Francis Bacon's Correspondence with Sir Colin Anderson

Article excerpt

Francis Bacon is not known to have written many letters--or, at least, not many letters from him have been published. The most significant group which has recently been published in full (1) consists of the nine letters which he wrote to Graham Sutherland from 1943 to 1954, (2) together with letters to Michel Leiris, from 1966-1989, which were published in connection with the exhibition of Bacon triptychs at the Gagosian Gallery in London in June 2006. Letters to Arthur Jeffress and Erica Brausen and to Robert and Lisa Sainsbury have also been printed in Michael Peppiatt's book, Francis Bacon in the 1950's, which was published to coincide with an exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich in September 2006. Otherwise, not a lot of letters have appeared, although it is known that he did write to various people, and there may be future revelations for Bacon scholars to look forward to. (3)

One person to whom Bacon wrote and who took care to preserve his letters was that great patron of 20th-century British art, Sir Colin Anderson. (4) These twelve letters are here published in full (5) for the first time. (6)

It is not clear how the two men met each other, although it was probably during or shortly after the War. (A strong candidate for effecting the introduction would have been Graham Sutherland, who knew both well at this time. Roger Berthoud, in his biography of Sutherland, (7) says that he was told by Anderson that Sutherland first brought Bacon's work to Anderson's attention.) In 1945 Anderson became a member of the committee of the Contemporary Arts Society and, as one of their buyers for 1946, he had made the extremely far-sighted decision to purchase an early Bacon picture, 'Figure Study II'. (8)

The first letter that survives in the Anderson collection is undated, although someone (Anderson?) has written onto it '?1945' (See Letter 1). The dating of this letter is quite important. It refers to an orange picture being one of a group of three, and it is difficult to know, based on Bacon's pictures that survive, what else this could have been other than Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, which is now in the Tate and which is always attributed to 1944. This connection can only be tentative, because Bacon destroyed so many of his works. However, the letter does say that the group has been sold. Three Studies was shown at a joint exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery in April 1945 (9) and was at some point acquired by Bacon's friend, Eric Hall (who was to give it to the Tate in 1953). Letter 1 states that two of the three pictures have been dispatched to the buyer. (10) It also refers to another triptych, which is not known to survive. The letter makes it clear that Bacon and Anderson had not, at this stage, met. It is written from 7 Cromwell Place in SW7. Bacon had moved into this studio, which had at one time belonged to Millais, in late 1943.

Letter 2 is written from Monte Carlo. (11) Dated 'Friday 20th', it is likely to have been written on Friday 20 June 1947, because Anderson's response, in the form of a letter to Bacon's bank, a copy of which survives, is dated 26 June 1947. By this time, one may assume that they have met. The letter begins 'My dear Colin' and is signed 'Francis', whereas Letter 1 began with the more formal 'Dear Anderson' and concluded with 'Francis Bacon'. Bacon also sends his love to Anderson's wife Morna and their children and it would be a little odd to do that if they had never met. Moreover Anderson had by this time bought Figure Study II for the Contemporary Art Society (CAS) and may have met Bacon as part of that transaction. In any event, Bacon felt able to ask Anderson to lend him 300 [pounds sterling], which would have been a large sum of money at the time.

A feature of Bacon's practice as a painter is illustrated by letter 2. Bacon destroyed many pictures, such that there are no known pictures at all surviving from 1947. …