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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 | New Statesman | 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. 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

    Remembering John Hurt and the Colony Room

 

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

 

        Rakewell | APOLLO | 1 February 2017 

 

          

 

It was with great sadness that Rakewell learned of the passing of actor John Hurt, star of AlienThe 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.”’

 

 

 

O caso do roubo de cinco obras de Bacon continua a somar detidos – mais três

 

Pinturas no valor de 25 milhões de euros continuam em parte incerta.

PÚBLICO |

           

 

 

O roubo de cinco pinturas de Francis Bacon em Madrid, em 2015, continua a somar detenções quase dois anos após o sucedido. O El País noticia esta terça-feira que foram detidos mais três suspeitos pelo furto das cinco obras, que estão avaliadas em cerca de 25 milhões de euros. Sobe assim para dez o número de detenções relacionadas com o caso, que constitui o maior roubo de arte contemporânea alguma vez realizado em Espanha.

As pinturas, subtraídas da residência do coleccionador e amigo do pintor britânico José Capelo no Verão de 2015, terão sido roubadas por um grupo especializado no assalto a casas, ao qual pertenceriam os agora detidos. A operação levou à detenção de outros suspeitos de envolvimento neste tipo de furto e também à apreensão de material diverso, desde fardas de empresas de telecomunicações a armas e munições.

O caso foi inicialmente revelado pelo El País, que contou detlhadamente uma história cujo fim, independentemente das detenções, não estará próximo – as pinturas continuam desaparecidas, embora a investigação tenha apurado que os assaltantes tentaram vendê-las em várias ocasiões. Os suspeitos detidos no ano passado estão agora em liberdade condicional. 

 

 

 

Spanish police arrest three in £19m Bacon art heist

 

Graham Keeley, Madrid  | The Times | January 31 2017

 

 

               

                      One of the portraits stolen from the home of a Spanish financier in a raid described by police as “worthy of a Hollywood movie”

 

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.

 

 

 

Francis Bacon: A Brush with Violence

 

Saturday night’s barnstorming Francis Bacon documentary was a savagely intimate biography

 

Andrew Billen | TV Review | The Times | January 30 2017  

 

Francis Bacon: A Brush with Violence
BBC Two
*****

 

                         

                                              The artist Francis Bacon was a tormented and tormenting man.  Photo: Peter Stark, 1975  

 

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”.

 

 

 

Bacon's nanny knew best how to source drugs and gay lovers

 

 Richard Brooks, Arts Editor | The Sunday Times | Sunday, 29 January 2017

 

    

                                   Francis Bacon was heartbroken when Jessie Lightfoot died

 

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: A Brush With Violence, BBC Two

 

Portrait of the artist as disaster area
 

 

Adam Sweeting | The Arts Desk | Reviews | Sunday, 29 January 2017

 

 

              

                                                                 Francis Bacon: 'His work can be seen as a search for God'

 

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 (pictured above), 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: A Brush With Violence was a riotous ride but didn’t quite get the full picture

 

Jeff Robson | Television | News | Saturday 28 January 2017

 

           

                     The documentary portrayed a fascinating, but ultimately elusive, personality 


 

As Amazon launched its lavish treatment of the Zelda Fitzgerald story, another tortured artist got the full-blown BBC documentary treatment.

BBC2’s Francis Bacon: A Brush with Violence focused on the life and work of the man who, 25 years after his death remains one of the most fascinating and sought-after British painters, as much known for his riotous private life as his rawly disturbing canvases.

It assembled a fine array of talking heads and contemporary footage, but didn’t tell me much I didn’t know already – the “block of ice” childhood in Ireland, the Soho carousing, the violent and/or low-life boyfriends who fulfilled a sado-masochistic urge.

Impossible to make dull

 It’s a story that’s impossible to make dull and there were a feast of choice quotes and reminiscences – Bacon described how one painting arose when he “started off trying to do a gorilla” and Marianne Faithfull matter-of-factly described how they became friends because he “walked past the wall where I was living” every day.

But I’d have liked to known more about his working methods and the influences which enabled him to combine the classical figurative tradition with an abstract vividness and savagery in works that still look groundbreaking – and unnerving – 70 years on.

In the end his true personality remained elusive, subsumed into the image of the charming, eccentric bon vivant. Which, I suspect, is exactly how he would have wanted it.

 

 

 

Francis Bacon - A Brush with Violence

 

BBC MEDIA CENTRE | Saturday 28 January 2017

 

BBC 2 | 9 pm  | 1 hour, 19 minutes

 

      

          Francis Bacon was the loudest, rudest, drunkest and most sought-after British artist of the 20th century.

 

Francis Bacon was the loudest, rudest, drunkest, most sought after British artist of the 20th century. 25 years after his death, his canvases regularly exceed £40million at auction. Bacon's appeal is rooted in his notoriety - a candid image he presented of himself as Roaring Boy, Lord of Misrule and Conveyor of Artistic Violence.

This was true enough, but only part of the truth. He carefully cultivated the facade, protecting the complex and haunted man behind the myth. In this unique, compelling film, those who knew him speak freely, some for the first time, to reveal the many mysteries of Francis Bacon.

Contributors include Michael Peppiatt, Nadine Haim, John Richardson, Marianne Faithfull, Terence Stamp, Grey Gowrie, Maggi Hambling, Paul Brass and Martin Harrison.

 

 

 

Saturday's best TV: Francis Bacon - A Brush with Violence

9pm, BBC 2

 

A revealing documentary profiles the hellraising painter

 

The Guardian | Saturday 28 January 2017

 

Since his death in 1992, Francis Bacon has come to be regarded as among the greatest of 20th-century British painters, his violently figurative artwork timelessly unnerving. He was also something of a Soho hellraiser, a “Lord Of Misrule”. This, however, was a facade, to protect his truer, more complex private self, as this revealing documentary shows. Contributors include Marianne Faithfull, Terence Stamp, Maggi Hambling and Damien Hirst. David Stubbs

 

 

 

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 Telegraph  |  Saturday 28 January 2017

 

       

                                                                  Hurt in The Elephant Man

 


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.”

 

 

 

Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon: Fraught friendship and art

 

 

Rosamma Thomas |  Times of India  |  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".

At the 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."

 

 

 

Kirklees Council scraps proposed Francis Bacon sale

 

 Kirklees Council backs down on proposed Bacon sale

 

 APOLLO | THE INTERNATIONAL ART MAGAZINE | 5 JANUARY 2017

 

                       

Kirklees council leader David Sheard put forward the idea of selling Francis Bacon's 'Figure Study II' in the council collection late last year.

Kirklees council leader David Sheard has backed down on his suggestion that the local authority sell a Francis Bacon painting described as the ‘most significant exhibit’ in its collection. Late last year, Sheard asked local residents for their thoughts on sealing the work in order to plug significant gaps in the council budget. Sheard’s proposal was met with both negative and positive responses, but following an intervention by the Contemporary Art Society, which donated the work to the council in 1952, the authority has confirmed that it is  not entitled to sell the painting.  ‘Kirklees Council cannot sell the work. If we tried, it would be taken away from us and given to another institution’, the council said in a statement.

 

 

Kirklees council considers selling Francis Bacon painting

 

Cash-strapped council could raise up to £60m as value of artist’s works has soared but any auction likely to be controversial

 

Nazia Parveen | North of England correspondent | The Guardian | Wednesday 28 December 2016

 

              

                              Francis Bacon. Prices of his paintings have rocketed since his death in 1992.

 

A prized painting by Francis Bacon could be sold at auction – to help a cash-strapped West Yorkshire council raise a potential £60m.

Sales from public collections are heavily frowned upon in the arts world, with some critics saying it betrays those who originally donated the items and deters others who might donate in the future.

But Kirklees council is considering selling the 1940s painting by the artist after it was recently forced to close two museums, with another closure on the way.

David Sheard, leader of the council, said the painting, Figure Study II, had languished in storage for years as it was too valuable to be exhibited locally.

e said: “I can’t see any value of owning a painting which is stuck in a cellar most of the time. I know recently it has been on tour, but there have been times where it has been in storage for a very long time.

“It is an issue that we need to have an open debate about as it is a problem if it is costing us so much to insure yet we’re not able to display it.”

The painting, which depicts a “screaming mouth and the eyeless face of a sub-human creature”, is the multimillion pound “superstar” of the borough’s art collection. Its companion piece, Figure Study I, hangs in the Scottish National Gallery.

However, senior council figures say that because it is expensive to insure it can only be exhibited within the secure environment of Huddersfield Art Gallery. Currently it is in the gallery’s vaults.

The Labour council leader’s comments come after London art experts said current auction prices meant the painting could be worth up to three times its estimated value of £19.5m.

Prices of Bacon paintings have rocketed since his death in 1992. In November 2013, a Bacon triptych depicting artist Lucian Freud fetched £90m, then the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction.

Some say auctioning the piece could fund Kirklees’ museums and galleries for decades to come.

ndrew Cooper, Green councillor for Newsome, said: “In the dire circumstances the council finances are in, we have to consider selling artworks that the council has. We have got to look at using any money that we realise from it to protect essential council services.”

However, Sheard said he would prefer to loan the painting to other museums and art galleries within the UK.

“That would be my preferred outcome because then we get the best of both worlds – we get to keep the painting and raise revenue. However, I need to know all the facts before any decision is made and will have to discuss options with the whole council,” he added.

The notion of selling the Bacon painting caused outrage among art lovers when it was first mooted by the Conservative group, in charge of the West Yorkshire council four years ago.

It was argued then that the millions of pounds raised could potentially fund the reopening of Dewsbury Museum and Red House Museum, safeguard jobs, and repair and revive Tolson Museum in Huddersfield.

But any potential sale could be blocked by the Contemporary Art Society, which gifted the painting to Batley’s Bagshaw Museum more than six decades ago. The society said the artwork is secured by a restrictive covenant that allegedly prevents it from being sold.

A spokesman said: “The painting was a conditional gift from the Contemporary Art Society and the conditions of the gift means that it cannot be sold. This is in line with the Arts Council’s museum accreditation policy.”

London art dealer David Messum said the painting could be worth double or triple its £19.5m valuation.

“There is big money around for Francis Bacon at the moment because a Francis Bacon is a prized possession,” he said. “There are one or two opportunities a year for these. It’s going to fetch a steep price and above estimate.”

 

              

                Francis Bacon’s Figure Study II, which could be worth up to three times its estimated value of £19.5m.

 

In 2014, Northampton borough council was accused of a “moral crime against world heritage” after it sold an ancient Egyptian statue.

The council’s decision to put the 4,500-year-old statue up for auction saw Northampton Museum stripped of its Arts Council England accreditation until 2019, rendering it ineligible for a range of arts and grants funding.

The statue was considered the jewel in the crown of the museum’s collection but was sold at Christie's in July 2014 to an anonymous buyer for £15.8m.  After its sale, the government put a temporary export ban on it in the hope a domestic buyer would match the sum to keep it in the UK.

But after campaigners failed to raise the funds to prevent its departure it reportedly went into a private collection in the US.

The statue, taken from the tomb of Sekhemka, the pharaoh’s inspector of scribes in Saqqara, had been donated to the museum in 1880 by the son of the second Marquess of Northampton who had brought it from Egypt.

he council put the statue up for sale to fund an extension to the museum, and the proceeds were split with Lord Northampton.

It has previously been claimed that Britain’s councils own artworks worth £2.3bn – but less than 2% are on public display.

Manchester city council was top with an art hoard worth £374m, followed by Birmingham and Southampton with £200m each, Leeds with £150m and Newcastle with £104m.

 

 

   The Art of Rivalry by  Sebastian Smee

   review – from shared vision to slashed canvas

 

    Picasso and Matisse, Bacon and Freud… this study of great painters’ rivalries buzzes with gossip but little real insight

 

     Rachel Cooke | The Observer | Sunday 16 October 2016

 

      

        Bring home the Bacon: Tate Director Nicholas Serota in 2001, in front of the Wanted poster designed by Lucian Freud offering a reward for the return of a stolen portrait by Freud of Francis Bacon.

 

Sebastian Smee's collection of long essays about artistic friendships springs from his interesting – surely not entirely original – contention that when it comes to inspiration, finding oneself in competition with a brilliant rival may be every bit as important as being, say, in possession of a beautiful muse. But while his principal characters are all male – “culture in this period was overwhelmingly patriarchal”, he writes, casually and unapologetically – his narrative is not quite so macho as it may first appear. The Art of Rivalry is, he suggests, a book about “yielding, intimacy, and openness to influence… about susceptibility”. In other words, though he doesn’t put it quite like this himself, his subject is a series of tender, and then not-so-tender, love stories: between Freud and Bacon, Manet and Degas, Matisse and Picasso, and Pollock and de Kooning.

Each essay begins with a ripely significant moment in the history of these complex relationships, after which Smee retraces his steps, returning to the beginning to unwrap the full story, from early shy sweetness to full-blown falling out. For Matisse and Picasso, this moment is their first meeting in 1906, when the collectors Leo and Gertrude Stein took Matisse and his daughter, Marguerite, to visit Picasso’s ramshackle studio in the dilapidated former piano factory known as the Bateau-Lavoir, while for Pollock and de Kooning it’s one night in the early 1950s, when the two painters were seen sharing a drink outside the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village. If Matisse and Picasso’s rivalry was mostly unspoken, a quietly crackling atmosphere in which each of them, almost slyly, checked the other out, Pollock and de Kooning had an altogether bolder strategy. As they passed the bottle between them, each man took it in turns to insist loudly to the other that he (the other) was “the greatest painter in America” – greatness, you understand, was then all the rage, even among the sober – until Pollock finally passed out.

The tale of Manet and Degas begins with the story of Degas’s 1868-69 portrait of Manet and his wife, a canvas Manet famously slashed, his friend having apparently failed to flatter Suzanne. Smee’s belief is that Degas’s painting in fact reminded Manet painfully of the hypocrisy and shame that had once attended his relationship (their son, born illegitimately when Manet was just 19, had been brought up as his wife’s brother). But this is a well known drama. More intriguing by far is Smee’s starting point for the story of Freud and Bacon: the theft from a Berlin museum in 1988 of Freud’s 1952 pocket-sized portrait of his former friend.

“Somebody out there really loves Francis,” Freud said after its disappearance, a feeling with which he could identify, for all that the two of them had definitively broken with each other back in the early 1970s. Thirteen years after its loss, as the Tate was preparing to mount a retrospective of his work, Freud designed a WANTED poster for this portrait in a desperate, and ultimately unsuccessful, bid to get the picture back. The poster in question, he insisted, was the “jokey equivalent of a black armband”. But that word, “wanted”, emblazoned in red letters above a black-and-white image of his former friend’s face, his eyes cast down and his lips forming a kind of plangent sneer, was powerfully significant, whether Freud allowed it or not. If he did not long for Bacon, exactly, he carried with him a hollow in the form of shared history and, perhaps, a debt owed. It was a gap that seemingly wouldn’t go away. Just as Degas frantically collected Manet’s work after his death, so Freud kept Bacon’s Two Figures  (1953), in which male lovers lie wrestling in the middle of an unmade bed, their teeth bared, in his house in London until the end of his life.

What did all these men do for one another? Mere days after his visit to Picasso’s studio, Matisse exhibited Le Bonheur de Vivre (The Joy of Life) at the Salon des Indépendants, a painting that caused Picasso to abandon his own work on a similarly Arcadian theme, The Watering Place, on the grounds that it now seemed unexceptional (even the devoted Leo Stein at first balked at Matisse’s extraordinary painting, a vividly coloured vision of paradise that was also uncomfortably odd). But in the main, influence is not specific like this; it’s subtle and twisting and complicated. Can we ever be certain that it was Bacon who caused Freud to replace his early delicacy with a new, more brutish amplitude? Or that it was Pollock’s wild drip paintings that enabled de Kooning finally to see what was missing in his own work? (According to Smee, he wanted a “share” of Pollock’s abandon, his sense that he was almost “inside” the canvases he laid on the floor and danced around.)

I’m not sure creativity works like this. Jealousy is often a spur. So, too, is admiration: the desire to earn it, as well as to ape the source of it. Friends may encourage and learn from each other. In the end, though, a true artist competes only with himself.

The Art of Rivalry has two great virtues. The first is that it is plainly written, almost entirely free of the clotted art-speak that makes a lot of books on similar themes so difficult to read. (Though it is also rather lazy and flip, sometimes: “He had caught the art bug,” its author notes of the young Degas, before going on to inform us that Manet’s drawings were “often a bit iffy”). The second is that it bulges with gossip, even if you will have heard a lot of it before. In context, the wedding from which Freud absents himself on the grounds that he has been sexually involved not only with the bride but also with the groom and the groom’s mother, barely causes the reader to raise an eyebrow. It’s also almost certain to make you want to chase down (or reread) the big biographies that are some of its major sources. But these things don’t entirely compensate for the sense that Smee, the winner of a Pulitzer prize for his art criticism, is sometimes only going through the motions – particularly so in the case of the rather breathless essay on Matisse and Picasso, which never seems to do much more than skim the surface. All in all, it feels rather forced, bolted together: a book that didn’t need to be written, and thus doesn’t always demand to be read.

The Art of Rivalry is published by Profile Books (£16.99).

 

 

Francis Bacon: from Picasso to Velázquez at Guggenheim Bilbao

 

EMILY GOSLING | CREATIVE BOOM | 6 OCTOBER 2016

 

                           

 

“Shall we ever meet again?
And who will meet again?
Meeting is for strangers.
Meeting is for those who do not know each other.”
― T.S. Eliot, The Family Reunion

Francis Bacon’s work is something that only seems to reveal itself as time goes on, and through ever renewed lenses.

When I was younger the anguish and fervent, incomprehensible levels of emotion made me turn away from it, as though it was too much to bear. It didn’t seem overwhelming at first; I just thought it wasn’t for me, until new ways of understanding gradually began to reveal themselves. One such moment was embarrassingly recently, with the Tate’s text-based campaign that revealed Bacon’s Triptych - August 1972. “You describe obsessive love as something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy,” it reads. It continues: “The day before your first Tate Retrospective your partner is found dead…History mockingly repeats itself. Nearly a decade later, just before your Retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris, your next partner is found dead from an overdose in your hotel room.”

The triptych is this horrific torture realised in brutal brushstrokes; one, two, three canvases of utter trauma. While I recalled snippets of the work’s story, to have it spelled out so plainly was enough to shed a silent tear at the unimaginable horrors behind the work.

It would be easy to believe that all contexts through which to view Bacon’s work have already been explored; he’s surely one of the most exhibited, written about and discussed artists of the 20th Century, such is the vastness of his output and the narratives that surround him and his work. But a new exhibition, Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velazquez, at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, hones in on yet another avenue: Bacon’s relationship to Spanish artists.

Curiously, it takes a long look at the impact on Bacon of a work he never in fact saw “in the flesh”, and one that it was impossible for the Guggenheim to acquire – Velazquez’s 1650 Portrait of Pope Innocent X. The image is said to have obsessed Bacon throughout his career, so much so that given the chance to see it in real life in Rome, he refused, instead choosing to savour it as he remembered so vividly from reproductions.

The exhibition intersperses a huge and impressive series of works by Bacon alongside works that impacted him and his career, beginning with Picasso. In Bacon’s words, he was the artist who “opened the door to all these systems. I have tried to stick my foot in the door so that it does not close.”

And it remained open, welcoming in a breeze of other influences, which as From Picasso to Velazquez demonstrates includes Toulouse-Lautrec for his haunting figures; Braque and Gris’ Cubist compositions and muted tones; El Greco’s trapped and darkened protagonists; Rodin’s exposed human corporealities, and the bleak, powerful sketches of Alberto Giacometti.

Presented almost like the most prized and choicest galleried scrapbook, Bacon’s visions take on new fronds of meaning. The pieces of his curious and powerful puzzle gradually move into clearer focus, though never so much as to lose their intrinsic mystery. It’s harrowing to be in a room filled with the cage paintings, men howling and entrapped in oil painted shackles. Yet it’s joyful and life affirming to see the vibrant hues of late works, as shown in the final room, “Life Essence”; where bright swathes of colour backdrop disfigured objects and bodies.

It makes for a show that gives layers and layers of meaning and inference; one that you could easily visit again and again and always come away with something new. It’s exhaustive, and exhausting. From Picasso to Velazquez is accompanied by detailed wall text narrating Bacon’s life and sources, and a revealing snippet tells of the influence of T S Eliot’s poems and plays on Bacon. For the confusing flotsam and jetsam of life, beauty, sex, figures, death, meaning, confusion and of course artistic genius that make up Bacon and his legacy, the words of Eliot’s Waste Land seem utterly apt. “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”
 
As this exhibition proves, there are so many fragments, and so many ruins, and it’s only in the hands of artistic greatness that we can start to fathom them, if we ever fathom them at all.

Francis Bacon: from Picasso to Velazquez runs from 30 September 2016 to 8 January 2017 at Guggenheim Bilbao

 

 

Francis Bacon Guggenheim Exhibition Reveals Influences Of The Great Masters

 

ARTLYST | ART REVIEW | THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF CONTEMPORARY ART | 3-10-16

 

          

 

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is currently featuring a retrospective of the 20th century British/Irish artist Francis Bacon. Considered one of the most important artists of his time, Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez surveys more than six decades of the artist’s painting, displaying an impressive selection of his paintings alongside those of some of the Spanish and French masters who influenced him the most. This is one of the most daring exhibitions of Bacon’s work ever to be mounted and showcases many works never before displayed in public and offers an interesting insight into his work, especially later works which are in private collections.

This show reveals the importance that Bacon attached to tradition and allows visitors to grasp one of the keys to his creative impetus. Even though Bacon’s work embodies modernity and expresses the angst common to men of his time, he also boldly and ambitiously revisits and carries on the legacy of the great masters while providing referents to the culture of his day and age. The human figure is at the core of most of his compositions, which reflect a stark existentialist view of the individual. Bacon painted extraordinarily expressive portraits with a large dose of authenticity, which means being alive in all senses and with all its consequences. He sought to capture the mystery of life and reduce reality to its essence, synthesizing it in the guise of paint. Iberdrola’s support of this show on the British artist with Irish roots is part of our close partnership with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, as well as our commitment to disseminating art and culture wherever we operate. I would like to congratulate everyone who has worked to put together this wonderfully broad and representative selection of paintings from Francis Bacon’s career. It is very gratifying for Iberdrola, in its role as a patron of the arts, to have contributed to materializing a project which allows us to further explore the oeuvre of an exceptional artist.

The exhibition seamlessly displays 80 works many large scale,  including some of the most important and yet least exhibited paintings by this artist, alongside the works of the classic masters from French and Spanish culture who played a huge role in his career. Transgressive in both is life and his art, Bacon broke down many barriers that were deeply entrenched at the time, placing human beings in front of a mirror in which we could see ourselves in a raw, violent way. Francis Bacon was a fervent Francophile. He was an avid consumer of French literature by authors like Racine, Balzac, Baudelaire and Proust and passionate about the art of Picasso and Van Gogh, both of whom lived in France, and the painters who preceded them like Degas, Manet, Gauguin, Seurat and Matisse. Bacon lived in and frequently visited France and the Principality of Monaco. As an adolescent, he discovered Nicolas Poussin’s Massacre of the Innocents (1628–1629) near Chantilly, and in 1927 he had a revelatory encounter with Picasso’s work when he visited the exhibition Cent dessins par Picasso in the Paul Rosenberg Gallery in Paris, which, in fact, spurred him to decide to embark on his career as a painter. In 1946, he left London for Monaco, where he lived for three crucial years in his career, and where he would regularly return until 1990. 

Bacon always regarded his retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971 as the peak of his career, even though it came at one of the most tragic times of his life, just after the death of his partner, and despite the fact that he had held major retrospectives in London and elsewhere. Throughout his career, Francis Bacon continued to develop ever closer ties with Paris, as attested to by the portraits of his Parisian friends and that fact that he kept a studio in Le Marais until 1985. After his initial contact with Picasso’s oeuvre in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Bacon’s influence from Spanish culture is the most obvious in his obsession with the portrait of Pope Innocent X that Velázquez painted in 1650, which would serve as Bacon’s inspiration for more than 50 works. Curiously, Francis Bacon never saw this Velázquez painting, which hangs at the Doria Pamphilj Gallery in Rome, in person; when he had the chance to lay eyes on it during his visit to the Italian capital in 1954, he preferred instead to retain the reproductions in his memory instead of seeing the original painting. In addition to Velázquez, he was also fascinated by other classic Spanish painters such as Zurbarán, El Greco and Goya, whose paintings he fervently admired at Madrid’s Museo del Prado, a museum he asked to visit alone just a few years before his death after seeing the Velázquez retrospective held there in 1990. Francis Bacon died on a brief visit to Madrid in 1992, and even though he never had a permanent home in Spain, he was known to have made extended sojourns in Málaga and visits to Seville, Utrera and Madrid. 

Born into a wealthy British family living in rural Ireland, a place of upheaval in the early 20th century, Francis Bacon was confronted with Pablo Picasso’s work in Paris’s Paul Rosenberg Gallery at the tender age of 17. Bacon himself revealed that this signaled his shift towards a career in art; this is attested to in some of his earliest works, such as Composition (Figure) (1933), which clearly references Picasso’s works from the 1920’s, especially Las casetas, the series depicting deformed bathers holding a key, an object that fascinated Picasso and seduced Bacon as well. Starting with absolutely no technical training, Bacon gradually entered the world of art and quickly assimilated what other creators near him, such as Roy de Maistre, were able to teach him. The mere handful of paintings that have survived from this time—Bacon was dissatisfied with most of them and destroyed them—attest to his early influence from Analytical and Synthetic Cubism, and from Picasso’s biomorphic Cubism, which would lead Bacon to develop a language of his own. This vocabulary garnered recognition for the first time in 1933, when the critic Herbert Read reproduced Bacon’s Crucifixion (1933) in a privileged spot, opposite Picasso’s Bather (1929) in his publication Art Now: An Introduction to the Theory of Modern Painting and Sculpture. Even though Bacon received this recognition at the start of his career and at a After World War II, in which Francis Bacon worked in a civil capacity because of his chronic asthma, the artist’s work was once again recognized by critics and the public. He also drew the attention of gallery owner Erica Brausen, who soon exhibited his paintings in different European countries. In 1948, the Museum of Modern Art of New York purchased its first Bacon work from Brausen. During this period, the artist created a new universe of images conceived via literature, film, art, and his own life. Bacon approached this iconography using a unique language, reflecting human vulnerability with utter rawness. Somewhere between human and animal—as in some of Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs—the figures begin to appear enclosed and entrapped in cages or cubes. Bacon used this device to focus the viewer’s attention on the figures, which were smudged or disfigured, reduced to strokes of greyish and bluish colours reminiscent of El Greco and the drawings of Alberto Giacometti, which Bacon preferred over his sculptures. Later in this period, Bacon also paid homage to Vincent van Gogh, whom he evoked through his loose brushwork and bright palette, which contrast with the dark figures in other paintings. Bacon was fascinated by the way Van Gogh veered away from the rules and literal reality in favour of expressiveness.

Until 08/ 01/2017 Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

 

 

Francis Bacon: Picasso to Velázquez at Guggenheim Bilbao

 

BY NICHOLAS FORREST | BLOUIN ARTINFO | OCTOBER 03, 2016

 

                         

                                          Diego Velázquez  The Buffoon el Primo, 1644  

 

Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao highlights the influence of Spanish and French culture on the work of Francis Bacon, offering a new perspective on the Irish-born British artist’s fascinating oeuvre.

Over a 60-year career, Bacon became known for reinventing the portrait with the contorted bodies of his isolated nude figures, placing human beings in front of a mirror in which they are faced with their own vulnerabilities and challenged with seeing themselves in a raw and violent way.

“I think art is an obsession with life and after all, as we are human beings, our greatest obsession is with ourselves. Then possibly with Animals, and then with Landscapes,” Bacon said in an interview with David Sylvester in 1966.

“What I want to do is to distort the thing far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance, he said. “…who today has been able to record anything that comes across to us as a fact without causing deep injury to the image?”

The exhibition of almost 80 works presents 50 of the most important and yet least exhibited of Bacon’s paintings alongside around 30 works by the French and Spanish masters whose work had such profound impact on Bacon’s work.

 

                         

                                   Francis Bacon Study for Portrait of Van Gogh I, 1956

 

Bacon was a keen Francophile who was passionate about the work of Picasso, Van Gogh, Degas, Manet, Gauguin, Seurat, and Matisse, and was also an avid reader of French literature by the likes of Racine, Balzac, Baudelaire and Proust.

His decision to take up paintings was influenced by an encounter with the work of Picasso at Paul Rosenberg Gallery in Paris in 1927 – the same year he discovered Nicolas Poussin’s The Massacre of the Innocents 1628-29, which also left an indelible impression on the young artist.

“Picasso opened the door to all these systems. I have tried to stick my foot in the door so that it does not close. Picasso was one of that genius caste which includes Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Van Gogh, and above all Velázquez,” Bacon once said.

The influence on Spanish culture on Bacon’s work is epitomized by his obsession with Velázquez’s 1650 portrait of Pope Innocent X, but he was also fascinated by the work of other classical masters such as Zurbarán, El Greco, and Goya.

Bacon called Velázquez’s portrait one of the greatest portraits ever made. “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 […] imagination,” he explained.

Organized by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in collaboration with Grimaldi Forum Monaco, and curated by Martin Harrison, author of the Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné, Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez exemplifies Bacon’s pioneering and visionary practice.

Exhibition highlights include Bacon’s Three Studies for a Crucifixion 1962, Composition (Figure) 1933, Study for Portrait of Van Gogh I 1956, Study after Velazquez 1950, Study for Self-Portrait 1976, Three Studies of Figures on Beds 1972, and Portrait of Michel Leiris 1976.

Other notable works include Alberto Giacometti’s Buste of a Man in a Frame (Buste d’homme dans un cadre) ca. 1946, Francisco de Goya’s Tauromachy (Tauromaquia) 1816, John Phillip’s La Bomba 1863, and Diego Velázquez’s The Buffoon el Primo 1644.


Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez is at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao until 8/1/2017

 

 

Guggenheim Bilbao | September 30, 2016–January 8, 2017 

 

E-FLUX | 28 September, 2016

 

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao presents Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez, an exhibition of some 80 works including some of the most important and yet least exhibited paintings by this British artist born in Ireland, alongside the works of the classic masters from French and Spanish culture. Portraits, nudes, landscapes, bullfighting… the exhibition offers a new perspective on Bacon’s oeuvre by highlighting the influences exerted on his art.

Transgressive in both his life and art, Bacon broke down many barriers that were deeply entrenched at the time, placing human beings in front of a mirror in which we could see ourselves in a raw, violent way. Bacon’s nudes tend to feature isolated figures in everyday poses which the painter transformed by twisting their bodies into almost animal-like shapes, thus reinventing the portrait.

Francis Bacon was a fervent francophile. He was an avid consumer of French literature by authors like Racine, Balzac, Baudelaire and Proust and passionate about the art of Picasso and Van Gogh, and the painters who preceded them like Degas, Manet, Gauguin, Seurat, and Matisse. As an adolescent, he discovered Nicolas Poussin’s Massacre of the Innocents (1628–29) near Chantilly, and in 1927 he had a revelatory encounter with Picasso’s work when he visited the exhibition Cent dessins par Picasso in the Paul Rosenberg Gallery in Paris, which, in fact, spurred him to decide to embark on his career as a painter.

After his initial contact with Picasso’s oeuvre in the 1920s and 1930s, the influence of Spanish culture on Bacon's art is most obvious in his obsession with the portrait of Pope Innocent X that Velázquez painted in 1650, which would serve as Bacon’s inspiration for more than 50 works. In addition to Velázquez, he was also fascinated by other classic Spanish painters such as Zurbarán, El Greco and Goya, whose paintings he fervently admired at Madrid’s Museo del Prado, a museum he asked to visit alone just a few years before his death after seeing the Velázquez retrospective held there in 1990.

Bacon created a new universe of images conceived via literature, film, art, and his own life using a unique language, reflecting human vulnerability with utter rawness.

Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez | September 30, 2016–January 8, 2017 

Exhibition organized by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in collaboration with Grimaldi Forum Monaco

Curator: Martin Harrison | Sponsored by Iberdrola

 

 

Así se intentaron vender los cuadros de Bacon robados en Madrid

 

Una red de peristas, joyeros e intermediarios intentó colocar las obras sin éxito

 

JOSÉ MARIA IRUJO | LUIS MAGÁN | MADRID | EL PAÍS | 20 SEPTEMBER 2016

 

Los cinco cuadros de Francis Bacon robados hace más de un año en Madrid a José Capelo, amigo y heredero del pintor, se intentaron vender en España en dos ocasiones. La última durante una reunión celebrada el pasado mes de febrero en el número cuatro de la calle Duque de Alba de Majadahonda, una casa moderna de tres alturas situada a escasos metros del paseo principal de esta localidad madrileña, según ha podido acreditar la investigación policial y describe el sumario judicial al que ha tenido acceso EL PAÍS.

El encuentro tuvo lugar en el piso en el que residía Ricardo Barbastro Heras, que mostró fotografías de uno de los cuadros robados a Antonio Losada de la Rosa, un perista de El Rastro de Madrid interesado en su compra. El vendedor pidió por el cuadro dos millones de euros y el comprador exigió hablar con el dueño de la obra y un contrato legal. La oferta no prosperó porque este último descubrió finalmente que la obra era robada.

Antonio Losada y su hijo José habían sido informados de la existencia de los cuadros de Bacon por Rafael Heredia González, un vendedor de joyas, que estuvo presente en la reunión de Majadahonda y que antes del encuentro había mostrado al padre y al hijo fotografías de uno de los retratos robados en junio de 2015 en una casa señrial situada en el número 2 de la Plaza de la Encarnación, muy cerca del Senado, en pleno centro de Madrid. El valor de los cuadros supera los 30 millones de euros y el golpe está considerado como el mayor robo de pintura contemporánea en España. Los cuatro protagonistas de este encuentro fueron detenidos por la Policía el pasado mes de marzo y están en libertad provisional en calidad de investigados (imputados) por los delitos de encubrimiento de robo con fuerza. El caso sigue envuelto en un halo de misterio porque pese a las numerosas pistas obtenidas y personas detenidas (siete) el botín continúa sin aparecer.

En septiembre de 2015, solo dos meses después del robo, se produjo el primer intento de colocar las obras. Y lo protagonizó la misma persona. Ricardo Barbastro, de 45 años, con cinco antecedentes por tráfico de drogas y lesiones, llamó a su primo Jorge de las Heras, empleado de una galería de arte, y le ofreció “unos cuadros muy buenos”. Le comentó “que las obras procedían de una pelea entre una pareja y que uno de ellos se había llevado los cuadros del otro como compensación porque le había echado de casa. El propietario de los cuadros vivía en Londres y venía muy poco a España”, según aseguró en su declaración policial. La llamada le extrañó. No habían hablado desde hacía 17 años, pero Ricardo insistió en que conociese a los vendedores y se negó a enviar fotos de los cuadros por WhatsApp.

El encuentro se celebró a principios de octubre, sobre las 14.15 horas en un bar del número 5 de la madrileña calle Doctor Fleming. Ricardo acudió con cuatro personas más, tres se sentaron en la mesa y uno permaneció sentado en la barra escuchando, pero sin intervenir. Según su relato, su primo le volvió a contar la historia de la falsa pelea y aseguró que el propietario no se había enterado porque vivía en Londres. “Les propuse sacar las obras a subasta que es donde más beneficio obtendrían, pero contestaron que no se podía porque hay un problema legal en relación con la herencia de Francis Bacon y una parte de los herederos pueden reclamar las obras. Querían saber si teníamos algún cliente interesado en la compra de cuadros de Bacon”, describió el empleado de la galería a la Policía. “Uno de ellos me dijo que podía ganar mucho dinero si buscaba un comprador”, añadió el galerista que rechazó el ofrecimiento y respondió que no conocía a nadie interesado porque “todo me pareció muy raro”.

Antes de despedirse la prometieron que le enviarían un lápiz de memoria con las fotografías de los cuadros, pero nunca se volvieron a poner en contacto. Él tampoco quiso saber nada de su primo.

Barbastro y sus acompañantes conocían detalles de las características de los cuadros robados y de su dueño, que también reside en Londres. Explicaron que las obras eran tres dibujos y dos óleos, que estaban dedicados al propietario de las obras y que uno de ellos era un retrato de este último. En realidad los cinco cuadros representan el rostro de su dueño y estaban colgados en su dormitorio donde los ladrones robaron también una caja fuerte que contenía joyas y una espléndida colección de monedas antiguas valorada en 400.000 euros. Cuando se produjo el hurto Capelo estaba pasando unos días en la capital británica.

El testigo de esta reunión ha identificado a Alfredo Cristian Ferriz, un chófer de empresa de 40 años años, como la persona que llevó “la voz cantante” durante toda la reunión en la que le ofrecieron los cuadros. Cristian, como le llaman sus amigos, un tipo alto, calvo, de brazos corpulentos y cinturón negro de kárate, tiene un largo rosario antecedentes policiales, ocho de ellos por robo con fuerza, tres por hurto de vehículos, uno por amenazas y otro por tráfico de drogas. Fue detenido junto al marchante de arte Cristóbal García, en el domicilio de este último en Madrid, porque Ricardo Barbastro afirma que Cristian es la persona que tiene en su poder los cuadros y que su amigo Cristóbal es el cerebro del golpe. Los tres se conocen. Barbastro ha declinado responder a este periódico.

Los ladrones utilizaron una cámara Canon EOS 5D Mark II alquilada en la productora madrileña Addict Studios para fotografiar el anverso y el reverso de los cinco cuadros robados y ofrecerlos a los peristas de El Rastro. Agustín González, uno de los dueños de la productora ha hecho negocios con este marchante y el albarán del alquiler está firmado por Cristóbal Caballero, nombre y segundo apellido de García. “Han utilizado mi nombre e imitado mi firma. No tengo nada que ver con estas personas aunque conozco a alguna de ellas. Soy inocente. Lo último que se me ocurriría es intentar colocar estas obras tan importantes entre peristas de El Rastro”, afirma Cristóbal García a este periódico, un marchante de arte que ha trabajado en Madrid, París y Londres. Un informe caligráfico encargado por el Juzgado que investiga el robo no ha podido acreditar que la letra sea del considerado por la Policía como presunto cerebro.

Antonio Losada, el perista del Rastro que acudió a la reunión en Majadahonda, ofreció uno de los Bacon a Juan Manuel Marce Gea, anticuario y marchante en Sitges, quien a su vez comprobó con la empresa londinense The Art Loss Register si eran o no robados. El correo que recibió este último no dejaba lugar a dudas. “Le informo que la pintura de Bacon es posiblemente una pintura robada y registrada en la base de Interpol. Mis mejores deseos”, escribió Will Korner el pasado 23 de febrero a Marce. “La pintura fue robada en Madrid el 22 de junio de 2015..”, escribió más tarde la empleada de la empresa Nina Neuhaus quien más tarde comunicó a la Brigada de patrimonio Histórico de la Policía la consulta del marchante catalán.

El anticuario catalán llevaba desde enero negociando la venta del cuadro a varios clientes con una fotografía enviada por el perista Losada y citaba abiertamente a Capelo como dueño de la obra. A dos de ellos les remitió un correo bajo el título de “peligro” en el que reproducía la información recibida desde Londres. La conversación intervenida por la Policía entre Marce y el perista Antonio Losada, el hombre que acudió a la reunión de Majadahonda y que le ofreció uno de los cuadros robados, demuestra la preocupación de ambos al descubrir que eran robados.

-Antonio Losada: “ni hablar con ellos, nada, nada.. fuera. Una ruina, una ruina..

-Juan Manuel Marce: “no tenemos edad para estas cosas… muy bonito negocio y todo lo que tu quieras, pero aquí hay gato encerrado ¿o no? Hay que chequearlo todo en esta vida, en estos momento, porque no podemos patinar. Si salen otros negocios que sean correctos y legales pues vamos, pero si no …no. No quiero líos ¿Vale?

Los Losada, padre e hijo, pese a conocer ya que los cuadros eran robados buscaron otras personas donde colocar los Bacon, según se desprende de otras conversaciones telefónicas intervenidas en marzo, semanas antes de ser detenidos

 

 

 

Artists of the Colony Room Club -

The Dark Art of Soho

 

 

     Kensington, Chelsea & Westminster Today | 16th September 2016

 

     

 

Hooray! No need to travel to Chichester if you never seem to make it, Bonhams is putting on a terrific show from the magnificent Pallant House Galleries in its Bond St galleries during Freize week. This is a very special collection from an important time of 20thCentury British art. Post War it was when so much about art was being revaluated, stretched and reinvented; most of this occurred through conversation and those conversations between this group of Artists happened at their adopted club, and hangout The Colony Room Club, in Dean Street Soho. Starting in 1948, it continued for 60years,

Post-war Soho was a very different place, it had the taste of danger and the smell of sex around every street corner. It was a howling screech  away from the smart, clean and comfortable tourist centre it has evolved into, full of media members clubs. The Colony run by the out spoken, witty and barbed tongue owner Muriel Belcher and her barman Ian Board drew in first of all Francis Bacon, who was paid in 1949 £10 a week to bring in rich and influential customers (this just about covered his bar bill), but as a charismatic and leading artist of the day he also attracted his fellow artists amongst them Lucien Freud,  Frank Auerbach, John Minton,  John Craxton, The two Roberts Colquon and MacBryde, Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake, RB Kitaj shown in this show, reflects a certain time but the Colony went on until 2008 and became the breeding ground for so much more, including the YBA movement of the 1990’s.

The Colony Room wasn’t singularly an artists club otherwise how could it survive? Somebody has to buy the drinks! What made it so special was the rare mix of intellectual, lords, ladies, musicians and poets and somebody to conduct and orchestrate a room full of people against the moral conventions of the day; Muriel Belcher. Francis Bacon summed it up as,’ “an oasis where the inhibitions of sex and class are dissolved… and you can be yourself”   And who doesn’t want to be that?

Sophie Parkin is the author of The Colony Room Club 1948-2008 – A history of Bohemian Soho pub by Palmtree Publishers £35. 277pgs.  ISBN 978-0-9574354-1-4.

The exhibition will be in the main saleroom of Bonhams, 101 New Bond Street, London W1, from Sunday 2 October to Tuesday 11 October. Opening hours are 9.30am – 4.30pm. Closed on Saturdays and Sunday 9 October. Admission free.

 

 

 

Life as meat

 

 

Post–World War II London artists dabbled with expiration date

 

 

W.S. DI PIERO | ART REVIEW | LOS ANGELES | SAN DIEGO READER | SEPT. 14 2016

 

           

                 Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne, by Francis Bacon (1966), oil on canvas

 

In the years following World War II, the biggest art conversation was about abstraction and what to do with it. The critical center was New York and the artists in question were Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning, Gorky, and Kline. At the same time, several painters in England (though not all British-born) were complicating the idiom of representational painting. Each side had things to say about the other. Francis Bacon, the most articulate of the British artists, called Abstract Expressionism “decoration.” Harold Rosenberg, one of Abstraction’s house critics, called Bacon’s work “too figurative, too narrative, too concerned with Christian imagery yet dangerously unpious in its view of religion.” Barnett Newman said (approvingly) that Abstract Expressionists were “freeing [themselves] of the impediments of memory, association, nostalgia, legend, myth.” Bacon and five other figurative artists working in and around the ruins of postwar London were cultivating those “impediments,” and a sampling of their work is on view in London Calling, currently at the Getty Center.

These artists ate and drank together; they argued about and observed one another’s work; Bacon and Freud gambled together in casinos. I first saw Francis Bacon’s pictures in 1972, during the opening credits of Last Tango in Paris. I was a 27-year-old poet with no thought of ever writing about painting, but seeing those illustrations stirred a desire to say something, sooner or later, about Bacon’s work. (I’m slow: I didn’t get around to it until the 1990s.) The Tango images — a woman slouched in a chair, a figure sagging on a divan — were expressions of emotional disfigurement, solitariness, and tense anticipation kneaded into mercurial shapes, appropriate icons for Tango’s drama of carnal appetite and existential strain.

Dublin-born (in 1909) of British parents, Bacon was the oldest of what one of the six, R.I. Kitaj, termed the “London School,” and his palette of incited yellows, billiard-table greens, flamingo pinks, indigos, and reds gave a posh, privileged look to his vision of human animalism, of life as meat with an expiration date. The gamble of accident was part of his process. Artists before him had invited randomness into their interaction with the canvas, but Bacon’s interventions were more purposeful. He required instability. As a picture came into a structure, he’d destabilize it, pull it out of an achieved form, sometimes by swiping a rag across the canvas. It was an aggressive kind of painting-against-itself. His portraits of acquaintances and lovers, usually photograph-based, featured smeared skulls, enfolded faces, and elastic bodies composed of glistening planes that shed a protoplasmic “skin,” a kind of shadow incarnate.

Bacon left home at 17, travelled, worked as a furniture and interior designer, and by the early 1930s, virtually self-taught, was making paintings on profane and messily sacred subjects. His work responded as much to the containments of space as to human mood and expressiveness. Within the pictures he created staging areas, boxy structures or display platforms that look like laboratory containers or jewelry displays. The settings expose more than they enclose. The figures’ mouths sometimes remodel the mouth of a screaming woman in Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin. In the 1954 Figure with Meat, her mouth appears on a figure derived from Velázquez’s 1650 Portrait of Pope Innocent X: the blue-robed pontiff shares a caged space with split halves of a beef carcass, meat-and-blood wings that obliterate any sense of the transcendent.

Other of Bacon’s photographic models were the stop-action motion studies Eadweard Muybridge made of wrestlers, acrobats, and ordinary people walking, jumping, and climbing steps. Bacon subverted photography’s stillness by working colour to make it look a little runny and decomposing. In the central panel of Triptych August 1972 two males muscle around each other like wrestlers or lovers. On the left panel is a seated George Dyer, Bacon’s model and lover who had recently killed himself, and on the right, the artist. Seeping from the figures is that familiar flayed-skin human spoor, a puddling pinkish flesh tone that looks like a spill of selfhood.

Bacon met Lucian Freud in the 1940s. Freud’s ambition was the pursuit of fleshly countenance. In an early work like Girl with a Kitten from 1947, the girl’s skin has a bruised pearliness, a tone Freud would work many variations on in his career, and her lost gaze directs her consciousness way beyond the picture. (She’s holding the kitten by the neck, like a trophy.) Freud experimented with consistency of surface and the elasticity of interior space. The surface of Girl with a Kitten is smooth, chaste, indifferent. The placid flesh from the 1950s pictures gradually gets eroded and corrupted by time; the fineness of finish breaks down into flaky cellular bits and knobs as Freud inquires more and more into the contemplative weathered-ness of the human form. The later work has coarser, broken consistencies, and his nudes look as if they’ve just now dropped or been pushed awkwardly onto beds. The skin in Freud’s work is a blast of carnal presence. He painted the life of time in the body, the decrepitude, the fat, the little and great collapses, just as in the early work he showed a lovely, though tough, youthfulness of presence.

One of Freud’s students at the Slade School of Fine Art was Michael Andrews, born in 1928 and, dead at age 67, the shortest lived of the six artists in London Calling. Of them, he was the most social; his paintings observe human consciousness registering its awareness of others and its surroundings. One of his best known pictures, A Man Who Suddenly Fell Over, doesn’t illustrate the act of falling so much as it reveals two states of mind in that moment. A portly businessman, trying feebly to break the fall with his shoulder, is suspended in a state of worried amusement that there’s nowhere for him to go but down, while the woman observing the event registers a shocked queasiness. Andrews liked parties and liked making pictures based on them. In the busy drinking-club crowd in Colony Room I (not included in the exhibition), his friends Bacon and Freud mix it up with journalists, arts people, and hangers-on. In his landscapes, Andrews aspirates the surfaces and breaks them down into a beautifully expressive unevenness. In a swirling grayish 1994 painting of the Thames Estuary, globs and chunks of clotted ash and dirt are mixed with the paint to create a pensive, elegiac moment in the mind: the churned textures of land and water become a platform for fishermen revealed high in the scene like presiding spirits. The entire picture feels like a modernist dream of 19th-century representation.

 

 

 

Der doppelte Bacon

Christoph Vitali, Direktor vom Haus der Kunst in München, schreibt über den englischen Maler Francis Bacon und über ein Buch, das in eindringlicher Weise den Mythos vom ausschließlich tragisch, ja apokalyptisch fixierten Bacon zerstört.

 

FRANCIS BACON | ART | DAS KUNSTMAGAZINE | 7 SEPTEMBER 2016

 

 

       

 

Die nochmalige Lektüre von Michael Peppiatts großer Francis-Bacon-Biografie war für mich auch das Eintauchen in ein Stück Vergangenheit. Im Jahre 1996 hatten wir vom Musee National d'Art Moderne in Paris die große Retrospektive des nur wenige Jahre zuvor gestorbenen Malers nach München geholt. Ich hatte sie zusammen mit David Sylvester, einem Freund und Weggefährten des Künstlers, im Haus der Kunst gehängt - eine Einrichtung, die mir unvergesslich bleibt: zentrierend um die sechs großen Triptychen im Hauptsaal, die Bacon zum Ende der sechziger und zu Beginn der siebziger Jahre malte und deren Gegenstand stets das Bild seines Freundes George Dyer war.

Dyer hatte sich am Vorabend der großen Ausstellung im Grand Palais in Paris im Herbst 1971, der Krönung des Werkes von Bacon überhaupt, umgebracht. Unsere Münchner Schau wurde zu einer Inszenierung, wie sie prachtvoller, aber auch furchterregend-abweisender kaum je gelungen war. Für Münchens bildverliebtes Publikum ein harter, schwer zu verdauender Brocken. Zur Eröffnung brachte Michael Peppiatt, auch er mit Bacon dreißig Jahre lang befreundet, die englische Originalausgabe seines eben erschienenen Buchs über den Maler mit.

Bacon führte ein Doppelleben

Was kann uns die kluge Biografie heute sagen? Sie zerstört in eindringlicher Weise den Mythos vom ausschließlich tragisch, ja apokalyptisch fixierten Künstler. Sie zeigt uns statt dessen über viele Seiten den in die Welt verliebten, sein Leben in vollen Zügen genießenden Francis Bacon, der, als ein brillanter Causeur von Kneipe zu Bar zu Nachtclub in Londons Soho ziehend, eine große Anzahl von Bewunderern an sich fesselte. Danach allerdings, wenn er spät nachts als eleganter Dandy in sein bescheidenes Atelier zurückkehrte und zum Pinsel griff, verwandelte sich der Lebemann und protokollierte Zwänge in großen einsamen Bildern. Diese Doppelexistenz des Künstlers macht Peppiatts Buch in unnachahmlicher Weise deutlich.

Es ist in der kunsthistorischen Analyse so nüchtern und präzise, als ginge es um das Werk eines völlig Fremden. Gleichzeitig, und darin liegt seine große Kraft, ist es das eindrückliche Zeugnis eines sympathisierenden Beobachters voller Zuneigung. So liest sich die Biografie über weite Strecken wie ein fesselnder Roman, und es ist ihr eine gute Aufnahme bei den vielen Bacon-Freunden in Deutschland von ganzem Herzen zu wünschen.

Der Artikel erschien zuerst in art - das Kunstmagazin, Ausgabe 12, 2000

 

 

 

Francis Bacon, une sorte de génie absolu si plaisant

 

Monaco propose un parcours autour des œuvres de l’artiste britannique, dont une partie a été réalisée dans cette principauté où il a vécu un temps et qu’il n’a jamais totalement quittée. Alcool, jeu et peinture. Il impose une forme d’honnêteté artistique si rare aujourd’hui

 

PIERRE BARBANCEY  |  L'HUMANITÉ  MARDI, 23 AOÛT, 2016
 

                       

                                                        Francis Bacon, Fragment of a Crucifixion, 1950

 

 

Principauté de Monaco, envoyé spécial.

Il faut reconnaître à la principauté de Monaco son engagement pour les arts. Loin de tout point de vue et autres images du monde, il existe une vie culturelle en dehors du célèbre casino de Monte-Carlo. C’est pourtant un lieu assez ­palpitant, il faut le dire même dans l’Humanité, qui plaisait à Francis Bacon. Le peintre britannique, amoureux comme on le sait de la culture française, venu à la peinture grâce à Picasso, s’est installé là, entre France et Italie, un beau jour de 1946. Pour trois ans. Trois années prolifiques. Alcool, jeu et peinture. Cocktail détonant. Un triptyque infernal qui n’aura jamais vraiment quitté l’artiste.

L’amant toujours là, l’aplat qui s’offre au relief du couteau

Monaco, donc, qui a décidé de rendre hommage à Bacon par un drôle d’intitulé : « Francis Bacon. Monaco et la culture française ». C’est au Grimaldi Forum. Un espace. C’est bien ce qu’il faut pour un Bacon qui n’a eu de cesse d’interroger les figures, de s’emparer de l’être pour le décortiquer comme le ferait un médecin légiste avant de recomposer le tout dans un esprit moins ludique que grave et parfois graveleux. N’est-ce pas ce qu’exprime cette photo signée John Deakin, saisie en 1952 à Londres, qui ouvre l’exposition ? Les bras levés, Bacon tient dans chaque main les deux parties d’un animal fraîchement coupé. La chair et les côtes ainsi brandies semblent les ailes de cet ange démoniaque qu’est l’artiste torse nu, avec cette gueule qui est la sienne. Qu’on croit déceler dans chacune de ses toiles. Belle entrée en matière et un étrange pied de nez à ses portraits de papes – si fameux – dont il a commencé l’exploration dans une principauté tellement liée à l’histoire d’un moine.

L’espace Grimaldi n’est pas un musée. Pas non plus une fondation. C’est un lieu qui s’agence comme on veut présenter des œuvres. C’est aéré au sens spatial du terme. Les œuvres sont là. Elles s’offrent à vous, seules, ou visibles en un groupement qui marquent des unités. Recherche réelle, ou bien le plasticien trouve-t-il dans le geste cet obscur objet du désir ? L’amant toujours là, le mouvement qui fait la vie, l’aplat qui s’offre au relief du couteau. Chez Bacon la couleur n’est pas là pour être chatoyante, mais pour exprimer la pensée, le sentiment, le désarroi. L’emportement certainement. La colère aussi. On sent des flèches, des morsures. C’est ce qui bouleverse. Cette façon d’imposer tout à la fois sa certitude et son incertitude. Son amour et son dégoût. C’est cette forme d’honnêteté artistique qu’impose Francis Bacon.

Alors, la France et Monaco dans tout ça, puisque c’est le thème de l’exposition ? Peu importe après tout. Oui, peut-être faut-il rappeler qu’il a cherché et trouvé en France ce qu’une certaine Angleterre ne lui permettait pas. A-t-il perçu dans le rocher monégasque, la proximité de la mer, la haute rocaille qu’on a toujours dans le dos, le décor absolu qui se pare des atours du fric, de la dépravation, du luxe insolent et du factice ? Il y a dans ce parcours monégasque une sorte de génie absolu si plaisant. Si simple et si dérangeant à la fois, qu’on se retrouve à regarder Bacon d’un autre œil. Déstabilisé, mais bien. Il ne s’agit pas tant de se retrouver embringué dans une sorte d’histoire de l’art, de revisitation de la représentation que d’être immergé dans un monde qui se suffit à lui-même et est en même temps universel.

L’artiste ose, en se mettant à nu, dépouiller le regardant

C’est évidemment à cette aune que l’on peut reconnaître un grand artiste. Celui qui aide à soulever les strates de l’esprit. Celui qui ose, en se mettant à nu, dépouiller le regardant. Lui faire les poches, en quelque sorte. De manière telle qu’en sortant on se demande si ce n’est pas soi-même que brandit le Bacon du départ. Celui de la photo qui brandit de la bidoche. Comme pour nous dire, avec un rien de mépris, que nous ne valons pas mieux. Que la ­déconstruction est la meilleure des constructions. Que l’angle droit ne vaut rien sans la distorsion. Ses ateliers, à Londres comme à Paris, n’étaient rien d’autre qu’un fatras de papiers, de cartons, de restes de ses gestes. Et que, de toute manière, à Monaco ou ailleurs, rien ne vaut la sincérité. Il faut le voir ainsi.

 

 

 

I maestri del '900: Francis Bacon alla mostra

 

"Dall’Opera al libro, dal libro all’Opera"

 

La litografia Oedipus and the Sphinx after Ingres rimarrà esposta a Palazzo Corvaja fino al 16 ottobre

 

di Redazione | Taormina Today | 16 August 2016 

 

 

        

                                               Il pittore irlandese Francis Bacon (Dublino, 28 ottobre 1909 – Madrid, 28 aprile 1992)

 

Una visione contemporanea del mito di Edipo. Francis Bacon in Oedipus and the Sphinx after Ingres crea un ponte artistico tra il mito dell’antichità e la guerra. Nato nel 1909 a Dublino ha vissuto in prima persona il dramma delle guerre mondiali. Paura, odio, violenza vengono riversate nell’opera. Edipo è ferito, non è più l’incarnazione dell’intelligenza umana rappresentata da Ingres. Nella versione di Bacon la Sfinge ed Edipo occupano entrambi i lati della litografia lasciando il centro vuoto. Sullo sfondo, in posizione centrale, quasi a dominare l’intero quadro una figura indistinguibile, una creatura alata raffigurante una Erinni che personifica la maledizione lanciata sulla terra. Per Ingres, questa scena è solo un pretesto per la rappresentazione del corpo maschile ideale, mentre con Bacon si è di fronte con una reinterpretazione del mito che ha lo scopo di far riflettere sulla mostruosità dell’uomo del dopoguerra. Ingres raffigura un passato perfetto, mentre Bacon si confronta con un presente imperfetto dominato dalla violenza.

La litografia Oedipus and the Sphinx after Ingres fa parte della collezione privata di Enzo Gribaudo esposta a Palazzo Corvaja fino al prossimo 16 ottobre. Francis Bacon dedicò questa litografia all’editore Ezio Gribaudo in occasione della pubblicazione della propria monografia Fabbri. Il testo incluso nel volume, scritto da Lorenza Trucchi, fu giudicato dall’artista irlandese il migliore mai scritto sul proprio lavoro. La mostra dal titolo “Dall’Opera al Libro, dal Libro all’Opera. Ezio Gribaudo e i maestri del Novecento” prende il nome dal prezioso catalogo (curato da Paola Gribaudo, figlia del maestro e sua fidata collaboratrice sin da giovanissima) nel quale non soltanto è documentata l’esposizione ma è anche offerta un particolare focus di lettura sull’editoria d’arte attraverso la loro storia familiare. Una storia e una tradizione fatta di prestigiose collaborazioni e amicizie con i grandi maestri e le maggiori personalità artistiche del Novecento, da Picasso a De Chirico, passando per numerosi altri nomi illustri.

 

             

La testimonianza di Ezio Gribaudo. Oedipus and the Sphinx after Ingres fa parte della collezione privata di Enzo Gribaudo esposta a Palazzo Corvaja fono al prossimo 16 ottobre

 

«Nella lista di artisti, stilata a suo tempo dalla Fabbri, ai quali dedicare una monografia, il nome di Bacon era uno dei primi, almeno in ambito europeo – spiega Ezio Gribaudo – per me sicuramente quello al quale avrei voluto dedicare un’opera a strettissimo giro. In quel momento la triade dei grandi inglesi era costituita da Moore, Sutherland e Bacon. L’anno precedente era uscito Sutherland, poco prima Moore e ora mi sembrava il momento per Bacon. Decidemmo così di iniziare. Presi un appuntamento con Valerie Beston, che avevo già conosciuto in occasione della monografia su Henry Moore. La incontrai alla galleria Marlborough di Londra – racconta Gribaudo – e mi procurò un appuntamento con Bacon. Avere un incontro con lui non era facile, era un personaggio un po’ irraggiungibile; in quel periodo dipingeva degli straordinari grandi trittici. Bacon organizzò una cena da Willer, un pub famoso per il pesce. Fu un incontro bellissimo durante il quale decidemmo il taglio da conferire al libro. Parlammo di molte cose, di Torino dove aveva avuto dei rapporti con la galleria Galatea. Il mattino successivo andai nel suo mitico atelier e mi dedicò una bellissima fotografia scattata da Cartier Bresson. In quel periodo abitava anche a Parigi, in rue de Birague, vicino a Place des Vosges; divideva il suo tempo fra Londra e Parigi, a lui piaceva molto il mondo parigino. Proposi a Bacon – continua Ezio Gribaudo -di far scrivere il testo da Lorenza Trucchi e credo che il testo della monografia sia il suo capolavoro. Difatti quando fu tradotto Bacon lo ritenne il miglior scritto dedicatogli fino ad allora. Stampammo velocemente e, nel marzo del 1975, riuscimmo a presentare il libro alla vernice della grande mostra che il Metropolitan Museum di New York aveva allestito su Bacon. Prima d’allora però lui presenziò ad una mia personale alla Marlborough Graphics di Londra, diretta da Barbara Lloyd. Nel libro d’oro Bacon scrisse parole molto lusinghiere. Bacon era talmente entusiasta del libro che scendendo le scale del Metropolitan mi disse: “Vieni a Londra perché voglio farti un ritratto, di quelli piccoli”. Gli dissi che sarei andato, ma preso da mille cose, stupidamente non trovai il tempo. Voleva che posassi per lui a Londra! Un rimpianto che mi porterò dietro tutta la vita. Comunque lo rividi ancora, in occasioni ufficiali e non, più a Parigi che a Londra, ed elaborammo inoltre un aggiornamento della monografia».

Dall’Opera al libro, dal libro all’Opera. 

Il libro è il veicolo più diffuso del sapere. Ma non è solo uno strumento: le copertine possono, in alcuni casi, essere delle vere e proprie opere d’arte. La mostra allestita a Palazzo Corvaja trae spunto dai grandi nomi di spicco del contesto culturale e artistico del Novecento in stretto rapporto con Ezio Gribaudo e che si pone come un trait d’union tra testo e arti figurative, tra il libro e la copertina. La veste editoriale di un libro può, infatti, divenire arte, valore aggiunto al suo contenuto. Dai capolavori di Guttuso a quelli di Mirò, l’esposizione mette in risalto il valore del libro come oggetto d’arte. L’arte incontra quindi la letteratura. “Dall’Opera al libro, dal libro all’Opera” è, infatti, il frutto della collaborazione tra Taobuk (Taormina International Book Festival) e Artelibro Festival del Libro d’Arte.

Francis Bacon. 

Classe 1909, omosessuale dalla personalità complessa. Pioniere della cosiddetta Nuova Figurazione inglese esplosa in seno ad una interpretazione più esistenziale del surrealismo, con l’ambizione di indagare artisticamente la vera essenza dell’uomo contemporaneo, dilaniato dalla seconda guerra mondiale ma soprattutto bloccato dal dopoguerra. Il suo mondo artistico è animato da soggetti esasperati, quasi a volerne indicare un progressivo processo di crollo spirituale.  Un diario delirante e visionario, quello dei racconti per immagini di Francis Bacon, che dipingeva sempre sulla base di esperienze personali e intime. C’è il debutto degli anni Trenta che già rivelava un interesse per l’ambiguità della trama figurativa, che si perpetua nei lavori degli anni Quaranta, la sua ufficializzazione di artista, al fianco di Henry Moore e Graham Sutherland. Nelle sue opere degli anni Cinquanta Bacon che si accanisce sulla figura, con forza ed originalità punta ad esaltare il volto umano. Lo dimostrano i suoi Studi, le serie delle Teste, gli Uomini in blu, incorporei e spettrali, dai volti argentei e sfocati, fino alle rivisitazioni del Ritratto di papa Innocenzo X da un’opera di Velázquez. Opere che fanno ormai di Bacon il maestro indiscusso della “defigurazione”. Negli anni ’60 i suoi personaggi prendono luce e spazio, come i ritratti di cari amici o dell’amato George Dyer. Fino all’apoteosi dell’interiorità umana coi Trittici degli anni ’70.

 

 

    How Monaco and France Inspired Francis Bacon

 

      FARAH NAYERI | INTERNATIONAL ARTS | THE NEW YORK TIMES | AUG. 17, 2016

 

      

                 Some of the Francis Bacon paintings on view through Sept. 4 at the Grimaldi Forum in Monte Carlo.

 

MONTE CARLO — The glamorous Mediterranean principality of Monaco is not usually viewed as a cradle of pioneering modern art. Yet in the 1940s, the painter Francis Bacon spent three productive years there, developing his best-known pictorial theme: the “screaming” popes, inspired by a Velázquez portrait.

Those years are the focus of  Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture which runs through Sept. 4 at the Grimaldi Forum in Monte Carlo and then opens on Sept. 30 (in an expanded version that also highlights Bacon’s Spanish influences) at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain, illustrating the influence of Monaco on Bacon’s career and his lifelong relationship with France.

There are 66 Bacon oil paintings on show, along with a dozen works by Picasso, Soutine and other artists who worked in France and inspired him. Bacon was born in Dublin but spent most of his life in Britain, travelling frequently to Paris, where he kept a studio apartment. The exhibition is curated by Martin Harrison, a Briton who edited the first catalogue raisonné of Bacon’s work, published in June.

Bacon, who visited Monaco as early as 1940, moved there in July 1946 with the proceeds of a painting sale.

One of Monaco’s undisputed attractions for the painter was gambling.

“I became very obsessed by the casino, and I spent whole days there,” the artist recalls in a filmed interview that is part of the exhibition. “I used to think that I heard the croupiers calling out the number at roulette, the winning number, before the ball had fallen into the socket.”

On one particular afternoon, Bacon “heard these echoes” as he was playing “rather small stakes” at three different tables. Soon, he had won himself the equivalent of 1,600 pounds — “a lot of money for me then” — which he immediately spent on renting a villa, stocking it with food and drink, and entertaining nonstop. Ten days later, Bacon said, he could barely afford the fare back to London.

Monaco was more than just about fun and games. It was here that Bacon started developing his pope paintings, a few months after his arrival, by copying the Velázquez masterpiece Portrait of Innocent X (circa 1650).

“I don’t know how the copy of the Velázquez will turn out,” he wrote to his friend Graham Sutherland in December 1946. “I have practically finished one I think, and am going to start on a portrait I want to do, but it is thrilling to paint from a picture which really excites you.”

Bacon ended up destroying most of those early depictions of popes. One survivor, Head VI (1949) — a howling, caged figure in a purple shoulder cape — is in the exhibition. Next to it are his later paintings of popes and authority figures. Another source of inspiration for the series, in addition to the Velázquez portrait (represented in the show by a 19th-century copy), is a clip of the screaming nurse from the 1925 Sergei Eisenstein movie Battleship Potemkin.

Art historians interpret the popes as depictions of dictatorial figures, but also as evocations of Bacon’s father, a retired army major with whom the artist had a difficult relationship.

Although he lived for three years in Monaco, Bacon — a studio painter — scarcely ever depicted the Mediterranean coastline. It appears as a thin, ribbonlike blue strip that runs across two unrelated paintings in the show: Fragment of a Crucifixion (1950) and Dog (1952).

The exhibition illustrates the deep attachment that Bacon had to France, a country he first visited in his late teenage years and to which he often returned.

A robust Rodin sculpture of a woman stands beside equally corpulent and muscular Bacon male nudes. Picasso’s swirling and circular Femme couchée à la mèche blonde (1932) hangs next to Bacon’s similarly shaped Lying Figure in a Mirror (1971).

Bacon’s relationship with France reached its apotheosis in 1971, when he became the only living artist aside from Picasso to have a retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris. Photographs show him smiling at the exhibition preview and at a celebratory dinner, surrounded by dignitaries and intellectuals.

Yet his public glory was coupled with personal tragedy: Two days before the preview, Bacon’s lover, George Dyer, who was in Paris with him, committed suicide. A posthumous depiction of Dyer (Portrait of a Man Walking Down Steps, 1972) is among the show’s most poignant displays.

Dyer reappears in the exhibition’s closing section — a partial recreation of Bacon’s studio at his death in 1992 — via a note that he wrote to Bacon in Paris, and a black-and-white photograph. Archival material consists of color photographs of the crowded atelier, and facsimiles of the paraphernalia that he left behind. These include a magazine cover picturing the Formula One driver Ayrton Senna, medical images of diseased feet and toenails (a major source of inspiration for Bacon), and a painting of a crucifixion by the 13th-century Italian artist Cimabue.

One standout document (an original) is a letter from Bacon to the Fiat chairman Gianni Agnelli, who had refused to lend Bacon’s three heads of Henrietta Moraes (an artists’ model) for the Grand Palais show.

“As it is probably the last retrospective exhibition I shall have,” Bacon writes in large, slanting cursive, “I would be very very grateful if you would change your mind and lend it, as I believe them to be one of the best sets of 3 heads I have done.”

Agnelli eventually agreed.

 

 

West Cork photographer reflects on friendship with late painter Francis Bacon

 

West Cork-based photographer John Minihan was in Monaco recently to see an exhibition of paintings by his late, great friend

 

Irish Examiner, Wednesday, 10th August, 2016

 

                   The late artist Francis Bacon with photographer John Minihan

 

AN EXHIBITION of Francis Bacon’s paintings anywhere in the world is always a major artistic event. In Paris he has approached the status which was once accorded to Picasso. Hardly a month passes without reading about the artist whose paintings sell for record millions.

He’s also appreciated further south. I was invited recently to view the summer exhibition at Monte Carlo’s Grimaldi Forum, entitled Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture.

The installation with sensitive lighting guides the viewer from one room to another, each room more exhilarating than the other with Screaming Pope, Triptych’s, Heads by Bacon inevitably present, a portrait gallery of his friends, since the heads are always of people he knew, like Michel Leiris 1976; who was a close friend of the artist for many years.

For me it was a visual and emotional tour de-force — seeing the work that was so familiar to me for over 50 years and seeing others that have never been exhibited and were found by Martin Harrison who curated the Monaco exhibition and whose definitive five-volume catalogue raisonne (by the Estate of Francis Bacon, costing £1,000) was published in June, the most scholarly work on Francis Bacon now in print.

The extraordinary intense emotional charge in his works is still shocking and enthralling an ever- growing public, books about Bacon are constantly published with titles, Bacon and Picasso, Bacon and Henry Moore, Bacon and Rodin, Bacon and Nazi propaganda.

FIRST ENCOUNTERS

During the 1950s, Bacon lived in the south of France, and loved visiting his favourite city Paris, where he regularly visited the Musées Rodin. I first met and photographed the artist in 1971 outside the Marlborough Street Magistrates Court in London where he had just been found not guilty of possessing cannabis following a police raid.

He moved effortlessly from the high life to the world of the Colony Club in Dean Street, Soho. Hosted and founded by his friend Muriel Belcher, who created a refuge for Bacon along with petty criminals, actors, poets and those who were Beats of a certain generation. Sadly the Colony Club is no longer with us, those who knew Francis are diminishing in number, Soho is now very much a mixture of cafés and overpriced restaurants.

 

    Attendees at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco look at paintings by Francis Bacon.

 

Like many others I was captivated by the Colony Club and spent much of my time there in the early 70’s and 80’s.

Those who frequented it went there in the hope that Francis Bacon would be there in his affable and abusive manner, “Champagne for your real friends and real pain for your sham friends” was his favourite toast.

As obstreperous and obnoxious as he could be to people at the Colony, he was always kind to me inviting me to his show in Paris in 1977 at the Claude Bernard Gallery. I have fond memories of Francis sitting alone a few years before he died, having lunch and liquid refreshment at the most exquisite Bibendum Restaurant in what was the Michelin Building on the Fulham Road, a 10 minute walk from the Bacon Studio at 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington.

TATE RETROSPECTIVE

I remember calling him on the day of his retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1985 and asking what time he would arrive, as I wanted to photograph him outside on the steps of what was then the original Tate Gallery, now renamed Tate Britain.

As always, his manner over the phone was welcoming and he said I should be there about 2pm as he would be arriving with his friend’s Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller for what was then his second retrospective at the Tate.

The press pack were already in the gallery waiting for Bacon who gave me the exclusive outside this illustrious building.

His subjects were always a handful of friends and himself painted from photographs.

He would often visit the Victoria and Albert Museum, near his studio Mews home, and look at the Eadweard Muybridge photographs in the collection, very often stopping at the Auto-photo booth in South Kensington tube station to pose for a sequence of head shots, that he would paint from.

Bacon created his own legend well before he became a Sunday supplement name.

Born in Dublin in 1909, moving between England and Ireland in his childhood, receiving little formal education — his time in Ireland was marked by the violence in the early years of the Troubles.

“I was aware of danger at a young age,” Bacon would say. It was a world from which Francis Bacon had to escape in order to invent himself.

Bacon at the Grimaldi Forum in Monte Carlo until September 4, 2016.

 

 

From Picasso and Matisse to Bacon and Freud, Artists' Rivals Are Also Their Greatest Assets

 

BY ABIGAIL CAIN | ARTSY EDITORIAL | ARTSY | AUGUST 8TH, 2016

 

     

                                                                                        Harry Diamond, Francis Bacon; Lucian Freud, 1974.

 

As he trailed Lucian Freud up the stairs of the artist’s Holland Park home, something caught art critic Sebastian Smee’s eye. There, hanging beside the studio door, was a “wanted” poster printed with an image of Freud’s Portrait of Francis Bacon (1952). The flyers had been part of an unsuccessful campaign to recover the work, which was stolen in 1988 from a Berlin museum. To this day, the portrait has never been found.

Bacon and Freud had famously befriended each other in London in the 1940s. But by the 1970s their relationship had completely unraveled. (The photograph, above, from the National Portrait Gallery’s collection captures their friendship near its end.) Even a decade after Bacon’s death in 1992, it was considered taboo to broach the subject with Freud during interviews. So why, Smee wondered, did the portrait of Bacon still hang next to his studio door?

“I knew that he wanted that painting back very much because of its quality,” Smee recently told Artsy. “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. And in that sense it felt poignant.”

For Smee, the lingering questions posed by the “wanted” poster served as the jumping off point for his latest book, The Art of Rivalry. Out August 16th, it traces the complicated relationships between four pairs of modern masters—Freud and Bacon, Picasso and Matisse, Manet and Degas, and Pollock and de Kooning. Although the term “rivalry” may conjure up visions of bitter adversaries pitted against each other, Smee believes that model is outdated. “The famous rivalries you hear about, whether it’s between Delaccroix and Ingres in the 19th century, or the famous Renaissance rivalries, they’re all about competing with your enemy—a kind of macho idea,” he said. “I detected something really different in these relationships between artists coming into the modern era.”

Instead of out-and-out competition, Smee spends much of the book exposing the layers of uneasy friendship and intimacy that existed between the pairs—subtle moments that are often overlooked in the art historical narrative. “I just related to it; I think perhaps we all can, if there are people in our lives who we are seduced by and impressed by,” Smee said. “We're drawn to them—and if they're an artist, their way of looking at things—and that's a very intoxicating feeling. But at the same time, we are made conscious of things that may be lacking in ourselves, and again, if we’re artists, in our own artistic approach.”

Freud’s relationship with the older Bacon came early in his artistic career. Although he always painted portraits, initially these were crafted in a childlike, innocent manner. The smooth surfaces and wide eyes of Freud’s early subjects were miles away from the eventual fleshy, paint-heavy portraits that would go on to define his oeuvre. It was Bacon’s risk-taking, his loose, smeared paint and fascination with the space surrounding his sitters, that inspired the younger artist. Freud later said, “I think that Francis’s way of painting freely helped me feel more daring.” Bacon’s influence led the painter—considered by critics to be an excellent draftsman—to give up drawing completely for several years, resulting in a rapid shift in style that alienated many of his supporters. In fact, art historian Kenneth Clark, one of the artist’s early admirers, never spoke to Freud again.

 

        

                                                     Henri Cartier-Bresson, Francis Bacon, London, 1971

 

Public rejection and disapproval often helped forge these artistic relationships. It wasn’t until the modern era that originality emerged as a factor in the way art was judged, a shift “that creates all sorts of problems,” Smee noted. “Once you value originality over so many other things, you lose hold of the criteria that used to exist to help us judge the quality of art. It affects the artists themselves in profound ways, because they’re suddenly unable to know for sure whether what they’ve just done is any good.”

Matisse’s experiments with Fauvism in the early years of the 20th century are one such example. These works, so far from accepted artistic practice at the time, provoked panic attacks, insomnia, and fierce anxiety as the painter considered public reaction. “In that context, other artists become incredibly important—people whose judgment you can trust, people who you can admire for their own originality and their own artistic virtues, whatever they may be,” Smee explained.

Matisse and Picasso served as each other’s sounding boards for years, with each pushing the other to new experiments and broader horizons. At first, it was Matisse who took the risks—painting with increasingly brighter colors in flatter and more saturated compositions. Picasso’s work, while original and capable, did not yet push boundaries in the same way as his fellow painter. But as the two of them spent hours together, often in the home of Leo and Gertrude Stein, Picasso started to chafe at living in the established artist’s shadow.

“I think Matisse deeply destabilized Picasso in a way that ended up being unbelievably fruitful for his whole artistic career,” Smee explained. “It’s a dynamic of being drawn to him and the things he was experimenting with and his influences, and yet at the same time pushing against him and trying to find his own identity and his own voice.” Inspired in part by the African masks that fascinated Matisse, Picasso commenced work on his eventual masterpiece, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907). And while Matisse initially thought of Picasso as a protégé, the older artist eventually realized that the relationship might be more fluid than he first imagined—even taking cues from Picasso’s competing artistic school of Cubism.

ometimes the rivalries between the artists had an obvious visual representation. Such was the case with Manet and Degas, whose relationship came to head when Degas painted a portrait of his fellow artist and his wife, Suzanne. Inexplicably, Manet—who was known by all as an easygoing and affable man—slashed the painting in half, slicing through his wife’s face and body. Degas later began to repair the painting with a strip of canvas but never got around to repainting the missing portion. De Kooning and Pollock’s rivalry had an even more visceral personal connection. In a move that shocked the close-knit New York art world, de Kooning began an affair with Ruth Kligman, Pollock’s lover, soon after Pollock died in a car crash.

What is perhaps most intriguing, however, about Smee’s four pairings is the undercurrent of uncertainty that runs throughout. In a world where a Picasso sells for $179 million and a Pollock for $140 million, it can be easy to forget that these artists once felt insecure, even threatened, as they set out to create works that would redefine artmaking in the coming decades. “You really do feel their vulnerability in these early years,” Smee said. “And that’s something that when they’ve become haloed in this aura of greatness, you think, ‘Oh, it must have been always like that. They must have always known that they were great.’ And I just don't believe that at all.”

 

 

 

New Francis Bacon Exhibition Announced By Guggenheim Bilbao

 

Francis Bacon Exhibition, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

 

ArtLyst  | Art News | 8 August 2016

 

         

                           Portrait of Michel Leiris, 1976, Francis Bacon

 

A new exhibition of the work of Francis Bacon titled Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez has been announced by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. The show presents a selection of nearly 80 of the Anglo-Irish artist's most compelling paintings, including some of his most important and yet least exhibited paintings. These are displayed alongside the works of the classic masters from French and Spanish culture who played an influential role in his career, including El Greco, Diego Velázquez, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti.

The exhibition will span six decades of Bacon's career over eight rooms, including his portraits, nudes, crucifixions, landscapes and bullfighting series, offering a new perspective on the artist's oeuvre by highlighting the impact that French and Spanish cultures exerted on his art. Visitors will be able to see one of his earliest works Composition (Figure) (1933) alongside Picasso's series of bathers, the monumental triptych Three Studies of Figures on Beds (1972) with John Philip's La Bomba (1863) and the Portrait of a Dwarf (1975) with Velázquez's The Buffoon el Primo (1664).

The human figure is at the core of most of his compositions, which reflect a stark existentialist view of the individual. Bacon painted extraordinarily expressive portraits with a large dose of authenticity, which means being alive in all senses and with all its consequences. He sought to capture the mystery of life and reduce reality to its essence, synthesizing it in the guise of paint. 

Bacon created a new universe of images conceived via literature, film, art, and his own life using a totally unique language, reflecting human vulnerability with utter rawness. The exhibition will show how Bacon broke down many barriers that were deeply entrenched at the time, placing human beings in front of a mirror in which we could see ourselves in a raw, violent way. It will become apparent how Bacon was an avid consumer of French and Spanish culture, developing obsessions with the literary and visual works of the countries' masters from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, appropriating and twisting their visual language in order to create his own unique style.

The exhibition is organised by Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in collaboration with Grimaldi Forum Monaco, curated by Martin Harrison.

Francis Bacon from PICASSO TO VELÁZQUEZ 9·30·2016/1·8·20 2017 Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

 

 

       Review

       'London Calling' at the Getty and the tension between abstract and figurative painting

 

           By Christopher Knight | Times Art Critic | Los Angeles Times | 29 July 2016

 

 

             

                The center panel of Bacon's triptych derives from Eadweard Muybridge's 19th-century photographic studies of wrestlers

 

 Is the School of London real?

A new exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum features six prominent painters working in London in the decades following World War II, and it assumes as much — although without making a vigorous case for their coherence as an artistic school one way or the other. “London Calling: Bacon, Freud, Kossoff, Andrews, Auerbach, and Kitaj” is a pretty loose-limbed show. It hinges on what the artists didn’t do rather than what they did.

What they didn’t do is make abstract paintings.

Postwar art saw abstraction definitively push figurative painting to the margins, where it mostly languished for a generation. Pushback came from several quarters in the 1950s and into the early 1960s. It rumbled through Willem de Kooning’s “Woman” paintings, as well as the black paintings of Jackson Pollock. Most notably as a group, it fueled the great Bay Area figurative paintings of David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff and Joan Brown.

It came from London too. Elena Crippa — the Tate Britain curator who co-organized the show with Getty director Timothy Potts and drawings curator Julian Brooks — notes “the central role granted to the human figure” in the British painters’ work.

All but 12 of the show’s 51 paintings come from the Tate, which has considerable depth in these artists’ work. Each gets his own room in “London Calling.” Two-thirds of the way through, a seventh room mixes 27 small studies and works on paper by all six. The artists were friends, colleagues and carousing pals, and eventually they all showed their work with the same London gallery (Marlborough Fine Art)

Yet the artistic differences among them is most often dramatic. It’s a very long way from the strangled heads and twisted torsos of Francis Bacon to the lurching London streets of Leon Kossoff or the gooey painted flesh of a  Lucian Freud nude.

The show’s title, “London Calling,” is somewhat incongruously drawn from the postpunk 1979 album of that name by the band the Clash.  It’s incongruous because the painters were at least a generation older than the twentysomething British bandmates. But the “clash” slyly being intimated by the show is between these painters as committed figurative artists in an era dominated by abstraction.

I think that misses the mark.

That sort of clash is more fittingly applied to an art movement like the one known in Britain as Stuckism, which elevates often untutored figurative expression above the dominance of academic Conceptual art. Stuckism is reactionary. The highly refined paintings at the Getty are anything but.

Rather than oppose dominant abstraction, these artists probe the tension between the figurative and the abstract. The friction yields the paintings’ energy. Techniques of radical abstraction are used as a powerful tool in constructing a compelling image.

The show’s first great painting to navigate those shoals is Frank Auerbach’s riveting “Oxford Street Building Site I” (1959-60), which piles on thick slathers of oil paint. London was being rebuilt after the urban ruin of wartime blitzkriegs, and Auerbach positioned his painting to be as much of a physical, material construction site as the scene it depicts.

The palette is a wide array of browns — raw umber, chestnut, russet, burnt sienna and more. Red, green, black, white and other submerged colors enter the mix, but the dominant browns that Auerbach troweled on attach the gravity associated with Old Master painting to his own work. Engorged layers of firm, deliberate strokes of clotted paint are themselves objectified, even as they describe objects like machinery, a fence or a steel I-beam.

As surely as Britain was rebuilding London, Auerbach was engaged in rebuilding British painting, which had mostly languished in the Modern era. And he used abstraction as one forceful implement in his toolbox. The conjoined construction of image and canvas manufactures a painting as edifice.

The show opens with six paintings by Michael Andrews (1928-1995), the least-known, least captivating of the group. His work ranges from precisionist realism, which recalls the measured tedium in paintings by his teacher, Sir William Coldstream, to optically distorted realism, which also follows Coldstream’s dull commitment to painting only what the eye sees.

Andrews’ best work is an eccentric view of himself teaching his young daughter to swim. The child’s kicking, flailing feet dissolve into flecked splashes of light, while refraction through the dark water turns the adult’s foot into an oversize, stable anchor. A familial narrative merges with a salute to conformist tradition.

Next comes Auerbach, whose inventive fusion of abstraction and figuration packs a sudden wallop. (On first view, several landscapes could be mistaken for being completely abstract.)

Kossoff, whose thickly gestural canvases are stylistically most like Auerbach’s, chronicles the grinding anxieties of modern city life. And American expatriate R.B. Kitaj (1932-2007), who first proposed (and then withdrew) the School of London moniker, painted literary themes in overlapping, abruptly clipped planes that recall torn collages.

The two most well-known artists, Freud (1922-2011) and Bacon (1909-1992), occupy the final two rooms. Mostly they share artistic celebrity.

Freud (psychoanalyst Sigmund’s grandson) is among the most overrated painters of our time. Nine of the 14 canvases are in the repetitive post-1970 style that linked him to international developments in Neo-Expressionism. Impasto paint becomes sensuous skin in nudes whose eccentric poses are sometimes claimed to expose underlying states of psychological strain in the confrontational dialog between artist and model.

Yet it is the confrontational dialog between painting and viewer in his earlier work that is infinitely more captivating. The thinly painted, finely wrought 1947 picture of a staring young woman who wraps her white-knuckled hand around a kitten’s neck is as weirdly mesmerizing as anything in German New Objectivity painting from before the war. Made in its immediate aftermath, the woman’s gesture is somewhere between caressing and strangling innocence and autonomy. A chill goes up your spine.

Bacon’s seven paintings are capped by a big triptych of disquieting figures trapped within flat, blank, geometric voids and caged in a wide, golden frame — a Bacon signature. Art, like life, is its own prison, yet also a place for transgression.

A seated self-portrait on the right is loosely mirrored in a seated portrait at the left showing his lover, George Dyer, who had committed suicide barely 10 months before. In the triptych’s center, the spot where a traditional religious painting would put the Virgin Mary or a crucified Christ, a blob of two entwined figures grapples in a macabre dance of sex and death. Before 1969, homosexual coupling was criminal under British law.

The slick, carefully contrived elegance of Bacon’s paint handling is regularly interrupted by oozing discharges of color. There is no narrative here, only direct visual sensation connected to visceral experience.

“London Calling” is unusual — even unprecedented — for the Getty. It’s the museum’s first-ever historical survey in the field of 20th century painting. The Getty’s own European painting collection ends circa 1900, and the conceit is that contemporary British figurative painting is being connected to a collection of pre-Modern European painting. That’s pretty wobbly.

I’m not so sure we really need yet another art museum to present overviews of contemporary art, especially one with the Getty’s distinctive capacity to explore just about anything else. But if it is to be, perhaps connections of more depth can be drawn.

Bacon’s paintings, for instance, were profoundly influenced by camera images — photojournalism, film stills from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, medical albums, Eadweard Muybridge’s animal locomotion studies (the center panel in the show’s triptych comes from the British-born California photographer’s studies of wrestlers) and more. The Getty, given its unparalleled photography collections, is uniquely positioned to examine such an angle.

‘London Calling: Bacon, Freud, Kossoff, Andrews, Auerback and Kitaj’

Where: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Brentwood.

When: Tuesdays through Sundays, through Nov. 13. Closed Mondays.

Admission: Free. (Parking $10-$15.)

 

 

Essex artists' hell-raising adventures in Wivenohe with Francis Bacon feature in new publication The Visitors' Book

 

Andrew Hirst | Ipswich Star | 28 July 2016

 

                 

                                                                       Francis Bacon and Richard Chopping in a cafe

 

Their hell-raising antics in a small riverside town in north-east Essex became the stuff of local legend.

With week-long parties of hedonistic excess, Denis Wirth-Miller and Richard “Dickie” Chopping carved out a bohemian enclave in sleepy Wivenhoe.

Among their guests were famous artists including Francis Bacon, Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde, who would enjoy wild nights of debauchery away from their regular Fitzrovia haunts.

Esteemed artists in their own right – Wirth-Miller for his landscape paintings and Chopping as an illustrator for Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels – they both fell away from the limelight towards the end of their lives. Now, however, the full extent of their story and the roles they played in Britain’s turbulent post-war art scene is being revealed in never-before-seen detail.

 

                  

                                                                          Denis Wirth-Miller and Richard Chopping

 

Jon Lys Turner, a close personal friend of the couple, was bequeathed their extensive personal archive; a collection of letters, notes and unseen material, which he has used to write The Visitors’ Book.

Described by the Tate gallery as “one of the most important finds in decades”, the archive offers a unique insight into the couple’s lives together and the intriguing social scene around them.

Turner, himself a successful creative designer, was at first unsure what to do with his inheritance.

But after arousing the interest of arts experts, who were captivated by its contents, he started the painstaking four-year process of cataloguing the vast array of material.

The collection covers decades of their life together, from when they first met at a Noel Coward show in 1937, through to Bacon’s death in 1992.

Some of their earliest days together came when Wirth-Miller was studying at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in Hadleigh, alongside Lucian Freud.

 

                  

                                                                                        Some of the archive materials

 

Turner said the art school was popular for young men from London during the war.

“It was almost like Fitzrovia in the country,” he said.

“They could get way from London and come and have a lovely time getting roaring drunk at this huge house.”

The couple’s Wivenhoe home, which they renovated from an old storehouse in 1945, is where much of the book revolves.

“It was the bedrock to everything that went on,” explained Turner.

Here they would play host to their artistic contemporaries, a group of mostly gay young men, who pushed social boundaries for their art.

Turner described their nights in Wivenhoe as “unpredictable, lively and potentially dangerous”.

“There are some pretty hair-raising stories in this book,” he added.

“They made the next generation look like amateurs when it came to drinking, debauchery and promiscuity.”

While Turner said many of the town’s pubs would ban the men for their drunken behaviour, he claims the letters show how they were accepted and welcomed in the community, despite their unconventional lifestyles.

Michael Parkin, one of the artists who visited the couple in Wivenhoe, said it retained a similar atmosphere to the community portrayed in Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas.

Turner added: “They lived against the law as a same-sex couple but they were accepted, loved and embraced by the people.”

The book also shows how destructive some of their relationships could be, particularly the friendship between Wirth-Miller and Bacon.

Bacon, who defined friendship as “two people pulling each other to pieces”, would argue fiercely with Wirth-Miller, and was a harsh critic of his work.

Turner describes how Bacon turned up “blind drunk” to one of his friend’s exhibitions at the Wivenhoe Art Club and started slating the paintings on display.

“The opening was closed down, people were ushered out and Denis went to pieces,” he added.

“He totally destroyed the whole show and did not paint for years

“Bacon had knocked him down, not just publicly, but in Wivenhoe, where he felt most at home.”

Having humiliated his friend, further details emerged of Bacon’s attempts to help Wirth-Miller, painting together on the same canvas.

“I found that to be a real revelation,” Turner said.

 

              

                                                                                                   The Visrtors' Book

 

Turner first met the couple at the Royal College of Art in 1981, where he was studying for his masters degree.

While he has been shocked by some of their behaviour he said he would always remember them kindly.

“For me, they completely changed my life,” he added.

“I would not have attended the Royal College unless I had won a scholarship and so, the fact they believed in me and helped me along was amazing.

“I loved them dearly, as though they were uncles or part of my family.

“But I also found from doing this, some of the reviews of their work have been rather disparaging, calling them lesser artists.

“I don’t believe that their work was not important.

“They were the glue that held this early co-operative of artists together.

“I hope that by doing this I can bring their work to a wider audience.”

The Visitors’ Book, was published by Constable last month.

Some of the book’s intriguing details

Francis Bacon would only have his hair cut in Colchester. Letters from the artist while in France contain reference to his need to return to see the couple so that he could have his hair cut.

Denis Wirth-Miller was a friend of Prince Yusupov, the Russian who took part in the assassination of Rasputin. When Chopping met Wirth Miller for the second time, he was in Cafe Royale in London with the Russian.

The painting Man in the Black Cravat, now proven to have been almost certainly painted by Lucian Freud, is thought to have a portrait of John Jameson, of the Irish whisky family. Jameson was a contemporary of Freud and Wirth-Miller at the East Anglian School of Painting in Hadleigh, where he was rumoured to have pursued an interest in witchcraft.

 

 

Monaco pays homage to Francis Bacon, artist and gambler extraordinaire

Jane Cornwell  | The Australian Financial Review | 28 July 2016


 

             

              Francis Bacon in 1984.The artist loved the sunny shadiness of Monaco, returning often for extensive stays


 

Francis Bacon loved to gamble. More than anything else – apart from making art, of course – he loved to gamble at the casino in Monte Carlo, the most famous in the world. "You could go in at 10 in the morning and not come out 'til about four the following morning," declared the Irish-born roué, who apparently did this a lot when living in Monaco, that tiny, showy principality on an ancestral rock in the French Riviera.

Francophile and bon vivant, painter of screaming popes and robust gay sex scenes, Bacon was already a hugely famous artist when he died in Madrid in 1992 aged 82, a week before he was due to lunch in Monte Carlo with a friend. But few could have predicted the levels to which his posthumous fame would skyrocket: in November 2013, a painting by Bacon of his friend Lucien Freud became the world's most expensive artwork sold at auction, fetching a staggering $US142.4 million ($190.6 million).

The Tate Gallery in Liverpool is presenting the largest exhibition of Bacon's work staged in the north of England, and the Getty Centre in Los Angeles, drawing from the Tate in London, is featuring Bacon among six postwar British artists who revolutionised and reinvigorated figurative painting. (Australians got up close to the artist's controversial oeuvre in 2013 when the Art Gallery of New South Wales hosted a five-decade retrospective.)

Here in Monte Carlo, down on the seafront, the great glass-domed Grimaldi Forum is hosting Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture, a major new exhibition that celebrates the years in the late 1940s and early '50s when Bacon lived in Monaco and southern France; a period, argue Monégasques, that gave Bacon his oomph, his guts. That made him.
 
"Bacon was always returning to Monaco for extensive stays with friends, family and lovers," says Cecilia Auber, our guide at the Francis Bacon Art Foundation, a not-for-profit institute on the ground floor of a small villa in the hilly streets behind the central, long-established Hotel Metropole, rebuilt in 1989 a la belle époque (the "beautiful age" before the First World War) and glimmering at the end of a drive dotted with white statues, as if magicked out of history.  

Bacon first pitched in Monaco in 1946, staying at the compact Hotel dé Ré before moving from villa to villa – bijou residences not dissimilar to that occupied by the foundation, which was inaugurated by Prince Albert II in 2014 on 28 October, Bacon's birthday.

"It was in Monaco that Francis Bacon started painting the human form," says the chic, straight-backed Auber, stewarding us past the likes of 1929's Watercolour, Bacon's earliest surviving painting. "It is also where he began painting on the raw, unprimed side of the canvas."

Order from chance

Just why he did so is fabulously prosaic: having lost all his money at the casino and unable to afford new canvases, he simply turned his used paintings over – and liked the effect. A risk-taker who thrived on extremes (and an asthmatic who appreciated the warm Mediterranean weather), Bacon approached gambling as he did painting: "I want a very ordered image," he told the art critic David Sylvester in 1966, "but I want it to come about by chance."

Lady Luck, the goddess of fortune, seems to be everywhere in Monaco, a constitutional monarchy and tax-free haven that is home to more millionaires and billionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world; and whose palace is located in downtown Monte Carlo – along with the medieval old town, the creamily extravagant Hotel de Paris and Casino Square, a riot of fountains, gold bling and revving Ferraris.

There she is at the tres exclusive Yacht Club de Monaco, with its landmark clubhouse designed by Sir Norman Foster and marina of sleek super-yachts flying the distinctive red-and-white burgee. There, at Thermes Marins, an opulent spa linked by subterranean corridors to the Hotel Hermitage and the aforementioned Hotel de Paris – home to Alain Ducasse's three-Michelin-starred restaurant Louis XV, done up in chandeliers, cherubs and gold leaf and boasting a superlative tasting menu delivered with Swiss timing and almost balletic grace.

There she is too, at the Wine Palace, a new venue built on the prow of the Yacht Club and kitted out in oak, bronze and dark red leather, with 2300 wines and spirits in its temperature-controlled cellar, complimentary delivery to yachts both berthed and at sea and good-looking staff with serious vinous knowledge.

 


          

           Foundation interior with a portrait of Francis Bacon in his studio, London 1977, by Carlos Freire. Foundation
 

Asked to name their most expensive tipple, our sommelier Joshua doesn't hesitate. "Last month we sold a double magnum of 1986 Pétrus for €20,000 [$29,500]," he says, though he won't say to whom. With just 36,000 permanent residents including Ringo Starr, Shirley Bassey and Novak Djokovic, and regular A-list visitors such as Rihanna and Leonardo DiCaprio, Monaco (and Lady Luck) insists upon, and receives, discretion.

Bacon, who loved a drink, once mistook a bottle of Pétrus for cooking wine and made a stew that was talked about for weeks says Auber, indicating a black-and-white photograph of the artist, dishevelled after a long lunch in Soho, his other spiritual stomping ground.

The foundation's collection includes more than 2300 items ranging from photos provided by Sydney-based artist Eddie Batache, a long-time friend, and triptychs featuring Bacon's ill-fated lover George Dyer, to a Paris bathroom door signed by French surrealists including André Masson and Pierre Soulages and completely covered with drawings of penises.

"It is," says Auber sagely, "a homage to the phallus."

But despite the eye-popping door and the emotionally charged paintings (some of which feature in the Grimaldi Forum show) the overall vibe of the foundation is understated and elegant. Curtains, tassels and low-hanging bulbs are drawn from Bacon iconography; interior walls are shades of grey, in keeping with his late-1940s palette.

What Bacon, who lived simply and messily, throwing out much of his work, would have made of this neat, intense homage is anyone's guess.

"Great art always returns you to the vulnerability of the human situation," declares a wall decal – as indeed, Bacon might have added, does great gambling.

From OK to KO-ed

For just as Lady Luck swans metaphorically about the Grand Casino, a rococo vision with onion-shaped domes inaugurated in 1863 by Prince Charles III (who was in need of a money-spinner), so too does her nemesis. A tour of the building's interior – marble pillars, gilded mirrors, 10-tonne chandeliers – is accompanied by tales of those, now deceased, who played big and lost. The likes of Fyodor Dostoyevsky went in OK and came out KO-ed.

Today, in the main gambling room, private gambling room and super-private gambling room – a veritable Russian doll of moneyed privilege – the high rolling continues.

"Monaco is a sunny place for shady people," said writer Somerset Maugham, who was among the 700 people at the 1956 wedding of American film star Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier (the now-legendary 1981 family portrait by Ralph Cowan, kitsch yet – with Kelly standing apart and aloof – eerily prescient, can be viewed as part of the palace tour).

The sun and the shadiness were relished by Bacon, who loved nothing more than to take the Train Bleu, the sleeper from Paris, which pulled in right beside the casino – and offered, en route, strangers to meet.

These days, visitors to the casino tend to fly in via helicopter from Nice, or hop off a cruise ship or super yacht moored in the marina at Port Hercules, the natural deep-water bay at the foot of the landmark Rock of Monaco. Sensibly, perhaps, Monégasques are forbidden from gambling in the casino, sparing them from the addiction that gripped Bacon who early on and desperate for cash, had hoped to sell his work there.

 "I always feel with a little clever manipulation the casino would buy our pictures," he wrote to friends in 1946.

It didn't, and instead the rooms are lavishly decorated with sculptures and paintings of sensuous, Lady Luck-like women, overseeing winners and losers all day and all night long.
 

 

 

   Postcard from Dublin

 

      The InterContinental hotel is offering wealthy art fans a unique private view a champagne reception for two in Francis Bacon's studio

 

       Nigel Tisdall | The Financial Times | 26 July 2016

 

        

            Bacon in the dining car of the Orient Express with his lover and model George Dyer

 

Photographs of Francis Bacon often show the artist sitting amid the chaos of his London studio like a bomb survivor surrounded by debris. For 31 years, until his death in 1992, one of the greatest figurative painters of the late 20th century worked in a dingy rented mews space, just six metres by four, that was reached by a steep wooden staircase with a rope handrail. “I cannot work in places that are too tidy,” he declared, with notable understatement.

In 1998, this crucible of creativity was donated to the Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane where, three years later, it was put on show in a purpose-built space — an astonishing feat of relocation that cost over €2m. Even the dust was carefully bagged up and then resprinkled.

Along with the studio, the Hugh Lane acquired an archive of over 7,000 items — including 1,500 photographs, 100 slashed canvases and 70 drawings. Academics can make requests to see these, and some of them are loaned out to exhibitions, but they can now for the first time be viewed privately, by tourists with deep pockets, through a collaboration with the InterContinental Dublin hotel. Set in leafy, wealthy Ballsbridge, this five-star is keen to align itself with modern Irish art, with over 80 works by leading artists such as Sean Scully, Louis le Brocquy and Brian Maguire currently displayed in its public spaces. Its tie-up with the Hugh Lane is part of a range of “insider experiences” being offered by 16 InterContinental hotels across Europe.

While some are interesting if you happen to be there (goldsmithing in Athens, watchmaking in Geneva), the Dublin hotel’s offer seems most likely to merit a special trip, especially in these days of packed-out blockbuster exhibitions and private views that are not at all private. Its package for two people includes the Hugh Lane being opened in the evening just for you and special access to the Bacon archives for two hours. Once at the gallery, guests are served champagne and hosted by Dr Barbara Dawson, the genial director of the Hugh Lane and the Bacon expert who pulled off the extraordinary coup of getting his studio transferred to Dublin.

What has this box of wonders got to do with Ireland? Bacon may have been a keen traveller but his famous atelier was in South Kensington, his spiritual home in Soho, and he was very much a London-lover. He was, however, born in Dublin in 1909 and lived in Ireland, on and off, until the age of 16, when his father kicked him out after discovering him trying on his mother’s underwear. He headed for London, Berlin and then Paris, where Bacon discovered Picasso. The rest is art history.

A great deal of the archive’s treasures came from the sea of apparent rubbish found on the studio floor, and Dawson has selected 21 items to show me (visitors can nominate particular subjects in advance). Two technicians in disposable gloves and steel-toe-capped trainers lay the exhibits out as if they are holy relics, turning pages with spatulas and keeping a watchful eye. “This is not a shrine,” Dawson insists, “it’s an investigation into the painting process.” Some of what we view is little more than ephemera — a business card from the Lowell Hotel in New York, a cheque to Wheeler’s restaurant in London. You can smell the turps on a 1988 Observer Magazine devoted to Irish personalities. Other items have more force, such as a fragmented photo of Lucian Freud sitting on a bed, which clearly influenced the 1969 triptych “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” (a work that sold for $142m in 2013). “This was all found in the chaos,” Dawson sighs.

As with all the best exhibitions, it is the unexpected discoveries that get under the skin. For me it’s an archive photo of Bacon in the dining car of the Orient Express, taken in 1965 with his lover and model George Dyer. It is a happy, tender, after-lots-of-wine snapshot, in marked contrast to the dark seriousness of his work. As Dawson puts it: “Bacon made paintings of the human psyche — and what does it take to do that?” There’s no simple answer, but it is a privilege to be alone with the studio in which he created so many astounding works, talking about such things. And when you see the many empty Krug boxes spread around his “chaos”, it seems only fitting to be doing so with a chilled glass of champagne in hand.

 

 

 

Francis Bacon e la Francia. Una mostra a Montecarlo

 

Il grande artista irlandese sbarca al Forum Grimaldi monegasco, dove è allestita una imponente mostra dedicata al legame tra Bacon e la terra francese. Oltre sessanta opere che guardano alle origini e alle evoluzioni della sua pittura.

 

Edmondo Bertaina | Artribune | sabato, 23 luglio 2016

 

             

          Francis Bacon. Monaco e la cultura francese - installation view at Grimaldi Forum, Monaco 2016

 

BACON, IL MONEGASCO

È il 2011 quando lo scrittore Jonathan Littell dà alle stampe per l’editore Gallimard il libro Trittico, tre studi da Francis Bacon, che in Italia arriva solo nel 2014 per Einaudi, tradotto da Luca Bianco.

Il trittico preso in considerazione nel testo, punto di avvio di un approfondito excursus sulla vita e sull’opera di Bacon è quello datato intorno al 1944 e conosciuto come Tre studi di figure ai piedi di una crocifissione.

Un’opera di grande formato, conservata alla Tate di Londra, e concessa in prestito insieme a molte altre per l’esposizione annuale che il Forum Grimaldi di Montecarlo dedica quest’anno al grande pittore nato a Dublino nel 1909 da genitori inglesi e che a Monaco visse a più riprese a partire dal 1940. Francis Bacon. Monaco e la cultura francese è il titolo della mostra curata da Martin Harrison e composta da ben 63 opere; una delle sue particolarità è la panoramica comparativa mirata a illustrare le opere dei grandi maestri da cui Francis Bacon prese spunto: Giacometti, Léger, Lurçat, Michaux, Soutine, Toulouse-Lautrec. Senza dimenticare che Bacon iniziò a dipingere sul serio poco prima dei quarant’anni e produsse le sue opere più importanti intorno ai sessanta.

 

       

                    Francis Bacon. Monaco e la cultura francese - installation view at Grimaldi Forum, Monaco 2016

 

UN DANDY GENIALE

Il solo grande trittico, enigmatico, diabolico e intimo, vale la visita di questa retrospettiva dedicata al geniale dandy che al corpo, al suo essere specchio deformato dei fantasmi interiori della modernità ha dedicato la vita.

Nel libro sopracitato, le parole di Manuela Mena, curatrice al Prado di Madrid, luogo in cui Bacon amava recarsi per ammirare Goya e Velázquez, racchiudono una interessante interpretazione del celebre quadro dai biomorfi dentati: “… le figure sono rappresentate in tre modi diversi. Quella a destra è direttamente investita dalla luce, piena di autorità; quella al centro lascia trapelare insicurezza; quella a sinistra dimostra paura, sottomissione. E quella al centro è così a causa delle altre due, che insieme la affrontano e la minacciano. La figura a destra ha un’apparenza mascolina; la sua zampa è saldamente puntata nel terreno, in una zolla d’erba; la figura sulla sinistra invece ha una sembianza materna. La figura centrale combina elementi maschili e femminili, come accade spesso quando Bacon rappresenta se stesso”.

 

       

                            Francis Bacon. Monaco e la cultura francese - installation view at Grimaldi Forum, Monaco 2016

 

CORPO E PITTURA

Il Forum Grimaldi, posto tra terra e mare e sormontato da un’enorme A, a encomio di Alberto di Monaco, costruisce un percorso austero fatto di altissime pareti nere e grigie in cui le opere sono incasellate e illuminate magistralmente. Le cri, La caverne noire, La France et Monaco sono le denominazioni delle prime sale, il nero viene poi attutito con un viola scuro per Le Corps humain e, attraverso un gioco di grandi cornici di metallo nero, ispirate alle gabbie di Bacon, si passa alle bianchissime pareti delle sale successive, Les derniers opus, e ai Portraits; qui spiccano le tele dell’ultimo periodo, dove l’artista gioca con i colori caldi e freddi per ottenere i suoi tipici grandi effetti spaziali e dove trovano dimora moltissimi ritratti.

La cascata di pittura impeccabilmente controllata, la sua vastità simbolica, la crudele innocenza quasi infantile, sbigottiscono e seducono offrendo allo spettatore il corpo, inteso sia come materia lirica sia come fantasma, e la straziane difficoltà di abitarlo.

Monaco // fino al 4 settembre 2016
Francis Bacon. Monaco e la cultura francese
a cura di Martin Harrison
FORUM GRIMALDI
10 Avenue Princesse Grace
377 99 99 20 00

 

 

All together now: on the Francis Bacon catalogue raisonné

 

The complete collection of Francis bacon's paintings is published - at last

 

by Alexander Adams  |  The Art Newspaper  |  21 July 2016

 

It was an absurdity that until June of this year Francis Bacon (1909-92), the foremost British painter of the 20th century and one of the giants of Modernist art, did not have a catalogue raisonné. Researchers had to scour miscellaneous catalogues (including the incomplete 1964 catalogue raisonné compiled by Ronald Alley) in search of images and data. Now, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, a grand five-volume affair (boxed and bound in dark-grey cloth) documents 584 paintings by Bacon.

No expense was spared in preparing this catalogue. Paintings dispersed worldwide were traced and examined, new photographs commissioned, and technical research carried out. Volume one contains an introductory essay and chronology by Martin Harrison, the Bacon expert. The chronology (illustrated by rare and previously unpublished photographs) draws on primary sources while an essay discusses Bacon’s techniques and materials. Volume five contains Krzysztof Cieszkowski’s extensive bibliography, listing hundreds of items. This volume also reproduces several dozen drawings in dilute oil paint that Bacon did on scraps of paper and book flyleaves. It leaves open the question of whether these cursory outlines should be considered visual notations, skeletal paintings or painterly drawings.

Volumes two, three and four catalogue all the surviving paintings and those photographed before destruction or loss. Each is given a full-page colour illustration (large triptychs are given fold-out pages); facing pages of technical data are supplemented by exhibition history. There are several paragraphs of discussion about the history and condition of paintings, possible influences and sources. The reproductions are exceptionally good: extremely crisp, colour-accurate, with actual-size details so clear you feel you could run your hands over the canvases. Bacon’s paintings have never looked better.

Bacon’s motto was “the National Gallery or the dustbin”. “Bacon destroyed many hundreds of paintings,” Harrison notes, for failing to meet to his standards. There are numerous accounts by collectors of visiting the studio and witnessing Bacon slashing paintings with a straight-edge razor in front of the appalled spectators. Over the years Bacon sometimes set up temporary studios in St Ives, Monte Carlo, Tangiers and at the houses of friends. When he vacated studios he would give abandoned paintings to local painter friends so they could paint on the backs of the canvases. Naturally, the painters rarely did any such thing; they sold the paintings for whatever they could get. 

One of the revelations of this publication is Lying Figure (around 1953), a beautifully painted recumbent male nude. Bacon abandoned the unfinished painting in a temporary studio and when it resurfaced he would not permit to be included in exhibitions.

The development of Bacon’s career is fairly well established. The mystery period is 1929 to 1944, during which time Bacon moved from furniture and rug design to painting. There are only 15 extant works between 1929 and around 1936 and then nothing until the famous triptych of 1944. The catalogue can shed no light on the 1936-44 period. 

During the Second World War Bacon found a unique approach by painting melded, damaged figures in complex, spatially ambiguous interiors. From 1946 until around 1957 he generally painted single figures or animals in linear cages, subdued in colour, against black backgrounds. The period 1957 to 1962 was a transitional one, characterised by a dominance of green grounds and the development of a more energetic and colourful approach to figure painting. From 1962 until his death in 1992, Bacon refined his late mature style of contorted faces and reconfigured bodies against audaciously coloured, dramatic interiors. 

The catalogue documents all this and adds new works: portraits of Bacon’s last love, José Capelo, his last complete painting (of a bull, to be exhibited soon in Monaco) and some others. Harrison has described the publication of this catalogue not as the end of a period but the beginning of a reassessment. For the first time it lets us see everything that the artist allowed to leave the studio. Bacon’s great achievement has been matched by this impeccably thorough and beautiful catalogue. 

• Alexander Adams is an artist and poet based in Bristol. His latest book, On Dead Mountain, is published by Golconda

 

 

Bacon el jugador

 

Montecarlo ofrece la primera parte de la exposición del pintor que tendrá continuidad en otoño en Bilbao. En ellas se pone al día su relación con la cultura francesa y la pintura española

 

Mercè Ibarz - EL PAÍS - 20 Jul 2016

 

       

                       Francis Bacon con Joan Miró y André Masson en la inauguración de su retrospectiva en París en 1971

 

En una carta de 1952 Francis Bacon escribe a sir Colin Anderson, su mecenas entonces, muy preocupado por las repetidas pérdidas del artista en el casino de Montecarlo: “Un día me gustaría explicarle el vicio del juego. Para mí, está íntimamente ligado a la pintura”. Le cuenta que al igual que a veces oye cómo elcroupier apela al número que finalmente ganará un gran pote, sus telas más logradas son un asunto de “suerte” y “casualidad”. No porque sus imágenes se le hubieran impuesto de manera automática sino por ser el resultado de un desafío a la pintura en el que la suerte es “el movimiento accidental del pincel”. Bello, ¿no?

Son algunas de las cosas sobre el pintor de altísima fama hoy que se pueden aprender y apreciar en la excelente exposición que el Forum Grimaldi y la Fundación Francis Bacon presentan en Montecarlo hasta el 4 de septiembre, una muy hermosa muestra a cargo del historiador Martin Harrison, autor asimismo del catálogo razonado del artista editado este mismo año. Para quienes creemos en momentos culturales de probada importancia, este año Bacon es uno. Por el catálogo razonado y por esta exposición de doble recorrido. En la capital monegasca, Harrison presenta las relaciones de Bacon con la cultura francesa. En el Guggenheim bilbaíno presentará en octubre la relación baconiana con la pintura española, a la que habrá que volver porque ciertamente es de envergadura: Picasso, Velázquez, Goya, Miró, Zuloaga...

Si la desgracia abatida sobre Niza y la Riviera francesa no es impedimento para comentar esta exposición y animar a verla, tampoco cabe pensar que el principado de Mónaco se dedique en materia cultural a programar cualquier cosa por ser lo que es en otros aspectos. Más bien su política cultural y la oceanográfica son su contrapeso. Mónaco no es Marbella, por decirlo suave. Desde luego, muchos residen aquí para blanquear su dinero. Otros, como Bacon en 1946, para jugar en el casino.

El pintor de nacimiento irlandés en 1909 y muerte madrileña en 1992 pasó largas temporadas aquí. Se sabe muy poco de su vida artística hasta entonces. Cuenta Harrison que aunque empezó a pintar en 1927 se conservan únicamente veintisiete dibujos y telas de los diecinueve años transcurridos hasta que en julio de 1946 se instaló en Montecarlo. Bacon hizo cruz y raya. Llegó a la ciudad mediterránea gracias a su primera tela vendida aquel mismo año y con una imagen en mente: el retrato de Velázquez del Papa Inocencio II. Una de las obras que por primera vez se ven en exposición es Paisaje con Papa/Dictador, realizada ya en Mónaco. Aquí pintaría las demás telas que parten del cuadro velazqueño en diálogo con el grito de una mujer en el film El acorazado Potemkin de Einsentein. Iconos perdurables, eternos.

Paisaje con Papa/Dictador produce escalofrío baconiano en estado puro. Oscuro, muy oscuro, en el centro está un desdibujado Papa de color morado que grita mientras por su derecha revolotean batallones alados y, a su espalda, el panteón de la civilización clásica no puede protegerle. Es clave su fecha, tras la II Guerra Mundial, y su título, que por primera vez, pero también la única vez en Bacon, apela de manera fuerte a que tras Auschwitz e Hiroshima no hay representante de Dios en la Tierra que valga. Mirar pinturas como si estuvieran fuera del tiempo no es de recibo.

La muestra es en gran medida una revelación de conjunto. Tantísimas obras son inéditas, que por algo Harrison las conoce todas. Lo son incluso para la vecina Francia, que cree sin razón saberlo todo sobre Bacon. París le consagró en 1971 en el Grand Palais, un museo que previamente sólo se había abierto a Picasso (los museos entonces no acogían a artistas vivos). Pero mucho de Bacon había sucedido en Mónaco.

Así la casualidad, el azar, el accidente, resultado del juego. Bacon se pasaba las noches en el casino y a menudo salía sin un céntimo. Al regresar a casa pintaba. Pero un día, sin dinero y sin telas preparadas para pintar, dio la vuelta a un cuadro y se puso a trabajar en la tela sin preparar. De la rugosidad y las muchas capas de pintura necesarias para aplacarla, que dieron una textura casi de cuero, nació en Montecarlo el Bacon definitivo. Ahí es nada.

Si van por allí, no se pierdan una visita (concertada) a la Fundación Bacon, en una pequeña villa urbana que alberga indicios muy interesantes del pintor. Así la puerta del retrete de uno de sus estudios parisinos, pintarrajeada con dibujos pornográficos de sus invitados pintores, Soulages uno de ellos.

Mercè Ibarz es escritora y profesora de la UPF.

 

 

Francis Bacon at Monaco's Grimaldi Forum

 

An exhibition and a new catalogue show us more about 'the last great European Mondernist'

 

by: Jackie Wullschlager, The Financial Times, 20 July 2016

 

Sometime between 1948 and 1950, Francis Bacon won £1,600 at the casino in Monaco and splashed it all on renting a villa there. The Côte d’Azur, Somerset Maugham’s “sunny place for shady people”, was perfect for Bacon.

“Nobody here is at all interested in ART, which is perhaps a comfort,” he wrote to Graham Sutherland. On the other hand, gambling “is for me intimately linked with painting” — the studio and the gaming tables shared dramas of chance, accident, risk — and “I love being on this coast, with this light, one always seems to be on the edge of the real mystery”. He kept revisiting the principality for the rest of his life.

Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture, the summer exhibition at Monte Carlo’s Grimaldi Forum, is pure pleasure: visual, emotional, intellectual. In this glassy seafront gallery, Bacon’s art of sensation and excess is staged in an extravagant mise-en-scène of purple velvet curtains, red carpets and, at the centre, an enormous black room with light filtering through blinds, reminiscent of the shuttering device in the dark early canvases.

In this cavernous installation, you feel dizzyingly as if you are walking into an airless 1940s Bacon painting. Ghostly striated renderings from 1949 here include “Figure Crouching”, an abject form in a space frame leaking a greenish shadow, never shown before; a little-known snarling “Head”, compressed by tight collar and tie and confined in a cage; and the famous “Head VI”, a screaming Pope with phallic gold tassel mockingly swinging above his nose — Bacon’s first composition to converge imagery from Velázquez’s “Portrait of Pope Innocent X” with a still of the howling nurse from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin.

“It is thrilling to paint from a picture which really excites you,” Bacon told Sutherland. It was in 1949 that, at 40, he really found his subject of a figure isolated in a room or constrained abstract space. “I do absolutely understand what Giacometti meant when he said ‘why ever change the subject?’” he said. “Because you could go for the whole of your life painting the same subject.”

Nevertheless, variety early on, and the references to Monaco and to French painting as explored here, are revelatory. The unstable forms against a Mediterranean blue ground in “Figure with a Monkey” (1951), where both the chimpanzee and the human spectator, manacled in white collar and cuffs, seem imprisoned by a chain fence separating them, was inspired by endocrinologist Serge Voronoff’s experiments with monkeys at the Chateau Grimaldi. “Dog” (1952) swirls menacingly within a giant roulette wheel set on Monaco’s coastal road with a single palm tree; an azure line denotes the Mediterranean.

That line reappears in “Fragment of a Crucifixion” (1950): two bloodied falling forms, sourced from a photograph of a barn owl carrying its prey, are placed on a canvas left half-unpainted. On this raw surface, small abbreviated walking figures recall the calligraphic taches of Henri Michaux — a pen and ink sketch similar to one Bacon owned is on display — and cars purr through the heat: death amid banal, quotidian reality.

Emerging from the black box of these early works, you enter a brilliant display of the deformed 1960s-80s portraits on shrill coloured grounds: bright yellow for three distorted heads of Henrietta Moraes, shocking pink overwhelming a curled up John Edwards.

The highlights are the paintings composed for Bacon’s 1971 retrospective at the Grand Palais (“Paris is the supreme test”) including “Lying Figure in a Mirror”, an androgynous twisted form evoking Michelangelo’s “Leda and the Swan”, and the gender-bending lilac “Triptych — Studies of the Human Body”, where Bacon contorts and isolates figures derived from a Picasso nude, the Belvedere Torso — the absent head concealed by a black umbrella, another shadow of death — and Caravaggio’s “Narcissus”.

“Portrait of a Man Walking Down the Steps” (1972), unseen for 40 years, depicts Bacon’s lover George Dyer, tentatively holding a blackened window frame as blood drips beneath him on a staircase resembling that of the Hotel des Saint-Pères, where Dyer committed suicide on the eve of the retrospective.

It is among many later rarities: “Study for a Self-Portrait” (1980) in a pale, diffused blue reminiscent of Degas’ pastels (“there, this is my Impressionist period”), comes here from a private collection for the first time; “Study of a Bull” (1991), a monochrome of a magisterial, threatened beast receding through a white mirror, on a canvas sprinkled with aerosol paint and dust, is Bacon’s last painting and has never been exhibited before.

Such trophies keep the show startling until the end. Although not all have direct French connections, the École de Paris context, with Giacometti, Soutine and Picasso, favoured by Bacon for “un sens très fort de la tragedie” also on display, resoundingly positions Bacon as the last great European modernist.

Benefiting from years of research unearthing paintings across four continents, Monaco’s exhibition is curated by Martin Harrison, whose definitive five-volume catalogue raisonné (Heni Publishing £1,000) appeared last month. The most significant work of 20th-century art history this decade, it is also lively, engaging and, in a defiantly biographical approach, illuminates works with gossip and anecdote, as well as with iconographic and literary reference.

It features 100 previously unpublished and unseen paintings, ranging from “Landscape with Pope/Dictator” (1946), in which Bacon sets an early version of his recurring motif against a classical colonnade and decorative purple flowers, to “Self-portrait with Injured Eye” (1972), painted after Bacon “suffered many beatings, which as a masochist he may not have found entirely uncongenial … the injured eye … stands as an autobiographical symbol”.

There are fewer homosexual couplings (11) than one imagined, more female nudes (18), and an unexpected menagerie of animals alive, dead and ornamental. Bulls, gorillas and dogs predominate, plus a camel with a thrown rider in “Unseated Picador”; “Chicken”, modelled from a Conran cookbook illustration but recalling Soutine in blood-smudged pathos, on display in Monaco; an idiosyncratic ceramic cat, worked up from a photo of a London cat’s-meat seller, in a malevolent, unique double portrait of Dyer and Lucian Freud.

“Flesh and meat are life,” Bacon said in his final interview. And “I’m like an albatross: I take in thousands of images like fish, then I spit them out on the canvas.” Harrison, in book and exhibition alike, eloquently enhances our understanding of the process, by which Bacon sustained 20th-century figuration with paintings “that can carry over from the sensation to our nervous system”, and continue to disturb and astonish.

Grimaldi Forum, Monaco, to September 4. 

 

 

Who Stole These Francis Bacon Masterpieces?

 

The whereabouts of five Francis Bacon paintings, stolen from his former partner’s home in Madrid, remain a mystery.

 

Lizzie Crocker, The Daily Beast, 17 July 2016

 

Last July, five Francis Bacon paintings were stolen from a Spanish banker’s home in central Madrid. Thieves disabled the alarm system before slipping into a fourth floor loft belonging to 59-year-old José Capelo, who was in London at the time. They escaped with roughly $28 million-worth of portraits and landscapes by the late British artist, bequeathed to Capelo when Bacon died. 

 

Neither the doorman nor Capelo’s neighbors noticed anything suspicious the day of the robbery. It was the kind of spotless, silent job romanticized in art heist movies like The Thomas Crown Affair. 

Seven months passed before detectives uncovered any substantial information about the robbery. In February, British private investigators passed on an anonymous email with photos of one of the paintings.

When forensic investigators tracked down the camera used to photograph the paintings, they had found a suspect. In late May, Spanish police released a statement  confirming that seven people had been arrested in connection with the heist. None of the suspects were named. And none of the paintings were recovered—or even publicly identified.

The case seems to have baffled both local police and international investigators. But that’s because every element of the story is baffling.

 

How did an aging Spanish banker—not an art collector, nor a fixture in the art world—come to possess five paintings by Francis Bacon, whose Three Studies of Lucian Freud set a $142,405,000 world record at auction in 2013? How did such a sophisticated robbery unravel with such an unsophisticated email, easily traced back to a bumbling crew of thieves?

 

José Capelo met Francis Bacon in the 1980s at a London party hosted by Sir Frederick Ashton, a choreographer for The Royal Ballet. The two were introduced by Barry Joule, a close friend of Bacon, who was 78 at the time and took a shine to the handsome, 35-year-old Spanish financier.  

 

Capelo was temperamentally different from the other men Bacon had loved—all “brutes,” as he often described them to his longtime friend and biographer, Michael Peppiatt. 

In his dishy memoir, Peppiatt recalls the artist happily relaying that Capelo was a refined man: “The marvelous thing is that I usually only find brutes and with José, who speaks every known language, I can talk about all sorts of things.” What luck, then, that Capelo was also “terribly well hung, almost too well hung,” Bacon gushed. 

 

“He was physically infatuated with him,” said Peppiatt, speaking to The Daily Beast from his home in Paris. “And Capelo was fascinated by Bacon's brilliance and aura, but there was a huge age gap between them.” 

Peppiatt frequently had lunches with Capelo and Bacon in London at the height of their love affair. He describes feeling like a chaperone on one such occasion, writing in his memoir that he tried to “extricate myself from this tryst, but neither man will accept my bowing out, although that does not stop them from becoming totally absorbed in a lengthy, delicate billing and cooing.” 

 

He’d never seen Bacon fawn over a man as he did over Capelo.

“All the acid that was so present before was suddenly gone from his system,” said Peppiatt. “Being in love [with José] probably wasn't good for his painting. It calmed and tamed him and made him curiously benevolent. He'd always had a benevolent streak, but the characteristic harshness was pacified.” 

 

But Bacon’s advancing age and poor health (he was asthmatic) ultimately deterred Capelo. 

“I suppose the whole thing was rather tragic,” Peppiatt said of their romance.

 

In April 1992, Bacon set off to Madrid in hopes of rekindling things with Capelo, despite his deteriorating health and against his doctor’s orders. Four days after arriving, he was rushed by ambulance to the Clínica Ruber, a medical facility specializing in respiratory dysfunction.

 

He spent six days in intensive care before suffering a fatal heart attack. No one came to visit him, including Capelo, according to one of the nuns who looked after him. She told Peppiatt that Bacon expressed no desire to see anyone. 

 

Capelo was even less forthcoming. 

“There was no way of getting in touch with him,” Peppiatt said, “and I know that even if I had reached him there would have been a blank wall. José is very reluctant to talk about the relationship.” 

 

Indeed, he denied most everything that was said about him and Bacon in a taped conversation between the artist and Barry Joule, in which Bacon said he bequeathed $4 million to Capelo in his will (Joule leaked their chat to the London Sunday Times in 2014, claiming Bacon gave him permission to publicize the tapes after his death).

 

In 2013, a 1987 painting titled “Portrait of José Capelo” went up for sale at a blue-chip Swiss gallery. Capelo also posed for a 1991 triptych that is housed in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, though Bacon told Joule that Capelo asked him to paint over his face. 

 

Speaking to the Times, Capelo insisted that these conversations were “full of inaccuracies and full of things that are not true.”

 He insisted that he “has never had any inclination to profit from that,” referring to his relationship with Bacon. “Why should I do it now? I don’t want to be a part of that.” 

 

As for Joule’s claims, Capelo declined to comment beyond stating: “I don’t have that much respect for his opinion and his approach and his views...I think I have a right to my privacy and I want to keep it that way.” 

Two years after Bacon died in Madrid, Capelo bought the apartment that was looted last July, according to El Pais

 

Much has been written about the self-destructive sadists and thugs Bacon was drawn to —namely, Peter Lacy and George Dyer, both of whom committed suicide. They were brooding, brutish muses who manifested in the raw, “grotesque” imagery that characterized Bacon’s work.

 

Yet we know little about the artist’s last serious lover. Had Bacon met with Capelo in Madrid before he was rushed to the clinic? Why did Capelo not visit him at his death bed? Was he simply respecting Bacon’s wishes, as the nuns who took care of him suggested? (Capelo could not be reached for comment for this article.) 

 

In the wake of the robbery, their relationship is perhaps more shrouded in mystery than ever. Capelo himself has become a source of intrigue.

It’s tempting to read into his strident declarations about not wishing to “profit” from their relationship. Was this a subtle dig at Bacon’s former lover John Edwards, who was in charge of the late artist’s estate after Bacon died (Edwards himself died in 2003)? Or a genuine sentiment from a pathologically private man? 

 

The National Police in Spain could not be reached for comment on the ongoing investigation. Nor did the Bacon estate return repeated requests for comment about the five stolen paintings. 

Their collective worth may seem insignificant compared to what Bacon’s other works have fetched at auction. But most of us care less about the numbers than the untold stories behind these paintings. And if Capelo has any say in the matter, those stories likely won’t be exposed any time soon.

 

 

  Quella lacrima di Francis Bacon che ci parla delle vittime in Francia

 

    Giuseppe Frangi Bergamo Post - 16 luglio 2016

 

    

               Quella lacrima di Francis Bacon che ci parla delle vittime in Francia

Un ritratto di donna. Un ritratto di un’amica. Il volto, come accade in tutti i ritratti dipinti da Francis Bacon, è un volto intercettato in un istante di tensione, di travolgente emozione. In questo ritratto colpisce però un occhio che sembra lì lì per precipitare in un pianto, e un vistoso tocco di pittura bianca sulla guancia che sembra proprio una lacrima solidificata.

Siamo a Montecarlo. 25 km più in là una città, Nizza, piange i suoi morti del 14 luglio. E vedendo la straordinaria mostra di Francis Bacon organizzata al Forum Grimaldi è inevitabile fermarsi davanti a questo ritratto di Isabel Rawsthorne per capire che attraverso capolavori come questi un grande artista dimostra di essere sempre dentro la vita. Anche se l’opera risale a 50 anni fa.   

La mostra di Bacon a Montecarlo è la mostra più bella e più importante dell’estate. Una di quelle mostre che da sole valgono il viaggio. Le ragioni sono molteplici.

Francis Bacon è l’artista più importante del secondo Novecento. Un artista potente e drammatico che a dispetto della violenza della sua pittura ha conosciuto una crescita iperbolica dei valori di mercato: un suo Trittico due anni fa è stato venduto a 146 milioni di dollari, quadro più caro mai venduto ad un’asta, spazzando il precedente record di una delle versioni dell’Urlo di Munch.

Francis Bacon è l’artista più importante del secondo Novecento. Un artista potente e drammatico che a dispetto della violenza della sua pittura ha conosciuto una crescita iperbolica dei valori di mercato: un suo Trittico due anni fa è stato venduto a 146 milioni di dollari, quadro più caro mai venduto ad un’asta, spazzando il precedente record di una delle versioni dell’Urlo di Munch.

A Montecarlo di questi problemi non ne hanno, evidentemente. E a Montecarlo ha sede la Fondazione messa in piedi dall’erede di Bacon che ha appena pubblicato il catalogo ragionato del grande artista inglese: cinque volumi venduti al prezzo di 1.400 euro

Montecarlo perciò era il luogo giusto per riuscire a stanare quei capolavori che se stanno chiusi nelle collezioni private di tutto il mondo. L’occasione della pubblicazione del Catalogo ragionato è stata poi l’occasione giusta per organizzare questa mostra mai vista. Il risultato è sotto gli occhi di chi varca il Forum Grimaldi, grande struttura espositiva affacciata sul mare nobile del Principato. Sono circa 80 opere, tutte di grandi dimensioni, quasi tutte mai viste, in quanto le opere arrivate dai musei sono la minima parte. La mostra come filo conduttore tiene quello del rapporto tra Bacon e la Francia, in quanto l’artista aveva avuto un feeling molto particolare con Parigi e con Monaco dove aveva vissuto tre anni, all’inizio della sua storia di pittore tra 1946 e 1949. Proprio a Parigi nel 1971 era stata organizzata una sua grande mostra al Grand Palais che aveva consacrato la grandezza di Bacon. Una mostra epocale, di cui a Montecarlo è stata ricostruita anche una sala.

Montecarlo perciò era il luogo giusto per riuscire a stanare quei capolavori che se stanno chiusi nelle collezioni private di tutto il mondo. L’occasione della pubblicazione del Catalogo ragionato è stata poi l’occasione giusta per organizzare questa mostra mai vista. Il risultato è sotto gli occhi di chi varca il Forum Grimaldi, grande struttura espositiva affacciata sul mare nobile del Principato. Sono circa 80 opere, tutte di grandi dimensioni, quasi tutte mai viste, in quanto le opere arrivate dai musei sono la minima parte. La mostra come filo conduttore tiene quello del rapporto tra Bacon e la Francia, in quanto l’artista aveva avuto un feeling molto particolare con Parigi e con Monaco dove aveva vissuto tre anni, all’inizio della sua storia di pittore tra 1946 e 1949. Proprio a Parigi nel 1971 era stata organizzata una sua grande mostra al Grand Palais che aveva consacrato la grandezza di Bacon. Una mostra epocale, di cui a Montecarlo è stata ricostruita anche una sala.

 

      

 

 

Inside the heart of darkness: For fans of Francis Bacon Tate Liverpool's exhibition is a worthwhile visit

 

By ANNA MCNAY, DAILY MAIL, 16 July 2016

 

         

 

 

                                                        Photograph of Bacon (c 1962)

 

 

 

Throughout his career, Francis Bacon vehemently denied ever doing preparatory work for his paintings. ‘I do not make sketches nor drawings,’ he said. ‘I just proceed.’ But in Invisible Rooms, Tate Liverpool’s stunning exhibition of the painter’s work, there is an extensive section of sketches, many discovered strewn on the floors and work surfaces of his South Kensington studio after his death in 1992.

 

The sketches here – of boxers, wrestlers and crouching, caged figures – sit alongside lists of ideas. In almost illegible writing, inside the covers of books, he scrawled hasty reminders to himself of what he might want to paint: ‘portrait of Peter as opposite’, ‘figure going through door as in Eichmann photo’, ‘butcher shop hanging meat’. It could almost be a shopping list, yet these ingredients are the recipe for some of the greatest 20th-century British figurative paintings we know.

 

A particular favourite source material appears to be studies of the human figure in motion from the 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge. Images of his Soho circle in the Sixties, taken by photographer John Deakin, are also on display, alongside sketches Bacon did based on them.

 

In the case of Bacon’s fellow artist and friend Isabel Rawsthorne, Bacon took a photograph of her and turned it into a disturbing full-size painting, with Rawsthorne standing caged in a circular arena, face glowering and distorted. As an artwork and composition, this piece is captivating; as a portrait, the distortion takes us beyond physical appearances to a psychological interpretation.

 

This exhibition shows just how much Bacon manipulated his source material, condensing the content, intensifying the figures and creating for them a new – and unsettling – stage or arena. And it is the structures that Bacon created on the canvas that is this show’s common theme. These framing devices are often in the form of cages and curtains, and they draw attention to the painted figure and our encounter with it.

 

Asked by the critic and curator David Sylvester about this technique of creating frames within frames, Bacon explained that he simply wanted to concentrate the image down. Much has been made, however, of the similarity between the cage in Study For A Portrait from 1949 and photographs from the Nuremberg trials, showing Nazi war criminals boxed behind glass.

 

Bacon was undeniably influenced by these events, and much of his work speaks of the violence and cruelty of mankind. ‘The feelings of desperation and unhappiness are more useful to an artist than the feeling of contentment because desperation and unhappiness stretch your whole sensibility,’ he said.

 

He also believed that humans were simply animals, subject to carnal desires, urges and fears, and his caging might therefore be seen as a direct reference to this bestial nature. Certainly it is captured in his gaping mouths, from which silent screams rage, and his distorted, grotesque bodies, sometimes carcasses, that writhe within these confines.

 

Invisible Rooms contains many well-known Bacon works. There are his terrifying paintings based on Velázquez’s Portrait Of Pope Innocent X, in which the subject sits, as if strapped into an electric chair, mouth wide open, so that his scream is almost audible. And his works relating to the Crucifixion, including Tate’s own ghoulish triptych, Three Studies For Figures At The Base Of A Crucifixion, from 1944, with its maimed, mutilated and bandaged figures, drained of colour and set against a bloody red background, are also included here.
 

There are pieces, too, from his Man In Blue series from 1954, thought to portray Bacon’s lover, Peter Lacy, in which a ghostly white presence drowns in a dark blue lake, imprisoned within bars, capturing the disembodiment, isolation and hopelessness of homosexuals in an era when same-sex relations were still illegal.

 

For fans of Bacon, this is a worthy exposition. While the premise of framing techniques might seem to be just a spurious excuse to bring together another mini-retrospective of an over-exposed painter, this exhibition does shed some light on the techniques of this nevertheless most mysterious and confounding of artists.

 

Tickets also permit entry to Tate Liverpool’s exhibition of work by Austrian painter Maria Lassnig.

 

 

 

The Visitors' Book: In Francis Bacon's Shadow review – boozing and mischief

 

Jon Lys Turner’s biography of Bacon’s closest friends, Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller, offers an entertaining as well as painful study in hero-worship

 

      Michael Peppiatt, The Guardian, Friday 8 July, 2016

 

         

                                                              Francis Bacon and Dicky Chopping

 

If you spent any time going around with Francs Bacon, you were bound to come across Dicky Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller. Bacon introduced them to me as early as 1963 as “the oldest queer couple in the land”, although they would go on living together in their quayside house in Wivenhoe, Essex, for more than another 40 years. A briefly successful book-illustrator and a frustrated minor painter respectively, Dicky and Denis were also Francis’s closest friends, partly because they managed to survive so many spectacularly drunken ups and downs in their relationship à trois.

From a young age, when I first witnessed their antics, I came to think of them fondly enough as errant uncles. Dicky was the more restrained of the two, being naturally less confrontational even when drunk. But Denis (known inevitably as “Denis the Menace”) was never content until he had exasperated everyone within earshot by shouting out one provocatively camp remark after another as he teetered from bar to restaurant, apparently feeling duty-bound to shock anyone bourgeois enough to be still shockable.

Tall and elegant, Dicky tended to withdraw into himself as the stockier Denis plunged manically into this act, his gestures growing ever wilder and his purplish face suffused with the gallons of wine he had put away. “He had a cock as hard as a steel hawser,” Denis would announce at random. “He was so in love with me that he wanted to lick caviar off the back of my throat,” he shouted. And any attempt to cut off his embarrassing tirades merely reassured him that his brilliance and originality were at last being acknowledged.

While Dicky looked ever more disapproving, Francis would slyly egg Denis on with acid little comments such as, “I don’t know who she thinks she’s going to impress with that nonsense” or, “the trouble is, Denis, you’re as coarse as those ghastly little paintings you do”. But then Francis would resent no longer being the centre of attention and lay viciously into him. Denis seemed to revel at first in this onslaught, but Francis was his idol, his central and absolute article of faith, and he grew so unnerved by these attacks that he would eventually kick over any chairs within reach and disappear melodramatically into the night.

I came to accept this kind of behaviour as the norm on nights out with Francis, who once defined friendship as “two people continuously pulling each other to pieces”. At times, Denis and Francis tore into each other with such wounding malice, going for the jugular with every remark, that I imagined they would never see each other again. But they soon returned to the fray as if they couldn’t live without the self-destructive passion of their fights.

Like other Bacon nuts, I imagine, I first raced through Jon Lys Turner’s book picking out all the choice Bacon bits, before reading the book properly as a whole. Right away I was fascinated, for instance, to find the description of an early punch-up between Denis and the art critic, David Sylvester, because I had witnessed an exact repeat, with Denis ending up with his nose broken once again, in the Colony Room club. Since he was their confidant and inherited Dicky and Denis’s personal archives, Lys Turner provides several nuggets of this kind, in particular extracts from the numerous letters that Francis sent to Denis and a variety of hitherto unseen photographs (although I have to say the photos published here of Francis’s boyfriend, George Dyer, don’t look much like the Dyer I knew).

What you find when you do read the book from cover to cover is very much what is announced in the subtitle. Despite their (sometimes enduring, often fleeting) contacts with other movers and shakers – from Frances Partridge and Randolph Churchill to Ian Fleming and John Gielgud – Dicky and Denis’s lives were indeed lived in Francis’s shadow, and that seething darkness seems to be where they themselves came most into their own, warts, disastrous boozing, camp mischief and all.

Much of what happened to Dicky and Denis outside Francis’s sphere of influence is mildly interesting as an adjunct to the main theme, illuminating minor episodes here and there of recent British cultural history. (Lys Turner’s title comes from the couple’s visitors’ book at their Essex townhouse.) But these accounts seem distinctly peripheral. Dicky’s painstaking illustrations for the James Bond novels, the couple’s fraught relationships with other gay men or their shared dislike of Lucian Freud are certainly not to be discounted, but they and the numerous other extraneous anecdotes would never amount to a book by themselves.

The central story here, the central tragedy one might say, is Denis’s obsession with Francis. While Dicky was too well balanced a character ever to fall wholly under Francis’s sway, Denis craved it. Francis, with his iron constitution, aristocratic self-belief and unpredictable genius for being both of and beyond his times, had a creative power and aura that Denis could only dream of. At the same time as living in Francis’s shadow, and to some extent because of that, Denis achieved a certain distinction as a painter of technically adept estuary landscapes, wind-flattened sedge and Muybridge-inspired dogs in headlong flight. But his images patently lack conviction, no doubt because (as Lys Turner emphasises) Denis himself chronically lacked self-confidence. He also worked on certain of Francis’s paintings with him, helping him to achieve more credible blades of grass or well-delineated feet, and thereby bolstering the illusion that he too was at the heart of creation.

But when, as Lys Turner recounts, Francis went careening round what was for Denis a crucial exhibition of his work, mocking every one of his pictures in sight, the poor man gave in completely to his self-doubt and decided there was no point in continuing to paint. Thenceforth, he would devote himself instead to drinking and outrageousness. As a direct consequence, in his declining, increasingly bitter and destitute years, Denis never recovered the sense of himself that he had painfully gained as an artist. I now understand much better why, when I called him to talk about Francis for the biography I was writing, he said: “I don’t want to talk about him ever again. He was an absolutely horrible man.” By then, Denis had found out that if anyone still bought his pictures, it was to scrape off the surface layer in the hope of finding a hidden work by Francis beneath. As Lys Turner says at the end of this moving and ultimately saddening account, Francis had in part created Denis, and in so doing he also destroyed him.

 

 

   Francis Bacon's Monaco magic is highlighted in a new exhibition

 

     By Claire Wrathall, The Telegraph, 6 July 2016

 

      

         Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, Francis Bacon in his studio, London 1977

 

It’s not hard to see why the artist Francis Bacon should have been drawn to Monte Carlo, where he spent three years in the 1940s, and to which he returned repeatedly during the course of his life, staying in room 681 of the belle époque Hôtel Balmoral (now apartments). Long favoured by Britons seeking respite from the northern winter, its appeal to Bacon in post-war Europe was obvious. The sea air and sunny climate would keep his asthma at bay. The sparkling Côte d’Azur light would delight his eye. And there was the casino, with which he became, in his words, “obsessed” and where he would “spend whole days”.

Indeed it was gambling debts incurred in 1947 when he was living on what is now the Avenue Princesse Grace, and his consequent inability to afford new canvas, that first compelled him to recycle an existed work by painting on the raw, unprimed side, a practice he continued throughout his life. Back in London, he gambled at home with friends too on a roulette wheel now displayed in the final room of the Francis bacon MB Art Foundation in a 19th century villa at 21 Boulevard d’Italie, which opened (by appointment) to the public last year, and is one of a host of new gallery and exhibition spaces that have turned the principality into a near-ideal city-break destination for art lovers.

 

     

                                  Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture at the Grimaldi Forum Monaco

 

The Foundation is the creation of the Monaco-based Swiss-Lebanese property developer Majid Boustany, owner, with his brother, of the Jacques Garcia-designed Metropole, the most fashionable and alluring of the principality's great grande-dame hotels. As a post-graduate student in the UK in the early 90s, he encountered Bacon’s triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, now in Tate Britain, and had a kind of epiphany. “I knew then,” he told me over dinner at the hotel (where Joël Robuchon has oversight of the kitchens), “that I would be busy with Bacon my whole life.”

He began to collect, first lithographs and photographs (Bacon’s paintings do not come cheap; witness the version of Lying Figure with a Hypodermic Syringe, which was sold at Christie’s for £20m last week), then major works, as well as furniture - Bacon began as a designer of pieces very much in the vein of Eileen Gray or Charlotte Perriand. The collection also runs to books and other memorabilia, more than 2,500 items in total that range from his easel and the Carte Orange (or season ticket) he used on the Paris metro to the artist’s first known painting, an abstract watercolour from 1929 now on show, along with the triptych he first saw at Tate, in a major exhibition, Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture, at the Grimaldi Frum Monaco.

If the exhibition’s focus is essentially Bacon’s connection with France and Monaco – witness a rare seascape from 1950 and the outline of a distinctive local mountain in the top-left corner of Fragment of a Crucifixion (1953) – it works equally as an introduction to the life and work of an artist generally hailed the most important British painter of the modern age.

More than 60 major works from major international museums as well as 20 private collections never before seen in public hang alongside works by artists who influenced him: Giacometti, Léger, Muybridge, Picasso, Rodin and Toulouse-Lautrec, among them. To this end there are some quite surprising juxtapositions. In a room devoted to studies of the human form, Marie Laurencin’s 1924 portrait of Madame Paul Guillaume, which Bacon would have known, hangs opposite his Study for a Portrait of John Edwards, painted 60 years later. Both are striking for their use of pink. Look at them together, and suddenly Bacon’s genius as a colourist is evident.

 

       

                                    Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture at the Grimaldi Forum Monaco

 

The Grimaldi Forum was not designed to exhibit art, but in this instance its cavernous, windowless interior works to its advantage, not least for the sheer amount of space given over to this theatrically installed show. (The exhibition’s curator, Martin Harrison, author of the just-published Bacon catalogue raisonné, acknowledges a debt to the influence of the influential European stage designers Adolphe Appia (1862-1928) and Edward Gordon-Craig (1872-1966).) In several of the galleries the walls are hung with acres of rich velvet drapery in an appropriately papal purple. (It was in Monaco, it turns out, that Bacon painted the first of his homages to Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, a copy of which is hangs at the start of the show.) But as the show continues, more austere style prevails, with a sequence of great metal structures between and, in one instance, suspended above the galleries, commissioned to evoke the “cages” within which Bacon often enclosed his figures. There is another visual coup towards the end of the exhibition when one confronts the monumental Studies of the Human Body triptych from 1970, which appears to float free from the walls, so discreet are its fixings.

Even the lighting seems audacious. For the most part the paintings are dramatically spotlight both to focus attention and enhance the glitter of their gilt frames amid Stygian gloom. Enter the final room, however, where his final painting, Study of a Bull (1991) hangs alongside his 1987 corrida triptych, and suddenly you are out of the sombra and into the bright light of a Madrid bullring. The experience is exhilarating, the culmination of a show that is original, illuminating, immensely enjoyable and, I’d say, well worth the trip.

Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture at the Grimaldi Forum Monaco until 4th September, 10am to 8pm daily, admission €10

 

 

Francis Bacon's great gambles - both in art and in the casino - on show in Monte Carlo

 

The artist regarded his losses on the roulette table as “an expense related to painting”

 

by Martin Bailey | The Art Newspaper | 2 July 2016

 

                 Francis Bacon in Monte-Carlo, November 1981. Photo: © Eddy Batache. 

 

A Bacon exhibition opening in Monte Carlo on Saturday 2 July reveals the close links between the artist’s obsessive gambling and his paintings. Both depended on chance. As Rebecca Daniels, a contributor to the Grimaldi Forum catalogue explains, so inextricably linked were gaming and art that Bacon regarded his losses on the roulette table as “an expense related to painting”. He once used this as an argument for his dealer to advance more money.

Francis Bacon loved the French Riviera, but what made Monaco particularly attractive was its gambling opportunities. He moved to the independent principality in 1946 and spent most of the next five years there, returning often up until his death in 1992. 

Bacon’s haunt was the Casino. He recalled: “I spent whole days there... you could go in at ten o’clock and needn’t come out until about four o’clock the following morning”. Bacon would quickly dispense any winnings on champagne and the finest food for friends. It was his symbol of living in the present. 

Among the paintings in the Grimaldi Forum show is Study for a Figure (1950), which includes a vaguely outlined circular object. This picture was assumed to have been lost, but in 2006 it was rediscovered on the reverse of a canvas. Lucian Freud then recalled having seen it in 1950, describing the circular object as a roulette wheel.
    
Bacon even owned his own roulette wheel, with which he would play with friends back in England. This relic of the artist’s tortured life has recently gone to Monaco, when it was purchased by Majid Boustany for his Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation.

 

 Bacon even owned his own roulette wheel, with which he would play with friends back in England.

 

Taking risks

Daniels believes that Bacon approached gambling and art with the same spirit, displaying a determination to take risks and allow chance to intervene. Bacon wrote that “the vice of gambling... is for me intimately linked with painting”. Clive Barker, a sculptor and a friend, recalled that Bacon would talk endlessly about how “chance” affected his paintings, with success or failure being likened to “the spin of a roulette wheel”. 

Bacon would persevere with a painting until it either became a masterpiece or a complete failure. When the gamble went wrong, he would simply destroy the work. The Grimaldi Forum exhibition presents 62 of Bacon’s paintings that relate to his visits to Monaco and France, showing his deep interest in French culture. These essentially represent the successes, but the artist also destroyed hundreds of pictures where his gamble had failed.

A failure of a different kind in Bacon’s early career was the idea to sell his work to the Casino. In 1946 he wrote to his friend Graham Sutherland: “I always feel with a little clever manipulation the Casino would buy our pictures”. They never did, and instead its magnificent Belle Epoque rooms are decorated with paintings of languorous females, who still today sooth the disappointments of the unlucky as they lose their chips. 

Just for this summer, Bacon’s work has returned to Monaco, at the Grimaldi Forum, a modern conference and exhibition centre a few minutes’ walk from the Casino. For anyone going to see the show, do go on to the Casino for its magnificent interiors and to imbibe the theatrical atmosphere of the gaming. To see Bacon’s roulette wheel, take a guided tour of the Francis Bacon MB Foundation with its artworks and memorabilia (advance booking required).

• Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture, Grimaldi Forum, Monaco, 2 July-4 September. 

 

 

     Was Francis Bacon made in Monaco?

 

         By Mark Hudson, Art Critic, Daily Telegraph, 2 July 2016

 

           

                                 Francis Bacon in Nice, March, 1979

 

One evening in the late Eighties, I was walking down Brompton Road in South Kensington, when I saw a figure turning in the doorway of a late-night chemist. His face, caught in the neon glare, was pale and oddly ageless, and in the split-second that our eyes met I glimpsed an expression that was at once impassive and strangely haunted.

Francis Bacon, I thought, without breaking my stride.

Bacon, who must by then have been about 80, had lived in that area of London for decades, and was long since established as the greatest and most controversial British painter of the 20th century. Since his death in 1992, the Bacon industry has grown ever larger, leading to increasingly detailed speculation about both the meaning of his harrowing, morally ambivalent paintings, and his rackety private life in the gay clubs and seedy drinking dens of post-war London.

Yet there remain whole aspects of his life about which we know very little. Not least among them is the three-year period in the late Forties when Bacon lived in Monaco. This barely chronicled moment is the subject of a major new exhibition at the Grimaldi Forum in Monte Carlo: Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture.

“We know almost nothing about Bacon before 1960,” says Martin Harrison, curator of the exhibition and editor of the monumental catalogue raisonné of Bacon’s works that is being published concurrently. “But when you put the evidence together, you’re forced to the conclusion that Francis Bacon, as we understand him today, was formed in Monaco.”

Walking now through a somewhat antiseptic pedestrian precinct, just a couple of hundred yards from Monte Carlo’s famous casino, I’m struggling to imagine what might have drawn Bacon to this manicured, high-security tax haven. Gravity-defying highways course between well-appointed tower-blocks and the belle époque villas sprouting from the slopes of this Mediterranean principality. There’s the atmosphere of discretion and anonymity you’d expect of a place with the highest property prices in Europe, but there’s little in the way of street-life; the few restaurants and shops are expensive, but oddly characterless. What, beyond the casino – and Bacon was an inveterate gambler – could have attracted the great connoisseur of the more sordid aspects of metropolitan life to this strangely sterile place? Documents show that Bacon moved here from London in July 1946, setting up home in the Hôtel de Ré in an unlikely ménage à trois with his lover of the time, Eric Hall, and his nanny, Jessie Lightfoot, who had nursed him through childhood asthma and remained his closest companion until her death in 1951.

“The warm weather was good for his asthma,” says Harrison with a shrug. “He was an upper-class Englishman, and Monaco was where upper-class English people went.” He produces a letter from Bacon to his fellow artist Graham Sutherland, written shortly after his arrival here in 1946. “Bacon was 37, he’d destroyed almost everything he’d done up to that point. But here he is talking about what’s wrong with art at that time, with Picasso and all the French guys, about what we – by which he meant himself – must do in art. Up to that point he’s endlessly messed around, but here in Monaco he realised what his project was: to become the greatest artist of his time.”

Born in Dublin in 1909 to upper-class English parents, Bacon had a troubled relationship with his father, an army officer and racehorse trainer, who disapproved of his sensitive, “unmanly” second son. He may even have sexually abused him; a trauma that left Bacon, it has been speculated, with a lifelong yearning for a “cruel father” figure. Rather than going to art school or university, Bacon drifted between London, Paris and Berlin, eking out a tiny allowance from his mother with menial jobs, stints as a paid “gentleman’s companion” and bouts of shoplifting with Lightfoot.

In the late Twenties, he set himself up as a modernist interior designer, a role in which he had some success (despite his later claims to the contrary). Designing rugs led him to painting, and by the time of his move to Monaco he was established as an enfant terrible on London’s tiny avant-garde art scene. Indeed, he’d already created two of his defining works: the sinister Painting (1946), now in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, in which an ominous demagogic figure stands framed by two huge sides of meat, and Tate’s emblematic Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, with its howling mutant faces. Doesn’t that rather undermine the idea of “Francis Bacon” having been formed in Monaco?

“He knew he could do better than both those paintings. The MoMA Painting is interesting, but a bit of a mess,” says Harrison who, having spent 10 years on the catalogue raisonné, should know. “Three Figures is still heavily influenced by Picasso, and he arrived in Monaco with the intention of transcending that.”

The isolated figures and tortured surfaces of Bacon’s paintings have come to be seen as emblematic of the existential angst of post-war Europe, embodying the bleak residue left by the revelations of the Holocaust and the atom bomb. So it’s disconcerting to find him in the immediate aftermath of war not in chilly, bomb-ravaged austerity London, but in the relatively frivolous atmosphere of the Côte d’Azur. Monaco then must have been very different from what it is today: greener, less built-up, with much of its original elegance still intact – with more of a real sense, perhaps, of place. Bacon’s cultural and artistic tastes were resolutely Francophile; he was dismissive of almost all British art. But why did he move to Monaco, rather than the nearby and much livelier Nice, for example?

“He loved gambling and the casino in Monte Carlo is the most famous in the world,” says Harrison. “The Train Bleu, the sleeper from Paris, pulled in right beside the casino, and Bacon found trains, particularly night trains, sexy: you never knew who you would meet.”

Bacon recalled in an interview in 1962 that he became obsessed with Monte Carlo’s casino and spent whole days there at a time. “You could go in at 10 in the morning and needn’t come out till about four the following morning.”

Gambling appealed to his lifelong fascination with chance, in life and art, his sense of the cruel arbitrariness of existence. “He loved the exhilaration of roulette, staking everything on the spin of a wheel,” says Michael Peppiatt, who chronicled his 30-year friendship with the artist in the excellent memoir Francis Bacon in Your Blood. “He enjoyed it even when he lost. But he adored winning, of course, making an enormous amount of money through something so frivolous, then spending it all on champagne, taking people out to dinner and giving enormous tips.”

After one particularly big win, Bacon went home with a handsome stranger, the owner, he said, of a yacht moored in the marina. After his departure, the Monaco police descended on Bacon’s apartment in search of the man, who was wanted all along the Riviera. “Francis enjoyed that,” says Peppiatt. “Monaco was a place apart, and it attracted louche people who he found intriguing: con men, doctors who’d perform not quite legal operations, the old women who queued to get into the casino every morning.”

But Bacon can’t have spent four years solely on gambling. “He was very disciplined,” says Peppiatt. “He needed the regularity of getting up early and painting every morning before lunch. And that came easiest to him in London. He always said he found it difficult to paint in strong light, which is why he did very little painting in Tangier, which he also visited very frequently.” Peppiatt, indeed, is sceptical that Bacon did much significant painting in Monaco, or that he spent years there at a time. The fact that Bacon maintained a London residence throughout this period, but lived at five different Monaco addresses, might seem to corroborate that view. The expense of such a lifestyle would have been considerable even without losses at the gambling tables, though Bacon was bankrolled, to a degree at least, by his lover Hall. An art collector and a director of the Peter Jones department store, Hall remains a shadowy figure, though like many of Bacon’s early patron-lovers – “sugar daddies,” Harrison calls them – he was married with children.

For Bacon, gambling was a means of self-exploration to be pursued no less obsessively than painting. In his mind the two activities were so closely entwined that losses at the roulette table were seen as collateral damage to success at the easel. Writing to a London dealer in 1947, having sustained heavy losses at the Monte Carlo Casino, he requested the then hefty price of £750 for a triptych on the grounds that this was “not one quarter of what (the paintings) have cost me with gambling etc”.

In Monaco, Bacon, who in Peppiatt’s words “saw himself as a person apart”, found a place apart, where he could immerse himself in his twin preoccupations, in light that gave him, as he wrote to his friend Sir Colin Anderson, the sense “of being on the edge of the real mystery”, yet where equally, as he told Graham Sutherland, “nobody is at all interested in ART, which is perhaps a comfort”. The private side of Bacon’s personality, which wouldn’t allow anyone to see him working, found in the principality a sense of energising detachment, an atmosphere which, as he told the critic David Sylvester years later, was “very good for pictures falling ready-made into the mind”.

The few surviving Monaco works illustrated in the catalogue raisonné are unresolved, though he is understood to have destroyed many others. Yet the stamp of a Nice framer on the back of the ferocious and unnerving Head II reveals that important work was done here. One of two paintings showing a chimpanzee’s bared teeth merging with a man’s head, it is so thickly impasted it was described by Bacon as “like rhino hide”. The companion work Head I contains the rudiments of an ornate chair or throne, suggesting it may have started out as one of the earliest of the reworkings of Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X that are among Bacon’s greatest works.

Bacon had painted the first of his “Popes” (Landscape with Pope/Dictator) shortly after his arrival in Monaco, a work reproduced for the first time in the catalogue raisonné. If it barely hints at the extraordinary things Bacon was to do with this image over the following decades, it nevertheless embodies the conflicts between spontaneity and order, brutality and impassivity, that were at the root of Bacon’s art and personality. “He was debonair and sophisticated,” says Peppiatt. “He could be very charming, extremely generous and great fun to be with. But there was also a treacherous and destructive side to his personality, something diabolical. He pushed himself to the limits, and he pushed others to the limits too. You only have to look at the various suicides around him.”

These included his lover George Dyer, who killed himself in 1971, and Peter Lacy, considered the great love of Bacon’s life – his ultimate “cruel father” figure – who drank himself to death. If the latter wasn’t a suicide as such, Bacon, as Peppiatt observes, “certainly framed it as that in his own mind”. Lacy died in 1962, the year of Bacon’s breakthrough retrospective at the Tate, which also saw the beginning of the famous interviews with David Sylvester in which the artist consolidated the story of his life as he wished it be known – “the myth”, as Harrison puts it. “Before that it was all much less formal, wilder and more dangerous. But as Bacon didn’t keep diaries or records of any kind it’s hard to piece it together.” Bacon’s early years, not least his unlikely Monaco sojourn, are likely to remain a mystery.

Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture is at the Grimaldi Forum, Monaco until Sep 4. The accompanying book, Francis Bacon: France and Monaco, ed. Martin Harrison, is published by Albin Michel at £35

 

 

London Art Market Rides Out Brexit, Sets records As Pound Drops

 

By Katya Kazakina, Bloomberg, July 1, 2016

 

London’s art market was whipsawed like the financial world during the two weeks of auctions surrounding Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union.

Uncertainty leading up to the June 23 referendum left some sellers hesitating to part with holdings. The political and economic volatility that followed voters’ shock decision, with the pound plunging the next day and Prime Minister David Cameron resigning, disrupted some sales but spurred more.

Held a week after the U.K. voted, the event shrugged off volatility, selling all but four of the 31 offered works. Two scheduled lots were withdrawn.

Titled “Defining British Art,” it was estimated at 95.7 million pounds to 138 million pounds, a significantly higher target than Christie’s two preceding evening sales of Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary art, combined.

Francis Bacon’s 1968 Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe drew two bidders and sold for 20.2 million pounds, as estimated. The work was being resold after 10 years; it had been purchased for $15 million in 2006 at Sotheby’s.

 

   

    Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe

 

 

June Sales End in Style with Christie's Defining British Art Auction

 

By MEGHANA REDDY | BLOUIN ARTINO | JUNE 30, 2016

 

London’s June sales ended on a high note with Christie’s much-anticipated 250th-anniversary auction, Defining British Art. The house had set aside much of its prime material for this curated session and was rewarded with a strong showing — a final tally of £99,479,500 ($133 million), four artist records set — that more than made up for the relatively mediocre performance of its previous auctions this week and last.

The sale was remarkable for the efforts the house made to win consignments of material that it had auctioned previously, in some cases, in the same room. Ironically, because it coincided with a decline in the pound following the Brexit vote, international players might have had an advantage in bidding for works one would expect to appeal to a more local crowd.

Francis Bacon's 1968 Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe brought £20,242,500 ($27 million), about what was expected. Other versions of the work are in the Beyeler Foundation and the Reina Sofia. This one might have fetched a higher sum if the markets weren’t in turmoil, but that’s up for debate.

 

 

CHRISTIE'S

 

FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)

Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe

 

 SALE 131oo LOT 6 

DEFINING BRITISH AT EVENING SALE

30 June 2016 London, King Street

 

    

     Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe

 

Price Realized

£20,242,500 ($27,104,708)

Lot Description

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe
signed ‘Francis Bacon’ (on the stretcher); titled and dated ‘Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe 1968’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
78 x 58in. (198 x 147.5cm.)
Painted in 1968

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Provenance

Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London. 
Vanthournout Collection, Belgium (acquired from the above in 1970).
Their sale, Sotheby’s New York, 14 November 2006, lot 5.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

Pre-Lot Text

PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION

Literature

Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée National d’art moderne, 1996, no. 57 (illustrated in colour).
D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p. 110, no. 88 (illustrated in colour). 
M. Harrison and R. Daniels (eds.), Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné Volume III 1958-71, London 2016, p. 878 (illustrated in colour, p. 879).

Exhibited

Knokke, Gemeetelijk Casino, XXXIIIe Belgian Summer Festival, Pop Art: Niewue Figuratie/Nouveau Réalism, 1970, p. 15.
New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Inc., Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings, 1968, p. 50, no. 15 (illustrated in colour, p. 51).
London, Hayward Gallery, Francis Bacon The Human Body, 1998, p. 101, no. 15 (illustrated in colour, unpaged)

Lot Notes

With its writhing, serpentine figure set within a stark amphitheatre of colour and form, Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe is one of the great masterpieces of Francis Bacon’s finest period: the 1960s. Against a sea of deep, cardinal red, flanked by a curtain of rapid painterly striations, Bacon’s supine nude lies sprawled upon a bed, framed by a vast ocular lens and suspended within a sharp cubic grid. Executed on a monumental scale, spanning nearly two metres in height, the painting marks the critical moment in Bacon’s oeuvre at which the diverse experimental strands of the preceding decade were brought into powerful synthesis: the near-total abstraction of the figure, the visceral animation of flesh, the corporeal handling of pigment and the rich, sensory palette of opulent and electric hues. Closely related to Bacon’s two great Lying Figure compositions of 1966 and 1969, housed in the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía and the Fondation Beyeler respectively, the painting represents a direct reworking of his 1963 canvas Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe. In its transformation of the earlier void-like composition into a living theatre of figural abstraction, the painting tells a story largely untold within Baconian mythology: the relationship between the artist and Willem de Kooning, whom he had met earlier that year. Like the American master’s seminal depictions of the female body as sites of raw, carnal sensation, Bacon’s woman dissolves into a violent, almost eligible tangle of limbs in motion: a dynamic bundle of animal matter in its most rarefied state. Whilst the cage and the ellipse – structures both visible in the present work – had previously provided Bacon with a means of ‘pinning down’ this pulsating figural energy, here they are no longer enough. The operation, transmitted directly from Bacon’s own nervous system onto the canvas, now required a syringe. 

Two years after its creation, Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe was one of the first paintings to be acquired by the Vanthournout collection, remaining in its prestigious holdings for nearly four decades. During this period, it was seen by the public on just one occasion when, in 1998, it was personally requested by Bacon’s foremost critic David Sylvester for his curatorial swansong Francis Bacon: The Human Body at the Hayward Gallery in London. There, it sat alongside an exclusive, tightly-curated selection of twenty-three works that, in the scholar’s opinion, represented the core of Bacon’s practice. For Sylvester, it was precisely the shadows of Abstract Expressionism in this work that justified its place in this elite survey, having previously described how the artist ‘came closer to de Kooning here than in any other of his works’ (D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p. 108). Though the painting may be understood in relation to Bacon’s landmark Crucifixion triptychs of 1962 and 1965, as well as his celebrated depictions of Henrietta Moraes – whose reclining figure inspired the present work – its dialogue with abstraction ultimately sets it apart from these compositions. Pigment, and its ability to embody sensation, becomes the primary focus of the work; in myriad tones of green, blue, pink, red, yellow and purple, it is swiped, swept and smeared, stippled, shuttered and scrubbed across the picture plane. The central ovular field, contained within a vitrine-like case, is simultaneously an operating theatre, an arena or even perhaps an eye, in which the figure hovers like an optical illusion. The syringe, in this light, becomes an anchor in the face of the formless and nameless: a means, as Bacon himself described, of ‘nailing the image more strongly into reality or appearance’ (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1975, p. 78).

DIALOGUES WITH ABSTRACTION: BACON AND DE KOONING

Though Bacon maintained something of a scathing attitude towards Abstract Expressionism throughout his career, the 1960s saw the development of a complex – if, at times, subconscious – dialogue with the movement’s key proponents. The Tate Gallery’s 1959 exhibition The New American Painting had a profound impact on the artist, and many of Bacon’s subsequent compositions – including, most notably, the 1963 version of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe – began to echo the stacked colour fields espoused by artists such as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. In contrast to the works of the 1950s, Bacon’s palette morphed from a representational tool to a sensory conductor: colour was increasingly employed for its emotive rather than pictorial potential. A new set of tonalities entered his vocabulary: bright, electric flashes of green, pink and orange that sat in jarring relation to the luxuriant, velvety carpets of burgundy, regal purple and blue carried over from his earlier Papal portraits. As in the present work, these neon hues were frequently employed as halo-like shadows, shrouding his subjects in a radioactive haze. For Bacon, colour gradually became a means of capturing what he described as the ‘emanation’ of his subjects – a tool for abstracting them beyond the physical world. Despite his suspicion of the gestural language proposed by Newman, Rothko, Pollock and others, it was precisely this understanding of colour as a vehicle for transcendence that lay at the heart of their beliefs. 

However, of all his Abstract Expressionist contemporaries, it was ultimately de Kooning with whom Bacon most readily identified. The two artists, along with Sylvester, met for the first time in January 1968, at a dinner during de Kooning’s visit to London. According to Ted Morgan, Bacon came to regard him as ‘the great man in the United States for bursting through the abstract and planting an image on the canvas’ (T. Morgan quoted in D. Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, London 1993, p. 141). This notion spoke directly to Bacon’s own practice which, since its inception, had sought to embed the physical and emotive essence of his subjects within the very fibres of the linen: to capture what he referred to as the ‘after-glow’ of the human form and to fix it in paint. De Kooning’s famous assertion that ‘Flesh was the reason oil painting was invented’ resonated strongly with Bacon’s aesthetic agenda, and both artists shared a deep admiration for Chaïm Soutine’s richly-textured depictions of viscera and carcasses. Their shared ancestry in the primitivist aesthetic of Pablo Picasso positioned them as leading voices in what Sylvester termed the ‘figurative sublime’ - a counterpoint to the much-lauded ‘abstract sublime’ practiced by Newman, Rothko and Pollock. Indeed, in his seminal 1980 documentary The Shock of the New, the art critic Robert Hughes paired Bacon and de Kooning as the twentieth century’s most important exponents of ‘the disquieting human figure’ (R. Hughes, The Shock of the New, BBC, 1980).

Nowhere is this parallel more palpable in Bacon’s oeuvre than in the present work. Like the primal beings that confront the viewer from the swirling depths of de Kooning’s Woman paintings, Bacon’s figure is boiled down to a cellular, almost amoeba-like reduction of the human body. Its physical substance is sublimated to a series of abstracted movements, channelled through the sheer force of Bacon’s own physical gestures. For both artists, the tactile condition of sculpture was an important reference point in their respective approaches to human anatomy. De Kooning – who, unlike Bacon, actively worked in the medium – famously closed his eyes whilst modelling clay, bringing his creations to life through touch rather than sight. Bacon’s work too, powerfully rooted in his fascination with Michelangelo and Rodin, was born of an intense physical engagement with the very grain of the pigment. As Robert Melville once wrote, ‘Bacon has used paint as if he were modeling the figure out of wet clay or as if he has forced his hands into the actual substance of the model and sculpted the bone structure in order to intensify the pliancy of the flesh’ (R. Melville, quoted in Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Tate Britain, London, 2008, p. 262). In the present work, Bacon not only moulds but ultimately pulls apart the figure, peeling back the flesh to reveal the twitching nervous system and muscular spasms beneath. By consciously animating the interior of his subject, Bacon allows his figure to break free from its physical condition, liquidating its form to a fluid carnal trace. It is a powerful demonstration of André Breton’s famous assertion that ‘Beauty will be convulsive or not at all’ (A. Breton, Nadja, New York 1960, p. 160).

FORMAL DEVICES: THE GRID, THE OVAL AND THE SYRINGE

Throughout his oeuvre, Bacon’s desire to penetrate right to the heart of his subjects was borne out not only by his handling of the figure, but also through the compositional armature in which his subjects were situated. The grids, cages and ovals that increasingly populated his canvases throughout the 1950s and 1960s were conceived as zoom lenses: devices through which to isolate and spotlight the flesh. The distinctive cubic frame, frequently compared to the Chinagraph markings used by photographers to indicate areas for enlargement, has also been likened to the cages in which Bacon’s contemporary Alberto Giacometti submitted his subjects to deep existential enquiry. The elliptical vortex functions in a similar way. Though Bacon has traced the origin of this structure to the ‘beautifully curved rooms’ at the back of his grandmother’s house in Farmleigh, Martin Harrison has identified a number of potential sources of inspiration for this structure, including the circular barriers around casino roulette tables, sporting arenas – particularly those of the bullfight or corrida – the swirling vortexes of Soutine’s landscapes, Max Ernst’s appropriation of the zoopraxiscope and the photographs of operating theatres found in Bacon’s prized medical textbooks (M. Harrison, In Camera: Francis Bacon. Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting, London 2005, pp. 118-121). Elsewhere, it has been suggested that this ovular void evokes an eye - a metaphor for vision, as co-opted by Bacon’s early Surrealist influences Luis Buñuel and Georges Bataille. For Bacon, who worked from a flood of reproduced and half-remembered pictures, photographs and sources scattered around his studio, it was via these geometric frames that he was able to filter the contents of his own mind’s eye into a single, animated image. 

In the present work, along with its predecessor, these two structures are joined by a third – the syringe. Within an oeuvre that sought to pierce the very skin of its subjects, the metaphorical significance of this device goes straight to the heart of Bacon’s aesthetic preoccupations. If the cage and the oval attempted to contain the figure, the syringe was a means of pinning it down for closer examination. Bacon’s fascination with Cimabue’s depictions of the crucifixion was ultimately rooted in the same concept: it was through anchoring the human figure, he believed, that its true essence could begin to emerge. Writing of the 1963 version of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe, Gilles Deleuze explained how the image ‘is less a nailed-down body (though this is how Bacon describes it) than a body attempting to pass through the syringe and to escape through this hole or vanishing point functioning as a prosthesis-organ’ (G. Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, 1981, London 2005, pp. 17-18). Deleuze’s conception of the syringe as an organ of sorts invites comparison with the ellipse’s construal as an eye: they are not only means of ensnaring or fixing the body, but equally vehicles for allowing it to transcend its external appearance. Both are gateways to the abstract tangle of nervous electricity that flows beneath the body’s physical surface. Along with the cage, they exemplify what Deleuze refers to elsewhere as the ‘diagram’ – vectors that interact with the figure, pinioning it to the canvas and thereby forcing its internal energy to the surface.

THE HUMAN FIGURE IN MOTION

Though the majority of Bacon’s figures were based on people he knew, he rarely worked directly from life. The figurative violence he enacted upon his subjects was, to his mind, so extreme that he preferred to work from photographs. Though the present work is far from a portrait of Henrietta Moraes in the traditional sense, it was nonetheless her reclining figure that formed the basis for its central protagonist. Part of the colourful cast of Soho characters who touched Bacon’s life during the 1960s, Moraes featured in some of Bacon’s most significant paintings from this period, including Three Studies for a Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, 1963 (Museum of Modern Art, New York), Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, 1963, Study for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, 1964, and Henrietta Moraes, 1966. Many of these works, along with the present painting, derived from a series of photographs taken by John Deakin of Moraes reclining on a bed. Though Bacon specified the exact pose he wished her to enact, the first series of images – which depicted her in an upright recumbent posture – met with dismay: ‘the blithering nitwit reversed every single shot of you I wanted’, he complained to Moraes (F. Bacon quoted in H. Moraes, Henrietta, London 1994, p. 71). He insisted that Deakin take another set of photographs, this time with Moraes lying flat on her back, her head towards the viewer, her arms outstretched and her leg raised. It was a pose that related directly to his earliest Lying Figure compositions of 1959-61, based on Rodin’s Iris Messenger of the Gods. This posture, in various subtly different guises, features in all of the Lying Figures from the 1960s and would, in turn, inform the figures that populated his Crucifixion triptychs. 

By the time of the present work, photography – and its extension into cinema – had become a primary point of reference in Bacon’s attempts to capture the human body. The idea of isolating and preserving a split second of figural motion appealed directly to his desire to zoom in on the body’s carnal make-up. Of all the works produced during the 1960s, the present work is among the most powerful engagements with the legacy of Eadweard Muybridge, whose frame-by-frame accounts of the human body in movement provided a deep source of inspiration for Bacon. Arms, legs and torsos are so closely entwined that they mutate to form a single entity. Like a film paused on rewind, or a long photographic exposure, time and movement collapse and coalesce, creating a hybrid being that quivers with heightened sensory charge. The rapid striations of paint that hover behind the figure – recalling the ‘shuttering’ effect that Bacon adapted from the pastels of Edgar Degas – also have their origins in filmic media, reminiscent of shuddering optical static or a cinematic time lapse. Used throughout his oeuvre to express a release of tension – most notably in his screaming Papal portraits of the 1950s and early 1960s – here it recalls the persistent fluttering of an eyelid; a series of rapid blinks, struggling to focus on the swirling vortex of impasto that lies, spread-eagled, in the middle of the composition. 

BETWEEN STATES OF BEING

In its virtuosic dialogue between figuration and abstraction, motion and containment, Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe represents one of Bacon’s most important meditations on the convulsive nature of reality. It is perhaps significant in this regard that Bacon – who up until the 1960s had almost exclusively painted men – chose a woman as his vehicle. Indeed, it is in his depictions of the female form, more than anywhere else in his oeuvre, that Bacon revealed the double-edged depths of his own search for identity. As David Sylvester has written, ‘the two sexes met in Francis Bacon, more than in any other human being I have encountered. At moments he was one of the most feminine of men, at others one of the most masculine. He would switch between these roles as suddenly and as unpredictably as the switching of a light. That duality did more than anything perhaps to make his presence so famously seductive and compelling and to make him so peculiarly wise and realistic in his observation of life’ (D. Sylvester, Francis Bacon: The Human Body, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1998, p. 21). In a painting so rich in association, it is perhaps appropriate that Bacon’s central figure should embody the conflict that lay at the heart of his own being. As John Russell said of the artist’s work, ‘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’ (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1971, p. 132). Sprawled upon a bed – the primal site of birth and death – the figure’s transitional state offers a powerful commentary on the human condition in its broadest sense. 

 

 

Sex, squalor and false teeth; life with Dickie and Denis

 

The lurid tale of two of Francis Bacon's artistic chums both appals and amuses

 

Roger Lewis, Saturday Review, The Times, Saturday June 25 2016

 

       

        BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY Denis Writh-Miller and Richard "Dicky" Chopping; minor artists and sexual athletes

 

Though this panoramic portrait of "the madness of the 20th-century art world" is immensely entertaining, it can't be said that any of the characters represented were admirable or worthy of emulation. Indeed, rarely can there have been a more obnoxious and grotesque crew - and they were like this on purpose.

Lucian Freud, for example, evinced "a great desire to be rude for the sheer love of the thing", according to Frances Partridge, one of the last of the Bloomsberries. Francis Bacon believed cruelty was a form of moral honesty. He wished, says Jon Lys Turner, to "push excess to its furthest limits and offend without compunction". Bacon and Freud spent their adult lives seeking opportunities to witness "human interplay in a raw, raucous, unconstrained and sometimes obscene state". Perhaps that's why Bacon wore fishnet stockings under his trousers and administered "a cornflour enema up his anus so that it would pour out during sexual activity with [his boyfriend George] Dyer"?

In this book, Bacon, and the rest of the Colony Club mob, are discussed in relation to a pair of minor artists, Dicky Chopping (1917-2008) and Denis Wirth-Miller (1915-2010), who kept open house in Wivenhoe, Essex. They acquired their premises on the quay in 1945, making repairs using spare parts from coffins.

The rambling, knocked-through cottage, known as the Storehouse, was rat-infested and often flooded. On one occasion it also caught fire. The insurance claim stated that the conflagration was caused by "a passing jackdaw with a glowing cigarette in its beak". Terrence Conran designed the new kitchen and Robert Carrier dropped by to cook omelettes.

Chopping and Wirth-Miller were a pair of sadomasochistic queens who lived together for 70 gruesome years. Chopping went to a minor public school and was obsessed with John Gielgud - but it was Wirth-Miller who succeeded in being picked up by the great Shakespearean and was fellated by him "to the sounds of muffled chocking". This was because Gielgud had thoughtfully taken his false teeth out first.

Wirth-Miller, who was jailed for nine months for having homosexual sex in a "bombed-out Blitz slum street" during the war, affected an upper-class accent and said his father was shot as a spy in the Tower of London. In fact, he was born in Folkestone, where his mother was a maid and his father ran a hotel.

Wirth-Miller "lost his virginity to an Indian cricketer" on the promenade in Folkestone and fell in with Chopping on the fringes of Fritzrovia, where everyone was drunk and debauched and enjoyed "the ensuing chaos". The artist Nina Hamnett, for example, "was fond of declaring that Modigliani had told her she had the best breasts in Europe". She later flung herself from the window of her top-floor flat and was impaled on the railings.

Indeed, none of these artists who flocked to Wivenhoe fared well. Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde were scarcely house-trained. Chopping and Wirth-Miller would find that "they frequently smashed glasses and drank to excess, and they would carry on even after vomiting". Indeed, they would prise up the floorboards and be sick into the voids. Colquhoun died of alcoholism in 1962. four years later MacBryde was knocked down and killed after emerging from a pub wearing a kilt. John Minton, who was mocked for his "parochial and constrained draughtsmanship" - i.e. he could draw - and was always comatose on the floor, committed suicide with tablets, as did Keith Vaughan.

The survivor was Bacon. Wirth-Miller, in Turner's account, was a minor artist, thoroughly over-shadowed by Bacon, professionally and personally. Bacon, for example, had retrospectives at the Tate and in Paris. Wirth-Miller exhibited at the Wivenhoe Arts club.  Bacon, indeed, mocked Wirth-Miller's pictures of bulrushes and mudflats in the Essex marshes.

Nevertheless, although Bacon bought a house of his own locally, he scarcely used it, preferring to share a studio at the Storehouse, using the same paints and canvas as Wirth-Miller. Turner says "their styles may have rubbed off on each other and, in the case of some unattributed works discovered in Wirth-Miller's studio after his death, it is difficult to tell which painter is responsible". Indeed, the disputed works in the plate section are the best Bacons I have seen, especially the shape-shifting hounds and a ghostly figure emerging through a door frame

Chopping, in his turn, didn't wish to compete. He was more of an illustrator and became an expert in the painstaking depiction of insects, animals and plants for Penguin. His books about butterflies and flowers became bestsellers, but his break-through came when Ian Fleming commissioned him to design the jackets for the James Bond novels.

The Chopping skulls, bluebottles and guns became as integral to the 007 image as the immaculate dinner jackets and dry martini cocktails. chopping became well connected enough to be invited to a society wedding, where Wirth-Miller was accidentally hit in the testicles by an 11-year old Prince Charles during an electricity blackout.

Nevertheless, it is not the work that is the focus of Turner's concerns, but the terrible lives that these people felt compelled to lead. Was the constant combativeness their reaction to the expectations of how artists and homosexuals were traditionally meant to carry on? Was it some sort of statement about their aversion to the virtues of middle-class neatness and decorum? ("Your studio is far too tidy. Personally I like a mess," Minton told Wirth-Miller.)

Bacon may have worn foundation and rouge and put boot polish on his hair, and he may have lived with his nanny in Cromwell Place ("she would take the coats and serve the guests drinks"), but he was happiest when, for instance, one of his partners knocked out a tooth during a fight outside the St Ives harbourside pub, the Sloop Inn.

When some younger neighbours - the Bee Gees as it happened - complained about the noise in Wirth-Miller and Chopping's London home, Bacon flung an empty champagne bottle through their window. Nor was he unduly discombobulated, in public at least, by the suicide of Dyer, shortly before his big Paris exhibition in 1971. "Rather than damaging his artistic reputation," says the author, "the story only inflated the Francis Bacon legend."

Chopping and Wirth-Miller were always squabbling. The fashion designer, Zandra Rhodes found them facing each other with knives at the ready. The first problem was the effect of chronic financial insecurity. To make ends meet they once worked as gardeners in a convent, until sacked when some wigs they had given the nuns for a production of The Sound of Music turned out to have been used previously in a drag act

The second bone of contention was sexual jealousy. "It is incredibly difficult," a well-meaning friend told Chopping and Wirth-Miller, "to sustain a kind, loving relationship with endless, promiscuous fucking," e.g. with a spanking gardener in Stockwell and a man in the lift at the British Museum. Chopping and Wirth-Miller treasured a biscuit tin filled with the brass buttons they had snipped from the uniforms of obliging soldiers. Turner has counted more than 200 buttons.

Old age made them worse. Wirth-Miller dyed his hair black and came to resemble Hitler - apt perhaps as the Wirth-Millers were originally Warthmullers from Bavaria. Chopping went bald and purchased a hairpiece, which lifted clean off his head when he removed his motorcycle helmet. They went on holiday to France with Bacon, who sat in the back of the car "with a handkerchief tied round his head, frequently complaining". They dumped him at a railway station. When next they met in Essex, bacon went into an antique shop, bought a plate for £40, smashed it over Wirth-Miller's head, and said: "Now will you fucking shut up?"

Bacon died in Madrid in 1992 and his two friends rapidly slipped into obscurity. In 2005 they became one of the first gay couples to form a civil partnership. Dementia set in, however, and when Chopping slipped on the floor, Wirth-Miller left him there in agony for days. "He deserved it because he was so irritating," was his excuse. Chopping died in 2008, aged 91, Wirth-Miller two years later, a week shy of his 95th birthday. People have been eagerly buying up Wirth-Miller's pictures to scrape the paint off, hoping to find a lost Bacon underneath.

 

      

 

Francis Bacon: creating order from chaos

 

Francis Bacon was a great artist, but a very bad record keeper. As the definitive inventory of his paintings is published, Stephen Smith meets the art history detective who catalogued his life

 

Stephen Smith, The Guardian, Friday 24 June 2016

 

         Francis Bacon in Monaco in 1981. Photograph: Eddy Batache/MB Art Collection

 

An unsparing observer of the human condition, Francis Bacon was as unsentimental about death as he was about life. “When I'm dead, put me in a plastic bag and throw me in the gutter,”  the old hellraiser told the proprietor of the Colony Room, the Soho drinking den which was Bacon’s second home, if not his first. In his lifetime, the artist reportedly declined honours, including a knighthood and the Order of Merit. “They’re so ageing,” he complained. His friend Daniel Farson once asked if he was pleased that he had secured his place in the history of art. “Oh don’t talk such rubbish!” was the reply.

Bacon had little use for the arts establishment. Despite the lack of an art college education, or perhaps because of it, he emerged self-made. “No one could imitate Bacon without looking stupid,” wrote the critic Robert Hughes. “But to ignore him is equally absurd, for no other painter has set forth with such pitiless clarity the tensions and paradoxes that surround all efforts to see, let alone paint, the human figure in the age of photography.” Finding little to praise in the ranks of his fellow artists – or the critics – Bacon got on with his singular calling of confining screaming popes and anguished lovers to grid-like boxes, as rudimentary and lethal as gin traps. But posterity has refused to repay Bacon’s snub in kind. Since his death in 1992, the fashionable end of the art market has clasped him to its bosom. Three years ago, his triptych of fellow artist and one-time friend, Lucian Freud, set a record price for a work at auction. Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) went for £89m. And now every last shrieking pontiff and writhing lover has been hunted down and captured between the pages of the artist’s catalogue raisonné, a handsomely bound and presented five-volume box set the size and weight of a fully laden builder’s hod. Bacon is the one in a box now.

A cat res, in the art world shorthand, is an authoritative record of an artist’s oeuvre, to be consulted by scholars, gallerists, dealers and collectors. Bacon’s includes scores of previously unseen and little known works, and seems certain to challenge the established art history on him. It’s highly collectible in its own right: at 1,538 pages with 800 illustrations, it will set you back £1,000. It’s finished in a louring Baconian grey, the colour of a hospital gurney. Although its object couldn’t have cared less it has been produced with great gravity by the estate of Francis Bacon, which administers the artist’s staggeringly successful posthumous career. And it’s the estate, with its geologically deep pockets, that has supported years of painstaking research to make the catalogue possible. “Although the cost is not being disclosed, it probably amounted to several million pounds,” according to the respected Art Newspaper.

Such an inventory would be the work of a moment in the case of a Jeff Koons or a Damien Hirst. All you’d have to do is access the codes to the artist’s digital cloud and download a fully comprehensive record of every work, including the date, title and perhaps even the names of the men and women who actually made it. But such a neat and tidy solution wasn’t an option with Bacon. He lived a rackety version of the artistic life, gambling, picking up rough trade and shoplifting with his old nanny, like Soho’s answer to Brideshead Revisited’s Sebastian Flyte. His art, too, involved a surrender to chance, accident and disorder. In BBC footage from the 70s, we encounter the painter at his home in Reece Mews, South Kensington. At first sight, it looks like an early pilot for one of those programmes where hoarders are talked out from behind their stockades of junk. Bacon blinks at the heaps of paint-soaked rags that clutter the place like grape skins in a winery. He says, “I feel at home here in this chaos. Also chaos suggests images to me. In any case, if I go into a new room, in a week’s time, the place is in chaos.”

“Can you imagine Francis Bacon keeping a record of a painting?” asks Martin Harrison incredulously. The editor of the catalogue raisonné, Harrison spent a decade tracking down all 584 surviving Bacons – the ones the artist didn’t destroy. For the first time since Bacon’s scandalising forms left his studio, they have been reunited on Harrison’s pages. At the gallery where we meet – where else but Soho? – he has the exhausted but quietly satisfied air of a priest who has performed an exorcism, and has just heard that a well deserved medal is on its way from the Vatican.

Harrison says the artist left him little to go on. “There are one or two diaries with a couple of lines in them. He’d get them from places like Charlie Chester’s Casino, where they handed out little leather-bound diaries. And like lots of us, by 4 January he’d given up.”

Before Harrison, the definitive guide to Bacon was a 1964 catalogue raisonné, published when the artist still had three active decades ahead of him. By then, Marlborough Fine Art in Mayfair had begun to represent him, and the gallery’s administrator Valerie Beston proved to be “an assiduous recorder”, as Harrison puts it. But her ledgers only took him so far. “One was usually searching for paintings which one knew existed. You just didn’t know where they were. Either they hadn’t been exhibited for a very long time, or they had never been exhibited at all. If their owners were middle-aged or older at the time they acquired the paintings, they were almost certainly no longer alive, so the pictures had changed hands. But there were also paintings that turned up and came to my authentication committee that hadn’t previously been recorded at all.”

Harrison discovered that the painter of bracingly uninhibited homosexual encounters had actually produced more female nudes (18) than gay sex scenes (11). And his finds include what may have been Bacon’s “best pope”, which the artist wrongly believed he had scrapped. Bacon was obsessed with Velázquez’s famous study of Pope Innocent X and made variations of it until 1965. He told the critic David Sylvester that he regretted destroying what he regarded as his finest attempt after Velázquez. But perhaps he didn’t destroy it, and perhaps Harrison has found it: a figure in papal purple, legs crossed in a chair or throne, pinioned within a thicket of orange bars and roaring his head off. This pope, painted in 1950, is on the walls of the gallery, one of half a dozen unseen Bacons exhibited to promote Harrison’s text. He says, “Is this his best pope? We can’t tell. All we can say for certain is that this one was lost and has now re-emerged.” It belonged to a group of works that ended up in storage at an art lock-up in Chelsea. “There’s nothing recorded about this but I think Bacon simply forgot about them. After he died, a room was found there with a lot of paintings that he had abandoned.”

Compiling the catalogue demanded the skills of a gumshoe as much as an art historian. “You get on the phone and start ringing people up,” Harrison says. “You’re looking for someone and it turns out there are seven people in Welshpool who have the same name. Or someone would say of a painting, ‘Oh, there was someone in Turin who had it.’ So there was a lot of hopping on planes.” The editor’s labours recall the travails of Norman Sherry, the indefatigable biographer of Graham Greene. For the sake of his triple-decker life, Sherry went everywhere the globe-trotting novelist had been, exposing himself to every blowpipe and mosquito-loud interior. Sherry caught the same illnesses as Greene, and even parted with a length of his intestine. Happily, Harrison can still talk with relish of coming face to extraordinary face with the Bacons he found. “The excitement of getting up close to them is in the ravishing texture, power and energy of the paint, which truly does still turn me on. It’s spine-tingling.”

Though the catalogue raisonné has a steep price tag, it will be made available to deserving institutions free of charge through the largesse of the estate, says Harrison. It is also expected to appear online. “I know someone who ordered three already,” he says. “She owns about eight Bacons. Anyone who owns eight Bacons can afford three of these.” He has uncovered fascinating curios that future biographers will thank him for, including a photograph of Bacon in the unlikely guise of an air-raid warden during the blitz. Harrison’s research has led him to the “unfashionable” conclusion that there are psychological motivations for a lot of the artist’s imagery. “They’re not abstracts, and he’s so devoted to the figure, the human body. I believe things that came out of his own life and experience were crucial to that.”

But mysteries remain about Bacon’s subject matter and motives. Harrison hopes to tease out more about them with an exhibition he’s curating in Monaco next month, which looks at the time Bacon spent in Paris and the Riviera, and some of the artists who inspired him, including Léger and Toulouse Lautrec.

The French capital was the scene of one of the darkest episodes in Bacon’s life. In 1971, his lover George Dyer killed himself a few hours before the opening of a Bacon exhibition. Among the painter’s threadbare jottings, Harrison found a reference to the suicide. “George died a year ago today,” he wrote. A new book claims that he tried to hush up the death for the sake of his career, but that’s not how the tragedy is recalled by friends who were with him at the time.

Dr Paul Brass, Bacon’s former GP, told me, “I remember thinking that Francis wouldn’t come to dinner the night of the opening. But he did. I think he just had a feeling that he couldn’t let everyone down, and he had to go through with it.”

On more than one occasion, Brass was roused from his bed in the early hours of the morning to patch up the worse-for-wear artist. “I once found him in a bad way at his studio, and I said you’re going to have to see a plastic surgeon. He said ‘Absolutely not – you can stitch me up now.’ So we lay him on the table in his studio. I offered him a local anaesthetic but he refused. He was so drunk I don’t think he felt anything.”

Brass once gave evidence for Bacon in court after Dyer, in a jealous rage, planted cannabis in the kitchen at Reece Mews and called the police. “Francis was a chronic asthmatic, and I was able to show that smoking cannabis would have made him very ill.” Shortly after Bacon was cleared, he left a brown paper parcel at Brass’s surgery. It was a thank you present, a self portrait, which the doctor and his wife sold after Bacon’s death for £350,000. It paid for the home they retired to on the south coast. A Bacon of similar size and quality recently went for £5m.

Brass said, “When Francis was very ill, he would say, ‘You know Paul, when I’m dead my paintings won’t be worth anything.’”

• Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné (ed Martin Harrison) is published by the estate of Francis Bacon.  Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture is at the Grimaldi Forum, Monaco, fromThe accompanying book Francis Bacon: France and Monaco, is co-published by Albin Michel and the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, in partnership with Heni Publishing.

 

 

Artistic legacy: how a doctor didn't need anaesthetic to stitch inebriated Francis Bacon

 

Irish patients lead the world in generosity to family doctors, writes Maurice Gueret, who finds plenty of Brass in Bacon

 

Irish Independent, 27 June 2016

 

Irish patients can be very generous to their doctors. BBC2's Newsnight recently interviewed an old-style London GP about a very famous Irishman that he treated. Dr Paul Brass, and his father before him, were family doctors and friends to the artist Francis Bacon. There were frequent house calls to the artist's studio, and Dr Brass described one visit when his patient sustained a nasty laceration. The doctor recommended seeing a specialist plastic surgeon, but Bacon was having none of it. He lay up on the studio table to have stitches put in. Dr Brass said his patient was so inebriated that there was no need for a local anaesthetic.

Bacon had once written to the elder Dr Brass, complaining that he was not getting any medical bills. He demanded invoices for all treatments, or he would have to find a new doctor. Dr Brass recalled that Bacon always paid by return post and was always 15 minutes early for his appointments. Francis Bacon offered the younger Dr Brass a choice between two paintings as a gift. The doctor picked Jet of Water, but Bacon cautioned that it was merely spilled paint on a canvas. So Dr Brass took the other painting, of a rather tortured-looking English cricketer. Bacon told Dr Brass that his paintings would be worthless when he died. Almost 20 years after Bacon's death, the good doctor put the painting up for auction with Sotheby's of New York. It fetched US$14m. There's money in Bacon and Brass.

 

Dr Maurice Gueret is editor of the Irish Medical Directory

 

 

 

A New Catalogue Raisonné Celebrates Francis Bacon

 

 

The estate of Francis Bacon presents an entire oeuvre of the late British artist’s paintings for the first time, including many previously unpublished works

 

HOW MANY FRANCIS BACON works are there? You might think the answer would be well-known, given the strength of the market for the late British painter’s work. Just one of his pieces—Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969)—sold for a record $142.4 million in 2013; this May, a smaller series, Two Studies for a Self-Portrait (1970), fetched $34.9 million, nearly $5 million above the top estimate. Yet until recently no one really knew what the total Bacon output was.

Now we have at least a provisional tally: 584. It comes from the monumental Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, published by the artist’s estate this June. The opus is so substantial in stature—five clothbound volumes, comprising 1,538 pages, in a stand-alone slipcase—as to qualify as an art objet itself (and it’s priced accordingly at $1,500). The contents, including many never-before-published pieces, represent a decade of meticulous detective work by the principal author, Bacon expert Martin Harrison. “I was constantly sending letters all over the world,” he says, trying to find canvases that hadn’t been seen in a half century.

Hugh Davies, the outgoing head of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, who served on the Francis Bacon Authentication Committee, notes that many of the works were new to him. “I think it will really change the scholarship about Bacon,” he says, “and also scramble the canon a bit.” Indeed, Bacon emerges as a somewhat different artist than the one his reputation suggests: a master, for example, of animal painting as well as screaming popes and naked men.

But how could works by such a major talent fall into obscurity? One reason is that the only previous catalogue, from 1963, covered less than half of Bacon’s career. Another has to do with the painter’s capricious attitude to his own creations. In 1951 he abandoned his London studio, leaving behind numerous pieces that he then disowned. Harrison speculates that if Bacon had gone through the 584 cataloged pictures, “blowtorch in hand,” he might have left “about 80.” Art lovers and auctioneers alike will be relieved that didn’t happen.

 

 

 

   Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms At Tate Liverpool

 

      By Paul Black,

                                          Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms. Tate Liverpool

Tate Liverpool is currently presenting the largest exhibition ever staged in the north of England of the late great existential master of the 20th century: Francis Bacon. ‘Invisible Rooms’ features approximately 30 paintings by the artist alongside a group of rarely seen drawings on paper, but more significantly the exhibition turns out to be a survey of a particular painting device employed by the artist, a curatorial decision designed to shed new light on what is now Bacon’s well known obsession with the entropy of the flesh, and ‘the valves of feeling’.

Curated by Kasia Redzisz and Lauren Barnes, the exhibition brings together works that share the artist’s particular device of framing his figures. For such a long time we have all focused on Bacon’s preoccupation with the visceral subversion of our physical form, while certainly paying less attention to the artist’s spatial constructs: the world in which his figures reside. This architectural form serves to isolate Bacon’s raw screaming lumps of meat – this we already knew. But the artist’s cages are his recurring ‘leitmotif’ embodying a specific idea: that Bacon’s approach to space was of equal importance to the artist’s approach to the human form. The space frame was the essential context for his existentially wrought bodies.

 This is never more apparent than in Bacon’s ‘Man in Blue IV, 1954′ and ‘Man in Blue V, 1954′, displayed midway through the exhibition – devoid of the artist’s later cavorting carcuses – instead the central lone figure of each painting is placed in an abstracted space evocative of a room-like environment through the demarcation of space. The faces of these two figures [The paintings being placed together in situ] are closer to traditional portraiture than in other works by the artist, but with a ghostly transparency. These are reminiscent of many other of Bacon’s works from the 50’s, where there is a subtlety to the figures that would later become unusual: forms slightly closer to traditional figuration which would be discarded in later paintings. This gives rise to an increased focus on the spatial environment of the painting; a mixture of representational and abstract lines. The isolated male figure, possibly Bacon’s lover Peter Lacy – is thought to reference the ongoing illegality of homosexuality during the period – leans trapped in an architectural space: a dark and empty room inundated with a superabundance of claustrophobia and social estrangement. With these works the device of the cage is highlighted, the power of Bacon’s space frames are apparent and create that essential context.

It is now no wonder the artist considered creating sculpture (and why Damien Hirst ‘converted’ certain paintings by Bacon into vitrine-enclosed three-dimensional works). Perhaps Bacon could have worked with ‘actual’ space in light of his interior design background, which obviously had a greater influence on his later work than was ever truly realised. As here there is an acute awareness of the spatial properties of the artist’s compositions. Bacon understood and manipulated the architectural space of his paintings to effect his figures. While our eyes were all focused on twisted meat and screaming nurses, Bacon was manipulating their place in the psychological halls of our minds, adding pathos and isolation to the violence of the flesh.

These space frames of late 50s have a greater complexity in later works as the ongoing motif evolves. With ‘Three Figures and Portrait, 1975′ elliptical and circular ‘lenses’ focus on the corrupt body of a suicidal George Dyer with a sense of sadomasochistic voyeurism. These architectural devices not only focus our attention, but also the intent of the artist’s vision, in this particular work the device is a reflection of  the artist’s own history with the subject. When British art critic and curator David Sylvester asked Bacon about the artist’s cages and space frames, Bacon replied: “I cut down the scale of the canvas by drawing in these rectangles which concentrate the image down. They are there to highlight, to focus, to point to the figure. They are intensifiers.”

These cubic cages give a solitary existential angst to the artist’s contorted flesh, as behind the visceral screams simmers  a neurosis. The rawness of ‘being’ belies paranoia, angst, loneliness and loss. A theatrical stage for the artist’s writhing spines and tortured faces: there is nothing beyond those walls. Nothing beyond the frame. Cages, chambers, and fenced frames lock Bacon’s subjects into a temporal Godless eternity. The flesh rendered all the more futile because of its architectural prison.

The curatorial decisions made in this exhibition highlight the artist’s Godless architecture. It is apparent that Bacon’s ‘theatre’ was of the same importance as the artist’s ‘players’. With all of the myth surrounding Bacon as an instinctive painter, immediate and visceral – from the existential angst of the 50’s to what is sometimes described as almost the self-parody of the artist’s final works – Bacon maintained the physiological complexity and considered structure of his spaces. The real existential horror of the artist’s environments was never really to be found in Bacon’s renditions of screaming haunted meat, but in the voids surrounding them.

Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms –  Tate Liverpool, UK – until 18 September 2016

 

 

His first scream - Bacon's pope prototype found

 

Richard Brooks, Arts Editor, The Sunday Times, 19.06.16

 

   

     Bacon probably painted the work in about 1946 after he moved to the south of France

 

They are the paintings for which Francis Bacon is perhaps most famous. Now a previously unknown prototype for the artist's iconic series depicting "screaming" popes has been discovered in northern Italy.

The discovery of the ghostly, distorted figure was made by the art expert Martin Harrison as he was compiling Bacon's catalogue raisonné, a comprehensive guide to all his 584 paintings, to be published on June 30.

The portrait, entitled Landscape with Pope/Dictator, is believed to have been created in 1946. It has been thought that bacon's attempts to depict popes during that period had been destroyed by the artist.

The series, which by the mid-1960s had grown to more than 45 works, was inspired by a portrait of Pope Innocent X painted in 1650 by the Spanish artist Diego Velázquez.

Bacon's Pope paintings are worth millions of pounds. In 2012 one called Untitled (Pope) sold at Sotheby's in New York for almost $30m (£21m at today's rates).

But the elderly owner of the newly discovered work, who was given it as a present by her late husband, has no intention of selling and only allowed Harrison to include it in the catalogue raisin if he promised to keep her identity a secret.

"The lady's husband bought it in 1967. Sorry, but I can't tell you her name or the city [where she lives]." said Harrison, who described the discovery as "amazingly important, historically".

Harrison, who has spent a decade tracking down Bacon works for authentication after being commissioned by the painter's estate, tried to persuade the owner to allow him to include the portrait in a Bacon exhibition in Monaco that opens next month.

"I told the lady that the value of the painting could easily triple if it went on public display, but she still said no," he said.

 

           

                        Landscape with Pope/Dictator

 

Landscape with Pope/Dictator was probably painted after Bacon, who died aged 82 in 1992, moved to the south of France with Eric Hall, his then boyfriend, and his childhood nanny, Jessie Lightfoot, who cared for him into his forties.

In a letter to his fellow artist, Graham Sutherland in 1946, Bacon mentioned his fascination with Velázquez, who had been the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV.

Records show the painting was acquired from Bacon's London studio in 1951 and was later held by galleries in Milan and Turin before being bought by the unnamed Italian man.

Harrison is coy about the detective work that took him to the unassuming warehouse in an Italian suburb. "It was a hunch which led me there rather than a tip-off," he said.

Born in Dublin, Bacon spent the late 1920s in London and Paris where he financed his love for fine food and wine by becoming a male escort.

The reasons for Bacon's interest in Velázquez's 1650 painting and why he depicted a figure screaming in many of the works has long fascinated commentators.

Michael Peppiatt, whose memoir of Bacon was published last year, said: "Nobody is absolutely sure what influenced Bacon to depict either a pope [or] somebody screaming... He had what I can only call a crush on that Velazquez painting.

"He may also have absorbed some Catholicism being brought up in Ireland... Bacon never gave clear reasons for anything he painted. He did not want it to interfere with the mystique of the image."

While Peppiatt has some reservations over the date attributed to the painting, Harrison and the Bacon estate have no doubt about its authenticity.

 and agencies

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Books: The Visitors' Book: In Francis Bacon's Shadow:

The Lives of Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller

by Jon Lys Turner

 

Delicious anecdotes abound in this celebration of two minor artists who knew everyone

 

 Review by Lynn Barber | Biography | The Sunday Times | June 12 2016

 

             

                    Culture vultures: Chopping (left) and Wirth-Miller with Bacon at the latter’s Tate show in 1985

 

Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller, I hadn’t, either. It doesn’t matter. They were minor players in the British art world from the 1940s onwards, but the main point is that they knew everyone — first and ­foremost Francis Bacon, but also Graham Sutherland, John Minton and Lucian Freud (though they hated him), as well as many unexpected people such as Bloomsbury stalwart Frances Partridge (Chopping’s best friend), Kathleen Hale (who created Orlando the ­Marmalade Cat), the television chef Robert Carrier and the decorator David Hicks. They befriended Noël Coward on a train back from Hicks’s wedding to Pamela Mountbatten; Randolph Churchill invited them to a new year’s party where they were the only guests; Terence Conran designed their new kitchen when their old one caught fire. They invited everyone they met to come and stay at their house in Wivenhoe, in Essex, and many of them did, hence the importance of the Visitors’ Book.

They would have been called ­pansies in their youth (Wirth-Miller was born in 1915, Chopping in 1917), and Wirth-Miller once spent nine weeks in prison for gross indecency, but they lived long enough to form one of the first gay civil partnerships in 2005. They met at the Café Royal in l937 and Chopping moved into Wirth-Miller’s studio soon afterwards. Up till then, Chopping had had a hopeless crush on John Gielgud and was very excited once when Gielgud followed him down the street. He dived into a cinema, hoping Gielgud would follow, which he did — but sat several rows away. Wirth-Miller explained that he should have gone to the lavatories, where Gielgud would have joined him, but anyway, he said, when he’d been picked up by Gielgud he didn’t like the fact that the actor removed his false teeth before performing fellatio.

The couple spent a rackety two years in Fitzrovia before moving to a tumbledown cottage in Essex at the outbreak of war. They found Cedric Morris’s East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing just over the border in Suffolk, and took lessons there in exchange for doing odd jobs. Wirth-Miller was included in a prestigious show of British landscape painting at the Lefevre gallery, and Chopping became known as a natural-history illustrator. By 1944 they had saved enough money to buy the Storehouse in Wivenhoe, which remained their home for the next 60 years.

Wirth-Miller was the more serious artist, who concentrated on painting landscapes (two of his works are in the Royal Collection), but Chopping was more highly paid as an illus­trator. His Butterflies in Britain remained in print for years, but his biggest coup was designing the trompe l’oeil James Bond book jackets, which were so distinctive they were used as posters for the books. (He once went round the ­Circle line, counting the posters for Thunderball at every station.) In later life he took up writing, and also gave classes at the Royal College of Art, where he taught the students about “Life. About wonderful, salacious life.”

Chopping was the steadier character — “affectionate, gentle, kind”, according to Partridge. Wirth-Miller had demons, much exacerbated by drink. This is probably why he got on so well with Bacon, who told him towards the end of his life: “I consider you my only true friend.” Bacon would often take a taxi down to Wivenhoe at the end of a Soho evening and he wrote to Wirth-Miller whenever he was away. They attempted sex on one occasion but it was no good — “bread with bread” — though this didn’t affect their friendship.

Chopping and Wirth-Miller were both promiscuous; Chopping once drew up a list of his sexual encounters: “Spanking gardener in Stockwell — name escapes me; Dumpy man with rubber boots — by dustbins; Man with hair transplant — bus stop near Harrods” et al, but gave up after filling seven pages of A4.

The end was terrible. By 2008, Chopping was increasingly frail and Wirth-Miller was losing his marbles. Chopping could no longer climb the stairs so he slept downstairs, but one day, when his carer didn’t arrive, he tottered into the kitchen to get some water. He fell, cracking his head and dropping his mobile phone out of reach, and spent a night on the cold floor. When Wirth-Miller came down in the morning to make breakfast he stepped over ­Chopping, ignoring his cries for help, and did the same at lunchtime. He also deliberately smashed his mobile phone. “He deserved it because he was irritating,” he explained. Eventually, Chopping was rescued by a neighbour but he died in hospital 10 days later. Wirth-Miller survived another two years.

This book will be an absolute ­goldmine for Bacon biographers, especially as the letters cover patches of his life barely known about before — for instance, a three-month stay in St Ives during the autumn of 1959, which he found “a stronghold of really dreary abstract stuff”. But it would be unfair if The Visitors’ Book was read only as a footnote to Bacon. Though somewhat scattily written, it is full of memorable vignettes, ­delicious anecdotes and many ­moving letters from Chopping to Wirth-Miller and vice versa. Jon Lys Turner first met Chopping at the RCA in 1981 and remained a friend till his death in 2008; he inherited the couple’s archive, including the eponymous Visitors’ Book, and he has made good use of it in this haunting biography.

Keepsakes
One of the stranger items left after their deaths by Wirth-Miller and Chopping was a wartime biscuit tin full of buttons from military uniforms. Each time either of them had a sexual liaison with a serviceman, they would snip a memento from his uniform as a keepsake. The tin contained some 200 buttons.

 

 

 

Inside Francis Bacon's 'Invisible Rooms'

 

Florence Waters speaks to curator Francesco Manacorda about Tate Liverpool’s new exhibition, Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms

 

CHRISTIE'S | FINE ART | INTERVIEWS | 2 JUNE 2026

 

 

Throughout his career Francis Bacon painted figures surrounded by a ghostly cage or structures that reference stages or arenas.  Now Tate Liverpool has brought together more than 30 of Bacon’s paintings for Francis Bacon: Painted Rooms, the first exhibition to explore this mysterious aspect of his work. Although they are subtle, these cages hold the key to unravelling the painter’s most complex themes, as the curator Francesco Manacorda explains.

Didn’t the Tate hold a wonderfully comprehensive Francis Bacon exhibition only relatively recently in London?

Francesco Manacorda: When you go to a typical retrospective you’re thrown into themes and technique at the same time. At Tate Britain’s 2008-09 show, for example, people might have seen these cages, but it’s unlikely that they would have noticed what changes about them, and what they come to mean in different periods.

Why focus on something so subtle?

It’s a discreet part of the composition, but it can change the dynamic of the painting. For example, looking into a vitrine is a voyeuristic act.

Did the cages mean different things to Bacon at different times in his career?

In the 1950s it’s the shattering element that’s important. So he’ll paint a figure through a curtain-like screen. It’s a very interesting device when you think of theatre, or you think of psychoanalysis and the idea of what is taboo and what you show and don’t show — the idea of fetish and how you want to hide and reveal at the same time.

Those are things that are not present in the 1970s or 1980s. Colour becomes more important and the arena or stage is like a fourth element in a more complex space, where you have the background, the podium or stage, the figure and the structure. 

The boxing ring-like space is an interesting one. It’s a fixed structure, a containment of a force or animal-like struggle, and also pertains to people looking at it, so again there’s an element of voyeurism.

Why is it important to highlight these differences in his work?

Bacon’s paintings might seem, on a superficial level, to express bleakness and angst. In fact, as soon as you start reading them on a deeper level, they’re always expressing a tension or an unresolved feeling, such as sexual desire and guilt. Or the conflict within us as a both a social and a wild animal, which is what he’s trying to stage with the screams. It is this element of two forces in opposition that this exhibition helps to reveal more clearly.

How did looking at some of the very rough drawing studies in Tate’s collection help spark the idea for this show?

Bacon tries in his drawing to see how a blobby figure might look in this particular vitrine or frame. It’s interesting because his sketches are like the preliminary workings of a theatre designer. They investigate how to incorporate movement, and how a scene can develop and unravel in a space, and in front of the public. 

Bacon was not interested in abstract painting. Do you think that by including this sculptural structural device he was separating himself from a tendency in painting to proclaim the flatness of the canvas?

I think his research is absolutely unique. He was not interested in abstraction, but he wasn’t interested in figurative painting either. He abhors the idea of narrative in painting — being able to describe something taking place. Even when I talk about theatricality, there’s this tension of theatricality without resolution. There’s never a dramatic development. His works are almost like a stop-frame image from a film — a teaser — that doesn’t let you see what’s going on.

Do you think there’s something about the ambiguity of the structure, the ghostliness of the outline, which makes the figure seem more real and more present?

That contrast is definitely what he was looking for. The more ghostly and unreal the architectural structure is, the more vivid it makes the opponent. That element of dualism, of two things working against one another, is there in all his work.

If Bacon had depicted proper rooms, the reality and the dynamism that he managed to achieve through the blurriness of the moving figure would not be there. 

He seems to use a dry brush sometimes — to convey the cage in a thin, scratchy way?

Yes, and by contrast he would add sand to his impasto so that it becomes fleshier.

What have been the main surprises for you in your research, taking in the drawings and the source material as well as all these paintings?

It’s helped me to understand that these paintings are not necessarily staging one existential feeling, but a variety of them. They are particularly rich because they enable us to perceive this sense of being. Looking at the drawings and in particular his unfinished painting, you can really feel that journey — that’s he’s struggling to resolve a problem. It’s really a great thing.

Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms runs until 18 September 2016 at Tate Liverpool

 

 

 

Francis Bacon/Maria Lassnig, Tate Liverpool: 'Myriad connections'

 

Tate Liverpool's double bill of two figurative painters is a stroke of cultural inspiration

 

by: Jackie Wullschlager, Financial Times, May 30, 2016  

 

 

 

      

                                              Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (c1944) by Francis Bacon 

 

“The only reality is pain”: Kafka’s summing up is quoted by Maria Lassnig in her writings on her own art, and it informs all Francis Bacon’s work. What a stroke of curatorial inspiration at Tate Liverpool to show these painters together, in two impressive solo presentations, independent yet sparking myriad connections.

Bacon and Lassnig, born within a decade of each other — 1909, 1919 — fought the same battles: to paint figuratively during the heydays of abstraction and pop; to convey the anguish of the human condition when irony and conceptual games held sway. Both staged the figure in artificial space, both set out to translate bodily sensations into paint..

But on other fundamentals facing mid-20th century painters — the uses of photography, expression of self — they were polarised. Tate’s juxtaposition sensitively unravels opposing strategies and possibilities.

Lassnig’s is straightforwardly an art of autobiography. Her most famous painting is the confrontational, bald, wrinkled, naked old age self-portrait “You or Me”, in which she holds two guns, one pointing at her own head, the other at the viewer: it says that her relationship with the outside world is so troubled that to express herself in paint was a matter of survival.

Liverpool opens with the large-scale 1960s “Harlequin Self-portrait” and “Figure with Blue Throat”, evocations of Lassnig’s cropped body set down in economical, fluid, ravishingly coloured painterly lines, with the white canvas as torso. They take their stance from art informel and are about subjectivity, boundaries between self and exterior. The show closes with blisteringly frank self-depictions of extreme frailty: sagging body fragmented and doubled on an institutional bed in “Hospital” (2005), the defiant “Self-portrait with Brush” (2010-13) where the left arm and hand wielding the brush are incomplete because at the age of 94 Lassnig could barely hold it.

 An urgent yet loose, sensual handling, and a Fauvish palette of heightened flesh tones from rose to crimson, occasional brilliant yellow or bright blue grounds, interspersed sometimes with toxic greens or sickly yellows, lasted her life. She could be witty, as in her self-portrait “Lady with a Brain”, in which her brain is placed outside her head as a difficult appendage. Or sarcastic, as in “Kitchen Bride”, which depicts a cheese grater bowing in deference. But always the drive was to depict what the body feels like within.

 A space-age techno-nun enclosed in a plastic veil, Lassnig suffocates in “Self-portrait under Plastic”. Blind with domestic rage, mouth shrieking wide, neck constricted by red bands, she turns a cooking pot into a blindfold in “Self-portrait with Saucepan”. In “High Seated Female Figure” she is so hemmed in by the pressure of a confining armchair that her body morphs into it. “Pink Electricity” is orgasmic, torso and upper legs abstracted into luminous pulsating pink waves.

So intensely does paint represent feeling here that you understand why Lassnig rejects photography as an unthinkable mechanical intrusion into what painting does. She called photographers “protheses artists”. “Double Self-Portrait with Camera” shows Lassnig as the camera would render her appearance — banal, moderate — and as she feels: a monstrous, squat, depressed figure.

Repeatedly she draws attention to her medium. In “Inside and Outside the Canvas” a figure has climbed through the canvas and wears it like a dress. In “Self-portrait with Stick” an enormous stick — brush? crayon? — merges with her body, while behind, on a canvas-within-a-canvas, is a portrait of an elderly woman, Lassnig’s mother, whose hands project into the picture’s “real’ space, resting on Lassnig’s shoulder: a psychodrama of control and liberation, artifice and emotion.

Lassnig, little known outside her native Austria until her last decade (she died in 2014 at the age of 95), is the revelation of Liverpool’s double bill. The reason her art does not dwindle before the power of Francis Bacon, the greatest postwar figurative painter, is because it is so subjective, even narcissistic, that it demands to be taken only on its own terms. (An animated film, The Ballad of Maria Lassnig, whose jazzy strains enliven the show, is comically self-absorbed.)

Bacon demands the opposite. “The very great artists were not trying to express themselves. They were trying to trap the fact,” he said. Aping Velázquez’s sumptuous surfaces and grandeur of composition in the velvety purple 1950s popes in “Figure Sitting” and “Study for a Portrait”, or deconstructing Picasso’s deconstructions, and throwing in filmic and photographic sources — in the wildly cruel “After Muybridge ‘The human figure in motion’: Woman Emptying a Bowl of Water and Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours” — he went for timelessness: pictures which would end up in “either the National Gallery or the dustbin, with nothing in between”.

But Bacon is never simple. He also admitted that his crucifixion compositions — the ghostly silver 1933 “Crucifixion” and “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion” (1944) launched his oeuvre and open this exhibition — were “nearer to a self-portrait”. The art historical motifs, the twisted, sprawling, leaking figures who howl, wrestle, suffer, die, in the triptychs, all transform autobiographical experience — savage beatings by his father, masochistic relationships with lovers Peter Lacy and George Dyer, their lonely deaths — into modern myths of alienation and futility. A standout loan from the Hirschhorn in Washington DC is “Triptych Inspired by TS Eliot’s ‘Sweeney Agonistes’”, tight multi-hued canvases of battered dissolving bodies on a sort of trampoline that condense nihilism into vast sweeping formal rhythms, as Eliot did.

That triptych also starred at Tate’s Britain’s massive 2008 retrospective, and Liverpool’s show, the largest ever devoted to Bacon in the north of England, feels essentially like a scaled-down version of that London exhibition, with a welcome stronger focus on the earlier period — Bacon’s greatest. Collaborating with Stuttgart’s Staatsgalerie, Liverpool has garnered stellar German-owned works: Düsseldorf’s caged “Man in Blue V”, Stuttgart’s “Chimpanzee”, eerily close to Bacon’s bestialised human forms, Frankfurt’s silky screaming “Nurse from the Battleship Potemkin”, Berlin’s awkward sexy “Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho” before what looks like a car morphing into a bull.

Liverpool’s subtitle “Invisible Rooms” proposes a theme about trapping the image in a space frame, but since Bacon placed almost all his figures in such transparent cages, this is neither basis for selection nor offers fresh illumination. Bacon insisted his reasons were formal — “I cut down the scale of the canvas by drawing in these rectangles which concentrate the image down” — rendering Tate’s attempt to organise by content (“Cage”, “Arena”, “Body/Sculpture”) irrelevant. It doesn’t matter: Bacon is Bacon, his nightmarish claustrophobic vision magnificently offset here by the open views of the Mersey in the most compelling, beautifully hung show I have seen at Tate Liverpool.

To September 18

 

 

 

Spanish police make arrests over stolen Francis Bacon works

 

Seven held over five paintings and other valuables that were taken in burglary of Madrid home last summer

 

Nadia Khomami, The Guardian, Saturday 28 May 2016

 

A photo released by Spanish police of one of the five Bacons stolen last July.

 

Seven people have been arrested in Spain on suspicion of involvement in the theft of five paintings by Francis Bacon, worth a total of €25m (£19m).

The paintings were stolen last July, along with other valuables belonging to the owner, who is reported to have been a close friend of Bacon. The works, which comprise portraits and landscapes, are yet to be recovered.

Detectives said they were approached in February by British private investigators specialising in the recovery of stolen artworks who had received an email with photographs of the paintings and asking whether they were listed as stolen.

Investigators analysed the photo and were able to determine that the camera that took the images was owned by a photographic equipment rental company, which supplied details of the customer who had rented it at the time the paintings were photographed.

The customer, who is suspected of involvement in the crime, was among those arrested, along with a Madrid art dealer and his son.

Sources close to the investigation said in March that the theft appeared to have been a highly professional operation that took place while the owner was away in London.

The thieves disabled an alarm system and tracked the owner’s movements to ensure he did not return to his apartment to catch them, they said.

El País quoted a source as saying the works were stolen last June, but news of the theft was only made public earlier this year.

It is not known which paintings were involved but one contemporary art specialist told the newspaper they would be extremely difficult to sell. “It is not at all easy to sell a Francis Bacon, large or small, without that getting to the ears of those who pore over such a rarified sector,” said the expert, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Irish-born Bacon often visited Madrid, where he spent time studying old master paintings in the Prado Museum, and died in the city in 1992, aged 82. His paintings are hugely sought after, and in 2013 the sale of his 1969 work Three Studies of Lucien Freud fetched $142,405,000 (£90m) at auction, a world record at the time.

Spanish police did not say when the arrests were made. The investigation continues.

 

 

 

New catalogue raisonné  sheds light on Francis Bacon's art and controversial life

 

Five-volume publication reveals artist’s unseen works—and his sadomasochistic side

 

MARTIN BAILEY | THE ART NEWSPAPER | 25 May 2016 

 

The forthcoming Francis Bacon catalogue raisonné will offer an unprecedented view into his art—and his controversial private life. Bacon’s surviving oeuvre, totalling 584 paintings, is catalogued in 1,538 pages. Less than a third of the pictures are in museums, with most hidden away in anonymous private collections. Thanks to colour reproductions, some available for the first time, it is now possible to clearly see the development of Bacon’s art. 
  
Although the catalogue will not be published until 30 June, it was launched yesterday (24 May) in London’s Soho—the quarter where Bacon drank and felt at home. Martin Harrison, the editor, has devoted 10 years to the project. He travelled endlessly, failing to locate only one painting, Head with Raised Arms (1955), which was last recorded in Turin more than fifty years ago. The catalogue was funded by the Francis Bacon Estate and although the cost is not being disclosed, it probably amounted to several million pounds. 

Harrison believes his catalogue will provide a much more nuanced view of the artist’s work, showing us “what Bacon painted, rather than what people imagine he painted”. He points out that there are only 11 pictures of copulating males, compared with 18 female nudes (although Harrison admits that some are androgynous, making it difficult to give precise figures). The paintings also offer a view into Bacon’s private world, including his complex relationships with male lovers.  

 

                             

                                     Francis Bacon's Self-Portrait with Injured Eye (1972). 

 

The sadomasochistic side of Bacon’s life emerges in Self-portrait with Injured Eye (1972). According to Harrison’s entry, “Bacon reputedly suffered many beatings, which as a masochist he may not have found entirely uncongenial”. The injured eye in his painting stands as “an autobiographical symbol”. At the catalogue launch, Harrison said that when it came to George Dyer, a long-term companion, Bacon “wanted to be raped by Dyer, whereas Dyer wanted to cuddle Bacon”.  

Harrison also discusses the “complicated” relationship between Bacon and Lucian Freud. Bacon painted Freud 16 times between 1951 and 1973, although they fell out after Freud saw the injuries sustained by Bacon after he was beaten by his friend Peter Lacy. Freud retaliated by twisting Lacy’s collar around his neck.  
     
Among the more surprising images in the catalogue is a privately-owned triptych of Mick Jagger (1982). Although no rock and roll fan, Bacon was fascinated by the lead singer of the Stones. Three Studies for a Portrait (Mick Jagger) (1982) was painted from photographs. 

The catalogue also includes numerous portraits of Robert and Lisa Sainsbury, who were among his early patrons. Harrison suggests that one of Lisa (1955), now at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, was based on the bust of Nefertiti and “bore only a slight resemblance” to the wife of the supermarket chairman. 

Harrison also deals with the controversial question of Bacon drawings. He describes the status of 40 works on paper dating from 1958 to 1961 acquired by Tate in 1997 as “problematic”. They are not drawings, in any conventional sense, but “rapid sketches”, he says. 

Notable for their absence are the 600 drawings which some claim Bacon gave to an Italian lover, Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino. Ten were on sale at the Herrick Gallery in London last month, at prices of up to £750,000. Harrison has not authenticated the Ravarino works. 

The final painting in the catalogue raisonné is an unfinished portrait done shortly before Bacon’s death in 1992. The work, which is now at Dublin City Gallery, was found on Bacon’s easel in his studio. Although usually described as a self-portrait, Harrison admits that “some uncertainty surrounds the identity of the man”. Bacon’s world still remains shrouded in layers of mystery. Although the catalogue raisonné represents an astonishing achievement, it cannot be the last word on the artist’s legacy. 

• Martin Harrison (ed.), Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, 5 vols., Francis Bacon Estate (distributor Heni Publishing), 30 June, £1,000  
• A one-day exhibition of six major Bacon paintings is being held today (25 May) at 6-10 Lexington St, London W1F 0LB, 10am-9pm 

 

 

 

No one can hear you scream...

 

Tate Liverpool

 

The raw melodrama of Francis Bacon meets the humour and humanity of Maria Lassnig in this superb double bill

 

Laura Cumming, The Observer, Sunday 22 May 2016

 

There is a Francis Bacon pope in Tate Liverpool that is barely a squeak from high camp. It shows the pontiff in sumptuous purple robes, raising his dainty little hands in a fit of girlish horror. It is a very strange addition to the long sequence of screaming popes; indeed this pontiff is not screaming so much as wincing with his eyes closed. But it makes the point, as Bacon’s paintings so often do, that there is sometimes very little distance between hilarity and nervous hysteria.

This is not why the image is currently on display in the largest Bacon show ever held in northern England. No, it is here because the figure is immured in a diagrammatic version of the throne in Velazquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X, from which all of Bacon’s many variations issue. And more than that, he is boxed in a black cube (within an already dark painting) that might be the very definition of an invisible room.

This phrase, which gives the show its subtitle, was coined by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze in a famous mediation n Bacon. Deleuze was preoccupied by the painter’s strange and original pictorial space. This is so familiar by now that it is odd to come across a Bacon that doesn’t have that flat backdrop of glowering darkness or gorgeously rich colour; that doesn’t have those architectural sketch-lines hinting at cubes, cages, arenas, plinths or cells; that doesn’t have those thin black or white lines, sometimes scumbled, sometimes spectral, sometimes incisively clear.

Often they set a scene quite precisely: a window and the door of a hotel room; a parlour with curving architecture and a portrait by Bacon hanging on the wall; a sheaf of vertical lines that look like the shimmering strip curtains of an otherwise sepulchrally dark nightclub, though this might also be the anteroom of hell, given the contortions of the figure.

This man is Peter Lacy, one of Bacon’s lovers, who appears in another painting apparently mired to the waist in a newscaster’s kidney-shaped desk, except that this is 1957 and they hadn’t yet been invented. Nor indeed had Samuel Beckett yet written of Winnie, up to her waist in sand in Happy Days. For all that Bacon found so many of his sources in the past – Velázquez, Eadweard Muybridge’s motion photographs, Victorian boxing, Picasso’s cubist distortions – his visions often leapt in advance of western culture.

 

        

             ‘A horrifying perpetuum mobile’: Study for the Nurse in Battleship Potemkin, 1957 by Francis Bacon

 

Since these diagrammatic structures appear everywhere it seems an odd theme for a show: practically anything by Bacon might be admitted, for one thing, and attention to these schematic stagings, what’s more, seems quite unnecessary. The relationship between ground and figure, to use that old phrase, has always felt conspicuously theatrical in Bacon’s work. His pictures are stage sets with wings, entrances, scenery and downstage performances in which the figures stand out starkly against the backdrop, sometimes in ellipses like spotlights.

And while the curators harp on about the usual themes of postwar futility, theatrical alienation and existential angst, it is worth pointing out that when the art critic David Sylvester asked Bacon about those invisible rooms, he simply replied: “I cut down the scale of the canvas by drawing in these rectangles which concentrate the image down.” They are there to highlight, to focus, to point to the figure. They are intensifiers.

Tate Liverpool has managed to borrow 29 major works from European collections, such as the outstandingly sinister painting of a child creeping round a circuit on all fours from Amsterdam, and the raw, screaming figure of the nurse in Battleship Potemkin, trapped in some kind of cage-like swing from the Städel Museum, in Frankfurt. In each case the mise-en-scène implies a horrifying perpetuum mobile.

It gets worse in the Hirshhorn Museum’s immense Triptych, where the bodies appear thrashed to a pulp and contained in some kind of glass case raised up on a platform. An observer, hanging on the phone, peers at them through the glass. And in an anonymous hotel room with a deep blue view some terrible bloodbath has apparently occurred: or are these simply bloodstained clothes tumbling out of a case? It is hard to know what is going on in this sequence – as hard as Bacon wanted it to be.

For what is really going on in his opera of gaping mouths and writhing figures, what is Bacon actually doing with – to – his figures? Flanged, spraddled, twisted, split apart and reassembled like the botched and shattered faces in Henry Tonks's first world war portraits, they appear to twist and melt, materialise and evaporate against the backdrop in nameless torsions. How this is done remains elusive. Bacon used the grainy back of the canvas, and somehow got his paint to seep into the surface like blood – very often while describing blood with exceptional brilliance, and his drawings (many shown here) indicate all sorts of sources, from medical textbooks to monkey manuals. But still these morphings remain defiantly mysterious.

And they veer quite melodramatically from violence to Carry On comedy. A mouth yowling in silence becomes funny when the teeth inside are awfully clean and tidy. A brutal coupling, when the bodies are as hard to tell apart as eels in a pail, gets a comic punchline with a neatly painted packet of fags. John Berger long ago compared Bacon to Walt Disney, and this goes to the balletic exuberance and graphic zip of his art. All these rectangles, cubes and ellipses are marvellously concise and strong. Whatever else, they keep the wild dynamism in place.

Whether they describe actual places, too, will perhaps become clearer when Martin Harrison’s immense Catalogue Raisonne is published next month, with its revelation of many unfamiliar paintings. In the meantime, their ingenious ambiguity is apparent all through this show. Here is the ghoulish circus ring that doubles as a cattle pen; here is the black void that might be an electric chair. Narratives begin to form in your head – is this figure trapped in a gas chamber, or a witness box; is this ectoplasm gas or a man’s shadow? – but the story is sidelined every time by the sheer force of the image. The lesson of Liverpool is that Bacon’s art is exactly what he wanted it to be, no matter how many ways we might like to explain it: not stories but pictures that hold their own, a set of deathless, inexplicable images.

In an embarrassment of riches, Tate Liverpool is also presenting a show by the late and very great Austrian painter Maria Lassnig (1919-2014), which appears to have strong links with Bacon. Lassnig was also compelled by the experience of having, and being, a body; with sex and death and mordant humour. Her coinages are superb, especially with the self-portraits: herself as a shrieking cheese grater or a saucepan head, herself as triangle jabbing away at a square. She clambers out of the canvas, sinks into it, emerges from it like a newborn baby. Painter and painting are inseparable.

The late works, which seem to grow brighter as she aged, are masterpieces of courageous invention: above all, paintings such as What Next?, where the woman is becoming a thing of paper, and Hospital, which shows what few artists have ever portrayed. Three heads lie on pillows beneath triangular lights. They are dozing, suffering, waking; but beneath the sheets, like a tideline, their poor thin bodies are dying away. It is a most magnificent picturing of mortal illness and it has a quality that Francis Bacon lacks: the abiding power to move the viewer.

Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms and Maria Lassnig are at Tate Liverpool until 18 September

 

 

How Francis Bacon boldly thieved his signature image from Munch - and gave it teeth

A new exhibition at Tate Liverpool reveals how Bacon constructed his striking faces.

By Craig Raine, New Statesman, 21 May 2016

 

The Waste Land was one of Francis Bacon’s favourite poems. A phrase from section 2, “A Game of Chess”, exactly epitomises Study of the Human Body (1982): “And other withered stumps of time/Were told upon the walls”. This closing picture, one of 29 paintings on show at Tate Liverpool, depicts a body part, a gross truncation, bereft of torso and head. Topped by its bottom, it is a rump, a sturdy circumcised cock in a haze of pubic hair, and white-booted legs, advancing towards the viewer, clad in cricket pads.  We are advised that David Gower, the England batsman, was an inspiration, but I wonder if Eliot’s word “stumps” didn’t also play its part, consciously or sub-consciously, as a verbal trigger.

The whole of Bacon’s masochistic homosexuality is encapsulated in this painting. Most of the indispensable parts are there – the penis, the buttocks, the anus – though the mouth is absent, presumably too tender for the ideal rough encounter. In fact, a mouth-part is there, displaced, but not the lips and tongue. You can see a row of teeth in the right cricket pad where, just below the knee, the white protective ridges have been summarily and severely pruned. We are familiar with Bacon’s much-advertised “bleakness” – his default position that flesh is simply meat – but this painting is replete with grim humour. It captures the ridiculousness of sex, its quirks, its absurd categorical imperatives, as well as its terror. It is also a painting about vulnerability: those protective pads represent the fear (and desire) of being hurt and they expose paradoxically the body parts that are conspicuously unprotected, parts that have agreed to be a sexual object.

Before Bacon became a painter in the 1930s, he was an interior decorator, by all accounts rather derivative, sub-Bauhaus.  It’s hard to get excited about furniture, so we lazily accede to this verdict, eager to get on to the paintings. However, there is one aspect of interior decoration that makes a significant contribution to the painting. It is the curtain. In his early days, Bacon had Bloomsbury connections, including Dorothy Todd and Madge Garland, a lesbian couple who were the sometime editor and fashion editor of Vogue. Garland’s Bruton Street flat had as part of its furnishings Bacon’s surgical white rubber curtains. There are curtains, glistening Dacron drapes, in many of Bacon’s early paintings, all of them painted with effortless bravura, as you might expect from a former interior decorator.

Critics have been puzzled by the recurrent presence of a tassel in many of Bacon’s pictures. In Study for a Portrait (1952), a man’s head and bust, you can see the tassel and, on the suit lapel, the shadow of the tassel. The head is based on the bleeding nurse in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, a favourite Bacon source easily identifiable by the skewed pince-nez. Halfway up the painting there is a curtain on metal rings.  The tassel isn’t symbolic. It is there to close and open the curtains. (Photographs of Bacon’s Reece Mews studio by Perry Ogden in this exhibition show similar tassels for electric lights and blinds.)

The ubiquity of curtains is explained by the potent sexual topos of medicalisation – those latex curtains in Bruton Street, the suggestive safety pins in other curtains – where the implicit scenario is one of prescribed helplessness. Where procedures take place and things are done to the patient’s body. Behind the curtains, obedience and submission and the strong possibility of pain. (Many of Bacon’s compositions, we know, were based on K C Clark’s Positioning in Radiography.) This Tate Liverpool show centres its interest on the cage of lines that Bacon used to contain his images – those spectral glass or perspex cubes that are touched in. I think the curtains are more important and carry more charge. The spectral booths are sufficiently explained by Bacon’s admission that they are a simple pictorial device to anchor the central image and concentrate the viewer’s attention. They are there against the threat of aesthetic amorphousness. Whereas the curtains are there to enclose their subjects – who are subject to the premise of physical threat, the imminent arousing unknown, the claustrophobic promise of pain.

Which brings us to the Baconian signature scream. We remember all those screaming popes after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. There are also screams emitted from apes and chimpanzees and various other human figures. We are familiar with the photographic sources – the bloodied nurse and her crushed pince-nez, the teeth of a machine-gunner also from Eisenstein. But if they are a signature touch, they are someone else’s signature – a brilliant forgery.

There is a famous anecdote about Bacon. Princess Margaret, a touch tipsy at a ball thrown by Lady Rothermere, decided to seize the microphone and sing a selection of Cole Porter and similar stuff. Everyone listened respectfully. But Bacon, who was there, couldn’t bear it – the singing and the sycophancy. He booed very loudly. Caroline Blackwood, who was later married to Lucian Freud, recorded Bacon’s account: “Her singing was really too awful. Someone had to stop her. I don’t think people should perform if they can’t do it properly.” Lèse-majesté – and an index of Bacon’s fearlessness, of his refusal to be intimidated, which is part of his gift as a painter. He is no respecter of reputations and he takes what he needs when he needs to, just as Eliot believed that great poets steal and minor poets borrow. He asset-strips Rembrandt’s Slaughtered Ox (1655) for several crucifixions.

The scream is stolen from Munch’s iconic painting. What a heist. So huge a theft that no one mentions it. You search David Sylvester’s Looking Back at Francis Bacon(2000) in vain for any reference to Der Schrei. Instead, Munch is dismissed brusquely as a non-influence because he is Expressionist, a painterly stance Bacon explicitly repudiates: ‘I’m not really saying anything [as he thought Munch was], because I’m probably much more concerned with the aesthetic qualities of a work than, perhaps, Munch was.’ So, a rather disingenuous denial of content. But it is unsurprising to me that Giacometti, later a friend and ally, should have initially dismissed Bacon’s work as Expressionist. Bacon takes Munch’s kitsch Nordic universal scream, critiques it and refines it. He gives it teeth.

And the teeth are interesting. They come in two basic types. For human beings, the teeth are uniform, regular at top and bottom. For animals, there are additional incisors – which, now and then, are given to the human mouth to suggest a shared animality. They express pain, the agony of orgasm, pity and terror, rage, appetite, fear, pleasure. One of them might be booing Munch’s cosmic vulgarity. Bacon is true to the versatility of the human mouth. He loved the mouth: “I’ve always been very moved by the movement of the mouth and the shape of the mouth and the teeth. People say that these have all sorts of sexual implications . . . I like, you may say, the glitter and colour that comes from the mouth, and I’ve always hoped in a sense to be able to paint the mouth like Monet painted a sunset.”

What do we make of this declaration? Of this desire to remove the mouth from its bodily functions, its ingestions, its semantic gestures, and see it as a simple inanimate phenomenon? (It is no surprise to learn that Bacon admired Damien Hirst’s flayed cow’s head aesthetically, for its colours – that wet intestinal pink.) We see, I think, Bacon’s dislike of “illustration” and his fascination with the painterly process and the part played by chance. The playwright Patrick Marber remembers “playing roulette with Francis Bacon in the Charlie Chester casino in Archer Street, Soho. He was gleeful. ‘Isn’t it wonderful when you win! And you know what, it’s quite good fun when you lose.’” It sounds perverse and is part of gambling pathology, but it is also indirectly a telling anecdote about Bacon the artist. The excitement of gambling reflects on the comparable excitement of painting – the way it can go wrong at any moment, as well as the brilliant accidents created by the pigment on the brush.

When Bacon spoke in favour of keeping Titian’s The Death of Actaeon for the nation, he emphasised the top corner in which Actaeon is transformed into a stag and torn apart by the dogs: the images, he said, were “never absolutely definite”. This lack of clarity and definition is often a strength in Bacon. Take Chimpanzee (1955): the animal is contained in a spectral cage, incisors savagely bared, behind it and to one side a dark grey wall marked with darker slant lines like a sign for rain in Japanese painting. The lines represent steel mesh, very effectively. But what Bacon really gets, in spite of the apparent blur of brushstrokes, is the chimpanzee’s pink prehensile feet and the shortness of the legs.

Or consider Triptych (1967) (formerly known as Triptych Inspired by T S Eliot’s Poem Sweeney Agonistes, a title wished on Bacon by his gallery). The right-hand panel shows two men fucking, a composition based on two wrestlers in Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic “dictionary” of movement, like stills from a film. The painting gives new meaning to the phrase “one flesh”. It is inextricably itself, with a single set of teeth there in the mix. In the left-hand panel, two post-coital women with long hair and possible breasts, lie intertwined and splayed, having done it in front of a mirror, a mirror that reflects their feet and a desolate chest of drawers with its upper drawer pulled suggestively open. The confusion of the bed is captured exactly by virtue of its inexactitude.

Bacon can be surprisingly exact and representational. In the foreground of this panel Bacon has painted an ashtray and a softpack of cigarettes. In the central panel is an eviscerated hold-all, rendered with great panache, with a line of zip teeth. There is a cloth-covered stool on which rests a leather-bound ledger. All these details are unmistakable.

His rendering of faces is recorded strikingly in this show. We think of the archetypal Bacon face as a set of smears and swipes that emulate motion pictures and movement, but this is a relatively late development. Early on, there are faces in mid-dissolve, partially corroded representations. There are striated features that derive from Picasso’s “primitive” paintings, which look to African carvings. And there are straightforwardly representational portraits, for example of Lucian Freud entering a room down a set of stone steps. The face is conventionally set down and doesn’t look much like Lucian Freud. Bacon gets better likeness with greater freedom of treatment. And he wanted likeness, reasonably enough: “I mean, there’s no point in trying to make a portrait that doesn’t look like the person.”

There are two paintings from the Man in Blue 1954 suite (IV and V) in which the faces are poised between the conventionally realistic and the faintly unfocused. You could pick out the person in an identity parade – his combed-back dark fair hair, the strong jaw and mouth, the pronounced eyebrows – but the whole is on the edge of pixelation. The paintings have immense conviction: the upper torso is suited, the lower body masked by a conference table, the hands clasped and resting attentively on the table. In V, the posture is listening. He isn’t screaming. His face is recognisable but hard to describe, like a model in wax, just this side of melting. Here there is no cage of lines. That particular function is performed by the lines of the table and the sequence of pleated drapes behind the sitter’s head. It is exquisitely, unostentatiously composed, and miles away from the melodrama and rhetoric we often, lazily, assume in Bacon’s paintings: “But it is more than that: it has a cosmic dimension, as if it were a Mouth of Hell. It seems to suck in and expel every particle of energy in the air.” David Sylvester, mouthing off, as if Bacon were Munch.

The exhibition runs until 18 September

 

 

    They made a pig's ear of Francis Bacon

 

       With its mediocre works, poky gallery and pointless wall texts, this exhibition imprisons the painter

 

         Rachel Campbell-Johnston | Visual Arts | The Times | May 20 2016

 

           

                                Portrait of Francis Bacon by John Deakin c 1962

 

Francis Bacon was the greatest painter in postwar Britain. And this is certainly the most extensive and probably the most significant show of his work to be staged in the north. So no one could argue that it is not a good thing. Britain’s regional galleries should get more great exhibitions. However, is this one of a calibre to lure visitors from outside Liverpool? To convince complacent Londoners, for instance, to take a train north?

The answer is no. You will find only a few of the best of Bacon’s impetuous and hence hit-and-miss paintings. The most important of these are his Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion from 1944. These are the images that launched his artistic career (before that he worked as an interior designer), but don’t imagine the weeping Marys of Christian tradition.

gainst a burnt orange backdrop, bruised and misshapen lumps squat, yowl and stretch, yawning dark-mouthed or baring rows of bloody teeth. There is something brutally primal about these embryonic mutants; something that feels frenzied and savage and viciously instinctive. Violence runs berserk. And no wonder. Bacon identified them as the Eumenides, the furies of Greek legend who would pursue wrongdoers to a vengeful death.

A triptych first exhibited at the close of the Second World War, in the same month when Nazi atrocities in concentration camps came to light, it was seen as an image of insatiable human brutality. Visitors were “brought up short” by pictures “so unrelievedly awful that the mind shut up with a snap at the sight of them”, declared one contemporary report.

Bacon’s pictures can still work in this way, but you wouldn’t know it from this exhibition. His aim — famously stated in The Brutality of Fact, his series of classic interviews with David Sylvester — was to create images that could rise to the surface with the “foam of the unconscious” still clinging freshly to them. “Some paint comes across directly on to the nervous system,” he said. “Other paint tells you the story in a long diatribe through the brain."

His greatest works do the former. They work by a mixture of feeling, intuition and luck. Yet by and large Bacon’s best works — his haunting screaming popes, his triptych recording the death of his lover George Dyer, his magnificent portraits in which faces are smashed in, their flesh muddled — are missing from this exhibition. Instead there are far too many images that over-do the detail and look more like a hammed-up mess than a sublimation of some visceral experience. There are too many pictures from his late years.

The curators try to make up by instead offering us “a long diatribe through the brain”. They focus specifically on the way in which Bacon articulated space in his canvases, introducing artificial structures (as an introductory wall text explains it) that can elevate or exaggerate the figures within. These enclosures are the “invisible rooms” of this show’s title.

They are there, it is true. Bacon does frequently capture an atmosphere of psychological claustrophobia, evoke an animal energy about to burst through restraining bars, by presenting figures within arenas of colour or cages of crude brush strokes, by creating mirroring structures and strong veering planes. Yet the curators, in bringing all these images together, turn what should feel like an untamable energy into what starts to seem more like a trope or even a trick. Bacon is trapped in the structures of his artifice.

It doesn’t help that Tate Liverpool scarcely has enough space. A secondary show, of the work of the Austrian painter Maria Lassnig, another artist who wrestles with the body but in a very different way, fills the other half of the exhibition galleries. It would have been better to have given her a miss and to have given Bacon the space for his energy to break out.

Explanatory wall texts further deplete the experience. Avoid reading them. It adds nothing to know that a cloth in a picture “may relate to the curtain of his Cromwell Place studio”. Nor can the suggestion that the lurid pink arms of a pope may refer “to photographs of Hitler rehearsing hand gestures for a speech” detract from your suspicion that this canvas is one of Bacon’s failures.

The conveyance of “fact” that Bacon refers to so frequently is nothing to do with the iteration of detail. And the concentration of this show upon his “preparatory drawings” only further dissipates the force. Far too much is made of the few daubs — often just a crude splodge or two of paint — that Bacon has applied to magazine images. This show may have begun as a laudable venture, but it ends up imprisoning Bacon within all too visible rooms.

Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms is at Tate Liverpool from May 18 to September 18

 

 

 

      Francis Bacon: in the studio

 

          By Lucy Davies, The Telegraph, 19 May 2016

 

            

                                                      The late Francis Bacon in his London studio, 197

 

The British painter Francis Bacon (1909-1992) was a self-taught artist. Born in Dublin, he moved to London in 1928, where he earned his living as an interior decorator until he won almost instant notoriety with Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944). His instinctive, visceral paintings are predominantly figural. This week tae Liverpool opens Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms, which considers the cages and enclosures Bacon sometimes painted around his subjects, to make them appear trapped.

Author  Michael Peppiatt was 21 when he met Bacon, in 1963, while writing a piece for an issue of the student magazine Cambridge Opinion dedicated to Modern art in Britain. Despite the difference in age (Bacon was then in his mid-fifties) the two struck up a friendship and met regularly over the next 29 years, until Bacon's death. This the latest in our In the Studio interview series draws on his knowledge of Bacon's routine.

Bacon got up very early, usually with first light, even if he’d come home very late and very drunk, because he liked to get going at the first possible opportunity.

Sometimes he didn’t feel like working, and pottered around a bit, but if he did he would go straight into a picture. He used to say: “If it’s going to work, it usually works right away, or not at all.”  He worked quickly, so often he managed to finish a painting in a few sessions.

He started the day with strong tea – he made a very good cup, usually to battle the hangover. He was a very disciplined person. He said, “You have to be disciplined in everything; above all in frivolity.”

He had a mews house in South Kensington, where he lived and worked for the last 30 years of his life. It consisted of two rooms with a bathroom and kitchen in-between. He had his bed in the sitting room and the other room was his studio, so he could just pad straight in from where he slept.

It was very, very chaotic, with about a foot of books and photos and rags and paint brushes and paint, old sweaters and socks on the floor. It looked like detritus but in fact a lot of it was an image bank: he had all these photos and pictures, and sometimes you couldn’t really work out what he’d seen in them, but obviously he had seen something. I was lucky enough to get in on a few occasions when he wanted to show me a new painting or I was helping him look for something. It don’t remember it smelling of turps and linseed oil – he was asthmatic and he must have done something to go a little easy on his lungs. It was the visual shock that I remember more than any other sense.

It was an ordered chaos – I think he knew vaguely were things were, but he was often looking for things – images, clothes, books, and on one hilarious occasion when we were out gambling and he had run out of money, cash. He kept shaking out all these pots of dried paint and suddenly there was a flutter of big notes falling through the air.

He treated his walls as a sort of huge palette. There were paint marks rising up all over them and over the door, too. It was partly trying out colours, and partly cleaning his brush. The room was lit by a skylight, which wasn’t particularly bright, and a small north window. I think he had the electric light on a lot of the time, which was just a powerful bulb hanging down, no shade.

It was a small space; narrow with low ceilings and very crowded. They had difficulty getting the big paintings in and out. He usually worked on one painting at a time, the exception being the triptychs, which he would have lined up against the wall – it would have been impossible to make room for three easels next to each other in that room. 

He was always immaculate when he went out, in a freshly pressed suit, without a trace of any paint. I think he was quite careful to differentiate. He made a point of not letting people into the studio when he was working. For Bacon, painting was a very solitary activity. I think he worked in a dressing gown or an old pair of trousers and a sweater.

He never listened to music while he was working, he just wanted to focus on the painting. But outside of that, he liked things like Edith Piaf and other crooners, such as Nat King Cole.

He worked until about midday, when he went out and had his first glass of champagne. He either turned up in Soho and bumped into whoever was around, or he made a date for lunch proper. Then he sort of lurched through the afternoon and into the night from bar to bar. Sometimes he came back drunk and would think he had the solution to a problem with a painting, but if he started to paint when he was like that it was always a disaster.

He found inspiration everywhere. From his own life, his experiences. Most of his paintings are about sex and love, and about his friends. He also drew on the Greek tragedies and poems by Yeats and Eliot, some painters, too – Velasquez is the famous one, but also Picasso, and photography, and cinema. He was a deeply cultured, cultivated man. He looked and he felt and he combined looking and feeling into imagery.

Finishing paintings was always hard for him. Very often his gallery would have a van waiting below to come up and grab a painting before he took it too far. They had to carry it wet out of the studio.  Sometimes he wanted to get a painting back because he felt that it wasn’t what he had wanted to let out, but on the whole I think he learned over time that there was a danger of taking a piece too far and losing whatever he’d already got.

He did suffer from a kind of block at times. It wasn’t a case of just churning his pictures out –  I think he was a fluent painter but he tended also to paint in bursts. I remember him being a bit incoherent at times, which I think was down to the painting not going well, or perhaps it was his life not going well, but he had distinct highs and lows. I do think that’s one of the things that attracted him to painting, though, that sometimes it worked and sometimes it ground to a halt. He just accepted it. He knew from past experience that, with any luck, things would ease and he’d begin to work again.

He didn’t use assistants, although early on he had a bit of input on how to paint some grass from his friend Denis Wirth Miller.

He only slept for a couple of hours a night. Those who had been drinking with him would be crouched under the pillow, wondering how to cope with the day. I don’t know how he did it – perhaps with enough discipline, one can. He was remarkable in that way.

 


Bacon of a very different flavour
  review

 

Alastair Smart is gripped by this new Tate Liverpool show that focuses on the claustrophobic 'frames' used by the British master in his paintings

 

Alastair Smart, The Telegraph, 16 May 2016

 

It seems there isn’t a major modern-art auction that goes by without a Francis Bacon painting selling for multiple millions. Just last week his diptych Two Studies for a Self-Portrait sold for $35 million at Sotheby’s, New York. Next month, at a sale marking the 250th anniversary of Christie’s in London, his Version No.2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe is expected to fetch a similar sum.

Bacon has become the iconic artist de nos jours, his disturbed, isolated figures reflecting man’s pointless place in a godless universe, utterly disconnected from those around us.

Despite his popularity, however, and the guarantee his name will attract visitors by the lorryload, two big problems face the curator looking to stage a Bacon exhibition. One: what’s left to say that we haven’t heard (many times) before? And two: Bacon being such an uneven artist, who turned out almost as many misses as he did hits, how to maintain quality control throughout?

A new show at Tate Liverpool solves both problems with minimum fuss, by including just 30 canvases and  by focusing, tightly, on one relatively neglected aspect of his career: the architectural “frames” he used in many of his pictures. Most famously, these took the form of transparent cages in which his figures were trapped. Beneath the cage in 1952’s Study for a Portrait, for example, the subject – his mouth alarmingly wide-open – can be seen letting off an existentialist howl.

Bacon saw man, essentially, as little more than an animal with clothes on, in thrall to the same carnal needs and urges. That connection is made explicit in Chimpanzee, the simian cramped in its zoo-like cage recalling many of Bacon’s human subjects on show here.

The artist said his enclosures were, in part, just structural devices that made for more interesting pictures, but they surely reveal something of Bacon’s view of the human condition too. There’s a sense throughout this show of psychological claustrophobia, of Bacon’s subjects – if you look closely enough – all being, in one way or another, imprisoned.

His series based on Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X is an example: the throne that in the Spaniard’s original emphasised papal pre-eminence now becomes a seat of entrapment, Innocent’s arms raised in a pathetic plea for release.

 

               

                                                                                 Bacon's Study for a Portrait 1952

 

In Man in Blue, meanwhile, a suited gent appears alone in a dark bar, subtly penned in by the barman’s counter and the wall behind him. Suddenly, once you start seeing these “cages” in Bacon’s paintings, you stop seeing much else – you even start to view Bacon’s fondness for diptychs and triptychs in a new light. For what are these painting formats other than a way of isolating different figures in different scenes?

Bacon wasn’t really one for making preparatory drawings, but a selection of sketches of boxers and wrestlers from the Fifties sees him testing out various compositional ideas. The ring served as a natural container, the fighters – depicted in all manner of contorted positions – serving as metaphors for trapped humans going about their  struggles.

The show progresses chronologically – which, with Bacon, means the risk of anti-climax. Much of his later work is a self-parody of what went before, the tragic replaced by what often feels like the overblown and the near-farcical.

However, it’s interesting to see here that he was experimenting with new framing devices – from voids to mirrors – till the end, creating complex spaces that confound our expectations. In Three Figures and Portrait, his subjects are distorted into various strange poses by optical lenses that Bacon has carefully deployed about the scene.

I used to think it little more than a biographical footnote that Bacon started out life as an interior designer. But after visiting this show, it now seems central to his whole career. It honed, one suspects, a keen sense of space, which the architectural elements in his canvases made manifest.

Despite the myth of him as a visceral, instinctive painter, this revealing show presents a much more considered artist than we once believed. A Bacon of a very different flavour.   

From May 18 to Sept 18. Tickets: 0151 702 7400

 

 

Curator and Writer Martin Harrison Discusses Francis Bacon's 'Two Studies for a Self-Portrait'

 

SOTHEBY'S | CONTEMPORARY CURRENTS | 05 May 2016

 

 

 SOTHEBY'S OLIVER BARKER AND MARTIN HARRISON WITH FRANCIS BACON'S TWO STUDIES FOR A SELF-PORTRAIT 

 

Martin Harrison, author of the highly anticipated Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné and curator of a major new Francis Bacon exhibition that opens at Monaco’s Grimaldi Forum in July, joined Sotheby’s Oliver Barker in London for a conversation about the artist’s life and work. Read highlights below as they discuss Bacon’s Two Studies for a Self-Portrait, 1970, which is a highlight of the Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York on 11 May.

Oliver Barker: This extraordinary painting was painted in 1970 and has only been exhibited twice. The first time was at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971 when Bacon became only the second living artist to have ever been afforded the honour of having a lifetime retrospective there. The only other artist was a certain Pablo Picasso. The second time was when it was lent in 1993 to a show at the Marlborough Gallery devoted to Bacon’s portraiture and self-portraits. So it really does represent in many ways a bit of an historical art discovery. I’d like to know what your reaction is to the work and why a painting like this is so significant from that period of time in 1970, just on the eve of this big exhibition in Paris. This is clearly a moment of great positivity in Bacon’s life.

Martin Harrison: You use the word positivity and I think that’s absolutely right. The exhibition at the Grand Palais was the most important event of his whole life so far as he was concerned. It was the most important accolade he’d ever had and in the 18 months before the exhibition his whole production was aimed solely at that show. He wanted to, as it were, do himself justice and in a sense warrant following on from Picasso five years previously and all of his efforts were directed towards that. I think it was positive because he knew he was doing the absolute best he could. One of the astonishing things about this painting is of course its colour which in certain senses is typical of Bacon of that period, but in others is unusually vibrant, unusually vivid, and I think that again is an indication of his positivity. By then I see his palette in terms of post-Impressionism and early Modernism. Gauguin is terribly important in his use of flat plains of colour in the early 1960s and indeed bright saturated colours. Degas was a constant point of reference. I think he was thinking of French things partly because this was for an exhibition in France. There were many other things he could have brought into his head, but these French references were very important. I often think when they get super-saturated like these wonderful pinks and so on around the nose, they always remind me of Odilon Redon who’s not mentioned much in Bacon terms but I think is very important.

OB: Can you tell us a bit about the technique as well because when I first saw this painting I was really blown away by the range of colours and how it was applied.

MH: It’s simply that those are the colours he wanted to emulate and at certain points he mixed in pastel, but that was for different effects. In this sense it was just a palette he admired. We can see Renoir and Chagall, the palette is not wildly different from a mixture of those.

OB: You’ve touched on the outside influences in this somewhat magpie-like insistence on looking at other painters, other artists from different periods, but when it comes to the self-portrait, in particular, what might have been going through his mind? 

MH: You can’t leave Rembrandt out of the equation because he had written long before of his admiration for Rembrandt whose self-portrait project, over all of those years in the history of art, produced many of the greatest paintings you might wish to see. He was conscious of that and I think he was absolutely conscious of wanting to make his own, kind of, Rembrandtesque diary of his changing appearance and moods. If you look at the ones he painted after George Dyer died, they are abject, doleful. You can almost see the tears running off his self-portrait.

OB: 1969/1970 is the beginning of a decade for which self-portraiture is one of the key focusses of his work and obviously George Dyer’s suicide is integral to the inspiration behind that, but why was he turning to his own visage at that point? What was the motivation?

MH: Well, of course, afterwards he used to say in interviews, ‘I hate my face. I only paint it because I’ve no one else left to paint’. When he says that in the interviews with David Sylvester he can only mean George. There were plenty of people left to paint. I mean, all the other people he painted portraits of, like Isabel Rawsthorne, Lucian Freud and so on, they’re all still alive. It was only George who wasn’t there and laterally the paintings of George that he did mostly conveyed his absolute annoyance and almost hatred for him. So that’s just, kind of, nonsense. I think he did have this self-portrait project. Not in an obviously narcissistic way or anything. I just think he thought it was a good art vehicle and he might as well do himself.

OB: It strikes me when you look at this picture that there is a great luxuriance in the sheer dexterity of paint. This is an artist who is clearly loving his medium. The other thing I was going to relate to is the scale. When you look at these pictures you see a size of head which one can very much have a rapport with. You’re looking at something of a comparable scale and that again must be very deliberate?

MH: The heads are the same scale on these as they are in the full scale paintings which, as you know, are nearly two metres high. With the human head he was always working at that scale. Funnily enough it’s Cecil Beaton to whom we owe almost our only description of the way Bacon painted because he painted Beaton’s portrait in 1960. Beaton thought he was going to be flattered, which is pretty stupid, and he said he thought he looked like a monster and had the temerity to mention this to Bacon and Bacon of course with great delight replied ‘Oh, it’s alright Cecil, I’ve destroyed it already’. So it never happened. Then of course Cecil spent the rest of his life regretting it, but he described Bacon doing the painting because he seldom worked in front of a sitter of course. Even when he did portraits of people he wasn’t looking at them anyway. He’s doing his own thing on the other side where they couldn’t see, but Cecil describes how he ran backwards and forwards from the canvas. It was a very active thing and that’s one of the quotes I really love about him.

Bacon’s Two Studies for a Self-Portrait,1970, is featured in the Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York on 11 May. Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture will be shown at the Grimaldi Forum from 2 July until 4 September. Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné edited by Martin Harrison, will publish on 30 June.

 

 

'To See Bacon's entire oeuvre is a revelation'

 

 MARTIN HARRISON | APOLLO | THE INTERNATIONAL ART MAGAZINE | 29 MARCH 2016

 

         

                                    Study after Velázquez (1950), Francis Bacon

 

Working on a project as extensive as a catalogue raisonné, one incurs debts to countless individuals and organisations. At present I am completing the final section, the ‘Acknowledgements’, trying to ensure that no one who should be thanked is forgotten. In this section I have also briefly slipped into the first person, to remark that while I think I now know exactly how to produce a catalogue raisonné, when the project began 11 years ago, this was not the case. I believe my methodology was reasonably efficient, but with hindsight I suspect I would have changed the general approach in certain respects. Of course the standard apparatus – provenance, exhibition history – must be there (it was Rebecca Daniels’ task to research these topics, drawing information out of sometimes recalcitrant owners), but I anticipate criticism of the subjective aspects of my texts; though not, I trust, of the factual information.

For 10 years I have met twice yearly with my colleagues on the Francis Bacon Authentication Committee – Richard Calvocoressi, Hugh Davies, Norma Johnson, and Sarah Whitfield – to review paintings submitted for our consideration. Their advice has been invaluable, and has helped set the parameters of the project. I had to deal with strange questions from ‘outside’, for example about whether I intended to include Bacon’s ‘abandoned’ paintings in the catalogue, as though it were within my remit to be selective, to weed out paintings that I (or someone else) deemed inferior or unsuitable. I have deviated from the Committee’s precepts in only one respect: at the eleventh hour I drew back from including Bacon’s so-called ‘slashed’ canvases, the paintings that he destroyed by cutting out the ‘image’, leaving only tattered fragments of background hanging from the stretchers. The ruthless destruction of failed paintings was crucial to Bacon’s creative process, but I could not bring myself to have him represented by over 50 of these scraps. Anyone so inclined is free to research them; there are 40 in Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane. The only destroyed paintings in the catalogue are those exhibited in Bacon’s lifetime (which are accessible in old catalogues) and three that were unfortunately lost in accidents while in private ownership.

To say that the most significant contribution in the catalogue is the illustrations rather than the words is not false modesty. To see Bacon’s entire oeuvre – 585 paintings – arranged in chronological order and illustrated in colour is a revelation. Until now the critical reception of his work has been predicated on less than half of that total, and consequently is skewed: there are not really so many ‘screaming popes’. It has been a great privilege to get close to almost every one of Bacon’s extant paintings. I was acutely aware that I was peering at paintings that very few people had ever seen, or knew only from small, rather dim black and white reproductions in the 1964 catalogue raisonné. Many of them were startling. Among Bacon’s statements about his artistic aims, the one he repeated most frequently was that he wanted to affect the viewer’s ‘nervous system’. When he achieves this his paintings induce a literally spine-tingling reaction – arguably more visceral (albeit not necessarily more profound, or moving) than experiencing Velázquez’s Las Meninas, Caravaggio’s Death of the Virgin, Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait at Kenwood – or whichever artworks turn you on.

In seeking to explain the impact of some of Bacon’s paintings, I have invoked biographical details, all too aware that this flouts current art-historical convention. Bacon became a great painter of the human body in 1949 and made many of his groundbreaking images during the next three years. But in 1952 he met Peter Lacy, who, though seldom identified in the paintings’ titles, became Bacon’s muse for the next decade. A high proportion of Bacon’s paintings were motivated by his feelings towards Lacy, which ranged from (perhaps surprising) affection to violence or the sexually transgressive. Bacon’s partially hidden agenda was similarly personal in 10 masterpieces of George Dyer that he painted between 1966 and 1968, which chronicle his frustrations with, and ambiguity towards, his younger partner: his search for ‘the Nietzsche of the football team’ was doomed to failure. There are many ways of looking at Bacon’s paintings, but there was undeniably a psychological impulse at play. In attempting to decode their iconography I do not pretend it is possible to penetrate all of their mysteries, but their palpable presence continues to suffuse our consciousness, posing questions.

Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné will be published in June by The Estate of Francis Bacon

 

 

 

Is this Francis Bacon painting an all time great?

 

Find out why a Sotheby's specialist says it's 'number one of all the paintings I’ve handled in my career'

 

PHIADON | NEWS | 21 MARCH 2016

 

     

 

Francis Bacon was not a devoted self-portraitist. As he explained to the French writer Michel Archimbaud in our collection of interviews, the artist did go through a period of painting a great many self-portraits, though only because he couldn’t find anything else to focus on. “That was for want of something better,” he told Archimbaud, “not because I found it more interesting in itself.”

So why has Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s senior specialist in international art, described this 1970 twin study for a self portrait, recently consigned to the auction house and up for auction on 11 May at Sotheby's as, “number one of all the paintings I’ve handled in my career”?

Some of the excitement surrounding the work can be attributed to its relative obscurity. Two Studies for a Self Portrait has been in the same private collection for decades and has only been exhibited twice: once in Paris at Bacon’s huge 1971 retrospective, and once at the artist’s London gallery, Marlborough Fine Art, a few months after the artist's death, in 1993.

However, much of the beauty and majesty of the paintings lies in the palpable sense of Bacon we can sense in the work. While the artist said his own face was “a model just like any other,” he did go on to tell Archimbaud that, “the important thing is always to succeed in grasping something which is constantly changing, and the problem is the same whether it's a self-portrait, or a portrait of someone else.”

It’s an idea Bacon expanded upon in an interview with the British critic David Sylvester, reproduced in our Phaidon Focus book dedicated to Bacon.

“The living quality is what you have to get,” he is quoted as saying. “In painting a portrait the problem is to find a technique by which you can give over all the pulsations of a person. It’s why portrait painting is so fascinating and difficult. The sitter is someone of flesh and blood and what has to be caught is the emanation. I’m not talking in a spiritual way or anything like that – that is the last thing I believe in. But there are always emanations from people whoever they are, though some people’s are stronger than others.”

Bacon’s own emanation is remarkably strong here, and uncharacteristically sunny. The painter was known for his dark, threatening aspect, yet in this picture, painted before his lover George Dyer’s death in 1971, Bacon seems happy and moderately relaxed. Could some of that captured satisfaction have come from the success of this work?

 

 

SOTHEBY'S

CONTEMPORARY ART EVENING AUCTION

 

11 May 2016 at 7:00 

NEW YORK

 

LOT 8

PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION

Francis Bacon

1909 - 1992

TWO STUDIES FOR A SELF-PORTRAIT

signed, titled and dated 1970 on the reverse of each panel
oil on canvas, in two parts
each: 14 by 12 in. 35.5 by 30.5 cm.

 

 

Estimate

22,000,000 — 30,000,000 USD

LOT SOLD. 

34,970,000 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium)

 

AUTHENTICATION

This work will be included as number 70-07 in the forthcoming Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné, being prepared by the Estate of Francis Bacon and edited by Martin Harrison.

 

PROVENANCE

Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1970

 

EXHIBITED

Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais; and Dusseldorf, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Francis Bacon, October 1971 - May 1972, p. 131, no. 103, illustrated

London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Francis Bacon 1909-1992: Small Portrait Studies, October - December 1993, n.p., no. 20, illustrated in colour and n.p., illustrated in colour (detail of the left panel)

 

LITRATURE

Milan Kundera, Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits, London, 1996, pp. 180-181, illustrated in colour and illustrated in colour on the cover (right panel)

John Russell, Francis Bacon, London, 2001, illustrated in colour on the cover (detail of the right panel)

 

CATALOGUE NOTE

He was never more brilliant, more incisive or more ferocious when it came to depicting himself. In this he helped revive a genre, and Bacon’s Self-Portraits can now be seen as among the most pictorially inventive and psychologically revealing portraits of the Twentieth Century.” (Michael Peppiatt in Exh. Cat., Rome, Galleria Borghese, Caravaggio Bacon, 2009, p. 210)

"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)

“Confronted by Bacon’s paintings we are compelled by sensations. We are affected viscerally and physiologically, and they act on the nervous system before the intellect: we feel them before we analyze them, but they remain open to diverse modes of interpretation, resisting conformity with any one philosophical system.” (Martin Harrison, ‘Painting, Smudging,’ in Martin Harrison, Ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies, Germany, 2009, p. 166)

“Of course we are not certain that the depths really do harbor something—but whatever it may be, we each of us have in us that brutal gesture, that hand movement that roughs up another person’s face in the hope of finding, in it and behind it, a thing that is hidden there.” (Milan Kundera, ‘The Painter’s Brutal Gesture’ in Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits, New York, 1996, p. 10)

“Bacon’s portraits are the interrogation on the limits of the self. Up to what degree of distortion does an individual still remain himself? To what degree of distortion does a beloved being still remain a beloved being? For how long does a cherished face growing remote through illness, through madness, through hatred, through death still remain recognizable? Where lies the border beyond which a self ceases to be a self?” (Milan Kundera, ‘The Painter’s Brutal Gesture’ in Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits, New York, 1996, p. 12)

There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,

 And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

 When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,

Then how should I begin

To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

And how should I presume?

T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, 1915

 

In 1970, Francis Bacon found himself at the pinnacle of his personal and professional lives. Months before the opening of his groundbreaking career-defining retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1971, the artist was 61 years old and in the throes of his torrid, passionate love affair with George Dyer. The breathtaking creative fecundity of the years up to and including 1970 was owed predominantly to the impact of Bacon’s relationship with Dyer, which began in 1964 when Dyer broke into Bacon’s studio at 7 Reece Mews with the intent of burgling the place. Through the studio’s famous skylight, Dyer tumbled into Bacon’s life like a piercing ray of light, 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 and enchanted desire, foiled by the progressive impatience Bacon felt towards the increasing aimlessness and erratic behavior that exacerbated his lover’s worsening alcoholism. This intensity of emotion resulted in paintings that wield the full force of Bacon’s vigor and pictorial authority, which reached its absolute crest in 1970—just one year before tragedy would strike Bacon once again, with Dyer’s death in 1971 driving him into a spiral of grief. The artist’s exhilarating 1970 diptych, Two Studies for a Self-Portrait, however, meets Bacon at a critical juncture before Dyer’s imminent death would consume him entirely. In these two portraits, we happen upon the artist caught in a transitional mental state, wrestling with the rapturous emotional depth and psychological complexity of his relationship with Dyer, all the while in the full swings of preparation for the most important milestone of his career.

Two Studies for a Self-Portrait is indisputably the singular icon of the artist’s legendary canon of self-portraiture, having graced the covers of Milan Kundera and France Borel’s definitive 1996 publication Francis Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits, and John Russell’s seminal 2001 monograph Francis Bacon. A treasure of inconceivable rarity, not only is this painting the lone work painted in 1970 ever to appear publicly for sale, but it is one of only three Self Portrait diptychs executed in Bacon’s famed 14 by 12-inch format. Exhibited only twice—first at the Grand Palais, and then in an exhibition of the artist’s Small Portrait Studies at Marlborough Fine Art in London in 1993, for which it was selected as the poster image—this unparalleled masterwork has remained out of the public eye in the same esteemed private collection for the past 46 years since having been acquired in the year of its creation. An exceptional work, therefore, that possesses an equally exceptional exhibition history, Two Studies for Self-Portrait was hand chosen by the artist for inclusion in the single most important exhibition in Bacon’s lifetime: the grand scale retrospective held at the Grand Palais in 1971 (an accolade only previously afforded to Pablo Picasso among living painters). Directly following this exhibition, the critic for Le Monde Michel Conil Lacoste, praised the “perfectly selected and installed masterworks”: “It’s more than a successful exhibition. Everything has come together for this retrospective, in preparation for the past two years, an event marked by exceptional signs: the power and the radical originality of a painter… the renewal he draws from an exploration of the human and the quotidian and the classical métier one thought was exhausted...” (Michel Conil Lacoste quoted in Exh. Cat., London, Tate Britain (and travelling), Francis Bacon, 2008, p. 36)

Charged with sublime beauty and framed within an electric arena of brilliant colour, these two portraits masterfully combine Bacon’s twisted, scraped, and gushed handling of paint with arresting intensity and consummate psychological depth. Exquisite pastel tones are entwined and offset by lush, electric swathes of orange, pink, and blue squeezed directly from the tube, further punctuated by alabaster accents that work to illuminate the entire painting. Alternating between thick smears of abstracted colour and precise, naturalistic renderings of the artist’s own physiognomy, the present work sees the artist tussling with his own appearance. Here he oscillates between realism and the artifice of self-presentation; John Richardson remarked of Bacon’s faces, “Those strange revolving brushstrokes, that are so familiar from his pictures, would be rehearsed with Max Factor pancake make-up. He had a series of these Max Factor pots and he would take one and do a sort of smear across his face, and these are the smears that you see on so many of the faces of those early paintings.” (John Richardson quoted in Francis Bacon: Taking Reality by Surprise, London, 1996) Bravura brushwork and whipped impasto share the picture plane with elegant impressions of corduroy and torn cloth that imprint vigorous pattern onto the surface of the face; the striped passages weave around the curvature of Bacon’s head and extend seamlessly into his ruffled coiffure. In thrilling evidence is the artist’s distinctive forelocks of hair, those inimitable diagonal brushmarks which the esteemed French poet, and friend of Bacon’s, Michel Leiris described as “a reckless comma staunchly inscribed across his brow.” (Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon Full Face and in Profile, New York, 1983, p. 12)

Unlike other examples of Bacon’s small-format portrait studies, Two Studies for a Self-Portrait does not convey an entirely mangled appearance: the savage brushstrokes and riotous color connote a dislocation of facial features, but the tenderness with which Bacon approaches his own face in this buoyant self-portrait evades utter disfigurement. Captured brusquely mid-motion, Bacon’s faces conjure a restlessness of inner thought and intense concentration, but avoid the bruised lacerations and wounded defacements that mark his more tragic self-portraits. With sumptuous inflections of paint, Bacon’s facial distortions interrogate the limits of the self. Amid the spectacular colour and virtuoso brushwork, Bacon presents an ethereal and unearthly form of his visage that, while undoubtedly depicting the artist, is manifestly surreal. In the left panel, the artist’s right cheek is smeared with a single stroke of searing orange that swoops across his jawline, his entire visage reverberating with the velocity of the brush as if recovering from a blow to the face; in the right panel, the center of his head tremors with violent smudges. But, this is not a mark of pure brutality. While the pulpy arcs and swoops of oil paint rough up Bacon’s features, the artist’s insistence on chance, play, and radiant prismatic colour invoke what Kundera refers to as ‘joyous despair’: a counter-balance between the artist’s serious confrontation with mortality and the intense desire and enchantment that these effusive pictures set forth. Two Studies for a Self-Portrait approaches the physical materiality of human existence in its insistence on the corporeality of flesh as real and concrete; Bacon expresses this pure, indisputable fact as enduringly in tandem with an inner, metaphysical essence. Kundera explains, “It is neither pessimism nor despair, it is only obvious fact, but a fact that is veiled by our membership in a collectivity that blinds us with its dreams, its excitements, its projects, its illusions, its struggles, its causes, its religions, its ideologies, its passions. And then one day the veil falls and we are left stranded with the body, at the body’s mercy…” (Milan Kundera, ‘The Painter’s Brutal Gesture’ in Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits, New York, 1996, p. 17) What makes the present work so special is its insistent disavowal of pessimism: Bacon accesses his own mortality while privileging the magical quality of dream, chance, and the imagination, which surpass the evanescence of the physical body.

The deeply striking instantaneity of the present work can be attributed greatly to the manner in which Bacon very deliberately painted the background. Bacon was a compulsive revisionist and very often traces of differently hued layers are visible underneath the final background coat. The individual panels of Two Studies for a Self-Portrait, however, reveal no such underpainting. Instead, the bright, flat lilac background follows closely the extemporaneous articulation of Bacon’s head and shoulders, leaving areas of grazed pigment that reveal the raw canvas beneath. Against this purposeful background, the interplay and great choreography of agitated brushstrokes in white, blue, and red posit this as a work of extraordinary elegance and vibrancy. The rich density of oils that comprise the facial forms are amplified in intensity against the flatness of the background and simplicity of his black jumper.

Cut off from the natural world by its searing, pungent tonal spectrum, Bacon’s palette occupies the realm of the imagination. With dropped eyelids perched against his muscular cheekbones as if closed, and lips tightly pursed in deep contemplation, Bacon’s heads appear to be captured in a liminal state of mental reflection. His severely introspective expressions coupled with the enchanting color palette indicate a dream-like state nestled within his subconscious psyche. Martin Harrison discusses this crucial connection between Bacon’s technique of turbulent smudges and its greater philosophical resonance. Harrison in fact quotes Gaston Bachelard to suggest the smudged features in Bacon’s portraits indicate a state of transition: “Gaston Bachelard discussed the phenomena of dreaming and transitional states thus: ‘if it is true that the psychology of the imagination neither can nor should work upon static figures—if it can only learn from images that are in the process of deformation, it will be agreed that this most amorphous of objects must be one of the most valued oneiric themes. For does it not give access to a world of shapes in movement and deformed by movement, and lend itself to constructions whose constant mutations bring the formal powers of dreaming fully into play?’” (Martin Harrison, ‘Painting, Smudging,’ in Martin Harrison, Ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies, Germany, 2009, p. 166)

If Bacon’s portraits are indeed meant to affect a level of sensation beyond the purely physiological, there is perhaps no more intimate an investigation of the artist’s psyche than Two Studies for a Self-Portrait. Bacon was quoted at length describing how he instinctually pushed paint around to get as close as possible to a “deep well from which things are drawn out, a reservoir of the unconscious.” (Francis Bacon quoted in Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, Francis Bacon, New York, 1986, p. 110) It is perhaps Milan Kundera, however, who best described Bacon’s painterly triumph in his introduction for the publication Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits, on whose cover the present work is featured. Kundera wrote: “Of course we are not certain that the depths really do harbor something—but whatever it may be, we each of us have in us that brutal gesture, that hand movement that roughs up another person’s face in the hope of finding, in it and behind it, a thing that is hidden there.” (Milan Kundera, ‘The Painter’s Brutal Gesture’ in Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits, New York, 1996, p. 10) When faced with his own image, Bacon turned to the brush as a tool by which to excavate and discover a hidden layer of meaning from within his nervous system. Bacon explicitly declared his disavowal of religion and any existence of a soul, maintaining the uniform conclusion that mind, nervous system, and body exist as one. While delicately imprinted, the parallel lines that score Bacon’s doubled heads appear as scratches across his face, marking a state of deformity that perhaps best visualizes Kundera’s concept of “the brutal gesture”: it is as if the viewer bears witness to the artist clawing at his own corporeal being to dig out his inner essential subconscious. As Bacon remarked, “When talking about the violence of paint, it’s nothing to do with the violence of war. It’s to do with an attempt to remake the violence of reality itself.” (Francis Bacon quoted in Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, Francis Bacon, New York, 1986, pp. 109-110) Rather than setting out to represent fact, Bacon’s self-portraiture approached distortion as a means by which to unlock what lies beneath the surface of appearance—a vehicle for observation into human nature.

Moreover, what makes Two Studies for a Self-Portrait indelibly rare is that in comparison to the 21 single panels and 11 triptych self-portrait studies in the 14-by-12 inch format canvases, Bacon executed a total of only 3 self-portraits in this diptych format. The diptych remains a significant composition for Bacon’s portrait heads, presenting a duality of views that is particularly resonant in its binary composition. The single portrait head became Bacon’s principal subject in 1964, the year he first met George Dyer. In the early part of this year, Bacon commissioned John Deakin to photograph himself, and the other protagonists of his Bohemian Soho enclave, and in so doing was provided with an instant repository of visual cue cards to use as photographic source imagery for his studies. The proliferation of the diptych and triptych format can be attributed to the organization of the contact sheets Deakin provided to Bacon, which arranged each roll of film in four rows of three. This lateral sequencing allowed Bacon to explore not only the nuances of movement, but to probe multiple views of the same subject: a distinctly Cubist device used to Bacon’s advantage in order to depict an emotional, metaphysical complexity. Across these multiplied formats, his portraits—and subsequently, the essence of his subjects—develop before the eye like a photograph. 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) Possessing the ability to catch a subject’s shifting position through both the double format, and the sweeping vertiginous brushstrokes within each panel, Bacon’s portrait studies present a revisionist take on the precepts of Analytical Cubism.

Two nights prior to the opening of Bacon’s retrospective exhibition at the Grand Palais, Dyer was found dead of an overdose in a bathroom at the Hôtel des Saints-Pères. Following Dyer’s passing, Bacon launched into a series of epic eulogies that would lead into his Black Triptychs, which bespeak the artist’s immeasurable loss and grief.  Bacon’s Two Studies for a Self-Portrait arrived on the cusp of this significant emotional transition. In the mid-1960s, Bacon was given a book written by Michel Leiris, where he underlined the following passage: “For Baudelaire, beauty cannot come into being without the intervention of something accidental… What constitutes beauty is not the confrontation of opposites but the mutual antagonism of those opposites, and the active and vigorous manner in which they invade one another and emerge from the conflict marked as if by a wound or a depredation… We can call ‘beautiful’ only that which suggests the existence of an ideal order—supraterrestrial, harmonious and logical—and yet bears within itself, like the brand of an original sin, the drop of poison, the rogue element of incoherence, the grain of sand that will foul up the entire system… On the right-hand side, a beauty that is immortal, sovereign, sculptural; facing it, the element of the left, sinister in the strict sense, since the left stands for misfortune, and for accident, and for sin.” (Michel Leiris cited in John Russell, Francis Bacon, New York, 1971, p. 142-3) Just like Leiris, Bacon saw two sides of beauty: both the stable and the unstable, the passion and the tragedy. It is from the tension between opposites and the struggle for balance between two sides that one finds true beauty. By very nature of a process of doubling, the diptych literally and formally articulates for Bacon the power of image and counter-image in dialogue. In two parts, Bacon fragments his appearance into two alike yet unlike images, heightening a plurality of self that is without restrictions.

The ebullient hues and vortex of energy within his sweeping marks in Two Studies for a Self-Portrait relate Bacon’s painting to the outburst of color associated with the development of color field painting, post-painterly abstraction, and the ascendance of the brightly coloured Pop Art in the 1960s. In the vivid fields of prismatic color that swerve into one another, Bacon’s faces evoke the deeply saturated chromatic intensity of Mark Rothko’s abstract sectionals from the early 1950s, while their Impressionist vigour and sense of motion recall the most accomplished of Claude Monet’s landscapes. Bacon’s iridescent palette in the present work recounts a heightened exuberance and magnificent imagination from a painter who staunchly opposed idealization, facing humanity for its overwhelming burden of traumas and pain. The bejeweled pinks, blues, and lavenders that erupt from Bacon’s doubled visage are notably present in Perry Ogden’s famed photographs of Bacon’s home and studio on 7 Reece Mews in London’s South Kensington neighbourhood, where he moved in 1961 and remained until his death in 1992. As the artist scraped clean the radiant hues of his brush, reworking the layers of his intricate canvas surfaces, we can see the vestiges of his painterly process lining the interior of his studio. This irrepressibly effusive palette demonstrably held a privileged place in Bacon’s repertoire, appearing in a number of Self-Portraits from the late 60s. The 1960s also spawned a proliferation of Technicolor in the public mass media, where colour photography, film, and magazines ascended to the status of the norm. Fascinated by colour photography and colour reproductions in books, Bacon reveled in the heightened artifice and falsified spectrum that the medium enabled: the rich kaleidoscopic colour present in Two Studies for a Self-Portrait creates a sense of fiction that shears Bacon’s depiction from the natural world, emphasizing its distance from a photographic reality.

Already the subject of major international retrospectives and critical scholarship across the globe by the time he paintedTwo Studies for a Self-Portrait in 1970, Bacon was deeply aware of his prominent status. A man of 61, time inevitably had its cumulative effects on his appearance, and yet in this depiction, Bacon’s features remain remarkably akin to those of a much younger man. This painting does not possess the carved tangle of physiognomic forms or time weariness evident in future self-portraits from the immediate years following the death of George Dyer in 1971; instead, it emanates youthfulness, a tone further embellished by the lively colour palette. Alert, tightly jawed, and smooth-skinned below the impastoed sense of movement, Bacon’s painted face belies the age of its author. This indisputably favourable portrayal of his own appearance reflects Bacon’s deep concern with self-presentation, a factor further elaborated by Michael Peppiatt: “… Bacon continued to take great care of his appearance as he grew older, dyeing his hair subtle shades of reddish brown and applying liberal amounts of ‘pancake’ makeup to his face, even though it had not become deeply lined.” (Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, New York, 2009, p. 364) Successor to a genre of self-portraiture perfected by revered masters from Rembrandt to Picasso, Bacon was undoubtedly driven by an incessant compulsion to forge and carefully deliver a well-manicured personal mythology for the experience of his time.

As a genre, self-portraiture purportedly reveals the private side of a public profession; nowhere can this be understood with such forthright candor than in Bacon’s oeuvre as viewed in the light of Rembrandt’s legacy. Rembrandt was the very touchstone of Bacon’s inventiveness in these small scale canvases; the endless variety and successive permutations of his own visage, which meld into almost abstract dissolving matter towards the end of his life, cast Rembrandt’s late self-portraits as a striking parallel to, and even art historical blue-print for, the present work. Bacon believed Rembrandt’s self-portraits to be “formally the most extraordinary paintings. He altered painting in a way by the method by which he dealt with himself and perhaps he felt freer to deal with himself in this totally liberal way… One always has a greater involvement with oneself than with anybody else. No matter how much you may believe that you’re in love with somebody else, your love of somebody else is your love of yourself.” (Francis Bacon quoted in David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London, 2000, p. 241) When viewed up close, Rembrandt’s heads seemingly disband into a mass of non-representational marks that were doubtless an inspiration to Bacon’s own savage expressivity. Like Rembrandt tallying his aged, lined and weary features with a congruent painterly treatment of disbanded corporeality, in the present work the vaporous dissolution of Bacon’s likeness tempers exigent facture with an intense yet reposed response to the concrete fact of mortality.

Until a certain point in history, portraiture was a means by which to reach an absolute representation of an individual—direct, unambiguous statements of a person’s character and statehood, categorized by identifiers of dress, ownership, and other iconographic markers. At the turn of Modernism, however, artists displayed their disbelief in this structured view of human personality, turning away from a monolithic view of human nature defined by power, and instead to a variable, contingent expression of individuals characterized by flaws and ambiguity. As Bacon’s likeness refracts like a prism throughout and across Two Studies for a Self-Portrait, the spectral mirror of his canvases reveal entirely uncharted emotional depths and psychosomatic complexities buried within the very philosophy of self-reflection. 

 

 

Rare Francis Bacon self-portrait up for sale for first time

 

Sotheby's will auction Two Studies for a self-Portrait, which has only been exhibited twice before, in New York in May

 

Mark Brown, The Guardian, Thursday 17 March, 2016

 

       

                                 Francis Bacon, Two Studies for a Self-Portrait (1970). 

 

A rare and unusually positive self-portrait by Francis Bacon, an artist better known for the many demons that haunted him throughout his life, is coming to the market for the first time.

The auction house Sotheby’s said Two Studies for Self-Portrait (1970) was the finest of all Bacon’s self-portraits and would be sold in New York on 11 May with an estimate of $22m-$30m (£19m-£26m).

Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s senior specialist in international art, described it as “No 1 of all the paintings I’ve handled in my career”.

He added: “Discovering a work such as this is like finding gold dust. To my mind, the painting is worthy of a place alongside the very finest self-portraits of Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Picasso. It’s certainly among the greatest self-portraits ever offered at auction.”

The work shows an almost cheery Bacon and was painted a year before his career-defining retrospective at Paris’s Grand Palais in 1971, that made him only the second living artist after Picasso to have been afforded that honour.

It was also a time, it can be assumed, that things were steady between Bacon and his partner George Dyer. The following year, on the eve of the show, Dyer killed himself – an incident that haunted the artist for decades to come.

Two Studies for a Self-Portrait has been exhibited only twice before. At the 1971 retrospective and in 1993 at Marlborough Fine Art,  London.

The painting was also chosen as the cover shot for Milan Kundera and Frances Borel's book Francis Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits.  

The painting comes to auction as exhibitions of Bacon’s work are planned at  Tate Liverpool,  the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Bacon’s catalogue raisonné will also be published in the spring, representing an almost 10-year search to find and document every Bacon painting.

Particularly exciting is the discovery of Bacon's final and previously unseen work from 1991, in which he contemplates his own death.

Francis Bacon works attract some of the highest auction bids, with Three Studies of Lucian Freud selling for $142m (£89m) in 2013, far more than its $85m estimate. 

 

 

CHRISTIE'S

 

Sale 12303 | Lot 66

Modern British Art

March 17 2016, London, South Kensington

 

Tony O'Malley, H.R.H.A. (1913 - 2003) (recto);

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) (verso)

 

Currach, Clare Island (recto); Evening Landscape Tehidy Hospital (recto); Figure (verso)

 

Price realised

 GBP 434,500

USD 620,900

 

Estimate

GBP 20,000 - GBP 30,000

(USD 28,180 - USD 42,270)

 

 

Tony O'Malley, H.R.H.A. (1913-2003) (recto); Francis Bacon (1909-1992)(verso)
Currach, Clare Island (recto); Evening Landscape Tehidy Hospital (recto); Figure (verso)
signed and indistinctly dated ‘TONY O’MALLEY MAY 1962’ (lower left), dedicated and dated again ‘with love to/Paddy from/Tony Aug/1962’ (on the reverse); inscribed 'Evening Landscape Tehidy Hospital' (lower right), indistinctly inscribed again and dated 'Evening Landscape/Tehidy/Hospital/1961’ (on the reverse)
oil on board; oil and chalk on board
29 ¾ x 47 in. (75.5 x 119.4 cm.); 30 ¼ x 47 in. (76.8 x 119.4 cm.)
(2)Figure, circa 1959, will appear in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Francis Bacon, edited by Martin Harrison, under the number 59-16

Lot essay

The present lot consists of two early paintings by Tony O’Malley which, when turned over and joined together, reveal an unfinished nude by Francis Bacon. Divided into two boards, these paintings are viewed together for the first time in almost 60 years. For years this ‘lost’ Bacon was separated, residing in the collection of two different owners. One half remained with Tony O’Malley, while the other was owned by the poet Padraic Fallon, who had been gifted Currach, Clare Island by his close friend O’Malley. The two halves of Bacon’s Figure were first displayed together when an image of the joined paintings was shown at Tate St Ives’s 2007 exhibition Francis Bacon in St Ives.

O’Malley and Bacon both stayed in St Ives in the late 1950s, working just two doors down from one another. In the immediate years following the Second World War, St Ives established itself as the centre for avant-garde art in Britain. Attracting a new generation of artists who, like Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth before them, were searching for inspiration in the wild landscape of West Cornwall. In September 1959, Bacon travelled from Penzance to St Ives to work on a series of paintings for his exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery in March 1960. Bacon’s stay in St Ives occurred during a significant stage of transition in the artist’s career, where he experimented with colour and technique, readdressing how he located the figure in space.

Whilst working in St Ives Bacon rented 3 Porthmeor Studios from the sculptor William Redgrave and his wife Boots, in a row of studios previously occupied by tenants including Ben Nicholson and Terry Frost. Intending to stay for six months, Bacon’s visit was cut short after a turbulent argument with his then partner Ronnie Belton. Hurriedly leaving in January 1960, Bacon abandoned many of his works, including the male nude on the reverse of the present lot. On clearing the studio Boots gave away many of his discarded works to friends who would re-use the materials. Those known include the present nude given to O’Malley and another work gifted to Canadian sculptor Bill Featherstone who used it to roof his chicken shed. It is reported that O’Malley was approached by a dealer who propositioned him to fraudulently ‘complete’ the Bacon and in disgust he split the board in two, while others, such as artist David Page, recount that it was cut to suit O’Malley’s propensity for smaller sized boards. 

Since its rediscovery Figure has been examined by the Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné Committee and will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné, to be published in April 2016. 

 

       

          Specialist Angus Granlund on the exciting moment when the two halves were joined, and Bacon’s brief spell in St Ives

 

Discovery: Two halves of an unfinished Francis Bacon - reunited after 60 years

 

When turned over and joined together, these two early paintings by Irish artist Tony O'Malley reveal an unfinished nude by Francis bacon. For almost three decades this ‘lost’ Bacon was separated, residing in the collection of two different owners. One half remained with O’ Malley, while the other was owned by the poet Padraic Fallon, who had been gifted Currach, Clare Island by O’Malley. It was offered as a single lot in the Modern British & Irish Art sale at Christie’s South Kensington on 17 March 2016, and sold for £434,500.

‘This is the first time that both works will be viewed together in almost 60 years,’ says specialist Angus Granlund, lifting O’Malley’s seascapes out of their frames and turning them to reveal Bacon’s sweeping brushstrokes, which join to form a fleshy, unfinished study of a male nude. An image of the two halves of Bacon's Figure was shown at Tate St Ives’ 2007 exhibition Francis Bacon in St Ives.

Completed during Bacon’s fleeting stay in the Cornish town in 1959, the work is one of only six paintings the artist is known to have made during the period, which, says Granlund, ‘makes this even more rare and interesting.’ The authenticity of the reunited halves of the same unfinished work were recently confirmed by the Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné committee

 

 

'Lost' Francis Bacon Nude found on the back of two paintings

 

Artist's portrait has been discovered on the reverse of works by Irish artist Tony O'Malley

 

 MICHAEL PARSONS | THE IRISH TIMES | WEDNESDAY | MARCH 9 2016

 

An unfinished “lost” painting of a male nude by Francis Bacon has been discovered on the reverse of two paintings by Irish artist Tony O’Malley which are being auctioned on St Patrick’s Day. The paintings by Co Kilkenny-born O’Malley were made in the early 1960s. They each measure about 30ins by 47ins. They will be sold as a pair at Christie’s in London and have an estimate of £20,000- £30,000 (€25,827-€38,753).

O’Malley made the oil paintings using a board which he had cut in half. But the board had earlier been used by Bacon to create the unfinished picture. The two O’Malley paintings went to different owners but have now been reunited. When they are turned over and joined up they reveal the Bacon image, which has been assigned the title Figure, circa 1959.

“For years these works [by O’Malley] were separated, residing in the collections of two different owners,” Christie’s said “Now these paintings, and the lost Bacon study, will be reunited and viewed together for the first time in almost 60 years.”

The O’Malley paintings are entitled Currach, Clare Island and Evening Landscape, Tehidy Hospital. In the late 1950s the two men crossed paths in the artists’ colony of St Ives in Cornwall, where O’Malley was then living and working.

Christie’s said Bacon moved to St Ives in 1959 but “cut short his visit following an argument” with his partner and “abandoned the work”.

The woman who had rented him a studio gave Bacon’s discarded works to friends who reused the materials. Another artist reputedly used one of Bacon’s paintings to roof a chicken shed.

In demand

Dublin-born Bacon, who spent his working life in England and died in 1992, has, in the past decade, become one of the most expensive painters in art history.

One of his triptychs entitled Three Studies of Lucian Freud sold for $142.4 million (€129.4m) at Christie’s, New York, in November 2013 – the second highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction. A spokesman for Christie’s South Kensington saleroom said the paintings had been “assessed on the basis that they are works by Tony O’Malley”.

Christie’s said O’Malley gave Currach, Clare Island to his friend the poet Padraic Fallon but kept Evening Landscape, Tehidy Hospital. Tehidy is a few miles from St Ives. O’Malley left St Ives and moved to the Bahamas before returning to Ireland with his wife Jane. He was elected a Saoi of Aosdána in 1993. He died in 2003.

Barbra Dawson, director of Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, which houses Bacon’s reconstituted London studio (which was donated to the State by his heirs) and paintings by O’Malley, said the paintings would make a “very desirable acquisition”.

She declined to comment on the possibility of the gallery bidding for them.

 

 

Lost Francis Bacon Nude Discovered On Back Of St Ives Painting

 

ART NEWS | ARYLYST  | 7 March 2016

 

    

 

A lost and unfinished nude by Francis Bacon discovered on the reverse side of two paintings by the Irish artist Tony O’Malley is up for auction at Christies South Kensington. Bacon started working on the figure in St Ives, Cornwall in the late 1950s, but when the artist cut short his visit following an argument with this partner, he abandoned the work, among many others. The Modern British & Irish Art sale at Christie’s South Kensington on 17 March will include the two early paintings which feature the Bacon when turned over and joined together. The canvas was divided and painted on by O’Malley who created two scenes on the opposite sides: Currach, Clare Island and Evening Landscape Tehidy Hospital. For years these works were separated, residing in the collections of two different owners. Now these paintings, and the lost Bacon study, will be reunited and viewed together for the first time in almost 60 years, when the public pre-sale viewing opens on 12 March at Christie’s South Kensington. They will be offered in the Modern British & Irish Art auction on 17 March with an estimate of £20,000-30,000. 

In September 1959, Bacon travelled to St Ives to work on a series of paintings for his exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery in March 1960. Bacon’s stay in St Ives occurred during a significant stage of transition in the artist’s career, where he experimented with colour and technique, readdressing how he located the figure in space. Whilst working in St Ives, Bacon rented 3 Porthmeor Studios, from the sculptor William Redgrave and his wife Mary, known as ‘Boots’, in a row of studios previously occupied by tenants including Ben Nicholson and Terry Frost. Intending to stay for six months, Bacon’s visit was cut short after a turbulent argument with his then partner Ronnie Belton. When clearing the studio Boots gave away many of Bacon’s discarded works to friends who would re-use the materials. It has been reported that O’Malley was approached by a dealer who propositioned him to ‘complete’ the Bacon, which he refused to do and split the board in two, while others recount that the board was cut to suit O’Malley’s preference for working on smaller sized boards. 

The two halves of Bacon’s Figure were first displayed together when an image of the joined paintings was shown at Tate St Ives’s 2007 exhibition Francis Bacon in St Ives. This March will be the first time that the two paintings are displayed together in public. Figure will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Francis Bacon, to be published in April 2016.

 

 

Drawing outside the lines The colourful life of Francis Bacon

 

By Katy Harrington, The Irish Post, March 2, 2016

 

SINCE his death in 1992, virtuoso painter Francis Bacon’s name has never faded.

In his own lifetime, he was well-known for the menacing, ghostly half-man, half-who-knows-what figures he painted, to the bad-boy boyfriends, booze-fuelled Soho sessions and romantic relationships, some as dark and twisted as his paintings.

His work, and his reputation have stood the test of time. Art collectors still clamour to Bacon.

Last year, two of his self-portraits, which had been kept from the eyes of the public in a private collection for many years, sold for a combined £30million at Sotheby’s in London.

This May, a new generation in the north of England will get the opportunity to see his works in the flesh when a new exhibition opens at Tate Liverpool.

Francesco Manacorda, artistic director at Tate Liverpool says they are confident Bacon’s name will be a draw. “Bacon is definitely a household name that people recognise. The pictures are visceral and very sensual and effective so I think people will be compelled to see the show.”

Margarita Cappock, head of collections at Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane and author of the book, Francis Bacon’s Studio, says that Bacon’s longevity comes down to the work he produced.

“Because of the quality of the work he hasn’t fallen out of favour in any way, there’s a heightened realisation with younger scholars coming up that what Bacon was doing was quite unique. He was a unique individual, a towering figure of British figurative painting in the 20th century and he’s retained that reputation”, she explains.

Unique is the right word.

Born in a nursing home at 63 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin on October 28, 1909, Bacon was the second of five children. His well-to-do parents were both English.

They first settled in Cannycourt House near the Curragh, Co. Kildare, where Bacon’s father Anthony Edward ‘Eddy’ Mortimer Bacon, wanted to work breeding and training horses.

Home life was no bed of roses for young Francis Bacon. His father was cold and argumentative, his mother wrapped up with herself.

In 1926, Bacon’s father caught him dressing up in his mother’s clothes, kicked him out and he set off on his own path.

However, he didn’t start to paint right away. In the late 1920s, he moved around between France and Germany and then settled in London where he started off as a furniture and interior designer. “He was self-taught, he didn’t go to art college so that immediately made him a bit different”, says Margarita Cappock.

In fact, Bacon was something of an accidental artist. He saw an exhibition of drawings by Picasso in the summer of 1927 and it affected him deeply, firing his imagination. Soon afterwards, he started to draw and paint images of his own.

 

      

       Francis Bacon in a London street. Photo by James Jackson

 

Major success came in his 40s and 50s when he was producing the large-scale paintings he is best known for.

Around 1944, he finished the painting that made his name. Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (which lives in Tate London collection but will form part of the new Liverpool exhibition) is in triptych format, a form normally associated with religious art. “He was a complete atheist, but he made that form his own”, says Cappock.

Cappock calls the piece his most iconic. Hung in London just after the end of the Second World War, it caused a strong reaction. She describes it as “almost cinematic the way the eye can move between the three. The slightly menacing and horrific nature of the figures that aren’t human… It touched a raw nerve coming at the end of the War to see these biomorphic figures with the bare teeth and bandaged eyes.”

Bacon was master at portraiture too. “What really strikes people is the ability to capture the essence of a personality. Not an easy thing to do,” explains Cappock. Unusually, he didn’t paint his portraits from life, preferring to work from photographs alone in his studio.

That studio was presented to the Hugh Lane gallery in 1998.

Moved “lock, stock and barrel” from Bacon’s South Kensington digs and reconstructed down to the last tube of paint in Dublin. It opened in 2001, and Cappock says those who visit are still intrigued to see an artist’s studio inside a gallery, with over 7,500 items packed into it – Bacon’s books, photographs, materials, and his easel, which was left with his last unfinished work sitting on it.

While critics agree that Bacon is one of the most important artists of the 20th century, there have been a few tussles over his nationality.

The Irish claim him as their own, but he is more often referred to as a British artist. Cappock, who has just written a paper on the subject for Yale University is well-placed to weigh in on this irksome issue.

Dublin-born to English parents (who had no ties to Ireland), he spent the first 16 formative years of his life in Ireland, and although an atheist, died in the care of nuns. “There’s an Irish dimension to his work”, argues Cappock. “He was very influenced by what he saw… he used to go around butchers’ shops and look at the meat. Meat is such a motif in his work.”

After the bust up with his father, Bacon apparently said he’d never go back to Ireland after he left, but Cappock knows otherwise.

His sister, now dead, confirmed that he returned to Ireland on holiday. In 1965 there was an exhibition of his work in the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin but on that occasion Bacon didn’t return, saying it would be “too much fuss”.

Francesco Manacorda, Artistic Director at Tate Liverpool says the fact that Liverpool is so connected with Ireland should help draw crowds to see Bacon’s work. The show has been planned for years, a partnership from the beginning with the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart (where the show will travel to next from 7 October 2016 – 8 January 2017). It’s been a laborious process, requesting 30 paintings, rarely seen drawings and documents from as far as the US and transporting fragile pieces has required persuasion and negotiation but they are nearing the end.

To someone who has never seen the work before, Manacorda and Cappock agree that you need to see Bacon’s work in the flesh. “You need to see them for real, the size, the materiality, the gesture of painting, the material he uses, it needs to be experienced in person. There’s a whole sort of ritual around it, the ceremony. All the paintings are under glass by instruction of Bacon himself and framed with golden frames — if you see this painting in a catalogue or online it’s not the same”, says Manacorda.

“Look closely at the way he manipulates the paint on the canvas and the beauty of the works regardless of the subject matter”, says Cappock, or as Manacorda succinctly suggests: “Focus on the sensation, not the thinking.”

Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms, 18 May – 18 September 2016, Tate Liverpool, Albert Dock, Liverpool Waterfront, Liverpool, L3 4BB. Information and booking: 0151 702 7400.

 

 

 

Francis Bacon's Elusive Final Painting Unveiled in London

 

Study of a Bull (1991) has been revealed thanks to research by art historian Martin Harrison

 

By Zoë Miller   Culture   The Observer  |  02/29/16

 

    

       The final painting by British artist Francis Bacon (1909 – 1992), center, was revealed Tuesday by art historian Martin Harrison

 

The art world received an unexpected gift last week, when art historian Martin Harrison unveiled the final, completed work by British figurative painter Francis Bacon. Epitomizing liminality, Study of a Bull (1991)―completed when Mr. Bacon was 82―depicts a semitransparent beast entering or exiting an area of black emptiness.

As Mr. Harrison puts it, Mr. Bacon―who passed away in 1992 on a Madrid vacation―was painting his own death. “Bacon is ready to sign off … he was so ill,” Mr. Harrison told The Guardian.  “He knew exactly what he was doing here.”

Mr. Harrison discovered Study of a Bull in a private collection two years ago while editing a compendium of the artist’s works, out in April. Of the 584 works in the catalogue, the product of a decade-long project, 100 will be displayed publicly for the first time in that exhibition. Miraculously, Mr. Harrison succeeded in locating all but one of Mr. Bacon’s surviving paintings.

At the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, where Mr. Bacon lived for a time after World War II, drawn to the temperate weather and gambling culture, Mr. Harrison is curating a comprehensive exhibition for July.

Bacons have been hot at auction recently. Last May, for instance, Seated Woman (1961), a moody nude, went for $28.2 million at Phillips Contemporary Art Evening Sale. His paintings have also been listed at Sotheby’s in New York and London for tens of millions.

While the Grimaldi exhibit―which also features Mr. Bacon’s first known piece, a 1929 watercolor― doesn’t open until July, fans of the artist with £1000 to spare can preorder Mr. Harrison’s five-volume, clothbound set, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, from Heni Publishing.

 

 

 

Francis Bacon: Artist's final unseen painting 'Study of a Bull' to go on public display for the first time

 

Art historian Martin Harrison traced the painting to a private family home in London

 

 

      

                                   Francis Bacon died aged 82 in April 1992 

 

Francis Bacon's final painting is going on public display for the first time after an art historian found it in a “very private” collection.

Painted in 1991 when the artist knew he was dying, “Study of a Bull” shows a bull emerging from darkness into light. Experts believe that Bacon intended it to be his last work, noting that he mixed dust with his paint to create a fading effect.

Martin Harrison has spent 11 years compiling a catalogue of Bacon’s complete collection and has identified 584 works to date. “Study of a Bull” is one of over 100 unknown artworks that Harrison has unearthed over the course of his career. It has never been been talked about, written about or printed in any form.

Harrison discovered its existence after stumbling across a black and white paper image of the painting in the archives of London’s Marlborough Fine Art gallery. Making use of extensive contacts, he traced the real artwork to a private family home. 

“Study of a Bull” is two metres high, with Harrison reading the “absolutely magnificent” painting as a goodbye from Bacon. “He is ready to sign off, he was so ill,” he told the Guardian.

“He knew exactly what he was doing here. Is the bull making an entrance? Is he receding to somewhere else? To his cremation? He often used to say: “Dust is eternal, after all we all return to dust’. 

The painting’s owners have agreed to loan “Study of a Bull” to Monaco’s Grimaldi Forum, where temporary exhibition Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture will open in July and run until early September.

Bacon’s first surviving painting, a watercolour from 1929, will also be displayed alongside 60 other artworks by the Irish-born figurative painter known for his bold and often grotesque imagery.

The catalogue of Bacon’s work will be published by the Francis Bacon estate in spring to mark the anniversary of his death aged 82 in April 1992. Be warned, the five, cloth-bound hardcover volumes cost £1,000

 

 

 

Francis Bacon's first and last paintings to go on show in Monaco

 

Study of a Bull from a "very private collection", has never been exhibited before

 

MARTIN BAILEY  | THE ART NEWSPAPER | 23 February 2016

 

        

             Francis Bacon in Nice, March 1979

 

An exhibition on Francis Bacon in Monaco will include the artist’s first and last paintings. The show, opening in July at the Grimaldi Forum, is being organised with the recently established Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, set up by the Lebanese-born businessman Majid Boustany. He is a Swiss national now resident in Monaco, where he owns a stake in the Hotel Metropole. In the past few years Boustany has acquired 2,500 Bacon items, mainly documentary material but also some important early paintings.

Boustany bought Bacon’s first work, entitled Watercolour (1929), after it sold at Christie’s in 2013 for £183,000. It was painted just after Bacon’s return to London from Berlin. The picture was first owned by Eric Allden, Bacon’s probable lover at the time.

The last painting, Study of a Bull, was completed in 1991, a few months before Bacon’s death in Madrid in April 1992. Partly inspired by Picasso’s bull scenes, it has never been exhibited. The picture is being lent by a “very private collector”, according to the exhibition’s curator, Martin Harrison.

Although Tate Liverpool is holding its own Bacon show, the Tate is lending Study of a Dog (1952). The Monaco exhibition will include 60 Bacon paintings, alongside works by artists that inspired him, such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Giacometti, Léger and Soutine. After Monaco the exhibition will go on in a slightly different form to the Guggenheim Bilbao, where the focus will be on Bacon’s links with Spain. 

• Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture, Grimaldi Forum, Monaco, 2 July-4 September
• Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez, Guggenheim Bilbao, 30 September-8 January 2017
• Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms, Tate Liverpool, 18 May-18 September

 

 

 

Francis Bacon: final painting found in 'very private' collection

 

Study of a Bull, 1991, has never been publicly seen, reproduced, discussed or written about

 

 

 

       

           Francis Bacon: Study of a Bull. Underneath the bull Bacon has used real dust from his famously shambolic studio in South Kensington. 

 

It could be a bull backing in to a burning, black void or one escaping it, moving hopefully into the heavenly light. What seems certain is that this final, extraordinary painting by Francis Bacon,unseen and undocumented until now, is by an artist who knows he will soon die.

The art historian Martin Harrison on Tuesday revealed Bacon’s final completed painting – a work that has never been publicly seen, reproduced, discussed or written about. Residing in a “very private, private collection” in London, Study of a Bull. 1991, only came to light as Harrison worked on editing a catalogue of every work of Bacon, due to be published in April.

Harrison said it was Bacon painting his own death, just as he was in his final Triptych 1991, which is in the collection of MoMA in New York. “Bacon is ready to sign off ... he was so ill,” he said. “He knew exactly what he was doing here. Is the bull making an entrance? Is he receding to somewhere else? To his cremation?”

Most of the two-metre-high painting is deliberately raw canvas. Underneath the bull Bacon has used real dust from his famously shambolic studio in South Kensington.  “To me that is terribly poignant,” said Harrison. “He often used to say: ‘Dust is eternal, after all we all return to dust.’”

The bull also testifies to Bacon’s enduring fascination with bullfighting, a subject he first addressed in 1969 and returned to a handful of times until 1987 when he made his only triptych on the theme. Bacon’s introduction to bullfighting was probably through the writings of his great friend, the French surrealist Michel Leiris, and it is no coincidence that Leiris died a year before Bacon completed this final bull painting.

The artist was 82 when he finished Study of a Bull and after a lifetime of, by any standards, extensive debauchery, things were catching up with him: he was dying and he knew it. “Everything was wrong with him, he was clapped out,” said Harrison. “The drinking, the lifelong asthma. He had a lot of operations but he never made a fuss, he never wanted sympathy, hated hospitals ... he knew his time was up. He always looked younger than he was except for that last year.”

n 1992, against the advice of friends, he went on holiday to Madrid, where he died on 28 April.

Harrison has spent the best part of a decade working on the catalogue and more than 100 Bacon paintings, out of the 584 total, will be seen for the first time. “One of the jobs preparing the catalogue raisonné is finding stuff. Art doesn’t come into it really, watching Sherlock Holmes is the only help ... you have to find the paintings.”

Harrison has conducted successful and unsuccessful searches all over the world. He said: “These people who have them ... It is not their job to tell me about their paintings, they are very rich and have lives to lead and they don’t care. You need a slice of luck.”

He first got on to Study of a Bull about two years ago discovering that it was only a mile and a half from where he lived in London. “It was the last painting he finished and there is no documentation for it and it is far too late for him to have spoken about it in interviews and it has never been shown before.”

 

       

                                                        Bacon in Monaco in 1981. 

 

Harrison called it an “absolutely magnificent painting” and it will be a star of a Bacon exhibition he is curating for the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco exploring how important France and Monaco were to Bacon. He said: “His main cultural orientation was always to France. He deprecated almost all English artists and dismissed most English painting ... Paris and France-based artists were his key influences.”

Bacon particularly loved Monaco, living there after the war as a slightly odd trio with his partner Eric Hall and childhood nanny Jessie Lightfoot, attracted by its fresh air, sunshine and plentiful gambling opportunities. It was where Bacon became Bacon, said Harrison.

Also in the show will be Bacon’s first known work, a watercolour from 1929 – a period when the young Bacon was more occupied with working as a male prostitute, interior decorator and furniture designer.

That work is owned by Francis bacon Foundation in Monaco and the fact it exists is remarkable given Bacon got rid of so many of his works from that and other times. “He had this strange, staccato early career,” said Harrison. “Not many of his early works survive because he tried to destroy them. It’s really because they stayed in the collection of friends and relatives that we have any.”

Harrison has managed to track down every Bacon work for the catalogue apart from – to his immense frustration – one, Head with Arm Raised, 1955. “We don’t know where it is on earth ... it is still missing.”

The deadline for its inclusion in what will be a lavish, cloth-bound £1,000 publication has now passed. He warned the Guardian: “You better not bloody find it ... just to mock me!”

 Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture is at the Grimaldi Forum Monaco 2 July-4 September. It will then travel to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao 30 September-8 January.

 

 

 

Found: Francis Bacon's final painting to go show for the first time

 

Study for a bull, the last painting created by Francis bacon, is to be seen by the public for the first time

 

By Hannah Furness, Arts Correspondent, The Telegraph, 23 February 2016

 

 

               

                                                               Francis Bacon

 

A previously unknown picture by Francis Bacon, the last he ever painted, it to go on display for the first time after an art historian spent 11 years tracking down the artist’s entire collection.

Study of a Bull, completed in 1991, has been found after decades out of the public eye, and is said to give new insight into Bacon's life and legacy.

Experts believe it shows the artist knew he it could be his last work, showing a fading bull and created using dust mixed in with his paints.

It has been identified by Martin Harrison, an art historian who has compiled Bacon’s catalogue raisonné, identifying 584 works completed in his lifetime.

Study for a Bull, which has not been printed in colour in any exhibition or books before, and had never been mentioned by Bacon in interview, was one of more than 100 previously unknown works Harrison tracked down over the course of his research.

The 1991 picture was found after he was given access to the archives of Marlborough Fine Art gallery, and extensive records carefully kept by its then-administrator Miss Beston.

In them, he found a crumpled piece of nondescript paper including a black and white image of the painting, not recorded anywhere else.

 

                    

                                                         Study of a Bull, 1991 by Francis Bacon 

 

In touch with an extensive network of art contacts throughout Europe, he eventually tracked down the real thing to a private home in London, where its owners had it on display just for the benefit of friends and family.

Harrison has now persuaded them to loan it to the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco for a temporary exhibition opening in July, where it will take centre stage inFrancis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture.

It will be joined by the first painting surviving from Bacon's collection, the 1929 Watercolour, and around 60 others

 

                    

                                                        Watercolour, 1929 by Francis Bacon 

 

Harrison said Study of a Bull was particularly interesting for being “intensely autobiographical”, clearly suggesting Bacon knew it may be his last work.

Months later, in April 1992, the artist died while in Madrid.

“It’s never been seen before,” Harrison said on Study of a Bull. “I don’t think it will be most people’s favourite Bacon. But it’s a completely brilliant painting, one of my absolute favourites, and frankly anyone who doesn’t recognise that is an idiot.”

Oliver Barker, deputy chairman, Europe, at Sotheby’s which is sponsoring the exhibition, added the painting was a “huge revelation” with “great significance” for admirers of Bacon.

Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture will run at the Grimaldi Forum, Monaco from July 2 to September 4, 2016.

 

 

Francis Bacon biography researcher finds friend's unpublished diaries

 

Thirty-three volumes of Eric Allden’s diaries offer new insights into the artist’s early life and challenge existing myths

 

Dalya Alberge, The Guardian, Monday 25 January 2016

 

 

     

                                         Francis Bacon in his studio, circa 1960. 

 

Previously-unpublished diaries of a friend and early patron of Francis bacon have been discovered, offering significant new insights into the life of the artist long before his genius was widely recognised.

They challenge myths about Bacon’s early life, including the painter’s own claims about his “loveless” family, shed light on his work as a designer of rugs and furniture, and reveal an unrecorded painting of “three horses jumping in a circus”.

Little is known about the author of the diaries, Eric Allden, save that he bought some of Bacon’s first works and lived with him in the early 1930s. Allden had been an intelligence officer and an attache at the British embassy in Peking before meeting Bacon by chance in 1929 on a cross-Channel ferry. Bacon was 19, some 23 years his junior, but they struck up a close friendship.

James Norton, a research assistant on a major Bacon biography, discovered 33 handwritten volumes of Allden’s diaries in private hands in London.

He reveals his find in the January issue of the art journal the Burlington Magazine, before the biography’s 2017 publication. He writes that Bacon’s beginnings as an artist are obscure partly because of the myths that he created, and that the diaries and other discoveries by the biographers “recast our understanding of [his] early life … including Bacon’s claim that he was estranged early on from his family”.

Bacon’s father, a retired army major, was said to have been repulsed by his son’s burgeoning homosexuality, and to have thrown him out of the house after catching him in his mother’s clothes. Norton observes that Bacon rarely spoke of his father, except in the most disparaging terms, but the diaries show that a definitive rupture between the two was false. There are other significant differences to those found in existing biographies”, he says.

In 1929, Allden described an idyllic holiday in Ireland with Bacon, his parents and two younger sisters: “He is simply delighted because his mother has … rented a cottage … for the whole of September [near] the house they have taken … He wants me to remain all the time he is there and is quite ecstatic … We shall take plenty of books and lead a simple life.”

Shortly after their first meeting, Allden wrote: “His people live in Ireland, County Kildare, and he told me that when he was 16 he ran away to Paris, but was brought back, though soon after he was permitted to return there.”

That entry records a visit to see Bacon at his Knightsbridge home, shared with his loyal childhood nanny. Allden describes Bacon as having “a most original mind, intensely modern and futurist in art”.

Bacon asked Allden to stay for dinner, he writes. “I like this boy, who is extremely intelligent, but he has the complexion of a girl, with big blue eyes and long lashes. He is really too pretty for a boy, and his ways are rather effeminate.”

Of their initial meeting on the ferry, Allden wrote: “On deck sat beside a young fellow who spoke to me. He told me he was starting a shop in London for ultra modern furniture and was going to Paris to purchase examples. His name was Francis Bacon.”

Bacon never did open a shop. After a long struggle, the self-taught artist found recognition with masterpieces that convey the pain of human existence. More than two decades after his death, he is widely regarded as the greatest British painter since Turner. His 1969 painting, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, sold for a record $142m (£100m) in 2013.

Allden, who died aged 62 in 1949, sensed Bacon’s artistic promise, buying his first three paintings and several rugs, including one that Bacon wanted to give him. “I wouldn’t hear of it … He is such a generous, loving boy.”

He did, however, struggle with some of Bacon’s painted subjects. “I can’t say that I care about the rather gruesome distortions of heads, bodies etc.”

Other art references include a National Gallery visit. Bacon “wanted to see the Piero della Francesca Nativity as he had heard a lecture on the wireless say it was composed of a series of cubes”. Later, in 1933, he wrote: “He is mad about Grünewald’s paintings and the German primitive school, and Michelangelo, whom I remember he rather despised at one time.”

The nature of Bacon and Allden’s relationship is never made explicit, writes Norton. “Allden often describes separate sleeping arrangements … Although the relationship may not have been sexual, there were evidently strong bonds of feeling on both sides.”

Further entries are being held back for the biography, written by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan. “We’re thrilled with the diary,” Stevens said.

“Information on Bacon’s early years in London is somewhat thin … and comes mostly from Bacon himself. The diary … helps fill out the life.”

 

 

 

Tate Liverpool captures Francis Bacon's technique

 

James Pickford, The Financial Times, January 22, 2016 

 

The shadowy, ghostlike structures that enclose the subjects of many Francis Bacon’s most famous paintings are to be the focus of a new exhibition exploring the development of the Irish-born British painter’s technique.

Thirty works from around the world will be brought together in May at Tate Liverpool for Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms, the biggest exhibition of the artist’s work yet to be held in the north of England.

Rarely seen drawings and documents will show how Bacon began incorporating architectural framing devices — often as faint traces of cages or cubes — within his paintings from the 1930s, heightening the emotional intensity of the image. He experimented with the motif in different ways throughout his career until the 1980s.

“It is these imaginary chambers that Bacon used to emphasise the isolation of the represented figures and bring attention to their psychological condition,” Tate said.

Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms is a collaboration with the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and will run from May 18 to September 18.

 

 

 

A moment of passion : Francis Bacon, George Dyer and Two Figures (1975)

 

Francis Bacon’s Two Figures is a tribute to George Dyer, the great love of his life. In this video and in the interview below, Bacon’s biographer, Michael Peppiatt, discusses his long friendship with the artist, Bacon's relationship with Dyer and a work that has hung in his home for over 40 years, with Christie's Head of Evening Auction Katharine Arnold

 

CHRISTIE'S POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART JANUARY 27 2016

 

Dr. Michael Peppiatt is an internationally renowned art historian, scholar, and curator. He was a close friend to Francis Bacon for over 30 years and is the author of over 20 books, including the definitive biography of Francis Bacon, Anatomy of an Enigma. His latest, critically acclaimed book, Francis Bacon in Your Blood, was published by Bloomsbury in 2015.

In the Post-war and Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 11 February in London, Christie’s will offer Two Figures, a self-portrait conjoined with the figure of George Dyer that stands as a tribute to Bacon’s great muse and lover. Dyer’s tragic death in 1971 gave rise to some of Bacon’s most powerful work, including the four acclaimed ‘Black Triptychs’. Michael Peppiatt, who acquired Two Figures directly from Bacon, spoke with Stephen Jones in New York.

Stephen Jones: You first met Francis Bacon as a 20-year-old. You were a student at Cambridge University who had decided to shake things up on one of the student magazines by interviewing a modern artist. What can you tell us a about that meeting?

Michael Peppiatt: This might give you some idea of how innocent and ill-prepared I was: a friend said, ‘If you want to do an issue of this magazine’ — which was calledCambridge Opinion — ‘on modern art in Britain, you’d better go and talk to Francis Bacon.’ I said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous. That’s an Elizabethan statesman.’

It was 1963 and Bacon had just had his first exhibition at the Tate Gallery. This friend of mine knew somebody who was close to Bacon, who was a bit of a terrifying figure. I have to say, in retrospect, if I’d seen his paintings before going to meet him, I probably wouldn’t have gone. But I did and turned up in a pub in Soho to try and meet this photographer friend of Bacon’s called John Deakin. Suddenly, I saw a small man was sitting just behind me, on a stool by the bar. He was talking in an exaggeratedly posh, camp voice, and waving his cigarette holder about.

 

     

      Michael Peppiatt (left) and Stephen Jones in conversation at Christie’s New York alongside Two Figures, 1975

 

What were your first impressions of him?

I was a bit overawed. He was very, very charming. He knew how to talk to young people, and he was very seductive. He made out that he and I were talking at the same level. He never, ever talked down to people, unless he disliked somebody, and then he could talk down to them very, very effectively. Basically, if he liked you, he drew you out and drew you in.

He was an extraordinarily charged kind of person. When you were with him, the atmosphere tended to go up. He had such a sense of life, and such vitality. He was clearly very intelligent, but also he had this resilience — he was able to drink all day and all night, have a couple of hours sleep, and then be up the next morning, painting.

What was your reaction when you first saw his art?

I was horrified, totally horrified! I couldn’t square these images, which seemed to be of horror, of pain, of guilt and of every sort of negative emotion, with this charming, chuckling boulevardier who just seemed to walk through walls from one place to another, from one bar into another.

 

    

                   Francis Bacon and George Dyer, Soho, 1950s (gelatin silver print), Deakin, John (1912-1972)

 

When you saw the paintings, did you like them? Did you understand them?

No, I didn’t like them at all. But because I was studying art history at Cambridge, I knew some of his sources, and he was illuminating when he talked about his work. I came to realise that he was talking about a venerable tradition and literally giving it a twist to make it relevant to his own time.

At what point did this friendship become something more long lasting?

To begin with, it was chaotic. The interview I was doing just went on and on. I kept turning up, and then we kept going out and drinking far too much. We used to meet at midday, and then it would go on until about four or five in the morning. The conversation went on, really, for 30 years.

We talked often, just the two of us, late into the night. I was very moved by a lot of this, because I saw the extraordinary freedom that he lived his life with, the way he was always pushing the boundaries back and questioning everything.

It was quite a scary experience, and sometimes things went a bit wrong and in some of the bars there were dangerous situations, let’s say. He was very good at pushing a situation as far as it would go, and then somehow managing to get out of the the danger that he had created.

How did he go about explaining his art to you?

He’d say things like, ‘What I’m trying to do is give the sensation over as directly as possible’. He had this sense of life and of death, and I think that’s why I found it so horrific. I’m not sure so many people find it horrific now, but then it was so new.

In London people were still coming out of the nightmare the immediate postwar period. We can see the beauty of the painting now, but it at the time it was so violent, so radical. The violence really was the force of the new.

George Dyer became a very important figure in Bacon’s life, both personally and professionally. The relationship between Bacon and Dyer may be what produced some of this fantastic art…

Bacon was attracted to something as sexually different from himself as possible: muscular young men who he thought were dangerous criminals. George looked the part, even though as a crook he’d been quite unsuccessful. He was always in prison although in reality he was quite a timid soul. Part of the tragedy is that Bacon took George out of that life by giving him enough money not to have to steal. For George, he got into this this very sophisticated world of Bacon’s and really lost his footing.

Dyer, as your book depicts so well in the passage on Bacon’s first big Paris exhibition at the Maeght Gallery in 1966, didn’t really care for the art crowd…

Bacon was always very amused by the fact that George didn’t rate [these people]; he felt a certain truth there. George was always upsetting things and Bacon enjoyed that; he liked barriers to be broken.

What I find interesting from the book is you get a sense of Bacon as being a very jovial figure socially, and yet the work he was producing at this time is incredibly dark, almost tortured. How do you account for that dissonance?

I can’t account for it, really. I don’t pretend to know. I think Bacon was somebody who was stretched between extremes. He could be extremely generous, and unbelievably mean. He could be very supportive and unbelievably critical and destructive.

We see the paintings as dark because they come over with this incredible force. It’s why a Bacon painting never disappears — it’s always there, you’re always conscious of a presence. I lived with Three Heads for about 20 years when I was living and writing in Paris. I could never stare them down. Somehow, he managed to transmit this force into his paintings.

 

        

             Francis Bacon, Two Figures, 1975

 

This painting of George Dyer was done in 1975, four years after Dyer committed suicide. Can you talk us through Two Figures, and where you think it fits within that period of Bacon’s grieving and recovery?

How do you paint death? How do you paint loss? How do you paint guilt in a way that isn’t sentimental? In a terrible way, George’s death gave Bacon the great subject of his painting. It was about loss, about grief, about guilt, because he felt guilty that he hadn’t managed to save George from killing himself.

George had attempted suicide several times, and Bacon had managed to get him to hospital, but since his big exhibition opening at the Grands Ballets in Paris, he hadn’t been available.

What followed George’s death was four years of painting, almost without interruption. These were very dark paintings, and this is where he begins to come to terms with his loss, and remembers a particularly intimate moment with George. So it’s remembering, in a sense — a passion, a certain happiness of the past. A happiness lost.

 Bacon did a bigger picture, of which this one-half. I first had the complete picture, and then he came round to my flat in Paris one day and said, ‘If I could get my hands back on that, you know, I think I could make it so much better.’ I said, ‘Well, you know, you must take it back then.’

He thought it was too narrative, and he wanted to cut it in two, and make two paintings out of it. It happened to me more than once in that he’d see something that he’d given me, and then want to take it back to ‘improve’ it. Very often I wouldn’t see it again.  

It’s only with hindsight that these things take on importance. It didn’t occur to me that I’d be standing here 40 years later, talking about it.

 

 

Art Sales: Bacon's Two Figures set for sale

 

Few people knew he owned it, but Michael Peppiatt is selling Francis Bacon's celebrated painting for an estimated £7 million at Christie's

 

By Colin Gleadell, The Telegraph, January 12. 2016

 

One of the art world’s best kept secrets will be revealed next month when Christie's sells Two Figures, a painting by Francis Bacon. For 40 years, Michael Peppiatt, arguably the world’s greatest authority on Bacon, has owned the painting, but has kept it under wraps. Even some of his best friends will be surprised to learn he owned a Bacon at all.

Author of the much-applauded memoir Francis Bacon in Your Blood, Peppiatt met Bacon in the 1960s when he was a Cambridge undergraduate and wanted to interview an artist for a student magazine. After he tracked Bacon down to a pub in Soho, he found himself embarking on a life-long adventure that was to take him not only through the drinking dens of London, but into the mind and soul of one of the most important artists of the 20th century.

The two established an extraordinarily close friendship, beyond that of artist and diarist and more like a father and son, says Peppiatt. In such a relationship, it was inevitable that the artist would bestow gifts on his confidant. One was a small study for a Pope which Peppiatt later sold to finance the purchase of a studio for the artist’s use in Paris.

As a replacement for the sold Pope, and in return for some translation work, he was then given a portrait in 1976 of the French writer Michel Leiris, though this was taken back after a few months to make changes. It was, however, replaced in turn by a large and significant painting of two entwined figures, Bacon himself and his lover George Dyer, who had committed suicide in 1971, observed by a dwarf-like voyeur.

Then one evening, Bacon came round for a drink and announced that he thought the painting with the two lovers and the voyeur had too strong a narrative element in it and took it away. Possibly using a photograph to mark how he might reconfigure the painting, he cut the two figural elements out, discarding much of the background. 

How Bacon cut it is significant, as it establishes how two parts of a larger composition became independent and complete art works in their own right.  He didn’t just divide it in half; he kept the Two Figures section at its original height (74¾ inches), and cut down the right hand side of it to just clip off the corner of the lovers’ bed and the glass cage which encloses it, bringing the viewer into much closer, intimate proximity with the action he is depicting. Looking at it behind glass, the viewer becomes the voyeur.

The dwarf section of the canvas, which was lent to the Tate’s Bacon exhibition in 1982, was cut lower (62½ inches) and thinner to allow the figure to dominate the new composition more completely. In dividing the original composition, Bacon took the trouble to reorganise each section to create new, self-sufficient compositions. The Two Figures he gave back to Peppiatt, while the dwarf found its way to a collection in Australia.

For Peppiatt, Two Figures, which combines the influences of Michelangelo and the photographer Eadweard Muybridge, is one of Bacon’s most brilliant inventions. “The metaphor of two bodies tumbling together through space …recreates that feeling of sexual release – of being outside gravity, outside oneself, in free fall.” Coming after the dark and depressed “black triptychs” which followed Dyer’s suicide, Two Figures is a cathartic exercise which celebrates love. “It is Bacon at his most private and most tender,” Peppiatt says.

By the time he received the painting, however, Bacon prices were beginning to rise. A large canvas sold for over £90,000 at auction in 1976. Afraid that his painting might attract thieves, Peppiatt kept it out of sight. It was never exhibited or reproduced until 2006 when he included it in an exhibition he curated at the Sainsbury Centre, and even then his ownership was not revealed. When the exhibition then travelled to America, Peppiatt was mildly shocked to learn it was valued for insurance at $28 million. On its return to Britain, Peppiatt lent it anonymously to the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester which needed a Bacon and where he would not have to shoulder the larger insurance and storage bills.

Now in his mid-70s, Peppiatt has decided to sell, mainly, he says, because he can’t afford to live with it. Due to its unusually vertical format, Christie’s has valued it conservatively at £5-7 million pounds. “That’s an attractive price,” says Francis Outred of Christie’s, pointing to a full size portrait of George Dyer of similar height but double the width, which he sold two years ago for £42 million pounds.https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gif

 

 

CHRISTIE'S

 

POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART EVENING AUCTION

11 February 2016

London, King Street

 

SALE 11795 LOT 25 

FRANCIS BACON (1909 - 1992)

TWO FIGURES

 

        

             Francis Bacon, Two Figures, 1975

 

Price Realized

£5,458,500 ($7,920,284)

Lot Description

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Two Figures
oil on canvas
78 x 27¾in. (198 x 70.3cm.)
Painted in 1975

Special Notice

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.

Provenance

Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 1975.

Pre-Lot Text

Property from the Collection of Michael Peppiatt

Literature

M. Harrison, “Francis Bacon: Lost and Found”, in Apollo, March 2005 (illustrated in colour prior to completion, p. 95).
M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait, London 2008, p. 259 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
A. Bond (ed.), Francis Bacon: Five Decades, exh. cat., Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2012-2013, fig. 112 (illustrated in colour prior to completion, p. 186).
M. Harrison, “Collection in Focus: Two Figures, 1975”, in Pallant House Gallery Magazine, no. 31, October 2013 - February 2014 (illustrated in colour, p. 60).
M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in Your Blood: A Memoir, London 2015, pp. 266 and 270.

Exhibited

Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Francis Bacon: Paintings from the 1950s, 2006-2007, cat. 39 (illustrated in colour, p. 114). This exhibition later travelled to Wisconsin, Milwaukee Art Museum and Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Rome, Galleria Borghese, Caravaggio Bacon, 2009-2010, p. 206 (illustrated in colour, p. 207; detail illustrated in colour, pp. 24 and 180 – 181).
Chichester, Pallant House Gallery (on extended loan, 2009-2015).
Kendal, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Francis Bacon to Paula Rego, 2012, pp. 65 and 37, pl. 17 (illustrated in colour, on the cover and p. 37).
Oxford, The Ashmolean Museum, Bacon/ Moore: Flesh and Bone, 2013-2014, p. 142, no. 61 (illustrated in colour, p. 143).
London, Christie’s Mayfair, Reflections on the Self: From Dürer to Struth, 2015, pp. 51 and 209 (illustrated in colour, p. 59; detail illustrated in colour, pp. 50 and 58).

Post-Lot Text

Please note this work has also been requested for the following exhibitions:
Francis Bacon, Monaco and the French Culture, Grimaldi Forum, Monaco July–September 2016.
Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool, 18 May–18 September 2016; Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart 7 October 2016 – 8 January 2017.
Giacometti/Bacon, Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 15 May – 15 August 2018.

This work will appear in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Francis Bacon, edited by Martin Harrison, under the number 75-08.

Lot Notes

‘How can you cut your flesh open and join it with the other person?’ – F. Bacon
‘Not an hour goes by when I don’t think about George’ – F. Bacon

‘A compact and chunky force of nature, with a vivid and highly [unorthodox] turn of phrase, [George Dyer] embodied 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’ – J. Russell

‘In a way Dyer’s death allowed [Bacon] to paint some of his very greatest pictures. Suddenly he had no need of mythical or religious structures because he had his own tragedy. His loneliness and shock gave him a very grand subject: life and death, love and loss, guilt and retribution’ – M. Peppiatt

‘The two figures, closely intermingled (except for the heads they are virtually fused into one) in a glass cage, resemble a sculpture on display in a vitrine, albeit a conspicuously kinetic type of sculpture: one of the protagonist’s legs actually bursts out of the cage structure’ – M. Harrison

‘In the case of Two Figures the men are so completely and intricately united that they come across almost as a single figure, in which the influences of Michelangelo’s drawings and Muybridge’s photographs in motion are indissolubly linked. Caught in the last throes of desire, the two figures are held up, as in some erotic theatre, for public display. But there is also an intensely private poetry in the way they not only meld into one but are shown tumbling through space in the fierce rush of their desire’ – M. Peppiatt

‘Actually, Michelangelo and Muybridge are mixed up in my mind together, and so I perhaps could learn about positions from Muybridge and learn about the ampleness, the grandeur of form from Michelangelo, and it would be very difficult for me to disentangle the influence of Muybridge and the influence of Michelangelo’ – F. Bacon

‘You might say that this is the painting where the wound of losing George is beginning to heal – it’s a poignant picture because Bacon is looking back on past - that’s to say, lost - happiness. This is Bacon at his most private and most tender. The painter who produced such violent, shocking images was also, perhaps even above all, a great poet of love’ – M. Peppiatt

‘He felt that [Paris] was the absolute centre of the art world – the city of Picasso, Duchamp and Giacometti, the three contemporary artists he admired most’ – M. Peppiatt

‘Francis has upped the ante, if that’s the phrase, by presenting me with an extraordinary new, large canvas... I am obviously delighted to possess this major painting, not least because it records such an intimate moment of Francis and George together’ – M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon In Your Blood: A Memoir


INTRODUCTION


Standing nearly two metres in height, Francis Bacon’s Two Figures is a deeply poignant final farewell to George Dyer, the artist’s great muse and lover. Rendered with tactile, near-sculptural brushstrokes, Bacon’s figures are intimately conjoined in a state of sublime torsion, captured in ecstatic, free-falling metamorphosis. It is an extraordinary tribute to the man who transformed Bacon’s life and art, and whose tragic death in 1971 would give rise to some of his most powerful compositions. Painted in Paris in 1975, Two Figures consummates one of the darkest self-reflective periods of Bacon’s life: a period defined not only by an intensive, highly analytical stream of self-portraiture, but also by the landmark series of ‘black’ triptychs, in which he sought to exorcise the painful memories of Dyer’s suicide. In the present work, Bacon’s attempt at catharsis reaches something of an apotheosis: the haunted narratives of the triptychs are replaced by a tender invocation of male desire, its two protagonists inextricably entwined in the throes of passion. Like an incognito zoom lens, a single square frames the central figure’s face – elements of Dyer’s profile spliced together with those of Bacon himself – producing an inlaid portrait of sorts that anchors the couple’s descent. In certain lights, the figures confront the viewer like a voluptuous statue, preserved, levitated and spot-lit within the sharp geometries of Bacon’s gridded cage. In others, their translucent bodies form a writhing motion picture – a blurred time-lapse sequence that flickers in and out of focus. The visceral nature of the recollection is borne out in the sheer physicality of Bacon’s painterly bravura: a raw, almost carnal handling of pigment that animates the cascading figures. Here, for the first time, the clouds of grief and sorrow begin to lift: exposed before the world, Bacon’s protagonists come to life in celebration of the private intimacies shared with Dyer.

Two Figures was acquired directly from Bacon by Michael Peppiatt, a close friend and confidant of the artist, and a leading scholar and curator of his work. Held in Peppiatt’s distinguished collection for forty years, the work has featured in major exhibitions including Francis Bacon in the 1950s, 2006 (Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich), Caravaggio Bacon, 2010 (Galleria Borghese, Rome) and Bacon/Moore: Flesh and Bone, 2014 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), and has been on permanent display at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester since 2009. Like several of Bacon’s compositions, Two Figures was originally part of a larger canvas that the artist deliberately divided into two separate paintings. The right-hand portion of the initial work was subsequently titled Portrait of a Dwarf, and features a foreshortened figure upon a stool. The voyeuristic relationship between the couple and this figure played directly into Bacon’s fascination with the erotic power of watching and being watched. A ruthless editor of his own work, notorious for his abrasions, erasures and annihilations, Bacon’s conscious bisection of the canvas freed each beautifully painted work from interaction with, and interference by, the other. In doing so, he transposed that interaction and complete sense of engagement to the viewer, which was always Bacon’s primary concern.

BACON’S FAREWELL TO DYER


Within the charismatic cast of characters that touched Bacon’s life, none had a more profound impact than Dyer. The two first met in a Soho bar in the autumn of 1963, and quickly became lovers. Dyer’s classical good looks, combined with his troubled past and fragile spirit, provided Bacon with a fascinating character study, giving rise to a prodigious series of portraits and triptychs now mostly held in museum collections. Towards the end of the decade, however, Bacon’s mercurial character and Dyer’s own bleak prospects gave way to a tumultuous relationship, punctuated by sharp mood swings and fits of emotion. In 1971, shortly before the opening of Bacon’s major retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris – an accolade granted to no other living artist except Picasso – Dyer was found dead in his hotel room. In the black triptychs, which include Triptych – In Memory of George Dyer, 1971 (Fondation Beyeler, Basel) and Triptych, August, 1972 (Tate, London), Bacon brutally replayed the events of that fateful night, releasing his anguish and despair into emotionally-charged narrative panels. Though the darkened interior of Two Figures recalls the billowing swathes of black that engulf Dyer in the triptychs, the work’s subtle chiaroscuro lighting effects imbue the composition with a reverential solemnity. Gone are the tortured meditations upon the tragedy of Dyer’s death. Instead, Bacon stages a moment of cathartic reflection: liberated from all physical laws, the figures take flight in a surge of rapture. Whilst many of Bacon’s self-portraits of the 1970s were imbued with an impending awareness of the artist’s own mortality, Two Figures finds solace in the power of memory and fantasy. It is no longer simply an attempt to come to terms with the pain of his loss, but an ecstatic letting-go of the grief that had gripped him so furiously during the preceding years.

MICHELANGELO AND MUYBRIDGE


The metamorphic properties of the two figures bear witness to the dual influence of Michelangelo and Eadweard Muybridge: artists who Bacon admitted were fundamentally ‘mixed up in my mind together’. On one hand, the fleshy curves and exaggerated musculature of the figures is deeply rooted in Bacon’s fascination with the sculptor who, in his eyes, ‘produced the most voluptuous nudes in the whole of the plastic arts’ (F. Bacon, 1975, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1990, p. 114). In the landmark series of interviews with David Sylvester, published in the year of the painting, Bacon described how ‘for several years now I’ve been very much thinking about sculpture, though I haven’t ever done it, because each time I want to do it I get the feeling that perhaps I could do it better in painting’ (F. Bacon, 1975, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1990, p. 108). Nowhere within his output of this period is this assertion more profoundly embodied than in Two Figures. In places, his application of paint suggests the smoothness of polished marble; elsewhere, it recalls a rough-hewn block of stone. At the same time, the statue-esque qualities of the figures are held in tension with the sheer level of movement in the work’s surface. Like Bacon’s early portrayals of male couplings – most notably Two Figures and Two Figures in the Grass of 1953 – the figures evoke Muybridge’s photographs of wrestlers in motion: a source that Bacon returned to almost obsessively throughout his oeuvre. Arms, legs and torsos are so closely entwined that they mutate to form a single entity. Like a film paused on rewind, or a long photographic exposure, time and movement collapse and coalesce, creating a hybrid being that quivers with heightened sensory charge.

FRAMED VISIONS

The rectilinear frame in which the figures are suspended also finds its origins in filmic media. Frequently compared to the Chinagraph markings used by photographers to indicate areas for enlargement, Bacon’s gridded cages had, since the 1950s, been used as devices for spotlighting his subjects. Its usage also invites comparison with the paintings and sculptures of Alberto Giacommetti – an artist who, for Bacon, truly embodied the existentialist concerns of post-War European art. Here, the structure becomes a projection of his own mental architecture: a delineated space in which Bacon is able to confront his most personal recollections and desires. The rapid striations of dark paint that cover the walls of the interior recall the ‘shuttering’ effect that Bacon adapted from the pastels of Edgar Degas, and incorporated into many of his screaming Papal portraits. Used throughout his oeuvre to express a release of tension, these lines create a kind of shuddering optical static that destabilises the rigid geometries of the cage, emphasising the work’s sense of cinematic distortion. The embedded square snapshot of the central figure’s face recalls the celebrated fourteen-by-twelve inch portrait heads that dominated Bacon’s output of the 1960s and 1970s. The allusion to this format – which, according to John Russell, was ‘the scene of some of Bacon’s most ferocious investigations’ – is particularly poignant here. ‘Just as a gunshot sometimes leaves after-echo or parallel report’, writes Russell, ‘so these small concentrated heads carry their ghosts within them’ (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1993, p. 99).

In Peppiatt’s recently-published monograph Francis Bacon in Your Blood – a critically-acclaimed memoir of his relationship with the artist – he recalls his joy in acquiring the work. ‘I am obviously delighted to possess this major painting’, he recounts, ‘not least because it records such an intimate moment of Francis and George together’ (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in Your Blood: A Memoir, London 2015, p. 266). Though flickering traces of Dyer’s likeness would continue to permeate Bacon’s portraits for the rest of his life, it is in Two Figures that the artist is finally able to bid farewell to his lover. The darkness that permeated Bacon’s output in the immediate aftermath of Dyer’s death is momentarily quelled and, in the hallowed arena of the artist’s imagination, the two are reunited.

MICHAEL PEPPIATT IN CONVERSATION WITH FRANCIS OUTRED

London, 10 December 2015


FO: Your relationship with Francis Bacon is legendary. Can you recall how and when you first met?

MP: In 1963 I was studying art history and editing a student magazine called Cambridge Opinion. I’d been looking at nothing but Renaissance Madonnas for a year, so I decided to devote a special issue of the magazine to modern art because it sounded more relevant and exciting. But I knew very little about it and had no idea where to begin. Then a friend in my college said, ‘You should talk to Francis Bacon – some people think he’s the most important painter in England. My mother knows his friend John Deakin, the photographer. Just go to the French pub in Soho and Deakin will introduce you.’ So I found myself standing awkwardly around in a rowdy pub full of much older, eccentric-looking Soho types, and when I found Deakin he said, ‘I don’t know whether the maestro would want to meet a mere student like you’, and at that moment Bacon – who was standing by the bar – turned round and said, ‘Don’t listen to that old fool, I adore students. Now what are you having to drink?’ He had these extraordinary piercing eyes and I was vaguely aware that I’d met someone quite out of the ordinary. But Bacon was so charming, making me feel important and filling me with champagne, that I didn’t really think about it. He’d had his first Tate retrospective the previous year, so he was still riding high and he radiated this strange kind of optimism and energy, so that whenever you were with him the whole tempo of life quickened. Of course, things could also get out of hand when he’d had the glass too many and turned vicious.

FO: What were your first impressions of George Dyer?

MP: I met George shortly after Bacon began seeing him, and at first he seemed to me just another figure in this weird cast of Soho characters. But I got on quite well with him and sensed that, like me, he felt out of his depth in this sophisticated, treacherous, volatile world we’d both wandered into. George was always immaculately dressed, and at first I imagined he was a successful entrepreneur from the East End rather than a disastrously unsuccessful petty crook who kept getting caught. He was totally infatuated with Bacon, and in the first couple of years Bacon made a great fuss of him, calling him ‘Sir George’ and giving him wads of cash to drink and gamble with.

FO: At what point did the story shift from Soho to Paris?

MP: In January 1966 I got a job on a magazine in Paris and I thought I probably wouldn’t see much of Bacon once I left London. But he was actually very keen to get his work better known in Paris because he felt that it was still the absolute centre of the art world – the city of Picasso, Duchamp and Giacometti, the three contemporary artists he admired most. One day he called me up out of the blue while I was working at the magazine and suddenly I was back in his life, and we started going to all the best restaurants and nightclubs in Paris. In the interim I’d focused on Bacon’s work and I was beginning to write about it in publications likeArt International. Then, in 1971, Bacon got a full-scale retrospective at the Grand Palais, which was what he’d always most wanted.

FO: And of course this is the moment when, just before the opening of the exhibition - a real breakthrough for Bacon - Dyer commits suicide.

MP: It couldn’t have been more cruel or horrible. Just as Francis had achieved this greatest triumph, he was struck down by his lover’s suicide. He’d always felt he’d been singled out to suffer – he thought in terms of Greek tragedy and felt he’d been visited with this calamity because – I don’t know – perhaps it was because he’d risen too high like Icarus, flying too close to the sun. I think he felt he’d incurred the wrath of the gods. He certainly suffered intensely afterwards.

FO: And then he embarked upon this landmark group of paintings known as the ‘black triptychs’.

MP: Yes – in a way Dyer’s death allowed him to paint some of his very greatest pictures. Suddenly he had no need of mythical or religious structures because he had his own tragedy. His loneliness and shock gave him a very grand subject: life and death, love and loss, guilt and retribution. Painting became the only way for him to survive– a kind of catharsis that allowed him to express the furthest extremes of emotion.

FO: These black triptychs were painted in the early 1970s, and your painting is situated right at the end of that phase. I think it can be associated with those works in the sense that he was memorializing his great love.

MP: Two Figures is a particularly interesting case because it goes beyond the circumstances of the death – it recaptures of a moment of extreme intimacy with George. I think this metaphor of two bodies tumbling together through space is one of Bacon’s most brilliant inventions, because it recreates that feeling of sexual release – of being outside gravity, outside oneself, in free fall. At the same time Bacon put the entwined, falling couple into this curious cage because he wanted to trap and perpetuate that moment of abandon. He’d used cages before but this is like a glass case, used to pin down a fleeting, erotic memory like a butterfly on a pin and display it. You might say that this is the painting where the wound of losing George is beginning to heal – it’s a poignant picture because Bacon is looking back on past - that’s to say, lost - happiness. This is Bacon at his most private and most tender. The painter who produced such violent, shocking images was also, perhaps even above all, a great poet of love.

FO: The painting originally came to you in a different form – perhaps you could talk about the evolution of the work and how you came to acquire it.

MP: I’d had a marvellous head of the writer Michel Leiris which Francis took back to work on – it’s now in the Centre Pompidou - and to replace it I was offered this huge canvas with two figures and a dwarf onlooker which I was very pleased with. Then Francis came round to my little flat one evening for drinks and he took that back too. He felt there was too strong a narrative element in it, and he decided the best way to remove that was simply to cut the image into two self-sufficient, beautifully painted halves. I was very proud to be entrusted with the Two Figures section because it records such an intense, intimate moment in his life so memorably.

FO: Much has been written about Bacon’s relationship with London and his Reece Mews studio. How do you perceive his relationship with Paris? What was his studio like?

MP: It was not far from my own place in the Marais, in a seventeenth-century courtyard on the street that leads from the Place des Vosges down towards the Seine. It had huge windows and an even, north light. The moment Bacon walked in he said he knew right away he could work there. It was a beautiful space, yet very simple and sparsely furnished, with a couple of easels and a large trestle table where he could strew his paint tubes, rags and brushes while using it to try out various colour combinations as if it were a giant palette. He’d always found Paris very exciting and stimulating, and he soon had an inner circle of friends whom he’d meet in the bars and restaurants he liked best. His life in Paris became so flamboyant and eventful that it began to rival his life back home. Bacon loved the idea of being able to get out of London regularly, and I think it allowed him to refresh his whole visual imagination. And of course the fact that George had actually died in Paris made it a particularly poignant place for him.

FO: You recently published your memoir Francis Bacon in Your Blood. What projects are you currently working on?

MP: I’m writing a book about my earlier life in Paris and the people I came across from Beckett and Cartier-Bresson to Graham Greene and Miró. I’m also curating an exhibition on Giacometti and Bacon for the Fondation Beyeler in Switzerland. It’s a very exciting project that will bring together the two great visionary artists of the 20th century who lived through the turmoil of their times intensely, reinventing and recapturing that experience in their own distinct, unforgettable ways.

 

 

Early Francis Bacon relationship Revealed In Newly Discovered Diary

 

artlyst | art news | 06-01-2016

 

       

 

A newly discovered diary found during research for a major biography of the painter Francis Bacon has uncovered new information about this important artist’s early career as a designer and furniture maker. Little was known about Its author, Eric Allden, other than they shared an address for two years during the early 1930s. Allden had been a civil servant before meeting Bacon, and as a cultural attaché at the British Embassy in Peking. He was twenty-three years older than Bacon when they first met, by chance, on a ferry from Dover to Calais in 1929, and immediately formed a close bond. Allden’s interest in Bacon and his work is made evident in his diary. It records facts and insights that challenge some of the long-established myths surrounding Bacon’s early life. It also provides details about his early work as a designer of rugs. Whether this relationship was more than just a friendship has not been discussed in the article and hopefully will be revealed in the book.

The Burlington Magazine has published an article, titled ‘Bacon’s Beginnings’ and based on this discovery, which can be found in the January 2016 issue. Its editor the author Frances Spalding, remarks: ‘Leading museums tried hard over the years to get information out of Bacon about his early work as a designer and he refused to collaborate. But Allden was his companion at this time, and witnessed some of the negotiations that went on in the making of this work.’ The diary came to light when Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, authors of the forthcoming biography of Bacon, hired researcher James Norton to do a comprehensive internet and archival search of early Bacon acquaintances. Stevens and Swan won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography in 2005 for their de Kooning: An American Master.

Stevens and Swan’s biography marks a new, more scholarly approach to Bacon’s life and art. In so doing, they are challenging the mythologies which have grown up around this artist, some of which were partly of his own making. Stevens and Swan’s biography is not ‘authorised’ but they were given a research grant by the Estate of Francis Bacon and have worked closely with the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. Their eagerly awaited book will be published in the fall of 2017 by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S., Harper Collins in the U.K. and also in Italy, and will follow the publication of a five-volume catalogue raisonné of Bacon’s paintings in April 2016.

 

 

 

Francis Bacon in Your Blood by Michael Peppiatt review - the artist's life

 

In contrast to the bleakness of his art, this starry-eyed chronicle shows the painter could be genial, generous and waspishly funny

 

Anthony Quinn, The Guardian, Thursday 24 December 2016

 

        

                                                                 Francis Bacon in his studio, 1980. Photograph: Jane Bown

 

In the summer of 1963, exactly 200 years after James Boswell first met Dr Johnson, an impressionable young man named Michael Peppiatt was introduced to Francis Bacon in a Soho pub, the French House. It was a momentous occasion, for one of them at least. Peppiatt, a 21-year-old art history student at Cambridge, revered the painter, then (at 53) in the full flush of his talent, and was tickled to be taken under his capacious wing. He found himself not merely part of Bacon’s court on his noon-to-night jaunts around the fancy restaurants and louche drinking-dens of London but his chief confidant and protege. The photographer John Deakin, who had introduced them at “the French” that day, later remarked to Peppiatt: “It’s incredible, but you’ve become a sort of Boswell to Francis...He talks to you about everything”. His advice is to “get it all down”, to be the painter’s amanuensis and thus ensure his own place in the mythology of Bacon’s “gilded gutter life”.

Peppiatt didn’t need telling twice. In the years since Bacon’s death in 1992 he has published five books about his hero, including a full-length biography, Anatomy of an Enigma, in 1996. One might have considered that a sufficiency, but here comes another, this one a memoir of their friendship over 30 years and a reckoning of Peppiatt’s own development in his mentor’s shadow. The Boswell-Johnson analogy, however, now looks rather presumptuous. For one thing, Boswell – despite his buffoonery – was a superb writer even before he began the biography that was his life’s work (see his London Journal). For another, his subject was a brilliant talker whose wit and bons mots still crackle through the language. On neither count can Peppiatt or Bacon remotely compare.

Francis Bacon in Your Blood is partly a record of its subject’s table talk, which Peppiatt sets down as though recalling it verbatim. The strategy is a risky one. While Bacon was indisputably a great painter, his was not a great mind, and the deeper one reads into the book the more threadbare and repetitious its contents appear. His philosophy, if such it can be called, was one of devil-may-care nihilism, expressed in a few gnomic phrases: Life is ridiculous and futile. We come from nothing and return to nothing. Existence is a kind of charade. His “nervous system” is a “compost” from which his paintings emerge. These same pronouncements keep coming around, until they take on an incantatory air. But they are hardly profound. At one point he admits, “half the time I don’t know what my painting’s about”. It’s a telling moment: surely the greatness of Bacon’s work lies locked in his subconscious, of which there can be no telling. Or as Henry James put it, “Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.” Why should we expect a painter to be able to explain its mystery?

And yet the bleakness of Bacon’s paintings – the screaming heads, the flayed and distorted flesh – is strikingly at odds with his social exuberance. As a host, fortified by drink and company, he could be genial and generous and waspishly funny. Over oysters and Krug at Wheeler’s, or caviar and grouse at Claridge’s, Bacon carpes the diem and most of the noctem, with Peppiatt in grateful attendance. If the painter is vague about his own art, he is magisterial about others’. He admires Velázquez, Giacometti, Picasso; he is respectful of Lucian Freud (though he later declares that he has “the smallest cock in England”); the rest – Jackson Pollock (“the old lace-maker”), Matisse (“squalid little forms”), Hockney (“there’s nothing really there”) – he disdains. Abstract art he dismisses as “a free fancy about nothing”. He says that he can’t read novels – “I find them so boring” – yet goes on to profess his “deep” admiration of Proust and Joyce, apparently unaware that they were both novelists. If Peppiatt saw the contradiction he failed (or didn’t dare) to point it out.

Peppiatt makes a starry-eyed chronicler, as besotted with his patron’s fine wine and grub as he is with his closeness to the throne. Yet one does wonder what he could have offered in return to Bacon. The thought occurs to Peppiatt, too, worried that he might just be a “person from Porlock”, forever getting in the way of genius. Beyond an ability to speak French and supply company at a moment’s notice, the young man has very little to recommend him – as Sonia Orwell, another Bacon intimate, would gloweringly point out. But “Francis” seems content to have made him his pet, and besides, he’s convinced that “all men are really homosexual”, even if they don’t realise it. Peppiatt proceeds on his straight way, girlfriends coming and going, though one is never in doubt that Bacon remains the most important figure in his life – a substitute, moreover, for his own unsatisfactory father, a manic-depressive who bullied the family for years.

The underlying tension between master and protege keeps the pages turning, though Peppiatt’s prose seldom quickens the pace. He shows no great resistance to a cliche (“over the moon” and “rose-tinted spectacles” are waved through) and his dipping in and out of the present tense doesn’t lend his narrative the freshness he intends. His social nervousness, which might otherwise have been touching, makes his writing plod the more: “When I’m doing one of my large parties I serve a spicy chicken curry with exotic condiments, much appreciated by my French friends, or for a sit-down dinner I often make a slowly braised boeuf bourguignon, to which in a slight departure from the classic recipe I add mushrooms and top with diced bacon, croutons and crisp-fried parsley – the latter being something I know Francis likes especially, since we had it once in a restaurant on some grilled fish and he pronounced it ‘one of the most delicious things you can possibly eat’.” Monsieur Pooter lives – and cooks too!

Oddly, Peppiatt is at his most readable on Bacon’s painting, the hardest trick of all, and the one area in which he allows his critical discernment the upper hand. Elsewhere his pride and his gratitude smudge the portrait – he never really pays Bacon the tribute of suspecting him. Their relationship did not have a happy ending. The first cracks opened when Bacon vetoed Peppiatt’s projected biography of him, despite his long service as bag-carrier and Boswelliser. The rift became wider when Peppiatt announced he was about to become a father for the first time. Bacon, pale with fury, reacts to the news as a personal “affront”. Was this a heterosexual step too far? Did Bacon, now old and ill, fear the prospect of “losing” his one-time disciple? Perhaps he had become too attached to the idea of the tragic exit, like that of his troubled lover George Dyer, who killed himself in a Paris hotel bathroom on the eve of Bacon’s 1971 retrospective at the Grand Palais. (Peppiatt’s reminiscence of Dyer, spouting broad cockney-sparrowisms, is pitifully inadequate).

Long goodbyes didn’t suit Francis Bacon, and one wonders if his shade would be any better pleased by his friend’s ongoing parade of memorials.

 

 

   The Calmer, Contemplative Mood of Francis Bacon's Late Paintings

 

      by Melissa Stern, Hyperallergic, December 7, 2015

 

       

          Francis Bacon: Late Paintings  Blood on Pavement (1984);  Second Version of Triptych 1944 (1988)

 

Over the past several years the Gagosian Gallery in New York City has mounted shows described as "museum quality," Borrowing heavily from institutions and private collectors these exhibitions such as Jean-Michel Basquiat (2013), the Takashi Murakami exhibition (2014), Picasso & the Camera (2014), and the two-part exhibition In The Studio (2015) all wowed New Yorkers with their breadth and depth. Each drew impressive crowds — with lines down the block — for a commercial gallery

The most recent show Francis Bacon: Late Paintings is perhaps the most stunning of them all. Not because of size; in fact, it’s probably the smallest of all the aforementioned blockbusters. Twenty-seven paintings all made in the last two decades or so of Bacon’s turbulent life have been hung on mushroom-colored walls on the two floors of Gagosian’s Madison Avenue gallery. The works are complemented by a hallway exhibit of candid personal photographs of Bacon taken by Eddy Batache, mostly shot in the mid-1980s, in which Bacon appears almost happy, an occasional flutter of a smile replacing his usual look of utter despair.

Having not really focused on Bacon’s work in quite a while I was blown away by how fresh, shocking, and incredibly beautiful the paintings are. His work seems to be a lightening rod for strong reaction. From Jerry Saltz’s fierce review of the 2009 retrospective of Bacon’s work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the group of ladies on an art tour, who were at the gallery the day I visited and left muttering “too hard.” Indeed, a group young art students in the gallery were so moved that they were almost unable to speak when asked what they thought of the show.

The paintings in the exhibit reflect a change of mood in Bacon’s work over time. Work of the earlier decades portray the agonies of man, masses of ectoplasm, flesh, bone, and loneliness, whereas his later works give way to calmer psycho-landscapes. Gone are the piles of flesh, replaced by a vision more stripped to its essentials, both in terms of painting and psychology.

There is, of course, that gorgeous color that Bacon’s work has characteristically employed. His palette has always been sophisticated. Pairings of brilliant oranges and reds with cool blues and greens, and of odd, neutral tones with warm black set the images in motion. The work is both aggressively modernist, reflecting a color palette that was initially used in fashion and interior design in the ‘60s and 70s (look at Rudi Gernreich's clothes and Harry Bertoia's furniture) and is distinctly 20th century. The use of oil pastel in conjunction with oil paint contributes to many of the urgent gestures in these works as well as the delicate veils of color we see.

All of this sublime color of course belies the deep psychological trauma and loneliness of the figures that inhabit Bacon’s world. The later paintings more often than not portray a solitary figure constrained by the suggestion of a geometric architecture. In the triptychs, there is a single figure in each frame. As always, Bacon walks the line between figuration and abstraction. Figure in Movement (1978) can be seen as an acrobat caught in movement, the backdrop and suggestion of a painted ring hinting at a performance. Or one may look at the work as the interplay of form, color, and paint, the figure reduced to a tangle of strong, abstracted forms. The kicker in this painting is the purple shadow that lies underneath the figure. The shadow, which appears as a standing figure with hands on its hips, bears no relation to the movement or figure above, suggesting that it is perhaps someone else’s shadow, a watcher of some sort, and perhaps it is we who are the watchers, a tacit acknowledgement of the relationship between the painter and the viewer. It is part of the mystery of the narrative.

In Study From the Male Body (1986) Bacon has placed a male nude on what could be a sculpture stand or a piece of mid-century furniture. The figure sits in an awkward pose, head looking right, torso dissolved into vague outlines of muscle and flesh. There is a very odd spatial game in this painting. It’s impossible to tell whether the architecture is advancing or receding — everything is out of whack here in time, space, and mind. The architectural black square behind the figure’s head melts and merges with the body, a depiction painted in beautiful, glowing color, like darkness descending over the mind.

Much of the overt pain and fear of Bacon’s earlier work from the 1940s seems to turn inward in the ‘70s and ‘80s. These paintings are more contemplative. We see few of the screaming rictuses that haunted the paintings of the 1940s; rather, that pain feels more muted. The small portraits that hang interspersed between the huge canvases seem to be exploring form and abstraction, rather than the “horror” often attributed to Bacon’s portraits. In Study for a Portrait (1978) we see a placid male face, perhaps painted from a photograph, as Bacon was known to prefer this to painting from life. The face is defined by pastel forms and gesture begins to take over figuration. Bacon has begun to carve the face, not in a gristly way, but into abstraction. The concrete forms have begun to be more prominent than the flesh of the man beneath them

If you didn’t already like Francis Bacon’s work, this exhibition may not change your mind. However, perhaps those who found Bacon’s early work too graphic and too “fleshy” will be drawn in by the sheer beauty of his painting as well as by what some might perceive as a more palatable sensibility. These later paintings convey both a technical mastery and the self-reflectiveness of an artist who had entered a new phase of maturity.

Francis Bacon: Late Paintings continues at Gagosian Gallery (980 Madison Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through December 12. 

 

           

                       Francis Bacon, Study from the Human Body (1981)

 

 

      'Tightrope Walk' at White Cube

 

      In the long shadow of abstraction

 

          Jackie Wullschlager, Visual Arts, The Financial Times, December 4, 2015

 

            

                Study for Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne (1982) by Francis Bacon

 

Painting after abstraction is a subject so rich that it could support scores of group shows. But until now it hasn’t. White Cube’s compelling Tightrope Walk: Painted Images after Abstraction is not only the first exhibition on the theme, it is the first major survey of modern and contemporary painting in London for almost a decade, since the Hayward’s The Painting of Modern Life in 2007.

This is extraordinary. Tate Britain in these years has presented just one small snapshot of conceptual practice (Painting Now). Tate Modern has had only A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance, essentially about performance art. No other public institution has attempted an overview of painting.

Immensely welcome, therefore, is this vast private gallery’s ambitious display of some 60 works, ranging chronologically from Matisse’s “Laurette au châle vert” (1917) through Patrick Caulfield’s sunny graphic architectural delineation “Springtime: Face à la mer” (1974) to Gary Hume’s laconic glossy abstracted “Yellow Nude 4” (2014) and Michael Armitage’s decorative/violent “Conservationists” (2015), painted in acknowledgment of Gauguin in oily swirls of pastel colours on coarse lubugo bark cloth from his native Kenya. Curated by US writer Barry Schwabsky, the exhibition considers a subject at the heart of 20th- and 21st-century figuration: how representational painters had to revise their strategies in acknowledgment of abstraction as a competing proposition. Tightrope Walk is not trying to be a museum show — there is an informal, scattergun quality to Schwabsky’s choices that feels closer to art-fair randomness, and the contemporary work is uneven: weakest links include Tracey Emin’s oversized wispy nude “I think of you All the time” and Karen Kilimnik’s Christmas-card kitsch “the fairy washing the mountain stream”. Yet a lightly worn erudition underpins a generous, pluralistic tone and many pleasures.

The highlights are from classic modernism, and indeed some of these come straight from this year’s art fairs. Francis Picabia’s “Halia” (1929), where four portraits are superimposed like photographic transparencies, giving a ghostlike illusory effect, was at Helly Nahmad at Art Basel, and Thomas Gibson offered the Matisse at Maastricht. But here, these belong to a narrative: the Picabia implies how abstraction was one response to photography, and “Laurette” signifies a critical moment in Matisse’s development.

For in the bleak war years of 1914-17 Matisse came as close to abstraction as possible: “French Window at Collioure” reduced to monochrome panels, “Shaft of Sunlight, the Woods of Trivaux” to an equilibrium of green and black slabs.

Francis Bacon admired Picasso's 'brutality of fact', which had made him decide to be a painter

Then, at the end of 1916, he engaged Laurette, an Italian model with black curls, strong features and a flair for role-play and dressing up. She liberated the artist back to a more naturalistic way of working — although, as the geometric patterning of Laurette’s heart-shaped face and the triangular dip of her shawl demonstrate, the impact of abstraction invigorated the composition.

The show’s title comes from Francis Bacon, who said he aimed to achieve an image by “a kind of tightrope walk between what is called figurative painting and abstraction. It will go right out from abstraction but will really have nothing to do with it.” Bacon’s enigmatic oil and pastel “Study for Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne” (1982) here captures her strong beauty of high forehead and long cheekbones, emerging from a sumptuous crimson ground. This is the “brutality of fact” Bacon admired in Picasso’s deconstructions, which had made him decide to become a painter.

Schwabsky’s broad aim is to illuminate links binding the pioneering modernists with the mid-century generations for whom the abstract/figurative divide was a determining formal consideration — and for some American painters in Clement Greenberg’s orbit even a moral one — and in turn to today’s artists embracing more hybrid approaches. Inevitably central is Picasso, continuing to test the limits of figuration to the end: an especially burlesque “Homme à la moustache”, the artist’s stand-in image for the vanity, fear of impotence yet desperate vitality of old age, and a contrasting rare, blocky yet tender portrait of childhood, “Mère et Enfant”, are the examples from the 1960s-1970s.

In Schwabsky’s reading, these sit easily with works by US artists who famously repudiated yet incorporated abstraction. Philip Guston developed a comparably late grotesquerie in which the swollen, lumpy, soft forms — the pink-blue mock-prettiness of “Cloud”, the furnacelike hints of “Frame” (1976) — of his cartoon realism were fleshed out from earlier abstract grids and modules. And assimilating abstraction’s flat planes and broad swaths of colour, Alex Katz’s lucid, hard-edged, condensed depictions of beautiful people were established in New York by the 1970s — “Dorothy” here — and continue to evolve with the playful spot-the-difference portraits of a gymnast in red bathing suit, “Double Sarah B” (2011).

'Fight in the Elevator', based on footage of Beyoncé's sister Solange attacking Jay Z, is the star new work

And what a delight, after the Royal Academy’s revelatory Richard Diebenkorn show this spring, to encounter another marvellous Bay Area figurative painter: “Untitled (Portrait of Tom Jefferson)” (1957), a push-pull of mystery and declaration, fluidly mixing delicate brushwork and brusque scrapes of the palette knife, is by David Park, who, in 1949, took all his abstract canvases to the dump and set about “much more troublesome” representational works, infused nevertheless with the gestural freedom of abstract expressionism.

Today’s most accomplished inheritor of that language is Cecily Brown. “Ever and Anon” (2015), a diptych of fraught bodies tangled up in splashes and clots, presumably refers both to the battles of sex and of abstraction and figuration — terms she avoids “because I’ve always tried to have it both ways”. Maybe only a woman painter in the late 20th century could have dared take on this macho legacy, co-opting it to express intimacy and female sexuality.

Perhaps for similar reasons, the 21st century’s most persuasive neo-cubist is also a woman: Dana Schutz. Her eight-foot “Fight in an Elevator”, based on CCTV of Beyoncé’s sister Solange Knowles attacking Jay Z in a Manhattan hotel lift in 2014, is the star new work. A drama of eye-gouging claw-like hands, severed limbs and blue stilettos stamping on squashed faces is crammed into three wedges — the interior of the lift as a trapezoid flanked by doors — and executed in crisp, broken geometric shapes and gaudy colours. It is suffused with the claustrophobia of celebrity media saturation and the panicky exuberance of urban life, yet luxuriates in the splash and resonance of painterly history.

Tightrope Walk: Painted Images after Abstraction’, White Cube, London, to January 24.

 

 

'Francis Bacon: Late Paintings', at Gagosian, Is a Vivid Narrative

 

By KEN JOHNSON, The New York Times, December, 3, 2015

In 1944, Francis Bacon painted a triptych called Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion which caused a considerable stir when it was exhibited in London the following year. With its horrifying, anguished, gargoyle-like figures rendered in gray against vivid orange backgrounds, it captured the feeling of a mind pushed to the brink of insanity by the violence, terror and absurdity of a world at war. Bacon (1909–92), who had no formal art schooling, was in his mid-30s and not well known. Generally seen as his first mature work, “Three Studies” started a career that would make him one of the most popular artists of the 20th century.

Forty-four years later, Bacon reprised the Three Studies with a triptych called Second Version of Triptych 1944, this one much bigger, at about 20 feet wide and almost 5 feet high, with the same three demonic figures on backgrounds of velvety maroon. It’s one of the outstanding works in Francis Bacon: Late Paintings, a show at Gagosian Gallery of paintings from his last two decades. Billed by the gallery as the first in-depth presentation of the artist’s late work, it’s an exhibition that Bacon fans should not miss.

The show proves that Bacon worked at a high level into his 80s. The eight works displayed in Gagosian’s sixth floor, skylit gallery are all terrifically vivid, psychologically as well as visually. The 17 miscellaneous works of portraiture and narrative crowded into the narrow gallery on the fifth floor make a weaker impression, but they testify to a still vital imagination and painterly ambition.

The exhibition also offers an opportunity to rethink what kind of artist Bacon was. If your idea of him was formed by the more than 45 versions of the so-called screaming popes that he started producing in the early 1950s, you may think of him as a painter of 20th century horror. But is this scathing image of hysteria not also hysterically funny? As his palette brightened from the 1960s on, and as broader areas of pure color set off his smeary, rubbery, cartoonish figures, he started to look more like a painter of mordant comedy than existential tragedy.

 

                           

                                       Blood on Pavement 1988 Francis Bacon

 

Second Version of Triptych 1944 might not seem funny at first, but consider the gray monsters pictured in the middle and right-hand panels. They’re more goofy than scary. The middle one has an egg-shaped body on three, long, pointy stilts; the other resembles a side of beef. Both have long serpentine necks ending in toothy mouths, one grinning, the other either screaming or threatening to bite. They resemble escapees from movies like Ghostbusters and Men in Black. The kneeling, armless woman in gauzy orange dress in the left-hand panel seems to be warily eyeing them.

On the other hand, the deep red backgrounds of the outer panels, darkened in places by black spray paint, suggest high seriousness. Without the figures, they could be late Rothkos. In the middle panel, a red carpet leads to a platform where the central chimera presides like a nightmarish priest. With shiny gold frames and reflective glass containing each canvas — required by Bacon for his later works — the whole ensemble becomes a hyperbolic, ultimately comedic mix of the sacred and the profane, the ridiculous and the sublime. That can be said about his entire oeuvre.

Bacon wasn’t a painter’s painter in the sense that, say, his onetime friend Lucian Freud was. But if you don’t think of illustration as a bad thing, then it’s fair to say he was a great illustrator. Often his paintings are like much-enlarged panels from an unusually stylish graphic novel. The two canvases of Diptych: Study of the Human body – From a Drawing by Ingres could be details lifted from a longer, sequential narrative. The right side features a headless, fleshy, nude female torso, while the left pictures a headless man, naked but for a cricket player’s leg- and foot-wear, crouching with hands ready to catch a ball. Backgrounds of lush cadmium orange and overall dimensions of about 6½ feet high by 10 feet wide, give the diptych an imposing physicality, but it remains essentially a kind of surrealistic cartoon.

Oedipus and the Sphinx After Ingres updates an ancient myth with help from one of Bacon’s favorite artists. In a room with bright pink walls, a muscular man in a sleeveless white undershirt, with his foot and lower leg in bandages leaking blood, faces a beast inspired by an Ingres painting with the head and breasts of a woman merged with a stumpy body of indeterminate species; whether animate or carved from stone is hard to say. An open closet door reveals something ragged, bloody and spectral hanging from a horizontal bar. As Bacon was wont to do, he added graphic signs like forensic markers: an oval around Oedipus’s foot and a white arrow pointing to the thing in the closet — the Sphinx’s secret revealed, perhaps.

The exhibition’s funniest painting is Jet of Water. From the end of a pipe emerging to one side of an urban alley or rooftop a diagonal swath of white paint shoots across the whole canvas. It’s a visual pun linking Abstract Expressionist-style splatter to a phallic reference.

Most surprising of all is Blood on Pavement, a nearly abstract painting of a puddle of blood on a sidewalk with a black wall directly behind it. Like a lingering shot in a noirish detective movie, this raises a question: What if Bacon had been a filmmaker? Chances are he’d have been a great one.

 

 

 

La grande mostra estiva al Grimaldi Forum di Monaco sarà su Francis Bacon

 

Dal 2 luglio al 4 settembre 2016 la mostra, che presenterà più di una sessantina di opere, è un progetto dedicato all'artista tra i più ambiziosi degli ultimi anni

 

Monte Carlo News, Martedì 01 Dicembre 2015

 

     

 

La mostra, che presenterà più di una sessantina di opere, è un progetto dedicato all'artista tra i più ambiziosi degli ultimi anni.

Il Grimaldi Forum invita il pubblico a scoprire le opere di Francis Bacon sotto una luce inedita: l'influenza della cultura francese e il suo periodo monegasco.

Verranno così presentati famosi trittici, alcuni tra i quadri più significativi dell'artista e altri meno noti, suddivisi per tematica e con un riferimento diretto o indiretto alla Francia e al Principato di Monaco.

Una delle particolarità di questa mostra è che propone uno spaccato delle opere maggiori dei grandi maestri che hanno ispirato Francis Bacon: Giacometti, Léger, Lurçat, Michaux, Soutine, Toulouse-Lautrec ecc.

La mostra è anche il primo grande evento organizzato sotto l'egida della recentissima Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, inaugurata a Monaco il 28 ottobre 2014 (giorno anniversario della nascita dell'artista) da S.A.S. Il Principe Alberto II. Quest'istituzione privata, senza scopo di lucro, è l'unica fondazione al mondo dedicata all'artista. Il suo scopo è promuovere una migliore comprensione dell'opera, della vita e dei metodi di lavoro di Francis Bacon a livello mondiale, focalizzandosi sul periodo in cui il pittore visse e lavorò nel Principato e in Francia.

La Fondazione sostiene nuove ricerche sul pittore, patrocina artisti emergenti ed organizza mostre e seminari sull'opera di Bacon, in collaborazione con alcune istituzioni locali ed internazionali, finanziando progetti inerenti all'artista.

Per informazioni:

Francis Bacon, Monaco e la cultura francese

Dal 2 luglio al 4 settembre 2016

Espace Ravel del Grimaldi Forum Monaco  

10, avenue Princese Grace – 98000 Monaco

Orari: aperto tutti i giorni dalle 10 alle 20

Notturne il giovedì fino alle 22

 

 

Monte Carlo gamble paid off for Bacon

The Times, 8 February 2015

 

   

       Francis Bacon would frequently tear up work that he thought he'd ruined

 

Francis Bacon had his career-defining moment not in his studios in South Kensington or Dublin but after a night at the roulette tables in Monaco, an authority on the artist has said.

Martin Harrison, editor of Bacon’s catalogue raisonée, feels that the artist made his biggest breakthrough as a figurative painter in 1949 when he was applying his risk-taking philosophy at both the easel and the Casino de Monte-Carlo. The scholar hopes to find further evidence for his theory at a new museum in the principality that will open to the public on March 30. 

 

 

Beyond the artist’s grin

 

The wild and tragic life of Britain’s most influential modern artist is a revelation.

 

By Mary Kisler in Books, New Zealand Listener, 19th November, 2015

 

                         

Twisted forms: one of three studies for a Francis Bacon self portrait (1980)

 

This irresistible memoir about writer Michael Peppiatt’s friendship with Francis Bacon is as addictive as the champagne and chablis that seem to lace most encounters between the two. Their friendship began in 1963 when Peppiatt raced down from Cambridge to London to try to score an interview with the famous artist, 30 years his senior. That encounter at the French House was the start of a long, oft times devoted and sometimes tortured friendship. Peppiatt describes Bacon as a father figure, but this parental relationship came at a price.

He records a wide range of encounters with what Bacon described as his gilded gutter life, Peppiatt often staggering home to write down the evening’s conversation while still fresh in his mind. The reader becomes fascinated with the intonations of the artist’s voice, his ideas about art and why artists are driven to paint, the artists he admired (Giacometti and Picasso lead the group) and those he didn’t rate.

Peppiatt is meticulous in depicting Bacon’s courteousness at the beginning of a social encounter, always aware of someone younger or insecure of their place. But he also captures those moments when Bacon slid into drunken cruelty. Few people were immune from these verbal attacks although more than not, Peppiatt seems to leave the scene before Bacon’s depressed, choleric gaze turns on him.

One of the most vivid sections describes Peppiatt’s life in Paris. It becomes his home for a period, during which he relaunched Art International magazine in 1985. The city was hugely important to Bacon and where his success mattered most. At the artist’s request, Peppiatt kept an apartment that Bacon could use on his visits to the city. His descriptions of the extended lunches in elegant restaurants, where a maître d’ might try in vain to staunch the ever-flowing river of wine imbibed by their guests, are riveting.

This book also has a tantalising array of photos that book-end the text, some of the famously torn and paint-splattered images of paintings and people that triggered many of Bacon’s compositions; two that show the writer and artist, the latter bowed by booze, depression or both; and three self-conscious photographs of the author’s head and upper torso, possibly taken by Bacon.

Although Peppiatt has written formally about Bacon throughout his career, here he interweaves his observations of the wild and often tragic aspects of Bacon’s life with those depicted in the painter’s twisted forms and tortured expressions. He has no doubt that he is a great painter, but Peppiatt also wants to know why. Bacon once told photographer Daniel Frasnay that in his art he tried to give “the grin without the cat, the sensation without the boredom of conveyance”. Francis Bacon in Your Blood brilliantly delves beyond that disembodied grin.

FRANCIS BACON IN YOUR BLOOD, by Michael Peppiatt (Bloomsbury, $45).

 

         

 

In the flesh: Francis Bacon's late paintings on show at New York's Gagosian Gallery

 

By Brook Mason, Wallpaper, 19 November 2015

 

          

                                  Sand Dune, 1983, Francis Bacon

 

When it comes to Francis Bacon, his searing paintings skyrocket into the stratosphere. After all, his 1969 Three Studies of Lucien Freud soared to a staggering $142,404,992 at Christie’s three years ago, and is probably now locked away in a Russian plutocrat’s home.

But there’s an alternative way to take in his artistry and it doesn’t cost a fraction of that amount. The tormented artist’s late paintings are front and centre this season at Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue. Showcased in the exhibition titled ‘Francis Bacon: Late Paintings’ are some 20 paintings that the artist created in London as well as Paris during the last two decades of this life.

Featured in this first in-depth exploration of this particular period of his oeuvre are loans from the Pompidou, the Beyeler, the Tate and even the Museu Coleção Berardo in Lisbon along with a number of private collectors. Further indication of the sheer quality of this show is that no less than seven of Bacon’s monumental triptychs are included.

What’s surprising is seeing Bacon’s disturbing and violent figures up close, which are frequently lanced with what appears to be blood painted occasionally on a somewhat serene background in a palette ranging from yellow to rose. Another distinctive slant to this period is the degree to which the artist turned to spray-painting, and even sometimes a roller, rather than his ingrained bold brush strokes.

In his harrowing 1987 Triptych, the artist whittles down and strips his figures of all recognisable features, and in some cases, truncates the forms while rendering only flesh coloured shadows for a ghostly sense of movement.

As Gagosian director Valentina Castellani says, ‘The human body reveals itself by its absence, as exemplified by the superb Blood on Pavement. Nothing remains of our existence but a stain of blood, a shadow on the ground.’

 

 

New Francis Bacon catalogue to reveal more than 100 unseen works

 

Ten-year project to detail every work the artist produced will be published in April on the anniversary of his death

 

Mark Brown, arts correspondence, The Guardian, Monday 16 November 2015

 

                

                                              Study after Velázquez, 1950.

 

 More than 100 Francis bacon paintings are to be revealed for the first time with the completion of a 10-year project to publish a catalogue of every work he made.

They include the first in one of his best known and provocative series of paintings, the Screaming Popes, a previously unknown work discovered buried in a private Italian collection.

The Francis Bacon estate has now completed the artist’s catalogue raisonné and will publish it next spring to coincide with the anniversary of his death in April 1992.

Bacon destroyed many of his paintings and only about half of the 584 that survive are accessible or in circulation.

“The stuff that has been written about Bacon, some good and much of it less good, is based on about a third of his work,” said the art historian Martin Harrison, who has spent the last decade attempting to track down every work.

“Irrespective of the care taken in documenting his extant oeuvre, the great revelation of the new catalogue raisonné will be that, for the first time, Bacon’s entire output can be seen and assessed. It will, we believe, have a profound effect on the perception of his paintings.”

Finding the first Screaming Pope was particularly exciting, Harrison said. The series was inspired by Bacon’s obsession with Velazquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X, painted in the 17th century. He reworked the theme in the 1960s and 70s, and the results are seen as some of the most potent expressions of postwar horror at what mankind is capable of.

The first Screaming Pope has until now been identified as Head VI from 1949, but Harrison said he had found an earlier work stored in a warehouse.

“It is not an amazingly great painting but it is amazingly important historically,” he said.

 

                

                                     Study for Portrait of Van Gogh IV, 1957.

 

Bacon lived life to the extreme, and it has been convincingly argued that his best art stemmed from the sadomasochistic relationships he had with other men. The great love of his life was Peter Lacy, a former Battle of Britain pilot who was also sadistic, violent and a raging alcoholic.

The catalogue will reveal that there is less sex in Bacon’s surviving paintings than might be imagined. “There are only 11 paintings in his whole oeuvre where men are having sex and that is compared, for example, to 17 female nudes,” Harrison said.

The catalogue replaces one from Bacon’s mid-career, published in 1964 by the Tate’s director at the time, John Rothenstein, and its deputy keeper, Ronald Alley. It contains only 27 paintings in colour and was difficult to publish because Bacon was so difficult and uncooperative.

“They had the singular difficulty of having Bacon alive, I didn’t suffer from that,” Harrison said.

The project involved many tipoffs and false trails, and took Harrison across Europe and to the US, Australia and Japan. “It has taken more than 10 years, so in terms of time it has been a huge undertaking and the last year has been more huge than it might be as I’ve had no sleep.

“I was always a kind of boring researcher person. Somewhere I have a notebook I kept when I was nine. I used to go into the Coventry and Warwickshire collections and study the nomenclature of Warwickshire placenames. That’s pretty nerdy. There is obviously an impulse in me to record arcane things.”

Bacon works attract some of the highest prices at auction. A triptych, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, set a world record in 2013 when it sold for £89.3m.

The Bacon we know, however, is based on a core of around 180 paintings. There are many more that hang in private collections, owned by people who have little interest in selling or lending

“Many of the owners to this day are really private,” said Harrison. “I kind of got access because I’m doing the catalogue raisonné and they thought ‘oh there’s this weird, boring bloke coming.’”

Harrison said he was undeniably excited about being the first art historian to have set eyes on some of the Bacons. If he had to choose a favourite, he said, it would be the 1964 Landscape in Malabata, once owned by Roald Dahl, as it was the first one he saw as a student.

“I didn’t understand it. I had never heard of Francis Bacon and I was absolutely riveted. I can remember to this day thinking he was a genius. I had never seen anything like and the colours just amazed me.”

Heni Publishing will release the catalogue on 28 April in five cloth-bound volumes, three with the paintings and two with an introduction and bibliography. Printed in Italy it will cost £1,000.

 

 

Francis Bacon Complete Catalogue Raisonné Set For April Publication

 

ArtLyst, Monday 16 November 2015

 

Owners of paintings by Francis Bacon have now missed the deadline to be included in his first complete Catalogue Raisonné, which closed at the end of October 2015. For this ten year project, collectors were requested to contact the Catalogue Raisonné Committee via The Estate of Francis Bacon. The Bacon Catalogue Raisonné will now go to press and is expected to be revealed on the anniversary of his death in April. The final meeting of the Francis Bacon Authentication Committee took place in London on May 23rd. All information received was treated in the strictest confidence and requests for anonymity were honoured. 

Over one hundred undocumented Bacon paintings will be revealed for the first time in the comprehensive catalogue. They include a previously unknown Screaming Pope painting discovered in a private Italian collection. The book will also reveal the first Screaming Pope work painted. Francis Bacon's most famous paintings were inspired by Velasquez's Pope Innocent X portrait. Scholars have interpreted the paintings and the inspirations behind them ever since Bacon painted them in the 1950s. Bacon worked on his pope paintings, variations on Velázquez’s magnificent portrait of Pope Innocent X, for over twenty years.

All 584 surviving paintings are represented in the book.  A few known works still remain outstanding and it is known that many were destroyed by Bacon himself. The following works have not been located, and information as to their whereabouts is still sought: Lying Figure (1953); Man with Head Wound (1955); Mlle Suzy Solidor (1957); Head of Woman (1961).

“The stuff that has been written about Bacon, some good and much of it less good, is based on about a third of his work.” The art historian Martin Harrison, told the Guardian, that he has spent the last decade attempting to track down every last work. “Irrespective of the care taken in documenting his extant oeuvre, the great revelation of the new catalogue raisonné will be that, for the first time, Bacon’s entire output can be seen and assessed. It will, we believe, have a profound effect on the perception of his paintings.”

 

 

Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné Announced

 

Fine Books & Collections Magazine, November 16, 2015

 

The Estate of Francis Bacon has announced the publication of Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, presenting the entire oeuvre of the artist’s work for the first time. Due for global publication on 28th April 2016 - the anniversary of Francis Bacon’s death - the impeccably produced limited edition will contain over 900 illustrations in five, cloth-bound hardcover volumes.

Edited by Martin Harrison, FSA, the pre-eminent expert on Bacon’s work, alongside research assistant, Dr Rebecca Daniels, this ambitious and painstaking project has been ten years in the making. Much needed, it replaces Rothenstein/Alley’s Francis Bacon1964 catalogue, the only previous catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work, which comprised just 37% of Bacon’s ultimate oeuvre and 27 paintings illustrated in colour.

Bacon is known to have destroyed many of his paintings and only about half of the 584 that survive can be said to be accessible or in circulation; it is testimony to Harrison’s exacting and expert work that the new catalogue raisonné will include over 100 previously unpublished paintings.

Martin Harrison says: “Irrespective of the care taken in documenting his extant oeuvre, the great revelation of the new catalogue raisonné will be that, for the first time, Bacon’s entire output can be seen and assessed. It will, we believe, have a profound effect on the perception of his paintings.”

The three 400-page volumes that make up the study of Bacon’s entire oeuvre are bookended by two further 192-page volumes; the former encompassing an introduction, a chronology, an index and a user’s guide, and the latter a catalogue of Bacon’s sketches, an illustrated bibliography compiled by Krzysztof Cieszkowski, and acknowledgements. Printed on 170 gsm GardaMatt stock in Bergamo, Italy, the five volumes of Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné are boxed within a cloth slipcase and priced at £1,000 | $1,500 | €1,400.

Francis Bacon

“Francis Bacon (1909 - 92) is widely regarded as Britain’s greatest modern painter. Drawing on low-art sources, including photographs torn from magazines and imagery from films, coupled with a keen awareness of the rich historical tradition of painting stretching back to the Renaissance, Bacon developed a way of portraying the human body which was unique. His mastery of the medium of paint was recognised early. By 1946, the critic Kenneth Clark felt able to state simply: ‘Francis Bacon has genius’.”

Martin Harrison FSA

Martin Harrison has published on 19th and 20th century art and photography and curated exhibitions in the UK (Victoria & Albert Museum; National Portrait Gallery; Ashmolean Museum), Italy, the USA and Mexico. He co-curated the Bacon exhibition at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf in 2006, and Francis Bacon / Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone, The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 2013. His first publication on Francis Bacon was Points of Reference (Faggionato Fine Art, 1999). He is the author of In Camera: Francis Bacon - Photography, film and the practice of painting (Thames & Hudson, 2005) and with Rebecca Daniels, Francis Bacon: Incunabula (Thames & Hudson, 2008). In 2009 he edited Francis Bacon - New Studies: Centenary Essays, a collection of nine original essays to celebrate the centenary of the birth of the artist.

 

 

Frozen in time: artists at lunch in Wheeler's, March 1963

 

London’s finest artists share a long, bohemian lunch of oysters, fizz and cigs

 

Alex Clark, The Guardian, Sunday 15 November 2015

 

 

   

    Timothy Behrens, Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews having lunch at Wheelers Restaurant in Soho, London, 1963.

     Photograph: The John Deakin Archive

 

When RB Kitaj invented the term “School of London” in 1976 to denote a group of postwar figurative artists that included him, Leon Kossoff and Maggi Hambling, he wasn’t really thinking about where they had their lunch. But the five painters in John Deakin’s evocative photograph – from left, Timothy Behrens, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews – clearly felt that after a hard morning at the easel, a decent meal was in order.

Their spot of choice was Wheeler’s of Old Compton Street, an oyster bar that had come a long way from its Whitstable origins, where it was founded in 1856 by master mariner Captain Richard “Leggy” Wheeler. In Soho, under the proprietorship of Bernard Walsh, it was to reach hitherto unimagined bohemian charms (for a brilliant encapsulation of its flavour, dig out Jeffrey Bernard’s Low Life column in May 1981, occasioned by Walsh’s death; as Bernard wrote, “As far as I’m concerned Wheeler’s is Old Compton Street and all the other branches are mere imitations).

Walsh had set up shop in 1929 and, as Barry Miles explains in his brilliant social history London Calling, had benefited enormously when oysters subsequently escaped rationing, his wife keeping the restaurant open even during the Blitz; Miles also reports that the oysterman, Tim from Brighton, could open 400 shells an hour and might even go up to 600 when they were really busy.

Wheeler’s, with its checked tablecloths and maritime art, was not a cheap lunchtime option, so it was just as well that Walsh was generous with credit for favoured customers: Bacon and Freud ran accounts there, made all the more necessary by the frequency of their visits. Walsh once asked them to paint a portrait of one another: although Bacon painted Freud, Freud preferred to paint Walsh himself, resulting in the piece Portrait of a Man, completed in 1955, which was auctioned at Sotheby’s in 2012 for £1.83m.

Where the Bacons or Auerbachs of today might be discovered having lunch is unclear; probably not Soho, now that Wheeler’s-as-was and that other bohemian haunt, Muriel Belcher’s Colony Rooms, have gone. Likely that those based in London have shifted to the east; but more likely that, in today’s accelerated and professionalised culture, a long, leisurely lunch is a thing of the past. And it’s certainly difficult to know who would give you a plate of oysters and a bottle of Chablis on tick.

Frank Auerbach is at The Tate: Britain until 13 March 2016

 

 

Gagosian Looks at Francis Bacon's Late Period

 

BY NOELLE BODICK  | BLOUIN ARTINFO  | NOVEMBER 12, 2015

 

            

                                                                                         Francis Bacon's Second Version of Triptych 1944, 1988.

 

In old age, masters like Titian, Velázquez, and Rembrandt loosened up, allowing for more free-flowing brushstrokes, informal compositions, and unplanned events to enter their canvases. The late career of 20th-century painter Francis Bacon never followed this pattern. In the last two decades of his life, the Irish-born, English artist stripped down his evocative figures as his work took on a more formal, economical effect

This month, 25 pieces from this late period are on display at Gagosian gallery in New York, including loans from the Museum of Modern Art and Tate, among other institutions.

Richard Calvocoressi, formerly the director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the Henry Moore Foundation, who recently joined Gagosian in London as director and senior curator, spoke to ARTINFO about why Bacon’s style transformed from more painterly to austere in these late years.

Francis Bacon once said: “Painting is an old man’s occupation. Some of the greatest have done their best work in old age: Titian and Picasso and others.” Should we count Bacon among them?

It has certainly been a period that has been overlooked, as so often with artists. And I do think it has taken awhile for people to appreciate just how radical and extraordinary he was as an artist in these last 15 years. Whether it is his greatest period is really difficult to say — really a subjective assessment. But, as he leaves out more and more, he is getting at the essence of things in this process of simplifying, paring down, and being more economical.

is earlier work was more improvised and spontaneous. What do you think he achieves in these more controlled late compositions?

What he achieves is not exactly a state of calm but a certain equilibrium. There is a Classical grandeur and authority about these late works. It is something you find in another great English artist who is more or less his contemporary, Henry Moore. In Henry Moore’s sculpture there is a kind of reduction to simplified forms on a large scale. Monumentality, I think, is probably the word I am looking for.

Would you say Bacon’s own work becomes more sculptural in the last 15 years?

Yes, I think so. He is looking at space, at the arrangement of forms in space, and the forms themselves become more three dimensional, more volumetric; the figures are often placed on plinths, pedestals, ledges. He is thinking of sculpture a lot — he wanted to make sculpture, in fact.

 But he never did?

No, he never did. But he even at one point asked if he could take sculpture lessons with Henry Moore, astonishing as it may seem. It never happened; I think Henry Moore was politely noncommittal. They weren’t the best of friends, though they certainly admired each other.

Is there a particular work that is emblematic of this pared-down aesthetic and more sculptural expression of space?

Yes, in fact, his very last triptych, which MoMA has lent to the exhibition, is very simplified and very symmetrical. The left- and right-hand panels show the male human body from the waist down stepping out of a black rectangle, in each case with one leg still in the black rectangle. You could read these as some kind of tomb-like slab. The central panel shows the coupling figures you find in his work going back to the 1950s, but in a much more abbreviated form. And then again in the left and the right panels, as if pinned on, are portrait heads based on photographs — one of his friend, this lover, who was Spanish and lived in Madrid, and the other of himself. But the whole triptych has a kind of architectural, monumental feel about it. It is as if it were a kind of memorial or monument. Even the portraits on the side panels appear like portraits of the dead pinned to tombstones.

Generally there seem to be fewer portraits of friends in the work. Why is that?

He depended less on living people and his lovers — as many of them had died by that time — and more on ideas, emotions, feelings portrayed in Greek tragedy and literature. There is an extraordinary painting inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus, a couple of paintings inspired by Ingres, another of a deceased friend depicted as a sphinx, as in Greek myths. And the other great literary source, of course, for his work was the poetry of T.S. Eliot.

He said that in the trilogy of the Oresteia, Agamemnon had always struck him and inspired him, particularly its violent nature. It is the most blood-soaked play that there is. He had always been fascinated by blood and butchery and man’s cruelty to man, so you get more of that coming in, less perhaps his own personal biography.

And do we see him reflecting more on death?

There is a kind of ghostlike quality to these last paintings: figures disappearing into nothing, or else just glimpsed. There is one particular 1987 self-portrait painted with aerosol spray where it looks as if he really is fading away. It is extraordinarily delicate, so much so that it doesn’t look as if it has been painted — it looks like some sort of x-ray.

 

 

Sotheby's

 

CONTEMPORARY ART EVENING AUCTION

Lot 20

 

PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION

Francis Bacon

1909 - 1992

PORTRAIT

titled and dated 1962 on the reverse
oil on canvas
78 x 55 3/4 in. 198 x 141.5 cm.

 

       

                                                              Portrait (1962) Francis Bacon

 

Estimate

 

12,000,000 — 18,000,000 USD
 

LOT SOLD.

15,650,000 USD  (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium)

 

AUTHENTICATION

This work will be included as number 62-01 in the forthcoming Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné, being prepared by the Estate of Francis Bacon and edited by Martin Harrison.

 

PROVENANCE

Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London
Michelangelo Antonioni, Rome
Private Collection, Venice 
Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1984

 

EXHIBITED

London, Tate Gallery; Mannheim, Kunsthalle Mannheim; Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna; Zurich, Kunsthaus Zürich; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Francis Bacon, May 1962 - February 1963, cat. no. 88, n.p., illustrated (London), cat. no. 77 (Mannheim), cat. no. 82 (Turin), cat. no. 76 (Zurich) and cat. no. 68 (Amsterdam)
London, Whitechapel Gallery; Manchester, Manchester City Art Gallery; Glasgow, Glasgow City Art Gallery; Hull, Ferens Art Gallery; Zurich, Helmhaus Zürich, British Painting in the Sixties, July - December 1963, cat. no. 4
Bochum, Städtische Kunstgalerie Bochum, Profile III. Englische Kunst der Gegenwart, April - June 1964, cat. no. 12, illustrated (incorrectly dated 1961)
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Expressive Malerei Nach Picasso, October - December 1983, cat. no. 6, n.p., illustrated in color
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Nudes Nus Nackte, June - August 1984, cat. no. 4, n.p., illustrated in color

 

LITERATURE

Sotirios Messinis, "La Mostra di Francis Bacon a Torino," La Biennale, No. 48, March 1963, p. 59, illustrated (as Man on a Grey Couch)
Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon, London, 1964, cat. no. 198, illustrated

 

Curving and muscular, sensuous yet tinged with threat, Francis Bacon’s Portrait from 1962 is a masterclass in the art of seduction. Despite its anonymous title, this passionate painting is undoubtedly a portrait of Bacon's first great love, Peter Lacy, and invites the viewer’s voyeuristic gaze to explore the serpentine lines and flowing curves of the libidinous and muscled flesh on display. Combining the erotic grandeur of Michelangelo with the bestial carnality of a fresh kill, this painting heralds the very beginnings of Bacon’s great (and long) late style.  Arriving in a burst of precocious activity between January and May 1962, embarked upon in preparation for his landmark career retrospective at the Tate Gallery, this painting announces a shift in the artist’s treatment and portrayal of the human animal. Under the spotlight and on the stage, Bacon’s work is imbued with a grandiloquence that approaches the cinematic. Fittingly, Portrait once resided in the collection of pioneering film director Michelangelo Antonioni, whose acclaimed existentialist films of the 1960s telescoped the alienation of our contemporary situation in a way that chimes with Bacon’s revelation of the isolated human figure’s corporal despair. With this work, the creative frustration and turbulence of the mid-1950s was finally converted into a profound inventive force: Portrait marks the inception of an astounding vision that would engender the most remarkable decade of Bacon’s career.

Counting among the handful of new paintings created before the Tate show in May 1962, Portrait accompanied the artist’s first great large-scale triptych, Three Studies for a Crucifixion and prestigiously graced the Tate’s walls. Both of these works deploy an exhilarating painterly treatment in which flesh and bone are turned outwards while writhing bodies are located within increasingly resolute interiors. The hallowed ‘spaceframe’ is largely abandoned; although the faint ghost of its linear outline burns through the cool greys and taupe shades that demarcate floor from ceiling in Portrait, Bacon’s drama now takes place upon a raised curvilinear platform and within a defined claustrophobic room. Recalling Bacon’s memories of a country house in Abbeyleix, Ireland, in which he lived as a boy, curving walls and arced space became the quintessential Baconian stage-set from this moment on. Of the latter, Portrait shares a remarkable compositional congruence with Study from Innocent X (one of Bacon’s most inventive and very last Pope paintings executed in 1962, also exhibited in the Tate show) and in many ways these works are pendant pictures. The use of arcs intersecting and dividing the background to create the sense of a curving room and raised platform – or dais – are almost identical in both works; while their corkscrewing bodies and contorted and grimacing features confer an unmistakable reading of the bestial. The very cruciform pose of Bacon’s subject in Portrait – with both arms spread-open above interlaced legs that appear to hover as though suspended in midair – formally echoes the pictorial trope of Christ’s crucifixion. This is a religious construal that carries through from the present work – which has been suggested was painted early in 1962 – into the red Pope that comes next in Ronald Alley’s 1964 catalogue raisonné, and finally through to the Three Studies for a Crucifixion which was famously completed only days before the Tate show opened in May. The confluence between the far right panel of this triptych (which has been suggested is a re-working and inversion of Cimabue’s canonical altarpiece) and the present work, thus imparts a striking conceptual link. However, counter to the hot inferno and vicious animalism of these two paintings, the palette for Portrait is considerably cooler and presents a voluptuous male body that in its very contortion activates a louche yet inviting scenario ripe with phallic charge. It is worth noting as well that where the figure of the Pope and armature of the Christ’s crucifixion were symbols of Bacon’s rise to prominence during the 1950s, the proven success of this symbolic ‘crutch’ began to give way for, to quote John Russell, ‘the maximization of risk’ at stake within his practice of portraiture. (John Russell, Francis Bacon, Greenwich, 1971, p. 165) Having said this, where Portrait may at first appear to be the sedate and composed counterpoint to the blood-curdling despair of Study from Innocent X or Three Studies for a Crucifixion, this painting’s quintessential Baconian violence is concentrated within the corkscrewing body, phallic power, and virtuoso facture of the face: scraped into a wide grimace, a row of bared incisors underlines a viscous stratum of corrugated oil paint that coalesces to form this painting’s locus of psychological torment. Herein, Portrait of 1962 can be seen to anticipate the artist’s remarkable pictorial inventions and career-defining body of portraiture that was soon to emerge following the supreme success of the Tate show.

When it opened in May 1962, the contemporary press lauded this exhibition with glowing reviews. “It would be both unwise and unjust to write briefly about the retrospective exhibition of work by Francis Bacon at the Tate Gallery” wrote Eric Newton for The Guardian, “beauty is there throughout. A casual glance into any of the five rooms in which these pictures hang, reveals shapes that are noble in themselves, and color schemes that are enchanting. It is only when we begin to examine them for subject matter that one begins to experience the frisson that is Bacon's special gift.” (Eric Newton, "Mortal Conflict," The Guardian, 24 May 1962) The high praise continued in an indepth profile of Bacon in The Observer which celebrated the painterly virtuosity on view at the Tate: “few people will visit the Tate without being stunned by Bacon’s really tremendous power to convey the underworld of tension and suffering – humanity with the lid off.” (Anon. "The Observer Profile" in: The Observer Weekend Review, 27 May 1962, p. 23) While Nigel Gosling’s review declared Bacon as “the most interesting” of “all the living painters I know.” (Nigel Gosling, "Report from the Underworld," Ibid., p. 27) Significantly, Gosling’s piece accorded special recognition to Bacon’s new work by referring to “the exciting new paintings which crown this splendidly chosen and displayed exhibition.” (Ibid.) As part of the retrospective’s dramatic climax, these new works (which included PortraitStudy from Innocent X, and Three Studies for a Crucifixion) announced Bacon’s latest innovations in portraying the human condition. Boasting geometric simplicity, sumptuous use of color, a heightened sense of painterly spontaneity and fleshy voluptuousness, the originality of these works would directly renew his approach to the human body as a site of exuberant excess, pain, and brutal release.

Three years prior to this, Bacon had begun to explore the classical theme of the reclining nude in a number of anonymous, androgynous, yet erotically charged "Lying Figure" paintings created during a three-month stay in the Cornish seaside village of St. Ives. Indeed, the composition and color palette of the present work finds its genesis in this small corpus. Presaging the contorted and provocative nudity of Portrait these upside-down figures lie prostrate on a sofa and form corporeal fleshy jumbles that languorously writhe. Although short, Bacon’s time in St. Ives would have a dramatic impact and would furnish the transition away from the grisaille half-light and tank-like interiors of his previous 1950s output. Immersed in a local artistic milieu that was predominantly centered on contemporary debates surrounding abstraction, Bacon, who had previously dismissed this branch of contemporary art as merely “decorative”, nonetheless began to apply Newman and Rothkoesque fields to engender a new kind of spatial depth through color (the artist cited in Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London, 1996, p. 223). Pitched against these enlivened and increasingly flattened planes, which, as in the present work, imbued his paintings with a heightened environmental presence and actuality, Bacon’s treatment of the human form underwent a correlative transformation. The ghost-like pallor of his figures fell away and was replaced by a depiction of human flesh as living and bleeding: muscle and bone turned inside out

A more immediate developmental stage in the creation of Portrait can be traced to a sketch published in Martin Harrison’s In Camera: Francis Bacon, Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting (published in 2005). Although Bacon famously never admitted to drawing or premeditating his works, it is widely known that he did write lists and, more infrequently, made rapid short-hand studies for potential compositions. Dated to 1962, and etched onto frontispieces of Eadweard Muybridge’s The Human Figure in Motion (1955 edition), a quickly worked thinned-oil sketch of a figure reclining on a sofa/chaise faces a list in Bacon’s typical hand of ideas for future works. At the top of the list ‘Portrait of Peter as opposite’ seems to confirm that this sketch – and by association the present work which contains an almost identical pictorial schema, pose, intimation of a dais or raised platform, and intersecting pattern of background curves – depicts the object of Bacon’s first and greatest love affair, Peter Lacy (Martin Harrison, in In Camera: Francis Bacon, Photography, Film and the Practice of Paintng, London, 2005, p. 181). In Portrait, the outstretched arms and seated position, the structure of the head, the contortion of the facial features and the sinister grimace, are all characteristics familiar to Bacon’s portrayal of Lacy. An older man and ex-RAF pilot with a tendency for violent outbursts, Lacy was Bacon’s romantic ideal. It was a destructive relationship that fed equally upon Lacy’s appetite for sadism and Bacon’s masochistic cravings. Although their turbulent relationship had come to an end in 1958, Bacon, who had also continued to frequently visit Lacy where he had settled in Tangier, continued to conjure his likeness in paint. Having titled the work Portrait Bacon leads us to believe that this painting is indeed a rendering of someone, and considering the phallocentric eroticism and subtle menace on show, it can be inferred that Lacy is most probably the subject of the present work. Lacy appears in a number of guises throughout Bacon’s production; he is the model for Bacon’s terrifying Papal father figures in the 1950s, the dominant lover in the violently sexual Two Figures of 1953, and subject of countless portraits including the first official small canvas triptych in the 14 by 12 inch size, Study for Three Heads of 1962. Of the latter, this painting was executed in mourning of Lacy’s death in Tangier, news of which reached Bacon on the very first day that his Tate retrospective opened to the public. Herein, Portrait is arguably the last painting of Lacy executed whilst he was still alive. Ultimately however, that the identity of Portrait is left anonymous leaves interpretation entirely open to reading a host of disparate linkages.

The interlacing and corkscrewing limbs, the voluptuous flesh and ample musculature in Portrait invokes the importance of Michelangelo in Bacon’s imagination. Of the many artifacts excavated from Bacon’s Reece Mews studio were countless leafs taken from books on the Renaissance master, particularly of drawings depicting the male body which was his primary focus as an artist.  The tangible bulk of Bacon’s subject in Portrait is fundamentally Michelangeloesque: the undulating curves of the arms, the sculpting shadow that defines the right pectoral and the hefty posterior emulate the muscled tension of Michelangelo’s idealized male forms. However in Bacon’s imagination the work of Michelangelo was tied up with images by the pioneering documentary photographer Eadweard Muybridge. “Actually Muybridge and Michelangelo are mixed up in my mind together” explained Bacon, “and so I perhaps could learn about positions from Muybridge and learn about the ampleness, the grandeur of form from Michelangelo.” (the artist cited in Margarita Cappock, Francis Bacon’s Studio, London and New York, 2005, p. 116) Published in the late Nineteenth Century, Muybridge’s pseudo-scientific photographic treatises on human and animal locomotion presented for the first time an aid for artists in capturing split-second images of moving bodies. Sold as plates and eventually published in volumes, Muybridge’s motion studies were populist, voyeuristic, and undeniably eccentric; the gratuitous display of nude and well-muscled male bodies climbing stairs, running, jumping, boxing, playing tennis and cricket, fencing and wrestling appealed massively to Bacon, not only for their vital authenticity as documenting the human body in motion, but also for their undeniable homoerotic content. For Bacon, Muybridge and Michelangelo represented two sides of the same coin; although separated by centuries and entirely different objectives, these two were bound in Bacon’s mind owing to the wealth of taut muscled poses prevalent in the work of both. For Bacon, these images of the male body were libidinous and unlocked ‘valves of sensation’ that acted as a key cipher onto which he could apply and improvise his own painterly record of impassioned embodiment. That Bacon outlined this preliminary working through of Portrait on a copy of Muybridge’s Human Figure in Motion further emphasizes the fact.

Furthermore, as images presented in sequence the latent sense of the cinematic within Muybridge was not lost on Bacon; indeed, film was of massive consequence and truly formed him as a painter. As explained by art historian David Alan Mellor: “From almost the time of the first critical writing on Bacon, in 1949, film was seen to be the indispensable point of reference for any understanding of him.” (David Alan Mellor, “Film, Fantasy, History in Francis Bacon” in Exh. Cat., London, Tate Britain (and travelling), Francis Bacon, 2008, p. 50) From Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925), Luis Buñuel’s Un chien andalou (1967) through to Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima mon amour (1959), the powerful imagery of film fed directly into Bacon’s “pulverizing machine” and symptomatically emerged in his painting; the most famous example of which is the screaming nanny motif from Potemkin which finds almost endless repetition in Bacon’s early work (the artist cited in John Russell, Ibid., p. 71). A true cinephile, Bacon immersed himself in film’s burgeoning history, its developing field of critical literature, and its exciting contemporary development. As Mellor has explained, in parallel with the ascent of creative film-making “something in painting withered as a result. Bacon’s purpose has been to bring that something back to life.” (Ibid.) From the work of Fritz Lang, D.W. Griffith and Abel Gance, through to the more novel and experimental trends in popular culture, Bacon was open to every development in this new and exciting genre. Indeed, the red and green accents outlining the body in Portrait seem to reflect the contemporaneous craze for 3D images and film, which beginning in Hollywood in 1953, had swept across Britain by the late 1950s. Martin Harrison alludes to this fact in In Camera and points to the concurrent appearance of red and green combinations in a number of works from the 1960s (Martin Harrison, ibid., p. 150). However, as the history of Portrait’s ownership relays, the direction of this stream of influence has since changed current.

Within the last 50 years or so, the influence of Bacon’s work on the arena of film is undeniably palpable. As opening testament to this, the first owner of Portrait was the Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni, who alongside Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Goddard, and Alain Resnais pioneered a new wave of European art-house cinema that emanated a distinctly contemporary ennui. Subversive and influential in equal measure, Antonioni had made his name by 1960 with L’Avventura (1959), which along with a further two films (La Notte and L’Eclisse) released in 1960 and 1962 respectively, explores the thematic of modern day alienation and emotional abandonment through narrative disjoint and striking camera work. It is for the 1966 Blow-Up however that Antonioni is best known; set within swinging London, the film loosely follows a fashion photographer who believes he unknowingly captures evidence of a murder when photographing two lovers in a public park. Fittingly for Bacon’s work, this film scrutinizes how our perception of reality and fact is increasingly channeled through the proclaimed ‘truth’ of a photographic image. That Portrait, and largely Bacon’s work in general, would have struck a chord with Antonioni is therefore unsurprising: chilling renderings of distinctly modern and alienated human beings reside at the very core of both artists’ work. Whether Bacon influenced Antonioni or vice versa is undocumented, however, evidence of Bacon’s impact on a host of more recent cinematic heavyweights affirm the truly epic scope of Bacon’s remarkable creative vision.

In the controversial Last Tango in Paris (1972) starring Marlon Brando, director Bernardo Bertolucci juxtaposed the film’s opening credits alongside two of Bacon’s paintings, one of Lucian Freud reclining in a manner that echoes the pose in Portrait, and another of Isabel Rawsthorne sitting on a chair; both were painted in 1964. During the filming of Last Tango in 1971 Bertolucci visited Bacon’s retrospective in Paris at the Grand Palais multiple times, even taking Brando, whom he encouraged to look at Bacon’s provocative portrayal of male flesh as inspiration for his character Paul – an older man who enters into an anonymous and sado-masochistic relationship with a young woman. The writhing, straining, and tormented quality of Bacon’s figures, whose provocative flesh is hungover with aggressive sexuality, is carried across to the psychologically perturbed and sexual abandon of Bertolucci’s protagonists. Indeed, there is even something of the sadistic/seductive tone of Portrait inherent within Brando’s character. On a more holistic level however, it was the color of Bacon’s paintings that affected the overall look of Last Tango in Paris: the cinematography is characterized by a predominance of orange, icy white, cool grey and flashes of red, a palette that was sourced directly from hues found in Bacon’s work

Where for Bertolucci the influence of Bacon was specific to Last Tango, Bacon’s incredible arena, at once grand and claustrophobic, resonates throughout the entire career of David Lynch. The importance of Bacon for Lynch is undeniable: from the heavily curtained room of the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks (1990-91), the pig carcass hanging outside the butchers shop in The Elephant Man (1980), the unconstrained primal shrieks of Dennis Hopper’s sadistic Frank Booth in Blue Velvet (1986), not to mention the body horror of Lynch’s first critical success, Eraser Head (1977), there is a Baconian menace that infiltrates every pore of this director’s production. As explained by Lynch: “Francis Bacon is, to me, the main guy, the number one kinda hero painter. I saw Bacon’s show in the 1960s at the Marlborough Gallery and it was really one of the most powerful things I ever saw in my life… The subject matter and the style were united, married, perfect. And the space, and the slow and the fast and, you know, the textures, everything.” (David Lynch cited in Erica Sheen and Annette Davidson, Eds., The Cinema of David Lynch: American Dreams, Nightmare Visions (Directors' Cuts), New York, 2004, p. 139) Intriguingly, where David Lynch had first started as an artist before his foray into film-making, Bacon reflected upon a similar reversal of his own ambitions: “You know, I’ve often said to myself that I would have liked to have been a film director if I hadn’t been a painter.” (the artist cited in Margarita Cappock, Op. Cit., p. 117) The filmic dimension of Bacon’s art is thus entirely beyond reproach and continues to profoundly impact the vision of filmmakers today. Perhaps the most famous and recent example of which is Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, for which Heath Ledger’s Joker makeup in The Dark Knight(2008) was directly inspired by the “worn through [and] sweaty” quality of Baconian flesh. (Christopher Nolan in conversation in “Film meets Art – Chris Nolan inspired by Francis Bacon”, Tate Video, 02.19)

Ambitious in scope, theatrical in scale, and foreboding in presence, the sense of a majestic cinematic entity is played out powerfully across the large-scaled golden-framed triptychs and single paneled paintings that would send Bacon’s reputation into the stratosphere during the coming decade. Having first resided with one of the most pioneering visionaries in the history of film, Portrait is utterly indicative of the very beginnings of this ambitious project, which following the 1962 retrospective and the innovative works that Bacon made for it, would set the standard and format for the rest of Bacon’s long and illustrious career. Furnishing the very incipit of this transition, Portrait is an extremely passionate and accomplished piece of painting. Conferring unrestrained intensity of feeling, this painting is a lustful soliloquy to Peter Lacy that is a simultaneous masterwork of compositional balance: steamy eroticism is cooled by a sedate chromatic palette. Muscular, powerful and sexually charged, inviting and yet simultaneously menacing, this is an image that extends far beyond the simplicity of its title.

 

 

  Another side: Andrew Lambirth on Francis Bacon

 

   A personal view of Francis Bacon by his Boswell, Michael Peppiatt

 

    ANDREW LAMBIRTH | THE ART NEWSPAPER  | 28 October 2015

 

     

       Francis Bacon with Michael Peppiatt (right), photographed by David Hockney in Hockney’s Paris studio, 1975.

       The young writer refused to shave off his beard, which displeased the artist. As a consequence, Peppiatt never had his portrait painted by Bacon.

 

Michael Peppiatt (born 1941), an internationally acclaimed expert on Francis Bacon, is the author of the standard biography of the artist, Anatomy of an Enigma, first published in 1996 and revised in 2008. He has written Bacon catalogues, notably Francis Bacon in the 1950s, which accompanied a splendid exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich and toured to Milwaukee and Buffalo, and he has compiled a volume of essays and interviews entitled Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait (2008). What more, you may ask, has he to say about such a (by now) well known figure? Well, the answer is a very great deal of personal, subjective material – the true story, perhaps, of his complex relationship with one of the most enigmatic artists of our times.

This new book is not an objective account of an artist’s life and times, but the diary of an obsession. It is based on Peppiatt’s notebooks and journals, which recorded in detail the precise co-ordinates of Bacon’s long, and often rambling, conversations. In fact, it was the repetitive nature of these near-monologues that enabled the young writer to commit them to memory and re-present them to us today. This accounts for the occasionally unbelievable extent of Bacon’s recorded speech in the book, which flows imperturbably for paragraph after paragraph. Peppiatt calls Bacon a father figure, and the central influence on his life. When they first met, Peppiatt was 21 and still a student at Cambridge. Bacon was 53 and coming into his mature fame as an artist. The friendship (Peppiatt is not gay) is intriguing, to say the least.

The Baconian tone sounds unmistakably throughout the book. “I like phrases that cut me,” Bacon said, and he spoke of “trapping the image at its most living point”. The rhythms of his speech come across too: the repeated phrase “there it is”, like a punctuation mark; the emphasis on exhilarated despair and the belief in nothingness; the circular conversations, echoing the endless rounds of drinks. Some people maintain that Bacon drank little and poured more into others’ glasses, but Peppiatt tells otherwise, with one mammoth session accounting for 13 bottles of wine between them, and a few chasers. Peppiatt is good at evoking the “murderous voluptuousness” of Bacon’s paintings, and the book is shot through with perceptive asides and rewardingly direct analysis of the art. No one now alive knew the man and his work as well as Peppiatt, and he guides the enthralled (and sometimes appalled) reader through the switchback of moods that Bacon inflicted on his friends.

For those who enjoyed David Sylvester’s interviews with Bacon, Michael Peppiatt’s memoir will touch a nerve. In Peppiatt’s pages we have the unexpurgated version, fuelled by midnight binges, not the studiedly controlled and densely edited text of Sylvester. We also get something of the man Peppiatt, besides the ambitious writer, curator and art historian, and this makes the whole enterprise both more beguiling and more compelling. “From Bacon I learnt that my own contradictions could only be resolved by letting myself drift as freely as possible,” Peppiatt writes. Part of the excitement of being with Bacon must have been the frisson of danger that attended so many of his encounters with unorthodox types, though the artist was dexterous at averting trouble from his protégé at the last possible moment, usually defusing a situation with a mixture of sangfroid and cash. Peppiatt clearly did a lot of growing up in Bacon’s company and calls it “a revealingly accelerated introduction to life”. He now repays the debt by bringing Bacon to life as never before. A tremendous read.

Andrew Lambirth is a writer, critic and curator. He was the art critic of The Spectator from 2002 to 2014

Francis Bacon in Your Blood: A Memoir
Michael Peppiatt
Bloomsbury, 404pp, £25 (hb)

 

 

Francis Bacon

 

The artist's Monaco connection has inspired two unlikely collaborators to create a private foundation for his work.

Emma Crichton-Miller reports. Portrait by Fabio Massimo Aceto

 

ART | FINDERS KEEPERS | How To Spend It | Financial Times | October 13, 2015

 

           

 

Majid Boustany and Martin Harrison are an unlikely pair. Boustany is an elegant, softly spoken Swiss-Lebanese property developer who lives in the tax-light enclave of Monaco and owns the palatial Hôtel Metropole with his brother. His family has a tradition of philanthropy and has supported business students at Harvard and Cambridge Universities. Harrison, in the classic tweedy garb of the English academic, is witty, garrulous and learned, once a photographer’s assistant at Vogue, but today a renowned Francis Bacon scholar and author of the artist’s catalogue raisonné among many other works. For the past five years, these two have been collaborators on an extraordinary project – to create, in Monaco, a private foundation dedicated to Francis Bacon. “For me, Bacon is one of the most uncompromising and enigmatic British figurative artists of the postwar era,” says Boustany. “He is the painter of the human condition, the human presence, the human drama.”

The foundation opened to scholars in October 2014, and from March this year, the public too is invited to explore the remarkable collection, by appointment. The basis of the Foundation is Boustany’s vast array of photographs, prints, letters, drawings and paintings by the artist, buttressed by a research library of catalogues and other books in four or five languages, and enlivened by ephemera from Bacon’s studio and two of fewer than 15 pieces of furniture designed by him. Boustany has accumulated most of these pieces over the past 10 years, and it is Harrison, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the artist, his network of collectors, academics and the heirs of Bacon’s friends, and with his gift for eloquent encouragement, who has been a significant aid to Boustany in this monumental task.

 Born in 1909, Bacon lived in Monaco on and off between 1946 and 1950 and continued to visit regularly until his death in 1992. The backgrounds of several key paintings from the early 1950s were based on views in Monaco and the French Riviera. But although Boustany’s family had lived in Monaco since the early 1980s, it was not until Boustany moved to London, where he was sent to study international relations and business, that he encountered Bacon’s work.

“One day in the early 1990s, when I was at Tate Britain, I was confronted by his Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion [1944],” he says. “This painting shocked and intrigued me and started my relationship with Bacon. I wanted to know more about him and read biographies; slowly it became a passion.” He began to collect lithographs, engravings and photographs of Bacon by other people.

In 2010, however, Boustany resolved to take his obsession further. “Bacon had been my shadow for more than 20 years. I had to do something,” he explains. So he went to the Francis Bacon Estate, to see what potential there might be for initiating a project in Monaco. And it was through them that he met Harrison.

Harrison was intrigued by the idea. “When I first met Majid, I was, of course, curious about where he came from,” says Harrison. “Of all the places – besides London and Paris – that might have a legitimate claim to be relevant to Bacon’s life and work, Monaco is the one.” He saw a logic in collecting things that related, firstly, to Bacon in Monaco, and, secondly, to Bacon in France, “because strangely, it hadn’t been looked at.”

 This is the focus Boustany has adopted: paintings from the late 1940s and 1950s when Bacon was living in Monaco; a wide selection of graphic work, including lithographs of studies for Portrait of Pope Innocent X after Velázquez (1965) and Portrait II (after the Life Mask of William Blake(1955); and a huge collection of photos by, among others, Cecil Beaton, Carlos Freire, John Deakin and Henri Cartier-Bresson, mostly relating to Bacon’s time in France. While prices for the letters, ephemera and photosbegin at several hundred pounds, those for studies from the early period Boustany is interested in begin to rise steeply. Study for a Portrait(1953), for example, sold in 2011 for nearly £18m. Meanwhile, Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) went for $142.4m in 2013. A particularly fertile source has been the estate of Bacon’s friend Denis Wirth-Miller, alongside auctions and private sales.

“We have one of the largest collections of exhibition catalogues in the world,” Boustany says. Harrison adds teasingly, “This rat has books in his library, including rare early catalogues, that I haven’t got and I hate him for it. You can pay a fortune for them; I have shelled out £500 for four folded pages from 1955.” And then there’s a multitude of letters. As Boustany says, “Paintings are important, but a letter explaining something could be just as vital for scholars.”

It is the service Boustany is providing for future scholars by gathering material in one place that has really drawn Harrison to the project. “It is tracking his life in France, and I think that is terrific.” And it has enabled him to delve deeper into Bacon’s Monaco years: “After he arrived, within a couple of months he was writing to people – Duncan MacDonald, director of the Lefevre Gallery, and the artist Graham Sutherland – about beginning his studies of popes, inspired by Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X.” These studies did not survive (Bacon regularly destroyed his work, covering his creative tracks) and the first ones that did are from 1949. But, as Harrison puts it: “Clearly he was formulating the mature Francis Bacon in his head – no doubt even while gambling. To me, Bacon becomes Bacon in 1949 in Monaco.”

Boustany’s favourite work in his collection is perhaps a painting called Figure Crouching from 1949: “It makes me shiver every evening in my living room. It is a haunting image, a large painting.” So precious is it that for most of the year, Boustany can only open his curtains at night, when the Mediterranean sun has faded. “I have been living like a vampire for the past four years,” he says. He has just, however, surrendered the painting to the more high-tech surroundings of the Foundation, where it can be viewed by visitors.

What he would still like to find, however, is a pope – “a really iconic image”. Harrison, by contrast, is proudest of having persuaded Boustany to buy Figure with Monkey (1951). “There is a possible connection with the strange Russian surgeon [Serge] Voronoff and his monkey-gland experiments.” Voronoff lived in the Château Grimaldi during the period Bacon was living in Monaco.

Harrison’s current campaign, however, is for Boustany to buy a unique table that Bacon designed in the 1920s: “It is the single most important piece of furniture, with a direct bearing on what he painted. And he won’t obey me.” Boustany laughs gently. “He is the best advisor. That is why he is on the board of the Foundation. We will get it!”

Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, 21 Boulevard d'Italie, 98000 Monaco (+377-9330 3033).

 

 

 

Can you stomach another slice of Bacon? This is the fifth biography of the camp, catty and irresistibly caustic artist... and yet another story survives retelling again and again

 

By CRAIG BROWN FOR THE MAIL ON SUNDAY, 29 August 2015

 

 

                

                   Francis Bacon with Two Studies for the Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, 1963

 

 

This is the umpteenth time that Michael Peppiatt has written about the man he somewhat breathlessly describes as ‘one of the most inventive, influential and subversive artists of the 20th century – and, arguably, of art history as a whole’.

 

Not only has Peppiatt written countless pieces about Francis Bacon – interviews, reviews and so forth – in different art magazines, but he has also published at least five other books about him, among them Francis Bacon: Studies For A Portrait, Francis Bacon In The 1950s and a full-length (and very good) biography, Francis Bacon: Anatomy Of An Enigma.

 

I approached his new book with scepticism. Francis Bacon died in 1992. Peppiatt’s 400-page biography of him came out four years later, with a revised version (‘includes confidential new material’) appearing in 2008. 

Seven years on, and up pops yet another Peppiatt book with those magic words ‘Francis Bacon’ in the title. But can he really have anything more to say? The two men first met in 1963; Bacon was 53 and Peppiatt a wide-eyed history of art student of 21. 

 

Peppiatt was hoping to interview Bacon for a student magazine he was editing, and managed to get into conversation with him in a louche Soho pub. From that moment on, Bacon became, he says, ‘the father figure for me and the central influence on my life’. 

 

For the next 30-odd years, Peppiatt was Bacon’s disciple, trailing after the great artist and hanging on to his every word, before nipping home to write it all up in his diary. ‘Drifting with Bacon, from the Ritz to the last seedy outpost of the night, grew more important to me than any career or university degree.’ 

 

A number of times over the course of this memoir of ‘two lives closely intertwined’, he describes himself as Boswell to Bacon’s Dr Johnson. ‘I shared his innermost thoughts about life and death, love and art, and, as he saw it, the ultimate futility of human existence.’

 

On the most obvious level, he is succumbing to the disciple’s traditional malady of bigging himself up, and of riding on the coat-tails of his hero. During the course of his long life, there was barely anyone Bacon ever encountered who did not find themselves sharing his innermost thoughts about life and death, love and art and the ultimate futility of human existence.
 

‘We go from nothing to nothing.’ 

‘Life’s a complete charade.’ 

‘Life is simply this moment between birth and death.’ 

 

Thoughts like these spilled out of him all the time, and have been dutifully reproduced in previous books on Bacon by other acolytes such as Daniel Farson and David Sylvester, as well as featuring on a memorable South Bank Show in which Bacon shared his innermost thoughts on the futility of human existence, etc, etc, with Melvyn Bragg: ‘We are born and we die and there’s nothing else.’

At the same time, those wanting to know the relevant facts and figures of Francis Bacon’s life and times will find them covered in much greater detail in Peppiatt’s original biography. 

The new memoir is generally vaguer and more impressionistic. 

 

For example, in the biography he wrote of the pivotal time the adolescent Bacon was caught by his father wearing his mother’s underwear. 

His father was furious and sent him to a friend of his called Cecil Harcourt-Smith to be ‘straightened out’. 

 

In fact, Harcourt-Smith was a bisexual sadist, who took the willing masochist Bacon to bed. The new memoir has Bacon recounting this same episode, in much the same words, but for some reason this time round Peppiatt fails to identify the sadist as Harcourt-Smith.

 

And yet, for all its limitations, Francis Bacon In Your Blood remains a rather remarkable book. 

 

More even than Daniel Farson’s rollicking memoir, published within a year of Bacon’s death, it captures what it was like to be in the presence of this brilliant, camp, reckless, waspish, drunken, generous, shameless character. 


Michael Peppiatt brings him back to life and somehow carries off the near-impossible trick of echoing the repetitive nature of his drunken talk – ‘life’s a complete charade’ and so forth – while somehow preserving his electricity and effervescence.

 

Oddly enough, much of it reminds me of a book called Hitler’s Table Talk, recorded by similarly doting members of Adolf Hitler’s circle. 

‘We are all Francis’s vestal virgins tending to the sacred flame,’ Peppiatt reflects of himself and his fellow followers at one point, and there is the same feeling of little iron-filings drawn to a magnetic presence, hanging on to his every word.

 

Needless to say, Francis Bacon proves much more fun than Adolf Hitler, and the pages are peppered with his camp and largely uncomplimentary pronouncements on this, that and the other. 

His perennial dislikes include sardines, novels, beards and the English countryside ‘with all those things singing outside the window’. 

 

Among writers, he dislikes Samuel Beckett (‘I loathe all those ghastly dustbins on stage’), Evelyn Waugh (‘he talked all the time in farts, just a series of farts’), Virginia Woolf (‘a monster... she shouted all the way through lunch. She began by shouting and just carried on all the way through’) and Norman Mailer (‘Why is he so keen to convince everyone he’s so masculine?’).

 

He is even cattier about rival painters. Matisse paints ‘squalid little forms’, Jackson Pollock is ‘the old lace-maker’ and David Hockney’s pictures ‘may be pretty but when you look at them there’s nothing really there’. 

Of his long-term rival Lucian Freud’s brief experimentation with homosexuality Bacon says, ‘I’m afraid Lucian has what’s called the smallest c*** in England and of course you can’t go far in the queer world with that.’ Personally, I find his caustic camp humour irresistible. 

 

When a chauffeur asks, ‘Are you Mr Bacon then?’ he replies, ‘Mr Bacon, Mrs Bacon or Miss Bacon. However you like it, dear.’ 

 

Michael Peppiatt is blessed with an ear well-tuned for capturing these jokes.

Oscar Wilde once said: ‘Every great man has his disciples, and it is usually Judas who writes the biography.’ 

 

But Peppiatt is no Judas. In fact, quite the opposite: he admits that, like the other hangers-on, he was always ‘a bit in love’ with Bacon and, most of the time, is so thrilled to be a member of his magic circle that he forgives him everything.

 

It is a circle that incorporates high-lifers and low-lifers, though precious few in between. William Burroughs, Sophia Loren and the Kray brothers all have walk-on parts. 

At one point, Peppiatt overhears Marlene Dietrich on a neighbouring table in a restaurant saying, ‘My husband never let me eat hot dogs’ over and over again.

Though he describes his memoir as ‘a double portrait’ of ‘two lives closely intertwined’, Peppiatt rarely places himself centre-stage. 

 

This was a wise decision, as he comes over as a bit of a plodder, and ever so slightly dull, even, or perhaps especially, when describing his various breakdowns and depressions. 

Which is not to say he doesn’t have his moments. 

 

As a young man, recently introduced to the Bacon circle, he has the good fortune to have what is generally known as a ‘sex act’ performed on him by the volatile Sonia Orwell, widow of George. 


‘Everybody’s doing it like this in Paris,’ she explains, but their experiment is interrupted by Cyril Connolly furiously pacing up and down in the corridor beyond.

This blend of love-letter, gossip, ventriloquism and diary is very diverting, but does it help illuminate Bacon’s art? 

 

Peppiatt is rightly fascinated by the difference between the life and the paintings, by the paradox that this exuberant and very social character should have produced such exceptionally bleak paintings, in which human beings are reduced to the level of jellyfish. 

 

Early on, Peppiatt manages to convince himself that Bacon’s narrow pessimism was a mark of his genius, and that ‘his work poses the most searching questions about existence’.

But might his genius have been all the greater, and his questions all the more searching, if he had found a way of incorporating a wider range of his emotions into his art?


 

               

 

Matthew Spender: 'Sorry, Dad, I'm not like you. I'm straight'

 

The poet Stephen Spender wanted his son to be a part of his bohemian circle.

Hannah Ellis-Petersen talks to Matthew Spender about the sexual complexities of his family life

 

The Observer, 8 November, 2015.

 

      

          ‘My father wasn’t particularly secret about his sexuality’: sculptor Matthew Spender at his home in Bayswater, west London.

 

It was almost 50 years ago that Matthew Spender and his wife Maro abandoned their life and family in London to live in isolation in a crumbling farmhouse in Tuscany. She would paint; he would sculpt and make furniture. The lives of their parents, filled with repression, sexual impropriety, hedonism and guilt, would no longer be at the centre of their lives. While the pair succeeded in cutting themselves off, they left behind an extraordinary world: one that always lingered in the background – ignored but never quite gone.

As the eldest son of Stephen Spender, one of the 20th century’s most celebrated poets, Matthew’s was a starry childhood. WH Auden was a regular fixture in the house (they would sit together and write poems inspired by Tolkien), and the other figures that flowed in and out of their family home in St John’s Wood ranged from Christopher Isherwood and TS Eliot to Sylvia Plath, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon. His mother, Natasha, was a beautiful concert pianist. To an outsider their home, where literary dinner parties took place for decades, was a shrine to the intellectual elite.

Yet this was a house with an inherent tension. Stephen Spender may have been married but he was homosexual – quite unashamedly so – and throughout his life was engaged in a series of affairs with men, some sexual, others emotional and most quite public. Matthew’s mother was aware of most, if not all, of her husband’s infidelities (“You can’t keep secrets from women”) and even dabbled in some herself, including a platonic but flirtatious relationship with Raymond Chandler, conducted through expensive lunches and sexually charged letters.

But Natasha Spender  was also a woman who valued appearance and status above all. From the moment she married Stephen to the day she died, she obsessively, furiously dedicated her life to maintaining the façade that her marriage was nothing but perfect and that her husband was both straight and faithful.

As a result of the iron grip that Natasha maintained over the legacy of her husband even after he died in 1995, the life of Stephen Spender, in all its full brash colour, has never fully been told. And so it was that, on the day his mother died, 21 October 2010, Matthew finally began piecing together a life story she never wanted made public.

It is in the very same farmhouse in rural Tuscany that Matthew and Maro escaped to in the 1960s that I meet them both. In the decades they have lived here, raising two daughters along the way, it has flourished from a Tuscan wreck into a bohemian monument to creativity. Maro, the daughter of the famed Armenian painter Arshile Gorky, who committed suicide in the 1940s, followed in her father’s footsteps as an artist, and all the walls are beautifully frescoed in her own hand. In the five years since Matthew’s mother died, he has dedicated every moment to researching and writing A House in St John’s Wood. In part it is the first brutally honest biography of Stephen, but it is also a family memoir.

“My mother would have been tremendously offended by my retelling of her past,” says Matthew, handing me a cup of coffee. He has a kind face and his thick white hair and equally thick eyebrows both have that dishevelled, windblown quality distinct to an Englishman abroad. From the old black and white photos I’ve seen, he also looks disarmingly like his father.

“Her take on her marriage is that my father, when he met her, had put his former homosexual life aside and become totally straight and faithful to her. This is a myth that meant a great deal to her, even after Dad had died. But she knew that I didn’t really go for it, and she knew that I felt that once Dad was dead his life should be reinterpreted in a different way. For a start, my father left hundreds of indiscreet letters all over the place. But there was never a confrontation; we just simply didn’t mention it, either of us.”

Matthew, now 70 years old, was always fascinated by his mother’s determination to remain in such fierce denial of the past. Stephen wrote a frank autobiography of his life before his marriage to Natasha, so it is publicly documented that he knew he was gay from the moment of his arrival at Oxford. He lost his virginity to WH Auden and in his early 20s, alongside Auden and Isherwood, spent a hedonistic few months sleeping his way through the men of Hamburg and Berlin. His first boyfriend, Tony Hyndman, was a male prostitute he picked up while cruising in Soho.

So why marry Natasha? Matthew’s theory is simple. “His relationship with Tony was so intense that he came to the view that it was impossible to live with somebody who is too like you and to whom you always have to define the role, as he felt you had to in a gay relationship.”

Maro pipes up from the next room: “Mainly I think your father wanted children.” Matthew pauses. “Yes, that’s true,” he concedes.

Despite Natasha’s best efforts, Stephen revelled in introducing his numerous lovers both to his social circle and also to his son. Even before writing the memoir, Matthew was aware of almost all of his father’s great loves, having met most of them in his childhood. Their names are scattered throughout the book, right up to Bryan Obst, his father’s final lover, a tender 22 to Stephen’s 75. Tony Hyndman also remained – cruelly, I suggest – a continual presence as the family handyman and gardener. Matthew recounts one extraordinary Christmas in 1957 when Stephen’s lover Reynolds Price came and stayed with them in the family home when Natasha was away in America visiting Raymond Chandler.

“My father wasn’t particularly secret about his sexuality,” says Matthew. “On the contrary, he wanted to enlist me in this sort of conspiracy of men against women, which I resisted. There was a gleeful thing about having a lover. It was a secret that he so wanted to share with me, so he always introduced me to his lovers.”

Maro settles down at the table. She, too, is no stranger to a turbulent family set-up. Her father, Arshile Gorky, and her mother, American socialite Mougouch Magruder, had a famously tempestuous relationship and Maro never forgave her mother for having an affair just before her father killed himself in 1948. It’s not hard to see how their parents’ sex lives have been a constant source of conversation in Maro and Matthew’s house for 50 years.

“Stephen was nicknamed Brenda Spender,” Maro says in her disarmingly blunt way, also helping herself to coffee. “And at the Slade, where I was studying, a lot of people would tell me they’d seen him cruising around Soho at midnight.”

“Yes,” Matthew sighs. “Living dangerously. I didn’t want to get involved in that side of Dad’s life, but I didn’t disapprove of it.”

“I think your form of rebellion was to become straight,” says Maro, addressing her husband before turning back to me. “He was longing for Matthew to be gay, so if I hadn’t come along…”

“He did try and bring me into that world,” agrees Matthew, talking of Stephen’s circle, from Lucian Freud to Francis Bacon.

A long pause fills the kitchen. “Yes, it’s true,” says Matthew. “That was so irritating.”

The campaign continued well into Matthew’s 40s. He recounts his father’s “nicest and last attempt to make me successful” by getting Francis Bacon to buy one of his sculptures. The pair took a bemused Matthew to the infamous Colony Room, the Soho members’ club. It is not an experience he looks back upon fondly. “As we were going in, these two queens shouted at us: ‘Oh here comes Spender. You know why he’s called Spender, because he hasn’t got the bottoms of his pockets,’” Matthew recalls. “I suppose the illusion is so he can keep masturbating the whole time.”

He stops, looking like he’s changed his mind about telling the anecdote, that he may reveal too much, but then shrugs and continues. “Yes, well, all of a sudden here I was on the fringe of a world that I had totally avoided for all these years. And all I could think was: what am I doing here? Francis went over to the bar, shouted for a large bottle of ‘Tattinger ’52 please’. And as I sat there for about half an hour, the chaos just got worse and worse. There was this huge stuffed bird hanging over the Colony Room with a cage over it, and I remember staring at this thing and feeling like I was stuck in a Francis Bacon painting.

“In the end I just said: ‘Francis, this has been the most happy day of my life, you buying my sculpture, but I think I’m going to lie down’ and left. Afterwards Dad was very disappointed and said: ‘Finally I’d set you up with this whole world.’ And all I could reply was: ‘Dad, thank you very much but – and I know you find this hard to believe – I’m happily married, with two children. This is your world, not mine.’” Matthew pauses. “I don’t think he ever really came to terms with it.”

As I watch the couple bustle about making lunch – peeling garlic, tearing basil and chopping tomatoes from the garden – I wonder aloud whether Stephen ever regretted choosing to marry Natasha. Matthew looks troubled: “I think he would have preferred for his homosexual life to have been much more open than it was.”

As for his mother: “I felt sorry for my mother. I hope that comes across.”

In 1955 Raymond Chandler became infatuated with Natasha, and the pair would exchange letters until he died four years later, with him desperately pleading for her to abandon her life in the UK and live with him in California.

It was not until Matthew found a sealed file marked “To be destroyed without opening” in his mother’s possessions after she died, containing passionate love letters from Chandler, that he discovered the true depth of their relationship. “It was fabulous to read my mother’s letters,” he says with a smile. “I saw something different in her from those letters. They were flirtatious. It was fun for her to feel that she was desired.”

A House in St John’s Wood: In Search of My Parents by Matthew Spender is published by HarperCollins at £25. 

 

 

How an Architect Designs a Blockbuster Art Show

 

By Kat Herriman, New York Times Style Magazine, November 3, 2015

 

             

                                   Sand Dune (1983) Francis Bacon

Opening this week, Francis Bacon: Late Paintings, a new exhibition at Gagosian’s Madison Avenue gallery, offers a comprehensive survey of the artist’s lesser-known later work. To create a setting worthy of the enterprise, Gagosian directors Valentina Castellani and Stefan Ratibor sought the expertise of a longtime collaborator: the architect Annabelle Selldorf.

The latest in a trio of shows dedicated to the painter’s legacy, this exhibition centers on the last two decades of Bacon’s life, featuring a collection of more than 25 pieces, including loans from institutions like MoMA and the Tate. Selldorf and the curators were forced to strategically navigate the strict installation stipulations attached to each piece — and still create a dynamic space for viewing. “It’s a great privilege to work with Valentina, because it really is a dialogue,” says Selldorf, who has worked alongside Castellani and the gallery on multiple projects. “My team and I really excel at anticipating the natural circulation of a space, but it’s her intimate knowledge that allows us to capitalize on the more profound relationships between the works.”

Due to the large-scale nature of Bacon’s paintings and the constraints of the Upper East Side gallery, the layout is in part dictated by architecture. When choosing how to hang the works, Selldorf and Castellani abandoned the idea of a strict linear hierarchy. Instead, they used a scale model to decide on placements that would create a thematic rhythm. With the exhibition spread across two floors, maintaining a sense of continuity became key. Selldorf unified the spaces with colour — opting for an atmospheric, grayish beige tone rather than the traditional whitewash. “We wanted a very calm background,” Selldorf