CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 2/27/2020
If "art is like a love affair with objects, images, appearances, sensations, the passions," as painter Francis Bacon said in 1971, then Martin Harrison's magnificent, five-volume Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné is the defining record of one of the most incendiary love affairs of all time. Published by the Estate of Francis Bacon, this comprehensive, landmark publication has been in production for a decade, and contains more than 100 previously unseen paintings. Many of these—including the very first in the Screaming Pope series—were recently discovered in a private Italian collection, and have never been published before.
The publication of this exquisitely produced, clothbound and slip-cased five volume set is an art world event unto itself. Advance press started rolling in more than six months ago, with pieces in The Guardian and Artnet News, among other outlets.
Published in the UK to coincide with the twenty-fourth anniversary of the artist's death, this 1,538-page colossus contains approximately 800 color reproductions of the 584 paintings which currently exist (Bacon famously, habitually, destroyed all of the rest), alongside sketches, photographs, hand-written notes and x-ray and microscopic photography of the paintings. The Catalogue Raisonné was scrupulously printed on 170 gsm GardaMatt Ultra stock in Bergamo, Italy, at Castelli Bolis. It radically updates a 1964 mid-career catalogue raisonné, which reproduced only 27 paintings in color, and was notoriously problematic because Bacon refused to cooperate with the publisher, Thames & Hudson.
The first volume in the set contains Harrison's deeply considered introduction and a chronology. The last contains sketches, an index and a bibliography. Three central volumes present Bacon's entire painting oeuvre with a wealth of full-size reproductions, the occasional gatefold and close-up details, alongside remarkable descriptive texts for each painting that could only have been written by someone whose immersion in the artist's work is complete.
For example, the text that accompanies "In Memory of George Dyer" (1971, detail below)—the triptych that Bacon painted immediately after the suicide of his torturous long-time muse and lover on the eve of the artist's Paris retrospective—begins: "…It might be supposed that his reaction to the circumstances of Dyer's death was one of horror and dejection, but Bacon managed to suspend his feelings in Paris and apparently coped well with the official celebrations and public engagements. Presumably he painted this work as the gravity of the situation, his loss and probably his guilt, weighed upon him."
Interestingly, among Bacon's complete oeuvre, there are fewer paintings of a sexual nature than many would expect. "Bacon lived life to the extreme, and it has been convincingly argued that his best art stemmed from the sadomasochistic relationships he had with other men," Mark Brown writes in The Guardian. "The great love of his life was Peter Lacy, a former Battle of Britain pilot who was also sadistic, violent and a raging alcoholic. The catalogue will reveal that there is less sex in Bacon’s surviving paintings than might be imagined." According to Harrison, "There are only 11 paintings in his whole oeuvre where men are having sex and that is compared, for example, to 17 female nudes."
Harrison's 70-page, copiously illustrated Introduction sets the tone. It begins: "Bacon said that when his paintings worked, 'I feel it in myself. If I don't feel it physically, I know it just can't be working… I feel [it] within my own body.' His account of the act of painting—physical, instinctual, tactile—helps elucidate the visceral reaction the viewer experiences in front of the paintings. In the reciprocal exchange between creator and spectator, Bacon's paintings resonate in direct proportion to the intensity of his attack on the canvas, to the projection of energy—sensations—in and through the painted marks." For libraries, Bacon collectors and fanatics, this Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné is nothing less than essential. It is the best way to fully experience Bacon's sustained, 60-year "attack on the canvas."
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IMAGE 1: Gatefold of the triptych "Three Studies of Figures on Beds," (1972), from Volume IV.
IMAGE 2: "Self Portrait" (1969), from Volume III.
IMAGE 3: A spread from the illustrated chronology, Volume I. Photograph on the right is by Francis Julian Gutmann (1933).
IMAGE 4: "Sand Dune" (1983), from Volume IV.
IMAGE 5: Detail from the left panel in the triptych "In Memory of George Dyer" (1971), Volume IV.
IMAGE 6: "Kneeling Figure - Back View" (c. 1982), Volume IV.
IMAGE 7: "Triptych" (1976), Volume IV
IMAGE 8: "Study after Velásquez" (1950), Volume II. Oil on canvas — 198 x 137.2 cm — Private collection
Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd. © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved, DACS 2016.
THE ESTATE OF FRANCIS BACON
Hbk, 5 vols, 9.5 x 12.25 in. / 1,556 pgs / 800 color.