A High Court action brought by the estate of the artist Francis Bacon against his former gallery has been settled, lawyers announced yesterday.
The estate had sued Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd and Marlborough International Fine Art (Mifa), based in Liechtenstein, which had vigorously defended the action.
Bacon, one of Britain's greatest 20th-century artists, was represented by the international Marlborough gallery from 1958 until 1992 when he died in Spain from a heart attack, at the age of 82.
The estate took legal action, saying it was seeking a "proper accounting from Marlborough, so as to be able to establish that there was a fair balance struck between the interests of the gallery and Bacon".
Marlborough said it had enjoyed a "frank, close and mutually beneficial" relationship with the artist for 34 years.
A statement from the solicitors Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer yesterday said: "The trial need not now proceed. Marlborough will release to the estate all documents still in their possession that belong to Bacon or his estate. Each side will pay its own costs."
The statement continued: "Professor Brian Clarke, the executor, was under a duty to investigate the concerns as to the relationship between Bacon and Marlborough, which he has discharged.
"It is with sadness that the estate has to announce that the sole beneficiary of the estate, John Edwards, has very recently been diagnosed as suffering from a serious form of lung cancer. This settlement has been agreed by the estate, against this background and on the basis of Professor Clarke's assessment of the merits of the case in the light of documents and witness evidence released by Marlborough in the latter part of last year as part of the litigation process."
Professor Clarke said: "I am glad that the litigation has settled. We are now going forward with our long-planned establishment of the John Edwards Charitable Foundation, which will be for the furtherance of the study of Francis Bacon and his work."
Sources involved in the settlement said: "Because of the length of time involved since Bacon died and since the litigation was begun, both sides were finding it extremely difficult to find evidence to back up their side of the claim.
"Coupled with that, when the news came that John Edwards was seriously ill it was decided that talks would begin with a view to reaching an amicable settlement. Since Mr Edwards is the sole beneficiary there seemed little point in entering into potentially acrimonious litigation. Each side will pay its own costs and both parties will walk away."
It is understood from other sources that no money will change hands as part of the settlement. This will be seen as a vindication of the Marlborough's claim that it had treated Bacon fairly.
On the side of Professor Clarke, it is understood there is considerable satisfaction because during the legal process a number of paintings were recovered and vast quantities of correspondence and documents relating to the life of the artist were handed over by the gallery that will interest art historians for generations to come.