National Museum Cardiff: Bacon to Doig: Modern Masterpieces from a Private Collection

Showing until 31 January 2018

“This exhibition brings to Cardiff one of the UK’s most important private collections of modern British art. The collection was created over a number of decades, with work often being purchased before the artists were famous. The collection features work by many of the very best British artists of the 20th century including Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Barbara Hepworth and David Hockney.

The collectors’ knowledge and passion for art has created an outstanding collection, with each artist being represented by work of such quality that they would grace the walls of the greatest museums in the world. Francis Bacon, now internationally recognised as one of the very best painters of the modern period, is represented with two outstanding paintings from the 1950s and 60s.

Close friends of Bacon in the so-called ‘School of London’ also feature, including a portrait by Freud and expressionist canvases by Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff. These figurative works are complimented by more abstract works by the painter Ben Nicholson and sculptures by Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Anthony Caro. Contemporary art is also strongly represented with paintings by Peter Doig and two important vases by Turner-prize winner Grayson Perry.

We are extremely grateful to the owners of this collection for their generosity in allowing these works to be displayed at National Museum Cardiff.”


Text and images from the above book:  Chapter Australian Connections by Martin Harrison and Rebecca Daniels Pages: 33 – 43.

“My paintings are not illustrations of reality but…a concentration of reality and a shorthand of sensation” Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon (1909 – 1992)has significant links to Australia, his Father Anthony Edward Mortimer Bacon was born in Adelaide and Roy de Maistre (1894 – 1968); a salient figure in the development of Abstraction in this country was a highly influential figure in Bacon’s life and studio in London.  “…Roy de Maistre was…according to art historian John Richardson, ‘crucial to Bacon’.  Through this connection Bacon also forged relationships with both Sidney Nolan and Brett Whiteley.

Bacon and de Maistre had more in common than painting, both had worked in interior design either in combination with painting or to augment their incomes while painting.  Bacon had set up aan interior design studio in 1929. Roy de Maistre arrived in London in 1930 and “In the same year he organised a successful exhibition of antique and modern interiors at Burdekin House in Macquarie Street (de Maistre had designed some of the contemporary furniture). David Sylvester Interviews with Francis Bacon Thames and Hudson London 1980 P.17

Bacon and de Maistre became acquainted soon after de Maistre’s arrival in London because by the end of 1930 Portrait of Francis Bacon (a very young angelic Bacon) had already been painted and exhibited in Bacon’s Queensbury Mews studio in Nov 1930.

It is difficult to say what ultimate influence de Maistre had on Bacon’s technique and art history knowledge.  However, the fact that de Maistre was so much older, that much more experienced and working in close proximity to Bacon, something would have to have been exchanged knowingly or not between the two artist’s.

Gladys MacDermot was a connection; she had lived in Australia in the late 1920’s and had been a patron of de Maistre’s; she moved to London and in 1932 / 1933 she commissioned Bacon to design and furnish her London flat in Bloomsbury.  “The commission was substantial and included a dining table and chairs, a sideboard and a desk and coffee tables, which continued to be used by the family for decades.”

While Francis Bacon had work in An exhibition of paintings at Agnews in 1937 (an exhibition not well received), the same year Patrick White asked Bacon to design furniture for his London flat.

Roy de Maistre and Francis Bacon remained close until 1936 “after which Bacon ceased to paint for the next eight years.”

In 1943 de Maistre and Graham Sutherland introduced Bacon to the Tate Gallery’s John Rothenstein, beginning his long association with that institution.

“From 1949 …British art critics Robert Melville, David Sylvester and Lawrence Alloway avidly took up Bacon and their essays and reviews helped establish his pre-eminence in the British figurative avant-garde”

“Although no documentation has emerged to confirm that Bacon and Nolan were friendly, certain parallels and coincidences suggest they were probably aware of one another’s paintings.”

Both artists exhibited at the Redfern Gallery for instance, Nolan in 1951 and Bacon exhibited paintings there (perhaps stock items) there in the 1950’s.  And both represented their respective countries at the 1954 Venice Biennale.

The Marlborough gallery in London represented both artists, Bacon from 1958 and Nolan from 1963.  Thus is a milieu of mutual connections it is highly probable they knew of each other’s work.

“There is no evidence of a comparable dialogue between Bacon and Brett Whiteley. They met, however, at Whiteley’s request, at the opening dinner of the exhibition Recent Australian Painting at Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1961.”

“Bacon and Whiteley’s continuing friendship culminated in a sitting at Bacon’s studio in October 1984 for Whiteley’s triptych homage Francis Bacon at 75.  Photographs of the event, taken by John Edwards, provide a compelling visual insight into Bacon sitting for Whiteley.  Back in Sydney at the end of November, Whiteley wrote to Edwards : ‘Mate, could you please send some of the photos you shot that wonderful day as I am full blaze into a portrait of Francis & it would help enormously.”

Curiously Bacon, Nolan and Whiteley all died in 1992.

For more information on these artists, go to:

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