Francis Bacon’s Former Handyman Was Going to Give a Trove of His Art to Tate. After a Feud, He Offered It to France Instead


Barry Joule, Francis Bacon’s friend and former handyman, has cancelled plans to donate a collection of work by the artist to Tate out of frustration with the museum’s failure to exhibit an earlier gift.

Joule will instead give the additional trove—which includes more than 100 drawings, 10 paintings, and 12 hours of taped conversations between the two men—to the French National Archives at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

“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 forever,” Joule told the Guardian.

Tate has declined to comment directly on the decision, but a museum spokesperson told the paper: “We can confirm we have received the letter and will be responding to it.”

Joule donated some 1,200 sketches, photographs, and documents from Bacon’s London studio to Tate in 2004. At the time, the museum announced that Joule had “kept a small number of items, which he will bequeath to Tate at a later date.”

The relationship soured in 2021, when Joule threatened to sue the museum, alleging that the institution had breached its donation agreement by failing to exhibit his original gift.

Tate, for its part, claims it adhered to the deal, which required it to catalogue and display the works. Since 2004, the materials have been available for public access in its archive, and items were exhibited in a display at Tate Britain in 2019, though they were notably left out of the gallery’s major Bacon exhibition in 2008.

Part of the issue may be a question regarding the artworks’ authenticity—last September, the Francis Bacon estate published a study on the Barry Joule Archive with the following quote from a Tate curator: “the hand/s that applied the marks to the material may not have included Bacon to any substantial degree.”

Joule lived near Bacon’s studio, and the two were friends from 1978 until the artist’s death in 1992. He now lives in France.

The recorded conversations between the two men, which sometimes waxed philosophical, include an exchange in which Bacon, despite his commercial and critical success, insisted “I am not rich!”

On another tape, Bacon derided the 1988 sale of Jasper Johns 1959 abstract painting False Start for $17 million as “such a ridiculous thing” and “just a… number of diagonal scratches going in different directions in red and blue.”

Tate did not immediately respond to an inquiry from Artnet News, and Joule could not be reached for comment.

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