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The Joule Archive to go on show at Barbican: Will the real Mr Bacon please stand up?

A second exhibition of Barry Joule’s collection, left to him by Francis Bacon his former neighbour, is still a matter of dispute with the Bacon Estate

The controversial Joule Archive of works from Francis Bacon’s studio is to go on show in London at the Barbican Art Gallery, from 8 February.

As in Dublin, where much of the material has already been shown, the exhibition title will use the expression “attributed” to Bacon (The Art Newspaper, No. 97, November 1999, pp. 1 and 4). This formulation had been agreed with the Bacon Estate, which had expressed serious doubts about the authenticity of the Joule collection. “Bacon’s Eye, featuring works on paper attributed to Francis Bacon from the Joule Archive” will comprise 300 items, part of the 1,000 pieces which were given by Bacon to Mr Joule just days before the artist’s death in 1992.

For the Barbican show, the Tate Gallery is lending six of its own Bacon works on paper, to be shown alongside the Joule Archive. This will be important in allowing scholars to make direct comparisons between the Joule material and works which are universally accepted as authentic. Mr Joule believes that the Tate loans indicate that the gallery is now more receptive to the idea that his works are by Bacon. After all, the Tate would have been unlikely to have lent to an exhibition of material which it considered to comprise misattributed items. Last month a Tate spokesman said that the gallery was unable to comment to the press about works which are not in its own collection.

Mr Joule suggested to The Art Newspaper that he might eventually donate most of his Bacon archive to the Tate. He pointed out that it would be a suitable home: “Francis was a London painter and he did all his major work there. The Tate is the only place to which he donated paintings and it has the largest collection.” The Tate also has a group of 42 Bacon works on paper which were bought in 1997, for £360,000. Initially Mr Joule had intended to donate most of his collection to the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin, but discussions broke down over the question of how it might be authenticated.

John Hoole, director of the Barbican, says in his catalogue introduction that he has “no doubt that the vast majority of the work must be by Bacon”, and he points to its acceptance by Professor David Mellor. Barbican curator Mark Sladen divides the material into two groups: “The so-called Working Documents certainly came from the studio. My view is that the vast majority of the overdrawing is by Bacon, although there could have been a few items worked by others. Regarding the pages of the X-album, there is a little evidence that someone else might have been involved in a few of the sheets. But again I am confident that the vast majority is by Bacon.”

Most other Bacon specialists have taken a similar position, although the key expert, David Sylvester, has been much more suspicious and has said he does not see Bacon’s hand in the overdrawing of the Joule material.

The Bacon Estate had told The Art Newspaper in late 1999 that an expertise panel would be established to advise on the Joule Archive, but this has not been set up and last month a spokesperson admitted that it had been had been delayed: “These things take a long time, it can be years. An examination of the Joule Archive has not been a top priority, and the law case against the Marlborough Gallery has taken a lot of our time.”

The Bacon Estate is now involved in a legal battle with the Marlborough Gallery, which was Bacon’s dealer until his death. The Estate is suing on the grounds that the gallery did not make the proper payments to the artist and that not all the pictures were properly accounted for. The fact that the payments were channelled through the gallery’s Liechtenstein subsidiary has added to the complications, although this was a mechanism which would have reduced Bacon’s UK tax burden. Last month the Estate confirmed that the case is being actively pursued, and may well come to court next year. A Marlborough spokesman said that the Estate’s charges would be “robustly rejected”.

Meanwhile an exhibition on Bacon’s paintings has just opened at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague (until 13 May). This major show is based on loans from the Tate, the Hugh Lane and the Bacon Estate, and includes two works never displayed and assumed lost “Marching figures” (1950) and “The end of the line (1953) owned by the Estate. On 8 February Christie’s will be offering a 1984 Bacon triptych of studies for a portrait of John Edwards, estimated at £3-4 million.

“Bacon’s Eye”, Barbican Gallery, Silk Street, London EC2Y Tel: +44 (0)20 7638 4141, www.barbican.org.uk (8 February-16 April)

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Will the real Mr Bacon please stand up?'