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Francis Bacon

Bacon estate bans reproductions of images in Barbican exhibition

Tate lends Bacon works on paper for comparison with disputed works but comparative photos of Tate works are not allowed

The Francis Bacon Estate has banned the Barbican Gallery from reproducing a Tate Gallery painting which is closely related to a work in the Joule Archive. On 8 February, the opening day of the show, the Estate’s solicitors prohibited the use of any images for which it held copyright. Later that day the exhibition panels with reproductions were therefore removed by Barbican staff, to be replaced with others with white boxes where the paintings had been shown, along with the text: “Permission to reproduce denied by the Estate of Francis Bacon.” This prohibition represented the latest move in the Estate’s attempt to question the authenticity of the material now being shown in the Barbican’s exhibition, “Bacon’s Eye: Featuring works on paper attributed to Francis Bacon from the Barry Joule Archive” (see The Art newspaper, No. 111, February 2001, p. 32).

Lawyers for the Bacon Estate explained to the legal representatives of the Barbican: “We understand that the reproductions are next to some of the work that is being exhibited and an attempt is made to ally the exhibit with the original work, thereby seeking to give authenticity to the exhibit... The executor is not willing for the reproductions to be exhibited... Our client has no wish to become embroiled in litigation if this can be avoided, and would you please inform us as to your client’s unequivocal position without further delay.”

Brian Clarke, executor of the Bacon Estate, denies that he has been involved in censorship. He told The Art Newspaper: “the inclusion of reproductions of Bacon paintings would render authenticity to a body of work which is clearly controversial and disputed.” He says that the Barbican had only tried to reproduce the paintings and then replace them with white boxes because of “sensation and ticket sales.” Although unwilling to comment on the authenticity of the Joule Archive, Mr Clarke accepts that “the base material is from the Bacon studio, but who made the marks on them is a matter for scholarly judgement... I will not have that process interfered with by this kind of exhibition and by irrational comparison between original and authentic works.”

Among the prohibited images is the Tate’s “Study for Portrait II (after the Life Mask of William Blake)” of 1955, which is closely related to an oil sketch in the X Album, in the Joule Archive. Although the Tate painting had been purchased in 1979, this did not include copyright, which was retained by the artist.

Whatever the Tate may have felt about the Estate’s ban, it was powerless to allow its own painting to be reproduced in what is a scholarly exhibition which gives visitors an opportunity to make their own judgements on the Joule Archive. The Tate had already lent six original works on paper by Bacon, which are exhibited with the Joule Archive as comparative material. Copyright of these Tate works on paper is also held by the Estate, so although the originals can be shown, the Barbican would now be prohibited from reproducing them on wall panels or showing them in the catalogue or gallery guide.

o A cost-cutting restructuring at the Barbican Art Galleries has led to the axing of the position of the director, and John Hoole, who has held the post for 19 years, will be leaving in June. The visual arts will come under an integrated arts department under Graham Sheffield, and senior exhibitions organiser Carol Brown will then run the galleries.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Bacon estate bans reproductions of images in exhibition'