Bacon estate says lover’s brother sold fakes

New details emerge in British courts about disputed drawings that first emerged in Italy


The Francis Bacon Estate, which was set up with support from the artist’s companion and heir, John Edwards, last month accused John’s brother David of having sold fakes. This follows an appeal application in a bankruptcy case that has revealed new details about the sale of drawings attributed to Francis Bacon. Three courts in England have ruled that a group of drawings originating from Italy and sold by David Edwards are not authentic.

What makes this so important is the sheer number of drawings in existence that may be affected by these rulings. Since Bacon’s death, Bologna-based Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino has been linked to hundreds of drawings attributed to Bacon. Ravarino, who says he was Bacon’s lover, says that these were given to him by the artist. In the High Court, the judge, Mr Justice Sales, noted that “Ravarino was the person who provided the disputed drawings to the bankrupt [Edwards]”.

The affair of the so-called Bacon drawings came before the courts because of the bankruptcy of David Edwards. Last month, in the Court of Appeal, Lady Justice Arden rejected an application to introduce fresh evidence from Italy. The Francis Bacon Estate summarised the situation on its website: “John Edwards’s brother judged to have sold fake Bacon drawings.” David Edwards has insisted that the drawings are authentic.

When Bacon died, in 1992, he left his estate to John Edwards, his close companion. When John died in Thailand in 2003, he in turn left a substantial legacy to the Francis Bacon Estate. This funds its authentication committee and catalogue raisonné. The estate’s blog stated that John’s brother David had sold fake works by Bacon, but following our enquiries, the estate appeared to backtrack just before we went to press, ascribing the claim to media reports.

In June 2007, David Edwards sold six drawings and memorabilia for £1m as works by Bacon. A few months later, he sold a further six drawings for £300,000. Martin Harrison, a Bacon specialist and the editor of the artist’s catalogue raisonné, later told a Cambridge court that they were merely “pastiches, or even parodies, and profoundly disrespectful of Bacon’s authentic body of work”. As such, they were valued at just £480.

The drawings, said to have come from Ravarino, had been sold to a Mr Thompson, a Mr Gowe and a Mr Burr. They sought to recover their payments and seek damages. David Edwards was subsequently declared bankrupt.

It later emerged that Edwards had passed £425,000 to his companion, John Frederick Tanner, during the course of 2007. Edwards and Tanner not only lived together, but also worked together in the antiques business. In the early 1990s, they ran Seabrook Antiques, in Long Melford, Suffolk. Edwards imported antiques and Tanner was involved in interior decoration.

Legal action was brought against Tanner in 2012 by Nigel Millar, an insolvency accountant acting as trustee for the bankrupt Edwards. Cambridge County Court determined in a judgment in May 2012 that Tanner should repay the £425,000.

Since then, Tanner has sought to appeal on several grounds, including a wish to provide further evidence that the drawings are indeed by Bacon. This included evidence from a Bologna case in 2005, in which the Italian judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence that Ravarino had acted fraudulently over other drawings. Tanner also wanted to provide fresh evidence from Ambra Draghetti, an Italian handwriting expert, who believes the drawings to have been signed by Bacon.

Last January, in the High Court, Mr Justice Sales was dismissive of this application in his judgment. “There was expert art advice available to [Cambridge] District Judge Pelly that supported the court judgment against the bankrupt [Edwards] as indicating that the drawings were not authentic Francis Bacon drawings,” he said.

Sales added that he did not consider that the evidence of the Italian handwriting expert would add further important evidence. “Ms Draghetti has not inspected the disputed drawings relevant in this case. It also appears to me that there is not a clear statement of her having relevant expertise in the matter of assessment of authenticity of artworks which would allow the court to conclude that her opinion should be given significant weight,” he said.

Tanner also wanted to provide a witness statement from Ravarino’s side. Sales said that this “refers to an incident in which he gave the bankrupt [Edwards] some of the drawings that Mr Ravarino maintains Francis Bacon had given to him, which he later learned had been sold by the bankrupt”. Sales said that “Mr Ravarino would have been an obvious person to ask for information about the provenance of the disputed drawings”, and that Tanner should have obtained this evidence at an earlier stage, before the Cambridge case.

In conclusion, Sales said: “I consider that Mr Tanner has failed to show that there is any real prospect of success for him on an appeal. There is no other compelling reason why there should be an appeal.”

Tanner later went up to the Court of Appeal, where his application was considered by Lady Justice Arden, who also refused. She concluded: “The fault was on the side of the party seeking to adduce the evidence; in these circumstances, I do not consider that there is any basis [to] grant an appeal.”

But Tanner’s lawyer, Abhijit Pandya, says that “the authenticity of the drawings had not yet been decided”. He says: “Our legal position is that the [Cambridge] county court did not have any experts who gave adequate evidence as to the authenticity of the drawings.” Pandya questions the “so-called expert” Harrison and the independence of the catalogue raisonné committee.

Pandya claims that the drawings were found to be authentic “in a full hearing in Italy on the facts” (although The Art Newspaper interprets the court documents in the 2005 Bologna case as saying that the judge found there was insufficient evidence that they were fakes). Pandya stresses that “there is likely to be an application by us to determine the drawings are authentic in the High Court late this year”.

Umberto Guerini, the Bologna-based lawyer acting for Ravarino, says that his client was not involved in the Cambridge case. Guerini also says that Harrison is “the only ‘expert’ on the work of Francis Bacon who has denied the authenticity of the drawings Bacon gave to Ravarino”.