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  Disturbed Ground:


   Francis Bacon, Traumatic Memory

                         and the Gothic1



                                            FIONNA BARBER






Francis Bacon's relationship with definitions of Irishness has always been somewhat problematic. His Anglo-Irish origins, homosexuality and a reputation for challenging paintings have all in different ways contributed to degrees of difficulty in situating his work within the discourses of Irish art history. However, approaching the centenary of his birth, this is a relationship that needs to be re-examined. Bacon, like other Irish mod? ernist artists such as Louis le Brocquy, William Scott or EE. McWillliam, spent his working life outside Ireland. In Bacon's case this was mostly in London with occasional forays to the Mediterranean and once, memorably, to the artists' colony at St Ives in Cornwall.2 Yet in comparison with any of these other artists Bacon's work sits uneasily with its Irish identifications. One reason is that, like Samuel Beckett, his work avoids any degree of explicit Irish reference. Or rather, the traces that remain are deeply embedded, suppressed narratives whose signs emerge within the staging of Bacon’s paintings where they figure as uncanny echoes of an almost forgotten past. Francis Bacon’s figurative paintings of the late 1940s and early 1950s, the terrifying visions of screaming popes and other similarly disturbing figure studies, have already been pulled into numerous interpretative contexts. Critical readings of these images have repeatedly focused on such varying issues as Cold War anxieties, a pathological fascination with violence, or engagement with art-historical precedents such as Velazquez or Munch. All of these are certainly relevant; Bacon’s uncomfortable, challenging paintings were perceived as a figurative counterpart to the so-called Geometry of Fear’ dominating British art in the post-war years. On another level the conflation of pleasure and pain remained a feature of his approach to the human body throughout his life. Through his handling, the painted male body became a figure of both terror and desire, a counterpart to the sadomasochistic sex that featured so consistently in his personal life.

Bacon had a continual love of artifice in both life and painting; even into old age he prepared for a night on the town by putting on pan-stick make? up and colouring his hair with boot polish. A similar staging of scenarios within his paintings to produce disturbing emotional resonances begins to suggest a set of concerns that can be identified as Gothic. As a cultural mode literary, cinematic or painterly the Gothic also involves dizzying temporal juxtapositions of archaic and modern, registering in perverse and uncanny terms the superseding of one order by another. This also has a relevance for readings of Bacon, and not just in his fascination with the image of the Pope. Paintings such as Pope I (1951) were, after all, produced in a predominantly Anglican post-war British culture, where the depiction of the head of the Catholic Church was increasingly anachronistic. Yet to read these paintings in relation to the Gothic can also open onto a further cultural formation in decline during Bacon’s youth in Ireland. The Gothic mise en scene requires the construction of an antiquated, outmoded space, within which the irrational is staged and the hidden is revealed.3 In the pictorial spaces of Bacon’s paintings of this period the decaying milieu of Anglo-Irishness leaves recurrent traces, returning not as reverie but as nightmare.

Bacon’s biographers mainly Michael Peppiatt but also Andrew Sinclair have paid careful attention to his Irish origins.4 The artist’s early life also figures in another key source for information about his preoccupations, the series of interviews with the art critic David Sylvester, who championed Bacon throughout his career. Despite their appearance of a coherent auto? biographical seamlessness, these are in fact a discursive collage of transcripts from conversations on different occasions, in some cases taking place over a number of years.5 Through these sources and others the main features of his early years in Ireland emerge. Francis Bacon was born in 1909 in Dublin, in a nursing home in Lower Baggott Street, to a mother from a wealthy family in the north of England and a father who was a retired army captain. After leaving the army, Eddy Bacon set up a business breeding racehorses near the Curragh of Kildare, a location known as much for its stud farms as for the military garrison. After the First World War, which the Bacons spent in London, they returned to Ireland, where the young Francis Bacon spent his time either in the family home at Farmleigh, in Kildare, or the nearby Straffan Lodge, where his grandmother lived. Yet this was a very different Ireland, dominated by the threat of violence during the War of Independence both towards his class and more specifically his family Bacon’s maternal grandmother was married at this time to the district inspector of police for Kildare. He later identified the period of his early life in Ireland as violent in the military sense’,6 and would recall terrifying incidents from that time that had a direct effect on his family. This all came to an end at the age of sixteen, however, when Eddy Bacon discovered his son’s homosexuality and expelled him from the family home; he never returned to Ireland.

Within these biographical accounts, detailed and informative as they are, Bacon’s Anglo-Irish background is relegated in comparison to the difficult relationship with his father as a source of the violence of both his later life and work, and becomes a kind of supporting chorus for the unresolved Oedipal scenario played out within the paintings of the late 1940s and early 1950s. The fact’ of Bacon’s Irishness, in other words, is subordinate to the universal drama enacted before our eyes, and which was itself the cause of his growing reputation as a major British artist. He was also, right from the outset, perceived as an artist who could be readily incorporated into trends of European modernism; in 1949 the critic Robert Melville placed Bacon in a pantheon that included such figures as Eisenstein, Dostoevsky, Kafka and Picasso.7

On the other hand, Bacon’s incorporation into canons of Irish art has been far from straightforward. Inadmissible during his lifetime due to his overt homosexuality and the difficult nature of his paintings, Bacon’s death in 1992 began a process of gradual acceptance that was finally validated by the acquisition of his relics and their public display in the Dublin City Gallery: The Hugh Lane from 2001 onwards. Although he never revisited Ireland in person, the artist made a different kind of return with the uncanny reconstruction of his final London studio in the spaces of an Irish art museum. This was 7 Reece Mews, where he lived and worked for the last thirty years of his life; transposed to Dublin it becomes both shrine and simulacrum of the artist’s presence.8 The reconstruction promises a degree of authenticity through its tantalising glimpses of a space that claims, impossibly, to be the same as that which Bacon once inhabited and painted. Yet the conditions surrounding Bacon’s reappearance in Dublin also have Gothic affinities, transforming him into the exiled revenant come to claim his birthright. The reconstructed studio now sits within a building steeped in connotations of a lost Anglo-Irishness. Commissioned from the leading neoclassical architect William Chambers in 1763 by the first Earl of Charlemont, the residence was adapted in 1929 to house the collection bequeathed on somewhat controversial terms to the nation by Hugh Lane.9 As the nephew of Augusta Gregory, Lane’s intention was to assemble a collection of both European and Irish art that would play a significant role in Ireland’s cultural revival. Bacon’s studio is now located in relation to a collection that on one hand evokes a prelapsarian past: the Manets and Orpens, although daring for Dublin in the early twentieth century, were also examples of fairly conservative British Edwardian taste that had little time for the contemporary avant-gardism of Picasso or Matisse. On the other hand, the subsequent acquisitions of the gallery ? works by Henry, Keating and le Brocquy among them represent a somewhat uneasy narrative of Irish art over a period of decolonisation. The situation of the studio in spatial proximity to this collection posits a relationship that is far from secure; rather than ratifying Bacon’s status with regard to Irish art it can also be seen as raising troublesome questions about canons and cultural identity.

Recognising the significance of Francis Bacon in relation to Irish cultural contexts is important, but it should be accompanied by an awareness of the danger of reinstating another insidiously regressive trope of privilege ? the heroic male Irish artist. The position from which we can now interrogate categories of the subject in Irish art is in no small part a product of the feminist landmining of the canon in the 1980s. The drive to discursively produce new and interesting masculinities, therefore, should by no means be taken as a licence to overlook continuing feminist interrogations of both history and art practice. The aim, then, is to prise Francis Bacon out of more familiar British and European frames of reference, and into another range of associations that are predominantly concerned with Irishness as an already problematised category. The Gothic, in this reading, becomes a dark and perverse filter through which the paintings begin to suggest a destabilisation of tropes of Irishness that include both the nostalgic fetishisation of the past and the predominance of a heteronormative masculinity.


Pictorial space and the staging of terror

But first we need to look at the paintings. In the late 1940s and early 1950s Francis Bacon produced a cluster of works focused around the screaming figure. Although these are images of male subjects, their sources include two other representations of terrified women: the mortally wounded nurse in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, and the mother desperately trying to protect her child in Poussin’s painting The Massacre of the Innocents (1630? 31) that Bacon saw in Chantilly at an early stage of his career.10 The screaming figures were the paintings that made his reputation, albeit as a difficult and challenging artist. Yet they were also produced during a period of emotional and domestic stability, when Bacon lived in an unconventional ménage in Cromwell Place with his older lover, Eric Hall, and his former nanny, Jessie Lightfoot.

Not all of Bacon's male figures from this period are screaming. Some have facial expressions of unease rather than overt abjection such as Head III, 1949, or Pope I, which was part of the major series engaging with Velazquez' Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650) begun in the late 1940s. In the first painting, a seemingly elderly man peers out of a murky background over his left shoulder; the figure only barely emerges from the greyish green wash covering the picture surface. The pince-nez glasses through which his eyes gaze at the viewer suggest him to be a bureaucrat, a representative of some nameless authority, although this power is also under? mined through the reference to the savagery of the nurse's fate in Battleship Potemkin. Made vulnerable through his apparent nakedness, this is an unclothed version of the men in suits Bacon painted throughout his career, such as Study for a Portrait (1953) or the later Study for a Portrait (1991). The suggestion of civility undercut by the threat of violence here is also a taste of the full-blown confrontation with the cataclysmic destruction of authority that was to come The same anticipatory gaze also appears on the face of the figure of Pope I, although there have been a number of key shifts that affect the meaning of the work. All in all, this is a more complex image than the earlier figure study, not only through the delineation of the papal throne that ties the image back to Velazquez but the sketching out of the architectural framework that surrounds the figure. This contains elements familiar from other Bacon paintings ? the box that focuses and encloses, the indications of an interior, here classicised but also as suggestive and as insubstantial as a stage set, and the curved armature that sweeps across the painting, separating the viewer from whatever emotional drama is being played out behind it. In its sequel, Pope II (Fig. 1 [see colour section, p. 157]), further shifts in pose occur ? and then there is the introduction of the scream. Imagined sound seems to reverberate throughout its pictorial space, both contained and amplified by the edges of the painting. This remarkable image has also been identified as the first clear articulation in Bacons work of the full-throated, terrified scream, depicted in all its psychological intensity.11

Why the Pope? David Sylvester suggested to Bacon that the Pope (il Papa) symbolised his father, as the basis for his obsession with Velazquez’ portrait.12 Both the Pope and Velazquez represented figures of authority, a father to be rebelled against. David Mellor has developed these issues further in an essay that convincingly locates Bacon’s concerns in a history of twentieth-century British painting. Mellor identifies the importance of both Velazquez and Spain for earlier British painters; for avant-garde artists such as Wyndham Lewis and Edward Burra, Spain became a paradigm of the primitive-modern, one based around stark violence, blackness and complexity .13 As he also observes, the addition of Eisenstein’s pince-nez to Bacon’s versions of Velazquez, turn the face of the seventeenth century Pope into the then current Pope of nineteen-fifty [Pius XII]’.14 But there are other aspects of Bacon that repeatedly escape this framing within a British cultural context. What the Pope may have meant for Bacon would have also been determined at some level by his early life as an Anglo-Irish Protestant, whose dominating and distant father conformed also by being a staunch Anglican. The visualisation of the terrifying yet terrified Papa thus becomes the restaging of a relationship with another equally threatening patriarch. Already weighted with a deep emotional ambivalence, the abjection of temporal and spiritual power becomes even more significant.

In Pope II, the Holy Father’s grasp on authority and temporal power are in turn savagely blasted away by a scream so elemental it seems to come from some place before and outside of language. Looking at this work, it is tempting at this point to let go of the frame, to allow yourself to tumble headlong into that pit of emotion. But this Gothic disintegration of boundaries is a staged effect, one that is manoeuvred through pictorial strategy ? the uneasy relationship between figure and ground or the murky, purplish-blue coloration. There is also a temporal oscillation characteristic of Gothic modes. It only takes a few brush strokes for the figure to emerge out of the gloom, slipping through the safety net of art historical reference to a seventeenth-century papal portrait, and pitched into a whole different set of connotations more recognisable as the traumas of modernity. Some years after its first appearance in Bacon’s work of the mid-1940s, for example, the box containing the figure in the related Study for a Portrait (1949) was also being compared to that surrounding Adolf Eichmann at his trial in Jerusalem, as representative of a similar architecture of containment.15

Yet this is a repeated scenario within which particular representational strategies generate an emotional effect one of pain, unease, anxiety. We need to be careful not to suggest intuitive homologies between what the viewer experiences and what the painter feels. As J.R.R. Christie and Fred Orton have warned, with reference to Wittgenstein: inner experience only enters consciousness when it finds a language; whereof we can not speak, thereof we must remain silent’.16 This is a useful proviso for engagements with expression in modernist painting, particularly with regard to the construction of artistic subjectivities that privilege categories of emotional suffering. It is not just a case of identifying some kind of primary core of experience that then inevitably emanates through the painted surface. Causality, particularly in the case of Francis Bacon, is a much more complex matter, not helped by the artist’s repeated insistence on the denial of narrative in favour of a direct impact of his paintings on the viewer. When asked by David Sylvester about the violence of his paintings in relation to the violence he had experienced in his life, Bacon was at pains to deny any direct connection:

But this violence of my life, the violence which I’ve lived amongst, I think it’s very different to the violence in painting. When talking about the violence of paint, it’s nothing to do with the violence of war. It’s to do with an attempt to remake the violence of reality itself. And the violence of reality is not only the simple violence meant when you say a rose or something is violent, but it’s the violence also of the suggestions with? in the image itself which can only be conveyed through paint.17

However, as Julian Bell has suggested, Bacon’s claims of transcendent immediacy’ are also reminiscent of handsome modernist reverie, at odds with equally strong countervailing instincts’.18 There are always levels of meaning beyond those that artists themselves suggest and attempt to curate. The viewer’s engagement with these dark and disturbing interiors takes place at a level of sensation experienced within a continuous present, yet it is also predicated upon the suggestion of a past where terrible things may have happened.

Terrible, but not unspeakable, for that would deny not just the possibility but the necessity of their representation. Both the Gothic and psychoanalysis involve a recognition of an underlying terror that becomes articulated through irrational means.19 Drawing on Freud’s arguments in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Cathy Caruth has written of trauma as always the story of a wound that cries out, that addresses us in the attempt to tell us of a reality or truth that is not otherwise available’.20 Theories of trauma suggest that there are some events whose emotional effect on individuals is so extensive, so devastating, that they defy representation at the time that they are experienced. Representation comes only at the end of a period of latency, of silence, when the extent of the damage can no longer be denied. It is the act of representation, the moment of its utterance, that gives form to the initial pain in a way that was previously repressed. For Bacon, violence can only be conveyed through paint’, through the means of its representation. Even there, whatever it is that generates this terror sits right on the edge of the representable, on the threshold of abjection; the black cavern’ was how he described the screaming mouth.21 Yet the work of memory, including its traumatic form, is also a mode of representation, so in attempting to situate Francis Bacon’s work in relation to aspects of the past we are dealing with something that is always already mediated even before it enters into his paintings. In this case what is significant is the particular set of inflections of modernity that characterised the last days of the Anglo-Irish, and within which the artist grew up.


Anglo-Irishness and its discontents

According to Andrew Sinclair, in old age Francis Bacon was still very much the Anglo-Irish gentleman’.22 The rule of the Protestant Ascendancy, relatively secure since Cromwell’s campaigns, was coming to an end with the struggle for Ireland’s independence in the early years of the twentieth century. Like any colonial presence, their grip on this status had been somewhat shaky, resulting in the building of Big Houses that surveyed and dominated their territory, and whose walls could keep at bay the con taminatory effects of the native Irish rabble. To be Anglo-Irish was a position marked by its instability in more ways than one. Declan Kiberd, for example, notes that Elizabeth Bowen, like one of her heroines, was only truly comfortable when in the middle of the Irish Sea, somewhere between Holyhead and Dublin.23 Consequently, to discuss Bacon as Anglo-Irish is not quite the same as reclaiming him as an Irish’ painter; his work consistently resisted any kind of incorporation into the cultural politics of nationalism. Unlike other émigré artists from Ireland in London in the 1950s, such as the sculptor F.E. McWilliam or the painter Gerard Dillon neither of whom came from similar backgrounds to Bacon none of his work at any point engaged with issues of Irishness, at least on an overt level. And in any case his spectacularly flamboyant homosexuality would have been somewhat difficult to recuperate within the contemporary nationalist discourses of heroic masculinity that, within painting, showed themselves in the polarised gender roles of the west of Ireland peasantry.24

The Big House also had an ambivalent status in Bacon’s recollections, one that goes far beyond the external threat of danger from political forces. The bow windows at the rear of Farmleigh gave out onto an arc of space beyond, which Bacon later described as a possible source for the curved backgrounds of his triptychs.25 Yet Farmleigh, initially inhabited by his grandmother and her second husband Walter Loraine Bell, also became a site of terror; Bell was renowned for his sadism to both humans and animals. In other ways, too, Anglo-Irishness as it was lived in this environment was also potentially lethal to the young Francis Bacon. An asthma sufferer, his early years were spent in houses obsessed with hunting and dogs. The contact with animals produced an allergic reaction so severe that he was thought unlikely to survive; the future painter of such anguished, open-mouthed screams spent his childhood struggling against asphyxiation. It was also within this perilous domain that Bacon’s early sexual identity was formulated, firstly through an infatuation with the distant and authoritarian figure of his father, and subsequently through a series of sexual encounters with the grooms who worked in his father’s stables. One story often told of Bacon’s youth is that it was these grooms who, on occasions, allegedly horsewhipped the young boy on his father’s orders.26 Whether or not this was the case, the tale further helps to construct a reading of what Laura Mulvey has described as the terrible violence and irrationality of the father /villain ... at the heart of the Gothic genre.27

As any reader of Somerville and Ross’ Adventures of an Irish R.M. (1899) and its sequel will be aware, horses and the rituals of the hunt were deeply woven into the fabric of rural Anglo-Irish society. Hunting played a central role in maintaining social cohesion through ensuring a regular contact between families and hence distinguishing the Ascendancy from the ever present Irish other. To wilfully refuse to participate, as the young Bacon did, was to undermine the already threatened values of Anglo-Irishness from within. Not to hunt, but to have sex with the grooms and stable boys, only compounds the issue further. Yet there are further implications for the relationship between sexuality and ethnicity. In the nineteenth century Ernest Renan and Matthew Arnold had both produced a typology of ethnicity that distinguished between the emotionally unstable feminine’ Celt and the authoritative  ‘masculine’ force of the Teuton or Saxon. In her discussion of the fiction of Somerville and Ross, Roz Cowman has noted a further area of ambivalence in the constructions of their Anglo-Irish subjects, who can be  ‘androgynous amongst themselves, or male in opposition to the native Irish as female’.28 Although the Irish R.M. books were written at the turn of the century, they are set in an idyllic golden age by compari? son with the situation of the Anglo-Irish in the 1920s. In the Teutonic brutality of Eddy Bacon, the masculine politics of the garrison had further retrenched into a kind of survivalism; this was possibly not the best time for him to discover his son dressed up in his mother’s clothes. Infatuated with the violent and authoritarian father who rejected him, it is not hard to see the prototype for the sadomasochistic fascinations that characterised Francis Bacon’s relationships throughout his life ? given shape within the contained and suppressed passions of the Big House and worked through in the male bodies depicted in the paintings.


The Convulsion of Domesticity

The construction and regulation of domestic space clearly had some kind of fascination for Bacon, whose first appearance on the British cultural scene was not as a painter but a designer. However, in the streamlined sur? faces of his art deco interior photographed for The Studio in 1930 there is little sense of the profound anxiety erupting within the walls of his later pictorial spaces. As Christopher Reed has suggested, domesticity represse the meanings of modernism, in that the nostalgic evocation of the past suggests the temporality that modernism moves to deny.29 Yet the domestic can also be the site of unspoken trauma that eats away at modernism’s utopianism. In 1929 the Surrealist artist Max Ernst produced La Femme 100 Têtes, the first of his three collage novels, in which a visual narrative emerges through a sequence of images edited into chapters. The images themselves are derived from nineteenth-century illustrations from a variety of sources including trade catalogues, popular melodramas and scientific publications. Intermittently, the novel contains scenes of late-nineteenth century bourgeois interiors, which Hal Foster argues are  ‘reworked to suggest traumatic tableaux constitutive of subjectivity (e.g. primal scenes and castration fantasies)’.30 Scenarios of sexual desire and its repression are thus staged within a convulsive undoing of bourgeois domesticity. Although the mise en scene of Bacon’s paintings is different, there are some analogies. It is not too demanding to recognise the domestic sphere as the site of an Oedipal drama in Bacon’s early life, the theatre of his initial encounters with sexual desire and its brutal repression by his father. However, Foster also suggests that rather than being just examples of enactments of a psychic trauma, Ernst’s collages have a wider historical dimension as  ‘spatial allegories of a temporal crossing or historical change’.31 They evoke an outmoded moment in the formation of capitalism, when the late-nineteenth-century domestic interior attempted to serve as a refuge from the rampant industrialisation outside. Something of this can also be applied to Bacon’s uncanny spaces. Their fundamental unease can, perhaps, also be read as restaging an earlier historical moment: the last throes of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy, also the period of Bacon’s youth.

These images of screaming popes in murky interiors were painted in the studio at Cromwell Place, where Bacon lived with Eric Hall and Nanny Lightfoot in a parodie reconstruction of the family he had once lost. In his youth, the impoverished gentility of the Bacon household was maintained through solidly Anglo-Irish pursuits such as horse breeding. Although financial support also came from Erica Brausen, Bacon’s dealer at the Hanover Gallery from 1946 onwards, the Cromwell Place ménage managed a relative degree of stability through its criminality. Not only was homosexuality still illegal, but the household’s income came largely from running an illicit gambling den with the addition of Nanny Lightfoot’s occasional shoplifting. Michael Peppiatt has observed that until middle age Bacon’s sexual and emotional life was marked by a preoccupation with father figures, as if, after his banishment, he felt impelled to restore the original relationship, however traumatic, with another man’.32 As with Bacon’s earlier lover, the Australian artist Roy le Maistre who taught him the rudiments of painting, Hall provided a crucial level of support; it was within this context that Bacon was able to give form to the image of the terrifying patriarch. All of this, however, came to an end with Jessie Lightfoot’s death in 1951, followed by Bacon’s sudden ending of the relationship with Eric Hall and his leaving Cromwell Place, to be followed by years of instability. In the crisis caused by the destruction of yet another family there is the compulsion to repeat, re-enacting the trauma of earlier exile.

In eighteenth and nineteenthcentury Gothic literature, there is a preoccupation with both home and homelessness as those who are expelled from this domain incessantly wander the earth. The home itself becomes a place of danger and terror rather than its more normative associations of peace and security. As Kate Ferguson Ellis points out, the Gothic novel registers the violence, danger and breakdown of community’ that were continual challenges to a sense of bourgeois superiority, even during its formation within eighteenth-century capitalism.33 Similar conditions ? although with very different causes ? also accompanied the birth of the modern Irish state in the early years of the twentieth century. The Anglo-Irish presence, embodied by the Big House, served to maintain a self-consciousness as a class under siege, within a space separated from the lower orders of the Irish, who would only penetrate it as servants, or indeed, as grooms. As the wider territory became reclaimed and renamed within the public discourse of the emergent state, so too was the destruction enacted of the private domain of the Big House, where the power relations of domination and subordination of aristocratic or bourgeois Anglo-Irishness were themselves replicated. As Ellis argues, the Gothic novel of the eighteenth century foregrounded the house as fortress, while at the same time exposing its contradictions’.34These are tensions that in true dialectical fashion must burst apart and expel the hero, compelled to wander, like Melmoth, or indeed the young Francis Bacon. Cast out by his wrathful father after the shameful discovery of the truth’ of his sexuality, he drifts through London, Berlin or France, but not Ireland, to which he never returns.

The fluid and transgressive tendencies of the Gothic are particularly applicable to reading of Bacon’s work. The paintings also contain elements of visual Gothicism, in their cavernous spaces reminiscent of Piranesi’s cavernous dungeons. Their articulation of terror deploys the language of the Burkean sublime: despite David Mellor’s claim for the situation of Bacon’s work in relation to a revival of interest in the sublime within British post? war culture, this further level of significance in relation to Irish cultural formations should not be overlooked.35 These visual associations work in conjunction with the prevalent literary associations of the Gothic in Irish culture. As Luke Gibbons has noted, early-eighteenth-century Gothic modes position Catholicism as the spectral entity that returns to haunt the present. In Ireland, as distinct from the England of Walpole, Catholicism was already laden with associations of savagery and licence.36 For the besieged ex-colony of the Anglo-Irish in the 1920s these were associations that were still current.

The antithetical conflation of the screaming Pope, the head of the Catholic Church, with the terrifying and vengeful Protestant father thus acquires a further level of significance. Through its active restaging within the paintings, individual psychic trauma begins to acquire a dialectical relationship with a wider historical crisis, whose traces are also embedded within Bacon’s pictorial spaces. One part at least of the emotive power of these pictures is their conflation of terror from both within and without the house’s walls. On one hand, the threat of annihilation by the rabble, while on the other, the punishment for the fantasy of incest, the taboo that can undo the foundations of civilisation. Once again the end-game of the Anglo-Irish is played out, haunting the viewer with the spectral return of a culture whose moment is long past.


Notes and References

1 Versions of this essay were given as papers in the session Irish Studies and History of Art: Impossible Dialogues?’ organised by Lucy Cotter for Contestations, the Association of Art Historians thirty-third annual conference, University of Ulster, Belfast, 12-14 in April 2007, and at Irish Eyes: Visions and Revisions, Canadian Association of Irish Studies annual conference, University of Toronto, May 2008. This revised and expanded version has benefited from the valuable comments and observations of Aidan Arrowsmith, David Brett, Lucy Cotter and Eoin Flannery

2 Bacon rented a studio in St Ives from September 1959 to January 1960.

3 See, for example, the discussion of formative characteristics of the Gothic in Jerrold E. Hogle, Introduction: the Gothic in Western Culture’ in Hogle (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 1-20.

4 Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma (London: Orion Books, 1997); Andrew Sinclair, Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times (London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1993).

5 David Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon (London: Thames and Hudson, 2002).

6 Ibid., p. 81.

7 Robert Melville, Francis Bacon’, Horizon, 20: 120/121 (1949/1950), pp. 419-23.

8 See Barbara Dawson and Margarita Cappock, Francis Bacons Studio at the Hugh Lane (Dublin: Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, 2001) for an account of the studio’s reconstruction and a description of its contents.

9 For an account of the original design of Charlemont House, see Sean O’Reilly, Charlemont House - A Critical History’ in Elizabeth Mayes and Paula Murphy (eds.), Images and Insights (Dublin: Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, 1993), pp. 2?54.

10 Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s (New Haven and London: Yale University Press in association with Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, 2006), p. 35

11 This is suggested by Wieland Schmied in his penetrating study of these works by Bacon, Francis Bacon. Vier Studien zu einem Portrait (Berlin: Frolich and Kaufmann, 1985), discussed in Armin Zweite, Bacon’s Scream: Observations on Some of the Artist’s Paintings’ in Zweite (ed.), Francis Bacon: The Violence of the Real (London: Thames and Hudson, 2006), p. 76.

12 Sylvester, Interviews, p. 71.

13 David Mellor, Francis Bacon: Affinities, Contexts and the British Visual Tradition’ in Achille Bonito Oliva (ed.), Figurabile: Francis Bacon (London: Electra, 1993), p. 96.

14 Ibid., p. 96.

15 Frank Lauk?tter and Maria M?ller, Paintings 1945-1991’ in Zweite, Francis Bacon, p. 115.

16 J.R.R. Christie and Fred Orton, Writing on a Text of the Life’ in Fred Orton and Griselda Pollock (eds.), Avant-Gardes and Partisans Reviewed (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996), p. 301.

17 Sylvester, Interviews, pp. 81-82.

18 Julian Bell, The Cunning of Francis Bacon’, New York Review of Books, 54: 8 (10 May 2007), 8.

19 See, for example, Michelle A. Masse, Psychoanalysis and the Gothic’ in David Punter (ed.), A Companion to the Gothic (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), pp. 229-41.

20 Cathy Caruth, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), p. 4.

21 Sylvester, Interviews, p. 72.

22 Sinclair, Francis Bacon, p. 3.

23 Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation (London: Vintage, 1996), p. 367.

24 Some of the work of Gerard Dillon is an exception to this, suggesting a range of frequently submerged homoerotic narratives. This issue is discussed by Riann Coulter, Nationalism, Homosexuality and the Modern Artist: Suppressed Narratives in Gerard Dillon’s Images of Connemara’, paper given in the session Irish Studies and History of Art: Impossible Dialogues?’, organised by Lucy Cotter for Contestations, the Association of Art Historians thirty-third annual conference, University of Ulster, Belfast 12-14 April 2007. Also Fionna Barber, Farset, Gomorrah and Kilburn: Reading Diasporic Queer Identities and Irish Painting in 1950s London’, International Association for the Study of Irish Literature annual conference, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 20-23 July 2006.

25 Sylvester, Interviews, p. 184.

26 This story was initially told by Caroline Blackwood, who was married to the painter Lucian Freud in the 1950s. A member of the Guinness family, she was familiar within the milieu of Bacon’s Anglo-Irish background. Peppiatt casts doubts on the veracity of this story, noting that Blackwood reported it as not coming from Bacon himself; Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, p. 66n.

27 Laura Mulvey The Pre-Oedipal Father: The Gothicism of Blue Velvet’ in Victor Sage and Allan Lloyd Smith (eds.), Modern Gothic: A Reader (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996), p. 46.

28 Roz Cowman,Lost Time: The Smell and Taste of Castle T’ in Eibhear Walsh (ed.), Sex, Nation and Dissent in Irish Writing (New York: St Martin’s, 1997), p. 97.

29 Christopher Reed, Not Home: The Suppression of Domesticity in Modern Art and Architecture (London: Thames and Hudson, 1996).

30 Hal Foster, Compulsive Beauty (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1993), p. 176.

31 Miriam Hansen quoted in Foster, Compulsive Beauty, p. 158.

32 Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, p. 38.

33 Kate Ferguson Ellis, The Contested Castle: Gothic Novels and the Subversion of Domesticity (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989), p. x.

34 Ibid.,p.xi.

35 Mellor, Francis Bacon’, p. 97.

36 Luke Gibbons, Gaelic Gothic: Race, Colonization and Irish Culture (Galway: Arlen House, 2004), p. 13.




       Fig. I. Pope II, 1951, oil on canvas, 198 x 137 cm: Stadtische Kunsthalle Mannheim.












This vast retrospective of the work of one of Britains greatest contemporary artists, Francis Bacon (1909 – 1992) is a major celebration heralding the centenary of his birth, and a comprehensive and exhaustive document of his prolific career.

Born in Dublin of English parents, Bacon first worked as an interior designer. He started painting around 1928, but destroyed most of his early work. He revealed his talent as a major artist in 1945 with an instantly unforgettable and shocking work titled Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion.

This was the start of one of the most controversial and disturbing careers in the history of modern art. Bacons demoralizing philosophy that man is simply another animal in a godless world, subject to the same natural urges towards violence, lust and fear, was at times in contrast with his paintings infused as much with unbearable emotional anguish, as with love. They are often extremely beautiful despite their gut-wrenching subject matter.

This, the first UK retrospective of Bacons work since 1985, is a form of re-assessment of his oeuvre, afforded by new research that has emerged since the revelation of his studio and its contents following the artist’s death. One of the rooms in the exhibition, Archive, offers a glance into the inner sanctum of the artist, revealing to what extent he relied on photography, and how he manipulated photographic imagery. The imagery itself, like Bacon’s paintings for that matter is often brutal, on the theme of violence and conflict, but also focused on works of art, including stills from old film.

Bacons preoccupation with the human body and its suffering, is the central theme of all of his works. He developed a unique way of depicting the physical and emotional torment racking the body, by twisting and deforming it, reducing it to a fleshy mass emitting a silent scream of pain. His flamboyant homosexuality and personal transgressions only added to his mythical stature, and are an intrinsic element of his work.

The Tate retrospective brings together many famous paintings and triptychs including Study after Velazquezs Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953), In Memory of George Dyer (1971), and Two Figures in the Grass (1954).

This, however, is but the tip of the iceberg. The exhibition is chock full of recognizable paintings, but that is perhaps due to Bacons unmistakeable style.

It is divided into ten sections, or rooms, starting with Animal, showing works done in the 1940s and reflecting the artists original theory of man as an animal in a world without redemption. The bestial depiction of the human form is at times combined with specific references to the horrors of the Second World War. It is in this room that we are first introduced to one of the early variations on the theme of the Velazquez painting, which became an obsession with the painter, Head VI (1949). All it really is, is a screaming face, featureless except for the gaping mouth.

Room 2, Zone, focuses on Bacons experiments with pictorial space, and the interaction between subject and setting. In most of his works, the figure is solitary, isolated, yet placed centrally, almost on a stage, therefore exposed to public scrutiny in all its vulnerability. This visual formula weaves throughout his career, and is symbolic of the artists sense of being alone in his suffering.

Room 3 is under the heading Apprehension, and the sense of dread permeating the works in this section is of a very unusual kind. The Man in Blue reigns in this hall, a haunting, looming figure behind an enormous desk, a sinister, shadowy presence exuding a particularly personal menace. This series refers to the continued illegality of homosexuality, and on a personal level, to Bacon’s sometimes violent affair with Peter Lacy. This room also holds the Chimpanzee (1955), a terrifying depiction of confinement and cruelty.

Through CrucifixionCrisis, and Portrait, to EpicMemorial and Late, each section is a world onto itself, a mini exhibition within the framework of a large one.

Portraits is like a burst of colour in the otherwise sombre palette that predominates in Bacons oeuvre. Gone is the cage-like grid holding the figure, the space is infused with light, ochres and greens. His lover and most frequent model, George Dyer, is seen in many of the works, like Three Figures in a Room (1964), in which he is represented with a mixture of pathos and affection section is a world onto itself, a mini exhibition within the framework of a large one.

But it is in the room titled Memorial that one finds perhaps the most accomplished, and the most painful of Bacons works. The room is entirely dedicated to Dyer, who was the artists closest companion as of 1963, and who committed suicide in 1971, two days before Bacon’s major exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. Racked by loss and pain, Bacon created a series of works in the memory of Dyer, that speaks a subtly different visual language. The fines are cleaner, the imagery less raw, the setting staged, as if the horror of the event was too much to bear and had to be presented in a theatrical, detached manner.

The figure, as always, is placed centre stage, exposed in all its physical degradation and beauty, terribly human in its vulnerability and helplessness.

Presented in triptychs  Bacons way of fulfilling his longing for cinematic expression  it shows Dyer slumped on a toilet seat, dying, a giant black shadow spilling from the central image like a great pool of blood

Bacon was legendary for his resigned defiance in the face of mortality, but the death of his friend was devastating. "Death is the only absolute certainty," he told a friend. "Artists know that they can’t defeat it, but I think that most artists are very aware of their annihilation  it follows them around like their shadow."

For someone wrestling with such overwhelming forces, Bacon exhibited an impressive discipline at work, pouring his torment onto the canvas with an unconscious, or perhaps very deliberate, sense of it being his only salvation.

In the last room of this magnificent exhibition, we come face to face with the artist so to speak. A series of wonderful self-portraits reveal the man behind the easel; a profound, deeply thinking, complex personality. In Three Studies for a Self-Portrait (1979-80), the face is a twisting, undulating patchwork of colour against a dark background. The features are typically contorted, but what draws the attention are the eyes that see, and look back at us.

What strikes one when contemplating the expanse of Bacon’s prolific production, is how very consistent he was in his style and subject matter, and yet at the same time how endlessly, surprisingly fresh each of his painting is to this day. Despite the scatological, eviscerating nature of his work, the viewer is instantly immersed in its story, often unaware of, oblivious to the fabulous calibre of the art. The two go hand in hand in Bacon’s paintings, the horror and the beauty, life and art, united by the indomitable creative spirit that helped him survive and fed his talent.


EXHIBITION    FRANCIS BACON   TATE BRITAIN    Upper Galleries  London, UK   11 September 2008 – 4 January 2009




Francis Bacon







AS FRANCIS BACON’s third retrospective at Tate Britain (to 4th January) 1 has been timed to coincide with the centenary of his birth in 2009, it seems appropriate that it should attempt a recanonisation of the painter’s achievements. Bacon, always a sacred cow and regarded as a titan of painting since his death in 1992, has been awarded a coveted status accorded to only a few artists in every generation. Cy Twombly is perhaps the most recent to achieve this, and he has done so by disengaging his work from its origins in Arte Povera and washing himself of contemporary allegiances. In Bacon’s case, enough time has passed since the last major exhibition in London (1985; Tate Britain) to permit the viewing of his work in a very different context. Back then, painting, which since the 1970s had been marginalised in favour of new art forms, was the subject of a renewed interest, specifically figurative painting. This interest was identified closely with the Royal Academy’s 1981 exhibition A New Spirit in Painting, which spawned a surge of market-friendly Neo-Expressionism. This was followed in 1984 by the more parochial The Hard-Won Image at the Tate Gallery, which embraced figuration in a cadaver-pumping bid to bring painting back in from the cold. The subsequent 1985 Bacon retrospective provided the much needed impetus for a debate about the relevance of painting, and satisfied the intellectual requirements of people who liked art but still did not really approve of painting. Gerhard Richter went on to make this role of the intellectual painter his own, and brought about a renewal that Bacon’s work always rooted in much older concerns, could never effect. Studying at St Martin’s School of Art in the early 1980s and poring over well-thumbed, paint-splattered monographs the early 1980s and poring over well-thumbed, paint-splattered monographs on Bacon’s work (long before Gilles Deleuzes’s The Logic of Sensation was translate into English), it seemed to me that his concerns were those of an earlier generation.

The current exhibition aims both to reinforce Bacon’s reputation as Britain’s greatest modern painter, but also to question how Bacon propagandised his own work and, further, how it might now be reinterpreted. The juxtaposition of works enables the viewer to test new lines of approach. However, the new groupings that emerge from the interpretation-led presentation at the Tate do, however, result in some misleadingly themed rooms: ‘Crisis’, ‘Apprehension’ and ‘Zone’ for example, manage to be simultaneously vague and over-prescriptive. It is also perhaps misleading to lay such emphasis, as the centrepiece of the show, on a display of documentary and source material. This is the result of a long history of obsessive archiving of the ephemera from Bacon’s Reece Mews studio and, although it includes some interesting photographs, is diluted by some unremarkable works on paper. Since the early 1990s this material has been the main focus for Bacon scholars and should have enhanced the exhibition, but here the effect is more anecdotal than one of powerful elucidation. The one exception is that Bacon’s notebooks, containing lists of potential paintings, revealingly highlight the degree of premeditation and planning of the images, and in doing so support the case for Bacon as a highly methodical, strategic painter.

One of the most successful rooms is filled with the early 1950s dark inky-blue portraits of businessmen in suits, spatially flattened in airless niches – surely these have never looked better. But this room seems restrained in comparison with the histrionically titled ‘Crisis’ room. Here Bacon veers off course with the slashed-on, painterly Bomberg/Soutine mash-ups done in 1956–57 such as Figures in a landscape (1956–57;Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery) and Figure in a mountain landscape (1956; Kunsthaus, Zürich) but returning to some sort of form with the Study for portrait of Van Gogh VI (1957; Arts Council Collection).

These days it is becoming harder to stomach the critically reiterated idea that the horrors of the early twentieth century, apparently depicted in these paintings, underpin Bacon’s pre-eminence as a painter of the human condition. One of the successes of the current exhibition is to show that Bacon’s paintings may have less to do with ‘real’ violence than with imagined violence. Such violence is conjured up as an antithesis of boredom, fantasised to enrich the artist’s daily life, in the manner of Patrick Bateman, the protagonist of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel America Psycho (1991). The Three studies for figures at the base of a Crucifixion (c.1944; Tate), Bacon’s ‘year zero’ painting, here tightly grouped in a small room with two other large-scale triptych Crucifixions from 1962 and 1965, rebuff the pundits’ view that they somehow represent the more grotesque atrocities of the Second World War without actually illustrating them. Indeed, even Bacon’s own claim that ‘paint should come across directly onto the nervous system’ wears thin when pitched against such subject-matter.

Martin Harrison’s catalogue essay goes some way towards exploring this dilemma, which is, in short, how to consider Bacon’s statements about his own work in the context both of research into previously unavailable material and of the simple experience of looking at the paintings. For example, it is interesting to question how much Bacon’s often repeated statement ‘I do not know what accident will occur’ actually played in his work process.2 It seems obvious now that the paintings made after the late 1950s are very formulaic in their construction – and this is not necessarily a bad thing. This interpretation liberates the viewer from considering Bacon’s work only in a traditional expressionist context, following the credo that every brushstroke can be considered to have been torn from the artist’s soul. It is appropriate that the 1956 film Lust for Life (the biopic of Van Gogh starring Kirk Douglas) is mentioned in the catalogue essay by David Alan Mellor as the inspiration for the Study for portrait of Van Gogh series that Bacon knocked out a few days after seeing the film.

To simply accept Bacon’s version of how images floated into his head and then appeared on the canvas is to detract from his great skill as a painter which is in the composition and execution of the works. What makes him such an interesting artist for other painters has as much to do with what he leaves out of his paintings as it does with what he puts in, and his continual short-circuiting of traditional figurative mannerisms. In order to rupture traditional readings Bacon developed a series of devices, which can be seen, for example, in the grouping entitled ‘Portrait’ in the current exhibition. The paintings Landscape near Malabata, Tangier (1963; Fig.34), Three figures in a room (1964; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris) and Study of George Dyer in a mirror (1968; Museo Thysse Bornemisza, Madrid) all adopt either the chevron shape or the curved ellipse – which first emerged in the Pope paintings – as a device which operates in the bottom half of the painting as an effective way of breaking the foreground/middleground/background convention of figurative painting. Two studies for a portrait of George Dyer (1968; Fig.35) is a good example of the potential for failure of this device. Bacon allows the ground to drop off the bottom of the canvas and hence the space of the painting becomes recessive and even conventional – just a portrait of a sitter. Viewed in this light, it is as if the ejaculation of paint over the figure’s legs functions solely to prevent the painting from becoming nothing more than a portrait of a man in a room with a distorted face. Bacon’s depiction of space only really works when the spatial arena is a believable distortion so that he makes it his own.

It is also tempting to align Bacon’s work with that of Graham Sutherland, but the latter’s surrealistic and symbolic images have not stood the test of time as well as has Bacon’s work. Is it the Miró-esque landscape or the insipid Englishness of Sutherland’s paintings which deadens them, in the same way that Paul Nash’s dumping of mangled pieces of modernity into English fields has dated? It is true to say that Bacon was operating  in the same socio-political context as Sutherland and Nash, but by setting everything he did within a hermetic personal arena (haunted by the ghost of Duchamp’s Large glass and furnished with tubular chrome and G-plan furniture), Bacon was able to create a unique contemporary modernism which has not dated in the same way.

What is not suppressed in the current exhibition, although hardly emphasised in the catalogue, is the older ideal of cruelty that presides over Bacon’s imagery: the dark end-of-the-pier humour of Punch and Judy, the nasty after-taste of nineteenth-century British Colonialism unveiled and exposed as ‘the bible, the bottle, and the lash’. Bacon deliberately and very effectively steered his work away from pictorial convention and flaunted controversy, for example, by disingenuously palming off the motif of a hypodermic needle away from pictorial convention and flaunted controversy, for example, by disingenuously palming off the motif of a hypodermic needle sticking into the veins of one of his subjects as a formalist device. Bacon’s shock tactics were as calculated as those of Turner, who enjoyed the drama of pulling back the curtain to his blacked-out studio to an audience full of nervous expectation. 

It is also tempting to align Bacon’s work with that of Graham Sutherland, but the latter’s surrealistic and symbolic images have not stood the test of time as well as has Bacon’s work. Is it the Miró-esque landscape or the insipid Englishness of Sutherland’s paintings which deadens them, in the same way that Paul Nash’s dumping of mangled pieces of modernity into English fields has dated? It is true to say that Bacon was operating in the same socio-political context as Sutherland and Nash, but by setting everything he did within a hermetic personal arena (haunted by the ghost of Duchamp’s Large glass and furnished with tubular chrome and G-plan furniture), Bacon was able to create a unique contemporary modernism which has not dated in the same way.

What is not suppressed in the current exhibition, although hardly emphasised in the catalogue, is the older ideal of cruelty that presides over Bacon’s imagery: the dark end-of-the-pier humour of Punch and Judy, the nasty after-taste of nineteenth-century British Colonialism unveiled and exposed as ‘the bible, the bottle, and the lash’. Bacon deliberately and very effectively steered his work away from pictorial convention and flaunted controversy, for example, by disingenuously palming off the motif of a hypodermic needle away from pictorial convention and flaunted controversy, for example, by disingenuously palming off the motif of a hypodermic needle sticking into the veins of one of his subjects as a formalist device. Bacon’s shock tactics were as calculated as those of Turner, who enjoyed the drama of pulling back the curtain to his blacked-out studio to an audience full of nervous expectation.

Of course, by the time of the 1985 exhibition such tactics were no longer so effective. Bacon’s later paintings of dwarf-like figures in cricket pads, inspired by his lust for the cricketing legend Ian Botham, or his triptych of Mick Jagger, seemed like an ill-judged over-indulgence. In the Tate’s current show these works are mostly omitted in favour of the post-1985 work. This includes Jet of water (1988; Fig.36) an image without the presence of a figure which promised a new departure and which, confusingly, was painted in the same year as the Second version of Triptych 1944 (1988; Tate), which has the feeling of a disastrous come-back gig and is wisely relegated to the vestibule outside the exhibition. Incredibly, and in perverse defiance of the spontaneous nature of the subject, the 1988 Jet of water is in fact a fairly identical version to a first Jet of water painted in 1979. A display of these two works together might have instigated the kind of revisionism that Bacon’s work now needs.

R.B. Kitaj reportedly took to his bed for a couple of days after seeing Bacon’s 1985 Tate exhibition, overwhelmed and unnerved by the achievement of his contemporary. But the current exhibition avoids any homage to the aggrandising exhibition layouts typical of David Sylvester’s hangs, seen to particularly impressive effect in his posthumous homage to Bacon, The Human Body, mounted at the Hayward Gallery in in 1998. Although there are no great surprises in the loans to the show, and despite misleading interpretative categories, Bacon’s work is allowed to unravel. The catalogue essays are for the most part illuminating but fail to capitalise on this opportunity to challenge the hagiography. It will be interesting to see if this tangible difference is maintained when the exhibition tours to the Prado, and whether the themed rooms are retained at the subsequent and final showing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By the end of this exhibition tour we might hope that some more of the myth surrounding Francis Bacon will have been debunked, in favour of the view that these are simply the most original inventive figurative paintings of their time.


1 The exhibition travels to the Museo National del Prado, Madrid (3rd February to 19th April) and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (18th May to 16th August). Catalogue: Francis Bacon. Edited by Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens, with contributions by Martin Harrison, David Alan Mellor, Simon Ofield, Gary Tinterow and Victoria Walsh. 288 pp. ncl. 151 col. + 56 b. & w. ills. (Tate Publishing, London, 2008), £24.99. ISBN 978–1–85437–738–8. The exhibits are not numbered in the checklist; the bibliography is selective.

2  ‘Francis Bacon: Letters to Michel Leiris 1966-89’, in exh. cat. Supplement to Francis Bacon, London (Gagosian Gallery) 2006, p.23.



 Landscape near Malabata, Tangier, by Francis Bacon. 1963. Canvas, 198 by 147.5 cm.





Francis Bacon



Tate Britain, London.
11 September 2008–4 January 2009.


Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
3 February–19 April 2009


The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
18 May–16 August 2009






Francis Bacon (1909-1992) at Tate Britain heralds the artist’s centenary in 2009. It is the first retrospective since 1985, enabling a re-assessment of his work, although the exhibitions in Edinburgh, Francis Bacon: Portraits and Heads (2005) and Norwich, Francis Bacon in the 1950s (2006) at the Sainsbury Centre have been significant. The present exhibition is informed by the revelation, following Bacon’s death in 1992, of the contents of his studio. His working methods were revealed, especially his reliance on photographs.

In interviews, Francis Bacon insisted that he never drew, and that his compositions were intuitive. These claims were refuted by the posthumous revelation of figure studies from the 1950s. Bacon usually commenced painting a figure on to the blank canvas. In 1962 he claimed that the genesis of his paintings came whilst daydreaming. In fact his methods were often more orthodox. The works on paper and lists that came to light after his death indicate that he collected a wide range of material to use as points of reference. The present exhibition, which makes a powerful impact on the viewer, comprises 65 paintings and 13 major triptychs. It is the most comprehensive exhibition to date, which examines the artist’s sources, processes and thoughts. It is accompanied by an excellent, scholarly catalogue; edited by Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens; with essays by Martin Harrison, David Alan Mellor, Simon Ofield, Gary Tinterow and Victoria Walsh.1

Widely regarded as one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century, Francis Bacon can also be seen as one of the most powerful and searing commentators of the human condition in Britain since the Second World War, expressing unflinching images of sexuality, violence and isolation. The exhibition is profound, haunting and iconic. Bacon’s philosophy as an atheist is explored: man in a godless world is presented as simply another animal, subject to the same natural urges of violence, lust and fear. In this Bacon personified the age. The loss of faith in humanity in the late 1940s was such that the human image in art became increasingly difficult to portray. The existential despair expressed by Jean-Paul Sartre in Nausea (1938), found a visual counterpart in the images of despair and alienation of Francis Bacon, the expressionism of Oskar Kokoschka and the apocalyptic visions of Arthur Boyd. For the most part, abstraction in the visual arts dominated because, after the horrors of Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, artists found images of humanity impossible to create.

John Berger, formerly a harsh critic of Bacon, recently wrote:

“He repeatedly painted the human body, in discomfort or agony or want. Sometimes the pain involved looks as if it has been inflicted; more often it seems to originate from within, from the guts of the body itself, from the misfortune of being physical”.2 In spite of the hellish drama expressed, Bacon’s work is inspiring in the very dedication to the craft of painting, and the intellectual dialogue created. This is a profound exhibition, at once challenging and awesome. In spite of the bewilderment that can so often be experienced in confrontation with his painting, there is an unexpected affirmation in the choice of formal language and the precision and care applied to the act of painting: the placement of each head, each brush stroke, every subtle hue, the manner in which the figure inhabits the space, the form within the picture plane. A quiet authority is established by the artist amid the shrieking pain, due in large part to the dialogue he has with art from the past.

Bacon’s sources have been divided by various commentators now, to include ‘high art’ sources and ‘low art’ sources. Bacon chose only the most remarkable artists to aspire to: Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Velasquez and Picasso. He also chose inspiration from the modern world: men in suits, modern furniture, dangling light bulbs, gay comic books. He depicted a low-life from gangster boyfriends, heavy drinking and sexually dissipated Colony Room artists and intellectuals, a collision of high and low culture, survival and destruction.  Chance played an important role in Bacon’s work – spontaneity was of key importance in a Post-Surrealist context. Although he retained the human figure in his work, he embraced the Abstract Expressionists’ love of chance in art as in life. A primordial energy is central to many works, the Bullfight paintings in 1969 being perfect examples of how Bacon infused the image on canvas with a reckless, fatal movement. Describing the collision of illustration of facts and an expression of the very deepest feelings, Bacon noted: “one wants a thing to be as factual as possible and at the same time as deeply suggestive or deeply unlocking of areas of sensation other than simple illustration of the object that you set out to do. Isn’t that what it’s all about?”3 Bacon had the highest ambition from a young age, claiming that his work should either be in the National Gallery or the dustbin, with nothing in between. His ambition as a painter was to define his existential, atheistic stance in a post-photography world. Bacon was a habitual destroyer of paintings; in 1962 he remarked that over-working was a form of destruction, of clogging. Spontaneity was a vital quality, which Bacon sought to capture.

Francis Bacon was born in Dublin, in 1909. He spent most of his life in London, working as a self-taught painter from the 1930s. The human figure was central to his work throughout his long and productive career. He died suddenly in Madrid in 1992. Time has played an important part in the appraisal of Bacon’s work; his unflinching approach to violence and the human condition is more poignant than ever. In 1973 he attributed his preoccupation with violence and war to the times in which he grew up, interwar Germany and the rise of Sinn Fein in Ireland:

I grew up in an atmosphere of threat for a long time…And then I was in Berlin at the beginning of the Nazi thing, my whole life had been lived through a time of stress, and then World War Two, anyone who lived through the European wars was affected by them, they affected one’s whole psyche to that extent, to live continuously under an atmosphere of tension and threat.4

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, in which the most scholarly essays, explore the lasting significance of his work for the present day. Images of the abyss, of loneliness and the inescapable suffering of human existence dominate the exhibition.

Francis Bacon at Tate Britain is broadly chronological. Room One, Animal, examines Bacon’s early work from the 1940s where his attitude to humanity is already evident. His bestial depiction of the human figure combined personal feelings of anxiety with broader references to the Second World War. He used reproductions from books, catalogues and magazines. The male figure is used repeatedly in Bacon’s long career; he often includes a scream or shout to reveal the internal repressed and violent anxieties. The open mouth represents the tension that exists between the individual and the broader context of time and place.

Room Two, Zone, examines Bacon’s work of the 1950s where he carried out complex experiments with pictorial space. He described the processes, in 1952, as ‘an attempt to lift the image outside of its natural environment’. This work established his easily recognisable images with boxed figures in cage-like structures. Hexagonal ground planes establish tense psychological zones; the use of shuttering, the vertical lines of paint merge the foreground and background. This is the period in which Bacon came of age as a painter. Yet his personal circumstances were extremely difficult: homeless, in debt and in a tempestuous relationship with Peter Lacy. During this time he searched for and found appropriate subject -matter with which to express his deepest anxiety. In the 1950s Bacon used the painting by Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, (c.1650), as his starting point to explore the insecurities of the powerful. For Bacon, the choice of the portrait of a Pope had nothing to do with religion; as a non-believer he was concerned with the way man behaves to each other. For Bacon the portrait by Velazquez was one of the greatest portraits ever painted for it opened up feelings and prompted the imagination, beyond any real individual or other art work. The colour is magnificent, prompting Bacon to give his own images a sense of tragic grandeur, a sense of authority in painterly terms. The Pope as a unique figure in the world suited Bacon’s ambition to create a powerful image in which power is stripped of its essence.

Room Three, Apprehension, explores the pervading anxiety in all of Bacon’s work. The Cold War anxiety that limited movement and personal freedom was combined in Bacon’s case with the illegality at the time of homosexuality. His sometimes, violent relationship, with Peter Lacy, is captured in the Man in Blue series, which concentrates on a single anonymous figure in a dark suit. Although inspired by the greatest artists from history, Bacon powerful images are achieved by combining the authority of the history of art, with contemporary life. The figure is portrayed in isolation, sitting at a table or at a bar. Like many artists in the twentieth century, including the Italian Futurists, who worked with the figure, Bacon drew from the photographic work of Edweard Muybridge’s, The Human Figure in Motion, (1887) sequential photographs of animals and humans, which Bacon described as ‘a dictionary’ of the body in motion.

Room Four at Tate Britain is devoted to one of Bacon’s most famous and iconic series, of the Crucifixion. He made works throughout his career at pivotal moments. As an atheist Bacon saw the Crucifixion as a particularly poignant act of man’s violence. Brutality and fear are developed in a particularly cruel evocation of the famous religious scene. The ritual of sacrifice is given a new dimension, the brutality emphasised with extreme abandon. Meat carcasses are used by Bacon to diminish the human notion of superiority in the wider scheme of life according to Christianity. In an early interview Bacon describes how existing images breed others. He chose the Crucifixion by Cimabue as a starting point, but readily admits that without all the paintings that have been done on the subject, his could not have produced his own. Often under the influence of alcohol, and prone to drug abuse, and frequently suffering acute exhaustion, Bacon would create Crucifixion images of profound despair. He also juxtaposes fragments of films, such as those of Eisenstein, and isolated stills allowing accident to play a major part in the creative process. Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, (c.1944) is a key work and one that paved the way for his use of the triptych format, and numerous later themes and compositions. The bestial depiction of the human figure was central to Bacon’s oeuvre. Displacing the traditional saints in Crucifixion paintings, Bacon later referred to them as Furies from Greek mythology.

In interview with David Sylvester in 1966, he was asked about the use of meat carcasses in these and other works. He stated, “Well, of course, we are meat, we are potential carcasses”.5 Being human in Bacon’s world was utterly debased. Bacon took works from the history of art that were created within a spiritual context and slashed them to bits. In this he felt completely justified, for the Vatican never openly condemned Nazism. This was Bacon’s vendetta for the hypocrisy played out in the name of God. Where artists such as Hieronymous Bosch created devastating images of humanity in works such as his Judgement Day paintings, Bacon chose the traditionally edifying form of portraiture, which entails a degree of trust between painter and sitter, and destroyed it. His disturbing papal images are like the burning of an effigy, leaving the viewer with a sense of physical revulsion.

Room Five Crisis, focuses on the period 1956-1961. Bacon travelled widely in Monaco, France and Africa, mostly with Peter Lacy. He used new methods of painting, choosing thicker paint, strong colour, often violently applied. Using a self-portrait, The Painter on the Road to Tarascon (1888) by Vincent Van Gogh, as his source and inspiration, Bacon painted works that were criticised for their ‘reckless energy’. With hindsight the energy and drama in these works was necessary in introducing chance into the painting process itself.

Room Six is the Archive in the Tate’s exhibition, based on the revelations made by scholars after Bacon’s death. The source material found in Bacon’s studio revealed his reliance on photography and other sources that had not been fully examined during Bacon’s lifetime. There were photographs of athletes, film stills and reproductions of works of art. Further, his practice of commissioning photographs of his friends by John Deakin was fully realised, and formed an important component of the exhibition in Edinburgh, Francis Bacon: Portraits and Heads, (2005). Bacon also took many photographs himself, preferring to draw from photographs, for they were already two-dimensional images. In his studio there were also lists of potential subjects and preparatory drawings, which Bacon had denied making, preferring to emphasise the spontaneous nature of the act of painting directly onto canvas.

Room Seven Portrait, is important given the findings in Bacon’s studio. In descriptions in interviews, most famously those with David Sylvester, Bacon describes his intention to reinvent portraiture. He drew upon the works he admired of Velazquez and Van Gogh. His abiding concern was how a painter should create portraits in an age dominated by photography. He distorted the sitter’s appearance in order to extract a greater, more complete likeness, informed by internal issues of personality and mood. George Dyer his lover is depicted with a mixture of affection and contempt. Three Figures in Room, (1964) expresses a range of human characteristics including absurdity, pathos, and isolation.

Room Eight Memorial, is dedicated to George Dyer, Bacon’s closest companion and model from the autumn of 1963. Two days before the opening of Bacon’s exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971, Dyer committed suicide. The void created by Dyer’s death, under such tragic circumstances prompted Bacon to produce a number of works in his memory. The large-scale triptych suited the grand nature of Bacon’s statements, enabling him to isolate and juxtapose simultaneously. The energy in these works is overwhelming. The depths of despair experienced in the loss of his lover, are expressed with consummate skill and heartfelt anguish. Bacon told Sylvester shortly after Dyer’s death: “You don’t stop thinking about them; time doesn’t heal” He referred to his repeated depiction of homosexual copulation as a form of exorcism. Although he regretted its ‘sensational nature’, he was compelled to paint, Triptych, May-June, 1973, “to get it out of his system”. As well as repeated posthumous images of Dyer, he also made numerous self-portraits.6

Room Nine, Epic, examines the work Bacon produced in response to poetry and literature, particularly the work of T.S Eliot. Bacon was emphatic in wanting to make works that evoked the meaning and mood of the written word. They were not illustrations.

For me realism is an attempt to capture the appearance with the cluster of sensations that the appearance arouses in me. As for my latest triptych and a few other canvases painted after I read Aeschylus. I tried to create images of the episodes created inside me. I could not paint Agamemnon. Clytemnestra or Cassandra, as that would have been merely another kind of historical painting when all is said and done. Therefore, I tried to create an image of the effect that was produced inside me. Perhaps realism is always subjective when it is most profoundly expressed.7

Bacon felt a great affinity for poetry, perhaps more so than contemporary art. He appreciated a wide range of poetry ranging from the work of Aeschylus, W.B Yeats, Federico Garcia Lorca, Ezra Pound, William Shakespeare and especially T.S. Eliot. From Aeschylus’ Oresteia Bacon found an evocative image: “the reek of human blood smiles out at me”.8 In turn Bacon admired T.S. Eliot’s recasting of Greek tragedy, seeing in it an appropriate model for modern society. Bacon appreciated Eliot’s preoccupation with, ‘mortality, the pathetic futility and solitude of life’, and the manner in which he located ‘those existential conditions within a specific set of modern circumstances’.9

Bacon’s description of the tightrope between abstraction and figuration can also be used for poetry. “You have to abbreviate into intensity”, he remarked, also an apt description for Eliot’s poetry. Bacon chose painting to assuage the futility of life as he saw it. “I think that man now realises that he is an accident, that he is a completely futile being, that he has to play out the game within reason... You can be optimistic and totally without hope”. Later, he said, “I think of life as meaningless; but we give it meaning during our existence”.10 By contrast, Eliot had a Christian faith and belief in an afterlife.

The use of triptych, Bacon insisted was its resistance to narrative: “it breaks the series up and prevents it having a story, that’s why the three panels are always framed separately”. Yet the sequence created by three canvases side by side could equally create a story through the interrelatedness of the three images and specific references within each. Specific intended meaning is always speculative in Bacon’s work. The triptych emphasises Bacon’s fascination with theatrical devices to observe the human condition. Likewise Eliot’s Wasteland, ‘describes specific scenes and events but does not tie them to a single story’.11

Room Ten Late, examines the last decade of Bacon’s life. The confrontation with mortality was an abiding theme in his work, having lost key figures in his life already. In 1993 he stated: “Life and death go hand in hand …Death is like the shadow of life. When you’re dead, you’re dead, but while you’re alive, the idea of death pursues you”.12 The very black paintings made in the 1970s which confronted the death of George Dyer, gave way to more contemplative works, with a palpable restraint and composure. In several paintings he draws on his admiration for the work of the nineteenth-century French painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Numerous reproductions of Ingres’ work were found in his studio, which he combined with incongruous images from sporting figures. Bacon also employed a controlled element of chance by throwing paint at the canvas. The aftermath of violence, blood gushing from a victim onto the pavement, for example, Bacon found exhilarating. Blood on Pavement, (c1988) is presented with the artist’s extraordinary detachment. “Things are not shocking if they haven’t been put into a memorable form. Otherwise, it’s just blood splattered against a wall.”13 The theme of detachment from violence and suffering is achieved throughout Bacon’s oeuvre, from an early Wound for a Crucifixion (c.1934) to the Bullfight works in the 1960s to Oedipus and the Sphinx after Ingres, (1983). The last paintings are the antithesis of Bacon’s early frenzied works, and have been criticised for being formulaic and lacking in tension. They have a monumentality and order, yet returning to the same themes that had occupied him for forty years. His last triptych of 1991 returns to the issue of sexual struggle, which permeates much of his life’s work. His most private feelings are laid bare, and to which he referred in 1971/3,  “I’m just trying to make images as accurately off my nervous system as I can. I don’t even know what half of them mean. I’m not trying to say anything”.14


1. Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens, Francis Bacon, Tate Publishing, London, 2008.
2. John Berger, Prophet in a pitiless worldThe Guardian,  29 May 2004.
3. Gale and Stephens, On the Margin of the Impossible, op.cit., p.26.
4. Quoted by Stephens, Epic, op.cit., p.218.
5. Quoted by Matthew Gale, Crucifixion, ibid, p.137.
6. Chris Stephens, Epic, ibid, p.214.
7. Ibid, p.216.
8. Gale and Stephens, op.cit., p.26.
9. Ibid, p.26.
10. Ibid, p.26.
11. Epic, op.cit., p. 213.
12. Rachel Tant, Late, p.233.
13. Ibid, p.233.
14. Ibid, p.237.




Desperately seeking Daddy



Lewis Jones is fascinated and appalled by details of

the demons that drove Francis Bacon





Michael Peppiatt knew Francis Bacon for nearly 30 years, and in 1997 published an authoritative biography, Anatomy of an Enigma. The 14 essays and interviews collected in Studies for a Portrait necessarily cover much of the same ground, but offer fresh perspectives.

In Bacon’s Eyes, for example, he publishes extracts from a discarded memoir he wrote as a Cambridge undergraduate, when he drank with Bacon in the bars and clubs of Soho. This is brave of him, as the passages selected are embarrassingly self-conscious and derivative – his publisher remarked that they would sound better in French. Still, they catch something of the artist: “Gargoyle face jutting out on nightairs, with a bone structure from a butcher’s. Under barlight, pinkchopped, the smooth skin glistening over the powerful mandibles.”

Bacon was all of a piece, and his talk – recorded here in interviews laid out in the reverential French style – could be as brilliantly perverse as his paintings. “I always think of friendship,” he said, “as where two people can really tear each other to bits.” Such friendships are a staple of his work.

In the essays, Peppiatt writes perceptively about Bacon’s endlessly contradictory nature, his generosity and cruelty, his violence and tenderness, his dandyism and love of squalor, his spectacular dissipation and iron self-discipline, and what he called his “exhilarated despair”. There is a contradiction, too, in the biographer’s approach to his subject. On the one hand, he accepts the artist’s assertion that his paintings are inexplicable, signifying nothing, while on the other he naturally does his best to explain their significance. He is excellent on Bacon’s literary influences, particularly Aeschylus and TS Eliot, and quotes some lines from The Family Reunion (where the two meet) which perfectly describe the paintings:

In and out, in an endless drift

Of shrieking forms in a circular desert

Weaving with contagion of putrescent


On dissolving bone.

His main source of explanation, though, is the painter’s life, particularly his tortured adolescence. Bacon’s sexual feelings were first aroused by his father, a brutal military man turned unsuccessful horse trainer, who may have had his asthmatic son horsewhipped by the stud farm grooms – a possible inspiration for all the primal screams of the paintings (“the moment of truth, where all pretence and deceit fall away”). In 1927, when Francis was 16, Captain Bacon expelled him from home when he discovered him trying on his mother’s underwear. The boy was entrusted to a suitably manly uncle, who took him from the wilds of County Kildare to Berlin and to his bed, then left him to fend for himself on the streets.

Peppiatt argues persuasively that Bacon spent the rest of his life in search of a “cruel father”, a quest dramatised in his obsessive depiction of demented authority figures, whether subfusc businessmen or empurpled popes (“the ultimate Papa”).

He recreated his Berlin experiences in London, amid the depravity of post-war Soho, where he helped create the Colony Room, a seedy drinking club (still standing, just) whose bilious green décor provides the background for some of his paintings. In his novel England, Half English, Colin MacInnes captures the atmosphere in the club, which he calls Mabel’s: “To sit in Mabel’s, with the curtains drawn at 4pm on a sunny afternoon, sipping expensive poison and gossiping one’s life away, has the futile fascination of forbidden fruit: the heady intoxication of a bogus Baudelairian evil.”

It was there that Bacon met Peter Lacy, his perfect “cruel father”, a former Spitfire pilot who drank three bottles of spirits a day and had an extensive collection of rhino whips, with which he belaboured the painter and his paintings. The couple spent time in Tangiers, where Bacon was repeatedly found wandering the streets at night in an appalling state. A concerned British consul alerted the chief of police, who reported, “Pardon, mais il n’y a rien à faire. Monsieur Bacon aime ça.”

Bacon painted his voluptuous abattoir visions – screaming monkey men, snarling cripples, twisted, hacked and smeared – with the exquisite skill that Van Gogh brought to his sunflowers. A few are lavishly reproduced in Studies for a Portrait. Most of his masterpieces are to be found in full coffee-table format in Peppiatt’s Francis Bacon in the 1950s, first published two years ago as the catalogue for an exhibition of the same name at the Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia. 



                                          In search of a cruel father: Francis Bacon





Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective




Huliq News, Thursday, December 18 2008


The first major New York exhibition in 20 years devoted to Francis Bacon (British, 1909–1992)—one of the most important painters of the 20th century—will be presented at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from May 20 through August 16, 2009. Marking the 100th anniversary of the artist’s birth,

Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective will bring together the most significant works from each period of the artist’s extraordinary career. Drawn from public and private collections around the world, this landmark exhibition will consist of some 70 paintings, complemented by never-before-seen works and archival material from the Francis Bacon Estate, which will shed new light on the artist’s career and working practices. The Metropolitan Museum is the sole U.S. venue of the exhibition tour.

The exhibition is made possible in part by The Daniel and Estrellita Brodsky Foundation.

It was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Tate Britain, London, in partnership with the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

"Bacon is more compelling than ever: Despite the passage of time, his paintings remain fresh, urgent, and mysterious. Never before has this work been more relevant to young artists," noted Gary Tinterow, Engelhard Curator in Charge of the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art. "For these reasons, we are very pleased to be able to present a retrospective spanning his entire career to our viewing public."

Entirely self-taught, Francis Bacon emerged in 1945 as a major force in postwar art. He rose to prominence over the subsequent 45 years, securing his reputation as one of the seminal artists of his generation. With a predilection for shocking imagery, Bacon’s oeuvre was dominated by emotionally charged depictions of the human body that are among the most powerful images in the history of art.

The exhibition’s loosely chronological structure will trace critical themes in Bacon’s work and explore his philosophy about mankind and the modern condition with visually arresting examples. The earliest group of works, from the 1940s and ’50s, focuses on the animalistic qualities of man, including: paintings of heads with snarling mouths (Head I, 1947–1948, The Metropolitan Museum of Art); images of men as pathetic and alone (Study for a Portrait, 1953, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Germany); and the human figure portrayed as base and bestial (Figures in a Landscape, 1956, Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, England). The exhibition also features numerous versions of Bacon’s iconic studies (1949–1953) after Diego Velazquez’s Portrait of Innocent X (1650). Mortality is addressed directly in his last works (Triptych, 1991, The Museum of Modern Art, New York).

In the 1960s, working in his classic style of much looser, colorful, and expressive painting, Bacon showed the human body exposed and violated as in, for example, Lying Figure, 1969 (Foundation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, Switzerland). In the following decade he increasingly used narrative, autobiography, and myth to mediate ideas about violence and emotion, as in the 1971 painting In Memory of George Dyer (Foundation Beyeler) and Triptych Inspired by the Orestia of Aeschylus, 1981 (Astrup Fearnley Collection, Oslo, Norway).

A number of important works by Bacon will only be presented at the Metropolitan Museum, including Study for Portrait I, 1953 (Denise and Andrew Saul); Painting, 1946 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York); and Self Portrait, 1973 (private collection, courtesy Richard Nagy, London).

Central to an understanding of the artist’s working methods are the large caches of archival materials that have only become available since Bacon’s death, especially the contents of the artist’s famously cluttered London studio. A rich selection of 75 items from the artist’s studio, his estate, and other archives will be included in the exhibition. The objects include pages the artist tore from books and magazines, photographs, and sketches—all of which are source materials for the finished paintings on view in the exhibition.

Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective is organized by Matthew Gale, Head of Displays, Tate Modern, Chris Stephens, Head of Displays, Tate Britain, and Gary Tinterow. The presentation of the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum is organized by Gary Tinterow and Anne L. Strauss, Associate Curator, assisted by Ian Alteveer, Research Associate, all in the Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by Martin Harrison, David Mellor, Simon Ofield, Rachel Tant, Gary Tinterow, and Victoria Walsh. The catalogue is published by Tate Publishing and will be available in the Museum’s book shops.

The Metropolitan Museum will offer an array of education programs in conjunction with Francis Bacon, including a symposium; gallery talks; documentary films on the artist; and (on request) verbal imaging tours for people with visual impairments.





Soho’s bohemian Colony Room Club faces extinction 



The Colony Room Club, London’s fabled drinking den beloved of artists from Francis Bacon

to Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, is set to close in Soho. 



By Neil TweedieThe Daily Telegraph, Monday, 15 December 2008


THE denizens of the Colony Room Club should have been gathering last night for a joyous, or at least well lubricated, occasion. London’s fabled drinking den celebrated its diamond jubilee yesterday – 60 years of uninterrupted, heroic carousing.

If one place still captures the seedy glamour of post-war Soho it is the Colony, hidden up a dark flight of stairs on Soho’s Dean Street. The peep shows may have been overtaken by trendy, overpriced bars, but the one-room dive remains, a bohemian reproach to modern, money-driven conformity. That, at least, is how its membership – once a roll call of the great and the bad in British art and which still includes the likes of Emin and Hirst (who once served naked behind the bar) – like to see it.

Vodkas all around, then. Except that this week could be the last in the club’s history. The Colony is facing extinction at the hands of the man into whose care it was entrusted.

Such is the uncertainty over the club’s future that it was unclear last night if any celebration would be permitted. Its fate has for months now been the subject of mistrust and rancour. Will the Colony survive? And should it be missed?

A brief history: it was in December 1948 that Muriel Belcher, a combative, foul-mouthed but enterprising lesbian, opened the Soho establishment as an intended meeting place for writers, painters and amusing hard drinkers. The room – it is a small place – was initially decorated in colonial’ bamboo and leopard skin, in deference to Muriel’s Jamaican squeeze, Carmel.

Thus began six decades of bad behaviour, involving some of the best names in the business. Dylan Thomas threw up there, Tom Driberg propositioned there and Jeffrey Bernard advanced towards literal leglessness in its smoky confines, decorated in industrial green from the Fifties onwards.

Painters in particular liked it, including Bacon (a lifelong regular who as a young man was paid by Muriel to bring in interesting types), Freud and the doomed John Milton. Bacon described it as: "A place to go where one feels free and easy."

Under the stewardship of Belcher and that of her protégé Ian Board (equally foul-mouthed and possessed of an enormous nose swollen and purpled by brandy), the Colony grew into and remained an institution. Its eclectic membership was bonded by a supposed capacity for dazzling wit and a definite capacity for enormous amounts of alcohol. Customers at its little bar wallowed in the agreeable air of seediness, their imbibing overlooked by sometimes fine works of art donated by the insolvent artists in settlement of bar bills.

Muriel, who liked to call her members "cunty", was mistress of the put-down, while Board punished the unwary with sudden, violent eruptions of invective. All forms of human frailty were indulged in the Colony, except one: dullness.

Following Board’s death in 1994, the club was taken over by Michael Wojas, who had worked under Board. Things continued as before, but the club inevitably lost some of its lustre as its greatest characters drank themselves one by one to death.

The problems started a few years ago when the club’s finances began to fall into disrepair. Accounts were not properly prepared and tax and rent went unpaid. The club is housed on the first floor of a Georgian house and its lease was secure, so long as the rent was paid. With a membership of 200-plus paying annual fees of £150 and expensive bar prices, the club should have been able to pay the £12,500 rent easily. But earlier this year, Wojas, citing financial pressures, announced he would not be renewing the lease and the club would have to close. He auctioned off some of the better artworks, which he claimed were his by virtue of Board’s will. The sale raised £40,000.

His announcement sparked a rebellion among members who claimed he had no right to close a club which belonged not to him but to them. They succeeded in freezing the proceeds of the auction and securing a High Court ruling in favour of a formal meeting. Last week, a new governing committee was elected amid acrimonious exchanges between the pro and anti Wojas factions. The new body believes it can renegotiate the lease, secure a listing for the club from English Heritage and ensure its future. Wojas, though, still holds the keys to the bar.

Speaking yesterday, Michael Beckett, chairman of the committee, said: "It still is a great place; all the members love it.

"It’s the last bit of old Soho. I always meet interesting people when I go in there. Everyone speaks to each other – it’s not some dull pub. It’s homely – it’s a front room rather than a bar."

There will be those who argue that, like empires, clubs rise and fall. That, over time, what was once fresh and genuine becomes hackneyed and artificial, the hollow replaying of bygone glories.

Critics of the Colony would argue that nowadays there are rather more art students than great artists among its members; more aspiring bohemians and hell-raisers than real ones. But its members love it and that should be reason enough for its survival.

What would the formidable Muriel says about it all? There would be a few colourful phrases in there, for certain.




                                                  Muriel Belcher with Francis Bacon 




No buyers for Bacon at major Paris art auction



AFP  11 December 2008


PARIS (AFP) — Francis Bacon’s Two Figures failed to find a buyer when it went under the hammer at the first major auction of contemporary art in Paris since the global financial crisis erupted.


The 1961 oil-and-sand painting by the late Irish-born English painter — depicting two naked, contorted bodies — had been valued at five million to seven million euros (6.68 million to 9.36 million dollars) by Sotheby’s.


Featured at several Bacon exhibitions, most recently at the Palazzo Reale in Milan earlier this year, it was regarded by art experts as the top lot at the two-day auction that ended Thursday.


Overall, the auction — with an estimated 12 million to 17 million euros worth of art — raked in only 6.2 million euros, Sotheby’s said, reflecting a softening in the global art market.


Bacon - the subject of an ongoing major retrospective at the Tate Britain in London — set a Paris record in 2007 when Sotheby’s sold another of his works for 13.7 million euros. 









True-Crime Temptresses, Bacon’s Rubbish Fill Holiday Art Books




Review by Martin Gayford, Bloomberg, Thursday, December 11, 2008


Dec. 11 (Bloomberg) – Ripped photographs and newspaper clippings spattered with paint: This isn’t what you expect in one of the year’s most intriguing art books.

Francis Bacon: Incunabula by Martin Harrison and Rebecca Daniels (Thames & Hudson, 224 pages, $75, 39.95 pounds) is devoted to sweepings from the floor of the world’s most expensive contemporary artist at auction.

Bacon often remarked that he drew his inspiration from an atmosphere of chaos. After his death in 1992, his London studio and its contents were moved to Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, where they were sifted and studied like the detritus of an Egyptian tomb. This book presents some of the results.

Though these photos, clips and book illustrations were the raw material of Bacon’s art, you can’t help wondering how accidental those markings really are. Perhaps some of these altered images count as artworks themselves. 





Фотография мертвого Фрэнсиса Бэкона стала частью коллажа


Британская фотохудожница Катерина Шекспир Лэйн для создания своего триптиха

«Дань уважения Фрэнсису Бэкону» использовала фотографию мертвого художника.



СЕГОДНЯ, Ukraine, 9 December 2008





Фрагмент работыКатерины Шекспир Лэйн


В центре триптиха помещена перевернутая фотография тела английского художника-экспрессиониста Фрэнсиса Бэкона, сделанная в испанском морге через несколько часов после его смерти. Тело лежит на каталке, помещенное в прозрачный пластиковый пакет. Это изображение обрамляют различные фотографии внутренностей.

На двух оставшихся частях триптиха помещен Сальвадор Дали, стоящий у распятия. При этом изображение центральной части вызывает ассоциации с известной картиной Дали «Христос святого Хуана де ля Круус».

Свой коллаж Катерины Лэйн, лично знавшая Бэкона, объясняет отношением самого художника к смерти. По ее утверждению, художник заявлял: «Все мы потенциальные трупы. Когда я захожу к мяснику, мне всегда удивительно представить на прилавке себя, а не животных».

По одному из свидетельств, Фрэнсис Бэкон также говорил о желании, чтобы его тело после смерти положили в пластиковый пакет и выбросили в придорожную канаву.

Триптих будет экспонироваться в одном из лондонских баров в Сохо.

Британский художник Фрэнсис Бэкон умер в Мадриде в 1992 году от сердечного приступа.





The first dark image of Bacon’s death









A detail from Catherine Shakespeare Lane’s Francis Bacon Homage Triptych work.



 It was a suitably macabre request from one of Britain’s greatest and darkest 20th-century painters. 'When I’m dead, put me in a plastic bag and throw me in the gutter,'  Francis Bacon told the barman at the infamous Soho drinking club, the Colony Room Club.

Sixteen years after the colourful artist’s death, one of Bacon’s circle of friends has gone a long way to try to make his wish come true. A photograph taken in a Spanish morgue hours after his death and never seen before in public reveals that the artist had been placed in a transparent body bag. The shocking image now forms the centrepiece of a new work of art created by Bacon’s friend, the photographer Catherine Shakespeare Lane. 


The photograph is mounted on a background of offal and framed by two images of Salvador Dalí standing by a crucifix. The bleakly humorous tribute to Bacon and to the Spanish surrealist Dalí will go on display for the first time this week at the famous London watering hole in London’s Dean Street, which is under threat of closing down. 


Lane believes her triptych is an appropriate homage to her late friend. Bacon, she points out, once famously said: 'We are potential carcasses. If I go into a butcher’s shop I always think it’s surprising that I wasn’t there instead of the animal.' 


A lifetime honorary member of the club, Lane hopes the hanging of the image will serve as a fitting farewell to both the great painter and to a venue which, since the Sixties, has been the haunt of many of the leading creative names in the country, including Lucien Freud, Dylan Thomas, the actors Peter O’Toole and John Hurt and the writer Jeffrey Barnard. 


'I’m very sad that if the club closes at the end of the month,' said Lane. 'I sincerely hope it does not die and can survive.'


A last minute High Court order obtained by the so-called Shadow Committee of club members preventing its closure before an annual general meeting could yet save the day. 


In recent years controversial leading artists such as Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas and Sam Taylor Wood have all been habitues of the club, with the model Kate Moss even tending the bar one evening. The singer Lisa Stansfield and the film distributor Hamish McAlpine are also regulars and have both tried to save the club by paying off some of its debts.


Lane defends the treatment of Bacon’s dead body as in keeping with the way that the artist saw the world. 'People always think of Francis as gloomy and tortured because that is what they see in his work,' said Lane. 'But he got all that out in his painting and when he was out with us it was not like that. He was out to play.'









No bed for Francis Bacon



Discipline and chaos, suffering and human meat, as

 seen in the works of an unusually articulate artist






When Francis Bacon said “The only really interesting thing is what happens between two people in a room”, he did not mean what happens between an artist and his model – or if so, only indirectly. Bacon’s portraits of himself, his friends and (male) lovers are among the most enthusiastically acclaimed of all his pictures, but they were done almost without exception from photographs and memory, not from life. From a handful of paintings, early and late, it is clear that for Bacon some of the most interesting things happened before, during or after copulation – “or buggery, however you want to put it”, as he himself put it in the late 1960s, with an insouciance that could have been dangerous at any time before then.

Yet, as John Russell pointed out nearly thirty years ago, “perhaps the most persistent of Bacon’s preoccupations is the problem of what a man is to do when he is alone in a room”, and with only a very few exceptions, his pictures until the later 1960s more often than not featured single figures: human males, animals, especially apes, heads or heads-and-shoulders, isolated in indeterminate spaces, framed or confined in a kind of geometric canopy or glass box, seen through strips of (shower?) curtain, paint cascading down the interiors or, in the few landscapes, deft strokes rendering wild grasses with Oriental precision. True, it is not always clear from its posture and mass whether the pictured form is human or ape; nor if in fact there is more than one of them pictured. Bacon would sometimes, to achieve the desired “thickness”, model his single figure on a sequence of photographs from Eadweard Muybridge’s The Human Body in Motion that showed two men wrestling – though at a glance, they could be having sex. (“I very often think of people’s bodies that I’ve known, the contours of those bodies that have particularly affected me, but then they’re grafted on to Muybridge bodies”, Bacon explained.) Then, once he had begun to show two or more people, the coupling – as in those earlier exceptions – becomes explicit.

And, in his later vision, coupling is murder. In panel after panel of the large-scale triptychs which were Bacon’s preferred format from the 1960s on, the human carcass – mangled, butchered and bloodied, studded with entry- and exit-wounds, spilling muscle tissue and entrails, or intact but warped into terrible knots of tension, straining in climax or death agony – is pinioned on carpets or sprawled on stained mattress-ticking, like a police photograph at the scene of a sex crime. And indeed other panels actually show spectators or recorders – one holds a cinecamera – of the main event, be it coupling or crucifixion, which has left its protagonist eviscerated.

Bacon disavowed any moral or philosophical intention behind these images of human suffering and detachment, and still more emphatically denied trying to make a historical point – notwithstanding his brief flirtation with the idea of publishing a pictorial “History of Europe in [his] lifetime” (he was born in 1909). One of the most articulate of painters, with a strong sense both for drama and self-presentation, from the moment he became a succès de scandale Bacon was a tireless subject of interviews (with Russell and David Sylvester, preeminently): occasions he seized to rehearse a repertoire of anecdotes and apophthegms, some haughty and whimsical, some purposefully discomfiting in their frankness, but almost all prompted by the contradictory urges to elevate his calling to a higher mystery or deflate its pretensions with a rude reminder of fleshly limitation.

In this he was both disingenuous and provocative, refusing, for example, to allow in his own crucifixions the significance granted to the image by the entire Western tradition – it was an example of human behaviour, no more and no less. Behaviour, furthermore, that aroused in Bacon a sense of his own wounded or tortured nature: a crucifixion, he said, was almost a self-portrait. Almost from the beginning – in Painting, 1946, now too fragile to have made the trip from MoMA to the current exhibition at Tate Britain – the painter evinced a fascination with sides of meat, a motif that recurs in his later crucifixions and couplings. When asked about its preponderance in his imagination he was ready with a dual response. “Every time I go into a butcher’s”, he said, “I’m surprised that it’s not me hanging there”; yet the meat was simultaneously a purely aesthetic stimulus, its colours “absolutely beautiful”. Questioned about his more Grand Guignol scenes he would shrug, affect complete ignorance of their import, personal or otherwise, and insist on his overriding desire to make “beautiful paintings”.

From the very small number of canvases that survived Bacon’s apprentice years it is far from obvious that this was his ambition when he started (if it was, his idea of beauty was as convulsive as any Surrealist’s). The big, bold canvases in the grand manner of his gilded middle age, exposing lavish, ritualistic cruelties, are indeed very beautiful, and only a handful of pictures on show here, from the later 1950s, seem unsure in technique or faltering in composition. In the room titled “Crucifixion” (the Tate’s hang is a compromise between a chronological and a thematic arrangement), the body, whatever else it is being subjected to, mostly retains recognizable limbs and a torso. Not so in the first room, “Animal”, where a distended eye, mouth, teeth and phallic appendages dominate: to these organs of appetite and aggression, in some of Bacon’s early works, the human and the nightmarishly non-human alike are reduced. Assisted by Bacon himself, commentators have established an impeccably modern pedigree for these seemingly sui generis images: in Picasso’s “biomorphic” beach scenes, 1930s photojournalism and the films of Sergei Eisenstein and Luis Buñuel. (Lessons in form and handling were learnt from Graham Sutherland and the Australian Roy de Maistre, too, though Bacon was less prompt to acknowledge them in later years.) In her catalogue essay Victoria Walsh cites Foundations of Modern Art by Amédée Ozenfant (1931) as having perhaps fertilized the insatiably curious young painter’s imagination in ways that would lie dormant for years: “The search for intensity dominates the whole of modern painting. There can be no intensity without simplification, and to some degree, no intensity without distortion . . . of what is seen naturally”.

In 1931, Bacon was twenty-two, had made his way as, more or less, a rent boy in Weimar Berlin, had learnt French living in Chantilly and was working in London as an interior decorator and designer of Bauhaus-derived furniture for clients who included the editor of Vogue and the novelist Patrick White. But almost as soon as he began to paint in earnest (in oil on canvas, from which he rarely deviated for forty-odd years), the beauty was there as well, and was there till the end, in paintings that proclaim him one of the great colourists of the last century: from the startling orange ground against which the first three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) writhe and shriek, to the sumptuous deep reds of its grander, more imposing and artistically pointless second version (1988). Orange flames out at us again from the Figure Studies, 1945–6, while Figure Study II is the work in which another of Bacon’s motifs – or obsessions – unequivocally makes an entrance: the gaping mouth, open in a scream of terror, a snarl of hatred or a howl of impotent rage. Indelibly fixed in Bacon’s imaginary by Picture Post shots of Goebbels and Mussolini haranguing the crowds, Poussin’s Massacre of the Innocents and the nurse’s silent scream in The Battleship Potemkin, in Figure Study II, where it is appended to a crouched or kneeling half-clothed form, the mouth powerfully subverts those reliable signifiers of bourgeois respectability, umbrella, herringbone tweed and potted plants.

In the late 1940s (with a series of Heads) and the early 50s (Study for Nude, 1951; Study of a Figure in a Landscape and Study for Crouching Nude, both 1952) Bacon’s pictures posit an extra-historical continuity between the human at its noblest, as in Michelangelo’s drawings and sculpture, and the simian – almost to the point of conflating them. Head VI (1949), though, returns us, whatever Bacon thought or said, to the human in historical time, combining the motifs of toothed, gaping mouth and wildly staring eye with the vestments of a little brief authority: the highest authority on earth, indeed, for many, though in Bacon the vestments are imperial purple rather than rich pontifical red, as in his master-image, the Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velázquez. Bacon’s remarkable travesty inaugurated a new series of studies “after” the great original, though his fixation was inspired, in fact, by a reproduction. (Even when he visited Rome, Bacon avoided seeing the Velázquez in the Doria Pamphilj, a diffidence in which embarrassment perhaps played a part. Much later he dismissed most of his repeated assaults on it as “silly”, and it is hard to disagree, despite or because of the presence in the current Tate show of two of his strongest and least familiar Popes, as well as Head VI: one, once thought lost, from 1950, the other from 1965 – this last looking as if he has been shot in the head at close range, or as if the rage or terror that animated his predecessors had finally exploded his face from within.)

That so many of Bacon’s motifs derived, in complex, vigilant ways from photography and film is entirely consistent with his acute awareness that these new art forms had rendered representation in painting obsolete, and with his horror of mere “illustration”. This was not to say that painting should not deal in “fact”: just that fact comprehended more than what is “seen naturally”. “One wants a thing to be as factual as possible and at the same time as deeply suggestive or deeply unlocking of areas of sensation other than simple illustration of the object”, as Bacon put it to David Sylvester. He was also one of the most literary of painters, an admirer of Ulysses, an avid reader of poetry and drama who saw that the Oresteia and T. S. Eliot’s Sweeney Agonistes were blood relations, who liked to quote lines from both yet who repeatedly and sometimes fiercely repudiated attempts to read “a story” into his own work.

But he insisted too much. At one level, his habit of working in triptychs, and at a deeper one the suggestiveness he often in fact achieved, not just in triptychs but in single paintings, militates against that very insistence. It is hard to look at such works as the Crucifixions of 1962 and 65, Lying Figure (1969), Triptych, Studies from the Human Body (1970) or Triptych March 1974 without a sense of prelude, climax and aftermath – though not necessarily in that order. Some such adumbrated narrative, an intimate human drama about to be embarked on, concluded or aborted also haunts the restrained and very beautiful portrait studies of a suited Man in Blue, his face and hands bright-lit on a deep blue ground, that are at once the most “readable” of all Bacon’s male figures, and the most ambiguous.

What is common to all these images, early, late and middle, is the overwhelming presence or threat (or promise) of violence. Bacon’s obsession with the figure drove him repeatedly to disfigure it – to all but dismantle the heads and bodies he painted on his canvases, and destroy the canvases themselves, when he judged them to be failures. Working from photographs, so the artist said, enabled him to do the necessary violence to his subjects – the better to “distort them into appearance”; and that could not happen if the subject was actually present. (This showed an untypical délicatesse. Bacon’s definition of friendship was two people “pulling each other apart”, and in sex his pursuit of the roughest of rough trade bordered on the suicidal.) But he also spoke repeatedly of his desire to make paintings that would “return [the viewer] more violently to life”, by which he meant, as I understand it, shock that viewer out of habitual or self-protective ignorance and into awareness of his own physical reality. “An attempt to bring the figurative thing up onto the nervous system more violently and poignantly” was how he described his own work. “There is an area of the nervous system”, Bacon believed, “to which the texture of [oil] paint communicates more violently than anything else.”

Paintings (some paintings anyway) could mysteriously “unlock the valves of sensation” or of “intuition and perception about the human situation”; could, by seemingly subliminal means, evoke a memory trace of raw, unmediated existence. Somewhere behind this lay Baudelaire and Proust, with their different ideas of involuntary memory. But for Bacon (who also liked to cite Paul Valéry: “modern man wants the sensation without the boredom of its conveyance”), to unlock the valves of his own subconscious was to bring up onto the canvas and “onto the [viewer’s] nervous system” an apprehension of life or “being-aliveness” as violent, primordial struggle, redeemed only by an instinctive grace, or a stroke of luck.

For Bacon, a chronic asthmatic, the struggle began early: it was the struggle for breath itself. The second son of a bad-tempered military man-turned-horse breeder and the heiress to a Sheffield steel fortune, he was brought up in Ireland and England in a succession of big houses where the omnipresence of dogs and horses was a perpetual challenge to his well-documented will to live. Bacon senior made no secret of his disappointment in his sickly, sensitive son, whose party piece was to appear at family gatherings in full drag. Michael Peppiatt is one among many writers on Bacon to make the connection, in his absorbing biography Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an enigma (1995, now revised, updated and reissued by Constable in paperback), between the father’s screaming rages, the child’s gasping for air and the importance of the gaping mouth in the work of the mature artist. The killings and house-burnings of the Irish uprising and Civil War (“Violence upon the roads; violence of horses”, in Yeats’s words) formed the backdrop to Bacon’s childhood, further enlivened by the attentions of the grooms who were encouraged to take horsewhips to the young master to punish him for the attentions he was over-fond of paying them.

Three of his four siblings died premature deaths, but Francis would enjoy long life, vigorous appetites and legendary resilience, physical and psychological. Ejected from the family at sixteen, he soon discovered the resourcefulness and the hunger for risk that would sustain him both as a homosexual adventurer and a painter, along with his preferred modus vivendi: to lurch between opulence and squalor, between a punishing creative routine and an equally punitive, if delighted (and delightful), dissipation. In later life the prices commanded by his paintings made him rich, but he had established his careless mastery over money much earlier, in the casinos of Berlin and Monte Carlo. The centrality to both gambling and painting of chance, risk, instinct – in painting Bacon subsumed these under what he called “accident”, the way one mark might suggest another, or perhaps an entirely new image, without the apparent intervention of the will or conscious direction – made them more than analogous: they were two sides of the same life force, the same compulsion to live at the maximum pitch of intensity, for the same high stakes and correspondingly high rewards.

In some sense all Bacon’s paintings represent another throw of the dice, a record not of how he “saw the world” but of the only way he, human meat and a carcass-in-waiting as he was, could yet feel himself to be truly alive. Peppiatt, Sylvester and other witnesses have made clear that this life-and-death struggle issued as often as not in despair and self-disgust; but of course for the artist there was no choice. The paradox – and it strikes with greater force in the final two large rooms of the Tate exhibition, showing works from the last fifteen years of Bacon’s very productive life – is that intensity itself could become a habit; that so many of these later works look as mannered and fussy, in their beautiful, wearyingly nasty way, as anything from the Academic schools of the nineteenth century, in theirs.

The great exceptions are the paintings shown here in a room titled “Memorial”. Bacon’s companion, George Dyer, committed suicide in their hotel room on the eve of the artist’s retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971; three extraordinary triptychs from 1971–3 recall Dyer’s living presence, and imagine his last hours, with monumental and moving factuality. Bacon often remarked on the “awfulness” of his personal life – another of his lovers, Peter Lacey, had steadily drunk himself to death in the 1950s – and while no one would wish he had known more unhappiness of this kind, we can regret that he did not always achieve, or desire, the direct appeal to human emotion these pictures make, while surrendering nothing of painterly value: they have a stunning aura in which grandeur, indignity and grief are all present, and inseparable.

As with Eliot in poetry, Bacon’s art sinks deep roots into the whole psycho-physical life and attempts a reinvention of tradition (“the figurative thing”), rather than the Freud-sponsored violation of the natural order to which Surrealism aspired. To that extent, the confusion of the Times reviewer, faced with Bacon’s very first solo show in 1934, was understandable: “The difficulty . . . is to know how far his paintings and drawings . . . may be regarded as artistic expression and how far as the mere unloading on canvas and paper of what used to be called the subconscious mind”. (Cited in “Bacon and his Critics”, by Gary Tinterow, in the Tate catalogue.) Mere! We like to think we have come a long way since then, but Bacon and the best of his commentators are part of the long way we have come. The catalogue contains a useful chronology, but none of its seven essayists adds substantially to what has already been written by Russell, Lawrence Gowing, Michel Leiris and Gilles Deleuze. Michael Peppiatt’s new book, Francis Bacon: Studies for a portrait, contains interviews with and recollections of the artist from the 1960s almost until his death: that is, either the raw materials of Peppiatt’s biography or bits of the biography distilled into essays and articles. For completists only, it does include the full, fascinating text of Bacon’s answers when he was interviewed for the first time by his future biographer, in 1963, before celebrity began to overtake some of his responses.

Much recent scholarly interest in Bacon has focused on the “drawings” controversy: whether the many preparatory sketches and studies found in the artist’s studio and elsewhere after his death – studies which, while he was alive, he insisted he never produced – could be genuine. (It seems pretty obvious that some are, and some aren’t.) A room at the Tate (“Archive”) is devoted to some genuine-looking sketches, over-painted photographs and “doctored” images, while Francis Bacon: Incunabula by Martin Harrison and Rebecca Daniels is a spellbinding pictorial record of the most significant of Bacon’s visual sources. The entire fantastic compost of rags, paints, brushes, magazines, torn-out pages and tattered reproductions laid down over decades in Bacon’s South Kensington mews has been reconstructed entire at the Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane. While the artist’s living space was almost monastic in its austerity, his workroom was a materialization of the rich, sedimented strangeness of his inner world. To him, both discipline and chaos seem to have been indispensable.

(Tate Britain, until January 4, 2009)

Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens, editors
288pp. Tate Publishing. £24.99.
978 1 85437 738 8

Michael Peppiatt
Studies for a portrait
272pp. Yale University Press. £18.99 (US $35).
978 0 300 14255 6

Martin Harrison and Rebecca Daniels
256pp. Thames and Hudson. £39.95 (US $75).

978 0 500 09343 3

Alan Jenkins is Deputy Editor of the TLS. Drunken Boats, his translation of Arthur Rimbaud’s Le Bateau ivre, was published last year.





Bacon’s theatre of the absurd



On Francis Bacon at the Tate Britain, London.



By David Yezzi, The New Criterion, December 2008


High-priced meat-under-glass has been a staple of British art for the better part of a century, long before Damien Hirst’s fashionable sharks and calves appeared on the scene. Witness the current career retrospective of paintings by Francis Bacon (surely the ultimate nom de charcuterie), timed in accordance with the artist’s centenary in 2009. [1] Bacon’s take on the human condition was simple: “We are meat,” he liked to say. His paintings of sixty years, from Crucifixion (1933) to Triptych (1991) in the Tate show, rarely stray off message, recapitulating his dark matter in image after traumatic image. (From the mid-1960s on, Bacon displayed most of his sanguinary subjects behind glass, placed in gilded frames.) It is worth noting that the exhibition originates at Tate Britain, not at Tate Modern, as I initially assumed—a far better venue for staking Bacon’s claim as the greatest British painter since Turner (and, in the eyes of many, as one Tate press release has it, Britain’s greatest painter period!). But Bacon’s ubiquity and collectability, abetted by his famously theatrical subjects and bravura technique, mainly confirm his star status, not his mastery.

Certainly, anyone possessed of a glancing acquaintance with modern art knows what a Bacon looks like: arrays of distended viscera, steaming sides of beef, screaming Popes in “space-frames,” crucifixions, menacing dogs, swirled faces, contorted nudes decomposing on divans, Muybridge-esque figures recast in blurs of paint. Brutal, bloody stuff. It’s also attention-grabbing stuff, both pictorially and commercially. Even those who couldn’t give a fig for art will have noticed Bacon’s recent record-breaking outing in the marketplace: Triptych (1976) sold in May at Sotheby’s for over $86 million, the highest price ever paid at auction for a contemporary art work. Last month, Study for Self-Portrait (1964), estimated at $40 million, sat on the block at Christie’s without a bid, but one assumes this was due more to our economy’s recent resemblance to a Bacon painting than to any decline in Bacon’s blue-chip stock.

Only Bacon’s friend Lucian Freud, among the London School painters, comes close to rivaling his celebrity and mystique. Bacon worried that his biography would over-weight viewers’ interpretations of his work, and not without reason; his was a colorful life tinged with tragedy. One needn’t scratch the surface very deeply before biographical details emerge, particularly in the portraits and late paintings. Bacon’s reputed drinking, gambling, and masochism (he fled one severe beating clothed only in fishnet stockings) fueled his image as a peintre maudit. His greatest subject was ultimately Francis Bacon.

darling of the bohemian intelligentsia, Bacon spent his bad-boy early years in London commuting “between the gutter and the Ritz” (as he put it): dodging rents, committing petty crimes, and living off of patrons and friends. He took pride in the fact that he never received formal training as a painter. Born in Ireland to English parents, he fled a violent homelife in which his horse-trainer father oversaw regular whippings of his son by the grooms. In 1927, Bacon traveled to Germany with Cecil Harcourt-Smith, a family friend (with whom he wound up in bed). He found Berlin in the Twenties much as Auden described it at that time—“a bugger’s daydream.” It was seeing Picasso’s work in Paris, where he traveled after Berlin, that set him on the road to becoming a painter.

Bacon’s earliest painting in the Tate exhibition is his spindly, Picasso-inflected Crucifixion (1933). Crucifixions became a signature motif for the artist. Among his most well-known images are Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), his first major triptych, and Painting (1946), a splayed cow carcass and bloody-mouthed figure arranged as an abattoir-altarpiece, which Alfred Barr acquired for the Museum of Modern Art. Bacon followed these with a series of Popes, beginning with Head VI (1949) and culminating in the streaked and gilded bombast of Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953). The Popes were one of a number of motifs Bacon would come back to later in his career with diminishing returns. (Bacon was extremely self-critical and destroyed a great deal of work, but by the time he came to repent the Popes presumably it was too late to get his hands on them.)

Bacon often equivocated when asked questions about his influences and the significance of his work, but certain things were repeated often enough to be believed: 1) that he was an Nietzschean atheist, 2) that Picasso had meant a great deal to him, 3) that he intended no religious meaning with his crosses and Popes, and 4) that his greatest guiding principle as a painter was the Surrealist notion of chance. According to Michael Peppiatt in his recently updated biography, [2] what Bacon most wanted was to “excite” himself, to stir emotion ruthlessly, to “remove veils” from experience, to provide direct access to the valves of feeling. His means: bloody mouths, bones, flesh, screaming heads. Peppiatt once claimed, in the September 1984 issue of Connoisseur, that “even his detractors would agree that there is nothing of the easy chair about the work of Francis Bacon. Far from ease, it offers extreme disquiet.” I can’t say that I’m convinced. A kind of bathos dogs Bacon’s work, arising from the fact that his disquiet is, so to speak, always in an “easy chair,” swathed in gorgeous magenta and crimson and served up with a Sargent-like facility of the brush.

Bacon’s seductive paint handling is the first thing that viewers notice after the carnage. His methods of applying paint were as idiosyncratic as they were versatile. Hugh Davies and Sally Yard describe his everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, in which his materials ranged from

Brillo pads to cashmere sweaters, as brushes are joined by rags, cotton wool, sponges, scrub brushes, garbage-can lids, paint-tube caps, the artist’s hands, and whatever else he can find in the studio for the application and shaping of painterly passages… . Thick impasto coexists with thinned washes of pigment and raw canvas, sand and dust are occasionally used to give texture to the paint. A few works of the 1980s are veiled in the haze produced by applying paint with an aerosol spray.

Reviewing Bacon’s show at the Malborough-Gerson gallery in 1968, Hilton Kramer found him “one of the most dazzling pictorial technicians on the current scene.” Why, then, he asks, does the work “strike me as being clever rather than profound—brilliant rather than authentic?” Kramer ends with a recognition of “exactly how safe an artist Mr. Bacon really is.”


Safe and also stagey. Bacon’s characteristic space is theatrical, suggesting operating theaters, thrust stages, wrestling rings, circus rings, bull rings, throne rooms, closets, altars—all playing areas in Bacon’s theater of the absurd. Beckett is a name that tends to come up when considering Bacon’s vision, but it’s closer to Genet (whose plays he recommended to friends). Think of the bishop in Le Balcon, who is in fact a man in costume acting out a ritualistic sexual fantasy in a brothel that the madame calls a “house of illusions.” In the critic Martin Esslin’s description, absurdist theater portrays “a world that functions mysteriously outside our conscious control… . It no longer has religious or historical purpose; it has ceased to make sense.” This is Bacon’s world, in which the artist rejects both narrative and didactic purpose and attempts to confront, in Esslin’s phrase, “the spectator with the harsh facts of a cruel world and his own isolation.”



This sense of chance and of confrontation is a key element of Bacon’s most touted images, such as Painting (1946), with its absurdist illogic and raw imagery. Yet the “safety” that Kramer perceived in the late Sixties already exists here in the picture’s pink and mauve symmetrical background. Bacon’s paint handling is so delicious, it’s like a mountain of crème Chantilly—far from horrified by it, you want to eat it with a spoon. Bacon is continually betrayed by his beginnings as an interior designer, no where more so in Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. As Peppiatt notes of the background colour of Studies, “It is worth recalling that cadmium orange, which had become the fashionable colour in avant-garde interior design in the 1930s, remained Bacon’s favourite colour.” Bacon’s fashion colours and mod furniture come off as frivolously elegant.


Frivolity is, of course, the last thing most people associate with Bacon’s work. As Bacon’s Soho crony and (unauthorized) biographer Daniel Farson writes: “To appreciate Bacon’s work, it helps to see him as a deeply moral artist.” This strikes me as exactly what Bacon is not, so much so that I wonder if Farson could really believe it himself. Elsewhere he says that Bacon repeatedly told him that he believed in “nothing.” John Richardson, the biographer of Picasso, repeats the error: “By holding a mirror up to our degenerate times Bacon proves himself to be one of the most moral artists of the day. Far from titillating us, he castigates us.” But Bacon does no such thing. Firstly, he is not concerned with our “times” in any historical sense, except in so far as he personally embodies them. For Bacon, images from news photographs and films—the screaming nurse on the Odessa steps in Potemkin or a Nazi armband, for example—have little to say about “our degenerate times” and volumes to say about Bacon’s roiling inner life. When a television commentator suggested that Bacon’s work was a condemnation of man’s inhumanity to man, Bacon retorted: “That’s the last thing I think of.”


It is not Bacon’s stark subject matter that disqualifies him as a “moral artist”; it is his aestheticization of the horror depicted. As the critic Yvor Winters explains, the moral artist does not shy from exploring the extremes of human experience, but he portrays evil as evil and makes us know it as evil. This is not the case with Bacon, either in his professed world view or in his practice:

In all the motor accidents I’ve seen, people strewn across the road, the first thing you think of is the strange beauty—the vision of it, before you think of trying to do anything… .

There’s no one more unnatural than myself, and, after all, I’ve worked on myself to be as unnatural as I can. I can’t really talk about painting because I only work for myself and just by chance it happens that for some reason I’ve been lucky enough to be able to live by something that obsesses me, but I haven’t got any morals to preach… . I just work as closely to my nerves as I can.

One leaves the Bacon show at the Tate feeling beaten up by images of the dying George Dyer (Bacon’s tragic lover) vomiting into a sink, the gaping wounds, the twisted flesh. Bacon sought to transmit emotion as immediately as possible, which in a sense he did, but it’s not emotion he transmits so much as sensation. Shock lends Bacon’s work its edge, but it diminishes it as well. The paintings register like a trauma on the spinal column, without ever reaching the more complex centers of the brain. Later in Bacon’s career, when shock gave way to chic, the game was lost. Second Version of Triptych 1944, his reworking of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, replaces the brushy energy of the earlier work with a spray-painted softness that makes Bacon’s phallic Furies look like tchotchkas in a Madison Avenue boutique. His Innocent X of 1965 replaces the pontiff’s rictus with the taffy-pull features of the later portraits. Bacon became convinced that he could have done the Popes better than he had, but this is no proof. Nor is the reworking of Painting from the 1960s (not included in the Tate show), which dresses the macabre scene up with a sunny yellow background and what look like paper garlands—a travesty of Gauguin’s Yellow Christ (1889). Bacon detested illustration, but in the end he failed to escape it, and the portraits moved him even further in this direction.


The Peppiatt book contains a revealing quotation: “When I was young, I needed extreme subject matter for my paintings… . Then as I grew older I began to find my subject matter in my own life. During the 1960s the Furies, the dictators and screaming Popes, the anonymous figures trapped in darkened rooms gave way to portraits of living identified beings.” And here is the disconnect: Bacon reviled abstraction because for him it was all design, empty aesthetics. Bacon relied on his figures to ground his work in reality, to lend his paintings the force and horror of the real world. But the triptychs and portraits of the Sixties and later marinate in the very aesthetic stew he had hoped to avoid. Bacon’s contortions of angst become so pretty, so tasteful. The large squares of pink and orange (orange is the new pink, or is it the other way around?), the natty black suits, the distinctive chaises and tables make the lot seem very “safe” indeed.



The selection of works for the exhibition is judicious, suggesting more variety in the work than is really there. After the monotony of the Bacon treatment—floating central figures against disconnected flat colors—sets in, the decline is steady: the final paintings are his least interesting. As David Sylvester prophesied in 1955, “many of the things that make [Bacon] exciting today may render him laughable for future generations.” The colored arrows pointing to newspapers and wounds and bodies on toilets; the globs of thrown white paint; the increased staginess—all seem like precious, empty gestures. The Tate retrospective carefully elucidates Bacon’s photographic sources; it includes BBC footage of Bacon in conversation with David Sylvester that highlights his considerable charm, but the work itself seems no different that it did at the MOMA retrospective in 1990—except that it has grown a little more tired with the passage of time.



Bacon’s paintings, ostensibly transmitting high-pitched emotion, are cut off from emotion. He never flinched from working on a grand scale, from putting his feet up against the masters—Grünewald, Titian, Vélazquez—but in the end his almost mechanical serialism and cool shocks bring him closer to Warhol, whose films Bacon admired even as he turned his nose up at the paintings. Rather than being the greatest British painter since Turner, Bacon may better be seen as the great precursor to the soullessness of Damien Hirst, whose shark is currently on view at the Met. When Francis Bacon arrives in New York next summer, viewers will have a chance to consider the two artists under one roof.




1. Francis Bacon opened at Tate Britain, London, on September 11, 2008 and remains on view through January 4, 2009. The exhibition will travel to the Museo National del Prado, Madrid (February 3–April 19, 2009) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (May 18–August 19, 2009). A catalogue edited by Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens, with essays by Martin Harrison, David Alan Mellor, Simon Ofield, Gary Tinterow, and Victoria Walsh, has been printed by Tate Publishing (288 pages, £24.99 paper).



2. Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, by Michael Peppiatt; Constable, 456 pages, £12.99 paper.

David Yezzi is the Executive Editor of The New Criterion.





Leading 20th Century Artists Present at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Sale in Paris



Art Daily, Tuesday, December 2, 2008


PARIS. – Sotheby’s two-session sale of contemporary art, to be held in Paris on December 10/11, has an overall estimate of €12-17 million and features 142 important works by leading 20th century artists. Several represent landmarks in their artists’ careers or number among the handful of works by the artist still in private hands.

The top lot at the evening sale is expected to be Francis Bacon’s Two Figures (1961), featuring two sturdy, naked figures shown contorted and convulsed, their faces wracked in pain (lot 11, estimate €5,000,000-7,000,000). This sort of subject recurred in Bacon’s work for many years, but this painting is particularly important as it marks a watershed in his figurative approach. By placing the Two Figures in an abstract setting, Bacon underlines both their solitude and captive condition – they are imprisoned, as it were, within a dull field of faded pink and dirty grey, where space and time are frozen.

Sotheby’s Paris has now offered major works by Francis Bacon on three occasions, including Seated Woman (a portrait of Muriel Belcher), which holds the record price for contemporary art in France at €13.7m.







Contemporary Art 


Sale: PF8020  |  Location: Paris
Auction Dates: Session 1: Wed, 10 Dec 08 7:00 PM


Lot 11 Francis Bacon 1909-1992  TWO FIGURES
5,000,000—7,000,000 EUR:  Unsold



                                                   Two Figures 1961 Francis Bacon





198 x 142 cm; 77 7/8 x 55 7/8 in.



huile et sable sur toile


Exécuté en 1961.

Cette oeuvre sera incluse dans le Catalogue Raisonné de l’oeuvre de Francis Bacon actuellement en préparation par Martin Harrison.



Marlborough Fine Art, Londres
McCrory Corporation, New York
McKee Gallery, New York
Edward R. Broida, Los Angeles



Londres, Tate Gallery, Francis Bacon, 1962, illustré no.87
Mannheim, Kunsthalle, Francis Bacon, 1962, illustré no.76
Turin, Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Francis Bacon, 1962, illustré, no.81
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Francis Bacon, 1962, no.75
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Francis Bacon, 1963, illustré, no. 66
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum et exposition itinérante à Chicago, Art Institute, Francis Bacon, 1963-1964, illustré pp. 29 et 53, no. 53
Orlando, Museum of Art, The Edward R. Broida Collection: A Selection of Works, 1998, illustré p. 34
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Bacon, 2008, no. 30, illustré p. 122



Stephen Spender, Quandrum XI, décembre 1961, illustré p. 53
John Rothenstein, Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon, édition Thames and Hudson Londres, 1964, no. 184, illustré p. 137



oil and sand on canvas. Executed in 1961.

« ... De ma prison, je vois tout. Dans ma cabine en verre isolant, on m’observe. Seuls mes pieds solubles s’échappent sur les soupiraux de l’inconnu, chiens perdus des rois déchus. Je chante, je hurle, je ricane, j’insulte, je sanglote. Alors explosion. Il tombe des flocons de chair qui s’accumulent et se transforment en paysages, en sphinx. De la terre, de mon corps, en fouillant, j’extrais les vestiges de leurs secrets. Les fantômes n’ont pas d’âge ; sous leurs travestis, ils sont humains. ... ».
Roland Penrose (in Francis Bacon, galerie Rive Droite, Paris, 1957)

« Bacon, à Paris, devrait faire l’effet d’une bombe. ».
(Cimaise, Michel Ragon, janvier 1963, compte rendu de la rétrospective Bacon à la Tate Gallery à Londres ouverte en mai 1962 dans laquelle Two Figures était exposée)

« Bacon, à Paris, devrait faire l’effet d’une bombe. ».

En écrivant ces lignes, extraites de la revue d’art française Cimaise parue au mois de janvier 1963, Michel Ragon rapporte l’actualité artistique anglaise. Il évoque en particulier l’événement survenu au mois de mai 1962, à la Tate Gallery à Londres. La respectable institution a offert à Francis Bacon une grande rétrospective composée de 90 œuvres de l’artiste, parmi lesquelles Two Figures était incluse. Cette exposition majeure ensuite itinérante et présentée, jusqu’en 1963, à Mannheim, Turin, Zurich et Amsterdam, marque aussi la prééminence de l’artiste parmi les peintres anglais qui lui sont contemporains.

Si Francis Bacon jouit en Grande-Bretagne, et cela depuis fort longtemps, d’une cote considérable, son succès s’illustre aussi en 1960 à Londres à la Marlborough Gallery où il réalise sa première exposition en collaboration avec cette galerie prestigieuse. Cette-dernière constitue à l’époque l’un des plus grands et des plus beaux locaux de Londres ou de Paris. Elle compte dans son programme le plus grand sculpteur anglais vivant, Henri Moore, et ne se limitant pas à l’art contemporain, elle organise aussi des expositions des œuvres de Vincent Van Gogh, de Degas, de Monet ou de Renoir.

Quand Two Figures est peint en 1961, Francis Bacon a 52 ans. Le corps et le visage de l’homme sont pour lui des leitmotivs depuis longtemps. Ils deviennent avec la représentation du mouvement des thèmes incontournables dans l’œuvre de l’artiste, aussi bien qu’un tableau intitulé Turning Figure apparaît en 1962. Il qualifie à l’évidence un mouvement de torsion de la figure sur elle-même, tout en conservant cette impression que le corps est comprimé nerveusement. Les prémices de Turning Figure s’observent précisément dans Two Figures qui est réalisé l’année précédente. Two Figures apparaît dès lors comme une œuvre essentielle, infléchissant l’ensemble du système figuratif que Francis Bacon mettra désormais en place. Ainsi coupée des formes conventionnelles de la figuration, l’œuvre de Francis Bacon témoigne de l’inutilité des anciens mythes et de l’impossibilité de raconter tout récit à partir de son œuvre.

«Vous avez compris que ce n’est pas pour les autres que je peins. C’est pour moi. Je n’ai personne à séduire, à tromper, à orienter.».
(Entretien avec Pierre Descargues, Marseille 1976, in L’Art est vivant, p. 311).

Pour atteindre ce moment crucial dans l’évolution de sa peinture, Francis Bacon est captivé: « Michel-Ange et Muybridge se mêlent dans mon esprit, ainsi je pourrais peut-être apprendre des positions de Muybridge et apprendre de l’ampleur, de la grandeur des formes de Michel-Ange. ...Comme la plupart de mes modèles sont des nus masculins, je suis sûr que j’ai été influencé par Michel-Ange qui a réalisé les nus masculins les plus voluptueux des arts plastiques.». Les fragments harmonieux des sculptures grecques, les dessins parfaits de Michel-Ange se confondent dans son souvenir des corps aimés et des photographies d’Eadweard Muybridge, pour enfin se concrétiser dans la pulsion du geste de peindre. Si les photographies d’Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) oscillent entre la science et l’art et sont célèbres pour leurs décompositions du mouvement, les modèles qu’elles représentent rejoignent le maniérisme caractéristique des sculptures de Michel-Ange (1474-1564). Ce dernier inspire, notamment dans l’aspect «inachevé» de ses Esclaves du musée de l’Académie à Florence, l’ouverture vers l’infini, traduisant la lutte de l’esprit cherchant à se libérer de la matière.

La figure se trouve dans l’alternance de sa présence et de son absence. Sortie dans un vide, ou plutôt dans un plein, elle semble sortir d’un miroir où les deux chairs se confondent. Two Figures sculpte les modèles dans le tableau. En évoquant le double mouvement de l’inscription et de l’effacement des corps dans l’espace, une telle tension renvoie vers l’œuvre d’Alberto Giacometti, avec qui Francis Bacon se nouera d’ailleurs d’amitié ; dans les sculptures de ce-dernier le corps de l’homme est souvent représenté, en rendant justement un peu plus indistincte la frontière entre l’absence et la présence de la matière. Les tourments du vide sont aussi évoqués dans Two Figures avec la présence de l’ombre noire, habillant le personnage qui est situé au premier plan de l’oeuvre. Le titre en anglais de celle-ci, dénombrant deux modèles, devient dès lors très ambigü. La lecture de deux personnage dans le tableau est assez difficile et renvoit directement au rapport que Francis Bacon entretient avec la mort: "La mort est comme l’ombre de la vie. Quand on est mort, on est mort, mais tant qu’on est en vie, l’idée de la mort vous poursuit... ." (Francis Bacon, Entretiens avec Michel Archimbaud, 1991-1992, 1996 Gallimard, Folio Essais p.126).

" On ne sait jamais d’ailleurs ce qu’une image produit en vous. Elles entrent dans le cerveau, et puis après on ne sait pas comment c’est assimilé, digéré. Elles sont transformées, mais on ne sait pas comment. " (Francis Bacon, Entretiens avec Michel Archimbaud, op. cité, p.18). Comme l’artiste donne à le comprendre, l’image se transforme souvent au cours du travail et la relation avec le sujet s’établit dans le mouvement même de la peinture. Ce que Francis Bacon cherche à créer sur la toile, c’est de donner au modèle la place centrale, en le situant au milieu des énergies tournoyantes créées par la tension intérieure des corps en mouvement. Dans Two Figures l’artiste réussit avec virtuosité ce tour de force esthétique et transmet ces énergies à travers l’ardeur des traces de sa main qui maintient le pinceau.

Se libérer de la matière pour mieux concevoir la beauté d’un être, c’est aussi le savoir disparaître dans l’ardeur d’une intolérable combustion. Les corps les plus robustes de Two Figures se tordent dans un mouvement apparemment brutal, convulsif, renforcé par l’impersonnalité croissante du visage grimaçant devenu presque illisible. Le modèle, pivotant dans un mouvement maniériste, superposant les attitudes comme il le ferait dans une construction cubiste, se contractant dans une position délibérément faussée, désaxée, est soumis à une volonté paradoxale consistant à le défigurer pour rendre sa figuration plus forte, directe et saisissante.

En plaçant Two Figures dans un décor abstrait, la solitude des modèles nus augmente, l’un d’entre eux n’ayant pour défense apparente que ses dents sorties avec rage. La captivité des personnages dans la couleur sourde du vieux rose et du blanc mêlé de gris composant le fond du tableau fige en outre l’espace et le temps. Temps voluptueux rendu visible, dont les personnages semblent vouloir briser le cours. En surgissant dans une pièce réduite à l’essentiel pour exister à la frange de l’abstrait, les modèles donnent l’impression de vouloir franchir les lignes de démarcations du tableau et en détruire la vitre. Quoique figés, ce que les modèles rendent paradoxalement explicite, c’est encore la vitesse du pinceau et des brosses. Vitesse d’ailleurs volontaire à la recherche de l’accident. Dans cette démarche, Francis Bacon rappelle également celle poursuivie par Cy Twombly dans une représentation purement abstraite: introduire le déséquilibre, l’erreur, la rature, et constituer un univers par le renversement des valeurs essentielles traditionnelles.

La tension intérieure de Two Figures démontre avec maestria le style puissant de Francis Bacon. L’artiste affirme aussi, en recherchant obstinément la vérité devant le sujet, que l’avenir de l’homme est dans l’homme: pensée peut-être la plus ouverte et la plus généreuse que l’on appelle l’humanisme.

Fig.1-2. Francis Bacon, 1984.

Fig.3. Michel-Ange Buonarroti, Male Nude, circa 1504.

Fig.4. Michel-Ange Buonarroti, Esclave, Académie Florence.

Fig.5. Michel-Ange Buonarroti, La Furie. Palais de Windsor

Fig.6. Turning Figure, 1962, huile sur toile, 198,2 x 144,7 cm. Gilbert de Botton, Family trust.





Art: Bacon with trimmings




Charles Darwent recommends spending Boxing Day with Kandinsky’s colours or on Francis’s studio floor







The Independent on Sunday, 30 November 2008


Freud’s friend and nemesis, Francis Bacon, slyly affected never to draw, although this was a lie. Bacon, incredibly, would have been 100 next October, which explains the sudden outbreak of Baconia in art publishing. Among the best of the resultant books is Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait (Yale £18.99) by the late artist’s friend and chronicler, Michael Peppiatt, a collection of essays and interviews that offer a uniquely intimate glimpse into the life of a notoriously unintimate artist.

Martin Harrison can’t match Peppiatt in the Boswell stakes, but his encyclopaedic knowledge of Bacon minutiae and connections to the artist’s estate make him a pretty good runner-up. His earlier In Camera explored Bacon’s debt to photography. Now, Francis Bacon: Incunabula (Thames & Hudson £39.95) picks through the sweepings on Bacon’s studio floor. Scraps torn from medical books, reproductions of Velázquez portraits, Muybridge stills, over-worked shots of massacres from newspapers – all were grist to Bacon’s satanic mill. Harrison presents this trove without intervening text, as though we were truffling through the detritus on the floor at 7 Reece Mews ourselves. It’s a good way of approaching Bacon; also of whiling away a wet Christmas afternoon.






The Sunday Times books of the year: Art



The Sunday Times, November 30, 2008


It was, of course, an image inspired by the Bolshevik revolution  the bloodied face of the nurse from Eisensteinfilm The Battleship Potemkin (1925, and therefore too late for Bowlt to mention) – on which Francis Bacon based the heads of his screaming popes. He habitually painted from photographs, most torn from magazines and books, wilfully folded, daubed with paint and discarded feet-deep on the floor of his studio. Francis Bacon: Incunabula by Martin Harrison (Thames & Hudson £39.95) illustrates some 200 of these ephemeral images (everything from gay porn and pictures of skin diseases to, yes, stills from Potemkin), all furnished with brief explanatory notes. If you’re a Bacon fanatic with an insatiable appetite for information about his guarded working methods you’ll like this book. You’ll also be drawn to Michael Peppiatt’s Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait (Yale £18.99), an anthology of interviews and essays, several unpublished, a few repetitive, all relevant. Peppiatt writes about Bacon with refreshing and sometimes revealing candour.

Bacon appears in several places (in one, seemingly pulling his trousers down) in Lucian Freuds impressive On Paper (Cape £50). With an introduction by Sebastian Smee and an essay by Richard Calvocoressi, this is an extravagantly illustrated, satisfyingly fat volume about Freuds drawings in every medium. It spans his entire career from juvenilia signed in old German script to recent, densely worked etchings. Some of it looks clumsy, but more is mesmerising in its clairvoyant intensity. All of it suggests that Freud’s most considerable achievements are the result of his abiding desire to reconcile drawing and painting. The texts are helpful, too, though this isn’t chiefly a book to be read.




Lucian Freud’s early obsessions



Lucian Freud’s early works speak volumes about the shy artist’s sensuality —

and the combination of intensity and detachment that women find irresistible.


Waldemar Januszczak looks at the formative relationships of a master in the making



 Waldemar Januszczak, The Sunday Times, Sunday, November 30, 2008


It was also around this time that Freud met Francis Bacon. They were introduced by Graham Sutherland and met at Victoria station while setting off for a Sutherland weekend. Bacon seems to have freed Freud of any remaining guilt he may have harboured. “His work impressed me, but his personality affected me.” Bacon, who talked fondly of “the sensuality of treachery”, showed Freud “how to wing it through life, how to court risk, tempt accident and scorn the norm”. When Freud drew him one evening, Bacon pointedly unbuttoned his trousers.

“I think you ought to use these,” he said, sliding them down to reveal his hips. How strange that the only signs of unmistakable eroticism in Freud’s drawings should be supplied by a man.






Art: From canvas to cameras



By Michael Glover , The Independent, Friday, 28 November 2008


It’s been a good year for lovers of the energising, sado-masochistic gloom of Francis Bacon. The catalogue of his Tate Britain show does him proud (Tate Publishing £24.99), and two other books thicken the tortured plot of his life. Incunabula (Thames & Hudson, £39.95) shows us images of the photographs and visual documents which fed into the wild frenzy of his painting. His friend and official biographer Michael Peppiatt has assembled Studies for a Portrait (Yale, £18.99), a marvellously absorbing book of essays and interviews.













Colony Room closing time?






Studio International, Wednesday, 26 November 2008



A glorious hub for artists, dilettantes and drunks for the past 60 years, the Colony Room in Soho now faces imminent closure. Brawls and protests have inevitably ensued, parties have been planned to pay for legal fees and some members have been banned for fighting closure. Amid all of this, the magnificent art collection  which hangs modestly and cramped over the green walls of the tiny club  is the subject of much conversation and speculation as to where it will go if or when the party ends.


Fondly regarded as a ‘‘home for those who dont have a home’’, the Colony Room has long been a meeting point for the most nomadic of the art world, its vagabonds, poets, drunks  and their muses, friends and hangers-on  in search of ‘‘a place to dissolve our inhibitions’’, as Francis Bacon would say. Muriel Belcher founded the infamous club 60 years ago, and paid the young Francis Bacon a salary of free drinks to bring in his crowd.


And so Frank Auerbach, Lucien Freud, Patrick Caulfield and others became regulars at the emerald dive, donating a picture here and there, and piece by little masterpiece built the collection that decorates the bar today, with additions from Damien Hirst, Sebastian Horsley, Sarah Lucas et al. Tracey Emin, the late Angus Fairhurst, Jay Jopling and Sam Taylor-Wood have all served the club’s current owner, Michael Wojas, behind the bar.


Past the grimy buzzer, tucked into 41 Dean Street, through a door and at the top of some narrow stairs, the Colony Room has an almost mystical feel, damp with spilled gin (not beer), the odd tear and a general air of easy grimy debauchery: this is the downtime that follows the high art and the revelry to distract from the absurdity. But its not a pretentious place, and for all the mythology and wonder, its a cosy, grounded sort of place, all warm, vaguely stuffy, nicely scruffy, with swear words scrawled next to paintings and paintings scrawled in swear words. It is something akin to a gypsy caravan that decided to park. And yet now the vagabonds are being evicted. Where shall they go now? Damien Hirsts new B&B? That would be a little too bourgeois, surely, for Sohos surly rebels.


’Soho is dying!’ moans Sebastian Horsley, ‘‘I have always said I will commit suicide when the Colony closes. Not that one needs an incentive.’’  Clearly, shutting down the Colony Room will have an affect on Soho similar to the effect of Prohibition on New York in the Twenties. But where Gatsby found a way to steer around the law then, so Sohos residents will presumably find some moonshine of sorts as well, rather than an out and out Depression. One would hope so, anyway.


The rebellion continues, and legal action is being taken over the art and over the club. A party to raise funds for consequential expenditure will be thrown in December, and the resistance goes on. But is it too late? ‘‘The ship is sinking. Man the lifeboats. Women and children first. Fuck the women and children. Is there time?’’  wonders Horsley.


But whether they drown or not, in their sorrows or their wine, one hopes that the punters (who are the real draw) will colonise elsewhere if need be, even after Sohos pirates push them overboard.











Rare works of Bacon defy art auction gloom




ABC News Australia, Tuesday, 25 November 2008


Two paintings of Francis Bacon, by an Australian artist believed to have been his lover, were sold for well over their pre-auction price last night.

The works by Roy de Maistre  Francis Bacons Studio and Portrait Of Francis Bacon  were sold for $180,000 and $96,000 respectively at Sothebys sale of modern Australian art in Melbourne.

The two paintings, among a collection of six de Maistre works, had not been seen by the public for nearly 50 years.

I think both works illustrate very well that even in the present climate, works of exceptional provenance which carry conservative estimates are strongly competed for by enthusiastic collectors, Georgina Pemberton, head of Sothebys Australian paintings, told Reuters.

All of de Maistres paintings sold tonight.

The de Maistre star lots, which depict one of Bacon’s many studios and a portrait of the young artist with carefully drawn eyebrows and bright red lips, had been estimated by Sothebys at between $37,600-$50,000 and $5,000-$7,500.

Sothebys paintings specialist David Hansen said they had been painted in the 1930s, when the two artists were associating.

They were certainly closely associated both personally and professionally. Close, but exactly how close is not known, Mr Hansen said of the two artists.

De Maistre, who died in 1968, was considered a leading exponent of early modernism in Australia.

Bacon, who died in 1992, is believed to have made de Maistres acquaintance when he was about 20-years-old, possibly in France or London.  





Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait 



Michael PeppiattYale Univ., $35 (208p) ISBN 978-0-300-14255-6


Publishers Weekly, 11/24/2008


Peppiatt, having already written Bacons biography (Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma), now submits a collection of essays and interviews spanning his career of writing on the artist. Some of the pieces, updated with material originally omitted because Bacon (1909–1992) was still living, take on new life.

They also echo each other, as when, in an essay for Art International, Peppiatt writes that “comparatively few artists were admitted into Bacon’s pantheon, and even they tended to be pared down to one or other aspect of their oeuvre”—Degas was one, as Bacon says in one interview: “Degas is complete in himself. I like his pastels enormously.” 

Each piece describes a different period in Bacon’s life, a theme in the work, influences or significant companions. As each topic is inscribed with the biographical essentials, the motifs stand out in relief from the background details. The book gains a certain rhythm as the portrait is made simultaneously more simple and more complex. The effect, cast in Peppiatt’s intimate reportage, works well, and the book will enrich the library of any Bacon enthusiast. 16 pages of colour and 35 b&w illus. (Jan.)





Rare works about Francis Bacon defy art auction gloom



Reuters, Monday November 24, 2008


MELBOURNE (Reuters Life!) — Two rare artworks by Australian painter Roy de Maistre, which feature artist Francis Bacon who was believed to be his lover, will be auctioned by Sothebys on Monday among a collection of Australian modern art.

Of the six de Maistre paintings, the two works  Francis Bacon’s Studio and Portrait of Francis Bacon  have not been seen by the public for nearly 50 years.

"All six of the de Maistres works on offer were painted in London in the 1930s when the two artists were associating," David Hansen, senior researcher and paintings specialist at Sothebys, told Reuters.

Francis Bacons Studio, with a pre-sale estimate of between A$60,000-A$80,000 ($37,600-$50,000), depicts one of Bacons many studios while Portrait of Francis Bacon, with a pre-sale estimate of between A$8,000-A$12,000 ($5,000-$7,500), shows a young Bacon, with carefully drawn eyebrows and bright red lips.

"The young Bacon was well known amongst members of Londons gay subculture for his cosmetic display," Hansen said.

"They were certainly closely associated both personally and professionally - close but exactly how close is not known," he said of the two artists. "It was often said that de Maistre taught Bacon how to paint, though both artists denied it."

Sotheby’s said the auction, which also includes works by Australian artists John Perceval and Brett Whiteley, had generated substantial interest with potential buyers from Britain and Australia.

The works on offer have a collective pre-sale estimate of A$3.3 million-A$4.4 million ($2.1 million-$2.75 million).

De Maistre, who died in 1968, was considered a leading exponent of early Modernism in Australia. Bacon, who died in 1992, is believed to have made de Maistres acquaintance when he was about 20 years old, possibly in France or London.

(Reporting by Pauline Askin, Editing by Miral Fahmy)



Portrait of Francis Bacon Roy de Maistre









Important Australian Art



Sale: AU0724  |  Location: Melbourne

Auction Dates: Session 1: Mon, 24 Nov 08 6:30 PM





         Portrait of Francis Bacon  Roy de Maistre 1935





8,000—12,000 AUD

Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer’s Premium: 96,000 AUD



66 by 43.6m



Signed lower right

Oil on board


Painted in 1935



Dimitri Mitrinoviæ
Trustees of the New Atlantis Foundation
Glady MacDermot; thence by descent
Private collection, Switzerland



Roy de Maistre: A restrospective exhibition of paintings and drawings 1917-1960, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, May-June 1960, cat. 40



Neville Wallis, 'In the Humanist Tradition', The Observer, 15 May 1960, p. 20 (illus.)
Daniel Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, Century, London, 1993, p. 28 and illus.
Heather Johnson, Roy de Maistre: The English Years 1930-1968, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1995, p. 26



Soon after moving to London in 1930, de Maistre began a relationship with Francis Bacon. Possibly a lover but certainly a good friend and benevolent father figure, de Maistre provided the technical advice and support which enabled bacon to make the transition from interior decorator to painter.

He was also a social and professional mentor; at de Maistre’s Eccleston Street studio salon Bacon met people like the artists Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland, the young writer Patrick White and the expatriate Australian collector and art dealer Douglas Cooper, as well as patrons such as R.A. Butler and Gladys MacDermot, who commissioned Bacon to entirely redesign her Bloomsbury apartment.

De Maistre painted his young friend’s portrait in 1930, and included the work in the three-man exhibtion – de Maistre paintings, Bacon pictures and rugs and pastels by Jean Shepeard – held in Bacon’s studio in 1930. The present work is dated to some years later and shows Bacon in his mid 20s, looking, as de Maistre put it, 'like a somewhat dubious choirboy'.

It is indeed a strange, tense, enigmatic portrait of the young artist. Posed in three quarter profile in a strongly lit, shallow space in front of a blood-red curtain, Bacon’s oddly unexpressive, even doll-like face is at once abstracted and alert, while his clasped hands seem to convey both formality and anxiety. In addition to the familiar cowlick quiff and the piercing blue eyes, the painting also shows carefully-drawn eyebrows and bright red lips. The young Bacon was well known amongst members of London’s gay subculture for his cosmetic display. Michael Peppiat records that 'shortly after he had gained some recognition as an artist, he walked into a London bar where a well known homosexual wit was sitting. When their gazes met, the wit said loudly: "as for her, when I knew her, she was more famous for the paint that she put on her face than the paint she put on canvas" Later, Patrick White was to recall Bacon’s ’beautiful pansy-shaped face, sometimes with too much lipstick on it,’ while ’a young relative of de Maistre remembers meeting Francis and wondering whether she should tell him he must have sucked his paintbrush and got red paint all over his mouth.’

Portrait of Francis Bacon is an affectionate and revealing image of the celebrated British artist at the start of his career, and an important memento of his constructive relationship with the older and wiser Australian.

1. Daniel Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, Century, London, 1993, p. 28
2. Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1996, p. 56
3. Patrick White, Flaws in the Glass: a self-portrait, Jonathan Cape, London, 1983, p. 62
4. Peppiatt, op. cit., p. 56

We are most grateful to Heather Johnson, Andrew Brighton and Elizabeth Gertsakis for their assistance in cataloguing this work.







Important Australian Art


Sale: AU0724  |  Location: Melbourne

Auction Dates: Session 1: Mon, 24 Nov 08 6:30 PM




                  Francis Bacon’s Studio  Roy de Maistre 1932



LOT 69


Estimate  60,000—80,000 AUD

Lot Sold  Hammer Price with Buyer’s Premium:  180,000 AUD



91 by 76cm



Signed lower right; dated 1932 on the reverse

Oil on canvas



Dimitri Mitrinoviæ
Trustees of the New Atlantis Foundation
Glady MacDermot; thence by descent
Private collection, Switzerland



(possibly) Roy de Maistre, Mayor Gallery, London, October-November 1934 (Mayor Gallery label on stretcher bar on reverse)
Roy de Maistre: A retrospective exhibition of paintings and drawings 1917 - 1960, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, May - June 1960, cat. 21
Francis Bacon, Tate Gallery, London, 24 May-1 July 1962, cat. 93 (as Francis Bacon’s Studio, 1932, lent by Roy de Maistre). Partial Tate Gallery exhibition label attached to reverse.



John Rothenstein and Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon, Thames & Hudson, London, 1964, p. 10
Mary Eagle, Australian Modern Painting Between the Wars 1914-1939, Bay Books, Sydney, 1989, p. 50 (illus.)
John Russell, Francis Bacon, Thames & Hudson, London, 1993, pp. 16-17
Andrew Sinclair, Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times, Crown Publishers, New York, 1993, p. 64
Heather Johnson, Roy de Maistre: The English Years 1930-1968, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1995, pp. 24, 77, 234



When Roy de Maistre and Francis Bacon met, the 21 year old Bacon had begun to establish himself as a fashionable furniture designer, producing severe glass and tubular-steel tables and chairs and synthetic-cubist screens and woven floor rugs. This art deco aesthetic chimed with de Maistre’s own taste for geometric flat pattern, and he responded with strikingly moderne but ’topographically precise’ views of Bacon’s studio: Francis Bacon’s Queensbury Mews Studio (1930, collection of the late Francis Elek) and Interior (1930, Manchester City Art Gallery).

They were the first of some ten pictures of Bacon’s work spaces that de Maistre would produce during the early 1930s. In addition to these two and to Still Life (1933, National Gallery of Australia) and Mr Francis Bacon’s Studio, Royal Hospital Road (1934, private collection), there are no fewer than six related paintings of one of these rooms, a whitewashed attic prism with open door and pictures leaning against the walls.

The precise location depicted is uncertain. John Rothenstein maintains that these works, too, depict the studio at 71 Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea , but Heather Johnson notes that ’sketches for the work were thought to have been made circa 1932, in which case the studio represented could have been one of the many Bacon occupied after leaving his Queensbury Mews studio in 1931 and before he moved into the Royal Hospital Road studio...Bacon had studios in Fulham Road, Cromwell Place and Glebe Place during this time.’

For those with an interest in the early Bacon, the picture’s key interest lies in the two curious, Picassoesque works ’carefully, irreplaceably recorded by de Maistre’. ’Against bare boards and angular white surfaces, canvases are stacked, two turned towards the painter’s brush, one of a skeletal and feathered bird, another of the quartered outline of a horse or dragon – the start of a movement from geonometric abstraction towards a more organic image... these are works of transition, those of an embryo trying to flesh itself.’

The picture also has a special importance for de Maistre scholars. The original version was purchased by Gladys MacDermot, de Maistre’s great supporter both in Australia and in England, and attracted the particular interest of another of MacDermot’s protégés, Dmitri Mitrinovic, political and aesthetic visionary and polemicist, and founder of the journals New Britain and New Atlantis. While MacDermot’s painting was destroyed during the London Blitz, Johnson records that ’Mitrinovic commissioned a version...for himself, New Atlantis... almost identical to the original work’ and that ’several other versions and variations of the work were also produced: a third, smaller work done for Mitrinovic and given to a follower, Jack Murphy... a fourth work also done for Mitrinovic and presently in a private collection associated with the New Atlantis Foundation...(the present work) and a sixth work, White Figure, Art Gallery of Western Australia. All the extant works are believed to have been done circa 1933 developed from sketches de Maistre made in Bacon’s studio in 1932.'

1. Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1996, p. 51
2. John Rothenstein and Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon, Thames & Hudson, London, 1964, p. 10
3. Heather Johnson, Roy de Maistre: The English Years 1930-1968, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1995, p. 77
4. John Russell, Francis Bacon, Thames & Hudson, London, 1993, p. 16
5. Andrew Sinclair, Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times, Crown Publishers, New York, 1993, p. 64
6. Heather Johnson, Roy de Maistre: The English Years 1930-1968, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1995, p. 77

We are most grateful to Heather Johnson, Andrew Brighton and Elizabeth Gertsakis for their assistance in cataloguing this work.





Francis Bacon: gesto y agonía de la figura humana



CARLOS M. LUIS, ARTES Y LETRAS Especial/El Nuevo Herald



El Nuevo Herald, Miami, 23 de Noviembre del 2008


Como parte de la celebración del centenario en el 2009 del nacimiento de Francis Bacon, la Tate Gallery de Londres ha inaugurado una retrospectiva de este pintor. Entre los meses de febrero y agosto la muestra viajará a los museos del Prado y al Metropolitan de Nueva York. Los 60 cuadros que serán expuestos permiten indagar sobre la vida y la obra de uno de los grandes pintores de todas las épocas. Pocos como Bacon - quizás ninguno - ha llevado tan lejos el tratamiento de la figura humana en la forma que este pintor lo ha hecho.

Habría que remontarse a las representaciones que los artistas medievales hacían de los condenados para acercarnos a las suyas. O podemos acudir a Goya como un antecedente. Para situarnos en el siglo XX, las mujeres de De Kooning, el ''Grito'' de Edward Munch, o ciertas obras de Chaim Soutine, de Van Gogh o los autorretratos de Artaud entre otros, pueden ubicarse a su lado. Pero nadie como Bacon realizó una visión tan escatológica del ser humano, abriéndole al mismo tiempo, un espacio para ser representado en la soledad y el sufrimiento. En su caso no podemos acusarlo de que lo hizo tomando la figura humana como un simple tema pictórico. Su vida de alcohólico y de homosexual sadomasoquista lo situó dentro de una realidad que él experimentó hasta la saciedad de los excesos, pues para Bacon los extremos se tocaban para desgarrarse entre sí.

Estamos prisioneros en nuestra piel dijo Wittgenstein en sus diarios. En el caso de Bacon podemos decir que éste encerró a la humanidad dentro de la piel de los cuerpos que él pintó. Ese permanente contacto suyo con las fuerzas elementales que emanan de la anatomía humana y animal lo convirtió de paso en un filósofo visual sin quererlo. Podemos a partir de sus cuadros especular toda una teoría acerca de la condición humana, partiendo de una ''lógica de la sensación'' como lo hiciera Gilles Deleuze en su libro sobre el pintor. En el mismo el pensador francés exploró las resonancias que pueden existir entre la filosofía y las artes visuales. Tomando ese concepto como punto de vista, Deleuze discute tres aspectos fundamentales de la pintura de Bacon: la figura, los espacios de color que la rodean y las estructuras que los separan. Esos tres aspectos aparecen claramente configurados en Bacon como parte de su dinámica pictórica. Veamos los tres por separado.

La figura: la atracción que posee el cuerpo humano para Bacon le brinda la ocasión para interpretarlo, de acuerdo con su visión de la existencia, como un acto límite. Es por eso que sus cuerpos van sufriendo toda suerte de distorsiones hasta llegar a ser irreconocibles. Bacon entonces actúa sobre los mismos como representando una especie de ritual frenético, cuyo sadismo hace palidecer a las coreografías sexuales del Marqués. Bacon se sintió influido por los experimentos fotográficos de Eadweard Muybridge, quien a finales del siglo XIX, realizara una serie de fotos de personas y animales sorprendidos en diversas posturas. Posiblemente pudo también sentirse atraído por los dibujos anatómicos del renacentista Andreas Vesalius. Por otra parte Velázquez le sirvió de modelo para interpretar sus retratos. La versión que el maestro español hiciera del papa Inocencio X fue objeto de una de las obras más emblemáticas de Bacon.

El color: contrario al tratamiento del color propio de los expresionistas, Bacon utilizó el suyo en forma plana, realzando su brillantez. El contraste que esto provoca con sus figuras retorcidas es notable. El color se extiende por el espacio de sus cuadros, creando zonas de intensas gamas, sin componer un contrapunto  como lo hacen muchos expresionistas  con el dramatismo de las figuras. De ese modo el color queda, sobre todo en los cuadros de su última época, como una especie de trasfondo donde podemos observar, si eliminamos las figuras de los mismos, una distribución constructivista del espacio.

La estructura: Bacon compone sus cuadros partiendo de un sentido espacial muy preciso. De esa forma coloca sus figuras dentro de compartimentos, semejantes muchos de ellos a grandes cajas de cristal. Esa manera suya de encerrar a sus personajes nos recuerda el juicio de Eichmann en Jerusalén, donde el famoso nazi permaneció dentro de un cubículo durante todo el proceso. También nos puede traer a la memoria la secuencia del filme Silence of the Lambs, seguramente inspirada en Bacon, cuando Hannibal Lecter tuvo que ser enjaulado en una gran cárcel de cristal en medio de un salón. Ambas escenas muestran una teatralidad que su pintura nos comunica a través de la gestualidad de muchas de sus mejores obras. Por otra parte y a la manera de los pintores medievales, Bacon gustaba de pintar trípticos como grandes retablos que reproducen variaciones sobre un tema determinado. Uno de éstos, basado en la crucifixión, llevó hasta el paroxismo de lo grotesco la representación de ese acontecimiento central de la cultura cristiana.

Baudelaire afirmó que el Romanticismo no consistía tanto en la verdad exacta como en la manera de sentir esa verdad. Bacon, que en el fondo pertenece a la tradición romántica, está interesado en capturar una verdad que le sirva para expresar un sentimiento ''agónico''. Cada uno de sus modelos que tuvieron en un momento dado existencia propia fueron sometidos a una interpretación delirante de la verdad que encarnaban. Fue de esa forma que Bacon logró crear imágenes que quedarán grabadas indeleblemente en la historia del arte.  





Francis Bacon: Space and Surface, symposium organised by Brian Hatton



Symposium 22/11/08 - 10.00 Architectural Association, 36 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3ES



To complement the Francis Bacon exhibition at Tate Britain, this symposium considers spatial and architectural aspects in Bacon’s art. Bacon composed his pictures by risking spontaneous acts and chance effects of painting within carefully designed and projected spatial frameworks, often deploying traces of his early work in furniture and interior decoration.

This double aspect of Bacon’s work has interested not only painters but also architects and filmmakers. Presentations will be made by: Andrew Brighton, James Cahill, Nigel Coates, Mark Cousins, Martin Hammer, Brian Hatton and John Maybury. The symposium will conclude with a roundtable discussion.

All welcome
No advance booking required

Please note: The AA Bar (1st Floor) will be open between 11.00 and 6.00 providing regular bar services.







                      Speakers at the symposium included: Andrew Brighton, James Cahill, Nigel Coates, Martin Hammer, John Maybury, Bob Maxwell & Brian Hatton.











Joel Cadbury seeks a Colony



It is the drinking den whose patrons have included such artists as Francis Bacon and Tracey Emin,

but the Colony Room in Soho may be about to have a surprising new owner.



Richard Eden The Daily Telegraph 15 November 2008




Mandrake can disclose that Joel Cadbury, whose chocolate-producing ancestors were abstemious Quakers, is lining up a bid for the louche private members’ club. "Joel has been approached about taking it over and is seriously considering it," says a friend of the 36-year-old son of Peter "the Cad" Cadbury. 


Joel, who is married to Divia Lalvani, the daughter of an Indian electronics tycoon, is a non-executive director the Groucho Club, the haunt of media and theatre professionals, which is next door to the Colony Room. 


Last year, Cadbury sold his Soho health and fitness club, The Third Space, to a management buyout team backed by private equity for £22 million. The deal came just over a year after he sold the Groucho to the same private-equity group, Graphite Capital, for £20 million.


The Colony Room was established 60 years ago to provide a refuge for members when the pubs closed. Earlier this year, Michael Wojas, the club secretary and chief barman, said he would close it when he retires in March because of the impact of the smoking ban, an expiring lease and a general downturn.





Art boom over as auctions fail to bring home Bacon



November 14, 2008


When a Francis Bacon triptych became the most expensive contemporary artwork sold at auction earlier this year it fuelled hopes that the art market might be credit-crunch proof.

Six months later the failure of another important Bacon work to attract a single bid at auction in New York has underlined what the leading auction houses have long feared and recently suspected: the art boom is over and it will not be back any time soon.

A sobering fortnight of big sales in New York ends this afternoon with little prospect of transactions totalling $1 billion (£676 million).

That might seem like an obscene sum of money to lavish on art in the midst of an economic crisis but it is well short of the auction houses’ own combined minimum estimate for the sales of $1.7 billion.

The fortnight included four star-studded evening sales of Impressionist and Modern and Contemporary and PostWar art, which traditionally set the tone for the art market over the next six months.

This year, despite the presence of John McEnroe, the tennis player, Salma Hayek and Steve Martin, the actors, Valentino, the fashion designer and various billionaire art collectors in the auction rooms, the four sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s pulled in only $608.5 million, against a low estimate of $1.007 billion.

About a third of the works on offer failed to sell at all, including pieces by Picasso, Rothko, Manet, Monet, Modigliani, Matisse, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Hirst, while many of those that did went for substantially less than the asking price.

Some records were set, brightening the gloom for the auction houses. Suprematist Composition by Kazimir Malevich, the Russian abstract pioneer, sold for $60 million and there were record prices for works by Munch and Degas among others.

Attention, however, was inevitably focused on the failures, notably the Bacon.

In May it was revealed that Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club, was the mystery buyer of an $86.2 million Bacon triptych. Days earlier he paid $33.6 million for Benefits Supervisor Sleeping by Bacon’s old friend Lucian Freud.

This double splurge was seized on as evidence that the art market would weather the economic downturn thanks to stupendously wealthy collectors from Russia, China, India and the Middle East.

But those buyers were notably absent on Wednesday night when a 1964 self-portrait by Bacon, estimated by Christie’s at $40 million, failed to sell.

There were gasps in the hall when it was withdrawn from the sale.

The differing fortunes of the two Bacons reflect the seismic shifts in the global financial markets in the past two months, a connection summed up by the presence in Wednesday’s sale of 16 works, belonging to the family of Richard S. Fuld Jr, a former chief executive of Lehman Brothers, that Christie’s had guaranteed at $20 millon. The price estimates for these sales were set before the markets went into meltdown in September and European buyers were handicapped by the strengthening of the dollar.

As a result dealers, sellers, collectors and auctioneers emerged from the New York sales looking for the bottom of the market whereas not long ago they were trying to spot the peak. Ian Peck, chief executive of Art Capital Group, a merchant bank specialising in art world affairs, said: “It’s like the aftermath of a rugby match with everybody limping off the field. It’s a different universe compared to where we were six months ago.”

Marc Porter, president of Christie’s North and South America, said after the Wednesday evening sale: “The market is adjusting down.”

The New York sales followed a pattern set in significant recent auctions in London and Hong Kong.

The auction houses are the most obvious victims of the downturn. Christie’s and Sotheby’s both spent tens of millions buying lots whose prices they had guaranteed but which failed to sell. Sotheby’s share price has collapsed from more than $40 a year ago to just over $8 yesterday.

Robert Read, group fine art underwriter for Hiscox, the insurer, said that the auctions could have been much worse. “It’s no longer a champagne market,” he said. “Its more of a modest chablis, but it is still drinkable, still functioning.”





Upper East Side: Linger (Quietly) for a While







Chelsea has been the undisputed center of the art market for the last decade, and the young and the new are concentrated below 14th Street. The Upper East Side will always have Museum Mile, but what do the galleries in this staid enclave have to offer?

Simply put, the Upper East Side is a quieter, more idiosyncratic art neighbourhood. Particularly in the cloistered townhouse galleries off Madison Avenue, you have the sense of walking into someone’s living room. Chelsea can make you feel rushed, herded from one concrete-floored box to the next; uptown the atmosphere is much more conducive to lingering. You will often be the only visitor in the gallery, even on a Saturday.

At the ever-expanding Gagosian, as at Acquavella, the artist-muse relationship inspires an exhibition worthy of the Museum of Modern Art. Isabel and Other Intimate Strangers: Portraits by Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon inaugurates the gallery’s new fourth-floor exhibition space. The show was organized by Véronique Wiesinger, the director of the Giacometti Foundation in Paris, and Martin Harrison, who is overseeing Bacon’s catalogue raisonné.

The woman singled out in the title is the model Isabel Rawsthorne, whose chiseled cheekbones inspired several paintings by Bacon and sculptures by Giacometti. Other captivating figures in the exhibition include Lucien Freud, in Bacon’s portraits, and Giacometti’s wife and mistress (in separate, and markedly different, paintings).



Works by Francis Bacon, left, and Giacometti at the Gagosian Gallery show Isabel and Other Intimate Strangers.





Francis Bacon portrait pulled from sale after failing to attract bids 



A Francis Bacon self-portrait was withdrawn half way through a Christie’s auction

 in New York after bidding failed to take off. 



By Tom Leonard in New York, The Daily Telegraph, Thursday, 13 November 2008


Study for Self Portrait, painted in 1964, was billed as the highlight of the contemporary art sale with an estimate of $40 million (£27 million).

However, when bidding dried up at $27.4 million, the sale was abruptly halted, prompting gasps of surprise in the auction room.

A Bacon triptych fetched $86 million – a record for the painter – at an auction in New York in May.

But the self portrait was among almost a third of works in the 75-lot sale that failed to find buyers. The auction brought in $113.6 million – half the pre-sale low estimate.

In keeping with other recent sales, the lots that did sell went for less than their estimate.

At Christie’s, a collection of 16 drawings sold by Kathy and Richard Fuld, the controversial former chief executive of Lehman Brothers, brought in $13.5 million after being expected to fetch $20 million.

However, Christie’s had promised the Fulds had an undisclosed sum regardless of the outcome of the sale. Mrs Fuld is a keen collector and the couple have kept most of their works.

The Christie’s sale came a day after a similarly underwhelming New York auction at Sotheby’s.

Prices at both sales were set earlier in the year before the financial crisis and are now considered far too high.



                                                                   Study for Self Portrait 1964 Francis Bacon





Art market in shock as Christies calls halt to Francis Bacon sale




Anne Barrowclough, The Times, Thursday, November 13, 2008


A Francis Bacon self-portrait failed to sell at auction in New York last night, in a significant sign that the global financial tsunami is beginning to sweep over the international art market.

Bacon’s 1964 Study for Self Portrait — billed as a highlight of Christie’s contemporary art auction — was estimated to take in around $US40 million (£26.2 million). A Bacon triptych went under the hammer in New York last May for $86.2 million (£56.4 million), a record for the British painter and it was expected that the self portrait would fetch a similarly high price.

But when bidding reached $27.4 million (£179.3 million) the auction house dramatically halted the proceedings, to a chorus of gasps from a stunned audience.

Seventy-five contemporary works were on sale on Wednesday. Among the most important lots was a Jean-Michel Basquiat painter of a boxer, owned by Metallica co-founder and drummer Lars Ulrich, which fetched just over $13.5 million but short of the record $14.6 million for a Basquiat.

A chill had already entered the art market last month, when a rare portrait of Francis Bacon by Lucien Freud sold for £1.6 million less than expected, and the autumn season of art sales, which began on November 3, was being closely watched.

However in the fortnight since the autumn season began, there has been a big drop off of sales of impressionist, modern and contemporary works of art.

The number of unsold works has often exceeded 30 or 40 per cent of lots since November 3, and barring a few notable exceptions the sales prices are lower than the estimates for the majority of pieces.

Art sales were still high in the spring sale season earlier this year, with records set at Sotheby’s and Christies’ for works by Monet, whose Le Pont du chemin de fer a Argenteuil went for a record $41.4 million (£27.1 million) and Munch, whose Girls on a Bridge sold for $30.8 million (£20.2 million), a record for the artist.

The record sales were seen as a sign that the art market was protected from the deepening economic gloom.

At the time David Norman, chairman of Sotheby’s impressionist and modern department, said the sales had displayed the "underpinnings of a really strong market that we believe is going to continue as long as we keep the estimates appealing to the consignors and choose the right property."

He added: "There is still so much liquidity and so many buyers from everywhere."

Such optimism has evaporated recently, and last night’s sale will cast a further pall over the international market. Some experts say the fall in sales is due to the disappearance of hedge fund managers and Russian oligarchs from auction rooms.

But some of Francis Bacon’s work still seem popular — at least within a certain market. His paintings of popes — of which there are just 40 in the world — are seen as a trophy by some collectors, according to Sarah Thornton, the author of Seven Days in the Art World.

"These paintings are of a very powerful man in purgatory, in like a free-fall into Hell," she told National Public Radio (NPR) in the US on Tuesday. "The popes look terrified. I think, oh my God, that must be what it’s like to be a hedge fund manager right now."





                                                         Francis Bacon’s self portrait failed to sell at a Christie’s auction last night   






No buyer for a Bacon as New York art sale ends



By Christopher Michaud, Reuters, Thursday 13 November 2008


NEW YORK, Nov 13 (Reuters) — The fall New York art sales limped to a close on Wednesday, leaving a market bruised and bloodied but still standing.

Christie’s post-war and contemporary auction took in $113.6 million, half a low pre-sale estimate of $227 million, with 68 percent of the lots on offer finding buyers.

The spotty sale was consistent with Impressionist, modern and contemporary art auctions at Christie’s and rival over the past two weeks.

The result was "about as expected going in," said Amy Cappellazzo, international co-head of contemporary and post-war art at Christie’s, given the turmoil gripping world financial markets for the past two months.

Despite high points including a nearly $15 million Richter, a $13.5 million Basquiat and new records for Joseph Cornell and Yayoi Kusama, the evening’s star lot failed to sell.

Francis Bacon’s Study for Self-Portrait had been estimated to go for $40 million or more, but no bid approached even $30 million. Bacons have seen huge price spikes in recent seasons, including a record $86 million.

"The market is continuing, but clearly at a different price level," Christie’s president Marc Porter said.

"There’s no panic in the market, but there is an adjustment," he told Reuters, contrasting that to the volatility gripping other markets such as oil or real estate.

"While it had declined, you’ve seen it find a stable level, with a lot of support."

Baird Ryan, managing director of the art-related financial services firm Art Capital Group, agreed with auction officials’ contention that the two weeks of sales, while falling about one-third shy of estimates set before the financial crisis, showed there continues to be demand for fine art.


But Ryan noted that other markets had seen a fall-off of about 20 to 40 percent, "and that’s what you’re seeing here. There is a correction going on." He said auction houses will have to edit sales to offer "a selected group of works with cautious estimates."

Still it was impressive that "in such a period of remarkable financial stress you can sell over $100 million worth of art in an evening," Ryan added. "People are focused, and active."

Art expert and author Sarah Thornton, who chronicled several years spent infiltrating the art world for the book Seven Days in the Art World, said the sales "could have gone much worse."

"Given the state of the financial world, it’s remarkable to see a group of people spending money the way they are," she said. "There are obviously some people who still have a lot of money to spend." (Editing by Mohammad Zargham)





Mixed Results for Contemporary Art Sale at Christie’s



By Carol Vogel, The New York Times, November 12, 2008


In a bumpy sale of contemporary art at Christie’s on Wednesday, some paintings, drawings and sculptures were eagerly sought, but there were also big disappointments as the art market struggled to adjust to today’s financial climate.

What was expected to be the star — a 1964 self-portrait by Francis Baon that was estimated at $40 million — went unsold without so much as a bid. But other works brought prices that surprised even Christie’s executives.

“In the beginning we thought we were witnessing a gravity-defying auction,” Edward Dolman, Christie’s chief executive, said after the sale. “But it was disappointing not to sell the Bacon. There were some good prices, but it’s inconsistent.”

The evening, dominated by American buyers, brought $113.6 million, well below its low estimate of $227 million. Of the 75 works on the block, nearly one-third failed to sell.

Some works that were considered overpriced sold — but for what buyers wanted to pay, not what the house had envisioned.

After the sale, dealers and collectors milled about trying to make sense of the results. “The auction house may not have done well,” said Allan Schwartzman, an art adviser, “but some collectors did.”





It all began with Freud and Bacon...



She’s made a bestselling career examining the mores of suburbia, but as

Shena Mackay admits, her literary life started in the fleshpots of Soho




Rachel Cooke, The Observer, Sunday November 9 2008


Mackay was born in 1944. Her father did a series of jobs, from miner to ship’s purser, and was often away; his marriage to Mackay’s mother was mostly unhappy. She wanted to be a writer early on, a poet preferably. 'It was through reading, and loving words. I could read when I was three.'

Shortly before she left school — the family was living in Blackheath by this time and Mackay was attending Kidbrooke comprehensive, which she hated — she won a Daily Mirror poetry competition, judged by the likes of Kathleen Raine. The prize was £25. 'It was a huge amount of money, but because I was leaving school [she left with two O-levels], I had to buy these boring clothes for my job as an office junior; it had to be squandered on pleated skirts and cardigans.'

The job didn’t work out but, soon after, she got another one, working in an antique shop in Chancery Lane. This turned out to be life-changing, in its way. The shop was owned by the parents of David Sylvester, the art critic, with whom she later had an affair (he was the father of her daughter, Cecily Brown, the artist). The Sylvesters’ son-in-law, playwright Frank Marcus, who is probably best known for The Killing of Sister George, worked there with her. It was Marcus who encouraged her to keep at the novel she had begun writing. 'He found me an agent. He had it typed out for me.'

David Sylvester, meanwhile, introduced her to every painter you care to think of, from Frank Auerbach to Jasper Johns. She would visit the Colony Room Club in Soho with him, for nights out with Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. 'Yes, I did meet them, but I was a young girl and they were middle-aged.' But she realised how famous they were? 'Oh, yeah. I mean, I met Giacometti. I certainly realised who he was. Sometimes, the impression is given that I used to hang out in the Colony Room. But I didn’t really. They were David’s friends, not mine.

'Francis could be scary. He could either be lovely or spiteful — though he was never spiteful to me. He liked me, so that was all right. It was a great time and I loved it, but at a certain point, that kind of life becomes quite sad. I realised it was much more glamorous actually to have a real life.'





Art world’s after-hours haunt, the Colony Room,

may be saved from closure




November 8, 2008



The impending closure of the Colony Room, the Soho drinking den patronised by louche figures from the art world including Francis Bacon and Tracey Emin, may be averted after an intervention by English Heritage.

The advisory body is rushing through an inspection to determine whether the club, which has witnessed 60 years of booze-soaked misbehaviour by some of Britain’s most creative drunks, merits listed status.

The club is under threat after Michael Wojas, its secretary and chief barman, said that he would close it when he retires in March. He claims that the lease is up, but members who wish to preserve the club are concerned that he may have surrendered the lease without consulting them.

If English Heritage is impressed, it will recommend to the Government that the club be listed as culturally important. The final decision rests with Barbara Follett, the Culture Minister.

Artists who are campaigning to keep the Colony Room open believe that listed status will help them to come to an arrangement with the landlord because it would be harder to redevelop the premises.

The club, a single-room venue founded to provide a refuge for members when the pubs closed, has also received the support of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, who wrote an open letter this week to Simon Thurley, the head of English Heritage. “I hope that you would agree that it is important for London to preserve venues and collections that bring inspiration and artistic pleasure to local, national and international visitors,” he wrote.

English Heritage told The Times that the building must have architectural and historical merit on a national scale. “We are aware that there are development pressures on the building,” a spokeswoman said. “The application has been pushed towards the top of the pile to be considered. We are aware of the enthusiasm about the cultural relevance of the building, and the people who are associated with it.”

She said that an inspection would take place within a fortnight.

Rosemarie MacQueen, head of planning for Westminster City Council, said that if listed status were granted it would be an important consideration if the landlord attempted to change the building. “The Colony Room is basically a room with a staircase,” she said. “The real interest is 20th-century culture. If it is listed, that is the thing you’re trying to protect. Any application for change of use would have to take that into consideration.”

The club has been a regular haunt for artists and musicians including Lucian Freud, Peter O’Toole, John Hurt, Sir Peter Blake, George Melly and Damien Hirst.

Mr Wojas did not respond to inquiries yesterday.





Boris Johnson moves to save the Colony



The FIRST POST, Wednesday November 5, 2008


London mayor Boris Johnson is attempting to save one of the city’s seediest cultural landmarks, the Colony Room Club in Soho, which is currently under threat of closure. In a letter to the chairman of English Heritage, Simon Thurley, Johnson pledges his unequivocal support for the preservation of the drinking dive, once the haunt of the painter Francis Bacon and in more recent times Damien Hirst and his YBA (Young British Artists) cronies, and calls for it to be listed.

"I write to you in support of the campaign to prevent the iconic Colony Room Club from possible closure," writes Boris. "The Colony is a unique and important place for the capital both in terms of cultural and architectural significance. It represents an important part of part of London’s post-war cultural heritage... I hope that you would agree that it is important for London to preserve venues and collections that bring inspiration and artistic pleasure to local, national and international visitors."

So why does it need saving? As reported here, the club’s secretary and head barman, Michael Wojas, announced he was closing the club in March. It later transpired that Wojas had neglected to pay the rent on the premises for several months and recently, to the astonishment of everyone trying to save the place, he surrendered the lease to the landlord, an act which effectively signed the 60-year-old club’s death warrant.

In reaction to this, the members who want the club to survive — the Save The Colony Room Campaign — are attempting to oust Wojas and the committee that supports him at an annual general meeting today, a move they see as regrettable but essential if they are to have any chance of saving their beloved club from extinction.

"It’s a desperate situation," says a member of the campaign team. "Michael Wojas will probably win the vote at the AGM because he has been ringing old members who know nothing about what he’s been up to.

"What’s unbelievable is that he maintains he’s representing the interests of the members. By closing the club? By handing over the lease? By not paying the rent and flogging off the art works? I don’t think so."

Ah, the art works. In September, Wojas put up for sale many of the Colony’s artworks, raising some £40,000. This was allegedly to be his "pension pot". But the Save the Colony Room Campaign said that many of these were gifts to the club and so not Wojas’s to sell, a claim supported by many of the donors. As a result of intense legal activity, the campaign managed to have the proceeds from the auction, held by the London firm Lyon and Turnbull, placed in an escrow account until true title of ownership had been established.






The Modern Age: The Collection of Alice Lawrence


5 - 6 November 2008
New York, Rockefeller Plaza


Lot 44/Sale 2255 Lucien Freud (b. 1922) Head of a Man




            Head of a Man 1966 Lucien Freud



Lot Description

Lucian Freud (b. 1922)
Head of a Man
signed and dated 'Lucian F 1966' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
18¼ x 15 3/8 in. (46.4 x 39.1 cm.)
Painted in 1966



$1,800,000 - $2,500,000

Price Realized

$1,800,000 - $2,500,000


Pre-Lot Text

The Collection of Alice Lawrence



Marlborough Gallery, London.
Mr. H. J. Renton, London
His sale; Sotheby’s, London, 30 June 1988, lot 643.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.



London, Marlborough Gallery, Lucian Freud: Recent Work, 1968, no. 12 (titled George Dyer II).


Lot Notes

Painted in 1966, Head of a Man is one of only two oil portraits by Lucian Freud of George Dyer, the lover and companion of his friend and fellow artist Francis Bacon. The picture dates from a period when Freud and Bacon were seeing each other on an almost daily basis. Their friendship, which had been struck up during the 1940s following their introduction to each other by Graham Sutherland, was important to both men on a personal and an artistic level. Freud and Dyer featured in a great number of Bacon’s paintings. However, Bacon and Dyer each appeared only in two of Freud’s oils (his 1952 portrait of Bacon, formerly in the collection of the Tate, was stolen when on exhibition in London), making Head of a Man an extremely rare insight into their friendship.

Dyer has become one of the most legendary of Bacon’s friends and companions; their relationship even inspired the 1998 film Love Is the Devil, starring Daniel Craig and Derek Jacobi. Bacon, himself an incorrigible spinner of exaggerated tales, claimed he had caught Dyer, a petty criminal, in the act when he attempted to break into the artist’s home, and that this marked the beginning of their relationship. However, a more prosaic and more indicative explanation of their first meeting was included in Michael Peppiatt’s biography of Bacon, who explained that in 1964:

I was drinking with John Deakin, who had just done some photographs for me, and lots of others. George was down the far end of the bar and he came over and said, You all seem to be having a good time. Can I buy you a drink?' And that’s how I met him. I might never have noticed him otherwise (Bacon, quoted in M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London, 1999, p. 211).

Dyer had been brought up in a family that had a history of petty crime, and it was in this vocation that he attempted to make his way. He was caught often enough that he spent time first in borstals as a young offender and then in prison. There was a physical presence to the man that implied strength and violence, and this, along with his crooked nose, has been captured in Freud’s Head of a Man, where the sheer bulk of head and shoulders are emphasised. This serves to highlight the sensitivity of the eyes and facial expression which, according to memoirs, were often in stark contrast to the gangster image that he tried to project, mimicking the style of figures such as the Kray twins in his sharp suits and thin ties.

From the point of Dyer’s first acquaintance with Bacon, he was seldom out of his company, and came to figure in many of his paintings too. Now Dyer, no longer actively embroiled in the criminal fraternity that had formerly provided his milieu, was in the company of a celebrated artist and bon vivant, a situation that meant that he and his friends seldom lacked for alcohol or company. Bacon’s own recollections about Dyer provide some insight into the paradoxes and complexities of the man who tragically took his own life on the eve of the painter’s 1971 retrospective in Paris:

His stealing at least gave him a raison d’être, even though he wasn’t very successful at it and was always in and out of prison. But it gave him something to think about. When George was inside, he’d spend all his time planning what he would do when he came out. And so on. I thought I was helping him when I took him out of that life. I knew the next time he was caught he’d get a heavy sentence. And I thought, well, life’s too short to spend half of it in prison. But I was wrong, of course. He’d have been in and out of prison, but at least he’d have been alive. He became totally impossible with drink. The rest of the time, when he was sober, he could be terribly engaging and gentle. He used to love being with children and animals. I think he was a nicer person than me. He was more compassionate. He was much too nice to be a crook. That was the trouble. He only went in for stealing because he had been born into it (Bacon, quoted in David Sylvester, Looking back at Francis Bacon, London, 2000, p. 135).

The strange tension between Dyer’s criminality and his gentle, tender side is in evidence in Head of a Man.

In Head of a Man, even the brushwork owed its existence in part to the artistic relationship between Bacon and Freud. When they had first met, and indeed into the 1950s, Freud had painted in a meticulous style, usually seated at his easel, using extremely fine sable-hair brushes. It was with some justification that Herbert Read had referred to him as the "Ingres of Existentialism." However, in the early 1950s, in part through a feeling of the constraints of that style and influenced by Bacon’s own handling of paint, Freud began to use larger brushes, standing behind his easel, allowing him more movement, more gesture, and therefore resulting in pictures that were more painterly, as is the case in Head of a Man. "His work impressed me but his personality affected me," Freud has explained of his relationship to Bacon.

It was through that and through talking to him a lot. He talked a great deal about the paint itself carrying the form, and imbuing the paint with a sort of life. He talked about packing a lot of things into one single brushstroke, which amused and excited me and I realized it was a million miles from anything I could ever do (Freud, quoted in W. Feaver, Lucian Freud, New York, 2007, p. 321).

Within a short time, Freud had developed the virtuoso painterly style for which he is so famed, and which is clear in the almost organic way that he has built up the sense of flesh in Dyer’s features in Head of a Man. There is a pulsing impression of life, of vitality in the oils in this picture, that demonstrates his insistence that, "I would wish my portraits to be of the people, not like them. Not having a look of the sitter, being them. I didn’t want to get just a likeness like a mimic, but to portray them, like an actor. As far as I am concerned the paint is the person. I want it to work for me just as flesh does" (Freud, quoted in L. Gowing, Lucian Freud, London, 1982, pp. 190-91). It is for this reason that Freud continues to focus, in his portraiture, on those people who form a part of his family or his circle, people whom he knows and who can relax in front of him, while being scrutinized by him, for long enough for the painting to be complete.

This sense of life, captured in oils, perhaps reveals some artistic cousinship between Freud and the seventeenth-century Dutch painter Frans Hals. Discussing Hals, Freud celebrated that vivid sense of life that he managed to capture in his laughing cavaliers, banqueters and revelers:

They still shock people very much. I remember Francis had a friend called George (Dyer) who had never looked at any painting in his life. He’d been a sort of lookout man, a very bad one, and he saw a book of Hals, he looked at it and his face absolutely lit up. He said what a marvelous idea making people look like that. He thought they were modern. That’s right really. I mean they are all talking, eating, grinning — I think of Shakespeare a bit - done from a kind of detached (and not all that detached) wit and observation" (Freud, quoted in Feaver, op.cit., 2007, p. 322).

In Head of a Man, while Dyer may not be talking, eating or grinning, Freud has nonetheless captured a similarly vivid sense of his subject’s life and character.





Top 100 Treasures


Roberta Maneker, Art & Antiques, November 2008


If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then where does value lie? Ask the child who tucks away a seashell as a souvenir of summer; or the flea market hunter-gatherer who pays a pittance for antique pottery others are ignoring; or the mutual fund manager who knows a stock’s worth can change by the hour; or the Russian billionaire who has just plunked down more than $80 million for a must-have trio of Francis Bacon’s exquisite, anguished-expressionist canvases. Value is in the eyes, hearts and minds of those who recognize and create it. While often measured in dollars or rubles or euro or yen, in the art market, at least, it’s this ineffable sense of the kind of appreciation certain objects deserve that helps transform price-tagged objects into inestimable, ever-more-desirable treasures.


2: Bringing Home the Bacon

The Francis Bacon market is exploding. In 2007 alone, Bacon works at auction brought more than $250 million. In May his monumental Triptych, 1976, painted in muted, if not lugubrious tones, became the most expensive work of contemporary art sold publicly, bringing $86.3 million. It might, however, be a bargain per square inch: Each panel measures approximately a staggering 6 by 5 feet. Sotheby’s announced a European private buyer, but other sources named London-based Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. 
— R.M.







Les sublimes tortures de Bacon


Les Échos, France, Lundi 3 Novembre 2008


Rendez-vous à Londres pour découvrir les aspects méconnus d’un peintre de génie et de tourments.

A la Tate Britain,

jusqu’au 4 janvier.

tél. :





Faire sienne l’histoire de l’art pour être capable de créer une nouvelle peinture... Tout comme Picasso, Francis Bacon (1909-1992) puisa dans le répertoire classique de la peinture. Mais, contrairement à son aîné espagnol, l’Irlandais de Londres s’intéressait plutôt aux reproductions des oeuvres, comme s’il redoutait la puissance du contact avec la toile. Jusqu’au 4 janvier, la Tate Britain le montre sous un jour inédit. Une rétrospective magistrale qui met en exergue des toiles moins connues et les dernières recherches issues de l’étude de son lieu de travail.



Une des grandes obsessions de Bacon est une reproduction qu’il possédait en plusieurs exemplaires du pape Innocent X, peint par Vélasquez en 1650, aujourd’hui conservé à la galerie Doria Pamphilij de Rome. Selon l’ami du peintre et historien Michael Peppiatt, Bacon a peint pas moins de 45 Papes entre 1949 et 1971. Mais il n’a jamais cherché à voir la toile de Vélasquez, même lors de son passage à Rome.

Dévoreur de photographies

En homme du XXe siècle, il était un dévoreur de photographies. Les images jonchaient le sol de son atelier de Londres. C’est cette matière première assemblée par une sensibilité tourmentée, agrémentée d’un sens des couleurs hors du commun - il avait exercé dans sa jeunesse le métier de décorateur -, qui donne corps à l’oeuvre de Francis Bacon.



A la Tate Britain, l’espace a été divisé en thématiques pour ouvrir les yeux du spectateur sur des points clefs de son langage. La première abordée, celle de l’animal, est un leitmotiv dans sa création. Montrer l’aspect le plus sauvage de l’être humain, c’est produire des corps torturés et tordus, des visages déformés par des cris infinis. En 1944, il crée Trois études pour personnages de la crucifixion reconnues comme son premier chef-d’oeuvre. Sur un fond orange, un être surréaliste en gris dont émerge un cou tendu et une énorme bouche. Le catalogue de l’exposition explique que cette imagerie de l’homme bestial est puisée dans un fonds de photos qui est disposé dans le studio de l’artiste et qui mélange des reproductions de Vélasquez, Grünewald, Rodin et aussi des photos de leaders nazis comme Joseph Goebbels en train de discourir.



Une des caractéristiques fortes de la peinture de Bacon consiste aussi à circonscrire un champ de vision au sein de la toile. C’est au sujet de cette « zone » qu’est consacrée une partie de l’exposition. Etude de chien  de 1952 est une toile dépouillée au centre de laquelle figure l’animal. Il est dans un cercle délimité par une ligne verte, lui-même situé dans un polygone bordé de orange. Bacon explique qu’il a puisé l’idée de zone dans son expérience de décorateur et qu’elle permet d’extraire le sujet de son environnement naturel.

Etudes et soirs d’ivresse

Crucifixion : voilà un thème prisé par le peintre masochiste. De la viande, du sang, de la douleur... une véritable boucherie, comme dans les « Trois études pour une crucifixion » de 1962. L’ensemble est saturé de teintes fortes mises au service du drame. Le sol est orange, les murs rouges en contraste avec des formes géométriques noires. Les études faites autour de cette peinture, réalisée un soir de désespoir et d’ivresse, montrent l’influence des  Demoiselles d’Avignon, de Picasso, du crucifix de Cimabue à l’église Santa Croce de Florence, mais aussi d’une photo de Mussolini pendu par les pieds, prise après sa mort.



Une salle entière de la Tate Britain explique comment le peintre fait usage des images. L’étude du mouvement en photographie par Muybridge à la fin du XIXe siècle se retrouve dans sa peinture, tout comme un portrait photo d’Isabel Rawsthorne debout dans une rue de Soho dont le visage va être consciencieusement déformé et replacé au sein d’une sorte d’arène cerclée de bleu roi. En 1981, Bacon écrivait à l’écrivain français Michel Leiris : « Nous sommes forcés d’inventer des méthodes par lesquelles la réalité peut prendre le dessus sur notre système nerveux d’une manière nouvelle qui permette néanmoins de ne pas perdre la vision objective du modèle. »





Own a Francis Bacon? We’ll Pay You $$!


Sotheby’s, lender of last resort.


Alexandra Peers, New York Magazine, November 2, 2008


One art-world business is booming: collectors looking to borrow against works they own, especially before the fall sales threaten to lower values. “We’ve been contacted by lots of people who are feeling some sort of margin call,” says Sotheby’s CEO, Bill Ruprecht. Other lenders have virtually stopped lending against art recently, but Ruprecht says Sotheby’s is still “very comfortable” doing so. (At 2007’s end, the auction house had $176.4 million loaned out; by the middle of this year, it was $212 million.)

Tobias Meyer, who runs the contemporary-art department, says he’s also seeing more “consignment advances”—sellers agreeing to put their art on the block and getting some money up front. But he’s also finding owners disappointed by their holdings’ worth. “Just because we sold a great, rare $80 million Francis Bacon, everyone with a Bacon thinks theirs is worth $40 million,” he says. “It doesn’t work that way.”





Francis Bacon, Tate Britain, London






Francis Bacon is presented, in his third Tate Britain retrospective, as a straightforwardly thematic painter: the exhibition’s ten chronologically-arranged rooms consistently refer the viewer to the Cold War, World War 2, the illegality of homosexuality, the decline of organised religion.  Although Bacon regularly objected to any narrative readings of individual paintings, he becomes here the story of the twentieth century.  It is a stultifying narrative and it represses the strangeness of the paintings, replacing them with a story which could be applied to many of his contemporaries.

The most shocking painting in the exhibition, and one which confounds its narrative, is his wild, luridly expressionist study of Van Gogh, who appears as a conventional figure in a landscape in a painting based on Van Gogh’s ‘The Painter on the Road to Tarascon’ (a painting destroyed in the bombing of Dresden).  Its meshing of colours, its absence of a contrasted overlaid commentary or of cut-up, delineated spaces make it seem more like the work of a contemporary like Sydney Nolan. It is also the show’s one variation on Bacon’s basic, aggressive and confrontational style.

Elsewhere the exhibition covers familiar ground: the brilliant glaring orange spaces in which his triptychs play out, the way he consistently isolates his ‘sitters’ on a chair or stool or toilet bowl. Lenin wrote that ‘the future of aesthetics will be ethics’, but Bacon refuses this dictum, taking the abstract aesthetic patterns of arcs and circles from Kandinsky and Matisse and plastering them with fleshy wounds: the symmetries remain but Bacon’s flashy colours make it hard to look away from his often grotesque subjects. Sometimes Bacon rubs our noses in his aestheticism, but there is sentiment and even pathos in some of the paintings of George Dyer. In one, he cycles a bike, his face a mask as the wheel wobbles away from its skeletal frame. But Bacon explodes this mildly comical scene by  sprouting from his head, in a whirl of pinks, a calm all-seeing eye, granting his subject a vantage point for once.

Bacon’s interest in TS Eliot’s early satires and in Aeschylus’s Furies is documented in the notes to the paintings, but their regular focus on a single orifice may have another, more contemporary literary source. The early work’s insistence on the mouth as its central still and clarifying image responds to WH Auden’s definition of his art as ‘a way of happening, a mouth’. In the later work, the mouth is displaced by meaty, bacony twists of flesh and by the bright red arrows he aimed at his subjects. The most impressive of these familiar paintings are the triptychs for, again, George Dyer whose crude shadows and spilled flesh act as a powerful elegy for Bacon’s partner.

The show has its moments but does not add much, or detract from, Bacon’s reputation. It is also disappointingly silent on Bacon’s artistic context and future. It does include a room devoted to Eadweard Muybridge’s early photographs, but Bacon’s kinetic manipulation and juxtaposition of these sequential frames is a well-known story.  Maybe Bacon’s work is too narrow and limited, but there are signs here that he could be usefully seen in the swim of the art of his time, in relation to the abstract painters whose work he professed to loathe, to David Hockney’s post-photographic work, or to the collage which his Britart successors use to follow his example in shocking their public.











                                       (September 2008-January 2009)





Francis Bacon has been regarded as one of the most important artists of the Twentieth Century and even now his work does not cease to produce questions, reactions and controversy. The retrospective of his work at Tate Britain provides a unique opportunity to grasp at the power of his oeuvre and to experience the fascination that it exerts on the viewer. Bacon’s experiences were shaped by the whole Twentieth Century: he was born on October 28,1909 in Dublin, and he was brought up in the shadow of the First World War, he also witnessed the horrors of the Second World War. The experiences of these two wars, and the subsequent changes in the world during the century, may explain the most common reactions to his work: the violence, the horror, and the brutal. For many, Bacon’s work conveys all these adjectives; however, his work is more complex than a first sight of his paintings may show.

For the spectator, the sensation of being shocked, marvelled or horrified is part of the fascination exerted by Bacon’s paintings. As the artist stated, his intention was to make an impact on ‘the nervous system more violently and more poignantly’2, and he used the human figure as the main weapon for his mission. Although Bacon did not attend any formal education, his genius developed by following some of the most important trends of the earlier Twentieth Century: the work of Picasso and the Surrealists. His own life is the big canvass of emotions, experiences, pain and enjoyment, and although he would prefer that we separate his paintings from his personal life, it is undeniable that his work conveys the emotions of the modern man: the anxiety and the pleasure, the question of life and the presence of death, and the co-existing forces of Eros and Thanatos.

The exhibition is organised in ten rooms, covering certain historical periods in his work. In doing so, the curators aimed to show some echoes and dialogues amongst his paintings. Since Bacon was a fierce critique of his own work and he is famous for the amount of work that he destroyed when unpleased with it, hence, very few paintings from the earlier period (stemming from the 1930s) are exhibited here. Some of the survival paintings of his earlier period are grouped in the first room, titled Animal. Bacon’s concern with the bestial nature of human beings is largely explored in this first group of paintings painted during the 1940s: the scream, the pain and the convulsions of the flesh. In particular, the series of ‘Heads’ announce the seeds of further developments in Bacon’s work. For example, in Head I, the emphasis is put on the corporeity of the ‘head’, while only the open mouth with the carefully painted teeth suggests the singularity of a deaf scream.

As noted by Chris Stephens, one of the curators of the exhibition, in the Heads (Head I and Head II) ‘these details add a disquieting reminder of the figure’s humanity while the contrast of their stillness with the dynamism of the mouth makes it seem as if the figure is possessed, taken over by this animal force’ (Stephens, 2008: 94). However, it is not very clear if the figure is screaming or gasping for air, and here Bacon in his conversations with David Sylvester revealed his original intentions: “I wanted to paint the scream more than the horror.” The anxiety of the scream, the threshold between the sound and the total deafness of this gesture, and the conveyance of internal forces governing the flesh became common topics in Bacon’s future works. For Deleuze, the scream in Bacon establishes a relationship between the visibility of the scream (the open mouth as a shadowy abyss) and invisible forces, which are nothing other than the forces of the future (2003: 43).

In this group of paintings some of the most important elements in Bacon’s language start to appear. In particular, the Painting 1946, can be considered as the prototype for further developments in Bacon’s work: here a dominant male figure emerges, black tie and coat, yet, only his mouth in the gesture of the scream is carefully revealed. His physical features are crowned by an umbrella – the suggestion of a big bird with black wings – and the Figure is flanked by a couple of fleshy carcasses part bone, part dead meat in brilliant tones. The Figure is sustained by a tubular structure, and it stands out in a bright field of pink colour. It is said that Bacon based his Figure on some pictures of Nazi leaders, and the thick neck suggest the gestures of Mussolini. Nevertheless, Bacon wished to distance himself from the specificity of the Nazi references to something more universal in which the sense of threat and brutality had been distilled (Stephens, 2008: 92).

The image of authoritarian figures and leaders inspired many of Bacon’s paintings. In this room we can appreciate an early interpretation of Velázquez’s painting of the Pope Innocent X, titled Head VI (1949). As noted by Peppiatt: ‘in paraphrasing the Velázquez portrait, Bacon strikes not only at the highest personification of spiritual power, but also at the grandeur of the Western tradition of art’ (1996: 64). His poignant reinterpretation of Velázquez’s Pope can be also understood in relation to the influence of the surrealist spirit in transforming pieces of art, such as Duchamp’s moustache on Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa thereby situating Bacon’s screaming Pope. Other explanations can be drawn from his difficult relationship with his father (Pope or Papa-Dad) or his disdain for the catholic religion.

The point here is to appreciate how Bacon’s painting of the Pope explores the depths of authority and leadership. Whereas in Velázquez’s painting the Pope appeared both regal, serene and cruel, Bacon’s explored the isolation conferred by his authority. By confining the Figure within the limits of a chair, and surrounded by a shuttered wall, a curtain, or a white parallelepiped, the Pope is isolated and somehow incarcerated. The Pope’s fists cling recklessly to the chair and this produces a sensation of both frailty and contained anger, while his screaming mouth oscillates between the agony and the fury. As developed by Deleuze: “Innocent X screams, but he screams behind the curtain, not only as someone who can no longer be seen, but as someone who cannot see, who has nothing left to see, whose only remaining function is to render visible these invisible forces that are making him scream, these powers of the future.” (Deleuze, 2003: 42)

In the view of his contemporaries, Bacon’s use of religious symbolism and the exploration of the human figure contradicted the artistic tendency toward abstractionism and conceptual art. While artists around the world were engaged in the exploration of abstract art – in particular the Abstract Expressionism and the playful potentialities of the Pop Art – Bacon followed a different route. He broke with figuration, but at the same time, he used the figure to accomplish his aim. His work “it is not impressionism, not expressionism, not symbolism, not cubism, not abstraction (…) Never (except perhaps in the case of Michelangelo) has anyone broken with figuration by elevating the Figure to such prominence.” (Deleuze, 2003: xiv)

During the 1950s and 1960s, Bacon had completed the basic elements in his work: (1) the Figure, not as narration or illustration, but as a Figure in motion, or transformation; (2) the place in which the Figure is located, normally a chair, a ring or inside a geometrical figure of ice; (3) and the field of colour (Deleuze, 2003). These pictorial elements aim to stretch the Figure toward more sensational (in terms of heightened sensations) effects while avoiding the ‘representation’ or the ‘description’ of an scene or an event. As Bacon remarked: “A picture should be a re-creation of an event rather than an illustration of an object: but there is no tension in the figure unless there is the struggle with the object.”3 The second room in the exhibition is called Zone and a number of examples concerning the creation of fields, places and figures as ‘matters of fact’ (using Deleuze’s words) are presented here.

By the 1950s Bacon’s work developed in amidst his hectic life and sexual explorations around London during the postwar years. The next room in the exhibition refers to this feeling as Apprehension: a number of paintings and studies for Figures, amongst them the series of the “Man in Blue”. These men are dressed as ‘executives’ or ‘business men’ although they look anonymous and innocuous. For example, in the Man in Blue IV the figure seems to sink in the depths of darkness and obscurity. Like the Popes, the businessmen are depicted as figures of authority, yet vulnerable and solitary (Stephens, 2008: 122).

Bacon’s obsession with religion and authority appears intermittently in his paintings. The series of Crucifixions reveal the many ways in which the artist approached this classic theme. He was not attempting to re-create a religious message, nor was he interested in challenging it. For Bacon, the crucifixion can be understood as an act of violence; and it is related to his concern about the bestiality of human beings. He developed his crucifixions by focusing on the fleshy characteristics of the subject. As he asserted, “Well, of course, we are meat, we are potential carcasses. If I go into a butcher’s shop I always think it’s surprising that I wasn’t there instead of the animal’4. For many, the reference to the Crucifixion can be understood within the context of the Second World War and the Holocaust. Notwithstanding, the first painting of the Crucifixion came from the earlier period of the painter and it was this painting which put Bacon in the map of artists in Britain.5.

Almost ten years later, the same topic is depicted in the Triptych format, also exhibited in this retrospective. Here we find the famous: Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) which is one of the jewels owned by the Tate Gallery (normally exhibited at Tate Modern on the Southbank). It consists of three paintings connected by a bright field painted in orange. On the central panel there is this ambiguous form, like an embryo, from which only an opened mouth appears – savaging and devouring – covered by a blanket (it looks more like a phallic figure – maybe a penis dentata?) in an orange background limited by angles. Because of the date of this painting, the second version of the Crucifixion has been linked to the horrors of the holocaust as an apocalyptic vision of the world although heavily influenced by the political responsibility of the artist illustrated by Picasso’s Guernica (exhibited in London in 1938). Guernica showed how the formal language of modernism could frame a response to contemporary events (Gale, 2008: 139). Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of Crucifixion goes beyond the depiction of a single episode by denouncing the ongoing nightmare.

Further versions of the Crucifixion are produced in 1962 and 1965. In Three Studies for A crucifixion (1962), and Crucifixion (1965), the main elements of Bacon’s language reached their maturity: the format of the triptych; the treatment, dissection and isolation of the figure; and the large fields of colour. In Deleuze’s brilliant analysis of Bacon’s work, these are the three fundamental elements in his painting: “the material structure, the round contour and the raised image. If we think in sculptural terms, we would have to say: the armature; the pedestal, which would be mobile; and the Figure, which would move along the armature together with the pedestal.” (Deleuze, 2003: 4).

These paintings became Bacon’s platform as a recognised artist and then his life changed. From living on a sort of roller coaster, hardly making means to meet ends (and yet indulging in drinks, parties and gambling), he found himself with a disposable income. Immersed in the chaotic relationship with his lover Peter Lacy, he travelled around Europe and North Africa engaging in compulsive gambling in cities such as Monte Carlo while trying to paint under different lights either in Tangier or in the South of France. Different experiments marked this period: coupled figures, interpretations of Van Gogh’s paintings and more expressive and colourful paintings are grouped in the exhibition in the room titled Crisis. Although in this new situation he was able to afford bigger premises, he kept the smaller atelier at the Reece Mews (London) as his favourite place for painting. An interesting feature of this exhibition is the ‘archaeology’ of his studio in which many objects, pictures, photographs and books may help to re-construct the creative laboratory of the artist. Amongst the objects shown in the ‘Archive’ room were: magazines with photographs of Nazi leaders; a medical document about mouth diseases; the studies of Muybridge’s The Human Figure in Motion; books with reproductions of his admired Velázquez; plentiful pictures from newspapers, sport magazines; and photos of friends, lovers and models.

Bacon relied on reproductions and pictures as the first step for most of his paintings. For instance, in the portraits of friends he preferred to rely on the picture rather than painting directly from the model. For him, photography has taken over the illustrative and documentary role so that modern painting no longer needs to fulfil this function. The challenge consists of extracting the Figure from the figurative and to overcome the descriptive or illustrative aspects of painting. He insisted on the fact that his paintings were not describing violent acts, neither were they trying to tell a story. Instead, what Bacon aimed was to convey the emotion behind the act, the horror prior to the scream, the convulsion of the body in anticipation of the movement.

To this aim, the combination of the three mentioned elements in Bacon’s paintings make sense: the large fields as a spatializing material structure; the Figure, the Figures and their fact; and the place – that is the round area, the ring, or the contour which is the common limit of the Figure and the field. Within the round area, the Figure is sitting on a chair, lying on the bed and sometimes it evens seems to be waiting for what is about to happen. But what is happening, or is about to happen, or has already happened is not a spectacle or a representation (Deleuze, 2003: 9). By isolating the Figure, Bacon attempted to condense the movement, the impulse and the emotion even before their materialisation. As argued by Deleuze: “the Figure is the sensible form related to a sensation; it acts immediately upon the nervous system, which is of the flesh, whereas abstract form is addressed to the head, and acts through the intermediary of the brain, which is closer to the bone” (p. 10). This complex mechanism may explain why Bacon’s painting impacts directly on our ‘nervous system’ and thus the conflicting sensations of agony and pleasure, anguish and convulsion, coexisting in the experience of seeing his paintings.

In the last rooms of the exhibition the dramatism of Bacon’s pictorial language appears more clearly. In the room called Epic, the format of the triptych reaches exquisite powers since the figures express drama, tragedy, and in some cases, abandon and pleasure. Furthermore, in the series of Portraits, Bacon aimed to reinvent portraiture in the age of the camera; he sought ‘to distort the thing far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance’6. The portraits of his friend, Isabelle Rawsthorne, convey the vision of a strong woman with a huge personality and charisma. As explained by Chris Stephens, the idea that an individual might be used by Bacon as the vehicle for certain aspects of the human condition seems especially evident in the paintings of George Dyer. Dyer, who became Bacon’s lover in 1963, had strong masculine features as his attire resembled that of a ‘gangster’ in East End London. In contrast, Bacon’s numerous portraits of Dyer suggest a fragile and sometimes comical individual. In the Portrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle (1966), the figure is silhouetted in fair depiction of the model and although the physical features of the face are distorted, the viewer can see the absurdity of his situation: riding in circles, heading for nowhere, chasing a shadow… unfortunately, this painting somehow anticipates Dyer’s tragic end.

By that time, Bacon had reached worldwide fame reinforced by the Retrospective at the Grand Palais of Arts in Paris in 1971. Ten years earlier, the exhibition of his work at Tate Gallery elevated Bacon as one of the most important British artists and this exhibition in Paris expanded his success. This was, however, a year of contrasts: in April his mother died in South Africa and another tragedy was looming over him. The evening before the triumphal exhibition at the Grand Palais while Bacon was busy with preparations – hanging paintings and sorting out the details of the night in which the President of France would open the ceremony – George Dyer committed suicide and his body was found in the room that he and Bacon shared. Not surprisingly, the events impacted Bacon deeply. As a way of grieving, Bacon embarked on a number of triptychs collected in the room Memorial. Amongst them, the Triptych in Memory of George Dyer (1971) brings to mind the scene of Dyer’s death: on the central panel a man opens a door, the key is just being removed from the keyhole, it is late at night as evidenced by a solitary light bulb at the top of the staircase; on the floor the cryptic typos of a newspaper sink into the strong red blood colour of the field. The rest of the canvas is painted in bright colours of lilac and pink which relate to the fields in the other two panels.

On the left panel, the convulsive yet athletic figure of a man lingers alongside a curve, a shadow pending on his existence. Bacon has often said that in the domain of the Figures, the shadow has as much presence as the body; but the shadow acquires this presence only because it escapes from the body. The shadow is the body that has escaped form through some localised point in the contour (Deleuze, 2003: 12). On the right panel, it is the figure of Dyer in a thick mirror, on the reflecting pair, the drop of life spilling carefully on the canvas. The use of mirrors represents another of the pictorial elements in Bacon’s work. As observed by Deleuze: “Bacon’s mirrors can be anything you like – except a reflecting surface. The mirror is an opaque and sometimes black thickness. Bacon does not experience the mirror in the same way as Lewis Carroll. The body enters the mirror and lodges itself inside it, itself and its shadow. Hence the fascination: nothing is behind the mirror, everything is inside. The body seems to elongate, flatten, or stretch itself out in the mirror, just as it contracted itself by going through the hole (Deleuze, 2003: 13).”

In general, the series of triptychs in the Memorial room are both haunting and remarkable. The fields of colours, the void of obscurity, the body in movement (in anticipation of death or pleasure), the shadows and the living flesh produces a long-lasting effect in the viewer. For instance, in Triptych May-June 1973 the treatment of the figure reveals Bacon’s heightened artistic powers. In this triptych, it is possible to imagine the last moments in Dyer’s life: the agonic figure crawling to the bathroom, clinging to the toilet, devoured by the dark void of death. The Figure is moving, yet it is fixed in a point; there is emotion, but there is also agony. The body is the focal point, but as in all his work, brushing or scrubbing deforms the features so the tones are subtle and alive. As argued by Deleuze, Bacon’s Figures represent one of the most marvellous responses in the history of painting to the question: ‘How can one make invisible forces visible? (…) Bodies and heads in Bacon’ paintings can look as deformations but they are not tortures, despite appearances. On the contrary, they are the most natural postures of a body that has been reorganised by the simple force being exerted upon it: the desire to sleep, to vomit, to turnover, to remain seated as long as possible.” (Deleuze, 2003: 42-43)

After almost eight decades of life, Bacon’s late paintings return to the common themes: new interpretations of the crucifixion such as the Second Version of Triptych 1944 (1988), as well as a number of self-portraits. A general refinement of composition and expression is evident in the late paintings (Tant, 2008: 231). Getting to the end of the exhibition, I feel both isolated and stimulated. In fact, this is my third view of Bacon’s work. The first time was in March 2001 in the Netherlands when a small collection of his work was presented at the Gemeentenmuseum in The Hague where I made notes and drawings from this first encounter that I still keep. Whereas in The Hague I was fascinated with the colours and the effects of the skin, the movement and the passion; in London, I have been impressed by the complexity and depth of his work: the subtle qualities of movement, the dramatic scenes, his experience of war and the ambiguous sensations of pleasure and horror.

What is really remarkable about this exhibition is the opportunity to experience the power of Bacon’s imagery and the innovations of his treatment of the Figure. This Retrospective is the opportunity to go beyond appearances and prejudices, to embark into a solitary journey of reflection and sensation: to scream in silence, to agonise in joy, to vibrate in colours whilst touching the void, to live at the brink of a disaster. Although Bacon’s life and work referred to the last century, echoes of his paintings are still relevant today.

As Kenneth Clarke describes, he is ‘the interpreter of our contemporary nightmare’7. Bacon’s reminder of the ubiquitous disaster – evidenced in the latest worldwide financial crisis – of the horrors of human actions in a world without hope but driven by religious fundamentalism are ever-present in the works exhibited in this retrospective and demonstrate the perpetual power and relevance of his paintings. Although this review is a futile attempt to bring all the grandiosity of Bacon’s work together, it provides an invitation to forget everything you read and experience, this wonderful Retrospective


Deleuze, Giles (2003) Francis Bacon. Original Title: Francis Bacon: Logique de la Sensation. Translation by Daniel W. Smith. Continuum: London

Gale, Matthew and Stephens, Chris (Editors) (2008) Francis Bacon. Catalogue Exhibition, Tate Publishing: London

Sylvester, David (1993) Interviews with Francis Bacon. London, 1975. Enlarged 1980, revised as “The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon” 1990, 4th Ed. As “Interviews with Francis Bacon”, 1993 Thames and Hudson: London

Peppiatt, Michael (1998) Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma. The Orion Publishing Group: London





                                        Study after Velazquez, 1950






Bacon in close focus



Rebecca Daniels praises the curators’ discriminating selection

of works in Tate’s impressive Bacon exhibition.





Despite claims that the Tate’s Francis Bacon exhibition is the biggest retrospective of him ever staged, it is, in fact, substantially smaller than the gallery’s 1985 show. However, the decision to be more selective has resulted in a very high-quality exhibition. It is really a celebration of Bacon’s larger paintings and the few smaller works included, such as Study for Head of George Dyer (1967; private collection), tend to be over-shadowed. The focus on large-scale works is justified given the crowds likely to flock to this show and the paintings have been generously spaced, maximising the chances for an unimpaired view of them.

This is particularly apparent in the opening room, which is hung with only seven works, introducing the paintings that Bacon completed after Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (around 1944; Tate). The absence of that seminal work from Room 1 (it is included in a later room devoted to the Crucifixion) prevents the viewer from appreciating it as Bacon subsequently intended: he made clear that it was the painting that launched his career and anything he completed prior to it should be destroyed. Also missing, undoubtedly due to its fragile condition, is Painting 1946 (1946; Museum of Modern Art, New York), a work that held a lifelong importance for Bacon. These exclusions from Room I highlight the fact that this is the first exhibition held here since Bacon died and, without the control he exercised over the previous Tate show, the curators have had a new freedom in the presentation and reassessment of his art.

There are two principal thematic detours from what is a loosely chronological hang, and these provide the most dramatic and visually powerful displays in the exhibition. The first features Bacon’s recurring preoccupation with the theme of the Crucifixion, the earliest version being the haunting Crucifixion (1933, Murderme, London), which Herbert Read illustrated in Art Now (1933), when Bacon was unknown. Bacon’s art is often characterised as violent and brutal but, with a few exceptions, this does not hold up under analysis. However, the Crucifixion triptychs are indeed violent, as the exhibition’s curator Chris Stephens noted in a BBC interview, and the decision by him and his co-curator, Matthew Gale, to hang Three Studies for a Crucifixion (1962; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York) and Crucifixion (1965; Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich; Fig. 2) facing each other, as if in gladiatorial combat, is inspired.

A source for the mutilated bodies that appear in both the 1962 and the 1965 Crucifixion paintings is probably, as Martin Harrison has observed in the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, an illustration in a book Bacon owned, The True Aspects of the Algerian Revolution (1957). The prominence of carcasses in both triptychs was prompted by a feature on abattoirs in Paris Match in November 1961 (which was found in Bacon’s studio). Furthermore, the controversial inclusion of a swastika in the 1965 Crucifixion was influenced by photographs of Hitler and his entourage. Therefore, the inspiration for the motifs in these important triptychs is drawn, as in so much of Bacon’s art, from magazines, newspapers and books. Yet, despite the importance of this material, several reviewers have denounced the exhibitions inclusion of a room devoted to archival material as a distraction from the paintings. To me, the archive room enhances the experience of Bacon’s work, as it adds to an understanding of Bacon’s preparatory methods in the same way that Michelangelo’s preliminary studies (incidentally a major source of inspiration to Bacon) enhance an understanding of his finished frescoes.

The second thematic room, 'Memorial', is devoted to triptychs of George Dyer, Bacon’s lover and muse. The three large triptychs were all completed in the years following Dyer’s death in October 1971. The first, Triptych - In memory of George Dyer (1971; Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel; Fig. 1) is unusual in Bacon’s oeuvre as it appears to illustrate episodes in Dyer’s life, while Triptych, May-June 1973 (1973; private collection, Switzerland) recalls events of his lonely suicide by graphically showing him vomiting in a sink in one panel and in another slumped on a toilet (where he was found dead). Despite Bacon’s dislike of narrative interpretation, these triptychs seem to encourage a biographical reading, an approach that the curators have invited by collecting these works under the heading 'Memorial'.

While it is tempting to analyse these works solely as a sentimental and nostalgic pining for lost love 
 and there is undoubtedly an element of that poignantly expressed in Bacon’s diary on 24 October 1972 ('George died a year today')  it must also be remembered that shortly before his death Dyer had planted drugs in Bacon’s studio, leading to Bacon’s arrest and trial only four months before Dyer’s suicide. It is perhaps because such complex personal emotions underlie these works that Bacon, unusually, has been unable to frustrate a narrative reading of his works.

Bacon’s penchant for painting in themes is well represented and there is a good selection of popes, businessmen, crouching figures and animal paintings. The decision to hang the paintings at an extremely low level (often just above the skirting boards) enables the viewer to examine the variations in Bacon’s application of paint. Nowhere is this more marked than in Head II (1949; Ulster Museum, Belfast; Fig. 3), where the top half of the canvas has paint so thick that it seems impenetrable (Bacon was trying to capture the effect of rhinoceros skin) but the lower left is just raw canvas (revealing also that Bacon painted on the unprimed side of the canvas). Subtle nuances in technique and colour can be appreciated with the low hang of the series works, particularly of the Popes, where the marked differences in such compositional elements as the 'space frames', curtains or 'shuttering' and the depiction of the throne are worthy of close attention.

The one problematic aspect of the hang is the decision to break up the series paintings, particularly the crouching figures, which are displayed over several different rooms and therefore offer no chance to view them comparatively. Nevertheless, in the case of the businessmen
which are all hung in one room interspersing them with animal paintings forces one to view them independently of each other, and subtle differences appeared that I had not noticed before. The exhibition also has a wonderful range of Bacon’s important late works, particularly a room filled predominantly with triptychs from the 1960s to 1980s, including Triptych (1976; private collection), which was recently sold in London for the highest price ever paid for a post-war work of art.

The quality and range of the works on display provide an opportunity to show Bacon at his best to a new generation too young to have seen the 1985 show. I left the exhibition feeling, as one should, visually exhausted but exhilarated.

Rebecca Daniels is a researcher on Francis Bacon: The Catalogue Raisonne.  






Francis Bacon, Urbanist, at Tate Britain



Ken Livingstone, Joseph Rykwert and others discuss art and architecture.



Text by Ned Beauman | Dazed Digital | Friday, 31 October, 2008


Would Francis Bacon prefer the London of today to the London he actually grew up in? That was the question posed last week at the second of two Architecture Foundation panels at Tate Britain, this time featuring architects Nigel Coates and Denise Scott Brown, critics Joe Kerr and Joseph Rykwert, and former mayor Ken Livingstone.

Londoners, argued Coates in his opening keynote, often feel a great excitement about the fact that the city decays faster than it can be rebuilt, and Bacon’s attraction to the “entropic aspects” of cities comes through clearly in his paintings. So does his attraction to cramped, crowded places – pubs, butcher shops, boxing matches and back alleys – all of which anticipate the claustrophobic spaces he put down on canvas. Also influential were the possibility of impending doom that characterised much of the 1950s, and a certain disillusionment about the concrete sterility of what was being thrown up to repair the destruction of the Blitz.

In the clean, safe, prosperous modern London, of course, all that darkness is mostly gone, but the sterility is still here, simply transfigured from concrete into glass and steel. Kerr drew a parallel between the way that, in the Thatcher era, the city became predictable and therefore lost a certain complex, inscrutable eroticism, and the way that, after the passage of the Wolfenden Act that liberalised homosexuality, gay people were no longer driven into the small, dark, weird spaces that many of them came to relish. But is it dangerous to be nostalgic about a vanished London? Yes, said Rykwert: every generation thinks that London isn’t as good as it was.

Ken Livingstone, addressing this issue, described himself as an ‘urban chauvinist’, for whom cities are all that really matter. He argued that the post-war Abercrombie plan to reduce the population of London to five and a half million would have led to a horribly dull capital, and that, although today’s London may have lost some of its looseness, it is at least full of human diversity, which Bacon would have appreciated; and the real challenge for cities like Shanghai and Mumbai is to be open to population change, as well as population growth. Livingstone admitted, however, that there is one aspect of modern London that he’s glad he didn’t grow up with: “None of us had our own flat or our own car, so thank god there was no CCTV in alleys back then or we all would have been 25-year-old virgins.”





Bacon har en stillhet mitt i fasan




FRUSEN OBJEKTIVITET Trots skräcken och plågan hos figurerna är Francis Bacons penselskrift ömsint, delikat.



Carl-Johan Malmberg har sett Tates tredje retrospektiv med den irländsk-brittiske målaren,

och läst en bok som belyser det sakrala hos Bacon.


Francis Bacon. Studies for a Portrait

SVD Sweden, 31 Oktober 2008

Det sägs ibland att England bara haft två och en halv verkligt betydande målare: William Blake, William Turner – och så Francis Bacon (1909–1992); han räknas bara som en halv eftersom han var född på Irland.

Av 1900-talets engelska målare är Bacon hur som helst den enda som under seklet nådde utanför England, och det trots – eller kanske tack vare – att hans måleri ­redan vid debuten 1945 med triptyken Three studies for figures at the base of a crucifixion, ett måleriskt bombnedslag, gick stick i stäv med de rådande abstrakta strömningarna.

Vid den tiden förstod bara några få Bacons betydelse, bland dem de tongivande kritikerna Herbert Read och Kenneth Clark, liksom ledningen för Tate Gallery. Där tog man något motvilligt emot den skräckinjagande triptyken några år efter tillkomsten, som gåva av konstnärens dåvarande älskare, en förmögen affärsman.

I höst är Bacon aktuell med sin tredje retrospektiv på Tate (de tidigare var 1962 och 1985). Det är en storslagen utställning som ger en enastående överblick över livsverket. Triptyken är givetvis central, inte bara som startpunkten för konstnärskapet. Här finns mycket av det som under de kommande ­decennierna skulle komma att känneteckna Bacon, denne envist borrande mullvad: figurernas monstrositet, det klaustrofobiska och samtidigt gränslösa rummet, den kliniska ljussättningen, den relativt tunt pålagda, glanslösa färgen, och en underligt frusen objektivitet, en stillhet mitt i fasan – kanske det som Bacon själv, apropå Picasso, skulle kalla ”the brutality of fact”.

Bacon tillhör de konstnärer som kombinerar det radikalt främmande med något man ändå tycker sig känna igen; Freud döpte denna egenskap hos så mycket stor konst till das Unheimliche, det kusliga. En av hemligheterna med Bacon är legeringen av det gengångaraktiga med det aldrig tidigare skådade. Vi har varit här förr – och vi är här för första gången.

Han sökte aldrig sin stil, han fann den tidigt, eller rättare sagt, han trädde fram som målare först när han funnit den. När han gjorde triptyken var han 35 år. I Tate-retrospektiven samsas den med ett drygt sjuttiotal andra verk, flera av dem triptyker, men denna första ter sig nu nästan intim. Bacons favoritstorlek kom senare att bli betydligt större dukar som rymde människan i helformat, dukar om 2x1,5 meter, och utställningen visar hans besatthet av det formatet.

En viss monotoni står på spel; målningarna är vid första påseende mycket lika varandra: en enstaka eller ett par figurer, manieristiskt vridna, i ett rum med gåtfulla, liksom provisoriska, kanske mer för kroppen än för ögat förnimbara avspjälkningar.

Det likartade förstärks av att samtliga målningar är glasade och de flesta dessutom i tunga guldramar. Jag har alltid trott att detta var galleriernas och samlarnas påhitt, det gör Bacons säregna, spindelvävstunna måleriska textur svår att uppfatta med mindre än att man trycker näsan mot glaset.

Men Michael Peppiatt, den främste kännaren av Bacons person och konst sedan David Sylvester dog, skriver i sin nyutkomna essäsamling Francis Bacon. Studies for a Portrait: ”Bacon ville att hans bilder skulle bestå; och det var säkert det underliggande skälet till att han lät glasa dem i allt deras överdåd och förse dem med massiva guldramar, med den råa paradoxen och gåtfullheten intakt, precis som de inneslutna mästerverken runt om i världens kyrkor och museer.”

Peppiatt skriver detta i The Sacred and the Profane, bokens viktigaste essä och tveklöst bland det bästa som skrivits om honom. Han visar hur Bacon i sin våldsamma uppfattning av det sakrala går vid sidan av den kristna mytologi han hämtat så mycket visuell inspiration från (alla dessa korsfästelser), och liksom lösgör element, smärtan, det plågade skriket, offrandet av människo­kroppen, ur berättelserna till ett slags slagkraftiga punktfenomen. Den plågade, sargade kroppen blir vardagsmänniskans. Skriet, som finns redan i triptyken från 1945, blir till existentiell urbild. Vi är födda att dö och däremellan finns skriet.

Jag vet inte om någon har kopplat ihop Bacons återkommande skri – inte minst de skrikande påvarna, hans mest kända bilder – med Jesajas 40:e kapitel där det, i den engelska bibelöversättning som Bacon läste, heter: ”The voice said, Cry… All flesh is grass.” Här finns inte bara urskriket – Gud uppmanar Jesaja att skrika ut kroppens dödlighet. Här finns också en möjlig urcell för Bacons besatthet av kroppen, köttet.

I vår gamla bibelöversättning heter det ”Allt kött är hö.”

De orden är en god sammanfattning av Bacons måleri. Han förvandlar det av våld, av lust, av båda tillsammans, eller bara av att finnas till plågade mänskliga köttet till gräsliknande penselstråk. Hans penselskrift är trots skräcken och skriken hos figurerna ömsint, delikat. Det ser man vid närgranskning.

En vakt ber mig att inte gå så nära målningarna. Jag förklarar att jag gärna skulle gå in i dem helt och hållet. Men inte i deras händelser utan i deras stoff.

Carl-Johan Malmberg





Tapped Out?






A $60 million painting by Kazimir Malevich. A $40 million self-portrait by Francis Bacon. It hardly seems the ideal moment to be selling such pricey art. As Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips de Pury brace for their big fall auctions in New York, starting with a sale of 71 Impressionist and Modern paintings, drawings and sculptures at Sotheby’s on Monday night, anxiety is the dominant mood.

Only 10 days ago, Sotheby’s reported a loss of $15 million in guarantees — the undisclosed amount that the houses promise to sellers regardless of the outcome of a sale — from recent auctions in Hong Kong and London.

Millions of dollars of art went unsold at those September and October sales, with many works going for well below their estimates. Since then auction house officials have been busy trying to get sellers to lower their expectations. Much of the art up for auction this week and next was secured early in the summer, when the world seemed a far different place. Now, with the net worth of so many buyers plummeting, auction houses have been trying to persuade sellers to lower their reserves, that is, the undisclosed minimum price that a bidder must meet for the art to be sold.

“Prices of all assets have fallen — stocks, gold, oil, real estate — and it would be unrealistic to expect works of art to be immune to the market’s pressures,” said Marc Porter, president of Christie’s in America. “We are actively encouraging consignors to set reasonable reserves.”

Minimizing risk is the message of the moment. While Sotheby’s has said that it has provided only half the number of guarantees it did a year ago, the company still has outstanding guarantees of $285.5 million.

Unlike Sotheby’s, Christie’s is not a public company, and is not obligated to release figures, but officials there acknowledge having a similar level of risk. As for buyers, the message is a little trickier. With them, Mr. Porter said, Christie’s is making the argument that the objects they desire “might not reappear on the market next season at an even lower price.”

The big question is who will be buying this expensive art. With hedge-fund traders, Russian oligarchs and wealthy Middle Easterners having taken a hit in the financial markets, the auction houses, whistling in the dark, are hoping for a return of old money.

“Americans who fled when prices began soaring will jump back into the market but at a different price level,” said Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art. Among the standouts in the fall lineup at Sotheby’s are paintings like Edvard Munch’s Vampire (1894), priced to bring more than $35 million, and an Yves Klein wall relief estimated at more than $25 million. Christie’s is offering a 1934 portrait of Picasso’s mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter estimated at $18 million to $25 million and a Basquiat painting at $12 million and $16 million. “I still hold the belief that the great works will find buyers,” said Guy Bennett, of Christie’s. But at what price remains to be seen.  


No Guarantee for This One

EARLY last summer a New York collector negotiated a hefty guarantee from Christie’s in consigning his 1964 Study for Self-Portrait  by Francis Bacon for the fall auctions. In the months it took to hammer out details of the contract, economic turmoil grew so worrisome that Christie’s got cold feet and withdrew the guarantee.

The auction house persuaded the seller to offer the Bacon anyway, and it is one of the highlights of Christie’s Nov. 12 sale. Experts say that the full-length portrait, in which the artist is shown sitting on a bed, his body twisted from head to toe, should sell for around $40 million.

Christie’s is obviously hoping to capitalize on the record prices paid for Bacon’s works recently. A 1976 Bacon triptych went for $86.3 million in May at Sotheby’s in New York, and a 1975 self-portrait brought $34.4 million at Christie’s in London in June. Those were among the highest prices ever paid for the British artist, who is the subject of a current exhibition at the Tate in London that travels to the Metropolitan Museum of Art  in New York in May.

Still, there is no getting around the fact that “the market has changed,” said Brett Gorvy, co-head of Christie’s postwar and contemporary art department.





   Architecture and Design in the Bacon Era: Texture



    Mark Cousins

     The Architecture Foundation, Tate Britain Auditorium, Wednesday 1 October 2008





 can’t remember now whether it was in the catalogue of the current exhibition of Bacon or whether on it was on one of those panels but at some point there was a quotation from Bacon saying “I suppose in the end we’re just meat” and I wanted to try and start off, as it were, some thoughts about both texture and also materiality by considering some of the problems, what we might call the aesthetic problems, of meat especially in that difficult area that we call ugliness or which other people call ugliness, I want to try and suggest this evening this is not how it’s normally portrayed and if properly handled is an extremely powerful and valuable artistic and architectural instrument.

Let me invite you first to engage in a thought experiment. You look at some ones face as we scan some ones face we look, as it were, for signs of expression, in some sense for the way in which the face is thought to be able to represent emotions or states of mind or whatever. As we do it invariably we have a fantasy that this expression does not simply belong to the surface but it has a depth and we frequently actually experience that as a depth but of course it has this peculiarity because the depth is not remotely localised.

If we say he looked sad we don’t say it looked about two centimetres deep in the sadness of it. Now nowhere I think is it more remarkable than if you add in to this picture of a face which you experience partly through the dimension of the depth of its expression then imagine suddenly in some process, the face suddenly manifests a wound and you suddenly see that underneath the infinitesimally thin layer of skin there’s blood and there’s flesh and there’s bone; normally people have a kind of visceral turning away from this experience. Now if you try to follow through this action of turning away, we might wonder: what is it that we’re turning away from?...

The appearance of the wound indicates suddenly the collapse – a collapse of what; I mean, I’m going to say representation but I don’t mean it in a representational way. It’s as if I can’t continue having a fantasy about the depth of your sadness or the extent of your pleasure; I can’t do it any longer because, as it were, it is disrupted by the appearance of a wound. Essentially unless your medically knowledgeable, what you’re seeing, and I think Bacon was correct to use it in a general sense, is what he calls meat. Let’s kind of make a formula in some sense as saying: what meat is at a kind of level of experience, is almost the collapse of representation or of signification…

This collapse of representation is I think part of what we might call the experience of ugliness, the turning away, at which point we might begin to hypothesise that this is not what I think it is, it is what I think people experience it as; an experience of the ugly in that sense is this: it is without signification it is without being a part of the a space of representation, it is stuff, it is meat… People’s experience of the ugly again I’m not saying that’s what it is is a defence against this moment a moment which is too raw and is too, almost, unnerving; we might say that the popular experience of the ugly is: it’s that which is there but at the same time, is perceived as it shouldn’t be there or sometimes it’s the same but the other way round: it’s that which is not there but should be.

In Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera there’s a wonderful moment when the scene shifter describes to the girls of the corps de ballet that he has seen the ghost in box five; he describes the ghost to the girls and he says, in a way in which logic itself can’t tolerate, but clearly we know exactly what he means, he says: and the ghost has no nose and that no nose is a horrible thing to look at. It’s something that isn’t there but should be… I want to suggest that one dimension of the achievement of Bacon is in a sense to take this problem on board directly and, in a way that it is very difficult to describe in his achievement, but has the achievement of as it were, bringing back meat into our understanding, bringing back meat into a kind of poetics, that which is always, as it were, normally excluded; I was at the exhibition on Sunday and it’s not just a question obviously of meat, it is those strange puddles of existence which you see so clearly in the three triptychs in homage to George Dyer — it is, indeed, a sublime moment…

Now in a sense all I’ve said is an attempt to say that what people describe as being ugly we should consider it a defence and if you can undo this defence, if, like Bacon, you can propel the spectator into the midst of meat and find it not only human but essentially human, then, as it were, you remove some of the defences which so often kind of disable, I don’t mind putting it bluntly, disable public taste. It is a struggle. Now if something like this is the case, that I’m more than aware that I haven’t said directly anything about architecture and texture, then one of the ways we might consider the issues this evening is to think within the scope of Bacon’s adult career what also happens within architecture to be able to do that: at the level of a certain materiality and at the level of texture, that is to say, to undermine the public defence against the ugly and actually to propel it towards something new and powerful and human not in a humanistic way but human almost in a somewhat unnerving way. Thank you very much. 









Art in the flesh



The Daily’s Whitney Mallett gets a taste for meat as medium and muse  



The McGill Daily | Monday, Oct 27 | Volume 98, Issue 16


“Imagine you’re hanging from a meat hook.” A dance teacher made this analogy to me years ago, and I will never forget it. There is something eerily beautiful about the suspension of raw meat. Of course, this beauty is matched with the discomfort that comes from visualizing yourself as a hanging carcass. Painter Francis Bacon would have probably liked the idea. He once said, “Hams, pigs, tongues, sides of beef seen in the butcher’s window, all that death, I find it very beautiful. And it’s all for sale – how unbelievably surrealistic!”


Bacon often painted hanging meat. He was not the first artist to be seduced by the texture, colour, and marbling of raw flesh. Rembrandt painted his famous Carcass of Beef centuries before and, during Bacon’s own lifetime, Chaim Soutine rendered a more modern, bloodier version of Rembrandt’s suspended ox.


In the later part of the 20th century, meat made a transition from the subject of art works to the very fabric of them. In 1987, Canadian artist and Concordia graduate Jana Sterbak first showed her dress constructed of 50 pounds of salted flank steak in Montreal. Over the course of the exhibit, Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic transformed from raw to cured state, in some ways imitating the human aging process. Sterbak followed up her meaty success with another in 1996: Chair Apollinaire, a chair made from over 150 pounds of steak, also cured. The piece is a pun on the French word for flesh: chair


Fittingly, Sterbak strongly emphasizes that her works are not about meat, but about flesh. “And flesh is what we are!” she adds. A steak’s muscle, fat, and tissue, when juxtaposed against human flesh, encourage us to consider our own animality – something that usually escapes our consciousness. When meat’s typical function is perverted, and it is presented as flesh and not food, it becomes prime material for self-reflection. 


Chinese artist Zhang Huan donned a meat suit in his piece My New York to explore his complex relationship with his adopted city. The suit, made of raw steaks, was shaped to give Huan a brawny body-builder aesthetic, but its flayed surface contrasted strength with vulnerability. During the performance piece, Huan released doves, alluding to the Buddhist tradition amassing grace by freeing live animals.


Huan’s piece was an attempt to reconcile the culture he came from with a culture thrust upon him. He explains that although a body-builder slowly builds up muscle, he adopts the aesthetic overnight. Donning the meat suit parallels his forced adoption of American culture. The connotations of red meat as a conspicuous example of American society’s disproportionate consumption cannot be ignored in the piece. Meat is not just flesh used to explore mortality and self-reflection; for Huan, it is undoubtedly also a symbol of a culture whose habits of consumption differ drastically from the rest of the world.


In a 2005 interview with Jonas Storsve, Sterbak explained: “The two most evident connotations of flesh, but not necessarily of meat, are the sexual and the mortal.” The relationship between carnage and carnality is explored in some of the earliest recorded art using meat. Carol Schneeman’s 1964 performance Meat Joy – shown first in Paris and then again in New York City – was a Dionysian piece in which eight partially nude figures danced and played in raw fish and chicken, sausage, paint, and paper. It was meant to celebrate flesh as a material.


The same year, American performance artist Robert Delford Brown’s Meat Show also used meat to invoke sexuality. In the Washington Meat Market, he created brothel-like rooms out of tons of blood and raw meat strewn with yards and yards of sheer fabric suggestive of lingerie. Visitors walked through the decorated meat locker in white coats and were then fed sausages. Brown, notorious for invoking shock and scandal in his avant-garde art, located the viewers’ own consumption of meat while meat surrounded them. The show only lasted three days.


Meat goes bad fast. Meat art often has to be performed or captured on film because otherwise it will rot. Its impermanence reminds us of our own mortality – one day, we too, will rot. Sterbak cures steak to prevent her work from putrefying, but the piece’s transformation from fleshy and raw to its shrivelled, salted state recalls changes that take place in our bodies over time. “Art, when successful, comes close to resembling life; and life, as well as love, is ephemeral, perishable, and fleeting,” she professes.


Pinar Yolacan also uses meat to explore human decay. For Perishables, she photographed elderly women wearing garments constructed from poultry and tripe – each piece imitates the individual subject’s wrinkled face. The state of the aging women and their perishing garb is immortalized in the photographs. In an interview with The New York Times in 2004, Yolacan commented on her choice of material: “I’ve always been interested in the impermanence of things,” she said. 


While Sterbak and Yolacan prevented their pieces from going rancid, Jan Fabre exploits the rotting process in his installation piece, Temples of Meat. The project involved wrapping columns at Ghent University in Belgium with 200 pounds of decaying steak, bacon, and minced meat to make them “come alive” by attracting flies. Meat is essentially lifeless, but at once becomes a source of life, and a metaphor for life’s transient nature.


Meat’s expiration illustrates life’s impermanence, and its decomposition exemplifies the cyclical nature of life and death. Whether it’s rotting or not, meat can be disgusting. Meat evokes a visceral reaction: being confronted by a material representation of death can instinctively repel us. But most of us also depend on meat for survival. When it is presented before us as art, this complex relationship is explored. 


Meat exposes us to what is below the skin’s surface. We are often disconnected from our own insides; for whatever reason, we are revolted when confronted with a suggestion of the body turned inside-out. Viewers were repulsed by Chilean artist Gabriela Rivera’s 2005 film Efímero: she covered herself in raw meat strips to construct a metaphor for the relationship people have with their mirror image. Meat is intimately related to the body. It resembles our own flesh; it even becomes a part of us when we ingest it. Disguised in meat, Rivera’s flayed, Frankenstein-like figure provoked her audience members to examine their own body images. However, many people were just shocked and repulsed by the film.


McGill student Alex Cowan is also interested in meat as provocation. He strewed rotting scraps around public spaces in Montreal – what he thought would be a foolproof plan to invoke some sort of reaction. But only a congregation of seagulls and pigeons seemed to take notice. “Some people looked disgusted; most people were entirely indifferent. Most people tuned it right out of their consciousness,” he explains. 


Indifference toward this display of meat suggests society’s disconnect between ground-up meat in a Styrofoam container and the concept of a dead animal. Sterbak notes the linguistic dichotomy: “Consider that in many languages the name of the animal changes when it arrives on your plate. For example, cow becomes beef; pig becomes pork.” Meat is defined by our consumption of it. “In the abstract, idealized world that we live in most people don’t want to make the connection between meat and a pig. Humans create their own world. We have developed meat as a commodity because that’s what we think it ought to be,” says Cowan. 


The commodification of meat has reached the point that it has become a symbol of objectification. Ann Simonton wore a bologna dress to protest women being treated as meat. The phrase “treated as meat” connotes a complete lack of respect and devaluation. 


Art can provoke us to question the disconnection between the process and the product. The transition from dead animal to food, however, can itself be an art. Michelle Boubis, a butcher at Jean Talon Market, argues that butchery is an art form “because it ennobles the animal, giving value to what we eat.” Treating butchery as an art means treating the animal like a living thing, and not merely as objectified, consumer-defined, meat.


This type of processing is rare today. While Boubis receives animals whole, directly from the farm, most meat is packed in industrial factories. The meat hanging from butchers’ windows that Bacon found so beautiful is becoming less and less common. Instead, packaging appeases our conceptualized ideal of meat. “Many people, myself amongst them, have doubts about meat consumption, and, above all, the way our society takes care of its livestock intended for mass consumption…. This is why meat does not resemble itself in the effort to divorce it from any appearance that may recall our own flesh,” Sterbak stated in an interview with Storsve. 


These concerns are not new. In his 1924 silent film Kino-Glaz, Dzia Vertov critically examines industrial meat processing. He playfully presents the sequence of a cow’s slaughter in reverse, inspiring both delight and horror in the viewer. Life springs from the materiality of death lying on the slaughterhouse floor. A dead ox appears to be sewn back up by mechanical knives, leaps to its feet, and is driven backward to the pasture.  


The relationship between meat and art has manifested itself in different ways. A New York Times article from 1909 titled “Meat Packers and Art” describes meat as a currency to purchase treasured European art. The article reports fears that the art would be exchanged for $2-million “accumulated in meat packing.” Historic European works were said to be dangled before the “covetous, meat-packing eyes” of American millionaires, contrasting modern industrial society with established artistic tradition. Both art and meat were marketed as commodities then, just as they are now. The market was ascribing the two equivalent values for exchange before artists were using meat to draw metaphors in their art.  


Whether hanging in a butchers’ window or on display in art gallery, meat is for our consumption. As food, or as art, meat is a product – whether it ends up on our plate or not. It isn’t hard to engage critically with meat when it’s presented subversively as art. But hopefully we can begin to consume it as critically with our mouths as we do with our eyes.