A vast collection of artwork by Francis Bacon will be donated to France rather than the Tate following a dispute between the gallery and one of the artist’s closest friends.
Barry Joule, who was Bacon’s confidant, said he was so frustrated with the Tate’s inability to exhibit an earlier donation of the artist’s work that it canceled plans to donate hundreds additional items to the gallery.
The additional donation was to include up to 150 drawings, 10 paintings, hundreds of photographs and more than 12 hours of recorded material in which the artist discussed with Joule topics ranging from art to sex.
Instead, he would now like the work to go to the French National Archives at the Center Pompidou Paris, and has started negotiations.
Joule told the Observer“The Tate and Britain are going to miss out on part of the national art history of one of their most important painters. I turn my back on the Tate forever.
In 2004 he gave the Tate around 1,200 sketches, photographs and documents from Bacon’s studio in what was then described as one of the most generous gifts to the gallery, worth an estimated 20 million of pounds sterling. Its announcement then stated: “The Tate will undertake to study, photograph and catalog the collection over the next three years, before displaying these objects and making them available for loan.”
Joule claims he was pressured into taking legal action against the Tate for what he describes as its failure to do this collection justice with proper exposure, as originally agreed, although Tate manager Maria Balshaw, wrote to him last year, reiterating the gallery’s gratitude.
He has now told the Tate that they will no longer be receiving gifts. “The reaction of the gallery? Nothing,” he said.
Joule had lived near Bacon’s London studio, and in 1978 they struck up a friendship that continued until the artist died in 1992, exactly 30 years ago this month.
He spent many vacations with Bacon and recorded a series of their conversations: “He [Bacon] signed a statement saying I could use it 12 years after he died. Many of these conversations feature him philosophizing, often with his comments clear and sensible,” he said.
He chose a 1991 recording that provides insight into Bacon’s rejection of his own success. At one point, he shouts the words “I’m not rich!” – even though he was then the most famous and richest painter in the world.
Joule said: “He was a self-deprecating artist who, strangely enough, never considered himself rich. Of course, he was rich, but he lived very simply. The only time he really splashed was at expensive restaurants.
In these recordings, Bacon spoke of other artists, including Jasper Johns, dismissing his 1959 abstract painting False Start – which sold in 1988 for $17m (£12m) – as “something so ridiculous”: “It’s nothing. It’s just a… number of diagonal stripes going in different directions in red and blue,” Bacon said.
Joule, who now lives in France, noted Bacon’s love of Paris, even though he “said he couldn’t work there because there were too many distractions.”
Previously, he had donated around 100 Bacon drawings after Picasso to the Picasso Museum in Paris, which featured them in a major Bacon-Picasso exhibition in 2005. Shortly thereafter, the French government awarded him the Knight of the Orders of Arts and Letters: “It is the equivalent of a knighthood. I gave them a tenth of what I gave Tate and they knighted me… I never got a cup of coffee from Tate.
Joule’s gift to France will now include a dramatic painted head that musician David Bowie was particularly fond of: “Bowie had an art publishing house and personally chose the art catalogs they would publish. He immediately agreed to catalog the 2001 exhibition of my Bacon archives at the London Barbican. Bowie chose this image for the cover. Of course the Barbican and I were on board,” he said.
He added: “Many of these Bacon images in my collection have a compelling story to tell. This art history and my intimate knowledge of Bacon will be lost to the UK.
A Tate spokeswoman declined to comment on the gallery’s handling of the 2004 giveaway. Asked about Joule’s cancellation of another giveaway, she said: ‘We can confirm that we have received the letter and that we’ll answer it.”