Sunday, March 14, 2010

exclusive-the mystery of the lost Francis Bacon treasure

 The Thai seaside resort of Pattaya, a 2 hour drive from Bangkok carries a reputation of unbridled cheap sex that is a magnet for tourists. It's a much maligned city by the foreign  tabloid media .

Rarely mentioned is that Pattaya also hosts a huge expatriate community from Europe and the Pacific rim, and the holiday homes of the rich upper classes of Thailand including the much loved Thai royal family who have their own wing in the grand Royal Cliff  Hotel.
Chonburi, the province that hosts Pattaya is one of the fastest growing areas of Thailand and now boasts some of the most beautiful modern architecture in Asia. There is a rapidly  growing vista of luxury hotels and condominiums eagerly snapped up by foreigners for probably a quarter of the price they would pay in their homeland. The area boasts dozens of fashionable restaurants and nightclubs. Amidst the sleaze and easy sex for sale is a glamorous lifestyle and  nightlife that rivals anywhere the planet. Tourists  can spend a month at a 5 star beach side hotel and play golf every day on some of the nicest courses in the world when it may be unaffordable back home.
Bacon & William Burroughs-photo by John Minihan

Into this fascinating scenario steps John Edwards in 1995, the lover of the famous Irish born painter Francis Bacon who during  his lifetime become a painter noted for paintings that sold for higher prices than any other living artist.   The last recorded sale of a Bacon painting was in 2008, Triptych, produced in 1976,which sold for almost $US83M.
 Born in Dublin in 1909 to an English mother and an Australian father who claimed to be a direct descendant of Sir Francis Bacon, the Elizabethan philosopher, Bacon became renowned for his half human-half grotesque portraits, often of friends. Margaret Thatcher once described him as "that man who paints those dreadful pictures". He was one of the characters that peopled the now vanished Bohemian atmosphere of London's Soho  and the legendary drinking clubs of the 1970's like the famous Colony Club or Muriel's as it was known.  Bacon's paintings are often violent works, with the subject distorted or in the process of moving. His subjects are committing violence, having sex, taking drugs, or suffering the effects of a life of excess. Bacon did not belong to any art movement. He developed his own style.

When Bacon died in Spain in 1992 he left his estate valued at almost $30M to his last lover Edwards. His artistic works were left to a variety of institutions including the Tate. Edwards got the fortune and they got the art. But did they get all the art ?

It's been long rumoured that Edwards, a handsome young East Ender when he met Bacon, may have squirreled away up to 8 Bacon originals which at today's prices could be valued at up to $600M. In the fairly close knit gay community of Pattaya stories abound of visitors attending parties at Edward's magnificent sea-side penthouse and country estate and seeing Bacon art works on the walls. A local British resident known to tSS and who was a  friend of Edwards confirms seeing different Bacon paintings at his penthouse during visits.

A French interior designer who has showrooms in Pattaya and Paris and has decorated homes for some of the world's top pop stars and Thai royal family members has 2 Bacon paintings bought whilst the artist was alive at more affordable prices. tSS  met the decorator in 2008 in his showroom packed with French antiques and he confirmed initial negotiations with Edwards to purchase one painting reached a point but he withdrew because although he believed the painting to be genuine, he got cold feet about the legal process. He wished to remain anonymous.

Edwards died in Pattaya in 2006 from cancer. He had purchased homes for each of his extended working class family in Britain and lived lavishly in Thailand. He took a number of Thai male lovers but he had one particular favourite lover for the last five years of his life who was devoted to Edwards. It is not known if Edwards ever sold any of the reputed Bacon paintings he still possessed. It's very unlikely he would have  needed the cash. The money Bacon left him was enough to last the 14 years he survived Bacon.
But the rumour persists in Pattaya and several people have set out to uncover the truth.

The tale goes that Edwards, towards the end of his life entrusted 4 Bacon originals to his Thai lover with instructions that he secure them as far away from Pattaya as possible which he did, in the village he came from in Northern Thailand. Those who have set out on the trail of the missing paintings include at least 2 adventurers, a London art dealer backed by a US syndicate who hired a party of local Thai investigators and members of the Russian mafia who have extensive links in every facet of criminal activity in Thailand.

$500M in wallpaper ?
All efforts appear to have drawn a blank. One of the main problems being that no-one, apart from Edwards knew the real name of his Thai lover. That lover vanished after Edwards death. 
Is there, somewhere in the remote regions of Thailand, a  Thai village where in a simple Thai house on stilts perhaps amongst the mangroves, a Thai family- grandparents, father, mother, children  chatting and gossiping the evening away as is their wont over dinner whilst without their knowledge on their walls sits a fortune valued at nearly 500 million dollars ?