Hugh Lane gallery profits from `ghastly misunderstanding' over Bacon studio


Last September Mr John Edwards, the sole heir of the internationally-renowned artist Francis Bacon, donated the painter's studio to the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery in Dublin. Yesterday he visited the gallery for the first time and met the Lord Mayor, Mr Joe Doyle, and the gallery director, Ms Barbara Dawson.

When it was announced last year, the donation was greeted as one of the most significant in the history of the State. Bacon, who was a wealthy man from the sale of his work, lived and worked in spartan conditions in Reece Mews in London.

His cramped studio was cluttered and untidy, its walls spattered with paint. It will be painstakingly reconstructed in the Hugh Lane Gallery exactly as he left it and opened to visitors in 2001.

Meanwhile, in June next year, the gallery will feature a major exhibition of his paintings, curated by the leading authority on his work, Mr David Sylvester.

Bacon died in 1992, and Mr Edwards was his closest friend for the last 16 years of his life. This is his first visit to Ireland, though there is a family link: his maternal grandmother, Rosie O'Shea, was born in Dublin.

A Cockney who never learned to read or write, he has been described as shy to the point of being reclusive. He was accompanied by the artist Brian Clarke, a friend of both his and Bacon's, who since late last year has been the sole executor of the Bacon estate.

"I think it's an extremely important event for Ireland," Mr Clarke said later. "And it's very appropriate. I'm convinced Francis would have loved it. After all, he was born here, and he said once that he couldn't come back until he was dead - the fuss would be too much."

Mr Clarke also said the estate was totally behind the Hugh Lane in carrying through the reconstruction of the studio and various related exhibits. "It's the intention of the estate that as much material as possible relating to Francis and his studio finds a home in the Hugh Lane."

But is it true that the studio was offered to the Tate Gallery in London before it was offered to the Hugh Lane?

"It was offered to the Tate, though I understand Nicholas Serota, the director, says that it wasn't. We felt duty-bound to make an approach to the Tate. All I would say about it is that it seems there was a ghastly misunderstanding. But I wouldn't like to give the impression that the Hugh Lane was second choice. We are really very happy that it is coming to Dublin. Pretty much any museum in the world would in principle want it."

It is extremely difficult to put a value on the estate, of which Mr Edwards is the sole beneficiary, partly because it is dependent on the art market and partly because its full extent is a matter for speculation. Previously unknown paintings and drawings have already come to light.

Last December the High Court in London dramatically removed the existing executors and appointed Mr Clarke as sole executor and "personal representative" of the estate. The court also severed the estate's links with Marlborough Fine Art, the gallery which represented Bacon for over 30 years.

In fact, since last April paintings from the estate had been handled by the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York and Faggionato Fine Arts in London.

These moves follow the appointment of Mr John Eastman as principal lawyer for the estate, and for Mr Edwards. Mr Eastman, a high-profile New York arts lawyer whose clients have included the painters Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell, is the brother of the late Linda McCartney. He and his associates are currently engaged in tracking assets of the estate in several countries.

Mr Clarke did not want to be drawn on the nature of the disagreement between the estate and Marlborough, though the revelation that Bacon's works were being handled by Marlborough Liechtenstein, and not by London, is said to have caused alarm. "I will say that, should the Bacon estate enter into any litigation, I confidently expect that it would be successful."