Tate art gallery wants to return works 'from Francis Bacon's archive'

Tate art gallery wants to return collection of works ‘from Francis Bacon’s archive’ to the donor after historians announced the documents are of ‘unknown authorship’

  • The Tate art gallery may return works found in Francis Bacon’s achieve after ‘credible doubts’ were raised over the document’s origins
  • It was said to be worth £20m when donated in 2004 by a friend of the artist 
  • But now the Tate is said to be offering to return the works to the original owner
  • The Tate art gallery wants to return works – said to be part of painter Francis Bacon’s archive – to their donor after historians raised ‘credible doubts’ over the documents’ origins.

    The 1,000-piece archive includes sketches, magazine and newspaper cuttings, books and photos of Bacon and his friends. It was said to be worth £20million when given to the gallery in 2004 by Barry Joule, a friend of the artist.

    But the Tate has offered to return the works to the original owner after it announced the oeuvre was of ‘unknown authorship’.

    In a statement, the gallery concluded that the material had been ‘exhausted’ of its potential to improve understanding of Bacon’s art.

    Canadian-born Mr Joule has defended the material’s authenticity. He claims to have considered legal action over what he called the Tate’s failure do justice to the collection.

    Yesterday a Tate source said: ‘We have honoured the terms of the original acquisition agreement.’

    The Tate art gallery may return works found in Francis Bacon's achieve after 'credible doubts' were raised over the document's origins

    The Tate art gallery may return works found in Francis Bacon’s achieve after ‘credible doubts’ were raised over the document’s origins

    The collection includes an album of overpainted sketches the Tate describes as of ‘unknown authorship’; around 800 magazine and newspaper cuttings, some bearing incidental marks or daubs of paint; 39 photographs of Bacon and his friends, and a selection of books and other documents.

    Barry Joule was living near to Bacon’s home and studio in South Kensington, London, when they met in 1978. They became close friends and he helped Bacon with his work until the artist’s death aged 82 in 1992.

    Bacon is best known for his paintings of screaming Popes, crucifixions and often brutal portraits. His painting of his friend and fellow artist Lucian Freud fetched £89 million in 2013, making it the then most expensive artwork ever sold at auction.

    In its statement yesterday, the Tate said some of the photographs and written material have featured in an archive display and been made available for publication.

    Barry Joule was living near to Bacon’s home and studio in South Kensington, London, when they met in 1978. He donated several of the artist's work to the Tate after his death

    Barry Joule was living near to Bacon’s home and studio in South Kensington, London, when they met in 1978. He donated several of the artist’s work to the Tate after his death

    It added: ‘The entire gift has also been researched by art historians, and this research has raised credible doubts about the nature and quality of the material.

    ‘In itself, 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. In the first instance, it has been offered back to the donor, in line with the donor’s wishes.’

    In an essay on the material, Sophie Pretorius, archivist of the Francis Bacon Estate, last year quoted a former senior Tate curator who believed the hands that applied the marks ‘may not have included Bacon to any substantial degree.’

    Ms Pretorius concluded that ‘for scholars to devote time to analysing a collection of works not by Francis Bacon is a waste of resources.’

    Earlier this year, Mr Joule reportedly said he was so frustrated by the Tate’s failure to exhibit it properly that he has cancelled plans to donate hundred more items to the gallery. Instead, he would like the work to go to the Centre Pompidou Paris in France.

    The Art Newspaper, which first revealed the Tate’s action yesterday, reported the archive was ‘apparently valued at around £20m’ at the time of the donation.

    The Tate source said the £20m estimated value ‘hasn’t come from us’ and that there was no mention of an estimated value in Tate’s original announcement about the gift in 2004.

    At the time, the Tate hailed ‘the generous gift of Barry Joule’ and said it would ‘undertake to study, photograph and catalogue the collection over the next three years, before displaying these items and making them available for loan.’

    Bacon is best known for his paintings of screaming Popes, crucifixions and often brutal portraits

    Bacon is best known for his paintings of screaming Popes, crucifixions and often brutal portraits