In August 1930 The Studio Magazine - Britain's leading forum for progressive architecture and design - published an article entitled The 1930 Look in British Decoration, which featured advance images of a small group of tubular steel and plywood furnishings, and a selection of rugs of modernist design, the ensemble having been photographed and exhibited in Bacon's small studio within a converted garage in Queensbury Mews West, South Kensington, prior to the forthcoming exhibition that November. Despite favourable reviews, it would appear that the exhibition generated only modest commissions beyond the circle of friends already known to Bacon, and by 1933 Bacon abandoned his fledgling career as a decorator, to turn instead to painting.
Bacon’s decision to establish himself as a decorator and designer was most probably informed by his exposure to the European avant-garde when in 1927 at the age of 18 he travelled first to Berlin and then to Paris, returning back to London 1928-29. Paris, during the late 1920s, was at a creative apex following the momentum generated by the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs Internationale. It is during this brief period that Bacon would have been exposed to works by Eileen Gray, Jean Lurçat, Fernand Léger and Ivan da Silva Bruhns, all of whom were by then producing innovative abstract designs for carpets. Another probable influence upon Bacon’s decision to design modernist carpets was the first McKnight Kauffer and Dorn exhibition of modernist rugs at Tooth & Sons Gallery, London, January 1929. By 1929-30 therefore, the concept of the artist-designer carpet was already gathering momentum in Britain and France, consequently the young designer's decision to explore this medium is logical and in sensitivity to the zeitgeist of the times.
It is unknown how many designs for rugs Bacon created – up to twelve different designs can be identified from surviving examples and from period photographs – and it is unknown how many rugs were in fact manufactured. It is evident, however, from the photographs of Bacon’s studio taken in 1930 for The Studio, that he considered them as a viable and effective means of expression, for numerous examples populate both the floor and the wall. In 1983, referring to the rug of similar design to the present lot that is now in the collection of the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation in Monaco, Bacon noted that that design was created in 1929, and produced by Wilton.
To date, eight other Francis Bacon carpets are known to have survived. Two examples were sold by Sotheby's London in 1990, one of which was identified as being from the estate of Diana Watson, a favourite cousin of Francis Bacon. Another example is in the Victoria & Albert Museum, and three further examples are on loan to Tate Britain. A seventh rug was sold by Sotheby’s Paris in 2013 – the design of which is identical to one of the three in the Tate, confirming that more than one example of the same design was produced. All of these rugs are broadly of the same approximate size, around 7' x 4', and all are believed to have been produced by Wilton as part of their ‘Wessex’ range of Modernist carpets, that also included designs by Dorn and McKnight Kauffer.
In the context of the present lot, it is the eighth remaining rug that is perhaps the most intriguing, having been the design that Bacon referred to in 1983 as designed in 1929 and executed by Wilton. Now in the MB Art Foundation in Monaco, this rug was sold by Christie’s Paris in 2011, having formerly been in the Collections of the Chateau de Gourdon since acquisition in 2002. It is believed that this rug is the same rug that Bacon chose to retain for his own use, and that is photographed in his apartment (op. cit., Harrison) around 1932.
The present lot is a hitherto unrecorded variation of this design. Although the configuration of the design remains the same, in the present lot the décor has been reversed to be laid as mirror-opposite. Furthermore, the palette has been adapted to instead offer fields of shell-pink and lilac, as opposed to the mint-green and browns of the former. Finally, at 8' x 13' the present lot is of substantially greater size, approximately three times the surface area, of the comparable example and those in the British institutions. The large size of this example is consistent with the proportions of carpets commissioned for dining rooms, however in the absence of provenance prior to the late 1980s any insight into the original commission for this carpet cannot advance beyond speculation. The very large scale of this example offers further intrigue; had this carpet been produced by Wilton as part of their ‘Wessex’ range, the workshop’s characteristic highly-dense knotting would have rendered a carpet of this size prohibitively expensive to produce, and there is little evidence that in 1930 Bacon possessed the clients who had the economic means to match such a cost. It is therefore possible that to execute a carpet of this size, either Bacon or Wilton identified an alternative workshop capable of producing the carpet within specifics of the original commission.