titled and dated 1966 on the reverse of
the left canvas
oil on board
each: 81 by 66 cm.; 32 by 26 in.
Head III 1949 Francis
5,000,000 to 7,000,000 GBP
Hanover Gallery, London
Wright S. Ludington, California
Galerie Beyler, Basel
Sir Edward & Lady Hulton, London (acquired from the above in 1976)
Private Collection, Europe
Thomas Gibson Fine Art, London
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1997
London, Hanover Gallery, Francis
Bacon Paintings. Robert Ironiside Drawings, 1949, no. 7
California, Palm Beach, Society of Four Arts, Contemporary British Painting,
Toronto, The Art Gallery of Ontario, Francis Bacon, 1979
London, Tate Gallery, Francis Bacon, 1985, p. 42, no. 8, illustrated in
Lugano, Museo d'Arte Moderna della Città di Lugano Villa Malpensata, Francis
Bacon, 1993, p. 29, illustrated in colour, and p. 138, no. 9, illustrated
Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou; Munich, Haus der Kunst, Francis Bacon,
1996 -97, p. 291, illustrated
Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art; Hamburg, Hamburg Kunsthalle,
Francis Bacon: Portraits and Heads, 2005-06, no. 3, illustrated in colour
Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts; Wisconsin, Milwaukee Art Museum;
Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Francis Bacon: Paintings from the 1950s,
2006-07, no. 5, illustrated in colour
Penguin New Writing, London
1949, no. 38, p. 64 Horizon, no. XX, December 1949 - January 1950, pp. 418-19
World Review, New Series, no. 23, January 1951, p. 64
Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon, London 1964, no. 22, illustrated
Hugh M. Davies, Francis Bacon, New York 1986, p. 19, no. 13, illustrated
Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon, Paris 1987, no. 8, illustrated in colour
Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Ed., Francis Bacon, New York 1998, p. 18,
illustrated in colour
Martin Harrison, Ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies, Göttingen 2009, p. 177,
no. 119, illustrated in colour
1949 was a seminal year for Francis
Bacon: it marked the full inauguration of an artistic vision that drew back the
veil on the human condition with a rawness and violence never before witnessed.
This was the year of Bacon’s very first one-man exhibition in which the
extraordinary and historically important group of six Heads powerfully
proclaimed his critical arrival. Designated as third in this crucial series, Head
III was conceived as part of the most ferocious corpus of Bacon’s early
career; a sequence of paint encrusted, starkly monochromatic pictures that
navigates an evolution from the innate animalism of Heads I and II (housed
in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Ulster
Museum, Belfast respectively) to culminate in Head VI (Southbank Centre,
London) as the very first in Bacon’s groundbreaking and iconoclastic pantheon of
screaming Popes. Viewed as part of a metamorphic sequence, Head III is an
extraordinary vision of abject and ‘all too human’ man arrested at an
evolutionary stage between base animal instinct and howling patriarch. In
context of this seminal revelatory moment, Head III is itself of great
precedential significance. Preempting the gaping mouthed shriek of Head VI,
this painting denotes the first explicit occasion in which the obsessively
quoted broken glasses, or pince-nez, fully appear; Bacon famously lifted both
glasses and scream from Eisenstein’s 1925 masterpiece of silent cinema, Battleship
Potemkin. This work also significantly embodies the first irrefutable human
likeness of Bacon’s professional career. Though not a portrait, the painting
bears a resemblance to Bacon’s first significant benefactor and long-term
companion, Eric Hall, and thus anticipates the way in which Bacon would later
look to his social circle for principal inspiration. Having been exhibited in
some of the most important museum shows of Bacon’s career, including the seminal
1985 Tate retrospective held during Bacon’s lifetime, alongside countless others
at the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh; Pompidou Centre, Paris;
Hamburg Kunsthalle; Haus der Kunst, Munich to name but a few, the historical
importance and museum pedigree of Head III is utterly beyond reproach.
Further beyond doubt is the power and technical brilliance of this early work.
Extensively commented upon in contemporary reviews and admired in influential
critiques of the Hanover exhibition, Head III was the first painting sold
by the Hanover Gallery in advance of the private view in November 1949. The
notable Californian collector Wright S. Ludington (1900-1992), who shared a
mutual friend with Bacon in Graham Sutherland and is notable today for his
crucial involvement in the foundation of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, was
the first to own this painting: he bought it on 28 October 1949 for £150.
Possessing rich provenance, a profound history and a deeply evocative subject, Head
III certainly holds a place of utmost importance within the arc of Bacon
Following the intermittent early
success of the first two masterworks, Three Studies for Figures at the Base
of a Crucifixion, 1944 (Tate Collection, London), and Painting 1946
(The Museum of Modern Art, New York), of which the latter was acquired for The
Museum of Modern Art only two years later, the emergence of the Heads in
1949 indefatigably announced the arrival of Bacon’s genius and primary subject –
the human-animal as unadorned, despairing, godless and alone. Though comprising
only ten works in total, the Hanover Gallery’s now legendary 1949 exhibition
reads as a roll call of Bacon’s early masterpieces. Alongside the series
of Heads, the aforementioned Three Studies and the Tate owned Figure
in a Landscape, 1945 (works both donated to the Tate in the 1950s by Eric
Hall), were displayed alongside two larger scaled new paintings, Study from
the Human Body and Study for Portrait housed in the collections of
The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and the Museum of Contemporary Art,
Chicago. Apart from Heads IV and V, the inventory from this
crucial exhibition rightfully resides across the world’s most prestigious museum
collections; together these works embody a significant historical turning point
in the development of perhaps the most important artistic career of the late
Pared down to a grisaille execution
and stripped bare of the theatrical trappings witnessed in the first
masterworks, Painting 1946 and Three Studies for Figures at the Base
of a Crucifixion, Bacon concentrated his depiction of humanity on visceral
animalistic drives: “no sides of meat, no bandages, no umbrellas or other props;
simply a glimpse of mankind reduced to basic instinct, the mouth gibbering in
fear or bared in attack, with the rest of the senses (and often, literally the
rest of the head) obliterated” (Michael Peppiatt, Anatomy of an Enigma,
London 2008, p. 153). The technical brilliance of Bacon’s ability to elucidate
the instantaneous flicker of film noir or the granular blur of newsprint in the
Grand Manner of oil on canvas mark these works as extraordinary feats of
artistic creation. In this regard, Head III powerfully delivers great
technical resolve, forcefully encapsulating Bacon’s professed desire from this
early moment: “to paint like Velázquez with the texture of hippopotamus skin”
(the artist cited in: ‘Survivors’, Time, 21 November 1949, p. 44). Unlike
any works previously and in contrast to the extant works in the series, Head
III delivers an extraordinarily unsettling depiction of man: out of a
thickly painted pock-marked complexion a haunting and disarmingly human stare
pierces the downwards drag of a diaphanous curtain. Dimly lit and dissolving
into darkness, this turning bald-headed figure meets our gaze through shattered
glasses - the notorious Baconian motif obsessively quoted from the screaming
nurse of the Odessa steps sequence in Eisenstein’s Potemkin. Though
dispossessed of the nurse’s ensuing scream that would come to define Bacon’s
iconic corpus of Popes after Velazquez’s 1650 Pope Innocent X, Head
III depicts a terrible moment of silence in which this anonymous man’s
disturbing countenance and penetrating glare projects directly out of the black
abyss to meet with our own. Not only does Head III possess the first
fully formed pair of eyes in Bacon’s work since the 1930s, it also represents
the first recognisably human facial study in Bacon’s mature expression. At once
evoking the frail physicality of a cleric or hunchbacked civil servant, Head
III foreshadows the nameless businessmen of the landmark Man in Blue
paintings whilst inaugurating the defining subject of Bacon’s career - the
unadorned translation of human presence. In this regard such was the arresting
power of Head III in 1949 that esteemed critic Robert Melville was
impelled to comment in his influential review of the Hanover exhibition: “how
did this man come to get a skin of such a disquieting texture? I cannot divorce
the facture from what it forms. I am prevented from going through my usual
routine of art appreciation. Modern painting has suddenly been humanized”
(Robert Melville, ‘Francis Bacon’, Horizon, December 1949, p. 423).
The 1949 Hanover Exhibition
Situated off Hanover Square at 32a St
George Street, the Hanover Gallery was established by the visionary gallerist
Erica Brausen in 1947. Having escaped the rise of Nazism in her native Germany
during the early 1930s, Brausen developed a prominent profile in Paris among the
elite of the contemporary artistic milieu. Arriving in London penniless after
fleeing Fascist occupation of Mallorca, Brausen began working as a dealer at the
Redfern Gallery before setting up her own enterprise with financial backer
Arthur Jeffress in 1947. During this very year Brausen became Francis Bacon’s
first dealer. Introduced by their mutual friend, Graham Sutherland, at Bacon’s 7
Cromwell Place studio in South Kensington, artist and dealer formalised a
relationship that would prove instrumental for Bacon’s career. Possessing an
unimpeachable artistic eye, Brausen advised many of the world’s most influential
curators and important collectors; after acquiring Painting 1946 during
her first studio visit, Brausen wasted no time in securing this painting within
the equally progressive and prestigious permanent collection of The Museum of
Modern Art, New York. The significance of Brausen’s promotion and support during
the first formative decade of Bacon’s career cannot be overstated and it was the
prestige of obtaining this significant museum acquisition so early that cemented
Bacon’s ascent to international renown. Following their first meeting Bacon
agreed to produce for Brausen a body of new work in preparation for his first
one-man exhibition to be held at the Hanover Gallery. With the £200 received
from the sale of Painting 1946, a substantial amount for a little known and
unrepresented artist, Bacon left almost immediately for Monte Carlo where he
predominantly spent the next four years. Extravagantly languishing in the
Mediterranean climate and indulging at the glamorous casinos - Bacon famously
loved to gamble - very little work was produced until he returned to Cromwell
Place in 1949. Nonetheless, that Bacon had conceived the premise for, and even
started work on his next body of paintings is revealed in a letter to Arthur
Jeffress sent from Monaco in 1948: “The pictures seem to be going well. I am at
the moment working on some heads which I like better than any I have done
before, I hope you and Erica will like them. I shall come back in November or
December” (Francis Bacon, letter to Arthur Jeffress, 1948, Tate Archive, London,
8220.127.116.11). Back in London in late 1948, the ensuing months of furious
creativity leading up to the exhibition not only produced Bacon’s most formative
and powerful early images, but also crucially established the serial working
method that drove his mature practice.
Two years following the sale of Painting
1946, Bacon’s first solo show finally opened on 8 November 1949. This
decisive exhibition (which he shared with a small installation of watercolours
by Robert Ironside in the upstairs gallery) courted widespread controversy in
the press, a considerable degree of attention that in turn precipitated the
artist’s first significant critical appraisal. The reviews responded directly to
the frightening nature of Bacon’s subjects, commenting on the disquieting
evocation of “cruelty being committed out of sight”, and describing his pictures
as “so repellent” they “leave in the mind precisely the same long-continued
feeling of disquiet as a thoroughly bad dream” (Anonymous, ‘Art Exhibitions: Mr
Francis Bacon’, The Times, 22 November 1949). In recounting
“dismemberment by bomb splinters” these early critical appraisals identified
Bacon’s work as a sensationalism of war’s horror, denoting “the high watermark
of contemporary morbidity” (Neville Wallis, ‘At the Galleries: Nightmare’, The
Observer, 20 November 1949, and, Maurice Collins, ‘Art’, Time and Tide,
26 November 1949). Nonetheless, positive criticism was substantial and Bacon’s
technical mastery was universally acknowledged. The superb handling of grisaille
punctuated with flashes of pink, blue or green was considered a painterly
achievement likened to that of the Old Masters. In sum, the 1949 Hanover show
was a triumphant critical debut bolstered by the successful sale of all but
three of the pictures on offer. According to the Hanover Gallery’s ledgers and
daybooks presently held in the Tate Archives, Head III is notable as the
very first work from the exhibition sold by Brausen. Bought for £150, Head
III was originally acquired by the California-based collector Wright S.
Ludington. Before the war Ludington cultivated an exceptional collection of
Modern art including works by André Derain, Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Miró, and
Dalí to name a few; however it was military service in London that first exposed
Ludington to the cutting edge of British art and sparked a friendship with
Graham Sutherland. A staunch early supporter instrumental in Brausen’s
introduction to Bacon, that Sutherland directed Ludington towards Bacon’s
gallery debut here seems likely. Ludington’s acquisition of Head III shortly
before the opening of the exhibition reflects the powerful intrigue cast by this
very painting, a work of profoundly compelling nature contemporaneously verified
in two of the most influential critical reviews of Bacon’s first exhibition.
Renowned critic Robert Melville wrote at length on the artistic success of the
1949 exhibition in Horizon, in which he poetically described the Heads as
possessing “the colour of wet, black snakes lightly powdered with dust” (Robert
Melville, Op. cit., p. 421). Directly in response to these works, Melville cited
Bacon as “the only important painter of our time who is exclusively preoccupied
with man”, concluding his article by recognising in Bacon a new hope for
painting (Ibid., p. 423). This influential review devoted particular attention
to an analysis of Head III: “A man turns his head and stares out of a
picture through pince-nez; I am more conscious of the stare than of the eyes;
the play of intervals between the eyes, the rims of the glasses and the shadows
of the rims is further information about the stare – the man is ‘holding
something back’; I do not think about spatial concepts when examining the
relationship between head and curtain – I am too subdued by the fact that the
curtain is sucking away the substance of the head; the subtle pinking beige
paint that dabbles and creates the face is an exquisite foil to the greys”
(Ibid., pp. 422-23). Similarly attuned to Melville, celebrated writer and
painter Wyndham Lewis published his review in The Listener on 17 November
1949, praising the Hanover show for its “exceptional importance” (Wyndham Lewis,
‘Round the London Art Galleries’, The Listener, November 17 1949, p.
860). Describing an artist “perfectly in tune with his time”, Lewis
prophetically assigned Bacon the status of “one of the most powerful artists in
Europe today” (Ibid.). In this article, Head III was once again singled
out. Recounting the “baleful regard from the mask of a decayed clubman or
business executive - so decayed that usually part of the head is rotting away
into space” Wyndham Lewis continued, “… these faces come out of the blackness to
glare or shout. I must not attempt to describe these amazing pictures” (Ibid.).
In May 1949, some months prior to the exhibition, Wyndham Lewis enthusiastically
published a preview of the show which announced the presence of Head III at
the gallery some months ahead of the extant works in the series. Describing “a
man with no top to his head”, Lewis noted the distinctive “cold-crumbling grey
of the face” and “glittering white mess of the lips” particular to this
remarkable painting (Wyndham Lewis, The Listener, 12 May 1949, p. 811).
The early arrival of Head III perhaps hints at Bacon’s rare satisfaction
with a finished work. Indeed, during these formative early years before the
routine of frequent exhibitions motivated a prolific work ethic, Bacon was
destructively self-critical. Though he maintained a deeply self-effacing stance
throughout his lifetime, the ruthlessness with which Bacon liberally destroyed
finished works during the late 1940s and early 1950s marks the survival and
early exhibition of any work from this period as remarkable in itself.
The Times review sensationally reported that over seven-hundred canvases
were maimed in preparation of the Hanover exhibition; though undoubtedly an
embellishment, during the seven years between 1944 and 1950 only fifteen works
survived Bacon’s scrupulous working practice. In light of such critical
reception and the artist's ruthless early practice, the significance of the
works included in Bacon’s very first exhibition is truly seminal.
“The History of
Europe in my lifetime”
John Russell described this series as conveying “what it feels like to be alone
in a room… we may feel at such times that the accepted hierarchy of our features
is collapsing, and that we are by turns all teeth, all eye, all ear, all nose…
our person is suddenly adrift, fragmented, and subject to strange mutation”
(John Russell, Francis Bacon, London 2001, p. 38). These extraordinary
variants of human drives and animalistic embodiment form a catalogue of fear,
anguish and internal suffering - a “zone of indiscernibility” that Giles Deleuze
defined as the “becoming-animal” in Bacon’s work (Giles Delueze, Francis
Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, London 2002, pp. 15-19). As Bacon outlined
in Time magazine in November 1949, “They are just an attempt to make a
certain type of feeling visual… painting is the pattern of one's own nervous
system being projected on canvas” (the artist cited in: ‘Survivors’, Time,
21 November 1949, p. 44). From the existential disintegration of bestial drives
and impulses redolent in Heads I and II, through to the pallid frailty
and troubling human spectacle of Head III, and ending in the harrowing
papal scream of Head VI, this series established a mythology for the
contemporary moment. With these works and the magnum opus of Popes that shortly
followed, Bacon inaugurated a modern-day revivification of the Tragic genre.
Highly receptive to language, particularly the Greek tragedy of Aeschylus and
the fusion of mythology with contemporaneity of T.S. Eliot, Bacon imbued his
work with an elevated grandiosity absorbed from the realm of literature. In
synthesising quotations from film, duplicating the out-of focus immediacy of
news imagery, and loading a wealth of associations drawn from both contemporary
visual culture and his most admired art historical Masters, Bacon thought of
himself as a “pulverizing machine into which everything I look at and feel is
fed” (Francis Bacon cited in: John Russell, Ibid., p. 71).
Head III and the series at large command an immediacy of sensation
derived very much from a visual parity with film - a burgeoning artform in the
1920s of crucial import during the artist's impressionable years as a young man.
Executed in series like a chain of film stills, these paintings are infused with
the palette, striking composition and flickering light effects of early cinema.
Though Bacon obsessively mined the emotive potential of the iconic screaming
nurse in Eisenstein’s Potemkin, it was the pioneering filmmaker’s
high-impact deployment of montage that strongly informed Bacon’s practice. As
outlined by Martin Hammer, Bacon, akin to Eisenstein’s approach to film, was
committed “to painting as a vehicle of expression that operates in terms of
immediate sensation rather than narrative” (Martin Hammer, Francis Bacon and
Nazi Propaganda, London 2012, p. 31). Bacon’s serious interest in
silent-film melodrama insinuates the transposition of film techniques, such as
superimposition, double exposures and dissolves, into paint. David Alan Mellor
explains that the series of Heads in particular owe much to the
innovation of Fritz Lang, the forefather of film noir and director of the
groundbreaking Metropolis (1927): “Bacon’s 1949 depictions of
semi-transparent portrait heads and later, in 1955, his reworkings of James S.
Delville’s cast of William Blake recall a similar motif in Lang’s Dr. Mabuse der
Spieler (1922), in which a murderous patriarchal head is superimposed on the
floor of the Stock Exchange in the vast room’s perspectivised space” (David Alan
Mellor, ‘Film, Fantasy, History in Francis Bacon’, in: Exhibition Catalogue,
London, Tate Britain, Francis Bacon, 2009, p. 52). The way Head III
appears to hover and disintegrate as though superimposed or projected onto a
curtain parallels the sinister floating head of Lang’s Dr. Mabuse.
Echoing these dramatic techniques Bacon employed the visceral charge of such
filmic effects and motifs, not for their narrative suggestions, but for their
strength and immediacy of expression.
Behind this absorptive association-led process, Bacon’s overarching impetus to
capture in a single image “the History of Europe in my lifetime” illuminates a
will to visually distil the self-destructivity of the Twentieth Century; an
impulse at once symptomatic of the dismal post-war climate in which these early
images came to light and accountable for the repetitive, serial inference of
particular historical events (the artist cited in: Hugh M. Davies, ‘The
Screaming Pope: Past Art and Present Reality’, in: Exhibition Catalogue, Lugano,
Museo d’Arte Moderna, Francis Bacon, 1993, p. 60). Sam Hunter’s
photographs of the visual compost found in Bacon’s studio at 7 Cromwell Place
affirms the prominence of Nazi imagery in Bacon’s early work. The frequency with
which figures appear behind microphone banks, mouths agape, in front of or
disappearing behind heavily pleated curtains invokes the totalitarian imagery of
Hitler, Goebbels and Goering in full oratory swing. However, alongside the
open-mouthed scream and Eisenstein’s pince-nez stare, it is the isolating and
confining presence of the vertically striated curtain or disintegrating veil
that unite these early pictures. Drapery and the diaphanous effect of veiling
denote a prominent early obsession for Bacon: the powerful downward brushstrokes
that permeate Bacon’s fresh works for the 1949 exhibition continue with
heightened vigour into the subsequent Pope paintings and beyond. Undeniably
evocative of Titian’s half-veiled Portrait of Cardinal Filippo Achinto
(1558), in Head III Bacon seems to combine this cutaneous dissolution
with the enshrouding effect of shadow as apparent in Rembrandt’s early
self-portrait from 1629. Not only are these effects evocative of dimly-lit and
curtained interiors, the likes of which could also be found in Bacon’s own
Cromwell Place studio (heavy curtains originally installed for blackouts during
the war), these backdrops echo photographs of Albert Speer’s Cathedral of Light,
the spectacular expanse of vertical light-architecture devised for the Nuremburg
Rallies. Such allusions to troubling historical spectacles do not dictate
meaning in Bacon’s work, but instead act as vehicles through which these
paintings draw their gravitas and pictorial power. Employed as a formal trope,
the powerful erosive potential of the curtain disintegrates the top of the
figure’s skull in Head III under which piercing melancholic blue eyes
glare through Eisenstein’s broken glasses, a precursor to the series’ screaming
climactic conclusion and the realisation of Bacon’s subject par excellence.
Where Bacon’s portrayal of the tyrannical father and ultimate patriarch found
its finest incarnation in the 1953 Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope
Innocent X, an alternate expression of this concern is very much at stake
within a reading of Head III, particularly in relation to Bacon’s
biography. Where this figure possesses the appearance of a bewildered clerk or
aged politician, the austere suggestion of dress also implies the religious
uniform of monastic robes. Here, Bacon’s portrayal of an aged father figure
delivers an expression of waning power and weakness, a manifestation perhaps of
the artist’s growing impatience and outgrowth of his long-standing partner of
fifteen years, Eric Hall - a figure to whom Head III purportedly bears a
likeness. As shown in a portrait by Roy de Maistre, this plump, balding and
immaculately dressed man radiates a benevolence that bespeaks paternity, leaving
in no doubt the father and son relationship shared between both men. Where
Bacon’s brief upbringing had been far from nurturing (his father, Edward Bacon,
was a retired Army Captain and horse-trainer with a weakness for military
discipline) by the early 1940s Bacon had found a secure emotional and domestic
foundation with Eric Hall and his devoted childhood Nanny, Jessie Lightfoot. A
respected and prosperous businessman significantly older than Bacon, Hall
scandalously left his wife and children to live in an openly homosexual
relationship with the artist at 7 Cromwell Place. During these happy domestic
years, Hall had an enormous impact on the young artist: not only an ardent early
supporter and patron of his work, as a mentor Hall cultivated Bacon’s taste for
fine dining, travel and the arts. He was the supportive father figure Bacon
never had, and together with Nan Lightfoot, the trio lived happily together for
some years as an unorthodox and peculiar family unit. By the late 1940s however,
Hall was becoming an impeding presence for an artist gaining in stature and
professional renown. Bacon became increasingly careless and a string of affairs
undoubtedly eroded their relationship. Following the death of Nan Lightfoot in
1951, the last familial bond was severed and Bacon’s innate independence had
finally, after fifteen years, outgrown this gentle father figure. Significantly
it was around this time that he first met Peter Lacy, the violent, tortured
lover whom Bacon purportedly loved most because he made him suffer the most.
Intriguingly, Lacy’s bold features can be distinguished upon the obsessively
painted pantheon of Papal figures executed following the 1949 show. Interpreted
in this regard, if indeed this painting bears a likeness to Hall, Head III
represents the disintegration of paternal authority, gentility crumbling in the
wake of terrible cruelty.
Into the present work Bacon poured his fixation with corporeal mutilation and
glistening mouths, his obsession with Eisenstein, his rapture with film-noir,
his indistinguishable preoccupation with terrible patriarchy and the history of
Twentieth Century conflict. Mediated by the vicissitudes of biography, Head
III is an incredibly pioneering and unique work that marks the very
formation of Bacon’s painterly genius. Signalling the terrible and silent
metamorphosis from inchoate bestiality towards the realisation of nightmarish
patriarchy, with these works Bacon made the transformation from mythological
creatures and theatrical ornament to psychologically charged humanity: the Heads erected
the pictorial scaffold by which Bacon took command of his greater artistic
vision. Melding bravura command of tonality with the granular monochromacity of
black and white news reportage, the remarkably powerful yet tragic Head III captures
the instantaneous impact of film through a masterful manipulation of oil paint.
Against a contemporaneously prevalent post-war milieu of conceptual abstraction
following the horrors of two World Wars, Bacon’s astounding series
of Heads bravely restored the relevance of figuration for a confrontation of our
“contemporary nightmare” (Kenneth Clark in response to Bacon’s work, cited in:
Michael Peppiatt, Op. cit., p. 135)
Art Evening Auction
London| 26 June 2013 | L13022 | Lot 25
1909 - 1992
OF ISABELE RAWSTHORNE
titled and dated 1966 on the reverse of
the left canvas
oil on canvas
each: 35.5 by 30.5cm.; 14 by 12in.
10,000,000 to 15,000,000 GBP
Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne
1966 Francis Bacon (central panel)
Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris
Private Collection, France (acquired from the above in 1971)
Sale: Christie's, London, Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale, 4 June
2004, Lot 26
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Edinburgh, Scottish National
Gallery of Modern Art; Hamburg, Hamburg Kunsthalle, Francis Bacon: Portraits
and Heads, 2005-06, no. 50, illustrated in colour
Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts; Wisconsin, Milwaukee Art Museum;
Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Francis Bacon: Paintings from the 1950s, 2006-07,
no. 54, illustrated in colour
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Isabel and Other Intimate Strangers, 2008,
pp. 38-9, illustrated in colour
John Russell, Francis Bacon,
London 1971, no. 82, illustrated
Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon: full face and in profile, Barcelona 1983,
no. 36, illustrated in colour
Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon, Paris 1987, no. 34, illustrated in colour
Exhibition Catalogue, Milan, Palazzo Reale, Bacon, 2008, p. 60, illustrated in
Rina Arya, Francis Bacon. Painting in a Godless World, Farnham 2012, pp.
122-3, illustrated in colour
Isabel Rawsthorne occupies a
position unlike any other within Francis Bacon’s art. Of all his female subjects
and many friends, she was the woman to whom he felt closest: the extraordinary
number of portraits after her likeness command a rare heroic dimension at once
testament to Bacon’s affection and reflective of Isabel’s remarkable magnetism
as a person. Muse, mistress and friend of the Parisian avant-garde during the
1930s, Isabel was a compelling personality and alluring subject for André Derain,
Pablo Picasso and most significantly, Alberto Giacometti, with whom she shared a
drawn-out love affair. Undoubtedly enamoured by her sophisticated Parisian
connections and impressed by her imposing presence, she was an irresistible
source of inspiration for Bacon during the 1960s. Indeed, though indisputably
homosexual, Bacon was far from impervious to her charms. After she died in 1992,
he famously divulged to Paris Match: "You know I also made love to Isabel
Rawsthorne, a very beautiful woman who was Derain's model and Georges Bataille's
girlfriend" (Daniel Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon,
London 1994, p. 167). Executed seventeen years after they first met, Three
Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne utterly encapsulates this defining
relationship, gracefully transmuting strong, handsome features with the
fractured assault of Bacon’s dramatic painterly shorthand. Embodying the
penultimate example from a series of five triptych studies of Isabel painted
between 1965 and 1968 in the artist's iconic 14 by 12 inch canvases, the present
work echoes with remarkable proximity the very first small-scale triptych in
sharing a similar colour palette of dark ground and contrasting crimson red.
Bought from Marlborough Fine Art by Sir Robert and Lisa Sainsbury almost
immediately after its completion, this work now resides in the public collection
of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia.
Following this first triptych, the cumulative experience of a year
spent intently studying and translating her form is evident in the masterfully
swift and spontaneous yet controlled facture of the present work. According to a
diary recovered from Francis Bacon’s studio after his death, the present work
was executed in just under two weeks between 21 October and 4 November 1966 (Ewbanks
Auctioneers, Surrey, 2007, Lot 2004). Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne therefore
stands at the very epicentre of intense focus on her likeness, a period between
1966 and 1967 during which Bacon would produce some of the most incredible
portrayals of his career. Alongside the present work from 1966, the magisterial Portrait
of Isabel Rawsthorne in the collection of the Tate, London, and the
powerfully animalistic Study of Isabel Rawsthorne, of the Pompidou Centre,
Paris, would preface two of the most heroic and inventive of Bacon’s portraits,
works both painted in 1967 and housed in the Nationalgalerie, Berlin: Portrait
of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho and Three Studies for
Isabel Rawsthorne. Simultaneously demonstrative of her profound power as one
of the most significant muses of the Twentieth Century and Bacon’s inimitable
powers as a portraitist, Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne crystallises a
remarkable symbiosis between painter and subject.
An Artist’s Muse
“How I loved Paris – it gave me
Isabel Rawsthorne cited in: Daniel
Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, London 1994, p. 166.
The daughter of a master mariner,
Isabel Nicholas was born in East London in 1912. As a child, her father’s work
moved the family to Liverpool where she started her education at Liverpool
School of Art. By the time she turned eighteen however, her father’s unexpected
death at sea and mother’s subsequent emigration to Canada left Isabel to make
her own way. After winning a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy she
secured her return to London, where, to subsidise her own artistic training, she
began modelling. Possessing striking, exotic features and a tall slender frame,
a string of dalliances and affairs naturally ensued. When Isabel became
assistant and model for Jacob Epstein she also became his lover, and by the age
of twenty-two had given birth to his child. The Epstein family adopted the child
and Isabel was encouraged to continue her studies in Paris. By 1934 after taking
life classes at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Montparnasse Isabel began
socialising at Le Dôme Café and Le Café Flore in Saint-Germain-des-Prés where
she was to meet the most prominent figures of the avant-garde, including the
immediately enthralled André Derain for whom she modelled: “I adored Derain – he
was the most French person you could ever meet. That’s how I learned the
language” (Isabel Rawsthorne cited in: Daniel Farson, Op. cit., p. 165). However
it was a relationship with Alberto Giacometti that would prove the most
significant of these years in Paris. Following their first encounter at Le Dôme
one evening, Giacometti and Isabel met daily. In her memoirs she recalled, “I
already knew he had changed my life forever” (Isabel Rawsthorne cited in:
Véronique Wiesinger, ‘Isabel and Other Intimate Strangers’ in: Exhibition
Catalogue, New York, Gagosian Gallery, Isabel and Other Intimate Strangers, 2008, p.
217). In return, she was to have an enormous impact on the trajectory of
Giacometti’s practice. The countless portraits in two-dimensions and in the
round after Isabel traverse a great transformation in Giacometti’s
interpretation of the human form, indeed, it was a vision of Isabel standing in
the distance on the Boulevard St Michel that inspired the corpus of small naked
women planted on cubic bases, a precursor to his iconic mature style. Via
Giacometti, she was received into the inner circle of the French intelligentsia:
alongside Jean-Paul Sartre, Georges Bataille, and Simone de Beauvoir, Isabel
forged particularly close friendships with the painter Balthus and the eminent
man of letters Michel Leiris and his wife Louise – all figures, it must be
noted, that Bacon held in the greatest esteem. Though she had married Sefton
Delmer in 1936, a foreign correspondent for the Daily Express, Isabel and
Giacometti sustained an agonizing and protracted love affair that was to last
over ten years; the intensity of their relationship only diminished with
Isabel’s return to England following the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1940.
By the end of the Second World War
Isabel had divorced Delmer and following a number of sojourns in Paris with
Giacometti married for the second time - in 1947 she wedded the composer and
conductor Constant Lambert. Working alongside her husband, Isabel designed sets
for many of the Sadler’s Wells ballet and opera productions. Indeed, these years
during the late 1940s were devoted to developing her own art practice away from
the indulgence of Paris’ cafés. Having established representation by Erica
Brausen, she held her first solo exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in 1949, the
very same year of Bacon’s seminal one-man show. First introduced by Brausen, it
was during the months of preparation running up to their respective exhibitions
that Bacon and Isabel became friends. Having returned from Monaco in late 1948
to complete the group of paintings that would secure his critical arrival,
Bacon, undoubtedly in awe of Isabel’s Parisian connections, struck up one of the
most important relationships of his life. For Bacon, Paris would always
represent the very epicentre of the art world; though this seat of power was
displaced to New York during the 1950s, Bacon’s love affair with the city never
diminished and he considered the honour of exhibiting at the Grand Palais in
1971 his very highest achievement. This undiluted respect was anchored to the
artist’s intense admiration for the pioneers of modern art who emerged from
Paris during the early Twentieth Century: where Picasso was the catalyst for
Bacon’s very first paintings of the 1920s, he attributed Giacometti with
effecting the most profound influence upon his work. Giacometti’s dissolution of
human appearance down to its very essence was for Bacon the closest parallel to
his own ambitions, while the grandiosity of the older artist’s austere
diffidence towards the comforts of success undoubtedly impressed Bacon’s
generation - the chaos of 7 Reece Mews takes on emulatory significance in homage
to Giacometti’s cave-like Montparnasse studio. Not only seduced by these
Parisian links however, like his heroes before him, Bacon was captivated by
Isabel’s magnetic charisma, disarming personality, and commanding presence. With
feline grace and striking features, she was an attractive subject for an artist.
Isabel’s appearance naturally leant itself to intense scrutiny and sustained
intrigue: her high forehead, long cheekbones and arched eyebrows are as
prominent in Giacometti’s busts as they are translated almost thirty years later
in Bacon’s highly distorted yet astonishingly accurate portrait heads.
Constant Lambert died in 1951 and shortly after Isabel remarried, settling
with Lambert’s close friend and fellow composer, Alan Rawsthorne. During this
decade and into the next, Bacon and Isabel became close. Her friendships with
eminent figures from the Parisian art world strengthened Bacon’s own ties to
Paris; the dinner parties hosted by Isabel helped cement Bacon’s relationships,
particularly with Giacometti and Michel Leiris, whom Bacon would later portray
in paint with Leiris returning the compliment in one of the finest
word-portraits of the artist ever penned. Bacon and Isabel spent the 1960s
socialising in the same circle, lunching at Bernard Walsh’s seafood restaurant,
Wheeler’s, spending days and long evenings drinking at the George, The French
Pub or at the renowned Colony Room run by Soho legend and fellow portrait
subject, Muriel Belcher. As central protagonists within this ‘gilded gutter
life’, Isabel, Muriel and the gregarious Henrietta Moraes would collectively
come to define Bacon’s treatment of the female form - casting a break from the
male dominated paintings of the 1940s and ‘50s. Their presence would usher in a
period retrospectively perceived as Bacon’s second great artistic peak: where
the first belongs to the moment initiated by his series of 1949 Heads, the
second coincides with Bacon’s portrayal of his Soho clique and the initiation of
the small scale portraits from 1962 onwards. Where Henrietta, sprawled naked on
a bed, occupies the tradition of the female nude, and Muriel, with her high
hairline and sharp wit, is portrayed as sphinx-like in her wizened demeanour,
Isabel embodies the heroic in Bacon’s art like no other individual: the sheer
exuberance and almost mythical character of her life and Bacon’s profound
respect for her radiates unreservedly from these remarkable portraits.
Pulsations of a Person
Across Bacon’s oeuvre, Isabel
Rawsthorne is depicted as indefatigably enigmatic, exuding dignity and stature
to match the artist’s high regard and deep affection. One of the finest
paintings of Bacon’s career is the arrestingly bright blue full-figure portrait Isabel
Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho, 1967, in the Nationalgalerlie
Berlin. Standing vigilant and exuding assurance testament to a life’s worth of
experience, Rawsthorne is imbued with a distinctly masculine heroism. In the
words of John Russell: “that proud, watchful, experienced figure could be a
captain on leave: a lifelong single handed adventurer stepping out from a
blue-awning after an assuredly good luncheon, with a rakish open roadster of
antique design drawn up at the kerb and a searching unembarrassed glance at the
people who have stopped to watch him/her get in and drive off” (John
Russell, Francis Bacon, London 2001, p. 125). Unusually attuned to the moods of
a woman, Bacon felt a particular affection for Isabel, and even portrayed her
facing George Dyer, the artist's most profound love interest and model, in a
small portrait diptych from 1967. Bacon revealed this warmth in 1973 when
speaking to Hugh M. Davies about the Sainsbury Collection triptych: “Because the
others were too torn apart, in the third one I wanted to give the impression of
her real physical beauty - with drink and age it’s gone but she was very
beautiful” (the artist cited in: Hugh M. Davies, ‘Interviewing Bacon, 1973’ in:
Martin Harrison, Ed., Francis Bacon: Centenary Essays, Göttingen 2009, p.
101). A similarity of effect is apparent in the present triptych: where the
first two canvases possess an almost animal aggression, the third canvas
delivers a graceful and flowing articulation of flattering forms undeniably
characteristic of the many photographs of Rawsthorne taken by John Deakin. As
outlined by Michael Peppiatt, “If a magnificent sense of dignity emanates from
these studies [of Isabel], it is because the artist’s affection is greater, but
only just, than the destructive fury with which he dislocated and twisted every
feature” (Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London
2009, p. 257). As Peppiatt goes on to illustrate, Bacon’s portraits are an
enactment of his own thoughts on the nature of real friendship; the artist is
famously quoted saying: "I’ve always thought of friendship as where two people
really tear each other apart", indeed, in his portraits Bacon mercilessly pulls,
rips and cleaves the intricacies of his friends’ likenesses until their flayed
countenances distil some essential physical and pictorial truth (Ibid). In the
present work the quick-fire sequence of three alternating views from left to
right each deliver a fury of contradicting examinations nonetheless unified by
an overarching faithfulness to Isabel’s essential character.
Exploiting familiarity to his
advantage, Bacon freely manipulated and wrestled with the physiognomy of those
closest to him to engender an elemental painterly distillation in which facture
and expression are resolutely interlocked. Representation is deconstructed to
the point where features become indiscernable and physical states are
superimposed. Nevertheless, the end result is unmistakable in subject. As
outlined by John Russell: “although the features as we know them in everyday
life may disappear from time to time in a chromatic swirl of paint or be blotted
from view by an imperious wipe with a towel, individual aspects of the sitter
are shown to us, by way of compensation, with an intensity not often encountered
in life” (John Russell, Op. cit., p. 124). As prevalent within Three Studies
of Isabel Rawsthorne, the particular arch of her brow, the high cheekbones
and handsome profile are compellingly portrayed. Dramatic blows of white are
balanced against striking contrasts of red, orange and pink, accented with blue
and thickly stippled with the smear of a cashmere sweater. The delicate
treatment of the eyes and fluid accent of silhouette are set in dialogue with an
almost porcine and mask-like aggression to deliver unbridled vitality of
presence. They form a visual parity to Peppiatt’s impression of the fascinating
variance of her character and expression as a person: “Her face would assume a
look of extreme indignation, followed by one of raucous good humour, and then a
glance of seduction, all dropped like masks and as rapidly replaced” (Michael
Peppiatt, Op. cit., p. 251).
Three Studies of Isabel
Rawsthorne illustrates a seismic shift in Bacon’s career at the beginning of
the 1960s: moving away from emblematic forms - such as those extrapolated from
Velazquez’s Pope, Muybridge’s figures in motion, Van Gogh, and Eisenstein - the
impetus to harness abstract forces and emanations beyond the realm of appearance
began to consume Bacon’s practice. Realising the need for a physical armature
upon which to hang this ‘energy’ and ‘living quality’, Bacon turned to his inner
social circle. Alongside Isabel Rawsthorne, the ensuing deluge of likenesses
after Lucian Freud, Muriel Belcher, Henrietta Moraes and George Dyer acted as
the predominant physical catalysts for Bacon’s translation of an inner bodily
reality. With some reflection in 1983, Bacon gave clear expression to this
inquiry: “The living quality is what you have to get. In painting a portrait the
problem is to find a technique by which you can give over all the pulsations of
a person… The sitter is someone of flesh and blood and what has to be caught is
their emanation… I don’t know whether it would be possible to do a portrait of
somebody just by making a gesture of them. So far it seems that if you are doing
a portrait you have to record the face. But with the face you have to try and
trap the energy that emanates from them” (the artist cited in: David Sylvester, Looking
Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p. 98). During the 1960s Bacon
commissioned his drinking partner, friend and Vogue photographer John
Deakin to photograph Rawsthorne and the other protagonists of his Soho enclave
to be used as shorthand visual cue cards. By the mid-‘60s, Bacon’s established
practice of reconstituting and melding photographic source imagery with his own
memory and powers of invention had long disposed of the need to paint from life.
As he told David Sylvester, "I've had photographs taken for portraits because I
very much prefer working from the photographs... It's true to say I couldn't
attempt to do a portrait from photographs of somebody I don't know. But, if I
both know them and have photographs of them, I find it easier to work than
actually having their presence in the room" (David Sylvester, The Brutality
of Fact, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1990, p. 40). Alongside
Rawsthorne, Bacon’s portrait subjects were people he knew exceptionally well; by
wielding extraordinary powers of imagination concurrent with his own ‘memory
traces’ in tandem with the catalogue of photographs taken by John Deakin, Bacon
produced some of the most arresting portraits of the Twentieth Century, and of
these, the small portrait heads constitute among the most remarkable portrayals
of human appearance ever translated in oil on canvas.
Very much related to Picasso’s
reworkings of the human head initiated in 1907, these works combine a
translation of successive movement inspired by Muybridge’s The Human Figure
in Motion, as well as Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. Emulating
mug-shot proportions of a photobooth portrait, the unadorned immediacy of
Bacon’s small portraits radiate endurance, nervousness, and involuntary
mannerisms: these heads truly embody Bacon’s desire to paint as close to the
‘nervous system’ as possible. To quote William Feaver: “‘Studies’ or exercises
though they are, these small paintings are central to Bacon’s art. The scale of
a bathroom mirror-image makes them one-to-one, and when they are paired, or
grouped in threes, the differences animate them. No rooms, no thrones, no
perfunctory landscape settings are needed. Without context or posture, the heads
have nothing to do but look, sometimes at one another, and wait” (William Feaver,
‘That’s It’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Francis
Bacon 1909 - 1992 Small Portrait Studies, 1993, p. 6). A series and format
first settled upon in 1961 and maintained until the very end, these intimately
scaled works form the very staple of Bacon’s mature practice, acting as the
primary locus for the ‘brutality of fact’ and most immediate site for loosening
the ‘valves of feeling’ so frequently referred to by the artist. Unaccompanied
and isolated within a dark emerald green ground, with Three Studies of Isabel
Rawsthorne our sight is rapt by the visceral and psychological charge of
Bacon’s distorted yet searingly honest vision of humanity.
Delivering a masterful essay on
the analysis of facial landscape, Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne is a
deeply personal portrayal of one of Francis Bacon's closest friends. Of the
handful of female confidants painted by Bacon, portaying only those he knew
intimately, Isabel Rawsthorne provided unique focus for the artist: her
astounding connections with the Paris art world strengthened Bacon’s own and his
profound admiration for her inspired a greater number of small portrait canvases
than any of his other friends. Painted over two decades after they first met,
this spectacular portrayal illuminates a friendship that lasted until the very
end of their lives - in 1992 they died within months of each other. Three
Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne consummately illuminates Bacon’s breathtaking
ability to navigate the very threshold of abstraction and figuration: remarkable
portraits as unrestrained and exuberant as Isabel Rawsthorne’s uninhibited and
Paintings from Bacon unveiled
Daily News, June 11, 2013
Sotheby’s offers a selection of works from Francis Bacon on June 26.
Sotheby’s London will offer a
selection of works which articulate key moments in the careers of many artists
such as Francis Bacon on June 26.
Alongside a strong selection of Post-War European Masters, the sale has a
particularly strong showing of major British artists. At its heart are two key
paintings by Francis Bacon; one a work from his legendary first commercial show
at the Hanover Gallery in 1949, the other an outstanding triptych portrait of
his closest female friend, muse and lover, the artist Isabel Rawsthorne. Other
highlights include David Hockney’s paean to his home country, Double East
Yorkshire and Bridget Riley’s powerful op art masterpiece of 1964, Stretch.
The cover lot of the auction is the most important collection of Andreas Gursky
“Stock Exchange” photographs in private or public hands. Created over 20 years,
these monumental and dynamic images of trading floors, distil the socio-economic
topography of our age. Many fresh to the market and with distinguished
exhibition histories, the sale comprises 69 works with a combined estimate in
excess of £66 million.
“Contemporary collectors in search of prize works, should find a great dealto excite them in our Evening Sale. It is very much an auction of historic
‘firsts’,” said Alex Branczik, Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Department.
Noting that they were offering the first work that Francis Bacon ever sold, from
his first show at a commercial gallery, in which for the first time he depicts
the human form, Branczik added, “We have the first David Hockney landscape to
appear at auction since the hugely successful 2012 Royal Academy show; a 1964
Bridget Riley shown in the first ever exhibition of “Op Art” in New York in 1965
and Andreas Gursky’s first Stock Exchange photograph of 1990, part of an
unparalleled collection of his iconic series of trading floor studies.”
Francis Bacon: réalité et révélation
(Souvenir d’une rétrospective)
« Il y a
dans l’acte d’amour une grande ressemblance avec la torture ou avec une
opération chirurgicale, »
« Et pourtant vous serez semblable à cette ordure »
Charge - C. Baudelaire
Le Club de Mediapart, 07 Jun 2013
L’affrontement à Francis Bacon, ou
de son art, inspire une étrange forme d’extase. Rien ne peut être plus évocateur.
Sa peinture si personnelle appelle une prose imagée, presque baroque. Mais voilà
le danger: tant de critiques et d’auteurs ont décrit le peintre, son approche,
et son style, que cela devient une gageure de ne pas répéter, ne pas faire écho
au gong de l’explication ou de l’adulation. Il n’est pas obligatoire de prier et
de s’agenouiller au pied des icônes du génie. Ainsi que le mystère de la
création est constamment renouvelé, la confrontation avec le théâtre du monde vu
par Bacon - ses représentations cellulaires, d’êtres coincés entre dimensions
- tire aux racines de l’inertie intellectuelle.
Bien que la lente courbe des
variations soit une répétition constante des thèmes, c’est surtout l’expurgation
la plus totale du superflu, du décoratif, et du « joli ». Dans une sorte
d’ultime évolution du faiseur d’images, ses références et associations
provoquent et engouffrent le spectateur. L’Œuvre de Bacon exige l’éveil, un
esprit aigu et réceptif, non pas un goût petit-bourgeois, adoptant le chic ou le
branché, traduisant la frigidité intellectuelle et émotionnelle par les « ismes »
de la conformité esthétique. On ne peut réagir avec calme ou indifférence à son
travail. Seule une explosion d’images peut suffire, seul le viol de la
tranquillité du lecteur peut faire comprendre la violence faite au repos mental
Aucunement victime, ni suicidé
magnifique, mais survivant; boucher mystique découpant à l’huile et à
l’acrylique. Le voilà, le boucher, qui, voyant une vache, garde toujours à
l’esprit le couteau et le billot. Des couples de sodomites se transforment en
cadavres aveugles et ensanglantés, se confondent par la brosse, et sont
disséqués par l’œil. Mais d’abord les yeux doivent être ouverts et la conscience
On ne peut éviter d’aborder une
exposition de tableaux de Francis Bacon avec un certain nombre de préjugés, de
modèles, d’idées déformées, de fantômes d’invertis, ou d’ailes gonflées
d’oiseaux de proie, qui vous hantent. Il est difficile de voir quand et où ils
sortent de la pénombre, à travers le hasard d’une toile. Est-ce un jeu de
lumière? Est-ce que cela dépend du gris des murs ou des volets aux fenêtres? Je
ne le pense pas. L’artiste a ses propres moyens de souligner ou la figure ou
l’essentiel, de faire que la figure soit l’expression même de l’essentiel.
Seule, la figure ne peut être
qu’un cul-de-sac, tandis que sa substance est un début sans limites, une fuite
dans les profondeurs, une toile d’images et de relations, d’indices,
d’épigrammes, de liberté poétique, enracinés dans l’être de l’artiste. Non pas
dans ses mots, dans les entretiens qui révèlent la méthode, passant sous silence
le pouls souterrain: une solitude grégaire; la solitude de celui qui sait, celui
qui voit le masque mortuaire derrière chaque visage, celui qui sent le baiser
des vers à chaque étreinte. Des carcasses convulsées et maculées de sang se
balancent sur un disque, vacillent sur une poutre. Elles écrivent, se rasent,
vomissent - secousse de tissu musculaire, et seringues tombées contre un
repoussoir d’acrylique - elles versent des ombres flamboyantes et affamées à
leurs pieds. Ils attendent.
Une ombre plane au-dessus de la
nonchalance prétendue de l’artiste comme un couteau qui pend dans un abattoir;
où sang et peinture se mélangent avec zinc et sperme, transformant
subrepticement l’image donnée en un masque sacrificiel d’angoisse et de
Le sang coule d’abord à
l’intérieur des veines, là, juste sous la peau. Le corps devient un autel, la
chair est dévoilée, puis clouée a la toile. Cela déchire le silence avec une
succession d’échographies de la décomposition: chaque cadavre virtuel est gelé
puis transféré à son icône correspondante. Le voilà, debout, assis, en train de
déléguer, de copuler, de crier, ramper, grincer des dents, avec toujours la même
aura d’inévitable mortalité.
De cette vision innée, qui capture
l’éphémère et l’inévitable, est née une véritable liberté d’expression
individuelle, une capacité de mettre de côté l’intention, et, pourtant, de
contrôler le hasard. Le hasard nécessaire: les boules roulent entre le rouge et
le noir de la roulette. Boules et miroirs, montres et porcelaine, le temps
arrêté et lavé; des nus allongés puis défigurés par le couteau à palette. Tandis
qu’une voix - sa voix - murmure presque timidement.
Quatre-vingt-trois ans d’aventure!
Quatre-vingt-trois ans à masquer et démasquer l’essence tordue et torturée, à
broyer la livre de chair à laquelle l’esprit est lié, enchaîné. Dont l’esprit
est amoureux, et dégoûté. Quatre-vingt-trois ans d’homosexualité et d’onanisme,
de castration et de virilité, de démembrement et d’autopsie. Quatre-vingt-trois
ans pour étudier et multiplier, pour hurler et tempêter, pour crier et marteler
des murs. Quatre-vingt-trois ans pour frapper de placides paysages avec, à peine
un murmure ou un soupir, un haussement des épaules et un sourire replié.
Quatre-vingt-trois ans de parapluies catatoniques, de fakirs carrés, et
d’acrobates enragés, de rayons de chiffres et d’ombres dénudés; disséquant,
étudiant, explorant les têtes fendues et défigurées: cartilage mortel, composte
virtuel. Quatre-vingt-trois ans à sonder le triptyque-Trimurti de Création,
Ses portraits sont des masques qui
tiennent du miroir déformant et de la divinité qui possède l’être. Il n’y a
qu’un pas entre l’altération et la possession: la réalité quelle qu’elle soit,
représentée, reflétée, ou interprétée, ne peut être que plus réelle, plus imbue
de la personnalité mystique du sujet, que l’image prosaïque et banale de soi,
colportée par la trivialité du compliment. Ses portraits chuchotent « possédez
et soyez possédés », ils psalmodient « le moi est tout: connaissance mouvement,
mutation et continuité, vision et introspection, verbiage sanguinolent puis
éjaculation extatique. » La difformité devient sensualité et possession
physique; la pensée devient connaissance biblique dans un monde contradictoire
et sans dieu.
Bien que Bacon nia la violence de
son travail, il affirma la primauté de la brutalité comme ultime expression du
Fait: la brutalité de la difformité comme essentielle, le Fait comme cri,
insulte, non-conformité. Le Fait comme sang et viscères éjectés. Le Fait comme
la « petite mort » brutale de la fornication. Le fait comme représentation de la
déviance physique intrinsèque à notre conscience collective, vomie sur une
succession de toiles. Icônes, monades, dans lesquelles le monde individuel
implose. Les pensées et l’énergie négatives deviennent positives, puis les
Quartiers de bœuf crucifiés, nus
déféquant, papes hurlants, et figures mutantes, alternent avec paysages
claustrophobes, funambules flottants et trapézistes - artistes de la faim -
englués dans une toile de décor microcosmique. Son iconographie du rituel intime
tend son image depuis la toile, puis nous agrippe. D’abord il y a la
reconnaissance de soi, ensuite l’image nous attire - ô, le reflet dans le verre!
- nous attire au centre d’un maelstrom de solitude, de suspicion, et de
copulation anonyme. Une Alice sans visage liée avec ses propres entrailles et
tendons, de l’autre côté du miroir de notre fascination envoûtée.
Voici la réplique, l’écho, collage
de mots, parcours de visions frères, extrapolation d’un vol sentimentale et de
cuisine carnassière. Ces textes-urnes ne peuvent contenir toutes les cendres de
mandragore, ni les sueurs saoul maniaques d’un artiste atomisé: l’iconographe
travesti en peintre transi devant figure et compagnie. Brutale, le poignard le
Brutus agonistes, coupant les tâches d’huile envolées du bout d’une bite battue.
Chiots paralytiques et chiottes iconostases à l’effigie du suicidé sacré. Il ne
reste que les reflets brutaux, les vomissures impressionnistes, seringues
meurtrières, et viandes macérés au pur malt des triptyques autophages. Nous
sommes les lacérés, les forts-niqués de la prétendue pénétration spectatrice.
Que deviennent nos fantasmes gore? Nos tics polis, nos maîtres bastions de
mensonges foutaises. Tais-toi! Regarde le mouroir du masochiste en quarts de
bouche-bée. Pape-boucher, côtelettes baisées, visages décomposés. Vois là le pas
tri-moine art triste qui puise sens en toute chose et nous le renvoie.
Un visage et une main bien trop
familiers s’approchent, puis caressent le sujet, fixant la texture de la
peinture, les plis des protections de cricket. Chair, pigment, et sang semblent
siffler, sucer et pleurer. La lumière s’atténue, puis l’invitation est répétée,
jusqu’à ce qu’un doute troublant vous suive, comme un phallus peint, spectre
insistant à vos flancs.
Chacun, qui se tient devant une
des Icônes de Bacon, est frappé par l’architecture simple et hermétique - ces
échafaudages qui concentrent lumière et pensée - est pris au piège de cette
chapelle à quatre murs: peintre, toile, verre, spectateur. Ainsi scellé dans sa
propre cellule, le spectateur devient acteur, invité à se dévêtir de ses
Qu’un être si calme, et,
apparemment, peu démonstratif, puisse révéler le ventre agonisant de l’existence,
sans donner à l’exploit une substance verbale, prouve sa profonde sagesse.
Transcendant le monstrueux en fouillant les entrailles prophétiques, il atteint
une sorte de « Bouddhéité » sanglante et séculaire. Il dévoile l’essence
quelconque de l’existence humaine, le silence omniprésent de la décomposition.
CHRISTIE'S ART AUCTION SELLS NEARLY HALF
AFP May 16, 2013
NEW YORK (AFP) - A blockbuster
auction of Contemporary art in New York, including a record $58.4 million for a
Jackson Pollock drip painting, fetched nearly half a billion dollars -- the
biggest haul ever at an art auction.
Christie's said Wednesday's sale
raised a "staggering" total of $495,021,500, with 94 percent of lots finding
buyers. Nine of the works sold went for more than $10 million and 23 for more
than $5 million.
It wasn't just the most successful
auction of Contemporary art at Christie's, but the biggest haul from an art
auction anywhere at all, the auction house said.
It was "the highest total in
auction history," Brett Gorvy, head of post-war and Contemporary art, said. "The
remarkable bidding and record prices set reflect a new era in the art market,
wherein seasoned collectors and new bidders compete at the highest level within
a global market."
Among the few losers in
Wednesday's sale were Francis Bacon, whose Study for Portrait, estimated
at $18 million to $25 million failed to find a buyer. Another work by Bacon,
Study for Portrait of P.L., had been expected to sell for up to $40 million
on Tuesday at Sotheby's, but also flopped.
CONTEMPORARY EVENING SALE
York, Rockefeller Plaza
| 15 May 2013 | SALE 2785| Lot 46
FRANCIS BACON (1909 - 1992)
STUDY FOR PORTRAIT
$18,000,000 – $25,000,000
Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
signed, titled and dated 'Study
for Portrait 1981 Francis Bacon' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
78 1/8 x 58 1/8 in. (198.4 x 147.6
Painted in 1981.
Marlborough Gallery Inc., New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1983
PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED NEW
M. Leiris, Francis Bacon: Full
Face and in Profile, Oxford, 1983, pp. 228 and 270, no. 135 (illustrated in
New York, Marlborough Gallery
Inc., Important Paintings by Avigdor Arikha, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon,
Balthus, Fernando Botero, Claudio Bravo, Lucien Freud, Alberto Giacometti, David
Hockney, R.B. Kitaj, Antonio Lopez-Garcia, Pablo Picasso, November 1982, p.
8-9, no. 6 (illustrated in colour).
Tokyo, National Museum of Modern
Art; Kyoto, National Museum of Modern Art; Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Art
Gallery, Francis Bacon: Paintings 1945-1982, June-November 1983 pp. 76
and 89, no. 43 (illustrated in colour).
Francis Bacon: Study for
"People say that you forget about
death, but you don't. After all I've had a very unfortunate life, because all
the people I've been fond of have died. And you don't stop thinking about them;
time doesn't heal. But you can concentrate on something which was an obsession,
and what you would have put into your obsession with the physical act you put
into your work. Because one of the terrible things about so-called love,
certainly for an artist, I think, is the destruction"--Francis Bacon.
While Study for Portrait,
1981, embodies many characteristic Bacon motifs, in some significant respects it
is a decidedly sui generis painting. Since 1957 Bacon had painted, and
would subsequently paint, many seated male nudes. But he had done so on only two
occasions in the decade before embarking on Study for Portrait, which was,
moreover, conceived in a unique configuration and in a highly distinctive
The principal image in Study
for Portrait is of a seated, nude George Dyer. Variations of Dyer's
cross-legged pose had first been employed by Bacon in Portrait of George Dyer
Staring at Blind-cord and Portrait of George Dyer Talking, in 1966,
utilising John Deakin's photographs of Dyer, taken in Bacon's Reece Mews studio,
circa 1965. Bacon would continue to paint variations on the theme of a nude male
figure, seated and with crossed legs, up until 1990, latterly transposing the
'sitter's' identity, at least facially, to John Edwards.
George Dyer had died in Paris on
October 24, 1971, two days before the opening of Bacon's major retrospective at
the Grand Palais. Motivated by remorse as well as grief, Bacon painted many
posthumous portraits of Dyer, most notably the three large and profoundly moving
memorial triptychs made between 1971 and 1973. The representation of Dyer in Study
for Portrait, 1981, was the ultimate exposition in a continuum that had its
origins in the seated figure of Dyer in the left panel of Three Portraits:
Posthumous Portrait of George Dyer; Self-Portrait; Portrait of
Lucian Freud, 1973; this was further developed in Study for Portrait,
1978, which also anticipates, in broad terms, the compositional format of the
A ruthless self-editor, Bacon not
only destroyed innumerable canvases with which he had become dissatisfied, he
frequently made changes to ostensibly completed paintings. He had paintings
immediately recalled that had left his studio and been delivered as finished to
Marlborough Fine Art; these he would subsequently alter, to a greater or lesser
degree, or sometimes even destroy. Study for Portrait, 1981, is in the
former category, and it underwent major modifications in several of its decisive
The most plausible explanation for
the fundamental re-conceiving of Study for Portrait is that Bacon came to
see it as a kind of cathartic, and specifically as a marker of the tenth
anniversary of George Dyer's death. If this seems uncharacteristically emotional
or sentimental on Bacon's part, it should be remembered that the Dyer Triptychs
he made between 1971 and 1973 were arguably the most overtly biographical
paintings he made. In the very few of Bacon's diaries that have survived, most
pages are left blank, yet he recorded in his entry for October 24th 1972,
"George died a year today": any ambivalence he may have once felt towards Dyer
appears to have been vitiated by regret. It is surely no less significant, in
the context of this biographically-orientated exegesis, that Study for Portrait,
1981, was the last painting of Dyer that Bacon ever made.
Study for Portrait was
probably begun in July 1981. After the painting had been completed and delivered
to Marlborough Fine Art, Bacon recalled it on August 3, 1981, intending to
re-paint the leg. But Bacon made much more radical changes to the painting
during August 1981, and it was finally re-delivered from the Reece Mews studio
in its present state on September 3rd 1981. Bacon had altered a great deal of
the figure's anatomy and turned the head from (almost) frontal to face right.
The biomorphic form at the upper right in the original painting was transformed
into a bust of George Dyer, framed by random lettering and pinned to a (now
blue) circle - a compelling Bacon mise-en-abyme in an unprecedented
The most substantial formal change
that Bacon made was the introduction of the pale blue geometrical passage that
divides the picture field, thereby creating a pregnant void across which Dyer's
distinctive profile head (itself a recurrent device and also based on John
Deakin's photographs) is metaphorically projected. Painted in pink flesh tones,
not as a conventional shadow but as a silhouette, the head became an ethereal,
feature-less presence, identifiable only by its outline. This unexpected
representation may allude to the low-relief Egyptian tomb sculpture that Bacon
deeply admired, and the abstract Letraset surround, therefore, to hieroglyphics.
The pale blue 'folded rhomboid' is another of Bacon's atavistic self-quotations,
for its first manifestation dated back to Man Kneeling in Grass, 1952;
here, however, it is employed not so much as an element of Bacon's
presentational dynamics but to create a chasm (in time as well as space) across
which Dyer's image is cast.
Apart from the addition of the
circular pale blue 'mirror', Bacon retained a large proportion of the two black
zones present in the earlier version (themselves a signifier, especially in his
later paintings, of mortality), but this sombre note is counterbalanced by the
dialogue he introduced in the final version between the pinkish flesh and pale
blue zones: the prevailing mood, rather than mournful or straightforwardly
valedictory, becomes one of unusually reflective tenderness. It is evident that
Bacon lavished considerable attention on the flesh painting, partly no doubt in
order to incorporate and emphasise the element of affection in the modified
portrait. He made subtle adjustments in the final version that softened and
simplified the representation of the face and body, but also, for example,
amplified the definition of the musculature of Dyer's left leg. Chromatically, Study
for Portrait is pitched in the lyrical mode that Bacon had begun to explore
again in 1980, reminiscent of the pastels of Chardin and Degas, and referred to
by him, humorously but not entirely irrelevantly, as "my Impressionist period."
Harrison, May 2013
Martin Harrison is editor of the forthcoming Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné
The legendary Colony Room
with Sophie Parkin
THE BLOG - Francis Bacon, April 17,
At a special event at Leeds Art
Gallery last weekend novelist, artist and actress Sophie Parkin, author of the
highly acclaimed recently published book The Colony Room Club 1948 - 2008 A
History of Bohemian Soho, discussed the legendary London establishment. The
Colony Room Club was home to Soho’s eclectic art community for generations,
famously including Francis Bacon.
The Colony Room Club was known to
the local’s as ‘Muriel’s', after the proprietor Muriel Belcher, of whom Francis
Bacon was a great admirer, the artist painted her portrait three times. Muriel
would pay Francis ten pounds a week to ‘bring in the people you like’. Before
long the Colony Room was was welcoming the likes of Dylan Thomas, Louis MacNeice,
Charles Laughton, E.M. Forster, Tallulah Bankhead, as well as artists Frank
Auerbach, Colquohoun and Macbryde, who, like Bacon are represented in the Leeds
Art Gallery collection.
Opinions of the famous artistic
drinking den have ranged and changed. Brian Patten described it as ‘a small
urinal full of fractious old geezers bitching about each other’. Painter,
novelist, and journalist – Molly Parkin (Author Sophie’s mother) saw the club as
‘a character-building glorious hell-hole. Everyone left their careers at the
roadside before clambering the stairs and plunging into questionable behaviour’.
A club member since the gift of membership as an 18th birthday present, Sophie
Parkin herself intimately describes the club as ‘fish tank whose water needed
Tom Baker, Francis Bacon,
Jeffrey Bernard, John Edwards, Bruce Bernard
Bacon: The restlessness of human existence
By C. B. Liddell, The Japan Times, March 28, 1013
In the 1989 Tim Burton film
Batman, there is a famous scene where the Joker and his gang break into an
art museum and vandalize masterpieces by the likes of Rembrandt, Degas, and
Vermeer. But, just as one of his henchmen is about to slash a Francis Bacon
canvas, the Joker steps in to stop him, saying, “I kind of like this one.”
This scene is testament to two
things: first Bacon’s status as a great and acknowledged painter on a par with
those others, and, second, the ugliness and brutality of his work, at least in
the conventional sense, that endears it to a psychopath like the Joker.
It is interesting, therefore, to
see what Tokyo will make of the first retrospective of Bacon since his death in
1992 to be held not only in Japan but also in Asia — especially as Tokyo is a
city that prefers its art on the pretty side.
Accordingly, during my visit, I
made careful note of who came and how they behaved, making comparisons with
other big shows I had seen recently. Several things stood out: There was greater
age diversity and more men than you might expect, especially as I visited on a
weekday. Also, instead of the wall-hugging conveyer belt of viewers I’ve come to
expect for shows in Japan, visitors moved around more freely and considered
works more intensely. In general, I got the impression of a more sophisticated
art audience than normal.
But we should not be surprised.
Bacon’s art acts as a kind of filter, scaring off certain timid elements. This
is of course due to the conventional ugliness, sordidness and even horror that
these paintings are imbued with. They are clearly not everybody’s cup of tea.
Bacon, painting in an age when
figurative art struggled to find a purpose against all the avant-gardisms,
created figures that were seemingly bruised, bloodied and distorted by the
struggle; twisted and transformed into pained pieces of raw meat, on which the
artist’s name seems to serve as an ironic comment. Also, once you know the
backstory of his homosexuality, a lot of the paintings acquire a vaguely carnal
But Bacon is a lot more than the
average transgressional artist out to shock and revolt the tea cakes and kittens
set. There is an essence to his work that resonates with the complex and
troubled sense of post-Christian man that emerged in the 20th century. Bacon’s
paintings seem like the visual outcome of Friedrich Nietzsche’s notions of the
death of God and the consequent struggle to inhabit the universe in a meaningful
way that this opens up.
As a young man he was an avid
reader of the German philosopher, who famously wrote “Man is a rope stretched
between the animal and the Superman — a rope over an abyss,” a phrase echoed by
Bacon when he defined his style as “a tightrope walk between figurative painting
and abstraction.” It is the tension between the two that adds drama to his work,
and also humor as he employs single lines and smudges that nevertheless evoke
identifiable quirks and characteristics.
His post-Christianity is most
clearly signaled by the paintings that were inspired (or provoked) by his
obsession with Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X
(1650), a magisterial work that exudes power and authority. The exhibition
includes several of these, including Study for the Head of a Screaming Pope
These antireligious works, in the
absence of any art pointing to a positive ideal suggest a deep nihilism, but the
trouble with nihilism is that, once embraced, it offers nowhere to go, and is
unable to even keep its bargain of annihilation. Even death can’t entirely
eradicate. This is forcefully shown at this exhibition by Three Studies of
George Dyer (1969), one of many triptychs at the show. This depicts Bacon’s
intimate friend the year before he committed suicide, but still as vivid as
Bacon saw him.
In Bacon’s work, there is also a
kind of blurred effect, like a camera with its shutter open too long, suggestive
of man in time and motion, something that also evokes some of the experiments of
the Italian Futurists.
“I would like my pictures to look
as if a human being had passed between them,” Bacon once explained, “like a
snail, leaving a trail of the human presence and memory trace of past events, as
the snail leaves its slime.”
Such restlessness also evokes a
kind of human spirit — almost material in its form — that struggles against
death and entropy simply by being too material and emotional to neatly enter the
These deep philosophical notes
with which the paintings resonate are also brilliantly echoed by some
complementary pieces. These include illustrated notes and a video performance by
the father of Butoh dancing, Tatsumi Hijikata, and a large video installation
inspired by Bacon’s unfinished final work. In this, the ballet dancer Willi
Forsythe occupies an empty space and, simply by being there, is forced to fight
against it and exist.
A slice of Bacon
gets to taste the raw power of Britain's modern-art master
Shinji Inoue, The Yomiuri Shimbun, Asia News Network, Tokyo April 28, 2013
Seated Woman (Portrait of Muriel Belcher) 1961 Francis Bacon
A person frantically shouting in a transparent box. A lump of flesh placed in a
semicircular space that looks like a bullring. These are among intense but oddly
appealing pieces on display at the exhibition of paintings by Francis Bacon
(1909-'92) at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo.
The exhibition, titled Francis Bacon, is designed to shed light on the
artist's mysterious career. It is the first such show in Japan since 1983 and
the first retrospective in Asia since the artist's death. The show features 33
works created between the mid-1940s and 1991.
Bacon's visions are often shocking - human faces from which expression has been
scraped away sprout from grotesquely deformed bodies. The paint's coarse
textures also give viewers a feeling of tension.
Bacon was born in Ireland but active mainly in London. His obsession with fleshy
bodies and the violence and pain they are subjected to seems to stem from his
He suffered asthma as a child. Into adolescence, his homosexuality sparked a
harsh reaction from his father. The political strife in his homeland and the two
world wars he lived through are also keys to understanding his style.
Bacon also explored the possibilities of painting by studying art history and
the 20th century's obseesion with the moving image.
His works based on Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X have depth
given by lines drawn in their background. Bacon was also inspired by Eadweard
Muybridge's pioneering photo series of bodies in motion.
Materials found in his studio after his death revealed that careful planning was
an important part of Bacon's artistic process.
Many of his pieces have a common feature - red-raw bodies writhing in an
abstract space. These pieces convey feelings of solitude in a closed-off world.
The Tokyo exhibition focuses not only on the relations between bodies and space
but also the way in which his pieces reached out to the real world. Bacon
described his methodology as "a tightrope between figurative painting and
Kenjiro Hosaka, curator at the museum, says: "Abstract paintings often bring
about one-sided views. Bacon drew bodies in space with no specific purpose in
order to give his paintings multifaceted elements."
The stance is obvious in Three Studies of George Dyer, a 1969 work in
which Bacon drew his lover - who would commit suicide in 1971 - from the front,
right and left sides. It's also obvious in triptychs, or sets of three images -
an arrangement that was typical of Bacon's style to the very end of his career.
The concepts in his triptychs tend to defy easy interpretation.
The last section at the exhibition reveals the influence of Bacon's pieces on
dance, a form of expression that has been inspired by the artist's fluid
rendering of the human body.
In a moving image created by artist Peter Welz and choreographer William
Forsythe, projected onto three large screens, Forsythe performs a writhing dance
with graphite on his feet and hands to leave a record of his movements on the
Additionally, materials associated with a performance of contemporary dancer
Tatsumi Hijikata in 1972 tell Bacon's influence on Japan.
Francis Bacon is at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, near Takebashi
Station, until May 26.
The exhibition moves on to the
Toyota Municipal Museum of Art in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, from June 8 to
FRANCIS BACON FOUNDATION OF THE DRAWINGS
TO CRISTIANO LOVATELLI RAVARINO
The Francis Bacon
This association exists to collect
and catalogue the Italian drawings of Francis Bacon.
The collection consists of a large
number of drawings, created between 1970 and 1990.
The drawings were a gift from
Bacon to his Italian friend Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino.
The story of these drawings can be
read in Umberto Guerini’s book “The Tip of an Iceberg”.
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE
DRAWINGS GIVEN BY FRANCIS BACON
TO CRISTIANO LOVATELLI
RAVARINO BETWEEN 1977 AND 1992,
AND THE EVIDENCE THAT PROVES
By Umberto Guerini
Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino is the owner of finished, large-scale artworks,
drawings, pastels and collages that were given to him as gifts between 1977 and
1992 by Francis Bacon, as is proven by a deed of gift, dated and signed
personally by the Irish painter.
The deed of gift reads as follows: “02/04/1988. I left all my drawings to
Cristian Ravarino. I am indebted to him and Italian renaissance culture. I also
have the suspicion that in all those years Marlborough Gallery cheated and
robbed me thanks to awkward situations created by the gallery itself. With love,
addition to the aforementioned deed of gift, the authenticity of these drawings
is further demonstrated by the following proofs:
The sentence handed down by the Bologna Tribunal on July 8, 2004 that clears
Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino of charges that he forged the drawings in his
possession, and established the following circumstances as fact: Cristiano
Lovatelli Ravarino and Francis Bacon met one another and spent time together in
Bologna, Venice and Cortina d'Ampezzo; the drawings are a part of their
relationship and a part of them is signed by Francis Bacon, even if, probably,
when he was drunk, as assessed Dr. Ambra Draghetti, prosecutor's expert during
the trial in the Bologna Tribunal; Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino supplied Francis
Bacon with some of the paper on which the drawings were executed, and in
particular the paper obtained from the Fabriano company, as is demonstrated by
the embossed stamps on the sheets of paper which, in the beginning, Bacon cut
off thinking that they were advertisements.
Testimony from Cristina Pezzoli, known as “Bebella”, who declared that she was
given a drawing as a gift directly by Francis Bacon in 1982/83, while the two
were at the Osteria dei Poeti, a restaurant in Via dei Poeti, Bologna, one
New expert analysis of the signature and graphological signs conducted by Dr.
Ambra Draghetti. Starting with analyses she conducted as expert testimony for
the prosecution beginning in 1999, Dr. Draghetti reexamined all the drawings in
Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino’s collection (the first time she was not able to
conduct such a direct comparison). Utilizing avant-garde technologies to analyze
the signatures, graphic signs and the paper upon which they were executed
through in-depth scientific analyses, she conducted direct comparisons between
these signatures and graphic signs and the numerous and significant graphic
signs that are already recognized as Francis Bacon’s. The results of her
investigation were presented for the first time at a convention held in London
on February 08, 2012, as part of the art exhibition “Signum Baconiensia, 8th
-18th February 2012: A collection of drawings donated by Francis Bacon to
Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino.” The convention was held in the Gallery in Cork
Street, London. Dr. Draghetti reached the following conclusion: there can be no
doubt that every single drawing in Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino’s collection was
executed by Francis Bacon, as well as the signatures found on the drawings.
Testimony from the Marquise Horacio de Sosa Cordero, who was such a close friend
of Francis Bacon’s that he was asked by John Edwards to go to Madrid in April
1992 in order to identify the artist’s body. During a press conference held in
Buenos Aires on October 22, 2010, the Marquise de Sosa Cordero confirmed that
the drawings exhibited and the signatures found on the drawings are both Francis
Bacon’s. He also recognized and identified many of the people portrayed in the
an essay written for a convention that focused on Francis Bacon’s drawings, held
on June 26, 2012 at the Gate Gallery in Prague as part of the exhibition
“Francis Bacon – Bhoumil Harabal,” Horacio de Sosa Cordero declared as follows:
“Very few people frequented his studio in London on a daily basis: Peter Beard,
whenever he came back from one of his photographic safaris in Africa; David
Sylvester; Lucian Freud; George Dyer; and I; years later John Edwards, who
sometimes arrived from Italy accompanied by a young, very friendly Bologna
journalist named Ravarino. Francis Bacon toured Italy together with Ravarino,
visiting Rome, Sicily, Cortina d'Ampezzo, Bologna, Tuscany and other Italian
cities… The truth is that Francis Bacon began to make periodic trips to Italy,
where things were quiet and he was away from the watchful eyes of Gilbert Lloyd,
or his sister Angela or Pierre Levin, his right-hand man in NYC, today director
of the gallery.
Then he would eagerly dedicate himself
to drawing, as well as producing collages and mixed media, some of which can be
seen on display at the Gate Gallery in Prague, and many of which represent his
magnificent series of Popes, in addition to studio portraits, or compositions,
some of which I saw in his atelier in Paris. Francis Bacon was involved in his
relationship with Ravarino, his ‘man in Italy,’ a companion, lover and the
inheritor of these magnificent works that I would call “the major works from
Francis Bacon’s secret period in Italy.”
e) Testimony from Stephen Conrad, an art
historian who in an email sent to Umberto Guerini on June 11, 2012 declared as
follows: “The facts, as I recall them, are these. I was persuaded by my friend,
the art dealer Edward Bigden to meet a man called Ian Collins in Debenham,
Suffolk, and take a look at the Bacon drawings which he had in his possession.
At that time, Edward will recall the date, but some time in 2008 I think, I did
not know that these drawings had come through David Edwards and had belonged to
Cristiano Ravarino. I thought they were right (this is only a personal opinion,
and one which I uphold) and though not an expert on Bacon, I am an art
historian, and I was acquainted with Martin Harrison, so one day I called
Harrison and Edward and I arranged to meet him at his home and to show him about
Edward will recall the date, but we met
Harrison at his home near Westbourne Grove/Paddington, a mews house I recall,
and this was at the time when the Catalogue Raisonné was being started. Edward
and I showed him the contents of the portfolio, Harrison's wife was present, and
indeed, Harrison seemed perfectly convinced that the drawings were indeed by
f) Testimony from Brian Hawhow, Lyndsay
Hayhow and Margaret Skawinski-Sheaser. Brian Hayhow, a medical surgeon by
profession, declared that he performed an emergency operation on John Edwards in
1988 to cure his appendicitis, and on that occasion first met Francis Bacon. On
November 2012, Brian Hayhow made the following statements during a video
interview, declaring as follows: “I saw him when he came out. And I remember
Francis and John were walking very slowly and carefully… A big table – I think
in a conservatory area – was strewn with books, magazines, drawings…and Francis
picked them up to move them away. ‘They’re nothing!’ (said Francis) Because, I
suspect that he did not want to be praised… And he said ‘I am grateful to you.”
On that occasion, Francis Bacon gave Brian Hayhow one pencil drawing portraying
a figure as a gift. The drawing is signed by Francis Bacon, and is identical in
both graphic signs and in the signature to those that constitute the “corpus” of
drawings given by Francis Bacon to Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino as a gift.
From that time forward, Brian Hayhow
became friends with Francis Bacon, spending time together regularly until the
artist’s death. Brian Hayhow also noted that Francis Bacon made a pencil drawing
of his daughter that showed her getting out of the swimming pool at Margaret
Skawinski-Sheaser’s house. The aforementioned circumstances were confirmed on
the same day (and documented in the same manner, through video recording) by
Lyndsay Hayhow, barrister and wife of Brian, as well as by Margaret
Skawinski-Sheaser, a close friend of Francis Bacon’s as is demonstrated through
the numerous photographs portraying the two together.
g) The drawings have been examined and
studied by internationally recognized art historians and critics including:
Giorgio Soavi, Edward Lucie Smith, Vittorio Sgarbi and, most recently, Peini
Beatrice Hsieh, Serena Baccaglini.
h) In September 2011, in Monte Carlo, several drawings from Cristiano Lovatelli
Ravarino’s collection were closely examined by David Nahmad, recognized as one
of the world’s foremost art merchants and collectors, who identified them as
authentic Francis Bacon artworks.
i) The drawings in question have
been the focus of three international conventions, held respectively in Buenos
Aires (Espacio de arte SIGEN, October 22, 2010); London (Open Forum, “The
Gallery in Cork Street,” February 8, 2012); and Prague (conference held at “The
Gate Gallery,” June 26, 2012).
l) The drawings in the collection have been placed on display in exhibitions
held in museums and art galleries in the following cities: Venice (2009-2011);
Zurich (2009); Milan (2010); Cento-Ferrara, Italy (2010); Évora-Lisbon, Portugal
(2010); Buenos Aires: Borges Museum, Espacio de arte SIGEN (2010); Berlin
(2010); Paris (2011); Santiago, Chile (2011); London (2011); Kaohsiung-Taiwan
(2012); Prague (2012); and Aguascalientes, Mexico (2012-2013). The exhibition
held in Cento-Ferrara was sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage
and Activities. The exhibition held at SIGEN in Buenos Aires was sponsored by
the Argentine Ministry of Culture and the Argentine National Bank.
m) Critical essays focusing on the
drawings in Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino’s collection have been written by:
Giorgio Soavi, Edward Lucie Smith, Alessandro Riva, Vittorio Sgarbi, Duccio
Trombadori, Raffaele Gavarro, Horacio de Sosa Cordero, Serena Baccaglini and
Peini Beatrice Hsieh.
Art Evening Auction
| 14 May 2013 | N08991| Lot 23
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED
1909 - 1992
PORTRAIT OF P.L.
and dated 1962 on the
oil on canvas
78 x 57 in. 198 x 144.8 cm.
Estimate: 30,000,000 -
for a Portrait of P.L. 1962 Francis Bacon
Fine Art, Ltd., London
Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Weiss and Dr. Nigel Weiss (acquired by 1964)
Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Private Collection, Switzerland
Private Collection, United Kingdom (acquired circa 1973)
Acquired by the present owner from the above
Stedelijk van Abbe-Museum, Contemporary Paintings in London, October -
December 1962, cat. no. 4, n.p., illustrated
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Francis Bacon, January - February 1963, cat.
no. 71, n.p., illustrated
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., Francis Bacon: Recent Work, July -
August 1963, cat. no.11, n.p., illustrated in colour (incorrectly illustrated as
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Chicago, The Art Institute of
Chicago, Francis Bacon, October 1963 - February 1964, cat. no. 61, p. 70,
illustrated (incorrectly titled Study for Portrait of P.L. from Photographs and
London, Tate Gallery, Painting and Sculpture of a Decade: 54-64. An
exhibition at the Tate Gallery organized by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation,
April - June 1964, cat. no. 142, p. 133, illustrated
Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais; Düsseldorf, Kunsthalle, Francis
Bacon, October 1971 - May 1972, cat. no. 44, p. 119, illustrated
London, The Lefevre Gallery, An Exhibition of Important 20th Century
Paintings and Sculpture, November 1972, cat. no. 1, illustrated in colour
series X, no. 1, January-February 1963, no. 63, p. 23, illustrated The Sunday Times Colour Magazine, 14 July 1963, p. 17, illustrated in
colour The Arts Review, XV, 27 July 1963, p.19, illustrated in colour
(incorrectly titled Study of Portrait of P.L. from photographs and dated
Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon, London, 1964, no. 206, illustrated
John Russell, Bryan Robertson and Lord Snowdon, Private View: The Lively
World of British Art, London, 1965, p. 67, illustrated in colour
John Russell, Francis Bacon, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1971, fig. no. 51,
p. 98, illustrated
Lorenza Trucchi, Francis Bacon, New York, 1975, fig. no. 81, p.
Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon New Studies: Centenary Essays,
London, 2009, p. 164 (text)
live with him, and I couldn’t live without him.”
The artist referring to Peter Lacy, in reference to Peter Lacy, cited in Michael
Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, London, 2006, p. 42
"The living quality is what you have to get. In painting a portrait the problem
is to find a technique by which you can give all the pulsations of a person…The
sitter is someone of flesh and blood and what has to be caught is their
The artist cited in David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon,
London, 2000, p. 98
"The frustration is that people can never be close enough to one another. If
you're in love you can't break down the barriers of the skin."
The artist cited in Hugh M. Davies, 'Interviewing Bacon, 1973' in, Martin
Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies, Göttingen, 2009, p. 107
Study for a Portrait of P.L. marks a critical transition in Francis
Bacon’s historic oeuvre. It is simultaneously an astonishingly intimate portrait
of the then most important person in the artist’s life, Peter Lacy, and a
masterpiece of physiognomic, psychological and emotional analysis. The manifold
smears and blows of coagulated paint narrate the extraordinarily personal story
of love, obsession, chaos and disaster that had existed for much of the previous
decade between Bacon and Lacy. At the same time the solitary human form, all
flashing movement and writhing corporeal dynamism, is fixed forever in a moment
of spectacular flux. Here Bacon snaps his psychosomatic x-ray on the human
animal trapped within an unstable, existentialist drama. Within the boundaries
of the last century, perhaps only Picasso so determinedly interrogated the
limits of figurative stability to discover new perspectives on the nature of
existence. Since living in Paris himself in the late 1920s, Bacon had long
venerated Picasso’s genius, and here the long shadow of the Spaniard’s
influence, which readily traversed the twenty-eight years between them, appears
resurgent. While the schematic facets of Lacy’s face are reminiscent of
Picasso’s legendary analytical cubist sculptures and paintings, the dramatically
curving features and arched eyebrows recall both Picasso’s portraits after
tribal masks and even paradigms of the Marie-Thérèse cycle from the 1930s. Yet Study
for a Portrait of P.L. reflects the full force of Bacon’s phenomenal
intellect and artistic capacity, and its specific vision of mankind isolated is
unprecedented. This work further represents the moment at which Bacon adopted a
radically minimalized composition, with single figures surrounded by expanses of
monochromatic color-fields populating much of his output for the remaining
thirty years of his career.
portrait Bacon painted of Lacy after his death in 1962, this work is both
posthumous eulogy and sustaining memento mori to the artist’s recently departed
friend and lover. The striking facial features and convoluted body of the sitter
are the main focus of the composition, heightened by Bacon's virtuosity of
dramatic brushwork and exuberance of colour. Painted in the year of Lacy's
death, this devotional portrait stands as a surviving eulogy to the artist’s
ill-fated lover, the manifestation of pure emotional honesty, or what Bacon
called the ‘brutality of fact.’ Initially based on a photograph taken by Bacon
of Lacy outside the Prado Museum in Madrid when they were en-route together to
Tangier, it is one of just a tiny handful of paintings that the then 53 year old
Bacon had produced by this time to bear a title that explicitly identifies its
of Bacon’s posthumous homages to Peter Lacy, the present work conveys the
immediate memory of the man who dominated the artist’s life for the prior
decade. In 1952, having met Peter Lacy in Soho’s Colony Room, Bacon embarked on
what was to become “the most exalted and most destructive love affair he was
ever to know.” (Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, London,
2006, pp. 57-58) The former Battle of Britain pilot was described by Bacon as
always being “in a state of unease...this man was neurotic and almost
hysterical.” Bacon had fallen in love in large part because Lacy knew how to
dominate and hurt him. Tough, to the point of cruelty, Lacy’s demeanor held
Bacon perpetually in an emotional and physical vice and although Lacy was the
love of his life, this tempestuous affair was ultimately calamitous. Bacon later
lamented in conversation with Michael Peppiatt that “Being in love in that way,
being absolutely physically obsessed by someone, is like an illness.” (Ibid.,
as “the greatest and most disastrous love of his life,” their tempestuous and
often violent relationship was dominated by obsessive love and passion, by
aggression, disdain and excessive abuse of alcohol, lasting until Lacy died
alone in Tangier, where he had moved in the mid-1950s. While Bacon kept his
studio in London he made extended trips there every summer from 1956 onwards,
and they also went to the South of France together on a number of occasions in
the late 1950s. The lifestyle of Tangiers was perceived as exotic and had a more
tolerant attitude towards homosexuality, offering an escapism that, compared to
the scene of social and physical claustrophobia suffered by homosexual men in
1950s Britain, was liberating to them both. Yet ultimately it was a fatal arena
for Lacy as a man trapped in the grasp of alcoholism. News of Lacy’s death came
among the many telegrams of congratulations that Bacon received on the eve of
his major retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1962. Somewhat poignantly, it was
on the eve of his next major retrospective ten years later at the Grand Palais,
Paris, that Bacon received news of the suicide of George Dyer, famously a
subsequent lover and muse. Whereas Bacon commemorated Dyer in his monumental
‘Black Triptychs’ of 1972-1974 - portraying his last moments, slumped lifelessly
on a hotel bathroom floor - the present work is all the more subtle and relays a
compelling narrative. A crisp ellipse of zinc white and deep claret-red
describes a glass of wine, cupped in the palm of Lacy’s hand, as a visual
epitaph. Here, not only did Bacon eulogize the lasting memory of his former
lover with the void of claret-red in Lacy’s palm, but he also further marked the
sitter with stigmata - the manifestation of psychosomatic wounds of a tortured
soul. Wonderfully capturing Lacy’s nervous and elusive personality, this
emotionally tense painting unravels the sitter’s psychological and emotional
essence. As Hugh Davies and Sally Yard have noted, “Bacon searched the surfaces
of his friends for some intimation of their inner lives [and] concludes that
mind, nervous system, and body are one.” (Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, Francis
Bacon, New York, 1986, p. 50)
many striking features of Bacon’s breathtaking art is the silent aura of
anonymity that frequently shrouds his subject matter. During the 1940s, 50s and
early 60s the spectacular troupe of characters that violently courses through
his canvases are afforded little identification by his famously elusive titles.
‘Study for Portrait,’ ‘Head,’ ‘Figure in a Landscape,’ ‘Figure Sitting,’ ‘Two
Figures’: Bacon purposefully obfuscated his subjects, cloaking them in
obscurity. Yet Bacon’s extraordinary oeuvre is frequently celebrated precisely
because of its profound interrelationship with his life: how those closest to
him catalyzed his painting, and how in turn his existence as an artist dictated
the terms of his relationships. Lucian Freud, Muriel Belcher, George Dyer, John
Edwards, and Peter Lacy: at various points across four decades each of these was
a major presence in Bacon’s life, and each became a recurring phantasm in his
portraits. Indeed, within the era of Modern Art just a handful of other
figurative artists – perhaps van Gogh, Cézanne, Picasso and Giacometti above all
– have so thoroughly integrated their art and their life to such spectacular
effect. While van Gogh portrayed his friend and physician in Portrait of Dr.
Gachet; Cézanne’s Cardplayers were farmhands who worked on his
family’s estate; Giacometti’s Grande Figures were inspired by his muse and lover
Isabel Rawsthorne; and Picasso’s Le Rêve and La Lecture depicted
his young mistress Marie-Thérèse. For decades these masterpieces have resided in
the pantheon of art historical paradigms, each having given new perspective to
the mysteries of the human drama. Yet far from glorifying mythical or historical
figures, or even wealthy patrons, all these began as intimate depictions of
people who were personally significant to the artist. Similarly, Study for a
Portrait of P.L. is both an intimate portrayal of the then most important
figure in the artist’s life, and a masterpiece of Modern painting that
consolidates Bacon’s unique perception of human psychology and emotion.
has been noted that Bacon rejected Abstract Expressionism, the thick bands of
exuberant and alternating color that he utilized in the present work
unquestionably reveal the influence of the expansive colour-field canvases of
Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, which Bacon would have seen at The New American
Painting exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1959. Furthermore, this was
undoubtedly heightened by his time spent in St. Ives in late 1959 to early 1960,
where he would have been keenly aware of the horizontal stripe paintings that
Patrick Heron was making at the time. The adoption of these broad, horizontal
bands of bold colours corresponds to the stone wall and iron balustrade behind
Lacy in the Madrid photograph, and demonstrates a new solution to the creation
of depth within Bacon's composition. It is particularly intriguing to note that
the colours in the background of the present painting concord closely with those
of Mark Rothko’s painting Number 10 of 1950, now in the Museum of Modern Art,
New York, and which was included in the 1959 Tate exhibition that Bacon saw.
This colouristic composition clearly held enduring appeal for the artist, as
demonstrated by a similarly constructed self-portrait with comparable ground
hues, executed in 1963 and apparently based partially on the sister-photograph
of Bacon outside the Prado. The illusion of depth in Study for a Portrait of
P.L. is accentuated by the simplified geometry of the perspectival
setting: a confined flattened space, the couch painted with swathes of rich
indigo and cobalt blues, sits harmoniously amid pastel-green and golden-ochre
bands. The horizontal line of the couch meets the eye line of the sitter,
defining the pictorial space. Lacy’s left foot points elegantly downward toward
the sand-like floor, referencing his final resting place in the sparse landscape
of Tangier. Bacon’s rich hues have been soaked into the absorbent unprimed
canvas, which contrasts brilliantly with the explosive plasticity of the impasto
was his usual practice, has reserved his most intense application of paint for
the head of his subject. The sheer intensity, detail and controlled violence of
Lacy’s visage in the center of the composition are an immediate beacon for the
mastery of paint handling. Akin to the greatest small portrait heads he
produced, the animalistic features of the sitter are carved out with an
incredible mixture of sensuous delicacy and gargantuan brutality. This ferocious
profile is loaded with physicality, both literally with the weight of oil paint
and as the material record of the artist’s own brutal assault. Out of a flurry
of swipes and blows of robust flesh tones, Lacy’s unmistakable presence emerges
with each loaded stroke, offering bold relief against the rich bands of blue,
unravelling the sitter’s psychological and emotional core. It is almost as if
Bacon has attempted to hide this face and to camouflage it in paint, yet suffers
the burden of knowing it too well to conceal its true identity. Having initially
distanced himself from Picasso in 1945, the physiognomy of Lacy’s head with its
arching cranium and circled eyes is highly reminiscent of Picasso’s ‘primitive
heads’ of the early 1900s. Indeed Bacon had spoken of “a whole area, suggested
by Picasso, which in a way has been unexplored, of organic form that relates to
the human image but is a complete distortion of it.” (the artist cited in Martin
Harrison, Francis Bacon New Studies, Göttingen, 2009, p. 164)
Lacy’s cross-legged pose is yet another distinctive feature of this composition,
and as so often with Bacon’s art, this pictorial device harbours diverse
interpretation. As attested by many witnesses and documented in extensive
photographs, Bacon himself often sat this way, with the calf of one leg jauntily
resting on the knee of the other, and crossed-legs is a readily identifiable
theme through his oeuvre. From the terrifying chimera under an umbrella in Painting,
1946 that hangs in the Museum of Modern Art, through the famous Self-Portrait of
1956 that shows Bacon hunched over in a grey suit, his legs entangled and
seemingly knotted together, to later self-portraits of the 1970s right up
to 1990 and portraits of John Edwards, this bodily configuration reappears time
and again in his corpus. Of course in the early 1960s he commissioned John
Deakin to take photographs of George Dyer in his studio, stripped to his
underwear, sitting with one leg slumped across the other, and this photo-shoot
was effectively recreated with Peter Beard a number of years after Dyer’s
suicide. Speculation about the thematic implications of this pose is highly
subjective. However, conventionally recognized as a posture of elegance,
refinement and sophistication, in the context of 1950s and 60s Britain it could
be deemed a trait more reflective of the upper echelons of that hierarchical
society and therefore more closely aligned to attributes of wealth and power. In
the context of Bacon’s painting of Peter Lacy and the relationship between them,
any inference to a power balance would inevitably carry further connotations of
sexual dominance. It is important not to hypothesize too far or extrapolate too
much, but there can be no question that the figure’s pose in this painting,
while apparently conservative and socially acceptable, also carries an aura of
threat and aggression.
smearing of paint used to delineate the face attains a rich texture; the heavy
black line defines the cheek and sweeps across the right eye socket, leaving a
cavernous dark space, further enhancing this compelling and emotive image.
Bacon’s work of this period placed a decided emphasis on forces rather than
forms. "The living quality is what you have to get. In painting a portrait the
problem is to find a technique by which you can give all the pulsations of a
person…The sitter is someone of flesh and blood and what has to be caught is
their emanation." (the artist cited in David Sylvester, Looking Back at
Francis Bacon, London, 2000, p. 98) It is often noted that Bacon’s portraits
reveal their sitter’s inner essence because he painted people he knew
closely. In Study for a Portrait of P.L., Bacon resurrected his ill-fated
lover, capturing Lacy’s character as he observed him over years, and thus the
painting holds within it time, experience and the shadows of memory itself. In
the first years of his relationship with Lacy, the sense of danger had excited
him. He had always sought out adversity, in his life as in his art, impelled by
his own vitality and the conviction that the closer you get to it, the more
clearly you saw the reality of existence, itself forever hovering on the brink
of extinction. As the artist ruefully concluded, “I couldn’t live with him, and
I couldn’t live without him.” (the artist cited in Michael Peppiatt, Francis
Bacon in the 1950s, London, 2006, p. 42) The psychological and physical
forces conveyed by Bacon's unique handling of paint and by his expressionistic
treatment of the human figure, decisively mark the direction of his work until
his death over a quarter of a century later. Obsessive and impassioned portraits
of the following decade of Bacon's close social circle of friends and lovers –
none more so than his next fated lover George Dyer – are unquestionably derived
from the present work and the emotional resonance that lies between the artist
Francis Bacon and Pete Lacy seated over looking the Mediterranean
Painter Bacon's portrait of lover Peter Lacy
to be auctioned in New York
PATRICIA REANEY, The Independent, TUESDAY 09
Francis Bacon's Study for Portrait of P.L. 1962
A 1962 painting by artist Francis Bacon of his lover Peter Lacy
is expected to sell for as much as $40 million when it is auctioned in New York
next month, Sotheby's said on Monday.
on canvas Study for a Portrait of P.L. is considered one of Bacon's
most significant works and will be among the highlights of Sotheby's
contemporary art evening sale on May 14, the auction said.
the great love of Bacon's life," said Oliver Barker, Sotheby's deputy
chairman, Europe. Lacy moved to Morocco in the mid-1950s, and Barker said
Bacon received the news of his death among congratulatory telegrams for the
opening of his famous 1962 Tate exhibition in London.
painting in blue, green and black depicts Lacy seated on a bench holding a
glass of wine. It was executed posthumously months after Bacon learned of
his lover's death from alcohol abuse. Bacon, who died in 1992, painted many
of his subjects from photographs and memory.
said the work shows a new direction for Bacon's work and the influence of
marks a kind of sea change in terms of the visual language of Bacon's
painting after 1962. This is a very radicalized setting, or composition, for
the painting with its horizontal treatment of the bench underneath the
figure, but also his very American Abstract Impressionist-inspired colour
field and painting background."
met Lacy, a former Battle of Britain pilot, in 1952 in London. Their
tempestuous relationship endured throughout the 1950s.
look at all of Francis Bacon's works, and there are not more than around 600
paintings in existence, many of them are devoted to people who were in a
very small coterie of friends and colleagues," Barker said. "Peter Lacy is
one of the most pivotal."
painting, which is being sold from a private collection, has not been seen
in public for about 40 years. It will be displayed in London from April
12-16 and in New York from May 3.
said the pre-sale estimate for the work reflects interest in Bacon's work
since the correction in the art market in 2008. The record for a Bacon work
sold at auction is $86.3 million, which was set at Sotheby's in New York in
2008 for Triptych, 1976, a work based on Ancient Greek mythology and
the legend of Prometheus.
world's greatest art collectors have woken up to the fact that Bacon is
arguably one of the most important painters of the last 100 years," Barker
Sets Sights High on Painting by Francis Bacon
By KELLY CROW, The Wall Street Journal, April
Sotheby's will ask at
least $30 million for Study for a Portrait of P.L.
said it plans to ask $30 million to $40 million for a Francis Bacon painting
during the auction house's major spring sales in New York next month, another
sign the art market is coming back.
price for Study for a Portrait of P.L., a navy-and-sage depiction of the
Dublin-born painter's lost love, Peter Lacy, ranks among the highest ever for
the artist. How the painting sells on May 14 could serve as a test of art values
work isn't expected to reset the artist's record. Sotheby's sold a Bacon for
$86.2 million in 2008, the peak of the last art-market cycle.
Bacons nose-dived during the recession, but they have been climbing back lately.
Sotheby's last May secured $44.8 million for Mr. Bacon's 1976 portrait,
Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror, exceeding the auction house's top
estimate of $40 million. In February 2011 the auction house garnered $37 million
for Bacon's ruby-hued triptych from 1964, Portrait of Lucian Freud
(Studies in 3 Parts).
a view of Mr. Bacon's former lover sitting on a bench, is being sold by an
anonymous collector who has kept it out of public view for 40 years—a move that
could add to the painting's appeal because bidders might treat the work like a
rediscovery. Mr. Bacon, who died in 1992, painted the work shortly after Mr.
Lacy died from complications from alcohol abuse.
and rival Christie's International PLC each May in New York sell works by the
world's top Impressionist, modern and contemporary artists.
Francis Bacon's violent lover to be auctioned at Sotheby's
Bacon's powerful painting of Peter Lacy just months after his death will be up
for auction on May 14
arts correspondent, The Guardian, Monday 8 April 2013
Francis Bacon was said to be drawn to violent men, and none more so than Peter
Lacy, who once threw the artist through a plate-glass window. Photograph: Jane
He could be
astonishingly violent, had a sadistic streak and was a raging alcoholic, but
Peter Lacy was the great love of Francis Bacon's life and the artist is clearly
expressing his feelings in a powerful and tender portrait not publicly exhibited
for 40 years.
picture was very much painted as a eulogy for his friend and lover," said
Sotheby's expert Oliver Barker. Study for a Portrait of P.L. is to be
auctioned in New York with an estimate of between $30-$40m (£20-£26m) and can be
seen at Sotheby's in London next weekend.
It is the
most important painting of Lacy by Bacon and is all the more poignant because it
was painted in 1962 just months after Lacy's alcohol-related death in his
adopted home of Tangier. "We are incredibly excited about this sale," said
Barker, the auction house's senior international specialist in contemporary art.
"Not only because Francis Bacon is, commercially speaking, arguably the most
enticing artist of the current time. But to have a painting of this importance
and of an iconic figure in Bacon's own personal life is a wonderfully poetic
Study for a Portrait of PL by Francis Bacon,
whose eight-year relationship with merchant banker Eric Hall had ended, was
drawn to violent men and that certainly applies to the dashing Battle of Britain
pilot he met in Soho's Colony Room in 1952. Art critic John Richardson wrote in
the New York Review of Books that after one attack in which Lacy threw
the artist through a plate-glass window, "his face was so damaged that his right
eye had to be sewn back into place. Bacon loved Lacy even more. For weeks he
would not forgive Lucian Freud for remonstrating with his torturer."
Lacy moved to Tangier, where Bacon would often join him, part of a set that
sometimes included Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Joe Orton. It was here
that Lacy was drinking himself to death and the glass of red wine he holds in
the portrait is an allusion to that."
about his death on the opening day of the 1962 Tate retrospective dedicated to
him at the same time he was receiving telegrams of praise and adulation. That
was something eerily replicated in 1971 when he learned of the suicide of his
next great love and muse, George Dyer, at the opening of his big show at the
Grand Palais in Paris.
it was a powerful work. "When you stand in front of the painting, the scale of
the figure is clearly designed to be somewhat overawed by the environment in
which he is seated and I think that is totally deliberate. This is very much a
picture about the vulnerability of Peter Lacy, and nowhere is that more poignant
than in the glass of wine. It is packed with meaning and different layers of
painting is also important, said Barker, because "compositionally and
aesthetically" it represents "a radical departure for the artist.
The mid- to
late-1950s was Bacon at his most creatively uncertain "but you suddenly feel in
this picture a renewed energy and a kind of real direction in his work which
would last the course of his entire career. You see Bacon here at a very strong
period of his life."
painted in 1962 and bought almost straight away, but then was out on loan to
various exhibitions in Eindhoven, London, New York, Chicago, London again and
Dusseldorf. The last known public exhibition was in 1972 at London's Lefevre
always been privately owned and has belonged to the current seller since the
mid-2000s, said Sotheby's.
Study for a Portrait of P.L. will be sold on 14 May and goes on
display at Sotheby's in London from 12-16 April
Bacon and the art of food
When the artist’s studio was forensically
excavated, the influence of food - and books about food - became clear
Barbra Dawson, Irish Times, Sat, 6 April,
Francis Bacon circa 1985
visit to 7 Reece Mews in South Kensington, Francis Bacon’s London home and
studio for more than 30 years, was in 1997. His small, chaotic studio, measuring
six metres by four metres, was mesmerising, packed with heaps of detritus
surrounded by vivid, paint-spattered walls. It was like looking inside the
artist’s head, and with the protagonist having died five years previously, the
space had taken on a personality of its own, the legacy of a great artist.
two rooms in the mews were neat and orderly. His livingroom doubled as his
bedroom, and, in a rather bizarre arrangement, his kitchen and bathroom shared
the same space, with the bath opposite the fridge and the hand basin opposite
the sink, beside an old-fashioned gas cooker. On the table between the bath and
the fridge lay an intriguing pile of cookery books, including a well-used copy
of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1888; first published
Hugh Lane team from Dublin forensically removed the entire contents of Bacon’s
studio in 1998, we catalogued more than 7,000 items, including more than 500
books and hundreds of loose book leaves, as well as photographs, magazines,
handwritten notes, drawings and abandoned and slashed canvases. Bacon clearly
drew on a wide range of material and subject matter for his work, including a
large number of cookery books.
article for the Times in advance of his exhibition at the Marlborough
Gallery in New York, Bacon credited Beeton as a source of inspiration for his
work, along with medical books, books on birds of prey and an advertisement in a
newspaper. Bacon’s biographer, Michael Peppiatt, recalls that the painter would
have piles of books on the table in his livingroom/bedroom – maybe a catalogue
of a new exhibition of Seurat, a book by a friend such as the poet Jacques Dupin,
or even that well-thumbed copy of Mrs Beeton.
good food – its appearance, the images it conjured and, importantly, its colour
– played a strong part in both life and art. His name is, of course, synonymous
with meat, and his celebrated forebear – the 16th-century philosopher, scientist
and statesman Sir Francis Bacon, after whom he was named – died while
experimenting with the possibilities of freezing a chicken.
known to have been a good, if simple, cook and recounted how his mother made
relatively straightforward dishes such as shepherd’s pie and oxtail stew. He
left his home, Straffan Lodge in Co Kildare, when he was 16, following a row
with his father over his overt homosexual behaviour. The following year, 1927,
he was sent to Berlin with a family friend, believed to be Cecil Harcourt-Smith,
to be sorted out.
the last years of the Weimar Republic, with its stark contrasts of
sophistication and poverty, as well as promiscuous behaviour and sexual
tolerance , was a revelation for the young man from Ireland. Taking advantage of
the hyperinflation of the period, the pair stayed in the luxurious Hotel Adlon,
made famous by the culinary genius of its chef Auguste Escoffie and its
glamorous clientele, which included Marlene Dietrich and Charlie Chaplin.
“sorting out” Bacon’s homosexual inclinations, Harcourt-Smith seduced the young
man in one of the ducal apartments. As well as recounting these exploits, Bacon,
forever the sensualist, also recalled the sumptuous room service, in particular
a breakfast trolley adorned with four silver swans, and the glorious sensation
of grasping one by the neck to pull the laden silver trolley towards the bed.
his stay of more than two months in Berlin, Bacon would spend almost two years
in France, where he experienced sophisticated continental cuisine. Throughout
his life he maintained an abiding affection for Mediterranean fare. Bacon also
credited his lover, mentor and collector, Eric Hall, whom he first met in the
late 1920s, with his appreciation of good food. “He taught me the value of
things – for instance, what decent food was – that I certainly didn’t learn in
More than 40 cookery books were found in Bacon’s library. They included 10 books
by Elizabeth David, of which four were different editions of French Country
Cooking. As David’s books were almost all without illustration, it must be
assumed her recipes were of interest to Bacon – perhaps on their own accord, but
probably more for the images they conjured up. Bacon used the cover of the 1966
edition of French Country Cooking as a palette.
Rodin' and 'Bacon and Rodin in Dialogue'
Rodin stands beside Henry Moore in one adventurous show, and next to works by
Francis Bacon in another
Wullschlager, The Financial Times,
22 March, 2013
Definitive, irrefutable, ubiquitous – but impossible to love: these have been
common responses for the past half-century to both Auguste Rodin and Henry
Moore. What a bold, counter-intuitive move of the Henry Moore Foundation in
Perry Green, then, to display their works together in the UK’s first joint show
of the two founders of 20th-century sculpture.
The juxtaposition enlivens and de-familiarises both artists. Moore’s weighty
forms, whether minute and figurative, such as the 13cm trio “Family Group:
Broken” in the gallery here, or monumental and severely abstracted, as in the
7-metre bronze “Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae” standing under trees on Perry
Green’s lawns, are grounded, static, timeless.
By contrast, Rodin’s figures articulate movement, the physicality of the body,
the gestures and emotions of a fleeting moment: the anguished,
larger-than-life-size citizens walking to their presumed deaths in “Monument to
the Burghers of Calais”, on exceptional loan from Westminster and looking
spectacular, outlined against nothing but sky in this rural setting; the
springy, upward-heaving “Walking Man”, with its surface undulations and play of
light and shadow enhancing the impression of motion.
This imaginative display, spread indoors and outdoors across the 70-acre
Hertfordshire estate that was Moore’s home, is much more than a drama of
opposites. Both sculptors share a humanist impulse. Each represents the human
body by contorting, twisting, condensing, fragmenting. In Rodin’s “Cybele” and
Moore’s “Seated Woman”, the extremities of the figures are eliminated to
concentrate on the single truncated form, pared down to a simplicity recalling
Egyptian statuary and the erosion of architectural monuments, which interested
both artists. Moore’s “Three Piece Reclining Figure: Draped” recalls Rodin’s
portrait “Balzac” in the theatrical manipulation of drapery. The sense of taut
skin-over-bone in Rodin’s “Jean d’Aire, Monumental Nude” is echoed in the tense
abstraction of Moore’s giant “The Arch”.
Rodin and Moore were born 60 years apart – in 1840 and 1898 respectively – and
when the younger artist initially visited Paris after the first world war, he
avoided the museum that had just opened, following Rodin’s death in 1917, to
celebrate the French sculptor. The modernist mantra of truth to materials
insisted that 20th-century sculpture work against Rodin’s narrative impulse: for
Moore, stone was not to be made to look like flesh but to retain its own
integrity and vitality.
Thus Moore’s thrill at the immediacy of carving, inspired by pre-Columbian and
African sculptures, compared with Rodin’s more pictorially directed modelling. A
fascinating display here, curated by the artist’s daughter Mary Moore, places
Moore’s collection of non-western sculptures against Rodin’s collection of
mostly classical pieces.
though, usually turns out to be evolution. Moore admitted, in a 1966 interview
reprinted in the exhibition catalogue, that “if you like something tremendously
you may react and think you’re against it, but inside you can’t get away from
it. This is what happened to me over Rodin ... The greatness of Rodin [is] that
he could identify himself and feel so strongly about the human body. He believed
it was the basis of all sculpture ... out of the body he could make these
marvellous sculptural rhythms. He talks about sculpture being the art of the
hole and the bump.”
is not just Rodin plus cubism. There are differences in sensibility which
transcend epoch, and these are brought out in the drawings. Rodin’s graphite and
watercolour sketches – “Recumbent Female Nude in Profile”, “Seated Female Nude
Holding One Foot”, “Bathsheba” – are sinuous, exuding eroticism. Moore’s angular
charcoal depictions, such as “Reclining Woman in a Setting”, show a response to
the female form that casts holes and bumps as maternal, not sexual. Nothing in
his oeuvre has the palpable sensuality of the best Rodin loans here, such as the
Fitzwilliam Museum’s “Torso of a Young Woman with Arched Back”.
suffering, the radical representation of movement were surely the aspects of
Rodin that attracted Francis Bacon. A wonderful small show at Ordovas gallery in
London, Movement and Gravity: Bacon and Rodin in Dialogue, groups Rodin’s most
flagrantly erotic sculpture, the headless acrobatic female figure with a bare
exposed crotch, “Iris, Messenger of the Gods”, plus two associated works, “Iris,
Study with Head” and “Iris, Large Head”, with three paintings by Bacon executed
between 1959 and 1967, when he was engrossed in looking at Rodin.
limbs and exposed genitals of the first, “Lying Figure”, is particularly
redolent of “Iris”, and it shows how Rodin informed Bacon’s reconfigurations of
the body on different levels. There is the dynamic disposition and exaggeration
of the limbs; the fractured form; the way Rodin’s animated surfaces present a
transitional action as many movements, repeated in the vigour of Bacon’s
most intriguing and unusual, of the Ordovas paintings, “Three studies from the
Human Body”, goes from Freud back to Oedipus. Here are the three ages of man as
suggested by the riddle of the sphinx – a creature on four legs, then two, then
three (with a stick). Suspended in a black void, Bacon’s trio of gyrating
figures defy gravity: one, young and acrobatic, clings monkey-like to a beam;
the second crouches, about to rise in a violent spasm, in a cross between a
foetal and kneeling position; the third has his leg in a splint.
scholarly catalogue traces the sources: the infant to a Paris Match photograph
of a French boy on the Ivory Coast who “joue au singe”; the adult to a merged
portrait of Bacon and his brutal/pathetic lover George Dyer; the old man to a
radiography manual. Each individual is alienated from the others, as Rodin’s
narrative force and unity is replaced by a sense – evoking Greek tragedy? – of
meaninglessness and horror.
So in both
these shows we watch two great artists taking what they need from a third: art
history at its most vivid, personal and compelling.
‘Movement and Gravity: Bacon and Rodin in Dialogue’, Ordovas, London, to April
Bacon's paintings sold on Cambridge market turn out to be worth £45.000
Written by CHRIS ELLIOTT, Cambridge News, Friday
22 March 2013
by Lewis Todd, with Francis Bacon painting on back
by a famous artist - found on the back of pictures bought on a Cambridge market
stall - have been sold at an auction for nearly £45,000.
used by British painter Francis Bacon were given to local amateur painter Lewis
Todd to practise on more than half a century ago.
already painted on the back of the canvases, and staff at Cambridge’s Heffer
gallery passed them on to the Histon-based artist so he could try out his own
techniques on the front.
Todd died in 2006, his relatives went through his paintings – which featured
still-life scenes and rural settings - and were stunned to find six valuable
works by Bacon, part of his Screaming Pope series, on the reverse.
now fetched £44,822 at an auction in Surrey.
Ewbank, from the auction house, Ewbanks, said people should check the back of
artwork in their homes in case they have a fragment of Bacon’s work on it.
“These finds lead to the intriguing speculation that there are more examples of
Bacon’s paintings in existence used by Todd for his own purposes, while someone,
somewhere might even have a painting by Todd with a pope’s head on the back of
owns a painting by Todd should take it off the wall and check the back of the
seemingly random daubs of paint could indicate a work of far greater
d for £27,544.
died in 1992, worked on the Screaming Pope paintings for about 20 years. The
series was inspired by Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, and is said to
have been Bacon’s way of expressing the horror of war. He is known to have
preferred the unprimed reverse of canvases and often discarded works he was not
most valuable fragment, showing the yellow, white and black edge and leg of a
chair, and some of the white papal clothing - on the back of a still-life by
Todd - sold for £27,544.
Bacon's studio bric-a-brac on show in Brussels
Global Post, Agence France-Presse, 27 February, 2013
helms the troubled EU, bric-a-brac from the studio of Irish-born artist Francis
Bacon, who came to exemplify angst in 20th century Europe,
goes on show in Brussels this
Photos of a zebra carcass and an elephant foetus, of artist
friends Lucian Freud and Salvador Dali, as well as sketches by Michelangelo and
Velasquez torn from books, are among scores of inspirational memorabilia
salvaged from the London studio where Bacon lived and worked from 1961 until his
death in his 80s in 1992.
Several years later its entire contents were handed to Dublin
City Gallery The Hugh Lane, with its 7,500 items carefully relocated to
highlight the workings of Bacon's creative juices.
Among the several score of items going on show Thursday in
Brussels' BOZAR fine arts museum are four of seven unfinished oils found in his
studio as well as photographs by wildlife artist Peter Beard and the pioneering
19th century photographic work on human motion by Eadweard Muybridge.
"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," Bacon once said.
The contents from his studio are part of a show running through
to May 19 titled "Changing States: Contemporary Irish Art & Francis Bacon's
Studio", including works from 20 Irish artists from the Dublin museum as well as
the Irish Museum for Modern Art (IMMA).
said the diversity of the works from Ireland underscored that "nationality is
less a matter of geography than ever before."
An unknown amateur artist's paintings are set to
make his family £200,000 because abandoned work by Francis Bacon was found
hidden on the back.
artist's paintings valued at £200,000... because work by Francis Bacon has been
found hidden on the back of canvases
was given canvases by Bacon, who wasn't happy with his work
his own works on the other side
discovered the valuable Bacon paintings after he died
By SAM WEBB, Mail Online, 21 February 2013
The celebrated artist used the canvases to paint his famous 'Screaming Pope'
series of images on in the 1950s.
But Bacon was a ruthless self-critic and trashed his work if he wasn't satisfied
gave some large, discarded canvases to struggling amateur artist Lewis Todd on
the strict instructions he had to rip them up before using them.
Todd used the reverse of the canvases to paint his still-life scenes and
portraits on at his studio in Cambridge.
After he died in 2006, the two-sided paintings were passed down to members of Mr
Todd's family, who only then realised parts of Bacon's works were on the back.
Bacon's paintings on the reverse are a series of lines and colours, thought to
create the background of the 'Screaming Pope' pieces.
The ripped-up canvases measure 2ft by 3ft each and without Bacon's work would be
worth hardly anything.
But auctioneers selling the six double-sided paintings have put a pre-sale
estimate of £100,000 on them, but wouldn't be surprised if they fetch twice that
Chris Ewbank, of Ewbank Auctions in Guildford, Surrey, said: 'Bacon donated his
pieces to a struggling artist, Lewis Todd.
'Bacon had a thing about his work that he wasn't happy with it falling into the
wrong hands and going into the public domain and market, so if he didn't like it
he would destroy it.
'He preferred to paint on the back of a canvas, so he thought these discarded
could be used by another artist, but only if he cut them up before using them.
Unseen work by British artist Francis Bacon has been found on the back of an
amateur artist's work. Bacon gave Lewis Todd the discarded canvases. It is
believed to be worth £200,000
'The images are from a series of Screaming Pope paintings before Bacon was very
famous and without his work on the back, they would be worth almost nothing.
'If it was a completed Bacon piece they would be worth much more. One of the
Screaming Pope series sold last November for £18.7million.
'Bacon was painting popes at that time and it was all to do with the Second
World War, I think he thought the Pope had been ineffective so it was a bit of a
Ewbank says he doesn't know how many of these discarded Bacon canvases are in
existence but hopes that people who have a Lewis Todd painting will look on the
back to see if they have a Bacon piece.
added: 'People haven't necessarily got the money to buy proper Bacon paintings,
so this is an opportunity to buy something from the hand of the artist.
Two of the oil paintings are expected to fetch £30,000 each. One shows the leg
of a chair on the reverse and the other shows the arm of a pope.
Three pieces are expected to sell for £20,000.
One which shows a set of curtain rings on a black background, another the yellow
and white edge of a chair and the third a series of vertical black stripes.
The final canvas, which has not been looked at by the the Authentication
Committee of Francis Bacon, is expected to reach £10,000.
Francis Bacon was born in Dublin in 1909 and was known for his disturbing
imagery and use of religious themes. He died in 1992.
Bacon was born in Dublin in 1909 and worked on his Screaming Pope paintings for
around 20 years. He died in 1992.
Todd was born in 1925 and worked as a graphic artist from the Ministry of
Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and received a British Empire Medal for his
retired in the 1980s and opened a stall at Cambridge craft market with his wife.
The auction is being held on March 20.
Hidden Francis Bacon scraps up for auction
Paintings by a previously unknown British
artist are expected to fetch more than £100,000 at auction after it was
discovered they have works by Francis Bacon on the back.
BBC News, 22 February,
Bacon worked on the Screaming Pope series for 20 years.
Todd practised his "Sunday painting" on Bacon's canvases.
previously unseen pieces of work are thought to be part of Bacon's famous
Screaming Pope series from the 1950s.
painter Lewis Todd was given the canvases by his local Cambridge studio to
discovered the fragments after this death in 2006 but it is not known how the
discarded Bacon paintings were originally acquired by the gallery.
Five of the
canvases have been authenticated by the Francis Bacon Authentication Committee
and will be sold by Surrey auctioneers Ewbank's on 20 March.
somewhere might even have a painting by Todd with a pope's head on the back of
it," said auction house owner Chris Ewbank.
owns a painting by Todd should take it off the wall and check the back of the
Bacon is known
to have preferred the unprimed reverse of canvases and often discarded works he
was not satisfied with.
the paintings were collected and analysed by Northumbria University. Preliminary
results confirm that all pigments and binding medium used were typical of Bacon
Ewbank's sold a group of damaged Bacon paintings found in a skip outside the
artist's London studio by electrician Mac Robertson
valued at £50,000 but the collection sold for £1.1m.
was born in Dublin in 1909 and worked on the Screaming Pope paintings for about
Lewis Todd was
born in 1925 and was a graphic artist working for the Ministry of Agriculture,
Fisheries and Food and as a caricaturist for the Cambridge Daily News
Works of top artist found in a market
The Sun, Monday, February
Master - artist Francis Bacon
worth over £100,000 by a famous artist have been found for sale on a MARKET.
by world-renowned Francis Bacon were discovered on the back of works by aspiring
painter Lewis Todd.
He was given
used canvases for free by the Heffer gallery in Cambridge for practice, but when
he died in 2006 relatives discovered Bacon’s work.
have been authenticated by Northumbria University.
are part of Bacon’s Screaming Pope series. One version called Untitled 1954,
sold at Sotheby’s last year for more than £19MILLION.
urged buyers of Todd’s work to check if they have a hidden masterpiece.
auctioneer Chris Ewbank, who will sell the paintings next month, said: “It is
fantastic to think these were part of a much larger painting of historical
Light appetite for a taste of Francis Bacon
MICAELA BOLAND, NATIONAL
The Australian, February 21, 2012
Tony Bond, curator of the Francis Bacon, Five Decades show at the NSW Art
was once called the greatest living painter of the 20th century, but his
reputation has not translated into summer attendances for the Art Gallery of
the gallery will close the door on Francis Bacon, Five Decades with
disappointing visitor numbers for the nation's first major survey of the
Anglo-Irish artist. As of yesterday, 86,000 visitors had stumped up $20 to see
the 53 works.
attendances, when tallied, will be considerably down from the record-setting
366,286 who saw the gallery's Picasso survey last year and fewer than the
305,611 who saw The First Emperor: China's Entombed Warriors the previous
an almost 30-year-old attendance record at the gallery, largely because it ran
for 130 days. The entombed warriors show ran 101 days, about the same duration
Bacon, Five Decades is the third instalment of the Sydney International Art
Series staged by the Art Gallery of NSW in conjunction with the Museum of
Contemporary Art with funding support from Destination NSW.
summer show is a survey of work by British contemporary artist Anish Kapoor.
There has been good word of mouth for that show, and while the gallery will not
say how many people have visited, The Australian understands that visitor
numbers have been low.
exhibition at the AGNSW is the first big show under the watch of its new
director, Michael Brand. However, it had been planned before his arrival in
Sydney last year following the departure of veteran director Edmund Capon. The
Bacon show has, along with Kapoor, been critically acclaimed.
Bond said: "The gallery had very low (attendance) expectations, which is
probably what we're seeing . . . It's not bad.
"I thought it
deserved many more but that was just me being optimistic," he said.
retires next month, said not all exhibitions could be blockbusters.
Should Bacon be labelled Irish or British?
Irish Times, Friday, February 15, 2013
artist Francis Bacon once more goes to auction as a 'British icon', writes MICHAEL
‘No, he is not
an Irishman. He was born in Ireland; but being born in a stable does not make a
man a horse.” Daniel O’Connell’s alleged quip certainly put the boot into the
the Duke of Wellington, the Irish-born general who led the British to a famous
victory to a famous victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. The Duke was, indeed,
born in Ireland but like many children of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy was sent
off to school in England – Eton, of course – and later pursued a career in the
“nationality” of a more recent Anglo-Irish figure, the 20th-century painter
Francis Bacon (1909-1992) is also open to question.
He was born in
Dublin and spent his childhood in Kildare but left Ireland as a teenager and
spent the rest of his life in London where he became one of the most acclaimed,
and now most expensive, artists of the modern era. But there’s no hint of Irish
influence in his paintings and, in the international art market, Francis Bacon
is classified as a British artist. This week, some more of his fiercely
expensive paintings were sold at auction in London.
on Tuesday evening, his oil-on-canvas triptych – three-panel painting – titled
Three Studies For A Self-Portrait sold, within estimate, for £13.7
million (€15.9 million). The painting dates from 1980, when the artist was aged
71, and is one of many self-portraits he made.
Asked why, he
replied, according to a catalogue note: “People have been dying around me like
flies and I’ve had nobody else to paint but myself. I loathe my own face and
I’ve done self-portraits because I’ve had nothing else to do”.
the triptych was “acquired by a German collector, Jürgen Hall, who will
generously loan the work to a major international institution”.
the Wall Street Journal, Hall is “a tobacco tycoon who lives near Cologne”.
Another side of Bacon
evening in London, Francis Bacon – billed as a “British icon” was back on the
menu – this time at Christie’s – where his Man in Blue VI, catalogued as
“a stirring and profoundly perceptive portrait of existential, postwar Europe”,
sold for £4.9 million (€5.7 million).
featuring “some of the most celebrated British masters of the 20th century”,
also included an “early masterpiece” by British artist Damien Hirst (born 1965)
– a sheep suspended in a formaldehyde-filled tank – titled Away From The
Flock (Divided), which sold for £1.9 million (€2.2 million).
Bacon self-portrait sells for €15
The Times of Malta,
Thursday, February 14, 2013
An auction assistant placing Francis
Bacon’s Three Studies for a Self-Portrait on display during the Sotheby’s
London Evening Sale of Contemporary Art.
Bacon self-portrait triptych has sold for over £13 million (€15 million) at
Three Studies for a Self-Portrait, dates from 1980, when the artist was 71.
It was painted
nine years after the suicide of Bacon’s partner, George Dyer, and demonstrates
the artist’s self-analysis.
telephone buyer fought off competition from two other bidders to buy the artwork
for £13,761,250 (€15,983,169) at Sotheby’s contemporary art auction.
The oil on
canvas piece belongs to a set of 11 triptych self-portraits in Bacon’s
particular format of 14 by 12 inches. Cheyenne Westphal, chairman of European
contemporary art at Sotheby’s, said: “We are extremely pleased with the price
achieved tonight for this sublime self-portrait triptych by Francis Bacon.
“Works of this
quality and wall power continue to attract a truly global spread of bidders.
for a Self-Portrait is a quintessential example of how Bacon distilled the great
depths of his emotion in a very particular small format triptych, which are so
sought after by discerning collectors.”
Telephone buyer pays £13.7 million for a Francis Bacon
Bacon's masterwork Three Studies For A Self-Portrait is highest sale as
Sotheby's auction brings in £74million.
Telegraph, 13 February, 2013
anonymous telephone buyer fought off competition from two other bidders to buy a
Francis Bacon painting for £13.7million.
t was a
"healthy" night of sales at Sotheby's as a contemporary art auction brought in more than £74m - the auction house's second-highest total
for a February sale of contemporary art in London. A grand total of £74,364,200
was brought in after the sale of paintings by the likes of Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko and Bacon.
The top lot of
the evening's sale was Bacon's oil on canvas triptych masterwork Three
Studies For A Self-Portrait, which sold for £13,761,250 against an estimate
of £10-15 million.
dates from 1980, when the artist was 71. It was painted nine years after the
suicide of Bacon's partner, George Dyer, and demonstrates the artist's
telephone buyer fought off competition from two other bidders to buy the
artwork. The oil on canvas piece belongs to a set of 11 triptych self-portraits
in Bacon's particular format of 14 by 12 inches.
Westphal, chairman of European contemporary art at Sotheby's, said: "We
witnessed healthy buying activity from across the globe, including from Europe,
Asia, the US, the CIS and the rest of the world.
combined with the depth of bidding on many lots resulted in a total comfortably
within estimate and representing Sotheby's second-highest for a February sale of
contemporary art in London.
is demonstrably buoyant, both at the top end for blue-chip classics - such as
Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter and Jean-Michel Basquiat - as well as the lower
end for well selected works by desirable young artists, including Hurvin
Anderson and Andrian Ghenie.
"We are also
delighted to announce that the Bacon Triptych was acquired by a German
collector, Jurgen Hall who will generously loan the masterwork to a major
Buyers from 14
countries participated in the auction, which also saw 14 works sell for over £1
Lenin sold for £2,169,250, while Mark Rothko's Untitled sold for £2,561,250.
include buyer's premium.
Bacon, Richter, Basquiat to Headline London sales
Wall Street Journal, 11 February, 2013
Francis Bacon's 1980 Three Studies for a Self-Portrait (1980) is
estimated at £10 million - to £15 million
looking for trends in this week's London auctions of contemporary art. Copying
the tastes of the next guy is not the way the market is going, as collectors
become more sophisticated and international.
increasingly creative so that we must cater to various views and global tastes.
There is not one area, but lots of enclaves," says Francis Outred, Christie's
European head of postwar and contemporary art.
opens the 2013 contemporary season on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by
Christie's Wednesday and Thursday and Phillips on Thursday and Friday. Major
offerings will cover figurative, abstract, conceptual and photo art from
established stars and emerging artists from Europe, the Americas, Asia and the
Middle East. Pieces will be dramatic, powerful, lyrical, delicate or just plain
carrying the highest estimate will be Francis Bacon's 1980 Three Studies for
a Self-Portrait. The triptych is expected to fetch £10 million-£15 million
at Sotheby's. Bacon's intense, implacable and haunting self-portraits are an
enormously important part of the British artist's oeuvre. Christie's will have
his Man in Blue VI (1954), one of his famous series of paintings of
businessmen, isolated and trapped in a sea of blue. Bacon is quoted in the
catalogue as saying, "I am excited about the new series I am doing - it is about
dreams and life in hotel bedrooms." (Estimate: £4 million-£6 million).
exhibition to explore dialogue and connections with Francis Bacon and August
Art Daily, 9th
A gallery employee poses between a painting by British artist
Francis Bacon entitled Three Studies from the Human Body and a sculpture
by French artist Auguste Rodin entitled Iris, etude avec tete at Ordovas
gallery in central London on February 7, 2013. Forming part of an exhibition
titled 'Movement and Gravity Bacon and Rodin in dialogue' they are to be
displayed from February 8 - April 6 2013. Three Studies from the Human Body,
1967, went on public display for the first time in the UK.
At the beginning of September 1959, Francis Bacon travelled to Cornwall, seeking
to escape the distractions of London, and took out a six-month rental on a
studio in St Ives from the artists William Redgrave and Peter Lanyon. One
evening at a party in St Ives, Redgrave noticed Bacon talking with Brian Wall;
Bacon asked Wall what he did. ‘I’m a sculptor’, replied Wall; ‘How interesting’,
Bacon retorted, before continuing, ‘actually there are only three: Michelangelo,
Rodin and Brancusi.’ This provocative response not only confirms Bacon’s high
estimation of Rodin, but also coincides exactly with the period in which Rodin’s
sculpture was paradigmatic in his paintings. Movement and Gravity: Bacon and
Rodin in dialogue is the first exhibition that has ever been dedicated to
exploring the dialogue and connections between Francis Bacon and Auguste Rodin,
and it is being staged at Ordovas from 8 February to 6 April 2013.
Three bronzes by Rodin are being shown alongside three paintings
by Bacon, including Three Studies from the Human Body, 1967, which was
last exhibited 40 years ago and has never before been publicly displayed in the
UK. For Bacon, Rodin’s dialogue with the human body, exaggerated limbs,
fractured forms and the articulation of movement was of vital importance to his
work in the 1950s and 1960s, but this is a topic that has attracted little
comment, until now. Movement and Gravity: Bacon and Rodin in dialogue examines
the profound effect of Rodin on Bacon’s work, in particular, the modulation of
the figure and the portrayal of movement and the body in space.
Bacon’s interest in Rodin was documented as early as 1950; a
reproduction of Le Penseur, 1880, was included among a selection of
Bacon’s pictorial sources at his Cromwell Place studio by photographer Sam
Hunter. In 1953, Roland, Browse & Delbanco Gallery in Cork Street staged its
first exhibition of Rodin’s work in London and it is very probable that Bacon
would have viewed drawings and bronzes there throughout the 1950s, especially as
the gallery was a stone’s throw from Marlborough Fine Art who represented Bacon.
However, Bacon would have been familiar with the work of Rodin since the
mid-1920s when he moved to London; he seldom lived more than a few minutes’ walk
from the Victoria and Albert Museum, where his uncle, Sir Cecil Harcourt Smith,
had been Director. The Victoria and Albert Museum held Rodin’s most extensive
collection of works in England: eighteen sculptures gifted to the museum by
Rodin in 1914, to which Bacon is said to have been a frequent visitor. In the
1960s Bacon became closely acquainted with several sculptures that his friend
Lucian Freud had borrowed, including the three versions of Iris shown in this
Many of Bacon’s paintings attest that he was in a kind of
dialogue with sculpture, evidenced either in the plasticity of his forms or in
the way his figures occupy space. With Lying Figure, 1959, and the group of five
paintings of reclining, lying and sleeping figures to which it belongs, the
splayed limbs and exposed genitals are redolent of two of Rodin’s sculptures in
particular, both dating from 1890–91: Figure volante and Iris,
messagère des dieux, and there is rare recorded evidence to support that
Bacon specifically referenced these works as direct source material when
painting these lying figures. Miss Muriel Belcher, 1959, arguably the greatest
of the early portraits that Bacon made, was, like Lying Figure, also
painted during the artist’s sojourn in St Ives. Bacon began to paint head and
shoulder portraits, at approximately life size, in 1958 and the vitality of
brushstrokes and expressive handling of the materials in this painting are
Three Studies from the Human Body, 1967 is arguably the
only painting by Bacon that can be described as depicting weightlessness. In
this intriguing picture, unique in Bacon’s oeuvre, three gyrating, choreographed
figures defy gravity, suspended in a saturated black void. Apart from the
lessons that Bacon had absorbed through his study of Rodin’s works, there are
numerous speculations as to his influences in making this work, as well as the
identities and reading of the three figures he has depicted. The foetal position
of one of the figures suggests that Bacon was depicting the three ages of man,
and that this painting was his attempt at coming to terms with growing old. The
head of the youthful, acrobatic figure, inspired by a photograph in Paris Match
from 1959, hanging sloth-like on the horizontal bar, is also, paradoxically,
that of an elderly man. The third figure, depicted in a splint, is thought to be
a reference to a close friend who had been in a severe accident. Among
contemporary events that may have triggered elements of this painting are the
three American astronauts who died during a launch-pad test of their Apollo
spacecraft in January 1967.
Recreation of Bacon's studio exposes more than works of art
Brisbane Times, February
Francis Bacon's private studio at Reece Mews, South Kensington, before it was
moved and reassembled at Dublin's Hugh Lane Gallery.
FOR six years
after artist Francis Bacon's death, the dim, cluttered six-by-four metre London
studio where he had painted for three decades sat idle.
wealth and fame, Bacon had lived frugally in Reece Mews, two houses once used as
stables, in London's South Kensington. His abode included a bath in the kitchen,
and in winter he would turn the stove on for warmth.
But Bacon, who
died in Madrid in 1992, had enjoyed his riches in other ways, particularly with
food, says Barbara Dawson, the director of Dublin's Hugh Lane Gallery, which
houses Bacon's recreated studio.
Mediterranean food in particular; his taste for food and wine had developed as a
young man in the company of rich older men, and Bacon was a good, though simple,
"I do believe
the fact he ate well probably saved his life,'' says Dawson. ''Because he did
drink copiously, as an Irishman.''
however, a deeper point to the slabs of meat in paintings by Bacon, best known
as one of the 20th-century's great figurative painters, and lesser known as a
inferences of man as animal, man as flesh; that we're all living organisms. And
there is an empathy between the man and the meat: who's slaughtered, and who
and contradiction were both Bacon's artistic bedfellows: after a few drinks,
Bacon and Cockney bar manager John Edwards, his muse and closest companion for
16 years, would slash Bacon's own paintings with a Stanley knife and dance
gleefully on the canvases.
It was Dawson
who convinced Edwards, to whom the artist had left his entire estate but who
died in 2003, that Bacon's studio and its 7000 items should be photographed,
tagged and catalogued, then moved and delicately reassembled at her gallery,
precisely recreating the studio in Bacon's birthplace of Dublin.
moved included paint-splattered doors and walls, canvases, images of anatomy,
crumpled photographs and previously unknown Bacon works such as an unfinished
self-portrait, amid shelves piled high with paint tins and tubes.
opening Bacon's private world for public consumption what the painter would have
wanted? According to his executor, artist Brian Clarke, Bacon would have
''preferred the studio just be bundled off into a skip and burned''.
Bacon had enlisted to administer the estate because John Edwards could neither
read nor write, has said it was all right for Bacon to say the studio should be
destroyed, ''but it was certainly not right for me as his executor to carry out
that wish'', because although the ''curious topography of detritus'' covering
the studio floor looked like garbage, ''it was essentially precious''.
visiting Australia to speak at the Art Gallery of NSW, which is showing Francis
Bacon: Five Decades, agrees, and says she was in the right place at the
right time when Edwards expressed his wish the studio not be destroyed.
The studio is
itself a work of art, but its value is in its items, which have ''proven hugely
valuable'' in understanding Bacon and his work, says Dawson.
But does she
think they went against Bacon's wishes? ''John Edwards said [Bacon] would have
roared with laughter when he saw it,'' she says.
wouldn't have given a care. It probably also wasn't against his wishes, either:
he had this contradictory nature. He said he was a 'desperate optimist'; a trait
he shared with the Irish. He said he couldn't care less about his studio; he
didn't mind his reputation in that way.
''In a sense
he was right, because the paintings are what really counts.''
joins a panel symposium, Bacon's Bodies, on February 9, and discusses Bacon's
studio on February 13, Art Gallery of NSW.
Rodin and Bacon works in a joint exhibition at Ordovas
BBC News, 7 February, 2013
Francis Bacon's Three Studies from the Human Body
featuring selected works of Francis Bacon and Auguste Rodin displayed
side-by-side is to open at London's Ordovas Gallery on Friday.
and Gravity: Bacon and Rodin in dialogue, will examine the influence the
sculptor had on the British artist.
by Rodin will be shown alongside three paintings by Bacon.
works include Three Studies from the Human Body, which has never before
been publicly displayed in the UK.
painting, which was last shown at exhibitions in New York and Paris in 1971,
depicts three gyrating, apparently weightless, figures and is said to represent
the three ages of man, as Bacon came to terms with growing old.
Movement and Gravity, which runs until 6 April, looks at the
profound effect that Rodin's interpretation of the human body, with its emphasis
on exaggerated limbs, fractured forms and the articulation of movement, had on
other works on display at the Ordovas are 1959's Lying Figure and Miss
Muriel Belcher from the same year, while French artist Rodin is represented
by three sculptures of Iris - messenger of the gods, study with head, and large
head, all dating from 1890-91.
There is said
to be recorded evidence from Bacon that his two paintings were influenced by
Rodin's Iris sculptures - modelled on the Greek goddess said to be the
personification of the rainbow.
considered by many to be the father of modern sculpture, whose work Le
Penseur, or The Thinker, is one of the world's most famous works of
Bacon is known
for his nightmarish figures and preoccupation with the subject of death and last
year, his nude portrait of the Soho model Henrietta Moraes, sold for £21m at
Christie's in London.
of Francis Bacon paintings in Brussels exhibit
Laura Butler, Irish Independent – 6 February, 2013
handlers cover works of art in the Hugh Lane Gallery by Francis Bacon including
'untitled' self portrait, thought to be of his former lover George Dyer
OVER €6m worth
of Francis Bacon artwork are being prepared to travel to Brussels this month as
part of a special exhibition to celebrate Ireland’s Presidency of the European
paintings, dating as far back as 1970s, will be displayed at the BOZAR Centre
for Fine Arts from February 28 to May 19, alongside dozens of contemporary
Museum of Modern Art and the Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane have collaborated
for the ‘Changing States’ exhibition, which also features Dorothy Cross, Orla
Barry, Gerard Byrne and Garrett Phelan among the 20 chosen artists to highlight
the diversity of Ireland’s creators.
operation is being overseen by Dr Margarita Cappock, Head of Collections at The
based on Parnell Square in Dublin, was gifted Bacon’s studio in 1998 and houses
hundreds of his pieces.
A total of 80
items created by the famous artist will make the journey to Brussels later this
month, including the final painting he worked on before his death in 1992.
Bacon and Rodin in dialogue: New Exhibition For February
ArtLyst – London Art Network – Art News
– 4 February, 2013
beginning of September 1959, Francis Bacon travelled to Cornwall, seeking to
escape the distractions of London, and took out a six-month rental on a studio
in St Ives from the artists William Redgrave and Peter Lanyon. One evening at a
party in St Ives, Redgrave noticed Bacon talking with Brian Wall; Bacon asked
Wall what he did. ‘I’m a sculptor’, replied Wall; ‘How interesting’, Bacon
retorted, before continuing, ‘actually there are only three: Michelangelo, Rodin
and Brancusi.’ This provocative response not only confirms Bacon’s high
estimation of Rodin, but also coincides exactly with the period in which Rodin’s
sculpture was paradigmatic in his paintings. Movement and Gravity: Bacon and
Rodin in dialogue is the first exhibition that has ever been dedicated to
exploring the dialogue and connections between Francis Bacon and Auguste Rodin,
and will be staged at Ordovas from 8 February to 6 April 2013.
bronzes by Rodin will be shown alongside three paintings by Bacon, including
Three Studies from the Human Body, 1967, which was last exhibited 40 years
ago and has never before been publicly displayed in the UK. For Bacon, Rodin’s
dialogue with the human body, exaggerated limbs, fractured forms and the
articulation of movement was of vital importance to his work in the 1950s and
1960s, but this is a topic that has attracted little comment, until now.
Movement and Gravity: Bacon and Rodin in dialogue will examine the profound
effect of Rodin on Bacon’s work, in particular, the modulation of the figure and
the portrayal of movement and the body in space.
interest in Rodin was documented as early as 1950; a reproduction of Le Penseur,
1880, was included among a selection of Bacon’s pictorial sources at his
Cromwell Place studio by photographer Sam Hunter. In 1953, Roland, Browse &
Delbanco Gallery in Cork Street staged its first exhibition of Rodin’s work in
London and it is very probable that Bacon would have viewed drawings and bronzes
there throughout the 1950s, especially as the gallery was a stone’s throw from
Marlborough Fine Art who represented Bacon. However, Bacon would have been
familiar with the work of Rodin since the mid-1920s when he moved to London; he
seldom lived more than a few minutes’ walk from the Victoria and Albert Museum,
where his uncle, Sir Cecil Harcourt-Smith, had been Director. The Victoria and
Albert Museum held Rodin’s most extensive collection of works in England:
eighteen sculptures gifted to the museum by Rodin in 1914, to which Bacon is
said to have been a frequent visitor. In the 1960s Bacon became closely
acquainted with several sculptures that his friend Lucian Freud had borrowed,
including the three versions of Iris shown in this exhibition.
Bacon and Rodin in dialogue: Ordovas from 8 February to 6 April 2013.
leg of the exhibition will be in Tokyo from 8th March to 26th May 2013 and will
travel to Toyota from 4th June to 1st September 2013.
coincide with the 20th anniversary of his death, this exhibition will introduce
audiences to Bacon’s “world” by presenting around 50 works including 10
triptychs, the format that came to symbolize his art practice.
of this Japanese exhibition is entirely original. More than simply a
retrospective, it will also take the form of a themed exhibition focusing on the
“body,” which was extremely important to Bacon, and comprising three “chapters”
that attempt to trace the changes in his expressive style. A part that attempts
to identity the influences Bacon had on “contemporaneous” artists will also be
included in the form of an epilogue. In this way, this exhibition, the first to
be held not only in Japan but in Asia since Bacon’s death, could be described as
epoch-making in a variety of ways. As if to back this up, in addition to the
five works known to be held in collections in Japan, works from major
collections from around the world – including the Tate, the Museum of Modern Art
(New York), the Hirshhorn Museum (Washington), the Estate of Francis Bacon, and
the Yageo Foundation (Taiwan) – will make the journey to Japan.
fact that various museums around the world have managed to stage Bacon
exhibitions, for the last 30 years Japan has not witnessed a solo exhibition of
Even today Bacon continues to stimulate a great many artists across all manner
The National Museum of Modern Art
8th March – 26th May 2013
Municipal Museum of Art
4th June – 1st September 2013
Post-War and Contemporary
Art (Evening Auction)
London, King Street | 12 February 2013 | Sale 1106 | Lot 15
in Blue VI 1954 Francis Bacon
genius was to have found a single image through which he could express the whole
range of his most extreme emotions: fear, disdain, hate, lust, and even a fierce
kind of love' (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, exh. cat., Sainsbury
Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, 2006, p. 26).
'Man in Blue I (1954), and the 6 extant variations on the themes, continued
this sustained monochrome phase. The figures, painted from a man Bacon met at
Henley-on-Thames, are isolated in the deep space of his internal framings, like
museum specimens displayed in vitrines. They were Bacon's most sardonic comments
on the phenomenon of the tycoon in a sharp suit, white collar and tie,
anticipating both the incipient Kennedy era in the USA, in which men in blue
suits who played tennis wrested power from the men in grey who played golf, and
the 'Executive' satirized in John Betjeman's poem' (M. Harrison, In Camera
Francis Bacon: Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting, London 2005, p.
'In these claustrophobic curtained settings, there loom up
before us beings whose shadowy, ambiguous, unexpected presence takes command of
any setting they survey, making real beings seem like shadows. They are as
appalling as they are compelling, for these are creatures faced with their
tragic destiny' (D. Sylvester, 'Francis Bacon', The British Pavilion:
Exhibition of Works by Nicholson, Bacon, Freud, Venice XXVII Biennale, Venice
'What [Bacon] communicates, he conveys in the paint. The last image in the
triptych of three heads whose sequence might depict a politician's rise and fall
portrays a 'shattered' man: but we are left in doubt whether the wrecked
features of the face are a terrible wound or have only been obscured by a hand
lifted in grief: it does not matter, the disintegration of the form acts
directly upon our nerves, suffices without explanation to realise the tragedy.
And, whether there is this ambiguity or not, this avoidance of the descriptive
is sustained consistently, if less spectacularly, in all the more recent
paintings Bacon has mastered the problem, which is the essential problem of
painting, of trapping a reality without naming it' (D. Sylvester, quoted
inThe British Pavilion: Exhibition of Works by Nicholson, Bacon, Freud, XXVII
Venice Biennale, Venice 1954).
'Most of those pictures were done of somebody who was always in a state of
unease, and whether that has been conveyed through these pictures I don't know.
But I suppose, in attempting to trap this image, that, as this man was very
neurotic and almost hysterical, this may possibly have come across in the
painting' (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, exh. cat., Sainsbury
Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, 2006, p. 48).
MAN IN BLUE: A
TRIUMPH OF FIGURATIVE PAINTING
The penultimate painting in Francis Bacon's seminal suite of Man in Blue paintings
(1954), Man in Blue VI is a stirring and profoundly perceptive portrait
of existential, Post-War Europe. Enveloped in a deep sea of saturated, Prussian
blue, the small figure of a man is seen cast into darkness, isolated, trapped in
obscurity. The twilight of the painting is broken up by highlights of pink and
alabaster white, the man's anguished, grimacing face, white starched collar and
clenched fist, piercing the darkness. Bacon's moment of profound genius lies in
the man's face, the painstakingly perfected features violated with an impulsive
sweep of his paint brush. Allowing chance and contingency to enter the fate of
his composition, Bacon achieved the perfect expression, the paint conveying what
the artist once described as the 'brutality of fact'. The series was executed
between March-June 1954 in the build up to Bacon's exhibition at the Hanover
gallery in June-July of that year which included I-VI of the Man in Blue series, Sphinx
III (1954), (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC.) and Study
for a Running Dog (1954) (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.), and
rounded off a key moment in Bacon's development on the international scene. That
summer the artist also represented Britain at the Venice Biennale XXVII, with a
celebrated show that was in essence a miniretrospective of his work of the
previous ten years and included many of the paintings that have come to define
Bacon as an artist.
The Man in Blue series presents the triumphant continuation of the
artist's themes that were so powerfully conveyed in his now iconic first series
of Popes (Study for a Portrait I-VIII) from the previous year, 1953. In
the same way that he took these powerful figures of religion, isolated them from
society, encaged them and depicted them dwarfed within a sea of deeply
mysterious blue, here Bacon was taking these burgeoning symbols of Post-War
capitalism, the businessmen, and giving them a similar treatment. Here, the
gilded robes are swapped for perfectly starched white shirts and meticulous
tailoring, but in neither series can the clothing hide the bodily and facial
expression as it yearns to break free. Three of this landmark series are now
housed in museums including Man in Blue I, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen,
Rotterdam; Man in Blue IV, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna
and Man in Blue V, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein Westfalen, Dusseldorf.
According to Ronald Alley, Man in Blue VI is one of very few paintings
undertaken from life, painted of some anonymous businessman met at the Imperial
Hotel in Henley-on-Thames, where Bacon was hauled up close to his caustic lover
Peter Lacy. Ronald Alley once poignantly described these paintings as both Bacon
and his lover, stranger and friend: 'it is symptomatic of the ambiguity of much
of his work that the man has been interpreted both as a victim (one of the
pictures was exhibited in New York under the title 'Trapped Man' [Man in Blue
II]) and as a kind of ruthless interrogator' (R. Alley, F. Bacon,
London 1964, p. 86).
All seven of the works in the series hold the same compositional frame, the
curtain pulled in behind a carefully lined geometry. The same outline and
configuration of walled space gives form to each of the seven paintings, while
two types of desk or barman's counter pen the men in, preventing their escape.
Three of the series: Man in Blue I and IV and the present work,
see the figure leaning up against a bar, visibly straining in one to release
himself from his confines. The cast of each man differentiates the works in the
series. Just as the mood of the eight popes alternates from haughty, to
malevolent, to despairing, the Man in Blue figures revolve from calm confidence,
to quiet distraction, to wild desperation recalling Bacon's Three Studies for
theHuman Head (1953), the artist's first portrait triptych. This
triptych was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1954 and was later united with
the present work and Man in Blue IV, especially selected for Bacon's
first major retrospective at the Tate, London in 1962.
The disconsolate expression read on Man in Blue VI, is one of the most
feverish of the suite. The penultimate of the series, the man has been wound up
from Bacon's first painting to the point of hysteria, silently shrieking in the
last. It is a picture of modern anguish hidden behind a mask of dominance and
respectability, evocative of the existential zeitgeist. Immediately following
the Man in Blue suite, Bacon undertook another masterpiece, Sphinx III,
which carries the same compositional conceit. Here the curtain and desk enclose
a sphinx, mysticised as treacherous and merciless, carrying the haunches of a
lion, the wings of a great bird and the face of a human. The myth suggests that
those unable to answer a riddle are killed and devoured by this ravenous
monster. Bacon articulates the evolution from Pope, to Businessman, to Sphinx as
a seething commentary on society in the immediate Post-War period, recalling
the oeuvre of his other great contemporary, Alberto Giacometti.
These were concepts being heavily pursued by contemporary leaders of European
Existentialism, with the impact of Jean-Paul Sartre's influential text, L'Existentialisme
est un Humanisme (1946) resounding widely. Sartre defined the state of angst
and despair that meets a person when they accept their sole responsibility for
their own destinies. He elaborated the story with the description of a waiter in
a café, dressing himself in the trappings of his uniform and going about his
work like an automaton. That costume and job had become his identity, although
it was entirely of his own choosing. In short, for the waiter as with every
person, there can be nothing beyond what one chooses to make of oneself. This
doleful meditation, with its chilling atheism is perfectly expressed in Man
in Blue VI, where the suited capitalist is confronted with his own destiny,
unable to seek redemption, and artfully revealing the 'lonely pathos of the
powerful' (C. Stephens, quoted in 'Apprehension', M. Gale and C. Stephens
(eds.), Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Tate Britain, London, 2008, p. 124).
MASTERY OF PAINT
During the early 1950s, Bacon inhabited a unique moment, where his raw intensity
and novel approach were to result in works of perhaps improbable brilliance. As
Michael Peppiatt has suggested, 'Bacon's masterpieces of the late 1940s and
early 1950s were produced: through constant trial and error, elation and
destruction, technical awkwardness absorbed and made suddenly effective by sheer
force of invention' (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, exh. cat.
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, 2006, p. 33). In Man in Blue VI,
Bacon has established a brimming, vital figure, teeming with life and emotion.
Established on the canvas with pure, intuitive brushstrokes, Bacon has animated
pink, flushed skin, expressive hands and a face filled with agony, ecstasy,
violence and fear. Unlike the laden paintwork of the 1940s, Bacon has in Man
in Blue VI and its associated series of paintings, created an identity of
flesh through suggestion rather than through application, the veiled surfaces of
the canvas amounting to a triumph of figurative painting. As Bacon was to
explain, this was part of a new process of 'opening up areas of feeling rather
than merely an illustration of an object' (F. Bacon, quoted in 'On the
Margins of the Impossible', M. Gale & C. Stephens (eds.), Francis Bacon,
exh. cat., London, 2008, p. 18).
Using opaque, lead white paint, Bacon has painted the stiff starch of a white
businessman's collar, interrupted by the tight knot of a corporate tie. Atop
this flash of white, is the man's head with its squared-jaw, wide brow and
angular physiognomy reminiscent of William Blake's Life Mask (1823) in
the National Portrait Gallery, London. The moment of Bacon's real genius lies
here in the face. Carefully painted with texture built up across the cheekbones
and forehead, Bacon has created the curves of an ear, the dark hollows of two
eyes, an open mouthed grimace surrounded by pink fleshy lips that Martin
Harrison suggests might be redolent of Diego Velázquez's Philip IV of Spain (1656),
or indeed the young visage of friend David Sylvester, who Bacon lived with at 19
Cromwell Road for a short time at the beginning of 1954. Crowning the head is a
smooth coif of black hair, indicated with an economy of brushstrokes. These
points of light in the darkness: the face, shirt collar and the pink fist
resting on a counter create a triangle which anchors the composition. Along the
broad shoulders of the man's blazer, royal purple illuminates the figure,
Bacon's neat oil paint shimmering under light.
Teeth bared, the man's mouth is itself spectacular, projecting a real sense of
the character's emotional life. Emitting a silent cry, the perfected, expressive
mouth recalls Bacon's oft-favoured film still of the screaming nurse on the
Odessa Steps in Battleship Potemkin. At the same time, the mouth appears
reminiscent of images reproduced of proselytising fascist leaders speaking out
at party rallies, copies of which Bacon had strewn amongst his belongings. In an
impulsive, violent act, Bacon has defiled these features, swiping vertically
down the face with a dry paint brush, as if intimating movement of the head.
Having built up the wealth of dark blue for the ground, painstakingly
articulated each of the narrow vertical bars of his protagonist's cell, and
expertly rendered the physiognomy of the face, Bacon was taking a calculated
risk. Acting with characteristic impulsion, Bacon was ready to despoil the
perfected features of his figure's face in order to bring over a certain
'brutality', as if it were 'his own nervous system projected onto canvas' (F.
Bacon, quoted in L. Gowing, 'The Irrefutable Image', Francis Bacon:
Recent Paintings, exh. cat., Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York, 1968, p.
Much of the atmosphere imbued in Man in Blue VI derives from its Prussian
blue-black canvas ground, the isolated figure at its centre surrounded by
darkness. This deep, saturated blue arose from Bacon's unique practice of
priming the reverse of his canvases, allowing the oil and turpentine to
penetrate deep into its woven fabric. On top of this dense pigment, Bacon then
created the diagonals of furniture using straight geometric lines lightly
indicated in pale gold. Roughly unloading the pigment on his trouser leg, Bacon
dragged his dry brush along the surface of the canvas, the coarse hog's hair
bristles resulting in a wealth of shadowy bars. These bars confine the solitary
man to his solitude, while the pane of glass in front of the composition,
Bacon's prescription for all his paintings, acts to emphasise his vulnerability
and desperate seclusion.
The confluence of these effects provides the painting with a 'clinical yet
theatrical presentation' which Martin Harrison has likened to the 'long exposure
torture to which sitters in early photographic portrait studios submitted,
clamped into their chairs' (M. Harrison, In Camera Francis Bacon:
Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting, London, 2005, p. 106).
Recalling the account of writer Maria Edgeworth, sitting for daguerreotypes at
the turn of the twentieth century, Harrison draws a perfect parallel: 'It is a
wonderful mysterious operation. You are taken from one room into another up
stairs and down and you see various people whispering and hear them in
neighbouring passages and rooms unseen and the whole apparatus and stool on high
platform under a glass dome casting a snapdragon blue light making all look like
spectres and the men in black gliding about' (M. Edgeworth, quoted in M.
Harrison, In Camera Francis Bacon: Photography, Film and the Practice of
Painting, London, 2005, p. 106).
Sitting within his isolated chamber, Man in Blue VI also bears a striking
resemblance to Alberto Giacometti's own dark cages. Although the two figurative
modernists were only to meet in 1965 through their mutual friend Isabel
Rawsthorne, Bacon had long-admired his continental colleague's work.
Giacometti's gaunt, Spartan figures contained within strict geometries are often
posited as a source for the British painter's spaceframes. Indeed with their
limited palette, direct frontality, shoulders firmly squared to the viewer,
there is much to commend the comparison between the two artists, the present
work bearing real affinities with Giacometti's Portrait of Peter Watson (1953),
housed in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
AN EXISTENTIAL ERA
In Man in Blue VI, Bacon imports a sense of the era's European Post- War
Existentialism, cutting through the veneer of civilised society to distil the
raw and visceral qualities of the human character on canvas. As Michael Peppiatt
has suggested, 'Bacon's genius was to have found a single image through which he
could express the whole range of his most extreme emotions: fear, disdain, hate,
lust, and even a fierce kind of love' (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the
1950s, exh. cat., Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, 2006, p. 26).
This was a period of personal and public turmoil in Britain, marred by the
legacy of the Second World War and stunned by the rising spectre of the Cold
War, soon to meet its confluence in the brutal suppression of the 1956 Hungarian
uprising and the Suez crisis.
In Bacon's Study of a Nude (1952-53), now part of the
Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, University of East Anglia, Norwich, we see
a heroic figure teetering on the edge of the abyss, preparing to take the
existential dive into the black-blue deep below. This spectral image of a
deathly pallid, solitary man poised to leap, importantly prefigures Man in
Blue VI, as well as providing a chilling symbol of contemporary society.
Peppiatt perfectly captures the essence of the times: 'London still in thrall to
its memories of wartime fears and privations, was an almost unbearable fluency
in new modes of suffering and humiliation. In that unwelcome, macabre
revelation, not only the human figure but pigment itself had never before looked
so naked and vulnerable - as if the skin of the paint had been peeled back to
reveal the potential for pain beneath' (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the
1950s, exh. cat., Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, 2006, p. 33).
A FIERCE KIND OF LOVE
Bacon himself was in the depths of a combustive, ill-fated relationship with
former RAF pilot Peter Lacy, living between the spare room of a friend's house
in Beaufort Gardens and Lacy's home in Hurst. The pair had met at the bar of
Soho emporium the Colony Club, known as Muriel's after the eponymous and
formidable owner Muriel Belcher, and entered into a relationship that would
prove passionate yet deprave, violent yet addictive. While Bacon was known to
have various indiscretions, Lacy was the great love of his life. 'Being in love
that way, being absolutely physically obsessed by someone, is like an illness',
Bacon was later to recount. 'It's like a disease, a disease so ghastly I
wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy' (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Peppiatt, Francis
Bacon in the 1950s, exh. cat., Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich,
2006, p. 40).
At times, the horror of the violent rows with Lacy drove Bacon to flee Hurst and
stay at the Imperial Hotel in nearby Henley-on-Thames. It was here at the hotel
that Bacon met any number of passing, unnamed, well-suited businessmen, becoming
engaged in a series of illicit affairs that were to become translated into the Man
in Blue paintings. As the artist confirmed in a letter to David Sylvester,
delivered from Ostia in November 1954, 'I am excited about the new series I am
doing - it is about dreams and life in hotel bedrooms' (F. Bacon, quoted
in 'On the Margins of the Impossible', M. Gale & C. Stephens (eds.), Francis
Bacon, exh. cat., London, 2008, p. 122). The claustrophobic settings of
these darkened hotel rooms were first detailed in a number of works created in
1953 including Study for a Portrait, previously owned by David Sylvester
and now housed in the Hamburger Kunsthalle, as well as Three Studies for the
Human Head (1953). As Sylvester so eloquently described on the occasion of
the Biennale: 'what [Bacon] communicates he conveys in the paint. The last image
in the triptych of three heads whose sequence might depict a politician's rise
and fall portrays a 'shattered' man: but we are left in doubt whether the
wrecked features of the face are a terrible wound or have only been obscured by
a hand lifted in grief: it does not matter, the disintegration of the form acts
directly upon our nerves, suffices without explanation to realise the tragedy.
And, whether there is this ambiguity or not, this avoidance of the descriptive
is sustained consistently, if less spectacularly, in all the more recent
paintings Bacon has mastered the problem, which is the essential problem of
painting, of trapping a reality without naming it (D. Sylvester, The British
Pavilion: Exhibition of Works by Nicholson, Bacon, Freud, exh. cat., XXVII
Venice Biennale, Venice, 1954).
series of Man in Blue paintings certainly offer an
autobiographical quality, Bacon himself being very partial to a well
cut, navy blue suit. Spending some time holding seminars at the Slade
School of Art in 1953, Andrew Forge recalled Bacon the elegant aesthete:
'[Francis] came in...wearing a tremendously elegant dark blue chalk
striped suit, absolutely beautifully cut, very minimal, his hair
streaming out of his head like petals out of a flower...and a tartan
shirt open at the neck...and somehow that combination of formality and
complete informality and the quality of his voice and his whole presence
in the room was just utterly glamorous' (A. Forge, quoted in M. Gale and
C. Stephens (eds.), Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Tate Britain,
London, 2008, p. 124). Both impressed by power and irreverent to it,
Bacon's paintings of the period are loaded with their own irony. Indeed
as Martin Harrison has suggested, in Man in Blue we see the
artist take a sardonic shot at the 'phenomenon of the tycoon in a sharp
suit, white collar and tie, anticipating both the incipient Kennedy era
in the USA, in which men in blue suits who played tennis wrested power
from the men in grey who played golf, and the 'Executive' satirized in
John Betjeman's poem' (M. Harrison, In Camera Francis Bacon:
Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting, London 2005, p.
apparent anonymity of the figures painted at this time, the abiding influence of
Lacy is still clear in Man in Blue VI. As Bacon confessed, 'most of those
pictures were done of somebody who was always in a state of unease, and whether
that has been conveyed through these pictures I don't know. But I suppose, in
attempting to trap this image, that, as this man was very neurotic and almost
hysterical, this may possibly have come across in the painting' (M. Peppiatt, Francis
Bacon in the 1950s, exh. cat. Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich,
2006, p. 48). Indeed, all of the ferocious fights with Lacy, and a sense of the
peripatetic, subversive existence of the artist at this time, find their way
onto the canvas. As he explained, his oeuvre was 'concerned with my kind of
psyche, it's concerned with my kind of - I'm putting it in a very pleasant way -
exhilarated despair' (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of
Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, New York, 1990, p. 83). Bacon relished
the extremes of sensation, his 'nervous tension' allowing him to test the
boundaries of painting. As he himself suggested, 'you have to go too far to go
far enough - only then can you hope to break the mold and make something new'
(F. Bacon, quoted in M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, exh. cat.,
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, 2006, p. 22).
Art Evening Auction
London | 12 February 2013 | L13020 | Lot 11
PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED
1909 - 1992
THREE STUDIES FOR A SELF-PORTRAIT
Estimate: 10,000,000 -
LOT SOLD: 13,761,250 GBP
This work will
be included in the forthcoming Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné, being prepared
by The Estate of Francis Bacon and edited by Martin Harrison.
Collection (acquired directly from the artist in 1982)
Sale: Christie's, London, Contemporary Art, 22 June 2006, Lot 37
Private Collection, Europe
Reale, Bacon, 2008, no. 53, illustrated in colour
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Isabel and Other Intimate Strangers. Portraits by
Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon, 2008, pp. 110-11, illustrated in
Rome, Galleria Borghese, Caravaggio Bacon, 2009-10, p. 210, illustrated
Self-portraiture has played a role of unparalleled importance in the work of
Francis Bacon. More so than any artist since Rembrandt, Bacon’s implacable
self-portrayals weave an autobiographic thread through the exigent vicissitudes
of an extraordinarily dramatic life. Lived with the deepest commitment to
brutally seizing the vulnerable, vital and violent conditions of human existence
in both his work and day-to-day being, Francis Bacon was an artist for whom the
searing reality of life itself was the purpose. Nowhere is this more forcefully
evident than in the haunting opus of Self-Portraiture. Executed in the artist’s
eighth decade at the age of 71, Three Studies for a Self-Portrait, richly
surmises a life’s worth of retrospect locked within an emphatically urgent
scrutiny of Bacon’s iconic features. Belonging to a corpus of eleven triptych
self-portrayals in Bacon’s standard 14 by 12inch format, the present
triptych counts among the ten executed following the death of Bacon’s closest
companion, George Dyer. The profound trauma of this event would precipitate an
onslaught of searing self-analyses executed across the extant years of Bacon’s
life. Painted in 1980, nine years following Dyer’s suicide, these three
portraits collectively embody among the most elegiac in this intimate and
somewhat commemorative triptych format. The sequence of effervescent works exude
muted melancholia accented with the violent facture of Bacon’s inimitably
physical painterly assault. Herein, these works utterly encapsulate the strength
of burning sensation and direct emotion telescoped in Bacon’s astounding corpus
of portrait heads. A series and format first settled upon in 1961 and sustained
in practice until the very end, these extraordinary portraits form the very
staple of Bacon’s mature practice, acting as the primary locus for the
“brutality of fact” and most immediate site for loosening the “valves of
sensation” so frequently spoken of by the artist. Professing profound reflection
accompanying the artist’s entry into old age, Three Studies for a
Self-Portrait significantly preserves one of the very final depictions of
Bacon's likeness in this unflinching, intimate and crucial format. Following the
1979 Three Studies for a Self-Portrait residing in the Metropolitan
Museum, New York, and directly preceding the very last small Self-Portrait
sequence from 1984 belonging to the Honolulu Museum of Art, this work hauntingly
eulogizes the penultimate occasion of Bacon's searing and intimate self-analysis
in his favourite format: the triptych. These human-scaled portrait heads are
translucent, air-like apparitions of an ephemeral spirit dissolving into the
black ether of the void. Enshrouded in shadow and ethereally effervescent,
de-formulation and re-formulation of likeness moves from one image to the next;
in series as though caught in the flash of a photo booth, these fully frontal
and in profile depictions glow like votive icons of an artist who himself is an
icon of his age.
Suited in a white collar like an echo of the anguished early portraits of
anonymous male sitters from the 1950s, this ethereal triptych represents one of
the most quintessential translations of Bacon’s legendary likeness. Resembling a
distorted and existential mirror image of the artist’s own psyche, the three
portraits compound the immediacy and unsurpassed power of the small studies. As
William Fever has explained: “‘Studies’ or exercises though they are, these
small paintings are central to Bacon’s art. The scale of a bathroom mirror-image
makes them one-to-one, and when they are paired, or grouped in threes, the
differences animate them. No rooms, no thrones, no perfunctory landscape
settings are needed. Without context or posture, the heads have nothing to do
but look, sometimes at one another, and wait” (William Feaver, ‘That’s It’,
Exhibition Catalogue, London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Francis Bacon 1909 –
1992 Small Portrait Studies, 1993, p. 6). These works exude the nervousness
of existence so cherished a part of Bacon’s artistic vision. Exuding endurance,
suffering and involuntary mannerisms, the artist’s likeness emerges from
underneath the surface of the paint. In Three Studies for a Self-Portrait, we
witness Bacon pushing the boundaries of representation to their limits, deriving
a new vocabulary of amorphous, inscrutable forms that, despite their ostensible
abstraction, render with unequivocal certainty the instantly legible physiognomy
of the artist with outstanding and somewhat surprising tranquillity. Charged
with unparalleled melancholic beauty and framed within abyssal black grounds,
these portraits combine masterfully scumbled, scraped and diffused handling of
paint with arresting intensity and consummate psychological depth.
Powerfully evincing Bacon’s essential artistic aim, the present triptych fulfils
a compelling visual counterpart to the artist’s own desire for his work: “I
would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, like
a snail, leaving a trail of human presence and memory trace of past events, as
the snail leaves its slime” (the artist, cited in: David Sylvester, Looking Back
at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p. 33). Vaporous, ghost-like, yet dramatic
physiognomies emerge out of an abyssal black ground; amorphous forms trail a
presence through each image, leaving the viewer as vividly witness to some
lingering apparition. In full consciousness of the waning years Bacon here
paints himself in the dim-light of inexorable transience. Four years after the
creation of this work Bacon mentioned to David Sylvester: “Life is all we have.
I mean we are here for a moment” (the artist, cited in: Ibid., p. 231). Where
the small portrait heads translate this eschatological communion most
powerfully, it is Bacon’s own self-portraiture that punctuates the most
exceptional moments of his oeuvre. With particular reference to the present
work, Michael Peppiatt explicates: “…he was never more brilliant, more incisive
or more ferocious when it came to depicting himself. In this he helped revive a
genre, and Bacon’s Self-Portraits can now be seen as among the most pictorially
inventive and psychologically revealing portraits of the Twentieth Century”
(Michael Peppiatt in: Exhibition Catalogue, Rome, Galleria Borghese,
Caravaggio Bacon, 2009-10, p. 210).
In his authoritative monograph on the artist, John Russell pointedly outlines
the central importance of Bacon’s small portrait format: "The single head,
fourteen inches by twelve, was from 1961 onwards the scene of some of Bacon's
most ferocious investigations. Just as a gunshot sometimes leaves an after-echo
or parallel report, so these small concentrated heads carry their ghosts within
them" (John Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1993, p. 99). Russell’s descriptive
conjuring of spirits and ghosts here pinpoints the powerfully enduring impact of
the small portrait heads. Initiated in 1961, the very first triptych in this
format was painted directly in response to the death of Pater Lacy, the object
of Bacon’s first major love affair. A former RAF pilot with a self-destructive
nature prone to furious outbursts, Lacy embodied a magnetic force for Bacon
whose finely-tuned and receptive proclivity for the violence of existence drove
all aspects of his life. By the mid-1950s Lacy had ended the tempestuous
relationship and moved to Tangier, where he began to slowly and surely drink
himself into oblivion. Upon hearing of his death the grief-stricken Bacon
painted Lacy’s emanation as a commemorative act of resuscitation and
atonement. Three Studies for a Portrait (1961) powerfully lays bare the
harrowing introspective quality intrinsic to the intimately scaled triptychs:
struggling to the surface of the outer panels, Bacon’s phantasmal memory of Lacy
is here comingled and conjoined with the artist’s own self-portrait, present in
the central canvas. As noted by Peppiatt: “For Bacon, Lacy himself had become
part of the artist’s own myth of guilt and retribution. He could recapture him
at his most vital by foreseeing the death that would dissolve his appearance”
(Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: An Anatomy of an Enigma, London 2008,
p. 236). Significantly, it was this event in Bacon’s life that precipitated the
production of his first acknowledged Self-Portraits. That tragedy forcefully
induced a mode of self-reflection in Bacon’s work was made emphatically clear
following the second and most profound tragedy to beset Bacon’s life: the death
of George Dyer. Ten years following Lacy’s demise and on the eve of Bacon’s
Retrospective opening at the Grand Palais in Paris 1971, George Dyer - Bacon’s
companion, lover and principle artistic subject since 1964 - was found dead.
Marred by progressive alcoholism, suicidal desperation and a waning sense of
purpose in the Bacon’s shadow, Dyer’s eight-year relationship with the artist
was as fractured as it was passionate. A compelling force in life, in death
Dyer’s absent-presence took on the weight of Bacon’s loss and melancholic
regret; a profound grief that resonates throughout Bacon’s post-1971 opus and
specifically the elegiac last paintings of himself. Echoing the posthumous
depictions of Peter Lacy, where the late paintings of Dyer represent ruminations
on his lost companion, they simultaneously represent deeply introverted
self-reflections. What’s more, the constancy and significance of Dyer’s
appearance in Bacon’s late oeuvre is surpassed only by the wealth of
Self-Portraits, which from 1971 onwards, greatly increased in number. Bacon’s
searching and intensely haunting self-images at once exorcise accusatory demons
whilst offering deeply mournful inquiries in the face of profound bereavement:
today the suite of heart-rending self-images executed during the last two
decades of Bacon’s life stand among his very best works. These harrowing epic
eulogies powerfully speak of the intense loss and guilt that remained with Bacon
until his death.
When asked by Sylvester in 1979 why there are so many self-portraits, Bacon
explained: “People have been dying around me like flies and I’ve had nobody else
to paint but myself… I loathe my own face and I’ve done self-portraits because
I’ve had nothing else to do” (the artist, cited in: David Sylvester, Op. cit.,
p. 129). Anathema to such a postulation, Bacon's purported reluctance to paint
his own image is largely trivialising. The artist very rarely painted from life
and did not require the presence of sitters to translate a likeness in paint,
instead relying upon memory and the detritus of photographs and books famously
strewn across his South Kensington studio as aesthetic triggers. Alongside the
countless photographs of his friends Bacon commissioned from John Deakin,
hundreds of photos of himself taken over the years, comprised a core visual
compost for his pictorial imagination. While the intensity of Bacon’s
Self-Portrait practice undoubtedly deepened following the death of George Dyer,
throughout his life Bacon maintained an abiding fascination with his own
appearance. A wearer of make-up and keen subject of the photographers lens Bacon
had learned the nuances of re-invention and self-presentation from a young age,
spending hours scrutinising and tracing the particularities of his own
appearance in the mirror. Such a reading of the mirror image is extraordinarily
present in the almost 1 to 1 scale of Three Studies for a Self-Portrait. “This
is how we see what we feel like in the morning”, describes William Feaver,
“examining the image in the mirror that corresponds so remotely with the sense
we have of ourselves. This is the face that gets worse (more ‘lived in’) over
the years, the face that betrays. These heads are what we are stuck with:
unsentimentally ours. Bacon dealt with his… knowing that the best he could do
was to effect a phantom, a rasping whoosh of characteristics” (William Feaver,
Op. cit., p. 6). Though evoking in effigy a residual and unrelenting guilt over
George Dyer’s death, Bacon's self-reference and proliferation of
self-portraiture during this period somewhat confirms a statement made to
Sylvester in 1975: "One always has greater involvement with oneself than with
anybody else. No matter how much you may believe that you're in love with
somebody else, your love of somebody else is your love of yourself" (the artist,
cited in: David Sylvester, Op. cit., p. 241). Where for Bacon the act of
painting is tantamount to a divulging of the self into the physical matter of
paint, the presence of the artist’s own features within many paintings based on
Dyer, Lacy or other members of his social circle simultaneously represents a
form of psychological transference and an act theatrical artistic licence. That
Bacon would translate his own features into portrayals of Dyer amongst others in
his close circle of friends, both male and female, is not only testament to his
pluralistic technique of working from visual ephemera and memory, but also to a
compulsion that can be traced back to the seventeenth-century masterpieces of
For an illumination of the present work, it is the theatrical way in which
Caravaggio pioneered the contemporaneously non-existent genre of
Self-Portraiture by gratuitously transfiguring into his work autobiographical
narrative that chimes with Bacon. Self-Portrait as Bacchus (1593)
and David with the Head of Goliath (1610) both purport such an autobiographical
reading; whether it be an expression of illness, poverty and existential
distress in the artist as Bacchus, or as persecutor and persecuted for which
Caravaggio is both David and Goliath, scholars have identified the artist’s own
physiognomy as surreptitiously present throughout his oeuvre. That Caravaggio
would cast himself as the grotesque beheaded Goliath and as the youthful victor
David speaks very much to the fugitive lifestyle undertaken after killing a man
in Rome in 1606. Though far from casting himself in biblical character or
mythological role, Bacon’s own beheaded likeness in Three Studies for a
Self-Portrait conflates young with old, life and death in much the same
self-analytical way as Caravaggio. This juxtaposition was explicitly brought to
the fore when the present work was shown as part of the 2009
exhibition, Caravaggio Bacon, held within the theatrical Baroque environs of the
Galleria Borghese in Rome. Alongside other major paintings from Bacon’s canon, Three
Studies for a Self-Portrait was set in visual dialogue with Caravaggio’s
most iconic works. Taken down from the chapels of Rome’s churches and borrowed
from the most prestigious of collections, the bold and dramatic conflation of
Caravaggio with Bacon revealed a parity of violent tension and relishing of
bloody corporeality between artists separated by over 300 years.
penetrating blackness, both Caravaggio and Bacon share the theatricality of
vision that stages human tragedy and violence as temporally dislocated,
dissolving into and emerging from, the shadow-light. Though he never openly
cited Caravaggio as an influence, instead privileging his Caravaggisti predecessor
Velazquez, Bacon’s erudition and pluralistic absorption of Art History’s
vicissitudes far from discounts a comparison. Claudio Strinati outlines the
pivotal confluence between the two artists: “Bacon and Caravaggio are artists
who conceived of and used painting to possess the image, as if they both thought
of figurative art as a parallel, perfect world, unable to be touched by the risk
of change or decay, both of which distinctive of the real world” (Claudio
Strinati, ‘Bacon and Caravaggio: The Occasion for an Encounter’, Exhibition
Catalogue, Rome, Galleria Borghese, Caravaggio Bacon, 2009-10, p. 48).
Where Caravaggio’s theatrical lighting and penchant for dramatic mise-en-scene prefigures
the filmic aesthetic of modern day cinema, Bacon’s own cinematic inclination for
distributing images in threes voices simultaneity of effect. As Bacon commented
in interview with Sylvester, it was this filmic deployment of images that he
felt worked best: “I know the things I really like doing are the triptychs. They
are the things I like doing most, and I think this may be related to the thought
I’ve sometimes had of making a film. I like the juxtaposition of the images
separated on three different canvases. So far as my work has any quality, I
often feel perhaps it is the triptychs that have the best quality” (the artist,
cited in: David Sylvester, Op. cit., p. 232). As uniquely brought to the fore
in Three Studies for a Self-Portrait, that Bacon and Caravaggio shared a
theatrical temperament and a lifetime fraught with pathos and tragedy is
reflected in a confluence of violent immediacy between two entirely singular
artistic voices utterly without parallel.
By 1980, the cumulative impact of Bacon’s changing visage clearly seemed to have
compounded an assertion of mortality and a desire to indelibly inscribe his own
likeness within the eternal grand arc of Art History. Ancestor to Caravaggio’s
pioneering of the genre perfected by revered masters from Rembrandt to Picasso,
Bacon was driven by an incessant compulsion to forge an artistic legacy for the
experience of his time. As a genre, Self-Portraiture purportedly reveals the
private side of a public profession; nowhere can this be understood with such
forthright candour than in Bacon’s oeuvre as viewed in the light of Rembrandt’s
influence. Rembrandt was the very touchstone of Bacon’s inventiveness in these
small scale canvases; the endless variety and successive permutations of his own
visage, which meld into almost abstract dissolving matter towards the end of his
life cast Rembrandt’s late Self-Portraits as a striking parallel to, and even
art historical blue-print for, the present work. Bacon believed Rembrandt’s
Self-Portraits to be “formally the most extraordinary paintings. He altered
painting in a way by the method by which he dealt with himself and perhaps he
felt freer to deal with himself in this totally liberal way” (Ibid., p. 241).
When viewed close up the Rembrandt’s heads seemingly disband into a mass of
non-representational marks that were doubtless an inspiration to Bacon’s own
savage expressivity. In Bacon’s description of the
Aix-en-Provence Self-Portrait with Beret (1659), it is almost as though he is
describing the very nuances, subtleties and techniques employed in the execution
of Three Studies for a Self-Portrait: “… if you think of the great
Rembrandt self-portrait in Aix-en-Provence, for instance, and if you analyse it,
you will see that there are hardly any sockets to the eyes, that it is almost
completely anti-illustrational. I think that the mystery of fact is conveyed by
an image being made out of non-rational marks… what can happen sometimes, as it
happened in this Rembrandt self-portrait in Aix-en-Provence, is that there is a
coagulation of non-representational marks which have led to making up this very
great image. Well, of course, only part of this is accidental. Behind all that
is Rembrandt’s profound sensibility, which was able to hold onto one irrational
mark rather than onto another” (the artist, cited in: Exhibition Catalogue,
London, Marlborough Gallery, Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings, 1967, p.
28). Plunged into Caravaggesque tenebrism and built from one irrational mark
scraped, daubed and smeared on top of the other, the diffused brilliance and
shadow-like delicacy of Bacon’s Three Studies appear nervously held
together by a masterful translation of pure sensation in paint. Like Rembrandt
tallying his aged, lined and weary features with a congruent painterly treatment
of disbanded corporeality, in the present work the vaporous dissolution of
Bacon’s likeness tempers exigent facture with an intense yet reposed response to
the concrete fact of mortality.
A portrayal so quintessentially synonymous with Bacon’s own distinctive
character yet far beyond mere caricature, Three Studies for a Self-Portrait truly
counts as a masterpiece of Bacon’s intimately scaled triptychs. As though
witness to the artist’s mirror image reflected back at us, in these incredible
works we are hauntingly reminded of Bacon’s emphatic quotation of Jean Cocteau:
“every day in the mirror I watch death at work”. Startlingly powerful in
execution and psychological affect, these works resemble a remarkably lyrical
antecedent to Michel Leiris’ magnificent word-portrait of Bacon. Three years
following the execution of this triptych the preeminent man of letters and close
friend to Bacon poetically penned: “… Bacon’s canvases, at once so effervescent
and so controlled, provide, for the spectator who looks at them as a whole and
grasps them in their diversity, a striking image of this unique contemporary
artist in all his complexity” (Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon, New York 1983, p.
Art Evening Auction
London | 12 February 2013 | L13020 | Lot 16
1909 - 1992
STUDY FOR PORTRAIT
Estimate: 1,800,000 - 2,500,000 GBP
SOLD: 4,521,250 GBP
Study for Portrait 1976 Francis Bacon
This work will
be included in the forthcoming Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné, being prepared
by The Estate of Francis Bacon and edited by Martin Harrison.
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1977
Claude Bernard, Francis Bacon, 1977
head, fourteen inches by twelve, was from 1961 onwards the scene of some of
Bacon's most ferocious investigations. Just as a gunshot sometimes leaves an
after-echo or parallel report, so these small concentrated heads carry their
ghosts within them"
Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1993, p. 99
Among the many remarkable aspects of Francis Bacon’s extraordinary oeuvre, his
capacity to capture so exactly the unmistakable likenesses of his human subjects
is legendary. As his career progressed through the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, he
developed his prodigious and uncanny skill to manipulate the many guises of a
now-famous cast of characters into single physiognomies: images formally rooted
in memory and photographic record, yet expanded through imagination to become
psychosomatic x-rays that attest the entire human drama. Bacon enlisted a
specific coterie of friends and acquaintances, encountered in the pubs,
nightclubs and casinos of London’s Soho and the West End, as a template to
evidence enduring themes of the human condition. Today this line up of
personalities may consist of strangers, yet the lasting universality of their
powerful expressions still stand as metaphors for the circumstances of
existence. Indeed, Bacon’s revered paintings of portrait heads belong to the
great exemplars of art history in which a face depicted becomes both portal and
mirror for profound contemplation and are no less than timeless in their
The present work, Study for Portrait of 1976 is an archetype of these
intimate portrait heads, conflating several of Bacon’s most important subjects,
critically including himself, in one vital visage. Readily discernible traits of
two of Bacon’s most important muses, Henrietta Moraes and Isabelle Rawsthorne
are characterized with almost preternatural ease by Bacon’s brush, from the
unmistakable angle of the profile, to the curve of the neck, to the cascading
wave of hair. Ultimately the composition is focused to a point with the
inscribed black circle to the centre-right, fashioned after one of the array of
paint lids or other round objects that Bacon utilized as stencils and which
cluttered the various surfaces of his South Kensington studio. Within this ring
resides the immediately-recognizable profile of Bacon’s own self portrait, as it
appears in so many of his most famous paintings and large scale triptychs of the
decade. Thus the present work is loaded with a spectacular amalgamation of the
preeminent actors of Francis Bacon’s output, and stands as a mnemonic touchstone
for both his life and art. To approximate the words of John Russell, it is a
scene of ferocious investigation that carries its ghosts within like the
after-echo of a gunshot (John Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1993, p.
The painting schematizes physiognomy in diagrammatic swathes, whose edges carve
through the layers of accumulated paint material among patterns of pigment
applied with cashmere sweaters and corduroy impressed and smeared on the
surface. The head looms like a sculpture in paint and is virtually superimposed
onto the stark flatness of the pale backdrop, whose tonal polarity emphasizes
the prominent silhouette of morphing profiles. Throughout the work there is this
tension between graphic dexterity and the raw power of colour, as is so typical
of Bacon's most enthralling masterworks. Within the scribed lines of the head
its idiosyncratic features - high forehead, long cheek-bones and arched eyebrows
- are confidently incised in flecked streaks and variegated smears of densely
worked paint. Variance of expression is revealed through the veiled layers of
shuttered hatching, so that as the artist described "sensation doesn't come
straight out at you; it slides slowly and gently through the gaps" (Francis
Bacon cited in: David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with
Francis Bacon, London, 1990, p. 243).
As delineated by the eminent art historian and Bacon authority David Sylvester,
this painting stands squarely within the extraordinary corpus of poignant
canvases produced during the years 1971-1976, following the suicide of the
artist’s long term partner and lover George Dyer on the eve of Bacon's
prestigious retrospective opening at the Grand Palais, Paris in January 1971.
Five years after Dyer's death, Bacon returned to Paris in January 1977 with an
exhibition of extraordinary new works at the Galerie Claude Bernard. This
seminal and now legendary exhibition became the single most important commercial
gallery show of Bacon's career. Of
the intimate group of twenty works exhibited, including the present work, a
significant number of these now reside in prestigious museum collections: while
two belong in the Tate Collection, examples also belong to the Fondation Beyler,
Basel, and the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas. Furthermore, the sale of Triptych,
1976, the centerpiece of the Claude Bernard show, at Sotheby's New York made
auction house history when it achieved the then highest price for any
Contemporary work of art ever offered at auction, and the exhibition also
included the spectacular Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror.
exhibition in 1977 bore witness to an unprecedented amount of publicity and
eager anticipation; as Michael Peppiat, friend to Bacon and author of the
biography Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, describes: "with the mixture of
intellectuals and collectors, art groupies and sensation seekers, aesthetes and
layabouts, the gallery quickly became half sideshow, half shrine... Bacon was on
hand in the middle of the throng, pink-cheeked and immaculately dressed,
greeting friends, signing posters and catalogues, laughing appreciatively and
generally behaving as if nothing could have been more normal than the
single-minded mobbing of which he and his pictures had suddenly become the
object." (Michael Peppiat, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London,
2008, pp. 344-45). The police notoriously cordoned off the Rue des Beaux-Arts to
limit the immense crowds coursing towards the gallery from the Boulevard Saint-Germain;
an incredible 8,000 people squeezed and pushed their way down the narrow street
and into the restricted gallery space. In an interview with Richard Cork in
1991, Bacon fondly remembered the heightened intensity given to his paintings by
the claustrophobic conditions and affirmed that the installation at Claude
Bernard stood as his favourite among the many museum retrospectives
prestigiously afforded him (Richard Cork in: David Sylvester, Looking Back at
Francis Bacon, London, 2000, p. 214).
That the present work prominently includes the simulacra of Bacon’s own likeness
introduces the powerful presence-through-absence of the memory of Dyer that
saturates many of the artist’s most impactful masterpieces of the 1970s, and
this would have been extremely evident in the context of the 1977 Claude Bernard
exhibition, where Dyer’s shadow was seemingly all-pervasive. The constancy and
significance of Dyer's appearance in Bacon's oeuvre is rivalled only by the
self-portraits, with which Bacon became increasingly preoccupied from 1971
onwards. Somewhat disingenuously, Bacon once explained: "People have been dying
around me like flies and I've had nobody else to paint but myself... I loathe my
own face and I've done self-portraits because I've had nothing else to do." (the
artist quoted in David Sylvester, Francis Bacon, London, 1975, p. 129).
Anathema to Bacon's trivialising postulation, the suite of self-portraits
executed during this period offer deeply mournful meditations on transience and
death, and it is difficult to view a self-portrait after this time without being
reminded of Dyer. In the present work, a masterpiece of Bacon’s intimate
portrayals of the human animal, this enduring source of reflection resonates
within the inky black circle, itself symbolic through its unending linear
Join our club
and die a horrible death
CLUB BY SOPHIE PARKIN (Palmtree Publishers £35)
LEWIS Daily Mail 3 January 2013
What a good job I never found my way to The Colony Room Club. My life expectancy
would be shorter than it already is. A small, bright green chamber decorated
with bamboo, mottled mirrors, leopardskin barstools and plastic tropical plants,
the Members Only establishment, situated up a flight of dingy stairs in Dean
Street, Soho, was where you went ‘to have fun and to have jokes when the rest of
the world was working’. The Colony was an afternoon drinking den, opening at 3
pm in the days when the strict licensing laws closed the pubs straight after
the older clientele, the club was known as ‘Muriel’s’ – after the proprietor,
Muriel Belcher, a ‘theatrical Portuguese Jewish lesbian’ of Welsh extraction,
who was born in Edgbaston in 1908. Foul-mouthed and camper than Christmas,
Muriel is remembered in this lavish book for ‘her courage, her instinctive
assessment of people ... She was for honesty, for generosity, for the
vulnerable, against the self-righteous, the smug and the pretentious’.
Francis Bacon adored her, and painted her portrait three times. When the club
was inaugurated in 1948, Muriel paid him £10 a week to ‘bring in the people you
like’. In no time, The Colony became a home from home for Dylan Thomas, Louis
MacNeice, Charles Laughton, E.M. Forster, Tallulah Bankhead, even Mary Kenny.
‘Mary Kenny used to go there and was quite a naughty girl, but that was before
she discovered religion.’ Another regular was John Hurt. ‘The actor John Hurt
was most often seen at The Colony falling down its staircase.’
But you didn’t need to be famous to join. Bacon also recruited eccentric
furniture designers, decorated war heroes (‘She was a brave gal on the Somme’),
Russian spies, a man who was married to Enid Blyton’s daughter, and a man who
avoided conscription ‘by escaping to Ireland dressed as a Mother Superior’.
The Colony also gave refuge to unsuccessful cat burglars. One pair robbed a
house in Hampstead, but passed out drunk on the Heath, right next to their sack
of booty. Another boasted about having burgled Mrs Thatcher’s house and ‘was
flabbergasted at the reported insurance claim.
The club was an escape or an oasis away from ‘clocking into work, making do and
mending, trying to lead respectable lives’. According to Francis Bacon, Muriel
had ‘a tremendous ability to create an atmosphere of ease. After all, that’s
what we all want, isn’t it? A place to go where one feels free and easy?’
Not everyone was enamoured, however. Peregrine Worsthorne remembers The Colony
as ‘bloody ghastly! I loathed it and I hated Muriel ... It was such a squalid
room. I shudder with the thought of it – the dirt, both physically and
metaphorically’. The gays kept trying to pinch his bottom, ‘but then I was
always a pretty boy,’ sighed Worsthorne, now aged 89.
Brian Patten also had his doubts. The Colony was like ‘a small urinal full of
fractious old geezers bitching about each other’. Sophie Parkin, author of this
magnificent history, calls it ‘a fish tank whose water needed changing’. But to
Sophie’s mother, the indomitable Molly Parkin, the club was ‘a
character-building glorious hell-hole. Everyone left their careers at the
roadside before clambering the stairs and plunging into questionable behaviour’.
Frank Auerbach confesses, ‘I drank too much, talked drivel, had some stimulating
conversation, often with Francis Bacon, a few arguments, always with Francis
Bacon ...’ The Colony was, as George Melly explained, ‘an enchanting antidote to
the empty studio’ – which will be why Maggie Hambling stopped going: ‘I could
see it becoming an addiction.’
Many others were not so fortunate or as sensible. Membership of The Colony could
be a death-sentence. Sophie Parkin’s book is a roll-call of suicides and
alcoholics among its members. Nina Hamnett threw herself out of a window and was
impaled on the railings below. Peter Langan set fire to his bed. Isabella Blow
drank weed killer. Sebastian Horsley took an overdose, as did John Minton. One
member died ‘drunk in charge of a bicycle’, another was ‘singing and dancing
down the road when a car hit him’. Having identified photographer John Deakin’s
body, Francis Bacon, adopting Muriel’s affectation of calling a he a she,
announced, ‘Her trap was shut for the first time in her life’.
Jeffrey Bernard was an habitué, despite being repeatedly barred. Even though
he’d lost his legs to diabetes, he still tried to get in, hopping up a ladder.
Ian (‘Ida’) Board, Muriel’s successor, met him at the top with a boiling kettle.
When the play Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell opened, starring Peter O’Toole in the
title role, Francis Bacon, who’d only ever been to the theatre once in his life
before (to see Cats), was outraged at the way he was represented. ‘I don’t paint
in a beret!’ he shouted at the stage. ‘I paint in a Savile Row suit!’.
With Muriel’s death in 1979, The Colony went slowly downhill. ‘Ida’ Board, with
his brandy-induced red cabbage of a nose, was generally deemed ‘insufferable’,
and the membership solidified into ‘an army of alcoholic aging queens’, like Dan
Farson, who did a Jekyll and Hyde flip after a few tinctures. Though at opening
time he’d beam: ‘My dear boy, how lovely to see you!,’ this was soon replaced
with snarling and threats of violence: ‘You’re the most revolting fifth-rate
cunt I’ve ever met. I don’t know why you don’t die.’
The third and final proprietor was Michael Wojas, a drug addict who was most
often found slumped on the toilet. (It seems that the fate of everyone was to
turn into likenesses of Francis Bacon paintings.) Wojas allowed the club to
become a ‘private space you could be bad in’ for Young British Artists Damien
and Tracey and the rest, who were ‘celebrity chasing’ and ‘attention-seeking’
and better suited to the ethos of the Groucho Club, which as luck would have it
was right next door – and where they all soon decamped.
There were problems with the Colony lease, legal disputes about ownership of the
paintings and sculptures around the place, now worth a mint, and the club closed
for ever in 2008. I wish the National Trust or English Heritage had preserved
Michael Wojas, Tom Baker, Francis Bacon, Ian Board, John Edwards in The Colony
d'un Francis Bacon dénudé
Devoir | Libre de penser | 5 Janvier 2013 | Hughes Corriveau |
C’est une année exceptionnelle pour Larry Tremblay, lauréat,
pour sa pièce Cantate de guerre, du prix Michel-Tremblay du
Centre des auteurs dramatiques ainsi que du Prix de la
dramaturgie francophone 2012 de la Société des auteurs et
compositeurs dramatiques, au festival Les Francophonies en
Limousin. Enfin, son excellent roman, Le Christ obèse, est
finaliste au Prix des collégiens 2013.
Il vient de faire paraître un nouveau recueil de poésie, 158
fragments d’un Francis Bacon explosé, rien de moins qu’envoûtant,
s’ancrant dans les arcanes sombres et compulsifs du célèbre
peintre, entre autres ses nombreux portraits du pape Innocent X.
Chacune des trois parties du recueil inscrit une figure
mythologique néfaste, Alecto, Mégère et Tisiphone, ouvrant ainsi
la voie aux spectres maléfiques de l’oeuvre picturale. Par
touches, le poète propose des morceaux vifs d’impressions.
Littéralement : « se faire par la toile peinte/broyer les yeux//
entrer dans son fracas/en ressortir jeune comme un os ». Image
d’une grande force qui prouve l’intime relation du poète avec
l’oeuvre du peintre. « La lumière couturière » de Bacon irradie
« l’excrément du vrai » dans cet « espace carnivore » qui n’a de
cesse de captiver le poète. Il dissèque les effets pervers de
cette « peinture blessure/infectée par l’oeil/qui l’examine ».
Troublantes réussites que ces très courts textes qui accumulent
avec une pertinence stupéfiante les marques qui nous scarifient
le coeur à fréquenter une telle oeuvre picturale.
La force grave de ces peintures les associe au massacre, à la
perte irréparable des êtres, « rien que la chair/tendue/entre
deux cris ». Serait-ce donc vrai que « la toile meurtrière/enfante
le cadavre du beau » dans « ces tableaux/impossibles à
désamorcer » ? Alors que « l’oeil scalpel/fend la couleur
jusqu’au blanc », serait-ce donc vrai que « dans l’atelier du
peintre/la chair triche// joue à la viande » ?
Catherine Harton, dans son Francis Bacon apôtre, choisit plutôt
de donner la parole au peintre lui-même pour traduire de
l’intérieur les pulsions artistiques, les dérèglements et
angoisses qui président à la création. Elle se met véritablement
en quête de « la machine très féroce de la clarté » chez celui
qui a si bien compris l’écorché et le cri.
On lui reprochera bien de trop fréquents passages alambiqués
comme dans cette affirmation : « J’oblige les têtes pétries, la
chute immédiate,/quelque chose de la jubilation, de l’organique,/la
pose épurée de vos descendances ». Pourquoi venir obscurcir un
projet au demeurant clair et intéressant ?
Pourtant, ailleurs, le ton est plus sobre. Retenons surtout la
courte partie « Le jumeau parasitaire », où la poète donne la
parole (de façon familière) à « Francis » et au « Modèle ». On
retrouve aussi Bacon dans « Les partitions du vivant »
consacrées à ses différentes références, soit « la bête », «
Vélasquez », les triptyques christiques, le « corps humain »,
etc., qui nous font suivre, au fil des ans, les diverses étapes
picturales du maître.
fragments d'un Francis Bacon explosé
Poètes de brousse
The making of a blockbuster,
Francis Bacon: Five Decades
Thursday 13 December, 2012
Deakin’s photograph of George Dyer in the Reece Mews Studio, ca. 1964
The late British painter Francis Bacon saw an extraordinary
century, says Tony Bond, curatorial director at the Art Gallery of NSW. An
exhibition of Bacon’s paintings, Francis
Bacon: Five Decades is currently on show at the Art Gallery of NSW. It’s the
first major exhibition of the late painter’s work to be mounted in Australia and
is the final exhibition at AGNSW for long-serving curator Tony Bond.
more than three years for Bond to bring together the 53 works from 37 lenders.
“I was trying to make it a bit different from previous retrospectives,” says
Bond. “Not doing it thematically, not doing it strictly chronologically, but
dividing the exhibition into five decades and selecting works so that each
decade looks quite different reflecting his life and time at that moment.” As
the year draws to a close, Tony Bond talks to ABC Arts about Francis Bacon, the
artist who in the words of fellow Briton Damien Hirst took
painting to a new level.
you first become interested in Francis Bacon and what is it about his art that
piqued your interest?
TONY BOND: I’ve been interested in Francis Bacon since the early ‘60s when I was
an art student, partly because it was then that his paintings suddenly became
very vibrant and very powerful. The intensity in the figures was quite
extraordinary. But it was also because of the things he said about art, that
idea of bringing reality back onto the nervous system.
Put it this way, ninety eight percent of everything that goes on in the brain
goes on prior to consciousness, that’s quite a well researched neurological fact
now. The cells of the body are all primed and ready to act long before we know
that we’re going to act to. I think that’s one of the great things about art. It
can really sit on that edge between consciousness and the unknowing, or if you
like our unconsciousness. Francis talked about that interminably but with great
passion and gusto and I think we’ve all responded to that.
Many consider Francis
Bacon’s artworks shocking. His images are vivid and almost violent. Why do you
think people have such a strong reaction to his paintings?
Different people react very differently. Margaret Thatcher said of him ‘oh, that
man who does those awful paintings’ but not everybody looks at them quite like
that. I think he would say that if they’re violent it’s because they reflect
reality. There’s nothing he could do in his paintings that would be anywhere
near as violent as the real world.
would also say, I think, is that the violence is actually the violence that he
does with the paint. He drags the paint around which distorts his friends’
appearance [Bacon used his friends as subjects]. But he always said he had to
distort the appearance to get back to the sensation of the thing more directly.
If you look at the portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne the face has been pushed about
like a cubist painting and yet it looks sensitive and stunningly like the
photograph of her. He’s captured a likeness not as an appearance but as a
sensation of the person. Some of his most successful
paintings were portraits of friends, acquaintances and lovers. Why did he paint
the people that were so close to him?
Well he was very keen to really capture something powerful about that person not
just about their appearance but something that he would know, and you don’t get
that off passers-by.
painted from the model. He would have photographs lying around, sometimes he
combined different images but he would actually think about his subject because
he knew them intensely well and that’s where he was able to draw the sensation
of the thing. He often said he couldn’t really work with somebody sitting there
in front of him because he wouldn’t feel free to do the violence that he was
going to do to them in front of them. Most of the people he painted I think
accepted and understood this. I think maybe a couple of his lovers didn’t quite
get it – George Dyer probably didn’t care. John Edwards, I think, said ‘you know
I don’t know why he makes me look like a monkey’, but you know John did look a
bit like a monkey, so Bacon captured that side of him very well.
Francis Bacon amassed an enormous number of photographs,
magazine cuttings and news clippings in his London studio. After this death in
1992, seven and a half thousand items were moved to Dublin City Gallery The Hugh
Lane in a process comparable to an archaeological dig. You’ve include a number
of these objects in the exhibition. How did you begin to find your way through
such a large collection in order to pull out the pieces of ephemera that
connected to the works being exhibited?
TONY BOND: The great thing is that when they actually moved the material they
did little drawings of everything layer by layer, they took photographs for
everything, they numbered and detailed everything and then made a complete index
archive of it which they’ve got on computer. So I spent four days in Dublin
scouring through all seven thousand five hundred catalogued objects. I kept
making little notes about the things that would be great to get, but after four
days I realised I needed four months to do it properly. That’s why I invited
Margarita Cappock to work with us on the exhibition. She is in charge of the
archive there and was able to find the things that relate to the show.
It was interesting trawling through the material because I found things I would
never have expected to see that I wasn’t actually looking for. I discovered only
the other day forty cookery books. I think Bacon was quite a cook, that’s a
whole new angle for me. Have such discoveries changed
your impression of Bacon?
TONY BOND Oh, yes totally. I approached the archive with the idea of an artist
who worked with a trace of
the thing rather than just making pictures of a thing. I think there’s plenty of
evidence for that in the studio archive, and in what he said and the odd thing
that he wrote, little diagrams he made. I was kind of fascinated to see a big
collection of Mick Jagger wearing very tight light lycra with a sort of bulging
crotch. I thought ‘this is great’, but of course the paintings he tried to make
of Mick Jagger were a disaster. Francis Bacon inspires
passionate reactions from viewers and curators and art lovers. I imagine those
fortunate enough to own a Francis Bacon painting would not part with it easily.
Was it difficult to convince the collectors to lend the Art Gallery these
TONY BOND: Oh yes. The very first visit I made was to the Tate because I said to
Edmund [Capon, the former director of the AGNSW] at the time ‘you know chances
are we can’t actually do this exhibition’. The 2008 [Tate Britain] show would
have really exhausted the lenders. It was three venues over about twelve months
so I went straight to the Tate to ask their advice about whether they thought
lenders would come to the party again. The Tate gave me five works straight away
which is pretty good and I thought ‘hey, we’re already a tenth of the way
there’, because I originally thought maybe we’d be lucky to get 40 significant
pictures. In the end I could have probably had over 60 but we settled on 53.
There are a couple of works that I’d have killed for, almost did really, but
either they were just too vulnerable to travel, as was the case with a work from
a museum, or private collectors didn’t want the painting ‘going all the way to
Australia’. I heard that a lot. All you do is put it on an aeroplane and it gets
off the other end, and it’s doesn’t really matter whether it’s going from London
to Düsseldorf or London to Sydney, it’s the same thing. But for some collectors
is was that they couldn’t pop in and see the painting once a week or something.
But many of the museums came to the party. There were more highs than lows,
thank God. But I don’t think anybody’s ever done a show without a couple of
works they would have killed for not coming through. Why is Francis Bacon such an
important figure in the history of the 20th century?
TONY BOND: Apart from the fact that I think that he painted the best paintings –
certainly the best figurative paintings of the 20th century – he does, in a
sense, obliquely document the whole history of his life. It’s all in there, the
asthma as a child, growing up in Ireland being constantly terrified that Sinn
Fein would break into their mansion, his father’s ideas of grandeur, and the
constant moving from one place to another. He had a very disruptive childhood.
The asthma is part of the story [in his paintings] because you see that open
mouth; it’s as much a gasp for breath as a scream about things that he saw
during the Irish Troubles.
He moved to England with his father during the First World War, went to boarding
school in England, which didn’t work for him terribly well, went back to
Ireland, was thrown out of home because of the affairs he was having with the
stable boys and his proclivity to put on his mother’s underwear, and was then
sent off to Berlin where he saw the Weimar Republic at its full. He experienced
a night life of hedonism and then came back to London and experienced the rise
of fascism one removed. He lived through the Second World War, and absorbed a
lot of material from magazines. Images of the Nuremberg Rally and of dictators
talking into microphones appear in quite a few of the pictures. Then he went off
to Africa, after his father died with his mother and sisters. His mother always
sat facing the window. She would never sit with her back to the window, first in
Ireland because of Sinn Fein and then because of the Mau Mau uprising – so he
had a life that was filled with that kind of anxiety. It’s hardly surprising
that he took on a lover in the ‘50s who liked to beat him around a bit.
There’s continuity in all these things in his life and his paintings. So by
doing the five decades I’m hoping that you will see the history of the 20th
Francis Bacon, Figure with meat, 1954. Oil on canvas
In the 1985 documentary Francis
Bacon, legendary British broadcaster Melvyn Bragg interrogates Bacon about
his work and what motivates him to paint. Watch Francis
Bacon on ABC1 Sunday, January 13 at 22.50pm after Sunday Arts Up Late's
presentation of All
In The Best Possible Taste With Grayson Perry
Five Decades is on at the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 17 November 2012 –
24 February 2013.
Into the inferno of the art
of Francis Bacon
CHRISTOPHER ALLEN, The
Australian, December 08, 2012
FAR too much art has been hawked to jaded audiences, in recent
decades of promoblather, as confronting or shocking; a kind of prurient
curiosity is excited in viewers, inevitably disappointed by work that is
repetitious, ideological and moralistic.
is something about the paintings of Francis Bacon that really is emotionally
affecting after more than a half-century. You are aware of it not only while in
their presence, but especially in the after-effect that persists as you leave
the gallery. It's like the sober, grey, bleak mood that follows a funeral, when
for a time the colours of life are shadowed by a cold sense of mortality.
something you are likely to experience from encountering a single work in a
modern art gallery, where the very diversity of styles militates against the
kind of overall or collective impression one often has among works of earlier
periods. This disparity is only aggravated by the curatorial instinct to collect
one example of each style or movement, which tend to cancel each other out in
Bacon exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW, the last big project by Tony Bond
and the first show of the artist's work in this country, is an opportunity to
immerse oneself in Bacon's imaginative world; more than that, it compels the
viewer to inhabit that vision; the artist's focus is exclusively and even
obsessively on what seems to him to matter. There is nothing else, no
incidentals, no pleasure in nature or the human environment, nowhere the viewer
might escape into his own reveries in the margins of the work.
And what is
actually shocking about these pictures - much more so than any political or
moralistic declamation - is their vision of irredeemable unhappiness. Happiness
is not something frivolous; it is not about fun, much less about temporary
states of excitement and distraction. In the end, happiness is life itself. The
insight is a profoundly classical one, vibrantly tangible in early poets such as
Pindar, theorised in Aristotle, but still present within the Christian heirs to
the classical tradition; thus in Dante we find that acedia, the vice of sloth,
consists of refusing to take joy in the world that God has made for us - and
that it is a sin worse than lust, gluttony and avarice.
joyless vision can be understood partly as an expression of his historical
circumstances, growing up between the wars, beginning to paint seriously in the
years of the Depression and the rise of fascism leading up to World War II and
achieving fame and success in the still grim post-war years, shadowed by Cold
War anxieties, even as rationing and privation gave way to the permissiveness of
But this is
only the background; at the heart of it, the unhappiness is intimate and
personal, beginning with an atrocious childhood. Biography, which has a limited
value in illuminating the work of more impersonal artists, is unavoidable in
distantly descended from his namesake, the great Elizabethan statesman,
scientist and essayist, and his family had money and connections. Eddy Bacon,
his father, was a retired officer and horse trainer. His mother seems to have
been remote, and he was closest to his nanny, who continued to live with him in
adult life and until her death in 1951.
effeminate behaviour as a child, including dressing in his mother's clothes,
enraged his domineering father, who tried to make a man of him by forcing him go
out riding horses, although this only provoked desperate asthma attacks, and is
supposed to have had him whipped by the grooms, with whom the boy was also
having sexual relations. Despite, or because of, his overbearing and sadistic
behaviour, Bacon later claimed to have been sexually attracted to his own
father, and seemed to pursue a series of cruel father-substitute lovers for the
rest of his life, of whom Peter Lacy was the most unhinged.
these stories, however elaborated in the artist's free and even exhibitionist
retelling in the course of subsequent decades, speak of a profoundly tortured
relationship to sexuality.
There is no
romantic vision of homosexual love here - nothing like the poignant romantic
friendship, perhaps tipping into erotic transgression, of Charles Ryder and
Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh's contemporary novel Brideshead Revisited
(1945) - only the painful realities of rough trade and buggery at the hands of
brutes and illiterate young thugs.
encounter is evoked here in Triptych (1970), where the left and right
panels of the triptych depict, respectively, a man in a suit and a naked youth,
the one mounting the other in the central image
early work, the figure is much less explicit. Often it is shown as confined in a
kind of cage, truncated and vague, even disembodied, as though less real than
the structures and bounds that constrain it. Complementary to the theme of
confinement are the desperation and hysteria evoked by Bacon's best-known motif,
the mouth open in a scream of pain, or possibly, as has been more recently
suggested, gasping for air like the asthmatic in panic at his inward
suffocation. The two interpretations are quite compatible, for both are
responses to fear and enclosure.
impressed by the cry of pain in Poussin's early painting of The Massacre of
the Innocents (1627-28) at Chantilly, and most famously transferred the
motif of the scream to Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X, a picture
which the artist - although he spoke of having a crush on the painting - may
have known only from reproductions. In transforming the image of an extremely
powerful, self-possessed man into a screaming hysteric, it is hard not to think
that Bacon is reflecting on the sense of vulnerability and oppression that could
be experienced even by a dominant figure such as his father.
narrative context, and therefore without specific motivation, the theme of the
open mouth becomes even more disturbing and acquires a more generic existential
connotation. In two of the most unpleasantly memorable instances, Head I
and Head II (1947-48), truncated heads, partly or wholly deprived of
their cranium and thus of consciousness, are reduced to amorphous masses of
flesh in which the orifice of the mouth opens to display aggressive, ape-like
teeth. The open mouth, always expressing surprise, pain, grief or anger, is
inherently incompatible with self-possession or the poise of identity.
But he goes
much further than the gaping mouth in attacking the image of the face, the form
to whose integrity, composure, beauty and their opposites - we are naturally
more acutely sensitive than any other.
One of the
most striking works in the exhibition is a triptych, Studies for Portrait of
Henrietta Moraes, who was a frequent model. The pictures consciously recall
Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), and they remind us, if we
needed reminding, that it is with this modernist primitivism, evoking the primal
and the animalistic dimensions of human experience, that Bacon has affinities,
not with the intellectualising style of analytical cubism that followed.
of Moraes, however - described by one former acquaintance as "a drunken Soho
groupie" - are far more consciously violent than the Demoiselles. Her features
are not only brutally distorted, recalling perhaps the story that Bacon had all
his front teeth knocked out by abusive lovers, but actually evoke those medieval
memento mori or dance of death images in which the decaying flesh is painted,
with gruesome care, as it falls away from the bones of the skull.
is not as far as he goes. Moraes appears here also as the model of a couple of
full-length nudes (1965 and 1969) in which her body is turned into shapeless
masses of flesh and, more appallingly, her face is completely unrecognisable,
hacked and smashed as though by a psychopathic killer driven by uncontainable
over the intensity of emotional charge in such works, and indeed their ugliness,
or the degradation, guilt and loathing that they represent, is to miss their
painful material is, as in all serious art, subordinated to the pictorial
language that gives it form and makes it communicable. Bacon's characteristic
themes are expressed with great control and focus, with a mastery of composition
and brushwork, an economy of motif and a willingness to eliminate all irrelevant
motifs, that make his work singularly memorable.
But it is a
delicate balancing act; a little too much aestheticising and the anguish can
become repetitious, vacuous posturing. One senses this emptiness most
conspicuously in the big triptych Studies of the Human Body (1970), in
which motifs that are at once clumsy and facile are isolated in a large empty
field of decorative monochrome; by then Bacon had achieved commercial and
critical success, regularly cited as the greatest living painter in England even
as his work grew more indulgent.
He seems to
have been given a new lease of life by the death of his lover George Dyer when
the two were in Paris for his retrospective in 1971. This youngish cockney
thief, whom Bacon claimed he had met while he was attempting to burgle his flat,
became the subject of a series of memorial pictures during the next few years.
In one of
the most impressive, another triptych, we see Dyer three times, in each image
contorted into the impossible twistings familiar in Bacon's work and that
ultimately derive from Michelangelo's ignudi in the Sistine ceiling. The figures
are truncated, limbs simply missing, while pools of flesh-coloured matter form
at their feet as though they were melting away.
these works, and as with many artists, there are moments when the authenticity
of insight is convincing and others where routines and repetitious formulas are
more apparent than anything else.
In the best
pictures it is the handling of the paint itself, like the prose of an author,
that convinces us of the quality of the artistic mind. A particularly fine
example is the triple self-portrait (1979-80) in which Bacon has resisted the
temptation of histrionics and allowed himself to examine his own features with
greater equanimity than elsewhere and consequently with more real depth.
vision of the world is limited and flawed; his emotional range is stunted and it
would be fallacious to argue that this simplistically and unrelievedly dark view
of life is an adequate account of human experience. At the same time, one can
recall what TS Eliot wrote of Baudelaire in what remains one of the greatest
essays on the poet. The author of Les Fleurs du Mal, he said in effect,
lacks the universality of Dante: he cannot understand the joy of Paradise; but
he can reveal to us something of the Inferno of our own time.
Francis Bacon: Five
Decades, Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, to February 24.
Sydney: Curator Margarita
Cappock's take on artist Francis Bacon
The Australian Way, 20 November 2012
Gallery of New South Wales is currently hosting the exhibition Francis Bacon:
Five Decades. We ask Margarita Cappock, curator of the Bacon archive at Dublin
City Gallery The Hugh Lane for her take on the late, great master of postwar
Bacon’s Reece Mews studio was donated then relocated from London to Dublin, what
a logistical nightmare. It was a mammoth task. The team comprised archaeologists
who made drawings of the studio, mapping out the spaces and locations of the
objects, and conservators and curators who tagged and packed the items,
including the dust from the studio. The walls, doors, floor and ceiling were
What did the studio
contain? Approximately 570 books and catalogues, 1500 photographs, 100 slashed
canvases, 1300 leaves torn from books, 2000 artist’s materials and 70 drawings.
Also, artist’s correspondence, magazines, newspapers and vinyl records. More
than 70 of these items are in the Australian exhibition.
surprise discoveries? Cut-out arrows with thick deposits of paint imply that Bacon used these
to paint around or imprint their shape directly onto the canvas. Small arrows
first appear in Bacon’s paintings in the late 1940s. Several pairs of thick
corduroy trousers were also found cut up into pieces and covered in paint. The
imprint of corduroy can be seen in works from the late 1950s onwards. He also
used cashmere sweaters, ribbed socks, cotton flannels and towelling dressing
gowns to create tactile effects.
allowed only close friends to visit his studio. What would he have made of it
being open to the public? Bacon’s heir, John Edwards, who presented the studio
to Dublin, said, “A little corner of South Kensington moved to Ireland, his
birthplace… I think it would have made him roar with laughter.”
a painter, why was he so fascinated by photos? He relied on them to help achieve a likeness of a sitter, but his
manipulations of them were even more significant. His highly distinctive editing
and engagement with the image is apparent in folds, creases and tears. Distorted
images appealed to him.
he the first painter to truly understand the power of photography? The last thing he wanted was for his work to be photographic. While he
did not rate it as an art form, photographs often triggered ideas. He was also
aware that the artist could not compete with photography and needed to do
something entirely different.
did Bacon prefer to use close friends as subjects? He was reluctant to paint those with whom he was unfamiliar. A need to
know the sitter or to have an involvement with them was essential for the work
to be successful. Some of his finest works, such as his paintings of his lover,
George Dyer, are testament to this.
Why did Bacon never fully
acknowledge painter Roy de Maistre’s influence? He and de Maistre were very close for a time and worked alongside each
other. As the younger artist, Bacon learnt a lot from de Maistre. By 1938, both
had begun to collect newspaper photographs as the starting point for works. I
think that a perceived dependence on another placed Bacon in an awkward position
and, for this reason, he downplayed it. Bacon was as influenced by a cheap
magazine as a Velázquez. Did he aim to overturn hierarchies? His approach to
imagery was dynamic and non-hierarchical, yet certain subjects were more likely
to stimulate: art, sport, crime, history, photography, cinema, wildlife,
medicine and parapsychology. His art was partly motivated by the breaking or
modifying of associations. Thus a motif could be made more truly his own or, as
he preferred it, divested of narrative baggage.
Francis Bacon: Five
Decades, Art Gallery of New South Wales, until February 24, 2013.
Francis Bacon's screaming Pope helps Sotheby's set £236m record
Tom Teodorczuk| LondonEvening
Standard | 14 November 2012
Quality and rarity:
Francis Bacon's Untitled (Pope) 1954
A Francis Bacon masterpiece has sold for £18.7 million in New
York — capping a record auction for contemporary art.
late British artist’s Untitled (Pope) 1954, depicting a shrieking
pontiff, soared above its high estimate of $25 million (£15.7 million).
went for almost $30 million to an anonymous buyer following a fierce
bidding war at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art auction at its Manhattan
headquarters last night.
sale fetched a total of £236.3 million — smashing the record for the
highest total spent at a Sotheby’s auction.
record for a Bacon work remains the £43 million reputedly paid by
Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich for his Triptych (1976).
Alex Rotter, head of Sotheby’s New York contemporary art department,
said: “The Bacon painting was pursued by multiple bidders, who saw the
quality and the rarity of the picture.
“When an iconic work comes up at an auction, people come out of the
woodwork and pursue it.” Another Bacon picture, a portrait of painter
and designer Isabel Rawsthorne from 1967, sold for £5.8 million.
lot of the evening belonged to Mark Rothko, whose 1954 painting No.1
(Royal Red and Blue) went under the hammer for £47.3 million. It was
being sold from the collection of financier Sidney Kohl and his wife
Among the new artist records to be set were for abstract expressionist
Jackson Pollock, whose 1951 drip painting Number 4 fetched £25.5
million, and Franz Kline, whose 1956 painting Shenandoah went for £5.8
million. Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s principal auctioneer and worldwide head
of contemporary art, said: “The art market is alive, happy and well.
“Tonight was as good as it gets for Sotheby’s. We couldn’t be more
thrilled. The sale was an ode to quality.”
Other British artists whose works sold last night included Damien Hirst,
Anish Kapoor and Glenn Brown.
Seven pictures by Andy Warhol were sold — with the most lucrative being
his 1964 silkscreen print Suicide, which fetched £10.2 million.
Tate Gallery Of Lost Art
Displays Destroyed Francis Bacon Work In Digital Archive
Bacon, Study for Man with Microphones, 1946 (later Gorilla with
Microphones c.1947–8) Oil paint on canvas. 145 x 128 cm.
about what happened to forgotten works of art? Well, now you have your answer.
The Tate's Gallery
of Lost Art is a virtual museum housing the ghosts of artworks past. The
eerie website allows users to become amateur detectives, piecing together clues
regarding art's most confounding relics and mysteries. The gallery will unveil a
new lost artwork every week, together with interviews, archival photos and
essays pertaining to these elusive works. As
Guardian critic Jonathan Jones put it: "Lost art can never disappoint. It is
beyond criticism." A bold claim, but so far this holds up in the online gallery.
Huffington Post is unveiling a work both painted and destroyed by none
other than Francis Bacon, entitled Gorilla with Microphones. See a study
of the painting and its appearance after Bacon ripped two giant chunks out of
the center below.
Microphones as discovered in Bacon’s studio. Collection: Dublin City
Gallery, The Hugh Lane
Francis Bacon said "I think I tend to destroy the better paintings… I try and
take them further, and they lose all their qualities." Such was the case with
Man with Microphones, which later became Gorilla with Microphones.
The work depicts a generic male figure with a distorted body and open mouth,
leaning in the direction of a figure reminiscent of a microphone or machine gun.
The dark colours, horrifying distended torso and ambiguous forms made the work
especially haunting, even for an artist known for shock value.
to Jennifer Mundy, the Head of Collection Research at Tate, Bacon was returning
to a familiar theme of the public orator caught mid-speech. The work remained
unsold after a 1946 exhibition and was returned to the artist's studio. When it
was shown again six years later it had been dramatically altered - the subject's
plaid suit was stripped down to a truncated nude body. The title had also been
changed to Gorilla with Microphones, Bacon's underhanded insult to the
unnamed hot-headed politician.
Unfortunately the changes Bacon made were not enough to satisfy the artist known
for frequently destroying his works, sometimes before the paint had even dried.
After Bacon’s death in 1992, Gorilla with Microphones was found in the
studio with two large sections of the piece cut away, and the removed portions
were lying there like a crime scene. Twenty years later, you can attempt to
solve the mystery.
works from the Lost Art archives in the slideshow below and head to the
virtual gallery itself to delve into their stories in full. The complete
essay regarding Francis Bacon's lost work will go online November 19.
Employees of Dublin’s Hugh
Collection: Dublin City Gallery Lane Gallery inspect the Francis. The Hugh Lane
Bacon studio materials c.1998.
Love Is the Devil: the view
from the art world
The Guardian's art critic
Adrian Searle gave his opinion
of the film shortly after its release: he was impressed by the accuracy of
Jacobi's performance, if not by the insertion of YBAs into the pub scenes
The Guardian, Friday 9 November 2012
The painter Francis Bacon,
who turned down both the
Order of Merit and the Companion of Honour, is crouched over the bed in nothing
but his underpants. He waits. His lover, a Kray gang hanger-on called George
Dyer, stands over him, a cigarette in his mouth, a belt twisted in his fist.
This is a scene from John
Maybury's Love Is the Devil, subtitled "Study for a portrait of Francis
Bacon" starring Derek Jacobi as the painter, and Daniel Craig as Dyer, Bacon's
lover, tormentor, victim and model. In the film, Dyer, a hapless East End
burglar, introduces himself by crashing through the skylight of Bacon's tiny
South Kensington studio, while attempting a burglary. Bacon responds by taking
his burglar straight to bed. From here, we follow this odd couple on their
drunken peregrinations through 1960s Soho, New York and Paris, to the bitter end
– the result of too many nights, following Dyer down into the desolation of
booze, pills and despair that finally killed him.
This is both much more, and much
less, than a biopic. The film charts a relatively short period of Bacon's life,
from his meeting with Dyer in 1963, to Dyer's suicide in Paris, on the eve of
the opening of Bacon's retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris, in 1971,
attended by Georges Pompidou, the president of France himself.
In the six years since his death
in Madrid, at the age of 83, Francis Bacon has been the subject of three
biographies, at least four major posthumous retrospectives and a host of smaller
exhibitions. His paintings sell for millions. Bacon, according to family myth a
descendant of the Elizabethan statesman and philosopher of the same name, is
seen by many as the greatest British painter of the last half of the century,
and is certainly the best regarded internationally. Exhibitions of his work have
drawn queues and crowds from Moscow to Manhattan. Almost everyone has an angle
on Bacon, and he is seen as a father figure for a current generation of British
artists who admire the danger, the verve, the louche integrity of the man as
much as the art.
Bacon the painter might be
regarded as the last great European artist-as-existential hero. His paintings
proclaim as much. His life and personality have come to overshadow all
discussions of his work. Or rather, the work has come to be seen as a
cartoon-strip of the alarming life and times of Francis Bacon, man of extreme
appetites, genius painter, drunk, gambler, sado-masochistic homosexual,
emotional monster and millionaire who worked in a tiny, squalid Kensington
studio which was as much one of the artist's self-dramatising, theatrical
invention as the work itself.
In his film, director John
Maybury – a pop-promo producer, artist and one-time collaborator with the late
Derek Jarman – depicts Bacon, framed and trapped like the figures in his
paintings, by multiple reflections, intrigues, gossip and rumour. Where Bacon
hung out with some of the most talented and influential figures of our times
(from Michel Leiris to Alberto Giacometti from Lucian Freud to William
Burroughs), he also bevvied his life away with some of the most lost,
self-destructive and nihilistic people on the planet, most of them frighteningly
pissed almost all of the time, in the rush to squander their talents. In fact,
the squandering was their major talent Maybury, on the other hand, inhabits the
cooler London art world of the 1990s, a self-serving, narcissistic demi-monde of
an altogether different sort. Or, on second thoughts, not such a different sort.
In Love Is the Devil , these worlds collide.
Love Is the Devil is a
devilish brew of naturalism, Baconesque film effects, history and gossip. It is
a warped anthropological detour into the fag end of 1950s Soho bohemia, dragged
too far into the 1960s but it is also a tragic love story, with astonishing
performances and character cameos. It was always bound to be trouble, and was
inevitably going to get into trouble, even before filming began.
Everyone likes a bit of rough –
the frisson of danger and perversion. It is a cliché of how artists are supposed
to behave. Bacon fitted the bill perfectly. He was by all accounts a deeply
complex man. He was also, not to be forgotten, highly intelligent, profoundly
manipulative, contrary, slippery and a superb performer. He invented not just a
style (Bacon was self-taught), but a personality, as both an artist and a man.
He also looked good, a kind of bruiser intellectual who brushed his teeth with
Vim, dyed his hair with boot polish and went about wearing women's undies.
And yet, there are those who
would protect Bacon's reputation, and try to hold much of the darker side of his
personality at bay, as though it would diminish the quality and integrity of his
work. This is understandable, but it is also a futile pursuit. The critic David
Sylvester, who has curated more Bacon exhibitions around the world than anyone
else (the last was at the Hayward a few months ago) and whose interviews with
Francis Bacon are regarded as the last word on the artist's thoughts, refused to
have anything to do with the film, nor to allow any of Bacon's words, recorded
in the interviews, to be used.
Lord Gowrie, chairman of the
Arts Council when the film was in production, insisted on script changes before
the film could get its £250,000 Lottery funding. A particular sticking point was
the part of Muriel Belcher (played to the hilt by a heavily pregnant Tilda
Swinton), queen of the Colony Room club, where Bacon drank, who always referred
to the artist either as "Daughter" or "Cunty".
According to Sight and Sound,
the Arts Council were chary about funding the film because it was thought that
it came too soon on the heels of Bacon's death. Who, one wonders, were they
trying to protect? Love Is the Devil is deeply annoying in all sorts of ways,
yet Derek Jacobi's performance as Bacon is nothing short of astonishing. He has
the walk. He has the voice (or rather, the voices. Bacon's verbal mannerisms
swerved from the upper-crust to the vitriolic mock-cockney queen, switching from
humour to verbal violence in seconds). Malcolm McDowell was Maybury's first
choice to play the part, but luckily for us he turned it down.
Even caught in the act of
painting, swerving a brushload of black around a dustbin lid used as a template,
Jacobi is believable. One of the problems with movies about artists is that the
stars don't know how painters go about their business. Jacobi's brow-furrowing
interrogations of the canvas strike a false note, but Maybury at least has him
working on the right kind of canvas, in an exact replica of Bacon's studio.
There was plenty of material for
Jacobi to work on. As an artist, Bacon was more voluble, more filmed, more
recorded than most. Maybury didn't need Sylvester's interviews to get his Bacon
quotes. As it was, Bacon said much the same things to everybody, in the end. He
was interviewed sober and in his cups. He knew that a good bon mot is wasted if
you only use it once. "Champagne for my real friends and real pain for my sham
friends," he says in the film, just as he said in life.
The movie constantly switches
from extreme naturalism, with perfect recreations of Bacon's haunts, to the
entirely fictional rooms and traps which exist only in the artist's paintings,
inhabited only by his squirming painted subjects. Sometimes we see the world
extruded and distorted, not through Bacon's eye, or through the medium of paint,
but through the distorting lens of a glass of booze. Cigarettes crackle with the
electrical fizz of paranoia.
The wheeze of Bacon's asthma and
a doomy score by Ryuichi Sakamoto provide the soundtrack, and bare swinging
light bulbs and distorting mirrors take us into the claustrophobic spaces of
The film uses no actual shots of
the paintings, though there is a dreadful prop-maker's painting of a toilet
which Dyer manages to mistakenly piss into on a drunken trip to the lavvy one
night. Maybury is trying to create several kinds of worlds at once, all of them
equally claustrophobic. For the most part, he makes us believe these places,
these people, this awful world.
But hang on, isn't that Tracey
Emin with Gillian Wearing, drunk as usual, in the corner? And isn't it young
Turner prize contender Gary Hume, who Bacon's just insulted at the bar? Maybury
infiltrates the young British artists of the moment into the 1960s milieu of
Bacon's cronies, some of whom perform stagger-on parts as themselves. Time and
space are warped in Love Is the Devil. The protagonists are warped too,
but then they always were. Maybury is making a point about the sodden Soho boho
corner of the art world in the 60s and the younger London art world now. In
fact, reading the supporting cast notes, it seems that almost everyone is there,
from fashion designers Rifat Ozbek and Stella McCartney to Norman Rosenthal,
exhibition secretary of the Royal Academy, from gallery director Jibby Bean to
Rolling Stones survivor Anita Pallenberg.
Not so much that you'd notice,
not that you'd care, unless you were part of the current art world yourself. The
painter Chris Ofili came with me to a screening of the film, on the day that
this year's Turner prize list was announced. Ofili, smarting with too much
publicity, hated the film. Not for Bacon's world, but for how awful it made the
the current situation feel. "This," Ofili said, "is a movie for people who don't
like art." But then what should anyone expect? It is a movie about the art
world, which is a different thing altogether.
article was originally published in the Guardian on 28 Aug 1998.
Love Is the Devil
- read the original review
On its release in 1998, the Guardian hailed
John Maybury's biopic of Francis Bacon as a 'brilliantly sustained imagining'.
Read Richard Williams' full review below
The Guardian, Friday 9 November 2012
I came out of John Maybury's
Love Is the Devil, which
is rather coyly subtitled "Study for a portrait of Francis Bacon", feeling I'd
never seen a film that makes such direct and illuminating connection with the
eye of an artist. On the other hand, I didn't know Francis Bacon, so I can't
tell whether the story Maybury tells us is true, in the literal sense. That
bothers me. But if you want a brilliantly sustained imagining of how, according
to some of the best available evidence, Bacon saw his world, and how he rendered
that vision on to canvas, then Love Is the Devil is a very remarkable
Their first encounter is handled
with deft humour. When Dyer falls through the skylight, an amused and aroused
Bacon invites him to bed. Maybury, best known for his design work on the films
of Derek Jarman and his video clips for the likes of Neneh Cherry, Morrissey and
Sinead O'Connor, gets the narrative off to a good start, and handles the tricky
combination of story and reflection - in other words, the life itself and the
life transmuted into art - with lucidity and a sure sense of cadence.
Adrian Scarborough as the creepy
Farson and Karl Johnson as the pathetic Deakin make a fine pair of stooges, and
a witches' chorus is provided by Tilda Swinton as the foulmouthed Muriel
Belcher, Anne Lambton as the perceptive Isabel Rawsthorne and Annabel Brooks as
the cheerily libidinous Henrietta Moraes. Unwise cameos by the painter Gary Hume
and the fashion journalist Hamish Bowles – as a Moraes conquest and a
limp-wristed David Hockney, respectively – momentarily contradict but cannot do
real damage to the prevailing seriousness of an exceptional film.
review was originally published in the Guardian on 18 Sep 1998
Sydney served multi-million dollar Bacon rarity
The Age, November 6, 2012
Handle with care ... Francis Bacon's Seated
figure is unpacked at the
Art Gallery of NSW
It’s a rare
painting of a long lamented lost love, and its temporary home in Sydney is
Among the first
of more than 50 Francis Bacon canvases to be unpacked over the next 10 days for
an exclusive Sydney retrospective at the Art Gallery of NSW to mark the 20th
anniversary of the Irish figurative painter’s death, Seated
figure from 1978 is particularly special.
$35 million and $40 million, and never seen in an exhibition before, the
two-metre tall painting shows Bacon motifs such as an umbrella and cricket pads
on the upper human figure.
it's the foreground figure that will draw in Bacon buffs: in profile it is
clearly George Dyer, Bacon's younger lover who committed suicide with a
barbiturate overdose in 1971, just as Bacon's major exhibition opened at the
Grand Palais in Paris.
The fact that
Bacon kept painting his dead lover's profile again and again shows he never got
over the loss.
almost four years making his case to more than 30 international and Australian
institutions to loan the Bacon paintings at a cost of more than $2 million for
flights, handling and insurance, curatorial director Anthony Bond was pleased to
gain eight rare works from private collections.
one such work, with striking purple and orange tones, and yesterday found a
suitable home for the life of the Bacon
retrospective, which opens to the public on November 17 and runs until February
"I was talked
into having orange walls by the designer, which I've never done before," says
Bond. "I always thought white was just fine. But this particular painting on
that orange wall looks amazing; it actually works."
There's also a
painting in the show of Bacon's later, younger lover, John Edwards, sitting in
front of a void. "But the body belongs to George," notes Bond. "So he'd taken
John's head and just pasted it onto the body of George, which I find quite sad,
suppose John minded much. I mean, John didn't really understand Bacon's
paintings at all. Probably less so than George Dyer did.
said he'd asked Bacon, 'Why do you paint me like I look like a monkey?' Quite a
lot of the portraits in Bacon's works have a mask-like quality; even the
retrospective, Francis Bacon Five Decades, brings together works from the 1940s
through to the 1980s. It comprises almost 10 per cent of Bacon's known output.
It was a
labour of love for Bond, although he admits there were a few dark times when he
worried it wouldn't come together. "Early on, I thought maybe this is just not
going to be possible at all," he says.
there was a couple of desired paintings he failed to get, but refuses to "name
and shame" the one or two museums that were less than collegiate.
"Of the ones
we got, those from the Tate Britain were dead easy. I asked for five, and they
gave them to me. I think they have a soft spot for Australia. [Director Nicholas
Serota] did once say to me, 'Well, we always try to help the colonies'," Bond
Bacon the top 20th-century figurative painter. "Nobody paints anything like
Bacon," he says. "He walked a tight line between figuration and abstraction. The
paint is phenomenal and you don't get it until you stand a couple of feet away.
You realise how risky it is."
Francis Bacon Five Decades, Art Gallery of NSW, November 17 - February 24.
Bringing in the Bacon
CARRIE KABLEAN, The Australian, November 02, 2012
Tony Bond, curatorial director of the Art
Gallery of NSW, pictured with Bacon's Study for Self-Portrait (1976). Picture:
Adam KnottSource: The
"He liked the throw of the dice.
It was absolutely central to his way of thinking. His painting was always to do
with chance; rescuing the image from the brink of disaster, sometimes making the
final throw of paint to see what happen." So says Tony Bond, curatorial director
of the Art Gallery of NSW and an authority on Francis Bacon, whom Bond believes
is, quite simply, "the best painter of the 20th century. I don't think anyone
comes near him."
Bond has spent the past three
years sourcing more than 53 of the artist's works from 37 collections around the
world and bringing them to Sydney for Francis Bacon: Five Decades, which opens
at the gallery on November 17. This is not the same show that began at the Tate
in London and toured to the Prado and the Met, although it is similar in scale.
Bond first conceived it in the 1980s, but funding was a problem. Yet
that turned out to be a good thing. "Bacon was very controlling
when he was alive," Bond says.
"I'm much happier doing it now
because there is the opportunity to reinterpret him. I've done that in a couple
of ways: one, [by showing his oeuvre and its themes] through the decades, which
really works; and the other is something that Bacon talked about a lot - his
fascination with Marcel Duchamp."
Bond also reckons that for
someone who "talked a lot about chance, whose work is about the compulsive
moment", Bacon "knew exactly what he was doing. His distortions are quite
calculated. You can believe both things simultaneously. A good drunk, like a
cat, knows exactly how to fall."
In Bacon's existential zone
FRANCIS Bacon seduces the viewer like a bottle of whisky and a
grope under the table. One way or another, he'll drag you into his thrillingly
dangerous world - or you'll straighten your skirt and run from the room.
MATTHEW WESTWOOD, The Australian, October 30, 2012
Francis Bacon's Three Studies for a Self-Portrait (1979-80). Metropolitan
Museum of Art
His most famous image is that
one of the screaming pope, based on Velazquez's portrait of Innocent X and as
primal in its howl of existential terror as one of Edvard Munch's pictures.
Bacon depicts the pontiff trapped by his throne and with what look like flames
from the underworld shooting skyward.
Many more of Bacon's pictures
are portraits of his friends, especially his doomed lover George Dyer, and
self-portraits. Bacon's figures are unlike anyone else's. Their flesh seems
entirely malleable, even squishy, as his subjects twist in chairs, on beds and
in weird geometric contraptions. The faces are scrapes of colour: like an
after-image or memory of someone who has already left the room.
Often, his male figures are
shown wrestling in a pictorial theatre with sets of lurid colour. He painted
female figures, too, but Bacon's is a man's world.
His pictures have a masculine
glamour that recalls Michelangelo or, more recently, Robert Mapplethorpe.
Bacon's story is a gift for
biographers, dramatists and hagiographers. Born in Dublin in 1909, he was
thrashed by his puritanical father, who discovered him wearing his mother's
underwear.The beating gave him an appetite for sado-masochistic sex, he said.
Untrained as an artist, he began
his career as an interior decorator - he designed a desk for Patrick White -
before turning to painting at the encouragement of Roy de Maistre, the
Australian artist who was briefly, at different times, Bacon's and White's
Bacon's orgies of gambling and
drink were legendary, as was his bitchy tongue.
His tormented lover Dyer
committed suicide on the eve of a major retrospective in Paris, where a poll in
an art magazine would declare Bacon the greatest artist alive.
Fascination with Bacon seems
only to have increased after his death in 1992. His London studio was spirited
away to Dublin and painstakingly reconstructed, with 7500 objects encased in
glass. In 2008 he became the most expensive post-war artist at auction when
Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich paid $US86.3 million for a 1976 triptych.
In his centenary year of 2009,
Bacon was the subject of a comprehensive retrospective that toured from London
to Madrid and New York.
And claims continue to be made
for his supremacy in 20th-century art. Just this month, Tony Bond, head curator
of international art at the Art Gallery of NSW, declared him a better painter
"What you experience with Bacon
is sheer paint," says Bond. "You look at Picasso carefully and basically you
find he does drawings and fills them in."
Bond has organised the first
Australian survey of Bacon that will open at the AGNSW in Sydney next month. (He
had first attempted a Bacon show in the late 1970s, but the artist disabused him
of that idea when, at dinner in London, he dismissed him as a "f . . king
Francis Bacon: Five Decades
contains 54 works from international collections including the Tate in London,
the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Bacon estate and several private,
Arranged chronologically, the
exhibition will chart Bacon's progress from his creepy crucifixion pictures of
the 1930s and 40s to his formulaic figure paintings of the 80s. As surveys go,
it is shorter than the 2009 retrospective, and just as well. In quantity,
Bacon's appeal starts to wear thin and the hyperbole surrounding his abilities
becomes ever more like hot air.
Bacon declared that he had no
interest in illustration or narrative.
Everything in his pictures
happens in an existential zone where story, sentiment and nostalgia are left at
the door. He painted the human form not as a figure but, as French theoretician
Gilles Deleuze put it with a capital F, a Figure. In this formulation, the
Figure is a conductor of sensation directly into the viewer's nervous system.
But Bacon's denial of narrative
contradicts the evidence of the pictures, which are all about narrative. In his
grief for Dyer, Bacon painted his portrait repeatedly, often in the scene of his
suicide. Elsewhere he alludes to classical mythology or art history. In so many
paintings, figures are accompanied - like saints in devotional images - by
attendants, attributes and other story signposts.
Another false myth that Bacon
perpetuated was that he never made drawings, that his pictures were spontaneous
gestures with paint: applied by brush, scrubbed on with a scrap of fabric or
spurted on to the canvas.
That is a clever ruse because
Bacon was no draughtsman. In fact, it appears he did make preparatory sketches
for some of his paintings.
Margarita Cappock from Dublin's
the Hugh Lane gallery was responsible for reconstructing Bacon's studio there.
Among the masses of papers, paints, photographs and books, she says, were about
70 drawings that Bacon had made. Also found were stencils for the arrows that he
included in some of his late works.
"He obviously pinned them on to
a canvas and painted around them," Cappock says. "It's not something you
Bond, in his AGNSW exhibition,
has attempted to get beyond the Bacon myth and to get a look at the artist and
On a recent Friday afternoon, he
took me down into the AGNSW storeroom to inspect the gallery's own Bacon, Study
for Self-portrait, 1976. Although a single panel rather than a triptych, the
self-portrait could stand in for any number of Bacon's paintings.
The familiar tropes are there:
the seated Figure on a chair, twisting itself into anxiety, the coloured ground
and black void, an impossible geometric solid, something icky leaking on the
He habitually painted on the
wrong side of the canvas, preferring the rough texture of the back to the
smooth, primed surface. The paint could not be manipulated and worked over until
he was satisfied with the result: he had to get it right the first time.
Bond points out the different
methods Bacon used.
The blue upholstery of the seat
is done with spray paint. The arc through the middle of the face is the same arc
as a crease in a photo of actress Emmanuelle Riva in Hiroshima Mon Amour. The
light blue shading on the face may have been wiped on with a scrap of corduroy.
There's that void, a white
circle, the figure isolated in space.
"What's extraordinary is the
very typical pose of Francis: the legs crossed, the arms folded in towards the
legs, the whole thing has this corkscrew feeling to it," Bond says. "The face
itself, you barely recognise it as a self-portrait. The most typically Francis
thing is that lick of hair at the forehead."
We are looking at this painting
in an unusually frank state. It is having some conservation work done before the
exhibition and is without the glass-fronted frame that Bacon always insisted on.
He consigned his paintings to the fine art museum or the rubbish, nowhere
Around the back we can see where
Bacon named, signed and dated the picture in black marker. At the front, the
tactile quality of the picture is inescapable: the raw brushstrokes, the paint
being wiped on with a rag. The immediacy of the mark-making on the canvas makes
the artist seem incredibly present.
This, perhaps, is the way to
look at Bacon: not behind the safety glass but with the mask off, face to face.
Bacon: Five Decades is at the Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, November 17-February
Art Gallery NSW to host Bacon
SAKR, The Australian, October 24, 2012
The Art Gallery of NSW will host an exhibition by
British artist Francis Bacon this November
will host the first Australian exhibition of works by painter Francis
Bacon, best known for his striking screaming Pope paintings.
years in the making, the exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South
Wales (AGNSW) will showcase over 50 paintings as well as archival
material from the artist's studio, films and photographs.
Irish-born painter is one of the most highly sought-after artists in the
world, with a 1956 painting of a Screaming Pope reportedly expected to
fetch $25 million in a New York auction next month.
director Michael Brand said the exhibition would present "a dazzling
picture of a complex and conflicted artist whose work retains its
visceral impact 20 years after his death".
gallery's director curatorial Tony Bond said Bacon was the most
outstanding painter of the 20th century.
images emerge almost by chance from paint applied in ways never
conceived of before," he said.
ideas have inspired many younger artists, stimulated by his radical
philosophical musings on creativity, chance and reality, chaos and
works drawn from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, Tate Britain in
London, the Pompidou Centre in Paris and others, Francis Bacon: five
decades is expected to attract over 100,000 visitors from all around
Australia. It is part of the Sydney International Art Series bringing
international shows to Sydney every summer.
Francis Bacon: five decades exhibition runs from November 17-February
Art Evening Auction
York | 13 November 2012 | N08900 | Lot 26
1992 UNTITLED (POPE)
18,000,000 - 25,000,000 USD LOT SOLD:
canvas 59 7/8 x 37 in. 152 x
94 cm. Executed circa 1954.
This work will be included in the forthcoming Francis Bacon Catalogue
Raisonné, being prepared by The Estate of Francis Bacon and edited by
Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris
Galleria Galatea, Turin
Galerie Krugier, Geneva
Private Collection, Geneva
Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., London, December 4,1975, Lot 238
Acquired by the present owner from the above
Geneva, Musée Rath, Musées d'Art et d'Histoire de Geneva , L’Art XXe
Siècle dans les Collections Genevoises, June - September 1973, cat.
no. 176, p. 164, illustrated
Monelle Hayot, "Marché de l'art: Artistes contemporains britanniques," L’Oeil,
nos. 270-271, Paris, January - February 1978, p. 83, illustrated
“Terror and atrocious suffering make the mouth an organ of searing
Georges Bataille, ‘Dictionnaire – Bouche’, Documents, No. 5, 1930, pp.
art is always a way of concentrating, reinventing what is called fact,
what we know of our existence….tearing away the veils that fact acquires
Francis Bacon interviewed by Hugh Davies, June 26, 1973, in Hugh Davies
and Sally Yard, Francis Bacon, New York, 1986, p. 110
“Consciousness of mortality sharpens one’s sense of existing.”
Francis Bacon interviewed by Hugh M. Davies in 1973, in Martin Harrison,
ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies, Göttingen, 2009, p. 96
perhaps the most singularly devastating personification in figural art
of the post-war period. It is a vision so universal and immediate that
it threatens to traverse the threshold between viewer and object,
simultaneously leaping into our domain and sucking us into its own. It
is an unrepeatable image, borne specifically of its time and of the
unique experiences of its creator, yet stands as an allegory for
perpetuity. Emerging from the desolate shadows of the Second World War
and its abject annihilation of over fifty million souls, a Pope looms
forth from the depths of Francis Bacon’s formidable genius and draws
near, into our focus. The Vicar of Christ, Successor of Saint Peter and
God’s temporal representative on earth; this Supreme Pontiff has
transmogrified into a chimera of awesome terror. It has become the
anguished epitome of humanity’s excruciating scream: deafening to our
collective interior, yet silent in the existential void. Encaged within
insufferable isolation, this Pope - totem of enlightened perception, of
authoritative faith, of order against chaos - is violently racked by the
brutal fact of the human condition. It is the proposition of a world
turned upside down, of established systems shattered, and, as such,
is the perfect response to Theodor Adorno’s legendary 1951 axiom “There
can be no poetry after Auschwitz.” Having remained in the same private
collection for over thirty years and hidden from public view, this
painting embodies, of course, Bacon’s most celebrated and recognizable
iconography. Even more than this, as a Pope it crystallizes a thunderous
climax in the long arc of that elusive and indefinable engine of
innovation known as artistic genius. Within the Twentieth Century,
perhaps only Picasso’s Guernica, with its monumental, monochrome
nightmare apparition of a Nativity scene being torn apart by massacre,
parallels the impossible figurative potency of Bacon’s Screaming Popes.
phenomenal specter of papal imagery and its inspiration had seeped into
Bacon’s work since the end of the 1940s, but the present painting is
more precisely allied to his most revered cycle of Popes; the eight Study
for Portraits that were executed in the summer of 1953 for his first
exhibition outside England, at Durlacher Brothers Gallery in New York in
October to November of that year. Constituents of this corpus today
reside in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Hirshhorn
Museum, the Minneapolis Institute and the Lehman Loeb Art Center.
However, it is to the seminal masterpiece Study after Velázquez’s
Portrait of Pope Innocent X of 1953, housed in the Des Moines Art
Center, that the present work bears especially close parity. In terms of
the composition of space, the bodily expression and the figure’s
portrait, the two paintings harbor close formal correspondence. Indeed,
the visceral physiognomic intensity of the contorted features and
flashing teeth of the gaping mouth in the present canvas, so deftly
fashioned by the artist’s daubs of writhing paint, achieves a heightened
psychological import – shooting the desperate papal cry straight into
the realm of the viewer – that surpasses any of the eight Studies and is
matched only by the Des Moines work. Bacon’s painting here is unleashed
and urgent, unencumbered by any stodgy deliberation or revision, and his
unbridled protagonist delivers a primal clarion call that summons
Georges Bataille’s potent proclamation: “Terror and atrocious suffering
make the mouth an organ of searing screams.” (Georges Bataille,
‘Dictionnaire – Bouche’, Documents, No. 5, 1930, pp. 298-99)
Bacon’s typically eloquent declaration that he wanted to “unlock the
valves of feeling and therefore return the onlooker to life more
violently” aptly explains how the genesis of this most ambitious body of
work was seeded by an inspirational touchstone of resounding
familiarity. The archetype Bacon appropriated as starting point for his
Pope series was Diego Velázquez’s extraordinary Portrait of Pope
Innocent X of 1650, held in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome; a
painting for which Bacon was “haunted and obsessed by the image…its
perfection.” (Francis Bacon interviewed by Hugh Davies, June 26, 1973,
in Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, Francis Bacon, New York, 1986, p. 23)
Having travelled to Rome from the Spanish court of Philip IV in 1649,
Velázquez was afforded the great honor of depicting the Pope,
Giambattista Pamphilj, known as Innocent X, whom he had met as papal
nuncio in Madrid in 1626-30. The painting was executed in a Jubilee year
when 700,000 pilgrims descended on Rome, and Velázquez dutifully
portrayed the Bishop of Rome as the most powerful man in the world,
encased by the trappings of his office. Yet the spectacular achievement
of this portrait is that within the gold, silk and lace vestiges of
papal supremacy resides a mortal human being beset by flaw and
fallibility. While Pope Innocent X resides literally ex cathedra in the
papal throne, official document clutched in hand and glinting ring
proffered for all to pay homage; the man Pamphilj wears a pained and
suspicious countenance that betrays the unscrupulous and duplicitous
pitfalls of his tenure as Pontiff. The brilliance of Velázquez’s
embedded juxtaposition, pitting the Papacy’s supposed omnipotence
against Man’s inevitable frailty, while also delivering a likeness that
was so highly received that he was awarded a golden medallion for his
services, ignited an ambition within Bacon to equal this achievement,
albeit in a godless world that had been literally torn to shreds by
chaos and destruction. Moreover, beyond the substrate of canvas and
layers of oil paint, Bacon perceived the voice of the artist speaking
across the centuries: “If you look at a Velázquez, what do you think
about? ... I don’t think about his sitters, I think about him… I think
about Velázquez, I think people believe that they’re painting other
people, but they paint out their own instincts.” (Francis Bacon
interviewed by Hugh Davies, August 13, 1973, in Exh. Cat., Museum of
Contemporary Art San Diego, Francis Bacon: The Papal Portraits of
1953, 1999, p. 34)
previously been noted that Bacon had not at this stage in his career
seen the Velázquez painting in Rome first-hand, and for this initial
series of papal portraits he worked from a black and white illustration
of the work. This in turn has been suggested as the cause for the purple
color of the garments in these paintings differing from the original
cardinal red. However, while Bacon’s extensive enlistment of and
reference to photographic sources is beyond question, it also seems more
than likely that he was familiar with another version of Velázquez’s
painting; one that has resided in Apsley House, the seat of the Duke of
Wellington in London, since the beginning of the Nineteenth Century.
This smaller painting by Veláquez, either a study made before or copy
made after the larger work, was gifted to the Duke of Wellington by the
King of Spain in 1816, together with over 150 other pictures from the
Spanish Royal Collection, in recognition of his defeat of Napoleonic
forces and liberation of Spain in the Peninsular War. The British
commander had recovered these works from the fleeing carriage of Joseph
Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, after the Battle of Vitoria in 1813.
Under the Duke of Wellington’s great-grandson, Apsley House and its art
collection was opened to the public in 1952, the centenary of the first
Duke’s death and, conveniently, shortly before Francis Bacon initiated a
grand cycle of papal portraits including the present painting. That
Apsley House sits at Hyde Park Corner, about fifteen minutes’ walk from
the Royal College of Art where Bacon was using a studio between 1951 and
1953, readily invites the hypothesis that he was able to study this
highly accomplished version at close quarters.
However, the Velázquez painting is merely a template that becomes a
delivery system for Bacon’s radical and unrelenting reinvention. Indeed,
the present work is Bacon’s concrete realization that “Great art is
always a way of concentrating, reinventing what is called fact, what we
know of our existence….tearing away the veils that fact acquires through
time.” (Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, Op. Cit., p. 110) Thus Bacon
replaces the subjective idiosyncrasies of the grand state portrait with
an intimate visage of pain and suffering that stands as proxy for the
torment of the human race. His source for this all-encompassing cipher
was provided by a film still of a screaming female character in Sergei
Eisenstein’s 1925 movie The Battleship Potemkin. Bacon had first
seen the movie in 1935 and viewed it frequently thereafter, and this
specific still was reproduced in Roger Manvell’s 1944 paperback Film,
though Bacon also kept other reproductions of the startling image. The
frame shows a pince-nez wearing elderly woman, commonly referred to as a
nurse, shot through the eye and caught at the instant of death. It
belongs to the movie’s massacre sequence on the Odessa Steps which,
though it veers wildly from historical accuracy, remains one of the most
iconic pieces of propagandist film ever made. Within its remorseless
tragedy it is this character, part blinded and dying while also
witnessing a baby in a pram being brutalized by the sword of a tsarist
soldier, that embodies the conception of absolute horror and the
abandonment of all hope. By supplanting Velázquez’s portrait of Innocent
X with this twentieth-century essence of ultimate despair and its
tortured last gasping breath, Bacon unites two extremes of enduringly
also important to note the personal biographical import of this vision
to its author. Since a small child, Bacon had suffered chronic asthma,
greatly aggravated by the dogs and horses that had attended his
upbringing. According to Caroline Blackwood, “When he was a little boy
his parents had put him astride a pony and they had forced him to go
fox-hunting. He loathed the brutality of the “Sport of Kings” and
developed a violent allergy to horses. He turned blue once he found
himself on the hunting field and he started to choke with chronic
asthma…The subject made him freeze. He became agitated whenever I
broached it. He started to tug at the collar of his shirt as if he were
trying to loosen some kind of noose which he found asphyxiating; for a
moment he resembled the agonized figures in his paintings whose faces
turn a truly dangerous shade of indigo purple as they go into the last
stages of strangulation.” (Caroline Blackwood, ‘Francis Bacon
Obituary’, The New York Review of Books, 24 September
1992) Bacon’s papal figure is caught in a symphony of movement; its
representation comprised all of shadows and flashing motion and evolving
in constant flux. This also recalls the photography of Edweard
Muybridge, which used multiple cameras and an elaborate trigger device
to capture successive stages of motion. Bacon possessed many
illustrations of Muybridge's images and this Pope’s right hand, veering
towards us out of the darkness, recalls something of Muybridge's
photograph series 'Striking a Blow with the Right Hand', a fragment of
which was found in the artist's studio after his death. While the right
hand of Velázquez’s Innocent X hangs limply from the support of his
gilded throne, Bacon’s papal fury lashes out at the viewer with a
clenched fist, once again destabilizing the barrier between viewer and
drama of all this corporeal expression is greatly intensified by the
artist’s complex framing of the composition and the many facets that
define an uneasy sense of flux and unknowable dimensions within the
canvas. Bacon’s overlapping linear schema here act as cage-like space
frames that enclose this Pope inside its solitary nightmare. Indeed, the
present work proves to act as prototype for Bacon’s consequent
declaration: “I like the anonymous compartment, like a room concentrated
in a small space. I would like to paint landscapes in a box…If you could
enclose their infinity in a box they would have a greater
concentration.” (the artist interviewed by Hugh M. Davies in 1973, in
Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies, Göttingen,
2009, p. 111) This compositional organization echoes Picasso’s strategy
of reducing three-dimensions to a scored network of diagrammatic black
lines, such as in the groundbreaking Painter and Model of 1928. It is
also strongly redolent of the frantic inscribed urgency of Giacometti’s
autograph portraiture style and architectonic construction, so harshly
graphic in his visceral drawings, and evident in Portrait of Peter
Watson of 1953, which, as noted by Martin Harrison, was a work that
Bacon probably knew given his close relationship to the sitter. It is
also reminiscent of Bacon’s work as a furniture designer in the late
1920s, where he defined the parameters of actual space with folding
screens and curved metal tubes inspired by the Bauhaus, Le Corbusier and Ozenfant, and which are well-evidenced in a 1930 article in The
Studio magazine and the documentary paintings of his fellow painter and
friend Roy de Maistre. The space frames of the papal portraits mark the
mature inception of these translucent compartments of literal,
psychological and somatic space that would subsequently trap anonymous
businessmen within midnight blue voids and imprison countless actors in
triptychs throughout Bacon’s oeuvres of the subsequent three decades.
from the formal compartmentalization of space, Francis Bacon was also
transfixed by the potentiality of material strata and layers of
perception, as he described to David Sylvester: "We nearly always live
through screens – a screened existence. And I sometimes think, when
people say my work looks violent, that perhaps I have from time to time
been able to clear away one or two of the veils or screens." (Francis
Bacon cited in David Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London,
1993, p. 26) The vertical and diagonal, tonally-polarized hatching that
spans the present work is another iconographic device that is both
rooted in illustrious precedent and foreshadows Bacon’s later output. In
a way similar to the Des Moines Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope
Innocent X, the upright bands that strike through this protagonist and
unite it with the background are at once evocative of Titian’s Portrait
of Cardinal Filippo Archinto of circa 1551-62, in which a diaphanous
veil bisects the sitter’s right eye and dramatically blurs his left hand
behind the drapery. This shuttering effect takes Bacon’s character in
and out of coherence, like the staccato pulsations of a half-glimpsed
memory disappearing and returning to our focus. Aspects of the forms
merge and blur, instilling a sense of dynamism and movement, and we are
afforded alternative descriptions of the pictorial content, such as the
suggestion that this pope has his tongue fully extended out of his
mouth. Bacon’s screens and veils complicate our perception of his
vision, and as such deliver a fitting coda to one of his favourite
passages from T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, which he told Hugh Davies had
been a continual source of inspiration to him: “I have heard the key/
Turn in the door once and turn once only/ We think of the key, each in
his prison/ thinking of the key, each confirms a prison” (read by the
artist in interview by Hugh M. Davies in 1973, in Martin Harrison, Op.
Cit., p. 102)
more than any other theme associated with his canon, the threat of
mortality inhabits every pore of Bacon’s art. Danger, violence and death
constantly linger in the recesses of his canvases, acting like a
continual incantation of his deft maxim: “Consciousness of mortality
sharpens one’s sense of existing.” (Ibid., p. 96). Of course, many of
his greatest later works became directly associated with the sudden and
brutal deaths of his respective lovers Peter Lacy and George Dyer, but
in fact the risk of impending fatality imbued his existence from its
most formative stage. Raised by English parents living in Ireland’s
County Kildare during the violent era surrounding the Easter Uprising,
Bacon’s upbringing was intensely fraught and immersed in the threat of
harm: “My father warned us that at any time, not that we would be shot,
but at night someone might break in or whatever. My grandmother married
three times, at that time her husband was the Head of Police in Kildare
and in their house all the windows were sandbagged. I lived with my
grandmother a lot. I grew up in an atmosphere of threat for a long
time…And then I was in Berlin at the beginning of the Nazi thing, my
whole life had been lived through a time of stress.” (Ibid., pp. 104-5)
Aged no more than sixteen, in 1926 he was abruptly driven from his home,
away from hearth and kin by his father, and embarked for London. At the
beginning of 1927 he was in Berlin and by the Spring he had arrived in
Paris, staying that summer with a family in Chantilly before moving in
the Fall to the Hôtel Delambre in Montparnasse, where he endured an
impoverished subsistence lifestyle for almost a year. Alongside the
actual events of his life, he of course became a voracious devourer of
the canon of western Art History, and he purposely sought out those most
powerful narrators of the tragedy of the human drama, from Michelangelo
to Velázquez to Poussin to Picasso, to provide an analytical framework
for his own experience. The dramatic shadow of this illustrious
precedent is readily evident in the present work, and perhaps none more
so than a work that Bacon would have encountered in the Tate, Henry
Fuseli’s Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers, which in execution, subject
and spirit stands as an eerily prescient predecessor for Untitled (Pope).
Bacon’s coming of age was thus forged in a crucible of uncertainty and
risk, and this heritage violently coursed through his subsequent life
and art. Fifteen years after Paris, in 1944, he delivered the searing
cry of his masterpiece Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a
Crucifixion; shrieking into existence to announce that figurative art
could never be the same again. A decade after that, the Popes declared
that everything we thought we knew - the history that was meant to bind
us, the psychological and emotional journeys we supposedly shared, the
promise of futures entwined together - were all merely veils to mask the
thunderous yet silent solitary scream that lies within us all. It
remains one of the most pertinent, universal and affecting visions in
the History of Art, and the full force of its power is trapped forever
on the surface of this sensational painting.
- 12,000,000 USD LOT
Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London
Redfern Gallery, London
Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., London, March 23, 1983, Lot 73
Waddington Galleries Ltd., London
Acquired by the present owner from the above
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings,
March - April 1967, cat. no. 19, p. 81, illustrated
Borel, introduction by Milan Kundera, Bacon: Portraits and
Self-Portraits, London and New York, 1996, p. 62, illustrated in
Embiricos (1920-2011) was a Greek shipping magnate. Following legal
studies in Athens and Cambridge he entered the family business and built
it into a leading concern during the Post-War period. Embiricos moved to
New York after the War and began collecting art. Passionate and erudite,
he retired early to devote his life to art and learning.
Over several decades George Embiricos assembled a legendary collection
of paintings, works on paper and sculpture. His profound connoisseurship
was eclectic, spanning centuries and cultures. Masterpieces by El Greco,
Goya, Cézanne, Kandinsky, Picasso, Van Gogh and Bacon, among others,
were brought together in his beautiful home in Lausanne. Sotheby's is
honoured to present here Francis Bacon’s remarkable Study for Head of
Isabel Rawsthorne of 1967 from the Estate of George Embiricos.
Important pictures from Paul Cézanne to Max Ernst and by Francisco de
Goya will be offered in Sotheby's auctions of Impressionist and Modern
Art on November 5 and Old Master Paintings in January 2013,
"Her face would assume a look of extreme indignation, followed by one of
raucous good humour, and then a glance of seduction, all dropped like
masks and as readily replaced".
Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London
1996, p. 205
masterful essay on the analysis of facial landscape, Study for Head
of Isabel Rawsthorne is a deeply personal portrayal of one of
Francis Bacon's closest female friends. Bacon only painted a handful of
female confidants, insisting that he must know his sitters intimately.
Isabel Rawsthorne provided unique focus for the artist: she was his
preferred female muse and inspired a greater number of small portrait
canvases than any of his other friends. Bacon and Rawsthorne had first
met in the late 1940s at the home of Erica Brausen, who represented both
artists at her Hanover Gallery in London, yet this spectacular portrayal
was painted two decades later and today marks the nearly forty years of
their close friendship as well as Bacon’s breathtaking ability to
navigate the very threshold of abstraction and figuration in rendering
the human form.
In the 1960s Bacon had commissioned John Deakin to photograph Rawsthorne
so that he could paint from secondary images. As he told David
Sylvester, "I've had photographs taken from 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
don't know. But, if I both know them and have photographs of them, I
find it easier to work than actually having their presence in the room."
(David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with Francis
Bacon, London, 1990, p. 40) Rawsthorne died at the beginning of
1992: the following May, Bacon divulged that they had had an affair and
famously told Paris Match "You know I also made love to Isabel
Rawsthorne, a very beautiful woman who was Derain's model and Georges
Bataille's girlfriend." Bacon's relationship with Rawsthorne was thus
singularly unlike that of any of his other female acquaintances.
Michael Peppiatt has described Rawsthorne's prodigious facility for
physiognomic change: "Her face would assume a look of extreme
indignation, followed by one of raucous good humour, and then a glance
of seduction, all dropped like masks and as readily replaced." (Michael
Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London, 1996, p.
205). Bacon was inevitably seduced by this expressive variety and this
painting epitomizes a rare mode of description that can only stem from a
lifetime's worth of close observation. In 1984 Bacon told David
Sylvester "I am certainly not trying to make a portrait of somebody's
soul or psyche or whatever you like to call it. You can only make a
portrait of their appearance, but I think that their appearance is
deeply linked with their behavior." (Francis Bacon in conversation with
David Sylvester, 1984, Op Cit, p. 234) Rawsthorne described Bacon's
paintings of her as "fabulously accurate" and this deeply personal work
is the consummate conflation of her worldly exterior appearance and
phenomenal interior character (Michael Peppiatt, Op Cit, p. 208)
painting schematizes physiognomy in diagrammatic swathes, whose edges
carve through the layers of accumulated paint material among patterns of
pigment applied with cashmere sweaters and smeared on the surface. The
head looms like a sculpture in paint, reminiscent of Rawsthorne’s other
lover Alberto Giacometti’s busts of her, and is virtually superimposed
onto the stark flatness of the pale backdrop, whose tonal
polarity emphasizes the prominent silhouette of amalgamated profiles.
Throughout the work there is this tension between graphic dexterity and
the raw power of colour, as is so typical of Bacon's most enthralling
masterworks. Within the scribed lines of the head Rawsthorne's
idiosyncratic features - high forehead, long cheek-bones and arched
eyebrows - are confidently incised in flecked streaks and variegated
smears of densely worked paint. Variance of expression is revealed
through the veiled layers of shuttered hatching, so that "sensation
doesn't come straight out at you; it slides slowly and gently through
the gaps" (Francis Bacon in conversation with David Sylvester, Op. Cit.,
Born in London's East End in 1912, Isabel Nicholas studied at Liverpool
Art School before briefly attending the Royal Academy in London. As a
young girl she lived with and modelled for the sculptor Jacob Epstein,
whose Isabel of 1933 communes a hypnotic sexual allure. In 1934 she
moved to Paris and started modeling for André Derain and Alberto
Giacometti. She lived with the latter and his sculptures of her bear
witness to a statuesque composure and almost celestial assuredness. She
also befriended the poet Michel Leiris, who was the son-in-law of
Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, Picasso's famous patron. Her first marriage was
to Sefton Delmer, a war correspondent for the Daily Express and together
they reported on the Spanish Civil War.
Having divorced Delmer after the Second World War, she married the
composer and conductor Constant Lambert. She had her first major solo
exhibition in 1949 at the Hanover Gallery, where Bacon also exhibited,
after which she designed stage sets, including at the Royal Opera House
in 1953. Lambert had died in 1951 and in 1954 she married his friend,
the composer Alan Rawsthorne. During the '50s and '60s she mixed in Soho
circles along with Bacon at Muriel Belcher's "Colony Room" drinking club
and "The George" pub. By the end of the 1970s her eyesight had
deteriorated to such a degree that she stopped painting. In this
context, Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne is not only the
valediction to a truly epic life that spanned the devastating excesses
of the Twentieth Century, but also punctuates the closing chapter of her
own creativity as an artist.
Marlborough fine Art tries to throw off burden of the Rothko scandal
Mayfair's Marlborough gallery effectively invented the modern art market
in the 1960s, but the notorious Rothko case badly dented its image. Now
a new space to showcase today's art world stars is giving it fresh
Tim Adams, The Observer, Sunday 14 October 2012
Gilbert Lloyd and Andrew Renton, in front of an Angela Ferreira
sculpture, at Marlborough Contemporary art gallery, London. Photograph:
Thursday night, Marlborough Fine Art, which has occupied the ground
floor of a fine 18th- century terrace at 6 Albemarle Street,
Mayfair, for the last 40 years, opened an upstairs gallery and
celebrated the fact with a party attended by the London art world's
most glamorous figures. This was more than a routine office
expansion. It was, in the eyes of the Marlborough's managing
director, Gilbert Lloyd, a long-awaited rebirth. Lloyd, a twinkling,
bearded man of consummate charm, now 72, is an elusive,
semi-mythical figure in his world. A long-time resident of Nassau in
the Bahamas, with an accent that still betrays a little of his
Austrian ancestry, he started work in the family firm, established
by his father, Frank, 50 years ago. In the decades that followed,
and before dealers such as Charles Saatchi or Larry Gagosian had
their say, for better or worse Marlborough virtually invented the
modern art market.
In the 1960s, the
gallery was the dealer for Francis Bacon, Henry Moore, Frank
Auerbach, Lucian Freud,
Graham Sutherland and Barbra
Hepworth, as well as establishing the international reputations of
Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and others. In America, where Marlborough
opened the doors of a New York gallery in 1963, it was the prime
mover of abstract expressionism, taking on the estate of
Jackson Pollock and working exclusively with Robert Motherwell,
David Smith and, most infamously, Mark Rothko, an association that
was to end in the "art trial of the century". Despite that scandal,
Marlborough maintained its place at the top table of the art world.
The London gallery continued to represent Auerbach and Paula Rego,
among many others.
Gilbert Lloyd is reaching an age when some men could be thinking
perhaps of winding down, but instead he has been planning for the
shock of the new. With this in mind, he has turned to Andrew Renton,
until recently professor of curating at Goldsmiths College, London,
to move in upstairs and open Marlborough Contemporary.
first sight, theirs is an unusual marriage. The academic Renton, 48,
has no experience of selling paintings, whereas Lloyd has been
happily swimming in the sharkish waters of art dealing for most of
his life. Speaking to both of the new partners in advance of their
adventure, however, it is hard to say who is the more enthralled.
Renton says: "When we first began discussing plans, Gilbert asked,
hopefully, 'I expect you will be having a lot of discotheques
upstairs?' He pretends to be the old guard, but he is really excited
about it all."
When Renton was approached for the job, at a time when he was
"thinking of having leather patches sewn on his elbows" and settling
into his tenure at Goldsmiths, alma mater to Damien Hirst and the
Sensation group of young British artists, he thought they had the
wrong man. He had spent his working life writing and teaching and
curating mostly conceptual exhibitions, not whispering up
seven-figure prices for painterly modern masters. Eventually,
though, he went along to meet Lloyd, if only out of curiosity for
"the legend" and "because as a lonely and difficult teenager I used
to come to Marlborough to look at art, particularly Francis Bacon".
was immediately seduced. "It was like meeting a new old friend," he
says. "After about three months it became clear that the most
interesting thing to do would be for me to create something brand
new alongside the original thing. Marlborough London remains a
fantastic business. But I suppose there was a feeling from Gilbert
that the likes of Frank Auerbach and Paula Rego were not being
Lloyd, for his part, suggests that he had been "looking for years
and years for the right man to take things forward. It so happened
that I found Andrew at the very same time that it became possible to
renovate this 18th-century building because all the sub-leases came
up in the same month. All the tenants cleared out and we were able
to gut the place."
Renton fills in for Lloyd the gaps in his knowledge of contemporary
art that had inevitably grown, despite a peripatetic life that sees
him and his wife travel the world's art fairs for much of the year.
"I am not ashamed to say I don't know parts of this new world at
all," Lloyd says. "At Frieze [art fair] in London for example, which
I always find very invigorating, it is always very difficult for me
to pick out from this enormous amount of art what we can sell with a
good conscience. Andrew has that eye."
Lloyd, with his precisely clipped beard and immaculate tailoring,
believes Renton, who has a shock of black hair and an air of
practised dishevelment, can work in the Marlborough tradition. "We
have always been after quality and beauty and desirability," Lloyd
says. "There is a lot of trophy-hunting which goes on in the art
world. At the moment for example, you have to own a Warhol Marilyn.
We are not in the business of supplying trophies."
That, of course, is what all art dealers say. When I meet Lloyd at
Brown's hotel over the road from his gallery, he is just back from
Art Basel, where the Marlborough stand had a 1954 Rothko from a
Swiss collection, a block of orange above a band of pale pink that
Lloyd had priced at $78m (£48.7m). Though he had been talking to
some interested parties, particularly from South America, the Rothko
remained for sale. "It will find a good home this month or next
though. It is a very great picture."
understand what Renton calls the "legend" of Lloyd, it seems
important to know a little of where he came from. He is, in some
ways, the creation of his father, Frank, who established Marlborough
when he was demobbed from the British army in 1946 along with his
friend, and fellow Austrian emigre, Harry Fischer. The Marlborough
name was chosen because it sounded like an establishment fixture,
just as Frank Lloyd had changed his name from Franz Kurt Levai,
prompted by the bank at which he opened his London account.
Before the war, Levai's parents had an antiques shop in the centre
of Vienna. In 1938, they lost everything in the Anschluss and his
parents eventually perished in Auschwitz. Levai, a Jew, escaped to
France with his non-Jewish girlfriend. Gilbert was born in May 1940,
the same day his father sailed from St Jean de Luz harbour for
Britain. Mother and baby were repatriated by the Gestapo to Austria.
Lloyd never knew his father until he was five, when Frank arrived in
a British uniform in the little village outside Salzburg where he
and his mother had been hiding all that time. "It had been quite
tough," Lloyd recalls, with understatement. "In the village money
had no value. My mother's father taught all his children a trade and
she was a seamstress. That saved our lives really. She could make
some dresses for a farmer's wife and in return we could get a
quarter of a pig and a kilo of butter for the winter. That was how
That early deal-making ran deep with Lloyd. They moved to London
with his father. A baby sister was born and Lloyd eventually
attended the Courtauld Institute of Art before joining what had
become the family firm. By that time, Marlborough was already
established as one of the biggest players in an expanding
international art market. Lloyd and Fischer, and their British
partner David Somerset, later the Duke of Beaufort, had seen that
after the war there were many possible openings: for the sale of old
masters from the British aristocracy fallen on hard times, for the
marketing of European artists almost unknown in Britain and America
such as Schiele and Klimt and, most crucially, in the establishment
of a new generation of postwar masters, of whom there was a
potentially unlimited supply.
"In the 60s," Lloyd recalls, "there was a lot of art to be had on
the secondary market and living artists were not well looked after
at all. There were very few collectors, very few competitors and
hardly any money. Marlborough were good at what they did. David
Somerset handled the PR and sales [the duke remains Marlborough
chairman], Harry Fischer was the intellectual salesman and my father
was the businessman who loved art and who concentrated on providing
The catalogues boxed in the basement of the current gallery are a
testament to that endeavour. "When we opened premises at 39 Old Bond
Street," Lloyd recalls, "we had an exhibition of 18 Van Gogh
self-portraits. It would be impossible to do that now. The engineer
Van Gogh, Vincent's nephew, who was heir to the Van Gogh estate,
came to the opening. I remember him well, a charming old Dutchman."
For a short while, it seemed Marlborough had almost everything to
itself. "For one thing, the auction houses were rather fuddy-duddy
and not at all active," Lloyd says. "Though that all changed one
night in the mid 60s, when for the first time we were invited by
Peter Wilson to an evening auction at Sotheby's. Black tie. And all
us dealers thought, 'What is going on here? Auctions happen at 11 in
the morning and no one goes.' That was the beginning of the auction
houses' rocket-like ascent and in a more modest way Marlborough took
off alongside them."
was not all high octane. Lloyd well remembers the years when "we
used to celebrate for a week when we sold a Bacon; we would
celebrate for two weeks when we sold an Auerbach. These British
painters were totally out of fashion," he says, even, if you went to
a client's home in Dallas, Texas, say, something of an
embarrassment. "I remember one man in particular, Jim Clark, had a
wonderful collection of Mondrians," Lloyd says. "At some point in
our meeting, Mrs Clark would say, 'Show us some of your newer
gallery art' and I would bring out a large Bacon of two men in the
nude cavorting in a field. This would tend to cause a deathly hush."
Francis Bacon signed a 10-year contract with Marlborough in 1958
that began with Frank Lloyd's undertaking to settle a £5,000
gambling debt the artist had incurred and which guaranteed money
against future paintings. In the terms of the contract, a painting
measuring 20in by 24in was valued at £165; one of 65in by 78in £420.
Bacon was contracted to supply the gallery with £3,600 worth of
paintings each year. Bacon called his Marlborough employers "the old
uncles" and was known to joke of Frank Lloyd: "I'd rather be in the
hands of a competent crook than in the hands of an incompetent
honest man." The gallery's administrator, Valerie Beston, became his
celebrated helpmeet and protection from the world, and even after he
withdrew from that original contract and his paintings were selling
for hundreds of thousands of pounds, Bacon retained a loyal
affiliation to the gallery.
"Bacon's exhibition in the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971 was one of
the most stunning moments of my life," Lloyd says. "You knew that
the explosion was going to happen for Francis and that was the
moment. But I am also rather pleased for example to have been with
Francis in Berlin for his retrospective in 1984 and walked along the
Berlin Wall with him and, although I warned him against it, taken
him to East Berlin. He wanted a slap-up meal there, though we didn't
find one of course. He went to see the Pergamon Altar. We spent a
lot of time together. I always thought being a dealer is a bit like
being the oil in the gear case of the artist's life."
This efficient anonymity was undone for Marlborough in 1972 with the
Rothko trial, which still attaches itself to the gallery's name 40
years on. When I bring it up with Lloyd he winces slightly and a
"It is inevitable that people will talk about it," he says. "As far
as I am concerned it was a very bad chapter for Marlborough, but it
was dealt with by the judicial system and everything was cleared up;
we came out of it with a black eye and we have long considered it
is, however, history with a capital H. At the time, the trial was
routinely called the Watergate of the art world, casting light on
the murkier practices of millionaire dealers and their clients. When
Mark Rothko died in 1970, he left behind 800 paintings in the hands
of his appointed trustees, a triumvirate of men who were very close
to Marlborough and Frank Lloyd. A hundred of those paintings were
quickly sold to the gallery for $1.8m, a fraction of their market
value. In 1972, Rothko's 20-year-old daughter, Kate, on behalf of
herself and her eight-year-old brother, Christopher, sued the
trustees and the gallery over the terms of that deal and the alleged
exploitation of her father's work. The court case lasted eight
months and became a cause celebre in liberal New York, as it exposed
the ways in which Marlborough (in common with other dealers)
manipulated the market and its artists to hugely rewarding
advantage, using a base in Liechtenstein legally but shadily to
avoid taxes on the art it bought and sold.
Frank Lloyd became a media pariah for his performance in the witness
box, telling one reporter: "I collect money, not art." The critic
Robert Hughes, commenting on the trial, suggested Lloyd senior was
viewed by the New York public as a combination of "Fu Manchu and
Goldfinger", the foreign plutocrat resident in Nassau defrauding the
orphans of tortured artists. Marlborough and the trustees lost the
case and Marlborough was ordered to pay more than $9m in damages and
fines. Later, it was discovered Lloyd had sold some of Rothko's
paintings in contravention of a temporary ruling and had tampered
with the gallery's books to cover up the deals. Another consignment
of Rothko paintings was reportedly bound for Liechtenstein before
prosecutors, who had been tipped off, intercepted them.
Frank Lloyd originally moved to Nassau in part to escape American
justice, although he returned to face a criminal trial in 1982, a
conviction resulting in a fine and a requirement to teach in New
York public art schools. He was also forced to leave the company,
its reputation severely compromised, to be managed by Gilbert, his
sister, Barbara, and their cousin, Pierre Levai, who remains
president of Marlborough New York.
Gilbert Lloyd is necessarily practised in playing down the impact of
the trial on Marlborough's reputation. "There were some
consequences. Some of the more politically correct American artists
rather sadly said, 'We have to leave.'" This is a reference to the
loss of the Jackson Pollock estate and the abrupt departure of
Robert Motherwell, who said of Frank Lloyd: "If you are in his
power, he is ruthless" and: "He knows everyone has his price;
Lloyd's potency is money."
"But generally speaking," Lloyd maintains, "there were not so many
When I ask the about the frustrations in what seems a generally
golden life, Lloyd talks about the fact that "I was never able to do
exactly what I wanted when my father was in charge. He was a great
man, but he ruled the place with a fist of iron. When he left the
scene, half my life was gone and I really had to try very hard to
change the direction of the gallery."
One of the difficulties of that change was that after the Rothko
case a slew of other litigation followed, attempting to use the
Rothko ruling as a precedent. Marlborough was faced with defending
its actions against the estates of Naum Gabo, Kurt Schwitters
and most famously that of Francis Bacon, which looked back at that
original 10-year contract and sought retrospective compensation.
None of these suits was successful; the Bacon case, pursued by John
Edwards, the former publican who was Bacon's heir, was dropped
before it came to court.
Not surprisingly, Lloyd is somewhat rueful about this part of his
father's legacy. "He was an enormous influence on me. But he has
been dead a long time now. I really like to think I turned over a
new page. He started it all, but I feel we are very much a different
One of the motivations for opening the new gallery, you imagine, is
to emphasise that fact and to secure the wider legacy of the family
firm. Lloyd is proud to report that the "builder has constructed
Marlborough Contemporary to last for a couple of centuries". Having
lived through precarious times, he is interested in permanence.
Andrew Renton, for his part, thinks it is "amazing that the Rothko
case is still on the radar. Gilbert feels strongly they paid their
dues. But people bring it up, artists are conscious of it. It is
partly I think because we can't get our heads around the concept of
someone like Rothko being represented in that way. If one painting
is worth $78m, what would 100 paintings be worth?"
When he announced his new role, one artist friend gave Renton a gift
of the book that details the events of the trial along with the
instructions not to open it inside the gallery. When he read it, he
says, it seemed to reflect a different era entirely. "Some of the
things that Marlborough was accused of – manipulating the PR of
museum exhibitions or supporting their artist for the Venice
biennale – you think: 'Isn't that exactly what our job is?'"
Those long-blurred boundaries between the commercial and public,
educational art worlds are personified in Renton's appointment. It
is one thing to back your judgment academically, I suggest, but
quite another pressure to put your money, or the gallery's money,
where your mouth is.
Renton laughs. "Absolutely. This is a business. But having worked a
large part of my life in the public sector I know how enabling
collecting art is. The fact that people buy art makes art possible.
You can wait for public funding for ever."
has enjoyed sitting in inner-sanctum meetings with Lloyd and his
fellow directors, who have all been with Marlborough since at least
the 1960s, and in the case of David Somerset from the beginning.
"What I get is that arc of history. They have seen four or five
recessions come and go."
Although he has consulted on establishing several important
collections, the closest Renton has previously come to running a
commercial gallery was in a space in 1996 that someone had given him
rent-free. "It was basically a corridor that had its own front
door," he says. "One day, we had a crisis because one of the artists
we showed sold a book. I called him up and said, 'I have 25 quid but
I don't know what to do with the money.' He said: 'Do you want to go
for a curry?'"
That artist, Ian Whittlesea, is among those that Renton has
contracted to Marlborough Contemporary. He also plans exhibitions
with the Belgian painter Koen van den Broek and the video artist
Adam Chodzko. The gallery with an installation by the
Mozambique-born artist Ângela Ferreira, who looks at the influence
of modernism in Africa, in a documentary spirit, "and is about as
far from a traditional Marlborough artist as you could get," Renton
Ferreira's show is upstairs from a display of new work by Frank
Auerbach. Lloyd enjoys the contrast. "We have been a gallery dealing
with easel paintings and bronzes in limited editions. I never dealt
in works with motors and flashing lights and televisions because I
was always worried about how you maintain them. I mean, if you have
something featuring a television made in 1960, what do you do when
it goes wrong? Nowadays, though, with digital media, they are to a
certain extent indestructible."
Having seen at first hand the difficulties created by a domineering
managing director in his father, Lloyd is determined not to cramp
Renton's style. "I am not going to interfere one iota. That said, I
am on the phone to him every day discussing plans."
The only point on which the two men seem slightly to diverge is the
length of time it will take to make the new gallery a success.
Renton talks in terms of five- and 10-year plans. I get the idea
that Lloyd is a little less patient than that. "I am 72," he says.
"I am looking forward to some buzz." By which I guess he means
Does he still love the art of the deal? "It is an enormous thrill,"
he says. "It is not about the price, it is the making of a good
sale. I don't like much these individuals who walk around in faded
blue jeans and white shirts open to the navel saying they are 'gallerists'
and not in it to make money." Money has always to be at the heart of
it? "It has to be," he says, determinedly, before adding: "But only
to make all the other good things happen."
role does art play in your day to day life? In an ongoing series ABC
Arts’ bloggers discuss the events, shows and artists who have inspired
and excited them. This week, Nicola Harvey learns about Francis Bacon at
for self-portrait: Francis Bacon’s Britain
Francis Bacon was
born in 1909 and died in 1992. In the words of Anthony Bond, the
curatorial director at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the British
artist “saw an extraordinary century”. His art – paintings, drawings,
and early on furniture design – tracks this century and the great events
that unfolded throughout. In November, AGNSW will present Francis
Bacon Five Decades an
exhibition featuring over 50 of Bacon’s works sourced from collections
around the world.
It’s the first major
exhibition of Bacon’s work in Australia and marks 20 years since his
death. For many, Bond included, his legacy still looms large. Damien
Hirst has said Bacon took painting to a new level, “there’s no-one
really like him.”
This month and next,
the gallery is hosting a series of lectures exploring Bacon’s work. In
the first, on September 16, Anthony Bond regaled us with tales of
Bacon’s youth. I learned things few art history books have imparted. Did
you know, for example, Bacon was a chronic asthmatic? It was a condition
his domineering father found intolerable. He considered his son a wimp
for not ‘mucking in with the horses’ (Bacon’s father was a military man
turned racehorse trainer). But while Bacon may have found working in the
stables difficult, playing in the stables (with the young grooms) was a
regular source of amusement.
In 1927, according to
Bond, Bacon’s father, Captain Anthony Edward Mortimer Bacon, Eddie as he
was known to friends, discovered the young man wearing his mother’s
underwear. It was the final straw and Bacon was banished from the farm
and sent to Berlin, straight into the heart of the extravagant, dazzling
nightlife of the Weimar Republic. There his artistic career commenced
and over the following decades he slowly established himself as one of
the great figurative painters of the 20th century.
In coming months,
Meredith Burgmann, Tom Wright, Justice Michael Kirby and Craig Judd,
among others, will talk about Bacon’s life and career, and the culture
movements that rocked Britain during his lifetime.
lecture series is hosted at the AGNSW from September 16 - November
18. Coming up this Sunday at 10.30am, Dr Christopher Hartney examines
shock tactics in the Bacon’s work and British cinema.
Top image: Francis Bacon
in his Reece Mews studio. May 1970 (Photographer: Michael Pergolani,
Dublin Gallery The Hugh Lane, Art Gallery New South Wales)
WATCH >> Behind the
scenes at the Art Gallery of New South Wales as they prepare for Francis
Bacon: Five Decades
Art Evening Sale
| 12 October 2012 | L12024
UNTITLED (HEAD OF A WOMAN –
LISA SAINSBURY) FRANCIS BACON 1909 - 1992
FRANCIS BACON 1909 - 1992
UNTITLED (HEAD OF A WOMAN –
canvas 50.4 by 61.9cm. 19 7/8 by 24 3/8 in. Executed circa 1955-57.
- 800,000 GBP Lot
sold: 337,250 GBP
that this work will be included in the forthcoming Francis Bacon: The Catalogue
Raisonné, edited by Martin Harrison.
of the artist
Paul Danquah (acquired directly from the artist circa 1958)
Private Collection, United Kingdom (acquired in 2000)
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York
Pacific Heights Gallery, San Francisco
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Gagosian Gallery, Isabel and Other Intimate Strangers: Portraits by Alberto
Giacometti and Francis Bacon, 2008, p. 171, illustrated in colour
all done not as a commission but as an act of friendship.”
Lisa Sainsbury cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, Norwich, University of East
Anglia, Trapping Appearance- Portraits by Francis Bacon and Alberto
Giacometti from the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, 1996, p. 30.
One of four
surviving works from an original series of eight studies depicting Lisa
Sainsbury, the present work offers a rare account of a subject privileged enough
to sit for the artist. Untitled (Head of a Woman – Lisa Sainsbury)1955-57,
captures wonderfully the formative features of Francis Bacon’s analysis of the
human head and demonstrates an early exploration of the single head portrait
that was to become, as John Russell notes, "the scene of some of Bacon's most
ferocious investigations" (John Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1993, p.
the embryonic stages of his life-long investigation to visually explain the
variations of the human condition through pictorial representation, Head Untitled
(Head of a Woman – Lisa Sainsbury) superbly encapsulates the essence of the
sitter. Here, Bacon displays an array of textures and techniques that, much like
Giacometti’s sculptures of women, coalesce the head of someone he knew “with
that of an Egyptian sculpture in all its formal rigour and monumental grandeur”
(David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p.203).
Lisa’s delicate features are built up with layers of paint; smeared strokes of
pink and mauve contrast against a rich black ground that magnifies the presence
of the figure. The treatment of the mouth - an area of intense scrutiny for
Bacon - radiates serenity, her plump rose lips exuding none of the violence of
the gaping mouths that are present in his earlier Head series, and
suggests a warm assessment of the sitter by the artist.
first collectors of Bacon’s work, Lisa Sainsbury and her husband Robert were
first introduced to Bacon at a party by Erica Brausen of the Hanover Gallery.
The Sainsburys, who had already amassed an eclectic collection, including works
of Pre-Colombian, African, Japanese and Oceanic art, immediately became
admirers, and began to purchase a number of paintings. They accumulated a
collection, later donated to the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, of thirteen
works, including: Sketch for Portrait of Lisa 1955, Portrait of Lisa 1956
and Portrait of Lisa 1957 that provides an outstanding example of Bacon’s
corpus of work from the 1950’s.
Sainsbury had a deep respect for Bacon’s artistic practice and the collaboration
with Bacon began after she commissioned him to paint her husband Robert. By this
time, Bacon had moved from his studio in Cromwell Place and, after several years
of wandering from lodging to lodging, had moved to a flat on Prince of Wales
Drive that belonged Paul Danquah and Peter Pollock. It was here, during the
period of 1955-1957, that Lisa sat for Bacon every week, ceasing only when he
was abroad in Tangier. During this pivotal time Bacon worked intensely, making a
concerted effort to work directly from life. Indeed such was Bacon’s affection
for Lisa that, as Daniel Farson recalls, "For once, Francis encouraged them to
sit for him: Lisa for several pictures" (Daniel Farson, The Guilded Gutter
Life of Francis Bacon, London 1993, p. 90) This practice marked a stark,
albeit brief, departure from the artist’s preferred method of working solely
from commissioned photographs of friends and lovers that acted as a visual aide
in which he could project their presence onto the canvas, and elevates the
present work’s unique significance within Bacon’s entire oeuvre. Bacon
developed a total of eight studies but owing to his dissatisfaction with his
work only four studies, including the present, survive. As Lisa Sainsbury
recalls in an interview with David Sylvester, “I would sit and then I might come
back two or three times and suddenly there was a message saying it was gone…He
worked at them again and destroyed them but the final one was done very quickly
indeed.” (David Sylvester in: Exhibition Catalogue, Norwich, University of East
Anglia, Trapping Appearance- Portraits by Francis Bacon and Alberto
Giacometti from the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, 1996, p. 30).
Christoph Heinrich notes, “…sets out to convey the specific energy of very
different individuals through painting" (Exhibition Catalogue, Milan, Palazzo
Reale, Bacon, 2008, p. 55). Where many of Bacon’s portraits are fraught
with intense struggles of emotion, Untitled (Head of a Woman – Lisa
Sainsbury) demonstrates a calmness that serves both as a testament to the
valued connection that resonated between the pair, and seamlessly displays
Bacon’s ability to capture the spirit of a sitter who, in the case of Lisa
Sainsbury, was to remain a constant source of support throughout his career.
Sotheby's to sell Francis Bacon
SPEAR'S, Thursday 27 September 2012
November 2012 Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York will offer one
of the most important versions of Francis Bacon’s iconic Pope Paintings ever to
have appeared at auction. The vision of screaming Popes emerged from the
desolate shadows of the Second World War as humanity tried to make sense of the
horrors that had been committed during those years.
version was painted circa 1954 and is closely related to the artist’s Study
after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, the seminal masterpiece
that is now housed in the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa. Untitled (Pope) has
been in the same private collection since a 1975 auction at Sotheby’s London and
is estimated to fetch $18/25 million (£11/15 million)*. The work goes on public
exhibition for the first time in nearly 40 years at Sotheby’s Los Angeles on 27
September before being shown in London from 7 October and Doha later this
Bacon’s Pope portraits are some of the most radical and provocative paintings to
have appeared in the years immediately following World War II. The viewer is
presented with the Supreme Pontiff, the totem of enlightened perception and
order against chaos, violently wracked by the brutal terror of the post-war
imagery and its inspiration first started to appear in Bacon’s work in the late
1940s, however this version is more closely allied to a cycle of eight Study for
Portraits from 1953 that were created for an exhibition at Durlacher Brothers in
New York – Bacon’s first show outside England. These paintings can be found in
museums such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Hirshhorn in Washington
D.C., the Minneapolis Institute, the Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College as
well as several distinguished private collections, but this painting most
closely relates to the pivotal version in Des Moines.
is based upon the 1649 state portrait of Pope Innocent X by Diego Velázquez,
court painter to King Phillip IV of Spain. Velázquez dutifully portrays
Innocent as the most powerful man in the world surrounded by the luxurious
trappings of his office, yet also as a fallible mortal who must face the burdens
and pitfalls of his position.
Untitled (Pope) Bacon removes the idiosyncrasies of the grand state
portrait. They are replaced by a more intimate depiction of pain and suffering
inspired by the screaming nurse figure in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 movie The
Battleship Potemkin and the clenched fist from Edweard Muybridge’s
photograph Striking a Blow with the Right Hand.
previously been thought that Bacon had not seen the Velázquez original when he
painted this circa 1954 work. However, new research has suggested that he could
have been familiar with another version of the Innocent X painting. A smaller
rendering belonged to the Duke of Wellington and was housed at Apsley House in
London, just a short walk from Bacon’s studio at the Royal College of Art.
Apsley House was opened to the public in 1952 meaning Bacon could well have
studied this version at first-hand prior to starting his cycle of papal
Bacon’s depictions of Popes are among his most important paintings encompassing
many of the themes and iconography that fueled his artistic output over the
following decades. Untitled (Pope) is emblematic of these, and of an
artist who had such a dramatic effect on post-war art.
Francis Bacon 'screaming
pope' painting to be sold at auction
Picture from one of artist's
most provocative series of works has hung in same private collection for 40
Screaming pope under the
hammer, Mark Brown, The Guardian,
Thursday 27 September
A detail from Francis Bacon's Untitled (Pope), to be sold at Sotheby's in New
One of Francis Bacon's
"screaming pope" paintings which has hung in the same private collection for
nearly 40 years is to be auctioned with an estimate of 200 times what it was
bought for. The work, Untitled (Pope), was painted around 1954 and is
from one of Bacon's best known and most provocative series of works.
It will be sold at Sotheby's,
New York, on 13 November. The seller is in for a big windfall. It was bought in
1975 at Sotheby's in London for £71,500 and is expected to fetch $18m-25m
Oliver Barker, Sotheby's
senior international specialist in contemporary art, said: "Bacon is the artist
everybody is seeking at the moment, he is in many ways top of the pile. To find
something of this date, of this subject, of this importance is really a very
He said he had been working
and advising on the picture for six years. "It has been a slight personal
odyssey and it is incredibly exciting to be able to share this with a wider
audience because it is not a painting that's widely known. It has been tucked
away in an extremely discreet private place and it is so fantastic to be able to
announce it to the world. "It has been in a wonderful home and it's now time to
find a new home. We are very excited because it comes at a time when some
incredibly rare and fresh to market material is coming to market."
pope series was inspired by Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X and
Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 film Battleship Potemkin. It became a way for
the artist to express post-war horror and what mankind was capable of.
being sold is closely related to a famous Bacon hanging in the Des Moines Art
Center in Iowa – Study afterVelázquez's Portrait of
Innocent X. It goes on display in Los Angeles on Thursday and will travel to
London this autumn.
Francis Bacon 'Screaming
Pope' to fetch £15 million
The 'Screaming Pope'
painting, which one of Francis Bacon's provocative Pope series of works and has
been in a private collection for 40 years, is to be sold at Sotheby's, New York.
The Telegraph, 27 September
Francis Bacon's 'Screaming Pope' portrait is due to be sold at auction.
After nearly 40 years in one
private collection, one of Francis Bacon's "Screaming Pope" paintings is to be
The work, Untitled (Pope),
painted around 1954, was bought for £71,500 in 1975 at Sotheby's in London, and
is estimated to be fetch 200 times what it was bought for.
If the estimates are correct,
the sale at Sotheby's, New York, on 13 November, could net the current owner a
windfall of $18-25m (£15m).
Oliver Barker, Sotheby's
senior international specialist in contemporary art, said: "Bacon is the artist
everybody is seeking at the moment, he is in many ways top of the pile. To find
something of this date, of this subject, of this importance is really a very
"It has been a slight
personal odyssey and it is incredibly exciting to be able to share this with a
wider audience because it is not a painting that's widely known. It has been
tucked away in an extremely discreet private place and it is so fantastic to be
able to announce it to the world.
"It has been in a wonderful
home and it's now time to find a new home. We are very excited because it comes
at a time when some incredibly rare and fresh to market material is coming to
Bacon's Pope series was
inspired by Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X and Sergei
Eisenstein's 1925 film Battleship Potemkin.
The Pope being sold is
closely related to a famous Bacon hanging in the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa –
Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X.
Neil Libbert: the faces that came to define an era - in pictures
The Observer, Sunday 16 September
The French House in Soho was
the location for this impromptu shot of Francis Bacon. Libbert had called in for
a lunchtime pint and found the pub empty apart from the painter, who drank there
regularly. There was no film in Libbert’s camera so he loaded it surreptitiously
and then secretly took two shots. Bacon was so deep in thought he did not notice
him. Libbert never intended the picture to be published but it eventually
appeared in the Observer some
years later alongside the artist’s obituary.
The National Portrait
Gallery's solo exhibition of photographs by Neil Libbert celebrates his 55 years
as an award-winning photojournalist for the Observer, the Guardian and
many other publications. So often in the right place at the right time, Libbert
has captured many of today's biggest names at the start – and also at the height
– of their careers. Here we tell some of the stories behind these compelling
The exhibition, Neil Libbert:
Photojournalist, runs from 17 September 2012 to 21 April 2013
Francis Bacon was a shock
merchant, not a Nazi
Reports that the artist was
influenced by Third Reich imagery have missed the point: Bacon loved nothing
more than to challenge and disgust the world with his work
Jonathan Jones, On Art Blog,
The Guardian, 5 September 2012
Deliberately shocking ... Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon's painting
Triptych May - June 1973 portrays the last days of his lover George Dyer. A
man squats in a black doorway, his shadow emerging like a bat. Deep purples
promise: there will be blood. Bacon painted this corruscating vision of despair
after Dyer killed himself. You cannot call it an act of mourning for Dyer. It
is too brutal. Perhaps it is a history painting, giving one man's suicide the
status of a world-shattering event.
Bacon made use of Dyer's
death in his art because this stupendous painter's only ethos was his belief in
painting itself. Everything was worth stuffing into the violent sausage mill of
his art if it made for a potent image – even a lover's suicide. So how is it
surprising that Bacon also used Nazi imagery in his deliberately shocking
A silly-season art story has
it that Bacon made massive use of Third Reich imagery and that champions of his
work deliberately ignored this. The story, inspired by a new book, is
misleading in two ways. First, Bacon never concealed his interest in such
imagery, and nor did critical admirers in his lifetime. Second, the "discovery"
changes nothing about how Bacon's art ought to be interpreted. A man who painted
his closest friends with vicious intimacy was never a sentimental liberal type
full of good will. The malignity in Bacon is self-evident. What makes him a
great artist is the visceral force of his sense of human life as a godless
disaster area. The Nazis fit rather well into that vision.
Bacon's Nazi references are
no mystery, and no surprise. It is false to pretend his admirers glossed over
them. In this radio programme, his most famous champion, David Sylvester,
discusses how Bacon used the swastika as an artistic image. And here is
Sylvester again, on swastikas and cricket pads in Bacon's art.
The sensational speculations
now being relished about Bacon hinge on the idea that, in seeing his second
world war tropes as formal painterly effects, his fans have ignored the
underlying issue – that Bacon was promoting Nazism, or sympathetic to it. This
is a childish, glib, and leaden way of hitting a poetic artist on the head with
the rolled-up newspaper of literalism. Bacon created a monstrous, surreal
imaginative world of enclosed rooms and private hells. Nazi armbands fitted
naturally into his vision too.
The impact of Bacon's art
after the second world war had a lot to do with the fact that he was the first
artist who captured what the war revealed about the terrible truths of human
capabilities. The opening of concentration camps such as Belsen in
1945 and the images of industrial mass slaughter that were Hitler's ultimate
legacy left most artists incapable of matching horror with horror. Picasso's
painting The Charnel House barely hints at the real nightmare of the
Holocaust. Yet when Bacon's wartime masterpiece Three Figures for the Base of
a Crucifixion was first exhibited, it caused a familiar shudder: here was an
art that rose, or rather sank, to the challenge of representing the worst crimes
In his later paintings, Bacon
shows people enacting brutalities on one another in a terror that never ends. It
was not the Nazis who obsessed him. It was their crimes.
Were Francis Bacon's
Torturous Portraits Influenced by Nazi Photography?
ARTINFO, September 1, 2012
Three Figures and Portrait 1975 (detail)
Francis Bacon's tortured
figures might allude to more than his own conflicted psyche. In a book that will
be published by Tate later this month, Martin Hammer suggests that the British
painter also drew heavily on Nazi photographs found in books and magazines after
It's a radical new reading of
Bacon's oeuvre. Hammer, a professor of history and philosophy of art at
the University of Kent, told The Independent: “The use of Nazi imagery in
Bacon's work was an important aspect of his creativity; it is present in many
works. It was something that hadn't been addressed.”
The professor is also quick
to acknowledge that his findings might not be unanimously well received by Bacon
scholars: “The visual evidence is compelling, but it's hard to know what to make
of it,” he said. “It's open to interpretation.”
Hammer first noticed the
visual affinities between some of Bacon's paintings and Nazi photographs at
Tate's 2008 retrospective of the artist's works. His subsequent research led him
to the conclusion that it was “a consistent feature of Bacon's work from the 50s
Several of Bacon's “source”
photographs were shot by Heinrich Hoffmann, a photographer belonging to Hitler's
entourage. According to the art historian, the artist worked on these images for
more than two decades, increasingly submerging the Nazi references.
“Bacon started working with
this imagery, looking at the true nature of the regime that had emerged,” said
Hammer. “He used it to explore the instinctive, savage, bestial nature that was
dominating everyone's lives.”
Francis Bacon inspired by
Art historian Martin Hammer's
new book argues that the creative potential of photographs and posters from Nazi
Germany were "an important aspect" of painter Francis Bacon's work.
By Jennifer O'Mahony, The Telegraph, 29 August 2012
Francis Bacon's work has long been controversial for its violent imagery
The artist Francis Bacon
dealt with "man's capacity for savage violence" by using elements of Nazi
propaganda in his work for more than two decades, a leading art historian has
Professor Martin Hammer, who
studies history and philosophy of art at the University of Kent, said:
"The use of Nazi imagery in
Bacon's work was an important aspect of his creativity; it is present in many
works. It was something that hadn't been addressed."
Professor Hammer believes
works including Bacon's famous 1944 triptych Three Studies for Figures at the
Base of a Crucifixion were
primarily inspired by the photographs of Adolf Hitler's close associate
Heinrich Hoffmann, whose images were circulated in British magazines at the
time of the second world war.
In Francis Bacon and Nazi
Propaganda, Professor Hammer
analyses Bacon's paintings from the angle of his "horrified fascination"
with the Nazi regime.
"Bacon started working with
this imagery, looking at the true nature of the regime that had emerged. He used
it to explore the instinctive, savage, bestial nature that was dominating
everyone's lives," Hammer said.
"There was a horrified
fascination with the image of Hitler and the Nazi leadership," he added, in
particular a "screaming orator-like figure with a military helmet," an image
from Figure Study II, which "clearly sets up the Nazi leadership as these
grotesque creatures. You get a sense of his horrified reaction to this culture."
Bacon's chronic asthma
exempted him from military service during World War Two, and he spent the early
war years in Hampshire, and later in London during the Blitz.
Hammer believes Bacon's work
shows elements of fascist imagery until well into the 1960s, when he shifted his
focus away from extreme imagery and onto portraits of close friends.
On the subject of why fascist
elements have remained unnoticed for so long, and why the artist himself never
spoke of his precoccupation with Nazi imagery, Hammer claims he "wasn't asked
about it. Interviewers either didn't recognise it or thought it shouldn't be
Disturbing, raw and graphic -
so was Francis Bacon inspired by the Nazis?
Evidence of fascist imagery in artist's most
important paintings has been ignored
Nick Clark & Adam Sherwin, The Independent,
Wednesday 29 September 2012
never went on record referring to the Nazis
Bacon appropriated Nazi propaganda for some of his most important paintings to
explore "man's capacity for savage violence", a leading art historian claims.
have long ignored the depth of inspiration the painter drew from fascist imagery
despite "compelling" visual evidence, Martin Hammer says. Several of Bacon's
most violent works, which are generally interpreted as sexual and
autobiographical, actually contain "submerged" attempts to deal with the horrors
of Hitler's regime, he argues in his book, Francis Bacon and Nazi Propaganda.
It aims to
shed new light on one of the greatest British artists of the 20th century.
Hammer, professor of history and philosophy of art at the University of Kent,
said: "The use of Nazi imagery in Bacon's work was an important aspect of his
creativity; it is present in many works. It was something that hadn't been
contemporaries sought to bury wartime memories, Bacon appropriated and
transformed Nazi photography, using the imagery as a springboard for works
painted over 20 years. The professor says it is remarkable that Bacon's Nazi
aesthetics have not been scrutinised before: "The visual evidence is compelling,
but it's hard to know what to make of it. It's open to interpretation."
born in 1909. He experienced the Blitz in London, but unlike many of his
contemporaries he did not participate in the Second World War or become a war
artist. Professor Hammer said: "Bacon started working with this imagery, looking
at the true nature of the regime that had emerged. He used it to explore the
instinctive, savage, bestial nature that was dominating everyone's lives."
influences came from photographs and posters, often by Heinrich Hoffmann, a
photographer close to Hitler. Many of the German images were recycled in books
and magazines in the UK, Professor Hammer said.
a horrified fascination with the image of Hitler and the Nazi leadership." The
book refers to a painting of a "screaming orator-like figure with a military
helmet, it clearly sets up the Nazi leadership as these grotesque creatures. You
get a sense of his horrified reaction to this culture."
professor added: "His earliest pictures using Nazi imagery were pretty obvious,
which is why he abandoned them. Increasingly these references were submerged."
book, published next month by the Tate, Professor Hammer addresses the question
of how and why Bacon appropriated the Fascist imagery. The trigger for the book,
was the major Bacon exhibition at the Tate Britain in 2008.
a purely visual observation. I noted the parallels between one or two of the
paintings and certain Nazi images I was aware of," he said. That started a
process of research that accumulated a whole series of other images. "It got to
the point where I felt this was a consistent feature of Bacon's work from the
50s and 60s."
referred to the Nazis, "largely because he wasn't asked about it. Interviewers
either didn't recognise it or thought it shouldn't be talked about," Professor
Francis Bacon and Nazi
1909, Francis Bacon's entire early adulthood was penetrated by the tragedy of
the Second World War. Unlike many of his contemporaries in Britain, he did not
participate in the war or become a war artist. Rather, he is unique amongst his
generation of artists as independently choosing Hitler, Nazi Germany and Fascist
propaganda to be one of the most influential sources for his practice. In this
new scholarly study, Martin Hammer addresses the question of how and why Bacon
appropriated the photographs and documentation of Fascist imagery to his own
expressive ends, emphasising how it was used technically in his painting as a
visual aid, and how, far from being an artist of private spaces and personal
anguish, he in fact found inspiration from mass circulated media and the use of
it for the promotion of global ideals. Featuring an extensive selection of
colour and black-and-white reproductions of both paintings and source material
from Bacon's own collected archive, Hammer uses focussed visual engagement with
Bacon's work, illuminating the artist's aims to comment and reflect on the wider
Tate Publishing ISBN: 9781849760737
Number of Pages: 224 Release Date: 14/09/2012
RRP: £ 19.99
Soho's Colony Room brought back to life
London Evening Standard, 23 August 2012
Soho set: Parkin recalls Francis Bacon being
among the Colony Room crowd
welcome return to the Colony Room as one of its habituées, writer Sophie
Parkin, is set to publish a history of the infamous Soho club.
“It’s about the cultural and social hub of London from 1948 to 2008,”
she says. “The book will be crammed full of gossip, some of it 50 years
Regulars at the
club included artist Francis Bacon and journalist Jeffrey Bernard.
Parkin’s book is being published in December by Vink Ink, which is run
by her husband Jan Vink.
Parkin, who was a
member of the club for 25 years, has had access to a raft of unpublished
“The archive came
from Michael Wojas after he died,” says Parkin. Wojas was the barman and
last owner of the club, which closed its doors in 2008.
“He had all the
stuff from Muriel Belcher, the original owner, and Ian Board, who took
over. A lot had fallen to pieces but there were John Deacon’s photos,
which Francis Bacon used for his pictures and all membership forms.”
Parkin made an
early entry to the club. “My mum, Molly Parkin, made me a member for my
18th birthday — not a traditional present. I joined in 1980 for a
quarter of a century. My mum had been going there since the Fifties with
Henrietta Moraes and Francis Bacon and so on.”
Michael Parkin, Sophie’s father, was an art dealer who
held the first exhibition of artists from the Colony Room 30 years ago.
The book is timed to mark that anniversary.
complicated story of the artist's so-called Italian drawings
Mimi Fronczak Rogers, The Prague
Post, July 11, 2012
The concept to pair
drawings by Anglo-Irish artist Francis Bacon with words by the great Czech
writer Bohumil Hrabal never got much of a chance to be judged on its own merits.
It was quickly overshadowed by questions in the local press about the
authenticity of the so-called Italian drawings, which have dogged the works
since they surfaced after the artist's death.
The selection of three
dozen large-format drawings at the Gate Gallery was brought to Prague by a
curatorial team composed of Serena Baccaglini, the renowned English art
historian Edward Lucie-Smith and Monika Burian Jourdan, the director of Prague's
The show presents two
dozen pencil drawings and a dozen vividly coloured mixed-media works. All are
from the private collection of Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino from Bologna, Italy.
All are prominently signed and have been dated between 1980 and 1992 by the
They undeniably relate
to themes that obsessed Bacon throughout his career - portraits, popes (based on
paintings by Diego Velázquez) and crucifixions - and clearly possess the
defining feature of his work: a radical deformation of the figure to convey
The curators propose
that Bacon (1909-92) and Hrabal (1914-97), who never met, were kindred spirits:
"If Hrabal were a painter he would paint like Bacon, and if Bacon were a writer
he would write like Hrabal."
There are five text
excerpts by Hrabal in the gallery to support this, although the exhibition
catalogue goes further to explore links between the "two geniuses" of the show's
As for the drawings
themselves, Edward Lucie-Smith believes these were "presentation drawings," made
to commemorate his friendship with Ravarino. But he also views them as
"recapitulations, summing up the essence of what Bacon tried to do."
By Ravarino's account,
he met Bacon in Rome in 1977 and Bacon frequently travelled to visit him,
although their relationship was clandestine. On these journeys, Bacon began to
draw, and eventually left about 600 drawings to Ravarino.
In the catalogue essay
for the Prague exhibition, Lucie-Smith writes, "As everyone interested in
Bacon's work knows, Bacon many times, and often vehemently, denied that he made
any use of drawing."
At a press conference
in Prague June 26 to refute pervasive questions about the authenticity of the
drawings, Lucie-Smith said, "This great amount of material is a great
inconvenience for Bacon 'groupies' who support that he didn't draw." For them,
"because he said he didn't draw, it is heresy to say he did."
"He was a habitual liar. He had no regard for the truth. There are lots of
stories to support this."
In his catalogue essay,
Lucie-Smith further writes that at the end of his life Bacon wanted to try a
medium that had always daunted him. "He also seems to have wanted to correct
mistakes made in the past."
"Italian art historians
often refer to works of this type as 'repentances,' " he said.
Peter Hunt, a trustee
of the estate, told The Prague Post "the estate has no comment
whatsoever" on the so-called Italian drawings. He confirmed the estate is aware
of their existence but has yet to see them. Asked if the estate was willing to
examine them, he replied, "That's up to them."
As Bacon holds the
auction record as the most expensive postwar artist, if these works were
determined by Harrison's team and the estate to be genuine, their collective
value would be phenomenal.
Baccaglini told The
Prague Post, "We just want to keep this collection together, not to put them
on the market."
"It is really a
commercial war. We have to go to the estate and see how many drawings they
want," she said. "The estate wants to control everything. I'm sure when the
estate receives some drawings, it will be resolved."
The participants in the
Prague press conference attempted to put any doubts about their authenticity to
rest with documents and testimonials. Handwriting expert Ambra Draghetti
concluded that these drawings are indeed by Bacon, based on her 13-year analysis
of the signatures and the lines of the drawings themselves. She was the expert
in a Bologna court case against Ravarino that dragged out for a decade. In 2004,
the Bologna court cleared Ravarino of possessing forgeries and declared the
drawings not to be fakes, said Umberto Guerini, the lawyer for Ravarino. He said
the court also ruled that some signatures were by Bacon.
Guerini said he would
be launching civil and criminal suits against Czech publications for publishing
what he called false statements about the drawings' authenticity. He has
initiated similar lawsuits in Italy, England and Berlin, where Lucie-Smith
curated the show "Drawings Attributed to Francis Bacon" in the autumn of 2010.
A symposium to discuss
these drawings was organized in late January at the Courtald Institute in
England but was cancelled at the last minute. The panel was to have included
Harrison and representatives from the Bacon estate.
Guerini told The
Prague Post he wrote a letter asking only for a change of the symposium's
title - "The Challenges of Authentification: Francis Bacon - A Case Study" -
because the drawings are authentic and it is not possible to title the symposium
'Challenges of Authentification.' "
A statement issued by
the Courtald Institute one week before the scheduled symposium said: "… Whilst
there is the possibility of legal action being taken in relation to the 'Bacon/Ravarino'
drawings, it has been decided that this particular case study is not appropriate
for a Courtald Research Forum event. Therefore, the debate."
It is difficult to
imagine such an eminent art historian as Lucie-Smith would put his reputation on
the line if he were not convinced that the drawings are genuine. However, when
the recognized experts on a given artist fail to reach a consensus, doubts will
persist - despite the evidence presented in their favour.
There is still time to
see the "Italian drawings" ascribed to this modern master and let the works
speak for themselves, with Hrabal whispering in the background.
Records Set at
Christie's Contemporary Sale in London
By Carole Vogel, New York Times, June 27,
LONDON – At Christie’s
post-war and contemporary art auction here on Wednesday evening – an event aptly
described by the super dealer Larry Gagosian as “Masterpiece Theatre’’ –
collectors from around the world dropped millions of dollars on works by many of
the major names of the 20th century, and record prices were set for two of them:
Yves Klein and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Another hefty price was
paid for Francis Bacon’s Study for Self-Portrait,’ a 1964 full length
painting of the artist perched on a bed, which was expected to sell for between
$23.4 million and $31.2 million. After it failed to sell at auction at
Christie’s in New York in 2008 it was the subject of a law suit, in which the
owner, a family trust led by the Connecticut collector George A. Weiss, claimed
that Christie’s had reneged on a $40 million guarantee (a sum promised the
seller regardless of a sale’s outcome). That suit was settled in July of last
year, with Christie’s agreeing to pay the trust an undisclosed.
On Wednesday night William
Acquavella, the Manhattan dealer, bid for the work by phone in what became a
protracted battle against Christopher van der Weghe, another Manhattan dealer.
Mr. van der Weghe won, paying $33.6 million. “We knew we would have to fight for
it,’’ Mr. van der Weghe said after the sale, describing the client he had bid
for only as an international collector. “Quality is more important these days
Bacon's Self-Portrait Sells For $7 million At Sotheby's
By Scott Reyburn, Bloomberg, June 26, 2012
Study for Self-Portrait, a 1980 painting by Francis Bacon. The work
sold in a 79-lot auction of contemporary artworks at Sotheby's in London on June
1980 canvas Study for Self-Portrait was estimated at 5 million pounds to
7 million pounds at hammer price in Sotheby’s (BID) 79-lot sale of contemporary
artworks. One of six works in the auction that was guaranteed to sell, thanks to
a third- party “irrevocable bid,” the painting attracted one bid from Cheyenne
Westphal, Sotheby’s European head of contemporary art.
The Bacon had been
purchased by its seller for $1.8 million at Sotheby’s sale of the collection of
Stanley J. Seeger in New York in May 2001. An earlier single-panel portrait,
dating from 1969, sold for $33.1 million at Sotheby’s, New York, at the height
of the last art-market boom in November 2007.
The Tricky Provenance of a Bacon Portrait at Christie's
Michael H. Miller, New York Times, June 21, 2012
Bacon Study for Self Portrait, 1964
In her Inside Art
column this week, Carol Vogel discusses a 1964 painting by Francis Bacon that
combines Bacon’s face with the body of his friend and contemporary Lucian Freud.
The painting will be for sale at Christie’s in London next week and is described
by the auction house as “an exciting new discovery.” Its estimate is available
on request, but apparently Christie’s has told clients they are expecting it to
sell for £20 million, or about $31.3 million. But, Ms. Vogel writes:
What Christie’s has not
disclosed in the provenance is that the painting was up for sale at Christie’s
in New York in November 2008, when it did not draw a single bid. The work was
also the subject of a lawsuit,
settled last July, filed in March 2009 in the United States District Court in
Manhattan by a family trust led by the Connecticut collector George A. Weiss.
The trust said that Christie’s had reneged on a $40 million guarantee, which is
an undisclosed sum promised the seller regardless of a sale’s outcome.
“Some experts with
knowledge of the lawsuit,” according to Ms. Vogel, said that Christie’s ended up
giving the trust something close to $40 million.
Bacon-Freud Back Up for Auction
By Carole Vogel, New York Times, June 21,
LONDON — The e-mail blast was sent late last month. “An exciting new discovery
at Christie’s,” read a statement from Francis Outred, the head of the postwar
and contemporary art department in Europe for Christie’s. Mr. Outred was
describing a 1964 painting by Francis Bacon, Study for Self-Portrait,
which he said was the only full-length self-portrait to combine Bacon’s face
with the body of his friend the painter Lucian Freud.
canvas’s entry in the catalogue for the Wednesday sale here goes on for 10 pages
and includes 20 illustrations. It says the painting is the “property of a
private New York collector.” A symbol next to the lot number indicates that
Christie’s has a financial interest in Study for Self-Portrait, but the
details are unclear.
Christie’s has not disclosed in the provenance is that the painting was up for
sale at Christie’s in New York in November 2008, when it did not draw a single
bid. The work was also the subject of a lawsuit, settled last July, filed in
March 2009 in the United States District Court in Manhattan by a family trust
led by the Connecticut collector George A. Weiss. The trust said that Christie’s
had reneged on a $40 million guarantee, which is an undisclosed sum promised the
seller regardless of a sale’s outcome.
guarantee had been offered in July 2008, before the markets plummeted. But by
September, after Christie’s had possession of the painting, it said it would no
longer honour the guarantee because of the uncertain economy.
painting was put up for auction anyway, and when it didn’t sell, Mr. Weiss’s
family trust sued Christie’s for the $40 million it says it was promised. In
next week’s sale catalogue the estimate simply says, “on request,” although
Christie’s experts are telling clients they believe it should sell for around
£20 million, or about $31.3 million.
Weiss did not return phone calls seeking comment. Ivor Braka, a London dealer
who is Mr. Weiss’s agent, said he was “unable to comment” on the settlement of
statement Christie’s said it “is delighted to be offering this important work
for sale next week in London following an amicable agreement with the client in
portrait depicts Bacon perched on a bed, body twisted from head to toe. It was
only this year that Christie’s experts determined that the body was based on a
photograph of Freud.
Christie’s is hoping to capitalize on the record prices paid for Bacon works in
recent seasons. A 1976 triptych went for $86.3 million in May 2008 at Sotheby’s
in New York, and a 1975 self-portrait brought $34.4 million at Christie’s in
London in June 2008. But both sales occurred before the markets slumped, and
some dealers believe that Christie’s is offering the painting too soon after its
last auction appearance.
nobody will reveal the details of Christie’s settlement with Mr. Weiss’s family
trust — citing confidentiality agreements — some experts with knowledge of the
lawsuit said they believe that Christie’s ended up giving the trust a figure
close to the $40 million it was after. If that is true, then Christie’s, not Mr.
Weiss, owns the painting, regardless of the catalogue’s designation.
Again, Christie’s declined
Post-War and Contemporary Art
Sale 5488 27 June
London, King Street
1964 Francis Bacon
can you cut your flesh open and join it with the other person?'
(F. Bacon interview with G. Miller (dir.), Francis Bacon: Grand Palais,
BBC TV, 1971, quoted in M. Harrison, In Camera Francis Bacon: Photography,
Film and the Practice of Painting, London, 2005, p. 216)
'I sensed that for once Francis was deeply content, possibly as satisfied with
his work as he had ever been, yet overwhelmed too, and possibly frightened' (D.
Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, New York, 1993, p. 158)
'His work impressed me, his personality affected me. He talked a great deal
about the paint itself, carrying the form and imbuing the paint with this sort
of life. He talked about packing a lot of things into one single brushstroke,
which amused and excited me the idea of paint having that power' (L. Freud
quoted in W. Feaver, 'Beyond Feeling', Lucian Freud, exh. cat., Art
Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 1993, p. 13).
'I do work very much more by chance now than I did when I was young. For
instance, I throw an awful lot of paint onto things, and I don't know what is
going to happen to it. I throw it with my hand. I just squeeze it into my hand
and throw it on. I can't by my will push it further. I can only hope that the
throwing of paint onto the already-made or half-made image will either re-form
the image or that I will be able to manipulate this further into, anyway, for
me, a greater intensity' (F. Bacon interview with D. Sylvester, The Brutality
of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London, 1993, p. 90).
'Francis always said that Lucian was the most entertaining and stimulating
person he knew. And whatever ambivalence, he made no pretense that he very much
minded the gap in his life when in later years Lucian stopped ringing up' (D.
Sylvester, 'All the Pulsations of a Person', The Independent, October 24
The best of Bacon and Freud: A Unique Self-Portrait
Extremely rare in the artist's oeuvre, Study for Self-Portrait is a
poignant and exceptionally intimate painting by Francis Bacon, which marries the
artist's face to the figure of friend and fellow painter, Lucian Freud. It
represents one of only twelve, floor-length self-portraits ever to be realised
by Francis Bacon, four of which are now held in international museum collections
including: Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, Hirshhorn Museum and
Sculpture Garden, Washington, National Museum Wales, Cardiff and Von der Heydt-Museum,
Wuppertal. The present work is the only of these appointed 'self-portraits' to
undertake the all-consuming, almost devotional act of conflating the two
artists' physiognomies. Deeply contorted, Bacon's piercing eyes, fleshy lips and
rounded jaw are still instantly recognisable, while the lean, sculpted limbs and
lithe serpentine of the body is unmistakably Lucian Freud. Bacon never painted
from life, preferring instead to use the still photographic image; in Study
for Self-Portrait, these elements are plucked and fused from John Deakin's
renowned photo shoot of both men undertaken in 1964. Painter to painter, Bacon
and Freud greatly impacted one another, the present work arriving at the very
height of their relationship. Arguably the moment of greatest personal and
professional contentment in Bacon's career, Study for Self-Portrait was
painted shortly after the artist's breakthrough retrospective at the Tate
Gallery, London in 1962, and the year after his first major American exhibition
at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. At the end of 1963 Bacon also formed
a close attachment to George Dyer, the ill-fated yet remarkably charismatic
Eastender who inspired much of the artist's greatest work. A sense of this
atmosphere is imbued into the very fabric of Study for Self-Portrait , the
pronounced confidence translated into the work's bold composition.
In this powerfully resolved painting, the artist has combined sensational colour
with raw flashes of canvas and an impulsive, dynamic face with a perfectly
realised muscular figure. The smooth curves of the calf and trouser leg are
reflected in the fluid swathes of paint used to capture the face. Colours
abound, with orange and green highlighting the powerful forearm. Soaked into the
deepest recesses of the painting, Bacon has applied a layer of inky blue, which
closely traces the contours of the human figure. A function of Bacon's unique
practice of priming the reverse of his canvases, this saturated pigment recalls
the landmark suite of Man in Blue paintings embarked upon in 1954. On top of
this sea of midnight blue, Bacon has applied a nude tone, which nevertheless
betrays its under-painting: dark brushstrokes rising up like shadows from the
depths and creeping around each painterly threshold. Flanking the face itself is
a geometric frame rendered in dark burgundy, scumbled using a cutting of
corduroy fabric. Under the artist's feet appears a carpet of kingfisher blue,
almost tactile with its highly stippled relief. It is this perfected balance
between serene blocks of liquescent colour, luxuriant texture, and the drama of
the figure that gives the painting such force.
For many years Study for Self-Portrait formed part of the Peter Stuyvesant
Foundation; a collection that championed contemporary British painters such as
Bacon, Bridget Riley, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, Graham Sutherland and Peter
Blake. In 1967 Study for Self-Portrait was exhibited in the Tate Gallery's Recent
British Painting: Peter Stuyvesant Foundation Collection, celebrating the
pantheon of great British contemporary art.
Francis Bacon & Lucian Freud: A Defining Relationship
In Study for Self-Portrait, Bacon has wed his own face with the figure of
his friend Lucian Freud, sitting upon the edge of a bed, his sleeves rolled up
and trouser leg riding high to show a glimpse of bare skin. In Double Portrait
of Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach carried out the same year, Bacon similarly
joins the angular face of Freud with the soft, rounded torso, arms and thighs of
his own physique. It is a deeply revealing practice, suggesting Bacon's affinity
and perhaps even his desire for Freud. As the artist explained, 'people go to
bars to be closer to each other. The frustration is that people can never be
close enough to each other. If you're in love you can't break down the barriers
of the skin' (F. Bacon quoted quoted in M. Harrison, In Camera Francis Bacon:
Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting, London, 2005, p. 216). In a
televised interview with Gavin Miller in 1971, he went on to elaborate, 'how can
you cut your flesh open and join it with the other person?' (F. Bacon interview
with G. Miller (dir.), Francis Bacon: Grand Palais, BBC TV, 1971, quoted in M.
Harrison, In Camera Francis Bacon: Photography, Film and the Practice of
Painting, London, 2005, p. 216). In Study for Self-Portrait, Bacon seeks this
proximity and intensity, achieving in paint what remains impossible in life.
Bacon and Freud became friends shortly after the Second World War, introduced by
painter Graham Sutherland. Freud was deeply impressed by Bacon's ineluctable
skill. As the photo of the two men taken in Bacon's studio at the Royal College
of Art in 1952 tellingly reveals, Bacon would expound forth on his principles of
painting and Freud would attend, deferential, readily listening to his mentor.
As David Sylvester later recalled, 'in those early days Lucian clearly had a
crush on Francis, as I did. (We both copied his uniform of a plain, dark grey,
worsted double-breasted Savile Row suit, plain shirt, plain dark tie, brown
suede shoes)' (David Sylvester, 'All the Pulsations of a Person', The
Independent, 24 October 1993).
The relationship between Freud and Bacon rapidly developed, both artists
thriving off the other's intellectual and creative curiosity. For Freud, the
decade, which elapsed between their first acquaintance in the 1950s and the
1960s, saw him rapidly transform his technique: from a smooth, Ingriste appreciation
of contour and line, to the rich, impasto modulation of paint that was to become
his hallmark. This transformation was greatly influenced by his interaction with
Bacon, who was devoted to the process of transmitting the raw, visceral reality
of the figure to canvas, what he called 'the pulsations of a person' (Francis
Bacon interview with David Sylvester, quoted in D. Sylvester (ed.), The
Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London, 1987, p. 174). As
Bacon went on to elaborate, in a portrait 'you have to record the face. But with
their face you have to try and trap the energy that emanates from them' (Ibid.).
For Freud, these were profound musings, which contributed to his growing
conviction as a painter, evidenced in the remarkably loose and impulsive Self-Portrait he
carried out in 1963. As Freud later said of Bacon, 'his work impressed me, his
personality affected me. He talked a great deal about the paint itself, carrying
the form and imbuing the paint with this sort of life. He talked about packing a
lot of things into one single brushstroke, which amused and excited me the idea
of paint having that power' (L. Freud quoted in W. Feaver, 'Beyond Feeling',
Lucian Freud, exh. cat., Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 1993, p. 13).
Over the course of his career, Bacon undertook a number of portraits of Freud;
the first in 1951 realised from memory and later from 1964-1973 based upon
commissioned photographs by fellow Soho denizen and feted photographer John
Deakin. Deakin's now renowned black and white photographs became the basis for
the majority of Bacon's portraits throughout the sixties, capturing not only
Lucian Freud, but also subjects including George Dyer, Isabel Rawsthorne, Peter
Lacy, Muriel Belcher and Henrietta Moraes. In Study for Self-Portrait, the
assembly of the figure and room is arguably derived from Deakin's photo shoot of
Freud. From the numerous shots taken, Bacon has selected Freud's arms resting in
his lap from one image, interpolated with the crossed legs of another. The head
itself is most likely drawn from a contemporary Deakin portrait of Bacon. In the
photograph, Freud appears wearing a white shirt rolled up to its sleeves; the
latent symbolism of the bared forearm projecting an attitude of 'getting down to
work', Freud ready to delve into the day's tasks. It is perhaps an incongruous
image, the white shirt worn by a man bound to despoil its pristine cloth with
smears of oil paint in his studio.
Study for Self-Portrait marks the apex of Bacon and Freud's relationship. In
the years that followed, the friendship cooled, affected by the two men's
differing fortunes. Well-known for his mercurial character and often prone to
changes in loyalty, Bacon once mused: 'I'm not really fond of Lucian, you know,
the way I am of Rodrigo (Moynihan) and Bobby (Buhler). It's just that he rings
me up all the time', but as Sylvester recounted, 'Francis always said that
Lucian was the most entertaining and stimulating person he knew. And whatever
ambivalence, he made no pretense that he very much minded the gap in his life
when in later years Lucian stopped ringing up' (D. Sylvester, 'All the
Pulsations of a Person', The Independent, October 24 1993).
Bacon the Subject: Painting the Full-Length Self-Portrait
Carried out in 1964, Study for Self-Portrait was undertaken at a time of
relative contentment for Bacon. Towards the end of 1963 he became acquainted
with and formed a new attachment to George Dyer, a debonair if flawed Eastender.
By 1964, the pair had become inseparable, Dyer becoming the recurrent subject of
a wealth of paintings. Ultimately ill fated, the new relationship nevertheless
reinvigorated the artist, who had been left deeply affected by the loss of his
great love, Peter Lacy in Tangiers two years earlier. Professionally, Bacon was
receiving great approbation from a public that now saw him less the maverick,
than a master of figurative painting. This came on the heels of his first major
retrospective at the Tate in London, which was followed in 1963 by a triumphant
exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Bacon was both flattered and
sanguine about the great accolades he was receiving. As his friend Daniel Farson
recalled: 'I sensed that for once Francis was deeply content, possibly as
satisfied with his work as he had ever been, yet overwhelmed too, and possibly
frightened' (D. Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, New
York, 1993, p. 158).
In Study for Self-Portrait, a sense of this professional achievement and
full emotional life is distilled into the paint surface. Carried out on a near
life-size scale, this rare, exceptionally resolved painting is one of very few
full-length works ever to be realised. Often returning to his own image, Bacon
frequently carried out small canvases of his head. As he remarked caustically,
'after all, as we are human beings, our greatest obsession is with ourselves'
(F. Bacon quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with
Francis Bacon, London, 1987, p. 116). However, he only completed twelve
full-scale self-portraits between 1956 and 1985, arguably a reflection of how
taxing yet enduring they proved to be. His earliest work, Self-Portrait was
painted directly onto the canvas from the recesses of Bacon's imagination. A
sense of the period's deep anxiety is palpable in the darkness of the inky,
blue-black composition and the bent, defensive, crouched position of the
artist's body. In Study for Self-Portrait and Study for Self-Portrait (1963)
(National Museum Wales, Cardiff) by contrast, the artist appears relaxed, his
body open, casual, sitting comfortably with his legs crossed. It is a sense of
self-assuredness, which culminates in the resounding image of the present work;
a condition not to return in later portraits such as Self-Portrait (1973), where
the artist anxiously clasps hand to head.
Calculation and Contingency: Francis Bacon's Mastery of Paint
In Study for Self-Portrait, Bacon has established his composition over a
saturated ground of midnight blue, recalling the dark atmosphere of his
mid-1950s series of Man in Blue paintings. Furnished through the reverse priming
of the canvas, Bacon's deep hue permeates the composition, only to be covered
later in washes of pale, nude pigment. Traces of ink blue follow each geometric
block, just as flurries of underlying brushstrokes radiate up through the paint
surface. Dominating the lower half of the composition are two regions of intense
colour: a matte shade of cerulean blue, flanked by a carefully stippled,
aquamarine. Resting his foot on the floor, this radiant carpet is almost
sculptural, the brushstrokes protruding like tiny barbs, forming a counterpoint
to the smooth resolution of the remaining canvas.
The body of Freud appears lean, taught, built up from confident brushstrokes,
like the underlying bands of muscles that make the strong shoulders and sculpted
forearms. The shirt that clothes the torso is rendered in rough gestures of pure
white, which leave patches of raw canvas to shine through like naked flesh. The
trousers covering each leg are built up from fluid strokes, the dynamic contours
intimating the restless movement of Freud as he posed for his photograph. Behind
his head and against the painted wall, Bacon violently throws black pigment
across the composition, as if intoxicated by some sudden rage. In doing so,
Bacon was taking a calculated risk. As the artist explained, 'I do work very
much more by chance now than I did when I was young. For instance, I throw an
awful lot of paint onto things, and I don't know what is going to happen to it.
I throw it with my hand. I just squeeze it into my hand and throw it on. I can't
by my will push it further. I can only hope that the throwing of paint onto the
already-made or half-made image will either re-form the image or that I will be
able to manipulate this further into, anyway, for me, a greater intensity' (F.
Bacon interview with D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with
Francis Bacon, London, 1993, p. 90).
Having painstakingly established the coloured background and the contours of the
figure, Bacon rapidly established the face as if it were 'his own nervous system
projected onto canvas' (F. Bacon quoted in L. Gowing, 'The Irrefutable Image', Francis
Bacon: Recent Paintings, exh. cat., Malborough-Gerson Gallery, New York
1968, p. 13). In Study for Self-Portrait, Bacon has elaborated these
features rapidly and with extraordinary facility in a flurry of brush marks. The
finish is violent yet remarkably controlled: the eyes, nose and plump lips
dramatically contorted, yet still recognizably the artist's own. As a backdrop
to the artist's face, Bacon has layered a deep papal red with textured black
scumbling, undertaken with a sleeve of corduroy fabric to form a stark square.
This square creates a pronounced focal point, pulling the eye to the head of the
self-portrait as it emerges like a specter from the darkness.
The Violation of 'Likeness'
This motif of the dark, hatched, geometric frame foregrounding the head, recalls
the small-scale, self-portraits Bacon undertook of his face and profile from
1967 onwards. Isolated within the confines of a dark ground, Bacon would paint
his face with characteristic and unrelenting fervour, sweeping across the canvas
and subverting all expectations associated with the genre. As Gilles Deleuze
once emphatically and empathetically affirmed: 'yes, the face has a great
future, but only if it is destroyed, dismantled' (G. Deleuze quoted in W. Seipel,
B. Steffen & C. Vitali (eds.), Francis Bacon and the Tradition of Art,
exh. cat., Fondation Beyeler, Basel 2004, p. 219). In Study for
Self-Portrait Bacon grasps beneath the veneer, violating the quintessence of
the human appearance. Rendered in a red-bluish palette highlighted with white,
the artist bares himself, stripped down to flesh and bone. With these powerful
effacements, Bacon explores what he once described as the fine 'precipice'
between abstraction and figuration, replacing 'likeness' with what he would
later describe as the 'brutality of fact'.
In Study for Self-Portrait, Bacon takes distortion to its furthest
logical point so that the face is rotated or twisted around a central axis. The
rapid brushstrokes, confidently undertaken in a matter of seconds suggest a
sense of movement, as if the head were turning from left to right. While Bacon's
self-portrait triptychs offer a stereoscopic view of the face, turning each
cheek as if in front of a mirror, and implying movement in consecutive frames, Study
for Self-Portrait spectacularly achieves this in one. A great admirer of
Eadweard Muybridge's time-lapse photography, Bacon has conflated the moving
image; the resulting portrait recalling the angular physiognomy of Pablo
Picasso's primitive Head of a Man (1907) or the dynamic futurism of
Umberto Boccioni. As the artist once concluded, 'I have deliberately tried to
twist myself my paintings are, if you like, a record of this distortion.
Photography has covered so much: in a painting that's even worth looking at, the
image must be twisted if it is to make a renewed assault upon the nervous
system. That is the peculiar difficulty of figurative painting now. I attempt to
re-create a particular experience with greater poignancy in the desire to live
through it again with a different kind of intensity' (F. Bacon quoted in M.
Peppiatt, 'From a Conversation with Francis Bacon', Cambridge Opinion (Special
Issue: Modern Art in Britain), no.37, January, 1964, p. 48).
In spite of his signature, post-cubist distortions, there is a palpable sense of
Bacon's character translated through the swirling rhythms of paint in Study
for Self-Portrait. It is this ability to convey the essence of the subject
that is so prodigious in Bacon's portraiture. As he once concluded, 'the living
quality is what you have to get. In painting a portrait the problem is to find a
technique by which you can give over all the pulsations of a person the sitter
is someone of flesh and blood and what has to be caught is their emanation' (F.
Bacon interview with D. Sylvester, D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact:
Interviews with Francis Bacon, London, 1993, p. 174).
En el estudio
con Francis Bacon
ABC entrevista a Franck Maubert, autor «El olor a sangre humana no se me quita
de los ojos», libro que recoge las conversaciones que el periodista mantuvo con
MARTÍN RODRIGO, CULTURA, ABC.ES, 24/06/2012
Fancis Bacon, en su estudio londinense
El periodista y
escritor francés Frank Maubert tardó tres largos años en conseguir su primera
entrevista con Francis Bacon (1909-1992). Su pasión por el pintor británico, al
que descubrió en su juventud, era tal que consideraba que su figura encarnaba la
pintura más que ningún otro artista. De ahí que el momento en el que obtuvo el
beneplácito de la Marlborough Gallery para acudir a su estudio londinense
marcara un antes y un después en su vida.
«Se engancha a ti, vive
en ti, contigo, es un tormento que se aferra y no te suelta más», cuenta Maubert
en las páginas de «El olor a sangre humana no se me quita de los ojos:
Conversaciones con Franci Bacon». El libro, que Acantilado ha recuperado y
publica ahora en nuestro país en una pequeña y cuidada edición, recoge las
intensas conversaciones que el periodista mantuvo en su estudio con el genial
artista, desde que Maubert era un joven periodista en «L'Express» hasta su
muerte en Madrid, en 1992.
ABC ha tenido ocasión
de hablar con el autor sobre los recuerdos que aún conserva de aquellos
encuentros: la pasión de Bacon por Picasso(gracias al cual empezó a pintar) y
Velázquez y sus recelos hacia Dalí (al que considereba un ególatra) y Goya; su sexualidad (reconoce
abiertamente su homosexualidad y habla de sus amantes); la bebida(numerosas
botellas de vino fueron descorchadas mientras la grabadora era testigo de sus
palabras); su filia hacia la literatura (en especial la poesía) y cierta fobia
- La paciencia y la
perseverancia le llevaron a lograr su primera entrevista con Francis Bacon.
- Sí, es cierto. Tuve
que esperar tres años antes de obtener una respuesta positiva por parte, primero
de Miss Beaston, de la Galería Marborough, y luego de Francis Bacon. En esa
época, yo era un joven periodista en «L’Express». Insistía, llamaba a la galería
hasta el día que me dijeron: «¡Sir Francis Bacon le espera!». Desde nuestro
primer encuentro fluyó la electricidad. Después, no paramos de llamarnos por
teléfono, de escribirnos o de vernos en París o en Londres. Esto duró casi diez
años, hasta su muerte.
- ¿Hubo algo que
cesurara, que decidiera no incluir de forma premeditada en el libro?
- ¿Censurado? No, ¡eso
nunca! Hay preguntas que, evidentemente, me hubiera gustado hacerle, pero que
por timidez, o más bien por pudor, no me atreví a plantear. Por ejemplo, sobre
los suicidios de dos de sus compañeros…
- ¿Le intimidó estar
cara a cara con Bacon en su estudio?
- La primera vez, es
cierto que no me encontraba totalmente cómodo. Pero muy rápidamente, el propio
Bacon te hacía sentir a gusto. Nos entendíamos muy bien. Y la conversación
abordaba todo tipo de temas… Literatura, historia del arte, personalidades…. Nos
reíamos mucho, tenía un gran sentido del humor, que yo compartía, y de repente,
me sentía cómodo.
- ¿Qué clase de hombre
era, cómo era su carácter?
- Lo presentaban como
un genio, un monstruo, alguien difícil… Y, de hecho, era adorable, muy divertido,
un ser exquisto, de una lucidez muy grande y dotado de un formidable sentido del
humor… Algo que no es tan común…
- ¿Qué hubiera pensado
al ver su pinturas expuestas junto a las de Velázquez, al que consideraba un
genio, en el Prado?
- Bacon profesaba una
admiración total por las pinturas de Velázquez, era un maestro absoluto. Seguro
que le habría halagado. Hablaba con veneración de su pintura…
- Se definía como un
optimista nihilista. ¿Qué piensa usted?
- ¡Lo entiendo
totalmente! Y comparto esta afirmación. Cómo, si somos un poco lúcidos, no
actuar de otra manera en nuestro mundo en plena decadencia. Tenía mil veces
razón; era una manera de sobrevivir.
- ¿Qué fue lo que más
- Su sencillez, su
manera de vivir y su filosofía… Lo tomo todo a la vez: representaba y pensaba lo
que yo esperaba. Nadie me había hablado, antes que él, de esta manera. Yo bebía
cada una de sus palabras.
- ¿Hubo alguna pregunta
que no se atrevió a hacerle?
- Sí, varias. Después
de su muerte, te dices a ti mismo: qué pena, podríamos haber hablado de esto o
de aquello… Demasiado tarde… Pero, más allá de las entrevistas, lo que añoro es
su compañía y sus conversaciones desordenadas. Es irremplazable, como todo genio.
Es el artista más sorprendente que he llegado a conocer (y he tenido la suerte
de conocer a unos cuantos…).
- Al final del libro
establece una analogía entre el Bacon pintor y su supuesto antepasado, el
filósofo Bacon. ¿Cree que hay similitudes entre ellos?
- Sí, me divertí al
hacer esa comparación, más allá de la homonimia, entre su supuesto antepasado y
él mismo en este pequeño capítulo al final de mi libro. Son muy divertidas las
similitudes, ¡y muy turbadoras! De hecho, es una pregunta que planteo y que
merece ser profundizada por investigadores, algo que yo no soy.
Art Evening Auction
London | 26
Jun 2012, 06:00 PM | L12022
1949, Francis Bacon
1909 - 1992 HEAD
oil on canvas
83 by 66cm.; 31 by 26in.
Executed circa 1949, this work will be included in the upcoming catalogue
edited by Mr. Martin Harrison.
Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium
PROVENANCE LOT SOLD
Piccadilly Gallery, London
Luca Scacchi Gracco, Milan
Galleria La Medusa, Rome
Private Collection, Italy
Private Collection, New York
directly from the above by the present owner
Galleria del Credito Valtellinese, L'anormalità dell'arte, 1993, n.p.,
Malmö, Konsthall; Turin, Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Castello di Rivoli,
Francis Bacon, Marlene Dumas: The
Peculiarity of Being Human, 1995, p. 29, illustrated, p. 83, illustrated in
Rothenstein and Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon, London 1964, n.p., no. A7,
Martin Harrison, Ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies, Centenary Essays,
2009, p. 239, no 163, illustrated in colour
painting has been recorded in the Alley/Rothenstein catalogue raisonné (1964) as
belonging to a certain R.B., before being bought by the then avant-garde
Piccadilly Gallery in London and subsequently by the Italian dealer Luca Scacchi
refers to Robert Buhler (1916-1989), a landscape and portrait painter of Swiss
parentage who taught painting at the Royal College of Art. In 1949 Bacon was
living and working at 7 Cromwell Place, now known as Millais House (after the
pre-Raphaelite painter), just round the corner from where the RCA was then
situated. Bacon himself taught at the RCA in the autumn term of 1950. Bacon had
been sharing the ground floor of the large Victorian house since 1943 with his
lover, Eric Hall, and his elderly nanny, Jessie Lightfoot, who was a key figure
in his early life and considerably closer to him than his own mother. When the
nanny died in 1950, the eccentric ménage came abruptly to an end. In his grief
Bacon decided to leave the Cromwell Place flat altogether. He sold the lease to
Buhler, leaving a considerable number of abandoned canvases behind. Most of
these works have subsequently come on to the market. After years of doubt and
frustration as a painter, by the late 1940s Bacon had come triumphantly into his
own. 'Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion', his breakthrough
work of 1944, had led to the even more impressive 'Painting 1946', purchased by
Alfred Barr for the Museum of Modern Art in New York. By 1949 (when he turned
40) Bacon, who always referred to himself as a 'late developer', might be
regarded as having served his long apprenticeship and successfully absorbed
numerous influences while forging his own, highly individual style. His work had
attracted the attention of both the more perceptive critics and the more
adventurous collectors, particularly after his first show at Erica Brausen's
Hanover Gallery in London in 1949. Generously supported by his older, wealthy
lover, Bacon was enjoying a period of relative stability and ease, moving with
growing confidence between the demands of his burgeoning career and the allure
of the French Riviera and its casinos.
begun his series of Heads in 1948 (Head I), Bacon worked intensely
on the subject throughout the following year, completing no fewer than five
further versions on the theme (Heads II to VI). Within this series
Bacon moves from the clearly animal (Heads I and II reveal bestial
fangs) to the recognizably - if alarmingly - human. And, with its overt
references to Velázquez, Head VI turned out in fact to be the first of
Bacon's great Pope paintings, thereby announcing a theme which was to obsess the
artist right through the following decade and beyond. If 1949 has been advanced
as the date for the work discussed here, it is because it clearly belongs to the
whole series that Bacon painted that year. The picture shares not only the
same palette of cool greys and cold whites, dragged dryly over the canvas weave,
but also certain formal preoccupations, notably the effects of a curtain forming
the background or even half-obscuring the head portrayed. Bacon was in fact
fascinated by pleated drapes (an interest dating back to his early career as a
designer/decorator), and he used them as a backdrop to his figures throughout
his career. He was also fascinated by the 'shuttering' effect that transparent
drapes created; and taking Titian's famous portrait of Cardinal Filippo Archinto
as a precedent, he delighted in experimenting with the ways a diaphanous 'veil'
of this kind could both distort and intensify the features of a sitter by
Bacon's great strengths as a painter lay in conveying the ambiguities of
perception: how a chance gesture or a trick of the light could entirely alter
the implications of a figure or a scene. In this sense, the complex interplay of
fabric and feature is the real subject of Head (c. 1949). What would
otherwise have been a conventional portrait (quite conceivably of Eric Hall) in
skilfully delineated jacket and tie – immediately reminiscent of his friend and
mentor Graham Sutherland's emphatically outlined forms  - has turned into a
ghostly exploration of the human form, caught half in its own fleeting
phosphorescence and half behind the gauzy uncertainty of a curtain. Fragmented
and spectral, Head (c. 1949) powerfully evokes a sensation central to all
Bacon's imagery: the vulnerability and inevitable transience of human life.
 I have given a full
account of these years in 'Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma' (revised
edition), London, 2008.
 Wyndham Lewis wrote a memorable review of the 'Heads' when they were first
exhibited (quoted in full in 'Francis
Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma', op.cit., p.157).
 This brings to mind a remark that Bacon made to me on more than one
occasion. 'When I'm dead,' he used to say
rather grandly, 'people will see how absolutely simple my distortions really
 Sutherland's portraits of Somerset Maugham and Konrad Adenauer – influential
men in suits – waft up through the
dissolving veils of Bacon's image. In full subversive form, Bacon cannot resist
the temptation to take the familiar
features of a well-known, powerful personality (be it famous writer, prominent
statesman or Pope) and allow it to
slowly corrode in the acid bath of the deep scepticism he reserved for 'public
figures' or anyone – notably his own
father – 'in authority'.
Art Evening Auction
London | 26
Jun 2012, 06:00 PM | L12022
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT
PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
1909 - 1992
Study for Self-Portrait
1980 Francis Bacon
STUDY FOR SELF-PORTRAIT
signed, titled and dated 1980
on the reverse
oil on canvas
35.6 by 30.5cm.; 14 by 12in.
Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium
Marlborough Gallery, London
Stanley J. Seeger, London
Sale: Sotheby's, New York, The Eye of a Collector: Works from the Collection
of Stanley J. Seeger, 8 May 2001, Lot 9
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Marlborough Gallery, Francis Bacon, 1909-1992, Small Portrait Studies,
1993, no. 28, illustrated in colour
Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Ich ist etwas Anderes.
Kunst am Ende es 20. Jahrhunderts, 2000,
Leiris, Francis Bacon, Full Face and In Profile, New York 1983, no. 132,
illustrated in colour
Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon, New York 1987, no. 125, illustrated
Milan Kundera and France Borel, Bacon, Portraits et Autoportraits, Paris
1996, p. 164, illustrated
realism is an attempt to capture the appearance with the cluster of sensations
that the appearance arouses in me...Perhaps realism is always subjective when it
is most profoundly expressed...we are rightly forced to invent methods by which
reality can force itself upon our nervous system in a new way, yet without
losing sight of the
model's objectivity." The artist in a letter to Michel Leiris, 20th
November 1981, in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Gagosian Gallery, Francis
Bacon: Triptychs, 2006, p. 30
shortly after Francis Bacon had entered the eighth decade of his life, Study
for Self-Portrait of 1980 ranks among the most intensely dramatic
self-portrayals of the artist's career. Deeply meditative and profoundly
reflective, the present work significantly preserves one of the very final
depictions of Bacon's likeness in this scrutinising, intimate and crucial
single-canvas format. In his authoritative monograph on the artist, John Russell
pointedly outlines the central importance of these works: "The single head,
fourteen inches by twelve, was from 1961 onwards the scene of some of Bacon's
most ferocious investigations. Just as a gunshot sometimes leaves an after-echo
or parallel report, so these small concentrated heads carry their ghosts within
them" (John Russell, Francis Bacon, London, 1993, p. 99). Belonging to
the corpus of only a dozen Self-Portraits in this size, whilst directly
preceding the very last in this sequence executed in 1987, Study for Self
Portrait hauntingly eulogizes the penultimate occasion of Bacon's searing
self-analysis. Intriguingly, where the last example evokes a ghost-like death
mask, the present portrayal radiates with the vibrancy and exuberance of youth.
Wielding the full force of a life's worth of retrospect, evinced by the artist's
own worn physiognomy in 1980 (documented in Jane Bown's photograph), the 71 year
old Bacon here looks back at himself as a young man. In a searching translation
and recapitulation of his own physical likeness, Bacon revisits the starched
collared and suited figures from his 1950s via a mature, and almost luminescent,
mastery of paint. Closely aligned to the captivating and penetrating examples
prestigiously housed in the Pompidou Centre, Paris and the Musée Cantini,
Marseille, the present work delivers a remarkable exemplification of the
principle engagement of Francis Bacon's oeuvre: the Self-Portrait. What's more,
having been selected by Stanley Seeger as a long term resident of his revered
collection, this extraordinary painting offers a very special insight into one
of the greatest artistic minds and talents of the Twentieth Century.
canon of self-portraiture within Bacon's oeuvre is one of the great threads of
twentieth-century Art History, and readily parallels that of other masters whose
focus of artistic enterprise finally arrived in the mirror of self-analysis.
From Durer to Rembrandt to Bacon, truly great self-portraiture reveals an
incommunicable essence of the artist that speaks directly to the viewer and
transcends the distance between the work's execution and the present day: in
short, an incontrovertible dissection of the author's real self, a psychosomatic
x-ray. While addressing the age-old, pervasive dilemma of self-portraiture – how
to portray an outward appearance that is, to its possessor, essentially and
ironically unfamiliar – Bacon's Study for Self-Portrait furthers a more
existential line of enquiry addressing concepts of perception and the artist's
ontological relationship with the viewer.
himself stated, ultimately the self-images are most revealing because "one
always has a greater involvement with oneself than anybody else" (the artist in
conversation, David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London
2000, p. 241). This painting mines the depths of absolute self-presentation that
Bacon had sought for decades before and acts like strata of an archaeological
survey of his previous guises compounded together. Amid the spectacular colour
and virtuoso brushwork Bacon here presents an ethereal and unearthly form that,
while undoubtedly depicting the artist, is manifestly not the wizened visage of
a septuagenarian. Bacon's appearance is simultaneously youthful through its
broad swathes of pearlescent flesh, yet also resigned and contemplative through
its downward-looking gaze. This portrait could represent the version of
appearance that Bacon saw in the mirror during any of his preceding three
decades, and thus can be viewed as a self-consciously distinct compilation of
the various stages of his life.
Like revered masters that had
preceded him from Rembrandt to Picasso, Bacon was driven by an incessant
compulsion to forge an artistic legacy for the experience of his time. Such
motivation coursed violently through his body and soul, utterly oblivious to the
vicissitudes of advancing years, and thus many of the most ambitious and
brilliantly executed works of his career were created towards the end of his
life. For the genius of Bacon's art stemmed in most part from the extraordinary
conditions of his existence, marked by times of elation and times of endurance
filled with relationships of love and hate. Since banished as a teenager from
his family home in Ireland by his father in the 1920s, Bacon had careered
through the highs and lows of life for almost sixty years by the point of this
portrait, frequently left as the only and last man standing. Indeed, from the
trauma of early experience in Paris and Berlin before the war, Bacon's life had
been starkly punctuated by tragedy. From the suicide of his friend John Minton
in 1957 to the death of his decade-long lover Peter Lacy in 1962; the tragic
suicide of his lover George Dyer in 1971 and the death of his mother, Winnie
Bacon in the same year to the demise of Muriel Belcher, his good friend and
owner of his beloved Colony Room drinking den, in 1979. Even his youngest
sister, Winifred, was by the time of this painting seriously ill with Multiple
Sclerosis, and Bacon visited her regularly until she died in 1981. Hence there
was plenty of cause behind Bacon's explanation for his increasing propensity for
self-portraiture: "People have been dying around me like flies and I've had
nobody else to paint but myself ... I loathe my own face, and I've done
self-portraits because I've had nothing else to do" (Francis Bacon in David
Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London
1975, pp. 129-133). In the present work Francis Bacon confronts us square on as
the sole witness to his life: his instantly recognizable visage acting as coda
to this remarkable existence.
Dressed in a formal white collar,
Bacon emerges from the shadowed depths of a limitless darkness; the sheer
jetblack emptiness that surrounds his features serving to heighten the haunted,
blurred presence that emanates from the canvas. Here the confident, bold swathes
of colour and exaggerated form of Bacon's paintings during the sixties and
seventies have become knowingly clarified and subtly calmed. Yet within there is
a poignancy to the haze which enshrouds his face. Over-brushed and scumbled, the
ambiguity explored in this work brings a heightened reality to the image, a fact
that is at once accentuated and governed by the slippage of the form. His head
smears softly sideways into view, the exactness of the two faint white swirls
surrounding his face indicating a rotation, not necessarily in the Cubist
manner, but as though it has endured some terminal rearrangement by a form of
painterly manipulation. The reflection that Bacon has found, doubtless mostly
from memory and countless photographs, is fraught with contrasts: life versus
death; self versus other; psychology versus physiognomy, together compounding to
generate an image of immense raw energy that unites an exterior presence with an
interiorized power. Outside, the shape retains an obstinate and familiar
integrity, the precise result of a sudden movement. Within, the sheer
concentration on his face transfixes the viewer. Behind the veil, the pensive
sorrow in the piercing concentration of the eyes conveys a hidden turmoil and
suffering which is at the heart of Bacon's genius.
An instinctual painter, who said he
wanted to work as close to the nervous system and unconscious as possible, Bacon
employed whatever was at hand in his infamously unkempt studio. As well as
brushes, he used his hands, rags of wool and textile, newspapers and paint tubes
to apply and manipulate the paint, exploiting the malleability and tactility of
the nearly-dry oils to create chance visual effects, clearly visible in Study
for Self-Portrait in the pigment that has been daubed with a corduroy rag
creating ribbed seams of paint reminiscent of Degas' 'shuttering effect' with
pastels. Bacon was greatly affected by Degas' technique: "in his pastels he
always striates the form with these lines which are drawn through the image and
in a certain sense both intensify and diversify its reality... you could say
that he shuttered the body in a way, and then he put an enormous amount of
colour through these lines". (the artist cited in David Sylvester, 'Francis
Bacon and the Nude' in Exhibition Catalogue, London, Faggionato Fine Art,
Francis Bacon: Studying Form, 2005, p. 30) This finds its corollary in Study
for Self-Portrait in the vibrant striations which overlay the face so that "the
sensation doesn't come straight out at you but slides slowly and gently through
the gaps." (Ibid., p. 30). The head itself also owes much to Picasso's
pioneering explorations in Cubism, in which multiple viewpoints are condensed
into a single image in an attempt to further probe the emotional complexity of
the self. Bacon spoke admirably of Picasso, especially his work of the 1920s and
1930s, in which he identified a new language of "organic form that relates to
the human image but is a complete distortion of it." (the artist cited in Milan
Kundera and France Borel, Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits, London
1996, p. 10).
If Bacon's art sought the height of
painterly expression as a reflection of life, then his self-portraits
represented the heart of that exploration as mirror onto the turbulent extremes
of his own existence. Through the prism of subjective experience he furthermore
sought to disturb not only the viewer's sense of self but also the conventions
governing Western culture and traditional artistic practice. Calling into
question expectations of beauty, narrative, chiaroscuro, likeness, the body and
truth, he put forward important propositions about the premises of figurative
representation, setting in motion a process of narrative interaction between the
viewer and the work. Bacon's oeuvre provides a self-conscious intervention into
the history of Western art, challenging, complicating and undermining
representation. Instead of the subject or reality, in Bacon's work, the process
of looking itself is depicted, forcing the viewer to reassess conventional
illusion and our role in the viewer-object relationship. "The eye, Bacon
suggests, does not reveal but instead dissolves, does not produce but instead
destroys, does not make but instead unmakes the object of looking." (Ernst van
Alphen, Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, London, 1992, p. 13). In the
present painting Bacon finally appears to have achieved his aim: "What I want to
do is to distort the thing far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to
bring it back to a recording of the appearance" (Francis Bacon in conversation
with David Sylvester, Exhibition Catalogue, London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd.,
Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings, 1967, p. 37)
Francis Bacon portrait study to fetch £5-7 million
Francis Bacon's penultimate self-portrait to be sold in a major fortnight of
modern and contemporary art sales.
The Telegraph, 12 June 2012
Study for Self-Portrait, 1980, at Sotheby's
Study for Self-Portrait
of 1980, in which the 71-year-old painter looks back at himself as a young man,
is estimated to fetch between £5-7 million when it goes on sale at Sotheby's
this later month.
Other highlights of Sotheby's
contemporary art sale on 26 June include Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Warrior,
1982, an important early work from Basquiat’s cycle of full-length male figures,
as well as work by Gerhard Richter, Damien Hirst and Anselm Kiefer.
London sales of art in late June
and early July could approach $1 billion if the recent trend for record-breaking
A handful of super-wealthy
collectors is all that is needed to drive the value of a painting or sculpture
to eight or even nine figures, and it was only in May that Edvard Munch's The
Scream sold at Sotheby's for $120 million, an auction record.
Sotheby's currently holds the
London sales record for a contemporary art sale, but this year there will be
strong competition from their main competitor Christie's.
The day after the sale, on 27
June, Bacon's Study For Self-Portrait (1964) is on course to raise £15-20
million at Christie's.
Today, ahead of the major sales event Christie's
showcased highlights of its summer season in London, by opening a public
exhibition of some of the most valuable lots from an art auction series expected
to raise more than £300 million ($470 million).
Works by Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Yves Klein went
on show. The auction house hopes the exhibition of "museum quality" works at its
headquarters in King's Street, London, will add to the buzz surrounding the
Bacon's Study for Self-Portrait to lead Sotheby's June Contemporary Art Evening
June 13, 2012
Following the outstanding success of Sotheby’s Sale of The Gunter Sachs
Collection this season in London, which doubled pre-sale expectations and
realised £41.4 / $65.5 million, Sotheby’s is delighted to announce that its June
Evening Auction of Contemporary Art is expected to realise in excess of £50
million. The London sale, which will be staged on Tuesday, June 26th, 2012, will
feature a broad range of major works by leading Contemporary artists including
Francis Bacon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gerhard Richter, as well as Damien Hirst,
Piero Manzoni, Frank Auerbach and Glenn Brown, among others.*
on the forthcoming sales, Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s Chairman of Contemporary
Art Europe, said: “In the wake of Sotheby’s extremely successful sale of The
Gunter Sachs Collection last month, which realised more than $65 million -
doubling pre-sale expectations - we are extremely pleased to present our
forthcoming summer sales of Contemporary Art. The results achieved for both our
Spring sale of Contemporary Art in New York and the The Gunter Sachs Collection
in London bring Sotheby’s 2012 global total for sales of Contemporary Art to
almost half a billion US dollars, underlining the global buoyancy of this area
of the art market. We continue to witness intense demand for rare, important and
fresh-to-market artworks by blue-chip artists, as well as provenance, and this
June we have continued to tailor the sales to the collecting tastes of our
clients. Many of the artworks featured for sale reflect these desirable
qualities, such as the Lichtenstein which has remained off the market for almost
40 years; and a work by Bacon, which is his penultimate self-portrait in this
small scale format.”
Highlighting the sale is Francis Bacon’s single-canvas self-portrait Study
for Self-Portrait of 1980, which was executed in oil shortly after the
artist had entered the eighth decade of his life and ranks among the most
intensely dramatic self-portrayals of his career. The painting belongs to the
corpus of only a dozen Self-Portraits in this size (35.6 by 30.5cm.; 14 by 12in)
and is Bacon’s penultimate self-portrait in this small scale format. Whilst
directly preceding the very last in this sequence, executed in 1987, Study
for Self-Portrait hauntingly eulogizes the occasion of Bacon's searing
self-analysis. Intriguingly, where the last example evokes a ghost-like death
mask, the present portrayal radiates with the vibrancy and exuberance of youth.
71-year-old Francis Bacon here looks back at himself as a young man. Having been
selected by Stanley Seeger as a long term resident of his revered collection –
until it was acquired by the present owner in 2001 at Sotheby’s New York sale,
The Eye of a Collector: Works from the Collection of Stanley J. Seeger –
this extraordinary painting offers a very special insight into one of the
greatest artistic minds and talents of the 20th century. Comparable to the
captivating and penetrating examples housed in the Pompidou Centre, Paris and
the Musée Cantini, Marseille, the present work delivers a remarkable
exemplification of the principle engagement of Francis Bacon's oeuvre, the
Self-Portrait, and is estimated at £5-7 million.
Magazine, Financial Times, May 28, 2012
Since 1963 – the year he met Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank
Auerbach and R.B. Kitaj to persuade them to contribute to his student magazine –
Michael Peppiatt has been writing about art and interviewing artists. Now, he
has selected 40 of his best interviews, some previously unpublished, for a new
book, as an exhibition of works by some of his subjects opens in London.
Highlights from both are extracted here
Bacon on the role of chance
three interviews with Francis Bacon, spaced as far apart as those I have done
with Auerbach. But since I saw a great deal of Bacon, I often felt I should
interview him more frequently, yet I sensed a reticence whenever the idea came
up and I did not insist. And since he talked to me very freely, in all kinds of
moods and situations, I learnt far more than I would have done from any number
of more constrained, recorded conversations.
'Portrait of Francis Bacon' by Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1971
told me recently that you’d been to the Science Museum and you’d been looking at
but that’s nothing of any interest. You see, one has ideas, but it’s only what
you make of them. Theories are no good, it’s only what you actually make.
there certain images that you go back to a great deal, for example, Egyptian
images? You look at the same things a lot, don’t you?
look at the same things. But for myself I get a great deal from poems, I get a
lot from the Greek tragedies, and those I find tremendously suggestive of all
kinds of things. It’s true that, not reading Greek, I don’t get them in all
their vitality. But there was this man who did remarkable translations called
Stanford, and he wrote a very fascinating book called Aeschylus in his Style.
you find the word more suggestive than the actual image?
necessarily, but very often it is.
the Greek tragedies suggest new images when you reread them, or do they just
deepen the images that are already there?
very often suggest new images. I don’t think one can come down to anything
specific, one doesn’t really know. I mean, you could glance at an advertisement
or something and it could suggest just as much as reading Aeschylus. Anything
can suggest things to you.
must be quite singular among contemporary artists to be moved in that way by
literature. Looking at, for example, Degas, doesn’t affect you?
Degas is complete in himself.
you are a visual person, above all. Is there a whole series of images that you
find haunting? There are specific images, aren’t there, that have been very
important to you?
but I don’t think those are the things that I’ve been able to get anything from.
You see, the best images just come about.
you ever experiment with automatism?
I don’t really believe in that. What I do believe is that chance and accident
are the most fertile things at any artist’s disposal at the present time. I’m
trying to do some portraits now and I’m just hoping that they’ll come about by
chance. I just long to capture an appearance without it being an illustrated
something that you couldn’t have planned consciously?
I wouldn’t know it’s what I wanted but it’s what for me at the time makes a
reality. Reality, that is, that comes about in the actual way the painting has
been put down, which is a reality, but I’m also trying to make that reality into
the appearance of the person I’m painting.
a locking together of two things?
a locking together of a great number of things, and it will only come about by
chance. It’s prompted chance because you have in the back of your mind the image
of the person whose portrait you are trying to paint. I mean, there’s no point
in trying to make a portrait that doesn’t look like the person. You see, this is
the point at which you absolutely cannot talk about painting. It’s in the
there is the person’s appearance, and then there are all sorts of sensations
about that particular person.
don’t know how much it’s a question of sensation about the other person. It’s
the sensations within yourself. It’s to do with the shock of two completely
unillustrational things which come together and make an appearance. But again
it’s all words, it’s all an approximation. I feel talking about painting is
always superficial. We have lost our real directness. We talk in such a dreary,
bourgeois kind of way. Nothing is ever directly said.
is your sensibility still “joltable”? Does one become hardened to visual shock?
don’t think so, but not much that is produced now jolts one. Everything that is
made now is made for public consumption, for money, and it’s all become so
anodyne. They might make it just slightly shocking, just enough for people to
want to see it, so that it makes a little more money. That’s all it’s about now.
It’s rather like this ghastly government we have in this country. The whole
thing’s a kind of anodyne way of making money.
Francis Bacon's body turns out to be Lucian Freud's in self-portrait
Christie's conclude 1864 Bacon painting is of two artists not one after studying
photos of both men from the time
The Guardian, Friday 25 May, 2012.
Bacon's Study for Self-Portrait (1964), which has an auction estimate of
may unquestionably be Francis Bacon in this 1964 self-portrait but the body has
never looked right. That is because from the neck down, it revealed, it is
the auction house Christie's made the discovery about Study for Self-portrait
ahead of its planned sale in next month's London sales of postwar and
studying John Deakin photographs of Bacon and Freud, Christie's concluded that
the body in the work must be Bacon's friend Freud.
It is "an
exciting new discovery", said Francis Outred, head of post-war and contemporary
art at Christie's, and the only self-portrait of its kind. "It is a rare
painting from the height of Bacon and Freud's relationship, paying tribute to
the creative and emotional proximity both felt for a time."
painting, described by Christie's as "poignant and exceptionally intimate", is
estimated at £20m. It is one of only 12 floor-length self-portraits by Bacon,
four of which are in museum collections including the national Museum of
Wales, the Modern at Fort Worth in Texas, the
Hirshhorn in Washington, and the Van der Heydt museum in Wuppertal.
Freud were close though competitive friends, having first met in 1945 through
another major British artist, Graham Sutherland. Outred said: "Part of the same
artistic circle, the artists deeply impacted one another, both in terms of
personality and practice."
of artistic friendship is also explored in another work at the same sale:
Freud's Head of a Greek Man which commemorates his travels to the Greek island
of Poros with the artist John Craxton at the end of the second world war.
exhibited in a joint show of the artists' work in 1947 and acquired by Craxton,
owned by his heirs until now. Christie's have an estimate of £1.5m-£2m on the
discovery Bacon and the early Freud will be sold by Christie's in London on 27
talks« im Städel
Oliver Reese hat ein Stück für ein Gemälde und zwei Darsteller geschrieben:
»Bacon talks«. Nun war Uraufführung im Frankfurter Museum Städel.
Boyens, Gießener Allgemeine, 13 May
Viktor Tremmel (links) und Martin Rentzsch in »Bacon talks«.
die erwartungsvolle Anfangsstille hinein beginnt der Wasserkocher zu sprudeln.
Zwei Schauspieler gießen sich entspannt in knatschbunten Plastikbechern Tee auf.
Dann kommen sie langsam aus der Tiefe des Raums nach vorne und verwandeln sich
Schritt für Schritt in den exzentrischen Maler Francis Bacon. Das Besondere: Wir
sitzen nicht im Schauspiel Frankfurt, sondern 500 Meter weiter südwestlich. Nur
ein kleiner Fußweg über den Holbeinsteg ans gegenüberliegende Mainufer ist nötig,
um direkt zur Uraufführung ins Frankfurter Städel zu gelangen. Intendant,
Regisseur und Textcollageur Oliver Reese hat pünktlich zum 20-jährigen Todestag
die berühmten Interviews des Kunstkritikers David Sylvester mit dem irischen
Maler in Szene gesetzt. Dass daraus keine langweilige Teatime geworden ist,
liegt an der grandiosen Spielfreude von Viktor Tremmel und Martin Rentzsch. In
90 Minuten loten sie die unterschiedlichsten Facetten seiner Persönlichkeit aus,
die von quälenden Selbstzweifeln ebenso geprägt war wie von berserkerhaften
Wutattacken und die auf unnachahmliche Weise seine Offenheit in der
Wahrheitssuche mit Selbsthass konterkarierte.
Angenehm fällt sofort auf, dass sich Oliver Reese nicht in den oft
kolportagehaft zitierten Exzessen Bacons suhlt: Seine sadistischen Liebhaber
interessieren ihn ebenso wenig wie seine rabiaten Sauftouren, seine
Drogenprobleme oder seine Spielleidenschaft. Er spürt einem Mann nach, der so
sachlich und so ehrlich wie möglich über Malerei und die Einsamkeit des Lebens
an sich Auskunft geben will. Die Genauigkeit, mit der er versucht, das Unsagbare
zu beschreiben, faszinieren vom ersten Satz an: »Meine ganze Malerei ist Zufall,
ich weiß selbst nicht, worum es dabei geht.«
Viktor Tremmel spielt Bacons abgründige Seite lustvoll aus. Unvermittelt
zerquetscht er Orangen, zertrümmert Stühle in unstillbarer Lebensgier und
genießt das Auftragen von Lippenstift mit ganzer Handfläche. Er sagt Sätze wie:
»Das Leben ist so viel brutaler als meine Bilder« und tanzt danach eckig durch
den Raum. Martin Rentzsch dagegen ringt mit jeder Silbe, berichtet gequält davon,
was ihm »nicht gelungen ist« und genießt das vorsichtige Beleuchten von
Kunsttheorien und Arbeitsprozessen. Selten sprechen die beiden miteinander,
vielmehr belauern und umkreisen sie sich, während sie langsam den großen,
lichtdurchfluteten Raum im Städel-Untergeschoß erobern.
An der Rückwand steht ein echter Bacon aus dem Bestand des Museums. In den
typischen Abmessungen 198 mal 142 Zentimeter schreit vor dunkelgrünem
Hintergrund die Krankenschwester aus dem Film »Panzerkreuzer Potemkin« um ihr
Leben. Ihr linkes Auge ist zerschossen, der zerstörte Körper leidet auf einer
Schaukel Märtyrerqualen, der Mund klafft auf wie eine einzige offene Wunde. Da
wirkt es schon sonderbar, wenn Martin Rentzsch zum Schluss den erstaunlichsten
Satz spricht, den Francis Bacon je gesagt hat: »Ich wollte immer das Lächeln
malen, aber es ist mir nie gelungen.«
Statt irischem Single Malt trinken die Darsteller Tee. Dennoch steigt die
Stimmung stetig an bis zum Finale, äquivalent zum siedenden Wasser im Kocher.
Viel Applaus am Ende für Bacon mal zwei, für die kunstübergreifende Idee und für
Oliver Reese und sein Ausstattungsteam.
zeigt "Bacon Talks" im Städel-Museum
Kinder- und Massenmördern hat sich Oliver Reese für seine neueste Aufführung den
monströsen Maler Francis Bacon ausgesucht.
Hupfeld, Welt, 13 May 2012
Nach Kinder- und
Massenmördern hat sich Oliver Reese einen monströsen Maler ausgesucht: Das
neueste Stück des Autors und Intendanten des Schauspiels Frankfurt beschäftigt
sich mit dem Maler Francis Bacon
"Bacon Talks" besteht
aus Originalzitaten und Interviews Bacons mit einem Kunstkritiker. Reese, der
zugleich Regie führte, spaltet den exzentrischen Maler in zwei Persönlichkeiten,
die von zwei Schauspielern verkörpert werden. Der eine im Anzug ist der Grübler
und Zweifler. Der andere – in karierter Hose mit geschminkten Lippen – ist
gierig und gewalttätig,
Aufführung findet vor einem echten Bacon im Städel-Museum statt. Das Gemälde von
1957 ist vielleicht die teuerste Kulisse der Theatergeschichte. Weitere
Vorstellungen gibt's vom 18. bis 20. Mai sowie vom 25. bis 27. Mai jeweils um 19
sells for $44.8m at auction
MICHAEL PARSONS, Irish Times, Friday, May 11,
Bacon's 1976 Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror exceeded its estimate of
$30 million to $40 million at a Sotheby's auction
A MALE nude painting by
Dublin-born artist Francis Bacon has sold for $44.8 million (€34.5 million) at a
Sotheby’s art auction in New York.
Described as a “powerful and
sophisticated” painting, Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror exceeded its
estimate of $30 million to $40 million at the auction on Wednesday night. Five
bidders competed to buy the painting. The successful buyer was listed as
“anonymous”. The 1976 oil painting was sold by an unnamed European collector.
A second, smaller painting by
Bacon, Study for a Portrait, sold later in the evening for $4.2 million.
The New York Times reported that it had been bought by Donald L Bryant, an
American art collector who told the paper he was “happy to get it at that
Speaking afterwards, Tobias
Meyer, worldwide head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s, said the company was
thrilled by the results and that “the top end of the market performed
beautifully . . . due to a global demand for masterpieces that is almost
record price at auction for one of Bacon’s paintings was achieved at Sotheby’s,
also in New York, in 2008 when his Triptych, 1976 sold for $86.3
million (€55.6 million). The buyer, reputedly, was Russian billionaire oligarch
Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club.
The Francis Bacon Opera
Martin Stevenson,Whats On
Stage, 10 May 2012
Date: 10 May 2012
Composer/director Stephen Crowe is
taking his seventh chamber opera to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year to
run the gauntlet of road-weary reviewers and faintly jaded audiences. The opera
is a direct transcription of an (apparently famous) interview first aired on The
South Bank Show in 1986, with Melvyn Bragg and the controversial painter
Francis Bacon, in which alcohol is a constant source of lubrication.
Months of negotiation were required
to secure the rights to the text, but now that the Estate of Francis Bacon and
Lord Melvyn Bragg have officially approved the opera, the Crowe Ensemble are
free to perform the work.
Meeting in a cramped coffee shop in
Soho, Crowe’s manner was a mixture of arrogant intelligence and barely disguised
impatience. He feverishly fingered his fashionable beard and checked the time on
his phone every few seconds. I was hoping that the meeting wouldn’t go so well
as to be converted into an opera itself, but true to the model of The Francis
Bacon Opera I thought it would be apposite to present this interview in its
raw form. No alcohol was consumed during the course of the interview.
Why did you want to set the original
television programme to music?
“Have you seen it?”
“Oh, God. Because I absolutely love
that particular interview. There’s something fantastically irrepressible about
Francis Bacon in it. He’s completely open and childlike. And he’s damning, and
dismissive, but cuddly with it. But the interview is more than just a man saying
interesting things, it’s an entity in its own right. Normally an interviewer
just lets the interviewee tell a few anecdotes, but not Melvyn Bragg. He’s far
too interesting, and far too interested in Bacon to let that happen. And
definitely far too drunk.”
Isn’t it enough that the original
programme exists in its original form? Why does it have to be an opera,
“That’s such a pompous question, if
you don’t mind me saying so. Why did Rembrandt have to paint his own craggy, old
face? Why not leave that in its original form?
But he was… (interrupted)
“It was Bacon’s spiky, free-wheeling
monologues that put me in mind of opera straight away. He has these passionate
outpourings, which contrast perfectly with Melvyn's more measured, more
restrained approach. The whole scenario just perfectly suits the ‘recitative,
followed by aria’ format. It was gagging for a musical skewering, you could
Using a famous BBC presenter and a
well-loved painter as your subject could be seen as another example of abusing
the cult of celebrity to build an audience for opera. As with Turnage’s Anna-Nicole
Smith opera as well as Damon Albarn and Rufus Wainwright’s recent operatic
“No it bloody couldn’t! There is
definitely a bit of that going on in opera, though. I don’t have a problem with
Anna-Nicole (Smith’s life) as a subject for (an) opera- the stories should
always be relevant. I think it’s sometimes easier to lean on the crutch of
Ancient Greece, say, than it is to set something contemporary, because the old
classics have already been approved by the ‘culture police’.
Who are the ‘culture poli..?’
It’s been pre-digested by the
audience and the composer is just regurgitating it. Honestly the easiest thing
in the world would have been to set a Shakespeare play to music, but I’d like to
think that his plays are already finished.”
Does this mean that you are opposed
to Shakespearian operas by Verdi, or Bellini, or Thomas Adès?
“It depends what you value in
Shakespeare. If it’s just the plot then (those operas are) great, but if you
love Shakespeare for the subtle poetry of the language then (those operas are)
not so great. Verdi, for example, cuts some of the most amazing lines from Lady
Macbeth and from Macbeth himself, so what’s the point?
Are you going to cut any of the words
of the original South Bank Show?
“No. I’m contractually obliged to
keep everything in. I honestly wouldn’t want it any other way. The imperfections
of speech (in the opera) are fascinating. I bet that to make sense out of what
I’m saying in this interview you’ll have to do a bit of word-juggling, but I
haven’t done any of that in Francis Bacon. There’s one point where Bacon is
talking about how he rejects ‘fantasy’, or the idea of ‘fantasy’ on his work,
and, since he’s merrily pissed, he slurs his words and starts to say
‘philosophy’ instead. That’s more than just a slip of the tongue, because he was
obviously thinking about what he rejects and he obviously marries philosophy
with fantasy in his subconscious. And it’s also funny to keep in the little
quirks of speech. The audience respond to it.”
Are there any contractual constraints
about how to represent the men physically? I imagine Lord Bragg would be rather
particular about how he appears on stage.
“Thankfully not. I always think of
that man who said he thought Melvyn Bragg was always wearing two wigs at the
same time, (laughs) because Melvyn’s hair is an institution in itself.
Miraculous. It would have been terrible to be retrained in how we present that
famous mop. Originally the production was going to mirror the physical set-up of
the original show - they’re at the Tate, then in Bacon’s studio and finally in a
restaurant. But when I saw the design by Candida (Powell-Williams) I decided
that it would be more interesting to present Bacon’s arias as if he is
delivering a sermon from inside one of his own paintings.”
So, if Lord Bragg will be wearing two
wigs at once, does that mean that the opera has a funny side?
“Of course. Yes. It’s a comedy. It’s
The Francis Bacon Opera, starring
Christopher Killerby as Francis Bacon and Oliver Brignall as Melvyn Bragg, is
playing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival from the 18th to the 27th of August at
C Venues, Main House.
Bacon painting estimated to fetch $40million
Bacon's extraordinary 1976 Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror painting will be
auctioned at Sotheby's in New York today.
Telegraph, 9 May, 2012
A male nude by Dublin-born artist Francis Bacon, who
died in 1992, is to feature in Sotheby's 2012 Contemporary Art Evening Sale in
New York on 9 May.
The major 1976 painting Figure Writing Reflected in
Mirror has remained in the same private collection for more than 30 years
and is estimated to fetch $30-40million at the auction.
The painting incorporates some of Bacon’s most important
themes and iconography. It shows a male figure in white underwear who bears a
resemblance to the artist's lover George Dyer, who killed himself on the eve of
Bacon's important retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris, in October 1971. The
distinctive sweep of black hair resembles Bacon, and thus can be interpreted as
representing both artist and lover.
Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror was included
in the 1977 exhibition at Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris, where it was shown
alongside his Triptych painting, which holds the record price paid
($86.3million) for any work of Contemporary Art at auction.
The oil painting measures approximately 6.5ft by 5ft and
is being sold by an unnamed European collector who purchased the painting at the
Paris exhibition and it has not appeared on the market since.
However, the price expected for Bacon's piece does not
come close to last week’s sale of Edvard Munch's painting The Scream,
which fetched $120 million (€91 million).
Earlier this year, Bacon's Portrait of Henrietta
Moraes, which features a naked female model sprawled on a bed, sold for
£21.3 million at a Christie’s auction in London.
and the Bacon: two portraits to be auctioned
MICHAEL PARSONS, Irish Times, Wednesday, May
RADICALLY different views of the human figure by Irish artists – a male nude by
Francis Bacon and a portrait of a Co Meath aristocrat’s wife by Sir William
Orpen – are being auctioned in New York and London.
After last week’s sale of the painting The Scream
for $120 million (€91 million), the mere $30 million expected for a male nude by
Bacon tonight is unlikely to raise an eyebrow. Figure Writing Reflected in
Mirror will go under the hammer at a Sotheby’s auction in New York with an
estimate of $30 million- $40 million. The 1976 oil painting, which measures
approximately 6.5ft by 5ft, is being sold by an unnamed European collector.
According to an explanatory note in the auction
catalogue, the subject of the painting “represents both Bacon’s partner George
Dyer and the artist himself”, and the figure combines “Dyer’s distinctive
profile” and the artist’s “own distinctive sweep of hair”.
Bacon, who lived in London, met Dyer – an East End
criminal – in 1964 when Dyer broke into his studio.
The pair had a stormy relationship that ended when Dyer
died from a drink and drugs overdose in a Paris hotel in 1971. Bacon painted
numerous portraits of him before and after his death.
The work of Dublin-born Bacon, who died in 1992, is now
among the most expensive in the world. Earlier this year, one of his female
nudes, Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, sold for £21.3 million (€25.4
million) at a Christie’s auction in London.
Meanwhile, in London tomorrow, Sotheby’s will auction
Portrait of Rose, Fourth Marchioness of Headfort by Orpen, which is expected to
sell for up to £500,000. The painting, which was on view in Dublin and Belfast
last month, is among the Irish lots in a British and Irish art sale in Sotheby’s
on New Bond Street.
Rose Boote, an Edwardian London music-hall star and
“society beauty”, married the Co Meath aristocrat Geoffrey, fourth marquess of
Headfort, in 1901.
Orpen, who was born in Stillorgan, Co Dublin, painted the
portrait in 1914. According to Sotheby’s, the “absolutely stunning” sitter
“deftly managed the dwindling finances of the estate at Kells in Co Meath,
proved a brilliant hostess at numerous house parties, and was attentive to the
concerns of the Headfort tenants and the local community”.
She and her husband’s alleged “popularity as progressive
landlords ensured that Headfort survived the struggle for Irish independence
The earrings seen in the portrait were sold by Sotheby’s
at a jewellery auction in Geneva last year for €35,000.
The auction also features work by Roderic O’Conor, Jack B
Yeats, Louis le Brocquy and Mildred Anne Butler, as well as four paintings by
Paul Henry, including A Connaught Fishing Village, which has an estimate of
Contemporary Art Evening Auction
New York | 09 May 2012, 07:00 PM | N08853
LOT 19 PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED EUROPEAN
1909 - 1992
REFLECTED IN MIRROR signed, titled and dated 1976 on the reverse
oil on canvas
78 x 57 7/8 in. 198 x 147 cm.
ESTIMATE 30,000,000-40,000,000 USD
Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1977
Paris, Galerie Claude Bernard,
Francis Bacon: Recent Works, January - March 1977, p. 15, illustrated in
London, Tate Gallery; Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie; Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Francis
Bacon, May 1985 - April 1986, cat. no.
99, n.p., illustrated in colour (London only)
Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian
Institution; Los Angeles County Museum of
Art; New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Francis Bacon, October 1989 - August
1990, cat. no. 45, illustrated in
Lugano, Museo d'arte moderna, Francis Bacon, March - May 1993, cat. no.
49, p. 109, illustrated in colour
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Bacon-Freud Expressions, July -
October 1995, cat. no. 21, p. 73, illustrated
Paris, Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, Passions privées:
Collections particulières d'art moderne et
contemporain en France, December 1995 - March 1996, cat. no. A41:1, p. 367,
Paris, Centre national d'art et de culture Georges Pompidou; Munich, Haus der
Kunst, Francis Bacon, June 1996 -
January 1997, cat. no. 72, p. 197, illustrated in colour
John Russell, Francis Bacon,
New York, 1979, pl. 106, illustrated
Michel Leiris, Full Face and in Profile, New York, 1983, fig. 110,
illustrated in colo9r
Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, Francis Bacon, New York, 1986, pl. 80, p. 81,
Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon, Barcelona, 1987, fig. 100, illustrated in
Ernst van Alphen, Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, Cambridge, 1993,
fig. 30, p. 58, illustrated
Cercle d'Art, ed., Découvrons l'art du XXe siècle, Paris, 1994, no. 23,
Christophe Domino, Bacon Monstre de Peinture, Paris, 1996, p. 80,
illustrated in colour
Christophe Domino, Francis Bacon 'Taking Reality by Surprise', London,
1997, p. 80, illustrated in colour
Exh. Cat., The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Francis Bacon, 2001, p. 144,
illustrated (as exhibited at Galerie Claude
David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon,
New York, 2007, fig. 131, p. 173, illustrated
Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies: Centenary Essays,
Göttingen, 2009, pl. 140, p. 201, illustrated in
"Bacon's mirrors can be anything
you like - except a reflecting surface... Bacon does not experience the mirror
in the same way as Lewis Carroll. The body enters the mirror and lodges itself
inside it, itself and its shadow. Hence the fascination: nothing is behind the
mirror, everything is inside it." Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic
of Sensation, London and New York, 2005, p. 13
"Each day in the mirror I watch
death at work" Francis Bacon quoting Jean Cocteau in, Hugh M. Davies,
'Interviewing Bacon, 1973' in, Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: New
Studies, Göttingen, 2009, p. 96
"The paintings, I venture, begin
in words, not in pictures. He was really a poet... When Bacon said he didn't
draw, he really meant it. The graphic works are not Bacon's 'sketches.' The real
sketches are his notes." Brian Clarke in David Sylvester, Looking Back at
Francis Bacon, London, 2000, p. 208
Writing Reflected in Mirror ranks among the most painterly, thematically and
emotively outstanding works of Francis Bacon's extraordinary oeuvre. Via a
stunning dissemination of color and line, in tandem with magnificent force of
physical and imaginative execution, Bacon's principle subjects and most
significant leitmotifs are readily present. At once, the iconic nude effigy of
Bacon's ill-fated muse and lover George Dyer is conflated with a self-portrait
of the artist, whilst the pivotal conceit of reflection and the act of writing
incites a stimulating dichotomy between vision and language. As delineated by
the eminent art historian and Bacon authority David Sylvester, this painting
stands as testament to the extraordinary corpus of poignant canvases produced
during the years 1971-1976, following George Dyer's tragic suicide on the eve of
Bacon's prestigious retrospective opening at the Grand Palais in January 1971.
after Dyer's death, Bacon returned to Paris in January 1977 with an exhibition
of extraordinary new works at the Galerie Claude Bernard. Prestigiously chosen
as the poster for this seminal and now legendary exhibition - the single most
important commercial gallery show of Bacon's career - this painting belongs to
the very highest tier of the outstanding works specifically selected by the
artist. Of the intimate group of twenty works exhibited in 1977, a significant
number of these now reside in prestigious museum collections: while two belong
in the Tate Collection, examples also belong to the Fondation Beyler, Basel, and
the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas. Furthermore, the sale of
Triptych, 1976, the centerpiece of the Claude Bernard show, at Sotheby's New
York made auction house history when it achieved the highest price for any
Contemporary work of art ever offered at auction. Created during the very same
year as Bacon's record-breaking triptych, Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror
triumphantly echoes Bacon's operation at the very zenith of his creative
headline work for Bacon's pivotal exhibition in 1977, this painting bore witness
to an unprecedented amount of publicity and eager anticipation; as Michael
Peppiat, friend to Bacon and author of the biography Francis Bacon: Anatomy
of an Enigma, describes: "with the mixture of intellectuals and collectors,
art groupies and sensation seekers, aesthetes and layabouts, the gallery quickly
became half sideshow, half shrine... Bacon was on hand in the middle of the
throng, pink-cheeked and immaculately dressed, greeting friends, signing posters
and catalogues, laughing appreciatively and generally behaving as if nothing
could have been more normal than the single-minded mobbing of which he and his
pictures had suddenly become the object." (Michael Peppiat, Francis Bacon:
Anatomy of an Enigma, London, 2008, pp. 344-45). The police notoriously
cordoned off the Rue des Beaux-Arts to limit the immense crowds coursing towards
the gallery from the Boulevard Saint-Germain; an incredible 8,000 people
squeezed and pushed their way down the narrow street and into the restricted
gallery space. In an interview with Richard Cork in 1991, Bacon fondly
remembered the heightened intensity given to his paintings by the claustrophobic
conditions and affirmed that the installation at Claude Bernard stood as his
favourite among the many museum retrospectives prestigiously afforded him
(Richard Cork in: David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London,
2000, p. 214).
unrivalled intellectual and painterly command, Figure Writing Reflected in
Mirror represents a stunning summation of the intensely introspective years that
preceded its creation and the prevailing triumph that shortly followed with
Bacon's legendary exhibition at Claude Bernard. As a feat of imaginative
sophistication, this painting embodies one of the finest single canvases by the
artist ever to be presented for public sale - a superlative testament and
outstanding tribute to the irreproachable eminence of Francis Bacon within Art
muscular back turned and deeply immersed in the act of writing, Francis Bacon's
nude figure radiates melancholic absorption. Exuding the refinement in line,
coolness in palette and haunting grandeur inimitable to Bacon's post-Dyer opus,
the second peak of the artist's career according to David Sylvester, this highly
psychological and thematically complex painting radiates an atmosphere of
elegiac contemplation. In Paris 1971, on the eve of Bacon's Retrospective
opening at the Grand Palais - an honour only previously awarded to Picasso among
living painters - George Dyer died from an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol.
Found slumped on the toilet in their hotel room at the Hôtel des Saints-Péres,
this tragic event, to which Bacon initially reacted with an outwardly stoic
callousness, affected the artist profoundly. The degree to which Bacon was
consumed with guilt over Dyer's death would find equal measure only in the
posthumous paintings of Dyer and the event of his suicide. Collectively known as
the 'Black Triptychs', these harrowing epic eulogies powerfully speak of the
intense loss and guilt that remained with Bacon until his death: "Time does not
heal. There isn't an hour of the day that I don't think about him." (Artist
quoted in Exh. Cat., Lugano Museo d'Arte Moderna, Francis Bacon, 1993, sv.
44). Bearing the irrevocable trace of a sombre mind set following such a
tragedy, the present work offers a remarkably quiet deliberation on the
voluptuous male back - a prominent fascination indissolubly coupled with Bacon's
almost obsessive portrayal of Dyer.
first met the previous autumn, by 1964 Dyer was established as Bacon's
companion, lover and principal artistic subject; for the eight years leading up
to his death, Dyer and Bacon shared a fractured relationship marred by Dyer's
progressive alcoholism and waning sense of purpose in Bacon's shadow. A
petty-thief from London's East End possessing insalubrious criminal connections
and a muscular build, Dyer embodied a physical ideal and refreshingintellectual
counterpart for Bacon. In the present work, the heroic muscularity of the male
nude's voluptuous back is strongly reminiscent of a triptych painted a year
prior to Dyer's death. Described as "that hymn to George Dyer's virility" by
David Sylvester, Three Studies of the Male Back features the well-defined
silhouette and round shouldered posture synonymous with John Deakin's famous
photographs that had been commissioned by Bacon and record Dyer sitting in his
underpants among the detritus of the artist's studio (David Sylvester,
Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London, 2000, p. 134). What's more, in their
depiction of the masculine form, both of these paintings elucidate a hybrid of
correlative source imagery inexplicably related in Bacon's mind to Dyer's
physicality. To be found strewn, crumpled and heaped on the floor of Bacon's
chaotic studio, evidence of his fascination with how the spine in Degas's
Nude After the Bath "almost comes out of the skin altogether" is comingled
with Michelangelo's hyper-masculine and heroic backs and Eadweard Muybridge's
motion-photographs of male wrestlers. (Artist quoted in Hugh Davies and Sally
Yard, Francis Bacon, New York,1986, p. 79). What's more, inimitable to
Dyer's likeness, the physiognomy of the writing figure suggests the same iconic
profile that proliferated in Bacon's creation from 1964. Compounded with the
suggestion of a suit collar - Dyer was always immaculately turned out - and the
underpants ubiquitous to Deakin's photographs, the congruency of signifiers
indeed affirms that the present work is a posthumous portrait of George Dyer. He
is here depicted writing indecipherable words on a blank sheet, perhaps also
recalling one of Dyer's previous suicide attempts during a holiday they had
taken together in Greece, when Dyer left a short suicide letter which read: "We
all have to go, it's not so bad." (Michael Peppiat, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of
an Enigma, London, 2008, p. 295). While on that occasion he had arrived in
time to stymy Dyer's half-hearted suicide attempt, Bacon heartrendingly lamented
Dyer's passing in the summer of 1972: "I feel profoundly guilty about his death.
If I hadn't gone out that morning, if I'd simply stayed in and made sure he was
alright, he might be alive now." (Artist quoted in Ibid., p. 303).
a powerful force in life, in death Dyer's absent-presence took on the weight of
Bacon's loss and melancholic regret. As much as these last paintings of Dyer
represent ruminations on his lost companion, they
simultaneously encompass deeply introverted self-reflections. Indeed, the
constancy and significance of Dyer's appearance in Bacon's oeuvre is rivalled
only by the self-portraits, which from 1971 onwards, greatly increased in
number. Somewhat disingenuous, Bacon explained: "People have been dying around
me like flies and I've had nobody else to paint but myself... I loathe my own
face and I've done self-portraits because I've had nothing else to
do." (the artist quoted in David Sylvester, Francis Bacon, London, 1975,
p. 129). Anathema to Bacon's trivialising postulation, the suite of
self-portraits executed during this period offer deeply mournful meditations on
transience and death. As magnificently exemplified in Self-Portrait,
1973, Bacon's adoption of the archetypical pose of melancholia, made iconic by
Dürer's eponymous woodcut, in combination with the wristwatch and the mirror as
vanitas symbols, together confer a cognitive fixation on grief and mortality.
Thus, to once more return to the identity of the Figure Writing Reflected in
Mirror, the manner in which the hair is depicted falling across the forehead
bears a striking affinity with Bacon's characteristic fringe or "forelock,"
which, according to the eminent French intellectual and friend to Bacon, Michel
Leiris, "is well in evidence in all his self-portraits" (Michel Leiris,
Francis Bacon, New York, 1983, p. 12). In this sense, whilst evoking the
effigy of George Dyer, Bacon's self-reference confirms his statement to
Sylvester recorded one year prior to this painting's execution: "One always has
greater involvement with oneself than with anybody else. No matter how much you
may believe that you're in love with somebody else, your love of somebody else
is your love of yourself." (Artist quoted in David Sylvester, Looking Back at
Francis Bacon, Op. Cit., p. 241).
statement on love and the self here evinces a certain envelopment and effacement
of identity that resonates throughout his oeuvre. In Bacon's violent portrayal
of copulation, animalistic aggression invokes a conflation of self and other,
engenders a loss of bodily boundaries. This was repeatedly given verbal
expression by Bacon in countless interviews: "The frustration is that people can
never be close enough to one another. If you're in love you can't break down the
barriers of the skin." (Artist quoted in Hugh M. Davies Op. Cit., p. 107);
whilst on another occasion Bacon also referred to this more explicitly as being
unable to "cut the flesh open and join it with another" (Ernst van Alphen,
Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, London, 1992, p. 125). Such a jubilant
and violent surrender of hermetically sealed corporeality is evident in the
second triptych Bacon painted after Dyer's death. Following the deeply elegiac
In Memory of George Dyer of 1971, Three Studies of Figures on Beds,
painted in 1972, represents a veritable celebration of his life (David
Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, Op. Cit., p. 136). In the
present image, where identity is ambiguous the boundary of the body is also
extended and blurred via a mysterious wound or umbilical cord across to the
figure's incongruous reflection. However, this offers none of the paroxysm or
violence present in other physical pairings in Bacon's oeuvre. Rather, with
their backs turned against each other, this work speaks of the withdrawal and
loss which continued to haunt Bacon throughout the 1970s. Herein the role of the
mirror in Bacon's work takes on an important metaphoric function: connected to
the myth of Narcissus in Ovid's metamorphoses, mirrors are traditional symbols
of vanitas and death. Described by the artist as an "infinite thing", in Bacon's
work they represent existentialist empty spaces, serving the same function as
the deathly black voids which permeate and give name to Bacon's 'Black
Triptychs'. Thus, at once a reflection of the self and George Dyer, this
painting gives unique visual expression to Bacon's melancholic citation of Jean
Cocteau: "Each day in the mirror I watch death at work." (Artist quoted in Hugh
M. Davies, 'Interviewing Bacon, 1973,' Op. Cit., p. 96).
Conspicuously present in his work as well as his studio, mirrors and the premise
of reflection signify a dominant theme and powerful engagement throughout
Bacon's career. As apparent within Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror,
the depiction of a tall mirror converging with a large table in the corner of a
stark anonymous room, shares significant visual affinities with the large
wall-mirror and pine table located in Bacon's bedsitting room in his Reece Mews
studio in South Kensington. The congruency of wall fixings and positioning in
both this painting and documentary photographs of Bacon's flat, underlines the
imaginative importance of Bacon's studio: "I am very influenced by places - by
the atmosphere of a room, you know. And I just knew from the very moment that I
came here that I would be able to work here." (Artist quoted in John Edwards,
7 Reece Mews Francis Bacon's Studio, London, 2001, p. 112). In the same way
Bacon endeavoured to harness chaos and accident in the execution of his work, he
also liked to preserve unforeseen phenomena in his working environment. The very
same mirror in Bacon's bedsitting room possesses a spectacular star-like
fracture, the pitted impact of a heavy glass ashtray reputedly thrown at the
artist during a row - perhaps the vestiges of one of George Dyer's drunken
rampages. Indeed, very much aligned to the shattered and distortive reflection
borne of Bacon's smashed mirror, the mirror image depicted in Bacon's painting
is not a true reflection of reality.
present work, although an ostensibly mimetic image is relayed, close scrutiny
reveals a dislocation of the viewer's seat of focus. The angle of reflection is
incongruous with the figure before the mirror; as explicated by Ernst
Van Alphen, "a phenomenon has occurred that is at odds with the act of looking"
(Ernst van Alphen, Op. Cit., p. 61). Rather than mirroring the figure's profile
in line with traditional laws of pictorial perspective, Bacon disrupts, confuses
and dismantles the logic of sight. By acting as a means of distortive
intensification, the mirror compounds a blurring of corporeal and spatial
boundaries. The employment of a curving arabesque and precise yellow outline of
an ellipse draws our attention to the locus of this transgression: the conceit
of 'reflection' forges a kind of magnetic field that violates verisimilitude.
Bacon wields the mirror as a weapon against an illustration, or indeed
reflection, of reality. Instead, the mirror is employed as a tool to call forth
"images which are a concentration of reality and a shorthand of sensation" (the
artist in an interview with Melvyn Bragg, Francis Bacon: The Southbank Show,
Dir. Michael Hinton, Illuminations Media, 1985). As established in Gilles Deleuze's pivotal text, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation: "Bacon's
mirrors can be anything you like - except a reflecting surface... The body
enters the mirror and lodges itself inside it, itself and its shadow. Hence the
fascination: nothing is behind the mirror, everything is inside it." (Gilles
Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, London, 2005, p. 13).
greatly fascinated in how others can look directly at you through the mirror, as
France Borel propounds, "does Bacon not insist on placing his canvases behind
glass precisely in order to create a certain mirror effect?"
(France Borel, 'Francis Bacon:
The Face Flayed' in: Milan Kundera and France Borel, Francis Bacon Self
Portraits, London, 1996, p. 193). Such optical effects and tricks of
illusion, present throughout Bacon's oeuvre, form an intriguing tribute and
dialectic with the significant role of mirrors in the history of Western art. In
acknowledging and revering a dialogue that stretches back to Jan van Eyck's
Arnolfini Marriage (1434), Velázquez's paradigmatic Las Meninas
(1656-1657), through to Manet's uncanny meditation on the gaze in A Bar at
the Folies-Bergère (1881-82) and René Magritte's surreal disjuncture of the
mirror in Reproduction Prohibited (1937), Bacon critiques and augments
the canon of reflection in art history. Through conflating the theme of sight
with bodily sensation and perception, Bacon invites corporal fragmentation and a
dislocation of the viewer's gaze. Within Bacon's remarkable oeuvre and as
masterfully prescient within the present work, sight, at once a powerfully
metaphoric and physical device, "is no longer to be conflated with the 'mind's
eye', but with the 'body's spasm." (Ernst van Alphen, Op. Cit., p. 81).
In a further contravention of
tradition, rather than being preoccupied with the act of looking, the figure
reflected does not look in the mirror nor meet our gaze: his lack of interest or
incapacity to regard his own likeness is usurped by the act of writing. As
confirmed by the performance of writing itself, arguably the only instance Bacon
ever depicted this action, alongside the prominent use of Letraset towards the
bottom edge of the composition, the theme of language is as important as vision.
Indeed contemplation of the present work led van Alphen to postulate: "Is this
specific unexpected occupation in front of a mirror a hint at a polemic between
language and vision, between narrative and perception?" (Ibid., p. 59).
Herein, Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror offers a powerful rumination
on the dichotomy between vision and language, and the profound significance of
the written word for Bacon's extraordinarily evocative painterly invention.
In an interview with Sylvester
in 1975, shortly predating the execution of the present work, Bacon articulated
his feeling for the restrictive tension of writing in comparison to painting:
"Painting is really a very unique thing in the sense that writing is not,
because writing and common speech are very near to one another, whereas painting
is something totally removed. It's the most artificial of the arts." (the artist
in David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, Op. Cit., p. 248).
Highly articulate and meticulous in his choice of phrase and expression, Bacon
paid careful attention to the literal scrutiny and criticism of his work. He
would frequently revise interview transcripts and edit exhibition texts to
maintain an enigmatic and elusive interpretation removed from any sense of
narrative or illustration. Indeed, very much in thrall to the emotive capacity
of language, Bacon was an immensely erudite and literary individual who set
great store by the power of the written word. He read widely and boasted a host
of literary notaries within his circle of friends. Among these was the acclaimed
French belletrist, or Man of Letters, Michel Leiris. Where Bacon painted his
portrait in 1976 - one of the most remarkable likenesses of Bacon's oeuvre -
Leiris reciprocated in 1983 with the finest 'word-portrait' of the artist
perhaps ever to have been penned: "His forelock, which is well in evidence in
all his self-portraits, like a reckless comma staunchly inscribed across his
brow, appears to be there as an emblem showing that, inside his head, nothing
proceeds according to the lazy norms of some already accepted pattern, but that
everything is liable to be called into question, cut short or left in suspense."
(Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon, New York 1983, p. 12).
Inherent to Bacon's rejection
of, to use Leiris' phrase, an 'accepted pattern', was the compost of crumpled
photographs, paint-splattered reproductions, and torn magazines that constituted
his principle resource of visual stimuli. However, in equal measure, fragments
of poetry and evocative cantos would also "bring up images" and "open up valves
of sensation" in exactly the same aleatory, associative and chaotic way (the
artist interviewed by David Sylvester in 1984, David Sylvester, Looking Back
at Francis Bacon, Op. Cit., p. 236). Very much inspired by the grand
melodrama and pathos of Aeschylus, Greek tragedy and the philosophy of Friedrich
Nietzsche, Bacon's figures are imbued with an intense Dionysian abandon
countered by the Apollonian calm interiors and isolated stages upon which his
tragic dramas unfold. This can be traced back to the three Eumenides depicted in
his seminal 1944 triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a
Crucifixion, through to the mythical grandeur of Triptych 1976
centered on a complex musing and conflation of the Promethean and Oresteian
myths. For Bacon, ancient myth represented the imaginative 'armature' upon which
all kinds of sensations and feelings attuned to the violence of contemporary
existence could be hung. Moreover, T. S. Eliot's modern-day poetic
recapitulation of classical mythology greatly affected and inspired Bacon's
work. The fragmentary and intensely concentrated emotive sensibility manifest in
Eliot's Sweeney Agonistes and The Waste Land - literary works that
would provide titles for two of Bacon's paintings in 1967 and 1982 respectively
- find visual echoes throughout the artist's oeuvre. Indeed, according to
Michael Peppiat, when Bacon repeatedly claimed not to know where his images
originated, he spoke of them as materialising semi-consciously from the vast
"memory traces" that had remained in his "grinding machine" – an analogy that
Eliot had directly employed to define the "poet's mind" as a "receptacle for
seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there
until all the particles which can unite form a new compound are present
together." (the artist and T. S. Eliot in Michael Peppiat, Op. Cit., p. 282).
Bacon was also good friends with the American Beat poet and author of the cult
novel Naked Lunch, William Burroughs, whose pioneering fragmentary and
highly evocative 'cut-up' technique offers a great literary parallel to Bacon's
harnessing of controlled accident: the indecipherable use of Letraset here in
Bacon's painting offers the most immediate visual elicitation of Burroughs'
enigmatic literary juxtapositions. For Bacon, poetry and words powerfully
provided a direct link to sensation, breeding images and unlocking the valves of
feeling in equal measure to the gamut of photographs and visual ephemera at his
disposal. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that words furnished Bacon's
incubatory imaginative process.
As is notoriously documented in
numerous interviews, Bacon maintained a steadfast dismissal and denial of any
necessity for, or practice of, preparatory drawing. Instead, he repeatedly cited
chance or accident as the principal motor driving and directing his imagery.
Nonetheless, contrary to such postulations and denials, following the artist's
death a not insignificant number of preparatory drawings were uncovered
alongside abundant lists of memoranda and written notes. In discussing these in
a letter to Sylvester, the artist Brian Clarke insightfully proposed: "These
notes are always precisely worded, to the point, and provocative of visual
ideas. Bacon I think, was essentially a literary man for whom textural
narrative, words and phrases triggered powerful visual images. Never a
draughtsman, deeply vulnerable to the power of words, his most articulate and
helpful 'sketches' took the form of the written word... the paintings, I
venture, begin in words, not in pictures. He was really a poet... When Bacon
said he didn't draw, he really meant it. The graphic works are not Bacon's
'sketches.' The real sketches are his notes." (Brian Clarke in David
Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, Op. Cit., p. 208). Thus, rather
than the economically delineated compositional drawings which Bacon made a
practise of destroying throughout his career, it is the notes that constitute
the germinative foundations of Bacon's enigmatic, and intensely poetic,
Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror we are presented with one of the most
unique and thematically evocative paintings of Francis Bacon's career. Executed
at the height of his imaginary powers and enshrined within a peak of painterly
refinement, the contemplative act of writing here reinforces the importance of
literary inspiration for Bacon's creative act. In a feat of painterly invention
that echoes the reflective role of the mirror, Bacon approaches the conditions
of the mise en abîme: where the Figure Writing is confronted with
the blank page, perhaps we are witnesses to the act of creation itself.
Contemporary Art Evening Auction
New York | 09 May 2012, 07:00 PM | N08853
1909 - 1992 STUDY
FOR A PORTRAIT
signed, titled and dated 1978 on the reverse
oil on canvas
14 x 12 in. 35.5 x 30.5 cm.
Marlborough Fine Art, New York
Nohra Haime Gallery, New York
Private Collection, Belgium
Sotheby's, London, February 27, 2008, Lot 12
Acquired by the present owner from the above
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Isabel and Other Intimate Strangers:
Portraits by Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon,
November - December 2008, p. 195 and p. 261, illustrated in colour
Milan Kundera, Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits, London, 1996, p.
138, illustrated in colour
Superbly combining both a dazzling display of painterly bravura and a
multi-layered psychological intensity, Study for a Portrait
exemplifies the salient features of Francis Bacon's tremendous output. The
presence of Bacon's ubiquitous title prefix "Study" is laden with
understatement and couldn't be more ironic: this painting is in fact an
intensely charged minor masterpiece. It is a classic example from Bacon's
seminal suite of small portrait heads in that it shows an intense, contained
head flickering with the faintest movement, and is highly unusual in design
as a slightly cast down profile. Below two sweeps of tightly brushed hair
sits a face of striking calm and resolve, which almost certainly belonged to
a singularly important figure in Bacon's existence.
Although the subject of this painting has not been explicitly identified, it
is important to appreciate it from the perspective of two well known
characteristics of Bacon's contemporaneous oeuvre. First is that in the
period after the suicide of Bacon's lover George Dyer in 1971, the artist
focused on self-portraiture and depicting a close coterie of friends with
particular intensity. Second is Bacon's extraordinary capacity to invest his
portraits with personal import, as noted by Sylvester: "Bacon had something
of Picasso's genius for transforming his autobiography into images with a
mythic allure and weight." (David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis
Bacon, London, 2000, p. 186). Looking to Bacon's friends for the subject
of this work, it becomes starkly clear that this physiognomy bears a
striking resemblance to that of John Edwards (1949-2003), the darkly
handsome East-Ender whom Bacon had met through Muriel Belcher at the Colony
Room drinking establishment in Soho in 1976. In the present work, the hair's
parting and short sideburn, the long jaw-line stemming from the ear, the
cleft chin, and the shadows of the eye and at the corner of the mouth are
all closely concomitant with those of Edwards. Furthermore, the white stripe
of shirt visible next to the neck and even the rectangular blue backdrop are
exactly akin to those features in photos Bacon took of Edwards. The first
acknowledged depiction of Edwards was not to come until 1980, and that
Study for a Portrait predates this by two years is extremely significant
and would mark this as the inauguration of Bacon's sustained suite of works
painted as tribute to his friend.
Until Bacon's death in 1992 the two shared a platonic relationship in which
the artist took a more paternal role. As Edwards wrote in 1998, "it was a
perfect relationship. I was never Francis' lover, but I loved him as the
best friend a man could have. He was fond of me like a son." (John Edwards
in: Exh. Cat., New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Francis Bacon, 1998,
p. 7). Edwards provided, particularly in the earliest stages of their
relationship, consolation from the intense self-accusatory demons that had
beset Bacon since Dyer's death. In this light this work is the very intimate
portrayal of the emotional constancy of Edwards that was so critical to
Bacon's existence, and the calmness, assurance and dignity that were
apparently so resonant in Edwards' personality are powerfully evoked here.
The beautiful composition is arranged around a schema of framing devices,
immediately indicative of a window, which is intersected by the rhythmic
arcs of the head and shoulders. Overlapping matrices of paint hatching,
presumably imprinted via Bacon's habitual use of corduroy, describe the
modulations of texture across the subject's face, while the smartly arranged
short hair is presented as dragged streaks of dry pigment. The head's
carefully organised containment within the frame prepares the viewer from
the outset that this portrayal is pensive, focused and enduring. Bacon's
extraordinary aptitude to shift through different modes of execution, from
exactitude to expressivity, from the diagrammatic to the painterly, is here
on full exhibition at its instinctive best.
The treatment of this visage reveals a confident familiarity that must have
stemmed from a particularly warm estimation of the sitter by the artist. The
gentle hollow of the cheek is palpably tender and the general softness of
the reflective features describes a deeply considerate and thoughtful
countenance. Indeed, with the inclination of the head and relaxed eyelids it
becomes easy to recognize the deeply sensitive affection invested in this
painting. Over one hundred and fifty photos of Edwards were found during the
deconstruction of Bacon's Reece Mews studio in 1998, a far greater number
than anyone else. According to Margarita Cappock, "The existence of so many
images of Edwards makes it plain that the artist derived some reassurance
from their presence. Yet their plenitude may have had the unanticipated
effect of freeing his grip from particular examples, leading to something
closer to that memory-based process described in his interviews." (Margarita
Cappock, Francis Bacon's Studio, London, 2005, p. 55). Similar to the
way in which the shadow behind Bacon's own profile in his Self-Portrait
of the same year (1978) denotes the idiosyncratic and immediately
identifiable outline of George Dyer; the silhouette behind the subject in
Study for a Portrait does not correlate with that of the main subject
but is reminiscent rather of the artist himself. This is particularly
evident in the shadow of a protruding wisp of hair, which is immediately
reminiscent of Bacon's coiffure at that time, and the straighter bridge of
the nose that was distinctive to the painter. In addition therefore to this
being a portrait of Bacon's trusted companion, it is thus possible also to
see it as an extraordinary double portrait featuring the spectre of the
artist, and thereby a very early affirmation of the deep emotional
affiliation between Bacon and Edwards.
John Russell claims that the single head portrait became "the scene of some
of Bacon's most ferocious investigations. Just as a gunshot sometimes leaves
an after-echo or parallel report, so these small concentrated heads carry
their ghosts within them." (John Russell, Francis Bacon, London,
1993, p. 99). At the end of a decade replete with monolithic canvases that
broadcast Bacon's deafening self-exorcism and existential fallout after his
lover's suicide, the artist created this beaming ray of reborn optimism
that, almost certainly, lovingly renders the features of his new, trusted
compatriot. That it may also intimate the echoing shadow of the artist as
well makes it one of the most outstanding and intriguing small portrait
heads in this most important canon, and further contributes to Bacon's
reputation as the pre-eminent painter of the psychology of human emotion in
the Twentieth Century.
with Artists 1966 - 2012 by Michael Peppiatt - review
years, Michael Peppiatt met the world's great artists, from Henri
Cartier-Bresson to Francis Bacon, on their home turf.
collected interviews are enthralling…
Talitha Stevenson, The Observer
'Fertile': Francis Bacon
in his studio, 1980. Jane Bown for the Observer
The art of the critic-interviewer is,
like that of the psychoanalyst, to draw poignant attention to what it is that
the interviewee cannot express. The limitations imposed on Peppiatt are those of
language itself, and they serve him well, causing him to nudge each of his
subjects to the point where words fail them, to where the picture, the
sculpture, the building or the photograph becomes the only means of expression.
These 28 interviews and 13 studio tours
illuminate many abstractions, and many particulars – of workspace, childhood and
technique. We visit the "Aladdin's cave" in which Peter
Blake painted, the "bookish" haven of Henri
Cartier-Bresson, the "supernatural neatness" of architect Richard
Meier. Each emphasises for Peppiatt a facet of the artist's work, as
if the surroundings were a visible extension of personality.
In the service of his large-scale
composition, none of Peppiatt's lines of inquiry – material, cultural, gossipy,
psychoanalytic – is allowed to predominate. Instead, each interview refracts the
multiple concerns of artists and critic. "I'm just a salad of comings and
goings," saysMiguel Condé.
"Chance and accident are the most fertile things at any artist's disposal,"
When required, Peppiatt's grounded
intelligence tugs his interviewee's most nebulous thoughts back to earth.
Talking about paint, he asksHughie O'Donoghue:
"Is it a voluptuous thing?", to which the artist replies: "Absolutely."
When Peppiatt does sanction a flight, it is
always an endearing flight of fancy. Dado tells
him: "When I've done a drawing, the person I've brought to life will then walk
past the window." "So it's life imitating art," says a giddy Peppiatt.
We come to know the critic through the wit,
the characteristic forward dash of his questions. Examining with Auerbach the
painter's friendship with Bacon and Freud, Peppiatt wonders politely if "the
rivalry came through admiration"? And he cuts a consistently lovable fanatic,
ready to wade through "waist-high waters in Venice to talk to Ida
Barbarigo" or to be slapped so hard on the back by a jovial Hans
Hartung that he "fell to the floor". He is equally unfazed by Zoran
Mušic's silences or the fact that "Condé speaks almost too well".
Gradually we arrive at an impression both of the psychic riot of each artist
and, along with it, of that unifying critical sensibility which led Peppiatt to
define "the London School" of painters in the late 80s.
If the book risks anything so confining as a
perspective, it is one of existential robustness. On that belvedere above Rome,
in the presence of Balthus's majestic despair, Peppiatt notes, in contrast, the
sudden "thunderous arrival of Balthus's two dogs, still possessed by some
adventure in the garden's undergrowth". After RB
Kitaj explains: "I even revise the intentions I had when I did [the
paintings]," Peppiatt agrees that this "can be a bit alarming", which leads
Kitaj to quote from the Kabbalah: "The book changes its meaning every year,'' he
says. "Everything is in flux."
Bacon painting, Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror, in Sotheby’s sale
Estimate up to £25m on painting representing lover George Dyer and the artist
which has been in private collection since 1977
Brown, The Guardian, Thursday 5 April 2012
Francis Bacon's Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror, to be sold at
Sotheby's New York in May.
powerful and important Francis Bacon painting showing a contemplative figure
writing, which has remained in the same private collection since it was bought
in 1977, is to be sold at auction in May.
is a very, very serious painting that we've chased for years," Tobias Meyer,
Sotheby's worldwide head of contemporary art, told the Guardian ahead of the
auction house believes Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror is as important
as two works by Bacon which set auction records for post-war art in 2007 and
2008. First Study from Innocent X briefly held the record when it sold
for $52.6m but was later pipped by a Mark Rothko. Triptych 1976 now holds
the record after Roman Abramovich bought it for $86.3m, an astonishing sum that
had jaws dropping – not least because it was a time when many were predicting an
end to crazy auction prices.
the triptych and the new-to-market Bacon were part of a small and now famous
1977 show of his work at the Galerie Claude Bernard in Paris.
Meyer recalled seeing the Bacon up close. "It was quite something," he said.
"But great Bacons do that you, hit you over the head a little bit and the body
of work that was shown in 1977 does that with great vigour and energy.
"Apart from being important paintings and very convincing, they are also
incredibly beautiful because it is probably Bacon at the height of his skills as
Another painting in the show included Three Figures and Portrait, now
owned by Tate and on display in Liverpool.
Figure Writing Reflected in a Mirror shows a male figure in white underwear who
bears a distinct resemblance to the artist's lover George Dyer, who, with
breathtaking timing, killed himself on the eve of Bacon's important
retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris, in October 1971. The black sweep of
hair resembles Bacon, so it can be interpreted as representing both artist and
Dublin-born Bacon was hugely inspired by literature, whether the Oresteia or TS
Eliot, and the figure writing, with crumpled paper on the floor, would seem to
be a direct manifestation of the artist's obsession with the written word. No
other Bacon canvas has someone writing.
painting remains something of a mystery, as it is difficult to fathom exactly
what was going on in Bacon's mind. Unlike other works there are no classical
references. "There are no birds swooping down to eat the liver of Prometheus,"
Sotheby's has estimated the painting at $30m-$40m (up to £25m) and Meyer said it
might be easier to sell because it is a single panel and not as violent as the
Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror was clearly considered a star at the 1977
exhibition because it was used as the catalogue cover and the anonymous
collector who bought it had been given first choice of the works by Claude
Bacon who died in 1992, aged 82, was one of the greatest and most influential
20th century artists. The critic Robert Hughes, writing in The Guardian in
2008, described him as "England's most celebrated recently dead painter. He is
probably the best-known one, and possibly the most popular, since JMW Turner."
His distorted paintings of tormented figures were not to everyone's tastes.
Margaret Thatcher once called him "that awful artist who paints those horrible
painting will be sold by Sotheby's in New York on 9 May but British audiences
can see it at the auction house in New Bond Street, London, for a spell from 13
Francis Bacon's Studio:
Dublin City Gallery - Review
Harriet Rowlinson, Staff Writer
Newspaper, Trinity College's Student Newspaper, April 2nd, 2012
first thing I notice is the dust that covers nearly all the contents of the
studio, like a thin film marking those objects that have long been forgotten.
Would Francis Bacon only use a paintbrush once before it was swallowed by the
chaos? Later on I discover that this is no ordinary dust, it was actually
collected and transported with the rest of the studio so that the artist’s work
place could be fully recreated to the nearest particle.
reconstruction of his studio at the Dublin City Gallery Hugh Lane is beyond
comprehension. In terms of mere numbers the small unique space holds 570 books
and catalogues, 1,500 photographs, 100 slashed canvases, 1,300 leaves torn from
books, 2,000 artist’s materials and 70 drawings. Over 7000 of these items were
carefully shipped from his studio in Reece Mews in London to Dublin where the
artist himself was born. The project took three years to complete with a team of
archaeologists, conservers and curators working to make sure everything was
mapped out on the grid system, labeled and put onto the database. The end result
is a huge privilege, to see what was only ever known to a close circle of
1926 Bacon left Ireland when he was only 16 years old following a heated row
with his father, who had found his son dressed in his mother’s underwear. After
travelling to many cities including Berlin and Paris, Bacon finally chose London
as his adopted home. It was in Mayfair where he gambled, Soho where he drank,
the East End where he met the gangsters and South Kensington where he decided to
paint. The studio that dissolved into disorder now stands before me, but what
beauty this disorder inspired! Despite the Monets and Constables hanging in
next-door rooms, visitors from around the world flock to Dublin City Gallery for
this studio alone
you first walk in you are met with a giant screen on which an interview from
1985 with Bacon is being played on a loop. You are also surrounded by quotes
from the artist talking about the infamous Reece Mews studio: “For some reason
the moment I saw this place I knew that I could work here. I am influenced by
places, by the atmosphere of a room.”
are then led to the back of the room where the studio lies. A long window at the
entrance of the studio immediately brings you closer to the artist, as though
Bacon himself has invited you in. Despite the chaos, certain objects jump out at
you such as photographs of the late Lucien Freud with whom he conducted a
tumultuous friendship, his trousers, shoes, a book on Velasquez and at least ten
empty boxes of Krug champagne alluding to Bacon’s hard partying days.
room is littered with the props used in his paintings. There’s a chair featured
in the Triptych of Lucien Freud 1969, the circular mirror which resides
on the back wall of the studio, and the hanging light bulbs and switches both of
which feature in an untitled and unfinished painting c.1980-82 of a back view of
kneeling figures, one of which was George Dyer – Bacon’s lover which is hung at
this very gallery.
of the reasons why I enjoy Bacon’s paintings is his use of colour, especially
the use of fleshy pink tones that have become synonymous with his work. The
walls and door of his studio were effectively how he decided on his palette and
as he smilingly said in one interview they were “his only abstract works.” The
surfaces are covered in a range of tones and textures. You can almost see his
thought process right before your eyes. Materials like corduroy and towelling
used for creating texture and depth to his paintings are strewn across the floor
or under piles of boxes. In the video that still plays overhead I hear him
bragging that he “never went to art school, thank god.”
relief is clear. He wanted to learn new techniques and not copy those who had
come before him. He knew only too well that what to us looks like a pile of
rubbish was to him useful and inspirational “This mess here around me is rather
like my mind; it may be a good image of what goes on inside me, that’s what it’s
like, my life is like that.” It’s hard to think that the 1976 Triptych that
was allegedly sold to Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich in New York
for $86.3million in 2008 could have been created from this mess, let alone how
canvases of that size fitted in there.
Although we may not have Abramovich’s budget, the Dublin City Gallery has
allowed us our very own piece of Francis Bacon, who, before he died in 1992, was
the most expensive living British artist. I feel his studio gives a real insight
into the world and mind of this complex genius, whose torment can be seen on the
paintings that now reach such astronomical prices. Part of Bacon has come home,
and we should feel lucky that somehow it chose us.
Bacon's Indian born muse
Sarju Kaul, The Asian Age, Feb 22, 2012
Henrietta Moraes by John Deakin
Indian-born muse of British contemporary artists, Henrietta
Moraes, was in the
news again as her portrait by Francis Bacon was auctioned by Sotheby’s for £21.3
who was born in 1937 in Simla in British India, was known for her beauty and
famous for being a model and the muse of renowned contemporary British artists,
Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon, and Maggi Hambling.
described as a notorious bonne-vivant, was known for her love affairs with both
sexes and a series of marriages. She was even briefly married to Indian poet Dom
Moraes in the 1960s and kept the last name of the poet after their separation.
Famous for her bohemian life, which led her to alcohol dependence and a career
as a cat burglar that ended with a stint in Holloway prison, according to her
autobiography, Henriettta, published by Hamish Hamilton in 1994.
who was born was born Audrey Wendy Abbott, had a tough childhood growing up in
England where she was sent as a child after her father deserted his family.
Known as “the Queen of Soho,” she was given the name Henrietta by her first
husband Michael Law, a filmmaker.
married actor Norman Bowler and that marriage broke up in 1956 as she took up
with 18-year-old Dom Moraes, at the time a student at Jesus College in Oxford
University. Henrietta took Moraes’ last name after they got married in 1961, but
the marriage, like her first two marriages, did not survive and ended in a few
haunted the infamous drinking dens, the Colony Room Club, and the French House,
in Soho, and became friends with post-war contemporary artists Francis Bacon and
Lucian Freud and the Soho set, which included Vogue photographer John
Deakin, in the 1950s.
people I was determined to make friends with because I felt so drawn to them
were Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon. They were both young, not particularly
well-known painters, but Lucian’s hypnotic eyes and Francis’ ebullience and
charming habit of buying bottles of champagne proved irresistible,” she wrote in
her memoirs of the bohemian era.
was gay, was very close to Henrietta who he painted more than 16 times in his
painting career. Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, painted in 1963 from a series of
photographs by Deakin, is “quite simply one of the most beautiful, seductive and
sexy portraits of a female figure by Bacon,” says Frances Outred, the head of
post-war and contemporary art, Europe, at Sotheby’s.
Moraes was a larger than life figure in 1950s Soho and she really captivated the
life of Francis. She became one of his key muses,” he adds.
asked his friend Deakin to take some nude photographs of Henrietta, as he only
painted from photos and not directly from figure. Describing Henrietta as
Bacon’s close friend, Leonie Grainger, associate specialist in post-war &
contemporary art at Sotheby’s, says, “Bacon only ever depicted friends and never
painted the subject from life, preferring to use photographs instead.”
was also painted by Lucien Freud, who was her one-time lover, and appeared in
his Girl in a Blanket in 1952, which she later used as the cover of her
combination of her hedonistic lifestyle, full of drinking liquor and sampling a
variety of drugs, led Henrietta to die at 67 and she was buried in the Brampton
Cemetery in west London.
Henrietta also had same sex relationships, including with singer-actress
Faithfull, and the last one was with artist Maggi Hambling, who described as her
most powerful muse.
Portrait of a tragic muse: As this
picture sells for £21m, we reveal the extraordinary story of the sexually
voracious but deeply troubled woman who inspired it
By GLENYS ROBERTS, The Daily Mail, 16th
Francis Bacon's 1963
portrait of Henrietta Moraes was described as 'sexually charged'
She lies, legs spread wide and one breast exposed, in a pose that
— for all the accomplishment of the artist — fails to convey what is so utterly
fascinating about the beguiling model Henrietta Moraes. She was the legendary Fifties beauty
who sat, or more properly reclined, for the Francis Bacon portrait — described
as 'sexually charged' by Christie's — which sold to an unknown buyer for a
staggering £21 million in London this week, far exceeding its guide price.
That makes it one of the most valuable
of the painter's works, tripling as it does the price achieved by another Bacon
portrait of Moraes, entitled Lying Figure With Hypodermic Syringe, that
was sold a couple of years ago. This featured the model in the grip of a heroin
trip, and Henrietta Moraes's extraordinary story only adds to the picture's
The model, a half-Indian beauty, was one of the stars of the
demi-monde that drank in London's Soho and bedded each other in the Fifties.
She was passed around among the
louchest men of the time, including, as was revealed only just before his death
last year, the incorrigible Lord Glenconner — most famous for turning the
tropical island of Mustique into a celebrity playground.
Princess Margaret's favourite peer
could not wait to boast in his final days that the irresistible Henrietta was
the mother of his illegitimate son Joshua, born, unbeknown to him at the time,
after a week-long fling in 1955. He and Joshua, then 54, eventually agreed to
DNA tests in 2009 in order to prove what they had long suspected — that they
were father and son.
most telling comment was the one Glenconner made to me shortly afterwards when
he said that the artist Lucian Freud 'was furious Joshua was mine, not his son'.
Those few triumphalist words lifted the lid on that decadent era when Freud and
the Irish-born Bacon mingled with hard-living aristocrats, East-End villains and
classless beauties. Both of them painted Henrietta Moraes, who at the time was
known by her birth name Audrey Abbott. Born in India in 1931, she was brought to
England as a small girl by her mother, after her father, who was in the Indian
Air Force, walked out of the family home in the foothills of the Himalayas after
a marital row.
a long battle with alcohol and drugs, Henrietta Moraes died from cirrhosis of
the liver at the age of 67, in 1999
Mother and daughter went to live in Northamptonshire, with
Henrietta sent to boarding school at the age of three. Before long, however, her restless
mother had run away to South Africa, abandoning her little girl to her
grandmother, who, finding her too wilful, seems to have mistreated her. Sent to
a convent in Reading, Henrietta developed a crush on a girl called Valerie who
slept with T.S. Eliot's poems under her pillow. Valerie went on to marry the
Henrietta, too, gravitated towards
artistic circles. Growing into a beautiful teenager, her looks combined with
mental frailness made her easy prey for the bohemians who caroused in Soho's
red-light district in the post-war years. The Colony Room, the Gargoyle Club,
the French House were the exotic names of these legendary watering holes and it
was Henrietta's ambition to drink copiously in them all.
Now calling herself Wendy Welling, for
artistic effect, she was not yet 18 and had lost her virginity to a young
trumpet player. She then slept with most of his friends, too. And although, like
many girls, she attended secretarial school, she discovered there was more money
in stripping off and modelling for the artistic crowd. In 1951, she married
film-maker Michael Law, who lived in the centre of clubland.
It is at this point that she met
Francis Bacon, who, being gay, was one of the few admirers who did not sleep
with Henrietta. But he painted her at least 16 times over a period of some 20
years — the portrait sold for £21 million was painted in 1963 — and he drank
with her every night in the Soho clubs. But though she was a close companion, to
whom he owed much of his inspiration, it seems to have slipped the temperamental
painter's mind to offer in return any of the pictures he painted, even though he
promised he would. Henrietta, perhaps realising the potential profit to be made,
continued to complain about this until the end of her life.
Meanwhile, she met Lucian Freud — the
man she called her 'great love'. She fancied him immediately and tugged him onto
the dance floor at the Gargoyle club, saying: 'I want you.' The next day, at lunchtime, they made love on the edge of a sink
in a squalid Soho flat where Henrietta was living. But Freud, who left a trail
of broken hearts, was congenitally unfaithful and she left him soon after,
having found signs of his infidelity.
When they first met in
1951, Francis Bacon was one of the few admirers of the model who did not sleep
By now, she had tired of her first
husband and set her cap at the body-buildier and actor Norman Bowler (who later
starred in TV's Emmerdale). At this point, Henrietta seems to have been
two-timing a stream of men. She married Bowler in 1955, despite knowing she was
already pregnant by Colin Tennant, later Lord Glenconner, without telling her
The truth was that after a dance at
the Albert Hall, Tennant — famous at the time as a deb's escort for his
consummate dancing skills — had taken her home in a taxi and stayed for a week,
during which Joshua was conceived. The following year, Tennant married Lady Anne
Coke, Princess Margaret's lady-in-waiting. They had five children and Tennant
thought nothing more of his affair.
For her part, Henrietta brought her son up as Joshua Bowler. She went on to
have a daughter with her husband, but by 1956 she'd thrown Bowler out because he
had been unfaithful. In 1961 she embarked on a third marriage to Goan poet Dom
Moraes. 'We drank too much,' she said of their time together.
She was now on a downward spiral —
tragically witnessed by her son Joshua. Drugs were a major problem. Having
smoked her first joint at the age of 22, she was soon drawn into using heroin
She moved into a slum flat south of
the Thames. It was here that she welcomed countless addict friends who dossed
down with her. Her young son found an addict known as Dustbin Joyce dying in his
bed. Reduced to stealing to feed her habit, Henrietta was finally sent to
Holloway Prison for a couple of weeks for theft. She left her two young children
with the jazz musician George Melly, but throughout these upheavals she remained
Indeed, there was life in Henrietta
yet. In the late Sixties, she joined a band of hippy travellers headed by the
flower-child baronet, Sir Mark Palmer, who dropped out of mainstream life to
make a famous four-year odyssey by horse and cart from Cornwall to Wales — via
Scotland. Henrietta was now in her 40s, and friends with a host of rich
socialites and well-known artistes including Mick Jagger — with whom the commune
wintered in Berkshire in a caravan. As a result, she became close to singer
Marianne Faithfull and even became her tour manager.
But Henrietta's moneyed connections
could not save her. She plunged into depression and continued to drink heavily.
She was sectioned in the Nineties when she attacked a police officer. Diagnosed
with diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver, her son Joshua offered her sanctuary
and persuaded her to give up alcohol for a while. She finally moved to back
Chelsea where she lived alone with a dachshund called Max.
Her new best friend was the lesbian
painter Maggi Hambling, who described the ageing model as her muse. When
Henrietta died, aged 68 in 1999, she left Max to Hambling in her will. Following
this week's sale, the new owner of her portrait will be grateful that despite
Bacon's brutal brushstrokes,
this sad decline doesn't show in this study of Henrietta, which was made in her
Sotheby's Contemporary Sale Soars to
$80 in London, Driven by Gerhard Richter Fever
By Judd Tully, ART
INFO February 15, 2012
Sotheby’s had no true blockbuster to match the luscious Francis
Bacon nude that sold for $33.4 million at Christie’s Tuesday evening
— the most expensive trophy so far this season — it did offer an early and
quirky example. Bacon's Figure with Monkey (1951), a small-scaled work by
the artist's standards at 26 by 22 inches, featuring a man seemingly trying to
feed a rather ferocious monkey through the grill of a zoo fence, sold to a sole
telephone bidder for £1.8 million ($2.9 million) (est. £1.8-2.5 million. Though
the Bacon was more curiosity than masterpiece, it still did better than a small
group of Lucian
Freud drawings from a single, anonymous owner.
portrait by Francis Bacon sells for £21 at auction
By NAZIA PARVEEN, Daily Mail, 15 February 2012
Auctioned off: The portrait of Henrietta Moraes sold for £21m
of the most ‘seductive’ female portraits ever produced by Francis Bacon sold at
auction for £19million yesterday.
Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, one of his favourite models, beat its estimate
by £1million, making a total sale price including fees and taxes of £21,321,250.
Bidding began at £13million shortly before 7.25pm at Christie’s in London, but
leapt to the final figure in just five minutes.
was snapped up by an anonymous telephone buyer, who saw off competition from two
other phone bidders and a saleroom bid as the price was raised at £500,000 a
Produced in 1963, it is one of the most valuable pieces to be sold at a post-War
and contemporary art sale at the auction house, a spokesman said.
highest selling work in this category was another piece by Bacon, Triptych,
which went for £26.3million in February 2008.
Portrait of Henrietta Moraes is an oil on canvas, raw with colour and texture,
which measures 65in (165cm) by 56in (142cm) and shows the model sprawled across
painting, which has not been seen in public for 15 years, is described as one of
Bacon’s ‘most seductive and sexually charged’ paintings.
the day it was created the work has only had two owners.
present owner who offered the item for sale was not disclosed by Christie’s, who
said it came from a ‘distinguished’ New York collection which acquired it in
Outred, Christie’s head of post-war and contemporary art, said: ‘The carefully
constructed mood through colour is forcefully invaded by the extraordinary
swipes of the loaded brush, which create the woman’s voluptuous figure. This
juxtaposition of the sheer beauty of colour with the brutal physicality of paint
is what makes Bacon’s art so remarkable.’
was born in Dublin in 1909 to English parents and moved to London in 1926.
Although he had no formal training as an artist, he started to exhibit his work
in the 1930s and a decade later he was causing a sensation among the artistic
community with his angst-ridden paintings of twisted and mutated forms.
of a heart attack in Madrid in 1992. Today his work is among the most popular of
20th century art at auction.
Francis Bacon's 'sexually charged'
portrait fetches £21m
portrait of a female nude by Francis Bacon sold for £21.3 million at Christie's
on Tuesday, helping bring the total for the post-war and contemporary evening
sale in London to £80.6 million.
By Telegraph staff, The Telegraph, Wednesday 15 February 2012.
Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, which features a naked model sprawled on a
bed, beat its estimate by £1 million, making a total sale price including fees
and taxes of £21,321,250.
was bought by an anonymous telephone buyer, who saw off competition from two
other phone bidders and a saleroom bid as the price was raised at £500,000 a
Produced in 1963, Portrait of Henrietta Moraes is one Bacon's "most
seductive and sexually charged paintings", according to Francis Outred,
Christie's head of post-war and contemporary art, Europe.
Overall, the auction, which had been expected to raise £56.7-84 million after a
Mark Rothko painting was withdrawn to be sold privately, made £80.6m.
There were three artist auction records, including for Christopher Wool, whose
untitled work went under the hammer for £4.9 million, surpassing expe