Martin Harrison has been appointed to write the catalogue raisonné of the works of Francis Bacon, a daunting task which will require considerable diplomacy. Nothing in the Bacon world is straightforward, and there has been a bitter legal dispute between the artist’s estate and Marlborough, the gallery that represented him for nearly all his professional life. There is also rivalry among Bacon scholars, as well as debate over the authenticity of works on paper. Eight candidates were considered for the catalogue raisonné, with the job going to Mr Harrison, partly because his name had been backed by critic David Sylvester on his deathbed.
Mr Harrison is a relative newcomer to the Bacon world, although his book In Camera: Francis Bacon, Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting was published last year.
Mr Harrison admits that he has not yet approached the Marlborough Gallery, which not only owns a number of major paintings, but also has the greatest private archive of images and documentation, after that of the estate. Four years ago a legal case against the gallery was settled out of court, after the estate withdrew. Executor Brian Clarke told The Art Newspaper that he now wants to put the legal problems behind him, and to focus on producing the catalogue raisonné. “I am hopeful that Marlborough will see it as an important contribution to art history,” he said.
The new catalogue will cover the artist’s career up to his death in 1992, updating the 1964 work by Ronald Alley and John Rothenstein. The Harrison project is likely to end up in three or four volumes: one on context, two covering his approximately 550 paintings, and possibly a final one on Bacon’s drawn interventions on photographic material (this might cover the controversial Barry Joule Archive, once criticised by the estate and now acquired by the Tate). Publication will be financed by the estates of Francis Bacon and his companion John Edwards. It is hoped the first volume will appear in late 2008.
Meanwhile, an appeal has gone out for owners to contact the estate with details of their works (contact: email@example.com). The responses so far have even included one from the owner of a piece of furniture: a stool designed by Bacon in 1930. It has always been assumed that Bacon’s furniture had all been lost.