A pair of rugs signed Francis Bacon, and thought to relate to the artist’s early career as an interior decorator, have been withdrawn from sale for the second time in three years.
Newcastle auctioneers Anderson & Garland, who had estimated
the rugs at £180,000-220,000, were not at liberty to discuss their
decision not to offer them in their September 11 sale but their
withdrawal adds another chapter to a fascinating story.
The recent history of the two Modernist rugs, measuring 5ft 5in
x 3ft (1.65m x 91cm) and 7ft 4in x 3ft (2.24m x 91cm) and each
signed in the weave Francis Bacon, begins in 2008 when both were
consigned to the bi-monthly carpet sale at Netherhampton Saleroom,
near Salisbury. The consignor, a Portobello Road rug dealer, is
reported to have famously asked specialist Ian Bennett: "Who is
Francis Bacon darling?"
Subsequent correspondence with the Francis Bacon Foundation
raised the possibility that they might be among Bacon's earliest
works - perhaps made c.1929 when the 19-year-old artist, fresh from
travelling in Europe, set himself up in a studio at 17 Queensberry
Mews West, South Kensington, as an interior decorator and furniture
While Bacon later sought to destroy evidence of this career in
soft furnishings (he himself described his efforts as poor
imitations of the generic Cubist style), records of two
exhibitions, an article in The Studio magazine titled
'1930 Look in British Decoration' and a handful of the objects
themselves have survived.
Speculation prior to their sale in March 2009 revolved around
just how much the new discoveries might bring (the estimate was
£50,000-80,000), but two days before the sale the vendor chose to
withdraw them. Anderson & Garland described their source as 'a
German collection since 2009'.
Since then further research has been undertaken into Bacon's
rugs - and these two carpets in particular.
In Hali magazine (number 162) Berkshire-based dealer Clive
Rogers and Jean Manuel de Noronha compared the half-dozen
undisputed Bacon rugs, known to have been made at the Royal Wilton
Carpet factory, with the Netherhampton pair.
They concluded the yarns, knotting technique, pile and handle
were significantly different (comparable to the work of the
Killybegs factory in Co. Donegal) and demonstrated that the design
for these two rugs that so prominently displayed the Francis Bacon
signature was, in fact, made c.1927 by the well-known French Art
Deco textile artist Ivan da Silva Bruhns (1880-1980).
"Quite what Bacon has to do with these rugs, if anything,
remains a mystery, as does the date of manufacture," said Clive
Rogers on hearing that the rugs had been withdrawn from sale for a
"I must concede that they might be the copies of a 19-year-old
impressed by the lights of 1920s Paris and Berlin with family
connections in Eire. That, or the regurgitation of the shelved
project at Donegal once Bacon's fame was rising."
In short, they remain an enigma.