everything was a hallucinatory dream of booze and hilarity, with flashes of random, desensitising horror.
These Russian scenes, with Birch’s disturbingly acute memory of the smells and other particularities of Old Moscow, would really be enough for a jolly memoir on their own, but there is more to the exhilarating ride of this short book.
The grotty London of the early 80s was a different universe from the gimcrack, security-goon-infested poncification we now inhabit, and the days of the 20-something Birch’s blithely happening gallery down by Stamford Bridge (at least some things never change: pissed-up Chelsea trogs would poke their heads round the door asking “What’s all this fucking shit, then?”) make the point that our own past is just as foreign as the Russian one, if marginally less frightful.
To all appearances rather hopeless, the Neo Naturists were 29-year-old Birch’s headliners in ’85. You might dimly remember Jennifer Binnie doing a Lady Godiva on a white horse down King’s Road to publicise her show. Jennifer lived in a Camden squat with Grayson Perry, the bolshie potter rather far from the celeb darling of the twenty-first century.
The Neos’ gimmick was nudity and body painting and their bit of the artworld was pleasingly skint and carefree. One evening, Birch rolls up to a party on Campden Hill with the punk poet David Robilliard, runs into Russophile academico-cultural gadabout Bob Chenciner, who in an access of drunken genius tells Birch to take his artists to Moscow rather than New York, and that the mysterious Klokov will fix everything, and we’re off.
Birch tracks down this Klokov — who tuns out to be an urbane KGB cultural fixer — in Paris, and is beguiled by his accompanying siren Elena Khudiakova, correctly beautiful and unsmiling, a “high priestess of fashion” variously togged out for “a high-end roller disco” or “a Wham! video directed by Eisenstein”.
As usual with Russians, everyone has obscure motives and arcane uses for everyone else, only some of which ever become clear, so an intricate quadrille ensues as things unroll with the curious inevitability that so justifies Russian fatalism. Birch, his reading list full of Dostoyevsky as ordered by the exigent Elena, goes to Moscow, and shadowy machinations in the Union of Artists result in a Bacon rather than a Perry exhibition becoming the plan.
Luckily, Bacon (“Eggs”) is an old pal of the Birch family, and James knows his elusive gentle and charming side as well as the abrasive drunk. Back in London we plunge amid the world-class bores and freaks of ’80s Soho, its locus classicus the ghastly old Colony Room with its collection of pissed-up bitches. Birch shuttles about like a guileless Candide, reporting back with likeable candour on things he has no right to remember.
The rest is history. The exhibition happens, and half a million Muscovites queue round the block for Bacon’s visions of horror, some way from Party-time Soviet art with its camp factory workers and allied nonsenses, and they leave messages in the visitors’ book that remind you of the point of art.
Just about everyone in the book is dead now, except Birch and Perry: Bacon back in 1992, then the rest — his lover John Edwards, Klokov, Chenciner, bit-part players like Misha Mikheyev from the Union of Artists, the raffish biker-arthound Johnny Stuart, Grey Gowrie — even the enchanting Elena, a rather tragic figure with “a broken brain” who drifts through the book like a sad muse.
Birch and his co-writer Michael Hodges have put together something strong and beautiful, a monument to basically grim times and places that retained at least some paradoxical, vestigial human traits, all the atmospheres of the freakish past that joltingly reminds us how fantastically random the world is, and what a blast the Soviet Union could be — just so long as you had that return ticket.
Francis Bacon at the Tate Gallery, 1985.
Francis Bacon: Man and Beast at the Royal Academy
Nicholas Cranfield sees Francis Bacon’s stark visions at the Academy
BY NICHOLAS CRANIELD | RAW FLESH | BOOKS & ARTS | CHURCH TIMES | FRIDAY, 04 MARCH, 2022
WHEN I hear the words “Cultural Centre”, I reach for my gun. A good friend invited me to explore the modern and contemporary art collection assembled by the Madeiran merchant José Berardo. It is still on loan to the Cultural Centre of Belém in Lisbon, despite the uncertainty surrounding the allegedly unpaid debts of the Portuguese billionaire.
The monstrous building (140,000 square metres; Vittorio Gregotti and Manuel Salgado) was completed in record time for the year in which Portugal presided over the Council of Europe (1992). It looks more like a bunker or, to be generous, the painted visions of John Martin (1789-1854) of ancient Babylon and Nineveh. It scars the Tagus riverside of the World Heritage Centre and the early-16th-century Jéronimos monastery across the street.
Solid blocks of towers, narrow ramp ways, and hidden squares contain conference halls, theatres, a reading room, a library, and the like. The Coleção Berardo alone fills some 9000 square metres in an art gallery.
It houses one work by Francis Bacon (1909-92) which I had come to see on the day that I was missing the press view of the current Royal Academy exhibition in London. Instead, I was able to spend time with the artist’s 1983 Oedipus and the Sphinx after Ingres.
If we think of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres at all (1780-1867), we might think of a lush, post-revolutionary French neo-classical academic artist; but his use of pure colour and his distortion of forms found echoes later in Matisse and Picasso, as Bacon well knew.
In his interpretation, Bacon includes an injured athlete, awkwardly lifting his bloodied and bandaged foot, in place of the mythical king of Thebes, with a sculpted sphinx. In an outer darkness hangs one of the Furies, the Eumenides.
Bacon not only distorts, but one might also say perverts, the original work (1808). He offers a profound reflection on flesh, raw, bony, and, if we are honest, unattractive, quite at odds with the handsome, almost homoerotic, male beauty captured by Ingres. Sexuality has become animalistic for the Dublin-born painter.
From early on (to judge by his surviving work), Bacon was obsessed with the Furies. In the second room of the London exhibition, in the first of several illusionistic coups of the design, three paintings are brought together to form a triptych, the earliest being one of the Eumenides.
Placed centrally in this hang is Figure Study II (1945-46), loaned from the Bagshaw Museum in Batley to the National Galleries of Scotland, in which a half-naked figure yells out from beneath an incongruous open umbrella, face down in the rich leaves of a succulent. The man’s herringbone coat is draped over his rump much like a cast-off matador’s jacket. The tweed coat, this time with a trilby hat, reappears in a parallel work, Figure Study I (1945-46). Blue and deep pink blossoms complete the composition; are they the discarded bouquet of a disappointed lover, or flowers gathered at a graveside?
Alongside these two canvases, which can usually be viewed side by side in Edinburgh, the curators have chosen to add an earlier (1944) painting of a Fury (private collection), devouring a bunch of flowers. It is unlikely that Bacon intended these paintings as a conventional triptych, but they work well as a group. It would be a Fury that featured on his last commission: a wine label for Baroness de Rothschild in December 1991.
With rather more reticence, three paintings of a corrida (1969) surround the octagonal central gallery, two of them clearly intended as a pair with numbered doors for the spectators to crowd into the arena. Savage emotion has overtaken the crazed onlookers, who throng the terraces beneath what appears to be the Nazi flag of the Party Eagle. In contrast, the bull is ennobled with oncoming death, its head and horns outlined against the still unstained white capote de brega.
Few of Bacon’s sitters emerge as beautiful people. His is not a technique beloved by celluloid and by family albums. Isabel Rawsthorne and Bacon’s first long-term lover, Peter Lacy, have simian faces, and perhaps only in Triptych August 1972 (Tate) did a figure regain some dignity in human form; but, by then, his lover George Dyer, the subject of this and several of the “Black Triptychs”, had committed suicide.
Rather, Bacon’s own bestial nature and his incisive and all too deep human understanding allow him to paint in ways that are rarely encountered in Western art except in the figment of imagination, such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses, perhaps, the flaying of Marsyas, or some of the horrific scenes from the biblical accounts of genocide and mutilation: Cain and Abel, the rape of Tamar, the death of Jephthah’s daughter, and the sadistic beheading of John the Baptiser all came to mind.
Bacon, of course, was not a religious painter; that was never his intention. But the profound experience of walking through the Royal Academy galleries left me with a deeper understanding of human nature than many more romantic or romanticised versions of humanity can offer. It is perhaps fitting that this latest exhibition closes on Easter Day.
“Francis Bacon: Man and Beast” is at the Royal Academy, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1, until 17 April. Phone 020 7300 8090
Francis Bacon, Study for Bullfight No 1, 1969, oil on canvas, private collection
Artists condemn war, with European buyers ‘in pause mode’
As the international art world takes a stand on Ukraine, some players are unwilling to rock the boat
BY MELANIE GERLIS | THE ART MARKET | COLLECTING | THE FINANCIAL TIMES | THURSDAY, MARCH 3, 2022
The international art world is taking an ethical stand against Russia’s devastating invasion of Ukraine, with artists in particular using their influence to condemn the atrocities.
But in the commercial art market, many are playing it down for now — there is a marked unwillingness to rock the boat during London’s auction season. While traders minimise the influence that Russian buyers now have in an increasingly global arena, the country’s oligarchs and other wealthy individuals, at home and abroad, are still significant art buyers, as well as the owners of art businesses.
William MacDougall, director of MacDougall’s auction house for Russian art, says that none of its clients have been placed under UK sanctions. Sotheby’s and Christie’s say their respective Moscow offices remain open and a Sotheby’s spokesperson says: “It is worth bearing in mind that the market has proved remarkably resilient over the years in the face of crises of many different types.” Christie’s has made a “significant donation” to the Red Cross, according to an internal email from chief executive Guillaume Cerutti.
Phillips auction house, wholly owned by Russian luxury goods business Mercury Retail Group, has read the room, no doubt under pressure from some consignors and would-be buyers. Chief executive Stephen Brooks said on Monday that “We at Phillips unequivocally condemn the invasion of Ukraine ... We call for an immediate cessation of all hostilities in the strongest possible terms.”
The owners of the Russian-held The Art Newspaper — for which I am an editor-at-large — say that “We are shaken and deeply concerned by the latest events unfolding in the Ukraine.” They underline that the newspaper “continues its editorially independent coverage.”
Art advisers say that potential buyers, particularly those in Europe who feel very close to the action, are in pause mode. But there’s an uncomfortable sense that the art market’s convenience and opacity might be to its benefit. MacDougall says that “Wealthy Russians may prefer to keep their wealth in real transportable assets instead of in bank accounts.”
There are some brave moves — notably from those involved in the already beleaguered contemporary art market in Russia. Simon Rees, director of the Cosmoscow art fair since 2019, resigned from his role when Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded. He wrote on Facebook “We all tried to convince ourselves that full invasion would be averted. But Putin and his clique are old-style cold warriors who are deaf to diplomacy and insanely faithful to the idea of glorious war and empire. Sadly, a high proportion of the Russian population share those beliefs; and the educated elite have yet to mobilise against Putin and his values (which is a kind of tacit support).”
On Monday, organisers of the prestigious Venice Biennale, which hosts national pavilions to showcase contemporary art and opens on April 23, confirmed that Russia’s curator — Lithuanian Raimundas Masauskas — and his two Russian artists had pulled out. In a statement, organisers say that the Biennale “stands beside the motivations that have led to this decision”. The Ukrainian Pavilion responded on Twitter that while it welcomed the decision, “it was driven by the individual artists and the curator of the pavilion, not by its commissioners or the organisers of the [Venice Biennale].”
Russia’s private museums have boosted the international market in recent years. In 2011, the talk of Art Basel was that Dasha Zhukova, then married to the arch-oligarch and mega art buyer Roman Abramovich, had spent around $1mn on a neon installation by Jason Rhoades for their co-founded Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow.
On Saturday, however, the Garage announced that its exhibitions had stopped “until the human and political tragedy that is unfolding in Ukraine has ceased.” It adds: “We cannot support the illusion of normality when such events are taking place.”
The message from the V-A-C Foundation, which runs the recently opened and vast GES-2 House of Culture museum in Moscow, is more muted. The collector behind the Renzo Piano-designed museum is Leonid Mikhelson, a natural gas oligarch whose net worth is estimated by Forbes at $20.9bn. He is said to be close to Putin, who opened GES-2 in December.
A statement from the foundation says that it has decided “to suspend a number of programmes and activities ... in solidarity and respect to our visitors, employees, and the artists’ choices.” Icelandic artists Ragnar Kjartansson and Ingibjörg Sigurjónsdóttir were among those who pulled their works from GES-2. They wrote to the foundation that “We feel that we cannot sit by in silence. We must protest these atrocities in every way we possibly can.”
There wasn’t much demand for a weighty Francis Bacon triptych with a Russian motif and history, offered by Christie’s on Tuesday for between £35mn and £55mn.
“Triptych 1986-87” includes an image of the bloodied desk of the assassinated Marxist Leon Trotsky and was in the first exhibition of a well-known western artist in Soviet Russia in 1988. The painting, from the collection of the architect Norman Foster, sold to just one bid at £35mn, secured ahead of the sale through a guarantee (£38.5mn with fees).
Topping the marathon near six-hour auction on March 1 was a recently restituted painting by Franz Marc, “The Foxes (Die Füchse)” (1913), which sold for £37mn (£42.7mn with fees).
These were the top prices of sessions that generally defied the global unrest. Four works were withdrawn ahead of sale and 10 unsold, from a total of 110 lots. The latter included a 1926 painting by Marc Chagall, historically heavily bought by Russians, which had sold for $4.1mn in 2018 and was estimated at between £2.2mn and £3.2mn this week — however, other works by the artist sold. Another Russian favourite, Chaïm Soutine, had a painting of a hanging fowl from c1924 go unsold (est £800,000-£1.2m).
Sobering thoughts come from Jo Vickery, founder of the advisory firm Vickery Art and a specialist in contemporary Russian art. “Artists and art professionals in Russia are resoundingly against the Russian invasion, many are taking to the streets to demonstrate and are facing overnight detentions and fines,” she says. She adds: “For now, there are mostly questions of personal security — in Russia and Ukraine — and no one is interested in the market.”
Francis Bacon’s ‘Triptych 1986-87’ sold for £38.5mn, at the lower end of estimates
‘Francis Bacon: Man and Beast’ laat je door elkaar geschud achter
Het is 10 jaar geleden sinds er in Londen een solotentoonstelling liep over publiekslieveling Francis Bacon.
De Royal Academy brengt nu Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, een expo die van de muren naar je loert, op
een onbewaakt moment op je afspringt en je door elkaar geschud achterlaat.
SOFIE VAN HYFTE | EXPOSITIE | TV & CULTUUR | DE MORGEN | DONDERDAG, 3 MAART, 2022
Eén zeer realistisch oor. Meer is er niet om het amorfe figuur in Head I uit 1948 te identificeren als, nu ja, m-mens. Het grauwe ding heeft een scheve vissenbek waar te veel en te scheve tanden in plakken. Heel veel meer en een bedrand kan je niet opmaken uit het eerste schilderij in Francis Bacons majestueuze Man and Beast-tentoonstelling. Je kan de vieze adem van het ding nog net niet ruiken.
“Als je erover nadenkt, zijn we allemaal maar dieren”, poneerde de Iers-Britse Francis Bacon (1909-1992) ooit in een gesprek met vriend en cocurator van de tentoonstelling Michael Peppiatt. “Alleen zijn sommige mensen er zich iets meer van bewust dan anderen. Die lijken veel dichter te staan bij hun dierlijke instincten. Ik heb wellicht op een andere manier kennis gemaakt met dieren dan de meesten onder ons. Als kind was ik steevast omringd door beesten en dat zal altijd een impact blijven hebben op mijn leven.”
Dat de Royal Academy Peppiatt als een van de curatoren aanstelde is op zijn minst een goede zaak te noemen. Bacons biograaf heeft topwerk afgeleverd. Met de hoge galerijen geschilderd in tinten donkergroen, dieprood en grauw zand, passend bij het palet van de kunstenaar, en de theatrale maar subtiele verlichting is het een onberispelijke setting voor Bacons schilderijen. De tentoonstelling gaat op zoek naar een fundamenteel, maar weinig onderzocht aspect in zijn oeuvre. Bacons feilloze fascinatie voor dieren, hoe het zijn benadering van het menselijk lichaam zowel vormde als vervormde.
Bacon had inderdaad geen gewone verhouding met dieren. Hij had een zware vorm van astma en was uiterst allergisch aan alles wat op poten liep. Maar eraan ontsnappen kon hij allerminst, happend naar adem bewoog hij zich door zijn kindertijd. Hij werd grootgebracht op een hoeve op het Ierse platteland waar zijn vader een autoritaire paardentrainer was. Bacon, die als kind al lak had aan in de pas lopen, werd het mikpunt van treiterij van Eddy Bacon. Die zag zich gefaald als vader als hij naar zijn subversieve zoon keek en probeerde hem ‘te redden’ door hem af en toe te laten afborstelen door een van zijn stalknechten. Bacon ontwikkelde een verstoorde relatie met de man. Toen hij op zijn zestiende worstelde met zijn eerste homoseksuele gevoelens stuurde vader Eddy hem met de ultramasculine Cecil Harcourt-Smith naar Berlijn. In essentie om hem een lesje te leren, maar dat mislukte toen Harcourt-Smith plots gevoelens kreeg voor jonge Francis. “Na Berlijn was ik compleet beschadigd”, vertelde Bacon er later lachend over.
De kunstenaar was op zijn minst een enigmatisch figuur te noemen. Op feestjes was hij steevast de joviale boemelaar die zijn gasten champagne trakteerde en al te graag aan gokpartijtjes deelnam. Ook was hij de man die zorg droeg voor verslaafde vrienden, hen te eten gaf en geld uitdeelde aan al wie het moeilijk had. Maar in de slaapkamer veranderde de kunstenaar in een op seksuele machtsspellen kickende masochist. Geen man van de brave huis-,tuin- en keukenbondage, maar één met lusten die gestoeld waren op ronduit gruwelijke fantasieën, voortgegroeid uit de trauma’s van zijn jeugd.
Die meedogenloosheid zie je vandaag als je naar zijn schilderijen kijkt. Hij gebruikte het als tool om zijn kunst te maken. Hoewel hij kon liefhebben, was hij onverbiddelijk voor zijn bedpartners, al zeker voor zijn vele gewelddadige ex-lieven die stuk voor stuk het bijltje legden, maar nog veel minder lief was hij voor zichzelf. Bacon haalde plezier uit ruwe seksspelletjes. Hij liet zich in de naam van de kunst het ene blauwe oog na het andere slaan. Met blinkende trots vertelde hij in interviews dat hij alweer een rijtje tanden kwijt was kwijtgespeeld na een nachtje stoeien.
Nadat hij zich in de jaren 30 op schilderkunst had toegelegd vestigde hij zich in South Kensington in West-Londen. Hij stichtte samen met Muriel Belcher The Colonoy Room in hartje Soho, een plek waar een mengelmoes van alcoholverslaafde lageklassers en geroemde Britse kunstenaars langskwam. Nog levende stamgasten zoals Maggie Hambling, artiest en vriend van de kunstenaar zijn formeel. “Bacon was één grote brok charisma. Als hij een kamer binnenwandelde, dan kon je er je ogen niet afhouden. Hij had iets betoverends.”
Bacon flirtte erop los. Getroebleerd door de mishandeling in zijn verleden ging hij steeds op zoek naar onmogelijke, bijna perverse contacten. Het zijn die beestachtige relaties die ook in heel wat schilderijen opduiken in de tentoonstelling. Zo had hij seks met de stalknechten die hem als kind hadden vernederd. Onder meer Man Kneeling in Grass uit 1952 in de tweede zaal is voortgekomen uit die onderonsjes. Een kwetsbaar, naakt figuur kruipt met voorovergebogen hoofd op handen en knieën door het gras. Het beeld heeft tegelijkertijd iets erotisch als meelijwekkends. Het figuur suggereert een onderdanigheid aan een onzichtbare sterke kracht van een geest die je misschien vaag in de achtergrond ziet.
De tentoonstelling dendert in een stevig tempo door. Een mensenhoofd met de kreet of enge glimlach van een aap, de dans tussen stierenvechter en stier, zijn lovers die op de meest absurde manier worden gecapteerd. Bacons monsters doen haasje-over in de rondgang. Bij momenten wil je rennen, nog vaker wil je wegkijken. Echt gezellig is de verzameling schilderijen in de Royal Academy niet.
Zo sloft er op een gegeven moment een uitgeputte hond naar ons toe, met hangende tong, oren naar beneden en het achterwerk gebogen. Er is uitputting te zien in elke plooi van zijn benige lichaam. Rond de hond is een varengroene cirkel getrokken, als laatste standplaats van de natuur in een prairie van leeg canvas. In de verte razen auto’s over een snelweg. Een blauwe zeestrook en een eenzame palmboom kunnen het desolate landschap niet doordringen. Dog uit 1952 vertelt ons halverwege al dat we het einde lijken bereikt te hebben.
Hoewel hoogtepunten elkaar in een stevig tempo opvolgen en we deze keer echt niet kunnen kiezen wat onze absolute voorkeur krijgt, blijven we het langst hangen bij Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (from Muybridge) uit 1961. Bacon beschrijft hoe de beweging van dieren en die van mensen voortdurend interfereren in zijn werk. Hij verwijst in zijn schilderijen vaak naar fotografische beelden. De kunstenaar was gefascineerd door het vermogen om de beweging van het lichaam vast te leggen. Fotograaf Eadweard Muybridge’s Complete Human and Animal Locomotion had een grote impact op Bacons werk. Muybridge maakte stop-motions van elementaire bewegingen van mens en dier, denk aan een wandelende hond, een man die een discus werpt of twee mannen die aan het worstelen zijn. Het door polio verlamde jongetje schiet in al zijn natuurlijke kracht boven die vele beelden uit. De beestachtige trekken van het kind trok Bacons aandacht.
Een zaal verder staan zijn stierengevechten in een rondje opgesteld. De wilde penseelstreken doen denken aan iets wat Bacon ooit tegen criticus en biograaf David Sylvester zei: “Ik wil een heel geordend beeld, maar ik wil dat het toevallig tot stand komt”. Bacon liet erg veel aan het toeval. Zo zie je de witte verfstreken die het bewegende doek van de stierenvechter moeten voorstellen bijna op het canvas gegooid worden. In veel opzichten zijn de risico’s die hij opzoekt vergelijkbaar met de risico’s die de matador neemt. Berekend, maar nog steeds roekeloos.
“Bacon zien schilderen is alsof je iemand gadeslaat die met vallen en opstaan aan het koorddansen is”, stelt hedendaags kunstenaar Damien Hirst in de BBC documentaire uit 2017 over Bacon. “De man weet duidelijk waar hij mee bezig is, toch is het telkens gokken wat zijn volgende penseelstreek wordt. Het is enorm boeiend om hem bezig te zien.”
Hirst is sterk beïnvloed geweest door de werken van Bacon. Net als vele andere Britse artiesten. Denk aan Jenny Saville. Haar vlezige schilderstijl werd vaak vergeleken met die van Peter Paul Rubens en Lucian Freud, maar zelf zegt ze vooral naar Bacon te hebben gekeken. “Francis Bacon waakt over mij als ik schilder. Dat gevoel heb ik al sinds ik op mijn 15de zijn tentoonstelling bezocht in Tate. Er hangen reproducties van zijn schilderijen verspreid over mijn atelier. In tijden dat meer afstandelijke, abstracte schilderijen de kunstwereld domineerden bleef zijn figuratieve werk dicht bij ieders hart, net zoals het dat vandaag nog steeds doet.”
Het brengt ons terug bij de tentoonstelling in Londen. De grootse opstelling laat je wat ongemakkelijk achter. Bacon zorgt ervoor dat je het vertrouwen in de mensheid, onze moraliteit en superioriteit stukje bij beetje verliest. Je kunt het aankleden zoals je wilt, maar het is zoals de kunstenaar het ooit stelde, uiteindelijk zijn we inderdaad allemaal maar dieren.
Francis Bacon: Man and Beast loopt nog tot 17/4 in de Royal Academy, Londen. Eurostar biedt een 2FOR1-korting.
Francis Bacon in zijn Londense studio in 1974
Russian Billionaire Petr Aven Resigns as a Royal Academy Trustee
as Arts Institutions Face Mounting Pressure to Cut Ties with Russia
The museum says it returned the donation Aven made to support its current Francis Bacon exhibition.
BY VIVIENNE CHOW | ART WORLD | CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS | POLITICS | ARTNET NEWS | TUESDAY, MARCH 2, 2022
The Royal Academy confirmed the news, adding that it returned to Aven the donation he made in support of “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast,” which is open at the RA until April 17. The museum declined to comment on the amount of money or terms involved in Aven’s donation “for reasons of commercial sensitivity.”
An avid art collector who has lent artworks to prominent institutions worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Tate in London, Aven was named as “one of Vladimir Putin’s closest oligarchs” by the European Union in a sanction document published on February 28.
The reports notes that Aven is a key shareholder of the Alfa Group, one of Russia’s largest private investment groups and the owner of Alfa Bank.
“He does not operate independently of the President’s demands,” the document said in reference to Putin.
Aven’s London-based business partner, Mikhail Fridman, was also punished by the E.U., but the pair have called the sanctions and related allegations “spurious” and “unfounded.”
Russian banking magnate Petr Aven has stepped down as a trustee of the Royal Academy in London as cultural institutions in the U.K. face increased pressure to sever ties with Russia in the aftermath of the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The moves comes as U.K. politicians and activists call for other cultural institutions to remove allies of Putin from their boards.
“Putin supporters should be removed from our cultural institutions and galleries, and museums should run a mile from blood-drenched Russian money,” parliamentarian Chris Bryant said in a Twitter post.
Tate is under pressure because of its ties with Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, who is an honorary member of the Tate Foundation.
In a statement issued to Artnet News, a museums spokesperson said Vekselberg had donated to the museum seven years ago and that his membership title is honorary.
“There is no ongoing connection,” the spokesperson added.
Vekselberg, an energy tycoon, claimed he had more than $1.5 billion worth of assets frozen since he was placed on a U.S. sanction list in 2018. (To date, Vekselberg has not been sanctioned by the U.K. or the E.U.)
Ukraine’s culture sector has been vocal in calling on major cultural institutions such as Art Basel, the Venice Biennale, and Documenta to stop working with Russia.
A petition organized by Oleksandr Tkachenko, Ukraine’s minister of culture, has thus far been signed by curator Pavlo Gudimov, the founder of Ya Gallery in Lviv; and Marta Trotsiuk, the founder of Gallery 101 and the head of the Ukrainian Gallerists Association.
Meanwhile, the Russian-owned auction house Phillips made a pro-Ukraine statement on a Instagram with an image of the country’s flag.
“We at Phillips unequivocally condemn the invasion of Ukraine. Along with the rest of the art world, we have been shocked and saddened by the tragic events unfolding in the region. We call for an immediate cessation of all hostilities in the strongest possible terms,” said Stephen Brooks, the auction house’s CEO.
The auction house added that SWIFT sanctions against Russia, which have cut the country’s banks off from their international counterparts, will have no impact on upcoming auctions.
Russian billionaire Petr Aven, who resigned as a trustee of the Royal Academy in London.
How will the war in Ukraine affect the big auction houses?
A number of the most high-profile lots coming up are by artists popular among Russians
BY COLIN GLEADELL | ART | CULTURE | FEATURES | THE DAILY TELEGRAPH | TUESDAY, 1ST MARCH, 2022
This week’s Modern and Contemporary Art sales in London were already being viewed with some trepidation before Russia invaded Ukraine. They are always a barometer of the health of the major auction houses, and some have been predicting a further narrowing of the gap between Paris and London. Now, though, auctioneers are braced for a week without Russian buyers and with luxury economies worldwide destabilised by the war.
One director of Sotheby’s, who did not want to be named, said they were checking bulletins hourly to see whether any of their buyers and sellers was on the Government’s sanctions list. A former Sotheby’s lead auctioneer told me: “I would not like to be the auctioneer this week.”
Some concerns have also been raised about third-biggest auction house, Phillips, which is owned by Mercury, a Russian luxury goods company.
Yesterday, to put their clients at ease, Phillips let it be known unofficially that their owners were not the subject of sanctions and have no political or business connection to government or to any individuals or institutions targeted by sanctions. That list of sanctions, of course, is changing quickly. And, inconveniently, a number of the most high-profile lots are by artists popular among Russians.
Top of the menu is a powerful 1980s triptych by Francis Bacon, a favourite in Russia, that is estimated to sell for between £35 million and £55 million. The painting, which is guaranteed, is being sold by the celebrated architect Norman Foster.
There are also works by Impressionists, much favoured by Russian collectors wherever they live. Five Monets come from the collection of Daniel Snyder, the owner of the beleaguered American football club Washington Commanders (formerly the Washington Redskins). The German Expressionists, another area of Russian interest, are led by a 1913 painting of foxes by Franz Marc, sold under duress under the Nazis but now restituted to the owner’s family.
Not everyone is downbeat, however. Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips are still expected to generate some £600 million over the week, 35 per cent up on this time last year, with that Franz Marc touted at a record-busting £35 million. There is also much excitement surrounding a tender naked bust portrait by Lucian Freud of his former lover, the painter Janey Longman, at £10 million to £15 million. The painting comes from the family of established British collectors Ian Stoutzker and his wife, Mercedes.
The highest price of the week is likely to be registered by the surrealist kingpin René Magritte. Sotheby’s is so enamoured of his L’Empire des lumières, which magically juxtaposes a dark-lit street at night against a luminous day-lit sky, it has painted its front exterior to resemble the picture.
Coming from the collection of one of Magritte’s patrons, the painting is said to have been on offer privately at Sotheby’s last year for €100 million (£84 million). But having been unable to place it at that price, they have offered the owner a guarantee in the region of £45 million, whether someone else bids or not. This could be a costly gamble if it backfires.
Guy Jennings, a former auctioneer who is now a director of the Fine Art Group, was previewing the sale yesterday and told The Daily Telegraph that “the mood was upbeat – almost business as usual. The Russians may not buy this week, but they have not been a dominating force outside of the Russian art sales for nearly 10 years, when Russian money was mopping up Impressionist paintings and the likes of Roman Abramovich were paying millions for works by Bacon and Freud. And the Asians are here.”
Melanie Clore, a former chairman of Sotheby’s Europe and co-founder of the art advisory Clore Wyndham, reminds us how resilient the market is. “The 2008 financial recession did not immediately affect the art market, nor did the pandemic,” she said.
“Of course, the current political situation is utterly deplorable, but great art is still great art, and real collectors, as opposed to speculators, will still want to buy. Also, while the Russians won’t be buying, the market is so global it is not overly affected when a single nation withdraws.”
Specialist Russian art dealer, James Butterwick, is looking on the bright side. “I am the biggest Ukrainian art dealer in the West – and that could just be an advantage.”
But as far as the larger market is concerned, he says: “No one can predict the real impact of this war. We’ll have a better idea by the end of this week.”
Capitalist Realism Comes to Russia
BY CHARLES DARWENT | ART | LITERARY REVIEW | ISSUE 505 | MARCH, 2022
In September 1988, I found myself in the back of a Moscow taxi with a gallery owner from London, now dead. ‘Taxi’, in those days, was a contingent term in the Soviet Union. Ours was a private Lada, the gallerist having done a deal with its driver. He was good at deals. Handsomely coiffed (he had been a hairdresser in a former life), the gallerist was known for spotting early gaps in the market and making money from them. Now he was on the scent of Soviet art.
‘I went to see the widow Tatlin this morning,’ he said, in a patrician drawl not his own. ‘She’s been hiding her husband’s work under the linoleum of her bedroom all these years.’ He examined his buffed nails. ‘I gave her five thou for the lot.’ Vladimir Tatlin, the great Soviet Constructivist, had died in 1953, months after his tormentor, Joseph Stalin. Stalinism had not died with the Dear Leader. For the next four decades, Tatlin’s widow, Aleksandra Nikolaevna Korsakova, had secreted her late husband’s work in their flat, aware that the revelation of its existence might lead to its destruction, and her own. Now eighty-four, she had been seduced by hard currency and the promise of securing her husband’s legacy in the West. Each of the works bought by the London gallerist would fetch very much more than the sum he had paid her for all of them. Korsakova died eighteen months later.
This story might serve as a coda to James Birch’s engaging new book, Bacon in Moscow. Both the manicured gallerist and I were in the Soviet Union for the opening of an exhibition of paintings by Francis Bacon at the Central House of Artists, the first involving a living Westerner in the USSR since 1917. It was Birch’s brainchild; this book is his memoir of staging it.
Birch, too, was a gallerist, although of a different stripe from the one in the Moscow cab. His early galleries had shown work by an eclectic mix of people – the cheerily nudist Neo Naturists, the Surrealist Eileen Agar – united only by Birch’s admiration for them. He was a dealer rather than a wheeler-dealer: an endearing moment in the book comes when he describes how he managed to talk himself out of the gift of a painting proffered to him by Francis Bacon at a boozy London lunch. Birch emerges from Bacon in Moscow as a decent naïf who found himself suddenly adrift on geopolitical pack ice, looking about him with alarm as cracks opened and killer whales frolicked all around.
For Bacon’s Moscow exhibition turned out to be about a great deal more than art. Four years before it, Margaret Thatcher had croaked, in her new bass contralto, that Mikhail Gorbachev was a man with whom she could do business. The last word was carefully chosen. Whatever else glasnost and perestroika might mean for the West, they would open the gates to carpetbagging of the kind visited on the widow Tatlin by the coiffed London dealer.
The most obviously sinister of the actors in this drama was Sergei Klokov, Birch’s Soviet minder and a KGB officer with a taste for Pierre Cardin suits. (Asked by Birch what he had done in the Soviet–Afghan War, he had blankly replied, ‘I operated a flame-thrower.’) The pair had been introduced by a self-styled ‘cultural entrepreneur’ (read: carpet dealer) with the words, ‘Klokov will fix it … Klokov can fix anything.’ ‘It’ was a proposed exhibition in the USSR involving one of the artists whose work Birch showed in his gallery in London: the breast-baring Jennifer Binnie, perhaps, or a little-known cross-dressing ceramicist called Grayson Perry. In the event, even Klokov could not fix this. As Birch’s contact at the Ministry of Culture woodenly observed when the idea was put to him, ‘Avant-garde art is not always ideologically correct.’
In any case, the Western-wise Klokov had bigger ideas. Far better, he thought, for Birch to bring Andy Warhol to town. Unfortunately, approaches to Warhol’s fixer in New York revealed that Andy would rather die. It was the Soviet painters Birch interviewed during a fact-finding trip to Moscow who came up with an alternative. Asked which of their fellows in the West they most admired, they answered as one, ‘Francis Bacon’. ‘If you are Soviet then the way that Bacon paints, it feels like he is with you,’ said one. ‘He shows the dark side of life … The darkness in our soul.’
This was good news for Birch. By chance, Bacon was an old friend of his parents. As a child, the gallerist-to-be had been so obsessed by the American series Rawhide that he had been nicknamed after it. Reproduced in the book is a note from the artist to the young Birch: ‘To Rawhide, with all best wishes, Francis Bacon.’ Happily, too, Bacon had a soft spot for Soviet culture, incorporating images from the films of Sergei Eisenstein into several of his most noted works. On a less lofty note, he also had a tendresse for Soviet men. ‘When I was younger I met two Russian sailors in Berlin,’ Bacon confided to Birch, adding sotto voce, ‘they were very good to me.’
Not all the dodgy characters in Birch’s story were Russian. In the 1980s, the British Council in Moscow was suspected of being a nest of Western spies. When Birch approached the British Council for help with funding for the Bacon show, they saw a chance to win back favour. Their announcement to the press of Bacon’s forthcoming show simply said that it was being held under their aegis; Birch was not credited at all. Without asking Bacon’s permission, the British Council also arranged a round of headline-grabbing functions, including tea at the British embassy, for the famously establishment-shunning artist to attend. This was an own goal of almost ruinous proportions. Bacon, spooked, refused to go to Moscow, sending instead his delightfully foul-mouthed partner, John Edwards, to whom Birch’s book is dedicated.
I found Edwards one of the most beguiling men I ever met. In the bar of the National Hotel one night, he stared down a huge and drunken Finn who had been bullying the babushka attendant. Although Edwards was half the man’s size, it was clear to any reasonable barfly that he would be nasty in a fight. The Finn meekly got up and left; it was hard not to cheer. The last time I saw Edwards, he had been wafted as a VIP through departure formalities at Sheremetyevo airport and was happily shoplifting in the airport’s duty-free store. ‘Cor, Charles,’ he said, slipping a watch into his pocket with a misty look in his eye. ‘It’s fucking good here.’
Bacon’s decision to send Edwards in his place wasn’t meant simply as a slight to the British Council. Then as now, Russian society was institutionally homophobic. The Soviet Union of Artists demanded that Birch send them photographs of all works to be included in the show beforehand. Klokov wrote to him explaining, ‘I was told that outspokenly gay subjects with two male figures and cock-exalting canvases would never be understood by Soviet public.’ The union turned down the Tate’s offer of a loan of the Triptych of August 1972 on the grounds that its central panel showed two men buggering each other. Sending his male partner as his official representative was a silent two fingers on Bacon’s part to the entire Soviet system.
Without its author wishing it to, Bacon in Moscow reads as a moral fable. The Soviet system was absolutist and crushing, but it was, at least on paper, high-minded. The slogans of the Central House of Artists have, thirty years on, been replaced with the dictum that greed is good. If Russian artists now believe in the transformative power of art, the transformation is of their bank balances rather than their souls. Sergei Klokov was an early convert. Finally meeting Francis Bacon in London after the show was over, Klokov asked Bacon for the gift of a painting, to be left on Klokov’s death to the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. Bacon, touched, obliged. Klokov took the picture straight to Sotheby’s, who sold it for over £250,000. With the money, the by now ex-KGB man bought a cobra farm in one of the ex-Soviet Union’s newly independent republics. It went bust; Klokov died in 2017 at the age of fifty-seven.
One of very few Westerners in Bacon in Moscow who voices anything like the quixotic idealism that still motivated many communists is its author. ‘I believed (and still believe) in the power of art,’ Birch writes wistfully. ‘Back then the world was divided into two heavily armed camps bristling with nuclear weapons but I felt art could slip through the battle lines and open people’s minds.’ This his exhibition undoubtedly did: 400,000 people queued to see Bacon’s paintings in the few weeks they were on show, filling the visitors’ book with comments of uncommon acuity. A V, an engineer aged thirty-five, wrote, ‘Bacon is beautiful in his monstrosity. If he is mad, he is neither more nor less so than the modern world.’
John Edwards alongside a poster of his portrait by Francis Bacon
Das Biest in meinem Kopf
VON ALEXANDER MENDEN | KUNST | KULTUR | SÜDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG | MONTAG 28 FEBRUAR 2022
Im Jahre 1949 gab Francis Bacon dem Time Magazine ein Interview, in dem er verriet, er wolle “malen wie Velázquez, aber mit der Textur von Hippopotamus-Haut”. Steht man vor seinem ein Jahr zuvor entstandenen Gemälde Head I aus dem Metropolitan Museum of Art, dann wird klar, mit welcher Brillanz er diese Textur zu schaffen wusste.
Wurde hier mit Nilpferdhaut gearbeitet statt mit Leinwand?
Aus der Nähe meint man zunächst, Bacon habe tatsächlich Nilpferdhaut statt Leinwand verwendet, so organisch, ja zerklüftet heben sich die Farbflächen in ihre Weiß- und Grauschattierungen vom Untergrund ab. Man denkt an die Bemerkung des Picasso-Biografen Robert Melville, der fragte: “Wie ist es diesem Mann gelungen, eine Haut von solch beunruhigender Textur hervorzurufen?” Er könne “die Faktur nicht von dem unterscheiden, was sie formt”, gestand Melville. Hier ufert der feiste Hals nach unten hin scheinbar grenzenlos aus, oben endet der Kopf im Nichts, bleibt nasen— und augenlos. Das scharfzahnige Gebiss ist um 90 Grad im aufgerissenen Mund gedreht. Head I ist ein Prototyp der ebenso bedrohlichen wie gequälten Kreaturen, die das Werk des im Jahr 1909 in Dublin geborenen Francis Bacon bestimmen sollten.
Das Gebiss übernahm Bacon aus der Fotografie eines zähnefletschenden Schimpansen. Dieses Tier wird im Verlauf der Ausstellung Francis Bacon — Man and Beast in der Londoner Royal Academy of Arts noch mehrmals auftauchen, unter anderem als eingesperrtes Monstrum, und in Form einer vergleichsweise munteren Studie, auf einer Kiste hockend, vor fuchsienrotem Hintergrund. Die Schau konzentriert sich auf einen eher vernachlässigten Aspekt der Arbeiten des Enfant terrible der Nachkriegskunst: Die Darstellung von Tieren und ihren Einfluss auf seine Darstellung von Menschen.
Bacon war der festen Überzeugung, er könne Menschen und ihre Natur besser verstehen, indem er das Verhalten von Tieren analysierte. Er war in einem Gestüt bei Dublin aufgewachsen, der Umgang mit Tieren und Jagd war für ihn von früher Kindheit an Alltag gewesen. Er sammelte sein Leben lang Fotos und Bewegungsstudien von Tieren und die Unbefangenheit animalischen Verhaltens prägte seine Sicht auf das Verhalten von Menschen.
In den letzten Jahren des Zweiten Weltkriegs begann Bacon, seine sogenannten “Biomorphs” zu malen. Ohne diese seltsamen Hybridwesen, bei denen oft Körperteile fehlen und andere grotesk vergrößert und verformt erscheinen, wären spätere Horrordesigns wie etwa H.R. Gigers “Xenomorph” aus den Alien-Filmen undenkbar. Fury (1944) mit seinem weit aufgesperrten Rachen, dem langen Hals und den Reißzähnen erscheint geradezu wie ein Prototyp solcher Monster. In London ist die frühe Version ebenso zu sehen wie die zweite, weitaus glatter gestaltete von 1988. Daran, wie weit die Entstehungszeit dieser beiden Versionen auseinanderliegt, lässt sich ablesen, wie obsessiv und Œuvre-bestimmend seine Beschäftigung mit solch spekulativen Ungeheuern war.
Die schiere Fleischlichkeit und Kreatürlichkeit der Gemälde, die in dieser superb kuratierten Schau zusammengestellt wurden, reflektiert Bacons Bemerkung, wir seien “alle Fleisch, alle potenzielle Kadaver”. Eine Reihe der zahlreichen Arbeiten, die auf Velázquez’ Porträt von Papst Innozenz X. basieren, gehören zu den berühmtesten solcher Kadavergestalten, die in der Royal Academy gezeigt werden. “Studie für einen Menschlichen Kopf” und Studie für ein Porträt, beide von 1953, sind zähnefletschende Zombies.
Doch zu den faszinierendsten Motiven gehören jene, die tatsächlich Tiere repräsentieren. In dem im selben Jahr wie die Zombiestudien entstandenen Mann mit Hund etwa ist das Herrchen nur schemenhaft im Hintergrund zu erkennen. Der Hund, den er an der Leine führt, ist ein sehnig-muskulöses Etwas, kraftvoll und wie zum Sprung bereit, ein Staffordshire-Terrier vielleicht, die verwischte Essenz potenzieller Bissigkeit. Vorlage war die fotografische Bewegungsstudie eines vor sich hin trabenden Hundes aus Eadweard Muybridge’s Human and Animal Locomotion, einer der Hauptinspirationsquellen Bacons.
Der nackte Mann wirkt so verletzlich wie ein Steppentier
Von Muybridge übernahm er auch die Gestalt eines sich auf allen vieren fortbewegenden “gelähmten Kindes”. Das Unbehagen, das den Betrachter angesichts dieser Animalisierung eines als beschädigt und offenkundig minderwertig angesehenen Körpers überkommt, war womöglich ausnahmsweise keine der typischen Bacon-Provokationen. Es geht vielmehr einher mit dem Wandel der Sicht auf die Hierarchisierung und Stigmatisierung von Körpern, die bis in das 20. Jahrhundert hinein Standard war.
Anders verhält es sich mit Mann, der im Gras kniet (1952), einer Leihgabe der Münchner Pinakothek der Moderne. Bacon hatte gerade eine Reise nach Südafrika unternommen. Er war fasziniert von den trockenen, kargen Grasflächen und begeistert von den Tieren, die sich auf ihnen bewegten. Der nackte Mann im Gras, bar allen zivilisatorischen Schutzes, wird auf die Verletzlichkeit und Offenheit eines Tieres reduziert. Die Behauptung eines überlegenen menschlichen Raffinements gegenüber anderen Kreaturen erscheint nur noch wenig überzeugend.
Die Kuratoren der Londoner Ausstellung haben Werke aus allen Schaffensphasen Bacon’s zusammengetragen. Die spätesten Arbeiten, Bacon starb im Jahr 1992, beziehen sich auf eine besondere und besonders brutale Form menschlicher Interaktion mit Tieren, den Stierkampf. In typisch aphoristisch-erotomaner Weise erklärte Bacon, eine Corrida sei “wie Boxen — ein wunderbarer Aperitif zum Sex”. Tatsächlich kam er erst vergleichsweise spät zu diesem Sujet, das sein großes Idol Pablo Picasso immer und immer wieder gemalt hatte. Die drei Stierkampfbilder von 1969, die in der Royal Academy erstmals zusammen zu sehen sind, stellen eine der unmittelbarsten Begegnungen zwischen Mensch und Tier in Bacon’s Werk. Der kinetische Wirbel dieser Darstellungen, ihre farbliche Helle machen diese Gemälde zu einigen der erstaunlichsten, die Bacon je schuf. Neben den offensichtlichen Grundfragen, welche die Corrida immer wieder aufgeworfen hat, jenen nach Gewalt und Erotik, Leben und Tod, interessierte Bacon auch die Heuchelei jener, die den Stierkampf als brutal verurteilten, aber kein Problem damit hatten, Pelze zu tragen und Fleisch zu essen.
Das letzte vollendete Werk Bacon’s beschließt auch die Schau: Studie eines Stiers (1991). Drei Viertel der Leinwand sind bedeckt mit Staub, den Bacon in seinem berüchtigt schmuddeligen Londoner Atelier gesammelt hatte. Die Morbidität der Staubsymbolik war wichtig für den Künstler, der gern sagte, nur der Staub sei unvergänglich, schließlich zerfielen wir alle irgendwann wieder zu Staub. Er selbst starb ein Jahr darauf, bei einer Reise nach Madrid. Das Bild zeigt das Rind völlig anders als in den Stierkampfszenen gut 20 Jahre zuvor. Es ist ganz und gar statisch, geradezu minimalistisch reduziert auf Hörner und Schwärze. Die Stierstudie zeigt die reduzierte Meisterschaft des späten Bacon. Hier findet das Tier gleichsam zu sich: Kein Körperhorror mehr, nur noch reine, in sich abgeschlossene Existenz.
Francis Bacon: Man and Beast in der Royal Academy of Arts, London, bis 17. April. Katalog 19,99 Pfund.
Francis Bacon’s “Head VI” (1949) ist ein Kopf, der im Nichts endet, nasen— und augenlos.
Humanity and history at odds:
Francis Bacon’s Triptych 1986-7
With its references to Woodrow Wilson and Leon Trotsky, this masterpiece encapsulates Bacon’s
contemplation of pain, isolation and mortality in the face of history’s ruthless advance
ARTISTS | POST WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART | FEATURES | CHRISTIE’S | FRIDAY, 25 FEBRUARY, 2022
When the Tate Gallery celebrated Francis Bacon (1909-1992) with a second retrospective in 1985, its director at the time, Sir Alan Bowness, declared him ‘the greatest living painter’.
By then in his seventies, Bacon had been exploring the raw sensation of the human experience for more than 40 years. ‘I feel ever so strongly that an artist must be nourished by his passions and his despairs,’ he told art critic John Gruen in 1991. ‘These things alter an artist, whether for the good or the better or the worse.’
The following year, at the height of his fame, Bacon painted Triptych 1986-7, three monumental canvases that conflate public and private histories in his rarest and most celebrated format.
The suited figure in the left-hand panel is based on a press image of the US President Woodrow Wilson leaving the Quai d’Orsay during the Treaty of Versailles negotiations in 1919.
The right-hand panel is an over-scaled depiction of Leon Trotsky’s cloth-covered recording equipment, inspired by a photograph of his study taken soon after his assassination in Mexico City in August 1940. A single lamp illuminates the blood-stained sheet, a metaphor perhaps for the fleeting nature of life.
In the centre panel sits a figure resembling Bacon’s then-partner, John Edwards. His pose is reminiscent of the artist’s former lover, George Dyer, in the haunting eulogy Triptych August 1972, one of a series of ‘Black Triptychs’ that Bacon painted following Dyer’s suicide in 1971. With his naked body dissolving and his gaze fixed on the bloodied white sheet, he attempts to clasp the incongruous pair of cricket pads he is wearing, as if desperately trying to remain in the present.
The images, though half-connected by the strip of pavement, remain self-contained, the solitude of the figures heightened by the dark, canvas-like voids behind them.
‘It is an extraordinary meditation on the passage of time,’ says Katharine Arnold, head of Post-War and Contemporary Art Europe at Christie’s in London. ‘In the grand tapestries of life, death, love, art and war, Bacon seems to suggest that we are all ultimately alone.’
Between 1962 and 1991, Bacon produced just 28 large-scale triptychs, each measuring 78 x 58 inches (198 x 147.5 cm), nearly half of which reside in museums worldwide.
Triptych 1986-7, one of few such Bacon triptychs to remain in private hands, will be offered at auction for the first time on 1 March in Christie’s 2oth/21st Century: London Evening Sale, a key auction within the 20/21 Shanghai to London sale series.
‘We’re thrilled to present the painting as a leading highlight of our London Evening Sale,’ says Arnold. ‘The quality and power of such a masterpiece are sure to appeal to our global collector base.’
Bacon began his career painting crucifixions, papal portraits and other instances of mortal reckoning, finding fame in the mid 1940s with his seminal Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), above, now held in Tate’s collection.
Chris Stephens, the former head of displays and lead curator of modern British art at Tate Britain, has called the painting ‘a turning point in the history of British art. It’s a work that was seen immediately as a brutally frank and horrifically pessimistic response to the Second World War.’
As the 1950s progressed, Bacon’s own life began to infiltrate his work, with portraits of friends and lovers taking centre stage. Famously, however, he did not paint them from life, explaining that ‘even in the case of friends who will come and pose, I’ve had photographs taken for portraits because I very much prefer working from the photographs than from them’.
Working from secondary imagery also allowed him, he said, to engage with the impulses of the ‘nervous system’. In his ferocious contemplation of the human condition, he sought to reveal the raw animal spirit beneath, or what he called ‘the pulsations of a person’.
By the time he painted Triptych 1986-7, Bacon had lived through almost the full gamut of the 20th century, experiencing personal triumph and turmoil in extreme measures. While basking in the extraordinary success of his Tate retrospective, he was still haunted by Dyer’s tragic death, and had spent much of the previous decade in painterly confrontation with his own mortality. It is perhaps no coincidence that the source images in Triptych 1986-7 span nearly the entire length of Bacon’s life.
‘The large-scale triptych format offered Bacon the opportunity to trace his life back through the historic events of the 20th century, instilling the canvases with his lived experiences, his triumphs and his traumas,’ says Arnold.
The historic implications of the iconography have come to resonate on many levels, too. The juxtaposition of Wilson and Trotsky has been interpreted by some as a recapitulation of Bacon’s intention to ‘paint the history of Europe in my lifetime’, and by others as an allusion to the American passport that was given to Trotsky in 1917, enabling him to travel from New York and re-enter Russia.
Then there’s the plinth on which Edwards sits. Propped open by an extended chair leg, it resembles a large reference book. Could this be what the Bacon scholar Martin Harrison calls the artist’s ‘sardonic review of the failings of a century’?
The year after Triptych 1986-7 was painted, it was one of 23 works by Bacon to be shown at the New Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow — the first exhibition by a well-known artist from the West to take place in Soviet Russia. The Iron Curtain would fall the following year.
‘Though many viewers did not recognise the Trotsky photograph as a source,’ says Arnold, ‘the painting heralded a sea change in the country’s political attitudes towards art.’
Just over a decade later, the work made its American institutional debut in the Yale Center for British Art’s Bacon touring retrospective. As it travelled the country, its nod to US history would undoubtedly have resonated with American audiences.
Most recently, the work was included in the Pompidou Centre’s acclaimed 2019-2020 exhibition Bacon en toutes lettres.
‘Bacon’s ability to translate the full gamut of our emotions is perfectly encapsulated in this masterpiece,’ says Arnold. ‘The fact that it has been so widely exhibited is testament to its stature within his oeuvre.’
President Wilson leaving the Quai d’Orsay during the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919.
Francis Bacon with Triptych 1986-7 at his 1987 show Peintures Récentes at Galerie Lelong in Paris.
Francis Bacon’s ‘Trotsky’ triptych tipped
to fetch up to US$75m at auction
REUTERS | NEWS | LIFE | WORLD | HOME | THE MALAY MAIL | THURSDAY, 24 FEBRUARY, 2022
LONDON, Feb 24 — A Francis Bacon triptych that depicts the aftermath of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky’s 1940 assassination in Mexico City is expected to fetch up to US$75 million (RM314 million) when it goes under the hammer next week.
Described by Christie’s as among the iconoclastic Irish-born painter’s last great paintings, “Triptych 1986-7” features then US President Woodrow Wilson leaving the post-World War One Treaty of Versailles meeting in 1919 and Bacon’s friend John Edwards on its other two canvases.
The British auction house’s price estimate for the work, part of a March 1 sale in London of 20th and 21st century masterworks, is £35 million to £55 million (RM198 million – RM312 million).
“Bacon lived between 1909 and 1992, almost the full length of the 20th century,” Katharine Arnold, head of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s in Europe, told Reuters.
“And here he’s reflecting on the passage of time, those moments that were pivotal moments in Western history in particular, but also had implications for the whole world.”
Other lots in the sale include Lucian Freud’s 1986-87 portrait “Girl with Closed Eyes”, estimated at £10 million to £15 million.
The prize item in an “Art of the Surreal” auction being held on the same evening is a surrealist self-portrait by Pablo Picasso.
The 1929 piece, called “La fenêtre ouverte” and depicting the Spanish artist and his muse Marie-Thérèse Walter, has a price estimate of £14 million to 24 million.
“This is one of 37 large size Marie-Thérèse paintings, which are the most expensive Picassos in the market,” said Olivier Camu, Christie’s deputy chairman, Impressionist and Modern Art.
“Of those ... there are only 13 in private hands. The last one we sold, sold for US$103 million last year.”
A gallery assistant poses by an artwork titled ‘Triptych 1986-7’ by Francis Bacon
IN THE SHADOWS OF BACON
BY PAUL CAREY-KENT | ART REVIEWS | EXHIBITIONS | PAUL’S ART STUFF | FAD MAGAZINE | WEDNESDAY, 23 FEBRUARY, 2022
The Royal Academy’s Man and Beast offers the chance to see many prime paintings by Bacon, which is probably all you need to know to book a ticket. It’s about a third animals and two thirds humans as animals – for ‘we’re all animals’, as Bacon liked to say – and 100% bracing nihilism. There are no horses (did Bacon never paint a horse, despite growing up with them?) but plenty of typical Bacon tropes – screaming mouths, cuboid cages, blurred and distorted bodies… I found myself looking at his shadows more than I had before:
The man as shadow: the owner, one assumes, of the snarling canine in ‘Man with a Dog’, 1953, has been reduced to just a shadow of himself. No wonder the dog seems drawn to the underworld beneath the drain.
The shadowed splat: Bacon liked to fling a loaded brush at the canvas to introduce the drama of chance. We might read it as ejaculatory, which also makes sense as Bacon declared bullfighting ‘a marvellous aperitif to sex’. In this prominent example the ‘accidental’ mark is emphasised by the addition of a shadow (‘Second Version of Study for a Bullfight No. 1’, 1969).
The flesh shadow: following on from George Dyer’s death, the shadows in Bacon’s paintings of his late lover feature pools of pink, as if his body is melting into the shadows. These are from ‘Triptych, August 1972’ (above and top image).
The shadow of death: perhaps death is implied by every shadow, especially in Bacon, given his obsession with mortality. His last-ever painting, ‘Study of a Bull’, 1991, makes this explicit by texturing the dark with dust.
Art writer and curator Paul Carey-Kent sees a lot of shows: we asked him to jot down whatever came into his head
The flesh shadow: following on from George Dyer’s death, the shadows in Bacon’s paintings of his late lover feature pools of pink, as if his body is melting into the shadows.
Bacon in Moscow — how a western artist stormed the Iron Curtain
A fascinating memoir by curator James Birch on a defining moment in 1988 when Russia began to open
up to the world after decades of self-isolation
BY GUY CHAZAN | BIOGRAPHY AND MEMOIR | BOOK REVIEW | THE FINANCIAL TIMES | TUESDAY, 22 FEBRUARY, 2022
Few art exhibitions are truly historic. The Francis Bacon show in Moscow in September 1988 was just that: an event that changed perceptions and left an indelible mark — an amorphous Bacon-like blob — on Russia’s cultural landscape.
Coming at the height of glasnost it was one of the first times since 1917 that a living western artist had been granted the accolade of a major exhibition in the capital of the Soviet empire. Nikolai Andrievich, a distinguished Russian artist born in 1944, remembers it well. “You have to bear in mind that this was the very first time that we spectators ever encountered contemporary, up-to-the-minute art in the flesh,” he told me recently. His generation had only ever seen poor-quality reproductions in well-thumbed western art journals. “And here you saw the real thing . . . For me, it was a revelation.”
Bacon in Moscow by James Birch tells the story of the exhibition. An English curator and gallery owner who was a close friend of Bacon’s, he was the prime mover behind the show and his tale of how he managed to pull it off is fascinating.
At the book’s heart is an engaging narrative about a time that now seems halcyon — the moment Moscow finally opened up to the world after decades of self-isolation. In an age where Russia has reverted to autocratic type, a new cold war looms and Ukraine is threatened with invasion, that period now seems like a lost dream.
The idea of bringing Bacon to Russia came to Birch in the mid-1980s while visiting a group of Soviet artists in their studios in Moscow. He asks one of them which western painter he likes the most. The answer: Francis Bacon.
“If you are Soviet then the way that Bacon paints, it feels like he is with you,” he says. “Bacon sees the darkness. He shows the dark side of life, the dark side of society . . . The darkness in our soul.”
That conversation plants a seed in Birch’s mind. It is encouraged to grow by his friend Sergei Klokov, a careerist KGB agent he first meets in Paris in 1985, who assures him the queues for a Bacon show “will be bigger than those for Lenin’s tomb”. A footsoldier in Gorbachev’s liberalisation drive, Klokov sees the political utility in such an event. “It would be a big sign for the whole world to see: Look, perestroika (reform) is working,” he tells Birch.
The book describes in detail how Birch engineered an event he sums up as an “unimaginable intrusion of western culture into the heart of the Soviet system”. Some of the cultural diplomacy can be tedious, as can the endless accounts of champagne lunches with Bacon and his companion John Edwards in London (“the wine at Aspinall’s was Château Laffite at £400 a bottle . . . it was . . . delicious.”) The book is occasionally let down by cliché: in the Russian scenes there is the usual cast of “scowling” waiters and people with “ashen complexions”, “wide kipper ties” and “badly cut Terylene flared trousers.”
Where it succeeds is in its evocation of Moscow on the cusp of a new liberal age, where people starved of western culture gorge themselves on their new freedoms. Birch enjoys lavish vodka parties with the jeunesse dorée of the Soviet capital — a femme fatale called Elena Khudiakova who craves to get her name in The Face magazine, and Klokov himself, an Afghan vet whose grandfather was commander-in-chief of the Soviet air force and who is the source of most of the jokes in the book. There is much speculation as to how the Soviet censors will view Bacon’s brutal images, the paralytic children, screaming popes and grotesquely contorted bodies. But Klokov is most concerned about the explicitly gay paintings. “Cock-exalting canvases would never be understood by Soviet public,” Birch quotes him as saying.
In the end, the show is a huge success — though with shops beginning to empty out of food, western art isn’t uppermost in the mind of the average Muscovite. “We want bacon, not Francis Bacon,” one wag writes in the visitors’ book.
Since 1988, Bacon’s status in Russia has only grown. But the awkward details have been hidden away. “The fact that he was gay and that his partner was his leading model was not spoken of,” Nikolai Ivanov, a prominent Russian art historian, told me.
Birch’s account ends on an elegiac note. Klokov buys a snake farm in Uzbekistan hoping “to produce cobra venom commercially as a health tonic”. (The business failed.) Khudiakova, it transpires, spied on Birch for the KGB, filing 2,000 pages of reports on his activities in Paris, Moscow and London. It is a sad ending to a big adventure that encapsulates the transformative power of art.
Bacon in Moscow by James Birch with Michael Hodges, Cheerio, £17.99, 208 pages Guy Chazan is the FT’s Berlin bureau chief
Gallerist and curator James Birch, right, who organised the 1988 Moscow show, with Francis Bacon, left, and Bacon’s companion, John Edwards, in 1987
Francis Bacon’s triptych from prominent architect’s
collection expected to garner US$47.6 million
BY SEBASTIEN RAYBAUD | CHRISTIE’S 20TH/21ST CENTURY SALE | AUCTION NEWS | THE VALUE | TUESDAY, 22 FEBRUARY, 2022
During 2022’s Spring auction season, Christie’s 20th / 21st Century: Shanghai to London Evening Sales will be the focus. Amongst its highlights, British painter Francis Bacon’s Triptych 1986-7 will lead the London Evening Sale on 1 March.
In addition to illustrating a close companion during the famous British artist’s late years, the painting also depicts former American President, Woodrow Wilson and the scene of assassination of Soviet Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky. The triptych is estimated between £35 million and 55 million pounds (around US$47.6 million to 74.9 million dollars).
After 30 years in private hands, the painting will be auctioned. According to Western media sources, the triptych’s current owner is Norman Foster – a prominent British modernist architect.
Bacon’s Triptych 1986-7 is currently owned by British modernist architect, Norman Foster, Baron Foster of Thames Bank. He is best known for designing key buildings around the world, such as the Great Court at the British Museum, the Apple Park in California and Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation building in Hong Kong.
First exhibited at Marlborough Gallery in 1988, the work was later purchased from the New York gallery by Foster in 2007. In 2020, Bacon’s triptych was exhibited at a Centre Pompidou show devoted to the artist.
From 1944 to 1986, Bacon created 28 triptychs. In 2013, his personal auction record was set with a triptych – when Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) was sold for US$142.4 million dollars at Christie’s New York.
The British figurative painter’s protagonists range from lovers, close friends, self-portraits and the famous series of portraits of Popes. In this present auction, the Triptych 1986-7 is a rare amalgam of one of Bacon’s companions and two historical figures.
On the left panel, former American President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) is depicted from a scene during World War One – the moment he stepped out of the Paris Peace Conference at Quai d’Orsay after signing the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
During the peace talks, Wilson established the League of Nations to maintain world peace. Despite its best efforts, it failed to prevent the aggression of Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) and ultimately, the outbreak of World War Two. In 1946, the League ceased operations but many of its components were transferred into the new United Nations.
At the centre panel, John Edwards is illustrated. He was Bacon’s closest and trusted companion, and inherited the painter’s house, studio and paintings after his death in 1992.
Edwards was the son of a London dockworker and Bacon was one of the most famous faces on the London social scene. In 1974, Bacon met Edwards at the Colony Room, a private club in Soho. The artist was in his late 70s, while Edwards was his early 20s.
The process of the two from meeting was eventful. They first met at the Colony Room’s bar, where Edward worked. At first, Edward learned from Muriel Belcher – the club’s owner – that the famous Bacon would come to his bar with a group of friends, and ordered in a large quantity of the artist’s favourite champagne.
Unexpectedly, Bacon did not show up in the end and left Edwards infuriated. A few days later, when Bacon finally arrived, Edward confronted him for his selfishness and the inconvenience he caused. The encounter startled Bacon, but also intrigued him.
The two remained close until Bacon’s death. Edward’s presence also allowed Bacon to get over former partner, George Dyer’s death and propelled him to a new style of his late paintings.
On the right panel, the scene of Leon Trotsky’s (1879-1940) assassination is depicted.
During the early 20th century, Trotsky was an important revolutionary and theorist in Soviet Russia. He was one of key leaders of the October Revolution, as well as a key figure who established the Red Army and Fourth International.
After Lenin’s death in 1924, Trotsky’s rival and Soviet Russia’s political leader, Joseph Stalin, grew increasingly in power. He expelled Trotsky from the party and sent him on political exile.
In August 1940 and during asylum in Mexico, Trotsky was assassinated by Spanish Communist and Soviet Union agent, Ramon Mercader – fatally hit with an ice pick on the head.
Whether Bacon’s triptych sells within expectations remains to be seen. The Value will continue to report on its development.
Francis Bacon posing in front of Triptych 1986-7
The Morbid Pleasures of Francis Bacon
In Man and Beast at the Royal Academy, London, the uncanny overlapping of familiar and strange
is a psychic reminder of our animalness, provoking horror more than genetic discourse
BY TOM DENMAN | THE ROYAL ACADEMY | REVIEWS | ART REVIEW | FRIDAY, 18 FEBRUARY, 2022
A fresh curatorial premise can renew our experience of an artist’s work, which is especially welcome with an artist as iconic and mythically familiar as Francis Bacon. Curator Michael Peppiatt does this by homing in on the images of animals in his work, stating that Bacon ‘sensed how closely man and animal would interact, whether caged or uncaged, to the point where each depends on the other to survive’. This statement feels forced, its ecological rhetoric ill-matched to Bacon’s nightmarish, often fantastical creatures, which defy taxonomy by being germane first and foremost to the paint. Head I (1948), shown by itself in the opening room, both refuses and struggles to be, its only anatomical elements being a human ear and a chimpanzee’s mouth, locked in a contortion of existential agony. It is less of a literal interaction between human and chimpanzee, or their respective orifices, than a nightmare born of the painter’s skill in suspending resolution. We are left hanging, as though subjected to some Hadean punishment, which along with Bacon’s hard-to-match virtuosity has its own morbid pleasure.
Despite Bacon’s evident interest in animals – stemming from his father’s profession as a racehorse trainer, the story goes – the human presence always predominates, animals coming second to the anthropocentric endeavour of art and image-making. Wildlife magazines and Eadweard Muybridge’s time-lapse photography were the mediated form of much of Bacon’s engagement with the animalistic. In Dog (1952) and Man with Dog (1953) Bacon experimented with a single image captured by Muybridge, repeating it as compositional device to varied effects. In the former the dog functions as a kind of energetic motor, bringing antagonism to the otherwise serene, almost sterile composition. In the latter it partakes in an experiment in tonality, fighting to prevent the image from disappearing into blurry nonexistence, while somehow speaking to the shadowy human legs behind it in a semiabstract tableau of urban, masculine loneliness.
The physiognomic, scrambled portraits and studies of the human body remind us of animality’s relationship with the well-established Baconesque tropes of carnality and mortality. Two Studies from the Human Body (1974–75) look almost like apes in a zoo, but they are hardly zoological; the uncanny overlapping of familiar and strange is a psychic reminder of our animalness, provoking horror more than genetic discourse. The picture is funny, too. Putting a baboonish head on an athletic, all but classically proportioned body, with jets of semenlike paint shooting from the buttocks of the figure upstage, it pokes fun at humanity’s civilised pretensions. Indeed, there is a touch of the camp in Bacon’s pink outline of an ape in ‘Pope and Chimpanzee’ (c. 1960), which he could have drawn from one of Charles Darwin’s diagrams, as if to mock the scientific establishment as well as the religious.
Many of the works reek of sex, the aesthetic tension between pain and pleasure, violence and grace, suggestive of Bacon’s sadomasochistic predilections. Although his sexuality is touched upon – with reference to his overtly homoerotic Two Figures (1953) and Two Figures in the Grass (1954) – more could have been made of it (he did claim, after all, that he found the smell of horse dung ‘sexually alluring’). Bacon was openly gay when it was illegal to be so, for which reason this element of his life and work was wilfully overlooked in earlier criticism. By giving what feels like perfunctory attention to the issue, the exhibition tends to perpetuate this oversight.
Most of all, the show inadvertently reveals the futility of trying to taxonomise the subjects of Bacon’s work in any literal sense. It exemplifies the dangers of uncritically aligning eco-theory with artistic intention; the wall text often quotes from Bacon himself, without once considering his rampant tendency to self-mythologise. One of the highlights here is the appearance all three of his bullfight studies (all 1969) in a single room for the first time. But more than ‘challenging a clear distinction between human and animal’, as the wall text argues, surely the noteworthy union here is the marriage between the subject matter and Bacon’s ability to choreograph ineffable formulations of elegance and machismo, movement, poise and stillness in paint. The distinctions are unclear, but they are felt, they are there – it’s just we don’t know how he puts it all together. In Bacon’s world, we are all paint.
Francis Bacon: Man and Beast is at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, until 17 April
‘Francis Bacon: Man and Beast’, 2022 (installation view, Royal Academy of Arts, London). Photo: David Parry
One of Francis Bacon’s last
great paintings could fetch more than €30m
One of Francis Bacon’s last great paintings could fetch more than €30m
Bacon captures passage of time
BY DES O’SULLIVAN | PROPERTY | LIFE STYLE | IN FOCUS | IRISH EXAMINER | FRIDAY, 18 FEBRUARY, 2022
WHEN it was shown in Moscow in 1988, Francis Bacon’s Triptych 1986-87 was the first painting by a well-known artist from the West to be shown in Soviet Russia.
It was a sea change in the country’s political attitude towards art. The Iron Curtain would fall the following year. One of Bacon’s last great paintings is a meditation on the passage of time and the solitude of the human condition.
The suited figure on the left is based on press pictures of US president Woodrow Wilson as he was leaving the Treaty of Versailles negotiations in 1919; the right-hand panel was inspired by a photo of Leon Trotsky’s study after his assassination in 1940, and the figure in the centre resembles Bacon’s then partner John Edwards.
It comes up at Christie’s 20th/21st Century sale on March 1 with an estimate of $35m-$50m (€30.93m-€44.19m).
The first panel of the Francis Bacon triptych is based on press pictures of US president Woodrow Wilson in 1919.
The clothes in Francis Bacon’s paintings are as fascinating as the subjects
A new exhibition at the RA examines Bacon’s relationship with man and beast, but it’s his
take on clothing that offers up a macabre surprise
BY FINLAY RENWICK | ART | FASHION | CULTURE | GQ MAGAZINE | THURSDAY, 17 FEBRUARY, 2022
Francis Bacon had a masterful and, as was his style, unnerving way of recreating clothes in his paintings. He would let dust gather around his London studio, a genius’ hovel in South Kensington that has graced a million art books and online moodboards — a cramped explosion of paint, dark wood, ephemera, crusted brushes, stained mirrors and deep, dark feeling — before scooping up the required amount, an unknowable amount, and mixing it in with the oil paints that he favoured over the years.
“That’s how, if you look closely at the paintings in person, the clothes in them have that slightly furry look,” says Michael Peppiatt over the phone, the author, art expert, historian and foremost authority on Bacon, who has curated the landmark new show at the RA, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast. “I remember him saying something about how he was able to paint a perfect flannel suit thanks to that dust… and he was right. He could. Over everything else he is — he was — just a marvellous painter. He let it speak. The actual grain of the paint comes over and speaks very directly to the eye.”
Spanning Bacon’s 50-year career, the show’s primary focus is on, so reads the RA’s description, “Bacon’s unerring fascination with animals: how it both shaped his approach to the human body and distorted it; how, caught at the most extreme moments of existence, his figures are barely recognisable as either human or beast.” “He looked for a more spontaneous and accurate representation of human behaviour in watching animals,” says Peppiat. “They went about their daily lives in a less inhibited fashion. They acted the way they acted, whereas humans disguise their true feelings.”
On a gloomy day in late January I stand inside the RA, in a room painted an ominous shade of murky green, in front of Figure Study 1, which Bacon finished in between 1945 and 1946. The background is a hazardous orange dripping with dark matter, while in the foreground a body, not quite human, is suffocated by a herringbone-weave coat. The description is morbid and wonderful “the body protrudes from the garment like a snake shedding its skin.” There is studio dust in there somewhere, turning the coat into something living and something decaying, The drape makes it look luxurious; the fray and disintegration around its edges make it look awful. I stare at it for 10 minutes, unmoving. I have to remind myself to blink.
“He was very concerned with clothing,” says Peppiatt, who first met Bacon while still a student at the French House, one of the artist’s regular Soho haunts, quickly becoming his closest confidant and, later on, posthumous biographer. “His studio was a tip, but he always had several bespoke suits hanging in cellophane. He was immaculate like that. He was keen on attracting people you see.” Peppiatt recalls the clothes that Bacon favoured while dashing around his seedy kingdom during his inspired and debauched heyday.
“There was the formal look: a proper suit with a button down shirt and he’d always wear a tie. A black silk knit tie, which he would rather loosely tie around his neck. It appeared to me at the time that there was just the one tie, but I suppose he had a rack full. He was very keen on smart boots, a good cashmere polo neck sweater and he had a taste for trench coats with epaulettes. He cut a swathe, certainly. He used to say, ‘I think the thing is to look ordinary, but better.’”
Unlike the man himself, who sought a certain pleasure and status in his clothes, the outfits in Bacon’s paintings often appear excruciating: a man-made simulacrum of the taught fur on a baboon or the bleeding skin stretched across one of his famous bulls. Suits appear often, constricting, swallowing their wearers whole. A leaden weight in the brushstrokes and in the fibres. George Dyer, Bacon’s lover and tragic muse, appears regularly in sombre charcoal tailoring, white shirt pulling at his neck as his features melt into a sort of primal agony; the suit conceals and constricts. Even the decadent purple and red velvets clad onto his screaming and rupturing popes burst from the canvas in the grotesque shades of an open sore.
“They are often about rather disquieting and brutal truths,” says Peppiatt of the works that he has compiled, “but they are nevertheless of a grand scale. He himself would like that, I think. His life played out on the stage like a kind of King Lear, or Macbeth, but I do think Francis would have really enjoyed the show. To be in the RA, which he never managed during his life, although he hasn’t been in touch, so I can’t guarantee it! He rolled around in the Soho gutter, there’s no doubt about that, but he was also a very grand person during his life. I can feel his presence here in this space and in these paintings.”
If you have a chance to visit, which I highly recommend you do, take a close look at the clothes. Not so close that a security guard puts you in a rear naked chokehold, but close enough that you can see the memory, the grain, of the South Kensington studio dust still present inside Francis Bacon’s tweeds, wools and perfectly-rendered flannel suits.
“There was the formal look: a proper suit with a button down shirt and he’d always wear a tie. A black silk knit tie.”
20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
MARCH 1ST LIVE AUCTION 20661 BOUGHT TO YOU BY KEITH GILL
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992) Triptych 1986-7
Lot 38 Estimate GBP 35,000,000—GBP 55,000,000
(i) signed, titled, inscribed and dated ‘Tryptich [sic]
1986-1987 Left Panel Francis Bacon’ (on the reverse)
(ii) signed, titled, inscribed and dated ‘Tryptich [sic] 1986-1987 Center Panel Francis Bacon’ (on the reverse)
(iii) signed, titled, inscribed and dated ‘tryptich [sic] 1986⁄1987 Right Panel Francis Bacon’ (on the reverse)
oil, pastel, aerosol paint and dry transfer lettering on canvas, in three parts each: 78 x 58in. (198 x 147.5cm.)
Executed in 1986-1987
Marlborough International Fine Art, Vaduz.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007.
M. Leiris, Francis
1987, p. 128, no. 151 (illustrated in colour, pp. 120-121).
G. Auty, ‘Formal fallacy’ in The Spectator, October 1988 (installation view illustrated in colour, p. 39).
A. Sinclair, Francis Bacon His Life & Violent Times, New York 1993, pp. 291, 297.
W. Feaver, ‘Scrambled heads and Bacon’ in The Observer, 30 June 1996 (left hand panel illustrated, p. 12).
J-C Delpierre, ‘Francis Bacon Grand Maître’ in Beaux Art Magazine, no. 46, June 1996, no. 12 (illustrated in colour, p. 16).
D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, pp. 66 and 269, no. 95 (illustrated, p. 121).
Francis Bacon in Dublin, exh. cat., Dublin, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, 2000, p. 19.
L. Trucchi, Francis Bacon, Rome 2005, no. 16, p. 73 (illustrated in colour, p. 72; left hand panel illustrated in colour, p. 72).
M. Cappock, Francis Bacon’s Studio, London 2005, p. 98.
Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective, exh. cat., London, Tate Britain, 2008, p. 218, no. 114 (illustrated in colour, p. 217; incorrectly dated ‘1987’).
M. Harrison (ed.), Francis Bacon: New Studies, Centenary Essays, Göttingen 2009, p. 60 (incorrectly dated ‘1986’).
J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London 2010, p. 203, no. 111 (illustrated, pp. 190-191).
M. Tonelli, Francis Bacon Le "Atmosfere” Letterarie, Rome 2014, p. 123, no. 42 (right hand panel illustrated, p. 123).
Francis Bacon: Late Paintings, exh. cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, 2015, p. 135, no. 8 (illustrated in colour, p. 136).
M. Harrison and R. Daniels (eds.), Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné: Volume III 1958-71, London 2016, p. 640.
M. Harrison and R. Daniels (eds.), Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné: Volume IV 1971-92, London 2016, pp. 1318, 1322 and 1326, no. 87-01 (illustrated in colour, pp. 1323-1325; detail of right hand panel illustrated in colour, p. 1327).
D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 2016, p. 202 and 232, no. 131 (illustrated in colour, p. 202; central panel illustrated in colour, p. 203).
M. Boustany (ed.), Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, Monaco 2017 (installation view illustrated, p. 93).
Y. Peyré, Francis Bacon or the measure of excess, Woodbridge 2020, p. 322 (illustrated in colour, p. 278; central panel illustrated in colour, p. 279; right hand panel illustrated in colour, p. 280).
M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait, London 2021, pp. 42 and 240-249.
J. Birch, Bacon in Moscow, London 2022 (illustrated in colour, pp. 178-179).
Marlborough Gallery Inc.,
Francis Bacon: Paintings of the Eighties, 1987, p. 44, no. 12 (Illustrated
in colour, pp. 38-39; left hand panel illustrated in colour on the front cover).
Paris, Galerie Lelong, Francis Bacon: Peintures Récentes, 1987, no. 8 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Moscow, Central House of Artists, Tretyakov Gallery, Francis Bacon: Paintings, 1988, p. 68, no. 20 (illustrated in colour, pp. 66 – 68).
London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Francis Bacon: Loan Exhibition in Celebration of his 80th Birthday, 1989, pp. 7 and 42, no. 13 (central panel illustrated in colour on the front cover; illustrated in colour, pp. 32-34).
New York, Marlborough Gallery Inc., Francis Bacon Paintings, 1990, p. 38, no. 11 (illustrated in colour, pp. 28-30).
Lugano, Museo d’Arte Moderna della Città di Lugano, Francis Bacon, 1993, p. 163, no. 59 (illustrated, pp. 127 and 163; illustrated in colour, pp. 128-130).
Saint Etienne, Musée d’Art Moderne, Réalitiés Noires, 1994-1995.
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Foundation Maeght, Bacon-Freud: Expressions, 1995, pp. 102 and 205, no. 28 (illustrated in colour, pp. 103-106).
Paris, Centres national d’art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Francis Bacon, 1996, pp. 31 and 218, no. 84 (illustrated in colour, p. 219; installation view illustrated, p. 310). This exhibition later travelled to Munich, Haus der Kunst.
New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, Francis Bacon: A Retrospective, 1999, pp. 37 and 205, no. 70 (illustrated in colour, pp. 209-211). This exhibition later travelled to Minneapolis, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts; San Francisco, The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and Fort Worth, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
The Hague, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Francis Bacon, 2001 (illustrated in colour, pp. 112-113).
New York, Marlborough Gallery Inc., Francis Bacon: Paintings, 2002, pp. 4 and 27 (illustrated in colour, pp. 24-26).
Valencia, Institut Valencia d’Art Moderne IVAM, Francis Bacon: Lo Sagrado y lo Profano, 2003-2004, pp. 111 and 166 (illustrated in colour, p. 103). This exhibition later travelled to Paris, Musée Maillol.
London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Modern Masters: Paintings, Sculpture and Prints by Andrews, Auerbach, Bacon, Freud, Hepworth, Kitaj, Moore, Rego, Uglow, 2005 (detail illustrated in colour on the front cover and illustrated twice, unpaged).
Siegen, Museum Fur Gegenwartskunst Siegen, Francis Bacon: Paintings of Contradiction, 2007.
Dusseldorf, K20 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Francis Bacon: The Violence of the Real, 2006-2007, p. 241, no. 68 (illustrated in colour, pp. 188-189).
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza y Fondación Caja, The Mirror & The Mask: Portraiture in the Age of Picasso, 2007. p. 233 and 319, no. 130 (illustrated in colour, pp. 264-265). This exhibition later travelled to Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum.
Paris, Centres national d’art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Bacon. En toutes lettres, 2019-2020, p. 111, 173 and 239 (illustrated in colour, pp. 108-110).
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Post Lot Text
We would like to thank Dr. Rebecca Daniels for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.
An extraordinary meditation on the passage of time, and a rhapsody on the solitude of the human condition, Francis Bacon’s Triptych 1986-7 is a masterwork that stands among his last great paintings. Across three monumental canvases—his most rare and celebrated format—the artist entwines imagery drawn from the annals of twentieth-century history with a poignant, retrospective view of his own life and art. The suited figure in the left-hand panel is based on a press clipping of U. S. President Woodrow Wilson leaving the Treaty of Versailles negotiations in 1919; the right-hand panel was inspired by a photograph of Leon Trotsky’s study taken after his assassination in 1940. In the centre sits a figure resembling Bacon’s then-partner John Edwards, his pose reminiscent of the artist’s beloved George Dyer in the haunting eulogy Triptych August 1972 (Tate, London). Bacon had begun his career painting Crucifixions, Papal portraits and other instances of mortal reckoning; later, friends and lovers took centre stage in his chronicles of humanity. Here, the two strains combine in an image of mythic, operatic grandeur. A single lamp illuminates the fleeting trace of life upon the blood-stained sheet; the figures, though half-connected by a strip of pavement, remain locked in their own worlds. In the grand tapestries of life, death, love, art and war—the painting suggests—we are all ultimately alone.
Widely exhibited throughout its lifetime—most recently in the Centre Georges Pompidou’s acclaimed exhibition Bacon en Toutes Lettres (2019-2020)—the historic implications of Triptych 1986-7 would come to resonate on multiple levels. The year after its creation, it was one of twenty-two paintings shown at the Central House of Artists, Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow: the first exhibition by a well-known artist from the West to take place in Soviet Russia. Many viewers did not recognise the Trotsky photograph as a source, but to those who did, the painting’s presence heralded a sea-change: the Iron Curtain, notably, would fall the next year. Following its inclusion in major exhibitions at the Museo d’Arte Moderna, Lugano in 1993 and the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1996, the work made its American institutional debut in the Yale Center for British Art’s celebrated 1999 touring retrospective. As it travelled the country from East to West to South, its rare nod to U. S. history would certainly have resonated with American audiences. Wilson emerges from the darkness, his face pale and the weight of the world on his shoulders: as Grey Gowrie wrote in his introduction to the Moscow exhibition, this image alone ‘must be one of Bacon’s greatest paintings’ (G. Gowrie, introduction to the catalogue for Francis Bacon: Paintings, Central House of Artists, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow 1988).
Presented at auction for the first time, the work is one of a rare number of large-scale triptychs by Bacon to remain in private hands. Between 1962 and 1991, the artist produced just 28 such works measuring 78 by 58 inches, nearly half of which reside in museums worldwide. Recalling the grand altarpieces of Grünewald and Cimabue, the seminal 1944 Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (Tate, London) had announced Bacon’s arrival as an artist. He would go on to expand the genre to near-cinematic proportions, coming full circle with a second blood-red version of the 1944 triptych—also now held in the Tate—shortly after the present work. Compositionally, the closest cousin of Triptych 1986-7 remains the 1972 ‘black triptych’ produced in memory of Dyer, where dark canvas-like voids and haunting, liquefied shadows frame the human form. These devices would also play important roles in Three Portraits—Posthumous Portrait of George Dyer; Self-Portrait; Portrait of Lucian Freud (1973) and Triptych March 1974 (Fondación Juan March, Madrid), as well as the artist’s final Triptych of 1991 (Museum of Modern Art, New York). The depiction of Wilson’s shoes shares much in common with Bacon’s Study for a Self-Portrait—Triptych (1985-1986), while its conflation of political and private histories might be seen in relation to the landmark Triptych (1976), which takes an image of Sir Austen Chamberlain as its source. It is a vivid summation of the genre as it played out within Bacon’s oeuvre, brought to an enigmatic and elegiac crescendo.
For Bacon, life was as thrilling and epic as the sagas of Greek mythology and Shakespeare: all of us, he believed—in our own ways—would navigate the dramas of romance, politics, joy and tragedy that defined these tales. By the time of the present work, Bacon had lived through almost the full gamut of the twentieth century, where World Wars and political machinations raged against a backdrop of personal triumph and turmoil. On one hand, he was basking in the extraordinary success of his 1985 retrospective at Tate, whose Director Sir Alan Bowness had named him the ‘greatest living painter’. On the other hand, he was still haunted by Dyer’s heart-wrenching death, and had spent much of the previous decade in painterly confrontation with his own mortality. Two extraordinary self-portraits from that period depict Bacon with a watch. In one, its ticking hand seems to merge organically with his own face—it is perhaps no coincidence that the historic time-span of the present work’s source images equates almost directly to the length of Bacon’s existence. In drawing together elements from all eras of his practice, moreover, the work sets this temporal framework in the context of a life lived in paint. Trotsky’s lectern, in another reading, could just as easily be an easel; its sheet, stained with blood, might be a half-begun canvas. Art and life slip in and out of focus across the work’s three panels, each illuminated like a beacon against the void.
‘… THE HISTORY OF EUROPE IN MY LIFETIME’
Bacon was avowedly not a history painter in the traditional sense: his works, he maintained, were never intended as narratives, and fundamentally resisted linear interpretation. Nevertheless, for an artist who avidly devoured source material from books, newspapers, films and journals, the ‘History of Europe in My Lifetime’ was never far from his mind (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1993, p. 55). ‘Everything I’ve seen has gone in and been ground up very fine’, Bacon proclaimed: indeed, having lived through one of the world’s most turbulent periods of social and political upheaval, the events of the twentieth century would come to form something of a barometer for his own existence (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait. Essays and Interviews, revised edition, London 2021, p. 41). As Michael Peppiatt highlights, fascinating context for the present work exists in the form of a 1954 letter to Sonia Orwell, the widow of the author George Orwell, in which Bacon professes his desire to compile a book of photographs entwining his own life story with the last forty years of history. In it, the artist explains, ‘you would not know whether it was imagination or fact … as the photographs themselves of events could be distorted into a personal private meaning … as though one was seeing the story of one’s time for the first time’ (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Hammer, Bacon and Sutherland, London and New Haven 2005, pp. 97–98). Interestingly, though the publication never came to fruition, Martin Harrison points out that the podium on which the central Dyer-Edwards figure sits resembles a half-open book (M. Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. IV, London 2016, p. 1326).
Bacon’s historical impulses found early expression in his early Popes and Crucifixions. Though a staunch atheist, the artist pored over painterly renderings of these subjects, finding in them flashes of the human condition at its most raw. In the existentialist aftermath of the Second World War, Velázquez’s enigmatic Portrait of Innocent X (circa 1650) seemed to speak directly to the spirit of the times, resonating with contemporary photographs of Pope Pius XII who had reigned during the conflict. Like the figures in Bacon’s Crucifixions, reduced to writhing, tormented masses of flesh, his Popes became ghostly spectres, shattering the picture plane in primal screams or cowering in stony silence. The notion that even the divinely-ordained were still imprisoned by their mortal condition resurfaces here. Wilson is reduced to a pale, skull-like effigy, echoing Bacon’s most haunted renderings of Il Papa; the central figure, too, seems to echo the enthroned stance of these figures. The flash of blood, meanwhile—writes Robert Rosenblum—stands as residue of a ‘secular tragedy’, conjuring ‘the mystery and drama of Christ’s stigmata’ (R. Rosenblum, Francis Bacon: Paintings, exh. cat. Marlborough Gallery, New York 2002, p. 4).
The present work’s source photographs joined a raft of historical imagery that littered Bacon’s studio. The picture of Wilson leaving the Quai d’Orsay at the Paris Peace Conference was taken from a newspaper, while the image of Trotsky’s study derived from the book Trotsky: A Documentary (1972), published by his friend Francis Wyndham and David King. Interestingly, alongside images of dictators, henchmen and rallies, Bacon’s studio contained a spread from D. C. Somervell’s 1951 book 100 Years in Pictures, depicting riots in St Petersburg in 1917. He also amassed numerous images of assassinations: pictures of the deaths of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy were found in his holdings, the latter becoming the source for the red diagrammatic arrows that became particularly prominent during his later work. While Bacon was attracted to such images primarily for their compositional qualities, it could not have escaped his attention that many of these murders seemed like stories straight from the archives of mythology. Trotsky’s assassination, conducted with an ice pick, stands as a particularly vivid example: the typography upon the sheet seems to consign it directly to legend.
Much like the Popes and the Crucifixions, the painting’s dialogue with past imagery is also grounded in the history of art. The suited figure of Wilson conjures memories of Edvard Munch’s Evening on Karl Johan Street (1892) and Edgar Degas’ Portraits at the Stock Exchange (1876)—both artists whom Bacon admired. Ghosts of René Magritte’s bowler-hatted men, too, flicker in the shadows: notably La Décalcomanie (1966), which similarly plays with the presence and absence of the human form. Though the central figure still bears the hallmarks of Michelangelo, Rembrandt and others who guided Bacon’s male nudes during the 1960s, the work also witnesses a dialogue with more contemporary, non-European art forms. Despite professing his distaste for Abstract Expressionism, Bacon was undeniably influenced by his encounters with Colour Field painting and gestural abstraction: the sparse architecture of the three canvases recalls the haunting solitude of Barnett Newman’s ‘zip’ paintings, while the visceral dash of red conjures the mythic canvases of Cy Twombly. The work’s recourse to a photograph of an American president, meanwhile, might even be seen within the context of artists such as Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg, who—though operating from very different standpoints—were similarly entrenched in their own Zeitgeists.
In 1971, Bacon was preparing for what was then the high-point of his career to date. The Grand Palais in Paris was mounting a major retrospective of his work, making him the only living artist other than Picasso to be granted the honour. On the eve of the exhibition’s opening, however, tragedy struck when his lover George Dyer—the man whose form had been the lifeblood of Bacon’s art for the past decade—died in the hotel room they were sharing. The event would have a devastating impact on Bacon, giving rise to an outpouring of works in which he attempted to come to terms with his grief. The three ‘black triptychs’ produced in mourning for Dyer stand today among the twentieth century’s most harrowing paintings. In their wake, Bacon would begin to contemplate the prospect of his own death, painting a near-obsessive stream of self-portraits in which he stared his mortal condition directly in the eye. Time, he was all too aware, was passing, taking with it those he had loved the most. Dyer’s image would continue to linger in his art until his death: the distinctive postures and profile, immortalised in earlier paintings and photographs, would never fully subside.
Though the 1980s was a period of professional triumph for Bacon, it was also a time of introspection. His 1985 Tate exhibition—his last retrospective, he declared—cemented his place in history. ‘The cultural establishment sent a clear signal’, writes Peppiatt: ‘… Bacon was to painting what Henry Moore had long been to sculpture, an undisputed world-class master, and as such a national asset’ (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 2008, p. 381). Bacon went to view the show on its Berlin leg, making his first trip there since he had travelled to the city as a young man in the heady days of the 1920s. Other opportunities for retrospective contemplation presented themselves in the form of the National Gallery’s 1985 exhibition The Artist’s Eye, for which Bacon was invited to select a number of his favourite paintings from the collection. It was a place that the artist had visited on numerous occasions, and had long nourished his visual imagination. Among the works he chose was Edouard Manet’s The Execution of Maximilian (circa 1867-1868): the critic David Sylvester, notably, would later describe the present work’s image of Wilson as among the artist’s clearest debt to the French master (D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p. 66).
If Triptych 1986-7 spoke of a life lived in art, however, it did so with one eye firmly upon the present moment. John Edwards, whom Bacon had met at the Colony Club in 1974, became a great source of comfort and companionship during his final two decades. He also became a significant muse, featuring in more than twenty portraits including the exceptional triptych Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards (1984). His presence here in cricket pads—a motif that recurs throughout Bacon’s late works—seems to quell some of the darkness latent in the haunting echoes of Dyer, as if finally making some headway towards exorcising the pain of loss. Monarch-like, writes Robert Rosenblum writes, he takes centre stage, ‘directing the traffic of human passions’. In this role, he suggests, ‘he is given perhaps even greater authority than the major historical figures who frame him, providing for Bacon a personal link in a seesawing balance between public and private history’ (R. Rosenblum, ibid).
If Edwards rooted Bacon in the here and now, the Moscow exhibition would make the contemporary relevance of his art even more apparent. It was Edwards, in fact, who took Bacon’s place on the trip, after ill health forced him to stay at home. The artist had been excited by the prospect of visiting Soviet Russia, particularly having taken the opportunity to visit East Berlin during his stay in the city two years prior. Organised by the young curator James Birch, the exhibition encompassed major works from all periods of Bacon’s career, including Head VI (1949; Arts Council Collection, London), Landscape Near Malabata, Tangier (1963), Lying Figure (1969; Fondation Beyeler) and Triptych 1974-1977. Unlike anything seen before in the Soviet Union, the exhibition became a historical and cultural landmark: many artists, including Ilya Kabakov, left inspired, while comments left in the visitor’s book attest to the show’s impact upon a nation slowly emerging from years of oppression. Not since the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958 had Bacon’s art seemed so in tune with its time—the ideological warfare alluded to by the work’s outer two images was, at last, beginning to subside.
Triptych 1986-7 also attests to some of the more radical developments in Bacon’s visual language during this period. Far from slowing down as he approached his eightieth birthday, the artist became bolder than ever before, experimenting with new media and dramatically streamlining his vision. Bacon’s recurrent use of dry transfer lettering, or ‘Letraset’, offered more than a nod to his hero Pablo Picasso, while his use of materials such as pastel and spray paint infused his surfaces with a sense of ethereal magic. His figures, who once inhabited lush carpeted rooms, were now encased in stark geometric chambers, their carnal forms all the more highly-charged against dark, minimal backdrops. In the present work, Bacon offsets the staggering verticality of the black voids with the thin horizontal line of the pavement, creating a towering structural framework that emphasises the isolation of each protagonist. ‘Great art is always a way of concentrating … what we know of our existence’, he said, ‘... tearing away the veils that fact acquires through time’ (F. Bacon, interview with H. Davies, 26 June 1973, in H. Davies and S. Yard, Francis Bacon, New York 1986, p. 110). A stark, singular truth resounds in the triptych’s empty halls: that time marches onwards, bearing us with it into the abyss.
‘A UNIVERSAL TRUTH’
Significantly, for Bacon, the triptych was an inherently temporal genre. For an artist who had long admired cinema and motion photography, the concept of serialised images was deeply linked to the idea of changing time frames. ‘[Triptychs are] the thing I like doing most,’ he said, ‘and I think this may be related to the thought I’ve sometimes had of making a film’ (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, ibid., p. 100). From Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin to Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, Bacon was fascinated by the aesthetics of moving pictures: particularly given their role in the cultural landscape of the twentieth century. It was only during his lifetime that history had truly begun to capture itself on film and camera, and—as Bacon’s source imagery attests—to make itself readily available for public consumption. The images selected by the artist are undeniably cinematic in scope; the dark screens that loom behind the figures, too, seem to flicker like the black-out between scenes. The three panels, seemingly unconnected, appear like fragments plucked from a reel of footage. Time is written into the work’s very structure: like Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the protagonists are simultaneous, yet worlds apart.
In a review of Bacon’s 1987 exhibition at Galerie Lelong in Paris—where the present work made its European debut—the critic Michel Nurisdany wrote of the ‘universal truth’ inherent in the artist’s various depictions of human solitude. ‘Rarely has a contemporary artist been so rigorous, so unwavering in his attachment to the space in which he paints’, he declared: ‘the universal uprooting of modern times … His characters—scraped together, distorted in motion—rise up in empty, confined, almost abstract spaces punctuated only by a wall, a curve, or a straight line on the floor’ (M. Nurisdany, ‘Francis Bacon: face-à-face avec la solitude’, Le Figaro, 29 September 1987). Perhaps Shakespeare’s assertion that ‘All the world’s a stage’ rang in Bacon’s ears as he ran a single slab of concrete beneath Wilson’s feet and Trotsky’s lectern, and raised his central protagonist onto a dais. Upon these platforms, three facets of a lifetime play out: we make decisions; we form relationships; we are gone. Whether signing a treaty, leading a revolution or simply playing a game of cricket, Bacon understood that we each travel life’s pathways in our own, singular temporalities. In Triptych 1986-7, the point echoes three times over: whatever the role we come to play, we are all bound by the same lonely fate.
Ultimately, then, the specifics of Bacon’s historical references fade away. In his triple portrait of the human condition lies a portrait of his own life: of an existence that, like any other, rode the twists and turns of its own destiny. Where some wrote their stories through pen or politics, his was etched into the very fibres of his canvases, each brimming with images, events, people and emotions that filtered through his nervous system onto the blank space before him. A liquid shadow pools beneath the central figure; the lamp—like the naked bulbs Bacon suspended in so many of his portraits—illuminates the transition of flesh. At any moment, the image seems to suggest, its light might be forever extinguished. Even as it slipped from his grasp, Bacon took time firmly by the hand, distilling past, present, public and private into an image of profound and intoxicating power.
Glass reviews Francis Bacon Man and Beast at The Royal Academy
BY CHARLIE NEWMAN | REVIEW | ART | FEATURE | THE GLASS MAGAZINE | WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2022
THE majority of retrospective exhibitions from blockbuster artists can often feel like entering a time capsule with rose tinted glasses on, wondering how groundbreaking it was for its time.
However Francis Bacon’s Man and Beast at The Royal Academy still packs an almighty punch. Having endured both of the world wars, the backdrop of Bacon’s life was extremely violent and yet post pandemic, amidst a climate and refugee crisis, we can still seek an unnerving alliance in Bacon’s work today.
So the title suggests, Bacon metaphorically and literally draws out the beast in man. At times they are indistinguishable, setting an internal fire alight inside one another. Bacon believed “we are meat, we are all potential carcasses.”
Growing up on a stud farm in rural County Kildare, Ireland, stirred an awareness in Bacon on the carnal nature of animals. He explored this theme further once his father died in 1940 when his mother and sisters moved to South Africa. It was on game reserves here that he became “mesmerised” by the hunt and impassioned fight between animals.
Eadweard Muybridge’s discovery of time-lapse photography had a profound effect on Bacon, so much so that he kept a copy of Muybridge’s Human and Animal Locomotion 1887 in his studio. Later he noted “[I] look at animal photographs all the time. Because animal movement and human movement are continually linked in my imagery of human movement.”
We see this most clearly in Two Figures 1953 and in 1954, where two tousling men are reduced to a blur of figures, fighting to be on top, both conceptually and sexually. So erotic are these paintings that two women after seeing the 1954 Two Figures at the ICA in 1955, lodged a formal complaint with the police.
However, thanks to Muybridge’s studies of men wrestling, Bacon was let off. Bacon’s sexuality was punished from day one. He was banished from his family home aged 16 after he was found trying on his mothers underwear.
He practised punishment further in his sadomasochistic relationship with Peter Lacy whose various incarnations we witness throughout the exhibition, whether that be as a slumped, vulnerable nude, lying on a black sofa, or sat staring at us from the corner of a lurid green room.
Bacon’s work is at once unpleasantly unrecognisable and disturbingly apparent, pushing and pulling the viewer between repulsion and fascination. Each figure is presented to us a like animals in a cage, surrounded by a glass box, or pushed back into the corner of the room.
We are pressing ourselves onto his subjects, whether that be man or monkey, and yet they loom large over us on the enormous canvases, suffocating us with their alarming palette and feverish energy.
You feel uncomfortable for standing and staring so long, and yet you can’t leave, encouraging us “to unlock the valves of feeling and therefore return the onlooker to life more violently.”
This feels most potent in his studies of Bullfighting during the late 1960’s, a sport Bacon described as “like boxing — a marvellous aperitif to sex”.
The crowds excitement is palpable, delighting in the matador’s performance, mirroring our own experience viewing Bacon’s artistry.
The white splatter of paint symbolises the matador’s spinning cape but also ejaculation. For Bacon, paint was so much more than an artists tool, he believed that there “is an area of the nervous system to which the texture of paint communicates more violently than anything else.” Lucien Freud described Bacon’s technique as “calculated recklessness”.
Indeed his work is extremely calculated and can seem like an art historians handbook, referencing the crucifixion, Ancient Greek plays namely The Oresteia by Aeschylus, depicting a Study from Portrait of Pope Innocent X in 1965 and of course his biomorphs, reminiscent of Picasso’s “organic form that relates to the human image but is a complete distortion of it.”
While his references might seem aloof to the everyday man (he even rented John Everett Millais’s studio in South Kensington in the early 1940s), Bacon’s themes are brought crashing down to earth when littered with mundanities, such as an umbrella, cars, hats and flowers.
In conversation with Time magazine in 1948, he explained how he wished “to paint like Velazquez but with the texture of hippopotamus skin.” Bacon’s visceral art is supposed to jar us, stirring deep primal and sometimes terrifying truths within you.
You can’t help but think Bacon might have been cancelled in todays age, but as always he has the final laugh. Who would have thought a man who so revelled in revulsion would be hanging in the revered walls of the Royal Academy?
Francis Bacon’s Man and Beast is on at the Royal Academy, London until April 17th
Francis Bacon, Figure Study II, 1945-46
ANATOMY OF AN ARTWORK
Head VI, 1949 by Francis Bacon
BY ARTSPACE EDITORS | IN DEPTH | ARTSPACE | TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2022
The paintings of Francis Bacon (1909-1992) occupied an odd place between figurative art and Surrealism. Disconnected figures, altered forms and dismembered parts were presented, but with a deeply human, visceral, tactile quality. A new show at the Royal Academy of Arts – Francis Bacon: Man and Beast – explores this physical aspect of his work more deeply, through the lens of his fascination with animals. The prolonged studies that Bacon undertook of these forms – through trips to South Africa, an extensive collection of wildlife books, and the 19th century photographs by Eadweard Muybridge of physical motion – informed his studies of people, and presented the idea that when pushed to the extremes of existence, living figures are barely distinguishable from one another. As the exhibition catalogue says: ‘Whether chimpanzees, bulls, dogs, or birds of prey, Bacon felt he could get closer to understanding the true nature of humankind by watching the uninhibited behaviour of animals.’
The show spans Bacon’s entire career, including his final ever painting, rarely-loaned works from private collections, a trio of bullfight paintings which will be exhibited together for the first time, and one of the artist’s landmark paintings, Head VI. The source material for this painting was a portrait of Pope Innocent IX from 1650 by the Spanish painter Diego Velazquez (1599-1660). Bacon never saw this painting in person, working instead from photographic references and placing the pope inside the geometric framework of a translucent box. That framing gives the character an oppressive air of silence, trapping him as if behind glass or underwater. Another line hangs through the centre of the painting – perhaps a curtain tassel or a lightswitch cord – further reinforcing the geometric lines of the image (the hanging cord was a motif that would reoccur in, and become a signature of, Bacon’s work).
The fabric of the subject’s robes sits in crumpled folds, the deep purple of the material contrasting with the brown, corporeal smears of the walls around him. Closer inspection of this aspect of the painting fully reveals Bacon’s technical mastery – surprisingly few of his forceful strokes are used to bring the Pope’s outfit to life, with negative space used as much as colour to convey the feeling and texture of the velvet.
The focal point of Head VI is, unavoidably, the screaming mouth set at its centre. The inspiration for this part of the image is found a quarter of a century earlier in Sergei Eisenstein’s silent movie masterpiece, Battleship Potemkin (1925). The film tells the true story of a Russian warship crew’s mutiny on the Black Sea in 1905 and made a huge impression on Bacon. ‘Of course, during the silent era, the image had tremendous force,’ he is quoted as saying in the book In Camera Francis Bacon: Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting. ‘The images of silent film were sometimes very powerful, very beautiful.’ In particular, he returned repeatedly to one of Battleship Potemkin’s most powerful shots: after Imperial soldiers and Cossacks have brutally massacred the population of Odessa and the camera lingers on the face of a wounded woman wearing glasses and screaming in fear and agony. Bacon spoke of how this image had ‘deeply impressed’ him, and her screaming mouth is clearly identifiable in the centre of Head VII, together with her spectacles.
The same figure would reoccur in later works by Bacon: Pope III (1951), Study for the Head of a Screaming Pope (1952), and a full length nude, Study for the Nurse in the Film Battleship Potemkin (1957). In each of these, as in Head VI, the screaming mouth becomes a void or a sinkhole, pulling the rest of the painting down into it, rather than expelling the image outwards. And in each, the thinly sketched frame sits around them, trapping the subject alone with their agonies in an airless chamber.
This was the last of a series of six paintings which made up Francis Bacon’s ‘1949 Head’ series. They were exhibited together in Bacon’s show at the Hanover Gallery organised by the gallerist and art dealer Erica Brausen, marking a hugely productive period for the artist. ‘The shock of the picture, when it was seen with a whole series of heads ... was indescribable,’ wrote the artist Lawrence Gowing 40 years later. ‘It was everything unpardonable. The paradoxical appearance at once of pastiche and iconoclasm was indeed one of Bacon’s most original strokes.’
Having produced nothing that survived between 1947-1948, and having just turned 40, Bacon knew this show was a huge – perhaps final – chance to establish himself. The brutal, unnerving impact of all the series, but especially Head VI ensured that was the case. Writing at the time, The Observer’s critic judged that ‘The recent paintings ... horrifying as they are, cannot be ignored. Technically they are superb, and the masterly handling…only makes me regret the more that the artist’s gift should have been brought to subjects so esoteric.’ Even now, the impact of Head VI remains undiminished.
Francis Bacon: Man and Beast is at the Royal Academy of Arts from 29th January until 17th April 2022
‘Francis Bacon: Man and Beast’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (29 January – 17 April 2022) showing Francis Bacon, Head VI, 1949.
Exclusive: Artnet News Has Identified the Seller of a Francis Bacon
Triptych at Christie’s That Could Fetch $74 Million
The work goes up for sale on March 1 in London.
KATYA KAZAKINA | EXCLUSIVE | MARKET | ARTNET NEWS PRO | MONDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2022
The anonymous seller of a prized trophy painting by Francis Bacon going to auction next month at Christie’s in London has been identified.
Bacon’s Triptych 1986-7, which is scheduled to be sold with an estimate of £35 million to £55 million ($47.3 million to $74.3 million) on March 1 in the first of a series of high-stakes 20th- and 21st-century art auctions, is being sold by star architect Norman Foster, according to people familiar with the work.
Since the pandemic began, the triptych has been offered privately, according to people familiar with those discussions, with an asking price ranging from $70 million to $100 million.
It is now appearing at auction for the first time, according to Christie’s, which noted that the current owner acquired it from Marlborough Gallery in 2007.
Representatives for Foster didn’t respond to emails and calls seeking comment. Christie’s declined to comment.
The painting, which carries a third-party guarantee, making it as good as sold, depicts a male figure in a gray overcoat and top hat on its left-most panel. The image is based on an 1919 photo of the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson at the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I.
The right-hand panel alludes to the assassination of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, and the central panel depicts a contorted figured based on John Edwards, Bacon’s partner at the time.
The work was completed five years before the artist’s death in 1992 and was first exhibited at Marlborough Gallery in New York in 1988. Bacon often painted in triptychs, creating 28 works in the format from 1944 to 1991. One of them, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, fetched $142.3 million at Christie’s in New York in 2013, and remains the artist’s auction record.
Foster is a winner of the prestigious Pritzker Prize in architecture. He and his wife, Elena Ochoa Foster, have a foundation in Madrid, and she is also a founder of Ivorypress, a publishing house specializing in artists’ books. Since 1996, it has grown to encompass an exhibition space, an art consultancy, and curatorial services, according to its website.
It’s unclear why Foster is selling the Bacon now, but the work did make an appearance in the Centre Georges Pompidou’s acclaimed exhibition ‘Bacon en Toutes Lettres,’ which was open from 2019 to 2020.
The last triptych by Bacon to come up for auction was at Sotheby’s in 2020. Titled Triptych Inspired By the Oresteia Of Aeschylus, it fetched $84.6 million and was purchased by billionaire Sotheby’s owner Patrick Drahi.
Is Francis Bacon really the greatest painter of the 20th century?
Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world, taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories
RAKEWELL | APOLLO | THE INTERNATIONAL ART MAGAZINE | SUNDAY, 13 FEBRUARY, 2022
Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.
It was not an enormous surprise that an exhibition of works by Francis Bacon at the Royal Academy that is supported by Christie’s should swiftly be followed by an announcement of the auction house offering a large work for sale. Triptych 1986-7, whose central panel depicts the artist’s partner John Edwards, with Woodrow Wilson on one side and the assassinated Trotsky’s study on the other, is being offered in the sale that takes place on 1 March with an estimate of £35m–£55m.
Nor is it a surprise that an auction house should drum up interest in one of their lots using superlatives. But Rakewell was a little taken aback by the claim on Instagram from a Christie’s specialist that ‘Francis Bacon is unmistakably one of the greatest painters of the 20th century.’
John Berger opened a review of a Bacon exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in 1952 with the line, ‘It has always been Francis Bacon’s very considerable reputation – not his work – which has puzzled me.’ In another review he writes, ‘Bacon’s art is, in effect, conformist. It is not with Goya or Eisenstein that he should be compared, but with Walt Disney.’
It is curious that an artist who has left so little for subsequent generations to inherit so excites contemporary viewers. His work, as the show at the Royal Academy reveals, is amazingly consistent in tone. The darkness of the human spirit is energetically displayed in every work and the dedication to depicting it suggests seriousness.
There is no denying his commitment: mutilated figures and claustrophobic frames fill each canvas. His technique is difficult to parse as the violence he tries to depict seems also to have been carried out, hidden in his studio. Tales of Bacon running at his canvas to get an effect with his shoulder proliferate. But is this insistence on a surface of violence really an expression of profundity?
By the end of his time thinking about Bacon, Berger had come round to a different view. Visiting ‘Sacred and Profane’, the exhibition of Bacon’s work held at the Musée Maillol in Paris in 2002, Berger wrote, ‘Last week, as I walked backwards and forwards before the paintings in the rue de Grenelle, I perceived something I’d not understood before.’ The thing he understood was the pitilessness of Bacon’s vision, ‘Nobody painted by him notices what is happening to somebody else painted by him. Such ubiquitous indifference is crueller than any mutilation.’ There is no denying the power of this vision, but is it, ultimately, what greatness is made of? It might be a mistake to dismiss Bacon; equally to not question his work seems just as much of a mistake. In the words of another evasive modernist, is this the best we can do?
It’s a Russian slice of Bacon
BY PATRICK KIDD | THE TIMES DIARY | THE TIMES | FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2022
Bacon in Moscow may sound like Liz Truss seeking to open a pork market in Red Square but it is the title of a memoir by the gallery owner James Birch about putting on an exhibition of Francis Bacon’s work in Soviet Russia. Speaking about it to Ed Vaizey’s Break Out Culture podcast, Birch says he was always impressed by the artist’s resourcefulness.
He once saw a violent portrait of his that showed “a sort of animal with sharp teeth and an ear and a cage going round it” and asked what it was. “It was meant to be Lord Sainsbury,” a guide said, “but it didn’t work out so he turned it into an ape.”
They probably meant Sir Robert Sainsbury, Bacon’s patron. His
Birch and Bacon used to go on long boozing sessions where the artist especially enjoyed meeting people who hadn’t heard of him. One asked what he did for a living. “I’m a painter,” said Bacon. “Oh!” the man replied, delighted he had found someone who could help him. “My house needs painting.”
Francis Bacon’s animal instincts
The painter saw eerie similarities between man and beast, as a new exhibition demonstrates
THE ROYAL ACADEMY | CREATURE DISCOMFORTS | CULTURE | THE ECONOMIST | FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2022
A photograph, printed in Vogue in 1952, captures Francis Bacon in his element: bare-chested, staring intently and clutching the fleshy remains of something slaughtered. To paint the human figure, the British artist, who died in 1992, sought inspiration from the animal carcasses he saw hanging in butcher-shop windows. He seemed to delight in reducing his subjects to blood and bone.
Throughout his 50-year career Bacon was preoccupied by mankind’s animal nature, as a new exhibition at the Royal Academy in London makes clear. Curated by Michael Peppiatt, one of Bacon’s close friends and biographers, “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast” is the first time Bacon’s interest in animals has been properly explored.
Born in 1909, Bacon was brought up on an estate in County Kildare, Ireland. While his elder brother took up horse-riding and hunting, Bacon preferred to remain indoors on account of his asthma. His unsympathetic father, an ex-soldier turned racehorse-trainer, persevered in dragging his son outside and thrashed him when he began to have a coughing fit. No doubt traumatised by his childhood, the adult Bacon was contemptuous of the countryside and its wildlife, “all those things singing outside the window”. The exhibition reveals that he was more interested in the animal within.
A key influence was his relationship with Peter Lacy, a former fighter pilot whom he met in 1952. The men shared a taste for alcohol and sadomasochistic sex—on one occasion, Bacon nearly lost an eye when Lacy drunkenly pushed him through a plate-glass window. The artist delighted in encouraging Lacy’s animal urges for lust and violence, then painting the aftermath: a portrait of 1957 depicts Lacy with a dark pelt and simian face, sprawled in a corner of a cage. Inspired by the big game he had once seen on safari in South Africa, Bacon depicted the couple as animals unleashed. In “Figures in a Landscape”, from 1956-7, they are naked and grappling in scorched savanna grass.
In his South Kensington studio, Bacon hoarded thousands of x-rays, newspaper cuttings and photographs of elephants, dogs, bulls and monkeys. By pairing these images with the paintings they inspired, this new exhibition shows the striking resemblances Bacon found between man and other species: the wings of an owl and the hunched shoulders of his lover, or the leathery hide of a rhino and the skin-folds of his own face.
Art history supplied Bacon with his most famous subjects. “Portrait of Pope Innocent X”, by the Spanish artist Diego Velázquez, was an inexhaustible source of inspiration. Between the 1940s and the 1960s Bacon produced around 50 variations of the work (see above), although his sharp-fanged figures better resemble howling chimpanzees than the 17th-century pontiff. Cimabue’s “Crucifix”, from the 13th century, was another obsession: Christ’s green and contorted body put Bacon in mind of a “worm crawling down the cross”. It inspired what is surely one of the most harrowing crucifixions ever painted: in “Fragment of a Crucifixion” (1950), Bacon’s Christ is an ugly, bone-white apparition, swooping down the canvas towards the viewer.
Bacon’s paintings are not easily understood, but they never fail to unsettle. Stripped of clothes and respectability, the gaping mouths and butchered limbs of his figures shock the viewer into an awareness of their own fleshiness. In interviews he rejected the idea that his work could be interpreted rationally. It was made, he said, to assault the viewer’s “nervous system”. (He kept an illustration of that tacked to his studio wall.)
With its biographical focus, the exhibition connects the animal anguish of Bacon’s paintings with the many tragedies that afflicted his life, beginning with his brutal childhood. A consequence of belonging to the relentlessly boozy circle at the Colony Room club in London was that Bacon suffered the loss of many friends, including Lacy in 1962. Perhaps none had as devastating an impact as the death of George Dyer, a handsome burglar from the East End whom Bacon had met in 1963. Their relationship was fraught with jealousy, violence and alcoholism, eventually culminating in Dyer’s suicide, alone in a hotel room in Paris in 1971. It plunged Bacon into a state of terror as unrelenting as any he painted.
Bacon never flinched from the truth, but did he find catharsis painting it? To judge by his “Black Triptychs”, completed in the wake of Dyer’s death, the answer is unclear. In “Triptych August 1972”, Dyer is pictured as another trapped animal, sitting in front of a dark void. But in this heartbroken painting—which closes the Royal Academy’s show—Bacon seems to accept the fact that “we are all potential carcasses”. Dyer is not howling or writhing. With his head high and eyes closed, he appears resigned, even serene.
“Francis Bacon: Man and Beast” continues at the Royal Academy, London, until April 17th
Bacon triptych estimated to fetch a sizzling £55mn
BY MELANIE GERLIS | THE ART MARKET | COLLECTING | THE FINANCIAL TIMES | THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2022
Francis Bacon’s late “Triptych 1986-7” is up for auction for the first time, estimated at between £35mn and £55mn. Its March 1 sale at Christie’s London coincides with the artist’s well-received show at the nearby Royal Academy of Arts (until April 17).
The central panel of the Christie’s work shows John Edwards, Bacon’s partner from the 1970s until the artist died in 1992. He is flanked by an image of American president Woodrow Wilson leaving the Treaty of Versailles negotiations in 1919 and, on the right, by the bloodied study of Leon Trotsky, based on a photograph taken after the assassination of the revolutionary in 1940.
The weighty imagery reflects Bacon’s mindset at the time, says Katharine Arnold, head of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s Europe. “He lived through most of the 20th century and is looking back at the critical decisions that changed the course of history as well as those that changed his life.”
Bacon painted 28 large-scale triptychs and these ambitious works are his most sought-after on the market. His auction record was set in 2013 when a 1969 triptych of fellow artist Lucian Freud sold for $142.4mn, the priciest public sale at the time. The latest Christie’s painting, guaranteed by a third party to sell, was in the 2019-20 exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. It is being sold by a European private collection.
Francis Bacon’s, Triptych 1986-87, with an estimated price of £35mn-£55mn
The Beastliness of Bacon
Bacon was obsessed by animals lifelong. Rawness. Beastliness. Fearsomeness.
The way they lived. The way they died. The way they preyed upon each other.
BY MICHAEL GLOVER | ART | REVIEWS | HYPERALLERGIC | NEW YORK | THURSDAY 10, FEBRUARY, 2022
LONDON — Full in your face, you might say. Before you enter the exhibition proper, you see a photograph of Francis Bacon as a relatively young man, confronting you through the glass in the double doors. It’s blocking your way — and throwing down a challenge. It was taken in 1957 by an old friend of his called John Deakin, and it shows him against a door that is slightly on the tilt.
He’s staring back at you, with a brutish and almost sneerily cold lack of concern. The collar of his mac is turned up. A smattered smear of red just off to the left suggests blood — or danger. He looks pinned there, ready for anything, any amount of fight-back, by fist or boot or brush — should it ever come to it. A bit of a bruiser, a likely lad, a roughneck, a street brawler, a jack-the-lad. And so he was, this self-taught painter from Dublin.
Bacon always lived close to the edge, and close to the sheer thrill, the energizing power, of violence. His sadomasochistic excesses are well documented. He knew how to take a good beating. His father had shown him the way by beating him as a child. But there was much more to Bacon than that. He also knew how to put all these impulses of excess to good use as an artist. There was violence for sure and, as with Jean Genet, another street fighter, there was also an extraordinary ability to make art out of it.
When I saw him on the streets of Soho a couple of years before his death in 1992, he was clinging to the image of the man by which he had always been known. His cheeks, slightly puffed out, were hectic with rouge; that dyed black quiff of hair was still well sculpted. A black leather jacket gave definition to his shoulders. He was leaning on a fashionable cane. Had he just emerged from a drinking dive or a night club? He could have. After all, it was way past dawn. In fact, it was 11 in the morning.
There was always something very animal about Bacon himself and the work that he made, and for the first time an entire exhibition is devoted to the theme of Bacon, animals, and the animality of his art, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast. As we pass beyond that photograph, we hit a warning: Adult Content. If you happen to be an adult yourself today, that nifty little turn of phrase, especially when capitalized (my choice), always manages to be more than a tad appetite-whetting. The Royal Academy, often the modicum of restraint and decorum, has decided to let its hair down. The show is well staged, almost smoothly cinematic in its unfolding. The first galleries are very low lit (this is a subterranean world after all), but the paintings themselves are spotlit. It’s quite a decorative spectacle.
Bacon was obsessed by animals lifelong. He traveled to Africa to see them in the wild. He kept hundreds of cuttings of them in action. Rawness. Beastliness. Fearsomeness. The way they lived. The way they died. The way they preyed upon each other. Their erotic unconcern — none of them was much preoccupied by sin. All these matters were abiding preoccupations that fed into his art.
Picasso showed him the way with his Boisgeloup sculptures of the early 1930s. Bacon almost reprised some of those tortured, swelling, elongated forms, part man, part beast, in some of his earliest paintings. (Several years ago, the Bacon Estate refused to allow these early, derivative works to be shown beside Picasso’s. Now they are happy to acknowledge Bacon’s debt.)
You see, Bacon was more than a bit of a renegade, a man outside the law, a potential criminal, for much of his creative life. It was not until 1967 that Welsh Home Secretary called Roy Jenkins (in the Labour Government of Harold Wilson) steered legislation through parliament that made consensual sex between men legal in the United Kingdom. Which means that Bacon, stealing some words from Bob Dylan’s great “Key West,” often had to operate “under the radar/under the gun ….” He had to cover his tracks, and this may explain, in part at least, why his gyrating, turning, twisting, copulating figures are so often blurred, their gender indefinite. Bacon was wholly besotted by indefinition. The floor of his studio was a dramatic mashing of images of all sorts from all kinds of sources. Everything piled in, from images of Hitler to the figures in movement — horses and men — captured by the revolutionary photographer Eadweard Muybridge. And today this outsider, this boozer of the night, is welcomed with open arms by the establishment, and these huge works hang here, many in the kind of over-the-top gilded frames that their plutocrat owners would expect.
One of the most interesting things to be said about the Bacon on view in this show is to do with the little explored issue of art and teeth. Human teeth hadn’t played much of a role in art until Bacon. Skulls — emblems of this passing masquerade that goes by the name of life — often show them off, but we seldom see teeth lodged within the warmer skulls of the living. Why? Perhaps they rotted too soon to be shown off as objects of desire, before cosmetic dentistry was able to weave its magic. Do we remember Rembrandt, Raphael, or Ingres for their angles on human teeth? Exactly. With Bacon it is quite otherwise. Teeth abound. Sometimes they are almost side-on inside the mouth — such a flourish of grotesquerie. Most often we see them because Bacon’s human heads, such as his miserably pent popes, often howl inside their cages — and when a human howls, teeth generally go on full display. On the other hand, there are paintings by many artists of animals with teeth on the snarl and the snatch and the chomp. Bacon does it to establish that link with animality. We proceed through life with slavering fangs to the fore, posing on all fours.
This show sprawls needlessly. It gives you ten paintings when two might have sufficed to illustrate various aspects of the chosen theme. Fortunately these galleries are huge, and the paintings are never dwarfed by their surroundings. What is more, the staging is so good — the walls of individual galleries change color to match the paintings. The beastly Bacon roars on from first to last.
Francis Bacon: Man and Beast continues at the Royal Academy (Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, England) through April 17.
The exhibition was organized by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and curated by Michael Peppiatt with Sarah Lea and Anna Testar. Francis Outred served as Special Adviser to the exhibition.
Francis Bacon, “Portrait of George Dyer Crouching” (1966), oil on canvas, 198 x 147 cm. Private collection © The Estate of Francis Bacon.
Monumental Francis Bacon Triptych Could Fetch $75 M. at Christie’s
BY ANGELICA VILLA | CHRISTIE’S | MARKET | HOME | ART NEWS | ESTABLISHED 1902 | THURSDAY 10, FEBRUARY, 2022
A six-and-a-half-foot-long triptych painting by Francis Bacon could fetch between £35 million and £55 million ($47.4 million and $74.5 million) at Christie’s next month. Triptych 1986-87 (1986-87) will make its auction debut after three decades in private hands. The painting will hit the auction block during Christie’s 20th-century and contemporary art evening sale in London on March 1.
Two of the painting’s three sections each feature a single figure. In the first, there is a man donning a grey suit and top hat—a figure drawing on a press image of Woodrow Wilson after signing the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The second figure is meant to represent Bacon’s then-partner, John Edwards, whose nude body appears abstracted. The third canvas depicts a sheet of paper that appears to be stained with blood in reference to the 1940 assassination of political dissident Leon Trotsky.
“The rare, large-scale triptych format offered Bacon the opportunity to trace his life back through the historic events of the 20th century,” Katharine Arnold, head of Christie’s postwar and contemporary art department in Europe, said in a statement.
Bacon produced the work while living in England, and it is one of 28 large-scale triptychs that Bacon created throughout his career. Its anonymous seller purchased the work in 2007 from the Marlborough Gallery in New York. First shown at Marlborough Gallery in 1988, the work was last exhibited at a Centre Pompidou show devoted to Bacon in 2020.
Other triptychs by Bacon have brought some of the highest prices for the artist at auction. In June 2020, as the pandemic lockdown lifted in some parts of the world, a large-scale Bacon triptych from the collection of collector Hans Rasmus Astrup sold at Sotheby’s for $84.6 million, becoming the most expensive artwork sold at auction that year.
Francis Bacon, Triptych 1986-87
Christie’s to Offer Francis Bacon Triptych for up to £55 Million
BY ABBY SCHULTZ | CHRISTIE’S | PENTA BLOG | THE BARRON’S DAILY | BARRON’S | THURSDAY 10 FEBRUARY 2022
A late-period triptych by British artist Francis Bacon will be sold at auction for the first time at Christie’s 20th/21st century evening sale in London next month.
Triptych 1986-87 is expected to realize between £35 million and £55 million (US$47.4 million and US$74.5 million) at the March 1 auction. The work—one of 28 triptychs Bacon created across three huge canvases in his lifetime—has been in the same private collection since 2007, when it was purchased from the Marlborough Gallery in New York.
These grand paintings, all 78 by 58 inches in size, are the medium where Bacon most successfully [can] push forward certain ideas,” says Katharine Arnold, head of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s Europe, although the artist himself “never provided a narrative” to his work. Nearly half of Bacon’s triptychs are in museum collections, according to Christie’s.
“This painting is looking back on turning point moments in history,” Arnold says. “Equally they are also moments that defined his life. He lived through both World Wars, and saw the brutality of those wars. And that history is all bound up with his own sense of self.”
Bacon’s life spanned much of the 20th century, from 1909 to 1992.
The canvas on the left of Triptych 1986-87 depicts a life-size Woodrow Wilson leaving the Treaty of Versailles negotiations marking the end of World War I in 1919. The image on the middle canvas is of John Edwards, Bacon’s partner at the time. The painting was composed in a similar fashion to Bacon’s former lover George Dyer as painted in Triptych August 1972, which is at the Tate museum in London, Arnold says. Dyer committed suicide in 1971.
Bacon was “looking back in time at a moment defining for him on a personal and creative level,” Arnold says.
The third canvas, on the right, was inspired by a photograph of Leon Trotsky’s study taken after the Ukrainian-Russian revolutionary was assassinated in Mexico City in 1940. The image includes a large blank paper spattered with blood.
To Arnold, the Trotsky panel offers a metaphor of creativity, “and the fact that absence is as profound as presence.” And, she says, the three images together “leave a powerful impression.”
Triptych 1986-87 was exhibited widely, including at Gallery Tretyakov in Moscow in 1988, a year before the fall of the Soviet Union, as part of a show of 22 works by Bacon, making him the “first great Western artist allowed to come and exhibit in Soviet Russia,” Arnold says. It was a moment when the Soviet Union was opening up culturally and ideologically, she says.
Six Bacon triptychs have previously come to the auction block, including most recently Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus, 1981, which achieved $84.6 million, with fees, during a virtual live auction at Sotheby’s in June 2020. In November 2013, Christie’s made auction history with the sale of Bacon’s triptych titled Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969. The painting carrying an estimate of US$85 million sold for US$142.4 million, with fees, the highest price for a work sold at auction at the time.
Triptych 1986-87 will be shown at Christie’s New York galleries at Rockefeller Center from Feb. 10-15.
Francis Bacon, Triptych 1986-87
James Birch on the New Francis Bacon Exhibition
BY ED VAIZEY AND CHARLOTTE METCALF | INTERVIEW | CULTURE | COUNTRY & TOWN HOUSE | MONDAY 7 FEBRUARY, 2022
Francis Bacon: Man and Beast opened recently at the Royal Academy, illustrating Bacon’s belief that humanity was simply another branch of the animal kingdom. To coincide with the exhibition, there’s a new book called Bacon in Moscow by the art dealer and gallery owner, James Birch, which tells the story of James as a young art dealer putting on an exhibition of Francis Bacon’s paintings in Moscow in the late ’80s. Grayson Perry, to whom James gave his first show in 1984, has described the book as, ‘a rocking cultural adventure.’ It’s certainly a rollocking read, and we’re delighted that James Birch is here to tell us all about it.
This interview was taken from our Break Out Culture podcast with Ed Vaizey and Charlotte Metcalf.
In the book, there’s a photograph of you in the bath, aged seven, taken by Francis Bacon. That would now be illegal. You knew Francis Bacon from a very young age.
My parents had a summer cottage in a place called Fingringhoe, which is across the water from Wivenhoe, which is where these two artists, Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller lived. And Francis Bacon was a friend of theirs, and they would come over to my parents’ cottage. And I think there was a camera lying around, and I was in the bath, and Francis took his photograph. And people said later on to my mother, ‘isn’t that a bit strange?’ She said, ‘no, no, I completely trust him.’
First question about Francis Bacon is everyone talks about his studio, which was famously filthy and shambolic. Was it as filthy and shambolic as people say?
His house, which was in Reece Mews in South Ken, was an old mews cottage. You go in the front door, up these very steep stairs with an arm railing on one side and rope on the other. And I can imagine Francis staggering up the stairs, holding onto this rope. Then there’s his kitchen, which was quite small – more like a galley. And then what looked like a table was actually a bathtub, and he had wood over the top.
Can you tell us a bit more about what his studio was like?
It was more like looking at a skip than a studio, there was just rags and bits of paper and everything all over the place.
And the second thing about Bacon, of course, is as a notoriously heavy drinker around Soho.
The extraordinary thing was I had a gallery, which was underneath, about two doors down from the Colony Room, the notorious drinking club. Francis would sometimes just pop into the gallery in the afternoon and say, ‘do you fancy a drink?’ And off we’d go upstairs to the Colony Room, whereupon there would be endless amounts of champagne, and then somebody would say, ‘I’m bored here. Let’s go somewhere else.’ So we went to the Groucho Club. And then you had The French House and that was, in those days, not so busy as it is now, and good fun.
Who were the regulars, when you went on this mini pub crawl?
Sometimes his companion from Suffolk, John Edwards, and sometimes Bruce Bernard, who was at that time editor of The Independent Magazine. People came and went.
So was Francis at the centre of all this?
He was part of the group, but everybody was in awe of him. Lot of people didn’t even recognise who he was, and he had a lovely anecdote that he must have been in a pub and somebody said, ‘what do you do?’. He said, ‘I’m a painter.’ He said, ‘oh, my house needs decorating.’
So you’re getting hammered in these pubs with Bacon, and in the middle of all this, you suddenly come up with this idea, ‘Francis, why don’t we go and do an exhibition in Moscow?’ How did that come about?
That’s not quite what happened. What happened was I’d been in Moscow and I wanted to take 10 young artists to Moscow, as in Grayson Perry and the Neo Naturists. And I realised within a day, this was going to be impossible. Who’s going to pay for it? And so when I went around to various artist’s studios, I would say, ‘what’s the one artist you really admire in the world?’. And they all said, ‘Francis Bacon’. And I said to Sergei Klokov, my fixer in Moscow, ‘what about Francis Bacon?’.
Then when Francis came to my gallery, we went off to have drinks in the Colony Room, and then supper down the road. I said, ‘how would you like to have an exhibition in Moscow?’ He said, ‘I’d be delighted’. And so the next day I rang him and I said, ‘Francis, I’m just checking, you said you wanted to have a show in Moscow’. He was rather annoyed by this and said, ‘yes, I do really want to have a show’.
We now obviously think of Bacon as part of the pantheon, but he was a controversial artist.
Oh, totally controversial. And it’s quite extraordinary that now, he’s become mainstream. And what is fascinating is that he never seems to go away. He’s never out of fashion, even to young people, they absolutely adore his work.
Why do you think that is? He is Marmite, isn’t he? You either absolutely love him or you hate him.
Yes, that is true. He’s definitely Marmite. I think it’s the imagery, which is so extraordinary and unique. There’s nothing else like his work around. And even when people try and copy it, you just know that’s a copy, because it’s trying to be Francis Bacon and so doesn’t work.
Did Bacon ever sit down and talk to you about what motivated him to paint? What drove him, what he wanted to depict?
No. He was quite good like that. He didn’t want to talk about his art. Occasionally we’d talk about other people’s art, but never his own. And he didn’t really like being questioned about what motivated him to paint.
If I had walked into the Colony Room or the Groucho with Bacon sitting there, and you’d been kind enough to introduce me and draw me into the inner circle, would I have found him welcoming and warm, or taciturn and suspicious?
No, you would find him welcoming and warm. He was always intrigued and interested in people.
‘He didn’t want to talk about his art – occasionally we’d talk about other people’s art, but never his own’
James Birch maintains a charitable view of the colourful Francis Bacon in
Bacon In Moscow: an amusing romp that could also act as a cautionary tale
BY SIMEON HOUSE | REVIEWS | BOOKS | HOME | THE DAILY MAIL | SATURDAY, 5 FEBRUARY, 2022
A voracious reader, Francis Bacon would have appreciated the vast number of books that have been written about him since the artist’s death in 1992. Last year alone saw several new volumes, including an 880-page biography.
While the painter was as colourful a character as the art world has produced, one wonders what more can be said.
In Bacon In Moscow, gallerist James Birch takes an unusual tack, using the artist as the step from which to trip into a ribald tale of geopolitics and shady deals.
This account of staging a Bacon exhibition in the shadow of the Kremlin, just as the Cold War began to thaw in 1988, is an amusing romp that could act as a cautionary tale.
Birch was introduced to Bacon as a boy through his parents.
It proved a valuable contact when, years later, he opened an avant-garde gallery on the King’s Road, where his roster of artists included several nudists and a young transvestite potter named Grayson Perry.
A Bacon show in Moscow was Birch’s shot at the big time.
Taking Bacon’s visions of twisted torsos and howling faces (Study After Velázquez’s Portrait Of Pope Innocent X, 1953) to Moscow was always going to be an exercise in optimism.
Birch is rarely ruffled: ‘From my window seat I observed low grey clouds, military vehicles and a missile launcher armed with two green rockets angled at the sky,’ he recalls.
Birch’s counterpart in Russia is Sergei Klokov, a secret service fixer-cum- cultural attaché with a mid-Atlantic drawl that makes him ‘sound like a bad British DJ’.
Moscow delivers exotic and dreary aspects to which Birch brings a Woosterish eye: ‘People hurrying by had ashen complexions and wore badly cut Terylene flared trousers and skirts.’
More attractive is Elena Khudiakova, a vampiric Russian fashion designer.
Bacon was more than just a talented artist, he was a raconteur and a bore, a drinker and a drunk, a generous friend and a shocking liability.
And while Birch hints at these conflicts, he maintains a charitable view of the man.
This book is at its best when illuminating the cultural divides – food, hotels, personal freedoms – and occasional similarities.
And the intersection of the dark poetic Russian psyche and the struggle to survive the Soviet system is perfectly embodied in Klokov, a mercurial figure who might have been conjured up by John le Carré.
Whether Moscow needed the show is debatable. ‘We want bacon, not Francis Bacon,’ notes one hungry visitor.
Bacon In Moscow James Birch with Michael Hodges Profile Books £17.99
Bacon’s eclectic references reminded me of Bob Dylan’s buccaneering plunder
BY CHRISTOPHER HOWSE | COLUMNISTS | THE TABLET | THE INTERNATIONAL CATHOLIC NEWS WEEKLY | THURSDAY, 03 FEBRUARY, 2022
One bank holiday in the 1980s, when halfway respectable people had homes to go to, Francis Bacon was in the Colony Room club in Soho. He was in his seventies, but looked younger, his expensive leather jacket, fastened at hip level, concealing his paunch.
He stood near the Georgian window, as light from the wasted day lit up the cigarette smoke, and played with a sunken-bottomed and horribly uncomfortable barstool of tubular construction, much like the ones he used to design for Heal’s in the 1930s, although he didn’t want anyone to remember that. As he stood talking, buying more champagne for anyone within range, he remarked to me: “You see, I can’t paint.” Perhaps I agreed with him too readily, for he fixed me with those eyes set deep in his pear-shaped head as though I was being drawn into an ambush.
I thought about this remark a year ago when a big exhibition, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, was to open at the Royal Academy. And I thought about it again last week when the exhibition, delayed by the pandemic, actually opened. Trivially, it is true that he couldn’t paint. A breakthrough in his career was a canvas called Painting (1946). In it, before an opened carcass of meat, a figure grimaces under an umbrella (behind some tubular furniture). The dead beast derives from Rembrandt’s Slaughtered Ox, but the central image began as an attempt to paint a bird landing in a field. Another remark by Bacon that was only trivially true was once made to the novelist David Plante, that human beings are “nothing but meat”. Of course a painter can only represent bodies (or photographs of bodies), but the reason that the paintings come to be hung up in the great rooms of the Academy is that the sitters and the artist are much more than meat.
A third element in Bacon that doesn’t ring true is his titling of paintings. No doubt he couldn’t call them all Painting, but one in the current show, from 1950, is called Fragment of a Crucifixion. Again, under the screaming mouth and spattered blood, it derives from a photograph, an owl in flight. It’s relation to the Crucifixion is only accidental. Bacon was hostile to religion and its iconography. From Poussin’s Massacre of the Innocents (1628) the one thing he brought away was the screaming mouth of the mother of one of the infants being murdered.
It’s not that he treated the Crucifixion in a sado-masochistic way. Though a masochist by preference, his treatment of sexual violence is so extreme or abstracted that it leaves the erotic behind. I’m not saying abstraction made it safer: his life was affected by what he saw as the deliberate aggression of his former sadistic lover Peter Lacy committing suicide to coincide with Bacon’s first retrospective at the Tate in 1962.
Bacon’s eclectic references reminded me of Bob Dylan’s buccaneering plunder of songs and poetry to remake into his own work. A large room at the Academy shows only three large canvasses of bullfight studies painted in 1969. This seems to me a weak passage in his career to emphasise. Two of the paintings include representations of a crowd under a version of the Parteiadler emblem of the Nazis. It doesn’t help that the curators have chosen to quote a joke of Bacon’s to accompany these pictures: “Bullfighting is like boxing – a marvellous aperitif to sex.” He might have said the same of a Nuremberg rally, but it would hardly tell the whole story.
The holy water is back in the stoups in my parish after the long Good Friday of pandemic drought. I wasn’t sure I was ready to splash about with the communal germs till they were behaving as uninterestingly as they used to. But after falling back for 22 months on the words carved above the stoup, Lavabis me et super nivem dealbabor, “Wash me and I shall be made whiter than snow”, I feel no threat from a drop on forehead, breast and shoulders. I just don’t inhale.
While trees were falling on people in the north of England, the sun came out in London and so did I, wandering near the Thames through the grounds of Chiswick House, that chilly Palladian extravagance. By a round pond with an obelisk stands a classical gravestone memorialising a favourite dog, Lilly – humani generis vitiorum expers – “free of the weaknesses of humankind”. So the dog is remembered, but funnily enough, no one seems to know quite whose dog she was.
While trees were falling on people in the north of England, the sun came out in London and so did I, wandering near the Thames through the grounds of Chiswick House, that chilly Palladian extravagance. By a round pond with an obelisk stands a classical gravestone memorialising a favourite dog, Lilly – humani generis vitiorum expers – “free of the weaknesses of humankind”. So the dog is remembered, but funnily enough, no one seems to know quite whose dog she was.
Christopher Howse is an assistant editor of The Daily Telegraph.
A new retrospective shows how the ruthless painter captured our animal instincts.
BY MICHAEL PRODGER | REVIEW | CULTURE | ART & DESIGN | THE NEW STATESMAN | WEDNESDAY, 2 FEBRUARY, 2022
Francis Bacon was born in the first decade of the 20th century and died in the last, and throughout his long life he refused to explain what his paintings were about. That his pictures express something meaningful, universal and profoundly disconcerting is irrefutable, but he shut down explanations with the curt if nonsensical assertion that his work “meant nothing” just as life itself was meaningless: “There’s nothing, see. Nothing. Nada. Just nada.”
Bacon may not have known exactly what was going on when he put brush to canvas, but he had lived through two world wars, was born just nine years after the death of his hero Nietzsche and belonged to the generation of Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. A combination of nihilism, personal agency and violence was intrinsic to both his art and his “gilded gutter life”, with its epic drinking, its rough-trade lovers and its sadomasochistic sex. “Life is nothing but a futile series of moments,” he once said, “so the more intense they are the better.” His paintings are expressions of that intensity.
Explaining his art was perhaps the only area in which Bacon was reticent. In or out of his cups he was a talker, and one of the things he told his friend and biographer Michael Peppiatt was his conviction that “we are all animals… It’s just that some people are more aware of the fact than others. I think I’ve been very aware of it ever since I was a child.” Bacon grew up with horses; his father was a racehorse trainer in Ireland and animals quickly became a part of Bacon’s tangled psychosexuality. He not only had sexual feelings for his father, but when Bacon père ordered his grooms to give his son an occasional thrashing to cure his effeminacy, the medicine wasn’t unwelcome. Years later he would state that “I don’t like the smell of horse dung, but I find it sexually alluring, like urine.”
Animals also represented danger; they exacerbated Bacon’s childhood asthma, for which he received morphine injections. Indeed, when Bacon was called up during the Second World War, he avoided conscription by hiring an Alsatian from Harrods’ pet department the night before he was due to appear in front of the military board, so that when he presented himself, wheezing and gasping, he was rejected for active service.
Animals fascinated him too because they didn’t have inhibitions. “If you watch them you can see exactly what they’re like,” he said, “whereas most people live a kind of veiled life and tend to disguise what they are, what they want, what they really feel.” It was why, he told Peppiatt, he found people such as the Kray twins so appealing: “I don’t actually believe people should go around what’s called cutting their victims’ throats – or kicking them to death, come to that. At the same time people of that kind can be more interesting, or at least more unusual, because they go to the very end of what they do, and they are much clearer about where their real instincts lie – for violence, for power, for excitement, for whatever it is.”
Instinct is everywhere in the Royal Academy’s compelling and terrifying new exhibition, “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast”. It is a show full of intertwined creatures – some with pelts, some without – and the walls heave with strange, snarling, menacing, biomorphic organisms, all moving by deep impulse.
Bacon was a self-taught painter who always doubted his technical competency. He was also a ruthless editor of his work who would destroy pictures that didn’t meet his standards – a clearout in the early 1980s resulted in five sacks full of cut-up canvases. Nevertheless, there are some poor paintings in the exhibition, but even they are visceral. He wanted every picture to look as though “it’s come directly off the nervous system”, and almost all do.
Although Bacon first exhibited a painting in 1933, he claimed that it was with Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944, a second, more refined version, painted in 1988, is in the exhibition), that “I began”. In each panel of the triptych squats a creature inspired by the Furies in Aeschylus’s Oresteia; the figures were intended to sit beneath the crucified Christ but Bacon never completed the upper part of the painting. So these blind, howling forms, distended and stretched, sit against a vivid red background exuding menace, impotence and pain in equal parts.
Writing in the New Statesman and Nation (as this title was then called), Raymond Mortimer thought the pictures expressed Bacon’s sense “of the atrocious world into which we have survived” and were “symbols of outrage rather than works of art”. Though tempting, reading Bacon’s works as psychological documents is an uncertain business, yet it would seem more than a coincidence that his emergence as a painter thanks to this triptych came immediately after his service as an air raid warden and a Red Cross driver during the Blitz. He had first-hand knowledge of screams and mangled bodies and it fitted his aesthetic. “You have to deform appearance into image,” Bacon claimed.
By aping the predella panels of early Renaissance altarpieces, Three Studies was also an acknowledgement of Bacon’s competitive reaction to the canon of art. It was already there in the earliest picture in the exhibition, the small white-on-black Crucifixion of 1933, one of fewer than a dozen paintings from that decade that he didn’t destroy. The crucified figure is barely human, but rather a splayed object that resembles Rembrandt’s Slaughtered Ox (1655) and Chaïm Soutine’s Beef Carcass (circa 1925) far more than the attenuated Christ figures of tradition.
There is a long history of artists conflating man and meat, but for Bacon it was personal; he once admitted that “if I go into a butcher’s shop, I always think it’s surprising that I wasn’t there instead of the animal”. And perhaps the painter with whom he has most in common is Théodore Géricault, who painted the severed heads and limbs of executed criminals as part of his preparation for his great work of savagery and cannibalism The Raft of the Medusa (1818-19).
It was Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X (circa 1650) that stirred Bacon the most, and his first “screaming pope”, Head VI (1949), is in the exhibition. Bacon’s most recent biographers, Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, see the pope paintings as his reaction to authority: in them, they say, he took on both the pope, representing the authority of religion, and Velázquez, representing the authority of old master painting. It is not a theory that holds up in front of Head VI. There the pontiff sits in a transparent cube-like structure – a trick Bacon probably adopted to help him overcome compositional difficulties – as his head evaporates from the percussive force of the yell hurtling from his mouth. There is no discernible authority here, but rather a man bursting from the unsustainable pressure of being human and being caged by his position. For all his temporal power, Bacon suggests, Pope Innocent had less free will than his flock.
Although Bacon visited Rome, he never went to see Velázquez’s portrait, but relied on illustrations. This too was a way of compensating for his lack of formal training. He bought books of the 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s freeze-frame images of men and animals in motion, volumes of photographs of wild animals and, among other things, a book of anatomical illustrations of diseases of the mouth. Even in 1961, when he started painting portraits of his Soho coterie, he made them from photographs he commissioned from his friend John Deakin.
It is Muybridge’s work that reappears again and again, and if Bacon knew the photographer had once murdered his wife’s lover that would simply have added to the appeal. It is Muybridge’s images of dogs that Bacon used as the basis for Dog (1952) showing a panting animal seemingly doomed to move in never-ending circles on untouched canvas, as cars speed along a distant shoreline road with a single palm tree behind. And it was Muybridge’s photographs of wrestlers that Bacon turned into striking images of gruntingly rough gay sex – Two Figures (1953) and Two Figures in the Grass (1954). These are surely not simply expressions of the primal sexual urge but of the torture of being a gay man before the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 legalised his particular desires.
Peter Lacy and George Dyer, two of Bacon’s own lovers, reappear again and again. It was Lacy, a former RAF pilot, who made explicit the debasement involved in their relationship: he beat Bacon, raped him, threw him through a window with a ten-foot drop, and enticed Bacon to his home by telling him: “You could live in a corner of my cottage on straw. You could sleep and shit there.” Like an animal, in other words. Lacy died on the day of the private view for Bacon’s 1962 retrospective at the Tate, the show that cemented the artist’s reputation.
Dyer, an East End tough who fell through Bacon’s skylight while trying to rob him, became the subject of some 20 paintings (Dyer hated them: “I think they’re fuckin’ ‘orrible,” he told Peppiatt, “reely fuckin’ ‘orful. And he’s getting all that money for ‘em”). Dyer died in 1971 of a drink and drugs overdose on the eve of another major exhibition, at the Grand Palais in Paris, and Bacon subsequently made a series of “Black Triptychs” featuring him.
In one, Triptych August 1972, Dyer is shown, face turned inside out as if, in the film director Bernardo Bertolucci’s memorable phrase, he is being “eaten up by something that comes from within”, and stripped to his underpants and dissolving into pink puddles – melting before the painter’s eyes.
It is hard to discern a tangible difference in sentiment between his paintings of lovers and those of animals. After Bacon travelled to what is now Zimbabwe in 1951, where his widowed mother had settled, he recalled that “I felt and memorised the excitement of seeing animals move through the long grass” (he also found the Rhodesian police “too sexy for words – starched shorts and highly polished leggings…”). But then to be alive was a state of predation – either eat or be eaten.
Apes, mouths wide like those of his popes, became a regular motif in the late 1950s as if to emphasise that, in terror or pain, both humans and animals scream (to add another layer of picaresque complexity, Bacon once got drunk with his framer, fell down the stairs and, unconscious, was put to bed under Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which was being reframed at the time). And in 1969 he painted a series of bullfight paintings, matador and animal swirling as a single entity with a snapshot of a Nazi Nuremburg rally at the back of the ring. “Bullfighting is like boxing – a marvellous aperitif to sex,” Bacon said, and three of the paintings have thick dollops of white paint that could be ectoplasm, or semen.
Bacon’s conviction that there was no distinction between man and beast makes this a visceral if bleak and disturbing show. All his Dr Moreau’s creatures are visualisations of a belief that, as we labour under the human condition, there is no such thing as animal urges, just urges.
Francis Bacon: Man and Beast Royal Academy of Arts, London W1J Until 17 April
Second Version of Triptych 1944 (1988) BY Francis Bacon..
Bringing the Bacon to Moscow: new book reveals saga
of staging a major Western show in the Soviet Union
BY LOUISA BUCK | BOOK REVIEW | THE BUCK STOPPED HERE BLOG | THE ART NEWSPAPER | TUESDAY, 1 FEBRUARY, 2022
Not many people can claim—publicly at least—to have been photographed naked in the bath by Francis Bacon. James Birch was a small child when he was innocently snapped in the tub by the painter buddy of his family friends Dicky Chopping and Denis Wirth Miller, an artist couple who lived near his parent’s holiday cottage on the UK’s east coast. The nihilistic maker of the shrieking, bleakly existential canvases currently on show at the Royal Academy’s survey Francis Bacon Man and Beast seems a far cry from Birch’s more benign memories of the genial avuncular figure who was a regular fixture throughout his 1960s childhood, writing him letters addressed to “Rawhide” after the TV series with which the young Birch was obsessed.
The bathtime shot and a fond “Rawhide” message scrawled in Bacon’s unmistakable loopy handwriting form the opening salvo to Birch’s memoir Bacon in Moscow (Cheerio, 2022). The book centres around how, a couple of decades later in 1988 and now an aspiring art dealer, Birch managed to organise a major Francis Bacon retrospective at the Central House of Artists in Moscow—the first show of a living western artist in Russia for over half a century. (Birch had initially wanted to bring his new protégés Grayson Perry and the Neo Naturists, but that was a step too far for the Russians.)
Bacon’s Moscow show may now be a footnote in mainstream art history but in Moscow it was a landmark event, attracting over 400,000 visitors during its six week run between 22 September-6 November 1988. The tumultuous account of how Birch pulled off this audacious feat (and how others stepped in to use it for their own agendas) is a gripping, rollicking read, rife with shady characters and sinister machinations from the powers that be in Russia as well as within the London art world.
There’s Sergei Klokov, the mysterious KGB officer with an interest in culture, clad in Pierre Cardin and with a penchant for male handbags (but whose weapon of choice whilst serving with the Russian army in Afghanistan was a flamethrower); and Klokov’s companion and “muse”, the impossibly beautiful fashion designer Elena Khudiakova, who subsequently ended up co-habiting with Birch in London whilst all the time still filing secret reports to her Soviet masters.
The London protagonists include Lord "Grey" Gowrie, Margaret Thatcher’s former arts minister, who wrote Bacon’s catalogue essay but at that point was also the director of Sotheby’s, which was poised to hold the company’s first (and highly lucrative) art auction in Moscow; and Henry Merrick Hughes, then-director of the British Council, who originally offered to pay for Bacon’s Russian debut but then reneged. The tab was eventually picked up by the Marlborough Gallery, but not before they had attempted to deduct the costs from Bacon’s personal account. Also lurking in the wings was the disgruntled art critic David Sylvester who, Birch believes in a fit of pique at not being asked to contribute to the catalogue, was instrumental in discouraging Bacon from attending the show by fuelling the frail 79-year old’s anxiety about the effect of such a trip on his health.
So Bacon pulled out of going to Russia at the last minute and never got to see his 30 paintings hung in Moscow. Instead he sent his friend John Edwards, who featured in several of the works on show, as his representative. (Bacon gave Birch £3,000 to cover Edwards’s expenses, although condoms apparently proved to be a better currency for purchasing caviar in late-era Soviet Russia).
Bacon in Moscow might be the ostensible subject of this book, but what emerges from this picaresque saga of an exhibition realised amidst spats, feuds, promises broken and much drinking and dining on both sides of the Iron Curtain, is that Birch and Bacon were just part of a much bigger game being played out between the West and Moscow. As well as offering a vivid account of a now largely forgotten cultural event, in the sharply observed details and telling anecdotes that emerge out of Birch’s long relationship with this most contradictory, perverse and much-mythologised artist, Bacon in Moscow brings Francis Bacon and his motley milieu to life in ways that even the most meticulously researched and scholarly biographies never can.
Bacon in Moscow is the first publication to emanate from Cheerio, the imprint and production company launched in 2020 in collaboration with the Bacon estate and named after the artist’s favourite drinking toast. There were certainly many Cheerios at the book’s Moscow-mule-fuelled launch last week at Hatchards in Piccadilly, where the throng ranged from fashion designer Zandra Rhodes to artist Jeremy Deller as well as Grayson Perry and Neo Naturist Wilma Johnson, both of whom seemed to have forgiven Birch for their being passed over in favour of Francis Bacon all those years ago.
James in Bath by Francis Bacon Courtesy of James Birch
Francis Bacon’s ‘Screaming Pope’ Embodied Postwar Anguish
— Here Are 3 Surprising Facts About the Influential Painting
The picture, Bacon’s first of a Pope, is currently on view at the Royal Academy
BY KATIE WHITE | REVIEW | ART HISTORY | NEWS | ARTNET NEWS | TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 1st, 2022
The facts of Francis Bacon’s life are the ones that tend to envelop interpretations of his work: he was an alcoholic, atheist, gambler, and homosexual in an intolerant age.
This fraught personalization is not so surprising given his subject matter. Bacon’s paintings are full of personal torment, depicting solitary figures with their faces and bodies writhing or contorted beyond familiarity, seemingly trapped in the empty, airless spaces that define his work.
The Royal Academy of Art’s just-opened exhibition, “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast,” aims to present the 20th-century artist’s work through a different prism: his fascination with the animal world.
While Bacon was very much a metropolitan louche in his adulthood, his childhood was immersed in nature. Born in Ireland to English parents, Bacon was raised on a horse farm (his father, a retired army officer, trained racehorses). The impressive exhibition brings together all of Bacon’s bullfighting paintings for the first time, as well as images of owls, a chimpanzee, and horse-like creatures.
Several works in the show, rather than depicting animals directly, hint at humankind’s most primal nature. Among these is the seminal Head VI (1949), the first of Bacon’s paintings to reference Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Innocent X. (He would make close to 50 “screaming pope” paintings in his career.) The oil-on-canvas painting was the last of his 1949 “Head” series, and marked an important new chapter in the artist’s career.
On the occasion of the exhibition, we’ve unearthed three fascinating facts that might make you see the artist’s work in a new way.
While Francis Bacon was a devout atheist and an outspoken critic of the Catholic Church, his oeuvre is predicated on the iconography of Catholicism. This was the case from the very start of his career: the painting that defined Bacon as an enfant terrible of the art world was Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1945). (A secondary version of this triptych, made in the 1980s, is on view in the RA exhibition.)
Why did he return to the image of the Pope, and Pope Innocent X, so frequently? The word Pope shares its etymological root with the word “papa,” and many have interpreted Bacon’s fixation with the Pope through the Oedipal lens of Bacon’s tumultuous relationship with his father, who scorned both his son’s homosexuality and his desire to be an artist. In this vein, some have said that the “Screaming Popes” were a response to the Church’s teachings against homosexuality.
Others believe that Bacon’s fixation is rooted in his childhood, and his experiences living as a prosperous member of the English Protestant minority in Ireland.
“Bacon was brought up during the Sinn Féin movement and once the Irish Republican Army was formed in 1919 guerrilla warfare broke out. During his boyhood, Bacon’s understanding of religion was marked by social and religious tension and isolation,” writes art historian Rina Arya.
“These formative experiences led to a conflation between violence and religion, and by extension, the Pope, as the incarnation of the Catholic Church, would have been viewed within this context of opposition and conflict.”
Pope Innocent X, in particular, played a role in these historical tensions. During the English Civil War (1642–49), the pontiff acted is an important political player, offering significant arms and finances to support the Irish fight for independence in the hopes that it might establish itself as a Catholic-ruling nation. In such a way, the image so powerfully depicted by Velasquez embeds Bacon’s own experiences within a greater historical narrative.
One might wonder why a depiction of the Pope is featured in an exhibition focused on Bacon’s fascination with animals. A close examination of Head VI offers clues.
A clear box appears to surround the pope; such pictorial enclosures were a device Bacon adopted in 1949, and would reappear in his works for decades to follow. Many art historians have interpreted such enclosures as pens or cage-like structures, perhaps symbolic of society’s norms.
“His apes are usually caged, his dogs slink helpless and cringing from their broken leashes, and his humans are often segregated within small chambers or otherwise shielded from the ignored enemies of contemporary civilization,” writes art historian James Thrall Soby.
“Whatever its psychological implications Head VI announces with full vigour an abiding obsession of the artist: the enclosures within which animals and humans alike live out their lives,” he added.
The Royal Academy alludes to this synthesizing of man and animal in an exhibition text, saying: “Whether chimpanzees, bulls, dogs, or birds of prey, Bacon felt he could get closer to understanding the true nature of humankind by watching the uninhibited behaviour of animals.”
Moreover, Bacon believed the mouth to be the most primal part of the human body. “You know how the mouth changes shape. I’ve always been very moved by the movements of the mouth and the shape of the mouth and the teeth. People say that these have all sorts of sexual implications, and I was always very obsessed by the actual appearance of the mouth and teeth,” the artist wrote.
If the Pope is traditionally believed to be called by the divine, here Bacon pictures him as though called by the wild.
“‘God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him,’ cried out the madman.”
While Frederic Nietzsche wrote those words about the death of Christian civilization in the 1880s, the experience of World War II had heightened belief in the proverbial death of God. It is here, in the immediate aftermath of war, into which Head VI’s scream is best understood. “Bacon’s interpretation is diametrically opposed to… sanctifications: it is, rather, located within the context of death,” Arya said of Head VI.
Bacon was a self-taught art historian and an avid cinephile, and his “scream” is one that exists on a continuum of cultural history. Bacon himself acknowledged that his image alluded to a scene in Sergei Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin (1925), in which a nurse silently screams after being shot through her glasses. (Bacon’s Pope similarly cannot be heard). While Bacon often tried to rebuff affinities between his work and that of Edvard Munch, The Scream is a self-evident influence.
“Bacon takes Munch’s kitsch Nordic universal scream, critiques it, and refines it. He gives it teeth… They express pain, the agony of orgasm, pity and terror, rage, appetite, fear, pleasure,” Craig Raine wrote in a 2016 article. (In the context of war, one also thinks also of Picasso’s Guernica of 1937, which was deeply influential to a young Bacon.)
It’s important to note that Bacon’s interest in the Pope came soon after he completed his 1946 Painting, a work laden with allusions to Nazism. A tassel (as though from a curtain) that appears in Painting returns in Head VI, creating a strange conversation between the two.
“The Pope’s head is bisected by the Hitlerian tassel… his mouth is agape in a scream… like in one of Goebbels’s more frenzied exultation,” notes Thrall Soby.
As the “Screaming Popes” continued, Bacon would insert increasingly direct references to contemporaneous pontiff Pope Pius XII, who some believe appeased the Nazis and who did not openly speak out against the Holocaust.
Considering Bacon’s Head VI in this context, Thrall Soby wrote: “In his paintings, an inexplicable sense of opulence prevails, and [curator] David Sylvester is right in saying that Bacon ‘prefers settings which are luxurious and simple lush velvet curtains and a gilded armchair like prison cells for high-born traitors.’ ”