Drawings Attributed to Francis Bacon at Werkstattgalerie in Berlin

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Drawings Attributed to Francis Bacon at Werkstattgalerie in Berlin
A mass of evidence has emerged to show that he not only did draw, but drew prolifically.

By: Edward Lucie-Smith

BERLIN.- As everyone interested in Bacon’s work knows, Bacon many times, and often vehemently, denied that he made any use of drawing. This is contradicted however by an early interview with the critic David Sylvester (Bacon’s most frequent interlocutor), which is preserved on film. In it, Bacon admits that he does draw, but coyly says that puts his drawings aside and doesn’t look at them, when the moment comes to paint a picture.

Yet, since Bacon’s lonely death in Madrid in 1992, a mass of evidence has emerged to show that he not only did draw, but drew prolifically. When he died, for example, a canvas he had just begun was found in his Reece Mews studio in London. On it was a masterly full-scale drawing for the composition he intended to paint. Numerous scraps of paper with drawings on them, some mere scribbles it is true, were found when the Reece Mews studio was disassembled, to be afterwards reconstructed in Dublin.

An even greater mass of material of this type turned up in the possession of Barry Joule, who had evolved from being Bacon’s neighbor into being his odd-job man and general Mr Fixit. Joule’s account was that Bacon, shortly before his death, had handed him the drawings, with the words “You know what to do with these, don’t you?” Some people, knowing of Bacon’s frequent denials that he drew, might have understood this as an instruction to destroy them, but Joule chose to think otherwise.

While it is true that much of the Joule material is of disappointing quality artistically – a lot of it consists of rough drawings made on top of photographs torn from books and magazines, with others on top of photos, such as portraits of Bacon’s old nanny, also for a time his housekeeper, that were very personal to Bacon himself – there are powerful reasons for accepting it as genuine. One series of drawings in the Joule archive – made on top of illustrations ripped from boxing magazines dating from the late 1940s - has a direct link to a series of drawings purchased as genuine by the Tate shortly before the Joule archive emerged. These drawings, also made on top of illustrations ripped from boxing magazines, belonged to Paul Danquah, a friend with whom Bacon shared a flat in the early 1950s. Danquah, who later emigrated to Tangier, seems to have given them by Bacon when they were co-habiting.

The Joule material appears to cover a long period, and to be closely linked to a number of well-known paintings by Bacon. The artist closely guarded access to his studio and it is hard to imagine him allowing anyone, even a boy friend, to sit there in a corner, manufacturing Bacon related drawings. The two chief consorts of the middle and later years of his career, George Dyer, an ex-burglar of notable incompetence, who committed suicide in 1971, on the eve of Bacon’s first major retrospective in Paris; and John Edwards, who though shrewd and loyal, was uneducated, dyslexic and illiterate, seem particularly unlikely candidates.

The Joule material – and other drawings related to it – have been a permanent embarrassment to a part of the British art establishment ever since they first made their way into the public gaze.

If the material that emerged from Bacon’s studio after his death is problematic because of its lack of real artistic quality, the same cannot be said of the drawings exhibited in this new exhibition. These are ambitious works, signed and on a large scale, clearly made as independent works of art. They in many ways seem to sum up the essence of what Bacon tried to do. Why were they made, and why have they remained at least half-hidden for so long?

The evidence is that Bacon, at the end of his career, found his celebrity increasingly oppressive. His solution was to slip away to places where he was little known or not known at all, where he could stroll from bar to bar and from restaurant to restaurant, and amuse himself as he wished. One of his favorite places for escapes of this kind was Italy. A constant companion in his Italian adventures was a young and handsome American-Italian called Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino. There is plenty of evidence that they were often seen together, in locations as different from one another as Bologna and Cortina d’Ampezzo. The drawings shown are presentation drawings, resembling in this the drawings that the ageing Michelangelo made for the young Tommaso Cavallieri.

There seem to have been several motivations for making them, apart from Bacon’s desire to commemorate a friendship. One was simply restlessness. Though happy to get away from the confines of his studio, Bacon still wanted to make art – but art of a light and portable kind (though not all of the drawings were made in Italy, some appear to have been done in London). At the end of his life, he wanted to try a new medium, one that had clearly always daunted him. He also seems to have wanted to correct mistakes made in the past. One striking feature of this series of drawings is that they recapitulate themes from work made much earlier in his career. Though the drawings belong to the last decade of Bacon’s artistic activity, their subjects are those that Bacon became associated with in the 1950s – the Popes after Velazquez and the portraits of businessmen. The Pope images are expanded into a series of portraits of ecclesiastics, perhaps inspired by what Bacon saw in the streets of Italian towns. There are also portraits of friends and images of the Crucifixion, a subject that preoccupied the artist throughout his life. Bacon frequently expressed dissatisfaction with the early works that had made his reputation, and these are an attempt to do better.

Bacon regarded his relationship to Ravarino as unofficial, in the sense that he could never get his friend to commit himself to something fully public – Ravarino worried what his family would say. He seems to have thought of the drawings as being essentially unofficial as well. He went to considerable trouble to keep their existence secret from his commercial representatives, the powerful Marlborough Gallery, who wished to preserve his shamanic persona even more than he did.

One fascinating aspect of these drawings in that they are the work of a Laocoon, a man struggling hard to escape from the entwining serpents of his own myth, and to return to the pleasure of making art for its own sake – no other reason than that.

The exhibition is on view at Werkstattgalerie from September 18 through October 23, 2010.

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