.                                                                                                                                                                           Francis Bacon News











Francis Bacon



Millennium Galleries Sheffield






Sheffield’s new Millennium Galleries do Francis Bacon proud. Here, just as the artist intended, his cast of naked wrestlers, drunken contortionists and lop-headed harpies look perfectly well-groomed and dandified in their miserable predicaments. Despite the studied squalor of his studio, and the voyeuristic bent of popular opinion to view the artist as a purely impulsive genius, Bacon’s existentialist angst was in fact tempered by the immaculate good taste of a highly sophisticated aesthete.

This selection from the artist’s work looks its best set off against the gallery’s polished marble floors, elegant scalloped ceilings and subtle, blind-filtered daylight.

Bacon was such an idiosyncratic painter that one can easily develop a tolerance to his initially breathtaking images. Yet it is an undeniable fact that he created some of the most memorable figurative pictures of the 20th century. And, in this setting, the formal transgressions of his images are easily as evident as their tendency towards expressionist sensationalism.

The flicks and slurs of white pigment that obliquely distort his portraits might be based on cum-shot porno stills, but they also serve to set off the delicate and vulnerable bloom of the pinkness of his unfortunate subjects’ all too bruisable flesh. His Study of a Dog is a giant of entrapped wildness, spinning endlessly on its roundabout pedestal as miniature cars flash by in the distant background. The 1944 Crucifixion triptych, together with the Second Version remake of 1988, is perhaps the only really serious and convincing image on a Christian theme created in any medium over the past 100 years.

It’s true that Bacon might not have finally achieved his ambition of equalling the transvestite grandeur of Velasquez’s Pope Innocent X. His rabid dog might not approach the poignant quicksand of loneliness into which Goya’s Black Period dog eternally sinks. Yet give Bacon his due: what other painter of our times could we even begin to compare to such epoch-defining names?

Until 23 September. Details: 0114 278 2600.











Posters beg Berliners to bring back the Bacon










Berlin will wake up this morning to find the streets plastered with posters for a wanted man: a tiny portrait of Francis Bacon, painted by Lucian Freud 50 years ago, which has disappeared without trace since it was stolen from an exhibition in 1988.

The posters were designed by Freud, who yesterday sent a personal message to the thief: "Would the person who holds the painting kindly consider allowing me to show it in my exhibition next June?"

There is a more tangible prize than a cleared conscience: a reward of DM300,000  almost £100,000  is also being offered, no questions asked, for the safe return of the picture.

The British Council, which organised the touring exhibition from which the painting was stolen, yesterday launched the campaign to persuade the thief to return it in time for a major Freud. retrospective next year at Tate Britain.

The little picture was described yesterday by William Feaver, the art critic who is curating next year’s show, as "the greatest smallest portrait of the 20th century."

Andrea Rose, director of visual arts at the council, said it was unique, "one national icon painted by another."

An anonymous donor  the council was unable yesterday even to divulge his nationality  who is a devotee of the work of both artists has put up the entire cost of the project, including the reward money, the cost of printing 2,500 posters, and the poster sites in Berlin.

Although the campaign is only being mounted for one week in Berlin, the image of the wanted poster is certain to go global. Since 1998 the reputation of both men has soared internationally, making them among the most famous and admired artists in the world. Both long since broke through the £1m price barrier breached by only a handful of contemporary British artists.

Although the painting is priceless, and irreplaceable since Bacon died in 1992, one expert guessed yesterday that its value at auction is probably around £1.2m.

The theft was excruciatingly embarrassing for the British Council, and for the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, from which it was stolen. Berlin was the last stop on a tour which had already included. Washington, London and Paris.

By chance a camera crew was in the gallery on May 27 1988, and at 11am the portrait was still on the wall.

By 3pm the gallery had telephoned the council: the picture was gone. It had simply been unscrewed, and, not much larger than a postcard, pocketed. The gallery had no alarms and no security cameras, and has accepted full liability. Ms Rose, who was curator of the exhibition, said: "It was, I think, the worst moment of my professional career."

Most major art thefts are now carried out for ransom, to the gallery or the insurers, or so the picture can be used as collateral for loans, often for drug deals. In either case news of the picture’s fate tends to filter up from the criminal underworld. There was a hoax ransom demand for the portrait within a few weeks, but nothing since.

In 1951, when the picture was made, Bacon and Freud, then aged 42 and 31 respectively, were close friends, though the relationship later cooled sharply. Bacon made a portrait of Freud, which was based on a photograph of Kafka, and turned out looking far more like Kafka. "That quite often happened with Bacon," William Feaver said.

But Freud worked on his portrait for months, sitting knee-to-knee with Bacon, painting in oils with a fine brush on a copper etching plate balanced on his knee.

Although Freud is best known for his pitiless studies of nudes, the portrait is full of tenderness, in contrast to the raddled figure Bacon became after a lifetime of alcohol and excess. It was bought instantly from the studio by the Tate Gallery  for an undisclosed sum, but believed to be less than £100  to the chagrin of Freud’s dealer, who hoped to include it for sale in an exhibition a few months later.

The 1988 exhibition was crucially important for Freud: it was his first major overseas show, and helped to transform him into an international star. He is so attached to the painting that he refused to allow a colour image to be reproduced today, because he believes the only transparency does not do it justice.

Freud, with memories of a favourite book from his childhood, Emil and the Detectives, where a town is covered with posters overnight, originally asked for the wanted posters to be printed on the cheapest possible paper, and flyposted, like those in cowboy movies.

Discretion has prevailed. The British Council has rented legal sites, on buildings and on roadside kiosks. The printers could not handle the cheap thin paper Freud wanted. In the end they have been printed on heavy art paper, and with a limited edition of just 2,500, are certain to become coveted collector’s items themselves.


















A Dublin Diorama Reveals


A Very Untidy Francis Bacon








DUBLIN, Aug. 15  – There were a few excited gasps when the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery here unveiled its most significant and most hyped acquisition recently. But most just stared and said, ''What a mess!"

Admittedly, it is a very big, very impressive mess, and it was made by the artist Francis Bacon. That didn’t stop the typically irreverent Irish press from looking in on Bacon’s famous studio, which has been reconstructed at the Hugh Lane, and comparing it to a sloppy teenager’s bedroom, or what’s left of an apartment after a nightmare tenant moves out.

Bacon painted in the small London studio, which measures about 345 square feet, from 1961 until his death in 1992. It holds 7,500 carefully cataloged objects, including 100 slashed canvases, some dating back to 1946, and more than 70 drawings that Bacon never admitted making while he was alive. It’s difficult to focus on those refined items, though, because they are buried under crumpled scraps of newspaper and empty Champagne packing boxes, cut-up corduroy pants and marked-up photographs, dirty brushes and paint cans filled with water, all scattered in random piles as if by a whirlwind.

Visitors to the exhibit enter a small glass-enclosed area one at a time, as if Bacon let them step over the threshold and no further. It feels like walking into a room immediately after a madman on amphetamines has made a violent exit. Only a plaster bust of William Blake and a large round mirror seem intentionally placed. The floor is just barely visible in front of the easel, where Bacon stood while he painted. Instead of palettes, Bacon used the walls and the door; paint is smeared everywhere.

The studio opened its brightly splattered door in May, after more than two years of painstaking and costly archaeological work. John Edwards, Bacon’s heir, donated it in its entirety to the Hugh Lane Gallery, in the heart of Dublin, but the process of removing the room – floor, walls, beams, trash and all – from its home in the South Kensington section of London ran up a bill of about $2 million, and involved a few tricky procedures.

Since the walls had been plastered twice, first in 1850 and again in 1930, the move threatened to split the two layers of plaster and ruin Bacon’s impromptu color palettes. So the conservation team securely packed the walls from front and back and cut them into chunks that were not unlike bricks of peat, said Barbara Dawson, director of the Hugh Lane.

Even clumps of dust were photographed, numbered and stored before being shipped across the Irish Sea and replaced in identical positions.

As expected with a project of its scope, the studio has earned high praise and has also raised skeptical eyebrows. Many critics have asked whether having the studio justifies the expense of moving it, when resources are already scarce. The Hugh Lane is a municipal gallery, they say, that should support local artists instead of blockbuster attractions. Up-and-coming Irish artists are typically forced to exhibit their work in commercial galleries, or even in accommodating pubs, because of the lack of public space.

Others take issue with the studio’s entrance fee of six Irish pounds (about $6.90), when almost all other Dublin museums are free, including the Hugh Lane’s permanent collection.

Ms. Dawson defended the fee. ’’We need to build up a financial resource for the gallery in order to bring in the world-class exhibitions that Dublin people seem to enjoy,'' she said. ''It’s not the norm yet. But neither are world-class exhibitions the norm.'' She pointed to the gallery’s phenomenally successful exhibition of Bacon’s work last year, which drew unprecedented crowds to the gallery and increased the public’s awareness of Bacon before the studio was opened this spring.

The more searching question, however, is whether Francis Bacon belongs here at all. He was born in Dublin in 1909, and grew up outside the city in rural County Kildare. But when he was 16, Bacon fled Ireland, like so many of this country’s artists and writers. He has always been called a British artist. He did not come back to Ireland when the Hugh Lane exhibited his work in 1965. And he predicted – jokingly, but somewhat accurately – that he would return to Ireland only after his death.

Is Bacon’s reconstructed studio, then, yet another instance of Ireland reclaiming one of the many sons and daughters it sent into exile, a habit some call the height of hypocrisy? Or is that exile, and Bacon’s sense of being an outsider, exactly what makes him Irish?

''One of the things I have always thought about Bacon is that he is a literary artist,'' said Brian Clarke, the executor of the Bacon estate. Bacon was an avid reader, and his shelves were stocked with Eliot, Yeats, Shakespeare and Aeschylus, not to mention textbooks on medicine and the supernatural. ''I think that his formative years in Ireland nurtured his love of spoken English, and in that sense, he is very much an Irish artist,'' Mr. Clarke said.

The years leading up to 1926, when Bacon moved to London, were a traumatic time to be in Ireland. A rebellion against British rule in 1916 was brutally put down. The struggle for Irish independence finally succeeded in 1921, but was followed by a civil war. Bacon’s childhood home once needed sandbagged defenses in case of attack, Ms. Dawson said.

In addition to being part of an Anglo-Irish ruling class whose power was crumbling, Bacon would have felt alienated from Irish society by his homosexuality, which he realized as a teenager. Noel Sheridan, director of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, pointed out that other outsiders – like Yeats, a Protestant, and Joyce, another exile – became the voices for Irish culture of the time.

''Very often, it is within your isolation that you get the deepest insight,'' Mr. Sheridan said.

Even its critics acknowledge that bringing the studio to Dublin was a bold move, and it has earned Ms. Dawson respect from all quarters. Mr. Edwards and Mr. Clarke talked to the Tate Gallery in London about housing the studio, and offers came in from museums in Paris, Berlin, Washington and Tokyo. But Ms. Dawson’s ambitious approach and direct promises about how the studio would be treated won them over, Mr. Clarke said

Now, Dublin’s art community is hopeful that other institutions will take similarly aggressive and innovative decisions. ''I think Ireland, in all honesty, if you look back, hasn’t been a country that valued its artists,'' Mr. Sheridan said

The Hugh Lane’s treatment of Bacon seems to overturn that trend. Besides the studio, the gallery owns only one Bacon work, an unfinished self-portrait. But it has obtained 14 major Bacon works on long-term loan and is currently exhibiting Perry Ogden’s large-scale photographs of Bacon’s London studio and apartment at 7 Reece Mews

Mr. Ogden said that he approached the task with ''a very forensic sensibility'' – and the immense prints are nearly scientific in their precision. They do, however, offer a warmth and intimacy that the glassed-in studio lacks. (An American-edition book of the photographs will be published by Thames & Hudson this fall.)

The Irish viewers who liken Bacon’s studio to that teenager’s bedroom might be doing him a favour, by humanizing him.

   ''Bacon is seen globally today as an old master, almost,'' Mr. Clarke said. ''The Irish don’t turn him into an icon. They just say, 'There’s a very interesting bloke.' And that gives him back some of his real power."











Twisted Sister







Francis Bacon was one of those brave artists who dared to use the raw materials the twisted and beautiful dark parts of his imagination. Consequently his paintings of fractured faces and dissolving flesh haunt and cause parts of our own, usually dominant, conscience to stir.

The new exhibition of his work, at Sheffield’s Millennium Galleries, comprises paintings and drawings loaned from the Tate and other UK Galleries, and has as its focal point three triptychs  painted in 1944, 72 and  88.  The savage imagery depicted in the earliest, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, sparked outrage when it was first displayed after the Second World War.

The exhibition runs until September 23 at Millennium Galleries, Sheffield. Tel: 0114  278  2600






Burn, Bacon, Burn



Art Review: Letters


Art Review, September 2001


Art critic William Feaver (“Should it stay or should it go?” Art Review, May 2001) is right to argue that we should torch Francis Bacon’s studio and its contents.

Reconstructing Bacon’s studio in Dublin is like displaying Tut’s Tomb sans cadaver. Bacon would have despised the idea of turning his chaotic studio into a peeping Tom’s cabinet of curiosities.

In accordance with Bacon’s wishes: “When I’m dead, put me in a plastic bag and throw me in the gutter.” (Bacon in conversation with Ian Board from The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon by Daniel Farson) – it would have been more appropriate for the Dubliners to have placed empty champagne bottles, oyster shells, gambling chips, £50 notes and Bacon’s bones in a black plastic rubbish bag.

However, even in this respect, Bacon’s last wishes were thwarted because he was cremated.

Alex Russell, London






Peter Pollock: Obituary







Peter William Pollock, restaurateur: born London 19 November 1919; died Tangier 28 July 2001.

Peter Pollock was a friend and supporter of Francis Bacon who in his fifties moved to Morocco and bought a restaurant, the Pergola, which became famed for serving the finest plate of swordfish and chips on the North African coast. Thirty-five of the art-works given him by Bacon formed, with four drawings given to Sir Stephen Spender, the bulk of the Tate Gallery’s exhibition "Francis Bacon: works on paper and paintings" earlier this year.

Born in 1919, Pollock was part-heir to the Accles & Pollock empire – a Midlands-based and highly successful light engineering company co-founded in 1901 by his grandfather Thomas Pollock. In the 1950s the names Accles & Pollock were juxtaposed nationwide on massive hoardings, suggesting all manner of interesting spoonerisms – an innovative form of advertising considered quite racy in its day.

Spurning a possible "reserved occupation" career in light engineering, the young Peter Pollock was an eager volunteer for military service at the start of the Second World War. He gained a commission in the Gordon Highlanders and served, as a captain, both in North Africa and in Italy, where he was taken prisoner.

After demob, and despite his spending four humdrum years in a German POW camp, the idea of a career in Midlands light engineering seemed no more exciting to Pollock than it had done at the start of hostilities. Instead, he bought a farm in Flaunden, Hertfordshire, and took up the life of a gentleman farmer, combining a dairy herd with pig-farming, greyhound breeding and, in the lazy summer afternoons, idling through the leafy Hertfordshire lanes in his vintage Rolls.

Continually frustrated at what he considered to be his own lack of creative achievement, Pollock had an unquenchable passion both for the arts and the company of artists. Sundays provided open house at the Flaunden farm for painters, writers, actors and actresses.

A constant visitor was the then little-recognised painter Francis Bacon. Lacking a home of his own, Bacon enjoyed a come-and-go-as-he-pleased existence, both at the Flaunden farm and at a flat, overlooking Battersea Park in London, which Pollock also owned. Pollock allowed the young Bacon a rent-free life over the years 1955-61– a kindness which the painter acknowledged by leaving behind the occasional picture in unspoken payment.

Another young man whom Pollock took pity on and befriended – and who was destined to become his lifetime companion – was Paul Danquah. Danquah’s father, J.B. Danquah, had been a minister in Kwame Nkrumah’s government in Ghana, but a change in regimes had resulted in his temporary imprisonment. Paul Danquah, at that time studying for the Bar at the Inner Temple, was left unfunded. Pollock’s generosity enabled Danquah to complete and pass his Bar studies – but the young Danquah, inspired perhaps by Pollock’s artistic leanings, was temporarily to abandon his legal career when he was cast opposite Rita Tushingham in the Tony Richardson directed film of Shelagh Delaney’s stage success A Taste of Honey (1961). (He was also to have parts in the Morecambe and Wise vehicle That Riviera Touch, 1966, and, as "2nd Exquisite", in the satire Smashing Time, 1967, written by George Melly.)

The fast life at Flaunden, slow greyhounds and an over-generous nature finally resulted in Pollock’s selling up the farmstead and moving on. It was in the Colony Club in Soho, presided over by the redoubtable Muriel Belcher, that, with his artistic friends including Bacon and John Minton, Pollock had first heard tales of the exciting and exotic life that beckoned in Morocco. Upping sticks in the late 1970s, Pollock and Danquah set up home in Tangier, where notoriety was fast making Morocco fashionable.

Pollock acquired the Pergola, a bar and restaurant on the Tangier seafront, where word of the new owner’s culinary skills soon spread. The "Flaunden set" of friends remained ever-faithful and followed Pollock and Danquah out to Tangier at holiday-times. John Lahr’s 1978 biography of Joe Orton, Prick Up Your Ears, includes a photograph of the playwright with the Kenneths Halliwell and Williams enjoying themselves at the Pergola. Pollock’s expertise in the kitchen was overshadowed only by his generosity of spirit. "No, my dear, I absolutely insist – this one’s on me" might provide a fitting memorial.

Peter Pollock suffered a severe stroke in 1999, which left him an invalid. A second stroke, in July, ended his life.

The extent of Francis Bacon’s gratitude for his mentor’s hospitality came to light only a couple of years ago, when a suitcase, which had gathered dust for decades underneath a bed in a spare room at the Pollock and Danquah home in Tangier, was found to contain a hoard of the painter’s early work. It was Peter Pollock’s innate patriotism which ensured that those paintings were acquired by the Tate Gallery, rather than offered on the open market.







       Francis Bacon with Peter Pollock in Tangier in the 1950s

   Francis Bacon with Peter Pollock in Tangier in the 1950s








The British painter Francis Bacon (1909-92) is best known for expressionistic triptychs and portraits of himself, screaming popes, absent friends and vanished lovers.

In 7 REECE MEWS: Francis Bacon’s Studio (Thames and Hudson, $24.95),+a series of photographs of the studio where Bacon lived and worked for the last 30 years of his life, Perry Ogden has produced what feels like a landscape of Bacon’s interior - a catalogue of the modern artist’s psyche. Crumpled photographs and letters splashed in paint flood the room. 

Frayed boxes long since emptied of bottles of port and Champagne disgorge newspapers and pages ripped from magazines onto the floor. Hundreds of dirty paintbrushes, dried in their butter bean and orange juice cans, perch next to books on Seurat and Velázquez. 

The corduroy rags Bacon sometimes used to paint textures drape on top of paint-encrusted trays. Books on skin disorders and forensics sprawl across the floor. A bare bulb hangs next to its nooselike toggle string, an image familiar from several Bacon portraits. Canvases stacked in one corner reveal only their white or splattered backs; several slashed canvases lie scattered with the other detritus on the floor. 

The slightly sinister aura seems appropriate, given that Bacon’s estate has been involved in lawsuits charging art world skulduggery, and leads one to wonder if Bacon really did leave his studio just like this. Is there any way to know? John Edwards, Bacon’s sole heir, says in the book’s foreword that the studio was left untouched from Bacon’s death until 1998, when it was removed to Dublin, Bacon’s birthplace.

Turn the page and any doubts evaporate: Bacon the artist re-emerges in the light, colour and composition of the unfinished work left on the easel at his death. In Ogden’s photos, one almost smells the sulfuric remnants of Bacon’s imagination. 






Fifty years of hurt



They called it the battle for realism, and it wasn’t a pretty sight.


James Hyman follows British art’s trail of violence from the tormented Bacon to the butcher Hirst





Why is it that the greatest art is also sometimes the most horrific? For every Vermeer interior, serenely suspended in time, there are hundreds of bloody crucifixions, violent rapes and terrible massacres. In Britain, horror was at the heart of two of the most important exhibitions of the past half-century. In 1949 the now defunct Hanover Gallery in London was filled with painting after painting of unremitting pain, in an exhibition that announced the arrival of Francis Bacon and heralded one of the most extraordinary success stories in 20th-century art. Despite the revulsion, Bacon would soon be feted as the most important British artist of the postwar period, and go on to exhibit at the Venice biennale. Soon, too, his paintings would be hung in elegant drawing rooms, and his personal torment celebrated as an artistic revelation of the human condition.   

It was to be 40 years before another exhibition, Modern Medicine, even approached that visceral impact of Bacon’s first one-man show. The venue was Building One, a rundown Bermondsey warehouse reminiscent of the sets for Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. And the artist was Damien Hirst, who showed a rotting cow’s head infested with maggots and surrounded by flies that were being zapped by an insect-o-cutor.

It is no coincidence that two of the most important artists since the second world war should both dramatise extremes of violence in an attempt to heighten our awareness of our own mortality. In fact, you could argue that the most important British art of the past 50 years has been preoccupied with the subject. It all started after the second world war – with what, at the time, was called the battle for realism. This all but forgotten struggle was one of the key moments in the history of British art.

At first glance, the situations then and now could hardly be more different. The inhumanity of the war years had cast a dark shadow over our lives. The world was polarised between Moscow and Washington, and Britain was struggling to establish a role for itself in a new world order. Yet it was from such infertile soil that the seeds grew for some of the seminal works and international success that British art has since enjoyed. For this was the moment, in the late 1940s, when a School of London was proposed for the first time, a challenge to the predominance of the Ecole de Paris and the New York School.

It was a challenge that saw British art elevated to a new status through the reputations gained by artists such as Bacon, Lucian Freud and Henry Moore. Their work was at the centre of a battle fought between two competing visions of realism: social or socialist realism, and modernist realism. Leading the two sides were two of the 20th century’s greatest art critics: David Sylvester, the insider par excellence, and John Berger, a combative outsider.

Each critic had a hero. For Sylvester it was Bacon, for Berger it was Italian Renato Guttuso. Today, Berger’s realism is almost invisible in our museums, but at the time was at the very forefront of British art. His was a realism concerned with finding, as Walter Sickert advocated, "poetry in the everyday", and was filled with such everyday subjects as Lowry’s matchstick men and the domestic scenes of the kitchen-sink painters.

In contrast, Sylvester’s realism addressed the human condition. It was fuelled by existentialism and inspired by Giacometti. The artist was a loner, a solitary genius revealing important truths – and from this side of the battle emerged the victors, from Bacon and Freud to Kossoff and Auerbach.

Half a century later it is difficult to capture the heat of this battle, its importance as a riposte to American abstract expressionism, and its role in intellectualising postwar British culture. It is difficult, too, to grasp the passionate conviction with which it was fought, a conviction fuelled by the belief that art really mattered.

Today, when so much art has become entertainment, serving a public hungry for sensation, and when the notion of high culture is attacked so routinely, it may seem misplaced to recall the high seriousness of that battle. Yet behind the headline-grabbing of Tracey Emin, or any of a dozen other young British artists, the indebtedness of today’s leading artists to these postwar pioneers seems clear.

Rachel Whiteread’s most powerful recent commission is her eerie Holocaust Memorial for the Judenplatz in Vienna. The Chapman brothers’ most profound tableau, Hell (2000), also depicts the Holocaust. Anya Gallaccio’s moving installation, a floor of 10,000 dying roses entitled Red on Green (1992), poetically traces death on a mass scale. For all the differences in medium, Hirst’s boxed and butchered animals are surely the descendants of Bacon’s paintings of man as meat, and Whiteread’s impassive monuments the equivalents of Giacometti’s stoic figures.

As modern artists continue to grapple with humanity’s vulnerability in a violent world, they are creating a new realism that places them as heirs to the legacy of this earlier battle. Fifty years ago it was the chimneys of Auschwitz and the atom bomb plume at Hiroshima that prescribed the artistic struggle. Now, in the aftermath of the terrorist atrocities in America, the battle for realism has assumed a chilling new resonance. 

The Battle for Realism: Figurative Art in Britain During the Cold War (1945-60), by James Hyman, is published by Yale University Press at £45. An exhibition to coincide with its publication is at Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London W1 (020-7495 8575), until October 2.






The show must go on




Critics may accuse the South Bank Show of sycophancy, but as it begins its 25th series,

Rupert Smith finds Melvyn Bragg in buoyant mood





Melvyn Bragg, or Lord Bragg of Wigton to his peers across the river, rules the LWT arts and features department from a modest office on the 22nd floor of the London Television Centre. From his desk he can see the House of Lords (where, perhaps, he should be sitting) through the spokes of the London Eye. For a man consumed with the idea of viewing high culture and popular culture through the same critical lens, it’s an appropriate vista.

To prove a point, Bragg’s back with a South Bank Show season that includes profiles of Norman Foster, Rachel Whiteread and Pedro Almodovar, and boasts commissioned work by Tony Harrison and Ken Russell. The showreel that accompanied the series launch features SBS highlights with Paul McCartney (composing a song called Melvyn Bragg in the first show in 1978), Francis Bacon, Woody Allen, Tracey Emin and Steven Spielberg.

Even more taxing was Bragg’s encounter with Francis Bacon in 1985. "I’d known Francis since the early 60s, and I always wanted to make a film on him, but he wouldn’t play. But then he went and made a film with an American director, which was not good at all. I went to see Francis and I read him the riot act. 'We make good films. This is not a good film! I’m outraged that you went with anyone else and you ended up looking like a pillock!' He just shrugged and said  'OK, do a bloody film then.' ..."

"Unfortunately, when it came to shooting the interview I’d just come back from a period of writing and not drinking at all up in Cumberland. I arrived at Francis’s flat in Soho and he was pouring champagne for everyone. We drank that, then we went and had a proper lunch, then we reset the restaurant to do the interview and drank some more, then on to the Colony Club and then to a casino  my liver was like a trout leaping up stream. When I sobered up I watched the rushes and I thought he said some very good things. I knew I’d get slammed for doing an interview when drunk, but I decided to leave it in. Francis just said 'Oh, bugger them. Show it all.'..."





“Bacon’s got the guts”




Damien Hirst on Francis Bacon



In the final extracts from his new book of interviews with Damien Hirst, Gordon Burn asks

the bad boy of British art what he really thinks about the other major talents of his time.



These conversations between Burn and Hirst are extracted from interviews that took place

 over a period of eight years, beginning before Francis Bacon’s death in 1992





Gordon Burn: Why do you think Francis Bacon is good?

Damien Hirst: He’s the best. There’s these two different things, painters and sculptors. And Bacon is a painter. He doesn’t... It’s not about your ability; it’s about your guts, on some level. And Bacon’s got the guts to fuck in hell.

You see it in the 1940s paintings. I remember looking at a newsreader painting at that exhibition he had in Venice. It was just a head, like a newsreader. You go up to it and it’s, like, the ear is made of oil paint, but it’s almost like a relief. It’s almost three-dimensional. You’ve only got to get oil paint and do an ear, and you paint over it three or four times and it starts to be raised off the canvas. It’s like you managed to stick a fucking ear on.

There’s a painting he’s done of a guy cross-legged, and he can’t paint baseball boots. But he doesn’t pretend he can. That’s why he’s brilliant. He paints a baseball boot to the best of his ability, and it’s totally naked and clean, and it’s right there in your face, and you go, "This is a painting by a geezer who totally believes, and it’s everything he says it is, and whatever his aim is, he’s achieving much more than that." It’s totally laid out in front of you: no lies, no doubt, nothing. And he’s a different kind of painter, and he came from nowhere.

Is it just a story that he [Bacon] went to see the fly piece at the Saatchi Gallery before he died?

No, I know he went. He mentions it in a letter [he wrote]. It just goes, "Hi, blah blah I’m not feeling well blah blah it was great to see you the other day. Just went to the Saatchi Gallery and saw this show of new British artists. Bit creepy blah blah. There’s a piece by this new artist"  I don’t think he mentions my name  "and it’s got a cow’s head in it and a fly-killer and loads of flies and they fly around. It kind of works." It kind of works! Like: "Nice toilet upstairs. It kind of works." Fantastic.

When he was there I got a call from Jenny [Blyth] at the gallery. And she said, "I don’t know if this is interesting to you, but Francis Bacon’s here, and he’s been in front of your piece for an hour." Honestly, I got a phone call that said that. It was a bit embarrassing. I didn’t know what the fuck to say. I dismissed it, but I understand why he could have liked it  dead fucking flies. So I dissociated myself from it as an artist and just thought of it as a spectacle, and quite liked it.

In the interviews with [David] Sylvester, he talks about killing cattle in a slaughterhouse being like crucifixions  the closest you could get to a crucifixion. It would be possible to put forward the view that you are systematically going through Bacon’s images and obsessions and giving them a concrete existence.

I am definitely. I am definitely systematically going through it.

How do you rate Freud against Bacon?

You look at Lucian Freud, and Lucian Freud’s an infinitely better painter. But you can just see why he shits himself while Bacon’s alive. Because he represents something just so fucking enormous that Lucian’s incapable of.

You mean that Freud’s technically the better painter?

I’m not saying that. But I am in a way. But it’s a sigh of relief from Freud when the cunt dies. I mean, Lucian Freud, without Bacon, would be the best painter we’ve got. But he’s not. He’s shit next to Bacon. And Bacon can’t paint, and Freud can. What’s going on?

So what makes Bacon the better artist?

Because he’ll go right out there on the edge of the cliff and he’ll stand there and he’ll put his arms in the air with his shirt off in India without his passport and go, "Come and get me, you cunts!" D’you know what I mean? And no one can get him because of it. He doesn’t falter. He doesn’t fail. And it doesn’t matter he’s a homosexual. Everybody wants to do that, and can’t. All everybody ever wants is somebody to represent that, that "come-and-kill-me".

The Hockney-Caulfield generation of English painters grew up reacting against what they saw as the horrible dull greys and sludgy browns of Sickert, and against everything Sickert stood for. The references were always painters and painting, weren’t they, until about 25 years ago? Have you always reacted against a painter?

Well, you’re always reacting against something. I grew up in a situation where painting was considered dead. But I had a massive desire to be a painter. Not an artist. Not a sculptor. I wanted to be a painter. Not a collagist. The idea of a painter is so much greater than the idea of a sculptor or an artist. You know: "I’m a painter." It’s one on one, mano a mano, you on yourself. But the thing is, painting is dead. It didn’t work. For me, Bacon is the last result of the great painters. He’s the last painter. It’s all sculpture after that.

Hirst on Jackson Pollock

Pollock’s greatness is supposed to lie in his naked display of angst and emotion.

Yeh, but he covered it up with that whole fucking charade as well. The Americans, they always do that, don’t they? It was guaranteed it was going to look pretty, do you know what I mean? Whatever he did. He didn’t go up there and wriggle. He wasn’t a worm on a hook. He admitted he hid behind his work. And he was the best of the gestural Americans. The great big Americans. But Bacon does it better, because he smashes right through.

When you compare Bacon to Pollock, Pollock starts to look like he’s producing logos. When what’s really happening is he’s scrabbling about in this void which has been created by photography, between abstraction and figuration. That’s the truth of it. But the moment he gets there, it starts to look like logos.

These are edited extracts from On The Way To Work, by Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, published by Faber and Faber on October 22, priced £25.





Artists’ colony




How do you qualify as a member of the Colony Room Club?

You either have to be t

Now the infamous private drinking den, where artists from Francis Bacon to Damien Hirst

have partied for more than half a century, is holding an exhibition of modern art. 





ART and alcohol have always made good bedfellows, but nowhere have they snuggled up so successfully and for so long as in Soho’s notorious private drinking den, the Colony Room Club. Considering that its founder, the formidably camp Muriel Belcher, claimed to know 'fuck all about art’, and that it has never been exclusively an artists’ club, it is remarkable how, since its inception in 1948, the Colony has attracted so many British artists of renown. From Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud to Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, successive generations have made their inebriated way up and down the creaking stairs that lead to this small, dark, smoke-filled room in Dean Street.

And since the club’s 50th anniversary in 1998, the rank of members and supporters has been swelled by a stream of thirtysomething British artists with big reputations. Next week these, together with a host of illustrious figures from other walks of life who have joined the club, are contributing to an exhibition curated by Michael Wojas, the club’s proprietor, to celebrate a hard-won court battle over the lease. Apart from artists of the stature of Sarah Lucas, Gary Hume, the twins Jane and Louise Wilson and Gavin Turk, the list includes rock guitarists Paul Simenon of the Clash and Anthony Glenn of Pulp, Swedish actress Amanda Ooms – shortly to be seen in Granada’s The Forsyte Saga – and man-about-town and aspiring photographer Dan Macmillan, the 27-year-old great-grandson of former prime minister Sir Harold Macmillan.

So, what’s the attraction? Is it something the barman puts in the drinks? Of course alcohol is the common bait. But, more importantly, it’s who you drink with that counts. For members of the Colony this is something that is rooted in history. Had Francis Bacon not walked into the club the day after it opened and found someone as sympathetic to his plight as a poor homosexual artist than Muriel Belcher, the legend of the Colony might never have been born. And had the legend not been born, the club would undoubtedly not be what it is today.

This legend rests on the fact that Bacon, arguably the most significant painter of the post-war era, made Belcher’s club his second home. 'At unproductive moments in his career,' writes Michael Peppiatt, 'he spent more time at her club than at Reece Mews [his home and studio]'. And where he went, others followed. In Michael Andrews’s famous 1962 painting, The Colony Room, Bacon sits, holding court, with Belcher, Freud and the photographer John Deakin in attendance. Dotted elsewhere around the room are the writers Bruce and Jeffrey Bernard, and the artist’s mode; and sometime 'Queen of Soho' Henrietta Moraes.

To Bacon’s magnetism, Belcher added a genius for selecting and entertaining not just artists and writers but also actors, gamblers, criminals, peers and politicians. As George Melly has written, 'She liked her members to be amusing or talented or rich, although she could be very kind to down-and-outs.' She knew instinctively who would fit in and who would not, thus giving the place a sense of exclusivity. Although she cultivated artists, she knew it would have been boring if it was just artists talking about art, and bores — except for very rich ones — were barred.

At the Colony rudeness became a cult. As the Hon Michael Summerskill put it, 'It was a place where the rules against slander could be suspended.' But under Belcher’s successor, Ian Board, the cult reached new extremes. According to Melly, Board was 'a monster of aggressive, sometimes incoherent rudeness'. After Belcher’s death in 1979, Bacon visited less frequently, and although artists continued to drink there, the club lost many of its regular customers.

When Board died in 1994, his mantle passed to the barman, Michael Wojas. A less bombastic, less confrontational character than his predecessors, Wojas quietly set about re-inventing the club. 'The place had such potential. I couldn’t just let it drift,' he recalls. 'I didn’t have a plan, but I consciously went out to clubs and private views to meet people and listen to their suggestions.' When new faces began to appear at his door he would 'get a feeling, take a chance and sign them in,' he says of the vetting process. 'It’s something to do with their general state of mind. And the younger the better, so long as they're not total bores.' And if they are? 'I eloquently tell them to fuck off!'

For Wojas, the defining moment of regeneration came in 1998, when he conceived an exhibition by members to celebrate the club’s 50th anniversary. For this he enlisted the support of former art dealer James Birch. Birch had been going to the Colony since the late Seventies and had introduced several younger artists, including Damien Hirst, who was to act as a catalyst for the club’s fortunes in the way that Bacon had done. At his house in Clerkenwell, Birch designed the basement as a gallery, and agreed to host the exhibition there. Contributions were received from older-generation artists such as Patrick Caulfield and Barry Flanagan, younger bloods Damien Hirst, Marc Quinn and Tracey Emin as well as from singer Lisa Stansfield and film mkaer John Maybury. It was, said Wojas, a sort of 'Liquorice Allsorts'. But its impact led to three years of unprecedented membership expansion at the club.

At the opening, Wojas was introduced to Sarah Lucas and complained that he was having trouble finding someone to help out behind the bar. To his surprise, she volunteered her services, adding that she would like to work on Tuesdays because, says Wojas, 'that was the night when most of the galleries held their private views, and she hated private views'.

What happened next, as many things in the club do, started as a joke. Lucas and fellow artist Abigail Lane hatched an idea that each would work behind the bar for one night with their respective boyfriends — the artist Angus Fairhurst and the singer/composer/DJ Paul Fryer. Then, when Hirst and his wife, Maia, decided to follow suit, the idea really took off with celebrity art-world couples queuing up to offer their services. From November 1998 until March the following year, Wednesday night became party night at the Colony as art dealer Jay Jopling and his wife, video artist Sam Taylor-Wood, Tracey Emin and boyfriend Matt Collishaw, Jane and Louise Wilson and even Suggs from Madness and his wife took a turn behind the bar.

Artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster worked behind the bar on one of those nights. 'You don’t join the club,' says Webster, 'you just fall in. It’s like a secret drinking hole. Not anyone can go there so it is sort of exclusive, but not in a snobby way. The night we worked there, we dressed up as Fred and Rosemary West. A lot of our friends came expecting free drinks, but they had to pay. The hardest part was working the till. It’s like one of those saloon bar tills you see in westerns with big buttons. Instead of ringing up £10, you have to ring up £1 – 10 times.' 

Since then, that till has finally expired and Wojas has acquired an old customised National Cash Registers till which is being cased in chrome. On the front a panel has been made in etched glass, and the keys are being decorated with coloured spots to match a Damien Hirst spot painting behind the bar. It will be unveiled at Wojas’s upcoming exhibition.

Unlike most curated exhibitions of contemporary art nowadays, where an apparently disparate group of works is held together by the curator’s underlying concept, this one holds no such pretensions. As Paul Fryer says, 'It’s a bit like Peter Blake at the RA this summer. When asked how he had selected the artists he invited to show there he replied, "They are just basically people I like." '

Angus Fairhurst describes Wojas as 'a drinking curator', but while some of the work in the exhibition may have been inspired by drink, references to the Colony itself are not necessarily intentional. Dan Macmillan’s photograph, Adolf Hilfiger, for instance, is 'about America and Tommy Hilfiger', he explains. 'It’s part of an ongoing series I’m doing about Nazi imagery in graphic design work and the power of graphic designers in establishing corporate identities.' In the context, one is faintly reminded of Muriel Belcher’s repeated references to the Nazi leader as 'Miss Hitler'.

Abigail Lane’s inkjet print, The Inspirator, is something that could just have been inspired by an all-night session at the Colony, but apparently wasn’t. In it, a panda (actually a busker she met on the Underground dressed in a panda suit) plays the trumpet in a forest. It’s a slightly surreal vision of a fairground event swathed in the same Buckingham green colours in which the club itself is painted. Sarah Lucas has made a sculpture for the show that seems more specific. Smoked, 20 cigarette butts on wire coils extending from the neck of a hammer like the arms of an octopus, is not about drink but another of the pursuits of the Colony’s members and 'the price you pay for it'. Gary Hume has chosen to show a previously unexhibited painting of Michael Jackson taken from a photograph in the Guardian during the singer’s visit to Oxford earlier this year. Somehow Hume captures something of the essence of the club in describing the subject of his painting as 'both brilliant and tragic at the same time'.

Angus Fairhurst’s collage, Proposal for a Monument can be read as a reflection on how the attitudes of the new generation towards the history of the club have changed. Without reference to anything specific, Fairhurst made a series of collages three months ago about the way things collapse under the weight of their own history. On the top of a building a sign reads: 'Delete All Memories'. Although the club still looks much the same as it always did, cluttered with memorabilia and gifts from artists, 'it is not a shrine' says Fairhurst.

'One thing that could have been a problem with the club is that Bacon’s shadow hangs too heavily over it,' says Matt Collishaw. 'Michael [Wojas] gives people the freedom to get on with the present without getting tied into some heavy mythology.' The ghosts of Francis Bacon and Muriel Belcher may still linger, but they are rapidly being exorcised.

'2001  A Space Oddity' runs from October 28 to November 16 at James Birch’s A22 Gallery, 22 Laystall St, London EC1R 4PA






Francis Bacon, clean your room

7 Reece Mews Francis Bacon’s Studio


Foreword by John Edwards; photographs by Perry Ogden

THAMES & HUDSON; 120 PAGES; $24.95







British painter Francis Bacon (1909-1992) left behind a studio that ranks as a significant artifact in its own right.

Readers who remember the tidy impression Bacon’s work made in the 1999 retrospective at the Legion of Honour may be stunned to see his work space documented in 7 Reece Mews.

So suggestive of Bacon’s creative ferment was his legendary studio in London’s Kensington section that the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery in Dublin, Bacon’s birthplace, purchased and transplanted it as a permanent installation.

The dismantling, archiving and transplantation of the studio from London to Dublin makes one of the great art conservation stories of modern times. It is the only thing missing from 7 Reece Mews. The book’s text is a brief memoir by John Edwards, Bacon’s sole heir and his companion late in life.

Urban archaeologists were enlisted to map and catalogue every scrap of paper, soiled rag, slashed canvas and pot of soaking brushes that Bacon left behind, so the whole ensemble could be replicated exactly in Dublin. Facsimiles were substituted only for articles threatened with ruin by time and those deemed worthy of scholarly study.

Photographs of the Hugh Lane installation are indistinguishable from those collected in 7 Reece Mews, expertly made by Perry Ogden. The conservators found some 1,700 pages of illustrations torn from books, 70 drawings by Bacon, who claimed he never drew, and 100 perforated canvases.

Bacon called the studio walls, on which he wiped brushes and tested colours, his only abstract paintings. Ogden recorded them and the whole metier with the precision of a crime scene analyst.

The fascination of 7 Reece Mews is hard to convey. Ogden’s images accomplish what would seem impossible for photography: renewing curiosity in viewers for whom Bacon’s art lost much of its mystery and surprise with his acceptance into the modern canon.






Bacon 'blackmailed' by art gallery owner,

court is told in dispute over £100m fees







Claims that the artist Francis Bacon was swindled out of millions of pounds by his gallery took a sensational twist yesterday when a judge was told of allegations that the artist had been "blackmailed" by the gallery’s one-time owner.

The claim that Bacon had been the victim of blackmail surfaced in the High Court after the 11th-hour submission of a statement to trustees of the artist’s estate by the New York art dealer Arne Glimcher.

It was the latest twist in a £100m battle by the trustees to establish exactly what the artist was paid for his work during a 34-year relationship with the Marlborough Gallery, one of London’s most respected contemporary outlets.

Previous hearings were told that the gallery produced prints without paying Bacon and that as many as 33 paintings, each potentially worth millions of pounds, had remained unaccounted for after the artist’s death in 1992.

The trustees allege that Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd took advantage of the artist, taking up to 70 per cent commissions instead of a "fairer" 30 per cent.

The gallery has always denied the claim, arguing that Bacon was fairly paid but was ambivalent about money. If he had been unhappy, the gallery has argued, he would not have remained as a client for so long.

Mr. Glimcher’s statement, which has not yet been formally disclosed to the court, is thought possibly to allude to that. It was received by Bacon’s legal team at 11pm on Monday, less than 12 hours before the start of the latest hearing.

On receiving it, the trustees, led by the artist and friend of Bacon, Professor Brian Clarke, amended their pleading to allege the artist was blackmailed by Frank Lloyd, the gallery’s late owner.

The allegations are not thought to relate to anyone else associated with the gallery.

When Michael Lyndon- Stanford QC, counsel for the Marlborough, suggested the allegation might amount to fraud, the judge, Mr. Justice Patten, said he regarded it as "blackmail".

The central allegation is unclear, but during earlier inquiries by The Independent, close friends of Bacon’s have said he had been worried over his tax affairs, which were in chaos, and he had sought advice and help from Mr Lloyd.

The allegations are unlikely to have involved threats to disclose his sexuality; he made no secret of his homosexuality, a state of affairs that did not lend itself to blackmail. He was, however, known to have been paranoid about unpaid tax.

It was known in the 1970s, as Bacon was approaching the peak of his talents, that American galleries, among them Mr. Glimcher’s Pace (now known as Pace Wildenstein) Gallery, were interested in luring him from the Marlborough, without success.

Last night, a source close to the Bacon team said: "We cannot discuss detailed evidence before it gets to court, but it is fair to say Mr. Glimcher’s statement represents a very interesting development."

The gallery was taken by surprise by hints of the allegations to come. A spokeswoman said: "It [blackmail] has never been raised by the estate before. The estate have spent three years extensively researching the case before they brought it and since 1999 they have amended their claim substantially three times, making no mention of this issue."

Bacon’s sole beneficiary is John Edwards, with whom he developed a filial relationship after meeting in London in 1974. Professor Clarke has been at pains to stress that the primary purpose of the litigation is not to enrich Mr Edwards, but to establish a full record of Bacon’s work and to provide funds for research into it.

Professor Clarke and Mr. Glimcher have been advised by their lawyers not to comment on the case, which is in its preliminary stages. A full hearing is expected to go ahead next February.






Bacon Estate alleges artist was blackmailed by Marlborough



Potentially key witnesses, David Sylvester, Gilbert de Botton and Gilbert Lloyd are all dead 





LONDON. The Francis Bacon Estate’s legal claim against Marlborough Fine Art has taken a new twist, with allegations of blackmail. Bacon is said to have decided to leave Marlborough to move to the Pace gallery (now Pace Wildenstein), but changed his mind after being warned that he might then have problems with the UK tax authorities and in getting access to money paid through Liechtenstein into his Swiss bank accounts.

On 20 November the High Court in London ruled that the blackmail claim could be incorporated into the Estate’s case, which will come to trial in February. Mr Justice Patten pointed out that his duty was to filter out “hopeless claims”, but the new allegation “does not fall into that category.” The judge stressed that this “does not mean that it will succeed or that I have formed any view at all as to its truth.”

Although the extent of the Estate’s claim has not been calculated, it could well amount to more than £100 million. When Bacon died in 1992, he left his assets to John Edwards, a former East London barman who now lives in Thailand. The sole executor is Professor Brian Clarke, who believes that Bacon was not paid properly by his long-time dealer for many of his pictures. Professor Clarke is therefore taking legal action against Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd and Liechtenstein-registered Marlborough International Fine Art Establishment (see The Art Newspaper, no. 115, June 2001, p. 6).

Dinner at Claridge’s

The alleged blackmail by Marlborough dates back to March 1978, when Bacon tried to switch galleries in order to boost his earnings. Respected art historian Michael Peppiatt, a close friend of Bacon, told Arnold Glimcher, the chairman of Pace in New York, that the artist was “unhappy” with Marlborough, his established dealer. Mr Glimcher then flew over to London, meeting Bacon and Mr Peppiatt for dinner at Claridge’s on 2 March. Bacon wanted £50,000 per large single panel painting, and Mr Glimcher made an offer (there is now some confusion now over whether the 50,000 offer was in sterling or dollars). A further meeting was held at Claridge’s the following day.

Between 4 and 8 March, Bacon approached Marlborough owner Frank Lloyd and told him of his decision to move to Pace. The Estate alleges that Mr Lloyd “placed undue pressure on Bacon to remain with Marlborough”, by threatening that if the artist left his gallery then (a) “Bacon would have problems obtaining access to the funds belonging to him which Marlborough had paid into Bacon’s bank accounts in Switzerland” and (b) “Bacon would be exposed to the English tax authorities.”

Mr Glimcher provided a statement on 1 November 2001, giving details of the conversations at Claridge’s: “Bacon and I seemed to have an immediate rapport. By the end of the second meeting, we had reached an agreement on which we shook hands.” But on 8 March 1978 Mr Glimcher was devastated to receive a letter from Bacon saying that he had decided to remain with Marlborough. In retrospect, Mr Glimcher believes that his source of information about what had occurred was probably Mr Peppiatt.

Mr Peppiatt and his wife Jill Lloyd had a meeting with the Estate in June 2000 to discuss the possibility of compiling a catalogue raisonné of Bacon’s work. Mr Justice Patten recorded: “I am told that this is likely to be a lucrative and prestigious project and these discussions are relied upon by Mr Lyndon-Stanford [Marlborough’s QC] as giving his clients additional concern that Mr Peppiatt’s independence as a witness may thereby have been compromised.” Marlborough has since stressed to The Art Newspaper that it has never objected to Mr Peppiatt’s authoring the catalogue, describing him as “by far the best qualified person to do so.”

Rothko link

Marlborough’s lawyers have pointed out that Mr Glimcher “is in competition with Marlborough in New York and acted for the Rothko estate in connection with its dispute with Marlborough in the 1970s”. This was a legal row which has some parallels with the current case between the Bacon Estate and Marlborough. The gallery therefore does not regard Mr Glimcher as “in any sense an independent witness.”

It was also argued by Marlborough that had the blackmail claim been made at an earlier stage in the proceedings, it would have been possible to have discussed the matter with two of Bacon’s close associates, art historian David Sylvester (who died on 19 June 2001) and financier Gilbert de Botton (who died on 27 August 2000). Mr Lloyd, the key witness, died in 1998.

Marlborough concludes that it “does not know why Bacon changed his mind [over the move to Pace, but would invite the court to infer that it was in his best interests to continue to work with Marlborough.” Last month a gallery spokesman told The Art Newspaper that “in relation to the allegation of blackmail, Marlborough rejects it entirely.”







I offered Bacon £50,000 a picture but rival

blackmailed him over tax bill, claims dealer







TO MOST hungry artists, the offer would have been too good to refuse. Even to a wealthy Francis Bacon, sipping champagne at Claridge’s, it seems to have been the answer to his prayers: a minimum of £50,000 per painting and a move to the books of the New York gallery that handled Picasso.

The offer was made in March 1978 by Arnold Glimcher, the influential Pace Gallery owner, at a time when Bacon, arguably the greatest British-based painter of the last century, is thought to have wanted to break from Marlborough Fine Art in London, the gallery that had pushed his work for the previous 10 years.

But Bacon did not go. Instead, he stayed with Marlborough until his death in 1992, a decision that baffled those close to him. Why he did not leave has remained a mystery. However, according to dramatic claims in what could become the most sensational legal spat the British art world has seen, the reason was simple. He was a victim of blackmail.

That is the allegation to be made in a High Court battle in February which, if proved, could make Bacon’s estate up to £100m richer. On one side is Professor Brian Clarke, a friend of Bacon and the executor of his will. The professor claims Marlborough’s then director, Frank Lloyd, asserted undue influence over Bacon, cheating him of millions of pounds and failing to account for up to 33 of his paintings.

On the other is Marlborough, the distinguished art house that claims it made Bacon famous and wealthy and dealt with his every whim with scrupulous fairness. Neither side has given ground in preliminary hearings since Bacon’s estate launched a civil action against the gallery last year. But what no one expected was that a row over money and paintings would turn up allegations of blackmail.

The Independent reported three weeks ago that threats against Bacon had been alleged, but the full details of the allegations have only become clear since the judge, Mr Justice Patten, ruled that a statement by Mr Glimcher could form part of Professor Clarke’s argument.

In it, Mr Glimcher alleges that Bacon was blackmailed by Mr Lloyd into staying with gallery.

According to High Court documents, Mr Glimcher said he had two meetings with the artist in London. Bacon and I seemed to have an immediate rapport," he said. By the end of the second meeting [also at Claridge’s], we had reached an agreement on which we shook hands.

Bacon, Mr Glimcher said, was delighted with his promise of £50,000 a painting. But, suddenly, the artist pulled out.

Later, Mr Glimcher claims he was told by Michael Peppiatt, the respected art historian and author of Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, about the allegations of blackmail.

Mr Glimcher said: "When Francis Bacon informed Frank Lloyd he was leaving Marlborough for Pace, Frank Lloyd told Francis Bacon that if he left Marlborough, Bacon would have problems accessing funds that Marlborough [had] paid to Bacon in Switzerland. I recall something that Bacon’s sister was in a sanatorium of some kind. I was also told that there were threats by Frank Lloyd of income tax exposure.

Bacon, who had bank accounts at Dreyfus Soehne and Rothschilds in Zurich, was deeply in debt to the Inland Revenue. According to Professor Clarke, exposure would have left Bacon financially unable to care for his sister, Ianthe Knott, who was suffering from a degenerative disease in Zimbabwe, so he decided to stay with Marlborough.

In his statement, Mr Glimcher, who has been advised by his lawyers not to comment on the case, says he believes it was Mr Peppiatt who told him about the blackmail threat. Lawyers for Marlborough do not want Mr Peppiatt questioned until the full hearing in February. In another statement, however, Professor Clarke says that during a meeting in 1999, Mr Peppiatt said to him: I suppose you will be wanting to know about the famous 'blackmail' conversation with Glimcher.

Mr Peppiatt has also been advised not to comment. It is understood he has expressed a willingness to co-operate fully with the court, but lawyers for Marlborough are unhappy that Bacon’s estate has asked him to help compile a prestigious catalogue of the artist’s work.

Marlborough’s legal team is also concerned about the independence of Mr Glimcher. During a preliminary hearing several weeks ago, Michael Lyndon-Stanford QC, for Marlborough, pointed out that Mr Glimcher was a competitor of the Marlborough in New York. And he asked Mr Justice Patten to bear in mind that Mr Glimcher had acted for the estate of Mark Rothko when that artist had had a similar dispute with Marlborough in the 1970s.

Marlborough rejects the allegations. It said: It remains Marlborough UK’s case that a provisional arrangement was made between the Pace Gallery and Bacon (as evidenced by [a] letter of 4 March 1978).

"Bacon responded to that letter on 8 March 1978 stating that he had not made up his mind about whether to move to Pace Gallery and wrote again on 17 March 1978 stating that for the present time he had decided not to change his gallery in New York. Marlborough UK does not know why Bacon changed his mind, but would invite the court to infer that Bacon decided that it was in his best interests to continue to work with Marlborough.

That is something Bacon’s estate disputes. It claims that dozens of his paintings may be unaccounted for and that he was paid only $40,000 (£28,000) for one series of lithographs when, in fact, many more than that were produced.

If the court case is successful, the recipient of any award would by Bacon’s sole beneficiary, John Edwards, with whom he developed a filial relationship after the pair met in London in 1974. Professor Clarke says the primary purpose of the litigation is not to enrich Mr Edwards, but to establish a record of Bacon’s work and to provide funds for research.

The judge is keeping an open mind as to the veracity of the allegations. The court is only concerned at this time to filter out hopeless claims ... the blackmail claim does not fall into that category, Mr Justice Patten said in his judgment. But that does not mean that it will succeed or that I have formed any view at all as to its truth.” 

Mr Lloyd cannot defend himself against the allegations. He died in 1998.




         Francis Bacon stayed with the Marlborough gallery







 In memoriam: David Sylvester



The art of the interview








The interviews and exhibitions that David Sylvester produced with Francis Bacon were among the most lucid and revealing critical and curatorial achievements in the latter half of the twentieth century. But it was only after the artist’s death in 1992 that Sylvester began to write a book about Bacon, which was published last year. In his last interview for British, conducted only a few months before his own death, David Sylvester spoke to Tim Marlow about the importance of Bacon, his place in history, his trickery and how best to interview an artist.

Tim Marlow: Why has it taken you so long to write a book about Bacon, rather than publishing interviews with him?

David Sylvester: I had a feeling the two things shouldn’t be happening at the same time, and the interviews were an on going project. In a way, you know, I became Bacon’s concierge or butler. I used to get telephone calls from photographers asking me whether I’d sit for them. I’d say: “Well, I’m very honoured that you should want to photograph me.” Then the conversation would always develop in the same way: “Do you think we could photograph you in Francis Bacon’s studio?” And then: “Do you think that he might join you in a photograph or two, or that we might do some pictures of him?” So I felt too personally associated with Bacon. I much prefer writing books about dead artists rather than living ones because they’re not going t read it... you hope. 

Is that because if they're around, then you are, perhaps subconsciously, concerned about what they'll think and say?

I’m afraid it may be an admission of great weakness, but consciously you feel that they’re going to read it and they might feel you’re an idiot, or they might get hurt, or both.

Have your opinions of Bacon changed significantly since his death? You seemed to have a very crystallised view of him well before he died.

Yes I did and it hasn’t changed since his death. I felt and still feel that he had two really great periods. One was from about 1944/1945 to 1954; the other from about 1971 to 1976. I don’t think there were many great works during the last fifteen years of his career, apart from a number of landscapes which were quite wonderful. I think, too, my placing of Bacon hasn’t much changed. I don’t say this in the book, because I don’t think a book is the place to give medals, but I would now suggest that he was one of the four biggest figures in European art in the second half of the twentieth century. Disregarding people such as Picasso and Matisse, who were already great performers from the first half of the century, I would place him alongside Giacometti, Dubuffet and Beuys. But there are several American artists whom I would place above Bacon— Newman, Pollock, de Kooning, Johns and Twombly. They were, too me, greater painters than Bacon.

About three years ago an amazing “discovery” was made that Bacon drew in preparation for his paintings You’ve acknowledge this in an article called Bacon’s Secret Vice. He told you that he didn’t draw, but the conclusion you’ve now reached is that, even if he did, perhaps the drawings are not as relevant as some people think. Did you feel betrayed, or did the deception just seem in keeping with what you knew of Bacon already?

Tim, if I were as good an interviewer as you are, in the course of all those interviews we did – eighteen sessions over a period of twenty years – I would have found out more. Early on, he said he didn’t draw, he did no predatory drawings. And I accepted that. Then sometimes when it was referred to later, I’d say knowingly: “Well, of course you don’t do preliminary drawings.” And he’d go along with that, so the fiction was preserved. If I had been a good interviewer, I would have probed at him and maybe got some admission  that he did draw I had in my possession a little book that I’d stolen from his studio, which had a set of drawings in it. I put it away safely, intending to give it to the Tate archive after his death I didn’t d then know that dozens of drawings would come to light, so the fact that I’ve actually lost the book doesn’t matter. They were very sketchy little pencil drawings, but they were undoubtedly done for compositions. So I knew all the time that he did do some drawings, but I didn’t push it.

Do you think they were crucial to the evolution of the painting, or were they just one of a number of factors? After all, the words and ideas in his notebooks also seem central to the way he worked.

I agree with you very strongly. Brian Clarke, the stained glass artist, who has become Francis’s executor, made a very good point which I quote in that little article about Bacon’s secret vice. Brian says Bacon made great lists of subjects, which are almost more important than the drawings. He adds that Francis was a very verbal artist and often it was a verbal idea – a word or a phrase – which generated an image, and that, in a way, the real sketches were the lists of titles.

I think this is one of the reasons why the interviews you did with Bacon are so crucial. It’s the spoken word by Bacon that tells us so much. You’ ve implied and you wont admit its tongue-in-cheek, but it is – that you are not as good an interviewer as me, when in fact you are indisputably the best interviewer of artists of the past 40 to 50 years. There’s no one to touch you. We live in a culture where interviews are often combative – there’ s a feeling that were supposed to argue. You rarely did that with Bacon, if at all. Even when he was making remarks with which you clearly disagreed – such as Jackson Pollock was like old lace  you didn’t come back at him. Is that the secret of being a good interviewer, you listen, you cajole, you get him to speak, but you don’t really argue?

What I said about you was not said tongue-in-cheek, but in any case I think there are two things that are fatal in interviewing. One is to come up with questions too quickly. If the guy has said something in answer to one of your questions and he comes to a stop, wait, and very often he will feel slightly embarrassed by the silence and come in and fill the gap. The most interesting, profound and introspective things can be said when there’s no prompting. So, to wait is one of the rules. The other is not to argue with their opinions; there’s no point. I said to Bacon when he put down Abstract Expressionism, so why do you think it moves me? And he said, oh, you’re too subject to fashion, or something like that. Well, I didn’t argue with him, and I did not argue with him about his idiotic opinions bout Pollock. You’re not there to argue with the interviewee, but you are there to probe. I should have probed more. I mean, I should have said something like: “Well, before you start painting, you’re sketching an outline on the canvas; you begin by sketching an outline of the figure. Now, you’ve got to get that right in proportion to the canvas. Do you never do a try out on paper first? Seeing what size the figure might be in relation to the size of the thing?” If I had probed him professionally and persistently enough, I might have go something out of him.

Looking back at Francis Bacon, by David Sylvester, is published by Thames & Hudson. This interview was first broadcast on the Artsworld Channel












David Sylvester






“Vermeer to bowl legbreaks,” said a gruff, deep voice at the end of the ’phone. It was around midnight one Sunday and it took all of a second to realise that it was David Sylvester completing a Great Artists’ cricket XI that we’d devised earlier in the week on a flight back from Edinburgh. The day in Scotland was spent looking long and hard at Giacometti’s work, for a radio piece; the telephone call was to discuss two tricky sentences in an article for tate about Cy Twombly, one of which likened a work by the American painter to a “soiled sheet after a wild night”. Vivid, visceral and succinct, as I told him, and perfectly judged, but you’re wrong about Vermeer. The argument continued for the best part of an hour. He cursed me a couple of times and then conceded that he’d think about it again. Here, it seems to me, is the essence of the man who was perhaps the most influential critic and curator in post-war British art: passionate, playful, profound, an individual who pondered everything deeply but was always prepared to reconsider.

Over the past decade, David wrote frequently for tate on a variety of subjects, from his masterly ‘Notes on Installing Art’ (which should form the basis of a handbook given to all young curators) to an interview with Rachel Whiteread considered by the artist as far and away the best she ever did. He also, of course, wrote about Francis Bacon, whose work he knew better than anyone but which he constantly re-evaluated. This February, four months before David died, I interviewed him about his new book on Bacon. He was still wrestling with the painter’s methods as well as how he ranked with other major figures in European art – less a cricket team than a wry cultural Olympiad. This all-too brief interview is published on page 80, while below are tributes sent to Tate from some of David’s friends and rivals; critics, curators and artists whose understanding of his achievements are infinitely more profound than mine.

Five years ago now, in an early issue of the magazine, David experimented with the idea of re-reading Bacon’s work as if through the eyes of Matisse. Ultimately, he decided that it was a fascinating but flawed concept. His concluding sentences about Bacon’s broader creative approach, though, might well have been written about David Sylvester himself: “Bacon takes a variety of things and incorporates them into a mixture in which their separate identities are glimpsed, more or less changed, sometimes changed hardly at all, but which has a perfectly individual style. It is very like what Eliot did and a consummation that could have happened only in our own age because it depends on our unprecedented breadth of reference. Fragmentary memories of many times and places, of many myths and styles, are brought to mind, some clearly, some vaguely as we look. It seems that all human history is present. The poignancy is that those echoes from the store of common experience are brought to us by a voice that is utterly personal and singular.”

Tim Marlow


Nicholas Serota

David Sylvester was singular in his ability to focus with great intensity on whatever issue was at hand. He was always deliberate in his judgment and gave equal weight to the choice of a painting for an exhibition, a word in a sentence, the juxtaposition of one work against another, or the right wine for his guests. Nothing apparently minor escaped his attention.


Rachel Whiteread

He was an extraordinary interviewer, the best I have ever encountered. He was charming, a little flirtatious and was a great enabler. He led the conversation in a wholly direct way, but picked up on things that others didn’t see. He had the ability to generate an intimacy that made the whole process of talking about art a great pleasure.


Anthony Caro

He was a person of gravitas and authority. You felt that everything he said and wrote had been seriously considered. For me, his genius lay in the shows he curated and hung. For example, after seeing a show of Picasso’s late work at the Guggenheim, I had concluded that in his last days Picasso had lost it, but the “Late Picasso” that David presented at the Tate (1988) completely changed my view. His Bacon exhibition in Venice was superb. David had a point of view with his shows; he was saying something and made them work visually and intellectually. In a way he was like an artist; putting up a great show is an art.

John Berger

David Sylvester considered me his bête noire. I think that is an oversimplification. It is quite important to consider there were quite a number of things we agreed about. We were both among the first newspaper critics to recognise Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff. We both greatly admired Giacometti but wrote different things about him. We disagreed about Francis Bacon, but disagreements are healthy.

I thought he was an extraordinary curator. He had a precision and care for detail, and had a sense of the whole œuvre of an artist’s work. His installations were almost like landscapes. He was a good writer. He struggled towards maximum precision and clarity and succeeded. He also had the spirit of a great collector; his attitude was that of the connoisseur who believed in the act of collecting as helping the artist.


Grey Gowrie

David was above all a writer rather than a critic. His subject was art. Like Ruskin or Henry James, he explored the way in which a visceral response to things seen translate into language. It is an impossible task. As Beckett might have said, David failed better than anyone else. He was a man easily elated and easily downcast but always an enchanting companion. He was one of my closest friends, and where the visual arts were concerned, my guru. My celestial dinner party would include Francis Bacon, Paddy and Joan Leigh Fermor as well as David. Thanks to him I have enjoyed it on earth.

Anthony David Bernard Sylvester,
art critic and curator, born 21 September 1924, died 19 June 2001









Perry Ogden’s photographs of Francis Bacon’s Studio

 on show at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery



Inside 7 Reece Mews





Perry Ogden’s photographs are invaluable documentation of Francis Bacon’s studio at 7 Reese Mews in London, where he resided until his death in 1992. The studio was recently relocated wholesale and reconstructed in the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin, to which John Edwards donated the studio in 1998.

Ogden’s colour photographs, taken while the studio was still in London, comprise a book describing the studio’s relocation, put out last year by Thames & Hudson, and now this suite of photographs is on view at Shafrazi Gallery. The studio proper, as captured by Ogden, is strewn with clues to the painter’s inspiration and daily existence—paint brushes sprout willy-nilly from old butter bean and caper cans; two medical photos of herpes simplex victims abut cardboard boxes and a pair of ice skates; a snapshot of a youthful Mick Jagger shares space with a political biography of Karl Marx.

The randomness is delicious, a real-world version of messy installation art like that of Jason Rhoades. Books piled among the debris document Bacon’s artistic inspiration: monographs on Munch, Rodin and, of course, Velázquez; a volume on Egyptian art with a fragment of a head on its cover.

All that is missing is Bacon himself, and he, as well as his ill-fated lover, George Dyer, are present in crumpled photos within photos, on the littered floor. Other photos document Bacon’s spartan kitchen, with studies tacked to its walls, the bare lightbulbs hanging in his bedroom, and even—a spooky touch—a few crumpled towels clinging to the rim of his bathtub.







Three Bacon paintings up for auction








Three angst-filled paintings by Francis Bacon including an ominous portrait of his lover, representing a traumatic period in the artist’s life, come up for auction in London next month.

Each is estimated by Christie’s at under £1m, but could well soar far past that: the world record for a Bacon is over £6m, paid at a Sotheby’s auction in New York last year, and a series of three portraits of his last companion, John Edwards, sold for just over £3m at Christie’s in London.

One of the paintings, Head, the contorted image of a surgeon with a lamp on his forehead, was given as a present to his friend, the writer Daniel Farson. Four years later, in 1966, Farson sold it  in his own words to his "lasting shame and regret"  for £2,400: it is now estimated at up to £500,000.

Bacon’s relationship in the 1950s with a former fighter pilot, Peter Lacy, was marked by fights which frequently became violent, and sometimes led to Lacy physically attacking Bacon’s canvases. Head was painted in 1962, the year of Lacy’s death.

A second small canvas was painted the following year, Portrait of Man with Glasses IV, and shows a face so distorted and apparently blood-spattered that it appears to have been beaten to a pulp: it is estimated at up to £400,000.

The painting expected to attract most interest is a portrait of Lacy himself, Man in Blue VII, estimated at up to £700,000. It was the culmination of a series painted in 1954 when Bacon was staying at the Imperial Hotel in Henley-on-Thames, to be near Lacy’s house.

Christie’s specialist Fernando Mignoni said yesterday: "It is only fitting that a painting that show’s traces of the features of Lacy, with whom Bacon had a turbulent relationship, should show his customary ambiguity. This is Bacon at his most existential."

Bacon’s reputation has continued to soar since he died in 1992 of a heart attack, leaving his entire fortune, then estimated at £11m, to John Edwards, a former East End barman.

His chaotic studio, often knee-deep in litter, has been treated as a shrine, and recreated in his native  but hastily abandoned  Dublin.







Three Bacon paintings to be sold for £2m







Three paintings by Francis Bacon, including a portrait of a tortured-looking Peter Lacy, a homosexual lover, are expected to fetch up to £2m at auction in London next month.

Nearly 10 years after the death of Britain’s finest post-war artist, competition is expected to be intense for Man in Blue VII, part of a series Bacon painted in the early Fifties with Lacy as a model.

The tension-filled portrait shows the subject in a dark suit, standing as though in the dock of a courtroom. Bacon emphasises his subject’s vulnerability by ghostly vertical stripes in the background, which resemble cell bars.

The 60in by 42in (150cm by 105cm) oil on canvas is estimated to fetch about £700, 000 at Christie’s on 6 February. A second, much smaller Bacon, a haunting and disturbing painting called Head and given by the artist to his friend, the writer Daniel Farson, in 1962, is estimated at up to £500,000. Farson, to his "lasting shame and regret", sold the painting in 1966 for £2,400 when he found himself "in the doldrums".

A third Bacon, Portrait of a Man with Glasses IV, painted in 1963 and showing a distorted face reminiscent of the nanny shot in the head in the Russian film classic Battleship Potemkin, directed by Sergei Eisenstein, should make up to £400,000. It is being offered for sale by a private collector.

The Man in Blue portrait, for which competition is expected to be fiercest, was painted in 1954 while Bacon was staying in the Imperial Hotel, Henley-on-Thames, to be close to Lacy, who had a house in the Oxfordshire town. Fernando Mignoni, a Christie’s specialist, said yesterday: "It is only fitting that a painting showing traces of the features of Lacy, with whom Bacon had a turbulent and at times violent relationship, should show his customary ambiguity.

"This is Bacon at his most existential, painting the whole angst and fragility of life."

Last year, three 1984 portraits by Bacon of another lover, John Edwards, fetched more than £3m at Christie’s in London. The world record for a Bacon is $6.6m (£4.6m) for a 1966 portrait of a previous lover, George Dyer, who killed himself in 1971. Edwards met Bacon in 1974 and stayed with him until the artist’s death. He was, like Dyer, an East End boy much younger than Bacon.

Next month, the High Court in London will hear allegations that Bacon was blackmailed into staying with the Marlborough Fine Art gallery in London. The Pace Gallery in New York offered to pay Bacon £50,000 a painting in 1978, but its owner, Arnold Glimcher, claimed that Bacon stayed with Marlborough after it allegedly threatened to stop his access to his Swiss bank account and expose him to higher income tax.

The court ruling will settle a £100m battle waged by trustees of the Bacon estate to establish exactly how much the artist was paid in his 34-year relationship with Marlborough.






        ‘Head’ was given by Bacon to the writer Daniel Farson who, ‘in the doldrums’, sold it for £2,400.


       It is likely to fetch £500,000 at auction





Perry Ogden

'7 Reece Mews, Francis Bacon’s studio' 


Tony Shafrazi Gallery

119 Wooster Street



Through Jan. 26





Francis Bacon had the studio from hell: famously small, never cleaned and unrepentantly messy. After his death in 1992, it was donated to the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin, which transported it scrap by scrap, smear by smear, and brush by filthy brush from London to the artist’s country of birth.

The disassembling and reassembling of this setting, including walls and especially the ankle-deep debris of printed matter, photographs and art materials on the floor, was something of an archaeological tour de force. For better for worse, it set a new standard for the preservation of artists’ studios.

The project began with Perry Ogden’s meticulous color photographs of the site. Already published in a book and in a Hugh Lane catalog, they are now being presented as art, part of the growing photographic subgenre straddling art and documentary. The images first strike the eye as generic and familiar, a kind of lazy-man’s collage. But soon the forests of dirty brushes, the walls abloom with color tests, the paint-encrusted easel and most of all the detritus underfoot specify the context to an utterly engrossing degree.

There are snapshots of Bacon and reproductions of his art and the art of others. There are all manner of photographs, including reproductions of Eadweard Muybridge’s ''Human Locomotion'' series; books on bullfighting and sports; strong-man magazines; a biography of Karl Marx. The importance of both photography and personal relationships to Bacon’s art is reflected in an image centered on a creased, torn photograph of Bacon’s lover, George Dyer, standing in his underwear in Bacon’s studio — next to a wall pinned with photographs.

Like its preservation, these photographs could be said to fetishize the artist’s studio. But they also provide an unusually tangible tour of Bacon’s brain. In the process they reveal art-making as a process of tremendous, hard-won distillation, fed by incalculable amounts and many different kinds of knowledge, work and looking.

All of this was in pursuit of paintings that Bacon intended people to see. That his studio’s chaos was intrinsic to the artist’s process and possessed an order of its own is suggested by Mr. Odgen’s photographs of Bacon’s modest, neat-as-a-pin living quarters, just outside the studio door.







 London out of the frame as gallery closes




EU taxes and the rise of New York in the art world have ended a proud old firm that began with

 gifts from Van Gogh, writes Colin Glendell






LONDON’S declining place in the international art market suffered a fresh blow yesterday when the Lefevre Gallery, which for more than a century championed and dealt in Impressionist and modern art, announced that it was to close after Easter


Martin Summers, managing director and partner in Alex Reid and Lefevre, which has run the gallery since 1926, said: “Fewer and fewer people have been coming to London to buy the kind of art we specialise in due both to the pre-eminence of New York and to the effect new EU taxes are having on the British market. “We feel that a big commercial gallery such as this with its high overheads is now a thing of the past”


Its closure follows that of other significant central London galleries — Spink/ Leger, Colnaghi and Anthony d’Offay — which have either shut or been sold in the last few months. The gallery had grown to become one of the most important in London and has been the leading dealer in Britain for works by important European artists such as Degas, Modigliani, Seurat and Dali.


The Lefevre can trace its origins to the 1880s when Vincent van Gogh helped one of its founders, Alexander Reid, by giving him some of his work. Reid had left his native Glasgow to work in Paris for Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, himself an art dealer. He shared lodgings with the painter and their friendship resulted in several gifts in the form of pictures.


Unfortunately, Reid’s family in Scotland, where the paintings were sent for safe keeping, thought them so bad that they destroyed them. However, through van Gogh, Reid made contacts with artists such as Gauguin and Toulouse Lautrec which stood him in good stead.


Reid returned to Glasgow in 1888, where he dealt in paintings by Monet, Manet and Degas as well contemporary Scottish artists. Although he was active on the London market, it was not until 1926 that he set up a partnership with the rival dealer Ernest Lefevre, and opened a gallery in King Street St James’s.


Reid died in 1928 and was succeeded by his son, AJ McNeill Reid. Lefevre resigned in 1931. Nonetheless Messrs Reid and Lefevre Ltd made its mark in the art market during its first 15 years, presenting the first one-man shows in London for Seurat, Degas, Henri Rousseau, Andre Derain, Dali and Modigliani as well as the British artist L S Lowry. Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud both made their first important sales through the gallery.


The gallery sold Renoir’s Le Moulin de la galette to John Whitney, an American collector, in 1929 for £30,700. The Whitney family sold it at auction in 1990 for $78-1 million, the second highest price ever. Lefevre’s attracted many of tire most serious collectors of the day — William Burrell, Samuel Courtauld, Somerset Maugham, and Mrs Chester Beatty among them — as well as many of the world’s major public museums. The closure announcement was greeted with gloom. James Roundell, a private dealer and former director of Impressionist paintings at Christie’s, said: “For much of the 20th century, Lefevre was Impressionist and modem art in London.


“It is sad to lose such a name because it has a resonance in Impressionist art circles. It carries a lot of cachet. For overseas collectors in this field, Lefevre was always the first port of call in London.”


In 1950, the gallery moved into the four slurry building at 30, Bruton Street, Mayfair, where it is today. Under the direction of Gerald Corcoran, it continued past traditions by holding the first London exhibitions of work by Bernard Buffet, Balthus and Magritte. For the last 35 years, the Lefevre has been run by Corcorans son Desmond, along with Mr Summers.


Together they witnessed the extraordinary growth of the art market. But recently, the going has become tough. “For my first 34 years at the gallery we were always In profit,“ said Mr Summers. “But last year we made a loss. The supply of great paintings is diminishing. We can no longer make the kind of exhibitions we would like to.


“The major auction rooms’ policy of guaranteeing owners large sums of money whether their paintings sell or not has affected our business as dealers.”


The final nail in the coffin, he said, was caused by the new VAT on all items entering Britain from outside Europe, and by droit de suite, or artist’s re-sale royalty, which will soon have to be paid to European artists or their heirs on all sales up to 75 years after the artist’s death.








Learning curve



What life has taught me since 21





Rita Tushingham, 60, is best remembered tor her role in A Taste Of Honey. Today she lives in London and has two daughters, Dodonna, 37, and Aisha, 30, who both work in the film industry. Rita, who will be appearing in the forthcoming ITV Helen West drama, tells YVONNE SWANN a few of the things she has learned in life.

I’ve learned to listen to your instincts. I remember having dinner with my friend, the painter Francis Bacon, shortly before he died, and we discussed it then. He said, You always come back to your first instincts in the end. We try to be open-minded about new people or situations, even to make excuses for certain things, and that clouds our vision. We cover any misgivings up and then, when things go wrong, we say. Oh well, that’s what I thought m the first place! I have learned to be brave, stand back and take stock. It saves a lot of wasted time and effort. You can meet people and immediately feel at ease with them, but others make you feel less comfortable. We are given these instincts. Animals need them to survive. Perhaps we do too.

Never be afraid to tell people you love them and let them praise you. When Mum and Dad came to see my work when I was young, I’d beg them not to make a fuss or praise me. Now I think it’s the loveliest thing to have my family there. If there was anything they didn’t like, they’d be sure to tell me.  

I have learned to accept what cannot be changed. Once you’ve done your best, there are certain events and situations you cannot do anything about, so it’s silly to get wound up about them. You have to let go and move on. You can waste so much energy being irritated by something that’s happening at work, or in your personal life. I’ve learned it’s important to try to focus your energy on the positive rather than the negative.  

These days. I try to listen to another person’s point of view, and not to be too opinionated. We are all very opinionated when we are young. But that’s OK. If you started off knowing all these things, then you wouldn’t take a journey through life. Life itself is the best teacher you can get. Listen to other people’s pearls of wisdom, too; when I was young I’d often shrug off advice, thinking, Oh what do they know? When you are young, you ask  for advice and when it doesn’t agree with the decisions you’ve already made, then you are not going to take it on board. Nowadays, my close friends are very honest, and I have learned to listen to them.  






Where’s the Bacon?



An exhibition of Fifties London art neglects some crucial figures,

notably Bacon and Freud, says Martin Gayford





Think grey. Then think spiky, bleak, organic, skeletal, angry and gloomy. Good. Now you should be ready to confront the Fifties, or at least the London art scene in that decade, as interpreted by a new show at the Barbican Gallery. Whether the Fifties — or even Fifties art in London — really were all those things is debatable. Those adjectives certainly describe the mood that starts to settle on one after a room or two of this exhibition. But then that may be the fault of the show, not the decade — which was a rich and productive one.

In the Fifties, all sorts of things were going on in British, and therefore London-based art. Angst-ridden neo-romanticism was on the way out, abstraction was creeping in, the first shoots of Pop art were appearing, and there was an epidemic of gaunt sculpture reflecting the threat of the bomb and the influence of Giacometti. The question is how to summarise all this.

This is one of those exhibitions that aims to pin down an era in a particular place, so Ha ambitions — on a reduced scale — are much the same as those of Paris: Capital of the Arts at the RA. Among them are a desire to fill in the background around major figures, spotlighting a few minor characters, and attempting to recover the odd forgotten artist from obscurity.

This, however, can have the effect of muffling the impact of the great Francis Bacon, for example, is an unavoidable artist in any assessment of British — or even world — art in the Fifties, And the exhibition at the Barbican has one stunning Bacon: Man with Dog, on loan from Buffalo in New York State. But hanging alongside this is a more dodgy Bacon from the same period, and nearby is an inferior picture by a Bacon imitator, Peter Rose Fulham. The overall effect is to underplay a painter who should be the absolute star of the show.

There are too many dowdy paintings in the exhibition, so that by the time one is half-way round, the spirits start to Slump. That is a pity, because the show has its moments. It begins wonderfully with a great David Romberg of St Paul’s looming above the bombed-out city, followed up with a couple of tremendous Leon Kossoff paintings of post-war building sites that make you fed that you are straggling in viscous London mud.

It is nice, a little further round, to find a couple of paintings by Gerald Wilde, an undassifiable romantic, almost abstract, artist (although one is a dad, and both date from the Forties). At times, the exhibition seems a bit arbitrary.

By restricting itself to London, it rules out many of the most impressive — and ungloomy — artists at work in the period: Peter Lanyon, for example, who was producing his abstract yet Turnerian paintings in St Ives. That’s fair enough. Lucian Freud, however, was among the most significant artists at work in London in the Fifties, and a real Londoner at that Yet Freud is represented by only two drawings, and those from the mid-Forties (perhaps because there is a big Freud show coming up at Tale Britain in May and loans are hard to get).

There are some interesting things among the less familiar Act qf Violence, for example, a Baconian picture by that still underrated artist Victor Willing. And things become a good deal cheerier as the Sixties come over the horizon, and we see proto-Pop art from Hockney and Blake, and abstraction from Richard Smith and Robyn Denny. The latter’s Baby Is Three (I960), by the way, is strikingly similar to the kind of very big, very simple and geometric paintings Gary Hume and Peter Halley were doing 26 yean later.

Every exhibition at the Barbican Gallery is laced with a problem, namely, the Barbican Gallery — one of the most unsympathetic spaces in London. Does this one overcome it? Not really. It is too concerned with history and not enough with visual pizzazz. But still: it has its moments, especially for those interested in the byways of the period.

‘Transition: The London Art Scene in the Furies’ is at the Barbican Gallery (020 7838 8891) until April 14





The Bacon Estate





 The new year ushered in several important judicial decisions dealing with artlaw matters, including the Bacon Estate.

It will be recalled that Francis Bacon died in 1992 and left his estate to his friend John Edwards, naming Brian Clarke as one of his executors. The case is being brought by Clarke against Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd and Marlborough International Fine Art (Liechtenstein). Clarke is alleging that Bacon was dealt with inappropriately by his gallery, specifically (and amongst other things) in relation to payments for his work.

Late last year, Clarke applied to the London High Court to include in his claim a specific allegation that when Bacon was considering changing his dealer (from Marlborough to the Pace Gallery) in the expectation that he might increase his income from sales, Marlborough’s then Director Frank Lloyd pressured Bacon to continue with them: in particular, by suggesting that if he left Marlborough he might then experience difficulty in accessing money in his Swiss bank accounts, and might encounter future difficulties in dealing with the UK’s Inland Revenue. Shortly after this alleged encounter, Bacon decided to remain with Marlborough. The High Court allowed those accusations to be included in Clarke’s claim.

This decision does not mean that the judge has accepted that the accusations are proven, or likely to succeed; simply that there appears to be on the face of the evidence presented a real issue to be dealt with at the full hearing. Marlborough argued strongly against the inclusion of this latest claim, which it will now contest at the full hearing, likely to be held in coming weeks.

© Henry Lydiate 2002






Heir’s illness ends the battle between

Bacon’s estate and his gallery







A LINE WAS line drawn under one of the most acrimonious art wrangles in decades yesterday when Francis Bacon’s estate and his former gallery opted to settle amicably.

In the end it was human frailty that averted the £100m High Court battle. The estate revealed that its only beneficiary — John Edwards, 51, a former pub landlord whom the artist treated like a son— is seriously ill with lung cancer.

The estate had sued Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd and Marlborough International Fine Art (Mifa), based in Liechtenstein, which had vigorously defended the action.

Bacon, one of Britain’s greatest 20th-century artists, was represented by the international Marlborough gallery from 1958 until 1992 when he died in Spain from a heart attack, at the age of 82.

The estate took legal action, saying it was seeking a proper accounting from Marlborough, so as to be able to establish that there was a fair balance struck between the interests of the gallery and Bacon.

Marlborough said it had enjoyed a frank, close and mutually beneficial relationship with the artist for 34 years.

A statement from the solicitors Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer yesterday said: The trial need not now proceed. Marlborough will release to the estate all documents still in their possession that belong to Bacon or his estate. Each side will pay its own costs.

The statement continued: "Professor Brian Clarke, the executor, was under a duty to investigate the concerns as to the relationship between Bacon and Marlborough, which he has discharged.

It is with sadness that the estate has to announce that the sole beneficiary of the estate, John Edwards, has very recently been diagnosed as suffering from a serious form of lung cancer. This settlement has been agreed by the estate, against this background and on the basis of Professor Clarke’s assessment of the merits of the case in the light of documents and witness evidence released by Marlborough in the latter part of last year as part of the litigation process.

Professor Clarke said: I am glad that the litigation has settled. We are now going forward with our long-planned establishment of the John Edwards Charitable Foundation, which will be for the furtherance of the study of Francis Bacon and his work.

Gilbert Lloyd, the son of  Marlborough’s founder, said it was pleased  to draw a line” under the matter.

Sources involved in the settlement said: Because of the length of time involved since Bacon died and since the litigation was begun, both sides were finding it extremely difficult to find evidence to back up their side of the claim.

Coupled with that, when the news came that John Edwards was seriously ill it was decided that talks would begin with a view to reaching an amicable settlement. Since Mr Edwards is the sole beneficiary there seemed little point in entering into potentially acrimonious litigation. Each side will pay its own costs and both parties will walk away.

It is understood from other sources that no money will change hands as part of the settlement. This will be seen as a vindication of the Marlborough’s claim that it had treated Bacon fairly.

On the side of Professor Clarke, it is understood there is considerable satisfaction because during the legal process a number of paintings were recovered and vast quantities of correspondence and documents relating to the life of the artist were handed over by the gallery that will interest art historians for generations to come.






   A Francis Bacon self-portrait. The artist was represented by Marlborough from 1958 until his death in 1992





Bacon Estate and Dealer Settle

 A Two-Year Suit Over Pricing 






In the eve of what could have been one of the art world’s nastiest trials, the estate of Francis Bacon and the artist’s dealer mutually agreed to withdraw a two-year-old case in England over whether the dealer had fraudulently earned tens of millions of dollars by consistently undervaluing many of Mr. Bacon’s paintings.

Under their agreement, the estate and the dealer, Marlborough U.K. and Marlborough International, will each bear its own legal costs and be spared the risk of losing a bruising case and having to pay both sides’ legal fees, which could have come to more than $15 million.

Also adding to the estate’s decision not to go to trial was the fact that John Edwards, the sole heir, was recently found to have lung cancer.

"It was going to be a long, tough case," said John Eastman, one of the estate’s lawyers. He said the estate’s executor chose to conclude the case with the uncertain outcome among the uppermost things in his mind.

Mr. Bacon, who died in 1992, left his estate to Mr. Edwards, a reclusive character with whom he had a filial relationship. Over the years Mr. Bacon’s paintings of distorted, anguished figures brought as much as $6 million at auction and made him one of Britain’s most celebrated postwar artists.

The suit contended that Marlborough controlled the most minute aspects of Mr. Bacon’s financial and personal life — to the point of paying his laundry bills and handing him spending money — and so could buy paintings from him at greatly reduced rates and quickly resell them for substantially higher prices.

Stanley Bergman, a lawyer for Marlborough, called the charges baseless, saying the estate "realized it was without merit."

Mr. Eastman said that the executor, Brian Clarke, is completing plans to set up the John Edwards Charitable Foundation for the study of Francis Bacon and his work.





  Bacon paintings expected to raise a million




Three important paintings by Irish born artist Francis Bacon which are going

under the hammer today at an auction are expected to raise more than €1.4m





Three important paintings by Irish born artist Francis Bacon which are going under the hammer today at an auction are expected to raise more than £1m (€1.4m).

The three works will be sold as part of an auction of Post War Art taking place at Christie’s in London. The bleak pieces have been described as demonstrating Bacon at his most existential and are good examples of his angst-ridden style of later years.

His 1954 work, Man In Blue VII, is the earliest of his paintings up for sale and is expected to fetch between £500,000 (€817,000) and £700,000 (€1.1m). It was the culmination of a series of pictures he painted while staying in the Imperial Hotel in Henley-on-Thames, near his lover, Peter Lacy’s house.

Head, painted in 1962, depicts the head of a surgeon with a lamp strapped to it. Described as one of his darker works, it was completed in the year that Lacy died and is expected to fetch up to half a million pounds (€816,000).

The final piece is titled Portrait of Man with Glasses IV which was painted in 1963 and is expected to fetch in the region of £400,000 (€650,000). It depicts the image of a man whose distorted face looks as if it had been beaten to a pulp.

Bacon’s reputation has increased since his death in 1992 with his most valuable painting, selling for more than £6m (€9.8m) in New York last year.






Bacon paintings sold for £1.9m






Three important paintings by Francis Bacon have been sold for almost £2m at auction. Christie’s in London sold the works by the Irish-born artist as part of a £7.4m sale called Post-War Art on Wednesday.

Man In Blue VIIHead, and Portrait of Man with Glasses IV went under the hammer for a total of £1,914,250. But in terms of price, they were eclipsed by the top lot, a bright canvas entitled No 15 painted by Russian-born artist Mark Rothko, which was sold for £1.65m.

The Bacon paintings are regarded by critics as great examples of his most existential and angst-ridden work. Bacon’s 1954 work, Man In Blue VII, was sold for £707,750. The piece is the culmination of a series of pictures Bacon painted while staying in the Imperial Hotel at Henley-on-Thames, near the house of his lover, Peter Lacy.

Head, painted in 1962, the year Mr Lacy died, depicts the head of a surgeon with a lamp strapped to it. It was bought for £311,750.


Portrait of Man with Glasses IV, from 1963, was sold for £894,750, twice the expected price. It depicts a man whose distorted face looks as if it has been very badly beaten. Bacon was one of the last century’s most successful artists, earning about £14m before his death in 1992.

Violence was prevalent in much of his work, reflecting the turbulence of his own life. His relationship with Mr Lacy was punctuated by fights that often resulted in Bacon’s canvases being vandalised. A series of three paintings by Bacon of his long-time partner, John Edwards, sold for £3m in 2001, and Studies of the Human Body sold for £6m in New York last year.

In total, Post-War Art fetched £7.4m and included work by Erika Klein and Andy Warhol.






               Bacon worked for 30 years at his Kensington studio





Christie’s Post War Art 


6 & 7 February 2002



Inside Bacons Head






'Francis frequently slept on the sofa at my place underneath a painting he had given me, the small head of a surgeon with a lamp on his forehead… Having slashed the larger [original] canvas… a friend persuaded him to let me have it… To my lasting shame and regret, I sold it when I was in my doldrums in Devon'.

So wrote Dan Farson, describing Head (Daniel Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, London, 1994, pp.251-52).

A Soho habitué and well-known television journalist, Dan Farson had met Bacon in 1951, beginning a long friendship that lasted until the painter’s death. Head was painted in 1962, a remarkably turbulent year for Bacon. 

The opening of his momentous Tate retrospective had been overshadowed by the death of his lover, Peter Lacy, whose features haunt those of the surgeon in Head. Their tumultuous relationship was punctuated by fights, which often resulted in Lacy attacking Bacon’s paintings. This violence was complicated by Bacon’s complex enjoyment of a certain brutality in his relationships and trysts, a sado-masochism that constantly permeated his art, not least in the hulking figure of this surgeon.

Medical images often appear in Bacon’s work, deriving from his impressive archive of pictures in books on radiography, disease and deformity but they are always imbued with violence. Bodies are shown bandaged and mutilated, pierced by syringes. An element of torture taints Bacon’s use of the medical. In Head, the surgeon’s headlight suggests interrogation rather than inspection

The latent brutality implied by his bulk and distorted head is wholly detached from conventional images of doctors. Bacon’s decision to take Head from a larger canvas intensifies this brutality. The surgeon bursts forth from the small painting, dominating its composition completely. This surgeon — possibly a unique figure in Bacon’s œuvre — shows none of the healer’s compassion. Instead he appears as an aggressor, a hybrid of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He is the harbinger of horror, occupying a role usually reserved for Bacon’s nightmarish zoomorphic Furies

The bodies Bacon depicted in his paintings tend to be those of victims or patients, but here the surgeon, as protagonist, stalks Bacon’s psyche in all his Neanderthal glory. He is not merely the embodiment but also the cause of the 'human cry' that Bacon sought to capture in his art, what he once described to Farson as the 'whole coagulation of pain, despair.

William Paton is a Researcher in the 20th Century Art Department at Christie’s King Street, London









London, King Street Sale Date Feb 06, 2002 



Lot Number 13    Sale Number 6553


Francis Bacon (1909-1992) Head

oil on canvas laid down on board
16 5/8 x 17in. (42.4 x 43.2cm.)
Painted in 1962


Estimate: 300,000 - 500,000 British pounds


Literature: R. Alley and J. Rothenstein, Francis Bacon, London 1964, no. 205, p.148 (illustrated p.248).


Provenance: Daniel Farson, London. His sale; Sotheby’s London, 14th December 1966, Lot 156 (sold for £ 2,400).


 Lot Essay

Painted in 1962, Head was a gift from Bacon to his friend Daniel Farson, a writer who would later become the artist’s biographer. Speaking of the house in Limehouse that he owned between the mid-1950s and 1964, Farson wrote, 'Francis frequently slept on the sofa at my place underneath a painting he had given me, the small head of a surgeon with a lamp on his forehead... Having slashed the larger canvas… a friend persuaded him to let me have it. Years later, when it hung above the fireplace in my home in North Devon, Henry Williamson, the author of Tarka the Otter, studied it in amazement. 'That man is a great artist!' he whispered, though he had not heard of Bacon. To my lasting shame and regret, I sold it when I was in my doldrums in Devon' (Daniel Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, London, 1994, pp.251-52). Farson had met Bacon in Soho in 1951, and they struck up a long friendship that would last until the artist’s death.

The early 1960s were a crucial period in Bacon’s career, especially the year that this work was painted. Bacon had recently signed a contract with Marlborough Fine Art, giving him both significant financial stability and increased exposure, and it was in 1962 that the Tate Gallery held the artist’s first retrospective. The previous year Bacon had changed studio, moving to the mews that he was to use until his death. Despite all these positive aspects to his life at this period, the success of the Tate retrospective was utterly punctured by the simultaneous death of his lover Peter Lacy.

Death and violence often formed the backdrop to Bacon’s life, and this translated forcefully to his art. In Head, the menacing hulk of the surgeon reeks with brutality. Bacon himself differentiated between the violence on and off the canvas, saying, 'I have been accustomed to always living through forms of violence — which may or may not have an effect upon one, but I think probably does. But this violence of my life, the violence which I’ve lived amongst, I think it’s different to the violence in painting. When talking about the violence of paint, it’s nothing to do with the violence of war. It’s to do with an attempt to remake the violence of reality itself' (Bacon, quoted in David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, New York, 1990, p.81). Bacon well remembered the atmosphere of suspense and latent violence in Ireland during his youth, when English and Anglo-Irish families like his lived in constant fear of death. This thread of violence continued in London through the two World Wars where he lived under threat of bombing and, importantly, witnessed the immediacy of the effects of the death and destruction wrought upon the people and the landscape — it is no coincidence that Bacon returned to painting during the Second World War. Likewise, violence played a large part in many of Bacon’s relationships, especially that with Peter Lacy. Their fights were often brutal. Bacon’s attitudes towards this violence were, however, mixed. Indeed, Bacon was known to enjoy suffering a certain brutality in his relationships. This was most obvious during his time in Tangier, where Lacy worked as a pianist and where Bacon would often be found, bloodied and bruised after an evening’s tryst. This mixture of fear and guilty enjoyment mingles freely in Bacon’s paintings. The violence of his imagery is mixed with an overt enjoyment of the sensuality of flesh, which he took great relish in painting. The smeared features in Head, the hallmark of Bacon’s work, are redolent with a fleshiness that is obtrusive to the point of nausea. The very application of the paint shows an appreciation of the sensual, the materiality itself imbuing the flesh of this menacing surgeon with an awesome presence, perfectly condensing the 'violence of reality itself'.

The implied violence of the surgical theme was of immense interest to Bacon, whose paintings often contained elements filtered from books on radiography, deformity, disease and other medical texts. Bacon himself often told of buying an antique book on diseases of the mouth while in Paris. The book was filled with exquisitely hand-coloured illustrations which he found beautiful. Bacon saw this same strange, horrific beauty in car crashes and other sights packed with the mixed colours and contrasts death and destruction. This fitted with Bacon’s fascination with violence, and especially violence wreaked upon the body. In Head, the surgeon, possibly a unique figure in Bacon’s oeuvre, is depicted during surgery, wearing what appears to be a surgical robe as well as the light on his head. Usually when medical elements appear in Bacon’s work, the subject appears to be the patient or victim — mutilated and deformed bodies people his paintings. The image here is all the more striking because it is the aggressor, the surgeon, an aspect complicated by the surgeon’s role as healer. It is clear from other paintings by Bacon that the surgical processes and implements, represented by bandages, mutilations and hypodermic syringes and recalled in many of his works by the slab-like supports upon which his subjects often languish, were sources of little comfort to the artist. Each medical element in his painting screams of horror and torture. In Head, the light on the surgeon’s head reminds the viewer more of interrogation than mere inspection. This Dr. Mengele ambiguity, the dichotomy between torturer and healer, cuts to the core of Bacon’s life, and especially to his relationship with Peter Lacy. Indeed, traces of Lacy’s features haunt this surgeon’s face. The pair often fought intensely, and Lacy often destroyed Bacon’s paintings in fits of rage, yet he also provided Bacon with great happiness.

While surgical features often appeared in Bacon’s works, the surgeon himself is a theme of startling rarity. In many ways, he appears to be a rare, fully human manifestation of the Furies who often appeared in Bacon’s paintings, embodying an abstract sense of guilt and violence. The Furies feature throughout Bacon’s work, often taking strange, fleshy yet zoomorphic shapes. Here, Bacon has managed to translate this same animal brutality to the image of the surgeon. His thick, dark arms and sloping shoulders retain a sense of the simian. The surgeon’s menacing, elongated head is portrayed using Bacon’s hallmark methods of distortion, a means of intensifying the image and its reality. Bacon, in a televised interview with Melvyn Bragg, said that his work was a 'concentration of reality, shorthand of sensation' (The South Bank Show, London, 1985). By avoiding what he termed 'illustration' and disrupting actual shapes and sights, Bacon unveiled a subjective awareness of reality and horror. This is achieved both in his swirls of paint and the introduction of an animalism to the surgeon’s body. As Bacon himself put it a few years after Head was painted, he aimed to 'distort the thing far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance… I think that the methods by which this is done are so artificial that the model before you, in my case, inhibits the artificiality by which this thing can be brought back' (Bacon, 1966, quoted in David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, New York, 1990, p.40).

As Daniel Farson pointed out, Head originally formed part of a larger picture. Bacon himself cut the head and shoulders from the painting and, judging by the drawing pin marks, stuck it up in a place of choice for some time. Bacon was known for his almost whimsical destruction of canvases that he felt were inferior or that he had ruined. However in Head, whatever happened elsewhere in the larger composition had evidently not affected this section enough to merit its obliteration. Although Bacon seems to have spent little care or attention in the cuts themselves, nonetheless he salvaged this part, a testimony to the artist’s own satisfaction. The haunting, stretched head has a peculiar and disturbing resonance intensified by its dominance of the picture’s new smaller size. This intimate scale and close-quarters depiction of the subject cut to the core of Bacon’s portraits in the present format. In retrospect, Bacon’s decision to remove this section appears judicious, as increasingly in the early 1960s he espoused brighter colours and a stark but more expansive sense of space in his larger paintings while the smaller ones tended to retain this darkness and customary claustrophobia. Head is similar to these smaller works in appearance and effect. The dark background and looming figure of the surgeon pack the work with intensity, almost inducing an existential nausea with its very presence. Bacon’s perceived reality finds a new strength in this small format, and Head becomes an icon to the horrors of existence.














London, King Street  



Sale Date: Feb 06, 2002  Lot Number: 13  Sale Number: 6553 



Francis Bacon (1909-1992)

Man in Blue VII    


oil on canvas
60 x 42½in. (152.7 x 107.9cm.)

Painted in 1954


Estimate GBP 500,000 — 700,000  



J. Rothenstein and R. Alley, Francis Bacon, New York, 1964, p. 88, no. 87 (illustrated).



Venice, XXVII Biennale di Venezia, June-October 1954, no. 58a.
London, Redfern Gallery, Summer Exhibition 1961, June-August 1961, no. 9.
Lisbon, Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian, Arte Britanica no Século XX, February-March 1962, no. 52 (illustrated).


Lot Essay

Man in Blue VII, painted in 1954, is the culmination of a series of pictures with the same title that Bacon painted while staying in the Imperial Hotel in Henley-on-Thames. Although to some it seemed like an unlikely spot for the artist to reside, Bacon spent a great deal of time in Henley during the 1950s in order to be close to his lover Peter Lacy, who had a house there. Lacy, in fact, appears to be the model throughout the series, as is most evident in Man in Blue V, where the subject, filled with confidence, confronts the viewer with an intense gaze reminiscent of a photograph of him relaxing in Ostia. However, in Man in Blue VII there is less confidence. The depicted man seems oppressed both by his background and his situation.

During the early 1950s, Bacon had begun to abandon the expressionistic, dreamlike images he had earlier produced, paintings filled with zoomorphic horrors. Instead, he took as his main subject the human form. His palette became superficially more reserved, with dark backgrounds, blues and blacks, dominating his work. Beginning with his reinterpretations of the famous Velazquez Portrait of Pope Innocent X, Bacon explored tortured humanity on an intimate level. In them, the 'Pope' sat, screaming, eyes fixed on the viewer. From these evolved intense images of men dressed in suit and tie, sometimes bespectacled, usually screaming. Despite the superficial normality of the businessman as subject matter, Bacon was far from developing a respectable pictorial process — what he termed 'illustration' had no part in his work. Instead, he was exploring increasingly recognisable subjects that he could manipulate in order to harness the anguish so central to his work. Apart from the Popes, Bacon tended to use photographs of people he knew as the subjects for his paintings, preferring to work from stills rather than live models. However, he always disrupted the scientific certainty of the images of the photographs he used, explaining that, 'I don’t think it's damage. You may say it’s damaging if you take it on the level of illustration. But not if you take it on the level of what I think of as art. One brings the sensation and the feeling of life over the only way one can' (Bacon, quoted in David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, New York, 1990, p.43).

The Man in Blue took this system of representation to a new scale. The figure is at the centre of a far larger composition, giving a sense of oblivion to the bleak surroundings. Where other figures filled their canvases, here the subject is stranded at the centre of his, helpless. Although in Man in Blue VII the figure is not screaming, nonetheless there is a huge tension as he stands in his suit as though in the dock at court. This adds to the sense that the subject is a defendant, the prey; although Bacon deliberately leaves the nature of his ordeal unknown. Bacon has emphasised the subject’s vulnerability with the introduction of the ghostly vertical stripes which resemble bars on a cage. There is a sense of confinement and imprisonment, but at the same time of complete negation, in that the figure appears absorbed into the nothingness of the background. In this final work in the series, Bacon has allowed the figure to be consumed by his surroundings — where he dominated the picture in Man in Blue V, now he is its victim. He appears disorientated, as though he is looking for some relief or respite from above infuses the painting with a sense of paranoia. The simple fact that there is nothing threatening within the painting except the atmosphere itself allows Bacon to imply that the predator, the source of menace, is elsewhere, not within the realm of the painting, but in the realm of the painter — the realm of the viewer.

It is only fitting that a painting that shows traces of the features of Bacon’s lover, Lacy, with whom he had a turbulent and at times violent relationship, should show his customary ambiguity. Indeed, the suit is so crisp that the viewer is forced to wonder in part whether the subject is a victim in the dock or a dictator on his podium. The uniform-like suit gives an air of authority, and the pose mingles an impression of restraint — his hands tied behind his back — with a pose of confidence. The mangled features combine the sad eyes of the persecuted with an almost rabid mouth, the fanatical orator frothing with ferocity and enthusiasm. However, the almost disembodied torso that blends into the background, while making this character something of an eminence grise, also lends him an insubstantiality inappropriate to the wilful tyrant. In turn, this phantom-like appearance accentuates the pale face and flesh tones, which are pushed into relief by the chiaroscuro, the tiny spot of flesh almost phosphorescent against the dark. This is Bacon at his most existential, painting the whole angst and fragility of life.






                                                                         Man in Blue VII 1954 Francis Bacon






Buyers stampede for bleak Bacons






THREE PAINTINGS by the Irish-born artist Francis Bacon sold for nearly £2m at auction last night. The three works were snapped up during an auction of post-war art at Christie’s in London.

The bleak pieces have been described as demonstrating Bacon at his most existential and are good examples of the confrontational, angst-ridden style of the artist’s later years.

His 1954 work, Man In Blue VII, was the earliest of his paintings up for sale and was sold for £707,750. It was the culmination of a series of pictures that Bacon painted while staying in the Imperial Hotel in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, near the house of his lover, Peter Lacy.

Head, painted in 1962, depicts the head of a surgeon with a lamp strapped to it. Described as one of his darker works, it was completed in the year Lacy died and was sold for £311,750. 

The final piece under the hammer was titled Portrait of a Man with Glasses IV, painted in 1963. It fetched £894,750, more than double the estimated price. It depicts the image of a man whose distorted face looks as if it has been beaten to a pulp. Bacon’s reputation and standing have gone up markedly since his death in 1992, bringing higher prices for his work. His most valuable painting sold for more than £6m in New York last year.

The sale comes the week after Bacon’s estate and his former gallery settled a long-running financial dispute.






Eggs, Bacon and jellied eels




How did  an illiterate East End barman become Francis Bacon’s closest friend

and heir to his £11m estate?  Mick Brown meets him






And that," says John Edwards, pausing in front of the huge canvas at the top of the stairs in the South Kensington mews where Francis Bacon lived and painted for more than 30 years, is me.

Portrait of John Edwards, 1986-87, which shows a figure seated cross-legged in a chair, dressed only in a pair of white underpants, is one of the 30 or more paintings that Bacon executed of Edwards, and is widely regarded as one of the artist’s last masterpieces.

Actually, says Edwards, with a laugh, "some people have said I look like a monkey. But I didn’t mind. I mean, Francis was a lovely painter, wasn’t he?

For 31 years, Bacon spent almost every day in his Reece Mews studio but, as Edwards admits, he would hardly recognise it now.

The cramped bed/sitting room, lit by four bare light bulbs, where Bacon slept and ate, is now an elegant lounge, all leather sofas and smoked glass tables. The detritus of dirty brushes, paint pots, mounds of newspapers and photographs that littered the floor of Bacon’s studio have been replaced by polished wood and splashy abstract rugs.

Terrible mess, it was, says Edwards. I remember the first time I saw it, I said to Francis: how can you work in here? But he said it was how he liked it. He couldn’t be bothered to clear it up. All he wanted was to have the peace and quiet to paint."

Edwards, the son of an East End docker, was working as a barman in a Wapping pub when he first met Francis Bacon in 1976. For the next 16 years, until the painter’s death from a heart attack, he was his closest friend and confidant — as Bacon put it, the only true friend he had.

When Bacon died in April 1992, he left everything — an estate valued at some £11m, including the mews studio in South Kensington — to Edwards.

But the legacy proved to be more tangled than it initially appeared. In 1999, the Bacon estate brought a case against the Marlborough Gallery, which had represented Bacon for most of his working life, alleging that the painter had been wrongfully exploited in his relationship with the gallery and seeking a proper accounting of his affairs.

The litigation, which threatened to become one of the most acrimonious — and costly — legal battles that the art world has ever seen, was suddenly withdrawn two weeks ago, in a drop hands settlementv, in which both sides agreed to pay their own costs. Marlborough has also agreed to release to the estate all the documentation that belonged to Bacon which is still in its possession.

The reclusive John Edwards has never before spoken publicly about Bacon and their relationship. Following the artist’s death, he moved to Florida and, for the past seven years he has lived a quiet, almost reclusive life in Thailand.

Last year, however, he was diagnosed with cancer, and returned to London for treatment.

He is 52, a genial man with dark, battered good looks, who speaks in a soft, unreconstructed Cockney accent, spotted with rhyming slang. Don’t I know your boat-race from somewhere? he asks. He offers Krug champagne — it was Francis’s favourite  — and a lah-di-dah (cigar).

A Bacon triptych dominates one wall. On another are grouped a framed collection of French five franc stamps bearing Edwards’s image, painted by Bacon; a child-like picture dedicated to Francis and signed Ronnie Kray, Broadmoor" (He certainly knew Ronnie, says Edwards, carefully, but I don’t think I’d describe them as friends); and a scroll marking the award to Edwards of the Lord Mayor’s Medal by the city of Dublin.

This was in recognition of his donation of the contents of the Reece Mews studio to Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery, where it has been painstakingly reconstructed, item by item, and now stands as a permanent exhibit. Bacon, Edwards says, would have roared with laughter, to think of his discarded brushes and paints, his moth-eaten bedspread and rotted curtains preserved for posterity.

Edwards first met Bacon in the Colony Room, the famously raffish Soho drinking club where the painter would hold court. Edwards, at the time, was working as a barman in his brother’s East End pub, and he was friends with Muriel Belcher, who owned the Colony, and Ian Board who worked as the barman there.

A few weeks earlier, Edwards had been asked by Belcher to lay in some champagne as she intended to bring her famous painter friend to the East End. But they never came. When Edwards was eventually introduced to Bacon in the Colony Room, he gave him some stick for ordering champagne, then not bothering to turn up and drink it. He liked the way I didn’t care about who he was supposed to be.

So began a relationship that would last until Bacon’s death. Bacon was homosexual and the popular misconception is that Edwards was his lover. But that, he says, was never the case. Edwards is also gay and has been with the same boyfriend for 27 years. His relationship with Bacon was one of deep emotional, but never physical, friendship.

Francis was a real, true father figure to me. I was close to my own father. But Francis gave me all the guidance I needed, and we laughed a lot. And I think he liked me because I didn’t want anything from him. With everybody else, it was Francis this and Francis that.

It was, on the surface, an improbable friendship. At 66, Bacon was almost 40 years Edwards’s senior. He was also Britain’s most celebrated living painter; a man of mercurial intelligence and high poetic temperament.

Edwards knew nothing about painting or books. Chronically dyslexic, he had never learnt to read or write. But his lack of a formal education, his down-to-earth unpretentiousness, was one of the things that clearly endeared him to Bacon.

Edwards recalls that, shortly after their first meeting, Bacon took him gambling at Charlie Chester’s casino, one of his regular haunts. When Edwards was handed a membership form he confessed that he could neither read nor write. Francis said, God, that must be marvellous. Because he hated filling in forms or anything like that.

Their life together followed a set pattern. No matter what time he’d been drinking until the night before, Bacon would rise at between six and seven o’clock and start painting. Around nine, he would telephone Edwards to say that he was ready for breakfast and Edwards would join him in Reece Mews, where Bacon would cook a fry-up. Bacon, he says, liked only egg white, Edwards only the yolk, so it was the perfect relationship. His nickname for the painter was Eggs.

Edwards would then sit with Bacon through the day while he painted — the only person the artist ever allowed to watch him at work — talking and helping him prepare his canvasses for collection.

We’d talk about everything. He was a beautiful man; you’d be hypnotised by him. He’d talk to you and you’d just want him to talk more. Everything he talked about — his posh mates, the people he knew in the art world, it was all so clear.v

I think, says Edwards, he felt very free with me, because I was a bit different from most people he knew. I wasn’t asking him about his painting or anything like that. Most people around Francis looked up to him, and he didn’t like that.

I asked him once: what do you see in me? And he laughed and said: you’re not boring like most people.

I remember once we were with the Duke of Devonshire, talking about all this and that, and Francis decided it was time to change the conversation, so he got me talking about running a pub and jellied eels. The nice thing about Francis was he wouldn’t let you roast.

John was the only person in London who treated Francis as an absolute equal, says the architectural artist Brian Clarke, a close friend of both men and, for the past six years the executor of Bacon’s estate. Whenever you saw John and Francis together you knew you were going to laugh a lot. John is a totally honest man. He would be very rude to Francis, which was a very enjoyable thing to see because nobody else had licence to do that. He’d give it to him straight, and Francis appreciated that. Even in the Colony Room, Francis was the king of Soho. But to John he was just My Francis.

Clarke describes the friendship as each looking after the other. Bacon had a famously cavalier attitude to money. He never carried a cheque book or a credit card, but always had a wad of cash, likened by one friend to a bog roll" from which he would peel off notes to spend on gambling, meals at Wheelers, drinks at the Colony Room, or simply to give to friends.

Edwards took it upon himself to ensure that no one was taking liberties.

Bacon, he says, didn’t mind being taken advantage of up to a point. But beyond that point, he didn’t like it.

He said I was a good judge of people, which I am, says Edwards. There were always lots of people around Francis on the cadge. But they wouldn’t do it while I was around.

When they went gambling together, Edwards would carefully pocket some of the chips to ensure that Bacon had something left over at the end of the evening. Bacon, he says, was a clever gambler, who won some big lumps and lost some big lumps.

I remember, one night, he won £15,000. I put some of it in his jacket and some in his trousers, so he wouldn’t lose it.

The following morning, he phoned and asked if I had the money. I said no, I’d put it all in his pockets. We searched all over the flat and couldn’t find it anywhere. And then, a couple of days later, I came across it. He’d stuck it in a pair of old socks. He was so pleased, he gave me half of it.

Edwards’s guileless good nature was recognised by others in the painter’s circle. Sonia Orwell, the widow of George, and a close friend of Bacon, offered to teach Edwards to read and write. But she fell ill before they had the chance.

Stephen Spender was another of Bacon’s friends who became deeply enamoured of Edwards.

I think that if I knew him well I would become obsessed by him, and I can well understand loving him, Spender wrote, in a letter to Bacon, in 1988.

Of course, it is seriously marvellous to be untainted by what is called education. It means he moves among real things, and not newspaper things.

Steve was a lovely bloke, says Edwards, affectionately.

This letter from Spender is among a significant cache of documents that have been returned to the Bacon estate during the course of the litigation, and which provide a fascinating insight into the painter’s friendships, affairs and his rackety personal life.

They include a cache of some 150 letters from such friends as Sonia Orwell, Hans Werner Henze, Peter Beard and the painter Victor Passmore, as well as numerous pleas for money from Daniel Farson, and a promise to return the 50 quid you lent me from Jeffrey Bernard. Fat chance! says Edwards with a laugh. Jeff was terrible. I remember Francis once sitting in the Tate Gallery, signing books, and Jeff was there right beside him, trying to borrow money as he signed.

Clarke says that Bacon’s death left Edwards completely devastated. For years, the painter had told Edwards that he intended to leave him everything, but he was totally unprepared for the attention the bequest brought him.

I remember him telling me about opening the curtains at Reece Mews and seeing the mews full of photographers, says Clarke. To a shy person it was the ultimate nightmare.

Edwards retired to a remote area of the Florida Keys for a year, and then to Thailand, where he lived quietly in a house on the beach, spending his days fishing and walking.

But, after five years, he realised that he had still not received a full accounting of his inheritance. He approached Clarke, who in turn introduced Edwards to his lawyer, John Eastman — the brother of the late Linda McCartney – who initiated the action against Marlborough.

Edwards is reluctant to discuss the case, except to say that he is relieved that it is now over.

All that John wanted,”  says Clarke, "was to do right for Francis.

Francis left John very well looked after. And John was prepared to spend every penny he had in the prosecution of this litigation, win or lose.

The documentation retrieved as a result of the case will form a substantial part of the material for a comprehensive catalogue raisonne of Bacon’s work that Edwards intends to commission, and will then go to the Francis Bacon archive at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.

Edwards is also establishing a charitable foundation that will be devoted to the promotion and study of Bacon’s work and life.

It is for other people, he says, to make an estimation of Francis Bacon the painter. He can talk only about Bacon the man.

I think," he says, that a lot of people misunderstood Francis. People get this impression.




    1986: Edwards with Bacon: ‘Francis was a real, true father figure ... he gave me all the guidance I needed ...’






Study for Portrait II — after the Life Mask of William Blake,

Francis Bacon (1955)







Artist: Francis Bacon (1910-92), who once described his art as an attempt "to unlock the valves of feeling". To do this, he tore apart conventions of modern and traditional art, walking a tightrope between the figurative image and abstraction, returning to the early years of modern art and the example of his hero Vincent van Gogh

Bacon was a romantic — and also a reader. A more studious figure than Bacon the Soho low-lifer was revealed last year by the installation of his studio as an exhibit at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. In addition to well-thumbed volumes of Heidegger, Lacan, Freud, Joyce, Chaucer and Aeschylus, there is his copy of the life-mask of William Blake. 

 Subject: William Blake (1757-1827), author of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, engraver of The Ancient of Days. By his old age, when he had his life-mask taken, Blake was a cult figure among a small circle of Romantics. In September 1823, he let the sculptor James Deville immerse his head in plaster, with only a straw to breath through as it solidified.

Before photography, masks from moulds of living and recently dead faces were the most accurate way of preserving someone’s appearance. Deville probably learned the technique from his master, the sculptor Joseph Nollekens. Deville practised phrenology  reading character from the size and shape of the skull, as devised by J Spurzheim. Blake seems to have read Spurzheim, too. His drawing of the man who taught him painting in his dreams (c1819-20) resembles a phrenology diagram. Deville built up a collection of casts and wished to include Blake’s "as representative of the imaginative faculty". Because of phrenology, we have a quasi-photographic image of an artist who has become infinitely more famous since his death.

Distinguishing features: Blake is a pale film in the dark, a flayed face, features compressed like those of a bank robber with a stocking over his head. The features are brutally crushed, there and not there, eyes pressed shut, one eyebrow oddly raised, the lips pushed in. Although skin is vividly suggested in the sickening pink of the brow and cheek, this is not the outward man. White mist flows up the cheek and over the broad skull, dematerialising the flesh. It’s as if we are looking underneath the surface of skin at the ghostly presence of the man within. This is a portrait not of the flesh, but of the spirit.

Bacon made a series of paintings of Blake’s life-mask in the mid-1950s. The title, however, is generalised: "Study for Portrait" suggests this is an attempt to get at the essence of what a portrait is

Bacon kept his own copy of Blake’s life-mask next to treasured personal photographs. His painting feels as if it were based on a photograph. Bacon stresses the similarity of life-casting to photography, in order to reveal the deathliness and violence of both in rendering brute fact. His painting, however, apprehends something beneath the visible skin: an inner self, suffering in absolute isolation.

This is a passionate and finally mysterious tribute from one great London artist to another.

Inspirations and influences: There are models for this intense communion with a dead artist in Blake’s work. Blake portrayed, from life, the spirits who visited him. Blake’s spirit portraits include John Milton, and The Ghost of a Flea (c1819-20). There’s a similarity between Bacon’s Blake and Blake’s Flea in their fleshy, monstrous intensity, the authority of a vision seen in darkness.

Where is it? Tate Britain, London SW1 (020-7887 8008).  








Here’s A Francis Bacon, And Another, And Another…







There’s a famous photograph of British artist Francis Bacon in his studio, sitting on a chair in a midst of a cluttered workspace. That image — taken by Michael Holtz — is one of 30 images of the artist to be displayed at a special exhibition in Arles, France.

The images of Bacon are to be exhibited with Bacon’s paintings of Vincent Van Gogh, a series of 12 paintings he created in homage to Van Gogh. But the black-and-white photographs of Bacon will speak as much about the artist as his work of Van Gogh.

Before Bacon died in 1992, a host of photographers had captured him in a variety of moods and poses. In fact, some say that Bacon referred to many of these photographs of himself when painting his self-portraits. Peter Beard, Harry Benson, Don McCullin, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Perry Ogden and Michel Soskine were among the photographers whose images of Bacon alone, working in his studio, or with friends, will be shown at the Van Gogh Foundation in Arles from July 4 to October 6.





A Clear Compositional Link: Francis Bacon’s Works on Paper







Francis Bacon (1909-1992) lived and worked in 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington from 1961 until his death in 1992. One of a short row of converted coach houses on a quiet cobble stoned lane, the mews was a modest dwelling and consisted of a kitchen-cum-bathroom, a bedroom, and a studio. In contrast to the rather spartan quality of the bedroom and kitchen, the artist’s studio was chaotic. Bacon said himself of his cluttered studio: 'I feel at home here in this chaos because chaos suggests images to me' (Fig l).1 He rarely painted from life and the heaps of torn photographs, fragments of illustrations, books, catalogues, magazines and newspapers provided nearly all of his visual sources. Commenting on the wealth of photographic material in his studio, Bacon said that he looked at photographs for inspiration in the way that one looks up meanings in a dictionary.2 On the studio floor, reproductions of fine art paintings jostled with illustrations of crime scenes, skin diseases, filmstars, athletes and other imagery which clearly appealed to Bacon’s artistic imagination. Photographs by John Deakin, Cecil Beaton, Peter Beard, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Peter Stark, and many others provide a fascinating insight into both the bohemian milieu in which Bacon operated and the artist’s method of manipulating his source material. The sheer range and diversity of Bacon’s interests is reflected in the types of books found in the studio. Books on subjects including art, sport, crime, history, photography, cinema, bullfighting, and parapsychology were found in pre carious piles on the studio floor and highlight the eclectic nature of Bacon’s influences. Other material found in the studio includes one hundred slashed canvases, correspondence, magazines, newspapers, vinyl records, and a vast array of artist’s materials. 

When the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin received the donation of the entire contents of Francis Bacon’s Studio in August 1998, it marked the beginning of an unique project. While Bacon’s reputation as one of the foremost artists of 20th-century figurative painting is unquestioned, his studio contents and what they could contribute to current scholarship on the artist was a journey into uncharted territory. In order to interpret the material fully, every single item was recorded in detail on a specially-designed computerised database. With 7,500 entries, this is now one of the most comprehensive documentary archives of any artist, living or dead. Given the volume of material, the cataloguing of the studio contents and the reconstruction of the studio in the Gallery involved hours of painstaking work and was an extremely complex task. Nevertheless, this work has proved extremely rewarding and a number of important revelations have been made regarding the artist’s life, inspiration, unusual techniques, and working methods. 

The validity of disassembling and reconstructing an artist’s studio is beyond the scope of this article and undoubtedly lengthy debates on this subject will continue long after the reconstructed studio opens to the public. In this article, I propose to focus on one of the most important aspects of the project — the discovery of a considerable quantity of works on paper by Francis Bacon in the Reece Mews studio. These are significant for a number of reasons, not least Bacon’s persistent denial throughout his life that he ever did preliminary sketches for his paintings. The following themes will be explored: firstly, the controversy surrounding the existence of drawings by Francis Bacon; secondly, the types of works on paper found in the Reece Mews studio, their relationship with finished paintings and what they reveal about Bacon’s thought processes and working methods; and, finally, approximate dates for these works. 

Throughout his life, the existence of drawings by Francis Bacon appeared to be shrouded in secrecy. Although some of Bacon’s friends and contemporaries owned drawings by him, they seem to have accepted his desire to keep his drawings out of the public domain during his lifetime. In 1975, Henry Geldzahler wrote that: 'Very few drawings by Francis Bacon exist, or, to be more exact, very few of his drawings have been seen.'3 This was not always the case, however. In 1934, finding it increasingly difficult to persuade a gallery to display his work, Bacon organised an exhibition of his own work at the Transition Gallery in Sunderland House, London. It consisted of seven oil paintings and about five or six gouaches and drawings. This would indicate that at that time, Bacon considered his drawings to be works of art in their own right, an attitude that was soon to change. Apparently, two of these drawings, Composition (Figure) 1933 and Composition (Figures) 1933 were purchased by Bacon’s cousin, Diana Watson.4 The notion that Bacon did not draw stems from interviews between Bacon and David Sylvester, the distinguished British art historian most closely associated with the artist and the author of a number of publications and articles on the artist. Sylvester carried out a series of extensive interviews with Bacon which were broadcast on both radio and television and also published in book form in 1975. In the first interview, which took place in October 1962, the following exchange takes place, David Sylvester: 'And you never work from sketches or drawings, you never do a rehearsal for the picture?' Francis Bacon: 'I often think I should, but I don’t. It’s not very helpful in my kind of painting. As the actual texture, colour, the whole way the paint moves, are so accidental, any sketches that I did before could only give a kind of skeleton, possibly, of the way the thing might happen.'5 Bacon’s consistent denial that he produced drawings of any kind became a recurring theme in the countless interviews the artist gave during his life. In an interview with Melvyn Bragg on the South Bank Show in 1985, Bragg enquired as he stood in the Reece Mews studio, 'Do you do drawings beforehand?' to which Bacon’s reply was an emphatic 'No'. Bacon qualified this by stating that it is 'so much better to immediately attack the canvas with the paint.'6 In an interview with a French journalist in 1987, Bacon stated 'J'adore des dessins, mais je nen fais pas?This stance was maintained until Bacon’s death in 1992 and went relatively unchallenged.8 However, since the artist’s death, a considerable number of drawings, both by Bacon and attributed to him, have surfaced and with the emergence of these different bodies of work, the art world has been forced to re-evaluate Bacon’s oeuvre in a new context. In 1996, some Bacon drawings and over painted material were exhibited as part of a major Francis Bacon exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris but these were seen as being rare examples. Then in 1997-98, the Tate Gallery in London acquired a number of Bacon drawings and these were exhibited there in early 1999. The provenance of the Tate drawings, some forty works in total, is of interest. In the 1950s, Bacon gave four of the drawings to the poet, Stephen Spender. He was a close friend and had written articles on Bacon. The other drawings acquired by the Gallery were also gifts, in this instance, to Bacon’s longstanding friends, Paul Danquah and Peter Pollock, who kept them until after his death.9

Another archive of drawings and sketches, allegedly by Bacon, has surfaced in Italy. Christian Ravarino, an Italian American journalist, originally owned this material but it has now been sold and dispersed amongst several Italian collectors.10 It is unclear what connection Ravarino had with Bacon or how the material was acquired. The Joule Archive, a controversial body of work consisting of sketches and over-painted material attributed to Francis Bacon, emerged in 1996. Barry Joule met Bacon in 1978 and a friendship ensued. An amateur artist in his own right, Joule claims that he was given the material shortly before Bacon’s departure for Madrid, where he died in April 1992.11 The material was first accepted as genuine by leading figures including David Sylvester but since then its authenticity has been called into question. A selection of the material has been exhibited at both the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Barbican Centre in London but further analysis and research is warranted before the issue of authenticity is fully resolved.

A number of possible reasons why Bacon was so secretive about his drawings can be put forward but Sylvester probably provides the most logical explanation when, with the benefit of hindsight, he says, 'Early on, he decided that he couldn’t draw, and thereafter pretended that he didn’t.'12 Bacon’s drawings do not reveal him to be a skilled draughtsman but this did not pre vent him from professing great admiration for drawings by artists including Michelangelo, Ingres, Degas, Picasso, and Giacometti, often rating their graphic work as amongst their best work. It is also of significance that it was an exhibition of drawings by Picasso, which Bacon saw in Paris in 1927, which prompted him to become an artist and he believed that Picasso had 'a great gift as a draughtsman.'13 In addition, he deeply admired Michelangelo’s drawings for 'their grandeur of form and grandeur of image' and thought they were the greatest things he ever did.14 In fact, he even went so far as to single out the drawings of Swiss sculptor, Alberto Giacometti, as being superior to his sculptures. Bacon dismissively stated of the sculptor’s work, 'My own feeling about Giacometti is that he never had any necessity either to do sculpture or to paint, that he was able to do everything in his marvellous drawings.'15 Perhaps Bacon felt that a comparison between his own drawings and those of other artists would leave him in a rather second-rate position as an artist. Given his notorious lack of generosity in relation to other artists’ work, one can deduce that Bacon was insecure as an artist.16 In the 1960s, when Bacon’s stature in the international art world was growing and his works began to fetch higher prices, it would have been difficult for him to concede that he produced drawings. If he did, he might have been pressurised by his dealers, Marlborough Fine Arts, to allow some of these works to be sold. As it is, he signed a series of lithographs of his paintings for a time which Marlborough did sell.17 Most importantly, by admitting that he did draw, Bacon would dispel the myth that his work on canvas was entirely spontaneous. However, on close examination of paintings by Francis Bacon, the very deliberate, studied quality of many of the works belies any notion that they were spontaneous. Maybe it is a tribute to Bacon that he was so adept at creating the sense of spontaneity.

More than seventy works on paper were found in Bacon’s Reece Mews studio and they are now in the collection of the Hugh Lane Gallery. Given the rich diversity of the graphic material found, a distinction must be made between the different types of works on paper that Bacon produced. The most logical subdivisions are as follows: (1) drawings on paper (2) interventions that Bacon has made on leaves torn from magazines, books, catalogues, and photographs. The drawings were executed on a variety of media including tracing paper, lined paper, chain-laid manufactured paper, and the blank end-papers of books. Some are cursory sketches executed in pencil, others are in ball point or felt-tip pen and some are oil sketches. Most are monochromatic. Nearly all the works are unsigned and undated but, stylistically, approximate dates can be assigned. Some bear close similarities to finished paintings, whereas in other instances the links are less obvious. Taken together, this material provides a very good record of the type of works on paper Bacon was producing from the 1930s onwards. The Hugh Lane collection of drawings is therefore more representative than the Tate collection which dates from the 1957-1961 period.

A certain sense of hesitancy is discernible in Bacon’s early drawings, indicating that he was not a natural draughtsman. One notes the influence of Picasso’s drawings from the late 1920s in Biomorphic drawing c. 1936 (Fig 2) but very little of the confidence of the Spanish master’s draughtsmanship. The figure is drawn with a circular head, eyes, open mouth, two arms stretching upwards and two or three tapering stilts balanced on a plinth. In this early work in black ink on lined paper, the lines are tentatively executed, possibly using a quill, and one notes that parts of the figure have been redrawn, most notably the mouth and the left arm of the figure. The circular head and clenched teeth of the figure can be linked to the central panel of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944 (Fig 3), Bacon’s most famous painting, but the drawing also relates to a destroyed painting entitled, Abstraction, c. 1936 (Fig 4). It is likely that it was executed in the 1930s, making it one of Bacon’s earliest extant drawings. 

The artist frequently worked in pencil on tracing paper and twelve drawings of this type were found in the studio. The earliest example of a drawing executed on tracing paper is Figure on plinth. 1930s (Fig 5) but in this instance Bacon has attached the piece of tracing paper to a torn sheet of bond paper. The subject of this drawing is difficult to distinguish due to the amount of overdrawing. It appears to show a figure on a plinth with outstretched arms. The background consists of vertical and horizontal lines with three window-like squares and resembles the central panel of Three Studies for a crucifixion, 1965. The shape of a ladder seems to be visible in the lower left foreground. The sketchy angular strokes have been applied with a soft dark graphite pencil. Stylistically it is close to other works on paper by Bacon dated to 1933-34 including Crucifixion, 1933, Composition, 1933 and Corner of the Studio, 1934. However, the bond paper has a water mark, 'Harelaw', which was used on bond paper from the 1940s. It also appears on a number of Francis Bacon sketches in the Tate Gallery which date from the 1950s.

The most striking example of a clear compositional link between a drawing and a painting can be found in Figure mounting step, another drawing on heavy grade tracing paper (Fig 6). In this drawing, the lower section of a striding male figure mounting a step within a rectilinear structure is portrayed. It relates quite directly to the central panel of Triptych 198718 (Fig 7) and more loosely to Figure in Movement 1985 and the central panel of Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus, 1981, which feature figures in similar poses. However, it is difficult to establish whether the drawing was done as a preliminary sketch for Triptych, 1987 or after the painting was completed. That so many of the drawings found in the studio are executed on tracing paper is significant and may provide further insights into Bacon’s idiosyncratic techniques. Bacon kept many of his own exhibition catalogues in the studio and he often painted over plates from catalogues of his paintings, almost as if he were still experimenting with the completed painting. It is possible that he also traced over the plates and that these drawings are the result of this. Many of the figures in Bacon’s paintings feature repeatedly and this may have been a simple way of borrowing a figurative motif from one painting and using it as a basis for another painting.

Over six hundred books were found in the Reece Mews studio and Bacon frequently used the blank endpapers of books to exe cute drawings or make hand-written notes. One of the best examples of Bacon’s painted sketches can be found in the end papers of a catalogue for an exhibition of paintings by Chaim Soutine held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1950. Many parallels can be made between the work of Bacon and Soutine, whom Bacon held in high esteem. Both were untrained and valued spontaneity in painting. The Soutine catalogue in the Hugh Lane Collection contains two drawings by Bacon dating from the late 1950s or possibly the early 1960s. Stylistically, these monochromatic drawings in black paint are completely different from each other. The drawing at the front of the book shows a chair on a raised dais within a circular space (Fig 8). Two owl-like forms can be noted on the back of the chair. Elements of this sketch are found in a number of different paint ings from the late 1950s and early 1960s. The raised platform and mottled carpet effect in the circular area can be related to the left and right hand panels of Triptych inspired by T S Eliot’s poem 'Sweeney Agonistes'. The second drawing, on the inside pages of the back cover (Fig 9) closely resembles the work of French artist, Henri Michaux. Around 1966, Bacon acquired an untitled Indian ink drawing by Michaux dating from 1962. Characteristically, he quickly tired of the Michaux drawing and sold it. 

Another drawing by Bacon can be found in the endpapers of a book on film (Fig 14). The book was published in 1947 and it is likely that the sketch dates from the 1950s or early 1960s. It is executed in ballpoint pen and features a figure, seated on a divan and enclosed in a box. Although it cannot be conclusively related to any particular painting, it can be loosely related to Double Portrait of Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach, 1964. The posture of the figure resembles that of Francis Bacon’s painting Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud (sideways) August 1974. The divan and ovals are prominent features in a number of paintings. Aside from drawings, hand-written notes on ideas for paintings often feature on the endpapers of books. In fact, the large number of notes in Bacon’s very distinct handwriting held by the Hugh Lane archive is particularly revealing. Many of these clearly refer to ideas for future paintings and this very personal form of artistic shorthand is an excellent record of Bacon’s thought processes as demonstrated by his hand-written notes in V J Stanek’s text, Introducing Monkeys (c.1957) (Fig 16).19 The notes on the right hand page are dated August 18th, 1958 and one extract reads as follows: 'Concentrate entirely on studies of human figure and on heads situate figure in attitudes of apes background brilliant colour - netting – brick – tiles – and corrugated iron keep figure nude.'

Sometimes these hand-written notes appear in conjunction with a small sketch as is the case with the sheet of 'RMS Edinburgh Castle' notepaper (Fig 17). This had been inserted into a book on wildlife written by Alistair Graham and published in 1973. The book contains illustrations by Bacon’s friend, American wildlife photographer, Peter Beard. The note and sketch almost certainly date from the 1960s. The note reads 'Plan for painted sculpture Remember bird of prey end of the game figure moving on circular steel frame.' The small drawing below consists of a circular structure with a figure crawling on it and in the foreground are two pedestals with what may be a bird on the left one and either a head or another bird on the right one. The drawing can be read as an illustration of the notes. Bacon was fascinated with Greek and Egyptian sculpture. The reference to 'painted sculpture' may link with the herm-like forms found in paintings such as Triptych  Two figures lying on a bed with attendants, 1968. In the lower right foreground of the left panel of this triptych, a bird in flight is seen on a pedestal. Bacon includes images of birds of prey in a number of his paintings and books on this subject were found in the Reece Mews studio. The reference to 'end of the game' can be linked with Beard’s book of the same title which first appeared in 1965. The book dealt with the destruction of African wildlife and Beard’s spectacularly beautiful photographs of animals impressed Bacon who particularly admired his aerial shots of dead elephants. The reference to circular steel structures can also be easily explained. Circular steel structures first appeared in Bacon’s painting in 1946 and occur most often in his paintings of the 1960s such as From Muybridge - The Human Figure in Motion: Woman Emptying a Bowl of Water/Paralytic Child walking on all Fours, 1965 (Fig 10). It is likely that the inspiration for these came from the ultra-modernist pieces of furniture Bacon designed during his brief career as a furniture and interior designer around 1930.21 Two other drawings feature similar structures. In Figures on Rail (Fig 11), one can identify one or possibly two figures balanced on a circular tubular frame supported by three legs. The drawing is executed in grey, blue, and red felt-tip pens on paper and is in a fragile state. A piece of sellotape attached to the right edge indicates that it may have originally been attached to a support. Bacon frequently attached cuttings and drawings to cardboard using either sellotape or paperclips. This meant that they could be placed on a small easel to the left of his main easel in the studio which enabled him to glance at them while painting. A second drawing in brown felt-tip pen (Fig 12) on blue chain-laid manufactured paper features a figure or figures on a raised rectangular structure surrounded by a circle and possibly the outline of a second figure in a rectangular structure on the right. It shares certain formal elements with Triptych inspired by T S Eliot’s Poem 'Sweeney Agonistes, 1967.

Like Picasso, Bacon made interventions on newspapers, magazines, leaves torn from books, and photographs. Of these over worked pieces, the Cinerama sketch (Fig 15) is perhaps the most striking. It consists of a perspectival box painted in blue paint over an illustration of a projected image of a suited man. The man’s image consists of thin vertical strips. The caption above it reads 'The Cinerama screen looks like an unbroken flat surface to the audience but is actually made up of hundreds of overlap ping strips.' The vertical striations or shuttered effect must have appealed to Bacon and they relate to a number of paintings from the 1950s including Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1953 and Study for a Portrait, 1953. In the 1950s, Bacon did a series of paintings of men in suits.

On other occasions, the artist worked directly on to photographs. A series of contact sheets with black and white photographs of wrestlers has significant over-drawings in red, green, purple felt-tip pen (Fig 13). Apparently, Bacon directed the photography in the 1970s22 and the photographs are reminiscent of Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of nude wrestlers which deeply influenced him. Bacon has overdrawn circles, lines, boxes, and arrows and he has even isolated particular areas of the image. These relate to Bacon’s paintings of isolated limbs from the late 1970s and early 1980s, in particular, Painting 1978. In conclusion, taken together, these works on paper in the Hugh Lane Collection make a significant contribution to studies of the artist’s work. While they may not compare favourably with works on paper by other artists, they do have intrinsic value in that they help to reveal Bacon’s method and thought processes. It is perhaps ironic that the best way to describe Bacon’s drawings is in his own words: when he said that possible drawings could only provide a skeleton for his works, he inadvertently provided us with an accurate description of his works on paper.

Dr Margarita Cappock is Project Manager of the Francis Bacon Studio which opened at the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin in May 2001.

Acknowledgements I would like to express my gratitude to the following people: Barbara Dawson, Christine Kennedy, Maime Winters, Alexander Kearney, Professor John Turpin, and Paul Spellman. I am grateful to the Estate of Francis Bacon, the Tate Gallery, London, Stedilijk, Amsterdam for permission to reproduce a number of the paintings.


1 D Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon (London 1993), p. 190.

2 Sides of Bacon, London Weekend Television; produced by D Bailey, directed by B Gowers, including interview with D Sylvester (London Nov 1975).

Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings 1968-1974, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York 1975), Introduction by H Geldzahler, p. 10.

4 J Rothenstein and R Alley, Francis Bacon, (London 1964). This book includes a catalogue raisonne of Bacon’s work, p.30. A complete catalogue raisonne of Bacon’s oeuvre has never been produced.

5 D Sylvester (as note 1), pp. 20-21.

6 F Bacon, Interview with the artist by Melvyn Bragg, South Bank Show (LWT 1985).

Interview with Henri-Francois Debailleux, Liberation (Paris 29 Sept 1987) as quoted in Art REVIEW, 'Bacon’s Unseen Sketches', E Lucie Smith, p. 40.

8 In D Sylvester’s most recent publication, Looking Back at Bacon (London 2000), pp. 205-206, Sylvester refers to Bacon’s drawing as his 'secret vice'. He defends his own position by stating, 'I, for my part, wasn’t being entirely truthful with him when in that interview, as in others from 1962 on, I courteously refrained from mentioning a series of small pencil sketches for paintings which I had seen in the endpapers of his copy of a paperback edition of poems by Eliot. However, I had been gullible enough not to have realised that these were the tip of an iceberg.'

9 On his return from Tangier in the autumn of 1955, Bacon lived with Danquah and Pollock at Overstrand Mansions in Battersea until 1961. He also had a studio there and it is thought that all the Tate drawings were made in this studio. It has been suggested that the drawings were a gift to Danquah and Pollock instead of paying rent. After this period in Battersea, Bacon moved to Reece Mews, where he lived for the rest of his life.

10 Art REVIEW (as note 7) , p. 40.

11 The ground floor at Reece Mews was entirely occupied by a large garage where Bacon kept surplus items from the studio. It was here that Bacon allegedly brought Barry Joule to give him an old photograph album from which the snaps had been removed but which had been filled with drawings, oil sketches, collages, and paintings, including an early self-portrait. He also had books, bundles of old magazine pages, and photographs which had been worked over. Bacon helped Joule carry the material out to place in the boot of Joule’s car. Joule drove Bacon to the airport to get a flight to Madrid. On the way, he asked Bacon what he wanted him to do with the material to which Bacon replied 'You know what to do with it.' Joule asserts that if Bacon wanted him to destroy the material he would have said so in a clear, direct manner. Whether these sketches, drawings, and over-drawings are all by Bacon or whether there is another hand at work has not yet been resolved.

12 D Sylvester (as note 8), p. 208.

13 M Archimbaud, Francis Bacon, In conversation with Michel Archimbaud (London 1993), p. 33. 14 M Archimbaud (as note 13), p. 37.

15 D Sylvester (as note 8), p.245.

16 A large number of artists including Holbein, Bruegel, Bosch, Vermeer, Poussin, Klee, Dali, Ernst, Pollock, Hockney, and Sutherland came in for harsh criticism by Bacon.

17 M Gale, Francis Bacon, Working on Paper, Tate Gallery Publishing (London 1999), Introductory essay by David Sylvester, p. 10.

18 The original painting was inspired by a poem by the Spanish poet, Lorca, entitled 'Llanto por Ignacio Sanchez Mejias', a funeral song for the death of a torreador. Bacon was fascinated by bullfighting and did at least two other paintings on the subject.

19 Tate Gallery, London recently acquired a copy of V J Stanek’s Introducing Monkeys (c.1957) which also belonged to Bacon. In the Tate volume, Bacon’s notes on the endpapers are dated 11 Dec 1958. Using the same ballpoint pen he made most of the notes on 13 and 17 Dec. These continued at the front in different ink on 26 Dec and (in pencil) 9 January 1959. An inserted sheet is inscribed 10 Dec 1957. The notes on the Hugh Lane copy of this book pre date the Tate ones.

20 Bacon first met Peter Beard at the Claremont Club in London in 1965 for the launch of Beard’s book. A large amount of material relating to Beard was found in Bacon’s studio. Bacon also painted nine portraits of Beard who was strikingly good-looking.

21 On his return to London from Paris around 1928-1929, Bacon started to design furniture and carpets. In 1930, The Studio magazine published a feature on Bacon’s furniture designs under the heading 'The 1930 Look in British Decoration'.

22 M Harrison, Francis Bacon, Paintings from the Estate 1980-1991, Points of Reference, p. 18.








 London, King Street   Sale Date Feb 06, 2002 



 Creator Francis Bacon (1909-1992)


 Lot title Portrait of Man with Glasses IV



Provenance  A gift from the artist to the present owner.


Literature  J. Rothenstein and R. Alley, Francis Bacon, London 1964, p. 154, no. 220 (illustrated).
John Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1985, p. 123.


Estimate  300,000 - 400,000 British pounds


Painted in 1963, Portrait of a Man with Glasses IV was one of a series of four pictures depicting the same man at slightly varying angles. In the early 1960s, Bacon increasingly used small canvases to paint bust portraits, sometimes executing small series reminiscent in their variations of the sequence photography of his much admired Edward Muybridge.

Portrait of a Man with Glasses IV shows a distorted face looking as though it has been beaten to a pulp. The mangled glasses even have a spray of red, implying blood. The head looks battered and bruised. The glasses make this an image reminiscent of one of the most important sources of inspiration to Bacon, the nanny shot in the head in Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin, where the woman’s twisted glasses are shattered, blood on her face, her mouth open in a scream. Of this film, Bacon said, 'It was a film I saw almost before I began to paint, and it deeply impressed me  I mean the whole film as well as the Odessa Steps sequence and this shot. I did hope at one time to make  it hasn’t got any special psychological significance  I did hope one day to make the best painting of the human cry… it’s much better in the Eisenstein' (Bacon, 1966, quoted in David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, New York, 1990, p.34). Here, Bacon has eschewed his quest for the human cry, instead presenting a haunting image of a beaten man. The dark abysses in place of the eyes create a skull-like effect, while the mouth, so detached from any scream, seems to show the man’s resignation, his facial expression appearing as hollow as his eye-sockets.

The dark background in Portrait of Man with Glasses IV pushes the flesh to the fore, as does the composition. The unpainted areas meld with the man’s body and hair. Bacon often used contrasting thick and thin paints, heightening the almost plastic effect of the flesh, but here he has taken it to an extreme, the small areas of raw canvas adding both colour and texture to the painting. Using this technique on the hair and torso of the man serves to make the pallid flesh all the more striking, sensuous yet repellent. Portrait of a Man with Glasses: 'had passed between them, like a snail, leaving a trail of the human presence and memory trace of past events, as the snail leaves its slime. I think the whole process of this sort of elliptical form is dependent on the execution of detail and how shapes are remade or put slightly out of focus to bring in their memory traces' (Bacon, quoted in The New Decade, New York, 1955, p.63.)










The Estate of Francis Bacon drops legal action against Marlborough



No evidence of blackmail, and video shows the artist satisfied with his gallery





LONDON. The Bacon Estate has dropped its legal action against the Marlborough Gallery, just days before the full hearing was due to begin. Executor Professor Brian Clarke had initiated the case because of concerns that the London gallery and its Liechtenstein subsidiary had not paid Francis Bacon properly for his pictures, resulting in a loss which could have amounted to as much as £100 million. The Estate also suggested that Marlborough had “blackmailed” the artist to prevent him moving to New York’s Pace Gallery (The Art Newspaper, No.121, January 2002, p.3).

Last month the Estate said it was “pleased to announce that it has settled its litigation with Marlborough.” Both sides are paying their own legal costs, which altogether could amount to £10 million. It was also revealed that the Estate’s sole beneficiary, Bacon’s close friend John Edwards, 51, is suffering from a serious form of lung cancer. The Estate explained: “This settlement has been agreed, against this background and on the basis of Professor Clarke’s assessment of the merits of the case in the light of documents and witness evidence released by Marlborough in the latter part of last year.” The three-month trial, due to start on 18 February, was abandoned at a formal hearing on 6 February.

Marlborough was also delighted with the outcome. Gallery head Mr Gilbert Lloyd commented: “We are pleased that the Estate has finally accepted that the entire case is completely without foundation. The case was totally unsustainable. Contrary to the Estate’s claims, no paintings are missing, no fraud took place and there was no attempt at blackmail. The result of the action is that the Estate has needlessly wasted millions of pounds on legal costs.”


A key factor behind the dropping of the case was the question of evidence of the blackmail which is alleged to have taken place in 1978. Pace director Mr Arnold Glimcher, who had heard about the allegation at the time, believed that his source had probably been Michael Peppiatt, an art historian and close friend of Bacon. Initially Mr Peppiatt did not wish to become involved in the recent legal case, but last month he met Marlborough and told them that he had no knowledge about the alleged blackmail. According to Marlborough’s record of their meeting with Mr Peppiatt on 4 February 2002: “Neither blackmail nor any suggestion of blackmail was ever mentioned by Mr Peppiatt, Mr Glimcher or by Bacon [in 1978]. The first time Mr Peppiatt remembers blackmail being mentioned was in late 1999. The word was first mentioned by Brian Clarke when he was telling him of the various misdemeanours of which he suspected Marlborough.”

The Estate puts a different gloss on the situation. In a statement, it said that although Mr Peppiatt had no knowledge of blackmail, “there remains an unresolved conflict of evidence; Mr Glimcher is clear and detailed as to what he was told; Mr Peppiatt has made it plain that he could not have been the source of that information.”

Further evidence to support Marlborough’s argument that Bacon had been treated properly by the gallery came in the form of a video film made by Francis Giacobetti shortly before the artist’s death ten years ago. In the video, Bacon describes the system under which Marlborough sold his paintings, an arrangement with which he appeared satisfied. This evidence would have proved helpful to the gallery if the case had proceeded.

Future plans

Speaking after the claim had been dropped, Professor Clarke told The Art Newspaper: “We now intend to focus all the Estate’s resources in creative enterprises relating to Bacon rather than the time-consuming investigation of the relationship between artist and Marlborough.” To this end the John Edwards Charitable Foundation is being set up to advance the study of Bacon and his work. It is expected to be chaired by Professor Clarke. Although the Estate was valued at £11 million a decade ago (in paintings and other assets) and has since grown, millions of pounds were spent on legal fees. It is therefore possible that pictures may have to be sold to fund the foundation’s work in the years to come. The most ambitious project will be the publication of a catalogue raisonné of Bacon’s oeuvre. Professor Clarke has already identified eight art historians who might be a suitable editor, and a decision will be made shortly on who should lead the project. A book on the relationship between Bacon and photography is also expected to be commissioned later this month and other publications are likely to follow. Professor Clarke points out that the information which surfaced during the legal proceedings will “cause almost every book on Bacon to have to be reassessed in some ways.” The Estate, which owns a number of important paintings, has already had requests to participate in 14 Bacon exhibitions, including two major retrospectives planned for the next couple of years.

The difficult question now is whether the Estate and Marlborough will be able to work together. The Estate may need access to Marlborough’s photographs of lost and destroyed works for its catalogue raisonné. The gallery, on its side, will only have limited rights to reproduce Bacon paintings which it wishes to sell. In theory, the two sides would benefit from cooperation. However, relations between the Bacon’s Estate and his life-long dealer are now strained and it may be some time before they can work constructively together.





                   A photograph of Francis Bacon taken by his sole heir, John Edwards





The Bacon Estate






On February 6, 2002, the High Court in London dismissed the claims brought by Brian Clarke against the Marlborough Gallery, on behalf of the Estate of Francis Bacon, who had decided not to pursue the matter. The Judge, Mr Justice Patten, was told that the parties had managed to resolve their differences, and would not require the court to conduct an estimated three month trial of the issues, which had been set to start on February 18, 2002

Bacon died in 1992 and his will named Clarke as one of two executors of his Estate, responsible for managing his affairs and ensuring that Bacon’s friend John Edwards received the artist’s assets remaining; after all expenses and taxes had been paid.

The first legal issue arose when the High Court ordered the removal of Clarke’s co-executor, who was a Director of the Marlborough Gallery. There was an apparent conflict of interest between the duty of the executors (to maximise the value of Bacon’s estate) on the one hand, and the duty of Marlborough’s Director (to act in the best interests of the Gallery), on the other hand. It would have been unfair to both the Gallery and the Estate for the Director to continue to act in both capacities. This decision left Clarke as sole executor, and he had no such conflicting interests, being a friend of Bacon in his later years and wishing merely to do his best for the Estate.

As the nature and extent of Bacon’s dealings with the Marlborough Gallery over five decades (from around 1956) began to emerge, Clarke’s concerns over the artist/gallery relationship began to develop. Eventually, Clarke’s concerns drove him to launch proceedings against Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd and Marlborough International Fine Art (Liechtenstein); he sought clarification of the nature and extent of the contractual relationship between the artist and gallery over 40 years. The Gallery resisted Clarke’s claims that it had dealt with Bacon inappropriately.

One of the major issues in the case was whether or not Bacon was subjected to undue influence by the Gallery, and this and other issues were complicated by the paucity of clear documentary evidence of the terms of the contract between them. The particulars of claim served by the Estate asserted that ‘the artist was bohemian lacking in business and financial experience without the benefit of any independent advice’; which claim the Gallery disputed.

The Estate also asserted that the Gallery owed the artist a high duty of care, attention and transparency in its commercial dealings with him, and had failed in these respects; for example; by paying Bacon £6,000 for a work and re-selling it for seven times as much; the absence of clarity as to whether works were ‘bought in’ by the Gallery and then re-sold for a profit it determined, or were sold by the Gallery on behalf of the artist as his agent; and that many paintings were unaccounted for. Marlborough strenuously resisted all such claims, and contended amongst other things that Bacon’s works were purchased ‘in arm’s length’ transactions.

Late last year the case took a dramatic turn when the High Court allowed Clarke to include in his claim a specific allegation: that, when Bacon was considering changing his dealer (from Marlborough to the Pace Gallery, New York), Marlborough unduly influenced the artist to continue with it by suggesting that he might then experience difficulties both in accessing money in his Swiss bank accounts and in his future dealings with the UK’s Inland Revenue (see AM 253).

This latest assertion appears to have flowed from a recent dialogue between Clarke and the well-known art historian Michael Peppiatt (a friend of Bacon), in which they had discussed Peppiatt’s recollections of his liaising with Arnold Glimcher, the Chairman of the Pace Gallery, New York around 1978. Peppiatt had evidently acted as honest broker, relaying to Bacon that Glimcher was interested in representing him and attending a meeting which was then arranged between the artist and Glimcher at which sale prices and Bacon’s shares thereof were discussed. Nothing came of this exchange and Bacon remained with Marlborough.

Days before what became the final High Court hearing on February 6, Peppiatt formally clarified to Marlborough’s solicitors that in his discussions with Clarke he had not encouraged Clarke to believe that there was any substance in the suggestion that Bacon had been blackmailed by Marlborough. And it was this event which triggered the settlement of the dispute and the formal dismissal of the Estate’s claims; the terms of the settlement are not public knowledge.

At the heart of this sorry saga lies the absence of clear documentation recording the nature and extent of the respective contractual duties and obligations of artist and gallery. For the past 25 years or so (and throughout roughly half the length of Bacon’s contractual relationship with Marlborough) this column and other informed commentators have increasingly and continually stressed the need for such clear documentation between artist and gallery; covering, amongst other things:


* parties’ names and contact data

* dealer’s engagement (exclusively or otherwise) to promote and represent the artist by one or any combination of:

1 selling work

arranging commissions

arranging showings

arranging lectures, talks and media appearances

5 publications


*which works are included: all; only paintings; only works on paper; sculpture alone, and so on; existing and/or future work

*copyright: who owns it, manages and licenses reproductions and on what terms

*moral rights: who can allow works or reproductions of them to be altered or amended in some way

*geography: the limit of the dealership’s territorial representation (worldwide; only EU; EU and North America and so on)

*length of representation: whether for a fixed term (normally no more than two years) or periodically renewable with written notice on either side

*sales: pricing strategy: timing of release into primary marketplace; gallery’s commission; VAT arrangement

*consigned works: details of finished or future works to be deposited with (consigned to) the gallery for sale/not for sale

*bought-in works: how many and which ones will or may be bought in by the gallery; prices including discount to the gallery.


Crucially, such deals also need to clarify: when and how the artist will be paid, and for statements of account to be given by the gallery; details of all transactions including names of purchasers, prices, commission, and so on, and whether cash advances or stipends are to be set off against future income: the artist’s rights to have access to the gallery’s accounts and records, for the purpose of independent auditing (if ever required by the artist).

Finally, agreement as to what should happen to the works, benefits and obligations covered by the deal in the event of the artist’s death or the dealer’s bankruptcy or ceasing to trade. Sadly, the creation and regular updating of such documentation or similar records continue to be avoided by many artists and their dealers/galleries – often in the belief that they are unnecessarily bureaucratic and time-consuming matters. In truth, they are necessary ‘good housekeeping’ chores; every good home should have them.

© Henry Lydiate 2002













Sir, — Victoria White's Front Row of January 31st was somewhat confusing in its comparisons between the National Gallery of Ireland and the Hugh Lane Gallery.

The excellent exhibition, Monet, Renoir and the Impressionist Landscape, at the National Gallery of Ireland is a temporary exhibition and, like all shows of impressionist paintings, has a broad appeal and will achieve high visitor numbers, as such exhibitions do in any city.

The Royal Academy's recent Monet exhibition in London was a case in point.

The Francis Bacon Studio at the Hugh Lane Gallery is a permanent installation built to house a fascinating collection of items which provide unprecedented insights into the mind of one of the most significant painters of the 20th century.

The studio has been a major critical success and has received positive and lengthy reviews both in Ireland and abroad, the most recent being in the New York Times and the Washington Post (January 20th).

Francis Bacon’s studio is a unique installation. It consists of a superb series of rooms designed by David Chipperfield which house the studio, a small cinema screening the celebrated Melvyn Bragg interview with Francis Bacon, a micro-gallery with seven touch-screen interactive terminals to allow the visitor to explore the studio contents, and a gallery of unfinished paintings which have never been previously exhibited, making it one of Dublin’s top cultural attractions.

The studio has also won two prestigious awards: the Best Larger Museum Award from the Gulbenkian Foundation in association with the Heritage Council and Museums Council of Northern Ireland; and the Interpret Ireland Award from the Association for Heritage Interpretation (UK).

Contrary to what Victoria White suggests, we are very happy with our visitor numbers.

I think Dublin is fortunate to have the opportunity to host a world-class Impressionist exhibition at the same time as the superb installation of Francis Bacon’s Studio.  Yours, etc.,




Hugh Lane

Municipal Gallery

of Modern Art,

Parnell Square,

Dublin 1.






   Homosexuality out of the margins and in the heart





                                          LOVE IN A DARK TIME


                                                Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodovar


                                                          By Colm Toibin




                                                           Michael Arditti








Last year Paul Bailey published Three Queer Lives, a study of three largely forgotten heroes of popular culture: the music-hall performer Fred Barnes; the writer Naomi Jacob; the broadcaster Arthur Marshall. Now, fellow novelist Colm Toibin weighs in with nine more short biographies, although, in keeping with their high-art credentials, they are accorded the less confrontational designation “gay”.


Toibin’s choice of subjects subscribes to a novelist’s rather than a polemicist’s imperative. He opts not for those such as Edward Carpenter, Radclyffe Hall and Magnus Hirschfeld who worked to change society, but for figures “whose legacy was ambiguity, who suffered for their homosexuality (Oscar Wilde, Roger Casement) or had remained uneasy and secretive about it (Thomas Mann, Elizabeth Bishop); who had allowed it to nourish rather than dominate their work (James Baldwin); who had thrived in adverse conditions (Francis Bacon, Pedro Almodovar); and who had written the elegies and memoirs during the Aids catastrophe (Thorn Gunn, Mark Doty)".


Bailey was attacked in some quarters for a lack of original research. Toibin pre-empts a similar charge by focusing less on his subjects’ lives than on the way those lives have subsequently been perceived. Thus, while little might be gained from yet another rehearsal of Oscar Wilde’s downfall, Toibin examines the way that the story has been filtered through the prejudices of even a sympathetic biographer like Richard Ellmann.


To Ellmann’s assertion that “neither Wilde nor Douglas practised or expected sexual fidelity, money was the stamp and seal of their love”, Toibin’s response is that “that last sentence, so full of judgment and certainty, shows us perhaps more about Ellmann than it does about Wilde and Douglas”. He presents their relationship in the context of the complex and fluid attachments of such couples as W. H. Auden and Chester Kallmann, and James Merrill and David Jackson.


Similarly, in his study of Roger Casement, he shows how an acceptance or otherwise of the notorious Black Diaries in which Casement recorded his sexual activities has been determined largely by the commentator’s bias. Whereas Toibin considers that Casement’s homosexuality may have given him a particular empathy with the victims of oppression both in Africa and Ireland, the authors of The Vindication of Roger Casement could claim, as late as 1994, that “For all these Christian people, freedom by a pervert would be a perverted freedom and not acceptable.”


In his examination of Francis Bacon, whose life has been painted in lurid hues, Toibin moves from the limitations of particular biographers to those inherent in the genre itself, declaring that “it is one of the problems of biography that it seeks out the colourful and the dramatic at the expense of the ordinary and the true”. A future biographer subjecting Toibin’s account to similar analysis would conclude that it is sympathetic, sober and sensitive — although he or she might find it telling that, having repeatedly rejected the tragic model of gay men’s lives, Toibin should so readily describe the one woman in the collection, the poet Elizabeth Bishop, as having a “great,and tragic lesbian love story”.


The most challenging chapter of the book is the first, in which Toibin mines the gay subtext of literature from Marlowe to Kafka. While dissociating himself from more extreme interpretations (such as an analysis of Iago based on his sharing a bed with Cassio), he follows the poet Gregory Woods in identifying the gay element in Shakespeare’s sonnets. In contrast to Eric Partridge, who began his argument against Shakespeare ’s homosexuality with the words “like most other heterosexual persons, I believe. . .”, Toibin shows how an honest reader of whatever persuasion must acknowledge that a sonnet such as “A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted" is, at the very least, alive to the possibilities of homosexual desire.


Such readings are crucial, for it is only when homosexuality is removed from the margins and placed at the very heart of the cultural canon that the world predicted by Toibin in which “being gay will no longer involve difficulty and discrimination” will come to pass.





    Bacon, standing before one of his paintings, thrived on the adverse conditions of his life as a gay man













Sir, — The letter of March 8th from Barbara Dawson, director of the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, contained the sad news that she considers the Francis Bacon Studio to be a permanent installation at the Municipal Gallery. I sincerely hope not.

Installed, perhaps, in a Dublin house, owned by the Bacon family, it might serve as some form of monument to the artist. Installed in the Municipal Gallery, it is a monumental error.

Minimalist works, soiled beds, lists of past lovers, animal bodies in formaldehyde and elephant dung arrangements are, at least, planned by their originator to have some contrived effect on the beholder. The studio "happened” through years of sheer neglect. Dublin gained a cleaner’s worst nightmare and, in exchange, lost a small but long-admired showing of Roderic O’Connor’s work, which — dare I suggest, from an Irish and tourist point of view — was every bit as important as the well advertised and over-vaunted “Impressionist” exhibition at the National Gallery.

As regards the National Gallery extension, I have read glowing “architectural” reports. They seem to ignore the “mean streets” entrance, the labour exchange lobby, the darkest, most characterless shop I’ve ever seen, the labyrinthine passageways to the old gallery and the truncated and now claustrophobic old shop.

Perhaps someone might give an opinion on whether the external stone facing is completed! — Yours, etc.



Howth Road,


Dublin 3.




Testy tosspot never quite doused anger



Obituary: Graham Mason  1942-2002

Denizen of Soho, journalist 





GRAHAM MASON, the journalist who has died aged 59, was in the 1980s the drunkest man in the Coach and Horses, the pub in Soho where, in the half century after the Second World War, a tragicomedy was played out nightly by its regulars.

His claim to a title in bibulous misbehaviour was staked against stiff competition from Jeffrey Bernard and a dedicated cast of less-celebrated but formidable drinkers.

Mason was a fearsome sight at his most drunkenly irascible. Seated at the bar, his thin shanks wrapped around the legs of a high stool, he would swivel his reptilian stare around behind him to any unfortunate stranger attempting to be served and snap: "Who the fuck are you?"

Unlike his friend Bernard, though, Mason did not make himself the hero of his own tragedy. His speciality was the extreme. In one drinking binge he went for nine days without food. At the height of his consumption, before he was frightened by epileptic fits into cutting back, he was managing two bottles of vodka a day.

At lunchtime he would walk through the door of the Coach and Horses still trembling with hangover, his nose and ears blue whatever the weather. On one cold day he complained of the noise that the snow made as it landed on his bald head.

His practice of "boozer’s economics" meant dressing in the shabbiest of clothes, many of them inherited from the late husband of the woman with whom he lived. He wore a threadbare duffle coat with broken toggles. One day it was inexplicably stolen from the pub coat hook. Bernard took the opportunity to combine kindness with condescension by buying a replacement of much grander design and cloth.

From the 1960s on, Mason was a friend of many of the painters, writers, actors, layabouts, retired prostitutes, stagehands and hopeless cases that then gave Soho its flavour. He enjoyed talking to Francis Bacon in the Colony Room Club because Francis Bacon was funny; and, until they finally had a row, Francis Bacon enjoyed talking to him.

In a couple of hours one evening in February 1988 he had loud altercations with John Hurt ("You’re just a bad actor"); with a law writer nicknamed the Red Baron, who was later murdered ("You know I don’t like you. Go away and leave me alone"); and with Bernard (who stood up and shook him by the lapels).

Michael Heath often featured Mason in his comic strip The Regulars. In one episode he is shown apologising for being so rude the night before: "You see, I was sober."

Amid the violence of Soho arguments he became a friend of Elizabeth Smart, the Canadian author of By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, a book about her lover George Barker, the poet, who became another friend. Mason also succeeded in liking Francis Bacon’s final close friend, John Edwards, which some people did not.

Mason felt at home in the Colony Room Club in the years before homosexuality was decriminalised because no-one who drank there minded one way or the other.

Mason’s own closest friendship was with Marsh Dunbar, the widow of an admired art director at The Economist. He lodged with her at first in a fine early 19th-century house in Canonbury Square, Islington, where she was bringing up three sons. She had herself fallen into Soho after the war, knowing everyone from John Minton to Lucian Freud. Though enthusiastically heterosexual, she lived with him until her death.

In the days before licensing liberalisation, he resorted in the afternoon when pubs were closed to drinking clubs such as the Kismet, a damp basement with a smell that wits identified as "failure"; it was known as "the Iron Lung" and "Death in the Afternoon". Mason admired the diminutive but firm presence behind the bar, known as Maltese Mary. But his favourite resort remained the Colony.

Graham Edward Mason was born in Cape Town, South Africa. He had been conceived on a sand dune and to this he sometimes attributed his abrasive character.

He was educated at Chingola, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), and then joined a local newspaper. From there, as a bright and promising 18-year-old, he was recruited for the American news agency UPI by its bureau chief in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe).

He learnt fast as a reporter of the civil war in Congo, finding the veterans from the Algerian war among his colleagues both kind and helpful. He witnessed a line of prisoners executed with pistol shots to the head and was himself injured in the thigh and chin by a mortar shell. Among those he interviewed were Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe; he did not take to the latter.

Posted to the UPI office in London in 1963, he set off in a Land Rover with three friends and no proper map through Tanganyika, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, and then on an East German ship via Trieste to Hull.

From UPI’s London office in Bouverie Street, Mason soon discovered Soho and, like many before him, felt he had come home. He continued as a foreign correspondent, taking a year out in 1968 to work for 20th Century Fox on feature films, which he hated.

With BBC Television news he reported from the Northern Ireland troubles and in 1975 took another year out to run a bar in Nicosia. It happened to coincide with civil war and he and Dunbar were lucky to be evacuated by the RAF. From then until 1980 he worked for ITN. One day he was found asleep under his desk, drunk. It was something of a low point.

He was living with Dunbar in a flat in Berwick Street, Soho. A fire there sent them, fleeing bills, to a rundown council tower block on the Isle of Dogs. The compensation was a view of a sweep of the Thames towards Greenwich. He worked while he still could, managing Bobby Hunt’s photographic library.

Mason cooked Mediterranean food well and liked classical music and fireworks. After Dunbar’s death in 2001, with almost all his friends dead, he sat imprisoned by emphysema in his flat, with a cylinder of oxygen by his armchair and bottles of white wine by his elbow, looking out over the Thames, still very angry.





   “Cheerio” Francis Bacon, Graham Mason’s friend and

   fellow-drinker in one of their favourite watering holes.


The art of loss


Paul Bailey on a collection of portraits of creative gay lives:


Love in a Dark Time: Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodóvar by Colm Tóibín

Love in a Dark Time: Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodóvar  Colm Tóibín  288pp, Picador, £16.99





In the introduction to this perceptive collection of essays, Colm Tóibín admits to an "abiding fascination with sadness...and, indeed, tragedy". It should be stressed that this is a sympathetic fascination, not a morbid or mawkish one, as his brief accounts of the painful lives of Elizabeth Bishop and James Baldwin – two of the best pieces here – testify.

What Tóibín admires about the painter Francis Bacon is his life-long refusal to play the role of "tragic queer". He is properly scathing about the three biographies that appeared, with indecent haste, after Bacon’s death  by Andrew Sinclair (scissors and paste), Michael Peppiatt (dull when it isn’t prurient) and Daniel Farson (a hotchpotch of sexual tittle-tattle). "It is one of the problems of biography that it seeks out the colourful and the dramatic at the expense of the ordinary and true," Tóibín observes.

Bacon’s relationship with George Dyer wasn’t all gloom and drunken doom  at least, not in the beginning. Tóibín prefers to look at the paintings, with apt quotations from Bacon’s conversations with David Sylvester, Michel Archimbaud and the shrewdly observant John Russell. He reminds us how hard Bacon worked, and that the real danger he had to cope with was that of repeating himself and burning himself out. This is more interesting, though less amusing, than his remark  which was intended to be heard by the posh women seated nearby  that he wanted to be buggered by Colonel Gadafy.

Tóibín’s other subjects are Oscar Wilde, Roger Casement, the poets Thom Gunn and Mark Doty, and the film director Pedro Almodóvar. This last, a reprinted article from Vanity Fair, is the one really weak chapter in this otherwise fine and thoughtful book. One wants to know more about this man who thrives in an atmosphere of chaos. Tóibín, for once, provides only a sketch, instead of the customary rounded portrait.

Paul Bailey’s most recent book is Three Queer Lives (Hamish Hamilton).







British painter Francis Bacon has been dead for ten years, and, in a way, so has art—at least the kind that makes known the wounds we inflict on one another and on ourselves. Now we get that other British bad boy, Damian Hirst, chopping up animals and distilling them in formaldehyde.

Bacon painted people as though they were hit with force-ten storms and knifing rains. Their anxiety chokes them purple. Their edges appear in fitful blurs. Color is so loud that it comes across like hostility. Even the pigment looks racked. You feel assaulted by an unknown dread when you see it. You try to make sense of it. Bacon said not to try:

"Hardly anyone really feels about painting. They read things into it—even the most intelligent people—they think they understand it, but very, very few people are aesthetically touched by painting." Culture critic Susan Sontag said something similar. Too many intellectualize art at the expense of sensory experience. She called it the "erotics of art."

The "erotics of Bacon’s art" is raw flesh. Ripping past the skin, past surface reality, he pictured that level of existence within us that has no visible reality—the panic brought on by estrangement—not from others, necessarily, but from ourselves. His paintings are us, inside out.

And Bacon’s point in regard to aesthetics is about the other part of us, our outsides. Aesthetic form is our physical form—the symmetry of our limbs and face parts, the contrast of skin to hair to teeth, which is probably why good composition in art attracts us. We seek out what we are, what we know.

There’re plenty of our physical selves in Bacon’s work. Without it, his expression of emotion would be just a tantrum made graphic—boneless and featureless. Like us, Bacon’s paintings are aesthetically structured. While the derangement he illustrates is barefaced, his configuration of colors and shapes is a physical monument to order. Call it a mix of truth and beauty. Beyond the psychic scars that he exposes with color and shape, beyond his urge to express a state of mind, is the urge to sort it out and put it right. And that’s where art comes in: crystallizing/controlling the chaos that is life.

Georges Seurat showed the same urge in his painting, La Grande Jatte. The sublime arrangement of tiny dots, made with machinelike precision, is really Seurat describing the joylessness of middle-class life. Empty faces and starched, separate bodies are his icons of alienation in modern life. The dot matrix magnifies the anonymity of that life.

Like Seurat, Bacon conveyed the modern experience of isolation. His Study After Velasquez: Pope Innocence X is a 17th century figure passed through the 20th century experience. As if weighed down by the pressures of orthodoxy, the figure sits on a throne of gold, looking caged, Bacon’s vertical brushwork approximating prison bars. Yet the architecture of the picture—the weave of his paint swaths—comes across like a steady rain, the yellow of the throne looking like the rays of a sun breaking through.

Bacon’s Crouched Nude shows the same architecture—the caged setting and the look of a downpour. In much the same way, in his One of Three Studies for a Crucifixion, the splattered blood-reds—resembling shafts of light dropped by a morning sun—seem to paint a new day, the smooth background reds signaling the unspoiled air.

All of which makes the crown of gloom over Bacon’s work, by contrast, appear all the more wretched—like a bad traffic accident on a pretty day.

This is a long way from the Luis Buñuel film that is said to have influenced him. By the incoherent, unconnected slices of life in Un Chien Andalou—such as dead donkeys lying on two pianos—Buñuel can be said to have held more sway over Hirst than Bacon. Consider Hirst’s mindless display of an actual pig carcass cut length-wise, its halves suspended with one inching back and forth on a mechanized tract so the carcass looks like it’s being constantly sliced.

However disturbing Bacon’s work is, however it pokes out our eyes with edginess, it’s not the shock art of a Hirst and other artmakers in the ’90s who functioned like a work party of Larry Flynts, depicting bodily functions and sadomasochistic acts of gore. Granted, toward the end of his life, Bacon showed a splatter of blood on the floor of an otherwise bare room in Blood on the Floor. But by giving it a context of an empty room, Bacon heightened the sense of lost life. He made you feel the loss.

Bacon’s shock art, then, never is the stuff of, say, that plastic facsimile of puke that showed in the ’90s at the Whitney in New York. Or the bed frame there covered by muslin burned through with hot irons—the burn marks standing for answers to a sex survey: "More than once a week. Once a week. Two to three times a month." Bacon also gave us a bed scene with his Three Studies of Figures on Beds. But while he shows couples twisted in knots of need, burying themselves into one another, he gave them context. Bare walls, lumpy bare mattresses and a naked light bulb heighten the air of unleashed hunger and abandon, which is far and away from illustrated answers to a sex survey.

Some say that shock art has a point, that it’s meant to jolt us into realizing and solving our problems. It doesn’t say enough to do that. It just entertains or enrages us. Bacon’s art says something. He saved his work from the merely shocking with that mix of truth and beauty in which color reveals our nervous system and smeary shapes record our cries.

In the autobiography Flaw in the Glass by Noble Prize winner Patrick White, Bacon’s appreciation of beauty got a mention: "One afternoon at Battersea, crossing the river together by a temporary footbridge while the permanent structure was under repair, he (Bacon) became entranced by the abstract graffiti scribbled in pencil on its timbered side. Alone, I don’t expect I would have noticed the effortless convolutions of line he pointed out for me to admire."

Of course, beauty without truth in art is just as empty as shock art. Impressionism makes the point, its fleeting brushwork being about surface things, about our eye, as if that’s all we are about: style. Bacon had us covered. He said, "It’s really a question in my case of being able to set a trap with which one would be able to catch the fact at its most living point.… I want to make a thing of sense, of reality, yet unlock the vowels of feeling."

In Pope Innocent X, Bacon seems to be saying that each of us is the Pope, staring from way inside like a scared animal looking out from a bad hiding place. A passage in Willa Catha’s Death Comes for the Arch Bishop could pass for a description of the painting: "His mouth was the very assertion of uncurbed passion...the full lips thrust out and taut, like the flesh of animals distended by fear or desire."

How important is Bacon? Think over how much art today reflects on the voltaic and cybernetic—movies, magazines, television. And think over how shades of meaning get lost in the electronic glare. Conditioned by this exposure, too many artists work like photoelectric sorters, scrambling for new images as fast as video programs roll over, 20-plexes change their lineup and newsstands restack. Sealed off from the rich air of actual life, their images are sterile—like all things vacuum-packed. Bacon’s pictures are a relief for mass-media-sore eyes. What you see is not what you get. What you get is beyond seeing: a state of mind—timeless and placeless.

Wait, there’s more: Bacon’s originality. Remember that one-of-a-kind thing that art used to be, when artists told us how they felt about what they saw, when Mike Bidlo wasn’t copying Picassos out of art books and Richard Pettibone wasn’t copying Stella and Warhol and Elaine Sturtevant wasn’t copying Liechtenstein, Oldenburg and Segal and Sherrie Levine wasn’t copying Malevich and Schiele and Julian Schnabel wasn’t copying Rodchenko? Bacon didn’t copy anybody. He daydreamed, he said. "Pictures drop in like slides. The way I see them is not necessarily related to the way I paint them."

Did you get that? Bacon doesn’t even copy his daydreams. And even while Bacon shared the need to express inwardness with 20th century’s big gun, abstract expressionism, he never gave up on representing the seeable. Coming through in his characteristically frenzied brushwork is everyman crazily furious.

It’s hard to think of an artist who does that now. Bacon’s 10-year absence is enough to move one to prayer:

Hello, God? Could you send Francis Bacon back, please? It’s getting pretty bad down here.





                              Francis Bacon Study for Self-Portrait 1976










If you were depressed by the joyless art of Gerhard Richter at the Museum of Modern Art, you might not think a visit with Francis Bacon would be much help. Bacon is popularly thought of as the pontiff of existential horror, his most famous image being of a screaming Pope Innocent X based on a portrait by Velázquez. What Bacon produced, however, was more a kind of black comedy; increasingly as time passed he realized it in suavely designed, vibrantly hued, generously spacious compositions.

Far from depressing, the late paintings in this show combine the sensuous and the visionary to exhilarating effect. All of the large canvases from the 1980’s feature the painter’s familiar iconography of smeary lumps of humanity  or, in one case, a dangling, plucked chicken – in empty rooms. They are like updates of Christian altar paintings. The largest work, a triptych in which a vignetted male pelvis has wounded areas circled or pointed to by a small graphic arrow, refers unmistakably to the Passion, even as the third panel with the silhouetted head of a bull adds pagan resonance.

In anyone else’s hands such imagery would be unbearably heavy. But Bacon managed his traumatic vision with a light, almost Pop-style touch. He paints the space around his deftly distorted figures with the hedonistic delight of a Color Field painter. In the triptych and two related paintings, broad fields of scrumptious Creamsicle-orange are balanced by windows of sweet sky blue. The ultimate effect is of a zany and voluptuous beauty.





Tate takes Bacon archive at last







THE Tate is accepting a gift of a Francis Bacon archive containing more than 1,000 sketches and annotated photographs, four years after it rejected the offer.

Barry Joule, the owner and a friend of the artist, has struggled for years to prove the authenticity of a collection that he says Bacon gave to him days before his death, and which, with 1,500 items, has been valued at £20 million.

The artist’s estate has declined to authenticate the archive, threatening legal action when the Barbican Centre in London exhibited it last year.

Ten years after Bacon’s death, Sir Nicholas Serota, the Tate’s director, now says he will recommend to the trustees that they acquire it. The collection includes hoarded paint-splattered photographs, clippings, pages torn from magazines and books and scribbled sketches. The images range from cyclists and boxers to a portrait of Mick Jagger over which outlines of figures have been rehearsed.

Mr Joule, who was Bacon’s chauffeur and handyman, says that one of his duties was destroying works with which Bacon was not satisfied. He said that the artist handed him a bundle of papers to destroy, but, realising their importance, he had instead kept them.







Galleries: SoHo




A selective listing by critics of The Times of new or noteworthy art, design and photography exhibitions at New York museums and art galleries this weekend. Addresses, unless otherwise noted, are in Manhattan. Most galleries are closed on Sundays and Mondays, but hours vary and should be checked by telephone. Gallery admission is free. * denotes a highly recommended show

* FRANCIS BACON, Tony Shafrazi, 119 Wooster Street, (212) 274-9300 (through May 18).

Large canvases from the 1980’s feature Bacon’s familiar iconography of smeary lumps of humanity – or, in one case, a dangling, plucked chicken – in empty rooms. In his later years, Bacon handled his traumatic vision with a light, almost Pop-style touch and painted broad flat areas in succulent hues a Color Field painter could envy.

The effect is less of existential terror than of a zany and voluptuous beauty (Johnson).





         “The End of the Line 1953,” a painting by Francis Bacon in an exhibition

          of his work at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in SoHo.





Bacon archive



Tate to acquire Bacon collection after rejecting it



The Times, Friday 1oth May 2002


The Tate is accepting a Francis Bacon archive of more than 1,000 sketches and annotated photographs four years after it rejected the offer. The collection, said to be worth £20m, is owned by Barry Joule, who was Bacon’s chauffeur and handyman.

Joule is said to have struggled for years to prove the authenticity of a collection he says Bacon gave to him days before his death. The artist’s estate has declined to authenticate the archive, threatening legal action when the Barbican Centre in London exhibited it last year.

Ten years after Bacon’s death, Sir Nicholas Serota, the Tate’s director, now says he will recommend to the trustees they acquire it. The Times says the collection includes hoarded paint-splattered photographs, clippings, pages torn from magazines and books and scribbled sketches.

The images range from cyclists and boxers to a portrait of Mick Jagger over which outlines of figures have been rehearsed. Mr Joule says one of his duties was destroying works with which Bacon was not satisfied. He said the artist handed him a bundle of papers to destroy but he realised their importance and had kept them instead.

The Tate Gallery has asked us to make it clear that, whereas it is looking forward to discussions about Barry Joule’s Bacon archive (The Times report, May 2  2002) it has not yet received, or accepted, a formal offer.





  Philips de Pury & Luxembourg  


   Contemporary Art & 14 Duchamp Readymades


     3 West 57th Street   7pm, Monday, May 13, 2002   Sale NY865






                 Lot 30:  Study for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes by Francis Bacon, 78 by 58 inches, 1964


The announcement earlier this year by Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg that it was canceling its spring Impressionist & Modern Art auction came as a great relief to Sotheby’s and Christie’s but also raised serious questions about the future of Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg. The aggressive entry of the Phillips auction house into the big leagues of fine art auctions under the guidance of Bernard Arnault’s LVMH conglomerate stole a lot of business away from Sotheby’s and Christie’s, both of which were under antitrust investigations that created serious financial problems for them and made them appear to be quite vulnerable to new competition. 

One of the auction’s highlights is Lot 30, Study for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, a 78-by-58-inch oil on canvas by Francis Bacon (1909-1992). A classic and major Bacon, it was painted in 1964 and has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold for $6,712,500.

The catalogue notes that Bacon’s convoluted reshaping of the human body sometimes conjures chopped-up carcasses and that in this work the woman’s body "appears played, and the passages of gray and red pigment suggest bruises and blood respectively." "Yet the morbid suggestion of raw, exposed flesh is countered by an opposing sense of the sitter’s vitality. Moraes’ voluptuous figure seems to throb and pulsate before one’s eyes, as though it were releasing a powerful visceral energy."







  Contemporary Art


   Evening: New York  7 PM, May 15, 2002


   Sale: 7797   Lot: 41


   Study From The Human Body   Francis Bacon


  signed, titled and dated July 1981 on the reverse


  Estimate: $2,500,000-3,500,000  Unsold



The beginning of the 1980’s saw Francis Bacon embark upon a series of Studies from the Human Body, made in conjunction with a number of Self-Portraits and landscapes as well as more abstract works that depicted, for example, running water.  Seen together, these works from the early 1980’s find a number of connections, even though their subject matter is wildly different. Technical, stylistic and chromatic patterns emerge that connect the group as a whole. This connectivity is further compounded by Bacon’s visual vocabulary: light cords, screens, tables, and arrows appear throughout these works, greatly contributing to the homogeneity of the 'series' as a whole. Whilst it is not correct to position the present work as part of a series, it is rewarding to see it in the same light as a number of, seemingly, very different paintings. A continued passion for the human form, as well as a development  in the cubistic frames Bacon used that would simultaneously imprison and project his figures, come to light. An emphasis on sensuous texture, on a more sophisticated pigmented ground as well as a dryer brush work delineating a more fragmented and dislocated body seems apparent.

The present work is an outstanding example from this later series of explorations into the human male form, positioned within the fabric of Bacon’s pictorial language. The paraphrase of form here seems to step into a dark screen, as if into another dimension. The spatial dynamic of the composition is cleverly problematized here as Bacon has allowed most of the screen to almost fall out of the picture plane. The three-dimensional form indicated by the frame leg on the left is negated by the diagonal in the centre of the composition, breaking down the screen into two parts. The second 'half' then slopes away, making no solid connection with the pregnant ground Bacon has painted. The motif of the 'double-screen' may be seen as a development of Bacon’s cage-like constructions from the 1950’s that served to  encapsulate and condense the human figure, thereby exaggerating the emotions Bacon depicted. Screams became louder; cries became deeper, more angst-ridden. The present screen form is seen, in various manipulations, in other paintings, such as Study for Self-Portrait (1981, Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal). The black ground framed by this screen is mirrored in Bacon’s use of opened doors leading into unknown chambers of black as clearly seen in his Triptych from 1981 inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus. Moreover, Bacon used the black background in his earlier triptychs, Triptych. August. (1972) and Triptych. May-June. (1973), both depicting the moment of George Dyer’s eventual demise. These pseudo-cubistic frames here serve to deliberately drain the composition of any perspectival logic: the figure shifts in and out of  the artificial spaces that lend a sense of urgency to struggle and flux. Any sense of perspective is further disturbed by Bacon’s use of the light cord in the right-hand section, and the two crimson arrows, pointing towards the figure, but for no apparent reason.

The figure seems to enter in one section and then exist from the other, and it is very noticeable that the  morphology Bacon adopts is extraordinarily elastic. There is nothing to anchor the figure to a recognizable character. His portraits of  George Dyer or John Edwards, for example, are clearly 'readable'. Here the figure is anonymous; what interests Bacon are the shapes of legs, buttocks, backs and shoulders. The fragmentation of the body is continued with other Studies of the Human Body from 1982: a male version, wearing cricket pads and a female version, based on a drawing by Ingres from the same year. Both these fleshy forms act as erotic quotations: buttocks, genitals and breasts are morphed together to create hybrid-like forms set against bright orange grounds. These forms are static, whereas, through the use of arrows,  and the ensuing sense of movement to the figure, here the form seems much more active.

Bacon’s choice of color is magnificently subtle, yet powerful upon contemplation. The sandy ground holds ochres, golds, pinks, graphites and beiges that all coalesce together to form a densely pigmented floor. The ground must therefore be connected to Bacon’s more abstract experiments with pure texture that one sees in works such as Sand Dune (1981) and Water from a  Running Tap (1982). The powdery surface seems to crystallize in front of the viewer, continuing the sense of motion inherent to the figure in the most sophisticated fashion. The robust flesh tones of the 1960’s have now been replaced with lighter mauves and lilacs, accented with passages of orange and enlivened through sweeps of white pigment that activates the form. The deeply saturated black ground further projects the figure out of the pictorial space, and provides the most glorious contrast to the ground.

Study from the Human Body is a glorious example of Bacon’s late work. It insists on a stark, down-to-earth realism that is contained with a lightness of touch rare in Bacon’s oeuvre. This work powerfully exemplifies Bacon’s aesthetic ideal: one which he called 'the brutality of fact', and one which possesses an innate grandeur that marks this painting as a wonderfully intelligent contemplation of the human body.





                 Lot 41, Study from the Human Body, Francis Bacon, 1981








‘Photographing artists is relatively easy’




With these words, Bruce Bernard modestly dismissed his portraits.

Next week, however, Tate Britain mounts a retrospective exhibition.

Christopher Hirst looks back at his work and life





Bruce Bernard, who died aged 72 in March 2000, was probably the greatest picture editor of the 20th century. His legendary eye was used to great effect in The Sunday Times Magazine for most of the Seventies and in The Independent Magazine from 1988 to 1992. In 1980, he produced Photodiscovery, a luscious volume of largely unknown images from the first 100 years of photography, although his best known work was the vast pictorial history, Century, which became an unexpected bestseller in the months preceding his death. “It’s amazing,” he told a friend, “after a lifetime with no money, I’m a millionaire, give or take a few hundred thousand.” (In fact, this proved to be an optimistic forecast.)

What is less well-known about Bernard is that he was a gifted photographer in his own right. When he resigned from The Sunday Times Magazine in 1980, his colleagues and associates (Bernard was responsible for giving a first break to a host of famous photographers) bought him a Nikon 35mm camera. According to his close friend, the painter Virginia Verran, he “was quite humble about his photography and didn’t want his photographer friends to feel he was muscling in”. However, in fits and starts over the next two decades, he came to specialise in portraits of the topmost echelon of British artists, all photographed in their studios.

The significance of this work to Bernard is reflected in the fact that just a week before his death from cancer, he summoned the strength to visit the studio of the painter Frank Auerbach. Auerbach looks into the lens with utmost compassion for his frail portraitist. Virginia Verran was present during the session. “Bruce was extremely weak, very poorly, but took a great, life enhancing photograph.”

Along with Auerbach, Bernard photographed Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Michael Andrews and Euan Uglow. There are several reasons why the results merit an exhibition – Photographs of Painters, opening on Monday – at Tate Britain. For one thing, Bernard felt a profound admiration for artists and always rated painting higher than photography. Auerbach compared Bernard’s knowledge of art to “a familiarity that a trainer would have with horses”. He produced several books exploring various themes in fine art and always regretted that he had not pursued his early ambition to be a painter. For a while he had maintained a studio, but such were Bernard's impossibly high standards that no work ever emerged from it.

Another reason is that, as a long-term habitué of Soho, Bernard had been acquainted with all his subjects (with the exception of Uglow) for decades. With typically astringent precision, he recalled that a 1944 exhibition by Lucian Freud left him “quite if not hugely impressed" and Auerbach's first one-man show, in 1956, caused him “a few worries”.

But perhaps the most significant justification for this show is that Bernard applied his own rigorous precepts as a picture editor to the images that emerged from these sessions. Like the pictures he selected for magazines and books, his photographs are unfussy, uncontrived and stress the subject, not the photographer. According to Virginia Verran, he wanted his pictures to show what his subjects, all of whom were friends, were really like.

The first artist he photographed was Francis Bacon, in 1984. Describing his two sessions at Bacon's notorious midden of a studio, Bernard said: “I tried to imagine how some of the photographers I had commissioned would have gone about it, rather than doing things with background or props.” Bacon had been a friend and drinking companion for years. In fact, celeb spotting visitors in Soho’s fleshpots sometimes mistook Bernard, who had similar swept-back hair, high forehead and circular face, for the modernist master.

Though Bacon is undemonstrative in the shots, the two sessions produced some of the most subtly telling images of this much photographed artist. Over slender legs and waist, still those of a young man, Bacon’s blossoming paunch is more or less restrained by his dinky leather blouson, which only has its bottom stud closed. Tethered by a narrow neck, the famous face balloons massively. Impassive, perhaps a little bored, Bacon’s eyes are black pits. Standing beside the splotches, daubs and dribbles on his studio door, he resembles a raptor, frightening and, given the right circumstances, merciless. Even if you didn’t know he was one of the greatest painters of the 20th century, you could guess from these astonishing photographs that this was a strange, unnerving and remarkable man.

It is debatable whether Bernard would have taken kindly to having praise heaped upon his photographs. The middle brother in a trio of wordsmiths – his elder brother is the poet Oliver Bernard, while his younger brother was the low-life connoisseur Jeffrey Bernard – he was violently opposed to glib or effusive opinion. Though he was a social man, small talk was not his strong suit. Unlike most journalists, who tend to be allergic to any silences longer than two seconds, Bernard responded to most conversational gambits with a prolonged silence while formulating his reply.

“Empires could rise and fall while you're waiting for Bruce to reply to a question,” an exasperated editor once told me. Ironically, this long pause for thought often had the effect of prompting the questioner to fill the gap with specious waffle. Sometimes Bernard would express the result of his ratiocination with considerable venom, especially after an extended spell in the pub. Occasionally, however, the response would be a surprised and delightful smile, which, as Ian Jack wrote in his Independent obituary of Bernard, “would resemble that of a very friendly moon in a children’s book”.

Bernard was characteristically modest concerning his portraits. “Photographing artists is relatively easy,” he wrote in the Independent on Sunday in 1993. “To begin with, they often have well-lit studios – and sometimes good and even marvellous pictures to help you along. The planes and angles of canvases on easels and their backs (or fronts) when leant against walls come in handy, as do pots of brushes etc.”

Though Bernard disliked photographs that aspired to the condition of art, his tremendous 1995 photograph of Michael Andrews painting the architect Colin St John Wilson is loaded with resonances. Aligned in the centre of the photograph are five heads. From left to right, they are the back of the artist’s head, the nearly completed portrait, the subject, the back of the subject’s head in a large mirror and the artist’s face also in the mirror. The distant reflection of Michael Andrews echoes the mirror image of the artist in Velázquez's Las Meninas, while the golden glow of the shaded windows and the hidden light source behind Andrews’s back prompts associations with Vermeer and De Hooch.

Other Bernard portraits are equally evocative, even when they are free of studio impedimenta. His slightly alarming shot of a tense-looking Lucian Freud reveals nothing but a glimpse of a wickerwork chair and a frond of foliage. Why is it that this image of this immensely talented artist, with an elegant silk scarf knotted round his neck, makes me think of Hannibal Lecter? In his catalogue for the Tate show, Paul Moorhouse suggests that the photograph conveys “a sense of the subject's intense, visceral presence – an echo of the ‘somewhat demonic aura’ Bernard first noticed over 50 years earlier”.

Another shot that appears at first sight to be free of artistic paraphernalia is Bernard's portrait of Euan Uglow from early February 2000 (within weeks, both photographer and subject would be dead). Then you notice a taut string in front of Uglow, which might be one of the sighting lines he sometimes included in his paintings. The artist is looking down, preoccupied by something before him. It is, at first sight, an unremarkable photograph, but Bernard thought it had caught something special. “We were sitting here," recalls Virginia Verran, “and he was staring at it and said something like, ‘Really, it’s not bad. It could be a very limited edition.’ He felt that it was a real true portrait, that it had got there in the deepest sense.”

Faced with work of such quality, the thought inevitably occurs that it was a shame Bernard did not get to grips with a camera earlier in life; but he would have none of this. “He does not regret not having a camera until he was 50," Bernard once wrote of himself. “He only wanted to be a painter.” Virginia Verran agrees. “I think he did things when he felt it was right. He didn’t have a regular paid job until he was 40. It only then emerged that he had an amazing eye and a real feeling for humanity in photographs. He wasn't just concerned with photographs that were technically brilliant or obviously eye-catching.”

Bruce Bernard's incomparable ability to select remarkable images will also be celebrated in a major show later this year at the Canon Photography Gallery in the Victoria & Albert Museum. One Hundred Photographs is a commissioned collection of 19th and 20th century images that, according to Bernard, captures “some of the magic of the medium – its uncanny life-preserving qualities and unique perceptions.” Like Photographs of Painters, and like his books Photodiscovery and Century, it promises to be an eye-opener from a man who looked harder than anyone else.

'Bruce Bernard: Photographs of Painters' is at Tate Britain, Millbank, London SWI from 20 May until 26 August (020-7887 8000).






              In the studio: Bernard’s photograph of Francis Bacon (1984)





He climbed inside faces



Liz Jobey on the 'wizened, acned dwarf' of 1960s Soho who documented city lives


A Maverick Eye: The Street Photography of John Deakin by Robin Muir
208pp, Thames & Hudson, £36





Nobody who has read the various accounts of Francis Bacon’s life could have missed the figure of John Deakin, the small, drunken photographer who made some remarkable portraits of the painters, writers, models and friends who gathered round Bacon in Soho during the 1950s and 1960s, notably at Muriel Belcher’s Colony Room.

In most accounts Deakin is reviled, not for his drunkenness but for the bitchiness, scrounging and general meanness of spirit that came with it. Bacon – who, according to his friend and biographer Dan Farson, was fond of Deakin – called him "a horrible little man", though he also thought his portraits "the best since Nadar and Juliet Margaret Cameron". George Melly called him a "vicious little drunk", Jeffrey Bernard said he was "a wizened, acned dwarf of a jockey". But Bruce Bernard, Jeffrey’s brother, recognised Deakin as a member of "photography’s unhappiest minority whose members, while doubting its status as art, sometimes prove better than anyone else that there is no doubt about it".

Photography was a second best for Deakin, who had failed to find success as a painter and only took up the camera by accident in 1939 – he is said to have woken up in a Paris apartment after a party, found a camera unattended, and taken it away to try it out. His working life was haphazard – he had two brief periods under contract to Vogue, both of which ended badly, and two small exhibitions in Soho; he produced two guidebooks, one to London, the other to Rome. He more or less gave up photography in the last years of his life, and had it not been for Bruce Bernard, who rescued several boxes of photographs from under Deakin’s bed after his death in 1972, the pictures might have gone the way of his other artworks and ended up in the gutter in Berwick Street.

In 1984, Bernard made a selection of these photographs for an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum called The Salvage of a Photographer. The creased and tattered prints, many of them portraits of his Soho companions, were to establish Deakin’s posthumous reputation. In 1996, Robin Muir, who as the picture editor at Vogue in the early 1990s had found another cache of Deakin’s prints, contact sheets and negatives in the Condé Nast library - this time of the artists, writers, actors and directors Deakin had photographed for the magazine – curated a show at the National Portrait Gallery and published a book on Deakin’s work.

This was four years after Bacon’s death, and it included some of the 40 or so trampled and paint-spattered photographs that had been found in Bacon’s studio. These were photographic studies Deakin made at Bacon’s request of figures he wanted to use as references in his paintings. They included the now well-known sessions with Lucian Freud, Henrietta Moraes and Isabel Rawsthorne, all of whom are recognisable in Bacon’s pictures.

As well as fuelling the debate about just how much Bacon had relied on photographs, the distressed prints added the glamour of found fragments to what was by now acknowledged as Deakin’s increasingly important archive. The 1996 show concentrated on Deakin’s portraits. The large close-ups show every pore, pockmark and hair follicle; in most cases the eyes stare directly into the lens, and the face is often squared off prematurely by the frame.

They have been described as "cruel" and "brutal", but in fact seem to be more the result of Deakin’s impatience with the kind of theatrical gestures and posturing body language that so often makes a portrait false. But there was another group of pictures, found in an annexe down the back stairs of the National Portrait Gallery. These were Deakin’s street pictures, taken in London and during his many trips to Paris and Rome – the city he loved most. It is these that Muir has concentrated on in his second book.

The difficulty this presents is obvious: how to produce a second book that contains enough information to satisfy those coming to Deakin for the first time, while offering those who know his work something new? Muir has partially solved the problem by retelling the story of Deakin’s life in the text – and here there is, inevitably, a certain amount of repetition – and placing the emphasis, in the choice of pictures, on much less familiar aspects of Deakin’s work.

Of the three sections of photographs, "London" is still largely made up of Soho portraits, though ones taken at more of a distance: most are cropped just above the knee, or full-figure. There is a little series of pictures of Bacon and his lover George Dyer, posing for Deakin both singly and together, one day in Soho in the 1960s; a strong head of the writer Elizabeth Smart; and an awkward full-length picture of Muriel Belcher. There are also a few street scenes – signs, hoardings, shopfronts – in the manner of Atget, which serve as a throat-clearing exercise for what is to follow.

After London, the book really changes pace. Paris and Rome seem to have brought out a more compassionate side of Deakin. He is drawn to street people, to shopkeepers and market traders, tramps and beggars, and to the cities’ ageing fabric. Before his death he had planned a number of books: one on Paris, another on Rome, and two called "London Walls" and "Paris Walls". And here you can see why. Walls so often provided the canvas for some of his best photographs. Like Brassai, who had begun collecting pictures of graffiti in the early 1930s, Deakin was fascinated by the randomness of street art. Scribbled in chalk, the simple drawings for children’s games, the vows of love or hate and the slogans of street philosophers have a fragile, temporary quality that, on the uneven surface, gives them the emotional purchase of paintings.

Deakin liked walls on which the commerce of the city had left its mark – layers of tattered posters, or the giant letters of advertising slogans half rubbed out by the weather. In Paris he followed Atget’s example of going out each morning at dawn to photograph the empty streets. In Rome he found that the public displays of religion offered fine opportunities for pictures. He used a Rolleiflex, as Bruce Bernard pointed out, with the same ease that other street photographers used a Leica. In his portraits it enabled him to climb inside a face (some of his portraits are close enough to reveal that aqueous millimetre of flesh that lines the bottom eyelid) with what would have been intrusive intimacy if he hadn’t know his subjects so well. In his landscapes, it gives ordinary scenes a greater formality.

Deakin said of his pictures that he was "fatally drawn to the human race". He probably was a fatalist, but there can be few more life-affirming photographs than the picture of a group of mothers in Trastavere, proudly holding up their children for his inspection. In some ways it might have served Deakin well to have one book that included all sides of his work and all his best pictures. But that’s easy to say in retrospect. Somebody who probably never expected to be remembered for his photographs now has a life in two volumes.

· Liz Jobey is a deputy editor of Granta





Handle publicity with great care









"You run very well," said General Douglas Haig, the notoriously inarticulate first world war general, when giving a speech at an army athletics day. "You run very well indeed"  and then, disastrously: "I hope you run as well in the face of the enemy!"


General Haig, of course, will not be the last to fall prey to the error of thinking once and speaking twice. Much the same pitfall awaits any litigant who has to deal with the press regarding his case.


The decision to talk to the press is an easy one. Many claimants hope that, irrespective of their claim’s prospects of success, the adverse publicity will bring an otherwise recalcitrant defendant to his knees. Allegations made in the course of legal proceedings are covered by absolute legal privilege. It is impossible to bring an action for defamation in respect of them. What is more, without the need to call witness evidence, unless the case can be demonstrated as hopeless a claimant will be able to keep it alive until trial. Technical rights of action exist in relation to malicious prosecution of civil claims, but these arise in such limited circumstances that they are rarely pursued.


In spite of these advantages, many claimants who believe their claims will generate adverse publicity for the defendant are disappointed. In a world numbed by successive scandals, the press and public have seen and heard it all before.


Sometimes, however, the allegations are so spectacular that publicity is guaranteed for the lucky claimant. The recent litigation between the estate of Francis Bacon and Marlborough Fine Art is a case in point.


The case was begun in March 2000 by Brian Clarke, executor of the estate, against Marlborough. Press interest was high. Francis Bacon was one of the most famous painters of modern times and Marlborough is one of the best-known art dealers in the world. Marlborough, which had dealt with Bacon’s works for some 34 years, was alleged to be liable to his estate for a sum reported to be between £30m and £100m. There was even the tantalising suggestion of a missing hoard of "unaccounted for" works of art.


More sensational still were the allegations that accompanied the claim: it was said the liability arose because Marlborough had "exploited" Bacon by abusing his trust and paying him too little for his paintings. Subsequently, in summer 2001, a further claim was developed: that, for 34 years, Marlborough had not bought any paintings from Bacon at all but had simply sold them on his behalf without ever formally agreeing its fee.


Then, in November 2001, a more sinister allegation was made. Previously it had been claimed that Bacon had trusted Marlborough and that it had taken advantage of his trust. Now it was said he had distrusted Marlborough, as the gallery had blackmailed Bacon to continue to trade with it. Either one or the other must be true, the estate claimed, even if it did not know which.


The likelihood was slight that Bacon – an intelligent and sophisticated man – could have forgotten to agree Marlborough’s remuneration over 30 years or could have been exploited in this way. Similarly, the key witness to the allegation of blackmail did not support it. Nor did the action reveal the hoped-for treasure trove of unknown Bacons. However, allegations of this kind in any claim can sometimes carry a settlement value even if they are likely ultimately to fail. No bad press can ever be completely corrected. Public embarrassment often outweighs the benefits of vindication at trial. What is more, a three-month trial, even when victory is expected, involves an enormous waste of management time. It is also expensive: in the English legal system the loser pays most, but not all, of the victor’s costs. In large-scale litigation of this kind, the irrecoverable portion is often considerable.


There was, in short, ample justification for a payment to the estate to get rid of the litigation. Why then did the estate have to drop the litigation in February, recovering nothing from Marlborough other than some correspondence (which was of no commercial value and which Marlborough had said would be given to the estate in September 2001)? The estate’s legal bill must have been several million pounds.


Part of the problem may have lain in a common claimant’s error: to over-estimate his opponent’s vulnerability to publicity. Many institutions, particularly in the financial sector, are not as responsive to bad publicity as a claimant would wish. It is not that they are insensitive; it is simply that vulnerability is a luxury they can ill afford. To settle one claim to avoid bad publicity is to encourage others to be made. Conversely, to resist the claim sends a message to others to readjust their expectations of what publicity will achieve.


But this is likely to be only part of the answer. Another significant factor may lie in the handling of the press. A number of statements by Prof Clarke and his lawyers sharpened press interest on both sides of the Atlantic in the claimant’s allegations, when it would have been possible to adopt a more equivocal and muted stance. But it is one thing to expect a settlement from a defendant on the basis of bad publicity that a case may generate in future; it is quite another to present the defendant with bad publicity that the case has already generated. A defendant who knows he can avoid bad publicity by paying money has something to buy in a settlement negotiation. On the other hand, a defendant who has already received bad press has nothing to gain; the claimant has made the error of shooting the hostage before demanding the ransom.


The difficulty in the Marlborough litigation was that the publicity generated by the claim ensured that no settlement could be made. Any payment might have been taken as acknowledgment that the highly publicised allegations were true, unless it was accompanied by a public retraction and apology that would have been deeply embarrassing for the estate to give. The result was what is likely to be seen as one of the art world’s most famous litigation disasters, with the Bacon estate having had to consent to its claim being dismissed and pay its own costs, while receiving nothing worthwhile in return.


As with any misfortune, there is a lesson to be learnt. It is a common tactic for a claimant to hope that the threat of bad publicity will result in a settlement payment but real care must be taken before allowing that publicity to occur. It is true it will be unwelcome to the defendant – but it may also obstruct the claimant’s own objectives. Indeed, as in the litigation started against Marlborough, it may ultimately thwart the claimant and deprive him of any benefit from the legal costs he has incurred. It is not for the subtlety and sophistication of his manoeuvres that General Haig, who masterminded the Flanders campaign in 1917, is remembered; it is for a bruising war of attrition and a result that was almost certainly not worth the cost of achieving it.


The writer is a partner at Allen & Overy, the law firm, and was part of the team that represented Marlborough Fine Art in the litigation to which this article refers.














26 JUNE 2002   7:00 PM BST  |  LONDON



LOT 17


Francis Bacon (1909-1992)