The archive comprises nearly 1,200 items, including photographs, books, documents and various cuttings, and was donated to the Tate in 2004 by friend and neighbour of Francis Bacon, Barry Joule. Joule was close to Bacon from 1978 until the artist’s death in 1992, and said the archive came from Bacon’s London studio at 7 Reece Mews in South Kensington. At the time of its donation, the Tate released a statement saying that they hoped “the acquisition and further study of this material will enable scholars to resolve remaining issues about Bacon’s working practice”. The archive was valued in 2004 at the enormous sum of £20 million, making it an extremely significant donation.
Since then, however, scholars have realised this archive may not be as it seems. The Tate said that the archive has been “researched by art historians, and this research has raised credible doubts about the nature and quality of the material”. Last year, the Francis Bacon Estate published Francis Bacon: Shadows, in which the estate’s archivist, Sophie Pretorius, included an essay on the Joule donation. Pretorius included quotes from former Tate curator Andrew Wilson, who doubted the authenticity of the archive, and she concluded that, “for scholars to devote time to analysing a collection of works not by Francis Bacon is a waste of resources.”
The Tate’s trustees have announced that the material “can be disposed of without detriment to the interests of students or other members of the public”, and have offered it back to Joule. A spokesperson for the institution added that, “doubt has been cast on the majority of the material” and that it is “no longer suitable for retention in the collection”.
Barry Joule has maintained the archive is authentic. Last year, he publicly announced his anger at the Tate, to whom he had planned to give another archival donation. As part of the agreement of his initial 2004 donation, the materials were supposed to be exhibited, but the Tate have not done so. In 2021, he emailed Tate director Maria Balshaw threatening to sue the gallery, and announced that his next donation will instead be going to the Centre Pompidou in Paris. He said, “the Tate and Britain will be missing out on part of the nation’s art history of one of their most important painters. I turn my back on the Tate for ever.”
It remains to be seen if the Tate’s announcement will affect negotiations for a donation between Joule and the Centre Pompidou.