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The main entrance to the Tate Britain in London. Photo: travelmag/Flickr.
The main entrance to the Tate Britain in London. Photo: travelmag/Flickr.

Francis Bacon’s Ex-Handyman Threatens Tate with Lawsuit over Donated Works

Barry Joule, Francis Bacon’s former handyman and close friend, has threatened to sue Tate over its failure to publicly display any of a trove of works by the late figurative artist that he gifted to it in 2004. According to the Guardian, Joule has been waiting for nearly two decades for the museum to stage an exhibition centering around the $37 million donation, said to be one of the most generous gifts the London institution has ever received and comprising 1,200 sketches, photographs, and related documents. He has also said he will rescind a promised gift of an important 1936 self-portrait by Bacon and nine other paintings by the artist from around the same time.

“If a satisfactory conclusion is not reached  . . . by October 2021 over the exhibition terms of the Tate-Joule contract,” Joule wrote Tate director Maria Balshaw on August 3, “I shall most seriously consider taking the legal path for resolution of this very frustratingly long outstanding troubling matter—one which clearly means I shall seek the complete return of this my 2004 Tate Francis Bacon Studio donation. And so the matter may ultimately be decided in the courts.”

Joule says that Nicholas Serota, who was director of Tate at the time Joule proposed the gift, assured him in 2003 that the organization would present an exhibition themed around the gift within three years of its being made. A 2004 gift announcement made by the institution seems to support this claim, reading, “Tate will undertake to study, photograph and catalogue the collection over the next three years, before displaying these items and making them available for loan.” Tate staged a major exhibition of Bacon’s work in 2008 but included no items from Joule’s donation. In 2017, Balshaw stepped up to become director of the Tate, and Joule began writing to her in an effort to get the exhibition staged, but says he has been continually put off, though Balshaw has expressed Tate’s deep gratitude for the gift.

Joule, who met Bacon in 1978 when the Irish-born artist spied him repairing a television antenna on a neighbor’s roof and invited him for a glass of champagne, has said he donated the objects to Tate because it was Bacon’s favorite museum. He also gifted some eighty drawings by Bacon to the Musée Picasso, which Joule says exhibited all of them in 2005 in a large exhibition pairing his work with that of the renowned Spanish artist and accompanied by a catalogue.

Tate has said that it has reached out to Joule to arrange a September meeting regarding the matter.

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