Wednesday - 23 April 2014

Francis Bacon rugs remain an enigma after second withdrawal

24 September 2012Written by Roland Arkell

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of rugs signed Francis Bacon, and thought to relate to the artist’s early career as an interior decorator, have been withdrawn from sale for the second time in three years.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 designer.

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 second time.

"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.

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