In May, the Estate of Francis Bacon funded a day’s exhibition of six paintings by the artist in the heart of his favourite stomping ground, London’s Soho. The show was to celebrate the global launch of the definitive catalogue raisonné of all Bacon’s paintings, to be published on June 30, priced at £1,000.
Exquisitely produced in five volumes (third picture), with detailed documentation of provenance, exhibition history and insightful commentary, it features all 584 of Bacon’s paintings (such as Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror, 1968, first picture, and Jet of Water, 1979, second picture), including 100 previously unpublished works, a catalogue of sketches, photographs of the artist and of works in progress, images of Bacon’s furniture, plus a chronology, introductory essay and detailed bibliography. After 10 years of intensive research, and a hunt for paintings that led him across the globe, inveigling himself by luck and instinct into the most private of private collections, pre-eminent Bacon scholar Martin Harrison, editor of the catalogue alongside research assistant Dr Rebecca Daniels, said, “It will enable people to see what Bacon actually painted rather than what people think he painted.”
Bacon enthusiast and collector Majid Boustany, who has established a private foundation dedicated to Bacon in his home town, Monaco, remarked: “It’s a thrill and pleasure seeing over 300 paintings hardly known to the public.” The catalogue offers the salutary reminder, for instance, that alongside 11 paintings of copulating men, there are 18 female nudes.
As far as Harrison is concerned, it also reinforces the supreme quality of the paintings of George Dyer that Bacon created between 1963 and 1968, engendered by deep desire and sexual frustration. Harrison notes that as early as the 1940s, Bacon “knew his subject must be the human body and that it must come from his own life and experience”. But his scholarship also reveals how deeply Bacon responded to the old masters, modern painters and writers he admired.
In his introductory speech, Brian Clarke, artist and the chair of trustees, declared: “Everything begins and ends with the paintings themselves” – easy enough to declare in the presence of such masterpieces as Marching Figures, 1952, and Triptych, 1987.
For those for whom a Bacon is out of reach, however, this catalogue is the next best thing.