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Francis Bacon

Rediscovered Bacon “rubbish” could fetch £50,000

Documents and paintings will be sold at a country auction

A collection of items rejected as “rubbish” by the British artist Francis Bacon could make £50,000 ($98,500) when it is auctioned at a country saleroom in April.

The pieces—paintings, diaries, photographs and letters—were being thrown out from Bacon’s famously chaotic studio at 7 Reese Mews in London, says the auctioneer, but were rescued by the vendor, identified only as a “Mr Robertson”. He had met Bacon in the Zetland Arms, Bacon’s favourite drinking hole, in the late 1970s.

According to the auctioneer, the artist was incensed that workmen were disturbing the layers of debris in his studio and throwing stuff into a skip. Mr Robertson went back to the studio and asked to take some of the items, which Bacon agreed to. These are the pieces now being sold by Ewbank Auctioneers in Woking, Surrey. The sale is scheduled for 24 April.

“This is an important discovery and we are very excited that this previously unseen material is coming to market,” said Christopher Ewbank, director of the firm. “Major works by Francis Bacon can sell for many millions but as there have been few, if any, auctions of the kind of material in this archive, we have little or no precedence on which to base estimates. As a result, it has been difficult to value the archive, which we have estimated at around £50,000 but we really don’t know how much it will make,” he said.

The most expensive item in the sale is a small Study for a Portrait of an unidentified sitter (above) who could, according to the auction catalogue, be Lucian Freud or Bacon’s lover George Dyer. It is estimated at £12,000-£18,000.

There are also two unfinished studies of a dog at rest, expected to fetch £1,500-£2,000 and £2,000-£3,000, and four portraits with the faces cut out—the artist frequently mutilated his own work. These are estimated at £1,500-£2,000 each.

Most of the archive, however, consists of minor items—diaries, cheques, cancelled passports, photographs and letters. Bacon’s diary for 1971 has two references to Dyer’s suicide: on 24 October the artist noted that: “George died in Paris” and on 8 November “George buried, City of London Cemetery Ilford” (est £300-£500).

Among the letters is one believed to be from the art critic John Russell (£150-£250). Another, dated 17 March 1978 and estimated at £800-£1,500, is Bacon’s hand-written copy of a letter to the New York art dealer Arne Glimcher of Pace Gallery. In it, he says he has decided not to change his gallery in New York. Later on this letter, and another, a copy of which is also in the archive, became important in a well-publicised case between the Bacon estate and Marlborough Gallery; lawyers for the estate claimed that Marlborough had defrauded Bacon out of substantial sums of money. The case was settled out of court in the estate’s favour.

Mr Robertson apparently wanted the archive to go to the Bacon estate or Tate, but was not able to agree on the price, which is why he is selling it now. According to the auctioneer, Tate stated that because they had recently acquired a large Bacon archive, they needed no further material.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 178 March 2007