Francis Bacon News

                                                                   

                                                                                                                              

                                                   1990-2005

 

 

 

Francis Bacon, Master of Despair

 

 

At 80, Francis Bacon would seem to belong to another era;

Why do his paintings still take us off guard?

 

 

WILLIAM WILSON | LOS ANGELES TIMES | FEBRUARY 11, 1990

 

 

    In the mid-1950s, a UCLA exhibition included a new British artistFrancis Bacon. He was represented by Study after Velasquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X. Awed faculty dragged their budding-genius students down to have a look. It wasn't surprising that the kids had never seen anything quite like it, but neither had grizzled art teachers, who had seen a good bit.

    The sinister, crafty Pope was pictured suddenly screaming. That seemed significant enough, but the painting's technique was even more strikingthe Pope appeared flickeringly through vertical, thinly applied striations that suddenly gave way to the crazy, free-brushed drapery of his gown and then firmed up to an illusive but deftly realized rendering of his face and purple cap. The image seemed less seen than hallucinated.

    Anti-Establishment beatniks roamed the campus in those days wearing black, drinking espresso and acting cool. Cool was the colloquialization of Alienation. Everybody was still learning about the Holocaust, Jean-Paul Sartre and Existentialism; Giacometti and Dubuffet; Beckett, Ionesco and Pinter. Smart people were learning that the Second World War had rendered the world Absurd.

    In that ambiance, Francis Bacon had a certain inevitability. Besides, it looked to conservative artists as if this was the guy who would give new meaning to figurative painting in an era dominated by abstraction. Even among the Abstract Expressionists, there was a lot of talk that dribble-and-splash painting was washed up.

    Now, some 35 years later, Samuel Beckett has recently died and the County Museum of Art presents a 58-work survey of Bacon's oeuvrethe first in the United States in some 25 years. The occasion marks the 80th birthday of the artist who has been called the world's greatest living figurative painter. Notable parallels exist between Beckett and Bacon. Both were born in Ireland but moved away - the playwright to Paris, the painter to London. Although Bacon is technically English, he joins Joyce, Beckett and Camus as either real or philosophical exiles. All startled and shocked the world with radical, disturbing art. By now, Bacon would seem to belong to a past era and thus in a neutral chronological slot where his work can be sorted into the bin marked Modern Classic or that labeled Period Piece.

    Things about Bacon's art invite dismissal. Formalists like to kiss him off as little more than a juiced-up version of Picasso in his surrealist period. The art often seems overly theatrical, calculating its effects like the curtain-line in Pinter's The Caretaker whenafter a long silencea character blurts out, "What's the game?"

    Bacon's work is increasingly full of empty, flat spaces punctuated by dramatically placed scumbles of figures. A recent diptych of studies from the human body is little more than a series of stagey red rectangles and risers bearing grotesque mutations of torsos. It's all about effect and we remember that Bacon started his career as a decorator and designer.

    His art is intensely mannered and has changed only in nuance over the decades. His stylization invites impersonation and has affected a long string of artists from the now half-forgotten James Gill to Bay Area Figurative Art in general and Ron Kitaj, David Hockney and recent James Dine in particular. Bacon's mannerism leaves observers with the impression that he has made a career of impersonating himself. This effect is heightened by the character of the art. It seems fair to ask how anyone as immensely successfuland presumably wealthyas Bacon can go on making art about despair.

    The quick answer to that is that the rich and famous are not necessarily content and Bacon has been strange and haunted all his life - an out-patient recluse, compulsive gambler, serious boozer and a homosexual of sometimes self-destructive bent. Alsowhen so inclinedalmost predictably viciously witty and charming.

    Given all this, one approaches the retrospective ready to snicker. At first, the once-haunting Pope looks like the payoff of a Monty Python skit where mouse has just run up the pontiff's skirt. The snarling succubus in the 1950 Fragment for a Crucifixion has long since been made cuddly as E.T. Looking at a Bacon portrait where the skin of a face is peeling off, we think of a spy in Mission: Impossible pulling off the mask of a latex disguise. A study for a portrait of  Van Gogh trudging the road begs for some such caption as, "Pardon me, madame, can you direct me to Arles?"

    Today, we view Bacon across a gulf of time, with electronic culture on our side and modernist culture on his. On our side is a detached art inspired by the media and on his, an art that filters history through intense personal experience. His modernist culture included appreciation for ancient classical literature like the Oresteia of Aeschylus, which inspired one recent triptych, and then-contemporary culture, which still included T.S. Eliot's Sweeney Agonistes. Bacon's gang includes Rembrandt, lots of Goya, Muybridge, Eisenstein, Bunel, Godard and Eric Rohmer. Our side stands four-square with MTV.

    As you begin to wonder if you haven't somehow gotten onto the wrong promontory, Bacon begins to get to you again. Of course there is an element of humor in him as there is in Beckett. Humor and muffled horror combine to produce Absurdity. I was once in a head-on car crash I thought was going to kill me. I saw the face of this perfectly nice chap in the other car and thought, "So that's what death looks like." Dying felt, well, ridiculous.

    Bacon's art still contrives to take you off guard like an unexpected anxiety attack in familiar, comfortable surroundings. Just as he rarely wanders far from his Chelsea studio, the paintings rarely stray from homey street corners or dowdy apartments. A sudden rush of Angst in such reassuring places peels back the armor of conventional assumption and gives us a glimpse of cauterizing fact.

    Bacon jolts us into remembering that we are animals. There isn't a dime's worth of difference between the dog he painted after one Muybridge photo and the paralytic child he took from another, walking on all fours like his brother simians. All beasts are subject to sudden and violent extinction at the hands of other beasts. When he paints two nude men embracing in a field, they are like creatures in a zoo. You can't tell if they are copulating or killing each other. Maybe both.

    The 1946 Painting is a charnel house where a flailed carcass presides and a bloody-mouthed man grimaces. He hides under the umbrella of middle-class convention. It is another version of those invisible glass boxes where Bacon paints us imprisoned in rationality, bellowing against its constraints.

    The artist is exquisitely aware of human vulnerability. If he weren't so tough about it, he might seem sentimental or self-pitying. Actually he does sometimes, but not in "Portrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle, "where he transforms the innocent business of a nice peddle into a metaphor of life's precarious balance. Dyer rides as if on a tightrope just as the Fool of the Tarot gambols on the edge of a cliff.

    Bacon is a master of the tentative. Even his most finished paintings are called "studies." He has a genius for the illusive, the not-quite-stated, the ominous. And he gets at it through plastic means. Triptychs like Three Studies for a Crucifixion do woozy things with space. We are in a red, circular room. Two men look over their shoulders at carrion lying in the foreground. In the next panel, we see a grinning, suppurating corpse on a bed and finally another dematerialized side of beef. It is never clear if the flailed meat is all human or if it is all the same thing viewed from different angles, so we seem to be floating around the room like a jerky balloon, a witness to something as vague as it is awful.

    He also has a talent for the telling detail. In the midst of some hairy, unclear scene of muted violence our attention is drawn to a pack of cigarettes, a light switch or porcelain cabinet handle-- the kinds of small realities that keep us from dismissing the unpleasant as just a bad dream.

Bacon's recent art is sometimes an unconvincing attempt at getting up to his old tricks. He is more persuasive these days in a mellower mood. There is subtlety and gravity in a triple self-portrait that doesn't need to be anything but the thoughtful record of a man thinking quietly about himself.

    Significantly, the exhibition (through April 29) runs concurrently with a retrospective devoted to the pioneer New York stain painter Helen Frankenthaler, an artist sometimes thought of as a maker of exceedingly pretty abstractions. Hearing of this unlikely juxtaposition, one immediately wants to title the coincidental pairing Beauty and the Beast.

    So much for our ideas about art. She turns out to be much tougher than her reputation and he much more tender. The coupling leaves a nice reminder that we can't experience art according to our notions about it--only looking at it face to face.

 

 

 

BaconStaying Power

 

Steven Dornbusch


In a letter to the Editor, The Los Angeles Times, February 25, 1990
 

 

       Regarding William Wilson's Feb. 11 review of the Francis Bacon exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art:
I admit to snickering at a recent LACMA exhibition. Not at Francis Bacon's paintings -I snickered at all the people fawning over Robert Longo's superficiality.

      So Bacon belongs to the era of Existentialists and beatniks. Fine. Kurt Schwitters belongs to the era of Dadaists, revolutionaries and prophets. Cezanne and Goya belong to their times. I do not snicker at art because it belongs to another time.

      Francis Bacon has not changed much over the decades. He paints the same images. He chooses to refine, rather than add new techniques. His subjects - death, alienation, violence and sex  - remain unchanged.

      Bacon rescues the viewer from Western "sophistication" of not feeling anything about much of anything. His paintings make us feel. Over and over again.

      While his art belongs to another era, his place in art will not pass like so many fads. Wilson's confused opinions will soon be forgotten. Like his MTV and "electronic culture."

      Violence, sex and death do not bore me. Banality does.

 

 

 

Bacon's Visions of a Violent, Disjointed Century

    

  

By JOHN RUSSELL THE NEW YORK TIMES JUNE 1, 1990

 

 

The Francis Bacon exhibition that opens Sunday at the Museum of Modern Art comprises 59 paintings. Most of them are large, and some are made up of two or three canvases, each measuring 78 by 58 inches. They cover the years from 1945 to 1988. (Bacon was 80 years old last October.) Many of the images in the show acquired classic status long ago and have been regarded by enthusiasts as central to the concerns of our day.

The Francis Bacon exhibition that opens Sunday at the Museum of Modern Art comprises 59 paintings. Most of them are large, and some are made up of two or three canvases, each measuring 78 by 58 inches. They cover the years from 1945 to 1988. (Bacon was 80 years old last October.) Many of the images in the show acquired classic status long ago and have been regarded by enthusiasts as central to the concerns of our day. This was already true when Bacon was believed, as the critic Sam Hunter writes in the catalogue, to have echoed the ''paralyzing, affectless settings of Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit of 1942 and Samuel Beckett's Endgame of 1957.'' And to this day, in a sustained tracking shot that has been going for half a century, Bacon seems to have prefigured many of the images that look out at us every day in the news pages and on the television news.

We see men discarded like rotting meat. Behind what is presumably bulletproof glass, we see other men preaching, talking, hallooing, ranting, raving or prey to manic, uncontrollable laughter. (The primal human cry, King Lear's ''Howl, howl, howl!,'' is a lifelong obsession with Bacon, though we should not forget what he said in 1962 to his friend, the critic David Sylvester: that often as he had painted the primal cry, he had always wanted to paint the primal smile but had never succeeded in doing it.) In the Bacons that everyone talks about, we see violence taken for granted, and the bloodied messes that result from it. Voyeur and victim are set before us in ways that suggest they may soon change places. Second-rank and second-rate people stand around, just as they do in life, to see what will come of it all.

In the windowless echo chamber that Bacon knew so well how to evoke, (as in Study for a Portrait, 1953), we see an archetypal C.E.O. revert to babyhood in his single hotel room. We see prefigured the hideous ordinariness of Adolf Eichmann, on trial in Jerusalem. Bacon could also (as in Fragment for a Crucifixion, from 1950) give a new and sinister meaning to the phrase ''dog eat dog.''

These are one-shot images, and most of them date from 40 years ago, but they still pack a formidable punch. Those who have grown up and grown old with them would have trouble imagining a world in which they had played no part. They are by now a permanent part of the furniture of the European imagination, and the paintings as we see them in the Museum of Modern Art come over again and again as grand formal statements in which order and clarity have long ago won out over disquiet.

That is why, for this critic, the present show does not come over as in any way sensational. Dreadful things are seen to be done, but they are nothing to what is done routinely, day by day, in the world around us. Besides, there is a whole other side to what Bacon does with paint. There are paintings in this show in which no one does much of anything except hang out, talk, ride a bicycle very, very slowly or sit bunched up as if in readiness for some tremendous outburst of erotic energy.

Once or twice, as in the Double Portrait of Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach, from 1964, we glimpse a duet between two fellow painters and champion talkers that would be unforgettable if only we could hear it. (The high-keyed colour and the literally laid-back postures of both Freud and Auerbach leave an unforgettable impression). An understated intimacy and a gift for direct statement are the mark of Bacon's portraits of his old friend, the French anthropologist and autobiographer Michel Leiris.

In the Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho, from 1967, we glimpse a rare, unfettered and galvanic human being -the beloved at one time of Jacob Epstein, Andre Derain and Alberto Giacometti among artists, and of Constant Lambert and Alan Rawsthorne among composers - who has the world at her feet and expects nothing less. As a record of an aspect of humankind that we must hope will always be with us, that painting is an astonishing achievement, and one powered by a boundless affection.

No less essential to any anthology of rare human beings is the portrait of Muriel Belcher, the owner of a drinking club in London of which Bacon was for many years a habitue. Mrs. Belcher was notable in life for her piercing gaze, her almost unbelievably free speech and her sense of the precipitous ups and downs of metropolitan life.

Bacon portrays her as a sphinx, with long, delicate forearms that double as forelegs and feet. As no one was ever more ready than she with a plain answer to a plain question, Mrs. Belcher could be said to set here a new tone for sphinxes. But it is a glorious impersonation.

Images like these are not gratuitous violations of either the face, the limbs or the dignity of the people portrayed. Nor did they seem to me to deal with what Mr. Demetrion believes to be Bacon's ''real subject'': ''man as animal, stripped to his bestial nature - to his real nature.''

They have come to look, on the contrary, like the contemporary equivalent of the ancestral portraits that we find in museums and palaces and great country houses all over Europe. In psychological terms, they have of course been pushed infinitely farther than the Old Masters would have thought it either possible or appropriate to go.

Bacon's way of painting is, moreover, peculiar to himself, and to our own time. Faces have been taken apart and reconstructed on an inspired whim that flouts every known canon of likeness. But far from looking battered or abused, the people in question are right there, and have never looked more completely or irreducibly themselves.

The show also includes one of the most mysterious of all Bacon's paintings: the Sand Dune of 1983, in which a huge shelving area of sand would seem part indoors and part outdoors. When his longtime friend Mr. Sylvester, the English critic, asked Bacon some years ago why he had painted landscapes at one time in his career, he said simply, ''Inability to do the figure.'' But in his 70's he found a way of painting a landscape in such a way that it reinvented the human figure.

Those shifting, heaving, rolling sands do a double duty, in other words. Though perfectly convincing as one of the more precious features of the foreshore, they can also be read in terms of human bodies that form and reform themselves, half in and half out of the sand. Once we get the point, we may consider this as one of the most voluptuous evocations of the nude in 20th-century art.

Yet there are many observers - in the United States especially - who think of Bacon's work as simply a freak show, a horror show, a gratuitous monsterscape. Bacon himself is, of course, well aware of this. ''Who ever bought a painting of mine because he liked it?'' he once said to a friend.

That is doubtless why the last full-career museum retrospective of Bacon's work in this country was in 1966. ''Difficult'' is still the American code word for them. It should surprise nobody that, in the words of James T. Demetrion, who organized the show, ''traditional sources of sponsorship have not generally been available.''

But Mr. Demetrion could count on the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, where he has been director since 1984; on the Smithsonian Special Exhibition Fund and on an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art took the show, and so did the Museum of Modern Art, which in 1946 was the first museum anywhere to buy a Bacon for its permanent collection.

Mr. Demetrion could also count on John Elderfield, the Modern's director of drawings since 1980. who has installed the show in a grave, uncluttered and unhurrying style that allows the big paintings to ride the wall at the height, and at the pace, that suits them best.

This, in short, is a very grand show, an affair of huge and often shattered presences that are entirely of our own day and yet seem on occasion to stretch back into antiquity. Bacon deserves a long second look in New York, and this show makes it possible.

Francis Bacon remains on view at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53d Street, through Aug. 28. The New York showing has been made possible by a grant from IFI International.

  

 

 

BAD FEELING

 

 

 

“...Francis Bacon is a one-note painter, an eccentric, who has achieved effects within a claustrophobically small horizon...”

 

 

KAY LARSON | ART | NEW YORK MAGAZINE JUNE 18, 1990 

 

Francis Bacon is the grand old man of British painting, and it might be expected that his survival to an eighth decade (as though to spite the horrendous vulnerability in his art) would prod someone to celebrate. So, even though New Yorkers last saw his work in 1975, when Henry Geldzahler brought it to the Metropolitan, we get another chance to see it this summer, in a show (organized by the Hirshhorn Museum) at the Museum of Modern Art. I hadn't noticed anyone waiting breathlessly or the sequel, but perhaps it's just me.

Bacon is one of those lucky painters who have had the consensus of history on their side from their first exhibition. One of the first pictures he sold (in 1948, two years after it was panted) went straight to the Modern and became everybody's image of postwar existential anguish. This is MOMA's famous meat-rack painting of slabs of butchered beef and strings of sausages draped like tinsel around a slack-jawed black-robed authority figure whose eyes are shadowed by a black umbrella — a blind judge, if you will. The "judge" holds court in a sterile U.N.-style amphitheatre you could associate with the Kafkaesque trials of individual and collective guilt that preoccupied Europe after the Nazi fell. Modern life unfolds in a panorama of sterility and butchery, ruled by the terrifying figure of an eyeless justice who talks with bared teeth and who shields himself from the rain of Heaven with a proper bureaucratic umbrella. As a primal cry out of the crumbling London of the Blitz, this painting had no match in its time. Because it holds pride of place in MOMA's collection, it has carried Bacon's reputation locally for decades.

I can't buy it, unfortunately. On the basis of this exhibition (which is better at winnowing duplicates and editing weak spots than others I've seen), I'm more convinced than ever that he's a minor master, with the emphasis on minor.

Bacon is now untouchable. You can gauge the grandeur pegged to his name by noting who wrote the catalogue entries - Sir Lawrence Gowing and Sam Hunter, two of the most eminent living art historians - and adding up the superlatives that fall like snow. The English, Sir Lawrence included, place him in the same camp as T.S. Eliot, who wastelands he populated with squashed faces pulverised under modern boot heals.

What Bacon does best is suggest what it's like to have your skin stripped off and your flayed nerves rubbed in the dirt. There is no small talent in being able to irradiate a painting with feeling. In the forties, Bacon proved himself in his fist show (and has adapted his style only slightly since). He seemed at the time to have sprung out of nowhere, an interior decorator turned painter who felt shattered as much by the open-mouthed screaming nurse in Eisenstein's Potemkin as by Poussin.

To arrive at the state of painterly disintegration that would express that primal scream, the looked for his model, not surprisingly, from Picasso. (And in Surrealism and Hieronymous Bosch). In taking the lesson to heart, Bacon steered himself in an unusual direction. Most Picasso followers tried to extend and elaborate on the stunning formalist possibilities suggested by Cubism's shattered viewpoint: Bacon focused on the pychic consequences of Cubist disintegration. In his hands, a profound formal invention an invention of the way we see — was dismantled and reconstructed in order to convey his turbulance. Very early in his career, he found a new path out of Picasso but one that led toward illustration (of emotion).

In the forties, the distinction between formalism and emotionalism was still new and crudely cut; it wouldn't carry the weight it would acquire in the next decade, when the Americans (who also came out of Cubism and Surrealism) would create Abstract Expressionism by pushing the formal possibilities to the limit. Bacon's reputation in England, where the British cast a glum eye on developments in America, continued to soar. He means something more in his homeland, you could speculate, because Abstract Expressionism and its descendants mean something less.

On this side of the Atlantic, Bacon's achievements don't look so glossy. He is undeniably a powerful illustrator of despair. On this bleak theme he produces as many plot changes as Stephen King; his sense of the grotesque is as developed as Salvador Dali's. Like Dali and King, he's a tactician of emotion. But when you reach saturation (with me it happens fast) and you look further, for evidence of painterly experiment and formal brilliance, form becomes formula rather quickly. Like Balthus or Henri Rousseau, Bacon is a one-note painter, an eccentric, who has achieved charmed effects within a claustrophobically small horizon. As I said, a minor master. 

Describing himself, he says, "I'm just trying to make images as accurately as I can off my nervous system as I can." The comment helps explains why he considers himself a realist. It all depends on how you define what's real. Comparing him with that other grand British gent, Lucian Freud, you can see both painters as the poles of a continuum, a very British line of pragmatic observation. Freud screws his microscope to the surface of flesh whose minutest bumps and hollows form a topography of obsession. For Bacon, searching for catharsis, the ferocity and ugliness lie beneath the surface, and he mangles skin and bone to reveal it.

That the English buff him to such a golden sheen is slightly perverse, considering that the undercurrent of these paintings his homosexuality. The theme didn't openly declare itself until Bacon began to let his figures roll in the grass together in the fifties. But even in the beginning, these pictures were about nakedness and carnal loathing, corruption, and the disease of humanness. The open-mouthed screaming orifices mounted on long throats are receivers as well as disseminators, attractors as well as repulsers. You're not sure whether the gaping mouths aren't getting ready to suck you in. Bacon revels in the ambiguities, surely, or he wouldn't keep returning there, much as Joseph Conrad did in Heart of Darkness, mucking around in the horror within. Bacon, again like Balthus or Rousseau, has proved nearly impossible to imitate, and his spasms of conscience seemed dated and irrelevant for a long moment. But now his timing coincides the AIDS specter. The thin, toxic atmosphere inside Bacon's generic rooms reminds me of the phosphorescent gloom of Ross Bleckner's paintings in memoriam to the dead. Bacon's pictures only work if you care about the message than the means, but the world supplies enough genuine horror  to keep the message coming round again.

(11 West 53rd Street; through August 28.)  

 

      

                          BLUE: Portrait of Van Gogh III (study).   

 


  Francis Bacon

 

 

      By ARTHUR C. DANTO | THE NATION | VOLUME 251 | ISSUE 4 | JULY 30, 1990  

 

 

Grammar makes certain sentences available to us that are useless for any purpose other than philosophical jokes. "I am screaming" for example, is what philosophers term self-stultifying: The conditions under which it could be true are inconsistent with its being uttered, so it cannot but be false if said or even written. Thus the lie is transparent to all but the writer when the hateful and ludicrous Fanny Squeers, in Nicholas Nickleby, puts into a letter "I am screaming out loud all the time I write" as an excuse for mistakes. One cannot scream and write letters at the same time, in part because the circumstances that explain the scream rule out the possibility of concurrent rational action. The scream ordinarily implies some loss of will, something the screamer cannot help despite resolutions of silence, as in the torture chamber or the pit in hell. But that does not leave the will free for other pursuits. Or, if we can imagine someone knitting and screaming, it would have to be someone mad, and the scream, like the lunatic's laugh, disconnected from the network of circumstances in which either expression has the meaning of terror, say, or mirth.

 

Much the same considerations apply to cases in which an artist paints a scream. It is always a reasonable inference in such cases that the scream cannot be the artist's own, for the mere fact that the representation is clear enough to be recognized as of a scream is inconsistent with that. Painting, in whatever way it facilitates the expression of emotions, cannot be a kind of scream if it is in fact of a kind of scream. This is an important truth to keep in mind when viewing the painted screams of Francis Bacon.

 

Bacon's images of screaming popes are among the great defining images of twentieth-century art, and certainly they were taken, in the early postwar years when they first appeared, to be artistic summations of an era of unspeakable agony and horror. And they affect us even today, and against the body of Bacon's far less compelling subsequent work, perhaps because we cannot be indifferent to screams-not even when we know, for example, that someone is only practicing for a part that requires him to scream, just because that particular sound, issued through a human mouth, must trigger in us reflexes over which we have as little control as screamers themselves are supposed to have at the moment of impulse. And a painted scream comparably summons up associations through which it is vested with moral meaning. This is especially so when, as with Bacon's popes, there is no context, within the painting, to account for the scream. When Poussin paints a woman screaming in his Massacre of the Innocents (a painting frequently cited as among Bacon's early influences), her scream is a natural response to the butchery of helpless children. When Eisenstein shows the screaming nurse in Battleship Potemkin (another source unfailingly cited for Bacon), there is, in the massacre on the steps, all the explanation we need for the grimace of impotence and despair and pain condensed in the shape of her mouth. Seen just as a frame, clipped out of the film, the scream of Eisenstein's nurse still implies a narrative which the shattered glasses and shot-out eye enable us to fill in. There is no available narrative for Bacon's screaming pontiff, all the less so when we appreciate that the painting is itself a modified appropriation of the celebrated portrait by Velázquez of Innocent X. The occurrence of the word "innocent" in two of Bacon's acknowledged sources is possibly worth keeping in mind, though the papal name, in the case of this particular bearer of it, was one of the great examples of ironic nomenclature in the history of mislabeling. Velázquez's portrait simply shows the wily churchman, in white lace and red silk, enthroned in a curtained chamber, wearing an expression that rules out screams.

 

Everyone in fact admires the psychology of Velázquez's portrait, and the larger meanings to which the psychology must contribute. Innocent is looking up from some document held loosely in his left hand, and looks out at us beaming authority, power, mercilessness, guile, defiance, resolution and contempt from his terrifying eyes. It is the look a shepherd might direct to his sheep only if his mind were fixed on mutton. Innocent may have been indifferent to the expression Velazquez gave him, or possibly he was pleased by it as an outward sign of a man dangerous to trifle with, but one cannot, today at least, refrain from drawing lessons from the fact that this highest position in the universal church should have been occupied by a man whose character was so at odds with the charity and love that ought to be emblemized physiognomically. It is a tension not easily rationalized, though in its own right it may express a deep truth of Catholicism. Bacon's pope has no psychology to speak of, since the scream leaves no space for other expressions and is in any case not really an expression of someones character. A scream implies an absolute reduction of its emitter to whatever state it is that the scream outwardly expresses. There are no wry screamers, no crafty screamers. The scream is a momentary mask. Still, the fact that it is a pope who screams raises some delicate questions of interpretation. In the language of symbols, the image of the pope carries the obvious meanings that flow from his position as Christ's surrogate on earth and intercessor for the salvational needs of mankind. The question is why someone with the extreme moral weight of a pope should be shown screaming when, within the canvas, there is nothing that accounts for the act.

 

It must of course be decided whether the pope is screaming at something whether there is an object-or whether, like the screams of the damned and the tortured, he cannot help screaming because of unendurable pain. There are screams of horror, after all, where the witness is overcome by something seen or heard. The pope's scream cannot be objectless, one feels, since he is seated in his throne or on his palanquin (which is one way of reading the yellow curves in Bacon's painting), unless he is supposed insane, like a crazy in the park. He could, if this were an internal symbol for Christians, be screaming at Christ's agony, or in grief, like one of the Marys so often shown at the base of the cross. Whatever the object, it must be commensurate with the stature of the pope as pope. Think, for contrast, of the famous screamer in Munch's The Scream, of 1895. A woman (one assumes) is shown running toward us, over a bridge, with a couple in the distance walking away, as if indifferent to her anguish. The screamer's object (if there is one) must, one is certain, be some fraught personal situation she finds unendurable: The image is a depiction of personal extremity. And this fits with Munch's work-his themes are sickness, jealousy, bereavement, madness, sexual torment-as well as what we know of his character and his life. But none of this would fit with the screamer's being a pope, all got up in ecclesiastical regalia. Neither, in truth, does it fit with Bacon, from what we know of him as a person. And the assumption would have been, in the postwar years, that the pope was screaming as the only appropriate moral response to the fallenness of mankind and the world as slaughter-bench. As such, it could not but be a powerful image, even if somewhat crudely painted, save for the lavender capelet. Somehow, if a message, it must have seemed too urgent to be conveyed through a piece of elegant painting. The powdery white, the swipes of yellow and the vertical slashes that are vestigial reminders of Velazquez's drapes, though they also suggest a deluge, are secondary marks of the moral lamentation of the howling prelate. One would have wanted to scream in sympathy: And with that cry I have raised my cry," as Yeats writes.

 

All of Bacon's work in those years, whether or not of popes, appears to be of screams or to call for screams. In his, painting, of 1946, an early acquisition by the Museum of Modern Art, which is honouring Bacon  with a retrospective exhibition (until August 28), the screamer is in a business suit, a yellow boutonniere in his lapel and the upper half of his face cast in shadow by his umbrella. He is surrounded by butchered meat, including, behind him, an immense gutted carcass hung by its legs. The carcass of beef, in Rembrandt's painting of one, seems to connote helplessness of a nearly cosmic order and comes across as a symbol of suffering, as it does in a bloody painting by Soutine. There is a harsh contrast in Bacon's image between the regular rhythm of bones and teeth and that of torn flesh and a world torn by the scream of the man, whose umbrella is an affecting symbol of ineffective protection, certainly against the forces that rend flesh, eviscerate bodies, consume in pain and flame. Painting, in context, had to have conveyed some political message and, to use the irrepressible word from those days, existential mood. And there are several images of heads that bear out this heavy inescapable reading, for they seem to have no discernible features other than toothed cavities, as if their owners had died, beaten to some pulp, with a terminal scream on their lips. In some cases, the screamer is seated, as the pope is, but in such a way and in such a space that it could be the electric chair they are in. And in all or most of these, the vertical lines rain down, cleansing perhaps, purging, or just adding to the agony, having no connection to the vertical fall of drapes from Velázquez.

 

So, if not strictly Bacon's screams, these depicted screams seem to entitle us to some inference that they at least express an attitude of despair or outrage or condemnation, and that in the medium of extreme gesture the artist is registering a moral view toward the conditions that account for scream upon scream upon scream. How profoundly disillusioning it is then to read the artist saying, in a famous interview he gave to David Sylvester for The Brutality of Fact.- Interviews With Francis Bacon, " I've always hoped in a sense to be able to paint the mouth like Monet painted a sunset." As if, standing before one of those canvases, Bacon were to say, "Well, there, I think, I very nearly got a screaming mouth as it should be painted. Damned hard to do." Or to read that "Horrible or not ... his pictures were not supposed to mean a thing." So Cezanne painted apples, Renoir nudes, Monet sunsets, Bacon screams. To paint a scream because it is a difficult thing to paint, where the difficulty is not at all emotional but technical, like doing a human figure in extreme foreshortening or capturing the evanescent pinks of sunrise over misting water, is really a form of perversion. As a perversion, it marks this strange artist's entire corpus. It is like a rack maker who listens to the screams of the racked only as evidence that he has done a fine job. It is inhuman. As humans, however, we cannot be indifferent to screams. We are accordingly victims ourselves, manipulated in our moral being by an art that has no such being, though it looks as if it must. It is for this reason that I hate Bacon's art.

 

Bared teeth and exposed bones play a referential role in some of Bacon's later works, particularly in two triptychs, one of which, Three Studies for a Crucifixion, shows the victim hung upside-down in the right panel, like an emptied carcass, with his head lying in what one supposes must be his own spilled viscera. But by this stage in his development, Bacon had begun to treat his figures virtually as viscera, as lumps and gobbets and tubes of flesh, not easily identified anatomically, pink and red and white, as if his subjects were what was left when skin and bones were removed. So shapeless are they, as piles and puddles of scraped and squeezed paint, that one is grateful at times for the mouths, as dentated wounds, to serve as some point of orientation. In the middle panel of this triptych, for example, a figure lies, like a pile of guts, on an elegant chaise longue, blood splattering the pillowcase and rising, like red bubbles, up past the black window shade in some piecemeal ascension. The teeth locate us in the gore, so we can identify eye sockets and a neat wound in one foot. In the left panel stand two uncrucified figures-witnesses, perhaps, patrons, executioners-one of them in a business suit, which could be Bacon  himself, the other a blob in what might be black leather. The three panels, paradoxically in view of their content, are done in cheerful decorator colors, apart from the figures themselves: flat planes of pompeian red and cadmium orange, with black window panels. One cannot help thinking of Auden's great poem on art and suffering, as the old masters showed it: "how it takes place/while someone else is eating or opening a window or just/walking dully along:' Auden went on, marvelously, "They never forgot that even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course/anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot/where the dogs go on with their doggy life."

 

How appropriate, one thinks, that the crucifixion should transpire in a tasteful salon, amidst the sort of fin de siecle color scheme Odette de Crecy would have favored when Swann at last found his way to her body. After all, the act of love, thrashing bodies and flashing teeth and animal hoots, also takes place in those ornamental spaces. (Bacon, who had some success as a decorator and designer of Art Deco furniture, also likes to paint coupled figures smeared against one another in damp intercourse.) Or one thinks of the crucifixion as a metaphor for terrible interrogations that took place behind shuttered windows on quiet boulevards that the screams couldn't reach. There is a certain insight in Nietzsche that it is not suffering so much as meaningless suffering to which the human mind is opposed, so that it was, in Nietzsche's view, the genius of Christianity to have made all suffering meaningful. Certainly, we stand before works Uke this-or the Triptych Inspired by the Orestia of Aeschylus-compelled, despite our will, to cover the brutalized bodies with a balm of interpretation, a redemptive coating of allegory, if only to comfort ourselves. So again one feels oneself to have been manipulated in some way when the artist disowns any meaning whatever, and draws our attention, in his interviews, just to paint, almost as if he were some sort of Abstract Expressionist with no antecedent view of what he was going to do when he faced the canvas. Why is he then not an abstract painter-why choose these charged images only to elicit, as involutarily as a scream, an interpretation he rejects, categorically, as beside the point? We cannot see gore as just so much scraped red pigment, cannot disinterpret a writhing limb as simply a marvelous wipe of white paint. And this stance is reinforced by the fact that we cannot succeed in giving meaning to a lot of what Bacon does in his portraits and figure studies, where the subjects are liable to distortions that ought to have an explanation in the world to which the figures belong but which will standardly be given an explanation from the world in which painting takes place-as something that happens not in meaningful spaces but on meaningless surfaces.

 

There is one absolutely marvelous painting in the show, worth anyone's time to see. This is Study for Portrait of Van Gogh III, of 1957. It shows us what Bacon could have done had he given to the whole painting what he instead gives to isolated faces and figures. He shows Van Gogh as Van Gogh might have shown himself in a world that looks the way he represented it in paint-as if the world were made the way paintings are-trees of black paint squirming up out of fields of red paint, past fields of yellow paint and green paint. The artist stands on heavy feet, the kind that belong in his famous shoes, in a field of pink mud, casting blue shadows. He has a black all-purpose face; it could be the face of a horse as well as a human, or even of a fish. The face does not matter: It is the world according to Vincent, and we are seeing it from within. For its allusiveness, its power, its brilliance, its total engagement with its subject, it makes the rest of the show look like posters for some avant-garde guignol of yesterday. The portrait of Van Gogh is an homage, a celebration of the only values Bacon allows himself to mention, the values of painting as painting. It shows what his deflected talent is capable of when his heart is in his subject.

 

 

 

 

 

Eminent outrage - British painter Francis Bacon

 

By JAMES GARDNER | NATIONAL REVIEW | AUGUST 6, 1990    

 

IN HIS MOST recent avatar at the Museum of Modern Art, Francis Bacon appears before us defanged and declawed. The primal rantings now sound like a petulant whimper. The spastic gestures and maimed movements now savour almost of balletic adroitness. And yet nothing has changed in the heart or mind of this octogenarian artist, the elder statesman of the British art world. The latest paintings in this retrospective manifest the same unyielding, implacable anguish that has been his hallmark for almost fifty years.

Rather it is we who have changed. For the past two generations at least, we have been assailed on all sides by art works of such calculated grotesqueness that we have lost all power to be genuinely shocked by anything. We analyze the forms or assay the political correctness of the artifact, depending upon our orientation. Sometimes we even go through the motions of outrage. But we know that ultimately it is only art. Anything Bacon can pitch, we can catch.

Yet, by any reasonable computation, Francis Bacon is as great an outrage as any generation should have to endure. And if the eminent artist has a sense of humour, as I suspect he does not, he must be chuckling heartily at the public's eagerness to embrace each festering and deformed carcass he throws at it.

Though Bacon was born in 1909, he becomes relevant to us and to himself only after 1943. That was the year in which, through a negation verging on self-parody, he studiously destroyed almost all of the art he had made up to that date. That was the year in which he was reborn as the shrill, tormented sociopath the art world loves. Since that time, Bacon has evolved remarkably little. His art has consisted in endless variations upon a closely circumscribed canon of themes and forms. Bacon was and remains a surrealist, an unrepentant irrationalist. But whereas others of that strain turned to Freud and to the dream world of the unconscious mind, Bacon reverts with a vengeance to Darwin and to the jungles of instinct. Whereas the other surrealists never lost their grounding in the man-made world, Bacon voids his paintings of most human traces, filling them with shrieking gibbons, salivating dogs, and subhuman apemen cast against a chillingly blank field.

His earlier works, it is true, are busier than that, overladen as they are with props: umbrellas and whole sides of beef, densely patterned Oriental rugs and landscapes whose nervously thin lines reveal a lingering debt to British modernists like Henry Moore and John Piper. A few later works, such as Sphinx II and Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh III, represent slight departures as well. But by the late Forties, with the "Head" series, Bacon had defined the highly idiosyncratic style in which he would work for the rest of his life. Emerging from a blackness qualified only by those wiry perspectival lines that have become something of the artist's signature, a massive, disembodied head appears. An ear floats absurdly to the side, perhaps torn away. The ill-defined eyes are shut in suspended rage; the mouth-like orifice is fixed in a noiseless ululation, exposing molars and fang-like canines. Were is there an end of it/The soundless wailing?" asks T. S. Eliot. For Bacon there is no end. That wailing, bitter, gnashing, self-consuming is the sound of life itself. All other sounds are lies.

Everything Francis Bacon depicts he distorts. And yet every depiction, even if we cannot describe or name the thing depicted, has the infallible ring of truth. An indescribable biomorph hangs down from a wire cage. A boneless, quivering mass of gelatinous flesh drowns in a sink or sits huddled over a toilet. Bacon is obsessed with movement within suspension, and with the suspension of movement. An expressionless face decomposes before our eyes into a psychotic omelette. A violent jet of water is frozen and immobilized as it streaks across the canvas.

To glance even cursorily at these paintings is to understand why they have come to seem the quintessential, unequivocal statement of the modem mood. But precisely for this reason it is too early to tell how good they really are. We shall need to be well out of the twentieth century before we can finally say whether Bacon was ever really on to something, or was merely a cantankerous, maladjusted misanthrope. Formally, his brilliant, stylish works are closer to masterpieces than anything else being done today. If some of the colouristic choices are of debatable merit, his way with a laden brush comes very close to perfection. What is wrong with the larger, spiritual dimensions of these sixty paintings at the Modern is their one-sidedness. To Bacon's binary mind, man, because he is not an angel, can only be a beast. In this belief Bacon is surely not alone in contemporary culture. Rather he is the foremost embodiment of the prevailing trend, the regnant humbug of the age. This is the wilful fallacy which, in an age more happy than our own, may one day qualify the esteem in which we hold Francis Bacon and everyone like him.

 

 

"Body Language"

 

 

By MICHAEL LEVEY | ART NEWS | SUMMER 1990

 

 

En masse, the way [Francis] Bacon’s pictures are painted takes visual priority over what they depict—which is what should always happen, though we cannot help our conditioned impulse to look for what the areas of paint are “about.” Bacon might be accused of being something of a tease in this matter, for despite his understandable protests about his art neither illustrating nor narrating, he frequently alludes to circumstances of his own life that are bound to pique human curiosity.

But to enter a room of his pictures is to encounter paint first. It is the large-scale areas of applied pigment, often semiabstract in form, that make what can be a lasting impact: a curved pink-and-biscuit-colored expanse of a blackish brown rectangle slotted, half-Mondrian-like, into a far bigger rectangle of fawn. Such shapes have their own tautness and vitality. Although it may be that they have been added by the painter as backgrounds to his figures, they often appear fundamental to the composition. The surfaces of his paint read as though they were expanses of fabric stretched tightly over some invisible drum. In fact, they are much less formal than anything in Mondrian. Nor do they have anything of the sensuousness, in color and in shape, of Matisse. Color is altogether where Bacon’s art is least sure. yet there is a clean-cut, clear-cut feel to these sweeping fields of paint.

They may well be indications of austere interiors, with bare floors and blank windows. Fashionable analogies hover, prompting commentators to mention the constriction of urban modern life or even of prisons. But looked at directly, without literary overtones, they fail to be oppressive or claustrophobic. In much the same way, the paint in the foreground crisply defining a complex human shape, can enchant the eye before it resolves itself into the unpromising suggestions of mutilation and pain.

The apparent paradox between form and content brings one to the artist himself. It is difficult to think that he has experienced any particular disgust at the style of images he has created, or that he means his images to shock. There is neither horror nor pity in his pictures. Bacon’s art is not likely to produce a Guernica. It is too sealed in, within a narrow circle of self-reference merging into self-regard. His work partly draws its power from that concentration. After all, an artist is not necessarily a social commentator—or a social worker. There is no guarantee that the good artist will be a good citizen. Bacon can be seen as admirable in his refusal to be anything but an artist, refusing to let society have claims on him and scrupulously refusing to make claims on it. Such an uncompromising and isolated position has its romantic aspect. It may encourage the idea that the resulting art is bleak, severe in its emphasis on the individual, and finally pessimistic about the human condition.

Nevertheless, in what is perhaps the clinching paradox at the heart of Bacon’s art, there is about his pictures a sensation profoundly more positive than negative.

 

 

 

Francis Bacon

 

 Museum of Modern Art

 

  DONALD KUSPIT | ART FORUM | VOLUME 29, NUMBER 3 | NOVEMBER 1990  

 

The revelation of this carefully selected, historically self-conscious retrospective of the work of Francis Bacon is the progression over the course of the artist's career from a loaded, murky painterliness, to a spare, even linear, handling. This evolution toward an evanescent thinness, even when colour is boldly uniform, goes hand and hand with his schematization of format and figures. Usually considered vitally and uniquely individual, Bacon's grimacing faces and tortured bodies, his general sense of the sickness of human existence, his ironic secularization (profanation?) of the traditional format of the sacred triptych, his spontaneous appropriation of high art and media images, guided by inner necessity—which makes him look contemporary (if eccentrically excited) in this age of studied appropriations—seem secondary issues. Here Bacon's signature tortured subjects progressively reveal themselves  as tropes, even clichés, of stylized suffering.

Is the late economy of means successful? Certainly it is another way of sustaining the expressionist attitude at a time when its language of direct expression seems to betray it. There is the sense that the dryness of the late works may not be the result of a diminution of anguish—did Bacon become habituated to his own psyche, and thus less overtly mad, more sane?—but simply the exhaustion of artistic means with which to articulate it. Indeed, the late works look redundant, as though Bacon is pedantically driving home the predictably painful lesson life inflicts on those who expect comfort from it. The late works seem less visionary, as though Bacon, having grown accustom to his insanity, now saw it with mundane eyes. The least that can be said is that Bacon seems tired—of himself? Of the habit of making pictures? In contrast to the compulsive early works, in the last paintings he may be taking himself, and art, for granted.

But perhaps his reduction of everything in his oeuvre to a predictable pattern is the indication of a new compulsion. With age, according to some theorists, one is supposed to see life less experimentally and more abstractly, that is, to finalize and order it. There is no sense, however, of a grand summing up in Bacon's last works, no sense of wisdom—visual or existential—distilled from all the year of labor. At the same time they hardly constitute the whimper that T. S. Eliot thought came with the end. Rather, Bacon has become a mannerist of himself. His late works index his earlier works, but they look like a table of contents to paintings that were never made. That's the way an artist signals he's at the end of his tether, has nothing more to say: his works begin to look like an index to themselves, an index easily confused with a table of contents. Why, one wonders, is there no living work to read, and only the denuded text?

—Donald Kuspit

 

 

 

 

Home thoughts from an incurable surrealist

 

 

 

Absorbed by his art; he scorns decoration; in fear of death, he is fascinated by the macabre.

 

Francis Bacon, master of the incongruous, talks to Richard Cork. Photograph by Graham Wood.

 

 

 

RICHARD CORK| THE ARTS THE SATURDAY REVIEW | MARCH 16 1991 

 

Entering Francis Bacon's surprisingly Spartan bedsitting room in an uncanny experience, like finding yourself inside one of his own paintings. The walls are bare, and dangling from the ceiling are the same naked light bulbs that swing like demented pendulums in his pictures or bear down glaringly on a nude sprawled across a bed. Bacon's preoccupation with reflections in many of his paintings is also echoed, with a startling dash of he macabre, by a wall-sized mirror. Its surface has been partially riven by a spectacular crack, as if somebody had picked up the small electric fire perched on a near by chair and hurled it straight at the glass. Rather than replacing the mirror, Bacon has taped up the largest slivers to prevent them falling off. The crack's explosive power has been preserved, almost as disturbingly as one of the figures writhing in the immensity of a Bacon canvas.

When I remarked on the austerity of the room, with its single bed flanked by an angle-poise lamp at the far end, Bacon replied: "My surroundings simply don't interest me very much." In one sense, his comment is understandable enough. The studiously neutral colour of the walls implies an utter lack of concern for the niceties of decoration. Two sofas, half-obscured by rows of clothes, likewise suggest that their owner has no time for wardrobes. The interior looks like a student's digs, inhabited by somebody who disdains bourgeois propriety and feels impatient with the whole notion of possessions.

"I once had a very early Frank Auerbach," Bacon said, after I asked him about the absence of pictures. "At one stage I also bought a Sickert of a woman lying on a bed with a man seated next to her. But, like a fool, I gave it to Lucian Freud. I wish I had it now." He spoke like a man who lacked the financial resources to remedy his loss, and Bacon's home certainly seems untouched by his ability to command millions of pounds for a single painting. "Earning vast amounts of money doesn't affect me one bit," he said. "I'd be quite happy going back to the income I had as a young man, when I worked as a cook and general servant."

Looking round the room, I could see what he meant. There is nothing fixed or settled about this interior, no hint of and expenditure having been lavished on a place Bacon moved into 30 years ago. It resembles the room of a man in transit, someone unshackled by any of the conventional ties binding most people to their houses. Perhaps the truth is that Bacon is so absorbed in thinking about his art, and reading the books which festoon every available surface, that he has no time left for the external details of life.

In another sense, though, the parallels between this strange environment and his work indicate that it nourishes him as powerfully as the life-mask of William Blake once did. He still keeps it, on a cupboard next to an electric fan  a very Baconian juxtaposition. Its blanched and enigmatic features inspired a mesmerising sequence of paintings in the mid-Fifties. More recently, it also prompted him to have his own life-mask taken, an experience he regretted as soon as they started smothering his face with plaster. Now Blake's life-mask presides over the room, mediating with stoicism on the inevitability of his eventual demise.

What, I wondered, did Bacon feel about the prospect of death of death? "Well, Picasso abhorred the thought of death: he loathed being reminded of mortality so much that he didn't even want anyone to mention his  75th birthday when it arrived." Bacon, who refers to Picasso a great deal and regards him as by far the greatest artist of our century, understands exactly why he felt that way. "I hate the thought of death," he said. "I hate the thought of it all coming to an end." He paused, stared out of the window for a moment, and then brightened with a defiant rallying cry: "Shall we have some champagne?"

He leapt up with astonishing agility and, betraying no sign of an 81-yea old's stiffness, disappeared into the kitchen. While he was away, I reflected that anyone who retains o much energy is bound to regard the whole notion of extinction as anathema. Within seconds he was back, bearing a bottle which he uncorked with seasoned ease. The two stemmed glasses he placed on the table were elegantly inscribed with the initials FB in flowing script. They were the gift, apparently, of an admirer in Germany, where his work is regarded with almost as much veneration as in France.

Did he think that his paintings are appreciated more warmly over there than in Britain? "Oh, they don't like my work here at all," he said bluntly. "Maybe it's the savagery they find in it, or maybe it's the homosexuality which I suppose is in my work. I don't go about shouting that I'm gay, but Aids has made it all much worse, you know. People are very, very odd about it. The other day a telephone engineer came round, so I offered him a drink. He looked at me strangely and said: 'You're gay, aren't you?' "

With characteristic honesty, Bacon has never made any attempt to hide his homosexuality. Some of his finest and most erotic paintings depict male figures embracing or making love. Moreover, he is intrigues by the fact that his distant ancestor, the celebrated Elizabethan Lord Chancellor Francis Bacon, was also homosexual. "It comes up in Aubrey's Brief Lives," he said, bounding up from the table again and moving swiftly over to a pile of books on a cupboard near the bed. The search proved fruitless: "Where is it? What have I done with it? I've thrown all my books away, you know, because I've got no room for them."

I challenged his about the British perception of his work. He is, after all, widely regarded as this country's most outstanding living painter, and over the past 30 years the Tate Gallery has paid him the unique honour of staging two great retrospectives. Now, in the Tate's latest rehang, he has been given the accolade of a large room devoted solely to his work. It is immensely powerful, and prompted me to telephone him on impulse after I had visited the gallery. Bacon's line was engaged for almost an hour, but then, quite suddenly, started ringing. He answered at once, and I told him that I had been particularly impressed at the Tate by his loan of a grand triptych, which he painted three years ago.

Bacon conceived it as a second version of a smaller and far more rasping triptych called Three Studies Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. Painted in 1944, it seemed at the time to encapsulate the horror of war, by showing three monstrously deformed hybrids, half human and half beast, yelling their despair against a vehement orange ground. This disconcerting trio reappears in the 1988 version. But the two figures at the sides now point inwards rather than outwards, seeming to direct their anguish towards a blindfolded form with bared, vicious teeth in the centre. This time the extra space around each figure intensifies their isolation, and Bacon exchanges the parched, angry orange of the earlier triptych for a sumptuous deep crimson.

Having mentioned my fascination with these two versions, I asked Bacon if we might meet. To my surprise he agreed, and the next morning I went round to his mews home, in South Kensington, armed with his warning that its entrance had no name-plate to identify it. Although his work might suggest that Bacon is a reclusive and difficult man, he could not have been more convivial. Unusually for an artist, he is also very frank in his criticism of the work he had produced. "I did that second triptych because I'd always wanted to do a large version of the earlier one," he said. "I thought it might work, but I think the first one is the best. I should have reiterated the orange to give it a kick, because the red dissolves. But I may had been dissuaded by the boredom of putting it on, because mixing that orange paint with pastel and spraying it was a terrible lot of work."

Why, I asked, had he remained so obsessed with the crucifixion theme? "Well, I'm not in the least religious," he said, "even though I was brought up in the Protestant faith and went to church as a child. At my age, I've known many people die or commit suicide and I've never thought they were anything other than dead. I'm certain there's nothing after that, and I like the finality of the American expression 'drop dead'. But I am fascinated by the great crucifixions which have been painted in the past by Cimabue and Grünwald.   

Lying on the table beside us, next to an assortment of bottles and a Linguaphone course, was W. B. Stanford's book on  Greek Tragedy and the Emotions. It reminded me that Bacon's gruelling interpretation of the crucifixion had been profoundly affected by his love of Aeschylus. One of his most haunting late triptychs was "suggested by" the  Oresteia plays, and although he can only read Aeschylus in translation, "the whole surrealism is there". Picasso's paintings of bathers from the surrealist period likewise influenced Bacon profoundly, to the extent of  inspiring him to start painting. "But I've been influenced by everything," he said, "even the extraordinary colour photographs in medical text books, which I get from a bookshop in Gower Street. I got one there recently on small wounds."

He rose again and returned this time with a well-thumbed, paint-smeared copy of A Colour Atlas of Nursing Procedures in Accidents and Emergencies. I flinched from the pictures of syphilitic sores and other excruciating painful afflictions inside, all reproduced with glistening vividness. But Bacon seemed captivated rather than appalled as he leafed through the pages Why did he never even shudder at them? "I suppose when I look at these photographs, I think: 'My God, I'm lucky I don't have that," he replied, pointing at a particularly gruesome wound. "But they don't alarm me in the way that they do other people. Once I was driving through France with a friend, and we came across a terribly bad motor accident. There was blood and glass all over the road. But I remember thinking that there was a beauty about it. I didn't feel the horror of it, because it was par of life."

Sensing that we were approaching the central reason why some people still recoil from Bacon's art, I pressed him to speculate on the origins of his preoccupation with the normality of violence. "Well, you musn't forget that I was born in Ireland," he said, "where my English father trained racehorses very unsuccessfully. I grew up there at a time when Sinn Fein was going around. All the houses in our neighbourhood were being attacked,  and on all the trees  you'd see the green, white and gold of the Sinn Fein flags.."

Although Bacon's family moved to London at the beginning of the the first world war, when he was almost five, the atmosphere of fear did not abate. "We lived near Hyde Park, in Westbourne Terrace, and after the bombing started they sprayed the park with a phosphorescent substance from watering-cans. The idea was that the zeppelins would identify this glow as the lights of the city, and drop their bombs there. Then we went back to Ireland again, so I was brought up to think of life having this violence."

Even today it remains a powerful force driving his work. At an age when most men have mellowed and lost some, at least, of their youthful fire, Bacon stays close to his old obsessions. "I was planning this year to do a series of paintings about places where murder has been committed," he said, describing how there would have been, "one in a field, one on a pavement, and one in a room. But I'm going to abandon the idea."

One of these canvases sat half-finished on an easel in his studio, a modestly proportioned room reached by passing through a kitchen lined with colour reproductions of his work. A grey upper area in the painting led down to a central section spattered with blood. It had the rudiments of an authentically chilling image. But Bacon, an inveterate and ruthless destroyer of pictures he considers to be failures, said it was no good. He seemed reluctant to show me any of the other works-in-progress stacked against the wall.

Responding to my interest, though, he did allow me to explore the rest of the studio. It was cold, probably because his anxiety about the risk of fire prompts him to leave unheated the rooms he is not currently not using. The walls, like the doors, were gaudily covered with paint-splashes of every conceivable colour. As for the floor, it was heaped to the point of outright congestion with books, paint pots, squeezed-out tubes of pigment and smeared rags. How Bacon moves around in such a cluttered space remains unfathomable, but I did manage to bend down and retrieve a small canvas from the wreckage. The painted face it once contained had been cut out with a few swift slashes of the knife, leaving only a tantalizing vestige of a head behind.

In this cramped interior, lit by a skylight window which Bacon inserted for the purpose, he manages even to work on even the largest of his triptychs. When assembled, they must stretch across virtually the full width of the room, but Bacon finds this restriction oddly stimulating. "The best exhibition I've ever had was in 1977 at the Galerie Claude Bernard, in Paris, where the spaces are all small and the paintings looked more intense." So here, hemmed in by detritus in a studio which most artists would find claustrophobic, the indefatigable octogenarian repairs every morning. Unlike Lucian Freud, who painted a masterly little portrait of Bacon from nocturnal sittings almost 40 years ago, he prefers working in daylight. "I get up very early  and paint in here until 1 pm. Then I'm finished, I've had it. I hate afternoons, I think they're absolutely revolting, they're a wash-out. But I feel better again in the evenings."

HE looked spry enough as we talked, and while walking to a nearby Italian restaurant for lunch his gait seemed positively jaunty. The laced-up gym shoes, fawn pullover and corduroy slacks only accentuated the inner vitality of a man whose enthusiasm for work, and eagerness to talk about the artists and writers he admires most keenly, remains undimmed.

"I've thought of doing dozens of things which I've never done," he said, with an old man's acute awareness of the role played by temporality and chance. "One's energy fluctuates, and there's never enough time. With life passing so quickly, you can never talk in ultimate terms, never plan for the future. It just happens." But, judging by the paintings he continues to produce, Bacon's ability to seize the moment is still as formidable as ever.

 

 

      

 

             At home among the paintpots: "My surrounds simply don't interest me."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Francis Bacon, genius of the violent style, is dead

 

 

 

FIRST EDITION | THE EVENING STANDARD | WEDNESDAY, APRIL 29, 1992   

 

 

FRANCIS BACON died today of a heart attack in a Madrid hospital after being taken ill on holiday. 

The 82-year-old painter had been staying with friends in Spain. He had complained of not feeling well and was admitted to hospital where he died suddenly this morning, his London agent said. He had suffered from asthma throughout his life. 

His body will be flown back to England for a private funeral. Francis Bacon lived a life divided between the gutter and the Ritz. Some said he was the greatest British artist since Turner — others considered his art obscene. All over the world sales of his work attract top collectors and record prices. Yet Bacon lived for most of his later life in a chaotic two-bedroom mews house in South Kensington. 

Born in Dublin in 1909, his English father was a retired Army officer and went to Ireland to train horses. Bacon's relationship with his parents was not good and they never really supported his ambitions as an artist. At the age of 16 he was banished by his father after he was found wearing his mother's underwear and caught having sex with the grooms. First stop for Bacon was London and then Berlin, where he indulged in sexual escapades, including nights in transvestite clubs, and gambling sprees. 

He returned to London in 1923 and began to design modernistic furniture. However, Bacon - who destroyed much of his early work with a razor  himself dated the start of his artistic career with the triptychs Three Studies for the Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. 

His triptychs, which launched his career at the age of 35, followed the European tradition of altar pieces but his strong exciting images reinvigorated the British art scene and became a symbol of renewed life. At the outbreak of the Second World War he tried to enlist, but was turned down because of his asthma, so joined the ambulance rescue squad. Some critics believe this experience with death helped mould his violent artistic style. 

He had no formal training and used his fingers, scrubbing brushes and rags, combining different images from different media to produce startling images. 

Inspiration came from poets, photographs and even medical books. Some of his most famous and striking pictures are the Screaming Popes. Here he combined references from a still photograph from Sergei Eisenstein's film Battleship Potemkin and Velasquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X to produce an unforgettable image. 

Aloof and alone when working, he could also be sociable, drinking in Soho's Colony club where, as a struggling artist, the shrewd owner Mrs Muriel Belcher paid him £10 a week to bring in 'good spenders'. 

His famous love of champagne and oysters at Wheelers restaurant made him legendary and he once agreed to a television interview provided it was filmed there and his slate was cleared. 

In 1971 he was given a retrospective in Paris's Grand Palais, an honour rarely afforded British artists. Tragically his former lover and model George Dyer committed suicide hours before the exhibition opened. 

* CHANNEL 4 is screening a 1985 South Bank Show on Francis Bacon at 9pm tonight.

 

 

 

 

MIRROR OF OUR VIOLENT TIMES

 

 

 

By BRIAN SEWELL | FIRST EDITION | THE EVENING STANDARD | WEDNESDAY, APRIL 29, 1992   

 


IT IS an irony that Francis Bacon should die in Madrid, the city of Velasquez, whose heir he was as the last in the line of ancestral European painting. He was heir too to the grandeurs of the Italian Renaissance and the bloodstained violence of German art, ignoring the aesthetic nonsenses of abstract art and other late 20th century fashion. 

He took the Crucifixion, stripped it of all its Christian implications, and invested it instead with the universal beastliness of man and abattoir, running with blood, deafened with screams. As a portrait painter he was not the friend with insight but the harsh interrogator, the man outside the ring of light with lash and electrodes close at hand. His prisoners, presidents, popes and old friends squirmed. 

He used the ideas of the trap, the cell, the cage, the X-ray field and the heavy fall of light to imprison and torment his subjects to distil the violence, and to assault complacent senses with graceless nakedness on the lavatory pan and vomit in the wash basin. 

Francis Bacon was born in Dublin in 1909 but did not stay there long. Ill-at-ease with his middle-class parents, Bacon's adolescence was spent alone in Berlin and Paris, designing furniture and rugs, and it was only in 1929 that he turned to painting. 

He was entirely self-taught, rejected by the English surrealists for not being sufficiently surreal, and as no one else paid serious attention to his early work, he destroyed it. After the war, the friendship and support of Ruskin Spear and John Minton, and the use of a studio in the Royal College of Art, gave his work new strength and impetus. 

In 1945 he exhibited Three Studies for figures at the base of a Crucifixion, now in the Tate Gallery, a benchmark for all subsequent work, and in 1949 he was given a one-man exhibition in London. It was an immediate success, and the first of many all over the world, for Bacon broke all the timid rules of British art and forced it into the European tradition. His work was eventually to be found in major galleries all over Europe, Japan and America and was in such demand that prices paid by private collectors often exceeded the £1 million mark. 

He was held by Alan Bowness, former Director of the Tate Gallery and a close friend, to be Europe's greatest living painter  others of us thought him the greatest living painter in the world. 

A very likeable man, a considerable drinker, he was in private life unassuming, quick-witted and warm; he travelled by Tube as often as not, did his own shopping, offered support to young painters whose work he liked and was never formidable. 

When interviewed by distinguished broadcasters and critics, he invariably saved them from themselves, camouflaging the worst of their idiocies with quick and reasonable answers to fumbling, incoherent questions. Made into something of a guru by the media, his view of the future of painting was deeply pessimistic. 

Bacon took the vile, sexually and politically obscene, the shudderingly visceral, and lifted them with paint so that we might contemplate ferociously profane images of cruelty and despair and see in them an inheritance from the great Renaissance themes of religious and temporal power. 

Titian, Rembrandt and Velasquez might not have cared for Bacon's work but they would at once have recognised kinship in his astonishing mastery of paint and the profound pessimistic atheism of his images. He was the perfect mirror of the spirit of our age. 

 

 

 

Francis Bacon dies of a heart attack at 82

 

 

By COLIN RANDALL | THE TELEGRAPH | WEDNESDAY, APRIL 29, 1992   

 

 

FRANCIS BACON, the self-taught artist seen by admirers as Britain's greatest 20th century painter but by Mrs Thatcher as "that dreadful man who paints those horrible pictures", died yesterday after suffering a heart attack while while on holiday in Spain. He was 82.

The conflict aroused by his work was prompted by his concentration on sex and death, often violently expressed. He also adopted a colourful lifestyle and was openly homosexual.

Mr Bacon lived to see his work command to prices. A 1973 triptych fetched £3.75 million at Sotheby's in New York in 1989, and a portrait was sold last December for almost £2 million at Sotheby's in London.

 

 

 

 

A life between the gutter and the Ritz

 

Was Francis Bacon, who died yesterday, Britains greatest painter?

 

 

Daniel Farson, a friend for 40 years, traces his unconventional life and, right, Richard Dormnet assesses his work

 

 

 

DANIEL FARSON | THE ARTS | THE DAILY TELEGRAPH | WEDNESDAY, APRIL 29, 1992   
 


FRANCIS BACON, who has died in Spain ages 82, was considered by many to be the most important and original British artist of this century.

 

He was one of a few painters to receive critical if not public acclaim during his life time. He was offered such honours as a knighthood and the Order of Merit, but he quietly declined them.

 

Though constantly surprising, his work did not change drastically over the years but but developed his theme of human pain, despair and loneliness, depicted with a violence which may become symbolic of the 20th century.

 

He was also one of the formidable figures of his time, a man who divided his life, as he put it, "between the gutter and the Ritz". His bohemian excesses are bound to make him legendary.

 

A heavy drinker and obsessive gambler, His stamina was exceptional and he appeared 20 years younger than his age. He was a brilliant conversationalist; his wit was spontaneous and his carefully measured sentences and lilting intonation could make the mundane sound hilarious.

 

His presence was equally welcome in the clubs of Soho or the salons of smart society, and he was at his ease in both.

 

Certainly, he had not time for the trappings of success and lived for the last  25 years in a small mews cottage near South Kensington which looked as if it was waiting for the furniture to arrive, with blackened windows and naked light-bulbs. "I feel at home in chaos," he said.

 

Bacon directed his career with consummate skill while appearing to ignore it, and he was careful not to be associated with any artistic school or movement.  He did not attempt to conceal his homosexuality, but tended to his dislike of militant "gays"—though he signed a petition against the Government's controversial Clause 28.

 

Increasingly, he resented Mrs Thatcher's standards while admiring her strength. In her turn, when informed that Bacon was regarded as Britain's greatest painter, she expressed dismay: "Not that dreadful man who paints those horrible pictures!"

 

When a historic exhibition of his work was held in Moscow in 1988—an extraordinary honour of an artist who was frequently accused of "decadence" in the Western world—he claimed his asthma prevented him from attending, though privately he confided that he felt he was being "manipulated".

 

Francis Bacon was born in Dublin of English parents on October 28, 1909, and brought up in County Kildare where his father (a distant kinsman of the late 16th early 17th-century essayist, Francis Bacon) had a training stable.

 

When the First World War broke out, the family moved temporarily to London, where his father worked for the War Office.

After repeatedly running away, Bacon was removed from a minor public school in Cheltenham after a year and given a weekly allowance of £3 by his mother at the age of 16. This marked the end of his education and his family life, which he admitted was unhappy. His father opposed his wish to become an artist.

At the age of 18 he went to Berlin. One explanation is that his father was exasperated by his son's indolence and habit of dressing in his mother's clothes, and hoped too make a man of him by entrusting him into the care of a sporting uncle, who, as it turned out, shared his nephew's inclinations. Two months later he moved to Paris, where he saw his first Picasso exhibition.

In the years that followed Bacon drifted between menial jobs. Applying for a job as a "gentleman's gentleman", he forged his references but was given his notice when his "gentleman" saw him dining at the next table at the Ritz on his evening off.

With his usual candour, Bacon admitted that he lived on his wits as well: "I used to steal money from my father whenever I could and I was always taking rooms in London and then disappearingnot paying the rent. What's called morality has grown on me with age."

At the same time he experimented as a decorator—his modernist furniture was illustrated in The Studio in 1930 and even bought by R. A. Butler.

Self-taught, and never a draughtsman, he acknowledged several images which helped him, such as the early photographs by Eadweard Muybridge of The Human Figure in Motion and the film still of the screaming nurse on the Odessa Steps, her glasses shattered, from Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin.

Why, I asked, had he remained so obsessed with the crucifixion theme? "Well, I'm not in the least religious," he said, "even though I was brought up in the Protestant faith and went to church as a child. At my age, I've known many people die or commit suicide and I've never thought they were anything other than dead. I'm certain there's nothing after that, and I like the finality of the American expression 'drop dead'. But I am fascinated by the great crucifixions which have been painted in the past by Cimabue and Grünewald."

Though he claimed that nothing in his work mattered until 1945, Bacon was influenced by his close friend, the Australian painter, Roy de Maistre, and particularly by Graham Sutherland. As early as 1934 he held his own show in a Curzon Street basement; his painting of a crucifixion (1933) was noticed by Herbert Read and reproduced in his book Art Now; the publisher Sir Michael Sadleir bought it by telegram.

During the Second World War Bacon was exempt from military service because of his asthma. Instead, he ran private gambling parties in Millais's old studio in South Kensington, with his faithful nanny looking after the hats and coats. It was now that he started to paint seriously.

"I do what I do to excite myself," he said, but claimed; "I have looked at everything in art." Among the artists he admired were Rembrandt, Grunewald and Velázquez, whose portraits of Pope Innocent X provided the inspiration for Bacon's early series  of Popes screaming in silence.

In Monte Carlo immediately after the war, he resumed his friendship with the Sutherlands, who witnessed a win at the Casino so large that Bacon was able to rent a villa for a year and buy a year's supply at a delicatessen, before returning to lose the rest. It seems undeniable, though he tended to deny it, that Bacon gained from the encouragement of the more experienced artist.

In 1944 Bacon's of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion was shown in a mixed exhibition at the Lefevre that included Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland. The considerable influence of Picasso's abstract shapes in the 1927 Paris exhibition in instantly apparent, but Bacon twisted them into figures which were almost human. John Russell described their impact: "Visitors were brought up short by images so unrelievedly awful that the mind shut with a snap  at the sight of them ... these figures had an anatomy half-human, half-animal ... They caused total consternation."

This was a turning pint and the studies were bought in 1953 by the Tate Gallery. Though rivalry now entered their friendship and finally eclipsed it, Sutherland remained supportive, introducing Bacon to such patrons as the ship-owner Sir Colin Anderson, and to Kenneth Clark, who left the studio murmuring "Interesting ... yes", whereupon Bacon explained; "You see, you're surrounded by cretins."

That night Clark told Sutherland: "You and I may be in a minority of two, but will still be right in thinking that Francis Bacon has genius."

Clark was proved correct. A period followed with some of Bacon's most memorable paintings; Figures in Landscape, hinting at assassination, and a series of Heads caught in the act of screaming. 

His importance was recognised by fellow Soho artists: John Minton, Lucian Freud, Rodrigo Moynihan, Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews. They met in the Colony Room, run by Muriel Belcher, who became one of his few intimate friends.

Outside this circle he remained virtually unknown and in spite of his patrons he was glad to sell his pictures for negligible sums.

Bacon's life changed dramatically in 1958  when he joined the Marlborough Gallery, whose initiative was instrumental in staging the first retrospective at the Tate in 1962, when the critics accepted him as a painter of extraordinary power.

This was the first of three landmarks, followed by the exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris (1971), and the second retrospective at the Tate in 1985, when he gained new respect as "Britain's greatest living painter", though there were dissenters.

But public triumph was accompanied by personal tragedy. After the first Tate exhibition he opened a score of congratulatory telegrams, the last of which informed him of the death of Peter Lacy, a friend whom he was about to join in Tangier.

Then in Paris in 1971, as he waited at the Grand Palais to welcome President Pompidou, word was brought to Bacon that George Dyer, his close friend and model, had committed suicide.

But in his final years Bacon had the support and companionship of a young East Ender, John Edwards. These years were among his calmest, though his energy seemed undiminished.

Benefiting from the boom in the art world, Bacon became a rich man. In 1987 a million pounds was paid at Christie's in New York for Study of Portrait II, painted in the 1950s. Ever disdainful of success, he recolied whenan accountant advised him to live in Switzerland: "What a terrible prospect. All those fucking views!"

For a man who enjoyed the best of life - food, drink and friendship - there is no celebration in life as in the French Impressionists or Matisse. For a man who will be remembered for his laughter, there is none of the zest of Lautrec, and Bacon was adamant that humour has no place in art.food, drink and friendshipthere is no celebration of life as in the French Impressionists or Matisse. For a man who will be remembered for his laughter, there is non of the zest of Lautrec, and was

Like the greatest artists, he compelled you to look again at life and see it differently. People constantly misinterpreted his objective, finding sensation when he saw a terrible beauty. His attraction to raw flesh was simple: "You've only got to go into a butcher's shop, like Harrods food hall. It's nothing to do with mortality but it's to do with the great beauty of the colour of raw meat."

In his first television interview in 1958, he told me: "Sometimes I have used subject matter which people think is sensational because one of the things I have wanted to do was the human cry - the whole coagulation of pain and despair - that in itself is something sesnational." the things I have wanted to do was record the human crythe whole coagulation of pain and despairand that in itself is something sensational

 

 

  

  Francis Bacon at his spartan studio in 1984: 'I feel at home in chaos,' said the artist whose work sold for up to a million pounds

 

 

 

 

THE ART OF DESPAIR

 

 

 

 

RICHARD DORMENT | THE ARTS | THE DAILY TELEGRAPH | WEDNESDAY, APRIL 29, 1992   
 

 

TO HIS admirers, Francis Bacon was the most instinctive and visceral of 20-century British painters, the one who communicated most forcefully the grossness of human appetites and the emptiness that lies at the bottom of their gratification.

His was a world in which the concepts either of hope, or of the spiritual life, did not exist. Among his subjects were sodomy, drug addiction, anxiety and suicide. Voyeurism and violent death figure largely in his oeuvre. No artist painted so many toilets.

To many, all this came perilously close to self-indulgence. And yet at the 1985 retrospective at the Tate Gallery one understood what Alan Bowness, then director, meant when he described Bacon as the greatest living English artist. There was a grandeur in Bacon's art because his theme was a terrible one: a revulsion against his own humanity. He turned self-hatred into high art.

Indeed, the Tate retrospective revealed a much greater artist than many had realised. Visitors were stunned by Bacon's ravishing sense of colour.

At times it almost seemed as though he had discovered an alternative rainbow made up of rich purples, shocking oranges, and artichoke greens. Whether one liked his subjects or not, Bacon emerged as a grand, dramatic painter with an innate sense of design. He had, too, a wonderful feel for the sensual laying on of paint to canvas.

In British art he belongs to a line of painters that looks back to Edward Burra and forward to Gilbert and George. He was an expressionist of extraordinary power.

This year he exhibited his reworking of his famous Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, using spray paint and considerably restricting and darkening the original colour range.

The result looked to me like a deliberate and measured summing up of his art, comparable in a way to the late works of other artists who stood on the brink of death, particularly Titian.

What made Bacon's work so chilling was that there was no softening of the despair, no diminution of the ferocious loathing for the human condition.

 

 

 

 

Francis Bacon

 

 

BRUCE BERNARD | GAZETTE | THE INDEPENDENT | WEDNESDAY 29 APRIL, 1992   
 

 

I FIRST came across the work of Francis Bacon at school. I was just becoming interested in "modern art"  and was tremendously stimulated by Herbert Read's Art Now. I don't know quite why the reproduction of Bacon's Crucifixion (1993) struck me as forcefully as it did, looking stronger in a way that the Picasso 1929 Baigneuse that it faced, but I was captivated by the mysterious presence.

 

When I saw the 1944 triptych Study for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion that made him famous in the art world at least, it confirmed my feeling that he was an entirely remarkable painter. Moderate horror was expressed by the press at the time and Michael Ayrton wrote a paragraph tying Bacon to Picasso's "Bone Period" and patronising them both. But to others it was a miraculously energetic work, uncompromising and offering great promise for the future.

 

It seemed that the confident radicalism of early-twentieth-century European painting might have found a worthy exponent in Britain for the first time. Graham Sutherland had been doing some of his best work (and had actually been influenced by the entirely unknown Bacon in the Thirties) but his pictures never gave one the confidence that they could travel, while Bacon's have done so triumphantly.

 

The next masterpiece was, I thing, Painting, 1946. Picasso's work had made Bacon want to be a painter when he saw a show in Paris in 1928 but, though always acknowledging his debt, he was, with Painting, 1946, now entirely himself. From then on his career started its inevitable upward progress. The Bacon "scream" was born (derived mainly from the nurses on the Odessa Steps in Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin) and it appeared, though much less frequently than is thought, through ape-like heads, a series based on Velasquez's famous portrait of Pope Innocent X and several desperately isolated men in suits. Bacon always insisted that the Popes were a mistake but a few of them are, I'm sure, great paintings.

 

In 1953 he painted an outrageous picture which must surely be one of the great figure paintings of the century. Bacon was, of course, homosexual and, although he must have certainly enjoyed turning an Eadweard Muybridge photograph of two wrestlers on their mat into Two Figures on a Bed, he made it a mordant allegory of flesh and futility. Although latterly his male figures became more "voluptuous", the earlier apparently coupling ones seem equivocal and mostly tormented prisoners of their human incarnation.

 

Lucian Freud, who was a close friend of Bacon's for some 30 years, though later their relations became very cool, once told me that when he first met Bacon in 1944 that he seemed "the wildest and wisest" person he had ever met.

 

He has had something like that effect on many people. But when I met him in 1948, when I was 20, it was his marvellously self-conscious charm that impressed me because it seemed at the same time to be a natural expression of vitality. His famous courtesy also increased with his sense of well-being, along with his overflowing humour which, whether malicious or not, was only to do with high spirits (he hated "jokes"). But on bad days his generosity became a defensive barrier and good manners would come under threat, quite often turning into a daunting asperity and more than that.

 

Afternoons out with him in Soho during the Fifties and Sixties were mostly really exhilarating. To see him come into the French Pub around 12.30 (after having probably worked for six hours that morning) gave one, when not obliged to work oneself, a sense that one's banal idleness might soon be redeemed by irresponsible pleasure and conversation. The bar staff and Gaston Berlemont were pleased to see him for reasons only very loosely connected to commerce and, if one did go on to Wheeler's for lunch, often with several others, the greeting from the staff and management there was equally pleased and expectant.

 

Nearly everyone likes being bought champagne and lunch but the real pleasure of these occasions was  the spectacle of care being banished with such élan. Generally this feeling could be sustained all afternoon and evening, but occasionally it crumbled, either slowly or spectacularly, at Muriel Belcher's Colony Room. (Muriel, who had once paid Bacon £10 a week to bring in affluent customers, was one of the few people he really loved, and he made several paintings of her).

 

In the late Fifties, after producing at lightening speed a sensational show at the Hanover Gallery of pictures based on Van Gogh's The Painter on the Road to Tarascon, Bacon started painting portraits of people he knew.

At first he tried working from the model, but then found he was less distracted if he used photographs. (There is an interesting exchange with David Sylvester and Bacon on this subject in that essential book of conversations The Brutality of Fact.) The pictures were nearly always taken by a brilliant photographer called John Deakin who was one of the best British photographers of this century -  if not quite the most productive  or consistent.

Bacon will be remembered for a large number of single images and at least 20 of his large triptychs, but his portraits will be considered as important as anything in his oeuvre, particularly those involving George Dyer, Henrietta Moraes and Isabel Rawsthorne (as well as the constant stream of self-portraits). Those of Lucian Freud are powerful paintings but not so impressively "like" as the others. Isabel Rawsthorne, who inspired several masterpieces conveying her extraordinary looks and presence, said that, although they were done from photographs, she felt she knew exactly "when and where" they were painted. And Frank Auerbach has said that the best Bacon portraits seem "like risen spirits".

 

The Seventies and Eighties brought Bacon new triumphs on a world-wide scale. The great series of the triptychs started in the Sixties was continued with some of the strongest images he ever made, including the ruthlessly poignant re-enactment of the death of his friend George Dyer.

 

For my taste the work of the Eighties is, with certain notable exceptions, less convincing than that of earlier decades as it seems done more for Bacon's private pleasure than the previous dramas acted out on a larger and more public stage. His technical virtuosity however was often as brilliant as ever. In 1988 a historic exhibition of Bacon's work was mounted in Moscow and provoked tremendous interest. Opinion was as polarised as ever, but the heroic element in the work was noted more than usual by those in favour of it.

 

Bacon was a tormented person in many ways - particularly because of his need for a kind of negative certainty about art and the human life. But it must be always remembered that the artists he revered mostly either possessed religious faith or embodied it in their work, like Rembrandt, Michelangelo and Velasquez; or had abandoned it but preserved a powerfully religious temperament, like Van Gogh; or had a strong sense of social morality, like Seurat. Degas, Duchamp and Picasso were exceptions, but perhaps in the end they have the least affinities with him. His favourite poets, Eliot and Yeats, surely had very strong religious and metaphysical leanings and Shakespeare of course had everything.

 

I am reluctant to believe that he chose the iconography of the Crucifixion simply because it was an example of "human behaviour". Bacon's depth of feeling needed the spiritual intensity of the traditional image, though Nietzsche was his guide. The critics who said he lacked a "truly tragic dimension" only betrayed their limited notion of tragedy, and disappointed seekers after "affirmation" failed to realise that it is present in all real art, including Bacon's.

 

Bacon was a deeper and more driven man than he would admit - and always determined to be the driver. Only he could have stayed the course he took with such calculated recklessness. Apart from his personal and intimate life, his gambling (and once the running of a dangerously illegal gaming party) there was his drinking, which, together with his work, continuously taxed his constitution. It all added up to near total improvidence - unit age got as close as it could to catching up with him. And writing as an agnostic I don't think that his "nihilism" can harm anyone at all. I believe that his best work is testing in salutary way and that it provides what all great art does - the sense of the indispensible experience.

 

Francis could be a marvellously out going person but would also conspire to make himself a lonely one. He was often simply kind. All manner of people and surviving friends will miss his presence in the world, and so will I.

Bruce Bernard

 

 

An artist whose work has ravelled triumphantly: Francis Bacon in the doorway of his studio, 1984

Photograph: Bruce Bernard

 

 

‘I would say I tend to destroy all the better paintings’  

 

Francis Bacon talks to David Sylvester:

from Sylvester's Interviews with Francis Bacon, 1962-1979 (Thames & Hudson)

 

 

‘When I was trying in despair the other day to paint that head of a specific person, I used a very big brush and a great deal of paint and I put it on very, very freely, and I simply didn’t know in the end what I was doing, and suddenly this thing clicked, and became exactly like this image I was trying to record. But not out of any conscious will, nor was it anything to do with illustrational painting. What has never yet been analysed is why this particular way of painting is more poignant than illustration. I suppose because it has a life completely of its own. It lives on its own, like the image one’s trying to trap; it lives on its own, and therefore transfers the essence of the image more poignantly. So that the artist may be able to open up or rather, should I say, unlock the valves of feeling and therefore return the onlooker to life more violently. 

 

Sylvester: And when you feel that the thing, as you say, has clicked, does this mean it's given you what you initially wanted or that it's given you'd like to have wanted?

Bacon: One never, of course, I'm afraid, gets that. But there is a possibility that you get through this accidental thing something much more profound than what you really wanted.

Sylvester: When you were talking earlier about this head you were doing the other day, you said that you tried to take it further and lost it. Is this often the reason for your destroying paintings? That's to say, do you tend to destroy paintings early on or do you tend to destroy them precisely when they've been good and you're trying to make them better?

Bacon: I think I tend to destroy the better paintings, or those that have been better to a certain extent. I try and take them further, and they lose all their qualities, and they lose everything. I think I would say that I tend to destroy all the better paintings.

Sylvester: Can you never get it back once it's gone over the top?

Bacon: Not now. And less and less. As the way I work is totally now, accidental, and becomes more and more accidental, and doesn't seem to behave, as it were, unless it is accidental, how can I recreate an accident? It's almost an impossible thing to do.

Sylvester: But you might get another accident on the same canvas?

Bacon: One might get another accident, but it would never be quite the same. This is the thing that can probably happen only in oil paint, because it is so subtle that one tone, one piece of paint, that moves one thing into another completely changes the implications of the image.

Sylvester: You wouldn't get back what you'd lost, but you might get something else. Why, then, do you tend to destroy rather than work on? Why do you prefer to begin again on another canvas?

Bacon: Because sometimes it disappears completely and the canvas becomes completely clogged, and there's too much paint on it - just a technical thing, but too much paint, and one just can't go on . . .

Sylvester If people didn't come and take the away from you, I take it, nothing would ever leave the studio; you'd go on till you'd destroyed them all.

Bacon: I think so, yes.’

 

 

                                    Francis Bacon in 1928

 

 

 

Obituary: Francis Bacon

 

 

Genius formed in the blackness of the Blitz

 

 

 

TIM HILTON | ARTS | THE GUARDIAN | WEDNESDAY APRIL 29 , 1992   
 

 

FRANCIS BACON was the last of the major European expressionist painters who came to prominence in the years after the war, and for nearly five decades was a towering if somewhat remote figure in British art. He belongs to no school and had no close followers. His pictures sat uneasily in group exhibitions and often look out of place in museums. For many of his admirers - and those who relished Bacon's art and company  extended in the social range from rent boys to minor royalty - he was a truly existentialist painter, scornful of reward, convention and personal satisfaction.

He came late to painting, abandoned work on canvas for years and had no training whatsoever. Like his near contemporary Jean Dubuffet he was a more challenging artist because he had never studied professional skills and procedures. In the grand pomp of Bacon's most dramatic visions, characteristically enclosed in the ornate old master frames that he and his galleries preferred, there is always a trace of the amateur artist. Not that he painted as a hobby, or to make a point or to earn his living: he was an amateur because his work was the result of a personal compulsion.

Bacon was born in Lower Baggot Street in Dublin in 1909, one of the five children of an English racehorse trainer. His mother was well connected on both sides of the Irish sea and during Bacon's childhood the family lived between  England and Ireland in a succession of grand, often dilapidated houses. He had little formal education and later recalled that his teenage ambition was "to do nothing". Thus he began the life of drifting in European capitals that gave a cosmopolitan background to his paintings' painful interior scenes.

By 1928 he was in Berlin and witnesses the last days of the Weimar Republic. In Paris he saw his first Picassos. In 1930 he returned to England and took a basement flat in South Kensington. The SW10 area was Bacon's first home for the rest of his life. However, he spent long periods in Monte Carlo and other places in which he could indulge his passion for gambling, and made extended visits to southern Africa, fascinated both by big game and the atmosphere of a doomed white population. From the early seventies Bacon lived for part of each year in Paris.

In Kensington in the early thirties Bacon set up a desultory practice as a designer of rugs and art deco furniture. His drawings seem very much of their date, but the steel-and-glass furniture and bold black-outlined mirrors lingered  in his imagination for tears, and may be seen in many paintings of crouching, naked, suffering figures. The short period when Bacon practiced as an interior designer was also the time when he began to paint. Like a gambler, he had immediate success followed by failure. A painting of a crucifixion was reproduced by Herbert Read in his 1933 book Art Now and was bought by the connoisseur Sir Michael Sadler. In the next year Bacon put on a private exhibition of his painting in a house in Curzon Street. The show flopped and with the exception of three canvases in a mixed exhibition in 1937, Bacon did not exhibit again until 1945.

An asthmatic, Bacon did not serve in the war apart from a brief enrolment in the ARP rescue service. He remained in London and had a kind of relish for the darkness and violence of the Blitz. As he later said, "We all needed to be aware of the potential disaster which stalks us at every moment of the day." It is a neat encapsulation of his personal muse, born as he stalked bombarded London in search of places to gamble. Bacon now began to paint again, and most accounts agree that at some point between 1940 and 1945 his work at the easel became obsessive. He is the pre-eminent artist of post-war German angst and disillusion, so it is appropriate that his real career as a painter should have begun in fear, destruction - and lawlessness - of the blackout.

In every aspect of his temperament (though both men were united in assurance of their personal greatness) Bacon was the opposite of that other second world war artist, Henry Moore. Bacon's art is about risk, catastrophe, murder and an abandoned but private sexuality. If Moore was a humanist and a guardian of tradition in the modern world, Bacon was the desperate maestro of immoderation and despair. Asked recently whether he was going to celebrate his 80th birthday, he replied "I celebrate every day". It was as though his daily intake of champagne were the thin ice above deep seas of horror.

His exhibitions at the Lefevre Gallery in 1945 and 1946 established Bacon as an individual, authoritative and notorious painter. The shows also demonstrated the leading principle of his style, a manner that was pretty much constant for years afterwards. Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), now in the Tate Gallery, mingles Picasso with a use of photography as a source.

HISTORIANS will regard Bacon as one of the first important figurative painters whose inspiration came primarily from photographs rather than from human contact or close acquaintance with paintings by old or modern masters. Of course his disregard for other art helped Bacon towards an extraordinary personal licence: those vile background colours, slurred or slovenly brushwork and feigned nobility. And photography also helped him to be competitive. He could hardly have embarked on the series of Screaming Popes, perhaps now his most famous work, had he studied their source, Velasquez's 1650 Portrait of Pope Innocent X in the original.

While Bacon's public career is pretty accurately documented, his personal life is often a matter of legend. His adolescent desire to "do nothing" came true for years at a time. Nobody quite knows how he spent his time in Monte Carlo, when he wasn't at the tables or in bed. Most recent reports of Bacon's life stress his fondness for Soho, the French Pub, the Caves de France and the Colony Club. This was the standard Bohemian London of the late fifties and beyond, in which Bacon was indeed a leading figure; but there were other aspects of his life that seem, in retrospect, to have a faded Edwardian grandeur - grandeur despite the police around the corner, as often they were.

At one time Bacon had a Cromwell Place flat in a house that had belonged to a grandee of Victorian painting, Millais. The chintz, the velvet, the sofas were all faded and stained. The carpet was covered with paint. Bacon's  old nanny lived with him, muttering all the time of her obsession, capital punishment. She slept on the table. Bacon - like many generous grandees - was often surrounded by retainers with no obvious function. Yet this nanny had a particular job. She was the hat-check girl while Bacon gave his nightly, all-night gaming parties.

Nobody ever told him what to do. He liked discussion but never took advice, especially about painting. Little wonder that the quality of his art was so varied. Bacon was not a sensible judge of his own work. A wretched performance might mean as much to him as a far better canvas, presumably because of some personal association. His great fault was always the assumption of a high style. I suppose that he should have painted smaller - but then we would not have known the vulgar immodesty of those pictures that really did have something to say about modern times. Not for nothing was Eichmann in his box compared o the composition of a Bacon painting.

Two sudden yet horribly complementary private griefs accompanied Bacon's largest public triumphs. His boyfriend Peter Lacey, a country gentleman character who played the piano in Dean's Bar, Tangier, died on the opening day of his 1962 Tate Gallery retrospective. Lacey's successor, George Dyer, of whom there are many living and posthumous portraits, died on the day of Bacon's largest retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1975. In truth Bacon cared nothing for such official art-world occasions and did little to assist the preparations of further retrospectives at the Tate in 1985 and Moscow in 1988 where, somewhat surprisingly, he was presented as evidence of health in modern western culture. The enclosed world of his friendships was most important to him. Observing this, mainly from afar, I was often struck by an expression of delight on Bacon's face as he came into some drinking club or private view and saw a friend. Both faces would light up - I know it's a cliché, but it's true - with some kind of happy love. I got him to his feet once, when he had fallen down insensible. His face was all white and I thought he was dead before I realised it was make-up. It's the smile I remember most. Winning or losing, a great human smile.

Tim Hilton

 

             Female nude (1966) ... Bacon was the pre-eminent artist of angst and disillusion

 

 

 

Obituary: Francis Bacon

 

 

Genius formed in the blackness of the Blitz

 

 

BRYAN ROBERTSON | ARTS | THE GUARDIAN | WEDNESDAY APRIL 29, 1992  

 

WHEN the Guardian printed a tribute to Francis Bacon from myself among several others on the occasion of his 80th birthday, I hope he would live for many more years to exemplify the truth of my opening lines. I said that Francis's long and productive life was an excellent precept for us all and the perfect example for any aspiring young painter. For Francis had never attended art school, screwed about a good deal, drank champagne as a fundamental daily amenity and treated all patrons with courteous indifference - whether though aborted commissions or portraits that reduced their sitters to a deformed and grimacing lump of matter. And he never had an Arts Council hand-out or indeed any kind of scholarship or bursary.

The was in which Francis Bacon conducted his life presupposes a fundamental measure of talent - in his case, genius - or the frequent waywardness, mostly the drunkenness, would have been less easy to bear. Lie his two near-contemporaries and late - or neo - Edwardians, Sutherland and Moore, Bacon had come to professional maturity before the ameliorative and propagating work of the Arts Council and British Council came into being, and had learnt how to survive financially  long before public commissions and grants for artists were established.

All three artists had hard years when young. Moore and Sutherland, like Piper, Pasmore and many others, eventually were helped tremendously by the patronage of Kenneth Clark. Bacon painted, designed screens, interiors and furniture, ran a gambling club briefly, and was more adventurous so far as patronage was concerned. Bacon enjoyed something like patronage in his stable relationship with a mildly well-off civil servant, Eric Hall, whose death not long after the 1939-45 war was a great blow for Bacon. But the point I want to make here is that, like Moore and Sutherland, Bacon had grown-up in a totally different artistic climate to those artists born during or after the 1939-45 war, in the sense that hard work and resourceful self-sufficiency were the order of the day and to be an artist for this earlier generation was to follow a vocation and not a highly publicised profession. Compared with an older generation, artists today often sound and behave like upwardly mobile dentists.

I became very friendly with the painter, Roy de Maistre, not long after I was appointed director of the Whitechapel Gallery in 1953. Before the war, in the thirties, Francis had lived near Roy de Maistre's studio just off Ebury Street, and the two painters had become close friends, Roy acting as a kind of uncle or father figure to the much younger Francis, often trouble by  one or other of the three usual problems: health, love or money. The third ember of what became a trio of close friends living round Ebury Street was the young and equally remarkable Patrick White, like Roy, coming from a cultivated background in Australia. Listening to Roy's reminiscences, always absorbing, I often sat on a vast couch designed by Francis, backed by one of his screens. And Francis was sometimes a fellow guest at dinner, his affection and regard for de Maistre unchanged. I had met Francis first in 1948, when he had just returned from a long spell in the south of France, and the Lefevre Gallery  and then Erika Brausen's Hanover Gallery were becoming interested in his work. Francis took me out to many splendid dinners at the old Carlton Grill. He was a terrific companion, lively, well informed, well read and wholly irreverent about the art world. My only problem then, as always, was that although my love for drink was second to no man's, Francis could drink me under the table and sometimes did.

ALL THE same, I braved the boozy stronghold of the Colony Club one spring day in 1951 to meet Francis and secure the location of a villa in the south of France that I wanted to rent for myself and some friends on holiday together. Francis arrived and told me how to rent his favourite villa on the heights above Monaco which he had taken for many winters as a place for himself and his old nurse. Francis painted all day, gambled all night, and the nurse knitted in the sun. That involuntary revelation of Francis's kindness touched me, and the villa turned out to be delightful, secluded and spacious. It was amusing to find that the furnishings included the most comprehensive library of literature on sexual perversions imaginable, which added a certain zing to hot afternoon siestas, as well as a cupboard off my own bedroom filled with intensely alarming images on canvas left by Francis in various stages of abandonment.

I kept in touch with Francis over the years and cannot remember anything beyond mutual amusement at the follies of the art world and immense and unfailing kindness to those in need. Most recently, I asked him to help a hospice for Aids victims for which I was fund-raising among artists, asking for works for auction. Francis sent a conspicuously large cheque at once. We were fellow asthmatics and often compared notes over treatments and perhaps that bond of affliction inhibited Francis from running down,  beyond the occasional flouncy bit of derision, the work of the abstract painters and sculptors that I exhibited and supported with much enthusiasm. He made an exception of Mark Rothko, whose work toughed him, but derided all the others.

That side of Francis rather bored me, particularly when I saw how swiftly he lifted and made use of abstract devices in his own work. I remember a man sitting and yelling his head off sitting on a long flight of steps which could not have been painted without the incongruous example of Noland's tripe paintings. And of course the crux of all Bacon's works was the abstract space-frame on which the figure stands in Giacometti's pivotal  Hands Holding The Void and through which the long phallic shape extrudes in the same sculptor's The Nose. All that in turn comes from Picasso's rediscovery of Grunewald's painful Isenheim altarpiece in the 1930s, before Guernica, and from which so much in the work of Matta, Sutherland, and many others depended.

There was some justice in the caustic verdict of my friend, Colin Colin MacInnes: "The Norman Hartnell of the horror movement." I too sometimes thought that there was something repellent about the imagery of something like Belsen being presented as a chic cabaret turn. Bur Colin's put-down perhaps came from shewing the floor, as it were, in the Colony bar, where Francis would not always stand for a tutorial from the erudite, often brilliant, but implacably centre-stage MacInnes. More particularly, I have always objected to the silliness of Bacon's adulators, who would have us believe that Francis painted the entire human condition, you, me, all of us. Well, old men and women die alone in poverty, many live painfully and in despair with disease, the bombers and machine-gunners are hard at it everywhere. A man screaming his head off sitting on a bed in a rather expensive hotel bedroom seems rather too special a case to stand in for universal suffering.

But Bacon was unquestionably a marvellous painter; he caught a nerve in painting a no artist has ever done before and he created, despite some mechanically contrived triptychs and a few other weaker works, some of the strongest images of the century. Acutely sensitive to surface, he had little gift for psychological probity compared with early Kokoschka portraits, but he had a fantastic feeling for the figure in space: trapped, pinned down or imperilled like a moth or a hunk of meat.

Bryan Robertson

Francis Bacon, born October 28, 1909; died April 28. 1992

 

 

 

Homage to work and love

 

 

GREY GOWRIE | ARTS | THE GUARDIAN | WEDNESDAY APRIL 29, 1992  

 

 

FRANCIS BACON was, until yesterday, the greatest living painter and the greatest British painter since Turner. These are high claims. You can make a case against them. Bacon had no formal training and it shows. He was an action painter; he attacked the canvas physically until it was finished, and usually denied himself oil painter's architectural possibilities, which allow painters to build a painting and strip it down again and rebuild it until it comes right. Inevitably, there were bosh shots.

Bacon should have obeyed his early instincts and destroyed more of his work. Then he relied sometimes, though not as often as people think, on the aesthetics of shock: a figure crapping or throwing up; a nude on a bed with a hypodermic syringe.

These and other criticisms pale if you spend time with is best work. He was a very grand man, in the old and aristocratic sense of the word, and he brought grandeur back to modern painting. His handling of paint can be sumptuous. These are not the kind of words which it is easy to use in the context of modern art, but you can use them with Bacon as you can with Picasso, Van Gogh and Cezanne. I sometimes visit a collection in Lausanne where he hangs beside these masters. In the end, that is the way to decide things.

I was an acquaintance of Bacon for the last 10 years of his life. He had ceased to be the waspish, terrifying figure of the Colony Club days in fifties and sixties Soho. As Freud said we should, he reduced things to work and love. After a fraught life, though not one I can imagine him conducting differently, he combined the two. I suspect he was as happy towards the end of his life as he had ever been. Bu the allowed some time foe peripheral affection and for that I will always be grateful.

We met through a mutual friend, David Sylvester, whose Conversations With Bacon is one of the classic texts of modern art. Bacon liked an essay I had written about him. Since he was famously hard to please in this regard I pushed my luck and asked if I could write a life. I told him I was the only person who understood his background. Quite fortuitously, we shared the same roots, indeed the same village, in Co. Kildare, where Bacon's father was a racehorse trainer. He admitted that the memory of Ireland was both important and traumatic for him and that it did affect the paintings. He told me that if he co-operated with anyone it would be with me. But he did not want a life written. "It will happen in any case, Francis." "Yes, but I shall be dead and I shan't of helped and I shan't care."

I asked him if it was his love life that was the trouble, and gave him my view that all love lifes are at once crucial and banal. I was interested in writing about the paintings as if they were battles: you need to know what the general is up to only insofar as it affects strategy and tactics.

He told me that he had come to the view that homosexuality was an affliction, that it had turned him, at one point in his life, into a crook. The crookishness, not the sex, was a source of shame and if he talked at all, it was his nature to tell everything. We both liked Proust and agreed that the beginning of Cities Of The Plain said all that needed to be said about being homosexual. He told me that a centre of his being was that he had disliked his father greatly and liked his mother, but that it was the father for whom he felt attraction. He suffered always from asthma; he could not visit Ireland without it becoming acute. He thought Yeats and Picasso the great artists of the century.

These and like conversations would take place over first-class claret. Taking Francis out was, financially, like buying one of his paintings. He could be polite about anything other than Petrus, Mouton, Cheval, Blanc, Margaux, Lafite, but only just. He liked politics in short bursts and worked under a star system. Mrs Thatcher was in favour for quite a while but yielded in time to Dr Owen. As a minister I felt obliged to point out that "Clause 28" was designed to discourage homosexual propaganda and fell well short of a pogrom. He suffered through the breakdown of his friendship with Lucian Freud, whom he missed. He though Lucian thought him boring, and when you think that, you often are.

He lived at home like a student, out of doors like a prince. The three-roomed Kensington studio, up a ladder rather than a stairs, is more important for the nation than any Canaletto. We must work to preserve it. He gambled his money and gave money and paintings away. He had aristocratic indifference without aristocratic disdain. I am glad he died in Madrid, surronded by great paintings and with someone who had made him happy. Nothing will ever taste quite as good again as Francis talking in his intense physical way about paintings. He has left a dozen or so of his own which will live with the art.

Grey Gowrie

 

 

 

FRANCIS BACON DIES AT 82 

 

 

THE WASHINGTON POST | WEDNESDAY, APRIL 29, 1992  

 

 

LONDON  Francis Bacon, 82, the British artist whose large paintings of misshapen or screaming figures explored human misery and isolation and gave the contemporary art world some of its most disturbing images, died April 28 at a hospital in Madrid after a heart attack.

Mr. Bacon, who had asthma, was stricken while on vacation. He lived in London.

He had been hailed as one of the most influential figure painters of the postwar period and as one of the world's greatest contemporary painters. A Bacon triptych recently sold in New York for almost $7 million. Last year, Mr. Bacon gave one of his major paintings, worth more than $5 million, to London's Tate Gallery. He became the first living British painter to be given a one-man show at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and in 1988 received an exhibition in Moscow -- a first-time honor for a living Westerner.

British contemporary painter Howard Hodgkin called him "the greatest English painter since Turner." At least one other noted figure was not so kind. Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher outraged London's artistic community when she once described him as "that man who paints those dreadful pictures."

Mr. Bacon was best known for his biomorphic abstractions and representations of the male human form, often twisted or distorted shapes in a stark setting such as a bare room or on a platform-like arena. Sometimes his figures were surrounded by lines suggesting a cage or prison and a spirit locked in a private hell.

He often used contemporary images as a starting point for his work, including news photos and movie stills. Other of his works were based on old and classic works. These included his portrait of Pope Innocent X, which was based on a famous portrait by the Spanish artist Diego Velazquez  and shows the 17th century pontiff caged in plate glass and screaming. The picture is known as "The Screaming Pope."

If the works were violent and shocking, and often based on a contemporary theme, they also featured a kind of epic grandeur of style, with what one critic called rich, sensuous handling of paint reminiscent of the 16th and early 17th century Venetian and Spanish painting.

Mr. Bacon, who was descended from the philosopher of the same name, was born in Dublin, the son of a former British Army officer and a race horse trainer. His father banished him from home at the age of 16 after he was found having sexual relations with the grooms. The future artist traveled to Berlin, where he threw himself into the life of a city renowned for its excesses in the 1920s and 1930s. He went on gambling sprees and spent nights in transvestite clubs.

In the 1940s, he concentrated more on the human form and male nudes, painting a series based on his friend Eric Hall as well as self-portraits.

The central figures increasingly became abstract during the 1950s and 1960s  sometimes merging human and animal forms. He sometimes flanked the forms with depictions of raw meat or paint splashed on the canvas.

"Animal movement and human movement are certainly linked in my images," he told an interviewer in the 1950s.

He frequently returned to the crucifixion theme, including another triptych done during the mid-1980s. He demanded that all his paintings be covered by glass and they often had ornate frames.

In interviews, Mr. Bacon cited one of his major influences as Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 film "Battleship Potemkin," particularly a closeup shot of a screaming nurse. He also closely studied the early photography of Eadweard Muybridge, who made sequences of human and animal movement.

"What I want is to distort the figure far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance," he said in an interview in the 1950s.

 

 

 

In a jamb

 

 

PETERBOROUGH | THE DAILY TELEGRAPH  | WEDNESDAY APRIL 29, 1992  

 

 

WHO gets Francis Bacon's palette? Bacon, who died yesterday, spurned the conventional palette which artists normally stick their thumbs through. Instead, he used his brightly daubed studio door.

It will probably go to Michael Leventis, a London-based Greek Cypriot artist whom Bacon encouraged after a chance encounter in a Soho restaurant eight years ago. "I admired the door and he indicated that I might have it," said Leventis.

"I already have one of Francis's easels and a couple of signed prints. The easel means a lot to me. It has all the colours he used on some of his best-known paintings. I would never dream of using it."

There was a subdued air last night around Bacon's favourite drinking haunts in Soho, London. Sandy Fawkes, an old friend, said: "He once told me the only cure for a hangover was suicide. When he died he was in love again."

Leventis had a different view. He said: "Francis had a hard winter, couldn't paint, and without his work I don't think he wanted to go on."

 

 

 

 

FRANCIS BACON, PAINTER DRIVEN BY MORTALITY

 

 

 

By ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON | THE INDEPENDENT | WEDNESDAY 29 APRIL, 1992

 

 

The painter Francis Bacon died yesterday. He was 82


“I have often thought upon death and I find it the least of all evils,” wrote Francis Bacon’s namesake and ancestor, the Elizabethan philosopher.

For Bacon the painter, the opposite was true. Death was the greatest of evils: “I have a feeling of mortality all the time,” he once said. “Because, if life excites you, its opposite, like a shadow, death, must excite you. Perhaps not excite you, but you are aware of it in the same way as you are aware of life, you are aware of life, you’re aware of It like the turn of a coin between life and death… I’m always very surprised when I wake up in the morning.”

Mortality was Bacon’s great theme, his keen sense of his own mortality, the driving force behind his art. His paintings are not pleasant, embodying a singularly bleak view of human existence, but they have a power born of obsession that is unique in British post war art.

Storyless, enigmatic compositions, characteristically painted in triptych format, they place the emphasis on prime biological fact, figures usually male scream, couple bestially, vomit or defecate, depicted as lurid agglomerations of bodily matter, raw flesh that seems on the point of putrefaction. Their beauty is the beauty of rottenness.

“I’ve always been very moved by pictures about slaughter-houses,” he said and Bacon’s figures, frequently isolated on the flattest and most uninflected areas of pure colour, almost like clinical specimen, have something of the slaughterhouse about them. “We are meat, we are potential carcasses,” he said, and painted the fact.

Bacon’s place in art history is assured, yet it is also true that art historians have never known quite what to make of him. He distrusted interpretation of his paintings and when pressed on the possible symbolic significance of his work, insisted: “I’m not saying anything.” He was never the member of a school or movement in painting and neither did he found any.

Bacon was singular-an artist for whose work there are few if any precedents in modern art, an artist whose work has had little issue in subsequent painting – but he was also one of those rare artists who give visual expression to the mood of their times. His art, despite his protestations, has taken on the status of symbol, and that, in the end, is the source of its significance.

Bacon’s subject is twentieth century man, unaccommodated man, living in a world that has been voided of spiritual significance. His subject matter has often been, in one sense, traditional he is the only twentieth century painter, to have made a significant contribution to the tradition of crucifixion imagery yet in Bacon’s case that has tended to emphasise his originality the gap that separates him from the art of the past. Bacon’s crucifixions are bloody, thoroughly untranscendental paintings, his Christ a joint of raw meat or (as he once put it) “a worm crawling down the cross”.

They are not, strictly speaking, sacrilegious paintings; but they are profoundly pessimistic. Man, in Bacon’s world, Is an unregenerate, bestial creature, a secular being for whom “religious possibilities have been cancelled”. Among Bacon’s most famous paintings are the series of screaming heads he painted from the late Forties on. Questioned about the violence of his paintings, Bacon answered that he had lived in violent times. He spent the years of the First World War in London, and then lived in Ireland in the early years of the Sinn Fein movement; he was in Berlin in 1927-28 and then in Paris until the outbreak of the Second World War. It was this, perhaps that made possible for him to paint the crucifixion as “just an act of man’s behaviour, a way of behaviour to another.”

 

 

 

British Painter Francis Bacon Dies

 

 

 

At 82, he remained a figure of controversy whose powerful, boldly painted canvases divided critics and viewers alike.

 

 

 

 

 

WILLIAM TUOHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER | ART LOS ANGELES TIMES APRIL 29, 1992

 

LONDON — Francis Bacon, widely regarded as Britain's greatest contemporary painter, died of a heart attack in a Madrid hospital Tuesday.

Bacon, who had suffered from asthma, became ill while visiting friends in Spain.

The 82-year-old painter was highly controversial in traditional artistic circles, since his powerful canvases, executed with splashing brush strokes, were often concerned with the themes of sex, suffering and death. Many regarded his paintings as obscene.

But his work commanded high prices - a Bacon triptych recently sold in New York for $7 million - and in 1975 he was the first living British artist to rate a one-man show at New York's Metropolitan Museum.

Bacon reportedly turned down a knighthood and other honors on the grounds, as he once said with a shrug, that "they cordon you off from existence".

In 1962, his large retrospective exhibition at London's Tate Gallery received considerable public and critical acclaim. Additional attention focused on his paintings in 1971, when he was given a rare retrospective at Paris' Grand Palais that opened only hours after his model and lover, George Dyer, had committed suicide.

Bacon later memorialized Dyer's death in a famous triptych of tormented paintings. It was reminiscent of one of his first works to draw international attention--a triptych called "Three Studies for the Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion.

His paintings often depicted people such as Dyer in the throes of drug addiction and other agonies, and his "Screaming Pope" series was an unsettling reference to Diego Velazquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X.

Bacon was an avowed homosexual who lived in a paint can-cluttered apartment and hung around the bars of London's raffish Soho district.

While reticent about his work, he was personable and charming outside his studio. Bacon often said that his life was divided between "the gutter and the Ritz".

He normally consumed at least a bottle of champagne and a dozen oysters for lunch, and when not working he would pub-crawl through the day in Soho, often ending in fashionable South Kensington, where he lived and worked in a simple two-bedroom townhouse.

He wandered the streets in a dark leather jacket, looking at least 10 years younger than his age and seldom recognize.

Bacon seemed to care little about money, deploring the astronomical prices of paintings - including his own - with the comment, "Prices are so ridiculous that people go to galleries because they are obsessed by money."

He was born in Ireland in 1909, reportedly descended from the 16th-Century English philosopher and essayist whose name he bore.

His English father was a retired army officer who banished him from home when Bacon was caught having sex with a stable hand.

The teen-ager struck out for London and then Berlin, where he quickly began indulging in sexual escapades, gambling and nights in transvestite clubs.

He returned to London in 1923 and designed modernistic furniture. It was not until 1929 that he turned to painting.

In the 1930s, his supporters claimed that his work was revitalizing the British art scene. At the outbreak of the war, he tried to enlist but, rejected because of his longstanding asthma, joined the ambulance rescue squad instead.

It was about this time that he decided his early work displeased him, and he destroyed much of it with a razor.

In his work, Bacon broke all the staid rules of traditional English art and followed a more European tradition. With no formal art training, he sometimes painted with his fingers, scrubbing brushes and rags, combining different images from different mediums to produce startling picture.

To those who abhorred his depiction of flesh - animal, human, and sometimes indeterminate - he once said: "You've only got to go into a butcher's shop.... It's nothing to do with mortality, but it's to do with the great color of the meat."

Times art critic William Wilson, writing of a Bacon exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art two years ago, likened the artist to an Irish countryman, the playwright Samuel Beckett.

Both men were philosophical exiles, Wilson said, "and (both) shocked the world with radical, disturbing art . . . which has changed only in nuance over the decades. . . .

"It seems fair to ask how anyone as immensely successful--and presumably wealthy--as Bacon can go on making art about despair. The quick answer to that is that the rich and famous are still not necessarily content, and Bacon has been strange and haunted all his life. . . . 

Bacon was once asked about the hostility that his paintings created among some viewers and answered, "If I thought about what the critics said, I shouldn't have gone on painting.

He did not explain his obsession with sex and death in his paintings, but said, "If you really love life you're constantly walking in the shadow of death.

"I don't emphasize death," he continued. "I accept it as part of one's existence. One is always aware of mortality in life, even in a rose that blooms and then dies.

 

 

 

 

Francis Bacon, 82, Artist of the Macabre, Dies

 

 

By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN | THE NEW YORK TIMES | APRIL 29, 1992

 

 

Francis Bacon, the Irish-born painter whose abstract images of psychological and physical brutality made him one of the most exalted, and most disliked, artists of the postwar era, died yesterday at a hospital in Madrid. He was 82 years old and lived in London.

He died of a heart attack while vacationing in Spain, according to a statement from his London dealer, Marlborough Fine Art.

Mr. Bacon first gained acclaim in 1945, when he exhibited Three Studies for Figures at the Base of the Crucifixion at the Lefevre Gallery in London. His angrily drawn image of writhing half-human, half-animal forms, perched atop pedestals and set in claustrophobic spaces, seemed to epitomize the grim spirit of postwar England and established the painter immediately as a master of the macabre.

That reputation was to be reinforced time and again by the screaming popes, butchered carcasses and distorted portraits that Mr. Bacon turned out over the next four and a half decades. Critics noted his links with, among other things, the Surrealist art of Picasso and with German Expressionism. Detractors - and there were always many of them, especially in the United States, where he seemed so out of step with the Abstract Expressionists of his generation - dismissed his art as sensationalistic and slick. Museums around the world bought his work, but private collectors were often loath to decorate their homes with it. The former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once called him "that man who paints those dreadful pictures."

But Mr. Bacon maintained that he was simply a realist and did not aim to shock. "You can't be more horrific than life itself," he was fond of saying.

Until his death, he continued to work in his cramped, cluttered studio in a small ramshackle mews house in South Kensington, with its bare bulbs, tattered photographs taped to the wall, and bathtub in the kitchen. Although his paintings sold for millions of dollars, Mr. Bacon eschewed most of the trappings of success. He would reach into his pocket and pull out a wad of cash whenever he wanted to indulge in lunches in swank restaurants or Champagne for the crowd at the Colony Room, the run-down drinking club in the Soho district of London, where he was a regular for more than 40 years. A Raffish Youth

A man of striking contradictions, he cultivated a bad-boy reputation, speaking freely about his fondness for alcohol, his homosexuality and his kinship with gangsters. Friends knew he could be ornery and unpredictable, especially after a few drinks. But they also admired him for his generosity, wit and kindness, qualities that clashed so dramatically with the paintings for which he was famous.

The son of a hard-drinking racehorse trainer (and a collateral descendant of the great Elizabethan statesman and philosopher of the same name), Mr. Bacon spent his first years moving with his family between Dublin and London. Asthma made school a problem, so he was tutored by clergymen at home. He never got along with his mother and father. When, at the age of 16, he was discovered to have had sex with some of the grooms at the stables and was caught trying on his mother's underwear, his parents banished him.

Mr. Bacon traveled to Berlin, where he spent long nights in transvestite bars and endless hours with the sorts of rough characters who would be no less a part of his social circle than intellectuals like the poets Michel Leiris and Stephen Spender. He stopped in Paris, where he saw an exhibition of Picasso's surreal paintings of the 20's, although he later said it had little impact on him.

In 1929, he settled in London, working briefly as a designer of modernist furniture, for which he achieved a modest reputation. Almost casually, and without any formal training, he took up painting, but he came to consider these earliest canvases "so awful" that he subsequently painted over or destroyed almost all of them. In 1933, he participated in a group show and was mentioned in a book called Art Now, by the critic and historian Herbert Read. Over the next few years he exhibited his work a little, but he treated art less as a career than as a distraction from the drinking, gambling and wandering around London that were his main preoccupations.

When World War II started, Mr. Bacon tried to enlist but was rejected because of his asthma. He supported himself through a string of odd jobs. The restlessness he recounted feeling during these years, his sexual indiscretions, his mood of frustration and claustrophobia, and his casual disregard for social mores and the opinions of others, would become characteristics of his art. But only as the war was ending did he begin to take painting seriously as an occupation.

The sources for his art were eclectic. He looked at the work of Old Masters like Velazquez, whose Portrait of Pope Innocent X he combined with a still photograph from Sergei Eisenstein's film The Battleship Potemkin to contrive his series of screaming popes. Mr. Bacon derived images from the newspaper and magazine photographs that he collected, and from the famous sequential photographs of moving figures and animals that Eadweard Muybridge made in the late 19th century. References to the latest designs in furniture and clothing regularly appeared in his art. He based one series of paintings on van Gogh; another series was inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus. "What is called Surrealism has gone through art at all times," he once said. "What is more surreal than Aeschylus?"

And he was an extraordinary portraitist of his friends, somehow managing, despite the blurred and mangled features, to convey an unmistakable likeness and very often the attributes of beauty, wit and affection.

Although Mr. Bacon made a handful of landscapes over the course of his career, he was first and last a painter of the human body. His images twisted it, X-rayed it, made it bleed, transmogrify and unravel. The body became an expression of longing, exhaustion, illness and also lust. Few artists could render flesh so palpably and voluptuously, or endow even so mundane a subject as a man turning a bathroom faucet with Michelangelesque aspirations.

Often his figures were represented in what looked like cages or enclosures or in bleak rooms. In time, he came to favor gold frames and glass protection for his paintings, extravagant touches that intentionally contrasted with the shocking content of the pictures and underscored his desire to have his art considered in the company of museum masterpieces. An Evolving Style

He consistently said his art was not about anything in particular, that his paintings conveyed no narrative. "I've no story to tell," he said. Over the years, he was criticized for recycling a small repertory of images and devices. But if his subjects did not change, his style did. Increasingly, his paintings were characterized by a refinement of touch that made his startling subject matter all the more unexpected. In 1988, he made a second version of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of the Crucifixion, in which rawness has been replaced by an almost lyrical handling of paint and the figures seem less gruff, more incorporeal, as if they were memories of the earlier ones.

Mr. Bacon's paintings have connections with the work of divergent postwar artists without belonging to any specific movement. He is part of the tradition of English figure painting to which Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kosoff and others belong. At the same time, like Alberto Giacometti, he explored the spirit of Existential anguish that pervaded European postwar culture. (He admired the writings of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter). Although he denied any interest in the American Abstract Expressionists, and although his art was generally thought to be in opposition to theirs, Mr. Bacon's work invariably brings to mind the violent and distorted paintings of women by Willem de Kooning.

Through Pop, Minimalism, Conceptual art and every other movement of the 1960's and early 70's, Mr. Bacon stuck to his path, shunning fashion. But in the late 70's and early 80's, he was taken up by the young Neo-Expressionists, who felt an affinity with his emphasis on the figure and the emotionalism of his imagery. In the last decades of his life, he was the subject of retrospectives at the Grand Palais in Paris, the Tate Gallery in London, the National Gallery of Modern Art in Tokyo and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. On the occasion of his 80th birthday, a traveling exhibition of his work was presented at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Around the time of that exhibition, Mr. Bacon, who is survived only by a sister in South Africa, lamented that old age was "a desert because all of one's friends die." Yet he described himself as eternally "an optimist, but about nothing."

"We live, we die and that's it," he said.

 

 

 

                    Francis Bacon in London in 1985 with his 1979 painting "Triptych: Studies of the Hunan Body."

 

 

 

 

OBITUARIES, FRANCIS BACON

 

 

WILLIAM PACKER | THE FINANCIAL TIMES | APRIL 29, 1992

 

 

FRANCIS BACON, who died yesterday at the age of 82, remained to the last what he had been throughout his long and active career never so much the enfant as the vieux terrible of ‘contemporary British art. As uncompromising and unabashed in his private life as he was in his work which to him was ever a matter of the utmost seriousness – there was nothing, of the Grand Old Man about him.

Yet was a towering figure in his creative reputation, which was matched only by, that of the somewhat older and oddly complementary, figure of Henry Moore: both profoundly humane in their preoccupations, but the one dark, the other light; serene optimism against a bleaker pessimism.

The difference was that Bacon was to find himself almost alone the only British painter in his time to be accepted, at home and abroad, as standing by right in the first rank with his contemporaries in the world at large. It is a paradox that he should have achieved such standing with work which, even as it was being produced, was seen to be at odds with the trend of the contemporary avant garde: surreal expressionism, darkly romantic, above all, figurative, in the time of formalist abstraction.

He was accorded two full scale retrospectives at the Tate. At the first, in 1962, he stood alone: sui generis. By the time of the second show, in 1985. the world had come round to him again. If, by then, the critic might enter certain reservations concerning his later work on its own terms, seen in the context of figurative expressionism revived – Baselitz, Clemente, Schnabel – clearly he remained a singular and towering figure.

But that first retrospective in 1962 was the more significant; it came after a career of barely 18 years as a painter. From the distance of the second show it could be seen to mark a watershed in that career, celebrating the substantive and astonishing achievement which would he enough to sustain his reputation undiminished.

Francis. Bacon was born in Dublin in October 1909, of English parents. He submitted himself to no formal training as an artist, and as a young man practised for a time as an interior decorator and designer. He continued to paint, even, to exhibit, through the 1930s, but he destroyed most of this early work; it was not until 1944 that he again began to paint in earnest.

The mature achievement was almost Byronic in its instantaneity. Two magisterial works of this first period, a sinister lurking Figure in a Landscape (1945), and the triptych, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), have rightly been in the Tate the past 40 years.

The next dozen years or so saw the production of the screaming Popes, the dogs, baboons and chimpanzees, the early portraits, the figures after Muybridge and, at last, the extended sequence of portraits of Van Gogh on the road to Tarascon. By, 1962, the full range of his imagery was established and thoroughly explored, in particular the compositional device of the figure encapsulated by an open, unspecific structure.

In the years following, Bacon’s interest settled principally on the figure. The scale was amplified, the image subject to all manner of formal variations, but in essence nothing further was introduced. And as the imagery settled into a certain predictability, so the old shock and impact lessened. Attention fell more reality on the surface, and on the speed and subtle dexterity of Bacon’s handling of his material. It was what he had said all along: what interested him was not the image for itself, not the message nor the content as such, but only the painting as painting getting it right, making it real.

The problem with Francis Bacon and his work, was never of Bacon’s making; rather it was always the viewer’s. Arrested by the image, viewers found it hard to move beyond it into the work itself. Perhaps it still seems strange to speak of the physical beauty of Bacon’s work, but with time it becomes easier.

 

 

 

Bacon's house

 

LONDONER'S DIARY | THE EVENING STANDARD | WEDNESDAY, 29 APRIL 1992

 

AS the world of art comes to terms with the sad loss of  Francis Bacon, many wonder what will happen to Bacon's anarchic mews cottage-cum-studio in South Kensington where he worked virtually until the end of his life.

With paint and doodles all over the walls, and books, papers and photographs covered in Bacon's sketches and comments scattered everywhere, the property in itself could be worth millions as a monument to Bacon's swirling vitality. As it stands, it is susceptible to burglary or vandalism and many in the art world believe it should be securely preserved as a museum.

An English Heritage spokesman says: "We are acutely aware of the risk of burglary, especially when there are compelling features of interest. We would like to look into the possibility of converting it into a museum."

Artist Patrick Procktor tells me: "It should be kept absolutely as it is like El Greco's in Toledo, with a picture left on the easel and brushes in tins. I was very shocked and saddened at his death." Roger de Grey, President of  the Royal Academy adds: "I am all in favour of careful consideration being given to the conservation of artists' houses such as Francis Bacon's."

 

 

 

Life as art

 

 

EDITORIAL | THE EVENING STANDARD | WEDNESDAY, 29 APRIL 1992

 

WHATEVER one thought of Francis Bacon's art, his life was a modern masterpiece. Banished by his rich father at 16 for trying on his mother's underwear, Mr Bacon drove a field ambulance in World War I, gallivanted in 1930s Berlin transvestite clubs, spent heavily on gambling, drank Soho dry every day, spurned a knighthood as being too common and died, aged 82, enjoying himself in Spain. Never mind the pictures: feel the life.

 

 

 

 

The artist as a beloved adventurer

 

Francis Bacon will be mourned in Soho pubs as much as in the world of high art.

 

David Lister traces an extraordinary life

 

 

DAVID LISTER | THE INDEPENDENT | WEDNESDAY, 29 APRIL 1992

 

 

FRANCIS BACON was being mourned yesterday not just in the great art galleries and salons of the world but in the Soho pubs and drinking clubs that he frequented for more than 40 years.

Bacon, in his prime a homosexual adventurer who once summarised his life as "going from bar to bar  and drinking and that kind of thing", flitted between what was once the demi-monde of the now well-known Soho drinking clubs and the gaming tables of Monte Carlo.

The artist largely retained his anonymity in London, and was delighted, on going into a pub in Soho, to be offered a job doing up an old house by someone who had heard he was a painter.

Though long since a multi-millionaire with a penchant for champagne and oysters at Wheeler's restaurant, Bacon occupied a corner seat in the Colony Room, a Soho drinking club, whenever he was in London and lobbied Westminster City Council last year when the building was threatened.

When he first went to the Colony in the late Forties, the then owner, whom he adored, Muriel Belcher, paid him £10 a week to bring in "good spenders".

Ian Board, his long-time friend, who now runs the Colony Room and spoke with Bacon only last week, said yesterday: "He was generous, marvellous, witty and bitchy. I will miss his viper's tongue. I loved him even though he would call me a thieving, conniving bitch.

"He wasn't fond of talking about art after the early days. Way back he would have a fling or two with Lucian Freud but they fell out because Lucien went common and took a title from the Queen. Francis refused two titles. He said he wanted to leave this world as he came in."

In the main, though, tributes focused on the supreme place that Bacon occupied in the history of modern art. David Mellor, Secretary of State for National Heritage, said: "Britain has been one of the great centres of modern art with a tremendously successful group of artists. Most people would accept Bacon as either leader of that group or certainly one of the two or three most precious figures."

Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate Gallery, to which the artist donated his Second Version of Triptych 1944, said last night: "Francis Bacon was not only the greatest British painter of his generation, but was also internationally recognised as one of the outstanding artists of the post-war era. His art stand in the great tradition of Western painting, addressing central themes of human existence in compositions grand in conception, rich in colour and powerful in presence."

Bacon did have his critics in Britain, including the former Prime Minister, Margret Thatcher. She once described him as "that man who paints those dreadful".

The late Peter Fuller wrote when he was editor of the magazine Modern Painter of Bacon's "spiritual dereliction", saying his paintings owed more "to the violence and perversity of his imagination than to any love of the facts, let alone truth".

But these were rare voices. The description of Bacon by the former Tate director Sir Alan Bowness as "setting the standard for our time" was the one that found most echoes yesterday.

Bacon dies of a heart attack while staying with friends in Madrid. He suffered from asthma but always looked younger than his years. Born in Dublin, he began painting in 1929 but destroyed nearly all of his earlier works. His English father was a retired Army officer who went to Ireland to train horses.

Bacon's relationship with his parents was not good and they never really supported his ambitions as an artist.

At the age of 16, Bacon was banished by his father after he was found wearing his mother's underwear and was caught having sex with the grooms.

Bacon moved to London and then Berlin. In this city devoted to excess he indulged in all kinds of sexual escapades. He went on gambling sprees and spent nights in transvestite clubs.

At the outbreak of the Second World War he tried to enlist, but was turned down because of his asthma, so joined the ambulance rescue squad. Some critics believe this experience with death and bodies helped mould his artistic style.

In 1971 he was given a retrospective in Paris's Grand Palais, an honour rarely afforded British artists. His former lover and model George Dyer committed suicide hours before the exhibition opened. Only months before Bacon had been acquitted on a drugs charge, brought after Dyer reported him to the police. To remember his friend, Bacon did a series of three paintings depicting Dyer's death.

 

 

 

           Bacon with one of his paintings. (Photograph: Terence Spencer)  

 

 

 

Fate of the painter's fortune is unclear

 

 

 

 

DALYA ALBERGE | THE INDEPENDENT | WEDNESDAY 29 APRIL 1992

 

 

 

THERE was endless speculation within the art world yesterday about who would benefit from the fortune of a man who had been Britain's most expensive living artist. With one of his paintings, Triptych; May-June, 1973, he became the most expensive living British artist; it sold for £3.53m at Sotheby's New York in 1989.

But Francis Bacon once said he preferred to be "surrounded by blank walls rather than paintings." Apart from works in progress, the few works to be found in his ramshackle mews were mostly reproductions. Some say he used to sell a canvas to his dealers, Marlborough Fine Art, as soon a the paint dried.

And just as he was unsentimental about his art, he cared little about the millions it made him. Money was there to be spent on gambling, drink and friends.

One former friend said yesterday that Bacon "cannot have spent it all and must have been worth a few million at his death".

But as another of them put it, "knowing Francis, he would not have even written a will".

It seems likely that Marlborough Fine Art will handle the Bacon estate. One art world source said that if there were any works that Bacon had not sold, he was unlikely to have left them to an institution. "He is more likely to have wanted friends and family to have them. He led a very private life, and didn't particularly identify with any museums".

Bacon was not particularly prolific, and only a handful of his works are brought to auction each year. Bacon is one of the few British painters with an international following among collectors, but as one auctioneer said, "it will take perhaps two or three years for the art world to revalue and evaluate Bacon's art in the light of twentieth century painting. Even then, it is the art market in general that seems to be the overriding factor, rather than the death of an artist".

The first test will come in July, when Christie's brings a small portrait by him to auction.

 

 

 

 

World of art pays tribute to Bacon


 

 


NICHOLAS WATT
 | THE TIMES | WEDNESDAY APRIL 29, 1992

 

 

 

Francis Bacon, hailed as one of Britain’s greatest painters, died yesterday morning in a Madrid hospital after a heart attack. His London agent said his body would be flown to Britain for burial.

Bacon, 82, was described yesterday as the finest British painter since Turner. Born in Dublin in 1909 he started painting in 1929 and was entirely self-taught. He destroyed nearly all of his earlier works but by the end of his career his paintings commanded some of the highest prices on the world art market. A triptych recently sold in New York for £3.9 million.

The first test of the value of his works, which are certain to rise following his death, will come at a Christies sale in London on July 2, when a portrait of one of Bacon’s regular models comes up for auction. It has been valued at between £180,000 and £220,000 and Christies anticipate strong interest.

Bacon, who turned down a knighthood, usually focused his art on the themes of sex and death. His work could be shocking and some regarded it as obscene.

David Hockney paid warm tribute to Bacon from his home in Los Angeles. “I first met Francis 30 years ago and met him again in Paris in the 1970s. He was a wonderful artist. He had quite a narrow way of looking at the world but this was very powerful.

“He was also a powerful person and I’ll never forget meeting him in Paris when his friend George Dyer died on the opening night ofhis big exhibition at the Grand Palais. We met in La Coupole and I said I was very sorry. He took out a large handkerchief and let out a big scream. He said all he could do was laugh or cry. During his life people thought Francis looked drunk, but he was very fit and looked after himself.”

Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate Gallery, which presented Bacon’s retrospective exhibitions of 1962 and 1985, said: “Francis Bacon was not only the greatest British painter of his generation, he was also internationally recognised as one of the outstanding artists of the post-war era. His art stands in the great tradition of Western painting, addressing central themes of human existence in compositions grand in conception, rich in colour and powerful in presence.” From today the gallery is displaying Bacon’s Second Version of Triptych 1944, painted in 1988, which he gave to the gallery. The original triptych of 1944 will be shown at the same time.

Lord Gowrie, the former arts minister and chairman of Sotheby’s said: “He was the greatest living painter and the greatest British painter since Turner.”

The artist Howard Hodgkin said: “He was a hero of English painting and there have been few of them.”

Bridget Riley said: “I admired Francis enormously and his death is a great loss. I saw his retrospective at the Tate and I think he had fulfilled his particular vision.”

Rober Hugues, art critic of Time magazine, said: “Francis Bacon went into areas of the human psyche that other modern painters didn’t touch. Because he had been around for so long many people felt that he was a bit of a living cliché. But his work went much further than the deployment of shock tactics.”

Melvyn Bragg, who produced a South Bank Show on Bacon in 1985, remembered visiting him at his messy mews house in South Kensington. “He was a man who went his own way and he lived as an old-fashioned bohemian. His flat was unbelievably tatty and should be preserved for the nation. He had a small room that was covered in paint because he mixed colours on the walls, a galley kitchen and his bedroom.

“He painted every day, starting in the morning, and then he went out and drank an immense amount of champagne. He was one of the world’s greatest painters in the second half of the twentieth century. He found his style and subjects in the mid 1940s and he never really changed from that.” Bacon will be sorely missed at the Colony Club where he drank his famous quantities of champagne. Ian Board, the club’s proprietor, said: “The club has lost its greatest member”.

Nicholas Watt

 

 

 

Painter bursting with exhilarated despair


 

 

 

With the death of Francis Bacon, Britain's finest painter of his time, art suffers a grievous loss, writes Richard Cork 
 

 


 

 

 

RICHARD CORK | THE TIMES | WEDNESDAY APRIL 29, 1992

 

THE first time I met Francis Bacon for an interview in the early 1970s, I approached him his South Kensington mews with trepidation. Would I be greeted by a writhing, turbulent figure, so obsessed with his own neuroses that conversation proved impossible to sustain?

My anxiety could hardly have been more misplaced. Charming, convivial and wonderfully eager to talk, he greeted me enthusiastically at the top of his steep, narrow stairs. Preparing at the time for his immense retrospective exhibitions at the Grand Palais in Paris, he was prepared nevertheless to spend the whole morning ranging inexhaustibly over art and literature, from Velazquez and Proust to Rembrandt, Greet tragedy and T.S. Eliot. Stimulating, often provocative and above all intensely energetic, the conversation continued over a bibulous Soho lunch and terminated tipsily in the ramshackle Colony Club.

I realised, on that bacchanalian day, just how much this animated man relished life. Far from viewing it with depressive morbidity, he savoured his defiantly unconventional existence with boundless zest. The same gusto animates his paintings. Isolated the figures may often be, but they are far from limp or defeated. At their most dynamic, they fill the entire canvas with protesting howls. But even when simply sitting on a chair, accompanied by one of the sinister shadows Bacon favoured, these solitary men have a tense, coiled dynamism that counters their awareness that each of us is, in the end, alone.

Bacon himself claimed that he looked on life with “exhilarated despair”. The horror is that all right, as well as the violence that erupted in the world on so many occasions during his lifetime. But Bacon’s awareness of man’s capacity for bestiality is offset by his stubborn belief in grandeur.

Viewers who recoil from Bacon in disgust are unable to grasp the more positive aspects of his art. But they are a vital part of his towering achievement. Bacon set great store by accident when painting, and his finest work is galvanised by an exuberant sense of risk. An inveterate gambler, he loved to surprise himself in painting as in life. The many canvases he destroyed throughout his career testify to his impatience with predictability. In Bacon’s greatest canvases his impulsive handling of paint has an astonishing eloquence as he pummels, caresses, obliterates and coaxes the pigment at will.

At the same time though, Bacon has a passion for order. His compositions are always calculated and refined, playing off the convulsive figures against areas of flat, semi-abstract colour. He liked immaculate painting and the tormented passages in his work gain enormously from their contrast with the clean, plain areas surrounding them. Bacon’s superb finesse, coupled with an instinctive monumentality, counteracts the depressing aspects of his world. Indeed his exhilaration seems all the more persuasive precisely because it is pitched against the confinement and vulnerability of the human condition. Bacon’s assertion of a resilient vigour could not be more hard won. And in some of his most impressive pictures naked figures close on one another with extraordinary erotic forcefulness, as if trying to combat their former isolation.

Bacon will be remembered, not only as the finest British painter of his time, but one of the most outstanding artists anywhere in the late 20th century world. With his death, painting suffers an incalculable loss. When we met for the last time a few months ago he told me that he hated the thought of death, before pausing and then brightening with a defiant cry: “ Shall we have some champagne?”

 


 

 

Painted into a corner

 

 

 


DIARY
 | THE TIMES | WEDNESDAY APRIL 29, 1992

 


THE DEATH of Francis Bacon was met with surprise in some quarters yesterday. Such was the legendary status of the 82 year-old artist  once described by Mrs Thatcher as "that man who paints those dreadful pictures" — that a few people assumed he had been dead for years. One one occasion Andrew Billen, now deputy editor of The Observer Magazine but then arts correspondent on this paper, was instructed by the news editor to phone Bacon to find out whether or not he was still alive.

"We had received copy from a foreign agency describing Bacon in the past tense," says Billen. "As soon as he answered the phone I felt the story slipping away". Rivalling Mark Twain's sang froid about reports of his death, Bacon responded to the enquiry by saying: "I am sorry not to be able to help on this occasion."

 

 

 

FRANCIS BACON

 

 

Francis Bacon, the internationally-renowned British painter, died yesterday in Madrid ages 82.

He was born in Dublin on October 28, 1909.

 

 

OBITUARIES | THE TIMES | WEDNESDAY APRIL 29, 1992

 

 

NO OTHER post-war painter transformed British art with as much energy, flair and obsessive conviction as Francis Bacon. After a surprisingly tentative beginning, when he wavered between painting and designing furniture and rugs, the self-taught Bacon vision arrived fully-formed in 1944. And it already had the ability to unnerve. In a searing orange triptych, he painted three alarmingly distorted figures at the base of a crucifix. Half-human, half-animal, they writhe, push their distended necks forward and open their mouths in desolate howls.

When this excoriating triptych was exhibited at the Lefevre Gallery, it announced a new post-war mood of uncompromising anxiety.  The advent of the cold war, combined with the horror of Hiroshima, confirmed Bacon's preoccupations. He returned, time and again, to the image of a male solitary figure enclosed in a bare interior.

During the 1950s this anguished presence often gave vent to his disquiet with a scream, nowhere more vehemently than in an extended series of paintings based on Velasquez's celebrated portrait of Pope Innocent X. In the original canvas, which Bacon never went to inspect in Rome, the Pope looks masterful and shrewd. But Bacon transforms him into a screaming grotesque, trapped like a prisoner in an electric chair, rather than a Pontiff's throne.

In later life, Bacon himself came to regret spending so much time on the Pope images. He thought they were too sensational, and went on too long. But they were certainly instrumental in establishing him with a formidable international reputation. Another series, smaller in number and on the whole more powerful, took as its inspiration a Van Gogh painting of the artist walking through the French countryside on his way to work. Once again, Bacon changed the original image into a turbulent, troubled expression of his own ominous vision.

On the whole, though, Bacon's figures remain indoors rather than out in the open. Landscapes were rare in his work, and the paintings of recent decades concentrate, with remarkable consistency, on clothed or naked figures in the archetypal Bacon room. As if to stress how little his art had changed, he embarked in 1988 on a second, larger version of his 1944 triptych. The lacerating orange became a more sumptuous red and the three figures are surrounded by more space than in the earlier version. But they twist and yell as hideously as before, and Bacon demonstrated his regard for the new triptych by presenting it to the Tate Gallery.

Francis Bacon was born of English parents. His father trained horses in Ireland. Bacon had little formal education except for a brief period at boarding school in Cheltenham. He left home early and spent some years in Paris and Berlin. By 1930 he was in London earning a precarious living as a designer of furniture and rugs.

He had already begun to paint, but of his first experiments very little remains. There were some abstract paintings  they are seen in a picture of the corner of his studio painted by a great friend of that time, Roy de Maistre. There are one or two pictures which found their way into private collections  the best know is a Crucifixion which was reproduced in Herbert Read's Art Now (1933)  but everything else Bacon destroyed.

There was nothing tentative about his re-appearance in the closing years of the war. From 1945 onwards he began to show pictures of great technical assurance  and startling originality. The crucial moment was his first one-man exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in 1949 which thrust him to the forefront of contemporary painting.

Just as the name Kafka has passed into the language as evocative of a certain kind of anxiety-ridden impasse, so Bacon's name now began to be used descriptively. This is an indication of the way in which these pictures reflected a recognisable range of feelings. They were of men's heads set against thick curtains or enclosed in glass boxes, their eyes often obliterated and their mouths stretched open as if to scream. Melodramatic, they were also contemplative and the mood of extreme, yet stoical, despair seemed of a piece with the mood of Sartre's Huis Clos and the early Beckett novels.

It was perhaps this literary side to them which first captured the imagination of the public. Not since Fuseli had the horrific been the overt subject-matter of painting, and the novelty was both shocking and absorbing. There were other equally disturbing features. His painting was, for instance, the very antithesis of abstract at a moment when the general drift of painting seemed to be inexorably in an abstract direction. It was illusionistic, although in a novel and  non-academic way; it drew upon the Old Masters, on Velasquez in particular, and equally on photography, not only for its imagery but for its surface appearance too.

It was impossible to place him comfortably within any existing framework. Certain critics, notably Robert Melville and David Sylvester, wrote about him brilliantly and with deep partisanship. Others tended to dismiss him as a morbid sensationalist and a light-weight, a view in which they were strengthened when in 1953, on the occasion of  a retrospective exhibition of Matthew Smith at the Tate, Bacon contributed a short tribute to the catalogue in which he said: "I think that painting today is pure intuition and luck and taking advantage of what happens when you splash the stuff down..." However, within a year or two London was to become familiar with the achievements of the American painters of Bacon's generations. Chance and intuition with paint had begun to take on wider meanings and Bacon looked less isolated, more profound and even more original than before.

His painting was shown in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1954, and from now onwards his reputation rose steadily in Europe and America; indeed it could be said that as far as the international standing of British art went, Bacon did for painting what Henry Moore had done for sculpture a few years earlier. There was a major retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1962, which later toured Europe, and from this point onwards hardly a year passed without some important showing somewhere in the world. He was the first English painter of this century to be taken seriously in Paris, where queues formed to see his retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1971-72. He was shown at the Metropolitan in New York in 1975.

In one of his first statements about his work Bacon had said: "Painting is the pattern of one's nervous system being projected on the canvas." It was always to have for him this quality of naked attack. It was able, as nothing else, to convey feeling directly, to "come immediately onto the nervous system". Above all it was able to do so through the mysterious equivalence of paint and flesh. He saw this power as an unbroken inheritance from the past, continually to be revived by the risks and intuitions of the present. He had little regard for abstract art, which in his view avoided the challenge that made painting worthwhile.

For him the proper subject for art was the human figure, and specifically the portrait. As his work matured he dropped much of the menacing mise-en-scène of the earlier pictures, and his figures became more particular portraits. He painted the same close friends over and over, working from photographs and memory, placing them in simple modern interiors, naked or clothed and concentrating on their faces with what to many observers seemed to be sadistic violence. Bacon would always deny this reading.

Neither his international reputation nor the success that went with it made Bacon a conformist figure. He sat on no committees and accepted no honours. He was indifferent to officialdom. Robert Melville once wrote of him: "He is at home in the complicated night life of big cities, interested in the exhibitionism and instability of the people he chooses to mix with and absorbed by extreme situations." His art was very close indeed to his life, and his life was lived on the very fringes of normality.

He was a man of infinite charm and generosity with a great gift for friendship. A prodigious host, his life was uncluttered by possessions. His appearance was ageless. His influence on younger artists during the 1950s and 1960s was very considerable  not stylistically, for he had few imitators  but through his attitude to his work and the sense he gave of the ultimate seriousness of art.

Bacon's outstanding reputation was recognised, in 1985, by a second retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery. Until then, no living British artist had been granted such an honour, and in his forward to the catalogue the then director, Sir Alan Bowness, categorically declared that Bacon's "work sets the standard for our time, for he is surely the greatest living painter; no artist in our century has presented the human predicament with such insight and feeling. The paintings have the inescapable mark of the present; I am tempted to add the world alas, but for Bacon the virtues of truth and honesty transcend the tasteful. They give to his paintings a terrible beauty that has placed them among the most memorable images in the entire history of art. And these paintings have a timeless quality that allows them to hang naturally in our museums beside those of Van Gogh and Rembrandt."

 

 

 

 

FRANCIS BACON

 

 

CONTROVERSIAL ABSTRACT PAINTER DIES AT 82

 

 

EDITORIAL | FORT WAYNE THE JOURNAL | APRIL 29, 1992

 

Francis Bacon, the Irish-born painter whose abstract images of psychological and physical brutality made him one of the most exalted and most disliked artists of the post-war era, died Tuesday at a hospital in Madrid, Spain.

     He was 82 and lived in London. He died of a heart attack while vacationing, according to a statement from his London dealer, Marlborough Fine Art.

     Mr. Bacon first gained acclaim in 1945, when he exhibited Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944 at the Lefevre Gallery in London. Mr. Bacon's angrily drawn image of writhing half-human, half- animal forms, perched atop pedestals and set in claustrophobic spaces, seemed to epitomize the grim spirit of post-war England and established him as a master of the macabre.

     That reputation was reinforced time and again by the screaming popes, butchered carcasses and distorted portraits that Mr. Bacon turned out over the next 45 years. Until his death, he continued to work in his cramped, cluttered studio in a small ramshackle house in South Kensington, London.

     Although his paintings sold for millions of dollars, Mr. Bacon eschewed most of the trappings of success. He kept no bank account, but would reach into his pocket and pull out a wad of cash whenever he wanted to indulge.

     Mr. Bacon cultivated a bad-boy reputation, speaking freely about his fondness for alcohol, his homosexuality and his kinship with gangsters.

 

 

 

FEROCITY OF PAINTINGS EARNED BACON REPUTATION AS BRITAIN'S TOP ARTIST

 

 

DEATH NOTICE

 

 

GRAHAM HEATHCOTE | ASSOCIATED PRESS APRIL 29, 1992

 


Francis Bacon, whose disturbing paintings of humanity in despair screamed across huge canvases, fetched millions and ranked him among Britain's greatest 20th-century artists, died Tuesday, at the age of 82.

Bacon died of a heart attack while on holiday, in Madrid, said his agent, Mary Miller. He had been hospitalized, but was thought to be recovering and died unexpectedly. Bacon turned down a knighthood, had little regard for money and could be abrupt and difficult. But in his work, he insisted, he didn't set out to shock. "You see, just the very fact of being born is a very ferocious thing," he explained in a 1980 interview with London's Observer newspaper. "Life........ is just filled, really, with suffering and despair."

On his 80th birthday, he told the Associated Press, "I'm not celebrating it. I'm not going anywhere and I don't want any presents." Then he hung up.

His paintings of violently distorted people and animals on garishly coloured backgrounds were regarded by some as obscene. But they hang in the great museums of London, New York, Chicago, Detroit and Ottawa. "He was not only the greatest British painter of his generation, but was also internationally recognized as one of the outstanding artists of the postwar era," said Nicholas Serota, director of London's Tate Gallery.

Sotheby's Chairman Lord Gowrie said Bacon was Britain's finest painter since 19th-century landscape artist J.M.W. Turner.

In November, Bacon gave the Tate Gallery a painting that he could have sold for around 3 million pounds (then $5.3 million). Sotheby's set the Bacon auction record of $6.27 million to an anonymous buyer in New York in May 1990 for Triptych May-June. His Study of a Pope had sold six months earlier at Christie's in New York for $5.72 million.

Bacon's haunting paintings of the 17th-century Pope Innocent X - a series depicting the pope caged in plate glass and screaming - made Bacon world famous.

Bacon had lived alone since his long time companion, George Dyer, committed suicide in 1971. A completely self-taught artist, the Irish-born Bacon began painting in London in 1929, but destroyed most of his earlier work with a razor. In World War II, he joined an ambulance rescue squad. Witnessing violent death helped inspire his style, especially the triptych form of three canvases linked together like a medieval altarpiece.


 

 

 

The Tortured Vision of Francis Bacon


 

 

 WILLIAM WILSON | TIMES ART CRITIC | LOS ANGELES TIMES APRIL 29, 1992

 

      Francis Bacon was inarguably the greatest British figurative painter of the 20th Century, one of those typical stand-alone artists that England produces - Gainsborough, Turner, Blake. He died of a heart attack Tuesday in a Madrid hospital while vacationing in Spain. He was 82.

      He burst insidiously on the world in the mid-1950s with strange paintings like Study After Velasquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X. The pontiff is seen as a screaming hallucination, as if overcome by a traumatic understanding that all the pomp, ceremony and benign authority attached to church and government was a hollow fiction.

      Europe was still reeling from World War II. In England, the pace of recovery was particularly slow. The world was still absorbing the unimaginable horror of the Holocaust. In Paris, Jean-Paul Sartre posited the dark dilemma of Existentialism: Life offers no rules or precedents to guide us; we must make it up as we go along; we find our being in nothingness.

      Bacon's work reflected this mood. He painted figures for a crucifixion scene like gelatinous succubi, all teeth, sucking mouths and blind eyes against a vibrating red backdrop. The artist was actually Irish like his contemporary, the great genius of absurdist theater, Samuel Beckett. Bacon's images of grimacing men in glass boxes live in the same spirit as Beckett characters who inhabit garbage cans. Bacon had come to London as a youth to be a decorator but his inner demons goaded him out of an easy life. He was a dedicated tosspot, compulsive gambler and tortured homosexual who haunted the low-life demimonde of Berlin and Paris before he settled in Chelsea. He started painting seriously during the war. He was, by turns, recluse, seductive charmer and vicious wit.

      "I serve champagne to my real friends and real pain to my sham friends," he remarked.

      Technically he was a virtuoso but his vision of life was unremittingly edged with violence and madness. "Man now realizes he is an accident," he once said, "that he is a completely futile being, that he has to play out the game without reason. I think of life as meaningless; we create certain attitudes which give it meaning while we exist, though they in themselves are meaningless."

      Visually he expressed all this in images often drawn from photographs. He borrowed the face of a screaming woman from Sergei Eisenstein's film The Battleship Potemkin. He mined the serial photographs of Eadweard Muybridge, transforming a photograph of nude men wrestling into a troubled sexual coupling. He often painted his companion George Dyer and his friend Isabel Rawsthorne in radically distorted portraits that made them seem like lonely souls going insane in barren bed-sitters.

      His style can be described in shorthand as a combination of Picasso's distortions and Rembrandt's fleshiness. But such a formula leaves out the galvanic effect of the work, the way it captures the sense of inner contortion brought on by anxiety, the feeling of physical flagellation induced by masochistic worry.

      Bacon was a singular stylist who both mirrored and molded his epoch. He was one of the last artists easily attached to the larger culture. He found kindred spirits in artists like Alberto Giacometti and Jean Dubuffet. In the theater the plays of Harold Pinter, Eugene Ionesco and Jean Genet echoed Bacon's dark, absurdist spirit. The fruitlessness of conventional culture and life lived on the run turns up in the American Beat generation in Ginsberg and Kerouac. California figurative painting of the '50s owes something to Bacon. There are hints of it in Richard Diebenkorn's "Girl on Terrace" paintings, in Nathan Oliveira's specters. In Los Angeles, the art of Rico Lebrun and Howard Warshaw mirrored Bacon's tragic vision.

      Like many who endure a long life, Bacon at a certain point seemed to have outlived his moment. In the cool '60s, dominated by ironic Pop and exquisite Minimalism, Bacon seemed overblown, operatically self-indulgent and inclined to impersonate himself. He came to represent a pessimistic humanism that represented the tattered survival of a great cultural tradition that admits of pain and suffering and implies the need for heroism in the face of the abyss. Bacon had but a small progenypainters like Lucian Freud, Ron Kitaj, Jim Dine. Nobody wanted to think about poets of loneliness in the go-go '60s or the narcissistic '80s.

      But when the County Museum presented a survey of his work in 1990, we were reminded of his striking images. And now that times are tough again and Bacon is gone, we see him afresh. He managed to do something relevant with the legacy of the very culture his generation thought bankrupt, its traditions of art, philosophy and literature. He talked straight about the phantom maze of our inner life and heeded to the worth of the outsider's soul.

 

 

 

Bacon the low-life art genius dies

 

 

By PATRICK HENNESSY | DAILY EXPRESS | WEDNESDAY APRIL 29 1992


 

HARD-DRINKING, fast-living artist Francis Bacon died from a heart attack yesterday while on holiday in Spain.

Last night tributes poured in for the 82-year-old genius, believed by some critics to have been the greatest British artist since Turner.

Many of his pictures have been labelled obscene — but they are sold for record sums worldwide.

His detractors included former Premier Margaret Thatcher, who described him as "that man who paints those dreadful pictures".

A self-confessed homosexual, Bacon was fascinated by sex and death, which provided most of the shocking imagery that is shot through his work.

A typical working day for him consisted of painting from dawn until lunchtime, then downing bottles of champagne with journalist Jeffrey Bernard in seedy Soho drinking clubs until late into the night.

His death came while staying with friends on holiday.

Bacon, an asthma sufferer, complained of not feeling well yesterday and was taken to hospital, where he died suddenly. His body will be flown back to England for a private funeral.

In an interview last year Bacon spoke frankly about his homosexuality.

"I don't go about shouting that I'm gay but AIDS has made it all much worse, you know. People are very odd about it," he said.

Bacon, the son of a British Army officer, was born in Ireland in 1909.

As a youth he ran wild and at 16 was banished by his father after being caught wearing his mothers underwear and having sex with one of the grooms.

During the war he joined an ambulance squad — and his exposure to corpses had a profound effect on his work.

A year ago he gave a £3 million painting dating from 1944 to London's Tate Gallery.

Last night Mark Fisher, shadow arts minister, said: "There is no doubt that his work is going to survive. It said something about the pain of the human condition."

 

 

              PAIN AND FAME: Bacon with one of his paintings at the Tate in 1985.


 

 

 

PORTRAYING MAN'S AGONY

 

 

To Francis Bacon, Life was the horror, not his paintings

 

 

 

ALAN G. ARTNER | CHICAGO TRIBUNE | MAY 1, 1992

 

The death of Francis Bacon on Tuesday at age 82 brought to an end one of the most individual careers in the history of 20th Century painting.

      His vision was grisly, but he always maintained, realistic. He had few antecedents and attracted fewer disciples. Yet the strength of that vision indelibly impressed itself on art of our time and, contrary to his many statements, came to stand for a particular moment in Western cultural history. Nearly a half-century of interpreters have seen Bacon as the one artist who consistently tried to sum up the agony of modern man. They said his outlook was shaped by World War II and inevitably represented extreme states of feeling.

      Bacon himself was cooler, repeating again and again that he had nothing to express about the human condition. Life was the horror and his paintings were no match for it.

      Sometimes they captured a little bit of truth. But they did it in an intense and curtailed way, distorting beyond appearance yet working into the distortions something still recognizable.

      In short, Bacon was more concerned with the act of painting than the philosophy everyone said lay behind it. He was not in any sense a philosopher. As a young man, he merely had seen a dog defecate on the street and had accepted it as the most accurate representation of life. This viewpoint allowed him to look at every conceivable human act without surprise, disappointment, judgment or recoil.

      What was normal to Bacon was terrible to others, and, paradoxically, the extent of the terror accounted for his success. He often said he could not imagine anyone who really liked his paintings, but museums and collectors around the world acquired them, and they entered even the popular imagination through use on the opening credits of Bernardo Bertolucci's film Last Tango in Paris.

      American critics frequently dismissed his work as "automatic angst" that, over the years, had become decorative in their composition and colour. Some gave him credit for being a great image maker, but denied him the status of great painter. This was transparent. Bacon rankled American critics only because he did not need them.

      Bacon never claimed to have brought anything new to painting and, in truth, he did not. Though self-taught, he recognized the value of history and freely approached it as a storehouse of images that might trigger his imagination.

      The most famous image he used was that of Velasquez's 1650 portrait of Pope Innocent X , but there were many others, most notably from paintings by Picasso, Cimabue, Ingres and Van Gogh, and from photographs by Edweard Muybridge.

Bacon was acutely aware of the predicament of the 20th Century painter who tried to record life, acknowledging that mechanical means could do it better. So he sought an intensity that came in part from the risk-taking of the artist, and he often ruined paintings by throwing pigment at them or by deliberately causing accidents upon which he hoped to capitalize.

      In 1988, a year before the 80th birthday exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., Bacon returned to the work that first brought him notoriety, his  Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944.  This time, he did not rework the original but created a new triptych marked by telling refinements in composition, colour and touch. The piece reaffirmed that Bacon's primary concern long had been painting, not subject matter. And it should have surprised no one. His words and deeds were consistent throughout his career and, decades before, while looking through a book on mouth diseases, he had said he wanted to paint the inside of a screaming mouth as beautifully as a Claude Monet sunset.

      That linkage between beauty and horror came naturally to Bacon, and it kept him from ever appearing sentimental about anything, including art.

      If not especially appealing, it is nonetheless extraordinary that a world-famous artist would say, simply and without guile: "I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, like a snail, leaving a trail of the human presence and memory trace of past events as the snail leaves its slime."

 

 

 

Just a pile of paint and a nightmare of chic thrills

 

 

Michael McNay takes a dissenting view of a 'genius'

 

 

MICHAEL McNAY | THE GUARDIAN WEEKEND | 2-3 MAY, 1992

 

All the world loves a picture. A picture with a story is even better. Ulysses Deridibg Polyphenus before Symphony in Grey and Black; The Last of England or the Hireling Shepherd before Dedham Vale. Better still - halcyon days of the Royal Academy when Munnings ruled and God was his heaven? - the puzzle pictures, a canvas that hinted at a story but which left the viewer guessing. 

Francis Bacon bestrides this honourable tradition. Pictures, no paintings. Best of all, English narrative pictures. One must be careful here: he is of course "painterly" picture maker. His legions of admirers say so. Many of his admirers are painters themselves', some very good painters; though Bacon himself, we keep hearing, was the greatest living artist, the best British artist since Turner. But Bacon's paint is in the service of pictorial effect. The surface itself should not be scrutinised too carefully. Too often in doesn't describe what it purports to be describing. Bacon can't paint a foot or an ear or a hand. Some of the curves he used to describe physical forms are so slack they would have got him fired from a Disney workshop. 

So Bacon  smudged and threw paint and turned forms back in on themselves and disrupted their logic, instinctively hiding his own deficiencies. These smears of paint describing swollen and distended shapes, especially in the portrait, seize attention and distract the eye from what lies between. Which is nothing.

Nothing will come of nothing. And Bacon's nothing isn't even a black hole, it is a break down in communication. The painting stops dead between the smears of pigment. There is nothing there because it hasn't been described or constructed or placed.

Bacon lived the life of Riley, but despite the boozing and gambling and promiscuity he lived to a fine old age. That style of life must have made him sense that he was a man in a hurry, and he worked obsessively. But unlike Picasso painting in a hurry in his last days, Bacon's talent was not underpinned by training. He gambled and quite often won. Often, too, he lost, and because he had a painter's eye he could pick the losers.

This is no secret. Bacon groupies who fill the columns of the art press and who have been taking up radio time since the artist's death have described with suppressed excitement the way Bacon destroyed work that dissatisfied him, cut the heads out of portraits and left the canvases with gapping holes. They are like Nosey in Joyce Cary's The Horse's Mouth, stuttering excitement over every manifestation of the painter's genius, even the recognition of failure. Bacon himself was quite open about his methods.

His conversations with David Sylvester, published in the 1970s, are quite explicit. Bacon worked fast, and with a lot of paint, pushing it around the surface, waiting for the controlled accident to erupt. It it got out of hand, there was no going back. The canvas had to be abandoned.

The process, an eruption, sounds unpleasant, and it was; because the secret of bacon's successful work was the paint, like a gigantic eructation of pus. The Grand Guignol apparatus of screaming heads, the sides of raw meat, the smeared visages underpinned this visceral sense of horror. Bacon was the last and most extreme of the line of painters who followed van Gogh. But Bacon was self-taught, and unlike Van Gogh, never overcame his technical deficiencies. He borrowed motifs, fair enough, but imposed sketchily realised pictorial devices, like the frame crudely articulated to impose some sense of control over the central images sprawling like something from under a stone.

Given the shortcomings of imagination and technique, Bacon's success is singular. He caught a nerve, as Bryan Robertson put it in his Guardian tribute. The risk taking, the throw of the dice that characterised his encounter with the canvas, had its own excitement.

The nastiness of the images, the grandeur of the nightmare as some would have it, help to assuage a western civilisation that can't cope with its own darker compulsions. A bad dream by Bacon is the ultimate adjunct to any truly-chic boardroom. Which is why the front page of the Times was able to report: "The first test of the value of his works, which are (sic) certain to rise following his death, will come at a Christie's sale in London on July 2."  As Wilde would have said, there's a reporter who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. No doubt the market will bear him out. But as for being  the "best living painter", Bacon wasn't even the best painter living in North London.

 

 

 

 

The horror of Francis Bacon 

 

 

 

OBITUARY  | THE ECONOMIST | MAY 2, 1992

 

THE trauma of our age, after Auschwitz, after Hiroshima, haunts so many of his pictures. Francis Bacon, who died aged 82 on April 28th, was the greatest British painter since Turner but also something more. His works, like Picasso's, have left their mark on everyman, not just the art public. 

He nearly always painted the human face and figure, stripped bare of civilised niceties, set against backgrounds of stark colour and a terrifying clinical vacancy. "I hate a homely atmosphere," he once said, and there is nothing cosy or illustrative about his figures: screaming prelates;manically grimacing businessmen; naked men vomiting, defecating, wrestling (or making love) with each other. He compressed reality to the claustrophobia of the interrogation chamber, the screaming cell, the slaughterhouse.

Nothing about Bacon,, a descendent of the Elizabethan English philosopher of the same name, was conventional. He suffered from asthma in his childhood in Dublin and had little schooling.  Despaired of by his family, the adolescent Bacon set off for London, then to Paris and Berlin. During the wandering years that followed, he worked sometimes in nightclubs, and was always a keen gambler. He never attended art school, in his case a saving grace. A 1927 Picasso exhibition opened his eyes to the imaginative possibilities of distorting the human face.

In 1944 he painted "Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixon", in which humanoid creatures, grotesquely phallic in proportion, emit ineffable primal screams. The human cry, inspired by images such as that of the blooded nruse in Eisenstein's 1925 film 2Battleship Potemkin", obsessed him. He always denied, however, being a visual terrorist out to shock gratuitously. "I've always hoped in a sense to be able to paint the mouth like Monet painted a sunset."

His first London exhibition in 1949 a shocked and riveted the art public. Its iconoclasm and gallows humour broke ever taboo, but, as always, with tremendous assurance of composition, acute sense of the figure in space and beautiful qualities of paint. Figures were depicted mid-howl; a pope in a transparent box, like a hunted specimen; a monstrous man with opened umbrella under suspended animal carcasses.

By the late 1950s Bacon was internationally famous. In 1962 and 1985, he had retrospectives at London's Tate Gallery. His 1988 Moscow retrospective was the first of a living, western artist to be held in the Soviet Union. His pictures commanded prices in seven figures.

But he remained an elusive figure, avoiding interviews, parrying critics. "I'm just rying 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. Yet as Cecil Beaton, a famous society photographer described him in 1960, Bacon provided lively, humorous company for his friends, gay and straight. His studio was incredibly dishevelled; he enjoyed heavy late-night drinking in London clubs; he was indifferent to the opinions of others.

He lived and worked like this almost o the end. In his art, he desperately exorcised the ravaging tensions within. He described his portraiture as a kind of injury inflicted on the subject, and spontaneously applied paint almost as a physical assault on the viewer's sensibilities. A flayed human body on a bed under a rude electric light bulb: this is Bacon's tragic view of man. His are 20th-century icons, without a glimmer of redemption or release from horror.

 

 

 

THE BOOK THAT BACON BANNED

 

 


Francis Bacon died on Tuesday morning aged 82. 

 

BRUCE BERNARD, visual arts editor of The Independent Magazine and a longtime friend of Bacon’s, recalls the revealing saga of ‘About Francis Bacon a book approved by Bacon, monitored by Bacon, and – at the last minute – blocked by Bacon.

 

 

BRUCE BERNARD | THE INDEPENDENT MAGAZINE | MAY 2, 1992

 

About five years ago, an art director at Macdonald Orbis, the publishers for whom I had compiled three books about painting, suggested that I should “do a book” about Francis Bacon. At first I thought that there was nothing I could contrive that would supersede or add anything significant to the books already published, but within a very short time I had an idea. Why not make the best possible picture book of Bacon’s work, with a text consisting mostly of extracts from press criticism of it from the very beginning (which turned out to be 1931)? One would break into this occasionally with a biographical narrative, and use documentary photographs of Bacon, his friends and models, and reproductions of magazine spreads and books such as Herbert Read’s Art Now of 1937, which showed a Bacon opposite a Picasso and had first aroused my interest in him when I was still at school.

I naturally went first to the designer Derek Birdsall, who had designed two of my compilations, earning universal approval for his work on them, and he immediately bettered my proposed title with About Francis Bacon, and made a splendid dummy. He chose a squarish landscape format so that the numerous triptychs could be shown without resort to fold outs. Francis, whom I had known since 1949, and always been on friendly terms with, thought it looked “marvellous” (“like a scrapbook”, he said approvingly). Everyone else was equally enthusiastic, and the book was commissioned without delay. Bacon’s agents, Marlborough Fine Art, offered bill co operation and gave me access to their several tomes of press cuttings: I also found invaluable the bibliography prepared by Krzysztof Cieszkowski of the Tate Gallery. I commissioned translations of what three intelligent linguists thought the most interesting foreign language cuttings in the Marlborough books, and sent a patient assistant to Colindale Newspaper Library and the V & A to get copies of the most interesting looking pieces on the Tate list. It added up to a fascinating, if predictable, mixture of vilification, bewilderment, recognition of a remarkable talent, and the acknowledgement of greatness (the favourable notices perhaps too numerous for Francis’s taste). Comments such as Bernard Levin’s 1984 prediction that the paintings would be sold as scrap in 20 years or so have always been balanced by Lawrence Gowing, Andrew Forge, David Sylvester and others, carrying torches that illuminate, with all possible mixtures of feeling in between.

I wrote a biographical narrative with personal comments on a few paintings which I believe to be among Bacon’s greatest, and showed it to him after one of the many dinners he gave me as the book progressed. He took my words home with him, and rang me early the next morning to say that owing to insomnia he had read it that night, and “rather liked it”. Later on he asked me to take out an anecdote that would cause someone embarrassment, and kept on insisting that I must declare that my “interpretations” of the works I mentioned were mine alone. I agreed, though this was perfectly obvious and needed no underlining. There were other minor objections, such as my use of the word “incarnation”, which he thought had unwelcome religious connotations, but he made no fundamental objection to the uneven text, which I admit might possibly have seemed presumptuous in parts. (I did not think a distinguished piece of art writing appropriate, and would have asked someone else to provide it if I had.) In view of his later objection to anything biographical in words or photographs, it should be borne in mind that Francis was particularly anxious that all the staff at Wheeler’s restaurant in Old Compton Street were fully named in my account of his very friendly relationship with them, and was pleased that I had found photographs of other friends. Many of the pictures had been taken by John Deakin, the remarkable photographer who had provided numerous portraits for Bacon to work from.

Derek Birdsail soon produced layouts and Francis came to his workshop in Islington to look at them. He professed himself very pleased, using the word “marvellous” many times and voicing very few reservations. He then took me, Derek, and most of the Birdsall family out to lunch, and charmed us all with his generosity and customary enjoyment of such occasions.

When the colour proofs arrived and were pasted down quite soon after this, he came to the workshop again. A lot of the colour was, as it so often is at this stage, depressingly inaccurate, and this seemed to worry him. I felt that it triggered other unspoken doubts, but we then had another lunch with family, scarcely less enjoyable than the first. The book was due to go to the printers within a fortnight.

Two days later he phoned me, saying that he wanted to see me urgently, and his tone of voice was ominous. I went along to his place early the following morning, and after offering me tea in his usual hospitable way, he told me that he was insisting that all the photographs and my text (apart from the short introduction) should be removed, and that no work before the famous 1944 Tate triptych, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, should be reproduced. This seemed to me quite unacceptable, and although I was prepared to bargain to some extent about my text, which I considered the least of the book’s components, I was not prepared to surrender the idea of some kind of biographical narrative or illustration, or endure the embargo on his earliest work. The package of demands being so destructive of my own and Derek’s notion of the book, I did not stay to argue.

Francis then asked for a meeting with the publishers, to whom he spelled out the same conditions. They declined to accept them, deciding quite rightly that the book would not arouse half the interest either here or abroad if they did. I sent him a letter pointing out his earlier co operation with the biographical aspect, his loans of personal photographs, and his general approval of my text when he first saw it. I also stated my belief that the elements he wanted removed in no way detracted from the impact of his work (I considered the sequence and juxtaposition of the paintings to be the best ever made). I never had an answer to my letter perhaps because it was unanswerable, though I can now see that several things I wrote in the book were unwise, and also that he couldn’t be expected to like the unavoidable sense of valediction at the end. If I had possessed a written agreement with his gallery concerning the use of the paintings we could, it seems, have printed the book with little fear of an injunction. But friendly agreements are, by their nature, vulnerable.

If our friendship was a little dented by this episode, my regard and admiration for the best he did and was will never change. I feel honoured to have known him.

 

 

 

 

 

Homage to a slice of Bacon  

 

 

 

MARTYN HARRIS | ODD MAN OUT | THE DAILY TELEGRAPH | SATURDAY MAY 2, 1992

 

Francis Bacon's body lay a moulderin' in Madrid, but in London the Tate Gallery had already created what will doubtless be the first of many memorials. In Room 25 they have hung his last major triptych, Three Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, which he gave to the gallery in 1991, and which is now flanked on one side with a vase of roses on a tasteful grey plinth - made of plywood, but trying hard to be stone.

Bacon, who sneered equally at sentiment and kitsch, would have laughed at this, but already the public are arriving to pay homage, pausing respectfully to read the inscription, or sitting to meditate on the bench before the great painting. And so begins that mysterious translation from semi-ignored outsider to pillar of culture. Not so long ago, in a Soho pub, a man who had heard Bacon was a painter offered him a job doing up his house. This week Bacon takes full-page obituaries in every serious paper in the land.

Most of the people passing by know he is dead, and some even know other Bacon paintings. "He did Screaming Popes." "and Mick Jagger", "sides of meat," "and men having it off". Asked for the first adjective that comes to mind in front of the crucifixion triptych they say, "nightmare", "scary", "slasher movie", "alien", "warped" and "weird".

 

The triptych is actually a retread of a 1944 Bacon which hangs two rooms away. This shows three animal forms with lumpen greyish bodies, elongated necks and tiny snarling heads, set in windowless interiors painted a garish tomato soup colour. In the modern version the background is a more restful imperial purple, and the figures less agitated, more monumental.

 

Alexander, an art student from Nice, says the faces seem to be trying to escape from the bodies, like the threshing heads of straitjacketed lunatics. "But I don't like to read meaning into painting you know. Proust says 'a work of art which contains theories is like a present with the price tag still on'."  All the same there is a sense of revulsion here, from the flesh and mortality. I think of Yeats's terror, ay being a creative intelligence "chained to a dying animal".

 

Quite a little seminar group is gathering now, in front of the painting. There are American couples in Burberries, filling in time before Starlight Express; French/Spanish students with Day-Glo bumbags full of postcards; and soi-distant "practicing artists" in black Levis and torn vests. Everyone looks at the label before the painting.

 

Burberries like to imagine messages behind the picture: "For me this is a feminist image on the left of the woman armless and bound..." Bumbags, on the other hand, prefer to find popular parallels; "Zis reminds me vair much of zis punk band album cover. I sink ze Ramones..." The black Levis lot are opposed to all attempts at interpretation and prefer words like "strong", "sensual" and "interesting".

 

They do all seem to like Bacon though, which, given his unpleasant material and limited range, seems strange. Looking through Michel Leiris's book on the artist, there is hardly any development over the years in the pictures of flayed faces, doglike couplings, grungy rooms  and screaming mouths - except that in the later paintings the distortions of bodies and faces look more wilful than pathological; colours are cleaner, edges neater, and the expression of disgust seems more factitious than felt.

 

 Though his boozing and gambling friends like to portray him as a desperate character, Bacon actually had a remarkably placid and healthy life, from his comfortable home background to the cosy clubs of his declining years. The nearest he came to real horror was conscription to the Army in 1939, which he avoided by hiring an Alsatian dog from Harrods and sleeping beside it overnight. As he suffered from asthma and was allergic to dogs he was gasping for breath when he reported for his medical, and was rejected as unfit.

 

The British artist Alfred Stevens once remarked: "The artist who always paints the same scene pleases the public for the sole reason that it recognises him with ease and thinks itself a connoisseur."

Perhaps that is all it is. Bacon did the same kind of painting for 50 years, and anyone who goes on for that long must have something to say, mustn't he? Sheer persistence will finally wear away scepticism, and in any case Bacon did have something to say, though as years went by he said it with less venom and less real horror, until in the end it felt like a tic of style rather than genuine terror.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Francis Bacon

 

Out of decay, immortality

 

         Giles Auty

 

 

By GILES AUTY | THE SPECTATOR | 2 MAY 1992

 

 

I was having lunch this Tuesday with a painter friend when news of Francis Bacon's death reached us. Bacon was in his 83rd year and was felt by many who knew him well to have been lucky to have got so far. My friend celebrated him for another reason: 'You've got to be grateful to old Francis for keeping the idea of figurative painting alive during those awful years of Pop and abstract expressionism.' Francis Bacon outlived many more art movements than these and in a sense reaffirmed belief in the continuity of art rather than sharing in the idea of modernist schism.

I first met the artist in the closing months of 1959 when we rented almost adjacent dwellings in St Ives. I remember especially talking with him during a long, sunlit after- noon largely on the subject of Bonnard. The artist was charming, considerate and well-informed. As dusk drew in a male companion of the artist who seemed to me none of these things made his return and I made polite excuses to depart.

I encountered the artist intermittently over succeeding years, once in the restaurant car of a train. In days when Britain was less affluent, I suspect many users of restaurant cars seldom dined out other than when travelling. There was a subdued hush in the dining car broken only by the tinkle of cutlery and whispered discussions between long-married couples as to whether to order a half-bottle of Beaujolais. The waiter motioned me to an unoccupied seat at a table . . . 'If you wouldn't mind joining the other gentlemen, sir.' Almost as I did so, Mr Bacon's new companion, a brawny young man sporting a bright ginger crew-cut, complained very loudly of the heat: 'Cor, Francis, it ain't 'alf fuckin' 'ot in 'ere.' Throwing off his coat, he revealed a short-sleeved shirt, impressive musculature and brilliant braces. Several delicately poised fish knives clattered to the floor.

The artist resisted the idea of a biography which would probably centre more on his private social habits — notably drinking, gambling and intense physical attachments — than on his art. A good deal of nonsense has been written about the latter, too, and I expect we must now fear the excesses, also, of his obituarists. Thus I do not share Sir Roy Strong's view, already stated, that Bacon was the greatest British artist since Turner. The artist's unusual life and background probably explain much more in his art than is commonly realised — but it would be strange if they did not do so. Bacon was a weak and asthmatic child sired by a domineering racehorse trainer in Ireland. He had little convention- al schooling and no art training at all. He left home at 16 following a reputed incident of trying on his mother's clothes. Unsurprisingly, his natural milieu became that of Bohemia and the demimonde in Berlin, Paris and London, where he worked before the last war as a designer of rugs and furniture. At the time I first met Bacon, his rise to artistic fame and fortune had merely begun. I believe the critic David Sylvester was as responsible as anyone for its subsequent acceleration. For years, whenever I remarked on the low standard of coverage on television of the visual arts, colleagues would refer me to a most illuminating interview between Bacon and Sylvester ... 'if only you had seen that'. Not many years ago I did so and was acutely disappointed. Little doubt this footage will be re-run many times in the months to come.

Bacon learned the craft of painting slowly but developed subsequent techniques which made his technical shortcomings difficult for most critics to comment upon. At the end of his life he was accused by former admirers of becoming almost too accomplished for his own good: of producing pastiches of his own mannerisms, in fact. For me, perhaps the greatest virtue of Bacon's painting lay in his commitment to the activity itself. To the best of my knowledge he never complained of the inadequacy of the medium, recognising rightly that if the activity of painting were good enough for anyone from Rembrandt to Grünewald or Ingres to Goya there was no particular need to look elsewhere.

Bacon's often remarkable painting struck me always as a far more urgent reflection of his own, driven condition than that of humanity at large. His supposed assault on 'reality' accords more with vulgar conceptions of such matters than with the profound or philosophical. Paradoxically, there is often a taint of melodrama and sentimentality about visions of remorselessness, whether written or painted. Bacon's over-insistence on decay and futility may have been an unintended argument for immortality. Though his friends may deny this, perhaps he was not such an old, existential romantic after all.

 

 

 

 

 

Terrible beauty or dirty mac decadence?


 

 

John McEwen recalls his meetings with Francis Bacon, the wild car of English art and epitome of dandyism, who died last Tuesday

 

 

JOHN McEWEN | THE ARTS | THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH | MAY 3, 1992

 

 

THE WORD "dandy" to describe a person is rarely used today. Baudelaire lamented his passing 150 years ago, but dandyism has survived into our own time - no doubt it will never be quite snuffed out - and in art its epitome was Francis Bacon.

Bacon as a man devoted to what Baudelaire defined as "the cult of the self" was the real Regency McCoy. This Byronic aspect to his nature had something to do with a complete absence of sentimentality, a recklessness, a bleak rationality, an awareness that his lack of religious faith was in itself despair, and also an intense animalism.

The animalism was the first thing one felt on meeting him, a palpable magnetic field. It gave one some inkling of what he meant when he rather mystifyingly described his art as trying to record his feelings about things as closely to his "own nervous system" as he could. He wanted to conduct this nervous energy into his painting, to vent its expressive power.

On one occasion I was standing close behind him when an artist he disliked entered the room. Immediately he stiffened, bristled, became alert as a dog. It was the only time I have witnessed the hairs stand up on the back of a human neck. No fight ensued, or hostile conversation. It was more menacing than that. As a younger man he must have been capable of being quite terrifying.

The electricity showed itself in other ways. It preserved his youth to a Dorian Gray extent. Right till the end, into his eighties, he still looked 10 to 20 years younger than he was. There was no sense of that collapse which most of us suffer in ripe middle age. He walked with a spring in a step, a semi-tiptoe effect well described by the sobriquet of "Lightfoot", which he had chosen for himself when he worked for a short time as a butler.

In old age he defiantly wore tight trousers, the better to show off his figure. He was dapper and had settled on a late 1950s "mod" taste for leather jackets and pastel slip-on shoes. His face was soft and pink and he was shamelessly vain, admiring himself in the nearest mirror and combing his hair even when carrying on a conversations. He was made for an age of blades and beaux. His conversation was always conducted with courteous attention to whoever he was talking to. Since he knew he was the most splendid person in the room, there was no need of him to scan the crowd.

His patrician cockney is well preserved on film interviews, his favourite of which was "with that Yorkshire chap, can't remember his name" (Melvyn Bragg), where he answers questions during the course of a long well-oiled lunch: "I've made images that the intellect would never make. I make images of realism. The violence of life, of sensation. I believe in nothing, except the sensation of the moment. I drift."

What is missing from the official record is his wit and asperity. He spoke French as might have been expected, fluently but with no attempt at an accent. Conversation was his forte; interviewing was sticky - perhaps always the case when the interviewee has answered every question a hundred times before; and Bacon has been exhaustively and famously interviewed.

Subjecting himself to my interrogation in the basement of the Marlborough Galley, he gave little away. Why did he paint those little arrows? He couldn't think. And the bits and pieces of newsprint?

"You don't like it? No one likes my pictures, you know. They buy them for some reason, but nobody likes them." He said it with an air of resignation. "Fame? I now nothing about that. It's all done in here by the Marlborough."

What Bernard Levin regarded as "dirty mac" decadence, he saw as Yeats's "terrible beauty". Life was at its most intense at its most extreme, and only in the extreme did reality fully reveal itself, which was why he gambled in casinos, saw life as a gamble, and treated painting as a game of chance.

I suggested, in Baconian fashion, that we have a drink at the near by Ritz. After all, he reckoned to have divided his life "between the gutter and the Ritz" - a metaphor he continued in his art by insisting on those ritzy gilded frames, however squalid the subject they enclosed.

And once there, of course, it had to be champagne with which to drink good fortune to our true friends and pain to our sham ones. Conversation became general and easier. I asked if he thought someone we both new actually had got chucked out of the navy in the war for murdering the ship's cook.

"I think you'd have to do something much worse than murder the cook to get drummed out of the merchant navy - don't you think?"

We got on to his love of low, not to say criminal, life. The Kray twins had been wished upon him in Tangier by Stanley Baker. They came round his studio one Sunday morning - Ronnie and two cronies - when there was talk of him suing a friend of theirs for some paintings they hadn't paid for.

His homosexuality he regarded as "an affliction", but at least it had been fun until it was made legal. The best grass in London was in the foreground of Seurat's La Grande Jatte in the National Gallery. He had just been to look again at Velázquez's Las Meninas in the Prado: "It was so nice to see it without any Japanese mice in the way."

At a late stage in the proceedings I disappeared to the cloakroom. On my return I called for the bill. With customary grace he had already paid it. As Baudelaire says: " ... money is indispensible to those who make a cult of their emotions; but the dandy does not aspire to money as to something essential; this crude passions he leaves to vulgar mortals; he would be perfectly content with a limitless credit at the bank.

Bacon once approvingly described a mutual friend as someone who seemed, "to have cut out all that nonsense that most people have"; and he meant much the same when he said that no one over 30 could be shy. He had certainly cut the nonsense out of his own life - no tiresome distractions or keeping up with the Joneses for him.

His favourite photograph of himself was taken secretly on the Underground by John Stiletto; and to travel by public transport and then to pick up the tab for the most expensive lunch in town was just another expression of his delight in living a life of "gilded squalor".

But then, as a born aristocrat, he had no need of airs and graces - he had a claim to the vacant barony of Oxford, which would have entitled him to a seat in the Lords, but he disdained it, as his father had before him. As for official honours, he was not interested.

No vignette of his attitude could have been more precise than his refusal to go to lunch with Frank Lloyd, the art dealer, when they met one day by chance in the Marlborough front entrance for the first time since Lloyd's disgrace and American exile. "My dear boy, let me give you lunch. We've got so much to talk about." But Bacon, at his most assiduously Lightfooted - head cocked eyelids a-flutter - was not to be moved.

It is fitting that he died in Spain. The world had long been his oyster, but Spain for him was the pearl of it. His favourite art was ancient Egyptian, his preferred reading Racine or the Greek tragedies; but his favourite artist was Velázquez, and one of his own masterpieces is of the bullfight. He is the wild card of English art; the wildest it has surely ever thrown.

 

 

High art underground, in Bacon's favourite photograph of himself.   "I make images of realism. I believe in nothing, except the sensation of the moment. I drift."

 

 

 

 

Myth of the modern

 

 

Francis Bacon could not draw, but the tyrannical Modern Art Industry took him up, argues Paul Johnson

 

 

 

PAUL JOHNSON | SUNDAY COMMENT | THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH | MAY 3, 1992

 

"The greatest British painter since Turner" "The heir to Velasquez" These were just two of the accolades repeatedly lavished on Francis Bacon over the past few days. The mind reels. One looks again at his works and the mind reels further. Bacon was an amiable and much-loved man, generous to the point of mania, much exploited by the sharks and hyenas of the bohemian work he inhabited, unassuming about his paintings and certainly incapable of the conscious fraudulence of a man like Picasso. But to hail him as a Great Master not only reveals the bankruptcy of Modern Art - we knew all about that already - but flings a dismally revealing beam into the moral and aesthetic decay of our culture. Having long since lost our standards, are we beginning to lose our senses too?

Bacon was almost entirely a creation of the Modern Art Industry. Working in a discipline that once demanded many years of the strictest studio apprenticeship, he had no training of any significance. That need not matter but he had little natural aptitude either. He could not draw. His ability to paint was limited and the way he laid the pigments on the canvas was often barbarous. He had no ideas, other than one or two morbid fancies arising from his homosexuality, chaotic way of life, and Irish fear of death. What he did have was a gimmick, something resembling an advertising-designer's logo. In his case it was a knack of portraying the human face or body not so much twisted as smeared our of shape. It was enough. Such a logo could easily be dressed up by the scriptwriters of the Industry into an image of "our despairing century"; it fitted their favourite words: "disquieting", "disturbing".

Of course there was luck in it. The essence of painting is in the hand portraying what the eyes see, the imaginative rendering of nature. The Impressionists still paid the closest attention to nature and endeavoured to reproduce it with inspired fidelity. From the Post-Impressionists onwards the divorce from nature began, until painting ceased to be anchored in the visual world of people and landscapes and became man-centred.

As decade succeeded decade, the divorce widened, nature was increasingly dismissed as irrelevant, the internal visual notions, or rather whims, of man took over. The canonical traditions of centuries were brushed aside. Skills acquired with infinite pain over many generations ceased to be used, thus ceased to be taught, and so were lost. For an entire generation, until recently, most art schools did not even attempt to train students in the fundamental grammar and syntax of drawing - lacked, indeed, the staff competent to do so - and in painting merely encouraged all to "do their own thing". The Royal Academy, which had a glorious opportunity to uphold truth to nature amid this aesthetic anarchy, pusillanimously sold the pass, and so became a comic hybrid. With the collapse of any objective standards of how to judge skill, talent and merit, the way was wide open for art to be replaced by fashion.

Yet the schools continued to turn out thousands of would-be artists, joined by thousands more who lacked, and no longer needed, any training at all. Such neophytes were keen for fame and money, and sharply observant of the way the world was run. They saw that a gimmick was needed, a little trick of their own to catch the eye of fashion, and feverishly sought to manufacture one. But how to choose the lucky few among so many?

The arbiters of the lottery were the critics, dealers and gallery owners, and ultimately the directors of public institutions. Themselves lacking any agreed criteria of worth, other than a willingness to worship fashionable success, each chose by caprice, though looking suspiciously over his shoulder at the others. Thus an apostolic succession of Great Modern Masters was anointed by the pontiffs of the Industry, exactly as the hard-faced men of pop-music select the next synthetic superstar from among the clamorous multitude of youngsters.

That, more or less, was how Francis Bacon became our greatest painter since Turner, the heir to Velasquez. Told to go out into the world, as Turner did, and paint a landscape with truth and imagination, he could not have done it. The role of the humblest court portraitist - let alone the audacious subtleties and complexities of Velasquez - was beyond him. To ask him to give a truthful rendering of a real pope (or cardinal), instead of his logo-esque screaming one, would be like asking the average pop singer to perform the lead role in Otello. The notion that a painter is and ought to be in some way at the service of the public and society, instead of his own ego, died the moment the Modern Art Industry established its visual dictatorship and began to select the artistic idols we are supposed to worship. No political dictatorship has ever been more ruthless and totalitarian or more anxious to suppress dissent.

For dissent can cost money - lots of it. Once an artistic reputation is inflated, however artificially, canvases can fetch millions. Having paid them, museum directors and trend-setting private collectors are anxious to conserve, and indeed increase their capital, and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with dealers, galleries and auction houses to deflect any challenge to their verdicts. Thus the labels of fake masters are engraved in stone, and genuine ones, like Rembrandt and Goya, are dragged unwillingly from their honoured graves for purposes of promotion. Bacon was a comparatively minor player in this big league. Billions are now invested in the Picasso Trade, and to defend them it has been equipped with a whole apparatus of functionaries, including scholars and hagiographers.

The Modern Art Industry is only one example of the way in which cultural dictatorships, ultimately propelled by the quest for money or power or both, impose their arbitrary wills on the public, in letters as well as the arts. Their ravages are all around us. Modernism in architecture has filled our cities with enormous buildings of unspeakable ugliness, many of them put up with our own money, which will depress us for decades. In public galleries, paintings and sculpture of great beauty have been cynically trundled into basements to make space for collections of scrap-iron, bricks, weird wire cobwebs and inch-thick daubs of paint. Pop singers replace Beethoven and Brahms on music syllabuses, while students are told that there is no such thing as "quality", that a horror comic has as much artistic status as a poem by Keats and that "the phrase 'George Elliot' signifies nothing more than the insertion of certain specific ideological determinations".

Yet, as Gladstone once put it, "the resources of civilisation are not exhausted". We had to wait a long time for the fall of Marxism and the Soviet Empire of Evil, but it came in the end. Cultural dictatorships can be destroyed too. There are in fact signs in the world of art that paintings created from nature by skills rediscovered from the past are once more winning favour. This new renaissance can be rapidly accelerated if young people defy the diktats of their corrupt elders and begin to open their eyes and look for themselves. Let them expose the fraudulence and cry with a loud voice that the artistic emperors have no clothes.

 

 

Heir to Velasquez? Francis Bacon painted screaming prelates but could never portray real ones

 

 

 


THE OUTCAST WHO MASTERED MISERY

AND THE PAIN THAT COLOURED HIS WORK

 

 

 

PAUL RICHARD | THE WASHINGTON POST | MAY 3, 1992

 

In the flesh, Francis Bacon suggested - as his paintings do - unexpected luxury pulled from piercing pain. It's been nearly 17 years since I saw him last, in 1975. That Anglo-Irish master - who died at 82 on Tuesday of a heart attack in Spain - was seated in an overpriced mid-town New York restaurant. In between his smiles his face would sag in grief. He had a wad of $100 bills wedged into his pocket. His jacket was black leather, his sweater a black turtleneck. He kept speaking of his miseries, and pouring the champagne.

    He said, "Life is wholly futile." His closest friends were dead, he said. "Wholly futile," he repeated - and then he made a sudden movement with his arm. It was a gesture of odd beauty, as casually graceful as that of a Beau Brummell tying a foulard. The waiter bowed, attentive. "Another dozen oysters, please," Francis Bacon said.

    That same disturbing shift, from despondency and suffering to voluptuary elegance, is apparent in his art. His superbly painted pictures - with their gibberings and howlings, their sucking sounds of human flesh torn from living bone - clamp your heart with dread. Yet even as they do so, the beauty of the paint - that sumptuousness of surface, that perfectly controlled swooping of the brush - somehow sings in exaltation.

    The man could gild the ghastly. The highest of the high and the lowest of the low are blended in his art. His pictures have the glow, the grand expensive aura of European masterworks, yet they stink of stale cigarettes, of windowless hotel rooms, of paid-for sex on unmade beds. The tensions that divide them - between towering ambition and sordidness of subject, between faith in art's transcendence and unnameable despair, between imagined flesh and real paint - could tear your soul in two.

    He thought himself - and was - one of England's greatest painters. He set out to paint masterworks. He insisted they be shown, as one might display relics, behind gleaming panes of glass. He surrounded them with heavy frames sheathed in burnished gold. Yet he painted them in squalor. His decaying mews house in South Kensington in London had its bathtub in the kitchen. He could have lived in splendour, yet his studio was a filthy place of bare bulbs overhead and refuse underfoot, thick clots of paint and rags. The paintings he produced there sometimes sold, at auction, for nearly $7 million. His art was first seen in London just after World War II. His final retrospective, arranged by James Demetrion, opened in Washington at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in 1989. A small memorial show of four of Bacon's pictures is currently on view there. As he aged, his art grew grander, but his themes remained the same.

    You cannot see his pictures without thinking of the horrors of Europe at mid-century, not only of the public ones - corpses piled high, the stink of burned-out buildings - but of private horrors too. Bacon's popes scream silent screams as if sensing for the first time the era's desolations. Other men had shown us the underside of Europe - think of Jean Genet in jail, of Isherwood's Berlin - but Bacon did so without showing us any touch of sweetness. He preferred to tear off scabs. His violent scenes of male sex are never warmed by love, his men are almost animals, his flesh is butchered meat. Yet he paints with such fierce brio that he conquers our revulsions. He forces us to see.

    He became an outcast early. "I never got on with my mother or my father," he once told author David Sylvester. "They thought I was just a drifter... . As you know, {my father} was a trainer of racehorses. And he just fought with people. He really had no friends at all... . I disliked him, but I was sexually attracted to him when I was young. When I first sensed it, I hardly knew it was sexual. It was only later, through the grooms and the people in the stable I had affairs with, that I realized it was a sexual thing ...

    "And then, when I was 16 or 17, I went to Berlin, and of course I saw the Berlin of 1927 and 1928 where there was a wide open city, which was, in a way, very, very violent... . And after Berlin, I went to Paris, and then I lived all those disturbed years between then and the war, which started in 1939. So I could say, perhaps, I have been accustomed to always living through forms of violence."

    We feel his violence with our bodies. The people in his pictures, some bleeding in their business suits, some crouching in their bathrooms, writhe and retch and die. Bacon was above all else a figurative painter. At a time when other artists gave up the painted figure for the realms of pure abstraction (Willem de Kooning, with his "Women," was a notable exception), Bacon kept the body at the center of his art.

    The strength of his adherence marked him as an Englishman. The British have for centuries given faces to their thoughts; they've personified ideas. Think of Shakespeare's troubled kings, of Milton's fallen angels, of Dickens too and Benny Hill. Bacon in his own way extended that tradition. Figure painting is nearly dead. Portraiture that's something more than cartooning or photography is largely moribund in our land, and throughout most of Europe. But in Britain it's alive. The figure painters there who followed Francis Bacon - Lucian Freud, David Hockney and Frank Auerbach among them - rank among the strongest, most convincing of our time.

    Bacon's smeared and kneaded figures don't participate in our world. Locked behind their panes of glass, or imprisoned in their narrow cells, or silhouetted oddly against blank enclosing walls of orange or light green, they writhe in isolation. They're gruesome, magisterial and completely unforgettable. No one else could paint them. Though he sometimes borrowed images from the paintings of Velazquez, from photographs and movies, Bacon had no predecessors. And no followers survive him. The artist has now joined the pantheon of masters, but like the figures in his pictures, Francis Bacon is still alone.

 

 

 

Why Bacon was driven to destruction 

 

 

 

DALYA ALBERGE | THE INDEPENDENT | 5 MAY 1992

 

Francis Bacon twice destroyed sackfuls of archival material about himself. The disclosure comes days after the death of the man widely considered the greatest British artists since Turner.

While the art world speculates about who might inherit the fortune of the painter whose work sold for millions, news that even a little archival material is forever lost will be a blow to art historians.

According to a friend, Bacon destroyed the material some years ago, after receiving a letter from what he considered "an officious person" in the Tate Gallery's archive. The archivist had asked him to send the Tate the source material relating to his paintings.

Bacon was so disgusted by the apparently arrogant tone of the "bureaucratic" letter that, according to the friend, he gathered up the papers - much of it photographic material from which he liked to work - and destroyed them, perhaps by burning.

Some two years later, the same archivist is said to have dispatched another letter, repeating the request. Bacon found some more suitable material, and, once again, got rid of the lot. The archivist was never told. As Bacon's friend explains: "Francis didn't like to be subjected to harassment, and disliked high-handed people." His actions were not directed against the Tate Gallery, to which he was well-disposed. Last year he gave it one of his triptychs and when two other major galleries clamoured to give him an exhibition, he chose to have it in the Tate.

A Bacon sold for £3.5m in 1989, making him the most expensive British living artist. That his work sold for such prices has led many to speculate about bacon's wealth. However, artists do not necessarily get what their works make in the salerooms. Back in the Fifties, the price for a Bacon was just £300, of which the artists received £50. It took six years from 1946 to persuade a public collection to accept one of his works, Study for the Magdalene: it had been a gift, to any museum that wanted it, from the Contemporary Art Society, the art charity. It hangs at Batley Art Gallery.

He was generous to friends and enjoyed encouraging young artists by buying their work.

No one quite knows who might stand to benefit from the Bacon inheritance, though many have been giving the impression that they do know.

In the past he had given generously to cancer research. While many believe that there are no paintings in the Bacon inheritance, one of his former friends was reported to be claiming that Bacon's paint-splattered studio door, which the artist used as a palette for trying out colours, belonged to him.

 

 

 


Face to face with the dogs of war

 

 

Richard Cork suggests that anyone in search of the essential Francis Bacon should begin at the Tate

 

 

 

RICHARD CORK | LIFE & TIMES | THE TIMES | FRIDAY MAY 8 1992

 

For a considered reassessment of the late Francis Bacon's contribution to 20th-century art, we will have to wait for the full retrospective which must soon be staged. But until the entire range of Bacon's achievement is disclosed in that memorial show, I recommend a visit to the Tate Gallery in London. For there, in Room 20, hangs the great triptych which announced the unnerving arrival of a formidable new voice in post-war painting: Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion.

By April 1945, when Bacon displayed this vehement image at a London gallery, most people in Britain knew that the second world war was nearly over. The following month, the Nazi surrender was formerly ratified in Berlin.

This was, of course, a time for national rejoicing, and VE-Day witnessed scenes of jubilation across the country. A conflict in which more than 20 million men, women and children had died gave way to a widespread feeling of optimism about the prospect of peace.

Bacon's lacerating picture could not have stood in more stubborn contrast to this new mood. He finished painting it in 1944, after working on all three parts throughout the war, so the trauma of those years scarred itself deeply on the roughly worked surface of each panel. Bacon later admitted that he "began" a an artist with his triptych, and it certainly carries a far more singleminded impact than any of his earlier, surprisingly hesitant pictures.

All the same, the protest it makes about the human condition first lodged itself in his mind long before the war began. As an impressionable adolescent he went to Berlin in the late 1920s, and afterwards recalled how this "wide open city" appeared to him "very, very violent". The neurotic instability of the Weimar Republic, defined with such power by Grosz, Beckmann and Dix, supplied the ideal compost for Hitler to nurture the poisoned weeds of fascism.

Nazi imagery would later feed his work in many different ways, ranging from the photographs of Himmler and Goebbels he pinned on his studio wall in 1950, to the swastika he emblazoned on a man's armband in 1965. Before the war, though, Bacon's youthful attempts at painting were too uncertain to make his awareness of fascist savagery overt in his early pictures.

The inconclusive trail of his 1930s works, many half-finished and some subsequently destroyed, indicates that he saw the crucifixion as the most direct means of conveying the brutality of the society around him. Although no longer a Christian, he still regarded the dying figure nailed to the cross in paintings by Cimabue and Grünewald as the most eloquent available images of human suffering.

The advent of the second world war must have confirmed all his darkest misgivings about the world he had seen assailed by so many severe spasms during the 1930s. To find man's bestiality now demonstrated on a global scale could only make Bacon determined to develop an art expressive of the new horror.

For the very first time, he based part of a painting on a photograph of Hitler getting out of his car at a Nuremberg rally. But the Führer himself was replaced with a loathsome creature, which extends its reptilian length over the car window in order to dangle, snarling viciously, near the ground below.

The disgust which inspired the painting is clear enough, but its reference to the Nazi was apparently too specific. Bacon did not want to make an attack on fascism alone alone: he was after an image which would convey a more general sickness. So Figure Getting Out of a Car was painted over, for Bacon had suddenly hit on how to incorporate its main form in a new and more complex structure.

The triptych arrangement enabled him to join three repugnant creatures in one work. At the same time, it isolates each presence within gilt frames so that none can alleviate the other's torment. The female figure o the left, saddled with a pair of limp feelers hanging from her shoulder-stumps, cranes forward.

She seems to be trying to slide off her perch and discover what is happening in the central panel, but cannot move. Paralysis also afflicts the monster on the right, a humpbacked oddity with starved ribs who can only stretch out its distended neck and utter a helpless roar.

The realistic human ear attached to this screaming head clashes with the animality of its body. And the same principal of shock through contrast applies to the patch of grass growing so unexpectedly in the orange ground which gives the whole triptych such a parched and eye-smarting air.

The impulsive handling of paint and pastel, smeared, scraped, slashed and dragged over the hardboard rather than applied with conventional refinement, shows the urgency with which Bacon set down this atheistic vision of Hell. But discipline counters the rhetoric wherever you look.

Spare black outlines brushed in behind the figures lend order to the triptych, and direct our attention towards the middle. Here, the focal image offers no trace of a body on a cross. Instead, a beast as brutish as its companions bares jagged teeth at us.

The beast could be growling, like an enraged dog warning strangers not to get too close. Or it might be yelling because its eyes, like poor Gloucester's in King Lear, have been put out. The ambiguity is left exposed, for Bacon understands that a cry can signify aggression just as easily as pain.

In 1945, many of the gallery visitors who encountered Bacon's blinded monster, whose white cloth is rendered with a few stabbing thrusts of the brush, were no longer certain about the role of Christianity in the contemporary world. The waste of war had only confirmed their doubts about religious faith, and they might well have understood why the crucifixion is missing from the triptych.

But that would not have stopped them, in the euphoria of the victory against Hitler, recoiling from the main emotion dramatised by Bacona howl of pain at a universe so meaningless that humanity is reduced to the level of gruesome accident.

These three figures' agitation is unalleviated by a saviour on a cross who reassures them with the promise of eternal life. The triptych format, which ha been the vehicle for so many heartfelt affirmations of Christianity in western art, is used here with bitter irony to drive home the impossibility of painting a traditional crucifixion.

Just as Bacon would later take a Velázquez painting of a Pope and transform it into a screaming grotesque, so he chose here the ultimate symbol of human salvation in order to expose its desolating absence.

The forcefulness with which these three Greek Furies, as Bacon himself once called them, hurl their misery and rage at us proves the extent of his own loss of faith. If he had not felt the absurdity of existence so keenly, Bacon would never have mustered the energy to invest his trio of outcasts with such thwarted grandeur.

Despite their determination to survive the suffering, these bruised victims with their livid flesh may have seemed to excoriating in April 1945. But their repulsive malformations, were, in fact, a portent of an historic event which bore out Bacon's trepidation.

On August 6, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. It exterminated about 70,000 civilians. The war came to an end in Japan soon afterwards, and yet the terrible injuries inflicted by thee explosion linger today.

Some of the victims were disfigured beyond recognition, as dehumanised in their way as the wretches in Bacon's picture who warn us, with nightmarish conviction, of what we might become if the armoury devised for our godless conflicts since 1945 were ever unleashed. The prospect is almost too horrible to contemplate, but Bacon's fiercely eloquent imagination insists that we ignore it at our peril.

 

Tate Gallery, Millbank, London, SW1. Mon-Sat 10am-5.50am, Sun 2-5.50

 

 

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, by Francis Bacon, at the Tate Gallery

 

 


 

Francis Bacon (1909–1992)

    

By Caroline Blackwood 

   

 

 

THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS | VOLUME 39, NUMBER 15 | SEPTEMBER 24, 1992

 

 

I first became aware of Francis Bacon shortly after World War II. I was then eighteen, and I was invited to a formal London ball given by Lady Rothermere, who was later to become Mrs. Ian Fleming. Princess Margaret was among the guests and could immediately be seen on the parquet floor wearing a crinoline and being worshiped by her adoring set who were known at the time as "the Smarties." She was revered and considered glamorous because she was the one "Royal" who was accessible. Princess Margaret smoked, and she drank, and she flirted. She went to nightclubs and she loved show business and popular music.

As a guest Princess Margaret used to send out confusing signals. At times she seemed to ask to be treated as an ordinary racy young girl. But her conception of "ordinariness" sometimes made her behave in a manner that embarrassed rather than reassured those who entertained her. In order to put them at their ease so that they could forget that they had a royal figure at their table, she would pick up strings of tomato-pasted spaghetti from her plate and make loud sucking noises as she ate them with her hands. However, because she had emerged from the insulated capsule of her regal upbringing with ideas of "normality" that were askew, Princess Margaret inspired fear among her contemporaries. She encouraged familiarity and then, without warning, drew herself up to her full, small height and administered chilling snubs in which she reminded the socially inept that they had offended the daughter of the King of England.

Toward the end of the ball given by Lady Rothermere, after much champagne had been consumed, Princess Margaret seemed to be seized by a heady desire to show off. She grabbed the microphone from the startled singer of the band and she instructed them to play songs by Cole Porter. All the guests who had been waltzing under the vast chandeliers instantly stopped dancing. They stood like Buckingham Palace sentries called to attention in order to watch the royal performance.

Princess Margaret knew the Cole Porter lyrics by heart but she sang all his songs hopelessly off-key. She was given unfair encouragement by the reaction of her audience. All the ladies heavy-laden with jewelry, all the gentlemen penguin-like in their white ties and perfect black tails clapped for her. They shouted and they roared, and they asked for more.

Princess Margaret became a little manic at receiving such approval of her musical abilities, and she started wriggling around in her crinoline and tiara as she tried to mimic the sexual movements of the professional entertainer. Her dress with its petticoats bolstered by the wooden hoops that ballooned her skirts was unsuitable for the slinky act but all the rapturous applause seemed to make her forget this. Just when she had embarked on a rendering of "Let's Do It," a very menacing and unexpected sound came from the back of the crowded ballroom. It grew louder and louder until it eclipsed Princess Margaret's singing. It was the sound of jeering and hissing, of prolonged and thunderous booing.

Princess Margaret faltered in mid-lyric. Mortification turned her face scarlet and then it went ashen. Because she looked close to tears, her smallness of stature suddenly made her look rather pitiful. She abandoned the microphone and a phalanx of flustered ladies-in-waiting rushed her out of the ballroom. The band stopped playing because they felt it was unseemly to continue in the face of this unprecedented situation. There was a buzzing of furious whispers as Lady Rothermere's guests started to take in what they had witnessed.

"Who did that?" I asked the nearest white-tied and black-tailed man who happened to be standing next to me. His face was already red but rage made it look apoplectic. "It was that dreadful man, Francis Bacon," he said. "He calls himself a painter but he does the most frightful paintings. I just don't understand how a creature like him was allowed to get in here. It's really quite disgraceful."

Later when I was married to Lucian Freud and I got to know Francis he once referred to this incident, which caused a scandal.

"Her singing was really too awful," he said. "Someone had to stop her. I don't think people should perform if they can't do it properly."

Francis had an anarchic fearlessness which was unique. I can think of no one else who would have dared to boo a member of the Royal family in a private house. Among all the guests assembled in Lady Rothermere's ballroom, more than a few were secretly suffering from Princess Margaret's singing, but they suffered in silence, gagged by their snobbery. Francis could not be gagged. If he found a performance shoddy no conventional trepidation prevented him from expressing his reactions. Sometimes his opinions could be biased and perverse and unfair, but he never cared if they created outrage.

He could be fearlessly outspoken and crushing if provoked. I remember him being pestered in a bar by a very bad and irritating artist who was trying to make him come to his studio to look at his work. The artist said that he had the feeling that Francis only refused to come and look at his paintings because they threatened him. Francis replied that he didn't feel in the least threatened by the man's paintings.

"I don't want to come to your studio because I've seen your tie."

This same quality of fearlessness manifested itself in his work. The critics who found his painting obscene and ugly did not intimidate him. With big and masterful brush strokes he continued to stamp his canvases with the bleak but beautiful images that expressed his darkly Irish, pessimistic, and extremely personal vision.

There was also a fearlessness in his attitude to money, a wildness in his reckless generosity. When I first got to know him in Soho he was forty and he had not yet found any gallery prepared to give him a show because his work was considered too off-putting. Francis was broke at that time but somehow, mysteriously, he still managed to pay for rounds of drinks and he kept the champagne flowing. Later when he became world-famous and very rich there was no basic change in his behaviour. He continued to keep the champagne flowing, the only difference was that he filled his friends' glasses with champagne of a very much higher quality.

His generosity like his fearlessness was infectious. Extremely stingy and mean-fisted people who hated to pay for others would suddenly and amazingly offer to pay for a round of drinks while they were in his company. He could always shame the miserly.

In the Fifties, I remember Francis joining Lucian and me for dinner in his favourite fish restaurant, Wheelers, in Soho. The owner was perceptive and he allowed him to eat and drink there in return for his paintings, which were still spurned by the art world. Francis arrived late because he'd just been to the doctor. He came rolling in with the confident walk of a pirate making adjustments to the slope of the wind-tilted deck. As usual his round cheeks made him look cherubic, but his eyes were far more intelligent than those of the average cherub.

He said that his doctor had just told him that his heart was in tatters. Not a ventricle was functioning. His doctor had rarely seen such a hopeless and diseased organ. Francis had been warned that if he had one more drink or even allowed himself to become excited, his useless heart would fail and he would die.

Having told us the bad news he waved to the waiter and ordered a bottle of champagne, and once we had finished it he went to order a succession of new bottles. He was ebullient throughout the evening but Lucian and I went home feeling very depressed. He seemed doomed. We were convinced he was going to die, aged forty. We took the doctor's diagnosis seriously. No one was ever going to stop him from drinking. No one would ever prevent him from becoming excited. We even wondered that night if we would ever see him again. But he lived to be eighty-two. His attitude toward doctors and death was disdainful. They didn't frighten him. In his way, he jeered at them just as he jeered at the bad singing of Princess Margaret.

A younger British painter, Michael Wishart, once said to me that he thought that Francis had two major ambitions. He wanted to be one of the world's best painters and he wanted to be one of the world's leading alcoholics. Whereas most people discovered that these two ambitions were contradictory and self-defeating he felt that Francis had pulled them both off.

There was an "Irishness" in Bacon's temperament, although he vehemently denied it, having experienced his childhood in Ireland as traumatically painful. He found it impossible to return to Ireland although he loved its countryside. He developed a neurotic attack of asthma on the plane whenever he tried to get there. He could fly to any country in the world without physical mishap, but any flight to his homeland always proved disastrous.

"My father was a horse trainer," I remember him saying to me with a shudder. "A failed horse trainer," and he stressed the word "failed" with such disgust and anger that he made his father's occupation sound utterly repulsive. When he was a little boy his parents had put him astride a pony and they had forced him to go fox-hunting. He loathed the brutality of the "Sport of Kings" and developed a violent allergy to horses. He turned blue once he found himself on the hunting field and he started to choke with chronic asthma. His parents were very soon made to realize that he was never going to be the son they had wanted.

"Surely there's nothing worse," Francis once said to me, "than the dusty saddle lying in the hall."

Coming from Ireland myself, I sometimes tried to make him tell me more about his unlikely and horsey Irish upbringing. I wanted him to go on, I longed to hear more about his loathing of the awful dusty saddles that symbolically litter the Irish hall. But the subject made him freeze. He became agitated whenever I broached it. He started to tug at the collar of his shirt as if he were trying to loosen some kind of noose which he found asphyxiating; for a moment he resembled the agonized figures in his paintings whose faces turn a truly dangerous shade of indigo purple as they go into the last stages of strangulation. I always stopped my questioning because it seemed cruel and tactless to upset him. I was told by a homosexual friend of Francis's that he'd once admitted that his father, the dreaded and failed horse trainer, had arranged that his small son spend his childhood being systematically and viciously horsewhipped by his Irish grooms.

But with all his horror of Ireland he had the intellectual Irishman's traditional dislike of Catholicism. The Popes that he painted were all screaming and distorted. Some of them were sitting on the lavatory. Although he stubbornly denied that he had been influenced by his Irish upbringing, the desolation of his vision was very similar to that of Beckett.

There was nothing tragic or untimely about his end, although his gallantry, his fearlessness, and his exuberance made one feel he could last drinking champagne forever. Fascinated by the inevitability of human physical decay, Francis, himself, never believed that he would last forever for one moment.

 

 

Art Market: Bacon nude expected to exceed 1m pounds

 

 

 

DALYA ALBERGE | THE INDEPENDENT | FRIDAY, 30 OCTOBER 1992

 

 

 

THE FIRST major painting by Francis Bacon to come up for auction since the modern master's death in April will be offered by Sotheby's in December.

 

The estimate of more than pounds 1m for Study of a Nude with Figure in a Mirror takes into account both the way that prices for a major artist's work are affected after his or her death and the slump in the art market. In 1990 a comparable picture sold for dollars 3.3m in New York.

 

The painting, which depicts a reclining naked woman and one of Bacon's 'spectator' figures, is from a group he painted in the Sixties. It has been consigned by a private European collector.

 

 

 

 

Bacon fortune is left to companion

 

 

 

 

 

 

TIM KELSEY & DAVID LISTER | THE INDEPENDENT | FRIDAY 4 DECEMBER 1992

 

 

THE ARTIST Francis Bacon has left more than £10m to his companion John Edwards in his will, which was published yesterday.

Mr Edwards, 43, was the artist's companion for the last 15 years of his life.

The publication of the will coincided with the sale of Bacon's painting, Study of A Nude with Figure in a Mirror, at Sotheby's in London but it failed to reach its reserve price. The painting of a naked, reclining woman was expected to fetch more than pounds 1m but was bought for pounds 735,000, after the official sale had closed, by an anonymous foreign buyer.

The artist, who died last April, left his entire estate to John Edwards, whom he first met shortly after the death of a lover. The estate was valued at pounds 11,370,244 gross, pounds 10,923,900 net.

Despite his ability to command millions of pounds for individual paintings, Bacon was never touched by his wealth. His lifestyle was simple and unpretentious. Naked light bulbs dangled from the ceilings of his home in south London and he often told friends that he would be happy to return to the meagre income he enjoyed while working, in his youth, as a cook and servant. He turned down the offer of a knighthood.

Mr Edwards, one of six children, was the son of an East End publican and, until he met Bacon, worked in his father's pubs. Although Bacon was never reticent about his own homosexuality, the relationship that developed between the two men was platonic.

Francis saw him as an adopted son,' one close friend said yesterday. 'He took him under his wing. He saw this rough diamond and always made him shave, dress properly; made a man out of him.'

Mr Edwards became his favourite model and appears in some of Bacon's most famous paintings. The artist bought him a house in Suffolk and a flat in London. 'He needed something in his life to cherish.

Apart from each other, the two shared little in common and Mr Edwards never had more than a passing interest in art. 'He couldn't have told a Constable if it hit him in the face,' one acquaintance said.

But their friendship became one of the best-known, if most unlikely, in the art world. The two had originally met in Bacon's favourite watering hole, the Colony Club in Soho.