Where did your fascination with Bacon begin?
My first encounter with Francis Bacon goes back to my academic years in London in the early Nineties. One day, while visiting the Tate, I was confronted with Bacon’s seminal triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944. My immediate reaction was surprisingly contradictory. I was shocked by these disturbing organic forms — half-human, half-animal — and at the same time fascinated by them. This painting challenged interpretation and triggered in me the need to explore Bacon’s world. I started attending most of his exhibitions and reading various biographies on the artist. This immersion in Bacon’s work, life and methodology has lasted for nearly 20 years.
What is it about Bacon’s work that you find so enduringly fascinating?
I admire his uncompromising attitude both in his life and work. He confronts you with the human presence, the human condition, the human drama. One could even say that he is an existentialist artist. He is an exclusive witness and observer of his time. Like Van Gogh, throughout his career, he had an overriding desire to recreate reality. What is fascinating when you look at a Bacon painting is the fact that you are often confronted with this constant duality between life and death, the sacred and the profane, the aggressor and the victim. You are either attracted or irritated by his work but never indifferent. I regard Bacon’s work as a visual diary of his unsettled life.
Left: Foundation Exterior. Courtesy MB Art Collection. Right: Reinhard Hassert and Francis Bacon, Monte Carlo Casino Gardens, 1981. © Eddy Batache. Courtesy MB Art Collection
Does this fascination carry over into Bacon as a person?
I have always been fascinated by the sacred-monster personality of Bacon. This ferociously talented artist allowed nothing and no one to get in the way of his work. I’ve always perceived Bacon as a loner and as a disciplined man. He was a loner who loved parties, an atheist obsessed with religious subjects, a generous and charming man who could also turn cruel. I admire the fact that this self-taught artist has remained, throughout his career, committed to exploring the dark corners of human existence.
Can you tell us more about Bacon’s relationship with Monaco?
Bacon lived and worked in Monaco from July 1946 to the early 1950s. Throughout his life, he frequently returned to the Principality for extensive stays with his lovers, friends and family. It was in Monaco that he began to concentrate on painting the human form, a crucial step that would lead him later in his career to become one of the most influential figurative artists of the post-war era. His first attempt at the papal figure, influenced by Velazquez’s Pope Innocent X, was initiated at the Hotel Ré in Monaco, in 1946.
It was in Monaco that Bacon started painting on the unprimed side of the canvas. According to the artist, after having lost all his money at the Casino, he turned the canvases he had already used and started painting on them. He then discovered that the unprimed side was much easier to work on. Since then, he has continued working this way.
Like Van Gogh, throughout his career he had an overriding desire to recreate reality
Being a notorious gambler, Bacon was attracted by the Belle Époque Monte-Carlo Casino, where he used to spend whole days gambling. He also enjoyed Monte-Carlo’s lifestyle and the Mediterranean landscapes. A bon vivant, Bacon relished the finest of the local cuisine and wines.
The background of several key paintings from the early 1950s, such as Fragment of a Crucifixion, 1950, Landscape, South of France, 1952, Dog, 1952, and were based on views of Monaco and the French Rivera.
What draw does Bacon’s commercial design work have for you? Could Bacon have made it as a designer if he hadn’t become a painter?
His furniture and rug designs were singled out in an article in The Studio magazine entitled ‘The 1930 Look in British Decoration’. His work was then perceived as being impressively avant-garde. Later in his life, Bacon was dismissive of his furniture and rug designs, yet his brief experience as a designer filters through later in the compositions of his isolated and oppressive rooms. Though Bacon exhibited his furniture and rug designs at his Queensberry Mews studio in 1929 and 1930, the artist lessened his involvement as an interior designer around 1933 and decided to concentrate for the rest of his life on painting the human figure in-extremis.
Left: Majid Boustany. Courtesy MB Art Collection. Right: Foundation interior showing Bacon’s easel, and a photograph of Francis Bacon’s studio in Reece Mews by Carlos Freire, 1977. © Carlos Freire. Courtesy MB Art Collection
How does it make you feel to know Bacon was in certain places in Monaco? Do you know the exact houses he lived in?
I was very excited, throughout my research on the artist’s presence in Monaco, to discover Bacon’s various Monegasque residences. I chose to house the Foundation premises on the ground floor of a Belle Epoque villa, very similar to the various places where Bacon had lived in Monaco. I did not want this institution to look like an art gallery or a museum but a house. The idea of an intimate space came to me after a statement made by Bacon following his now legendary 1977 show at Galerie Claude Bernard in Paris. The artist declared that he enjoyed exhibiting his work in this small gallery where his paintings seemed more intense.
The tonality of colours used in the Foundation have been influenced by Bacon’s late 1940s palette. Various interior design elements such as curtains, tassels, mirrors and furniture have been drawn from Bacon’s iconography and experience as a furniture designer.
Do you have a favourite piece in the collection?
I cherish each and every item of my collection and I was lucky to acquire some rare pieces. To name a few, I recently purchased the earliest surviving painting by Francis Bacon, Watercolour 1929, a unique work once owned by Eric Alden, his companion and first collector, and by Roy de Maistre. I have been fortunate to acquire a rug designed by Bacon entitled Composition, 1929, one of only seven rugs that have survived from his rug designer period. I also have on display in the Foundation a pair of dinner plates used by the artist as a palette and found in his Parisian studio, Rue de Birague.
If you could acquire one work by Bacon for the Foundation, what would it be and why?
A Bacon Pope from the early 1950s. It’s an iconic image in Bacon’s repertoire. Bacon was obsessed and haunted for years by the Velázquez Pope Innocent X and he produced over fifty variations on this subject from 1946 to 1971.
Left: Foundation interior, with stool and rug (Composition 1929) designed by Francis Bacon © MB Art Collection / The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. DACS 2015. Right: Foundation’s interior, including Francis Bacon's Triptych August 1972, 1972 © MB Art Collection / The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. DACS 2015.
How did the Foundation come about, and what are its goals?
Having studied Bacon for over 20 years, I decided to build a Foundation dedicated to Bacon’s work and life. In late 2010, I explained my project to the Estate of Francis Bacon who welcomed this initiative and Martin Harrison, the art historian and editor of the Francis Bacon catalogue raisonné, joined the board of the Foundation. On 28 October 2014, after four years of titanic work, and coinciding with the anniversary of Bacon’s birthday, the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation was inaugurated in the presence of H.S.H the Prince Albert II of Monaco.
The mission of this non-profit institution is to promote a deeper understanding of the work, life and methodology of Francis Bacon worldwide, with a focus on the time the artist lived and worked in Monaco and Southern France. The Foundation organises exhibitions and seminars on Bacon, supports original research on the artist in collaboration with the Estate of Francis Bacon and other institutions, publishes books and thesis on the artist, sponsors emerging artists and funds projects related to Bacon. It is the only institute in the world fully dedicating its scholarly activities to Francis Bacon.
I have been building a comprehensive collection over a number of years that now includes over 2,300 items. The collection encompasses a selection of paintings by Francis Bacon from the late 1920s to the early 1980s, a unique photographic archive on the artist by leading photographers, friends and lovers, an important collection of Bacon exhibition catalogues, a large number of his graphic works, a unique array of his working materials, official documents and letters, a number of rare items from his period as a rug and furniture designer and an extensive library offering an essential resource for scholars.
The foundation is open to scholars throughout the year and to the general public, by appointment only.
Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, 21 Boulevard d’Italie, MC 98000 Monaco
www.mbartfoundation.com / firstname.lastname@example.org / Tel: +377 93303033
Main image at top: Francis Bacon photographed circa 1963. Courtesy The John Deakin Archive/Getty Images
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