Barry’s Broken Studio.
“In the chill winter of 1804, the fifty-four year old Irish painter James Barry was living in distressed circumstances in London, just north of Oxford Street. He huddled in an upstairs room, his ground floor studio too cold to inhabit, the windows blanketed with snow, blocking out any vestiges of daylight. Barry’s magnum opus, The Birth of Pandora, stretched across the studio wall: a vast canvas measuring 10 feet high and over 17 feet wide. The front of Barry’s house, in an otherwise, smart, newly constructed terrace, was spattered with mud; the shutters were jammed shut, the windows smashed by the regular incursions of local street urchins. The yard was littered with with detritus and the carcases of domestic animals, the parlour window still adorned by the rotting body of a dead cat. In place of a smashed window pane Barry had posted a hand written note offering a reward for information leading to the conviction of unnamed individuals who had hatched a “dark conspiracy” against him; the rest of the window frame being covered by the design for a large historical canvas turned upside down.”
The Bohemian Studio.
“As Bratby’s star faded in the early 1960s, his career had already been eclipsed by an artist whose life was far more genuinely Bohemian, and whose art Bratby himself labelled as “deacadent” andf “evil.” This was Francis Bacon, whose decrepit studio in South Kensington became a shrine to self-imposed artistic squalor, and, to some, a work of art in its own right. In 1961, Bacon moved into 7 Reece Mews, a converted carriage house situated off Old Brompton Road, close to South Kensington tube station. Above the vacant garage space on the ground floor, a Spartan bed-sitting room and the squalid studio were reached via a steep rickety staircase. To the rear of the pokey apartment was a galley kitchen containing a cooker and bathtub. Bacon’s home, with its whitewashed walls, cheap furniture, and bare light bulbs, was a study in self-denial, at odds with the extravagant life he led outside the studio and the astronomical prices fetched by his art. Over the years, the studio walls and door were streaked by a mélange of multi-coloured paint marks, while debris associated with the creative act littered the shelf and floor: old paint brushes, ripped canvases, tins, shoes, clothing, tattered and torn photographs, cast aside art books, wine bottles, and a small plaster life mask of William Blake, whose writings Bacon admired (if not his art). Following Bacon’s death in 1902, his companion and the sole heir of his estate, John Edwards, offered Bacon’s studio to the Tate Gallery, which declined. In a remarkable coup, Dublin City Art Gallery, The Hugh Lane, employed a team of conservators and archaeologists to relocate the studio structure and its entire contents to Dublin, the city of Bacon’s birth. It was put on permanent display at the Hugh Lane in 2001.
Works on Paper
Over seventy works on paper were found in Bacon's Reece Mews studio and these are now in the collection of the Hugh Lane Gallery. They are among the most important discoveries of the project. In all the interviews Bacon gave from around 1962 onwards, he denied that he made any preparatory drawings before he started to paint. Some of his close friends knew that he produced drawings and even owned some of these works, but they followed Bacon's wish to keep them out of the public domain. The Hugh Lane collection of drawings is one of the most comprehensive and provides a good record of the type of works Bacon was producing from the 1930s to the 1980s. Collectively, they provide new perspectives on Bacon's thought processes and working methods. All the works are unsigned and most are undated. Most are monochromatic. Some can be related to finished paintings whereas with others the links are more tenuous.Photographs
Photography played a major role in Bacon's work, and almost one quarter of the material found in the studio is of a photographic nature. Many of these photographs are of Bacon, his friends and various other subjects. During his lifetime, Bacon accepted only a handful of commissions. From the early 1960s he chose his closest friends as sitters, preferring to work not from life but from their photographs.
One hundred slashed canvases were found in Bacon's studio. The larger ones were stacked up against the walls and windows, while some of the smaller ones were found piled on shelves or discarded on the floor. These works, although destroyed, often show what a Bacon canvas looks like before completion. His unorthodox techniques are revealed in their raw state. The practice of destroying canvases is not unusual among artists. Apparently, Bacon destroyed the small works himself and John Edwards destroyed the larger ones at Bacon's request. The slashed canvases span some five decades of the artist's career, with the earliest known work dating from around 1946. In most cases, a painting was taken to a relatively advanced stage before a canvas was destroyed.Over half the canvases found in the Reece Mews Studio are in a small format (approximately 35.5cm x 30cm). Some were used as palettes or have initial preparatory layers, whereas others have portrait studies in varying degrees of completion. The artist may have used other canvases to test paint colours and techniques or possibly to clean his brushes. The human figures in Bacon's paintings tend to be two-thirds to three-quarters life size so the majority of his large paintings are of full-length figures. Consequently, the smaller paintings tend to be of heads. However, the head area of every portrait study found in the studio, has been cut out. As the images generally only show a small area of the neck, edges of the face and head, it is frequently difficult to identify the sitter.
Over 570 books and 1,300 loose leaves torn from books were found in Bacon's studio. Numerous books on subjects as diverse as art, photography, history, politics, cinema, sport, supernatural phenomena and medical textbooks have heavy paint accretions and pages torn out. Bacon often ripped out salient images from books and mounted them on pieces of card. As well as drawing on visual imagery, Bacon also relied heavily on literary sources for inspiration. Bacon read voraciously and had a profound interest in the poetry and prose of classic authors including T.S. Eliot, Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Federico Garcia Lorca and W.B. Yeats. Copies of books by these authors and many others feature prominently in the studio contents.
1. Door. The door of Bacon's Reece Mews studio is probably the best-known image of the artist's studio. Bacon tested paints on the door and walls of his studio. He jokingly referred to these as his only abstract paintings. Bacon also printed corduroy and other fabrics into this wet paint presumably to apply to his paintings. The fact that both the front and back of the door have paint accretions would indicate that Bacon sometimes painted with the door open and also with it closed.
2. Easel. This large easel, one of two in the artist's possession, seems to have been used for most of Bacons' paintings. It was positioned almost centrally in the room facing away from the skylight in the ceiling. The artist is generally thought to have painted in the mornings up to about midday and the positioning of the easel may suggest that he preferred to paint in natural daylight. The height of the easel may be adjusted to cope with different canvases of different scale. It was found extended to its maximum height, reminding us that from the late fifties onwards Bacon's work was usually in vertical format.
3. Mirror. Bacon's large circular mirror was perhaps the most singularly striking item in his studio. It was placed in a central position on the back wall of his studio and appears to have remained there unchallenged throughout the artist's time at Reece Mews. Bacon may well have designed it himself. Circular mirrors appear to have been a consistent feature of his early interior designs. Furthermore, the artist appears to have had a similar mirror in his Queensbury Mews studio as early as 1932. As well as giving a sense of space to Bacon's small studio, the mirror may well have performed a role in the production of his paintings. The mirror hung almost directly behind the artist's easel. Bacon could have turned and looked at the reflection of his work in the mirror. Interestingly, mirrors make repeated appearances in the artist's paintings but these are almost invariably rectilinear in shape.
4. William Blake’s Head. This replica plaster cast life mask of William Blake (1757 - 1827) is signed by Deville and was found in the bedroom at Reece Mews. J.S. Deville, a sculptor and phrenologist, made the original cast of Blake, four years before the poet's death. The composer Gerard Schurmann set some of Blake's poems to music and requested Bacon to design an image for the cover of his song cycle. He took Bacon to the National Portrait Gallery where he saw the mask and during the mid-1950s Bacon painted a series of paintings based on photographs of this mask, five of which survive. Three versions of this life mask are held by public collections in England. It is not known when Bacon acquired this life mask.
Images on skydrive here.