The Tate Gallery announced today the acquisition of forty-two works on paper by Francis Bacon. The works date from the early 1950s to the early 1960s and are particularly important in increasing our understanding of Francis Bacon’s working methods. They have been acquired from two private collections and have been purchased with assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Art Collections Fund and an anonymous donor.
The acquisitions include unique works on sketchbook pages as well as on other paper, in gouache, oil paint, ink, ballpoint pen and pencil. They also include two recently discovered photographs of paintings which Bacon is believed to have destroyed and a group of pages from a boxing magazine two of which are overpainted by the artist. Of particular interest in the newly discovered material is a book of photographs of monkeys, in which Bacon has written extensive notes about ideas for paintings.
Francis Bacon (1909–92) is widely accepted as the most important British painter of his generation. Many of his paintings are seen as defining images of the post-war era. His work opened up new forms of expression, new technical approaches and new ways of extending the tradition of grand European figure painting.
Bacon wished to be judged by the powerful oils he made during his mature career and insisted that these works were not preceded by drawings. He wanted his images to be perceived as having sprung directly from instinct and from the act of painting. The works acquired by the Tate Gallery strongly suggest that Bacon’s post war paintings were more carefully worked out than had previously been thought. Though a few post-war works on paper by him were known, it has now become clear that this is only because he did not wish the existence of this type of work to be revealed beyond his own circle. Bacon also ordered that a number of them be destroyed.
The works acquired include Figure in a Landscape which is close to Bacon’s canvas Study of Figure in a Landscape 1952 (Phillips Collection, Washington). In the two gouaches titled Reclining Figure, placement of the figure relates them closely to the Tate’s oil of 1961, Reclining Woman. Like it, they in fact clearly represent a man. However, the position of the legs in the gouaches makes the figures there still closer to that in the Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe of 1963 (private collection).
The works from sketchbooks and the associated material were given to friends by Bacon in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They demonstrate exceptional speed of execution and striking directness. Figures are shown crawling, crouched, splayed, reclining and in one case caged. The use of colour in these works is often of great beauty. This group of sketches strongly suggests the exploration of ideas for paintings. Many of the images relate to Bacon’s known oil paintings and a few offer direct connections.
In their range and vitality the forty-two sheets acquired give a vivid sense of Bacon’s mind at work. They also reveal the animation and confidence of his work in an area until now too little known.