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On Francis Bacon

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The 1959 Francis Bacon exhibition was popular with Chicago artists like George Cohen, Leon Golub, Seymour Rosofsky, and Cosmo Campoli, though not particularly with the collectors. Bacon's work had been exhibited only once before in the United States, in a small exhibition at Durlacher Brothers in New York in 1953. I had never met Bacon, but on trips to London I accumulated 14 of his best works, dating from 1948 to 1956. I told Bacon's dealer, Erica Brausen of the Hanover Gallery in London, about the exhibition. She phoned me and said that Bacon wanted to attend the opening. I thought that was a great idea. A bit later, however, I was told that Bacon was eagerly anticipating his Chicago visit, that I was expected to line up some young boys for him, and that I should be a bit wary lest he use a little knife he carried around to slash any earlier painting he felt like disowning. Whether any of this was true or not, I panicked. There were already three Bacons in Chicago, including one of his masterpieces, Figure With Meat, 1954, in the Art Institute, and I didn't want any of them slashed. As for the young boys, I had not, nor have I still, reached that level of sophistication. As the weeks passed before the opening, I was getting less and less sleep. In the end I managed, how diplomatically I was never sure, to have Brausen discourage Bacon from coming. The Bacon exhibition was a magnificent Grand Guignol of trapped, choking, screaming men and beasts. The artists returned again and again to see it. But of the 14 paintings, and despite the fact that they were priced from $900 to $1,300, only one was sold, Study for Portrait VI, 1953, for $1,300.

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