In an unexpected turn, the Tate announced Wednesday that it will deaccession a vast archive of materials from Francis Bacon’s estate donated by a close confidant of the Irish-born painter, after researchers raised questions about the gifts’ authenticity.
The move comes just two months after Barry Joule, a British man who befriended Bacon in 1978 while living in London, rescinded his initial plan to donate another group of works to the museum after it failed to exhibit the disputed archive, which he donated nearly two decades ago. Joule, who is said to have been in contact with the artist until his death in 1992, threatened to take legal action against the Tate over the rift.
In 2004, Joule donated the near 1,200-item archive spanning drawings to photographs from Bacon’s studio that was worth an estimated £20 million ($25.1 million) to the Tate. At the time, the Tate said it would catalogue the donation over a period of three years before making it available to be exhibited, but the promised public showcase never materialized. The museum said it is now offering the archive back to the donor — a move that is rare, but legally permissible for U.K. institutions.
In a statement first obtained by theArt Newspaper, the Tate said the Joule archive materials had been “researched by art historians, and this research has raised credible doubts about the nature and quality of the material,” continuing that “any potential it held to improve the public’s understanding of Bacon’s art has been exhausted.” Joule has denied any claims that the archive contains inauthentic materials.
In April, reports of the ongoing row escalated when it was revealed that doubts had been cast by scholars over Joule’s donation, known formally as the Barry Joule Archive (BJA). Last September, the Bacon Estate published Francis Bacon: Shadows, which quotes a former Tate curator Andrew Wilson as saying “the hand/s that applied the marks to the material may not have included Bacon to any substantial degree.”
Joule said he intended instead to donate a second grouping of Bacon’s works—around 150 drawings, 10 paintings and other archival materials including documents and audio recordings— to the national archives of the Centre Pompidou in France after falling out with the London institution and had already begun negotiations. Bacon was the subject of a retrospective focused on his literary influences in 2019 at the French museum, titled “Bacon: Books and Painting.”
Whether or not the Tate’s move to jettison the long-held archive will affect the ongoing negotiations between Joule and the Pompidou to receive the other tranche of works is still unclear. A representative for the Center Pompidou did not immediately respond to ARTnews‘ request for comment.