The Tate Is Returning 1,000 Archival Documents to Francis Bacon’s Former Handyman After Researchers Questioned Their Authenticity

The collection includes sketches, photographs, and magazine cuttings.

English painter Francis Bacon, January 1984. Photo: Ulf Andersen/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

The Tate in London will deaccession nearly 1,000 sketches, photos, and other archival documents once belonging to Francis Bacon after research “raised credible doubts about the nature and quality” of the items, the museum announced today.

The collection, which includes sketches, photographs, and magazine cuttings that Bacon had amassed in his London studio, were donated to the Tate by the artist’s friend and one-time handyman Barry Joule in 2004. In a press release announcing the donation at the time, the institution said it hoped “the acquisition and further study of this material will enable scholars to resolve remaining issues about Bacon’s working practice.” 

In the years after the donation, the institution made the materials available to the public through its archive. Some were featured in a display dedicated to the artist at Tate Britain in 2019. (The collection did not appear in the museum’s 2008 retrospective honoring the artist’s centenary.)

Since then, doubts have been raised about the authenticity of the gifted objects, many from the Tate’s own experts. Last September, the Bacon estate’s archivist, Sophie Pretorius, published a study on the Joule collection, and in it quoted a former Tate curator saying “the hand/s that applied the marks to the material may not have included Bacon to any substantial degree.”

“For scholars to devote time to analyzing a collection of works not by Francis Bacon is a waste of resources,” Pretorius concluded. 

In a statement shared with Artnet News, the Tate said that “in itself, the material does not lend itself to any significant exhibition and any potential it held to improve the public’s understanding of Bacon’s art has been exhausted. It has therefore been considered unsuitable for retention in Tate Archive.”

The archive has been offered back to Joule, per his wishes, it added. 

Joule, for his part, did not agree with the institution’s assessment. In 2021, he sent an email to Tate director Maria Balshaw threatening to sue the gallery over the materials. The missive reportedly came after numerous public complaints from the donor that his gift had not been properly exhibited.

Earlier this year, Joule canceled plans to donate the rest of his Bacon collection—including around 100 drawings, 10 paintings, and 12 hours of taped conversations between him and the artist. He instead promised the remaining items to French National Archives at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

“The Tate and Britain will be missing out on part of the nation’s art history of one of their most important painters. I turn my back on the Tate forever,” he told the Guardian at the time.

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