Francis Bacon’s heir dies

Solicitors for John Edwards’ estate deny that his lover has inherited the art


The death of Francis Bacon’s companion, John Edwards, has led to speculation about the fate of the artist’s legacy, which Mr Edwards had inherited 11 years earlier. Mr Edwards, a former East End barman, died in Thailand on 4 March, aged 53, after suffering from lung cancer. He met Bacon in 1976 and soon became his closest companion. Although both were gay, they insisted that they were just friends. On Bacon’s death in 1992, at the age of 82, he left his entire estate to Mr Edwards. The following year Mr Edwards moved to Thailand, acquiring a luxury flat in Pattaya with his close friend Philip Mordue.

In 1997 Mr Edwards, with advice from executor Professor Brian Clarke, began investigations into alleged irregularities by Bacon’s life-long dealer, Marlborough. It was suggested that the loss to the estate might have been as high as £100 million. The dispute went to court, although the two sides later agreed a settlement in February 2002, with the Bacon estate dropping its claim and each side paying its legal costs.

Following Mr Edwards’ death, it was speculated that his own estate (largely comprising the estate of Bacon) would go to Mr Mordue. He is said to have financial interests in the nightlife of the Thai resort of Pattaya. Bacon’s estate was originally worth £11 million, which will have certainly benefited from the substantial rise in prices for his pictures. But on the debit side the value of the inheritance has been reduced by Mr Edwards’ lavish lifestyle and by the legal case against Marlborough.

Solicitors acting for the Bacon estate told The Art Newspaper that reports of Mr Mordue “inheriting the collection [of Bacon works of art] are wrong.” No comment was made about other assets, which suggests that Mr Mordue may indeed be inheriting cash or property. The estate had earlier donated the contents of Bacon’s chaotic South Kensington studio to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, where it was reconstructed in 2001.

The Art Newspaper has identified a number of Bacon pictures which appear to belong to the estate. These include: “Pope” (1950), “Study after Velázquez” (1950), “Man at curtain” (1950-1), “Figure” (1950-1), “Crouching nude” (1950), “Crouching nude on rail” (1952), “Two figures in the grass” (1952), “Marching figures” (1952), “The end of the line” (1953), “Landscape after Van Gogh” (1957), “Reclining figure” (1960), ”Study of the human body” (1987), “Portrait of John Edwards” (1988) and “Triptych” (1991).

The Hugh Lane Gallery was last year given one painting by the estate, Bacon’s last unfinished portrait (1992). It also has five other works on loan from the estate: “Elongated figure walking”, “Figure (unfinished)”, “Kneeling figure, back view”, “Three figures (sketch)” and “Seated figure (sketch)”. Considering that major Bacon paintings now fetch millions of pounds, the 19 pictures we have identified from the estate must be worth a fortune.

As we revealed last year, plans were being made to set up the John Edwards Charitable Foundation and this was eventually established on 29 May 2002, headed by Professor Clarke (The Art Newspaper, No.123, March 2002, p.7). Its two aims are to arrange exhibitions of Bacon’s work and to promote and publish research on the artist. Among the projects under active consideration is a catalogue raisonné of Bacon’s œuvre.

Last year, following the settlement of the legal case, the Bacon estate received a large volume of archival material from Marlborough. A decision has been made to donate this to the Hugh Lane Gallery, and the papers are expected to arrive within the next few months. The Bacon estate is developing close links with the Hugh Lane, which now looks set to become the world centre for Bacon studies.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Solicitors for John Edwards’ estate deny that his lover has inherited the art'