Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more AN IMPORTANT BRITISH COLLECTION OF EARLY WORKS BY FRANCIS BACON
Francis Bacon (1909-1992)

Painted Screen

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Painted Screen
oil on plywood with metal hinges
each panel: 72 x 24 x 1 1/8in. (183 x 61 x 2.8cm.)
overall: 72 x 72 x 1 1/8in. (183 x 183 x 2.8cm.)
Executed circa 1929
Eric Allden, London.
Roy de Maistre, London (until 1968).
Francis Elek, London.
Thence by descent to the present owner (on long-term loan to Tate Britain since 2009).
J. Rothenstein and R. Alley, Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné, London 1964, p. 26, no. 3 (illustrated, p. 159).
H.M. Davies, Francis Bacon: The Early and Middle Years 1928-1958, New York 1978, pp. v, 11,12, pl. 8 (illustrated, p. 228).
H. Johnson, Roy De Maistre: The English Years 1930-1968, Sydney 1995, pl. 3 (installation view illustrated, p. 21).
Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Paris, Centre National d'art et de culture Georges Pompidou, 1996 (illustrated, p. 286).
Bacon Picasso: The Life of Images, exh. cat., Paris, Musée Picasso, 2005, p. 235, no. 51 (illustrated, p. 75).
M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of An Enigma, London 2008, p. 64.
J. Norton, 'Bacon's Beginnings', in The Burlington Magazine, January 2016, no. 25 (detail illustrated, p. 20).
M. Harrison and R. Daniels (eds.), Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné Volume II 1929-57, London 2016, p. 112, no. 30-01 (illustrated in colour, p. 113).
Lugano, Museo d'Arte Moderna, Francis Bacon, 1993, p. 136, no. 3 (illustrated in colour, p. 19; illustrated, p. 136).
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Bacon, 2008, p. 229, no. 3 (illustrated in colour, p. 85).
London, Tate Britain, Francis Bacon: Early Works, 2009-2010.
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
Further details
We would like to thank Dr. Rebecca Daniels for her assistance in cataloguing these lots.

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Lot Essay

‘[Painted Screen] is Bacon’s earliest surviving large-scale work and contains the first of his large figures. In both respects, and in being conceived as a “triptych”, it anticipates prominent characteristics of his mature oeuvre’
–Martin Harrison

Documented in the artist’s catalogue raisonné as his earliest surviving large-scale work, Painted Screen (circa 1929) is a seminal object that contains the seeds of Francis Bacon’s later practice. Comprising three painted panels, connected to form a two-metre-high folding screen, it represents the birth of his artistic outlook, forming an extraordinary precursor to his celebrated triptychs. Shot through with the influence of Picasso, Léger and de Chirico, the work contains the artist’s first large figures, arguably anticipating the three biomorphic ‘Furies’ that would inhabit his first canvas triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944 (Tate, London). Unseen by the public until 1993, when it was shown at the Museo d’Arte Moderna, Lugano, the work has been on loan to Tate, London, since 2009. It was originally owned by the artist’s early patron Eric Allden before passing to his friend and mentor Roy de Maistre, who depicted the central panel in his 1930 painting Francis Bacon’s Studio in Queensbury Mews West. The work became a centrepiece of de Maistre’s own studio and remained in his possession until his death in 1968, subsequently entering the Elek family collection. Painted shortly after Bacon’s return to London following sojourns in Berlin and Paris, it captures the subtle negotiation between art and design at the dawn of his oeuvre, marking the shift from his early work in furniture and interiors towards his embrace of wide-ranging painterly techniques. His encounters with the European Avant-garde had a powerful impact on this trajectory – in particular Paul Rosenberg’s 1927 exhibition of Picasso’s drawings, which inspired his early essays in paint. Intriguingly, Anne Baldessari notes that Rosenberg’s stock at the time included a 1921 folding screen by Picasso – a forerunner, she suggests, to the present work. Compositionally, the work’s geometric forms anticipate Bacon’s embrace of architectonic devices as a means of spotlighting his subjects. Its blend of curved and rectilinear planes, in particular, seems to foreshadow the elliptical and cubic spaceframes in which Bacon would dissect his figural specimens. With an uncannily apt turn of phrase, he would later conceptualise this process as ‘clearing away the screens’ that obstruct our perception of raw sensation. The white columns recall not only de Chirico’s deserted Italian piazzas but may also be seen to relate to folded white rubber drapes – ‘grooved like columns’, writes Baldessari – that hung in his studio. Technical analysis of the work’s material make-up sheds intriguing light upon Bacon’s incorporation of methods from both design and painting – a key feature of his early works. As Elke Cwiertnia writes, ‘it shows a carefully planned figure composition and painterly qualities in the use of the applied materials. After the plywood-sandwiched board was primed, a pencil drawing was applied to outline the composition. The outlined areas were loosely filled with oleoresinous paint, using a brush. A pointed tool, like a brush handle, was used to draw lines in the wet paint to depict a brick wall and to further define the figures – a technique Bacon would later use in some of his paintings. Early versions of Bacon’s surface modulation techniques are also visible; thick paint on the centre board shows a rough surface (i.e. peaks due to stubbing with a brush) … The screen links Bacon’s design objects to his paintings and works on paper’ (E. Cwiertnia, ‘Francis Bacon: Materials and Techniques’, in M. Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. 1., London 2016, p. 67).


An Important British Collection of Early Works by Francis Bacon
‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’

‘[Bacon’s] earliest works are marked by conspicuous intelligence and an innate capacity for the actual application of paint’
–John Rothenstein

Christie’s is delighted to present an exceptional group of six rare early paintings and rugs by Francis Bacon. Standing among the very first works in his catalogue raisonné, they capture the birth of one of the twentieth century’s greatest artistic voices. On loan to Tate, London, since 2009, the collection bears an outstanding provenance that includes Bacon’s first patron Eric Allden and his early artistic mentor Roy de Maistre. In the 1940s, five of the works entered the family collection of Francis Elek, who met Allden around this time; he acquired the sixth following de Maistre’s death in 1968. Collectively, they chronicle the artist’s formative influences, blending his early interests in furniture design with the contemporary innovations of the European Avant-garde. Few works remain from this seminal period: the present group includes his earliest surviving large-scale work (Painted Screen, circa 1929) – a precursor to his famed triptychs – as well as his first extant painting (Painting, 1929-1930) and an exquisite early work on paper (Gouache, circa 1929). Forms, colours, motifs and techniques resonate across the collection, offering a profound insight into the artist’s early working methods. These creations remained largely unseen by the public for over sixty years, and have been widely exhibited since their unveiling at the Museo d’Arte Moderna, Lugano, in 1993. Together, they mark the dawn of an extraordinary seven-decade career that would redefine the nature and purpose of art-making.

In 1927, a seventeen-year-old Bacon arrived in Paris. He had just spent two months in Berlin, where his father had hoped that he would find distraction from the bright lights of 1920s Soho. Though Bacon would not stray far from his favoured London haunts, returning to the city just two years later, his time in Europe had a pivotal impact upon his life and work. His nascent interests in furniture and interior design were sharpened by his contact with the Bauhaus movement, as well as his exposure to French architects and designers such as Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand, Pierre Chareau, André Lurçat and Eileen Gray, all of whom responded to the momentum generated by the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. Paris at the time was a thriving centre of cultural innovation, and Bacon immersed himself in its currents. Under the guidance of the Bocquentin family, with whom he stayed for several months, he primed himself to the achievements of French modernism, absorbing the revolutionary aesthetics of Cubism and Surrealism. He admired the works of Fernand Léger and Giorgio de Chirico, as well as the paintings and tapestries of Jean Lurçat. A turning point, however, came in the summer of 1927, when Bacon attended an exhibition of Pablo Picasso’s drawings at Galerie Paul Rosenberg. He was struck by the fluid morphology of his figures, formed and deformed through a visceral command of line. ‘That’s when I first thought about painting’, he would later recall (F. Bacon, quoted in A. Sinclair, Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times, New York 1993, p. 53). The influence of the Spanish master would saturate his early works, and would continue to reverberate throughout his career. In 1929, Bacon returned to London, where he reflected upon what he had seen in Europe. The lessons of Paris began to manifest themselves in his burgeoning design practice, and would ultimately give way to his first painterly explorations. In January 1930, he moved into a new studio and living quarters in a converted garage at 17 Queensbury Mews West in South Kensington, where he remained until the following year. The space, which became both a showcase and source of inspiration for his work, was stylishly furbished with the flair of a young, up-and-coming designer. Sleek, minimal and elegant, it was a far cry from the chaotic, littered, paint-splattered rooms he would later inhabit at 7 Reece Mews, just around the corner. Anne Baldessari describes a ‘space devoted to geometrical order, in brown and gray monochrome, with metal furniture, all gleaming fittings, glass, and leather. Mirrors played a starring role, conferring on the one-time garage in Queensbury Mews a peculiar light, and diffracting reflections of the carpets and the grid-like furnishings ad infinitum, composing ever-new variations. On the walls hung rugs signed like Old Master pictures next to hand-painted folding screens, decorative objects, and bouquets of flowers. White rubber drapes concealed the barred windows with heavy folds like grooved columns’ (A. Baldessari, Bacon Picasso: The Life of Images, exh. cat, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, 2005, p. 73). For Bacon, who was deeply influenced by his working environments, this set-up would have an important impact upon the subsequent use of geometric structures in his paintings. The cubic spaceframes, ellipses, circular railings, vertical striations and fractured perspectives of his later works may be said to owe much to the early mise-en-scène of his studio – itself a product of his time in Paris.

Sharing the premises with Bacon at 17 Queensbury Mews West were Jessie Lightfoot – his former nanny and lifelong confidante – and his new patron and companion Eric Allden. Bacon had met Allden, a retired diplomat, in July 1929 on the ferry from Dover to Calais. Allden noted in his diary that the artist was ‘starting a shop in London for ultra modern furniture and was going to Paris to purchase examples’ (E. Allden, quoted in M. Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonne, Vol. 1, London 2016, p. 77). The two became friends, and Allden would become one of the first buyers of Bacon’s work. Together, they travelled widely, visiting the artist’s native Ireland and attending the Bayreuth Festival in Germany, as well as touring London’s galleries and museums. At the National Gallery that autumn, they stood before Piero della Francesca’s Nativity, whose geometric structuring fascinated the young Bacon. In October 1929, the artist rented a maisonette at 54 Vincent Square in Pimlico to share with Lightfoot and Allden; the trio took up residence in South Kensington ten weeks later. Allden was initially struck by the artist’s rug designs. ‘His rugs arrived from Wilton’s’, he wrote. ‘They have made them up beautifully. One, called “Formal Design”, in black & grey with a touch of white & scarlet, he is letting me have at cost price as a birthday present’ (E. Allden, quoted in J. Norton, ‘Bacon’s Beginnings’, The Burlington Magazine, January 2016, p. 22). He would go on to acquire at least four of these works, along with the rest of the present grouping and Bacon’s first ever documented artwork Watercolour (1929).

By 1930, Bacon was gaining increasing recognition as a designer, advertising in the Kensington Directory as ‘Francis Bacon: Modern decoration, furniture in metal, glass and wood; rugs and lights’. In August that year, the magazine The Studio published an article entitled ‘The 1930 Look in British Decoration’, hailing Bacon as one of most inventive English designers of the time and featuring in situ photographs of his works. Concurrently, however, a new métier was beginning to blossom within his output: painting. Bacon’s embrace of the medium owes much to his relationship with the Australian-born artist Roy de Maistre, who he had met earlier that year. Fifteen years Bacon’s senior, he became an important mentor and father figure, guiding his first steps in the art world. De Maistre cultivated a wide social circle of artists and literary figures at his studio on Eccleston Street, introducing Bacon to the writer Patrick White and the art historian Douglas Cooper, among others. One of the first artists in Sydney to engage with the developments of Post-Impressionism, he had studied, taught and exhibited in his native country, initially visiting Europe during the mid-1920s before returning permanently at the end of the decade. Styling himself ‘Roi de Mestre’, in deference to his French ancestry, he had particular interests in colour and synaesthesia, working in a variety of media including painting, film and occasionally dabbling in furniture design. For Bacon, who had no formal training, de Maistre offered a wealth of knowledge, schooling the young artist in numerous aspects of painterly technique. Bacon quickly became hooked: shortly afterwards he would abandon his design practice altogether, devoting himself exclusively to the endless possibilities of pigment on canvas.

The artistic relationship between Bacon and de Maistre was in many ways reciprocal. The young artist arguably became a source of inspiration to his mentor – indeed his studio featured in around ten works by de Maistre during this period. Among the most notable of these is Francis Bacon’s Studio in Queensbury Mews West (1930), depicting two of the artist’s rugs as well as the central panel of Painted Screen, which de Maistre acquired from Allden. Between 4 – 22 November 1930, Bacon and de Maistre mounted a joint exhibition in the studio with the artist and actress Jean Shepeard. Bacon designed the invitation card, and exhibited four rugs and five paintings; de Maistre exhibited seven. Though most of Bacon’s listed works no longer survive, the small printed catalogue reveals that Painting was probably shown, originally believed to have been titled Trees by the Sea. It was thus that Bacon made his first public statement as a painter; he and de Maistre would exhibit jointly again in two shows at the Mayor Gallery in 1933. The second of the two saw Bacon unveil his 1933 Crucifixion – a now-landmark painting that brought him to the attention of a much wider audience. The work, at the suggestion of Douglas Cooper, was included in Herbert Read’s book Art Now, published that year in conjunction with the exhibition, and illustrated opposite Picasso’s Female Bather with Raised Arms (1929). Just a few short years after his return from Paris, and still in his early twenties, Bacon’s fledgling painterly practice was already being discussed in relation to that of his idol. It is a conversation that continues today.

In 1939, Francis Elek came to England from Czechoslovakia as part of a swimming team, and became separated from his family at the outbreak of conflict in Europe. It was whilst searching for them through the Red Cross after the war that he met Allden, and subsequently acquired the majority of the present collection in the late 1940s. The acquisition of Painted Screen several decades later completed the group: like the missing piece of a puzzle, it speaks to its companions in myriad ways. The brickwork and columns are echoed in Gouache, along with the bright orange tone streaked vertically down the length of the third panel. This colour finds itself splashed in dots across one of the rugs – a motif similarly present in the work on paper. The truncated arms of the screen’s figures resonate with the severed tree trunks in Painting, whilst its folded form is reflected in the work’s central interlocking panels. Its geometric armature resounds across the entire grouping, manifesting itself in a variety of bold planar structures. The result is a cohesive snapshot of Bacon’s early aesthetic preoccupations, united in conversation for over half a century.

These works, then, represent the crucible of Bacon’s artistic language as he steered a revolutionary course from design to painting. Within their depths, we catch glimpses of his later achievements: of the cubic frames that housed his screaming Popes; of his 1960s portraits, with their geometric interiors; and of famed triptychs, where – through a metamorphic combination of figures and screens – he would fuse grandiloquent mythological and religious narratives with his own tales of triumph and tragedy. ‘[Bacon’s] earliest works are marked by conspicuous intelligence and an innate capacity for the actual application of paint’, wrote John Rothenstein in the artist’s first catalogue raisonné (J. Rothenstein, ‘Introduction’, in R. Alley, Francis Bacon, London 1964, p. 10). As the years went by, witnessing global conflict, unprecedented technological advancement in film and photography, new studios in London and Paris and a constantly-evolving cast of lovers, friends and subjects, this early flash of brilliance would give rise to a new chapter in the history of painting. Through a complex, intuitive and deeply sensory command of pigment, Bacon would come to chronicle the human condition, in all its shifting guises.

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