Too risqué for Iran, Bacon's 'lost' painting goes on show


For the past quarter of a century, a major painting by Francis Bacon has languished in a storeroom in Iran, its eroticism deemed too inflammatory for public display.

But now British art lovers are to get the chance to see the work which has been kept from Iranians. Tomorrow the extraordinary triptych Two figures lying on a bed goes on display after years of negotiations by the Tate.

The work is owned by the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, an institution originally founded by the wife of the last Shah of Iran and the holder of an extraordinary collection of Western paintings.

But it was one of dozens of depictions of nudes consigned to storage after the fundamentalists seized power in the 1979 revolution.

Like most younger Western academics, Stephen Deuchar, the director of Tate Britain, knew the work only through reproduction. So when he was on holiday in Iran in 2001, he naturally asked to take a look.

Even under the harsh fluorescent lighting of the underground store, it was striking. He asked whether he could borrow it. And the Iranian Ministry of Culture finally agreed.

Surveying the work on the walls of Tate Britain yesterday where it is the highlight of a new temporary Bacon display, he said that it was even more striking seen properly.

"When you saw it under the fluorescent lighting in the store, you could tell it was a strong work, but it looks very vibrant here. The lilac background is very surprising," he said.

Toby Treves, who has curated the display, said the work, which was painted in 1968 not long before it was sold to the Shah's wife, clearly showed a homoerotic strand of Bacon's work that was largely ignored.

"At the beginning of his fame after the war, there was a concentration on the existential aspect of the work, but not much discussion of the quite frank eroticism in many of the paintings," he said. "This triptych is probably the most overtly erotic of the paintings in this room."

The work shows figures in two flanking panels who appear to spy on two naked men lying on a bed in the central panel, with a splatter of white paint flung across them. "It is deeply ambiguous and deliberately so," Mr Treves said.

The Iranian loan is hung alongside another celebrated triptych, his Three Studies for Figures at the Base of the Crucifixion, dating from 1944, and a work apparently based on photographs of the former cricketer David Gower. Bacon triptychs now command as much as £6m at auction.

The generosity of the Iranian museum and its director, Dr Ali Reza Sami Azar, was returned earlier this year when the Tate lent a Bill Woodrow to an exhibition of British sculpture organised by the British Council.

And extraordinarily, it now looks as if the Bacon may even be seen in Tehran itself. Dr Sami Azar is hoping to include Two figures lying on a bed in an exhibition provisionally entitled Figurative Tendencies in Western Art when it is returned to Iran in the autumn.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine