CAS Acquisition ‘Figure Study II’, 1946, by Francis Bacon, now on show at the Royal Academy

24 February 2022 By
Francis Bacon, Figure Study II, 1946. Courtesy of Huddersfield Art Gallery.
Francis Bacon, Figure Study I, 1946. Courtesy of National Galleries Scotland.
Robert Colquhoun, 'Woman with a Birdcage' 1948. Courtesy of Bradford Museums and Gallery.
Robert Macbryde, 'Woman with Cantaloupe', 1950, courtesy of Manchester City Galleries.

In the early months of 1946, Colin Anderson, the enlightened patron of artists and renowned generous supplier of ‘cash for paints’, purchased Figure Study II by Francis Bacon (1909-1992) from Alex Reid & Lefevre Gallery, at a group show for £176 (the equivalent of half a year’s average wage at the time and now valued upwards of £20 million).

Anderson was the chosen buyer for the CAS that year and this bold acquisition was the first work by the self-taught Irish-born artist to be purchased by the organisation. He bought soon after Bacon had destroyed most of his earlier work. He would have probably seen the picture in progress in 1945 as he often visited Bacon in his studio at 7 Cromwell Place, South Kensington.

It is also the first painting by the artist to enter a public collection in the UK when it was presented to Batley Art Gallery, now Huddersfield Art Gallery, Kirklees Museums and Galleries in 1952 – whilst Painting, 1946 was acquired via the great foster of post-war modern British artistic talent, Erica Brausen (1908-1992) by the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1948.

Figure Study II is now considered one of the most important acquisitions the CAS has made. And yet when it was requested for loan for an exhibition at Erica Brausen’s Hanover Gallery in 1950, the then CAS Secretary Denis Mathews was informed it had been mislaid! It was presumably in the depths of the Tate stores where the CAS would keep their purchases between lending them out on tour to regional venues and distributing them to a recipient museum as a gift. It did resurface in time for the artist’s solo autumn show that year.

It is now currently at the ‘Francis Bacon: Man and Beast’ (29 January – 17 April 2022) exhibition at the Royal Academy.

Its companion piece Figure Study I, 1946 (which incidentally does not actually feature a figure – only a trilby hat and tweed coat – although its original title was Study for the Human Figure at the Cross II) hung alongside at the Lefevre exhibition between 5 February – 3 March. It now belongs to the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, only acquired in 1998, having been owned by the ‘Marmalade Queen’, Gabrielle Keiller (1908-1995), a CAS committee member and a designated buyer in 1977 and 1979.

Shipping magnate and art collector Sir Colin Skelton Anderson (1904-1983) joined the CAS as a committee member in 1945 and remained until 1965. He later became its Honorary Treasurer and finally Chairman between 1956-60. He was also to be Chairman of the Royal College of Art (1956-60), the Tate Gallery (1960-67) and the Royal Fine Art Commission (1968-76).

His interest in art was fired by meeting Sir Kenneth Clark (1903-1980) as an undergraduate at Trinity College, Oxford in the early 1920s and by whom he had later been introduced to Graham Sutherland (1903-1980), both were lifelong friends. Whilst Anderson was Director of the Orient Line (later P&O) he commissioned young and upcoming artists to decorate his ships between 1937 and 1960. Many of them are now household names of modern British art, like John Armstrong, Ceri Richards, John Minton, Edward Bawden, Winfred Nicholson, John Nash, Kenneth Rowntree, Julian Trevelyan, and John Piper.

In 1946 Anderson acquired over 30 pieces for the CAS, including works on paper: by his notorious next-door neighbours, ‘the Roberts’ – Robert MacBryde’s Woman with a Cantaloupe (Manchester Art Gallery; CAS donated 1949) and Robert Colquhoun’s Woman with a Birdcage (Cartwright Hall, Bradford; CAS donated 1948) from the same Lefevre exhibition as the Bacon. Others included those by Carel Weight: La symphonie tragique (Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery; CAS donated 1946) as well as works by Alan Reynolds, Keith Vaughan, Mary Kessell and Mary Potter.

Sir Colin and his wife, Morna Campbell MacCormick, Lady Anderson (1906-1982) championed young artists in the aftermath of the second world war and for three decades – the Australian artist Sidney Nolan was also a favourite. In 1976 they gifted 17 important works to the CAS which were presented at their request to the Tate, Aberdeen Art Gallery, The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent and Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea.

Authored by Tania Adams, Collections Researcher