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PRINT May 2001

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the Francis Bacon Studio

There are immaculate studios and there are messy studios. There are private ones that are no-go areas for housekeeper and dealer alike. And there are those that show signs not just of working but of living—an easy chair, bookshelves, even a put-up bed. Francis Bacon’s last studio was notoriously messy and pretty private, entered only by close friends and the occasional photographer. It was exclusively for work—a small, skylit, fairly cheerless space within his almost pretentiously modest flat up a steep flight of stairs in South Kensington. Its simplicity stood in marked contrast to earlier studios. In the 1930s, for example, when Bacon was both painter and modernist interior designer, his workspace was all neo-Bauhaus, fitted out with glass, steel, and abstract rugs. Later he lived and worked in the palatial but bomb-damaged studio occupied in the nineteenth century by John Everett Millais. It was in 1961 that Bacon took 7 Reece Mews—bed-sitting-room, studio, and kitchen-cum-bathroom—remaining there until his death in 1992. Although he could have afforded a substantial London property, that was not his style; nor did he gather good or interesting furniture or works of art around him. Pee pie often commented, “Francis has no taste,” and of course, Walter Sickert was right when he said that “taste is the death of the painter.” But, as with so much else in his life, Bacon took tastelessness to an extreme: Photographs of his bedroom record possessions of unadulterated-utility. Upon scrutiny, some details of this visual desert—certain clothes, a Marlboro pack—suggest the presence of John Edwards, Bacon’s friend and sole beneficiary.

Inheriting the property, Edwards was obviously in a tight spot. He wanted to use the flat without being responsible for destroying the studio’s unique look. After lengthy negotiations and the removal of Bacon’s, estate from his longtime gallery, Marlborough Fine Art, the studio—its walls, floor, and contents (over 7,000 items)—was given over in whole to the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, in Dublin, the city of Bacon’s birth. Reconstructed there to scale, and with a flotilla of attendant displays designed by architect David Chipperfield, the studio opens to the public May 24. A lecture by David Sylvester and publication of the picture book 7 Reece Mews: Francis Bacon’s Studio (Thames & Hudson) will mark the occasion. With its paint-smeared walls and piles of rubbish, its interesting photos and books, and its slashed canvases, the studio will be a ghoulish showpiece, but it remains to be seen whether the public availability of its contents will be useful in authenticating the master’s disputed pieces, particularly a group of works on paper “attributed to Bacon,” recently on view in Dublin and London.

Richard Shone is associate editor of the Burlington Magazine.