Francis Bacon News









Bacon painted






THERE is something about the appearance of Francis Bacon that seem to fascinate other painters. Lucian Freud and Rodrigo Moynihan have portrayed him. Now Michael Clark, a prize-winner at the RA this summer, is at work, with Bacons approval.


Clark, 27, won his prize for a portrait of the late Muriel Belcher, acerbic proprietor of the Colony Room Club in Dean Street, where Bacon drops in to watch the Saturday afternoon racing on the box.

‘‘I’d never heard of the place,’’ Clark tells me, ‘‘but the first person I saw when I walked through the door was Francis. They threw me out, but not before Francis bought me a drink.’’


Clark was let back in, and has since painted Ian Board, Muriels successor. Bacon has allowed him to take photographs of himself in his London studio, as studies for the painting, which is approaching completion.















KELLY WISE   |   BOOKS   |   ARTFORUM   |   VOLUME 20, NUMBER 5   |   JANUARY 1982


David Sylvester’s Interviews with Francis Bacon presents a portrait of a tough-minded artist, a man who is father-conflicted, compulsive, driven to surpass himself, productive in spite of (or perhaps because of) his cynical world view. In the preface, Sylvester suggests that the seven interviews spanning 17 years from 1962 to 1979 form an extended dialogue. That is a prodigious claim, and while Sylvester has elicited the kind of candid information from Bacon that one can only elicit from a long-standing friend, the control and wit in this collaborative effort are clearly Bacon’s.

Carefully preserving the artist’s distinctive “turn of phrase,” Sylvester has altered the sequence of the responses and edited the interviews into a unified and intriguing statement, enhanced by over 1oo black and white illustrations. Over the years, Sylvester has taken pains to map out a strategy that leads Bacon into deeper and deeper revelations about his art. The resulting conversation communicates the exhilaration and detached despair of Bacon’s life, but, unexpectedly, it is communicated without pretense or conceit.

Bacon assaults life as he assaults figuration in his art. He abhors abstraction, as well as the banal, the predictable, or mere illustration of visual fact. “What I want to do is to distort the thing far beyond the appearance,” he explains, “but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance"—which is, for him, a new and more vivid representation. Occasionally he works from a photograph but never from a sketch or a live model. (He is loath to practice before his subjects “the injury that I do to them in my work.”) When Sylvester observes that the grotesque side of Bacon’s portraits may reveal ambivalence towards the subjects, Bacon deflects the notion as though it were a faulty serve. Bacon’s eye is penetrating, restless. He is dedicated to the creation of images that he himself  may not understand, but whose potency depends upon working “as closely to the nervous system as one possibly can.” Critics may pull their chins and fabricate whatever explanations they wish about his odd and shifting figures or about the transparent walls and boxes within his paintings, but such critics mistake his point. His work is not predicated upon a literary or philosophical system.

Like a Samuel Beckett slogging through a sorry existence, Bacon is smitten by a sense of absurdity. His world view is relentlessly bleak. Life is pure accident: man’s lot is futile. He recounts an incident from his youth: “I remember looking at a dog shit on the pavement and I suddenly realized there it is—this is what life is like. Strangely enough, it tormented me for months, till I came to, as it were, [accept] that here you are, existing for a second, brushed off like flies on the wall.” Art, Bacon contends, is merely a game of protective distraction, a game—given the death of God in modern times—whose ante is quadrupled.

As he has grown older, Bacon has forced himself to greater creative freedom. He is fascinated with “marks that are made quite outside of reason.” He details the necessary risks involved in addressing the visual unknown. To sling a gob of paint at a finished or nearly finished painting and to leap after that gesture in a frenzy of invention is to cast oneself grandly to chance. (Bacon would not live otherwise). Yet he acknowledges that some fine paintings have been sacrificed by his method, that even though traces remain upon his memory of their unblemished states, the particular spirit of these paintings can never again be captured.

I’ve always hoped in a sense to paint the mouth like Monet painted a sunset,” Bacon admits. There are other obsessions: the inverted cruciform Christ and Diego Velasquez’s Pope Innocent X: strange obsessions for a committed atheist.  The artist also cites his admiration for Rembrandt, Sergei Eisenstein, Nicolas Poussin and Henri Michaux. But is is Eadweard Muybridge and Michelangelo who are mixed forever in his mind. However, be believes that the greatest images of art are found not in painting or film but in sculpture. What makes one skilful artist seem superior to another, he argues, is simply “the critical sense”. He believes that the elements of form forged by chance possess a coherent inevitability. And he regards himself not so much gifted as “receptive. ” He even offers an opinion on friendship: it should be abrasive, for in tearing one another apart, some profound learning may take place.

 Bacon appears unafraid of any part of himself. The roulette he plays is for outrageous stakes. His paintings stand upon the lively invention of his figures. As he asserts, in them “the beauty of paint” is secondary. His work continues to magnetize because it is true unto itself and authentic in structure. These searching interviews testify to the artist’s bold intention.









A visionary at the Tate



                    by Edward Lucie-Smith





The Graham Sutherland retrospective at the Tate Gallery from May 19 to July 4 is overdue. It should have taken place in Sutherland’s lifetime, and was postponed only because the artist had expressed a preference for the galleries in the Tate’s new extension and the delays in building this caused the rescheduling of the project. Nevertheless, I have the feeling that a Sutherland exhibition now is more useful and more significant than it might have been even two or three years back. The artist’s reputation is perhaps the most ambiguous in the entire history of 20thcentury painting in Britain.

Some critics have rated Sutherland very high indeed. Douglas Cooper, in what is still the best study of the artist, published in 1961, wrote that Sutherland was the most distinguished and the most original English artist of the mid 20th century, and believed that here was someone who had transcended the limitations and provincialism of most English art. Cooper added, for good measure, Today, no other English painter can compare with Sutherland in the subtlety of his vision, in the forcefulness of his imagery and in the sureness of his touch. Also there is none whose sensibility and inspiration are so unmistakably and naturally English, yet whose handling and technical approach are so authoritative, modem and European. This last phrase must have been music to Sutherland’s ears, as above all things he wanted to be regarded as a European painter, someone who would stand comparison with the pioneers of modernism such as Picasso and Matisse.

During the last years of his life he had to put up with hurtful criticism, which pointed quite another way. The generality of English critics was for two decades inclined to denigrate his work, though he remained a major celebrity in media terms, receiving constant support in particular from the Beaverbrook Press. Beaverbrook himself bought his work in quantity for his art gallery in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Perhaps crueller still was the fact that Cooper changed his mind, and proclaimed that the man he had once supported so enthusiastically was after all a very second-rate talent.

The row with Cooper was one of a series which punctuated Sutherland’s professional life. For a man who was celebrated not only for his gifts as an artist but for his charm, he was unfortunate in this respect. The two most celebrated of these imbroglios were his resignation from the Tate Gallery trusteeship (the so-called Rothenstein affair which came to a climax in January, 1954), and the controversy over his portrait of Sir Winston Churchill.

Sutherland’s career can be split into 64,three main phases. The first is the time before he discovered his true identity. In many ways he was extraordinarily slow to discover himself. He started to make a reputation as an engraver during the mid 1920s, when he was still a student at Goldsmiths’ College, and did well out of the boom in modern prints which collapsed with the American stockmarket crash of 1929.

His work underwent a significant change in the early 30s, when he began to concentrate on painting, though he was also forced to earn part of his living by doing posters and by making designs for china and fabrics. In 1934 he made a decisive first visit to Wales, and discovered the strange Pembrokeshire landscape that was to form an important part of his subject-matter from that time forward. Characteristically he now rendered the unexpected details of landscape — tree-stumps and boulders — while at the same time finding correspondences between these chance-discovered forms which could be developed in a quasi-abstract way. Discerning patrons, notably Sir Kenneth (now Lord) Clark, recognized that Sutherland was attempting something new in the context of the time, that he was breaking away from the servitude to modern French art which then marked the more advanced sort of English painting, and that he was trying, in place of this, to revive and extend the English romantic tradition.

Sutherland paid his first visit to the south of France in 1947, and spent more and more time there after 1949. His reputation became international rather than purely national after the exhibition of his work at the Venice Biennale of 1952, and the subsequent showing of the same exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris. Another major event took place slightly earlier — the decision to attempt a traditional full-length portrait. Sutherland’s arresting image of the writer Somerset Maugham, painted in 1949, followed by the equally arresting fulllength of Lord Beaverbook, started in May, 1951, made him the most soughtafter portrait painter of his time. It was the portraits which, more than anything else, turned Sutherland into a media celebrity, but many good judges thought that they represented a dilution of his gifts. In fact, the tendency among his original admirers was — and still is — to see the whole of his post-war career as something of a decline. Nevertheless, it is the work of this period which raises a number of fascinating issues.

The Sutherland of the 30s and early 40s is comparatively easy to place. Clark’s initial judgment that here was someone who had managed to revive the true spirit of Romanticism, and who used the ideas of Blake’s little band of Ancients in a way that made them valid in 20th-century terms, is surely still correct. Romantic artists always find it hard to sustain their initial impetus. They depend not on technique, nor even on an established personal method, but on the spontaneous upflow of feeling- Sutherland was clearly, from all the accounts given of him by his friends, an especially civilized and delightful human being. Perhaps it is their accounts of his personality which in one way make it difficult to accept the volcanic nature of the middle-period paintings and drawings.

But what about the rest? In trying to assess the value of what Sutherland did from the late 40s onwards, it is necessary to look not only at the gigantic achievement of foreign contemporaries, such as Picasso, but at the work of two English artists, both of whom have now outstripped Sutherland in reputation. They are Henry Moore and Francis Bacon. Bacon is the more immediately obvious comparison. Sutherland was quick to recognize Bacon’s gifts. There is now some controversy among the surviving witnesses about which of them exerted the more decisive influence on the other. That the influence itself was reciprocal is not in question. Bacon probably started by borrowing certain devices from Sutherland, who was in the 40s by far the better-known and better-established of the two. But it seems that the current soon reversed itself — Sutherland’s colour schemes, his subject matter, his actual application of paint and even the relationship of the subject to its background all show his fascination with Bacon’s achievement, and it may legitimately be felt that in a picture like his ambitious Christ Carrying the Cross of 1953 the artist is using an idiom which is no longer his own.


Moore’s impact on Sutherland has been less often discussed, but is to my mind even more interesting. From the 40s onward Sutherland often seems to be painting images which derive from sculpture. The process starts with the Thorn Heads and Thorn Trees sparked off by the commission for a large picture of The Crucifixion for the church of St Matthew, Northampton, which Sutherland accepted during the war. The images, however, become much more recognizably sculptural after Sutherland’s removal to the south of France. There are the pupa-like standing forms which appear in a number of pictures — prominently, for example, in the large Origins of the Land which Sutherland painted for the Festival of Britain in 1951. There are some Horizontal Forms of the same period which are unmistakably reminiscent of Moore’s typical Reclining Figures. Sutherland develops these images in a way which tends to emphasize their sculptural origin, usually providing each with a base or pedestal painted in a banal and naturalistic manner which contrasts with the imaginative quality of the rest.


It is necessary to emphasize that these hallucinatory forms are nevertheless imaginative, as well as being simply imaginary. Sutherland is inventing complex shapes and combinations of shapes which suggestively combine the vegetable, the animal and the mechanical, and painting them in such a way that he convinces the spectator that these non-existent and indeed impossible objects actually exist.


Yet he pays a price for this intermingling of the imaginary and the real world. His late pictures seldom have a coherent surface, as is invariably the case with Matisse, an artist Sutherland adored and with whom he would have liked to be ranked. There is a feeling that the image exists separately from the way it has been embodied.


Sutherland did at one point dabble with the idea of making sculpture — he actually produced a few small pieces, then decided that the sculptural medium was after all not for him. Yet despite this renunciation I have some difficulty in deciding whether his is actually a pictorial or a sculptural gift. Would those forms be convincing if you saw them standing on their pedestals in three dimensions? Probably not.


In trying to decide what really characterizes his work, I am often driven right back to his origins in the visionary art of the English 19th century. The most persistent fault from which Sutherland suffers is the one most often detected in Blake — that the vision is unquestionably genuine, but that embodiment is somehow academic. Like Blake, Sutherland is frequently one of the hermit crabs of art, inhabiting a shell borrowed from elsewhere. But this does not mean that he is an artist we can afford to neglect.






  Somerset Maugham, 1949, Graham Sutherland






Pure presences




By Colin Gordon



GILLES DELEUZE: Francis Bacon logique de la sensation

Two volumes. 112 + 120 pp. Paris: Editions de la Différence. 120fr.





Announced by its publishers as the first of a series entitled la Vue le Texte”, this book consists of two handsomely symmetrical quarto volumes, words in one and images in the other. Volume II has 120 large plates, forty-eight in colour. Their generous scale, augmented by the use of folding sheets to carry nineteen teen of Bacons large triptychs, proves particularly apposite for paintings which, as Gilles Deleuze remarks, force an awareness of presence. More, perhaps, than in those art books where reproductions rub shoulders with their supporting copy, the stunning impact of Volume II here sets a severe challenge to the writer of Volume I. In the event, the arrangement seems to have inspired a formidable addition to the theory of modern painting. The book is as exciting to read as to look at.

Deleuze is an acute and convincing guide to the scenery of Bacon’s work: the enfolding cylindrical flats of colour, the membrane-like outlines, the impedimenta of armatures, pedestals and rails, armchairs and washbasins, aureole-umbrellas and arena roundels that at once embrace and isolate the spectacle of Bacon’s bodies: the catastrophic energies discharged upon the human figure in motion (in motion even in repose)  the head beneath the face, the non-organic life of the body-without-organs beneath the organism, the bodies hysterically truncated or spilling into pools of ectoplasmic flesh. Even the most solitary of Bacon’s figures is already a coupled Figure, man coupled with his animal in a latent tauromachy.

Deleuze cites Klee’s aphorism: the artist does not seek to render the visible, but to render visible. Bacon’s paintings are about rendering visible the action on human figures of invisible visible forces. Deleuze discerns in the terrible agitation of Bacon’s portrait heads the forces of pressure, dilation, contraction, flattening and stretching exercised on the immobile head. They are like forces of the cosmos confronted by a space-traveller motionless in his capsule. It is as though the invisible forces were buffeting the head ... areas of the face that the painter has rubbed over or wiped through assume a new meaning here, marking the very zones where the force is striking. This reading of Bacon’s abstraction-within-figuration in terms of a cosmic material content seems manifestly applicable to the recent paintings – Landscape, 1978, Jet of Water1979, Sand Dune”, 1981 – where the Figure is nothing but a burst of matter, an elemental, Turneresquc flux. Bacon had previously spoken to David Sylvester of attempting in the portrait head to make a Sahara of the appearance”. And other Saharas of time and space disjoin the parts of his great triptychs.

The chosen dilemma of Bacon’s career, the double refusal of straight abstraction and the illustrational figure, connects with the underlying incompatibility of his aims with any surrender, however playful or sophisticated, to the mediation of an optical code. Dcleuze, following Sylvester and John Russell, notes the complexity of Bacon’s feelings for photography: the haunted fascination for Muybridge, for medical plates, for pictures of wild animals, the abandonment in the automat self-portrait shots, but also the radical hostility. Photos become what we see and finally we see nothing else but them (Deleuze); the texture of a photograph seems to go through an illustrational process onto the nervous system whereas the texture of a painting seems to come immediately onto the nervous system (Bacon). There is a permanent struggle in painting, from which even abstraction offers no sure evasion, against the photographic optical clichés that already crowd the empty canvas. Similar motives underly Bacon’s repudiation of his sensational early Crucifixions and screaming Popes. I have never tried to be horrific ... I wanted to paint the scream more than the horror. (Artaud had said almost the same thing.) The poignancy of the sensation depends on a realism purged of anecdotal pathos.

The most intricate and exacting part of Deleuze’s analysis has to do with this art of creating what he calls the pictorial fact”, the non-illustrational visual event. The Sylvester Interviews deal at length with how, for Bacon, the act of painting passes through a moment of blindness, the destruction of illustration by means of chance strokes or splashes of paint, in order to establish what Bacon calls a graph of possible facts. There is, in Dcleuze’s words, a frenetic zone in which the hand is no longer guided by the eye but imposes itself on sight like another will, accidental, automatic, involuntary; the final goal of this operation is a non-optical vision, recreating what Alois Riegl (à propos of Egyptian art) termed the haptic mode of perception, the tactile eye. Sight fuses with sensation. The eye becomes a polyvalent, undetermined organ; what it sees is the body without out organs, the Figure as pure presence.





     Tate/Imperial-War Museum



Graham Sutherland


          by WILLIAM PACKER






A death simplifies, clarifies many things, and when the death is of an artist, and we come to consider his life and work, so often we find our attitudes, for or against, become subtly changed for that clearer air, or perhaps a slight shift of ground for a clearer, broader view. The point may seem over-obvious one to make, but its implicit caveat is necessary nonetheless. Difficult artists excite controversy, volatile ones hostility and partiality: if they are good at all they win a loyal following, and if inconsistent they are certain to win uneven and contradictory criticism.

Over his long career Graham Sutherland was all these things and more besides, and now his various qualities are remarked and celebrated in two major and indeed important exhibitions and the coincidental publication of the authorised biography: the full retrospective at the Tate (until July 4), his drawings for the War Artists’ Commission at the Imperial War Museum (until July 14), the biography by Roger Berthoud (Saber and Saber: 328 pp: £12.50). Sutherland died suddenly, early in 1980, at the age of 76, when preparations for these several celebrations were already under way. Had he lived to enjoy them, it is fairly safe to say that few of the reviews and critical responses, certainly not my own, would have been quite as they now are. This is no easy excuse or apology: while the artist lives the critic must work close to what has lately been done, for he must hope with the artist that the work goes on.

Mr Berthoud has given us an extremely useful Life, a clear chronology as fascinating as it is informative in anecdote and incident. He is particularly good in throwing light on much that was dim and murky in British art politics, most especially in the 20 years or so after the War, what with the Churchill debacle, the difficulties with the Coventry tapestry, and above all the Tate Affair, with Leroux Smith Leroux and Douglas Cooper the principals, and Sir John Rothenstein the embattled Director. No one, certainly not Sutherland himself, comes out of that story terribly well; and Berthoud is throughout admirably objective and unsentimental in his account of his subject’s psychological awkwardnesses and foibles, his defensive, difficult, even obsessive temperament.

And, quite rightly, he also makes much of the general antipathy of the English critics, to Sutherland’s later work, both the indifference at best of the younger writers and the recantations and apostasies of their seniors. Sutherland was fully alive to comment of all kinds and, likely to misread much of it, resented and was wounded by anything he thought adverse; it is of course right to be told as much.

This is a personal rather than a critical or analytical account, one which takes the quality and nature of the work, and indeed the fact of achievement or distinction, as matters safely to be assumed. Outside the scope of the book, the practical argument falls to the exhibitions, which is to say the work itself, the very evidence on which such judges as Kenneth Clark and Douglas Cooper founded their early assessment and support.

The Tate exhibition puts it all very well indeed; and what it shows most clearly of all is that not only that earlier enthusiasm, but also the later general critical suspicion and doubt were reasonable and soundly based. Here we see no artist moving inexorably on from strength to strength, but an ageing and troubled man with a reputation to maintain and believe in himself, and yet out of sorts, unreconciled to what one might have thought he knew he could do best. And all that late celebrity and honour, all those rich commissions and inflated images, out of scale and unresolved, are quite beside the point.

Vermeer was not Veronese, and we do not hold that against him; but it seems to be the tragedy of so many artists in our time that they assume the larger scale to be necessary to their professional integrity and standing. We look closely at these larger works, almost all of them the product of the last 30 years of Sutherland’s life. and cannot but discover he had no facility at all to sustain the paint across their surface. There they stand, portraits, landscapes, interiors, beasts and still-lifes, inflated self-parodies all, so laboriously squared up, picked at and on that surface, as dry as death.

As for those portraits, that kept him so busy in those last decades, the evidence of our eyes is unmistakable. Where one or two may well have stood as remarkable enough, remarkable that is to say in a comparative isolation (and the Churchill is perhaps a substantial loss), more and more followed, to be compared and criticised. He would not trust his direct and immediate response and touch, but worried every inch, squaring up, photographing, working at a remove, fiddling endlessly. He found it all very difficult, and did not do it at all well. Sutherland the greatest portrait painter of the age is an artist who never existed.

It is all a question of touch and scale, and when we move back into the earlier phases of the career, the story is rather different, the point the same. Through most of the forties, Sutherland and Francis Bacon worked closely together and clearly were mutually influential, but Bacon’s instinct was to work expansively, direct on a canvas that was in fact a kind of stage or arena; and he edited ruthlessly. Sutherland never could release himself so uninhibitedly on so public a scale, but more intimately and directly, sur le motif, his touch and eye were ever wonderfully fresh, inventive and sure: and they remained so, even to the end.

The Imperial War Museum show is a wonderful testimony to his consummate ability to command a fluid or graphic medium within the natural compass of the wrist, or the lateral flick of the eye. Steelworks, bomb-sites, mines and factories are caught and legitimately exploited creatively in images that require, though the Tate shows that they often got, further amplification. The notebooks are a delight, the variations too often no more than earnest variations.

And indeed it is during the War and in the half decade just before, when he was working so fruitfully in South Wales, producing the body of paintings and drawings that really established him as a major figure, that we see Sutherland at his natural best. He had been a slow developer, a conscientious and accomplished etcher but one more influenced than original, whether by Palmer and the Ancients, or by F. L. Griggs, or by Paul Nash; and only when the market in contemporary prints collapsed at the end of the twenties did he turn seriously to painting. The Welsh period, from 1934 on, was one of true self-discovery and release; and the work he produced then still generates the excitement and true feeling of a newly-activated visual sensibility. The influences may still be evident, Nash, and Surrealism, and Picasso, but they are unselfconsciously so and quite assimilated.

Inhibition was. o return, and all but cripple him entirely. Uncritical support never helps, and he was not helped by all those assurances of central importance, that he won so suddenly and were never quite what they seemed: his consequent vulnerability to criticism is all too understandable. But Graham Sutherland is still an important and significant figure, and will remain so deservedly for his work in the 15 years before 1950. The Tate exhibition, sponsored by Mobil, is especially timely, a necessary and salutary exercise that makes certain a reputation that in so many respects was in real danger of being made false.





              Hills above bomb storage caves, pierced by bombs;

             St Leu dEsserent, France 1945, Graham Sutherland 






Splash of Miro, dash of Bacon at Sutton Place




                                               By GODFREY BARKER





DRAW up outside the imposing wrought iron gates of Sutton Place, the country residence near Guildford of the late Mr Paul Getty, a hidden eye inspects you. The gate swings slowly open on buried wires, then close ominously behind. You are now trapped. It is a one-mile drive to the house, through a dense wood and over a bridge controlled by a lonely, mysterious traffic light. That is about all that is predictable about this magnificent Tudor house and estate, leased to an American millionaire as shy and reclusive as Mr Getty, Mr Stanley Seeger. From hereon it is all surprises.


Hill under construction


Alert visitors will notice that a dolphin-shaped lake is being dug in full view of the deep oriel windows of the handsome Henry VIII facade. It is about the size of the Serpentine. Behind it, a hill is under construction. The butler is normal enough. So also, at the front door, is Mr Roger Chubb, the ex-director of Sotheby’s who presides ducal style over a staff of 48 at Sutton Place as arbiter elegantium, art buyer and estate director for Mr Seeger.

As he shows you into the Great Hall, one sees curiously that the Tudor/Jacobean panelling has been removed to expose white plaster walls. Upon them hang three giant and important pictures by Francis Bacon. These are not violent or nightmarish in much of Mr Bacon. Rather they are in soothing pastel colours to match the tasteful pink, green and blue in which the Tudor staircase has been painted.


Cascade of water


What is going on at Sutton Place, it, should be said at this point, is one of the most fascinating or startling (depending on your viewpoint) of modern art on to an important old house in Britain. Outside, earthworks in what is a largely undisturbed Tudor landscape are taking place on a scale not seen in this century since the Astors built the Tudor village behind Hever Castle. Responsible for the latter development is Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, whose chef d’oeuvre this is. His projects, beside the lake and hill, include an allegedly Miro-infiuenced swimming pool in a Gertrude Jekyll garden and Magritte-influenced windows in brick walls.

Then there is the cascade of water falling in a series of glass and concrete pools, to be cut at the end of the formal topiary lawn at the rear. Equally unexpected, upon rounding a Serpentine path in a tall beech clump, is the vast theatrically placed rectangular block of Carrara marble superimposed with plane slabs and pierced with shallow circles by Ben Nicholson, fronting an oak w00d. It will all be visible to the interested public at a fee on a strictly appointment-only basis (maximum number of visitors 30 at any time) from next month.


Exhibitions planned


Mr Chubb, who plans exhibitions, dinners, concerts and lectures, starting on June 30, will show you round the contemporary art collected by Mr Seeger and the important Victorian pictures collected by himself. All behold in the eye of the Some, including the D o E inspectors of listed buildings, are reluctant if not upset. But Mr Chubb argues in defence of the admitted culture shock that country houses are the product of many centuries of development, the 20th Century no less than others.

The ownership of Sutton Place by Mr Getty was just one of several love affairs between rich Americans and Tudor houses which are an episode in the history of taste. But he did little to the house beyond adding fibre-glass ceilings. What Mr Seeger has done, employing the services of Sir Hugh Carson inside the house and Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe outside, is near unique. It is also extremely expensive. And in many eves it is important too. Triumph or disaster, for half judgments are not possible, it should be seen.

The telephone number for appointments; from next month is 0485 504455.





                                                                                                                                        Francis Bacon, Triptych — Studies of the Human Body, 1979






How Soho artists become Belgravia celebrities






DURING THE first half of this century British painters and writers, and the artistic fringe generally, gathered amid the gilt mirrors and plush banquettes at the Cafe Royal in Regent Street, London. In the second half their spiritual heirs chose to assemble and make merry in the Colony Room, a dingy place approached via a squalid stairway, flanked by dustbins, in Dean Street, Soho.

Founded in 1948 by Muriel Belcher, the daughter of Portuguese-Jewish parents who owned the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham, the Colony, or Muriel’s as it was better known, is an afternoon drinking club of unsurpassed seediness. Muriel died in 1979, but the club lives on, not quite its former self.

In its 30-year heyday the list nf painters who drank at the Colony Room would have included nearly all of the best British, post-war artists. Michael Andrews painted Muriel holding court; Francis Bacon, probably her greatest friend, made several studies of her and observed: “She was a very, beautiful woman—it’s as simple as that.”

This week an exhibition entitled “Artists of the Colony Room Club: a tribute to Muriel Belcher” opens at the Parkin Gallery in Belgravia. a long way from Dean Street in all but miles. Some 40 artists are featured — or should one say “members.” Muriel having been very strict on membership. Given out from her perch on a stool at the doorway, her decision on whether one belonged was arbitrary and final.

Lucian Freud. Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach. Bodngo Moymhan and Eduardo Paolozzi are merely among the best-known of a distinguished gathering. The contributions of writers habitués of Muriel’s come in the form of catalogue introductions from Dan Farson. George Melly and Molly Parkin.

“I never got the impression that Muriel felt much for painting.” recalls Melly, “although possibly rather more than she did for writing; and there were after all as many celebrated authors who climbed up and staggered down those famous odoriferous stairs as there were painters and sculptors.”

What she did like were people of temperament, all the better lf it extended in the direction of putting money over the bar.

Many now-celebrated artists were down on their luck much of the time (and here Muriel’s financial as well as spiritual generosity often helped), but when they did sell a picture much of the proceeds would end up in the Colony Room till.

The painters may have come a distance from Soho to Belgravia in more ways than one. Quite a proportion of pictures in the show are loaned, anonymously, by members of the Colony circle, now cautious of admitting to the ownership of the increasingly valuable paintings by their afternoon drinking pals.

Wednesday evening, when they gather to toast Muriel’s memory, should be quite an event. Maybe Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon will end their feud and speak to one another; perhaps Paolozzi will consent to be in the same room as either of them.

Without Muriel Belcher probably none of it will happen. As Melly says in his introduction; “Painting is a lonely business. On the other side of Muriel’s heavy door sat the enchanting antidote to the empty studio.”





                                               Club owner Muriel Belcher seen, left, by the camera and, right, by artist Francis Bacon. 





Taking a quick drink



STEPHEN FAY takes to the streets of London





ON JEFFREY BERNARD’S 18th birthday, he offered to buy a drink for Gaston, owner of the Yorkminstcr in Dean Street. “He got quite angry.” recalls Bernard, “because I’d started drinking in the Yorkminster a couple of years earlier when I was 16. That was in I948, and he has been drinking solidly in Soho ever since — a man who has learned to live with drink, and earns a living by writing about its causes and effects.

When we met him last week in the Coach and Horses on Greek Street, where he was publicising High Life, Low Life. published by Unwin Paperbacks (Bernard is often low; his co-author Taki is sometimes high), we commiserated with him about the deterioration of Soho. “I used lo see Dylan Thomas every morning, and there were lots of painters here. Now only Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon come in, and Bacon only uses Wheelers and the Colony Room. Wolfenden ruined it by taking the whores off the streets.

“The pubs have been taken over by assholes in the blue-denim-suited brigade making advertising films, and, oddly enough, despite the dirty bookshops and the amusement arcades, Soho is more furtive than it was. Bui the liberal brigade has taken over Hampstead and Chelsea’s finished. There’s nowhere else lo go.” Taki, who believes there is, soon made his way back to Mayfair.










An exhibition of dance photographs, paintings and drawings is to be auctioned by Lynn Seymour in aid of London Contemporary Dance Theatre at the Fischer Fine Art Gallery, 30 King Street, SW1 on November 22. The exhibition will be open to the public from 2 pm to 4 pm. The sale, for which admission is by invitation, is at 7.15 pm.





Bringing in the Bacon






ALEXANDER RUSSELL, 24-year-old son of film director, Ken Russell, is among those whose works will be auctioned next week at the Fischer Fine Art Gallery to raise money for the London Contemporary Dance Theatre. He has sent me this intriguing photograph of himself which he took himself with a tripod and timer. He suggests “Self-portrait as madman’’ for the title.

Russell Jnr, a painter who lives in Hampshire because “there’s more room to work down there,’’ also works on a nature reserve “to get some money’’ His painting, he explains, is “very influenced by Francis Bacon.’’

“I met him through my father and I know him quite well. He likes some of the drawings.’’

 The fact that the notoriously elusive Bacon is expected to put in an appearance at the auction is surely an indication of his enthusiasm for his young acolyte’s work.

Others who have given work include Shirley Russell, Alexander’s mother and Ken’s ex-wife, who has donated some of her designs from films like Reds and The Music Lovers. Photographer Anthony Crickmay has given signed studies of individual members of LCDT company which are part of a special series commissioned by the company and which will be on show at Sadler’s Wells throughout its season which opened this week. The auctioneer is Lynn Seymour, Crickmay’s favourite subject.









At home with Muriel







There are dealers who deal, and there are dealers who vary the pace a bit, arranging a show from time to time around a certain theme that might seem to them a good idea. Michael Parkin has always been conspicuous among them, devoting quite as much time and energy as discrimination to his researches within his particular field, which roughly stated is British Art since Whistler: and specialising further still, he appears to have made his own the almost sociological though never earnest study of the connection that has existed at different times between certain coteries of the art world and particular social establishments, usually primarily concerned with the provision of food and drink.

The old Café Royal, Boulestin, The Fitzroy Tavern: now it is the turn of Muriel’s, that is to say The Colony Room, the Soho drinking club set up by Muriel Belcher just after the war, and over which she presided, by all accounts, with such benign aggression. She died three years ago. but her club survives, and this exhibition at the Parkin Gallery (until December 4), of work by some of the artists who hate used it, is a tribute to her memory.

They are a very mixed lot, and there are no conclusions to be drawn from their association, no new theory or gloss to be applied to hold our post-War art together in some fresh coherency: but it is odd how representative of their time they are, and remarkable how good so many of them are, or were, Lucian. Freud, Francis Bacon (who painted a number of significant portrait studies of Miss Belcher), Michael Andrew, (who painted the Colony R6orr itself, and whose own portrait by Freud is here on show) Frank Auerbach, Peter Blake the Roberts Colquhoun and Mac Bryde, John Minton (his portrait too by Freud and shown here), Eduardo Paolozzi, Huber Dalwood, Karl Weschke, Keltl Vaughan, Robert Buhler — the list is arbitrary and long. An if Augustus John presides at the Grand Old Man of the catalogue, artists of a much younger generation were made welcome too: Tim Berhens, Martil Fuller, Michael Clark.

These things cannot bi forced. The English, artist: and all, are riot informally am publicly clubbable in the easy Continental way of café and brasserie, and whatever social focus does appear for a while to serve its turn is all the more welcome for that: the pub perhops, the particular cafe or restaurant, the louche, clandestine drinking club, in each case the entrée given by word of mouth and accidents of the round. We do indeed love to ex take our pleasures secretly. Nibs Dalwood was always arranging to meet me at hit Muriel’s, but he never did. He died, the moment passed, and I never went there, to my great in regret. It is good to know that under Ian Board the Colony th Room goes on, and the opportunity is not altogether lost.

Bryan Robertson is another great organiser of exhibitions, indeed one of the best, but he it, was never a dealer at all. Curator at the Whitechapel in the 50s and 60s, one of the most distinguished gallery directors in modern times, he is still that it in a somewhat looser way as programme director for the Warwick Art Trust in Pimlico. His policy has been not to bring on the talented young, nor yet the celebrated and well established, but rather to give to artists of reputation in mid-career the chance both to declare and to review their achievement so far. The al disciplines are tight: the galleries, beautiful though they are, are small and difficult to use, and the work must be rigorously chosen, and as carefully disposed. Robertson himself, loyal as he is to the artists with whom he has been e associated over the years, is hard to please. A show at the Warwick has already become a kind of accolade.









Muriel’s men






Although I only visited the Colony Room Club once while Muriel Belcher was alive, it remains vividly in my memory. Situated at the top of a shabby staircase in the middle of Soho this down-at-heel but welcoming space has been a favourite haunt British artists ever since she started it in 1948.

Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews are perhaps the most distinguished of the painters who have frequented it. Their work dominates an affectionate tribute to Muriel Belcher at Michael Parkin Fine Art but the show emphasises that an extraordinary range of other artists also enjoyed hard-drinking visits to its premises.

Robert Colquhoun and John Minton were among its regular clientele in the 1950s, and nowadays it attracts younger artists like Michael Clark whose sensitive studies of both Bacon and Belcher are outstanding in the show.

Artists always retained a special place in Muriel Belcher’s affections and after getting to know her they realised that beneath the formidable exterior was a kind and perceptive woman who deserved their love.

Artists of the Colony Room Club at Michael Parkin Fine Art, 11 Motcomb St. SW1, until December 4th.





Revenge on orthodoxy



Frances Spalding





“The Colony Room” writes George Melly in the catalogue to this exhibition (16pp £2), “was the nearest thing to a Paris cafe this bleak and private city could offer since the great days of the Café Royal.” Melly does not pursue the comparison for there is after all a vast difference between a large and sumptuously decorated café in Regent Street and a private club situated on the first floor over an Italian trattoria in Dean Street. The gilded interior of the Café Royal has appeared in several paintings, but there is scant pictorial record of the dim and smoky conditions that prevail at the Colony Room. An exhibition celebrating the Café Royal (such as Michael Parkin organized in 1972) evoked a milieu this show is primarily concerned with personalities.

Chief of these is the late Muriel Belcher, to whom this exhibition is a tribute. From all accounts, the success of the Club was due to her, a ladv perched perennially on a bar stool and given to unrelenting abuse. Those who withstood her initial attack often became her most loyal clients, fed her scurrilous gossip and responded to the challenge of her inexorable honesty and command of expletives. She was it seems a person of huge character and no inhibitions. Like Rosa Lewis of the Cavendish Hotel, she had an ambivalent attitude towards wealth. Whereas at Rosa’s the order “a bottle of wine” always brought champagne and the wealthiest person present was charged the bill, Muriel won free drinks for all by commanding an unwanted customer, “Open your bead hag Lottie”. The unfortunate male usually obliged

She may not have cared much for painting but she respected creativity. Her Soho court included John Minton, Keith Vaughan, Colquhoun and MacBryde, Craxton, Adler, Bacon, Auerbach, Michael Andrews, Buhler, Burra Dalwood, Moynihan, Paolozzi and Lucian Freud, an impressive list of post-war artists and each given token representation in this show. One outstanding item is Freud’s 1952 portrait of John Minton in which considerable exaggeration heightens hut never breaks the realist mode. The huge eyes, sallow flesh tones and taut linearity create a haunting evocation not only of Minton’s troubled personality but also of the age in which it was painted Freud’s more recent portrait of Mr and Mrs Michael Andrews has no such ramifications. Attention remains concentrated on the artist’s technique, the incisive tonal contrasts and vigorous modelling the greater solidity and finish which, nevertheless, do not disguise the weak shape made by Mrs Andrews’s right arm.

Colony artists may not form any recognizable school hut most share an interest in distortion. It directs Bacon’s bruised and disjointed portraits and, to a lesser extent, those of Michael Andrews. It justifies Auerbach’s obiiterative strokes which, in their sweep and blur, suggest that the head he is painting has suddenly moved. And Freud’s cursive modelling often follows emotive distortion rather than the actual shape of the face This need to create through destruction descends from Picasso but mostly lacks his investigative playfulness. It asserts the artist’s control over appearances and tends to dehumanise the subject. It has a peculiar vindictiveness as if seeking revenge, like Muriel Belcher’s language, on restrictive orthodoxy. It can put a distance between us and the subject: even Freud’s intense scrutiny of physical appearances often leaves one unfamiliar with the person.

This show, however, includes many likenesses of familiar names associated with the Club. There are portraits of Dan Farson, John Deakin and Muriel Belcher (on her deathbcd), and several of Francis Bacon. There are also photographs of certain regular habitués — none labelled, since part of the game is, of course, knowing who’s who. If Muriel Belcher recognized talent she also made sure that others did too, and Colonv Room members turned up in force at these artists private views. And though her gift for spreading intoxication is widely known, Muriel Belcher’s black charm may have had more influence than historians have so far even hinted.

Artists or the Colony Room Club Michael Parkin Gallery, 11 Motcomb Street, London SW1



LCDT self help






In a determined effort to generate funds from the private sector, London Contemporary Dance Theatre last week organised an unusual evening at the Fischer Fine Art Gallery.

The main event was an auction of paintings, drawings and photographs. It was conducted by Hilary Kaye from Sotheby’s, who was aided and abetted by Lynn Seymour, making energetic pleas to wealthy art connoisseurs to part with their money. Many of the exhibits, which included works by Anthony Crickmay, John Furnival, Ellen Kuhn, Jo Parker (Mrs Stuart Burge), Shirley and Alex Russell, and Inka Sobein, were generously donated to the cause, and a net profit of £2000 was raised.

This was LCDT’s first self-help initiative in the desperate struggle to raise funds, and the committee is now hard at work planning future events.














SUZY SOLIDOR, who has died at Cagnes aged 83, was a fashionable nightclub entertainer in Paris in the 1930s and 1940s, who amassed a collection of 221 portraits of herself, many by some of Europe’s leading artists.

She was the original of the song: “If You Knew Suzi like I knew Suzy.”

Born in St Malo, Brittany, she opened an antique shop in Paris, and only began singing when she was 32 because business was bad. The painter Van Dongen advised her: “If you want to save your furniture, sing. And sing from the depths of your belly.”

She converted the antique shop into a nightclub, and appeared every evening, dressed as a matelot, to sing about the seafaring life in a deep, gravelly voice. She was already known to many artists as a model, and her songs included “La Mer” and “Tout Comme Un Homme.”

Her nightclub, called “La Vie Parisienne,” was the most modish in Paris for well over 10 years, and artists who painted her included Vlaminck, Van Dongen, Picabia, Kiesling, Francis Bacon, Marie Laurencin, Dufy, Cocteau, and Domergue.

When she left Paris for Cagnes in 1958, she opened another antique shop. In the house next door, where she lived, the 221 portraits of her in her singing days, said to be worth well over £I million, were ranged round her living room walls. But she did not keep a single one of her records.





‘‘I Think about Death Every Day’’



Francis Bacon tells why his paintings seem so violent

and how the upheavals in his life influenced him






Early on, Francis Bacon became identified with the imagery of his paintings; the split-open carcases and strings of offal. He says he could often see the dismay register in people’s eyes as he approached, the unspoken thought, ‘‘Oh, here come the meat racks.’’ Bacon’s relationship with his public was bound to be uneasy from the beginning when, at the age of 35, he unveiled his Three figures at the base of a Crucifixion. It was almost a visual assault, these visions of unrelieved horror and disfigurement, Bacon had plumbed the depths of human agony, and he had surfaced with a primal scream of terror so intense it seems to rip the tormented figures apart.

In recent years the terror has subsided somewhat. Today one senses a greater distance between the artist and his subject. There is now a contemplative aspect to his paintings, one that allows room for mystery, and even for beauty.

The original Francis Bacon, the great Enlightenment photosphere, does in fact number among the artist’s ancestors. From the Elizabethan court, the line of collateral descent found its way to into Ireland with Bacon’s father, who was a horse trainer. Growing up in an English family in revolutionary Ireland, the young Bacon was prey to his share of anxieties. These were compounded by constant money worries brought on by his father’s gambling, a vice that Bacon says has entered his blood.

Bacon, 71, now divides his time between his London studio where he lives and an apartment in Paris he rents from a friend. He likes to start painting at the first light of day, and generally leaves his wok by noon. We talked one afternoon in the office of his London dealer at the Marlborough Gallery.

JOSHUA GILDER: Do you think of your painting as violent?

FRANCIS BACON: People always interpret them as violent. I’m certainly not trying to do that. I’m really trying to make them as real from my point of view as I possibly can. I mean, you’ve only got to think about life for just ten minutes, what it’s really like: it’s a horror which I certainly wouldn’t have the talent to be able to trap—the real awfulness of life. It’s marvelous, but yet it’s awful.

JG: Does painting that horror ever move you, emotionally?

FB: Emotion is such a funny word. What is motion? It’s a horrible thing to say, but what is emotion really?

JG: Well, sometimes you’re painting images of extraordinary pain.

BACON: I’ve lived through two world wars, and I suppose those things have some influence on me. I also remember very well, growing up in Ireland, the whole thing of the Sinn Fein movement. I remember when my father used to say—this is when people were being shot all around—‘‘if they come tonight, just keep your mouth shut and don’t say anything.’’ And I has a grandmother who was married to the head of the police in County Kildare and used to live with windows sandbagged all the time, and we used to dig ditches across the road so cars would go into them.

After, when I left home, I was 16 0r 17, I went to Berlin. That was the Berlin of the Weimar Republic, it was just before Hitler came into power, and there was also a tremendous sense of unease. As I’m old now, I’ve lived through a period of tremendous upheaval and tension. Perhaps those things have affected me.

But most people never think about life. If you think of the way we live, we’re living on the compost of the earth. The world is just a dung heap. It’s made up of compost of the millions and millions who have died and are blowing about. The dead are blowing in your nostrils every hour, every second you breathe in. It’s a macabre way of putting it, perhaps; but anything that’s at all accurate about life is always macabre. After all, you’re born to die.

JG: But can’t one live with a consciousness of death without being macabre?

BACON: Ah, yes. You certainly can. But I don’t think of my work as being in the least bit macabre. I think of it as being slightly truthful sometimes.

JG: Which contains that consciousness of death?

BACON: I never go through a day without thinking sometime about death. It just comes into everything that you do. Into everything that you see. Into every meal you eat. It’s just part of nature.

JG: Is death the subject of the painting you’ve been working on this morning?

BACON: I’m at the moment just painting a sand dune. The setting is a sort of industrial  background, and out of this the sand dune, I’m hoping, seems to have started to emerge.

JG:  Do you usually start with an image in mind, in this case the sand dune or the industrial background?

BACON: It differs. For instance, with my painting Jet of Water (1979): I was in France somewhere and I saw a wave breaking on the shore and I thought I would like to do that. And when I came to try and do it, it looked more like a jet of water. So I turned it into a jet of water.

JG: Does that often happen?

BACON: Vet often, yes. The painting changes from one thing to another constantly. You often think, there’s a certain thing you want to do. But in the process of doing it, it may completely change, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, change into something much better.

JG: What inspires the change?  Is it a feeling evoked by the image?

BACON: I think if one were able to have a camera running all the time while one’s working you would be able to see how things change much better than any words can possibly describe. Painting is not, after all, a static process. It’s not all that difficult to sit down and illustrate a wave breaking on the shore, but that’s just going to be one more illustration of a wave breaking on the shore, which is better done by photographs. And so you have to find a ay by which you can present this wave breaking. But with the sand dune, well, I think it looks rather like a sand dune. You see, I want to make it as strongly into a sand dune as I possibly can. And to do this I must cut away its naturalistic surroundings.

JG: Why is that?

BACON: It gives it, to me, a greater presence. You see, each artist, especially in our time, when there’s no tradition at all, works according to his own nervous system. Well, then it’s the question of the quality of the nervous system. Only time will tell whether that’s any good or not. One will be dead before that’s sorted out.

JG: Do you paint quickly?

BACON: When things work for me, I work very quickly.

JG: And then are there times when it doesn’t seem to come together?

BACON: Oh, yes. I mean, I’ve got dozens and dozens of canvases that are just half done and left.

JG: Why do you think it is that a picture won’t come together?

BACON: It’s something in you. I hate starting a picture. It’s only when things begin to happen, when you feel things arising from your instinct, that it becomes interesting at all.

JG: How do you get to that stage?

BACON: Chance usually brings it along. I think that my paintings look perhaps very conscious, but they actually come about in a very unconscious sort of way. You see, so much of my work, and the better work, is when things come together accidently. It’s a very difficult thing to talk about what accident is—or chance, whatever you like to say. When things seem to work for you.

JG: The surrealists spoke of accidents as a way of subverting the conscious or the super-ego. Do you agree?

BACON: I think so. The difficulty is, so much in surrealism was really interesting as ideas, but the actual painters, the real surrealist painters, were not very interesting. Their technique was very academic and boring.

JG: Who has influenced you?

BACON: Well, I didn’t start painting, really, until I was about 30. And I never went to an art school. I was born in Ireland, where it’s more important to know the shape of a horse’s hoofs than to know anything about painting. Neither my mother nor father was the slightest bit interested in painting. I left home when I was 16, and did all sorts of little jobs and things, and then about 1928 I saw an exhibition of Picasso’s in Paris. I thought about it for a long time, and certainly was influenced by Picasso. I’ve been influenced by everything really.

JG: You seem to incorporate some of the techniques of the abstract expressionists.

BACON: I’m sue I learned a great deal from them, because I take anything that I think is going to be useful to me.

JG: You spoke once to David Sylvester of your painting as ‘‘walking a tightrope between figurative painting and abstraction.’’

BACON: Well, I may have. To tell you the truth, no abstract painting has ever given me the exhilaration of figurative painting. In fact, it bores me. Profoundly. When I first heard of Rothko, I thought, well, here is going to be somebody doing the most marvelous somebody doing the most marvelous things, like Turner, in abstraction. But the problem—with all of abstract expressionism—comes from lack of subject. I think that no matter how far you deviate from it, you need the discipline of the subject. You need the pulsation of the image, the force of the image, to go beyond decoration. Which Rothko didn’t have. It was always a beautiful decoration. And perhaps I’m peculiar, but I ask from painting something more than decoration.

JG: Something human?

BACON: An image. Not necessarily ... well, you can call it human, yes; but an image, on that unlocks the barrels of sensation in a more profound way, which abstraction never does. The abstract expressionists did away with the subject and went directly after beauty. But they were bound to be disappointed. After all, beauty is only a hind product of desire.

JG: Do you start with the subject in the foreground, or the background?

BACON: I start with the foreground, the figure, and then that determines the raw colour of the background.

JG: For instance, in this portrait of Muriel Belcher you would have painted the sphinx first?

BACON: Yes. yes. And then I gradually put in the colors. I wanted this image, or agitation, to exist in a very clam background.

JG: The lines you draw around your figures are often thought of as reference to the glass box surrounding Eichmann at his war-crimes trial. Do you think of them that way?

BACON: No, I don’t. I think of them simply as methods of containing the image. I feel that, in this portrait of Muriel, for instance, without those lines around it, the image would be sort of floating in that orange too much. I’m sure there are more satisfactory ways, but I haven’t discovered one yet. Perhaps I will one day.

JG: You’ve spoken of how difficult portraiture is today. Why is that?

BACON: Well, because, firstly, the tremendous developments of photography in portraiture. The only real thing now in portraiture is to make not just an illustration of the person but to make an image of them. People talk, for instance, of giving a person’s character, but I don’t think portraits very often do that.

JG: In many of you your portraits, despite the distortion, one can still see the likeness. It’s not all distortion.

BACON; No, it isn’t all distortion. But then, you see, I always hope to distort into reality.

JG: To distort into reality?

BACON: And not distort away from it. To my point of view I’d like to make a marvellous image which also looked like the person, if I could do it. I have done one ... perhaps one or two have been successful. I did a set of three of Muriel. They were very deformed, but I think they were deformed into appearance.

JG: If I said that I saw tenderness in some of your portraits?

BACON: Absolutely. For instance, this one of Muriel, who was a great friend of mine. Well, people hate this thing. But I find that this portrait of Muriel is very, very tender and happens to be very like her.

JG: You spoke of your triptychs as stills in a movie. Is there a narrative?

BACON: There’s no narrative. I just try to make images, really. I mean, one knows through history to some extent what the sphinx is supposed to be. But I never think of what it is supposed to be. I think of what it is to me.

JG: The way way an image can move one despite its historical context?

BACON: Yes. Absolutely. Its historical reasons don’t really touch me at all. With the great Egyptian art, for instance, which I think is among the greatest art, there are very, very few things that are known. It was really made by workmen, who probably in their own way put their own kind of personality into the work. But one doesn’t really know. This cultivation of the personality is a very modern thing, really, and not at all interesting, finally. I mean, somebody may have an extraordinary personality, but in a work of art it’s not their personality one is interested in; what’s interesting is what they’ve made—the image they’ve made.

JG: Are you in a sense trying to transcend personality, to create almost mythic images?

BACON: I  don’t think I’m trying to do anything beyond make images that excite me. I’ve nothing to say in that sense. I think images say say a great deal, but each person interprets an image as they want. Insofar as I could say what I’m trying to do, I’d say I’m a maker of images, that’s all. But images not for other people. Images for myself.

JG: You don’t care if they communicate to other people?

BACON: No. You may say that’s a very egotistical point of view, but I really don’t mind. I’m just very lucky that I’ve been able to not have to do some other work and be able to earn my living by something that obsesses me.




British Bacon






FRANCIS BACON, the Dublin-born painter who once to Sir John Rothenstein that as a young man I read almost nothing and as for pictures, I was hardly aware they existed, is to be the subject of a second major retrospective at the Tate Gallery.

His London dealer, Marlborough Fine Art, expect the show, scheduled for mid-198523 years after his first retrospectiveto include about 130 works.

Bacon is one of the few British artists to combat the traditional hauteur with which the French regard our art. Some years ago even they had to admit that he was worth an exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris.




Queer Street






Homosexual, poof, queer, gay? I was brought up to use the word queer. And queers aren’t what they used to be. I was discussing sex as usual with Francis Bacon in the Colony Room Club the other afternoon and we both came to the conclusion that the decline in the quality of homosexuals dates from the time that gay became their title. What a silly word! Speaking as an obsessional heterosexual I’m very gay usually after four or five large ones but most of the poofs I know seem to be fairly gloomy about their condition. Years ago I used to put the gloom down to the fact that they mostly had to pay for their sex games when it was against the law, but now that homosexuality is practically de rigueur that can no longer be the case. AIDS must be a tiny bit worrying of course but it all ends in death anyway. When the talk gets around to sex, which as I say it inevitably does, Francis is fond of verbally chastising me by reminding me that I used ‘to lead poofs up the garden path’. Well I did but I can’t feel guilty about it. When I was a teenager with the delinquent looks that queers fancied so much, they only ever fell for, bought drinks and meals for, and gave money to ’normal’ boys. That was their hang up, not mine. But I must say I’m extremely grateful to the gentlemen who gave me handouts in those days.

But I did have some strange times. John Minton took me to France, Spain, Majorca and Ibiza when I was 17 and it was pretty appalling really. There was a tremendous amount of sulking on his part because I wouldn’t have sex with him and on my part because I couldn’t screw the entire female population of the world, which is, oddly enough, what boys aged 17 want to do. When he lived in Hamilton Terrace he actually made me a weekly allowance of £3 10s: ten bob a day. A kept poodle. My sulks stopped in Paris on the way home when for a few days he gave me 500 franc notes to pop upstairs in a cafe called Ambiance to have short times with a girl called Mimi. Even that came to an end due to my introduction to Pernod.

One of the strangest queers who took a shine to me was a film producer who’d been a naval officer in the war. During the action in Which the Bismarck was sunk he picked up survivors from that ship. He claimed that as the German sailors climbed up the rope ladders he’d pulled the handsome ones up and pushed the ugly ones back into the water saying, ‘Not you dear.’ Then there was the extraordinary man who was a professional bridge player and who played for England. He used to take me to a marvellous old restaurant in Frith Street almost every day for lunch — creme des legumes, escalope of veal, a glass of red wine: 3/6d — and he used to let me take girls back to his flat, which was pretty nasty of me. On second thoughts, he probably liked the idea.

But, as I was saying, there has been a decline in the quality of queers and it may not have been since the word gay was coined. It may have started with it being made okay in the eyes of the law. I’d quite like to see a law introduced making fornication illegal. It might bring some spice back to sex and make all those lunches preparatory to the afternoon legover seem worthwhile and value for money. As it is I haven’t noticed much change in women since they’ve discovered they’re equal. The only woman who ever takes me to lunch is my ex-wife and I suspect that’s purely because she’s defused me and rendered me harmless.

Which brings me to another point. At just what age do women become equal? I’ve noticed that women under 30 hardly ever buy a round of drinks. Mind you, young men are pretty callow too in pub etiquette. Worst of all is the animal called student. I really don’t know what should be done about these people. When someone tells me that they are reading English at Oxford at public expense — I wonder why on earth they can’t read English in the kitchen at home. I didn’t get where I am today by going to Balliol and I can’t think of a better place to study politics, philosophy and economics than in the Coach and Horses. Norman is a gas on economics. The place oozes philosophers and we have mathematicians who can work out place bet yankees in seconds. As for the aforementioned business of gays, we haven’t got any. All we’ve got is the next best thing. Danny La Rue is a customer.





A brush with ebullient despair




          The Times Profile: Francis Bacon






IN his book on Bacon (Phaidon, £50) published today the French critic Michel Leiris declares that Francis Bacons searing paintings express the human condition as it truly and peculiarly is today: man dispossessed of any durable paradise.

Bacons images crawl in the mind: human trunks (or perhaps it is a smeared foetus?) like refugees from an abattoir squatting on a flat tightrope in some limbo, Figures with distorted, apparently tormented, faces desolate in denuded rooms. What is he up to? Is he really concerned with presenting pictures of man dispossessed?

Painters have one impenetrable defence: they insist, as Bacon does, that they are concerned only with form. Bacon has never done abstract painting; his very recognizable figures, if only by their deformity, appear to be yowling out some message about human distress. But Bacon denies this. He experiments with form, he says, in the hope that some reality will emerge.

That is enough for the painter, but the journalist has to dig for some clues as to what al this is about, and what kind of person lies behind this activity. The accumulation of evidence suggests that Bacon has been all his life  and still is at 74  a greedy and incorrigible youth with no social conscience; a roulette gambler (he also makes repeated reference to the element of luck in a successful painting) who stumbled on to something fluid going on in his head which when transferred to canvas corresponded to a satisfactory enough challenge to reality  or perhaps temporary defeat of reality  for him to want to go on doing it all his life. He doesn’t give a damn about critics or public.

After that its gambling, champagne (but as a nourishment not a frivolity) and friends. He posed for this portrait with great good will. He lives, on springy feet, a dapper man, mysteriously youthful, in a mews studio in South Kensington whose appearance avalanches from untidiness to squalor.

There seemed to be a promising clue to his, unadmitted, anguish in the fact that he was born in Dublin (son of an English horse trainer) and until the age of 16 hung around within contagious range of the priests training college, Maynooth. Was he perhaps exposed from an early age to a sacerdotal miasma which regularly rinsed his soul with torment?

Not at all. His story is that he was born and raised in Ireland without having become any kind of an Irishman. Then what were all his popes and crucifixions about? Nothing what- ever to do with religion.

"I wanted to do a portrait of the body raised from the ground. Christ on the cross seemed one way of doing it and I couldn’t think of any other." No Irishman could give an answer like that, even as a joke. So we must accept that he, a member of an English family, who was warned to keep his mouth shut if the IRA paid a visit to their Kildare home in 1918, saw and recognized the local obsessions but was totally distanced from them.

Nor will he admit that his experience with the ambulance rescue squad carting around the wounded during the Blitz (his asthma kept him out of the army) made any special impression. He did not begin painting until he was about 30, then survived on £3 a week from his mother and working as cook and valet to a couple in Holborn.

 "You claim your work is not about illustrating anything."

"No. I always think what painters and poets do for you is unlock the valves of sensation and bring you nearer to a kind of reality. Much more than telling you anything. They just make you aware without it being a dictatorial awareness", he replied. "I think of myself as an image maker."

One of the most obsessive of these images came from an old hand-painted medical book on diseases of the mouth he found in Paris. "I always thought", he said, "that if I could take just the interior of the mouth, the saliva, the tongue, the colour of the flesh, I would be able to make the mouth as beautiful as a Monet sunset.

"Well, you can see the possibilities", he said, a shade defensively, in response to my silent stare. "It was a rather unlikely road to want-to travel?", I suggested. "It was an unlikely road", he agreed, generously, "and it didnt come off’. He laughed. "You never know where the images come from, he said".

 "A book on birds of prey. And advertisement in a newspaper".

 "So medical books are as useful to you as an art gallery?"

"Certainly. Or old Mrs Beatons cookery book".

Or Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou; the woman screaming on the Odessa steps in EisensteinPotemkin, a poem by Eliot; a translation from the Greek. Bacon has had only the most capricious association with the recognized art world. he never went to art school. One of the most powerful influences on his painting has been VelázquezPope Innocent X which he regards as one of the greatest paintings in the world. He studied scores of photographs of it, but when in Rome never bothered to see it. I could not prise out of him.

"How can you be sure it is perhaps the greatest painting in the world when you have never actually seen it"?

"I know just by the way its laid out", he said a trifle testily ... "I rarely go to art galleries. I just take what I can find. I dont think this is uncommon among artists. I think all people who create are like that. They are just greedy for themselves. Painting is about nothing more than what it does to me".

"When you do portraits, are you attempting to unlock feelings about the sitter?"

"No. No. I am really working for the form. I am hoping that the form will become a likeness. People say my work is deformed. But it is certainly not deformed for the sak1e of deformity. I am always hoping to deform into reality."

"And in your preoccupation with the Shout, is any aspect of it anguish?."

"It’s not the anguish. I hate expressionist painting. But unfortunately that came into it. It was a silly thing to do. I am not at all an anguished person."

"You’re not? That will surprise people."

"No. Im not. If it comes out in my work well there it is, its something that comes out. I never think of it as anguish. I think of it in so far as it works as extremely realistic. As life is packed with anguish the more realistic you are the more your work will be packed with the anguish of life. Isn’t that clearly put?" he demanded with self-admiration. (He frequently felt he was being incoherent, which was never the case).

"Have you a strong awareness of social Injustice?"

"If you started to worry about what you thought was social injustice your whole life would be fucked up."

"Are you saying that in your own life you are not a tormented person, but very jovial, gregarious?"

"I wouldnt say I am jovial. I am gregarious. The thing about it is of course when ones been young, been emotionally involved with people there are always moments of anguish that people go through. But I am not a worrier in life at all. Im not tormented. I mean I haven’t got a sense of sin. I am lucky in that way but then I wasn’t brought up to have it. The only way I would feel I had committed a sin would be if I consciously tried to bring harm to somebody else."

"What is the attraction of gambling for you?"

 "Just for a moment you think that luck is working for you. As in painting when things are going well you think for a moment chance is on your side."

"You have said that when a painting works there is a very high level of accident. What other people might call inspiration?"

"Inspiration is such a high-falutin word, its easier for me to say accident or chance."

"You destroy your work?"

"Very frequently, yes ... I should have scrapped a great many more," he muttered reflectively.

"Do you not regret, then, when a successful painting Is sold and goes abroad to someone’s collection?"

"Im glad to see the last of it."

"So the satisfaction is only in the process of work itself?"


"You realize other people cannot live as emotionally independent as you do? Most people have to succeed on other peoples terms?"

"They do. To be a painter is to be extremely lucky. Dont think I dismiss the fact that I have been very lucky to be able to earn my living at something which obsesses me to try and do. But practically no one understands anything or feels anything about painting". (This did not appear to particularly concern him).

"What about the critics?"

 "If I took any notice of what critics said I’d never work at all. They loathe my work. I never sell in this country."

I had asked him if he drank and he had replied: "Oh I do," with particular cosiness. We had already had a whiskey and Bacon then invited me to join him and an old friend from the World Bank for lunch and a few bottles of wine.

About the third bottle of wine, time began to speed up. There were whizzing taxis and climbing stairs to a Soho drinking club and then the serious business of drinking champagne.

This gave rise to an anecdote or two  Bacon telling me how he went to Crockfords the other night with £6,000 but carefully divided it into two jack-et pockets. This appeared to be his notion! of prudence: having to dig into a second pocket would be a severe obstacle to losing it all. It wasnt.

He spoke of Yeats: "As an old man he worked on himself, made himself more remarkable."

I asked him what he thought of old age, which judging by his form he appeared to have pretty well tamed.

"Its a bloody nuisance," he said, with a touch of melancholy. "Well, you are nearer death. But so long as the brain goes on and one can move about!" After that there were only images, of endlessly circulating bottles of champagne, dark, beaded with moisture, which drew out of the gloom what appeared to be hands with greedy mouths in their palms. And Bacon standing by the bar jaunty in old age.

It was one of those evenings where you ask yourself next morning: what the hell was that all about? Chance provided the answer. I found a crumpled card in my coat pocket on which I had scribbled, in collapsing handwriting, one of his, phrases: "Ebullient despair."

Peter Lennon

An exhibition of Francis Bacon’s work opens tomorrow at Marlborough Fine Art, 6 Albermarle Street, London W1, until September 23.





Following the signs at new art’s crossroads



Marina Vaizey on the Tate, and Francis Bacon





“NEW ART at the Tate”: a 26-foot-high black metal animated Hammering Man, a mix of Disney, fairy stories and comic books, by the American artist Jon Borofsky, startlingly welcomes visitors in the Tate’s central rotunda, and sets the mood. Borofsky, who works with video, installations, environments, and even old fashioned drawing and painting, is typical of the multi-media diversity explored by’ most of the eighty-two artists (including just five women, none of whom are painters) from Europe, Britain and America that make up the Tate’s ambitious mini-survey of the concerns of art now. It is the first such in London for nearly twenty years, a welcome look outside from our insular world.

 It is a confusing, hectic show. Even the signposts guiding visitors each have two arrows pointing in opposite directions; the show is in three adjacent areas, not fully integrated. In the exhibition, too, there is no one ism’, dominant pattern, or single viewpoint; rather there are many things going on.

Vividly coloured, large scale neo-expressionist painting, from Italy and Germany, uses a fierce series of fragmented images or large, set scenes to echo recent history or fearsome personal nightmare. Immendorfs huge painting “Café Deutschland”, Rainer Felling’s “Another Murder at the Anvil”, like a 1920s low-life movie redone in lurid Dayglo colours, echo the terrible events of the Germany that existed before these artists were born. Thus, too, Anselm Kiefer (b 1945), whose vast “Parsifal” paintings (1973) and “Heliogobal” (1983), a huge black-pillared hall with fires burning (we almost expect to see and hear thunder and lightning), come close to stealing the show.

There is some stunt work: Julian Schabel’s “Humanity Asleep” tosses enormous swirls and clots and drips of paint over a surface of broken crockery; I’m not sure how humanity slept through the sound of smashing china. There is role-playing: Cindy Sherman is a young blonde American who pouts, smiles, frowns her way as both subject and object of her own big colour photographs, in the process exploring the variety of appearances we demand both of stars and the girl-next-door. Robert Mapplethorpe’s impeccable silvery grey photographs take the body as sculpture: a curved, shining back, the knobbed spinal column like a path through the flesh; a black body walking; an outstretched arm. The Tate accepts such artists, and the English ones here – Hilliard, Long and Fulton – who also use Photography; but not everyone realises the Tate is alone among international modern museums in ignoring photography itself.

A number of sculptures and paintings take on traditional techniques, as does Stephen Cox’s “Gethsemane” – huge lumps of stone carved and coloured with great virtuosity, spread over a wall like fragments from some great decorated classical building. Charles Simmonds makes instant ruins – ritual towers, old settlements – from tiny terracotta bricks. In one corner Jannis Kounellis has made a big wall drawing in black lines showing a village street, with two real stuffed pigeons in the sky, each held by an arrow through the breast.

Paul Thek sends tip the idea of the past with bronze tableaux of mice and “Dead Sea Scrawls” and a loaf of bread, implying destruction and impermanence with permanent materials. Bertrand Lavier questions tradition with a glass cabinet and a golden framework, painted all over with ripples of translucent acrylic, so that the outlines of the piece of furniture become irregular and wavering.

And the German artist Sigmar Polke combines the echoes ofthe past and the freedom ofthe present with a shimmering painting in muted, light-filled colours, like a rainbow shattering; in this curtain of colour black dots (like newspaper photographs ) indicate the classic broken statue, the “Winged Victory”, facing a bland little man making a speech, the little dictator. In this international gathering, the British painters, masters of form and colour (Setch, Walker, Le Brun), and sculptors (Cragg, Houshiary, Woodrow, Kapoor, Deacon, Willats) are among the most interesting, inventive – and hopeful – to be seen. Doom and gloom here seems more a Continental p re-occupation.

The single most memorable piece, though, is the most strikingly simple: Magdalena Jetlova’s huge oak and iron staircase, each tread, roughly carved, at a crazy angle, the whole leading up and on into the blankness of a museum wall, a staircase of aspiration and hope, going nowhere, beautiful, blank, and very affecting. Jetlova is a Czech, who carves wooden fragments – resembling chairs, clothes, cupboards, staircases – just occasionally shown semi-secretly in temporary shows in Prague’s ancient courtyards. Her emergence here has an impressive simplicity.

The exhibition as a whole is not only New Art, but Hot Art, news that these works – witty, ironic, powerful, despairing, crude, and sometimes just ugly for the sake of it – indicate too a new energy in the art market. The new art is being rapidly validated in museum shows in Europe and America, and the Tate is buying hot off the easel. A substantial proportion of this show is Tate-owned.

Francis Bacon has plenty to say through the medium of paint, and at the Marlborough, to commemorate the publication of “Francis Bacon Full Face and in Profile” by Michel Leiris (Phaidon, £50), a dozen or so new paintings by Bacon are on view for a week. Several are masterpieces, and slightly new departures too. There is a fantastic, compelling use of colour scarlet on orange, the orange a mixture of paint and pastel. There is a street scene, shadowy, hurrying figures held in a force-field of lines, going past a heap of flesh in its own cage. “Sand Dune” takes an enormous, amorphous piece of flesh which almost seems to pulsate as we look at it, and cages it – but it bursts its cage. There is a triple self-portrait, the face partly distorted; Bacon’s distortion, Leiris tells us, borders on disruption, recalling Breton’s statement, “Beauty will be convulsive or not exist at all”.

Bacon suggests both the achingly physical presence of flesh, its palpability, and its imminent dissolution, dust to dust. These powerful paintings, triptychs, portraits, figure-studies, and compositions based on Ingres, are not as immediately shocking as much of his earlier work. But in their refined strength, their use of many spaces within the same painting, the cages that are also rooms and windows, the paint surfaces ranging from ridged patterning like wave-marks in sand to silky-smooth , these paintings are not only some of Bacon’s most courageous and defiant, but among the finest of the 20th century.

At Nigel Greenwood’s, Ian McKecver’s new, colourful meditations on landscape, and on the relationships between painting and photography, are more interesting and beautiful than ever. It is lyricism revivified, put through the mill of abstract expressionism, Jackson Pollock superimposed on placid pools, Jramatic seaside, and birch woods. Huge black-and-white photographs of landscape are almost blotted out by vast swirls of paint, the colours echoing the moods – evening, autumn, spring leaves, dawn, wave-licked Scottish seas – of the underlying image which emerges from underneath the paint in small silvery fragments.






           Francis Bacon at the Marlborough: paintings courageous and defiant, among the finest of the century






The thoughtful process of falling off a log



Matthew Smith                    Francis Bacon

Barbican                                 Marlborough





If exhibitions are to be judged by the magnitude and unexpectedness of their revelations, then, even in this week of extraordinary exhibitions, the Matthew Smith show at the Barbican Art Gallery must surely take pride of place. We can hardly pretend, of course, that Matthew Smith is an unknown quantity: he is automatically listed as one of the great figures of twentieth-century British art, part of the canon created by Sir John Rothenstein in his three classic volumes of Modern English Painters. And yet enshrining an artist is one of the most infallible ways to forget him and there has not been a major exhibition of Smith in London since the memorial show in 1960. Meanwhile, we have taken him tor granted: oh yes, nudes, landscapes, still-lifes; brilliant Fauve colouring; English Matisse, but not so good; admirable, evidently, but limited and light-weight.

That is not, at all, the way he looks in the heart-warming, and at moments heart-stopping, show at the Barbican until October 30. The idea of the show comes, apparently, from the little-publicized possession by the Corporation of London of the cream of Smith’s studio, more than a thousand paintings, drawings, watercolours, pastels and sketch-books, with the concomitant requirement, as yet unhonoured, to show a reasonable proportion of them. (They were left to the Corporation by Mrs Mary Keene, Smith’s principal heir, in 1974.) The present show has been created by Vera Russell, with characteristic persistence and flair, and contains many works from the legacy never before seen in public, as well as practically all the other key works, borrowed from all over the world. There are in all 93 oils, plus works on paper and personal relics so it is not quite the full-scale retrospective which might have been wished. but on the other hand it gains by concentration. and by including no work which is. in its way, less than first-rate.

The first misconception the show puts paid to is the idea that Smith was lacking in variety and development. True, his work is amazingly consistent almost from the first, but his range proves to be considerable, and, though Francis Bacon is quoted in the catalogue as (correctly) singling out Smith’s brilliance as a direct painter rather than a filler-in of outlines, some of the drawings, such as the remarkable series of First World War prisoners. indicate that he had, when he needed it, a masterly grasp of draughtsmanship and of the bare. stripped essentials of composition: for all their sensuous surface, these paintings are rigorously thought out. Many of paintings in the show make the whole process look as easy as falling off a log. but now one can sense also the fundamental brainwork which went into getting Smith to this state of actual as apparent case and spontaneity.

Smith has also sometimes been accused of lacking in human warmth. treating his Junoesque nudes just the same way as he did a bowl of apples. If this is true at all, it speaks well for his attitude towards apples rather than ill of his attitude towards humans. But there is, especially in some of the earliest paintings of Vera Cunningham, the more-than-Junoesque love of his middle years, an extraordinary tenderness and grace — this is certainly the look of love. And there are nudes in that same room (the intransigent space of the Barbican has been handled with consummate skill), such as the Falling Model of c. 1925-26 and Vera Cunningham with Daffodils of c.1922-23, with its mysterious quality of light from within which are among the great paintings of their era and a complete revelation. The few portraits of men, such as the Roaldl Dahl. are also remarkable for their affection and penetration of character.

If the Smith show gives us back a master, to be judged on an international rather than merely parochial scale, the small show at Marlborough Fine Art devoted to his admirer Francis Bacon is an unexpected, valuable and brief (it is on only until Friday) opportunity to catch up with the painter’s most recent work, occasioned by the publication of Michel Leiris’s resplendent picture book Francis Bacon (Phaidon, £50). Normally Bacon paints so little, and sells it so quickly, that there is no chance of putting together a one-man show of current work — the last in London was, I believe, in 1967. This collection not only re-asserts his mastery, but shows his moving in some promising new directions, particularly in the stunning Sand Dune from a year ago, with its haunting ambiguity (is the pinkish-fawn mass in the middle flesh or landscape or both?) and the brand-new Statue and Figures in a Street, with its palpable, almost science-fiction atmosphere. Clearly all fears that, in his mid-seventies, Bacon might be prepared to rest on his laurels. or a least agonize comfortably on his ch1osen bed of thorns, can be decisively laid to rest.

Talking of revelation, the selection from the Costakis Collection of Art of the Avant-Garde in Russia (Royal Academy, until November 13) must absolutely not be missed by anyone interested in the progress of art in the twentieth century, or for that matter anyone who responds at all, on any level, to beauty and invention in the visual art. Much the same applies to this show’s timely companion-piece. The First Russian Art Show, in which Annely Juda has ingeniously assembled (until December 3) a commemoration and in part reconstruction of the Van Dicinen Exhibition in Berlin in 1922.

The emphasis in The First Russian Art Show was, and is. primarily on the Constructivist, geometrical side of Revolutionary Russian art, fascinated as it was, like the Futurists in Italy, with speed and the machine. The Coslakis Collection, or the proportion of it which Mr Costakis was permitted to bring out of Russia with him, covers this aspect of the period admirably, but it also fills in the other side of the picture, the side of Russian art around 1917 best known from the music of Scriabin, with its sensual mysticism, its involvement in Theosophy. Spiritualism and various esoteric tendencies in quasi-religious thought. The free-form abstractions of the Ender clan. B.V. and M.V. in particular, and the symbolistic early works of Kliun, not to mention those of the later apostle of white-on-white, Malevich, fill in whole areas of the map previously uncharted in the West, and make it clear just why some of Russia’s most uncompromising modernists continued to feel that, for them. modern art began with Vrubel.

Finally, and briefly, I must touch on New Art, at the Tate until October 23. Within its limitations (of mostly one work per artist) it is a useful quick conspectus of present trends and the names which are at the moment being bandied about. If you do not know quite what a Chia, a Clementc, a Baselitz, a Kiefer or whatever looks like, and want to find out easily, this is the show for you. To the credit of the selector, Michael Compton. in almost every case a superior example of the artist’s work has been chosen, so that the overall effect is (perhaps unduly) optimistic. And despite the implications of the enormous Borofsky sculpture of a Hammering Man, which is the first thing to greet you as you enter the gallery, the show is not even to punishing or heavy-going. The final effect, indeed, is almost cheery. Can so many loudly angst-ridden artists really have meant that?

John Russell Taylor





Slice of Bacon






WHEN remarkable men like Harold Pinter and Francis Bacon meet, one imagines something remarkable will be the outcome. But hopeful eavesdroppers such as myself were to be disappointed. Following their chance meeting at the Bacon Exhibition in the Marlborough Fine Arts Gallery last Thursday, there was a distinctly uncomfortable silence in which not even Mr Pinter’s wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, seemed able to find anything to say.

Eventually Pinter launched into a long story, punctuated by suitable pauses, about a train journey he had once made with Bacon and a third man. Each of them thought he was the other’s friend and so tolerated his presence. Bacon searched for significance in the story and, apparently finding none, smiled his strange smile.

The truth may be that the couple, who confessed that they cut out reproductions of Bacon’s work and stuck them up around chez Pinter, were rather in awe of the 74-year-old artist. Certainly his appearance at the gallery last week seemed to excite incredible interest among the rest of  the viewers.

Like many active artists, Bacon is incredibly trim and alert for his age. This cannot be put down to his life-style which seems rather unhealthy. He rises when it is light and paints for six or so hours without food or coffee. He may then go out to drink large quantities of champagne with villains and other members of London’s low life.

He is still an inveterate gambler which he says comes from his childhood. When I was 10 or so my father used to send me to the post office to put on his bets just before the start in horse races. He was a trainer, you see, and it was important to get the money on at the point that the price would not change. Today he will go with two or three thousand pounds to a casino and frequently loses. I like the concentration of those places and of course the excitement, he said.

Bacon is refreshingly unartistic in his conservation. He is open about his love of literature and the inspiration it gives him but one feels that he does not indulge in the sort of profound, agonised discussion that the Pinters might might feel at home in. 





                                                Bacon: hung





A Painting by Francis Bacon







A painting of a male head, dated 1951, by the influential artist Francis Bacon (b. 1909) has recently been acquired by The Cleveland Museum of Art (Cover and Figure 1),1 Simply entitled Head, it is one of a series on this subject painted by the artist over the years beginning in the late 1940s. It manifests Bacon’s overwhelming interest in the human figure, often a portrait, as subject matter. An artist whose fully mature works emerged in the late 1940s and the 1950s, he is a contemporary of such American Abstract Expressionists as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning and their Taschist counterparts on the Continent, including Wols (Alfred Otto Wolgang Schulze) and Georges Mathieu. Bacon’s insistence on clinging to the human image as subject matter links him to a few painters such as Balthus and Alberto Giacometti in Europe and Willem de Kooning in the United States. Older masters such as Velázquez, Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh are the artists he most admires, however, and it is against them that he measures himself as a painter.

The Cleveland picture is one of Bacon’s earliest paintings of heads and it may well be a portrait. He almost variably uses close friends as the subjects of his portraits, and this canvas belonged for some yeas to his friend, the artist Lucian Freud. He did a full-length portrait of Freud in 1951, and it might might well be that this image was derived from his recollections of his friend. (Bacon almost never works directly from the model but rather depends on visual recall and feelings often supported by photographs.)

In the painting the figure sits quietly in a dark room; three straight light lines, forming one end of a rectangle, suggest the back of a chair. A cord pull and tassel slant down across the figure’s left shoulder. (Such cords are familiar devices in Bacon’s compositions and sometimes are replaced by translucent curtains.) The business suit and tie suggest a modern figure, while what appears to be a loaf-shaped hat is typical of those appearing in his many paintings of popes. Freud is reported to have said the figure started out as a pope but became the first portrait in the series that Bacon did of van Gogh.2  However, in a letter to the author dated 27 August 1983, Freud wrote: "I bought it the day he did it and quite some time later when he was looking at it in my house he said that that was the first time he thought about painting van Gogh. [Italics mine.] I did not say it was the first in a series."

The many heads that Bacon painted during the late 1940s and early 1950s are nearly always terribly distorted. This figure is almost unique in its quiet posture and absence of grimace. The apprehensive expression of the eyes  and the blurred flesh are enough to indicate fear, while the isolated image and indication of a shade imply solitude. Such subtle suggestions of emotions are often more effective than attempts to portray them directly. The structure of the head and features can be seen as shadowed forms beneath the smeared, thick, light pigment that covers and blurs them. Typically, Bacon has used a broad brush to define these forms. The forehead and cheekbones are clear, but the lower part of the face, including the nose, appears as if it were in the process of movement or perhaps decomposition.

The few lines implying the back of a chair and the curtain pull are enough to suggest a room and to define a certain space. The chair back is clearly behind the figure, while the cord is in front. One is forced to infer a space of at least three or four feet to the chair back, and the wall is obviously some distance behind this object. Thus, with a minimum of means the artist has placed the figure in a specific and defined space. From 1945 through the 1950s, Bacon produced some of his most original and effective images. Head 1 (Figure 2), in the Richard S. Zeisler Collection, is one of the most violent and horrific of the images of screaming heads. The head itself is suggested entirely by a mouth stretched wide in a terrifying grimace – revealing terrible rows of teeth with sharp and extended canines – an ear, and an indication of a neck and shoulders. In contrast to the new Cleveland painting, pure terror is here graphically depicted. Such fearful expressions, with mouths stretched in terrible screams, indicate a particular concern of the artist. In a lengthy interview with David Sylvester Bacon said:

I’ve always been very moved by the movements of the mouth and in the teeth. People say that there have been all sorts of sexual implications, and I was very obsessed by the actual appearance of the mouth and teeth... it was a very strong thing at one time.3

Later he remarked: "I’ve always hoped in a sense to be able to paint the mouth like Monet painted the sunset."4

Born in 1909 of English parents living in Dublin (where his father was employed as a race horse trainer), Bacon did not devote himself exclusively to painting until he was in his mid-thirties. Alienated from his family – especially his father – at an early age, he lived in Berlin and Paris for two years before going to London in 1928, where he designed interiors and made furniture and rugs. He painted intermittently during the 1930s, but with Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (Figure 3), completed in 1944, he began his career as a serious, full-time painter. After World War II until 1950 he lived in Monte Carlo, where he indulged a passion for gambling.

The major role of chance in life and art is an idea that has always intrigued Bacon. He often refers to the importance of accident in making a picture. Drink or drugs, he believes, may help free the artist as he works, and he agreed with Sylvester’s suggestion that it is important  to have "the will to lose one’s will."5 in order to achieve complete freedom.  He never does sketches or drawings, he explained because: "the actual  texture, color,  the whole way the paint moves, are so accidental  any sketches that I did before  could only give a kind of skeleton ... the way the thing might happen." 6 Finally, Bacon assented that that "allowing  chance to work, one allows the deeper levels of the personality to come across." He added that "they come over inevitably  they come over without the brain interfering with the inevitability of the image. It seems to come straight out of what we choose to call the unconscious..." Such conviction could well be taken for those Surrealists such as Andre Breton or Max Ernst in the mid-1920s.

Despite Bacon’s Surrealist-like attitude, he does not seem to recognise the formal achievements of the Surrealist such as Joan Miro and Surrealist-influenced Abstract-Expressionists such as Arshile Gorky (who was in fact a Surrealist), Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, William Baziotes, and Mark Rothko in carrying forward the notion that form alone can reveal inner feelings. Bacon has mentioned that he thought of painting as a duality with "abstract painting being an entirely aesthetic thing. It always remains on one level. It is only really interested in the beauty of its own patterns or its shapes ... I think that abstract artists believe that in these marks that they’re making they are catching all those sorts of emotions. But I think that, caught in that way, they are too weak to convey anything."8

Somewhat later later, however, he asserted: "when you are painting somebody, you know that you are ... trying to get near not only to their appearance but also to the way they are affected you, because every shape has an implication.9 Furthermore, he agreed that it is an emotional implication. Thus paradoxically, he first denied and then acquiesced that formal elements  such as pure shapes  have the power to provoke affective responses in the viewer. Admittedly, it may only be the degree of the power of form alone to convey emotions that he questioned, for he insisted that the image adds another dimension to a picture giving specific direction to the feelings aroused in the viewer.10

The disquieting Head recently acquired by this Museum (Cover and Figure 10 demonstrates the artist’s point about an image giving direction to the feelings it arouses. The blurred features mask specific characteristics that would precisely  identify the model, but the haunted eyes do provide insight to the particular emotions of loneliness and fear.

Blurring the features of the image was achieved by dragging a wide brush or perhaps a rag or painting knife across the painted surface while it was still wet. In describing such methods, Bacon added: "I’m certain Rembrandt [also] used  an enormous amount of things."11 However, he vehemently denied that he  is trying to say something about the nature of man "in the way that an artist like Munch was,"12 insisting that he is "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 saying anything."13 However, an artist’s words often are intended to disguise his meaning and also to deny the critical clichés he finds abhorrent. By insisting that he’s not saying anything, Bacon might well mean that he is not intentionally delivering didactic messages.






           Francis Bacon, Head, Oil on canvas, 1951   Purchase, Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Bequest.




Roulette Realist 


The art of Francis Bacon



FRANCIS BACON, by Michel Leiris (Phaidon, £50)





THEIR heads are eyeless and tiny, their mouths huge. Two of them are baring their teeth. All have long, stalk-like necks. The one on the left, hunched on a table, has the sacked torso of a mutilated woman; the body of the centre creature is more like an inflated abdomen propped up on flamingo legs behind an empty pedestal; the third could be a cross between a lion and an ox: its single front leg disappears into a patch of scrawny grass.

They exude a sense of nature’s errors: errors caused by some unspeakable genetic pollution, embroidered with physical wounding. One has a white bandage where eyes might have been. All are an ominous grey, tinted with flesh pinks: they are set off against backgrounds of garish orange containing suggestions of unspecified architectural spaces.


Francis Bacon painted this triptych, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, now in the Tate Gallery, in 1944. It was first exhibited at the Lefevre Gallery the following April, where it hung alongside works by Moore, Sutherland, and others who had sought to redeem the horrors of war through the consolations of art. Although Bacon referred to traditional religious iconography, he did not wish to console anyone about anything. Indeed, he seemed to want to rub the nose of the dog of history in its own excrement.


When Three Studies was first shown, the war was ending and it was spring. Bacon was out of tune with the mood of his times. Certainly, as far as the fashionable movements in art were concerned, he was to remain so. And yet his star steadily ascended. By the late 1950s he was one of an elite handful of ‘distinguished British artists’.


Today his stature among contemporary painters seems unassailable. And yet Bacon – who recently held an exhibition of new work at Marlborough Fine Arts to mark the publication of this major monograph by Michel Leiris – must be the most difficult of all living painters to evaluate justly. His work is so extreme it seems to demand an equally extreme response.


Bacon has always denied that he set out to emphasise horror or violence. In a chilling series of interviews conducted by David Sylvester, he qualified this by saying: ‘I’ve always hoped to put over things as directly and rawly as I possibly can, and perhaps, if a thing comes across directly, people feel that that is horrific’. He explained that people ‘tend to be offended by facts, or what used to be called truth’. He has repeatedly said that his work has no message, no meaning, or statement to make beyond the revelation of that naked truth.

Bacon’s serious critics have largely gone along with his own view of his painting. Leiris, a personal friend of the painter’s, is no exception; he argues that bacon presents us with a radically demystified art, ‘cleansed both of its religious halo and its moral dimension’. Again and again, Leiris calls Bacon a ‘realist’, who strips down the thing he is looking at in a way which retains ‘only its naked reality’. He echoes Bacon himself in arguing that his pictures have no hidden depths and call for no interpretation ‘other than the apprehension of what is immediately visible’.


No doubt the ‘horror’ has been over-done in popular and journalistic responses to Bacon. But it is just as naïve to think Bacon is simply recording visual facts, let alone transcribing ‘truth’.


Creatures like those depicted in Three Studies can no more be observed slouching around London streets than haloes can be seen above the heads of good men, or angels in our skies. Of course Bacon’s violent imagination distorts what he sees.

But the clash between Bacon’s supporters and the populists cannot be dismissed as easily as that. The question remains of whether Bacon’s distortions indeed reveal a significant truth about men and women beyond the facts of their appearances, or whether they are simply a horrible assault upon our image of ourselves and each other, pursued for sensational effects. And this, whether Bacon and his friends like it or not, involves us in questions of interpretation, value and meaning.

The stature of Bacon’s achievement from the most unpropitious of beginnings is not to be denied. Although his father named his only son after their ancestor, the Elizabethan philosopher of sweet reason, he himself was an unreasonable and tyrannical man – a race-horse trainer by profession. Nonetheless, Francis, a sickly and asthmatic child, felt sexually attracted to him. Francis received no conventional schooling and left home at 16, following an incident in which he was discovered trying on his mother’s clothes.


He worked in menial jobs before briefly visiting Berlin and Paris in the late 1920s; soon after, he began painting and drawing, at first without real commitment, direction or success. In the early 1930s, he was better know as a derivative designer of modern rugs and furniture, although an earlier Crucifixion, in oils, was reproduced by Herbert read in Art Now. Bacon subsequently destroyed almost all his early work; his public career thus effectively began only with the exhibition of Three Studies in 1944.


Bacon then began to produce the paintings for which he has become famous: at first there were some figures in a landscape, but soon he moved definitively indoors. He displayed splayed bodies, surrounded by tubular furniture of the kind he had once designed, in silent interiors. A fascination; with the crucifix and triptych format continued, but he painted the naked, human body – usually male – in all sorts of situations of struggle, suffering and embuggerment. A 1953  picture of two naked figures wrestling on a bed is surely among his best. But a series of variations on  Velaszquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X – which he now regrets – became among his most celebrated. By the 1960s, the echoes of religious iconography and the Grand Tradition of painting had become more muted. Bacon could never be accused of ‘intimism’: ‘homely’ is one of the qualities he hates most. The large, bloody, set-piece interiors continued: but the forms of their figures became less energetic, more statuesque. Bacon seemed increasingly preoccupied with portraits usually in triptych format, of his friends and associates: Isabel Rawsthorne, Henrietta Moraes, George Dyer, his lover Muriel Belcher, the owner of a drinking club in Soho he frequented, and himself.


Bacon has repeatedly said that he is not an ‘expressionist’: it is easy to show what he means by this by contrasting his work with that of the currently fashionable, but lesser painter, George Baselitz who is. Baselitz deals with a similar overt subject matter, but he invariably handles paint in an ‘abstract expressionist’ manner: that is in a way which refers not so much to his subjects as to his own activity and sentiments as an artist. Anatomy, physiognomy, gesture, and the composition of an architectural illusion of space mean nothing to him: to Bacon, they are everything.


Or almost everything, for if he has sought to work in continuity with the High Art of the past, Bacon recognises that the painter, today, is in a very different position. He has regretted the absence of a ‘valid myth’ in within which to work: ‘when you’re outside tradition, as every artist is today, one can only want to record one’s own feelings about certain situations as closely to one’s nervous system as one possibly can.’


He stresses that the echoes of religion in his pictures are intended to evoke no residue of spiritual values; Bacon is a man for whom Cimabue’s great Crucifixion is no more than an image of ‘a worm crawling down the cross’. He is interested in the crucifix for the same reason he is fascinated by meat and slaughterhouses, and also for its compositional possibilities: ‘The central figure of Christ is raised into a very pronounced and isolated position, which gives it, from a forma point of view, greater possibilities than having all different figures placed on the same level. The alteration of level is, from my point of view, very important.’ But, for Bacon, the myth of vicarious sacrifice, incarnation, redemption, resurrection, salvation and victory over death, mean nothing – even as consoling illusions.


The appeal to a meaningful religious iconography, rooted in a shared symbolic order, is in effect, replaced in his work by an appeal to photography; similarity, in his pictures, as in his life, the myth of a jealous and omnipotent god has been replaced by the arbitrary operations of by chance.  


Bacon’s fascination with Muybridge’s sequential photographs of men, women and animals in motion is well-known. References to specific Muybridge images are often discernible in his pictures; even his triptych format seems to relate more to them than to traditional alter pieces. He seems to believe that Muybridge exposed the illusions of art, and freed it from the need to construct such illusions in the future. Unlike many who reached such conclusions, they did not, of course, lead Bacon to narrow aestheticism or abstraction. Rather, he sometimes insists that the artist should become even more ‘realist’ that the photographer, by getting yet closer to the object; and, at others, that as a result of photography’s annexation of appearance, good art today has become just a game.


But this insistence on ‘realism’, and reduction of art to its Indic and aleatory aspects, are not, in Bacon’s philosophy, necessarily opposed. Accident and chance play a central role in his pursuit of ‘realistic’ images of men; they enter into his painting technique through his reliance on throwing and splattering. In fact, of course, Bacon exercises a consummate control over the effects chance gives him; yet, as he once said, ‘I want a very ordered image, but I want it to come about by chance’. He fantasises about the creation of a masterpiece by means of accident. The religious artists of the High Tradition attributed their ‘inspiration’ to impersonal agencies, like the muses or gods; and Bacon too, is possessed of an overwhelming need to locate the origins of his own imaginative activity outside of himself.


The role of photography and chance in his creative process relate immediately to the view of man he seeks to realise. ‘Man’, he has said, ‘now realises that he is an accident, that he is a completely futile being, that he has to play out the game without reason’. Thus, in reducing itself to ‘a game by which man distracts himself’ (rather than a purveyor of moral of spiritual values) art more accurately reflects the human situation even than photography … The human situation, that is, as seen by Bacon.


Bacon then has achieved something quite extraordinary. He has used the shell of the high Tradition of European painting to express, in form as much as in content, a view of man that is utterly at odds with everything that tradition proclaims and affirms. Moreover, it must be admitted that he has done so to compelling effect. It is perfectly possible to fault Bacon, technically and formerly: he has a tendency to ‘fill-in’ his backgrounds with bland expanses of colour; recently, he has not always proved able to escape the trap of self-parody, leading to mannerism and stereotyping of some of his forms. But these are quibbles. Bacon, in interviews, has good reason constantly to refer back to the formal aspects of his work: he is, indeed, the master of them.


But this cannot be the end of the matter in our evaluation of him. Leiris maintains his ‘realism’ lies in his image of ‘man dispossessed of any durable paradise … able to contemplate himself clear-sightedly’. But it is ‘realistic’ to have a Baconian vision of man closer to that of a side of streaky pig’s meat, skewered at random, than to anything envisaged by its rational ancestor?


Nor can we evade the fact that Bacon’s view of man is consonant with the way he lives his life. He emerges from his many interviews as a man with no religious beliefs, no secular ethical values, no faith in human relationships, and no meaningful social or political values either. ‘All life,’ he says, ‘is completely artificial, but I think that what is called social justice makes it more pointlessly artificial… Who remembers or cares about a happy society?’ One may sympathise with Bacon because death wiped out so many of his significant relationships; but his life seems to have been dedicated to futility and chance. It has been said that, for him, the inner city is a ‘sexual gymnasium’. He is obsessed with roulette, and the milieu of Soho drinking clubs. He wants to live in ‘gilded squalor’ in a state of ‘exhilarated despair’. He is not so much honest as appallingly frank about his overwhelming ‘greed’.


And it is, of course, just such a view of man which Bacon made so powerfully real through his painterly skills, because he refuses the ‘expressionist’ option, he also relinquishes that ‘redemption through form’ which characterises, say, Soutine’s carcases of beef or Rouault’s prostitutes. But it may, nonetheless, be that there is something more to life than the spasmodic activities of perverse hunks of meat in closed rooms. And perhaps, even if the gods are dead, there are secular values more profound and worthwhile than the random decisions of a roulette wheel.

I believe there are; and so I cannot Bacon as the great realist of our time. He is a good painter; he is arguably the nearest to a great one to have emerged in Britain since the last war. (Though personally I believe Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff are better). Nonetheless, in the end, I find the vision of man he uses his undeniable painterly talents to express quite odious. We are not mere victims of chance: we possess imagination – or the capacity to conceive of the world other than the way it is. We also have powers of moral choice and relatively effective action whether or not we believe in God. And so I turn away from Bacon’s work with a sense of disgust, and relief: relief that it gives us neither the ‘facts’ nor the necessary ‘truth’ about our condition.




Critical side of Bacon upsets a painter







OUR leading artist FRANCIS BACON cast his eye over a gentle watercolour hanging upon a wall of the club in which he was drinking.

The irascible painter, not always the most charitable of critics, grew agitated by the style and quality of the work. Suddenly, with little warning and goaded on by those about him, he drenched the painting with champagne.

The simple study in pastel colours, a portrait of the Soho club’s proprietor, slowly dissolved and trickled into the lower edge of the frame. This event was accompanied by much laughter and was thereafter forgotten.

Some time laterthe other day in factthe man whose painting it was, an artist of the very outset of his creative career, learned of this abuse of his efforts.

Barbadian SYLVAN ALLEYNE, a former student of the St. Martin’s Art School in London, told us: “I was very shocked to discover that it was Mr. Bacon amongst those who destroyed my painting.

If I had done that to one of his, I would be up for criminal damage.

However some compensation would be nice.” 

Mr. Bacon who is 74, evidently can not recall the incident which took place during a lively social session at the Colony drinking club.

He says: “It’s rubbish. I don’t know anything about it.”

The club owner IAN BOARD has little difficulty in remembering the occasion. “In fact I encouraged it.”


“Why?” we asked. Said Mr. Board: “Well —  ... sometimes these artists need a kick up the arse.”





                                  ARTIST: Bacon



Those secret worlds




                       Lawrence Gowing





Monographs on modern painters are, alas, not always systematic. The splendid array of more than 200 good reproductions of FRANCIS BACON (Phaidon, £50) is an invaluable collection in which to trace that stream of imagining that comes more and more to seem the essence of his workthat endless fertility with which the subjects come to his mind and brush, like slides (as he has said) dropping one after another into a projector.

The short essay by Michel Leiris, though very French in its spaciousness and an air of slightly abstracted grandiloquence, is a good deal better than some critics have noticed. It would have been useful and enlightening to know just what proportion of the Bacon work this is, and reassuring to have the numbers in an oeuvre catalogue somewhere in the small print.

A richly-furnished study of the under-discussed master, FERNAND LEGER, by Peter de Francia (Yale, £25) is valuable not only for the wide-ranging commentary, but in shifting the emphasis to the later work, away from the historical cubist style, and towards the committed frame of mind in which he has been working since.

No one could call Henry Moore under-discussed, but here was room for a survey like HENRY MOORE: 60 YEARS OF HIS ART by Alexander Lieberman (Thames & Hudson, £16), recording the recent New York exhibition, if only because it is better photographed and reproduced than most of its predecessors.





All on canvas






Francis Bacon is without doubt one of the greatest artists of our time, British or foreign, and whose importance and general influence, given the current international resurgence of large-scale figurative expressionism, can only now begin to be properly assessed. Weighty tomes and studies of various kinds have been appearing at intervals for some 20 years or so, and now, as he moves into his 75th year, there is no reason why yet another definitive attempt should not be made; but the pity of it is that Francis Bacon, by Michel Leiris (Phaidon £50.09; 272 pages), lush and handsome as it is, should not quite be it.

For the reason, we have only to go back to the first, and best so far, by Alley and Rothenstein (Thames and Hudson, 1964). Bacon took a long time to find himself as a painter, to realise an authentic vision as it were, and not before his late thirties, towards the end of the war, could he declare himself as mature artist.

His production from that point however, extending over rather less than the next 20 years, was astonishing, and upon it his reputation as a great artist still rests, no matter that the flow of work has hardly checked in the years since. Alley and Rothenstein, therefore, were treating necessarily only of the most important and significant work, and their book stands unchallenged as a critical document.

Leiris, on the other hand, is through to that point with Plate 25; and though the reproduction in full colour of so much of the subsequent work, triptych after triptych folding out before the reader, is certainly well done and very useful, the book never recovers from this critical imbalance at the very start. Leiris’ contribution amounts to an extended, rather literary critical essay, given in both French and English versions.











In light of his book Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation Editions de la difference, Paris 1981 (published in two volumes, one of text, the other of reproductions), we asked the philosopher Gilles Deleuze to contribute the following related text.

This painting is of a very special violence. Bacon, to be sure, often traffics in the violence of a depicted scene: spectacles of horror, crucifixions, prostheses and mutilations, monsters. But these are overly facile detours, detours that the artist himself judges severely and condemns in his work. What directly interests him is a violence that is only involved with color and feature: the violence of a sensation (and not of a representation), a static or potential violence, a violence of reaction and expression. For example, a cry rent from us by a foreboding of invisible forces: “to paint the cry rather than the horror. . .”

In the long run Bacon’s Figures aren’t wracked bodies at all, but ordinary bodies in ordinary situations of constraint and discomfort. A man ordered to sit still  for hours on a narrow stool is bound to assume contorted postures. The violence of a hiccup, of a need to vomit, but also of a hysterical, involuntary smile ... Bacon’s bodies, heads, Figures are of flesh, and what fascinates him are the invisible forces that model flesh or shake it. This is not the relationship of form and matter, but of materials and forces; to make those forces visible through their effects on flesh. There is, before anything else, a force of inertia that is of flesh itself; with Bacon flesh, however firm, descends from bones; it falls or tends to fall away from them (hence those flattened sleepers who keep one arm raised, or thighs lifted from which flesh seems to cascade). What fascinates Bacon was not movement, but its effects on an immobile body; heads whipped by wind, deformed by a shock, distended by an aspirationbut also the interior forces that climb through flesh. To make spasm visible. The entire body becomes plexus. If there is feeling in Bacon, it is not a taste for horror, it is pity, an intense pity; pity for flesh, including the flesh of dead animals. . .

There is another element in Bacon’s painting: those large fields of color on which the Figure detaches itself, fields without depth or only with the kind of shallow depth 1 that characterizes post-Cubism. These large beaches are themselves divided in sections, or else crossed by tubes or very thin rails, or else sliced by a band or largish stripe. These form an armature, a bone structure. Sometimes they are like a ship’s rigging, suspended in the sky of the field of color, upon which the Figure executes its taunting acrobatics.

These two pictorial elements do not remain indifferent to one another, but instead draw life from one another. It often seems that the flat fields of color curl around the Figure, together constituting a shallow depth, forming a hollow volume, determining a curve, an isolating track or rink at the core of which the Figure enacts its small feats (vomiting in a sink, shutting the door with the tip of its foot, twisting itself on a stool). This kind of situation only finds its equivalent in theatre, or in a Beckett novel such as Le Dépeupleur (published in English in 1972 as The Lost Ones)–"inside a flattened cylinder . . . light . . . his yellow"or else it is found in visions of bodies plunging in a black tunnel. But if these fields of color press toward the Figure, the Figure in turn presses outward trying to pass and dissolve through the Fields. Already we have here the role of the spasm, or of the cry; the entire body trying to escape, to flow out of itself. And this occurs not only in Bacon’s sinks, but through his famous umbrellas which snatch part of the Figure and which have a prolonged, exaggerated point, like vampires: the entire body trying to flee, to disgorge itself through a tip or a hole. Or else, on the contrary, it will flatten itself into a thick mirror, lodging itself entirely into this width until it separates and dissipates like a lump of fat in a bowel of soup. The Figures themselves always present clean zones and foggy ones which attest to this dissipation. As of 197879 we can speak of a few paintings still rare with Bacon wherein the Figure has in effect disappeared, leaving a trace or a geyser, a jet of water, of vapor, of sand, of dust, or of grass. This new period, which seems so rich to us in possibilities for the future, is an abstraction which is purely Bacon’s. It consummates the double motion, of fields of color toward the Figure, and of the Figure toward the fields.

Bacon is a very great colorist. And color with him relates to many different systems, two most importantlyone of which corresponds to the Figure/flesh, and the other to the color field/section. It is as though Bacon has reassumed the entire problem of painting after Cézanne, Cézanne’s "solution"basically a modulation of color by means of distinct touches that proceed accordingly to the order of the spectrumin effect gave birth or rebirth to two problems: how, on the one hand, to preserve the homogeneity or unity of ground as though it were a perpendicular armature for chromatic progression, while on the other also to preserve the specificity of a form in perpetual variation? It was the new problem for Van Gogh as much as for Gauguin. A problem with two pressing dangers, since the ground could not be allowed to remain inert, nor could the form become murky or dissolve into grisaille. Van Gogh and Gauguin rediscovered the art of the portrait, "the portrait through color," by resorting to the ground vast monochrome fields that carry toward infinity, and by inventing new colors"far from nature" for flesh, colors which seem to have been bakes in a kiln and which rival ceramics. The first aspect has not yet ceased to inspire experiments in modern painting: those great, brilliant monochrome fields that take life not in variations of hue, but in very subtle shifts of intensity or saturation determined by zones of proximity. This would be Bacon’s path, where these zones of proximity are induced either by sections of fields of color, or by virtue of a  white stretched band or larger stripe which crosses the field (in Barnett Newman one finds an analogous field-stripe structure). The other aspect, the colors for flesh, was to be resolved by Bacon along lines that Gauguin presaged by producing "tons rompus" (tonal chasms 2), as though baked in a furnace and flayed by fire. Bacon’s genius as a colorist exists in both of these ideas at once while most modern painters have concentrated on the first. These two aspects are strict correlaries in Bacon; brilliant, pure tone for the large fields, coupled with a program of intensification, tonal chasms for flesh, coupled with a procedure of rupturing or "fire blasting," a critical mixture of complementaries. It is as though painting were able to conquer time in two ways, through color; as eternity and light in the infinity of a field, where bodies fall or go through their paces; and in another way as passage, as metabolic variability in the enactment of these bodies, in their flesh and on their skin (thus three large male backs with varying chasms in value). It is a "Cronochromie," in the spirit in which the composer Olivier Messiaen named one of his works.

The abandonment of simple figuration is the general factor of Modern painting and, still more, of painting altogether, of all time. But what is interesting is the way in which Bacon, for his part, breaks with figuration: 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. It is the confrontation of figure and field, their solitary wrestling in shallow depth, that rips the painting away from all narrative but also from all symbolization.  When narrative or symbolic, figuration only attains the bogus violence of the represented or signified, but it expresses nothing of the violence of sensationin other words of the act of painting. It was natural, even necessary, that Bacon should revive the triptych: in this format he finds the conditions for painting and for color exactly as he perceives them to be. The triptych has thoroughly separate sections, truly distinct, which in advance negate any narrative that would establish itself among them. Yet Bacon also links these sections witha kind of brutal, unifying distribution that makes them interrelate free of any symbolic undercurrent. It is in the triptychs that the colors become light, and that light divides itself into colors. In them one discovers rhythm as the essence of painting. For it is never a matter of this or that personage, this or that object possessing a rhythm. On the contrary, rhythms and rhythms alone become personages, become objects. Rhythms are the only personages, the only objects. The triptych’s function is precisely to this pointto make evident that which might otherwise risk remaining hidden. What a triptych’s three panels in various ways distribute is analogous to three basis rhythmsone steady or "witness" rhythm, and two other rhythms, one of crescendo or simplification (climbing, expanding, diastolic, adding value), the other of diminuendo or elimination (descending, contracting, systolic, removing value). Let us consider every Bacon triptych: in any given case, where is the witness-Figure, where is the adjunctive or the reductive Figure? A 1972 Triptych shows a Figure whose back is "diminished," but whose leg is already complete, and another Figure whose torso has been completed, but who is missing one leg and whose other leg runs. These are monsters from the point of view of figuration. But from the point of view of the Figures themselves, these are rhythms and nothing else, rhythms as in a piece of music, as in the music of Messiaen which makes you hear "rhythm personages." If one keeps the development of this triptych in mind, of this way Bacon has of effecting relationships between painting and music, then one can return to the simple paintings. No doubt one would see that each of them is organized as though through a triptych, that each already encompasses a triptych: each distributes rhythms, at least three, as though so many Figures resonating in the field, and that the field separates and joins them, superposes them, of a piece.




Gilles Deleuze is the author of many books, including Nietzsche (1965), Logique du sens (1969), Spinoza, philosophie pratique (1981), and, with Félix Guattari Mille Plateaux (1981)  

Translated from the French by Lisa Liebmann


1. The English expression "shallow depth" was used in the original French. According to the author it has no precise French equivalent, though it is an oceanographic term used to describe what in France are known as hauts fonds. Clement Greenberg used it in relation to painting.

2. A French technical term, common in the 19th century and possibly earlier. Translator’s note: other possible translations of this phrase are "chasms in value," "tonal faults," or "tonal breaks."







Grisly art is record draw for museum







Paris —Francis Bacon, the painter, who like Aeschylus cannot get the smell or human blood out of his sight, has brought his mutilated bodies, twisted torsos and disfigured faces to the French public. Sixteen large works, priced at $300,000 each, are currently showing at the Maeght Lelong Gallery, including two triptychs.

For the 73-ycar-old Bacon, who is regarded as one of the most powerful contemporary painters, it is his first: one-man show here since 1977, and prelude to a major retrospective next year at the Tate Gallery in London. 

Critics say the works illuminate Bacon’s obsession with murder, cruelty and violence. But the Irish-born artist says he is simply conveying the reality of the 20th century as he sees it. That reality, critics say, is "deeply disturbing, even disgusting," for it tragically portrays humanity in deterioration and death.

"Even though there is glass protecting these paintings, it wouldn’t take much to turn this gallery into butcher shop," wrote Franck Maubert in news weekly L’Express. Bacon’s grim message has been received here with unexpected enthusiasm. The gallery reports several hundred visitors a day, and up to 1,500 on weekends.

"The show’s success has surpassed our expectations, with visitors who rarely venture into art galleries. We have had busloads of school children, senior citizens and punks," said Ann Galllard, press attache for the prestigious Right Bank gallery. "Not even Mlro, Chagall or Giacomctli shows were this popular." she added.

Bacon did not begin painting until the early 1940s after asthma kept him out of the army. In this exhibition, his self-portraits and studies of Michel Leiris — a French author who has written extensively on Bacon — are three-dimensional dissections of the human face.

A 1976 portrait of Leiris lacks a chunk of chin. Another has a bashed-in skull. Bacon never painted in the presence of his models, saying he preferred working from memory or photographs. The most sensational paintings feature torsos or hunks of amputated flesh mounted on pedestals against a bright orange or red background. For Bacon, orange was the color of both the sun and fire, life and death.

Blood abounds. It drips from unrecognizable carcasses. It trickles into the spectator’s line of vision from behind partially closed doors. In "Oedipus and the Sphinx After Ingres" (1983), blood seeps through the bandaged leg of a muscle-bound Oedipus contemplating a deformed sphinx.

In "Statue and People in a Street" (1983), which is also done against a fiery orange background, tiny fuzzy figures are juxtaposed with a bizarre form enclosed in a glass box. The form has four buttocks, a thigh and a calf. Other major works, which Bacon calls "studies because they capture, slates of movement," highlight humanity’s inherent brutality.

"What emerges from this merciless confrontation ... is the substance antruth of a body in crisis, at the height of tension and vulnerability," wrote Jacques Dupin in the shows catalog. Gallery Director Francois Bruller reported one sale and several offers. The works will be at the Maeght Lelong until the end of February when they will go to the Marlboro Gallery in London.

The Associated Press




Grisly Works by Bacon draw crowds






    British painter Francis Bacon has brought his mutilated bodies, twisted torsos and disfigured faces to the French public. Sixteen large works, priced at $300,000 each, are showing at the Maeght Lelong Gallery. For the 73-year-old Bacon, who is regarded as one of the most powerful contemporary painters, it is his first one-man show here since 1977, and a prelude to a major retrospective next year at the Tate Gallery in London.

      Critics say the works illuminate Bacon’s obsession with murder, cruelty and violence. But the Irish-born artist says he is simply conveying the reality of the 20th century as he sees it. That reality, critics say, is "deeply disturbing, even disgusting," for it tragically portrays humanity in deterioration and death.

      Bacon’s grim message has reportedly been received here with unexpected enthusiasm. The gallery reports several hundred visitors a day, and up to 1,500 on weekends Bacon did not begin painting until the early 1940s, after asthma kept him out of the army.

      In this exhibition, his self-portraits and studies of Michel Leiris [1969] [1976] [1978]  a French author who has written extensively on Bacon  are three-dimensional dissections of the human face. A 1976 portrait of Leiris lacks a chunk of chin. Another has a bashed-in skull. Bacon never painted in the presence of his models, saying he preferred working from memory or photographs.

      The most sensational paintings feature torsos or hunks of amputated flesh mounted on pedestals against a bright orange or red background. For Bacon, orange was the colour of both the sun and fire, life and death. Blood abounds. It drips from unrecognizable carcasses. It trickles into the spectator’s line of vision from behind partially closed doors. In Oedipus and the Sphinx after Ingres (1983) blood seeps through the bandaged leg of a muscle-bound Oedipus contemplating a deformed sphinx.

In People in a Street (1983), which is also done against a fiery orange background, tiny fuzzy figures are juxtaposed with a bizarre form enclosed in a glass box. The form has four buttocks, a thigh and a calf.  Other major works, which Bacon calls "studies because they capture states of movement," highlight humanity’s inherent brutality.

      "What emerges from this merciless confrontation . . . is the substance and truth of a body in crisis, at the height of tension and vulnerability," wrote Jacques Dupin in the show’s catalogue. Gallery director Francois Bruller reported one sale and several offers. The works will be at the Maeght Lelong until the end of February, when they will go to the Marlborough Gallery in London.









 ANNE SINGTON went to an exhibition at the Galerie Maeght



 that has made a huge impact in the French capital






POWERFUL bodies, maimed and tortured, set in the echoing emptiness of flatly bright geometric planes. A terrible butcher’s consciousness of blood and protoplasm and organs held together by bland pink skin pervades the latest works of Francis Bacon exhibited at the Galerie Maeght.

Sixteen large canvases, including two tryptiques, fill the eye with straining torsos, headless or trepanned, caught in a two dimensional world of orange or beige or blue. Interspersed are smaller works in a more familiar style. Garbled portraits with dark paint splurged on twisted mouth or staring eye.

The exhibition has had tremendous impact on a city which had not encountered Bacon for six years. It is also directing attention to a remarkable book “Francis Bacon,” by Michel Leiris, whose mildly alert eye, set in a scooped-out socket, stares out from one of the sombre mixed-up portraits.

The Leiris book scoops the retrospective exhibition planned by the Tate Gallery next year, with a lavish and excellently reproduced selection of the artist’s output since 1944  chosen by Bacon himself. He is, says the author, An authentic realist, single-mindedly seeking to express life. Accused of perpetrating violent works, he told on Paris paper: “Violence? What does that mean? Is life something other than violence?”, and concluded that, even in the painting of a flower: “Where there is no more violence there is death.”

His preferences for the word “real” rather than “realist” or “realistic.” This comes out strongly in what he says about Picasso, whose work first made him want to paint. Describing a series of seaside pictures done in Dinard in the late 1920s  his first introduction to the painter   he said: “Those images are profoundly unillustrative but profoundly real about figures,” and cites “a curious curved image unlocking the door of a bathing hut” as, “far more real than if it were an illustration of a figure unlocking the door of a bathing hut.”

The vision seems to have persisted over the years. One of Bacon’s 1983 works shows a curious hunched nude, headless, one leg ending jaggedly below the knee. A bunched hand reaches up to the keyhole of a cream-coloured door, set between orange walls merging into orange floor. There is a despairing promethean vigour in this, which reflects itself in the other paintings.

Two strange paintings break the alternation of the human head and human body. Whatever their titles claim to the contrary, there is an anatomical quality to them. “Sand Dune” (Dinard again) a lumpy flesh-tinted mass — either painted on a pale-blue screen and spilling over into a third dimension, or all three-dimensional and oozing out from an enclosing, partly transparent cube  is palpably human, even if not acknowledged to be so.

“Desert Landscape” has a great marbled-grey bit of jigsaw puzzle superimposed on what might be a section of buttock, or again a bit of the earth’s surface as seen from a satellite. The latter theory is strengthened by the dark iridescence of outer space, which occupies the top of the canvas, and by a hint of holocaust added by a crumpled newspaper.

Many French critics have  Bacon tagged as cruel. The word keeps cropping up. If cruelty is taking a butcher’s or a surgeon’s look at the human face, then perhaps this is cruel. But Bacon sees himself and his fellows, not with a cruel eye, but with one that perceives man’s very existence as a cosmic accident.





                         Francis Bacon




Francis and Vanessa


Peter Campbell


Francis Bacon by Michel Leiris, translated by John Weightman 
Phaidon, 271 pp, £50.00, September 1983, ISBN 0 7148 2218 3





In Elizabeth Taylor’s novel The Wedding Group, published in 1968, there is a grand old painter called Harry Bretton. He is modelled, I would guess, on Eric Gill, for the Life, and Stanley Spencer, for the Work. Musing by the studio window, he considers his place in history:

Turner was the greatest English painter, and was safely dead, did not encroach or suggest comparisons. But at the end he had petered out, not grown and gone ahead like Picasso – grown and gone ahead monstrously, Harry considered; in old age he had shown recklessness and a complete lack of humility. It was annoying how his name, once mentioned, could not be put out of Harry’s mind ... There was also the recurring discomfort of undue homage paid to Francis Bacon – a gathering menace.

If Harry Bretton has survived in the limbo where fictional characters live ever after he will find Bacon as menacing as ever. He has not petered out, and even his critics admit his achievement. Peter Fuller who ‘turns away from Bacon’s work with a sense of disgust and relief’ also describes him as ‘a good painter, arguably the nearest to a great one to have emerged in Britain since the war’. And greatness is, Bacon says, the only thing worth attempting: ‘You see art has now become completely a game by which man distracts himself ... what is fascinating now is that it is going to become much more difficult for the artist, because he must really deepen the game to be any good at all.’ The painter is, he says, great or he is nothing:

When there’s no tradition at all, there are two extreme ends. There is direct reporting like something that’s very near to a police report. And then there’s only the attempt to make great art ... the in-between art really, in a time like ours, doesn’t exist.

The painting is assumed to work on the viewer in a traditionless vacuum. It is either effective or ineffective; it is not a commentary, gloss or argument. If it works as Bacon hopes, a painting will ‘open the valves of sensation’.

Neither his critics nor his friends are willing to leave Bacon’s defences unprobed. In the essay which prefaces Phaidon’s handsome volume of colour plates, Michel Leiris writes: ‘As an authentic expression of Western man in our time Francis Bacon’s work conveys, in the admirably Nietzschean formula he himself has coined to explain the sort of man and artist he is, an “exhilarated despair”, and so – however resolutely it may avoid anything in the nature of sermonising – it cannot but reflect the painful yet lyrical disturbance felt by all those who, living in these times of horror spangled with enchantment, can contemplate them with lucidity ... Although the artist himself declares he has no message to deliver, I have found from personal experience that his pictures help us, most powerfully, to feel the sheer fact of existence as it is sensed by a man without illusions.’ There is something here of the pride of a man relishing a particularly smelly cheese which others at the table have not the stomach for. Peter Fuller thinks Bacon is lacking more than illusions: ‘Bacon emerges from his many interviews as a man with no religious beliefs, no secular ethical values, no faith in human relationships and no meaningful social or political values either ... he is not so much honest as appallingly frank.’ A cad, in fact, and no matter how good he is at painting he will need to answer some stiff questions about value and meaning if he is to avoid being sent up for gratuitous violence.

His pictures are compulsive viewing. But so are the illustrations in textbooks of pathology, televised disasters, and snaps discarded outside photobooths. So one turns again to the pictures to try to sort out the great painter from the visual bully. It is a sign of greatness that his paintings make you go on looking at things which you do not like to look at. You might look away from a mangled animal on the road: here you go on looking. They are affecting pictures. Leiris speaks of ‘direct access to an order of flesh and blood reality not unlike the paroxysmal experience provided in everyday life by the physical act of love’. Flesh and blood are, of course, often quite literally his subject-matter. But he is not unique in that: meat is common enough in European painting. Representations of it evoke a range of responses – consider, for example, the effect of Rembrandt’s slaughtered ox, Goya’s picture of a calf’s head and hunks of meat, Chardin’s Kitchen Table, and any of the series of paintings of a carcass of beef painted by Soutine in 1925.

In the Rembrandt and the Soutine the dead animal has been decapitated and eviscerated: it is drawn but not yet quartered, and the architecture of muscle and bone is intact. It is so hung that the four legs are spread out like the limbs of a crucified human being. There is a grandeur to the bulk of the creature, and beauty of structure and colour. Not all our elegance shows, we realise. We too have bodies which would, unpacked, reveal, like those of any animal, blue-white connective tissue, creamy fat, clots of crimson blood and veins of blue and lilac. In Chardin’s kitchen scene the ribs and halved vertebrae of a piece of loin are painted with even, clotted touches of pigment: dignified by the gravity of the painter’s attention, meat, white cloth, copper pan and crockery become beautiful. But Goya’s still-life, with its severed head and ill-butchered joints, is evidence of an atrocity – as disturbing as his Saturn eating his children or Cannibals, and easily reminding you of hacked-up bodies in the engravings of the Disasters of War. Of all the paintings, this one challenges most strongly the distinction between bits of animals and cuts of meat. The sacrificial drama of Rembrandt and Soutine, the exquisite texture and colour of Chardin’s painted surfaces, Goya’s unwavering stare at the facts of butchery–all these are relevant to Bacon’s work. One can, forcing the issue a little, sometimes find them all relevant to one work: the triptych Three Studies for a Crucifixion, for example.

The left-hand panel of this work shows two figures, ambiguous from the waist down, like shadows cast on a screen, but with the faces clear (although distorted, as if two images had been superimposed, or the face flattened like that of Tolund Man in his bog). The foreground is dominated by a carcass, split in half. Ribs lining the pleural cavity, vertebrae, pelvic bones and a truncated leg can be identified. Because the halves of the animal match, the shape they make resembles a Rorschach blot. Meaningless blobs are sinister–perhaps because they look like significant marks when they are not. It is not extravagant to find something of the pitiful dignity of Rembrandt’s ox in the pieces of meat, but unease bred by lack of specificity in the human figures suggests that if their function is priestly it is also nasty. (This is not an attempt to interpret the painting, merely a guess at the source of responses to it.)

In the central panel a figure lies on a bed. The lilac stripes of a mattress appear below the sheet at the end of the bed facing you – the figure is foreshortened like the corpse in Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson, but in that unbloody dissection a craftsmanlike opening-up has taken place. Here blood spatters bed and pillow. Teeth show – it is one of those bodies only a dentist could identify. The painting is violent. Limbs are shaped by Soutine-like swirls. The bloody red is as crisply spattered as a Pollock background. A few streaks of curdled white contrast beautifully with the worked surface of brush marks and the red dots. The apoplecticly violent image draws you forward (as Chardin’s still-life does) until it becomes a surface full of delectable surprises – the agile swirls and smears of the brush marks, and the accidentals, like the streaks of white, as serendipitous as cherished faults on a Korean tea bowl. In the viewer’s eye and brain, the thing, which is horrible, and its beautiful representation co-exist.

In the right-hand panel another side of meat – again leg, vertebrae and ribs can be seen – hangs in the centre of the picture. At the bottom of the carcass is an open, fanged mouth, surrounded by flesh – it looks like a skinned cat’s head. A white bag-like structure spreads below this, across an orange plinth. A black shape, like the painter’s (or the viewer’s) shadow cast forward onto the floor and plinth, rises from the bottom of the canvas. This panel, because it is closest in shape to the crucifixions of the Western tradition (its winding shape resembles that of the Cimabue crucifix), seems an assault on the memory we have of other paintings – paintings which make the hanging body both tortured and transfigured. As rhetoric, the effects are coarse, as gratuitous as the violence in a Peckinpah Western. They draw on the fear any sentient creature feels at the sight of the disintegration of guts and sinews like its own. The explanation of these excesses, however, lies less in the horror-spangled enchantment of Leiris’s 20th century than in the problem of keeping up momentum when a great stylistic wave has passed its peak. The excesses of Webster make more sense as an attempt to step out of Shakespeare’s shadow than as a new perception of the nature of man. Mannerism was, in this sense, a way of dealing with the problem of what to do after Michelangelo, and Bacon’s more monumental works with the problem of what to do after Picasso. Bacon’s meat, unlike that of Chardin, or Goya, or even Soutine, does not reconcile us to our animal condition, but suggests that beauty and horror are inextricably mixed in it.

In his paintings of faces and of people less ferocious dramas take place. You come across them as scenes glimpsed through half-open doors, or happening so fast that you cannot understand what is going on. In a horror story the thing half-seen is often more terrible than the beast seen plain. Bacon has made paintings in which interest in (as well as fear of) the half-comprehended is sustained. The dark rooms of the earlier paintings in which coupling bodies or screaming heads phosphoresced has given way to rooms brightly lit by a single electric bulb. Their ambiguities are not less powerful for this reason.

Ambiguity holds the attention. When more than one possible interpretation is held in the mind the image becomes, in a sense, more real. This heightened actuality is Bacon’s avowed aim and highest achievement. His portraits in particular offer up their information in a disturbingly disrupted form. The face is pulled apart, the parts are rejoined by curved marks which look like the blurs that movements make in a photograph. Presented, as they often are, in triptychs, three versions make up the whole. The eye, scanning them, establishes a single presence. Bacon speaks of wanting to make pictures which ‘will be portraits of people, but, when you come to analyse them, you won’t know – or it would be very hard to see – how the image is made up at all.’ The violence Bacon does to likeness is not a caricaturist’s – in some ways he is more like a geographer unfolding the surface of a globe to make a flat projection. But anything – disease, violence, congenital deformity – which twists a face evokes a mixture of pity and revulsion. Confronted by it, one must put aside the notion that the face is the man. To mimic deformity in painting is to force the viewer either to discard this response or turn away from the painting, not so much repelled as recognising something unreadable. Once the challenge has been accepted, a residual sense of the vulnerability of the deformed remains. The poignancy (a word Bacon himself has used when speaking of his intentions) of his work is real, but it is achieved at the expense of distortions of the emotional spectrum. If he is right, and greatness is the only thing left for a painter to strive for, one must hope that his is not the only reading of that imperative.

Whether or not Bacon’s pictures tell stories is, in one sense, beside the point. They seem to, and no denial of narrative intention can diminish the narrative effect. They breed speculation. Moreover they carry a freight of pictorial references. Early images took more or less famous images – Velasquez’s Pope Innocent X, Van Gogh on his way to work, Muybridge’s sequences of people and animals in motion – and made them carriers of charges of irrational energy. The Pope’s scream suggests demonic possession, and crouched figures hobgoblins. His painting does not entirely avoid bringing to mind the banalities of horror – Fuseli’s Nightmare, or the explosion of guts in Alien. Seriousness is not an index of greatness, however: Watteau is greater than West, and the power of Bacon’s images is not diminished by these comparisons. From his answers to questions about his way of working, a model can be constructed of a process of controlled spontaneity, of marks made with unpremeditated directness and urgency to create images which are monitored for effect by a critical faculty that is quick to destroy failures and demand reworkings. The distance Bacon sets, in what he says, between his feelings and intentions, and the feelings which seem to be bound up with even the most objective of his paintings, between our heat and his cool, can, on this supposition, be read as a defence of that part of his talent which is anarchic and (for all his dislike of the term) expressionist.

Bacon sometimes seems like a midwife refusing to take responsibility for the children she has brought into the world. It is the superabundant independent life of Bacon’s paintings which cannot be ignored, which forces his images into unwilling skulls. For some, this life may derive from Bacon’s perception of the tortured and isolated condition of 20th-century man, but no proof that they bear false witness in this respect will diminish their power. This can be eroded by time or changing taste, but not by argument.








   Art collector and historian






Mr Douglas Cooper, the art collector, historian and critic, died in London on April 1 at the age of 73. A man of strongly held opinions, who could be withering in his attacks, he made a considerable contribution to knowledge of the Cubists, and of other painters of the 19th and 20th centuries, not least through the exhibitions he helped to organize.

He was born in London on February 20, 1911, of British parents who owned extensive property in Australia. He was educated at various European universities, including Cambridge, and on coming into a substantial fortune decided to devote himself to the study of 19th and 20th century art, and to the formation of a collection of paintings by contemporary artists.

He spent some time in Paris in the 1930s, making friends with many of the artists -who were active there, and building up a collection of mainly Cubist works, then much less fashionable and expensive than they have since become.

His earliest articles, written under the pseudonym of Douglas Lord, showed at once his learning, his critical power, and his pugnacity. In 1940 he was in France and joined the French Red Cross with a friend, their experiences later being described in a book written in collaboration, The Road to Bordeaux. Later he served in the Royal Air Force in Egypt and Malta.

At the end of the war he resumed his studies, and during the following years published a series of articles and short books on the great painters of the late 19th century — Degas, van Gogh, Cézanne, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and Douanier Rousseau — and on the masters of Cubism, the style which he most deeply admired.

His monographs on Braque and Léger will long remain standards works, as will the catalogue he published in 1978 of the works of Juan Gris. His catalogue of the Courtauld collection of paintings, published in 1954, was something of a landmark in scholarship, since in it the principles of scholarship as they had been evolved in the analysis of earlier art were applied for the first time to the study of late 19th century painting.

For some years Cooper lived in the Château de Castille, near Avignon, which he had bought and restored, and which housed his magnificent collection of paintings.

The collection was formed on very strict principles to illustrate the art of Cubism in all its most important aspects. Picasso. Braque, Gris and Léger, were all represented by exceptionally fine examples of their works in the Cubist manner and in other phases related to the evolution of Cubism and in addition there were’ important groups of works by Miro and Klee.

The collection, the late 18th,century chateau in which it was displayed, and the ruined colonnade linking the housie with the road made the whole of unique charm.

In the world of art, Cooper enjoyed and sought controversy. If he disapproved of a scholar or an institution he attacked frontally, sometimes in the heat of the fight doing more harm than good to the cause he was supporting by the violence with which he pursued his opponents, and sometimes condemning in others faults of which he was himself guilty.

In the 1950s, he played an active part in attacks on Sir John Rothenstein, then director of the Tate Gallery, and in the attempts to dislodge him, Cooper criticized the Tate, and the British generally, of failing to appreciate and support modern rt.

That particular, hatchet was buried, however, last year when Cooper acted as one of the selectors for the remarkable exhibition at the Tate, The Essential Cubism, and part-author of the catalogue.

It followed an earlier exhibition, also on Cubism, which he had helped to organize at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 1971; and was only the latest of the many exhibitions Cooper arranged, including one of Braque for the 1973 Edinburgh Festival, remarkable for the skill with which the works were chosen and the scholarship with which they were presented.

In 1957-58 he was Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford, and for many years he contributed art criticism of great distinction to The Times Literary Supplement.

Cooper was a close friend of many distinguished artists, including Graham Sutherland among the British, and Léger and Braque among the French. Towards the end of his life he sold the Château de Castille, and moved into a flat in Monte Carlo, disposing of some of the pictures he could not take with him.

His last work, virtually complete at his death and due to be published in France, was a complete catalogue of the works of Gauguin.



Art: Recent Paintings By Francis Bacon






ONE of the most remarkable images that we have seen in New York lately is the variant after “Oedipus and the Sphinx” by Jean-Dominique Ingres that is included in the exhibition of recent paintings by Francis Bacon at the Marlborough Gallery, 40 West 57th Street.

The sphinx as subject matter has always brought out the best in Bacon. A recent example is the portrait of Muriel Belcher, done in 1979, in which sphinx and sitter become one. Mrs. Belcher, one of the most formidable London characters of her day, was a club owner renowned for her insubordinate spirit and hallucinatory freedom of speech. In Bacon’s portrait, she lends her fine-boned physical structure to the sphinx of tradition. As for her gaze – from which nothing that was material could ever be kept – it merged completely with the static posture and elongated forepaws of the Egyptian riddler.

In painting his variant of the Ingres (which exists in several versions), Bacon produced a chesty little sphinx, built somewhat like Goldie Hawn and on the face of it more sportive than terrifying. Facing her, with a clear-browed stare, is an Oedipus still not much disquieted. This Oedipus flaunts a leg and a foot that are covered with blood, as if still marked by his childhood experience on the mountainside. No mean hand at confrontations of which none can foresee the outcome, Bacon here comes on very strong indeed.

But then, the show as a whole is full of new notions. Bacon has still not got around to making the sculptures that he has long been thinking about, but two new paintings here indicate that the preoccupation is still very much alive. One shows a giant sculpture in a public space, with dwarfed human figures making a detour around it. Another deals with sculpture in terms of a subject for still life. We might take the sculpture in question for a fragment from the antique; did it not relate rather to recent paintings in which the human body is metamorphosed into a free-form jug or vessel to which genitals and legs happen to be attached.

Bacon in his 75th year is as inventive as ever. Not only has he a whole new slew of images  some based on that unmistakable piece of English sporting equipment, the cricket pad  but after nearly half a century of painting in oils, he began not long ago to use both oils and pastels in the same picture. To the idiosyncratic sweep and smear of his oils there is therefore added, in more than one of the paintings in the show, the soft crumble of pastel.

And although it is not in his nature to sit idly by and watch the passing scene, there is distinctly a new resonance to the triptych dated 1983 that occupies a predominant position in the show. Where at one time all three panels might have been filled with implacable activities of one kind or another, the left- and right-hand panels now bear images of something close to a monumental resignation. Only in the central panel – an abduction scene, as powerful as it is enigmatic – does he revert to the hyperactive imaginings that have made his work ’’an almost wounding presence’’ (I quote from Michel Leiris, a French admirer of long standing) ever since the last years of World War II. (Through June 5.)





                                            Oedipus and the Sphinx after Ingres (1983) Francis Bacon




New York



Marlborough Gallery






Francis Bacon’s new paintings demonstrate again his secure mastery of a by-now-familiar vocabulary, and yet, with the artist aged 75, still strike new notes. Bacon’s position seems toweringly high at this moment. Through the ages of abstraction and minimalism he remained one of the very few representational painters about whom even dedicated formalists could feel good. Now the forefront of things has caught up with him, in both his quoting–of Cimabue, Van Gogh, Velázquez, Ingres, and of photographic images–and his kind of exploration of space. The opposition between the illusionistic, three-dimensional space of representation and the flat, concrete space of minimalist abstraction offers a conceptual dilemma which Bacon was among the first to bring into the open, exploring, as he put it, “the difference, in fact, between paint which conveys directly and paint which conveys through illustration.” Since about 1950 his canvases have involved limited areas of illusionistic depth surrounded and separated by areas of flat paint suggestive of fabric. Certain areas remain highly ambiguous as to which view of space they more openly express. Recent work called post-Modern has been prominently occupied  with this question, juxtaposing and interpenetrating the two kinds of space in ways that often question the reality of either.

In Bacon’s new work his familiar vocabulary of depth definition is used. Hints of perspective poke through orange grounds (a feature of his earliest paintings) and create momentary theaters for the drama of the representation. Furniture also performs the space-thickening function of wresting an illusionistic platform from the engulfing bend of the ground. As in the “Pope” paintings of 1951, areas of three dimensionality are sometimes marked off by surrounding perspectival boxes or booths.

Most of the new works show naked male humans whose anatomy streaks off into speed blurs and melts into drippings on the floor. Seen through the distorting veils of time, the figures are headless, often have legs and feet where arms and hands are expected, and, in their four-legged-monster aspect, seem homoerotic icons of a buttocks-centered humanity. These figures act out what Bacon has called “the shortness of the moment of existence between birth and death,” undergoing before hour eyes an impersonal drama of absorption into the void ground. Cadaverous as if on operating tables, partial as if on meat racks, they briefly and weakly state the message of their existence and their desire. Space itself, the property of being embodied, erodes them instantly, flattening the illusionistic self into mute objecthood. Here Bacon turns the contradiction between the two painterly models of space into pure content, crucifying his figures upon it. Though elegantly sweetened by pastel amid the acrylic, these works still exert something of the “exhilarated despair,” as Bacon called it, of the earlier works. Two paintings of less familiar type take Bacon’s sense of spatiality and expand it, first into an outdoor urban scene in Statue and Figures in a Street, 1983, then into cosmography in A Piece of Waste Land, 1982. These pieces hint at new wonders that may flow from Bacon’s confrontation with the facts of body, space and the world.





Francis Bacon at 75






FRANCIS Bacon (above) is “one of the few modern painters who can be called great in the traditional sense,” says critic Susan Sontag.

The artist, whose 75th birthday is being celebrated with a BBC television documentary and a retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery, seldom gives interviews.

But in tomorrow’s TELEGRAPH SUNDAY MAGAZINE, he talks to SHUSHA GUPPY about his fondness for gambling and drinking as well as his work.










Francis Bacon has been described at the first British painter since Turner and Constable to achieve universal recognition.

For four decades his stark paintings have excited critics and collectors.

Now 75, he airs his unguarded opinions and recollections in this exclusive interview.






In 1945 a major exhibition of contemporary British artists work (Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland, Matthew Smith and others) included Three Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion a triptych by an unknown painter Francis Bacon. The Figures, isolated in an empty space, were nightmarish freaks, half human half beast, with necks like twisted snakes, eyes blind or blindfolded, mouths screaming. Seeming to express all the horrors of war, they were not a popular success in a postwar period when people were more concerned with trying to forget the privations of the recent years.

It was believed the perpetrator of the unrelieved horror would disappear without trace. Instead, in the decades which followed, he went on to produce some of the most haunting images of our time and became acknowledged as one of the century’s most important painters.

Today, Bacon’s paintings of screaming popes, crucifixions, solitary caged figures and distorted faces are part of the iconography of art. “He is one of the few modern painters who can be called great in the traditional sense, having affiliations with the heroic figures of Western painting; Michelangelo, Titian, Rembrandt, Goya”, said U.S. critics Susan Sontag, writing about a recent exhibition in New York.

In a new book full of praise for Bacon’s work, Michel Leiris, one of France’s most distinguished poets and critics, writes, “Francis Bacon expresses the human condition as it truly and peculiarly is today — man dispossessed of any durable paradise and able to contemplate himself clear-sightedly”; and philosopher Gilles Deleuze recently published a philosophical treatise, The Logic of Sensation, on Bacon’s art.

Bacon is a cult figure in France, and his last exhibition in Paris attracted 8,000 in the first 24 hours, causing the police to cordon off a whole street.

This year Bacon’s 75th birthday is being celebrated with a series of events. The BBC  is screening a documentary about his life and work on November 16 and the Tate Gallery is preparing a retrospective of 120 of his works which will travel subsequently to Berlin.

“Not since Turner and Constable has a British painter achieved such universal recognition”, says Richard Francis, the young curator who helped the artist select the works. “The interesting this is that so many young artists acknowledge his importance and influence without trying to imitate him”.

Francis Bacon looks uncannily youthful for his age. A blond forelock hangs over a face at once cheerful and tormented, cherubic and impish. His figure is firm and his gait springy. His clothes are elegant but casual and when he smiles he has the expression of innocent wonderment which artists tend to share with bright children. Since 1959 he has lived and worked in a two-room mews flat in South Kensington. One room is his studio, piled with 25 years of clutter: hundreds of paint tubes, brushes, rags, photographs. The walls are covered with thick paint, like an immense palette.

“I live in squalor”, he explained. “The woman who cleans is not allowed to touch the studio. Besides I use the dust — I set it like pastel”.

The other room, his living space, has an oval bed at one end, covered with a Moroccan bedspread — a tent cover — which provides a patch of dazzling colour in an otherwise stark room. At the other end is a large table covered with the overspill of books from shelves laden with everything from Aeschylus to Eliot.

Bacon was born in Dublin on October 28 1909: My father was a horse-trainer, he said, and my mother — who was 20 years younger than him — loved entertainment and parties. As a child I suffered from asthma so I had no proper schooling. At 16 he came to London. “I didn’t do anything much. I had one or two small jobs: once I worked a a servant for a solicitor and his wife in Holborn. I had to make breakfast, ‘do’ the house, and come back to give them dinner. When I gave in my notice, I remember him saying, I don’t know why he bothers to go — he never does anything.

“Then I worked in a wholesale shop in Soho, but generally I drifted. I confess I was not at all honest. I would rent rooms and disappear when I couldn’t pay the rent, and I’d live on petty theft and other people’s kindness. What you call morality has grown on me with age.

“When I was 20 I went to Berlin, But I only stayed about six weeks, just living and looking at things. It was before the Nazis took over, but there was already an atmosphere of unease and tension. Then I went to Paris.”

Paris was then the artistic capital of Europe: Picasso, Braque, Giacometti and many more lived and worked there: I never met any of them, as I didn’t move in those circles. But I went to an exhibition of Picasso’s paintings. I can’t remember if I liked them or not, but I was impressed and thought I might try and paint.”

Back in London in 1929, Bacon rented a converted garage and began to paint and design furniture. My designs were very derivative of what was being done  on the Continent, and not good. I didn’t really paint until I was over 30. I had one picture in a group show but no one took any notice of it and I later destroyed it.

“Then the war came. Because of my asthma I was not eligible for active service, so they put me in the Rescue Service in Chelsea. But the heat and the congestion of night vigil aggravated my asthma and I was discharged. Then I began to paint.”

Had all those years of drifting been constructive?

“One can only say you absorb all types of things which go into a kind of pulveriser in the unconscious and may come out as something quite different later. I was always fascinated by images, and I looked at everything. I destroyed most of those early pictures as I didn’t like them, but I was influenced by Picasso, especially the paintings he did between 1925 and 1927 of figures on a beach.

“Everybody is influenced at the start — it is the spark that sets one off. I don’t think it matters even if one goes on being influenced — some of the greatest paintings, like Cimabue’s Crucifixion, are based on what has been done before; only someone new comes along and does it better. Any painting that works today is linked to the past.

“In a way it was better when there wasn’t so much individuality. But because today there is no tradition and no myths, people are thrown back on their own sensibility. Abstract art was perhaps one attempt at getting away from this, but it never worked because the artists made their own patterns in their own ways.

“That is why American art is, on the whole, boring. They want to start from nothing. I understand their position: they are trying to create a new culture and identity. But why try to be so limited?

All through those early years Bacon lived a precarious life of insolvency, without patronage: “I had one or two friends who helped me and encouraged me to go on. In particular a friend of mine, Eric Hall, who bought that  early triptych and donated it later to the Tate Gallery Tate. The Tate didn’t want to have it all, but in the end they accepted it. It will be in their new exhibition.

“Then someone took me to The Colony Room, a drinking club in Soho, and the owner, Muriel Belcher, befriended me. I had met a few writers and artists through Lucian Freud, and Muriel offered to pay me £10 a week if I took friends there from time to time. It was possible to live on it, almost, before the pound went to confetti. Eventually, Erica Brausen, who had opened a gallery in London, came to see my pictures and offered me a show. She bought one picture straight away which she later sold to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was called Painting 1946.

It was that one man show at the Hanover Gallery in 1949 which launched Bacon. Within five years he was Britain’s representative at the Venice Biennale of 1954. Other exhibitions followed in France and America. Francis Bacon became an international name. Few painters are so identified with the imagery of their pictures: the open carcases, the strings of offal, the screaming faces, are supposed to express human suffering and the primal scream.

“But I am certainly not trying to put across suffering, or violence, he says. Life is violent, though, just the fact of being born is a ferocious event. I grew up in Ireland with the Sinn Fein movement.. I remember my father saying: ‘If they come tonight, keep quiet and say nothing’.

“My grandmother was married to the chief of police in County Kildare and used to live with sandbagged windows and ditches dug on the road to ambush cars. And I have lived through two world wars. I suppose all that leaves some impression. You can’t separate life from suffering and despair. But life is also wonderful, and I believe the aim of art — however violent or sad or grim — is to produce joy.

“Otherwise it has failed. I am trying to work as close to my own nervous system as I can, but my painting is not illustrative and has no message; it is an image. If I wanted to express philosophy I would write — use words, not paint.

“People forget that, since photography, painting no longer has to record events. There are wonderful paintings of the past that have the function of recording, like Velázquez’s at the court of Philip IV. You can say that painting has become more limited, but its possibility of intensity is even greater. It makes images and people can interpret the images as they wish.

One of Bacon’s most famous paintings, The Screaming Nurse, was inspired by Sergei Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin. And there are his series of popes with similar expressions. Did these not convey human anguish?

“It is not the aguish in Eisenstein’s film which attracted me but the beauty and intensity of the image. The lips, the mouth, flesh, would look so beautiful in colour, I thought. I was obsessed by that image and at the same time by Velázquez’s portrait of Innocent X, one of the great paintings of the world. I thought perhaps I could bring the two together in a single image. But I don’t think it worked and I now regret having done them”.

One of Bacon’s influences was the work of the pioneer photographer Edward Muybridge, and he is known to use passport photographs of his sitters and of himself.

“I only paint people I know very well. When they are not around I use their photos to remember, not to copy. I have just finished three portraits of a friend and the problem, as usual, was how to make an image and keep the likeness. There is no point doing a portrait unless there is a likeness. To combine the two is what creates tension and excitement.

“However late I get to bed, I get up as soon as there is light, because the early light is so good. I work six or seven hours and then I stop — unless it is going very well; then I might go on all day. It is a terrible thing to be confronted with a blank canvas; it is only when an image begins to emerge that is becomes exciting.

“Sometimes I feel I am not working at all, just pushing the brushes here and there. In some of my most successful pictures the image has come through as a result of accidental movements of the brush.

Bacon has an answer for those who criticise his fondness for gambling and drinking. “Gambling comes from my background. My father used to send me to the Post Office to place a last bet before ‘the off’. It is the peculiar feeling that the gods are with you and you are going to win. I don’t go to a casino thinking I will lose.

“In Ireland there were professional gamblers who made a living out of it, but then they had very good inside information, The most stupid form of gambling — which depends entirely on chance — is roulette, which is what I play! But I don’t play for the high stakes that some do.

“As for drinking, well a drink relaxes me. But I certainly don’t drink to drown my sorrows, nor do I get drunk often, I have known a good many drunks and they are such crashing bores!”

Does he regret his homosexuality?

“In many ways it is an affliction, and limiting. But there it is! I am not at all unhappy about it and never have been. My father was a descendant of the Elizabethan Francis Bacon and the family have always called one son Francis. But funnily enough the original Francis Bacon was said to be a homosexual too, in Aubrey’s Brief Lives. But Aubrey was a gossip”.

Bacon’s paintings are among the most expensive by a contemporary artist. But how rich is he really?

“Listen, you don’t get rich in this country. Most of my money goes in tax. But I don’t mind. I don’t particularly want to be rich. I don’t mind the high taxes either, it is the price we pay for living in a country which is still relatively free. I have no wish to become a tax-exile — imagine all those rich people boring one another.

“However, I love living in Paris. I work quicker and better here, so I don’t often go there.

“You mustn’t think that I am popular and sell a lot. In fact they still have difficulty selling my picture here, and in America they don’t like me much. It is only on the Continent that they like my work”.

Bacon’s conversation is laced with quotations from poets and writers. He is supposed to have been influenced by Eliot’s early poetry: “Sweeney Agonistes and The Wasteland are my favourites”.

Although Bacon looks preternaturally youthful and in excellent health despite recurrent asthma, does he wonder about death and after life?

“I believe one is born and one dies and only what one does between these two absolute points counts.

“Also, painting is an old man’s occupation. Some of the greatest have done their best work in old age; Titian and Picasso and others. So I hope I shall go on and drop dead while working. When all is said and done what matters is instinct”.





 Arena  Francis Bacon

             Friday BBC2



        The loaded




The Arena portrait of Francis Bacon marks the painters 75th birthday.

Here the case for placing Bacon among the greats is argued by Brian Sewell





FOR MORE THAN a generation, the art establishment has concerned itself with young men who have declared themselves to be artists; they range from the bucket and slosh brigade, content with any accident of colour and texture, to those using spray guns.

Critics, dealers, collectors, museums and the Arts Council have offered them praise, support and patronage, without recognising that their self-indulgence is as limited in appeal and achievement as Bachs Air on the G String would have been had it consisted only of the note G.

David Hockney is the most widely known of the few painters to resist these trends, and his popularity must in part be responsible for their tentative reversal among art students today; but Francis Bacon has for far longer consistently rejected and ignored them, in his surviving work always deliberately pursuing the forms of realism, transformed and heightened by the painters perceptions and the painters paint.

Hockney is a virtuoso playing to the gallery. Bacon works in the tradition of a Renaissance master, and is only a painter — no etchings, lithographs, finished drawings, or designs for the theatre. His subjects are not pretty things for the drawing-room, and the scale of his work suggests that he makes no concessions to the private patron.

He deals with Renaissance themes of religious and temporal power, authority, corruption, conflict and lust, and has compiled his own pantheon of superhuman images with which to demonstrate them. Titian turned to the great texts of classical mythology, the New Testament, and to portraiture to express the human predicaments of an age riven by  Reformation, counter-Reformation, and political struggle; Bacon turns to Popes, presidents, businessmen and the tormented nude to make comments on our day — astute, perceptive and horrifying.

His figures are often caged; the effect can be as aloof and remote as the appearance of a bland politician on the television screen, but the same devise has become a trap, with the occupant screaming for release. He defines small spaces within his canvases, setting a stage for the action as in a circus or a fashion photographers studio, and what is beyond the bright light is irrelevant; the creatures performing are human, but they often have animal references in the way that they walk, or move, or squat, distorted far beyond our ape relatives and into the world of the butchered carcase.

Paired figures on a bed are not seen in any affectionate contiguity, but in the attitudes of erotic violence; they stem from photographs of footballers, boxers and wrestlers, but Bacon brings them close to hard-core pornography and then elevates them with his vision and technique into an abstracted allegory on which he makes a savage, shuddering visceral comment.

He is the master of the moving multiple image, not by the intellectual and analytical methods of Cubism, nor the near caricatural distortions of Picasso  though he recognises their power  nor by any obvious adaption of the photography that he acknowledges as his source material. Within a generalised and recognizable silhouette that makes a bold and simple statement of the pose or action, there are subsidiary indications of movement that may complement or run counter to it.

In a pictorial sense they are secondary, but they provide a limited narrative — even so simple a thing as the cord that switches on a single naked light bulb, symbol of imprisonment and torture, has another image that indicates movement, and, in relation to the naked figure below, that movement suggests a violent reaction to an unseen violent act just completed.

In more complex structures Bacon may introduce two profiles in a single head, facing in opposite directions, without destroying the integrity of the whole  it is a kind of re-thinking that Renaissance painters allowed themselves in their drawings, when looking for a more effective alternative to a first idea, but with Bacon it is not an alternative but an added dimension.

All this might suggest that Bacon is a draughtsman. In the mid-40s there was indeed a drawn quality to his painting, common to Graham Sutherland and a host of English painters of that generation descended from the romantic tradition of Samuel Palmer, but within a decade his handling of the loaded brush had become so assured, and so powerful, that he was no longer dependent on the careful delineation of an element to give it effect.

Now it is all pure paint, and the length, breadth, loading and pressure of a single brushstroke contains all the information about the structure, character and movement of the thing painted, as well as its more obvious colour and texture. Bacon has claimed that this painterly skill is often accident — I believe it is as accidental as Alfred Brendel playing a perfect scale.

All this is the more remarkable because Bacon is self-taught; he has no academic background, and his only technical training came from his friendship with Australian painter Roy de Maistre, but he has an intuitive and analytical eye that enabled him to learn direct from paintings. Inspired first by Picasso of the late 20s, his work refers openly to Van Gogh, Velázquez, Rembrandt, Grunewald and Giacometti; these were not merely the sources of his powerful imagery, but of his techniques.

From them he derived the strength to create some of the most ferocious images of this century, keeping open, as he said, the line to ancestral European painting while producing something that comes across as entirely new  when he paints the themes of crucifixion, it is as a commentator on the beastliness of man and not as a believer in Christianity, yet his paintings have all the conviction of passionate Christian belief.

David Sylvester, who interviews Bacon for Arena, has long been Bacons apologist, perceptively teasing him into statements s of shrewd self-analysis and revelation — without his published interviews, the response of most critics and writers would be floundering , and the public would be far behind, seeing only violence and ugliness.

But look at the paintings: any man who has handled a brush, or has an empathic response to the action of painting, must find in Bacons pictures an astonishing mastery. Among post-Renaissance artists he is a great painter; in the wilderness of post-war art he is the towering giant.







Richard Cork: Francis Bacon


Virtuoso manipulator

              of paint



Tomorrow evening Arena (BBC 2) marks Francis Bacon’s 75th birthday with

an exclusive film portrait of this great British painter. In it Bacon talks to his

friend of many years, the distinguished writer and critic David Sylvester.


Richard Cork attended a preview of the film





Anyone looking at Francis Bacon’s paintings might be forgiven for concluding that the man who made them was a tortured introvert, entirely absorbed in the turbulence of his own imagination. Bacon’s self-portraits do little to contradict this disturbing and reclusive image. Over the years he has painted a number of small triptychs exploring his face in close-up, the features battered and twisted into unnerving distortion. Bacon’s flesh, often livid and swollen like a boxer after a particularly bruising fight, seems to be spotlit against a midnight background which accentuates his isolation.

The sense of loneliness becomes even more acute in his full-length self-portraits, where Bacon maroons himself within characteristically vast and empty rooms. One picture shoes him perched on a small wooden stool, anxiously clutching his trouser-leg as if to retain his balance while the diagonal lines of steeply inclined floorboards rush beneath his feet. Although one eye appears to be hidden by a massive gash of black pigment, the other gazes pensively into the distance. Bacon looks withdrawn and resigned as he sits in a harshly illuminated arena with only a lilac door, a table and a crumpled newspaper for company.

His mood gives way to outright melancholy in another large self-portrait, where he leans against a sink and claps his bowed head in dejection. The carefully delineated watch on his wrist reveals that it is nearly eight o’clock, but there appears to be no way of telling  whether morning or night is intended. Under the remorseless glare of the light-bulb dangling from the top of the picture, he endures a private agony which the passing of time does nothing to alleviate.

But meeting Bacon himself quickly dispels the illusion that he must be gloomy, self-absorbed and incommunicative. When I interviewed him in 1971, just before his major retrospective exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, he confounded all my expectations. Although Bacon lives in a cramped, ramshackle Kensington mews and carefully maintains his seclusion, he is marvellously convivial. He takes an eager interest in the people around him, and discuses painting with a gusto which animates his entire body.  Far from adopting a diffident or enigmatic attitude to questions about his work, he throws himself energetically into the task of defining his aims as an artist.

An intensely physical man, Bacon always uses gestures to reinforce the meaning he wants to convey. When he talks about seizing and trapping the ‘brutality’ of life, his hands thrust outwards as if to grasp the image he is trying to describe. Watching him gesticulate and move restlessly across the seat he sat in  realised how this energy becomes translated into paintings which express a writhing and exclamatory vision of humanity. Although many critics have accused him of exaggerating and even sensationalising the violence of existence, Bacon is entirely sincere. He has never lost the capacity to be at once startled and captivated by the rawness of life’. The brooding awareness of mortality which haunts all his pictures is matched by an ebullient desire to clutch at the pulse of vitality while it lasts. It is surely no accident that the stark, cage-like structures which enclose so many of his figures bear a disconcerting resemblance to condemned cells, for Bacon finds that the imminence of death makes him still more determined to intensify his fierce involvement with life at its most frenetic.

The man who painted these images of galvanised humanity has just celebrated his 75th birthday, so I wonder whether David Sylvester’s new filmed interview would disclose that Bacon is becoming quieter and more sedate than before. His face has inevitably has grown deeply lined, and its shadowy crevices sometimes make him uncannily like the pummelled heads in his own self-portraits. He speaks more slowly too, pausing to collect his thoughts and occasionally appearing to tire of the effort involved in rehearsing the events of his life. But, on the whole, Bacon remains astonishingly alert, articulate and energetic. In one sequence he stands in a studio strewn with accumulated debris and talks about the unpredictability of painting, its capacity to surprise him even when he despairs of making a coherent picture at all. Bacon’s arms describe swift arcs in the air, almost mimicking the actions he employs while painting, and I was struck by the lithe agility of his movements. They seem to belong to a much younger man, an exuberant painter who should, with luck, have many active years still ahead of him.

Bacon is more at ease here than in the previous television interview he gave to Sylvester in 1975. It took place in an LWT studio for Aquarius and I recall that both participants looked wary, hunched and faintly embattled. They talked well enough, but the formability of the setting stiffened the conversation and at one point the crash of falling equipment somewhere in the background gave Bacon a shock which ran through his furrowed features like a  seismic tremor. He appeared as aghast as one of the screaming Popes in his series inspires by Velázquez’s portrait of Innocent X. At that moment his expression disclosed a great deal about the heightened sensitivity of his nervous system, but the Aquarius interview did not do justice to the Bacon I had met in the studio. The new programme succeeds where its predecessor failed. By filming him on his home ground, and dispensing with the solemnity of a formal interview, director Michael Blackwood allows Bacon to relax. Rather than sitting stiffly in a tubular television chair he is able to move around at will on his own sofa, leaning forward whenever an urgent point is being made but also breaking off to welcome his friend John Edwards into the room. Although separated in age by perhaps half a century, Bacon and Edwards are clearly very devoted to each other. Bacon has painted some unusually tender portraits of the younger man, who reveals a dead-pan sense of humour at one point in the film. They go into the studio, and after surveying the extraordinary chaos strewn across its floor Edwards says: ’It’s reasonably tidy at the moment isn’t it Francis?’

In other words, the programme shows us something of how Bacon lives as well as allowing him to air his opinions. Sylvester’s contribution should not be underestimated in this respect, for he has been a friend and admirer of Bacon for almost 40 years. The film opens with a steeply angled shot of Sylvester ascending the narrow stairs of the mews studio, and his commentary emphasises at the outset that familiarity has not dulled him to the compelling quality of Bacon’s pictures: They go on being mysterious’. Sylvester has conducted an extensive series of interviews with Bacon since 1962, and they have been published in an outstanding book which displays both men’s exceptional ability to talk about painting with clarity and precision. Occasionally, in this new programme, the realisation that they have already discussed Bacon’s work in exhaustive detail appears to inhibit them; they are understandably reluctant to go over old ground. But whenever Bacon seems to tire of attempting to explain his aims, Sylvester knows just how to give his old friend a murmur of gentle encouragement.

As a result, we learn a great deal about Bacon’s working methods. While the camera glides unobtrusively over the photographs scattered around the room, he explains his ambivalent attitude towards these often torn and creased images. Although he relies very heavily on photographs of friends as a springboard for his imagination, and finds them much less inhibiting than the people sitting there in front of me’, Bacon is at pains to stress that he has no intention of vying with photography. On the contrary: it frees him to explore a kind of imagery which the camera could never supply—more direct, less reliant on the illustration of observable reality. Coining one of his most memorable phrases, Bacon declared that you have to abbreviate it into intensity’, and he constantly emphasised the importance of reinventing’ the subjects he paints. Blackwood reinforces Bacon’s explanation by fading from photographs of sitters like Lucian Freud, George Dyer and Isabel Rawsthorne to the paintings they have inspired. In every case a dramatic transformation has taken place, retaining the essential structure of the face but moulding it like rubber and charging it with a furious new vitality.

Bacon points out how much he admires the brutality of fact’ in Picasso, whose exhibition at the Rosenberg Gallery in Paris first stimulated him to start painting around 1928. Picasso’s influence is clear enough, especially in the most cartoon-like of Bacon’s distortions (there is a fascinating book to be written on the impact of the comic strip on 20th century art). But I have always wondered about the German paintings Bacon must have encountered in 1927 during a formative stay in Berlin. He remembers it as one of the great decadent years of Berlin’, and explains that the night life was very exciting to me, coming from a very puritanical society like Ireland’. But apart from describing Berlin in a suggestive phrase as a wide-open city’, Bacon fails to mention German art. He has always flatly refused to be categorised as an Expressionist, and is far too sturdily individual to deserve pigeon-holing as a follower of any avant-garde movement. All the same, the ferocity of his work marks him out from most other British painters, either present or past, and I suspect that Bacon’s debt to German art may be more substantial than he imagines.

Ultimately, though, Bacon’s work derives much of its distinction from his ability to combine aggression with nicety, headlong abandon with hair’s-breadth calculation. He knows the virtue of restraint as well as the exhilaration of onslaught, and the convulsive passages in his art are always countered by areas of extreme understatement. Bacon’s paintings are exquisite as well as impetuous, and one of the most revealing moments in the programme occurred when he talked about the fastidiousness’ of Velázquez. The theatrical disorder of Bacon’s studio is deceptive. Although he is genuinely attached to the shambles in his room. and felt utterly castrated’  when he tried moving to a beautiful studio round the corner’, Bacon also has a passion for exactitude. The jumble of paint-pots, books, magazines and photographs gives way, at one telling point in the film, to a shot of faultlessly clean and neat brushes laid out with care on a white sheet. Bacon is a virtuoso manipulator of paint, and he pointed with particular pride to the picture where the image of water splashing wildly from a tap was surrounded by large expanses of bare canvas. He liked the fact that its pristine surface was undisturbed by even the tiniest smudge of pigment.

Thriving on an audacious delight in improvisation and accident, but at the same time driven by a stern desire for order and discipline, Bacon manages to reconcile these two seemingly opposed urges in his finest work.

On the evidence of this programme, however, he is less certain about the meaning his pictures finally convey. Bacon insists that I don’t think there’s anything horrific about my work’, and he does seem genuinely unaware of any wish to cultivate violence. But the fact remains that his art can become oppressive in its relentless preoccupation with rawness and brutality.

Sylvester asked a very thoughtful and pertinent question about the possible elements of both disgust and self-disgust in the paintings. Bacon’s reply was untypically evasive, and he was no more illuminating when Sylvester  inquired why he had once painted a nude woman with a syringe stuck in her arm. Bacon admitted at the end of the programme that he never thought anyone would by his pictures at the beginning of his career, and even today he still maintains an attitude of stubborn indifference to what people think of his work. It is a defiant stance, essentially, and may have prevented him from appreciating quite how threatened we can feel when confronted by his narrow but compulsive vision of the world.






                     Photograph by John Edwards



Artist’s brush with the grotesque




                        TELEVISION REVIEW BY MARY KENNY






I HATE modern art : it is usually ugly and frequently meaningless.

The collector who paid £3 million for a Picasso the other day was well and truly swindled by the old fraud, it seems to me.

Picasso was the great inspiration for Francis Bacon, it emerged in Arena (BBC 2). Until he saw a Picasso in 1928 he had been hanging around doing nothing in particular.

A pity it wasn’t a Vermeer or a Delacroix which inspired him, for Francis Bacon certainly has a powerful sense of image and is a gifted artist. It is just that the end result is so painful. Like the gargoyles on Notre Dame his pictures have a prominent place in the Pantheon of art, but let us not pretend that they are pretty.

Despite his preoccupation with the brutal and the grotesque, Bacon came across as an amiable figure, 75 years old and living with hit young friend John in a studio flat of winning Bohemian untidiness.

Though English, he was brought up in an Irish RM world where they ate 11-course Edwardian meals, and to this day he retains the madcap Anglo-Irish streak. Cooking a stew recently, he added a £90 bottle of wine to flavour it. He was, he giggled, fairly stewed himself when he did it.





                                   AMIABLE : Francis Bacon






Edible bacon






At the Francis Bacon exhibition I was overcome by a series of yawns. That is not meant as a piece of art criticism, or even as a comment to please the philistines. The yawns descended on me, volley after volley of them, making my eyes water, so I thought I had better leave.

Yawns are involuntary, of course, but not necessarily insulting. I had a wise old French master who liked people yawning in his class, it meant they were trying to pay attention, which is true. If you allow your thoughts to wander in their own sweet way you do not, I think, yawn.

However, I found when I was again outside his exhibition and in the narrow gallery by the entrance to it where I peered up at the Stanley Spencers and William Roberts and Edward Burras — other English painters gathered together, perhaps unwisely, as a prologue to him — that I stopped yawning. So I tried to apply my mind to the reasons for the yawns.

First, as far as I could discern through my welling eyes, the pictures, room after room of them, were very similar to each other, there was little variety, or none. Secondly, they were rather pretty. This may come as a surprise to some, but I stick to it. Those mauve backgrounds, or rust-coloured ones, are pleasant to look at, and the event inside the painting is placed elegantly within them; all is in the very best of taste. That the event may be a distorted human form, dripping a bit, or sitting on a bidet, seems to me neither here nor there. These are prettily painted too, if you look closely at them. The distorted heads of portraits, where a cheek or a jaw goes un- expectedly concave, are done with broad strokes of a brush that contains many colours at the same time: cream, strawberry, a delicious purply-grey that is also reminiscent of good puddings. It struck me as possibly lucky that Mr Bacon’s vision leads him to distort in this way, for people love to wince and sigh and frown in the presence of Truth. In fact the more they wince the Truer they think it is, I don’t know why. But were it not so I suspect that Mr Bacon, with his natural tendency towards the tasteful, even the edible, would be hanging in the back room of a paint-shop in St Ives and, being the man I am told he is, he would be equally content.

It was when I read the catalogue that I began to open my eyes and let them dry out. His own work sets the standard for our time, for he is surely the greatest living painter;’ — well, if you say so, squire — no other artist in our century has presented the human predicament with such insight and feeling.’ Now, it is important, not to hold such statements against Bacon himself, he makes no such claims: this Is Alan Bowness and when the cultural bullies really get going they let you have it with both barrels.

What Bacon himself says is more interesting, and made me sit up. I want very, very much to do the thing Valery said —10 give the sensation without the boredom of the conveyance. And the moment the story enters, the boredom comes upon you.’

I take it that is an expression of Modernism, that he wants to get straight to the expression of sensation without intellectual preconceptions and hesitations. It is an enormous and natural ambition and the mention of Valéry reminded me that it is precisely what poets want to do and are always held up by, ’the boredom of the conveyance’, by words. That is the problem. The trouble is, the ones who brush away the boredom of the conveyance are usually extremely boring themselves because it is so difficult to know what they are going on about. And the remark about greatest living painter’ made me wonder who in that sort of Introduction-Speak would be described as the greatest living poet and I guess it would be a man who has gone in precisely the opposite direction from Bacon, away from the grand manner towards an immediately recognisable real- ism, Philip Larkin.

On the whole, poets, English ones anyway, seem to have given up Bacon’s attempt and do seem the more interesting for it.







Douglas Cooper (1911-1984)







ONE of the points that Douglas Cooper would want his obituarist to emphasise is that he was not Australian. True, his antecedents had acquired a considerable fortune, not to speak of a baronetcy, down under, but they returned to England around the turn of the century; and they sold their Australian holdings, including much of the Woollahra section of Sydney, some years later. Given his father’s lifelong possession of a British passport and his mother’s Dorset lineage, Cooper understandably resented his countrymen’s tendency to endow him with an erroneous — i.e. Australian — provenance. A very minor irritant, one might have thought. Unfortunately resentment made for paranoia; paranoia made for anglophobia; and anglophobia made for the outlandish accents, outré clothes and preposterous manner that Cooper cultivated. Bear in mind, however, that many of his idées fixes only made sense if turned upside down, or seen in the light of wilful provocation or perversity. Anglo-phobia was the only form of patriotism that Cooper could permit himself.

Cooper’s importance for art history is that he was the first person to study and systematically collect cubism with the reverence and scholarship hitherto reserved for the old masters. Cooper’s education was somewhat random: Repton, which he loathed, and a year or so successively at Cambridge, Marburg in Hessen and the Sorbonne. When he was twenty-one, (1932), he came into £100,000. This enabled him to defy his Bouguereau-owning parents, who tried in vain to make a diplomat or a solicitor of him. Instead he chose to become a scholar like his erudite uncle, Gerald Cooper, the musicologist and collector of Purcell manuscripts. Cooper did a brief stint as a dealer — in partnership with Freddy Mayor of the Mayor Gallery — but he was not prepared to make the concessions that this metier demanded. Thenceforth he devoted all his energies to chronicling modern art (an edition of Van Gogh’s letters to Emile Bernard, published under the pseudonym of Douglas Lord,* was his first contribution to scholarship), and to collecting cubism.

Most orderly by nature, Cooper set aside a third of his inheritance; and with this he went to work charting the development of the four most important artists of the cubist movement (Picasso, Braque, Gris, Léger) subject by subject (still life, figure, landscape), medium by medium and year by year. Cooper was lucky in that his chosen field was still relatively untilled. Much of the cream of cubism, which had been thrown on the market ten years earlier, by the four forced sales in Paris of Kahnweiler’s stock, was not only still available, but prices had hardly changed over the previous decade. Moreover, Cooper found he had very few serious rivals. Thanks to his fastidious eye, hard-headed scholarship and sufficient means, he managed in less than ten years to put together a collection that was unique in scope and quality. The very few gaps — a major Braque figure composition (a necessary pendant to Picasso’s Homme à la clarinette of 1911), a Picasso landscape of 1908-09 and a ‘rococo’ still life of 1914 — were more than made up for by Cooper’s acquisition of such landmarks as the first recorded papier collé (Braque’s Nature morte à la guitare of September 1912), and an incomparable group of Léger’s Contrastes de forme (four paintings, and several large gouaches bought from Léonce Rosenberg in about 1935 for around £5 each).

In his initial phase as a collector Cooper was greatly helped by his friendship with the shadowy German marchand amateur, G. F. Reber. Reber had originally made a collection of major post-impressionist paintings, most of which he subsequently exchanged (except for Cezanne’s Garçon au gilet rouge, later sold to Emil Bührle) with Paul Rosenberg for important works by the artists that Cooper was acquiring. In addition to Cooper the principal client for Reber’s remarkable stock was a young Sudeten art historian, the late Ingeborg Eichmann, who was also in the market for great modern paintings. According to Cooper, Reber always hoped — in vain — that marriage might ultimately link the two collections that he had helped to form. When short of cash — a frequent occurrence — Reber would sell one or other of his protégés a Picasso or a Braque. This is how Cooper acquired his greatest treasure, Picasso’s Trois masques, (1907) — the most important work of the ‘Negro’ period left in private hands — but only after redeeming it from Geneva’s municipal pawnshop.

On the outbreak of war Cooper characteristically chose to remain in Paris and join a French ambulance unit organised by a fellow mécène, Comte Etienne de Beaumont. When the Germans invaded, Cooper’s valiant care for the wounded won him the Médaille Militaire. He subsequently recounted his adventures in a book, The Road to Bordeaux (written with Denys Freeman), part of which was reissued by the Ministry of Information as a pamphlet against panic. On disembarking in England, Cooper — who had a lifelong horror of passing unperceived — contrived to get himself gaoled (the loathsome English again!), for no better reason, he claimed, than that he was wearing French uniform. Thanks to the intervention of a former Minister of Air, Cooper was rescued and commissioned in the Intelligence (R.A.F.). Given linguistic abilities that included a mimetic command of German — Hochdeutsch to Fiakermilli — Cooper proved to be a demon interrogator of prisoners-of-war during the North African campaign, but the nervous strain was considerable, so was the toll on his psyche.

After a further spell of intelligence work in Malta at the height of the siege, he was transferred to the Monuments and Fine Arts Branch, Control Commission for Germany. Once again his knowledge of the German language and character proved invaluable, and Cooper briefly found fulfilment in passionate pursuit of Nazi art thieves and the dealers who had collaborated with them. He was especially proud of the hornets’ nest he stirred up when he discovered the reason why Herr Montag — one of Hitler’s leading looters — kept eluding his Vautrin-like grasp; Montag owed his liberty to having taught Churchill how to paint. One of the by-products of Cooper’s work for the Commission was a small collection of fine works by Paul Klee, which he made in the course of investigative visits to Switzerland.

Back in London, Cooper moved in with his old friend, Lord Amulree, hung as much of the collection as the walls of 18, Egerton Terrace would hold, and embarked on a career of Kunstwissenschaft punctuated by controversy. The articles on nineteenth- and twentieth-century art which poured from his pen were at their best brilliant, trenchant and innovative; at their worst, petty and spiteful — sometimes all these contradictory things at the same time. For instance, Cooper’s catalogue of the Courtauld collection abounds in original ideas (some of them Benedict Nicolson’s), but his searching analysis of the impact that impressionism had on English art and collecting was so marred in its original draft by attacks on Roger Fry that the Vice Chancellor of London University (the book’s sponsor) was moved to ask if Fry had made off with Cooper’s wife. And despite many remarkable contributions to The Times Literary Supplement (thoughtful essays on Ingres and Fénéon in particular), Cooper too often used the anonymity of the journal as cover from which to snipe on friend and foe alike, castigating them in interminable sottisiers for misplaced accents and typos rather than more significant shortcomings.

No wonder the British art establishment felt wary of Cooper, and vice versa. No wonder official recognition failed to materialise. And no wonder he decided to ‘get the hell out!’ When Cooper (and the present writer) discovered an abandoned folly, the colonnaded Chateau de Castille, for sale in the depths of Provence, he lost no time in moving — lock, stock and paintings — to the country he had always preferred to his own.

By the summer of 1950, the chateau was habitable, and for the first time Cooper’s collection could be seen in its plenitude. Since there was no comparable conspectus of cubist art in France — public or private — Castille soon became a pilgrimage place for anyone interested in the subject. After LOeil magazine published an article on ‘Le chateau des cubistes’, the trickle of pilgrims grew to a stream — art-historians, dealers and American tourists poured through the house. Cooper basked in their interest and adulation, but what he most enjoyed were visits from the artists whose work was represented on his walls. Léger came for his second honeymoon, but Picasso was the most assiduous guest, so much so that Cooper saw himself in some respects replacing Gertrude Stein in the artist’s life. Besides giving Cooper countless drawings (including a major study for the Demoiselles d’Avignon, later bequeathed to the Kunstmuseum, Basel), Picasso made a series of maquettes for the great murals (carried out in sand-blasted cement by Karl Nesjar) in the former magnanerie at Castille. These decorations are still in situ, unlike Léger’s vast Circus painting — executed (largely by assistants) for the chateau’s staircase — which is now in the National Gallery of Australia. Besides artists, students were always especially welcome; however, given the split in Cooper’s personality — it was as if an angel and a demon child were perpetually fighting for control — there was always the risk, indeed the probability, that the chatelain’s solicitude and hospitality would change abruptly into irrational ire.

From his Provençal stronghold Cooper continued to collect — later works by former cubists for the most part — and he made all manner of contributions to modern art history. He proved to be a most effective organiser of exhibitions, remorselessly brow-beating artists, collectors, dealers and institutions, the world over, into making loans (seldom reciprocated) to a succession of path-finding shows: Monet and Braque in London and  Edinburgh, Picasso in Marseille and Arles, Braque in Chicago, The Cubist Epoch in Los Angeles and New York — to name but a few. He wrote books on Picasso, Gris, Léger and de Staeil, and edited a coffee-table compendium on great collections. He was Slade professor at Oxford in 1957-58 and visiting professor at Bryn Mawr in 1961. He also was a tireless lecturer — in French, German and Texan as well as his own tongue. But he never outgrew his penchant for controversy, as witness countless reviews of books and exhibitions whose point was apt to be their shock value. Alas, even when he was in the right, as he often was, Cooper would press his case to such vituperative lengths that he would consolidate the targets of his wrath in their job, opinions or reputation, rather than the other way round. A case in point was ‘The Tate Affair’, which wasted much of his time and energy in the mid fifties. This business was the more regrettable in that it not only failed to right a wrong, but put Cooper under an un- fortunate obligation to his comrade-in-arms, Graham Sutherland.

 An implicit quid pro quo for Sutherland’s resignation as a Tate Gallery trustee — a key move in the campaign to unseat a director they thought inept — was that Cooper should write a monograph on the artist. The text that materialised discredit to the author or his subject. As Cooper later confessed, ‘a taste for Sutherland was incompatible with a taste for cubism’. He should have resisted, he said, the pressure to accord a minor British painter the accolade he had hitherto reserved for ‘the giants’ of the Paris school. Cooper’s much publicised fight with Sutherland, many years later, was an inevitable outcome of the false position in which the author found himself vis-a-vis the artist. In the circumstances it is a wonder that the portrait commemorating this ill-starred friendship escaped destruction. Cooper was always threatening to ‘do a Lady Churchill’ and consign it to the boiler, but allowed himself to be dissuaded from doing so. It is only appropriate that a preliminary drawing — far livelier than the finished portrait — is published here for the first time (Fig.57), since Cooper owned a block of shares in THE BURLINGTON MAGAZINE, bought, as Benedict Nicolson ruefully observed, for their potential nuisance value.

After thieves broke into Castille in 1974 and made off with some of the smaller works (yet to be recovered), Cooper decided to sell the château and move somewhere safer and less remote. In 1977 he acquired what he described as ‘a bunker’, a couple of small apartments in a modern building overlooking the sea in Monte Carlo. Since space was limited, he sold some of his larger paintings (including Picasso’s Homme d la clarinette, now in the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection). However, even in its reduced form the collection retained its historical integrity; and enough fine things remained — indeed still remain in the hands of the collector’s adopted son, William McCarty Cooper — to constitute a monument to the cubist movement as well as to Cooper’s discrimination. In his later years a self-destructive taste for feuding (he even managed to quarrel with his hero, Picasso), combined with failing health, condemned him to a relatively reclusive life. This was a good thing in that it enabled him to concentrate on such serious tasks as putting the finishing touches to the Juan Gris Catalogue raisonné, on which he had been working for forty years, and to complete an as yet unpublished catalogue of Gauguin’s oeuvre. Did Cooper, one wonders, come to have second thoughts about his native land? The last major exhibition he organised (with Gary Tinterow), Essential Cubism (1983) at the Tate Gallery, constituted something of a rapprochement with England. This and the loan of his Braque Atelier led the Tate to believe that the hatchet had been buried. However, the collector’s fickle old heart had found yet another target, the Prado. And the pride of Cooper’s last years was that he was the first foreigner to become a member of that museum’s Patronato. In gratitude he gave the Prado a masterpiece by a Spanish master virtually unrepresented in Spain: Juan Gris’s portrait of his wife. He also left the Prado his no less important Nature morte aux pigeons (1912) by Picasso and the palette that this artist had used while working on his Déjeuner sur l’herbe versions.

Cooper had started his career as a rebel in the cause of cubism; he ended as a rebel without any cause at all except a loathing for contemporary art, as witness his hysterical denunciation of the Tate’s Carl Andre. It is not hard to see how this change of heart came about. His view of cubism as the only valid yardstick by which to judge the art of this century doomed Cooper to regard virtually everything done by post-cubist artists, above all non-figurative ones as a perversion or a dégringolade.

In line with his old fogeyism, he adopted an apoplectic manner and took to dressing up as one of his horsey forebears, only in mas tu vu colour schemes. Like Evelyn Waugh in old age, he relished the role of sacred clown, and cherished the belief that everyone was out of step but himself. As Cooper was often in considerable pain, the clowning must have taken a lot of courage to sustain, but his alternately fiendish and childish wit never failed him. His end was in character. I propose to die on April Fools day, he announced as he went into hospital for the last time. And after three days in a coma, that is exactly what this clown of genius did. 


*This pseudonym was inspired by Lord Alfred Douglas





                         Douglas Cooper, by Graham Sutherland.

            Pencil, ink and water-colour, 30.5 by 23.4 cm. (Private collection).








Today there are no records to be bought of the great French singer Suzy Solidor. But her face lives on for she asked dozens of artists to paint her picture. Many of these drawings and canvases she retained — a unique record of the image she presented in life. Now, Just two years after her death, they are on show in a château-museum near her home. Here Bryan Robertson completes the portrait





She sang mainly in Paris at her own nightclub, La vie Parisicnne, to a mixed but mostly cultivated, upper-class and well-dressed public which included the more affluent and better turned-out members of Bohemia, from Jean Cocteau, Marie-Laure de Koailles and the Princesse de Polignac to Louise Jouvet and Georges Simenon. Her love affairs among both sexes in this milieu were frequent and unmentionable, either because of the married status or because of the unorthodox sexuality of her many lovers.

Her time was from die late Twenties through to the end of the Fifties and she was at her peak in the Thirties: a vividly, luminously blonde woman with a strong, elegant presence, above average height, with long arms and legs, a strong back and a good figure sheathed in tight-fitting silk. She dressed well and kept her own style. Her face was memorable: eccentrically beautiful with its long hooked nose, like an aristocratic prizefighter’s, and calm but oddly reserved, rather quizzical smile.

Half singer, half diseuse, she sang in a warm, deep voice songs about the sea from her native Brittany and she recited poems about ports and voyagers. She sang Miss Otis Regrets and Night and Day and most of the other songs heard in New York or London — and she sang a lot of those edgy, catchy popular French songs about the tyrannies of love which have such a plaintive call upon our memories with their lilting, nostalgic fragments of waltz-time and short, insistently-stabbing melodies. She died in France in January 1983, the same age as the century, in her home at Haul-de-Cagnes, just outside Nice.

What Suzy did and how she did it is still within the memory of an older generation scattered around the world, for in her day Solidor was almost as familiar in France as Ambre Solaire, but her voice now is unknown to anyone under 50. The homogenising pressure of the pop music industry in the past 20 years, with the parallel decline of interest in more serious singers, means that you can’t find any Suzy Solidor recordings on the commercial market in Paris or London. The voice, the style, has sunk without trace; the name is barely known in the record shops.

But unlike all the other singers and dancers and entertainers who leave only memories for a few years and then enter oblivion, Suzy is still here among us, exactly as she was as a smartly dressed performer, in almost every stage of her life. She commissioned portraits of her self, from her early youth onward, from an extraordinary array of distinguished or sometimes merely fashionable painters and this collection of portraits was given by Suzy, a decade before her death, to her local museum — originally one of the beautiful Grimaldi residences, like the Picasso Museum in Antibes. In a recently opened room in the Chateau-Museum at Haut-de-Cagnes, the 42 portraits fill a naturally-lit, spacious but intimate room, and Solidor lives forever.

To be surrounded by these portraits of a youthful and eventually well-preserved blonde singer permanently on show in her grande tenue as a cabaret singer is a bizarre experience, at first less touching than it might be because of the well-dressed, guarded, carefully made-up character of the sitter — and the conventional three-quarter length or head-and-shoulders format of the paintings. Historically, the idea of successive images of one person has mostly rather solemn precedents: the rich humanism, for example, and the increasing inventiveness of execution in Rembrandt’s handful of questioning self-portraits.

It is odd to be continually face to face with a sophisticated woman, always “on stage”, whose carefully lipsticked mouth and bright blonde hair hardly changes from the age of 27 to 70—by which time Suzy sang occasionally in retirement in a friend’s night club at Haut-de-Cagnes next door to her own house, dressed in a black hat and cape rather like the posters of Aristide Briand. As a cumulative document the portraits are moving. They provide also a fascinating record of our changing attitudes to portraiture itself, with the dash and wit of the Twenties and early Thirties well represented by Tamara de Lempicka’s bare-breasted, wide-eyed Amazon or Picabia’s garlanded and mischievously calculating Persephone.

The frugal exactness of Picabia’s full-faced smiler and de Lempicka’s more massively Léger-like caryatid are conspicuous, but so are the superb drawings by Dufy and, surprisingly, by Cocteau who also wrote material for Solidor. Well to the fore are the beautiful paintings in the Twenties by Foujita — whose Japanese fine taste and strength in placing a quintessential image perfectly in silver space like an ikon is well served by Solidor’s rather mannish, cravatted costume and severely bobbed hair — and Marie Laurendn, whose painting is only an elusive, shadowy likeness of the singer but still remains a strong link in her airy sequence of doe-eyed, pensive sitters. Van Dongen, that under-rated flàneur, gets it right, of course, with the fringe and sailor suit, and so does the equally under-valued Paul Colin, the great stage designer, illustrator and poster artist, an inseparable member of the small group of artists and writers, which included Suzy, who met each week for years in Paris in the Thirties for lunch at Moise Kisling’s.

Suzy showed courage in allowing Bengt Lindstrom to paint her in her old age, probably to please a connoisseur friend: the painting is really a travesty of her aged but still strong face. Francis Bacon painted her from photographs sent from a friend of Solidor’s who commissioned the painting. Bacon had admired and enjoyed Solidor’s performances in Paris in the late Forties but, given the lack of personal contact or friendship, he could only use the photographed head and features as the basis for a characteristic Bacon essay in portraiture, the pretext for another disruptive re-examination on of physical shape and feature rather than identity. The Bacon painting was not included in the donation to the museum at Haut-de-Cagnes — it is known to have been sold — and a number of other portraits were also sold or given away over the years.

Finally, in the ultimate resonance of the collection as a whole, artistic excellence gives place to the authority of the total record, the sheer sweep of time articulated by the images. Many links in it are disagreeable, or faintly tawdry, or smack of academic commercial art but there are enough vibrant paintings of their period to redeem the sequence. It must be unique in its scrutiny of a courageous public personage: glamorous, but also abrasive in the later studies of Suzy in tough-faced deliquescence.

Suzy came from a good background in Brittany and was descended from the Corsican filibuster Surcouf, who changed sides and became an heroic figure in French naval history. Suzy was proud of her historical connection, and had the enamelled plaque “rue Surcouf” fixed to the side of the house that she eventually retired to at Haut-de-Cagnes in 1962.

She was a self invention. When she came to Paris as a young girl, she changed her family name, Rocher, to Solidor, after a well-known coastal tower in St Malo near her birthplace, and gravitated instantly to the intellectual world of artists, writers and actors and actresses. After she was established as a singer, Suzy had learned enough from her friends to run her own antique shop on the quai Voltaire. She kept the business going at Haut-de-Cagnes in her retirement.

Without doubt, she was one of the great singers of popular songs in this century, chronologically and stylistically half way between Piaf and Juliette Greco but with a richness of timbre, feeling for words and faintly grand manner all of her own. Although Solidor only appeared a few times as a serious actress in Giraudoux’s L’Ecole des Homines and in the Brecht/Weill L’Opfni de Quatre Sous (The Threepenny Opera) there was in her nightclub performance always a slight sense of grande dame, of a serious actress letting her hair down.

But it was a wholly uncondescending performance: she sang with warmth and evident relish. There was a highly personal intelligence in her presence and in each syllable of her majestic intonation. She bad a deep, vibrant voice, more mezzo than soprano, too richly mellow to be called acrid or smokey, the usual tags for women with strong voices and strong material, but her voice had a seriousness of intonation — a steadiness rather than sobriety — and a certain implacable edge that was dead right for her sadder songs. The pathos and the rasping despair of Piaf were quite different.

Suzy had the kind of faintly androgynous beauty that can disturb some women but also give some men pause, although it’s a kind of beauty that doesn’t generally appeal to men. She had the smoothly carved clarity of mouth, cheekbones, nose and eyes that made the luminously beautiful Michèle Morgan a household name. Such a kind of beauty is essentially northern French: you find it in the carved faces of saints in French churches and it floods through all the popular representations of Jeanne d’Arc.

But Suzy wasn’t saintly. Her sexually ambiguous presence basked in the new sportif atmosphere of the Thirties, when the actively gallant identities of Suzanne Longlen, Amelia Earhart or Amy Johnson co-existed with an original fictional breed of crisply sophisticated adventuresses who defied convention. At the popular light-weight level there was Iris March in Michael Allen’s The Green Hat. On stage there was Tallulah Bankhead — both heroines to a fair-sized public, but hardly the female type that mothers would wish their daughters to emulate. In the movies, Joan Crawford, Carole Lombard, Bette Davis or Myma Loy projected various degrees of feminity but they werent weak sisters. A madcap like Clara Bow or a sweet tomboy like Lillian Harvey were the last intermediaries between the Lilian Gish kind of purely girlish girl and the new species. The sphinx-like impassivity of Garbo and the voice, the legs and the disbelieving smile of Dietrich struck the ultimate notes of equivocal liberation: something for everyone, but not for long.

In this discreetly permissive climate, Suzy dressed with great flair to embody the new emancipation. All-white or all-black outfits, or long, shimmering, metallic dresses of silver or gold suited her blonde good looks. They also reflected the new stylistic tonalities invented by the decorator Sam Marx in Chicago with his all-white interiors to offset jet-black patent-leather and tubular-steel furniture, a style in décor transmitted on a popular front by those sophisticated film comedies of the Thirties in black and white, directed by Lubitsch, Borzage or Sturges.

Suzy’s singing, her material and its phraseology and intonation, stemmed from an established and wholly French sequence of dramatic women singing of prostitutes and their pimps, girls betrayed by brutish lovers, the loneliness and (he pain of love rather than its felicities, and they sang with a new realism in their despair and urgency, deep-throated, rasping or plaintive. Cocteau and many other writers paid tribute to Solidor, whose sultry voice and original material extended the tradition of a special understanding between artists and a handful of gifted entertainers in Paris.

Long before Greco, Suzy sang songs with lyrics by Jacques Prévert, the poet and immortal scriptwriter for the film-maker Marcel Carné. Cocteau wrote panegyrics about her. She sang, faultlessly and more movingly than anyone else, the most poignant and haunting of Reynaldo Hahn’s songs, D’une Prison, a setting of Verlaine’s verse, and this is perhaps because the song is also a great poem, a wonderful vehicle for her expressive delivery. Most famously, Suzy sang La Filles de Savu-Malo, songs about sailors and the sea, and the lilting but weirdly menacing La Fiancée du Pirate, a great song by Kurt Weill with its staccato jabs from an accordion building up tension between the verses.

She read poetry very well, in a slightly declamatory way but with a dry wit, also, and she was never a mere performer, content to come on and do her number and then go off to supper. La vie Parisienne was very much her own place where she was the centre of a kind of salon, receiving homage from regular admirers and greeting old habitués after absences of many years. She wasn’t a serious intellectual but she was shrewd and knowledgeable — as a girl, she had heard Breton ballads and legends sung and declaimed by one of the last travelling bards in Brittany, Botrel, who visited great chateaux or simple cottages in his travels as a troubadour and story teller, and this affected her choice of subjects, ports, sailors and love affairs, and her own style.

Her songs have gone and so has her style. The irony is that soon hardly anyone will know what Suzy did and how she did it, unless the record companies risk the reissue of a record or two, but what Suzy looked like will live forever as a celebration in the gallery in the Château Musée Grimaldi at Haut-de-Cagnes and her portraits say something also about visual, human style, meretricious or profound, and endurance in our century.





                                         Suzy Solidor, 1957: Francis Bacon





Bringing Home the Bacon





MELVYN BRAGG   |   PUNCH   |   WEEKLY     MAY 1, 1985


We are sometimes sniffy about calling a particular artist the best, and often rightly so. Dickens represents one kind of excellence, Chekhov another and Evelyn Waugh yet another. And so it is by colours, and not by degrees, that we know them. Gambling, though, is compulsive on this course — especially as no one will be alive to confirm the real winners or collect any of the prizes. Time is perhaps the truest and the only real critic. Yet the very length of the odds encourages the sporting flutter. And of course hype, envy, king-making, politics and all the merry growths and undergrowths of ambitious life play part.

Is Francis Bacon the best painter alive today? There are those who believe so. His imminent retrospective at the Tate will give the gallery-going public the opportunity to test their notes against those great and powerful bookmakers of the Arts ring — buyers, dealers, critics, fixers and public benefactors.

The gallery-going public is worth a small digression. The queues for the Renoir exhibition have been alarmingly long, and the Chagall exhibition was wildly well-attended. There is now an eager and proven public for serious painting, especially when it is carefully gathered and organised — as is invariably the case with our major exhibiting centres. Nor is this merely a metropolitan phenomenon. Just as the RSC sells out on its annual visits to the North-East, so the Renior exhibition — were it transported to Newcastle — would outpull the Magpies. The fundamental reason for the juice in the recent Arts skirmish was not, I suggest, the relatively articulate nature of that particular middle-class lobby (as was claimed), but the widespread realisation that, for an increasing number of people in this country, art matters. Artists count, and they do have validity. It may be personal, but it is none the worse for that. What the count adds up to, and what it portends, is harder to say. Their following, though, is growing and it is emphatic.

There’s little doubt they will turn up in their thousands and in their tens of thousands to see the Francis Bacon exhibition. About twenty of his triptychs have been gathered in from around the world. After an initial anxiety that people would not part with the paintings, the response has proved generous and the Tate will be filled with the tormented forms, the splayed flesh and inalienable, gorged and fierce portraits of Bacon. It will be a force to be reckoned with.

Bacon has long been considered to be a painter peculiarly for our times. Every one is contemporary: no escape. But there are those who become the voice of the age and — for better or worse, as time tells — we acknowledge that they speak for us. Bacon speaks for violence, for form fighting against destruction, for self-destruction, for bared meat and distorted shapes, for horror, above all for impact. He is the great hit-man of modern art.

There is a sense in which many of those descriptions could be deflected as being little more than lightly disguised accusations. But the charge of horror, for instance, which can be brought when you look at a portrait with its face smashed by a fling of paint distorting the man beyond recognition, can be answered in several ways. Have you studied, for instance, as Bacon has, the still frame close-ups of a boxer’s face when a particularly heavy punch lands splat on the snout. It really does hurt, and bend and flatten, displace, distort.

Or, speaking more generally of horror in painting, what about Cranach? What about the Saint Sebastians and the crucifixions, the Baptist heads and billing sides — all the gore of Christian pictorial history? And speaking most generally of all, what about the horror out there, brought into the living-room on the nine o’clock, ten o’clock, one, two, three o’clock news? Bacon’s horror, in any one of those contexts, is the merest reminder. The reason for the flinching is the reason for his greatness: his paintings have impact.

Impact matters more than anything else to Bacon. Firstly, the impact on himself. If he can excite himself, then that will do. He has exciting standards. His idea of a thoughtful back-drape is the slung carcasses of meat in a giant butcher’s hall. His undisguised delight in the life which forces him to the very limits of stamina and endurance accompanies — if it does not directly influence — the ferocity of his work. Secondly, impact on the human body. While abstraction reigned and the fashionable painters bopped away to the lucrative aesthetic of New York Abstract Experiment chic, Bacon painted people. Smashed people, stretched and depressed people, people out of darkness and people screaming to be heard but always people. People who looked as if they had suffered badly in the accident of life.

Accident matters to his life, as to his work. He talks almost reverently of the role of chance, the way unconscious brush-strokes can turn an entire painting. Pressed on the idea of chance, he holds on to it ferociously even though he is aware that experience, habit, and that high-speed intelligence and memory which are similar to instinct, make the notion of chance a remote possibility. He insists on it, though, and encourages it by hurling handfuls of paint at the canvas, scouring them with a scrubbing-brush; and yet he insists, too, on the powerful organisation within a work of art. His pieces always appear to be ordered.

Bacon has managed to conduct a lifestyle which keeps danger in play. The rewards for most successful artists today are security, fat comforts and flash trinkets. Bacon’s paintings now change hands for up to £1 million, but he lives in a mews flat which makes the word modest seem a boast. His studio is so small he cannot line up his own triptychs in the space. There is a galley of a kitchen and one other room. His books, too, hold on to that fin de siecle edge of danger and romanticism — Nietzsche balanced by Proust, and a heap of photographic books on wild animals, sportsmen, exotica, medical matters and Muybridge (who revolutionised the depiction of movement by showing it, frame by frame, for what it is). And there is his life outside the work, his gambling at the tables, his afternoons in the green gloom of the Colony Club, his risks.

The exhibition comes at a perfect time. Contemporary figurative painting has quite suddenly and remarkably discovered an audience and a critical following. Bacon’s faces and figures will stand in the gallery wonderfully secure in their own force. Only a very few paintings can enjoy this privilege.