Italian police have seized 500 drawings and collages reputed to be by the Irish born artist Francis Bacon. The stash also included €3m worth of cash and valuables.
According to an official police statement, five people have been implicated with criminal conspiracy to “authenticate and circulate fake works of art, fraud and money laundering”.
A key suspect in the case is a collector from Bologna. He previously has been a person of interest in two separate investigations, starting in 2018. Police launched the first after discovering “numerous works of art including two drawings bearing the signature of Francis Bacon.
The statement said that the tax authorities opened the second investigation, which found “financial irregularities with foreign currencies incompatible with his legal sources of income”.
In an article written in 2017 for Artlyst by the renowned art critic Edward Lucie-Smith, the following was stated; “In April 2016, a Gallery in Mayfair exhibited a selection of drawings and collages from the Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino collection of works by Francis Bacon. It created quite a stir in the press, as the collection remained unauthenticated by the Bacon estate and rejected as fakes by the author of the new Bacon catalogue raisonné.
The works are said to have been made between 1977 and 1992 and given to Cristiano in Italy. They are described as in “temporary custody” of David Edwards, the brother of Bacon’s long-term lover, the late John Edwards, but are still owned by Ravarino.
Gallery owner, Alice Herrick, told the Art Newspaper at the time of her Mayfair exhibition, that around 600 drawings were given to Ravarino, one of the artist’s lovers, from 1977 until Bacon died in 1992.
The author of the catalogue raisonné of Bacon’s work, undertaken for the Francis Bacon Estate, has rejected the Ravarino works. In 2012 Martin Harrison told a Cambridge court that six drawings he had been shown were “pastiches, or even parodies, and profoundly disrespectful of Bacon’s authentic body of work”. To complicate matters, the works have subsequently been shown to several experts who have testified that the signatures could be correct, and the court has been unable to prove that the body of work is wrong.
Francis Bacon (1909-1992) is famous for his triptychs, one of which, “Three Studies of Lucian Freud”, sold for $142.4 million (120 million euros at today’s exchange rate) in 2013 at Christie’s in New York, making it one of the ten most expensive paintings ever sold at auction. The Irish-born artist was the son of horse breeders. He became one of the most important painters of the 20th century.
An openly gay man at a time when homosexuality was illegal, he was banished from his conservative family home by his father at 16. After that, he drifted through Berlin and Paris before establishing himself in London, with his formative years running parallel with some of the 20th century’s most profoundly disturbing events.