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The estate accuses Marlborough Fine Art, who were Bacon’s dealers from 1958 until his death in 1992 aged 82, of taking an unfair commission rate of up to 70 per cent on the artist’s paintings, of issuing 47 series of lithographic prints valued at £25-30m, for which the artist received a flat fee of $40,000, and of not satisfactorily demonstrating payment for up to 33 paintings by Bacon. The estate questions the role of Valerie Beston, a Marlborough director who, according to Geoffrey Vos QC, acting for the claimants, could be described as Bacon’s “keeper or minder” and was responsible for “the removal of the paintings that he completed to its own gallery as soon as the paint was dry”.

Michael Lyndon-Stanford QC, representing Marlborough, who were seeking to have the case thrown out, told Mr Justice Patten: “This action is a try-on. What the claimant wants to do is achieve a living action and he doesn’t care how he does it.” In an official statement, Marlborough Fine Art described their relationship with Francis Bacon as “frank, close and mutually beneficial”.

If the judge allows the case to proceed, it will provide a highly revealing insight into what Vos described as the “relationship between Britain’s greatest 20th century artist and his dealer”.

The claim, scheduled to be heard in January, is estimated to run as high as £100m. The beneficiary of the estate is John Edwards, 51, a former pub landlord whom Bacon befriended “like a son” during the last 18 years of his life and to whom he left £10m. Mr Edwards now lives in Thailand.