Why did Tate reject an archive of material relating to Francis Bacon – once spuriously valued at £20m – 18 years after acquiring it?
In this podcast by The Art Newspaper, their London correspondent Martin Bailey talks about Tate’s recent press release which stated that it is returning around a thousand documents and sketches once said to have come from the studio of Francis Bacon to Barry Joule, a close friend of the artist, who donated them to Tate in 2004.
The donor Barry Joule, friend and neighbour of Francis Bacon, has defended the authenticity of the sketches, photographs, books, documents and magazine cuttings. He grew frustrated with Tate’s failure to exhibit earlier donations, telling The Observer that he would offer it to Centre Pompidou, Paris, instead.
Many specialists from within the Francis Bacon Estate and without (see Marcel Finke, 2009) have studied the material, coming to the conclusion that the material does not bear any substantial evidence of Bacon’s hand. An essay on the donation by The Estate of Francis Bacon’s archivist, Sophie Pretorius, was included in the publication Francis Bacon: Shadows, released in June 2021.
In it Pretorius quotes Andrew Wilson, until last year a senior Tate curator, who believed that the hand(s) that applied the marks “may not have included Bacon to any substantial degree” as well as Richard Dormet, who in 2000, in an early review of the collection, stated that in establishing the authenticity of the Barry Joule Archive (BJA) “what is at stake is Bacon’s artistic identity”. She herself concludes that “It is paramount, when Bacon studies are still in their infancy, that fact is established and cemented over fiction. New information is being on Bacon is constantly being uncovered, requiring fresh thinking, and for scholars to devote time to analysing a collection of works not by Francis Bacon is a waste of resources.”
In the podcast, the Joule collection is discussed in more detail with Sophie Pretorius and Martin Harrison, the pre-eminent Bacon scholar and editor of the Catalogue Raisonné of Francis Bacon’s work published in 2016, who describes the 1,000-piece collection as “juvenile parodies of Bacon.”
Pretorius describes her being asked to by The Francis Bacon Estate to validate the authenticity of each individual item of the BJA, detailing how, after many month of going through work which looked nothing like that in Bacon’s authenticated oeuvre, she found in the BJA worked-over newsprint which dated from 1995. “Bacon was dead in 1995”, she states. She also comments on virtual absence of oil paint on the items in the BJA, and asks how this would be possible if the material did indeed come from Bacon’s studio.
It is most unusual for Tate to deaccession artwork, but the trustees decided to offer it back to Joule regardless, with a spokesman stating: “The material does not lend itself to any significant exhibition and any potential it held to improve the public’s understanding of Bacon’s art has been exhausted. It has therefore been considered unsuitable for retention in Tate Archive.”
Read more about the publication Francis Bacon: Shadows here.