Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Chance to own a Francis Bacon (from his tufted period)

February 25, 2009

Chance to own a Francis Bacon (from his tufted period)

Roman Abramovich spent £43 million on one. Tate Britain has one hanging on its wall. Now it is possible to buy an original Francis Bacon for as little as a thousandth of the price of his most impressive works. The only catch: this one has been trampled on for years.

Bacon’s early life as a rugmaker is almost forgotten, and his output so small that an example held by the Victoria and Albert Museum was thought to be one of only three to exist. His rug oeuvre has suddenly increased, however, after an Iranian carpet dealer cleaned out one of her storerooms and took a pile of rugs to an auction house in Wiltshire.

Ian Bennett, a textile specialist at Netherhampton Salerooms, near Salisbury, was astonished to discover a pair of rugs that are believed to be the only surviving works from Bacon’s first exhibition of his own designs in 1929.

“This particular batch of rugs contained the usual mix of good, bad and indifferent, but there were a lot of them and initially they had to be gone through fairly quickly,” he told The Times. “All of a sudden, in the middle of a pile of Persian tribal weavings in varying stages of disintegration, there appeared two obviously European Modernist rugs, which I threw aside with an instant semi-automatic valuation of a few hundred pounds.

“Just as they were about to be covered up by other rugs, I vaguely noted the presence of writing at the bottom of each piece and suddenly what I had only half seen came into sharp focus. I said, ‘Hang on a minute!’. In large capital letters was the name Francis Bacon.”

Mr Bennett contacted the Authentication Committee of Francis Bacon, which responded that the rugs were not only authentic, but also possibly the only works from the artist’s 1929 exhibition that had not been destroyed by the artist or discarded.

Bacon had such a reputation for destroying his work that his gallery would pick up finished paintings while the paint was still wet. Rebecca Daniels, who is helping to compile the catalogue raisonné for Bacon, said that the design and ground colour of the Netherhampton rugs were unique.

Mr Bennett said that the Iranian dealer was unaware of the rugs’ significance, having bought them ten years ago from an elderly lady who had been using them in her hallway. “She thought they were impractical. She kept on tripping over them. She didn’t know what they were.”

Bacon was a teenager when he designed the rugs at his flat in West London. He had recently been thrown out of his family home by his father after he was found in front of a mirror posing in his mother’s underwear.

No records survive of the 1929 exhibition, but it was successful enough for Bacon to follow it up with a second one in 1930. A year or two later he gave up design to concentrate on painting.

Mr Bennett said that it was almost impossible to put a value on the rugs because none had been on the market in recent years. “I hope that each one will fetch a five-figure sum, but I haven’t the foggiest idea. There is no precedent. You never know. Roman Abramovich might want one.” The rugs will be auctioned on March 12.

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