The Bacon Estate has dropped its legal action against the Marlborough Gallery, just days before the full hearing was due to begin. Executor Professor Brian Clarke had initiated the case because of concerns that the London gallery and its Liechtenstein subsidiary had not paid Francis Bacon properly for his pictures, resulting in a loss which could have amounted to as much as £100 million. The Estate also suggested that Marlborough had “blackmailed” the artist to prevent him moving to New York’s Pace Gallery (The Art Newspaper, No.121, January 2002, p.3).
Last month the Estate said it was “pleased to announce that it has settled its litigation with Marlborough.” Both sides are paying their own legal costs, which altogether could amount to £10 million. It was also revealed that the Estate’s sole beneficiary, Bacon’s close friend John Edwards, 51, is suffering from a serious form of lung cancer. The Estate explained: “This settlement has been agreed, against this background and on the basis of Professor Clarke’s assessment of the merits of the case in the light of documents and witness evidence released by Marlborough in the latter part of last year.” The three-month trial, due to start on 18 February, was abandoned at a formal hearing on 6 February.
Marlborough was also delighted with the outcome. Gallery head Mr Gilbert Lloyd commented: “We are pleased that the Estate has finally accepted that the entire case is completely without foundation. The case was totally unsustainable. Contrary to the Estate’s claims, no paintings are missing, no fraud took place and there was no attempt at blackmail. The result of the action is that the Estate has needlessly wasted millions of pounds on legal costs.”
A key factor behind the dropping of the case was the question of evidence of the blackmail which is alleged to have taken place in 1978. Pace director Mr Arnold Glimcher, who had heard about the allegation at the time, believed that his source had probably been Michael Peppiatt, an art historian and close friend of Bacon. Initially Mr Peppiatt did not wish to become involved in the recent legal case, but last month he met Marlborough and told them that he had no knowledge about the alleged blackmail. According to Marlborough’s record of their meeting with Mr Peppiatt on 4 February 2002: “Neither blackmail nor any suggestion of blackmail was ever mentioned by Mr Peppiatt, Mr Glimcher or by Bacon [in 1978]. The first time Mr Peppiatt remembers blackmail being mentioned was in late 1999. The word was first mentioned by Brian Clarke when he was telling him of the various misdemeanours of which he suspected Marlborough.”
The Estate puts a different gloss on the situation. In a statement, it said that although Mr Peppiatt had no knowledge of blackmail, “there remains an unresolved conflict of evidence; Mr Glimcher is clear and detailed as to what he was told; Mr Peppiatt has made it plain that he could not have been the source of that information.”
Further evidence to support Marlborough’s argument that Bacon had been treated properly by the gallery came in the form of a video film made by Francis Giacobetti shortly before the artist’s death ten years ago. In the video, Bacon describes the system under which Marlborough sold his paintings, an arrangement with which he appeared satisfied. This evidence would have proved helpful to the gallery if the case had proceeded.
Speaking after the claim had been dropped, Professor Clarke told The Art Newspaper: “We now intend to focus all the Estate’s resources in creative enterprises relating to Bacon rather than the time-consuming investigation of the relationship between artist and Marlborough.” To this end the John Edwards Charitable Foundation is being set up to advance the study of Bacon and his work. It is expected to be chaired by Professor Clarke. Although the Estate was valued at £11 million a decade ago (in paintings and other assets) and has since grown, millions of pounds were spent on legal fees. It is therefore possible that pictures may have to be sold to fund the foundation’s work in the years to come. The most ambitious project will be the publication of a catalogue raisonné of Bacon’s oeuvre. Professor Clarke has already identified eight art historians who might be a suitable editor, and a decision will be made shortly on who should lead the project. A book on the relationship between Bacon and photography is also expected to be commissioned later this month and other publications are likely to follow. Professor Clarke points out that the information which surfaced during the legal proceedings will “cause almost every book on Bacon to have to be reassessed in some ways.” The Estate, which owns a number of important paintings, has already had requests to participate in 14 Bacon exhibitions, including two major retrospectives planned for the next couple of years.
The difficult question now is whether the Estate and Marlborough will be able to work together. The Estate may need access to Marlborough’s photographs of lost and destroyed works for its catalogue raisonné. The gallery, on its side, will only have limited rights to reproduce Bacon paintings which it wishes to sell. In theory, the two sides would benefit from cooperation. However, relations between the Bacon’s Estate and his life-long dealer are now strained and it may be some time before they can work constructively together.