Francis Bacon News
2013 – 2017
Milein Cosman obituary
Artist who sketched some of the greatest cultural figures of the 20th century
including Benjamin Britten, TS Eliot and Barbara Hepworth
AMANDA HOPKINSON | ARTS | THE GUARDIAN | MONDAY 4 DECEMBER, 2017
Francis Bacon, drypoint and monotype, 1984, by Milein Cosman
Milein Cosman, who has died aged 96, drew many of the greatest artistic names of the 20th century. Working on commission for publishers, magazines and newspapers, she sketched Benjamin Britten, Yehudi Menuhin, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Sir Thomas Beecham, Otto Klemperer, TS Eliot, Francis Bacon, Barbra Hepworth and Henry Moore, among others.
She drew primarily from life, and her subjects were mostly artists of various kinds, and above all musicians. Into this she was led by a love of music, but also by her almost 40-year-long collaboration with her Viennese husband, the musician, musicologist and broadcaster Hans Keller. Their book Stravinsky at Rehearsal (1962), which combined his words with her drawings, is a classic of a genre they largely devised themselves; he analysed the music, while she captured the musicians in the midst of its creation.
Cosman worked in ink, pencil and conté, and was never inhibited by the fame of her subjects: she drew Thomas Mann while he was lecturing; Sir Arthur Bliss conducting and John Ogdon at the piano. She worked extraordinarily swiftly, saying: “I can only draw fast. If I draw slowly, I almost always get it wrong. I think all the Stravinsky sketches were done in one day.” She also did many paintings, subjects including Stravinsky and Mstislav Rostropovich, the artist Fred Uhlman, and, most often, Keller.
In his appreciation of Milein’s work, published in the catalogue of her show of drawings and prints at the Belgrave Gallery in 1996, Sir Ernst Gombrich commented: “Posterity will be grateful to Milein Cosman above all for the sureness of her eye, with which she has succeeded in capturing the unique quality of so many of our distinguished contemporaries.” She claimed, however, that: “What I really like to draw best are people who work: fishermen and road menders. Yes, it must be said, that really a lot of people have quite wonderful faces.”
Emilie Cosmann (her brother nicknamed her “Milein” and she dropped the last letter of her surname when she came to Britain) was born into a comfortable German-Jewish family in the small town of Gotha, in Germany. She was educated largely in Düsseldorf, where she organised a pupils’ anti-fascist group and for her last two school years attended the Ecole d’Humanité and the International School in Geneva.
In 1939 she followed her brother, who was already installed in Scotland, to Britain. Thereafter, Milein always referred to herself as an émigrée rather than a refugee. Refugee was not the only label she refused to accept. “I’m not religious, I was brought up without religion, my religion is the arts,” she said, and: “I am not a ‘Jewish’ artist.”
After she gained entry to the Slade School of Fine Art – by turning up in person with her portfolio – she lived in a leaky garret behind the Ashmolean museum, Oxford, where the Slade was evacuated for the duration of the war. She studied drawing under Randolph Schwabe and lithography with Harold Jones, and in 1943 she alternated evening classes with Bernard Meninsky at Oxford Polytecnic with giving art classes for the Workers’ Educational Association. She supported herself by delivering milk with a pony and trap and teaching French at a convent school.
It was at Oxford, too, that she met Iris Murdoch, then a student, and was invited back for “cocoa at Somerville” after an evening lecture given by Graham Sutherland. Milein drew Murdoch’s portrait, commenting on the sharp features in the baby face, and the acute intelligence they revealed. This was the first lithograph Milein made, and demonstrated her ability to get under the skin of her subjects, to perceive more than perhaps they were aware of exposing.
While at Oxford, she met a constellation of musicians, artists and writers. The poet Sidney Keyes fell in love with her and dedicated some of his work to her. He was not the last poet to be struck by the tiny, lively-minded woman with birdlike movements and sharp intelligence. Years later, Dannie Abse was so impressed by a chance encounter in Zwemmer’s bookshop that he followed her all the way up the Charing Cross Road to pursue their conversation.
Milein moved to London at the end of the war, where she worked as an illustrator and began to submit sketches to magazines and newspapers. She became a regular contributor to the Radio Times, supplying portraits of the next week’s interviewees. Of Imogen Holst she said: “She looked quite funny, you know, in her sandals and ankle socks. She had the face of a Flemish Madonna.” Sometimes she generalised: “I find on the whole women quite difficult to do. They often have softer features – and very few of them are conductors”; of the cellist Rostropovich, she said: “He was marvellous to draw, as I believe cellists almost always are, crawling all over their instruments like beetles.”
In 1947, while working on a commission, she met Keller, who became her most frequent subject; his keenly angular, impish face adorned the small spaces of wall between the vast living-room windows of the Hampstead house which they bought in the 1960s, and where Milein stayed on alone after his death in 1985. With its unfolding rooms – French windows and a kitchen verandah giving on to a long front garden scattered with fruit trees – it had a German ambience often enhanced by the aroma of fresh poppyseed cake wafting through the open-plan modernist interior.
In 1958 Milein worked on a schools’ television series about drawing for ITV and in the 60s she joined Camden Printmakers, participating in numerous group shows. Her work was acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum, the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Jewish Museum in London, and internationally by the universities of Texas, Pennsylvania, McMaster, Canada and Kanagawa, Tokyo.
Her cousin Leo Goldschmidt established the permanent exhibition of her work in the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, where he was the director, and there is another at Milein’s beloved Wigmore Hall, where she was a regular attender.
In 1986 Milein’s illustrations appeared in Klemperer on Music, and in 1998, in the John Heath-Stubbs 80th birthday issue of Aquarius.
As a sideline she devised a series of animals to which she added ludic descriptions: a Bird Flautist, Dancing Kangaroos, Dream Camels. She drew Britten’s parrot, for which she had to obtain not only Britten’s permission, but also that of his ill-tempered housekeeper, Miss Hudson, for access to “her” kitchen.
In 2006 she established the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust to support education in these fields, and to preserve her work and that of her husband. It has recently bequeathed her drawings and prints of musicians to the Royal College of Music in London, drawings and prints of dancers to Salzburg University and a selection of drawings and prints to the arts academy in Berlin.
Despite encroaching blindness from the 90s onwards and a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in 2011, Milein carried on working for as long as she could. In 2014 she attended the opening of a major retrospective of her work in Gotha, and a documentary on her life, directed by Christoph Böll, was funded by the city. An exhibition of her work is due to be held at Clare Hall, Cambridge, in 2019
As she said, swiftly sketching a young child who came to her annual apple-picking party in 2003: “There’s always the thrill of the ink and the pen on the page.” Then, cocking her head to peer at what she’d just done: “It is a good drawing, isn’t it?”
Milein is survived by three nieces and a nephew.
Milein Cosman, artist, born 31 March 1921; died 21 November 2017
Milein Cosman at the opening of her exhibition in London in 2008. From left are pictures of Thomas Mann, Francis Bacon, Henry Moore, Jean Cocteau.
Perception and the ‘I’ in
Perception and the ‘I’ in Samuel Beckett’s
Company and Francis
Company and Francis Bacon’s Paintings
ANA ÁLVAREZ GUILLÉN | | REVISTA
ESTÉTICA Y TEORÍA DE LAS ARTES | VOL.
3 | N0.
3 | DECEMBER
REVISTA ESTÉTICA Y TEORÍA DE LAS ARTES
When one thinks of Modernism, it is not just Modernist literature that comes to mind but Modernism in all its artistic expressions. This movement – unlike those that preceded it – starts from the idea that there is no fixed basis, with an emphasis on experimentation which is carried out in all kinds of artistic expressions. Several names come to mind when looking at Modernist prose, some figures that had a determinant role in the development of Modernist literature and whose influence continues to be of a vivid significance. In the field of literature in the English language names such as William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, or John Dos Passos stand out as being the main developers of this type of literature. In the following pages, we will focus on one of the milestones in Modernist Literature and Modernism in general: Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)1. Even though his influence is higher in the field of theatre, we will be analysing one of his works in prose, which, though at a different level, left a great heritage as well.
All the arts were intermingled in Modernism – as it has the objective of imbuing life – and every artistic creation was an influence over another. That is to say, the paintings, sculptures and literary works that were produced were not separate creations; quite the contrary, each one constituted an inspiration for others. In this context of continuous creative feedback Beckett has his own place. His relation with art was very intense since he was very young. His correspondence leaves great proof of it. As he would define the effect art had on him in one of his letters to Thomas MacGreevy, he experienced an “Own feeling of helplessness, finally, and of speechlessness, and of restlessness also I think, before works of art” (Beckett 2011: 105). Art has a strong impact on the Irish writer, who was left helpless before it many times. All those visits to museums and art galleries during his entire life and specially during his youth constitute not just a mere influence for some of his writings but an essential part of his way of looking at reality and at himself as well as his way of posing questions about it.
It is difficult to say whether all that modern art he saw in the most important galleries of Dublin, Paris, London, or Berlin2 was an inspiration for Beckett’s writing process or, on the contrary, it was Beckett’s work that inspired some of those artists. Most likely, in some cases it was a mutual inspiration. Be that as it may, I contend that some of Beckett’s contemporary artists’ work has a complementary relation with his own. They help to understand and shed new light upon each other’s work. Undoubtedly, the art that struck Beckett the most was one that rose determining questions about aspects such as life, the subject, and reality issues that will be developed, if not given an attempt to be answered, throughout the Irish writer’s texts. For instance, the paintings of Jack B. Yeats, Francis Bacon, or Lucian Freud and their different gazes of a damaged or somehow broken self can add other sensibilities and new angles to Beckett’s statements and view. In the same way, those paintings exploring the self will be enriched and made more intricate after the reading of some of the Irish writer’s literary production, in particular his novella Company (1980), the text that is central in this study.
A new approach to Beckett’s Company is offered here thanks to a starting point which is different from that of other critics of the novella: a comparison with Francis Bacon’s work. We will be looking at one of them whose approach to Beckett’s vision of the world can be considered as equally terrible, that of the ‘I’ facing its own presence in an atemporal fight against its shadow. Bacon, like Beckett, presents existence as a tragedy with no limits. “Es como si ahora llegara a ser posible un combate. La lucha con la sombra es la única lucha real” (Deleuze 2005: 68). Thus, the purpose of this essay is to analyse the relation between Beckett’s prose work Company and the artistic production of Francis Bacon.
This article will adopt a double perspective. The aspects covered in the first part will be mainly the perception of the ‘I’ and the voices of consciousness. Bacon’s selfportraits will be central in establishing this relation to Beckett’s ideas on self-perception.
This will be the most psychological part of the essay, which will approach the text and the paintings from a Cubist viewpoint. Thus, I attempt to illustrate the way the issue of self- perception in both Beckett and Bacon shares some basic characteristics with a Cubist or fragmented notion of reality.
The second part of this paper will consist on a more aesthetical3 approach to both the novella and the paintings, aiming at identifying the correlated aesthetics of both Company and Bacon’s compositions. The lying figures, the eyes, an aestheticized life and a final and paradoxically half-illuminated void, will be the points leading our analysis. Special attention will be paid in this second part to Bacon’s blackest paintings, since darkness and light will become central elements of the argument.
The comparative analysis seeks to provide us with a renewed reading of the novella. A concrete perspective will be given in order to look at Company in the same way in which we observe a Modernist painting: we will take an impression from the text, we will forget about a possible story, and we will take not only an intellectual but also a purely aesthetical insight.
1. Self-perception of the Fragmented and Dismembered Self
La absurdidad primera pone de manifiesto ante todo un divorcio: el divorcio entre las aspiraciones del hombre hacia la unidad y el dualismo insuperable del espíritu y de la naturaleza.4
Company is a novella written by the Irish writer Samuel Beckett and published for the first time in 1980. It was later included in the trilogy Nohow On together with Ill Seen Ill Said and Worstward Ho in 1989. The novella is one of the short prose texts the Irish writer produced in his late period and can be labelled as one of his ‘closed space’ writings, a very appropriate label for our comparative study with Bacon’s paintings. Beckett’s reader could argue that there is a lot of openness in the space of Company, but we will see that the author creates a contradictory space as well as many other contradictory elements in his text. In fact, ‘company’ is a very contradictory title for a novella like this one. We do not seem to have anything like company, as it is revealed at the end, when we are left with a bleak picture that has been building up throughout the pages, a picture of isolation. What we observe is a “devised deviser devising it all for company” (Beckett 2009: 30) that never finds it. Company is the negation of company:
Till finally you hear how words are coming to an end. With every inane word a little nearer to the last. And how the fable too. The fable of one with you in the dark. The fable of one fabling of one with you in the dark. And how better in the end labour lost and silence. And you as you always where. Alone. (Beckett 2009: 42)
Company begins by giving us a subject. The subject is within a body, which is within a space that seems a lack of space. If Modernist literature seeks the representation of the inner and therefore ‘more real’ reality, Beckett, as one of the foremost Modernists, explores this inner self. If the Modernist Virginia Woolf makes use of the special voice of interior monologue that is helped by Free Indirect Discourse and stream of consciousness, Beckett carries his exploration out through a more complex voice, but equally personal. Beckett’s exploration always takes into account that the subject is framed. As we were saying, it is framed in a body and in time and space. We cannot forget that the exploration and own understanding of time and space are also key themes for Modernist art. Proust had already experimented with time and memory in his À la recherche du temps perdu (1913–1927) when Beckett started writing, and artists such as Dalí with his La persistencia de la memoria (1931) were doing the same exploration with painting at the Irish writer’s times. Time seemed to be subjective, linked to the subject’s memory and perception. It was not that one is framed in an objective time but that time is one’s inner time.
In Company, the voice’s continuous movements to the past in the shape of autobiographical memories blurred by fantasies make us think that Beckett had an interest in the Proustian concern with time5 : “To one on his back in the dark a voice tells of a past. With occasional allusion to a present and more rarely to a future” (Beckett 2009: 3). Real and fictional in time can be confused as all depends on a subject and we as readers do not know what to consider real. Again, Beckett’s subject is not within an ‘exact’ timing but it is the voice which frames time:
To confess, Yes I remember. Perhaps even to have a voice. To murmur, Yes I remember. What an addition to company that would be! A voice in the first person singular. Murmuring now and then, Yes I remember. An old beggar woman is fumbling at a big garden. Half blind. You know the place well. […] On the way home from kindergarten on your tiny cycle you see the poor old beggar woman trying to get in. You dismount and open the gate for her. She blesses you. (Beckett 2009: 10)
The subject imagines and recalls memories that make him or her who he or she is. ‘I’ am my past, what I remember and what my memories have of real and imagined. Beckett’s ‘I’ of the past, the present and the future are different ‘I’s. Nevertheless, with a lack of objective temporality, we have three simultaneous ‘I’s or a dissolved or combined ‘I’. Time is confused in a deviser that “speaks of himself as of another” (Beckett 2009: 16):
On your back in the dark the light there was then. Sunless cloudless brightness. You slip away at break of day and climb to your hiding place on the hillside. […] So now you hoard it in your heart with the rest. Back home at nightfall supperless to bed. You lie in the dark and are back in that light. Straining out from your nest in the gorse with your eyes across the water till they ache. […] You lie in the dark and are back in that light. Fall asleep in that sunless cloudless light. Sleep till morning light. (Beckett 2009: 15-16)
A Cubist, Broken Self
Might not the voice be improved? Made more companiable. Say changing now for some time past though no tense in the dark in that dim mind. All at once and in train and to come. But for the other say for some time past some improvement. Some flat tone as initially imagined and same repetitiousness, No improving those. But less mobility. Less variety of faintness. (Beckett 2009: 21)
It seems clear that the collage of voices Company consists on builds a broken self. However, by having several voices, the depiction is wider and more real. Something similar can be observed in Francis Bacon’s work. What was introduced by Cézanne and developed by Braque or Picasso is ultimately fostered and brought to maturity by Bacon in a very particular way. After all, both Bacon and Beckett are working with something quite similar to Cubism6 , maybe a deformed and degenerated one. The self is not just broken or fragmented but also degenerated. At the same time, Beckett’s Cubist voice reveals not just that the reality being represented is fragmented, but also that its perception as a whole is not possible. Peter Fifield is the first to have established a connection between the writer and the painter in this respect:
For Bacon the broken body is a striking, multi-textured body, the artist stating, ‘I’m always hoping to deform people into appearance’ (Sylvester, 146). The shiver one has at the sight of a vivid mutilation is surely an extension of that ‘shorthand of sensation’ sought by Bacon in his paintings. Without the blood and gore so characteristic of the artworks, Beckett’s figures are, of course, notably distorted by injury and bodily malfunction as well as the sort of strange embodiment. (Fifield 2009: 60)
If one pays attention to the Irish painter’s self-portraits (see appendix, fig. 1-7) one realises the multi-textural composition that produces the deformation of the face, and therefore of the self, in the paintings. Bacon rejects the established way of portraying and tries to apprehend the essence by emphasising flesh. As Fifield puts it, “The repetition of these mutual acts of mutilation and distortion stresses (and distresses) the physical at the expense of conventional bodies and settings, forging a meaty mimesis of the atypical subject” (Fifield 2009: 69). Funnily enough, Bacon gets the essence of the self by means of distortion. That self is similar to Beckett’s, which is broken through a distorting narrative voice. And what we get is that unique sensation in Bacon, that ‘shorthand of sensation’ recalled by Fifield in his essay.
The multi-texture is clear in Beckett’s ‘I’ as well. The embodiment in Company is strange because it is estranged. The reader places him or herself within the body but keeping at a distance from it, partly because ‘I’ and ‘body’ are not fully identified. This estrangement is constructed continuously in Beckett’s text and perceived at once when we look at one of Bacon’s portraits. His self-portraits are particularly close to Beckett’s ‘I’, given the amount of autobiographical content in Company’s voice of memory. Regarding this narrative voice, the reader should not worry about what to take as real or not as all fragments, all voices –all the brushstrokes in the artist’s self-portraits– are equally valid in a context that leaves no place for objectivity. What is more, it could be said that the damaged, the deformed, is preferable as it is more human and also more ‘real’. An approach to the Beckettian deforming narrative voice can be helpful for the reader to better comprehend the final warping of the self, which has a lot of Beckett himself.
Bacon’s isolated faces and bodies are tangled and messy, warped and sick. So there is tension or distress in the body with itself, its presence in an obscure world because it lacks the harmony of unity:
El cuerpo – en la obra de Bacon – se hace carne, se desacraliza, se presenta como espasmo, rompe con la armonía de la superficie y de la forma en un ser amenazado por su propia indefinición, esto es, por la dispersión de su identidad. Un cuerpo que se descompone, que escapa por una boca que grita, que se vacía, se prolonga en los torrentes de semen, se dilata, se mezcla con otros cuerpos, se metamorfosea en su reflejo. (Vásquez 2012: 3)
Funnily enough, the coarser his bodies are given to us, the weaker and more human they result. As Peter Fifield puts it, “In Bacon and Beckett the human form is given through emphasis and exaggeration of the curved, the swollen and the bulbous” (Fifield 2009: 58). However, that ‘human form’ is human presence that has to be liberated from the common human form we are used to see. The liberation is reached through emphasis of the bended and the bloated. The reader can say it is a human being, life, what is being painted –with words or with brushstrokes.
Both artists are talking about what they are not sure it can be talked about as it is even difficult to comprehend. This first chapter opened saying that Company’s title was contradictory because the novella is, after all, the lack of company, isolation of the self, who has no company. The subject does not have company even from his own voice, from his own self, as its perception is not clear. There is a lack of content. A subject is being portrayed but that subject is not there. Nevertheless, for us the question to be considered here is nicely put by Milan Kundera in his essay “Une rencontre” (2009), which I quote in its Spanish translation: “¿hasta qué grado de distorsión un individuo sigue siendo él mismo?” (Kundera 2009: 20). The face is distorted and one beholds the most intimate ‘I’: Bacon’s raw self. But it is difficult to say what one’s identity is when the self has been broken, fragmented into several ‘I’s and memory and imagination are equally valid, as happens in Company. There, the subject ends being unnamable: “Let him be again as he was. The hearer. Unnamable. You” (Beckett 2009: 20)
Kundera’s question is somehow answered by means of an element that is repeated in all the self-portraits by Bacon: there is always certain tension that presents the tension of life itself. The tension of a depiction that deforms (almost dissolving) the individuality means that identity is brought to its limit and results in a vibrant and arresting portrait.
Por mucho que legue a la deformación, los personajes de Bacon resultan reconocibles e identificables. El proceso de representación se debate siempre en esa tensión, que busca aquel momento conflictivo en que la presencia parece a punto de disolverse, pero aún no ha perdido del todo los rasgos que la distinguen. (Hunter 2009: 60)
That extreme presence that is about to be dissolved, that pursuit of sensation is not so pictorially represented in Beckett. Nonetheless, in his work, as in Bacon’s, identity is not totally destroyed. There is an attempt to grasp the core element of raw identity, naked existence once liberated from its own skin. Identity suffers a process of abstraction in both Beckett and Bacon. Bacon’s bodies and faces and Beckett’s metafiction are maintained in that tension that allows the individual to keep his or her own identity. Tension is an essential element for both artists to represent individuals –‘I’s– the way they perceive them.
Alienating, Broken Voices
The incapability to communicate as a result of the fragmented self and the consequent alienation of the individual is a chief theme in Modernism in general. Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1895) portrays the angst that one can feel as a consequence of this alienation. As for American Modernist Fiction, a considerable number of Faulkner’s characters embody this inability to communicate, with the clear example of Benjy Compson in The Sound and the Fury (1929): “I opened the gate and they stopped, turning. I was trying to say, and I caught her, trying to say, and she screamed and I was trying to say and trying arid the bright shapes began to stop and I tried to get out” (Faulkner 2010: 33). Benjy struggles to communicate but he fails. As a result, his perception of the world is also damaged, blurred. The lack of communication, the distorted language, limits his perception of reality. Company presents the same panorama. Furthermore, just as no one seems to care about whether Benjy speaks or not, Beckett’s individual is alienated and inactive, lacking all human contact. His presence does not seem to be relevant for anyone else, at least from the voice’s perspective, from what we know through the narrative voice. Beckett and Bacon share that consciousness of triviality of one’s existence. However, that is not where the most distressing part of it lies. Company brings the panorama to its limits denying the possibility of communicating with oneself. Both physical and psychical interactions are problematic. Thus, in Beckett, the lack of communication isolates the person even from himself or herself. At the same level, something similar can be observed in Bacon’s individuals. The painter does not have narrative voice(s) to express the condition of alienation of the subject and yet his portraits inspire the deepest feeling of isolation and remoteness, which is stressed by the fact that most of the people depicted in his paintings are completely alone and framed.
Additionally, chaos is a shared element in the ‘broken’ world Faulkner, Beckett and Bacon –among other many Modernist artists– depict, which is the chaotic view of reality of man in the 20th century, coming with the end of Modernity. Another indispensable example is another foremost modernist, James Joyce, who will be considered again later. In the novel that is considered to be his masterpiece, Ulysses (1922), his representation of chaos as an essential part of the broken man is very clear. This chaos is brought by the polyphonic, stream-of-consciousness voices of Joyce’s individuals resounding in the city, which are, like Beckett’s voices, “anonymous, obscure in their attachment to the ‘I’” (Oppenheim 2000: 103-4). In Joyce, and especially in Beckett, the reader never knows at which point one voice ends and another starts. “By fragmenting or fizzling voices, by rendering them anonymous yet also attached to the self […] [w]e cannot individuate them” (Oppenheim 2000: 103). This reflects the chaotic dimension of existence, of bare life, which impedes communication with others and with oneself.
Is there a voice in Company? Are there several voices? If so, where is the line separating them? Are they talking only to the body? When looking at this body, this ‘I’ in the dark, the reader cannot help thinking of possible others, those others that appear in Ulysses. In Company, the lack of presence of others, or the incapability of meeting other selves, makes us think of those others and the probability of their presence. What is more, the Beckettian subject’s own alienation leads him or her to ask about possible others, other ‘I’s: Beckett leads us to a paradoxical ethics of non-relation that appears very close to the ethics of distance that Emmanuel Levinas was elaborating at the same time, paradoxical because the relation with the other is founded on a non-relation, since the face of the other person always reveals an infinite distance. The term of ‘nonrelation’ destroys from the outset the humanistic illusion that we are all alike, or that reciprocity is a given. On the contrary, it is because we are all infinitely different that a new rapport can be thought. (Rabaté 2014: 142)
2. Aesthetics of the Figure and the Space
Open your eyes now. I will. One moment. Has all vanished since? If I open and am for ever in the black adiaphane. Basta! I will see if I can see.7 Modernism is a lot about perception, in all its faces. Beckett’s Company shares this Modernist interest but narrows it down to the perception of the self. When we read the novella we picture a man —or better a body and voices, no clear attachments implied— in the darkness, which means that we do not really picture anything in particular as there is only blackness. Therefore visual perception, sight, which has traditionally been considered as the superior sense in epistemology, is rendered useless and therefore primary sensorial perception is hindered.
Figures Lying in the Dark
The reader starts reading Company and all he or she sees is a bulk in the middle of blackness and as part of that blackness. Company is dark. There is a body, there is an ‘I’, and there is darkness, shadow: “Basalt is tempting. Black basalt. […] If with none then no light from the voice on the place where our old hearer lies. In immensurable dark. Contourless.” (Beckett 2009: 21). The author comes back once and again to the black so that the reader can plunge into that dimness in order to feel the same way the body does. The reader has trouble trying to picture a figure lying in the dark, but (s)he soon embodies that same figure. Apparently a specific body accompanied by a voice or group of voices talking to it, but also a body which every human being can ‘occupy’. In other words, every person can be within that skin. The same happens with Francis Bacon’s representation of people, even in his self-portraits, already discussed in the previous section; they represent specific people but one can see him or herself among the diverse shots building a face or a body as they depict the purest and rawest humanity after all.
Perception of the subject in Company is determined by an essential condition apart from this darkness and obscurity: the body is lying, necessarily lying “on his back in the dark” (Beckett 2009: 3). This position leaves the figure in a cognitive relation with the space different from that he would have if he were standing up or sitting down. This condition can recall other cases in Modernist narrative like the one in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (1915). In this book, when Gregor Samsa wakes up in a body that is his but estranged and metamorphosed, he is lying down. He goes through a process of perception of his new physical self from his lying position. And Kafka presents, again, a broken self in his novella. Right before Gregor starts moving, there is a long moment of silence, while lying down, when time is blurred. Gregor’s body seems to be detached from time.
It is in his lying position that Gregor starts to fragmentally perceive his body and, later, his new voice with terror. Even if The Metamorphosis has a metaphorical or even socio-political connotation and Company has a more abstract look, both introduce a lying figure whose voice is apart or estranged, Gregor’s being the ‘exterior’ one. He is shocked when he hears his own metamorphosed voice:
[T]he clock struck quarter to seven. There was a cautious knock at the door near his head. “Gregor”, somebody called – it was his mother – “it’s quarter to seven. Didn’t you want to go somewhere?” That gentle voice! Gregor was shocked when he heard his own voice answering, it could hardly be recognised as the voice he had had before. As if from deep inside him, there was a painful and uncontrollable squeaking mixed in with it, the words could be made out at first but then there was a sort of echo which made them unclear, leaving the hearer unsure whether he had heard properly or not. (Kafka 2005: I)
We do not know how long Gregor Samsa is lying down, but it is a fact that he has something in common with Beckett’s lying figure: both their bodies are passive. Their only activity, especially in Company, is perception; the rest is therefore passivity or lack of movement, lack of life. Your mind never active at any time is now even less than ever so. This is the type of assertion he does not question. You saw the light on such and such a day and your mind never active at any time is now less active than ever so. (Beckett 2009: 4)
Your mind never active at any time is now even less than ever so. This is the type of assertion he does not question. You saw the light on such and such a day and your mind never active at any time is now less active than ever so. (Beckett 2009: 4)
However, “certain activity” (Beckett 2009: 4) is registered in Company, a slight one that is perception, hearing the voice, scrutinising darkness. That perception is the so-called ‘company’, “mental activity of a low order” (Beckett 2009: 29). The voice as only and necessary – although never sufficient– company can be observed in the context of isolation of the subject, which is another condition of the body in the dark. As far as the subject is concerned, he or she is isolated, with the only company of voice. The two texts, though quite different, make use of the lying position so that the subject can face himself, both physically and in terms of existence. Or an estranged self, that is.
Something similar can be said about Francis Bacon’s lying bodies. They are passive and isolated in the dark. However, even though they are sometimes sleeping (fig. 11), which could be conceived as a peaceful state, there is no harmonic relation to the figure’s surroundings. The figure is physically confronting himself or herself and his or her own existence. Because of the tension of the body and the inherent violence of the representation, the figure is a misfit in the space, in the world, and it is therefore in agony.
The Eye Straining for Life in the Dark
In Company sensual perception focuses on hearing and, later, as light appears, sight. The reader’s sources are an inner ear that hears voices and an eye that ‘sees’ a dark space. The eye is as important element in Beckett as it is in Bacon. In the Irish painter’s Self- Portrait with Injured Eye (1972) (fig. 3) his obsession with the eye is patent. He uses a closed swollen eye as the axis that unchains the deformation of the entire face. Thus, from the eye, the whole face is distorted. Beckett leaves a special place for the eye in his text too:
There is of course the eye. Filling the whole field. The hood slowly down. Or up if down to begin. The globe. All pupil. Staring up. Hooded. Bared. Hooded again. Bared again. (Beckett 2009: 12)
The damaged state of the sense of sight has already been mentioned in the introduction to this second chapter. The eye cannot work properly due to the lack of light. This can be explained by its connection to traditional symbolism of light and darkness. Traditionally, light means truth and that truth cannot happen in the darkness we find in Beckett and Bacon. Is the eye not the only element that is not completely blurred, that gives a hint of profound and abysmal presence? “Only eyelids move” (Beckett 2009: 29). Is it not its moisturising necessity what shows us life? These questions are here posed with reference to Beckett’s novella but in universal terms as well, being as they are about human beings in general. It is interesting to confirm that the eye in Company has the same intensity as the eye in some of Bacon’s portraits. The two artists are communicating the same, life, even if the eyes are closed.
Raw Life in an Undefined Space
Every word said by the voice in Beckett’s novella conveys certain lyricism. The way it talks about the eye, the light, the memories… every aspect of movement and life becomes art in Company. Life has an intrinsic beauty in it, even if it is in the middle of chaos. Life should be art. Here we find something similar to the Nietzschean affirmation of life:
Nietzsche estetiza la vida, no en el sentido burgués, sino en el sentido de que la vida misma sea una obra de arte. Sólo así el arte podrá generar novedades y no morir. El arte así pensado no es un fin, sino un instrumento que hay que llevar más allá, puesto que debe estar al servicio de la vida. Una vida que se concibe no ya como una infinitud a alcanzar sino como un finito ilimitado (o sobrepliegue), visible tras la fractura de la visión del mundo unitario. (Álvarez 2012: 11)
What really interests Beckett in Company is that life, and the isolated condition of the living body. Sometimes that perception of oneself does not go further towards the consideration of presence and existence as it happens with Existentialist authors such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, or the abovementioned Franz Kafka. Even though questions about existence are sown, Beckett sticks to the question of perception. And this perception, although complex, is direct and penetrating as a portrait by Bacon can be. Violently and heartrendingly Bacon’s work gives an insight that utterly moves us. Bacon’s brushstrokes have the power of Beckett’s second person singular voice in Company –“use of the second person marks the voice” (Beckett 2009: 3) –; they are rough and unrefined as the voice is sharp and undressed. Both artists leave us facing a lying figure in an undefined space. Consequently, they leave us lying on our own, scrutinising darkness. In the case of some of Bacon’s paintings, the isolated figure is there, in a space where it does not fit at all. The tension grows between the ‘I’ and the place the ‘I’ is, in spite of himself, framed in. As a consequence of that tension, the figure cannot be fully framed. This is very clear in one of Bacon’s lying figures, Sleeping Figure (fig. 11): “El pintor explota la relación figura/espacio. […] [E]l personaje aparece atrapado por su actitud, aplastado contra […] la cama como si fuese un resto de sí mismo, su sola presencia inanimada y moldeada por la presión del espacio circundante sobre ella” (Hunter 2009: 33). There is an obvious tension produced by the relation between the body and the space, and yet the space is unavoidable. Even if the space is undefined, it is needed if a portrait has to be made. Bacon’s spaces are essential to frame his portraits.
The same happens with space in Beckett’s Company. And, I dare say, was this not the same portraying activity carried out by James Joyce, the fellow countryman of both artists? As another Irish Modernist novelist, Joyce made an attempt at grasping just life through “unadorned portraits of the human presence” (Hale 1993: 97) in his writing, especially in his Ulysses. Nevertheless, the portrait of humans, of life, is given to us within a different frame since space changes. The city —Dublin as a microcosm—, acts as a constant movement of gyres, were lives are intermingled in an ordered chaos. That clashes with Beckett’s darkness and absence of space. And yet it is not that obvious that the contrast is so radical. While Joyce explored the impossibility of communication, the individual within the continuous urban movement, the musicality of the variety of Dubliners living parallel and juxtaposed lives, Beckett writes about the impossibility of communication of the self, blurred multiple voices and so on. All in all, he writes about the complexity of the ‘I’.
That ‘I’ can be whoever, but, at the same time, it is a definite and somehow unique self. As it has already been said, presence in Beckett is extreme and powerful. Aesthetics throughout the text is hence quite strong and unique. A blurred but at the same time determined self embodies that presence, the text itself. It is blurred due to the lack of light, the multiplicity of voices that appears to be coming from that light, the undefined space or lack of space. The reader pictures a sort of dim room that can be compared to the rooms where some of Bacon’s naked figures are drawn. This can be easily observed in works such as Study from the Human Body or Untitled (Crouching Nude) (fig.8-10). All of those whitish bodies are found in a placeless room. Some straight lines form a geometrical, linear but also undefined container for a violently and distressingly curved body that could be said to be fighting against itself. The lack of definition of the space is stressed by the colours black, grey and ochre at the background. In addition, sometimes the angst is reinforced by means of the use of red. It can be stated that conflict is a key point in Bacon’s bodies and colour and form work together to produce that conflictive nature.
Surprisingly, it is a determined self in a specific body, with specific experiences in the past that can be brought to mind in this undetermined space, even if everything is blurred. This can be thought if we take that there is just one self, one subject. In Beckett’s text, there is a huge part of the discourse, or attempt of discourse, that is memories, Beckett’s memories as he left them. The autobiographic elements are clear. Again, the reader feels lost trying to draw a line separating the defined and undefined when reading Company and looking at Bacon’s work.
Aesthetically, Company is all about that presence, human presence in the dark, what has already been referred to as ‘raw humanity’. This humanity conveys a violence and extreme way of being, presence. That violence of being stands out in Bacon’s portraits. Each line seems to be fighting against another; the rough brushstrokes were spontaneously made, sometimes with rags, by the artist. The violence can be unjustified or unavoidable. Does the beauty lie in that confrontation? A terrible beauty is born in Bacon’s works. The face is full of life and, paradoxically, it is rotting. The same happens with the Beckettian subject: being full of life, being all existence on its mind, being absolute presence for one’s own, its death would not mean any significant change in the dark, even if that presence could be perceived as the most important element in that undefined space.
A Faintly Luminous Void
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholdsNothing that is not there and the nothing that is. (Stevens 2001: lines 13-15)
The white nothingness perceived by Wallace Stevens’s snowman is the black nothingness perceived by the Beckettian hearer. However, there is a presence that is maintained in the novella thanks to the voice, which keeps talking to the ‘I’. Total absence is not allowed. The light in the text brightens the void, ‘enclosed’ within the undefined space, which we know about because there is an eye looking at what is being lit: “Whence the shadowy light? What company in the dark! To close the eyes and try to imagine that. Whence once the shadowy light. No source. As if faintly luminous all his little void” (Beckett 2009: 11). Light is masterly used by Beckett. The voices draw the ‘I’ and create light. As much as the body is eager for light, he will not get it but for the voice, and for the eye that gives access to the produced light that grows with the voice.
Just as Beckett’s ‘black nothingness’ is briefly broken by this shadowy light, Francis Bacon’s monochromatic paintings – see most of the bodies in the Appendix to this article – are also faintly lit by some sort of shadowy light and in some cases by a lamp or a dangling light bulb (fig. 11). In Untitled (Crouching Nude) (fig. 10), for instance, this is patent. The combination of blue, grey, black, and ochre – all dark lines – tends to a monochromatic blackness, a “bourneless dark”, as Beckett would say (Beckett 2009: 33). However, in that blurred colour that tends to black in Bacon’s work there is a curved line, a violent white that acts as Beckett’s light, defining the undefinable and at the same time highlighting that lack of definition. The body in distress is emphasised as it conveys powerful presence. The sensation of the contrasted white that forms a body is made through great tension, as happens with the curvature of all the white lines that seems to be pushing against the straight lines that create darkness. The other contrasting colour is red, which just adds fierceness and chaos.
Some mention should be made to the lack of adaptation of the body to the space, somewhere in the void. Even in Study from the Human Body (fig. 9), in which the figure is slender like a harmonic white sculpture, the body does not fit. The figure is clearly leaving, evaporating after a shaded curtain. As an exception, that body is straight and standing up, whereas the rest are lying down as Beckett’s nameless figure, or bending with angst. However, all of them are the same, misfits, inappropriate.
Physical darkness on the body’s surroundings somehow mirrors the obscurity of perception of oneself going on in Beckett’s novella. Indeed, in both Company’s body and Bacon’s bodies the inner obscurity is extended to the space the body is lying in. “La figura parece surgir de la penumbra del fondo como un espectro” (Hunter 2009: 65). The white wraith is in reality full of life. Actually, it is life itself in a placeless darkness, an “equal remoteness at its most remote” (Beckett 2009: 20). The movement that the figure transmits is a result of the tension, the intrinsic tension of existence. “You were once. You were never. Were you ever?” (Beckett 2009: 12). The nostalgic memories in the novella are counteracted by the inquisitive second person voice asking disturbing questions which do not have an answer.
There is tension in both artists; tension between a white light and blackness, between the body and the space, between real memories and fiction in Beckett’s novella, between straight and curved brushstrokes in Bacon’s paintings. In Beckett’s short novel, there is even tension between the title word, ‘company’, and the ending word, ‘alone’. I think that we can state that the aesthetics of both artists is one of disturbing tension within an abysmal void.
All in all, Beckett shows in Company his own understanding of the self by means of a man lying down, “on his back in the dark” (Beckett 2009: 3) and a voice or a collage of voices supposedly addressing him. The limited perception of the subject allows the author to express his ideas on the individual and his/her distressing way of existing in the world. The Beckettian self is broken and fails to communicate. The voice that the individual and the reader hear throughout the novella draws a broken and alienated self, deficient in communication. That voice is unreliable. Actually, everything is unreliable. If the self, identity, cannot be trusted and everything goes around the ‘I’, nothing can really be trusted, not even the knowledge about oneself.
On the other hand, Francis Bacon’s self follows the Beckettian path but his perception is soaked with violence and his fragmentation is brought further to deformation. Bacon’s selves transmit that raw dimension of the bulging body in a permanent fight against itself. If Bacon’s painting adds his own fierceness to Company’s perception of an individual, Beckett has enhanced the fragmentation of the ‘I’ by means of highlighting the impossibility of communication.
Both an intellectual and an aesthetical look on perception are needed in order to get the point of the written and painted material of the present study. There are many points where the two artists meet: the isolated ‘I’, the distorted perception, the all surrounding void, etc. It is the two artists’ terrible tension that generates that unique sensation of extreme, raw life that is as universal as is talking about human condition. If the tension of contrast is very visual and clear in Bacon, it is differently perceived in Beckett’s Company as it is built up via word relations instead of brushstrokes of colour. Nevertheless, both artists leave us with the same intense sensation every human can feel identified with, sensation of experiencing life itself. This could be put as the most important conclusion here: by means of two different languages, Beckett and Bacon make use of extreme existence, the heartrending tension that is necessary to express life. Human existence is suffering, isolation and anguish but still it is an art expression, full of beauty. Like Bacon’s paintings, Beckett’s Company is the expression of that man of the 20th century, living in the degeneration of an era of developments, in the death of Modernity. Because of the clash between the ideas and reality, the concept of the latter oscillates and turns into fragments. There is not unity, or light, or truth any more as it is reflected with the subject’s self-conscience, as this Cubist piece by Beckett proves. Both the writer and the painter expose their different faces with the intention of covering the real, which includes now that which is left in the shadow because of the existence of raw life in the darkness. Even if we are condemned by that darkness to void.
Álvarez, Marta. 2012. El cuerpo sin órganos en Francis Bacon. Trabajo de iniciación a la investigación no publicado. Universidad de Valladolid - Santander
Beckett, Samuel. 2009. Company / Ill Seen Ill Said / Worstward Ho / Stirrings Still. Ed. Dirk Van Hulle. London: Faber and Faber
Beckett, Samuel. 2011. “Letter to MacGreevy, 26 September ”, The Letters of Samuel Beckett, volume II: 1941-1956. Ed. George Craig, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn and Lois More Overbeck. Cambridge [etc.]: Cambridge University Press. 104-106
Croke, Fionnuala (ed.). 2006. Samuel Beckett: A Passion for Paintings. Dublin: National Gallery of Ireland
Deleuze, Gilles. 2005. Francis Bacon: Lógica de la sensación. Trad. Isidro Herrera. 2nd ed. Madrid: Arena Libros
Faulkner, William. 2010. The Sound and the Fury. New York: Vintage International, 1984
Ficacci, Luigi, Francis Bacon. Trad. Carme Franch Ribes. Köln: Taschen
Fifield, Peter. 2009. “Gaping Mouths and Bulging Bodies: Beckett and Francis Bacon”. Journal of Beckett Studies. Vol. 18, Sept 2009. 57-71
Gontarski, Stan (ed.). 2014. The Edinburgh Companion to Samuel Beckett and the Arts. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press
Hale, Jane. 1993. “Framing the Unframable: Samuel Beckett and Francis Bacon”. Pp. 95-102, in Marius Buning y Lois Oppenheim (eds.): Beckett in the 1990s. Amsterdam: Rodopi
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Joyce, James. 2000. Ulysses. Intro. Declan Kiberd. London: Penguin Classics
Kafka, Franz. 2005. The Metamorphosis. Trans. David Wyllie. The Project Gutenberg; August 16, 2005.
Katz, Daniel. 1999. Saying I No More: Subjectivity and Conciousness in the Prose of Samuel Beckett. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press
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Rabaté, Jean-Michel. 2014. “Beckett’s Masson: From Abstraction to Non-relation”. Pp. 131-145, in Stan Gontarski (ed): The Edinburgh Companion to Samuel Beckett: Edinburgh University Press
Sartre, Jean-Paul. 1967. El hombre y las cosas. Trad. Luis Echávarri, 3rd edition. Buenos Aires: Losada
Stevens, Wallace. 2001. “The Snow Man”, Harmonium. London: Faber and Faber
Vásquez Rocca, Dr.
Adolfo. 2012. “Francis Bacon; la deriva del yo y el desgarro de la carne”. Revista
Observaciones Filosóficas, 13 Jan. 2012.
Figure 1: Francis Bacon, Self-Portrait, 1973
Figure 4: Francis Bacon, Self-Portrait, 1971
Rare Works by Francis Bacon to be Exhibited at Tate Britain, London
BY HILARY WEBB | VISUAL ARTS | GALLERIES | BLOUIN ARTINFO | SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 2017
Extraordinary paintings by the notorious Francis Bacon, many of which have not been displayed in almost half a century, are going on show at Tate Britain. “All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and Century of Painting Life” celebrates some of Bacon’s most revered and hidden pieces. This landmark exhibition of paintings opens in London at the end of February 2018.
This exhibition will showcase “Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud,” a large scale painting by Francis Bacon of his friend Lucian Freud, which was only seen in public shortly after it was completed – first in London in 1964 and then in Hamburg and Stockholm in 1965. It has since remained in private hands and has not been exhibited for over half a century. The portrait shows an anxious looking, bare-chested image of a human figure, curled up in the corner of a darkened room, partly illuminated by a single light bulb. The portrait was over six feet high and was originally part of a three-piece panel, which the artist later made into three separate paintings. It was first showcased in the group exhibition “Aspects of XX Century Art” in 1964 at Marlborough Fine Art. The current exhibition will also showcase portrait of Bacon’s lover Peter Lacey in 1962, the year Peter died. The portrait, last exhibited in 1964, shows a scowling face of Peter, seated nude with all his internal organs bursting through his skin. “All Too Human,” another triptych created in 1975-77 will be showcased after 30 years, which is on loan from a private collection.
This is a final homage to Bacon’s lover George Dyer, which shows a twisted body under a black umbrella on a cold stretch of beach. Alex Farquharson, Director of Tate Britain said, “This will be an unmissable opportunity to see some truly extraordinary paintings, many of which have not been seen for decades. With this exhibition we want to show how British figurative painters found new and powerful ways to capture life on canvas throughout the 20th century, and Bacon’s portraits are some of the greatest examples of that endeavour.”
“All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and Century of Painting Life” will be presented from February 28, 2018 through August 27 at 2018 at Tate Britain, London, Millbank, Westminster, London SW1P 4RG, UK.
Francis Bacon - Portrait 1962
Sotheby’s Totals $310.2 M. at Post War and Contemporary Sale,
Bacon Triptych Sells for $36.8 M.
NATE FREEMAN | MARKET NEWS | ART NEWS | NOVEMBER 16 2017
The New York evening auctions wrapped tonight with a solid if imperfect postwar and contemporary evening sale at Sotheby’s, the house’s $310.2 million haul falling squarely between its low estimate of $250.4 million and its high estimate of $343.4 million. The sell-through rate was an impressive 95.8 percent, with only three works failing to sell throughout the long sale of 72 lots.
The night’s biggest lot was Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of George Dyer (1966), one of his coveted triptychs, which sold for $36.8 million, over its low estimate of $35 million. That was followed by another eight-figure juggernaut, Andy Warhol’s Mao (1972), which went for $32.4 million, over a low estimate of $30 million. (All sales prices include buyer’s premium, unless otherwise noted.)
While neither work had ever before been offered at auction, they both failed to capture the interest of the salesroom. Each earned just one bid—in both instances, the bidder was on the phone with the house’s contemporary art head for Europe, Alex Branczik. Both were subject to third-party guarantees.
Nothing here could match the era-defining events of Wednesday night’s sale at Christie’s, when Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi (ca. 1500) sold for a record 4450 million—considerably more than tonight’s entire sale. But during the press conference at Sotheby’s after the action, auctioneer Oliver Barker noted that, setting aside the Leonardo, the two sales were fairly comparable. If you compare contemporary to contemporary and remove the $450 million from the total, Christie’s totaled $338.6 million, just a bit higher than the total at arch-rival Sotheby’s tonight.
“Taking aside a certain Old Master that sold last night, in terms of the actual contemporary market, it was really quite level,” Barker said.
Gregoire Billault, the house’s contemporary art head, also obliquely mentioned the Salvator Mundi as he recapped tonight’s auction, saying, “This has been an historic week in the art market and this is one more step in the right direction.”
What’s more, the total was up from the same auction a year ago, which generated sales of just $276.6 million, and it nearly bested the $319.2 million sale of last May—a sale that was boosted by a bidding war that catapulted an untitled work by Basquiat past the $100 million threshold, making it the most expensive artwork by an American ever sold.
Here tonight, there was nothing that came close to that Basquiat in terms of price or excitement. But after a throat-clearing stretch of 24 works from the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Collection—nearly all low-priced work on paper—the sale began in earnest with an untitled 2012 work by Laura Owens, who has a wildly acclaimed show that just opened at the Whitney Museum in New York. (There’s a blank space in the museum’s exhibition space where the newly-auctioned Owens will go on loan right after the sale.)
A great deal of talk leading up to the sale had focused on the Owens, considered to be one of her finest, and the fact that it was priced so low, with an estimate of just $200,000 to $300,000. Sure enough, as soon as Barker started the bidding, an avalanche of bids surged forward, in the room and on the phones, bringing the price up to $800,000 before Sotheby’s chairman Lisa Dennison came in with a bid at $950,000, where it slowed. After going back and forth with bidders on the phone, Dennison secured the bid for her client for a $1.45 million hammer, or $1.75 million with fees. That shattered Owens’s previous auction record, which had been just $336,500.
But then a Jean Dubuffet estimated to sell for between $12 million and $18 million was a pass, and when Barker started the bidding on the Bacon, he chandelier bid up to $35 million, found a single bid from Branczik, and then could not find another interested party. The same happened with the Warhol Mao two lots later—one bid, and then nothing.
“So there’s always lots that have one bid, and yes, the Bacon sold on one bid, but if you look at things, we saw there were 73 lots and that was a long list,” said Billault after the sale.
Lucian Freud Painted By Francis Bacon To Be Shown At Tate Britain
FELICITY CARTER | FORBES | MONDAY, NOVEMBER 13 2017
A large-scale painting by Francis Bacon of his friend Lucian Freud is to be shown in Tate Britain’s landmark exhibition, All Too Human in February 2018. The work was only seen in public shortly after it was completed – firstly in London in 1964 and then in Hamburg and Stockholm in 1965. It has since remained in private hands and has not been exhibited for over half a century.
Bacon and Freud had a deep and complex friendship and were often viewed as artistic rivals. Having first met in the mid-1940s they were inseparable for years, seeing each other almost daily in Soho’s bars and clubs as well as visiting each other’s studios and occasionally sitting for portraits. The portrait that will be shown at Tate Britain next year is an angst-ridden image of the human figure, bare-chested and curled into the corner of a dark room beneath a single lightbulb. The painting stands over six feet high and was originally part of a triptych which Bacon then split into separate works. It was first unveiled in 1964 at the group exhibition Aspects of XX Century Art held at Bacon’s gallery Marlborough Fine Art. It then travelled from the Kunstverein Hamburg to the Moderna Museet in Stockholm over the following year as part of a solo show of Bacon’s work, but has not been seen in public since.
The work will be one of several key Bacon paintings on loan to Tate Britain for the exhibition All Too Human. These will include an important portrait of Bacon’s lover Peter Lacy made in 1962, the year of Lacy’s death, and not seen in the UK since. It shows him seated with a scowling expression and is the first time Bacon portrayed the nude body with its internal organs on display, seemingly bursting through the surface of its skin. An extraordinary Bacon triptych from 1974-77, on loan from a private collection, will also be exhibited for the first time in a UK public gallery in over 30 years. A final homage to George Dyer, the great love of Bacon’s life, it shows a contorted body beneath a black umbrella on a cold stretch of beach.
‘This will be an unmissable opportunity to see some truly extraordinary paintings, many of which have not been seen for decades. With this exhibition we want to show how British figurative painters found new and powerful ways to capture life on canvas throughout the 20th century, and Bacon’s portraits are some of the greatest examples of that endeavour.’ Alex Farquharson, Director, Tate Britain
All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and Century of Painting Life will be at Tate Britain, running from 28 February to 27 August 2018. This major exhibition will celebrate how artists have captured the intense experience of life in paint, portraying personal and immediate experiences. Much loved and rarely seen works will be included, from Walter Sickert and Stanley Spencer to Frank Auerbach, R.B. Kitaj and Leon Kossoff, through to Paula Rego and Jenny Saville. It will be curated at Tate Britain by Elena Crippa, Curator of Modern and Contemporary British Art and Laura Castagnini, Assistant Curator.
Study for a Portrait of Lucian Freud, 1964, by Francis Bacon (1909-92)
'Angst-ridden' portrait of Lucian Freud to go on display
It will be shown at Tate Britain’s All Too Human exhibition
SHERNA NOAH | INDEPENDENT IRELAND | MONDAY 13 NOVEMBER 2017
A portrait of Lucian Freud by the painter’s friend Francis Bacon is going on display for the first time in half a century.
The 6ft-high work shows Freud “angst-ridden”, bare-chested and curled into the corner of a dark room beneath a lightbulb.
It will be shown at Tate Britain’s All Too Human exhibition next year, as the show examines how artists capture the “intense experiences of life” in paint.
Bacon’s painting has only been seen in public twice before, shortly after it was completed in London in 1964 and then in Hamburg and Stockholm the following year.
The painters had a deep and complex friendship, and were often seen as rivals.
They were inseparable for years after first meeting in the mid-1940s, seeing each other almost daily in Soho’s bars and clubs as well as visiting each other’s studios.
The painting, now in private hands, was originally part of a triptych which Bacon then split into separate works.
Tate’s exhibition will also feature works by Walter Sickert, Stanley Spencer, Frank Auerbach, RB Kitaj and Paula Rego among others.
It will also examine the role of women artists in the traditionally male-dominated field of figurative painting.
Other paintings on loan to the show include a nude portrait of Bacon’s lover Peter Lacy, a Bacon triptych from 1974-77 and his final homage to George Dyer, the great love of his life.
Tate Britain director Alex Farquharson said: “This will be an unmissable opportunity to see some truly extraordinary paintings, many of which have not been seen for decades.
“With this exhibition we want to show how British figurative painters found new and powerful ways to capture life on canvas throughout the 20th Century, and Bacon’s portraits are some of the greatest examples of that endeavour.”
All Too Human: Bacon, Freud And A Century Of Painting Life will be at Tate Britain from February 28 to August 27 next year.
Optimism abounds heading into November auctions
Discretionary sellers gain confidence in the market and Christie’s leads
its contemporary sale with a 500 year old Leonardo di Vinci.
But recent overreaches sound a cautionary note
SARAH P. HANSON | THE ART NEWSPAPER | FRIDAY 10 NOVEMBER 2017
After encouraging results in London in October, the auction houses are approaching their key November sales of Impressionist and Modern and contemporary art with optimism. More stable economic conditions have contributed to discretionary sellers’ willingness to part with choice material, and in the Impressionist category, the overall pre-sale estimates at Sotheby’s and Christie’s are at a two-year high. “We’ve had a very busy gathering season”, says Jessie Fertig, the head of the Impressionist and Modern evening sale for Christie’s.
After the failure of a £60m Francis Bacon at Christie’s London last month, Friedlander says she aimed for "a really layered, textured sale" composed not only of heavy hitters but also more modestly priced but attractive material. The $100m Da Vinci alongside Mark Rothko’s radiant yellow Saffron (1957, est $25m-$35m) and a 1980s Julian Schnabel painting on velvet (Ethnic Type #14, 1984, $500,000-$700,000), she says, "tells a story about what the marketplace is after right now."
Contemporary evening sale, 16 November
On the contemporary side, Sotheby’s is offering a Francis Bacon triptych of George Dyer, one of five extant and one of three in private hands, bought by the consignor in 1967, the year after it was painted. Another triptych sold at Christie’s New York in May for $46m hammer; this one is tagged at $35m to $45m (and guaranteed by the house). “It’s absolutely magnificent”, says the head of contemporary art Grégoire Billaut. “He is at his best when painting the very close circle around him.” Other discoveries include a large Warhol Mao portrait, unseen in public since 1973 (est $30m-$40m) and Cabra (1981-82), a Jean-Michel Basquiat skull painting owned by Yoko Ono (est $9m-$12m).
Francis Bacon, Three Studies of George Dyer (1967)
TRACING INTERPRETATIONS OF FRANCIS BACON’S
PAPAL PORTRAITS OVER TIME
ALIX GREENBERG | NEWS | ARTSUGAR | TUESDAY 07 NOVEMBER 2017
At the end of World War II, Francis Bacon, the British painter, painted figures that were seemingly transformed by the imagery of the unconscious. Bacon’s direct revelation of the unconscious evokes the chaotic forces that civilization has repressed in humanity and also captures a loss of control, a sense of helplessness and horror. This notion is most directly represented in his papal series, which includes the renowned Study After Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1953. In these works the vertical lines, which form a caged in claustrophobic space close in uncomfortably, while the figure blurs into anonymity. Bacon’s signature papal themed work has generated extensive interpretation since arriving to the art world in the 1950’s. In this paper, the published material focused on Bacon’s this body of work will be discussed chronologically, characterized from a methodological and critical perspective. 
In “Francis Bacon: The Anatomy of Horror,” (1952) Sam Hunter attempts to identify the source of the scream expressed by the Pope figures. Using Head VI, 1949 as one example, the author finds that there is nothing to provoke such a frightening reaction. Rather, the Pope is experiencing an existential crisis — the anguish is one of mental entrapment and not a response to some horrific scene occurring outside the canvas. Furthermore, Hunter claims that Bacon had repeatedly defended himself against being a painter of literal, physical violence. Although admitting his images are violent, Bacon sought to portray a psychological violence and self-destruction incurred through the social and cultural structures imposed and created by humanity, like the Catholic Church. The papal series is a visual manifestation of, in Bacon’s mind, the most confining system with the most destructive results. Hunter has employed both a psychoanalytic methodology and a biographical methodology in his assessment of Bacon’s work, as he explains Bacon’s obsession with the papal system, and specifically his portraits of Pius as a fascination with the dictators and perpetrators of Nazi Germany. 
Hunter’s interpretation of Bacon’s paintings as psychologically violent and existentialist, and his referencing of the artist’s obsession with the papal system would be challenged by Laurence Alloway, who in 1960 wrote a stinging attack on critical approaches to Bacon’s papal paintings that interpreted them as images of horror and terror. In the author’s “Dr. No’s Bacon,” he specifically dismisses Robert Melville’s approach to the artist’s work, a classic 1950’s read, which maintains that Bacon’s papal imagery stems from the psychological anguish associated with the current Pope as well as the one painted by Velázquez in 1650.  Alloway claims that Bacon did not gain inspiration from Innocent X as depicted by Velázquez, nor did he gain inspiration from the position of the Pope during WWII. Instead, Alloway asserts that Bacon’s references to popular culture and fine art can be related to his reliance on the format and tonality of Grand Manner painting, as Bacon’s technique is, in some respects, an abbreviated version of “Venetian” painterliness. Alloway asserts that to look at the papal portraits, as images of terror and pain are to make them something they are not. However, the methodological approach issued by the author omits any analytical read, reducing it to a purely formal art historical investigation. 
As Alloway avows that the works have no narrative or social historical content, so too does the artist. In 1975 David Sylvester interviewed Bacon and discovered that the artist wanted to minimize the role of narrative in his work because, to the artist, narrative involves implicit explanation or structured meaning, which causes the destruction of self-identity. According to Sylvester, Bacon claimed that his Pope imagery did not come from anything associated with religion; rather, it was inspired only by the aesthetic quality of Velázquez’s Pope Innocent X, 1650, which the artist felt was the greatest portrait ever created due to the magnificent color. However, the artist admitted that that his interest in the Pope lies in the uniqueness and “silliness” of the position. Bacon allegedly said, “like in certain great tragedies, the Pope is as though raised on to a Dias on which the grandeur of this image can be displayed to the world.” Sylvester also inquired about Bacon’s paintings of Pope Pius XII. Bacon denied any reference to the specific position of the Popes during World War II; he also denied gaining inspiration from the Eichmann trial. According to Bacon, the cages or spatial frames depicted in the works were simply a means of focusing the attention on the image, not as a historical reference.  Although Sylvester’s interview was direct and candid, Bacon’s purely formal understanding of his depicted cages, his apparent evasiveness, and his misunderstanding of the strength of his own imagery led to further contemplation and interpretation
In 1986, Donald Kuspit author of “Hysterical Painting” aims to demonstrate Bacon’s misunderstanding of his own work. Kuspit argues that Bacon appropriated such authoritative historical figures as Pope Innocent X and reduced them to globs of paint, so that the Popes “sink as if in quicksand.” Kuspit claims that Bacon repeatedly “misinterprets” the strength of the character he seems to find in Velázquez’s Pope Innocent X as sheer monstrousness, brutality. The author argues that Bacon destroys what he creates in the very act of recreating. In that, this destruction has “world-historical import”: as the sadistic character of the Pope is only realized by the sadistic application of paint. Consequently, paint triumphs over human reality and becomes the dominant expression of being. Kuspit claims that Bacon’s papal portraits are not expressive illusions of a figure, but the illusion of being in the presence of a certain self. According to Kuspit, the Pope is locked in a hypoid state as he intensely responds to being cut-off from communication. Bacon utilizes this painterliness to strip the Pope naked bodily and emotionally. Kuspit believes the only element rooting the body of work in reality is the miter that appears in every papal image. 
Whereas Kuspit’s argument is rooted in an investigation that aims to expose some hidden truth within the works, Linda Nochlin’s argument rejects any psychoanalytic read. In her article “Francis Bacon, Centre Georges Pompidou,” written in 1996, she abandons the “grandiose” over-readings and philosophical generalizations that Bacon’s papal series had attracted in past interpretations, including Sartre’s existentialism and references to Nazism. She writes, “Despite the usual reading of the pope’s open mouth as a sign of existential nausea – a universal scream on the order of Edvard Munch’s famous image – I always read it as a sneeze, which reduced the papal being, or rather, Velázquez’s famous image of Innocent X, to a modern photo-op, the pope’s partially covered mouth agape in a vigorous and non-existential kerchoo.” According to Nochlin, in Bacon’s series of papal portraits, “temporal immediacy and mere physical reflex” undermine the pictorial effects of hierarchy and permanence. She claims that this does not solely occur in the apparent captured gesture, but in the “very transparency of the physical substance of the image itself,” which is enhanced by the lines of gold that encase the papal form. Nochlin has thus determined that through this series, Bacon is both belittling human condition and ironizing references to High Art. This is a direct counter to Alloway’s argument that Bacon’s work should only be viewed as referencing and aspiring to the Grand Manner of traditional High Art. 
It is evident that these historians and critics are constantly in debate over Bacon’s papal series. John Hatch, author of “Fatum as Theme and Method in the Work of Francis Bacon,” (1998) adds to the breadth of interpretation. Hatch believes the source of the violence Bacon portrays through the scream is mental, although can ultimately manifest in physical violence. Relying on Bacon’s alleged atheism, Hatch constructs his argument based on the artist’s nihilistic views on the system of the Church. Apparently, it was known that Bacon believed that the tragedy of the situation of the Pope is that he has relinquished himself to a stifling system of beliefs that is an illusion veiled as an ultimate truth. Hatch, consequently, understands Study After Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1953, as a literal portrayal of “the veil of illusions that mentally traps the Pope and elicits his cry of horror.” Here, the author employs a biographical methodology, which is semi-reductive. However, this methodology is replaced by a formal and semi-psychoanalytical methodology with Hatch’s discussion of Bacon’s use of spatial frames as a metaphor for mental entrapment. He writes, “On a formal level, these frames act to isolate the image and minimize any potential narrative. However, this formal device does equally serve as a metaphor for psychological entrapment, highlighted by the fact that the skeletal outline of the frame could never function as a physical barrier.” To Hatch, the papal figures are only psychologically trapped; he wonders why they don’t simply walk out of their prison.  The author’s conclusion is aligned with Hunter’s interpretation of Bacon’s papal series. In that, both authors rely on Bacon’s own feelings toward the Catholic Church, to find that the source of the scream is internal.
Thus far, the relationship between Bacon’s papal series and Velázquez’s portrait has been minimally discussed, and when discussed it has only been in terms of either the artist’s distain for the church or his love for Velázquez’s painting. Rina Arya, however, author of "Painting the Pope: an Analysis of Francis Bacon’s Study After Velázquez’s Portrait of Innocent X," (2009) focuses her argument entirely on the relationship between Velázquez’s Pope Innocent X and Bacon’s Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Innocent X to unravel Bacon’s true obsession with the Pope. In claiming that Bacon’s depiction of the Pope in camera (in chamber) contradicts Velázquez’s depiction of the Pope ex cathedra, Arya assesses that Bacon’s painting functions as a photographic negative or mirror image of Velázquez’s. Bacon’s decisive Study After in the title means that Bacon aimed to deconstruct the Velázquez painting and reappropriate it for his own ends. Here, a correlation between Arya and Kuspit’s argument is evident, as both discuss Bacon’s recreation through destruction of an already existing image. Unlike Velázquez whose portrayal of the Pope is a representation of all popes, Bacon portrays the Pope as a single man in a state of mental collapse as his public persona crumbles. Clearly Bacon is critiquing the institution of the Church, however, Arya states that he is dependent upon theological sources for his imagery regardless of his denial of it. 
Although many historians aim to uncover the reasons behind Bacon’s use of the papal figures, there are others who have interpreted the series only in terms of Bacon’s own explanation. In 1952, Bacon said, “Real imagination is technical imagination. It is the ways you think up to bring an event to life again. It is in the search for the technique to trap the object at a given moment. Then the technique and the object become inseparable. The object is the technique and the technique is the object. Art lies in the continual struggle to come near the sensory side of the objects.” The authors of “Francis Bacon,” published in 2009, implement this statement to explain how distorted photographic images inspired Bacon’s papal series. The authors assert that Bacon valued distorted photographic images – like those of Ozenfant and Moholy-Nagy – to develop a technique for animating the perception of the papal figure. The authors claim that this is demonstrated by the range of papal images that Bacon produced in the early 1950s, which depicted various forms of distortion such as the extended and stretched seated figure of Head VI, 1949, the striated form of Study After Velázquez, 1950, and Study After Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1953.  Bacon’s figures are then realized through a specific technique, making the subject and the paint inseparable. Here, a direct correlation to Kuspit’s argument exists; Kuspit believes that the sadistic character of the Pope is only realized by the sadistic application of paint. Although, there is a twenty-year gap between arguments, it is evident that a formalist read is always significant throughout the extensive interpretation of these works.
In surveying the published material on Bacon’s papal themed body of work, it is clear that the majority of the scholars share a similar perspective, although each slightly nuanced. Initially, during the 1950s and early 60s Bacon’s work received an existentialist, philosophical read, which also viewed the works as referencing the Pope’s particular situation and the general horror during World War II. However, with Laurence Alloway and his stinging attack on this type of interpretation, a new generation of scholarly interpretation was spawned, running the gamut from the formal to the iconographical to the biographical. Bacon denied any specific source material for his works, always valuing the formal and material aspects over the socio-historical or political references. Despite the artist’s rejection of any religious references specifically to the cage, his feelings toward the stifling tragic position of the Pope have inspired scholars to continually see the cages as a metaphor for psychological imprisonment. Although the arguments discussed are slightly nuanced, there is a common thread in all of the literature: a continued reliance on the artist’s biography. With this papal series, it is impossible not to reference Bacon’s feelings toward the Church. Therefore, biography is important when understanding this body of work; however, it necessitates other methodologies to formulate an interpretation that goes beyond the artist’s personal statement. Thus, the most successful arguments are those that contain a range of methodological approaches and do not necessarily rest upon the notion that Bacon was merely obsessed with Velázquez’s painting for its beauty alone or for his interest in Grand Manner painting.
Alloway, Lawrence. "Dr. No’s Bacon." Art News and Review 12.6 (April 1960).
Arya, Rina. "Painting the Pope: an Analysis of Francis Bacon’s Study After Velázquez’s Portrait of Innocent X." Literature & Theology 23.1 (2009): 33-50
Matthew Gale, Chris Stephens, and Martin Harrison. Francis Bacon. (New York, NY: Skira Rizzoli, 2009)
Hatch, John G. “Fatum as Theme and Method in the Work of Francis Bacon.” Artibus et Historiae, 19. 37 (1998): 163-175
Hunter, Sam. “Francis Bacon: The Anatomy of Horror,” Magazine of Art 95.1 (January 1952).
Kuspit, Donald. “Hysterical Painting.” Artforum XXL (5/January 1986): 55-60.
Nochlin, Linda. “Francis Bacon, Centre Georges Pompidou.” Artforum 35 (October 1996): 108-110
Sylvester, David. Interviews with Francis Bacon, 3rd ed. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1993)
 Sam Hunter. “Francis Bacon: The Anatomy of Horror,” Magazine of Art 95.1 (January 1952)
 Robert Melville. “Francis Bacon,” Horizon 20.120-1 (Dec. 1949 – Jan. 1950)
 Lawrence Alloway. “Dr. No’s Bacon,” Art News and Review 12. 6 (April 1960)
 David Sylvester. Interviews with Francis Bacon, 3rd ed. (London: Thames and Hudson: 1993)
 Donald Kuspit. “Hysterical Painting.” Artforum XXL (January 1986): 55-60
Linda Nochlin. “Francis Bacon, Centre Georges Pompidou.” Artforum 35 (October 1996): 108-110
 John G. Hatch. “Fatum as Theme and Method in the Work of Francis Bacon.” Artibus et Historiae 19.37 (1998): 163-175
 Rina Arya. "Painting the Pope: an Analysis of Francis Bacon’s Study After Velázquez’s Portrait of Innocent X." Literature & Theology 23.1 (2009): 33-50
 Matthew Gale, Chris Stephens, and Martin Harrison. Francis Bacon. (New York, NY: Skira Rizzoli, 2009)
Head VI, 1949
What to expect from New York’s November auctions
These major sales will dominate opinion on the market’s health as a whole
MELANIE GERLIS | COLLECTING | THE FINANCIAL TIMES | FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2017
November’s auction season in New York is often the stuff of headlines. Last year, when the sales of hundreds of pieces of Impressionist, Modern and contemporary art were squished into one week to avoid clashing with the uncertain US general election, a total $900m of art was sold across four evenings ($1bn with fees). Telephone-number sums for individual works included Edvard Munch’s “Girls on the Bridge” (1902) for $50m ($54.5m with fees), Willem de Kooning’s “Untitled XXV” (1977) for $59m ($66.3m with fees) and, top lot of the week, Claude Monet’s grainstack “Meule” (1891) for $72.5m ($81.4m).
There are several juicy offerings this year, again squeezed into one week (November 13-17), so the formula must have worked. Headlines have already been dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” (c1500), which famously once sold for £45 and is now estimated at $100m, and to its accompanying, huge “Sixty Last Suppers” (1986) by Andy Warhol, estimated at $50m, both at Christie’s. Star lot at Sotheby’s is Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies of George Dyer” (1966, est $35m-$45m) and Phillips has Peter Doig’s 1995-96 “Red House”, sold in 2008 for $3.2m and now offered at between $18m and $22m. In all, up to $1.7bn of art is estimated to sell across five evening auctions, some $500m more than expected last year.
Auction houses control some of this outcome through guarantees and this series is no exception (though the Bass collection is being offered “naked”). So far, half of the 74 lots in Sotheby’s contemporary auction are effectively pre-sold, while the Leonardo and Warhol at Christie’s, Bacon at Sotheby’s and Doig at Phillips have also been backed.
So a dramatic failure — as witnessed with the Francis Bacon that went unsold at Christie’s in London last month — is not expected. And with the economic winds in favour, “there’s no reason why this season shouldn’t be record-breaking,” Nathan says.
Francis Bacon’s ‘Three Studies of George Dyer’ (1966) (est $35m-$45m, Sotheby’s)
CONTEMPORARY ART EVENING AUCTION
16 NOVEMBER 2017 | 6:30 PM EST | NEW YORK
1909 - 1992
THREE STUDIES OF GEORGE DYER
and dated 1966 on the reverse of the left panel
oil on canvas, in three parts
each: 14 by 12 in. 35.6 by 30.5 cm
35,000,000 - 45,000,000 USD
38,614,000 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer’s Premium)
Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London
Basil and Elise Goulandris, Athens (acquired from the above in 1968)
Acquired by the present owner from the above
Paris, Galerie Maeght; Rome, Marlborough Galleria d’Arte; Milan, Galleria Toninelli; and London, Marlborough Fine Art. Ltd., Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings, November 1966 – April 1967, n.p., no. 16 (Paris), p. 20, illustrated (detail of left panel) and p. 21, no. 12, illustrated in color (London)
Leiris, Francis Bacon: Full Face and in Profile, New York, 1983, p. 100,
no. 41, illustrated in color
Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon, New York, 1987, p. 48, no. 42, illustrated in color
Milan Kundera, Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits, London, 1996, p. 32, illustrated in color and p. 33, illustrated in color (detail of center panel)
Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné, Volume III, 1958-71, London, 2016, pp. 816-817, no. 66-11, illustrated in color
Three Studies of George Dyer, 1966
By Martin Harrison
The impact of Francis Bacon’s most powerful portraits is in direct proportion to the intensity and conviction of his brushstrokes. The energy and dynamism of the paint projects the meaning of the paintings directly outwards onto the viewer’s psyche, as demonstrated in a serial portrait of a man under extreme pressure, Three Studies of George Dyer, 1966. Indubitably one of the most impressive of Bacon’s small triptychs, it is a passionate and incisive representation of a close (and emotionally troubled) companion.
n 1962 Bacon had arrived at a format for painting portrait heads which subsequently remained constant, and which formed a distinct and significant category of his work. Invariably painted on relatively small, 14 x 12 inch canvasses, he produced these subjects as single panels and diptychs, as well as triptychs. In contrast to the large canvasses, in which the spatial settings and more complex pictorial schemas of full-length figures afforded greater scope for variation, the portraits are remarkably consistent in their formal conception. Consequently, it is particularly impressive when, working within ostensibly limited parameters, Bacon was nonetheless able to create several of his masterpieces, including Three Studies of George Dyer, 1966.
With the catalogue raisonné published last year, I no longer have to search for ‘lost’ paintings, or their historiographies. Neither is there a requirement to maintain objectivity or detachment in assessing Bacon’s oeuvre. Hence I sometimes find myself thinking about whether there is a common factor, among the nearly six hundred extant paintings, linking those which ‘came off’, as Bacon used to put it. The answer would appear to be as unfashionable, in art-historical terms, as the notion of a qualitative hierarchy: that is, after 1952 the most potent paintings tend to be those of, or inspired by, Bacon’s lovers. This is manifestly true of the paintings of Peter Lacy, made between 1953 and 1963, and those of George Dyer painted from 1963 to 1976. Of course Bacon was projecting himself into, and out through, other subjects, the Popes for example, but the trajectory of his art was definitely in the direction of the intrapersonal.
Recently I have been writing in what was Bacon’s studio in Reece Mews, South Kensington, albeit in its later guise as a neutral, white space, stripped of all the legendary clutter and aura. I wonder at Bacon’s valiant drive to rise at daybreak and engage in a tussle with the canvas, a performance that would leave him, as his friend the photographer Peter Beard observed, literally breathless with nervous excitement as he emerged from an experience that was simultaneously physical and trance-like.
With virtually no conventional training, Bacon was forced to invent a technical repertory attuned to his expression. This is often characterised as painting in a thick impasto, but he developed a much more elaborate range than that. When appropriate he painted with subtlety and even delicacy; he also applied paint quite thinly – in what Georges Bataille memorably described as ‘brusque’ treatments. In the right panel of Three Studies of George Dyer, 1966, leaving Dyer’s jacket as background wash and under-drawing is a marvellous example of his wilfulness in this respect, his defiance, as well as his layered approach to representation. Bacon sought immediacy – he was keenly aware that boredom of execution would translate as apathy in the mind of the beholder: in this sense the shorthand techniques he developed are analogous to his determination to convey sensation in his paintings and avoid overt narratives.
Three Studies of George Dyer, 1966, exemplifies succinctly Bacon’s mid-career mastery of his craft. The grounds of each panel are rich in linseed oil, dense black voids that, contradictorily, also oscillate with light reflected from their textured surfaces. The palette of the three heads is reminiscent of two of Bacon’s early inspirations, late Monet and Degas’s pastels, but he pushes these stimuli into another dimension. The paint is applied in rapid, enervated sweeps, in arcing strokes of slippery, mixed colors, flicked from the wrist, that partly obliterate the hot skin tone. Arbitrary patches of coagulated black paint have been impressed with a variety of fabrics – to form a textured substance that is a classic Bacon anti-illustrational shorthand device. The outer panels, which vibrate with the restless motion of the paint, flank a pitiless frontal view of Dyer. In the center Dyer’s features are collapsing, the lubricious flesh and facial features are twisted, distorted: we may be sure that Bacon equally identified with these ‘wounds.'
Thus Three Studies of George Dyer, 1966, explodes from the picture plane: across a gap of more than fifty years Dyer appears to us as a living, pulsating presence. Transformed through paint applied with vigour and élan, it is a revelatory image of his friend and muse. Bacon was motivated to paint by love (however elusive or transitory) and sex, which were underpinned by a personal philosophy that can be partly defined as anti-religious, nihilistic, Nietzschean. And he was resolute about being a great artist: disingenuous about the importance of his reputation, when he excelled without compromise, as in the present triptych, he fulfilled with force and audacity his stated aim ‘to get on to the nervous system.’
Three Studies of George Dyer, 1966
Within the grand theater of Francis Bacon’s prolific career, George Dyer inhabits a position of tremendous importance. Appearing in over forty paintings, with as many created following his death as executed during his lifetime, Dyer possesses a commanding presence unlike any other. Charged with desire and framed within a seductive dark ground, Three Studies of George Dyer wields the full force of Bacon’s painterly bravura and pictorial authority with arresting intensity and consummate psychological depth. His portrayal encompasses the full range of human drama: at once vulnerable, brooding, romantic, heroic and tortured, Bacon’s stunning incarnations of Dyer reveal a multifaceted, tempestuous and passionate love affair. Between 1963 and 1969, an intensely busy moment in his career, Bacon would paint only five triptychs of Dyer in this intimate scale, two of which are in museums: the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the Louisiana Museum of Art, Humlebæk. Of this jewel like size, John Russell has said, “The single head, fourteen inches by twelve, was from 1961 onwards the scene of some of Bacon’s most ferocious investigations. Just as a gunshot sometimes leaves an after-echo or parallel report, so these small concentrated heads carry their ghosts within them.” (John Russell, Francis Bacon, London, 1993, p. 99) Also unique to these rare triptychs, Bacon treated the characteristic profile from John Deakin’s famous source images of George Dyer (found ripped, torn and paint splattered among the debris in Bacon’s studio) in his unique visual vocabulary, abstracting them in dramatic gestural swaths of luminous color. Although Bacon would continue to render Dyer’s countenance after his death, he never again returned to a portrayal of Dyer in this highly charged and intimate format after 1969. Three Studies of George Dyer remains an incredibly rare gemlike triptych that exudes passion, vitality and a fervor that has immortalized both Bacon’s deep infatuation with his lover as well as his inimitable style.
The story of Bacon’s first meeting with Dyer has gained a legendary status: Dyer, aged twenty nine, attempted to break into and burgle Bacon’s studio at 7 Reece Mews. Through the studio’s famous skylight, Dyer tumbled into Bacon’s life, truly falling from above and forever altering the course of the artist’s work. Their relationship was marked by a polarity of extremes: ardent infatuation, enchanted desire, the artist’s intellectualism, Dyer’s rough innocence, passion and love. This full range of emotional and psychological heat seethes beneath the richly textured surface of the present work. Beautifully sublime and framed within a dramatic background of a dense lustrous black, these three portraits masterfully illustrate Bacon’s twisted, torqued and scraped handling of paint. Exquisite tones of navy and violet sweep in graceful swaths and bold brushstrokes against a rich palette of brick red, apricot and lilac. Elegant impressions of corduroy and torn cloth imprint vigorous patterns onto the surface of the face, lending texture to and asserting the flatness of these indelible works. With sumptuous inflections of pigment, both delicately applied and heavily worked up, Bacon’s distortions of Dyer’s visage interrogate the limits of the self, presenting an ethereal and unearthly form of his muse that, while undoubtedly grounded in a photograph of Dyer, is manifestly surreal. Like a sequence of film stills, Dyer’s likeness eloquently unfolds from left to right, moving from asymmetrical three-quarter turn into full profile and back to three-quarter. Dyer’s suit collar provides a formal anchor to each canvas, an almost Matisse-like cut-out clarity that echoes Bacon’s physical manipulation and cutting up of Deakin’s photographs. Each of Dyer’s three portraits reverberates with violent smudges and a psychological profundity; however, these smears, swipes and blows to Dyer’s visage are not marks of brutality, but rather the artist’s insistence on chance, play, and radiant prismatic color. Bacon seems to make the case against any singular perspective on the individual, instead privileging a layered understanding of the human psyche. John Russell described: “Bacon wrenched, reversed, abbreviated, jellified and generally reinvented the human image. The paint-structure was by turns brusque and sumptuous, lyrical and offhand, pulpy and marmoreal. Swerving, pouncing, colliding with itself, taking for granted the most bizarre conjunctions of impulse, it produced a multiple imagery which was quite new in painting,” (John Russell, Francis Bacon, New York, 1971, p. 168)
Divorced from the natural world, the distorted and vivid tonal spectrum coalesces into an almost dreamlike picture. With obscured eyes, curved noses, hollowed jawlines and torqued lips, Bacon has portrayed a deep introspection in an arresting and raw color palette. An intensely amorous response to Dyer’s looks overwhelms this work; these three portraits relay unbridled enthusiasm and delight for the contours and landscape of his physiognomy. Bacon’s tremendous ardor for Dyer and his masculine good looks outweighed Dyer’s downward spiraling propensity for alcoholism and violent self-pity. Towards the end of the 1960s, this already unsteady and tumultuous relationship became destructively marred by Dyer’s waning sense of purpose in Bacon’s shadow. Indeed, Bacon reached the culmination of his career at the beginning of the 1970s, honored with a one man show at the prestigious Grand Palais in Paris. Bacon had inadvertently fueled Dyer’s paranoia of inadequacy by providing his ‘kept’ existence, and on the eve of the artist’s opening in Paris, Dyer died from an overdose. The degree to which Bacon was consumed by grief, loss and guilt would find equal measure only in the posthumous paintings of Dyer. Dyer’s presence is at once the most pervasive, libidinal and inventive of Bacon’s entire oeuvre. The creative fecundity of these seminal years, both the decade prior to and following 1971, is predominantly owing to the abiding and all-consuming impact of George Dyer. Painted obsessively, Dyer’s likeness utterly dominates Bacon’s production: as strongly present in this extremely rare triptych, George Dyer fueled the tortured and extraordinary talents of a master of modern art at the apex of his imaginative and technical powers.
Blue plaque erected where Francis Bacon
produced some of ‘finest work’
Memorial unveiled at London coach house on 108th anniversary of Irish artist’s birth
VISUAL ART | ART & DESIGN | THE IRISH TIMES | SATURDAY 28 OCTOBER 2017
Painter Francis Bacon has been commemorated with a blue plaque at the “insanely eccentric” mews home where he produced some of his greatest works.
The Irish artist, who was known for his bold and shocking figurative style, lived at the studio in South Kensington, west London, from 1961 until his death in 1992.
English Heritage unveiled the permanent plaque at the converted Victorian coach house, 7 Reece Mews, on the 108th anniversary of his birth.
The tiny studio, situated on the first floor, was a scene of chaos – but where Bacon felt he worked best.
He used the walls to mix paints, while paint tubes, brushes and rags were strewn across the floor and covering every surface.
Author and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, who knew Bacon well, said: “It’s a great idea to put up a blue plaque for Francis Bacon at the idiosyncratic, almost insanely eccentric, tiny upstairs flatlet in which he did some of his finest work. I’m sure he would have loved it.”
‘Dump’ nobody else would want
During an interview with Bragg on The South Bank Show in 1985, Bacon said the studio was the “kind of dump that nobody else would want but I can work here”.
He added: “I work much better in chaos. I couldn’t work if it was a beautifully tidy studio, it would be absolutely impossible for me... Chaos breeds images.”
Bacon completed Three Studies for a Crucifixion (1962) shortly after moving into the mews house and went on to produce some of his most celebrated works there, including Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966).
Six years after his death, the studio and its contents were moved and recreated at The Huge Lane gallery in Dublin, the city where Bacon was born in 1909.
The blue plaques scheme, taken on by English Heritage in 1986, has been running since 1866 to commemorate the notable people who lived and worked in buildings in London.
Painter Francis Bacon commemorated with a blue plaque
LONDON | ITV REPORT | ITV NEWS | SATURDAY 28 OCTOBER 2017
Painter Francis Bacon has been commemorated with a blue plaque at the "insanely eccentric" mews home where he produced some of his greatest works.
The artist, who was known for his bold and shocking figurative style, lived at the studio in South Kensington, west London, from 1961 to his death in 1992.
English Heritage unveiled the blue plaque at the converted Victorian coach house, 7 Reece Mews, on the 108th anniversary of his birth.
The tiny studio, situated on the first floor, was a scene of chaos but where Bacon felt he worked best.
He used the walls to mix paints and used paint tubes, brushes and rags were strewn across the floor and covering every surface.
Author and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, who knew Bacon well, said: "It’s a great idea to put up a blue plaque for Francis Bacon at the idiosyncratic, almost insanely eccentric, tiny upstairs flatlet in which he did some of his finest work. I’m sure he would have loved it."
During an interview with Bragg on The South Bank Show in 1985, Bacon said the studio was the "kind of dump that nobody else would want but I can work here".
He added: "I work much better in chaos. I couldn’t work if it was a beautifully tidy studio, it would be absolutely impossible for me... Chaos breeds images."
Bacon completed Three Studies for a Crucifixion (1962) shortly after moving into the mews house and went on to produce some of his most celebrated works there, including Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966).
Six years after his death the studio and its contents were moved and recreated in The Huge Lane gallery in Dublin, the city where Bacon was born in 1909.
The blue plaques scheme, taken on by English Heritage in 1986, has been running since 1866 to commemorate the notable people who lived and worked in buildings in London.
Francis Bacon triptych on show for the first time in 50 years
Painting of artist’s lover and muse expected to fetch at least $35m at Sotheby’s
JAMES PICKFORD | UK ARTS | THE FINANCIAL TIMES | TUESDAY, OCTOBER 24, 2017
A painting by Francis Bacon of his lover and muse George Dyer will be shown in public for the first time in 50 years this week, ahead of its debut auction sale.
in 1966, “Three Studies of George Dyer” is one of five triptychs Bacon created
of his troubled lover. Two of the works are held by museums.
Carrying an estimate of between $35m and $45m, the painting will be unveiled at Sotheby’s London showrooms on Wednesday, before appearing as the top lot in the auction house’s contemporary art sale in New York next month.
The painting has appeared in public just once, at a Marlborough Gallery show in 1967. The work is now being sold by an anonymous private collector, who bought it in a private sale from its original buyer, a European collector.
Bacon met Dyer met in 1963, before embarking on a passionate but tempestuous relationship. An alcoholic and convicted petty crook, Dyer was attracted to Bacon’s self-confidence and intellect, while Bacon was drawn by the younger man’s aura of criminal risk.
Tragedy followed in 1971, when Dyer was found dead in the couple’s Paris hotel room, having overdosed on sleeping pills just two days before the opening of Bacon’s first mid-career retrospective at the Grand Palais.
Traumatised by grief, Bacon repeatedly returned to Dyer’s image, producing a
series of “Black Triptych” portraits in the early 1970s.
Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s European head of contemporary art said: “This is Bacon at his most spontaneous and intense ... His stated aim was always to bring his observers closer to the nervous system of his sitters.”
Bacon’s reputation in the international art market has soared in recent years, and his work has achieved record prices at auction. A triptych depicting Dyer was sold by Christie’s in May for $51.8m. Another Bacon triptych of the artist’s friend and rival Lucian Freud smashed auction records in 2013 when it sold for $142m in New York.
But Bacon’s works are not always guaranteed to sell at auction. A 1971 study including both an image of George Dyer and a pope — another recurring Bacon theme — which was estimated at around £60m, failed to find a buyer at Christie’s earlier this month.
The day Francis Bacon got burnt in the saleroom
The Bacon that didn’t sell; a Leonardo with a back story; $1.1m art theft; Beijing museum gets backing
MELANIE GERLIS | THE ART MARKET | THE FINANCIAL TIMES | FRIDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2017
Art collectors are not buying anything at any price any more. October’s auction season in London will be remembered as the time that Francis Bacon’s “Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd Version 1971” (1971) didn’t sell. Since it includes both the artist’s lover, George Dyer, and a trademark Pope, and shown at a landmark Paris exhibition just days after Dyer had committed suicide in the French capital, the work was powerful — but not to the extent of its £60m to £80m price tag, according to many in the trade. “Ambitious” was the euphemism used by Christie’s specialists after its auction on October 6.
Despite palpable disappointment in the auction room, Christie’s executives are confident the painting will sell, but one question is whether or not it has been “burned”, an art market term for the loss of reputation suffered when a work fails in a public arena. This has historically meant a lengthy grace period before offering again, in order to avoid a dramatic fall in value. Seemingly, however, the market is shorter-term these days. Sotheby’s also had a disappointment at its evening auction on October 5, when Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Bronze” (1982), estimated between £5m and £7m and guaranteed with Sotheby’s own money, attracted no bidders. The auction house swiftly added the work to its day sale the following afternoon, with the same estimate and, according to Sotheby’s, the same reserve, when it subsequently sold for £4.4m (£5.1m with fees).
Another question is whether we will experience again the drama of a work offered publicly for more than £50m without a guarantee to sell. I suspect not in the near future.
Mixed night for Francis Bacon at Christie’s
Two works from Francis Bacon’s (1909 - 1992) 'Popes' series met with contrasting fates
at Christie’s latest post-war and contemporary art evening auction.
ALEX CAPON | NEWS | ANTIQUES TRADE GAZETTE | FRIDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2017
The highest expectations at tonight’s sale were on Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd Version 1971 which was described in the catalogue as "the grand finale to his celebrated body of Papal portraits".
Dating from 1971, the picture was a reworking of his 1962 canvas Study from Innocent X but with the added inclusion of the artist’s lover George Dyer in the background appearing as the Pope’s reflection.
The 6ft 6in x 4ft 10in (1.98 x 1.48cm) oil on canvas had been acquired from Marlborough Fine Art in Zurich in February 1973 and had descended to the vendor. It had an 'estimate on request' which was reportedly in the region £60m-80m but, on the night, the bidding failed to reach the low end of this range and the work was left unsold.
Six lots later, Bacon’s earlier and smaller painting Head with Raised Arm was offered with a £7m-10m estimate.
The 2ft x 20in (61 x 50.5cm) oil on canvas from 1955 had been in the vendor’s collection over 50 years in which time it had never been exhibited publicly. Indeed, its location was listed as ‘unknown’ in the most recent version of Bacon’s catalogue raisonne published last year by Martin Harrison.
The painting belonged to a group of nine surviving paintings depicting the then-Pope, Pius XII, of which four are now in museum collections.
With market freshness in its favour and the pitch not deemed unreasonable for an artist whose single-format portraits have sold for over £35m at auction before, the bidding was taken up by a number of parties before it was knocked down at £10m.
It was not the only lot of the night to make £10m or more.
With Christie’s having dropped its June sale of Contemporary art in London (its two main series in this category now take place in March and October only), these two works by Bacon were part of a higher number of big-ticket lots than would usually appear at these Frieze week auctions.
Francis Bacon’s ‘Head with Raised Arm’ from 1955 which sold for £10m at Christie’s.
Bacon’s Pope, Estimated at $78 Million, Fails in $172 Million Christie’s Sale
MARK BEECH | VISUAL ARTS | AUCTIONS | BLOUIN ARTINFO | FRIDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2017
A Francis Bacon Pope did not sell in the most high-profile of failures at Christie’s Frieze-Week auction tonight. The sale’s star lot had an unpublished estimate put at £60 million (about $78 million) to £80 million.
Later, it was a tale of two Popes with a little good news to counteract the blow. Christie’s managed to sell another Bacon pontiff for £11.48 million, the third-best price of the evening. But dealers were still reeling from the earlier mishap, which some said was a serious miscalculation.
The unsold Pope, a late addition to the sale, was larger and more important than the one that did get away. The bought-in Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd Version, from 1971, had been in a private collection since 1973. Bidding went from £50 million to £58 million before its withdrawal. Perhaps it would have made it for just £2 million more, dealers whispered. The dealers also were speculating about the reasons for such a highly-valued failure, saying there are a limited number of buyers for a work of this level. Some said the level of bought-in would take some explaining, depending on agreed figures.
The work shows the Pope sitting, while in the background the burglar George Dyer, the artist’s lover and muse, is poised by a switch ready to turn off the light that illuminates the scene. Dyer died just months after the work was completed.
The last time such a major work by Bacon appeared in a London sale was at Christie’s last year when Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringes from 1968, also said to be highly significant, fetched a less ambitious £20.2 million.
The Pope that sold is one of nine surviving Bacon paintings depicting Pope Pius XII. "Head with Raised Arm" from 1955 was last exhibited in Turin in 1962. After it was included in a 1964 catalogue raisonne of Bacon’s oeuvre, its whereabouts have been unknown for more than 50 years. The recent Bacon catalogue raisonne update stated that "despite every effort to locate this painting, we have been unable to trace it." Christie’s Francis Outred had described the £7 million to £10 million estimate as "a come and get me" price. Perhaps a more tempting estimate would have helped the other work.
The Christie’s news release that eventually followed made little mention of the Popes. It talked up the sale’s total – including the "Thinking Italian" event before it - of £131,719,000 ($172,156,735), the second-highest figure for an evening of postwar and contemporary art in London.
CONTEMPORARY ART EVENING AUCTION
LOT 25 | 05 OCTOBER | 7.00 PM BST | LONDON
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
Estimate 1,800,000 - 2.500,000 GBP
Lot Sold 1,988,750 GBP
Francis Bacon 1909 - 1992
STUDIES OF ISABEL RAWSTHORNE
Dr. Paul and Mrs. Ruth Brass (a gift from the artist in 1983)
Sotheby’s, London, 12 October 2007, Lot 31 (consigned by the above)
Private Collection, New York
Christie’s, London, 14 February 2012, Lot 33
Acquired from the above by the present owner
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., Francis Bacon 1909-1992, Small Portrait Studies, October - December 1993, n.p., no. 14, illustrated in colour
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Alberto Giacometti. Francis Bacon: Isabel and Other Intimate Strangers. November - December 2008, p. 43, illustrated in colour and p. 45, detail of the right panel illustrated in colour
Martin Harrison, Ed., Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume IV, 1971-91, London 2016, p. 1260, no. 83-01, illustrated in colour
Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne presents a deeply personal portrayal of Francis Bacon’s closest female friend. Of all his female subjects and many companions, she was the woman to whom he felt closest: the extraordinary number of portraits after her likeness command a rare heroic dimension at once testament to Bacon’s affection and reflective of Isabel’s remarkable magnetism as a person. Muse, mistress, and friend of the Parisian avant-garde during the 1930s, Isabel was a compelling personality and alluring subject for Andre Derain, Pablo Picasso, and most significantly, Alberto Giacometti, with whom she shared a drawn-out love affair. Undoubtedly enamoured by her sophisticated Parisian connections and impressed by her imposing presence, Bacon found in Isabel Rawsthorne an irresistible source of inspiration. Rawsthorne provided a unique focus for the artist: she was his preferred female muse and inspired a greater number of small portrait canvases than any of his other friends, accounting for at least eighteen works created between 1964 and 1983. From these, only three paintings in diptych format survive, amongst which the present work is outstanding. Bacon and Rawsthorne first met in the late 1940s at the home of Erica Brausen, who represented both artists at her Hanover Gallery in London. Painted decades later, Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne represents the final portrait after her likeness and thus summates nearly forty years of close friendship.
Michael Peppiatt has described Rawsthorne’s prodigious facility for physiognomic change: "Her face would assume a look of extreme indignation, followed by one of raucous good humour, and then a glance of seduction, all dropped like masks and as readily replaced" (Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p. 205). Bacon was inevitably seduced by this expressive variety and this diptych epitomises a rare mode of description that can only stem from a lifetime’s worth of close observation. In 1984 Bacon told David Sylvester "I am certainly not trying to make a portrait of somebody’s soul or psyche or whatever you like to call it. You can only make a portrait of their appearance, but I think that their appearance is deeply linked with their behaviour" (Francis Bacon in conversation with David Sylvester, 1984, in: David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p. 234). Rawsthorne described Bacon’s paintings of her as "fabulously accurate" and this deeply personal work is the consummate conflation of her worldly exterior appearance and phenomenal interior character (Isabel Rawsthorne, quoted in: Michael Peppiatt, op. cit., p. 208).
In this extraordinary portrait we see Bacon as "the Proustian recorder of time passing"; Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne is not only the valediction to a truly epic life that spanned the devastating excesses of the Twentieth Century, but also punctuates the closing chapter of her friendship with Bacon. As Martin Harrison further notes of this work, "The diptych of Isabel - he had not painted her since 1971, and this was to be his final painting of her — is redolent of the small panel paintings of fifteenth-century Northern Europe made for the private use of the laity, an intimate if, in Bacon’s version, entirely secularized devotional object. At the time, Isabel had just turned seventy. While profoundly yet unflinchingly conscious of the aging process, Bacon nonetheless opted to soften her strongly lined face. For some years, Isabel had been suffering from glaucoma; she had undergone an operation just before Bacon painted the diptych, and had lost sight in one eye. Astigmatic himself, Bacon must have feared blindness acutely and was doubtless deeply sympathetic to her plight. Thus, in an affectionate and overtly biographical gesture, Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne appears to be, especially in the smudged paint around the eye in the right panel, a touching and poignant document of his friend’s depleted condition" (Martin Harrison, ‘Francis Bacon: The Pulsations of a Person’, in: Exh. Cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, Alberto Giacometti. Francis Bacon: Isabel and Other Intimate Strangers, 2008, p. 210).
In this painting each head looms like a sculpture in paint, cut-out and superimposed onto the phosphorescent flatness of a vibrant backdrop that emphasises each head’s geometric silhouette. Throughout the work there is this tension between graphic dexterity and the power of colour, as is so typical of Bacon’s most enthralling works. Within the circumscribed outlines of the two heads, Rawsthorne’s idiosyncratic features – high forehead, long cheek-bones, and arched eyebrows - are confidently scribed in flecked streaks and variegated smears of densely worked paint. Variance of expression is revealed through the veiled layers of shuttered, shocking-pink hatching, rooted in the virtuosity of Edgar Degas’ pastel technique, so that "sensation doesn’t come straight out at you; it slides slowly and gently through the gaps" (Francis Bacon in conversation with David Sylvester, 1984, op. cit.).
Emulating mug-shot proportions of a photo-booth portrait, the unadorned immediacy of Bacon’s small portraits radiate endurance, nervousness, and involuntary mannerisms: these heads truly embody Bacon’s desire to paint as close to the 'nervous system' as possible. To quote William Feaver: " 'Studies’ or exercises though they are, these small paintings are central to Bacon’s art. The scale of a bathroom mirror-image makes them one-to-one, and when they are paired, or grouped in threes, the differences animate them. No rooms, no thrones, no perfunctory landscape settings are needed. Without context or posture, the heads have nothing to do but look, sometimes at one another, and wait” (William Feaver, 'That’s It', in: Exh. Cat., London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., Francis Bacon 1909 — 1992 Small Portrait Studies, 1993, p. 6). A series and format first settled upon in 1961 and maintained until the very end, these intimately scaled works form the very staple of Bacon’s mature practice, acting as the primary locus for the ‘brutality of fact’ and most immediate site for loosening the ‘valves of feeling’ so frequently referred to by the artist. Spectre-like and isolated within a chromatic ground of quintessential importance for Bacon – cadmium orange was significantly used as the base for the ground-breaking Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) - Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne utterly exudes the visceral and psychological charge of Bacon’s distorted yet searingly honest vision of humanity.
Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction
Lot 21 A | Sale 14442 | 6 October 2017, London
Francis Bacon (1909 - 1992)
Head with Raised Arm
GBP 7,000,000 - GBP 10,000,000
(USD 9,457,000 - USD 13,510,000)
Price realised GBP 11,483,750
Francis Bacon Head with Raised Arm 1955
Cataloguing & details
Artist’s Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist’s Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist’s collection agent.
These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie’s immediately after the auction.
John Hewett, London.
James and Brenda Bomford, Aldbourne.
Brook Street Gallery, London.
Piccadilly Gallery, London.
Galleria d’Arte Galatea, Turin.
Acquired from the above in December 1963.
Thence by descent to present owner.
PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE EUROPEAN FAMILY
Rothenstein and R. Alley, Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné, London 1964,
p. 99, no. 107.
M. Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné: Volume II 1929-57, London 2016, p. 448, no. 55-14 (illustrated in colour, p. 449; listed with 'location unknown').
Victoria Art Gallery, Three Masters of modern British Painting: Sir Matthew
Smith, Victor Pasmore, Francis Bacon, 1958, no. 50, p. 12 (titled Portrait
of a Cardinal and incorrectly dated 1954). This exhibition later travelled
to Carlisle, Carlisle Art Gallery; Shrewsbury, Shrewsbury Art Gallery;
Bournemouth, Bournemouth College of Art; Manchester, Manchester City Art Gallery
and Cheltenham, Cheltenham Art Gallery (incorrectly titled ‘Portrait of
London, Piccadilly Gallery, Paintings Drawings and Sculpture, 1961, no. 1.
Turin, Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Francis Bacon, 1962, p. 100, no. 36 (illustrated in colour, p. 101).
‘[Head with Raised Arm] belongs to the small portrait category that Bacon established in 1952, and is indeed a portrait of Pope Pius XII. Particularly noteworthy are the vertical streaks of paint over the paler arm and mozzetta. Bacon amplified these marks in the diagonals that connect the hand to the Pope’s forehead, to signify motion; the white highlights in the interstices between the black diagonals were painted with a very fine brush, and indicate scrupulous technical attention’
‘It is true, of course, the Pope is unique. He’s put in a unique position by being the Pope, and therefore, like in certain great tragedies, he’s as though raised onto a dais on which the grandeur of this image can be displayed to the world’
'No other living painter has set forth with such pitiless clarity the tensions and paradoxes that surround all efforts to see, let alone to paint, the human figure in an age of photography'
'In any one period, there are only a finite number of images with almost limitless connotations. In our time, along perhaps with Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, Duchamp’s Le Grand Verre and a Giacometti Femme debout, Bacon’s Popes are not only the centerpiece of all his paintings in the 1950s but a centrepiece of the whole of twentieth-century art'
'I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them … leaving a trail of the human presence and memory trace of past events'
'I came to, as it were, accept that here you are, existing for a second, brushed off like flies on the wall'
'It was during those years [the 1950s], filled with rebuffs and reversals of fortune, but also with extraordinary invention and daring, that Bacon began to explore in depth all his great themes ... It was, in my view, the most fertile single decade of his career. Never again would the Baconian world be so rich and diverse'
'If you look at Velázquez, his greatness is his interest in people … Velázquez came to the human situation and made it grand and heroic and wasn’t bombastic. He turned to a literal situation and made an image of it, both fact and image at the same time. The Pope [Pope Innocent X] is like Egyptian art; factual, powerfully formal and unlocks valves of sensation at all different level'
Unveiled for the first time in over half a century – its whereabouts hitherto unknown – Head with Raised Arm (1955) is a unique specimen within Francis Bacon’s celebrated series of Papal portraits. Last exhibited in 1962 at the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Turin, the work was acquired by the present owners the following year, and has remained hidden from public view ever since. With a blurred hand lifted to his forehead – in anguish, prayer, benediction or surrender – Bacon’s spectral pontiff lies submerged in a silent black void, illuminated by the bars of his gilded throne and the gleaming white of his collar. Pushed to the brink of abstraction, his face and arm flicker like moving images caught on camera, subtly animated by a veil of vertical hairline striations. Pope Pius XII blessing the vast crowd gathered in St Peter’s Square, 1955. Riddled with photographic instability and deeply human tension, the work belongs to a select group of nine surviving paintings depicting the then-incumbent, Pope Pius XII. With four held in museum collections, and a further on permanent loan, Bacon’s portraits of the living Pope are among his most profound. Elected to the papacy in 1939, Pius’s reign had spanned the Second World War, famously inciting accusations of silence in the face of atrocity. As the Church and media sought to uphold his infallibility, the artist cast him as a fragile, flawed being, tortured by the weight of his grand station. Rare for its closely-cropped depiction of the pontiff’s head and shoulders, the present work confronts its subject on a piercing, intimate scale. It is one of only two Popes executed in Bacon’s jewel-like 24-by- 20-inch format, aligning it with his first small portrait triptych of 1953. Combed vertically with a fine brush over layers of deep red, black, blue and purple, the work’s marbled palette and intricately-scored surface generate a powerful sense of repressed friction, recalling the so-called ‘shuttering’ effects of the artist’s early screaming pontiffs. The sacred hand, so often raised in blessing, is denatured in motion: its gesture of solemnity and grandeur becomes one of pain, violence, resignation and despair. Cloaked in ghostly pallor, the work is a poignant memento mori for a man whose reign had witnessed some of the greatest crimes against humanity, and would come to an end with his death three years later.
Pursued over nearly two decades, and numbering more than fifty canvases, Bacon’s Papal portraits are widely regarded as his finest achievements. These works were his first and most significant existential enquiries, and stand today among the foremost images of the twentieth century. 'It’s true, of course, the Pope is unique’, he explained. 'He’s put in a unique position by being the Pope, and therefore, like in certain great tragedies, he’s as though raised onto a dais on which the grandeur of this image can be displayed to the world’ (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, London 1990, p. 26). Whilst many of his portraits sprung from his acknowledged ‘schoolboy crush’ on Diego Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, the artist was particularly entranced by ‘those magnificent processional photographs’ of Pius being carried through St. Peter’s upon the shoulders of other cardinals. Pictures of this description sat in his studio alongside newspaper clippings of wartime dictators and henchmen: figures who similarly set themselves upon a pedestal. At the core of these investigations was a question that would haunt Bacon for the duration of his career: how to paint the human figure in the age of photography. In a world mediated by reproduced images, the raw pulsations of reality were increasingly held at bay. The camera’s ability to cast fiction as truth resonated with the fundamental tension that Bacon identified in religious and political figureheads: a conflict between public image and innate animal instinct. Evoking the works of Eadwaerd Muybridge, as well as anticipating Gerhard Richter’s blurred photo-paintings of the following decade, Head with Raised Arm speaks directly to this theme. It is an image of impermanence in the face of documentary reality; an image of ambiguity in the face of divine infallibility; an image of motion and turmoil in the face of statuesque poise. The controversial nature of Pius’s reign, combined with his increasingly ill health from 1955 onwards, only serves to magnify this dichotomy. We exist ‘for a second’, claimed Bacon, ‘brushed off like flies on the wall’ (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, London 1990, p. 133). By hinting at the transience of a figure immortalized through the camera lens, the artist ultimately lifts the veil on his humanity.
During the 1950s, Head with Raised Arm was owned by the pioneering Bacon collectors James and Brenda Bomford, who acquired the work from the dealer Kenneth John Hewett. The Bomfords purchased a number of significant works by Bacon during this period, many of which are now held in important museum collections. As well as the landmark painting Head VI, 1949 (Arts Council Collection, Southbank), they owned five portraits of Pius, including Pope II, 1951 (Kunsthalle Mannheim), Figure Sitting, 1955 (Stedeljk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent), Study for a Head, 1955 and Study for Portrait II, as well as the present work. In addition to their extraordinary collection of Bacon Popes, they acquired the major early work Figure Study I, 1945-46 (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh), as well as Head I, 1951 (Cleveland Museum of Art), Bacon’s first small portrait triptych Three Studies of the Human Head, 1953, Chimpanzee, 1955 (Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart) and his first self-portrait of 1956 (The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth). Their collection also included Impressionist and Modern British paintings, as well as Persian bronzes and ancient glass, examples of which were later given to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford and the Bristol Museum respectively.
PAINTING IL PAPA: BACON’S PAPAL PORTRAITS
To trace the evolution of Bacon’s Popes is to chart an obsession that began with a painting – or, more precisely, a photographic reproduction. It was during the 1940s, leafing through a book of images, that the artist encountered Velázquez’s masterpiece for the first time. His varied portrayals of the pontiff over the next twenty years – portraits of Pius included – would be riddled with elements this image. ‘I became obsessed by this painting and I bought photograph after photograph of it’, he later explained. ‘I think really that was my first subject’ (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Harrison, In Camera. Francis Bacon, London 2005, p. 14). Whilst Head VI is often hailed as Bacon’s inaugural Pope, the artist’s initial engagement with the subject was in 1946. ‘I am working on 3 sketches of the Velasquez portrait Pope Innocent II [sic]’, he wrote to Graham Sutherland on 19 October. 'I have practically finished one.' The painting referenced is thought to be Landscape with Pope/Dictator, completed that year. Situated against a classical colonnade, with his mouth open in a scream, the work captures the artist’s early response to Velázquez. Portrait of Pope Innocent X was, he believed, a fundamentally human image, with glimmers of vice lurking beneath the pontiff’s regal façade. 'If you look at Velazquez, his greatness is his interest in people’, he explained; '… Velazquez came to the human situation and made it grand and heroic and wasn’t bombastic. He turned to a literal situation and made an image of it, both fact and image at the same time. The Pope [Pope Innocent X] is like Egyptian art; factual, powerfully formal and unlocks valves of sensation at all different level’ (F. Bacon, quoted in Hugh M. Davies, Francis Bacon: The Early and Middle Years, 1928-1958, New York 1978, p. 99). The connection between Pope, tyrant and ancient art would become a driving force in Bacon’s progressive analysis of the pontiff as a 'tragic hero'.
Extending the theme of crucifixion that ran throughout his early work, Bacon’s first Popes were presented in the manner of torture victims. Where Velázquez’s protagonist harboured his secrets in stony silence, Bacon’s early figures erupted into primal screams of terror – a motif inspired in part by Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film Battleship Potemkin. Often housed within cubic space frames resembling cages, their cries detonated the structural integrity of the picture plane. The so-called shuttering effect – vertical ribbons of paint that fractured the surface of the composition – invoked a kind of cinematic distortion that fed into Bacon’s fascination with the effects of the camera lens. After Head VI, these devices were brought together in a number of works during the early 1950s: notably the two Studies after Velázquez of 1950, and the 1953 masterpiece Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (Des Moines Art Center, Iowa). The landmark series of eight Studies for a Portrait, created shortly afterwards, marked a shift in his treatment of the subject: though many were still conceived as open-mouthed phantoms, Bacon’s shuttering gave way to silent black voids, in which the Pope’s writhing head and torso was suspended like a hologram. As the 1950s progressed, the patriarch became increasingly disfigured, culminating in the sequence of six Studies for a Pope in 1961. Here, God’s messenger on Earth is reduced to a series of silent, demented waifs, bound to their thrones as if by a straitjacket. Saddled with the neuroses of post-War society, the Pope is driven to a state of dementia, his features pummeled into abstraction in a manner that anticipates the artist’s portraits of George Dyer, Henrietta Moraes and Isabel Rawsthorne during the 1960s.
Despite the wide emotive range of the Velázquez-inspired Popes, however, it is ironically in his select portraits of Pius that Bacon came closest to matching the spirit of the Spanish master’s silent, brooding vision. Aside from Pope II of 1951 (Kunsthalle Mannheim), which aligns with the early screaming effigies, Bacon’s paintings of the living Pope are predominantly images of repressed turmoil. Pope I (Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum Collections), created the same year, looms within the darkness like an apparition, eyes wide and lips sealed. Small Study for Portrait (Lambrecht-Schadeberg Collection, on permanent loan to the Museum fur Gegenwartskunst Siegen) and Figure Sitting (Stedeljk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent), both executed in 1955, bare their teeth less in a cry than a haunting grimace. Bacon’s celebrated Study of the same year, now held in the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, reduces the Pope to a faceless spectre, shrouded in a veil reminiscent of Titian’s Portrait of Archbishop Filippo Archinto. In Study for Portrait II, completed in 1956, the pontiff hangs his head in despair, concealing his face altogether. Within this grouping, Head with Raised Arm occupies an intriguing position. On one hand, the Pope is bathed in reverential silence, cast in the image of the ancient monument. On the other hand, the noise of his internal struggle is writ large in the cascading vertical motion of the picture plane – a sotto voce reincarnation of his screeching shuttering technique. That images of Pius sat in Bacon’s studio alongside pictures of gesticulating orators and autocrats lends this gesture a disquieting overtone. If Velázquez’s portrait had hinted at the fine line between power and corruption, Head with Raised Arm may be seen as one of Bacon’s most bold extrapolations of the theme. The human, the divine and the monstrous conspire in the depths of its flickering abyss.
BACON’S PORTRAIT HEADS: THE ‘TRAIL OF THE HUMAN PRESENCE’
Described by Michael Peppiatt as ‘the most fertile single decade of his career’, the 1950s was a pivotal period in Bacon’s practice (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, exh. cat., Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, 2006, p. 14). By the time of the present work, he had put an end to his years of wandering and settled in a studio space at Overstrand Mansions in Battersea, where he would remain until 1961. Having represented Britain at the Venice Biennale the previous year, he had also been granted a small retrospective at the ICA in London – the first major solo presentation of his work at a UK institute. If the Popes were part of a broader study of the human condition, they found their counterpart in the artist’s burgeoning corpus of portraits that flourished during this period. Beginning with the 1952 works Study for a Head (Yale Center for British Art) and Study for a Portrait (Tate, London) – both imbued with Papal qualities – Bacon launched a piercing enquiry into the expressive properties of the human head. As the decade progressed, the 24-by-20-inch canvas would become the primary site of these investigations, encompassing anonymous figures, friends – notably Lisa Sainsbury and David Sylvester – as well as a series of studies after the life mask of William Blake. Along with Small Study for a Portrait, Head with Raised Arm is the only Papal portrait executed in these dimensions – a testament, perhaps, to its humanizing narrative. On this compact scale, the head was examined as a twitching nerve centre, animated by neuronal convulsion. The pulsations of the psyche were channelled through the pliable medium of paint, which coagulated in increasingly free-flowing formations across the surface of the canvas. In certain lights, the Pope’s features resonate with those of Peter Lacy – a former Spitfire pilot, whose tempestuous relationship with Bacon reached is denouement shortly after the present work. Bacon’s sojourn at the Imperial Hotel in Henley-on-Thames, and his subsequent move to Battersea, had provided him with an escape from Lacy’s volatile, frequently abusive character. Viewed in this light, the present work’s raised arm may be seen to quiver with the still painful memories of his lover’s violent tendencies.
Partly because of the intimate nature of his response to his subjects, Bacon preferred to work not from life, but from a wealth of secondary material. His studio was a veritable reservoir of photographs, books and newspaper clippings, splattered with paint and crumpled underfoot. So deep was his obsession with photographs of the Velázquez painting that he refused to encounter it in the flesh, believing that it would diminish his carnal response to the image as he knew it. By allowing the portrait to exist as a fiction – as a figment of his imagination – Bacon gave it freedom to merge with the countless other sources that were beginning to consolidate themselves within his mental archive. The motion photography of Muybridge was particularly noteworthy in this regard, and the present work’s blurred hand – captured as if in a moment of rapid elevation – is among the most significant examples of his influence during this period. Sculpture, too, was a fundamental point of reference: from the monuments of antiquity – as evidenced by Bacon’s comparison between Velázquez and Egyptian art – to the bronzes of Auguste Rodin. In Head with Raised Arm, the Pope’s face hovers in the darkness like a Renaissance bust, his cheekbones chiselled with the elegance of Michelangelo. ‘Actually, Michelangelo and Muybridge are mixed up in my mind together’, Bacon would later explain, ‘and so I perhaps could learn about positions from Muybridge and learn about the ampleness, the grandeur of form from Michelangelo’ (F. Bacon, 1975, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, London 1990, p. 114). Infused with statuesque composure yet flickering like a grainy snapshot, the present work is a fitting embodiment of this statement.
'I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them’, wrote Bacon in 1955, ‘… leaving a trail of the human presence and memory trace of past events’ (F. Bacon, quoted in Francis Bacon and the Tradition of Art, exh. cat., Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna, 2004, p. 233). In Head with Raised Arm, the Pope’s spectral form speaks directly to this ambition. Through his intimate zoom-lens, Bacon exposes the pontiff as a frail mortal, whose divinity was held in tension with his inescapable human nature. His drawn, angular features – both skull-like and sculptural – hint at his entombed fate. If wartime salutes and speeches had corrupted the raised arm, perhaps here it ultimately blurs into a gesture of farewell. As his body fades into oblivion, Bacon’s Pope becomes a signifier for the fleeting nature of existence.
Christie’s Fails to Sell Bacon Painting
NATE FREEMAN | MARKET | ART NEWS | FRIDAY 06 OCTOBER 2017
Christie’s netted £99.5 million ($130 million) during its postwar and contemporary art evening auction at its King Street salesroom in London Friday night, securing a sell-through rate of 83 percent. But the sale was defined by a single lot that, once it failed to sell, made for one of the most notable pricing miscalculations in recent auction memory. That work, Francis Bacon’s Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd version 1971, was marketed with an on-request estimate of £60 million to £80 million ($78.4 million to $104.5 million), which, if achieved, would have made it the priciest artwork ever sold at auction in Europe. But Christie’s could not find a buyer in that range, and the lot flopped.
The auction house had been spinning Bacon hagiography for a month, highlighting the fact that the painting hadn’t been seen publicly in 45 years. It was displayed in a cupola room at the house’s headquarters in London for all the people in town for the Frieze Art Fair to gawk over, and beside it wall text explained that the figure in the painting with the Pope, George Dyer, killed himself in a drug overdose two days before the work was first exhibited in Paris. In press releases, Francis Outred, Christie’s chairman and head of postwar and contemporary art, said things like “this painting is quite simply art history.”
Tonight, the culmination of all the frenetic Frieze week activity, auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen started the bidding on the Bacon, the week’s biggest and most-discussed lot. But after opening at £50 million and taking that figure up to £58 million only to find no takers in the salesroom or on the phone, he realized he was below the threshold of £60 million that the seller had agreed upon, and he resigned himself to fate, declaring it a pass.
However, another Bacon, the 24-by-20-inch Head with Raised Arm (1955), which looks like a close-up of one of the artist’s popes during a moment of contemplation (rather than torture), had no trouble finding a buyer. It went for £11.5 million (about $15 million), a bit above its high estimate of £10 million. (All sales prices include the buyer’s premium, unless otherwise noted.)
The sale at least got off to an energetic start, with Pylkkänen announcing that the room was “extremely full. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a good way to end the week and start the weekend.” He added, “It’s been an incredible week for the London art market.” And then he quickly set a world auction record for Grayson Perry, for a glazed earthenware amphora going for £200,000, naturally hammering for around its high estimate (£120,000, without premium) as is customary for opening lots in high-profile sale.
Francis Bacon Painting Offered
for $78 Million Fails to Sell
BY KATYA KAZAKINA | ART | BLOOMBERG | FRIDAY 6 OCTOBER 2017
painting by Francis Bacon failed to draw any bids at Christie’s in London after
being offered at auction for 60 million pounds
The unexpected outcome for the star lot of Christie’s evening sale of postwar and contemporary art on Friday drew a collective gasp in the sale room. The auctioneer began soliciting bids at 50 million pounds and continued up to 58 million pounds. None came.
Titled “Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd Version 1971,” the 6.5-foot-tall canvas depicts Bacon’s two most famous subjects: his lover George Dyer and Pope Innocent X. It’s the only work that has both muses in the same composition, Christie’s said. Dyer committed suicide six months after the work was made.
A Christie’s spokesperson said Friday that the piece attracted global attention and the auction house expects strong after-sale interest in it.
A smaller Bacon painting, “Head with Raised Arm" (1955), depicting Pope Pius XII, sold for 11.5 million pounds on Friday, above the high estimate, after the commission was added. Prices include a fee Christie’s charges buyers; estimates don’t
Bacon’s auction record of $142.4 million belongs to the triptych “Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” sold in 2013. “Portrait of George Dyer Talking” brought more than $70 million in 2014, the highest price for a single canvas by the artist.
Christie’s sale is continuing through Friday evening in London. Sotheby’s completed its series of contemporary auctions in London tallying $114.1 million.
“Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd Version 1971”
Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction
Lot 16 A | Sale 14442 | 6 October 2017, London
Francis Bacon (1909 - 1992)
Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd Version 1971
Estimate £60,000,000 – £80,000,000 UNSOLD
Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd Version 1971
signed, titled and date 'Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd version 1971 Francis Bacon' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
78 x 58 1/8in. (198 x 147.5cm.)
Painted in 1971
Cataloguing & details
Artist’s Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist’s Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist’s collection agent.
Marlborough Fine Art, Zurich.
Acquired directly from the above by the previous owner in February 1973.
Thence by descent to the present owner.
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Trucchi, Francis Bacon, London 1976 (illustrated in colour, p. 150).
W. Schmied, Francis Bacon. Commitment and Conflict, Munich 1996, fig. 34, no. 18 (illustrated, p. 27 and illustrated in colour, p. 54).
Francis Bacon. Lo Sagrado y lo Profano, exh. cat., Valencia, IVAM Institut Valencia d’Art Modern, 2003-2004 (illustrated in colour, p. 31).
M. Harrison (ed.), Francis Bacon. Catalogue Raissoné: Volume III 1958-71, London 2016, p. 970, no. 71-04 (illustrated in colour, p. 971).
Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Francis Bacon, 1971-1972, no. 107 (illustrated, p. 137). This exhibition later travelled to Dusseldorf, Kunsthalle.
‘In any one period, there are only a finite number of images with almost limitless connotations. In our time, along perhaps with Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, Duchamp’s Le Grand Verre and a Giacometti Femme debout, Bacon’s Popes are … a centrepiece of the whole of twentieth-century art’
‘A compact and chunky force of nature, with a vivid and highly unparsonical turn of phrase, [George Dyer] embodied a pent-up energy. As a spirit of mischief, touched at times by melancholia, he had been the subject, and the inspiration, of some of Bacon’s greatest images’
‘Not an hour goes by when I don’t think about George’
‘[Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd version 1971] is the final work in the series. Once again, Bacon introduces an element that complicates the spatial situation and sharpens the challenge to the viewer’s perceptions. The element in question is the mirror, an inherently ambivalent image that can also be read as a window. Here, too, the backrest of the throne has the function of a picture within a picture, but in this case it is extended to form a triptych, a winged altarpiece whose two side-panels are folded out so that the viewer sees only their inner surface’
‘I was drinking with John Deakin, who had just done some photographs for me, and lots of others. George was down the far end of the bar and he came over and said, “You all seem to be having a good time. Can I buy you a drink?” And that’s how I met him. I might never have noticed him otherwise’
‘In the lives of all of us there is a human being whom we least wish to lose. Bacon sustained that particular loss at the time of his retrospective exhibition in Paris in 1971-1972. He bore it with a stoicism for even Homer would have been hard put to find words; but in his real life – his life as a painter, that is to say – it came to the fore over and over again’
‘I think [Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X] is one of the greatest portraits that has ever been made, and I became obsessed by it. I buy book after book with this illustration in it of the Velázquez Pope, because it just haunts me, and it opens up all sorts of feelings and areas of – I was going to say – imagination, even in me’
‘It is true, of course, the Pope is unique. He’s put in a unique position by being the Pope, and therefore, like in certain great tragedies, he’s as though raised onto a dais on which the grandeur of this image can be displayed to the world’
‘You’re more conscious of the fact that nine-tenths of everything is inessential. What is called “reality” becomes so much more concentrated and can be summed up with so much less’
‘The tragic hero is necessarily somebody who is elevated above other men to begin with’
‘Bacon’s space subverts our habit of seeing, abandoning perspective and breaking up the familiar appearance of our everyday surroundings ... All Bacon’s spaces are conceived with human life in mind. Every corner of the space is related to a person, whose presence charges it with extreme tension. It is only through the figure that we really see the space and, in turn, only through the space that we learn to see the individual human being. That is its function. The purpose of space is the revelation of the human’
On 26 October 1971, the Grand Palais in Paris opened its landmark retrospective of Francis Bacon’s work. It was a career-defining moment for the artist, newly anointed ‘Britain’s greatest living painter’. Among the distinguished canvases exhibited was Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd version 1971, painted earlier that year: a grand finale to his celebrated body of Papal portraits. In this rare masterpiece, for the first and only time in his oeuvre, Bacon had united his two greatest obsessions. Reworking the 1962 canvas Study from Innocent X, the artist staged a haunting encounter between the Pope and George Dyer – his great muse and lover. Tinged with ghostly pallor, Dyer’s spectral likeness was brought face to face with the pontiff, confronting his gaze like a mirrored reflection. Throughout the rooms of the Grand Palais, his visage loomed large, enshrined in the ardent brushwork of Bacon’s finest portraits. In the flesh, however, Dyer was painfully absent. Less than thirty-six hours earlier, he had been found dead in his hotel room, having taken his own life. As words of praise for Bacon filled the gallery, lauding his contribution to contemporary art, the artist did his best to conceal his grief. Unbeknownst to the eminent guests who admired the painting that day, it now stood as a tragic premonition of Dyer’s fateful end.
Unseen in public for forty-five years, Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd version 1971 offers a deeply poignant conclusion to one of the twentieth-century’s most important bodies of work. Inspired by Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, Bacon’s output of the 1950s and early 1960s had been dominated by visions of the Il Papa: a man tortured by the weight of his own authority. As the years progressed, his face was replaced by that of Dyer: an equally conflicted character, whose sharp, handsome exterior belied a troubled past. The tension that Bacon identified in the Papal condition – a combination of power and vulnerability – was one that he also saw in his beloved muse. In Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd version 1971, the two figures are bound together like twisted alter-egos: icons of the spirit and the flesh – the sacred and profane – juxtaposed in the manner of a devotional diptych. Their faces are thickly worked with vigorous impasto, lit by streaks of lead white paint. Visceral tangles of marbled pigment writhe within the Pope’s cloaked body, extending from his torso in a single holographic sweep. A glowing, contrapuntal duet of green and cerulean strokes circles his form, whilst the crystalline blue of Dyer’s backdrop is tinged with faint residue of the pontiff’s scarlet palette. In contrast to the work’s 1962 predecessor, here Bacon offsets his dynamic painterly brushstrokes with flat, intersecting planes and passages of bare canvas, creating a stark amphitheatre of colour, geometry and formal abstraction. The cubic space frame that houses the Pope is flanked by two curved wing mirrors, producing a luminous tripartite screen that seems to anticipate the legendary ‘black triptychs’ painted in the wake of Dyer’s death. For both subjects, it was the end of an era. A cord hangs between them, as if – with a fatal swipe – their light might be extinguished at any moment.
Bacon’s Papal portraits are widely regarded as the paragon of his artistic enquiries. From the early screaming phantoms to silent, demented creatures that followed, Bacon repeatedly cast the Pope as a victim of his own status, tormented by his position as God’s messenger on Earth. ‘It is true, of course, the Pope is unique’, he explained. ‘He’s put in a unique position by being the Pope, and therefore, like in certain great tragedies, he’s as though raised onto a dais on which the grandeur of this image can be displayed to the world’ (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1975, p. 26). Fascinated by Velázquez’s portrait, yet loathe to encounter it in the flesh, Bacon preferred to work from a printed reproduction of the image, deforming and remodelling its protagonist according to the impulses of his nervous system. His depictions of Dyer, too, were born of the same strategy, filtered through a reservoir of memories and photographs. Both figures, for Bacon, exemplified the magnificence and fragility of human existence, giving rise to portraits that were brutal and impassioned in equal measure. As the artist prepared for his exhibition at the Grand Palais – an accolade granted to no other living painter except Picasso – the present work acknowledged the dual space these subjects occupied in his psyche. The deadlock between them would be resolved in the subsequent Study of George Dyer, executed the following month, in which Bacon’s tragic muse usurps the pontiff from the centre of the composition. Together, these works represent the final images of Dyer painted during his lifetime.
GEORGE DYER: A TRAGIC PREMONITION
Though no-one could have predicted the dark shadow that would fall upon Bacon’s Parisian triumph, the Grand Palais retrospective was nonetheless a fitting tribute to Dyer’s role within his practice. As the exhibition made plain, his face had fundamentally redefined the parameters of twentieth-century portraiture. There was the early triptych Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (on pink ground), painted shortly after their first meeting. There was Portrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle: a masterpiece from 1966 now held in the Fondation Beyeler, Basel. Two Studies of George Dyer (Sara Hildén Art Museum, Tampere) and Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid), both painted in 1968, were joined by numerous additional paintings of Dyer that collectively charted Bacon’s achievements of the 1960s. ‘In the lives of all of us there is a human being whom we least wish to lose’, wrote John Russell. ‘Bacon sustained that particular loss at the time of his retrospective exhibition in Paris in 1971-1972. He bore it with a stoicism for which even Homer would have been hard put to find words; but in his real life – his life as a painter, that is to say – it came to the fore over and over again’ (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1992, p. 151). Dyer’s likeness would continue to haunt Bacon’s canvases for the rest of his career, most immediately in the powerful series of triptychs created in his memory. In these works – now held in institutions including the Fondation Beyeler and Tate, London – the artist made a fervent attempt at catharsis, pouring his grief and guilt into near-cinematic tableaux. Perhaps the present painting, with its prophetic overtones, lingered in his mind as he strove to exorcise his despair. Its curious tripartite screen, imprinted with Dyer’s image, would be transformed into vast, triple-panelled imaginings of his lover’s death.
Almost exactly eight years earlier, in the autumn of 1963, Bacon and Dyer had met for the first time: a now-legendary encounter that took place in a Soho pub. ‘I was drinking with John Deakin, who had just done some photographs for me, and lots of others’, recalled Bacon. ‘George was down the far end of the bar and he came over and said, “You all seem to be having a good time. Can I buy you a drink?” And that’s how I met him. I might never have noticed him otherwise’ (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p. 259). The two men quickly struck up a rapport, and over the next few years Dyer became Bacon’s lover, muse and dependent. A handsome man who took meticulous care of his appearance, he wore a uniform of clean-cut suits and narrow ties tightly knotted around the neck. Around thirty years old at the time, his distinctive good looks and classical proportions reminded Bacon of the lithe figure studies undertaken by his hero Michelangelo. Beneath Dyer’s debonair façade, however, lay an anxious, emotionally fraught character. Raised in the East End of London, he had fallen to petty theft at a young age, and was frequently crippled by a sense of purposelessness. His innate vulnerability, combined with his athletic, near-sculptural figure, provided Bacon with a fascinating double-edged subject. The tumultuous nature of their relationship – passionate and tempestuous – inspired a painterly dynamism that simultaneously deformed and caressed. As Michael Peppiatt has observed, ‘however great the liberties Bacon had taken in pulling apart and remaking the appearance of his other friends, with Dyer he reached a maximum intensity, not only paint pummelling his features into near-extinction but creating complex visual conceits, brilliant puns on seeing unlike anything he had attempted before’ (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p. 261).
Throughout Bacon’s oeuvre, Dyer was frequently portrayed as a doubled image, captured in motion, in speech, or in a mirror. He was, as Russell put it, ‘a compact and chunky force of nature’, who fundamentally ‘embodied pent-up energy’ (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1993, pp. 160-65). For Bacon, Dyer was eternally conflicted: a man whose inner turmoil was palpable in every aspect of his carefully-poised exterior. Punctuated by sharp mood swings and fits of emotion, their relationship grew increasingly fractured towards the end of the 1960s – a source of great sadness to the artist. It is perhaps significant, then, that in the present work Dyer undergoes something of a transformation. He is no longer ‘pummelled’ and ‘pulled apart’, but rigid, clear and still as a statue. His features, so often distorted beyond recognition, are unmistakably his own. He is consigned to a reflection: a spectral apparition, who peers into the composition as if through an outside window. Under the watchful gaze of the Pope, he is reduced to a funereal shadow of his former self, positioned – as it were – beyond the veil. For many years, Bacon had acted as something of a father figure to Dyer, loving and nurturing in spite of his mercurial tendencies. Here, as their strained relationship reached its climax, he is brought to judgment before the ultimate patriarch. Though the subsequent Study of George Dyer restores him to muscular, carnal glory, the present work’s macabre vision is eerily prophetic. ‘Not an hour goes by when I don’t think about George’, Bacon confessed; ‘… one of the terrible things about so-called love, certainly for an artist, is the destruction’ (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Gale and C. Stephens (eds.), Francis Bacon, exh. cat., London, Tate Britain, 2009, p. 262). In Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd version 1971, Bacon gives voice to his own fear: that Dyer, for all his flaws, might one day be no more than a pale, motionless memory.
PAINTING IL PAPA: BACON’S LAST POPE
Bacon’s meeting with Dyer in 1963 coincided with the arrival of a new set of subjects. Whilst the 1960s would be marked by portraits of his closest friends – a colourful cast of Soho characters who congregated in Wheeler’s restaurant, the Colony Room Club and other local haunts – the previous two decades had been dominated by another obsession: the head of the Catholic Church. Though seemingly far-removed from his worldly circles of artists, models and bar owners, Bacon’s depictions of the Pope fundamentally established the conceptual scope of his subsequent portrait practice. For Bacon, the Supreme Pontiff – a man bound eternally to his station – embodied in extreme terms the existential anxieties of all mankind. Fascinated by men of power, Bacon was attracted to the tragic combination of authority and entrapment latent in the Pope’s status. Taking to task the ultimate establishment figure – immortalised by the Old Masters and deified by the media – Bacon transformed the Pope into a vessel for the woes of post-War society, saddled with its fears and denatured by its neuroses. We exist but ‘for a second’, Bacon once claimed, ‘brushed off like flies on a wall’ (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1990, p. 133). By stripping away the trappings of Papal infallibility to reveal the complex, fragile spirit beneath, Bacon sought to expose the fleeting nature of existence – a state that, in many portraits, erupted into a primal scream of terror. In his depictions of the Pope, created over nearly twenty years, Bacon launched a painterly interrogation of the human condition that would guide his portraits of Lucian Freud, Isabel Rawsthorne, Henrietta Moraes, Muriel Belcher – and, perhaps more than any other, George Dyer.
A select handful of Bacon’s Popes were modelled on processional photographs of Pope Pius XII, who reigned from the outbreak of the Second World War until 1958. However, it was Velázquez’s time-honoured Portrait of Pope Innocent X that undoubtedly had the biggest impact on his psyche. Bacon had first discovered the image in reproduction around 1946, and immediately developed what he would later describe as a ‘schoolboy crush’ on the image. ‘I think it is one of the greatest portraits that has ever been made, and I became obsessed by it’, Bacon explained. ‘I buy book after book with this illustration in it of the Velázquez Pope, because it just haunts me, and it opens up all sorts of feelings and areas of – I was going to say – imagination, even in me’ (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1990, p. 24). Bacon’s attempts to unmask the Pope’s sanctity were in many ways born of the profoundly human tensions he perceived within Velázquez’s portrait: a momentary glimpse of man’s raw animalism, fundamentally at odds with the holy Papal office. As photographs of Bacon’s studio have revealed, his various reproductions of the painting rubbed shoulders with images of wartime dictators and henchmen, testifying to his preoccupation with the fine line between power and corruption. Bacon characteristically preferred to work from secondary sources rather than encountering his muses first-hand: a method, he felt, which allowed him to transcend literal appearance and drill down to the existential core of his subjects. ‘I think it’s the slight remove from the fact, which returns me onto the fact more violently’, he told David Sylvester. ‘Through the photographic image I find myself beginning to wander into the image and unlock what I think of its reality more than I can by looking at it’ (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interview with Francis Bacon, London 1987, p. 30). Created without ever having seen Velázquez’s original painting, Bacon’s Papal portraits were among the first works on which this method was truly brought to bear.
Building on the theme of crucifixion that ran throughout his early work, Bacon’s initial Popes took the form of opened-mouthed ghouls, pinned down in cages and shuttered into oblivion. From the inaugural Head VI of 1949 (Arts Council Collection, Southbank), through the first major trio of Popes in 1951, to the seminal Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X of 1953 (Des Moines Art Center, Iowa) and the ensuing series of eight Studies for a Portrait, Bacon’s figures actively sought to escape their condition, depicted as writhing beings whose cries detonated the structural integrity of the picture plane. By the early 1960s, these ethereal figures had contorted into deformed, demented creatures, incapacitated and silenced by their own paranoia. The six Studies for a Pope of 1961 present tensile, muted figures, rooted to their chairs is if bound by straitjackets. Study from Innocent X represents an extension of this series, and stands among the last Popes Bacon produced before the present work. Collectively, these tormented beings have been variously interpreted as self-images, much in the way that many of the German Expressionists cast themselves as prophets, priests and martyrs. In this regard, Bacon’s decision to revisit the Pope in 1971 – and to pair him with the muse that succeeded him – takes on a new degree of poignancy. Much like Dyer himself, the Pope is flattened into stark, planar existence, stripped of his former physical substance. The figures confront each other like paintings on a wall or images on a television screen; the Papal throne becomes a canvas – or, to follow the filmic analogy, an illusory digital space. Painted as Bacon prepared to place his life’s work under scrutiny in the cavernous chambers of the Grand Palais, the Pope becomes a projection of his own anxieties. For the first time in his oeuvre, Bacon’s pontiff is watched – viewed – by another. In the grand finale to the series, the Pope stands as a symbol of art and image-making itself, ‘raised onto a dais’ before the eyes of the world.
1962-1971: PAINTERLY EVOLUTIONS
By virtue of its direct link to an earlier work, Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd version 1971 offers a unique insight into the evolution of Bacon’s painterly language during his most important decade. It was during this period that the diverse strands pursued during the 1940s and 1950s began to coalesce into a powerful visual lexicon: one of visceral, fleshy animations, in which thick twists of pigment brought the raw essence of his subjects, writhing and twitching, to the very surface of the canvas. What Bacon sought, as he later put it, was ‘a concentration of reality and a shorthand of sensation’: one in which the interior pulsations of a person were made visible in the depiction of their external features (F. Bacon, quoted in ‘Interview with Melvin Bragg’, South Bank Show, LWT, London 1985). The pain, fear and paranoia he had excavated from the sacred image of the Pope paved the way for his familiar portraits of the 1960s, in which currents of lust, rivalry, devotion and sexual intimacy coursed through their painterly veins. As the 1970s dawned, however, Bacon’s bid to distil sensation to its purest form led him to cast a reductive light on his working methods. Gradually, the human body was relocated to stark, airless vacuums: clinical geometric chambers where Bacon’s convulsing anatomies could be placed under deeper examination. ‘You’re more conscious of the fact that nine-tenths of everything is inessential’, he explained. ‘What is called “reality” becomes so much more concentrated and can be summed up with so much less’ (F. Bacon, quoted in Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2009, p. 237). The swirling painterly vortex of Study from Innocent X, rendered with thick intuitive streaks of impasto, is thus boiled down to a series of deeply saturated colour fields, with vast swathes of canvas left bare. All sense of carnal motion is reserved for the figures’ faces and limbs, which swarm with activity like cells under a microscope.
This sense of zooming in on his subjects is amplified by the linear space-frame within which the figures are contained. A constant in Bacon’s oeuvre since his earliest Popes, the cubic structure was conceived as a perceptual tool, often compared to the Chinagraph marks used in photography to delineate areas for enlargement. ‘I cut down the scale of the canvas by drawing in these rectangles’, he said, in order to ‘concentrate the image down. Just to see it better’ (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p. 40). In his works of the 1950s, this device masqueraded as a ‘cage’ of sorts – comparable to those of Alberto Giacometti – in which his subjects’ inner existential turmoil was brought into focus. Whilst this was certainly true of Study for Innocent X, the present work offers a more nuanced treatment of the motif. The sides of the cube that flank the Papal throne are transformed into mirrors, creating a kind of folded screen that foreshadows the sequential, filmic quality of the later triptychs. The figure’s interior dialogue is played out less in the force of the surrounding brushwork than in the imagery projected onto these planes – namely, the lingering spectre of Dyer himself. The edges of the frame not only delineate the physical presence of the subject, but ultimately stand as a metaphor for the architecture of Bacon’s own subconscious – the only space in which his two tragic heroes had ever coexisted. A red ellipse hovers at the centre of the composition – a structure that increasingly came to dominate his later oeuvre. Frequently read as a signifier for the artist’s all-seeing eye, here it confronts the viewer as an unblinking, bloodshot lens, boring into the depths of the psyche. As Bacon’s dialogue with Velázquez becomes a dialogue with himself, visions past, present and future combine. The result is not only a poignant meeting of muses, but a sharp metaphysical commentary on the complex relationship between artist, subject and viewer.
A portrait of the artists as a pair of young wastrels
Outsiders, gamblers, brawlers: Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon had a volatile friendship which flourished wildly but ended badly
JEFFREY MEYERS | FEATURES | STANDPOINT MAGAZINE | MONDAY 25 SEPTEMBER 2017
In 1945 Lucian Freud asked Graham Sutherland to name the greatest living English painter and to Freud’s surprise he named Francis Bacon. Sutherland then introduced them and initiated a close but volatile friendship — based on similar temperaments, social life and art — that lasted for 30 years.
Both artists had a distinguished lineage, but different attitudes toward their background. Bacon was descended from his namesake, the eminent philosopher and statesman who, as Lord Chancellor under James I, was charged with corruption, dismissed from office and imprisoned. Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man described the fall of great figures from high office: “If parts allure thee, think how Bacon shin’d / The wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind.” Alluding to Pope’s poem but leaving out the devastating “meanest”, Freud called his friend, who was certainly not wise, “the wildest and wisest man he had ever met”. Bacon, descended from the intellectual nobility, did not value his ancestry. Lucian, the grandson of Sigmund Freud, was extremely proud of his heritage.
Both men were outsiders in London: Bacon was born in Dublin, Freud in Berlin. They came to England in boyhood and kept noticeable accents. Both had been threatened by an early death: Bacon had near-fatal asthma and continued to wheeze; Freud had escaped from the Holocaust. Both were mad about horses — Bacon’s father bred them — and as boys they had hero-worshipped the grooms. At Dartington Hall school Freud — like Gulliver after escaping from the Yahoos — slept in the stables with the horses, and also rode the most dangerous ones. Freud’s teenaged sculpture of a thick-limbed, three-legged horse, bent into the shape of a horseshoe, won him a place in a London art school, and he later painted several horses.
Both artists were compulsive gamblers. Freud explained this mad attraction in an equine metaphor: “The excitement is like nothing else: galloping home on the straight . . . I’m stimulated by debt . . . The only point of gambling is to have the fear of losing and when I say losing I mean losing everything. It has to hurt.” When completely cleaned out, he was free to return to his other obsession: his art: “When I lost everything — which was quite often, since I’m so impatient (except with working, where patience isn’t quite the point) — I always thought, Hooray! I can go back to work.” After William Acquavella became his art dealer in 1992, he agreed to settle Freud’s staggering gambling debts, which amounted to £2.7 million.
Both Bacon and Freud were extravagant spenders who, when flush, carried and dispersed thick wads of cash. For a long time Freud was financially dependent on Bacon’s generous subsidies. He would pull out a thick pack of £50 notes and casually declare, “I’ve got rather a lot of these, I thought you might like some of them.” After Freud had married the wealthy heiress Caroline Blackwood, he reciprocated by using her money to finance Bacon’s trip to the fleshpots of Tangier.
To the young and impressionable Freud, Bacon (13 years older) was a tempestuous, flamboyant and charismatic model. He embodied Nietzsche’s dynamic amoralism and defied all the rules of conventional behaviour. Both artists were charming, shameless and cruel, and revelled in what Bacon called an “atmosphere of threat”. Often on the run or hiding out, they led priapic private lives: Bacon was homosexual, Freud hetero. Mixing in high and low society, consorting with royalty and criminals, they patronised louche Soho drinking clubs, the Gargoyle and the Colony, where Bacon wittily toasted: “Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends.”
Both were violent and belligerent battlers. At the slightest provocation, Freud would punch people who annoyed him. Bacon, who liked to be beaten up, once seduced a Cockney burglar who broke into his studio in the middle of the night. George Dyer remained his most important lover until he committed suicide in 1971. Though Bacon encouraged punch-ups all his life, he ironically gave Freud lessons in polite deportment. He asked his friend why he always got into fights, suggested he adopt a less abrasive manner, and urged him to “use your charm.”
The artists were inseparable in the 1950s and 1960s. They exhibited together at the Venice Biennale in 1954, which included Freud’s great portrait of Bacon, and travelled to Paris to see the Ingres centennial exhibition in 1967. Caroline Blackwood declared, in a misleading statement frequently quoted in books on Freud, “I had dinner with Bacon nearly every night for more or less the whole of my marriage to Lucian” from 1953 to 1957. This was a considerable exaggeration, since she and Freud spent a year in Paris during their marriage, but suggests Bacon’s omnipresence in their lives. Michael Peppiatt reports that Freud and Bacon attended a notorious postwar London ball “at which Princess Margaret seized the microphone to sing Cole Porter songs to a captive audience until a fearlessly derisive Bacon booed so loudly she was forced to flee” from an audience both appalled and relieved.
On one occasion, writes Andrew Sinclair, during a dinner at Wheeler’s in Soho, Bacon “came into the restaurant declaring that he had heard from his doctor that his heart was in tatters and was hardly functioning. Rarely had such a diseased organ ever been examined. If he touched another drink, his useless heart would fail. He then ordered a bottle of champagne, and then another bottle and another . . . [Freud and Blackwood] took the diagnosis seriously and believed that Bacon would soon be dead, but he went on drinking prodigiously until his eighties.” After Freud’s marriage broke up, mainly destroyed by his ruinous gambling, Bacon worried that his severely depressed friend might commit suicide and urged his pals to keep a close watch on him.
Bacon and Freud also had important artistic similarities. Both worked in filthy and chaotic studios. At a time when abstract art was dominant, they opposed the prevailing fashion by creating figurative paintings that convey emotional intensity. Their portraits did not attempt to reproduce the actual appearance of the models, but revealed their essential characters. But their methods of work and styles of painting were very different. Distracted by models in his studio, Bacon preferred to paint alone and used photographs of his subjects. Freud observed, “I could never put anything into a picture that wasn’t actually there in front of me.” Wyndham Lewis called Bacon “a Grand Guignol artist: the mouths in his heads are unpleasant places, evil passions make a glittering white mess of the lips”. Employing intuitive spontaneity and whirling brushwork, Bacon declared, “If anything ever does work in my case, it works from that moment when consciously I don’t know what I’m doing.”
reud was impressed by Bacon’s reckless use of newspapers and rags, the wooden end of his brush and even his hands to smear the details and express the passion in his work. Astonished by and unable to compete with Bacon’s productivity, Freud recalled, “Sometimes I’d go round in the afternoon and he’d say, ‘I’ve done something really extraordinary today.’ And he’d done it all in that day. Amazing.” Comparing his early work to Bacon’s, Freud noted that his friend’s art “related immediately to how he felt about life. Mine on the other hand seemed very laboured.
Bacon, whose blurred faces were both a caress and an assault, painted the brutality of fact. Freud, who created anguished but exquisitely delineated figures, was the Ingres of Existentialism. Influenced by his Germanic heritage and the precise linear tradition of Holbein and Dürer, the young Freud established his ambience and mood with slow and patient scrutiny, with meticulous detail and riveting attention. His masterpieces, the high point of his career before he changed his style, were his 1952 portraits of Caroline Blackwood, which are as sensuous and stunning as Botticelli’s Venus.
Bacon had achieved fame decades before Freud and impressed the younger artist by his work and the force of his personality. Freud later remembered Bacon “as the man who amused and excited [him] by talking about paint carrying the form and packing a lot of things into a single brush-stroke”. In order to paint as fluently as Bacon, Freud stopped drawing and changed to a thicker and more painterly style of clashing brush strokes. Sebastian Smee notes that the influence occasionally went both ways. Bacon, “insecure about his own lack of facility as a draftsman, was also eager to learn what he could from his younger friend.”
Bacon painted 19 portraits of Freud, 14 of them between 1964 and 1971 modelled on photographs by his friend John Deakin. Bacon’s earlier Portrait of Lucian Freud (1951) was based on a photograph of the young Franz Kafka in Max Brod’s biography. Bacon portrays Freud with tiny eyes, thick chin and bangs of hair hanging down the forehead of his long narrow face. Wearing a dark suit and tie, standing in front of a doorway and casting a dark shadow on the white foreground, Freud looks like a criminal lurking on a dark street in a Hollywood film noir.
The painting doesn’t look like either Kafka or Freud. Smee asserts, “What Kafka had to do with Freud is impossible to say.” But it is possible to see, as Bacon did, Freud’s significant resemblance to Kafka, who died two years after the artist was born. Both the Kafka and Freud families came from cities — Prague and Vienna — in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. Both men were thin, handsome, Jewish, German-speaking, avant-garde artists, who felt (in Freud’s words) that “the task of the artist is to make the human being uncomfortable.” Like Kafka, Freud assaults and disturbs the sensibilities of his audience. Freud dismissively recalled this portrait: “I sat for one picture, and I thought it was pretty good a bit before the end, then he spoilt it.”
In 1964 Bacon painted a divided two-panel Double Portrait of Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach, pairing Freud with his Berlin-born fellow émigré and close friend. Both, in white T-shirts and no trousers, have grotesquely deformed features and monstrously misshapen legs. They recline on huge red divans, enclosed by strangely tilting and threatening walls. Three years later, in his Portrait of George Dyer and Lucian Freud, Bacon’s suicidal lover wears a dark suit and tie and crosses one leg on his thigh. His swivelling double face, bruised and swollen like a boxer who has just lost a fight, looks toward and away from Freud. The artist is seated next to Dyer, in front of a heavy green curtain and behind a shiny, reflecting table that supports a small cat. Dressed in an open-collar white shirt and grey trousers, Freud clasps his hands on his knee. In both portraits Freud and his companion are distorted and detached from each other. Bacon does not portray Freud’s appearance, but conveys the powerful perception of his tormented genius.
Bacon painted three full-length triptychs of Freud in 1964, 1966 and 1969. Andrew Sinclair writes that in the first one “Freud sprawls with one shoe pulled up, on a kitchen chair placed upon a crimson rostrum with an armchair back. The extreme mobility of his features in conversation and of his arms emphasising his points appear in the smudged outlines of skin and blurs of flesh and repetition of features that was becoming Bacon’s signature.
In the mid-1950s Bacon had sold Freud Two Figures for only £100, and Freud kept this portrayal of Bacon having sex with a lover until his own death. By contrast, the third triptych, sold in 2013 for $142.4 million, set a world record for a painting at auction. Freud fondly recalled, “I used to have a lot of Francis’s paintings that he gave me or I bought . . . He gave me one of the popes with the tassel swinging across — you could almost see it move — and also a picture he did of two figures silhouetted against a blind in the South of France — which was very odd and witty.”
To reciprocate for Bacon’s art, Freud created three portraits of his friend. Sarah Howgate observes that he depicted “a man often hid behind his own blur, and whom the art world has often portrayed as almost beast-like”. Freud noted that Bacon grumbled a bit, as he always did, but “sat well and consistently”. In the pencil sketch Study of Francis Bacon (1952) the eyes in the heavy head gaze downward. Bacon’s open shirt and hands hidden behind his back reveal his naked torso. His trousers seductively folded open at the fly and his vulnerable belly suggest the sexual availability of a rent boy.
Freud’s most powerful portrait of Bacon, about 6 ½ by 4 ½ inches, was painted in 1952 with oil on copper plate while he was sitting knee to knee with his subject. In this detailed, sharply focused close-up, Bacon’s massive, pear-shaped, pillowy asymmetrical head is tilted slightly to the left. His lips are slanted, his heavy-lidded eyes are downcast and look inwards. A strand of hair hangs down his expansive forehead like a scar, and a heavy crease between his eyes and on the side of his nose accentuate his features. His bulging ovoid face — with its alarming pallor, twisted lips and swollen eyes — fills the whole frame and threatens to burst out of it. As Freud captures his alcoholic, masochistic and half-ruined character, Bacon seems trapped and trying to escape from the intense scrutiny in a confined space. This brilliant portrait, on loan from the Tate Gallery, was stolen from a Berlin exhibition in 1988. Freud designed a Wanted poster, modelled on those offering rewards for outlaws in old Western movies. The thieves demanded a ransom of £1 million, which was not paid, and the portrait has never been recovered.
In 1957 Freud painted a third, unfinished, portrait of Bacon in a looser, heavier style that reveals most of his face emerging from a cloudy white background. Bacon has a high forehead, thick eyebrows, heavy-lidded eyes, strong nose and full lips, and a sad fleshy face blotched with red. The picture, interrupted when Bacon left for Tangier, was never completed.
The artists had opposing attitudes to honours as well as to lineage. Bacon scorned and rejected official recognition while Freud sought and accepted it. The older artist, who had insulted Princess Margaret, turned down a knighthood and a Companion of Honour. He strongly disapproved when his younger friend accepted the latter and would have been even angrier in 1993 when Freud welcomed the UK’s highest civilian honour, the Order of Merit. Freud also aroused Bacon’s anger by perversely refusing to loan the coupling men in Two Figures for his second retrospective at the Tate. And Freud aroused Bacon’s wrath when he borrowed but never repaid large sums of money to support his obsessive gambling.
Greig notes that at the Marlborough Gallery in 1968 Freud “felt ignored and sidelined compared to Bacon, who in 1962 had a show at the Tate Gallery and was rapidly gaining a global reputation”. David Hockney thought “Lucian couldn’t countenance the success that Francis was enjoying, particularly in France . . . While he admired Bacon’s ambition, he envied his [international] success.”
But rivalry and jealousy erupted when Freud’s reputation began to match Bacon’s and he could no longer play a subservient role. “When my work started being successful,” Freud declared, “Francis became bitter and bitchy. What he really minded was that I started getting higher prices.” He felt that Bacon’s character “had changed quite a lot, which I think was to do with alcohol. It was impossible to disagree with him about anything. He wanted admiration and he didn’t mind where it came from.
As a child, Bacon had dressed up in women’s clothes and been severely beaten on his father’s orders by his grooms. As an adult, he seemed to feel guilty of a terrible but unspecified crime and developed a masochistic taste for punishment. Freud, who cared deeply about his friend’s wellbeing, became unwillingly involved in Bacon’s sordid spectacles and was shocked by his self-destructive impulses. He was terribly disturbed when Bacon was beaten up by his lover Peter Lacy, who had been a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain and drank himself to death in Tangier. “I was so upset seeing him like this,” Freud exclaimed, “that I got hold of Lacy’s collar and twisted it around.” Ignoring Bacon’s advice, Freud chose violence rather than charm, but Lacy refused to accept the challenge and would not defend himself. Freud admitted he didn’t understand that “the violence between them was a sexual thing”, that Bacon wanted to be beaten up and was furious when Freud interfered with his punishment. After seeing him brutalised by Lacy, Freud stopped talking to Bacon for a long time.
Over the years, as anger and resentment built up, each artist, well aware of his friend’s weaknesses, would zero in on the most vulnerable aspects of his character — vanity and ambition, egoism and jealousy — and they would attack each other’s lack of imagination and debased style. When Freud caustically criticised Bacon in their familiar hangouts, malicious gossips repeated his remarks and Bacon felt wounded and betrayed. He retaliated with sharp-witted retorts that destroyed their old affection: “The trouble with Lucian’s work is that it’s realistic without being real.” Referring to Freud in camp style and using a feminine pronoun, Bacon hit a sensitive spot by declaring, “She doesn’t put herself through the same third degree as her other sitters.” Freud certainly had to dominate and control. He was cruel to his models — friends, wives, lovers and children — who had to sit frozen in uncomfortable positions for many hours at a time and for pictures that went on for months and even years. He became furious if the models were even five minutes late.
At Freud’s 1974 retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, London, Bacon deprecated the German origins of his art: “Well, Lucian’s extremely gifted, but I’ve never been interested in Expressionism.” When Freud said he would not see him again because “his conversation is so repetitious”, Bacon retorted that he would not see Freud again because “his work is so repetitious”. Freud didn’t mind tipping Bacon’s omnipresent former nanny, Jessie Lightfoot, who earned pocket-money by guarding the toilet during her master’s illegal roulette parties. But as anger intensified after a stimulating and inspiring friendship, the combustible artists quarrelled frequently and bitterly until they finally severed all relations. After Bacon’s death in 1992, Freud had the last word with a characteristic equine metaphor that suggested his talent was exhausted: “Here’s the poor old accident standing in his stable with his head down waiting to be harnessed yet again. I wish Francis would go back to being a gentleman, which he was when we first knew him, and leave painting alone.
Francis Bacon Double Portrait of Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach 1964
Francis Bacon painting – Study of Red Pope
Francis Bacon painting
– Study of Red Pope
– to sell for record £60
to sell for record £60 million
A LANDMARK painting by Francis Bacon hidden from the public for almost half-a-century
is set to sell for £60 million
–a record for any art at auction in Europe.
NEWS | THE DAILY EXPRESS | FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2017
Study of Red Pope, from 1971 is the grand finale to Bacon’s celebrated body of Papal portrait. It is also the only painting which unites the Pope with the artist’s great love, George Dyer, who is depicted in the shadow.
Dyer and the Pope were the British artist’s two biggest obsessions and it the painting became a tragic premonition of Dyer’s fateful end when, less than 36 hours before the opening of the career-defining Paris exhibition in 1971, he was found dead.
The painting was acquired by the family of the present owner in 1973 and has appeared in all the major publications dedicated to Bacon’s work – but it has never been shown public.
Christie’s today announced it will be selling Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd version 1971 on October 6 during London’s Frieze Week. They have given it a guide price of £60 million – which will set a record for any artwork sold at auction in Europe.
The auction house has put the large painting, which is almost two-metres high and 1.5-metres wide, on display in London.
Francis Outred, chairman and head of post-war and contemporary art, Christie’s EMERI described the painting as “quite simply art history”.
He said: “If Bacon’s oeuvre was shaped by his devotion to George Dyer and the aftermath of his death provided his darkest and most celebrated triptychs, then this painting represents the ultimate landmark.
“Painted six months before George Dyer would commit suicide on the eve of Bacon’s major retrospective at the Grand Palais, it is a tragic premonition which unites Bacon’s two greatest muses, the Pope and George Dyer for the first and only time
“Against a background of naked canvas, an extraordinary outburst of controlled expression produces a maelstrom of activity, drawing the eye first to the sumptuous symphony of rounded red forms and then to the Pope at the centre of the composition whose own reflection appears in the back of the mirror and George Dyer’s in the front. Dyer’s hand is poised ready to turn off the light.
“Rarely have I seen a single panel carry so much power and profundity, the swipes of colour and scumbling which realise the heads are a sight to behold.
“This painting gives me a shiver down my spine and I am extremely excited to be sharing it with the public this October.
If the painting sells for a £60 million hammer price, the final cost including premiums will exceed the £65 million paid for Giacometti’s life-sized sculpture L’homme qui marche I in 2010.
Legend has it that Bacon and petty thief Dyer first met when the former caught the latter breaking his mews home in Kensington in 1963 – but the reality was they met in a pub.
Over the next eight years, Bacon created at least 40 paintings of Dyer only for his lover to die from a drink and drugs overdose in 1971 – just 36 hours before a major exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris.
In March, a painting of George Dyer by Francis Bacon was sold by Christie’s in New York for £40 million.
The record for a work by Bacon is currently £89 million, set in New York in 2013 for a painting of his friend, Lucian Freud.
Francis Bacon’s painting Study of Red Pope is set to sell for £60 million
The Art Market | Bacon bonanza
The cost of Bacon
MELANIE GERLIS | COLLECTING | FINANCIAL TIMES WEEKEND | SEPTEMBER 16/SEPTEMBER 17 2017
One of the most heart-wrenching paintings by Francis Bacon comes to Christie’s next month (October 6). Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd Version was unveiled at the artist’s 1971-72 retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris. Just 36 hours before, George Dyer — Bacon’s lover and inspiration, who features spectre-like in the painting — had committed suicide in their hotel room.
painting has not been on public view since. “It’s truly and simply art history,”
enthuses Francis Outred, Christie’s chairman of postwar and contemporary art.
Christie’s will offer the work with a £60m-£80m estimate, which would make it the priciest work to sell in Europe this year. It could become the most expensive painting ever sold at auction in London. Accounting for inflation, this record is currently held by Rubens’ The Massacre of the Innocents, which sold for £45m (hammer price) in 2002, the equivalent of £67m in today’s money.
The European seller of the Bacon has turned down Christie’s offer to guarantee the work, according to the auction house.
Francis Bacon’s Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd Version (1971), to be auctioned at Christie’s
Francis Bacon Pope portrait could set record at auction
DAVID SANDERSON | ARTS CORRESPONDENT | THE TIMES | FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 15 2017
The only Francis Bacon painting combining his two great muses could set a British record at auction after being hidden from the public for 45 years. The artist’s Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd Version 1971 was his only work combining his two obsessions, the Pope and his lover George Dyer.
It was first exhibited in 1971 in Paris, only 36 hours after Mr Dyer had died from an alcohol and drug overdose in one of the city’s hotels. Two years later it was bought by the family of the present owner and has never again been seen publicly.
Christie’s announced today that it would be on view at its London offices from the end of the month and would be put up for auction on October 6. The estimate is £60 million, which if met and coupled with a 12.5% buyer’s premium would be the highest price for an artwork sold at auction in Britain. The record for a Bacon at auction is £89 million for his triptych of Lucian Freud, which was sold in the US in 2013.
“This painting is quite simply art history,” Francis Outred, head of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s, said of the work. “Painted six months before George Dyer would commit suicide on the eve of Bacon’s major retrospective at the Grand Palais, it is a tragic premonition which unites Bacon’s two muses, the Pope and George Dyer, for the first and only time.”
Bacon and Dyer had a volatile, alcohol-soaked relationship after meeting in a Soho pub in 1963. His death and the subsequent anguish prompted some of the darkest works in Bacon’s output.
Bacon painted him frequently. He also executed numerous papal portraits, once saying: “He’s put in a unique position by being the Pope, and therefore, like in certain great tragedies he’s as though raised onto a dais on which the grandeur of this image can be displayed to the world.”
Mr Outred said the 1971 work — which was a revisiting of his 1962 canvas Study from Innocent X, itself inspired by Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X — represented the “ultimate landmark” of Bacon’s career.
“If Bacon’s oeuvre was shaped by his devotion to George Dyer and the aftermath of his death provided his darkest and most celebrated triptychs, then this painting represents the ultimate landmark.”
He said he had rarely seen a “a single panel carry so much power and profundity”, adding it gave him a “shiver down my spine”.
“Against a background of naked canvas, an extraordinary outburst of controlled expression produces a maelstrom of activity, drawing the eye first to the sumptuous symphony of rounded red forms and then to the Pope at the centre of the composition whose own reflection appears in the back of the mirror and George Dyer’s in the front. Dyer’s hand is poised ready to turn off the light,” he said.
Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd Version 1971 by Francis Bacon will be on view at Christie’s in London before the auction in October
‘ Lost Francis Bacon
painting of the Pope and
Francis Bacon painting of the Pope
George Dyer could set new auction record
George Dyer could set new auction record
ANITA SINGH | ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR | THE DAILY TELEGRAPH | FRIDAY 15 SEPTEMBER 2017
A ‘lost’ painting by Francis Bacon could become the most expensive art work ever sold in Europe when it goes under the hammer next month.
Carrying an estimate in the region of £60 million, Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd version 1971 unites two subjects that obsessed Bacon during his career: his lover and muse, George Dyer, and the figure of Pope Innocent X.
The canvas has been in a private collection for the past 45 years and never loaned. It was exhibited at the Bacon retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971, then in Dusseldorf the following year, before disappearing from public view.
The painting foretells a tragedy. Bacon met Dyer, a young, East End crook, in a Soho pub in 1963 and their relationship was tempestu
He completed the work in April 1971, to be unveiled at the retrospective in October. Dyer accompanied him to Paris, but the artist had little time to spend with him in the run-up to the show.
Two days before the opening, Dyer took an overdose and was found dead in his hotel bathroom.
A grief-stricken Bacon carried on with the show. He said later: “If I’d have stayed with him rather than going to see about the exhibition, he would be here now. But I didn’t and he’s dead.”
The painting will be sold at Christie’s, London, on October 6. Christie’s believes it could surpass the European record for a work of art sold at auction: £65 million for Giacometti’s Walking Man bronze in 2010. The hammer price for that work was £58 million, with the final figure including buyer’s premium.
If the Bacon painting achieves its £60 million estimate, it will fetch around £67 million with premium added.
Francis Outred, Christie’s head of post-war and contemporary art, hailed the painting as “quite simply art history”. He said: “It is a tragic premonition which unites Bacon’s two greatest muses, the Pope and George Dyer, for the first and only time.”
Dyer is depicted as the Pope’s reflection. The Papal figure is based on the Velazquez portrait of Innocent X that inspired many Bacon works, including a 1962 painting that Bacon had hoped to exhibit at the Grand Palais. However, the owner of that work turned him down, and Bacon embarked on this second version in 1971.
Katharine Arnold, senior specialist at Christie’s, said: “Bacon described himself as almost having a boyhood crush on the painting by Velazquez. And he definitely had a crush, or something more powerful, on George Dyer.
“The painting is very intense. There must have been friction in their relationship at this point, and I’m sure the pressure in the lead-up to the exhibition must have had an impact on Dyer as well.
“There are two sash cords in the picture, as if to turn off a light – it’s almost prophetic. It has this sense of the dramatic. The wall on the right looks blue on first glance, but then you see the reflection of the red.”
The painting was acquired by the family of the present owner in 1973. Arnold said: “London in October feels like the right time to show a masterpiece.”
It will not be the most expensive Bacon painting ever sold. That record is held by Three Studies of Lucian Freud, a triptych that went for £89 million in New York in 2014.
Francis Bacon and George Dyer on the Orient Express in 1964
Pope painting by Francis
Bacon to go
Pope painting by Francis Bacon to go
on sale after 45 years hidden away
sale after 45 years hidden away
Estimated to be worth £60m, the painting depicts a slumping pope
whose formless body is capped by a drunk’s red nose
JONATHAN JONES | CULTURE | THE GUARDIAN | FRIDAY 15 SEPTEMBER 2017
The pope’s body is a spiralling heap of sausages wrapped in white and pink robes. Go closer, and even stranger physical images arise: brown smears over his fleshy hands look disturbingly faecal. You could almost believe it, if this were not a £60m – or more – masterpiece soon to go on sale in the opulent setting of Christie’s London auction house.
Francis Bacon’s Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd Version 1971 is as close to a new painting by the great bohemian painter who died in 1972 as we are ever likely to see.
The painting was first exhibited in Paris in 1971, six months after Bacon finished it, and was shown in Düsseldorf the following year. Since then it has been locked away by a private collector, who never lent it or showed it.
The gold-framed explosion of velvety red and rose on raw beige canvas has been hidden away for 45 years, said Jussi Pylkkänen, the president of Christie’s.
Pylkkänen will be auctioning this choice cut of raw artistic beef in person early next month, when the world’s art collectors converge on London for the Frieze art fair.
Bacon painted Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd Version 1971 – probably not his best title – at the most intense moment of his life. It was the best of times and the worst of times for the Irish-born artist. He was about to put on a massive one-man exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. As a francophile who was friends with Paris intellectuals including the surrealist Michel Leiris, he cared deeply about how he would be received there.
Yet, Pylkkänen said, Bacon faced a problem. He wanted to include his renowned 1962 painting Study for Innocent X but its owner refused to lend it. With just six months to go before the most important exhibition of his life, Bacon shut himself in his cramped studio at 7 Reece Mews, Kensington to create a new version of a masterpiece.
He was facing a personal as well as artistic crisis. As Bacon painted, his relationship with George Dyer, the small-time East End criminal who was the love of his life, was getting ever more futile. Dyer had descended into an alcoholic malaise, unable to live as Bacon did in a giddily creative permanent champagne high. He was vanishing from Bacon’s life, but invades this painting.
As the pope squirms like a giant silk-clad turd, sitting not on a papal throne but a 1970s swivel chair, the glass booth that encloses him morphs into a mirror in which he sees the figure of George Dyer. This is not the decaying man Dyer had become by 1971. It looks more like the handsome, well-dressed young thug he was when Bacon first met him in a pub in 1963. Wearing a smart suit and tie, his hand elegantly clenched in a proud fist, Dyer is upright, strong and a bit cocky.
Is the slumping pope whose formless body is capped by a drunk’s red nose in fact a portrait of Dyer drunk, looking at a last vision of his former self?
Pylkkänen thinks Bacon was working at an artistic and emotional peak when he painted this furious bloody mary cocktail of artistic ambition and private sorrow.
“There’s something about it that tells me – ‘I’m going to paint a great picture for this show, the last of my popes, with my muse George Dyer in it,’’’ he says.
Bacon succeeded, at least artistically. The exhibition at the Grand Palais would be the greatest triumph of Bacon’s career, raising his reputation to the sublime level it has held ever since. Yet as Bacon got ready for the opening, Dyer killed himself with a drug overdose in their hotel room. Notoriously, there was a conspiracy of silence for two days so the death wouldn’t spoil Bacon’s vernissage.
“We’re talking about £60m,” says Pylkkänen. That’s actually quite a bit less than Bacon’s record of £89.3m for Three Studies of Lucian Freud, so the estimate may be exceeded if bidders get excited enough by the painting’s intense combination of aesthetic and human drama.
“It’s got all the elements that collectors are looking for,” says Pylkkänen.
The president of Christie’s is by definition a good salesman – but his excitement is justified. This modern Baroque marvel proves Bacon was the Caravaggio of the 20th century.
Francis Bacon’s landmark painting, Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd version 1971, at Christie’s in London.
Francis Bacon Pope Portrait
Resurfaces After 50 Years at Christie’s London
Francis Bacon Pope Portrait Resurfaces After 50 Years at Christie’s London
The rediscovered painting measures just 26 by 20 inches, is estimated to sell for £10 million
CHRISTIE’S | ART MARKET | ARTLYST | WEDNESDAY 6 SEPTEMBER 2017
A portrait by the British artist Francis Bacon which has not been seen in public for over 55 years is to be sold at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction, a highlight of London’s Frieze Week auctions. Head with Raised Arm (1955, estimate: £7,000,000 – £10,000,000) will be unveiled for the first time in over half a century as part of the sale.
One of only two known Papal paintings of that size, while most of Bacon’s 50 Pope paintings are inspired by Velasquez, only nine relate to the incumbent Pope, Pius X11. Bacon had a photograph of Pius being carried on his throne through St Peter’s pinned to his studio wall next to images of wartime dictators.
Last exhibited in 1962 at the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Turin, the work was acquired by the present owners the following year. It has remained hidden from public view ever since. The work’s location was listed as ‘unknown’ in the most recent version of the catalogue raisonné published last year by Martin Harrison. Riddled with quiet introspection and human tension, it belongs to a group of nine surviving paintings depicting the then incumbent, Pope Pius XII. With four held in museum collections, and a further on permanent loan, Bacon’s portraits of the living Pope are among his most profound. The work will be on view from 8 September, Christie’s Rockefeller Center, New York; 18 September, Christie’s Hong Kong; and 30 September 2017 at Christie’s King Street as part of the Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction that will take place on the 6 October 2017.
Francis Outred, Chairman and Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art EMERI: “Bacon’s Head with Raised Arm poses the question that would haunt Bacon for the duration of his career: how to paint the human figure in the age of photography. The camera’s ability to cast fiction as truth resonated with the fundamental tension that Bacon identified in religious and political figureheads: a conflict between public image and innate animal instinct. Evoking the works of Eadwaerd Muybridge, as well as anticipating Gerhard Richter’s blurred photo-paintings of the following decade, Head with Raised Arm speaks directly to this theme. Pius was the only living Pope that Bacon would ever look to capture and by hinting at the transience of a figure immortalized through the camera lens, Bacon lifts the veil on his humanity. Illustrated in the first catalogue raisonne created by Ronald Alley with Francis Bacon in 1964 and listed as ‘whereabouts unknown’ in the most recent version by Martin Harrison in (2016), this is a landmark moment, marking the reappearance of a major Bacon portrait after more than 50 years.”
The Pope’s face and arm flicker like moving images caught on camera, animated by a veil of rapid hairline striations. Combed vertically with a fine brush over layers of colour, the work demonstrates Bacon’s dialogue with photography in his bid to capture what he termed ‘the trail of the human presence’. Rare for its closely-cropped depiction of the pontiff’s head and shoulders, the present work confronts its subject on a piercing, intimate scale. It is one of only two Popes executed in Bacon’s jewellike 24-by-20-inch format, aligning it with his first small portrait triptych of 1953. Elected to the papacy in 1939, Pius’s reign had spanned the Second World War, famously inciting accusations of silence in the face of atrocity. As the Church and media sought to uphold his infallibility, the artist cast him as a fragile, flawed being, tortured by the weight of his grand station.
Pursued over nearly two decades, and numbering more than fifty canvases, Bacon’s Papal portraits are widely regarded as his finest achievements. These works were his first and most significant existential enquiries, and stand today among the foremost images of the twentieth century. ‘It’s true, of course, the Pope is unique’, he explained. ‘He’s put in a unique position by being the Pope, and therefore, like in certain great tragedies, he’s as though raised onto a dais on which the grandeur of this image can be displayed to the world’ (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, London 1990, p. 26).
Francis Bacon, Head with Raised Arm (1955)
A “centrepiece of the of the whole of 20th-century art”
Rediscovered Francis Bacon piece to be auctioned at Christie’s
BY COLIN GLEADELL | LUXURY | ART | THE DAILY TELEGRAPH | MONDAY 4 SEPTEMBER 2017
A rediscovered painting by Francis Bacon is to be shown for the first time in over 50 years at next month’s contemporary art sales in London. The 1955 painting of Pope Pius X11 seated on a golden throne, his hand raised in some enigmatic gesture, was last exhibited in 1962 and sold the following year in Turin. Since then it has been locked away in a very private collection.
Even the extensive, 10-year research conducted by art historian, Martin Harrison for the catalogue raisonne of all the artist’s works, published last year, could not uncover its whereabouts and lists the painting, Head with Raised Arm, as ‘location unknown.’ It is the only one of Bacon’s 584 paintings which Harrison could not locate. Christie’s is withholding the identity of the seller, but speculation will be centred around the descendants of Italian collectors, such as film producer, Carlo Ponti, or car manufacturer, Gianni Agnelli, who bought examples of Bacon’s work in Turin at that time.
Bacon’s Papal portraits are considered his finest achievements. They are, writes his biographer, Michael Peppiatt, "not only the centrepiece of all his paintings of the 1950s, but a centrepiece of the whole of 20th-century art."
They began after he saw a reproduction of Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X in 1946 and became obsessed with it, attracted by the idea that an all-powerful religious leader could also be a tragic figure, terrified by the human situation.
Amazingly, he never saw the original, but bought a photograph of it to work from. One of the series, a 76-inch tall Study for Innocent X, sold in 2007 for a then record £26.6 million. The buyer was thought to be shipping heir, Philip Niarchos.
The rediscovered painting measures just 26 by 20 inches, which accounts for the lower £10 million estimate, but is rare - one of only two known Papal paintings of that size. And, while most of Bacon’s 50 Pope paintings are inspired by Velasquez, only nine relate to the incumbent Pope, Pius X11. Bacon had a photograph of Pius being carried on his throne through St Peter’s pinned to his studio wall next to images of wartime dictators.
While his Velazquez inspired paintings are rent with the anguish of a scream, his Pius paintings express a more repressed anxiety. When this was painted, Pius was extremely ill, suffering terrible nightmares and hallucinations. Hardly surprising for a pontiff who had to negotiate Nazism, speak out against persecution and protect the Vatican at the same time.
The Post War & Contemporary Art auction will be held at Christie’s London (8 King Street, St. James’s , SW1Y 6QT) on October 6th at 7pm.
The Duke of Beaufort
Landowner and chairman of Marlborough Fine Art, known for his
raffish reputation and frequent conflicts with hunt saboteurs
OBITUARY | THE TIMES | THURSDAY, AUGUST 17, 2017
Compared with some of his ancestors, the life of David Somerset, 11th Duke of Beaufort, may sound rather ordinary: the 3rd Duke of Beaufort had to prove his sexual potency in front of a crowded court room; the 5th duke’s son served with distinction at Waterloo and is commemorated by a monument on the Cotswold Way; and the 10th duke’s grave was attacked by anti-hunt protesters who tried to exhume his body with the intention of presenting his head to the Princess Royal.
The diarist James Lees-Milne thought otherwise. “David is a moody man, and very restless,” observed Lees-Milne, who for some years lived on the Beaufort family’s 52,000-acre Badminton estate in Gloucestershire. “One would suppose he was born with a handful of silver spoons sticking out of every corner of his mouth. Heir to a dukedom, rich, handsome, successful, courted, blessed with a heavenly and beautiful wife, and four children. What more could a man want, a stranger might ask? He has good health, strength, guts, and above all — charm, that often fatal gift of the gods.”
Somerset found his niche as an art dealer. In 1947 he joined Frank Lloyd and Harry Fischer at Marlborough Fine Art. They had founded the gallery in 1946 and chose to deal in top-tier modern art, much of it acquired discreetly from highborn British families brought low by the war. For entrée they relied on Somerset, whose friendships with many rich and titled people went a long way to making Marlborough a successful enterprise.
By 1952 the gallery was selling late 19th-century works by Pissarro, Sisley, Renoir and others. In 1960 they showed Francis Bacon to huge acclaim, and went on to exhibit work by Henry Moore, Jackson Pollock and Egon Schiele. In time, they were showing Frank Auerbach, Lynn Chadwick, Lucian Freud and Barbara Hepworth. Somerset became chairman in 1977, overseeing the expansion of the gallery in the 1990s into the Chinese art market. He claimed to know nothing about contemporary art, but he learnt from long experience what his clients wanted.
Yet there was no escaping his inheritance. After the Olympic Games of 1948 the 10th duke had founded the Badminton Horse Trials, believing that there was a need to improve the standard of equestrian training in Britain. In the early days the Queen and other members of the royal family were frequent visitors, and in 1959 Somerset rode Countryman III to second place, although later his riding was limited to hunting.
After Somerset inherited the dukedom the royals no longer came to stay, possibly because of his raffish reputation, but he was still involved with those who hunted, including the Prince of Wales, Princess Anne and Princess Michael of Kent. As joint master, with Captain Ian Farquhar, of the Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt he was frequently in conflict with hunt saboteurs, who once tried to pull him out of his vehicle and, he believed, would have kicked him to death.
There were other hunt-related skirmishes, including in 1991 when the duke and Farquhar were in court after their hounds ran riot on a wildlife sanctuary. A decade later there were allegations that he allowed deer carcasses to be dumped on his estate to encourage foxes to feed and breed for the hunt.
Although the duke featured on The Sunday Times Rich List (he was No 748 this year, with assets valued at £150 million), it emerged in 2009 that he had charged council-tax payers in Swansea £281,431 for permission to build a bridge over the River Tawe, historically in his ownership, to link a shopping centre to the city’s Liberty Stadium.
It was perhaps no surprise that Lees-Milne would conclude his assessment of the duke by writing: “He is ruthless yet charming [and] the kindest man alive (perhaps also the cruellest).” The duke’s first wife, Lady Caroline, did not demur. On one occasion, over dinner with Lees-Milne and Patrick Trevor-Roper, the conversation turned to the difference between a cad, a bounder and a shit. Caroline looked at her husband and said: “I know what a shit is. David’s one.”
David Robert Somerset was born in 1928, the son of Captain Henry Somerset, DSO, and his wife, Betty (née Malcolm). David’s elder brother, John, was killed in action in Germany in April 1945, at the age of 20. He had a younger sister, Anne, who died in 1995.
The Somersets are descended from John of Gaunt, the father of Henry IV. The dukedom of Beaufort was created by Charles II in 1682. Since the 17th century the dukes of Beaufort have lived at Badminton House, where the game of badminton was invented in 1863. In 1742 Henry Somerset, the 3rd duke, had tried to divorce his wife for adultery. To the astonishment of 18th-century society the duchess countersued, accusing the duke of impotence. His grace was required by the court to retire behind a screen and perform. The result was a triumphant climax to the trial.
David was educated at Eton and did his National Service as an officer in the Coldstream Guards. In his youth, and indeed into his middle and later years, he was known as the “dashing duke” for his slender good looks. He flew a private aircraft from a landing strip he had built on the estate and in 1988 was included on the International Best-Dressed List. Woodrow Wyatt described him as “the great woman slayer”, while Taki Theodoracopulos, the Greek gossip columnist, recalled heavy partying with Somerset and Gianni Agnelli, the Italian industrialist, who would wake the next morning and ask: “Tell me what happened last night. Were the tarts pretty?”
In 1950 Somerset married Lady Caroline Thynne, daughter of the 6th Marquess of Bath and sister of the current marquess. Their wedding, at St Peter’s, Eaton Square, was attended by George VI. They had four children, who all survive him: Henry, known as Bunter, a singer-songwriter who becomes the 12th Duke of Beaufort; Anne, a historian known for her biography of William IV; Edward, a former drug addict who was jailed in 2014 for domestic violence; and John, a freelance record producer and former reggae band manager.
Caroline died of cancer in 1995 and in June 2000 the duke married his mistress, Miranda Morley, a gardener and former debutante about 19 years his junior, who also survives him. She had lived for many years on the estate, although the duke is said to have “whacked” a Daily Express reporter with his walking stick in 1994 after a “scurrilous report that he could count on companionship” from her when the duchess was away.
He did not expect to inherit the dukedom at the age he did. Tragedy struck in 1965 when his father, Bobby Somerset, who had been heir presumptive to the dukedom, and two female passengers drowned when Bobby’s yacht, Trenchemer was hurled against rocks in rough weather off the coast of the Greek island of Rhodes. David now became heir to his cousin, the 10th Duke of Beaufort.
“Master”, as the 10th duke was known, even by his wife, had lived at Badminton all his life and served as Master of the Horse, the third great officer of the royal household. He had married a niece of Queen Mary, but they had no children, although at one time they tried to acquire an heir by adopting a young boy from a branch of the family living in Queensland, Australia. The child’s parents had refused. The 10th duke’s funeral, in 1984, was attended by the Queen, the Queen Mother and other members of the royal family, and his widow lived with the new duke and duchess at Badminton in a twilight world of her own until her death in 1987.
Upon inheriting the title the 11th duke set about doing up Badminton House with considerable imagination and flair, the previous ducal couple having been devoid of aesthetic taste. Without sentiment he disposed of treasures that did not interest him. Most controversially he sent to the sale room the fabulous marble-inlaid Italian Badminton Cabinet, commissioned by the 3rd duke in 1726, where it ended up in the hands of Barbara Johnson, the heiress to the Johnson & Johnson baby powder fortune and was later sold to Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein for £19 million in 2004.
The duke was unrepentant. “I have to find money to pay [inheritance] taxes,” he told The Sunday Times. “At the end of the day, it’s really just a cupboard of which I was never very fond.”
The 11th Duke of Beaufort, landowner and art dealer, was born on February 23, 1928. He died in his sleep on August 16, 2017, aged 89
Spanish police recover three stolen
Francis Bacon paintings
JENNIFER O’BRIEN | IRELAND REPORTER | THE TIMES | JULY 21 2017
Three paintings by Francis Bacon that were stolen from a Madrid apartment have been recovered by Spanish police.
The works were three of five that were taken in a robbery in 2015. The five are estimated to be worth more than €25 million.
Spanish police confirmed that ten people were arrested during the investigation into the robbery at the home of José Capelo, a friend of Bacon’s, who had inherited the paintings after the artist’s death in 1992.
The burglars also made off with a safe containing jewels from the house. A Spanish police statement said that the three works were recovered after a tip-off from a London team specialising in tracking down missing art. Police offered no further details about which paintings had been recovered, or where they were discovered.
In May 2016, police arrested and bailed seven suspects over the stolen works. Three more suspects were arrested in January after police raided homes in Madrid and seized arms, safe-cracking manuals and oxy-fuel cylinders used for cutting metal.
Bacon, who was born in Dublin in 1909, famously had no formal training as a painter, but became one of the best-known surrealist artists of his era.
He drew inspiration from the old masters for his work, in particular Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X which Bacon used as the basis for his own series of screaming popes.
His expressionist-surrealist works, many of which centred around imagery of wounded and traumatised humanity in the postwar era, remain hugely sought after.
In November 2013, his painting, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, sold for €122 million at auction, breaking the record for the highest price paid for an artwork.
It was succeeded 18 months later with the sale of Les Femmes d’Algers, by Pablo Picasso, which sold for €153 million.
Bacon, who was born in Dublin in 1909, became one of the best-known surrealist artists of his era
FRANCIS BACON MB ART FOUNDATION:
AN INTERVIEW WITH MR. BOUSTANY
FOUNDER-DIRECTOR OF THE FRANCIS BACON MB ART FOUNDATION
INTERVIEWS | WORLD ART FOUNDATIONS | TUESDAY 15 AUGUST 2017
The trigger that led to the creation of your Foundation seems remarkable to us; it was the encounter with a work by Bacon and the emotion that followed that put you on this long but passionate path of creating a Foundation. Could you elaborate on that?
My first encounter with Francis Bacon’s oeuvre goes back to my academic years in London in the early 1990s. During a visit to the Tate Gallery, I was confronted with Bacon’s enigmatic triptych, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), which challenged interpretation and triggered in me the need to explore his world. My immersion into the artist’s work, life and creative process began in those years. I discovered early on in my reading that Bacon started visiting Monaco at the dawn of the 1940s. The Principality became his main residence from July 1946 to the early 1950s. Throughout his life he frequently returned to Monaco and the French Riviera with his family, lovers and circle of friends.
Contemplating Bacon’s attachment to and fascination with Monaco, and after having studied the poignant, timeless work of the British painter for a number of years, I started to dream of a concrete project in his memory. Subsequently the creation of a Foundation in Monaco, dedicated to this singular artist, seemed obvious to me. In 2010 I initiated the project thanks to the pivotal support of H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco and the Monegasque authorities. The Estate of Francis Bacon encouraged this unique initiative and Martin Harrison, editor of the artist’s catalogue raisonné, is on the Foundation’s board. On 28 October 2014, the anniversary of the painter’s birth, the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation was inaugurated by the Sovereign.
Monaco was a central point in the life and work of Bacon. Is your Foundation more particularly connected to this?
Bacon had resided in the Principality for four years and continued to visit Monaco until the end of his life. It was there that in the late 1940s he began to concentrate on the representation of the human form, a decisive step that would lead him to be recognised as one of the major figurative artists of the post-war period. It was also in Monaco that Bacon embarked on his papal figures (mainly inspired by the Velázquez’ Portrait of Pope Innocent X), his series of heads, and initiated new working practices.
Our Foundation is dedicated to promoting a deeper understanding of the work, life and creative process of Francis Bacon worldwide. It endeavours to show, through its archives, the very close links connecting the British artist with Monaco and France.
Are you looking to expand your collection or do you think you are more specifically a research centre and initiator of exhibitions?
I have set up an acquisitions policy to regularly enhance my collection (the MB Art Collection) with new items, in order to offer an essential tool for researchers.
Among our various missions, we support research on the artist, publish books on Bacon and take part in the organisation of exhibitions.
On this subject, you initiated the remarkable exhibition “Bacon” in Monaco in 2016, which allowed us to discover a certain number of Bacon’s works rarely or never unveiled, staged in subdued lighting emphasising the light of the paintings.
How did you achieve this feat?
The creation of the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation in October 2014 undoubtedly steered the choice of the Grimaldi Forum towards Francis Bacon for that summer exhibition of 2016 which they organised under the auspices of our Foundation. We naturally participated in the preparation of this exhibition, both through giving advice and by lending paintings and photographs from my collection. The success of this show is also due to Martin Harrison, the exhibition’s curator, as well as to the entire team of the Grimaldi Forum.
What are the Foundation’s links with the Estate of Francis Bacon in London, the trustees of the painter’s heritage?
We regularly work with The Estate of Francis Bacon and collaborate on certain research or editorial projects.
In general, how do you relate to other foundations, museums, universities?
Since our opening in 2014, we have established many links with local and international institutions, such as the Grimaldi Forum, the Fabre museum in Montpellier, the Guggenheim Bilbao, Tate Liverpool, the Beyeler Foundation in Basel, the Condé museum in Chantilly….
As part of its various scholarship programmes, in 2016 the Foundation entered into a partnership with the École du Louvre, with which it undertook to allocate a research scholarship every four years to a postgraduate who is undertaking a PhD thesis on Francis Bacon, or whose PhD thesis has a direct link with the British artist.
We have also established a partnership with the Villa Arson, with whom the Foundation is committed, from this year, to awarding a scholarship every two years to an artist who has graduated from Villa Arson with the national diploma of advanced artistic expression. This financial support will provide crucial help for the young artists at the beginning of their professional life and artistic career.
The visit to your Foundation can only be done a drop at a time, the privileged visitor being entitled to a guided tour. Do you plan, in the course of your success, to open your Foundation more or remain with this exclusive formula?
When I initiated the project of a Bacon foundation in Monaco, I wanted to create a study and research centre, but also an institution open to the public. The Foundation is open to researchers, and to the public throughout the year, by appointment only. It provides a singular way for visitors to immerse themselves in Bacon’s oeuvre, by offering them a free guided tour lasting an hour and half through which they can discover about one hundred pieces of my collection.
I do not think I will abandon this principle because I wish to maintain this harmonious balance between the opening of our institution to art historians and its opening to the public.
What are the projects which you would like to let us know about?
Among our recent
projects, we have just completed the re-edition of the Foundation’s book, which
has been expanded with additional texts, testimonies and photographs.
We have also conducted a series of filmed interviews about Bacon with artists, photographers and friends of the painter, which will be accessible by the end of the year on the Foundation’s website.
Finally, we are considering changing the Foundation’s scenography for the beginning of 2018.
Modern Master Paintings Cause Legal Pile-Up in NY
ADAM KLASFELD | COURTHOUSE NEWS SERVICE | MANHATTAN (CN) | MONDAY 14 AUGUST 2017
Auctioned two years ago for $16 million, British painter Francis Bacon’s Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne and George Dyer lies at the heart of a legal battle in Manhattan.
Christie’s described the painting as one of only 10 diptychs that the Dublin-born Bacon painted before he died at 82 in 1992.
The auction house said the piece "commemorates two of the artist’s most profound relationships: with his lover and muse, George Dyer, and his lifelong friend and confidante, the artist Isabel Rawsthorne."
At the center of the new lawsuit is a wealthy Chinese businessman who bought two famous artists’ paintings he could not afford.
Zhang Chang bid more than 12.1 million British pounds for Bacon’s work at the June 30, 2015, auction in London.
Then on Nov. 16, 2016, Zhang agreed to shell out another $24 million for German artist Gerhard Richter’s Düsenjäger (Jet Fighter) at Phillips’ auction house in New York.
Both purchases inspired lawsuits in New York County Supreme Court.
On June 9 this year, Judge Peter Sherwood ordered that Phillips Auctioneers could attach the Bacon painting — now in the possession of New York’s storied Gagosian Gallery — to compensate it for Zhang’s nonpayment for the Richter work.
This order inspired another lawsuit by Lin San, another Chinese citizen, who claims he loaned Zhang the money for the Bacon art.
Mr. Zhang paid Christie’s for the purchase over time, using funds loaned by Mr. Lin for this purpose in accordance with a loan agreement between them executed in June 2015," the 9-page complaint states. "Those loans from Mr. Lin first began in June 2015, and continued through 2017.
Lin says Zhang agreed to transfer the painting to him because he was not able to repay the loans.
Lin on Thursday filed a petition to intervene in Phillips Auctioneers v. Chang, saying the painting is rightfully his.
"At the time of this supplemental agreement in February 2017, Mr. Lin was unaware of any dispute between Mr. Zhang and Phillips, or that Mr. Zhang allegedly owed Phillips any money," his complaint states.
Christie’s and Gagosian are not named in the petition, which lists Phillips as the sole respondent. Phillips declined to comment.
Lin is represented by New York-based attorney Gerald Novack.
Stolen paintings by legendary Irish artist Francis Bacon
worth more than £20m recovered by Spanish police
BY AIDAN LONERGAN | NEWS | THE IRISH POST | ESTABLISHED 1970 | TUESDAY JULY 25, 2017
THREE paintings by renowned Irish artist Francis Bacon have been recovered by Spanish police after they were stolen two years ago.
The paintings were seized near Barcelona after a tip-off was received by art database firm Art Loss Register (ALR).
The three artworks – part of a total of five stolen in June 2015 – are estimated to be worth more than €25m (£22m; $29m).
They were stolen alongside jewellery and other objects belonging to Spanish banker José Capelo, who was a friend of the Dublin-born artist.
In a statement, Spanish police said an email from an unnamed individual to ALR contained unpublished photographs of the artworks taken after the theft.
Thanks to those pictures, it was possible to identify the specific model of camera that the photographs were taken with.
Police traced it to a camera rental company and then tracked down the renter of the photographic equipment.
This information led the police to the suspected thieves and eventually to the stolen artworks. Ten arrests have now been made relating to the case.
The ALR’s director of recoveries and general counsel, James Ratcliffe, said: “The return of the pictures is testament to the value of collaboration between the public and private secto
“We gave the police this lead to help them track down these individuals. The Spanish police have done a fantastic job.”
During the raid which recovered the artworks, police found suspected robbery equipment including firearms, oxy-fuel cutting equipment, frequency inhibitors, uniforms from telecommunications companies and fake key.
It also uncovered laser measurement sensors, insignia from security companies and a guide to unlocking safes.
Born in Dublin in 1909, Francis Bacon had no formal training as a painter but became one of the most prominent artists of his era.
He lived most of his life in London before dying of a heart attack in Madrid in 1992, aged 82.
In 2015, two Bacon self-portraits sold for a combined £30m at a Sotheby’s auction in London, having been kept hidden in a private collection for decades.
A Bacon painting depicting the Irish artist’s friend Lucian Freud set a world record in 2013, becoming the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction when it fetched $142m (£89m) in New York.
Francis Bacon photographed by Henri Cartier-Bresson, London, 1952
Spanish police recover stolen Francis Bacon paintings after tip-off from the Art Loss Register
Three Francis Bacon artworks stolen in Madrid in 2015 have been recovered by Spanish police near Barcelona.
LAURA CHESTERS | ANTIQUES TRADE GAZETTE | THE ART MARKET WEEKLY | MONDAY 24 JULY 2017
This portrait is one of the five Francis Bacon artworks stolen in Madrid.
The Spanish police have now recovered three of the five works.
The paintings were seized following a tip-off from art database firm Art Loss Register (ALR). The three artworks were among five Bacon pictures taken in June 2015 alongside jewellery and other objects from the belongings of Spanish banker José Capelo, who was a friend of the Dublin-born artist.
Last year the ALR was contacted by an individual in Sitges, a resort to the southwest of Barcelona, who requested a check against its database of one of the paintings.
The artwork was discovered to have been stolen, having been recorded as so at the ALR after Interpol issued the alert in 2015.
ALR then contacted the Spanish police to alert them.
In a statement, the Spanish national police said the email from the individual to ALR contained unpublished photographs of the artworks taken after the theft. With these, it was possible to find the specific model of camera that the photographs were taken with. The police traced it to a camera rental company and then the lessee of the photographic equipment. This information led the police to the suspected thieves and eventually to the stolen artworks.
Ten arrests have now been made related to the case.
The ALR’s director of recoveries and general counsel, James Ratcliffe, said: "The return of the pictures is testament to the value of collaboration between the public and private sector. We gave the police this lead to help them track down these individuals. The Spanish police have done a fantastic job."
Spanish police recover 3 Francis Bacon paintings stolen in 2015
Five paintings by the British artist were stolen from the home of a friend of Bacon in July 2015
AFP | THE JOURNAL IE | IRELAND | THURSDAY, JULY 20, 2017
SPANISH POLICE HAVE recovered three of five paintings by British artist Francis Bacon that were stolen from a Madrid apartment in 2015, they said today.
“I can confirm that three paintings have been recovered,” a police spokeswoman said.
She said she could not give more details because of the ongoing investigation to find the remaining two artworks.
The five paintings are estimated to be worth more than €25 million.
They were stolen from the home of a friend of Bacon in central Madrid in July 2015 while he was away in London.
The thieves also made off with a safe that contained a collection of coins and jewels. Spanish police have so far arrested 10 suspects linked to the theft.
In May 2016, with the help of a British firm that searches for stolen art, they arrested one of the suspected perpetrators, as well as five accomplices that allegedly helped hide the painting
A Barcelona resident had sent the firm pictures of a Bacon painting to see if it appeared on the company’s list of stolen artworks.
Police analysed the photos and found clues that led them to another suspect who they believed carried out the robbery.
This suspect then led police to an art dealer and his son who are suspected of hiding the stolen paintings.
Police did not provide details on the stolen paintings but daily newspaper El Pais said they depicted the owner of the artworks, Bacon’s friend.
The thieves tried to sell the paintings on two occasions, the newspaper added.
Police recovered one painting several months ago and the other two just a few days ago, according to the newspaper.
Bacon often visited Madrid, where he spent time studying old masters paintings in the Prado Museum, and died in the city in 1992, aged 82.
Francis Bacon at the Tate Gallery in 1985.
Three Francis Bacon works stolen in Madrid recovered by Spanish police
Paintings were seized following a tip-off from the Art Loss Register
by GARETH HARRIS | THE ART NEWSPAPER | 21 JULY 2017
Cecil Beaton, Francis Bacon in His Studio (1960).
Gelatin silver print with paint from Francis Bacon’s studio on the recto and verso.
police say that they have recovered three works by Francis Bacon that were
stolen from a private residence in Madrid in June 2015. Five works by the
Dublin-born artist were removed during the raid.
According to the BBC, the three unidentified works, which belong to Bacon’s acquaintance José Capelo, were recovered following a tip-off from the Art Loss Register, the London-based stolen art database. The UK organisation was contacted by an individual in Sitges who wanted to verify one of the works. Spanish police did not respond to further enquiries.
"The return of the pictures is testament to the benefits of international cooperation between the private sector and law enforcement agencies. That these pictures have now been recovered through the skill of the Spanish police, after the Art Loss Register had identified them, and following the circulation of details of the loss via Interpol, is a perfect example of the value of such collaboration," says James Ratcliffe, director of Recoveries & General Counsel at the Art Loss Register.
Ten people have so far been detained in connection with the robbery; seven arrests were made in Madrid last year and three more people were arrested in January.
Bacon’s triptych, Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer (1963), the first portrait of the artist’s longtime lover, fetched $51.8m at Christie’s New York in May.
Francis Bacon Studio
THIS YEAR MARKS THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE DEATH OF FRANCIS BACON WHOSE
STAR CONTINUES TO SHINE FOR BOTH LIFELONG FANS AND NEWCOMERS ALIKE
JOSEPH R. MURPHY |
JOSEPH R. MURPHY
In 2013, the sale of Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969, shook the world with its winning bid on the block of just over $142 million. At the time, it was the most expensive artwork sold at auction. Bacon’s work is highly sought after and will, no doubt, continue to break new research ground and auction records into the future. So it was a remarkable coup for the Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane when it became home to the relocated South Kensington studio of this Irish-born contemporary figurative painter. Today visitors come from all around the globe to view Bacon’s studio and to pay homage to this master painter.
Born in Dublin in 1909 to English parents, Bacon first lived in Kildare near the Curragh at Cannycourt House. The family made the move to Ireland so that the artist’s father, a retired army major, could set up stables for training racehorses. During World War I, the family went to London temporarily where the artist’s father worked as a war official. On their return to Ireland they lived at Straffan Lodge in Naas. The young Francis often came to odds with his father, mostly on account of his homosexuality but also partly due to his asthma, which limited his outdoor pursuits and further diminished Francis in the eyes of his father. At the age of 16, after being caught trying on his mother’s clothes he was expelled from the house. He never returned to Ireland.
With this in mind, the studio project takes on an added significance. It is the artist’s homecoming. Francis Bacon’s studio – 7 Reece Mews – as we see it today is just as it was found following the death of the artist in 1992. It is a unique project because unlike similar projects preserving artists’ studios, this was not simply a reconstruction but rather a complete relocation. Gallery director, Barbara Dawson, secured the acquisition in 1998 working with Bacon’s heir and executor, John Edwards Brain Clarke. Dawson oversaw the move, which was supervised by conservator Mary McGrath conducted by teams of archaeologists, conservators and curators. Every item in the artist’s studio – there are over 7,000 in total – was accounted or, catalogued, collected and indexed, before being moved, digitally recorded on a specially designed database and replaced in the exact same spot in Dublin. The studio is reconstituted exactly including the actual studio walls, floorboards, ceiling, stairs, hallway and doors. The project was so extensive that the teams even preserved the original dust and reapplied it to the items once the move was completed.
The unaltered studio gives the viewer an insight into the artist’s state of mind, his mode of practice and also gives us another lens through which to view his work, one which we might never have been privy to were it not for the valiant efforts of John Edwards, Brian Clarke and the gallery staff of the Hugh Lane. Their efforts were comparable in spirit to Hugh Lane’s original mission of a freely available educational platform for the people of Ireland to come and learn about modern and contemporary art.
Alongside the Francis Bacon studio the gallery also possesses a large archival collection of materials, and two finished and six unfinished works by the artist. Jessica O’Donnell, acting head of collections abroad says much of the gallery’s acquired material is highly sought after by researchers and exhibition makers worldwide. “The Hugh Lane is a facilitator and has loaned materials including some of the unfinished works to international museums before. It’s important for the artist to be continually recognized abroad,” she adds. The treasure trove of the studio gives a platform to discuss the works, which draw on the sub-conscious for a great deal of their imagery. Bacon very rarely spoke about the specific meanings behind his painting, but did say that he didn’t want to paint “an illustration of reality but a concentration of reality.”
The finished works are framed in elaborate gilded frames, quite unusual for a contemporary artist. It shows how highly his works were sought after whilst he was alive and also gives us a sense of his extravagant sense of style. His expensive taste is further showcased through the small black boxes scattered on the studio floor– KRUG Champagne, the artist’s favourite drink.
Bacon was self-taught and had no interest in attending art school. It was after seeing an exhibition of works by Picasso in Paris during the 1920s that he set himself the task of becoming an artist. Upon moving away from Ireland and setting up in London his first job was in interior design. Bacon taught himself about art and art history extensively through visiting exhibitions, reading catalogues and books. On the floor of the studio, close to the radiator, there is a book on the Spanish painter Velázquez. His portrait, Pope Innocent X, c.1650 inspired Bacon to paint what became known as his “screaming pope” series, the most readily recognisable work from the series being Study After Velázquez, 1953.
According to Michael Dempsey, head of exhibitions, Bacon’s studio provides an insight into a bygone era for artists working in the post-Internet era. “The idea of what the studio means is changing, some artists don’t even have a dedicated studio space anymore. Some can work from a laptop from anywhere around the world. Bacon’s studio not only gives the viewer an insight into his own artistic practice but a broader sense of artistic and painterly production that embodies the romantic image of the artist and the studio that the 20th century has come to represent,” he says.
The Hugh Lane first opened its doors on Parnell Square to the public in 1933. It holds numerous masterpieces of modern and contemporary art, including stain-glass works by Harry Clarke, Seán Scully’s Wall of Light series, and works by Monet and Renoir to name a few.
For more on the Hugh Lane and on Francis Bacon’s studio, see Hugh Lane Gallery.
Untitled: Figure(s) c. 1983 by Francis Bacon
The Animal Surfaces:
The Gaping Mouth in Francis Bacon’s Work
RINA ARYA | VISUAL ANTHROPOLOGY | VOLUME 30 | ISSUE 4 | FRIDAY 7 JULY 2017
THE GAPING MOUTH
One of the most popular motifs in Francis Bacon’s art is the gaping mouth, which seems to take the form of expressing a scream, as seen on the faces of popes, most notably his Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953).1 While in some paintings the expression appears to be a scream, in others the mouth is open, baring its glistening inside, replete with upper and lower teeth, but beyond that it cannot be determined whether we are looking at a mouth that is screaming or making some other expression. Emotion is conveyed through vocalization, facial expression and behavior but, in Bacon, all but facial expression are withheld from the viewer. These open mouths have been the subject of a number of commentaries, with scholars trying to determine their cause, especially in relation to the papal figures where the imagery becomes most alarming in its incongruity. This article conveys the importance of the mouth as a “lever” for prising apart the human. In depicting the open mouth Bacon exposes the human-animal, while reducing the mouth as an organ of speech, reason and humanity to its primal and pre-linguistic function. In showing this it will be argued that rather than focusing exclusively on the scream, more attention needs to be paid to the gaping mouth and its significance in Bacon’s œuvre.
THE SCREAM IN PAINTING
One of the most well-known depictions of the scream in painting is Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1895), which conveys a moment of existentialist crisis. Wieland Schmied draws a parallel between The Scream and Bacon’s Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, and concludes that while in the former there is some continuity of feeling between the scream and its surroundings, where the scream is absorbed by the metaphoric ear of nature, in the latter there is no containment, and the scream rebounds in a hollow ecclesiastical space [Schmied 2006: 21]. Arthur Danto argues  that the problem with Bacon’s screaming figures is that, unlike other examples depicting a scream in painting, there is no apparent source or cause of horror here. If one examines sources that are cited as influences for the scream in Bacon’s art, which Danto does—for instance Nicolas Poussin’s The Massacre of the Innocents (ca. 1625–1629) or the still of the Odessa steps from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925), which was the subject of Bacon’s Study for the Nurse from the Battleship Potemkin (1957)—then one can account for the scream by appealing to the narrative. The Massacre of the Innocents refers to the biblical narrative of infanticide ordered by Herod the Great. The woman screams in protest at the sight of an innocent baby that is about to be slaughtered. In the second example, the nurse screams in horror as she is shot by czarist troops, resulting in the shattering of her pince-nez and her eye dripping blood. There is a discernible narrative in both cases that explains the cause of the horror that prompts the scream. This in turn inspires pathos. What is lacking and unsettling in Bacon is that not only is there no explanation for the scream—in Danto’s words, “[t]here is no available narrative” [1995: 98]—but that it feels seriously out of place, especially on the face of such eminent figures as popes.
INTERPRETING THE SCREAM: AN INDEX OF HORROR
There are several key interpretations of the scream in Bacon’s paintings that go beyond biographical—such as his asthmatic condition—and often simplistic readings, and that examine his themes and interests. One of the most widely used interpretations presents the view that the scream is a symbol of postwar horror and the collapse in the West of the metanarrative of God. One of Bacon’s first studies of open mouths, after Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), came in the form of his Head series, which were closeup studies of enclosed heads that Bacon painted in 1948–49. In these studies, in particular Head I (1948) and Head II (1949), one sees the detailed studies of an open mouth that has been twisted from its natural placement in the center of the face to the point where the face is falling apart. Head VI (1949) is one of the first depictions of the screaming pope, and is a precursor to Bacon’s papal images of subsequent decades. What is striking about the Heads is the concentration and confinement of the scream. The figure is submerged in a glass box that muffles, smothers or even silences any noise uttered. Another noteworthy observation of Bacon’s Heads is that his studies focus on the mouth: there is a noticeable absence of other facial features. It would seem that Bacon’s studies of Heads are really studies of mouths. In their development in the papal series in the 1950s, we see the transfer of the glass containers into similarly confining spatial containers, such as interlocking frames.
The popes react to the death of God with screams and other expressions of despair. What is significant about the scream is how reductive it is: “[a] scream implies an absolute reduction of its emitter to whatever state it is that the scream outwardly expresses” [Danto 1995: 99]. In some sense it is irrelevant as to whether a pope or any other person is emitting a scream because it is “in any case not really an expression of someone’s character” [idem]. It is depersonalizing and reduces the emitter to a raw emotion, a base sentiment. What is significant is that it becomes a recurring motif for a range of figures, which in itself communicates something about the pervasive malaise. In the absence of order or system, and following the atrocities of the Second World War, humanity screams at the void in unsparing despair. In the 1950s Bacon introduced other figures who were plunged into existential despair, such as the businessman in Study for a Portrait (1953) and in his Man in Blue I–VI series, in 1954, where the business suit stands for the public and patriarchal order, and the anonymity of the figure trapped in a confined space casts him in the role of Everyman experiencing the Sartrean horror of Huis Clos.
In Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, Bacon imitated many iconographic and stylistic features of the original but transformed the tenor of the painting by planting a scream on the face of the pope. This feature alone puts the two paintings in stark opposition to each other. Painted at the height of the Baroque period in 1650, as well as in the Papal Jubilee year, Velázquez sought to flatter Giovanni Battista Pamphilj by portraying his religious authority, evident in his regalia, majestic pose and stern gaze, and to mask his unscrupulous and corrupt nature, which was anything but innocent. Bacon’s study strips the pope of any religious authority, dignity or self-control by desecrating his stature. Aside from the schematic and garish rendering of his robes and throne, which Hugh M. Davies viewed as “some form of ludicrous fancy dress in a Genet play” [1978: 100], the appearance of the screaming mouth and “balled fists” [Davies and Yard 1986: 26] transforms the reserve of Innocent X into a desperation that is iconoclastic and not in keeping with aesthetic conventions or public understanding of a pope’s status. The scream, like the “shuttering” [Sylvester 1993: 176]2 effect of the vertical striations, shatters the surface of the painting and is the overriding sensation, principally because, as Danto argues, “the scream leaves no space for other expressions” [1995: 99]. For centuries portraiture was about the unique relationship between artist and sitter, where the former was committed to certain obligations to flatter and/or enhance the positive attributes of the sitter, whether in appearance, wealth, stature or nobility, etc. By absenting himself from these conventions and by working from photographs or copies of artworks, Bacon created physical distance between himself and the sitter, which licensed him to capture the brutal reality of the sitter rather than the social façade of the persona [Sylvester 1993: 41].3 This reality involves breaking up the symbol to expose the man behind it. The scream destroys the symbolic safeguard of the pope, leading the viewer to see him as a fallible wretch rather than in his elected representation as the Vicar of Christ. This becomes a broader comment about Godlessness in the postwar West, following Nietzsche’s announcement that God is dead. Bacon is not content to convey the untenability of God just once though, but in pitiless fashion reinforces the pope’s fall over and over again in a number of different papal portraits. In the summer of 1953 Bacon painted a series of eight papal portraits, and one sees the growing frustration of the pope as, from frame to frame, he becomes increasingly agitated and desperate to escape the scrutiny of the viewer. After four shots his resolve breaks and, like a caged animal being provoked by an intruder, he resorts to grimacing and breaking into a scream before finally turning violent.4
In a Godless world the plight of the pope exposes the fact that the human is level with the beast: “[i]n a world without God, humans are no different to any other animal, subject to the same innate urges; transient and alone, they are victims and perpetrators of meaningless acts” [Gale and Stephens 2008: 27]. In the absence of a transcendent redeeming reality, humans are consigned to the same fate as the animal, a fact that was hitherto rejected by humanity’s oft-proclaimed imago dei status. The relationship between humans and animals is conveyed as a continuum where the human is at various stages of “becoming animal,” as seen in Bacon’s humanoid figures from the 1940s onwards.
In his expansion of the vocabulary of human forms, Bacon turned to many different visual sources, including Picasso’s biomorphic figures on beaches of the late 1920s, figures which were highly distorted in various ways; sometimes anatomical forms were grossly exaggerated and at other times body parts were assembled randomly [Berggruen 2003: 76]. Thus Picasso showed Bacon how the human body could be represented in ways that transgressed the conventional anatomical order. By distorting and reordering the body, one could generate a multitude of effects. Among Bacon’s sources for the open mouth was the magazine Picture Post, where images of wide-opened mouths of people—whether anonymous subjects in the November 5 issue of 1938, for example, or prominent Nazis in the July 13 issue of 1940—were not uncommon [Hammer 2012: 61, 47].5 Bacon wanted to depict in visual terms the versatility of the mouth in showing a range of emotion, and in particular how in situations of extremis (limit experiences) the human resorts to animality, thereby expressing its “indwelling animality” [Pawlett 2015: 2].
One of the most credible accounts of the open mouth in Bacon’s work is Gilles Deleuze’s reading of the “becoming-animal” of Bacon’s figures. First introduced in his collaborative work with Félix Guattari, “becoming-animal” was developed in A Thousand Plateaus [(1980) 2008], and then applied to Bacon in Deleuze’s 1981 Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation [English trans., 2003]. The central tenet of “becoming-animal” is that the relationship between human and animal goes beyond resemblance: “it is a deep identity, a zone of indiscernibility more profound than any sentimental identification: the man who suffers is a beast, the beast that suffers is a man” [Deleuze 2003: 50]. Bacon’s figures are “becominganimal” in their bodily structure. In a Bacon figure the flesh is not supported by the bones but rather hangs off them like meat hanging in a slaughterhouse, and it is this that creates the equivalence between man and animal, and is a reminder that at any moment the human can become meat. The dissolution of bodily structure extends beyond the body to the facial structure which prompts Deleuze’s assertion that “Bacon is a painter of heads not faces” [ibid.: 20]. The face is an integral part of human identity. Gerald Bruns [2007: 712] describes it as “a regime of socialization to be escaped” in favor of the head. Bacon dismantles the spatial structure of the face to allow for the emergence of the head. This dehumanizes (or “animalizes”) the figure—for, “without the face, the body becomes-animal, that is, becomes flesh or meat—something that loses definition as it is removed from its bones” [ibid.: 711]. Other structural motifs and devices are employed that further increase the degree of affinity between the human and the animal, including the cage motif,6 which traps the human in isolation as if an animal, the white splotches of bodily matter,7 and the crouching figure, which often has its face hidden, a feature that increases its anonymity. The most pronounced animal expression of the human in Bacon, however, is the gaping mouth. The mouth is the aperture by which the unstable body escapes from itself. And so rather than viewing the pope’s open mouth gesture as a scream, as the source of horror wherein he is screaming at something—at the realization of his fate—we are actually looking at the open mouth as an exit point. This contrasting reading, popularized by Deleuze, denies that the pope is actually screaming at anything (“he screams before the invisible” [Deleuze 2003: 38]), and asserts that the scream is instead explained in relation to bodily forces. This is how Deleuze explains the violence in Bacon: he argues that what interests Bacon directly is not actual violence but the violence of sensation, which is “a violence that is involved only with line and colour… a static or potential violence, a violence of reaction and expression” [ibid.: x]. The violence is caused through the movement and sensation of the body, which causes it to overflow. The stimuli are not external but come from within, such as the spasm of a sneeze or the “violence of a hiccup, of the urge to vomit” [idem]. Deleuze argues that, contrary to expectation, “the maximum violence will be found in the seated or crouching Figures, which are subjected to neither torture nor brutality, to which nothing visible happens, and yet which manifest the power of the paint all the more” [ibid.: 38–39].
An alternative but equally suggestive reading of the open mouth expression in Bacon can be drawn from the work of Georges Bataille. He viewed animality as a condition that humans repress in order to be, and “attempts nothing less than a general anthropology, charting the emergence of human beings from the condition of animality to the apparently, or superficially, civilized life of modern society” [Pawlett 2015: 1], stating how certain situations betray our natural origins. In Theory of Religion [(1973) 1992] Bataille discusses how animals live in a state of continuity with nature; they are immanent—at one—with it [ibid.]. Humans, by contrast, are separate (“discontinuous”) from nature and reside in the profane world of things and objects [Bataille (1957) 1987: 12–14]. Various operations, such as sacrifice and eroticism, restore a sense of the sacred through continuity where we can move beyond our isolated states and embrace the other in a “moment of communal unity” [Richman 2002: 162], but this is only momentary and conveys that in being human we are compelled to a destiny of separation from our natural environment. Civil society dictates the repression of the animal nature of the human through ritualistic action, for to show it is regarded as both obscene and regressive. Our relationship with our animal origins is paradoxical, for to be a part of civilized society entails the repression of animal instincts, yet the most humanizing of experiences are actually the most animal ones.
In his anthropology Bataille mines the animal aspects of humanity, which include the material body and animal drives, for the richness and despair they can contribute to life. Within his “base materialism” he examines various bodily parts to reveal their base origins. His commentary on “The Mouth” (“La Bouche”) is featured in the “Critical Dictionary” section of the art journal Documents [5, 1930], a publication that was known to Bacon. Bataille discusses the mouth as the point “where the animal begins” [Pawlett 2015: 9]; it is the locus of eros and thanatos, where life and death meet, and is the outlet of animal emotions such as fear and fury. Accompanying the text is Jacques-André Boiffard’s detailed black-and-white full-page photograph of a mouth which takes on an unfamiliar and menacing aspect by closing in on the glistening mouth to capture the viewer’s attention. The image offers an appropriate counterpart to the text, which equally involves defamiliarizing something commonplace. Bataille argues for the two outlets of the mouth—the intellectual, via speech, and the physical, via the release of instincts or appetites. In extreme moments the mouth becomes shaped for this release, thereby returning to its pre-linguistic roots. This entails a reversion of the pre-adaptive role intended for the mouth. The psychologist Paul Rozin discusses the evolutionary development of the human mouth in preadaptation [Rozin 1999; Rozin et al. 2008: 757–776] which is a Darwinian notion that concerns cases where features that evolved serving one role come to be co-opted for another. A cognate notion, exaptation, is often used in place of pre-adaptation, where the former dispenses with the teleologically loaded associations of the latter. Pre-adaptation is where
[a]n anatomical structure, physiological process, or behaviour pattern in an organism that is by chance highly suited to a new habitat to which the organism migrates or that improves the chance in environmental conditions. For example, the lungs that developed in a certain fish were probably originally a buoyancy aid before these fish began to adapt to a new environment on dry land. [Martin and Hine 2008: 524]
The original function of the human mouth was no doubt for breathing and eating. The creation of language was a later function that departed from the mouth’s original use. By rendering it defunct as an organ of speech, Bacon shows “evolution in reverse” as his figures are locked in a state of pre-symbolic regression, where they can only utter sounds and cries conveying the breakdown of language. This develops an idea advanced by Ernst van Alphen that Bacon’s figures have an incomplete sense of self; they are trapped in an inner sense of self, and are therefore unable to be conceived as whole [van Alphen 1992: 15, 166]. Indeed if we are to view them as humans-as-animal then not only have they relinquished a higher understanding of self or self-awareness (being-for-itself, to use a Sartrean phrase) but also the fundamentals of human and linguistic communication, which is one of the distinguishing traits of the human. Armin Zweite discusses how “[t]hrough language, humans can divest themselves of bare life, effectively placing themselves in opposition to it” [2006: 101]. The function of the mouth as an organ of speech is reversed and becomes an outlet of overflow—the overflow of emotions, and even the body, in Deleuze’s interpretation. In “our most concentrated experiences of agony or ecstasy” [Ades 1985: 13], humans are compelled to express themselves through the mouth: “fury makes men grind their teeth, terror and atrocious suffering transform the mouth into the organ of rending screams” and bypasses the “constipa[ted]”…“magisterial look of the face with a closed mouth” [Bataille 1995: 62–64]. These extreme states result in a primal frenzy where even the physical physiognomy of the face is distorted. The “overwhelmed individual throws back his head while frenetically stretching his neck so that the mouth becomes, as far as possible, a prolongation of the spinal column, in other words, it assumes the position it normally occupies in the constitution of animals” [Ades 1985: 62]. This configuration of the contorted mouth is apposite in Bacon’s depictions. Take, for instance, his outstanding contribution to the Lefevre group show in April 1945, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (ca. 1944), also known as the Tate triptych. Painted near the end of the war, Bacon presents a vision of fury. Each of these three humanoid, hybrid forms has an elongated animal neck ending in a head bearing a human mouth. In the central panel the figure reveals a grimacing mouth. In the right-hand panel the figure breaks out into a cry. By veiling the eyes of the creatures, the auditory aspect of the scream becomes more pronounced, as it is channeled through overwrought lungs. John Russell and others have commented on the ghastliness of these unidentifiable and anomalous figures that presented a sight so awful that the postwar viewing public did not know how to receive them. The figures’ wild open mouths present a palpable sense of hatred: “Common to all three figures was a mindless voracity, an automatic unregulated gluttony, a ravening undifferentiated capacity of hatred” [Russell 1993: 11].
Since this early work Bacon continued reworking the open mouth in his series Heads, which reveal the process of deforming the face through the techniques of rubbing and brushing. Bacon “dismantle[s] the face, to rediscover the head or make it emerge from beneath the face” [Deleuze 2003: 20–21]. In Head I four years later the human mouth was transformed into an animal mouth as it twists the face, breaking up the structure, and reveals fang-like canines. This transformation was more acute in Head II, where the head dissolves into the neck and one of the only points of identification are the teeth, the arrow, safety pin and curtain, in which the latter three components give some sense of context. Head V (1949) shows further dissolution, with a few suggestive marks including the ear in the bottom right (and a safety pin). If we take the face as the index of the human—where it personalizes and individualizes the entity—then the head reduces and restores the human to its natural condition. The dissolution of the face makes the starkness of the open mouth, the “faceless mouth” [Hammer 2012: 118, quoting a phrase of John Russell’s] even more alarming.
The most severe and incongruous manifestation of the open-mouthed expression is the pope’s “scream,” and this is because of the disparity between the pope in his divine representation and the lowly beast. Bacon wanted to bring the exalted figure down to the level of abject humanity. Ades argues that “[p]erhaps his idea was to test one of the greatest portraits ever painted, of a man set highest above his fellow men (the archetypal father, verging on the divine) in the grip of a feeling so intense that the only expression of it brought him close to the beasts” [Ades 1985: 15]. Bacon wanted to bring the pope to the point of paroxysm [Borel 1996: 190; Leiris 1988: 6], at “breaking point” where “[f]act exceeds appearances [and there is an] increased presence” [Borel idem].
While the open mouth seeks to “animalize” the human, to transform it into a beast, Bacon’s depictions of animals need consideration in their own right. As well as the numerous human-animal hybrid forms, as seen in works such as Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, Bacon singled out individual animal species for depiction and was influenced by photographic sources, including Eadweard Muybridge’s 19th-century photographs of human and animal motion and Marius Maxwell’s pictures of animals in the wild. Study of a Baboon (1953) is of a single baboon screaming in a tree, uncannily aware of its isolation and unfamiliar with its natural habitat, and Elephant Fording a River (1952) shows a solitary elephant crossing a river. Study of a Dog (1952) in both stance and pathos bears similarities to Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (from Muybridge) (1961) and Study for Nude (1951). Owls (1956) presents vulture-like forms huddled together. Steve Baker observes how Bacon’s “animal” works “hold-to-form,” in that “[a]nimal form is allowed to be and to stay what it is,” which is not the case with human form that is undone by “the painterly violence done to most of the human figures” [Baker 2000: 142–143]. Baker’s analysis is based on a “generalization,” by his own admission, “on an impression left in the mind after looking at them, rather than on detailed formal scrutiny” [ibid.: 142], but his impression is quite correct and raises the question as to why animals are not subject to the same painterly scrutiny as human figures. One possible explanation is that Bacon was commenting on humanity’s futile tendency to attempt to transcend its nature, a rebuke not directed at animals. He reverses conventional roles—he debases the human figure by placing it on the horizontal axis, and by foregrounding its animality. In contrast, his animal portraits exude an existential (and anthropocentric) solitude; the sole cry of the animal in the wild. Some of the figures are eerily human, such as the dog in Study of a Dog (1952), or the hooded forlorn figures in Owl. His animal “portraits” adopt the format designed for his portrait studies, typically of single figures in rooms that contain cage-like structures.8
Bacon spoke in interviews to David Sylvester of the crossover he perceived between human and animal movement [Sylvester 1993: 116], which undoubtedly was fueled by his interest in Muybridge’s photographs. The similarity, however, extended beyond movement to nature, something that Deleuze aptly summarized as the overlap between “the common face of man and animal” [2003: 21]. There are select works that impart the coincidence of human and animal, which is central to Deleuzian becoming-animal. Chimpanzee (1955), for example, represents an amalgamation of the human and animal in both movement and spirit. Ritual communion is explored further in Head IV (Man with Monkey) (1949), where the boundaries that separate form are undone, and the human merges with the animal.
Bacon concurred with Nietzsche about the cultural centrality of the death of God. Where they parted company was about what happens in the aftermath of this crisis. According to Nietzsche, a type of creature is needed who can surpass humanity in its strength and vision, while for Bacon, in the absence of transcendence and its mythological imperatives, reality should be about embracing our mortal condition—which he bleakly stated as “man is meat.” Bacon also shows a regression of humanity; the subhuman—what John Russell describes as Untermensch [1993: 38]9—which indicates what happens when our goals and aspirations are thwarted, especially since the human condition is about transcending nature. Wyndham Lewis described the grotesqueness of this vision: Bacon depicts “the shouting creatures in glass cases, those dissolving ganglia the size of a small fist in which one can always discern the shouting mouth, the wild distended eye” [Tinterow and Alteveer 2008: 31]. Russell views the figures less in terms of the grotesque and more as an authentic statement of humanity, which effectively happens in the absence of the social front. He describes what happens during “the disintegration of the social being which takes place when one is alone in a room which has no looking-glass. We may well feel at such times that the accepted hierarchy of our features is collapsing, and that we are by turns all teeth, all eye, all ear, all nose” [Russell 1993: 38]. Keith Tester argues that, rather than viewing Bacon’s figures as degraded and subhuman, as one would view an untermensch, Bacon actually facilitates a “rehumanization” [1994: 142]. This is because he shows the human being in its authentic natural status of animality, thereby transgressing cultural norms. The “inhuman,” according to Tester, is “everything which forces the individual to ‘subscribe to a determined being’” [ibid.: xi]. By becoming animal Bacon’s figures are indeterminate and in the process of change, which is a rehumanizing experience. Tester argues that not only is the figural depiction itself rehumanizing but so is the response that viewers have to the work. Through distortion Bacon configures the human in its raw state, and by eschewing narrative in his painting he forces the viewer to respond to the sensuous surface that instinctively chimes with our experiences of embodiment and other cognate sensations of humanity. The continuity between humans and the animal in Bacon’s œuvre reveals his commitment to uncovering the inherent animality of the human, which is captured in the ideological shift conveyed by the phrase “human animal” [Wilkie and Inglis 2007: 9].
PRE-LINGUISTIC GAPE FACE
At the beginning of this article it was indicated that there was a need for a change in direction from thinking about the scream to thinking about the implications of the gaping mouth. When seen in artworks the open mouth is usually explained in terms of horror, sorrow, ecstasy or some other extreme emotional state. In Bacon’s œuvre the open mouth is featured in a great many works, usually in relation to nonspecific or rather unnamed people, who might be called “types” rather than “individuals,” such as pope I, pope II, etc. Although one can argue that his studies of popes were inspired by representations of particular papal figures, his objective was about deconstructing the symbol rather than capturing a particular likeness. This is unlike the situation of portrait studies of his friends, which was about capturing a deeper understanding of the individual in question. In Bacon the open mouth was the raison d’être of the human being, as it conveyed the “zone of indiscernibility” between “man and beast” [Deleuze 2003: 23], the fact that at any moment we can be turned into meat. The open mouth indicated a departure from the linguistic world of “civilization” to a realization of the purposeless (but not necessarily meaningless) position of humans in the world. It was a way of prizing open the social persona and looking at the flesh-and-blood reality of humanity.10 Erasing the face and its individual features, especially the eyes, which he veils or distorts, is a way of de-individualizing the figure and of underscoring an inherent animality. This is evident in Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion and is present in other works, such as Painting (1946). The latter example, which bears similarities to Figure Study II (1945–1946), features a hieratic figure in the center of an abattoir or butcher’s shop. Various pieces of meat are featured above and around him. All but the teeth-baring lipless grimace is shrouded by a black umbrella. Perhaps this is a harbinger of Bacon’s philosophy that humans are potential cadavers and the fate of this sinister figure lies all around him
Like Bataille, Bacon wanted to restore the real presence of reality that modern society had sanitized and made banal. In Documents and the “Critical Dictionary” Bataille did this through a process of de-sublimation; by uncovering the “ritual violence” of the temple, the abattoir and various body parts including the mouth and the big toe [Ades 2006: 55]. In his own practice Bacon strips away the conventions of social propriety by representing grotesque behavior that is normally hidden from viewing under the spotlight, such as figures crouching, copulating and defecating. It is not acceptable to show the gaping mouth in public and actions that bring this about are hidden because of the impropriety associated with the inside of orifices. Bacon is drawn to the surfaces between the inner and outer, which is where we experience corporeal turmoil. He echoes Michel Leiris’s view that “we can never examine life closely enough […] without coming […] to the horror lying hidden beneath the most sumptuous coverings” [Zweite 2006: 87]. Bacon was interested in showing the organic unbounded body—what happens when the boundaries between outer and inner are taken away and we experience the flowing, leaking body that is in a state of untamed dissolution. This phenomenon is known as abjection. Abjection, as expounded in Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection ,11 is a cultural code that addresses boundary crossings between the subject and the source that threatens the subject with abjection. Within the context of the body the abject refers to bodily fluids and other parts of matter that threaten the clean and proper (in the sense of intact) body with contamination and formlessness. The abject “does not respect borders, positions, rules” [ibid.: 4], and for this reason “[t]hat which threatens identity must be jettisoned from the borders and placed outside” [Oliver 2003: 47]. But even outside the boundary the abject hovers, threatening the boundary with collapse.
Like Bataille, who exposed the base materialism of the body, Bacon practised a form of de-sublimation by reacting against the conventions of figurative representation. He did this chiefly by blurring the boundaries between traditionally opposed states in various ways—the outer and inner—which resulted in various states of fragmentation and distortion where the body is featured as unstable and anarchic. The boundaries between outer and inner are in tension, as conveyed by the relationship between the structure of the body and the matter, where they are often pulled in opposing directions, which contributes to the effect of torsion (or twisting). Visually this is conveyed by smears and smudges that are wiped across the body. Michel Leiris uses the term “liquefaction” [1988: 13] to refer to this process of turbulence, which many of Bacon’s figures are subject to and which results in overspill, where the inner contents flow into the foreground, causing confusion as to whether the viewer is looking at the external or internal, something compounded by the fact that the overspilled material is more opaque than the boundaries of the body.
Leiris describes how the “indefinable form of [Bacon’s] figures … in some cases, seem to lose their bone structure to become strange fluxes or whorls of matter in fusion,” which can be described in terms of the process of becoming-animal [ibid.: 11]. As his career progressed, Bacon started to break up the body more into “lumps and gobbets and tubes of flesh” of viscera, and the mouth “as dentated wounds,” and they often served as “some point[s] of orientation” [Danto 1995: 101]. The viscerality of the open mouth was captured by the synaesthetic phrase that Bacon came across in William Bedell Stanford’s Aeschylus and his Style. A Study in Language and Personality: “[t]he reek of human blood smiles out at me,” which had inspired Bacon since he came across it in the 1940s [Stanford 1942: 109]. The open mouth, like an open wound, has numerous possibilities including a portal for disgust, an erogenous zone and a site of aggression.
In his account of the cultural development of the mouth, Rozin discusses how the human mouth, which originally evolved for the intake of fluids and food and the inhalation and exhalation of air, was “co-opted in later human evolution as a vocal output. The tongue and teeth [and lips], critical for speech production, evolved for purposes of handling food” [1999: 2]. In this expanded sense the original use of the mouth was retained but there was a further function. In many cultural traditions the linguistic function of the mouth is prized above eating. In fact on occasions when the two functions work alongside one another, such as when dining with another, the linguistic is regarded as being of primary importance and part of social identity while activities involving eating including breaking up the food, mastication and swallowing are done as discreetly and noiselessly as possible (in some cultural contexts). Here cultural etiquette overrides biological evolution.
Eating also activates the disgust reflex that was originally a response to certain foods that were spoiled or unpalatable, and hence was a mechanism that deterred the ingesting of food of this kind. The sight of a maggot-infested piece of meat, for example, would bring about the phenomenological response of disgust that includes the gape (the “disgust face”) [Rozin 2008: 759] and that more precisely involves the lowering of the jaw, the nose wrinkle and (less often) the upper lip rise. The facial expression may be accompanied by nausea, prompting the gag reflex (through retching) and other behavioral changes, including the urge to move away from the source of disgust (recoil). Daniel Kelly argues that “there is something very reliable about the gape face” , because it betrays the truth about how someone is really feeling. He gives examples that show how people can verbally lie about how they are feeling, for the sake of not being perceived as rude and to avoid hurting people’s feelings. In the case of genuine disgust the situation is different, as we cannot hide it. It is automatically emoted in what is described as “facial leakage,“12 which marks the difficulty of maintaining a façade of politeness. The open mouths of Bacon’s figures can be described as gaping faces (rather than screaming faces) and this aligns with Bacon’s objective to look behind the veneer of social niceties to expose brutal realism. Sitting on high-backed chairs we expect Bacon’s figures to be orators, ready to speak to their public, but instead they gape, revealing the animal that lies beneath. The gape face signals a reversion to a pre-linguistic state, signaling a breakup of the symbolic order of law and patriarchy, and crucially of language. The biological core of humans is legitimated when it brings about great cultural activity, and so the mouth is praised as noteworthy if it produces great words or song. In cases where it draws attention to itself as a fleshy orifice, however, repulsion occurs unless we are able to transform it into desire, but in either case it results in having to respond to an animal reflex. The collapse of language is seen par excellence in the fate of the defenseless pope who has the trappings of holiness but is distinct in his position of inarticulacy, which undermines his credibility and status. Unable to move away from its placement the papal throne doubles up as an electric chair [Davies 2001: 12] that becomes the instrument of torture.
The open mouth in artworks has been both an indicator and index of horror, as in the Poussin and Eisenstein examples discussed earlier, where both figures are responding to atrocities they have witnessed or experienced. It is disquieting precisely because it “is not still nor silent” [Tester 1994: 144]. Harmut Böhme discusses other signs of the open mouth in pictorial depiction as conveying “irrationality,” as providing “an appropriate sign to convey oral pleasure, boundless greed or mindless aggression” [quoted in 2006: 99]. Mikhail Bakhtin talks in similar terms about the mouth in his depiction of the carnivalesque, which involves the exchange between different realities in a confusion and subversion of states. He describes how the gaping mouth is “related to the lower stratum; it is the open gate leading downward into the bodily underworld” [(1965) 1984: 325].
By expanding the meaning of the open mouth in Bacon to look at other explanations that take the viewer beyond the scream creates new possibilities for thinking about the expressive potential of his art as well as developing the plausible evolutionary hypothesis of the human’s proximity to the animal. For Deleuze the mouth is key to his conception of becoming-human, as it is through the mouth that the flesh is able to be released from the hold of the body. For Bataille the mouth is pivoted on an axis between civilization and the primal, and the size and articulation of the aperture determines its location. Bacon distorts the mouth in his figures, which reveals the “indwelling animality” [Pawlett 2015: 2] or in Deleuzian terms the “zone of indiscernibility or undecidability between man and animal” [Deleuze 2003: 21]. One unique aspect of Bacon’s work is that, as Tester puts it, “humanity is placed in the social and the cultural and the natural environments at one and the same time” [1994: 141]. And so the figures of the pope and the businessmen, so exalted in their social stature, are grounded by their animality and cannot transcend their nature. Arguing for a reading of preadaptation of the mouth is to look at what in Bacon is tantamount to a pictorial “evolution in reverse.” What we are seeing then are studies of figures that take on the guise of traditional portraits in some aspects—such as through the isolation of a formally dressed figure on a podium—though in other respects the figures exist on the same ontological plane as the animal. The starkness of contrast between the human in the guise of grandiosity and literal uprightness and the reality of his lowly position conveys the human-animal amalgam that Bacon sought to achieve. By creating the fluidity, the indeterminacy between the human and animal, in terms of its forms and behavior, Bacon creates moral ambivalence: the viewer feels intrigued by (yet afraid of) humanoid figures such as those in the Tate triptych or in the figures (particularly the lower one) in Fragment of a Crucifixion (1950) because they offer partial resemblance to the human. Conversely, the presence of animal traits in the human causes a sense of repulsion, as the viewer becomes aware of the inherent vulnerability and cruelty of a human who is capable of lashing out like a beast.
1. Bacon’s images are available for viewing online via Artimage.
2. Bacon uses the term “shuttering” to refer to the way Degas striated the form of the body in his pastel work. Bacon’s vertical striations serve to confound foreground and background.
3. Interestingly, in his portraits Bacon insisted on working from photographs even though most of his sitters were friends or lovers, and so were known to him personally. His reason for this was that he claimed he did not feel comfortable enacting violence on the image if the sitter was directly in front of him. Perhaps he applied the same logic to the Velázquez original, which he did not see firsthand when in Rome but kept multiple reproductions of, at least one of which was pinned on his studio wall. Barbara Dawson [2009: 54] notes that nine books on Velázquez were found in his studio (at Reece Mews), and out of these nine all but one had the illustration of Innocent X torn out, and one had been used by Bacon as evidenced by the creases on the image and deposits of paint on the surface.
4. This development anticipates an earlier series, Three Studies of the Human Head (1953).
5. Martin Hammer’s book-length treatment  of the subject unearthed the impact that Nazi propaganda had on Bacon.
6. Other similar structures include a glass box, a pedestal or rostrum, all designed to isolate.
7. As seen in Study for Bullfight No.1, 2nd Version (1969), for example.
8. Chimpanzee (1955) resembles the Man in Blue Series (1954).
9. John Russell uses the term to refer to Head II, but I am expanding the reference here.
10. The sexual aspects of the mouth and its links to the bestial were also explored by Sigmund Freud and can be used to discuss the imagery in some of Bacon’s works, such as Two Figures (1953). In Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality [1905; reprinted in Freud’s Complete Works 7] Freud discusses the tension that exists between sexual desire and repulsion: “A man who will kiss a pretty girl’s lips passionately, may perhaps be disgusted at the idea of using her teeth-brush [sic], though there are no grounds for supposing that his own oral cavity, for which he feels no disgust, is cleaner than the girl’s. Here, then, our attention is drawn to the factor of disgust, which interferes with the libidinal overvaluation of the sexual object but can in turn be overridden by libido.” See Menninghaus [2003: 232].
11. The French original Pouvoirs de l’horreur: Essai sur l’abjection was published in 1980 (Paris: Éditions de Seuil).
12. Darwin “hypothesized that some facial muscle actions associated with strong emotion are beyond voluntary control and cannot be completely inhibited” [Porter et al. 2012: 23–37]
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Head II (1949)
Beyeler to reunite Giacometti and Bacon
Swiss museum to stage show on the artists, who first met in the early 1960s, in time for Art Basel in 2018
MARTIN BAILEY | SWITZERLAND | SPECIAL REPORTS | THE ART NEWSPAPER | TUESDAY 13 JUNE 2017
Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon at the Tate Gallery, London, in 1965.
Giacometti and Bacon will be the stars of the Fondation Beyeler’s main exhibition next year, which is due to coincide with Art Basel 2018. The show is being organised by the Fondation Beyeler’s curator, Ulf Küster, Catherine Grenier, the director of the Fondation Giacometti, and Michael Peppiatt, an expert on Bacon and Giacometti.
Peppiatt promises that “the sheer visual excitement of two great 20th-century masters” will make this a major show. Discussions are taking place about a second venue for the Bacon-Giacometti exhibition after Basel (29 April-2 September 2018), possibly in the US.
Peppiatt sees strong parallels between the art and lives of the two artists. Both were strongly influenced by Surrealism and worked in a figurative style at a time when abstraction was “becoming louder”. They were existentialists, avid readers, deeply affected by the Second World War and lived in chaos. With huge drive, both proved to be survivors.
Peppiatt says that the two men first met in Paris in the early 1960s: “Bacon told me that he had gone up to Giacometti in a café in St Germain, probably Les Deux Magots or Flore, to say he admired his work.”
Swiss-born Alberto Giacometti (1901-66) was eight years older than the UK artist Francis Bacon (1909-92). They met again a few years later, probably through their mutual friend Isabel Rawsthorne, who was Giacometti’s lover and also modelled for both artists. Peppiatt says that on one occasion the two artists stayed up all night talking. They remained friends until Giacometti’s death in 1966.
The artists had two motifs in common: the scream and the cage. Both used a cage-like device in their compositions to create space and perspective and to concentrate attention on the central figure. Giacometti led the way, influencing his younger contemporary. Bacon once introduced his friend Daniel Farson to Giacometti, saying: “This is the man who has influenced me more than anyone.” There are, of course, also considerable differences in their work. “They were both X-raying their figures, but whereas Giacometti was stick-like in his depictions, Bacon was decidedly fleshy,” Peppiatt says.
Works by the two artists will be intermingled at the Fondation Beyeler. The majority of the Giacometti loans are to come from the Fondation Giacometti, with works by Bacon coming from a wide range of lenders, including a number of Swiss owners.
Francis Bacon Painting Hits $51.8 Bid
OLIVIA O’MAHONY, EDITORIAL ASSISTANT | IRISH AMERICA | SUNDAY 28 MAY 2017
Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer, 1964, which sold for $51.8 million in May.
A triptych painting of George Dyer, the lover and muse of Irish-born figurative artist Francis Bacon, sold for $51.8 million at a Christie’s auction for contemporary works in May. The painting, once owned by children’s author Roahl Dahl, a close friend of Bacon’s, spent the last 25 years in the private collection of French actor Francis Lombrail and was originally slated to reach up to $70 million with bidders. However, a substantial fall on Wall Street at the time of the auction resulted in a notably cooled demand.
The piece, Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer, was painted in 1963, one year after the two men met, and is the first of almost 40 works inspired by their relationship. One of only five triptychs painted of Dyer, it is representative of the explosive vitality of new romance and was completed during the period of Bacon’s greatest satisfaction in his personal and professional lives. A petty thief with a yearning to learn his true place in the world, Dyer was 33 years Bacon’s junior and sought meaning through his role as muse. When their dynamic as creatives and lovers alike began to crumble, Dyer fell into an intense depression. After some time apart, Bacon invited him to Paris for a retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1971, but ignored him in favour of other guests upon arrival. The young man finally snapped, and after a hurricane of drinking and drug use, he was found dead the following morning. In his guilt-ridden grief, Bacon would paint several more portraits of Dyer in the years that followed.
“George Dyer is Bacon’s number one muse, like Dora Maar was for Picasso,” said Loic Gouzer, deputy chairman of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s. “He was the subject who allowed Bacon to push his limits and become the artist he became.”
Bacon’s triptychs are incredibly sought after among art collectors; one piece that depicted his joint friend and rival, Lucian Freud, previously held the world record for highest bid fetched by a painting at an auction, with an offer of $142.4 million in 2013.
Behind the veil: the secret art collection in Iran
An Iranian museum guard protected a hidden $3bn collection of modern masters for 40 years.
Now they are out on the walls
CHRISTINA LAMB | ART | THE SUNDAY TIMES | SUNDAY 28 MAY 2017
On one wall is Jackson Pollock’s vast drip-painted Mural on Indian Red Ground — thought to be his most valuable painting. Opposite are two Mark Rothkos and a Picasso. In the next room, two Andy Warhols and a Robert Rauschenberg. Along the corridor, which spirals downwards like a reverse Guggenheim, there is a Henry Moore bronze, followed by works by Gilbert and George, Francis Bacon and Roy Lichtenstein. A glass case contains a wrapped Christo. Outside are sculptures by Giacometti and Magritte.
It’s one of the most exciting western art collections in the world, yet for most of the past four decades, it has lain forgotten and gathering dust in a vault. It is perhaps the last thing one expects to find in the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The museum housing it has a photograph of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini over the entrance — his contempt for western culture is well known — and just along the road is a “Death to USA” mural.
Amassed by the Shah’s wife, Empress Farah Diba Pahlavi, in the 1970s, using Iran’s oil wealth (it has the world’s fourth largest reserve), the collection opened in the specially built Museum of Contemporary Art in autumn 1977, with a lavish ceremony featuring horses, Japanese dancers and caviar from the Caspian Sea, attended by guests from around the world, including Nelson Rockefeller. But within a few months the Islamic Revolution had started; by January 1979 the royal family were on a plane and the Ayatollahs had taken over, banning western movies, music and many books. The art was quickly hidden.
Until now. In Iran to report on the elections last week, it was my birthday, and I decided to give myself a day off. I had met an artist who told me to go to the museum. I set off for Laleh (Tulip) Park, which at this time of year is lush and green. I entered a concrete building shaped like a periwinkle, bought a ticket and followed the walkway down.
It was the best pound I ever spent. First, an arresting black and white Picasso, The Painter and His Model. Then a wonderful vibrant Gauguin, Still Life with a Head-shaped Vase. Then the Pollock, a vast terracotta canvas with streaks of white, yellow, grey and black, valued by Christie’s seven years ago at $250m, and Rothko’s bold Sienna Orange and Black on Dark Brown. The next room has Warhol’s Suicide (Purple Jumping Man), which, though painted in 1963, makes one think of 9/11 and the “falling man” from the Twin Towers.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. One after another, fabulous works of art. And the only spectators me and a few young Iranians taking selfies, setting off the alarm by crossing the sensor. Altogether, 32 of the museum’s greatest masterpieces are on show, along with 30 leading (and also spectacular) Iranian works. The exhibition is titled The Travelers, because these works were supposed to be going to Berlin and Rome, the first time the collection has been shown overseas.
Afterwards I met the genial head of communications, Hassan Noferesti, who has worked here for 20 years. He gave me tea and explained that the museum has 3,400 pieces, of which half are western, all acquired in the 1970s, when auction houses and gallery owners from Paris to New York sent agents with slides for the buying frenzy. The empress even commissioned Warhol to fly to Iran and paint her portrait. For the past 38 years, they have remained locked in a basement vault behind a velvet rope, vast steel doors and a combination lock. Very few of the paintings have ever gone on loan in that time.
Noferesti introduced me to Firdouz Shahbazi Moghadam, 65, who he said was the real hero of the collection. He recently retired after 40 years, but still comes to the gallery every day.
Shahbazi told me he had been working as a driver for a flooring company and delivered something to the not yet completed museum in 1977. He ended up getting a job there as a guard. “There was huge excitement, we were working 24 hours a day to get it ready,” he said. “The empress was coming back and forth.”
Finally the big day came, but within months the revolution began. The museum is close to Tehran university, one of its centres. “There was unrest, fires and demonstrations, so we decided to collect all the works and put them in the treasury vault,” Shahbazi recalled.
They were just in time. Shortly after that, 20 armed Revolutionary Guards came to the museum. “They sent all the staff home, but asked me to stay,” he said. “I was afraid.” The museum director fled the country; Shahbazi ended up as keeper of the vault, responsible for a collection now valued at $3bn, even though he had never finished high school and knew nothing about art.
“I felt responsible for them, like a father taking care of his babies,” he said. “I was worried that conditions in the treasury are not like the museum and just wanted to keep them in the best way until they could be shown again.”
Royal palaces were thrown open to the public as examples of the degenerate lifestyle of the shahs, but the art collection was forgotten. Meanwhile, Shahbazi worked seven days a week. “I put everything else to one side and dedicated my life to the museum,” he said. “I was terrified of a flood if it rained.” He read art books to learn more. Occasionally, Revolutionary Guards would come. “They knew nothing about art,” he said. “They would laugh at the Picassos and say, ‘My children could draw that.’”
The museum reopened in the 1980s to exhibit patriotic propaganda during Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq. Occasionally people turned up at the vault with official letters demanding to borrow paintings. Shahbazi refused, suspecting loans would never be returned.
Astonishingly, the collection remained intact. The only painting to be removed was a Willem de Kooning, exchanged in 1990 for 118 pages of the Shahnameh, a book of 16th-century Persian miniatures owned by the American art collector Arthur Houghton and swapped on the tarmac at Vienna airport. “I took the piece to the airport, then received back the book,” Shahbazi said.
The collection briefly resurfaced in 2005 under the more liberal President Khatami, when a progressive director managed to get some of the paintings exhibited. He also tried to get permission to buy some Brit Art, but that was vetoed, and the exhibition closed after five months when the hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected. That was the last anyone has officially seen of the modern masterpieces.
After the historic nuclear deal of 2015, which reopened Iran’s relations with the West, the museum received lots of requests to lend its works. Agreements were signed with Germany and Italy, and 30 works were set to go to Berlin last December to show in the Gemäldegalerie, then on to Rome for an exhibition in the Maxxi museum.
“This was the first time we wanted to send so many pieces from our own vault to another country,” Noferesti said. “Everything was arranged, transportation, insurance with Lloyds...”
First, the Germans were upset when Iran hosted a cartoon contest about the Holocaust, and the director of the Contemporary Art Museum was one of the officials awarding prizes. Then the Iranian Painters Association wrote a letter protesting at the proposed loan, arguing that if the paintings went to Europe, they might not come back.
“We don’t have any problem having cultural relations with those two countries, or museums borrowing works — that’s useful,” Mohammed Reza Firouzehei, an artist on the board of the association, told me. “But all of a sudden they decide to send 30 masterpieces from the biggest artists in the world all at once! The paintings were bought by Empress Farah, and their ownership is not clear, so we’re worried they could be seized. Anyone might make a claim, and there’s no assurance the original will come back, rather than a copy.”
The initial December date came and went. A later date was set. Then the minister of culture was changed. In the end, the museum decided to take advantage of the distraction of the elections to show the paintings in Tehran. The re-election of President Hassan Rouhani, who re-established relations with the West, is more likely to enable the paintings to travel, and Noferesti believes they will go eventually.
“It seems unlikely they would be seized,” he said. “Farah Diba was only responsible for buying them. These paintings were bought from the oil budget, they weren’t personal belongings.”
Meanwhile, some paintings in the collection are unlikely to make the museum walls. “I think Renoir’s Gabrielle with the Open Blouse will be staying in the vault,” Noferesti said.
In Tehran, any exhibition is first scrutinised by censors from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Eagle-eyed visitors will notice that the Francis Bacon triptych Two Figures Lying on a Bed with Attendants has become a diptych with no bed. The middle painting, which shows two men in bed together, was considered beyond the pale in a country where homosexuality is forbidden. The exhibition had been open for just two hours when censors came to remove it. Look carefully: the hooks are still there.
Two parts of the Francis Bacon triptych Two Figures Lying on a Bed with Attendants Photograph: Zohreh Soleimani
Tate Britain to show Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon
works side by side in major new exhibition
The Tate will have to borrow work from some of the world’s greatest private collections for the show
ROBERT DEX | ARTS | EVENING STANDARD | THURSDAY 25 MAY 2017
Two giants of modern British art — Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon — will share wallspace in a major new exhibition next year.
The Tate will have to borrow work from some of the world’s greatest private collectors for the show which is part of a new season of exhibitions across the various galleries announced today.
Among the works likely to feature in the show, called All Too Human, is Freud’s Sleeping By The Lion Carpet which shows one of his regular models Sue Tilley asleep in his studio.
A similar work showing the same model, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, was bought at auction for £17.2 million almost a decade ago, setting a then record for a work by a living artist.
Both artist’s work is highly collectable with Bacon’s work attracting even higher sums — three portraits he did of Freud in 1969 sold for a staggering £89 million at auction four years ago.
Both men were members of the 1970’s-era School of London which was associated with more traditional work rather than the abstract approach fashionable at the time and the show will also include work by less-well known artists who were also members of the School such as Frank Auerbach and R.B. Kitaj.
Other shows announced today include an exhibition of work at Tate Britain by Pre-Raphaelite Edward Burne-Jones.
Around 150 of his works, including painting, stained glass and tapestry, will appear in the show which is the first major retrospective of his work in four decades.
As well as a previously announced Picasso show, Tate Modern will feature shows dedicated to two pioneering women artists — Joan Jonas, an early exponent of video art, and Anni Albers who transformed the use of textiles in art as part of Germany’s Bauhaus movement and then later in exile in the United States.
Other planned shows include an exhibition of photography with work by names including Man Ray and another examining how the First World War influenced the art of different countries including France, Germany and the UK.
ATHENAEUM ART HISTORY LECTURES: FRANCIS BACON
ART | LECTURES | LA JOLLA | SAN DIEGO READER | SATURDAY 20 MAY 2017
The Athenaeum Music & Arts Library is pleased to announce An Introduction to Francis Bacon, a series of art history lectures presented by Hugh Davies, director emeritus of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. On May 25 the subject will be Francis Bacon: Paintings from 1945-1973 and on June 29, Francis Bacon: the Late Work.
Hugh Davies did his doctoral dissertation on Francis Bacon at Princeton University, largely based on a series of interviews with the artist in London from February through July 1973. The dissertation was subsequently published by Garland Press as Outstanding Dissertations in the Fine Arts. Davies co-published another book on Francis Bacon with Sally Yard through Abbeville Press in 1986, contributed chapters and articles on Bacon for several other publications and exhibition catalogues, and curated Francis Bacon: Papal Portraits in 1999 for MCASD. He currently serves as one of the five members of the Francis Bacon Authentication Committee, which published his catalogue raisonné in 2016.
Note: If you previously attended the April 13 lecture introducing the art of Francis Bacon and had purchased tickets for the series (originally planned for just two lectures), contact the library to find out how to incorporate the third lecture.
When: Thursday, May 25, 2017, 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Contemporary Art Buyers Cautious After Wall Street Dips
By SCOTT REYBURN | ARTS | THE NEW YORK TIMES | WEDNESDAY, MAY 17, 2017
Francis Bacon’s brooding “Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer” from 1963 drew a winning bid of $51.8 million, including fees. “The Bacon could have done a bit better,” a private dealer said.
A substantial fall on Wall Street cooled demand Wednesday night at a Christie’s auction of contemporary works that was regarded by many as the first serious test of the art market in the Trump economy.
The 71-lot sale raised $448.1 million with fees against a low estimate of $339 million. Ninety-six percent of the works found buyers — helped by the auction house’s guaranteeing the minimum price of no fewer than 39 works — but bidders were conspicuously cautious, and few lots sold significantly above their estimates. Fifty-five percent of the lots were bought by American bidders, Christie’s said.
“If Wall Street hadn’t taken a dive, there would have been fireworks,” said David Benrimon, a New York dealer. “While the sale was strong over all, it did change the mood among American bidders, and these contemporary sales are about Americans.”
The core of Christie’s sale was a group of 25 works formerly owned by the eminent Kings Point, N.Y., collectors Emily and Jerry Spiegel, who both died in 2009. In September, their collection was divided between their daughters, Pamela Sanders and Lise Spiegel Wilks, who were reported to be feuding. Ms. Sanders is selling a total of 107 pieces with a value of more than $100 million at Christie’s while Ms. Wilks will be offering a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting valued at $60 million at Sotheby’s on Thursday night. Both sisters have been guaranteed minimum prices by the auction houses.
Ms. Sanders’ most highly valued Spiegel collection works at Christie’s were Sigmar Polke’s 1964 Ben-Day dot canvas, Frau mit Butterbrot, and Untitled, a 1988 Christopher Wool word painting emblazoned with “PLEASE” six times. Both works sold toward the low end of their estimates to telephone bidders, for $17 million and $17.2 million.
The Spiegel pieces, all of which were guaranteed — which can in itself sometimes dampen demand — raised $116 million against an estimate of $79 million.
Tellingly, the two highest-bid lots in Christie’s sale were both offered without guarantees. Cy Twombly’s six-foot-tall abstract, Leda and the Swan, was fresh to the auction market and was valued at $35 million to $55 million. It attracted at least five bidders before going to the dealer Larry Gagosian, who was in the room to bid the night’s top price of $52.9 million
Francis Bacon’s brooding Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer from 1963 was also fresh to the market without a guarantee. Entered from a private collection in Paris, having previously been owned by the author Roald Dahl, this triptych of expressive head studies of the artist’s lover was estimated to sell for at least $50 million — an auction high for Bacon canvases of smaller format. It attracted two telephone bidders and a winning bid of $51.8 million, including fees.
“The Bacon could have done a bit better,” said Ivor Braka, a private dealer based in London. “Because it wasn’t glazed, it lacked luster.” Mr. Braka added that the bidding was “measured and stable — unlike the politics in this country.”
Mr. Braka said that demand was all the more measured because of some ambitious estimates. Eyebrows were raised before the sale by Christie’s $13 million valuation on a monumental and thickly textured abstract by Mark Grotjahn, Untitled (S III Released to France Face 43.14), dating from 2011. The painting had been acquired by Patrick Seguin, a collector and dealer in 20th-century design based in Paris, directly from the artist for an undisclosed price.
Paintings by Mr. Grotjahn, who is based in California, are on the shopping lists of many wealthy collectors, but this work was valued — and guaranteed by a third party — at a level that was exactly double the artist’s previous auction high. Nonetheless, two telephone bidders pushed the price up to $16.8 million.
It was a strong estimate, but we went for it,” said Alex Rotter, Christie’s co-chairman of postwar and contemporary art in the Americas. He added: “It’s a competitive environment, and that leads to certain price expectations. I was worried when I looked at the stock market today, but if a lot sells for a couple of ticks above estimate, that’s a success.”
Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale
17 May 2017, New York, Rockefeller Center
SALE 14187 | LOT 38 B | FRANCIS BACON (1909 - 1992)
Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer
titled and dated '3 Studies For Portrait of George Dyer 1963.'
(on the reverse of the
triptych—oil on canvas each: 14 x 12 in. (35.5 x 30.5 cm.)
Painted in 1963.
Price realised USD 51,767,500
Marlborough Fine Art, London
Roald Dahl, Great Missenden
Waddington Galleries, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Property From a Private Collection, Paris
Francis Bacon, exh. cat.,
Paris, Centre National d’Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, 1996, p. 64
D. Sturrock, Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl, New York, 2010, p. 440.
J. A. Knapp, ed., Shakespeare and the Power of the Face, Farnham, 2015, pp. 168-170, fig. 10.2 (illustrated).
M. Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné: Volume III 1958-71, London, 2016, pp. 738-739, no. 63-15 (illustrated in color).
Oslo, Kunstnerforbundet; Trondheim,
Kunstforening; Bergen, Kunstforeningen; Warsaw, Museum Narodowe; Poznan, Museum
Narodowe and Krakow, Museum Narodowe, British Paintings 1945-1970,
January-July 1972, n.p., no. 10 (illustrated).
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Bacon-Freud: Expressions, July-October 1995, pp. 46-47 and 204, no. 11 (illustrated in color).
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Wounds: Between Democracy and Redemption in Contemporary Art, February-April 1998, vol. 1, p. 171; vol. 2, n.p. (illustrated in color).
Paris, Fondation Dina Vierny-Musée Maillol, Francis Bacon: Le Sacré et le Profane, April-June 2004, pp. 112 and 157 (illustrated in color).
Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Francis Bacon: Portraits and Heads, June-September 2005, pp. 60-61, no. 29 (illustrated in color).
Hamburger Kunsthalle, Francis Bacon. Die Portraits, October 2005-January 2006, p. 73, no. 28 (illustrated in color).
London, Tate Britain; Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado and New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective, September 2008-August 2009, pp. 186 and 280 (illustrated in color).
Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer is the very first portrait Francis Bacon painted of his greatest muse. Executed in 1963, this mesmeric triptych was completed mere months after Bacon first met George Dyer, a handsome petty thief from London’s East End. It marks the inception of their turbulent and ultimately tragic relationship and introduces a model who, John Russell declared, “will live forever in the iconography of the English face” (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London, 1971, p. 165). The encounter between the two lovers was transformative, with Dyer becoming to Bacon what Dora Maar famously was to Picasso. His masculinity and muscularity, his sexual aura and anxious persona, acted as a wellspring for pictorial breakthroughs that helped stake Bacon’s claim as one of the 20th-century’s most celebrated artists.
This triptych is the beginning of a journey that saw Bacon paint Dyer’s face and body obsessively for many years. Dyer would appear in at least 40 of Bacon’s paintings, many of which were created after his death in Paris in 1971, barely 36 hours before Bacon’s major retrospective opened at the Grand Palais. The convulsive beauty of the present work represents the flowering of Bacon’s infatuation with the man portrayed and is only one of five triptychs of Dyer that the artist painted in this intimate scale. This example is unique among them, as it does not depict the white shirt and sharp suit that Dyer invariably wore. Instead, the head and neck emerge disembodied from the darkness—explosive, agitated, naked, and unmoored from spatial or temporal reality.
Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer was completed during the moment of greatest personal and professional contentment in Bacon’s career. In the autumn of 1961 he had ended his somewhat transient existence by securing a permanent base at 7 Reece Mews in South Kensington. He also established a habitual structure for his paintings during this time—limiting his supports to the 14 x 12-inch canvas format used exclusively for portrait heads, and the large 78 x 58-inch canvases that typically show full-length bodies and biomorphic figures. When the artist met Dyer towards the end of 1963, Bacon was being praised by a public who now saw him less as a maverick, than a master of figurative painting. This came on the heels of his first major retrospective in May 1962 at Tate in London, which was followed by a triumphant exhibition at New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in October 1963.
beginning of the 1960s also signaled a new virtuosity and complete change of
style for the artist as all his brushwork became concentrated in the figure,
whereas in earlier works the figure tended to dissolve into the field. What
first strikes the viewer of this triple portrait are the vigour, passion and
fluidity of Bacon’s painting
technique. Dyer’s presence materializes from dynamic interlocking lines and
planes rendered in white and flesh-toned hues mixed with sweeps of emerald, all
set against a gritty black void. His distorted features appear and dissolve in
the sweeps of gestured paint, with flecks of vermilion and gaping holes
articulating the contours of his animated visage. There is something beyond
representation on display here—this is the individual presented as their very
essence. It is this quality that made Three Studies for a Portrait of George
Dyer so compelling to its first owner—another titan of the arts—writer Roald
Dahl, who chose with great care five singular works from Bacon’s oeuvre between
1964 and 1967. The triptych was seldom displayed publicly in the decades to
follow, but it has in more recent years been included in significant
international solo exhibitions, including the Francis Bacon retrospective that
toured the Tate in London, the Museo Nacional Prado in Madrid and the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York between 2008 and 2009.
The Rise and Fall of George Dyer
Bacon and Dyer’s first encounter is the stuff of art world legend, thanks to Bacon’s claim that he caught Dyer in the act of breaking into his Reece Mews studio—a myth perpetuated by the 1998 biopic film Love is the Devil. But the artist also told a less glamorous but much more plausible tale of meeting him during a night of drunken fun. Whichever the case, Bacon was instantly attracted to the handsome young man with the build of a Michelangelo figure and an air of latent violence. This was in the autumn of 1963, when Bacon was almost 54 and Dyer was around 30. An intense friendship immediately sprung up between the two very different men, with Dyer becoming Bacon’s lover, muse and dependent throughout much of the 1960s and early ‘70s.
Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer was painted within a couple of months
of their first acquaintance, when Bacon’s passion for the younger man was at its
most fervent. As a known masochist who had a predilection for “rough trade,”
Bacon was drawn to Dyer’s underworld mystique and criminal past. He would soon
discover, however, that behind Dyer’s immaculately groomed yet somewhat menacing
façade was a shy, kind-hearted man who made a hopeless career criminal.
“[George] was much too nice to be a crook,” Bacon would later joke (F. Bacon,
quoted in M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in Your Blood: A Memoir, London, 2015, p.
248). In fact, the man Bacon dubbed “Sir George” was a troubled, emotionally
fraught character. Often pale, anxious
and constantly smoking, Dyer
frequently found himself crippled by a sense of insecurity and purposelessness.
He devoted himself to Bacon and tried to convince himself that being a
significant artist’s companion and subject of much-lauded paintings gave his
life greater meaning. But as the decade wore on and the pair’s dynamic began to
unravel, Dyer’s drinking and despondency grew increasingly worse. Bacon became
impatient with his neediness and Dyer became desperate—he attempted suicide on
more than one occasion and framed the artist for cannabis possession, which led
to a humiliating court case that ultimately came to center on Dyer unreliability
as a witness. The intensity of his relationship with Dyer became a source of
both deep personal sadness and important artistic stimulation for Bacon, who
chronicled Dyer’s perceived deficiencies in a masterful series of large
stand-alone canvases, including George Dyer Riding a Bicycle, 1966 (Fondation
and Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror, 1968 (Museo
Although Bacon tried to distance himself from Dyer on several occasions, the pair remained close. Dyer was invited to join Bacon’s entourage to Paris for the retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1971, but Bacon virtually ignored him on arrival. Unable to cope with the crowd of dignitaries and admirers that permanently surrounded Bacon there, Dyer went on an alcohol- and pill-fueled bender. The next morning, he was found dead in their hotel room. On a recent BBC documentary, A Brush with Violence, former Marlborough Gallery employee Terry Danziger-Miles revealed that he was one of the first people at the scene, along with Bacon’s gallerist Valerie Beston, and that Beston, Bacon and the hotel’s manager agreed not to announce Dyer’s death for two days to prevent the whiff of scandal ruining the exhibition’s opening proceedings.
The degree to which Bacon was subsequently consumed by grief and guilt was evidenced in his posthumous paintings known collectively known as the Black Triptychs, which relate the tragic circumstances of his lover’s last, lonely hours: In Memory of George Dyer, 1971 (Fondation Beyeler, Basel), Triptych August, 1972 (Tate, London) and Triptych May-June, 1973 (private collection). Bacon was immensely tortured by his death, and portraits of Dyer continued to haunt his output for some years. He later reflected that, “[Dyer’s] stealing at least gave him a raison d’être, even though he wasn’t very successful at it and was always in and out of prison. It gave him something to think about... I thought I was helping him when I took him out of that life. I knew the next time he was caught he’d get a heavy sentence. And I thought, well, life’s too short to spend half of it in prison. But I was wrong, of course. He’d have been in and out of prison, but at least he’d have been alive” (F. Bacon, ibid. p. 248).
Portraiture and the Search for the Self
From the early 1960s Bacon was increasingly drawn to portraiture for its element
of artistic jeopardy. Long the preserve of High Art, portraiture was then out of
step with prevailing trends and needed to be completely reinvented if it was to
remain culturally relevant. It needed to investigate the existential nature of
life itself. Bacon was above all concerned with the conditions of painting and
sought to make his ideas and their method of delivery inseparable. His aim was
to find a technique that would “trap the energy that emanates” from a person,
this task he recruited a select
number of close friends whose personalities shared his own taste for risk.
Although Bacon idealized Dyer’s thuggish good looks, he was also able to grasp beneath the veneer of his tough appearance to expose something of his inner vulnerability. In Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer, Dyer’s head and neck completely fill the frame, confronting the viewer with the concentrated intensity of an intimate and startlingly animated portrait. Mute and isolated upon a vacant ground, the figure is engulfed within the dark depths of his own psyche. The sequence of ever-shifting visages, rendered in a palette more reminiscent of muscle and tissue than skin, seems to turn Dyer inside out, stripping him down to mutable flesh hanging from bone. Still identifiable despite the contortions, Dyer’s portrait seems to speak of mortality and the fleetingness of human life in simple and universal terms.
David Sylvester once asked Bacon, “When you’re painting a portrait, are you at all conscious of trying to say something about your feelings in regard to the model or about what the model might be feeling, or are you only thinking about their appearance?” Bacon replied, “Every form that you make has an implication, so that, when you are painting somebody, you know that you are, of course, trying to get near not only to their appearance but also to the way they have affected you” (D. Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, 1962–1979, London, 1980, p. 130). This statement acknowledges the unavoidable trace of the artist’s subjectivity in summoning his images. For although a portrait is a representation of another individual, it is also inevitably a reflection of the self. Bacon’s practice of working in isolation from his sitters, relying on memory, photographic cues and an instinctive approach to color, form and line, permitted him to not simply describe, but also to invite the realm of the unconscious and imaginary into his art. In this way, he felt better able to distil into the paint surface a sense of the emotional impact his subjects made upon him.
Bacon would often further muddy the waters between subject and object by impressing aspects of his own features onto that of his sitters. There are hints of this practice in Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer, particularly in the right-hand panel where an enlarged eye socket and broad right cheek have more in common with Bacon’s face than Dyer’s. The triptych can therefore be seen as a dramatic conjoining of two lovers’ bodies. Here Bacon seeks a proximity and intensity to Dyer through paint that was impossible in life, for, as he once described his frustration, “If you’re in love you can’t break down the barriers of the skin” (F. Bacon quoted in M. Harrison, In Camera Francis Bacon: Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting, London, 2005, p. 216).
As the first portrait of Dyer that Bacon ever painted, the present work is a dedication to his all-consuming new relationship. This idea is given added poignancy when one reflects on the resonance it has with a triptych Bacon painted the previous year featuring a self-portrait flanked by images of his former partner Peter Lacy. Bacon had received the news of Lacy’s death in Tangier on the occasion of his 1962 retrospective exhibition at the Tate, and within a month or so he completed Study for Three Heads, 1962 (Museum of Modern Art, New York), initiating the 14 x 12-inch measurements that he would subsequently use for all his small portrait paintings. Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer is like the earlier work not just in its scale, but also in its concentration on the disembodied head rendered in a palette of pinks, white and emerald green against a black background. Yet Study for Three Heads has a more spectral quality as the application of pigment is thinner, the brushstrokes broader. It somehow lacks the intense physical presence and visceral paint application of the Dyer triptych. Considered together, it would seem Bacon used his art to exorcize his feelings of loss towards one lover and to celebrate the beginning of a new chapter with another.
According to Michael Peppiatt, George Dyer “came to feel inseparable from the effigies Bacon had created of him. They gave him a raison d’être, a stature even, that his failure to be anything else made all the more precious” (M. Peppiatt, op. cit., p. 213). Dyer took enormous pride in being the subject of so many paintings, but he could not fathom why Bacon depicted him as he did. Indeed, Bacon’s practice of pulling apart and reconstructing people’s appearance reached a new level of intensity with the portraits of George Dyer. Not only had Bacon reached the height of his creative powers, but found in Dyer’s handsome visage and athletic body the perfect vehicle for conveying his most complex feelings towards human existence.
As with all his portraits of Dyer, the liberties Bacon took with his appearance in this triptych are underpinned by an erotic charge. His features are at once pummeled out of shape and caressed by sweeping brushstrokes, echoing the sadomasochistic pleasures Bacon desired from his lovers. But the portraits also expose Bacon’s sensitivity to Dyer’s fragility. The eyes in each canvas are averted from the viewer, either searching the surroundings furtively, looking downwards, or slightly detached, as if the sitter were withdrawn in anxious thought. The mouth, meanwhile, is closed and twisted, and is even partially obscured by gestural brushwork, particularly in the central panel. These erasures seem intended to evoke Dyer’s slight speech impediment, which made him sound, according to Daniel Farson, “as if the words were struggling to break free” (D. Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, London, 1993, p. 172). Bacon considered his painterly deformations and dissolutions to be a concentration of reality, a shorthand of sensation. His work confronts the forces of the body that make it flesh and bone, as well as the forces outside the body that infuse and surround it. His aim was to slow down the chaos of reality, the chaos of emotion, to provide a new concept of the portrait, a new sensation that harnesses a balance between tension and collapse. “What fascinates him are the invisible forces that model flesh or shake it,” Gilles Deluze observed. “This is the relationship not of form and matter, but of materials and forces—making these forces visible through their effects on the flesh. …What fascinates Bacon is not movement, but its effects on an immobile body: heads whipped by wind or deformed by an aspiration, but also all the interior forces that climb through the flesh. To make the spasm visible” (G. Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, London, 2005, p. xii).
The malleable quality of Bacon’s figures and heads was founded on the early influence of Picasso on his ambition to become an artist. Picasso’s example had revealed to him “how realism can draw on the unconscious” to great effect (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London, 2000, p. 13). Taking this lesson on board, Bacon contorted his subjects with the goal of making them somehow more real, more poignant, than if they were painted in a naturalistic fashion. In Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer, Bacon’s prodigious use of rapid, impulsive brush marks creates an encrusted surface wrought from swirling rhythms of scumbled paint, giving the sense of Dyer’s life force. Despite the visual turmoil, the figure remains instantly recognizable, perfectly encompassing Bacon’s quest to “distort the thing far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance” (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London, 1987, p. 40).
“Triptychs are the things I like doing most,” Bacon stated in 1979. “So far as my work has any quality, I often feel perhaps it is the triptychs that have the best quality” (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London, 2000, p. 100). Indeed, Bacon’s triptych paintings, both epic and intimate, have largely defined his career. With his portrait studies, he found in this structure a vehicle for painting differing angles and perspectives within a sequence of closely related units, while in his larger paintings he could establish complex interrelated yet isolated scenes. It was a device that he often used since painting his groundbreaking 1944 triptych, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (Tate, London), as it allowed him to explore his subject matter both more accurately and with more detachment.
When asked what attracted him to this format, he answered, “I see images in series. And I suppose I could go on long beyond the triptych and do five or six together, but I find the triptych to be the most balanced format” (F. Bacon, ibid, p. 100). When not painting triptychs, Bacon tended to think in broader series, producing variations on thematically linked imagery such as his Popes, men in suits and van Gogh paintings. The present work seems to fit into both categories of Bacon’s work for, as a triptych belonging to a grouping of five Dyer portrait triptychs, its seriality is multiplied. An inscription on the reverse of the later triptych, Three Studies of George Dyer (on pink ground) 1964 (private collection) stating, “3 Portraits of George Dyer Series No. 2 1964,” would suggest the artist intended for present work to become an extended cycle, thereby multiplying its serial nature well beyond the confines of the tripartite form.
In historical Christian art, triptychs often followed a hierarchical structure, where the most attention is concentrated on the central panel and the attendant wings are dedicated to supporting stories or portraits of saints or donors. With Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer there is no such hierarchy, in fact the subject itself is the same across all three canvases. In the left and right-hand panels, the two heads look slightly inward towards the central panel, effectively bracketing the work and lending the three images a collective and cohesive unity. This creates a kind of visual circuit as the viewer’s eye tracks back and forth between Dyer’s turned heads and his line of sight. This feature is a progression on the linear dramatic development evident in Bacon’s earliest portrait triptych, Three Studies of the Human Head 1953 (private collection)—a seminal work that depicts three individuals respectively grinning, screaming and in a state of collapse.
The conscious building of three different images into a unity is a unique and powerful feature of Bacon’s later portrait triptychs that reflects his belief that a combination of images merges together in the mind to form a stronger and more accurate picture of hard factual reality. In this triptych, the isolated frames suggest a kind of shuttering or strobe effect that throws the essence of Dyer’s psychological and physical presence into relief. “Of course,” Bacon once said, “what in a curious way one’s always hoping to do is to paint the one picture which will annihilate all the other ones, to concentrate everything into one painting. But actually in the series one picture reflects on the other continuously and sometimes they’re better in series than they are separately because, unfortunately, I’ve never yet been able to make the one image that sums up all the others. So one image against the other seems to be able to say the thing more” (F. Bacon, quoted in, D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London, 1990, p. 130-133).
Photography, Time and Motion
Bacon hated making people pose for him in his studio. He stated, in an oft-cited quote, that sitting models “inhibit me. They inhibit me because, if I like them, I don’t want to practice before them the injury that I do to them in my work. I would rather practice the injury in private by which I think I can record the fact of them more clearly” (F. Bacon, ibid., p. 41). He instead found reference images were enough of a trigger to access his unconscious, intuitive impulses—they were “a release mechanism for ideas, a detonator” (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Kundera & F. Borel, Portraits and Self-Portraits, London, 1996, p. 201). As with most of his portraits of friends, Bacon relied on photographs for the creation of Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer. The source images for the triptych were a series commissioned from John Deakin, a drinking companion who had previously worked as a photographer for Vogue. Deakin captured at least four sets of photographs dedicated to Dyer, including close-up portraits and nudes. The black-and-white prints used for this work show Dyer in profile and front on, like a group of police mug-shots—a significant coincidence given his criminal history.
It is important to note that in Bacon’s effort to advance portrait painting, he turned to the very thing that had usurped it. Yet Bacon sought something more than the illustrative, something that could only be achieved through the mercurial medium of paint. He did not use photographs slavishly, depending at least as much on his memory and imagination to harness the sought-for essence of the individual. Adopting a dispassionate, almost scientific, detachment from his subject matter, Bacon consciously disrupted the recognizability of Deakin’s images, smearing and battering Dyer’s head into a distorted image—one more real, he hoped, than any naturalistic representation. “I think it’s the slight remove from the fact, which returns me onto the fact more violently,” he told David Sylvester. “Through the photographic image I find myself beginning to wander into the image and unlock what I think of its reality more than I can by looking at it” (D, Sylvester, op. cit., p. 30).
A photographic image is laden with pathos, as, in freezing the transient, it points to our mortality. The triptych format of the present work, and its depiction of Dyer’s ever-shifting face, seems to respond to this notion of temporality. The three variants of the same subject speak to time’s active force in a way that recalls Eadweard Muybridge’s famous sequential photographic studies of the figure in motion—another key visual reference for Bacon. Deakin’s original “mug-shots” of Dyer captured several viewpoints to convey a sense of three dimensions, but it is Bacon’s dynamic reinterpretation that has truly brought the subject to life. The dramatic changes to Dyer’s head imply that nothing is permanent, that even when we are static we are defenseless to change at the hands of time. As John Russell has explained, with Bacon’s painting, “the image is nowhere fixed, finite, descriptive; and yet it tells us more fully and more truthfully than any conventional portrait what it is like to be a human being. It suggests to us that earlier images have been unwarrantedly bland in their presentation of human nature; and it also suggests that this particular new kind of presentation is something that only painting can do. Painting here reclaims its rights” (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London, 1971, p. 132)
Francis Bacon’s childhood home in Co Kildare guides €2.75m
MADELEINE LYONS | THE IRISH TIMES | THURSDAY, MAY 11, 2017
When Marcus and Edel Beresford took up residence at Straffan Lodge in 1989, the primary appeal was its location. Dublin based for the preceding decade, the couple, who originally hailed from stately homes, wanted to return to country life. Just 18 miles from Dublin, Straffan Lodge on the outskirts of the Kildare village of Straffan, provided the ideal base for Marcus, a solicitor (and former chairman of A&L Goodbody) and historian, and his wife Edel, a keen sportswoman who fly-fishes for Ireland.
The couple are also equine enthusiasts, and trained racehorses locally with Arthur Moore for many years, including Marcus du Berlais which placed second and third in the 2004 and 2005 Grand Nationals
The 34 acres of land at Straffan Lodge was mainly kept for the children’s ponies as they pursued eventing and showjumping interests.
Marcus Beresford almost apologetically admits that Straffan Lodge’s most prominent claim to fame had practically eluded him until they had already taken up ownership. For it was here that the internationally acclaimed Irish artist Francis Bacon spent his early years.
From 1909 the artist lived here until 1926 when he famously fell out with his father, a former British army captain, who had retired to Kildare to train and breed racehorses, with little success, his son always said.
Marcus defends Bacon junior’s harsh analysis, having reviewed Bacon senior’s training records, and he regrets never having contacted Bacon before his death in 1992 to ask about his time at Straffan Lodge.
Instead, and for many years, Bacon’s sister, Ianthe, was a frequent visitor to the property where she recalled an idyllic childhood. Unsurprising really, given the lovely matured sylvan setting and the 5,000sq ft Georgian country manor at its heart.
Artist Francis Bacon lived in Straffan Lodge from 1909 to 1926.
Straffan Lodge was most likely built on the land of the original Straffan House Demesne – where the K Club is now located – originally owned by the Barton family, of Barton & Guestier wine.
The house itself, like many Irish country homes, appears to have evolved over two eras. The front section dates from the 1820s, and was likely to have been added to the more modest rear as the owner’s fortunes improved.
The main hall, approached via a flight of granite steps, retains its Georgian features including simple cornices, fanlight above the front door and original timber floors.
In keeping with the symmetry of the era, the two main receptions are accessed to the right and left of the hall, and with their original floor to ceiling shuttered sash windows, they make the very most of their sunny southerly aspect on a glorious May day.
The formal receptions are covered with oil portraits of notable figures from the Beresford family tree. Marcus is the 7th Baron Decies in the de la Poer Beresford line, and ancestors of note include Marshall Williams Carr Beresford who, as Captain General of Spain, was Wellington’s right-hand man in the Napoleonic war, and Archbishop of Tuam, William Beresford, whose unfeasibly large and flamboyant portrait quite dominates the upper stairway.
Both receptions feature fine marble fireplaces – the one in the diningroom came from Edel’s family home, Belleville, beside the Ashtown gates of the Phoenix Park.
Off the dining room is a cosy duck egg blue country kitchen added in the 1920s and updated by the Beresfords, with a lovely bay window overlooking the lawn, and French windows lead out to a very nicely contained patio and large enclosed garden.
One side of the enclosure – where the barbecue is located – comprises an ornate folly wall hand-built by previous owner, Robert Guinness of the Guinness banking family, who lived here for 20 years.
To the rear of the ground floor are probably the original more modest rooms of Straffan Lodge, and include a study with woodburning stove, an office, a cloakroom and a second scullery kitchen/utility.
Upstairs are five bedrooms laid out over two levels. The grander two – added with the main receptions below – face to the front, providing lovely uninterrupted views across the lawn, beyond the Ha-Ha to the paddocks running to the boundary. Two smaller doubles, a single, two en suites and an updated bathroom complete the upstairs accommodation.
The basement, as with all these country homes, has long since retired its original function as a downstairs kitchen, although a sprawling old range stands as testimony. Now it’s used as a snooker room, there’s a tack room off it with access to the yard, a wine cellar and gun room.
Francis Bacon: lived at Straffan Lodge until he was 16.
Just outside the back door of the house is a strip of loose boxes and garages, and somewhat surprisingly, three further bedrooms of guest accommodation in a fully refurbished and heated two-storey house adjacent to the main house.
Behind this, in an area replanted where the original orchard once stood, is an astro turf tennis court and, Marcus’s pride and joy, a fruit garden which promises a huge bounty of raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, blueberries, loganberries and gooseberries any day now.
With their four children reared the Beresfords are moving on – albeit with a heavy heart after many happy years here – and Straffan Lodge is for sale by tender, with Paddy Jordan guiding €2.75 million.
The tender process is a little different to the usual private treaty and auction methods, and is more often applied to commercial land sales.
Unconditional sealed bids are invited before July 3rd, which means all due diligence must be completed and the deposit prepared in advance. Paddy Jordan is banking on concentrating minds over a finite selling period – not a bad strategy given that country home sales can often be protracted affairs over a minimum of 12 months. Whether it pays off is anyone’s guess.
Straffan Lodge will doubtless need another injection of cash to bring it up to modern day living requirements, but the basic ingredients for a lovely rambling family home are all there. The land itself may also have appeal for local stud farms looking to extend their footprint in the heart of bloodstock country.
Sensationeller Neuerwerb: Francis Bacons „Portrait“ von 1962 im Museum für Gegenwartskunst
Siegen. Das ist großartig. Francis Bacons „Portrait“ von 1962 ist wieder zu sehen, aber nicht irgendwo, sondern in Siegen im Museum für Gegenwartskunst.
Die Ausstellung „6 x Francis Bacon … und andere Höhepunkte der Sammlung Lambrecht-Schadeberg“, die ihr 25-jähriges Bestehen feiert, läuft bis Dezember diesen Jahres.
SIEGERLAND KURIER | 12 MAI 2017
30 Jahre lang befand sich Francis Bacons „Portrait“ von 1962 in der Privatsammlung des italienischen Filmregisseurs Michelangelo Antonioni, unzugänglich für die Öffentlichkeit.
Das Gemälde ist besonders, nicht nur weil es lange Zeit „verschwunden“ war; es gibt dazu eine Zeichnung mit der Notiz: „This painting is a portrait of Peter (Dieses Bild portraitiert Peter)“. Das war Bacons Lebensgefährte Peter Lacy. Dadurch bekommt das Gemälde eine sehr persönliche Komponente, stellt es doch einen Dialog zwischen den beiden Partnern dar. Außerdem zeigt sich in dem Bild erstmals ein Rundraum, in dessen Mitte sich die Figur wie auf einer Bühne präsentiert. Am Rand verarbeitete Bacon dünne Farben, während er zur Mitte hin und gerade dort dicke Farbschichten auftrug. Francis Bacon ist bekannt für seine impulsiven Selbstinszenierungen, auch dass er sein Privatleben in seine Kunst mit einbrachte; er machte keinen Hehl aus seiner Homosexualität. „Interessant ist, dass Francis Bacon etwa im Gegensatz zu Lucian Freud lieber alleine im Atelier war und nach Fotovorlagen arbeitete“, weiß Museumsdirektorin Dr. Eva Schmidt zu berichten. Die Preise für Bacons Bilder sind in den vergangenen Jahren enorm gestiegen; er gilt als einer der bedeutendsten Maler des 20. Jahrhunderts. Sein „Portrait“ von 1962 zeigte Francis Bacon übrigens zum ersten Mal in seiner ersten Retrospektive. Stationen waren damals Glasgow, Zürich und das Kunstmuseum in Bochum. Neben Bacons Frühwerken der 50er Jahre und Spätwerken der 80er Jahre zählen insbesondere die Arbeiten aus den 60ern und 70ern zu seinen eindrücklichsten.
Insgesamt sechs Gemälde des Iren Francis Bacon (1909-1992), der im Alter von 58 Jahren der 3. Rubenspreisträger der Stadt Siegen geworden war, können Besucher jetzt betrachten: neben dem „Portrait“ von 1962 noch „Study for Portrait (Pope)“ von 1957, „Small Study for a Portrait“ von 1959/50, „Study from the Human Body and Portrait“ von 1988, „Study for Landscape after Van Gogh“ von 1957 sowie „Man at Curtain“ von 1949/50. Somit beherbergt das Museum für Gegenwartskunst eine der wichtigsten Bacon-Sammlungen in Europa.
Aber es gibt noch zusätzliche spektakuläre Neuankäufe des Museums, wie etwa weitere Bilder von Lucian Freud, Bridget Riley, Emil Schumacher und Fritz Winter. Mit all diesen Bild-Höhepunkten feiert die Sammlung, die 1992 von Barbara Lambrecht-Schadeberg gegründet wurde, ihr 25-jähriges Bestehen. Zur Ausstellung gibt es ein filmisches Portrait und sonntägliche Führungen bezüglich Francis Bacon. „Jedes einzelne Bild der Sammlung Lambrecht-Schadeberg prägt diese, wertet sie weiter auf und schreibt mit an der Geschichte der Malerei des 20. und 21. Jahrhunderts“, betont Kurator Prof. Dr. Christian Spies.
Museumsdirektorin Dr. Eva Schmidt und Sammlungs-Kurator Prof. Dr. Christian Spies vor Francis Bacons „Portrait“ von 1962.
Looking Back at Bacon: Reviewing the Oeuvre
Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, edited by Martin Harrison, with Rebecca Daniels,
London: HENI Publishing, 2016, 5 vols, 1,538 pp., 800 col. illus., hardback, £1,000
RINA ARYA | REVIEW | ART HISTORY | ISSUE 3 | VOLUME 40 | THURSDAY 11 MAY 2017
The exquisitely presented five-volume catalogue raisonné of Francis Bacon was published in June 2016 by the Estate of Francis Bacon. Compiled by Martin Harrison, with Rebecca Daniels as research assistant, the new publication has been keenly anticipated, promising to reveal numerous works that had not been seen before. In press coverage Harrison remarked on how Bacon scholarship had hitherto concentrated on a core of Bacon’s works, leaving others overlooked or undiscovered. At the outset, then, the ‘unveiling’ of Bacon’s entire oeuvre in the catalogue raisonné was bound to be substantial.
A word about the catalogue raisonné as a category of art-historical writing: it is premised on a certain idea about personhood and implies the coherence of a body of work. This is problematic, something revealed both in the images and commentary in this particular catalogue. Although we can speak of particular leitmotifs in Bacon’s oeuvre, as will become apparent below there are a number of issues resisting the idea of his work as a coherent whole. The appeal of such a project – how digital technology brings about the communications necessary for the gathering of Bacon’s complete works and the digitization of the work itself – should not lead us to take for granted the value of the catalogue raisonné as such. These caveats need to be considered whenever approaching such a publication. Although it is desirable to chronicle the works of a signifi cant artist, and access to the complete works enables cross-comparison, the endeavour is fraught with problems pertaining to the very category of selfhood. There is also the question about acclaim; why is it that some artists are deemed worthy of the monumental effort of a catalogue raisonné, whilst others are recognized more disparately? The status granted to Francis Bacon, as arguably one of the greatest British artists of the twentieth century and as prophet of a sensibility that seems to symbolize the modern condition, may go some way to explaining his enduring appeal in the art world.
The first catalogue raisonné was published in 1964 by Ronald Alley and John Rothenstein, covering work up to 1963.1 Bacon had a long career and painted up to his death in 1992. A comprehensive catalogue raisonné of the entirety of his life’s work is therefore long overdue. Since the publication of the fi rst catalogue a few works had been destroyed or lost. Some had gone into private ownership without public record, thereby increasing the challenge to track them down. In addition, works were left behind when Bacon left his Cromwell Place studio in April 1951, and the other studios he occupied including in Tangier and St Ives. Work was also found in Chelsea Art Stores in 1997 (418). Some works such as Head with Raised Arm (1955) (55–14) could not be traced.2 In isolated cases – ‘Figure’ (c. 1959) (59–16) for example – there were doubts as to whether the work was actually by Bacon, consequently requiring authentication.3 The logistics of locating, investigating, analysing, validating and documenting the entire body of work was a mammoth task, taking over a decade to complete and requiring the cooperation of many individuals across the world, including private collectors and gallery archivists. In particular, Harrison acknowledges the debt owed to Valerie Beston, the gallery administrator at Marlborough Fine Art, who represented him from 1958. Unlike Bacon, Beston was meticulous at recordkeeping and her documentation (including her diary) proved invaluable for the research.
The Francis Bacon Authentication Committee – comprising Hugh M. Davies, Norma Johnson, Richard Calvocoressi, Sarah Whitfield, and Ludovic de Walden, a legal representative – was set up in 2006, tasked with examining the veracity of work and with recovering as much as possible, eliminating forgeries in the process. A call was released for artworks to be submitted to the committee within a decade, from 2006 to 2016. Incomplete documentation meant that each work had to be examined in terms of iconography, style, and provenance, amongst other aspects. The committee further sought the expertise of a group of conservationists and scientists. It was headed by Brian Singer, based at the University of Northumbria, who studied Bacon’s materials and techniques; findings were recorded on a database. They used a variety of observational equipment and chemical analyses to determine characteristic production methods, that is, whether a particular paint or material was typical or atypical for Bacon at a stated time.
The compilation of the new catalogue raisonné involved two distinct approaches, accounting for unknown works and also making revisions to the earlier catalogue. Revisions were made to certain titles, dates and even the very existence of a work – Alley had believed that The End of the Line (c. 1953) (53–28) was destroyed but this was not in fact the case. Fundamentally, this means that this new catalogue raisonné is much more than an updated version of the previous catalogue, serving as a corrective, and perhaps even the definitive record. A total of 584 paintings are contained in volumes II, III and IV, respectively covering the periods 1929– 57, 1958–71 and 1971–92. In addition, there is a range of supporting material including sketches by Bacon (contained mainly in volume V) and photographs of early stages of paintings, X-ray photographs of the works, and photographs of people in his life. Volume I is a contextualizing preface containing a detailed chronology, with further and previously unpublished photographs, and an extended critical essay by Harrison providing a thorough overview of Bacon’s work. Elke Cwiertnia, a doctoral student at the University of Northumbria, wrote the second essay, about the materials and techniques used by Bacon. This includes his use of cloths in the 1950s as a tool both for the application of paint, and to modulate the surface (69). Cwiertnia’s research is part of a relatively new strand in Bacon studies: technical or scientific analysis. Volume V contains a range of drawings, bibliographic details, and an index consisting only of a list of works.
Each catalogue entry is accompanied by a wealth of factual material: the provenance and exhibition history, with details of solo and group shows, the catalogues of which are listed in section six in volume V. The visual list of exhibitions is useful to consult, as it conveys which works have been seen more widely in the public domain. Moreover, Harrison cross-references Alley’s catalogue entries, and discusses points of difference, including instances of re-dating and retitling. On the matter of assigning dates, there are a number of ways that this has been done. One is by adhering to textual evidence, whether written notes on the backs of canvases, gallery records, archival information or photographic evidence. In addition, the testimony of authoritative figures, such as David Sylvester, was often taken as decisive. When work was undocumented it was compared with contemporaneous paintings to assess the most plausible sequence of paintings.
Although it is inadvisable to fix Bacon’s preoccupations, a cluster of attributes including technique, theme, approach, materials, and state of finish (which I reservedly call degree of resolution) was often taken together to give a better overall judgement.
While in many instances retitling is a minor issue that does not alter the overall meaning, in other variants the recovery of the original or intended title transforms, or at least has the potential to transform, the interpretation. For instance, After Picasso, ‘La Danse’ (1933) (33–02) was formerly known as Crucifixion and hence could be grouped with two other Crucifixions from 1933. The annotations on a photograph of this work in the Marlborough Fine Art archive state that the artist ‘was inspired by Picasso “La Danse” and is not a crucifixion’ (122). This is not an explicit admission of a change of title but it transpires that the acquisition of Picasso’s The Three Dancers (1925) by the Tate Gallery in 1965 ostensibly prompted the change. Harrison argues that Bacon’s spectral interpretation is not incompatible with the subject of the Crucifixion (122). Nevertheless, this opens up a series of related questions about how to read Bacon’s works. Some with ‘Crucifixion’ in the title seem to be of that subject whilst others are not and the title is more like a hermeneutical key. We know that Bacon had a fertile imagination and was inspired by ‘high’ and mass culture. He often combined sources of interest, making it is apposite to pursue more than one iconographical line of enquiry. Another consideration is Bacon’s motivations, which plausibly were multiple yet still fundamentally visual. These three aspects – the titles, his sources and his motivations – allow for multiple interpretations.
The number of works that have come to light posthumously means that there were some that Alley and Rothenstein were unaware of, like ‘Study after Velázquez’(1950) (50–05), and some that were only made available after the publication of their catalogue raisonné, for example, ‘Pope’ (c. 1953) (53–32). The revelation of new and undiscovered work transforms the meanings of extant works. One example is ‘Fury’ (c.1944) (44–02) which, as David Sylvester noted, is a variant of the right panel of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) and shows red roses either ‘vomited from’ or ‘sucked into’ the open mouth which ‘allowed a painterly passage to intrude’ (148).4 This suggestive addition mobilizes the activity of this fury-figure; it is either violently engulfing or expelling matter. The materialization of rage, not altogether absent in this same right panel figure in the triptych, makes manifest latent energy, creating a sensation of catharsis. In other words, this painting, which cannot conclusively be dated as preceding or post-dating the triptych, nonetheless adds certain associations to the disposition of this fi gure, increasing its suggestive power.5 It stands to reason that the uncovering of new works not only adds to the collective body of knowledge about Bacon but also generates new readings and assessments of well-documented works, as is the case here.
Another problem encountered was the issue of personal testimony. Ronald Alley contacted Valerie Beston about ‘Head’ (c. 1948) (48–04), which he came across in 1968, and she told him that Bacon categorically denied having painted it, saying it might be the work of a student (186). Perhaps Bacon did not want to be associated with the portrait, deeming it a failure, but his denial of authorship was further problematized by the fact that the painting was damaged. In another example, Harrison recalls how Bacon was asked to sign his painting, ‘Pope’ (c.1953) (53–32) but declined and he also refused to acknowledge it and to let it be reproduced in any publication (376). Another pope painting made five years later (58–07) was treated similarly; Bacon left this painting in Tangier with an artist, with the intention that the primed side would be used for a new painting. It was eventually donated to Brooklyn Museum of Art, where it was subsequently exhibited (550).
Descriptive comments are given for each painting, attempts to interpret Bacon’s iconography using potential sources, inspirations and biographical information. Harrison turns to X-ray analysis on occasion to discuss the various ‘layers’ of the paint, referring to preliminary elements in the compositional structure. This technical approach reveals marks which may have been subsequently obliterated and even traces of now-obliterated paintings. ‘Head’ (c.1948) (48–03) is unusual in that the hand of Bacon’s early ‘mentor’, Roy de Maistre, is visible and his signature can also be seen at the bottom of the board. The assiduously compiled chronology of the complete oeuvre – including destroyed and abandoned works – shows the transformation of styles and contents across a long and varied career.6
As with most artists, Bacon had a repertory of subjects, devices and stylistic flourishes. But there are also variations in his work, incongruities, and phases where motifs and influences were less perceptible. Picasso was a significant influence in his early work, stylistic and thematic concerns pinpointed. While categorization should be approached cautiously, Bacon’s attention was captured by certain clusters of pictorial problems. It is informative to see the first instances of pictorial devices and technical decisions, such as the first use of a space-frame, triptych, letraset and so on, which Harrison assiduously points out. He also comments on how certain aspects foreshadow others, such as the floorboarding effect that Bacon used in five of his drawings from the early 1930s. It was first developed in After Picasso, ‘La Danse’ (1933), anticipating the ‘curtaining’ device adopted in 1945 (122) in works like Man Standing (c. 1945) (45–03) and Study for a Figure (c. 1945) (45–06).
The full-sized colour reproductions, some closeups, with the triptychs as fold-cut pages, are a visual treat. This is especially so given the relatively paltry number of colour reproductions in the 1964 catalogue raisonné. Thus one may appreciate the physicality of Bacon’s processes of painting, with the expressive malerisch surfaces replete with smudges, smears, and splodges. He also incorporated other materials to create interesting surface textures, like sand and cotton wool, which in Study for a Figure (1950) (50–03) gives a leathery effect to the skin. The pressing of fabric on the paint surface, visible for example in Head of Man (1960) (60–15) and Head II (1961) (61–20), was another way of creating texture and drawing attention to the facial features, for example in Study for Portrait (1975) (75–10).
Bacon notoriously destroyed many canvases, and photographic evidence of the paintings from previous exhibitions is sometimes the only record of their appearance. Like many artists, Bacon was able to talk intelligently about his inspirations and approaches but the act of creating he would cloak in quasi-mystical terms, as something often beyond conscious control. He described his ideal in the painting process as a coherence or coming together of idea and technique. One should not lag behind the other, he maintained; they should come together. When this failed he would usually destroy the canvas or get others to do so. This was not necessarily perfectionism but he did have exacting standards, albeit not necessarily in the sense of finish. This point also suggests how he conceived of painting as a process or event. In a few isolated cases he either regretted destroying them – something he mentioned with respect to Wound for a Crucifixion, for example – or reconsidered their merits, which he did in A Performing Dog (c. 1954) (54–19). He was known also to abandon works, which he sometimes gave to art students or painters so that they could paint on the primed side.7 After Bacon died a number of works that had been abandoned at different stages of their inception were found in storage in Chelsea.
The 1964 catalogue raisonné lists ‘destroyed’ (D) and ‘abandoned’ (A) paintings separately, a decision which has its own merits, while the 2016 incorporates these works into the linear chronology. This may well have been antithetical to Bacon’s wishes, as his decision to not progress a painting further was decisive but it gives a better general impression of his working processes. It also ensures that due care is given to works which might otherwise be overlooked or judged as inferior, if they had been relegated to discrete sections, which Harrison indicates was Bacon’s preferred option. It is important to take these images on a case-by-case basis; just because Bacon regarded them as below par does not mean they are not important from a painterly perspective. The historical significance also should be noted. These works provide information about the very early stages of production, including how Bacon ‘worked out’ his paintings. This is especially important given his figure/ground relationship; more specifically how he situated the figure in space. Technically Harrison does not include all destroyed works – there is a category named ‘slashed canvasses’, consisting of fragments. These were found in Bacon’s studio stacked against surfaces or piled up, and many of these are exhibited in Dublin City Gallery (The Hugh Lane). An example is included in the catalogue (745) presumably to illustrate the category but it remains unclear why they were excluded.
The catalogue raisonné gives a comprehensive account of the ongoing interests of Bacon and various shifts in his techniques and processes including colour palette and format. It also casts a different light on the overall body of work because it places the relatively smaller number of paintings that have been in circulation, in the popular imagination, in criticism, and in exhibitions, in the broader context of the whole of his career. This results in a dilution of the significance of certain subjects, or at least a qualified reappraisal. The cliché of the screaming pope misrepresents the actual range of pontiff paintings, which were varied in their depictions. In fact, Harrison comments, only six fit this description (308) and adds that ‘[a] further six paintings with shrieking mouths could be described as “Screaming Businessmen”’ (308).
This revaluation of prevailing views is complemented by a development of unexplored themes and areas, of which there are many, too many to cover in this review. For example, Bacon’s numerous self-portraits, from the 1970s onwards, merit closer attention as do his studies from human bodies made in the 1980s (see 82–08, 82–01, 82–09, 82–10, 82–11, 84–02, 85–01, 86–01, and extending to studies such as 91–03) and his portraits of Lucian Freud. Another area that has been overlooked is his representation of landscape. This needs qualification: Bacon was uninterested in nature in itself, in situ, but did extrapolate elements and materials to explore in isolation, for instance sand dunes (1981) (81–04), (1983) (83–05), water (in two paintings titled Jet of Water (1979) (79–03), (1988) (88–04), and Water from a Running Tap (1982) (82–04), and landscape, A Piece of Waste Land (1982) (82–05). As far as themes go, while the male nude has been widely written about in Bacon scholarship, little has attention has been paid to the female form. There is a Bacon series of female nudes from the 1960s based on Henrietta Moraes, and aided by John Deakin’s photographs, which definitely warrant closer analysis.8 Bacon depicts the fluidity of gender and gendered identity in works exploring androgyny, a subject hitherto little explored.9 Besides all this, within the catalogue there are standout works, in terms of their imagery, style, or both, that deserve to be seen and discussed more widely. ‘Figure in Sea’ (c. 1957) (57–24) fits the bill. Only exhibited four times, it deserves further study. Study of a Bull (1991)(91–04) (plate 1), painted shortly before his death, echoes other works. In it, he returns to a subject of great fascination, his preoccupation with violence and death that dogged his whole life. There are also works that have hitherto never been reproduced. While many of these were painted in the last decade of Bacon’s life, there are much earlier examples; ‘Landscape with Pope/Dictator’ (c. 1946) (46–05) (plate 2). There are also anomalies that are not necessarily of the same critical merit but show a different side to Bacon’s working practices. Poster for the 1988 Van Gogh Exhibition in Arles (1985) (85–02) (plate 3) and Triptych (1977) (77–01) fall into this category, the latter is illustrative (and so atypical) of his surroundings at 7 Reece Mews.
The question of whether or not Bacon produced drawings has gained momentum since the release of forty-two works on paper to the Tate in 1997–98 and is addressed in volume V. Bacon cultivated the myth of being a self-taught genius and denied suggestions that he drew. The evidence amassed to the contrary shows that there are works that are not paintings and a sample of these are presented. There is no consensus on how these works should be categorized – are they paintings in the rudimentary stages or drawings in their own right, or a combination of both? This dispute ought to be reframed to consider these works holistically, as preparatory. Bacon was known to note down ideas for paintings, including adjacent sketches, very often on the flyleaves of his books.
Since the publication of the landmark 1964 catalogue raisonné, scholarship on Bacon has widened to include approaches beyond the art historical. These include the art theoretical and philosophical, aided greatly by the publication of Gilles Deleuze’s Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (English edition 2003; originally published in 1981). The bibliography in volume five, compiled by Krzysztof Ciezkowski, reflects the growing diversity of writings about Bacon. Starting with published and unpublished texts by Bacon himself, the bibliography continues with subsections on relevant monographs, books, articles and reviews. Curiously most of these sections end in 2014, which is unfortunate given the publication date of mid-2016 for the catalogue. Harrison comments on this, stating that the bibliography will be revised and updated on the official website of the Estate of Francis Bacon. Less helpful is the omission of a number of studies in different disciplinary fields, and the somewhat idiosyncratic ordering. It would have been more useful if done alphabetically, not chronologically, as per academic convention. In this way, it would be far easier to consult; at present one has to sift through pages and pages to find any particular title of interest. Alphabetical ordering would also have helped foreground research specialisms by particular authors working on Bacon.
As important as the accompanying documentation on Bacon is, the pivotal aspect of the catalogue remains the images, something Harrison readily admits: ‘for the first time, Bacon’s entire output can be seen – and assessed’. That said, there is a practical constraint. Priced at an astronomical £1,000, the catalogue will be acquired mainly by copyright libraries, and some select university libraries, yet will remain inaccessible to many others. Although scholars will pursue the avenues for new research opened up by the catalogue, thereby increasing dissemination, strenuous attempts must be made to make it available. It seems that future Bacon exhibitions will represent the newly discovered works, and better still, that the Bacon Estate will make pictures of the paintings available online.10
1 It was published by Thames & Hudson (London) and Viking Press (New York). The last painting included is Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes (1963).
2 This number refers to the catalogue number used in the 2016 catalogue raisonné.
3 The use of inverted commas around the title is a convention adopted by Harrison to denote that the title was not given by Bacon or his gallerists, and hence is only descriptive (102).
4 Sylvester, Looking back at Francis Bacon, London, 2000, 21.
5 Study for a Figure (c. 1945) (45–06) is a painting of the figure in the left panel of the same triptych that adopts the same motif of roses but I would argue that this rather benign offering does not have the same impact on the overall reading of the triptych.
6 That being said, very little is known about Bacon’s working practices during the years 1937–43.
7 Bacon painted on the unprimed ‘reverse’ side of the canvas.
8 Harrison mentioned this series of eleven nudes painted between 1963 and 1969 (see 63–01, 31–13, 64–02, 64–04, 65–08, 66–03, 66–07, 67–11, 68–04, 69–03, 69–12).
9 See for example Lying Figure (1959) (59–06), Lying Figure (1959) (59–08) and Two Figures (1961) (61–06).
10 Special thanks to Annabel Robinson at FMcM Associates.
Francis Bacon, Landscape with Pope Dictator, c. 1946.
Siegen: Sammlung mit Francis Bacon
KUNST & DESIGN | WESTFALIUM | MONTAG 8 MAI 2017
Die Neuerwerbung: Francis Bacon, Portrait, 1962
Siegen – Zerrissenheit, Isolation und Gewalt sind die Themen, mit denen sich der irische Maler Francis Bacon beschäftigte. Mit dem Erwerb des großformatigen Gemäldes „Portrait“ von 1962 gelingt es der Sammlung Lambrecht-Schadeberg die repräsentative Werkgruppe zu erweitern. Mit nun insgesamt sechs zentralen Gemälden beherbergt das Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Siegen jetzt eine der wichtigsten Bacon-Sammlungen in Europa.
Francis Bacon (1909-1992) gilt als einer der bedeutendsten Maler des 20. Jahrhunderts. Als Autodidakt begann er in den 1920er Jahren mit der Malerei. Inspiriert von Pablo Picasso, Van Gogh oder Velázquez schuf er melancholisch-aggressive Werke von enormer Präsenz und Wirkung.
Der Mensch steht in Bacons Gemälden im Zentrum. Oft ist er als torsohafte, deformierte und surreale Erscheinung dargestellt. Nur durch Verzerrung und Entstellung – so Bacons Ansicht – könne man der existentiellen Realität näher kommen. Der Betrachter solle mit der Wirklichkeit konfrontiert, von ihr überfallen, bedrängt und sogar überwältigt werden. Empfindungen sollen nicht allein durch Motive ausgelöst werden, sondern geradewegs in der Malerei – den Farbkörpern Bacons – provoziert werden.
Auch der Bildraum spielt dabei eine entscheidende Rolle. Vielfach ist er widersprüchlich konstruiert, teils umfängt er die Porträtierten als Käfig, teils wirkt er undurchdringlich und leer.
Grundsätzlich bezieht sich Bacon auf bereits vorhandene Bilder, auf Gemälde, Fotografien und Filme, die dann durch eine Neu-Formation der Lebenswirklichkeit näher kommen sollen. Bacon selbst sprach von einen neuen Realismus, den er „recreation“ nannte.
Für seine Fähigkeit, die Realität so unmittelbar und schonungslos darzustellen, erhielt Francis Bacon vor genau 50 Jahren den 3. Rubenspreis der Stadt Siegen. „Jedes seiner Bilder ist von einer überzeugenden, oft bitteren Monumentalität beherrscht“, urteilte die Jury im Jahre 1967.
Inzwischen umfasst die Sammlung Lambrecht-Schadeberg repräsentative Werke aus allen Schaffensphasen Bacons. Darunter befindet sich sowohl ein Gemälde aus Bacons berühmter Papstserie nach dem Vorbild von Diego Velázquez aus dem Jahr 1957, wie eines seiner grellfarbigen Selbstporträts des Spätwerks („Study from the Human Body and Portrait“ 1988). Aus der Serie über ein Gemälde von Vincent von Gogh stammt das Landschaftsgemälde „Study for a Landscape After Van Gogh“ von 1957.
Am gestrigen 7. Mai hat das Museum für Gegenwartskunst das neu-erworbene Bacon Gemälde in einer Sonderpräsentation erstmals der Öffentlichkeit vorgestellt. Zugleich wird das 25-jährige Bestehen der Sammlung Lambrecht-Schadeberg mit weiteren Neuerwerbungen der letzten Zeit gefeiert, darunter Arbeiten von Emil Schumacher, Fritz Winter, Lucian Freud und Bridget Riley.
Dienstag bis Donnerstag 11.00 bis 18.00 Uhr
Donnerstag 11.00 bis 20.00 Uhr
Montag geschlossen, alle Feiertage geöffnet.
A world premier at the gallery
MARIA GREGORIOU | CYPRUS MAIL | MONDAY, MAY 1st, 2017
Theatre and great painters come together in a new play entitled Bacon/Freud by Anthie Zachariadou, which is to have its premiere on Saturday in Nicosia.
The new play, based on the true friendship between two art legends Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud is presented as part of a third theatre collaboration between Alpha Square and Leventis Gallery.
Bacon/ Freud is set in 1988 in a Berlin gallery where a small painting was stolen – a portrait of the great artist Francis Bacon. Since then, it is nowhere to be found. This disappearance isn’t just a loss of a great work, for the creator, famous painter Lucian Freud (grandson of Sigmund), that painting possibly represented the most significant relationship he ever had. Just like, the painting the relationship was also lost and the work of art was all he had to remind him of it.
The play is co-directed by Andreas Araouzos and Varnavas Kyriazis, who also take on the parts of Bacon and Freud while Elena Katsouri is responsible for the design, set and costumes.
The play, which will run for ten performances, will be staged every Wednesday and Saturday at 8.30pm and Sunday at 6.30pm. There will be no show on May 10.
Performance of the play based on the relationship between the two artists. May 6-28. Leventis Gallery, Nicosia. 8.30pm. €15. In Greek. Tel: 22-668838
Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud in Soho: photograph: Harry Diamond 1974
Francis Bacon and Queer Intimacy in Post-War London
GREGORY SALTER | VISUAL CULTURE IN BRITAIN | VOLUME 18 | ISSUE 1 | MONDAY, 10 APRIL, 2017
Francis Bacon’s paintings of the immediate post-war period in Britain include several works that take as their subject the spaces and experiences of queer intimacy, prior to the partial-decriminalization of homosexuality in 1967. These works inevitably stray across the spheres that queer men occupied at this time, from the domestic interior to public spaces such as bars and hotels. Through an analysis of Two Figures, 1953, and the ‘Man in Blue’ series, 1954, in their wider social and cultural contexts, this article argues that Bacon’s works present visions of a broad, fluid, anxious sense of queer home in post-war London.
In Francis Bacon’s 1953 painting Two Figures (Figure 1), two men are having sex on a bed in a darkened room. The bed stretches horizontally across the canvas like a platform or a stage. There is a headboard on the left side of the bed with a mangled, misshapen pillow alongside it. The crumpled pillow and the folds, ripples and creases of the bed sheets are formed out of thick smears of white paint, and the two men lie together on its edge. Their bodies are broadly modelled in fluid strokes of white, pink, blue and lilac, although there are areas where paint has been applied more carefully to begin to pick out their faces. These bodies are in motion in a moment of intimacy, with their faces bearing ambiguous expressions of exertion and submission, lust and tenderness. This ambiguity is heightened by the thin streaks of watery paint that descend from the top of the canvas, passing over the bodies of the two men, distorting and smearing their faces slightly, before curving gently at the base of the canvas, like a translucent curtain hitting the floor.
This is a room, although it is a very basic one – windowless and featureless, apart from the bed at its centre. It is delineated with very thin lines of white paint, and we seem to stand just within it or on its threshold, intruding or about to intrude on this moment between the two men. That thin curtain attests to this feeling of being simultaneously within but also just outside this space and moment. The bodies of the two men occupy a threshold too: they are seen and exposed – a private moment made public – but they are caught up in this moment of sexual intimacy, seemingly unknowing or uncaring of the audience that watches. This sense of an invasion of privacy is all the more palpable with the knowledge that in 1953 the witnessing of a sexual act like this between two men could have resulted in their being arrested. Male homosexuality had been criminalized in the UK since 1885, and the post-war period saw a sharp surge in the number of arrests for male vice, particularly in London. This brought with it increasingly alarmist national news coverage of a perceived epidemic as well as, in late 1953 and early 1954, sensational public trials for well-known figures, such as the actor John Gielgud, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and journalist Peter Wildeblood.1
Two Figures was first exhibited in a show of Bacon’s works at the Hanover Gallery in the early 1950s, where his dealer and gallery owner Erica Brausen hung the work in the upper part of the gallery, half hidden from visitors who would have had to actively seek out the work in order to see it. With homosexuality illegal – the decriminalization of homosexual acts between men aged 21 and over did not occur in England until 1967 – Brausen was concerned that, at this moment of heightened anxiety, the graphic nature of Bacon’s painting would provoke a police raid.2 The transgression that Two Figures represented – the way it made an illicit, private act public – was risky and potentially controversial, and Brausen’s decision restored a little of the boundaries that Bacon had wilfully ignored. Since this first exhibition, Two Figures has continued to live a semi-public, semi-private existence. It has not been exhibited publicly for several decades although it remains widely reproduced in Bacon literature.3
Critics have also closely tied the painting to Eadweard Muybridge as the pose and positions of the two men in the painting clearly derive from his photographs of wrestlers taken in 1887. Bacon’s interest in Muybridge’s photography and his intensely personal use of these images as sources for his work has not gone without comment. Critic David Sylvester viewed Two Figures as ‘a conflation of autobiography and photography’ and saw Bacon’s and his then partner Peter Lacy’s features in the faces of the two men on the bed. Years after the work was produced, Bacon himself admitted, ‘I manipulate the Muybridge bodies into the forms of bodies I have known’.4 There has, however, been a tendency to follow the lead of Bacon and his interviewer Sylvester and focus on Muybridge at the expense of other elements of Two Figures. The constant reference to Bacon’s use of his sources when discussing works like this, in effect gives it a more palatable public face, something Bacon and Sylvester may well have been inclined to do (understandably, given their age and the period in which Bacon was working). But continuing to invoke Muybridge in front of Two Figures is akin to Erica Brausen’s moving the painting half out of sight in 1953.
It is this tension between public and private – the sense that there existed strict boundaries around what could and could not be expressed about queer sexuality in post-war Britain, alongside the sense that queer experience meant that these boundaries were inevitably going to be transgressed – that is a key element of Francis Bacon’s art in the 1940s and 1950s. It is also a balancing act that Bacon himself performed. In his interviews with Sylvester and other public statements on his art, Bacon avoided explicit references to his sexuality beyond a few biographical details, although he never sought to hide or disguise his homosexuality from friends and sections of the art world. This reticence helped to shape the scholarship and discussion around his art and continues to hold some influence, even today.5 It is easy to see how this was the case as the majority of Bacon’s experiences occurred prior to partial-decriminalization (he would have been approaching 60 in 1967): he was banished by his father from his family home after being caught wearing his mother’s underwear, lived and explored in interwar Paris and Berlin, and produced Two Figures at a time when to be found to be homosexual, even to exhibit what were interpreted as signs of homosexuality (such as wearing make-up, as Bacon did) was to risk arrest. Bacon’s forays into homosexual subject matter or references in the early part of his career toe this saying/not-saying line. They are occasionally explicit, as in Two Figures, but are couched in other, queer-but-less-explicitly-queer terms (e.g. Muybridge, whose male wrestlers have a potential homoerotic charge, although perhaps only to those willing to identify it); elsewhere, they are more discreet or coded, as in his ‘Man in Blue’ series from 1954.
The uneasy relationship between public and private seems to have been a distinct aspect of queer male experience in Britain in the post-war period prior to the partial-decriminalization of homosexuality. This is linked to the way in which queerness was conceived by queer men themselves, as well as by the popular press, the government, and the public at large. Vital, influential studies by historians Matt Houlbrook and Richard Hornsey have highlighted the intense unease surrounding homosexuality by the British establishment after the Second World War, with queer men becoming symbols of the decline of the British Empire, the feminizing effects of consumerism, and the wartime breakdown of the family unit. The figure that confirmed these fears was usually the effeminate, predatory, and heavily made-up West End quean. Police surveillance and arrests, particularly for people who appeared to conform to this stereotype, were common.6 This unease also extended to the planning and reconstruction of London in more general terms. According to Hornsey, Patrick Abercrombie’s London plans aimed towards a ‘total organisation of everyday time’ – spanning work, domesticity and leisure – so that dissenting activities (such as contact between queer men) might be prevented from taking place. In this context, the queer man was an anti-social figure, occupying ‘crowded sites of ephemeral flow and transient encounter’, corrupting others with money and sex.7
Alongside this unease around the queer man in public, however, a counter view emerged that drew on contemporary sexology to argue for homosexuality as an unfortunate medical condition that couldn’t be helped.8 This discourse led to the formation of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution in 1954 and the publication of its findings in the Wolfenden Report in September 1957.9 The committee drew on testimonials from police officers, psychiatrists, religious leaders and discreet, respected gay men, including Peter Wildeblood, who had served time in prison after his arrest for homosexual offences in 1954 and written a book called Against The Law about his experiences.10 The report recommended that homosexual behaviour in private between consenting adults should no longer be considered a criminal offence. Although it was clearly a first step towards a wider social acceptance of homosexuality, the recommendations of the Wolfenden Report contained some restrictions: it confined homosexuality to the private sphere – the home – and excluded it from public life, and continued to criminalize the queer men who did not have consistent access to private spaces in the same way as wealthier members of society did.11
While the recommendations of the Wolfenden Report sought to keep queerness in the private, domestic sphere, to conceive of the post-war queer experience as operating solely in that sphere would be inaccurate, as the presence of queer men in public spaces – and the fears and anxieties they provoked – attest. Bacon’s experience of home, both in this period and across his life, is indicative of the broad realms in which queer men could operate and find intimacy. Within this context, home, for him, was frequently in flux. He was born to wealthy English parents in Ireland and, after his eviction from his family home there, he initially moved with a certain amount of social and sexual freedom around Europe in the late 1920s (financed, in part, by a trust fund as well as casual work, petty theft, and the attentions of rich, older men). He soon settled in London, but continued to seek experience abroad. By late 1943, Bacon moved into a flat at 7 Cromwell Place in Kensington along with his childhood nanny, Jessie Lightfoot. Lightfoot had been Bacon’s nanny since birth and seems to have taken on the role of surrogate mother; Bacon retained a close bond with her and seems to have supported her even after she was dismissed from employment by the family once all the children were grown up. She is listed on the electoral register as living with Bacon in London in 1931, for instance, and seems to have vetted his casual lovers, assisted him in organizing illegal roulette parties, and shoplifted when money was tight.12 In Cromwell Place, the couple were joined a few years later by Eric Hall, who was then Bacon’s lover. Bacon’s biographer Michael Peppiatt frames this arrangement as unusual, makeshift, bohemian, but distinctly happy and stable, with Lightfoot as a mother figure to the artist and Hall as lover but also replacement father.13 It came to an end by 1950, when Bacon’s relationship with Hall ended.
A year later, Lightfoot died of heart failure. This appears to have crushed Bacon: he had known her since his birth, and she had lived with him, in one setting or another, for the previous twelve years. In the aftermath of her death, Bacon quickly gave up the lease on his home. He spent periods abroad in South Africa, visiting family, as well as Tangier and Monte Carlo, while taking numerous temporary residences within and just outside London over the next ten years, from briefly sharing a home with his violent lover, Peter Lacy, in Henley-on-Thames to finding more stable but still temporary accommodation in Battersea from 1955 with two friends, Peter Pollock and Paul Danquah. At the centre of this upheaval at the end of 1954, Bacon wrote to his dealer Erica Brausen from a hotel room in Rome that he was ‘going to try and find a place in London where I can really settle for a change and perhaps let when I go away. I am so sick of never having a permanent place’.14 There is a sense here that for Bacon, like other contemporary queer figures, the queer experience can certainly take in the domestic interior, but a sense of ‘home’ – of belonging, of community, of security – may be far from easy to find within domesticity alone and may in fact filter into other spaces: temporary accommodation in London and abroad, and even public spaces such as the bar, the street and the park.
To begin to think about home in relation to homosexuality in the 1940s and 1950s, then, is to find a space where the overlapping of private and public spheres is heightened, not only in the sense that queer men typically moved between these realms in search of intimacy, but also in the sense that these very private experiences and conceptions came under scrutiny and occupied a prominent position in public consciousness. You can find echoes of this experience in Bacon’s Two Figures. It gives a sense of this moment of male intimacy being wrenched into public view while retaining the basic elements of a private space in a way that does not jar or even, for contemporary viewers prior to the partial-decriminalization of homosexuality, shock. It also makes visible the very experience of being queer in post-war Britain, of seeking intimacy but also living with the gaze of a reconstructive society, of finding a space outside but also within the boundaries of home. Bacon appears to have registered the difficulties of home – in art and in life – in ways that speak to this kind of reading. In a 1974 interview with Sylvester, he discussed his transition from what he and Sylvester termed the malerisch paintings – painterly bodies and forms in dark settings, such as Two Figures – to the use of similar forms against increasingly stark backgrounds, made up of pinks and oranges. For Bacon, this shift, which occurred initially in the late 1950s and then came to dominate his painting from the 1960s, was connected to a desire to distance his art from the home:
I hate a homely atmosphere, and I always feel that malerisch painting has too homely a background. I would like the intimacy of the image against a very stark background. I want to isolate the image and take it away from the interior and the home.15
This short statement is, as is usual for Bacon, seemingly riddled with contradictions: he dismisses a ‘homely atmosphere’ while wishing to retain a sense of intimacy in his art, and he claims he wishes to take his images away from the home and the domestic interior while continuing to include those elements – blinds, couches, doors, toilets, and so on – in his more vivid canvases in the 1960s and beyond. It is the slippery relationship between Bacon’s words and his images here – the ambivalent nature of Bacon’s relationship to home – that interests me, and speaks to the wider question of how home is addressed in his art. It is present but denied, a clear concern but also something to be subverted.
A similar sense of instability permeates a series of paintings completed by Bacon shortly after Two Figures. The ‘Man in Blue’ series of 1954 is made up of seven paintings of lone men in suits, seated in dark, barely delineated spaces, tinged with blue tones. He based these figures on a man he had met and picked up that year, at the Imperial Hotel at Henley-onThames.16 Much about these works hints at anonymity: the generic title of the series and the numbered variations within it (I, II, III, IV, V, VI and VII), the barely sketched-out settings that suggest, minimally, the interior of a hotel bar, and the familiar appearance of the man in each painting, always in a dark suit, white shirt and dark tie. There is a sense of repetition here – that each man in blue could be the same man, painted in different positions or poses, but also that each man could be a different man, encountered in a similar setting and potentially picked up, perhaps with similar conversation or actions each time. This man is always positioned at the bar or in a booth: leaning in towards us, clenching his hands as if in conversation as in Man in Blue IV (Figure 2), folding his arms nonchalantly and leaning over a table or bar as in Man in Blue I, or occupying the space without gesture, isolated and still, as in Man in Blue III.
There is a sense, then, that the ‘Man in Blue’ series is concerned with the experience of the homosexual pick-up, in its anonymity, repetition and public intimacy – the very kinds of experience that post-war planning and surveillance sought to limit. Its subject is not necessarily a visibly queer man: he adopts the suited uniform of a heterosexual man – free of signs of effeminacy – in a way that echoes the normative, limited nature of clothing for the majority of men outside of the counter-culture in the post-war period and that casts some doubt on his status and availability.17 There is little to suggest the man’s deviation from these norms, at least in terms of his dress. There are, however, other, less easily readable aspects of these paintings too. The subjects’ faces are blurred, pushed by Bacon’s familiar, soft handling of paint into uncertainty, a lack of recognition. They shift too, between carefully stylized distance, turned from us, arms folded (Man in Blue I) to adopting more direct eye contact and open body language (Man in Blue V). In Man in Blue IV, the figure shifts again, leaning in to us, caught up in conversation or appearing to be about to make a proposition. Our relationship to these figures is unstable, moving from distance to closeness and even the possibility of intimacy and back again, from image to image.
The uniform of the suit, in this context, could be read as taking on the quality of a public mask or costume, something that was worn to conceal queerness (at least from those from whom queerness needed to be concealed), a veneer of respectability that was distant from the make-up and drag of more effeminate queer men. It is known that these were often the type of men Bacon liked to pick up – seemingly heterosexual men who ‘could be seduced by money, or by the novelty, or by their own desire for defiance’.18 These are men who operate under the social gaze of a society that policed and prohibited homosexuality, while managing, momentarily, to escape that prohibition.
These paintings are not just possible reflections on the public masks worn by queer men in public in the post-war period, but they also speak to the direct experience of the pick-up and its wider implications for the conception of queer intimacy and the spaces of home at this historical moment. In order to begin to unpack this, I want to address a particular literary example that it is known that Bacon linked to his conception of his own sexuality. It is named in Lord Gowrie’s obituary for Bacon, published in The Guardian shortly after the artist’s death.
He told me that he [Bacon] had come to the view that homosexuality was an affliction, that it had turned him, at one point in his life, into a crook. The crookishness, not the sex, was a source of shame and if he talked at all, it was his nature to tell everything. We both liked Proust and agreed that the beginning of Cities Of The Plain said all that needed to be said about being homosexual.19
Here, Gowrie records that Bacon aligned his experience of homosexuality with ‘crookishness’ and coming up against the law (unsurprising, given the context in which Bacon lived, but still poignant), as well as with Proust’s introductory section to the fourth volume of In Search of Lost Time. Copies of volumes of Proust’s novel were found in Bacon’s Reece Mews studio after his death, and the short section that Gowrie cites is useful for placing the ‘Man in Blue’ series within the context of Bacon’s apparent conception of queer experience.20
This section of In Search of Lost Time focuses on the unnamed narrator’s observations of a chance meeting in public, and sexual encounter in private, between the Baron de Charlus, one of the novel’s main characters, and Jupien, a tailor. While watching them, the narrator adopts a position of initial ignorance about the nature of their encounter; once they disappear into Jupien’s shop together, he creeps over to the other side of the courtyard and listens to the two men having intercourse through a partition, finally, apparently, understanding what has occurred.21 This leads the narrator to reflect more generally on the nature of male ‘inverts’. Here, queer men are characterized as an effeminate, afflicted race, forced to find comfort in fleeting sexual encounters with other ‘inverts’ because the ‘real men’ they truly need would not return their desires. They operate, in part, like a second society, recognizing each other, mixing across classes, and relying on chance meetings – such as that which the narrator had just witnessed – in order to form bonds. They are also, by necessity, part of normative society, but hidden and duplicitous within it, looking, as the narrator puts it, ‘no more like the common run of men than those apes with melancholy ringed eyes and prehensile feet who dress up in dinner jackets and black ties’.22 This short text is wide-ranging in its scope, and particularly illuminating for Bacon: it takes in queer experience, the nature of a public pick-up, and conceptions of homosexuality that are rooted in values and assumptions that we would consider outdated and stereotypical, but which were clearly key to the thinking of Bacon – and more than likely other queer men – on identity at this time. There is a particular sense, as in the ‘Man in Blue’ series, that queer men were attempting to adopt a costume in order to pass in everyday life, with Proust’s narrator comparing them to apes dressed unconvincingly in a uniform of respectability. In general, queer men are framed in a way that positions them as being outside society while operating within it, largely hidden from view (unless you can see through their disguise) and finding intimacy almost randomly, when they meet another queer man.
This is crucial for Bacon and for my reading of his ‘Man in Blue’ works. The images in this series appear to be concerned with the encounter with a suited and potentially queer man in public. They register that experience but they also register the layers of concealment and revelation that were a fundamental aspect of homosexuality in the post-war period. That Bacon would think of his sexuality in these terms is perhaps alien to twenty-firstcentury viewers of his works, but an acknowledgement of this does not necessarily turn these paintings into images of self-loathing. I want to suggest, however, that recognizing these elements in these paintings is an act of recognizing a more enduring element of queer experience, namely the sense of being aware of signs or gestures of queerness, and the moments at which these might be made visible or not. Reading the ‘Man in Blue’ series through Proust’s text casts one kind of contextual light onto these otherwise (and necessarily) quiet, unassuming images of suited men at bars. These men are unsettled, tense, isolated at times, but also potentially available for intimacy; they gesture to an existence that rests on glimpses of mutual recognition and moments of connection within long stretches of necessary invisibility. Proust’s text – invoked by Bacon via Gowrie years later – speaks where the paintings did not.23 There is a sense, then, that the ‘Man in Blue’ series is about intimacy and connection, but also looking – seeing and identifying others for this intimacy and connection, or at least others who share the same queer desires for them. Looking is also, of course, inherent in cruising – a moment of visual exchange and mutual recognition between anonymous individuals in the public spaces of the city. Cruising might originate in sustained mutual glances – in the street, in front of a shop window, at a urinal, at a bar – and could lead to conversation and sex, although not necessarily. It requires a certain amount of free time and freedom of movement too – to linger, to move, to look in public space.24 The shifting glances across the seven ‘Man in Blue’ paintings certainly appear to echo the look of cruising. Bacon appears to have posited looking as being central to the post-war queer experience more generally: Whenever I really want to know what someone looks like I always ask a queer – because homosexuals are always more ruthless and more precise about appearance. After all, they spend their whole lives watching themselves and others, then pulling the way they look to pieces.25
Looking, in Bacon’s words here, is partly a symptom of being under surveillance, from other queer men and, I would suggest, wider society too, and partly a result of needing to turn that same gaze on others. That this is framed in terms of cruelty – the ruthlessness of the look, and the way it pulls others apart – is typical of Bacon but also indicative of a sense of being within and a part of these types of look.
Queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick found this sense of surveillance – through looks and the knowledge they produce – in Bacon’s chosen extract from Proust. In her terms, the description of the meeting between Charlus and Jupien and the revelation of their relationship reveals the narrator’s complicity in the queer world in which the two men operate. He is able to describe what she calls ‘the spectacle of the closet’ (the closet observed) from ‘the viewpoint of the closet’ (the closet inhabited), gaining, through the advantage of expertise on the subject of another’s sexuality, momentary insulation from the suspicions of others about his own sexuality.26 Knowledge, here, offers the power to cast the heterosexual gaze of society onto other queer figures. Sedgwick acknowledges the possibilities that this offers to queer figures and queer audiences, while highlighting the homophobic undertones of this – the ‘outing’ of others can reveal queerness in a way that allows for identity and the possibility of connection, while also exposing these figures to the gaze of the heterosexual society that they had sought to avoid.27
Bacon, I think, is aware of this bind, in a less theoretical, more visceral way. The ‘Man in Blue’ – in his many, very similar guises – is painted into the appearances, the settings, the possibilities, and the anxieties of the closet. He wears the costume of heteromasculinity; he sits alone in public at the hotel bar, available – maybe – for conversation, a drink, sex. But Bacon never makes the big reveal. There is an element of doubt or ambiguity about these men: there is nothing, beyond the knowledge that Bacon based this image on a man he picked up or the wider context of anxiety around the ‘respectable homosexual’ hidden amongst the masses that I have provided, that hints explicitly at homosexuality.
A reading of this nature, perhaps relies on the viewpoint of the closet – a viewpoint Bacon would know well – or at least a knowledge of that viewpoint, most easily achieved by queer viewers, in the 1950s and beyond. In this way, the ‘Man in Blue’ series is made up of paintings of men that can be looked at in a variety of ways. There is a sense in which the ‘Man in Blue’ paintings can be read as being subjected to the queer look that Bacon knew well – the look that wonders what the suited costume hides, that pulls the figure to pieces, or that seeks connection. At the same time, he can be subject to the non-queer look – the look that reads these images as concerned with moments of intense isolation, perhaps rooted in the anxiety, despair, and tension of post-war existentialism.28 This is a historically appropriate way of dealing with these images, since I think it allows for the look of queer viewers to recognize the way in which they engage with the circumstances of the pick-up, while acknowledging that the look of non-queer viewers may bypass these connotations.29
In this way, these paintings also enact the very experience of being queer in Britain in this period – the uncertainty and possibilities of the pick-up, the sense of looking but also being watched, and the necessity of operating, to some degree, undercover while being aware of the possibility of, both intentionally and unintentionally, revealing oneself. They also reflect the ways in which boundaries between heterosexuality and homosexuality could blur, as Bacon also knew very well: the way homosexual contact or intimacy did not necessarily equate to homosexual subjectivity as we know it today, and the way experiences of queer intimacy could rise suddenly out of the appearances and spaces of heterosexual life before seemingly disappearing again, out of view. This kind of reading seeks to avoid falling into the trap that Sedgwick warned against: reading Bacon’s series as concerning itself with the spectacle and experience of the closet is not intended to expose his own sexuality by association (even though this is, in part, what it does). Instead, my intention is to illuminate the way in which these images very tentatively reflect on revelation and exposure, building into their careful, minimal composition the very circumstances, anxieties and possibilities of being queer at this historical moment.
In a broader sense, The ‘Man in Blue’ series also encapsulates the fluid sense of spaces of intimacy for queer men at the time. The paintings are based on the inherently public space of a hotel bar, although they incorporate aspects of private, personal connection that begin to undermine the separation between public and private spheres. This is an intermingling of the homely and unhomely, and it is indicative of Bacon’s experience of queer intimacy and a sense of home more generally. It is necessary to locate Bacon within the wider context of the postwar queer home here. As Wolfenden confined queer intimacy to the private, domestic space, there emerged a respectable norm for queer relationships that was middle class and domestic based. But this was not necessarily something to which queer men could or wished to adhere. Matt Cook has shown how, for many, a comfortable sense of ‘being at home’ was not necessarily found in the interior, and was just as likely to be related to public spaces. He draws on experiences of home in this period that are marked by their fluidity: in the mobile, functional, though often dangerous spaces of the urban bedsitter, or the symbolic power of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell’s ‘excessive and unbounded’ collage mural in their home in Islington.30 The queer home in this period was likely to explicitly blur the boundaries between public and private spheres, and Bacon’s art engages with this tendency in his own way.
Looking back on the period of his life after he was banished from his father’s home at the age of 16 – during which he spent time in interwar London, Berlin and Paris in the late 1920s, before settling back in London in the 1930s – Bacon characterized his ambition at this point as ‘simply to drift and follow my instinct – to drift and see’.31 This sense of drifting – not settling, moving around, meeting and embracing the people, events, and opportunities that come your way – appears to have been how Bacon framed his whole experience of life. In Peppiatt’s biography, Bacon continually returns to this idea of drifting as a way of conceptualizing his experience: ‘life itself is nothing but a series of sensations. We just drift from moment to moment. My whole life has been like that, you know, drifting from bar to bar, person to person, instant to instant’.32 ‘Drifting’ is a useful term here since it is attentive to his experience of and reflections on home and queer intimacy in this period – taking in a distrust of home-as-interior, unsettling public and private boundaries, and echoing the processes of cruising – and it can assist in conceptualizing a particular kind of queer experience in post-war Britain to which Bacon’s work is attentive.
Drifting, exile and the search for home within a lack of home are key themes elsewhere in post-war queer culture, particularly in James Baldwin’s 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room. Bacon and Baldwin have seemingly little in common in many respects, but I want to suggest that Baldwin’s novel (like the work of Proust) can give voice to some of the unspoken yet present queer themes in Bacon’s art, particularly surrounding the experience of queer intimacy and home. Giovanni’s Room focuses on David, a young American man in Paris and his reflections on his relationships with an Italian man called Giovanni and with his American girlfriend, Hella. David is drifting in Paris: Hella has taken a trip to Spain to contemplate marrying him, and, in the meantime, David has fallen into a relationship with Giovanni and moved into his dark, claustrophobic room. For David, life in Giovanni’s room ‘seemed to be occurring underwater’ at a remove from the outside world, not least because Giovanni has smeared white cleaning polish on the single window to ensure privacy. Scattered around the room is the two men’s dirty laundry, Giovanni’s tools and paintbrushes, and other detritus, which Giovanni calls ‘the garbage of this city’ and which David sees as ‘Giovanni’s regurgitated life’.33 Removed and dark, while also infiltrated by the dirt and detritus of the outside world, Giovanni’s room is an other space, marked with the experience of homosexuality.
It is not much of a jump from the windowless, dirty space of Giovanni’s room to Bacon’s equally airless though less cluttered interior of Two Figures – the two spaces share a conflation of queer intimacy with a claustrophobic, separate space, removed from society at large. At the same time, these are spaces where boundaries have been breached. Two Figures focuses on a moment of passionate, frantic (even ambiguously violent) sex between two men, and positions the viewer on the threshold as both witness and intruder. In Giovanni’s room, the ‘garbage’ of the city has found its way into the space – boxes of cardboard and leather, empty bottles and spilled wine, old newspapers, a rotting potato – in a manner that explicitly disturbs our sense (and David’s) of what should constitute a domestic space: it is not clean, organized, delineated (and it even recalls the chaos of Bacon’s own studio). The boundaries that fall away in Giovanni’s room – the divisions between public and private, between cleanliness and dirt, the slipped mask of respectable masculinity – seem about to shift, tantalizingly and terrifyingly. The ‘Man in Blue’ series similarly demonstrates a disregard for boundaries, in its focus on images of men at bars or in booths who shift quietly between isolation, apparent indifference, and eye contact in a way that also gestures towards the processes of cruising.
As the novel continues, David finds himself struggling to extricate himself from Giovanni’s room, at least in emotional terms, and he finds himself increasingly unable to occupy it comfortably. He is constantly called home to the normative space of heterosexuality – by Hella, who returns and seeks, disastrously, to continue their relationship, and his father, who writes to him from the United States. In a key passage, David watches a sailor walk across a Parisian boulevard, confident and carefree in his heterosexual masculinity, and this confidence, this ease, makes him think of home again and reflect: ‘perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition’. Home, here is final, determined, and, once left, impossible to recover. The sailor, in David’s eyes, represents someone who has not strayed, who has clung to the expectations of a heteronormative life. David left, he drifted, and now can see no way back. Crucially, it is in an imagined look that David finds confirmation of his lack of home. As the sailor approaches, the two men make eye contact and David receives a look ‘contemptuously lewd and knowing’ which he feels certain would, if voiced, be one of ‘look, baby. I know you’.34 David’s recognizable queerness cuts him adrift.
If Baldwin’s descriptions of Giovanni’s room speak to Bacon’s own unstable, increasingly boundary-less representations of a kind of queer domestic world in Two Figures and the ‘Man in Blue’ series, then his broader reflections on home for queer figures in the post-war period can speak to Bacon’s personally important sense of drift. In Baldwin, queer experience is explicitly linked to a sense of straying from the heterosexual family and its gender roles, which creates a seemingly irreversible state of exile or homelessness. His queer figures are marked by the spaces they occupy – the claustrophobic, dirty room, the street, or the dingy queer bar – but also by the looks of others, which register the difference of queerness, a separateness and apparent lack of place. For Baldwin, these reflections on the difficulties of home are of course shaped not only by his own homosexuality but also his position as a black American who left his birthplace of New York and made a home in France in an attempt to escape the oppressive racial prejudice of post-war America.35 Bacon was an exile of sorts too, though for different reasons, instigated by his banishment from his father’s home. Here, I want to avoid conflating the very different experiences of Baldwin as a person of colour in America and Bacon as a white queer man in Britain: I make this comparison not to erase difference, but to place Bacon’s reflections on ‘drifting’ in the context of an exploration of homelessness and marginalization by another contemporary and internationally mobile queer figure. Both men would have known the uncertainty of home that Baldwin expresses through David, an uncertainty that seems to represent a melancholic and seemingly doomed sense of queer experience in the post-war urban metropolis.
There is a clear sense of how Bacon’s works, such as Two Figures and the ‘Man in Blue’ series, can speak to these broader ideas of drift, homelessness, and perpetual emergence. These paintings retain recognizable elements of home – the barely delineated interior, the bed, sensations of intimacy and connection – while also extending them into public space (implicitly in Two Figures, explicitly for the ‘Man in Blue’ series). At the same time, they incorporate elements of the unhomely in their sense of anxiety, tension, undertones of violence, anonymity, and so on. In their emergence from the spaces, intimacies, and relationships available to queer men at this moment in history and their rearrangement of them, Bacon’s works can be considered as expressions of being ‘not at home’ within an overwhelmingly heterosexual culture, while also seeking a sense of home, some kind of intimacy, that does not necessarily cohere to expectations. To find home in paintings like these is not to tie Bacon to a concept of normative domesticity in which he clearly had no interest, nor is it to postulate them as expressions of the possibility of queer community. Rather, it is to allow his work to register the possibilities of intimacy that are not built around home in the conventional sense of the term, and that bleed into the public sphere covertly or shockingly.
This can consistently feel like an overwhelmingly dark portrait of postwar queer experience, as I have noted, although it is worth emphasizing, in tandem with this, the potential of being not at home, of allowing yourself to ‘drift and see’, as Bacon would have it. These works speak of connections – bonds, intimacies, even relationships – that are formed in the face of the restrictions and hindrances of criminality and marginalization. They attest to the queer experience of being unmoored from the solid boundaries of home that is by no means specific to the post-war period. But a sense of ‘drift’ perhaps responds appropriately to this moment of social flux in Britain, where queer men became a focus for anxiety (in public) and, tentatively for certain men, respectability (in private). In response, Bacon’s paintings address moments of queer intimacy, while also speaking of the ambiguity and difficulty of defining and living a sense of queer home at this historical moment. His response is to paint the expansive, seemingly unbounded sense of queer experience – to represent the experience of the drift and of apparent homelessness – while also registering the inherent and irreconcilable difficulties of knowing and establishing home within it.
I would like to thank the organizers of the ‘Masculinity in The Metropolis’ conference at the University of Kent, UK, in April 2016 for the opportunity to present this research, and the anonymous reviewers of this article for their helpful and incisive comments.
1 See Hornsey, The Spiv and the Architect, 82–3.
2 Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, 31.
3 Gale and Stephens, Francis Bacon, 124.
4 See Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, 72. Bacon is quoted in Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, 116.
5 Some more explicitly queer readings of Bacon have come from Ofield, ‘Comparative Strangers’, 64–73 and Chare, After Francis Bacon: Synaesthesia and Sex in Paint.
6 On sexual difference, categories of queer men, and anxiety about Britishness, see Houlbrook, Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918–1957, 221–41.
7 See Hornsey, The Spiv and the Architect, 44–52 (on town planning) and 81–116 (on the homosexual in urban space).
8 Hornsey, The Spiv and the Architect, 1.
9 Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution, Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution.
10 Houlbrook, Queer London, 254–61.
11 Houlbrook concludes with similar reflections on the implications of the Wolfenden Report, 256–61.
12 Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, 67–70.
13 On Bacon, Lightfoot and Hall, see Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, 123–5.
14 Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, 146. 15 Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, 120.
16 Gale and Stephens, Francis Bacon, 122. 17 See O’Neill, ‘Available in an Array of Colours’, 271–91.
18 Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait. Essays and Interviews, 97.
19 Lord Gowrie, ‘Obituary: Francis Bacon’, The Guardian, 29 April 1992.
20 The database of Bacon’s personal library at the time of his death is accessible at Bacon’s Books: Francis Bacon’s Library and its Role in his Art.
21 Proust, In Search of Lost Time: Part IV, Cities of The Plain, 1–16.
22 Proust, 23, and 17–38 in general on ‘inverts’.
23 Bacon’s use of past queer literary references in order to situate his contemporary homosexuality has parallels with David Hockney’s engagement with Walt Whitman – see Turner, Backward Glances: Cruising the Queer Streets of New York and London, 138–59.
24 See Turner, Backward Glances: Cruising the Queer Streets of New York and London, 43–67.
25 Bacon is quoted in Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait. Essays and Interviews, 181.
26 Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 213–30.
27 Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 240–46.
28 A broader reading like this is gestured to in Gale and Stephens, Francis Bacon, 122.
29 On this, see Sinfield, Literature, Politics, and Culture in Postwar Britain, 68–96.
30 See Matt Cook, Queer Domesticities: Homosexuality and Home Life in Twentieth Century London, 143–90.
31 Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait. Essays and Interviews, 31.
32 Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in your Blood, 10–11.
33 Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room, 76–9.
34 Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room, 80–2.
35 Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name, 17–23.
Baldwin, James, Giovanni’s Room, London: Penguin, 2007.
Baldwin, James, Nobody Knows My Name, London: Penguin, 1991.
Chare, Nicholas, After Francis Bacon: Synaesthesia and Sex in Paint, Farnham: Ashgate, 2012.
Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution, Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1957.
Cook, Matt, Queer Domesticities: Homosexuality and Home Life in Twentieth Century London, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
Gale, Matthew and Chris Stephens, eds., Francis Bacon, London: Tate, 2008.
Hornsey, Richard, The Spiv and the Architect: Unruly Life in Post-War London, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.
Houlbrook, Matt, Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918–1957, London: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
O’Neill, Alistair, ‘Available in an Array of Colours’, Visual Culture in Britain, 10 (2009): 271–91.
Ofield, Simon, ‘Comparative Strangers’, in Francis Bacon, eds. Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens, pp. 64–73. London: Tate, 2008.
Peppiatt, Michael, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London: Constable, 2008.
Peppiatt, Michael, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, London: Yale University Press and the Sainsbury Centre, UEA, 2006.
Peppiatt, Michael, Francis Bacon in Your Blood, London: Bloomsbury Circus, 2015.
Peppiatt, Michael, Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait. Essays and Interviews, London: Yale University Press: London, 2008.
Proust, Marcel, In Search of Lost Time: Part IV, Cities of the Plain, trans. S.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, London: Chatto and Windus, 1992.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, Epistemology of the Closet, Berkeley: University Of California Press, 1990.
Sinfield, Alan, Literature, Politics, and Culture in Postwar Britain, London: Continuum, 2004.
Sylvester, David, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London: Thames and Hudson, 1999. Sylvester, David, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London: Thames and Hudson, 2000.
Mark W. Turner, Backward Glances: Cruising the Queer Streets of New York and London, London: Reaktion, 2003.
Gregory Salter is a lecturer in history of art at the University of Birmingham. His research specialism is post-war British art and its intersections with home, gender, sexuality, and identity.
He is currently developing a monograph entitled Reconstructing Home: Painting and Male Identity in Post-War Britain, based on his PhD, completed at the University of East Anglia in 2013.
Francis Bacon, Man in Blue IV, 1954
The Mystery of Lucian Freud’s Missing 'Bacon'
In the middle of a crowded 1988 show, someone absconded with Lucian Freud’s relatively
small painting of his one-time friend Francis Bacon.
ALLISON MCNEARNEY | THE DAILY BEAST | 2 APRIL 2017
In 1988, the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin debuted an exhibition of Lucian Freud paintings. By all accounts, the show was a success, with the Germans warmly embracing the work of the famed British painter…maybe a little too warmly.
On May 27, the gallery filled with students on a trip to see the exhibit. It was just another day at the show with visitors milling around examining Freud’s paintings under the watchful eye of art guards when someone noticed something alarming—one of the works was missing.
In broad daylight, in the middle of a crowded show, someone had absconded with Lucian Freud’s relatively small painting of his one-time friend Francis Bacon.
While Freud had started a second painting of his fellow artist, the missing copper canvas was the only portrait of Bacon that he ever completed.
In a 2008 piece in The Guardian, art critic Robert Hughes called the painting an “unequivocal masterpiece,” continuing on to write “that smooth, pallid pear of a face like a hand-grenade on the point of detonation, those evasive-looking eyes under their blade-like lids, had long struck me as one of the key images of modernity.”
But twenty years earlier, that important “image of modernity” had disappeared with not so much as a peep heard or a glimpse caught in the time since. Zero substantial leads have turned up in the case of the missing Francis Bacon.
The seeds of Freud’s small masterpiece were sown in 1945, when Lucian Freud and Francis bacon were introduced by their mutual friend, artist Graham Sutherland.
The 23-year-old Freud and 36-year-old Bacon hit it off almost immediately.
n his book, The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art, Sebastian Smee described their friendship as “the most interesting, fertile—and volatile—relationship in British art of the twentieth century.”
The two painters were opposites in many ways. At the beginning of their friendship, Bacon was a rising star on the British art scene while Freud was still toiling over his canvases in relative obscurity. And toil he did—Freud was painstaking in his work, spending up to several months working on one piece, while Bacon painted much more quickly and instinctually.
But despite their different working styles, they developed a deep friendship and respect that would lead to each artist’s work being influenced—and criticized—by the other.
At the height of their relationship, the two painters would meet daily at the Gargoyle Club, and then the Colony Club once it opened, where they would drink, gamble, and argue the evening away with a coterie of other friends who came and went. While art was the most important thing in their lives, they also lived on the edge with days filled with drink and debauchery.
During that time, the two were spending so much time together that Lady Caroline Blackwood, Freud’s second wife, said, “I had dinner with [Bacon] nearly every night for more or less the whole of my marriage to Lucian. We also had lunch.”
Naturally, given the amount of time spent in each other’s company talking about art, the artists also decided to paint one other. Bacon completed16 works of Freud, the most influential of which was a triptych of his friend sitting in a chair that became the most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction when it was snapped up for a cool $142 million in 2013. (This record was shattered in 2015 when a Picasso sold for $179.4 million.)
But the much more methodical Freud only reciprocated with two paintings. Bacon sat first for three months in 1952 resulting in the Francis Bacon on copper. Freud worked on the second painting of his friend between 1956 and 1957, but it was eventually left unfinished after Bacon stopped sitting for him. (The unfinished work still fetched a respectable $9.4 million at auction in 2008).
For a quarter of a century, the friendship burned bright. But, as was most likely inevitable given the two very opinionated and passionate artists, their friendship blazed to an end by the 1970s and it would never recover.
While all missing or destroyed art delivers a deep blow to an artist’s oeuvre, the loss of Francis Bacon was a particularly upsetting one.
Not only was it a seminal portrait in the development of Freud’s style, but, some have suggested, it also was an emotional reminder of his former friend.
After discovering that Freud kept a “Wanted” poster of the portrait (more on that later) hanging next to his studio door, Smee told Artsy, “I knew that he wanted that painting back very much because of its quality, but I also thought it must have been partly to do with the fact that the subject of the painting was this person who had played such a crucial role in his life and in his artistic career.”
With no suspects in the theft, all that was left to do was speculate who could have taken the painting.
A camera crew visiting the exhibit filmed the portrait at 11am; by 3pm, it had been reported missing. Sometime in those four hours, someone had simply unscrewed the piece from the wall and walked off with it, aided by the fact that there were no alarms or cameras in the vicinity. Rather than an organized crime ring or an experienced art thief, Freud always thought the culprit was someone a little more naive, a little closer to home.
“I wonder whether it was taken by a student because it was stolen when the gallery was full of students. Also, for a student to take a small picture is not that odd, is it?” Freud told The Telegraph. He also suspected that the student nabbed it not out of admiration for Freud’s talent, but out of an admiration for Bacon.
Germany has a 12-year statute of limitations on prosecuting crimes like these. Once the statute on the Francis Bacon theft had expired, Freud decided to make one last attempt to recover the painting.
In 2001, ahead of a retrospective planned the following year at the Tate, Freud sketched out a black and white reproduction of the missing painting on a poster that proclaimed “Wanted” in bright red type. “Would the person who holds the painting kindly consider allowing me to show it in my exhibition next June?” the text read above the offer of a reward of over $100,000 for its return and the promise that no questions would be asked.
Around 2,500 copies of the poster were printed and plastered across Berlin but, alas, no one stepped forward to heed Freud’s polite plea. The only thing that came out of the campaign was the aforementioned art on Freud’s wall—one of these posters received a place of honor hung next to the door of the artist’s studio.
The loss continued to sting Freud up to his death in 2011.
From the day it was taken in 1988, the artist only allowed black and white photos of the painting to be shown or printed.
It was a decision he made “partly because there was no decent colour reproduction, partly as a kind of mourning,” the painter told The Telegraph.
It was an artistic—and a symbolic—gesture of loss. “In fact, the painting is quite near monochrome—so it comes out quite well, and I thought it was a rather jokey equivalent to a black arm band. You know—there it isn’t!”
Homage to Francis Bacon’s triptych series
JUDITH RITCHIE | THE NELSON MAIL | EST. 1866 | 28 MARCH 2017
Viv Sellers and James Taylor, with the triptych Playing Bacon on display at The Framing Rooms.
The Framing Rooms on Collingwood St are featuring a triptych, titled Playing Bacon, in honour of British expressionist painter Francis Bacon. Painted by Viv Sellers, also originally from England and a fan of Bacon’s work, the triptych is a tongue-in-cheek homage to Bacon’s portrait series.
"I remember the first time I saw three of Bacon’s works, it was at the Tate Gallery, I was about eight years old and went with my aunt," says Sellers. "They were lying on the floor waiting to be hung; the guy’s take on the human condition, capturing the often grotesque, really stuck in my brain."
To compose the portraits in the triptych, Sellers used still shots taken from his television from the 1998 film titled: Love is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon. The scene showed Bacon, played by Derek Jacobi, posing in a photo booth. Once completed, he took the triptych into the Framing Rooms to have them framed.
By coincidence, James Taylor, co-owner of the Framing Rooms, had just read in the English Guardian newspaper about a 1963 triptych painted by Bacon, appearing at auction for the first time.
Showing the artist’s lover and muse George Dyer, the triptych, once owned by author Roald Dahl, is on display at Christie’s in London before its sale in New York in May. It is estimated to sell for US$50-$70m.
Taylor, who learned his craft at the renowned John Jones Picture Framers in London, can recall Bacon himself coming into the shop to have his paintings framed.
"He turned up once with a cheap, ready-made metal frame in a Tesco’s bag and asked if we thought it would suit one of his paintings," says Taylor. "The answer was most definitely no."
When Sellers brought Playing Bacon into the Framing Rooms, Taylor recommended a dynamic black frame to complement the strength of the work.
Sellers wondered if Bacon would approve of the choice of frame but concluded that, typically, he probably "wouldn’t give a damn."
Playing Bacon, Viv Sellers, The Framing Rooms, Collingwood St, to April 15.
‘Maria Lassnig’ and ‘Francis Bacon’:
Invisible Rooms at Tate Liverpool
RINA ARYA | REVIEWS | VISUAL CULTURE IN BRITAIN | ISSUE 1 | VOLUME 18 | 20 MARCH 2017
Among the highlights of Tate Liverpool 2016’s calendar were the Francis Bacon and Maria Lassnig shows. They were designed to be contiguous. What struck me by walking from the Lassnig to the Bacon show was the change of ambience. In the Lassnig exhibition, viewers were greeted with light, brightness and an overall feeling of expanse. Work was arranged approximately thematically – abstraction, American realism, cyborg transmutations, and the film work that she made in America. Moving into the Bacon rooms, the mood became more sombre and dark (quite literally). Spectral popes and blue-suited businessmen loomed in disquieting dark corners. Bacon’s penchant for his work to be displayed behind glass and also framed created a vastly different impression, dissuading the viewer from getting too close. The grandeur was distancing.
In spite of the diametrically different visual experiences, Bacon and Lassnig have a number of shared concerns, mainly to do with their mutual preoccupation with embodiment and representation, the experience of what it feels like to be enfleshed, which deflects the focus away from the external representation of the body to the insides. We experience the sense of the inner in Bacon through the open mouths of the orator figures, organic (biomorphic) forms, and suggestive surfaces. Both artists share an intimate connection with the canvas and the act of painting, but this is more apparent in Lassnig, who has a more overt connection with the canvas, which doubles up as skin. In works such as Tragic Duet/Dramatic Duet (1987), Inside and Outside the Canvas V (1985) and Inside and Outside the Canvas IV (1984–1985) the representation spills over from the depicted canvas into the real world. Unlike Bacon, who used photographs to uncover the veracity of his sitter, Lassnig required the real fleshy body in front of her, which was usually her own, and little else.
Lassnig admired Bacon’s work, believing him to be a genius, which she discussed in a 2006 interview in Frieze magazine. She was not, however, taken with his treatment of backgrounds and his use of space-frames, which is ironic, given the subject of this particular Bacon exhibition. Lassnig preferred to concentrate on the figure and was unconcerned with its relationship with the ground. Bacon’s focus was also on the figure but pictorial space was integral. Since the 1950s he employed the device of the space-frame with the intention of scene-setting and drawing attention to what is contained within it. The range of examples used in the exhibition show the extent of Bacon’s use of this frame within-a-frame as well as the multipurpose use to which he put it, which included the conveyance of the exuberance of sentient motion. One of the enduring characteristics of living beings, whether human or animal, is the perpetual sense of motion that accompanies and determines life. The space-frame, even those more crudely conceived, conveys the impulse to contain form, which is continually slipping away and evading the boundaries of containment. The contrast between the angularity of the planes and sides of the space-frame and the organic form of the body is striking. One of the most powerful manifestations of this is Sand Dune (1984), which conveys the force of nature. The exhibition includes well known Bacon works such as the Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) with less-seen works, including Two Owls, No. 2 (c. 1957–1961). The exhibits drew attention to Bacon’s ability to set a scene or create an environment often using very abstract means while simultaneously evoking room-space. One of the most interesting additions was the inclusion of numerous sketches and photographs of Bacon’s inimitable studio, 7 Reece Mews.
The space-frames create a sense of pictorial depth and focus. The eye is drawn in to the mise-en-scene, but any attempts to narrativize are thwarted. In contrast, there is little sense of depth in Lassnig and the marks of the body are laid on the surface. As well as the shift in ambience then there is also a contrast in finish – Lassnig’s experimentalism gives way to the self-contained grandeur of Bacon. Overall, the contrast between these two artists worked well, and the synergy between these two hugely expressive painters in their economy of execution and technical range is apparent.
It stands to reason that interest in Lassnig was piqued by her placement alongside Bacon but her exhibition on its own was outstanding and reflected the breadth of her phases and the power of her imagery which, similarly to that of Bacon, combines aspects of figuration and abstraction to interesting effect. Her work can be couched in a narrative about the status of a woman’s body in a changing society that embraces the digital age and, with it, changing attitudes to the life processes of ageing and death. The array of work is deeply personal in that it is about her feelings, the sensorial effects of her body, and the emotional relationship she has to her identity. Her emphasis on body sensations is about her experience of being in a body (which she describes as body-awareness), where she emphasizes the body part that draws her in and highlights this visually by prioritizing that particular part or process over any other. This gives much of her work a fragmentary appearance, a feature that coheres with Bacon’s own sense of distortion.
In addition to the abstract recordings of her sensations, Lassnig, through the vehicle of the self-portrait, lays out various aspects of her emotional psyche, which at times is humorous in merging with household objects, such as in Self Portrait with Saucepan (1995), replete with an undercurrent of rebellion against the expectations placed on women. These sentiments are expressed more starkly in her images of the body featured under plastic. Elements from her biography creep into her work in the poignant elegies Child with Dead Mothers/The Killers (Murderers) Cry a Lot/Grieving Child (1965). Her strong personal stamp is apparent even in her early Expressive Self-Portrait of 1945, which was created in the same year as her graduation from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. It represents a point of departure from the prevailing style of academic realism, and gives a foretaste of not only her preoccupations but also her spirit of independence.
Bacon’s work has a timeless quality and resonates with a post-war Godless age. It evokes sensibilities that are core to the human condition and that instil a sense of solemnity and even of foreboding. Lassnig’s work cannot be interpreted in the same way but operates as a commentary on the contemporary digital age, which problematizes the place of the human. Lassnig explores the morphology of self as it is transmuted into everyday objects and machines. The greenish hues of her self-portraits and luminescence of her science fiction canvases communicate something of the decay and dystopia of the current age where image is equivalent to identity. Little is known of Lassnig’s work outside the German-speaking world but this exhibition succeeds in showcasing the importance of her contribution to contemporary painting alongside her near-contemporary Bacon. Recent Bacon exhibitions have explored his affiliation with Henry Moore (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 2014) and the great masters (Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, 2015) but there are greater points of affinity and identification here, and in that respect the exhibitions are mutually illuminating.
Stunning collection of modern art goes on display in Tehran
Exhibits include works by Francis Bacon and gay Iranian painter
Bahman Mohasses – bought before Islamic revolution of 1979
SAEED KAMALI DEHGHAN | IRAN CORRESPONDENT | THE GUARDIAN | FRIDAY 10 MARCH 2017
CENSORED: Francis Bacon’s Attendants displayed without the central panel Two Figures Lying on a Bed
A remarkable collection of modern western and Iranian art that had been gathering dust in the cellar of a Tehran museum and blocked from being shown in Europe has gone on display in Iran’s capital.
The collection features works by two prominent gay artists, Francis Bacon and Bahman Mohasses.
Some of the hidden treasures of Tehran’s museum of contemporary art had been due to travel to Berlin and Rome this year for their first show outside Iran since they were bought by the museum before the 1979 revolution.
But those exhibitions were cancelled, bringing embarrassment to German and Iranian officials, after Iranian artists protested about the secrecy surrounding their transfer, concerns about their fate, and the fact that some had never been shown before in Iran.
Now the works that were due to arrive in Europe have gone on display in Tehran, much to the delight of art lovers in Iran.
Speaking at the opening of the exhibition, Majid Molanorouzi, a former head of the museum, said there was still hope that the works would get to the German and Italian capitals “in the summer this year”.
Tehran’s museum of contemporary art is believed to have the finest collection of modern western art anywhere outside Europe and the US, including works by Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. The works are thought to be worth more than $2.5bn (£2bn) in total.
A total of 30 western artists and 30 works by Iranian figures are on show at the exhibition, entitled Berlin-Rome Travellers.
But two artists stand out: Bacon and Mohasses, both of whom were openly gay. Bacon’s painting Reclining Man with Sculpture and his triptych, Two Figures Lying on a Bed with Attendant, are displayed.
Mohasses, who died in Rome in 2010, is seen as Iran’s most prominent artist of the past century and is certainly the country’s best-known artistic figure to have been openly gay, although he lived in post-revolutionary times in Italy.
Homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran and carries a huge social stigma. Mohasses’ sexuality is not discussed officially in his home country.
In a recent poll conducted by an Iranian art journal, he came first in the list of the country’s popular contemporary artists. But his prominence was overlooked for many years – some of his works were destroyed by the authorities and some by the artist himself.
Iranian painter Nicky Nodjoumi, whose work has been acquired by the British Museum, said the elites and those close to the artist knew he was gay.
“To me, his artistic significance in Iranian contemporary art is enormous,” he told the Guardian.
“He followed his instinct to portray the suffering of humanity according to what he was feeling, rather than depicting the benign decorative Islamic motives. No doubt his being gay influenced his art – most of his paintings are figurative, the majority of [his] paintings are nude men in a orgy situation.
“Even though he was trying to conceal it with different tactics to hide them, he was living in Islamic society. In many respects we can compare him with Frances Bacon and I would say [he was] influenced by him.”
In 2012, Iranian film-maker Mitra Farahani made a documentary about the life and works of Bahman Mohasses, Fifi Howls from Happiness, which is named after a painting by the artist himself. The film provided a unique insight into Mohasses’ life in exile.
“Being homosexual did not have anything to do with him being reclusive, it was the opposite – he was proud of his sexuality and lived it fully,” she said.
Farahani complained about the lack of efforts by the Iranian government to retrieve, restore and list Mohasses’ work.
“The people who chose Mohasses as their most popular artist should know how many works have remained from him and where they are,” she said.
“The six-metre long sculpture of Les Amants that was made for a Shah villa in the Kish island, and was influenced by a poem by [Persian poet] Nima [Yooshij], where is it?”
She added: “Even if they can’t put them on display, they should keep them safe and let people know about them, because [his works] belong to the people.”
Iran’s LGBT community thrives despite restrictions. Works by internationally-known gay writers have been translated into Persian and published in Iran.
These include works by by Marcel Proust and André Gide. Officials appear to tolerate such works so long as their subjects are not explicitly gay or cannot be easily detected.
Sohrab Sepehri, Mohsen Vaziri, Monir Farmanfarmaian and Paarviz Tanavoli are among other Iranian artists featured in Berlin-Rome Travellers.
Controversial Francis Bacon Crucifixion Drawings Go On Display In London Church
Last year a Gallery in Mayfair exhibited a selection of drawings and collages from the Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino collection of works by Francis Bacon.
It created quite a stir in the press, as the collection remains unauthenticated by the Bacon Estate and rejected as fakes by the author of the new catalogue raisonné.
ART NEWS | ARTLYST | MONDAY 6 MARCH 2017
The works are said to have been made between 1977 and 1992 and given to Cristiano in Italy. The drawings are described as in “temporary custody” of David Edwards, the brother of Bacon’s long-term lover, the late John Edwards, but are still owned by Ravarino. Last year, Gallery owner, Alice Herrick told the Art Newspaper that around 600 drawings were given to Ravarino, who was one of the artist’s lovers, from 1977 up until Bacon’s death in 1992. The author of the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Bacon paintings, undertaken for the Francis Bacon Estate, has rejected the Ravarino works. In 2012 Martin Harrison told a Cambridge court that six drawings he had been shown were “pastiches, or even parodies, and profoundly disrespectful of Bacon’s authentic body of work”. The works have passed through a number of experts who have deemed the signatures correct and the court has been unable to prove that the body of work is wrong.
Now, St Stephen Walbrook is exhibiting Crucifixion drawings by Francis Bacon from “The Francis Bacon Collection of the drawings given to Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino”. Between 1977 and 1992 Francis Bacon donated to an intimate Italian friend a considerable number of drawings, pastels, and collages. Today those drawings are part of a collection which has previously been exhibited in Bologna, Dubrovnik, London, Madrid and Trieste among other locations.
The image of crucifixion was consistently utilised by Francis Bacon in his art to think about all life’s horror as he could not find a subject as valid to embrace all the nuances of human feelings and behaviours. This exhibition of crucifixion drawings by Bacon provides an opportunity to explore why the image of the crucified Christ retained its power for an avowed atheist such as Bacon and to reflect on the horror of the suffering that Christ endured for humanity.
Revd Jonathan Evens says: ‘Francis Bacon rather obsessively revisited religious imagery in his iconic paintings. The subject of the crucifixion preoccupied him throughout his life as he made at least eight major Crucifixion paintings, spanning five decades, including the work that launched his career, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. Bacon thought that this subject, more than any other, had the validity to embrace all the nuances of human feelings and behaviours that enable us to think about all life’s horror. Bacon’s basing of his godless images on an image freighted and weighted with salvific power highlights its enduring impact, even in the secular West and even in the work of an avowed atheist. The bleak obscuring of features in Bacon’s images of Christ reveals the emanation of love which leads Christ into nothingness. For all these reasons, Bacon’s crucifixion drawings deserve the interest of Christians, as well as that of art historians or art lovers, and reward informed reflection and contemplation.’
In his recollections of Francis Bacon, Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino suggests that: ‘It is completely wrong to see Francis Bacon as a determined blasphemer and convinced atheist. As a matter of fact, and paradoxically, Francis was almost more fascinating in what he thought about religion than in what he actually painted. This man frequently described (first, by we journalists) like a merciless satanic drunkard was one of the most pitifully charitable people I ever met.’ He suggests that ‘Bacon was a gambler, but he was a gambler more in hiding himself from people than in actually playing roulette.’
Controversial or not this exhibition is one not to miss! If the courts can’t decide on an outcome of authenticity, it is up to members of the public to assess this vast collection of works. We think whatever they are the works are rather nice!
London based public art collaborative Art Below will feature selected works from the exhibition in stations including Bond Street, Green Park and St. Paul’s from the 13th March for two weeks.
Exhibition events • Monday 6 March, 5.00pm: Francis Bacon & The Crucifixion – lectures by Edward Lucie-Smith & Revd Jonathan Evens • Monday 6 March, 6.30pm: Preview & opening night reception • Monday 13 March, 6.30pm: The Crucifixion in modern art & Poetry reading – Revd Jonathan Evens (lecture) & Rupert Loydell (poetry reading)
Wednesday 29 March, 7.00pm: concert by Claudio Crismani This will be amazing and full so book your tickets in advance
Crucifixions: Francis Bacon – 6-31 March 2017, 10.00am – 4.00pm Mon – Fri (Weds, 11.00am – 3.00pm), St Stephen Walbrook, 39 Walbrook, London EC4N 8BN
Roald Dahl’s Francis Bacon Studies To Be Auctioned Estimate $50-$70m
ART NEWS | ARTLYST | MONDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2017
George Dyer was to Bacon what Dora Maar was to Picasso – Loic Gouzer Christie’s
Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer, 1963 will be a featured highlight at Christie’s in its May 17 Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale in New York. Estimated at a staggering $50,000,000-70,000,000 the work painted in 1963, marks the beginning of Francis Bacon’s relationship with Dyer, one of his greatest source of inspiration.
The triptych is the very first portrait Bacon made of his longtime muse who came to feature in many of the artist’s most arresting and sought after works. Dyer came to appear in at least forty of Bacon’s paintings, many of which were created after his death in Paris in 1971. The convulsive beauty of this work represents the flowering of Bacon’s infatuation with Dyer, and is only one of five triptychs of Dyer that the artist painted in this intimate scale.
The present example once resided in the collection of Bacon’s close friend, Roald Dahl. The celebrated author became an adamant admirer of Bacon’s work upon first encounter at a touring exhibition in 1958.
However, collecting his work was not financially viable at the time. In the 1960’s, Dahl’s career saw new heights. He published celebrated books, James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and he wrote the screenplay for the James Bond film, You Only Live Twice. Buoyed by his newfound success, Dahl acquired four judiciously chosen works by Bacon between 1964 and 1967. The present triptych was among them.
Loic Gouzer, Deputy Chairman, Post-War and Contemporary Art, remarked: “Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer is a masterful triptych, which was completed within the first three months of Bacon’s encounter with Dyer. This powerful portrait exemplifies the dynamism and complex psychology that the artist is most revered for. George Dyer is to Bacon what Dora Maar was to Picasso.
He is arguably the most important model of the second half of the 20th century, because Dyer’s persona as well and physical traits acted as a catalyst for Bacon’s pictorial breakthroughs. The Francis Bacon that we know today, would not exist without the transformative encounter that he had with George Dyer.”
Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer was completed during the greatest moment of personal and professional contentment in Bacon’s career. When the artist met Dyer towards the end of 1963, Bacon was being praised by a public who now saw him as a master of figurative painting. This came on the heels of his first major retrospective in May 1962 at the Tate in London, which was followed by a triumphant exhibition at New York’s Guggenheim Museum in October 1963.
Over the past 40 years, Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer has been a central fixture in many of the artist’s most important exhibitions. It was most recently featured in Bacon’s celebrated 2008-2009 retrospective that travelled to the Tate Britain, London, the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It has also been shown in the National Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh and the Moderna Museet in the Stockholm, among other institutions.
Bacon’s first ever portrait of
his great muse, George Dyer Formerly in the collection of author Roald Dahl On
view at Christie’s London from 24 February – 8 March Auction: Post-War and
Contemporary Art 17 May 2017 7pm
Bacon triptych, once owned by Roald Dahl, to lead Christie’s New York sale in May
The auction house is also selling works by Picasso, Ernst and Lichtenstein to benefit Cleveland Clinic
GABRIELLA ANGELETI | HELEN STOILAS | THE ART NEWSPAPER | FRIDAY 24 FEBRUARY 2017
Francis Bacon, Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer (1963)
Christie’s has offered an early peek at the works consigned for its 20th-century art auctions in New York in May, which will be led by Francis Bacon’s triptych Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer (1963), and include pieces by Picasso, Ernst, Giacometti, and Lichtenstein.
The triple portrait is the first Bacon ever made of his longtime muse and lover George Dyer—he would go on to use him as a subject in some 40 paintings—and was created at the very start of their relationship. “George Dyer is to Bacon what Dora Maar was to Picasso,” says Loic Gouzer, Christie’s deputy chairman for post-war and contemporary art. “He is arguably the most important model of the second half of the 20th century, because Dyer’s persona as well and physical traits acted as a catalyst for Bacon’s pictorial breakthroughs.”
The work, estimated to make between $50m to $70m, was once owned by the British author Roald Dahl, a close friend of Bacon’s. Bloomberg has identified the current owner as the French actor Francis Lombrail, who has held it for 25 years and loaned it to a number of exhibitions dedicated to the artist, including the travelling retrospective in 2008-09 that was shown at London’s Tate Britain, Madrid’s Prado, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum. Christie’s sold another triptych by Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) in 2013, which broke the record at the time for the most expensive work sold at auction when it made $142.4m against an estimate of $85m.
The auction house will also offer eight works from the collection of Sydell Miller with all proceeds to be donated to the Cleveland Clinic Heart & Vascular Institute, a non-profit medical centre located in Ohio. Miller, an American philanthropist, is a member of the centre’s board of trustees.
Slated for the 17 May post-war and contemporary art evening sale is a cast, made during the artist’s lifetime, of Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture of his wife, Buste d’Annette VI (conceived 1962, cast 1964, est $1.5m-$2.5m), as well as works by Jean Dubuffet and Louise Bourgeois.
Francis Bacon Painting May Reach $70 Million at Christie’s Sale
The 1963 triptych previously belonged to author Roald Dahl
The seller is the French actor and collector Francis Lombrail
BY KATYA KAZAKINA | BLOOMBERG | FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2017
A portrait of Francis Bacon’s lover may fetch as much as $70 million at Christie’s in May, when bellwether auctions test the health of the high-end art market.
The triptych Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer was painted in 1963, soon after the two men met. It depicts three versions of Dyer’s twisted face, each on a separate, small, black canvas. In 2014, a similar triptych, done in 1964 on a light background, sold for 26.7 million pounds (about $45.6 million at the time) at Sotheby’s.
The work for sale at Christie’s is the first major consignment for the next auction season in New York. Sales of works by Bacon, who became the most expensive artist at auction in November 2013, have fallen 74 percent since 2014, according to Artprice.com. Last year, his sales tallied $69.6 million as the industry’s supply of top-tier works dried up amid economic and political volatility.
The work previously belonged to Roald Dahl, the British author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. The piece, which isn’t guaranteed, will be offered during the evening sale of postwar and contemporary art on May 17, Christie’s said Friday in a statement.
“It’s a real trophy work,” said Loic Gouzer, Christie’s deputy chairman of postwar and contemporary art. “George Dyer is Bacon’s No. 1 muse like Dora Maar was for Picasso. He was the subject who allowed Bacon to push his limits and become the artist he became.”
The seller is Francis Lombrail, a French actor who’s owned it for 25 years. Lombrail said he first spotted the work when it was turned against the wall at a Paris art fair; all he could see was back of the canvas.
“I saw the title. I saw the date. And before I even saw the work, I knew it’s my painting,” Lombrail, 70, said in a telephone interview. “I knew I had an incredible chance.”
Although he declined to disclose his purchase price, Lombrail said he had to sell much of the art he owned at the time to pay for the Bacon. It may turn out to be a savvy investment, as Christie’s is estimating the work at $50 million to $70 million.
Over the years, he lent the piece to major exhibitions, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, London’s Tate and the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid. He said he will use the proceeds to pay for an historic Paris theatre he recently bought.
“All the biggest actors in France played there,” said Lombrail. “It’s like the Bacon of theaters.”
Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer
Francis Bacon’s first portrait of lover George Dyer goes on sale
1963 triptych of muse was painted three months into relationship and was once owned by Roald Dahl
MARK BROWN | ARTS CORRESPONDENT | THE GUARDIAN | FRIDAY 24 FEBRUARY 2017
Francis Bacon’s first portrait of George Dyer, the East End petty criminal who became the artist’s lover and muse, is to appear at auction for the first time.
The 1963 triptych, once owned by Roald Dahl, was painted three months into a relationship which, a much repeated story goes, began after bacon caught Dyer attempting to burgle his home in South Kensington, south-west London.
Instead of calling the police the artist invited him to bed. The truth is far more pedestrian in that they met in a Soho pub, Dyer offering to buy Bacon a drink.
So began a tempestuous and largely drunken relationship which ended in tragedy a decade later when Dyer killed himself days before Bacon’s important retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris.
Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer has gone on display at Christie’s in London before its sale in New York in May. The work has an estimated price tag of between $50m (£40m) and $70m.
The auction house’s head of postwar and contemporary art in London said the passion of the relationship was plain to see. “It is like they are making love together, it is a sensual portrait of George Dyer but you can almost find some hints of Bacon … the two bodies are merging, it is very dramatic,” said Edmond Francey.
Dyer appeared in more than 40 of Bacon’s paintings. That this this triptych was the first, makes it a historically important work.
Loic Gouzer, Christie’s deputy chairman of postwar and contemporary art, said the portrait exemplified “the dynamism and complex psychology” that Bacon was most revered for.
He added: “George Dyer is to Bacon what Dora Maar was to Picasso. He is arguably the most important model of the second half of the 20th century, because Dyer’s persona as well and physical traits acted as a catalyst for Bacon’s pictorial breakthroughs.
“The Francis Bacon that we know today would not exist without the transformative encounter that he had with George Dyer.”
The former ownership of the work adds an extra layer of interest. Dahl was a passionate Bacon fan and keen to collect, but the artist’s works were not cheap.
The success of his books, James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as well as money from writing the screenplay for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, allowed Dahl to indulge his passion, buying the Dyer triptych along with three other works by Bacon between 1964 and 1967.
The triptych has been given a room of its own at Christie’s in London. On public display in other galleries are works that will be sold in the capital in the coming fortnight as part of Christie’s and other auction houses' impressionist and modern art, surreal art and postwar and contemporary sales.
Among the highlights are one of Gauguin’s Tahitian landscapes, Te Fare (La maison), which has estimate of £12m-18m, and a Magritte surreal landscape of a cloud on a drinking glass, La corde sensible, which has an estimate of £14m-£18m and is expected to set an auction record for the artist.
Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer is on display as Christie’s in London before auction in New York.
Book Review: Michael Peppiatt’s Francis Bacon In Your Blood is a fascinating
exploration of the artist, the author, and a decades long friendship
JODIE SLOAN | THE AU REVIEW | EST. 2008 | THURSDAY FEBRUARY 23 2017
As a young student in Swingin’ Sixties London, Michael Peppiatt met the star of British contemporary art, Francis Bacon. Initially just hoping to secure an interview for a university magazine, what followed was thirty years of friendship, late nights, copious amounts of champagne, and an interview that never really ended.
The author of an acclaimed biography of Francis Bacon, Michael Peppiatt here presents more of his own story, albeit one told through the lens of a decades long friendship with one of recent art history’s most controversial and talked about figures. Following Peppiatt as he moves around Europe establishing his career as an art writer and critic, Francis Bacon in Your Blood shows how his relationship with the famous artist influenced and inspired him, and gave him access to exclusive social and professional circles.
Throughout Peppiatt’s life, Bacon appears and disappears, often with an eclectic selection of hangers on and true friends in tow, picking up the tab every time. This makes for a slightly repetitive nature to the book, and the cycle of nights of heavy drinking, interactions with wild characters, and Peppiatt and Bacon musing on life, love, the universe, and, of course, art can start to jar after a while.
But thanks to Peppiatt’s beautiful writing and insightful commentary, the memoir successfully steers clear of monotony. Peppiatt explores all sides of Bacon’s character, including those that lead Bacon to seemingly constantly toe the line of self destruction; and muses on how the friendship reflects upon Peppiatt himself. It’s neither an indictment nor a celebration of Bacon’s lavish lifestyle, rather it’s an interesting insight into how a friend sees the actions of another, with Peppiatt taking a step back and looking at Bacon from a distance.
Given the background of the author, and the fact that the front cover of the book hones in on Bacon, readers might be forgiven for expecting another biography focusing on the artist. Peppiatt himself seems to fall into the same trap from time to time, almost as if his own story isn’t as interesting, and while it’s true that Bacon’s life is a rich tapestry, his ‘gilded gutter life’ only takes on real poignancy when it’s explored by an outsider like Peppiatt. Peppiatt is a way to ground the artist’s heavy handed and excessive ideas and behaviours, making Bacon that much more accessible. It’s a side of the artist that is so well hidden by his work, but Peppiatt, someone who visited his studio, was there at gallery openings to see him speaking so gregariously and openly, and sat with him during his some of his darkest times, is able to draw that out. By analysing Bacon’s words and by presenting his own story side by side, Peppiatt’s rise from starstruck student to someone who understands and reads his older friend with such clarity is central to the book.
Francis Bacon in Your Blood mixes art, ambition, and friendship, with a heavy dose of alcohol, to craft a potent dual portrait of Peppiatt and Bacon. Filled with moments of intense emotion and deep conversation, the story is as beautiful and grotesque as any of the enfant terrible’s paintings, shattering myths and exploring an unlikely, but lasting friendship.
Francis Bacon in Your Blood is available now through Bloomsbury.
Freud and Bacon to visit Málaga’s Picasso Museum
CULT British artists will be the focus of a huge new Picasso Museum exhibition.
CHLOE GLOVER | THE OLIVE PRESS | MONDAY 20 FEBRUARY 2017
Works by Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud will be flown over from Tate London for the five month showcase, open from April 26 to September 17.
Titled Bacon, Freud and the School of London, the exhibition focuses on post-war and late 20th century art which discuss the symbolism and fragility of the human figure.
Among the famed works going on display will be Freud’s Girl with a White Dog, which features of painting of his first wife Kitty while she was pregnant.
Other renowned artists on show include Frank Auerbach, David Bomberg, William Coldstream, B Kitaj, Leon Kossoff, Paula Rego and Euan Uglow.
Talking about the exhibition, a spokesperson for the museum said: “By painting the human figure and their own everyday landscapes, these artists conveyed the fragility and vitality of the human condition.
“Simultaneously, they developed new approaches and styles, translating life into art and reinventing the way it is depicted.”
Much-married, hard-drinking Old Etonian artist
who haunted Soho with Bacon and Freud
OBITUARIES | THE TIMES | SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2017
Although Timothy Behrens was one of the “School of London” artists, with Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, he may be equally remembered for outselling a naked and pregnant supermodel, Kate Moss. He did not paint her; Freud did, selling the work, Naked Portrait, for £3.928 million at Christie’s in 2005. To the shock of the 200 people in the auction room that day, Red-Haired Man on a Chair, a 1962-63 portrait of Freud’s friend and fellow artist Behrens, fetched £4.152 million from an unknown buyer. It was a record price for a Freud.
Moss was said to have been rather miffed about being outshone in this way. As for Behrens, he was underwhelmed by his new-found fame. He was a painter, not a sitter. A fine bilingual poet and writer too. While he was part of the School of London in the late 1950s and early 1960s, which included Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews and occasionally David Hockney, Behrens was a maverick, an outsider among outsiders. “The School of London never existed,” he said not long ago. “The term was invented by the media. We were just a group of guys who got together in Wheeler’s fish restaurant or the Colony Room [both in Soho], to drink. Simple as that.”
School of London was coined by another member of the group, the American artist RB Kitaj, who had adopted London as his home, and the media jumped on it. The acclaimed photographer John Deakin captured Behrens, Bacon, Freud, Auerbach and Andrews wet-lunching at Wheeler’s in Soho. When not there, they were usually in the Colony Room at 41 Dean Street, where they were known as Muriel’s Boys, after the club’s owner, Muriel Belcher. The “Boys” included other bibulous regulars such as Jeffrey Bernard, Peter O’Toole and George Melly.
ehrens, who spent the last third of his life in Galicia, northwest Spain, where he died, was a great painter in his own right. He kept his prices low as part of his social conscience. “Call me a member of the Galician or La Coruña School, rather than the School of London,” he told a Spanish newspaper. “It disgusts me that a painting can cost more than a house. Lucian wasn’t good and he knew himself he was a pedantic painter. I detested the way he painted. I still don’t like it. I always preferred Bacon, and especially Michael Andrews.”
A painting of Behrens by Andrews — Portrait of Timothy Behrens (1962, oil on cardboard), showing a young skinny Behrens in a doorway — is in the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum in Madrid. When Behrens’s own paintings went up for sale in Spain in recent years they were snapped up.
Timothy John Behrens was born in central London in 1937 to Michael, a Jewish banker from an old Hamburg family, and Felicity (née Arnold). He grew up in Hillingdon, west London, after the Blitz, because it was considered safer. His father, whom he nicknamed “Pooch,” got him into Eton, but he was determined to be an artist. As a child whose talents were seen as troubling, he was sent to see a psychologist. He skipped the session, smoked a packet of cigarettes on the train and went to the Slade School of Fine Art, of University College London, to show them some of his artwork. He was accepted and, aged 16 and the Slade’s youngest pupil, bade farewell to Eton.
His father was not amused. “Pooch really showed me my road in life because all I had to do was the opposite of anything he thought or did. I was always thinking, ‘Fuck you, you bastard.’ I used to dream, asleep or awake, of killing him that day. At breakfast he’d be reading The Times and I’d be thinking: ‘I could do it now, I could go up with my little knife.’ I thought him an incredibly stupid man and now I know it. He was a snob and a bigot, an antisemitic Jew.”
At the Slade, Freud became his tutor, friend and mentor. “He suggested I pose for him and I, 18 years old, was delighted to pose for a painter whose work was hanging in the Tate. There was a time when he protected me, but most of all there was a relation of friendship. He kind of adopted me, but later he cast me out of the nest, as birds do.” Behrens guessed their split may have been related to differences in their perception of the Jewish identity.
Behrens’s sittings, in Freud’s Paddington studio from 1962-63, resulted in Red-Haired Man on a Chair. At the time Behrens felt his uncomfortable, months-long pose was a sacrifice for the greater good of art. Later in life he was more cynical: “I’m a glorified hooligan. I drink plenty and, as you know, we English are famed throughout Europe as drunks who destroy bars.”
Shortly before he died Behrens was in his local bar, Calypso, in the Galician city of A Coruña, gazing out to sea and writing a poem. Those who knew him, which included most of the locals, went into mourning for the loss of the flamboyant, hard-drinking, red-haired English artist. To them he was a Van Gogh-like figure, although with a pirate-style black eye patch rather than an ear bandage. He had lost the sight in his right eye some years previously.
Behrens first married, in 1958, Janet Rheinberg, a fellow student at the Slade, and they had twin girls, Kate and Sophie. Janet died in 1963, Sophie died in 1985 and Kate is among his survivors. In 1963, he married Harriet Hill, daughter of an avant-garde bookseller in Curzon Street. They had two sons, Algy and Charlie, and a daughter, Fanny. In 1983 Behrens got married again, this time to the artist and printmaker Diana Aitchison, niece of the Scottish painter Craigie Aitchison, who was a fellow student and close friend of Behrens at the Slade. The couple met at Craigie’s home at Montecastelli in Tuscany, and they had a child, Harry. Diana survives Behrens, as do his sons, Algy, Charlie and Harry, and his daughters, Kate and Fanny, and his younger brother, Jonathan. Algy is a musician, teacher and artist; Charlie an artist and graphic designer; Kate a poet and writer; Harry a musician and artist; and Fanny a guide and mentor for people with emotional difficulties.
In 1988 Behrens wrote a book, The Monument, the tragic story of his younger brother, Justin, and Justin’s wife, Ursula, an art dealer ten years his senior. After they had lived a nomadic life together, Ursula committed suicide in Sudan in 1981 and a heartbroken Justin took his own life the next year.
According to Behrens’s son Charlie: “Tim was intellectual, a drinker and a rebellious spirit . . . He would play Devil’s advocate to the end. It was a kind of mischievousness, played straight, to see how people might react. His style of painting is fluid and idiosyncratic. He believed in not overcharging for his paintings. In fact, he undercharged.
“He once told me, ‘We’re not really making something much different to food. It shouldn’t be inflated like that, and I don’t like it being elitist, either. The trouble is that sometimes it antagonises your colleagues. It makes them annoyed, they think, what’s he doing, charging [low] prices like that? He’s just undermining us.’ ”
The locals in Galicia nicknamed him torero (bullfighter) and he called his studio his bullring. Often shirtless during the summer, he would hover, stare at his work and then make lunges for the canvas with the brush. “It did look a little like boxing,” said Charlie Behrens, “and the effect was that his brushstrokes would have a certain dynamism.” In Galicia, Behrens did not want to be just another expat, learning only enough Spanish to order una cerveza. He mastered the language and went on to write volumes of poetry in Spanish. “You can’t just learn a few words for use in restaurants,” he said. “You’ve got to learn to fucking perform in it.”
Timothy Behrens, artist, was born on June 2, 1937. He died of thrombosis on February 8, 2017, aged 79
Timothy Behrens, Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews at Wheeler’s Restaurant in Soho, London, 1963.
Tim Behrens, artist – obituary
OBITUARIES | THE DAILY TELEGRAPH | SATURDAY 18 FEBRUARY 2017
Tim Behrens, who has died aged 79, was a painter and writer who in his youth promised to be as much a star of the London art world as his friends and drinking companions Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon; but he later rejected the British way of life and, hobbled at times by personal tragedy, lived from his thirties in obscurity abroad.
In 1963, John Deakin took a now-celebrated photograph of the group of painters later dubbed by RB Kitaj the “School of London”. Behrens sits beside his mentor Freud in it, the others lunching being Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews. Taken at Wheelers oyster bar in Soho, the image was posed – the cork is in the bottle and the glasses empty – and Behrens came to deny their having been a group with aims in common.
Yet the friendship was real, particularly with Freud, whom he saw every day for nine years. A decade older than Behrens, he came to be a substitute father figure – the younger painter hating his own parent – and Freud’s abrupt dissolution of their association in late 1964 shattered Behrens’s world.
They had met when Freud taught Behrens at the Slade. Thereafter they shared a flat for a time, caroused together in Soho – for Behrens a place that was “a school of ideas” – and played frenetic games of pinball. The red-headed Behrens was fierily competitive and never lost.
Once when they were together they bumped into a man who cheerily saluted Lucian. “Run!” Freud shouted, having head-butted the acquaintance. When Behrens had got his breath back, he asked how much Freud owed the man. “Fourteen,” came the reply. “Pounds?” asked Behrens. “Grand,” said Freud.
From the Mephistophelean Freud, Behrens acknowledged, he learned to fill every centimetre of canvas with emotional energy. He said that Freud admitted that he lacked natural talent and compensated for it with intensity of effort. The painters gave each other pictures and Behrens sat for Freud in several portraits during the period in which Freud’s art was evolving into the more vigorous, free-flowing style that would characterise his maturity. In 2005, by which time Freud had become arguably Britain’s most famous living artist, one of his portraits of Behrens sold for a near-record £4.1 million.
So close were they that some assumed they must be in a relationship. As it was, they often went out with the same girls. Freud also shared his contacts in the art world. In 1959, Behrens had the first of three one-man shows at the avant-garde Beaux Arts gallery in London, where Bacon, Auerbach and Andrews had had exhibitions.
Behrens always termed himself a figurative painter. His pictures at the time had a detached, dream-like quality much influenced by Balthus, whose painting The Card Game was owned by his father. Yet in the mid-Sixties his life suddenly altered its seemingly pre-ordained direction.
To Freud’s biographer, Geordie Greig, he said that the cause of his rift with Freud was his attraction to someone who looked like his first wife, shortly after she had died in an accident, although the evidence for this is debatable. He himself never revealed to friends why Freud had broken with him, who overstepped what mark, albeit Freud was to repeat the pattern with others.
The Beaux Arts having closed, Behrens let a lucrative contract with the Marlborough Gallery fall through, moved his family to rural Italy, and swapped painting in oil for acrylic. He later confessed that he did not much like the results, though the change was cathartic. While he remained ambitious for recognition, that was rather harder away from the self-regarding gaze of the London art market and without an entrée to his former circle of friends. “I was a deserter,” he mused in 2003, “and deserters don’t get easily forgiven.”
Timothy John Behrens was born in London on June 2 1937. His father Michael was a City financier who later co-owned The Ionian Bank. He was also a collector of beautiful things, among them art and women; his affair in the late Forties with Elizabeth Jane Howard led her to use him as the model for the protagonist of her novel The Long View (1956).
Although Tim was close to his mother Felicity – his two brothers were much younger – he came to hold a violent dislike for his unbending father. His parents’ London home was in a Nash terrace by Regent’s Park. In 1949, however, they bought Culham Court, an imposing Georgian house and estate bordering the Thames near Henley (now owned by the Swiss billionaire Urs Schwarzenbach).
There Michael entertained artistic friends including Hugh Casson and Edward Ardizzone. Seeing some youthful paintings of Tim’s, Matthew Smith said that he should be encouraged, while Tim took as his model for a bohemian life another visitor, the artist Bateson Mason.
Although good at games and at Latin, Tim did not find Eton– or at least its ambience – sympathetic, and though Michael Behrens had even bought the influential Hanover Gallery from Arthur Jeffress he opposed his son’s artistic intentions.
Suffering from anxiety, Tim began to be sent once a week from school to London to see a psychologist. Naturally, he bunked off and explored the city, learning to smoke Woodbines on the journey back. On one trip, he took his drawings to the Slade and, at 17, was the youngest student admitted.
His contemporaries included Paula Rego and Euan Uglow, while he became lifelong friends there with Craigie Aitchison. With the cartoonist Nicholas Garland he shared a flat rented from the former tutor to Tsar Nicholas II’s children. Nicholas Gibbes had been with them almost until their murders and, having become a Greek Orthodox priest in their memory, kept the house as a shrine to them.
Behrens first married a fellow student, Janet Rheinberg. Their parents had refused them permission to wed and, when they ran away to Gretna Green, they found the police waiting. Craigie Aitchison drove the getaway car.
Although the couple had twin daughters, the marriage did not endure long. Some years after they had split up, Jan had a fatal reaction to a wasp sting while holidaying in Turkey. By then, in 1963, Behrens had married Harriet Hill, daughter of the bookseller Heywood Hill.
While staying in Tuscany with friends – Matthew Spender, the sculptor, and his painter wife Maro – they saw a ruined farmhouse near Siena and decided on the spur of the moment to buy it. They raised the twins and their first two children there (Behrens enjoying sojourns in the hills where he drank and played ping-pong in rustic dives) but they divorced in 1979 and returned to London. Then Behrens was hit by two further blows: the suicides of his youngest brother, Justin, and his twin daughter, Soph. He wrote a book about his brother’s death, The Monument (1988), and for much of the Eighties he stopped painting.
He had done some commissions, however, for the well-connected Spanish decorator Jaime Parladé and, having explored the country with his third wife Diana – a painter and niece of Craigie Aitchison – whom he married in 1983, settled in Galicia.
He and the people of La Coruña took each other to heart and he even began to compose poetry in Spanish. When he returned to painting in the Nineties, once again in oil, his shows sold out quickly. He had retrospectives both in La Coruña and Madrid – the city whose Thyssen collection houses his portrait by Mike Andrews.
By turns rambunctious and intellectual, shocking and conventional, Behrens was an enriching, mischievous, seductive and often tumultuous presence in the lives of those who knew and held him dear. He worked at his painting tirelessly, lunging at his canvas like a bullfighter, although latterly he was handicapped by a piratical eyepatch.
He was irritated by the supposed link between talent and price in the art market and thought that paintings should be an everyday commodity like food. Every so often, someone would ask whether he was not the painter who had belonged to the School of London.
“No,” he would say. “I haven’t lived in London for a long time. I prefer to belong to the School of La Coruña.”
He is survived by a daughter of his first marriage, a daughter and two sons of the second, and by his third wife and their son.
Tim Behrens, born June 2 1937, died February 8 2017
Tim Behrens, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews at Wheeler’s Restaurant, Soho, London, one morning in 1963
Francis Bacon in your Blood — A Memoir
When Michael Peppiatt stepped inside the French House, a dark, dank Soho pub, one busy
lunchtime in June 1963, he could hardly have anticipated how life-changing an impact the
next few hours would afford him.
BILLY O’CALLAGHAN | BOOK REVIEW | IRISH EXAMINER | SATURDAY, 18 FEBRUARY 2017
A 21 year-old Cambridge student who’d just become editor of the university’s arts journal, he was hunting a few words of wisdom from one of the lions of the painting world, Francis Bacon, and maybe, too, dreaming of enlightenment.
Gaining access seemed largely wishful thinking, but through the photographer, John Deakin, he soon found himself sitting at the great man’s side. It was a position he would maintain for the next three decades, in the process becoming Bacon’s sidekick, servile recorder, put-upon apprentice, confidante and, in a myriad of ways, his confessor.
This is not a biography, Peppiatt has already written that, Francis Bacon — Anatomy of an Enigma, 20 years ago, in fact, along with three more books that offer glimpses and reflections of the one of the 20th century’s most compelling artists.
Rather, this is an analysis of a long and often lopsided friendship, a reflection by Peppiatt on his own life, and a contemplation on the cost and worth of living in the often generous, frequently demanding shadow of a genius.
In the book’s preface he tells us “Bacon comes across here in ways that no formal biography could convey: close up and unguarded, grand and petty, tender and treacherous by turn, and often quite unlike the legend that has grown up around him”. The opening pages, which depict in vivid fashion that historic first meeting, set the tone for what is to come, and if there is an inevitable imbalance between the two main personalities involved then that in no way lessens the worth of book, or the story being told.
Bacon is larger than reality in almost every conceivable way, a walking, bloviating sackful of contradictions, a goading presence on every page, living loose and wild from within his cadre of cartoonish celebrity hangers-on, pushing all the boundaries of excess and masochism, trawling the most sordid corners of the gutteral nightlife in search of the next thrill, the next kick, the next cerebral high.
However, he is also gentle, in moments, and soulful, and fascinated at the kinds of normality that exist beyond what he might have regarded as his Pale. And always, there is the sanctuary, salvation and protective shield of his art, his true reason for breathing. Measured against such a full-blown creation, the author is a spare part, yet it is this very position that provides the optimal view of an existence so hard-spent.
Peppiatt, for his part, is a witness but also a student, absorbing lessons not only about the work but about all that feeds it and makes it whole. He paddles perhaps in the shallows, careful of lines that can’t be easily uncrossed, but finds it impossible to resist falling under the spell of the bacchanal and its rampant conductor.
Even after escaping to Paris, even after finding love, a wife, starting a family, forging a separate life for himself, the artist remains a dominating presence, colouring every detail of the world.
“Having lived to tell the tale, I recount it here as indiscreetly as Bacon once recommended I should, sketching in the parallel evens of my own life as the story unfolds.”
The result is “a double portrait, a diptych of the kind Bacon sometimes painted, showing two profiles, two personalities, two lives closely intertwined.”
Depicting as much, in a readable manner, is a considerable achievement.
Francis Bacon painting goes on show at Barber Institute
Gallery at the University of Birmingham is showcasing a Bacon work for the first time
By TAMLYN JONES | BIRMINGHAM MAIL | TUESDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2017
A painting by renowned artist Francis Bacon has gone on display in Birmingham.
The Barber Institute of Fine Arts is showing Two Figures in a Room, 1959 for the next six weeks at its gallery on the University of Birmingham campus in Edgbaston.
The Barber does not own a work by him and no example has ever been exhibited there previously.
Two Figures in a Room has been lent to the Barber by the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia — only the second time it has been shown publicly in the UK outside the centre since 1962.
The painting is a disquieting image from Bacon’s middle years, one of a series of similar composition.
The Barber said the faceless figures may be read as two lovers, apparently both men, a daring and provocative image to paint at a time when homosexual acts between men in private were still illegal in the UK.
Works by Matisse and Degas featuring bathers, and even the Michelangelo sculpture Crouching Boy, have been suggested as sources for the two figures, the institute says.
Two Figures in a Room joins Frank Auerbach’s Primrose Hill - Winter (1981/2) - the only painting in the Barber collection by a living artist — also on display in the Red Gallery.
Deputy director Robert Wenley said: "Both juxtapositions emphasise the continuity of the European painting tradition and the continuing relevance of historic art to modern and contemporary artists."
The painting is on display until March 26
Two Figures in a Room, 1959, by Francis Bacon goes on display at The Barber Institute of Fine Arts
The Art of Rivalry - when Bacon met Freud and other creative friendships
How Picasso became pals with Matisse and why Manet slashed a Degas …
all in Sebastian Smee’s study of painter friends
ANTHONY QUINN | THE GUARDIAN | FRIDAY 3 FEBRUARY 2017
Admiration and anxiety … Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud in 1974.
In the end, the true artist goes it alone, no matter what the promptings of advisers, critics, friends. Especially those friends who are artists themselves, for without even knowing it they may also be your rivals. It’s not that the competitive impulse hardwired into so much artistic enterprise is necessarily a harmful one. It might be the thing that drives you on, that piques what this new book describes as “the yearning to be unique, original, inimitable”. But it is just as well to assume the brace position when the ambition of the artist collides with the duty of friendship.
The Art of Rivalry selects four pairs of artists who were also pals and investigates the streams of influence that flowed between each pair. Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, Degas and Manet, Picasso and Matisse, Pollock and and Willem de Kooning are led into the ring like prizefighters, each eyeballing the other in a posthumous contest of achievement. Art being an unpredictable and often indecipherable commodity, it isn’t clear what conclusions the book is leading us towards. What Sebastian Smee does essentially is to reformulate familiar material – biography, art history, gossip – by viewing it through the prism of a close friendship. Perhaps the most enjoyable of the pairings is Bacon and Freud, because the ambivalence between them feels so awkward and profound. The earliest battleground of their friendship was Freud’s exquisite 1952 portrait of Bacon, painted on copper plate in a series of sittings close enough for artist and subject to be touching knees. Mesmerising, memorable, utterly modern, the picture pierced to the very core of Bacon’s volatile nature, somehow giving his face, in Robert Hughes’s great phrase, “the silent intensity of a grenade in the millisecond before it goes off”. Sadly it was stolen from the wall of a German museum in 1988 and has never been recovered.
What attracts one artist to another in this account is more than a matter of professional admiration. It is the magnetic force of personality, of daring to be one’s own man. Freud once said of Bacon, “His work impressed me, but his personality affected me.” He envied the older man’s social charm and gregariousness as well as his ruthless attitude to his work (Bacon would destroy whatever he considered unsatisfactory). A century earlier, in Paris, Manet’s sense of passionate conviction would inspire Degas to cultivate a similar boldness of outlook. In the early days of their friendship Picasso, the uncertain expatriate, was struck by the self-possession and ease of Matisse. De Kooning, who called his friend Pollock “the painting cowboy”, was beguiled by the younger man’s outlandishness, his sense of freedom, and his “desperate joy”. Temperament was as much a subject of emulation as technique.
Smee is good on the sense of these friendships as a two-horse race. When one of them enjoys a coup or some kind of breakthrough, you feel the other man brood and take stock: how did he do that? It is not about admiration expressed through gritted teeth – there seems a genuine urge to absorb the other’s example, and then adapt it. Under Bacon’s influence, Freud quit drawing for years to explore the possibilities of paint. In time, it would enable his “mature” style and catapult him into the firmament of international masters. But it’s when the glaze of amity begins to crack that the reader’s interest quickens. Matisse regarded Picasso “almost as a younger brother”, encouraging him, introducing him to family and friends. When offered a gift from Matisse’s studio, Picasso asked for the portrait of his daughter Marguerite, an unusual choice given Picasso’s own struggle with fatherhood: he had recently returned his 13-year-old adopted daughter to the orphanage. He kept the picture all of his life, yet it didn’t prevent him one night – in a stew of resentment towards Matisse – firing toy arrows at it.
Influence, as we know, can create anxiety. While there is pleasure in falling under another’s spell, there comes the countervailing impulse to protect your own identity – “to push back”, in Smee’s phrase. It provokes strange behaviour. One of the famous stories here is of Degas’s 1868-69 portrait of Manet and his wife, Suzanne. As a portrait of a marriage it revealed rather more than Manet liked – the wife absorbed at her piano, the husband sprawled in a pose of bored distraction, perhaps dreaming of another woman. When Degas later visited Manet’s studio, he noticed that the painting he had given the couple had suffered an assault: the canvas had been slashed with a knife through Suzanne’s face. The culprit turned out to be Manet himself, for reasons unknown. They stayed friends, but it marked a break. Degas, one-time protege, had ambushed the master and asserted his independence. “A picture is something that requires as much trickery, malice and vice as the perpetration of a crime,” he once said – and he should know.
In the last months of his life, Jackson Pollock fell in with a younger woman, an artist named Ruth Kligman. She was the only survivor of the car crash that killed Pollock and another friend. Within a year De Kooning, the dead man’s friend and rival, himself began a relationship with Kligman, which lasted seven years – yet when Kligman later wrote a memoir, it was about her time with Pollock. The connection endured: in 1963, De Kooning moved to a house opposite the cemetery where Pollock was buried. It is a tale twisted enough for a Hitchcock movie.
Smee doesn’t have any new material, but he shuffles the pack of familiar stories with dexterity and enthusiasm. His prose, spruce and well-mannered for the most part, suffers minor lapses here and there. He writes “impunity” when he means “impudence”, “a burr in the side” is surely meant to be “a thorn” and so on. He gets the year of Freud’s death wrong, and is perhaps the only man in the world who thinks the Titanic went down in 1913 – a few small blemishes to be painted out when the paperback comes round. As a study of the dynamics of friendship between artists it offers some useful lessons, not the least of them in the tension that may inform every friendship: the longing to be close against the need to stand apart.
The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals and Breakthroughs in Modern Art is published by Profile.
Francis Bacon: a Brush With Violence
RACHEL COOKE | CULTURE | NEW STATESMAN | THURSDAY 2 FEBRUARY 2017
Beauty is the thing right now, isn’t it? All I want to do is to sink down into music, novels, art. On which note, the documentary Francis Bacon: a Brush With Violence (28 January, 9pm) seemed to me to be mistitled – and not only because of the woeful pun. Beauty, I say, not violence. The biographer John Richardson, a friend of the artist, said it best at the end of the film, when he suggested that these days people think of Bacon almost as a religious painter, the disgust that trailed his earliest big shows in the 1940s having long since dissipated. Gazing at the paintings, you feel as someone might have done in the 16th century on catching sight of a pietà. What I get from Bacon’s work is an other-worldliness: a transporting, almost paralysing sense of awe. The filth and brutality are almost beside the point.
This is not to criticise Richard Curson Smith’s gossipy but never prurient film. It was incredibly good, elegantly combining footage of Bacon – whose voice always startles me by sounding of the drawing room rather than the gutter – with some transfixing talking heads. Listening to Richardson was thrilling. (“Everything was torn, everything was dirty, everything was . . . wonderful,” he said of Bacon’s studio.)
The same was true of another friend, Nadine Haim. She had never been his subject, she noted, an unfiltered cigarette in her hand. But were he alive now, perhaps her wrinkles would – at this she laughed, darkly – encourage him to take up his brush.
Rather less compelling were the Bacon-fryer-in-chief, his biographer Michael Peppiatt, who fell back on all the old Jekyll and Hyde clichés; and Damien Hirst, still stupidly insistent in the matter of his kinship with the master.
Only one thing spoiled the drama for me. Why are film-makers so afraid of silence and so determined to avoid it by using music? Quiet was badly needed here: moments in which, some terrible biographical truth or infelicity having been uttered, we might have paused to take it all in.
THREE MORE SUSPECTS ARRESTED IN CONNECTION
WITH THEFT OF FIVE FRANCIS BACON PAINTINGS
NEWS | MADRID | ARTFORUM | WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 01, 2017
After seven suspects were arrested last in connection with the 2015 theft of five Francis Bacon paintings, together valued at over $27 million, El País reports that Spanish authorities have arrested three more people they believe to be involved in the case. The three new detainees are allegedly the criminals who actually broke into a private home containing the works. The seven previously arrested are considered the masterminds of the robbery.
According to the general director of police in Spain, the three are members of an organized group dedicated to robbing homes and establishments throughout the country.
Three held for theft of £21m Bacons
GRAHAM KEELEY | MADRID | THE TIMES | WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 01 2017
Spanish police have arrested three men in connection with the theft of five paintings by Francis Bacon worth £21 million.
Police raided six homes in the Madrid region and seized a gun, ammunition, manuals for cracking safes, laser devices and oxy-fuel cylinders used to cut metal. Officers said that the suspects were “directly linked” to the robbery and were part of a gang which burgled homes across Spain.
In July 2015 portraits and landscapes by Bacon were stolen from a house in an affluent neighbourhood of the Spanish capital in a break-in police described as “worthy of a Hollywood movie”.
The thieves observed the movements of the home owner and waited until he was away before they struck, disabling the alarm system at the house. They were not seen by security staff or neighbours. The thieves, who also took a safe containing coins and jewels, left no trace inside.
The stolen paintings were bequeathed by Bacon to his close friend José Capelo Blanco, a Spanish financier. Among the stolen works of art is a portrait of Mr Capelo.
Seven men were arrested last May after a tip-off from a British company that tracks stolen art. The London-based company had received an email from a man living in Sitges, near Barcelona, with images of one of the stolen paintings. The man inquired if the painting was on a list of stolen works of art.
The British company passed the information to a specialised unit of the Spanish police which deals in art thefts.
Detectives tracked down the company that had leased the camera used to take the photographs of the stolen painting and details of the customer who hired the equipment.
The man who allegedly took the photographs was arrested at his home with another man. None of the paintings has been recovered. The theft is one of the biggest art heists in Spain in recent years.
Mr Capelo Blanco, 61, inherited the works when Bacon died in Madrid in 1992. He was in London when the theft at his home occurred. Mr Capelo met Bacon at a party in honour of the choreographer Frederick Ashton, when the artist was 78 years old.
Mr Capelo went on to pose for Bacon for a 1987 portrait and a 1991 triptych, which is part of the collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
One of the portraits stolen from the home of a Spanish financier in a raid described by police as “worthy of a Hollywood movie”
Remembering John Hurt and the Colony Room
Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world.
RAKEWELL | APOLLO | WEDNESDAY 1 FEBRUARY 2017
It was with great sadness that Rakewell learned of the passing of actor John Hurt, star of Alien, The Elephant Man and much more. Hurt, whom the Rake encountered propping up the bar of the French House with a glass of tonic on more than one occasion, came to London in the ’50s to study as an art student. Aside from the fateful afternoon on which Hurt first encountered Quentin Crisp, whom he would twice portray on screen, and who was the model in one of his life drawing classes, St Martin’s did not contribute greatly to his future thespian success. But this is not to suggest it was the limit to his ties with the art world.
As art students were supposed to do in those days, Hurt fell under the spell of the boho set of Soho’s Colony Room club. Quickly becoming a regular at the infamous dive bar, which from 1948 fostered three generations of artists. According to some testimony, Hurt was ‘most often seen at The Colony falling down its staircase’.
But reminiscing about the bar when it finally closed in 2008, Quietus editor John Doran remembered quite differently: ‘The first time I ascended those stairs I nearly got knocked back down again by John Hurt who was being helped on his way by alcohol, gravity and a gentle push from some burly chaps, who shouted after him: “Fuck off!”’
Nevertheless, Hurt made many friends among the Colony’s clientele, not least founding member Francis Bacon. Indeed, according to artist Mark Clark, when the great painter had fleeting ambitions to direct a film in the 1980s, he was adamant that Hurt should star in it. Alas, the picture was never realised, but speaking to the Telegraph in 2015, Hurt reminisced about another encounter with Bacon.
Walking into the Colony one afternoon, Hurt found Bacon sitting alone, reading the newspaper. ‘“Mmmm,” said Bacon. “When Pablo [Picasso] dies, I’ll be Number One.”’
Spanish police arrest three in £19m Bacon art heist
GRAHAM KEELEY | MADRID | THE TIMES | TUESDAY, JANUARY 31 2017
Spanish police have arrested three men in connection with the theft of five paintings by Francis Bacon worth £21 million.
Police raided six homes in the Madrid region and seized a gun, ammunition, manuals for cracking safes, laser devices and oxy-fuel cylinders used to cut metal. Officers said that the suspects were “directly linked” to the robbery and were part of a gang which burgled homes across Spain. They were detained last Thursday but officials only released the information today.
In July 2015 portraits and landscapes by Bacon were stolen from a house in an affluent neighbourhood of the Spanish capital in a break-in police described as “worthy of a Hollywood movie”.
The thieves observed the movements of the home owner and waited until he was away before they struck, disabling the alarm system at the house, which is near the Spanish parliament. Security staff at the building and neighbours did not notice anyone entering or leaving with the stolen works of art.
The thieves, who also took a safe containing coins and jewels, left no trace inside. The stolen paintings were bequeathed by Bacon to his close friend José Capelo Blanco, a Spanish financier. Among the stolen works of art is a portrait of Mr Capelo.
Seven men were arrested last May after a tip-off from a British company that tracks stolen art. The London-based company had received an email from a man living in Sitges, near Barcelona, with images of one of the stolen paintings. The man inquired if the painting was on a list of stolen works of art.
The British company passed the information to a specialised unit of the Spanish police which deals in art thefts. Detectives tracked down the company that had leased the camera used to take the photographs of the stolen painting and details of the customer who hired the equipment. The man who allegedly took the photographs was arrested at his home with another man. None of the paintings has been recovered. The theft is one of the biggest art heists in Spain in recent years.
Mr Capelo Blanco, 61, inherited the works when Bacon died in Madrid in 1992. He was in London when the theft at his home occurred. Mr Capelo met Bacon at a party in honour of the choreographer Frederick Ashton, when the artist was 78 years old. Mr Capelo went on to pose for Bacon for a 1987 portrait and a 1991 triptych, which is part of the collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
One of the portraits stolen from the home of a Spanish financier in a
raid described by police as “worthy of a Hollywood movie”
Francis Bacon: A Brush with Violence
SAM WOLLASTON | LAST NIGHT’S TV | THE GUARDIAN | MONDAY 30 JANUARY 2017
This is more BBC2, more Reithian – Francis Bacon: A Brush with Violence (BBC2, Saturday). But also a ton of fun because of the fabulousness of the contributors – not just biographers and critics but drinking mates, neighbours, gallery workers, lovers, wannabe lovers, didnawannabe lovers, doctors, disciples, pop stars, actors, hangers on – and their stories. Insiders from that world with a brilliant way of talking about the extraordinary as if it was quite normal.
John Richardson remembers Bacon’s blind nanny, who slept on the kitchen table, and organised the drugs and the gambling parties, until she died. Bacon’s partner, Peter Lacy, regularly used to beat Francis up, something he actively encouraged and enjoyed, says Michael Peppiatt. Lord Gowrie had a very nice girlfriend at the time, who was vegetarian, but she converted under Gowrie’s tutelage, to meat, though never to Bacon, hahaha. Francis used to pick Marianne Faithfull up from the wall on which she lived and took heroin after splitting up from Mick, and he’d take her to Wheelers, which was wonderful because she could warm up and eat and they’d have a good natter … etc. Everyone drank, gambled, hit each other and tied each other up. And killed themselves, which had to be covered up until after the exhibition.
It is – and they are – ghastly and terrifying, as well as brilliant. And it makes sense that a world of some light and a lot of darkness – and both tenderness and brutality – should be the one from which Bacon’s paintings came.
Bacon painted the heady horror of his sex life
ANDREW BILLEN | TELEVISION & RADIO | THE TIMES | MONDAY JANUARY 30 2017
In a brief career detour as this paper’s arts correspondent, I crossed paths regularly with Margaret Thatcher’s gentlemanly arts minister Richard Luce. An experienced Foreign Office hand, he found himself on a tough learning curve when it came to the arts. One day he told me he would like to meet Francis Bacon, just to ask him why his paintings were so unpleasant.
I hope he saw Saturday’s Francis Bacon: A Brush with Violence. All was revealed. This was a barnstorming arts documentary that paid no lip service to the notion that we need to know about an artist’s technique to understand his work. Impeccably sourced from interviews with Bacon’s friends and colleagues and from interviews with the man himself, Richard Curson Smith assembled a savagely intimate biography of a tormented and tormenting man.
The cruelty of his work was no pose, no intellectual reaction to the war. It painted instead the heady horror of his sex life, starting in the stables of his childhood home in Ireland, where the grooms, on his father’s orders, beat him and then, presumably on their own initiative, buggered him. Lord Gowrie, Luce’s predecessor as arts minister, traced his weirdness to those days. The biographer John Richardson thought he was born a “through-and-through masochist”. Who knows? The die was cast.
As an adult, Bacon’s first great love was a soberly dressed but sadistic former Spitfire pilot who threw the artist through a plate-glass window, causing him only to love him more. After they parted, the pilot took revenge by killing himself, or so the artist believed, on the day Bacon’s first big retrospective opened.
His last lover was an East End thug called George Dyer, who turned out to be disappointingly gentle, a crime for which he was excoriated in portraits that cut off parts of his face. Yet it was Bacon who committed the literal crime. When Dyer died on the lavatory in the Paris hotel they were staying in, the artist connived in keeping the body hidden for two days lest it spoil the opening of his exhibition.
Yet Bacon remained capable of great and non-sexual friendships, and of acts of kindness, such as lunching Marianne Faithfull when, post Jagger, she was living rough. I spoke to him only once, when the newsdesk asked me to check out a rumour he had died. Somehow, I got his number. He was very polite, and sorry he could not help me “on this occasion”.
Francis Bacon: A Brush with
The artist Francis Bacon was a tormented and tormenting man. Photo: Peter Stark/BBC
Francis Bacon: A Brush With Violence, BBC Two
Portrait of the artist as disaster
ADAM SWEETING | REVIEWS | THE ARTS DESK | SUNDAY, 29 JANUARY 2017
Francis Bacon died in April 1992, aged 82, but heaven knows how he managed to live that long. The tortuous story of his life is now fairly well known, but Richard Curson Smith’s documentary marshalled a formidable array of critics, biographers and celebs including Marianne Faithfull, Damien Hirst and Terence Stamp to create a portrait of a man capable of effervescent wit and charm, yet fuelled from within by a monstrous darkness.
The film lit the blue touch paper by looking at Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, which, when exhibited in London in 1945, did little to enhance any sense of euphoria at the prospect of a Nazi-free world. Critics and public were shaken by Bacon’s ghastly, misshapen figures, which may look to us now like antecedents of HR Giger’s appalling Alien. Nonetheless, it was clear that a major talent was on the loose, and horror and pain would become familiar traits in his work (below, Bacon’s Study for a Self-Portrait – Triptych, 1985-86).
In this telling, Bacon’s progress resembled a mashed-up narrative concocted by the Marquis de Sade, Edgar Allan Poe and Joe Orton. His life could almost be seen as a kind of diabolical experiment, designed to explore ways in which psychological damage can be used as the raw material of artistic genius. His father, Captain Eddy Bacon, was a Boer War veteran and racehorse trainer, who apparently used to order his stable boys to whip his son. Young Francis, meanwhile, admitted to feeling a sexual attraction to his father and enjoyed homosexual romps with the aforesaid grooms (“buggaring in the barn” as Lord Gowrie, one of the talking heads, put it).
He ended up for a time in Weimar Berlin, chaperoned by an exploitative bisexual friend of his father, then moved to Paris, where a Picasso exhibition made a deep impression on him. Back in London, he moved into John Everett Millais’s old house in South Kensington (partially bombed), where he held riotous gambling parties and was attended by his childhood nanny, Jessie Lightfoot. Although blind and forced to sleep on the kitchen table, Nanny Lightfoot diligently supplied visitors with cannabis.
Though we saw scenes of the convivial, bon viveur Bacon (bearing an odd resemblance to Dudley Moore), sometimes babbling enthusiastically in fluent though thoroughly Anglified French, his emotional life was driven by his masochistic urges. He fell into an arduous love affair with ex-Spitfire pilot and sadist Peter Lacy, who beat him mercilessly and (as one contributor recalled) once hurled the artist through a second-floor window. In later years he became infatuated with George Dyer, an East End criminal and acquaintance of the Krays, but instead of the brutal, dominant lover Bacon wanted, the disappointing Dyer was a borderline alcoholic who suffered from erectile dysfunction.
Yet Dyer’s suicide in Paris in 1971, as Bacon launched a major exhibition at the Grand Palais, shocked the artist deeply, and prompted some of his most powerful work including the “Black Triptychs”, which fixated on the Dyer suicide in agonising close-up. Artist and friend Maggi Hambling, in one of several astute comments, noted how it was almost considered “a dirty habit” to go and look at Bacon’s paintings, and also pointed out how he defied the prevailing tides of abstract expressionism and “American stuff” to concentrate on depictions of the human body. Bacon’s instinct proved unerring, as his legacy of screaming popes and crucifixion scenes, Figure with Meat, the Study for a Self-Portrait – Triptych, 1985-86 and his sequence of late landscapes attests.
In the end, could some sort of salvation be dragged from the wreckage? Hambling suggested that “his work can be seen as a search for God,” while art critic John Richardson reckoned that Bacon is now seen “almost as a religious painter”. He certainly wouldn’t have been deterred by the prospect of flagellation and crucifixion.
Francis Bacon: 'His work can be seen as a search for God'
John Hurt interview: 'alcoholic is a silly word'
In this interview, which originally ran on December 15, 2015, John Hurt talks to Gaby Wood
about gossiping, his battle with cancer, and the irresistible allure of Soho in the Fifties
GABY WOOD | CULTURE | THE DAILY TELEGRAPH | SATURDAY 28 JANUARY 2017
Before I meet John Hurt, the PR who has set up the interview informs me that there is one subject I absolutely must not ask him about. In fact, she suggests, he’s so loath to talk about it that it’s more or less a condition of my meeting him. Please can I promise not to mention his cancer? After a brief discussion of what sort of thing might be considered invasive, we agree that I am allowed to ask him how he’s feeling.
That afternoon, a buoyant Hurt tells me, seconds after shaking my hand, that he’s just come from a treatment. “I’m completely in remission,” he says, as if we were here to celebrate the fact – and perhaps we are, or should be. He orders a black coffee and a glass of red wine. Far from being reluctant, Hurt is only too keen to tell me about his new lease of life. Who wouldn’t be? After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier this year, he underwent a hefty six-month therapy; he now has gentler, preventative treatments once a fortnight, and thinks even his oncologist is surprised he’s clear.
Hurt says he feels better now than he did before he was ill. And although he had to accept quite quickly that he had “a nasty one”, it never occurred to him that it wouldn’t disappear. “People say it’s the attitude. But I don’t put on an attitude. I just knew it wasn’t supposed to be there. You think: well, supposing it hadn’t gone away - people would just think you were in denial and rather silly. Just like footballers, when they take a long shot and it goes nowhere near the goal, people say: oh well how ridiculous, such an ambitious shot from such a long way out. But if it goes in, they say: what a goal!!” At this, Hurt propels himself out of his armchair like a rabid football fan, laughing and cheering with all his chesty voice.
If confirmation were needed, it might be found in Hurt’s thoroughly dapper dress sense. Today he’s wearing a charcoal tweed ensemble, with a flat cap and a faint herringbone pattern in his sharp-lapelled jacket. There’s a pale grey paisley shirt, proper braces with leather trim, and round tortoiseshell glasses. The whole look suggests the Artful Dodger has grown up and turned into James Joyce.
Hurt is now 75, and over a career that began in the first years of the 1960s, he has played a vast range of roles on large and small screens, from a flame-haired and florid Quentin Crisp and the proud, disfigured Elephant Man to a balding, drug-addicted prisoner and a spaceship captain impregnated by an alien. He’s not averse to fun – children of all ages will remember him as the man who sells Harry Potter his first wand, and his unmistakably gravelly voice in the Seventies animations of Watership Down and Lord of the Rings. But he has also played something more consistent: variations on a particular sort of buttoned-up Brit with an unreadable hinterland and an incalculable proximity to power – whether it’s a well-connected doctor (Stephen Ward in Scandal), a Tory MP (the eponymous hero of Alan Clark’s Diaries), or the head of the British Intelligence service (in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy).
After a childhood he describes as being governed by fear – his father was a vicar, and he was “beaten and thrashed” at school – Hurt came to London as an art student. He knew it wasn’t what he wanted to do, but St Martin’s School of Art was on Charing Cross Road, and the nearest place to get a drink was Soho. There, in the late Fifties, he found a world that was “more sympatico than anything I’d ever met in any church ever”. Alcohol released his mind “from religion, from the Fifties, from the Forties”, and although it’s often said that drink contributed to the breakdown of some of Hurt’s marriages (he is now on number four), he says he has never been an alcoholic. “I think those are silly terms,” he suggests. “To my generation the jokes were: 'Are you a drunk? No, I can’t drink enough.’ The word was 'dipsomaniac'.”
Soho, he says was “the first place that I put my trust in”. “The place was stacked with talent, and basically good feeling for people. They weren’t there to bring each other down.” He spent time with the artists: Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, the two Scottish Roberts, MacBryde and Colquhoun. (Hurt still paints – “in fact,” he says, “it’s rather more important than acting”.) One afternoon, after “the morning session, as we called it”, Hurt found Bacon on his own at the Colony Room, reading the papers. Or almost on his own – the formidable landlady Muriel Belcher was sitting in the corner “like a spider.” “Mmmm,” said Bacon, apropos of nothing, “When Pablo [Picasso] dies, I’ll be Number One.”
Hurt’s impersonation of Bacon is impeccably camp. He interrupts himself to laugh at it. "You see, I can’t do the difference between him and Quentin Crisp, I’m afraid. They all come out the same, these queens!”
Another friend was Jeffrey Bernard, whom Hurt played this past summer in a Radio 4 adaptation of Keith Waterhouse’s play, Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell. Hurt says he was offered the lead in the original 1989 West End production before Peter O’Toole, but turned it down. “I think the original play missed the danger of it,” he remembers. “It might have been the way I was when I read it – you never know. But it seemed to me that it was too funny. It IS a little on the flippant side. But somehow, as the years have gone by, and when I did it for the radio, it worked.”
Our conversation strays – into quips about his age (“The portrait has fallen from the attic, heftily”); regrets that he hasn’t served his own sons (now 25 and 22) well enough because his marriage to their mother broke down; his contention that Ian McKellen wrecked his performance as Hamlet, back in 1978, “by silliness”. The PR offers a final, nervous prompt to say something about The Last Panthers, and requests that we not give away the ending. “Don’t worry darling,” Hurt pipes up, “I can’t remember it!” He turns to me. “I’m the worst gossip in town,” he says, as if the previous hour had not passed in reminiscence, “I remember nothing.”
Francis Bacon: A Brush with Violence
BBC TWO, 9pm
CHRIS BENNION | VIEWING GUIDE | SATURDAY REVIEW | THE TIMES | SATURDAY 28 JANUARY 2017
If you have ever popped by the Tate Gallery, stood in front of Francis Bacon’s most famous triptych — Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion — and wondered at the agony, pain and sheer violence behind the work, then this spellbinding documentary is for you.
It is also proof that the simple, talking heads format can work a treat, provided that your subject is fascinating enough and your interviewees are as erudite and compelling as they are in Richard Curson Smith’s film. That painting, with its three, distorted, howling figures, shocked in 1945 and continues to do so today.
“It was as if art had become feral,” as one contributor puts it Here, quite explicitly, we see the man behind the art. It is well known that Bacon, right, was a famed carouser, a powerful drinker and, to put it mildly, a troubled soul, but the glimpse further beyond the surface, as supplied by close friends and contemporaries, is nearly as jolting as Bacon’s brushstrokes.
From his desperately damaging childhood, during which his father had the stable boys attempt to whip the homosexuality out of him (it backfired) and sent him, aged 17, to a family friend to try to straighten him out (it backfired), to his adventures in Berlin, Paris and Soho, and his intense love affairs, what is revealed is a life lived in the raw, all nerve endings and impulse, a life that was a wild mix of pleasure and pain.
“l believe in deeply ordered chaos in my work,” Bacon once said. Here is the deeply ordered chaos in the artist’s life.
Bacon’s nanny knew best how to source drugs and gay lovers
RICHARD BROOKS | ARTS EDITOR | THE SUNDAY TIMES | SUNDAY JANUARY 22 2017
By any standards, Jessie Lightfoot was no ordinary nanny. She cared for the artist Francis Bacon during his childhood in Ireland and then in later years became his drug dealer, the organiser of his gambling parties and even his pimp.
The extraordinary influence of Lightfoot on Bacon — regarded as the most influential artist of the second half of the 20th century — is revealed in a documentary to be broadcast next Saturday on BBC2.
Sir John Richardson, the art historian, got to know Bacon immediately after the Second World War while living with his mother in Kensington, opposite the artist’s home. “He lived like no one else in the world,” says Richardson in the documentary, Francis Bacon — A Brush with Violence.
“I would go there often. There were a lot of incredibly strong cocktails, so you got plastered pretty quick. Then Nanny would appear and say, ‘Would anybody like something to smoke?’ And this didn’t mean Player’s cigarettes.
“She was totally blind. How on earth she cooked, and how she knew what she was doing, I don’t know. She organised the gambling parties he gave.” Lightfoot also placed adverts in local shops asking for “a gentleman’s gentleman” — a euphemism for young lovers for the gay Bacon.
Nanny Lightfoot then went with Bacon to live in the south of France but died in 1951. “Francis was heartbroken,” according to Richardson. “She was his adviser. She ran his life, and so after her death he had to depend on himself.”
Later, when Bacon was living in Reece Mews in South Kensington, the actor Terence Stamp, who was famed for roles in Billy Budd and Far from the Madding Crowd, got to know him through a mutual friend, the musicals composer Lionel Bart.
“Lionel, who lived very close to Bacon, told me that in his kitchen were loads of pictures of me,” Stamp recalls.
“He then told Lionel that the two handsomest men in the world were Terence Stamp and Colonel Gadaffi. And I thought Gadaffi would give him a good hiding.”
Stamp, decidedly heterosexual, got to know Bacon well and would often visit him at his home.
The singer Marianne Faithfull, who had a relationship with Mick Jagger in the 1960s, also recalls her gratitude to Bacon for taking her out when she was in a bad way on drugs after her split from the singer
“Francis would take me to Wheeler’s [a restaurant in Soho] and feed me,” she says.
Francis Bacon was heartbroken when Jessie Lightfoot died
A spoonful of brown sugar
TELEVISION PREVIEW | THE SUNDAY TIMES | SUNDAY JANUARY 22 2017
The idea that Mary Poppins was the perfect nanny must infuriate childcare professionals. As we know from the film, she not only takes her children to dance with chimney sweeps on the rooftops of London — contravening all the latest thinking about the safety and welfare of young people — but she also offers unregulated financial advice that causes a run on the banks.
Yet it seems there was a nanny who was even more mischievous and irresponsible. A BBC documentary will reveal this week that Jessie Lightfoot, nanny to the artist Francis Bacon, looked after him into adulthood, supplying him with drugs, arranging gambling parties and organising his love life.
A nanny is for life. Winston Churchill never forgot Elizabeth Everest, who cared for him as a child. He was by her side when she died. The nanny of the Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg now looks after his own children and canvassed for him at election time. The BBC’s revelations explain much about Bacon’s rackety life. When nanny orders you to drink, gamble and take lovers, who would be brave enough to refuse?
Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon: Fraught friendship and art
ROSAMMA THOMAS | THE TIMES OF INDIA | SUNDAY JANUARY 22 2017
JAIPUR: Of all reasons to turn down an invitation to a wedding, this must take the cake – artist Lucian Freud, once invited to a wedding, was forced to decline because he had slept not just with the bride, but also the groom and the mother-in-law! This was one juicy nugget that emerged during a discussion at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Sunday on the book 'Art of Rivalry' by Pulitzer-winning art critic Sebastian Smee.
Smee’s book is about the relationship between four pairs of artists. On Sunday, he chose to dwell on the fraught ties between Lucien Freud, grandson of the famous psychoanalyst, and Irish-born painter Francis Bacon.
Bacon was older than Freud by a decade or so. It was clear that the older artist was held somewhat in awe by Freud. Through a series of carefully chosen slides, Smee commented on how the artistic styles of Bacon and Freud were so different – yet their lives were woven together through strange bonds of deep friendship that later soured.
Smee said Freud, who died in 2011, had admitted to him that he had once got so riled by a violent lover of Bacon’s, who had thrown him out of the window and left him with an eye that almost dangled out of his face. Angry at the violence, Freud had held the lover by the collar – but he later realized that even the violence was some form of sexual expression that he did not quite understand. The relationship between the two artists was marred irrevocably by this "intrusion".
end of the session, some members of the audience wanted to know if it was indeed
helpful to assess an artist on the basis of his life. Smee said in response that
it was not as if, standing in front of a work of art, one can infer anything
about the artist’s life. Even so, he said, contemplating the life afterwards,
one might glean some important insights. He spoke with great appreciation for
Matisse, who he said was doing such amazing things with colour at a time when he
was also troubled in his personal life.
Rajalaxmi Kamat, who was at JLF from Bangalore, said, "This is one session that I will remember for long. This is what I shall take away with me from this festival."
Francis Bacon’s Screaming Popes now on display at Ferens Art Gallery
By HANNAH ROBINSON | HULL DAILY MAIL | JANUARY 20, 2017
Five iconic paintings from a leading British painter are officially on display from today – showing how far Ferens Art Gallery has come with its ability to fund and hold major exhibitions.
The Francis Bacon: Nervous System will be displayed alongside the permanent collection at Ferens in Gallery 9 after the venue secured a £70,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Bacon’s widely acknowledged masterpiece, Head VI, 1949, will act as the centrepiece of the display on a year-long loan from the Arts Council Collection. It will be accompanied, until 1 May, by four others from his "Screaming Pope" series.
Kirsten Simister, curator of art at the Ferens Art Gallery, said: "We are extremely grateful to our lenders and the Heritage Lottery Fund who have made it possible to bring these exceptional works to Hull audiences this year.
"It is amazing to show Bacon’s extraordinary 20th century secular paintings at the same time as the equally extraordinary 14th-century sacred paintings by Lorenzetti and his Sienese contemporaries."
The additional 'Screaming Pope' loans come from the collections of Aberdeen Art Gallery, The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich and a private collection.
"This has always been a painting in high demand and we never managed to get it to Hull until it was announced we were going to be UK City of Culture 2017," she said.
"I immediately thought it would be a good idea to contact them again and they said yes. It is a juxtaposition between the religious work of the Lorenzetti and the atheism of Bacon. It is wonderful to have and has massively exceeded my expectations."
Bacon is known for his darkly visceral, yet striking portraits. The five powerful canvases convey the darker side of the human condition suggesting what lies beneath everyday life.
Bacon himself expressed his working processes in very direct terms stating: "Painting is the pattern of one’s own nervous system projected onto canvas."
Drawing from varied sources including photography, film and Surrealism, Bacon was also inspired by the Old Masters and in this case Diego Velazquez’s 17th century portrait of Pope Innocent X.
The artworks will be shown alongside highlights from the Ferens’ strong modern and contemporary portrait collection from the last 100 years including Wyndham Lewis’ iconic and deliberately repellent Self-Portrait As a Tyro of 1920-21.
Councillor Terry Geraghty, portfolio holder for culture and leisure and chairman of Hull Culture and Leisure Limited, said: "The display of these spectacular art works underscores the very reason for undertaking the major investment in the Gallery that has just been completed.
"With the new environmentally controlled galleries, the Ferens is able to display the work of internationally acclaimed artists amongst its very own permanent collection displays.
"These Francis Bacon loans make a powerful dramatic statement to open our UK City of Culture year."
free to all Hull City Council’s museums and art gallery, and are open Monday to
Saturday from 10am to 5pm and Sunday from 11am to 4.30pm. The Maritime Museum
and Ferens Art Gallery is also open until 7.30pm every Thursday.
"Painting is the pattern of one’s own nervous system projected onto canvas".
Why Kirklees Council can’t sell £20m Francis Bacon painting
Kirklees Council answer our questions over one of Britain’s most important artworks
By TONY EARNSHAW | NEWS | WEST YORKSHIRE NEWS | EXAMINER LIVE | JANUARY 14, 2017
Kirklees Council has come under pressure to sell a painting described as one of Britain’s most important artworks.
Experts said the painting, Francis Bacon’s Figure Study II, could be worth up to £60 million on the open market. Rarely seen on show in Huddersfield, the artwork could solve some of the council’s financial woes. But now the council has revealed that the painting can’t be sold after all.
Here they answer a series of questions from the Examiner.
1: Can you provide details of the covenant relating to this piece of art?
There is no covenant but there are conditions attached to the gift. Francis Bacon’s Figure Study II was a gift from the Contemporary Art Society (CAS) to Batley Art Gallery in 1952. When Kirklees Council was created, the painting was transferred to Huddersfield Art Gallery. The conditions attached to the gift include: “Should the museum attempt to dispose of the artwork it will automatically forfeit title of the artwork, which will revert to the ownership of Contemporary Art Society.”
Therefore the council cannot sell the work. If we tried, it would be taken away from us and given to another institution. These conditions apply to other gifts from the CAS in our collections.
2: When was it last exhibited in Huddersfield Art Gallery, and for how long?
The artwork was put back on display following the redisplay of the permanent collection in the new ‘Perspectives’ gallery in 2013. It was only removed in May 2016 to lend it to Tate Liverpool for a Francis Bacon ‘Invisible Rooms’ exhibition, which then toured to the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart. Following this, it will travel to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh where it will be reunited with Figure Study I for a new exhibition opening in February 2017. As one of the most important works of art in Britain, it is much in demand for exhibitions around the world and enables us to promote Kirklees in a positive way.
3: How long has it spent in storage over the last two years?
0 years – it has either been on display at Huddersfield Art Gallery or loaned to another gallery for an exhibition.
4: How much time has it spent on tour, or as a guest exhibit in UK or foreign exhibitions?
Since 2013, the work has been on display for 30 months at Huddersfield Art Gallery and by the end of the Tate Gallery and Staatsgalerie exhibitions, it will have been on tour for 10 months.
5: Does the authority receive any revenue from these tours or exhibitions?
No. It is standard practice that galleries have a reciprocal arrangement: they lend each other works of art to increase audience access to collections. The borrowing institution pays for insurance, packing, transport and installation etc, so the lending institution incurs no costs. For example, as well as loaning to the Tate, in recent years we have borrowed significant artworks from their collections including Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII (one of the most famous sculptures in modern art, the notorious bricks). We recently had loans from the Hepworth, Wakefield to Huddersfield Art Gallery for the David Tindle exhibition – we have met those costs; when the Francis Bacon was on loan to Stuttgart they met the costs.
For the Francis Bacon, lending the work to others is also a stipulation of the Contemporary Art Society agreement Section 2.6: which also relates to the security question below:
The museum will agree to consider all requests to loan the Artwork to any interested party. The caveat to this agreement is that the museum will have the right to refuse the loan if the requesting organisation does not indicate satisfactory and appropriate conditions for the loan.’
6: How much is the piece worth? Who made the current valuation of £19.5 million, and when? Has it been re-valued since in line with other Bacon works sold at international auction?
We received a valuation from the Head of Contemporary Paintings at Bonham’s on 15th February 2016. He valued it at £20 million, which was less than we expected having seen the recent auctions of Bacon’s work. However, Bacon’s earlier work, of which Figure Study II is an example, is not as valuable as his later work.
7: What are the insurance costs associated with this piece of art? What is it insured against, i.e. fire, flood, vandalism, etc.?
The insurance premium is £10,000 per year. We only pay this when the work is not on tour. The insurance policy is an industry standard fine art policy.
8: Are there any attendant security costs when it is on display in Kirklees, or anywhere else?
There are no additional costs. We do not wish to discuss security publicly for obvious reasons. Kirklees Museums and Galleries is an Arts Council England Accredited Museums service, which means that its standards of collections management and security meet nationally agreed standards appropriate to its collections.
9: How much Arts Council England (ACE) funding does Kirklees receive each year? How is this spent?
Kirklees Museums and Galleries is not a regularly funded Arts Council organisation. The museums service applies for grant funding for specific projects. These have to be for additional priority work which will help ACE to achieve its goals and the museums service to focus on its priorities – ACE does not fund shortfalls in local authority funding.
Over the last three years, Kirklees Museums has received £257,000 from the Arts Council’s Museums Resilience Fund. This funded improvements to interpretation at the Grade I Listed Elizabethan Oakwell Hall; created a new Shop; upgraded facilities in the Barn, which is used for room hire and weddings; and installed new gates to the Visitor Centre which were created by an artist working with the local community.
The Museums service is also part way through a two-year Arts Council funded Sustainable Collections project, which is enabling us to explore new ways to ensure that the collections are sustainable, accessible and cared for in the future. It involves working with volunteers, partners and other institutions to pilot innovative long-term solutions to the challenges faced in a climate of reduced core funding.
Francis Bacon Figure Study II at Huddersfield Art Gallery
Kirklees Council scraps proposed Francis Bacon sale