AN HISTORICAL NO ONE IN BACON’S LIFE LIKE THE PHOTOGRAPHER MARTIN HARRISON DARE TO DEFINE THE PAINTER “A DISGUSTING MAN,A PAIN IN THE ASS
The works thrown AWAY by Bacon are back
Revenues from 10 to 30 million euro
Nowadays, all that had a kind of connection with Bacon can be sold. Last March, an English artist split a Bacon’s canvas in two, turned it upside down and painted landscapes on it; an idea that earned him 434,500 pounds, a sum 15 times greater than what the auction house would have expected. The two left gloves, probably used by Bacon while painting, were sold for around 7,000 pounds.
The sale of Bacon’s paintings often generates an income from 10 to 30 million euro. Thanks to the almost 100 new Bacon’s paintings, the art market is expected to see an increase of hundreds of millions. Creating market opportunities for these works is the task of Bacon Estate. As a matter of fact, only the Estate knows who is standing behind the label of “private collectors”, from which the new works came out.
But who or what is exactly the Bacon Estate? The requests for information by the magazine Stern, concerning the organisational aspect and function of the Estate, have been rejected. John Edwards, the sole heir of Bacon, a handsome illiterate who worked as a waiter in London in his brothers’ cafés and who was close to Bacon in his last 18 years, was responsible, with great surprise of all Bacon’s acquaintances, for the transfer of the inheritance in 1998 to Brian Clarke, a glass designer, who was thus given a greater power on the works.
Clarke knew that he was in possession of a treasure trove that could grow even more and, for this reason, he appointed the photographer and fashion curator Martin Harrison as creator of the catalogue of his works. Harrison decided to insert everything created by Francis Bacon: even the works that the artist had thrown away out of anger and that have miraculously survived. With the 100 rejected works retrieved by Harrison, together with everything that Bacon recognized as artworks while he was alive, the number of the pieces of art increased from 221 (documented in the first work catalogue in 1964) to 584 (current number).
Last February, a person who knew Bacon very well and can quite be considered his biographer, auctioned a work safeguarded for a very long time. Perhaps because he knew that a number of inferior works would appear on the market?
Paris, Boulevard Saint-Germain, Café de Flore. Michael Peppiatt, 76 years old, shakes his head. “The painting was my retirement fund. Because of the significantly growing value of the work in the last few years, I couldn’t afford the insurance anymore. This is the reason why I’ve always lent it to museums and exhibitions: at least it was safe.”
The friend’s gift could have yielded around five million pounds, nonetheless Peppiatt gave it away in exchange for a house on the French Riviera.
He chose this café in Paris as meeting place because it represents an era in which the city was a popular destination for artists and intellectuals from all over the world. And right here, Bacon’s paintings have ignited existential debates. Peppiatt was 21 years old and was a Cambridge student when he interviewed Francis Bacon in 1963, who was 53 at the time. On that occasion, he began a discourse that would have concluded only 30 years later, with Bacon’s death.
Bacon was at the beginning of his decade of success. In 1958 he signed a contract with the main art gallery in London, Marlborough. His triumph in the most important museums in the world, however, went hand in hand with tragedies linked to his private life. Short before the opening of the Tate Gallery of London in 1962, Peter Lacy, Bacon’s companion, died of alcohol abuse and, in 1971, on the eve of the Vernissage at the Grand Palais in Paris, George Dyer, Bacon’s companion of the time, committed suicide.
Both in private life and in art, Bacon insatiably longed for the absolute. Up to 1949, the artist is said to have destroyed approximately 700 paintings. Nonetheless, Bacon did not destroy everything he rejected. “Many rejected paintings are piled up in his office”, asserts Peppiatt. Scrap-works crop up all the time in abandoned offices, discovered by old partners or people who have access to the atelier.
The publication of the new catalogue was followed by the formation of a Committee to monetarily evaluate them. A sort of reverse art theft. “We have to carefully control this catalogue”, claims Peppiatt, who refused any collaboration with the Bacon Estate.
HORROR AND TRIUMPH – IN THE PAINTINGS AS IN LIFE
Bacon on ties and bags
Caption on page 51: chaos at the atelier is legendary. Bacon used to define it “the compost from which my paintings arise”
The rapid development of the art market since the end of the old millennium gave to art historians a sort of magical power. In this environment “money passes from hand to hand”, as a London curator claims. The president of the Estate, Brian Clarke, knew it already before: in 1999 he deprived Marlborough Gallery of the right to display the assets of Bacon’s works, thus becoming the only guardian of the painter’s works. From that moment on, he systematically exploited the artist’s inheritance: the reproductions of Bacon’s paintings amounted to 500 copies and were sold in museums shops at 3000 euro each. For the low-budget customers, the offer consisted in a wide choice of posters, printed ties, T-shirts and shopping bags. However, Clarke hit the jackpot with the work catalogue in conjunction with Bacon’s great exhibitions, sustained by Sotheby’s, that made Bacon’s “Resterampe” a millionaire business.
As far as the historical-artistic reconstruction is concerned, Clarke discovered a frontman who was very happy to be in the spotlight: Martin Harrison, author of the catalogue and former fashion photographer, labelled by the publishing house as “special expert” of Bacon’s works. Harrison’s presentation of Bacon’s 100 retrieved works astonished the real art experts: “After the events of the last period, all this is very strange” asserts Armin Zweite, former director of the art collection in Nordrehin-Westfalen. In 2006, Zweite had curated a Bacon’s exhibition in Düsseldorf. According to the art historian, the inclusion of the rejected paintings in the artist’s works is a questionable choice: “When an artist claims to have rejected some paintings, his decision should be respected.”
The retrieved paintings have been sold by Harrison and the Estate as “sensations”. At the end of May, a presentation of the catalogue was organised on the occasion of an exhibition dedicated to Bacon. For what concerns the origin of the paintings, Harrison whispered that they came from a “very, very private collection”. Other paintings had been retrieved in a closed warehouse in Chelsea, together with other paintings that had been earlier rejected, put aside and probably also forgotten by Bacon. Harrison, in a blue jacket on a green waistcoat, spoke into the microphone, in front of the invited public, and said: “This is the beginning of something.”
Afterwards, during the speech, he could not give any answer either regarding who was entitled to the inheritance after John Edwards’ death, or about who was the president of the Estate: “I have no idea about the legal situation. There are the Trustees or what the hell they are called. Up to now, I still don’t know who they are.” In order to know who they were, he asked for information to his son, who works at the Estate.
The retrieved works had been presented to a Committee, whose task was to decide whether to include them in the catalogue. “Sometimes it took me a great effort to convince them they really were Bacon’s works!” says Martin Harrison.
The catalogue includes about 20 works that have been destroyed. “Nonetheless, they came into the world mostly because someone stole them. But I’m not God, if it exists, so I have to accept it. A catalogue of works is not a hit parade.”
About the inclusion of the destroyed works in the 1964 catalogue, Harrison claims: “Bacon didn’t really take care of them. He wasn’t an accountant. I saw the majority of the destroyed paintings. And how could I have seen them if in 1964 they were really destroyed? End of discussion!”
This man is very controversial and only who meets with him understands why.
Edward Lucie-Smith, poet, author, art expert, photographer and excellent expert of the London artistic scene lives in his flat in Kensington. Ancient Asian art, photographs of nudes and art books stand out against the pink walls: an intellectual refuge in the light of the sunset.
Lucie-Smith has never minced words. Harrison describes him as an “extremely reckless” person. He goes around as he had attributed to himself the name “King Bacon”. Lucie-Smith declared that Bacon would be very unsatisfied of the works present in the catalogue.
The interest of the market in Bacon still excites the Estate. Harrison has curated an exhibition on Bacon in Monaco that was then moved to the Guggenheim in Bilbao. So, the “trophies” could meet the demands of more museums.
The fact that Bacon, the great destructor, would have approved even just one of these actions, is doubted by his partners and by all those who were in contact with him. Even Harrison claims to agree with those who criticise him: “Thankfully Bacon isn’t here. A disgusting man, a pain in the ass. He would have never approved of this.”