Former Francis Bacon handyman threatened to sue Tate because works he donated are in storage
A former friend of Francis Bacon who donated archives of documents from the artist’s studio to the Tate threatened to withdraw the gift because, he claims, the gallery did not highlight it .
Barry Joule, a handyman who got to know Bacon in the late 1970s, donated over 1,200 sketches, photographs and documents from Bacon’s London studio to 7 Reece Mews in 2004. The treasure was estimated at 20 million pounds at the time. Now, criticizing the institution for keeping the works in stock, Joule suggested his generosity might be best appreciated by a museum in France.
In an email sent to Tate director Maria Balshaw on August 3, Joule threatened to sue the gallery for the return of the works, the Guardian reported. The threat came after years of back and forth between Joule and the gallery in which the collector expressed his displeasure that the materials were not the subject of a major exhibition.
Tate, for his part, claims to have complied with the conditions set out in the donation contract, which required him to catalog and display the works. Since 2004, Tate has showcased the materials in an archival exhibition space, although they were notably excluded from the gallery’s large Bacon exhibit in 2008.
Joule says this is unacceptable. He argues that Tate curators have suggested that the materials, which include an oil painting, Study for the Head of William Blake, would be suitable for a larger exhibition, but over time, “I was continually faced with silence, ignored or just plain deceived. “Now, the collector is ready to take legal action for the return of the donation” if a satisfactory conclusion is not reached … by October 2021 “.
Joule also told the Guardian he canceled a bequest promised to the gallery: a self-portrait of Bacon from 1936 and nine other paintings from the same period as well as other works of art, letters, books and magnetic tape recordings.
The problem of donors withdrawing promised gifts is a nightmare for museums, and an increasingly frequent nightmare. Collectors who could benefit from soaring prices for contemporary art are increasingly forgoing pledged donations. Tate, who did not respond to Artnet News’ request for comment, told the Guardian that he would suggest a meeting with Joule in September.
Tate’s reluctance to highlight Joule’s documents may be more than just a curatorial preference. The artist’s estate has cast doubt on the authenticity of the archives, and none of its elements was included in Bacon’s 2016 catalog raisonné. Contacted by Artnet News, a representative of the field pointed to a recent post that includes an essay by researcher Sophie Pretorius, which concluded that the documents in the archives were not consistent with the rest of Bacon’s work.
Pretorius wrote that the history of the Joule material is “riddled with exaggerations, half-truths and contradictions.” She added that a combination of “Bacon’s soaring prices, his tantalizing stupidity regarding sketches and the relative lack of comparative material against which to measure that material helped create the perfect storm.”
In 2002, then Tate director Nicolas Serota wrote in a letter accepting the donation that while most of the papers and collages were “probably” from the Bacon studio, “the majority are from other hands.” . More recently, according to Pretorius, a Tate curator said the institution would consider “a more direct statement” about Bacon’s involvement in the material in light of his research.
Joule, who also claimed he was the unidentified subject of Bacon’s famous series of cricket paintings, met the artist in 1978; they remained friends until his death in 2004. He said Bacon gave him the archive shortly before the artist left for Spain in 1992, where he died of a heart attack.
Joule could not be contacted by Artnet News. He said he chose the Tate as his archive destination because it was Bacon’s favorite gallery. His gift of 80 drawings by Bacon at the Picasso Museum in Paris were the subject of a major exhibition there in 2005. He confided to the Guardian that if he removes the treasure from the Tate, he intends to donate it to a museum in France, where he currently lives.
Notably, Pretorius’s research also refers to Bacon’s work in the Picasso Museum, the National Gallery of Canada and other private collections, which she says are “consistent in style and technique” with those in the Joule Archives, although not having studied them in person, she does not go so far as to suggest that they are not genuine.
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