The Estate of Francis Bacon has launched an astonishing personal attack on Barry Joule, one of the artist’s friends, and the vast collection he donated to the Tate in 2004 – even implying that he created works himself.
In publishing a damning study of the Barry Joule Archive (BJA), it quotes a Tate curator saying that “the hand/s that applied the marks to the material may not have included Bacon to any substantial degree”.
The criticisms appear in a book titled Francis Bacon: Shadows. In a chapter on the BJA, Sophie Pretorius, archivist of the estate’s collection, writes: “The story of the material associated with Joule is riddled with exaggeration, half-truths and contradictions… Bacon’s work is not easy to mimic. But the author of the items in the BJA made a stab at it.”
She quotes a Tate curator, having suggested to the Estate that “a more direct pronouncement may now be appropriate, indicating that the marks added to the BJA bear scant resemblance to those securely attributed to Bacon”.
She lists numerous discrepancies and inconsistencies, including that many figures in the BJA are drawn in charcoal: “No charcoal or charcoal marks were found in Bacon’s studio upon his death, and no work on paper by Bacon exists with [charcoal] marks.”
She adds that, in comparing some of the writing on BJA material with correspondence written by Joule, “the resemblance is striking”.
Hearing of its accusations, Joule said he was “fuming” and would consider legal action.
He was also “not surprised” by the estate’s attack as they had only raised doubts about his collection after he refused their 1998 request to donate it to the Bacon Study Centre at the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin.
Instead, he donated an archive of 1,200 sketches, photographs and documents from Bacon’s studio to the Tate in what was then described as one of the gallery’s most generous gifts, worth an estimated £20m.
Last month, Joule revealed that he had lost patience with the Tate for not exhibiting it, as initially agreed, and he has threatened legal action to retrieve it.
He lived near Bacon’s studio in London and, in 1978, they struck up a friendship that continued until the artist’s death in 1992.
Joule said: “John Edwards [Bacon’s late executor] demanded that I donate my collection to the Hugh Lane in June 1998 and, if I didn’t, I would be outside the Bacon estate or family … I told him my plan was to donate to the Tate and, one month later, the estate sent me a lawyer’s letter demanding the [drawings’] return … If they thought they were fakes, why would they demand their return?
“I’m one of the few people alive that really knew Bacon. I was a friend and nobody in the estate knew him.” In November, he is staging an exhibition in Marseille of his photographs of Bacon in his studio.
He added that another Bacon longtime friend signed a statement saying that she had witnessed Bacon handing his friend Joule the material.
Asked about the suggestion that he could have created the works himself, Joule said: “Then I’d be Francis Bacon, wouldn’t I?”
A Tate spokesperson said: “Tate accepted the donation of the archival material to enable further study into Bacon, his studio and the environment around him. The donation was of material from the studio of Francis Bacon … and comprises notes by Bacon and photographs of Bacon as well as worked material.
“It was acquired and has been held and studied in the archive as such. Sophie Pretorius’s work, on behalf of the estate, has advanced these studies and we always welcome research which helps shed new light on any material we hold.”