Tate is to return a thousand documents and sketches once said to have come from the studio of Francis Bacon and valued at £20 million, amid concerns over their authenticity, The Art Newspaper reports.
The works are to be deaccessioned to Barry Joule, a close friend of Bacon’s, who first donated them to Tate in 2004. At the time of the donation, the collection was valued at roughly £20m. It was described as “probably the Tate Archive’s most important acquisition ever.”
In a statement from Tate, issued today, it is revealed that the collection has been “researched by art historians, and this research has raised credible doubts about the nature and quality of the material”.
The statement goes on: “The material does not lend itself to any significant exhibition and any potential it held to improve the public’s understanding of Bacon’s art has been exhausted. It has therefore been considered unsuitable for retention in Tate Archive. In the first instance, it has been offered back to the donor, in line with the donor’s wishes.”
Joule has “consistently and robustly defended” the authenticity of the material. He was a neighbour of Bacon and the two became friends in 1978 – a friendship that continued until Bacon’s death in 1992, at which point the Canadian-born Joule came into possession of a “considerable quantity” of paper material from Bacon’s London studio in South Kensington.
The collection that Joule donated to Tate in 2004 includes 800 magazine and newspaper cuttings, some bearing pencil, pen and paint. Thirty-nine photographs of Bacon and his friends were also included, as were books and other documents. The final component of the archive is the so-called “X Album” – an album of overpainted sketches which Tate now describes as “of unknown authorship”.
When Tate first accepted the archive, the response was rather different. They said: “The trustees of Tate have acquired an archive collection from the studio of Francis Bacon, one of the most important painters of the 20th century, thanks to the generous gift of Barry Joule, a friend of the artist…Tate hopes the acquisition and further study of this material will enable scholars to resolve remaining issues about Bacon’s working practice.”
Since the glowing welcome, specialists from the Francis Bacon Estate have studied the material and “come to a negative conclusion.”
While it is unusual for Tate to deaccession works – under a Parliamentary act, the gallery is normally prohibited from deaccessioning artworks – Tate’s trustees have now deemed that the Joule material “can be disposed of without detriment to the interests of students or other members of the public”, and hence have decided to offer it back to Joule.
Tate said: “Credible doubt has been cast on the majority of the material. While it remains unproven as to whose hand the markings on this material might be attributed, the addition that it represents to the public understanding and enjoyment of Bacon’s art has been exhausted and is no longer suitable for retention in the collection.”
Joule has long voiced frustration with Tate for their failure to exhibit his donation. In April, he told The Observer that he has cancelled plans to donate more items from Bacon’s studio to Tate, and will instead offer them to the archives of the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
“The Tate and Britain will be missing out on part of the nation’s art history of one of their most important painters. I turn my back on the Tate for ever.”