Francis Bacon News






“Francis Bacon”

        27 January 2001 until 13 May 2001 



Gemeentemuseum, Den Haag, Netherlands



Absolute Arts, January 2001


Francis Bacon’s work was first shown at the Gemeentemuseum during the 1964 New Realists exhibition. It was controversial, partly because it was deliberately figurative at a period dominated by abstract art. The exhibition led the Gemeentemuseum to purchase Paralytic Child (1961) with help from the Vereniging Rembrandt. Now the Gemeentemuseum is putting on a retrospective including all the most important works of this most fascinating of all post-war painters.

The paintings on view will include the famous series of Popes, his works based on Van Gogh, portraits of his friend and companion George Dyer and a large number of monumental triptychs, including one  Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (’44)  which hasn’t previously been lent out by the Tate Gallery.

Francis Bacon (Dublin 1909  Madrid 1992) produced paintings which are neither abstract nor purely figurative. Interested as he was in the ability of bodily movement to express underlying emotions, he based his approach on film and photography. The work of Muybridge was a favourite source, but others included x-rays, portraits and self-portraits, photographs of dictators and books about diseases of the mouth. When painting portraits, he liked to have photographs of wild animals to hand, because one image can suggest many ideas for the other. Because of its rawness, Bacon’s work is sometimes seen as violent. However, violence was neither his starting-point nor his goal. He wanted to reveal the deformed nature of the individual. By turning people inside out and literally getting under their skin, he tried to penetrate their individual personalities, to reveal their weaknesses and to make their mortality not just visible but actually tangible. He deliberately chose to do this in a hard-hitting, confrontational way in order to achieve an intensity which would shock the viewer and touch a nerve. His recurrent themes are the vulnerability of the human body, mental laceration and incarceration.

Bacon decided to become a painter at the age of eighteen, after visiting a Picasso exhibition in Paris. At first, his shows attracted few buyers and unanimously poor reviews. In disgust, he destroyed almost everything he made in this early period. His breakthrough came only in 1944, when he exhibited the first of his triptychs in London. By the time the MoMa bought one of his works in 1949 his star was already rising and his show the following year was a sell-out. Thereafter, his career really took off and the prices paid for his work sky-rocketed. His notoriously turbulent life alternated between 'the gutter and the Ritz' and was filled with hard drinking, heavy gambling and promiscuous homosexuality. At one point, his studio served as an illegal gambling den. He was engaged in a perpetual search for sensation, a constant high with no subsequent low.

Bacon’s London studio in Reece Mews has recently been moved to Dublin by the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, leading to the discovery of a wealth of valuable documentary material. The photographs, background documents and drawings found there will now be exhibited for the first time. They provide an insight into the creative process underlying Bacon’s paintings. Also two paintings previously thought lost and these will be displayed here for the first time ever. Particularly notable features of the exhibition will include items on loan from the Francis Bacon Estate, the Tate Gallery and the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. The owners have announced that these works will not be loaned out again for some time because of their fragile state and high insurance value.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a full-colour 144-page catalogue published by Waanders at a price of NLG 39.95 (hardcover NLG 55).





Wrestling with Francis Bacon







Since Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion was first put on exhibition at the Lefebvre Gallery in London during 1945, Francis Bacon has received his fair share of attention, and a critical, biographical, and theoretical consensus now orders nearly all understandings of him and his paintings. Francis Bacon, with the help of friends and admirers, built and managed to maintain an interpretive frame around his work that promises to survive long after the death of the artist. Through this frame Francis Bacon’s paintings are repeatedly understood as something to do with the deformation, dissolution, disintegration, and deconstruction of the post-war world.'

This interpretive frame has remained largely intact in that small body of work located between the disciplines of Art History and Gay Studies that considers Francis Bacon’s figure and figurations. Francis Bacon’s paintings are often identified as symbols, perhaps symptoms, of a time prior to the 1970s when homosexuality had not yet become a social, political, or public form. The irresolutions and dissolutions of Francis Bacon’s paintings are repeatedly set up as precursors for the clarity and candour of subsequent 'gay artists', particularly David Hockney. And if we take a look at Francis Bacon’s paintings in the early 1950s, perhaps Two Figures (Fig. 1) or Two Figures in the Grass, they do indeed look like adequate illustrations of a time when anxiety over the sexual order and disorder of the modem world, and the visibility of 'homosexuality', received a great deal of press attention.2

For many critics and historians the paintings of Francis Bacon and David Hockney function as illustrations in a developmental narrative that runs from post-war repression to gay liberation and beyond, a social and political narrative that mirrors the personal 'coming-out' story. In these 'coming-out' stories the figure and figurations of David Hockney are valued as the representatives of assured gay subjectivity and subject matter. More recently it has also proved possible to use the protocols of contemporary 'Queer Theory' to value the irregularities and 'transgressions' of Francis Bacon over the clear delineations and 'domesticity' of David Hockney.However, this change of direction and revision of values changes little. The act of interpretation in both approaches is based upon judging and valuing the degree to which the figure or figurations are able to comply with well-established theoretical, political, and personal protocols.4 Now, I certainly have no interest in questioning the importance or efficacy of these protocols. Indeed, I believe I am more invested in them than I know. And it is for this reason that I am seeking in this article to adopt an approach to historical research that is not orchestrated according to disciplinary procedures that may not have been available, or had popular currency, during the period under investigate.

In this article Francis Bacon’s 1953 painting Two Figures will be used as a site from which to begin a consideration of connections between visual culture and some of the practices and pleasures that in the early 1950s were being popularly identified as 'homosexual'. Rather than deploying the protocols of Gay Studies or Queer Theory, my approach is informed by the social and sexual practices and pleasures that took place between men at this time. practices and pleasures that can be described as 'cruising'. In this article 'cruising' is a mode of attention that organizes my approach towards, or circulation around, Two Figures. I want to propose 'cruising' as an alternative- albeit an implicated alternative  to the disciplinary procedures of identifying homosexual (or gay, or queer) subjects and subject matter. The importance of 'cruising' for this project is that it provides a way of engaging with Francis Bacon’s painting that mirrors the encounters that took place between many men in and around 1950s London. These men may have engaged in particular acts with one another, but may not have been able to identify them, or themselves, as homosexual. Evidence from court records in the 1950s suggests that many men at this time did not have access to the medical or other official languages that could be used to make their everyday practices make sense.5

In short, I have attempted to work my way around a research archive in the same way that some men may have worked their way around some and textual environments in the 1950s: picking up clues, piecing together information, and comprehending sexual practices without the, sometimes overwhelming, support of official forms of knowledge. My archival cruising brings together a range of texts and contexts to create an environment in which Two Figures may produce a particular kind of sense. Whilst these texts and contexts may have been the materials from which Francis Bacon produced Two Figures, I am rather more interested in suggesting that in 1953 viewers could have made the painting make sense from somewhere within this environment. As a form of practical and theoretical engagement cruising is at times circuitous. The shifts of focus and attention can be a little disconcerting, and induce a degree of anxiety, not the least of which is the possibility of losing sight of the subject or object of interest. In this article Two Figures does at times seem to disappear from view. However, this is the necessary precondition for the painting’s reappearance and the possibility of catching sight of it in another location or from another position. David Sylvester’s book Interviews with Francis Bacon is well established as the place from which to begin any serious engagement with this artist and his work. In these interviews, Francis Bacon makes it clear that one of the sources for his painting Two Figures was a series of sequential photographs that Eadweard Muybridge took of two men wrestling (Fig. 2).6 During an interview with Sylvester in 1974 Bacon mentioned that in some of his paintings it was difficult for him to distinguish the influence of Eadweard Muybridge from that of Michelangelo Buonarroti:

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. But, of course, as most of my figures are taken from the male nude, I am sure that I have been influenced by the fact that Michelangelo made the most voluptuous male nudes in the plastic artists.7

John Russell has suggested that Two Figures may also have something to do with Gustave Courbet’s Le Sommeil and a replica of a Greek third-century bronze called The Wrestlers that can be found in the Uffizi in Florence, but which Bacon apparently never saw.8 Each of these resources and suggested sources retains and sustains Bacon’s painting within the established canons and traditional narratives of art history and criticism. They also offer the possibility of connections and relationships with popular images, practices, and forms of pleasure.

Whilst it is well-known that Bacon was committed to a number of artists and art works he believed were great, he also consumed the visual products of the everyday. The residue of this consumption could be found both on the walls and floor of the studio where he worked and on the surface of his paintings. In 1974 Bacon also said this to Sylvester:

But I don’t only look at Muybridge photographs of the figure. I look all the time at photographs in magazines of footballers, and boxers and all that kind of thing — especially boxers.9

And then when asked if the figures that he painted had anything to do with the 'appearance of specific people', he said:

Well, it’s a complicated thing. I very often think of people’s bodies that I’ve known, I think of the contours of those bodies that have particularly affected me, but then they’re grafted very often onto Muybridge’s bodies. I manipulate the Muybridge bodies into the form of the bodies I have known.10

So, according to Francis Bacon the figures in his paintings have something to do with the sequential photographs of Eadweard Muybridge, the work of Michelangelo Buonarroti, photographs found in magazines, and bodies of men he knew. This bringing together of sources and resources suggests that Two Figures can be viewed as a complex site where a number of popular and esteemed, old and new forms coincide.

Certainly the early years of the 1950s were marked by coincidences of this kind. The end of post-war austerity, the birth of a 'new Elizabethan age', and the developing cultural influence of the USA all provided ample opportunity for conflicts between old and new forms of practice and pleasure.11 1952 and 1953 were years when perceived or contrived differences between old and new forms of 'homosexuality' became a propellant of public anxiety, largely generated by a series of scandals that were promoted by the popular press.12 The meeting between the past and present within the frame of Two Figures suggests that it could be approached through the changing representations of what was only just becoming identified by national newspapers as 'homosexuality'.

Just a quick comparison of Two Figures and the Muybridge photographs of two men wrestling is enough to notice a number of differences; not only the different settings, and Bacon’s inclusion of a bed, but differences in the form of the male figures. These differences suggest that this painting is the product of both new and well-established ways of representing the erotic male figure. The photographic figures are smooth, in focus, perhaps a little bleached but clearly defined, whereas the painted figures are blurred, smeared, and smudged, comprised of different textures and are in places indistinct. The figures in the photographs are clearly wrestling but it is a little difficult to discern what the painted figures are about. However, the interior setting, the bed, the swift, perhaps passionate, application of paint, the merging of the men, and the suggestion of an erection almost at the centre of the painting seems to resolve any possible ambiguity.13 For the purposes of this article, I want us to notice that the painted 'wrestlers' are also noticeably thicker, more solid, more compact, rounder, perhaps fleshier, and also that they have short, dark, slicked-back hair.

We know that the differences between the photographs and the painting could have been determined by the conjoined influence of Michelangelo, images from popular magazines and Bacon’s recollection of bodies he knew or had known. These combined influences evoke a very particular geography of practices, pleasures, and personas from which the painting may have been produced, and within which it played a part. This environment can be used to diffuse and rearrange the links between the painting, the Muybridge photographs, popular images from magazines, and the work of Michelangelo. It is important to note that I am not trying to remove Francis Bacon and his paintings from the narratives and conventions of art history and criticism but seeking to modify these knowledges by attaching them to popular texts and practices current in the 1950s.

Like David Sylvester’s Interviews, John Lehmann’s 1976 autobiographical fiction In the Purely Pagan Sense has become something of a convention in writings about Francis Bacon. In his biography Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, Michael Peppiatt uses a quotation from John Lehmann’s book to attach Francis Bacon’s paintings to his cruising of London’s streets during the blackout:

I met several other guardsmen during that strange period when the bombing had not yet started and the blackout heightened the sense of adventure as one slipped into pub after pub. My sexual hunger was avid as it was with so many others at a time when death seemed to tease us with forebodings of liquidation in terrors still undeclared. One curious manifestation of this was the public urinals. As never before, and with the advantage of the blackout, a number of these, scattered all over London, became notorious for homosexual activities. Heaving bodies filled them, and it was often quite impossible for anyone who genuinely wanted to relieve himself to get in. In the darkness, exposed cocks were gripped by unknown hands, and hard erections thrust into others. Deep inside, trousers were forcibly — or rather tender-forcibly — loosened and the impatient erections plunged into unknown bodies, or invisible waiting lips.14

Peppiatt uses this quotation to represent Francis Bacon as an artist committed to extreme sensations, in life and in paint. However, Lehmann’s fictionalized autobiography can also be used to enter a geography in which two of the initial co-ordinates are 'class' and 'German Modernism', which are subsumed after the Second World War by sites of male encounter that could be found in and between Soho and the East End of London. In this physical, social, sexual, and textual geography Bacon found his regular pleasure, and his painting makes a very particular kind of sense when it is encountered here.

In the Purely Pagan Sense is about Jack Marlowe’s social but mostly sexual encounters with young working-class men in Vienna, Berlin, and London. To map the changing associations between visual culture and the economy of some men’s sexual practices and pleasures it is useful to return to the 1930s and leave Britain in the company of Jack Marlowe and those other young men who looked to Germany for political, aesthetic and sexual excitement. In the 1920s and 1930s, Vienna, Hamburg, and Berlin in particular granted some men license to experience the city as they knew it was meant to be: modern, alien, and exciting. For John Lehmann, W.H. Auden, Christopher Ishwerwood, Stephen Spender, and others, their departure from Britain and arrival in Germany in the 1930s enabled them to experience and write about the pleasures of unfamiliar cities and the excitements of encounters with young and foreign working-class men. For Lehmann and Spender the excitements of foreign cities and sexual encounters with young men of different nationalities and different classes were fused with one another. The 'alien' environments of Vienna and Berlin enabled and encouraged erotic fantasies and realities that were largely determined by class and nationality. These fantasies were complexly invested in the realities of economic and social disparity, and had a history and currency made available through the work of John Addington Symonds, Edward Carpenter, Oscar Wilde, and others.15 This powerful complex surrounded and invested the figures of young, working-class, and foreign men with a particular kind of appeal.

In his published journals, diaries, and fictions, Spender firmly fuses modernity and the forms of German Modernism with relationships between young men.16 In The Temple he writes about a young man looking at the modem photographs of a young German photographer (Fig. 3):

One in particular struck Paul. It was a bather standing naked at the reed-fringed edge of a lake. The picture was taken slightly from below so that the torso, rising above the thighs, receded, and the whole body was seen, layer on layer of hips and rib cage and shoulders, up to the towering head, with dark hair helmeted against a dark sky. V. shaped shadows of willow leaves fell like showers of arrows on San Sebastien, on the youth’s sunlit breast and thighs.17

The fictional encounter in The Temple is based on the meeting between Spender and the photographer Herbert List. In his autobiography World Within World, published in 1951, Spender describes List’s studio:

The room was L-shaped, so that one part of it could not be seen from the other. At each end were beds which were mattresses, and bare modernist tables and chairs made of tubes of steel and bent plywood. The main part of the room formed a large space which had been cleared for dancing. The room was lit by lamps of tubular and rectangular ground glass.18

In 1928 Bacon spent two months in Berlin before moving on to Paris.19 And interestingly, the description of List’s studio could, with very few changes, be applied to Bacon’s own studio in the 1930s (Fig. 4).20 Whilst it is obviously risky to make too much of a short sojourn in a foreign city, it is just possible that the conjoining of sexual and aesthetic pleasures that some young men found in Weimar Germany were influential. Perhaps Bacon, like Spender, started to associate certain and uncertain acts between men with the pictorial forms, spatial arrangements, and designs of German Modernism. We do know that when he returned to London Bacon became a furniture and interior designer very much in debt to the Bauhaus. We also know that being modern and interested in design had something of an affinity with being interested in men during the 1930s.21 Certainly for Spender the visual and spatial languages of Modernism were intimately associated with sexual pleasures between men, and he explicitly attaches Joachim’s modern photographs to the modern design of his studio to a way of life, a 'design for living' in fact, that he found in Germany at the beginning of the 1930s:

The photographs were like an enormous efforescence of Joachim’s taste for 'living', a great stream of magnificent young people, mostly young men, lying on the sand, standing with their heads enshadowed and pressed back as though leaning against the sun, rising from bulrushes and grasses, swimming in seas and rivers, laughing from verandas, embracing one another ... About the appearance of them all and about the very technique of the photography, there was the same glaze and gleam of the 'modem' as in the room itself and the people in it: something making them seem released and uninhibited yet anonymous, as they asserted themselves by the mere force of their undistinguishable instincts.22

However, rather than make too much of the two months that Bacon spent in Berlin, I would like to propose a few possible connections between the forms of German Modernism, Herbert List’s photographs, and Francis Bacon’s paintings.

Herbert List’s photographs, and Stephen Spender’s descriptions of them, evoke both the naturist and physical culture movements that became so popular in Germany after the First World War, and are clearly related to the physique and body-building photographs published in numerous books and magazines around this time (Fig. 5).23 In these photographs, classical forms are combined with an anthropometric interest in the modern male body. The work of Muybridge, amongst many others, provided protocols for physique and body-building photographs that repeatedly focused on the surfaces of male bodies placed in studios or simple scenic locations. Herbert List’s commitment to the bodies of young men, combined with his explicit classical references, but most importantly his formal, simple and modern arrangements of pictorial space (Fig. 3) could bring together physical culture photographs and Bacon’s Two Figures. It has been suggested that the spatial arrangements of Bacon’s paintings owe something to his time as a Bauhaus-inspired designer, and so the formal similarities between his studio in the 1930s and his paintings, List’s studio and his photographs, seems enough to suggest a shared interest in the sexual and aesthetic formalities of German Modernism.24

However, it is certainly possible that this trip to Germany is a diversion and the connection between the visual vocabularies of physical culture photographs and Two Figures is much more direct. It is not too important, as each of these possibilities suggest associations between the pleasures of modernity, photography, modem visual vocabularies, and sexual encounters between men of different ages, nationalities, and from different classes.

For Paul in The Temple, the affinity between paying to take the photograph of a young and foreign working-class man and paying him for sex, invested modern photographs with an erotic intensity. This affinity between the visual vocabularies of modern photography and forms of sexual practice and pleasure available within the modern metropolis can be used to make sense of Two Figures as a visual product attached to pleasures and practices that were largely determined by class. Bacon’s painting is perhaps part of a very long history of fantasies and realities between men of different classes and nationalities that were certainly, but not simply, invested in social inequity and romantic socialism.

It really would be pretty difficult to overestimate the importance of class difference in the disposition of sexual encounters between men during the first fifty years of this century. Jack Marlowe travelled to Germany with well-established protocols that precluded sexual encounters with men of his own class:

I was obsessed by the desire to make love with boys of an entirely different class and background  that was the polarity that excited me, so much at that time and for many years to come.25

And whilst he may have felt more at liberty to practise these protocols in a foreign city, he also returned home to exercise them in the physical and social geographies of London. John Lehmann’s fictional autobiography, and many other texts produced before and after the Second World War,26 make it clear that one of the most neglected erotic figures of this time is the male servant or employee, whose eroticism depends on the social differences and economic disparities between classes.

For example, on his return from Germany in 1932 it was possible for the by no means wealthy Stephen Spender to consider advertising for a paid companion and secretary:27

I did not want to live alone and I did not consider marrying. I was in the mood when people advertise for a companion in the newspapers. I used to enquire of my friends of their friends in case they knew anyone suitable. So when by chance I met a young man who was unemployed, called Jimmy Younger, I asked him to live in my flat and work for me.28

According to Spender in 1951, it was the difference of class between him and Jimmy Younger that provided the element of 'mystery' that corresponded to a 'difference of sex'. In World Within World Stephen Spender proposes that it was not Jimmy’s masculinity that attracted him but that he was in love 'with his background, his soldiering, his working class home'.

Spender’s attraction is, at least in part, formed from a complex of literary texts and political philosophies that explicitly combined, or implicitly enabled, the joining of political and erotic commitments to working-class men, and charged class difference with a potent intensity.29 It is possible to consider Bacon’s painting from within this very particular social, sexual, and textual tradition that by the beginning of the twentieth century was able to imbue any image of two men wrestling with a powerful erotic charge. For some readers of Walt Whitman, Edward Carpenter, and John Addington Symonds it was easy to mix Ancient Greek wrestling with forms of socialist and sexual politics that found pleasure in male comradeship and glamour in the figures of working-class men.30

Whilst for men like Stephen Spender, their socialism was an intimate part of their sexual practice, for others the attractions of working-class men were not determined by their social and political welfare. According to all of his biographers, Francis Bacon was committed to the myths and realities surrounding the attractions of working-class men, but not the least interested in any forms of socialist politics. Throughout this century classified advertisements, in newspapers and magazines, like the one Spender considered placing, have been important sites of male encounter, and according to Michael Peppiatt, Bacon knew and used the columns in The Times to advertise himself for both money and excitement as a 'gentleman’s companion'.31 This history of classified advertisements establishes the importance of class for the fantasies and practicalities of relationships between men. Bacon’s involvement as an almost aristocratic Irishman on both sides of these exchanges offers the potential for understanding the articulation of these exchanges as complex and perhaps mutable, and indeed mutual, within a framework of real social and economic disparity. It is important to have in mind that the advertisements for male secretaries, valets, employees, and companions that appeared in The Times and New Statesman during this period could have been as innocent as they appeared, or were perhaps requests for sexual pleasures, practices, and partners.32

Our approach toward, or circulation around, Two Figures can be continued by meeting up with the character Dr Anthony Page, a psychoanalyst who turns amateur detective, from Rodney Garland’s novel The Heart in Exile, published in the same year as Francis Bacon’s painting was first exhibited. In this novel, Dr Page works as an amateur detective to solve the mystery of a former lover’s recent suicide. The solution to the mystery hinges upon the identity of a young working-class man whose photograph Dr Page finds pressed behind a framed photograph of his one time lover’s fiance. However, it is not the young man in the photograph that we need to consider, but Terry, the young male nurse employed by Dr Page as a receptionist and housekeeper. It serves our purpose to imagine that Dr Page placed an advert for a receptionist/housekeeper in a suitable publication, and that it caught Terry’s eye.

Terry is an important figure who can stand beside Two Figures; conjoining past and present, his attractions for Dr Page are somewhere between those of a working-class male servant, and a homosexual subject and partner. Terry swims and lifts weights three nights a week: He was about five foot eight but his bones were large and constant exercise had brought out a nice, harmonious muscle development on his body. I had a suspicion that sooner or later the over-exercised muscles might attract fatty tissue. I dare say in ten or twenty years time he might look bloated, but, at least when I saw his naked forearms, his impressive biceps and deltoids, I was conscious of his potent attraction.33

Terry is the embodiment of the importing of modern masculine forms and comportments from America into Britain during and after the Second World War. One route for this influence was the availability in Britain of American health, fitness, muscle, and physique magazines, and the publication in British magazines of photographs from specialist American studios. These magazines influenced both the presentation and pleasures of some men. According to Dr Page:

A considerable proportion of young homosexuals regularly went to gymnasia and swimming pools, not only to look at, or to try and establish contact with, attractive young men, but also to improve their own physique, and thereby their chances of success.34

Whilst gymnasiums and swimming pools are described in The Heart in Exile as part of a 'new post-war trend', they have been important sites of male encounter and sexual production since the nineteenth century. Terry is not simply modern, an example of a 'new post-war trend', but a figure invested within well-established archetypes of working-class glamour, reformulated by the changes of the post-war period. And it is this, and perhaps his slicked-back but 'rebellious' hair, that makes him so important when placed alongside Two Figures.

Due to changing social and economic relationships, by the mid-1950s the attractions of male servants no longer made quite the same sense as they had earlier in the century. At this time sexual acts between men of different classes became attached to social anxieties about the order and disorder of the post-war world. In an attempt to counter this anxiety a well-established romantic and moral understanding of relationships between men of different classes was instituted by social reformers as an inaugural, though not long-standing, part of the process of creating an ethical and responsible homosexual subject, a subject able to sustain the arguments for homosexual law reform.35 However, in The Heart in Exile Rodney Garland does not, or perhaps in 1953 feels no need to as yet, mitigate Dr Page’s interest in Terry in quite this way. Dr Page is very aware of the connections between Terry’s 'physical attractiveness' and his class:

I confess that the attraction was much stronger when I saw him doing the sort of work I would never have dreamed of asking him to do. When my charwomen left, he insisted on scrubbing the kitchen floor, kneeling on the rubber mat, bending over the mop in his singlet. One saw the servant’s humility in the attitude. But one also saw the broad shoulders, the arched back with the freckled skin under the rebellious hair, and he would look up as I entered and give me a beautiful smile of his brown dog eyes and white teeth.36

Terry is a figure where the past and the present coincide, not just a young and attractive working-class man but not yet a homosexual subject or partner; and so a model for making sense of Two Figures. I have already mentioned that gyms and athletic clubs have been important sites of encounter since the nineteenth century.37 And that in the 1950s these sites and the men who used them were being reformed, at least in part, by the availability of American health, fitness, muscle, and physique magazines. It seems possible to surmise that the gym where Terry worked on his body was located somewhere in the East End of London. Just the kind of East End gym, in fact, where George Dyer, Francis Bacon’s lover in the 1960s, may have been found during these years.

Bacon did not meet George Dyer until eleven years after he painted Two Figures, but that does not preclude him from becoming part of the context for making sense of the painting. An archetype that almost perfectly fitted Dyer existed in Bacon’s painting well before they met. I think it is possible to propose that the influences that helped to form parts of Two Figures, Terry’s and Dyer’s body and hairstyles were the same. Both George Dyer and Terry may have taken an interest in, or at least a look at, some of the same British and American health, fitness, muscle, and physique magazines that Bacon was looking at, or walking on, when he painted Two Figures. On the pages of these magazines, past and present forms of working-class masculinity coincide, and many of the threads that have run through this article meet. It is also here that Bacon’s commitment to circuits of sexual pleasure in what he once called the 'sexual gymnasium of the city' makes a very particular kind of literal sense.38 If Two Figures is viewed from the pages of some British and American health, fitness, muscle, and physique magazines the influences that Bacon discussed with Sylvester in 1974 are no longer involved only in the narratives and conventions of art history and criticism, but become involved in a popular and banal visual economy. By the early 1950s the visual language that Muybridge utilized in his sequential photographs was an established element in the conventions of muscle and physique photography. And the figure and figurations of Michelangelo Buonarroti played an important part in forming the poses and rationales of muscle and physique photographs and magazines. In his autobiography, Quentin Crisp writes about his appreciation of Michelangelo, his favourite artist.

Michelangelo worked from within. He described not the delights of touching or seeing a man but the excitement of being man. Every stroke he made spoke of the pleasures of exerting, restraining and putting to the utmost use the divine gravity-resisting machine.39

As in Bacon’s interview with Sylvester, Quentin Crisp’s appreciation of Michelangelo sustains him as a serious artist. However, Crisp’s ambition for his own practice as an artist’s model locates the figure and figurations of Michelangelo in and around the popular and banal forms of visual representation that could be found on and between the covers of muscle and physique magazines in the 1950s. Like many male models, Crisp 'was determined to be as Sistine as hell'.40

In the muscle and physique magazines of the 1950s the figure and figurations of Michelangelo were an integral part of their social, sexual, and aesthetic texture. Men who viewed these magazines were able to understand their social, sexual, and aesthetic interest in themselves and other men through a mediated connection to the texts and contexts of the Italian Renaissance and Ancient Greece. In Britain throughout the 1950s John S. Barrington, working under the pseudonym of John Paington, published a number of books and magazines that established an association between fine art and physique photography.41 In the July 1957 edition of his male art magazine MAN-ifique, Paington published the following editorial:

Finally, we have 'elected' a spiritual Editorial Board comprising Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Praxiteles, Polykleitos, Blake, Flandrin, Fuseli, Gamelin and Rodin: ONLY WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN GOOD ENOUGH FOR THOSE MASTERS IS NOW GOOD ENOUGH FOR US AND OUR READERS!42

Whilst the direct influence of American physique magazines on the public and private work of many artists is well known, very little attention has been given to British publications. These magazines were important environments where male figures made sense in the 1950s, but they were also, like East End gyms, important sites of male encounter. The British magazine Vigour, subtitled 'The Vitality Magazine', was first published in 1946 and initially consisted of articles on health, fitness and training, muscle and physique competition results, profiles of competition participants, and a few British rather than American muscle and physique photographs. The photographs published in Vigour were usually of men who belonged to gymnasiums or weight-training clubs that were often located in working-class districts, often London’s East End. That these photographs were captioned with the name of the individual, their club, and its location may have been an integral part of their appeal for men committed to the myths and realities that surrounded and saturated the figures of working-class men:

An unusual pose by Ron Saunders, a member of the Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club, of light, but shapely build, Ron gains a Highly Commended Diploma in Britain’s Perfect Man Contest.43

During Vigour’s first year of publication photographs of men who belonged to British gyms and clubs appeared alongside photographs from American photographic studios that specialized in muscle and physique photography, and the third issue of Vigour was published with a physique photograph on its cover.

By the publication of the seventh magazine in July 1946 the pre-paid advertisements column at the back of the magazine was being used by men to make contact with other men who had similar interests:

Reader, keen on Boxing and Wrestling, would like to hear from others similarly interested — Write: Box No 1003, Vigour Press, Ltd.44

During the first year of publication Vigour moved from looking like a general fitness magazine to increasingly concentrating on physique competition results and photographs. Alongside the results of physique posing competitions were articles providing advice for participants. Each month Vigour held its own physique competition, and the winning entry was published alongside a detailed critique of both the photograph and pose. On the pages of Vigour physical fitness and fine art were combined:

Reader with Athletic Figure. Would consider posing for Artist-Sculpturer. Box 1360.45

 By 1947 the focus of the magazine was moving towards physique photography and a number of advertisements began to appear for photographic studios located in Britain and America that specialized in physique poses. In July 1947 the following pre-paid advertisement was published:

Young Ex Sailor, shortly departing to Singapore, would like to hear from same. Interests: General PT, posing and sunbathing — write to Box 1981.46 By the end of 1947 the pre-paid advertisements column had become established as a place where men could meet, and the number of personal advertisements increased steadily from issue to issue. Like the advertisements published in the classified columns of The Times or the New Statesman, the advertisements in Vigour were ambiguous, and the very real possibility that they mean just what they say should be kept in place. This reading coexists with the possibility that they are advertisements for sexual encounters. Perhaps like Two FiguresVigour is not a magazine for men interested in men that requires decoding to understand what it is about, but a text that should remain somewhat irresolute


Towards the end of 1947 the number of pre-paid adverts that included interests beyond the focus of the magazine began to increase, and in July 1948 the following collection of pre-paids advertisements were published:


Male Reader would like to pose for amateur photographer or artists.

Reader keen on weight-lifting, posing, sunbathing, seeks companion for camping holiday in South France, August.

Youth (20). Student desires employment during summer holidays. Anything considered.

Overseas Reader would like to correspond with male readers outside Great Britain. Interests: Weights, Naturism, Physique Photography. Correspondence in English or French.

Amateur photographer wishes to contact posing enthusiasts in Aldershot and Guildford area.

Pose photographs of well-developed youths aged 15-20 years required

Wanted. Good pose photographs of youths and young men.

Gentleman offers holiday accommodation, Devonshire. Swimming, Naturism, Sunbathing, Theatres, Cinemas. Coloured guests welcomed.

Young Man, 29, starting physique course, anxious to contact other Londoners similar age, keen on posing, art, disciplined training. Please send photograph and physique details. Reply Guaranteed.

A few pose photographs for sale 1/6d. each. Parcels of assorted American magazines, 10/- including postage.

WANTED PHYSIQUE PHOTOS. For anyone sending a clear physique photograph of himself and his exact height and weight (both taken stripped) will, in exchange, compute and mail the required body measurements for theoretically perfect proportions for the given weight and height.

Chesty Young Man would like to meet another specialising in chest development living near London or Harrow.47

From around the middle of 1949 the appearance of personal pre-paid advertisements becomes somewhat irregular, but they continue to appear. Finally, this advertisement for a wrestling partner appeared in Vigour’s pre-paid advertisements column in the same year that Francis Bacon painted Two Figures 1953:

Wrestling practice wanted by inexperienced ten-stone near York, Reply R.G. c/o Vigour Magazine, Please State Fee.

Taken together this selection of advertisements from the pages of Vigour between 1946 and 1953 provides a compelling context for making sense of Two Figures, which places the painting within a tradition of popular representations of men 'wrestling' (Fig. 6). Representations that may or may not be sexual acts, and may or may not be art. On the pages of this magazine references to Ancient Greece are combined with modem graphic design, references to Michelangelo, naturism and physical culture, the physical development and attractions of working-class men, weightlifting clubs and gyms in the East End of London, and adverts requesting wrestling partners. It is possible simply to attach a narrative to Two Figures in which the couple 'wrestling' on the bed contact one another through a pre-paid advertisement published in Vigour. A story of this kind would bring together the mediated influence of established presentations of the male figure with one of the twentieth century’s important sites of male encounter. A viewer of Two Figures who brought knowledge of the advertisements in Vigour, and other magazines, to the first exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in 1953 could write this kind of story and make this kind of sense of the painting. And perhaps, but not necessarily, because of Francis Bacon’s commitment to photographs in magazines, the pages of Vigour may have littered the floor of his studio and become part of the production of his painting.

That is enough, but there is another magazine that can suggest a very particular context for Two Figures. As I have already mentioned, John Russell has suggested that Francis Bacon’s painting may have something to do with The Wrestlers, a replica of a Greek third-century bronze that can be found in the Uffizi in Florence. Russell adds that Bacon apparently never saw this sculpture. Photographs of classical and famous sculptures often appeared in physique magazines, including the Discobolus and Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, and a photograph of The Wrestlers was published a number of times on the pages of Mat magazine towards the end of the 1940s and at the beginning of the 1950s. The photograph first appeared in the second issue of the magazine alongside this text:

You are not expected to know the two protagonists. A model of two ancient Greek wrestlers. A sculpture in the Uffizi, Florence.48 Issue number five of Mat had a photograph of The Wrestlers on its cover and the 'Two Unknown Greek Protagonists' appear again in issue number two of volume three. Of course it is just possible that Bacon came across The Wrestlers on the pages of Mat, pages where the past and the present were conjoined.

The visual rhetorics of wrestling photographs published in Mat are very different from the conventional visual languages of physique photography. Physique photographs are static, using classical and statuesque forms and positions formulated for competitions, and are mostly set within studio locations to enable lighting that can emphasize muscle definition. The wrestling photographs in Mat are often action shots, blurred, grey, and granular in texture (Fig. 7). The form of the wrestlers in these photographs is also quite different to the figures of physique enthusiasts or weight lifters: heavier, broader, and with less muscle definition.

The articulation of Francis Bacon’s figures in Two Figures and other paintings comes closer to the photographs of wrestlers that can be found on the pages of Mat than the physique photographs in Vigour.

Mat was initially devoted to wrestling but at the end of the 1940s started to include an increasing number of physique photographs. By the beginning of the 1950s Mat was publishing a high proportion of physique photographs and profiling physique photographers like 'Vince of Manchester Street', 'Britain’s Greatest Physique Photographer'. For a number of issues at the beginning of the 1950s Mat became a general interest men’s magazine and included a section on films and film gossip. The cover design moved away from classical poses and the use of Ancient Greek references, and towards self-consciously modem design and typography. At the same time articles on sexual health and 'Can the Habit of Masturbation be Cured?'49 The shift of focus in Mat, and its change in content and design, was an attempt to compete alongside a number of new magazines, British and American imports, like Adonis, Body Beautiful, and Male Classics, which at the beginning of the 1950s focused on the male figure and were aimed at the burgeoning youth market.

Viewed from the pages of Vigour, Mat, and a number of other magazines, Two Figures looks to have been produced at a moment of gradual transition; a moment when the comportments of masculinity and the sites of representa- tion, interpretation, and encounter had just begun to become identified with a recognizable community of men with shared social, sexual, commercial, and aesthetic interests. At this moment well-established forms of representation were reformulated, and Bacon’s painting seems to make a very particular kind of sense around the beginning of this process of modernization through its re- working of established conventions in a modern form. Perhaps the most important comparison between Francis Bacon’s painting and the photographs in Vigour or Mat is the combination of classical references within modern forms (Fig. 8). Photographs on and between the covers of these magazines combined classical iconography with modern photographic techniques alongside modern typography and graphic design. In the early 1950s this combination was the established formula for representing males forms, figures, and physiques.

However, soon after Francis Bacon painted Two Figures this conjoining of the past and the present on the pages of physique magazines changed quite considerably. It changed so much in fact that if the painting was viewed from the pages of some British and American magazines published a few years later it may not have looked quite so daring or potentially scandalous, not quite so modern, and perhaps just a little out of date. However, that is not quite the point. It would still have made sense as part of social and sexual economy that was made up of connections between different kinds of written and visual texts, and everyday experience, through which many men cruised and created their everyday pleasure.



 1.This understanding of Francis Bacon’s paintings is prevalent in writings about his work and life published since the 1950s. For a sustained example that combines this understanding with the protocols of Post-structuralist theory see E. Van Alphen, Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self (Reaktion Books: London, 1992).

2. For detailed discussion of the sexual scandals of the early 1950s see Stephen Jeffrey-Poulter, Peers, Queers & Commons: The Struggle for Gay Law Reformfrom 1950 to the Present (Routledge: London and New York, 1991) and Patrick Higgins, The Heterosexual Dictatorship: Male Homosexuality in Post-War Britain (Fourth Estate: London, 1996). The major British scandals of the early 1950s were Sir John Gielgud’s arrest in a public lavatory and subsequent conviction for importuning in 1953, and the trial of Lord Montague of Beaulieu, Peter Wildeblood, and Michael Pitt-Rivers, and their conviction in 1954 for sexual offences with two servicemen.

3. For example, Kenneth E. Silver, 'Master Bedrooms, Master Narratives: Home, Homosexuality and Post-War Art', in Christopher Reed (ed.), Not at Home: The Suppression of Domesticity in Modern Art & Architecture (Thames and Hudson: London, 1996), pp. 206-21.

4. The predominant theoretical, political, and personal protocols I am referring to are those related to 1970s Gay Liberation and 1980s and 90s Queer Activism.

5. See Patrick Higgins, The Heterosexual Dictatorship.

6. It is well-documented that Muybridge’s photographs of the human body in motion became an influential resource for visual artists from their first publication in America in the 1880s. For further information on the work of Eadweard Muybridge see Emmanuel Cooper, Fully Exposed: The Male Nude in Photography (Routledge: London and New York, 1990). For the connections between Eadweard Muybridge and Francis Bacon see John Russell, Francis Bacon (Thames and Hudson: London, 1993); and Kenneth Silver, 'Master Bedrooms', pp. 209- 21.

7. David Sylvester, Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon (Thames and Hudson: London, 1987), p. 114.

8. Russell, Francis Bacon, p. 96.

9. Sylvester, Brutality of Fact, p. 116.

10. Sylvester, Brutality of Fact, p. 116.

11. The coronation of Elizabeth II took place on 2 June 1953 amid much press speculation concerning the dawn of a 'new Elizabethan age'. It is perhaps the case that a general increase in prosperity, the end of rationing, and the lowest crime figures in London since the war, all added to a feeling of optimism, promoted in the popular press.

12. Sexual scandals, concerning practices that were for the first time identified as 'homosexual' on the pages of newspapers, were detailed in both the local and national press; both are discussed in Patrick Higgins, The Heterosexual Dictatorship.

13. Kenneth Silver, 'Master Bedrooms' p. 208. 'Once in the bedroom, physical exertion becomes sex; camaraderie, or rivalry is made passionate; and spectatorship, which is at least offered the excuse of scientific observation in Muybridge, comes much closer to voyeurism.'

14. John Lehmann, In the Purely Pagan Sense (GMP: London, 1985), p. 128. Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma (Weidenfeld and Nicolson: London, 1996), pp. 79-80. Andrew Sinclair, Francis Bacon: His life and Violent Times (Sinclair-Stevenson: London, 1993), p. 90.

15. Since the end of the nineteenth century the writings of Addington-Symonds, Carpenter, and Wilde in their different fields, amongst the writings of many other including Walt Whitman, provided the opportunity to exercise, but more importantly, to develop, an erotic and emotional commitment to the forms, comportments, and characters of working-class men.

16. For a detailed consideration of the associations between homosexuality and modernity see Henning Bech, Where Men Meet (Polity Press: Cambridge, 1997).

17. Stephen Spender, The Temple (Faber and Faber: London, 1989), p. 69.

18. Stephen Spender, World Within World (Hamish Hamilton: London, 1951), p. 109.

19. For an account of Francis Bacon’s time in Germany see Peppiatt, Francis Bacon.

20. The photographs of Francis Bacon’s studio were published in The Studio in 1930. 

31. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon, p. 55.

32. For a brief account of prosecutions brought against men for advertising in the classified adverts column of Picture Show in 1952 see Patrick Higgins, The Heterosexual Dictatorship, pp. 188-9.

33. Rodney Garland, The Heart in Exile (W.H. Allen: London, 1953), p. 179.

34. Garland, The Heart in Exile, p. 136.

43Vigour, May 1946.

44Vigour, July 1946.

45Vigour, October 1946.

46Vigour, July 1947.

47Vigour, July 1948.



             Fig. 1. Francis Bacon: Two Figures, 1953, oil on canvas, 152 x 116.8 cm. Private collection.





Francis Bacon and the sudden experience of eye-opening words






Francis Bacon’s work is about violence. We can see it, we can feel it, and, better still everybody says so—even Bacon himself spoke of his desire for “returning fact onto the nervous system in a more violent way.” We have only to think of images, such as the red-mouthed human cry, the howling and wrenching furies, distorted human faces, bodies deformed and reduced to pieces of meat contorted during torturous couplings, to see violence in colour and subject matter.

Yet, to say that violence alone is these works’ concern, while self-evident, can be simplistic.

David Sylvester re-evaluates this and other aspects of Bacon’s work in his latest book, which includes a discussion of a number of paintings that has only recently come to light.

Its four main, distinct parts comprise a comprehensive historical survey of Bacon’s work; three self-contained critical essays on Bacon and poetry, Bacon and Giacometti, and Bacon’s use of sketches; preceded, as well as followed by, free-floating, fragmentary reflections on “the painter as medium” and “images of the human body” (some of the sharpest insights on Bacon’s work can be found here); and, finally, a thematically arranged selection of so-far unpublished material from Mr Sylvester’s conversations with the artist and a “Biographical Note”.

Complete with many fine reproductions of Bacon’s work, Mr Sylvester’s book is an open invitation to look and look again.

The biographical note is, in fact, a telling example of Mr Sylvester’s sober style, as he entirely refrains from a novelistic treatment of the artist’s life (no mean feat for a life that was almost tailor-made for the biopic treatment, as events in cinemas near you have recently proved; The Art Newspaper, No.84, September 1998, p.1): on opposite pages and in different fonts are set out, on the one hand, what is generally considered “objective” information and, on the other, instances where Mr Sylvester “tried to put a few things right”, while considering “doubtlessly to have said some things that others will put right”.

Along with the “facts”, Mr Sylvester shares an insider’s knowledge. And it is the use that Mr Sylvester makes of these personal details from Bacon’s life and their relation to his art that one admires.

For example, Mr Sylvester reflects on Bacon’s habitual use of the word “suddenly” in conversation, a word which proved contagious in Bacon’s circle. He proposes this “could have had something to do with its relevance to Bacon’s painting: to the suddenness of gestures that it captured; to the suddenness with which it brought heads and figures into being, like apparitions; to the suddenness with which a movement of the brush or rag on the canvas could transform the image”.

Mr Sylvester writes powerfully about Bacon’s paintings, for example, about Bacon’s “Study from the human body” (1949). This is a radiant grisaille of unusual lightness showing the back of a male nude disappearing through a translucent curtain, the magnificence of which Mr Sylvester is able almost to render visible to the reader, thanks to his unique gift of evocation that seizes with scientific exactitude the mot juste: “It is wonderfully tender and mysterious in its rendering of the space between the legs and in its modelling of the underside of the right thigh...None of Bacon’s paintings puts the question more teasingly as to whether he is primarily a painterly painter or an image-maker. Does this work take us by the throat chiefly because of its lyrical beauty or because of the elegiac poignancy of its sense of farewell?” Thus one is shaken into taking another look at the painting. One finds oneself descending into it once again, for a longer, perhaps deeper, look, and—across the resonance of Mr Sylvester’s words—one’s own feelings of its sense of reality suddenly crack open.

There is in Mr Sylvester’s writing this complete simplicity that succeeds in placing an idea, not so much in the mind, as in the heart, and thereby frees the reader to have his or her own experience of Bacon.

This is due primarily to the fact that Mr Sylvester does not interpret, let alone embellish, the paintings; rather he uncovers what is elusive about Bacon’s works.

His observations are as acute as his descriptions are succinct, as if criticism consisted of reporting. The incredibly difficult task of finding a balance between the “too much” and “not enough” has here found a response in a manner of writing that is “just right” in the sense that it leaves enough gaps to stimulate the imagination. The reader and viewer are left free to explore both the critic’s words and the painter’s images.

In addition to this approach of selective intervention, there are also those instances when no comment is made at all, but only a plain relating of facts. This is Mr Sylvester at his best, but it is writing of a simplicity that cannot easily be summarised here, but has, rather, to be sampled in its original to get the full effect. When Mr Sylvester does comment, however, it is with an unusual ability to get to the heart of the matter.

Bacon himself was unusually articulate, a rare quality among artists, and used strong, beautiful language when speaking about anything he cared for—art, first of all. Ideally, I feel that Looking back at Francis Bacon should be read side-by-side with an earlier book by Mr Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon. By going back and forth, reading here and looking there, one’s perception is heightened as words and images fuse. Of most books on Francis Bacon, who has already been blessed with some brilliant critical commentary, Mr Sylvester’s book stands head and shoulders above the rest. His intensity of thought and feeling is equalled by the simplicity of his language, as if, to quote one of Bacon’s favourite poets, T.S. Eliot, “consumed by either fire or fire”.

David Sylvester, Looking back at Francis Bacon (Thames & Hudson, London, 2000), 272 pp, 102 b/w ills, 52 col. ills, £29.95 (hb) ISBN 0500019940





Will the real Mr Bacon please stand up?



A second exhibition of Barry Joule’s collection, left to him by Francis Bacon his former neighbour,

is still a matter of dispute with the Bacon Estate





The controversial Joule Archive of works from Francis Bacon’s studio is to go on show in London at the Barbican Art Gallery, from 8 February.

As in Dublin, where much of the material has already been shown, the exhibition title will use the expression “attributed” to Bacon (The Art Newspaper, No. 97, November 1999, pp. 1 and 4). This formulation had been agreed with the Bacon Estate, which had expressed serious doubts about the authenticity of the Joule collection. “Bacon’s Eye, featuring works on paper attributed to Francis Bacon from the Joule Archive” will comprise 300 items, part of the 1,000 pieces which were given by Bacon to Mr Joule just days before the artist’s death in 1992.

For the Barbican show, the Tate Gallery is lending six of its own Bacon works on paper, to be shown alongside the Joule Archive. This will be important in allowing scholars to make direct comparisons between the Joule material and works which are universally accepted as authentic. Mr Joule believes that the Tate loans indicate that the gallery is now more receptive to the idea that his works are by Bacon. After all, the Tate would have been unlikely to have lent to an exhibition of material which it considered to comprise misattributed items. Last month a Tate spokesman said that the gallery was unable to comment to the press about works which are not in its own collection.

Mr Joule suggested to The Art Newspaper that he might eventually donate most of his Bacon archive to the Tate. He pointed out that it would be a suitable home: “Francis was a London painter and he did all his major work there. The Tate is the only place to which he donated paintings and it has the largest collection.” The Tate also has a group of 42 Bacon works on paper which were bought in 1997, for £360,000. Initially Mr Joule had intended to donate most of his collection to the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin, but discussions broke down over the question of how it might be authenticated.

John Hoole, director of the Barbican, says in his catalogue introduction that he has “no doubt that the vast majority of the work must be by Bacon”, and he points to its acceptance by Professor David Mellor. Barbican curator Mark Sladen divides the material into two groups: “The so-called Working Documents certainly came from the studio. My view is that the vast majority of the overdrawing is by Bacon, although there could have been a few items worked by others. Regarding the pages of the X-album, there is a little evidence that someone else might have been involved in a few of the sheets. But again I am confident that the vast majority is by Bacon.”

Most other Bacon specialists have taken a similar position, although the key expert, David Sylvester, has been much more suspicious and has said he does not see Bacon’s hand in the overdrawing of the Joule material.

The Bacon Estate had told The Art Newspaper in late 1999 that an expertise panel would be established to advise on the Joule Archive, but this has not been set up and last month a spokesperson admitted that it had been had been delayed: “These things take a long time, it can be years. An examination of the Joule Archive has not been a top priority, and the law case against the Marlborough Gallery has taken a lot of our time.”

The Bacon Estate is now involved in a legal battle with the Marlborough Gallery, which was Bacon’s dealer until his death. The Estate is suing on the grounds that the gallery did not make the proper payments to the artist and that not all the pictures were properly accounted for. The fact that the payments were channelled through the gallery’s Liechtenstein subsidiary has added to the complications, although this was a mechanism which would have reduced Bacon’s UK tax burden. Last month the Estate confirmed that the case is being actively pursued, and may well come to court next year. A Marlborough spokesman said that the Estate’s charges would be “robustly rejected”.

Meanwhile an exhibition on Bacon’s paintings has just opened at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague (until 13 May). This major show is based on loans from the Tate, the Hugh Lane and the Bacon Estate, and includes two works never displayed and assumed lost “Marching figures” (1950) and “The end of the line (1953) owned by the Estate. On 8 February Christie’s will be offering a 1984 Bacon triptych of studies for a portrait of John Edwards, estimated at £3-4 million.

“Bacon’s Eye”, Barbican Gallery, Silk Street, London EC2Y Tel: +44 (0)20 7638 4141, (8 February-16 April)





Disputed Bacon art works go on display



Huge exhibition of previously unknown paintings and photographs opens but doubt surrounds their authenticity





A huge exhibition of works attributed to the late Francis Bacon opens today at the Barbican Gallery in London despite fears of a last minute injunction from the artist’s estate.

Before yesterday’s preview, representatives of the estate, which jealously defends the copyright and reputation of the artist, visited the exhibition of works whose ownership and authenticity have been bitterly contested.

The estate’s lawyers, Payne Hicks Beach, said last night they had no comment to make.

The archive has been the subject of a simmering row since Mr Bacon, regarded as one of the major painters of the 20th century, died in 1992.

Both the Institute of Contemporary Arts and the then Tate Gallery considered exhibiting the archive, but backed off in the face of the unresolved dispute.

Although the Barbican exhibition is peppered with the word "attributed", Tate Modern has given it some credibility by lending Bacon sketches, dating from the 1950s and 1960s, which it bought two years ago.

A spokeswoman for Tate Modern said: "We have lent six works on paper, totally authentic and not in any way disputed, which allow an interesting comparison to be made. Beyond that we cannot comment on the exhibition."

John Hoole, director of the Barbican Gallery, said he has "no doubt that the vast majority of the works must be by Bacon".

When Mr Bacon died of a heart attack, aged 82, the sole heir of his estimated £11m estate was John Edwards, an East End barman who was his companion for many years. The inheritance included the contents of his chaotic studio, which has now been reconstructed in a gallery in Dublin, the artist’s birthplace.

But boxes of papers were allegedly given, just four days before his death, to Barry Joule, a Canadian who was his neighbour in London and later a friend. Mr Joule said yesterday that when Mr Bacon gave him the papers, he said: "You know what to do with it", and that this was familiar code for a gift.

Part of the Bacon mythology is that his genius poured straight on to the canvas, without any preparatory work.

The hundreds of sheets of paper in the archive include hoarded photographs, clippings, pages torn from magazines and books, the medical text book illustrations which fascinated him and scribbled sketches.

The photographs include images which recur in his finished work, including the screaming nurse from the Eisenstein film Battleship Potemkin.

Album X is an old photograph album given him by his nanny, from which the photos were torn and replaced with heavily worked collages and overdrawn photographs.

The authenticity of the archive has been questioned by David Sylvester, a leading expert on Bacon. He concedes that the sheets of paper must have come from Bacon’s studio, but doubts that the overpainting and sketches are in the artist’s hand.

Mr Joule has been accused by other sources of betraying his friend’s intentions. It has been suggested both that he tampered with the papers and that if he was indeed given them by Bacon, the intention was that they should be destroyed.

Mr Joule said that he has frequently felt crushed by the bitterness of the row. "I think that there’s an element of jealousy. I’m not an artist or a scholar  I’m a carpenter, so why the hell should I have this stuff?" he said.

"Then there’s the gay thing. They claim him as their own and I happen to be a straight man.

"But there’s no doubt in my mind, he gave them to me to keep, and I kept them. If he’d come back and asked for them back, I’d have given them back. But he didn’t come back. He died and I had to decide what to do with them."

He added: "I have highs and lows. Exhibitions are a high, so this is a good day."





Bacon triptych goes for £3m at auction







A SERIES of three paintings by Francis Bacon of his long-time companion John Edwards sold for more than £3 million at Christie’s in London last night.

The triptych, Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards, was bought by an anonymous collector at a sale of post-war art. Jussi Pylkkanen, Christie’s international director, said: "It is a piece that Bacon himself identified as being of museum quality."

Bacon met Edwards, who was a barman, in 1974 and their relationship lasted until the artist’s death in 1992. The triptych shows Edwards seated on a stool in an empty studio space.





Slices of Bacon sell for £3m







A series of three paintings by the late Francis Bacon of his long-time partner John Edwards have sold for £3m at an auction at Christie’s in London

The triptych, Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards, was bought by an anonymous collector of post-war art

The works show Edwards, who was a barman when he met Bacon in 1972, sitting on a stool in an empty studio space from three different perspectives

Jussi Pylkkanen, Christie’s international director, said: "It is a piece that Bacon himself identified as being of museum quality."


Finest works

The paintings were done in the 80s and Bacon’s triptychs are widely recognised as being his finest works.

Bacon was one of the last century’s most commercially successful artists, earning about £14m from his paintings before his death.

He dealt with themes of death and decay and his style has often been described as existentialist.

The artist once said: "I don’t know that I should talk about a triptych in my case.

"Of course, there are three canvases, and you can link that to a long-standing tradition. The primitives often used the triptych format, but as far as my work is concerned, a triptych corresponds more to the idea of a succession of images on film."

Also sold at the auction of post-war art was Gerhard Richter’s Venice (Steps), which attracted very competitive bidding and eventually went for £938,750.

Antonio Saura’s Triptico (Crucifixión) sold for a record price of £487,750, while Yves Klein’s MG 20 sold for £465,750, more than four times pre-sale expectations.




                 Francis Bacon and his partner John Edwards





All you own work, Bacon?




The pictures in a new exhibition come from the studio of Francis Bacon.

But, asks Richard Dorment, are they all by him?






THE Barbican Gallery’s exhibition of the Barry Joule archive of works on paper attributed to Francis Bacon consists of more than 900 items, including 68 original works on paper and what the gallery calls "working documents" — images from newspapers, books and magazines that have been worked over in ink and crayon.

Bacon claimed that he never made preparatory studies for his paintings, but worked directly on the canvas, relying on chance and visceral instinct to arrive at those strange, compelling images of screaming heads, disintegrating bodies and animalistic copulation. We know, from a collection of sketches that came to light after the artist’s death, that this is not an entirely accurate description of the way in which he worked. Nevertheless, if authentic, the Joule cache both enhances our knowledge of Bacon’s sources of inspiration and transforms our understanding of his creative process. But, if a large number of the works are deemed to be doubtful, then the uncritical exhibition of this material will muddy our comprehension of Bacon’s achievement. What is at stake is Bacon’s artistic identity. For, until you first determine what is and what is not by an artist’s own hand, you cannot say anything else meaningful about him.

The provenance of this material is not in question. No one doubts that everything on view came from Bacon’s studio, or that Bacon handed it over to his friend, handyman and chauffeur Barry Joule just before his death in April 1992. What is at issue is whether the original drawings, and the graphic work on top of the photographs and newsprint, are by Bacon himself.

Several respected figures in the art world have accepted that everything on view is authentic. The problem is that a number of equally distinguished voices, including that of Bacon’s friend and interpreter David Sylvester, are unhappy with the attribution of the archive to the artist.

It must be said at once that the Barbican never quite claims that the works are indisputably by Bacon. Virtually every work is labelled "attributed to Francis Bacon", and a somewhat muddled catalogue essay doesn’t quite rule out the involvement of other hands in the creation of the original drawings. What is more, admitting that the collection "has yet to be officially recognised as the work of the artist", the Barbican has quite properly borrowed from the Tate Gallery a selection of the working drawings that surprised even experts on Bacon’s work when they were discovered and whose authenticity is not in doubt. This enables us to study the verified material alongside the controversial work in the Joule archive.

Most of the undisputed material in the Tate consists of magazine and newspaper images over which Bacon has drawn. In every one, we have the sense that Bacon looked long and hard at each image, then brought his own idiosyncratic visual intelligence to bear on it. We become familiar not only with the calligraphy of Bacon’s draughtsmanship, but also begin to understand how his mind worked, what interested him about each image, and how he interacted with it.

In one newspaper photograph, showing the boxer Jack Dempsey standing in the ring, for example, Bacon draws a spindly, cartoon-like "opponent" in black ink.

The dark knots of the drawn torso against the boxer’s white flesh animate an otherwise static image. The way Bacon in his imagination "enters" the photograph serves to illustrate the powerful element of fantasy — and even eroticism — that he brought to the act of looking. In another sheet, he draws a "frame" around the image of a fallen boxer with four swift lines, then adds a second, smaller frame within the first to locate the figure in deep receding space.

In undisputed works like these, you sense that Bacon possessed tunnel vision: his eyes zoomed in on the area of an image that intrigued him, isolating it from everything around it. He uses his pen or crayon unhesitatingly, as though thinking with them, instinctively working out how a figure moves or stands in the way it does, cropping it to see whether it would make a picture in its own right. It’s not so much the aesthetic quality of the Tate material that is significant, but that you feel Bacon’s searching intelligence at work in every line he draws.

Turning from the Tate’s holdings to the so-called X Album of drawings and collages — one part of the Joule collection on show, which has been unbound for display — the difference is startling. In these drawings, the figures are without shape, direction or volume, there is little sense of recessional depth, no reason for many of the lines. What is more, the collages and drawings feel precious, self consciously "aesthetic".

These works are certainly not preparatory studies. My impression is that they were created by someone who already knew the famous painted images, but who didn’t understand the anatomical or spatial complexities of the originals.

Try though I might to sense Bacon’s hand in a drawing of two nude figures lying against a green field, or of a prelate in a transparent box, or of a screaming pope, they feel flabby, flat, weak. My strong instinct is that these works are not by Bacon.

Now turn to the hundreds of photographs, magazine, and newspaper images also lent by Joule for this show. Again, no one doubts that these items were in Bacon’s studio where they were probably stepped upon, spattered with paint or used to test pigment and wipe brushes: the question is, how much of the graphic work on them is by Bacon himself? For me, the answer is that, in a number of cases at least, Bacon did work over these images.

A few examples will have to do. Bacon doctors a black and white photograph of a corner of Picasso’s apartment in the rue des Grands Augustins in a way that would have amused Picasso himself. In the photo, there’s a Picasso portrait hanging on a wall and a pair of slippers on the floor. Outlining the rectangular portrait in black ink, Bacon turns it into a "head" connected by a wiry torso to the slippers, or "feet" on the floor.

Compare the knotty line in this torso to the figure in the Tate’s re-worked photograph of Jack Dempsey, and it is instantly clear that we are dealing with the same hand. What’s more, the element of wit and invention suggests that this is the same mind as well.

Compare the knotty line in this torso to the figure in the Tate’s re-worked photograph of Jack Dempsey, and it is instantly clear that we are dealing with the same hand. What’s more, the element of wit and invention suggests that this is the same mind as well.

Sheet from 'The X Album': assume nothing and decide the authenticity of these works for yourself.

Or, to take another example, Bacon uses purple crayon to draw over a reproduction of a Degas painting showing a nude sponging herself in the bath. Bacon reinforces the long line of the subject’s back, as though trying to understand her anatomy, then frames the figure, as though by isolating it he can see it more clearly. The way the pressure on the crayon varies from heavy to very light gives the line something of the same kind of energy we see in the Tate’s material. Often in photos of athletes he does the same thing — separates individual figures, emphasises the "line" in their movements, reinforces the areas of their bodies that interest him, whether it be a punching arm, an open mouth, or a crotch.

In many cases, however, someone has scribbled over the image or enhanced a photograph in a way that feels purely cosmetic. I suppose these could be by Bacon, but much more work needs to be done before we can say this for sure. So there are two questions here. The first is who is responsible for the X Album?

The short catalogue essay seems to hint that it might have some connection with Bacon’s lover in the Fifties, Peter Lacy, and goodness knows that Bacon moved in a world where any number of people might have tried their hand at imitating his work.

The second question is whether the Joule material other than the X Album is authentic. Some of it certainly is, but doubts still linger over much of it. A photo of Bacon and Joule exhibited in this show which has been extensively worked over in ink by photographer Peter Beard proves that those in Bacon’s circle did alter images in precisely the way they are enhanced in the archive.

The only way to reach a conclusion about all this is through old-fashioned connoisseurship. Each image has to be looked at individually by a panel of experts on Bacon’s work, who must compare it with undisputed drawings.

Bacon should be treated as though he were a Michelangelo or Raphael. What worries me about the way this material has been presented at the Barbican is that doubts such as those I’ve just raised have been minimised. Though briefly referred to in the catalogue and wall labels, nowhere are we given a sustained argument against the authenticity of this material.

This could have been stronger exhibition had it been called "Francis Bacon, true or false?" and used as a platform to air these issues and perhaps make some progress in resolving them. As it is, the exhibition is in its own way fascinating, but you should go to it armed with the shield of scepticism. Look at everything, assume nothing, decide for yourself.

'Bacon’s EyeWorks on Paper attributed to Francis Bacon from the Barry Joule Archive' until April 16.





Bacon estate bans reproductions of images in Barbican exhibition




Tate lends Bacon works on paper for comparison with disputed works but comparative photos of Tate works are not allowed






The Francis Bacon Estate has banned the Barbican Gallery from reproducing a Tate Gallery painting which is closely related to a work in the Joule Archive. On 8 February, the opening day of the show, the Estate’s solicitors prohibited the use of any images for which it held copyright. Later that day the exhibition panels with reproductions were therefore removed by Barbican staff, to be replaced with others with white boxes where the paintings had been shown, along with the text: “Permission to reproduce denied by the Estate of Francis Bacon.” This prohibition represented the latest move in the Estate’s attempt to question the authenticity of the material now being shown in the Barbican’s exhibition, “Bacon’s Eye: Featuring works on paper attributed to Francis Bacon from the Barry Joule Archive” (see The Art newspaper, No. 111, February 2001, p. 32).

Lawyers for the Bacon Estate explained to the legal representatives of the Barbican: “We understand that the reproductions are next to some of the work that is being exhibited and an attempt is made to ally the exhibit with the original work, thereby seeking to give authenticity to the exhibit... The executor is not willing for the reproductions to be exhibited... Our client has no wish to become embroiled in litigation if this can be avoided, and would you please inform us as to your client’s unequivocal position without further delay.”

Brian Clarke, executor of the Bacon Estate, denies that he has been involved in censorship. He told The Art Newspaper: “the inclusion of reproductions of Bacon paintings would render authenticity to a body of work which is clearly controversial and disputed.” He says that the Barbican had only tried to reproduce the paintings and then replace them with white boxes because of “sensation and ticket sales.” Although unwilling to comment on the authenticity of the Joule Archive, Mr Clarke accepts that “the base material is from the Bacon studio, but who made the marks on them is a matter for scholarly judgement... I will not have that process interfered with by this kind of exhibition and by irrational comparison between original and authentic works.”

Among the prohibited images is the Tate’s “Study for Portrait II (after the Life Mask of William Blake)” of 1955, which is closely related to an oil sketch in the X Album, in the Joule Archive. Although the Tate painting had been purchased in 1979, this did not include copyright, which was retained by the artist.

Whatever the Tate may have felt about the Estate’s ban, it was powerless to allow its own painting to be reproduced in what is a scholarly exhibition which gives visitors an opportunity to make their own judgements on the Joule Archive. The Tate had already lent six original works on paper by Bacon, which are exhibited with the Joule Archive as comparative material. Copyright of these Tate works on paper is also held by the Estate, so although the originals can be shown, the Barbican would now be prohibited from reproducing them on wall panels or showing them in the catalogue or gallery guide.

A cost-cutting restructuring at the Barbican Art Galleries has led to the axing of the position of the director, and John Hoole, who has held the post for 19 years, will be leaving in June. The visual arts will come under an integrated arts department under Graham Sheffield, and senior exhibitions organiser Carol Brown will then run the galleries.





Mayfair gallery sued in £100m battle over the life and legacy of Francis Bacon






A £100m court battle over works by the painter Francis Bacon was launched yesterday in what seems likely to become one of the most bitter art wrangles in decades.

Trustees of Bacon’s estate are suing his former gallery, Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd, alleging it took too much commission from the artist, produced prints without paying him and has not accounted for up to 33 of his paintings.

The gallery, which denies the allegations, is seeking this week to have the estate’s claims struck out at the High Court in London. If it fails, a full-blown and probably highly-scandalous trial will begin in earnest early next year.

Yesterday, Geoffrey Vos QC, counsel for the estate’s executor Professor Brian Clarke, a friend of the artist, told Mr Justice Patten: "This is a unique case. There is nothing normal or run-of-the-mill about it. The relationship at the root of this litigation, which one suspects will never be found again, is a relationship between Britain’s greatest 20th-century artist and his dealer."

Mr Vos said that from 1958 until his death at 82 from a heart attack in Spain in 1992, Bacon was represented by the Marlborough gallery and its international arm, Marlborough International Fine Art (MIFA), which is based in Liechtenstein.

But the estate alleges that instead of taking a "fair" rate of commission of about 30 per, Marlborough took up to 70 per cent. Further, it claims that the London-based gallery issued between 150 and 180 offset lithographic prints of the artist’s work, valued at £25m to £30m, in 48 series. Yet it alleges Bacon was paid for only one series  a flat fee of $40,000.

The estate has questioned the role of one of Marlborough’s directors, Valerie Beston, who was also Bacon’s assistant and an executor of his estate, something the trustees argue was a conflict of interest. There is no suggestion that Ms Beston benefited improperly from the arrangement.

Mr Vos added: "What is beyond doubt is that Valerie Beston, a director of Marlborough UK, organised much if not all of Francis Bacon’s professional and personal life.

"One of her principal roles on behalf of Marlborough UK was the removal of the paintings that he completed to its own gallery as soon as the paint was dry  in Marlborough’s own words 'in Bacon’s best interests'."

The beneficiary of Bacon’s estate is Londoner John Edwards, 51, a former pub landlord whom the artist befriended "like a son", according to one of his friends, during the last 18 years of his life.

The trustees complain they have been unable to examine lists of the artist’s work or details of his correspondence or diaries, even though it is the duty of his estate’s executor to do so. Bacon signed over "sole and exclusive" rights to his work to the gallery in 1958.

"The trustees have not been able to get a full account of Bacon’s works from the gallery and don’t have evidence that some of them were paid for," said a source close to the estate. "Marlborough has failed to supply them with an account for some of the paintings thought to have been painted by him.

"But what is also annoying is that we can’t get access to the correspondence, diaries and so on, that Bacon produced because the gallery holds them. They have everything from fan mail to hate mail.

"If nothing else, we hope to have these released for public consumption so we are no longer in the ludicrous position of scholars not being able to study Britain’s greatest 20th-century painter."

During the 1970s and 1980s Bacon, who was born in Dublin to English parents, was the world’s most valuable living painter. In 1989, his triptych, May-June 1973, sold at Sotheby’s in New York for £3.53m.

He is widely acknowledged as being one of the greatest painters  if not the pre-eminent British painter  of the last century. Some experts put him in the same league as Picasso and Magritte.

His stark, often nightmarish use of body imagery won him a stream of admirers but also, as with his Three Studies for Figures at the Base of the Crucifixion in 1945, caused revulsion among others.

His work, dark and impenetrable, was nevertheless much sought after in his own lifetime, guaranteeing him high-profile exhibitions at the Tate in London, the Metropolitan in New York, the Smithsonian in Washington, as well as shows in Paris, Berlin and Moscow.

A lover of wine and gambling, the sculptors Alberto Giacometti and Henry Moore and the painter Graham Sutherland were among his friends.

His stature, therefore, has made the alleged failure to account for some of his works harder to bear. The Bacon source said: "We believe we have identified 33 paintings by Bacon between 1972 and 1981 which do not feature in the Marlborough or MIFA accounts. You could be looking at £5m for each of them.

"The figure of £100m was raised during an interlocutory hearing in the case. In truth, until we know what’s out there, we don’t know how much could be at stake."

A spokeswoman for the gallery, owned by the Duke of Beaufort and the family of the late connoisseur Frank Lloyd, said: "We totally reject the allegations. Our relationship with Francis Bacon was completely proper and we will be vigorously contesting the claims."

It is understood the gallery will argue that Bacon negotiated the price of the paintings he sold to Marlborough before it sold them on. Insiders reject the suggestion that Bacon was naive when it came to money matters, but was simply not concerned about the balance of his bank account.

One of his friends said: "He needed money for fine wines and gambling and to exercise his generosity. Other than that, it meant nothing to him."

During the case, it will be pointed out that Bacon approached Marlborough, not the other way around, and that he stuck with the gallery despite approaches by others. His initial contract was for 10 years. He exercised an escape clause half way through but stayed with the gallery. Why would he do that if he was unhappy?

Part of the reason might have been because of Ms Beston herself. Depending on which side you believe, she was either a Marlborough employee who exercised too much control, or a devoted fan and friend who gave years of service helping Bacon with everything from his tax affairs to his laundry. It is understood she is now ill and unlikely to give evidence.

The gallery is expected to claim that Bacon knew they could double the price of his works but that he set the initial prices. By the time he died, he was understood to be charging more than £1m for some works.

The questions the court must answer are: Were those prices enough, and did Bacon care?





Dealer snatched Bacon paintings away




Court hearing on claim that could run to £100m highlights artist’s unique relationship with 'minder'






An art dealer acted as the painter Francis Bacon’s keeper or minder, removing his paintings to her gallery as soon as the paint was dry, a high court judge was told yesterday.

This was said to be one of the principal roles of Valerie Beston, who organised the artist’s life for more than 30 years.

The allegations were made by Geoffrey Vos QC, who called Bacon Britain’s greatest 20th century artist. He was acting for Bacon’s estate in a claim which could run as high as £100m. The estate is suing Marlborough Fine Art (London) and the Liechtenstein-based Marlborough International Fine Art Establishment for breach of duty and undue influence over Bacon.

Mr Vos was speaking at a preliminary procedural hearing of a complex case which is expected to bring the dead painter’s often desperate life back into the limelight when it is fully argued in January.

Mr Vos told Mr Justice Patten: The relationship which is at the root of this litigation, which one suspects will never be found again, is a relationship between Britain’s greatest 20th century artist and his dealer. This is a unique case. There is nothing normal or run of the mill about it.

The Marlborough gallery exclusively represented Bacon from 1958 – shortly before he became celebrated and was sometimes getting only a few hundred pounds for a canvas – until he died in 1992 as the world’s highest-priced living artist.

Marlborough are contesting the claims of the estate, of which Brian Clarke was appointed executor in 1998. It is urging the judge to strike out the case this week.

The estate accuses the gallery of retaining up to 70% of the sale value of Bacon’s paintings. It says a fair share of the proceeds would have been about a third. It alleges Marlborough has not yet demonstrated that it has paid for all the paintings it received. The estate is demanding a full accounting of the gallery’s role to show that a fair balance was struck between its interests and those of Bacon. It also alleges that Marlborough have failed to account for the proceeds of a sale of 47 series of Bacon lithographs.

Mr Vos told the court Ms Beston could be described as the defendants would have it, as Bacon’s assistant, or as one might say, his keeper or minder.

But what is beyond doubt is that Valerie Beston, a director of Marlborough UK at all times material to the case, organised much if not all of Francis Bacon’s professional and personal life.

One of her principal roles on behalf of Marlborough UK was the removal of the paintings that he completed to its own gallery as soon as the paint was dry.

Outside court, the estate said in a statement: It is right that the truth about the UK’s pre-eminent artist and the treatment of his work be established and not buried.

Bacon left his £10m fortune to his longstanding friend John Edwards, 51, an illiterate east Londoner who now lives in Thailand.

The case continues.





Bacon’s estate is trying it on’







FRANCIS BACON’S heirs were accused of trying it on yesterday by claiming that his former art dealers swindled him out of up to £100 million.

Marlborough Fine Art, which represented the artist for nearly 40 years, told the High Court that the arguments from the executors of Bacon’s estate were muddled. From 1958 until his death in Spain in 1992, aged 82, Bacon was represented by the Marlborough gallery and its international wing, Marlborough International Fine Art (MIFA).

He bequeathed his estate to John Edwards, an illiterate East End pub manager, who has now brought the case, alleging that Marlborough took advantage of Bacon’s financial naivety. On Wednesday his counsel asked for proper accounting from Marlborough so as to be able to establish that there was a fair balance struck between the interests of the gallery and Bacon.

One of the estate’s allegations was that Marlborough had not yet demonstrated that it had paid for all the paintings it received from Bacon. The estate is concerned about the role of Valerie Beston, a former director of Marlborough, one of whose jobs, it alleges, was to remove the paintings that he had completed to its own gallery as soon as the paint was dry.

Michael Lyndon-Stanford, QC for MIFA, said: We say this action is a try-on.  

Marlborough said it enjoyed a frank, close and mutually beneficial relationship with Bacon. It rejected the claim that it had exercised undue influence and said there was no exclusivity arrangement and Bacon was free to sell or make gifts of his work elsewhere.



The Duke of Beaufort is the Chairman of Marlborough London, and not, as stated in a report yesterday, the owner.






Bacon estate trying it on’, court is told







A multimillion-pound legal action brought by the estate of Francis Bacon against his former gallery was a try on and ill-founded, a High Court judge was told yesterday.

The case brought by Bacon’s estate was described as muddled and confusing by counsel for the gallery when it sought to have the claim, potentially £100m, thrown out.

Bacon, one of Britain’s greatest 20th-century artists, was represented by the international Marlborough gallery from 1958 until his death in Spain in 1992, aged 82.

Professor Brian Clarke, the executor of Bacon’s estate, launched a unique claim against the gallery and Marlborough International Fine Art (Mifa), based in Liechtenstein, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and undue influence.

The estate says it wants proper accounts to establish that there was a fair balance struck between the interests of the gallery and Bacon.

In a statement, Marlborough said it enjoyed a frank, close and mutually beneficial relationship with the artist.

On the second day of preliminary hearings in London, Michael Lyndon-Stanford QC, for Mifa, said: We say this action is a try on. What the claimant wants to do is achieve a living action and he doesn’t care how he does it.

The estate claims that instead of taking fair commission of one third, Marlborough kept up to 70 per cent of the paintings’ value and had not demonstrated it paid for all the Bacon paintings it received.






Should it Stay or Should it Go . . .



The relocation of Francis Bacon’s studio from London to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin has divided the critics.


Peter FitzGerald says that it is a valuable resource for Ireland, while William Feaver argues that the significance of Bacon’s studio died with the artist






First, the more general question: why preserve the Francis Bacon studio at all? Some of the most important reasons are close to the best ones for not doing so. On the positive side, when we see the studio, we see at one remove the process of making works of art. It is a sort of externalization of inner conflicts all mixed up with the practicalities of testing out paint colours, sorting through source material, slicing up failed canvases – standard studio stuff. It’s a demystification: the paintings become process and not just finished works.

Problem is, it’s also a mythification and mystification: so much attention devoted to one person and you’re in genius territory, with all the concomitant notions of superhuman talent. There’s probably no more harmful nor widespread belief about “great art” than that it is the product of genius.

So a strong reason for preserving the studio proves a double-edged sword. There are many more pros and cons. Would Bacon have wanted it? Even if he were opposed, it might still have been worth doing. But it would be unwise to skim over the apparent appropriation of Bacon by the Irish, as in the oft-repeated headline “Bringing Home the Bacon”. Irish by birth, but scarcely by identification, Bacon would not seem very fertile ground for repossession, were it not for a conjunction of factors. 

In Ireland at the moment there is a sense of the end of history: the Good Friday Agreement separated us from our partisan past at a time when many old certainties were collapsing. We find ourselves with unaccustomed wealth and a feeling the sun never sets on the Irish diaspora, however tenuous the links. It’s become a time to bring things home, metaphorically and literally: mull them over, see if we can make head or tail of them. 

Bacon’s studio is a prime example. Schadenfreude makes it sweeter for some – word has it that it was swiped from under the nose of the Tate. But the studio is also part of a remarkable upsurge in the visual arts in Ireland. Although funding is still tight, because of infrastructural changes the major institutions are much more assertive and competitive. If it’s there, they may grab it.

That’s the wider context – what of the practical level? The studio has peepholes through the walls – tubes with wide-angle lenses at the end. It will be voyeuristic in the extreme, resonating in a disturbing fashion with the once-taboo nature of Bacon’s sexuality. Were he there in the studio, what would he be doing, with whom? And will it be like approaching a mausoleum, a sacred relic, or like approaching just another art installation, a work of art in itself? 

So there are worries connected with the studio’s coming to Dublin, but also challenges. It’s an important experiment. It will be a new phenomenon, a new way of viewing art and artists in Ireland, but also an expression of the new ways in which we are coming to view ourselves and others. Bacon’s studio is coming to Dublin because of his fame. But the really interesting aspect, and the best reason for the move, is the way it will function within society and within the visual arts in Ireland at a crucial time. It will be high culture and Disney and hype and archaeological feat and sincere fascination. It promises to shift awareness about art, and our ways of dealing with art. It’s a leap in the dark, but it’s worth the risk .   

Peter FitzGerald is editor of “Circa”, Ireland’s leading art magazine


Creatively spotlit, Van Gogh steps back from the easel: another masterpiece completed in record time. The dimple on the chin that Kirk Douglas brought to the role complements the dimples pitting the center of each sunflower. 

Thirty-five years on, in another studio, with a lower budget this time and slightly less sweaty with artistic urge, Francis Bacon ponders a moment, then advances on the easel and, using a dustbin lid as a template, inscribes a near-perfect circle. Another self-portrait has begun.

Derek Jacobi, immersed in the exercise of camping it up while sploshing it down in Love is the Devil, had art director Christina Moore and set-dresser Phillipa Hart to thank for furnishing him with so convincing a replica of 7 Reece Mews. It was all there: circular mirror, paint rags, bottles and brushes, wastepaper, books, the naked light bulb.

In Love is the Devil, as in Lust for Life, the studio set serves as a mindset. Here is the stuff that gets genius going; here, if you look carefully, you may spot the very things that made it into the paintings. Here, therefore, you may gain a unique insight into the workings of art.

Romanticism overlaid with sentimentality is indiscriminate, and superstition amplified by publicity machines is voracious. Forget the art, visit the location. I dare say those responsible for relocating the first floor of 7 Reece Mews, London SW7 to Parnell Square North, Dublin 1, where the Hugh Lane Gallery stands, have been at pains to get the chaos right. Walls have been dirtied, painterly dabs transferred, VAT69 cardboard box correctly placed between orange box and Chelsea boot on a heap of kitchen rolls and fetid documentation. The director of the Hugh Lane argues that the studio contents are an archive. She describes the gift as a “cornerstone of the Gallery’s collection”

If so, it’s a structural liability. No accessible archive in the normal sense, all you can do is gawp at it, compare it to the photographs of the original state he left it in nearly nine years ago and wonder at the contrast between the mess he made and the conspicuously tidy shop window-style triptychs he produced there in his later years. You will note reproductions of triptychs stuck up for reference, books on boxing and Velazquez, brushes stuffed in a Maxwell House jar and a Leach pottery mug: cultural references crowned by the paint squished like a flattened wreath around the circular mirror.

Picasso filled one house after another with stuff that he had made or simply not thrown away. When he died the executors and the taxmen went through it all, disentangling art from memorabilia from refuse. The Musée Picasso has no studio reconstruction. A chair caked in paint, yes, but this is presented as a sort of sculpture, a fetish almost. In Paris, several artists’ studios – among them Rodin’s and Gustave Moreau’s – have been preserved. But these, unlike 7 Reece Mews, were always intended as showrooms, as were those of Lord Leighton in London, and Duke Fildos, and indeed every successful portrait painter.

When Giacometti died they stripped the plaster off the walls of his studio in the Rue Hippolyte-Maindron in order to preserve the sketches scratched on them. Yet Brassaï’s photographs of them in situ had more to them somehow. Equally Brancusi’s own photographs of his studio are more informative and atmospheric than the sanitized reconstruction stuck next door to the Centre Pompidou.

A studio in use is a den of practicalities. Most have comfy armchair, radio, postcards pinned up, stashes of failures or potential failures. The tubes and tubs of paint, bags of plaster, blowtorches, wipes and solvents are there for a purpose. Once that purpose has died away the materials are redundant. That leaves romanticism, spliced with voyeurism, as the motive for preserving the studio.

The export of his studio to Ireland, the country he loathed and left at 16, is an affront to Bacon’s memory. Particularly as he was a keen one for bonfires of anything that he feared might be classified as “archive”. Bacon knew, as every artist does, that only the work counts, so only the works themselves need remain.

William Feaver is an art critic

Francis Bacon’s studio opens at the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin (00 353 1 874 1903) on 24 May.

7 Reece Mews: Francis Bacon’s Studio is published by Thames & Hudson on 23 May, priced £14.95.

To order your copy for £12.95 (incl UK p&p), call Lisa Thompson on 020 7246 3370






On the artificiality of life



Francis Bacon seen through the eyes of Bataille and Deleuze



Henk Oosterling


“Beginnings” Symposium, International Association for Philosophy & Literature, Atlanta University, GA, 28 May 2001


I present you an update of my research on Deleuze. I just outline two questions: one on new meta-physics as the horizon of an ontology of the in between and one on the relation between art and life.

“The temptation to see analogies between Bacon’s life and work is something that the artist himself has encouraged while at the same time demonstrating its futility. If his painting is, as he declares, a lasting record of his life, it is not a direct reflection – rather an irregular echo, a reworking of lived experience.”

In the opening sentence of Christophe Domino’s book Francis Bacon. Taking Reality by Surprise, art and life do not reflect but echo. Georges Bataille gives a more dramatic characterisation of his ‘reworking of lived experience’. The relation between his life and his writing at the beginning of Sur Nietzsche, written during wartime, is characterised as follows: "What obliges me to write, as I see it, is the fear of going mad."29 Writing to counter madness. According to Foucault’s History of Madness madness is the absolute limit of a work of art. Gilles Deleuze was writing on nomadism, but hardly ever moved or travelled. But if the horizon of his critical diagnoses is a philosophy of immanence – let’s say: as a Nietzschean inspired Bergsonian transformation of Kants transcendentalism with a touch of Humean empiricism – related to lines of flight, then both his life project and his violent suicidal jump are articulated pointedly in his posthumous publicised text: “L’immanence: une vie …”

Bacon, Bataille and Deleuze. What did they share? They all had problems with breathing: Bacon had asthma, Bataille a pneuma thorax and Deleuze a lung disease. The fear that results from breathlessness at least engenders a sharp physical awareness of bodily presence in the world. This could throw some light on the specific materialism they developed. Bataille calls this tension ‘eroticism’, Bacon ‘nervoussystem’ and Deleuze ‘sensation’. But I agree physical reductionism doesn’t answer these questions.

Does an experienced artificiality/artifactuality of life correspond to an aesthetic experience? A preliminary remark. In a broader context these questions point towards the problematic relations between politics and aesthetics. In modern times these tensions have been explored and articulated in a twofold sense: on a cultural political level as a Gesamtkunstwerk, on an individual artistic level  using a notion Foucault introduced in his last writings – as an ‘aesthetic of existence’. In a 19th century configuration: Wagner and Wilde (or Baudelaire). In a 20th century configuration: Bauhaus and Beuys. As for the Gesamtkunstwerk, Bazon Brock suggests a differentiation between the philosophical Gesamtkunstwerk (Schelling, Hegel), the artistic Gesamtkunstwerk (Wagner, Bauhaus, maybe nowadays Peter Greenaway) and the political Gesamtkunstwerk (totalitarianism). As Benjamin concludes his famous essay on The Work of Art in the Age of Technical Reproduction, in the political Gesamtkunstwerk either politics gets aestheticised (fascism) or art is politicised (Stalinism).

Although in futurism and surrealism – Marinetti, Breton – the demarcation line between art and politics is very thin, 20th century avant-garde art keeps its distance to politics. At most, it presents itself as a specific form of cultural politics or as a micropolitical aesthetic of existence – Schwitters, Dali, Bunuel. It is obvious that avant-garde art is a balance act on a rope, double binded between life and art: as the rope dancer in Nietzsche’s Also sprach Zarathustra, the artist continuously is threatened by falling into the abyss that both connects and separates art and life.


Materialism: the sensible and violence

 A lived experience of a work of art – both on the production-aesthetic level of the artist and the reception-aesthetic level of the public – engenders an awareness of the artificiality of life. From a philosophical point of view this transition presupposes an ambiguous materialism that does justice to what Deleuze calls the sensible and according to Bataille and Bacon is centred round notions that are covered by every front-page of whatever newspaper: violence and the flesh, in a less frivolous terminology: mortality, with its existential counterpoint: immanence.

Why are Bataille and Bacon so obsessed with violence? Is it a traumatized relation with their fathers or their failing to come to terms with a crucifictional Catholicism? Of course this psychological reductionism is as inadequate as the above mentioned physical reductionism. "I think that the violence of my life’, Francis Bacon says to David Sylvester, “the violence in which I have lived, differs from the violence of the painting”. “If you talk about the violence of the paint, it has nothing to do with the violence of war. It is connected with an attempt to recreate the violence of reality." Artistic violence is ambiguously recreative. Bacon does not paint representations of violent situations; he produces a violent imagery by "the suggestion of the painting itself, which can only be conveyed by the paint."

In Les larmes d’Eros (1961) Georges Bataille selected paintings that give the reader a glimpse of violence beyond representation as the unintended goal of human behaviour. To Bataille mankind imposes limits (prohibitions, concepts, identities) in order to experience what Derrida in his analysis of a text of Benjamin on violence qualified as ‘originary violence’: the abyssal aporetical foundation of the Law. On an anthropological level this ambiguous reality of prohibitions, according to Bataille, is only revealed in its transgressions. Communicating this violence in sacrificing the most valuable – life  brings "a subject at its boiling point". Understanding this experience does not call for unambiguous concepts, but for series of phantasms with the parodic function of access and passage.

The Bataillean phantasms are supposed to have a comparable impact on its readers as Bacon’s images must have on their spectators. Bataille’s early work offers a range of mythological parodies. He sketches the transition from animal to human being in a variety of different, often strikingly inventive heterologies. Epistemologically this 'mythological anthropology' surrenders knowledge to non-savoir without destroying the truth. Figure and parody are conceived as strategies to reactivate a suppressed dimension of the human condition as experience, because what we read or see has no identifiable existence outside the painting or text. Nevertheless it becomes ‘real’ in its material effects. Nowadays we call this ‘virtual’. Like painting, philosophical writing literally figures out what reality is in exploring the borders between figuration and non-figuration. In creating concepts, it produces reality.

Bataille inflicts violence on truth by parodying the achievements of science. He does not establish truth; he subverts it by producing an ambiguous experience of fascination and repulsion in order to shock – or choke – his readers. In Le plaisir du texte Roland Barthes formulates this as follows: "it creates a situation of loss, which creates a sense of unease (...) causing the historical, cultural, psychological foundations of the reader, the coherence of his predilections, values and recollections to founder, and throwing his relation to language into crisis."33

Bataille’s choices for the images in Les larmes d’Eros is motivated by the same fascination Bacon had: exploring the boundaries of representation. Both are not fans of abstract paintings or formal art. They at most favour Picasso’s imagery. One painting by Bacon is included in Bataille’s last book: two men on the bed, reworking one of Muybridge’s images. The caption says: “Francis Bacon, a young English painter who is one of the most important of his generation, is distinguished by unusual paintings which express an idiosyncratic lack of polish."16 Apparently Bacon’s imagery rings a bell to Bataille.

Did Bataille influence Bacon’s work? Bacon lived in surrealist Paris in the thirties, where Bataille and Michel Leiris, Bataille’s bosom friend and Bacon’s later intimate friend, initiated Documents that Bacon has read. But there are only sporadic and vague references to Bataille in the literature on Bacon – "the photographs and texts in Documents might have been a source" and "It might be possible to refer Bacon’s human/animal to Bataille’s discussion of this theme" – there is no hard evidence, Dawn Ades writes.


The sublime and the flesh

So let us leave the aesthetic-production level behind and concentrate on the reception-aesthetics. How do Bataille’s parodic and Bacon’s visual figurations affect us? From a reception-aesthetic perspective Bataille’s perverted materialist translation of the Kantian sublime – his ‘bas materialisme’ – is the dynamic affect of horror: the viewer’s reaction oscillates between repulsion and attraction. Kant’s all encompassing power of reason – the subject’s garantee for autonomy – is broken. Bataille qualifies this ‘experience interieure’ as “what is usually called a 'mystical experience': no 'interiority' as cogito, but an experience in which inner and outer are connected by affective dynamics. This ‘inner experience’ is foremost a sublime experience of lost coherence and comprehension. Bataille characterized this loss in negative theological terms, though his fascination with Zen Buddhist’s notion as ‘satori’ and the ‘void’ in Sur Nietzsche bare witness to a more affirmative approaches.

Given the nature of their medium, both Bataille and Bacon seem to embark on the same enterprise: laying bare the violence that is inherent to the human condition. But even if Bataille’s La Somme athéologique and Bacon’s Studies at the Base of a Crucifixion conjure within a wider critical perspective, they do not realize this violence in the same way. The irreducible autonomy of on the one side Bacon’s visual imagery as ‘cruci-fiction’ and on the other – to use a Lyotardian notion – the ‘fiction-theory’ of Bataille cannot be neglected. While we are desperately searching for meaning, lacking representation and narration, the disturbing radiance of these images directly affects our deeper instincts. By He positing images on the border of representation rather than beyond, Bacon wants his paintings to penetrate our 'perceptive capacity': the nervous system. His imagery literally gets on the spectator’s nerves. Unlike the surrealist Dalí or the abstract painter Mondriaan, Bacon dissolves everyday reality by evoking one of its invisible aspects as an ambivalent sensation. Bacon’s Pope is screaming in his gaping, empty chasm. As in Bataille’s textuality the medium – the style of painting and the use of material – becomes violent. Bacon’s figures are isolated in frames, hidden behind veils. Their faces are erased, scratched and rubbed. The screaming mouth is transformed into the spasms of the deformed body, that begin to merge with the material surface.

Obviously it is the mouth, not the eyes, that 'communicates' this violence. Being fascinated by the cry of Poussin Massacre of the Innocent and Mussolini’s big mouth, Bacon always wanted to paint a mouth as "Monet painted a sunset". "It is no longer a specific organ, but the hole through which the body fully escapes and through which the flesh (chair) descends". The gaping mouth displays the interior both literally and metaphorically as flesh: "If you scream", Bacon says, "you are always the prey of invisible and incomprehensible forces which obstruct every spectacle and which even exceed the pain and the suffering". In more Bataillean terms, in pain and pleasure, i.e. in eroticism, the body loses its coherence and is experienced as a field of intensities: as 'flesh'. As a limit concept it functions as a receding horizon for the body as organism. According to Michel Leiris: "Through the mediation of the figures, the spectator who approaches them without fixed ideas gains direct access to a reality of flesh and blood which is not very different from the suffocating experience provided by the physical act of love-making in everyday life."

Around 1930 Georges Bataille writes a short text entitled The mouth in Document: “The mouth (...) is the most vital part, that is, the one which is the most terrifying to animals of the same kind. Human beings, however, are not constructed as simply as animals. (…) It is the eyes or the forehead which play the signifying role of the animal’s jaws.(…) However, the violent significance of the mouth has been retained in a latent state. (...) And at major moments human life is concentrated once again in the mouth as in an animal: teeth gnash in rage, and fear and dreadful pain turn the mouth into an instrument of agonizing screams. Then it is easy to see that an individual in distress raises its head, strains its neck like a madman, so that the mouth is aligned as closely as possible with the spinal column, i.e. in a position which it normally assumes in the animal state. (...)."

Bacon’s figures and Bataille’s parodies are not so much concerned with the distinction between human and animal, as with the feverish state in which human beings become animal, with the process in which identity is momentarily dissolved into non-identifiable intensities. "The person who suffers”, Gilles Deleuze remarks in Francis Bacon. Logique de la sensation , “is an animal, an animal that suffers is a person. It is the reality of becoming an animal. Bacon’s work is constituted by an indiscernible and undecidable zone between man and animal”(20/40). The body, becoming flesh, turns inside out. The organs loose their instrumental function. To Deleuze Bacon’s ‘flesh’ reflects in a painterly sense Artaud’s ‘body without organs’, the notion he, with Félix Guattari, introduced in the first book of Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Anti-Oedipus (1972). This violent experience no longer refers to an Outside or reaches Upwards, but it uncovers an Inside that folds itself within itself.


Plane of immanence

And it is within this perspective of an Inside without subjectivity, of a ‘materialism of the incorporeal’ that Deleuze enters the stage. In Logique de la sensation Deleuze applies Lyotard’s notion of the Figural form Discours, Figure to characterise Bacon’s non-figurative painting and introduces ‘sensation’ as an affective dynamics. Sensation is explicitly distinguished from the sensational. To Deleuze the defigurised, hystericised Figures cannot be grasped within aesthetics of the beautiful. But neither does a negative aesthetics of the sublime suffice. Nevertheless the ‘irrational logic of sensation’ circles around ‘an indiscernable and indecidable zone’. So, while Bataille is still focusing on borders and transgressions implicitly suggesting an Outside, Deleuze focuses on a zone, a black hole in figurality that finally will be ‘identified’ as an inbetween. As an inter this is framed and yet open. Sensation is a non-quantifiable duration. Of course one cannot apply this logic as a method. Sensation is a reception-aesthetic notion, captured in the reception of a work of art. Looking at Bacon’s Figures one can almost touch it with one’s eyes. The haptic space connects the eye with the hand, the optic with the tactile, triggering vibrations and resonance between both. Logique de la sensation is a subtle exploration of this haptic dynamics: it explores the rhythm between the armature or structure, the Figure and the contour or outline(62), determined by operations as isolation, deformation and dissipation: “The ultimate, Deleuze states, is the connection between the rhythm with the sensation”(31). ‘Between’ appears to be a crucial notion. I quote: “forms are articulated on the INBETWEEN (entre-deux) of the two planes that they arouse (81); the form no longer is essence but accident that introduces an INBETWEEN of the two planes, where the fall takes place (87); (Pope) the Figure falls INBETWEEN the two planes (88); Bacons colourism (modulation) also implies THE INBETWEEN of the colour regimes” (97).


a. affect and interval

Here the notion ‘plane’ is still a painterly category which has to do with perspective lines. The notion ‘plan of immanence’ is not systematically introduced in Logique de la sensation. Referring to Bergson Deleuze introduces this notion in his books on Cinema. In accordance with his analysis of Bacon’s paintings Deleuze characterizes cinema as “the image which itself moves in itself. In this sense, therefor, it is neither figurative nor abstract”(156). But instead of the mind making the movement as in painting, it is now moved by pictorial images. With choreographic or dramatic images, movement is still kinaesthetically incorporated by the receptive body, but with cinema the movement has become automatic, “producing a shock to thought, communicating vibrations to the cortex, touching the nervous and cerebral system directly”(156). Deleuze’s materialism unfolds itself: “The infinite set of all images constitutes a plane of immanence. The image exists in itself, on this plane. The in itself of image is matter: not something hidden behind the image, but on the contrary the absolute identity of the image and movement”(58/9).

The plane of immanence is not distinct from the representations of the plane. This, Deleuze concludes, is machinism: “The material universe, the plane of immanence, is the machine assemblage (agencement machinique) of movement-images”(59). I prefer a notion introduced by Kodwo Eshun: imageneering. Descending into imagematter, these intervals are found on every level. According to Bergson the universe is a meta-cinema, a bundle of chains of actions and reactions, but “at any point whatever of the plane an interval appears – a gap BETWEEN the action and the reaction”(61). Though we don’t mind the gap, it nevertheless constitutes us experiencing movement. Technologically spoken: 24 frames a second. Referring to Bergson’s Matter and Memory Deleuze goes as far as to state that “the brain is nothing but this – an interval, a gap BETWEEN an action and a reaction. The brain is certainly not a Cartesian centre of images from which one could begin, but itself constitutes one special image among others. It constitutes a centre of indetermination in the acentred universe of images”(62/3).

The movement-image consists of perception-image, action-image and affectionimage that are realised as montage or INTERassemblage. A film can be overdetermined by one of the images, but the others always play their part. But whatever image Deleuze refers to, each of them is constituted by an INBETWEEN (entre-deux or interval). Bataille and Bacon remerge when Deleuze focuses on thé crucial aspect of the image: affection. This, however, in a non-sublimistic sense: “The shock would be confused, in bad cinema, with the figurative violence of the represented instead of achieving that other violence of a movement-image developing its vibrations in a moving sequence which embeds itself within us”(157). Bunuels eye-cut in Un chien Andalou is still sublime on a content-level, but for Deleuze shock as avant-garde sublimity is a mediamatic effect: it can be recognized in the way movement-images are cut. In the French inter-bellum cinema of Gance Deleuze recognises the mathematical sublime, while in Fritz Lang’s cinema the dynamical sublime persists.

Not shock, but affection and sensation are the key words: “Affection is what occupies the interval, what occupies it without filling it in or filling it up. It surges in the centre of indetermination, that is to say in the subject, between a perception which is troubling in certain respects and a hesitant action. It is a coincidence of subject and object, or the way in which the subject perceives itself, or rather experiences itself or feels itself ‘from the inside’”.(65)


b. immaterial Whole: Open and Outside

The interval, Deleuze stresses time and again, is the affect. In the affect different planes of immanence are connected. The inter or the inbetween has a ‘metaphysical’ complement (although I prefer to qualify it, with a Derridean terrminology: ‘is supplementary’): a Whole, as Deleuze, characterizes it rather plainly. Outside and Inside are understood as a functions of a dynamics of the Whole: “the relationship with a whole which can only be thought in a higher awareness, the relation with a thought which can only be shaped in the subconscious’s unfolding of images, the sensory-motor relationship BETWEEN man and world, nature and thought”(163). In the pre-war cinema the whole was that in which the narrative and action-image were anticipated, in the post-war cinema “what counts is on the contrary the interstice between images, between two images: a spacing which means that each image is plucked from the void and falls back into it”(179) As for the relation between sound and image: “… the sound itself becomes the object of a specific framing which imposes an interstice with the visual framing”(180) Intermediality is its rule: “It is the method of BETWEEN, ‘between two images’, which does away with all cinema of the One. (…) The whole thus merges with what Blanchot calls the force of ‘dispersal of the Outside’, or ‘the vertigo of spacing’…”(180).

The Whole as a plane of immanence cannot be made explicit discursively. It is sensed in the sensible. However, the movement-image stands in a different relation the Whole than the time-image. In the first the Whole is open: it more or less performates and perforates the interval. In the time-image cinema the Whole is the Outside working from the Inside. Implicitely Deleuze refers to the aporetical dynamics of the unthought within thought as one of the articulation of the analytics of the finite Foucault developed in The Order of Things. Foucault rephrases his conclusion of an essay on Blanchots writings, written in the same period: Thinking of the Outside. In this essay Foucault circumscribes what fiction is. We immediately recognises Deleuze’s Bacon statements: “Fictions in Blanchot will be, more than images, the transformation, the displacement/dislocation, the neutral intermediary, the in-between (INTERSTICE) of the images. (…) The fictive is neither in the things nor in men, but in the impossible verisimilitude of what is IN BETWEEN them: encounters, proximity of the most distant, absolute dissimulation there where we are. Fiction does not consist of making the invisible visible, but making visible how invisible the invisibility of the visible is”(I.524). This is not a dialectical turn but a supplementary differing.

Deleuze also refers to Blanchot in Cinema 2. Time-image: “What Blanchot diagnoses everywhere in literature is particularly clear in cinema: on the one hand the presence of an unthinkable in thought, which would be both his source and barrier; on the other hand the presence to infinity of another thinker in the thinker, who shatters every monologue of a thinking self”(168). Still qualifying Eisenstein’s movement-image cinema as an attempt to make visible what is invisible, in his chapter on ‘Thought and Cinema’ Deleuze states, again referring to Blanchot, that “far from making thought visible, as Eisenstein wanted, we are on the contrary directed to what does not let itself be thought in thought, and equally to what does not let itself be seen in vision”(168).

Deleuze’s later conceptualisation of ‘sensation’ makes use of the same terminology. In What is Philosophy? sensation finally is circumscribed as “compounds or blocs of percepts and affects” that transcends individual perceptions and affections. In defining the percept Deleuze seem to fall back behind Foucault and Lyotard: “to make perceptible the imperceptible forces that populate the world, affect us, and make us become”(182) Deleuze’s own materialism of the incorporeal must surpass this dialectic.

As with Lyotard the centre of Deleuze’s aesthetics is the aistheton, that which is felt or perceived. Doing justice to the sensible a complex of forces emerges that Deleuze in his book on Bacon already calls ‘spiritual’. This ‘spirituality’ returns in What is Philosophy? as a pseudo-metaphysical ontology: “Sensations, percepts and affects”, Deleuze and Guattari conclude, “are beings whose validity lies in themselves and exceeds any lived. “The work of art is a being of sensation and nothing else: it exists in itself”(164) “Sensation belongs to a different order (than the material) and posses an existence in itself for as long as the material lasts”(193). Although matter is the ultimate criterium, there is something that ‘transcends’ it in an ontological sense. And it is this ‘something’ that is called ‘a plane of immanence’.

And arrived on this point, my research is confronted with two questions:

1. How metaphysical is the notion of immanence?

2. What does this all mean for the relation between artwork and life world?


1. What is this plane of immanence, once it is compared with Blanchots notion of the Outside? My problem with Deleuze’s references to Blanchot boils down to the problems I have with one of Blanchot’s soulmates: Georges Bataille. It is the negative theological connotation of the Outside, a connotation that can even be recognized within the thoughts of the Bataillean inspired Jacques Derrida. Bataille has rephrased this Outside in L’experience interieure on an experiential level as a mystical experience – to my opinion a literairy move. Derrida has turned it into a supplementary margin of the ‘ecriture’. But a more intensive reading – for instance on the notion of ‘chora’ – would make my argument for an negative theological aspect in Derrida more plausible. Does this all imply that Deleuze has tranformed his materialism into a new metaphysics? Can we also trace this as a crypto-negative theological aspect in Deleuze’s philosophy?

The provisional answer is that it is, as long as we interpret immanence in metaphysical terms. However, in the posthumously published text “L’immanence: une vie...” Deleuze distinguishes his notion of immanence from the traditional notion: it is not the opposite of transcendence. This conventional metaphysical dichotomy is made possible by his understanding of a plane of immanence. When in “l’immanence: une vie ...” Deleuze states that the ‘entre-temps’ forms the invisible bond within a plane of immanence that constitutes individual lives, he for the last time in HIS life stresses the importance of an ontology of the relation, perhaps evena metaphysics of the inbetween: the being of sensation can be explored as the becoming of an inter. In analogy with Deleuze tracing this immanency within the history of western philosophy to the transcendental plane that Kant invented – philosophy is about inventing concepts, not about contemplation, reflection or communication in a Habermasian sense – I would propose to coin this ontology of relation or becoming of the inter, having Kant’s influence on Deleuze in mind – as inter-esse: a materialist translation of Kant’s sensus communis. If this is situated against a contextualized metaphysics, this can be understood as Lyotard coined it: an immaterial materialism focused on the aistheton.

2.This leads us to our second question: HOW DOES THIS ALL RELATE TO ART? The end of WiPh science, art and philosophy are connected as follows: “The three thoughts intersect and intertwine but without synthesis or identification. With its concepts, philosophy brings forth events. Art erects monuments with its sensations. Science constructs states of affairs with its functions. A rich tissue of correspondences can be established between the planes. But the network has its culminating points, where sensation itself becomes sensation of concept of function, where the concept becomes concept of function or of sensation, and where the function becomes function of sensation or concept. And none of these elements can appear without the other being still to come, still indeterminate or unknown. (...) Each created element on a plane calls on other heterogeneous elements, which are still to be created on other planes: thought as heterogenesis.” (Wiph. 198/199) If, as D/G state in What is Philosophy art is composition – on an aesthetic and a technical level – and every art thinks as philosophy does, but always contextualised and in its own medium, and if this means that these modes of thinking have their own reflectiveness, does this mean that there creative force producers new modes of existence time and again? If so, this artificiality is based on inter-esse.

Can we reformulate these questions in post-modern times, after post- and transavantgarde, once, the aesthicization of public space, lifestylization and the theatricalization of social performance have become a matter of fact? Does this mean that Lifeworld finally has become a work of Art and every Artwork a Life world, in the sense that life imitates art and art imitates life??

My provisional answer is that we have to trace the relation between art and life on a different level. Wasn’t it Seneca that proclaimed: De mortibus nihil nisi bene: as for the dead nothing but the good. This aesthetic of the beautiful, based on realised mortality starts once we are dead: individual life with its entre-temps is framed and forced into a Gesamtkunstwerk, at least on a photographic or videomatic level. But while alive we are already framed. However, this aestheticization – composing our lives – is working from within as the radiance of a plane of immanence with its lines of flight: l’immanence: une vie. We are dividuals before we are individuals. Becoming requires an aesthetic as well as a micropolitics. The Whole of an individual life results from this indescernable zone, that works from within, deterritorializing and reterritorializing codification time and again. As inter-esse, this dividual enterprise requires an aesthetic of the invisible, an aesthetic of the inter. It is exactly on this point that art and life intertwine.





Bacon estate launches £100m civil suit against Marlborough







UK: Preliminary proceedings have begun at the High Court in a £100m claim by the estate of Francis Bacon against Marlborough Fine Art (London) and Lichtenstein-registered Marlborough International Fine Art. The estate claims the galleries were in breach of fiduciary duty and exerted “undue influence” in their dealings with the artist.

The estate accuses Marlborough Fine Art, who were Bacon’s dealers from 1958 until his death in 1992 aged 82, of taking an unfair commission rate of up to 70 per cent on the artist’s paintings, of issuing 47 series of lithographic prints valued at £25-30m, for which the artist received a flat fee of $40,000, and of not satisfactorily demonstrating payment for up to 33 paintings by Bacon. The estate questions the role of Valerie Beston, a Marlborough director who, according to Geoffrey Vos QC, acting for the claimants, could be described as Bacon’s “keeper or minder” and was responsible for “the removal of the paintings that he completed to its own gallery as soon as the paint was dry”.

Michael Lyndon-Stanford QC, representing Marlborough, who were seeking to have the case thrown out, told Mr Justice Patten: “This action is a try-on. What the claimant wants to do is achieve a living action and he doesn’t care how he does it.” In an official statement, Marlborough Fine Art described their relationship with Francis Bacon as “frank, close and mutually beneficial”.

If the judge allows the case to proceed, it will provide a highly revealing insight into what Vos described as the “relationship between Britain’s greatest 20th century artist and his dealer”.

The claim, scheduled to be heard in January, is estimated to run as high as £100m. The beneficiary of the estate is John Edwards, 51, a former pub landlord whom Bacon befriended “like a son” during the last 18 years of his life and to whom he left £10m. Mr Edwards now lives in Thailand.





Record £6 for Bacon, Erotic Star of £37m Art Sale







FRANCIS BACON’S erotically charged and tortured triptych, Studies of the Human Body, doubled expectations to establish a new world auction record for the artist when it was sold for almost £6 million at Sotheby’s New York.

It proved the star of the auction house’s highly successful offering of Part 1 of the Seeger collection last night, a sale which realised 37 million  almost double its enticingly conservative pre-sale estimate  and saw only three works fail to find new owners.

Until recently, the almost two-metre wide Bacon lined the bedroom of London-based American collector Stanley J Seeger. Before that it had graced the hall of Sutton Place, the Tudor House in Surrey that Mr. Seeger acquired in 1980 from another art-loving American, J Paul Getty.

The highly ambiguous work, painted in 1977 by Bacon, reveals the artist’s response to both Michelangelo, the creator of what he described as "the most voluptuous nudes in the plastic arts" and to the obsessive early photography of Edward Muybridge.

He looked at Muybridge’s sequence of images of naked wrestlers grappling for the upper hand and transformed them into two lovers locked in violent sexual congress, the face of one reduced to a bestial, howling grimace.

To unnerve us still further, he sets all four figures against a flat block of joyous orange. It is up to the viewer to consider what to make of that, and of the relationship, if any, between the flanking youths on their surgical slabs and the demonic lovers.












The artist Francis Bacon was born in Dublin, but took good care not to return.

He would have found it a laugh, his old friends reckon, that his studio should

be lovingly moved, lock, stock and diabolical mess, to a gallery there.


By Sally Vincent





Chaos is where it all began; the natural order of things, neither good nor bad, just immutable. Philosophers banged on about it before things got written down, trying to get their heads round the enormity of the great, primeval mess, determined not to come over all feeble and judgmental, and so limit their chances of coming up with something wonderful to say about life and associated matters. Order — the convenience of orderliness is the imposition of squeamishness upon reality, practised by the sort of control freaks whose imaginative shortfall leads towards dreary stuff like certainty and guilt. You haven't got to like chaos, was the idea, but you have to try to respect it, give it its due.

I don't suppose Francis Bacon was especially enamoured of chaos, he simply knew he had to have it in order to function. It was, he used to say, what he tapped into for his imagery. He wasn't squeamish and since it is acknowledged that he was the greatest British painter of the 20th century, it follows that the British are either not particularly squeamish when they look at what Margaret Thatcher described as "those dreadful paintings", or they recognise raw, violent, foolhardy nature when they see it and choose to stand round applauding as though it might be the lightning conductor that keeps them safe from God's chaotic wrath.

Anyone visiting the sky-lit studio at 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington, where Bacon worked for the last 30 years of his life and from whence sprang all those crucified monsters and screaming Popes, might be forgiven for wondering if the original Big Bang hadn't happened right there behind the closed door.

It was, he'd say, a bit of a dump, but then he was used to it. To anybody else, it was knee-high detritus caused by a cosmic explosion, and presided over by a man who'd rather die than relinquish a crumb of it.

 In what has to be the most bizarre enterprise in the history of art, this incredible pile of rubbish has been solemnly transported across the Irish Sea and reassembled in Dublin's Hugh Lane Gallery, where it will be entombed in glass like a Bacon portrait and offered to the art-loving public as a kind of peep-show. They've been at it for the past few years or so, a team of respectable archaeologists and conservators, scrupulously annotating and boxing up Bacon's working environment: old newspapers, dried-up pots of paint, photographs, booze cartons, empty bottles of L'Oréal hair tint (Naples black), pudding basins, broken spectacles, slashed canvases, horse whips, old socks, the fly-blown mirror, a table with a drawer containing a snap of Giacometti and a tablespoon, bits of corduroy trouser, the plaster off the walls, the staircase, the old greasy rope that served as its banister.

The last thing a nice lady called Mary did at the London end was to sweep up the dust and mouse dirt from the floor and place them reverently in a plastic bag with a Stick-It label on the side, upon which she had written "Bacon dust". When the transference is over and the Lord Mayor is on his way to the Grand Opening, she plans to shake it out over the reconstruction in a final flourish of authenticity, for the use of posterity. So far as the more partisan members of the Republic are concerned, Mr Bacon will have come home to roost. "It is," said someone in authority and a soft Dublin accent, "a legendary space."

 I don't know what Francis Bacon would have made of all this. He was always rather reticent about the geography of his birth. He'd say things were "a bit Irish" if they were quaint or fanciful or up a gum tree of some kind. But he was certainly born in a Dublin nursing home and lived with his family at 63 Lower Baggot Street until he was 16 and his father caught him trying on his mother's knickers and booted him out. So the story goes. And he almost certainly never returned.

 In fact, the very idea of visiting Ireland exacerbated his asthma. He'd clutch his collar and make noises like seagulls wheeling about in a snowstorm if anyone suggested it. But a short pilgrimage in a taxi to number 63 seemed appropriate. What with the traffic and the wind and bluster, we couldn't hang about, but it's a large and elegant Georgian pile with a current market value, according to the taxi driver, of well over two million. It also has a spanking new blue plaque gracing its facade. The driver craned out of his window and managed to read the name. Francis Bacon. "Who was that?" he said. "What did she do?" Which would have amused Bacon no end, for he and his friends found ceaseless amusement in the game of gender transference.

 Needless to say, this is where the dreadful happened. You tend not to grow up to be a creative genius unless a) you've been marked for life by something unspeakable befalling you before the age of seven, and b) you not only speak about it but embrace it as part of your make-up. It seems that when Mr and Mrs Bacon went out for an evening, the young lady who baby-sat had her soldier boyfriend over for rumpy-pumpy on the sofa. In order not to be interrupted by obstreperous four-year-olds, she always took the precaution of locking Francis up in the cupboard at the top of the stairs and leaving him to scream his lungs out in the dark until her coitus was achieved.

 The pragmatic way he told this "anecdote" somehow implies that the whole thing was reasonable to him in retrospect, if not some kind of privilege. He had been a spectacularly demanding child, a bloody nuisance, in fact. Of course she locked him up. Of course he screamed his head off. But the important thing was that he had experienced the pit and that the depth of the reality of the violence was something he treasured. Like someone who turns round in the middle of his worst nightmare and discovers the monster behind him is only his own shadow, he knew where fear really comes from. Knowing this, the Irish Troubles seething through his adolescence were mere banalities.

 He was never, he used to say without chagrin, close to either of his parents. Or, when feeling particularly perky with a glass of Bollinger in his hand, he'd say that his father was just a "silly old cunt". He couldn't cope with an effete, asthmatic son who clearly had no intention of being furtive about his homosexuality or his artistic proclivities. Of course the silly old cunt tried to make a man of the wretched boy by laying about him with a horsewhip, but the child was father to the man and he stepped up his pain threshold with a true masochist's relish, rather than relinquish or repress any part of his nature.

There are several versions of the Irish exodus. One is that his father nominated a trusted friend to take Francis to Europe and make a man of him there. The other is Bacon's own account: he was sent away with a small income from his mother at the age of 16, and taken to Berlin by a man who picked him up in a bar. It would be more hilarious to think the paradise he found there was innocently instigated by his homophobic father, but more likely that he fell into five-star decadence and the whole Christopher Isherwood ambience of prewar Berlin because his luck was in.

There, apart from learning the aesthetics of gourmandising, which stayed with him forever, he spent a lot of time designing Bauhaus-inspired furniture and rugs with geometric patterns on them – and still more time thereafter re-collecting them and destroying them. He wasn't yet ready to be defined by his work. He hardly ever was.

Francis Bacon spoke to me once. Come to think of it, it was nearly as exciting as when Samuel Beckett smiled at me in the bar next door to the Royal Court in Chelsea, but not as nice. I was in the French House pub in Dean Street awaiting the arrival of some Soho visionary – Jeffrey Bernard, most probably – just standing there by myself, incandescent with youth, when I became aware that the beady eyes of a small man in a leather bomber jacket were boring into me. It gave me quite a frisson because I knew who he was and I was never averse to the odd contact with the famous.

"I suppose," he said, "you think you're very beautiful." The way he pronounced "you" – yieeeew – the sour sneer of it, put me on the flinch and in the time it took him to draw breath I knew he wasn't about to ask me to pose for him. "Well," he said, "you're not." And slouched off. Had I had the wit, I'd have called Jealous Sod after him.

"The young have a better time of it," he used to say. "People are much nicer to you when you're young." And famously he'd mix light and dark tan boot polish on the back of his hand and scrub it through his greying hair with a shoe brush. He wasn't averse to a bit of peach foundation, either, or a dab of lippy, and there was never any secret about cleaning his teeth with scouring powder. I remember the first time I saw him laugh across a crowded Colony Room. His face transformed like Queen Victoria's when he smiled, only his teeth were better than hers. His teeth were splendid.

It always amazed me, after that first mean encounter, how relaxed and merry he seemed in the company of his friends and how much affection flowed between them, for they were a surly bunch left to their own devices. Daniel Farson, John Deakin, Muriel Belcher, you wouldn't want to be trapped in a lift with any of them. Sometimes, when the champagne (his treat, invariably) was flowing, you'd hear their shrieks of merriment bouncing off the walls of Wheeler's and wonder what you'd done to be excluded from their mutual festivity, and what the hell it could be that was so funny. The only clue I ever eavesdropped was seeing Francis Bacon pat his lips with a fine damask napkin and remark that what he'd like now was a good tying up. It was years before I realised what he was talking about. It's hard to fathom, even now, what it must have been like to grow up homosexual when homosexual activity was a criminal offence, but small wonder the homosexual brethren – or sorority – of Soho exuded this bitter, outraged and outrageous flamboyance.

It wasn't that they were proud of themselves; I mean, I doubt any one of them longed to stick a feather up his bum and go on a Gay Pride parade. They had nothing to be ashamed of and, by the same token, nothing to be proud of, either. So far as Francis Bacon was concerned, his homosexuality protected him from the distractions, responsibilities and controlled domestic life of a heterosexual man. It went with his chosen territory, like voting Tory because he felt socialism was too idealistic to tangle with, too much a drain on his thought processes. I once heard him greet Bobby Hunt, the painter-turned-designer, in Old Compton Street. "Hallo," he cried, stepping neatly through the traffic, "come and have lunch with me. How are all those women and children of yours?" You could hear it spelled out between the lines: Dear old Bobby, such early promise, heterosexed into the commercial world. Heigh ho.

Much of the apocrypha that circles in Bacon's name is centred on bog-standard heterosexual man's misconception that he is somehow potential prey to the predatory queer. Kingsley Amis used to tell a thumping good story about meeting Francis Bacon with Daniel Farson in a restaurant in Cardiff, which culminated in poor young Kingsley legging it desperately up a length of dried-out dockland to escape the priapic attentions of Francis Bacon. He wrote about it in his memoirs. How Farson had absented himself after an afternoon's lavish lunching and Bacon had whipped out a set of porny pictures of young men in states of undress doing rude things to each other. Farson, we are meant to infer, was literally pimping for his friend. Tut, tut.

Yet with benefit of hindsight, there is something absurdly mendacious about this story. Young married men were simply not Bacon's type. Nor were middle-class, educated, literary, clever men. All his life he practised a sort of serial monogamy with what used to be called rough trade: young, swarthy, dangerous-looking blokes who kept themselves fit and were uneducated, semi-literate and queer as coots. Plus, if the "porn" he left behind is anything to go by, Bacon liked those 50s magazines devoted to portraits of body-builders and advertisements for exercise regimes guaranteed to turn seven-stone weaklings into Tarzans so as to stop bullies kicking sand in their face.

In short, Bacon was too modest, too self-mocking and too expert a gambler to chance his arm on such long odds. As a young man teaching himself to paint through the simple expedient of looking at paintings, he never believed that one day he might be successful enough to give up the day job. It seemed perfectly reasonable to him that he must find employment in order to buy time to paint. To this effect, he worked for years as a gentleman's gentleman, doing a little light valeting, running the odd bath and cooking dainty dinners, at which he was famously adept. Thereafter he worked as a sort of tout/master of ceremonies at Muriel Belcher's Colony Club, which began its life as a hang-out for homosexuals seeking refuge from entrapment officers in public lavatories. In this endeavour he was assisted by his old nanny from Dublin days, the oldest hat-check girl in the history of nightlife. For any further funding, he would trot along to the Gargoyle club and the roulette tables. If he was ever short of money, he must have kept it strictly to himself, because to this day Soho habitués old enough to have been there marvel at the way "Eggs" splashed it around.

When it became apparent that he no longer needed a day job, he couldn't believe his luck. The late and deeply lamented Bruce Bernard could occasionally be prevailed upon to describe a moment from those heady days of Bacon's celebrity. They'd been gently debauching themselves around Soho from bar to restaurant to club and back again for what seemed like a week, having a splendid time, culminating in Bacon tripping up on a kerb, falling in the gutter and finding himself unequal to the task of getting up again. As he lay there, a police constable approached and viewed the scene in a rather censorious fashion; at which point Bacon announced: "I'm a very Famous Pynter." Talking with old acquaintances in old stamping grounds, I noticed how often they found difficulty in giving an account of what Bacon was like for them; how self-deprecating, how ironic, how camp he could be with the odd inflection or accent. His words didn't say it. You had to have been there.

Bobby Hunt remembers the day he thought he had solved the mystery of Bacon's style. Sitting on a tube train watching his reflection in the window as the stations moved past. That was it! The transience, the time lapse, the still yet moving image. He took his discovery to Bacon, who smiled benignly and ordered a bottle of champagne.

He was neither pleased nor irritated by critical attention. When one well-meaning interpretative wizard wrote that the violent and distressing images he had lately unleashed upon the world were Bacon's "condemnation of man's inhumanity to man", he replied tartly, "Well he would say that, wouldn't he?" And, "Nothing was further from my mind." Later, following still more unleashings of violence and distress, the Daily Telegraph's arbiter of taste wrote that Bacon had now gone beyond the realms of despair and entered the arena of all that is "vicious" and "evil". Farson telephoned Bacon at home to give him the news, taking care to accentuate the vicious and evil bits. Bacon listened attentively, then said in his most offhand yet gracious way, "Oh really? I thought they were rather nice."

Like a lot of serious painters, Bacon found it tiresome to discuss his work, on the grounds that if he talked about it he wouldn't have to fucking well paint it, would he? Yet he was entirely candid about the obsessions and preoccupations that fuelled his tireless attempts to come to terms with what he described as "the vulnerability of the human form". From childhood he had been fascinated by butcher's shops. The dead meat, the colour of blood. He wanted to make a painting of flesh and blood as thrilling as a Monet sunset. Mouths obsessed him.

And diseases of the mouth. And mutilated corpses. And young men in underpants. In a series of conversations taped by David Sylvester, a lifelong friend and the one art critic he had any time for, Bacon confided some of his less arcane motivating forces. Sylvester concedes that in transcription the tapes lack reality, miss the expression behind the tone of voice. It would be too easy to read a kind of atheistic nihilism into his sentiments, because he says the universe is an accident and humanity is an accident and you can stuff immortality. "We are meat," he says. When he dies you can put him in a bin liner and chuck him on the cart. But you would miss the yearning. Talking one day about Bacon's passion for roulette, Sylvester asked him if he thought it was true that what inveterate gamblers like himself truly wanted was to lose. Bacon replied that, no, he wanted to win. Winning is the big buzz. It was the same, he said, as painting. You're waiting for the right image. All his life he'd been trying to "distort the human figure into reality".

That's what it's all about. Waiting for the big win. There was one time, though, when Bacon was prepared to expose himself verbally. He was to meet Giacometti, who, along with Velázquez, Picasso, Monet and Degas, had the power to impress him. He looked forward mightily to the encounter – a little too mightily in the event. Having primed himself for the great moment with an excessive intake of alcohol, he was frankly quite drunk when they sat down together. Undeterred, he held forth wildly on his deeply held views of the existential nature of the universe, making absolutely no sense whatsoever. And all the while he was fiddling with the table-top, lifting it inch by inch until the whole lot, plates, knives, forks, glasses, food, bottles, napkins, went cascading to the floor. There was an awful crash followed by a terrible silence. Then Giacometti burst into laughter. The chaos was eloquence enough. Point made. Point taken.









Bacon judge gives trial go-ahead







A High Court judge has refused to halt a legal action brought by the estate of Francis Bacon against his former gallery today.

The estate is bringing a suit against Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd and Marlborough International Fine Art (MIFA), based in Liechtenstein.

The gallery contested the action, urging Mr Justice Patten to halt the action  which could be worth as much as £100m  before it reaches the courts, probably in January 2002.

The defendants claimed that the estate's allegations of breach of fiduciary duty and "undue influence" were unfounded, and urged Mr Justice Patten to "strike out" the action before it got to court.

'Mutually beneficial'

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

Bacon approached the gallery with the request to represent him in 1958, and it exhibited his work exclusively until his death from a heart attack in Spain in 1992, aged 82.

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

More specifically, Bacon's estate believes Marlborough International is only entitled to a third of the total value of Bacon's work.

It is currently believed to own around 70%.

High value

Bacon's work is highly valued. In February of this year, three paintings of his partner John Edwards were sold for £3m.

On 9 May a new record for his work was set when his 1977 triptych, Studies of the Human Body, was sold at auction for £6m.

Marlborough had paid Bacon £70,000 for the work in 1983.

The judge gave his ruling after earlier preliminary proceedings to organise the timetable of the case.

On Monday, further court sessions will take place to determine the start of the trial proper, the earliest expected date being January 2002.





Bacon art payments case can go to trial, judge rules







A legal contest between the estate of Francis Bacon and his former gallery, involving up to £100m in claims, should go ahead, probably next year, a High Court judge ruled yesterday. Mr Justice Patten refused an application by Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd and Marlborough International Fine Art to have the case, brought by Bacon's trustees, thrown out before a full hearing.

Marlborough insists the estate's allegations of breach of fiduciary duty and "undue influence" are unfounded. But the estate, headed by the executor, Bacon's friend, Professor Brian Clarke, claims the painter was underpaid for works, some of which, it alleges, remain unaccounted for. From 1958 until his death from a heart attack in Spain in 1992, aged 82, Bacon was represented by the Marlborough gallery.

The estate says it is seeking "proper accounting from Marlborough, so as to be able to establish that there was a fair balance struck between the interests of the gallery and Bacon". In a statement, Marlborough has said it enjoyed a "frank, close and mutually beneficial" relationship with the artist for 34 years after Bacon approached the gallery with the request to represent him.

The full trial is expected to last 12 weeks and may begin next January. Mr Justice Patten said he was satisfied on the material presented to him that "there is at least an arguable case" that a fiduciary relationship existed between Bacon and the gallery from 1964.

The question of whether such a relationship existed would depend on a detailed examination at trial of Bacon's relationship and dealings with Marlborough both before and after that date.

"It is, I think, beyond dispute that Bacon was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century but both he and his paintings were controversial in their time and public recognition of his worth was not immediate," the judge said.      





Bacon estate action against ex-agents goes on







Years of legal argument over the tangled affairs of Francis Bacon lie ahead after a judge refused to block a legal action by the artist's estate against his former agents.

The life of the man acknowledged as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, which was ended by a heart attack in 1992, was notoriously chaotic, and his afterlife is proving to be just as bumpy.

The stakes are enormous. The assets in dispute could be worth up to £100m. In his life time Bacon was one of a handful of British painters whose works broke the £1m price tag.

Since his death his reputation and prices have continued to soar. Last week in New York a world record was set at Sotheby's, where just under £6m was paid for a triptych.

His estate is suing the galleries that promoted his work for 34 years, Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd and Marlborough International Fine Art, which is based in Liechtenstein, alleging "undue influence" over the painter.

As a result of yesterday's judgment, after three weeks of legal argument by Marlborough trying to have the case thrown out, the main action will go ahead. It is expected to take months, and will probably not begin before January

Marlborough said it would "vigorously" defend the case. It described its relations with Bacon as "frank, close and mutually beneficial"

The high court was told that a representative of Marlborough acted almost as a minder, removing paintings from Bacon's studio – which was sometimes knee deep in rubbish, newspaper articles, old photographs and scraps of magazines –"as soon as the paint was dry".

When he died at 82, he was worth an estimated £10m, and left his fortune to his much younger friend, John Edwards, a former east London barman who now lives in Thailand.

The main legal action was instigated by the estate's executor, Brian Clarke. It is demanding a full statement of the galleries' dealing with the artist, claiming that they retained up to 70% of the sale value of his paintings when a third would have been fair, and that Marlborough has not demonstrated that it paid for all the paintings received.

Marlborough strenuously denies the allegations. Yesterday Mr Justice Patten said he was satisfied there was "at least an arguable case". The trial would have to examine in detail Bacon's relationship and dealings with Marlborough. While one of the greatest 20th century artists "both he and his paintings were controversial in their time and public recognition of his worth was not immediate".

The main legal action was instigated by the estate's executor, Brian Clarke. It is demanding a full statement of the galleries' dealing with the artist, claiming that they retained up to 70% of the sale value of his paintings when a third would have been fair, and that Marlborough has not demonstrated that it paid for all the paintings received.

Marlborough strenuously denies the allegations. Yesterday Mr Justice Patten said he was satisfied there was "at least an arguable case". The trial would have to examine in detail Bacon's relationship and dealings with Marlborough. While one of the greatest 20th century artists "both he and his paintings were controversial in their time and public recognition of his worth was not immediate".





Bacon Suit to Proceed







The High Court of Justice, Chancery Division in London ruled this week that the legal battle between the estate of the painter Francis Bacon and his former dealer, Marlborough Fine Art of London and its international arm based in Lichtenstein, could proceed.

A trial is expected to begin in January and last about 12 weeks.

Marlborough represented Bacon from 1958 until his death in 1992. Now Bacon's friend and executor, Brian Clarke, contends that the painter was underpaid for works, some of which he and his lawyers say the gallery has still not accounted foraring both sides, the judge denied the gallery's request, saying he believed there was at least an arguable case.

The suit also contends that Marlborough cheated Bacon out of more than $150 million by consistently undervaluing his paintings, which it bought from him and quickly resold for substantially higher prices. Court papers say the gallery controlled the most minute aspects of Bacon's financial and personal life and used this influence to deprive him of the true value of his work

In late April the two sides met in court in London to argue their case. Marlborough denied the estate's charges and asked the court to dismiss the case.

But after hearing both sides, the judge denied the gallery's request, saying he believed there was at least an arguable case. 

Marlborough, run by the Duke of Beaufort and Gilbert Lloyd, son of the gallery's founder, said the accusations against the gallery were ''without foundation".

In his ruling the judge said it was now up to a court to decide what kind of relationship existed between the artist and his gallery and whether it was abused.






A precious collection of debris



                                                         Patrick Skene Catling




                                              Photographs by Perry Ogden

                                               Foreword by John Edwards


                                       Thames & Hudson, £14.95, pp. 120





John Edwards, Francis Bacons heir, donated Bacons South Kensington studio, the whole room and all its contents, to the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin, his birthplace, thus submitting the compost of the artist's memorabilia to archaeologists, curators, art critics, psychoanalysts and, from 23 May, the public.

The laborious 1998 dismantling, shipment and exact reassembly of the detritus of 30 years of what Bacon called his exhilarated despair’ will give his admirers and detractors clues to the creative processes of a gambling, alcoholic, homosexual, atheistic genius. In the intimately enlightened opinion of Edwards, companion to Bacon for the last 20 of his 82 years, the act of transferring this complex of chaotic artistic fecundity to Dublin, a wonderful coals-to Newcastle operation, 'would have made him roar with laughter, his own special laugh, full of warmth and joy.

Though Bacon would rarely have been able — or have cared — to pass a breathalyser test, he was passionately serious about working at his easel in the morning, no matter what he had been doing until late the night before. He was a man of prodigious stamina, recuperative power, prolificity, and eventual wealth. He told David Sylvester, the foremost authority on Bacon, I really like highly disciplined painting, although I dont use highly disciplined methods of constructing it.  He depended on receiving images from his subconscious by fortuitous accidents. His paintings sometimes evolved as he painted them, as if having lives of their own

He depicted people as meat, flayed, twisted and corrupted, as though portraying mortality might exorcise his fear of loss. He dreaded abandonment and impermanence: long relationships ended in death. He was gregarious but valued contemplative solitude. He said he was an optimist, but regularly exposed himself to the risks of roulette, rough trade and drunken oblivion. In Tangiers, according to the late Daniel Farson, a long-time, on-and-off friend of Bacons, the British consul general impressed on the local chief of police that

Francis was a very distinguished painter and kept getting mugged. A few days later, the chief of police returned, patently embarrassed: Pardon, mais le peintre adore ça!

Dreading the end of life, Bacon seemed to be in a hurry to get it over, while at the same time relying on attentive doctors to prolong it. He deplored the term gay: he said he was queer. He enjoyed his circumstances of ‘ gilded squalor.

I knew him only at times of post-meridian frivolity in Soho, presiding with intellectual fervour and flamboyant charm over long lunches and consequent sessions in the Colony Room club, the beloved, bilegreen vortex known as Muriels. Muriel Belcher greatly encouraged him. Those festivities were the early stages of his daily routine transmogrification from Jekyll to Hyde. Champagne for our real friends!’ was his favourite toast, and real pain for our sham friends!’ 

As he ordered bottle after bottle, he was closely surrounded by friends of both kinds. He was an insistent host, generous to a fault, usually tolerant of hangers-on, but ruthlessly critical of other artists, especially abstractionists.

Before the studio was transported to Dublin, Perry Ogden spent several days photographing every part of 7 Reece Mews as it was when Bacon lived there — the orderly bedsitting room, the kitchen/bathroom (he was a good cook and carefully ablutionary), and the steep wooden stairs down to the studio, which looked as if his id had run amok in it.

Bacon was an autodidact all his life. Ogdens close-ups of bookshelves reveal the wide range of his reading, such as biographies of Wilde, Yeats , Joyce, Freud, Ezra Pound, Rothschild and Seurat and at least three of Velázquez. (He said he thought Velazquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X was one of the greatest paintings in the world and Ive had a crush on it.) Among the numerous other books were The Romantic Agony by Mario Praz, Spender's JournalsGreek Made EasyThe Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet — and Larousse Gastronomique. On a shelf near his bed, there were snapshots of lovers and a plaster-cast mask of William Blake.

At first glance, the studio looks like the devastation caused by an explosion in a rubbish tip. However, the gallerys team of archaeologists catalogued over 7,000 items, including 80 works on paper, 1,500 photographs and many slashed canvases. According to Barbara Dawson, the director of the gallery, there is now  ‘a definitive archive a database of information which will be crucial in critical analysis of Francis Bacons work. A Micro Gallery will give visitors access to highlights of this archive.

In the meantime, Ogdens elegant photographs provide an opportunity to scrutinise a lot of significant Baconian debris — a page from Eadweard Muybridges The Human Figure in Motion (his nude male wrestlers became Bacons amorous meat on an unmade bed), glimpses of Michelangelo, Rodin and the late George Dyer in his underwear, and pages from a book on forensic pathology, displaying skin diseases, hundreds of discarded brushes and paintpots, and empty cartons that once held bottles of Vat 69 and vintage Krug.

Bacon found day-dreaming in chaos richly productive. John Russell, in his excellent biography of Bacon, considers Anton Ehrenzweig’s notion of ‘unconscious scanning’ and Edward de Bono’s lateral thinking’ as explications of Bacon's artistic creativity. Russell later quotes Bacon on his mysterious procedure: ‘I think of myself as a kind of pulverising machine into which everything I look at and feel is fed.’ 

Ogden’s and Edwards’ book is a fascinating survey of the sorts of material that Bacon pulverised. The fascination easily quells any reluctance to pry into a dead mans privacy. And, after all, with his real friends Francis Bacon found everything in his tortured existence absolutely hilarious.





Francis Bacons studio materializes in Dublin




An exact reconstruction of the artist Francis Bacon’s London studio was unveiled today at Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery.    







The exhibit is the fruit of three years’ work and is described as the most detailed and technically advanced archive of any artist’s studio in the world.

The studio was donated to the gallery by Bacon’s heir Mr John Edwards and cost some £3 million to relocate: this is not bad value when you consider a museum offered $3 million just for the studio door.

The studio on show has over 7,000 items including 80 works on paper, more than 1,500 photographs as well as books and some dramatically slashed canvases.

The newly designed gallery space housing the studio was the work of prominent British architect David Chipperfield. As well as the studio itself it also has an audio-visual room, an exhibition gallery and a “micro gallery” (or electronic tour).

The project involved cataloguing and removing the entire contents of the studio. It took a team of 10 archaeologists and conservators over three years. The original walls, floor, ceiling and shelves – as well as the famous wooden staircase – can be experienced.

The studio’s original address, 7 Reece Mews, south Kensington, was Bacon’s home and working space for the last 30 years of his life. The Dublin-born artist produced some of his most famous work in the studio.

The Gallery’s director Ms Barbara Dawson said: “The acquisition of Francis Bacon’s studio was a great coup and its retrieval and documentation has confirmed our suspicions – we have the definitive archive on Francis Bacon.”

“The Gallery’s innovative approach to retrieving and documenting the contents has resulted in the database of information which will be crucial in the critical analysis of Francis Bacon’s work.”

Dublin’s Lord Mayor Mr Maurice Ahern who officially opened the studio said: “This remarkable cultural donation is the most important received by the gallery since it was established by Sir Hugh Lane in 1908.”

Bacon was born in 63 Lower Baggot Street on October 28th in 1909 and is considered by many the most famous “English artist” of the 20th century.






A portrait of the artist as a man inspired by clutter and chaos




Francis Bacon’s reconstructed studio at the Hugh Lane Gallery could give more than one

 teenager an idea or two about tidiness, writes Frank McNally





The new exhibition at Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery should carry a parental discretion warning.

Younger children can probably view it safely enough. But impressionable teenagers could be seriously damaged by the sight of Francis Bacon’s reconstructed London studio, and particularly its subliminal message that you do not have to tidy your room to be a success.

The studio is a mess, to put it mildly. Its 4 x 8 metre space contains more clutter than a crack team of first-year university students could ever dream of creating. This ranges from some 2,000 samples of painting material; slashed canvasses; old newspapers and articles of clothing to such artistic accessories as a cardboard box, formerly the home of a crate of VAT 69 Scotch whisky.

One of the few artist’s conveniences not found amid the chaos is a palette. But then, Bacon didn’t need one. When mixing paint, he preferred to use the walls, both sides of the studio door, and anything else that was handy. It doesn’t say so in the gallery programme, but one has to presume he wasn’t renting.

The exhibition opens to the public today, three years after the dramatic news that the studio’s contents had been donated to Dublin by the artist’s partner and heir, John Edwards.

The intervening period has seen the completion of an epic task, beginning with the making of a 360-degree photographic record of the flat in Reece Mews, London, and the cataloguing of its more than 7,000 items, and ending with the meticulous recreation of the whole mess in a specially designed space in the Parnell Square gallery.

Even the original dust was preserved, removed in bags and sprinkled back on the exhibits before the room was resealed.

Gallery visitors can view the interior through the glassed-off door and two windows. To complete the voyeur experience, the steep stairway to the first-floor flat has also been recreated, sunk in the floor, under glass. The project cost £1.5 million, a burden shared by Dublin Corporation, the Department of the Arts, the Millennium Commission, and the Ireland Funds.

Mr Edwards joined Lord Mayor Maurice Ahern and others to admire the finished work on Monday. But, notoriously shy, he confined himself to saying he thought Bacon would have “enjoyed this”. Born in Dublin in 1909, the painter left Ireland in 1925 and never returned, later joking, with prescience, that he could only go back after his death.

Nine years after the last-mentioned event, the artist’s archive, complemented by a collection of paintings on long-term loan, is considered the most important addition to the Hugh Lane since its establishment in 1908. Admission to the gallery is free, but there will be a charge for the exhibition: £6 for adults, £3 concessions and under 12s free.

Last night, Mr Edwards was presented with a Lord Mayor’s award in recognition of his generosity to the city. On Saturday, RTÉ’s Network 2 screens a documentary on Bacon, which includes an account of the studio’s relocation.




Francis Bacon and the Nude






One of the people Bacon used to drink with during his frequent visits to Tangier, in the late 1950’s, was Allen Ginsberg, The American beat poet. One day, Ginsberg asked Bacon whether he’d do a portrait of him and his boyfriend having sex. It seems likely that the request was inspired by one, or both, of two paintings, which Bacon had made in 1953 and 54. Ginsberg had probably seen neither in the original, but the one of Figures In The Grass, was reproduced in a literary magazine in 1957, and the one with figures on a bed, could possibly have been known to him from a photograph. Or, he might simply have heard about the paintings, which had been fairly invisible, because of their subject matter, but had become legendary, for the same reason. In any case, he must have made the request in a way which suggested that he was thinking that Bacon would be doing the painting from life, given that Bacon answered: “Well, this is going to be awkward Allen, how long can you hold it?” At the same time, it seems fairly certain that that question was put in a jest, for Bacon, though he painted many nudes, singly or coupled, never ever made a painting of a nude from life. And even the drawings of nude figures, which he made as sketches for paintings, do not include a single work, which looks as if it could have been done from life.

Bacon, indeed, didn’t produce a lot of paintings or drawings of any kind from life. Though in the 1950’s, he did do from life, a certain number of heads, and half length and full length clothed figures, but not one nude figure. He may well have been the only famous western artist who made a speciality of the nude but never worked from a model, even for a drawing. As to clothed figures, while he didn’t totally exclude working from the model, he was very reluctant to do so. He did a few portraits in the model between 1951 and 1957, but that was it. In an interview he recorded in 1966, he gave a reason for this: “Even in the case of friends who have come and pose I’ve had photographs taken for portraits, because I very much prefer working from the photographs than from them. It’s true to say I couldn’t attempt to do a portrait from photographs of somebody I didn’t know, but if I both knew them, and had photographs of them, I find it easier to work then actually having their presence in the room. I think that if I have the presence of the image there, I am not able to drift so freely as I am able to, through the photographic image.”

The attraction for him of the photographic image was very clearly demonstrated in his earlier stick stamp portrait with an identifiable sitter, Portrait of Lucian Freud, 1951. Bacon had asked Freud to come to his studio to pose. Freud arrived, on time, to find that Bacon had almost finished the portrait. He’d painted it from a photograph. And not even from a photograph of Freud, he’d done it from a photograph of Franz Kafka, while still making it look much less like Kafka than Freud. Rather then work from the model, he evidently preferred to work from memory plus a photograph which was not even of the portrait’s ostensible subject. When I asked Bacon what happened, if someone he’d already painted from memory, perhaps several times, came and sat for him, he said: “They inhibit me. They inhibit me because, if I like them, I don’t want to practice before them the injury that I do to them in my work. I would rather practice the injury in private by which I think I can record the fact of them more clearly.” I asked him in what sense he thought of it as an injury, and he answered: “Because people believe, simple people at least, that the distortions of them are an injury to them, no matter how much they feel for or how much they like you.”

I do have a suspicion that Bacon was making some of this up. It’s all together understandable that he preferred to be alone while painting. We know that quite a number of the artists, who forbitualy worked from the model, have positively enjoyed having a model there whether for social reasons, and / or sexual reasons, and / or because they got satisfaction, conscious or unconscious, from having another human being sit still for them for a long time. But Bacon could well have been made someone who felt happier without such distractions. That would be in line with the fact that he was rare among artists, in never allowing himself to be filmed while he was at work. So there’s no problem in accepting his stated preference for being alone. My doubts arise from what he said about inducing a feeling of injury in the sitter, especially as he added that, “simple people at least”, were likely to have that sort of feeling. If that was his fear, he could have avoided getting the more simple people among his subjects, such as George Dyer to sit for him, and using only people like Lisa and Robert Sainsbury as live models. I think he had a different reason for working form a photographic image rather than a person. I think the reason, or the main reason, was that it is easier to make a flat image that is based on observation of an existing flat image, then it is to make a flat image that is based on observation of something in the round, since the latter requires the translation of a three dimensional phenomenon into a two dimension phenomenon. In other words, I suggest, that Bacon based so much of his work on existing flat images because these have already done some of his work for him.

In a monograph I published last year, I introduced as an argument, in favour of this view, the way in which Bacon executed The Five Heads After The Life Mask Of William Blake, which he made in 1955 to 6 that is, during the period when he was sometimes painting from a model. I pointed out that he’d painted them from memory of the mask, and from photographs of the mask, rather than from a cast of the mask. And I inferred that his difficulties in working from a living model were not so much that the model was alive, as that it was in the round. Unfortunately this point was irrelevant, because I’d forgotten that in 1955 Bacon didn’t yet own the cast of the mask which he had in his possession in later years. So the strongest argument in favour of the view that Bacon worked from the flat images because it was easier, would be the fact that he was a self taught artist who’d never had the customary art school experience of painting or drawing from a model, or from a classical cast, or indeed from still life. Now, the flat images from which Bacon worked were exceedingly varied. He loved to describe himself as a “pulverising machine”, for influences. Sometimes the sources were reproductions of works by great artists, such as Michelangelo and Velázquez. But most of the time they were photographs, whether photographic prints or photographs reproduced in books, or magazines or newspapers.

From the late 1940’s on, the photographs he used most of all, certainly when painting the nude, were the sequential photographs of Eadweard Muybridge, which were first reproduced in books of his such as The Human Figure in Motion. Indeed, it was one of these photographs, one from a sequence showing a pair of wrestlers, that provided the basis for Bacon’s first painting of a couple having sex, and less directly for several further paintings of that subject. As he himself said: “These have very often been taken from the Muybridge wrestlers, some of which appear, unless you look at them under a microscope, to be in some form of sexual embrace. Actually, I’ve often used the wrestlers in painting single figures, because I find that the two figures together have a thickness that gives overtones to which the photographs of single figures don’t have. But I don’t only look at Muybridge photographs of the figure, I look all the time at photographs in magazines of footballers and boxers, and all that kind of thing, especially boxers.”

Bacon’s first painting of coupled figures is an especially good example of the fluency with which he could combine images borrowed from other people’s art, or craft, with images from his personal life, for the image is clearly autobiographical. The face of the figure underneath could well be Bacon’s, and the face of the figure on top, is certainly that of Peter Lacy, his lover at the time. The painting is also the key case in the saga of Bacon’s dealings with censorship. At the time Bacon painted the picture, he was extremely short of cash. He had an oral contract with Erica Brausen at the Hanover Gallery of Bond Street by which he received modest advances for pictures not yet delivered. But Bacon did not live like someone whose income was modest. And the advances were very quickly spent on champagne and oysters for his friends and hangers on. There was no immediate game, therefore, in delivering a picture to Erica Brausen, when it had already been paid for. He therefore resorted, starting in 1952, to selling some of his productions elsewhere, behind Erica’s back. The person he used as an agent for these dishonourable transactions, was someone who Erica had always treated with kindness and generosity, myself. I would aim to sell a large painting like this, to one of the London dealers, for £150 in cash. The dealer could expect to get 300 for it, but could afford to take less. Francis gave me a commission of 20%, to be deducted from my selling price. A generous commission, given that I had no expenses to pay out, with Francis even covering the transport of works to my flat.

Around 10 o’clock one morning in October 1953, three large new paintings arrived. One of them was a pretty ordinary picture of a seated man, the second was a picture, which had an unusual subject: two half length male nudes at a window, embracing, but was undistinguished in execution. The third, was this breathtaking piece, which immediately struck me, as the most old masterish picture Bacon had ever painted. A work in which the contrast between the flesh colours of the monumental figures, and the whiteness of the sheets, made me think of the Venetians. I at once got on the telephone to make appointments with two dealers arranging with Patrick Phillips at the Leicester Galleries to come at noon, and with Freddy Mayor of the Mayor Gallery to come at two. Phillips arrived, looked at the three canvases, and without delay or discussion, handed me £150 for the picture of the seated men. The negotiations with Mayor were more complicated. He said that he loved the picture of the nudes, but would certainly not be able to show it in his gallery and that he would therefore not be able to sell it at the normal retail price. It was undoubtedly true that at that time he could not have been able to show it, but I tried to make the point that the subject might attract a premium price from certain collectors. However, after lengthy discussion, Mayor said that he would give me £200 for the two pictures: £140 for the Nudes at a Window, £60 for the Nudes on the Bed. I knew that Bacon desperately wanted some cash, and so I said to Mayor that he was driving an awfully hard bargain but that I’d accept his offer on one condition, that if Bacon could raise the money in seven days, he could buy back the picture for £100, which would give him a return on a £60 investment, of more then 3000% per annum. He accepted the proposal. Though Mayor was someone I liked enormously, I felt outraged at the thought that he could buy such a masterpiece for such a pittance, I felt determined that the picture must somehow, stay in the family, as it were. I knew that Francis wouldn’t in fact be able to raise the money, and I knew that there was no hope whatever of my being able to buy the picture myself. So my thoughts turned to our mutual friend Lucian Freud, as fanatical an admirer of Bacon as I was. At the Colony Room that evening I told Lucian, that if he could produce £100 within seven days, he could be the owner of supremely great Bacon. After 5 days he told me he had raised the money. I telephoned Mayor the following morning and told him the following lie: Bacon had had a good gambling win and wanted to redeem the picture so that he could make a present of it to Lucian Freud. Mayor was extremely disappointed saying that he’d just found a customer for the picture. I said, and meant it, that I was terribly sorry. That evening Lucian handed me an envelope containing £25 notes, which I knew had been given him by his wife Lady Caroline Blackwood. Lucian’s subsequent behaviour showed how much he deserved the picture. There were to be several times over the years, when financial pressures forced him to pawn it for increasingly large sums, but he never failed to find the money to redeem it. Unfortunately, over the last 20 years, he’s always declined to lend it to museum retrospectives of Bacon’s work, even when Bacon wrote entreating him to do so. So the picture had found a good home, but it was unexhibitable and unreproduceable.

The one painted a few months later with the figures in the grass was exhibited within a year, and reproduced within three, years because the subject was represented less unambiguously. Even so, Erica Brausen complained to Bacon, that his treating such a subject was grossly self indulgent. Bacon loved to quote her, with a heavy imitation of her heavy German accent “Vy do you have to paint these filthy pictures that it’s impossible to sell.” All the same, he seems to have paid attention, because he didn’t paint the subject again until 1967, by which time the 1953 picture had long been exhibited and reproduced by a national museum.

The first exhibition in which it appeared was Bacon’s retrospective at the Tate in 1962. The catalogue entitled it Two Figures, and had a note that it was based on a photograph by Muybridge of two wrestlers. The exhibition included a copy of the photograph in the hope of lending respectability to the painting. It seemed to me that, ironically, the photograph of the wrestlers, looked more pornographic then the painting of the buggers. It was of course, because the painting was raised to a higher level by the beauty and nobility of its facture. From the time Bacon took up the subject again in 1967, it invariably appeared in triptychs, usually in the centre panel, sometimes in one of the outer panels, and, on one occasion, in the centre and an outer panel. The first of these appearances was in the right hand panel of the work entitled “Triptych Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s Poem Sweeney Agonistes.” Here the scene also includes a standing figure looking towards the couple and talking on the telephone. The image of coupling here, and in all the subsequent versions of the subject, does not seem to have had a specific existing image as a model. These later versions all seem developed from the two versions painted in 1953 and 54. Though it’s very probable that Bacon went on looking at the whole sequence of the Muybridge photographs of wrestlers. And it’s certain that he consciously feared off his on earlier works. A number of colour reproductions of his paintings were pinned up on his kitchen wall, and they weren’t there as decoration. The later version didn’t need a specific new source, because they were more abstract, more formalised, then the initial version. Take for example these two centre panels of Triptychs of 1970.

The following year, George Dyer, Bacon’s lover since 1964, died from a massive overdose of drink and sleeping pills. Over the next few years, Bacon’s paintings were often a quite conscious effort to exorcise the pain and guilt of that death. The first treatment of a coupling that followed it was in a triptych of 1972, in which the image appeared in both the left hand panel and the centre panel. The next was in the centre panel of a triptych painted later in 1972. Here, there is less coalescence between the figures, and their formalisation is bolder and decidedly more extreme then it had ever been before. In the centre panel of a triptych painted in 1979, the treatment is something of a cross between the version on that black ground and those preceding it.

And the version in the centre panel of Bacon’s final triptych, painted in 1991, is again on a black ground, and is a development of the previous version on a black ground, a more short hand treatment. The reason why the versions of the subject from 1967 on didn’t need particular models to refresh them was, obviously, that Bacon’s continuing reiteration of the theme allowed him to develop each new version from its predecessors. All of them reflect a certain stylistic influence which is very recurrent, almost a constant in Bacon’s treatment of the male nude, that of Michelangelo. It is not so much an influence of particular works, as that of Michelangelo’s whole vision. And according to Bacon, if there was a particular aspect of Michelangelo’s art that influenced him, it was not so much the sculptures, or the paintings, but the drawings.

Bacon was extremely clear about the way in which Michelangelo affected his work: “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 that grandeur a form from Michelangelo, and it would be very difficult for me to disentangle the influence of Muybridge, and the influence of Michelangelo. But of course, as most of my figures are taken form the male nude, I’m sure that I’ve been influenced by the fact that Michelangelo made the most voluptuous male nudes in the plastic arts.” In addition to the pervasive influence, we do occasionally find an obvious borrowing from a particular sculpture. For instance in the 1979 triptych the central panel we considered earlier, the outer panels are clearly based on two of the reclining figures in the Medici chapel. The left hand panel is an echo of the back view of Night; the right hand panel is an echo of the back view of Day. And there are sometimes echoes among Bacon’s nudes of figures from other old masters. In Two Man Working in a Field of 1971, the figures look as if they might have been derived from the Two Men Drawing Up Nets, in the Raphael cartoon for the miraculous draft of fishes, and it is certain that Bacon used to walk around the corner from his studio to the V&A to look at the cartoons. The figure in the right hand panel, of a 1970 triptych of nudes, looks as if it could have easily have been based on the clothed figure of Caravaggio’s Narcissus. This is pure supposition; there is no documentary evidence to support it. On the other hand, there are borrowings from Ingres that are avowed, such as the right hand panel of a 1982 diptych, which is, entitled Study of the Human Body from a Drawing by Ingres.

But occasional borrowings like these are a much less significant aspect of Bacon’s relationship to the art of the past, than are stylistic influences. When Bacon selected his contribution to the Artist’s Eye, the series of exhibitions at the National Gallery London, in which certain artists made a choice of pictures from the Gallery’s collection, he included Michelangelo’s Entombment. A token choice, because the collection didn’t contain anything more relevant to Bacon’s particular indebtedness to the Master. It was the right hand piece in a group he hung of three paintings of the nude. The left hand piece was the Rokeby Venus by Velazquez, Bacon’s greatest hero in the handling of paint, even though he didn’t attempt to actually imitate his handling. Between the Michelangelo and the Velázquez, Bacon hung a late pastel by Degas, After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself. It was as if Bacon was using this hang to demonstrate that Degas was a cross between Velázquez and Michelangelo, and this led me to wonder whether Degas wasn’t the past painter to whom Bacon was most closely related. He shares with Degas a combination of a feeling of evanescence and the presence of a fibrous atmosphere inherited from Velázquez, with a definition of precisely articulated solid forms inherited from Michelangelo. There are two particular debts to late Degas in the very first painting of a nude that Bacon completed.

This image of a man passing through a curtain realised in 1949. Compare the treatment of the spine here, and in the Degas Bacon chose for the National Gallery exhibition. He said of it: “You will find at the very top of the spine, that the spine almost comes out of the skin altogether, and this gives it, such a grip, and a twist, that you’re more conscious of the vulnerability of the rest of the body then if you had drawn the spine naturally up to the neck. He breaks it, so that this thing seems to protrude from the flesh.” The other debt to late Degas is in the treatment of the curtain, which derives from a device Degas constantly used in pastels. “Don’t forget,” said Bacon, “that in his pastels he always striates the form with these lines which are drawn through the image, and at a certain sense both intensify and diversify its reality. I always think that the interesting thing about Degas is the way he made lines through the body. You could say that he shuttered the body in a way, shuttered the image, and then he put in enormous amount of colour through these lines.” On another occasion, Bacon said, that “the result of using shuttering is that the sensation doesn’t come straight out at you but slides slowly and gently through the gaps.”

In talking about Bacon’s first painting of a naked couple, I pointed out how it conflated figures from his own life, with figures from art or photography. The same sort of conflation seems to have occurred in this, Bacon’s earliest extant painting of a nude. The figure’s right arm appears to be truncated at the elbow. At the time the picture was painted, Bacon was a frequent visitor to his cousin Pamela Firth, and her husband, the legendary soldier, Vladimir Peniakoff, DSO MC. His cousin was convinced that the figure in this painting was inspired by Peniakoff, who had lost his left hand in battle. Even while maintaining that Bacon’s closest affinity to any past painter was to late Degas, in terms of direct stylistic influence, he was not more influential on Bacon than two artists working in the same place, at about the same time, as Degas: Paris at the turn of the 20th century; that is to say the young Picasso and Matisse.

Compare this Bacon of 1974. showing himself asleep on a hospital bed, with this Picasso of 1907. I’m not saying that the sleeping figure is made up from bits and pieces of the five demoiselles of Avignon, I’m not even saying that Bacon was constantly thinking about this icon. I think the Picassos he thought about most were works of the mid 20’s to the mid 30’s. But, I do think, that Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, and other Picassos of the next two or three years, established a vocabulary of forms that provided a basis for Bacon. Nevertheless, the actual forms in Bacon’s nudes, hardly ever seem indebted to particular Picassos, as they do exceptionally in this female nude from a triptych of 1970 which seems to derive from this Picasso of 1934. Bacon’s heads constantly seem indebted to Picasso, not so his figures, the figures are indebted much more to Matisse. Bacon always tended to belittle Matisse by comparison with Picasso, his famous phrase, “The brutality of fact,” emerged when he was holding forth on Picasso’s superiority to Matisse. “Matisse never had the, what can one say, the brutality of fact, which Picasso had. I don’t think he ever had the invention of Picasso, and I think he turns fact into lyricism, he doesn’t have Picasso’s brutality of fact.” But see how he virtually copied the left hand figure in Matisse’s Bathers with a Turtle of 1908. First, rather roughly, in this painting from 1956 to 7, and this one from 1959, and then more precisely, in this left hand panel of the great triptych of 1964.

The influence of Matisse at this period seems to have begun with the second painting of a nude that Bacon completed. The figure here is a very obvious case of an example of indebtedness to Michelangelo, but the composition as a whole, seems to me, to be indebted to Matisse. To the picture by him which Bacon preferred above all others the Bathers by a River of 1909 16. Consider those long black upright rectangles, compare the figure with the one with an arm raised on the far left of the Matisse. Compare the position of the shadowy head behind with the third figure from the left in the Matisse. Compare even the tubular rail with Matisse’s serpents. And the influence of Matisse’s nudes persisted. Compare this most decisive of Matisse’s nudes, the Blue Nude of 1907, with Bacon’s Female Nude of 1966. Apart from precise similarities in the actual contours, compare the use of dark shading against the pink skin. But we can also see in this Bacon a resemblance to a later work by Matisse, in this Matisse nude of 1926, as in the Bacon, the figure is reclining, with an arm supporting her head against a background of upholstered furniture, here a bed, there an arm chair. See how Bacon, has followed Matisse’s strategy for negotiating the passage from the curved planes of the nude body, to the flat, single colour of the floor with the help of vertically striped upholstery.

All the sources we’ve so far traced or postulated for Bacon’s nudes, have been works of art and photographs of life, which like the works of art, were in existence, and which he happened to find. But Bacon also used photographs, which he didn’t find, but actually commissioned. Commissioned in order to paint from them certain people he would have painted from life, had it been his practice to paint from life. He commissioned them in the early 1960’s from an outstanding photographer who happened to be one of his drinking companions in Soho: John Deakin. Most of the models were photographed purely for the purpose of painting portraits, for example, Isabelle Rawsthorne, Muriel Belcher, Lucian Freud. But Henrietta Moraes, and George Dyer, were also photographed for the purpose of painting nudes. The dilapidated state of this particular print of one of the photographs of Dyer suggests that Bacon used it a great deal. It would be reasonable to suppose that he resorted to the photographs less often once he’d painted the sitter many times. But he seems to have remained very dependent on them. Whereas the photographs of Henrietta show her naked, those of Dyer show him in white underpants. Presumably, Dyer didn’t take them off, because he felt shy in Deakin’s presence; shy, or vulnerable. And paintings for which Bacon used one, or another, of those photographs of Dyer such as this right hand panel from a triptych painted as late as 1972, retain the underpants. Presumably this is because Bacon found it easier to copy the simple form of the white clothing, than to put in from memory the complex forms of the genitals. Here is the left hand panel of the same triptych, whose central panel shows one of the couplings we’ve already considered. It has the same underwear.

Oddly enough, it needs to be affirmed that both images are of the same person. It needs to be affirmed, because it’s been suggested in publications issued by both the Tate Gallery, and the Centre Pompidou, that the person on the left is Dyer, but the person on the right is Bacon. A young female writer at Pompidou was categorical about it, comically so, she says: “Only the person on the left is Dyer, the one on the right looks more like Bacon” Writers on the Tate staff have been more tentative. Clearly, the nonsense arose, from an assumption, that if the coupled figures in the middle were Bacon and Dyer, Bacon would of thought it only fair to portray each of them in the flanking panels and that Bacon always did what he thought fair. That if it was indeed his own face, that he was trying to paint in the right hand panel, this meant that he was sticking one person’s face on another person’s body and underwear this seems fairly inconceivable. What is conceivable, is that Bacon was not a master at achieving a superficial likeness.

The nudes based on photographs of Henrietta are among Bacon’s most remarkable achievements. These two date from 1963 and 1969. If Bacon’s output were divided according to subject matter, and then judged, it is probable that the group of works with the highest percentage of successes would be the female nudes painted from photographs; always the Deakin photographs of Henrietta. Bacon painted naked women with as much conviction and passion, as he painted naked men. This poses the question of how much he was in the habit of seeing women naked. He’d never gone to life classes, and unlike certain famously homosexual artist, he wasn’t a closet bisexual. It is manifested the case, that here again, he was closely dependant on the Deakin photographs, in as much as the repertoire of poses rarely goes beyond those covered there. There is also a series of nudes, for which no prototype in art or photography has been traced. A series characterised by a pose: the figures lie vertically on their backs, and upside down, with their left leg stretched out, and their right leg bent at the knee. These two are the earliest and latest of the four oil paintings in the series. On your left Lying Figure 1959 on your right Reclining Woman 1961. The others are entitled Lying Figure and Reclining Figure. The series also includes two undated gouaches, obviously done as sketches for paintings, and more fully realised then most of Bacon’s sketches, perhaps because here, for once, he actually referred to the sketches while doing the oils. While we know from the title of the oil on your right that this is a female figure, and while some of the other figures have more or less visible penises, all the figures are alike in build as they are in pose. And it seems probable, that Bacon intended them to be, or at least, was conscious that in effect they were, androgynous, given that that quality appears in other somewhat later paintings.

We were looking earlier at Bacon’s first representation in a triptych of a couple having sex: this is in the right hand panel of the Sweeney Agonistes triptych of 1967. The left hand panel of that triptych, shows two figures lying on their backs as if exhausted, and these figures, in sharp contrast to those hard at it in the other panel are decidedly androgynous. And in the triptych Studies from the Human Body the central figure is androgynous, and the two outside ones are clearly female, and the one on the right, also has a face that clearly resembles Bacon’s. It therefore seems to me, to be quite possible, that a number of these androgynous or female figures, painted between the late 1950’s and the early 1970’s, are self portraits. Certainly that suggestion is confirmed, rather than contradicted, by looking at photographs of Bacon. The colouring of his flesh and hair, the build, all plump and soft.



Francis Bacon studio recreated in Dublin






DUSTY newspapers attest to the authenticity of the studio of the late Francis Bacon, which was opened yesterday in Dublin after it was dismantled and shipped from London.

The artist was born in Dublin but did not regard himself as Irish. He spent all of his most creative years at his studio in south Kensington. The arrival of the entire contents of his studio, all painstakingly catalogued before being moved, has created an air of bemusement in Dublin’s artistic community which has shown as much interest in Bacon as he did in Ireland.

An art critic said: "If you went into an Irish bookshop and asked for something on Bacon they would point you to the Elizabethan history section." After Bacon’s death the studio’s contents were given by his companion and sole heir, John Edwards, to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin’s Parnell Square.

More than 7,000 items, including books, floor and roof timbers, tubes of paint, a dressing gown and discarded boxes of champagne, feature in the recreation of the artist’s habitat. Even the dust which had accumulated at No 7 Reece Mews studio was swept up and scattered over the Dublin display.

Barbara Dawson, the Hugh Lane Gallery director, said: "The acquisition of Francis Bacon’s studio was a great coup. The gallery’s innovative approach to retrieving and documenting the contents has resulted in a database of information which will be crucial in critical analysis of Bacon’s work."

An exhibition of unfinished paintings will accompany the studio. Mr Edwards described the studio as a dump. When he tidied it up he found bundles of banknotes that had been hidden, some of which were so old they were out of date.





Bacon’s beloved muddle recreated





THE PAPERS, books, photographs, brushes, paint and scrap material used by Francis Bacon go on display today after being moved piece by piece to rebuild his London studio in the artist’s native Ireland.
The Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin has reconstructed the walls, floor and ceiling of Bacon’s workspace and added more than 7,000 items discovered there when he died in 1992.

Conservationists and archaeologists photographed and logged every section of the studio at 7 Reece Mews in South Kensington before it was moved. They found more than 7,000 items including 80 works on paper and roughly 1,500 photographs, with some by Henri Cartier-Bresson and John Deakin, as well as books and slashed canvases.

The studio was donated by Bacon’s long-term companion John Edwards and was moved with funding from bodies including the Dublin Corporation and the Department of Arts in Ireland.

Mr Edwards said Bacon loved it in that little room, which was so messy that they would discover wads of banknotes that Bacon had lost between the canvases. He added that he believed Bacon would have roared with laughter that it was now all in Dublin.






360º of Francis Bacon




Cristín Leach, RTE, Ireland, Thursday, 24 May 2001


There is something compellingly voyeuristic about standing in a glass case smaller than a telephone box just one step inside the door of the studio in which one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century worked. The fact that you have queued for more than ten minutes to reach this unique vantage point does not relieve the guilt of spending two minutes trying to absorb the chaos before tearing yourself away – behind you the queue has grown so long that people will now wait more than twenty minutes for a glimpse at the source of genius.

The opening of Francis Bacon’s reconstructed London studio at the Hugh Lane Gallery on Wednesday 23 May was an opening like no other. An estimated 1,300 people turned up, each determined to actually see the studio, the work and the other items on display. The excitement was palpable, with an almost religious feel to the queuing and silent gazing at what already seems like a shrine.

Just outside the viewing booth your feet hover over a glass panel in the floor. Down there, preserved forever, are the steep, bare wooden stairs that led up to the studio. There’s the rope he used to pull himself up and the light switch marked by his dirty fingerprints. You imagine descending to open the door at the bottom and finding yourself in London outside the real 7 Reese Mews.

Much has been written about the 1998 donation of the studio to the Hugh Lane Gallery by John Edwards, Bacon’s sole heir. More has been written about the mammoth operation of transporting it, along with its contents, from London to Ireland. Even the dust from the room was collected and re-scattered over the carefully replaced objects. Standing in the glass viewing booth, you see crates and boxes from bottles of alcohol, a dressing gown, photographs, scraps of paper, shopping bags, books, catalogues, paintbrushes and most of all paint. These items fill every corner of the 4x8 metre room. The paint is everywhere, in tins and tubes, on small canvases and on the walls and door – no artist’s pallet was found in the studio. There is an illogical feeling that even the air, sealed behind the glass, could be the very air he breathed – so complete is the illusion.

Walking around the outside of the studio you come to two peep-holes with wide angle lenses that allow you to focus on the paint blobs on the far wall and give a view of brushes in pots on a table. Around another corner you stand looking through the windows of the studio. From here the eye is led to the large, round mirror at the end of the room, but not before you are distracted by old shoes, a soft guitar cover, a 'Bally' shoe bag and the cardboard box packaging from an electric food mixer – Magimix 2000.

Francis Bacon once said, "I cannot work in places that are too tidy." He compared this incredibly cluttered room, where he worked from 1961 until his death in 1992, to the inside of his mind. Those who like to examine abstract modern art and proclaim, "my two-year-old could do that", may now change their tune to boast about the artistic state of their teenagers' bedrooms – but it has to be said, it would take some 14-year-old to make a mess like this.

The reconstructed studio features the original door, walls, floors, ceiling and shelves. Every item found in the gallery – there were more than 7,000 – has been catalogued on a specially designed database before being replaced. It is this unique information bank that will allow for further study of the artist and how he worked. The accompanying Micro Gallery features touch-screen audiovisual displays with highlights of the database as well as information on the artist, his life and his work. After listening for a while, you feel compelled to return to the studio to gaze again on the jumble, the paint, the books and the brushes. It’s uplifting and intriguing.

Beyond the studio and the Micro Gallery, the Exhibition Gallery boasts a collection of unfinished paintings on display to accompany the launch. The door at the end leads you back around to the front of the Hugh Lane. As the queues continue to form, stretching back almost to the thronged gallery’s entrance, it is clear that this curiosity will become our capital’s cultural must-see, maybe even surpassing the Book of Kells. Congratulations Hugh Lane Gallery - Ireland has got its own Mona Lisa.

The Hugh Lane Gallery is open Tuesday – Thursday 9.30 – 6.00, Friday and Saturday 9.30 – 5.00, Sunday 11.00 – 5.00, closed Monday.

Admission to the Francis Bacon Studio £6; £3 concession, £2 for 12-18 year olds and under 12s free.





Bacon’s leavings elevated to a work of art 


Francis Bacon’s studio went on display this week at the Hugh Lane Gallery of Modern Art.


Rosita Boland went along to have a look and was not impressed 





nce upon a time, there was a famous artist called Francis Bacon. He was born in Dublin, but went to live in London when still a young lad. When he grew up, he painted lots and lots of strong and difficult paintings in which people looked tortured, and the world they were set in looked very weird. Galleries bought them and put them on show. Francis Bacon got nice and rich. 

For almost 30 years, he went to work in the same studio in a place called No 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington. Studios are those messy places where artists work. Then Francis Bacon died and his paintings became even more famous and more expensive, because that is what happens. 

But now, if you happen to be in Dublin, you can go and visit the studio for yourself at a place called the Hugh Lane Gallery where they hope they will live happily ever after because they get £6 every time a big person buys a ticket to see the Bacon Pig Sty! And if you liked this story, there is another very good one called The Emperor’s New Clothes.

This week the Hugh Lane Gallery finally opened the doors on its much-hyped reconstruction of Francis Bacon’s studio. Bacon died in 1992, leaving his estate to his long-time companion, John Edwards. In 1998 Edwards donated the structure and contents of the studio to the Hugh Lane.

Some £1.5 million has been spent on the intervening reconstruction project. Ten people catalogued, conserved and moved the studio to Dublin. More figures: the studio contained some 7,000 items, including 570 books and 1,500 photographs. About the only thing that wasn’t counted were the particles of dust, although they, too, were logged, bagged and re-scattered once the reconstruction was in place.

There is no doubt that the procedure was painstaking, and that the Hugh Lane sees the studio’s acquisition as a major coup for the gallery. A large space has been designated permanently for the Bacon Studio, and an accompanying contextual video and display. But what real purpose does this reconstruction serve?

The fact that Bacon was a fine painter is not in question, but his studio itself is not a work of art, and reconstructing it in a special room in a gallery, at vast expense, does not transform it into one.

Much has been made of the fact that Bacon’s studio was cluttered and untidy. Two short words that come to mind fairly sharpish are "so" and "what". Artists’ studios, by their nature as creative workspaces, are usually cluttered and untidy, as anyone who has ever been in one will know.

Besides, untidiness is subjective: it all depends on what one considers ordered. A place may look a mess to an outsider, but to the person who works in it, everything has its precise place.

The reconstructed studio raises several questions. Was it worth it? Who benefits? Is it, indeed, the important contribution to Irish cultural life which Sile de Valera is on record as saying it is? And where does one draw the line on any future acquisitions? What makes the dust and mess of one artist’s studio more interesting that anyone else’s?

The Hugh Lane gives prominent credit to John Edwards, who generously donated the studio and its contents. Generous the donation may have been, but the gift has not been passed on to the visitor. It costs a whacking £6 for an adult punter to view it.

This money will not be going back to the various State bodies which funded the reconstruction. The director of the gallery, Barbara Dawson, confirmed this week to The Irish Times that the entrance fees will go towards funding some splendid international exhibition every two years or so. Therefore, the Hugh Lane gets any future glory and the public foots the bill for it, by paying to see something which the gallery got as a gift.

In February a Bacon painting sold for over £3 million at auction. The fact that his studio in now installed in a municipal art gallery can only raise his profile, and his prices, still further.

Putting a £6 admission fee on the Bacon Studio in a city where we are immensely fortunate in having free admission to galleries and museums is a bold and risky move. It seems unlikely there will be many repeat visits by locals. It couldn’t be in stronger contrast with another donation made in the last decade to the Irish art world.

When the Jesuits in Leeson Street discovered, to their amazement, that they had been hosting a Caravaggio for decades that had been given to them as a gift, they responded by donating it to the National Gallery of Ireland.

It was both a true and a truly admirable gesture of philanthropy, since The Taking of Christ would have fetched millions at auction. They explained their action by saying simply that the painting had come as a gift to them and what was freely received should be freely given.

Philanthropy and entrance fees aside, the bigger issue by far is the questionable merit of the reconstruction itself, even if it had free admission. Although it has a strong and well-respected collection, the Hugh Lane is a physically small gallery. 

Giving over a large chunk of its space permanently to the Bacon Studio gives the exhibit a weight and significance that seem to be totally out of proportion with what’s on show.

Bacon never intended his studio to go on view, which immediately introduces an element of voyeurism to the project.

There is, of course, the argument that the public is served by an insight into the process of artistic creation. But what purpose does the reconstruction serve which has not already been addressed by Perry Ogden’s meticulous and excellent photographs of the interior before it was dismantled in London, and which are also on view at the Hugh Lane?

At the very least, the Bacon Studio raises serious questions about what constitutes art. Hype alone will not create something out of nothing, as the emperor in the fairy tale discovered when he was caught in the buff.





Slicing the Bacon thickly 






Ten minutes into an advance tape of 7 Reece Mews, which is being screened on Network 2 tonight, I began to fear the worst.  The title of the programme derives its name from the little South Kensington house in which Dublin-born artist Francis Bacon lived and worked for 30 years, and you will doubtless know (it’s been in all the newspapers) that the studio has now been meticulously reassembled in the Hugh Lane Gallery of Modern Art in Parnell Square.

But that’s possibly all you know. It’s certainly all I knew. Oh, I’ve seen reproductions of Bacon paintings and been struck by his ferociously twisted human figures, but I had little knowledge of the man beyond that he was a hard-drinking homosexual who was born in Dublin and has come to be regarded as one of the key figures in the art of the latter half of the 20th century.

And for the first 10 minutes or so of this documentary I learned nothing more, though I kept being told how important 7 Reece Mews was as a sociological and, indeed, artistic artefact. Bacon’s executor, Brian Clarke, solemnly announced that it was "one of the most extraordinary archives of the 20th century" and then went on to say that in it "the human condition is expressed in all its terror, in all its isolation, in all its loneliness, and somehow at the same time in all its joy."

And he was followed by photographer Peter Beard, who likened the studio to "a fully-developed womb of swamp-like chaos and horror".

We were in Pseud’s Corner territory here, and the inclination was to lunge for the 'Off' button, especially when the room being so described simply looked like a chaotic version of those bedsits in which many of us have spent our younger years or one of those bedsits after a long and boozy party, anyway.

Why were we being asked to adopt an attitude of reverence towards one man’s messy working quarters? Up to this point, we weren’t given any good reason, and this was a flaw in the film, which should have begun by convincing us of Bacon’s importance as an artist so that we could then give his studio our proper attention and respect. In other words, give us the essential facts first so that we can decide what weight to put on subsidiary matters.

But if, structurally, the film got it arseways, it finally came up with the goods, as it really couldn’t fail to do, given that Bacon’s life was so interesting. So, too, were his ways of working and his sources of inspiration irrefutable proof of the old adage that while talents borrow, geniuses steal.

Bacon stole wholesale from everything and everyone: from photographs of rotting animals and screaming monkeys, from Edward Muybridge’s pioneering images of the human body, from Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin and Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou, from Velasquez’s Pope Gregory you name it, Bacon lifted it and put it onto canvas.

In doing so, of course, he made it entirely his own, just as, for example, Bob Dylan did when he used Dominick Behan’s The Patriot Game for With God on Our Side and The Homes of Donegal for I Pity the Poor Immigrant.

The film was fascinating on this crucial aspect of Bacon’s art and you gradually began to acknowledge the cultural importance of his studio where, amid all the seeming chaos, was the visible source of so much of his art including the dish rag with which he smeared the paint on the canvas in order to gain his ambiguous, unsettling effects.

Finally, the film made you want to rush along to the Hugh Lane and see the studio for yourself. So, despite its flaws, it achieved its intended effect.






Portrait of Francis Bacon, by Lucian Freud





By Andrew Graham-Dixon, In The Picture, The Sunday Telegraph, Sunday, 27 May, 2001


Today is the unlucky thirteenth anniversary of the theft, by a person or persons unknown, of Lucian Freud’s matchless portrait of his friend and fellow artist Francis Bacon. Until its recovery Freud will only allow the work to be reproduced in monochrome, as it is on this page. His friend and biographer, William Feaver, compares the embargo to a period of mourning. “Reproducing the painting in black and white emphasises the fact that all that can be seen of it, for now, is the ghost of a picture”.

The theft took place in more than slightly puzzling circumstances, as The Sunday Telegraph reported at the time:

“A well-known painting by Lucian Freud, Portrait of Francis Bacon, has been stolen from the National Gallery in West Berlin. Electronic security, now considered routine in protecting works of art, was not in use. The portrait, owned by the Tate Gallery, was part of a retrospective exhibition that was seen at the Hayward Gallery and is touring Europe. It is not known precisely when it was taken. One member of the public told police she noticed an empty space on the wall at midday on Friday, but it was three hours before the alarm was raised… Police are working on the assumption that the culprit was an art lover rather than a professional. A spokesman speculated that the thief acted on a ‘spontaneous’ impulse, adding – in an apparent contradiction – that it would have required ‘considerable skill’ to have removed the picture from its wire frame.”

Freud did the portrait in 1952, when he was thirty years old and Bacon was forty three. He greatly liked and admired his sitter and he seems to have intended the painting as a kind of tribute. Depicted in full face and shown disconcertingly close up, Bacon has been given the aspect of a truculent seer. His eyes, which seem almost impossibly large, gaze down and away at something unseen. The impression is of a man looking within, at the shapes created by his own imagination. A lick of his combed-back hair has fallen out of place, giving him an air of teddy-boy raffishness. His lip has begun to curl, as if he might be on the point of sneering. He emanates, in equal measure, sensitivity and disgust.

The picture is (or was) small, only a little bigger than its reproduction here. It was painted on copper, an unusual support for an artist to have chosen in the early 1950s, when expansive gestures on large canvases were more the order of the day. Copper, as Freud doubtless knew, had been one of the favoured supports of Northern Renaissance painters. Viewed in a Flemish light, his portrait of Bacon vividly reincarnates the tradition of the Van Eycks, of Hans Memling and Rogier van der Weyden (whose Deposition, in the Prado, Freud considers to be one of the world’s greatest paintings). There are other precedents too for Freud’s hypnotising evenness of attention to his subject. The picture reminds me of the early scientific illustrations commissioned by curious patrons and scholars such as Cassiano dal Pozzo in the seventeenth century – breathtakingly vivid and precise depictions of so-called “wonders of nature” such as the largest broccoli plant ever grown, or the most oddly shaped pumpkin. As Freud studied Bacon’s mumpish, pear-shaped face, noting every crease and wrinkle, marking down every nuance of contour, perhaps it too seemed like a sort of wonder of nature. How could a single human being contain so much life, and intensity? Bacon’s imposing face fills the frame, as if to amplify the question

Depicting the sitter full face, front on, is very unusual in portraiture. The convention is traditionally associated with depictions of deities. Phidias is said to have used it in his lost Olympian Jupiter; Hubert and Jan Van Eyck adopted it for the figure of Christ the Priest at the centre of the Ghent Altarpiece. In oriental art, Buddha is generally portrayed full face. Bacon by Freud comes across as a kind of surly Buddha, a disconcerting god of untranquillity.

It is not surprising that Bacon should have seemed so deeply impressive to his younger friend and admirer in the early 1950s. While Freud was just beginning to find his way as a painter, Bacon was in full flow and creating what were, with hindsight, the finest pictures of his life. While Freud was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the tightness and smallness of his own work, Bacon was painting with enviable fluidity, on the scale of the great religious and mythological painters of the past. While Freud felt confined within the limitations of portraiture and still life, Bacon’s screaming popes, deformed children and crouching nudes seemed to encapsulate the bitter and disillusioned mood of those post-war times. Peering into Bacon’s face, Freud might almost have been looking for clues, for the hint of a way in which he, too, might make his own work more expansive and profound – might “deepen the game”, to use Bacon’s phrase.

As the two artists grew older, they also grew apart. Bacon did not like the artists whom he befriended to do well in their own right, feeling – as insecure people often do – that the success of others somehow diminished the nature of his own achievements. For his part, Freud increasingly lost respect for Bacon’s work, regarding his later pictures as little more than a pale imitation of his best work. All ties between the two were formally severed after Freud refused to lend one of Bacon’s early pictures, which he owned, to the latter’s second retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1985. Freud’s reasons for doing so were not simply malicious. He had lent the picture often before, and the Tate exhibition was to contain many works which he thought had little merit. After that, the two artists barely spoke to one another again, although after Bacon’s death in 1992 Freud did remember him generously to several obituarists. So as well as being “the ghost of a picture” the little black-and white image printed on this page contains, within it, the ghost of a friendship.








Take a peep  it’s a voyeur’s dream






To say that Francis Bacon is missing from his newly-reconstructed studio in Dublin sounds dim, even by the demanding standards of British journalism. The Master of the Screaming Pope died in 1992, after all: his attendance at the studio’s official opening last Tuesday would have been taking the Baconian grand guignol thing a little far. Still, you can’t help feeling Bacon’s sulphurous presence in the Hugh Lane Gallery’s new annexe, and wondering just where the old devil has hidden himself.
Which is a measure of the project’s triumph. When the idea of disassembling Bacon’s studio at 7 Reece Mews in South Kensington, shipping its 7,200 pieces of slashed canvas, torn paper and truncated corduroy trouser-leg across to Dublin, and then re-assembling the lot with archaeological accuracy, was first mooted in the late 1990s, reactions in Britain ranged from mild annoyance to white fury. David Sylvester, Bacon’s ailing hagiographer and friend, pointed out that the artist had always hated Ireland. (The son of a horsey ex-army officer, Bacon skipped to England at 17 having been caught being buggered by a groom, and never went back.) The Tate Gallery  which, it is said, was offered the studio by Bacon’s last boyfriend, John Edwards, and lost it for being too blase  was predictably tight-lipped about the project.

Of deeper worry, though, was the sense that preserving Reece Mews as a shrineful of Bacon relics went against the artist’s habit of ruthless self-editing. Bacon proudly maintained that he had destroyed his best pictures, evidence of which was provided by the dozens of slashed and overpainted canvases found in his studio when he died. (A similar shadow was cast by Barry Joule, the one-time handyman accused by devout Baconians of removing incunabula from St Francis’ studio against his wishes.) Bacon’s mystique rests in part on the belief that his genius sprang from his brush fully-formed, without the need for bourgeois interventions like drawings. Being able to see the hundreds of worked-over photographs and magazine pages that had littered the floor of his Reece Mews studio might dim the public’s awe.

Speaking as a member of that public, it doesn’t. Bacon’s studio was more than a coincidental space in which to paint. As Margarita Cappock, manager of the project, notes, pretty well the only thing not unearthed at Reece Mews in the course of its removal was a palette. Instead, Bacon used his studio’s walls and doors to experiment with texture and colour, mixing his paints on them and scuffing away at the results with odd bits of paper and trouser-leg. (Remember those stripes in Untitled (Crouching Nude on Rail)? Corduroy.) The studio  perhaps uniquely in art  was also an artwork, giving it a value that Brancusi’s sterile atelier, rebuilt at the Pompidou Centre, does not have.

And 7 Reece Mews was more than that, too. The project’s architect, David Chipperfield, has included a quotation from Bacon on the wall of the free-standing bunker in which he has encased the artist’s studio: The mess around here [ie., at Reece Mews] is rather like my mind: it may be a good image of what goes on inside me. Far from denying the intrusion of ogling Bacon’s sanctum, Chipperfield has made a fetish of it, exploiting a quality in his design  voyeurism  which Bacon, always open to such things, would doubtless have enjoyed.

Step into the glass box that provides your first view of the studio, and you have the embarrassing sense of being somewhere you shouldn’t be. On the opposite wall, two steel tendrils sprout like motifs from a Bacon anthro-machine. These hold lenses giving specific views of painted wall and door, emphasising the studio-as-palette idea but also stressing the illicitness of what you’re doing: turning the installation into a What the Painter Saw machine, visitors into voyeurs. (You half-expect Bacon’s bloodshot eye to peer dolefully back at you.) Chipperfield plays his third variation on the voyeurism theme on the final wall, his spiral walkway allowing you to look down through the studio windows like an old-fashioned Peeping Tom.

Circulation is important here. On the one hand, the fact that you approach the studio in one of two ways  through a room hung with unfinished canvases from Reece Mews or via another of finished Bacons  means that the new annexe integrates itself into the Hugh Lane Gallery’s William Chambers core. (Bacon thought of his portraits as being like Gainsborough’s, notes the gallery’s director, Barbara Dawson. It’s not inapt.) At the same time, the bunkerish look of Chipperfield’s annexe tells you this is a place where you have, at best, a dubious right to be. It’s a dangerous feeling, and a useful one.

For the clever thing about Chipperfield’s design is that it celebrates criticisms of the project rather than denying them. There’s no questioning the extraordinariness of it all: the team of archaeologists that plotted the position of every last ball of paper and fluff on Bacon’s floor; Cappock’s computer database, which allows each of the objects to be pulled up, interrogated and cross-referenced on screen; Perry Ogden’s photographic archive which, inexplicably, recorded slight changes in the disposition of these objects when the archaeologists came to do their stuff. (Very Francis, sighs Dawson.)

But the question remains: would Francis have approved? John [Edwards] says he would have roared with laughter, says Barbara Dawson, and he was with Bacon for the last 16 years of his life. And when he’d finished laughing, you feel that Bacon would have enjoyed the illicitness of it all, and the spying.

Francis Bacon Studio: Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin (00 353 1 874 1903); Perry Ogden’s project photographs, to 28 October.

 7 Reece Mews: Francis Bacon’s Studio is published by Thames & Hudson, pounds 14.95




A precious collection of debris







John Edwards, Francis Bacon’s heir, donated Bacon’s South Kensington studio, the whole room and all its contents, to the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin, his birthplace, thus submitting the compost of the artist’s memorabilia to archaeologists, curators, art critics, psychoanalysts and, from 23 May, the public.

The laborious 1998 dismantling, shipment and exact reassembly of the detritus of 30 years of what Bacon called his exhilarated despair’ will give his admirers and detractors clues to the creative processes of a gambling, alcoholic, homosexual, atheistic genius. In the intimately enlightened opinion of Edwards, companion to Bacon for the last 20 of his 82 years, the act of transferring this complex of chaotic artistic fecundity to Dublin, a wonderful coals-to- Newcastle operation, would have made him roar with laughter, his own special laugh, full of warmth and joy’.

Though Bacon would rarely have been able  or have cared  to pass a breathalyser test, he was passionately serious about working at his easel in the morning, no matter what he had been doing until late the night before. He was a man of prodigious stamina, recuperative power, prolificity, and eventual wealth. He told David Sylvester, the foremost authority on Bacon, 'I really like highly disciplined painting, although I don’t use highly disciplined methods of constructing it.’ He depended on receiving images from his subconscious by fortuitous accidents. His paintings sometimes evolved as he painted them, as if having lives of their own.

He depicted people as meat, flayed, twisted and corrupted, as though portraying mortality might exorcise his fear of loss. He dreaded abandonment and impermanence: long relationships ended in death. He was gregarious but valued contemplative solitude. He said he was an optimist, but regularly exposed himself to the risks of roulette, rough trade and drunken oblivion. In Tangiers, according to the late Daniel Farson, a long-time, on-and-off friend of Bacon’s, the British consul general impressed on the local chief of police that

Francis was a very distinguished painter and kept getting mugged. A few days later, the chief of police returned, patently embarrassed: Pardon, mais le peintre adore ca!’  

Dreading the end of life, Bacon seemed to be in a hurry to get it over, while at the same time relying on attentive doctors to prolong it. He deplored the term gay; he said he was queer. He enjoyed his circumstances of gilded squalor’.

I knew him only at times of post-meridian frivolity in Soho, presiding with intellectual fervour and flamboyant charm over long lunches and consequent sessions in the Colony Room club, the beloved, bilegreen vortex known as Muriel’s. Muriel Belcher greatly encouraged him. Those festivities were the early stages of his daily routine transmogrification from Jekyll to Hyde. Champagne for our real friends!’ was his favourite toast, and real pain for our sham friends!’  As he ordered bottle after bottle, he was closely surrounded by friends of both kinds. He was an insistent host, generous to a fault, usually tolerant of hangers-on, but ruthlessly critical of other artists, especially abstractionists.

Before the studio was transported to Dublin, Perry Ogden spent several days photographing every part of 7 Reece Mews as it was when Bacon lived there  the orderly bedsitting room, the kitchen/bathroom (he was a good cook and carefully ablutionary), and the steep wooden stairs down to the studio, which looked as if his id had run amok in it.

Bacon was an autodidact all his life. Ogden’s close-ups of bookshelves reveal the wide range of his reading, such as biographies of Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, Freud, Ezra Pound, Rothschild and Seurat and at least three of Velazquez. (He said he thought Velazquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X was one of the greatest paintings in the world and I’ve had a crush on it’ .) Among the numerous other books were The Romantic Agony by Mario Praz, Spender’s JournalsGreek Made Easy, The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet  and Larousse Gastronomique. On a shelf near his bed, there were snapshots of lovers and a plaster-cast mask of William Blake.

At first glance, the studio looks like the devastation caused by an explosion in a rubbish tip. However, the gallery’s team of archaeologists catalogued over 7,000 items, including 80 works on paper, 1,500 photographs and many slashed canvases. According to Barbara Dawson, the director of the gallery, there is now 'a definitive archive ... a database of information which will be crucial in critical analysis of Francis Bacon’s work’ . A Micro Gallery will give visitors access to highlights of this archive.’ 

In the meantime, Ogden’s elegant photographs provide an opportunity to scrutinise a lot of significant Baconian debris a page from Eadweard Muybridge’s The Human Figure in Motion (his nude male wrestlers became Bacon’s amorous meat on an unmade bed), glimpses of Michelangelo, Rodin and the late George Dyer in his underwear, and pages from a book on forensic pathology, displaying skin diseases, hundreds of discarded brushes and paint - pots, and empty cartons that once held bottles of Vat 69 and vintage Krug.

Bacon found day-dreaming in chaos richly productive. John Russell, in his excellent biography of Bacon, considers Anton Ehrenzweig’s notion of unconscious scanning and Edward de Bono’s 'lateral thinking’  as explications of Bacon’s artistic creativity. Russell later quotes Bacon on his mysterious procedure: I think of myself as a kind of pulverising machine into which everything I look at and feel is fed.’ 

Ogden’s and Edwards’ book is a fascinating survey of the sorts of material that Bacon pulverised. The fascination easily quells any reluctance to pry into a dead man’s privacy. And, after all, with his real friends Francis Bacon found everything in his tortured existence absolutely hilarious.

7 REECE MEWS: FRANCIS BACON’S STUDIO Photographs by Perry Ogden, Foreword by John Edwards Thames & Hudson, L14.95, pp. 120, ISBN 0500510342





Bacon’s creative chaos  



Francis Bacon’s London studio has been dismantled

and painstakingly recreated at a gallery in Dublin.


Martin Gayford applauds the mess


TUESDAY, MAY 29, 2001


FRANCIS BACON was, one suspects, a man who relished violent contrasts. When out on the town he thought nothing of spending huge amounts of money  on wine, on food, at the gambling tables. But, when he returned home, it was to a tiny flat in London  at 7 Reece Mews, Kensington  which contained cramped accommodation and a narrow studio strewn with decades of detritus. It is the latter that has recently been excavated with all the painstaking care of contemporary archaeology, and reconstituted in the permanent collection at the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin.

This may be the first time that the full rigour of archaeology has been applied to the leavings of a contemporary life. Indeed, the scene, as Bacon left it and as it has now been precisely recreated, does faintly resemble the confusion of Tutankamun’s tomb, as first seen by Howard Carter and his team. Except that, instead of gold, ebony, ivory and unguents, the litter in Bacon’s studio was composed of torn photographs, books, discarded paintings, bits of corduroy trouser used for giving texture to paint, old cans filled with brushes, and empty boxes for champagne bottles (mainly Krug).

Nonetheless, these have been treated in much the same way as if they had been the contents of an Iron Age tumulus. A table, for example, on which 500 separate items had accreted, was sealed, transported to Dublin, and then carefully examined. There is now a database tabulating all 7,500 items discovered in the room. Computer terminals surrounding the reconstructed studio allow the visitor to scan the contents by category. (I tried "music" and discovered that this art did not mean much to Bacon, but that Edith Piaf and Frank Sinatra LPs had been unearthed.)

Methodologically impeccable, but also ridiculous? Well, in a certain way, yes. The whole procedure has a surreal, improbable quality that would probably have greatly tickled Bacon.

John Edwards, his heir and long-term companion, who bequeathed the studio to Dublin, has written that this strange translocation of all Bacon’s junk "would have made him roar with laughter". But I’m glad they did it.

The studio itself is an extraordinarily evocative sight. With its bare dangling light bulbs it is a little like a Bacon painting itself. On the walls are mosaics of bright colour patches where he tried out his brushes — "My only abstract paintings."

Bohemian discomfort was the rule in the tradition from which Bacon came — Giacometti’s studio in Paris was even less comfortable. (A photograph of Giacometti, one of the few living artists Bacon admired, can be seen spilling out of an open draw, along with dozens of others.) And chaos was plainly stimulating to Bacon — in fact, he found he could not work in smarter, more orderly places.

This midden heap — where he worked for the last three decades of his life before his death in 1992 — was the compost from which ideas grew. Its sheer confusion allowed chance, which Bacon valued highly, to play its part. He could do what Picasso recommended — and which was always wisest: not to search for ideas, but to find them lying around at his feet in books and photographs.

The studio is a marvellous thing in itself — an accidental installation, containing a thousand times more ingredients, and a thousand times more interest, than Tracey Emin’s Bed. It also provides insights into Bacon’s mind and art.

Around the studio itself are grouped a display of paintings on loan, and another of unfinished paintings discovered in the studio. Upstairs there is an exhibition of remarkable photographs of the original site by Perry Ogden (available in a book from Thames & Hudson). Also, less desirably, there is a continuous film of a Bacon interview from which the sound spills out.

On the whole, however, this has been very well done — much better, for example, than the Brancusi studio in Paris, now housed in a bleak shed-like structure outside the Pompidou Centre. This is a great coup for Dublin, and a fitting one in that Bacon’s family was Anglo-Irish and he was born and brought up in Ireland. But it is also a great loss for Tate Britain — where it would have been an unbeatable focus for the Bacon collection.

7 Reece Mews: Francis Bacon’s Studio, by John Edwards and Perry Ogden (Thames & Hudson).





How Francis Bacons chaotic studio itself became a work of art  









The painter  Francis Bacon, widely hailed as one of the finest artists of the last century, left a fortune worth £10million. In public, he was never without a class of champagne and was known for his wild gambling and extraordinary generosity to the circle of friends who seemed to spend their lives propping up the bars of Soho’s notorious drinking dens.

But in private, Bacon, one of whose paintings recently sold for a record £6million, lived anything but the millionaire lifestyle. "People think I live grandly, you now, but in fact I live in a dump," he told John Edwards, the rough-spoken East-ender who was his closest friend for the last 18 years of his life. As these pictures show, he wasn’t joking.

Taken from a new photographic portrait of the studio published by Thames & Hudson, the pictures provide an astonishing record of the South Kensington studio in London where the eccentric artist lived and worked from 1961 until he died in 1992.

"It was fascinating for me because Bacon was the first painter I became interested in when I was at school," says photographer Perry Ogden, who took the pictures. "To finally walk into his studio was a spine-tingling experience."

Bacon was acknowledged as a major British artist from the mid-Forties, when the Tate began to acquire his trademark portraits of tortured human figures.

Although he owned far more comfortable homes, he always returned to 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington, saying he could not work anywhere else.

The spartan accommodation consisted of a sitting-room-cum-bedroom and a kitchen-cum-bathroom but it is the studio itself, measuring just 26 by 13 feet, that is most striking. The room was piled high with canvases, brushes, tins, photographs, books, turpentine bottles, empty champagne boxes, old newspapers, paint encrusted towels and even wads of obsolete bank notes won at casinos and stuffed inside old paintings for safe keeping. The only thing missing was a palette. Bacon used the walls and door instead.

"I feel at home here in this chaos because chaos suggests images to me," Bacon said. "And in any case I just love living in chaos." Now this "chaos" has been preserved for public view; shortly after these photographs were taken, the studio was transported lock, stock and easel to a gallery of modern art in Dublin, the city of Bacon’s birth.

This follows a bequest John Edwards, Bacon’s sole heir. He agreed to let the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery rebuild the studio in Dublin. Thus began a remarkable relocation process in which Bacon’s debris-strewn work space was treated, quite literally, like an archaeological dig.

"It was an absolutely chaotic mess, and it fascinated me. It was like the anteroom of an Egyptian tomb," says Barbra Dawson, director of the gallery. "The personality of the artist pervaded the place, and we could see what he used most, what he drew most heavily upon for his sources and what imagery he liked. We bought in an archaeological team and we located every item on a 3-D grid."

A staggering 7,500 items were retrieved, from a half-finished portrait of Bacon’s former lover George Dyer, to bits of old sock used to press paint into the correct texture. The inventory also included 1,500 photographs, many of which clearly inspired Bacon’s paintings.

In addition, there were some 70 drawings, which solved a long running argument about whether or not Bacon painted straight on to canvas without doing preliminary sketches, as he liked to claim. "These drawings were obviously consulted while he was painting because there were splatters of paint on them," says Dawson.

The studio  including the door, walls, ceiling and narrow staircase that led up to it  has now been recreated in the gallery, and all the contents have been put back in their "correct" place. Visitors cannot enter into the room but they can examine even the most deeply buried artefacts in a computerised micro gallery.

Shifting the studio to Dublin may be a surprising decision given that Bacon, according to his late biographer Daniel Farson, "denied his 'Irishness' vehemently. Born in 1909 to a British army officer who had moved to Ireland to run a racing stable, the young Francis left Ireland at 16 when his father — who he would later refer to as an "absolute bastard" — caught him trying on his mother’s underwear and threw him out of the house.

Dawson says she is not attempting to reclaim Bacon as an Irish painter but adds: "He certainly had a great fondness for the Irish and his sensibilities were informed by living in Ireland."

For his part, John Edwards is convinced that Bacon would approve of the relocation, "A little corner of South Kensington moved to Ireland, his birthplace," he writes in the forward to the new book. "The thousands of papers, books, photos, the rotted curtains, the moth-eaten bedspread, the brushes and paints, the discarded canvases  all in Dublin. I think it would have made him roar with laughter."

*7 Reece Mews: Francis Bacons Studio, is published by Thames & Hudson, price £14.95; Perry Ogdens photographs will be on display at Faggionato Fine Arts, 49 Albemarle Street, London W1 (020 7409 7979) in July.





Unseen paintings may provide evidence in Bacon court case




By Steve Boggan, The Independent, Wednesday, 30 May, 2001


Previously unseen paintings by Francis Bacon may be among a photographic archive that a court has ordered his former gallery to reveal to his estate.

Professor Clarke, a friend of Bacon’s and a highly successful artist in his own right, is suing Marlborough Fine Art and an associated company in Liechtenstein, alleging they exercised 'undue influence' over the painter. The estate claims Marlborough would take as much as 70 per cent of the value of the paintings it sold for Bacon, instead of a 'fairer' 30 per cent, and that it failed to pay him for lithographs. The gallery rejects the claims, which could total £100m, arguing that Bacon was content with what it paid him and knew it would make a profit when it sold the paintings on, a sentiment underlined by the fact that he continued to deal through it for 34 years.

It must disclose every Bacon painting and lithograph that it or its directors currently own or control and must hand over Bacon’s correspondence and an archive of documents kept by Valerie Beston, a former Marlborough director, who took care of the artist’s affairs. But it is the archive of photographs by Prudence Cummings, a fine art photographer, and a record book of Bacon’s works kept by Miss Beston that have excited most interest in Professor Clarke.

Mr Clarke, visiting professor at the Bartlett Institute of Architecture, University College London, met Bacon at the Colony Rooms in Soho in 1974 through a friend, John Edwards.






Bacon estate v. Marlborough Gallery

to go to High Court in January



Litigation will expose operations of one of London’s

leading galleries and its Liechtenstein subsidiary





LONDON. The legal case being brought by the Francis Bacon Estate against the Marlborough gallery will now go to trial at the High Court in London. In a judgment handed down on 15 May, Mr Justice Patten dismissed Marlborough’s application to “strike out” the action, saying it should proceed.

The case has already begun to reveal more about the finances and private life of Bacon, described by the judge as “one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century”. The litigation is also providing an unusual insight into the operations of one of London’s leading galleries and its Liechtenstein subsidiary. Although the extent of the Estate’s claim has not yet been calculated, it could well amount to more than £100 million.

When Bacon died in 1992, at the age of 82, he left his estate to John Edwards, a former East London barman who now lives in Thailand. The sole executor is now Professor Brian Clarke, who over the past three years has become increasingly concerned that the artist had not been properly paid by his gallery.

The Estate eventually instigated legal action against Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd and Liechtenstein-registered Marlborough International Fine Art Establishment. Last month’s week-long hearing was over two procedural issues. The Estate sought to amend its Particulars of Claim, to remove the allegation that the relationship between Bacon and his gallery was governed by some underlying contract, and to describe it as “an arrangement of convenience”. At the same time Marlborough asked the judge to strike out the action, arguing the case was just a “try-on” by the Estate. Mr Justice Patten ruled to allow the Estate’s amendments (subject to certain changes) and dismissed Marlborough’s strike-out application, which means that the case will now proceed to trial. The case, which will probably take at least three months, is likely to begin in January.

Rags to riches

Although much of the last month’s hearing dealt with procedural issues, much more emerged about Bacon’s dealings with his gallery. As summarised by Mr Justice Patten, the artist was a “bohemian, lacking in business and financial experience and without the benefit of any independent advice”. Initially his earnings were modest, and from April 1956 to October 1958 he received £1,725 from Marlborough for his works, or about £100 a month. In 1958, at the age of 49, he entered into an agreement with the gallery, under which he was paid for paintings according to their size, ranging from £165 for a 24 x 20 inch canvas to £420 for one of 78 x 65 inches.

 In 1963 Bacon tried to terminate the Marlborough deal and move to a Swiss gallery, but the arrangement was extended by mutual agreement until the following year, “purportedly to allow Bacon’s tax affairs and accounting problems to be resolved.” However, the deal with the Swiss gallery never went ahead and Bacon stayed with Marlborough. From 1964 until Bacon’s death Marlborough continued to sell his works on an exclusive basis and provided certain services. Among the issues in dispute is whether this relationship gave rise to fiduciary duties for Marlborough to act in the artist’s best interest.

Throughout this period, the day-to-day liaison with Bacon was handled by Miss Valerie Beeston, then a Marlborough employee and director. The judge explained that one of her principal tasks was to collect the paintings as soon as the paint was dry: “Bacon lived in a small flat and studio in South Kensington which had no real storage facilities. He could also be destructive. To preserve his pictures they were removed from him when complete, framed, photographed and then stored. Occasionally they were returned to him at his request for alteration or even destruction.” Money was paid in various ways. “Sometimes payment would be made to a Swiss bank account maintained for Bacon in the name of a Liechtenstein Stiftung. On other occasions the money would be remitted to Bacon’s account in England or even paid to him in cash.”

Missing works

The thrust of the Estate’s case is that Bacon was not paid properly for many of his pictures. Among the examples cited is “Self-portrait 1974”, for which Bacon received £6,000 from Marlborough Liechtenstein. Marlborough quickly sold the picture on for $45,000. However, the gallery argues that it did not sell Bacon’s works as his agent, but bought them as principal and was then free to sell them at whatever price it could obtain.

Another example which was given to the court was “Study of a man and woman walking 1988”, which was offered by Marlborough to Michael Leventis, a friend of Bacon. Leventis was told that the painting would normally retail for $1.7 million, but the gallery would give him a special deal and waive its commission, so he could have it for $1 million. The painting was then bought by Leventis, with Bacon receiving only $500,000. Leventis later sold the picture for a profit, and this angered Bacon, who changed his will in 1989 so that his former friend was no longer one of his executors. In altering his will, Bacon apparently complained that Leventis had sold a painting which had had acquired at a “reasonable price”. Marlborough now argues that this indicates Bacon was aware of the price paid by Leventis, and therefore of the profit made by the gallery.

The Estate also says that Bacon received only £6,000 for a series of lithographs which were subsequently sold for $40,000, and that Marlborough failed to account for a further 47 series of lithographs. In an even more serious claim, the Estate says it has identified over 30 paintings which it says do not feature in accounts supplied to them by Marlborough. Bearing in mind recent prices for his work, the Bacons not in the accounts could now be worth in the order of £100 million.


Following last month’s judgment, Marlborough’s spokesman said that “we are pleased that many of the crucial facts relating to the case are starting to emerge”. He confirmed that the gallery will defend each and every allegation made in the claim. “We look forward to the opportunity at trial to address all of the issues in a comprehensive presentation and examination of the evidence: it clearly demonstrates that Bacon and Marlborough had a close, frank and mutually beneficial relationship. As a result of their association, Bacon came to be recognised as one of the most important and intelligent artists in the world as well as accumulating substantial personal wealth.” No comment was made about the judge’s refusal to strike out the case.

Lawyers for the Estate appeared equally pleased with last month’s judgment. “The Estate welcomes the ruling, which vindicates its decision to launch this litigation. It looks forward to the opportunity of putting its full case before the High Court in due course, when Marlborough will have to give a proper account of its handling of Francis Bacon’s affairs.”

Bacon boom

In the very week that the High Court was considering the legal claim, a Bacon painting sold for a record sum, a result which may well lead to general rise in prices of his work. On 9 May the triptych Study of the human body, 1979 went for $8.6 million at Sotheby’s in New York, considerably above the $4-6 million estimate. At the same sale the artist’s 1980 “Study for a self-portrait” fetched $1.8 million, four times the upper estimate.

Meanwhile Bacon has had the unusual honour of having his entire studio moved to another country, as a museum exhibit. The Estate donated the contents of his chaotic South Kensington studio to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, which meticulously recorded 7,500 items uncovered in what was virtually an archaeological dig. The finds included 98 slashed canvasses, 70 drawings, photographs, books, magazines, paint tubes, as well as the cut-off ends of several pairs of Marks and Spencer corduroy trousers which had been used by the artist in order to pattern his paint. Also found on the studio wall was a tiny drawing of a male figure on a chair, which appears to be further evidence that Bacon was not telling the truth when he said that he never made preliminary sketches for paintings. Noticeably absent from the studio was a palette, since Bacon preferred to use the walls, door and small canvasses. The reconstructed studio was opened at the Hugh Lane on 23 May. Coming soon is yet another Bacon exhibition, this time at Sheffield’s new Millennium Galleries (21 July-23 September), centred around works from the Tate’s collection with other loans.  

Missing works

The thrust of the Estate’s case is that Bacon was not paid properly for many of his pictures. Among the examples cited is “Self-portrait 1974”, for which Bacon received £6,000 from Marlborough Liechtenstein. Marlborough quickly sold the picture on for $45,000. However, the gallery argues that it did not sell Bacon’s works as his agent, but bought them as principal and was then free to sell them at whatever price it could obtain.

Another example which was given to the court was “Study of a man and woman walking 1988”, which was offered by Marlborough to Michael Leventis, a friend of Bacon. Leventis was told that the painting would normally retail for $1.7 million, but the gallery would give him a special deal and waive its commission, so he could have it for $1 million. The painting was then bought by Leventis, with Bacon receiving only $500,000. Leventis later sold the picture for a profit, and this angered Bacon, who changed his will in 1989 so that his former friend was no longer one of his executors. In altering his will, Bacon apparently complained that Leventis had sold a painting which had had acquired at a “reasonable price”. Marlborough now argues that this indicates Bacon was aware of the price paid by Leventis, and therefore of the profit made by the gallery.

The Estate also says that Bacon received only £6,000 for a series of lithographs which were subsequently sold for $40,000, and that Marlborough failed to account for a further 47 series of lithographs. In an even more serious claim, the Estate says it has identified over 30 paintings which it says do not feature in accounts supplied to them by Marlborough. Bearing in mind recent prices for his work, the Bacons not in the accounts could now be worth in the order of £100 million.


Following last month’s judgment, Marlborough’s spokesman said that “we are pleased that many of the crucial facts relating to the case are starting to emerge”. He confirmed that the gallery will defend each and every allegation made in the claim. “We look forward to the opportunity at trial to address all of the issues in a comprehensive presentation and examination of the evidence: it clearly demonstrates that Bacon and Marlborough had a close, frank and mutually beneficial relationship. As a result of their association, Bacon came to be recognised as one of the most important and intelligent artists in the world as well as accumulating substantial personal wealth.” No comment was made about the judge’s refusal to strike out the case.

Lawyers for the Estate appeared equally pleased with last month’s judgment. “The Estate welcomes the ruling, which vindicates its decision to launch this litigation. It looks forward to the opportunity of putting its full case before the High Court in due course, when Marlborough will have to give a proper account of its handling of Francis Bacon’s affairs.”

Bacon boom

In the very week that the High Court was considering the legal claim, a Bacon painting sold for a record sum, a result which may well lead to general rise in prices of his work. On 9 May the triptych Study of the human body, 1979 went for $8.6 million at Sotheby’s in New York, considerably above the $4-6 million estimate. At the same sale the artist’s 1980 “Study for a self-portrait” fetched $1.8 million, four times the upper estimate.

Meanwhile Bacon has had the unusual honour of having his entire studio moved to another country, as a museum exhibit. The Estate donated the contents of his chaotic South Kensington studio to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, which meticulously recorded 7,500 items uncovered in what was virtually an archaeological dig. The finds included 98 slashed canvasses, 70 drawings, photographs, books, magazines, paint tubes, as well as the cut-off ends of several pairs of Marks and Spencer corduroy trousers which had been used by the artist in order to pattern his paint. Also found on the studio wall was a tiny drawing of a male figure on a chair, which appears to be further evidence that Bacon was not telling the truth when he said that he never made preliminary sketches for paintings. Noticeably absent from the studio was a palette, since Bacon preferred to use the walls, door and small canvasses. The reconstructed studio was opened at the Hugh Lane on 23 May. Coming soon is yet another Bacon exhibition, this time at Sheffield’s new Millennium Galleries (21 July-23 September), centred around works from the Tate’s collection with other loans.  






Obituary: David Sylvester  




The Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 20 June 2001



DAVID SYLVESTER, who has died aged 76, was generally reckoned to be the greatest critic of modern art writing in English.

A notable scholar and organiser of exhibitions, Sylvester was also the author of the Magritte catalogue raisonne, which was to occupy him for more than a quarter of a century, and of the standard monograph on Giacometti. He was a leading authority on Francis Bacon and on Henry Moore.

Sylvester’s extraordinarily smooth voice and polished literary style belied a waspish temperament. He could be as devastatingly critical about people as he was shrewd in his judgments on art. This led him into memorable confrontations, such as when Norman Rosenthal, the exhibitions secretary of the Royal Academy, spat at him and then burst into tears following an altercation over the hanging of the American Art in the 20th Century exhibition in 1993 - which Sylvester had condemned as "scandalous".

A man who provoked violent dislikes in some whom he crossed, Sylvester was also capable of inspiring great loyalty in those who worked alongside him. They admired his dedication and utter perfectionism and respected his formidable eye. A large bear-like man with a great presence, he could be a charming and witty companion, and, despite his rather prickly nature, an inspiring teacher at the Royal College of Art from 1960-70, the Slade (where he was Visiting Lecturer from 1953-57), and Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania (1967-68).

A writer who could turn his hand to film reviewing or sports commentary, Sylvester had the gift, rare among art critics, of being able to explain the most difficult modern art in the most down-to-earth, comprehensible language.

One article which illustrated this vividly was Art of the Coke Culture which first appeared in 1963 in the Sunday Times Colour Magazine and was republished in his anthology of collected essays, About Modern Art (1996). Rolls-Royces and Cadillacs, wine and Coca-Cola, were brilliantly contrasted to highlight differences between contemporary European and American art, between the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein and what Sylvester called the "folk" art of Peter Blake.

Anthony David Bernard Sylvester was born on September 21 1924 into a family of Russian-Jewish silver dealers. He was educated at University College School, where a fellow pupil was Alan Bowness, later Director of the Tate Gallery.

Sylvester’s interest in art was awakened at the age of 17, by the discovery of a black and white illustration of Matisse’s La Danse which gave him "an awareness of the music of form" and showed him that art did not always have to tell a story. Following this Damascene conversion, Sylvester tried his hand at painting, but, discouraged by his efforts, turned instead to writing about it. In a recent interview with The Daily Telegraph’s Martin Gayford, Sylvester claimed that the critical impulse had come even earlier. "I went to see a football match when I was 10 or 11, Arsenal v West Bromwich Albion at Highbury," he recalled. "I came home and I wrote a report on it."

His first review appeared in November 1942 in Tribune. For three years he enjoyed a charmed life as a regular reviewer for the literary pages edited by John Atkins and, later, George Orwell, but he was to fall foul of the editor, Aneurin Bevan. His swan-song  ironically, in view of his later fame as an authority on the sculptor  was a review of a picture book about Henry Moore which appeared in 1945.

When Sylvester telephoned to complain that he had been paid so poorly for the article, he was told, tartly, that how much he earned depended upon how good the article was. However, Moore clearly liked the article even if the magazine’s editor did not, because Sylvester was invited to visit Moore’s studio in Hertfordshire and later spent a few months as Moore’s part-time secretary.

The working relationship was terminated, according to Sylvester, "because we spent too much time arguing about art" and his secretarial input would seem to have been minimal, given that there is no surviving written evidence of his tenure in the otherwise very extensive Henry Moore archives.

Having turned down a place at Cambridge to read Moral Sciences, Sylvester set out for Paris in 1947, supporting himself through reviews and translation work while frequenting the studios of Brancusi, Leger and, above all, Giacometti, for whom he sat and who came to represent to the young critic "the saintly knight without armour who had come to redeem art from facility and commercialism."

Another beacon of inspiration was the work of Paul Klee, whose major retrospective in Paris Sylvester reviewed for Sartre’s existentialist monthly, Les Temps Modernes. But, despite his admiration for Klee, Sylvester at this period had little sympathy for abstract art which he regarded as "incomplete art", or for the work of the American Abstract Expressionists whom he was later to admire.

When he returned to figurative painting, it was in particular to the work of Francis Bacon, with whom he was to conduct a series of memorable television interviews culminating in his book Interviews with Francis Bacon (1975). While embracing Bacon’s brutal realism, Sylvester was careful to dissociate himself from what he regarded as the banality of artists such as John Bratby, memorably branded as "The Kitchen Sink School", and from the ideas of the critic John Berger, who championed their work but "was too much of a boy scout not to find Bacon a monster of depravity".

In a lecture given at the Royal College of Art in 1951, Sylvester called upon the students to embrace a new, more subjective type of realism, reflecting the fact that "modern man occurs in the consciousness of each individual". It was his own ability to put these sensations so vividly into words which made him such a sensitive critic of Bacon’s work.

The return to England had brought a revival of his interest in Henry Moore, culminating in the first of a series of major exhibitions on the sculptor organised by Sylvester at the Tate Gallery in 1951. Further exhibitions were to follow in 1968, also at the Tate (with Joanna Drew), and in 1978 at the Serpentine Gallery, very shortly before Moore’s death. The Tate also played host to important shows which Sylvester organised on Soutine (1963), Giacometti (1965) and Magritte (1969).

The Magritte exhibition led to the most taxing undertaking of Sylvester’s career when he was invited to write the catalogue raisonne of the artist, which was published in 1992. It was a project which was to occupy him for a quarter of a century and which he was later to regret, partly because it diverted him from other areas of criticism, and partly because, despite his unrivalled knowledge of Magritte, he was not wholeheartedly in sympathy with his subject.

"The fact is," he later wrote, "that I spent years of my life, like Swann, on someone who was not my type." Despite this, he wrote about Magritte with great insight, concluding one memorable essay with an inveterate analysis of art: "If one looks at anything with the intention of trying to discover what it means, one ends up no longer looking at the thing itself."

His involvement with Magritte made him also a natural choice to curate the 1978 Hayward Gallery exhibition Dada and Surrealism, but, despite his interest in Magritte, he had little respect for that other pillar of surrealism, Salvador Dali, comparing the experience of looking at his work to attending a performance by Liberace — "one of the unhappy few squirming in the midst of an audience revelling in this oily message".

Despite his lifelong admiration for Moore and Bacon, Sylvester was otherwise rather out of sympathy with most 20th-century British art, which he saw as bedevilled by vagueness and a tendency to compromise.

Sickert was one artist who attracted Sylvester’s most vitriolic criticisms, and he also wrote a brilliantly acerbic essay on that genteel establishment painter Sir William Coldstream, which contains passages reminiscent of Lytton Strachey. "A list of the honorary positions he held reads like something out of Gilbert and Sullivan," he wrote. "As some people are accident prone, so is he prone to attract official handles." The article concludes: "Looking at what was painted during the hours between committee meetings, one is at a loss to know whether, had he painted more, the gain would be more than quantitative." Surprisingly, Sylvester remained on good terms with the painter.

Sylvester was also an expert and avid collector of oriental art, particularly Islamic carpets. This bore fruit in the exhibition The Eastern Carpet in the Western World at the Hayward Gallery in 1983.

Other great enthusiasms were music  particularly jazz  films and cricket. He captained a team called The Eclectics and wrote cricketing articles for the Observer, where fellow contributors were A J Ayer and John Sparrow. His film criticism, which he started to write first for the magazine Encounter, was sufficiently distinguished to earn him the Golden Lion of Venice award in 1993.

Among his many official duties he was a trustee of the Henry Moore Foundation and the Tate Gallery, an adviser to the Arts Council and a member of the Commission d’Acquisitions at the Musee Nationale d’Art Moderne in Paris.

Perhaps the remark which best sums up his career was that which he himself made in a brilliantly illuminating essay about Matisse, the painter who first kindled his interest in modern painting. "He was a dandy amongst painters . . . one who took infinite pains to get a casual look." Sylvester was also a dandy by this definition, one who took infinite pains to get a casual look and his gift was to make the most difficult art seem easy and accessible.

He was appointed CBE in 1983. Sylvester married, in 1950, Pamela Briddon; they had three daughters. The marriage was dissolved. He also had a daughter with the novelist Shena Mackay.





Obituary: David Sylvester



Supremely sensitive critic and exhibition organiser who for half a

century was Britain’s most persuasive interpreter of modern art



The Times, Wednesday, June 20, 2001


A discriminating champion of new painting and sculpture in the decades after 1945, David Sylvester might be said to have occupied a position in postwar Britain not unlike that of Roger Fry half a century or so before. He was, in his prime, the country’s most influential critic of modern art.

He lacked Fry’s polemical zeal, however, and his relish for the bold schematic view. But perhaps that reflected the two critics’ different situations. For where Fry struggled to promote modern art in the face of a fierce conservative hostility extending far beyond the confines of the art world, Sylvester found himself defending it in a culture where the new had long since lost its power to shock. His whole career testified to a stubborn, humane (and often forlorn) insistence that great art and great criticism were ideals still worth pursuing.

Like Fry, Sylvester had a connoisseur’s eye — not just an ability to see, but a remarkable willingness to look. It made him an acute and attentive critic. It also made him a notable organiser of exhibitions, beyond doubt the supreme curator of his day. Rigorous in selection, he took equal pains with the details of presentation, mindful that art’s impact owes much to the ways in which it is encountered. No one could hang an exhibition quite as he could.

Sylvester’s sympathies were deeper than they were broad (though actually much broader than his published writings suggest). The art that engaged him engaged him utterly. The five-volume catalogue raisonné of René Magritte of which he was editor and co-author was a quarter of a century in the making. The book on Giacometti that he published in 1994 was the fragmentary record of a critical encounter begun more than forty years before. The hundred or so pages of his published Interviews with Francis Bacon were distilled from a decade’s worth of talk, and more than a thousand pages of transcripts.

His best work was done in close-up. He got in close to paintings and sculptures, for the art he admired demanded active involvement from the viewer, rather than passive contemplation. And he got in close to the artists he esteemed, winning their confidence, sometimes over many years. But he could be firm in defending his independence against the claims of friendship, always ready to quarrel, if he had to, rather than compromise; and proximity brought him insights which a more dispassionate critic could never hope to match.

Anthony David Bernard Sylvester was born in Hackney, to parents who owned an antique shop in Chancery Lane and another shop selling silver. He grew up in North London, attending a prep school in Brondesbury where he once claimed to have received his only education, before going at 13 to University College School. At least, that was where he was supposed to go, but afternoon double bills in the cinemas of Kilburn High Road, or the latest jazz discs at Selfridge’s and HMV, held more appeal than lessons, and after persistent absenteeism he left school at 15 without matriculating. He spent a year selling gold and silver to jewellers, then, six years later, was offered a place to read moral sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge, on condition that he belatedly sat the school-leaving examination. He duly sat it, and failed.

By then he was beginning to establish himself as an art critic. He had begun, in fact, at the age of 17, when a black-and-white reproduction of Matisse’s La Danse had inspired the jazz-loving teenager to see for the first time “the music of form”. He took up painting and drawing, and for a year went at it almost non-stop “eight or ten hours a day”.

He was aware, however, that as an artist he had “neither ability nor originality”, and it was perhaps with some relief that he turned to writing instead. His first review, of a drawing show at a London dealer’s in November 1942, was submitted to the Labour weekly Tribune. The piece was accepted, and marked the beginning of a regular association, mostly under the patronage of George Orwell as literary editor. The young critic found Orwell “infinitely kind”, but failed to win the approval of Orwell’s boss, the paper’s editor Aneurin Bevan, who apparently thought his style “heavy with Latinisms”.

Sylvester’s last piece for Tribune, published early in 1945, was a review of a book on Henry Moore. On the strength of it, he was contacted by the artist. Sylvester began to visit Moore’s studio in Hertfordshire, studying his work closely, and for a time even serving as his part-time secretary (“this had to stop because we spent too much time arguing about art”).

The relationship with Moore was based on a mutual respect and empathy strong enough to withstand quite serious differences of opinion. It set the pattern for Sylvester’s subsequent close and productive associations with artists such as Bacon and Giacometti. It also gave him his first opportunity to curate and catalogue a major exhibition — Moore’s retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1951. He organised a second Moore retrospective there in 1968.

During and after the war, Sylvester had seized what opportunities there were to see modern European art in London. In June 1947 he made his first trip to Paris, and during the next three years he returned there many times. He visited the studios of artists such as Brancusi, Hans Hartung, and Léger, regarding the time thus spent as compensation for the university education he had missed.

An introduction to the Parisian art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler brought him into contact with the circles around the influential Existentialist review Les Temps Modernes, edited by Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau- Ponty. Among those he met in this way were the painter André Masson; the avant-garde psycho-analyst Jacques Lacan; the anthropologist and compulsive autobiographer Michel Leiris; Leiris’s well-connected gallerist wife, Louise; and Alberto Giacometti.

At the time Sylvester regarded Giacometti as “the key figure in the current art scene”. He saw him as “the saintly knight without armour who had come to redeem art from facility and commercialism” — and as the artist most likely to give new life to figurative art in an age in which abstraction had become the norm. He not only befriended him but sat to him too.

In his search for a “figurative art that was new and grand”, Sylvester was at pains to distance himself from what he saw as the retrogressive school of naturalistic painting then being championed by the British critic John Berger, one of the most assertive voices in 1950s art. Giacometti offered an alternative to what Sylvester dismissed as Berger’s “kitchen sink” school of realism.

So, too, did Francis Bacon, an artist Sylvester had been writing about since shortly after the war, but whom he had initially viewed with some suspicion as a sort of neo-expressionist. The revelation of Bacon’s real quality came when Sylvester at last managed to see past the dramas which his canvases had seemed to depict: “Looking at (an) image of an ectoplasmic head with an open mouth and an ear that seemed attached by a cord to the ceiling, I realised that it was a painting, not a cry of pain.” He came to regard Bacon as “probably the greatest man I’ve ever known, and certainly the grandest”.

Both Bacon and Giacometti answered Sylvester’s demand for a modern art that reflected the way in which “modern man conceives of reality as the series of sensations and ideas that occur in the consciousness of each individual”. Both were able to “show that experiences are fleeting, that every experience dissolves into the next”. They produced “images in which the observer participates”.

Other figurative artists who engaged Sylvester’s attention at this time were Stanley Spencer, whom he thought “a genius” and whose drawings he collected in a retrospective for the Arts Council in 1954, and Frank Auerbach, whose debut exhibition at the Beaux-Arts Gallery he hailed as “the most exciting and impressive first one-man show by an English painter since Francis Bacon’s in 1949”.

But Sylvester’s interests were by no means confined to figurative art. At least from January 1956, when an exhibition of Modern Art in the United States arrived at the Tate from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, he was convinced of the importance of the American Abstract Expressionists, whose merits he had initially failed to see but who, he now thought, had “solved as a matter of course one of the problems which most preoccupy painters everywhere today — the problem of avoiding a gratuitous beauty or charm without at once producing its opposite”. American art became an increasingly important focus of his writing. Rothko and Jasper Johns were among the artists who became his friends.

Throughout the 1950s Sylvester’s art criticism appeared in a variety of journals and magazines, and in 1953 he was appointed art adviser to the newly founded Encounter. He did some exhibition reviewing for The Times, but failed in his attempt to become the paper’s regular art critic (“a job with real standing in those days”, as he waspishly remarked some years later).

He was also able to write about football and cricket for the Observer, joining the likes of A. J. Ayer and John Sparrow on the startling roster of occasional reporters maintained by the then sports editor Michael Davie. He wrote film criticism for anyone who would print it, showing a predilection, he later said, for science fiction, “trashy social comedies” and musicals.

In 1960 he succeeded his bête noir Berger as art critic of the New Statesman, but he found weekly reviewing restrictive, and two years later he left. The following year he found a more congenial home, when Mark Boxer invited him to join the new Sunday Times Colour Magazine. Here, free of ungenerous deadlines and wordcounts, he was able to write the more considered and substantial pieces he wanted to produce.

Broadcasting, both on radio and television, was another significant outlet for Sylvester in these years; as well as giving frequent talks, and making films about Giacometti, Matisse and Magritte, he recorded interviews for the BBC with many of the leading artists of the day. Teaching was important too: he once said that his best thinking of the 1950s had gone not into books or articles but into seminars at the Slade School and the Royal College of Art.

From the mid-1960s he published comparatively little criticism. This may have been in part because he found himself out of sympathy with an art world in which, increasingly, anything went. It would be wrong, however, to exaggerate this: he may have written in a 1963 essay of his preference for “wine culture” over “Coke culture”, but he was a tireless taster, and found his wine in some unlikely new bottles: he wrote sympathetically and well about Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Richard Hamilton and, later, Gilbert and George. He retained to the end of his life a discriminating interest in the latest art.

A more obvious reason for his infrequent appearances in print was that he was doing other things. He was for many years a member of the Arts Council visual arts panel, and became a powerful art world presence behind the scenes. From 1967 much of his energy was in any case absorbed by work on the Magritte catalogue raisonné, which was finally published in five volumes between 1992 and 1996. Out of that labour came three retrospective Magritte exhibitions: at the Tate in 1969; in Brussels and Paris a decade later; and in London, New York, Houston and Chicago in 1992-93. Work on the catalogue confirmed Sylvester’s belief that “Magritte was more of a painter, less purely an image-maker, than his enemies and his friends supposed”. Nevertheless, at the end of it he confessed to feeling “that I spent years of my life, like Swann, on someone who was not my type”.

“I feel like a failure,” Sylvester told an interviewer in 1992. Such gloomy diffidence might seem absurd in a man widely revered as the greatest art critic of his day. But the volume of essays he collected under the title About Modern Art in 1996 was full of wry admissions of misjudgment and regret: there were dozens of artists he would have liked to write about but had not; he had been too slow to appreciate Leon Kossoff, whom he came to think “one of the two or three best painters in Europe”; the hopes he had placed in Giacometti had not been entirely fulfilled; he had wasted years in a foolish attempt to establish that Matisse and Bonnard were greater artists than Picasso, then changed his mind. The fastidious determination to get it right, and the scrupulous willingness to admit that he had got it wrong, were characteristic of a critic who, in his subjects and in himself, prized integrity above all else.

David Sylvester and his wife Pamela Briddon had three daughters; they and another daughter survive him.

David Sylvester, CBE, art critic and exhibition organiser, was born on September 21, 1924. He died on June 19, 2001, aged 76.




Attentive to every detail of presentation:

David Sylvester during the hanging of the Soutine exhibition at the Tate Gallery, 1964





Obituary: David Sylvester






David Sylvester, who has died aged 76, was one of the finest writers on art in the second half of the 20th century. His clarity of expression and his adherence to the discipline of looking, as a route to understanding the power of a work of art, set him in a class apart. He wrote predominantly  whether in his journalism, in catalogue essays or books  about modern art, from Cézanne and Matisse up to mature artists of today. He was also a skilled maker of exhibitions. He curated his first Henry Moore show in 1951, and contributed many major shows to British and foreign museums and galleries.

    His exhibition schedule was particularly frantic during the 1990s, after he finished the catalogue raisonne of Rene Magritte, which had taken, "with interruptions", 25 years. Though his writing was marked by its simplicity of style (he cautioned editors that he used shorter words than most critics, so if his pieces did not make the required column length, that did not mean he had not supplied  or should not be paid  the agreed amount), it never came easily or quickly. It was also marked by his analogies  accurate, but unexpected  drawn as easily from sex or football as from art history and psychology.

    In the 1950s and 1960s, when he was at his most prolific as a journalist, Sylvester also wrote about football and cricket for the Observer, ran a cricket team called the Eclectics, and reviewed films wherever he could, introducing sci-fi films and musicals to the readers of Encounter.

    His expertise in modern art was matched by a love of Islamic, Indian and Oriental  as well as Egyptian and tribal  art, and he collected throughout his adult life. He revolved this personal collection with obsessive frequency, and unsuspecting visitors to his house might find themselves up a stepladder, hanging on to a Picasso drawing or a 16th-century Chinese carpet, while he fretfully solicited their views on this latest domestic rehang.

    Sylvester had begun listening to jazz as a schoolboy in the 1930s, and still had the buff’s ability to identify time, place and line-up of a session on CD without recourse to the sleeve notes. He also owned an enviable collection of art-house videos, which he reordered with Desert Island avidity; David Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary Of Film was his indispensable volume of choice. He was an inveterate compiler of lists. Eliot was his favourite poet; L’Age D’Or and Ai No Corrida vied for his favourite film; Manchester United was his team; and Mike Brearley, one of his favourite cricketers, was among his closest friends.

    As for his favourite painter, the artists he championed changed over the years. "I started being hostile to Picasso in print in 1948," he explains in his book of essays, About Modern Art (1996). And not until 40 years later did he feel nearer to "accepting [Picasso’s] genius, rather than resenting it". It was a tug of love that underpinned his development as a critic, and only the thoroughness with which he tested his early champion, Giacometti  in essays, collected in Looking At Giacometti (1994), exhibitions (1951 and 1981), and on film (1967)  gives some measure of how prolonged and painful such a shift could be.

    The question of Picasso dominated Sylvester’s career as a writer. "It is not even the question of Picasso versus Matisse," he wrote, "for even at those times when Matisse seems the greater, Picasso himself is still the question, probably because Matisse is a great artist in the same sort of way as many great artists of the past, whereas Picasso is a kind of artist who could not have existed before this century, since his art is a celebration of this century’s introduction of a totally promiscuous eclecticism into the practice of art.

    "Picasso is the issue, Picasso is the one to beat, Picasso is the fastest gun in the west, the one every budding gunfighter has to beat to the draw in order to prove himself . . . The young critic cuts his teeth on Picasso. He proves his manhood by putting down Picasso, which is quite easy, because he is so flawed an artist, is such a colossal figure that he has several parts that are clay, probably including his feet, but not his balls."

    Sylvester was born in London, the son of a Russian-Jewish antiques dealer, and went to University College School, which he left at the age of 16. He enjoyed a brief career as a dealer himself before turning to painting at 17, inspired by a black and white reproduction of Matisse’s La Danse. Until then, he said, he thought of art as "telling a story".

Matisse changed all that. It was not its narrative qualities that enthralled him, but its abstract ones; he understood the rhythms and tensions in its series of curves. By his own account, Sylvester was not a good painter, and decided he might be better at writing about it than making it.

    While still in his teens, he had an article about drawing accepted by Tribune. He wrote another, after which the literary editor, George Orwell, gave him some book reviews. There were few wartime art exhibitions to write about, but the National gallery put on monthly shows, and some commercial galleries exhibited British artists. In this way, Sylvester was introduced to the works of Henry Moore, Stanley Spencer, Graham Sutherland and Matthew Smith, while he met a younger generation of London artists, including Lucian Freud, Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach and Francis Bacon.

    His stint with Tribune ended in 1945. As Sylvester remembered, its then editor, Aneurin Bevan, found his style too "heavy with Latinisms". In any case, he was soon redeployed: his last piece for the magazine, on Henry Moore, elicited an invitation to the sculptor’s studio, and a job as Moore’s part-time secretary. The chance to study an artist’s work in depth led to Sylvester’s first exhibition installation, and, in 1968, his first book, on Moore.

 In 1947, he turned down a place to read moral sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge, and went to Paris, finding work editing and translating. In 1948, after seeing the work of Paul Klee, he wrote a piece about him for a New York magazine, Tiger’s Eye, which the critical review Les Temps Modernes then wanted to publish in translation. Sylvester asked for time to rework it; it finally appeared two years later.

    The time-lag testified to the kind of deliberations of which those who knew him subsequently would find nothing surprising. In conversation, he was a master of the grand pause, the prolonged silence broken by heavy breathing, then a sudden intake of breath that heralded the dramatic response. Lord Snowdon liked to tell the story of how, driving with Sylvester to Brighton, Snowdon asked a question at Reigate, and saw the domes of the Brighton pavilion appear before a voice from the back seat answered deeply, "Yes".

    It was through Picasso’s dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, that Sylvester, then 24, met Giacometti. After that, he visited Giacometti’s studio regularly, and began to write about his work. In 1960, he sat for Giacometti, and the resulting painting finally graced the cover of his collected pieces 35 years later, to critical praise.

    Sylvester’s first glimpse of American abstract expressionism, in 1950, left him unimpressed. He was, at this point, anti-American and pro-figurative, and more interested in Bacon, whom he had identified as the most outstanding of contemporary British artists. During the 1950s and 1960s, he became a personal friend of Bacon’s, and, in 1975, when their collected conversations on art were published, the book was recognised as one of the great additions to the study of late 20th-century art. It made Sylvester’s reputation, and has been revised, extended and republished in several editions.

    Sylvester’s support for figurative (though not necessarily realist) painting embroiled him in an early battle with the critic John Berger, conducted in essays and reviews, particularly on the pages of Encounter. A byproduct of this was a piece that coined a new title for a group of British and French contemporary realist painters  the kitchen-sink school. Taken up by the media, and applied wholesale to literature, theatre and film, it added a new genre to the decade.

    In 1960, Sylvester took over from Berger at the New Statesman. Two years later, he resigned, having discovered that the column was too short for his good ideas, and came around too frequently to avoid his bad ones. His career as a broadcaster, however, blossomed. He took up a visiting lectureship at the Royal College of Art in 1960 (he had been a visiting lecturer at the Slade from 1953-57), and, in the same year, the US state department invited him to spend two months in America, during which he interviewed American artists for BBC radio.

It took Sylvester most of the decade to make up his mind about contemporary American art. He was warming to Pollock by the mid-1950s, and, after a touring show at the Tate  and the US trip  had given him a more detailed chance to see it at first-hand, he was finally converted. Then came Pop. He introduced it, in a 1963 essay, Coke Culture, in the Sunday Times magazine, which he had joined as an art writer and adviser.

    In the 1960s, his career took off in several directions at once. He was making a series of films, Ten Modern Artists, for the BBC, curating at least one major show a year, writing two books  Henry Moore (1968) and Magritte (1969) - and taking on an escalating number of public appointments. He liked being asked to sit on committees and accept trusteeships  something he put down to being an outsider and a Jew.

    Having accepted them, however, they did not always last. He resigned as a Tate trustee after two years, and gave up the British Film Institute production board after three. But he kept up his membership of the art panel of the Arts Council for almost two decades, and, though not a very politicised bureaucrat, he did bring about some fundamental changes. He got the rates for visiting curators raised, and revised the way works were bought for the Arts Council collection - to prevent people pushing their favourites through. Towards the end of his life, he was a trustee of the Henry Moore Foundation, on the board of the Serpentine gallery and, in 1997, became a governor of the South Bank Centre.

In 1950, Sylvester had married a student teacher, Pamela Briddon, with whom he had three daughters, Catherine, Naomi and Xanthe. He later had a fourth daughter, Cecily Brown, with Shena Mackay; all four daughters survive him. When the marriage broke up, he moved back to their old flat in Wimbledon, south London, and filled the two large rooms with pieces of art. Most visitors complied with his rule that they remove their shoes at the door, though the artist Joseph Beuys is supposed, famously, to have refused, and been sent packing into the night. At the end of the 1980s, Sylvester moved to a townhouse in Notting Hill, where, for more than a decade, his then partner, the art critic and curator Sarah Whitfield, lived next door. It was there that he finished editing his work on Magritte.

    The commission had been offered by the art patrons Jean and Dominique de Menil in 1967, initially as a four-year contract. What was originally intended to be one book finished up as a five-volume catalogue raisonné, a critical biography and a touring exhibition. In retrospect, Sylvester occasionally wondered if he had made the right decision; he was given to periods of self-doubt, and regretted giving up the opportunity to develop more films and interviews for television.

    As it was, Magritte took over his professional life. In 1982, he gave up what had been his most prominent public position to date, his seat on the Arts Council, and vowed to do nothing else until Magritte was finished. In 1983, he was awarded a CBE for his public services to art.

    In fact, his period of abstinence did not last long. The following year, he accepted a place on the acquisitions board of the Musée Nationale d’Art Moderne in Paris, and, in 1988, heralded his return with a show of Late Picasso at the Centre Pompidou. His catalogue essay was a tribute from an old adversary who recognised, in the works of the ageing Picasso, the loss not of artistic but of sexual potency.

    The culmination of the Magritte period came in 1992: the first volume of the catalogue raisonné was published, and the exhibition opened at the Hayward gallery, and travelled to New York, Houston and Chicago. After this, one volume appeared every year until 1996. After 25 years with Magritte, Sylvester felt it to have been too long: "I still love the work," he wrote, "but the fact remains that I spent years of my life, like Swann, on someone who was not my type."

    When the de Menils’ support came to an end, Sylvester worried that, both economically and professionally, he might not be able to hold his own. He had always been anxious about money. In the 1950s, he had thought he might be able to finance his life by gambling, as Bacon and Freud did, but he had none of their success. Considering his reputation, some people regarded his fears as false modesty, but he was not immune to depression and insecurity. There was a side to his nature that needed praise, and he was genuinely pleased when he received it. But by this time people expected him to be grand.

    The word "panjandrum" was often chosen to describe him, partly because of his reputation, partly in reaction to his imposing physical presence. Although he played on the grandeur when necessary, he could also undercut it. His injection of a slangy word or phrase could refocus the reader’s engagement with a difficult piece; when lecturing he could inspire a kind of dinner-table intimacy. And his intimacy, and stamina, on the telephone was legendary among his friends: his late- night conversations took in everything from share prices to the impossibility of resolving the demands of love and morality.

    As for returning to a freelance career, Sylvester was soon engulfed by commitments, and, in the last five years of the century, travelled constantly, particularly to the United States. He was writing prolifically - catalogue essays and introductions, reviews, particularly for the London Review of Books, and shorter pieces for the national press.

    By now, many of his old friends were in positions of power. Nicholas Serota, whom Sylvester had known since he was a young director at the Whitechapel gallery, was now director of the Tate. Lord Gowrie, who deemed Sylvester his "best friend among the generation immediately preceding my own", was head of the Arts Council. Sir Ian Bancroft and Joanna Drew, for whom he had curated exhibitions at the Hayward, were among his many close friends.

He had been a connoisseur of love affairs for most of his life, and he encountered fem- ale friends with a gaze that could match his pauses of speech in length. It was his very own mirada fuerta, the look Picasso used to seduce and shock. In Sylvester’s case, it was described, with fond exasperation, by a habitual recipient as "one of those long, sideways, admiring, get-your-clothes-off kind of stares" that often heralded "a brief, platonic love affair".

    Of the artists within his field of expertise, Bacon was the first, and the one he will be remembered for as both champion and major critic. In 1993, a year after Bacon’s death, Sylvester curated a show of paintings at the Museo Correr, for the Venice Biennale, and was awarded the Golden Lion, the first time it had been given to a critic rather than an artist. Three years later, by which time the French had made him an Officier de l’ordre des Arts et Lettres, he curated another Bacon show at the Pompidou, which he said looked even better. And in the spring of 1998, he made a relatively small selection of Bacon paintings, on the theme of the human body, for the Hayward gallery, which showed how his familiarity with the work could produce a subtle show that pleased critics and the public alike.

    Last year, he published his own study of Bacon, Looking Back At Francis Bacon, and installed a show at the Hugh Lane municipal gallery, in Dublin, which preceded the installation of the reconstructed interior of Bacon’s studio dismantled from Reece Mews, South Kensington.

    At the end of the 90s, Sylvester had become embroiled in the fuss over the discovery of a clutch of badly executed oil sketches, allegedly disproving what Bacon had told him  that he never did preliminary drawings. Though this provided art historians with a new area of research, Sylvester made his own definitive response last March, during a debate at the Barbican, when he reminded the audience that, whether by Bacon or not, everybody accepted that the drawings were bad, and therefore an intensive study of them was pointless; much better to spend the time studying the paintings, which were, uncontroversially, Bacon’s masterpieces.

    By this time, Sylvester was ill. But though he complained about growing old, mentally he never seemed it. His experience of life, combined with his intellect, made him an unshockable, unjudgmental and, when the occasion demanded it, candid, adviser and friend. He could be irritable and demanding. But he was delicate, kind and never lost the appetites that made him appear more alive in his senses than most people around him, and which made his writing about art as visceral as it was analytic.

    Sylvester will be remembered as one of the great 20th-century critics, on a level with Michel Leiris, the one he probably admired most. During his lifetime, the art world of 1950s Soho, of which he had been part, became mythologised, almost an art-world soap opera. The art world itself became ever more deeply involved with and dependent upon the media, in need of new sensations to keep it in the public eye.

    Sylvester was still a key personality in all this. He was consulted by Charles Saatchi and Nick Serota; he was asked to write on contemporary work, as well as his more characteristic areas of expertise. One of the things that most excited him was the prospect of a long interview about film with the young Scottish artist Douglas Gordon, which he realised shortly before his death.

    He was part of the contemporary art world, and yet he was also set apart from it. He understood the game of art, and his writing deepened our understanding of it.

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






David Sylvester, 76, Art Critic Who Championed Modernism






David Sylvester, for many years an influential critic, exhibition organizer and shaper of opinion in the international modern-art field, died on Monday in London. He was 76 and lived in London.

The cause was colon cancer, said a spokeswoman for the Tate Gallery.

Mr. Sylvester’s career was a lifelong romance with the idea of the modern in art, music, literature and the movies. What he loved he shared unstintingly.

Anthony David Bernard Sylvester was born in London on Sept. 21, 1924, and educated at the University College School in central London. When still very young, he endeared himself to many artists, among them Henry Moore and Francis Bacon, by the authenticity and the drive of his commitment to their work.

By 1948 he was giving broadcast talks for the BBC. In 1951 he curated exhibitions of sculpture by Moore and drawings by Alberto Giacometti at the Tate Gallery. Afterward, the long list of exhibitions he organized in London included the work of Stanley Spencer (1954), René Magritte (1969), Robert Morris (1971), Henri Laurens (1971), Joan Miró (bronzes, 1972), Willem de Kooning (1977), "Dada and Surrealism Reviewed" (1977) and late Picasso (1988). In 1994-95 he was co-curator of a large exhibition of de Kooning in London and in Washington.

In 1993 Mr. Sylvester organized an exhibition of works by Bacon, his close friend, as Britain’s contribution to the Venice Biennale. For this he was awarded the Biennale’s Golden Lion Award, which had never before been given to a critic. Last year he organized a major Bacon exhibition for Paris, Munich and Dublin.

A first visit to New York in 1960 at the invitation of the State Department resulted in Mr. Sylvester’s lifelong commitments to several American artists. In particular, Jasper Johns, de Kooning, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko fired his enthusiasm. On his return to London he supported the New York School in a series of BBC radio programs that had a lasting impact.

In later years he was a regular visitor to New York, where he was prized as a critic, a friend and a memorable conversationalist. A master of the purposeful pause, during which he sometimes seemed to have left the room, he was also able to proclaim his opinions in a long series of perfectly formed sentences.

Much in demand as an adviser, he was on the acquisitions committee of the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris from 1984 to 1996. In 1995 he was made a Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters in France. He was also an Honorary Academician in the Royal Academy in London.

Mr. Sylvester was a trustee of the Tate Gallery from 1967 to 1969, and a trustee of the Henry Moore Foundation from 1996 on. In 2000 he was awarded Britain’s Hawthornden Prize for art criticism.

His marriage to Pamela Bidden ended in divorce. The couple had three daughters. He later had another daughter, Cecily Brown, with the English novelist Shena Mackay.

Among his many publications, the collected "Interviews with Francis Bacon" was revised and enlarged more than once over the years. Last year he published "Looking Back on Francis Bacon." Another lifelong enthusiasm culminated in his "Looking at Giacometti" in 1994.

"About Modern Art" (1996, enlarged 1997) touched on many aspects of his trawl through the second half of the last century. As was true of the Bacon and Giacometti works, "About Modern Art" included elements of autobiography. They gave immediacy to a form of critical writing that often shies away from it.

A monumental five-volume catalogue raisonné of the work of Magritte (1992-97) was a collegial effort by Mr. Sylvester and, among others, his friend Sarah Whitfield.

In his last months he was at work on a book of interviews with American artists, including Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, de Kooning and Richard Serra.




Art world mourns a magisterial critic




Maev Kennedy, The Guardian, Wednesday June 20, 2001


The writer, critic and curator David Sylvester, who died yesterday, was described last night as a magisterial figure who helped create the reputation of many of the greatest British artists of the 20th century.

He had been ill for some time  describing his terminal cancer to The Guardian as "a great nuisance".

He wrote for many journals and newspapers, including, for many years, The Observer.

At the age of 76, although he had been a friend and passionate advocate of the work of 20th century giants including Henry Moore and Francis Bacon, he remained hungry for the work of young contemporary artists. He recently contributed an assessment of the work of sculptor Rachel Whiteread to the Tate journal.

The director of the National Portrait Gallery, Charles Saumarez Smith, said he had chosen to have his portrait made for the collection by Jenny Saville, best known for her paintings of large nude women.

Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate  who first met him when Sylvester was a feared critic, and he was the unknown but promising young director of the Whitechapel Gallery in London  praised not only Sylvester’s writing, but the exhibitions he curated, as among "the most memorable of the last 40 years".

He was a trustee of the Henry Moore Foundation until this year, and last night director Tim Llewellyn expressed the "deep sadness" of the trustees, describing his assistance to the foundation as invaluable.

Staff at the Barbican gallery, where he spoke from the floor at a day seminar on the work of Francis Bacon four months ago, described him as "a magisterial figure".

Charles Saumarez Smith, called him "one of the great figures in art in the 20th century, as an art writer and critic, and as an arranger of exhibitions to which he brought all his skill and passion.





Artist’s champion dies




BBC News, Wednesday, 20 June, 2001


Renowned art critic David Sylvester, a champion of the work of Francis Bacon, among others, has died aged 76. Sylvester was generally considered to be one of Britain’s most influential critics of contemporary art.  He is best known as a leading authority and advocate of the work of Francis Bacon and Henry Moore but also embraced younger artists such as Rachel Whiteread.

Arts broadcaster and Editor of Tate Magazine, Tim Marlow, worked with Sylvester many times and told BBC News Online that the Art world has lost a champion.

"He wasn’t a critic who sought out something new all the time for the sake of it," he says.

"He would think deeply and really considered the work and the artist."

Sylvester’s had the ability to make and maintain lasting friendships with artists, including Bacon, Giacometti, de Kooning, Rothko or Jasper Johns. For the public it was his ability to describe and explain works of art that was his great skill.


David Sylvester was a giant in every sense of the word
Tim Marlow, editor of Tate Magazine

Born in London in September 1924, Sylvester’s family were Russian-Jewish silver dealers. His interest in art was awakened when he saw a black and white illustration of Matisse’s La Danse.  He did attempt to become a painter, but was discouraged by his efforts and turned to writing. As the peak of his journalistic career, as well as writing about art Sylvester wrote about football and cricket for The Observer and reviewed films.

His books include Interviews with Francis Bacon, published in 1975, Looking at Giacometti in 1994 and About Modern Art in 1996. In 2000 he published a study of Bacon  Looking Back at Francis Bacon  and helped install a dramatic removal of the artist’s studio to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.


Sylvester was also a gifted broadcaster, presenting series on Painting for BBC television and a remarkable set of interviews, in French, with the sculptor Giacometti, for BBC Radio 3. Marlow says that Sylvester will be remembered as not just a writer and critic but as a brilliant exhibition maker. In Britain he curated important exhibitions on Soutine, Giacometti and Magritte, and organized shows in Brussels, Paris, New York, Houston and Chicago.

In 1993 Sylvester won a Golden Lion for his work at the Venice Biennale  the first time the award was given to a curator and critic rather than an artist. Sylvester recently wrote what Marlow described as a "brilliant" piece on how to hang an art exhibition for Tate Magazine.

"David Sylvester was a giant in every sense of the word," he said.

"He was a great big cuddly bear of a man with a gentle ferocity and a great intellect."

Sylvester is survived by his wife, Pamela and four daughters.



                   Francis Bacon walking toward Soho on Great Marlborough Street, London W1





Unseen paintings may provide evidence in Bacon court case 



by Steve Boggan, The Independent, Wednesday, 30th May, 2001


Previously unseen paintings by Francis Bacon may be among a photographic archive that a court has ordered his former gallery to reveal to his estate.

Professor Clarke, a friend of Bacon’s and a highly successful artist in his own right, is suing Marlborough Fine Art and an associated company in Liechtenstein, alleging they exercised 'undue influence' over the painter. The estate claims Marlborough would take as much as 70 per cent of the value of the paintings it sold for Bacon, instead of a 'fairer' 30 per cent, and that it failed to pay him for lithographs. The gallery rejects the claims, which could total £100m, arguing that Bacon was content with what it paid him and knew it would make a profit when it sold the paintings on, a sentiment underlined by the fact that he continued to deal through it for 34 years.

It must disclose every Bacon painting and lithograph that it or its directors currently own or control and must hand over Bacon’s correspondence and an archive of documents kept by Valerie Beston, a former Marlborough director, who took care of the artist’s affairs. But it is the archive of photographs by Prudence Cummings, a fine art photographer, and a record book of Bacon’s works kept by Miss Beston that have excited most interest in Professor Clarke.

Mr Clarke, visiting professor at the Bartlett Institute of Architecture, University College London, met Bacon at the Colony Rooms in Soho in 1974 through a friend, John Edwards.





Francis Bacon studio gala evening in Dublin



Gabriuzine 30 May 2001

The Francis Bacon studio was finally opened to the public on the 23rd May in Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery to critical acclaim. The preceding evening The Estate of Francis Bacon headed by Brian Clarke formally handed the contents of the studio (estimated with a value of at least $ 15 million, £ 17.5 million) over to the gallery at the City Hall, Dublin, with guests including the lord mayor of the city, Dermot Aherne (brother of the country’s premier), ex-Beatle Sir Paul McCartney and the Irish artist Louis le Brocquy.

When asked by Gabriuszine as to the Estate’s progress in the $ 141 million (£ 165 million) civil suit currently running against the Marlborough Gallery (London and Lichenstein), (regarding alleged non payment of artist fees to Francis Bacon), Brian Clarke remarked, “We have just returned from London today and I have every confidence in the success of our case.” (Andrew Moore).




Sponsors bring home the Bacon




By Adrian Taylor, Sheffield Star & Telegraph, Thursday, 14 June 2001


SHEFFIELD First for Investment is to sponsor the city’s next blockbuster art exhibition.

The inward investment agency says helping to stage a major showing of the works of Francis Bacon at the Millennium Galleries, is an ideal way to promote Sheffield nationally and across the globe.

Marketing manager Denis Healy said: "Our mission is to attract world class enterprises to our city, just as the Millennium Galleries attract the very best in art and culture.

"This is a massive vote of confidence in a Sheffield that has well and truly turned the corner and is moving forward on a tide of innovation and investment.

"We will be able to use the exhibition as a lever to attract firms to the city to see what we have to offer.

"We will stage an event — a private viewing of the exhibition — and use that to make a serious business pitch on behalf of the city.

"Cultural industries are important for Sheffield.''

It is the first time Sheffield First has sponsored an event. It is giving an undisclosed cash sum to the galleries and has agreed to publicise it with a national mailshot of companies and by printing a series of posters.

The exhibition is described as a major collection of paintings and authenticated drawings by an artist who is internationally recognised as the most important British artist of the 20th Century. 

It comes to Sheffield as part of the Tate Partnership Scheme. 

The exhibition takes place from July 21 to September 23. Admission to the Galleries is free but admission to the rooms containing the Francis Bacon works will be £4 for adults, £3 for concessions and £2 for children.





Reward offered for Bacon portrait




BBC News, Thursday, 21 June, 2001

The British Council has offered a £100,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of a stolen portrait of the late celebrated artist Francis Bacon.

The 1952 painting by Lucien Freud, a respected Bacon contemporary, was taken in May 1988 from the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin.

The council is keen to get it back now so that it can be included in a major Freud exhibition in London next year.

A major poster campaign will be launched in Berlin on Friday in a bid to find the picture.

The council’s director of arts, Andrea Rose, said: "This is an extraordinary painting, a portrait of one national icon by another. I would dearly like to see it back where it belongs."


The posters have been designed by Freud and next year’s exhibition will be a retrospective at Tate Britain to mark the artist’s 80th birthday.

Freud said: "Would the person who holds the painting kindly consider allowing me to show it in my exhibition at the Tate next June?"

Bacon was one of the 20th Century’s most commercially successful artists, earning about £14m from his paintings before his death.

He dealt with themes of death and decay and his style has often been called existentialist.

Bacon was born in Dublin on 28 October 1909. He died in 28 April 1992, in Madrid, Spain.

Freud was born in Berlin, a grandson of Sigmund Freud, and came to England with his parents in 1931. He acquired British nationality in 1939.

Portraits and nudes are his specialities. His meticulous style has been described as "realist" and set him apart from other more figurative British artists since World War II.




                                            Bacon: His portrait has been missing for 13 years





Freudian quest for Bacon



A poster campaign has been launched to recover the stolen portrait




LONDON. Berlin is being plastered with “WANTED” posters designed by Lucian Freud in an attempt to recover the Tate’s stolen portrait of Francis Bacon, taken 13 years ago. A reward of up to DM 300,000 (£100,000) is being offered and the hope is that massive international publicity may lead to the recovery of the Freud painting, which was seized from a British Council exhibition in the Neue Nationalgalerie.

Although a very private person, Freud is personally backing the campaign because he wants this key work to be shown in his forthcoming retrospective. In his only comment to the press, he posed a polite request: “Would the person who now has possession kindly consider allowing me to show the painting in my exhibition at the Tate next June?”

Freud’s poster has a very simple design. Below the 
“WANTED” word in red is a black-and-white reproduction of the painting, since Freud does not want it depicted in colour until it is recovered, as a sign of mourning. Below is the main text in German: “For information leading to the recovery of this small painting, a reward of up to DM300,000 is offered. Please telephone +49 30 3110 9940. Calls will be treated in absolute confidence.” Nowhere do the names of Freud or Bacon appear on the poster.

The British Council’s publicity campaign was launched in Berlin on 22 June by visual arts director Andrea Rose, Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota and Peter-Klaus Schuster, director of the Berlin museums (Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz). Posters are being placed on 2,200 sites and on 30 large circular kiosks in the German capital. The considerable cost of these sites and underwriting the reward is being met by two private donors (we understand that originally the scheme was to have been quietly funded by Gilbert de Botton, a former Tate trustee and Bacon collector, but he died last August).

Freud’s portrait of his friend Bacon is a very small work (18 x 13 cm), not much larger than a post card, and, unusually, it is on copper. It was painted in 1952, and was bought later that year by the Tate, making it a far-sighted purchase. The portrait was one of the star exhibits in Freud’s first foreign retrospective, organised by the British Council in 1987-88 and shown at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Hayward Gallery in London, with Berlin as the final venue.

The Freud was stolen on Friday 27 May 1988 from the Mies van der Rohe-designed Neue Nationalgalerie in Potsdamer Strasse, in what was then West Berlin. It was taken when the gallery was open to visitors. Security that day was virtually non-existent, and we can reveal that between 11 in the morning and four in the afternoon there was not a single guard on duty. This astonishing situation suggests that either the crime was an inside job (with the thief receiving a tip-off) or it was an opportunist theft by a casual visitor who realised that the gallery had been left unguarded. The size of the Bacon portrait made this work particularly vulnerable.

Security at the Neue Nationalgalerie was at that time contracted to an outside firm and the gallery privately admitted liability to the British Council. The theft was briefly reported in the international press, but the Berlin museum, the Tate and the British Council made little effort to publicise the loss, mainly because of the embarrassment of the German side. An immediate decision was made to close the exhibition.






Bringing home the Bacon



It’s not just a stolen portrait that Lucian Freud wants back, says Jonathan Jones.


It’s his much-missed friend





When a great artist does a portrait of another, there is usually more at stake than meets the eye. Friendship, rivalry, alliances of ideas and sympathies  down the centuries, artists have expressed these things by exchanging portraits. So when Francis Bacon, the supreme painter of scenes of modern horror, and Lucian Freud, the heir to Courbet and Degas in his depiction of the human body, sealed their friendship by painting each other’s portraits at the beginning of the 1950s, it was a significant moment.

When Bacon painted Freud in 1951 — his first identified portrait — and Freud returned the gift with a portrait of Bacon in 1952, they were expressing a deep artistic bond as well as friendship. And this is why Freud’s attempt to retrieve his portrait of Bacon, which was stolen in Berlin 13 years ago, in time for his retrospective at Tate Britain next year, is such a revealing gesture by this most private of men.

Freud and Bacon became friends in the 1940s; the older man, Bacon, was born in Ireland in 1909, and Freud, the grandson of Sigmund, was born in Berlin in 1922. Both made their lives in London, and their visions of London  Bacon’s depraved wasteland, Freud’s bedsit nightmare — are some of the most troubled images of the city, comparable to those of Conrad, Eliot and Pinter. Their friendship appears to have been at one remove from the flam boyant, drunken relationships Bacon had with his hangers-on in Soho; it was something else, a matter of mutual respect. In the recently published book of photographs of Bacon’s studio by Perry Ogden, photographs of Freud, torn at the edges but capturing him in his handsome youth, can be seen among the objects Bacon always kept with him.

The portrait of Bacon — a tiny work in oil on copper about the size of a large postcard – is one of Freud’s earliest works to achieve the intimacy and emotional frankness of his greatest portraits. It was bought by the Tate Gallery in 1952. In 1988 the painting went on loan to the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin as part of a retrospective of Freud’s work. It never came back. No trace has ever been found and no one knows what happened. It wouldn’t have been difficult for a thief to vanish into the Tiergarten with this tiny painting stashed in a carrier bag or under a coat.

Now Freud has devised a wanted poster calling for the return of this stolen painting of Bacon, to be pasted up all over Berlin in a desperate attempt to bring back what was lost. But the poster is more than a practical attempt to retrieve a painting, although of course we must hope it succeeds. It is also an artistic gesture. Freud, the greatest living figurative painter, has never been known as a conceptual artist. Yet this wanted poster is conceptual art. It recalls a famous work by Marcel Duchamp, who in 1923 put his own face on a police wanted notice. Freud painting Bacon, we expect that; but the master of the portrait quoting Duchamp? More is going on here than police work.

This poster is as much an act of mourning as a public appeal. It is a lament for a painting, a man, and a city. Wanted, reward 300,000 Deutschmarks (£100,000). What is wanted here? Not only Bacon’s lost portrait, but the man himself, Freud’s friend, his fellow artist, who died in 1992. Gone. There is no mistaking the longing here. Indeed, seen in the black and white of the poster, the painting has a startling likeness to an object Bacon kept close to him — a copy of the death mask of William Blake. The cast of Blake’s face has its lids lowered. That downturned face, the artist who no longer looks, is echoed in Freud’s portrait of 1952. And on the poster of 2001 it becomes an allusion to mortality, to the gaze that is no longer returned.

Freud’s poster also recalls, in addition to Duchamp, the series of paintings, Most Wanted Men, created by Andy Warhol in 1963. Warhol took FBI photographs of wanted bankrobbers and mafiosi and turned them into portraits, punning on the meaning of the word "wanted". Andy Warhol himself wanted these men, confessed in these paintings his own desire for them and admiration of their criminality and outlaw status.

This poster deliberately looks like an old-style crime notice. Imagining it pasted up in one of the S-Bahn stations in the former East Berlin, I think of Fritz Lang’s film M, in which a child murderer is hounded through the streets of this city. Yet the face in the picture is not that of the unknown criminal, but the most celebrated British artist of the 20th century. It’s a nice joke. Under the big red letters that spell out wanted is the outlaw Francis Bacon, in a black-and-white photograph of the lost painting.

The poster’s design invites you to apply 19th-century notions of the criminal face to this painting, to read Bacon’s face as that of a dangerous street character, a man not to be trusted. But Bacon’s still youthful face — he was in his early 40s when it was painted — seems vulnerably exposed. The monochrome image has the cropped brutalism of a police mugshot. And yet this is a far more introspective image than we normally get of Bacon the artist, who wore a tough public mask. Looking at his pensive face, we sense a tenderness. His wavy, unkempt hair and the uncontrolled, bursting structure of his face pushing outwards towards the edges of the picture suggest a nature thrusting beyond the conventional forms of life.

Yet the presentation of Bacon as outlaw reframes this portrait, and perhaps makes it less reticent than it was in 1952. We see how it shares the humour, love and clarity of Freud’s paintings of Leigh Bowery in the 1990s. Bacon, the Soho bohemian, drinker and lover of petty criminals, is given, by this poster, the same grand attention that Freud gave the outrageous Bowery. Here is Bacon the monster, wanted in Berlin.

And this is where the poster truly becomes a work of conceptual art. The meaning is not just in the work itself but in the entire campaign. This is a poster campaign for a lawless artist in the historically ripe streets of Berlin, where every corner you turn reveals a bullet-scarred wall or the site of a political obscenity. And the Jewish artist who made it was born in Berlin in 1922, spent his early years in a flat near the city’s central park, the Tiergarten (close to where the Bacon portrait was stolen in 1988), and emigrated from Germany with his parents in 1933. How can there not be a larger historical resonance to Freud putting a wanted poster on display throughout the city he and his family were forced to leave?

In Fritz Lang’s M, the outsider is hunted down. Freud’s poster campaign inevitably evokes the past of a city where human plurality was repudiated, where to be wanted by the authorities was to be categorised as inhuman. And yet what his campaign is about is restitution, a return.

Freud’s mixing of grief for Bacon with a plea for the return of his portrait is a confirmation of what anyone who looks at his portraits must feel. Freud’s portraiture is consciously naive in its restatement of the portrait’s oldest, most utopian purpose: the preservation of the dead.

Freud’s savage ecstasies of green and orange flesh, with their unconcealed desire to put someone’s very being on canvas, are a struggle to hold back time, or at least keep a souvenir of those time steals. Freud’s most distressing portraits are those of his mother getting older and older – and finally, shockingly, his drawing of her dead. But all his paintings have a compulsion not just to capture someone’s appearance but their presence, to make something of them live forever on canvas.

And in the ambiguity as to whether this is an appeal for Bacon’s portrait, or for the return of Bacon himself – or, perhaps, for Freud’s lost childhood and never-to-be adulthood in Germany – Freud makes it plain how much he invests in painting. If Bacon’s portrait is restored, something of Bacon will be restored. For Freud, a portrait is a living thing; the fact he will only allow his lost work to be reproduced in black-and-white must be more than a technical consideration. It suggests a mourning for the painting itself, and a perception of the painting as dead, lost. A reproduction means nothing. It is in the paint that life goes on.

For Freud, it’s as if a thief returning this painting would return a token of the dead, and its resurfacing would be an image of a much larger redemption, a token of all the missing people, the lost connections in a life.





Sylvester, the critic who kept moving and saw the light






Until last Tuesday, when he died, David Sylvester was the greatest living art critic, and he had been for more than 40 years. This is remarkable because critics are as vulnerable to fashion and fad as the artists they criticise.

I first met David in the 1960s. He came to our house. My parents, in that embarrassing way of parents, had framed my first ever attempt at an oil painting. A sarcophagal black bowl, with physics-defying fruit poking out of the top. "You bought a new picture," he accused my father. "No, it’s by my son."

"How old is he?"


David stood in a characteristic pose, hands in pockets, foursquare, a man imitating a menhir, breathing like a resting steam thresher. And then after an equally time-defying pause said: "Giacometti couldn’t paint like that until he was 11."

I should point out this wasn’t a particularly good example of his craft, but it was of his great kindliness, made more special because he was also equally capable of the opposite. And pathetically, 40 years on, it’s still my most treasured compliment.

David was making a series of television programmes with my father, Michael Gill, called Ten Modern Painters. They went on to make rare recorded conversations with Francis Bacon. Ten half-hour lectures are a considerable amount of work, and David took a room in Notting Hill to write.

My father would visit him in the afternoons and they’d argue.

One day, when David appeared to be particularly stuck, my father went to the small kitchen to make coffee. He opened a drawer; it was crammed to the top with condoms. Neither of them mentioned it. Then, after another half hour, he noticed that a rug thrown casually over a sofa apparently hid a perfectly still curled-up person. Neither of them mentioned that either.

They talked for another hour and my father left.

I’ve just repeated this story to a woman who was a lifelong friend of David’s. "Are you sure it wasn’t your mother?" she inquired dryly. I remember another mother, the parent of an art school friend, fretting in her kitchen one morning, claiming a list of things she had to do. "Boots, butcher, baker, oh and M&S, I need some new knickers, I’m having tea with David."

Seduction was quite as central a passion in Sylvester’s life as art. But then so was jazz, cricket, film and football. Passions that could border on obsession.

Cressida Connolly was once asked by a glossy magazine to name her two sexiest men. She chose David Beckham and David Sylvester. Sylvester was hugely thrilled. "Which of us," he asked, "is beauty and which brains?"

His success, or at least appetite, for women was all the more astonishing because of the way he looked. Massive of frame with a dark deadpan minotaur’s head that on first meeting appeared terrifyingly furious. But his breathy voice was deeply potent. My mother said that making David laugh was one of the great joys; an achievement like making a baby giggle. He was properly, unashamedly, intellectual; bushily highbrow about everything, because if it was worth thinking about, it was worth seriously thinking about.

In an age where facile accessibility and Tate Modernish dumbing flat are the vogue, David innately understood that there are no lowbrow subjects, just lowbrow approaches to subjects. The beauty and greatness of his criticism was the simplicity with which he explained fundamentally complex ideas and confusing emotions. The clarity and elegance of his writing were the result of brain-searing concentration and a dedication to polished and precise explanation. His style of hot intuitive intellect is vanishing, replaced by the cool deconstructionists and the collators of ironic trivia.

Sylvester nurtured and enjoyed his feuds quite as much as his friendships. He and John Berger, the communist critic, duelled with paper howitzers. They stood for the two stands of post-war criticism. On the one hand a hard-edged, empirical, motivational dogma and on the other emotional reaction and spiritual connection. The latter is far harder to convey without sliding into stream of consciousness, bathos and inarticulate hand waving.

Sylvester managed it all his life. He instinctively avoided the bane of the critic, a fixed position. Indeed, he often started off disliking the art he came to champion, most notably his resistance to Picasso as the abiding genius of the 20th century. His list of favourite artists (he was an inveterate list maker) defied catalogues or isms and included Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, surrealism, Paul Klee, pop art, American abstract expressionism, Islamic carpets and Jeff Koons. Art was a journey. Its visions grew and receded. He was above everything a critic of his time. A true modernist, never harking back to golden ages or antique Elysiums.

He could write criticism about art, film or football without contradiction or explanation. Almost the last time I saw David was in a restaurant. He’d been very ill. I tapped him on the shoulder and said how nice it was to see him out.

In return I got that long silent stare that someone once said made you understand what it must be like to be a difficult picture. The wheezing silence stretched on and on and I thought Oh God, perhaps he doesn’t recognise me. I reminded him. "I know, of course I know," he replied irritably. "I was just thinking how proud your father must be of you." Now in retrospect it has a mordant symmetry to the first time we met.

I want to finish with a thing he wrote. If you understand nothing of modern art, this has within it everything you need to know. All galleries should have it written above their door, critics tattooed on our foreheads. "If one looks at anything with the intention of trying to discover what it means, one ends up no longer looking at the thing itself."

AA Gill





The Golden Lion of English Artwriting:


David Sylvester, 1924-2001





On closing day of the Tate Gallery’s Jackson Pollock retrospective in June 1999 attendance surged in the final hour. It was not just the usual crowd who leave things to the last minute, on this occasion, but people there to witness a particular event. At the published suggestion of an art critic, all the lights were turned off so that Pollock’s raw duc canvases and swirls of enamel paint could be viewed in nothing but God’s own daylight (which the Almighty is known to ration in London). The critic was David Sylvester. In the pages of the elite, highbrow London Review of Books, he pleaded for this aesthetic experiment in the course of an at times self-critical examination of a changing sensibility towards a body of work studied over a lifetime. That June afternoon Sylvester literally changed the way people saw art. On June 19, 2001, after several years heroic struggle with cancer, the “golden lion” of English artwriting died aged 76.

Whether writing, curating, advising or collecting, he was an arbiter of taste. The role this complex personality created for himself within the British and international artworlds was multifaceted, but what will come to be considered his lasting contribution, in my opinion, is his criticism. Simply stated, he described art as well as any writer in English since Ruskin.

Actually, let me qualify this, not to backtrack but to get in sharper focus the particularity of his talent. It is not so much objects per se that he described so well – though his “ekphrasis” (the putting into words of what is seen) was crystalline – as the impact of the said objects. He was a man with an enormous ego, yet his artwriting, while intensely empirical – personally experienced, sensed, measured – was not encumbered by the confessional. Eschewing formalism as a reductive system, he nonetheless “cut the crap” (as he himself might have put it) by going for the mechanics of how art works. He could talk about quality without being prissy. He dramatized the sense of his having intensely looked at and experienced the art he was writing about.

He was in many senses an existentialist. Firstly, like the best of his generation, he was profoundly influenced, intellectually and temperamentally, by the Parisian philosophy and culture of the postwar period. He tempered an early affection for voluptuously high flown French thought with a rough and tumble English empiricism. After a precocious start as a reviewer for George Orwell at the New Statesman while still a teenager, writing about sport and jazz as well as art, he spent a formative period in Paris in the 1940s. He befriended Giacometti, a repeated subject in his writing and exhibition making. Sylvester in turn was the subject of a painting by Giacometti. He found his voice back in London as a critic championing artists for whom personal authenticity and a struggle to come to terms with reality were of utmost concern. Francis Bacon, obviously, was one of these, but so too others who, later, would be classed under the rubric “School of London” (a construct he had no truck with), including Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews. Later in life he would express doubts and reservations about some of the School of London painters he has previously written about so persuasively, although he also did belated justice to two he had neglected, in print if not in personal encouragement or behind the scenes manoeuvring, namely Euan Uglow and Leon Kossoff.

His taste expanded greatly, especially as he came to terms with abstract and pop art and became increasingly interested in American art, but he brought similar existentialist values to the appreciation of, say, an American minimal artist like Robert Morris as he had once applied to English realists. And there is another sense in which he was existentialist. He was far more concerned with what great art tells us about occupying a body, facing death, being sexual, engaging in relationships, feeling isolated, etc. than he was with, say, epistemological concerns – what art is or isn’t, its relations with language, etc. – which might more readily seem to apply to an artist like Morris. But the great thing with Sylvester was that he wrote about these issues without sentimentalizing art. Existentialism was no excuse for romanticism, in his case. The search for truth and presence were values he managed to invest in his writing. Looking at Giacometti is an extraordinarily crafted book. It is made up of texts from across a career of heroic failures – failures, according to the author’s standards, to capture its subject convincingly – texts which by his own account were obsessively revised. In its “exhilerated despair” (a phrase of Bacon’s from the legendary interviews with Sylvester) Sylvester’s prose and project shadow Giacometti’s own working process and angst. The book, which could have been called “Sylvester’s Doubt”, also represents a critic’s progress, from an elegiac, full-blown, French-influenced literary approach in the opening text from 1955, “Perpetuating the Transient”, to increasingly unphilosophically encumbered writing that gets to the heart of the Giacometti experience.

His 1968 Henry Moore exhibition and catalogue built on twenty years thinking about that artist that began with a period as Moore’s private secretary. It exemplifies a phenomenological approach to sculpture. Just as the Giacometti text has the kind of tentative determined realism of its subject, so the Moore text at once generalizes and particularizes, again like its subject.

As I said earlier, he was a man with a big ego, and his personality filled a Sydney Greenstreet-like frame. He often wore the fraught expression of someone ill at ease within his own body. Physicality imbues his prose, for his analysis invariably draws attention to the body, whether the maker’s or the perceiver’s. His aesthetics were grounded firmly in the sensorium: prone to draw analogies, his favourites were with sex and food. Even to hear him think about something on the telephone was a visceral experience, with pregnant pauses, heavy breathing, and Rabelaisian outbursts. He could swear prodigiously, and in public too, at least in later years. (This didn’t stop him from being a connoisseur of etiquette, which he could discuss in minute, analytic terms, as if a latter day Baldassare Castiglione.) There was a marvelous panel at the Tate Gallery once, moderated by Joanna Drew, in which Sylvester and another veteran British pundit Bryan Robertson, reminisced. Sylvester peppered his sentences with the “f” word so frequently that when at a certain point the dapper and gentle Robertson himself felt moved to explete he used the word “bugger”. “If you’re going to “fuck” I’ll “bugger”, he said in parentheses, to the delight of an audience already high as a kite on the bombast of this pair.

Despite such egotism, Sylvester was a very good listener. His interview technique should be studied by anyone concerned with the art of public dialogue. Besides the immortal exchanges with Bacon, titled in its last collected version as The Brutality of Fact, Sylvester conducted dialogues with countless giants of postwar art, including De Kooning, Giacometti, Serra, Katz, and Johns.

You could say that he was a giant who liked other giants. But readymade giants. Surprisingly absent from his bibliography is any evidence of the role of discoverer. Look at the names of the art stars he wrote about – and he seemed exclusively to concern himself, in print, with the successful – and rarely, when cross referenced to the artists’ own résumés, does it turn out that Sylvester was the first to write about them. Here was a man with a voracious appetite for new art, a determination to shape public taste through writings and exhibitions, an eagerness to advise important collectors, public or private, a desire to be up to date, and clearly an eye on immortality. He exemplified Constable’s assertion that a half taste is no taste at all. Criticality permeated everything he thought about. And yet he didn’t scout for new talent. Fearless in the unexpected analogy, willing to risk friendships for an aesthetic assertion, he was timid in the elective process. A Ruskin, a Greenberg, a Peter Fuller can go horribly wrong with their Kate Greenaways, their Larry Poonses, their Glyn Williamses, but whether viewed as a lapse or a consistent cock-eye, their passionate and personal and original avowals actually enhance their critical status rather than detracting from it. Van Gogh said, “I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that mistake”, and we can end up feeling this way about our favourite critics when they startle us with questionable tastes.

The irony with Sylvester – and a biographer one day will usefully deal with this – is that existentialism and a fondness for artists willing to pursue a lonely path to authenticity did not breed in him a corresponding individualism. For all that his writing has the feel of belligerent independence, he was drawn inextricably to the establishment, the canon, and prevailing powers. That he was heavily involved with big institutions such as the BBC where he was a prolific and innovative arts broadcaster, or the Government-sponsored Arts Council, for whom he curated numerous landmark exhibitions and served, for long terms, as chairman of the visual arts panel, is of course only commendable, public spirited, worthy. But at the same time, in a critic, slightly perturbing. Of course, it is a tremendous honor to have been the only critic ever to receive a “golden lion” of the Venice Bienalle, the artists’ “oscars”, but who awarded it him if not the international artworld’s Council of Ten (the politburo, in other words, of official taste)? Later, his inseperableness from big time collectors like the de Menils and Charles Saatchi, not to mention his intimacy with dealers like Anthony d’Offay in London (who married Sylvester’s secretary) and Larry Gagosian in New York (who exhibits his daughter, the young painter Cecily Brown) seemed to make him the most plutocratic arbiter of taste since Bernard Berenson.

It probably attests to my besottedness with the man, however, that I find something psychologically compelling in Sylvester’s moth-like attraction to the glow of money and power. It is right that critics should be more concerned with the consumption of art than its creation, even if, usually, the critic himself is the end user. Sylvester was a passionate collector of Oriental rugs (of which he curated groundbreaking Arts Council exhibitions), antiquities, and so on, which he would install with exquisite taste in his museum-like home. I would venture that it was a desire to experience art decision making in its vested human fullness, and not in a rarefied aesthetic vacuum, that attracted him to the apex of artworld power.

But this is to moralize beyond hard evidence. We can await a Meryle Secrest-style bio with bated breath. In the meantime, we must mourn a critic who persuaded the best minds of his day to look harder at painting and sculpture, which is what criticism is about.





Francis Bacon



Millennium Galleries Sheffield





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

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

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

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

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

Until 23 September. Details: 0114 278 2600.





Posters beg Berliners to bring back the Bacon






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







A Dublin Diorama Reveals

A Very Untidy Francis Bacon







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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Twisted Sister






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

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

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





Burn, Bacon, Burn



Art Review: Letters


Art Review, September 2001


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

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

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

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

Alex Russell, London





Peter Pollock: Obituary






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



  Francis Bacon with Peter Pollock in Tangier in the 1950s





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

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

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

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

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

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





Fifty years of hurt



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


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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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