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Property from a Private European Collector



LOT 115   |   19 MAY 2022   |   19:00 EDT   |   NEW YORK 



Francis Bacon


Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd Version 1971



   signed Francis Bacon, titled and dated Study of Red Pope 1962,


   2nd Version 1971 (on the reverse)


oil on canvas
78 by 58
⅛ in. 198 by 147.5 cm.
Executed in 1971.


  Estimate: 40,000,000—60,000,000 USD




Marlborough Fine Art, Zürich
Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above in February 1973)
Acquired by descent from the above sale by the present owner



John Russell, Francis Bacon, London, 1971, p. 112, illustrated in color
Lorenza Trucchi, Francis Bacon, New York, 1975, p. 14 (text), p. 150, illustrated in color
Exh. Cat., Venice Biennale 45th International Exhibition, Figurabile Francis Bacon, 1993, p. 117 (text) 
Wieland Schmied, Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict, Munich, 1996, no. 18, fig. 34, p. 23, illustrated, p. 49, illustrated in color 
Exh. Cat., Institut Valencià d'Art Modern (and travelling), Francis Bacon: Lo Sagrado y lo Profano, 2003–2004, p. 31, illustrated in color
Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London, 2008, p. 292 (text)
Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume III, 1958-71, London, 2016, no. 71-04, p. 970-971, illustrated in color
Maia Wellington Gahtan & Donatella Pegazzano, eds., Monographic Exhibitions and the History of Art, New York, 2018, p. 56 (text)
John M. Carvalho, Thinking with Images: An Enactivitst Aesthetics, New York, 2018, p. 35 (text)



Paris, Galeries Nationals du Grand Palais and Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Francis Bacon, 1971-1972, no. 107, p. 137, illustrated
Paris, Centre Pompidou, Francis Bacon: Books and Panting, 2019-2020, pp. 50-51, illustrated in color, p. 229 (text)




“Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971… is the final work in the series. Once again, Bacon introduces an element that complicates the spatial situation and sharpens the challenge to the viewer’s perceptions. The element in question is the mirror, an inherently ambivalent image that can also be read as a window. Here, too, the backrest of the throne has the function of a picture within a picture, but in this case, it is extended to form a triptych, a winged altarpiece whose two side-panels are folded out so that the viewer sees only their inner surface.”



A defining masterpiece and triumphant finale to the artist’s seminal series of Pope paintings, Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971 depicts the first and only encounter within Francis Bacon’s oeuvre between his two most important subjects: the Pope raised on a dais, drawn from Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X,1650, and George Dyer, the love of Bacon’s life and one of his most celebrated muses. First unveiled at Bacon’s landmark retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1971, a career-defining exhibition and an accolade only previously afforded to Pablo Picasso among living painters, Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971 remains a testament to Bacon’s limitless capacity to provoke and capture the most fundamental of human emotions. In the present work, Bacon reworks the composition of his 1962 painting Study from Innocent X, revising the portrait to include his love George Dyer, as if the figure of the Pope, not only the progenitor of Bacon’s practice but a stand-in for authority, the canon, and the father, finds its counterpart in Bacon’s lover, instantly identifiable by his curved nose. On October 26th, 1971, the Francis Bacon retrospective opened to great acclaim, the galleries at the Grand Palais were filled with admirers, yet George Dyer’s presence was tragically absent. Less than thirty-six hours prior, Dyer had taken his own life in their Paris hotel room. Executed shortly before the Retrospective, Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971 reveals a haunting premonition of the devastating loss of Bacon’s lifelong love, a singular meeting of his two greatest muses and charts Bacon’s artistic maturation between 1962 and 1971. Having remained in private hands since 1972, the present work’s importance is further attested to by its inclusion in the major retrospective Francis Bacon Books and Painting at the Centre Pompidou in 2019.


“In the lives of all of us there is a human being whom we least wish to lose. Bacon sustained that particular loss at the time of his retrospective exhibition in Paris in 1971-1972. He bore it with a stoicism for which even Homer would have been hard put to find words; but in his real-life – his life as a painter, that is to say – it came to the fore over and over again.”



A tragic loss and profoundly emotional soul, Dyer was often portrayed in Bacon’s oeuvre as in motion or in a mirror. As John Russell describes: “A compact and chunky force of nature, with a vivid and highly unparsonical turn of phrase, he embodied a pent-up energy... a spirit of mischief, touched at times by melancholia... his wild humour, his sense of life as a gamble and the alarm system that had been bred into him from boyhood... George Dyer will live forever in the iconography of the English face.”  (John Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1993, pp. 160-65) Dyer’s passing would continue to haunt Francis Bacon’s artwork throughout his career. A now legendary portrait, Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971  is one of the last images Bacon made of Dyer prior to his death, embodying Bacon’s fervent attempt to find catharsis in the canvas. Bacon’s portraits of George Dyer are some of his most passionate and psychologically arresting paintings; the spectral figures incisively convey the dichotomously tortured and heroic, romantic and tempestuous nature of their relationship.

Dyer and Bacon met in the fall of 1963 for the first time at a Soho pub; Dyer famously introduced himself to the artist’s party with the gambit You all seem to be having a good time. Can I buy you a drink?” (Jonathan Fryer, Soho in the Fifties and Sixties, London 1998, p. 9) A charming, handsome man, Dyer would soon become Bacon’s lover and muse. Underneath this beautiful façade, however, Dyer was deeply conflicted and vulnerable. Their relationship was passionate and tumultuous, tender and brutal. Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971 reflects on the eight years they had together, the artistic and emotional transformation Francis Bacon encountered following their meeting in late 1963. During this period, Bacon sought to capture Dyer’s likeness with a painterly dynamism that captured his inner turmoil and the mercurial, fierce passion of their relationship. In Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971, Dyer meets the Pope from behind a mirror; he resembles a trapped spectral reflection under that stirring gaze. A macabre and disquieting prophecy, Bacon illustrates Dyer as a shadow, a memory trapped stoically behind the glass, a seminal meeting with the conflicted head of the Catholic Church.

Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971 endures as a fervidly fraught and harrowing grande finale to the incomparably momentous series of pontiffs that Bacon obsessively reworked in the 1950s and 1960s, transmitting a palpable vulnerability through the profound aesthetic translation of their psychological tension into painted form. In any one period, there are only a finite number of images with almost limitless connotations. In our time, along with perhaps Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, Duchamp’s La Grande Verre and a Giacommeti Femme debout, Bacon’s Popes are not only the centerpiece of all his paintings...but a centerpiece of the whole of twentieth-century art. (Michael Peppiatt, Exh. Cat., Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (and travelling), Francis Bacon in the 1950s, 2006, p. 28) A titan of twentieth-century portraiture and one of the most iconic bodies of work, Bacon’s Pope paintings were inspired by Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1650.

Bacon was deeply affected by the work, which he described to David Sylvester as one of the greatest portraits to have ever been made (Interviews, the green edition, p. 26), and the series became his most famous arena for the rendering of flesh in all its tactile glory and psychological deconstruction. Bacon’s chosen task in painting the Pope was not one of representing an image but rather re-representing the meanings inherent to Velázquez’s portrait: stature, presence, public role and the very mechanics of being. Bacon gets under the skin and goes beyond the surface of the image, engaging a series of emotions that lie at the heart of ordinary daily existence in the most extraordinary way.

A symbol of authority and power, the Pope that Bacon illustrates, distorts the infallibility of the figure. In many portraits, he is seen erupting in screams, writhing or disfigured. Through his depictions of the Pope, which he began after he first came across a reproduction of Velásquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X around 1946, Bacon would launch an exploration of the nature of existence that would guide his portraiture throughout his career, including those of George Dyer. In Velázquez’s portrait, Bacon became infatuated by the raw and tormented figure he glimpsed, a poignant juxtaposition to the figure’s exalted status.


“Bacon’s mirrors can be anything you like — except a reflecting surface... Bacon does not experience the mirror in the same way as Lewis Carroll. The body enters the mirror and lodges itself inside it, itself and its shadow. Hence the fascination: nothing is behind the mirror, everything is inside it.”



A retired army captain and racehorse trainer with a puritanical and vindictive streak, Bacon’s father Eddy tyrannized the family household, and in particular his son, with whom he was at odds. Allergic to his father’s horses, asthmatic and unashamedly effeminate, Bacon was expelled from the family home after being caught admiring himself in the mirror wearing his mother’s underwear. That the Pope – the Holy Father – was to be Bacon’s first subject when he reached artistic maturity is perhaps in part owing to a working-through of personal trauma. Bacon created approximately 50 canvases in the series of Popes, including early works from 1946 to 1950, which he subsequently destroyed, depicting Pope Innocent X, a man afflicted by the weight of his own authority. In the 1960s, Bacon turned to some of his most arresting and intensely captivating muse, his great love.

In 1971, for the retrospective Francis Bacon at the Grand Palais, the artist revised two of his most celebrated works, the present work and Second Version of Painting’1946 (1971), held in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Bacon’s insistence that this image be included in the exhibition, despite its then owner’s refusal to lend it, coupled with the new inclusion of the intimate portrayal of an emotionally fraught George Dyer, evidences Bacon’s regard for the importance of this piece and composition. Together Study for Innocent X and Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971 chart the changes in technique, form and style that Bacon employed over the intervening nine years; the Baroque richness of color evident in his 1962 painting differs from the sparingly applied paint and raw canvas in Bacon’s later work.

The dynamic passages of painterly strokes of impasto juxtaposed against the bare canvas highlight the dramaturgy of the composition, the curved mirrors and fragmented space almost seem to foreshadow the iconic Black Triptychs executed following Dyer’s death. Furthermore, the inclusion of George Dyer evidences a palpable emotional reverence. Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971 elevates the personal to the universal, transmitting a palpable vulnerability and arresting intensity. The work marked the end of an era for both muses, the final papal portrait and one of the last portraits of Dyer prior to his death; the light cords that dangle between them are suspenseful and threatening, a premonition of Dyer’s death. Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971 singularly embodies the profound artistic reckoning between 1962 and 1971, becoming the ultimate encapsulation of Bacon’s most transformative decade.

As Wieland Schmied describes, "Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971… is the final work in the series. Once again, Bacon introduces an element that complicates the spatial situation and sharpens the challenge to the viewer’s perceptions. The element in question is the mirror, an inherently ambivalent image that can also be read as a window. Here, too, the backrest of the throne has the function of a picture within a picture, but in this case, it is extended to form a triptych, a winged altarpiece whose two side-panels are folded out so that the viewer sees only their inner surface." (Wieland Schmied, Francis Bacon, CITY 2006, p. 23) Bacon worked from printed photographs of both the Velásquez Pope and Dyer, disfiguring and morphing their images to illustrate the burden and complexities of their internal psyche. He felt that by referring to secondary sources, he was able to remove their literal appearance and instead capture the essence of their selves. Equally conflicted characters, wrestling with power and vulnerability, the Pope and Dyer meet in the present work confronting each other’s gaze with a binding intensity.

One of the most radical iconoclasts, Bacon’s obsession with the Pope and Dyer, both fundamentally impacted his oeuvre and, more broadly, twentieth-century painting. Coupled together in the present composition, akin to a devotional diptych, the Pope and Dyer’s figures appear twisted, fractured and densely worked. Together, united as subjects of Bacon’s painterly obsession, they deftly embody the fragility of the human experience. In Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971, the reference to his painting from nine years earlier offers unique insight into Bacon’s artistic evolution in the intervening years, a period that marked the most important decade in his life, culminating with the Grand Palais retrospective. Through Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd version 1971, Bacon is in dialogue with himself, his muse, his lover, his past and his present, rendering a sublime commentary on the human condition with a fervent passion and incisive vigor. Staging the encounter between his great love, Dyer, and his greatest obsession, the Pope, Francis Bacon reveals a tragic premonition of Dyer’s fateful passing and a seminal reverent homage to his two most renowned muses finally united together.









Majid Boustany: “When Bacon burst into my life,


I was fascinated by the unique giant”








The patron and president of the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation agreed to tell us about his passion for the painter and the activities carried out by his Foundation.

Could you tell us about your background?

After a degree in business administration followed by a master’s degree in international relations in England, I started working as a corporate director in my family’s business in Monaco. I am also co-owner, along with my brother, of the Hôtel Métropole in Monte-Carlo and founder of the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation Monaco, a non-profit institution that is dedicated to the British artist Francis Bacon.

How would you describe the bond between yourself and Monaco?

Extremely strong. My family has been here for over forty years and I am deeply attached to the Principality and the Princely Family.

Why did you decide to launch the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation in Monaco and not elsewhere?

During my student years in London, I took an art history course and on a visit to the Tate Gallery, when I was in my twenties, I came across Bacon’s triptych, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), which defied interpretation and triggered a need within me to explore his world.

In the course of my research, I discovered that the artist first visited Monaco in the early 1940s, that he was a resident of Monaco from July 1946 until the early 1950s, and that he continued to stay regularly in the Principality with his family, lovers, and circle of friends right up until the end.

He would readily speak of his stays in Monaco and he often referred to the work he managed to do here, despite the many distractions he faced. It was in Monaco that he began to focus on the representation of the human figure and began his first series of popes and series of heads. Creating a foundation in the Principality therefore seemed to me to be an obvious choice.

The vital support of Prince Albert II and the Monegasque authorities played a major role in the creation of the project, and the Sovereign inaugurated the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation on 28 October 2014, the anniversary of the painter’s birth.

What does the painter mean to you? What does his art awaken in you?

When Bacon burst into my life, I was quickly fascinated by this unique, unclassifiable, self-taught and uncompromising giant whose works raise burning questions. As an observer of his time, he made monumental and tragic works, “a concentration of reality,” as he put it so well, which captivated and haunted me. His powerful images, tinged with intense pain, disturb, shock, fascinate and have such a spellbinding power that nobody can remain indifferent.

Is there a seminal work for you?

One of my favourite works by Bacon, and part of my collection, is Figure Crouching, a canvas dating from 1949 that was probably painted in Monaco.

What are your Foundation’s aims?

The Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation is a non-profit institution that is dedicated to study and research on the British painter. It was created to promote a better understanding of the artist’s work, life and creative process, with a special focus on the period he spent living and working in Monaco and France.

It supports research, awarding a research scholarship every four years to a doctoral student at the École du Louvre whose work focuses on Francis Bacon, and is open to researchers and art historians. It also supports artistic creation by providing scholarships to young graduate students from Villa Arson, publishes books on Bacon and supports publications about the artist.

The Foundation also produces short films about the painter and contributes to exhibitions by lending works or through financial support. The Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, the Tate Liverpool, the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, the Musée Fernand Léger in Biot, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon and the Royal Academy in London are some of the museums we have cooperated with.

The Foundation is open year round to researchers and art historians. It is open to the public, by appointment only, every Tuesday and on the first Saturday of the month for guided tours, free of charge.

What other philanthropic activities have you carried out?

In 2020, I created an endowment fund with the Musée du Louvre, directed towards the conservation and enhancement of the collections of this prestigious Paris institution.

The income from the fund is destined to support the restoration of works in the Louvre that were admired by Bacon during his many visits, some of which influenced his own work. That same year, I became a patron of the École du Louvre’s endowment fund by making a capital donation to enable it to carry on its work.

I was also the patron of an ambitious architectural project entitled “ÉCOLE DU LOUVRE 2021-2022” involving the refurbishment of its library, IT and documentation services and cafeteria, as well as the creation of a research centre, which was recently inaugurated in the presence of the French Minister of Culture Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin and Princess Caroline of Hanover.

It is the most significant funding ever provided to an educational establishment run by the Ministry of Culture. For this major project, I also provided the school with two sculptures by the British artist Antony Gormley, Witness VII and Witness VIII, as well as an easel that belonged to Francis Bacon and a photograph of the artist, bringing works of art into this study and research environment for the first time.

How do you view the cultural offering and the art world in Monaco?

Culture in all its forms has always played a fundamental role in the history of the Principality. The Ballets de Monte-Carlo, the Philharmonic Orchestra and the Monte-Carlo Opera have been internationally renowned for over a century.

I have noticed a significant development in the cultural offering in the Principality over recent decades, in particular thanks to the opening of two establishments: the Grimaldi Forum which, along with its other attractions, hosts a major exhibition every summer that has become a must-see event, and the New National Museum of Monaco, which holds several exhibitions each year, promoting Monegasque heritage and its collection.

The Oceanographic Museum, by inviting major artists for its temporary exhibitions, has also contributed to this movement. This development was made possible thanks to the essential support of Prince Albert II and Princess Caroline of Hanover as well as the numerous initiatives by the Directorate of Cultural Affairs.

The Principality of Monaco has also become a pivotal centre for the art market with the arrival of the artmonte-carlo show but also thanks to the recent opening of prestigious galleries and the vitality of its auction houses. By creating the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, I wanted to make a further contribution to Monaco’s existing cultural landscape.

What are your tastes and choices as a collector?

I have dedicated my collection to the works of Francis Bacon but I have also acquired works by painters who worked alongside Bacon, such as Graham Sutherland, Roy de Maistre, Denis Wirth-Miller, Vladimir Veličković, César, Maggi Hambling and Louis le Brocquy, or who were influenced by the work of Bacon such as Ernest Pignon-Ernest or Robert Longo.



                                                             Majid Boustany © Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation






How Elaine Wynn Became the Grande Dame of Las Vegas







On mornings in one of her four homes, Elaine Wynn likes to take her coffee beside Francis Bacon’s triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud. She bought the paintings for $142.4 million at a Christie’s auction in 2013. That purchase, made anonymously at the time, smashed the record for the most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction and created a frenzy of speculation as to the buyer’s identity.

In the hours after the auction, Wynn says reporters called her ex-husband, Steve Wynn, to ask if he was the mystery buyer. “They were saying it will probably be on the wall of a hedge fund guy or in the desert in Arabia,” Elaine Wynn recalls. “I remember being offended that speculation centered on men, and nobody thought that a woman would either have the money or the balls.”

On this February morning, she is wearing an old Giorgio Armani blouse and newish Gabriela Hearst slacks. To her right, the shimmering copper-tone towers of the Wynn Las Vegas casino resort dominate the view from her limestone-walled dining room. She recently redid her condo with the decorator of the Obama-era White House, Michael Smith. It sits in a complex that has been home to numerous casino titans and power hitters, including the former heads of  Harrah’s (now Caesars Entertainment), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Fontainebleau Resorts. It goes almost without saying that those titans have been men.

Wynn’s panorama is metaphorically rich. Wynn and her ex-husband designed and operated one Las Vegas casino after another for nearly 50 years. They brought fantasy to the desert town in the form of Mirage’s volcano, Treasure Island’s pirate battle, Bellagio’s fountains and the Wynn’s luxury. While she watches over the Wynn from her aerie, her ex lives far from his high-powered former life after having been ousted in a cloud of sexual harassment allegations from the company they co-founded. These days, he can often be found in Palm Beach, Florida, with his new wife, Andrea. Las Vegas itself has changed too, its founders replaced by hired fund managers and marketing executives.

Though Elaine Wynn is no longer an executive of the empire she co-founded, she is its biggest and most active single shareholder. This makes her the last of the dreamers whose gambling parlors transformed a small town into a global resort destination while they became high-profile casino moguls with political and financial clout ( Kirk Kerkorian bought MGM film studios; Steve Wynn became fundraising chair of the GOP). In one of the most testosterone-driven cities on earth, a woman outlasted and outmaneuvered them all.

Wynn, who has held a Nevada casino license since 1978, is worth an estimated $1.8 billion, according to Forbes, based largely on the value of her 8 percent share in Wynn Resorts. Yet for most of her adult life she has been known more for her philanthropic work in education, and as a supreme hostess with friends in high places (one of her former homes featured a mini Oval Office for visits from George H.W. Bush).

As she turns 80 in April, Wynn is coming to terms with the hand she was dealt when her husband divorced her, in 2010, and then left Wynn Resorts amid allegations of sexual harassment and rape (which he has repeatedly denied), revealed in a January 2018 Wall Street Journal article. Elaine Wynn became a primary catalyst in the company’s reform. She established new leadership on the board and testified in support of Wynn Resorts keeping a vital license to operate a new casino in Boston.

She has remade herself as a world-level art collector and a force in public art, supporting the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and using her influence to help create a national monument designation to protect land around Michael Heizer’s City—a 1.25-mile-long earthwork sculpture in Nevada. She has taken her work in Nevada education to the national level: She is chairman of Communities in Schools, which provides resources to disadvantaged children. It recently received a surprise $133 million gift from MacKenzie Scott, Jeff Bezos’s ex-wife.

She laughs that her taste is evolving as she learns to create spaces that aren’t mega casinos, and without pressure from her design-obsessed ex. Smith, she says, rejected some of her fabric choices as “too hotel” as they designed her Las Vegas home, which ended up, she says, without a single fabric that she chose herself. “There is a Wynn style that’s very much based on the hotels,” says Smith. “Elaine has a personal style also that we wanted to explore.” She is more confident in her fashion choices, and those have evolved too. Once a loyal client of Oscar de la Renta, she recently purchased a colorful oversize sweater from Christopher John Rogers and a zany embellished Libertine coat. “Fashion is the new art,” she says, pulling the looks from her room-size closet and describing her pursuit of an asymmetrical satin Balenciaga dress that she saw on a client at the brand’s flagship store in New York. When she’s in New York, she likes to shop at Linda’s, a boutique curated by Bergdorf Goodman’s well-known fashion director, Linda Fargo.

The Wynns have two daughters: Kevyn Wynn, a sometime fashion designer who was famously kidnapped in 1993 and released after her father paid a $1.45 million ransom, and Gilian Wynn, an entrepreneur and philanthropist. They have seven grandchildren, including 23-year-old Marlowe Early, who has begun working on an oral history of her grandmother, with whom she sided in the family split. Early says she believes that “Mouchie”—Elaine’s family nickname—has been under-recognized for her achievements in the face of dramatic personal and professional turmoil.

“I don’t think it’s fair that he gets to go on with his life,” Early says. “She is the person who has conducted herself with grace, value, consistency. Who is the real superhero in my eyes?”

Elaine Wynn had worked in and served on the board of the Wynns’ companies since 1967, maintaining an office and focusing her energy on everything from human resources to training to catering. She directed the Chanel-style uniforms for front desk employees when the Wynn resort opened in 2005 and persuaded Oscar de la Renta and Manolo Blahnik to open their only Las Vegas boutiques (at the time) there. But she has been credited only in recent years as a co-founder. Steve Wynn, as chairman and CEO, sometimes called himself the casinos’ “dada,” but her management roles didn’t fall into the standard executive titles.

“I was always the wing lady,” Wynn says. “It wasn’t part of the push for me to be concerned about gender equity or recognition. I always viewed our work as partners.”

Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, says Wynn was a key figure in the 2015 creation of Basin and Range National Monument, which protects the 704,000 acres surrounding Heizer’s City. President Barack Obama approved the designation. “When [Elaine] started making calls to Congress,” Govan says, “somehow I was received in a different way.”

Wynn was one of the first major donors to support a controversial new LACMA building designed by reclusive Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. When Govan, hoping she would donate, invited Wynn to tour Zumthor’s work in Europe in 2015, they wound up that August on a four-day road trip from Cologne, Germany, and Bregenz, Austria, to Haldenstein, the tiny Swiss mountain village where the architect works, with Govan behind the wheel of a rented station wagon. Marlowe Early and Govan’s daughter Ariana came along, the teenagers lending a National Lampoon’s Vacation vibe.

Wynn soon pledged $50 million without requesting that the building bear her name. “Without that initial 50 there would be no project,” says Govan. Music mogul David Geffen later pledged $150 million, securing the naming rights. Wynn is now co-chair of LACMA’s board.

The Wynns once had Picasso’s famous Le Rêve in their dining room (Steve Wynn later put his elbow through the painting by accident), but Elaine Wynn says her own tastes ran to the crafty, such as basketry and weaving. At a cocktail party at Donna Karan’s home in New York, Wynn saw a Francis Bacon work on display that sparked her interest. “It got me by the gurgle,” she says.

“I decide I’m going to enter into the auction business myself and get me a Bacon,” she says, conceding she failed at her first attempt. She began fleshing out her collection with works by Édouard Manet and Lucian Freud, as well as contemporary artists including Lauren Halsey, Adrian Ghenie and El Anatsui.

Wynn was working with art dealer Bill Acquavella in 2013 when the Bacon triptych showed up in a Christie’s auction catalog. “I always do my 48-hour test where I leave the darn thing on a credenza somewhere and go about my business,” Wynn says. “Well, this thing just didn’t leave me alone.”

A basketball fanatic, Wynn was in Chicago for the Duke versus Kansas game at the State Farm Champions Classic tournament the day of the auction. She bid anonymously from her hotel room with Acquavella on the phone. “There’s a lot of action until we get up to $100 million,” she recalls wryly. When the gavel smacked at $142.4 million, “I had this moment, like, OK, OK,” Wynn says. “I get in the car to go to the game, and I am having the worst buyer’s remorse. What have I just done?”

Much has been written about Steve Wynn, Wynn Resorts and the aftermath of the 2018 sexual harassment and assault allegations. Little is known about Elaine Wynn’s aftermath.

In 2018, she found herself an outsider, having been ousted from her office and the Wynn Resorts board after the divorce. She was now the largest individual shareholder, however, while the company was being investigated by Nevada and Massachusetts casino regulators. She was also locked in litigation with her ex and the company involving the control of her shares. Then she began to hear from women making the allegations about her husband. In a sign of the complexities of the relationships and notions of responsibility, Wynn says some described their experiences and apologized for not coming forward earlier.

“I don’t know how many other victims confess to the wives,” Wynn says. “But because of my unique situation, as being their employer-slash-mentor-slash, you know, mom—there were departments in that place that I helped put together…so I knew those people.

“People will always say, ‘How could she not have known?’ ” Wynn says. “Did I suspect that my husband could be mischievous and be, you know, a playboy?” She pauses. “All I did was apologize.”

Steve Wynn, who has said that any suggestion that he assaulted a woman is “preposterous,” declined to comment or answer any questions for this article, according to his attorney, Reid Weingarten.

Wynn’s face clouds as she discusses that year—the shame felt by her family, and the recognition that her net worth was tied up in a company that required wholly new corporate governance.

“I was really distraught by the behavior and the history that was unveiled,” Wynn says. When a longtime friend of Steve Wynn, John Hagenbuch, opted to remain on the board with the support of management, Elaine Wynn went rogue against the company she co-founded, waging a proxy fight to remove him that she says cost her “several” million dollars.

“Everybody, even her children, told her to stop,” Marlowe Early says.

Michael Klein, a banker and founder of the consultancy M. Klein & Company, was one of the advisers who accompanied her on a road trip to make the case to investors. He notes that Wynn was often received with suspicion, more as a vindictive ex-wife than a founder and shareholder. The proxy battle was bruising.

“To sleep at night, I’d say, I know I’m killing myself, but I can’t let this story end on their terms. I am the only one that’s being held accountable,” Wynn says.

In May 2018, Wynn won the proxy battle after investors and the three largest institutional investor advisory firms voted in her favor. But with critical regulatory investigations underway in Nevada and Massachusetts, the role of Wynn Resorts chairman was held by another of Steve Wynn’s longtime friends, D. Boone Wayson. Wynn saw that as a risk.

Wynn reached out to Phil Satre, the former chief executive of Harrah’s casinos, who had a reputation as the casino industry’s altar boy and was respected by regulators, whose support Wynn Resorts desperately needed. Satre was by then chairman of the board of Nordstrom In.  Satre says that Wynn phoned him, then flew to Seattle, where he was attending a Nordstrom directors’ meeting, and convinced him to consider joining the Wynn board.

“The remarkable thing about Elaine is that a lot of people in her situation, in my opinion, would have taken her shareholder position and gone off and had a good time in Sun Valley and L.A. That’s not what she did,” says Satre, who resigned as chairman from Nordstrom and left other commitments to join Wynn Resorts that August. Wayson retired, and Satre became chairman in November.

“Her ability to finalize that last play on the chessboard—I’ve watched some fantastic tacticians in the corporate boardroom, but no one was thinking of Phil until Elaine,” Klein says.

Wynn says she is now pleased with the direction of the company. “The stock’s in the toilet but that’s OK. I’m here for the long term. We’re doing fine. And I do like the management now.”

With the casino drama settled, Wynn has turned her focus to her children and grandchildren, her life in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York (her Sun Valley, Idaho, house was under contract to be sold in April) and her work in education.

She continues to trade and collect art but says she will never sell the Bacon triptych. Yet she wishes to assuage her guilt, she says, for keeping such a valuable artwork to herself, so it will be part of her estate, destined one day for an as-yet-unnamed museum. “I’ll have had the pleasure of being a steward for a while,” Wynn says. “And that will clear my conscience.”

How much does Govan want it for LACMA? “What’s the scale?” he responds. “From one to 10? Eleven.”

Wynn recently watched a CBS Mornings interview in which Melinda French Gates reflected candidly on exiting her 27-year marriage to Bill Gates, and on the ways women are often left to answer for the men in their lives. “I had a lot of tears for many days. Days when I’m literally laying on the floor on the carpet,” French Gates told interviewer Gayle King after parrying several questions about her husband’s infidelities. “Days I certainly was angry.”

“Man,” Wynn says. “There I was right in that woman’s body, feeling what she was describing.”






                          Elaine Wynn likes to take her coffee beside Francis Bacon’s triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud. She bought the paintings for $142.4 million at a Christie’s auction in 2013.







 Skarstedt New York explores Francis Bacon’s


 relationships in upcoming exhibition







A group of masterworks by Francis Bacon painted between the 1950s and 1970s are coming to Skarstedt Gallery in New York as part of an upcoming exhibition that explores the artist’s relationships with beloved friends and muses.

Running from 4 May to 11 June 2022 at Skarstedt Gallery in New York, Francis Bacon: Faces and Figures looks at the "poignant moments of loss and companionship" which were felt in the great painter’s personal relationships.

Featuring depictions of some of Francis Bacon’s most beloved friends, lovers and muses — including Peter Lacy, George Dyer, Muriel Belcher, and Henrietta Moraes — the exhibition also doesn’t shy away from the fiery and tempestuous aspects of these relationships. Intimate self-portraits and a portrait of Pope Pius XII are also on display to round out the collection.

For admirers of how Bacon experimented with figures and distorted the human form in his expressive paintings, Francis Bacon: Faces and Figures also promises to offer up some rarities. Amongst them are the paintings of Muriel Belcher and Henrietta Moraes. While not usually associated with the romantic discourse which usually dominates his work, the two women played an essential role in his practice.

In particular, the muse of Henrietta Moraes gets special treatment. Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing and Three Studies for a Portrait will be shown side-by-side for the first time, which is fitting, seeing as both pieces were inspired by the 1959 film Hiroshima Mon Amour in which the lead actress appears with a piece of hair across her face.

“Here, Bacon uses it as a compositional device to split Moraes’s face in two while evoking the love, loss, and despair latent in the film and his own life,” Skarstedt Gallery explains.

However, Bacon’s muse was not always other people, and the artist started to turn to himself for subject matter later in his career when people around him started to die.

“Painted when he was nearly seventy, Study for Self-Portrait (1979) sees Bacon considering his own mortality after a life of so much loss and death,” says the gallery. “Hues of crimson, blue, and purple flicker across his face as if battered and bruised, tired from years of fighting.”




                                                      Man at a Washbasin (1954)





Nicolas Cage faces off with a new foe: himself







“Metropolis.” Bruce Lee. Woody Woodpecker. A pet cobra. All of these things have been inspirations behind Nicolas Cage performances — sometimes private homages that the actor has used like blueprints to build some of his most exaggerated, erratic and affecting characters.

A conversation with Cage, likewise, pulls from a wide gamut of sources. In a recent and typically wide-ranging interview ahead of the release of “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” Cage touched on Picasso, Elia Kazan, Timothée Chalamet and Francis Bacon. A book of interviews with Bacon, “The Brutality of Fact,” for instance, helped Cage define his attraction to intense, even grotesque performance — “that which is not obviously beautiful,” he says — rather than naturalism.

“And I’ve kind of approached my public perception, as well as the way I design my film work, as an actor with that concept in mind to not be afraid to be ugly in behaviour or even in appearance,” says Cage. “To create a kind of taste that you have to discover.”

With more than 100 films, the 58-year-old Cage — an Oscar-winner (“Leaving Las Vegas”), an action star (“Con Air”) and the source of countless Internet memes for his most theatrical moments in films like “Face/Off” — has long been one of the most particular tastes in movies. Yet by being “an amateur surrealist,” as he refers to himself, Cage has emerged — even after resorting to a string of VOD releases to pay off back taxes and get himself out of debt — as one of Hollywood’s most widely loved stars. As “Unbearable Weight” director Tom Gormican says, “the sight of his face sort of makes people happy.”

But for even the mercurial Cage, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” which opens in theaters Friday, represents something different. In it, Cage plays himself. Or, rather, he plays a fun-house mirror version of himself that sometimes interacts with a younger version of himself. The movie is one big homage to Cage in which the actor somehow manages to both satirize perceptions of himself and act out those personas sincerely.

“The through line that’s always been there for me: No matter what I designed, and it has been a design whether it’s ridiculous — and it’s often ridiculous — or whether it’s sublime, it has to be informed with genuine emotional content,” says Cage.

“No matter how broad or what some folk like to call over the top, it had genuine feeling.”

But what to Cage constitutes over the top? This is the actor who, channeling Nosferatu in “Vampire’s Kiss,” gave one of the most bonkers recitals of the alphabet ever heard. He’s fond of answering: “Well, show me where the top is and I’ll tell you if I’m over it.”

“I grew up in a house where my mom would do things that if you put it in a movie, you would say that was over the top,” says Cage, whose mother, Joy Coppola, was a dancer and choreographer. His father, August Coppola, brother of Francis, was a professor of literature. “But what is the top? When you want to design something and you think about different styles — naturalism, impressionism, surrealism, abstract — then you start to look at it in a different way. It’s not going to be for everybody and it’s not necessarily going to sell tickets. But that’s OK.”

“Movies are a business and it was not without peril that I took this path, but it was important to me,” he adds. “I stuck by it and, sure, I got plenty of rotten tomatoes thrown in my face. But I knew that was going to happen so it wasn’t anything I didn’t expect.”

But what’s unusual about Cage is that many of those experiments HAVE sold tickets. A lot of them. Cage’s films account for nearly $5 billion in worldwide box office. Still, its been a while since he was front-and-center in a major studio film.

“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” which Lionsgate premiered at South by Southwest to warm reviews, allows him to play around with the notion of a comeback. In the film, hes desperate to score better parts than the birthday party he’s been offered $1 million to attend. The movie was an opportunity to wrestle — usually comically, sometimes physically — with his own exaggerated mythology.

“He would come up to me and say, (lowers voice) ‘Tom, there’s a guy who wears rings and leather jackets and he lives in Las Vegas and he would never say that line,’” recalls Gormican. “And I would go, ‘Oh, you mean you.’ He’d say, ‘Yes.’ And I’d be like, ‘Well, it’s not you. It’s a character based on you.’ And he’d go, ‘But he has my name.’ I was like, ‘Come on, man, just say the line.’”

“We’d have discussions about who understood Nick Cage more,” adds Gormican, laughing.

Gormican was initially turned down several times by Cage before a heartfelt letter finally convinced the actor to make the film. The issue was that Cage, even at his most outlandish, has never put quotation marks around his performances. He tends to invest fully in even the most unhinged characters. (Werner Herzogs “Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans” comes to mind.) Cage initially feared Gormican’s film would be self-mocking parody, and while it has those elements, Cage steers it in more unpredictable directions.

“Without mentioning names, there were some actors that came out of the gate that I thought were really sincere and profoundly emotional and honest in the beginning and then became too high on their own supply,” Cage says. “They started winking at the audience and, in my opinion, it lost the emotional connection. It’s a slippery slope when you make the decision that you want to be emotional and raw.”

The actor does reach some gonzo heights in the film. After one scene, Gormican was honoured to hear Cage say: “That was the Full Cage. You got the Full Cage.” Another scene features the two Cages making out, after which the younger exclaims, “Nick Cage smooches good!”

Cage’s own exotic tastes — he once had to return a dinosaur skull he purchased that had been stolen from Mongolia — have contributed to his legend. But he insists that he is normal in his life so that he can be extreme in his work — and that some of his self-promotion, like an infamously nutty appearance on “Wogan,” was itself an act.

Cage last year married Riko Shibata, his fifth wife, and they are expecting a child. (Cage also has two grown sons; a sticking point in “Unbearable Weight” was that he not be shown as an absentee father — one fiction Cage wouldnt permit.) After an unusually introspective press tour for the film, Cage is looking forward to returning to the desert outside Las Vegas, where he lives. He could use a break from “Nick Cage.”

But “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” wraps a chapter for the actor. He’s finally out of the red after making some 30 video-on-demand films over the last decade to pay off the IRS and his creditors. He makes no apologies for those films. They made him a better actor, he says.

“I was practicing. I managed to keep my access to my imagination at my fingertips. It was a much better way for me to get this financial crisis off my back than doing something like a Super Bowl commercial — and believe me they offered,” says Cage. “That was also a point for me, that I’m not a salesman, I’m an actor.”

Cage can also once again feel some mainstream momentum behind him. His performance in last years “Pig,” as a grizzled truffle hunter with a past, earned some of his best reviews in years. It was a more naturalistic performance than Cage is generally known for — and a reminder of his limitless range. Having started professionally at 15, Cage reminds that he’s been doing this a long time. To him, his path began, appropriately enough, with an audacious performance.

Cage’s father, the actor says, had a massive influence on him, exposing him to books, early films and paintings. But he could cut his son down with words.

“And I just wasn’t going to take it,” says Cage. “I knew that he thought more of me than he let on. I tricked him once and I did something that I’ve never done ever again. I lied. I said, ‘Dad, I wrote this song.’ And I played him Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” And he believed me. He said, “Wow, Nicky, that’s incredible.” Then I got the positive affirmation that I needed to believe in myself. That was the one time a lie saved me.





                                                                                                                                Nicolas Cage, “Mandy,” 2018






Francis Bacon Confidant Reroutes Donation


to France Following Rift with Tate







A confidant of Francis Bacon has decided not to donate a trove of works by the postwar painter to Tate in London following a long-running rift with the British institution over its handling of a previous gift. Instead he will donate the works to the French state.

Barry Joule, a British man who befriended Bacon in 1978 while the two were living in London, rescinded his initial plan to donate the works after Tate had failed to exhibit an earlier tranche of works he had donated almost two decades ago, The Guardian reports.

The current donation is said to comprise around 150 drawings and 10 paintings, along with a trove of archival materials that include hundreds of photographs and 12 hours of audio recordings between Joule and Bacon. Joule maintained contact with Bacon until the artist’s death in 1992.

Now, Joule says he has already begun negotiations to donate the materials to the Centre Pompidou’s national archives in Paris. In 2019, the Pompidou organized  an exhibition titled “Bacon: Books and Painting” that looked at the literary influences on the Irish-born artist’s work.

Joule has donated works to French museums before. In 2005, he donated 80 drawings by Bacon to the Musée Picasso in Paris, which displayed them in a large-scale exhibition that same year.

In 2004, Joule donated to Tate a near 1,200-item archive spanning drawings to photographs from Bacon’s studio that was worth an estimated £20 million at the time. When the announcement was made, Tate said it would catalogue the donation over a period of three years before making it available to be exhibited.

Joule has said he is considering taking legal action against the Tate over the museum’s failure to prominently showcase the collection as agreed, threatening to sue the institution in an email correspondence published in August 2021.

A representative for Tate did not immediately respond to Artnewss request for comment.

But recently doubt has been cast over the bona fides of Joule’s 2004 donation, known as the Barry Joule Archive (BJA). Last September, the Bacon Estate published Francis Bacon: Shadows, which quotes an unnamed Tate curator as saying “the hand/s that applied the marks to the material may not have included Bacon to any substantial degree,” according to an article published by The Guardian at the time.

In Shadows, Sophie Pretorius, an archivist for the estate, adds, “The story of the material associated with Joule is riddled with exaggeration, half-truths and contradictions… Bacon’s work is not easy to mimic. But the author of the items in the BJA made a stab at it.”





Francis Bacon friend to snub Tate with French donation




BEN ELLERY   |   UK NEWS   |   THE TIMES   |   MONDAY, APRIL 18, 2022


A collection of art by Francis Bacon will not be given to the Tate and will instead go to France after a row between the gallery and one of the artist’s closest friends.

Barry Joule, a confidant of the artist, will no longer give the Tate hundreds of works after it failed to exhibit an earlier donation.

The second donation was to have included up to 150 drawings, ten paintings, hundreds of photographs and more than 12 hours of taped material in which the artist chatted with Joule about subjects including art and sex.

Joule has started negotiations to give the work to the French National Archives at the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

He told The Observer: “The Tate and Britain will be missing out on part of the nation’s art history of one of their most important painters.”

In 2004 Joule gave the Tate 1,200 sketches, photographs and documents from Bacon’s studio in a gift estimated to be worth £20 million. At the time the gallery said: “Tate will undertake to study, photograph and catalogue the collection over the next three years, before displaying these items and making them available for loan.”

Joule has since threatened legal action after what he describes as its failure to display it in a proper exhibition, as agreed, although Maria Balshaw, the Tate’s director, wrote to him last year reiterating the gallery’s gratitude.

Last year Sophie Pretorius, archivist of the estate’s collection, wrote in a book about Bacon: “The story of the material associated with Joule is riddled with exaggeration, half-truths and contradictions . . . Bacon’s work is not easy to mimic. But the author of the items in the BJA [Barry Joule archive] made a stab at it.”

Joule said he was “fuming” and was considering legal action. He had lived near Bacon’s London studio and in 1978 they struck up a friendship that lasted until the artist’s death in 1992. Joule recorded several of their conversations. He said: “He [Bacon] signed a statement saying I could use it 12 years after his death. Many of those conversations feature him philosophising.

A Tate spokeswoman declined to comment on the gallery’s handling of the 2004 gift. Asked about Joule’s cancellation of a further gift, she said: “We can confirm we have received the letter and will be responding to it.”





        Barry Joule, left, a confidant of  Francis Bacon, has started negotiations to give the work to the French National Archives at the Pompidou Centre in Paris.






Friend of Francis Bacon snubs the Tate to give art works to Paris instead




Barry Joule says he is cancelling plans to donate a collection to the UK gallery because it failed to exhibit works in earlier gift





An extensive collection of Francis Bacon’s art will be given to France instead of to the Tate following a row between the gallery and one of the artist’s closest friends.

Barry Joule, who was Bacon’s confidant, said he is so frustrated by the Tate’s failure to exhibit an earlier donation of the artist’s work that he has cancelled plans to donate hundreds more items to the gallery.

The further donation was to have included up to 150 drawings, 10 paintings, hundreds of photographs and more than 12 hours of taped material in which the artist chatted with Joule about subjects from art to sex.

Instead, he would now like the work to go the French National Archives in the Centre Pompidou Paris, and has started negotiations.

Joule told The Observer: “The Tate and Britain will be missing out on part of the nation’s art history of one of their most important painters. I turn my back on the Tate for ever.”

In 2004, he gave the Tate about 1,200 sketches, photographs and documents from Bacon’s studio in what was then described as one of the most generous gifts to the gallery, worth an estimated £20m. Its announcement stated then: “Tate will undertake to study, photograph and catalogue the collection over the next three years, before displaying these items and making them available for loan.

Joule claims he has been driven to pursue legal action against the Tate over what he describes as its failure to do justice to that collection with a proper exhibition, as initially agreed, although the Tate’s director, Maria Balshaw, wrote to him last year, reiterating the gallery’s gratitude.

He has now told the Tate they won’t receive a further gift. “The gallery’s reaction? Nothing,” he said.

Joule had lived near Bacon’s London studio, and in 1978 they struck up a friendship that continued until the artist’s death in 1992, exactly 30 years ago this month.

He spent numerous holidays with Bacon and recorded a series of their conversations: “He [Bacon] signed a statement saying I could use it 12 years after his death. Many of those conversations feature him philosophising, often with his unmistakable no-nonsense comments,” he said.

He singled out a 1991 recording that gives insights into Bacon’s dismissal of his own success. At one point, he shouts the words “I am not rich!” – even though he was by then the most famous and richest painter alive.

Joule said: “He was a self-deprecating artist who, strangely enough, never ever thought of himself as rich. Of course, he was rich, but he lived very simply. The only time he really splashed out was in expensive restaurants.”

In those recordings, Bacon talked about other artists, including Jasper Johns, dismissing his 1959 abstract painting, False Start – which had sold in 1988 for $17m (£12m) – as “such a ridiculous thing”: “It is nothing. It is just a … number of diagonal scratches going in different directions in red and blue,” Bacon said.

Joule, who now lives in France, noted Bacon’s love of Paris, although “he said he couldn’t work there because there were too many distractions”.

He previously donated about 100 Bacon drawings based on Picasso to the Musée Picasso in Paris, which exhibited them in a large Bacon-Picasso exhibition in 2005. Shortly afterwards, the French government awarded him the Chevalier des Ordres des Arts et des Lettres: “It’s the equivalent of a knighthood. I gave them one-tenth of what I gave to the Tate and they knighted me … I never got a cup of coffee out of the Tate.”

Joule’s donation to France will now include a dramatic painted head that musician David Bowie particularly liked: “Bowie had an art publishing company and personally chose what art catalogues they would publish. He immediately agreed to do the catalogue for the 2001 exhibition of my Bacon archive at the London Barbican. Bowie chose this image for the front cover. Of course the Barbican and I agreed,” he said.

He added: “Many of these Bacon images in my collection have an engaging story to tell. That art history and my intimate knowledge of Bacon will be lost to the UK.”

A Tate spokeswoman declined to comment on the gallery’s handling of the 2004 gift. Asked about Joule’s cancellation of a further gift, she said: “We can confirm we have received the letter and will be responding to it.”

Sunday 24 April 2022. For the record. UK news. This weeks corrections. An article (“Friend of Francis Bacon snubs the Tate to give art works to Paris instead”, 17 April, p22) referred to Bacon’s work going to “the French National Archives in the Centre Pompidou Paris”. The French National Archives and the Centre Pompidou Paris are two separate organisations; we meant the archives of the latter.




                    Francis Bacon and Barry Joule on holiday in Sicily in 1987.                                                      Bacon and Joule with Catharina Toto Koopman in Sicily in 1987.





Hilary Fannin: Francis Bacon offers a kind of therapy




Bacon’s bleak vision is more in tune with the times than Bond Street’s glitzy shops






At London’s Oxford Circus Tube station the concertinaed gates had been temporarily drawn closed, the platforms below too congested to take any more commuters. In search of the Victoria line to Brixton, we walked, the three of us, towards Piccadilly and then on to New Bond Street, en route to Green Park station. My two companions walked ahead, talking quietly, amicably, about their shared past, postwar babies both, strolling through the city of their birth. I trailed behind them, looking in the windows of the designer shops.

Dawdling past the displays of frigid opulence on that warm spring evening, the minimalistically exhibited luxury accoutrements seemed, in the light of the increasingly devastating international news, quite bizarre.

The items on show – mother-of-pearl inlaid watches, lambskin “poodle-curve” high-heel sandals (hand-stitched by elves in a forest of primroses), tiny gold-chained handbags that wouldn’t fit much more than a credit card, a tube of Dior Rouge, a condom and a packet of vintage Marlboro – all appeared, as a contusion of purple clouds gathered overhead and a light rain began to fall, particularly vulgar and gracelessly misplaced.

But what do I know? I’ve never shopped on Bond Street, never experienced the rush of pleasure or the sense of belonging that proceeding under the marbled portico of a designer boutique to purchase a yellow shearling handbag might bring. I haven’t experienced the sense of accomplishment that some, apparently, derive from consuming high-end goods.

I don’t know how much the little furry yellow handbag cost; there was no price tag in the window. “If you need to ask…”, as the saying goes.

There was a similar handbag a few shops down, also very small and fluffy and tethered to a golden chain. This one, in shades of tangerine and brown, looked like it might bite; looked indeed as if it might have a row of tiny incisors underneath its pelt to snap the hand off anyone who might try to snaffle it. Mind you, given that it was retailing at around three grand, you’d expect it to do something for its keep.

We’d been at the Royal Academy that afternoon to see the Francis Bacon exhibition, Man and Beast. The uncompromising savagery of some of the Dublin-born artist’s images – many painted and exhibited in the immediate aftermath of the second World War – made them feel like the work, once again, of a man for the times.

Anguish is everywhere in this exhilarating show. It is in the studies of the figures at the base of a crucifixion; in the emaciated howling monkey on its shocking pink background; in the aghast, almost severed-looking heads of the popes, melting like wax on the canvas; in the deformed, mostly faceless bodies with screaming razor-toothed mouths. There is carnage, too, in the circular room full of massive orange canvases depicting the bullfight, in the broken bodies of matador and taunted beast.

The retrospective, spanning decades, at times felt almost too much. But then there was always the distraction of observing the other spectators, standing stock still and silent in front of the work, themselves adding another component to the dramas on the walls.

Some visitors to the gallery even brought along small foldable stools and perched, seated, in front of the paintings, staring intently at their details.

I watched one elderly man, his eyes wet with emotion, sit and lean forward towards the canvas as if he was trying to read it, to decipher in its language signs of hope or revelation.

I watched a magnificent woman with long dark hair, dressed in the palest yellow silk, her slim feet in jewelled shoes, stand in front of a painting called Two Figures in the Grass, in which two hunched lovers are coldly observed as if by a huntsman watching game.

Even if I was desperately rich; rich enough to schlep about in poodle-curve slingbacks with a tooth-baring reticule over my arm, I wouldn’t have paid to have a private view of this exhibition.

Although I’m aware that paying a few quid for the thrill of its unyieldingly bleak vision is itself a form of consumerism, experiencing it with other silent watchers gave me a momentary sense of belonging which, to be fair, I don’t think I’d get from purchasing a pair of diamante-encrusted sunglasses.

At Green Park station, the newspaper billboards told a grim story. I followed my companions down the escalator, dropping into the bowels of the city, reassured once more by the murmur of their equitable conversation, by the ordinary, unremarkable rhythm of our homeward journey.





                 ‘Anguish is everywhere in this exhilarating show’. Head VI by Francis Bacon (1949). Man and Beast exhibition, Royal Academy, London.






Norman Scott has the last word on a very English scandal





The hypocrisy, class bias and establishment cover-up throughout the Thorpe affair is fully

revealed in Scott’s long-awaited memoir






I’m glad Norman Scott can say he has ‘always had the ability to laugh at the absurdity’ of his existence because, as detailed here in a long-awaited memoir, I too couldn’t stop shrieking, he is so tragic. When he came home unexpectedly as a youngster, for example, and witnessed his mother having sex in the lounge with a telephone engineer, he was so shocked he dropped his tortoise. ‘The terrible guilt over my tortoise stayed with me,’ he writes – maybe until just the other day. Scott is now 82.

He’ll always be remembered of course for the Jeremy Thorpe trial, when the judge, Mr Justice Cantley, called him a fraud, a sponger, a whiner and a parasite; and Scott’s haplessness is truly in a class of its own. I know he was played on television tenderly and sensitively by Ben Whishaw, but the personality in An Accidental Icon is more Jim Dale when, in one of the Carry Ons, he zoomed about tethered to a floor-polisher or clattered down steps on an iron bed frame. I lost count of the times Scott wakes up ‘strapped to an iron bed’, whether in psychiatric wards or when romantic assignations go awry: ‘I couldn’t move. My wrists and ankles were tied.’

A commingling of horror and farce is never distant. An unhappy childhood sets it all in motion: desertion, insecurity, violence. Scott had a stepfather who ‘got hold of Mummy by her hair and threw her down the stairs’. The nuns at his convent school were bullies. Friends were few. He had a stammer and curvature of the spine. He wet the bed; and any adult he met fiddled with his flies. ‘The sense of something unkind and unpleasant about to happen was always present.’

His mother was no support. She wanted to have him taken into care: ‘I can’t control him. He’s just difficult.’ Scott’s salvation was horses: ‘They didn’t see me as weak or vulnerable or someone they could manipulate.’ No, they simply threw him off, bucking like mad in ‘a nightmare of flailing hooves, sky, brown earth, splinters of wood’, leaving him concussed and with shattered vertebrae.

Scott is undoubtedly brave, mastering these vigorous creatures. He has spent his professional life in the equestrian world of dressage, three-day eventing, jumping and racing, and was employed as a stable lad and groom by many a ghastly old snob, bore, lunatic, sadist, bankrupt or associate of Princess Anne. One morning on his way to work he fell off his scooter, breaking limbs, which caused him to reflect: ‘I had found myself gripped by a bleak premonition that nothing would ever go right for me.’ Nor did it. The doctors put him on high doses of tranquillisers and antidepressants and he found it impossible to sustain relationships.

In one typical sequence he moves in with someone in the Cotswolds. Their mental anxieties clash and soon everyone is ‘placed in a psychiatric clinic’. They escape, rent a flat in Oxford and ‘within a week Jane had slashed her wrists’; the other person, Brian, gets drunk and hurls a pass (‘he was a big, strong man and at first I was very scared of him’), before somebody else switches on all the gas taps. Scott throws a chair through a window and goes for a walk with Brian, who tries to drown them both in the canal. Later on the gas trick is tried again, and Brian was ‘standing over me, holding a knife’.

This sort of caper happens every day. Friends vanish and turn up in Australia or commit suicide in Wales. Scott is always getting the wrong train, or finding himself stranded in the middle of nowhere, his luggage lost. Businesses close down, leaving him in the lurch. Helicopters buzz his bungalow. Pranksters phone up pretending to be Michael Heseltine. Doctors he trusts are struck off. One minute he is a male model in London, sharing premises with Margot Fonteyn (‘she spoke about her involvement in the Panamanian revolution’), the next he is in Dublin, being intimate with a member of the Dáil and Elizabeth Taylor’s secretary – Taylor and Richard Burton having ‘returned to the yacht to be with their pet dogs’. If this is meant to be 1964, the only time the Burtons were in Ireland, then it’s worth mentioning they didn’t acquire a yacht until May 1967.

I relished this book’s celebrity cameos. In a Dulwich flat filled with ‘flamboyant and extrovert’ sorts, Lord Snowdon is glimpsed. Scott’s mother’s best friend was Dorothy Squires. When Scott was (very briefly) married in 1969, he spent his honeymoon in a cottage owned by Terry-Thomas and there were elderly Czech refugees hiding in the bathroom. Scott says he slept with Francis Bacon, who snored, and next morning said: ‘You’re not my usual type.’ Scott’s favourite West Country pub was run by the son of Fanny Cradock.

Thorpe, who first encountered Scott at one of those grisly stables, was intrigued enough by the sound of this picaresque existence to give him his telephone number – and Scott, who during one low ebb ‘ended up sleeping in the men’s lavatories in Barnstable’, was naive enough to believe that Thorpe could rescue him. He appeared at the House of Commons, where the MP ‘put his arm round me in a warm friendly gesture’. Thorpe took Scott home to meet his mother, a grim old trout called Ursula, who knew the score. The abuse began immediately. Scott relates how ‘he held me down with great force as he thrust violently into my body. It hurt so much I was gasping with pain.’ Thorpe took full advantage of a vulnerable, medicated person. ‘I was forced,’ says Scott, ‘into non-consensual, illegal, agonising sex by a man in a position of considerable power and influence... I was just a vessel for his pleasure.’ One interesting fact emerges: Thorpe had nodules on his balls.

Scott had no redress. No one was interested in his complaints. ‘I just don’t believe you,’ said David Steel. ‘I don’t believe this could have happened.’ Evidence went missing. Briefcases containing letters were stolen. The authorities treated Scott as a blackmailer. Several times he was roughed up by the police or security services. ‘If you don’t cooperate, I have the power to lock you away and you won’t see the light of day for 14 years,’ he was told, before having his head banged against a cell wall. Thorpe kept Scott’s National Insurance cards, in an attempt to control him, and Peter Bessell, the Liberal member for Bodmin, paid Scott a weekly retainer to ensure his silence. Thorpe, meantime, seduced sailors at Dan Farson’s pub on the Isle of Dogs. He was thoroughly homosexual, despite two marriages. Being with a woman was ‘like making love to cold rice pudding’, Thorpe claimed. On one occasion he sodomised Scott against Selwyn Lloyd’s garden wall.

The bungled murder attempt on Exmoor is well known, but increasingly bizarre in retrospect. The failed assassin, Andrew Newton, who’d later become a rubber fetishist, initially went to Dunstable, mistaking it for Barnstaple. After he shot Rinka, the Great Dane, the gun jammed, so he fled. ‘They have shot my dog and they tried to shoot me!’ said Scott, covered in Rinka’s blood. Owing to his homosexuality – thus ‘hysterical, vindictive’ and ‘a dreadful pervert’– he was accorded little sympathy. That was the cruel line taken by George Carman, defending Thorpe at the subsequent trial in 1979. Scott’s evidence was worthless because he was weak, soft, poisonous and paranoid. Thorpe, by contrast, was ‘a statesman of courage and truth’ and, despite documentation of his lies, manipulation and financial embezzlement, was acquitted.

It was the greatest miscarriage of justice of modern times – Thorpe getting away with his murderous conspiracy through class bias, homophobia, hypocrisy and establishment cover-up. Scott says there was even talk of Thorpe’s wanting him chucked down a Cornish mine or dumped in the Florida Everglades. He is to be applauded, therefore, for surviving to have the last word. He deserves a medal for his resilience.

Norman Scott, An Accidental Icon: How I Dodged a Bullet, Spoke Truth to Power and Lived to Tell the Tale, Hodder, pp. 336, £20





Howard Jacobson’s Diary: Home-front warriors


and Francis Bacon’s waning shock value



The spectacle of genuine horror unfolding in Ukraine throws into


perspective our more synthetic outrages.





So now we know what tyranny actually looks like up close and personal, we must wonder what those intrepid warriors who faced the might of Priti Patel to defend their right not to wear a paper mask have to say about their struggle. “I suppose we were being a mite silly”? Not a bit of it. “We stand vindicated” is my bet. “See? Isn’t this exactly what we warned against? Allow them to stick a needle in our arms today and they’ll be occupying the Isle of Wight tomorrow.”

And what of those who’ve been bowdlerising Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare lest it creates panic in the playground? How are they explaining the horrors of war to their little ones? “Darling, they’re only lying down to take a rest. It’s a game, like paper, stone and scissors, only don’t use the word scissors in this house. Now dry your eyes, turn off the television and get back to reading that comic of King Lear I bought you, the one without the naughty daughters, the rude clown, the bad weather and the blinding scene.”


Screen solace

I can’t pretend I’ve been any more heroic myself. I too was waking wet-cheeked until I stopped doom-scrolling before bed. In fact, what I was doing was more like false-solace-scrolling. Tell me the Ukrainians have shot down the entirety of the Russian air force. Tell me the Russian people have suddenly begun to wonder why opposition politicians in their country are always going away and not coming back. Tell me Zelensky’s flying in to do Live at the Apollo. Sing me a nice hymn. “All things bright and beautiful…”


Writing is reality

Beyond that, I’m making a reasonable fist – sorry, sorry, not fist, job – of following Kingsley Amis’s advice to writers to forget all about a book the minute they finish writing it and get stuck into a new one. This is to forestall the disappointment that invariably waits on publication. The world will look no different the day it appears in print, he warned. And he’s right. A few appreciative words from an astute reviewer, a handshake dipped in Novichok from an embittered fellow writer, someone mistaking me for Alan Yentob on Regent Street, otherwise all is as it was before.

So it’s back to the desk and the pleasure of actually writing, which must never be confused with the siren distractions of praise or dispraise, publicity or the lack of it, and worry about one’s legacy. A writer’s only legacy is the sentence that comes after the one before.


Paint and politeness

I suspect Francis Bacon would have agreed with me. My only subject is paint, he said to someone. By which I take him to have meant his only lasting purpose and pleasure was paint. As opposed to getting sloshed in Soho. I usually leave it too late to go to the great art shows in London, which must bespeak some deep reluctance to see them, or at least to being told I must, but I made it just in time to catch Francis Bacon: Man and Beast at the Royal Academy, on the way to which I was mistaken twice: once for Waldemar Januszczak and, for a second time, though not by the same person, for Alan Yentob.

It was a bold, well curated show with informative wall notes in the English language, rather than that academic socio-speak that squeezes the vitality out of every canvas it describes in the name of precisely those abstractions art abhors. How much I like Bacon’s work I can’t decide. There’s some disconnect that bothers me between the raw animality of what he paints and the serenely civilised demeanour of those looking at it. What beasts we are, except when we’re looking at Francis Bacon!

You can’t blame him for the way he’s looked at, of course, but you can wonder why work so obviously intended to be disturbing barely disturbs a hair of his admirers’ heads. How do I know that? Well, put it this way: it barely disturbs a hair of mine. Are we too used to it now? Has Bacon dated already? Or was it always less harrowing than it purported to be – more kitsch than horror, more partygate than Mariupol?

We play happily with plasticine bestiality until the real thing bursts into the nursery. Suddenly I find myself thinking Boris Johnson’s not so bad. When hell unlooses demons, what’s a scoundrel more or less?

Howard Jacobson’s memoir “Mother’s Boy: A Writer’s Beginnings” is published by Jonathan Cape








David Lynch once named his favourite artist of all time






David Lynch has always maintained that he is not just a filmmaker. Even though he is considered to be one of the greatest pioneers of surrealist cinema, Lynch has actively ventured into other areas of artistic expression such as music and painting. In fact, a major part of Lynch’s cinematic vision has been deeply influenced by his formative training as a painter.

During his college years, Lynch decided that he was going to pursue a career in painting and had even travelled to Europe in order to learn from the famous expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka but it never ended up happening. Upon returning to America, Lynch found a different kind of liberation in making short films after being moved by the grotesque surrealism of Philadelphia.

In many interviews, Lynch has stated that he conceptualises the artistic process as something very similar to fishing. According to the legendary director, one has to bait ideas as if they were elusive fishes. “If you catch an idea that you love, it is a beautiful, beautiful day,” he declared. Adding to his comments, Lynch explained: “In the other room, the puzzle is all together but they keep flipping it one piece at a time.”

These conceptualisations are very familiar to those who have seen Lynch’s work, especially incomprehensibly alluring projects such as Eraserhead and Twin Peaks. While Lynch drew from the contributions of other directors like Werner Herzog, he was also motivated by masters of painting. Specifically, Lynch named the enigmatic painter Francis Bacon as a chief source of inspiration.

Lynch’s films have been described as paintings themselves by many people, including Jeremy Irons who compared Lynch’s works to Rothko paintings. However, the influence of Bacon throughout the filmography of the director is pretty apparent. Lynch discovered the works of Bacon early on in his life, being moved by them for the first time at a gallery in 1966.

According to a popular myth, Lynch’s interest in filmmaking was generated when he asked himself “How would I do a moving painting?” after one of his paintings was moved by the wind. The unsettling art of Francis Bacon played a major role in showing Lynch how visual images can have emotional momentum and can even project movement.

Looking back on the experience of discovering Bacon, Lynch described it as “a beautiful storm” and “thrilling”. Later on, he would use Bacon’s paintings like Portrait of a Man and Two Figures at a Window for visual inspiration in Twin Peaks. While the iconic Red Room of Twin Peaks was also directly influenced by Bacon, Lynch based the look of the protagonist of his 1980 masterpiece The Elephant Man on Bacon’s Self-Portrait 1969.




           Lynch based the protagonist of The Elephant Man on Bacon’s Self-Portrait 1969.





Spying an opportunity – how Francis Bacon made it to Moscow







As his plane touched down in Moscow in 1986 the young English gallerist James Birch saw ‘low grey clouds, military vehicles and […] apparently endless birch forest’. It was, he says, ‘exactly what I expected to see’. Birch was there on a wing and prayer, trying to get some of his stable of young contemporary artists, which included a nudist collective and a young Grayson Perry, a gallery show in the Soviet Union. This, he soon realises, was never going to work, but when his KGB minder-cum-cultural-collaborator, Sergei Klokov – who serves as the book’s amoral anti-hero – introduces him to some penniless Soviet artists, they soon all have the name of the same Western artist on their lips: Francis Bacon. As it happens, Birch has known Bacon since childhood, and an idea takes root.

Birch’s account of his struggle to stage the show, the first of a living Western artist ever to exhibit in the Soviet Union, barring Chagall, who was after all born in the Russian empire, reads as if he were recounting it to you over drinks at the Colony Room – which, it seems, is where almost everything got done in the London art world of the 1980s. As well as an intriguing portrait of Bacon himself, there are cameos from Soho sleaze baron Paul Raymond, Grayson Perry and Grisha Bruskin, as well as (inevitably) a raven-haired Russian beauty, the fashion designer and KGB informant Elena Khudiakova, and the great textile expert and scholar of Dagestan Robert Chenciner, whose idea it was for Birch to go to the Soviet Union in the first place.

But beyond being a garrulous yarn of a memoir (the word ‘rollicking’ is used twice on the dust jacket), the book is a record of an extraordinary encounter at a momentous time. Based on Birch’s journals, letters from Bacon, Klokov and others, and illustrated with the author’s pictures of Russia and a gazetteer to the Bacon exhibition, with reproductions of all the paintings, there is some proper art history being smuggled into this book, like a bottle of scotch entering the USSR.

Birch gives an engaging account of his struggles to stage the show. First, dealing with an opaque Soviet system in which nothing makes sense: machinations involving the Union of Artists, the delegation to UNESCO and mysterious, unseen wielders of influence. All this would seem like so much Cold-War cliché until he gets back to London to deal with the capitalist equivalent: insurance companies, cultural grandees and gatekeepers from Bacon’s gallery and the British Council – as well as the vanities and resentments of the great man’s inner circle, which ultimately meant that Bacon never travelled to the Soviet Union to see his own triumph.

The exhibition itself – at the Central House of the Union of Artists in Moscow in 1988 – was a watershed, a set-piece of perestroika, and an indication of what Gorbachev wanted the Soviet Union to become. It would now be called cultural diplomacy, an expression of ‘soft power’ but, as the memoir shows, Russia in the 1980s exerted its own soft power on those from the West, not least James Birch, who later comes to realise he has developed the ‘Russia bug’.

Some 400,000 people visited the exhibition during its six-week run, many queuing for hours for a chance to see Bacon’s disturbing vision of humanity – his twisted forms the polar opposite of the smiling-but-sexless musclebound workers and peasants of so much officially sanctioned art. Indeed, only one painting was forbidden by the Soviet censors, Triptych from 1972, which depicts gay sex. Birch had been warned by Klokov not to include too many ‘cock-exalting’ pictures, and Klokov later provided the excuse to the Independent that its inclusion might have led Soviet society to dismiss the entire show. Even so, the reception was not universally positive. Included as an appendix are selections from the visitors’ book: ‘I haven’t seen anything like this before in my life,’ ‘The exhibition reminds me that madness is real,’ and, most memorably of all, ‘We want bacon, not Francis Bacon.’

We all know what happened next. Within four years, the USSR would be no more, although Birch would get one more exhibition in just below the line; he brought Gilbert & George to Moscow in 1990, but does not record what the Soviets thought of their underpants. The borders would open – for those who could afford travel – and the entirety of Western modern art would become available to the peoples of the Soviet Union. It was a two-way street of course. Russian artists such as Bruskin would become millionaires and move to New York, while some of Klokov’s circle (though not Klokov himself) would become billionaires and furnish their London homes with paintings by Bacon. James Birch would become rich and successful, though as this book shows he would never lose his roguish, self-deprecating charm, and has never left the demi-monde of the Soho art scene.

There is a particular pathos reading Bacon in Moscow now, as Russian aggression flattens cities in Ukraine and the resulting sanctions cut off Russia from the West more than at any time since Birch’s first visit in 1986. The Russian invasion of neighbouring Ukraine shows that the experiment that began during perestroika has definitively failed. The country is again becoming the secretive pariah state in which Birch landed all those years ago, with KGB-style surveillance, low grey clouds and military vehicles on the runway.










Francis Bacon, David Hockney and Picasso: Inside their studios




Meticulously tidy or a horrible mess? To really know an artist, just look at their studio






One of the perks of being an art critic is that you get to visit artist’s studios. Sometimes, I manage to inveigle my way into the alchemist’s lair for the simple reason that I’m dying to see it. Studios are such fascinating and telling sites of work.

When I interviewed Yoko Ono in New York, she showed me the spaces in the Dakota Building in which she and John Lennon had lived and worked. In a big white room was the big white piano on which she and Lennon had recorded Imagine. Next to it was a looming golden sarcophagus containing an unwrapped Egyptian mummy!

But the really telling moment came in the kitchen. Next to the large table where she did most of her work was a fridge plastered with photos, attached with magnets. I looked closer. They were private photos of John. Polaroids. Kodak snaps. Yoko makes cool, purist art. Most of it is strikingly white. But the loving emotions that hide behind her purist whites were laid bare on the fridge of her working kitchen.

When you get inside an artist’s studio, you get inside their intimacy zone. Studios are mini museums not just of the artist’s materials and methods, but also of their minds. And the really marvellous thing, the miraculous thing, is what happens when the materials and the minds coalesce to illuminate the art.

The other day I went to interview David Hockney in his studio in Normandy and was struck by the dramatic sense of order in his converted barn. Everything was in exactly the right place. Hundreds of tubes of acrylic paint were arranged in perfectly neat rows, like those army parades you see in footage from North Korea. Every brush was spotlessly clean and standing to attention in a glass jar. Here, clearly, was an 84-year-old artist determined not to waste a second that was left to him. The studio was as ready to go as an Olympic sprinter in the blocks.

That, then, is one kind of workplace: neat and minutely organised. I bet Vermeer’s studio was like that. Or the studio of Ingres. It’s an arrangement that fills me with respect and admiration. But, hand on heart, it is not the kind of studio that sends the pulse racing. For that to happen you need mess.

A classic example is Francis Bacon’s germ-filled and chaotic work room, which we’ll come to in a moment when we visit The Artist’s Studio, the new show at the Whitechapel Gallery. I never made it into Bacon’s abattoir, but I came close when I interviewed Louise Bourgeois in her profoundly disordered studio/home in Greenwich Village.

Bourgeois was in her eighties. Every inch of her tall, thin brownstone was packed with drawings, manikins, plaster casts, reams and reams of cloth and materials. If a cat died somewhere in the clutter you would never have found it. Had she not been an artist — one of the greatest the world has seen, I think — social services would have been called in to put her in a home. But that’s the thing about studios: they are not part of the “normal” world.

It’s a point that keeps being made by the Whitechapel’s appropriately chaotic event. Looking back on a century of artist’s studios, from 1920 to 2020, this crowded, throbbing parade has evidently had serious difficulty managing its subject. As a show it’s all over the place. Some of this chaos comes with the territory. But not all. Some is down to contemporary overthinking.

What they seek to present us with here — it’s announced in the opening wall texts — is the studio not just as a private place of work, but also as a public domain. We will be visiting not only the places where artists make art but also the ways in which they present themselves to the public. These are two reasonable ambitions. Each would make a reasonable show. But they are not the same ambition, and the divide between them keeps derailing this event.

We begin with a moody Bourgeois sculpture, one of her atmospheric cages, inside which two marble carvings of the artist’s hands sit atop a roughly hewn altar, surrounded by mirrors. As an artistic statement — a tribute to the artist’s hands — it’s powerful and resonant. But to feel these powerful meanings you need to concentrate on the hands and forget the studio.

The busy journey ahead — 80 artists! — is packed with such detours. For every tangible evocation of a studio, like the grubby but fascinating recreation of the pictorial compost in which Bacon worked, there are intrusions of a different kind of subject matter. The Nigerian artist Rotimi Fani-Kayode takes subfusc homoerotic photographs styled deliberately on Caravaggio. They’re beautiful. But they say nothing tangible about artist’s studios. The Egyptian painter Inji Efflatoun stares soulfully at us from a self-portrait. It’s nice to discover her. But the image clearly belongs in a self-portrait show.

As the display bounces between its confusing ambitions we keep getting glimpses of artist’s studios and then having them taken away. It’s the sort of problem that regularly afflicts contemporary theme shows. In their urge to get away from traditional, one-directional, masculinist tellings of a story, they end up saying nothing solid.

Here, though, it needs also to be admitted that the studio of today is not what it used to be. The cost of urban hire has turned them into expensive luxuries. And modern methods of communication have done away with much of the need for fixed art spaces. The old idea of a sacred locus in which artists could work their magic has been replaced by a shifting reality where artists plan their art on portable workstations and travel the world with their MacBook Airs.

The Artist’s Studio makes a point of noticing these changes. Indeed, it is as much a celebration of them as a record of the old ways. I find that sad. Others will not.

The Artist’s Studio, Whitechapel Gallery, London E1, until June 5




     Lovingly preserved, piece by piece, Francis Bacon’s famous studio was moved from London in 1998 and is now on show in all its notorious squalor at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.






Astragal: Russian exit and no Bacon







This month Foster + Partners said it would stop working in Russia, as it ‘deplored’ the country’s invasion of Ukraine. The announcement came a week after similar statements by Zaha Hadid Architects and David Chipperfield Architects.

Given that the Russian ruble has lost 43 per cent of its value against the pound since the start of the year – and sanctions are targeting a growing number of Russian companies, including banks – this may not be quite the principled sacrifice it appears.

Either way, Foster + Partners chairman Norman Foster is still making ends meet, having also this month sold a triptych by painter Francis Bacon. The artwork features, among other things, a blood-soaked sheet on the recording equipment of Leon Trotsky, the Marxist revolutionary Ukrainian assassinated by the Soviet state in 1940. The 1987 piece sold at Christie’s auction house for its minimum asking price: £35 million.





Bringing Out The Beast At Royal Academy’s Francis Bacon Exhibition






London’s Royal Academy of Arts is presenting a solo exhibition of 46 paintings by Francis Bacon, one of the most celebrated and influential artists of the 20th century, spanning from the 1930s and 40s through to Bacon’s final painting in 1991. Finding common ground between human and animal, exploring how animals are less inhibited versions of ourselves, bulls, chimpanzees, humans and other beasts are portrayed with a pitiless, unflinching eye.

In an accompanying video to “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast”, Michael Peppiatt, co-curator and friend of Francis Bacon, talks of Bacon’s fascination with animals. “He wanted to know what humans were, and what they were made up of. Animals took you to that truth more directly and quickly. They are a guide to humanity”. Bacon grew up around animals, particularly horses, in rural Ireland, but turned towards them most markedly after his visits to Africa in the early 1950s. He believed that to look at animals is to look at mankind beneath the veneer of civilisation, and to see what we really are. In so doing, we are faced with, in Bacon’s own words, “The brutality of fact”. This exhibition is based on that premise.

It is said that, shortly before his death, Shakespearean actor Laurence Olivier spent his days watching films starring Vivien Leigh, with tears in his eyes exclaiming “This, this was love”. The spark and the passion endures, the remnants of longing, the petty vengeances, the sulking betrayals and joyous reconciliations live on. Bacon had to come to terms with the death of two of those closest to him during his lifetime: Peter Lacy died of alcoholism in 1962, aged 46, while his subsequent partner, George Dyer, died of an overdose in 1971. Like Olivier and Leigh, this was love at its most raw and tempestuous—Lacy once threw Bacon out of a window.

 In a video interview introducing the exhibition, Peppiatt remarks: “These pictures are almost too much to bear. Because they look at life with a pitilessness”. Bacon’s memories of Lacy and Dyer were fertile ground for his exploration of humanity at its most exposed and defenceless. In Bacon’s Study for Portrait of P.L. No. 1 (1957), Lacy is curled up on the sofa like a domestic pet, a depleted figure of abject sorrow and misery, cowed and vulnerable. To look at this painting is to hover over an abyss of despair. In Triptych August 1972 (1972), one in a series of Black Triptychs painted after Dyer’s death, the central image is a life and death wrestling match, perhaps one of love and death. Dyer and Bacon sit patiently, separately either side. The dark emptiness of death does not dominate but projects a hushed glow of anticipation.

Bacon’s intense interest in the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904) vindicates the joint top billing of man and beast in this exhibition. Known as the man who proved that horses can fly, Muybridge’s harnessing of the camera to document motion of both humans and animals was prime source material for Bacon, who owned several copies of The Human Figure in Motion (1901) and Animals in Motion (1899). Several of the paintings on display directly echo Muybridge’s ground-breaking anatomical photography, notably Two Studies from the Human Body (1974–75) and Man with Dog (1953).

Not all of the forms are recognisably animal or human. Some are in between—these are the “beasts” of the title perhaps. In Figure Study II (1945–46), an elongated figure bows and peers, with trappings of domestic mundanity dotted around her—her dimensions are palpably not human, yet she is a redoubtable force of sentience and intelligence. Second Version of Triptych (1944), a reworking of his Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) presents what Bacon describes as his “Furies”, women of a kind, principally mythological harbingers of vengeance. One critic described this painting as depicting “the atrocious world into which we have survived”. Bacon’s world is one where religion lends its stories, props and language to illustrate a reality of fear and hopelessness. An example is Head VI (1949), a satisfying injection of one of Bacon’s most iconic motifs. Inspired by Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Diego Velázquez (1650), the purple robed, ghostly figure screams in primal horror or fear—this is mankind, mouth agape, releasing its inner beast in surrender to the terrors around it.

In 1969, Bacon began to depict bullfighting, perhaps the ultimate showdown of man and animal, and an opportunity to blur the lines between them. The corrida became a theme he returned to in later decades, and it is at the heart of his final painting, Study of a Bull (1991). Poignantly, Bacon employed dust as a medium in this work, commenting: “Dust seems to be eternal . . . the one thing that lasts forever”.

For an artist who roguishly dressed his works in Christian themes, his remark about dust is in character. Whilst Christians are told on Ash Wednesday that “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return”, Bacon muses on the immortality of that medium rather than our own transience. In so doing, he underlines the power and endurance of art itself. Visitors to this exhibition will most likely reflect on the gratifying immortality of human passion—how it retains its power to shock and unsettle us, even when the fires of love have burned out.





              Francis Bacon, Study from Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1965. Installation view in “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast”





A tawdry death imitating art




Francis Bacon’s turbulent love for George Dyer is visible on the canvas






One night in late 1963, Francis Bacon was at his studio at 7 Reece Mews in South Kensington when he heard a loud crash followed by scrabbling noises. He rushed upstairs to find that a burglar had just slipped and tumbled through the skylight.

Bacon confronted him, sized him up and gave him an instant ultimatum: they must have sex there and then or he would call the police. This is how Bacon first met George Dyer, a petty criminal from Borough, just south of the Thames, who would become one of the painter’s great loves.

At least it is one version of how they met. Lucian Freud offered a rather less picaresque alternative: the pair met in a club and went back to Reece Mews to seal the new acquaintance. Freud added that Bacon expected to be robbed by his casual squeezes — usually it was a watch that went missing. This time, however, Bacon was the recipient: Dyer gave him a gold watch, albeit one he had stolen the night before.

Dyer would go on to feature in some 20 paintings by Bacon, although he never liked them: “I think they’re fuckin’ ’orrible, really fuckin’ orful,” he told Bacon’s friend, Michael Peppiatt. If Bacon believed that “a thing has to arrive at a stage of deformity before I can find it beautiful,” Dyer didn’t. However, perhaps the most important pictures to emerge from the relationship were painted after Dyer’s death in 1971. Then, in mourning, Bacon produced three works, known as the “Black triptychs”, with Dyer, transmuted, in every panel.

The first of them, Triptych August 1972, is currently on show at the Royal Academy’s uncomfortable if stirring exhibition, “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast”. Even fifty years on, it remains an upsetting work. Dyer is shown twice seated, in nothing but his underpants, in front of a black door opening as he appears to melt into a pink puddle on the floor. In the third canvas he is on the ground, either in his death throes or tangled with Bacon as they have sex.

Bacon famously refused to explain his pictures but nevertheless admitted that while he wasn’t trying to express “the sorrow about somebody committing suicide … perhaps it comes through without knowing it”. If so, the visual metaphors — a dark portal to a void, dissolving forms as if life itself is seeping away — seem straightforward enough.

In a second work, Triptych May-June, 1973, they are even more obvious. In its panels, Dyer is shown in the dark of the doorway, sitting on the toilet, retching into a sink, and liquefying into the shape of a black bat. The picture, said the artist, “is in fact the nearest I’ve ever done to a story” because it shows how Dyer was found, dead from alcohol and amphetamines in their hotel bathroom, on the eve of Bacon’s 1971 retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris. Such an exhibition was only the second time that the honour had been granted to a living painter and was supposed to be the crowning moment of Bacon’s career.

By then the relationship between the two men had soured, exacerbated by Dyer’s drinking and drug taking and a series of unpleasant incidents. Dyer, by turns maudlin, possessive and vindictive, had planted cannabis in Bacon’s studio and called the police; in New York he had threatened to hurl himself from a skyscraper — again the police were summoned; and he had thrown Bacon’s furniture down the stairs at Reece Mews, blocking the painter out. As Freud (again) said: “It was awfully tragic, really. Francis stopped fancying him and George was in love with him.”

Bacon seemingly invited Dyer to accompany him to Paris out of pity. He was told of Dyer’s death just before the exhibition opening and went through the full meet-and-greet rigmarole knowing that his lover of nearly 20 years was dead nearby, in the most ignominious of circumstances.

As added torture, shortly after their relationship began, Bacon had painted Dyer on the toilet as part of an earlier triptych, Three Figures in a Room, 1964 (also in the RA show). He would never know if the conditions of Dyer’s death were a coincidence or some form of mockery or accusation.

Dyer’s death was one of several in Bacon’s circle around the time, including that of his childhood nanny, Jesse Lightfoot, who lived with him in London, ministering to him just as she had when he was a boy. Bacon claimed not to think about it: “because there’s nothing to think about. When it comes, it’s there. You’ve had it.” Nevertheless, a greater morbidity can be sensed in his paintings from that time on.

Bacon remained addicted to rough-trade lovers — a legless Moroccan in Tangier who pushed himself around on a wheeled board, another who interrupted a conversation about Bonnard with an art critic by asking “Are you ready for a thrashin’ yet, Francis?”, and assorted couplings near Tube stations and at rooms-by-the-hour hotels. Even when he was in his eighties Bacon would look at men “as if everything is still to play for”.

These though were transient fancies and did not make it on to canvas the way Dyer had. According to Bacon, “You always have to go too far to get anywhere at all, in art or life.” He did indeed get somewhere with his posthumous triptychs, but it was Dyer who had gone too far.





                                                                                                                                                         A detail of Triptych August 1972






THAMES MMXX Readies a Collection Celebrating the Works of Francis Bacon




Featuring five paintings by the British figurative painter.






For its latest collaboration, Blondey McCoy’s THAMES MMXX  has worked together with the Estate of Francis Bacon on a full collection. Comprised of twelve styles, the special range is centered around select paintings by the Irish-born British figurative painter.

A work jacket, hoodie, crewneck sweater, viscose shirt, T-shirts, beach towel, skateboards and printed booklet bring THAMES MMXX’s distinct take on streetwear with Francis Bacon’s raw imagery. Works featured include Study from Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velázquez (1959), Two Figures Lying on a Bed with Attendants (1968), Self-Portrait (1969), Oedipus and the Sphinx after Ingres (1983) and Chicken (1982). Ensuring the original qualities of each painting, the compositions and emotive color characteristics of the imagery depicting popes, self-portraits, nude figure studies, mythology and meat are maintained. Additionally, the limited run of 100 and numbered skate decks split paintings, mirroring Bacon’s affinity for separating his compositions.

Limited to 1,000 copies and free with the first 250 orders, the accompanying booklet highlights the breadth and depth of Francis Bacon’s life and work, art directed by Blondey. The print work features pictures of the collection’s campaign, starring Swedish skateboarder Ludvig Håkansson and shot by esteemed fashion photographer Daniel Martensen. Images of the paintings featured throughout the collection are also shown with selected quotes.

“For six or seven years now, I have caught myself standing in front of fucking great paintings, not wholly incapable of appreciating them, as such…but always, always noting the voice in my head saying, ‘it’s great, but it’s not Bacon,’ or words to that effect. Silly, I know, but there you are. I do try to suppress the voice. To simply appreciate other painters and paintings for who or what they are. But the man set the bar at such a height or, rather, in such a way that I find it near-enough impossible. The THAMES MMXX. x Francis Bacon collection is an attempt to thank him for that,” said Blondey McCoy Founder and Creative Director of THAMES MMXX.

Check out the range above and look for the Francis Bacon x THAMES MMXX collection to be available on THAMES MMX’s website March 25, 7 a.m. EDT.









Valuable reassessment of British art: Barbican’s Postwar Modern




This show succeeds in revealing numerous half-forgotten movements – and contains some out-and-out masterpieces






Notoriously, the past is another country: what’s more, it’s a terrain for which the guidebooks need constantly to be rewritten. That’s one attraction of the new exhibition Postwar Modern at the Barbican. It’s a survey of what might seem all-too-familiar territory: British art in the two decades that followed VE day. Yet it succeeds in revealing numerous half-forgotten or undervalued movements and people, the good, the bad and – most intriguingly – candidates for reassessment.

The decades that followed the second world war were marked by dreary austerity, perhaps explaining the tendency for the art to be coloured oatmeal, beige, grey and brown. But this was also a time of dawning hope, increasing prosperity and growing optimism. One of the out-and-out masterpieces on display, Leon Kossoff’s ‘Willesden Junction, Early Morning’ (1962), manages to embody both these contradictory moods.

It is executed in shades of sludge, while the subject – a snaking tangle of railway lines under overcast sky – is the reverse of picturesque. But when you see the actual picture, it knocks you back on your heels. The thickly encrusted paint is pulsing with force and energy.

Here Kossoff presents something banally familiar, north London commuter transport, but in a way so utterly fresh you might think the artist was from another galaxy or a different age. Frank Auerbach pulls off a similar feat in his marvellous ‘Head of Gerda Boehm’ (1964), a portrait of a modern woman that looks like something excavated from an archaeological site. It was painted in 1964 but you could believe it came from Mycenae or Babylon.

From Lucian Freud there is a trio of early masterpieces, depicting his first wife, Kitty Garman, and second, Caroline Blackwood. The almost incredible levels of observation and precision that he then achieved are visible if you look into the eyes of ‘Girl with Roses’. In each of her pupils the sash window of his studio is clearly reflected. Worlds within worlds, observed in the rundown area of Paddington where Freud worked.

Francis Bacon fares less well in this selection, understandably since there is a phenomenal exhibition of his greatest works elsewhere in London. The trio of his pictures at the Barbican are of lower wattage. On this basis it would be hard to explain the enormous impact Bacon had on his contemporaries. But his example was crucial, for his audacious ambition as much as for his actual pictures.

On the opposite side of the divide between figurative and non-figurative art, Alan Davie was perhaps the nearest thing Britain produced to a true abstract expressionist. He was also one of those artists who were only briefly on peak form – at more or less the moment of the two works in this show. His ‘Creation of Eve’ (1957) looks roughly like a half-and-half mix of Pollock and Bacon: a swirling mass of brushstrokes disquietingly like body parts and innards.

Even better is Frank Bowling’s ‘Big Bird’ (1965), in which two wounded and bleeding swans flutter against geometric areas of colour (borrowed from abstraction). These birds stand, Bowling explained, for ‘people who had broken lives’, adding, ‘If you don’t straighten up and fly right, you’re going to end up in the gutter.’ There’s a touch of Bacon here too, in the splattered gore and free-flying paint. Altogether more buoyant, indeed sumptuous and ebullient, is Gillian Ayres’s ‘Break-off’ (1961) in which a whole genus of new organisms like plankton or protozoa seem to float out of the canvas.

Biology was one of the obsessions of the age, as was science fiction. The ‘action sculptures’ of the short-lived Peter King suggest both: inchoate masses of material which seem just on the point of transformation into a body or a face. Something similar is true of Eduardo Paolozzi’s strange sentinel figures made by pressing bits and pieces of detritus into clay and suggesting robots, but also vagrants.

To my eye, though, the most effective three-dimensional works on show are not conventional sculptures but an array of pots by Lucie Rie and Hans Coper (both refugees from the Nazis). Coper especially was able to create forms and surfaces that look as if they might belong to an ancient culture and were simultaneously filled with the spirit of the times. His ‘hourglass’ vases are a bit like miniature versions of those monumental works of the 1960s, the cooling towers at power stations.

There is much more, too much to describe here, including remarkable documentary photographs by Roger Mayne and Nigel Henderson. Other artists and idioms and reputations remain in the not-to-be-resuscitated category. But, having said that, it’s true that our view of the past continues to alter as the present unfolds.

That’s happening as I write to works by Elisabeth Frink, William Turnbull and Lynn Chadwick in the idiom known as ‘geometry of fear’. These sculptural evocations of tangled metal, ruined cities and burned, blasted bodies used to seem like relics of a distant age. In the past few days, they’ve started to look horribly close to news reports.

Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain 1945-1965  

Barbican Art Gallery, until 26 June





Chelsea art dealer owes us royalties going back 16 years, artists tell court




Ivor Braka, who sold a Francis Bacon painting for $50 million, is accused of denying ‘desperately needed’

income to painters and creatives






A high-profile Chelsea art dealer has become embroiled in a High Court battle over claims that he hasn’t paid royalties in 16 years.

Ivor Braka and his company, Ivor Braka Ltd, have not paid any royalties or revealed what artworks they have traded, despite reporting sales of goods of over £9 million, a judge was told this week.

Since 2006, art dealers have been required to pay royalties to living artists if they resell their works.

Mr Braka is well known in the art world, having once sold a Francis Bacon painting for $50 million (£38 million) and amassed a sizeable private collection, including works by Damian Hirst.

The Artists’ Collecting Society (ACS) and the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS), which collect royalties on behalf of artists, have taken Mr Braka and his company to the High Court to force them to reveal details of their sales since 2006.

In documents submitted to a preliminary hearing on Thursday, a judge was told that the claimants had made requests for information on payable royalties from Mr Braka and Ivor Braka Ltd every quarter since 2006-07 and had never received a response

The lawyers argued that they were making “a straightforward claim for information.”

Mr Braka’s legal team responded in a written argument that the requests “were advanced on an incorrect basis” because it was necessary “to identify a relevant sale… it is not enough to simply ask for information as to any potentially relevant sales”.


Not disclosed information

The claimants argue that this is not possible to do, given that Mr Braka and his company have not disclosed information on any of their sales.

Mr Braka’s team argued: “The claims against Mr Braka were misconceived, speculative, inconsistent with the claimants’ own contemporaneous documents, and should never have been brought.”

Representatives of  ACS and DACS told The Daily Telegraph that the amount of royalties involved was likely to be very small but that it could make an enormous difference to artists who rarely made much money.

Gilane Tawadros, chief executive of DACS, said: “While the majority of the art market complies with the Artist’s Resale Right Regulations, a few do not, and in doing so gain an unfair advantage against their fellow art dealers and deny artists and creatives income that is desperately needed, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Ivor Brakar Ltd was approached for comment. A further hearing is scheduled to take place in the summer.




                  Mr Braka is well known in the art world, having once sold a Francis Bacon painting for $50 million (£38 million)






‘Francis Bacon: The First Pope’







The man on the dais screams his invective. The microphone in front of him shakes with the volume of his speech. His mouth is wide, his teeth are bared, the anger and viciousness of his rhetoric is almost real, physical, like you can feel it in your chest.

This is Francis Bacon’s first pope painting. He painted it in 1946, based on a Velázquez image of Pope Innocent X. It would lead to more pope paintings, images full of aggression and tyrannical hate, but this first one hasn’t been seen in public since it was sold in 1967.

And now it’s here, presented all on its own, with no other works around it, in a pitch black room. It’s like entering a tiny private chapel. The air conditioner hums, but otherwise it’s silent. You are alone with this one single, beautiful, awful, violent painting.

The pope in his shirt and tie is part religious leader, part tyrannical despot. He stands in front of a neo-classical Nazi colonnade, spewing his bile at a crowd of violet cyclamen flowers. It’s a stunning, powerful work.

If the giant Royal Academy exhibition of Bacon’s work that’s on show now is an overwhelming celebration of his art, this is a tiny, private, personal meditation. It’s a chance to be one on one with his painting, eyeball to eyeball with his first pope, and it’s amazing.




                       Installation view, Francis Bacon, © The Estate of Francis Bacon.





Heart of Darkness: A Look at Francis Bacon’s

Visceral London Exhibition







Man and Beast. The name of an exhibition of the 20th century Irish-born figurative painter, Francis Bacon is indicative of his carnal impression of life and death and subsequent expression of what he saw as risqué and primal.

His paintings are often vicious, confronting depictions of human forms with animal characteristics, deformed and dramatised to fit his bleak world view which depicted the carnage and violence of the military conflicts of his time with raw, unsettling imagery.

Bacon existed in the art world as a boundary-pusher, his depictions of crucifixions, portraits of popes, self-portraits, and portraits of close friends all presented the viewer with a reaction-inducing take on the prevailing ideological direction at the time, pacing them far outside their comfort zone.

The work Head, 1947-48, from his first exhibition at Erica Brausen’s Hanover Gallery, London, in 1949 is indicative of compositional elements he would go on to use for many years such as the addition of white lines in a geometric pattern reminiscent of a room or cage.

Bacon seems to ask where the distinction is between the human-like figure in the painting and the grisly fangs as it seems to morph and transform in muted, dusty grey into some kind of deformed mouth, he seems to want us to realise our capacity for transformation, but leaves the viewer with an undesirable image of biological ugliness rather than the current, prevailing, nature-positive viewpoint.

It is not his only work that uses such evocative imagery and combines it with compelling composition.

The Exhibition will feature a trio of Bullfighting pieces that have never been on display before, many posit this triptych was an unfinished project and there is conjecture that a fourth, central painting was abandoned and destroyed as happened to many of his work that he was dissatisfied with.

Bacon said of bullfighting, ”[It] is like boxing – a marvellous aperitif to sex.’

He was decades ahead of his time, discussing the complex relationships between spectacle, terror and power, and the capacity of the individual to become lost in herd mentality in the rare bullfighting triptych with his depiction of the crowd including a Nazi-like Eagle.

This exhibition is being shown at the Royal Academy London until the 17th of April.

















“Postwar Modern” collects not only some of the most impactful artwork produced following the Second World War, but draws crucial focus to the impact that trauma can have on the subjectivity of the artist. Now showing at the Barbican until 26th June 2022, the exhibition delicately balances the distressing imagery and impact of world-changing events with a beguiling intellectual narrative.

The lights are low in the gallery, hauntingly facing the walls and the art on them. Through the dense atmosphere, the exhibition’s path climbs across two floors to mimic a dialectical spiral. In a thrilling combination of emotional resonance and ideational creativity, what becomes most impressive about this show is the active curatorial philosophy behind its execution. It builds firmly upon itself, enacted as though performing a drama, and leading visitors towards a concrete vision of the works within. Once inside, the visitor is guided from the colossal and intrusive intercession of John Latham’s ‘Full Stop’ (1961) – a Lacanian traumatic interruption if ever there was one – through the dissemination of the subject into their art by Alan Davies’s ‘Creation of Eve’ (1956), and finally into confronting the thing in itself – the war, the violence, and the uneasy future that awaits. Perfect for our moment, as the UK and so many of its citizens begin to define our times as similarly ‘post-covid’, the mechanics of this story play out with an eerie resonance.

These are neatly encapsulated by another work of Latham’s, ‘Man Caught Up with a Yellow Object’ (1954), where the artist’s obsession with spray painting finds theoretical impact through the painting’s form – a chaotic spread of atomised particles and pigment and a looming figure. The piece’s plaque reads of how Latham interpreted the Christian god’s act of creation – standing in for the acts of the artist – to represent not concrete objects but moments in time. A poignant Kantian portrait, this is tantamount to the announcement of the show’s intentions: that the art which follows is tied not to the artist as a unique object, but an immediate reflection of their subjectivity at one time, and in the wake of violence. Looping around the many works inside, the visitor finds the passing of time painstakingly apparent between canvases and sculpture, as they dizzyingly traverse all manners of expression. The artworks unfold from the dense packaging of earthy colours and bombastic composition in earlier images, to a settling of tones in Lucien Freud’s impressions of his surroundings in ‘Hotel Bedroom’ (1954), and finally Richard Hamilton’s pop-art visions of the future, in his poster for the ‘This is Tomorrow’ show at Whitechapel Gallery (1956). In short, it is a procession through trauma, and eventually into moving past it.

The upper floors follow much the same trajectory, though more compactly exploring divergent sets of themes as opposed to one overwhelming post-war narrative; as if unburdened with the direct influence of tragedy, the artists included could act purely of their own accord. The dark surrealism of Francis Bacon in works like ‘Man in Blue II’ (1954) may be tonally consistent with the bloody battles of the recent past, but their thematic content represents an individualistic move away from historical engagement. Similarly, the constructionist departure of abstract sculpture enters its own reality, apart from history in the ‘concrete’ themed room. Here lies the sharp absence of grimy interpretations of war, and in their place mathematical and architectural forms designed quite without human beings in mind, as if the past subjectivity had itself been experimentally abandoned, or left behind in the procession of the arts.

After leaving behind a likewise traumatic period of history, the Covid-19 pandemic of our times, the Barbican’s latest creation is most vitally a suggestion towards how we may process this interruption in our lives. By looking to the past, it vocalises through the drama of its curation how we may move beyond the mire of reflective work, beyond being trapped by the memories of violence. Once again, it becomes apparent that towards art is the direction we must take. To express, and process these events in therapeutic catharsis, and if not to create ourselves then to languish and engage with the expression of others; that by art we must always be drawn to take the next step.

Postwar Modern New Art in Britain 1945-1965— 26th Jun 2022  Barbican Art Gallery




                                     Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain 1945 – 1965 Installation view Barbican Art Gallery – 26 June 2022 © Tim Whitby






Screaming pope painting by Francis Bacon goes on display







LONDON, March 15 – A dark Francis Bacon painting of a screaming pope, said to be the earliest in his series of papal depictions, went on display in London on Tuesday, the first time the artwork has been exhibited publicly.

The Dublin-born artist created the canvas, known as “Landscape with Pope/Dictator,” in 1946 while living in Monaco.

It depicts a blurred, open-mouthed figure in a biretta, a traditional cap worn by Catholic clergy and wearing a politician’s usual attire of a shirt and tie. A microphone stands in front of him and beneath are flowers.

Art gallery Gagosian, which is showing the work in its London Davies Street gallery, said it was “Bacon’s first treatment of the papal image.”

“Here you’ve got this sort of hybrid figure of a kind of papal clerical figure but at the same time, dressed in an ordinary secular suit and tie,” Richard Calvocoressi, director and curator at the Gagosian gallery, said.

“So fusing these two figures of authority…on the one hand the pope, on the other hand, the dictator, the authoritarian figure is something that he pursued and carried on…for another 20 years, coming back to this idea.”

The painting was recently discovered when British art historian and curator Martin Harrison compiled a catalog of Bacon’s work. The listing was published in 2016.

“It’s never been in an exhibition. It went into a private collection in Italy in 1967 and really, this is its first public appearance since then,” Calvocoressi said.

The painting is on show until April 23.




        Dublin-born artist created “Landscape with Pope/Dictator” in 1946





Oil be back: is this long-lost, terrifying painting Bacon’s very first pope?




The Gagosian Gallery certainly thinks so, and it’s well worth heading to Mayfair to see it (if you dare...)






Against a dark, sinister background, a man sits before a microphone, ranting into the night. Who is this screaming, eyeless spectre, with teeth as sharp as a vampire’s? Answer: a figure by Francis Bacon – and, according to the Gagosian Gallery, which is about to show the picture in which he appears, his “first pope”.

Likely abandoned by Bacon in the early Fifties, when he moved out of a studio in South Kensington, the painting was lost for decades, hidden away, since 1967, in an obscure private collection. Now, following its rediscovery in 2016, it’s being exhibited for the first time – not far from the Royal Academy, where three of the artist’s pope paintings (he made more than 40, over 20 years) are on display in Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, including Head VI (1949), usually considered the series’s prototype.

Anyone interested in modern art will want to see such a potentially important early Bacon for themselves. So, at the first opportunity, I pedalled to Gagosian in Mayfair, where the gilt-framed painting has been hung dramatically (and spookily), surrounded by Stygian drapes, so that it seems to float, by itself, in an otherwise empty, pitch-black space. If this is what the threshold to the underworld looks like, I won’t be surprised – and, judging by the distorted, hysterical expression of the picture’s purple-clad martinet, we’re all going straight to hell.

It was the art historian Martin Harrison who tracked down the painting, which the artist never titled, to a warehouse in northern Italy, while compiling Bacon’s catalogue raisonné. Could it be one of three lost “sketches” of Velázquez’s 17th-century portrait of Pope Innocent X, which Bacon mentions in a pair of letters written on the same day in 1946? “It is thrilling to paint from a picture which really excites you,” he told his friend, the artist Graham Sutherland – although he knew Velázquez’s composition only in reproduction, and never visited the original in Rome.

One of the studies, he added, was almost finished, and Gagosian, who insist it isn’t available, believe this is the “new” work. In which case, it must have been painted in Monaco, where Bacon, feeling flush following the sale of Painting (1946), which today hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York and features another menacing, eyeless bully, was rattling around the roulette tables, with his lover, Eric Hall, and beloved former nanny, Jessie Lightfoot, in tow.

If correct, the painting, which measures 55 x 43 inches, was executed (on the canvas’s rougher, unprimed side) very early in Bacon’s career, which, traditionally, is said to start with Tate’s 1944 triptych, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. Astonishingly, many of the motifs that we associate with his artistic maturity are already present: a solitary male figure; a bestial, chimp-like scream; the claustrophobic sense of being trapped within box-like structures. In the foreground, pink flowers (cyclamens?) crackle and sputter like fireworks. Their pronged, finger-like petals echo the figure’s blurred, gesticulating hands.

In an elegant essay, art historian Richard Calvocoressi suggests that they may, too, stand in for his audience: the “waving or saluting” hands of a crowd listening to a demagogue. Bacon kept press photos of speechifying dictators, and the painting’s neoclassical colonnade recalls buildings by the Nazi architect Albert Speer. Hence, Harrison’s tentative title: “Landscape with Pope / Dictator”. Perhaps those petals represent toxic propaganda tumbling, like spittle, from the figure’s fanged, fanatical mouth.

In fact, isn’t this tyrannical phantom more dictator than pope? He wears a collar and tie, not vestments. (Am I seeing things, or are the notches of a lapel visible in the thin paint describing his outer garment?) True, his throne is a little like that in Velázquez’s portrait, while, Calvocoressi argues, the predominant blue-violet tonality “anticipates the later series of popes from 1951 and 1953”. His elongated headgear may be a prelate’s “biretta”.

But, at its base, encircling his temples, there’s the ghostly line of a brim, which suggests a different sort of hat altogether. If he is a pope, he’s a shadowy one – the first stirrings of an idea. Still, whoever he is, he’s fascinating, as well as scary, and I suggest you seek this intriguing, transitional picture out.

From March 15 until April 23




                            Francis Bacon’s Landscape with Pope/Dictator c. 1946





ArtBeat: Féile an Earraigh, Guernica and Ukraine, Francis Bacon,

Big Telly Theatre Company and President Zelensky




Notes and musings from the arts scene as it continues to emerge from lockdown, by Jane Hardy




BY JANE HARDY    |    BOOKS    |    ARTS    |    THE IRISH NEWS    |    SATURDAY, 12 MARCH, 2022


IT is Féile an Earraigh time and we’re midway through its tempting programme, with cultural treats such as today’s Tin Whistle Challenge at 11.30am at the Cultúrlann Mcadam Ó Fiaich, Falls Road.

Sometimes politics and art make beautiful music. Think of the savage force of Guernica Picasso’s take on the 1937 Nazi bombing of the Basque town which I remember seeing in London with my mother a long time ago.

Of course, given the situation since Russia’s attack on Ukraine, there has been another form of politics invading the arts. That’s the outright ban, the straight embargo of cultural events produced by the enemy, or at least our ally’s enemy.

So, for example, the British tour of the Russian State Ballet of Siberia has been abruptly cancelled, artists (who may not approve of the events taking place back home) have had to pack their bags. And the Bolshoi won’t be coming to London’s Royal Opera House.

These tough cultural sanctions can hurt the innocent as well as the big bad guys. Shostakovich, when challenged during an interview in America, refused to produce outright condemnation of Stalin, saying the journalists risked nothing, he risked everything.

I agree that the virtue signalling could be a little over the top. Cleverly, Northern Ireland has found, post-Troubles, a different artistic solution.

Here we practise a kind of cultural osmosis, with both sides of Ulster’s bloody debate encouraged to tell their stories, with events like Féile an Phobail and the Eastside Arts Festival playing their part.

However, if you want a sense of the raw cruelty of the human condition you could do worse than go see the Irish-born but London-based artist Francis Bacon’s work in the Ulster Museum. His Head II (1949), for example, is both animal and sinister.

The painter produced the most magnificently disturbing portraits of the 20th century, including his Screaming Pope series.

Now Bacon will reach a new audience. Via, of all things, a colourful graphic (both senses) novel, Francis Bacon: the Story of his Life, by Cristina Portolano (Prestel).

To find out more, you can visit Bacon’s famously messy studio, the room as smeared as his palette, in the Dublin City Gallery aka the Hugh Lane.

It was lovingly relocated, with 100 slashed canvases and 2000 items of artist’s kit, from London in 1998.

Apparently Ukrainian geography might lend itself to guerrilla warfare (hopefully not) but what about Portrush?

The Big Telly Theatre Company is staging one of its innovative dramatic outings from March 17-19 where you move around town like a spy it’s immersive, so we all join in, mobiles at the ready, to undertake a mystery assignation.

Finally, this week we learnt political oratory, and courage, are not dead.

President Zelensky’s speech to the Houses of Parliament referenced Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquy, Hamlet’s To be, or not to be, had Churchillian rhythms and moral force. British politicians, take note.




          Francis Bacon: the Story of his Life is a graphic novel about the Dublin-born artist, who died in 1992.







How Larry Gagosian courted Russian oligarchs


to build art gallery empire







New York’s most successful art tycoon has built a billion-dollar empire by being the dealer of choice for Russia’s biggest oligarchs.

One art world source dubbed Gagosian “the official art dealer to the Russian oligarchy,” adding that “the Bond villains he consorts with are dangerous, repulsive and devalue art by their very presence.”

Larry Gagosian, 76, has worked with billionaire and Putin confidant Roman Abramovich, whose assets were frozen by the British government Thursday over Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, and Mikhail Fridman, the sanctioned co-founder of Alfa Bank.

He is also said to have cultivated relationships with Russia’s most important museum, run by a close associate of President Vladimir Putin. With Ukrainian artists and others calling for more sanctions in the cultural sector, such relationships may soon be under scrutiny, analysts say. The Gagosian Gallery in New York did not return The Post’s calls and an email seeking comment this week.

Gagosian, who owns several galleries around the world, has long held close ties to Abramovich, the owner of the UK’s Chelsea football club, helping him and ex-wife Dasha Zhukova build up a massive art collection. It includes pieces by artists Francis Bacon and Damien Hirst, whose work has been represented by Gagosian’s galleries.

“In my years working for the Gagosian gallery, I watched Larry’s interest move from key American collectors to mother Russia,” said a former gallery employee who did not want to be identified.

In his pursuit of wealthy Russian clients, Gagosian hosted exhibitions in Moscow, beginning in 2007, featuring artists Hirst, Willem de Kooning and Jeff Koons, among others. That inaugural show was partly funded by Russia’s Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private financial institution, which was sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury last month.

One of the bank’s founders, Fridman — who, as of 2017, was Russia’s seventh-richest citizen — was a client of the Gagosian Gallery, and sanctioned by the European Union in February. He resigned from the bank’s board earlier this month, according to reports.

Fridman bought an Andy Warhol painting of Marilyn Monroe through the gallery for more than $38 million in 2013. He then flipped the 1962 acrylic and silk-screen “Four Marilyns” two years later for $44 million. At the beginning of his business relationship with Gagosian, Fridman had bought “Midas,” a monochrome painting of butterflies in a gilded cage, by Hirst from the Gagosian Gallery.

“Gagosian is no different from all the other art dealers who were circling around the money trough of the oligarchs,” said an art world source who did not want to be identified. “Everybody, including Christie’s and Sotheby’s were shamelessly courting the oligarchs.”

But Gagosian, whose net worth is estimated at $600 million, may have been better than most at courting these billionaire clients. His gallery is the most successful modern dealership in the world, with outposts in Geneva, Los Angeles and even a hangar at a Paris airport. The nearly 18,000-square-foot space near a runway at Le Bourget has featured exhibitions of Gagosian artists Richard Serra and Anselm Kiefer, among others.

“Larry occupies a unique position that hasn’t been reached by any dealer in the history of art and will never be reached after him,” said fellow contemporary art dealer Philippe Segalot in a 2018 interview with Allinet, an online art journal. “He is the greatest on the market. He is a true military machine.”

To that end, Gagosian has maintained a close connection with the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and its longtime director Mikhail Piotrovsky, who is so close to Putin that he boasted about helping the Russian president draft constitutional amendments in 2020. Piotrovsky’s wife Irina worked with Putin for six years while he was deputy mayor of St. Petersburg in the early 1990s.

“It’s not that I’m Putin’s person since the early ’90s,” said Piotrovsy in an interview with The Art Newspaper last year. “Putin has been my person from the early ’90s. He is from Petersburg. He had approximately the same job that I did. We both worked for the reputation of Petersburg. So indeed he is closer to me than many others.”

In partnership with Piotrovsky, Gagosian has staged several art exhibitions of his clients’ work at the Hermitage in the past, and wined and dined Piotrovsky on his numerous trips to the US. “My relations with Dr. Piotrovsky are excellent,” said Gagosian, the son of Armenian emigrés in a 2018 interview “After all, he is half-Armenian. For me, to be an Armenian means to have a kinship with Russia.”

Gagosian and the New York-based Hermitage Museum Foundation, a non-profit that raises money for restoration projects and artistic donations to the Russian museum, hosted Piotrovsky on visits to the US, including “whirlwind” tours of Palm Beach and Washington DC in 2009, according to the group’s federal tax filings.

During the Palm Beach trip, Piotrovsky was treated to a farewell brunch at Mar-a-Lago, hosted by Donald Trump. In Washington, he was given a private tour of the Library of Congress and awarded the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service. He even laid a wreath at Mount Vernon where George Washington is buried, according to tax filings.

In 2017, “Larry Gagosian graciously hosted an intimate dinner for Professor Piotrovsky and several art collectors in his home,” according to the Hermitage Museum Foundation’s website.

Abramovich, who made international headlines when he paid $86.3 million for Francis Bacon’s “Triptych” and another $33.6 million for Lucian Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” in 2008, was added to the British sanctions list of “pro-Kremlin” oligarchs with ties to the UK.





                               Gagosian’s galleries have included pieces by artists Francis Bacon (above) and Damien Hirst.






This is art for the penthouses of oligarchs’


– Damien Hirst: Natural History




The artist’s progress from raw young punk to pretentious money-lover


is on show in this collection of formaldehyde works. Even the shark is


getting very shrunken around the mouth






Thirty years ago, when I walked into the Saatchi gallery in London, I saw something wildly liberating and compulsive: a huge tiger shark that seemed to swim forward through clear blue liquid, with just a sheet of glass between you and its jaws. But the shark you see on entering Damien Hirst’s survey of his formaldehyde creations is not the same work: it’s Jaws 2, or even Jaws 3, the one where the mother shark attacks an aquarium. It is called Death Denied and was made in 2008, a fresher version of the notoriously decaying original, titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. But even 14 years is a long time for a dead shark, and this one’s getting very shrunken around the mouth.

Any fear of those teeth – and the inevitable advance of death they symbolise – rapidly dissipates as you take in the progress of Hirst from raw young punk to pretentious money-lover. It is still possible to put on a strong exhibition of his early work, with its genuine sense of grabbing something from this short life, but what we see here instead is how his original desire to shock has become empty and artificial. Somewhere along the line he stopped feeling it.

Behind the shark are three tall tanks with a dissected upright sheep in each, like the three crosses in a medieval altarpiece. Of course, he’s emulating Francis Bacon, who took the gothic art form of the triptych (or three-part altarpiece) and filled it with painted meat, purple and grey emanations of godless flesh. Does Hirst want to be Bacon? He isn’t.

The Pursuit of Oblivion is a towering tank, inside which an umbrella floats over an empty overcoat on a chair, among sides of beef and butchery tools hanging in still, clear fluid. It is a homage to Bacon’s crushingly real nightmares, especially his 1946 canvas, Painting. The cleavers and knives remind you of Bacon’s admiration for butchers’ shops. As the eloquent Soho existentialist once said between drinks: “Ham, pigs, tongues, sides, of beef seen in the butcher’s window, all that death, I find it very beautiful.”

Bacon waxed lyrical about meat but what he put on canvas was paint. His smears of pink and grey, his sickening orange backgrounds and tubular furniture, are acts of imagination. Hirst’s vitrine looks like the artistic effort of someone with no imagination. Why can’t you create a Bacon masterpiece with real meat and a real umbrella? Because it becomes banal. It’s like pretending that by exhibiting a pig sliced in two to reveal its guts you’ve made a powerful modern version of Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical drawings. Oh and yes, Hirst does try that one here, too.

The more art history his vitrines quote, the sillier they seem. Chopping off a cow’s head to create The Beheading of John the Baptist (2006) does seem a bloody waste. It just does not achieve the same pathos and horror as Caravaggio could get by painting a man with his head half removed in a prison yard and the executioner reaching with his knife to sever the last flap of skin.

That’s because Caravaggio and Bacon were painting human suffering. Many will be offended by the fact that every work in this show is made with dead animals. But, paradoxically, you would have to believe every animal death equal to the death of a human to be moved in the right way by The Beheading of John the Baptist. As someone who still eats meat, it would be hypocritical for me to weep. So the only people who can take Hirst seriously are more likely to be outside the gallery protesting.

To be fair, he’s closer to veganism than you might think. His early 1997 piece Shut Up and Eat Your Fucking Dinner is a grotesque recreation of a butcher’s window. It looks like a memory of being sickened by windows full of dead animals when he was a little boy in Leeds. But this ghost of sensitivity fades in the cold, industrial output of fake masterpieces that surround it. This is art for the penthouses of oligarchs who look out of their windows and ask who really cares about all those pieces of meat walking about down there.

Damien Hirst: Natural History is Gagosian Britannia Street, London




                                                   The Beheading of John the Baptist, 2006, in Damien Hirst: Natural History.






Las bestias de Francis Bacon llenan la Royal Academy de Londres




Hasta el 17 de abril podremos ver algunas de las mejores y más inquietantes obras del “generoso y viperino” artista.






El viaje a lo animal es breve. Así lo expresó el pintor Francis Bacon en sus grandes lienzos. Antes, otros, desde la Antigüedad, dieron forma al animal que guarda el corazón humano. Los egipcios representaron a sus dioses en cuerpos con cabeza de ibis, o de cocodrilo, o de halcón, o de leona.

Para los griegos lo que no era humano era ya monstruoso, como el Minotauro, encerrado en su laberinto, ante quien hoy no podemos evitar un brote de ternura. El Medievo siguió la tradición que identificaba al animal con el vicio, el instinto bajo, el pecado. Así el Bosco llenó sus obras de seres de los que surgen bestias extrañas. Habitan espacios infernales, condenados a penar por su naturaleza.




En la exposición Hombre y bestia comprobamos que, para Francis Bacon, no había distancia entre ambos. El artista creció en la visión cruda de Rembrandt y Goya, y sobre ella recreó las formas orgánicas de los surrealistas y de Picasso. Permaneció en el interior. Sus obras son inquietantes porque miran dentro y muestran lo que no queremos ver.

Su padre, militar y criador de caballos, le expulsó de casa a los 16 años tras descubrir su homosexualidad y su afición por el travestismo. Le envió a Berlín con un amigo de la familia con el objetivo de que se convirtiese en un hombre. Francis le sedujo y disfrutó de la libertad que ofrecía la ciudad en los años 20. Viajó a menudo a París y finalmente se instaló en Londres, donde se dedicó a la decoración.

En su afición por el juego, llegó a instalar una ruleta ilegal en su sótano. Dedicaba las noches a saltar de bar en bar en el Soho. Desde los años 40 frecuentó junto a Lucien Freud el Colony Room, propiedad de su amiga Muriel Blecher, que le pagaba por llevar clientes. Ocupaba siempre el mismo asiento, en una de las esquinas. Según sus conocidos era generoso y viperino, de ingenio afilado.




Afirmó que tardó en implicarse en la pintura porque no sentía interés por representar lo que le rodeaba. Su viaje le dirigió hacia el interior. Los excesos alcohólicos y su inclinación por las relaciones tortuosas, marcadas por el masoquismo, conformaron un universo cerrado en el que habitan animales y personajes que son carne más que piel.

Partía de recortes que colgaba en su estudio. Las primeras investigaciones sobre el movimiento en fotografía, imágenes de un viaje a Sudáfrica, una escena de una película de vanguardia en la que una mujer grita o la máscara mortuoria del poeta William Blake, emergen una y otra vez en sus obras.

Tras su acuerdo con la galería Marlborough, que pagaba sus piezas en función de su tamaño, se multiplican los trípticos y su extensión se hace monumental.




Su obra más célebre, una versión del retrato del papa Inocencio X de Velázquez, toma un personaje cuyo poder roza lo divino, le encierra en una jaula y le priva de su humanidad con un grito, que, a diferencia del de Munch, es solo una boca. En la boca acaba el hombre y comienza el animal, afirmaba Bacon.

El mono representaba para el artista la fusión de ambas naturalezas. Si en el hombre buscaba la animalidad, trasladaba al animal su soledad. En la exposición de la Royal Academy, el personaje más amable es un babuino.

En los sesenta conoció en un pub a George Dyer. Era joven, del barrio popular del East End y contaba con un historial intermitente de hurtos. Bacon, que había abrazado una sumisión consciente en sus relaciones, se transformó en protector de Dyer, a quien percibía como un ser vulnerable.

Durante una década Dyer ocupó el lugar central en sus series. Bacon realizó numerosos estudios de su rostro, en los que aparece representado con cercanía y cierta ternura. Si el retrato era el género en el que buscaba explorar los límites entre lo humano y lo inhumano, Dyer aparece privado de los rasgos voraces que mostraban los personajes de su etapa inicial.

La relación se degradó hacia finales de los 60, cuando Bacon se consagró como exponente de la alta cultura. Reclamado en los círculos artísticos a pesar de sus particularidades, Dyer se vio relegado y se sumió en un alcoholismo cargado de violencia. En 1971, en París, la noche que precedió a la inauguración de una retrospectiva de Bacon en el Grand Palais, se suicidó con una combinación de alcohol y barbitúricos.




El artista resurgió de una época que él mismo definió de “demonios, desastre y pérdida” cuando conoció al español José Capello en una fiesta en Londres, a quien superaba en más de 40 años. La relación se consolidó en viajes por Italia y España. Acudía a menudo a Madrid, donde tuvo la oportunidad de revisitar dos de sus referentes: Velázquez y Goya, en el Museo del Prado. Pintó su última obra en 1991.

Desde entonces, la posición de Francis Bacon como uno de los grandes maestros del siglo XX no ha cesado de crecer. En 2013, 3 estudios de Lucian Freud alcanzó en Christie’s Nueva York los 142,4 millones de dólares, el mayor precio en subasta hasta entonces, solo superado en 2017 por el Salvator Mundi de Leonardo.





                             Francis Bacon, Triptych August 1972, 1972. ‘Francis Bacon: Man and Beast’, Royal Academy of Arts, Londres (29 enero – 17 abril 2022).






Never before exhibited, Francis Bacon’s first screaming Pope

goes on show at London’s Gagosian gallery




Sinister besuited figure, painted in Monaco in 1946, was only recently rediscovered






Francis Bacon’s first image of a screaming Pope—which has never been exhibited publicly—is due to go on show next week at Gagosian gallery in London. The papal image, known as Landscape with Pope/Dictator, will be displayed at Davies Street gallery in Mayfair from 15 March to 23 April.

The work, made in Monaco in 1946, depicts a figure in a traditional Catholic clergy cap known as a biretta and a shirt and tie, combining religious elements and more sinister aspects, drawing on the artist’s fascination with Fascist dictators.

On 19 October 1946, Bacon wrote to Duncan MacDonald, a director of the Lefevre Gallery in London: “I am working on three studies of Velázquez’s portrait of Innocent II [sic]. I have almost finished one. I find them exciting to do.” Bacon was fascinated by Velázquez, the leading 17th-century artist in the court of King Philip IV of Spain.

According to the Sunday Times, the work was discovered by Martin Harrison as he compiled Bacon’s catalogue raisonné in 2016. The painting was reportedly acquired from Bacon’s London studio in 1951 and was later held by galleries in Milan and Turin before being bought by an unnamed Italian collector. Gagosian gallery says that Landscape with Pope/Dictator is not for sale.

Gagosian’s director Richard Calvocoressi says in a statement: “It is particularly exciting that this important early Bacon has re-emerged now, while three of the artist’s reinterpretations of the Pope theme—from 1949, 1951, and 1965—are on display in London, in the Royal Academy’s current exhibition, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast. Bacon, a devout atheist, made more than 40 portraits of popes over a 20-year period.




                  Francis Bacon’s Landscape with Pope/Dictator (around 1946)








  The First Pope







Gagosian is pleased to announce the exhibition of Francis Bacon’s first treatment of the papal image—a subject that would preoccupy the artist on and off for at least two decades. Executed circa 1946, this highly important picture in Bacon’s oeuvre has never before been exhibited publicly. The canvas entered a private collection in 1967 and was only rediscovered during the compilation of the artist’s catalogue raisonné by Martin Harrison, which was published in 2016. The painting will be on view in Gagosian’s Davies Street gallery from March 15 to April 23, 2022.

Scholar, art historian, and Gagosian director Richard Calvocoressi commented, “It is particularly exciting that this important early Bacon has reemerged now, while three of the artist’s reinterpretations of the Pope theme—from 1949, 1951, and 1965—are on display in London, in the Royal Academy’s current exhibition, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast.

‘Landscape with Pope/Dictator’ (c. 1946) (the title is placed between quotation marks in the Bacon catalogue raisonné because the artist did not give it one) was painted in Monte Carlo, Monaco, where Bacon lived for much of the time from 1946 until 1950. Having survived the London Blitz and wartime austerity, he was susceptible to the Mediterranean climate, the good food, and the temptations of the casino. In Monte Carlo he completed only a handful of paintings, of which this is one. On October 19, 1946, he wrote to Duncan MacDonald, a director of the Lefevre Gallery in London: “I am working on three studies of Velasquez’s portrait of Innocent II [sic]. I have almost finished one. I find them exciting to do.”

A couple of months later, starved of the stimulating company of sympathetic fellow artists, Bacon wrote to his friend Graham Sutherland, hoping to persuade him and his wife Kathy to join him in Monte Carlo for the winter. “I don’t know how the copy of the Velasquez will turn out,” he added. “I have practically finished one I think. . . . it is thrilling to paint from a picture which really excites you.”

In 1946 Bacon would have known Velázquez’s full-length Portrait of Innocent X (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome) only in black-and-white reproduction. From the following year he could have seen the half-length version at Apsley House, London, when a selection of the Duke of Wellington’s collection went on show, although the house itself did not open to the public until 1952. However, a number of Bacon’s radical reinterpretations of images of enthroned Popes in the 1950s were based not on Velázquez’s portraits of Innocent X but on photographs of a living Pope, Pius XII—a controversial pontiff owing to his alleged failure to publicly condemn Nazism and the Holocaust. In Bacon’s paintings he can be identified by, among other details, his metal frame spectacles.

Another source for the picture was Bacon’s fascination with press and propaganda photos of Fascist dictators and their henchmen. ‘Landscape with Pope/Dictator’ is one of a very small number of his paintings in which the attributes of a Catholic clergyman—for example, the traditional cap known as a biretta—are combined with the secular garb of the political leader, such as a suit or uniform, shirt, and tie. The microphone appears in other works of this period. Pius XII was sometimes photographed speaking in front of microphones, although entirely without the atmosphere of suggestibility, mass hysteria, and violence implied by the shouting or screaming mouth and strutting stance of the dictator.

The columns in the background of Bacon’s picture seem to have been based on a photograph of a neoclassical colonnade such as those found in public buildings by Albert Speer and other Nazi architects.

The fusion of human and animal in the Pope/Dictator’s blurred face and wide-open mouth with prominent teeth—a theme of the current Bacon exhibition at the Royal Academy, London—suggests that Bacon was already looking at photographs of monkeys and chimpanzees. Another arresting feature is the bank of delicately painted pink and green flowers, probably cyclamen, beneath the podium, which also evokes a crowd of waving or saluting hands. The predominant tonality of blue-violet anticipates the later series of Popes from 1951 and 1953.

Francis Bacon was born in 1909 in Dublin, and died in 1992 in Madrid. His work is held in prominent public collections worldwide. Recent exhibitions include Bacon en toutes lettres, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2019–20); Invisible Rooms, Tate Liverpool, England (2016, traveled to Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, Germany); Francis Bacon and the Art of the Past, Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia (2014, traveled to Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, England, under the title Francis Bacon and the Masters); Five Decades, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (2012); Tate Britain, London (2008, traveled to Museo del Prado, Madrid, and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); Portraits and Heads, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Scotland (2005, traveled to Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany).

Francis Bacon: Man and Beast is on view at the Royal Academy, London, through April 17, 2022.

17–19 Davies Street London w1k 3de   Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 10–6   March 15–April 23, 2022




                     Francis Bacon, ‘Landscape with Pope/Dictator’, c. 1946
















 Gagosian to exhibit Francis Bacon’s first treatment of the papal image—a subject that would preoccupy the artist on and off for at least two decades. Executed circa 1946, this highly important picture in Bacon’s oeuvre has never before been exhibited publicly. The canvas entered a private collection in 1967 and was only rediscovered during the compilation of the artist’s catalogue raisonné by Martin Harrison, which was published in 2016.

Scholar, art historian and Gagosian director Richard Calvocoressi commented, “It is particularly exciting that this important early Bacon has re-emerged now, while three of the artist’s reinterpretations of the Pope theme—from 1949, 1951, and 1965—are on display in London, in the Royal Academy’s current exhibition, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast.”

‘Landscape with Pope/Dictator’ (c. 1946) (the title is placed between quotation marks in the Bacon catalogue raisonné because the artist did not give it one) was painted in Monte Carlo, Monaco, where Bacon lived for much of the time from 1946 until 1950. Having survived the London Blitz and wartime austerity, he was susceptible to the Mediterranean climate, the good food, and the temptations of the casino. In Monte Carlo he completed only a handful of paintings, of which this is one. On October 19th, 1946, he wrote to Duncan MacDonald, a director of the Lefevre Gallery in London: “I am working on three studies of Velasquez’s portrait of Innocent II [sic]. I have almost finished one. I find them exciting to do.”

A couple of months later, starved of the stimulating company of sympathetic fellow artists, Bacon wrote to his friend Graham Sutherland, hoping to persuade him and his wife Kathy to join him in Monte Carlo for the winter. “I don’t know how the copy of the Velasquez will turn out,” he added. “I have practically finished one I think. . . . it is thrilling to paint from a picture which really excites you.”

In 1946 Bacon would have known Velázquez’s full-length Portrait of Innocent X (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome) only in black-and-white reproduction. From the following year he could have seen the half-length version at Apsley House, London, when a selection of the Duke of Wellington’s collection went on show, although the house itself did not open to the public until 1952. However, a number of Bacon’s radical reinterpretations of images of enthroned Popes in the 1950s were based not on Velázquez’s portraits of Innocent X but on photographs of a living Pope, Pius XII—a controversial pontiff owing to his alleged failure to publicly condemn Nazism and the Holocaust. In Bacon’s paintings he can be identified by, among other details, his metal frame spectacles.

Another source for the picture was Bacon’s fascination with press and propaganda photos of Fascist dictators and their henchmen. ‘Landscape with Pope/Dictator’ is one of a very small number of his paintings in which the attributes of a Catholic clergyman—for example, the traditional cap known as a biretta—are combined with the secular garb of the political leader, such as a suit or uniform, shirt, and tie. The microphone appears in other works of this period. Pius XII was sometimes photographed speaking in front of microphones, although entirely without the atmosphere of suggestibility, mass hysteria, and violence implied by the shouting or screaming mouth and strutting stance of the dictator.

The columns in the background of Bacon’s picture seem to have been based on a photograph of a neoclassical colonnade such as those found in public buildings by Albert Speer and other Nazi architects.

The fusion of human and animal in the Pope/Dictator’s blurred face and wide-open mouth with prominent teeth—a theme of the current Bacon exhibition at the Royal Academy, London—suggests that Bacon was already looking at photographs of monkeys and chimpanzees. Another arresting feature is the bank of delicately painted pink and green flowers, probably cyclamen, beneath the podium, which also evokes a crowd of waving or saluting hands. The predominant tonality of blue-violet anticipates the later series of Popes from 1951 and 1953.





                 Francis Bacon, ‘Landscape with Pope/Dictator’, c. 1946 © The Estate of Francis Bacon.






There’s Pannick on the streets of Londongrad!







The preening self-regard of the great legal minds in the House of Lords was on full display last week as several peers defended themselves from the charge of courting lootin’ and Putin-friendly oligarchs.

This undignified sight was part of the spat following the Government’s laggard response to sanctioning them, with Ministers desperately trying to blame amendments tabled five years ago by QCs Lord Pannick and Lord Judge to legislation covering sanctions and anti-money laundering.

These required the Government to provide ‘good reason’ to sanction targets – men such as Arkady Rotenberg, Pannick’s client and Putin crony who the lawyer defended from 2014 to 2015. Ministers say these amendments put too much emphasis on the rights of oligarchs.

In response, an incensed Pannick penned a letter to The Times saying oligarchs, like alleged murderers, are entitled to legal representation.

George Osborne was spotted last week chatting to Christie’s honorary chairman and minor royal David Linley ahead of the auction house’s spring sale, once a favourite place for oligarchs to deodorise their reputation and fortunes in London.

The former Chancellor, who oversaw a financial sector swilling with dodgy Russian money, had been admiring a Francis Bacon portrait of US President Woodrow Wilson, alongside a piece of paper stained with the blood of the assassinated Leon Trotsky.

Priced at £55 million, the Bacon was out of Osborne’s reach, but in other times would have attracted Roman Abramovich, who used a slice of his fortune to bring home a $86 million Bacon from Sotheby’s in 2008. But I hear he’s a little tied up right now.





Strange happenings back in the USSR




The brilliant story of a Francis Bacon exhibition in Moscow






Did it really happen? Did that place really exist? The further it shrinks in the rear-view mirror, the more wholly improbable the Soviet Union seems, some feverishly over-imagined sci-fi comedy-horror, a fairytale of indecipherable meaning written by a madman. 

James Birch’s rollicking book about late-80s Moscow, as he dreamed up the plainly ridiculous idea of holding a Francis Bacon exhibition in that peculiar place, pithily brings it all right back with bracing black comedy. As a fellow celebrant of those dog-end Soviet years, memories subsequently overlaid with gaudier images of the later Moscow came storming back.

It’s all here: how flying to Moscow always felt like going to prison, shadowed by the queasy fear that you’d never get out. Once there, everything was a hallucinatory dream of booze and hilarity, with flashes of random, desensitising horror.

These Russian scenes, with Birch’s disturbingly acute memory of the smells and other particularities of Old Moscow, would really be enough for a jolly memoir on their own, but there is more to the exhilarating ride of this short book.

The grotty London of the early 80s was a different universe from the gimcrack, security-goon-infested poncification we now inhabit, and the days of the 20-something Birch’s blithely happening gallery down by Stamford Bridge (at least some things never change: pissed-up Chelsea trogs would poke their heads round the door asking “What’s all this fucking shit, then?”) make the point that our own past is just as foreign as the Russian one, if marginally less frightful.

To all appearances rather hopeless, the Neo Naturists were 29-year-old Birch’s headliners in ’85. You might dimly remember Jennifer Binnie doing a Lady Godiva on a white horse down King’s Road to publicise her show. Jennifer lived in a Camden squat with Grayson Perry, the bolshie potter rather far from the celeb darling of the twenty-first century. 

The Neos’ gimmick was nudity and body painting and their bit of the artworld was pleasingly skint and carefree. One evening, Birch rolls up to a party on Campden Hill with the punk poet David Robilliard, runs into Russophile academico-cultural gadabout Bob Chenciner, who in an access of drunken genius tells Birch to take his artists to Moscow rather than New York, and that the mysterious Klokov will fix everything, and we’re off.

Birch tracks down this Klokov — who tuns out to be an urbane KGB cultural fixer — in Paris, and is beguiled by his accompanying siren Elena Khudiakova, correctly beautiful and unsmiling, a “high priestess of fashion” variously togged out for “a high-end roller disco” or “a Wham! video directed by Eisenstein”.

As usual with Russians, everyone has obscure motives and arcane uses for everyone else, only some of which ever become clear, so an intricate quadrille ensues as things unroll with the curious inevitability that so justifies Russian fatalism. Birch, his reading list full of Dostoyevsky as ordered by the exigent Elena, goes to Moscow, and shadowy machinations in the Union of Artists result in a Bacon rather than a Perry exhibition becoming the plan.

Luckily, Bacon (“Eggs”) is an old pal of the Birch family, and James knows his elusive gentle and charming side as well as the abrasive drunk. Back in London we plunge amid the world-class bores and freaks of ’80s Soho, its locus classicus the ghastly old Colony Room with its collection of pissed-up bitches. Birch shuttles about like a guileless Candide, reporting back with likeable candour on things he has no right to remember.

The rest is history. The exhibition happens, and half a million Muscovites queue round the block for Bacon’s visions of horror, some way from Party-time Soviet art with its camp factory workers and allied nonsenses, and they leave messages in the visitors’ book that remind you of the point of art. 

Just about everyone in the book is dead now, except Birch and Perry: Bacon back in 1992, then the rest — his lover John Edwards, Klokov, Chenciner, bit-part players like Misha Mikheyev from the Union of Artists, the raffish biker-arthound Johnny Stuart, Grey Gowrie — even the enchanting Elena, a rather tragic figure with “a broken brain” who drifts through the book like a sad muse.

Birch and his co-writer Michael Hodges have put together something strong and beautiful, a monument to basically grim times and places that retained at least some paradoxical, vestigial human traits, all the atmospheres of the freakish past that joltingly reminds us how fantastically random the world is, and what a blast the Soviet Union could be — just so long as you had that return ticket.





                                                                                       Francis Bacon at the Tate Gallery, 1985.






Francis Bacon: Man and Beast at the Royal Academy




Nicholas Cranfield sees Francis Bacon’s stark visions at the Academy






WHEN I hear the words “Cultural Centre”, I reach for my gun. A good friend invited me to explore the modern and contemporary art collection assembled by the Madeiran merchant José Berardo. It is still on loan to the Cultural Centre of Belém in Lisbon, despite the uncertainty surrounding the allegedly unpaid debts of the Portuguese billionaire.

The monstrous building (140,000 square metres; Vittorio Gregotti and Manuel Salgado) was completed in record time for the year in which Portugal presided over the Council of Europe (1992). It looks more like a bunker or, to be generous, the painted visions of John Martin (1789-1854) of ancient Babylon and Nineveh. It scars the Tagus riverside of the World Heritage Centre and the early-16th-century Jéronimos monastery across the street.

Solid blocks of towers, narrow ramp ways, and hidden squares contain conference halls, theatres, a reading room, a library, and the like. The Coleção Berardo alone fills some 9000 square metres in an art gallery.

It houses one work by Francis Bacon (1909-92) which I had come to see on the day that I was missing the press view of the current Royal Academy exhibition in London. Instead, I was able to spend time with the artist’s 1983 Oedipus and the Sphinx after Ingres.

If we think of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres at all (1780-1867), we might think of a lush, post-revolutionary French neo-classical academic artist; but his use of pure colour and his distortion of forms found echoes later in Matisse and Picasso, as Bacon well knew.

In his interpretation, Bacon includes an injured athlete, awkwardly lifting his bloodied and bandaged foot, in place of the mythical king of Thebes, with a sculpted sphinx. In an outer darkness hangs one of the Furies, the Eumenides.

Bacon not only distorts, but one might also say perverts, the original work (1808). He offers a profound reflection on flesh, raw, bony, and, if we are honest, unattractive, quite at odds with the handsome, almost homoerotic, male beauty captured by Ingres. Sexuality has become animalistic for the Dublin-born painter.

From early on (to judge by his surviving work), Bacon was obsessed with the Furies. In the second room of the London exhibition, in the first of several illusionistic coups of the design, three paintings are brought together to form a triptych, the earliest being one of the Eumenides.

Placed centrally in this hang is Figure Study II (1945-46), loaned from the Bagshaw Museum in Batley to the National Galleries of Scotland, in which a half-naked figure yells out from beneath an incongruous open umbrella, face down in the rich leaves of a succulent. The man’s herringbone coat is draped over his rump much like a cast-off matador’s jacket. The tweed coat, this time with a trilby hat, reappears in a parallel work, Figure Study I (1945-46). Blue and deep pink blossoms complete the composition; are they the discarded bouquet of a disappointed lover, or flowers gathered at a graveside?

Alongside these two canvases, which can usually be viewed side by side in Edinburgh, the curators have chosen to add an earlier (1944) painting of a Fury (private collection), devouring a bunch of flowers. It is unlikely that Bacon intended these paintings as a conventional triptych, but they work well as a group. It would be a Fury that featured on his last commission: a wine label for Baroness de Rothschild in December 1991.

With rather more reticence, three paintings of a corrida (1969) surround the octagonal central gallery, two of them clearly intended as a pair with numbered doors for the spectators to crowd into the arena. Savage emotion has overtaken the crazed onlookers, who throng the terraces beneath what appears to be the Nazi flag of the Party Eagle. In contrast, the bull is ennobled with oncoming death, its head and horns outlined against the still unstained white capote de brega.

Few of Bacon’s sitters emerge as beautiful people. His is not a technique beloved by celluloid and by family albums. Isabel Rawsthorne and Bacon’s first long-term lover, Peter Lacy, have simian faces, and perhaps only in Triptych August 1972 (Tate) did a figure regain some dignity in human form; but, by then, his lover George Dyer, the subject of this and several of the “Black Triptychs”, had committed suicide.

Rather, Bacon’s own bestial nature and his incisive and all too deep human understanding allow him to paint in ways that are rarely encountered in Western art except in the figment of imagination, such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses, perhaps, the flaying of Marsyas, or some of the horrific scenes from the biblical accounts of genocide and mutilation: Cain and Abel, the rape of Tamar, the death of Jephthah’s daughter, and the sadistic beheading of John the Baptiser all came to mind.

Bacon, of course, was not a religious painter; that was never his intention. But the profound experience of walking through the Royal Academy galleries left me with a deeper understanding of human nature than many more romantic or romanticised versions of humanity can offer. It is perhaps fitting that this latest exhibition closes on Easter Day.

“Francis Bacon: Man and Beast” is at the Royal Academy, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1, until 17 April. Phone 020 7300 8090





                                Francis Bacon, Study for Bullfight No 1, 1969, oil on canvas, private collection





Artists condemn war, with European buyers ‘in pause mode’




As the international art world takes a stand on Ukraine, some players are unwilling to rock the boat






The international art world is taking an ethical stand against Russia’s devastating invasion of Ukraine, with artists in particular using their influence to condemn the atrocities.

But in the commercial art market, many are playing it down for now — there is a marked unwillingness to rock the boat during London’s auction season. While traders minimise the influence that Russian buyers now have in an increasingly global arena, the country’s oligarchs and other wealthy individuals, at home and abroad, are still significant art buyers, as well as the owners of art businesses.

William MacDougall, director of MacDougall’s auction house for Russian art, says that none of its clients have been placed under UK sanctions. Sotheby’s and Christie’s say their respective Moscow offices remain open and a Sotheby’s spokesperson says: “It is worth bearing in mind that the market has proved remarkably resilient over the years in the face of crises of many different types.” Christie’s has made a “significant donation” to the Red Cross, according to an internal email from chief executive Guillaume Cerutti.

Phillips auction house, wholly owned by Russian luxury goods business Mercury Retail Group, has read the room, no doubt under pressure from some consignors and would-be buyers. Chief executive Stephen Brooks said on Monday that “We at Phillips unequivocally condemn the invasion of Ukraine ... We call for an immediate cessation of all hostilities in the strongest possible terms.”

The owners of the Russian-held The Art Newspaper — for which I am an editor-at-large — say that “We are shaken and deeply concerned by the latest events unfolding in the Ukraine.” They underline that the newspaper “continues its editorially independent coverage.” 

Art advisers say that potential buyers, particularly those in Europe who feel very close to the action, are in pause mode. But there’s an uncomfortable sense that the art market’s convenience and opacity might be to its benefit. MacDougall says that “Wealthy Russians may prefer to keep their wealth in real transportable assets instead of in bank accounts.”

There are some brave moves — notably from those involved in the already beleaguered contemporary art market in Russia. Simon Rees, director of the Cosmoscow art fair since 2019, resigned from his role when Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded. He wrote on Facebook “We all tried to convince ourselves that full invasion would be averted. But Putin and his clique are old-style cold warriors who are deaf to diplomacy and insanely faithful to the idea of glorious war and empire. Sadly, a high proportion of the Russian population share those beliefs; and the educated elite have yet to mobilise against Putin and his values (which is a kind of tacit support).”

On Monday, organisers of the prestigious Venice Biennale, which hosts national pavilions to showcase contemporary art and opens on April 23, confirmed that Russia’s curator — Lithuanian Raimundas Masauskas — and his two Russian artists had pulled out. In a statement, organisers say that the Biennale “stands beside the motivations that have led to this decision”. The Ukrainian Pavilion responded on Twitter that while it welcomed the decision, “it was driven by the individual artists and the curator of the pavilion, not by its commissioners or the organisers of the [Venice Biennale].”

Russia’s private museums have boosted the international market in recent years. In 2011, the talk of Art Basel was that Dasha Zhukova, then married to the arch-oligarch and mega art buyer Roman Abramovich, had spent around $1mn on a neon installation by Jason Rhoades for their co-founded Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow.

On Saturday, however, the Garage announced that its exhibitions had stopped “until the human and political tragedy that is unfolding in Ukraine has ceased.” It adds: “We cannot support the illusion of normality when such events are taking place.”

The message from the V-A-C Foundation, which runs the recently opened and vast GES-2 House of Culture museum in Moscow, is more muted. The collector behind the Renzo Piano-designed museum is Leonid Mikhelson, a natural gas oligarch whose net worth is estimated by Forbes at $20.9bn. He is said to be close to Putin, who opened GES-2 in December.

A statement from the foundation says that it has decided “to suspend a number of programmes and activities ... in solidarity and respect to our visitors, employees, and the artists’ choices.” Icelandic artists Ragnar Kjartansson and Ingibjörg Sigurjónsdóttir were among those who pulled their works from GES-2. They wrote to the foundation that “We feel that we cannot sit by in silence. We must protest these atrocities in every way we possibly can.”

There wasn’t much demand for a weighty Francis Bacon triptych with a Russian motif and history, offered by Christie’s on Tuesday for between £35mn and £55mn.

“Triptych 1986-87” includes an image of the bloodied desk of the assassinated Marxist Leon Trotsky and was in the first exhibition of a well-known western artist in Soviet Russia in 1988. The painting, from the collection of the architect Norman Foster, sold to just one bid at £35mn, secured ahead of the sale through a guarantee (£38.5mn with fees).

Topping the marathon near six-hour auction on March 1 was a recently restituted painting by Franz Marc, “The Foxes (Die Füchse)” (1913), which sold for £37mn (£42.7mn with fees).

These were the top prices of sessions that generally defied the global unrest. Four works were withdrawn ahead of sale and 10 unsold, from a total of 110 lots. The latter included a 1926 painting by Marc Chagall, historically heavily bought by Russians, which had sold for $4.1mn in 2018 and was estimated at between £2.2mn and £3.2mn this week — however, other works by the artist sold. Another Russian favourite, Chaïm Soutine, had a painting of a hanging fowl from c1924 go unsold (est £800,000-£1.2m).

Sobering thoughts come from Jo Vickery, founder of the advisory firm Vickery Art and a specialist in contemporary Russian art. “Artists and art professionals in Russia are resoundingly against the Russian invasion, many are taking to the streets to demonstrate and are facing overnight detentions and fines,” she says. She adds: “For now, there are mostly questions of personal security — in Russia and Ukraine — and no one is interested in the market.”



                                           Francis Bacon’s ‘Triptych 1986-87’ sold for £38.5mn, at the lower end of estimates






‘Francis Bacon: Man and Beast’ laat je door elkaar geschud achter




Het is 10 jaar geleden sinds er in Londen een solotentoonstelling liep over publiekslieveling Francis Bacon.

De Royal Academy brengt nu Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, een expo die van de muren naar je loert, op

een onbewaakt moment op je afspringt en je door elkaar geschud achterlaat.






Eén zeer realistisch oor. Meer is er niet om het amorfe figuur in Head I uit 1948 te identificeren als, nu ja, m-mens. Het grauwe ding heeft een scheve vissenbek waar te veel en te scheve tanden in plakken. Heel veel meer en een bedrand kan je niet opmaken uit het eerste schilderij in Francis Bacons majestueuze Man and Beast-tentoonstelling. Je kan de vieze adem van het ding nog net niet ruiken.

“Als je erover nadenkt, zijn we allemaal maar dieren”, poneerde de Iers-Britse Francis Bacon (1909-1992) ooit in een gesprek met vriend en cocurator van de tentoonstelling Michael Peppiatt. “Alleen zijn sommige mensen er zich iets meer van bewust dan anderen. Die lijken veel dichter te staan bij hun dierlijke instincten. Ik heb wellicht op een andere manier kennis gemaakt met dieren dan de meesten onder ons. Als kind was ik steevast omringd door beesten en dat zal altijd een impact blijven hebben op mijn leven.”

Dat de Royal Academy Peppiatt als een van de curatoren aanstelde is op zijn minst een goede zaak te noemen. Bacons biograaf heeft topwerk afgeleverd. Met de hoge galerijen geschilderd in tinten donkergroen, dieprood en grauw zand, passend bij het palet van de kunstenaar, en de theatrale maar subtiele verlichting is het een onberispelijke setting voor Bacons schilderijen. De tentoonstelling gaat op zoek naar een fundamenteel, maar weinig onderzocht aspect in zijn oeuvre. Bacons feilloze fascinatie voor dieren, hoe het zijn benadering van het menselijk lichaam zowel vormde als vervormde.

Bacon had inderdaad geen gewone verhouding met dieren. Hij had een zware vorm van astma en was uiterst allergisch aan alles wat op poten liep. Maar eraan ontsnappen kon hij allerminst, happend naar adem bewoog hij zich door zijn kindertijd. Hij werd grootgebracht op een hoeve op het Ierse platteland waar zijn vader een autoritaire paardentrainer was. Bacon, die als kind al lak had aan in de pas lopen, werd het mikpunt van treiterij van Eddy Bacon. Die zag zich gefaald als vader als hij naar zijn subversieve zoon keek en probeerde hem ‘te redden’ door hem af en toe te laten afborstelen door een van zijn stalknechten. Bacon ontwikkelde een verstoorde relatie met de man. Toen hij op zijn zestiende worstelde met zijn eerste homoseksuele gevoelens stuurde vader Eddy hem met de ultramasculine Cecil Harcourt-Smith naar Berlijn. In essentie om hem een lesje te leren, maar dat mislukte toen Harcourt-Smith plots gevoelens kreeg voor jonge Francis. “Na Berlijn was ik compleet beschadigd”, vertelde Bacon er later lachend over.



De kunstenaar was op zijn minst een enigmatisch figuur te noemen. Op feestjes was hij steevast de joviale boemelaar die zijn gasten champagne trakteerde en al te graag aan gokpartijtjes deelnam. Ook was hij de man die zorg droeg voor verslaafde vrienden, hen te eten gaf en geld uitdeelde aan al wie het moeilijk had. Maar in de slaapkamer veranderde de kunstenaar in een op seksuele machtsspellen kickende masochist. Geen man van de brave huis-,tuin- en keukenbondage, maar één met lusten die gestoeld waren op ronduit gruwelijke fantasieën, voortgegroeid uit de trauma’s van zijn jeugd.

Die meedogenloosheid zie je vandaag als je naar zijn schilderijen kijkt. Hij gebruikte het als tool om zijn kunst te maken. Hoewel hij kon liefhebben, was hij onverbiddelijk voor zijn bedpartners, al zeker voor zijn vele gewelddadige ex-lieven die stuk voor stuk het bijltje legden, maar nog veel minder lief was hij voor zichzelf. Bacon haalde plezier uit ruwe seksspelletjes. Hij liet zich in de naam van de kunst het ene blauwe oog na het andere slaan. Met blinkende trots vertelde hij in interviews dat hij alweer een rijtje tanden kwijt was kwijtgespeeld na een nachtje stoeien.

Nadat hij zich in de jaren 30 op schilderkunst had toegelegd vestigde hij zich in South Kensington in West-Londen. Hij stichtte samen met Muriel Belcher The Colonoy Room in hartje Soho, een plek waar een mengelmoes van alcoholverslaafde lageklassers en geroemde Britse kunstenaars langskwam. Nog levende stamgasten zoals Maggie Hambling, artiest en vriend van de kunstenaar zijn formeel. “Bacon was één grote brok charisma. Als hij een kamer binnenwandelde, dan kon je er je ogen niet afhouden. Hij had iets betoverends.”

Bacon flirtte erop los. Getroebleerd door de mishandeling in zijn verleden ging hij steeds op zoek naar onmogelijke, bijna perverse contacten. Het zijn die beestachtige relaties die ook in heel wat schilderijen opduiken in de tentoonstelling. Zo had hij seks met de stalknechten die hem als kind hadden vernederd. Onder meer Man Kneeling in Grass uit 1952 in de tweede zaal is voortgekomen uit die onderonsjes. Een kwetsbaar, naakt figuur kruipt met voorovergebogen hoofd op handen en knieën door het gras. Het beeld heeft tegelijkertijd iets erotisch als meelijwekkends. Het figuur suggereert een onderdanigheid aan een onzichtbare sterke kracht van een geest die je misschien vaag in de achtergrond ziet.

De tentoonstelling dendert in een stevig tempo door. Een mensenhoofd met de kreet of enge glimlach van een aap, de dans tussen stierenvechter en stier, zijn lovers die op de meest absurde manier worden gecapteerd. Bacons monsters doen haasje-over in de rondgang. Bij momenten wil je rennen, nog vaker wil je wegkijken. Echt gezellig is de verzameling schilderijen in de Royal Academy niet.

Zo sloft er op een gegeven moment een uitgeputte hond naar ons toe, met hangende tong, oren naar beneden en het achterwerk gebogen. Er is uitputting te zien in elke plooi van zijn benige lichaam. Rond de hond is een varengroene cirkel getrokken, als laatste standplaats van de natuur in een prairie van leeg canvas. In de verte razen auto’s over een snelweg. Een blauwe zeestrook en een eenzame palmboom kunnen het desolate landschap niet doordringen. Dog uit 1952 vertelt ons halverwege al dat we het einde lijken bereikt te hebben.




Hoewel hoogtepunten elkaar in een stevig tempo opvolgen en we deze keer echt niet kunnen kiezen wat onze absolute voorkeur krijgt, blijven we het langst hangen bij Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (from Muybridge) uit 1961. Bacon beschrijft hoe de beweging van dieren en die van mensen voortdurend interfereren in zijn werk. Hij verwijst in zijn schilderijen vaak naar fotografische beelden. De kunstenaar was gefascineerd door het vermogen om de beweging van het lichaam vast te leggen. Fotograaf Eadweard Muybridge’s Complete Human and Animal Locomotion had een grote impact op Bacons werk. Muybridge maakte stop-motions van elementaire bewegingen van mens en dier, denk aan een wandelende hond, een man die een discus werpt of twee mannen die aan het worstelen zijn. Het door polio verlamde jongetje schiet in al zijn natuurlijke kracht boven die vele beelden uit. De beestachtige trekken van het kind trok Bacons aandacht.

Een zaal verder staan zijn stierengevechten in een rondje opgesteld. De wilde penseelstreken doen denken aan iets wat Bacon ooit tegen criticus en biograaf David Sylvester zei: “Ik wil een heel geordend beeld, maar ik wil dat het toevallig tot stand komt”. Bacon liet erg veel aan het toeval. Zo zie je de witte verfstreken die het bewegende doek van de stierenvechter moeten voorstellen bijna op het canvas gegooid worden. In veel opzichten zijn de risico’s die hij opzoekt vergelijkbaar met de risico’s die de matador neemt. Berekend, maar nog steeds roekeloos.

“Bacon zien schilderen is alsof je iemand gadeslaat die met vallen en opstaan aan het koorddansen is”, stelt hedendaags kunstenaar Damien Hirst in de BBC documentaire uit 2017 over Bacon. “De man weet duidelijk waar hij mee bezig is, toch is het telkens gokken wat zijn volgende penseelstreek wordt. Het is enorm boeiend om hem bezig te zien.”

Hirst is sterk beïnvloed geweest door de werken van Bacon. Net als vele andere Britse artiesten. Denk aan Jenny Saville. Haar vlezige schilderstijl werd vaak vergeleken met die van Peter Paul Rubens en Lucian Freud, maar zelf zegt ze vooral naar Bacon te hebben gekeken. “Francis Bacon waakt over mij als ik schilder. Dat gevoel heb ik al sinds ik op mijn 15de zijn tentoonstelling bezocht in Tate. Er hangen reproducties van zijn schilderijen verspreid over mijn atelier. In tijden dat meer afstandelijke, abstracte schilderijen de kunstwereld domineerden bleef zijn figuratieve werk dicht bij ieders hart, net zoals het dat vandaag nog steeds doet.”

Het brengt ons terug bij de tentoonstelling in Londen. De grootse opstelling laat je wat ongemakkelijk achter. Bacon zorgt ervoor dat je het vertrouwen in de mensheid, onze moraliteit en superioriteit stukje bij beetje verliest. Je kunt het aankleden zoals je wilt, maar het is zoals de kunstenaar het ooit stelde, uiteindelijk zijn we inderdaad allemaal maar dieren.

Francis Bacon: Man and Beast loopt nog tot 17/4 in de Royal Academy, Londen. Eurostar biedt een 2FOR1-korting.





                                                                                                                         Francis Bacon in zijn Londense studio in 1974






Russian Billionaire Petr Aven Resigns as a Royal Academy Trustee

as Arts Institutions Face Mounting Pressure to Cut Ties with Russia




The museum says it returned the donation Aven made to support its current Francis Bacon exhibition.






The Royal Academy confirmed the news, adding that it returned to Aven the donation he made in support of “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast,” which is open at the RA until April 17. The museum declined to comment on the amount of money or terms involved in Aven’s donation “for reasons of commercial sensitivity.”

An avid art collector who has lent artworks to prominent institutions worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Tate in London, Aven was named as “one of Vladimir Putin’s closest oligarchs” by the European Union in a sanction document published on February 28.

The reports notes that Aven is a key shareholder of the Alfa Group, one of Russia’s largest private investment groups and the owner of Alfa Bank.

“He does not operate independently of the President’s demands,” the document said in reference to Putin.

Aven’s London-based business partner, Mikhail Fridman, was also punished by the E.U., but the pair have called the sanctions and related allegations “spurious” and “unfounded.”

Russian banking magnate Petr Aven has stepped down as a trustee of the Royal Academy in London as cultural institutions in the U.K. face increased pressure to sever ties with Russia in the aftermath of the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

The moves comes as U.K. politicians and activists call for other cultural institutions to remove allies of Putin from their boards.

“Putin supporters should be removed from our cultural institutions and galleries, and museums should run a mile from blood-drenched Russian money,” parliamentarian Chris Bryant said in a Twitter post.

Tate is under pressure because of its ties with Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, who is an honorary member of the Tate Foundation.

In a statement issued to Artnet News, a museums spokesperson said Vekselberg had donated to the museum seven years ago and that his membership title is honorary.

“There is no ongoing connection,” the spokesperson added.

Vekselberg, an energy tycoon, claimed he had more than $1.5 billion worth of assets frozen since he was placed on a U.S. sanction list in 2018. (To date, Vekselberg has not been sanctioned by the U.K. or the E.U.)

Ukraine’s culture sector has been vocal in calling on major cultural institutions such as Art Basel, the Venice Biennale, and Documenta to stop working with Russia.

A petition organized by Oleksandr Tkachenko, Ukraine’s minister of culture, has thus far been signed by curator Pavlo Gudimov, the founder of Ya Gallery in Lviv; and Marta Trotsiuk, the founder of Gallery 101 and the head of the Ukrainian Gallerists Association.

Meanwhile, the Russian-owned auction house Phillips made a pro-Ukraine statement on a Instagram with an image of the country’s flag.

“We at Phillips unequivocally condemn the invasion of Ukraine. Along with the rest of the art world, we have been shocked and saddened by the tragic events unfolding in the region. We call for an immediate cessation of all hostilities in the strongest possible terms,” said Stephen Brooks, the auction house’s CEO.

The auction house added that SWIFT sanctions against Russia, which have cut the country’s banks off from their international counterparts, will have no impact on upcoming auctions.





                                         Russian billionaire Petr Aven, who resigned as a trustee of the Royal Academy in London. 






How will the war in Ukraine affect the big auction houses?




A number of the most high-profile lots coming up are by artists popular among Russians






This week’s Modern and Contemporary Art sales in London were already being viewed with some trepidation before Russia invaded Ukraine. They are always a barometer of the health of the major auction houses, and some have been predicting a further narrowing of the gap between Paris and London. Now, though, auctioneers are braced for a week without Russian buyers and with luxury economies worldwide destabilised by the war.

One director of Sotheby’s, who did not want to be named, said they were checking bulletins hourly to see whether any of their buyers and sellers was on the Government’s sanctions list. A former Sotheby’s lead auctioneer told me: “I would not like to be the auctioneer this week.”


Some concerns have also been raised about third-biggest auction house, Phillips, which is owned by Mercury, a Russian luxury goods company.

Yesterday, to put their clients at ease, Phillips let it be known unofficially that their owners were not the subject of sanctions and have no political or business connection to government or to any individuals or institutions targeted by sanctions. That list of sanctions, of course, is changing quickly. And, inconveniently, a number of the most high-profile lots are by artists popular among Russians.

Top of the menu is a powerful 1980s triptych by Francis Bacon, a favourite in Russia, that is estimated to sell for between £35 million and £55 million. The painting, which is guaranteed, is being sold by the celebrated architect Norman Foster.

There are also works by Impressionists, much favoured by Russian collectors wherever they live. Five Monets come from the collection of Daniel Snyder, the owner of the beleaguered American football club Washington Commanders (formerly the Washington Redskins). The German Expressionists, another area of Russian interest, are led by a 1913 painting of foxes by Franz Marc, sold under duress under the Nazis but now restituted to the owner’s family.

Not everyone is downbeat, however. Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips are still expected to generate some £600 million over the week, 35 per cent up on this time last year, with that Franz Marc touted at a record-busting £35 million. There is also much excitement surrounding a tender naked bust portrait by Lucian Freud of his former lover, the painter Janey Longman, at £10 million to £15 million. The painting comes from the family of established British collectors Ian Stoutzker and his wife, Mercedes.

The highest price of the week is likely to be registered by the surrealist kingpin René Magritte. Sotheby’s is so enamoured of his L’Empire des lumières, which magically juxtaposes a dark-lit street at night against a luminous day-lit sky, it has painted its front exterior to resemble the picture.

Coming from the collection of one of Magritte’s patrons, the painting is said to have been on offer privately at Sotheby’s last year for €100 million (£84 million). But having been unable to place it at that price, they have offered the owner a guarantee in the region of £45 million, whether someone else bids or not. This could be a costly gamble if it backfires.

Guy Jennings, a former auctioneer who is now a director of the Fine Art Group, was previewing the sale yesterday and told The Daily Telegraph that “the mood was upbeat – almost business as usual. The Russians may not buy this week, but they have not been a dominating force outside of the Russian art sales for nearly 10 years, when Russian money was mopping up Impressionist paintings and the likes of Roman Abramovich were paying millions for works by Bacon and Freud. And the Asians are here.”


Melanie Clore, a former chairman of Sotheby’s Europe and co-founder of the art advisory Clore Wyndham, reminds us how resilient the market is. “The 2008 financial recession did not immediately affect the art market, nor did the pandemic,” she said.

“Of course, the current political situation is utterly deplorable, but great art is still great art, and real collectors, as opposed to speculators, will still want to buy. Also, while the Russians won’t be buying, the market is so global it is not overly affected when a single nation withdraws.”

Specialist Russian art dealer, James Butterwick, is looking on the bright side. “I am the biggest Ukrainian art dealer in the West – and that could just be an advantage.”

But as far as the larger market is concerned, he says: “No one can predict the real impact of this war. We’ll have a better idea by the end of this week.”





Das Biest in meinem Kopf







Im Jahre 1949 gab Francis Bacon dem Time Magazine ein Interview, in dem er verriet, er wolle malen wie Velázquez, aber mit der Textur von Hippopotamus-Haut. Steht man vor seinem ein Jahr zuvor entstandenen Gemälde Head I aus dem Metropolitan Museum of Art, dann wird klar, mit welcher Brillanz er diese Textur zu schaffen wusste.


Wurde hier mit Nilpferdhaut gearbeitet statt mit Leinwand?


Aus der Nähe meint man zunächst, Bacon habe tatsächlich Nilpferdhaut statt Leinwand verwendet, so organisch, ja zerklüftet heben sich die Farbflächen in ihre Weiß- und Grauschattierungen vom Untergrund ab. Man denkt an die Bemerkung des Picasso-Biografen Robert Melville, der fragte: Wie ist es diesem Mann gelungen, eine Haut von solch beunruhigender Textur hervorzurufen? Er könne die Faktur nicht von dem unterscheiden, was sie formt, gestand Melville. Hier ufert der feiste Hals nach unten hin scheinbar grenzenlos aus, oben endet der Kopf im Nichts, bleibt nasen— und augenlos. Das scharfzahnige Gebiss ist um 90 Grad im aufgerissenen Mund gedreht. Head I ist ein Prototyp der ebenso bedrohlichen wie gequälten Kreaturen, die das Werk des im Jahr 1909 in Dublin geborenen Francis Bacon bestimmen sollten.

Das Gebiss übernahm Bacon aus der Fotografie eines zähnefletschenden Schimpansen. Dieses Tier wird im Verlauf der Ausstellung Francis Bacon — Man and Beast in der Londoner Royal Academy of Arts noch mehrmals auftauchen, unter anderem als eingesperrtes Monstrum, und in Form einer vergleichsweise munteren Studie, auf einer Kiste hockend, vor fuchsienrotem Hintergrund. Die Schau konzentriert sich auf einen eher vernachlässigten Aspekt der Arbeiten des Enfant terrible der Nachkriegskunst: Die Darstellung von Tieren und ihren Einfluss auf seine Darstellung von Menschen.

Bacon war der festen Überzeugung, er könne Menschen und ihre Natur besser verstehen, indem er das Verhalten von Tieren analysierte. Er war in einem Gestüt bei Dublin aufgewachsen, der Umgang mit Tieren und Jagd war für ihn von früher Kindheit an Alltag gewesen. Er sammelte sein Leben lang Fotos und Bewegungsstudien von Tieren und die Unbefangenheit animalischen Verhaltens prägte seine Sicht auf das Verhalten von Menschen.

In den letzten Jahren des Zweiten Weltkriegs begann Bacon, seine sogenannten Biomorphs zu malen. Ohne diese seltsamen Hybridwesen, bei denen oft Körperteile fehlen und andere grotesk vergrößert und verformt erscheinen, wären spätere Horrordesigns wie etwa H.R. Gigers Xenomorph aus den Alien-Filmen undenkbar. Fury (1944) mit seinem weit aufgesperrten Rachen, dem langen Hals und den Reißzähnen erscheint geradezu wie ein Prototyp solcher Monster. In London ist die frühe Version ebenso zu sehen wie die zweite, weitaus glatter gestaltete von 1988. Daran, wie weit die Entstehungszeit dieser beiden Versionen auseinanderliegt, lässt sich ablesen, wie obsessiv und Œuvre-bestimmend seine Beschäftigung mit solch spekulativen Ungeheuern war.

Die schiere Fleischlichkeit und Kreatürlichkeit der Gemälde, die in dieser superb kuratierten Schau zusammengestellt wurden, reflektiert Bacons Bemerkung, wir seien alle Fleisch, alle potenzielle Kadaver. Eine Reihe der zahlreichen Arbeiten, die auf Velázquez’ Porträt von Papst Innozenz X. basieren, gehören zu den berühmtesten solcher Kadavergestalten, die in der Royal Academy gezeigt werden. Studie für einen Menschlichen Kopf und Studie für ein Porträt, beide von 1953, sind zähnefletschende Zombies.

Doch zu den faszinierendsten Motiven gehören jene, die tatsächlich Tiere repräsentieren. In dem im selben Jahr wie die Zombiestudien entstandenen Mann mit Hund etwa ist das Herrchen nur schemenhaft im Hintergrund zu erkennen. Der Hund, den er an der Leine führt, ist ein sehnig-muskulöses Etwas, kraftvoll und wie zum Sprung bereit, ein Staffordshire-Terrier vielleicht, die verwischte Essenz potenzieller Bissigkeit. Vorlage war die fotografische Bewegungsstudie eines vor sich hin trabenden Hundes aus Eadweard Muybridge’s Human and Animal Locomotion, einer der Hauptinspirationsquellen Bacons.


Der nackte Mann wirkt so verletzlich wie ein Steppentier


Von Muybridge übernahm er auch die Gestalt eines sich auf allen vieren fortbewegenden gelähmten Kindes. Das Unbehagen, das den Betrachter angesichts dieser Animalisierung eines als beschädigt und offenkundig minderwertig angesehenen Körpers überkommt, war womöglich ausnahmsweise keine der typischen Bacon-Provokationen. Es geht vielmehr einher mit dem Wandel der Sicht auf die Hierarchisierung und Stigmatisierung von Körpern, die bis in das 20. Jahrhundert hinein Standard war.

Anders verhält es sich mit Mann, der im Gras kniet (1952), einer Leihgabe der Münchner Pinakothek der Moderne. Bacon hatte gerade eine Reise nach Südafrika unternommen. Er war fasziniert von den trockenen, kargen Grasflächen und begeistert von den Tieren, die sich auf ihnen bewegten. Der nackte Mann im Gras, bar allen zivilisatorischen Schutzes, wird auf die Verletzlichkeit und Offenheit eines Tieres reduziert. Die Behauptung eines überlegenen menschlichen Raffinements gegenüber anderen Kreaturen erscheint nur noch wenig überzeugend.

Die Kuratoren der Londoner Ausstellung haben Werke aus allen Schaffensphasen Bacon’s zusammengetragen. Die spätesten Arbeiten, Bacon starb im Jahr 1992, beziehen sich auf eine besondere und besonders brutale Form menschlicher Interaktion mit Tieren, den Stierkampf. In typisch aphoristisch-erotomaner Weise erklärte Bacon, eine Corrida sei wie Boxen — ein wunderbarer Aperitif zum Sex. Tatsächlich kam er erst vergleichsweise spät zu diesem Sujet, das sein großes Idol Pablo Picasso immer und immer wieder gemalt hatte. Die drei Stierkampfbilder von 1969, die in der Royal Academy erstmals zusammen zu sehen sind, stellen eine der unmittelbarsten Begegnungen zwischen Mensch und Tier in Bacon’s Werk. Der kinetische Wirbel dieser Darstellungen, ihre farbliche Helle machen diese Gemälde zu einigen der erstaunlichsten, die Bacon je schuf. Neben den offensichtlichen Grundfragen, welche die Corrida immer wieder aufgeworfen hat, jenen nach Gewalt und Erotik, Leben und Tod, interessierte Bacon auch die Heuchelei jener, die den Stierkampf als brutal verurteilten, aber kein Problem damit hatten, Pelze zu tragen und Fleisch zu essen.

Das letzte vollendete Werk Bacon’s beschließt auch die Schau: Studie eines Stiers (1991). Drei Viertel der Leinwand sind bedeckt mit Staub, den Bacon in seinem berüchtigt schmuddeligen Londoner Atelier gesammelt hatte. Die Morbidität der Staubsymbolik war wichtig für den Künstler, der gern sagte, nur der Staub sei unvergänglich, schließlich zerfielen wir alle irgendwann wieder zu Staub. Er selbst starb ein Jahr darauf, bei einer Reise nach Madrid. Das Bild zeigt das Rind völlig anders als in den Stierkampfszenen gut 20 Jahre zuvor. Es ist ganz und gar statisch, geradezu minimalistisch reduziert auf Hörner und Schwärze. Die Stierstudie zeigt die reduzierte Meisterschaft des späten Bacon. Hier findet das Tier gleichsam zu sich: Kein Körperhorror mehr, nur noch reine, in sich abgeschlossene Existenz.

Francis Bacon: Man and Beast in der Royal Academy of Arts, London, bis 17. April.  Katalog 19,99 Pfund.





                                      Francis Bacon’s “Head VI” (1949) ist ein Kopf, der im Nichts endet, nasen— und augenlos.






Humanity and history at odds:


Francis Bacon’s Triptych 1986-7




With its references to Woodrow Wilson and Leon Trotsky, this masterpiece encapsulates Bacon’s

contemplation of pain, isolation and mortality in the face of history’s ruthless advance






When the Tate Gallery celebrated Francis Bacon (1909-1992) with a second retrospective in 1985, its director at the time, Sir Alan Bowness, declared him ‘the greatest living painter’.

By then in his seventies, Bacon had been exploring the raw sensation of the human experience for more than 40 years. ‘I feel ever so strongly that an artist must be nourished by his passions and his despairs,’ he told art critic John Gruen in 1991. ‘These things alter an artist, whether for the good or the better or the worse.’

The following year, at the height of his fame, Bacon painted Triptych 1986-7, three monumental canvases that conflate public and private histories in his rarest and most celebrated format.

The suited figure in the left-hand panel is based on a press image of the US President Woodrow Wilson leaving the Quai d’Orsay during the Treaty of Versailles negotiations in 1919.

The right-hand panel is an over-scaled depiction of Leon Trotsky’s cloth-covered recording equipment, inspired by a photograph of his study taken soon after his assassination in Mexico City in August 1940. A single lamp illuminates the blood-stained sheet, a metaphor perhaps for the fleeting nature of life.

In the centre panel sits a figure resembling Bacon’s then-partner, John Edwards. His pose is reminiscent of the artist’s former lover, George Dyer, in the haunting eulogy Triptych August 1972, one of a series of ‘Black Triptychs’ that Bacon painted following Dyer’s suicide in 1971. With his naked body dissolving and his gaze fixed on the bloodied white sheet, he attempts to clasp the incongruous pair of cricket pads he is wearing, as if desperately trying to remain in the present.

The images, though half-connected by the strip of pavement, remain self-contained, the solitude of the figures heightened by the dark, canvas-like voids behind them.

‘It is an extraordinary meditation on the passage of time,’ says Katharine Arnold, head of Post-War and Contemporary Art Europe at Christie’s in London. ‘In the grand tapestries of life, death, love, art and war, Bacon seems to suggest that we are all ultimately alone.’

Between 1962 and 1991, Bacon produced just 28 large-scale triptychs, each measuring 78 x 58 inches (198 x 147.5 cm), nearly half of which reside in museums worldwide.

Triptych 1986-7, one of few such Bacon triptychs to remain in private hands, will be offered at auction for the first time on 1 March in Christie’s 2oth/21st Century: London Evening Sale, a key auction within the 20/21 Shanghai to London sale series.

‘We’re thrilled to present the painting as a leading highlight of our London Evening Sale,’ says Arnold. ‘The quality and power of such a masterpiece are sure to appeal to our global collector base.’

Bacon began his career painting crucifixions, papal portraits and other instances of mortal reckoning, finding fame in the mid 1940s with his seminal Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), above, now held in Tate’s collection.

Chris Stephens, the former head of displays and lead curator of modern British art at Tate Britain, has called the painting ‘a turning point in the history of British art. It’s a work that was seen immediately as a brutally frank and horrifically pessimistic response to the Second World War.’

As the 1950s progressed, Bacon’s own life began to infiltrate his work, with portraits of friends and lovers taking centre stage. Famously, however, he did not paint them from life, explaining that ‘even in the case of friends who will come and pose, I’ve had photographs taken for portraits because I very much prefer working from the photographs than from them’.

Working from secondary imagery also allowed him, he said, to engage with the impulses of the ‘nervous system’. In his ferocious contemplation of the human condition, he sought to reveal the raw animal spirit beneath, or what he called ‘the pulsations of a person’.

By the time he painted Triptych 1986-7, Bacon had lived through almost the full gamut of the 20th century, experiencing personal triumph and turmoil in extreme measures. While basking in the extraordinary success of his Tate retrospective, he was still haunted by Dyer’s tragic death, and had spent much of the previous decade in painterly confrontation with his own mortality. It is perhaps no coincidence that the source images in Triptych 1986-7  span nearly the entire length of Bacon’s life.

‘The large-scale triptych format offered Bacon the opportunity to trace his life back through the historic events of the 20th century, instilling the canvases with his lived experiences, his triumphs and his traumas,’ says Arnold.

The historic implications of the iconography have come to resonate on many levels, too. The juxtaposition of Wilson and Trotsky has been interpreted by some as a recapitulation of Bacon’s intention to ‘paint the history of Europe in my lifetime’, and by others as an allusion to the American passport that was given to Trotsky in 1917, enabling him to travel from New York and re-enter Russia.

Then there’s the plinth on which Edwards sits. Propped open by an extended chair leg, it resembles a large reference book. Could this be what the Bacon scholar Martin Harrison calls the artist’s ‘sardonic review of the failings of a century’?

The year after Triptych 1986-7  was painted, it was one of 23 works by Bacon to be shown at the New Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow — the first exhibition by a well-known artist from the West to take place in Soviet Russia. The Iron Curtain would fall the following year.

‘Though many viewers did not recognise the Trotsky photograph as a source,’ says Arnold, ‘the painting heralded a sea change in the country’s political attitudes towards art.’

Just over a decade later, the work made its American institutional debut in the Yale Center for British Art’s Bacon touring retrospective. As it travelled the country, its nod to US history would undoubtedly have resonated with American audiences.

Most recently, the work was included in the Pompidou Centre’s acclaimed 2019-2020 exhibition Bacon en toutes lettres.

‘Bacon’s ability to translate the full gamut of our emotions is perfectly encapsulated in this masterpiece,’ says Arnold. ‘The fact that it has been so widely exhibited is testament to its stature within his oeuvre.’





                                                                 President Wilson leaving the Quai d’Orsay during the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919.






                                                  Francis Bacon with Triptych 1986-7 at his 1987 show Peintures Récentes at Galerie Lelong in Paris.







Francis Bacon’s ‘Trotsky’ triptych tipped


to fetch up to US$75m at auction







LONDON, Feb 24 — A Francis Bacon triptych that depicts the aftermath of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky’s 1940 assassination in Mexico City is expected to fetch up to US$75 million (RM314 million) when it goes under the hammer next week.

Described by Christie’s as among the iconoclastic Irish-born painter’s last great paintings, “Triptych 1986-7” features then US President Woodrow Wilson leaving the post-World War One Treaty of Versailles meeting in 1919 and Bacon’s friend John Edwards on its other two canvases.

The British auction house’s price estimate for the work, part of a March 1 sale in London of 20th and 21st century masterworks, is £35 million to £55 million (RM198 million – RM312 million).

“Bacon lived between 1909 and 1992, almost the full length of the 20th century,” Katharine Arnold, head of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s in Europe, told Reuters.

“And here he’s reflecting on the passage of time, those moments that were pivotal moments in Western history in particular, but also had implications for the whole world.”

Other lots in the sale include Lucian Freud’s 1986-87 portrait “Girl with Closed Eyes”, estimated at £10 million to £15 million.

The prize item in an “Art of the Surreal” auction being held on the same evening is a surrealist self-portrait by Pablo Picasso.

The 1929 piece, called “La fenêtre ouverte” and depicting the Spanish artist and his muse Marie-Thérèse Walter, has a price estimate of £14 million to 24 million.

“This is one of 37 large size Marie-Thérèse paintings, which are the most expensive Picassos in the market,” said Olivier Camu, Christie’s deputy chairman, Impressionist and Modern Art.

“Of those ... there are only 13 in private hands. The last one we sold, sold for US$103 million last year.”



                  A gallery assistant poses by an artwork titled ‘Triptych 1986-7’ by Francis Bacon             














The Royal Academy’s Man and Beast offers the chance to see many prime paintings by Bacon, which is probably all you need to know to book a ticket. It’s about a third animals and two thirds humans as animals – for ‘we’re all animals’, as Bacon liked to say – and 100% bracing nihilism. There are no horses (did Bacon never paint a horse, despite growing up with them?) but plenty of typical Bacon tropes – screaming mouths, cuboid cages, blurred and distorted bodies… I found myself looking at his shadows more than I had before:

The man as shadow: the owner, one assumes, of the snarling canine in ‘Man with a Dog’, 1953, has been reduced to just a shadow of himself. No wonder the dog seems drawn to the underworld beneath the drain.

The shadowed splat: Bacon liked to fling a loaded brush at the canvas to introduce the drama of chance. We might read it as ejaculatory, which also makes sense as Bacon declared bullfighting ‘a marvellous aperitif to sex’.  In this prominent example the ‘accidental’ mark is emphasised by the addition of a shadow (‘Second Version of Study for a Bullfight No. 1’, 1969).

The flesh shadow: following on from George Dyer’s death, the shadows in Bacon’s paintings of his late lover feature pools of pink, as if his body is melting into the shadows. These are from ‘Triptych, August 1972’ (above and top image).

The shadow of death: perhaps death is implied by every shadow, especially in Bacon, given his obsession with mortality. His last-ever painting, ‘Study of a Bull’, 1991, makes this explicit by texturing the dark with dust.

Art writer and curator Paul Carey-Kent sees a lot of shows: we asked him to jot down whatever came into his head





              The flesh shadow: following on from George Dyer’s death, the shadows in Bacon’s paintings of his late lover feature pools of pink, as if his body is melting into the shadows.






Bacon in Moscow — how a western artist stormed the Iron Curtain




A fascinating memoir by curator James Birch on a defining moment in 1988 when Russia began to open

up to the world after decades of self-isolation






Few art exhibitions are truly historic. The Francis Bacon show in Moscow in September 1988 was just that: an event that changed perceptions and left an indelible mark — an amorphous Bacon-like blob — on Russia’s cultural landscape.

Coming at the height of glasnost it was one of the first times since 1917 that a living western artist had been granted the accolade of a major exhibition in the capital of the Soviet empire. Nikolai Andrievich, a distinguished Russian artist born in 1944, remembers it well. “You have to bear in mind that this was the very first time that we spectators ever encountered contemporary, up-to-the-minute art in the flesh,” he told me recently. His generation had only ever seen poor-quality reproductions in well-thumbed western art journals. “And here you saw the real thing . . . For me, it was a revelation.”

Bacon in Moscow by James Birch tells the story of the exhibition. An English curator and gallery owner who was a close friend of Bacon’s, he was the prime mover behind the show and his tale of how he managed to pull it off is fascinating.

At the book’s heart is an engaging narrative about a time that now seems halcyon — the moment Moscow finally opened up to the world after decades of self-isolation. In an age where Russia has reverted to autocratic type, a new cold war looms and Ukraine is threatened with invasion, that period now seems like a lost dream.

The idea of bringing Bacon to Russia came to Birch in the mid-1980s while visiting a group of Soviet artists in their studios in Moscow. He asks one of them which western painter he likes the most. The answer: Francis Bacon.

“If you are Soviet then the way that Bacon paints, it feels like he is with you,” he says. “Bacon sees the darkness. He shows the dark side of life, the dark side of society . . . The darkness in our soul.”

That conversation plants a seed in Birch’s mind. It is encouraged to grow by his friend Sergei Klokov, a careerist KGB agent he first meets in Paris in 1985, who assures him the queues for a Bacon show “will be bigger than those for Lenin’s tomb”. A footsoldier in Gorbachev’s liberalisation drive, Klokov sees the political utility in such an event. “It would be a big sign for the whole world to see: Look, perestroika (reform) is working,” he tells Birch.

The book describes in detail how Birch engineered an event he sums up as an “unimaginable intrusion of western culture into the heart of the Soviet system”. Some of the cultural diplomacy can be tedious, as can the endless accounts of champagne lunches with Bacon and his companion John Edwards in London (“the wine at Aspinall’s was Château Laffite at £400 a bottle . . . it was . . . delicious.”) The book is occasionally let down by cliché: in the Russian scenes there is the usual cast of “scowling” waiters and people with “ashen complexions”, “wide kipper ties” and “badly cut Terylene flared trousers.”

Where it succeeds is in its evocation of Moscow on the cusp of a new liberal age, where people starved of western culture gorge themselves on their new freedoms. Birch enjoys lavish vodka parties with the jeunesse dorée of the Soviet capital — a femme fatale called Elena Khudiakova who craves to get her name in The Face magazine, and Klokov himself, an Afghan vet whose grandfather was commander-in-chief of the Soviet air force and who is the source of most of the jokes in the book. There is much speculation as to how the Soviet censors will view Bacon’s brutal images, the paralytic children, screaming popes and grotesquely contorted bodies. But Klokov is most concerned about the explicitly gay paintings. “Cock-exalting canvases would never be understood by Soviet public,” Birch quotes him as saying.

In the end, the show is a huge success — though with shops beginning to empty out of food, western art isn’t uppermost in the mind of the average Muscovite. “We want bacon, not Francis Bacon,” one wag writes in the visitors’ book.

Since 1988, Bacon’s status in Russia has only grown. But the awkward details have been hidden away. “The fact that he was gay and that his partner was his leading model was not spoken of,” Nikolai Ivanov, a prominent Russian art historian, told me.

Birch’s account ends on an elegiac note. Klokov buys a snake farm in Uzbekistan hoping “to produce cobra venom commercially as a health tonic”. (The business failed.) Khudiakova, it transpires, spied on Birch for the KGB, filing 2,000 pages of reports on his activities in Paris, Moscow and London. It is a sad ending to a big adventure that encapsulates the transformative power of art.

Bacon in Moscow by James Birch with Michael Hodges, Cheerio, £17.99, 208 pages    Guy Chazan is the FT’s Berlin bureau chief





     Gallerist and curator James Birch, right, who organised the 1988 Moscow show, with Francis Bacon, left, and Bacon’s companion, John Edwards, in 1987






Francis Bacon’s triptych from prominent architect’s


collection expected to garner US$47.6 million







During 2022’s Spring auction season, Christie’s 20th / 21st Century: Shanghai to London Evening Sales will be the focus. Amongst its highlights, British painter Francis Bacon’s Triptych 1986-7 will lead the London Evening Sale on 1 March.

In addition to illustrating a close companion during the famous British artist’s late years, the painting also depicts former American President, Woodrow Wilson and the scene of assassination of Soviet Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky. The triptych is estimated between £35 million and 55 million pounds (around US$47.6 million to 74.9 million dollars).

After 30 years in private hands, the painting will be auctioned. According to Western media sources, the triptych’s current owner is Norman Foster – a prominent British modernist architect.

Bacon’s Triptych 1986-7 is currently owned by British modernist architect, Norman Foster, Baron Foster of Thames Bank. He is best known for designing key buildings around the world, such as the Great Court at the British Museum, the Apple Park in California and Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation building in Hong Kong.

First exhibited at Marlborough Gallery in 1988, the work was later purchased from the New York gallery by Foster in 2007. In 2020, Bacon’s triptych was exhibited at a Centre Pompidou show devoted to the artist.

From 1944 to 1986, Bacon created 28 triptychs. In 2013, his personal auction record was set with a triptych – when Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) was sold for US$142.4 million dollars at Christie’s New York.

The British figurative painter’s protagonists range from lovers, close friends, self-portraits and the famous series of portraits of Popes. In this present auction, the Triptych 1986-7 is a rare amalgam of one of Bacon’s companions and two historical figures.

On the left panel, former American President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) is depicted from a scene during World War One – the moment he stepped out of the Paris Peace Conference at Quai d’Orsay after signing the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

During the peace talks, Wilson established the League of Nations to maintain world peace. Despite its best efforts, it failed to prevent the aggression of Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) and ultimately, the outbreak of World War Two. In 1946, the League ceased operations but many of its components were transferred into the new United Nations.

At the centre panel, John Edwards is illustrated. He was Bacon’s closest and trusted companion, and inherited the painter’s house, studio and paintings after his death in 1992.

Edwards was the son of a London dockworker and Bacon was one of the most famous faces on the London social scene. In 1974, Bacon met Edwards at the Colony Room, a private club in Soho. The artist was in his late 70s, while Edwards was his early 20s.

The process of the two from meeting was eventful. They first met at the Colony Room’s bar, where Edward worked. At first, Edward learned from Muriel Belcher – the club’s owner – that the famous Bacon would come to his bar with a group of friends, and ordered in a large quantity of the artist’s favourite champagne.

Unexpectedly, Bacon did not show up in the end and left Edwards infuriated. A few days later, when Bacon finally arrived, Edward confronted him for his selfishness and the inconvenience he caused. The encounter startled Bacon, but also intrigued him.

The two remained close until Bacon’s death. Edward’s presence also allowed Bacon to get over former partner, George Dyer’s death and propelled him to a new style of his late paintings.

On the right panel, the scene of Leon Trotsky’s (1879-1940) assassination is depicted.

During the early 20th century, Trotsky was an important revolutionary and theorist in Soviet Russia. He was one of key leaders of the October Revolution, as well as a key figure who established the Red Army and Fourth International.

After Lenin’s death in 1924, Trotsky’s rival and Soviet Russia’s political leader, Joseph Stalin, grew increasingly in power. He expelled Trotsky from the party and sent him on political exile.

In August 1940 and during asylum in Mexico, Trotsky was assassinated by Spanish Communist and Soviet Union agent, Ramon Mercader – fatally hit with an ice pick on the head.

Whether Bacon’s triptych sells within expectations remains to be seen. The Value will continue to report on its development.





                                                                                                                      Francis Bacon posing in front of Triptych 1986-7






The Morbid Pleasures of Francis Bacon




In Man and Beast at the Royal Academy, London, the uncanny overlapping of familiar and strange

is a psychic reminder of our animalness, provoking horror more than genetic discourse






A fresh curatorial premise can renew our experience of an artist’s work, which is especially welcome with an artist as iconic and mythically familiar as Francis Bacon. Curator Michael Peppiatt does this by homing in on the images of animals in his work, stating that Bacon ‘sensed how closely man and animal would interact, whether caged or uncaged, to the point where each depends on the other to survive’. This statement feels forced, its ecological rhetoric ill-matched to Bacon’s nightmarish, often fantastical creatures, which defy taxonomy by being germane first and foremost to the paint. Head I (1948), shown by itself in the opening room, both refuses and struggles to be, its only anatomical elements being a human ear and a chimpanzee’s mouth, locked in a contortion of existential agony. It is less of a literal interaction between human and chimpanzee, or their respective orifices, than a nightmare born of the painter’s skill in suspending resolution. We are left hanging, as though subjected to some Hadean punishment, which along with Bacon’s hard-to-match virtuosity has its own morbid pleasure.

Despite Bacon’s evident interest in animals – stemming from his father’s profession as a racehorse trainer, the story goes – the human presence always predominates, animals coming second to the anthropocentric endeavour of art and image-making. Wildlife magazines and Eadweard Muybridge’s time-lapse photography were the mediated form of much of Bacon’s engagement with the animalistic. In Dog (1952) and Man with Dog (1953) Bacon experimented with a single image captured by Muybridge, repeating it as compositional device to varied effects. In the former the dog functions as a kind of energetic motor, bringing antagonism to the otherwise serene, almost sterile composition. In the latter it partakes in an experiment in tonality, fighting to prevent the image from disappearing into blurry nonexistence, while somehow speaking to the shadowy human legs behind it in a semiabstract tableau of urban, masculine loneliness.

The physiognomic, scrambled portraits and studies of the human body remind us of animality’s relationship with the well-established Baconesque tropes of carnality and mortality. Two Studies from the Human Body (1974–75) look almost like apes in a zoo, but they are hardly zoological; the uncanny overlapping of familiar and strange is a psychic reminder of our animalness, provoking horror more than genetic discourse. The picture is funny, too. Putting a baboonish head on an athletic, all but classically proportioned body, with jets of semenlike paint shooting from the buttocks of the figure upstage, it pokes fun at humanity’s civilised pretensions. Indeed, there is a touch of the camp in Bacon’s pink outline of an ape in ‘Pope and Chimpanzee’ (c. 1960), which he could have drawn from one of Charles Darwin’s diagrams, as if to mock the scientific establishment as well as the religious.

Many of the works reek of sex, the aesthetic tension between pain and pleasure, violence and grace, suggestive of Bacon’s sadomasochistic predilections. Although his sexuality is touched upon – with reference to his overtly homoerotic Two Figures (1953) and Two Figures in the Grass (1954) – more could have been made of it (he did claim, after all, that he found the smell of horse dung ‘sexually alluring’). Bacon was openly gay when it was illegal to be so, for which reason this element of his life and work was wilfully overlooked in earlier criticism. By giving what feels like perfunctory attention to the issue, the exhibition tends to perpetuate this oversight.

Most of all, the show inadvertently reveals the futility of trying to taxonomise the subjects of Bacon’s work in any literal sense. It exemplifies the dangers of uncritically aligning eco-theory with artistic intention; the wall text often quotes from Bacon himself, without once considering his rampant tendency to self-mythologise. One of the highlights here is the appearance all three of his bullfight studies (all 1969) in a single room for the first time. But more than ‘challenging a clear distinction between human and animal’, as the wall text argues, surely the noteworthy union here is the marriage between the subject matter and Bacon’s ability to choreograph ineffable formulations of elegance and machismo, movement, poise and stillness in paint. The distinctions are unclear, but they are felt, they are there – it’s just we don’t know how he puts it all together. In Bacon’s world, we are all paint.

Francis Bacon: Man and Beast is at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, until 17 April




                                           ‘Francis Bacon: Man and Beast’, 2022 (installation view, Royal Academy of Arts, London). Photo: David Parry






One of Francis Bacon’s last great paintings could fetch more than €30m



Bacon captures passage of time





WHEN it was shown in Moscow in 1988, Francis Bacon’s Triptych 1986-87 was the first painting by a well-known artist from the West to be shown in Soviet Russia.

It was a sea change in the country’s political attitude towards art. The Iron Curtain would fall the following year. One of Bacon’s last great paintings is a meditation on the passage of time and the solitude of the human condition.

The suited figure on the left is based on press pictures of US president Woodrow Wilson as he was leaving the Treaty of Versailles negotiations in 1919; the right-hand panel was inspired by a photo of Leon Trotsky’s study after his assassination in 1940, and the figure in the centre resembles Bacon’s then partner John Edwards.

It comes up at Christie’s 20th/21st Century sale on March 1 with an estimate of $35m-$50m (€30.93m-€44.19m).




                                                                         The first panel of the Francis Bacon triptych is based on press pictures of US president Woodrow Wilson in 1919.






The clothes in Francis Bacon’s paintings are as fascinating as the subjects




A new exhibition at the RA examines Bacon’s relationship with man and beast, but it’s his

take on clothing that offers up a macabre surprise






Francis Bacon had a masterful and, as was his style, unnerving way of recreating clothes in his paintings. He would let dust gather around his London studio, a genius’ hovel in South Kensington that has graced a million art books and online moodboards a cramped explosion of paint, dark wood, ephemera, crusted brushes, stained mirrors and deep, dark feeling before scooping up the required amount, an unknowable amount, and mixing it in with the oil paints that he favoured over the years.

“That’s how, if you look closely at the paintings in person, the clothes in them have that slightly furry look,” says Michael Peppiatt over the phone, the author, art expert, historian and foremost authority on Bacon, who has curated the landmark new show at the RA, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast. “I remember him saying something about how he was able to paint a perfect flannel suit thanks to that dust… and he was right. He could. Over everything else he is he was just a marvellous painter. He let it speak. The actual grain of the paint comes over and speaks very directly to the eye.”

Spanning Bacon’s 50-year career, the show’s primary focus is on, so reads the RA’s description, “Bacon’s unerring fascination with animals: how it both shaped his approach to the human body and distorted it; how, caught at the most extreme moments of existence, his figures are barely recognisable as either human or beast.” “He looked for a more spontaneous and accurate representation of human behaviour in watching animals,” says Peppiat. “They went about their daily lives in a less inhibited fashion. They acted the way they acted, whereas humans disguise their true feelings.”

On a gloomy day in late January I stand inside the RA, in a room painted an ominous shade of murky green, in front of Figure Study 1, which Bacon finished in between 1945 and 1946. The background is a hazardous orange dripping with dark matter, while in the foreground a body, not quite human, is suffocated by a herringbone-weave coat. The description is morbid and wonderful “the body protrudes from the garment like a snake shedding its skin.” There is studio dust in there somewhere, turning the coat into something living and something decaying, The drape makes it look luxurious; the fray and disintegration around its edges make it look awful. I stare at it for 10 minutes, unmoving. I have to remind myself to blink.

“He was very concerned with clothing,” says Peppiatt, who first met Bacon while still a student at the French House, one of the artist’s regular Soho haunts, quickly becoming his closest confidant and, later on, posthumous biographer. “His studio was a tip, but he always had several bespoke suits hanging in cellophane. He was immaculate like that. He was keen on attracting people you see.” Peppiatt recalls the clothes that Bacon favoured while dashing around his seedy kingdom during his inspired and debauched heyday.

“There was the formal look: a proper suit with a button down shirt and he’d always wear a tie. A black silk knit tie, which he would rather loosely tie around his neck. It appeared to me at the time that there was just the one tie, but I suppose he had a rack full. He was very keen on smart boots, a good cashmere polo neck sweater and he had a taste for trench coats with epaulettes. He cut a swathe, certainly. He used to say, ‘I think the thing is to look ordinary, but better.’”

Unlike the man himself, who sought a certain pleasure and status in his clothes, the outfits in Bacon’s paintings often appear excruciating: a man-made simulacrum of the taught fur on a baboon or the bleeding skin stretched across one of his famous bulls. Suits appear often, constricting, swallowing their wearers whole. A leaden weight in the brushstrokes and in the fibres. George Dyer, Bacon’s lover and tragic muse, appears regularly in sombre charcoal tailoring, white shirt pulling at his neck as his features melt into a sort of primal agony; the suit conceals and constricts. Even the decadent purple and red velvets clad onto his screaming and rupturing popes burst from the canvas in the grotesque shades of an open sore.

“They are often about rather disquieting and brutal truths,” says Peppiatt of the works that he has compiled, “but they are nevertheless of a grand scale. He himself would like that, I think. His life played out on the stage like a kind of King Lear, or Macbeth, but I do think Francis would have really enjoyed the show. To be in the RA, which he never managed during his life, although he hasn’t been in touch, so I can’t guarantee it! He rolled around in the Soho gutter, there’s no doubt about that, but he was also a very grand person during his life. I can feel his presence here in this space and in these paintings.”

If you have a chance to visit, which I highly recommend you do, take a close look at the clothes. Not so close that a security guard puts you in a rear naked chokehold, but close enough that you can see the memory, the grain, of the South Kensington studio dust still present inside Francis Bacon’s tweeds, wools and perfectly-rendered flannel suits.





         “There was the formal look: a proper suit with a button down shirt and he’d always wear a tie. A black silk knit tie.”










20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale









FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)  Triptych 1986-7



Lot 38  Estimate GBP 35,000,000—GBP 55,000,000


SOLD: £38,459,206



(i) signed, titled, inscribed and dated ‘Tryptich [sic] 1986-1987 Left Panel Francis Bacon’ (on the reverse)
(ii) signed, titled, inscribed and dated ‘Tryptich [sic] 1986-1987 Center Panel Francis Bacon’ (on the reverse)
(iii) signed, titled, inscribed and dated ‘tryptich [sic] 1986⁄1987 Right Panel Francis Bacon’ (on the reverse)

oil, pastel, aerosol paint and dry transfer lettering on canvas, in three parts each: 78 x 58in. (198 x 147.5cm.)
Executed in 1986-1987



Marlborough International Fine Art, Vaduz.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007.



M. Leiris, Francis Bacon, Barcelona 1987, p. 128, no. 151 (illustrated in colour, pp. 120-121).
G. Auty, ‘Formal fallacy’ in The Spectator, October 1988 (installation view illustrated in colour, p. 39).
A. Sinclair, Francis Bacon His Life & Violent Times, New York 1993, pp. 291, 297.
W. Feaver, ‘Scrambled heads and Bacon’ in The Observer, 30 June 1996 (left hand panel illustrated, p. 12).
J-C Delpierre, ‘Francis Bacon Grand Maître’ in Beaux Art Magazine, no. 46, June 1996, no. 12 (illustrated in colour, p. 16).
D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, pp. 66 and 269, no. 95 (illustrated, p. 121).
Francis Bacon in Dublin, exh. cat., Dublin, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, 2000, p. 19.
L. Trucchi, Francis Bacon, Rome 2005, no. 16, p. 73 (illustrated in colour, p. 72; left hand panel illustrated in colour, p. 72).
M. Cappock, Francis Bacon’s Studio, London 2005, p. 98.
Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective, exh. cat., London, Tate Britain, 2008, p. 218, no. 114 (illustrated in colour, p. 217; incorrectly dated ‘1987’).
M. Harrison (ed.), Francis Bacon: New Studies, Centenary Essays, Göttingen 2009, p. 60 (incorrectly dated ‘1986’).
J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London 2010, p. 203, no. 111 (illustrated, pp. 190-191).
M. Tonelli, Francis Bacon Le "Atmosfere” Letterarie, Rome 2014, p. 123, no. 42 (right hand panel illustrated, p. 123).
Francis Bacon: Late Paintings, exh. cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, 2015, p. 135, no. 8 (illustrated in colour, p. 136).
M. Harrison and R. Daniels (eds.), Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné: Volume III 1958-71, London 2016, p. 640.
M. Harrison and R. Daniels (eds.), Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné: Volume IV 1971-92, London 2016, pp. 1318, 1322 and 1326, no. 87-01 (illustrated in colour, pp. 1323-1325; detail of right hand panel illustrated in colour, p. 1327).
D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 2016, p. 202 and 232, no. 131 (illustrated in colour, p. 202; central panel illustrated in colour, p. 203).
M. Boustany (ed.), Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, Monaco 2017 (installation view illustrated, p. 93).
Y. Peyré, Francis Bacon or the measure of excess, Woodbridge 2020, p. 322 (illustrated in colour, p. 278; central panel illustrated in colour, p. 279; right hand panel illustrated in colour, p. 280).
M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait, London 2021, pp. 42 and 240-249.
J. Birch, Bacon in Moscow, London 2022 (illustrated in colour, pp. 178-179).



New York, Marlborough Gallery Inc., Francis Bacon: Paintings of the Eighties, 1987, p. 44, no. 12 (Illustrated in colour, pp. 38-39; left hand panel illustrated in colour on the front cover).
Paris, Galerie Lelong, Francis Bacon: Peintures Récentes, 1987, no. 8 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Moscow, Central House of Artists, Tretyakov Gallery, Francis Bacon: Paintings, 1988, p. 68, no. 20 (illustrated in colour, pp. 66 – 68).
London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Francis Bacon: Loan Exhibition in Celebration of his 80th Birthday, 1989, pp. 7 and 42,
no. 13 (central panel illustrated in colour on the front cover; illustrated in colour, pp. 32-34).
New York, Marlborough Gallery Inc., Francis Bacon Paintings, 1990, p. 38, no. 11 (illustrated in colour, pp. 28-30).
Lugano, Museo d’Arte Moderna della Città di Lugano, Francis Bacon, 1993, p. 163, no. 59 (illustrated, pp. 127 and 163; illustrated in colour, pp. 128-130).
Saint Etienne, Musée d’Art Moderne, Réalitiés Noires, 1994-1995.
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Foundation Maeght, Bacon-Freud: Expressions, 1995, pp. 102 and 205, no. 28 (illustrated in colour, pp. 103-106).
Paris, Centres national d’art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Francis Bacon, 1996, pp. 31 and 218, no. 84 (illustrated in colour, p. 219; installation view illustrated, p. 310). This exhibition later travelled to Munich, Haus der Kunst.
New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, Francis Bacon: A Retrospective, 1999, pp. 37 and 205, no. 70 (illustrated in colour, pp. 209-211). This exhibition later travelled to Minneapolis, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts; San Francisco, The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and Fort Worth, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
The Hague, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Francis Bacon, 2001 (illustrated in colour, pp. 112-113).
New York, Marlborough Gallery Inc., Francis Bacon: Paintings, 2002, pp. 4 and 27 (illustrated in colour, pp. 24-26).
Valencia, Institut Valencia d’Art Moderne IVAM, Francis Bacon: Lo Sagrado y lo Profano, 2003-2004, pp. 111 and 166 (illustrated in colour, p. 103). This exhibition later travelled to Paris, Musée Maillol.
London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Modern Masters: Paintings, Sculpture and Prints by Andrews, Auerbach, Bacon, Freud, Hepworth, Kitaj, Moore, Rego, Uglow, 2005 (detail illustrated in colour on the front cover and illustrated twice, unpaged).
Siegen, Museum Fur Gegenwartskunst Siegen, Francis Bacon: Paintings of Contradiction, 2007.
Dusseldorf, K20 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Francis Bacon: The Violence of the Real, 2006-2007, p. 241, no. 68 (illustrated in colour, pp. 188-189).
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza y Fondación Caja, The Mirror & The Mask: Portraiture in the Age of Picasso, 2007. p. 233 and 319, no. 130 (illustrated in colour, pp. 264-265). This exhibition later travelled to Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum.
Paris, Centres national d’art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Bacon. En toutes lettres, 2019-2020, p. 111, 173 and 239 (illustrated in colour, pp. 108-110).


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Post Lot Text

We would like to thank Dr. Rebecca Daniels for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.


Lot Essay

An extraordinary meditation on the passage of time, and a rhapsody on the solitude of the human condition, Francis Bacon’s Triptych 1986-7 is a masterwork that stands among his last great paintings. Across three monumental canvases—his most rare and celebrated format—the artist entwines imagery drawn from the annals of twentieth-century history with a poignant, retrospective view of his own life and art. The suited figure in the left-hand panel is based on a press clipping of U. S. President Woodrow Wilson leaving the Treaty of Versailles negotiations in 1919; the right-hand panel was inspired by a photograph of Leon Trotsky’s study taken after his assassination in 1940. In the centre sits a figure resembling Bacon’s then-partner John Edwards, his pose reminiscent of the artist’s beloved George Dyer in the haunting eulogy Triptych August 1972 (Tate, London). Bacon had begun his career painting Crucifixions, Papal portraits and other instances of mortal reckoning; later, friends and lovers took centre stage in his chronicles of humanity. Here, the two strains combine in an image of mythic, operatic grandeur. A single lamp illuminates the fleeting trace of life upon the blood-stained sheet; the figures, though half-connected by a strip of pavement, remain locked in their own worlds. In the grand tapestries of life, death, love, art and war—the painting suggests—we are all ultimately alone.

Widely exhibited throughout its lifetime—most recently in the Centre Georges Pompidou’s acclaimed exhibition Bacon en Toutes Lettres (2019-2020)—the historic implications of Triptych 1986-7 would come to resonate on multiple levels. The year after its creation, it was one of twenty-two paintings shown at the Central House of Artists, Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow: the first exhibition by a well-known artist from the West to take place in Soviet Russia. Many viewers did not recognise the Trotsky photograph as a source, but to those who did, the painting’s presence heralded a sea-change: the Iron Curtain, notably, would fall the next year. Following its inclusion in major exhibitions at the Museo d’Arte Moderna, Lugano in 1993 and the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1996, the work made its American institutional debut in the Yale Center for British Art’s celebrated 1999 touring retrospective. As it travelled the country from East to West to South, its rare nod to U. S. history would certainly have resonated with American audiences. Wilson emerges from the darkness, his face pale and the weight of the world on his shoulders: as Grey Gowrie wrote in his introduction to the Moscow exhibition, this image alone ‘must be one of Bacon’s greatest paintings’ (G. Gowrie, introduction to the catalogue for Francis Bacon: Paintings, Central House of Artists, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow 1988).

Presented at auction for the first time, the work is one of a rare number of large-scale triptychs by Bacon to remain in private hands. Between 1962 and 1991, the artist produced just 28 such works measuring 78 by 58 inches, nearly half of which reside in museums worldwide. Recalling the grand altarpieces of Grünewald and Cimabue, the seminal 1944 Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (Tate, London) had announced Bacon’s arrival as an artist. He would go on to expand the genre to near-cinematic proportions, coming full circle with a second blood-red version of the 1944 triptych—also now held in the Tate—shortly after the present work. Compositionally, the closest cousin of Triptych 1986-7 remains the 1972 ‘black triptych’ produced in memory of Dyer, where dark canvas-like voids and haunting, liquefied shadows frame the human form. These devices would also play important roles in Three Portraits—Posthumous Portrait of George Dyer; Self-Portrait; Portrait of Lucian Freud (1973) and Triptych March 1974 (Fondación Juan March, Madrid), as well as the artist’s final Triptych of 1991 (Museum of Modern Art, New York). The depiction of Wilson’s shoes shares much in common with Bacon’s Study for a Self-Portrait—Triptych (1985-1986), while its conflation of political and private histories might be seen in relation to the landmark Triptych (1976), which takes an image of Sir Austen Chamberlain as its source. It is a vivid summation of the genre as it played out within Bacon’s oeuvre, brought to an enigmatic and elegiac crescendo.

For Bacon, life was as thrilling and epic as the sagas of Greek mythology and Shakespeare: all of us, he believed—in our own ways—would navigate the dramas of romance, politics, joy and tragedy that defined these tales. By the time of the present work, Bacon had lived through almost the full gamut of the twentieth century, where World Wars and political machinations raged against a backdrop of personal triumph and turmoil. On one hand, he was basking in the extraordinary success of his 1985 retrospective at Tate, whose Director Sir Alan Bowness had named him the ‘greatest living painter’. On the other hand, he was still haunted by Dyer’s heart-wrenching death, and had spent much of the previous decade in painterly confrontation with his own mortality. Two extraordinary self-portraits from that period depict Bacon with a watch. In one, its ticking hand seems to merge organically with his own face—it is perhaps no coincidence that the historic time-span of the present work’s source images equates almost directly to the length of Bacon’s existence. In drawing together elements from all eras of his practice, moreover, the work sets this temporal framework in the context of a life lived in paint. Trotsky’s lectern, in another reading, could just as easily be an easel; its sheet, stained with blood, might be a half-begun canvas. Art and life slip in and out of focus across the work’s three panels, each illuminated like a beacon against the void.



Bacon was avowedly not a history painter in the traditional sense: his works, he maintained, were never intended as narratives, and fundamentally resisted linear interpretation. Nevertheless, for an artist who avidly devoured source material from books, newspapers, films and journals, the ‘History of Europe in My Lifetime’ was never far from his mind (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1993, p. 55). ‘Everything I’ve seen has gone in and been ground up very fine’, Bacon proclaimed: indeed, having lived through one of the world’s most turbulent periods of social and political upheaval, the events of the twentieth century would come to form something of a barometer for his own existence (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait. Essays and Interviews, revised edition, London 2021, p. 41). As Michael Peppiatt highlights, fascinating context for the present work exists in the form of a 1954 letter to Sonia Orwell, the widow of the author George Orwell, in which Bacon professes his desire to compile a book of photographs entwining his own life story with the last forty years of history. In it, the artist explains, ‘you would not know whether it was imagination or fact … as the photographs themselves of events could be distorted into a personal private meaning … as though one was seeing the story of one’s time for the first time’ (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Hammer, Bacon and Sutherland, London and New Haven 2005, pp. 97–98). Interestingly, though the publication never came to fruition, Martin Harrison points out that the podium on which the central Dyer-Edwards figure sits resembles a half-open book (M. Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. IV, London 2016, p. 1326).

Bacon’s historical impulses found early expression in his early Popes and Crucifixions. Though a staunch atheist, the artist pored over painterly renderings of these subjects, finding in them flashes of the human condition at its most raw. In the existentialist aftermath of the Second World War, Velázquez’s enigmatic Portrait of Innocent X (circa 1650) seemed to speak directly to the spirit of the times, resonating with contemporary photographs of Pope Pius XII who had reigned during the conflict. Like the figures in Bacon’s Crucifixions, reduced to writhing, tormented masses of flesh, his Popes became ghostly spectres, shattering the picture plane in primal screams or cowering in stony silence. The notion that even the divinely-ordained were still imprisoned by their mortal condition resurfaces here. Wilson is reduced to a pale, skull-like effigy, echoing Bacon’s most haunted renderings of Il Papa; the central figure, too, seems to echo the enthroned stance of these figures. The flash of blood, meanwhile—writes Robert Rosenblum—stands as residue of a ‘secular tragedy’, conjuring ‘the mystery and drama of Christ’s stigmata’ (R. Rosenblum, Francis Bacon: Paintings, exh. cat. Marlborough Gallery, New York 2002, p. 4).

The present work’s source photographs joined a raft of historical imagery that littered Bacon’s studio. The picture of Wilson leaving the Quai d’Orsay at the Paris Peace Conference was taken from a newspaper, while the image of Trotsky’s study derived from the book Trotsky: A Documentary (1972), published by his friend Francis Wyndham and David King. Interestingly, alongside images of dictators, henchmen and rallies, Bacon’s studio contained a spread from D. C. Somervell’s 1951 book 100 Years in Pictures, depicting riots in St Petersburg in 1917. He also amassed numerous images of assassinations: pictures of the deaths of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy were found in his holdings, the latter becoming the source for the red diagrammatic arrows that became particularly prominent during his later work. While Bacon was attracted to such images primarily for their compositional qualities, it could not have escaped his attention that many of these murders seemed like stories straight from the archives of mythology. Trotsky’s assassination, conducted with an ice pick, stands as a particularly vivid example: the typography upon the sheet seems to consign it directly to legend.

Much like the Popes and the Crucifixions, the painting’s dialogue with past imagery is also grounded in the history of art. The suited figure of Wilson conjures memories of Edvard Munch’s Evening on Karl Johan Street (1892) and Edgar Degas’ Portraits at the Stock Exchange (1876)—both artists whom Bacon admired. Ghosts of René Magritte’s bowler-hatted men, too, flicker in the shadows: notably La Décalcomanie (1966), which similarly plays with the presence and absence of the human form. Though the central figure still bears the hallmarks of Michelangelo, Rembrandt and others who guided Bacon’s male nudes during the 1960s, the work also witnesses a dialogue with more contemporary, non-European art forms. Despite professing his distaste for Abstract Expressionism, Bacon was undeniably influenced by his encounters with Colour Field painting and gestural abstraction: the sparse architecture of the three canvases recalls the haunting solitude of Barnett Newman’s ‘zip’ paintings, while the visceral dash of red conjures the mythic canvases of Cy Twombly. The work’s recourse to a photograph of an American president, meanwhile, might even be seen within the context of artists such as Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg, who—though operating from very different standpoints—were similarly entrenched in their own Zeitgeists.



In 1971, Bacon was preparing for what was then the high-point of his career to date. The Grand Palais in Paris was mounting a major retrospective of his work, making him the only living artist other than Picasso to be granted the honour. On the eve of the exhibition’s opening, however, tragedy struck when his lover George Dyer—the man whose form had been the lifeblood of Bacon’s art for the past decade—died in the hotel room they were sharing. The event would have a devastating impact on Bacon, giving rise to an outpouring of works in which he attempted to come to terms with his grief. The three ‘black triptychs’ produced in mourning for Dyer stand today among the twentieth century’s most harrowing paintings. In their wake, Bacon would begin to contemplate the prospect of his own death, painting a near-obsessive stream of self-portraits in which he stared his mortal condition directly in the eye. Time, he was all too aware, was passing, taking with it those he had loved the most. Dyer’s image would continue to linger in his art until his death: the distinctive postures and profile, immortalised in earlier paintings and photographs, would never fully subside.

Though the 1980s was a period of professional triumph for Bacon, it was also a time of introspection. His 1985 Tate exhibition—his last retrospective, he declared—cemented his place in history. ‘The cultural establishment sent a clear signal’, writes Peppiatt: ‘… Bacon was to painting what Henry Moore had long been to sculpture, an undisputed world-class master, and as such a national asset’ (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 2008, p. 381). Bacon went to view the show on its Berlin leg, making his first trip there since he had travelled to the city as a young man in the heady days of the 1920s. Other opportunities for retrospective contemplation presented themselves in the form of the National Gallery’s 1985 exhibition The Artist’s Eye, for which Bacon was invited to select a number of his favourite paintings from the collection. It was a place that the artist had visited on numerous occasions, and had long nourished his visual imagination. Among the works he chose was Edouard Manet’s The Execution of Maximilian (circa 1867-1868): the critic David Sylvester, notably, would later describe the present work’s image of Wilson as among the artist’s clearest debt to the French master (D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p. 66).

If Triptych 1986-7 spoke of a life lived in art, however, it did so with one eye firmly upon the present moment. John Edwards, whom Bacon had met at the Colony Club in 1974, became a great source of comfort and companionship during his final two decades. He also became a significant muse, featuring in more than twenty portraits including the exceptional triptych Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards (1984). His presence here in cricket pads—a motif that recurs throughout Bacon’s late works—seems to quell some of the darkness latent in the haunting echoes of Dyer, as if finally making some headway towards exorcising the pain of loss. Monarch-like, writes Robert Rosenblum writes, he takes centre stage, ‘directing the traffic of human passions’. In this role, he suggests, ‘he is given perhaps even greater authority than the major historical figures who frame him, providing for Bacon a personal link in a seesawing balance between public and private history’ (R. Rosenblum, ibid).

If Edwards rooted Bacon in the here and now, the Moscow exhibition would make the contemporary relevance of his art even more apparent. It was Edwards, in fact, who took Bacon’s place on the trip, after ill health forced him to stay at home. The artist had been excited by the prospect of visiting Soviet Russia, particularly having taken the opportunity to visit East Berlin during his stay in the city two years prior. Organised by the young curator James Birch, the exhibition encompassed major works from all periods of Bacon’s career, including Head VI (1949; Arts Council Collection, London), Landscape Near Malabata, Tangier (1963), Lying Figure (1969; Fondation Beyeler) and Triptych 1974-1977. Unlike anything seen before in the Soviet Union, the exhibition became a historical and cultural landmark: many artists, including Ilya Kabakov, left inspired, while comments left in the visitor’s book attest to the show’s impact upon a nation slowly emerging from years of oppression. Not since the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958 had Bacon’s art seemed so in tune with its time—the ideological warfare alluded to by the work’s outer two images was, at last, beginning to subside.

Triptych 1986-7 also attests to some of the more radical developments in Bacon’s visual language during this period. Far from slowing down as he approached his eightieth birthday, the artist became bolder than ever before, experimenting with new media and dramatically streamlining his vision. Bacon’s recurrent use of dry transfer lettering, or ‘Letraset’, offered more than a nod to his hero Pablo Picasso, while his use of materials such as pastel and spray paint infused his surfaces with a sense of ethereal magic. His figures, who once inhabited lush carpeted rooms, were now encased in stark geometric chambers, their carnal forms all the more highly-charged against dark, minimal backdrops. In the present work, Bacon offsets the staggering verticality of the black voids with the thin horizontal line of the pavement, creating a towering structural framework that emphasises the isolation of each protagonist. ‘Great art is always a way of concentrating … what we know of our existence’, he said, ‘... tearing away the veils that fact acquires through time’ (F. Bacon, interview with H. Davies, 26 June 1973, in H. Davies and S. Yard, Francis Bacon, New York 1986, p. 110). A stark, singular truth resounds in the triptych’s empty halls: that time marches onwards, bearing us with it into the abyss.



Significantly, for Bacon, the triptych was an inherently temporal genre. For an artist who had long admired cinema and motion photography, the concept of serialised images was deeply linked to the idea of changing time frames. ‘[Triptychs are] the thing I like doing most,’ he said, ‘and I think this may be related to the thought I’ve sometimes had of making a film’ (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, ibid., p. 100). From Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin to Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, Bacon was fascinated by the aesthetics of moving pictures: particularly given their role in the cultural landscape of the twentieth century. It was only during his lifetime that history had truly begun to capture itself on film and camera, and—as Bacon’s source imagery attests—to make itself readily available for public consumption. The images selected by the artist are undeniably cinematic in scope; the dark screens that loom behind the figures, too, seem to flicker like the black-out between scenes. The three panels, seemingly unconnected, appear like fragments plucked from a reel of footage. Time is written into the work’s very structure: like Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the protagonists are simultaneous, yet worlds apart.

In a review of Bacon’s 1987 exhibition at Galerie Lelong in Paris—where the present work made its European debut—the critic Michel Nurisdany wrote of the ‘universal truth’ inherent in the artist’s various depictions of human solitude. ‘Rarely has a contemporary artist been so rigorous, so unwavering in his attachment to the space in which he paints’, he declared: ‘the universal uprooting of modern times … His characters—scraped together, distorted in motion—rise up in empty, confined, almost abstract spaces punctuated only by a wall, a curve, or a straight line on the floor’ (M. Nurisdany, ‘Francis Bacon: face-à-face avec la solitude’, Le Figaro, 29 September 1987). Perhaps Shakespeare’s assertion that ‘All the world’s a stage’ rang in Bacon’s ears as he ran a single slab of concrete beneath Wilson’s feet and Trotsky’s lectern, and raised his central protagonist onto a dais. Upon these platforms, three facets of a lifetime play out: we make decisions; we form relationships; we are gone. Whether signing a treaty, leading a revolution or simply playing a game of cricket, Bacon understood that we each travel life’s pathways in our own, singular temporalities. In Triptych 1986-7, the point echoes three times over: whatever the role we come to play, we are all bound by the same lonely fate.

Ultimately, then, the specifics of Bacon’s historical references fade away. In his triple portrait of the human condition lies a portrait of his own life: of an existence that, like any other, rode the twists and turns of its own destiny. Where some wrote their stories through pen or politics, his was etched into the very fibres of his canvases, each brimming with images, events, people and emotions that filtered through his nervous system onto the blank space before him. A liquid shadow pools beneath the central figure; the lamp—like the naked bulbs Bacon suspended in so many of his portraits—illuminates the transition of flesh. At any moment, the image seems to suggest, its light might be forever extinguished. Even as it slipped from his grasp, Bacon took time firmly by the hand, distilling past, present, public and private into an image of profound and intoxicating power.










Glass reviews Francis Bacon Man and Beast at The Royal Academy







THE majority of retrospective exhibitions from blockbuster artists can often feel like entering a time capsule with rose tinted glasses on, wondering how groundbreaking it was for its time.

However Francis Bacon’s Man and Beast at The Royal Academy still packs an almighty punch. Having endured both of the world wars, the backdrop of Bacon’s life was extremely violent and yet post pandemic, amidst a climate and refugee crisis, we can still seek an unnerving alliance in Bacon’s work today.

So the title suggests, Bacon metaphorically and literally draws out the beast in man. At times they are indistinguishable, setting an internal fire alight inside one another. Bacon believed “we are meat, we are all potential carcasses.”

Growing up on a stud farm in rural County Kildare, Ireland, stirred an awareness in Bacon on the carnal nature of animals. He explored this theme further once his father died in 1940 when his mother and sisters moved to South Africa. It was on game reserves here that he became “mesmerised” by the hunt and impassioned fight between animals.

Eadweard Muybridge’s discovery of time-lapse photography had a profound effect on Bacon, so much so that he kept a copy of Muybridge’s Human and Animal Locomotion 1887 in his studio. Later he noted “[I] look at animal photographs all the time. Because animal movement and human movement are continually linked in my imagery of human movement.”

We see this most clearly in Two Figures 1953 and in 1954, where two tousling men are reduced to a blur of figures, fighting to be on top, both conceptually and sexually. So erotic are these paintings that two women after seeing the 1954 Two Figures at the ICA in 1955, lodged a formal complaint with the police.

However, thanks to Muybridge’s studies of men wrestling, Bacon was let off. Bacon’s sexuality was punished from day one. He was banished from his family home aged 16 after he was found trying on his mothers underwear.

He practised punishment further in his sadomasochistic relationship with Peter Lacy whose various incarnations we witness throughout the exhibition, whether that be as a slumped, vulnerable nude, lying on a black sofa, or sat staring at us from the corner of a lurid green room.

Bacon’s work is at once unpleasantly unrecognisable and disturbingly apparent, pushing and pulling the viewer between repulsion and fascination. Each figure is presented to us a like animals in a cage, surrounded by a glass box, or pushed back into the corner of the room.

We are pressing ourselves onto his subjects, whether that be man or monkey, and yet they loom large over us on the enormous canvases, suffocating us with their alarming palette and feverish energy.

You feel uncomfortable for standing and staring so long, and yet you can’t leave, encouraging us “to unlock the valves of feeling and therefore return the onlooker to life more violently.”

This feels most potent in his studies of Bullfighting during the late 1960’s, a sport Bacon described as “like boxing — a marvellous aperitif to sex”.

The crowds excitement is palpable, delighting in the matador’s performance, mirroring our own experience viewing Bacon’s artistry.

The white splatter of paint symbolises the matador’s spinning cape but also ejaculation. For Bacon, paint was so much more than an artists tool, he believed that there “is an area of the nervous system to which the texture of paint communicates more violently than anything else.” Lucien Freud described Bacon’s technique as “calculated recklessness”.

Indeed his work is extremely calculated and can seem like an art historians handbook, referencing the crucifixion, Ancient Greek plays namely The Oresteia by Aeschylus, depicting a Study from Portrait of Pope Innocent X in 1965 and of course his biomorphs, reminiscent of Picasso’s “organic form that relates to the human image but is a complete distortion of it.”

While his references might seem aloof to the everyday man (he even rented John Everett Millais’s studio in South Kensington in the early 1940s), Bacon’s themes are brought crashing down to earth when littered with mundanities, such as an umbrella, cars, hats and flowers.

In conversation with Time magazine in 1948, he explained how he wished “to paint like Velazquez but with the texture of hippopotamus skin.” Bacon’s visceral art is supposed to jar us, stirring deep primal and sometimes terrifying truths within you.

You can’t help but think Bacon might have been cancelled in todays age, but as always he has the final laugh. Who would have thought a man who so revelled in revulsion would be hanging in the revered walls of the Royal Academy?

Francis Bacon’s Man and Beast is on at the Royal Academy, London until April 17th




                                               Francis Bacon, Figure Study II, 1945-46







Head VI, 1949 by Francis Bacon







The paintings of Francis Bacon (1909-1992) occupied an odd place between figurative art and Surrealism. Disconnected figures, altered forms and dismembered parts were presented, but with a deeply human, visceral, tactile quality. A new show at the Royal Academy of Arts – Francis Bacon: Man and Beast – explores this physical aspect of his work more deeply, through the lens of his fascination with animals. The prolonged studies that Bacon undertook of these forms – through trips to South Africa, an extensive collection of wildlife books, and the 19th century photographs by Eadweard Muybridge of physical motion – informed his studies of people, and presented the idea that when pushed to the extremes of existence, living figures are barely distinguishable from one another. As the exhibition catalogue says: ‘Whether chimpanzees, bulls, dogs, or birds of prey, Bacon felt he could get closer to understanding the true nature of humankind by watching the uninhibited behaviour of animals.’

 The show spans Bacon’s entire career, including his final ever painting, rarely-loaned works from private collections, a trio of bullfight paintings which will be exhibited together for the first time, and one of the artist’s landmark paintings, Head VI. The source material for this painting was a portrait of Pope Innocent IX from 1650 by the Spanish painter Diego Velazquez (1599-1660). Bacon never saw this painting in person, working instead from photographic references and placing the pope inside the geometric framework of a translucent box. That framing gives the character an oppressive air of silence, trapping him as if behind glass or underwater. Another line hangs through the centre of the painting – perhaps a curtain tassel or a lightswitch cord – further reinforcing the geometric lines of the image (the hanging cord was a motif that would reoccur in, and become a signature of, Bacon’s work).

The fabric of the subject’s robes sits in crumpled folds, the deep purple of the material contrasting with the brown, corporeal smears of the walls around him. Closer inspection of this aspect of the painting fully reveals Bacon’s technical mastery – surprisingly few of his forceful strokes are used to bring the Pope’s outfit to life, with negative space used as much as colour to convey the feeling and texture of the velvet.

The focal point of Head VI is, unavoidably, the screaming mouth set at its centre. The inspiration for this part of the image is found a quarter of a century earlier in Sergei Eisenstein’s silent movie masterpiece, Battleship Potemkin (1925). The film tells the true story of a Russian warship crew’s mutiny on the Black Sea in 1905 and made a huge impression on Bacon. ‘Of course, during the silent era, the image had tremendous force,’ he is quoted as saying in the book In Camera Francis Bacon: Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting. ‘The images of silent film were sometimes very powerful, very beautiful.’ In particular, he returned repeatedly to one of Battleship Potemkin’s most powerful shots: after Imperial soldiers and Cossacks have brutally massacred the population of Odessa and the camera lingers on the face of a wounded woman wearing glasses and screaming in fear and agony. Bacon spoke of how this image had ‘deeply impressed’ him, and her screaming mouth is clearly identifiable in the centre of Head VII, together with her spectacles.

The same figure would reoccur in later works by Bacon: Pope III (1951), Study for the Head of a Screaming Pope (1952), and a full length nude, Study for the Nurse in the Film Battleship Potemkin (1957). In each of these, as in Head VI, the screaming mouth becomes a void or a sinkhole, pulling the rest of the painting down into it, rather than expelling the image outwards. And in each, the thinly sketched frame sits around them, trapping the subject alone with their agonies in an airless chamber.

This was the last of a series of six paintings which made up Francis Bacon’s ‘1949 Head’ series. They were exhibited together in Bacon’s show at the Hanover Gallery organised by the gallerist and art dealer Erica Brausen, marking a hugely productive period for the artist. ‘The shock of the picture, when it was seen with a whole series of heads ... was indescribable,’ wrote the artist Lawrence Gowing 40 years later. ‘It was everything unpardonable. The paradoxical appearance at once of pastiche and iconoclasm was indeed one of Bacon’s most original strokes.’

Having produced nothing that survived between 1947-1948, and having just turned 40, Bacon knew this show was a huge – perhaps final – chance to establish himself. The brutal, unnerving impact of all the series, but especially Head VI ensured that was the case. Writing at the time, The Observer’s critic judged that ‘The recent paintings ... horrifying as they are, cannot be ignored. Technically they are superb, and the masterly handling…only makes me regret the more that the artist’s gift should have been brought to subjects so esoteric.’ Even now, the impact of Head VI remains undiminished.

Francis Bacon: Man and Beast is at the Royal Academy of Arts from 29th January until 17th April 2022






                  ‘Francis Bacon: Man and Beast’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (29 January – 17 April 2022) showing Francis Bacon, Head VI, 1949.






Exclusive: Artnet News Has Identified the Seller of a Francis Bacon

Triptych at Christie’s That Could Fetch $74 Million




The work goes up for sale on March 1 in London.






The anonymous seller of a prized trophy painting by Francis Bacon going to auction next month at Christie’s in London has been identified.

Bacon’s Triptych 1986-7, which is scheduled to be sold with an estimate of £35 million to £55 million ($47.3 million to $74.3 million) on March 1 in the first of a series of high-stakes 20th- and 21st-century art auctions, is being sold by star architect Norman Foster, according to people familiar with the work.

Since the pandemic began, the triptych has been offered privately, according to people familiar with those discussions, with an asking price ranging from $70 million to $100 million.

It is now appearing at auction for the first time, according to Christie’s, which noted that the current owner acquired it from Marlborough Gallery in 2007.

Representatives for Foster didn’t respond to emails and calls seeking comment. Christie’s declined to comment.

The painting, which carries a third-party guarantee, making it as good as sold, depicts a male figure in a gray overcoat and top hat on its left-most panel. The image is based on an 1919 photo of the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson at the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I.

The right-hand panel alludes to the assassination of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, and the central panel depicts a contorted figured based on John Edwards, Bacon’s partner at the time.

The work was completed five years before the artist’s death in 1992 and was first exhibited at Marlborough Gallery in New York in 1988. Bacon often painted in triptychs, creating 28 works in the format from 1944 to 1991. One of them, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, fetched $142.3 million at Christie’s in New York in 2013, and remains the artist’s auction record.

Foster is a winner of the prestigious Pritzker Prize in architecture. He and his wife, Elena Ochoa Foster, have a foundation in Madrid, and she is also a founder of Ivorypress, a publishing house specializing in artists’ books. Since 1996, it has grown to encompass an exhibition space, an art consultancy, and curatorial services, according to its website.

It’s unclear why Foster is selling the Bacon now, but the work did make an appearance in the Centre Georges Pompidou’s acclaimed exhibition ‘Bacon en Toutes Lettres,’ which was open from 2019 to 2020.

The last triptych by Bacon to come up for auction was at Sotheby’s in 2020. Titled Triptych Inspired By the Oresteia Of Aeschylus, it fetched $84.6 million and was purchased by billionaire Sotheby’s owner Patrick Drahi.






Is Francis Bacon really the greatest painter of the 20th century?




Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world, taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories






Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

It was not an enormous surprise that an exhibition of works by Francis Bacon at the Royal Academy that is supported by Christie’s should swiftly be followed by an announcement of the auction house offering a large work for sale. Triptych 1986-7, whose central panel depicts the artist’s partner John Edwards, with Woodrow Wilson on one side and the assassinated Trotsky’s study on the other, is being offered in the sale that takes place on 1 March with an estimate of £35m–£55m.

Nor is it a surprise that an auction house should drum up interest in one of their lots using superlatives. But Rakewell was a little taken aback by the claim on Instagram from a Christie’s specialist that ‘Francis Bacon is unmistakably one of the greatest painters of the 20th century.’

John Berger opened a review of a Bacon exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in 1952 with the line, ‘It has always been Francis Bacon’s very considerable reputation – not his work – which has puzzled me.’ In another review he writes, ‘Bacon’s art is, in effect, conformist. It is not with Goya or Eisenstein that he should be compared, but with Walt Disney.’

It is curious that an artist who has left so little for subsequent generations to inherit so excites contemporary viewers. His work, as the show at the Royal Academy reveals, is amazingly consistent in tone. The darkness of the human spirit is energetically displayed in every work and the dedication to depicting it suggests seriousness.

There is no denying his commitment: mutilated figures and claustrophobic frames fill each canvas. His technique is difficult to parse as the violence he tries to depict seems also to have been carried out, hidden in his studio. Tales of Bacon running at his canvas to get an effect with his shoulder proliferate. But is this insistence on a surface of violence really an expression of profundity?

By the end of his time thinking about Bacon, Berger had come round to a different view. Visiting ‘Sacred and Profane’, the exhibition of Bacon’s work held at the Musée Maillol in Paris in 2002, Berger wrote, ‘Last week, as I walked backwards and forwards before the paintings in the rue de Grenelle, I perceived something I’d not understood before.’ The thing he understood was the pitilessness of Bacon’s vision, ‘Nobody painted by him notices what is happening to somebody else painted by him. Such ubiquitous indifference is crueller than any mutilation.’ There is no denying the power of this vision, but is it, ultimately, what greatness is made of? It might be a mistake to dismiss Bacon; equally to not question his work seems just as much of a mistake. In the words of another evasive modernist, is this the best we can do?








It’s a Russian slice of Bacon







Bacon in Moscow may sound like Liz Truss seeking to open a pork market in Red Square but it is the title of a memoir by the gallery owner James Birch about putting on an exhibition of Francis Bacon’s work in Soviet Russia. Speaking about it to Ed Vaizey’s Break Out Culture podcast, Birch says he was always impressed by the artist’s resourcefulness.

He once saw a violent portrait of his that showed “a sort of animal with sharp teeth and an ear and a cage going round it” and asked what it was. “It was meant to be Lord Sainsbury,” a guide said, “but it didn’t work out so he turned it into an ape.”

They probably meant Sir Robert Sainsbury, Bacon’s patron. His son, who is a lord, recalled his elegant mother saying that the biggest problem she had with Bacon was that his studio was such a dump she couldn’t visit without getting paint all over her fine clothes.

Birch and Bacon used to go on long boozing sessions where the artist especially enjoyed meeting people who hadn’t heard of him. One asked what he did for a living. “I’m a painter,” said Bacon. “Oh!” the man replied, delighted he had found someone who could help him. “My house needs painting.”









Francis Bacon’s animal instincts




The painter saw eerie similarities between man and beast, as a new exhibition demonstrates






A photograph, printed in Vogue in 1952, captures Francis Bacon in his element: bare-chested, staring intently and clutching the fleshy remains of something slaughtered. To paint the human figure, the British artist, who died in 1992, sought inspiration from the animal carcasses he saw hanging in butcher-shop windows. He seemed to delight in reducing his subjects to blood and bone.

 Throughout his 50-year career Bacon was preoccupied by mankind’s animal nature, as a new exhibition at the Royal Academy in London makes clear. Curated by Michael Peppiatt, one of Bacon’s close friends and biographers, “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast” is the first time Bacon’s interest in animals has been properly explored.

Born in 1909, Bacon was brought up on an estate in County Kildare, Ireland. While his elder brother took up horse-riding and hunting, Bacon preferred to remain indoors on account of his asthma. His unsympathetic father, an ex-soldier turned racehorse-trainer, persevered in dragging his son outside and thrashed him when he began to have a coughing fit. No doubt traumatised by his childhood, the adult Bacon was contemptuous of the countryside and its wildlife, “all those things singing outside the window”. The exhibition reveals that he was more interested in the animal within.

A key influence was his relationship with Peter Lacy, a former fighter pilot whom he met in 1952. The men shared a taste for alcohol and sadomasochistic sex—on one occasion, Bacon nearly lost an eye when Lacy drunkenly pushed him through a plate-glass window. The artist delighted in encouraging Lacy’s animal urges for lust and violence, then painting the aftermath: a portrait of 1957 depicts Lacy with a dark pelt and simian face, sprawled in a corner of a cage. Inspired by the big game he had once seen on safari in South Africa, Bacon depicted the couple as animals unleashed. In “Figures in a Landscape”, from 1956-7, they are naked and grappling in scorched savanna grass.

In his South Kensington studio, Bacon hoarded thousands of x-rays, newspaper cuttings and photographs of elephants, dogs, bulls and monkeys. By pairing these images with the paintings they inspired, this new exhibition shows the striking resemblances Bacon found between man and other species: the wings of an owl and the hunched shoulders of his lover, or the leathery hide of a rhino and the skin-folds of his own face.

Art history supplied Bacon with his most famous subjects. “Portrait of Pope Innocent X”, by the Spanish artist Diego Velázquez, was an inexhaustible source of inspiration. Between the 1940s and the 1960s Bacon produced around 50 variations of the work (see above), although his sharp-fanged figures better resemble howling chimpanzees than the 17th-century pontiff. Cimabue’s “Crucifix”, from the 13th century, was another obsession: Christ’s green and contorted body put Bacon in mind of a “worm crawling down the cross”. It inspired what is surely one of the most harrowing crucifixions ever painted: in “Fragment of a Crucifixion” (1950), Bacon’s Christ is an ugly, bone-white apparition, swooping down the canvas towards the viewer.

Bacon’s paintings are not easily understood, but they never fail to unsettle. Stripped of clothes and respectability, the gaping mouths and butchered limbs of his figures shock the viewer into an awareness of their own fleshiness. In interviews he rejected the idea that his work could be interpreted rationally. It was made, he said, to assault the viewer’s “nervous system”. (He kept an illustration of that tacked to his studio wall.)

With its biographical focus, the exhibition connects the animal anguish of Bacon’s paintings with the many tragedies that afflicted his life, beginning with his brutal childhood. A consequence of belonging to the relentlessly boozy circle at the Colony Room club in London was that Bacon suffered the loss of many friends, including Lacy in 1962. Perhaps none had as devastating an impact as the death of George Dyer, a handsome burglar from the East End whom Bacon had met in 1963. Their relationship was fraught with jealousy, violence and alcoholism, eventually culminating in Dyer’s suicide, alone in a hotel room in Paris in 1971. It plunged Bacon into a state of terror as unrelenting as any he painted.

Bacon never flinched from the truth, but did he find catharsis painting it? To judge by his “Black Triptychs”, completed in the wake of Dyer’s death, the answer is unclear. In “Triptych August 1972”, Dyer is pictured as another trapped animal, sitting in front of a dark void. But in this heartbroken painting—which closes the Royal Academy’s show—Bacon seems to accept the fact that “we are all potential carcasses”. Dyer is not howling or writhing. With his head high and eyes closed, he appears resigned, even serene.

“Francis Bacon: Man and Beast” continues at the Royal Academy, London, until April 17th









Bacon triptych estimated to fetch a sizzling £55mn








Francis Bacon’s late “Triptych 1986-7” is up for auction for the first time, estimated at between £35mn and £55mn. Its March 1 sale at Christie’s London coincides with the artist’s well-received show at the nearby Royal Academy of Arts (until April 17).

The central panel of the Christie’s work shows John Edwards, Bacon’s partner from the 1970s until the artist died in 1992. He is flanked by an image of American president Woodrow Wilson leaving the Treaty of Versailles negotiations in 1919 and, on the right, by the bloodied study of Leon Trotsky, based on a photograph taken after the assassination of the revolutionary in 1940.

The weighty imagery reflects Bacon’s mindset at the time, says Katharine Arnold, head of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s Europe. “He lived through most of the 20th century and is looking back at the critical decisions that changed the course of history as well as those that changed his life.”

Bacon painted 28 large-scale triptychs and these ambitious works are his most sought-after on the market. His auction record was set in 2013 when a 1969 triptych of fellow artist Lucian Freud sold for $142.4mn, the priciest public sale at the time. The latest Christie’s painting, guaranteed by a third party to sell, was in the 2019-20 exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. It is being sold by a European private collection.




                                                                                                      Francis BaconsTriptych 1986-87, with an estimated price of £35mn-£55mn





The Beastliness of Bacon




Bacon was obsessed by animals lifelong. Rawness. Beastliness. Fearsomeness.

The way they lived. The way they died. The way they preyed upon each other.






LONDON — Full in your face, you might say. Before you enter the exhibition proper, you see a photograph of Francis Bacon as a relatively young man, confronting you through the glass in the double doors. It’s blocking your way — and throwing down a challenge. It was taken in 1957 by an old friend of his called John Deakin, and it shows him against a door that is slightly on the tilt. 

He’s staring back at you, with a brutish and almost sneerily cold lack of concern. The collar of his mac is turned up. A smattered smear of red just off to the left suggests blood — or danger. He looks pinned there, ready for anything, any amount of fight-back, by fist or boot or brush — should it ever come to it. A bit of a bruiser, a likely lad, a roughneck, a street brawler, a jack-the-lad. And so he was, this self-taught painter from Dublin.

Bacon always lived close to the edge, and close to the sheer thrill, the energizing power, of violence. His sadomasochistic excesses are well documented. He knew how to take a good beating. His father had shown him the way by beating him as a child. But there was much more to Bacon than that. He also knew how to put all these impulses of excess to good use as an artist. There was violence for sure and, as with Jean Genet, another street fighter, there was also an extraordinary ability to make art out of it.

When I saw him on the streets of Soho a couple of years before his death in 1992, he was clinging to the image of the man by which he had always been known. His cheeks, slightly puffed out, were hectic with rouge; that dyed black quiff of hair was still well sculpted. A black leather jacket gave definition to his shoulders. He was leaning on a fashionable cane. Had he just emerged from a drinking dive or a night club? He could have. After all, it was way past dawn. In fact, it was 11 in the morning.

There was always something very animal about Bacon himself and the work that he made, and for the first time an entire exhibition is devoted to the theme of Bacon, animals, and the animality of his art, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast. As we pass beyond that photograph, we hit a warning: Adult Content. If you happen to be an adult yourself today, that nifty little turn of phrase, especially when capitalized (my choice), always manages to be more than a tad appetite-whetting. The Royal Academy, often the modicum of restraint and decorum, has decided to let its hair down. The show is well staged, almost smoothly cinematic in its unfolding. The first galleries are very low lit (this is a subterranean world after all), but the paintings themselves are spotlit. It’s quite a decorative spectacle.

Bacon was obsessed by animals lifelong. He traveled to Africa to see them in the wild. He kept hundreds of cuttings of them in action. Rawness. Beastliness. Fearsomeness. The way they lived. The way they died. The way they preyed upon each other. Their erotic unconcern — none of them was much preoccupied by sin. All these matters were abiding preoccupations that fed into his art.

Picasso showed him the way with his Boisgeloup sculptures of the early 1930s. Bacon almost reprised some of those tortured, swelling, elongated forms, part man, part beast, in some of his earliest paintings. (Several years ago, the Bacon Estate refused to allow these early, derivative works to be shown beside Picasso’s. Now they are happy to acknowledge Bacon’s debt.)

You see, Bacon was more than a bit of a renegade, a man outside the law, a potential criminal, for much of his creative life. It was not until 1967 that Welsh Home Secretary called Roy Jenkins (in the Labour Government of Harold Wilson) steered legislation through parliament that made consensual sex between men legal in the United Kingdom. Which means that Bacon, stealing some words from Bob Dylan’s great “Key West,” often had to operate “under the radar/under the gun ….” He had to cover his tracks, and this may explain, in part at least, why his gyrating, turning, twisting, copulating figures are so often blurred, their gender indefinite. Bacon was wholly besotted by indefinition. The floor of his studio was a dramatic mashing of images of all sorts from all kinds of sources. Everything piled in, from images of Hitler to the figures in movement — horses and men — captured by the revolutionary photographer Eadweard Muybridge. And today this outsider, this boozer of the night, is welcomed with open arms by the establishment, and these huge works hang here, many in the kind of over-the-top gilded frames that their plutocrat owners would expect.

One of the most interesting things to be said about the Bacon on view in this show is to do with the little explored issue of art and teeth. Human teeth hadn’t played much of a role in art until Bacon. Skulls — emblems of this passing masquerade that goes by the name of life — often show them off, but we seldom see teeth lodged within the warmer skulls of the living. Why? Perhaps they rotted too soon to be shown off as objects of desire, before cosmetic dentistry was able to weave its magic. Do we remember Rembrandt, Raphael, or Ingres for their angles on human teeth? Exactly. With Bacon it is quite otherwise. Teeth abound. Sometimes they are almost side-on inside the mouth — such a flourish of grotesquerie. Most often we see them because Bacon’s human heads, such as his miserably pent popes, often howl inside their cages — and when a human howls, teeth generally go on full display. On the other hand, there are paintings by many artists of animals with teeth on the snarl and the snatch and the chomp. Bacon does it to establish that link with animality. We proceed through life with slavering fangs to the fore, posing on all fours.

This show sprawls needlessly. It gives you ten paintings when two might have sufficed to illustrate various aspects of the chosen theme. Fortunately these galleries are huge, and the paintings are never dwarfed by their surroundings. What is more, the staging is so good — the walls of individual galleries change color to match the paintings. The beastly Bacon roars on from first to last.

Francis Bacon: Man and Beast continues at the Royal Academy (Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, England) through April 17.

The exhibition was organized by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and curated by Michael Peppiatt with Sarah Lea and Anna Testar. Francis Outred served as Special Adviser to the exhibition.





                   Francis Bacon, “Portrait of George Dyer Crouching” (1966), oil on canvas, 198 x 147 cm. Private collection © The Estate of Francis Bacon.






Monumental Francis Bacon Triptych Could Fetch $75 M. at Christie’s







A six-and-a-half-foot-long triptych painting by Francis Bacon could fetch between £35 million and £55 million ($47.4 million and $74.5 million) at Christie’s next monthTriptych 1986-87 (1986-87) will make its auction debut after three decades in private hands. The painting will hit the auction block during Christie’s 20th-century and contemporary art evening sale in London on March 1.

Two of the painting’s three sections each feature a single figure. In the first, there is a man donning a grey suit and top hat—a figure drawing on a press image of Woodrow Wilson after signing the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The second figure is meant to represent Bacon’s then-partner, John Edwards, whose nude body appears abstracted. The third canvas depicts a sheet of paper that appears to be stained with blood in reference to the 1940 assassination of political dissident Leon Trotsky.

“The rare, large-scale triptych format offered Bacon the opportunity to trace his life back through the historic events of the 20th century,” Katharine Arnold, head of Christie’s postwar and contemporary art department in Europe, said in a statement.

Bacon produced the work while living in England, and it is one of 28 large-scale triptychs that Bacon created throughout his career. Its anonymous seller purchased the work in 2007 from the Marlborough Gallery in New York. First shown at Marlborough Gallery in 1988, the work was last exhibited at a Centre Pompidou show devoted to Bacon in 2020.

Other triptychs by Bacon have brought some of the highest prices for the artist at auction. In June 2020, as the pandemic lockdown lifted in some parts of the world, a large-scale Bacon triptych from the collection of collector Hans Rasmus Astrup sold at Sotheby’s for $84.6 million, becoming the most expensive artwork sold at auction that year.




                                                                                                                                                         Francis Bacon, Triptych 1986-87






Christie’s to Offer Francis Bacon Triptych for up to £55 Million







A late-period triptych by British artist Francis Bacon will be sold at auction for the first time at Christie’s 20th/21st century evening sale in London next month.

Triptych 1986-87 is expected to realize between £35 million and £55 million (US$47.4 million and US$74.5 million) at the March 1 auction. The work—one of 28 triptychs Bacon created across three huge canvases in his lifetime—has been in the same private collection since 2007, when it was purchased from the Marlborough Gallery in New York. 

These grand paintings, all 78 by 58 inches in size, are the medium where Bacon most successfully [can] push forward certain ideas,” says Katharine Arnold, head of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s Europe, although the artist himself “never provided a narrative” to his work. Nearly half of Bacon’s triptychs are in museum collections, according to Christie’s.

“This painting is looking back on turning point moments in history,” Arnold says. “Equally they are also moments that defined his life. He lived through both World Wars, and saw the brutality of those wars. And that history is all bound up with his own sense of self.”

Bacon’s life spanned much of the 20th century, from 1909 to 1992.

The canvas on the left of Triptych 1986-87 depicts a life-size Woodrow Wilson leaving the Treaty of Versailles negotiations marking the end of World War I in 1919. The image on the middle canvas is of John Edwards, Bacon’s partner at the time. The painting was composed in a similar fashion to Bacon’s former lover George Dyer as painted in Triptych August 1972, which is at the Tate museum in London, Arnold says. Dyer committed suicide in 1971.

Bacon was “looking back in time at a moment defining for him on a personal and creative level,” Arnold says.

The third canvas, on the right, was inspired by a photograph of Leon Trotsky’s study taken after the Ukrainian-Russian revolutionary was assassinated in Mexico City in 1940. The image includes a large blank paper spattered with blood. 

To Arnold, the Trotsky panel offers a metaphor of creativity, “and the fact that absence is as profound as presence.” And, she says, the three images together “leave a powerful impression.”

Triptych 1986-87 was exhibited widely, including at Gallery Tretyakov in Moscow in 1988, a year before the fall of the Soviet Union, as part of a show of 22 works by Bacon, making him the “first great Western artist allowed to come and exhibit in Soviet Russia,” Arnold says. It was a moment when the Soviet Union was opening up culturally and ideologically, she says.

Six Bacon triptychs have previously come to the auction block, including most recently Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus, 1981, which achieved $84.6 million, with fees, during a virtual live auction at Sotheby’s in June 2020. In November 2013, Christie’s made auction history with the sale of Bacon’s triptych titled Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969. The painting carrying an estimate of US$85 million sold for US$142.4 million, with fees, the highest price for a work sold at auction at the time.

Triptych 1986-87 will be shown at Christie’s New York galleries at Rockefeller Center from Feb. 10-15.





                                                                                                                                                                   Francis BaconTriptych 1986-87






James Birch on the New Francis Bacon Exhibition








Francis Bacon: Man and Beast opened recently at the Royal Academy, illustrating Bacon’s belief that humanity was simply another branch of the animal kingdom. To coincide with the exhibition, there’s a new book called Bacon in Moscow by the art dealer and gallery owner, James Birch, which tells the story of James as a young art dealer putting on an exhibition of Francis Bacon’s paintings in Moscow in the late ’80s. Grayson Perry, to whom James gave his first show in 1984, has described the book as, ‘a rocking cultural adventure.’ It’s certainly a rollocking read, and we’re delighted that James Birch is here to tell us all about it.


This interview was taken from our Break Out Culture podcast with Ed Vaizey and Charlotte Metcalf.

In the book, there’s a photograph of you in the bath, aged seven, taken by Francis Bacon. That would now be illegal. You knew Francis Bacon from a very young age.

My parents had a summer cottage in a place called Fingringhoe, which is across the water from Wivenhoe, which is where these two artists, Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller lived. And Francis Bacon was a friend of theirs, and they would come over to my parents’ cottage. And I think there was a camera lying around, and I was in the bath, and Francis took his photograph. And people said later on to my mother, ‘isn’t that a bit strange?’ She said, ‘no, no, I completely trust him.’

First question about Francis Bacon is everyone talks about his studio, which was famously filthy and shambolic. Was it as filthy and shambolic as people say?

His house, which was in Reece Mews in South Ken, was an old mews cottage. You go in the front door, up these very steep stairs with an arm railing on one side and rope on the other. And I can imagine Francis staggering up the stairs, holding onto this rope. Then there’s his kitchen, which was quite small – more like a galley. And then what looked like a table was actually a bathtub, and he had wood over the top.

Can you tell us a bit more about what his studio was like?

It was more like looking at a skip than a studio, there was just rags and bits of paper and everything all over the place.

And the second thing about Bacon, of course, is as a notoriously heavy drinker around Soho.

The extraordinary thing was I had a gallery, which was underneath, about two doors down from the Colony Room, the notorious drinking club. Francis would sometimes just pop into the gallery in the afternoon and say, ‘do you fancy a drink?’ And off we’d go upstairs to the Colony Room, whereupon there would be endless amounts of champagne, and then somebody would say, ‘I’m bored here. Let’s go somewhere else.’ So we went to the Groucho Club. And then you had The French House and that was, in those days, not so busy as it is now, and good fun.

Who were the regulars, when you went on this mini pub crawl?

Sometimes his companion from Suffolk, John Edwards, and sometimes Bruce Bernard, who was at that time editor of The Independent Magazine. People came and went.

So was Francis at the centre of all this?

He was part of the group, but everybody was in awe of him. Lot of people didn’t even recognise who he was, and he had a lovely anecdote that he must have been in a pub and somebody said, ‘what do you do?’. He said, ‘I’m a painter.’ He said, ‘oh, my house needs decorating.’

So you’re getting hammered in these pubs with Bacon, and in the middle of all this, you suddenly come up with this idea, ‘Francis, why don’t we go and do an exhibition in Moscow?’ How did that come about?

That’s not quite what happened. What happened was I’d been in Moscow and I wanted to take 10 young artists to Moscow, as in Grayson Perry and the Neo Naturists. And I realised within a day, this was going to be impossible. Who’s going to pay for it? And so when I went around to various artist’s studios, I would say, ‘what’s the one artist you really admire in the world?’. And they all said, ‘Francis Bacon’. And I said to Sergei Klokov, my fixer in Moscow, ‘what about Francis Bacon?’.

Then when Francis came to my gallery, we went off to have drinks in the Colony Room, and then supper down the road. I said, ‘how would you like to have an exhibition in Moscow?’ He said, ‘I’d be delighted’. And so the next day I rang him and I said, ‘Francis, I’m just checking, you said you wanted to have a show in Moscow’. He was rather annoyed by this and said, ‘yes, I do really want to have a show’.

We now obviously think of Bacon as part of the pantheon, but he was a controversial artist.

Oh, totally controversial. And it’s quite extraordinary that now, he’s become mainstream. And what is fascinating is that he never seems to go away. He’s never out of fashion, even to young people, they absolutely adore his work.

Why do you think that is? He is Marmite, isn’t he? You either absolutely love him or you hate him.

Yes, that is true. He’s definitely Marmite. I think it’s the imagery, which is so extraordinary and unique. There’s nothing else like his work around. And even when people try and copy it, you just know that’s a copy, because it’s trying to be Francis Bacon and so doesn’t work.

Did Bacon ever sit down and talk to you about what motivated him to paint? What drove him, what he wanted to depict?

No. He was quite good like that. He didn’t want to talk about his art. Occasionally we’d talk about other people’s art, but never his own. And he didn’t really like being questioned about what motivated him to paint.

If I had walked into the Colony Room or the Groucho with Bacon sitting there, and you’d been kind enough to introduce me and draw me into the inner circle, would I have found him welcoming and warm, or taciturn and suspicious?

No, you would find him welcoming and warm. He was always intrigued and interested in people.




             ‘He didn’t want to talk about his art – occasionally we’d talk about other people’s art, but never his own’






James Birch maintains a charitable view of the colourful Francis Bacon in

Bacon In Moscow: an amusing romp that could also act as a cautionary tale







A voracious reader, Francis Bacon would have appreciated the vast number of books that have been written about him since the artist’s death in 1992. Last year alone saw several new volumes, including an 880-page biography.

While the painter was as colourful a character as the art world has produced, one wonders what more can be said.

In Bacon In Moscow, gallerist James Birch takes an unusual tack, using the artist as the step from which to trip into a ribald tale of geopolitics and shady deals.

This account of staging a Bacon exhibition in the shadow of the Kremlin, just as the Cold War began to thaw in 1988, is an amusing romp that could act as a cautionary tale.

Birch was introduced to Bacon as a boy through his parents.

It proved a valuable contact when, years later, he opened an avant-garde gallery on the King’s Road, where his roster of artists included several nudists and a young transvestite potter named Grayson Perry.

A Bacon show in Moscow was Birch’s shot at the big time.

Taking Bacon’s visions of twisted torsos and howling faces (Study After Velázquez’s Portrait Of Pope Innocent X, 1953) to Moscow was always going to be an exercise in optimism.

Birch is rarely ruffled: ‘From my window seat I observed low grey clouds, military vehicles and a missile launcher armed with two green rockets angled at the sky,’ he recalls.

Birch’s counterpart in Russia is Sergei Klokov, a secret service fixer-cum- cultural attaché with a mid-Atlantic drawl that makes him ‘sound like a bad British DJ’. 

Moscow delivers exotic and dreary aspects to which Birch brings a Woosterish eye: ‘People hurrying by had ashen complexions and wore badly cut Terylene flared trousers and skirts.’

More attractive is Elena Khudiakova, a vampiric Russian fashion designer.

Bacon was more than just a talented artist, he was a raconteur and a bore, a drinker and a drunk, a generous friend and a shocking liability.

And while Birch hints at these conflicts, he maintains a charitable view of the man.

This book is at its best when illuminating the cultural divides – food, hotels, personal freedoms – and occasional similarities.

And the intersection of the dark poetic Russian psyche and the struggle to survive the Soviet system is perfectly embodied in Klokov, a mercurial figure who might have been conjured up by John le Carré.

Whether Moscow needed the show is debatable. ‘We want bacon, not Francis Bacon,’ notes one hungry visitor.

Bacon In Moscow James Birch with Michael Hodges  Profile Books £17.99 





Bacon’s eclectic references reminded me of Bob Dylan’s buccaneering plunder







One bank holiday in the 1980s, when halfway respectable people had homes to go to, Francis Bacon was in the Colony Room club in Soho. He was in his seventies, but looked younger, his expensive leather jacket, fastened at hip level, concealing his paunch.

He stood near the Georgian window, as light from the wasted day lit up the cigarette smoke, and played with a sunken-bottomed and horribly uncomfortable barstool of tubular construction, much like the ones he used to design for Heal’s in the 1930s, although he didn’t want anyone to remember that. As he stood talking, buying more champagne for anyone within range, he remarked to me: “You see, I can’t paint.” Perhaps I agreed with him too readily, for he fixed me with those eyes set deep in his pear-shaped head as though I was being drawn into an ambush.

I thought about this remark a year ago when a big exhibition, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, was to open at the Royal Academy. And I thought about it again last week when the exhibition, delayed by the pandemic, actually opened. Trivially, it is true that he couldn’t paint. A break­through in his career was a canvas called Painting (1946). In it, before an opened carcass of meat, a figure grimaces under an umbrella (behind some tubular furniture). The dead beast derives from Rembrandt’s Slaughtered Ox, but the central image began as an attempt to paint a bird landing in a field. Another remark by Bacon that was only trivially true was once made to the novelist David Plante, that human beings are “nothing but meat”. Of course a painter can only represent bodies (or photographs of bodies), but the reason that the paintings come to be hung up in the great rooms of the Academy is that the sitters and the artist are much more than meat.

A third element in Bacon that doesn’t ring true is his titling of paintings. No doubt he couldn’t call them all Painting, but one in the current show, from 1950, is called Fragment of a Crucifixion. Again, under the screaming mouth and spattered blood, it derives from a photograph, an owl in flight. It’s relation to the Crucifixion is only accidental. Bacon was hostile to religion and its iconography. From Poussin’s Massacre of the Innocents (1628) the one thing he brought away was the screaming mouth of the mother of one of the infants being murdered.

It’s not that he treated the Crucifixion in a sado-masochistic way. Though a masochist by preference, his treatment of sexual violence is so extreme or abstracted that it leaves the erotic behind. I’m not saying abstraction made it safer: his life was affected by what he saw as the deliberate aggression of his former sadistic lover Peter Lacy committing suicide to coincide with Bacon’s first retrospective at the Tate in 1962.

Bacon’s eclectic references reminded me of Bob Dylan’s buccaneering plunder of songs and poetry to remake into his own work. A large room at the Academy shows only three large canvasses of bullfight studies painted in 1969. This seems to me a weak passage in his career to emphasise. Two of the paintings include representations of a crowd under a version of the Parteiadler emblem of the Nazis. It doesn’t help that the curators have chosen to quote a joke of Bacon’s to accompany these pictures: “Bullfighting is like boxing – a marvellous aperitif to sex.” He might have said the same of a Nuremberg rally, but it would hardly tell the whole story.

The holy water is back in the stoups in my parish after the long Good Friday of pandemic drought. I wasn’t sure I was ready to splash about with the communal germs till they were behaving as uninterestingly as they used to. But after falling back for 22 months on the words carved above the stoup, Lavabis me et super nivem dealbabor, “Wash me and I shall be made whiter than snow”, I feel no threat from a drop on forehead, breast and shoulders. I just don’t inhale.

While trees were falling on people in the north of England, the sun came out in London and so did I, wandering near the Thames through the grounds of Chiswick House, that chilly Palladian extravagance. By a round pond with an obelisk stands a classical gravestone memorialising a favourite dog, Lilly – humani generis vitiorum expers – “free of the weaknesses of humankind”. So the dog is remembered, but funnily enough, no one seems to know quite whose dog she was.

While trees were falling on people in the north of England, the sun came out in London and so did I, wandering near the Thames through the grounds of Chiswick House, that chilly Palladian extravagance. By a round pond with an obelisk stands a classical gravestone memorialising a favourite dog, Lilly – humani generis vitiorum expers – “free of the weaknesses of humankind”. So the dog is remembered, but funnily enough, no one seems to know quite whose dog she was.

Christopher Howse is an assistant editor of The Daily Telegraph.





Francis Bacon at the Royal Academy: visceral visions of man and beast




A new retrospective shows how the ruthless painter captured our animal instincts.






Francis Bacon was born in the first decade of the 20th century and died in the last, and throughout his long life he refused to explain what his paintings were about. That his pictures express something meaningful, universal and profoundly disconcerting is irrefutable, but he shut down explanations with the curt if nonsensical assertion that his work “meant nothing” just as life itself was meaningless: “There’s nothing, see. Nothing. Nada. Just nada.”

Bacon may not have known exactly what was going on when he put brush to canvas, but he had lived through two world wars, was born just nine years after the death of his hero Nietzsche and belonged to the generation of Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. A combination of nihilism, personal agency and violence was intrinsic to both his art and his “gilded gutter life”, with its epic drinking, its rough-trade lovers and its sadomasochistic sex. “Life is nothing but a futile series of moments,” he once said, “so the more intense they are the better.” His paintings are expressions of that intensity.

Explaining his art was perhaps the only area in which Bacon was reticent. In or out of his cups he was a talker, and one of the things he told his friend and biographer Michael Peppiatt was his conviction that “we are all animals… It’s just that some people are more aware of the fact than others. I think I’ve been very aware of it ever since I was a child.” Bacon grew up with horses; his father was a racehorse trainer in Ireland and animals quickly became a part of Bacon’s tangled psychosexuality. He not only had sexual feelings for his father, but when Bacon père ordered his grooms to give his son an occasional thrashing to cure his effeminacy, the medicine wasn’t unwelcome. Years later he would state that “I don’t like the smell of horse dung, but I find it sexually alluring, like urine.”

Animals also represented danger; they exacerbated Bacon’s childhood asthma, for which he received morphine injections. Indeed, when Bacon was called up during the Second World War, he avoided conscription by hiring an Alsatian from Harrods’ pet department the night before he was due to appear in front of the military board, so that when he presented himself, wheezing and gasping, he was rejected for active service.

Animals fascinated him too because they didn’t have inhibitions. “If you watch them you can see exactly what they’re like,” he said, “whereas most people live a kind of veiled life and tend to disguise what they are, what they want, what they really feel.” It was why, he told Peppiatt, he found people such as the Kray twins so appealing: “I don’t actually believe people should go around what’s called cutting their victims’ throats – or kicking them to death, come to that. At the same time people of that kind can be more interesting, or at least more unusual, because they go to the very end of what they do, and they are much clearer about where their real instincts lie – for violence, for power, for excitement, for whatever it is.”

Instinct is everywhere in the Royal Academy’s compelling and terrifying new exhibition, “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast”. It is a show full of intertwined creatures – some with pelts, some without – and the walls heave with strange, snarling, menacing, biomorphic organisms, all moving by deep impulse.

Bacon was a self-taught painter who always doubted his technical competency. He was also a ruthless editor of his work who would destroy pictures that didn’t meet his standards – a clearout in the early 1980s resulted in five sacks full of cut-up canvases. Nevertheless, there are some poor paintings in the exhibition, but even they are visceral. He wanted every picture to look as though “it’s come directly off the nervous system”, and almost all do.

Although Bacon first exhibited a painting in 1933, he claimed that it was with Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944, a second, more refined version, painted in 1988, is in the exhibition), that “I began”. In each panel of the triptych squats a creature inspired by the Furies in Aeschylus’s Oresteia; the figures were intended to sit beneath the crucified Christ but Bacon never completed the upper part of the painting. So these blind, howling forms, distended and stretched, sit against a vivid red background exuding menace, impotence and pain in equal parts.

Writing in the New Statesman and Nation (as this title was then called), Raymond Mortimer thought the pictures expressed Bacon’s sense “of the atrocious world into which we have survived” and were “symbols of outrage rather than works of art”. Though tempting, reading Bacon’s works as psychological documents is an uncertain business, yet it would seem more than a coincidence that his emergence as a painter thanks to this triptych came immediately after his service as an air raid warden and a Red Cross driver during the Blitz. He had first-hand knowledge of screams and mangled bodies and it fitted his aesthetic. “You have to deform appearance into image,” Bacon claimed.

By aping the predella panels of early Renaissance altarpieces, Three Studies was also an acknowledgement of Bacon’s competitive reaction to the canon of art. It was already there in the earliest picture in the exhibition, the small white-on-black Crucifixion of 1933, one of fewer than a dozen paintings from that decade that he didn’t destroy. The crucified figure is barely human, but rather a splayed object that resembles Rembrandt’s Slaughtered Ox (1655) and Chaïm Soutine’s Beef Carcass (circa 1925) far more than the attenuated Christ figures of tradition.

There is a long history of artists conflating man and meat, but for Bacon it was personal; he once admitted that “if I go into a butcher’s shop, I always think it’s surprising that I wasn’t there instead of the animal”. And perhaps the painter with whom he has most in common is Théodore Géricault, who painted the severed heads and limbs of executed criminals as part of his preparation for his great work of savagery and cannibalism The Raft of the Medusa (1818-19).

It was Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X (circa 1650) that stirred Bacon the most, and his first “screaming pope”, Head VI (1949), is in the exhibition. Bacon’s most recent biographers, Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, see the pope paintings as his reaction to authority: in them, they say, he took on both the pope, representing the authority of religion, and Velázquez, representing the authority of old master painting. It is not a theory that holds up in front of Head VI. There the pontiff sits in a transparent cube-like structure – a trick Bacon probably adopted to help him overcome compositional difficulties – as his head evaporates from the percussive force of the yell hurtling from his mouth. There is no discernible authority here, but rather a man bursting from the unsustainable pressure of being human and being caged by his position. For all his temporal power, Bacon suggests, Pope Innocent had less free will than his flock.

Although Bacon visited Rome, he never went to see Velázquez’s portrait, but relied on illustrations. This too was a way of compensating for his lack of formal training. He bought books of the 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s freeze-frame images of men and animals in motion, volumes of photographs of wild animals and, among other things, a book of anatomical illustrations of diseases of the mouth. Even in 1961, when he started painting portraits of his Soho coterie, he made them from photographs he commissioned from his friend John Deakin.

It is Muybridge’s work that reappears again and again, and if Bacon knew the photographer had once murdered his wife’s lover that would simply have added to the appeal. It is Muybridge’s images of dogs that Bacon used as the basis for Dog (1952) showing a panting animal seemingly doomed to move in never-ending circles on untouched canvas, as cars speed along a distant shoreline road with a single palm tree behind. And it was Muybridge’s photographs of wrestlers that Bacon turned into striking images of gruntingly rough gay sex – Two Figures (1953) and Two Figures in the Grass (1954). These are surely not simply expressions of the primal sexual urge but of the torture of being a gay man before the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 legalised his particular desires.

Peter Lacy and George Dyer, two of Bacon’s own lovers, reappear again and again. It was Lacy, a former RAF pilot, who made explicit the debasement involved in their relationship: he beat Bacon, raped him, threw him through a window with a ten-foot drop, and enticed Bacon to his home by telling him: “You could live in a corner of my cottage on straw. You could sleep and shit there.” Like an animal, in other words. Lacy died on the day of the private view for Bacon’s 1962 retrospective at the Tate, the show that cemented the artist’s reputation.

Dyer, an East End tough who fell through Bacon’s skylight while trying to rob him, became the subject of some 20 paintings (Dyer hated them: “I think they’re fuckin’ ‘orrible,” he told Peppiatt, “reely fuckin’ ‘orful. And he’s getting all that money for ‘em”). Dyer died in 1971 of a drink and drugs overdose on the eve of another major exhibition, at the Grand Palais in Paris, and Bacon subsequently made a series of “Black Triptychs” featuring him.

In one, Triptych August 1972, Dyer is shown, face turned inside out as if, in the film director Bernardo Bertolucci’s memorable phrase, he is being “eaten up by something that comes from within”, and stripped to his underpants and dissolving into pink puddles – melting before the painter’s eyes.

It is hard to discern a tangible difference in sentiment between his paintings of lovers and those of animals. After Bacon travelled to what is now Zimbabwe in 1951, where his widowed mother had settled, he recalled that “I felt and memorised the excitement of seeing animals move through the long grass” (he also found the Rhodesian police “too sexy for words – starched shorts and highly polished leggings…”). But then to be alive was a state of predation – either eat or be eaten.

Apes, mouths wide like those of his popes, became a regular motif in the late 1950s as if to emphasise that, in terror or pain, both humans and animals scream (to add another layer of picaresque complexity, Bacon once got drunk with his framer, fell down the stairs and, unconscious, was put to bed under Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which was being reframed at the time). And in 1969 he painted a series of bullfight paintings, matador and animal swirling as a single entity with a snapshot of a Nazi Nuremburg rally at the back of the ring. “Bullfighting is like boxing – a marvellous aperitif to sex,” Bacon said, and three of the paintings have thick dollops of white paint that could be ectoplasm, or semen.

Bacon’s conviction that there was no distinction between man and beast makes this a visceral if bleak and disturbing show. All his Dr Moreau’s creatures are visualisations of a belief that, as we labour under the human condition, there is no such thing as animal urges, just urges.

Francis Bacon: Man and Beast Royal Academy of Arts, London W1J Until 17 April




                                                                                                                       Second Version of Triptych 1944 (1988) BY Francis Bacon..






Bringing the Bacon to Moscow: new book reveals saga


of staging a major Western show in the Soviet Union








Not many people can claim—publicly at least—to have been photographed naked in the bath by Francis Bacon. James Birch was a small child when he was innocently snapped in the tub by the painter buddy of his family friends Dicky Chopping and Denis Wirth Miller, an artist couple who lived near his parent’s holiday cottage on the UK’s east coast. The nihilistic maker of the shrieking, bleakly existential canvases currently on show at the Royal Academy’s survey Francis Bacon Man and Beast seems a far cry from Birch’s more benign memories of the genial avuncular figure who was a regular fixture throughout his 1960s childhood, writing him letters addressed to “Rawhide” after the TV series with which the young Birch was obsessed.

The bathtime shot and a fond “Rawhide” message scrawled in Bacon’s unmistakable loopy handwriting form the opening salvo to Birch’s memoir Bacon in Moscow (Cheerio, 2022). The book centres around how, a couple of decades later in 1988 and now an aspiring art dealer, Birch managed to organise a major Francis Bacon retrospective at the Central House of Artists in Moscow—the first show of a living western artist in Russia for over half a century. (Birch had initially wanted to bring his new protégés Grayson Perry and the Neo Naturists, but that was a step too far for the Russians.)

Bacon’s Moscow show may now be a footnote in mainstream art history but in Moscow it was a landmark event, attracting over 400,000 visitors during its six week run between 22 September-6 November 1988. The tumultuous account of how Birch pulled off this audacious feat (and how others stepped in to use it for their own agendas) is a gripping, rollicking read, rife with shady characters and sinister machinations from the powers that be in Russia as well as within the London art world.

There’s Sergei Klokov, the mysterious KGB officer with an interest in culture, clad in Pierre Cardin and with a penchant for male handbags (but whose weapon of choice whilst serving with the Russian army in Afghanistan was a flamethrower); and Klokov’s companion and “muse”, the impossibly beautiful fashion designer Elena Khudiakova, who subsequently ended up co-habiting with Birch in London whilst all the time still filing secret reports to her Soviet masters.

The London protagonists include Lord "Grey" Gowrie, Margaret Thatcher’s former arts minister, who wrote Bacon’s catalogue essay but at that point was also the director of Sotheby’s, which was poised to hold the company’s first (and highly lucrative) art auction in Moscow; and Henry Merrick Hughes, then-director of the British Council, who originally offered to pay for Bacon’s Russian debut but then reneged. The tab was eventually picked up by the Marlborough Gallery, but not before they had attempted to deduct the costs from Bacon’s personal account. Also lurking in the wings was the disgruntled art critic David Sylvester who, Birch believes in a fit of pique at not being asked to contribute to the catalogue, was instrumental in discouraging Bacon from attending the show by fuelling the frail 79-year old’s anxiety about the effect of such a trip on his health.

So Bacon pulled out of going to Russia at the last minute and never got to see his 30 paintings hung in Moscow. Instead he sent his friend John Edwards, who featured in several of the works on show, as his representative. (Bacon gave Birch £3,000 to cover Edwards’s expenses, although condoms apparently proved to be a better currency for purchasing caviar in late-era Soviet Russia).

Bacon in Moscow might be the ostensible subject of this book, but what emerges from this picaresque saga of an exhibition realised amidst spats, feuds, promises broken and much drinking and dining on both sides of the Iron Curtain, is that Birch and Bacon were just part of a much bigger game being played out between the West and Moscow. As well as offering a vivid account of a now largely forgotten cultural event, in the sharply observed details and telling anecdotes that emerge out of Birch’s long relationship with this most contradictory, perverse and much-mythologised artist, Bacon in Moscow brings Francis Bacon and his motley milieu to life in ways that even the most meticulously researched and scholarly biographies never can.

Bacon in Moscow is the first publication to emanate from Cheerio, the imprint and production company launched in 2020 in collaboration with the Bacon estate and named after the artist’s favourite drinking toast. There were certainly many Cheerios at the book’s Moscow-mule-fuelled launch last week at Hatchards in Piccadilly, where the throng ranged from fashion designer Zandra Rhodes to artist Jeremy Deller as well as Grayson Perry and Neo Naturist Wilma Johnson, both of whom seemed to have forgiven Birch for their being passed over in favour of Francis Bacon all those years ago.





                                                                                           James in Bath by Francis Bacon   Courtesy of James Birch






Francis Bacon’s ‘Screaming Pope’ Embodied Postwar Anguish

— Here Are 3 Surprising Facts About the Influential Painting




The picture, Bacon’s first of a Pope, is currently on view at the Royal Academy






The facts of Francis Bacon’s life are the ones that tend to envelop interpretations of his work: he was an alcoholic, atheist, gambler, and homosexual in an intolerant age.

This fraught personalization is not so surprising given his subject matter. Bacon’s paintings are full of personal torment, depicting solitary figures with their faces and bodies writhing or contorted beyond familiarity, seemingly trapped in the empty, airless spaces that define his work.

The Royal Academy of Art’s just-opened exhibition, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, aims to present the 20th-century artist’s work through a different prism: his fascination with the animal world. 

While Bacon was very much a metropolitan louche in his adulthood, his childhood was immersed in nature. Born in Ireland to English parents, Bacon was raised on a horse farm (his father, a retired army officer, trained racehorses). The impressive exhibition brings together all of Bacon’s bullfighting paintings for the first time, as well as images of owls, a chimpanzee, and horse-like creatures.

Several works in the show, rather than depicting animals directly, hint at humankind’s most primal nature. Among these is the seminal Head VI (1949), the first of Bacon’s paintings to reference Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Innocent X. (He would make close to 50 “screaming pope” paintings in his career.) The oil-on-canvas painting was the last of his 1949 “Head” series, and marked an important new chapter in the artist’s career.

On the occasion of the exhibition, we’ve unearthed three fascinating facts that might make you see the artist’s work in a new way.

While Francis Bacon was a devout atheist and an outspoken critic of the Catholic Church, his oeuvre is predicated on the iconography of Catholicism. This was the case from the very start of his career: the painting that defined Bacon as an enfant terrible of the art world was Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1945). (A secondary version of this triptych, made in the 1980s, is on view in the RA exhibition.)

Why did he return to the image of the Pope, and Pope Innocent X, so frequently? The word Pope shares its etymological root with the word “papa,” and many have interpreted Bacon’s fixation with the Pope through the Oedipal lens of Bacon’s tumultuous relationship with his father, who scorned both his son’s homosexuality and his desire to be an artist. In this vein, some have said that the “Screaming Popes” were a response to the Church’s teachings against homosexuality.

Others believe that Bacon’s fixation is rooted in his childhood, and his experiences living as a prosperous member of the English Protestant minority in Ireland.

“Bacon was brought up during the Sinn Féin movement and once the Irish Republican Army was formed in 1919 guerrilla warfare broke out. During his boyhood, Bacon’s understanding of religion was marked by social and religious tension and isolation,” writes art historian Rina Arya.

“These formative experiences led to a conflation between violence and religion, and by extension, the Pope, as the incarnation of the Catholic Church, would have been viewed within this context of opposition and conflict.”

Pope Innocent X, in particular, played a role in these historical tensions. During the English Civil War (1642–49), the pontiff acted is an important political player, offering significant arms and finances to support the Irish fight for independence in the hopes that it might establish itself as a Catholic-ruling nation. In such a way, the image so powerfully depicted by Velasquez embeds Bacon’s own experiences within a greater historical narrative.

One might wonder why a depiction of the Pope is featured in an exhibition focused on Bacon’s fascination with animals. A close examination of Head VI offers clues.

A clear box appears to surround the pope; such pictorial enclosures were a device Bacon adopted in 1949, and would reappear in his works for decades to follow. Many art historians have interpreted such enclosures as pens or cage-like structures, perhaps symbolic of society’s norms.

“His apes are usually caged, his dogs slink helpless and cringing from their broken leashes, and his humans are often segregated within small chambers or otherwise shielded from the ignored enemies of contemporary civilization,” writes art historian James Thrall Soby.

“Whatever its psychological implications Head VI announces with full vigour an abiding obsession of the artist: the enclosures within which animals and humans alike live out their lives,” he added. 

The Royal Academy alludes to this synthesizing of man and animal in an exhibition text, saying: “Whether chimpanzees, bulls, dogs, or birds of prey, Bacon felt he could get closer to understanding the true nature of humankind by watching the uninhibited behaviour of animals.”

Moreover, Bacon believed the mouth to be the most primal part of the human body. “You know how the mouth changes shape. I’ve always been very moved by the movements of the mouth and the shape of the mouth and the teeth. People say that these have all sorts of sexual implications, and I was always very obsessed by the actual appearance of the mouth and teeth,” the artist wrote.

If the Pope is traditionally believed to be called by the divine, here Bacon pictures him as though called by the wild.

“‘God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him,’ cried out the madman.”

While Frederic Nietzsche wrote those words about the death of Christian civilization in the 1880s, the experience of World War II had heightened belief in the proverbial death of God. It is here, in the immediate aftermath of war, into which Head VI’s scream is best understood. “Bacon’s interpretation is diametrically opposed to… sanctifications: it is, rather, located within the context of death,” Arya said of Head VI.

Bacon was a self-taught art historian and an avid cinephile, and his “scream” is one that exists on a continuum of cultural history. Bacon himself acknowledged that his image alluded to a scene in Sergei Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin (1925), in which a nurse silently screams after being shot through her glasses. (Bacon’s Pope similarly cannot be heard). While Bacon often tried to rebuff affinities between his work and that of Edvard Munch, The Scream is a self-evident influence.

“Bacon takes Munch’s kitsch Nordic universal scream, critiques it, and refines it. He gives it teeth… They express pain, the agony of orgasm, pity and terror, rage, appetite, fear, pleasure,” Craig Raine wrote in a 2016 article. (In the context of war, one also thinks also of Picasso’s Guernica of 1937, which was deeply influential to a young Bacon.)

It’s important to note that Bacon’s interest in the Pope came soon after he completed his 1946 Painting, a work laden with allusions to Nazism. A tassel (as though from a curtain) that appears in Painting returns in Head VI, creating a strange conversation between the two.

“The Pope’s head is bisected by the Hitlerian tassel… his mouth is agape in a scream… like in one of Goebbels’s more frenzied exultation,” notes Thrall Soby.

As the “Screaming Popes” continued, Bacon would insert increasingly direct references to contemporaneous pontiff Pope Pius XII, who some believe appeased the Nazis and who did not openly speak out against the Holocaust.

Considering Bacon’s Head VI in this context, Thrall Soby wrote: “In his paintings, an inexplicable sense of opulence prevails, and [curator] David Sylvester is right in saying that Bacon ‘prefers settings which are luxurious and simple lush velvet curtains and a gilded armchair like prison cells for high-born traitors.’ ”





                                                       Francis Bacon, Head VI (1949). Arts Council Collection, London © The Estate of Francis Bacon                                                                                        






 Francis Bacon: Man and Beast at the Royal Academy of Arts







30 years after his death, the visceral, raw imagery of Francis Bacon has lost none of its power to unsettle and shock. The Royal Academy’s new exhibition, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, co-curated by Dr Michael Peppiatt (a close friend of the artist) throws into sharp relief Bacon’s fascination with animals and how it informed the development of his human figuration. Featuring 45 paintings that span nearly six decades of his career, this Covid-delayed show carries serious existential wallop.

Bacon saw humans as animals like any other. That’s a reality he explores repeatedly in this far-reaching exhibition, constantly conflating the boundaries between homo sapiens and the animal kingdom. The artist’s father was stud farm owner who banished the then 16-year-old due to his homosexuality, and horses are notably absent in the exhibition. Testament is made, however, to the impact of the two wildlife trips he made to his family in South Africa in the 1950s. Over the years he would study animal photography for inspiration. The screaming, tilted-back heads appearing here at the RA (embodied by the biomorphic creature in the right canvas of the Second Version of Triptych 1944, painted in 1988) derive from a photograph of a chimpanzee he used as source material. The show at times usefully juxtaposes the magazine cuttings and photographs of animals with the pictures they inspired.

Head I (1948), the first work on display, accords a room of its own. It depicts a fanged mouth – taken from a photograph of a chimpanzee – conjoined with a human ear. This hybrid being is an early incarnation of the human animal that would recur throughout Bacon’s oeuvre. The chalky white figure emerges from a dark space possessing the shoulders and the disembodied ear of a man; there’s no human face, however, but rather the mouth of a chimpanzee, its thickly painted jaws jutting out of the canvas. The work is one of the series of six heads Bacon produced in the late 1940s for his first solo exhibition. Their characters are all enclosed within a cuboid structure that suggests a cage that isolates them and silences their screams. Indeed, the final work of that series, Head VI (1949) sees the artist sourcing directly from Velasquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (c. 1650) for the first of what would become 50 versions. The pontiff is reduced to an incarcerated animal, all divine authority negated.

Throughout this retrospective, animals of various kinds roam the canvases. Crucifixion (1933), despite its title, resembles a body on a cross more akin to an abattoir carcass. As the son of a horse breeder, Bacon would have been very aware of the viscerality of meat. In Man with Dog (1953), a forlorn white dog walks alongside its shadowy owner down a grey pavement as they pass a drain, a leash restricting its movement – a visual metaphor for the mundanity of life, perhaps. The mighty beast in Elephant Fording a River makes its way across the dark water, dwarfed by the landscape. Bacon’s preoccupation with human and animal movement led to paintings that saw people behaving like animals. A case in point is Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (1961) in which the child, suffering from polio, awkwardly moves on her hands and feet as if imitating a monkey.

There are a number of rarely seen paintings from private collections on display, including Two Figures (1953). Here, Bacon has borrowed from Edweard Muybridge’s Human and Animal Locomotion photograph of wrestlers. By painting a white sheeted bed beneath them, the artist transforms them into a pair of lovers; placing them in a glass box, he suggests they are engaged in a voyeuristic display. Bacon was openly homosexual years before its legalisation in 1967 and both Two Figures and Two Figures in the Grass (1954) highlight the close proximity of violence and sex, particularly in the mind of a painter with sadomasochistic tendencies.

The 1960s bring an increasingly distorted human form. The figures became fleshier, suggesting butchered bodies, set against brightly coloured backgrounds. In Portrait of Henrietta Moraes on a Blue Couch (1965), the skin appears to have been flayed. Bacon’s stormy relationship with East End gangster George Dyer is seen here to have prompted some of his most powerful works. Three Figures in a Room (1964) sexualises Dyer as a reclining nude, whilst also portraying him astride a lavatory in a bluntly human moment. In the aftermath of his lover’s tragic suicide in 1971, Bacon painted a series of Black Triptychs, including Triptych August 1972, appearing at the Royal Academy. The outer two panels have Dyer seated in front of a black aperture, his body seemingly breaking up and melting away. In the centre panel, two figures engage in vigorous sex, on the verge of disappearing into the black void, immediately recalling the earlier wrestlers.

As this captivating blockbuster enters its final stages, one finds Bacon drawing on the bullfight and its metaphorical layers of eroticism, violence and life and death. He once remarked bullfighting was “like boxing – a marvellous aperitif for sex”. Sourcing images from bullfighting books and postcards of the corrida, he painted three canvases of the controversial tradition in 1969. In Study for Bullfight No 1 and Study for Bullfight No 2, the crowds enthusiastically urge on the matador and bull as they battle in a swirl of movement within a brightly coloured arena. Positioned above the crowd is a red flag resembling a Nazi eagle and swastika, the inclusion of the flag perhaps alluding to the crowd’s barbarity (the artist was known to have had an interest in Nazi imagery). Two decades later, in 1987, Bacon made a bullfighting triptych where the wounds of fragmented human figures are presented on screen-like forms next to an exhausted bull with visibly bloodied horns.

Bacon’s very last painting and the final work in the exhibition once again turns to the bull as its subject. Unusually monochrome it stands in contrast with the colourific intensity of his earlier corrida paintings. The animal is rendered one horn in the dark and the other in the light, stopping abruptly at an empty bullring, causing flicked-on dust to spurt up from the sand. Surely, it is a ready metaphor for the artist sensing his own impending demise.

This hotly anticipated exhibition, suffused with violence, is frequently bleak but endlessly arresting. One is assaulted on all sides by the twisted contortions of Bacon’s figures, be they human, animal or hybrid. Man and Beast brings into focus that animals were a pervasive sensibility in his art. Michael Peppiatt believes, “We are animals with a veneer of civilisation”, adding that Francis Bacon “was interested in that primal instinct.”

Francis Bacon: Man and Beast is at the Royal Academy of Arts from 29th January until 17th April 2022




                                  Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (1961)





Bacon reveals the beast within us all




Francis Bacon wouldn’t have been seen dead in the Royal Academy,

until he actually was — this is a gripping, potent show






There is a cheeky chimp inside me who takes ignoble pleasure in noting the revealing relationship between artists and gongs.

As a basic rule of thumb, the greater the artist the less chance there is of them accepting a knighthood, CBE, OBE, MBE or, finally, membership of the Royal Academy. History provides the evidence.

 Neither Constable nor Turner were knighted. Nor were Hogarth and Gainsborough. On the opposite side of the ledger we have Sir Hubert von Herkomer, Sir Luke Fildes, Sir Martin Archer Shee, Sir William Llewellyn and any number of Who He’s.

 When it comes to Royal Academy membership the same sorts of ratios apply. Bridget Riley, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach never joined. And though David Hockney is a busy Royal Academician these days, for the first 50 years of his career he was a fierce and vocal critic of the institution.

 As for Francis Bacon, he wouldn’t have been seen dead in the place. Until he was actually dead.

However, a close relative of my inner chimp appears now to have taken over the bookings at the RA and fixed it for Bacon to be the subject of a show that is so gripping and potent that it left me with residual shakes. Good exhibitions stir you. Brilliant ones attack you.

The idea that guides Francis Bacon: Man and Beast is that humanity, as understood by Bacon, was another branch of the animal kingdom. We have a beast within us and it needs facing up to.

The point is made straight away by the first picture we see, Head 1, painted in 1948, isolated on one wall, bristling with pessimism and anger. Against a black background, on which a few quick lines have implied the presence of a cage, we see the shoulders and head of a shadowy figure. The top of the head is missing. All that remains of its identifiable features is a single ear and a snarling mouth. The ear is human. But the fanged and screaming mouth is not.

This dark notion that humanity is another branch of the animal kingdom is hardly groundbreaking. We can almost dismiss it as a cliché. But two factors at work in Bacon’s twisty response to the belief turn it into an extraordinary piece of artistic motivation.

The first is the mood of the times. In 1948 the war had only just ended and the sins of the Nazis were still a part of the present. Events at Auschwitz were being detailed. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were recent outrages. If ever there was a time when a sophisticated understanding of humanity’s nature was unnecessary, it was in the years in which the opening stretches of this event are set.

What also becomes clear as the show unfolds — factor two — is that the impact of the man-beast analogy on Bacon’s painting was astonishingly fertile. It kept feeding him new food. Even his touch, the scratchy and instinctual way he applied his paint, looks as if it was learnt from something in a zoo rather than someone at an art college.

The captions tell us that he grew up on a stud farm in Ireland and that the education he received about life from the farm beasties stayed with him. Horses, though, seem never to feature. Instead, the most insistent of his comparisons blurs the divide between humans and monkeys.

The fanged mouth of the screaming ape keeps recurring. It’s a comparison that was still shaping his views when he began his great sequence of screaming popes. On the outside we have the leader of the Catholic church. On the inside we have a screeching baboon.

The 1950s were his wonder decade. The central gallery here contains as riveting and inventive a grouping of paintings as I have seen in years. As you slo-mo round them, glued to the walls, the confessional fierceness of this furious identification with the animal kingdom becomes increasingly evident: he’s talking about himself, not about you.

Two naked men, half glimpsed in the long grass, display their buttocks animalistically as they wrestle. His lover, Peter Lacy, usually the punisher in their brutal relationship, curls up on the edge of a sofa like a beaten cur. Dog lovers — this is not the show for you!

Painted when homosexuality was illegal, the sweaty insights into his sexual preferences are furtive and tense. The relentless identification with animals seems always to involve thinking the worst of yourself, never the best. Pictorially, however, it leads to brilliant solutions. Especially in the paintings in which Bacon compares his wild animal self with the tameness that he sees in the rest of us.

The masterpiece in this dark genre is a 1950 painting called Fragment of a Crucifixion. The screaming blob at the centre, representing the tortured Christ, started out as a photograph of a hunting barn owl. That’s how crazily inventive he can be. A T-shaped shadow on the wall forms the cross. And behind it, glimpsed through a window, are some tiny figures strolling by and driving their cars. That’s us: the unsuspecting passers-by. We haven’t got a clue what’s really happening in the house across the road.

As the show progresses and Bacon settles on his signature style — brightly lit arena; warped figure at the centre — the level of invention decreases and the saturation levels go up.

A show that had felt black and white at its outset becomes brightly coloured, and the grit and decrepitude of the opening salvos is hidden behind foregrounds as big as billboards.

A trio of bullfighting scenes that have never been seen together before offer unmissable proof of the glamorous international lifestyle that Bacon was now leading. The furtive humping in the grass has grown into a Hemingway-sized contest in the sun.

The bulls, when they appear, take up a lot of space. But it’s the snivelling curs that I can’t forget.

Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, Royal Academy, London W1, until Apr 17





                                                                   Dark thoughts   Fragment of a Crucifixion (1950)






The way of all flesh




Francis Bacon’s preoccupation with our animal urges is laid bare in this

magnificent collection of nightmarish brutes and lovers in torment






The first hint of what is to come is a large bared canine tooth, in Head 1 (1948). The painting featured in Francis Bacon’s debut London exhibition the year after it was made, and it greets you now in an opening room of its own at the Royal Academy. The human form in the painting, which emerges out of a black background within a sketchy geometry of a cage, has been reduced to a contorted mouth arising out of a body that suggests a side of lamb or a pork belly. It is that enlarged fang that holds your attention, though, gesturing not so much at the transformation of Jekyll into Hyde, but the sure evidence that the rough beast never went away.

More than his earlier flayed carcass of a crucifixion, that first Head reveals the preoccupation in Bacon’s art that persisted right up to his death; the question that this often magnificent and properly disturbing retrospective nags at on every wall: just how animal are we?

After his sexual adventuring in Berlin and Paris and London before the war, and his dabbling with interior design, Bacon seemed transformed as an artist by the knowledge of carnage. Excused active service on account of his chronic asthma, he’d volunteered for a while as an ARP, pulling bodies from the wreckage of the blitz. By 1948, a full picture of the horror of the death camps had emerged. Bacon was gathering and devouring everything from Nazi speeches to pathology textbooks.

That bestial rage creeps into the stunning trio of early paintings in the next room, arranged as a triptych because of their common orange background. Figure Study I is a faceless form in a big herringbone coat, head down in a flowerbed. In the next, Figure Study II, a deformed body emerges from another overcoat, supporting the first of Bacon’s screaming mouths, cavernously black, turned to the viewer, vomiting bile. Finally in Fury (1944), a variation of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion of the same year, Bacon conjures the first of many grotesque mythologies, where the human figure has become a mutation of body parts and a chapfallen, alas-poor-Yorick jaw, agape in horror.

Faced with this opening brutality, you wonder where the exhibition – co-curated by Michael Peppiatt, once a co-carouser with Bacon in Soho and the liveliest of his biographers – will take you next. One answer is among those that Bacon himself found, in the 1950s. It will take you on safari. A series of mostly nightmarish paintings of animals – chimpanzees in particular – reminds you that Bacon became an enthusiastic observer of big game on visits to Rhodesia, where his mother lived after the war, witnessing what he called “the whole horror of life, of one thing living off another”.

His painting, we see, in this context, started to put his lovers on display like animals in zoo cages, all flesh and torment. His nightly predatory hunt round Soho clubs fixed in 1952 on Peter Lacy, the former Battle of Britain fighter pilot, with whom he entered an obsessive sadomasochistic relationship. Lacy, he told Peppiatt, “wanted him chained to the wall, shitting and sleeping like an animal on a bed of straw”. He pictures Lacy in 1957, curled post-coitally on a sofa, all haunch and shoulder. Earlier, there are a pair of paintings of muscular outdoor couplings including 1954’s Two Figures in the Grass, in which the lovers are spied as if through field binoculars, and which solicited two complaints from outraged female visitors to the ICA in 1955.

Some of these carnal scenes take inspiration from Eadweard Muybridge’s freezeframed motion pictures from the 19th century. The film pioneer’s chaste wrestling scenes become powerfully erotic in Bacon’s hands. They are juxtaposed with owls swooping low with human teeth and gutter hounds who keep their noses to the pavement.

Bacon once told his confidant David Sylvester that his ambition had always been “one day to make the best painting of the human cry”. You see here the different ways that ambition foundered for him. In place of anything like the wild sorrow he revered in the faces of Poussin’s The Massacre of the Innocents, he could summon variations of alienation and anguish. The four studies for howling popes that occupy one wall have never looked so savage; they see him experimenting with papal purple, livid as a baboon’s backside.

Bacon’s animal instincts rarely separated lust from violence. A room of bullfighting pictures from 1969 find him still in thrall to the carnal dance of muscle. He saw bullfighting as “like boxing – a marvellous aperitif for sex”, and traced canvases in which matadors merge satyr-like with their quarry with thick, ejaculated streaks of white paint.

The two triptychs of his doomed lover George Dyer that follow seem to put a stop to that idea of flesh as dramatic life. In the first group, the male figure is bluntly human, squatting on a lavatory, sprawled on a couch, rotating on a bar stool. In the second, made in 1972, some months after the alcoholic Dyer’s suicide on the eve of Bacon’s triumphant retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris, his subject’s flesh melts and pools beside him, his animal body blackened out.

That emotion is brought closer to home in the final room here. A triptych of 1987 offers a sequel to the earlier bullfight pictures: gored flesh and bandages and bloodied horns. The shattering autobiographical trajectory of this show culminates with Bacon’s last painting, made in 1991, the year before his death, and discovered in a private collection in 2016. It depicts an almost transparent bull, half in and out of darkness, pawing at handfuls of dust that Bacon scattered on the canvas from his own chaotic studio floor.

Francis Bacon: Man and Beast is at the Royal Academy, London, until 17 April





                                                                         Head I (1948): ‘just how animal are we?’ Photograph: © Estate of Francis Bacon.















For the first time in a decade, a major retrospective of paintings by 20th Century master Francis Bacon (1909-1992) is on display in London. A carefully curated selection of more than 40 paintings takes over the central galleries of the Royal Academy of Arts includes seminal triptychs and iconic artworks on loan from private collections including the Guggenheim Collection, Tate, the Musée du Beaux Arts de Lyon and the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts. Bacon’s friend, art historian Dr. Michael Peppiatt, curated the exhibition with Sarah Lea and Anna Testar.

In the opening room of the exhibition hangs a monochrome painting of a figure that resembles a cross between a carcass in a butcher’s and a figure in the crucifixion pose. Titled ‘Crucifix’, this is the earliest work from Bacon’s career on display – painted in 1933 when the artist was only 24 – and it sets the tone for the haunting feeling of the exhibition. The walls of the RA have been painted in oppressive shades of oxblood and dark gray, lending a sobering feel to the overpowering nature of the paintings and their dark subject matter.

Francis Bacon was renowned for his unsettling paintings of surreal, human-alien-animal hybrid forms, enclosed within imagined interiors.  The exhibition’s curator Michael Peppiatt, who formed a friendship with Bacon during the 1970s and accompanied him on many louche evenings in the notorious Colony rooms and other Soho drinking dens, writes in the exhibition catalogue about the artist’s comparison of human beings to animals. He recounts a tale of an encounter in Soho one evening when he was out with Bacon and they came across a gang of youths attacking a body on the ground. Peppiatt says he was going to intervene when Bacon warned him: ‘You won’t come out of that. They’re animals. Worse than animals’, and later that evening he explained further: ‘Well, they were animals, real brutes, and behaving like animals. But then we are all animals if you care to think about it. It’s just that some of people are more aware of the fact than others. I think I’ve been very aware of it since I was a child. Perhaps it was something to do with the kind of introduction to life I had, being brought up with animals all around.’

And this insight into the upbringing and mindset of Bacon explains his fascination with animals and in exploring the more animalistic side of humans through his art.

‘Study for Chimpanzee’ (1957), features a human-like figure with the gnashing teeth of a chimpanzee, which was inspired by Bacon’s visits to London Zoo, and many of the paintings were inspired by Victorian photographer and anthropologist Eadweard Muybridge’s late 19th-century series of photographs of humans and animals in motion. ‘Head IV (Man with a Monkey), 1949, depicts a man in a formal suit peering into a void while the face of a monkey peers back at him, creating the effect of man and beast morphing into one another, and emphasising the lineage between humans and apes.

The source material for ‘Dog’ (1952), was Muybridge’s photographs of a mastiff walking. Bacon places his version of the mastiff inside a red hexagonal shape, with the impression of a seafront and formal gardens in the background, which resemble the view from Monte Carlo’s casino, which Bacon frequented during a period of living in Monte Carlo (1946-1950).

Bacon also collected wildlife books which inspired some of the paintings on display at the RA including ‘Owls’, 1956, and he studied the expressions and gestures of birds of prey, dogs, bulls and chimpanzees.  By studying the unrestrained behaviour of animals, Bacon thought that he could gain a better understanding of the more feral side of humanity. 

Other paintings in the exhibition depict the furies and reflects Bacon’s interest in mythology which emerged in his work. ‘Fury’ 1944 is exhibited in the RA exhibition and shows a biomorphic creature with a long silvery gray neck and distorted body, letting out a primal scream. Bacon described his furies as ‘organic form that relates to the human image but is a complete distortion of it’.  The hybrid figures that populate some of the paintings are alien-like and inspired many a horror film – they bring to mind Ridley Scott’s 1979 dystopian space-horror ‘Alien’ or Dali and Buñuel’s 1929 Surrealist film ‘Un Chien Andalou’ (‘An Andalusian Dog’).

‘Second Version of Triptych 1944’ (1988), was a reworking of ‘Three Studies for Figures at the base of a Crucifixion, 1944’. The triptych features a central figure with a long grey neck and small round face dominated by blood-red lips and gnashing teeth, with a screaming fury-like figure in the right-hand triptych. The 1944 in the title of this violent, bloody triptych alludes to the suffering of so many during World War II, when close to 85 million people died before it ended in 1945. The intense pain portrayed in these images, and the animal-human-alien hybrid forms show the thin line between man and beast during the bloody battles of World War II. Bacon grew up during a time of world war, and the human capacity for extreme violence on a mass scale was reflected in his work.

‘Man and Beast’ explores how Bacon’s fascination with animals  informed and shaped his artistic subject matter: human beings and their innermost fears and desires. His interest in animals stemmed from a childhood spent growing up on a horse stud farm in Ireland with a father who often beat him and his siblings. At the age of 16, Bacon was banished from the family home by his conservative father who objected to his homosexuality at a time when it was illegal. After leaving home he spent time in Paris and Berlin before moving to London, where he found a set of like-minded people, becoming part of the liberal Soho nightlife scene. The trauma of those beatings and the observance of the life and death cycle of animals during a childhood on a stud farm, must have ignited in Bacon an interest in understanding the darker, more animalistic side of people.

Many of the images are unsettling and even disturbing, including the pope and  referencing the inner animal inside human beings, and are often violent yet captivating with their visceral brushstrokes and kinetic sense of movement.

Bacon’s homosexuality is also a subject matter, and ‘Study for Portrait of P.L. No. 1’ (1957), shows his ex-lover Peter Lacy curled up on a sofa in a foetal-like position, perhaps in pain, alluding to their sadomasochistic relationship. ‘Two Figures in the Grass’ (1954) is a more romantic painting, depicting a same-sex couple in an intimate embrace, half submerged by long grass that evokes Bacon’s visits to South Africa. The painting was exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1955, 12 years before homosexuality was legalised in the UK, and provoked a complaint to the police by two upset women.

Perhaps the highlight is the display of three of Bacon’s bullfight paintings, which are united for the first time at the RA. Yet despite the beautiful portrayal of the magnificent bull, there is a dark side as there is to all Bacon’s paintings, as we see in the final gallery the bloody aftermath of a bull fight.

This isn’t an exhibition for the faint-hearted, and there is even an adult content warning before visitors enter the galleries. However, for art lovers this exhibition is a masterclass in how to depict the most primal instincts of humanity through art. Bacon was following in the footsteps of some of the most unforgettable war artists, such as Picasso, whose 1937 masterpiece ‘Guernica’ was painted in reaction to the Nazi bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, or Goya, whose ‘Los Desastres de la Guerra’ (Disasters of War) series of prints recreated gory scenes from the Spanish-French Peninsular War of 1808–14 under Napoleon Bonaparte. These artists created images that serve as a powerful reminder of the inhumanity of warfare.

The exhibition opened at the RA during the same week as Holocaust Memorial day, which commemorated the death of six million Jews during the Nazi occupation of World War II, and just as the threat of Russia invading Ukraine in 2022 looms. Bacon’s visceral, provocative paintings depict the horrors of war, and act as a warning that we must not let history repeat itself by unleashing those animal instincts that can often lie too close to the surface. It’s difficult to look at the paintings, but difficult to look away.





                                         Francis Bacon, ‘Head IV (Man with a Monkey), (1949)






Francis Bacon at the Royal Academy — a painter for our times




The exhibition brilliantly explores the outrage, suffering and cruelty in his work, now more relevant than ever






The dog slouches towards us, tongue lolling, ears lowered, rump hunched. Exhaustion in every line of its fleshless, chalk-white body. Around it, a fern-green circle is nature’s last stand in a prairie of blank canvas. In the distance, cars fly down a highway, blind and purposeful. Beyond them a blue scrim of sea fringed by a lonely palm tree can’t leaven the desolation. Entitled “Dog” (1952), this painting says we’ve reached the end of the road.

Most significant artists with a monograph in 2022 would look altered by our post-pandemic light. But Francis Bacon looks like a prophet. He’s always come with a bunch of question marks. Was he too dark, too cruel, too male? A queer man who, so Desmond Morris in the catalogue says, cursed the “do-gooders” for campaigning to legalise homosexuality because safety would strip it of its underground allure, Bacon’s penchant for sexual power games and innate pitilessness is palpable in every painting. Even his reds are cold as ice.

But he’s a man for our season. Bringing together 45 paintings from the course of his 60-year career, the new show at the Royal Academy, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, is an invigorating if abrasive adventure through a mind that was — to quote Bacon’s fellow Irishman WB Yeats on Maud Gonne — “simple as a fire”. You leave burnt-out yet braced to face whatever fresh hell is coming next. Global sickness, climate catastrophes, refugee crises — with his parched cells and solitary suffering fingers, Bacon covers the whole spectrum. 

The show sizzles not just because Bacon’s in sync with the times. The curators, who include Michael Peppiatt, Bacon’s close friend and biographer, have done a tip-top job. With the lofty galleries painted in hues — dark green, moody red, arid sand — to chime with the artist’s own palette, and theatrical yet subtle lighting, it’s an impeccable setting for art that, though spare, reflected the melodrama of the painter’s own life.

As the title suggests, the theme spotlights Bacon’s predilection for fusing animal and human. The opening gambit is “Head I” (1948). In oil and tempera, the image shows a face snapped back, yelping in agony, one bestial fang creepily out of joint with a human ear. But this stricken monster, perhaps tied to the bed frame that looms above him, testifies to a world where metamorphosis is not the stuff of sensual, mischievous Ovidian allure — à la Titian and Picasso — but pain, terror and abjection.

Contradiction is the clay of the imagination. Bacon forged his art on the anvil-hard paradox that man — because he was all about men — was caught in the trap between reason and nature, instinct and thought, savage desire and civilised behaviour. Bacon’s cages — the corner of one hovers above chimp-man — were probably inspired by the bars Giacometti sometimes used to frame his figures but their effect is to declare man’s captivity in his own tormented head.

Animals, though, were free to follow their noses, cocks, appetites, needs. Bacon, born in 1909 into a posh, horsey Anglo-Irish family but too weedy and asthmatic to join in the macho fun, unleashed his own instincts on sex and art. One took him out of himself but nearly killed him. His notoriously louche lifestyle revolved around Soho drinking dens and turbulent love affairs. (In the 1950s, his masochistic relationship with Peter Lacy, the great love of his life, involved rhino whips and other squalid physical humiliations.)

Art, too, put him in a double bind. Bacon the painter wanted to nail base human instinct but he had to think to do it. Lucian Freud, Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach were the postwar British artists who let paint do the talking. Bacon’s ideas crowd his images — those conceptual cages, background colour slapped down as metaphor — like the Furies that he once said haunted him.

Animals riveted Bacon because, they were “much less inhibited — if you watch them you can see exactly what they’re like. Whereas most people live a kind of veiled life and tend to disguise what they are, what they want, what they really feel.”

Bacon’s aim was to strip men of that veneer and “make the animal thing come through the human”. After stints in Berlin and Paris in the 1920s, he returned to London in 1929. Ostensibly, he was working as a furniture designer, but a show of Picasso drawings in 1927 had inspired him to start to paint himself. He was always drawn to images of slaughterhouses and fresh meat, and the discovery of Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of animals in motion in 1949, plus African safaris with Lacy in the early 1950s, proved revelatory.

The RA show’s fine array of paintings from this crucial period include “Two Figures in the Grass” (1954). Hugely bold given that homosexuality wouldn’t be legal for another 12 years and possibly inspired by watching animals in Africa “move through the long grass” which Bacon said “mesmerised” him, the painting shows two pallid, simian bodies, faces buried in each other’s necks, limbs dissolved by desire, on a bed of wispy green blades hemmed in by a dingy curtain. Triggering a complaint to the police when it was shown at the ICA, the picture declares that Bacon’s sexuality was both his staircase to heaven and gateway to hell. If the cops didn’t get him, the guilt would.

Bacon’s inner jailers encompassed the father who despised him — he was thrown out of the family home aged 16 after he was caught dressed in his mum’s lingerie — the Christianity that condemned him and the Old Masters whose technique he could never match. Based on Velázquez’s painting of Pope Innocent X, his series of pontiffs — screaming, caged, reduced to primordial terror — stormed all the barricades. In “Pope and Chimpanzee” (c1960), he eclipses Innocent with a triumphant howling monkey. In “Head VI” (1949), he wickedly suspends a tassel — which can symbolise a penis — over Innocent’s nose, just above his open mouth.

Yet Bacon needed the safety net of tradition to perform his iconoclastic tightrope act. Brimming with crucifixions, triptychs, portraits, nudes and bullfights, his oeuvre is one long riff on what went before. The fact that he stuck with figurative painting, however brutalised, when all around had embraced abstraction, Pop and later multimedia — suggests a closet conservative lurked within the rebel. Often his nudes, especially his women — “Henrietta Moraes” (1966), “Triptych — Studies of the Human Body” (1970) — fail to convince. With their Jessica Rabbit curves and smeary features, these are immaterial girls, too cartoonish even to offend.

You can’t help comparing Bacon to Picasso, who painted women, for better and worse, as if wreaking revenge on the entire female species. The Spaniard’s shadow looms especially large over Bacon’s bullfights, a series of which are on show here. But in, say, “Study for Bullfight No 1” (1969), which shows matador and bull locked in a swirl of lines and planes on a murky orange arena, the effect is thoughtful rather than raw, observed rather than felt. Bacon watched the bull. Picasso became it.

Yet by the time you reach the titanic triptychs which close this exhibition, the accumulation of images of men at their most desperate and defiled makes it impossible not to be awed by Bacon’s sheer capacity for outrage. No Buddhist he; mortality and suffering made him snarl. (He once said he thought about death every day of his life.) Bacon’s fury at the many shocks to which our flesh is heir oozes through the bloody goo — a rare venture into matière for this driest of painters — that escapes an orifice of the Bosch-vile hybrid in “Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus” (1981). Some years later, when he paints “Second Version of Triptych 1944” (1988), the incandescent hiss out of the deformed serpent forced to writhe alone on meagre scraps of furniture that mock the notion of a sculptural plinth declares he’s steaming angry still.

The very last work, painted the year before his death in 1992, suggests his rage against the dying light had dimmed a little. It shows a bull emerging through a black portal on to a desert of unpainted canvas, his body smoking down to crematorial ash thanks to Bacon’s use of dust and aerosol paint as well as oil. Only the sinuous blade of his horn retains the cut and thrust of youth.

One hopes that by the time he painted this rare, evanescent whisper of surrender, Bacon had conquered some of his demons. Despite working at a time when figurative painting fell out of favour, he had shown all over the world — including at the Metropolitan Museum and Tate — to critical acclaim. Today, the human figure is back in vogue. With artists such as Damien Hirst and Jenny Saville owing him credit, his star is high. In an era when collective tempers are running high, this show feels like artistic licence to get madder still. It should nudge Bacon one more notch up the firmament.

To April 17, Royal Academy




              ‘Two Figures in the Grass’ (1954) by Francis Bacon © Estate of Francis Bacon.






The Animals and Animalism of Francis Bacon’s Paintings





As Francis Bacon: Man and Beast opens at the Royal Academy, James Cahill spotlights

seven works from the show that lay bare the artist’s conception of “the animal within”






For Francis Bacon, the animal was a facet of the human; dogs, birds, bulls and monkeys populate his canvases, while humans and animals combine into strange chimeras. The Royal Academy’s long-awaited exhibition Man and Beast demonstrates that animals weren’t merely a tangent of his art, but a pervasive sensibility. “He didn’t like animals”, remarks the show’s curator Michael Peppiatt. Since childhood, horses and dogs had triggered Bacon’s asthma, and yet they were a persistent source of fascination, fundamental to his conception of life.

Peppiatt had the idea for Man an Beast three years ago. He realised that discussions of Bacon’s paintings had focused heavily on the human form, paying little attention to the animals that the artist observed and translated into his pictures – whether the big game that he witnessed in South Africa in the 1950s, or the photographs of birds and other wildlife that provided cues for his biomorphic creations. “A large number of paintings have animals either as their main subject or as an accompanying subject,” Peppiatt says, “and I started to wonder why this was. He always professed to hate the countryside, and never wanted to stray from city centres. But it occurred to me that he’d had a completely countrified upbringing on a stud farm in Ireland. His whole formation took place among animals.”

The resulting show is a formidable survey spread across the RA’s main galleries, featuring little-seen works from private collections, while simultaneously stripping Bacon’s art of some of its ingrained familiarity. Below, we’ve picked out several paintings from the show that lay bare Bacon’s conception of “the animal within”.


Head I (1948)

Head I (1948), the first work in the show, depicts a fanged mouth – taken from a photograph of a chimpanzee – conjoined with a human ear. Rendered in chalky white paint on black, like a transcription of an X-Ray, this hybrid being is an early incarnation of the human animal that would recur, in various guises, throughout Bacon’s art. The painting seems to suggest that the chimp is utterly different from us – and yet just the same. “He saw human beings more clearly by looking at animals,” Peppiatt says. “Animals were less camouflaged than humans. He liked to get right through to the primal instinct – without the veneer of so-called civilisation.”


Study for a Figure (1945)

That idea of the animal as a foil for the civilised veneer emerges in Study for a Figure (1945), a close echo of the screaming Furies of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (the triptych of 1944 – not included in the RA show – that brought Bacon to fame after years of obscurity). A half-formed being swoops across the centre of the picture, its illegible head protruding from two hillock-like shoulders. Trailing a swathe of black shadow, it extends its face towards a bouquet of pink-red flowers – the vestige, perhaps, of some social ritual.


Figure Study II (1945-46)

Figure Study II (1945-46) repeats the motif: a humanoid body, pale and stunted, slides from beneath a herringbone coat and edges towards a spray of ferns, its head shaded by an umbrella. Plants and cut flowers suggest the tamed nature of everyday life. It is tempting to wonder whether the creature in these pictures is enticed by the stuff of an ordinary life, like the semi-feral Steppenwolf of Hermann Hesse’s novel, who craves bourgeois normality even as he shuns it – or whether the animal intends to devour and destroy.


Fragment of a Crucifixion (1950)

Banal, sedate reality is reflected in the background details of Fragment of a Crucifixion (1950) – the small, scurrying pedestrians and cars that evoke WH Auden’s “someone … just walking dully along” while a disaster unfolds close by. Across the centre of the picture, an open-mouthed apparition plunges across the dark axes of a cross. Bacon’s crucified body – conjured out of white paint, stamped with a black mouth – was based on a photograph of an owl.


Dog (1952)

Auden also remarked in his poem Musée des Beaux Arts that “the dogs go on with their doggy life”. Something of the kind is happening in Dog (1952). Here, there is no violent upheaval – no crucifixion – to puncture the carapace of mundane reality, and yet the dog itself becomes an index of raw, untameable instinct. Its twisting body – marooned on a hexagon of unprimed canvas – is frozen in agitation. A line of papal red borders the ground on which it sits, a strange formalist touch that rhymes with the red tongue of the panting animal. In the background, cars glide along the Monte Carlo seafront.


Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (1982)

For Bacon, the ‘animal’ wasn’t simply a vector of instinct, violence, fear and flesh. It could be a mythic quality, something arcane and metamorphic. By extension, realism in art was about capturing life’s cryptic, encoded, incalculable aspects. In Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (1982), the Fury on the left derives from a photograph of a diving pelican. The natural world transmutes into an emblem of antiquity and otherness, framed within a theatrical space.


Man with Dog (1953)

The same combination of theatre and violence is glimpsable in Bacon’s three virtuoso pictures of the stages or tercios of the bullfight, dating from 1969, brought together for the first time. For all the high-mythic drama (Bacon quotes in one picture from a photo of a Nazi rally), the rage and exertion of the bull are not so different from the straining of the dog on its lead in Man with Dog (1953). Animals were a point of connection between base reality and the otherworldly. “Bacon was a powerful enough painter to make those very mundane, banal scenes of dogs almost mythical,” as Peppiatt puts it. “It was that moment where you might say a reality is revealed, just as powerful as a Mithraic sun deity.”

Francis Bacon Man and Beast is on at the Royal Academy of Arts in London from 29 January – 17 April 2022.





                        Francis Bacon, Man with Dog, 1953   Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York






‘His Pictures Rather Put Me Off Meat’

: Animal Experts on Francis Bacon




A new exhibition at London’s Royal Academy highlights Francis Bacon’s paintings of animals.

We showed them to some specialists in their subject matter.





LONDON — The painter Francis Bacon was never “particularly fond of animals,” recalled Michael Peppiatt, one of his biographers, in a recent telephone interview.

Bacon largely grew up on a stud farm in Ireland, but he “shied away from horses and dogs because they triggered his asthma,” Peppiatt said. As an adult, Bacon didn’t have pets either, partly because they would have put limits on his bachelor lifestyle, much of which involved frequenting the drinking dens of London.

Yet even if Bacon avoided the companionship of animals in his daily life, they were vital to his art. Now, they are the heart of a major exhibition of Bacon’s work that is opening at the Royal Academy of Arts in London on Saturday.

Called “Man and Best,” and running until Apr. 17, the exhibition highlights Bacon’s paintings of animals — from screaming chimpanzees to haunting, wide-eyed owls — as well as his grotesque half-animal, half-human figures known as the Furies. The exhibition also includes Bacon’s many paintings of people at their most animalistic, often little more than glistening lumps of flesh, fighting in the frame.

Peppiatt, who co-curated the show, said Bacon was always fascinated by animals because he felt observing them offered insights into human life. After all, Peppiatt said, “we are animals with a veneer of civilization.” Bacon, he added, “was interested in that primal instinct.”

British art critics have been raving about the show ahead of its opening. But what do those closest to its subject matter think? We asked five animal experts, including a primatologist, a bullfighter and a chef who favors “nose to tail” eating, to give us their take on some of Bacon’s works. Below are edited extracts of those conversations.


‘Man with Dog,’ 1953

Rob Bays, canine behaviour expert at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, London


Maybe it’s because of my experience with rescue animals, but this painting really captures the loneliness that dogs can find themselves in — the fact that it’s so dark, and the dog’s almost separate from the human figure.

It’s a really unique take. Generally when people paint animals, they try to capture the companionship of pets and their warmth, whereas Bacon is showing us the wilder, more fierce side of some domestic animals. It’s really easy to shy away from those cases, because it can be emotionally difficult, but for me this painting shows the real need for rescue organizations like ours. It’s really thought provoking.


‘Study for Chimpanzee,’ 1957

Lindsay Murray, primatologist and lecturer on animal psychology


A chimp sitting on its own is one of the saddest sights, because they’re such highly social animals with such depths of intellect, and emotion and personality. And this really is a being on its own.

I find the red background quite unappealing and stark. When I first saw it I just thought of blood, probably because it looks like the animal is holding a form in its right hand, maybe a fresh monkey kill. That resonates with the darker side of chimp life where they relish their meals of meat.

The painting is called “Study for a Chimpanzee,” but I saw it was once sold as a Study for Baboon, and the face does look more baboon-like to me, while the arms, the way they’re extra long and curved at the end, is more like a gibbon. If it was a chimp, the head should be much larger. Art doesn’t have to be realistic, but…


‘Owls,’ 1956

Chris Sperring, conservation officer, Hawk and Owl Trust


Well, my first reaction was, “It’s barn owls.” There’s that faint glimmer of their heart-shaped face. And if you look at the bottom branch there’s what looks like two wings folding over a short tail, which is the adaptation that barn owls have.

But they’re strange barn owls to say the least.

Do you want to know what my second impression was? That they looked like these weird swaying aliens from the original 1960s “Lost in Space” TV series!

But the owl on the right, he’s definitely telling me a story. He’s pulled himself tight, which means they’re alert or alarmed. He’s telling me that there’s something close to him he doesn’t like, that he feels slightly threatened by. But he isn’t going to fly away yet, he’s going to pull himself tight to camouflage more.


‘Second Version of Triptych 1944,’ 1988

Fergus Henderson, chef and co-founder of the restaurant St. John


These works always remind me of chickens and testicles — unfriendly ones. Both of these make appearances in my kitchens, but not in this way. I am not often accused of being squeamish, but it’s the drippiness here that rather puts me off. Call me old fashioned, but I’m not crazy about other people’s drippy bodily fluids.

Francis Bacon’s approach to meat could not be more different from my own. His speaks of violence, of nature red in tooth and claw, using meat as an expression of human pain, whereas I think about meat as a way of existing sympathetically in the world, respecting your surroundings.

I’m afraid his pictures rather put me off meat. They are meaty, but itchy. I think he probably did like meat himself — he was a famous eater-out — so it is strange to paint your lunch in such a way before sitting down to enjoy it.


‘Study of a Bull,’ 1991

Frank Evans, “El Inglés,” bullfighter


The biggest problem with bullfighting these days is that you are going to see a bull put to death. I was brought up by a butcher as a child — I went to the slaughterhouse with my dad and the abattoirs — so the bull’s death wasn’t a shock for me. Bacon grew up on a farm so he must have felt the same.

I think the painting’s got something to do with Bacon’s impending death. What he’s showing is the bull about to step into the bullring, but he’s skidded to a stop. You can see he’s skidded because there’s a plume of dust coming from the sand.

One of the bull’s horns is in the dark still; the other horn is in the light. And the bull’s looking now at emptiness. There is no crowd. There are no bullfighters. There’s nothing there. Bacon is saying, “This is the end.” The bull is him.

Why would someone paint a bull as their last-ever painting? Well if you’re a bullfighting aficionado like him, you couldn’t think of anything nicer, really. When I die, I’m not going to be painting like our friend Bacon, but I’ve got an insurance policy, which will take my body back to the south coast of Spain, and my coffin will get a final lap of honour around the bull ring with my bullfighter’s hat on top.

Alex Marshall is a European culture reporter, based in London




                                                                                                                       Second Version of Triptych 1944 (1988) BY Francis Bacon..






Francis Bacon: Birth Copulation And Death

– Royal Academy




“Birth, Copulation and Death. That’s all the facts when you come down to brass tacks. Birth, copulation and death.”

T.S. Eliot  Sweeney Agonistes






If there is one image that Bacon made his own above any other, it is the mouth contorted in a scream or grimace. It is not Munch’s shrill scream of terror. Bacon’s mouth is cavernous, the lips curled in a snarl to reveal rows of potentially castrating teeth. Sometimes it is a gaping black hole, at other times a fleshy orifice. It is always sexual and often animalistic and dangerous.

In this exhibition at the Royal Academy, brilliantly curated by the art historian Michael Peppiatt, the first image the viewer encounters is Bacon’s monochromatic head I painted in 1948 in oil and tempera on board. Thin white perspectival lines suggest an enclosed space. A dock? A prison? A figure dominates, its thick white neck poking from a torn garment. The top of its head is missing. Its face seems to have been torn off and is hanging, flapping almost, like a ripped mask, the mouth open to reveal an array of teeth. But these are not human teeth – there is a huge, bared incisor on display – and yet the shape of the figure is human. The pink lips appear smeared with froth or saliva. It’s a terrifying, ambiguous image. Who or what is this? Man or beast?

Born in 1909 to English parents in Dublin, the second of five children, Francis Bacon not only suffered asthma as a child but was beaten and abused by his sadistic, racehorse trainer father for whom he came to have inappropriate feelings. He also lived through some of the most turbulent events in history. The Irish Easter Rising. The First World War with its millions of dead in the mud of the trenches. The rise of Fascism and subsequent death camps. These were the backdrop that turned this one-time interior designer into a prophet of existential doom. As a young man, Hitler and Mussolini barked their speeches into microphones, their mouths contorted with hatred. While in 1925, the film director Sergei Eisenstein made an iconic film, the Battleship Potemkin, about the Russian Revolution where, in one of the most famous cinematographic scenes of all time, a screaming nanny, the glass of her Penz-Nez shattered into her bleeding eye emits, what Bacon described, as ‘a human cry’ from the black cavern of her mouth. The mouth, fringed with teeth, returns again in numerous other images throughout this exhibition – in the centre of a ghostly hybrid/human owl in Fragment of a Crucifixion, 1950, and the contorted and distorted figure of a ‘Fury,’ 1944 arched in an orgasmic scream gushing red roses from its throat, or in the studies of caged Baboons and Chimpanzees rattling their cages.

As a young gay man in London, when homosexuality was illegal, Bacon, conditioned to the sexual masochism instilled by his brutal father, explored the gay haunts of Soho. Rough sex was to his taste. Bodies were disposable. Muscles, flesh and available orifices were all that mattered. After leaving Ireland, he’d spent time in Paris and seen the meat markets and abattoirs, also discovering the visceral, fleshy paintings of Soutine. Like the French philosopher and theoretician Georges Bataille, Bacon came to explore the duality within man’s nature between the ‘irrational’ sacred and the ‘rational’ profane, that dichotomy of terror and awe within the human psyche. For Bataille, the ‘scared’ encapsulated ‘inner experience’ that disrupted order and incited both disgust and veneration. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in Bacon’s 1960 painting Pope and Chimpanzee, where the gesticulating animal morphs into a pontiff with an ape-like face. Here, the normally subsumed animal nature of man hidden beneath the niceties of a red clerical gown is made visible. Bacon had been fascinated by seeing wild animals hunting since visiting, in 1951, his mother and sisters who had moved to South Africa. He haunted the streets of Soho like a predictor, the low-life drinking dens, the gambling salons, the queer pubs. Man Kneeling in Grass, 1952, a nude male, buttocks raised in an inviting sodomistic pose, takes on the quality of prey camouflaged by the zebra patterns of the savannah scrub and recalls William Blake’s mad and defeated Nebuchadnezzar crawling naked on his hands and knees, his wild beard dragging along the ground.

Myth played a central role in Bacon’s iconography. He incorporated echoes of the art and literature of the ancient world into his allusive imagery, such as his Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus, 1981 with its blood-soaked reverberations, and the Second Version of Triptych, 1944. He once admitted that ‘The Furies’ often visited him. These vengeful goddesses seemed to function as harbingers of guilt, malevolence and destruction in his godless world. But Bacon never really explained his use of imagery and, like the great Egyptian art he so admired, held precise meanings close with the enigma of the sphinx.

Movement was another thing that fascinated him. Dogs, men having sex and the stark image of a Paralytic Child Walking on all Fours, 1961 were taken from Human and Animal Locomotion, the photographic studies made by Eadweard Muybridge in the 19th century. In Bacon’s hands, Muybridge’s wrestlers become men copulating, underlining Bacon’s penchant for violent sex. By the 1960s, his preoccupation with the body in motion had led to increasing distortions in the figures that he painted, including his few female studies of Henrietta Moraes. Among the most disturbing is the portrait of his lover George Dyer Crouching – he died of an overdose on the toilet two days before the opening of Bacon’s triumphant and career-making retrospective at the Grand Palais – standing on what looks like a diving board, enclosed in some strange circular pit like an animal waiting to be fed.

Towards the end of his life, Bacon became fascinated – like his hero Picasso had been – with the bullfight. In his late 1987 Triptych, he shows the wounded and bandaged legs of a nude matador, the wounds raw as sexual orifices, the bull’s horns a final brutal phallic symbol. The bull was to be the subject of his final painting. Unusually painted in monochrome, with dust added from the studio floor, the animal seems to be dissolving into the dark, merging with the void behind the white walls as it, finally, loses its power.

Francis Bacon: Man and Beast Royal Academy 29 January 2022 – 17 April 2022 £20

Sue Hubbard is an award-winning poet, novelist and freelance critic. Her novel Rainsongs is published by Duckworth, Overlook Press US, Mercure de France and Yilin Press, China.





                            Francis Bacon Man Kneeling In The Grass 1952






What did the Russians make of Francis Bacon?




Bacon was hardly a Soviet-friendly artist, yet his 1988 Moscow retrospective,

organised with immense difficulty by James Birch, was a runaway success






The KGB might not have known much about modern art, but they knew what they liked. For instance, at what came to be called the ‘Bulldozer show’ of 15 September 1974, the Soviet secret service instructed a small militia of off-duty policemen to besiege an unofficial exhibition being staged by a group of underground artists in a field on the outskirts of Moscow. As James Birch recalls, KGB goons ‘attacked the show, using bulldozers and water cannons. Artists and onlookers were beaten up, some paintings were set on fire, other works were thrown into tipper lorries where mud was piled on top by diggers’. Surviving artworks were ‘driven off to be buried’ in an unknown location. An uncompromising response, perhaps — but then again, which artist in the West could hope to provoke such a spirited critical reaction?

By 1986, Birch, an enterprising young gallery owner with a showroom at the unfashionable end of the King’s Road, hoped that attitudes in the increasingly liberated USSR might have relaxed enough to permit an exhibition of contemporary British art there. At the time he was ambitiously promoting the work of the Neo Naturists, a group of ‘mercurial young artists’ whose manifesto outlined their commitment to ‘taking their clothes off for the sake of it’. The group, which included the transvestite ceramicist Grayson Perry, would paint primitivist designs on to their naked bodies and then roll around on blank pieces of paper, or turn up pre-decorated to other people’s parties where they would burst into song and ‘suddenly disrobe’, invariably frightening off the other guests. Their work had an undeniably stark quality, and Birch believed in it. But ‘was Moscow ready for the Neo Naturists?’

No, it wasn’t. As Birch recalls in Bacon in Moscow, a first exploratory trip to the Soviet Union revealed an artistic sensibility still disconcertingly ‘frozen in time’, the country’s leading painters apparently ‘unaware of whole areas of 20th-century modernism’, its cultural institutions unfathomable bureaucracies. Then, of course, there were those bulldozers, perhaps still lurking in the shadows with their engines running; and since the Neo Naturists used their own bodies for canvases, the premonition of Grayson Perry being slowly pressed into the earth by a dumper truck must have weighed heavily on Birch’s conscience. That would give a whole new, less glamorous meaning to the term ‘underground artist’.

In a despairing attempt to salvage something of his project, Birch instead proposed a major retrospective of an established western artist, tentatively suggesting Francis Bacon, a close family friend, as its subject, though all the while harbouring mis-givings: ‘I could hardly think of a less Soviet-friendly artist.’ While certainly a committed socialiser, Bacon was no socialist; he was, admittedly, devoted to the betterment of the proletariat, though in Bacon’s case this involved lavishly indulging the coterie of East End petty criminals and rough trade who participated in his complicated sex life and lived off his masochistic generosity. ‘He may call Margaret Thatcher a silly cow,’ Birch warned, ‘but he still votes for her.’

However, to Birch’s delight, Bacon proved gung-ho. Around the same time, Birch bought a gallery below the Colony Room, and, as a matter of social inevitability, became one of the many energetic young men borne about town by Bacon and the tide of booze that swept him along on his endless champagne benders. (‘Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends!’ as Bacon used to say, raising a toast.)

Bacon in Moscow is a forthright and enjoyably strung-out anecdote about the gallerist’s hidden plight: a record of the two years of intense anxiety, logistical set-backs and flights of diplomatic imagination required to persuade Bacon, his private gallery (the Marlborough) and the USSR’s Union of Artists to co-operate in the pursuit of a shared aim. ‘Francis was a very honourable man, but he could be changeable.’ He was easily distracted whenever conversation took a practical turn. An ‘apparently innocent’ organisational meeting could inexplicably degenerate into a ‘day of intense drinking’. What one really needed in Bacon’s presence — in addition, it seems, to a couple of spare livers — was ‘a certain ease of attitude’.

The denouement of the book — which sees Bacon’s 1988 Moscow retrospective, the first of any living western artist in decades, open to the world’s press — discloses a few telling failures of nerve. Bacon, his bags already packed, his Russian-language tapes primed in the Walkman, was dissuaded from travelling at the last moment, partly due to the jealous influence of his confidant, the art critic David Sylvester, who terrified him into believing he would be kidnapped and ransomed while using the Russian railways. The Soviets, for their part, refused to display one of Bacon’s greatest works ‘Triptych’ (1972), on the grounds that its central panel, which depicts gay sex, was ‘too pornographic’. Or, as one of Birch’s Soviet counterparts explained delicately, such ‘cock-exalting canvases would never be understood by the Soviet public’ (though the real worry was, as ever, that they would be understood all too well).

In addition to being a gallerist’s remembrances, Bacon in Moscow is an enjoyable portrait of two insular, rather dysfunctional societies, both awash with drink in their long dying day: Soho and the Soviet Union. Birch is a likeable, unselfconscious memoirist, and cheerfully celebrates his coup: despite mutual suspicion and political hostility, great art managed to ‘slip through the battle lines’ drawn by world powers. Over six weeks, 400,000 people saw Bacon’s retrospective. Being Soviets, they were luckily used to standing in line for bacon.

Bacon in Moscow James Birch Cheerio, pp. 280, £17.99





           Bacon cancelled travelling to Moscow at the last moment for fear of being kidnapped on the Russian railways. Bacon in 1984. Photo by Ulf Andersen






Francis Bacon called bullfighting ‘a marvellous aperitif to sex’: artist’s

bestial fascination explored in new show at the Royal Academy of Arts




Though known for his louche Soho lifestyle, the artist had roots in the countryside and an interest in animal instinct






“Francis was very aware of animals and how animal we humans are. We might put on suits, but the animal instinct is still very strong. It’s still fear, lust and rage.” This, says Michael Peppiatt, is the guiding principle behind Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) exhibition he has jointly curated with the institution’s Sarah Lea.

Peppiatt—biographer and confidant of Bacon—has arguably been the foremost promoter of the artist’s work since his death in 1992. “I know he was interested in animal instinct, and animal instinct in human beings as well. When I went through the oeuvre, I realised this was a whole facet of Bacon’s interest and imagination, and it hadn’t really been explored before,” Peppiatt says.

The exhibition will bring together paintings containing actual images of animals, such as Bacon’s 1969 bullfight series, with more emblematic figures of variously distorted and tormented humans, including the “screaming pope” Head VI (1949), as well as the bizarre, hybrid creatures contained in both his early crucifixion paintings and his 1980s work inspired by classical Greek tragedy.

Peppiatt, who got to know Bacon in the early 1960s, remained a close friend throughout his life. He says that his own theory is that Bacon, while rigorously pursuing the urban and decadent lifestyle for which he became notorious, was in fact responding to a wild, rural childhood (as the son of a former army officer who had relocated to Ireland to train racehorses), which he professed to despise in later life.

“He turned against the circumstances of his childhood and dismissed it all as absurd, but he wasn’t born in a bar in Soho, he was born in the wilds of Ireland, surrounded by nature,” Peppiatt says. “Animals and animal behaviour was what he did, even if he was allergic to both horses and dogs. This is my conjecture, but I think he got to know how animals reacted, how they rear or snort, and he would see life through the spectrum of animals and their behaviour.”

Peppiatt says the exhibition was lucky to get all of Bacon’s bullfighting pictures (including his final painting, from 1991), which he describes in the exhibition catalogue as “among the most direct and powerful encounters between man and beast in his work”. Peppiatt is, of course, aware of contemporary disapproval of blood sports, but says Bacon “was deeply moved by the whole spectacle”.

“I think it excited him: the danger, the blood, the courage. He also called bullfighting ‘a marvellous aperitif to sex’.” Equally crucial, according to Peppiatt, is that the bullfighting iconography meant Bacon could directly measure himself with the artist who—above all—intimidated him: Pablo Picasso. “He was obsessed with Picasso,” Peppiatt says. “He once said to me, out of the blue, ‘I have to be aware of Picasso the whole time, there’s no way round it.’” The two artists never met, though. “Bacon didn’t want to, and I can see why,” Peppiatt says. “You suddenly get these two heavyweights in the ring—what’s going to happen?”

Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 29 January to 17 April






                Bacon’s Study for Chimpanzee, which he painted in 1957.  Animals, and animal-like figures, were a regular theme in his work






What next?! Now woke brigade slap adult content’

warning on Francis Bacon paintings







The Royal Academy of Arts has baffled art experts by including an adult content warning before a Francis Bacon exhibition despite the gallery featuring plenty of other adult content just round the corner.

The exhibition of Mr Bacon’s work, which will open this Saturday, includes a warning sign on the door stating “this exhibition contains adult content”. The sign is included even though, an art expert argues, Western audiences are already desensitised to nude figures, and the warning may even be contributing to sexism in the art world.

Over 40 artworks by the infamously dark artist have been brought together for the Francis Bacon: Man and Beast exhibition.

The exhibition also includes a final canvas which is being displayed in the UK for the first time, and it is understood that the Royal Academy themselves decided the works warranted the warning.

While the exhibition does contain nudity, the Royal Academy of Arts is no stranger to such paintings, and they have not felt the need to warn visitors of the content in the rest of the gallery.

The content of the exhibition was reviewed, and the cautionary note was added to alert art lovers and Francis Bacon fans to the violent or potentially disturbing concepts either suggested in the paintings themselves, or referred to in display information.

The works included in the exhibition feature a series of nudes, including two male figures on a bed.

There are also many distorted and bestial human forms, images of crucifixion, and quadrupedal creatures that appear to be in agony.

Notes in the exhibition space state that Bacon’s intention was to “unlock the valves of feeling and return the onlooker to life more violently”, and his work is described as suggesting “a disintegration of civilised humanity.”

While Mr Bacon’s work is doubtlessly dark, the warnings have been criticised by art experts who point out that mere metres away from it are artworks packed with nudity, such as Sebastiono Ricci’s “Diana and her Nymphs Bathing” and “The Triumph of Galatea.”

These works have no content warnings.

Ruth Millington, art historian and author of Muse, said: “This trigger warning is not only over the top, but oppressive and somewhat infuriating, given current contexts.

“Aren’t Western audiences already desensitised to naked bodies?

“We see them everywhere: adverts, influencers’ Instagram accounts, and, of course, pornography, which is readily accessible at the click of a button.

“We also see countless nude bodies inside museums worldwide.

“Just like interpretative wall panels in an exhibition, museums’ trigger warnings act as a framing lens, leading the viewer to feel that they are gazing upon disturbing content which requires censorship.

“But it is these warnings that should be used with caution.”

Ms Millington added that historically, people may be more comfortable with female nudity in art, unlike Mr Bacon’s depiction of the male form.

She added that “art history is steeped in sexism.”

The Royal Academy of Arts stated that content warnings have been used before for exhibitions on Tracey Emin and Edvard Munch, with warnings allowing visitors the option of finding out more about the contents of galleries and making informed choices about what they wish to see.




                                  Francis Bacon’s paintings are infamous for their dark subject matter 






Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, Royal Academy

: a mesmerising, magnificent show




This rich and remarkably handsome exhibition explores the artist’s fascination

with animals – and reminds us of our own primal instincts






Francis Bacon looms over British art of the 20th century. In Europe as a young man he was influenced by the startling innovations of his near-contemporaries. There are traces in his early paintings of Giacometti’s boxed-in figures emerging from darkness as if floating up through oil, and Picasso’s globular re-horroring of the Crucifixion. Such was the art education from which Bacon went on to mark out his own tormented territory.

If that conjures visions of Bacon pissing on lampposts, so much the better. This major exhibition, long delayed by Covid-19, is the first to explore the artist’s fascination with the animal in mankind and the humanity of beasts. There was much of the dog in Bacon. A mastiff, perhaps, like the one photographed by Eadweard Muybridge.

Muybridge’s mastiff is there in a desert of raw canvas in Dog (1952), anxious, shimmering in the heat, tongue lolling, cramped into a target-like green circle, isolated and ignored by the quickly sketched cars zipping along the waterfront at Monte Carlo. In the darker Man with Dog (1953), a shadowy human is obscured by a barrier, while the dog lunges toward us, leaning off the pavement over a drain cover, its metal lead sparkling in the dim light. It’s not hard to tell which end of the lead Bacon, a masochist and connoisseur of the gutter, would be.

Bacon grew up a delicate asthmatic in the fug of macho dander permeating a huntin’ and fishin’ Anglo-Irish household. No riding to hounds for him, to his irascible father’s disappointment. Unlike his friend of the post-war years, Lucian Freud, Bacon had no interest in capturing the spindly anatomy of a pet whippet. His fascination with animals was fuelled by revelations of modern culture: Muybridge’s studies of bodies in motion, ghostly snaps of owls at night, books of nature photography, primates trapped behind glass at the zoo. The private lives of animals suddenly opened to scrutiny.

The show opens with Head I (1948). Broad shoulders and a floating ear mark out the space of a man, but the face has disintegrated and the cackling jaws of a chimpanzee are in its place. Ear and teeth are painted so thickly they emerge from the dark canvas in relief. The dazzling fangs have not eaten the head: they are the head, as if they were the man’s inner nature revealed.

Bacon’s hectic studio was scattered with images that fired his imagination. We see him returning to his favourites again and again in this show. Mouths fascinated him: the howl of a baboon, the roar of fascists addressing a rally, the scream of the nursemaid on the Odessa steps in Battleship Potemkin, the bared teeth of wounded jaws in a medical manual. He paints a screaming chimpanzee as he does a screaming pope: caged, helpless, terrified, alone.

The ghostliness of Bacon’s early work owes a debt to X-ray images. His breakthrough Crucifixion (1933) hints at clavicle and ribs, the vertical form of Christ descending like a sternum within them, the suffering of the Son of God cached in a human chest. The smiling bespectacled man in Study of a Human Head (1953) fragments into a filmy skull: we stare through his jaw to the roots of teeth descending into the bone. Then again, it could just be a trick of the light: a face filtered through a gauze curtain.

I found myself mesmerised in this show by the influence of modernist design. In the late 1920s Bacon designed furniture and interiors. As a painter, he marks out space in fine lines as if for technical drawing and his works are steeped in the vocabulary of European Modernism: tubular metal furniture, screens that focus the space of a room, tasselled light pulls, spindly table bases, velvet divans and gauzy curtains.

Bacon’s figures are often surrounded or half-cloaked by voile curtains, the light catching the fine fabric in streaks, like rain descending glass. They feed into Bacon’s repertoire of the indistinct: half-glimpsed acts, howls hovering at the brink of horror and ecstasy, suggested flesh, the border between the hunched human body and the beast stalking through grassland.

This is a remarkably handsome exhibition, rich and spacious, the walls picked out in dark indigo or pale plaster pink. It is no coincidence that Bacon’s paintings occupy the galleries forcefully: this is the space he set out to occupy, the revered status he set his sights to. Seeing his later work in the Royal Academy, the proportions recall portraits and history paintings in the grand style, but no human deed is glorified here. Bacon reduces his subjects to components, raw flesh, bone, shit and blood.

Each of Bacon’s two great loves – Peter Lacy and George Dyer – is given compelling presence. He paints them like oxen, weight massed in the shoulders, hair swept back from square foreheads. In Study for Portrait of P.L. No. 2 (1957), Lacy presides over the painting, his weighty head apparently carved from rock above a smeared, paste-pink torso. His indistinct arms loll confidently along the back of his seat, and the pale green space behind him is squeezed tight. Elsewhere Lacy appears curled up on a dark sofa like a dog licking its wounds: hungover, perhaps, or remorseful.

Following the horrors of the London Blitz, and the self-destructive deaths of both Lacy and Dyer, Bacon became transfixed by the suddenness with which this exquisite human animal, with its capacity for love and wit, could transform into a carcass, lifeless as a side of beef hung in a market. Triptych August 1972 (1972) painted not long after Dyer’s suicide, pictures Bacon’s lover in three positions against a black void. To either side the bulk of him melts away like a wax candle. In the central canvas he’s a mound of bruised and indistinct flesh lying at the edge of darkness.

The small white arrow that skirts the edge of Dyer’s calf shows a different visual language creeping into Bacon’s later works: that of the technical manual. In a painting of Dyer Three Figures and Portrait (1975) circles within the painting draw our attention to specific details, as if they lay over a map or diagram. Other works have circled numerals, or red arrows, placing these grand paintings into the realm of a pedagogic text, as though Bacon were teaching us something practical: the monster is within us, and the void hovers close.

The show bows out on Bacon’s fascination with bullfighting. Three thrilling paintings explore the contortions of matador and bull twisting together in a dance of death. They occupy a tightly constrained circular space, and in two paintings are bordered by a mass gathering that looks grotesquely like a Nuremberg rally. Bacon “dirties” all of them – and a number of other late works – with great fat lobs of flecked white paint, which stick out from the surface. It’s as though he felt the urge to add something materially gross to pull the paintings back into the realm of the living.

He dirtied his last painting – a ghostly bull, tugged between the void and the light – mixing studio dust into the paint, embedding the everyday in its surface. It’s a magnificent end point, the aged bull, all heavy horns and bunched shoulders. This, too, is a great, brooding beast of a show.

Francis Bacon: Man and Beast is at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 29 January to 17 April 2022





                                                                                                                          Study for Bullfight No. 2







Francis Bacon: Man and Beast — profoundly moving

show that spans the artist’s 50-year career







Yowling baboons and tormented bovines, skulking hounds and mangled humans — and a whole lot of horrific mutants that come from some no-man’s land in between. Hands grip, mouths gape, tongues loll and fangs gleam as figures glare, squat and wrestle; convulse, crawl and scream. Francis Bacon: Man and Beast at the Royal Academy lands us in the middle of a nightmarish menagerie.

Bacon, brought up the son of a racehorse trainer in rural Ireland, was a sickly asthmatic. He preferred prancing around in girl’s knickers to shooting or riding with hounds. Yet, he remained all his life obsessed with the animal world.

He watched wild beasts on the African savannah; he fostered a strong creative friendship with the eco-warrior Peter Beard; he turned again and again to Eadweard Muybridge’s images of animals in motion; he was riveted by the primates that languished in London Zoo. In his search to capture the unvarnished reality of our human condition, he observed the uninhibited behaviour of beasts.

Bacon’s fascination with animals at once shaped and warped his approach to the human body as a broadly chronological hang makes clear. The show begins with a 1948 painting of a half-melted head, in which a disconcertingly realistic human ear melds with the gape of a chimp.

It progresses through frequently macabre hinterlands in which man and beast increasingly merge. Trapped in the cages of their theatrical gilt frames, twisted and prodded, tormented and pleasured, subjects expose their nature at its most basic, most brutal and raw.

For those who know little about Britain’s most important postwar painter, this show, spanning a 50-year career and displaying almost as many canvases, will serve not only as a succinct biographical introduction to Bacon but also introduce his nihilistic philosophies with all the primal force of a punch in the gut.

Those well acquainted with his work will discover, alongside some spectacular loans (outstanding among them a triptych from the Centre Pompidou), a few images (some from private collections) that have seldom if ever been shown before.

At its most striking, the exhibition is a dramatic experience. Oranges burn, crimsons bleed, shadows brood against the dark backdrops. Paint is splattered like giblets from a butcher’s slab. The Academy’s lofty galleries create a grand arena in which existential battles are fought. Three bullfighting paintings (Bacon hugely admired Picasso) are brought together, for the first time ever, in the ring of the octagonal hall.

The show also reveals how hit and miss Bacon’s talent was. At one moment you might be stunned by a superlative portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne, her beautiful features mashed and twisted into a bruised mess, or in awe of a climactic display of great triptychs, including the gruesome furies who squat yowling at the foot of a cross. At the next you are confronted by clumsily clotted histrionics. Raw ferocity can descend into what feels not a long way short of farce.

The show ends with a never before shown work which, for a long time believed lost, was rediscovered about seven years ago. Painted in 1991, the year before Bacon’s death, it shows a bull — for Bacon, who had travelled to Spain at that time in hopeless pursuit of a lover, the bull was a symbol of our life force — hovering at the doorway to an empty arena. Beyond all is black.

The paint is so vaporous, that the creature seems almost a ghost. Bacon gives it texture by scooping up handfuls of dust: the dust to which all his fierce passion and cruel playfulness was about to return. It may not be his greatest painting. But when he truly captures the moment that man and beast merge, his paintings are profoundly moving.

From January 29 to April 17




                                                                                                                               Head VI, 1949






Francis Bacon: Man and Beast at the Royal Academy

: astonishingly potent




The first show to focus on the painter since 2008 shows his unsettling understanding of humans as animals






 It’s 30 years since Francis Bacon died, and since then any number of exhibitions have tried to nail the essence of the man and the artist, who was famously enigmatic about his work. Francis Bacon: Man and Beast at the Royal Academy, the first exhibition in London to focus on his work since 2008, takes a different approach. It’s co-curated by Michael Peppiatt, a friend of Bacon’s and what we get isn’t just Bacon’s paintings of animals – though he was obsessed by them and by photographs of them in motion – but the old idea of man as beast.  Peppiatt recalls Bacon telling him, in Soho, after they had seen a man getting kicked by a group of thugs: “We are all animals. If you care to think about it. It’s just that some people are more aware of the fact than others.”

The theme is broad enough to give us paintings from the entire span of Bacon’s career, including the haunting Crucifix from 1933 – a cross between a ghostly carcass and an X-ray. It’s unsettling in reproduction, and extraordinarily potent on the wall.

Actually, that’s true of everything in this exhibition. Bacon’s work is large scale. To see the paintings in the big spaces here is to be overwhelmed by their potency. They really are different from the reproductions, even more unsettling. The figures of the Furies in Second Version of Triptych (1944) seem more nightmarish when the canvases dominate a room, blindly reaching out to the viewer. The curators have shown these domineering pictures to maximum effect.

One useful element of the show is that is juxtaposes the magazine cuttings and photographs of animals in motion with the pictures that they gave rise to. A figure in a triptych is based on a photograph of a heron; another of an owl in flight gives rise to his most unsettling humanoid form. George Dyer, Bacon’s lover who died of an overdose, sitting on a lavatory in Paris, here crouches like an ape. A Man Kneeling in Grass, on all fours, his bare buttocks exposed, is watched by a shadowy figure.

At the centre are Bacon’s three bullfight paintings – bullfighting, like boxing, he observed, was the perfect aperitif to sex brought together for the first time; in the background to the encounters between bull and man there’s an indistinct crowd dominated by what looks like a Nazi eagle. It’s not the animals who are animalistic here.

What the exhibition also shows is that Bacon couldn’t really draw; it’s one reason for his shadowy fingers, for the fabric that tails away into nothingness, the scrambled still lifes. Yet it doesn’t matter. This is haunting work which is as overwhelming now as it ever was. Not so much beastly, as demonic.

Royal Academy, from January 29 to April 17




                                                                           Francis Bacon in 1969  Photograph  ©  John Hedgecoe






Francis Bacon paintings given ‘adult’ content warning




‘Over the top’ trigger warning on Royal Academy of Arts exhibition that includes

nude images along with distorted and bestial human forms






A Francis Bacon exhibition has been given a content warning by the Royal Academy of Arts, with visitors cautioned about “adult” material.


More than 40 artworks by the painter, including a final canvas being displayed in the UK for the first time, have been brought together for the Francis Bacon: Man and Beast exhibition.

Visitors entering the gallery to see the artist’s distinctively dark works are greeted with a sign on the door stating “this exhibition contains adult content.”

Although the exhibition contains nudity, the Royal Academy of Arts is replete with nudes that do not carry content warnings, and it is understood Bacon’s works warranted their own warning.

The content of the exhibition was carefully reviewed, and a cautionary note was added to alert art lovers to the violent or potentially disturbing concepts either suggested in the paintings themselves, or referred to in display information.

Bacon’s displayed works include a series of nudes including two male figures on a bed along with characteristic distorted and bestial human forms, agonised quadrupedal creatures, and bleak images of crucifixion.

Notes in the exhibition space state that Bacon’s intention was to “unlock the valves of feeling and return the onlooker to life more violently”, and his work is described as suggesting “a disintegration of civilised humanity.”

Despite his darkness, the addition of warnings for his work has been criticised, with art experts noting that metres away from the Bacon show are vast Ricci canvases Diana and her Nymphs Bathing and The Triumph of Galatea both packed with nude figures which do not have content warnings.


‘Over the top’ trigger warning


Ruth Millington, art historian and author of Muse, said: “This trigger warning is not only over the top, but oppressive and somewhat infuriating, given current contexts. Aren’t Western audiences already desensitised to naked bodies?

“We see them everywhere: adverts, influencers’ Instagram accounts, and, of course, pornography, which is readily accessible at the click of a button.

“We also see countless nude bodies inside museums worldwide.”

Ms Millington added that people may be historically more comfortable with female nudity in art compared to homosexual Bacon’s depictions of the male form and said that “art history is steeped in sexism.”

She has also argued that warnings themselves force an interpretation on visitors.

She added: “Just like interpretative wall panels in an exhibition, museums’ trigger warnings act as a framing lens, leading the viewer to feel that they are gazing upon disturbing content which requires censorship.”

“But it is these warnings that should be used with caution.”

The Royal Academy of Arts said that content warnings have been used before for exhibitions on Tracey Emin and Edvard Munch with warnings allowing visitors the option of finding out more about the contents of galleries and making informed choices about what they wish to see.





            Art experts have questioned why Francis Bacons Man and Beast exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts has been given an adult content warning     






Francis Bacon: Man and Beast –



‘I want to run away, but I can’t stop looking’




Animal cries and distorted bodies confront us at every turn in this

dramatic survey of the artist’s shocking paintings



Royal Academy, London





Francis Bacon: Man and Beast is a frequently grim but endlessly fascinating parade through the Royal Academy’s main galleries. Room after room – all oxblood and indigo – track the artist’s development from the mid-1930s, with his early, Picasso-ish Crucifixion, to the end, with his last, somewhat unsuccessful and schematic 1991 painting of a bull. It looks like the artist’s heart wasn’t really in it; his use of spray-can shadowing and flicked-on dust doesn’t really help. As well as all the human intrigue, occasional tenderness and persistent cruelty, Man and Beast also looks at Bacon’s interest in animals, and how interchangeable one species becomes with another. A human head with an ape’s shriek or aggressive smile, the dance between bullfighter and bull, a study of two owls on a branch (one of the few genuine surprises in the show, though there isn’t much surprise in that it isn’t very good), Bacon’s monsters and monstrous Bacons confront us at every turn. I want to run away, I can’t stop looking.

With their theatrical painterliness, their flat planes and gnarly eruptions, Bacon’s painted situations and entrapments are nothing if not dramatic. And then there are the screams and the animal cries, the vulnerable and distorted bodies, the flung paint, the arrested high-speed blurs, the slashing grass stems and the rumpled sheets. Sometimes it’s as if all the air has been sucked out of Bacon’s paintings, leaving a dog panting somewhere off an Egyptian highway, with cartoonish cars beetling along the coast road in the background, and the pope on his throne in his cloistered solitude, gasping for air. Is His Holiness all right in there, you ask. Bacon’s figures are invariably in a bit of a state, squirming on the sofa, burying their heads in flowers, naked in the undergrowth, caged in their human zoos. It is what we expect. Should bodies ever be so bendy? I’d have a little scream myself, in rooms done up like that, the light so flat and strong, the colour scheme so ghastly, the spaces between things so empty and so full of threat.

Bacon is a manipulative painter, getting us up close then pushing us away. Teasing us with something familiar – a plainly painted doorknob and the key in the lock, a bit of bedframe, a plain acre or two of carpeting, the dangling light-pull, a tweed coat, a stage prop or two of modernist furniture, with the mess of a human or animal form in some sort of paroxysm rearing up in the middle of it all. Bacon is good at this sort of stuff. We are forever being accompanied by silent screams, human and simian dental-work, tongues and lips, bulging calf muscles and cheeks and forearms, the convex and concave meetings of shoulders and neck, prow-like jawlines, twisted physiognomies and ears so well sculpted by his brush, so contoured and thrown into relief you could stick your finger down there and it would go all the way in. Great at ears, and the tender naked soles of the feet, great at asses, toilet plumbing, pleated curtains and furniture, he could never do hands and his Baconised heads became an awful mannerism. Bacon is always arresting, but not always very good. His paintings can flail terribly. The best are when he keeps things straightforward. His 1961 Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (derived, like many of his images, from a late 19th-century series of photographs by Eadweard Muybridge of humans and animals in motion) is genuinely shocking, in the way the child crosses the room beyond an open window frame that juts in on the right, keeping us at bay.

The dog pausing by the drain in the gutter, its owner no more than a shadow of legs, is a wonderful moment of everyday abject silence. But when Bacon paints his late lover George Dyer seated, one leg pooling away on to the floor like a puddle of Silly Putty, the effect is merely absurd. Bacon’s bullfights (all three of them bought together here, for the first time) might be all swerve and torque and slew, an attempt at bravura, but the crowds half-seen through a gap in the sliding wall – like a Nazi rally in a nearby room – feel overcooked. Bacon’s 1944 Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (not in the show) is a great piece of late surrealism, but the second 1988 version here is suave and silly, as is his 1981 Triptych inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus, with their wiggly, unbelievable sci-fi forms.

The caption to Bacon’s study of his ex-lover Peter Lacy, curled up and burying his head in the couch, says it might be an image “of pain or remorse”. Or maybe he’s waiting for a good seeing-to, in their fraught S&M affair. Bacon didn’t want stories, but his paintings are full of them, and life, fame and gossip leaked out of Soho and caught up with his obfuscations and the misdirections he gave in interviews. I look forward to the day (it won’t be in my lifetime) when someone who couldn’t possibly have known Bacon or his milieu can look back and evaluate his art without all the trappings, the overheated talk of “man’s inhumanity to man” and all the rest of it. We are still lumbered with all the baggage, all the heavy breathing.





                         Study for Bullfight No 1, 1969, showing at Royal Academy’s Francis Bacon: Man and Beast.






Francis Bacon – Man and Beast:

Post-Holocaust surrealism that still feels raw and challenging




Co-curated by writer Michael Peppiatt, author of one of the more entertaining Bacon memoirs, this exhibition

at the Royal Academy is the first to look at Bacon ‘through the lens of his fascination with animals’






Francis Bacon may still be widely regarded as the “greatest British artist of the 20th century”, but given we’re now nearly a quarter of the way into the next century, that hardly guarantees relevance. Bacon was a sadomasochistic, gay alcoholic who transgressed every boundary of petit-bourgeois propriety, but he’s still, at the end of the day, another dead white man. The mood of post-war angst he embodied so unnervingly now feels a very long time ago, and the tales of epic dissipation and nihilistic aphorisms have become boring through repetition.

A substantial Bacon exhibition is still a significant event, but it will have to work a lot harder to hold our attention in these culturally contested times than it would have even 10 years ago.

This exhibition – co-curated by writer Michael Peppiatt, author of one of the more entertaining Bacon memoirs – is the first to look at Bacon “through the lens of his fascination with animals”. That isn’t just “the animal”, the current of visceral physicality running through his work, but actual animals. Bacon paintings featuring monkeys, dogs and bulls spring immediately to mind, but it’s hard to imagine there are enough of them to sustain a large exhibition.

The show, however, argues that the artist, who grew up on an Irish stud farm, had an obsessive interest in “how animals fought, how they mated and how they died”, and that he was “convinced he could analyse humans more directly and tellingly by watching the way animals behave”.

While Bacon’s studio was apparently crammed with “wildlife books”, his interpretation of animal form was hardly scientific. In the show’s opening painting Head I (1948), a male human head and a monkey’s ferocious bared teeth merge into one blurred form, with the alarming, and typically Baconesque, sense that aggressor and aggressed, the eater and the eaten, have become one.

 In the next room, in an electrifying coup de theatre, we’re shown three very early paintings, from 1944-46, representing, the show claims, “furies” – ancient Greek deities of guilt and vengeance that the artist employed to “embody his own disquieting sensations and emotions”, but conjured through banal, modern objects. In Figure Study I, the presence of the figure is implied by a draped tweed overcoat and hat. In Figure Study II a howling eyeless figure emerges from the coat, while in Fury, the figure is reduced to a gaping, ravenous mouth on spindly limbs.

Whether or not these works, united by their brilliant orange backgrounds, and dramatically spotlit, were intended to be seen together as a sort of triptych, as they are here, the effect is stunning. This is a sort of post-Holocaust surrealism that still feels raw and challenging.

After this taste of early Bacon at his absolute best, the standard of works hardly dips in a large room devoted to “wildlife”, where we’re shown images of monkeys (a chimpanzee evoked in a blurred mass of paint marks stands out), dogs (including a famous image of an exhausted mastiff glimpsed by a roadside on the Cote d’Azur) and quite a number of naked men having messy, muscular sex.

While I’m prepared to be persuaded that the grassy settings of these latter paintings were inspired by sightings of animals passing through long, sunlit grass, which had “mesmerised” Bacon on a trip to South Africa, the show interprets his interlinked perceptions of the human and animal conditions so broadly, it becomes an excuse to include just about any Bacon work.

The portraiture section finds space for four of his seminal Pope paintings – only one of which includes animal imagery – on the grounds that he “strips away the pretensions of even the highest sections of society”, presumably to an “animal” essence (the wall texts veer frequently into specious pop psychology). But it’s hard to complain too bitterly when faced with works of the quality of Study from Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1965), Head VI (1949) and Pope I (1951), all inspired by a great Velasquez portrait with which Bacon remained obsessed for decades.

Bacon perceives a current of violence and cruelty not only in Velasquez’s image, but in the whole process of the containment and scrutiny of the human form: two of his popes are contained in cage-like structures; one howls in anguish or agony. The quintessential Bacon questions of whether he’s aghast at that cruelty or simply enjoying it, of whether the violence of his brush marks is spontaneous or highly calculated – issues that might have become tired over the decades – still feel fresh and immediate.

This, then, is a sound trawl through Bacon’s career, with an often vaguely applied animal theme: are the smeary figures in a room on “The Animalistic Nude” any more “animalistic” than those in other Bacon paintings – if that’s even a proper word? With most works being from British collections, and many frequently exhibited, there will be few revelations for the seasoned Bacon-fancier. Yet it provides a compelling and welcome reminder of why he is still an extremely important artist.

If the quality of the work falls off in the second half of the show, that is simply an accurate reflection of Bacon’s trajectory. Where some artists, such as Picasso, one of Bacon’s great early inspirations, were able to endlessly vary and extend their output, Bacon went on refining the signature tropes developed early in his career.

The blurring and deconstructing effect he derived from long-exposure photography, which makes his subjects look as though they’re being sliced apart in front of us – seen to powerful effect in Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne (1966) – has become a mere stylistic mannerism by the time we get to Two Studies of the Human Body (1974-75), with its naked athletes derived from the anatomical photography of Eadweard Muybridge. The manipulation of paint is virtuosic, but the distortions lack real conviction.

A trio of bullfighting paintings from 1969 give a superficial impression of power and energy, though by this point in his career he has that “Bacon look” down pat. The sense of rawness and discovery, of being at the limit of what’s possible, felt in the show’s first few rooms, has ebbed away over the decades.

Yet even at this late stage, Bacon could still evoke a sense of truly hair-raising moral disquiet. In Triptych August 1972, we see three naked images of Bacon’s lover George Dyer, who had killed himself the previous year on the eve of Bacon’s major retrospective – the crowning moment of his career to date – at Paris’s Grand Palais. With Dyer appearing variously to melt onto the floor, reduced to a heap of redundant flesh, or with parts of his body sliced and carved away against the black background, the painting appears to be both an homage to one of the great loves of Bacon’s life and a kind of murder in paint.

At such moments, we feel ourselves at Bacon’s shoulder, staring into the moral abyss in a way that feels both terrifying and exhilarating. It is that feeling of unflinching ambiguity that will make this exhibition feel peculiarly relevant to our current uncertain times.





                                                                                    Francis Bacon’s ‘Fragment of a Crucifixion’, 1950






‘We are meat, we are potential carcasses’:

Francis Bacon’s search for the animal spirit in us all




Francis Bacon: Man and Beast — a new exhibition at the Royal Academy in London sponsored by Christie’s

— offers a compelling reappraisal of the artist’s fascination with flesh, violence and cages






When the British broadcaster David Attenborough was asked in 2018 which animal scared him the most, he replied, ‘a human being’, recalling an incident with a man who didn’t like the look of him. ‘He had a gun in his hand and he had been drinking. That is a dangerous animal.’

Such a description would have resonated with the artist Francis Bacon (1909-1982), who sought to reflect in his haunting, unforgettable paintings the animalistic nature of man. ‘We are meat, we are potential carcasses,’ he once said. ‘If I go into a butcher’s shop I always think it is surprising that I wasn’t there instead of the animal.’

On 29 January Francis Bacon: Man and Beast opens at the Royal Academy in London. According to the curator, and the artist’s biographer, Michael Peppiatt, , the central question of the exhibition is: ‘How animal are we, and how much more dangerous do we become when we attempt to hide it beneath a veneer of civilisation?’

The show reveals that man and beast were inseparable in Bacon’s vision. He studied animals intently in the firm belief that the more he observed them, the better he would understand humanity.

Francis Bacon was born in Ireland to English parents. His father was a horse trainer, and the family house in County Kildare was surrounded by the trappings of country life — dogs, horses and hunting. Animals, however, triggered the young boy’s asthma and much of Bacon’s childhood was spent in sickly confinement. He described his father as ‘narrow and unpleasant’ and with a streak of sadism.

At the age of 16, Bacon was banished from home for wearing his mother’s underwear. His parents sent him to Berlin in the hope that it would ‘straighten him out’. It did not. In Weimar Germany, Bacon was introduced to every sexual proclivity known to man. ‘Berlin is the bugger’s daydream,’ said the poet W.H. Auden, who was there at the time. ‘There are 170 male brothels under police protection.’ No sexual desire was taboo.

In 1928 Bacon moved to Paris, where he discovered Picasso. ‘He is the reason why I paint,’ he said to the critic David Sylvester. ‘He is the father figure, who gave me the wish to paint.’ By the early 1930s he was back in England and making a name for himself as an up-and-coming artist. He found inspiration for his paintings in the permissive darkness of Soho, a place he described as his ‘sexual gymnasium’. There, amid the gangsters and rent boys of London’s underworld, he was a predator in search of raw human nature.

It was not until 1944 that Bacon came to prominence, with the shocking triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a CrucifixionThe painting depicts three howling creatures that seem to have been subjected to some unspeakable act of violence. The figures are barely recognisable as people — more a collection of severed limbs and greying flesh, the colour of decomposition against a violent orange background.

The philosopher Gilles Deleuze suggested that Bacon’s obsession with screaming mouths was perhaps ‘the whole body’s response to the immense pity that meat provokes’, and certainly the artist often drew parallels between carcasses hanging in a slaughterhouse and Christ’s Crucifixion.

In 1952, the artist was photographed by John Deakin for Vogue, stripped to the waist and holding two carcasses. The subtext was clear — humans and non-humans are more alike than different. Bacon’s name, after all, was synonymous with meat.

When not in Soho, Bacon liked to visit London Zoo, observing the chimpanzees and baboons and taking note of their sharp teeth and wide mouths, which would later appear as raging furies in his paintings. He discovered the photographs of animals in motion by Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and used them as source material. In the 1950s he travelled to southern Africa to study big game and collected books on wildlife, becoming friends with the photographer Peter Beard. 

Bacon was attracted to people with a fierce animal confidence, like his sadistic lover Peter Lacy or the artist Isabel Rawsthorne. He painted their portraits with smeary, simian faces, stripping away human respectability to reveal the animal spirit within. Like the work of the Belarussian painter Chaïm Soutine, whom he described as one of the ‘very finest artists of our time’, Bacon’s portraits were often indistinguishable from his sinewy depictions of flayed meat and dead animals — a bloodied mass of blue and red paint.

Cages were another obsession, often imprisoning his subjects behind lines of thick paint. The Royal Academy exhibition was delayed because of Covid-19, and no doubt Bacon would have enjoyed the irony. All his figures seem to be held in some form of lockdown, tortured by the awareness of their own mortality.

Albert Camus once said that culture was the cry of men in the face of their destiny. Bacon did not believe there was an easy escape from the darkness of the world, and he showed it by trapping his subjects, both human and animal, in helpless isolation.

 Francis Bacon: Man and Beast runs from 29 January to 17 April at the Royal Academy, London





                                                                                             Francis Bacon photographed in 1952. Photo: John Deakin, Vogue






Bacon in Moscow by James Birch


 – darkly funny account of art behind the iron curtain




Spats, KGB threats, dodgy Soviet plumbing… a London gallerist’s vivid memoir of organising a

Francis Bacon show in the USSR really brings the artist to life






In July 1986, James Birch, a young London gallerist with vague designs on global domination, set off for the Soviet Union. It was his first visit and he had no idea what to expect. Mikhail Gorbachev had then been general secretary of the Communist party for one year: perestroika and glasnost were in the air (or, at any rate, in the British newspapers). But still, Moscow was a world apart. On the advice of his travelling companion, a “cultural entrepreneur” whose carpet business often took him to the USSR, Birch carried among his luggage a packet of chocolate digestives, just in case he found himself short of food, and cartons of Camel cigarettes, to be used as payment to all the drivers he would have to flag for a lift, there being virtually no taxis in the city.

At this point, Birch hoped to convince the Soviet authorities to allow him to stage an exhibition of work by his beloved neo naturists, a group of British artists that included the future Turner prize winner Grayson Perry. Through a Sotheby’s expert in Russian icons, he had already written to Tahir Salahov, the man who ran the Union of Artists, the organisation that strictly controlled the output of creativity in the USSR. But negotiations (if that’s the word) now needed to be conducted in person via a go-between, a KGB officer called Sergei Klokov, who seemingly had some kind of special responsibility for culture.

Klokov, whom Birch had briefly met in London some months before, was quite scary. In the war in Afghanistan he had operated a flamethrower (“I remember the smell of burning flesh”); the merest flash of his KGB papers caused waiters and customs officers alike to tremble at the knee. But he was also, by Birch’s telling, just a little bit ridiculous. In his Pierre Cardin suits, and with a small leather handbag at his wrist, he looked to his new English friend like nothing so much as “a hairdresser”.

Somewhat predictably, Klokov and his masters soon gave the neo naturists the thumbs down. But this didn’t mean they didn’t want to help Birch. What about Andy Warhol? Would he like a show in Moscow? Or maybe Francis Bacon, whose name young Soviet artists seemingly uttered with such reverence? Birch believed he would get nowhere with Warhol – and he was right – but thanks to family connections, he’d known Bacon all his life.

Back in London, Francis was excited at the idea. He would be able to get the train from Moscow to St Petersburg, where he had long dreamed of gawping at the Rembrandts in the Hermitage. Birch knew the road ahead would be tricky: Bacon was controlling and quixotic, and Klokov had already warned Birch that any work that was too “cock-exalting” would fall foul of the censors. But who could resist such an opportunity? This was the first time a British artist had been accorded the honour of an exhibition in the USSR since 1917.

Birch’s picaresque memoir, Bacon in Moscow, written with help from the journalist Michael Hodges, is the first book to be published by Cheerio, an imprint established in partnership with the estate of Francis Bacon (“cheerio” was Bacon’s preferred drinking toast) – and, yes, who would have thought, considering the dozens of books about the artist that already exist, there would be anything left to say? But this really is a peculiarly evocative and authentic title: one that, at moments, brings Bacon to life far more vividly than do, say, the several hundred of pages of Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan’s biography, published last year.

Thanks to the fact they’re not buried beneath a thicket of research and pseudo-scholarship, and to Birch’s excellent recall, which comes nicely garlanded with irony, amusement and an intense fondness for Bacon, his anecdotes shine. Birch’s father, a former sheriff of London, had access to the invitation-only “Black Museum” at Scotland Yard, where ghoulish souvenirs are housed (hangmen’s nooses, the “acid bath” used by John George Haigh), and a visit was arranged for an eager Francis. It’s darkly funny reading about it, the visit having delighted him so much he took Birch for lunch at the expensive London restaurant Wiltons afterwards. How pleasing, too, to learn that Bacon voraciously read everything from Aeschylus to – yes, really – the cookbooks of Robert Carrier.

But if anything, Birch is even better on the late-era Soviet Union. It’s all here. The surveillance and the spies and the bribery; the unappetising salads, the flat Coke and the state hotel rooms whose bathrooms stink of rotting apples (the result, says Birch, of vodka on the digestive system). How far off it seems now. Flying home on an almost empty plane, he finds himself sitting across the aisle from an unemployed Yorkshire miner who has just enjoyed a fraternal holiday on the Black Sea, courtesy of the Soviet state.

Did his show happen? We know, of course, that it did; that in 1988, people queued around the block to see it (at the back of Bacon in Moscow, which comes with good reproductions of all the pictures that were included in it, is a series of priceless comments from the visitors’ book, my favourite of which reads: “It is good that the exhibition is small. It could drive one mad”). But the real joy of Birch’s book lies in his getting there: the spats, the hissy fits, the threats; the almost comically brazen moment when Klokov swiftly sells a painting Bacon has unaccountably given him, using the proceeds to buy a snake farm in Uzbekistan.

Bacon in Moscow by James Birch is published by Cheerio (£17.99). 




                                                                            Francis Bacon, October 1980. Photograph: Jane Bown






My Cold War mission: to get Francis Bacon to Moscow




From bubble baths to Soho benders, and beyond – how my friendship with the great painter

led to a wild political gamble in 1988






Francis Bacon looked at me over his linguine. “Oh yes, I should like to have a show in Moscow. What a marvellous idea. I love Russia.” I was so surprised that all I could manage to say was, “You love Russia?” “When I was younger, I met two Russian sailors in Berlin, they were very good to me.” He looked up and away with a characteristic private smile.

It was 1987, and we were in the Italian restaurant on the corner of Dean Street and Romilly Street that everyone in Soho called the Trat. In the mid-1980s, before the internet, before smartphones and social media, it was over tables like these that the art world exchanged its ideas. The people in the circle surrounding Francis Bacon were all champion champagne drinkers – usually at his expense – but sometimes even they had to eat. So we were at the Trat – or “Mario and Franco’s La Trattoria Terrazza” – which had been the trendy place to go in the 1960s, when you might have seen the Beatles, Brigitte Bardot, Michael Caine, David Bailey and even Princess Margaret tucking into some pasta. By now, it was a little run-down, and we were put in a gloomy alcove surrounded by gurgling pipes.

I was only 32, but I had known Bacon since my childhood. My grandmother lived in East Anglia, near Dickie Chopping, illustrator (to my great excitement) of the Bond novels, and his partner Denis Wirth-Miller, who would often bring their friend Bacon to my grandmother’s house. Once, the three of them came into the bathroom when I was having a bubble bath. Bacon had a camera and took a photo of me. No one in our household seemed scandalised by this, even though a prevalent view at the time was that all gay men must be paedophiles. “Well, I trusted them completely,” my mother explained to an outraged friend.

My family had nicknamed me Rawhide, after the TV series I loved. Bacon was very amused by this (I was thrilled to receive a letter from him addressed to Rawhide) and treated me like a favoured nephew. From adolescence, I spent a lot of time in his company, on trains to East Anglia, then on benders around Soho, conspiring with him in the sticky corners of the Colony Room. By 1983, I had my own gallery, at the far, very unfashionable end of the King’s Road, where boozed-up Chelsea fans would stick their heads in and ask, “What’s this fucking shit, then?”

And now, three years later, I had just told Bacon about my trip to Moscow: how exciting it was to be engaging with a world that was vast, insular and totalitarian, but seemingly eager to open up. “You know, James,” the fixer Sergei Klokov had told me there, “if Mr Bacon made a show in Moscow, I’m sure the queues will be bigger than those for Lenin’s tomb. People have not seen a Western artist here, especially a famous one. If Bacon were to come, it would be a big sign for the whole world to see: ‘Look, perestroika is working, we’re not going back to how it used to be.’ The whole country would come.”

The trouble was, I could hardly think of a less Soviet-friendly artist. Bacon did not have a communist bone in his body. He dreaded the thought of a collective ideology. He had said that Picasso was “the reason I paint”, but shared none of his hero’s Left-wing politics. Francis would dread proletarian rule. A workers’ state would spell the end of the art world as he knew it, and the good things that he enjoyed so much. His most outrageous public act – booing Princess Margaret as she sang at a society ball in 1949 – had been driven by aesthetic distress, not anti-royalist anger. “Her singing really was too awful,” he had said.

His only close experience of rev­o­lution, or of revolutionaries, had come in his childhood at the family’s “big house” outside Dublin, where he lifted the corner of a curtain to watch shadows in the grounds. These were the IRA men who might burn the family out at any moment and who occasionally gathered on the edge of the lawn to make their point. Although I felt his art was universal, Bacon’s life was dedicated to individualism. He had no interest in a collective ­enterprise.

“I don’t think Francis is very sympathetic to the cause, Sergei,” I had told Klokov. “He may call ­Margaret Thatcher a silly cow, but he still votes for her.” “That is perfect, James,” he had replied. “We all like Mrs Thatcher now. Gorbachev has said so!”

Back at the Trat, I told Bacon how every artist in Moscow had invoked his name, which I could tell delighted him. “They would like you to come, Francis,” I said. “The Russians want you to have an exhib­ition in Moscow. They’re serious.” Bacon, it turned out, was ­serious, too. He talked about the great Soviet filmmaker Sergei ­Eisenstein, and how he had used images from the films Strike and Battleship Potemkin in his work, particularly the famous screaming woman with broken spectacles. He seemed annoyed when I rang him the next day to check if he was still keen. “James, I REALLY want to have an exhibition in Moscow.”

A week later, John Edwards, the working-class East Ender who had become Bacon’s best friend and confidant, came into the gallery and told me “Eggs” – as in “eggs and bacon” – was upstairs in the Colony Room and keen to talk more about Moscow. Bacon was, in his words, “chuffed” with the whole idea. He gave me the signed proposal letter that Klokov had requested, and we drank champagne to celebrate. I felt a sense of absolute elation.

Our exhibition was, of course, a matter of international politics, although I didn’t fully realise it then. There was a Cold War going on, and I would soon learn that Bacon and I were part of a much bigger game being played out between the West and Moscow.

At that time, no one had a clue that 70 years of Communist Party rule were coming to an end. ­Brezhnev had died in 1982, but his brooding presence was more real to us than Gorbachev, newly instated; to most people, perestroika and glasnost were still just catchphrases. In our collective consciousness, they had yet to replace our vision of a dictator state with its KGB and its gulags.

Even someone like me, more interested in art than politics, had noticed in September 1985 when the British government had accused 25 Soviet diplomats and trade officials of espionage and expelled them. The Soviet agents had been exposed when Oleg Gordievsky defected to the West. Twenty-five British diplomats were chucked out of the Soviet Union in retaliation. Even as they were packing their cases, other British institutions were looking to find ways back into positions of influence in Moscow. Among them was the British Council, founded in 1934 for the dissemination of British culture and the English language for political ends.

“Don’t worry, James,” Klokov had said. “Francis Bacon, in Moscow. Imagine!”

I had been heedless at the start of this adventure about the practicalities. I didn’t need the permission of the British government to take Bacon to Moscow, but I had run some estimates and I was beginning to understand the huge costs involved. Transportation and insurance would run to hundreds of thousands of pounds alone, and our gallery had no money. I realised that the next step was to approach Bacon’s gallery, the Marlborough. I needed him to introduce me formally, but Bacon airily brushed aside any suggestions of a meeting: “Don’t worry, James, I’ll talk to them.”

I spent as much time with Edwards as I did with Bacon, and I knew he was an ally in the Moscow trip – he really wanted to go – but he didn’t want to get involved in the toing and froing with the Marlborough. I also found myself wondering about the intricacies and mysteries of their relationship, about who was beholden to whom.

The great love of Bacon’s life had been George Dyer, a petty criminal from the East End, who had overdosed in Paris in 1971. John Edwards was from a similar mould as Dyer, but less troubled. The son of an East End dock worker who had previously been a champion boxer, he was severely dyslexic and could barely read or write. Dyslexia was not properly understood before the 1980s and, as a consequence, John was very poorly educated. Bacon was quite capable of drawing attention to this. On one occasion, the three of us were having lunch in Wiltons on Jermyn Street, in the heart of London clubland, and Bacon passed the menu to Edwards. As he couldn’t read, Edwards had barely scanned it. Watching him carefully, Bacon asked, “What do you like the look of, John?”

It was a cruel tease for him to play, but Edwards, to his credit, bluffed his way through. “I think I might have bangers and mash.” “But that’s not on the menu, John.” “Well, it looks like it is.” And so Bacon had the kitchen make bangers and mash specially.

At the end of one evening, Edwards and I briefly shared a taxicab. He leant forward to the driver and asked, “Do you know who I am?” “Sorry, mate, no idea,” said the driver. “I’m John Edwards.” “Whatever you say, mate.” “The John Edwards that Francis Bacon paints.” “That who paints?” “He’s a famous artist,” I said. “And we are going to Moscow.” “Moscow,” said the driver. “That’ll be something.” “Yes,” said Edwards, now looking at me. “It fucking will.”

Finally, on November 24, after an introduction by Bacon, in some trepidation I went to talk to Valerie Beston, who represented him at the Marlborough Gallery. There was another person present, Muriel Wilson – a collector in her own right, and an early supporter of Peter Blake, David Hockney and Eduardo Paolozzi. She was also, Wilson mentioned in passing, here as a representative of the British Council.

I told them of the hunger for Bacon’s paintings in Moscow; how the artists called him “the great Francis Bacon”, even though they had only seen his work reproduced in battered Western art magazines, so rare and precious they were passed around from hand to hand until they fell to bits.

When I finished, there was a brief silence before Beston said calmly: “OK, we’ll do this ­exhibition.”

There were just two more questions. Who would guarantee the insurance for the show, and who would pay to get the pictures to Moscow? “I think,” said Wilson, “that is where the British Council might just be able to help out.”

The day after the great storm of 1987, an uncharacteristically terse Klokov rang up: “James, I need Francis Bacon’s passport number.”


“Then I can arrange a flight for him. He must come to Moscow soon, before the show. So we can have preliminary talks.”

“With whom?” I asked.

“I need Francis to meet all the officials. They must see that he is not a decadent Western monster.”

“I don’t think Francis would like to do that.”

I was right, Bacon said he did not want to do that. “Why do I have to go?” he demanded in the querulous voice I knew well. “John can go instead of me.” I was almost tempted to tell him the truth, “It’s so they can double-check that you are not a decadent Western monster.” Luckily, that uncomfortable prospect was averted when Klokov reported that Francis Bacon had been deemed well-known enough not to have to go through the Moscow vetting in person.

Bacon’s genius came with particular drawbacks. He didn’t like being propelled in a certain direction. He was a creature of whim, able to change his mind at any moment. He could be totally unbiddable if he chose, and would see offence where none was intended.

I suspected that his occasional petulant behaviour was a defence mechanism, employed to deflect attention from the interior Bacon, the workings of his mind, the bit that really mattered. He remained fascinated by other people and their stories, and he had the most beautiful manners. As Desmond Morris once put it, “None of his painted figures share the twinkle in the eye, the ready smile, or the joyous laughter for which he was renowned in his social circle.”

Being allowed to visit the inner sanctum of Bacon’s flat at Reece Mews in South Kensington was a final sign that you had been admitted into the very heart of Bacon’s life, yet on first arrival it was unprepossessing. The ground floor was a garage given over to storage and a washing machine. To reach the flat above, you had to clamber up an almost perpendicular staircase. There was a rope on one side that Bacon used to pull himself up, and an iron handrail on the other. I wondered how many times he must have attempted this operation while under the influence of drink.

At the top of the stairs was a little lavatory and then the mad clutter of his studio, which I occasionally glimpsed. It looked as if a skip full of rags and paint had been dumped willy-nilly into a small room. Bacon didn’t use a palette, he used doors and the walls to mix his ­colour. The size of the paintings was governed by the dimensions of that paint-splattered studio door; anything even an inch bigger would not be able to leave the studio. Canvases were made to measure accordingly.

Along a tiny corridor was his bedroom and living room combined: it contained a table with piles of books – Bacon read voraciously, anything from Aeschylus to Robert Carrier cookbooks – and a round mirror, possibly from his early London days as a furniture designer, cracked as a result of a lovers’ tiff with George Dyer. In his bedroom there was a small bed, at the end of which were the oxygen tanks. There was also a galley kitchen on one side and a bathtub opposite. Small wonder that Bacon liked to eat out.

I returned to Moscow in June 1988 to measure up the galleries for Bacon. In some respects, flying to Moscow was like going to prison and not knowing if you would ever get out. Our tour guide took away our passports and our return tickets, which were only to be given back on the day of our departure.

But in Russia things were changing. Since my last visit, the posters in the streets of Moscow were no longer about fighting imperialism, but about fighting alcoholism, according to Klokov, who translated as we drove. “The wife and children are asking tearfully, stop before it is too late!” Perestroika and glasnost were picking up pace. Gorbachev had begun the liberalisation of the economy, allowing small businesses to open as long as they were run as co-operatives. It was the first private enterprise activity since Lenin’s New Economic Policy in 1923, Klokov told me. There would be elections in 1989, to a new congress of people’s deputies, and the process of the congress would be broadcast live and uncensored.

Klokov brought his beautiful friend Elena Khudiakova, with whom I had fallen a little in love, to lunch. “What will Bacon do in Moscow? He will want to meet prestigious people,” she said.

“I don’t think Francis will want to do that at all,” I laughed.

“Then what will he do?” Khudiakova demanded.

“He wants to look at the Rembrandts in the Hermitage with his friend John.”

“His boyfriend?”

“Yes, I suppose so. Is that a problem? I know it’s illegal here.”

Khudiakova said “Pfft!” and flicked the problem aside with a swatting gesture. “It’s not issue,” she declared. “It’s easier for these men. Being gay is fashionable in Moscow. There is a big men’s room at a railway station where they all go for sex.”

“A cottage?”

“A cottage, James?” Khudiakova looked quizzical. “Like a dacha?”

The exhibition was finally scheduled for September 22, 1988. As it approached, my mood was touched by the chill of fear. Trouble was brewing. At my suggestion, Bacon had written a short introduction for the exhibition catalogue that acknowledged the influence of Eisenstein. The journalist David Sylvester, who considered himself an authority on Bacon, was furious that he hadn’t been invited to write a second essay for the catalogue, and started to put – as one of Bacon’s East End boyfriends might have said – the frighteners on him.

“You’re very wealthy now,” he must have whispered in Bacon’s ear. “You might get kidnapped.” And what was unsaid but implied: “Fear might bring on an asthma attack.”

I had known asthma would be one of the added complications of getting Bacon to Moscow. He hated smoking, though he continued to drink to excess in ill-ventilated bars and breathed in paint and white spirit fumes every day, and lived in fear of a fatal attack. But his doctor had agreed to come with him to Russia, bringing oxygen.

Then, on August 19, Edwards rang me with the news I most dreaded. Bacon no longer wanted to go to the USSR. The work of two years was starting to unravel.

Officially, said Edwards, Bacon’s excuse was asthma – but the truth was that, alongside Sylvester’s prophecy of doom, he had also been seething about the amount of ­official engagements the British Council were asking him to undertake in Moscow. This was their moment, and Bacon was their man – they wanted to make the most of it, with tea at the embassy, photo ops with Soviet officials, and interviews with the world press. It was a chance for the British Council to re-enter the exciting political space that Russia had become, but their charmless demands on Bacon had had dire consequences.

The next time I saw him was at the Groucho. It was a starry gathering of British artists; Peter Blake, Joe Tilson and Bridget Riley were there. Edwards and Bacon arrived and, to my relief, it was as if nothing had gone awry. They whisked me out to dinner. Edwards handed me an envelope from Francis and inside was a cheque for £3,000, money for me to look after Edwards, who would be officially representing Bacon in Moscow.

Bacon was already looking beyond the exhibition and talking to me about the sense of failure he felt about paintings that he had abandoned, or ambitions that had not been fulfilled. Another night, soon after, he revealed that he wanted to be a sculptor, and to make films. He was a great admirer of Andy Warhol’s Flesh, and thought Warhol’s films were better than his paintings. “There are still so many things I want to do, James.”

Conversely, in losing my professional claim on him, I seemed to have got closer to him. Perhaps this was my compensation for his non-attendance in Moscow. 

On September 18, Francis told The Sunday Times: “It is a great disappointment. If it wasn’t for this bloody asthma, I would be over there. I had been looking forward to it. Everything was closed up after 1917. It would have been fascinating to see the country now.”

On September 21, I was invited for breakfast, to collect Edwards and say goodbye to Bacon, who cooked us eggs and bacon. On my way out, I saw that his suitcases were still packed and waiting by the front door, as if he was expecting to overcome his own fear and come with us. I felt a wave of disap­pointment. “I’m sure you’ll have a marvellous time.”

Since my last visit, Moscow had changed yet again. Soviet citizens were now free to travel the world. (Free, that is, if they had connections abroad.) But other things had worsened. In Moscow, food was beginning to run out and basics such as butter and coffee were almost impossible to obtain. When the show opened, one embittered Moscow wit would write in the visitors’ book, “We want bacon, not Francis Bacon.”

Edwards was delighted with the appearance of his portrait on the catalogue cover. “Oi, James,” he said, when I met him in his Moscow hotel, “there are posters of me all over the shop!” Together we trawled the department store GUM, the Harrods of Moscow, even though it was empty; then John exchanged a large jar of caviar in an underpass in return for two packets of condoms, a perennially scarce resource in Moscow.

On the morning of the exhibition, we arrived to find a long queue outside. Edwards saw it and whistled. “Fucking hell, James, I think Francis is going to be a sell-out.” As I passed Klokov, he reached out to me. “Ah, James, I was right all along,” he said. “The queues are longer than those for Lenin’s mausoleum.”

Bacon in Moscow by James Birch with Michael Hodges (Cheerio, £17.99) is out now. Francis Bacon: Man and Beast is at the Royal Academy of Arts, London W1 from Saturday to April 17




                                                                                 James Birch as a child in the 1950s, photographed by Francis Bacon






Francis Bacon in Moscow: the madcap, vodka-fuelled  

plan to take the artist to communist Russia




This memoir about trying to put on an art exhibition in the Soviet Union

is full of eccentric characters and comic incident, says Laura Freeman






“We want bacon, not Francis Bacon,” a visitor wrote in the guest book to the exhibition that opened in the Central House of Artists in Moscow in October 1988. The British curator James Birch, who took the exhibition to Moscow, describes the show as “an unimaginable intrusion of western culture into the heart of the Soviet system”. Mikhail Gorbachev had begun to talk of glasnost and perestroika — “openness” to policy reform and the “restructuring’ of the Soviet political and economic system. Birch, then a 32-year-old up-and-comer on the London art scene, saw an opportunity to push at that opening door. The Bacon show was the first exhibition of work by a living international western artist to be shown in Russia for more than 50 years. Bacon in Moscow is Birch’s account of that coup.

Birch had known Bacon since childhood. “Art was the family affliction,” Birch writes. His father was an architect turned artist. His mother studied at Chelsea School of Art, where one of her tutors was Henry Moore. At his grandmother’s house in East Anglia the young Birch met the painters Cedric Morris, Paul Nash and Dicky Chopping, the cover artist of the Bond books, and his partner, Denis Wirth-Miller. Dicky and Denis brought along Bacon, who took a photo of the young Birch in his bubble bath. Birch’s mother didn’t think it strange.

The story begins, really, in Thatcher’s Britain, where Birch was running a gallery on the Kings Road somewhere below World’s End. On match days drunken Chelsea fans would stick their heads in and ask: “What’s all this f***ing shit, then?” Birch dealt in the art of the British surrealists and the neo naturists, a group including the sisters Jennifer and Christine Binnie, Wilma Johnson and some nobody potter called Grayson Perry. Birch sums up the mood in the words of the Pet Shop Boys: “Let’s make lots of money.” Even better: let’s make headlines.

After Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan were photographed in front of a roaring fire in Geneva and the papers began reporting on a promised thaw in East-West relations, Birch chucked a scheme to take his artists to New York and decided instead to take Bacon to Moscow.

The art scene in Moscow was moribund. In September 1974 an exhibition of underground artists had been attacked by off-duty policemen under KGB orders. Artists and visitors were beaten up, paintings were set on fire and other artworks were thrown into tipper lorries, covered in mud and buried in an unknown location. Water cannon were fired and the exhibition became known as the “bulldozer” show.

And here was Birch proposing a retrospective of the anarchic, lay-it-on-thick Bacon. “I could hardly think of a less Soviet-friendly artist,” Birch writes. “Francis did not have a communist bone in his body. He dreaded the thought of a collective ideology.” Yet Birch’s fixer, Sergei Klokov, a cultural diplomat with a “tsarist beard” and Easy Rider shades, was certain that if a show of “Mister Bacon” came to Moscow, the queues would be bigger than those for Lenin’s tomb.

Officials requested Bacon’s passport number and demanded he come to Moscow for preliminary talks: “They must see that he is not a monster.” Of course, that’s exactly what he was. Birch quotes the surrealist, art historian and zoologist Desmond Morris: “Francis Bacon was a creative genius who also at times was a thief, a homosexual prostitute, a compulsive gambler, a drunkard and a liar. He was also mischievous, sarcastic, vain, abusive, arrogant, disloyal and unreliable . . . In other words, and as I can attest, a delightful dinner companion.”

Homosexuality was a problem. Klokov worried that Bacon’s paintings representing gay sex — his “cock-exalting canvases” – would fall foul of the censors. (When Birch made a reference to “cottaging”, his Russian crush Elena asked: “Like a dacha?”) Being gay could still get you sent to the gulag.

There are nice details about the black economy. Brits visiting Russia are urged to smuggle in bottles of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce. Contraception is in short supply and two packets of condoms buys a large jar of caviar. We learn that young conscripts to the Red Army stationed in Siberia were not allowed to drink, so they dipped bandages in buckets of vodka and wrapped them round their feet. That way the alcohol would be absorbed in their bloodstream, but the sergeant wouldn’t smell the alcohol on their breath.

There’s a mini-series itching to get out of this book: The Queen’s Gambit meets A Very British Scandal. It has all the right ingredients: a cocksure, clueless hero; dissolute Soho soaks; double-crossing Muscovites; a dark-eyed Russian ingenue who may or may not be reporting to the KGB; and the wheezing, freewheeling Bacon himself (Timothy Spall has the look).

What the story needs is a scriptwriter to restructure and, where necessary, invent scenes to keep the story moving. As it is, there’s not a little self-aggrandisement and quite a bit of repetition. One vodka night follows another. (“What a liver!” Perry says on the back cover.) As for the title character, he’s no more than a cameo.

It is no fault of Birch’s, but the exhibition was a swizz. While 30 of Bacon’s paintings did make it to Moscow, driven in an armoured military convoy through Poland to the Soviet Union’s border, Bacon didn’t. The artist started learning Russian on his Walkman, but concerns about his asthma kept him at home. Still, 400,000 visitors came to see the show and the queues were indeed longer than for Lenin’s mausoleum. Shame about the bacon..

Bacon in Moscow by James Birch, Cheerio, 208pp; £17.99



                Francis Bacon in his famously shambolic London studio in 1974 by Michael Holtz







‘He was the king of the Colony, he kept the drinks flowing’





James Birch, author of a new book about Francis Bacon, writes of their friendship ahead of a show of the artist’s work at the Royal Academy






“Rawhide — what a marvellous name for a child,” were the first words that I remember Francis Bacon saying to me. I was seven years old and Francis was 55. Rawhide was my nickname because I was addicted to the western television series of the same name. “Why Rawhide, James?” “I love the TV series.” “Who’s in the TV series?” “Clint Eastwood.” There was a dramatic pause. “How marvellous! How maaaaaaarvellous!”

Francis had been a friend to my family for some years. Many artists came to our house in Primrose Hill, London, but Francis stuck out. Little did I know then that our friendship would lead to a retrospective exhibition of Francis’s work in Moscow in 1988, during the period of glasnost which culminated in the disintegration of the USSR.

I was a sociable child and, ever social himself, perhaps he tuned into that quality in me. He always took the time to talk to me, invariably with a glass of champagne in his hand. I noticed that his presence at any gathering was magnetic. He was slight an