November 18, 2015

Death of Francis Bacon makes compiling a book of his collected paintings sort of easier



Center panel from Study for a Self-Portrait—Triptych, 1985–86 (via Wikipedia)

We’d be forgiven for not wanting to look at too many more paintings by Francis Bacon, the 20th-century artist known for his raw depictions of popes, screams, and crucifixions. But if you’re the world’s preeminent Francis Bacon scholar, more Bacon is exactly what you want, and the opportunity to catalog every work the artist produced is practically a nightmare dream come true.

Martin Harrison is the scholar in question, and as of April 2016, his decade-long effort to catalog Bacon’s complete works will culminate in a big, beautiful, and probably terrifying book: Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raissone.

Harrison explained to The Guardian‘s Mark Brown that, until now, Francis Bacon has been judged on only roughly one-third of his work—around 18o paintings.

All of that will change early next year with the publication of Harrison’s catalog, which collects all of Bacon’s paintings—from the infamous and oft-exhibited to the newly-discovered and never-before-seen. The book contains a total 584 paintings, 100 of which are newly discovered, as well as a catalog of sketches, an introduction by Harrison, and a bibliography.

Harrison, who received assistance from Dr. Rebecca Daniels and guidance from the Estate of Francis Bacon, has been writing about the artist since 1999. In Brown’s article for The Guardian, Harrison explained the importance of the project:

Irrespective of the care taken in documenting his extant oeuvre, the great revelation of the new catalogue raisonné will be that, for the first time, Bacon’s entire output can be seen and assessed. It will, we believe, have a profound effect on the perception of his paintings.

Among the many newly discovered paintings is the first of the Screaming Popes, an infamous series inspired by Bacon’s obsession with Diego Velázquez’s painting of Pope Innocent X. Prior to Harrison’s undertaking, it was believed at Head VI (1949) was the first of the series. Harrison discovered the earlier work in a warehouse.

The Catalogue Raissone is the first catalog of Bacon’s work since the mid-career catalog published in 1964 by John Rothenstein and Ronald Alley, which contains only 27 paintings in color and, according to The Guardian, “was difficult to publish because Bacon was so difficult and uncooperative.” To this Harrison added: “[Rothenstein and Alley] had the singular difficulty of having Bacon alive, I didn’t suffer from that.”

Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raissone will be published by Heni Publishing in April 2016. The limited edition contains over 900 illustrations in five hard-bound volumes. It will retail for £1,000.



Chad Felix is the Manager of Direct Sales and Library Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.