Bacon fragments (left) and Todd's originals (right)

Slashed Francis Bacon paintings to fetch £100,000

Canvases used by an amateur painter prove valuable as Bacon fragments on reverse are authenticated

When the amateur artist Lewis Todd first sold his portraits, still lifes and landscapes, at a Cambridge market in the 1950s, his asking price would have only amounted to a few pounds.  Next month, a selection of six Todd canvases is expected to fetch £100,000. Yet this sharp increase hasn't come about through some dramatic reappraisal of Todd's life and work, but instead thanks to a close examination of the canvases themselves.

The Francis Bacon Authentication Committee has stated that work on the reverse of five of the canvases was by the British expressionist painter, Francis Bacon, who died in 1992. British auction house, Ewbank's, which plans to auction the works on March 20, says at least one of the paintings was cut from a canvas, which formed part of Bacon's Screaming Popes series.

As auction house owner Chris Ewbank explained, "The discovery of these fragments of Bacon painted canvases represent an important moment in art history. It was no secret that Lewis Todd once used discarded canvases from Francis Bacon's studio, it was even mentioned in Todd's obituaries, but to have identified authenticated Bacon pieces which feature one of Bacon's haunting pope portraits is incredible."


The Bacon fragments on the reverse
The Bacon fragments on the reverse

Todd was given the Bacon canvases by a Cambridge gallery-owner after World War II, on the understanding that the aspiring artist would slice them up and practice his own paintings on the reverse. Todd, who died in 2006, worked as a graphic artist for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and painted oils in his spare time.

Intriguingly, this is not the first time Ewbank's has sold discarded Bacon canvases. In 2007, the auction house sold a collection rescued from a skip outside the artist's London studio by Bacon's friend, Mac Robertson. These fetched £1.13 million collectively. 


Todd's paintings
Todd's paintings

As Ewbank himself speculates, these sales "also leads to the intriguing speculation that there are more examples of Bacon's paintings in existence used by Todd for his own purposes, while someone, somewhere might even have a painting by Todd with a pope's head on the back of it."

If you've a Cambridgeshire oil painting in your collection, do check and for invaluable insight into the life and works of Francis Bacon, consider the excellent Bacon book in our excellent Phaidon Focus series.