A newly discovered diary found during research for a major biography of the painter Francis Bacon has uncovered new information about this important artist’s early career as a designer and furniture maker. Little was known about Its author, Eric Allden, other than they shared an address for two years during the early 1930s. Allden had been a civil servant before meeting Bacon, and as a cultural attaché at the British Embassy in Peking. He was twenty-three years older than Bacon when they first met, by chance, on a ferry from Dover to Calais in 1929, and immediately formed a close bond. Allden’s interest in Bacon and his work is made evident in his diary. It records facts and insights that challenge some of the long-established myths surrounding Bacon’s early life. It also provides details about his early work as a designer of rugs. Whether this relationship was more than just a friendship has not been discussed in the article and hopefully will be revealed in the book.
The Burlington Magazine has published an article, titled ‘Bacon’s Beginnings’ and based on this discovery, which can be found in the January 2016 issue. Its editor the author Frances Spalding, remarks: ‘Leading museums tried hard over the years to get information out of Bacon about his early work as a designer and he refused to collaborate. But Allden was his companion at this time, and witnessed some of the negotiations that went on in the making of this work.’ The diary came to light when Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, authors of the forthcoming biography of Bacon, hired researcher James Norton to do a comprehensive internet and archival search of early Bacon acquaintances. Stevens and Swan won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography in 2005 for their de Kooning: An American Master.
Stevens and Swan’s biography marks a new, more scholarly approach to Bacon’s life and art. In so doing, they are challenging the mythologies which have grown up around this artist, some of which were partly of his own making. Stevens and Swan’s biography is not ‘authorised’ but they were given a research grant by the Estate of Francis Bacon and have worked closely with the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. Their eagerly awaited book will be published in the fall of 2017 by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S., Harper Collins in the U.K. and also in Italy, and will follow the publication of a five-volume catalogue raisonné of Bacon’s paintings in April 2016.