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French museum ordered to return Bacon painting

A court ordered a French museum on Thursday to return a painting by the Irish-born painter Francis Bacon to his heirs.

The work, a homage to an earlier self-portrait by Vincent Van Gogh had been loaned to the museum of the Van Gogh Foundation in Arles, southern France, in 1991, a year before Bacon’s death, and was never returned.

Bacon’s work, “Homage to Van Gogh”, was a version of the Dutch Expressionist’s “The Painter on the Road to Tarascon”, which was painted near Arles in 1888.

An appeals court in nearby Aix-en-Provence ordered the foundation to return the painting to the heirs of John Edwards, Bacon’s friend and main heir who died in 2003.

This overturned an earlier court ruling that the painting could stay with the museum, which claimed it had evidence that Bacon meant to give it the work to keep.

“The painting was not given as a gift, nor was there any promise of a gift,” the court said in its ruling. “The association must therefore give back the painting without delay.”

The director of the foundation Mary Gruber said she was “in shock” after the ruling but added: “We will now bury the hatchet” with the heirs.

The foundation’s lawyer Bernard Jouanneau said a further appeal was possible but for the moment it would have to give the painting back.

The picture is currently on display in an exhibition at the foundation’s museum in Arles.