44th Annual Meeting – Paintings Session, May 15, 2016, “The History, Technical Study, and Treatment of Francis Bacon’s Painting 1946” by Ellen Davis, Michael Duffy, Chris McGlinchey, and Lauren Klein

I am interested in artists’ involvement with the conservation of their pieces, and I love Francis Bacon’s paintings so I was happy when I saw that this presentation needed a blogger.
Francis Bacon considered Painting 1946 to be a break-through work.  It was purchased by MoMA in1948 two years after it was painted.  Because Bacon used pastel ground in water as well as oil paint, the painting almost immediately had issues with the media flaking and fading.
In 1959 and again in 1971 Bacon proposed scraping down the pastel and repainting the background.  In 1959 the museum was interested in this option, but for unclear reasons, Bacon did not end up reworking the piece.  In 1971 before Bacon’s retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris, Bacon again offered to repaint the background.  This time MoMA did not want the artist to address the issues with his piece, but agreed that the painting needed conservation.
Before the Paris retrospective, conservator Jean Volker consolidated with gelatin and inpainted with crushed pastel.  Francis Bacon was thrilled with the results and believed that the painting had been given a new life.  He decided that he even liked the faded colors better.
Over the years, the pastel inpainting faded and no longer matched the original, gelatin consolidation residues turned gray, and there was continued flaking.  The painting again needed treatment. Given Bacon’s satisfaction with the 1971 results, it was decided that the goal should be to return the piece to its post-1971 treatment state, but using more stable materials.
Ellen Davis’ treatment involved removing the gelatin aqueously through tissue followed by silicone solvent cyclomethicone D5 (to avoid tide lines).  Lifting paint was consolidated with TRI-Funori.  Where possible the faded inpainting was reduced mechanically. The new inpainting was carried out with more light-fast pastels.
As Davis noted at the end of her presentation, this painting can only be as stable as its original materials.  It is fortunate that it is in a collection where it can be carefully monitored.