Francis Bacon News






The gilded gutter: inside the lives of Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon


Post-war British painters like Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud are valued as much for their rackety lives as their artistic explorations





On the eve of Francis Bacon’s 1985 retrospective at the Tate Gallery, the English art critic Michael Peppiatt wrote anxiously about the “excessively philosophico-literary commentary” that he believed Bacon’s art provoked. Perhaps he had in mind the French theorist Gilles Deleuze, whose refreshing if challenging Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation had appeared in 1981. Deleuze had little interest in Bacon’s life. Instead of “gilded-gutter” reminiscences, he sought to connect the artist with a wider intellectual world—including the work of fellow theorists Maurice - Merleau-Ponty and Jean-François Lyotard.

But this has not been the British way. Insular histories of post-war British art have mostly avoided theory in favour of direct witness, elegantly tracing networks and encounters based on personal anecdotes.

Such testimonies have taken many forms: they range from Peppiatt’s own touching Francis Bacon in Your Blood to the newly-anointed Daily Mail editor Geordie Greig’s record of a Johnny-come-lately friendship with Lucian Freud, Breakfast with Lucian to Catherine Lampert’s magisterial Frank Auerbach: Speaking and Painting.

In the background, there is David Sylvester’s Interviews with Francis Bacon, the rich but unreliable text that all Bacon scholars have to mine. These narratives focus on a male group of figurative painters often referred to as the School of London.

This was the phrase initially used by Sylvester in 1950 as a riposte to North American artistic dominance. It was taken up again in 1976 by the American painter RB Kitaj, who spent much of his life over here. He identified what he saw as “a number of world-class painters… a School of real London, England, in Europe” that included 48 artists whose drawings he had acquired for the Arts Council. He had particular admiration for Auerbach, Bacon and David Hockney.

At first sight the trio appear to have little in common. But together with Freud they all operated at a remove from avant-garde practice. All four continued to use the pictorial devices of traditional painting, working observationally, employing perspective, using colour in loose relation to the lived world. The results were varied explorations of reality—personal painterly interrogations.

But they were pushing against the tide. By the 1970s painting of any kind was no longer regarded as an essential—or even an interesting—way of making art. The handcrafting of pictures, what the Marxist art historian John Roberts has dismissively described as “a continuous process of pushing, dabbing and pulling of paint across the surface,” had been challenged early in the 20th century by Cubism’s use of found materials in collage, and by Marcel Duchamp’s advocacy of a directorial role in which the artist organises, selects, copies and directs rather than simply paints.

By the 1980s, however, painting was making something of a comeback. The 1981 show The New Spirit in Painting, reinforced by British Art of the Twentieth Century in 1987, both staged at the Royal Academy, convincingly reinstated figuration. Since then figurative painting has continued to be reprised as a radical practice in numerous exhibitions and publications.

Now we have Martin Gayford’s entertaining Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney & the London Painters and, as a coincidental companion, the current show at Tate Britain All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life.

Gayford offers a persuasive history of painting in Britain from 1945 to around 1970. His book belongs firmly in the personal testimony camp, being partly based on the author’s numerous interviews over a long journalistic career. Although wonderfully vivid, it suggests the losses as well as the gains peculiar to a biographical approach. It opens with the 2013 sale at Christie’s of Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969).

At £89.6m, it became for a time the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction—more than a Van Gogh or Rembrandt. In the 1970s such stratospheric prices for either Bacon or Freud would have seemed highly unlikely. In Gayford’s account this trajectory reads like myth, as a tale of triumph over the odds, in which relative poverty and a measure of obscurity were ultimately vindicated by market recognition.

That representational art came back into fashion should come as no surprise. At its best such art helps us measure ourselves within the world. But there may be another reason for the retrospective success of painting from life. Much of the austere, abstract and conceptual art that had refreshed the art world in the 1970s has turned out to be ultimately less marketable, even if the 1990s saw Damien Hirst and the YBAs forge a more accessible and desirable brand of conceptualism.

One reason may be that such art, stripped of personal emotion and often focused on language, adds little to received ideas about the nature of artistic genius. Such ideas may be hopelessly stereotypical, but they are nonetheless remarkably potent and are usually communicated through well-honed anecdotes about the artist.

Anecdotes are more important than they sound. In 1934 the Austrian critics Ernst Kris and Otto Kurz identified a series of motifs that occur repeatedly in accounts of artists’ lives from classical times onwards. They include the idea of miraculous youthful talent that requires no training; the artist as dangerously rivalrous with peers; as socially alert, witty, and more intelligent than his critics and patrons.

Artists were seen to exercise unusual power over their models, and to be capable of great brutality in the service of creativity. Secretive about sources and techniques, they were committed to artistic labour to the exclusion of everyday concerns. The anecdotal approach was rejected by the modern discipline of art history in favour of documentary sources. But there is something undeniably haunting about such historico-mythic stories.

Gayford’s Modernists & Mavericks does include abstraction in his story of post-war painting, and argues persuasively for the porous nature of the abstract/figurative divide. But he also gives us stories in abundance that mostly relate to figurative artists.

So we learn of Freud, as a frighteningly precocious adolescent, opening the door naked to an important dealer. And of Bacon betraying no emotion as he attends his historic show at the Grand Palais, knowing that his lover and model has committed suicide. Hockney, at a loss at the Royal College of Art, embarks on a series of drawings of a skeleton with such skill that one fellow student—RB Kitaj—is overwhelmed.

In Gayford’s valorisation of genius women are in short supply. Even the greatest woman painter appears less likely to generate anecdotes of interlinking friendships and shared experiences of the kind that are chronicled here: so much turns on the male artist’s sometimes predatory relationship with his model. Pauline Boty blazes with beauty and talent for a few pages. Gillian Ayres (who died in April) and Bridget Riley find their place as great abstract artists and Prunella Clough, also ultimately abstract, is given a cameo role.

Does it matter? Gayford’s entertainingly seamless insights make outsiders feel like insiders. But on reflection much of what we learn is oddly familiar, part of the folk memory of the London art world—legend, myth and magic in the image of artist.

The current show at Tate Britain, All Too Human, is a helpful counterpoint to Gayford’s book. It adjusts a white male story by including the Indian artist Francis Newton Souza and, by coming up to the present day, includes five women: Paula Rego, given a room to herself, Celia Paul, Jenny Saville, Cecily Brown and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, a tempering of the ubiquity of the male gaze.

The strength of this exhibition lies in its focus on artists who offer an intense engagement with the observed subject, and its first rooms are dominated by the School of London. It is a show, almost without exception, of oil painting.

Acrylic hardly features save in one work by Michael Andrews (who worked lyrically with the medium) and another by Paula Rego, otherwise represented by some remarkable large pastels that reinstate the 18th-century conversation piece, stripped of gentility.

Bacon occasionally used acrylic emulsion for backgrounds, but as he explained to Sylvester: “I don’t think that generally people really understand how mysterious, in a way, the actual manipulation of oil paint is. Because moving—even unconsciously moving—the brush one way rather than the other will completely alter the implications of the image.”

This is, therefore, an exhibition about the mystery of oil paint, whether applied with great refinement in early portraits by Freud, or treated with anxious caution by -William Coldstream and Euan Uglow, or worked in churning impasto by Auerbach, the images surfacing battered, evanescent, just readable.

Although they worked with traditional materials, it is significant that none of these artists were Royal Academicians. In the first post-war decades, the Royal Academy was the home of exactly the kind of -figurative art from which Bacon, and Freud, Auerbach and Kossoff wished to distance themselves. From today’s perspective, though, the gulf between the Royal Academy and the RA refusniks appears narrower.

As Andrew Brighton points out in the All Too Human catalogue, both they and the RA traditionalists painted as if Cubism never happened. And does not early Freud have a good deal in common with the largely forgotten Academician - Norman Blamey? Can’t we make a comparison with Michael Andrew’s multi-figure compositions and those by Leonard Rosoman? Why have a show about British figurative painting and leave out Carel Weight?

Both Gayford’s book and this exhibition should be celebrated in the context of a boom time for fresh research into post-war British painting, proving that dissecting British art need not be a parochial exercise. But perhaps the time for testimony is over, in favour of attending to what was not said, and making the connections that artists themselves chose not to make.



Bacon and Giacometti remain as elusive as ever at the Fondation Beyeler







                                      Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon (1965) Graham Keen.


When an exhibition brings together two modern artists who didn’t work together, never thought of themselves as part of a common movement, forged their careers in different countries and met for the first time only a few years before one of them died, one usually has misgivings of false connections and strained comparisons. With ‘Bacon–Giacometti’ at the Fondation Beyeler, however, the worry is that the two artists will go together far too well.

There may not have been an existentialist movement in art but, since the early 1950s, critics have been yoking Bacon and Giacometti together as the two pre-eminent illustrators of Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy. In some respects, their reasoning is clear. Placing a premium on individual freedom, existentialism sought to position itself in opposition to the abstract, essentialising conceptions of human life and its worth that, Sartre contended, linked the European philosophical tradition to the horrors of the concentration camps. By eschewing the contemporary predilection for abstract art, turning instead to the human figure, Bacon and Giacometti were understood as having involved themselves in the same project. But existentialism has often been reduced to a hackneyed vocabulary of the void, a kind of proto-gothspeak that renders the freedom of the individual a kind of isolation, and even a punishment – ‘Man is condemned to be free’, in Sartre’s oft-quoted phrase. By association, the art of Bacon and Giacometti has come to seem for many like two kindred howls into the abyss; Sartre himself likened Giacometti’s etiolated sculptures to the survivors of Auschwitz, while the critic David Sylvester, who was so influential in popularising both artists in the UK, writes memorably about Bacon’s ‘screams’.

However, any fears of finding oneself trapped in an existentialist prison at the Beyeler are dispelled in the exhibition’s opening room. Screams and cages seem to dominate at first – from a wrought-iron enclosure hangs the plaster head of Giacometti’s The Nose (1947–49), its mouth open in a frozen scream that finds an echo across the room in Bacon’s Head VI (1949), one of his grotesque interpretations of Velazquez’s Pope Innocent X. Yet it soon becomes apparent that the two artists are interested in not only constructing prisons, but breaking out of them too. The Pinocchio-like organ of Giacometti’s sculpture punctures the imaginary partition of air that is established between skull and viewer by the bars; meanwhile, the bars in Bacon’s painting are as evanescent as his pope’s head and vacillate between white and black, presence and absence. Both works are, at first glance, terrifying manifestations of the human figure – but look a little longer, and they also reveal their creators’ shared obsession with fixing and unfixing the appearance of the figure in the perspective of the viewer, establishing and dissolving equilibrium.

In the airy, daylit galleries of the Fondation Beyeler, it is this formal restiveness that comes to the fore. Certain well-chosen biographical coincidences help to tie the show together – not least the influence on both artists of the painter Isabel Rawsthorne, who introduced them in the early 1960s. An encounter with Rawsthorne in the late ’30s was an important spur for Giacometti; he saw her at ‘some distance away’ on the Boulevard Saint-Michel one night, and embarked over the proceeding years on a series of sculptures, radically reduced in scale so as to ‘give her the size she had at that distance’. Rawsthorne also appears in a great number of Bacon’s arresting portraits of the ’60s, where the features warp and the flesh of the subject retains all of the viscous, fluid qualities of the oil paint that constitutes it. this meeting of contrasts – Giacometti’s upright, stony figures; Bacon’s prone, fleshly blobs – what impresses is how each art

As you follow the progression of both artists’ depictions of Rawsthorne, it becomes clear that the value of an exhibition like this is not in the search for similarities, which would risk collapsing what makes each artist distinctive. Rather, the exhibition brings their differences into focus, and celebrates the sparks generated by the friction of the encounter. This point is made most powerfully in the central room, where the power of Giacometti’s giant Walking Man sculptures is heightened both by the sheer amount of space the Beyeler has given them and by the vast canvases by Bacon on the walls. Most impressive is the Three Studies of Figures on Beds triptych of 1972; here, Bacon’s earlier use of cages to structure the picture space has given way to ambiguous spirals, which establish the wildly distorted positions of the lying figures as though the viewer is looking through a magnifying glass. The bodies appear rigid in their contortions – and yet, the spirals are pronged with cartoon arrows, inscribing signs of movement into the composition. In this meeting of contrasts – Giacometti’s upright, stony figures; Bacon’s prone, fleshly blobs – what impresses is how each artist has, on his own terms, managed to create an object that both moves and is still.

The show concludes with a slideshow of snaps from the two artists’ studios. It almost seems a bit of a let down. They’re projected in a darkened room – on to the floor, images of the scraps that littered Bacon’s home, all those reproductions of paintings and photographs he snipped out of books and magazines; across two walls, a life-size cross-section of Giacometti’s Montparnasse quarters that emphasises how cramped they were. Having done so much to release the two artists from the straitjacket of perceptions about their personalities, it’s as though the curators have strapped them back in at the final moment. But if a joint statement emerges from this impressive display of paintings and sculptures, it’s that the work of neither artist can submit to these constraints for long.

‘Bacon-Giacometti’ is at the Fondation Beyeler until 2 September.




“Bacon — Giacometti” Joint Exhibition at Fondation Beyeler, Basel





The works of two giants of Modern Art, Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon, are being exhibited together in a landmark exhibition at Fondation Beyeler. The outstanding creators’ works will be compared and contrasted at the Basel museum until September 3, 2018.

In this first-ever joint exhibition where the creative vision and powerful influence the two artists exerted are explored, illuminating the relationship between the two artistic personalities

Bacon and Giacometti did not meet until the early 1960s when they were introduced by British painter Isabel Rawsthorne.  By 1965, their friendship had grown close enough for Bacon to visit Giacometti at the Tate Gallery in London, where he was setting up a retrospective. “Bacon — Giacometti” bring out both the similarities and differences that ran through the works of this artists. It presents around 100 thematically arranged works, spread across nine rooms

The exhibition juxtaposed the similarities in the works of Bacon and Giacometti as direct comparisons. Themes in the exhibition include the artists’ obsession with depicting the human head; the representation of movement in painting and sculpture; love and violence; and the use of cage-like structures to create space and perspective.

“Bacon and Giacometti were united by an unwavering belief in the importance of the human figure. They were intensely concerned with the role of tradition and the Old Masters, whom they studied, copied and paraphrased. Both of them engaged with the problem of the two and three-dimensional representation of space, integrating cage-like structures into their works as a means of isolating figures in their surroundings. Both occupied themselves with the fragmented and deformed body and shared an obsession with portraiture and the depiction of human individuality. Both claimed to be ‘realists,’ taking the human figure as their main point of reference, yet exploring — each in his own way — new extremes of abstraction, and thereby challenging the antithesis of figuration and abstraction that played such a central part in the history of Modern Art,” writes Fondation Beyeler

The exhibition brings together a selection of well-known works as well as rarely shown ones by both artists. A series of original plaster figures from Giacometti’s estate that have never been publicly displayed before and four triptychs by Bacon are special highlights.

The exhibition will be on view through September 2, 2018, at Fondation Beyeler, Baselstrasse 101, 4125 Basel, Switzerland.




The lives of the artists, brought to you by Willem Defoe


Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world.

Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.




Willem Dafoe has been on quite an artistic journey – or rather, a journey via the lives of the artists. Next month, the actor will appear at the Beyeler Foundation in Basel to read from interviews conducted by the legendary critic David Sylvester with the artists Francis Bacon and Alberto Giacometti.

When it comes to Giacometti, Rakewell wonders whether Dafoe will get close to matching the beguilingly crotchety performance of Geoffrey Rush in Final Portrait. Well, maybe: Dafoe is a dab hand at impersonating historical figures, after all, with turns as Pier Paolo Pasolini (in Pasolini), T.S. Eliot (in Tom & Viv) and, erm, Jesus (in The Last Temptation of Christ). And he recently finished a stint as Vincent Van Gogh, playing the much-pained painter in Julian Schnabel’s forthcoming film, At Eternity’s Gate.

But Dafoe hasn’t always had the blue-chip roles. In Schnabel’s Basquiat he appears as a sculptor who has given up on success. ‘It’s good to have something to fall back on,’ Dafoe’s character tells the young Jean-Michel. ‘That’s why I became an electrician’.






Want your stolen portrait back? Bring us £100,000 cash: What gangsters told Francis Bacon after taking his famous likeness, painted by Lucian Freud, from Berlin art gallery 30 years ago


Mail on Sunday can reveal that Bacon received a ransom demand a year later





   Portrait Of Francis Bacon was spirited out of Berlin's National Gallery 30 years ago. Pictured: Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud


It is one of the art world's great unsolved mysteries – the daring theft of Lucian Freud's portrait of fellow artist Francis Bacon.

The masterpiece, Portrait Of Francis Bacon, disappeared without trace after it was removed from its wire frame and spirited out of Berlin's National Gallery 30 years ago.

But The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Bacon received a ransom demand a year later in 1989 and was apparently poised to recover the work – only for the operation to be wrecked by a police blunder.

Barry Joule, Bacon's close friend and neighbour in London's South Kensington, has now revealed that the artist received a phone call in his studio from 'a tough-sounding East End man, probably an associate of the Krays'.

Joule recalls: '[The gangster] told him, 'If you want to get yer face picture back, get £100K together and wait by the phone for a call at noon exactly.' '

Francis called Joule who drove his black Porsche to pick up Bacon from his studio and take him to his flat. Even though he didn't own the painting, Bacon then panicked and stuffed £140,000 into a satchel, reappearing 'sweating and nervous'.

Instead he alerted the head of security at the Tate gallery, which had bought the picture in 1952 from Freud and had loaned it to the German museum in 1988 when it was stolen.

Then they went back to the studio to await the noon call, but it never came. Leaving the studio several hours later the two men spotted 'three undercover policemen' in a Ford Fiesta. Joule said they all had their 'heads buried in newspapers'.

Convinced the gangsters must also have spotted them, Bacon shouted angrily at the officers.

For weeks afterwards, Bacon 'remained paranoid that the Krays and associates would be 'out to get me for grassing to the police',' said Joule, who added: 'If it wasn't for policemen sitting in their car right outside the building, Francis might have got the stolen painting back.' In a recorded interview with Joule three months after the ransom blunder, Bacon spoke of 'how much the police have gone down in my estimation'.

The 7in x 5in oil on copper was one of the few Freud paintings Bacon really liked, so much so he kept a photograph of it in his kitchen.

Freud later plastered Berlin with 'Wanted' posters of the image, offering a £100,000 reward for its recovery so he could include it in a retrospective of his work.

Although the Tate has never claimed the insurance money, because it has hoped to be reunited with the painting, Bacon, who died in 1992, was more pessimistic. 'Most likely it was burnt,' he says on the recording.

The Tate continues to list the painting in its catalogue, simply noting 'not on display'.

In 2004, Joule gave the Tate 1,200 Bacon sketches. They were then valued at about £20million.

He kept about 120 sketches, and he is lending some to an exhibition in Italy, at the Foundation Sorrento museum, in Sorrento, which opens today and runs until October 21.



         Bacon (pictured) 'remained paranoid that the Krays and associates would be 'out to get me for grassing to the police'



Devastatingly Human






The gripping and dramatic show “All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life” merits its title: it is “all too human” in the tender, painful works that form its core. But “a century of painting life” promises something wider—does it smack of marketing, a lure to bring people in? In fact, the heart of the show is narrower and more interesting, illustrating the competing and overlapping streams of painterly obsession in London in the second half of the twentieth century. It shows us how, in their different ways, painters such as Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach, R.B. Kitaj, and Paula Rego redefined realism. In defiance of the dominant abstract trend, they teased and stretched the practice and impact of representational art. “What I want to do,” Francis Bacon said in 1966, “is to distort the thing far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance.” In this show, terms like “realism” and “human” take on new meaning and power.

The exhibition begins, cleverly, with some forebears of these London artists, pre-war painters who looked with intensity at the lives, settings, and landscapes that most affected them, and used paint in a highly personal way to convey not only what they saw, but what they felt. It feels odd, at first, to walk into a show that claims to be about “life” and find a landscape rather than a life-study, yet the urgent, textured use of paint in Chaïm Soutine’s earthy landscapes, as well as his distorted figures and the raw strength of The Butcher Stall (circa 1919), with its hanging carcasses, had a profound impact on Francis Bacon. In a similar way, all the works in this first room reach toward the future: Stanley Spencer’s portraits of his second wife, Patricia Preece, clothed and naked, stare out with the unpitying confidence of Lucian Freud’s early portraits. Sickert’s dark portrayals of London prostitutes—his attempt to give “the sensation of a page torn from the book of life”—anticipate the unsentimental nudes of Freud and Euan Uglow (no relation to me). David Bomberg’s layered, arid Spanish landscapes point toward the scumbled, perspectiveless scenes of Kossoff and Auerbach. 

Nothing, however, prepares one for the tender ferocity of Bacon’s isolated, entrapped figures. In the earliest of these, the large canvas of Figure in a Landscape (1945), a curled-up, almost human form appears to be submerged in a desert—we see his arm and part of his body, but the legs of his suit hang, empty, over a bench. This is masculinity destroyed. The sense of desperation is even stronger in Bacon’s paintings of animals, such as Dog (1952), in which the dog whirls like a dervish, absorbed in chasing its tail, while cars speed by on a palm-bordered freeway, or Study of a Baboon (1953), where the monkey flies and howls against the mesh of a fence. In their struggles, these animals are the fellows of Bacon’s “screaming popes”: in Study after Velazquez (1950), a businessman in a dark suit, jaws wrenched open in a silent yell, is trapped behind red bars that fall like a curtain of blood. The curators connect Bacon’s postwar angst with Giacometti’s elongated statues, isolated in space, and to the philosophy of existentialism. Yet Bacon’s vehement brushstrokes speak of energy and involvement, physical, not cerebral responses. In Study for Portrait II (after the Life Mask of William Blake) (1955), you feel the urgent vision behind the lidded eyes. He cares, passionately.

This was a postcolonial as well as a postwar world, a point made abruptly by devoting a room to the work of F.N. Souza, who came to London from Bombay in 1949, and worked here until he left for New York in 1967. Despite Souza’s popularity at the time, and the range of sacred and profane references that link him uneasily to Bacon, his stark religious iconography feels out of keeping with the bodily compulsion of Bacon’s work and the new streams of influence shaping  what R.B. Kitaj named “the School of London.”

One of these streams flowed from the Slade, where William Coldstream was professor of Fine Art and the young Lucian Freud was a visiting tutor. Here, in a very different way to Bacon, you feel the pressure of flesh. Coldstream believed that artists should work without preconceptions, through minute, painstaking observation, fixing “reality” with measurement, allowing the subject to emerge slowly on the canvas. His Seated Nude (1952–1953) was painted over at least thirty sittings of about two hours each—no wonder the model looks glazed. His pupil Euan Uglow adopted this technique, setting his figures against a geometric grid. It gives them an eerie physicality. (I’m not the only person to stand in front of his 1953–1954 Woman with White Skirt and say, “Paula Rego.”) Uglow is famous for telling a model, “Nobody has ever looked at you as intensely as I have.” Over time, his control of detail and setting became obsessive, but his piercing gaze and careful technique remained, rendering his subjects at once solid and dreamlike, their inner spirit elusive but embodied.  

In the 1950s, Uglow’s belief in the value of minute observation was shared by Freud, who admitted, as Emma Chambers writes in the exhibition catalogue, to a “visual aggression” toward his sitters: “I would sit very close and stare. It could be uncomfortable for both of us.” His paintings from this period, delicately wrought with a fine sable brush, are almost hallucinatory in their detail, with a Pre-Raphaelite veracity of sheen and texture. We see the softness of material, the fur of the dog. And how exposed and alarmed his first wife, Kitty Garman, looks in the extraordinary Girl with a White Dog (1950–1951), in her pale green dressing gown with one white, veined breast revealed. 

At the same time as Coldstream was instilling in his students the virtues of precision and measurement, David Bomberg was inspiring his pupils at the Borough Polytechnic in South London from 1946 to 1953 with a far freer, more tactile approach. To Bomberg, painting was about the “feeling” and experience of form, not its mere appearance. His own work conveyed the sense of mass in fluid, sensuous oils, and young artists such as Frank Auerbach, Dennis Creffield, Leon Kossoff, and Dorothy Mead flocked to his classes. Often working outdoors, as Bomberg did, Auerbach and Kossoff painted the settings they knew, showing a new London rising from the old, driving across the canvas in slabs of paint and thick encrustations. Auerbach’s Rebuilding the Empire Cinema, Leicester Square (1962) and Kossoff’s Building Site, Victoria Street (1961) are so tactile that they make you want to trace the lines with your hand, while the sticky ridges of Auerbach’s Head of E.O.W. I (1959–1960)—so strong from a distance, so baffling up close—seem as much sculpture as painting. 

Again and again in this exhibition, we move from the exchange of ideas and influences to the individual vision. Some works, indeed, are so drenched in emotion that they produce ripples of shock. The intimacy of Freud’s work is intensified when he moves, around 1960, from minute, close-up fidelity to large, expressive brushstrokes. In his later paintings, he catches the twist of muscles, the sweat on the skin, the pride and fullness of bodies in sleep, as in the great Leigh Bowery (1991), showing Bowery, a performance artist with a body of billowy corpulence,  with his head slumped gently on his shoulder, or in Sleeping by the Lion Carpet (1996), where Sue Tilley—“Big Sue,”  Bowery’s cashier at his Taboo night club and a benefits supervisor at the Charing Cross JobCentre—dozes safely before a predatory image.

By the 1960s, when Freud was subjecting his models to hours and days of sitting, Bacon was standing back, using photographs rather than live models. One room here shows a selection of portraits he commissioned from the photographer John Deakin. These are direct, intimate, and suggestive, but when Bacon explores the human form, the effect is very different. Bodies and heads become twisted, swollen, contorted. In his Study for a Portrait of P.L. (1962), painted in the year of Lacy’s death, after ten years of their turbulent, sometimes violent relationship, the internal and sexual organs seem to bulge through their covering. Two years later, his Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud emphasized the strong torso, the fierce expression, the unnerving clarity of Freud’s gaze. These are psychological as much as physical studies. In the moving Triptych (1974–1977), an unusual outdoor, light-filled work, the body beneath the umbrella writhes on the deserted beach, as Bacon mourns the death of his lover, George Dyer. But beyond them, the clear sky suggests a slow, painful coming to terms with loss—the promise of new life , or at least oblivion, in the deep blue of the sea beyond?

Bacon’s solitary figures are, paradoxically, imbued with a feeling of relationship. The same is true of Freud’s portraits, of his wife, his mother, his daughter, his friends. The intimacy of the family is also part of what it means to be “all too human.” Michael Andrews, for example, intrigued by Bacon’s use of photography, worked from a color photograph of a holiday in Scotland for his darkly beautiful Melanie and Me Swimming(1978–1979), spray-painted in acrylic. This feels like a moment swimming out of time into memory. And sometimes the sociability of London’s artistic life is itself  commemorated. In Colony Room I (1962), Andrews painted the Colony Club, where Bacon, Freud, and Deakin drank with Soho’s artists and writers. “Life,” in the sense of a community, also fills R.B. Kitaj’s brilliant group scenes, such as Cecil Court, London W.C.2. (The Refugees) (1983–1984). His crowded, colorful The Wedding (1989–1993) celebrates not only his marriage to Sandra Fisher but his friendships—with Auerbach, Freud, Kossoff, and David Hockney, among others.

Hockney’s work is inexplicably absent here, and so, up to this point in the show, are works by women, apart from a blurry, atmospheric nude by Dorothy Mead.  But suddenly, you turn a corner, and there is Paula Rego. The streams of the London School flow together. Rego came from Portugal when she was sixteen to finish her education, and from 1952 to 1956 she studied at the Slade under Coldstream, alongside Andrews, Uglow, and her future husband, Victor Willing. As Victor slowly declined from multiple sclerosis, her painting became increasingly personal. The Family (1988), painted in the last months of his life, shows two women helping him take off his jacket—yet there is a strange undertone here: they seem to be shuffling him into the grave. The feeling  is curiously sinister, perhaps reflecting Rego’s awareness that women—always the carers—are often so intimate with death. The little shrine in the background may show George slaying the dragon, but above him stands St. Joan, the martyred, martial saint.

Rego has often used stories to uncover the depths of our humanity, exposing the shattered dreams and desires of women across time. In Bride (1994), the bride lies back awkwardly, as if her wedding dress were a strait-jacket. In the trilogy The Betrothal: Lessons: The Shipwreck, after ‘Marriage a la Mode’ by Hogarth (1999), Hogarth’s moral tale of greed and disease, a mockery of the dream family, is reworked in the fashions of her own childhood.

By contrast, the final room—apart from Celia Paul’s Family Group (1984–1986) and the powerfully interior Painter and Model (2012)—feels like a token addition, a nervous nod to gender and diversity. Jenny Saville, Cecily Brown, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye are fine artists, but they belong in a different narrative. A misstep, yet “All Too Human” remains an extraordinary exhibition, full of works of deep seriousness and bold, brave fidelity to life. For me, it ends with Rego’s bitingly honest work. With her bold, distinctive use of outline and color, and her mighty sympathy for human pain and longing, her paintings show life in all its senses.

“All Too Human: Bacon, Freud, and a Century of Painting Life” is at the Tate  through August 27.



                                                  Francis Bacon: Dog, 1952; Tate




Out with the old, in with the new, with a side of Bacon, at Philips and Christie's $528.8m auction night


New record for Joan Mitchell as fresh artists join the $10m-and-up club—but Bacon and Basquiat still dominate top prices in New York




“It’s a bad time to be a white male artist”, quips the art advisor Lisa Schiff, but the joke rang true at the evening sales of post-war and contemporary art at Phillips and Christie’s on 17 May. The results confirmed the pattern set at Sotheby's the previous night and in record-setting day sales this week: the market is strong, expanding and in search of freshness. “There is an appetite and a hunger for great things”, says the advisor Abigail Asher, of Guggenheim Asher, “but the energy feels different.”

Bacon tops Christie's contemporary offering

Swivelling across Fifth Avenue to Rockefeller Center, the crowd seemed to lose some energy in the transfer, but Christie’s 64-lot post-war and contemporary auction realised $397.2m, just north of last year's result.

The second lot, David Hockney’s oil on canvas Antheriums (1995, est $2.5m-$3.5m), sparked a three-way tussle that landed at $5.6m (with fees), a coda to the strong prices seen for Hockney elsewhere this week. But it was lot six that opened the floodgates—Joan Mitchell’s sunny, heavily daubed canvas Blueberry (1969; est $5m-7m), painted the year after Mitchell moved from Paris to the countryside of Vetheuil, which signalled a fertile period for the artist, at least seven bidders were in the chase, including contestants in the room and on the phone with Christie’s Asia head Rebecca Wei, before the hammer finally fell at $14.5m, or $16.6m with fees, a new record for the late artist.

Immediately after came Francis Bacon’s Study for Portrait (1977), an anguished portrayal of the artist’s lover, George Dyer, who committed suicide in 1971, in his studio. As head of sale Ana Maria Celis noted in advance of the auction, this the only full-length painting of Dyer to appear on the auction block since 2014, when Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966) made $70.2m at Christie’s London. This one, estimated around $30m, rang up $49.8m with fees, offered by a determined client on the phone with Renato Pennisi of Christie’s Milan. It was the highest price of the week for a contemporary work.

The Bacon was trailed by Andy Warhol’s silvered Double Elvis (Ferus Type) (1963), which had sold for $37m from Steve Wynn at Sotheby’s in 2012 and went for the same price to dealer Brett Gorvy, of Lévy Gorvy, on his cell phone in the room. He and business partner Dominique Lévy wound up bidding against each other on the priciest Richard Diebenkorn of the night, Ocean Park #126 (1984), which lodged just north of its high estimate at $23.9m with fees. The work was part of a passel of 12 Diebenkorns consigned from the collection of Donald and Barbara Zucker and sold to benefit their family foundation. Demand largely met that volume, though with a preference for the later abstractions over early figurative works. Altogether, the Zucker lots contributed $43m to the total.

It was not a great night for the postwar and contemporary titans who have dominated the category in recent years. A Donald Judd wall stack, a Dan Flavin “monument” for V Tatlin, and a sombre Clyfford Still were among the scant number of buy-ins. Works by Jeff Koons, Yves Klein, Damien Hirst, Christopher Wool, and Agnes Martin sold but on the low end of their estimates.




$49.8 M. Francis Bacon Portrait Leads Solid $397.1 M. Christie's Contemporary Sale  






Anchored by a powerful Francis Bacon cover-lot portrait, Christie’s closed the season’s evening auctions in New York on Thursday night with a postwar and contemporary art sale in a subdued room that nevertheless brought in a strong $397.1 million, reaffirming its standing as the market leader over its arch-rival Sotheby’s.

The tally, including fees, surged past the auction’s $320 million presale low estimate, but Christie’s didn’t provide a high estimate for comparison, due to five lots being “estimate on request” as well as a general lack of transparency. Six of the 64 lots offered failed to sell, for a trim buy-in rate by lot of 9 percent, and the total hammer was $343.5 million.

Tonight’s result, including fees, trailed last May’s more robust $448 million sale over 68 lots, led by Cy Twombly’s Leda and the Swan (1962), which fetched $52.8 million.

Forty-eight of the 58 offerings that sold this evening made over a million dollars and of those, seven sold for over $15 million. Better yet, seven artist records were set.

A huge number of lots were backed by guarantees—37 lots from third parties and five from the house. In all, then, 42 of the 64 offerings had financial backing, assuring success.

(All prices reported include the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium, which is 25 percent of the hammer up to and including $250,000, 20 percent on that part of the hammer above $250,000 and up to and including $4 million, and 12.5 percent for anything beyond that number.)

There was also high-end action on the figurative painting front, with Francis Bacon’s searing and iconic cover lot, Study for Portrait (1977), bearing a ghostly likeness to the artist’s lover George Dyer who committed suicide in October 1971, two days before the opening of Bacon’s career defining-retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris. It sparked a bidding battle between a trio of telephone bidders, finally going down at a hammer price of $44 million ($49.8 million with fees) against an estimate on request in the region of $30 million.

The seller acquired the painting from Marlborough Gallery in Vaduz, Lichtenstein, in May 1977, at a time when his paintings were selling for under $50,000 at auction. Market intel suggests the painting arrived at auction after making the rounds on the private market for a long stretch.

“It’s a really strong price and a very good subject,” said London dealer and Bacon expert Pilar Ordovas as she exited the salesroom, “but the subject [George Dyer] simply isn’t enough, as we know.”

Ordovas was referring to the fact that other Bacon portraits of Dyer have fetched as much as $70 million at auction, which is what Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966) made at Christie’s London in February 2014. Still, tonight’s Bacon ranks as the highest-priced postwar and contemporary works of the season.

The work is based on a studio photo by John Deakin in which Dyer is seated bare-chested in his white undershorts, his head swiveled to one side as if avoiding the gaze of the viewer. Bacon never painted from life, always from photographs.




            Francis Bacon, Study for Portrait, 1977, oil and dry-transfer lettering on canvas, sold for $49.8 million







Michael Peppiatt: An intimate portrait of Francis Bacon



Beyeler Museum AG, Baselstrasse 101, 4125 Riehen/Basel





Michael Peppiatt, co-curator of the Bacon–Giacometti exhibition, at the Fondation Beyeler, was a close personal friend of Francis Bacon for decades. Peppiatt lives in London and Paris.

Alberto Giacometti (1901 – 1966) and Francis Bacon (1909 – 1992) had a decisive influence on the art of the twentieth century. This exhibition brings the two artists together for the first time. Different as their art may initially appear, the joint presentation of their work reveals many surprising similarities.

Bacon and Giacometti both take the human figure as their main point of artistic reference. Both occupy themselves with the fragmented and deformed body. Moreover, they devote themselves to portraiture and the depiction of human individuality in an almost obsessive manner. Both claimed to be “realists,” while exploring new extremes of abstraction.

Giacometti and Bacon worked surrounded by clutter, in exceptionally small and cramped studios. These two spaces, the centers of their creativity, have been reconstructed specially for the exhibition as full-scale multimedia projections that provide a vivid insight into the artists’ work environment.

The exhibition comprises 100 paintings and sculptures from major museums and private collections in Europe and the USA. It has been organized by the Fondation Beyeler in cooperation with the Fondation Giacometti, Paris, the administrator of the artist’s estate, which has made available most of the works by Giacometti presented here, some of which are rarely exhibited or have never been publicly displayed before. The exhibition is curated by Catherine Grenier, Michael Peppiatt and Ulf Küster. 




  Modernists and Mavericks:


   Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters by Martin Gayford


      A superb biography of the postwar painters whose fresh techniques and ideas energised art captures their resolve – and the bond between them






                    Timothy Behrens, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews at Wheeler’s restaurant, Soho, 1963. Photograph: John Deakin



n 1942, which is roughly when Martin Gayford’s capacious new survey of postwar art begins, London was partially in ruins, many of its streets reduced to piles of rubble and buckled iron. “The silence, the absolute dead silence,” remembered Graham Sutherland f his first encounter with such desolation (commissioned by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee to record the devastation of the blitz, he had travelled into the city from his house in Kent). Its buildings seemed to him to resemble living, suffering creatures; a lift shaft, twisted and yet still clearly visible in the remains of one structure, looked like “a wounded tiger in a painting by Delacroix”. Where, though, did art fit among all this? Even as Sutherland sketched, this must have seemed an impossible, not to say obscene, question. But of course there was, undeniably, beauty here, too: beguiling new silhouettes, sulphurous new colours. And quite soon, there would also be an opening sense of possibility. New energies were stirring, their shoots taking hold just like those of the pink willow herb that would shortly colonise the dead buildings.

It is these energies, daring, indomitable and deeply contradictory, that Gayford hopes to capture in Modernists & Mavericks – and as he begins, gamely describing the strange house in St John’s Wood that Lucian Freud and John Craxton began sharing in the same year (the floors were covered, for whatever reason, with broken glass, and the walls decorated with every possible kind of hat), you wonder how on earth he’ll do it. Flux is almost as hard to pin to the page as so-called genius. Try to ensnare the peculiar, perfectionist spirits of men such as Freud, Francis Bacon and Frank Auerbach, setting them in context and unpicking their mysterious, stubbornly unspoken processes, and you risk draining them of all their power, wringing them out like so many dishcloths. Somehow, though, he pulls it off. This is a panorama, one that feels in some senses definitive (largely, perhaps, because he has the guts to turn periodically away from the most famous figures of the time, the better to allow other names – David Bomberg, say, or Victor Pasmore – a look in). But it also swirls excitingly. Even the long, drawn-out conflict between abstraction and figuration appears here not as some dry, academic thing, but as the very air artists breathed – and on which some of them would end up choking.

Gayford takes a chronological path, finishing up at the back end of the 60s, with Bridget Riley and David Hockney; his interests lie solely with London, and with paint. Inside these boundaries, however, each movement, each important teacher, each plucky gallerist, stakes their own claim on the territory, however briefly. This is a book about community and influence; about the connections, sometimes powerfully strong and sometimes only thread-like, between artists of dizzying talent and wildly varying impulses. It is a pull-me-push-me kind of a narrative, its protagonists being much given to repudiating techniques and ideas – and, inevitably, to repudiating their various repudiations. In the end, you feel Auerbach sums it up best when he talks of borders that must be crossed not once, but again and again. To take one position or another is to hit a dead end. To be permanently in motion, on the other hand, is to touch the sky.

It’s also, being a book about the waxing and waning of reputations, an extended cautionary tale. People tend to forget, now, how low Freud’s star had fallen by the early 60s; how long his paintings then stayed in the racks at his gallery, how rapidly his gambling debts piled up (not that he cared: “I felt I was living on a private income,” he once said). Still, he kept going. Nearly all the artists in Modernists & Mavericks have what Walter Sickert, a presiding influence over many of them, referred to as “self-preservation in a talent”. They safeguarded their instincts and thus were able to break, almost unwittingly, the various artistic taboos of the day. Freud stuck to his process – factual, as he put it, but never literal – like glue, even as abstraction threatened to wipe out his kind entirely. “They were fascists,” recalled Gillian Ayres, of her brilliant tutors at Camberwell School of Art (she was taught by, among others, John Minton, a “dangerous” dancer, before he grew so sad and sour). Hockney filled his canvasses with love and happiness, emotions generally disdained by the avant garde. Patrick Caulfield, determined to retain his “own sensation”, proudly indulged his instincts for the decorative, then the dirtiest word in the studio. In the face of the popularity in the 60s both of grit and of glamour, Michael Andrews painfully turned out paintings so numinous, even other artists could not account for his “touch”.

Bacon, though, never went out of fashion; the idea that he ever will is preposterous. Gayford knew Freud: he could be said to have a particular connection with the artist, having famously had his portrait painted by him. In this book, though, it’s Freud’s one-time friend – his second wife, Caroline Blackwood, complained that she had dinner with Bacon every night for almost the entirety of her marriage – who appears as the abiding genius of the age: fast where Freud is slow, free where he is ever hunkered down, the “total consternation” people felt on seeing his Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion in 1944 still present and correct even when you stumble, as here, on a mere reproduction of it (confronted with it too suddenly, I can hardly move, the familiar adjectives rolling in like waves: appalling, terrifying, brilliant, unsurpassed).

Gayford deploys Bacon’s voice to brilliant effect, and you hang on to every word, from his conviction that he wanted his pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, leaving a trace of human presence “as a snail leaves its slime”, to his sudden, hungry observation, made one sunny day in Soho, that a horizontal shadow “eats into the figure, like a disease”. He painted from photos because he didn’t like people watching him committing “the injury that I did them in my work”. He wanted to combine the sense of reality that could be found in the greatest pictures of Velázquez and Rembrandt with the chance effects of, as Gayford puts it, “ceding conscious control”. In the early part of his career, his relationship with paint was so symbiotic, he mixed it on his arm (this habit eventually, by one account, gave him turpentine poisoning, at which point he switched from oil to acrylic). In Modernists & Mavericks, then, he is inevitably the star around which all the other planets orbit. Wherever you look, however wide your eyes, he is always calling; screaming, in fact. There he is, louder and more wondrous than ever: the fleshy embodiment of inspiration, the ne plus ultra of the heroic brushstroke.

Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters by Martin Gayford is published by Thames & Hudson (£24.95).





Drink-Up Pay-Up F-Off: Tales from the Colony – London’s Lost Bohemia





Darren Coffield’s new book “Tales from the Colony: the Lost Bohemia of Bacon, Belcher and Board” is an authorised history of London’s most notorious arts club. The Colony Room Club was dominated, indeed created, by two personalities – its owner and founder, Muriel Belcher, a tough, sharp-tongued veteran of the Soho drinking club scene, who opened the Colony Room in 1949; and the artist Francis Bacon who was one of her first customers, and became Belcher’s co-conspirator when she paid him a retainer to bring in his rich pals. Ian Board served behind the bar at the Club for 46 years, first as Muriel’s barman and after her death as proprietor.

Ten years after it closed, and almost seventy since it opened, this book puts the record straight by drawing on a wealth of new material taken from audio tapes given to Coffield by the Colony’s last proprietor Michael Wojas. This includes previously unpublished interviews with Jeffrey Bernard, Daniel Farson, Ian Board and Francis Bacon, who, as one would expect, gives his outspoken opinion of some of the members. Coffield has also tracked down many leading habitués and conducted interviews that feature their personal reminiscences and memories that range from the poignant to the vitriolic. This wealth of material is accompanied by many unpublished photos from the Club. The Club has become the stuff of Soho myth, the truth often lost in a fuddled alcoholic mist, but Coffield explains: “the aim of this book is to give the reader a flavour of what it was like to frequent the Colony and its environs by using the authentic voices of those who were actually there.”

The draconian licensing laws, whereby the pubs were closed from 3 pm to 6 pm created a mid-afternoon vacuum filled by over 200 small members clubs and “bottle parties” in the West End. While many of these of these disappeared over time, especially after the introduction of all-day opening in 1988, the death knell for much of Soho, The Colony Room Club survived – a continuous party from 1949 to 2008 that you could drop in and out of.

Imagine a tiny room, the size of a modest living room, at the top of an undistinguished staircase behind an anonymous door on Soho’s Dean Street. The walls were a distinctive but rather bilious green, and there was a bar at one end and a single unisex toilet at the other. Coffield describes it as a “theatre of hate” where the vituperative regulars gave as good as they got. Strategically placed mirrors enabled both staff and drinkers to keep an eye on each other, and the modest space even hosted cabaret nights, giving many performers, the Magic Numbers, for instance, their first break. Soho regular Edwina “Eddi” McPherson sums it up:

“The club was like a performance space. They were being watched and were watching themselves in the mirrors. I would go to the club in the afternoon. The odd afternoon hours were always the best time to meet the most eccentric members – people who don’t actually work.”

The Club’s reputation for louche characters hurling insults at each other, and the owner’s habitual and convivial greeting of “hello cunty”, made for a perfect Soho mix of class, colour and status. The Aristocracy rubbed shoulders with poets, painters, writers, tailors, sailors, editors, African chiefs, Lords, landowners, barrow boys, musicians, singers, strippers, stagehands and petty crooks as the club’s membership ran the whole gamut of types, trades and professions who lived or worked in London’s West End. Purchased bottles of champagne were kept behind the bar, and a well-heeled member would often find their bottle mysteriously low, while a more impecunious member at the other end of the bar had a full glass, care of the caring bar staff. Noms de guerre were popular at the Colony: they included: Twiggy, Hitler, Brian the burglar and Butterlegs (apparently so called because they spread so easily!) People went there for sanctuary, and Coffield claims that 30 years on, he still doesn’t know what many people that he met there do.

Many other well-known artists drank in the club alongside Bacon, over the years: Craigie Aitchison, Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Peter Blake, Edward Burra, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Patrick Caulfield, Joshua Compston, John Craxton, Tracey Emin, Lucian Freud, Alberto Giacometti, R.B Kitaj, Jeff Koons, Leon Kossoff, Augustus John, Sarah Lucas, Eduardo Paolozzi, Edward Seago, Keith Vaughan, the list goes on and on.

The lethal triangle of The French, The Coach & Horses and The Colony were the staging points of the Dean Street shuffle, with occasional forays into other joints such as The Gargoyle or The Mandrake in the early days and The Groucho or Blacks at the end. During the period that Damien Hirst and other YBAs made it their watering hole of choice, clambering out of the toilet window and sneaking across the roof and in through a Groucho window was a popular jape.

Many Sohoites mourned the passing of the Colony, and the old refrain of “Soho isn’t what it used to be” is frequently heard. It has never been – Colin McInnes said the same thing around the time that he wrote “Absolute Beginners” in 1959. At a time when “Absolute Hell”, Rodney Ackland’s 1952 play, set in 1945, about another Soho drinking joint is playing to packed houses at The National Theatre, it is an appropriate time to take a nostalgic voyage through the salacious underbelly of the post-war art scene.

With a glass of Champagne in your hand, get laid with Lucian Freud, queue for the loo with Christine Keeler, go racing with Jeffrey Bernard, and pass out with Peter Langan. I well remember the neon sign that was propped up against the altar at the funeral of the Colony’s last proprietor Michael Wojas: DRINK UP / PAY UP / FUCK OFF – ah, happy days!




                                   Colony Room, September 1, 1983 from Britons by Neal Slavin




Tapes reveal Francis Bacon's shock at 1968 drug bust



Artist told friend he ‘straight away went to my easel’ after police found lover’s cannabis







                                                   Francis Bacon in studio circa 1960. Photograph: Paul Popper



Francis Bacon was so shaken after the police raided his studio and found cannabis hidden in the base of an African carved statue that he vented his fury at his easel.

To release his tension, the artist painted a portrait of his then lover George Dyer, to whom the drugs belonged and who had tipped off the police after a row, a previously unheard recording reveals.

Taken to trial after the raid in 1968, Bacon argued that someone must have planted them and that he was too asthmatic to smoke anything. He was found not guilty but had to pay costs of £3,000.

The shock never left him, according to the recordings made by his friend Barry Joule in 1987, in which Bacon recalls “this dreadful drug bust episode”.

Joule said Bacon knew the drugs belonged to his lover. Dyer kept them in a large hole in a statue given to him by his gangster associates the Kray twins.

Joule said that when they discussed the incident Bacon pointed to a photograph of a masterpiece titled Two Studies of George Dyer with Dog 1968, which is now in a private collection.

Bacon says on the recording: “At the time of my arrest, and for a long time after, I stayed furious. To release some of the tension, I straight away went to my easel … did a large painting. He [Dyer] is sitting on a chair with the nasty flattened police dog at his feet sniffing towards the statue … which became George’s head.”

The artist explains that he first depicted the statue on a table at the front of the painting, but changed it to show Dyer’s head.

Joule said that although Bacon had argued in court that he would never break the law, the tapes revealed he had known the drugs were there and that they had not been planted.

In the recording, Bacon speaks of the African sculpture, which was a birthday present from Dyer. “He [Dyer] said the Krays gave it to him. I’m sure they did … I never smoked any dope as I have asthma, but George certainly did when he came here,” he says.

“So, after giving it to me, then scraping the base covering away … he pulled the stuff wrapped in a thin foil out of the hollowed-out statue … Then one day after we’d had a series of terrible rows in a great rage he reported me to the Chelsea drug squad. They raided the place here and their trained labrador sniffed out the drugs in the statue. It was all a dreadful mess … but in the end Goodie [Arnold Goodman, a solicitor] defended me and I got off … finally paying a huge amount in costs. The judge didn’t like me much.”

Although Bacon later claimed Dyer had planted the drugs, he had known all along that Dyer’s cannabis was in his studio and had “seemed little bothered by it until that shocking revenge day”, Joule said.

Joule lived 20 metres from Bacon’s studio and home in South Kensington, and their friendship lasted from 1978 until the artist’s death in 1992.

Bacon, whose 1969 portrait Three Studies of Lucian Freud sold in 2013 for a record £89m, agreed to be recorded on condition that Joule did not release the tapes until at least 12 years after his death.

In 2004 Joule donated to the Tate 1,200 sketches from Bacon’s studio, then valued at an estimated £20m and described as one of the most generous gifts to the gallery.

Joule kept about 120 drawings. He is now lending about 70 to an exhibition in Italy, at the Fondazione Sorrento Museo in Sorrento between 19 May and 21 October. Bacon gave Joule the African sculpture, which he will show for the first time.



                          Two Studies of George Dyer with Dog by Francis Bacon




Modernists and Mavericks by Martin Gayford

— Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London painters



An immersive history of painting from 1945 to the 1970s draws on a huge archive of the author’s interviews







           In conversation ... Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon Photo: Daniel Farson



Martin Gayford has been talking with artists for 30 years. He doesn’t just nip into the studio with a notepad: he has a gift for sustaining conversations that unfold across decades. His friendship with David Hockney has inspired remarkable collaborations, and when he sat for a portrait by Lucian Freud he made in return his own version of Man with a Blue Scarf, a written portrait of the painter painting.

In Modernists & Mavericks he draws on a huge archive of interviews to piece together a history of postwar painting in London, from the Camberwell students of the 1940s, working in the ruins of a bombed city, to the pop artists who collaged images of shining new-made lives in the 1960s. Gayford starts with people, moments and meetings, standing firm in the belief that “pictures are affected not only by social and intellectual changes but also by individual sensibility and character”. Three cheers for that faith in individuals. Other studies have debated the effects of state art funding and cold war cultural politics; this one brings us the expression of Leon Kossoff as he moves through heaven and hell with each brushstroke, Bridget Riley introducing the whisker of white that makes a black painting live, Gillian Ayres and Howard Hodgkin talking hour after hour in the car down to Bath School of Art.

Many of the painters here were sceptical of interpreters pinning them down with words. But with each other they could be unstoppably voluble. Francis Bacon went around conducting “a mobile seminar”. Frank Auerbach (the most grippingly eloquent of the book’s voices) says that he and Bacon “talked, slightly drunkenly and wildly, for about 15 years”. As for Auerbach and Freud, the conversation went on for half a century.

The book’s span allows Gayford to plot several generations in relation to each other, and it’s striking how many of the most potent encounters involve forms of teaching. Simply walking down the street one day, Bacon pointed out to the young John Wonnacott how a shadow seemed to eat into a figure “like a disease”. “I rethought shadow,” says Wonnacott; it stayed with him all his life. There are dismal fallings-out at art school: Allen Jones, amazed that his tutors had omitted to mention the existence of Jackson Pollock, suggested suing Hornsey College for fraud. But David Bomberg emerges as a deeply valued teacher at Borough polytechnic, whose students inherited his convictions about the uncompromising effort that painting requires.

Effort and seriousness united the London artists. The Colony Room Club bar in Soho filled up after many a dinner at Wheeler’s, that’s true, as well it might after what Cyril Connolly called the “chopless chop-houses and beerless pubs” of the 40s. But the talk was never far from painting, and the next morning there was work. Gayford attends particularly to the relationship between long concentration and sudden achievement. For Kossoff, tirelessly painting a swimming pool in Willesden, north-west London, there would come a point when “conscious intention breaks up”. It was then that “the picture happened”

Kossoff and Auerbach stayed close to Camden; Freud thought it mad to travel when there were parts of London he had not visited. The particular environment of the city is perhaps most clearly felt in the account of what happened when Bacon ventured to St Ives, though the episode is also a welcome reminder of the vitality of British painting elsewhere. But the biggest news was coming from the US and everyone was forming some kind of relationship with the ideas coming from the new centre of the art world. Peter Blake posed in his Levi 501s, with American badges pinned to his jacket and Elvis magazine in hand, portraying himself as a gawkily dedicated fan. The picture has the wistful air of Watteau’s Pierrot, Gayford observes; there’s Gainsborough here, too, and Rousseau. It’s a beautifully complex self portrait of a young Englishman dressed for America.

New York and Los Angeles were the places to be; Hockney, Jones, Frank Bowling and Richard Smith all eventually went. But powerful work could come of not being there. The giant force of abstract expressionism intensified debates about whether external subjects had any role in the life of a painting. Was the “hard-edged abstraction” pursued by Robin Denny and William Turnbull a leap into the future or a dead end? If a Sandra Blow painting “put you in mind of landscape” was it then a figurative work? The conversations of Ayres and Hodgkin were charged by the fact of their work falling just (but decisively) to either side of the “invisible frontier” between abstraction and representation.

Ayres is a vivid presence and Gayford gives a fine account of her vast, tumbling, ever metamorphosing Hampstead Mural. He records her laughter as baffled onlookers wondered what she was doing. Ayres died last month, Hodgkin last year. The great figures of the 60s are passing – which is all the more reason to be grateful for a book that takes us right into their world.

• Modernists and Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters by Martin Gayford is published by Thames & Hudson




Modernists and Mavericks by Martin Gayford

— a miraculous moment



A study of British painting is a compelling account of a great time in modern art







    Timothy Behrens, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews in 1963 © John Deakin Archive


Martin Gayford’s Man with a Blue Scarf (2010), an account of sitting for a portrait by Lucian Freud, is one of the best books ever written about the art of painting. Freud used to take a notorious amount of time over a portrait. He needed to know, or get to know, his sitters personally in order to achieve what he called “truth”: the likeness of the whole person; the likeness of his own relation with them. He believed such things affected, indeed modified, appearance. He was pursuing, like Proust, an individual in a caught moment of time and he needed the experience of time to arrive there. When my old boss, Alfred Taubman, owner of Sotheby’s when I worked there, offered Freud a fortune to paint his wife, he was furiously rebuffed. “I do not know your wife.” That was that.

Now comes Modernists and Mavericks, a study of British painting in the second half of the 20th century. To create some lines of demarcation, Gayford borrows a phrase used by the American painter RB Kitaj, who settled in London in the 1950s. He talked of a “London School” composed of Bacon, Freud, Auerbach, Kossoff, Andrews, Hockney and himself. These painters were active in the 1960s, when the phrase was coined. All lived and worked in the capital, though Hockney spent much time in Los Angeles, a city he in effect invented for painting. In order to extend the range of his study, Gayford turns London into a sub-text for his book, a device for leaving out a number of talented artists like the Cornish painter Peter Lanyon. And because one of the few characteristics shared by British painters during this half-century was each one’s idiosyncratic response to the new wave in American painting, specifically New York abstraction in the late 1940s and 1950s, Gayford is in effect recounting the fall of Paris as the adjudicatory centre, the supreme court, of modern art. From the Impressionists, to Cézanne, to Matisse and Picasso, Paris ruled. The scale, the sheer excitement of vast abstracts by Rothko, de Kooning, Pollock and others pulverised British and European abstraction for a time. Gayford’s heroes, mainly figurative painters like Freud and Bacon, seemed to be making the most viable response.

 The book opens with a commercial phenomenon. In 2013 Christie’s sold Francis Bacon’s 1969 “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” for $142m. For over a generation now, art had moved intellectually, aesthetically and commercially to the English-speaking world. And the specifically English characteristic of this world was the reorienting of art from what was considered “modern”: that is, art as its own subject and first cause. Painters like Bacon, Freud and Hockney led the way back to matters human, messy, unpredictable, subjective.

It is an exciting story. This is not a book about plasticity, or tactile values, or the merits of one medium (acrylic, say) over another (oil paint, say). There are the necessary paragraphs about philosophical issues like the relation of draughtsmanship to painting or issues posed by Hockney’s fascination with what EH Gombrich called “the art of illusion”. But these are never allowed to slow down the narrative. If you are interested in modern British art, the book is unputdownable. If you are not, read it. You soon will be. This is not a picture book with commentary. The images are there for the text.

Although the book is primarily an account of how in reputational and market terms four great painters redefined the role of the human figure in modern art, Gayford does not allow his leading actors — Bacon, Freud, Auerbach and Hockney — to hijack the action. Like a novelist, he has subsidiary characters who are considered in their own right and whose work is important to the story of what he clearly believes were five great decades of British art. Two considerable female artists, Bridget Riley and Gillian Ayres, rejected the human figure. Yet even a sentence like this one is conceptually dodgy. You cannot exclude the viewer, or human powers of perception. When she hit the big time in New York, Riley was furious at being taken up by fashionistas; at finding herself, literally, in vogue. Her mentors were Seurat and Renoir. She wanted to do things to, and with, light, not clothes. Ayres, who has just died, was capable of vast improvised works: multiple messy gestures on canvas. But if you squint at them, or take off your glasses, Rubenslike rhythms appear.

Gayford’s eye for the dramatic, his novelist’s approach, feasts upon events and stories. The super-talented Pauline Boty died of cancer at 28. Then three technically brilliant and once famous non-figurative artists, Richard Smith, Robyn Denny and Bernard Cohen, fell out of fashion. Gayford runs into an elderly Smith queueing at the Venice Biennale. Once he had most of the British Pavilion there to himself.

Gayford carefully avoids an elegiac note. This is because in spite of the Young British Artists who emerged at the end of the last century, the most interesting art of our own time may well be on the move, to China for instance. And for him, elegy would interfere with the narrative excitement of his account.

Yet it is difficult for the contemporary reader not to sing a lament for the makers. Bacon gone. Freud gone. Kitaj gone. And Sutherland, Turnbull, Caulfield, Hodgkin, Uglow, Scott, Heron, Hilton, Davie, Andrews gone. Sandra Blow, Gillian Ayres, Prunella Clough, all gone. Keith Vaughan, whom Gayford curiously neglects, gone. But Paula Rego, Bridget Riley, Auerbach, Hockney (presiding, as I write, over a massive new show in New York) and Allen Jones are with us still and working.

All present something of a stand against young artists still very much in thrall to Marcel Duchamp, the granddaddy of conceptual art. The trouble with conceptual works is that they are, in effect, wisecracks. When you “get” them, that’s it. Oil paint carries an immense emotional radioactivity, a half-life dangerous and long-lasting.

Reviewing Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, WH Auden wrote that just occasionally he came across a book he could not help feeling had been written specially for him. As one who has earned his living in the art market, and been a “trading” collector as well, I feel the same way about Modernists and Mavericks. I have, as it were, shared rooms in my life over the years with many of the painters whom Gayford celebrates, and all of the major ones. His driving account of a miraculous time in British art may well prove its memorial.


Modernists and Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters, by Martin Gayford, Thames & Hudson, £24.95, 352 pages

Grey Gowrie is chairman of The Fine Art Group and a former minister of the arts






Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale


SALE 15968 | LOT 7B | NEW YORK | 17 MAY 2018


Francis Bacon (1909-1992)

Study for Portrait

signed, titled and dated 'Study for Portrait 1977 Francis Bacon' (on the reverse)
oil and dry transfer lettering on canvas
78 x 58 1/8 in. (198.2 x 147.7 cm.)
Painted in 1977.


Estimate On Request

Price realised USD 49,812,500


Marlborough International Fine Art, Vaduz

Acquired from the above by the present owner, 13 May 1977


M. Leiris, ed., Francis Bacon: Full Face and In Profile, Oxford, 1983, pp. 200 and 269, no. 113 (illustrated in color). 
M. Leiris, ed., Francis Bacon, Barcelona, 1987, pp. 92 and 127, no. 106 (illustrated in color). 
J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London, 1993, pp. 164 and 202, no. 88 (illustrated).
W. Schmied, Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict, Munich,
2006, p. 99, fig. 124 (illustrated).
M. Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume IV 1971-92, London, 2016, pp. 1126-1127, no. 77-03 (illustrated in color).


London, Royal Academy of Arts, British Painting 1952-1977, September-November 1977, p. 29, no. 29.
Madrid, Fundación Juan March; Barcelona, Fundació Joan Miró, Francis Bacon, April-July 1978, n.p., no. 14 (illustrated in color).
New York, Marlborough Gallery, Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings, April-June 1980, pp. 6 and 8-9, no. 1 (illustrated in color).
New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, Yale University; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Eight Figurative Painters, October 1981-March 1982, pp. 52 and 58, no. 22 (illustrated).
Tokyo, National Museum of Modern Art; Kyoto, National Museum of Modern Art; Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Art Gallery, Francis Bacon: Paintings 1945-1982, June-November 1983, pp. 70 and 87, no. 34 (illustrated in color).
Institut Valencia d’Art Moderne; Paris, Fondation Dina Vierny-Musée Maillol, Francis Bacon: Le Sacré et le Profane, December 2003-June 2004, p. 99 (Valencia, illustrated in color); pp. 122-123 and 157 (Paris, illustrated in color).
Monaco, Grimaldi Forum, Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture, July-September 2016, pp. 86 and 230, no. 44 (illustrated in color).

Lot essay

Painted in Paris in 1977, and held since that time in the distinguished collection of Magnus Konow, Francis Bacon’s Study for Portrait is a powerful eulogy to his greatest love and most important subject: George Dyer. Raised up majestically against a thickly stippled velvet black screen, his near-sculptural form casts a long dark shadow, poignantly reminiscent of the artist’s own silhouette. Dyer had tragically taken his own life six years earlier in 1971, less than thirty-six hours before the opening of Bacon’s career-defining retrospective at the Grand Palais. His death had a devastating impact on the artist, giving rise to paintings that represent some of the twentieth century’s most extraordinary meditations on the human condition. Konow, a Norwegian collector based in Monaco, came to know Bacon during this pivotal period, acquiring several significant canvases including Three Studies for a Portrait, which he donated to the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. With its abstract armature, scumbled textures and viscerally-wrought figure, the present work extends the language of the dark, cinematic “black triptychs” made in the immediate aftermath of Dyer’s death. Bracketed with raw linen, the central panel appears to hover before the viewer in three dimensions, evoking a canvas on an easel or a flickering television screen. Dry transfer lettering, inspired by Picasso’s Cubist collages, conjures the literary rubble of the artist’s studio, where John Deakin had famously photographed Dyer seated in his underwear. As the spirit of Michelangelo courses once more through his veins, Bacon’s muse is here restored to the flesh. The artist, meanwhile, is reduced to a blood-spattered trace, reunited with Dyer beyond the veil. For Bacon, who devoured Shakespeare’s tragedies and Greek mythology, it is an impassioned fantasy of reincarnation and sacrifice, worthy of any great work of literature.

Konow acquired Study for Portrait from Bacon through Marlborough Gallery shortly after its completion. As a young man in the 1970s, he built an impressive collection of works by School of London painters, but remained particularly fascinated by Bacon, with whom he became friends. Konow’s family roots are in Norway: his father was a celebrated Norwegian Olympic sailor, who competed in multiple Olympics between 1908 and 1948, winning two gold medals and one silver. His paternal grandmother, Dagny Konow, sat for Edvard Munch during the late 1880s. Konow first encountered Bacon’s work on the cover of Esquire magazine, and was immediately struck by what he would later describe as its “sense of chaos”. He acquired four of his paintings in total, including the 1972 canvas Figure in Movement and the 1978 work Painting, which was illustrated on the cover of John Russell’s seminal biography reprinted the following year. These works took their place alongside canvases by other prominent postwar British artists, including Lucian Freud’s Naked Portrait II (1974), Frank Auerbach’s To the Studios (1977) and David Hockney’s Swimming Pool (1965), as well as paintings by R. B. Kitaj. As the friendship between Bacon and Konow developed, the artist traveled from Paris—once with Freud—to visit him in Monaco, where he indulged in his passion for gambling in the casinos of Monte Carlo. “Bacon would always talk about Dyer,” Konow recalls. “I think that he was the only man he really loved in his life. I find this work is so powerful—for me it is probably one of the best paintings of their mystical love affair, and that’s what drew me to it.”

First unveiled at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, shortly after its creation, and widely exhibited since, the work represents the culmination of Bacon’s painterly language during one of the most important periods in his practice. Consumed by a wild mixture of grief, sadness, guilt and loss in the wake of Dyer’s death, Bacon took a studio in Paris in 1974. By 1977, buoyed by the success of his major exhibition at Galerie Claude Bernard that year, his grief had given way to a period of innovation that is reflected in the present painting. Inspired by the 1976 work Triptych, painted the previous year, sweeping perspectival railings recede like train tracks, evoking by turns the frame of a bed, the legs of an easel or a road to infinity. The central black panel, floating above, becomes a headboard, a tombstone, a filmic membrane or an empty void, simultaneously disappearing into the distance and looming towards the frontal plane of the canvas. Paris, for Bacon, was a place steeped in literature: as a young man he had been enraptured by the work of Georges Bataille and other Surrealist writers. Upon his return in the 1970s, he immersed himself in a new circle of philosophers, authors and critics—among them Michel Leiris, who wrote important commentaries on his work during this period. As the painting’s interior dialogue unfolds, rich in thematic allusion, the fragments of lettering pay tribute to this new, stimulating milieu. 

In both compositional and technical terms, too, the work is a tour de force. Throughout the 1970s, spurred by a renewed awareness of his own mortality, Bacon began to strip his art down to its barest essentials, seeking “concentrations of reality” and a “shorthand of sensation”. In Study for Portrait, saturated color fields and stark geometries create a warped spatial framework that borders on abstraction, conjuring the work of Kandinsky, Malevich and the Color Field painters. Bacon plays with different textures of black, offsetting the matte backdrop with the textured central panel, which shifts and shimmers under different lighting conditions. The pale lilac ground, rendered in thin pigmented layers, is juxtaposed with bright accents of blue, canary yellow and red, which glow as if illuminated by an overhead spotlight. Circular lenses, derived from a book on radiography, punctuate the surface, setting up a rhythmic counterpoint between the sculptural mass of flesh and the surrounding interior space. The figure itself is an ode to carnal pleasure, wrought with fluid, tactile brushstrokes, spectral veils of white and scumbled strains of color around the eyes and mouth. It is Dyer in his prime, flickering like a projection or an x-ray, presiding over the composition with the tortured grandeur of Bacon’s early Popes. Rarely was his body so passionately articulated with a mixture of raw draughtsmanship and freestyle painterly bravura, creating a swirling vortex of physical agitation. Raised upon a dais against a blank, clinical abyss, his quivering form speaks to the transient nature of human existence.

George Dyer: Painting the Human Figure

Bacon and Dyer had first met in 1963 in a Soho pub, and quickly struck up a rapport. “George was down the far end of the bar and he came over and said, ‘You all seem to be having a good time. Can I buy you a drink?’” recalled the artist. “And that’s how I met him. I might never have noticed him otherwise” (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p. 259). Described by Bacon as the most beautiful man he had ever met, Dyer would come to define some of his most ambitious works during the 1960s, including ten outstanding large-scale studies as well as a number of smaller portrait heads. Nearly thirty years Bacon’s junior, he sported a uniform of clean-cut suits and narrow ties tightly knotted around the neck, reminiscent of the infamous Kray twins. Beneath this debonair façade, however, lay a troubled character in need of guidance and protection. Raised in London’s East End, he had fallen into petty theft at a young age, and was frequently crippled by a sense of purposelessness. His innate vulnerability, combined with his classical good looks, provided Bacon with a fascinating character study. Their passionate, tempestuous relationship became increasingly fraught—both in life and in paint—and by the late 1960s had begun to show signs of strain. In October 1971, as Bacon prepared to place his life’s work on display in Paris, he received news that Dyer had been found dead in their hotel room. His face would continue to haunt Bacon’s art for the rest of his career. 

Martin Harrison identifies Two Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer as a precedent for the present work. Painted in 1968, it stands among the later of the major portraits of Dyer produced during his lifetime. Like nearly all its companions, it was based on Deakin’s seminal group of photographs depicting Dyer seated in his underwear: images that would become archetypes for Bacon’s wider portrait—and self-portrait—practice. In the 1968 painting, Dyer’s semi-naked figure is etched onto a dark canvas-like screen, his swirling, monstrous form pierced sporadically by pins. The notion of “fixing” or “nailing” reality into place was one that ran throughout Bacon’s practice, expressed at various points through the imagery of crucifixion and, by extension, the hypodermic syringe. Dyer himself, fully clothed, turns away from the image, as if oblivious to—or indeed repelled by—the brutality of Bacon’s painterly act. In many ways, Study for Portrait may be understood as a completed version of this “painting within a painting”. The needles are removed, and Dyer’s muscular form flourishes in radiant, corporeal splendor. His face, formerly disfigured, is now unveiled as a beacon of sculptural perfection, echoing the Renaissance figure studies to which Bacon had once likened his lover. The struggle to capture the human form, so violently expressed in the 1968 canvas, is laid to rest; the figure, in all his beauty, is reborn.

The notion of resurrection may be said to take on new meaning in light of the black triptychs. In these works, produced between 1971 and 1973, Bacon attempted to process his feelings of guilt and sorrow by reimagining Dyer’s last moments in paint. The central black panel in Study for Portrait has its origins in these canvases. In Triptych August 1972 (Tate, London), Dyer’s seated form—another derivation of Deakin’s photographs—hovers before a grainy abyss. In Triptych May-June 1973, he inhabits these dark spaces as if slipping slowly into the void. In contrast to Two Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer, which depicts him as a painting, the black triptychs capture Dyer in a fundamentally filmic manner, casting him as a disembodied, illusory specter. Pins and nails are redundant in this world; the subject, crucially, is no longer there to be fixed. The central panel in Study for Portrait extends the cinematic metaphor of these works, creating a fluid, plasmic surface upon which Dyer’s image hovers like a mirage. Bacon had often marveled at the power of film over pigment: “I would like to have been a film director if I hadn’t been a painter,” he once said (F. Bacon, quoted in Francis Bacon in Conversation with Michel Archimbaud, London 1993, p. 16). Through paint, Bacon had always striven to capture the raw pulsations of reality; in Study for Portrait, cinema—the space of memory and fantasy—offers him a temporary escape from its cruelties. How can one attempt to “trap this living fact alive,” as he put it, once its flame has been extinguished? 

Bacon in Paris: Exorcism and Triumph

If the black triptychs went some way towards confronting the pain of Dyer’s death, it was Bacon’s move to Paris that finally allowed him to come to terms with the fact. In 1974, he took a studio beside the Place des Vosges, eager to immerse himself in the city where he had spent his final moments with Dyer. There he painted one of the great masterpieces of his career: another triptych, but this time supremely allegorical. In Triptych, 1976, Bacon wove together political sources, erotic imagery and his readings of Greek mythology, creating a grand existential finale to his own personal tragedy. The work would continue to reverberate throughout his art over the following years, informing both the present canvas and a further 1977 painting, Seated Figure. Several compositional features link them together: most notably the linear railings, which have variously been likened not only to the legs of an easel but also to the “dollies” used to support television cameras. In the present work, this structural device also evokes another of Bacon’s erstwhile sources: the images of Pope Pius XII held aloft on the sedia gestatoria, which had populated his studio during the 1950s and 1960s. Bacon had played with the relationship between the Pope and Dyer in two works shortly before the latter’s suicide; in Study of George Dyer, 1971, he usurped the pontiff from his throne. By channeling this imagery, Bacon extends the spirit of his 1976 Triptych: a final act of exorcism, presided over by grandiloquent historical themes. The substitution of his own shadow—in comparison to the triptych’s amorphous pools of pigment—certainly supports this reading. 

Bacon’s “exorcism” was, in many ways, a success. 1977 brought a new lease of life, in which he took his place as a central figure in the Parisian art world. His partnership with the gallerist Claude Bernard Haim gave rise to a pivotal solo exhibition at his gallery that year, featuring the 1976 Triptych alongside the mournful works produced since Dyer’s death. “The show as a whole caused an immediate sensation” writes Michael Peppiatt. “Bacon’s reputation had stood very high in Paris ever since the Grand Palais retrospective, and once the French public had admitted him as a new hero in their cultural pantheon their enthusiasm knew no bounds. The press build-up had been considerable, with Newsweek running a portrait of the artist on its cover to announce: ‘Francis Bacon’s Big Paris Show’. During the opening, police cordoned off the rue des Beaux-Arts in an attempt to control the crowds pressing down the boulevard Saint-Germain. In a couple of hours, some eight thousand people had pushed their way into the gallery’s relatively restricted space: a mood of exhilaration, but also of panic—of something that was about to get completely out of hand—ran through the narrow street” (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, pp. 277-78). The mobbing of the exhibition was an apt expression of his rising celebrity, which frequently saw him stopped in the streets by strangers. After years of emotional turmoil, in the city where disaster had threatened to tear his world apart, Bacon entered a new period of personal and professional. contentment. 

The Figure and the Ground: Bacon’s Visual Devices

Bacon’s links to Paris ultimately ran deeper than his relationship with Dyer. It was there, during the 1920s, that he had first discovered the work of Picasso—an artist whose influence he would come to acknowledge more than any other’s. It was not lost on Bacon that Picasso was the only other living artist to have been honored with a retrospective at the Grand Palais, and, as he started to prepare for it in earnest during the early 1970s, his thoughts turned increasingly to the work of his idol. A feature that began to encroach upon his practice during this time, and which would come to the fore in the works of the mid-1970s, was the use of dry transfer lettering, or Letraset. Recalling the newspaper clippings that became part and parcel of Picasso’s Synthetic Cubism, these fragments introduced a temporal dimension to Bacon’s compositions, grounding his figures in the here-and-now. At the same time, the arrangements of letters were deliberately stripped of all narrative connotation—a strategy designed to prevent interpretation on the part of the viewer. Harrison also draws links with the typographical montages of Marcel Duchamp, Tristan Tzara and Max Ernst, as well as William Burroughs’ “cut-up” technique and the “Camera Eye” sections of John Dos Passos’ USA Trilogy. In the present work, the fragments perform a more literal function, recalling the reams of crumpled newspapers, books and magazines that littered the floor of Bacon’s studio. Deakin’s original photographs had captured Dyer amidst this debris; a reminder, perhaps, that he offered Bacon as great a window onto the human condition as any of the art or literature he so admired. 

Alongside its use of Letraset, Study for Portrait demonstrates a number of other devices explored by Bacon during the 1970s. The circles that punctuate Dyer’s form were derived from Kathleen Clara Clark’s 1939 book Positioning in Radiography, which Bacon admired for its analytical, clinical divisions of human anatomy. These structures played into the artist’s fascination with photography, and recalled, in their function, the early cubic space-frames that Bacon deployed in a bid to “see the image more clearly”. The central panel itself, too, fulfils something of this role, enclosing the figure in the manner of Alberto Giacometti’s caged sculptures and framed portraits. Bacon notably admired the individual compartments in train carriages, describing them “like a room concentrated in a small space.” As his oeuvre progressed throughout the 1970s, his cordoned-off arenas became increasingly abstract and concise, existing in stark contrast to the still-sculptural fleshy forms of his figures. In the present work, the careful balance of circles, squares and perspectival lines works in counterpoint with the sense of depth created by Bacon’s handling of paint. A precise geometric order frames the composition, held in tension with a chromatic spectrum that spans from piercing primaries to subtle, intermediate flesh tones. The more clinical the interior, Bacon believed, the more powerfully human presence might be made manifest. “All Bacon’s spaces are conceived with human life in mind,” writes Wieland Schmied. “… The purpose of space is the revelation of the human” (W. Schmied, Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict, Munich 2006, p. 31). It was perhaps no coincidence that as the specter of death drew ever nearer to Bacon, this quest became increasingly palpable in his art. 

The painter Frank Auerbach once said that Bacon’s portraits were like “risen spirits”. In Study for Portrait, Dyer—through the fluid space of the screen—is momentarily revitalized. Life surges through his body, tinging his flesh with red and pink hues. Blood—the artist’s own, perhaps—spills onto the ground, anticipating later canvases such as Blood on Pavement (1984) and Blood on Floor (1986). As Mark Stevens has argued, blood was deeply ingrained into Bacon’s visual imagination: he had watched it shed in the neighborhoods of his native Ireland during the 1920s. He had marveled at the way it stained meat carcasses in butchers’ shops, and had charted its symbolic resonance through the pages of literary tragedies and the imagery of the Crucifixion. “Blood could be a marker of bad company, violent opposition, and the criminal underworld, all of which held interest for a young, marginalized homosexual”, writes Stevens. “Blood was incarnadine, but hidden away. A vital truth concealed. When it emerged, it stained, leaked, puddled, scabbed. Blood was pain—and revelation” (M. Stevens, “Blood on Pavement”, in Francis Bacon: Late Paintings, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2015, p. 95). For Bacon, it was the ultimate reality: a sign of its passions and brutalities—everything that Dyer had represented. As the “living fact” of his lover fades into cinematic illusion, Bacon performs a final eucharistic act: a celebration of flesh and blood in the knowledge, and the acceptance, of death.




                                          Francis Bacon Study for Portrait 1977




Art Mavericks Freud, Bacon, Hockney Revealed in Martin Gayford's Book





Lucian Freud was at Graham Sutherland’s house in Kent one day in the mid-1940s. Freud asked his host who he thought was the greatest painter in England. The story is contained in the new book “Modernists and Mavericks” by Martin Gayford, who recounts that it would be natural for a major artist such as Sutherland to probably consider that he himself was the greatest painter.

However, Sutherland gave an unexpected answer. He said his choice was like a cross between Vuillard and Picasso: “He’s never shown and he has the most extraordinary life. If he ever does a painting he generally destroys it.” The name of the artist was “Francis Bacon, and he sounded so interesting that Freud quickly arranged to meet this mystery man,” Gayford writes.

The subtitle of the book is “Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters.” If there were anyone qualified to write about these masters and many others, it is Gayford, who draws on 30 years of interviews.

He couples the Sutherland anecdote by noting that on the evening of November 12, 2013, Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucien Freud” went under the hammer at Christie’s in New York. After a lengthy bidding war, the work sold for $142.4 million. He writes: “A picture painted in London well within living memory became, for a while, the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction.”

This state of affairs would have been utterly unimaginable in 1969 when the picture was painted, let alone when the two artists first met. The price would stretch credulity even in 1992, the year in which Bacon died.

The book’s timeline runs from the Second World War to the 1970s. It is an intriguing story of interlinking friendships, shared experiences, rivalries and overlapping artistic concerns. The painters sometimes love and sometimes hate their fellows, friends and rivals. They variously work, rest and play together and especially drink together. The list of names is stellar was includes Frank Auerbach, Victor Pasmore, Bridget Riley, Patrick Heron, Richard Hamilton, Prunella Clough, Peter Blake, Allen Jones, Frank Bowling and Howard Hodgkin. It is especially good to see mention of Gillian Ayres, who has sadly just died. If these artists have anything in common it is that they were all obsessed with the question posed by Ayres of “what can be done with painting?” They all shared a belief that paint could accomplish work that other media – photography for example – could not.

The narrative has a constantly changing backdrop, from the post-war years through 1940s Soho bohemia, the confidence of the 1950s and “swinging London” in the 1960s. “Being born just before the outbreak of the Second World War, I just thought things naturally got better and better,” Jones is quoted as saying. “When the Seventies came along, it was a bit more real,” adds Sir Anthony Caro.

The book explores influences from other countries, ranging from Abstract Expressionist contemporaries such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, through to Piero della Francesca, Picasso and Matisse. Despite all these external inspirations, the artist R.B. Kitaj suggested in 1976 that there was a substantial “School of London.” Gayford agrees, while adding that given the idiosyncratic art mavericks involved, it is a very wide-ranging, loose movement. There is no common factor apart from each of the artists was a modernist, sometimes crossing the frontier between figurative and non-figurative: “Several artists, notably Auerbach and Hodgkin effectively set up tents their tents on the border zone itself.” In addition, some are not truly London painters. Hockney for example moved to Paris and then Los Angeles, as well as keeping links with Yorkshire.

Flick through the pages and there are strong senses of how art was influenced by The Beatles and street style. Jones would put his twins into a stroller and perambulate down the King’s Road, past freakily-named and trendy boutiques such as Granny Takes a Trip, while all the time soaking up colorful fashion inspiration: the ever shorter miniskirts and the ever higher heels.

The personal life of all of the main protagonists is enough for any number of books on their own – Freud’s lovers, the suicide of Bacon’s lover George Dyer and so on. Aptly, Freud is quoted as saying that he’s always liked the expression “the naked truth.”

There are constant insights which are amusing and revealing, such as about the creation of Bacon’s monumental “Three Studies for a Crucifixion” in 1962. The entire triptych was painted in a fortnight in what Bacon described as “a bad mood of drinking.” The book says: “Sometimes he was so drunk that he hardly knew what he was doing.” For all this, there is general agreement that the triptych was an important work, a turning point.

Whole books have been written about the Colony Room drinking den. Gayford cleverly cherry-picks the most important moments, right through to the creation of the Michael Andrews picture which contains many of the key dramatis personae. There was a time when the tiny shabby bar run by Muriel Belcher was the center of the city’s artistic world, (perhaps along with the Slade School) and here there are quotes from those who knew it or had first-hand experience of how the cultural world was changing. Paula Rego notes: “England gave me the freedom to be more myself.” Leon Kossoff says: London, like paint I use, seems to be in my bloodstream.”

Gayford, art critic for the Spectator, has also written for Blouin Artinfo and its magazines such as Modern Painters as well as for Bloomberg News. He has had his portrait painted by Freud (resulting in his memoir “Man With a Blue Scarf”) and by Hockney (leading to the book “A Bigger Message.”) Gayford’s other books cover different periods – from nine weeks in the life of Vincent van Gogh, to seven years of John Constable’s romance with his wife-to-be, and a biography of Michelangelo and its centuries of influence.

The book was published in hardback by Thames & Hudson in April in the U.K. priced £24.95 with U.S. publication to follow on June 12. 




Which Irish-born artist created work Margaret Thatcher called "dreadful pictures?"





On this day, April 28, 1992, Irish-born artist Francis Bacon died. We look back on the facts of his life and why his biography includes some harsh words from Margaret Thatcher.

Once described by Margaret Thatcher as “the man who paints those dreadful pictures,” the artist Francis Bacon’s bleak view on life was often ascribed to his hard upbringing in Ireland, where his father once had him allegedly horsewhipped because he suspected he was gay.

He was born in 63 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin, the son of an Australian-born Boer War veteran and a Sheffield steel heiress.

Raised by a child nanny, Jessica Lightfoot, who became a major figure in his life, Bacon was sent to live with his grandparents in Abbeyleix, County Laois, after World  War I though the family soon moved to Straffan, in County Kildare.

His love of dressing up and effeminate demeanour intensely irritated his father who had Francis horsewhipped by his groom.

In 1924, at age 15, Bacon moved to Britain after his father threw him out of his house after finding him posed before a mirror in his mother’s underwear.

In Britain, he advertised himself as a “gentleman’s companion” and had a series of relationships with older men.

In 1933 he painted his first masterpiece “The Crucifixion.” He was unapologetically gay at a time when such behaviour was usually closeted. He also loved to gamble, running several London gambling houses at one point.

Following his death in 1992 his paintings began to soar dramatically in price.

In 1998 the director of the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin secured the donation of the contents of Bacon's chaotic London studio for the Hugh Lane Galley in Dublin.

Back in 2013, a triptych painting by the Irish emigrant artist fetched a world record price of $142.4 million at an auction in New York.

The triptych (three images painting), from 1969, is of his friend and sometime rival Lucian Freud sitting on a wooden chair.

It was sold at Christie’s auction house after a frenzied bidding process between seven super-rich bidders.

Christie’s had originally valued the painting at $87 million. It surpasses the recent sale of Edward Munch’s “The Scream,” which sold for $112 million in 2012.

The buyer was not identified but the painting was purchased by New York agent William Acquavella.

“I went to $101 million but it hardly mattered,”  Larry Gagosian, the super-dealer told The New York Times.

Gyu Shin, the director of the Shin Gallery, on Grand Street in Manhattan, told the Times he had bid for himself.

“I was expecting it to go for around $87 million ... I loved that painting and I couldn’t control myself,” he said.

“Maybe someday I’ll have another chance.”

Super agent Michael Ovitz was said to be among those who were bidding for the painting. He was present during at the auction at Christie's midtown salesroom.






Bacon and Giacometti go head to head in show at Fondation Beyeler


Swiss museum hosts first major comparative exhibition of the two artists




A solo show of Francis Bacon or Alberto Giacometti alone is enough to draw in big crowds. But Switzerland’s Fondation Beyeler is banking on a Bacon and Giacometti double whammy for its blockbuster this year, which will be on during Art Basel art fair.

Bacon and Giacometti were well acquainted and first met in the early 1960s, probably introduced by the British painter Isabel Rawsthorne, who was Giacometti’s lover and a model for both artists during different periods. Both strived to capture Rawsthorne’s famously alluring character, Bacon in paint and Giacometti in sculpture.

Other similarities between the two artists are laid out thematically in the exhibition, with works shown juxtaposed as direct comparisons. As well as a section dedicated to pieces modelled on Rawsthorne, themes in the exhibition include the artists’ obsession with depicting the human head; the representation of movement in painting and sculpture; love and violence; and the use of cage-like structures to create space and perspective.

While the similarities are highlighted, striking differences are also brought to the fore. Giacometti’s use of grey stands in stark contrast to Bacon’s lavish use of colour. Both artists used distortion in their work, but Bacon preferred a blurring of the face; Giacometti, on the other hand, attempted to eliminate the presence of the sitter.

The show’s co-curator Ulf Küster attributes these differences to Bacon’s tendency to work from photographs, while Giacometti liked to draw from life. “The differences and similarities deepen the understanding of the work of both artists,” he says.

Küster has organised the exhibition of around 100 works with the director of the Fondation Giacometti, Catherine Grenier, and the Bacon expert Michael Peppiat.

The idea for the exhibition came out of a discussion between Küster and Grenier that took place at the 2015 Venice Biennale. While the Swiss museum owns important works by Bacon and Giacometti (the museum’s founder, Ernst Beyeler, knew both artists personally), and has long exhibited the two side-by-side in its collection, the curators were surprised to find that no major institution had put on such a comparative exhibition.

The challenges artists faced after the Second World War prompted different responses in Bacon and Giacometti. “Both challenged traditional borders of aesthetics in a sometimes vicious way,” Küster says. “Bacon more outspokenly expressive, Giacometti more inwardly destructive.”

• Bacon and Giacometti, Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 29 April-2 September




                                      Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon  © Photo: Graham Keen



Modernists and Mavericks by Martin Gayford: wild things who took London from ashes to artistic riches



Martin Gayford neatly encapsulates the creative mayhem of Bacon, Freud and co





The story of art in the 20th century was meant to be the death of painting. Photography would emerge pre-eminent. The unsleeping eye of the camera would see off the smocked dauber in his atelier, or at least that’s what was in the script. Even when artists remained stubbornly attached to their palettes, the critics predicted that they would abandon figurative studies in favour of the splashy canvases of New York’s Abstract expressionism instead. But in a post-war London smashed to smithereens and on rations, where a straitened National Gallery put just one picture a month on display, painters somehow found a “confidence that this ancient medium could do fresh and marvellous things”, according to Martin Gayford, the art critic of The Spectator. 

The results can be seen in the current blockbuster show at Tate Britain, All Too Human, and in Gayford’s scholarly yet terrifically readable survey, which arrives just in time to serve as the exhibition’s unofficial guidebook. If it wasn’t clear already, we can see that our bombed-out capital, where the likes of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud got their start, was the unlikely cradle of an arts scene which would become the equal of anything going on elsewhere. 

One measure of this is the prices achieved by members of the so-called London painters. Bacon expected short shrift from posterity and the art market. “When I’m dead, put me in a plastic bag and throw me in the gutter,” the old hell-raiser told the proprietor of the Colony Room, the infamous Soho dive. But his Three Studies of Lucian Freud fetched almost £90 million at auction in 2013. As Gayford writes, “This state of affairs would have been utterly unimaginable in 1969, when the picture was painted, let alone in the mid-1940s when Bacon and Freud first met.” 

Gayford’s sumptuously illustrated “group biography” of David Hockney, Bacon, Freud, Frank Auerbach, Bridget Riley and others covers the period from 1945 to 1970. It follows A Crisis of Brilliance (2009) by David Boyd Hancock, which did a similar thing for an earlier generation of British artists, including Stanley Spencer and Paul Nash. But Gayford has the advantage that he has met and interviewed many of his subjects. He sat for Freud, for a picture and a book — both entitled Man With a Blue Scarf — and has published his conversations with Hockney. To imagine that he is an amanuensis to the London painters scarcely does him justice. He is more like their Vasari.

As Gayford explains, there never was a London school in anything other than name, no unifying technique or philosophy. While several pursued figurative painting, others like Riley and Gillian Ayres did indeed explore abstraction. Howard Hodgkin appeared to be in this camp, too, though he insisted his long brooded-over swathes of colour were autobiographical, based on moments in his life. 

Several of Gayford’s characters, notably Hockney, weren’t even near the metropolis when they produced some of their finest work. It’s a mark of the author’s own talents that he has managed to herd such diverse and often unbiddable figures into a satisfying and insightful group portrait.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the lives of his artists are so colourful. Connoisseurs will admire the rich patina on Gayford’s anecdotes, such as the one about the fine dining experience chez Bacon, where as one guest put it, “the salad bowl was likely to have paint on it and the painting to have salad dressing on it”. Auerbach, the Escoffier of impasto, once told me that Bacon had introduced him to decent bottles of wine, and Freud had been his guide at the green baize tables of the casinos. Among this circle, alcohol was a more important solvent than turps. Whereas the Swiss artist Paul Klee famously took a line for a walk, the London painters took it on a pub crawl.

Stephen Smith is the culture correspondent of Newsnight

Modernists and Mavericks, Bacon, Freud, Hockney & the London Painters by Martin Gayford (Thames & Hudson, £24.95)






Right-hand man’s £35m Francis Bacon boob



The late artist’s friend received a furious 4am phone call after burning the wrong portrait in a mix-up over right and left







                               The photo showing Bacon, right, arguing with Joule about his left and right



When Francis Bacon asked a friend to destroy one of two paintings in his studio, he said it was the “one on the left”.

Bacon’s idea of left turned out to be as distinctive as his art, resulting in a disastrous mistake — the destruction of a painting that would now be worth about £35m.

The artist’s friend was Barry Joule, who lived close to his studio in South Kensington, London, and helped out with occasional odd jobs.

Joule revealed last week that he retrieved the painting on the left while Bacon was absent, cut it out of its frame and burnt it. Several hours later, however, Bacon telephoned in a fury, castigating Joule for destroying the wrong painting.

“In Francis’s mind, the one on the left was when you are standing with your back to the paintings,” Joule told The Sunday Times. “My left is on the left as you stand facing them. There was a huge volume of abuse.”

The problem arose from Bacon’s occasional insistence on destroying paintings he did not like, not least because he did not want people retrieving his rejects from his dustbin. So Joule was not surprised when Bacon called him in April 1986 with instructions to remove the “one on the left”. Bacon added: “I don’t like it. Get rid of it.”

The two pictures Joule found in the studio were both portraits of Gilbert de Botton, a prominent London banker and art collector whose son, Alain, is the well-known author and philosopher.

Joule said he admired both paintings but he could not ignore the artist’s wishes. He removed the picture on his left (but not, it turned out, on Bacon’s left), took a knife to the canvas, sawed through its wooden framework and took the mangled remains to a local rubbish dump, where they were duly burnt.

Joule went to bed, only to be woken at 4am by Bacon, who had just returned from a long night of gambling and drinking. The artist was screaming and swearing down the phone “at the top of his lungs”. With the foulest language, he accused Joule of having taken away the wrong portrait, screaming at him: “Any fool knows left is left with your back to it. You destroyed a very, very good painting.” Joule added: “I was close to him, and pretty cut up.”

Bacon refused to talk to him for the next few weeks, ignoring messages and an apologetic note. Eventually, he cooled off and invited Joule to lunch, and the friendship continued until the artist’s death in 1992 at the age of 82.

What makes the incident all the more painful is that Joule recalls Bacon describing the surviving portrait as “very second-rate, a rushed, hurried picture”.

De Botton, who died in 2000 aged 65, was a distinguished benefactor and collector who backed the artist’s retrospective at the Tate in 1985. Bacon offered to paint his portrait as a thank-you, although “he wasn’t all that keen and kept putting it off”, Joule said.

He claimed De Botton never knew about the destroyed portrait and was delighted with the version he received. This helped to smooth things over between Joule and Bacon, whose friendship began in 1978 after the artist heard a “thump” on his roof and called out to Joule from his window, asking him if he could see anything.

Joule spotted a fallen aerial, repaired it and was invited in for champagne. He said Bacon later gave him artworks, including 1,200 sketches from his studio valued at an estimated £20m in 2004 when he donated them to the Tate. He kept 120 drawings for himself, and is lending 70 to an exhibition in Italy, at the Foundation Sorrento Museum in Sorrento from May 19 until October 21.

Joule recalls that the portrait he destroyed depicted De Botton as a double body reflected in a mirror, grimacing in one likeness and with a “half Mona Lisa smile” in the other. The surviving portrait shows him open-mouthed. Bacon’s work is in such demand today that, in 2013, his 1969 portrait Three Studies of Lucian Freud sold for a record £89m.

It wasn’t the last time Bacon lost his temper over the world’s inability to understand his concept of left and right, and Joule recalls Bacon erupting again when they once posed together for a photograph on a visit to the artist Richard Hamilton.

“I said to Francis, ‘It’s better if you stand on my left,’ and the whole thing flared up again. He yelled: ‘Left! I know you know left and right from the terrible catastrophe of the painting.’ On and on, he blasted me again . . . It still gives me nightmares.” The photograph taken on that occasion shows Bacon in mid-rant.




$30 M. Francis Bacon Will Go on the Block at Christie’s New York in May





With the big-ticket spring sales of Impressionist, modern, and contemporary art in New York just about a month away, the auction houses have begun to trickle out news of their priciest offerings, and today Christie’s revealed that it has on tap a large Francis Bacon, Study for Portrait (1977), with an on-request estimate that is said to be in the region of $30 million.

The work is fresh to market, coming from the holdings of collector Magnus Konow, who acquired it from Marlborough Gallery in the ’70s and has held onto it ever since. Konow and Bacon were friends, and spent time gambling in the casinos of Monte Carlo, which sounds like a pretty great time. Measuring some 78 by 58 inches, the painting depicts Bacon’s lover George Dyer, who died in 1971. “Bacon would always talk about Dyer,” Konow said in a statement issued by Christie’s. “I think that he was the only man he really loved in his life. I find this work is so powerful—for me it is probably one of the best paintings of their mystical love affair, and that’s what drew me to it.

In November 2013, a 1969 Bacon triptych of fellow painter Lucian Freud sold at Christie’s in New York for $142.4 million, then a record for the most ever paid for a piece of art ever sold at auction (at least when not account for inflation). That figure has been eclipsed by works by Modigliani, Picasso, and, of course, Leonardo.




Up for sale after 41 years, Francis Bacon’s Study for Portrait is estimated to fetch $30m


Francis Bacon's lighter take on grief 




Half-a-billion dollars of 20th century art is hanging at Sotheby’s and Christie’s  in London for a few days this week, waiting to go to New York for sale next month. From Basquiat, Picasso and Monet, to Rothko, Warhol, and Giacometti, they are all there as a roll-call of the greats. 

Carrying the highest price tag of around $70 million at Christie’s is a curvaceous 1930s polished bronze of the American heiress, Nancy Cunard, by Constantin Brancusi. A portrait of Elvis Presley, valued at $30 million, will test the Warhol market as it was bought six years ago for slightly more than that.

The latest addition to this line-up, announced today and on view in London for the first time since it was painted and bought in 1977, is a large figure painting by Francis Bacon, Study for a Portrait, also estimated at $30 million. The painting is thought to refer to the artist’s lover, George Dyer, who died six years earlier.

After a long period of dark paintings, Bacon here comes to terms with grief with a lighter palette, imagining Dyer’s reincarnation. It is being sold by Monaco based collector, Magnus Konow, with whom Bacon would stay when in the principality.




Francis Bacon’s $30m portrait of Gorge Dyer shown in London for first time in 40 years


Painting of artist’s lover and muse comes to auction for the first time at Christie’s New York in May




A painting by Francis Bacon of his lover and muse George Dyer will be shown in London for the first time in more than 40 years this week, ahead of its debut auction at Christie’s in New York in May.

Painted in Paris in 1977, Study for Portrait was last exhibited in London the same year in the Royal Academy group exhibition, British Painting: 1952-77. It is now on view from today, 9 April, until Friday, 13 April, at Christie's London.

The canvas, which is estimated in the region of $30m, is described by Francis Outred, Christie’s chairman and head of post-war and contemporary art, as “a glowing, visceral celebration of Bacon’s most iconic muse”.

In 1971, six years before Bacon painted the portrait, Dyer had killed himself in the couple’s hotel room, just two days before the opening of Bacon’s first mid-career retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris. Tormented by grief, Bacon returned frequently to Dyer’s image in the ensuing years, producing a series of Black Triptych portraits in the early 1970s.

However, pierced by shafts of bright blue and yellow paint and smears of red pigment, Study for Portrait represents a shift in style for Bacon as he built a new life for himself in Paris.

The painting is being sold by the collector Magnus Konow, the son of a Norwegian Olympic sailor who befriended Bacon in the 1970s. During this period, Bacon regularly visited Monaco, sometimes with Lucian Freud, where he would stay with Konow, gambling in Monte Carlo’s casinos sometimes for days at a time. Konow bought the work from Bacon through Marlborough Gallery shortly after it was painted, and has kept the work in his collection until now.

Bacon’s market has rocketed in recent years. A triptych of the artist’s friend and rival Lucian Freud sold for $142m in New York in 2013, becoming the most expensive post-war and contemporary work of art ever sold at auction. And last May another triptych of Dyer sold at Christie’s for $51.8m.

But there have been minor blips too. In October last year, a 1971 study of Dyer and a Pope with an estimate of £60m failed to sell at Christie’s in London. Outred acknowledges this was “a disappointment”, but describes Bacon’s market as robust. “He has consistently been at the top of the contemporary art market throughout his life and since,” Outred says. Indeed, with a third-party guarantee, this painting has effectively been sold already.



         Study for Portrait was last exhibited in London in 1977 in the Royal Academy group exhibition, British Painting: 1952-77




Sizzling rivalry in the art world...

Never mind the Pollocks, says Francis Bacon!


Tapes have just emerged of Francis Bacon slagging off his fellow artists

Read more: 




We like to think of great artists as above the fray, even though by now we should know better.

Tapes have just emerged of Francis Bacon slagging off his fellow artists Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol in 1991.

Told that an abstract painting by Jasper Johns has just sold for £12 million, the 81-year-old Bacon says: ‘It is such a ridiculous thing. The whole thing, it is nothing. It is just a series of a number of diagonal scratches going in different directions in red and blue.’

In fact, Bacon’s feelings towards Jasper Johns surfaced over 30 years ago. In 1986, he was filmed gossiping with the demonic writer William Burroughs. ‘I try never to think about Jasper Johns,’ he said. ‘I hate the stuff and I don’t like him either.’

He was equally dismissive of Andy Warhol. ‘These pictures are bad . . . very bad,’ he said. ‘It is dull really. I thought it might just have some superficial excitement, but it doesn’t even have that.’

Some think it astonishing that such a respected painter should be so bitchy about his fellow artists. But Bacon had a track record of camp put-downs of rivals. He once compared Picasso to Walt Disney and Jackson Pollock’s splashy abstract canvases to ‘old lace’.

At other times, he said Matisse painted ‘squalid little forms’ and, of David Hockney’s paintings, ‘there’s really nothing there’.

He was equally rude about some of the most acclaimed writers of the 20th century. He pooh-poohed Samuel Beckett: ‘I loathe all those ghastly dustbins on stage.’

As a young man, he had been invited to lunch with Virginia Woolf. He remembered her as ‘a monster . . . she shouted all the way through lunch. She began by shouting and just carried on all the way through.’

Artists who considered themselves his friends were given short shrift as soon as their backs were turned. He complained that Lucian Freud was too cautious a painter, whose best work was behind him.

He also put it about that Freud ended up as a heterosexual only because his private parts were too small to be of interest to the gay community.

But Freud was able to give as good as he got. He told his friend John Richardson that Bacon’s later paintings lacked inspiration.

‘What had been the subject matter of his pictures became paraphernalia,’ he said. ‘ . . . with the urgency gone, some elements just seemed to be in the way, like bits of gauze left inside a patient’s stomach by a forgetful surgeon.’

Such rivalry is nothing new, even among the very greatest. When Michelangelo visited Titian in his studio in Rome in 1545, he warmly praised his latest painting to his face. But when he left, he changed his tune. It was a shame, he said, that Venetian painters like Titian had never been taught to draw.

Around the same time, two sculptors, Cellini and Bandinelli, fell out over an ancient Greek statue. Cellini thought it magnificent; Bandinelli thought it useless. Their patron Cosimo de’ Medici asked Cellini to explain their difference of opinion.

‘Your Most Illustrious Excellency must understand that Baccio Bandinelli is thoroughly evil, and always has been,’ he said, as Bandinelli stood there in front of them. ‘So no matter what he looks at, as soon as his disagreeable eyes catch sight of it, even though it’s of superlative quality it is at once turned to absolute evil.’

Cellini recalled that during this monologue, Bandinelli ‘kept twisting and turning and making the most unimaginably ugly faces — and his face was ugly enough already.’ But by now Cellini had the wind behind him, and proceeded to write off every element of a particular sculpture by Bandinelli — head, shoulders, torso, arms, legs.

All in all, he concluded, it was sculpted ‘so clumsily and unskilfully that nothing worse has ever been seen’.

All of which suggests that, in what Auberon Waugh used to term ‘the vituperative arts’, our own age lacks the magnificence of eras past. Compared to the great Cellini, Francis Bacon was almost sycophantic.



                                      Tapes have just emerged of Francis Bacon (pictured) slagging off his fellow artists



Francis Bacon shreds Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol in unheard tape


British master calls Johns painting False Start ‘ridiculous’ and Warhol’s works ‘very bad’






                         Barry Joule and Francis Bacon in 1978. Photograph: Barry Joule



They are two of the most revered American pop artists of the 20th century, but Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol were a source of derision for Francis Bacon, according to previously unheard recordings released to the Guardian.

The British master can be heard dismissing one of Johns’s paintings as “ridiculous” and calling Warhol’s works “very bad”.

His criticisms have come to light in private conversations taped by his friend Barry Joule, who lived 20 metres from Bacon’s studio and home in South Kensington.

The two men had struck up a friendship in 1978 when Bacon invited Joule for some champagne after he had repaired another neighbour’s TV aerial. The friendship lasted until the artist’s death in 1992.

Bacon agreed to be recorded on condition that Joule did not release the tapes until at least 12 years after his death.

On one of them, Bacon spoke of his astonishment that Johns’s 1959 abstract painting, a red, yellow and blue canvas titled False Start, had sold in 1988 for $17.05m (£12m).

“It is such a ridiculous thing,” he said. “The whole thing, it is nothing. It is just a series of a number of diagonal scratches going in different directions in red and blue.”

Johns, now 87, has been described as America’s foremost living artist, admired for his trademark images of flags and targets.

A major retrospective, titled Jasper Johns: Something Resembling Truth, was staged at the Royal Academy of Arts in London last year, and is now in America, at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles.

At the 1988 sale at Sotheby’s, False Start was reportedly purchased by New York art dealer Larry Gagosian, who ignored the pre-sale estimate of $4m to $5m

Subsequent reports suggest that, in 2006, the Johns painting was sold to a US collector, Kenneth Griffin, for $80m, while one of his signature 1950s flag paintings went to the US hedge fund billionaire Steven Cohen for $110m

Bacon once told another friend: “When I die, my paintings won’t be worth anything, I’ll be forgotten.”

Yet his prices soared dramatically after his death. His 1969 portrait titled Three Studies of Lucian Freud sold in 2013 in New York for a record $142.4m. The buyer was rumoured to be the US billionaire art collector Elaine Wynn.

On the recording, Joule asked Bacon to explain why “some supposedly sane people will pay a huge sum of money for something like” the Johns painting.

Bacon replied: “It is the fashion. It is what the Americans are interested in … they are not interested in art. They are only interested in being talked about – about being mixed up in the latest thing … now it has become absolutely ridiculous in America.”

Bacon was no less scathing about Warhol. On the tapes, he can be heard dismissing the 1991 pop art exhibition at the Royal Academy. Having just returned from a visit, he said: “These pictures are bad. The Andy Warhols are very bad.”

Joule has a photograph of Bacon looking at one of those Warhols, the car crash imagery from the Death and Disaster series, reflecting Warhol’s obsession with news reports of violent death.

The whole exhibition had disappointed Bacon, who added: “It is dull really. I thought it might just have some superficial excitement, but it doesn’t even have that.”

The artist’s paintings are featured in Tate Britain’s current exhibition, All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life. In 2004, Joule donated a collection of 1,200 sketches from Bacon’s studio, then valued at an estimated £20m, to the Tate. It was described as one of the gallery’s most generous gifts.

Joule has decided to release the recordings ahead of an exhibition of about 60 drawings which he kept and which he is lending to an exhibition in Italy, at the Villa Fiorentino museum in Sorrento between 19 May and 21 October




All too human: How Bacon, Freud and the postwar British painters made realism both new and personal



As striking new exhibition at Tate Britain looks afresh at the “school of London” in a period seemingly dominated by American abstract expressionism and pop art






In 1935, Kenneth Clark, then just 32 but already the director of the National Gallery, wrote an essay in The Listener entitled “The Future of Painting”. If it had one at all, he suggested, then it was irredeemably grim. “The art of painting has become not so much difficult as impossible,” he said, set around, as it was, by decaying old art peopled by “belated impressionists… who correspond to liberalism in politics”, over-civilised post-impressionists, brutalist Germans, and surrealism and abstraction with their “extreme reliance on theory”. Clark’s view of art was an offshoot of his view of society: both stood, he believed, at “the end of a period of self-consciousness, inbreeding and exhaustion”.

Clark wrote at a time of dark clouds gathering, but he was airing an old idea. The phrase “painting is dead” was first recorded in 1839 as issuing from the lips of the French salon darling Paul Delaroche. Delaroche was wrong (within 35 years the impressionists redefined what painting could be) and Clark was wrong too. The postwar years did indeed see the growth of anti-painting  – conceptualism, abstraction, performance, the found object and photography – but they also witnessed the reinvigoration of the old tradition of putting oil on canvas. The idea that painting was brought back to life though is misleading: for all Clark’s gloomy prognosis, it was never in extremis in the first place.

Just what happened in British painting after the Second World War is the subject of Tate Britain’s wonderfully enlightening survey “All Too Human”. The exhibition comes with a degree of throat clearing about artists who set out to capture “what it is that makes us human”, but really shows how painters from Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud to Leon Kossoff and Paula Rego made realism – defined as unsentimental objectivity – both new and personal. There is no room for Clark’s theory-reliant modes of art; this is an exhibition about paint.

In fact, paint itself was seen by some artists as a means of salvation, the drug through which to quieten the anxious postwar frame of mind. Leon Kossoff described endlessly painting the streets of London, many of them war damaged, because they conjured “a faintly glimmering memory of a long-forgotten, perhaps never experienced childhood, which, if rediscovered and illuminated, would ameliorate the pain of the present”. Freud, meanwhile, was less existential, stating simply that: “I want the paint to work as flesh does.”

What all the artists in the exhibition seemed to have felt was the intimacy involved in moving paint about on a surface and how that was in itself a way of processing their personal and intense individual experiences of life. In this they represent the opposite of modernism, with its belief in the rational and the progressive.

The exhibition takes the form of a family tree with, as its roots, a cluster of pre-war painters who embodied this distinctive vision: David Bomberg, Stanley Spencer, Walter Sickert and Chaïm Soutine. One of the many strengths of this show is the way that their work echoes through the rooms – Bacon and Freud’s nudes being inadvertant reworkings of Sickert’s unsparing and sexually unsettling paintings of naked models and prostitutes; Kossoff and Frank Auerbach’s paint-encrusted London landscapes recalling the fractured Spanish landscapes of Bomberg; the unwavering stare of Spencer’s second wife, Patricia Preece – both naked and clothed – re-emerging in Rego and Jenny Saville.

The links are not coincidental but in many cases were made directly. Between 1945 and 1953, for example, the financially struggling Bomberg (who had himself been taught by Sickert) was a teacher at Borough Polytechnic and both Kossoff and Auerbach were among his students. What they imbibed from him was that traditional representation was a “hand and eye disease” and that painting should seek to transmit “the sense of touch” and “the illusion of the third dimension”, that is the experience of forms rather than simply the look of forms.

Meanwhile, at the Slade School of Art, William Coldstream (who had attended Sickert lectures) taught both Michael Andrews and Euan Uglow and invited Lucian Freud to become a visiting tutor there. What they learned from him was how to fix their sitters on the canvas, like a pinned butterfly, and get to the truth of them through the exact representation of what they saw: as Uglow said to one model, “Nobody has ever looked at you as intensively as I have.”

This interrelatedness also manifested itself in the friendships between the leading artists. In 1976, in the introduction to a catalogue for an exhibition called “The Human Clay”, the American painter and honorary Londoner RB Kitaj christened the Bacon, Freud, Andrews, Kossoff and Auerbach circle, “the school of London”.

The artists drank together in Soho – where Andrews showed them in his Colony Room I of 1962 – and painted each other (Freud’s portrait of Auerbach, 1975-76, and a Bacon painting of Freud from 1964 are both included).

What the exhibition does is expand Kitaj’s school of London to include all the painters present, with mixed degrees of success. It is elastic enough to include, for example, the Indian painter FN Souza, who arrived in London in 1949 determined to be a modern artist but whose work didn’t begin to gain traction until the mid-1950s. His pictures have a painterly affinity with the thick impasto of his British peers – indeed Two Saints (After El Greco), a masterly study in shiny and matt black of 1965, is a bravura (if irreproducible) display of paint handling – but his subject matter is completely at odds with theirs.

Souza’s work draws heavily on his Christian upbringing and is peopled with Christ and the saints. This appeal to an older and overtly religious tradition may be his response to the anomie of the age, but the other artists in the show all take reality as their starting point rather than metaphysics. Souza may have been in London painting at the same time as his fellows but he doesn’t belong with them.

The same is true of the Portuguese-born Rego, another of Coldstream’s pupils. A genuinely significant artist, her work is based in the realm of the imagination and suggests a narrative. Typically dealing with family or folk- and fairytales, her paintings are invariably ambivalent and there is always something at work in them, often with sinister or sexual overtones.

The Family of 1988, for example, shows a man seated on the edge of a bed being undressed by two women while a third looks on from a distance. The expressions of the women are rapt and complicit and the image carries the frisson of violation. In fact it refers to Rego’s husband, the painter Vic Willing, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, and the women are mother and daughters helping an invalid out of his clothes, rather than overpowering an unwilling man.

Rego has said that, “Stories are just as important as if they existed in reality; it makes no difference.” But while that may be true for her it is not necessarily the case for the viewer. The question prompted by her paintings has nothing to do with observation and intimate realism but is rather more straightforward: what is happening here?

More representative are the early Bacons which, despite the familiarity of the “Screaming Popes” (one version here has a businessman in place of Innocent X, his very anonymity making it all the more relevant), still have the ability to shock.

Strangely, it is his paintings of animals that most potently express some of the agonies of the human condition. Dog (1952) shows a near-feral animal, tongue hanging out and panting exhaustedly after endlessly circling, as if in a rage at itself, while in the background cars stream unheeding along an American coastal freeway. Study of a Baboon (1953) is an image of a howling creature conjured up in feathery brushstrokes that belie the violence of the image: the monkey’s bared teeth, exposed in a primal scream, are no defence against existence. As images of loneliness and pain they outmuscle even Bacon’s grief-infused Triptych 1974-77, in which he tries to work out his feelings about the suicide of his
lover George Dyer.

Where Bacon worked best at one remove from his subject, using photographs as inspiration and compositional tools, Freud needed endless hours in front of the live model. From the painstaking, miniaturist works of the 1950s such as Girl with a White Dog (1950-51), in which every hair of both woman and animal is shown with the care of a medieval manuscript illustration, to the slumped form of the plus-size “Big Sue” Tilley, Sleeping by the Lion Carpet (1996), Freud was haunted by flesh.

In most cases the sitters do not look at the artist and there is no engagement between them: these are essentially paintings without a meaning. If they have a subject, it is the corporeality of individual human beings and the infinite variety of skin tone and colour. The sitters have bodies but not personalities. And if Bacon’s paintings are full of the sound of screaming, Freud’s are eerily silent.

Perhaps the most effective of the mini-retrospectives offered by the exhibition are the London paintings of Kossoff and Auerbach. Their pictures of streets and buildings use paint so gravity-defyingly thick that it is almost sculptural, and the ceaseless movement of their brushstrokes mimics the vibrations of the city. They faithfully followed Bomberg’s stricture to look for mass and structure and found them everywhere: Auerbach described London in the immediate postwar years as “a marvellous landscape with precipice and mountain and crags, full of drama formally”. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Kossoff’s 1961 Building Site, Victoria Street, a painting of a hole in the ground that uses only viscous slatherings of black and brown but that could be painted in mud or London clay.

The one maladroit step in the exhibition is the curators’ attempt to update the predominantly white, male and venerable story of postwar British painting by co-opting women (and young ones if possible) into their expanded school of London. The last room shoehorns in Celia Paul (1959), Cecily Brown (born 1969), Jenny Saville (born 1970) and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (born 1977).

Saville has a strong claim to membership – her huge and frank paintings of the naked female body (here her massive self-portrait, Reverse, 2002-2003) clearly belong to the Freud-Bacon bloodline, and indeed they expand the possibilities of rendering the human body in paint. The presence of the others is harder to justify and makes a curatorial rather than an authentic
artistic point.

This, though, hardly detracts from an exhibition that looks afresh at a period seemingly dominated by American abstract expressionism and pop art, and European heavyweights from Picasso to Gerhard Richter, and teases out a distinctive and important British strand. In 1966, Bacon defined it when he said, “What I want to do is distort the thing far beyond the appearance but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance.” Reality through distortion became the British way.

“All Too Human” is at Tate Britain, London SW1, until 27 August






'All Too Human' — representing flesh in post-war British painting





Tate Britain in London is hosting an exhibition that portrays the contrasting visions of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud in “All Too Human,” a thrilling survey of human figures in British art spanning 100 years.

Francis Bacon made a figure painting titled “Figure in a Landscape” as the war was ending in 1945. He was 35 years of age during the time. The painting portrayed details of a seated man in a flannel suit, and the man was thought to be Bacon’s then lover, Eric Hall. The painting shows the struggle of the figure to emerge from the center of the picture from the surrounding tunneled blackness, yet it doesn’t quite resolve into a human form. In the painting too, there is the specter of a yawning mouth, which could have been a toothy vacancy prefiguring Bacon’s famous painting “Screaming Popes” – but the whole doesn’t quite add up. Rather, it returns the viewer to an unsettling no man’s land. During the time, Bacon was only initiating to paint in earnest and he seems to be unsettled with the idea of depicting a human figure with any confidence. It was when the full extent of the holocaust was filtering into British newspapers. It was the time after the liberation of the camps when London still remained a bomb site and violent abstractions in art was more than a temptation. It was the time when like Bacon, every British painter wanted to connect the postwar British art to what had gone before.

The exhibition at Tate Britain tries to portray how some of the British painters maintained their fidelity to human figures through the dehumanizing times and put up a thrilling and thoughtful display of the exhibition curated by Elena Crippa.

The painting by Bacon, created in 1945, is placed in a room of the painter’s works which showcases, as its centerpiece, one of Giacometti’s spindly bronze figures, created back in 1956, both upright and insubstantial, reflecting the shape of things to come. And the Swiss sculptor with his insistence on the human form, however diminished, was Bacon’s great inspiration. In a peculiar pattern all of the works chosen to be showcased have their veritable stakes in the room.

The selection is judicious and prefaced by what had come before including David Bomberg’s layered acts of attention, Stanley Spencer’s curiously estranging Cookham realism, the charnel house butcher’s windows of Chaim Soutine and the lovingly deconstructed brushwork of Walter Sickert’s shadowy nudes. And in the proximity of the lot it’s almost perceivable of Bacon’s reexamining of these models and determining what in 1945 was now honest and possible.

“All Too Human” will be on view at Tate Britain through August 27



                                          One of Francis Bacon’s “Screaming Popes” — Study After Velasquez, 1950




Magnificent paintings — oddly curated:

All Too Human reviewed


Ill-assortment runs through this Tate Britain show like a leitmotif




In the mid-1940s, Frank Auerbach remarked, the arbiters of taste had decided what was going to happen in British art: Graham Sutherland was going to be the leading painter. ‘Then downstage left, picking his nose, Francis Bacon sauntered on. And the whole scene was changed.’ But how did it alter? What happened to figurative painting in London in the decades after Bacon exploded on to the scene? This is a question with which All Too Human at Tate Britain grapples.

It is an old problem. When in 1976 R.B. Kitaj proposed that there was an important group of figurative artists at work here, a ‘School of London’, he defined them as ‘a herd of loners’. Some, but not all, drank together and socially — at least until they fell out, which often occurred spectacularly if Bacon was at one of the parties. But artistically, for the most part, they were sui generis.

Consequently, the exhibition is full of odd couples and incompatible pairings. One half of a gallery is hung with pictures by Michael Andrews and the other with works by Kitaj himself. These are two idiosyncratic figures, both of whom are, in hall-of-fame terms, pending.

Kitaj’s reputation plummeted after a misconceived retrospective in 1994, and the disproportionately violent critical response that followed. Michael Andrews, in contrast to the abrasive and articulate Kitaj, tended to fly beneath the radar when he was alive, and was accorded a fine posthumous exhibition at Tate to which unfortunately almost nobody came. Only now is the idea dawning that he might have been a truly important figure. And so might Kitaj, after all.

It must have been tempting to put Andrews and Kitaj together. A text on the wall points out, correctly, that they both owed something to Bacon. But in practice, Kitaj’s tendency to bright, slightly bilious colour and jangling compositions fights with Andrews’s elusiveness and subtlety.

Even when painters have a real affinity their works may not help each other. William Coldstream was a highly influential teacher of, among others, Euan Uglow, whose works are hung beside his. But this juxtaposition obscures the individuality of Uglow, who evolved into an extraordinary amalgam of Coldstream, Piero della Francesca and the White Knight from Alice (his models would pose, often very uncomfortably, amid plumb lines and contraptions of his own devising, designed to aid precise observation of their bodies).

Still, there is a strong connection between Coldstream and Uglow. But putting the young Lucian Freud in the same room with them is just misleading. It is true that Bacon, after he and Freud had quarrelled, delighted in describing the latter’s work as ‘the very epitome of the Euston Road School’ — that being the label given to Coldstream and his followers (Bacon meant this as an insult). But though Freud also worked from close observation of a model, he was interested in matters such as their mortality, the impact of their presence and what was ‘going on in their heads’, which didn’t concern Coldstream and Uglow at all.

Nor did Freud have much to do with Bacon aesthetically, close friends though they were for 25 years. Freud invariably worked ‘from life’ — in front of the subject; Bacon virtually never. Bacon habitually used photographs, Freud hardly at all. And neither is there much connection with Francis Newton Souza, an Indian painter who moved to London in 1949, who gets a room to himself (though some strained links are suggested). Souza’s work looks closer to Parisian art brut than anything else done in London.

The most convincing pairing is Auerbach and Leon Kossoff, but even then only in their earliest years. After a while quite distinct painterly personalities emerged. This is perhaps why the subtitle of the show — ‘a century of painting life’ — is so vague. ‘Painting life’ could mean anything.

Although the exhibition contains many magnificent pictures, and draws attention to some unjustly neglected figures, ill-assortment runs through it like a leitmotif. It begins, reasonably enough, with Bomberg and Sickert — who really did have an effect on what came later in London – but also unexpectedly throws in the Russian-French-Jewish Soutine. It is good to see a group of younger painters in the last room — Jenny Saville, Celia Paul, Cecily Brown and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye — as a sort of coda. But you can’t help noticing how different they are.

Of course, the arbiters of what is happening in art, including Tate curators, often get it wrong. The final verdict on many of the artists in All Too Human — Kitaj, Uglow and Andrews among them — is not yet in. Bacon liked to point out that time is the only great critic, which lets the rest of us off the hook — at least a bit.




All Too Human at Tate Britain — unmissable but infuriating


A searching survey of 20th-century life painting omits some of its greatest practitioners





Absorbing, affecting, discomforting, contradictory, intensely relevant, ultimately infuriating: All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life is both unmissable and Tate Britain’s most grievously squandered opportunity yet.

The prelude is Stanley Spencer’s grim, compelling frontal close-up nude of his unyielding lesbian second wife Patricia Preece (1935). The coda is Cecily Brown’s “Boy with a Cat” (2015), a smart abstracted painterly riff on Manet’s odalisque. Centre stage rages a debate about “the mystery of appearance” conducted between Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud through 30 paintings where the figure is magnificently trapped and enlivened by layers of paint. These range from Bacon’s raw, urgent, silken screaming Pope (“Study after Velázquez”) and howling animal stand-ins for psychological agony “Dog” and “Study of a Baboon” in the early 1950s, to Freud’s 1990s extravaganzas of wobbly, bulging messy bodies in flesh colours streaked with earthy red, grey, yellow: “Leigh Bowery”, benefits supervisor Sue Tilley in “Sleeping by the Lion Carpet”.

 Of outstanding interest are a handful of Bacon rarities, fresh, exciting, unseen for decades. “Study for a Portrait of P.L.” (1962), an unsparing depiction of the artist’s lover Peter Lacy scowling on a sofa, is the first Bacon picture where internal organs burst out though the surface of the skin, like an expressive X-ray grafted on the body. “Triptych” (1974-77), unusually set outdoors, on a beach, memorialises Lacy’s successor George Dyer, whose swollen distorted features are entangled with black umbrellas placed against a brilliant Mediterranean Sea, while two forbidding father figures look on and a pair of riders — borrowed from Degas — canter on the sand. In the central panel Dyer’s contrapposto pose recalls Michelangelo’s dynamic nudes; the entire composition is a response to Picasso’s 1930s beach pictures playing with variations on the human form — the subject of Tate Modern’s show opening next week

 The imposing scale of “Triptych”, the heroism/despair of the main figure leaking a livid purple shadow, the balance of the brutal and aesthetic, the concentrated images distilled within the umbrella — a happier variation of Bacon’s caged portraits — plus the art historical references, all reveal Bacon’s ambition and inventiveness at a time, in the aftermath of the second world war, when human figuration had become the riskiest of projects. “Reworking the image,” Bacon saw, “will demand more and more profound, sensational and evocative ways” of painting: this show’s core story.

Bacon’s sources were photographic; he incorporated camera blur, made a virtue of deformation: “when I’m dead people will realise how natural my distortions are.” Freud painted from the model, with pristine clarity that stretched however to “involuntary magnification”. Tate’s supreme contrast is Bacon’s six-foot “Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud” (1964), the bare-chested figure curled into a dark corner under a lightbulb, a vision of existential anxiety not seen in public since it was exhibited in 1965, with Freud’s heavily textured, severe “Man’s Head (Self Portrait I)” (1963), the face at an ungainly angle interrupted by a skeletal arm thrusting violently into the composition.

Freud here turns on himself the “visually aggressive” mode — “I would sit very close and stare” — that makes so many works dramas of control and power: over the wrinkled, fierce, despairing features of “The Painter’s Mother IV”; the compressed body and vulnerable expression of daughter “Annabel”; or Freud’s first wife Kitty Garman terrified under his scrutiny in “Girl with a White Dog” (1950-51).

Her dressing-gown slips to expose a breast with a dark mole; tightly controlled details of eyes, lashes, fingernails, strands of hair, porcelain-smooth skin, are realised with precision; the sleepy indifference of a bull terrier lazing on her lap contrasts with Kitty’s own tense response to the painter. This work resonates marvellously with “David and Eli” (2003-04): in Freud’s late-style slathered impasto, connections between man and dog remain vivid in an unexpectedly tender depiction of man and whippet as a mass of quivering flesh.

Two Freud portraits — resilient, tough “Frank Auerbach” and a harrowing, cowed “Girl in a Striped Nightshirt” depicting Celia Paul — make subjects of artists whose work is also displayed here, and one wants a conversation. Disappointingly, only two Auerbach portraits are included, and just one by his friend Leon Kossoff. As existential as Bacon, Auerbach’s glowing “Head of EOW” and Kossoff’s wily, wiry “Self Portrait II” emerge out of deep furrows of paint, hard-won, architectonic yet fleeting, seeking, Auerbach says, “to pin down an experience in its essential aspect before it disappears”.

Thick, war-torn London cityscapes — Auerbach’s “Rebuilding the Empire Cinema”, Kossoff’s “Building Site, Victoria Street” — now tilt All Too Human towards social history. British painting links inextricably with London emerging from austerity to swing: Michael Andrews’ laconic fantasy party “The Deer Park”, RB Kitaj’s self-portrait reclining in a Le Corbusier chair among refugee booksellers “Cecil Court, London WC2”. But where are David Hockney’s iconic portraits charting changing attitudes to sex, class, fashion, such as Tate’s “Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy”?

While Hockney is, arbitrarily, inexplicably, entirely absent, derivative Indian Modernist Francis Souza occupies a whole gallery: frozen, long-necked mythological saints and sinners “Negro in Mourning”, “Jesus and Pilatus”. Curator Elena Crippa “positions the work of Souza as central to the development of British art in the postwar period”. This is laughable. So is likening Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s mediocre, composite, generic figures — “The Host over a Barrel”, “Coterie of Questions” — to Walter Sickert’s. Yiadom-Boakye’s black figures are here because “they investigate and stretch stereotypical views on femininity, masculinity, race . . . that define and constrain our identity”.

The show’s contemporary section is women-only, and highlights two emotionally shattering compositions about grief. Paula Rego’s “The Family” was painted as her husband was dying: a cruel/tender wife and daughter attempt to resurrect a sallow, ill man. Celia Paul’s “Family Group” depicts her mother and sisters, expressions distraught, each in their own way mourning her father.

Rego and Paul, distillers of domestic experience, are terrific artists. But as All Too Human’s declared theme of “re-engagement with realism . . . looking at and participating in the modern world” expands to embrace storytelling and abstraction, excluding important, more influential men feels perverse. Peter Doig’s theatrical reinvention of figuration, Chris Ofili’s ornamental figures such as “No Woman No Cry” about 1990s race relations, are missing pivots key to recent art history.

In figurative painting postwar and beyond, Britain, building on empirical traditions of attention to observation, individuality, resistance to theory, is distinctive and world class. On this subject, Tate Britain could have mounted a landmark exhibition to return this languishing museum to the global map; what a travesty that instead it narrowed into gender politics.

To August 27



The Human Condition Relationships And Raw Desires





The 20th century saw God lose his central role within the scheme of human belief and philosophy. Nietzsche’s assertion that God was dead was followed by two of the bloodiest wars in human history, which further cemented feelings of alienation, scepticism and doubt. Artists, writers and thinkers found themselves in a world that lacked transcendental meaning, where the divine no longer offered escape or respite. In his writings, the French philosopher Sartre’s nihilistic existentialism chimed with the experiences of war. The belief that ‘existence precedes essence’ meant individuals were now responsible for their all too human choices, whims and actions. What came to interest artists was the authenticity of individual experience, the solitude and angst experienced by those who understood that God had finally gone up in smoke in the chimneys of Auschwitz. “To me,” wrote W.H. Auden, “Art’s subject is the human clay”.

After the war, echoing, Beckett’s doom-laden remark that: “there is nothing to express…no power to express…together with the obligation to express,” Giacometti – who appears fleetingly in this show All Too Human at Tate Britain – was so eaten by doubt that he was only able to make the tinniest of sculptural figures. The title of the show is based on Friedrich Nietzsche’s book of aphorisms of 1878 and illustrates how an unsentimental approach to painting, free of romanticism or mythology, took hold. Human relationships, raw desires, drives and fears are the preferred subject matter of these artists. They painted their friends, lovers and family with real and urgent intimacy.

A number, such as Walter Sickert, David Bomberg and Stanley Spencer, reach back into the 19th century, with further sections ranging through the likes of Lucien Freud and Michael Andrews, towards a gathering of younger women who undermine what was, until recently, an essentially male view of the world. Sickert’s bleak and sensuous figures, which borrow from Degas, set the tone. These are naked women rather than academic nudes, where we, the viewer, are invited to become complicit voyeurs. Spectacle and desire are also expressed in Sickert’s dark music-halls with their working-class audiences. Elsewhere Stanley Spencer’s second wife Patricia Preece confronts the viewer with her piercing gaze in an abrasive image that’s free of all false sentiment.

Flesh is important. Soutine’s excitement with raw meat is taken up by Bacon and translated in Bomberg’s and Auerbach’s thick gloopy impasto and gestural brushwork, where the paint comes to form a sort of bodily skin. As Freud said: “I want the paint to work as flesh does.” The distillation of undiluted experience, what it feels like to inhabit rather than observe the world, is what matters. In contrast to Freud’s paintings from life, the exhibition explores Francis Bacon’s relationship with the photographer John Deakin, whose portraits of friends and lovers often provided him with the catalyst for his paintings.

The show will please the naysayers who have been claiming over the last couple of decades that painting is dead. For most of these artists, the sensual pleasure taken in their medium is clear to see. Central to the narrative is the role of the School of London that included Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Leon Kossoff, Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach and R.B. Kitaj. A group loosely linked by friendship and a mutual sensibility to the modern world. They met regularly at Soho drinking venues such as the Colony Room, run by the notorious Muriel Belcher, and regularly painted each other. Both Kitaj and Michael Andrews, in their very different ways, explore an interest in group scenes and storytelling.

London is also important. There’s a room filled with crowded swimming pools and vertiginous city churches by Kossoff. These are juxtaposed with the psychologically complex and angst-ridden portraits of Frank Auerbach, which often feel like a difficult psychoanalytic session expressed through the medium of paint. While the focus of the show revolves around the London School, diversity is flagged by the inclusion of the mystical work of Indian painter FN Souza.

But it is Freud who dominates with his superbly neurotic, hyperreal paintings, through to those where the paint becomes looser and more visceral. There’s a stunning small head of Leigh Bowery which, with his closed eyes, dimples and fleshy rose-bud mouth, is full of surprising tenderness. Freud’s ability to mirror the soul of his sitters is also there in the poignant portraits of his mother and the astute depiction of Frank Auerbach, his friend and artistic rival.

Deference is paid to William Coldstream and the Slade School of Art. For Coldstream painting was above all a process of perception. To this end, he attempted to fix observed reality in a series of measurements. This practice was also adopted by a generation of Slade painters, particularly Euan Uglow though, in contrast to the sturm und drang of the Europeans such as Freud, Auerbach and Kossoff, there seems something tight, English and rather academic about these.

A generous display of Paula Regos turns the previously male-dominated view of the world on its head. Not only does she explore human relationships with her own cast of personal characters but she’s unafraid of using stories and commenting on social issues. We see the world not only through her vivid imagination but from a feminist perspective as she fearlessly takes on issues of sexual inequality, jealousy and emotional abuse.

The exhibition concludes – optimistically I would suggest for the future of painting – with a room full of powerful works by younger female painters. Jenny Saville’s visceral self-portrait, with its parted wet lips and dreamy gaze, has something post-coital and confessional about it. In contrast, Celia Paul paints herself as both model and painter, in poses that are introverted, dreamy and intimate, with the edgy intensity of Gwen John. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is represented by two of her distinctive fictional portraits, while Cecily Brown pays homage in her complex painterly canvases that merge abstraction and figuration, to her many art historical influences. This show creates numerous threads between artists across the generations. Painting, looking and trying to make sense of the human condition will, this show suggests, be with us for a long time yet.

All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life – Tate Britain Until 27 August Adult £18.80

Sue Hubbard is a freelance art critic, award-winning poet and novelist. 






All Too Human review – flesh in the game of British painting



The contrasting visions of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud take centre stage in this thrilling survey spanning 100 years of the human figure in British art




n 1945, as the war was ending, Francis Bacon, then 35, made a painting he called Figure in a Landscape. Details of a seated man in a flannel suit, thought to be Bacon’s then lover, Eric Hall, struggle to emerge from the centre of the picture, out of a tunnelled blackness, but they don’t resolve into a human form. There is, too, the spectre of a yawning mouth in the picture, a toothy vacancy that prefigures Bacon’s famous screaming popes – but the whole refuses to quite add up. Instead, it returns the viewer to an unsettling no man’s land of tangled pipework and indistinct hedging or bracken, mostly in an arid khaki but with traces of blood red. Bacon, who was only starting to paint in earnest, seems to be wrestling with the idea of whether it is still possible to depict a human figure with any confidence at all. The full extent of the Holocaust was just then filtering into British newspapers, after the liberation of the camps; London remained a bomb site; violent abstraction was more than a temptation. Bacon, as much as anyone at that moment, wanted to find how a postwar British art might connect to what had gone before.

In this thrilling and thoughtful exhibition, the way certain British painters maintained their fidelity to the human figure, while all about them were losing faith, is at the heart of everything. Curator Elena Crippa has placed Bacon’s 1945 painting like a starter’s pistol to what follows. It is in a room of the painter’s work which has as its centrepiece one of Giacometti’s spindly bronze figures, from 1956, both upright and insubstantial, the shape of things to come. The Swiss sculptor, with his insistence on the human form, however diminished, was Bacon’s great inspiration. His life mask of William Blake and his first contorted animal studies, a dog chasing its tail, a yowling fanged baboon, face that insistent human figure as if it is a totem, or circle it as if in a bacchanal.

In some ways all of the work chosen here has a stake in that room. It is prefaced by a judicious selection of what had come before: David Bomberg’s layered acts of attention, Stanley Spencer’s curiously estranging Cookham realism, the charnel house butcher’s windows of Chaim Soutine and the lovingly deconstructed brushwork of Walter Sickert’s shadowy nudes. In this proximity you can almost sense Bacon re-examining those models and determining what in 1945 was now honest and possible. And then, in turn, as the exhibition and the century develops, Bacon’s dissolving figures are challenged by other strategies – new hard-won approaches to the oldest artistic relationship of all, that between painter and model. Crippa takes the name for her show from Friedrich Nietzche’s book of aphorisms, a T-shirt slogan for existentialists: “Everywhere he looked… what he saw was not only far from divine but all-too-human.”

The exhibition uses that understanding to open up many startling paintings. Each of the rooms is conceived as a discrete, brilliant statement of intent. Lineages of influence and friendship are traced, like a list of biblical begats. Sickert taught Bomberg; Bomberg taught William Coldstream and Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff; Coldstream taught Euan Uglow and Michael Andrews and Paula Rego at the Slade, where Lucian Freud was also a tutor, and so on. The bloodlines are carefully calibrated. Coldstream may have insisted on the primacy of attention, of looking, but his relatively low-wattage nude here becomes something remarkable in the hands of his pupil Uglow. Bacon may have delineated the psychological fallout of war, but Auerbach, who arrived in London on a Kindertransport, sought to give you the thing itself; his paintings of the early 1960s have you look into the ongoing wounds in the capital, put you in the ruins of great clay-ey layers of paint in Rebuilding the Empire Cinema, Leicester Square and have you imagine the slow work of reconstruction.

If the close friendships and rivalries between these painters start to make it seem like another exclusive British club, the show also acknowledges the presence of one or two alternative histories. Francis Nelson Souza, born in Goa, arrived in London from Bombay in 1949 and his black-on-black saints and voodoo crucifixions ask different questions of Britishness, though they lack the foregrounded industry, the intensive overpainting, of the self-styled London school.

For all such intriguing diversions, the heart of the show remains the forcefield of a relationship between Bacon and Lucian Freud. In the immediate postwar years Freud seemed to want to cling to a kind of limpid sensuality, however disturbed. His pair of portraits of his wife, his Girl With a Kitten and Girl With a White Dog appear to inhabit the world his grandad Sigmund first analysed, that of the uncanny: his sitter and intimate seems at once alive and almost drained of animation, beyond a wild-eyed stare. Freud is somewhat desperately questioning what is vital and what is not.

That question is carried over to the wonderful room of his later portraits, in the settled hogbrush-and-impasto style of his mature career, in which he makes the human form a convincingly lived-in slab of meat. His sitters in the paintings chosen here – including the headline acts of performance artist Leigh Bowery and benefits supervisor  Sue Tilley – are mostly asleep, accentuating their too, too solid flesh, and its myth of impermanence. Bacon’s portraits – including his study of Freud himself, a satyr-like figure with several rows of teeth – are far less substantial, forever threatening to thaw and melt into something less than human.

There are counterweights and balances to these primal forces. Something like joy emerges in some of the later work here, in Frank Auerbach's Mornington Crescent mornings and twilit Primrose Hill evenings, in the fabulous cacophony of Leon Kossoff’s Children's Swimming Pool and the wonderful furtive groping of Cecily Brown’s Teenage Wildlife. The refusal of narrative in Freud and Bacon, which reflected a distrust of any form of lasting domesticity, is interrogated in particular by Michael Andrews and Paula Rego. Their storytelling seems far more alive to the possibility of relationship; subjects are no longer isolated, or held captive, in the studio.

Michael Andrews’s painting Melanie and Me Swimming strikes a different note from anything else in the show, a rare celebration of what could be uncomplicated love and connection as the painter reimagines a moment in which he supported his daughter in the water – even if that connection is encased and spotlit in an enclosing blackness. Paula Rego's triptych The Betrothal looks like a modern take on the satirical nuptials of Hogarth, until the last panel, that is, in which the artist depicts herself cradling her husband, Victor Willing, who suffered with multiple sclerosis for 15 years before his death – a personal pieta of unfathomable intimacy; all too human indeed.

At Tate Britain until August 27




Why painter Francis Bacon was art’s greatest punk



Bacon’s art both repulsed and fascinated audiences equally, but revealed our most intimate, transgressive and unruly nature






In April 1945, then 35-year-old Irish-born painter Francis Bacon debuted what would become his first seminal piece of work, at the Lefevre Gallery Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, the work was a triptych of paintings allegedly modelled on the Ancient Greek tragedies, The Oresteia. It presented distorted, humanoid creatures set against a fiery orange backdrop. It was shocking, and it gained Bacon the title of one of Britain’s most established painters.

“From the moment Francis Bacon started exhibiting regularly, in 1945, critics were fascinated and repelled by his work. The shouting mouths, distended eyes and distorted or swelling body parts of his figures were seen as markers of brutality or the result of uncontrolled urges and feelings of disquiet,” explains Elena Crippa, curator of the just-opened exhibition, All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life, which features several of Bacon’s works. “This was at a time when artists were expected to produce work that reflected a socially progressive role. Bacon was not painting idealised beings but revealing people’s most intimate, transgressive, and unruly nature.”

Whereas 70s punk subculture was a product of a disenfranchised generation of British youth and the rise of Thatcherism, unemployment and racial tensions, Bacon’s work was symbolic of post-war Britain – a feeling manifested in the shadowy aftermath of World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust. His works shone a light on the dark realities of a collective shattered innocence. But his art was also deeply personal. Growing up his family moved numerous times between Ireland and England, imbuing him with a sense of displacement that would linger through his lifetime. It is said that the elements of sado-masochism in his work can also be traced to this time when he was punished by his father for slipping into dresses and his mother’s underwear. His homosexuality only caused further upset and he was thrown out of home before heading to London with an allowance of £3 a week from his mother.

As a self-taught artist, Bacon’s paintings would often forgo brushes for rags, his fingers, or by applying paint straight from the tube, and creating a smeared, smudged, raw physicality. He also preferred to work from references such as the freakish figures captured by photographer Eadweard Muybridge, a book on anatomical diseases of the mouth that he purchased secondhand in Paris in 1935, and a specific scene of a screaming nurse from Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film Battleship Potemkin, as opposed to the more acceptable practice of employing life models.

Paintings such as Bacon’s 1945 Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion hold the same punk essence that the Sex Pistols’ 1977 God Save the Queen does – albeit predating the latter by three decades. Both expressed deep resentment and each seemingly came out of nowhere. They also present an Expressionist vision of the world, where art reflects the deep feelings and emotions of its artist. In an interview with art critic John Gruen, Bacon said, “I feel ever so strongly that an artist must be nourished by his passions and his despairs. These things alter an artist whether for the good or the better or the worse.” In the 70s, these feelings were presented sonically through angst. For Bacon, they were via the recurring motif of the silent, but screaming mouth.

The artist’s romance with former East End criminal George Dyer – who he met in London in late 1963 – was arguably central to the chaos of Bacon’s later paintings. Described by critics as turbulent and ultimately tragic, Bacon painted his lover obsessively, even as they became distanced. In 1971, two days before the opening of Bacon’s retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris, Dyer committed suicide. Bacon was consumed with grief but channelled it through his works such as Triptych May to June 1973, which depicts an overdosing Dyer. In it, Bacon's obsession with life, sex and death combine against a vacuous black background: to the left, Dyer sits on the toilet shitting, and to the right, he vomits into it. In the central image, Dyer is barely there, engulfed by a dark shadow that resembles an angel. The Times wrote that Bacon had once described the painting as an exorcism, adding that it was one of his most brutal paintings, based solely on facts.

It is because of his own life experiences and otherworldly references that Bacon’s works could never have conformed to the ideals of a post-war world – which were emphasised in the gestural brushstrokes of Abstract Expressionism (thanks to artists such as Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning) or Surrealism (namely via Spanish artists Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso). While these movements inspired Bacon – he once described Picasso as “the father figure” and “the reason I paint” – they focused on the potential of the unconscious mind. Instead, Bacon focused on the role of the body in real life human experience. Illustrating these in primitive, animal-esque forms, or “figures (in) moments of crisis”. He told David Sylvester, “When talking about the violence of paint, it’s nothing to do with the violence of war. It’s to do with an attempt to remake the violence of reality itself… the violence of suggestions within the image which can only be conveyed through paint.” Just like punk would – Bacon’s work cut straight through the bullshit. And – alongside his School of London contemporaries, such as Frank Auerbach, Lucian Freud, and Leon Kossoff – peeled back the flesh to unleash raw emotion, desire, and darkness.

All Too Human: Bacon, Freud, and a Century of Painting Life – by Elena Crippa, curator, Modern and Contemporary British Art, and Laura Castagnini, assistant curator – runs at London’s Tate Britain 28 February – 27 August 2018



                                Francis Bacon (1909-1992) Portrait, 1962. 









Majid Boustany, founder of the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, talks to Mart Engelen about the artist’s life, work and vision and love of Monaco. The MB Art Foundation was inaugurated by Prince Albert II of Monaco in 2014 on 28 October the anniversary of the painter’s birth. This non-profit organisation is dedicated to promoting a deeper understanding of Francis Bacon’s work, life and creative process around the world, with a particular focus on the time the artist lived and worked in Monaco and France. Since it opened, the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation has worked with local and international institutions, supporting a variety of projects, awarding scholarships to researchers and artists, publishing books on Bacon and taking part in various exhibitions and lectures dedicated to the British painter. The Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation was involved with the extraordinary Francis Bacon/Bruce Nauman – Face to Face Exhibition held at the Musée Fabre in Montpellier from 1 July to 5 November 2017, lending two works by Bacon, Figure with monkey (1951) and Study for a Portrait (1979), and supplying several photographs from its archive for the exhibition catalogue and the museum website.

Mart Engelen: How and when did your interest in Francis Bacon and his work start?

Majid Boustany: My first encounter with Francis Bacon’s oeuvre goes back to my academic years in London in the early 1990s. While pursuing my academic studies in business and international relations, I enrolled in a short course in history of art. During a visit to the Tate Gallery, I was confronted with Bacon’s enigmatic triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), which challenged interpretation and triggered in me the need to explore his world. My immersion into the artist’s work, life and creative process started in those years and continues to this day.
ME: Can you describe Bacon’s relationship with Monaco throughout the years?

MB: We know that Bacon started visiting Monaco at the dawn of the 1940s. In 1946, Erica Brausen, who was to become his art dealer from 1948, purchased Painting 1946 from the artist for £200. With the proceeds from the sale, Bacon left London to settle in Monaco with his nanny Jessie Lightfoot and Eric Hall, his lover and patron. The Principality became his main residence from July 1946 to the early 1950s. From the 1950s to the early 1990s, the painter frequently visited Monaco and the French Riviera with his lovers, friends and family. It was in Monaco that the self-taught artist began to concentrate on the representation of the human form, a decisive step that would lead him to be recognised as one of the major figurative artists of the twentieth century. It was also there that Bacon embarked on his papal figures (mainly inspired by the Diego Velázquez Portrait of Pope Innocent X) and his ‘head’ series, and initiated new working practices. A seasoned gambler, he spent whole days gambling at the Monte Carlo Belle Époque Casino. During his various trips to Monaco in the 1970s and 1980s, he could often be seen with his circle of friends in the Casino gardens, on the terrace of the Café de Paris, at the Chatham Bar, and at Pulcinella or Le Pinocchio restaurants.

ME: And was this also the basis for starting your foundation in Monaco?

MB: Contemplating Bacon’s attachment to and fascination with Monaco, and after having studied the poignant, timeless work of the British painter for a number of years, I started to dream of a concrete project in his memory. The creation of a Foundation in Monaco, dedicated to this singular artist, seemed obvious to me. In 2010 I initiated the project thanks to the pivotal support of H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco and the Monegasque authorities. The Estate of Francis Bacon encouraged this unique initiative and Martin Harrison, editor of the artist’s catalogue
raisonnés, is on the Foundation’s board. On 28 October 2014, the anniversary of the painter’s birth, the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation was inaugurated by the Sovereign. Our foundation is dedicated to promoting a deeper understanding of the work, life and creative process of Francis Bacon worldwide, with a particular focus on the time the artist lived and worked in Monaco and France. It is open to researchers, and to the public throughout the year, by appointment only. It provides a singular way for visitors to immerse themselves in Bacon’s oeuvre, by offering them a free guided tour through which they can discover about one hundred pieces of my collection. Since its opening, the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation has supported a variety of projects: it has awarded scholarships to researchers and artists, published books on Bacon and taken part in various exhibitions and lectures dedicated to the British painter, in conjunction with local and international institutions.

ME: What do you consider to be the most precious artwork in your collection?

MB: Over a number of years I have been building a comprehensive collection that now includes over 2500 items dedicated to Francis Bacon. It encompasses paintings by Bacon, a unique photographic archive on the artist, a comprehensive collection of his exhibition catalogues, a wide selection of the painter’s graphic works, various working documents from Bacon’s studios and rare items from his furniture and rug designer period. The foundation headquarters also houses an extensive library dedicated to the painter, offering an essential source for scholars. I cherish each and every item of my collection and I have acquired some rare pieces such as the earliest surviving painting by Francis Bacon, Watercolour (1929), a unique work once owned by Eric Alden, his companion and first collector, and by the Australian artist Roy de Maistre who was arguably Bacon’s most formative mentor. I have also purchased a rug designed by Bacon entitled Composition (1929), one of only seven rugs that have survived from his furniture and rug designer period. Figure Crouching (1949), the earliest crouching figure executed by the artist, is among my favourite paintings in the collection. The nude figure, perhaps a self-portrait of the artist, is isolated in a three-dimensional transparent cage. This work might have been painted in Monaco.

ME: Can you tell me more about your participation in the current exhibition at the Musée Fabre ‘Francis Bacon/Bruce Nauman. Face to Face’?

MB: The Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation took part in the ‘Francis Bacon/Bruce Nauman. Face to Face’ exhibition held at the Musée Fabre in Montpellier from 1 July to 5 November 2017. This exhibition brought together two artists who worked using quite distinct, sometimes even opposing, means, in order to allow a renewed reading, a revivified understanding of these two major twentieth century figures. It was curated by Cécile Debray, curator at the Centre Pompidou, and organised around an important group of about ten works by Bacon from the collection of the Musée national d’Art moderne, lent within the framework of the Centre Pompidou’s 40th anniversary. On this occasion our institution lent two works by Francis Bacon: Figure with Monkey (1951) and Study for a Portrait (1979). We have also supplied several photographs from our archive for the exhibition catalogue and the museum website.

ME: Quite a few important artists make their interpretation, inspiration of Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. Can you tell me more how you think Bacon’s feelings and approach to this important work was?

Francis Bacon considered Diego Velázquez to be the greatest of all artists. When talking about Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650), the British artist stated: “I’ve always thought this was one of the greatest paintings in the world and I’ve had a crush on it”. This papal figure obsessed and haunted Bacon for years. He perceived it as factual, powerfully formal and unlocking valves of sensations at various levels. He particularly loved its magnificent colours. Bacon’s first attempt at reinventing the Velázquez pope was initiated in Monaco in 1946. Between 1946 and 1971, he produced over 50 papal variations mainly inspired by the Spanish master’s painting. Though he was an atheist, Bacon was obsessed throughout his life by religious imagery and painted a series of works on the crucifixion and pope themes.
—Copyright 2018 Mart Engelen




                               Francis Bacon at his house, London 1979  Photo by Edward Quinn




Friends reunited on the walls of a gallery



A major exhibition on the work of Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon opens at Tate Britain tomorrow.

It brings back memories for Freud's friend, Rebecca Wallersteiner





A major exhibition celebrating the achievements of Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon opens at Tate Britain next week. It holds a special interest for me, as it was my luck to work for Freud for several years from the late 1980s and we became intimate friends — despite our age difference — he was in his 60s and I was in my 20s.

The show, entitled All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life, shows their work alongside art by contemporaries including Frank Auerbach (Freud’s best friend) and RB Kitaj. Despite differences in style, these London-based artists strove to represent human forms and their surroundings in a realistic way to capture the intense and sensuous experience of life through paint.

One of my tasks for Freud was to compile a list detailing everyone who rang throughout the day, as he did not wish to be disturbed whilst working. On the morning of 28 April 1992, my phone rang incessantly — dozens of journalists desperate to speak to him about his friend Francis Bacon who had died while on holiday in Madrid. I rang Freud, who had already heard the news. He sounded very sad.

“I don’t wish to talk to someone I don’t know about a friend who is dead,” he said.

I’d met Bacon a few times in the late 1980s, but can’t claim to have ever talked to him when he was sober. He could frequently be seen walking around South Kensington wearing his trademark black leather jacket, his face fixed in an impassive, glazed expression — rather like a living waxwork.

At the time of Bacon’s death, Freud and Bacon hadn’t spoken for years. They had once been intensely close friends. For 20 years, Bacon was the most important man in Freud’s life, influencing how he thought, lived and painted. In the early days of their relationship Freud, ten years the junior, was encouraged by Bacon and hero-worshipped him. He greatly admired Bacon’s wild imagination, caustic wit and powerfully expressive way of painting large oils. It encouraged him to be more artistically adventurous and move away from meticulous, minute detail and to paint with a freer style, on a more ambitious scale — standing up, rather than sitting in a chair.

They had much in common: including a love of champagne, gambling and danger. They frequently dined together in Soho and drank the night away in rackety watering holes carousing with friends. Freud was impressed by Bacon’s carefree approach to life, and by the fact that he didn’t care what anyone else thought.

Although their styles are quite different, both clung firmly to figurative painting in the post-war years when it was distinctly unfashionable. Freud painted directly from the flesh but Bacon painted only from photographs.

They sat for each other, with Bacon’s enigmatic, powerful portraits of Freud and Freud’s intense, minutely-detailed painting of Bacon considered key works. In 1951, Freud was the first subject who was named as a sitter by Bacon, who went on to paint 19 portraits of him and some are likely to feature in the Tate’s show. Freud returned the favour, and his 1952 powerful portrait of Bacon was to become one of his best-known paintings. In 1988, it was stolen from a gallery in Berlin while on loan from The Tate and has not been seen since.

Freud’s naturalism captures the essence of the friends he painted, including their wrinkles, sagging skin and muscles, moles, pasty complexions and lumpy noses, often reclining in a state of passivity.

Bacon and Freud shared a concern with universal themes of human frailty and existence. Now, 25 years after Bacon’s death, and nearly seven since Freud’s, this exhibition of their work will heighten what is best in each.

All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life is at Tate Britain from February 28 to August 27.




    Capturing the experience of life: Freud and Bacon go on show at London's Tate Britain





                       Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne by Francis Bacon at London's Tate Britain.



LONDON, Feb 19 ― February 28 to August 27, 2018, London's Tate Britain is showing works by Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, two artists who captured the sensuous, immediate and intense experience of life in their paintings.

“I want the paint to work as flesh does,” said artist Lucian Freud, grandson of the founder of psychoanalysis. Exploring this theme, Freud's work is set to go on display alongside that of Francis Bacon. The two artists both strove to illustrate the experience of life through their work.

Pieces by other artists will also feature in this exhibition of around 100 works, making connections between generations of artists and telling an expanded story of figurative painting in the 20th century.

The show promises major and rarely seen works by both Freud and Bacon, giving visitors the chance to immerse themselves in the sensuality and intimacy of the two artists.

Freud works featured in the show will explore his studio as a context and a subject of his work, and how his bluntly honest depiction of models became more sculptural and visceral over time. Examples include “Frank Auerbach” and “Sleeping by the Lion Carpet.”

As for Bacon, the exhibition will look at his relationship with photographer John Deakin. Earlier works by the artist, including “Study after Velazquez,” will be shown alongside works by other artists, such as Giacometti.These works will be complemented by pieces from other artists, including painters from previous generations, such as Walter Sickert and Chaim Soutine.

The exhibition will also highlight the role of female artists in the very male-dominated world of figurative painting. Paula Rego, for example, explored the condition of women in society while referring to autobiographical events.

After showing in London, the exhibition will head to the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.

All Too Human, Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life February 28 to August 27, 2108, at Tate Britain, London.




   Portraits by Bacon and Freud of same man go on display together


     Strikingly different paintings of Bacon’s lover George Dyer hung side by side for first time





                              The two portraits shed light on one of the most fascinating artistic friendships of the 20th century. 



Two portraits by Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud of the same man, one intense, twisted and distorted; the other serene, relaxed and unguarded, have gone on display side by side for the first time.

The portraits of George Dyer were produced around the same time, but are strikingly different and shine light on one of the most fascinating artistic friendships of the last century.

“Lucian painting George was a way of giving him some space and some distance and a bit of a rest from Francis Bacon,” said gallerist Pilar Ordovas, who knew Freud. “You can see a George Dyer that is pensive, into his thoughts and with his guard down. There is something very fragile about him.

“The Francis Bacon is completely different. There is this violence, and it is fascinating to see how different they are.”

Bacon's triptych, Three Studies of George Dyer 1966, which sold at auction for £29m last year, and Freud’s Man in a Blue Shirt, painted in 1965, have gone on public display at the Ordovas gallery in London, part of a small display of works by artists who were part of the “School of London”.

It is often said that Bacon met his lover when Dyer, a petty East End crook, burgled his house. The truth, however, is that they met in a Soho pub when, according to Bacon’s biographer Michael Peppiatt, Dyer approached him and cheerily said: “You all seem to be having a good time, can I buy you a drink?’’

They fell in love and Bacon painted Dyer many times. Their relationship was a dysfunctional one, however, fuelled by alcohol and sadomasochistic sex, and it ended in the most tragic of circumstances when Dyer killed himself two days before the opening of Bacon’s hugely important retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971. It was an event that haunted Bacon and had a profound effect on his work.

Ordovas said the relationship between Bacon and Dyer was tumultuous, but that it is sometimes misunderstood. “People think of George Dyer as the violent one, but talking to Lucian it was the other way round.”

Bacon and Freud were almost inseparable in the mid-1960s. They would work in the morning, have lunch at Wheeler’s and then go drinking in the Colony Room.

Freud saw that Bacon’s intensity was taking a toll on Dyer and took him to stay with his friend Jane, Lady Willoughby de Eresby, on her estate in Scotland. It was here that Dyer sat for the portrait.

Also on display at the gallery for the first time in the UK is an unfinished Freud self-portrait from 2002 along with works by Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, David Hockney and RB Kitaj. Ordovas said “the story of the supposed School of London” was a story of friendships and that is what the exhibition explores.

London Painters is at Ordovas, Savile Row in London from 22 February to 28 April




                        Detail of Three Studies of George Dyer by Francis Bacon. 






    Post-War & Contemporary Art


      6 March 2018, London 


      Sale 14573 | Lot 25

    Francis Bacon (1909-1992)

      Three Studies for a Portrait





GBP 10,000,000 - GBP 15,000,000

(USD 14,120,000 - USD 21,180,000)

Price realised  GBP 10,008,750



Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Three Studies for a Portrait

i) signed, titled, inscribed and dated 'Study for Portrait Left panel from front Francis Bacon 1976.' (on the reverse)
ii) signed, titled, inscribed and dated 'Study for a portrait Center Panel Francis Bacon 1976.' (on the reverse) 
iii) signed, titled, inscribed and dated 'Study for Portrait right panel from Front Francis Bacon 1976.' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas, in three parts
each: 14 x 12in. (35.5 x 30.5cm.)
Painted in 1976

Lot essay

‘You are beautiful, darling, and you always will be’ 
–Francis Bacon to Henrietta Moraes 

‘I think there’s a whole area there suggested by Picasso, which in a way has been unexplored, of organic form that relates to the human image but is a complete distortion of it’
–Francis Bacon 

Unseen in public since its inclusion in Francis Bacon’s historic exhibition at Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris, in 1977, Three Studies for a Portrait is the artist’s penultimate ode to his great female muse Henrietta Moraes. Across a trio of cinematic panels, spiked with abstract colour and texture, the artist develops his 1969 painting Study of Henrietta Moraes into a fully-fledged triptych. Comprising three 14-by- 12-inch canvases, it is the last of only six portraits of Moraes painted in this celebrated format, the first of which now resides in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Throughout the 1960s, Moraes had played a central role in Bacon’s cast of bohemian Soho subjects, inspiring many of his finest paintings. Painted in Paris in 1976, the present work signals an important turning point in his practice, following the tragic death of his lover George Dyer shortly before his triumphant Grand Palais retrospective five years earlier. Drawn to the city where the couple had spent their final moments, Bacon had taken a studio there in 1974. As the years passed, his despair began to fade, sparking not only a stream of new subjects but equally a return to old friends. Bacon’s 1969 portrait of Moraes had been inspired by a film still of the actress Emmanuelle Riva in Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour (1959), a serpentine strand of wet hair bisecting her face. With its themes of love and memory, the film’s imagery continued to haunt Bacon as he began to come to terms with his loss. Three Studies for a Portrait combines the influence of this source with the primitivist visions of his hero Pablo Picasso, using the hair and nose as sculptural pivots around which to shift his subject’s facial features. Tinged with subtle chiaroscuro lighting, her mouth and teeth are animated by photographic blurring effects, electrified hues, scumbling and sharp flicks of the brush. Exhibited at Claude Bernard alongside the mournful ‘black triptychs’ and self-portraits painted in the wake of Dyer’s death, it represents a glimpse of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel: a poignant reflection on his golden Soho days. 

An artist’s model, writer and notorious bonne vivante, Moraes had first appeared in Bacon’s work in 1963, subsequently inspiring more than twenty paintings. Having previously sat for Lucian Freud in Girl in a Blanket (1953), she quickly became part of Bacon’s colourful social circle who congregated at the Colony Room and other London haunts. ‘When I was eighteen, I had spent almost all my mornings, afternoons and evenings with him’, she recounted, ‘dined alone with him at Wheeler’s, oysters and Chablis, gone with him to the Gargoyle, listened to the wit and wisdom which flowed almost continuously from his lips’ (H. Moraes, Henrietta, London 1994, pp. 72-73). In the early 1960s, Bacon announced he was beginning a series of portraits of friends, and asked if she might allow John Deakin to take some photographs of her. The images gave rise to some of his most important works of the period, including Portrait of Henrietta Moraes and Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe, both of 1963, as well as Lying Figure, 1966 (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid), Lying Figure, 1969 (Fondation Beyeler, Basel) and a significant body of single and triptych heads. The 1969 portrait, which had featured in the Grand Palais retrospective, continued to linger in Bacon’s psyche throughout the 1970s, inspiring not only the present work but also Female Nude Standing in a Doorway, 1972 (Centre George Pompidou) and a further 1976 triptych. As Michael Peppiatt observes, Bacon had been drawn to ‘her vitality, her bursts of unconstrained laughter and her equally unconstrained behaviour’ (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, pp. 209- 10). It is perhaps little wonder that, as the clouds of sorrow for Dyer began to part, Moraes returned once again to his art. 

Three Studies for a Portrait tells the story of Bacon’s assimilation into the Parisian art world. He felt a powerful connection to the city where Dyer had died, and three years later acquired a studio near the Place des Vosges. Despite the personal tragedy of the 1971 retrospective, it had brought him outstanding critical acclaim. The canvases exhibited at Claude Bernard six years later, crowned by the grand allegorical Triptych painted shortly before the present work, propelled the public’s reverence to even greater heights. ‘The show as a whole caused an immediate sensation’, writes Peppiatt. ‘Bacon’s reputation had stood very high in Paris ever since the Grand Palais retrospective, and once the French public had admitted him as a new hero in their cultural pantheon their enthusiasm knew no bounds. The press build-up had been considerable, with Newsweek running a portrait of the artist on its cover to announce: “Francis Bacon’s Big Paris Show”. During the opening, police cordoned off the rue des Beaux-Arts in an attempt to control the crowds pressing down the boulevard Saint-Germain. In a couple of hours, some eight thousand people had pushed their way into the gallery’s relatively restricted space: a mood of exhilaration, but also of panic – of something that was about to get completely out of hand – ran through the narrow street’ (M. Peppiatt, ibid., London 1996, pp. 277-78). The mobbing of the exhibition was an apt expression of his rising celebrity, which frequently saw him stopped in the streets by new friends and strangers alike. After years of emotional strain, Bacon entered a new period of personal and professional contentment. 

Comparison between Three Studies for a Portrait and the ensuing Portrait of Michel Leiris is enlightening within the context of Bacon’s burgeoning Parisian connections. If Moraes had been at the centre of Bacon’s social milieu in London, it was Leiris who helped to define his position in Paris, notably penning introductions to both the Grand Palais retrospective and the exhibition at Claude Bernard. It was in Paris in the 1920s that the young Bacon had first discovered Picasso, and both works testify to a sharpened engagement with his influence upon his return to the city. With their long sweeping noses, bared teeth and gaping eye sockets, Bacon’s facial divisions are almost skeletal, invoking Picasso’s fascination with ancient tribal masks. At the same time, his hyper-real palette and curved, organic lines speak to the 1920s beach scenes that had sparked his fascination as a young man. ‘I think there’s a whole area there suggested by Picasso, which in a way has been unexplored, of organic form that relates to the human image but is a complete distortion of it’, he asserted (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1975, p. 8). The implied movement of both figures creates a warped arrangement of facial features: a sense of temporal simultaneity replete with unmistakable Cubist inflections. The mottled strains of pink lend both works a visceral, bloodshot quality, like veins brought to the surface of the skin. In attempting to surmise this quality Bacon famously spoke of Picasso’s ‘brutality of fact’ – a sense of drilling down to the carnal essence of his subjects. The phrase would become the title of David Sylvester’s landmark series of interviews with the artist, published the year before the present work. 

It was Bacon’s own pursuit of ‘the brutality of fact’ that led him to work from photographs of his subjects rather than from life. ‘I find it less inhibiting to work from them through memory and their photographs’, he explained. ‘… What I want to do is to distort the thing far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance’ (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1975, pp. 39- 40). Within this context, the 14-by-12-inch triptych became one of his most celebrated formats, allowing him to capture his subjects in the highly-charged, volatile manner in which they inhabited his mind’s eye. ‘I see images in series’, he asserted, explaining that they ‘fall in [to my mind] just like slides’ (F. Bacon, ibid., pp. 84 and 134). Bacon felt strongly that, however abstract and chance-induced his marks, they should always return the viewer to carnal fact: to the pounding veins and twitching nervous system that make up ‘all the pulsations of a person’. Inspired by his fascination with radiography diagrams, here Bacon posits a distortive zoom lens over Moraes’ mouth, as if seeking to give form once again to that ‘unconstrained laughter’. ‘I like, you may say, the glitter and colour that comes from the mouth’, he once claimed, ‘and I’ve always hoped in a sense to be able to paint the mouth like Monet painted a sunset’ (F. Bacon, ibid., p. 50). Dyer’s death, the most brutal fact of all, had forced him to contemplate his own mortality. In the wake of this revelation, perhaps, he sought more than ever to preserve the spirit of those who had enriched his life and art. 




  Francis Bacon: Prints at Marlborough Graphics, New York





        Study from Human Body 1987, 1992, by Francis Bacon, Etching and aquatint. Edition of 90


Marlborough Graphics is hosting a solo exhibition of prints by Francis Bacon at its New York space.

“Francis Bacon: Prints” will feature lithographs, etchings and aquatints by the artist. Some of the artworks presented were published by Marlborough. Showcased are the graphic works including self-portraits, portraits of old lovers, as well as depictions of the human figure that reflect the very grotesque and expressive natures seen in Bacon’s paintings. With the featured presentation, we could identify Bacon’s inclination to printmaking and connect with his close association with his printmakers. Bacon’s ideology is especially evident with the usage of bright oranges and deep blacks.

Marlborough Graphics’ presentation is on view from February 7 through through March 10, 2018, Marlborough Gallery, 40 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019.



Five minutes with... Francis Bacon's Three Studies for a Portrait


Francis Outred, Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art in London, discusses the 1976 triptych that signalled the end of a long period of mourning for the artist. It is offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 6 March





             Francis Bacon (1909-1992), Three Studies for a Portrait, 1976. Oil on canvas, in three parts.

                                  Each: 14 x 12 in (35.5 x 30.5 cm). Estimate: £10,000,000-15,000,000.


‘I remember being blown away by this painting when I first saw it almost a decade ago,’ says Francis Outred, Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s in London, of Francis Bacon's 1976 triptych, Three Studies for a Portrait. ‘It was in the personal collection of an architect,’ Outred recalls, ‘hung beautifully in his apartment, above a sofa. It was the first thing I saw when I walked in the door, and it completely drew me in.’ 

From the late 1950s onward the small-scale triptych became Bacon’s signature composition. In particular, Outred explains, Bacon considered the 14- by 12-inch format ‘the right scale for focusing on the bold features of the face’. This example will be a highlight of the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 6 March at Christie’s in London. 

In Three Studies for a Portrait Bacon uses the format to depict Henrietta Moraes, his close friend and confidante, who had also sat for Lucian Freud. Moraes first appeared in Bacon's work in 1963 and subsequently inspired more than 20 paintings, including his 1969 Study of Henrietta Moraes, and six 14-by-12-inch triptychs, the first of which is now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

‘The work is also an ode to the renowned film Hiroshima Mon Amour,’ notes Outred. In the 1959 film by Alain Resnais the lead actress, Emmanuelle Riva, is captured in one shot of the movie with a lock of hair hanging across her face. ‘Bacon uses the hair as a compositional device to splice the face and pivot its two sides,’ the specialist explains.

It is fitting that Bacon turned to Resnais’ film for inspiration, Outred says, as Hiroshima Mon Amour ‘was about love, loss, despair and memory.’ When Bacon executed this work, the artist was still mourning the loss of George Dyer, the great love of his life, who had committed suicide in Paris on the eve of Bacon’s 1971 retrospective at the Grand Palais.’

In the years following his death, Bacon made a series of landmark black, large-scale triptychs in Dyer’s memory. He even moved to Paris in 1974, becoming fiercely Francophile and fully assimilating into French life. ‘So,’ Outred continues, ‘you have two mirrored stories of loss and memory coming together in this one painting.’

Bacon famously did not prime the front of his canvases. Instead, he primed the back, causing the paint to seep into the fabric. ‘In Three Studies there’s a sort of a chalky aspect to the paint, and the black is really dense,’ Outred points out. Bacon even dipped a part of his corduroy sleeve in paint and dabbed it on the canvas. Together, these techniques give the figure an almost sculptural feel. ‘There’s a tribal aspect to it,’ says Outred, ‘a rawness to the image. The texture of the paint really adds to that.’

‘Where this painting differs from the triptychs that came before,’ the specialist continues, ‘is that, rather than darkness for darkness’s sake, you have a kind of light emerging through the dark, with the application of strong orange hues and clean whites.’ The lightness reflects the fact that, by 1976, Bacon’s grief over the loss of Dyer had finally begun to subside.

Three Studies for a Portrait was first exhibited in 1977, at the Galerie Claude Bernard in Paris. By then Bacon was considered something of a hero in France, and the show received considerable press coverage. The opening saw some 8,000 people pass through the gallery in just a few hours, and police blocking off the street outside. 

The show, which represented ‘the culmination of this moment of reflection, memory and loss for Bacon’, included many of the great paintings he made following Dyer’s death. ‘It was the end of a certain period for him,’ Outred explains. After years of emotional strain, the artist finally entered a period of personal and professional contentment.

Outred has high expectations for a work with ‘great provenance and a great studied history’. Three Studies is thought to have been acquired by the current owner directly from the 1977 exhibition, after which it was never again seen in public. 



Jealous Lucian Freud locked away Francis Bacon bargain




Lucian Freud was so jealous of Francis Bacon that he bought one of his most celebrated paintings for just £80 and refused to let it be seen in public, just to infuriate his rival, it has been claimed.

Bacon’s 1953 masterpiece Two Figures depicts two nude men on a bed. Freud bought it at a reduced price after the painting failed to sell at auction and then refused to let it be borrowed by any museums, even when the Tate hosted a retrospective of Bacon’s work in 1985.

Barry Joule, a close friend of Bacon’s from 1978 until the painter’s death in 1992, recorded a conversation they had about the picture. Bacon can be heard recalling how the art critic David Sylvester had sold Two Figures to Freud for £80.

Bacon says: “I had to give £20 of it to Sylvester as a commission and I got £60 for it, I think . . . You see how things are.” Mr Joule said that Bacon then gave a “sad triple shrug of his shoulders”.

He told The Observer: “Freud stashed it away in his house. He later was to put his jealousy knife into Francis as he never, ever allowed this important picture to be borrowed, which mightily [upset] Francis, especially as he wanted it for his 1985 Tate retrospective.”

The painting was inspired by a photograph taken by Eadweard Muybridge in the 1880s of two men wrestling.




       Lucian Freud bought Francis Bacon’s Two Figures for £80 but never allowed it to be seen in public




Secret tapes shed light on Francis Bacon's bitter battle with Lucian Freud


Conversations between Francis Bacon and a friend reveal details of the long-term feud between two giants of British art








They were titans of 20th-century art, painters whose friendship and rivalry helped create some of the most expensive artworks ever sold. Yet Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud had a falling out, for reasons that neither man fully explained.

Now, recordings of Bacon have emerged that shed light on the estrangement. Talking with a close friend, Bacon poured scorn on Freud, ridiculing one of his paintings in the Charles Saatchi collection and lamenting in 1982 that Freud “doesn’t want to see me”.

The recordings came to light weeks before a joint exhibition of their work in London. Tate Britain’s All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life will reflect the complex friendship between the two men when it opens on 28 February.

Bacon confided: “Certainly the ones [Saatchi] bought of Lucian’s are the worst ones I have ever seen. I saw one ghastly thing of a man standing on a bed and two little heads peeping out from under the bed. It looked ridiculous.”

The recordings were shared with The Observer by Barry Joule, who lived near Bacon’s studio in South Kensington. In 1978, Bacon saw Joule repairing a neighbour’s television aerial and invited him in for champagne. They remained friends until the artist’s death in 1992.

Joule believes Freud’s friendship with Bacon was tainted by Freud’s jealousy: “He cut Francis off completely, much to Francis’s surprise, and never, ever relented.”

There seems to be another element of contention, however. Bacon’s Two Figures(1953), a masterpiece showing two nude men on a bed, was exhibited for the first time in decades last October, when it was loaned to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. It had ended up in Freud’s possession and he never allowed it to be borrowed, much to Bacon's fury.

On one tape, Bacon recalled his German-born London dealer, Erica Brausen, freaking out over Two Figures. He imitated Brausen’s high-pitched Germanic tones: “When I took in that painting … she did say, ‘Darling, don’t bring that sheeet in here!’” He tried to explain that it was inspired by Eadweard Muybridge’s 1880s photographs of wrestlers. “She said: ‘I don’t care where it comes from. I don’t vaant de police in ’ere!’”

Bacon then related how the late art critic David Sylvester sold Two Figures to Freud for £80. When Joule expressed astonishment at the low price, Bacon replied: “I had to give 20 of it to … Sylvester as a commission, and I got 60 for it, I think … You see how things are.”

Joule will never forget Bacon’s “sad triple shrug of his shoulders, eyes downcast”.

Joule said: “Freud stashed it away in his house. He later was to put his jealousy knife into Francis as he never, ever allowed this important picture to be borrowed, which mightily [upset] Francis, especially as he wanted it for his 1985 Tate retrospective.”

Bacon once confided to another friend: “When I die, my paintings won’t be worth anything, I’ll be forgotten.” He could not have been more wrong.

Freud is admired for portraying the human body with brutal realism. His life-sized nude depiction of his muse Sue Tilley, who was known as “Fat Sue”, sold in 2015 for £35.6m.

Bacon met Freud in the mid-1940s. Although each admired the other’s art in the early days, they eventually stopped speaking.

Joule said that Two Figures was painted in an old garage near Henley-on-Thames rented by Bacon’s then lover, Peter Lacy, just before Christmas 1952. “The exact spot was poignantly pointed out to me by Francis … No doubt he considered it to be a … groundbreaking picture, one that would make a powerful ‘homosexual point’.”

In 1988 Joule was sipping whisky with Bacon, who had just finished a painting, when the phone rang. It was Freud, wanting Bacon to attend a supper for a forthcoming exhibition.

Joule said: “The conversation was short and curt. Only a few words were spoken, with a red-faced Francis slamming the receiver down so hard the wall shook. He angrily returned to his drink, swearing with the foulest language, which was unusual for him. ‘Never lends me his Two Figures painting and now he wants this!’”

In 1991 Joule was with Bacon in a Marylebone cafe when Freud walked in: “I saw Francis stiffen … Lucian did a double-take, but marched right past him. Later I quizzed Francis about what just happened, as I was sure Francis was up for a Freud rapprochement. He just sighed.”

Joule said that Bacon was happy to be recorded, insisting only that Joule wait 12 years after his death before making the conversations public.

The artist also gave Joule works of art, including 1,200 sketches from his studio, whose worth was estimated at £20m in 2004 when Joule donated them to the Tate, one of its most generous gifts. He kept about 120 drawings, which he is exhibiting in Italy at the Villa Fiorentino museum in Sorrento from May to October. The recording of Bacon discussing Freud will be featured.




From Van Gogh to Richter–what happens when bidders fail to pay up at auction?


Flaky winning bids are knocking the gloss off record-breaking sales





              Francis Bacon’s Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne and George Dyer (1967)


Shortly before Christie’s sale of post-war and contemporary art in New York on 15 November 2017, the auction house learnt of a potential new bidder: a little-known Saudi prince, Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud. According to the New York Times, a scramble ensued to establish his identity and financial means, and, in order to bid, he had to pay a $100m deposit for a red paddle.

The work he bid for, Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi (around 1500), went on to make a record-shattering $450.3m and was bought by Abu Dhabi with the prince acting as a middleman, but why did all the bidders on the high-value work need a special paddle? Quite simply because Christie’s wanted to be sure the final buyer would pay up.

Such high-profile prices rightly make auction houses wary when it comes to payment. One of the first public cases was of Van Gogh’s Irises sold at Sotheby’s New York in 1987 for $53.9m—the highest price ever paid at auction for a painting at the time—to the Australian businessman Alan Bond. But he could not pay, and Sotheby’s had to lend him around half the purchase price, later brokering its sale to the Getty Museum.

As for Phillips, the complex saga involves a second Chinese collector, Lin San. As well as taking Zhang to court, Phillips is attempting to claim Francis Bacon’s Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne and George Dyer (1967), which was bought by Zhang at Phillips on 30 June 2015 for £12.1m. Lin says that he lent Zhang the money for his art purchases–and that Zhang had given him the Bacon instead of repaying the loan.

The various parties are thought to be moving towards a settlement – although the outcome of which will likely remain confidential.




Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation


La Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation est une institution à but non lucratif, qui consacre ses activités d’étude et de recherche à l’un des artistes figuratifs anglais les plus énigmatiques du XXème siècle : Francis Bacon.






Les missions de la fondation

Organiser ou collaborer à des expositions et des séminaires consacrés à l’œuvre, à la vie et au processus créatif de Francis Bacon.

Soutenir de nouvelles recherches en partenariat avec La Succession Francis Bacon (The Estate of Francis Bacon) et d’autres institutions internationales.

Parrainer et promouvoir des artistes émergents.

Financer différents projets associés à Francis Bacon.


Le fondateur Majid Boustany


« Ma première rencontre avec l’œuvre de Francis Bacon remonte à mes années universitaires à Londres au début des années 1990. Parallèlement à mes études en commerce et en relations internationales, j’ai suivi un cours d’histoire de l’Art.

Au cours d’une visite à la Tate Gallery, j’ai été confronté au triptyque de Bacon, Trois études de figures au pied d’une Crucifixion (1944). Ma réaction immédiate face à ce tableau fut contradictoire. J’étais à la fois choqué par ces formes organiques mi-humaines, mi-animales, et complètement fasciné par ces étranges créatures menaçantes sur fond orange. L’énigmatique triptyque de Bacon défiait l’interprétation et a déclenché chez moi le besoin d’explorer son univers. Mon immersion dans l’œuvre, la vie et la méthodologie de l’artiste a commencé à cette époque et se poursuit encore aujourd’hui.

Je me suis rapidement aperçu, au fil de mes recherches, que Bacon avait vécu et travaillé à Monaco de juillet 1946 jusqu’au début des années 1950. Il retourna fréquemment en Principauté pour de longs séjours tout au long de sa vie, avec ses amants et son cercle d’amis. Ses villégiatures à Monaco et sur la Côte d’Azur faisaient partie des moments de sa vie dont il parlait le plus spontanément. Il faisait souvent référence au travail qu’il parvenait à accomplir à Monaco, malgré les nombreuses distractions qui s’offraient à lui.

Etant résident monégasque depuis plus de vingt ans et considérant l’attachement et la fascination que Monaco exerçait sur Bacon, je me suis mis à rêver d’un projet concret en sa mémoire. La création d’une fondation à Monaco dédiée à cet artiste singulier me paraissait dès lors être une évidence. J’ai initié le projet en 2010 et le 28 octobre 2014 (date anniversaire de la naissance de Francis Bacon), la Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation a été inaugurée par S.A.S Le Prince Albert II de Monaco.

Cette institution a pour mission de promouvoir une meilleure compréhension de l’œuvre, de la vie et de la méthodologie de Francis Bacon, en portant une attention particulière à la période durant laquelle l’artiste a vécu et travaillé à Monaco et en France. Cet autodidacte, qui décrivait ses tableaux comme des « concentrés de réalité », s’est attaché durant toute sa carrière à explorer le côté obscur de l’existence humaine. Ses peintures convulsives et sublimes m’interpellent encore aujourd’hui, plus de vingt ans après sa mort. »
Majid Boustany



           Francis Bacon, Trocadero residence, Monaco, 1986




London Painters


ORDOVAS | NOVEMBER 03 2017 - JANUARY 18, 2018







          London Painters installation view, including, left to right, Frank Auerbach, Head of J.Y.M. II, 1984-85 and Francis Bacon, Fury, circa 1944.


What comprised the “social real” of London between 1945 and 1960? In general accounts it was defined by privation and austerity brought on by the personal and economic sacrifices of six years of world war but with a hopeful accompaniment of starting from scratch, of fabricating one’s individualized expression out of the rubble. For painters of this generation the war allowed for a break from the gravitational influences of Picasso and the School of Paris, the same break that would lend lift to the Abstract Expressionist ascendancy in New York. Artists from both cities would assimilate the codified (and for the most part exhausted) styles of Cubism and Surrealism toward their own ends, yet is was figurative painting that took primary hold in London.

In truth there was no coherent “social real” in London art circles at the time, considering the diverse backgrounds of artists such as Francis Bacon who came from an aristocratic family in Ireland, and Frank Auerbach, who as a child was evacuated to London from Hitler’s Germany. And in fact, the only native Londoner in the group was Leon Kossoff, but then, communities of artists tend to invent their own cultural histories, sourced from their own pasts, while in the process of transforming their futures. Lucian Freud, certainly, would wind up faithfully translating his grandfather’s (Sigmund) psychological analysis by transforming its complex plumbing of psychic association into sinuous skeins of paint defining both his sitters mental state and their skin and bone structure. A good example is seen here in his penetrating, yet opaque, portrait of Lady Willougby de Eresby, simply entitled, Woman With Fair Hair, Portrait II, (1962-63). Similarly, Bacon would deconstruct such symbols of aristocratic privilege as the papal throne in his study of Velazquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X represented here by a gripping Study After Velazquez (1950).

The Freud and Bacon paintings are viscerally realized examples of the painterly poles that would charge this version of a “School of London,” namely the abstract disassembling of the human form and its tactile, sensuous reassembly. While painters such as Kossoff and Auerbach were not as singularly focused on the figure, they too often used it as an armature for the luscious application of oil paint. They both studied with David Bomberg, who in this instance functioned (in an American analogy) as the Robert Henri to their Glackens and Bellows, or to use a term applied to post-war social realist theater in Britain by the London-based critic David Sylvester, their “kitchen sink” to the Americans’ gritty “ashcan.” Bomberg, like Henri, encouraged his students to take up the heavily-loaded brush stroke as an index of “real” expression. Kossoff often takes this injunction to extremes as seen in such a topographically canyoned and crenellated accretion of paint in the landscape represented here, Stormy Summer Day, Dalston Lane (1975), while Auerbach tends to create a somewhat lighter, more slashingly calligraphic stroke in Head of J.I Y.M. I(1984-85). Kossoff can evoke Van Gogh’s structural brushwork at times, while Auerbach’s technique assimilates both the labile focal depth of Manet’s paint application and the appropriation of the atomized Cubist faceting of painterly space as was practiced so remarkably by Bacon. Relevant to the last point, what made each of these artists’ contributions to their creative community significant is their sophisticated awareness of previous historical styles of painterly figuration. And, as the show infers, their attendant ability to let themselves be influenced by each other’s development out of these precedents is what really formed their bond.

Any “school” would quickly become moribund (and eventually historically irrelevant) without a constant flow between its assumption of a historical tradition and the nurturance of evolving personal styles. It is this open-ended esprit de corps that helps to invigorate the retrospective, time capsule, aspect of the show. Of the relatively younger generation of artists associated with this group, one of its main promoters, paradoxically, was the transplanted American R.B.Kitaj, who befriended a young David Hockney while they both took classes at The Royal Academy of Art. Kitaj favored a more graphic, illustrative figurative approach that would influence Hockney at a time when they both professionally “arrived” on the cusp of Swinging London and British Pop. A decade later Kitaj would organize a comprehensive show of British contemporary art entitled The Human Claywhich was held at The Hayward Gallery under the auspices of the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1976. While including himself and a younger generation of artists such as fellow Royal College alumni David Hockney, Derek Boshier and Peter Phillips, Kitaj featured Bacon, Freud, Kossoff, Auerbach, and Michael Andrews prominently in the exhibition. Andrews is represented here by the quiescent Portrait of Jane (1989-91) while Hockney is shown by the small but lively oil sketch Montcalm Pool, Los Angeles, (1980). Kitaj’s large painting entitled The Neo-Cubist (1976-1987), a full length portrait of Hockney superimposed by the ghostly profile of the playwright Christopher Isherwood, pays alluring homage to both Kitaj’s longtime friend and sitter as well as one of Hockney’s most significant portrait subjects. It’s a fitting compendium to a show that emphasizes how a microcosmic form of social realism can be derived from a circle of intimates as well as from the larger, less knowable circle of the historical real.




Francis Bacon’s Lucian Freud study on show after 50 years





                                         Bacon’s study of Freud is inspired by photos taken by a mutual friend


A painting of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon, unseen in public for more than half a century, is to go on show at Tate Britain next month.

The two artists were close friends from the 1940s until they fell out in the early 1970s after each criticised the other’s work. They would go to the same demi-monde drinking clubs and dine at Freud’s west London home.

Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud, 1964, has previously gone on show only once, in the mid-1960s. It has Bacon’s visceral style, with an angst-ridden face.

"Freud did not sit for it but it was inspired by photos of him by their friend John Deakin," aid Elena Crippa curator of the Tate's All Too Human exhibition.

Freud is depicted as muscular. “Bacon was always fascinated by strong, physical presence. He was also attracted to Freud.”



Bacon, Freud, and the London Painters

at ARoS Art Aarhus Kuntmyseum




The ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum is currently hosting an exhibition of works titled Bacon, Freud, and the London Painters.

The show features works by post-war painters including Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. The works on display showcases work by the group of British artists who have come to be known as the ‘School of London.’ They were active in the two decades following World War II. Their artistic starting point was the bomb-scarred post-war Europe. These artists explored themes and subjects such as angst and hopelessness. The depiction of friends, lovers, and immediate surroundings in deeply personal and insistent paintings was coupled with psychological portraits of distorted and deformed bodies contributed to the creation of an entirely different view of a man in the post-war era. Erlend G. Høyersten, museum director, ARoS, points out that “This exhibition marks the beginning of a collaboration between ARoS and one of the world’s most renowned museums. It is an exceedingly ambitious art exhibition boasting a uniquely high standard, and it showcases extraordinary paintings, only a few of which have been previously shown in Denmark.”

ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum is one of the largest museums in Northern Europe with a total of 20,700 square meters distributed on 10 floors. It features four galleries and a floor featuring installation art.


Bacon, Freud, and the London Painters runs through February 4, 2018 at ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Aros Allé 2, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark.



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