Interview with Brian Clarke on the Bacon estate: In litigation mode

The new sole executor of Bacon's estate talks in his first public interview about the teams of lawyers now working to see that the artist’s beneficiary, John Edwards, receives precisely what Francis intended him to receive. And that is everything


Just before last Christmas, the British High Court replaced the executors of the Francis Bacon estate (which included a director of Marlborough Gallery) and named Brian Clarke as sole executor and personal representative of the estate. He is an internationally acclaimed artist in his own right, who has produced large scale designs in stained glass, tapestry and mosaic, working with leading architects such as Norman Foster, Arata Isozaki, and Zaha Hadid. To look after the interests both of the Bacon estate and of his sole beneficiary, former lover John Edwards, Mr Clarke has appointed the American lawyer, John Eastman, who has also acted for de Kooning, Josef Albers, Robert Motherwell and other famous artists. In his first interview since his nomination, Mr Clarke told The Art Newspaper that “he has a group of lawyers working in several countries putting together a case that may, at some point in the near future, come to the moment our attentions are focused on litigaton matters”.

Could you explain the current situation?

Brian Clarke Last year, just before Christmas, the High Court in London replaced the executors of the Francis Bacon estate with myself. One executor was Dr Paul Brass, who was Francis’s doctor, and who has done an excellent job for the estate during the period of his incumbency, but the volume of work was simply overwhelming and he is not acquainted with the art world, and—with all the gratitude that he is genuinely due—the situation has now moved on and he was happy to be relieved of his duties. The other executor was Miss Valerie Beston, who had a clear conflict of interest in that she is a director of the Marlborough Gallery and also an executrix. So, for a multiplicity of reasons, the court decided to appoint me as sole executor and personal representative of the Francis Bacon estate. This appointment was made entirely unopposed; none of the interested parties or their lawyers made any opposition to that appointment—that’s an important point.

Who were the interested parties?

The lawyers representing the executors and the lawyers representing John Edwards.

How did your name get put forward?

I knew Francis since the late 70s—we were friends—but my long term and great friendship has been with John Edwards. At John’s request I have been given his power of attorney for a considerable time and then I agreed to help out with the estate. It was the unanimous decision of the lawyers and John Edwards himself, and it came at a time when it was necessary for someone else to take over the reins.

What does being a “personal representative” actually involve?

A personal representative is empowered by the High Court with all the authority over his own affairs that Francis Bacon had in his lifetime, and so, as executor I now have that authority and it is my job to administer and tie up the estate.

Was the estate in good order when you first got involved?

I was assuming that it was a simple matter of resolving a number of outstanding issues and then the estate would be wound up, but before very much time had passed it was clear that it was a much more complicated affair than I had first realised. First, I am able to tell you that the estate is more extensive in terms of its holdings of paintings than has generally been assumed. Even though everybody thought that they had been through the studio with a fine toothcomb, we found a number of paintings dating from the Fifties. Since Francis died, I had been in his studio probably a hundred times, but I had missed them and John Edwards had missed them.

So where were they?

It was such chaos in there and one was very frightened of moving too much for fear of disturbing things and creating the wrong impression for when the Hugh Lane Gallery [which now owns Bacon’s studio] came to disassemble it archaeologically. But when they came and, section by section, piece by piece, dismantled this extraordinary thing, we found these paintings. It also turned out that there were one or two works in other places—paintings that the Marlborough Gallery never saw that came out of that studio that we didn’t know existed, John Edwards didn’t know that they were there. It is undeniable that the body of work that is in the estate constitutes the greatest collection of Bacons in the world, and it contains some unequivocal masterpieces.

Have you had any problems reclaiming works for the estate?

I can’t discuss that. What I can say is that we have a group of lawyers working in several countries currently putting together a case that may, at some point in the near future, come to court. The press at the moment seems to assume that the case is with Barry Joule [Bacon’s friend and handyman to whom Bacon allegedly gave a large quantity of works on paper which Mr Joule then attempted unsuccessfully to donate to the Tate Gallery the Art Newspaper, No.84, September 1998, p.6]. I can now unequivocally tell The Art Newspaper that the estate is not preparing a case against Barry Joule. Barry Joule and I are having a perfectly amicable exchange now, and we both want what is best for Francis. I accept at face value from Barry Joule that his interest is Francis, and Francis’s reputation to be protected and advanced as much as possible though the vehicle of this collection of works. The estate and its lawyers are now in amicable discussion with him as to how this might best be achieved.

Francis Bacon’s will was fairly uncomplicated, wasn’t it? Didn’t he leave everything to his friend John Edwards?

The will was straightforward; John Edwards gets everything and it is now my job to make sure that that happens. The current complications have made it necessary to employ professionals—dealers, lawyers and administrators who know this world inside out—and it fell to me to choose lawyers, an accountant and dealers for him and for the estate.

Can you explain your choice of John Eastman as the legal representative?

John Eastman is the brother of the late Linda McCartney, and Paul and Linda have been my friends and collectors of my work for over twenty years. John Eastman is my lawyer. He is, or has been, the lawyer for Willem de Kooning, Josef Albers, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston and Naum Gabo. He knows his way around the art world and is very experienced. About eighteen months ago I had a meeting with John, who was at that time negotiating the stained glass and mosaic project I was doing in New York City for the Pfizer World Headquarters. I explained the problem of the Francis Bacon estate and he became lawyer for both John and the estate.

Since last April, Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York City has been handling the Francis Bacon estate (The Art Newspaper, No.84, September 1998, p.6). Why did you decide he was the right man for the job?

Tony Shafrazi is my art dealer and has been for some years. I have had a lot of experience of art dealers, and for the last five years Tony Shafrazi has handled millions of dollars annually on my behalf. Because I have a long relationship with Tony and because we already had a successful business relationship going ourselves, I knew that he was trustworthy. Tony has a reputation for being ruthlessly honest and it is a well deserved one—and that was very important. Unfortunately a number of supposedly blue-chip galleries who made approaches to us had chequered histories. We looked at a lot of options; we considered about twenty galleries and Tony provided all the criteria we wanted. A key factor was that the dealer for the estate should be somebody who was prepared to get behind Francis to reintroduce him, not to the bourgeois world of art collectors in New York—that’s easy, all you have to do is throw a cocktail party on Park Avenue. I wanted Americans to be aware of Francis Bacon. I wanted kids with their baseball hats on back to front carrying skateboards to walk into the gallery. There is no dealer, I would venture, in the world who is more dovetailed into youth culture than Tony Shafrazi.

You must also remember that Tony has great links with England; he was educated at the Royal College. In the twenty years I have known him, Tony has expressed his obsession with Bacon 1,000 times.

Were any works sold from the Tony Shafrazi exhibition last October of paintings from the Francis Bacon estate?

We actually did sell a few pieces of work during the exhibition, but not from the main body of work on show. When you’re dealing with Francis Bacon paintings you don’t need a big hullabaloo to sell them. But the estate has paid all its taxes and does not have to raise money.

We may sell a number of pictures as time goes on, but we have no plans for any kind of big sale—or any kind of small sale, for that matter. We realised that the paintings in the estate—many of which had never been shown before—had to be shown together. Do you know we had between two and three thousand visitors a day to that exhibition—including kids and young students?

David Sylvester said it was one of the greatest painting shows he had ever seen, and probably the greatest Bacon show of all time.

What are your future plans for the Francis Bacon estate?

At the moment our attentions are rather focused on litigation matters, but a programme is being drawn up, and it is mainly a museum programme. We’ve already lent a triptych to the exhibition at Yale; two “Popes” to the exhibition at San Diego and we are currently planning exhibitions in France, in Switzerland and there will certainly be a show at Faggionato Fine Art in June. Gerard Faggionato has a long history of working with Francis Bacon.

He already controls about a dozen Bacon paintings; he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Bacon and we needed somebody in London because a lot of activity is generated from there. In general, we are very fortunate. The estate is very close to David Sylvester, to Michael Peppiatt, to Sam Hunter and to all the principal Bacon people. We are listening to their counsel and also very carefully to what Tony Shafrazi and Gerard Faggionato have to say.

Do you receive any payment for your role as executor and personal representative?

No. This is a labour of love. Although it is embarrassing to say so, I enjoy great financial success through my own work. At the moment it is my profound wish that my involvement in the estate will not be onerous for very much longer. Later on, once we have resolved the legal matters, there will be ongoing business of the estate and ongoing decisions to be made, but right now, my only role as an executor and personal representative is to regularise the affairs of Francis Bacon in order that the estate can be tied up—and in order that the sole beneficiary legatee receives precisely what Francis intended him to receive. And that was everything.


The Art Newspaper apologises unreservedly to John Edwards for having stated in the last issue (No. 91, April 1999, p. 53) that he was once Francis Bacon’s lover. The newspaper recognises that this was never the case and is very sorry for any embarrassment this may have caused him.